Don’t Need Religion; but Could You Use Some Love?

A young person told me not too long ago that he “has no use for religion.” While my initial thought was, “neither do I. In fact, I have less use for it and interest in it than you do,” his comment got me thinking. I have proclaimed for decades that Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship; and, no, I didn’t originate it, nor am I the only one who holds that position.

The word religion commonly refers to some concept of reverencing God, or gods. It can refer to a particular set of beliefs, or a system of beliefs, or set of behaviors revolving around a concept of deity. It can also refer to “any object of conscientious regard and pursuit.” In other words, one can be “religious” about pretty much anything. Frankly, some of the most religious people I have ever known are atheists who fervently seek out ways and opportunities to deny the existence of God. Some pursue science with a passion more intense than that which drives most Christians. Many are aggressively “evangelistic” in proclaiming their message.

Here’s the kicker. The word religion comes from the Latin word “religare,” meaning to bind back, to restrain. It suggests the use of strong force or authority to hold back, prevent, suppress or control.

Jesus said He came to give us abundant life. He said we would find freedom in Him. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul said, “the love of Christ constrains us.” Of the three Greek words that could be translated “constrain,” two hold the idea of using force or entreaty to make something happen, even against nature, somewhat like the Latin religare. The one Paul chose means “to hold or keep together, confine [as opposed to allowing to fall apart], to secure.”

In other words, we are not forced or manipulated or otherwise made to believe in Jesus, we have found His love, and it embraces us, hold us together, and we revel in it. It is a relationship, not a set of rules or beliefs, not a system of beliefs or behaviors. It is not law, it is Spirit and life and grace. Rituals, systems, or methods can be used to help us learn and grow. They may help some enrich and better understand their relationship. But when these things get in the way of grace, when they become laws to live by, they are just dead works without any positive, eternal effect. (That’s why Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, see Gal.5:4).

The apostles were willing to die for their risen Lord. Religion didn't make them do that Click To Tweet

The apostles all died for their faith, most by cruel, unthinkable torture. They did not die for a system of beliefs. They did not die to defend a set of rituals, or even a way of life. They certainly did not die just to hide a lie. Do you really think if they had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb they would have allowed themselves to be persecuted, tortured and killed without confessing? They knew the resurrection was real, and they were willing to die for their risen Lord. Religion didn’t make them do that.

So, to my young friend, believe me, while you may say you have no use for religion, no one has less use for religion than one who has experienced the love of Jesus. Do you have any use for love? You will never find deeper, wider, higher, longer love than the love of Christ. You will never find greater, more lavish, more intimate, more liberating love than you will find through Jesus.


God Is Faithful

God is. And, He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. If you are seeking Him, what are you looking for? Him, or some material reward. He is the reward.

Seek Him first and all these things will be added to you. Are you seeking Him, or all the things you are hoping will be added to you? Material things? Health? Happiness? Family? Security? He will supply all your need in proportion to His riches in glory. But, we don’t seek the supply, we seek Him – and, oh, by the way, He is the supplier.

Resurrection Day

The newsletter the  church mailed out had an article reminding everyone that April 20th is “Resurrection Sunday.”  The purpose of the article was to remind members to invite people, because it is one of the most attended Sunday’s of the year.  And, because of that, protocols are needed to make sure the guests feel welcome.  For example, park near the back of the lot so guests can find spaces closer to the building.  Sit near the back of the auditorium so guests aren’t shunted to the back and can sit closer to the front.  That’s all well and good.  I was mostly just kind of excited they were calling it Resurrection Celebration and not “Easter.”

Still, it begs the question:  If this is the “resurrection celebration Sunday,” why do we gather on Sunday the other 51 weeks out of the year?

The early Christians understood Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, so they considered themselves to still be Jewish.  As such, they still met on the Sabbath, the 7th day of the week.  Until they were thrown out, they met in the temple or synagogue with other Jews.  They also met on the first day of the week, because it was on the first day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead.  They didn’t do this once a year.  They did it once a week.  In other words – every Sunday was a resurrection celebration.  That was the whole point of meeting on the first day of the week.

It’s really a little sad that the modern church misses this, and gives a nod to the resurrection once a year.  When they do, they blur it even more with Easter egg hunts, etc.  Now, I understand, and see the value in activities like this engaging the community and getting more people in to hear the message.  Even so, I can’t help but acknowledging that we wind up celebrating a pagan fertility idol instead of the Creator of life.

Spring is a beautiful time of the year.  As I get older, I’m learning that every season of the year is beautiful, even brown, barren Winter.  But there is no denying that Spring is special.  I love it when the redbuds begin to bloom with a soft pastel mist of green from all the billions of little seeds covering the elm trees.  It means it won’t be long until Spring actually arrives with its array of colorful blooming flowers and layer upon layer of shades of green.  It is a time of wonder and delight.

