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.


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.

Applying the Lord’s Prayer

Religious activities, like giving to the poor (Mt 6:2-4), prayer (vv. 5-8), and fasting (vv. 16-18), are not for public spectacle. That’s how they become “religious.” They are meant to be spiritual activities, between you and God. They are meant to honor and show love for the heavenly Father. “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” When we allow expressions of our spiritual relationship with the Father to become ritualistic, religious activities paraded before the eyes of men, we dishonor the name of our Father. There is nothing holy about giving, praying or fasting in this way, and it reflects poorly on the name of the Lord before the very audience we hope will be impressed by our efforts. We glorify ourselves, not the Father.

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So, don’t store up treasures on earth…, but store up treasures in heaven, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (vv.19-21). What are you looking at? On what are you focused? If you are focused on earthly, temporal things that corrode and rust, that can be consumed by insects or stolen by thieves, then you are looking at the dark, dismal, temporal world and missing the light of life, and the light of heaven in your life. If your eye is focused on the dark, then your whole body will be affected by it. Instead focus on the eternal. As Paul put it, “set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth.”[1]  No man can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and wealth, the eternal and the temporal.

And, on that note, “give us this day our daily bread.” Do not be worried about what to eat or drink (vv. 25-34).  Rather than seek earthly gain, or be concerned with earthly loss, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. He’ll take care of your temporal needs so that you need not be concerned with them. Life is more than food and clothing. Life is not about temporal needs or acquisitions. Life is about a relationship with the Living God, and life is found in seeking Him, and trusting Him to reward your search, by giving you Himself, and everything else you need. He gave us His Son, “how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”[2] God provides food for the birds. He provides beautiful “clothing” of flowers for the fields. Your worrying about these things or anything else is not going to add anything to your life. People who don’t know God worry about temporal needs. Why would you, knowing God, settle for anything less than more of Him? Seek Him, and don’t worry about tomorrow. It will bring challenges, but God has grace for those challenges, too. You don’t know what they are, or when or even if they will come. So, worrying now isn’t going to help. When they do come, worrying won’t help then either. Trusting Him will. He has grace for every need, for every situation you will face. If you aren’t going to face it, you will never have the grace for it. But, then, if you aren’t going to face it, there is no reason to worry about it. If you are going to face it, He won’t give you the grace for it until you need it. So, there is no need to worry about it now. When you do have to face it, there is no need to worry then, because He will give you the grace you need to make it through. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.[3]

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Right, because we surely have forgiven everyone who has ever owed us anything or offended us in any way. In the model prayer, Jesus follows up the request for daily bread with a request for forgiveness as we forgive. In the sermon, He follows up his admonition to trust God with the imperative, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” The standard you set for measuring and judging others, is the standard that will be used in measuring and judging you. Chances are really good that you don’t measure up any better than those you are criticizing. Do you not realize there is a 2×4 sticking out of your eye? If you try to get that piece of sawdust out of your brother’s eye, you will only succeed at smacking upside the head with your 2×4. You will only injure him with your hypocrisy, and neither of you will be better off or any closer to God as a result.

If you try to get that piece of sawdust out of your brother’s eye, you'll smack him upside the head with the 2x4 in your eye. You'll injure him with your hypocrisy, and neither of you will be better off or any closer to God. Click To Tweet

In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus summarizes. It comes back to seeking God’s kingdom, and His provision. If someone wrongs you, do you see it as a threat to your “daily bread?” Are they somehow taking away what you need to survive in this temporal world? Is your focus on the temporal world, or God and His kingdom and His provision? Are you fully, truly trusting Him? Do you not love your children enough to take good care of them? If your son needs bread are you going to give him a rock? Your heavenly Father loves you more than you could ever, possibly love your children. How is that we doubt that the God who lavishes grace on us[4] will give good things to those who ask Him?

In verse 12, in what we call the “Golden Rule,” Jesus says, “In everything, therefore….” Therefore! Because of. On the basis of what’s been said. How can we forgive our debtors? How can we not judge those who have faults – specks of sawdust in their eyes that make us painfully aware of the 2×4 we are denying in our own eye? We need to know that our heavenly Father truly loves us far beyond what any earthly father ever will or even can. We need to know He truly does supply all our need, our daily bread, our food, clothing, and shelter. We need to know that by taking our eyes off the dark and dismal world of the corroding temporal, and focusing on the untarnished and incorruptible eternal kingdom, our temporal needs will be supplied and we will be filled with the light and life of the living God of heaven.

The next line of the model prayer can be a little confusing. Why would God lead us into temptation? Why, then, would we even need to request: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”? To me, it is so obvious that God would not lead me into temptation, that I never really thought of this phrase in that sense. I know that any time I am faced with temptation, test or trial, God is faithful and will with it make a way of escape.[5] I guess I have always thought of this phrase more in the sense of acknowledging that God leads us out of temptation and delivers us from evil. I just need the grace and spiritual strengthening to follow Him. Jesus gives the warning that the gate is small and the way is narrow. If we are thinking we’re following Him and we look just like everyone else that claims to be religious, then chances are we are on the broad path. Those who profess religion and whose religion is about religious rites and rituals and not about seeking Him and His righteousness will not produce good fruit. They will be horribly disappointed when they stand before the Lord thinking they have served him. They will be on the same sinking sand as those who refused to ever follow Him in the first place. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus described a new way of thinking that was different from that of those who promoted religious religion. He described a righteousness that exceeded that of those considered the most righteous. He promoted a heavenly kingdom to those who thought the Messiah would come to establish an earthly kingdom. He promoted a life centered on things above, not on things on the earth. And He ended it by declaring that the only solid foundation for life was acting on the things He said.

[1] Colossian 3:2

[2] Romans 8:32

[3] 1 Peter 5:7; see also Philippians 4:4-7

[4] Ephesians 1:7-8

[5] 1 Corinthians 10:13

A Clay House for God

You are the dwelling place of Christ – the One who is Himself the radiance, the out-shining, of God’s glory, the exact representation of His nature. That’s pretty amazing. It’s rather impressive! Yet, in perspective, you are an earthen vessel. So, all that amazing awesomeness is from God, not from you or me. We are clay houses for the ultimate treasure in the universe – the presence of God. Face to face, as it were, with Christ, we can know the glory of God as He shines His light, the very radiance of God, within our hearts.

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