Religion or relationship?

According to the dictionary, the word “religion” comes from religare (Latin) to restrain, hold back, tie up. Where we get the word relegate. It has to do with devotion, in the sense of commitment, fervency, adherence. In that sense, some of the most religious people I have ever met are atheists. They deny it, of course, and insist that the only valid definition for religion has to do with deity. That way they can control the dialogue, keep someone else from defining them, and keep Christianity defined in terms that fit their practiced dialectic. Although religion is commonly and usually used in reference to commitment to a deity, the root idea, the etymological concept has more to do with the actions, adherence, fervor and ritual. It is something that holds, ties – a set of rules.
Jesus said,  “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He also said,  “I am the way, the truth, and the life….” Christianity is about knowing Him.
By the most common usage of the word, and the most common dictionary definition, yes, Christianity is a religion. However, “religion” is perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity.
Religion is a set of acts. Christianity is something you live. Religion is something you do. Christian is something you are. Religion is something you defend. Christianity is about simply knowing Him, trusting Him, and growing in your relationship with Him.
Now, if religious acts, liturgy, rituals help you do that, that’s fine. But remember, those religious acts, liturgies, and rituals are not what make you a Christian, and doing them because they are there to be done, because it’s a rule to follow or law to obey is in the long term an empty, dead work. You wind up centering your life on the religious act and not on the Lord to whom those acts are to lead.
There are some things that are important parts of the Christian life, not because they are mandated rules, but because of the nature of Christianity as a relationship with God, and because they help us know Him.
Relationships are about communication. Communication is vital to any relationship. So, reading the Bible, praying, and meditation are important. But if we do them because its part of our rules, like a Christian commandment, even these things will become dead, useless, lifeless works. Prayer is talking to God. However, since He’s God, what He has to say is more important than what you have to say. So reading the Bible, studying it, meditating on it, is a vital part of the Christian life. Meditation for the Christian is not like meditation in eastern religions. It isn’t an emptying of the mind. It is thinking about Him and His words. It’s shutting out the noise and voices of the world and considering Him and His thoughts, His message. It’s listening to Him, letting His Spirit speak to your spirit. Rather than emptying, it’s choosing what you are filled up with.
Christianity is not about “going to church.” The church is people, not a building. The church is Christians, all Christians, “the body of Christ.” When Christians get together, the church meets – on the street, in the catacombs, in a coffee shop, or in a church building – wherever.
Christianity involves “evangelism.” Evangelism can take a variety of forms. What expression it takes in your life, as a general rule, or at any specific day or time, should result from your constant relationship of walking with, talking with, and listening to God. You may be quiet and easy-going, and believe you should live your faith rather than be “preachy.” Then one day you feel strongly impressed that God is telling you to share boldly with a specific individual, or even stand on a street corner and preach. And, much to your surprise, it has a powerful effect.
You may be very much the extroverted, outspoken evangelistic type. Then, one day, God says, “not here, not today, trust Me.” As the day progresses you see that God wanted to use your actions, not your words to reach someone. Or, He wanted to use someone else, not you. Or, He was already speaking to someone’s heart, drawing them to Him; and because you obeyed and waited, He brought them to the place where they were ready to hear the good news of Jesus.
Get the idea?  Yes, He did say, “as you go, make disciples.” However, evangelism is about your relationship to Him, too. It isn’t about a method or a rule.
Christianity doesn’t need defending. If we as Christians would spend our time in the pursuit of Him, knowing Him, considering Him, it would so change us that our Christianity and the God we serve would be irrefutable. Trying to defend God is like trying to defend the universe. It’s really big, and it’s there. By comparison, you’re a pretty tiny speck, and anything you do to defend it is really somewhat humorously vain.
And, God created the universe.

Yet, this magnificent Creator chooses to make Himself available to us to be known by Him and to know Him. That is not religion. That’s relationship.