Rom.1:20

Spring is a season of opportunity.  The greatest opportunity is that of pointing to all the new growth and changes and beauty and teaching our children of the amazing creator who made it all.  The beauty of creation testifies of His eternal power and divine nature.  It isn’t about appeasing an idol in order to have an effective planting.  It isn’t about worshiping some “lesser” god or goddess of the season who is bringing an end to winter.  It really is just another revolution of the seasons.  But it is beautiful to our eyes, and that does make for a unique opportunity to tell of the handiwork and majesty and love of God the Creator.  Click here to see the description my 2nd great grandfather gave in the 1860s.

Bottom line:  We need to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus year round.  Without it, the grave wins.  Without it, death wins.  Because of it, we have eternal life.  Because of it, we can abide in the presence of the living, holy creator God, the one true and living God.  It is our victory.  On the cross Jesus paid the price for our sins.  Spiritually, His death there is our death, our penalty paid, our death because of sin and our death to sin.  But what then? Resurrection!  New life in Christ.  The resurrection is what separates Christianity from all the religions of the world.  In no other religion does God Himself take on humanity, live a sinless life, die because of the sins of man and because of His love for man (not because of the sins, failure, foolishness of the god himself) and rise from the dead for the purpose of making man holy and pure and able to enter into a relationship with God (not in order to bring an end to winter and make the land fertile for Spring planting).  It is what makes relationship with God possible, and is why many assert that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion.  It is a once and for all atonement, not an annual, recurring event.  We should celebrate it every time we gather, and not just once a year.

Years ago, I was talking with a co-worker who claimed to be an atheist.  However, when I spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, he said, “The resurrection is the strongest argument in favor of Christianity.  If it’s true, then what the Bible says about Jesus is true.”

It’s true.  And we, as Christians, need to live in the joy and fullness of it year round, not just one day a year, buried under the trappings of eggs, bunnies and chocolate.

As Christians, we need to live in the joy and fullness of the resurrection year round, not just one day a year. Click To Tweet

Glued Together

When you glue two pieces of paper together, you cannot get them apart again without some tearing and without each one losing a part of itself – forever a part of the other.

I do not usually deal with specific issues on my blog.  I would much prefer to present the spiritual principles and truths and let you learn to apply them in your own life situations. However, this is one I want to throw out because people about whom I care have recently dealt with or are dealing with this.

I’ve been there, too.  I know the pain of marriage that just doesn’t seem to be working, of an unfaithful spouse, of facing my own failures and inadequacies in a relationship, and of going through a divorce.  When you commit to someone in marriage, you are like two pieces of paper glued together.  You cannot divorce without feeling torn, tattered, and hurt.  You feel the loss not only of the other person, but of part of yourself.

In Genesis 2:24, in the story of creation, God created woman out of man and “for this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”  That message of Scripture is the same and it is true whether or not you believe it is historical or just part of the “creation myth.”  The principle was established in the beginning – husband and wife were made to be one.  Referring to this passage, in Matthew 19:6, Jesus says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Yes, we could argue specific cases involving adultery, abuse, crime, and so forth.  Even in those cases, my point isthere is still going to be tearing and hurting and loss caused by the divorce itself, in addition to the pain and hurt that led up to it.

I am not telling you to not divorce.  That is something beyond the purpose of this blog and I will not be baited into that discourse in this context.  That is something you need to work out between you, your spouse, and your Heavenly Father.  Just be aware that a divorce is not a quick fix to the problems of your marriage.  Divorce brings pain all its own.  You need to be very sure that your marriage cannot be fixed, that you are aware of the additional pain and problems that come from ending a marriage, and that it is really worth more to you and everyone else affected by it to end it rather than fix it.

Beyond any shadow of doubt, what I have shared throughout this blog about trusting God and giving thanks will see you through whatever crisis you face.  It isn’t a magical quick fix.  You are still going to deal with hurts and sorrows and all the other emotions of life.  By no means am I discounting the pain you feel.  Cancer, divorce, loss of job, loss of loved ones, PTSD, illness or injury, abuse, bullying, loneliness….  There’s no way I could list every possible hardship.  The ultimate answer is the same.  It comes down to learning to embrace all of life – the good and the bad, and trust God to bring you through.

The principles don’t change just because the experiences differ!  We all have a limited number of emotions with which to respond to life.  (You did see the movie “Inside Out,” right?)  And, quite frankly, all this stuff about “You don’t understand because you haven’t been through what I’m going through” is a bunch of malarkey.  If you want to define “what you’re going through” narrowly enough, then no two people have ever had exactly the same experience.  So, you can find away to isolate yourself all alone in your misery if you want to, and refuse anybody’s help.  The truth is, there are a lot of people who have been through similar things.  And there are many more who have been through things just as intense.  We all had to figure out how to respond based on the basic list of emotions available to each and every one of us.  Find people who have dealt with their crisis effectively and learned valuable spiritual truths from them.  Don’t look for people who share your despair and will encourage you to make the easy, self-centered, and self pitying choices.  It isn’t nearly as important that you become “emotionally stronger” as it is that you become spiritually stronger.  Spiritual strength will lead to emotional, and even physical renewal.  Focusing on the emotional or physical allows you to make the wrong choices, but temporarily feel good about it.  Eventually, you’ll realize your still a torn piece of paper, and you lost a few pieces of yourself along the way.

