Religion vs. Relationship

Much of our lives we have been presented with religion.  We have seen the Pope on tv, or Billy Graham, and many other tele-evangelists.  Or we have friends, family, or co-workers, or even strangers who have talked, presented, or even brow beat us with God and our need for Him.  Loads of rules and regulations, and empty promises of  a “bed of roses” happy life that has gotten many of us turned off God.  And yet the question of the reality of God continues to go unanswered in many of our hearts. Does God exist, and does He really want to know me?

And many of us have tried to answer that question.  We have spent time in church, or read bibles and tried to live up to the standards we see portrayed in the bibles, and talked about be Christians.  We hear about the “pious” life we are to live, and don’t often see the people who are declaring this “religion” living up to it.  Or they are living hastily propped up “pious” lives that don’t bear any close scrutiny.  Their lives resemble a hastily put together Hollywood set, where if you look beyond the surface what you see is not what you get.  Jesus Himself reserved the harshest words in scripture for these people.  He called them “whitewashed tombs”, clean and presentable on the surface and full of death and poison on the inside.

And yet is this what we were to be living?  Paul says “God forbid”. It was not the life God intended for us at all.  I have been reading my bible in a new version as of late, and reading the scriptures worded a little differently has given me new insight, and is helping me grow in my understanding of God and what He truly intended for us.  I have said many times that God intended us for relationship, not a religion.  He intended us for a connection of hearts, not an outward expression of rules and regulations that promote us before men.

Our problem is that we have tried to fulfill what God wants on our own, in our own strength.  And it has caused us to become discouraged and very disenchanted with our creator.  We keep trying to “become” what we think we should be, and when we consistently fail we eventually give up.  We cannot get into a relationship with God by following rules and regulations.   And yet we struggle and struggle.  Paul said “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”. People have been having this struggle for centuries.  It is not a new struggle.  Our problem is not that we sin.  Watchmen Nee stated it best when he said “We are not sinners because we sin, We sin because we are sinners.” It is our basic nature that is the problem.  And it requires an act of God to change it.

This is where I  come to the scripture I was reading.  Reading Matthew 3:11 in the Message version I read this The main character in this drama(being Jesus)will ignite the kingdom life within you… changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” It is God’s “Kingdom life” that changes us.  All we have to do is respond.  No more struggling to achieve some standard of living.  No more searching ourselves for wrong behavior. God will put everything in our lives in proper order.  We simply take His hand, follow His lead and obey His direction.  We simply do what Jesus said “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Simply responding to God, in our daily, intimate relationship, following His lead and learning the “unforced rhythms of grace”.  It definitely takes a lot of pressure off.  Our job is not to attain right standing with God by our actions.  That is provided by Jesus alone.  Our job is to simply to get to know Him who loves us without restraint or reservation, and then to allow Him to change and direct our lives.  Not an easy task, but one without pressure or struggle.  We simply get to love Him who first loved us and keep in step with Him.

The End in 2012?

December 21, 2012 is forecast to be the end of the world.  People quote from the Mayan calender, and from the Incans, Egyptians, and Aztecs that the world is going to end.  Nostradamus is even quoted often speaking of major disasters and cataclysms happening.  And it has started a major trend in our society.  It even has its own movie, 2012.

And yet, like so many other “doomsday” prophecies that have come before, how much stock can be placed in this one?  From the end of the world as we know it at the dawn of the millenium, the book 98 reasons Jesus will return in 98, to the comet hitting and destroying the earth in June 06, to the biblical “mark of the beast” 666 was actually the end of the world date June 6, 2006.  And there are many more, and they keep coming.  At my last count there have been more than 84 predictions at least that have been documented and that have gone by with nothing changing.  Just like that millenium worry, when all the computer clocks were to switch over to 00:00.  Nothing happened and life continued.