God invites us to know Him, and be known by Him. That's not religion. It's relationship Click To Tweet

The Christmas Mystery


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The Christmas Mystery

How can rational, 21st century man embrace a religion founded some 2,000 years ago? I’m sorry, but how can he not? How can he not realize that although man is building and discovering and accomplishing amazing things, man has not changed. He is still brutal, manipulative, self-centered, and downright ugly at heart – capable of amazing anger, bitterness, cruelty, harshness and vitriol. Yes, much harm has been done in the name of Christ and the so-called “Christian religion.” But this is not the Christ or the Christianity of the Bible.

christmas_love

“The Christmas Mystery” evokes images of a fictional story taking place at Christmas time involving searching for something, or solving some crime, or reasoning out someone’s strange behavior. There are myriad of possibilities, many of which have been explored in books and movies and TV programs. But this mystery was proclaimed centuries, even millennia ago. It was revealed on that first Christmas night when a young man and woman, deeply in love with one another, found refuge in a barn and laid their newborn baby in a bed of hay in a trough used for feeding cattle – a manger.

What was so mysterious about this event? We’ve told the story countless times in countless ways. We have sung songs about it. We have made into the biggest event on our annual calendar.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote out a prayer. He prayed that God would grant, according to the riches of His glory, two things:

  1. You to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man
  2. Christ to indwell your heart through faith

There is a wealth of truth in those two phrases, but for now, let’s focus on the indwell part. The word used there means to be at home. Literally, it could be translated “to house down.” That’s kind of an odd way of saying it, but it means to settle in, to be not just in a place of dwelling, but to be comfortably at home.

The results of this prayer would be that you would comprehend the full dimensions of the love of Christ and know it in a way that would surpass all knowledge, and that you would “be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

Paul described himself as a steward of “the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from the ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the gory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27)

The Christmas story is not just a baby in a manger, it is God indwelling His people. It is the gospel story of this child, God with us – Emmanuel – God among us – the creator wrapping Himself in the creation, confining Himself to this tiny little wrapper, growing as a child, becoming a man, living a sinless life, making knowing and fully depending on the heavenly Father His top priority – taking on the death of the cross – the One who did not deserve death dying for those of us who do, then conquering death through the resurrection.  So that He can abide eternally, not just in heaven, but in the each heart that follows Him by faith.

Colossians 1:21-27 – “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach – if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard… Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Not just God with us, but Christ in us. That is the mystery of Christmas. God became man and dwelt among us. In doing so, he only began enacting a series of events that would result in the creator of the universe coming to make His home in your heart. In the process, He would make you holy and blameless and beyond reproach. He would make you a house so beautiful that God Himself would be comfortable dwelling there.

 

My God and I

Jean Ellzey was born in October 1924. She was born blind. It was later discovered she also had a debilitating bone disease, severe curvature of the spine, and dwarfism. The doctors didn’t expect her to survive even a year. She passed away in 1993 at the age of 69.

My Aunt Jean had a great voice. She even taught piano and voice, and children’s choir, and sang in the adult choir at church. One of the songs I most remember her singing was “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” I know a lot of people associated her with that song because she sang it so beautifully. I guess I always kind of thought of it as her favorite song. A few weeks ago I was reading her autobiography (again), and noticed she said her favorite song was “My God and I.”

My God and I go in the field together,
We walk and talk, as good friends should and do.
We clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter,
My God and I walk through the meadow’s hue.

Pretty cool, huh? She was blind, crippled, never walked without holding on to something or someone. Because she could not walk or see with her eyes as a child, she spent a lot of time alone as the other children around her ran and played. She longed for a friend. She chose God for her best friend. She stuck with that choice her entire life. She couldn’t go for walks, but I know from personal observation that she spent a lot of time talking with her best Friend.

The second verse says:

He tells me of the years that went before me,
When heavenly plans were made for me to be,
When all was but a dream of dim conception,
To come to life, earth’s verdant glory see.

That’s an interesting verse for someone born blind. She “saw” only what she could touch with her hands. She never saw the glorious, green (verdant) grass and trees that surrounded her growing up in northwest Louisiana. Verdant can also mean “young, youthful.” The true glory of earth when it was very young was that God walked with man in the garden. This is how it was meant to be. This was Aunt Jean’s choice – to spiritually walk with God day by day as faithfully as she could. As a result, she saw more of the glory for which we are created than most of us ever will.