When Peter got out of the boat and walked on water, yes, he looked around and saw the storm stirring up the waves.  Yes, he got scared and sank.  Yes, Jesus reached out and pulled him up.  No, the storm did not stop immediately.  The Bible says the storm stopped “when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”  Jesus walked Peter back through the storm to the boat, asking him along the way why he doubted?  He’s asking us the same thing.  The problem is still out there.  But, He’s walking with us, asking, “Why did you doubt?”  The storm hasn’t stopped, but it will.  Walk with Him.  Know Him.  Trust Him.  Be thankful.

Why Thankfulness?

If you’re not familiar with west Louisiana, it is beautiful country of rolling hills, streams, rivers, and forests.  In earlier times it was part of the vast pine forests that covered the deep south region of North America from the Atlantic into what is now East Texas.  Much of that area still has remnants of that great forest, though much of it now has hardwood forests, and most of the pines are grown by and for the lumber industry. In early October, I attended a family gathering near Florien, LA.  There is a family “farm,” about 6 miles east of town.  No one farms the family farm any more.  It is a gathering place for the cousins from my Mom’s side of the family.  The heirs collectively own quite a bit of acreage there.  Most of it is forested, some still cleared from when some of our ancestors did farm it.  There among the trees and fields are an old house and a family cemetery.  The cemetery has graves dating back to before the Civil War.

Papa’s House

My great grandfather, John C. Sibley, Jr., lived in the old house.  My mom and her family lived there with him for several years during late 1920’s.  I mentioned him in an earlier post.  He would put my Aunt Jean on his shoulder and take her for walks.  She was blind, and he would describe to her the beauty of God’s creation.  So, when I was there in October, one of the things I really wanted to do, was go sit on the porch of that old house, get out my guitar and music, and just worship the Lord in that place that embodies a significant part of my family’s legacy.  That Saturday morning, at day break, I did just that.  It was all I hoped it would be and more.  The Father met me there on that porch with the lush green grass in the fields, the rich browns and deep greens of the surrounding woods, the peacefulness of the country road, a rich blue sky and a glorious sunrise of reds and golds streaking through the trees.  I felt His presence and His love, and I sang and loved Him back for over an hour.  And I knew this was where Papa Sibley had held his little, blind granddaughter and taught her about a loving God through the beauty of His creation.

Papa Sibley was only 5 when his dad died, and just 9 when his Mama passed away.  His Mama had kept the letters her husband wrote to her during the Civil War.  At the time, they had one daughter, Belle; John Jr was born after the war.  Here’s his advice to her on child-rearing:
“Lizzie dear, have you ever learned her yet that there is a God who rules over her destiny. I fear this is a subject that you avoid.  But dear, beware that you do so while she is yet young.  Show her the rising sun, the bright moon, the growing plant, the stately tree, the fragrant flower, the falling rain and such things, and teach her that they are made by a great and good God who loves her and who will save her in life and after death.  Teach her to love the name of God and worship him while she is young and she will not forget to do so when she is old.  Learn her to love everything that is good and beautiful.”And, Lizzie did.  And I think her mother, Matilda, carried it on after Lizzie died and she adopted Belle and John, Jr.  And Papa did, particularly for Aunt Jean, but I’m guessing for others, too.

Pretty cool, huh?  But, here’s the real deal.  In Romans 1:18-21, Paul says that none of us has an excuse for ungodly or unrighteous actions, or for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, because God has made known His “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature.”  He made these attributes “clearly seen,” evident to even those who seek to suppress the truth.  Where?  How?  In His creation.  In the things He made – the rising sun, the bright moon, the growing plant, stately tree, fragrant flower, and falling rain.

The problem is, according to Romans 1:21, “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks….”  It was because they refused to honor Him, and could not find it in their hearts to be thankful to Him, that their hearts became dark and hard, and they turned to sin and then tried to alleviate their guilt by suppressing the truth.  And people still do that today.

They could not find it in their hearts to be thankful, and their hearts became dark and hard. Give thanks, and let Him soften your heart Click To Tweet

Just look around you.  If you have to drive a few miles out of town to see anything besides bricks, steel and glass, then do it.  But look at the world around you – that God made.  Be awed by it.  Recognize where it came from.  It really wasn’t by chance.  Honor God as God.  And be thankful.