There seems to a large number of people who rise up to prey on the fears of people.  And a great many make millions from this, as people scramble to by their material and supplies to help them survive.  And yet we never hear from any of them after their “prophecies” and I use that term very loosely, never come to pass.  Not one stands up to say I was wrong.  And not one refunds the moneys they collected.

And so we have another “prophecy”.  One more that we can add to the list.  Will it happen?  Some think it will.  Just like the news reports we all followed a few months ago, where the young boy was trapped in an escaped balloon, that was later proven to be a hoax.  The father was quoted as saying he did it to raise money to build a shelter to help him survive 2012.  And  the craziness continues.  Just like the streams of people who panicked during the millenium fears and ran out and bought up every generator and survival supplies they could find,  people are again succumbing to the “end  of the world” panic.  I actually had a conversation with one of my co-workers on this subject.  He was worried about 2012, because what if it really happened.

I used this opportunity to share my faith with him.  I shared with him that my bible states that “be prepared, because you do not know the day or hour of my return.”  Biblically the world will end after Jesus returns.  So if it cannot end before, and we don’t know the day or the hour of  His return, then anyone who shouts out exact time frames cannot be right.  Because God doesn’t lie.  Numbers 23:19 says “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” So if God doesn’t lie, and He said no one knows when Jesus will return, and Jesus will return before the end of the world, and man is saying he knows when the world will end, then I will believe God.  Man has been proven on many occasions to lie through his teeth, for whatever end suits him.

And I also shared that my eternity is secure.  I know I have a relationship with God, and have been called His son, and know that I will one day stand before Him and be welcomed into eternity with Him forever.  So even if it does end in 2012 I still have nothing at all to fear.  So despite all the press declaring the end of the world, I have no fear at all.

The Year of New Beginnings

As we look back upon the years gone before and take stock of our lives and begin to look forward to the coming year, what is it we think about.  Do we see our time spent in worthwhile endeavors, adding to our lives and the lives of those around us, or do we just see a long list of failures and disappointments?   Have we run over others climbing the ladders of success, or brought others along with us?

I have found in my life and the lives of those around me that we often get caught up completely in the plans we have, and our own personal hopes and dreams that we often forget about the lives and dreams of those around us.  Those who are supposed to be important to us often are the ones who get trampled on the most.  And the rest of humanity goes forgotten in the pursuit of happiness, and what we see as success.

The debt piles up as we attempt to keep up with the Jones’ , whom I have yet to meet by the way, and we try to make our lives appear to be successful, and  try to make ourselves look like we have value and importance.  And yet we don’t get value and importance by what we do, or by what we own.  Winston Churchill said “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” If we simply focus on ourselves we can never truly build a life of meaning and significance.  Just look at the people we admire through history.  People like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King.  People who spent their lives in the simple desire of bettering the lives of those around them.

If we wish to live a meaningful life, we need other people.  For it is only by our contribution to those around us can we truly have meaning.  This may be just our closest family members, or it could be the lives of others we interact with.  But only as we contribute to the lives of others  can we truly live a meaningful life.

The nice thing is if we have chosen to live our lives spending on ourselves, and we would have a large group to keep us company, we  can choose to begin again.  We  can choose now to begin afresh, and make our lives different and full of meaning.  As Paul said so well in scripture “but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead”. Paul knew that focusing on the past, whether it was good or bad, whether victory or defeat, would pull our focus down and cause our lives to be mired in that which was unimportant.

Ever sat with someone who simply rehearses the “glory days” of old?  You wonder if they ever lived beyond the days they constantly rehearse.  And we all know people who simply rehearse their long list of failures and defeats, and as such never allow themselves to live life, and never attempt anything.  Paul understood that our victories and our defeats have the potential to rob us of our future and our potential.  And he simply chose to focus on what his future and purpose was, and laid aside what was past so that his past was not a burden to his future.

It is never to late to re-evaluate and refocus our lives.  “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start my friend, anyone can start from now and make a brand new end.” ~Carl Bard