This is the first installment of our new segment called “Back to the Basics,” where we are looking into the fundamentals of Christianity, and getting back to the roots of our faith. Though this is titled “Part 2,” you are not crazy, you have missed the one that was specifically titled “Part 1.” Rather this is an extenuation and building upon of our very first blog post which is called ★Thought for the Day – Religion vs. Relationship ★ that really captures what “Daily Dependence” is all about!!
An atheist was taking a walk through the woods.
“What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!” he said to himself.
As he was walking alongside the river he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look. He saw a 7 foot grizzly charging towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing in on him. He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer.
He tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw the bear right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him.
At that instant the Atheist cried out: “Oh my God!”
The bear froze.
The forest was silent.
As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky:
“You deny my existence for all of these years, teach others I don’t exist, and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”
The atheist looked directly into the light and said, “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps could you make the BEAR a Christian?”
“Very well,” said the voice.
The light went out.
The sounds of the forest resumed.
And then the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together and bowed his head and spoke:
“Lord, bless this food, which I am about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord Amen.”
I love that joke for two reasons. The first, for the zinger of a punch line. The second reason is for how telling it is of human nature. Just like that atheist, aren’t we the same way? It’s only when were in trouble that we call on God. Well this post is going to dig into the roots of our faith. Religion vs. Relationship…This is very personal for me because there is so much ambiguity between these too seemingly opposing words which has wreaked havoc in my life. I would like to break them apart and talk about one at a time. Religion is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as a…
“Belief in and worship of God or gods. A specific system of belief or worship, etc., built around a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, etc.”
Let’s define Religious as well. Religious is defined by the same dictionary as:
- Devout; pious,
- Of or concerned with religion,
- Conscientiously exact; scrupulous.
So religion can be a belief system based on a code of ethics or a philosophy. It can also be the catalyst for wars, such as the Crusades, (in the Middle Ages) which were expeditions undertaken, to “deliver” the Holy Places from Mohammedan (or Islamic) tyranny. Or it can be the fuel for hatred and the cause of much pain when misused. Jonathan Swift once said,
“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”
“Religion” often times is a big turn off to the “unchurched” or non-church attendees. Now when I am talking about religion here, I am referring to the system; the organization, and policies that have been established by human beings. Adjectives such as “Holy Rollers”, “Hypocrites” and “Gossips” are often used to describe churchgoers. Why is that?
James 1:26-27 gives us God’s reasoning…
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Religion has a way of altering people’s way of thinking and how they interact with unchurched people. And whether an unchurched person misinterprets it or not, “religion” can turn someone off from getting to know the “reason” for the “religion” or should I say the source of the religion. I know this well because I used to be one of them. I grew up going to church and saw people not living the way they pretended to be, acting all high and mighty, gossiping about other people, when in reality they were far worse than those they spoke about. I also had bad experiences with the church leaders being greedy for money. So I decided religion is nothing that I wanted to be a part if it means that you turn into a hypocrite or become “money hungry.” I blamed God and I walked out on Him and didn’t look back for many years. See at that time I didn’t have a “relationship” with God, I only had “religion” and didn’t understand things as I do now. I went to church on Sundays and attended a parochial school, but that was it. I had set those church leaders on a pedestal, holding them to a higher standard, and let me tell you whenever you do that, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment because they are just human, just like I am, and just like you are; and humans make mistakes. Do you know what is the saddest thing about being hurt by some form of religion? The ultimate loser in the deal is God. He is the one who is hurt the most. You may not believe that but it is true. Not only does God feel our pain but also the hurt that comes from our blaming Him for what man does to us. Mark Twain said it perfectly,
“God: The most popular scapegoat for our sins.”
Isn’t that the truth? Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that religion is bad. I am not putting down any religion in particular. Religion is good, but in it’s the proper context. There is a huge difference between having religion (or beliefs) and being religious (or self-righteous). I firmly believe that you must have a set of beliefs or doctrine that is Christ centered and that you should belong to a church that you regularly attend for accountability sake, because it is nearly impossible to live righteously on your own, without some form of support and teaching. What is critical to realize is that “religion” is there to facilitate our relationship with God, not to be ritualistic or for appearances.
In Mark 2:27-28, the Pharisees were accusing Jesus’ disciples of breaking the law by picking grain on the Sabbath. Jesus replied and said to them,
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
In other words, don’t get hung up on technicalities, man was not created to serve the day, but the day was made for man to honor God. Or another way to look at it, don’t focus on the day, focus on the “One,” who the day was created for to honor!
Religion can come in many different forms and deep down, whether people want to admit to it or not, everyone has a need to believe in something…And the reason why is because we were all created with a “God-sized hole in our heart,” that only God can fill. Here is the point; all people have a need to believe, not in a “religion” but in a relationship, a relationship with God, our creator and father in heaven. Take a look at the definition of relationship.
– A state of connectedness between people (especially an emotional connection).
Now let’s insert “God” into that definition.
Relationship: A state of connectedness between people “and God” (especially an emotional connection).
God desperately wants to be connected with you and me. He wants it so bad that He sent His son to Earth to show us the way. (See John 3:16). When Jesus walked on this earth He spent all His time preaching about love, not about religion. He talked about the love that God has for His children and what we need to do to see the father in heaven. One day, an expert in the law, tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded in Matthew 22:37-40 saying,
“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Notice He did not say to keep the Sabbath holy or not to commit adultery or not to commit murder. You see if you love God with all your heart, soul and mind you will honor His day. And if you love you neighbor as yourself, there is no need to say do not commit adultery or murder because it naturally would not happen. Jesus had an uncanny way of cutting through all the bureaucracy, all the ritualism, all the hypocrisy, to get to the heart of the matter. Essentially, He said to stop thinking so provincially…just keep these two commandments and you will keep all the rest. Obviously with a radical teaching like this, Jesus faced a lot of opposition. He continually had problems with the Pharisees trying to thwart His ministry.