My God and I will go for aye together,
We’ll walk and talk and jest as good friends do;
This earth will pass and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.

“Go for aye.” I always wondered what that meant, and why in the song it was pronounced with a long “a” sound rather than a long “i” (as in all in favor say, “aye”). I finally looked it up. The long “a” pronunciation is from Middle English according to the dictionary and is a poetic way of saying “ever, or always.” My God and I will always go together. Makes sense.

I tend to kind of stumble over the next line, too. I can visualize the walk and talk part, but the idea of jesting with God always has felt a little strange. I mean, I’m pretty sure God has a sense of humor. He created man and gave us a sense of humor and an ability to laugh. I have had a few occasions in prayer where talking with God I saw the humor in a situation. Still, “jesting with God” is not an easy concept to grasp. Before she died, Aunt Jean dreamed about dying and going to heaven. My mom asked her what she did when she got to heaven. Aunt Jean said, “I was running around seeing people.” I have to say, that still makes me chuckle. I love it that God gave blind, crippled Aunt Jean a dream where she was “running around, seeing people.” Mom even asked her about who she saw, and Aunt Jean gave a very accurate description of their grandfather, Papa Sibley. God does have a sense of humor.

I should maybe choose Him as my best friend, too. How about you? This earth will pass, and with it all the huge things we worry about from pimples to cancer, from gnats to presidential politics. When it does, wouldn’t it be great to spend eternity with your Best Friend?

Retweet this and send me your email address, and I’ll send you a digital copy of Jean Ellzey’s autobiography – “In Him There Is No Darkness.”

This earth will pass & with it everything we fret over from pimples to cancer, but God & I… Click To Tweet

Sheep in the House

I’ve been considering God’s presence and His house, in part because of several songs which have that theme, including 3 or 4 based on Psalm 84. Recently, as I was singing some of these songs on a Sunday morning, Psalm 23 came to mind. At first, I didn’t get the connection:  on the one hand “house of the Lord,” on the other hand “pasture.”  Apparently, David the Shepherd got it.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want [or lack];
He makes me lie down [content, well fed, secure] in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters [safe, peaceful, refreshing],
He restores my soul [which has been damaged and in need of restoring],
He guides me in paths of righteousness [for I won’t find righteousness in my own ways, strengths, or doing]
For His Name’s sake [and since it is for His glory we can be sure He will not fail],
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [because of this we make this Psalm a funeral psalm, but it’s really a life psalm],
I will fear no evil, for You are with me [all day, everyday, always we are in His presence; He never leaves or forsakes us anywhere, anytime, no matter how the evil of this dead/dying world surrounds us],
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me [our Shepherd has a rod of iron to ward off our enemies]
You prepare a table [living water and living bread; the Living Word] in the presence of my enemies [in the world, not of it; eternal, not temporal; spiritual]
You have anointed my head with oil [oil of healing, oil of power, the indwelling Holy Spirit];
My cup overflows [abundance; grace lavished upon us]
Surely goodness and mercy [lovingkindness] will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

So, I guess that would be considered a mixed metaphor. Sheep dwell in a pasture. People dwell in a house. God has chosen to indwell His people.

“….Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). “Christ was faithful as a Son over His house – whose house we are….” (Hebrews 3:6). David knew that whether you compare us to sheep in a pasture, worshipers in the temple, or people in a house, we have a God who cares for us, provides for us, watches over us, and invites us into His presence.

“How Lovely Your Dwelling Place” by Tommy Walker – Maranatha Praise Band “Pure Joy” on YouTube.

The Monster Called Mundane

It’s been a tough couple of weeks in the “for all things” category. Have you ever found things not going your way at work? Have you been mistreated by your employer and/or your customers? Lied to? Overworked?