The name Pharisee in Hebrew means separatists, or the separated ones. They were also known as Chasidim, which means loyal to God, or loved of God, which is extremely ironic in view of the fact that during this time, the Pharisees were the most bitter, and deadly, opponents of Jesus Christ and His message.
In chapter 23 of the book of Matthew, Jesus made it very clear what his feelings were about the Pharisees. Starting in verse 6-7, He said that the Pharisees:
“Love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them `Rabbi.’”
In verse 27-28:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Now those are some harsh words and these are just the tip of the iceberg; within the same chapter and in other parts of the bible Jesus has much more to say. I have one more definition for you…Webster’s dictionary defines the word Pharisee as:
\Phar”i*see\ (f[a^]r”[i^]*s[=e]), n.
One of a sect or party among the Jews, noted for a strict and formal observance of rites and ceremonies and of the traditions of the elders, and whose pretensions to superior sanctity led them to separate themselves from the other Jews.
A self-righteous or sanctimonious person, preaching not practicing.
Note the last part of that definition…“A self-righteous or sanctimonious person, preaching not practicing.” It is clear that Jesus’ statements and their frequent citations through the bible have resulted, in the word “Pharisee” becoming a synonym in the English language for “hypocrite.”
Jesus, himself, hated “Religion” when it was twisted and misused as in the case of the Pharisees. The lesson to learn from the Pharisees’ example is that self-righteousness is not righteousness, and that God’s true people are to live according to all of God’s Word, not just certain parts that are most convenient or to one’s liking. Jesus preached about having a relationship with the God, the father in heaven, not about lifeless rules or empty religious traditions. But rather a relationship whereby we can pray to God saying Abba, Father which loosely translated means daddy. God is our daddy in heaven with outstretched arms just waiting for us to take one step in His direction.
In his book Reading between the Lines, Gene Edward Veith explains:
“That the heart of our religion is a relationship with God – and relationships thrive on communication. We can’t know people intimately by merely being in their presence. It takes conversation to share thoughts and personalities.”
We need to work, to cultivate our relationship with God. It is not something that just suddenly happens. Just like our earthly relationships, we need to put in the time and effort. If we don’t we could fall away from the faith.
Christianity is real; it’s alive and anything but boring. A relationship with Jesus is personal. He’s there for you and me, just waiting to hear from us. He is the forgiver of sins and our deliverer. God loved us so much that He sent His son to die for our sins so that we could have everlasting life. Jesus was the sacrificial lamb for our sins.
There is a bridge in Portland, Oregon that spans the wide Willamette River, called the Marquam Bridge. It was built-in the mid-1960s; and was designed to accommodate a freeway that was still on the drawing boards at that time, which was to be called the Mount Hood Freeway. But the freeway was never built. Oregon voters opted for a light rail line instead, and plans for the highway were scrapped. If you drive to the east side of Portland over the Marquam Bridge on the upper deck of that two-decker freeway, you can catch a glimpse of the exit that drops off into empty space. It juts out just a bit from the bridge structure, and then it is cut off as though sliced by a giant knife. The “exit,” permanently blocked, now goes nowhere, except into the waters of the Willamette far below. You can see Mount Hood in the distance…but you can never reach the high slopes via the Mount Hood Freeway, because the freeway doesn’t exist. That’s the picture of man’s relationship with God ever since the fall of Adam and Eve. We might understand that there is a God and even yearn to reach Him but that is impossible because of the distance between Him and us due to Sin. That separation between man and God is too great to make it across by ourselves. But God provided a way to bridge the gap over 2,000 years ago, through the death of Jesus on the cross. He came to show us the way to heaven and only through Jesus Christ can we cross that gulf to God the Father.
All you need to do is…
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:10
Today is the day is to establish or reestablish the relationship that all of us need with our creator. Open the eyes of your heart and see what God is offering. Maybe you have lost your way or maybe you are like me and have been hurt by “religion” and you are far from God right now or maybe you are like that atheist walking in the woods never having sought God before. Well today can change all of that. If you are backsliding, you can rededicate your life to Christ. There is nothing that could stop God from forgiving you and taking you back. If you fall into the “damaged goods” category from being hurt by religion, I pray that your heart would be opened and that you would break the cycle of blaming God for the sins of man. And finally, if you are sitting here tonight and you do not have a relationship with God listen to that voice you head, that tugging on your heart by the Holy Spirit and enter into the greatest relationship you could ever have by dedicating your life to Jesus. Regardless of where you stood with your relationship with God when you started reading this post, you don’t have to stay the same way. Humble yourself and give up the control of your life to the Lord so He can lift you up!
I want to extend the offer to anyone who does not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you don’t know what I mean it’s easy. Give up the control and give your heart to Him. All you need to do is accept the forgiveness that is available through the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.
All you need to do is acknowledge that you are sinner and in need of a savior and truly sorry for your sins. Today start anew and trust in Jesus who was the payment for our sins. Just pray this simple prayer…
Lord I am a sinner. I have tried to run my life and failed, I cannot do it on my own.
I need a savior. Please wash me, cleanse me, and create in me a new heart.
I am sorry for my sins and I believe that Jesus died as the payment for those sins.
Please take my life I freely give it to you.
If you earnestly prayed that prayer, you are a new creation
(see Romans 10:9-10 and 2 Corinthians 5:17)!
God will honor that prayer of surrender and will do incredible things in your life!
Here is the next installment of the “Back to the Basics” series, called ★ “Back to the Basics” – Can 1 Conversation Change a Life? ★, I pray you will be blessed!