I could go into the details, but I’m afraid it would come across as just complaining, and would feed back into my own frustrations. On the other hand, it might show anyone reading this that we share some common ground. Suffice it for now to say, it has been a miserable couple of weeks with a lot of challenges. And, frankly, I have not met all those things with “giving thanks for all things.”

This morning, I finally got up and spent a little time with the Lord, singing and worshiping. Then I sat down and opened my Bible, and said, “Lord, I’ve read the book. Where do I need to read today.” I looked down at Psalm 52. David was running from Saul and his hiding place was given away by Doeg the Edomite. David wrote the Psalm to say, “You think you are so cool and that you are getting away with doing evil, but it is going to catch up with you someday.” Then he ends it with:

“I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever,
I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it,
And I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.”

David was still hiding out from Saul. He was still betrayed. He was still in danger. Yet He remembered that God loved Him and cared for Him. God is faithful. God is trustworthy. We can wait on Him, and know He will come through for us, when no one else will. We can give Him thanks forever, because He is a God who “does.”

I realized that all the stuff that was so frustrating to me, that was stealing my joy and making me miserable, was just the mundane, everyday stuff of life. It is all temporal, and only matters as I allow it to interfere with my walk with the Lord, or as I allow the Lord to use it to draw me to Him.

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We can give Him thanks even before we see the a way out, because we know He is faithful. Click To Tweet

God Is Faithful


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God Is Faithful

I love 1 Corinthians 1:9. It’s been a favorite verse of mine since I was a teenager. As I was reading in the chapter, earlier this week, verses 4-9 jumped out at me in a way they had not before. They are grouped together. The paragraph ends with verse 9 declaring: “God is faithful through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It is a great verse to memorize. It stands on its own as a beautiful reminder of the faithfulness of God. Just the first phrase alone is true and is a comfort in troubling times: “God is faithful.” Taking it with the preceding verses, 1 Cor. 1:9 is like the final brush stroke on a portrait of God’s faithfulness.

African woman accepts Christ

African woman accepts Christ

“I thank my God always concerning you…”  God is faithful. I can always be thanking Him as I think of you and pray for you, because He is always thinking of you and working in you.

“…for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus…”  God is faithful. He has through Jesus given you His grace. His grace is not only for salvation, but for growth and sanctification. It is the freely given power, or enabling, which brings about His divine purpose in us and through us.

“…that in everything you were enriched in Him…”  God is faithful. He hasn’t missed anything. He has supplied everything we need. Not just in a matter-of-fact sense. Not merely adequately. Rather He enriches us. If the implication is not abundance, at the very least it is a nourishing that improves and increases and lasts.

“…in all speech and all knowledge…”  God is faithful. He enriches us in all speech and all knowledge. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” Colossians 4:6. In Philippians 1:9 Paul prays your love will abound in real knowledge and all discernment. God gives us what we need to understand truth and to communicate truth in love.

“…even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you…”  God is faithful. The work He began in Christ – foretold through the prophets, announced to Joseph and Mary, introduced by John the Baptist, observed and attested to by the apostles and other disciples, and repeated through the ages – He has and does confirm through and in us, His followers.

“…so that you are not lacking in any gift…”  God is faithful. By enriching us in all speech and all knowledge, He supplies all we need to rest in Him, abide in Him, and testify of Him. All the grace, the enabling, the power, to live for Him is ours. We have only to faith the faithful God.

“…awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ…”  God is faithful. As hard as it is for some to accept, this relatively obscure, itinerant, peripatetic, Jewish teacher, who lived 2000 years ago, rose from the dead and promised to return. God is faithful to have continued to reveal Him to and through those willing to follow Him. And He will be faithful to that ultimate revelation of His return for His followers, just as He promised.

“…who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ…”  God is faithful. He will complete His work in You. He will complete His work in the world. When He does, He will confirm before all the validity of your faith in Him. When that day of confirmation comes, you will be confirmed blameless because of your faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus on your behalf.

The God who called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, truly is faithful.  “Faithful is He who called you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). “For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

What are some ways you have seen God demonstrate His faithfulness in your life?