Me, Religion, and Jesus

   Last week something was said to me that gave me pause. I was told I would not have been liked due to my being religious.   I’m not sure how this person defines religion, but I know how I define it and I am not religious. Do I believe in God and Jesus? Absolutely. That doesn’t make me religious. Allow me to explain.                

   I would define religion as following a list of “can”, “cannot”, “should”, and “should not”.   Let me be clear, I understand the Ten Commandments are exactly what I just described.    I agree those commandments should be followed, as does most laws and governments. Religion goes beyond those commandments. It tells you how to dress, what your beliefs are, what you cannot eat, how to pray the “right way”, and tells you not to question what you are told. The list of rules to be followed is endless. Religion keeps you bound, and allows you to hide behind excuses. Religion is life lived from a sense of obligation rather than of love. It prevents true relationship with Jesus because it is a mask that is put on. It keeps you from being real and honest about life and faith.

           I used to be religious. I have felt the shame of committing yet another sin, and the guilt of missing church. I have questioned whether my prayers were good enough, and if I was even praying in the right manner. I believed the lie that if I didn’t pray perfectly my prayers wouldn’t be heard nor answered. Religion left me confused, frustrated, and wanting.  Because of religion I walked away from church for a good long while. I was tired of the game.

             I have since discovered a life changing truth. Jesus wasn’t religious. Jesus went against everything that was religious. Jesus was real, and he had an honest relationship with his heavenly father. It was a relationship of mutual love, not obligation.  He was emotional and expressed those emotions. He asked if it was God’s will to let the pain of the cross pass from him, and then willingly endured it. He had friends, and knew what it was to be both loved and rejected. He slept, ate, partied (the wedding at Canaan), and drank wine. He ministered to those in need. He didn’t judge, he took people as they were and loved them in spite of their frailty. He lived an authentic, honest, no mask life.  That’s relationship.

               I am thru with religion. I desire to be like Jesus. And that means I pursue relationship. Notice the word “real” can be extrapolated from “relationship”. If I want a relationship with Jesus I have to be real.   I can take him my questions, my fears, my hopes, my dreams. I can love and care for others without abandon because he takes care of me. I no longer feel the weight of shame and guilt over missing church or yet another sin. I am human and a work in progress. I accept the forgiveness offered to me, and do my best to change my ways. I do this not because I feel obligated, but because I love Jesus and want to be more like him.   That is why Jesus died on the cross- not so we would feel obligated to him and follow a list of rules. No. He came so we can enjoy the freedom of a relationship with him. That relationship with him frees us and allows us to become the best versions of our true self.

   If I would have been disliked because I love Jesus and pursue relationship with him?  Then I am absolutely ok with that.   Because that isn’t religious- Jesus wasn’t and I won’t be either

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March 27, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Habakkuk’s choice

                       Habakkuk ends with one of my favorite passages of scripture.    I love the words, as they are spoken from a heart that had come full circle in a conversation with God.    Remember Habakkuk started out angry, full of questions.   God responded with a hard answer, causing Habakkuk to look back, remember, and praise God for all he had done in the past.   He then reaffirms his faith by saying that it doesn’t matter what comes, what the circumstances around him look like, he will choose joy. 

                      Starting in verse 17 of chapter 3, Habakkuk describes some despairing, hopeless, times.  He then in verse 18 uses a very powerful word to transition to his choice of joy.  Yet.  He says “Yet, I will rejoice.”  Webster defines “yet” as now or in the future.  Habakkuk is stating that right in that moment as well as in the difficult times that were coming he was going to choose joy.  I am not sure I could choose the same.

                     I think being able to say the brave words Habakkuk did of “Yet, I will rejoice…” comes with time.  It comes when a heart fully believes and trusts God in all things.   The last few years I have been through some of the darkest days of my life. I have suffered.  I didn’t choose to rejoice or be joyful.   I didn’t resent the circumstances but I wasn’t praising God for them in the moment either.   To be honest, I am not there in my faith.   I have, however, come to the place I can say that no matter what happens it is well with my soul.   I knew thru my suffering goodness was going to come.  That the suffering was going to build my strength, and bring beauty to my ashes.  Those thoughts allowed me to choose to let it be well in my soul.   That is where I am in my faith at this moment.   In hard times, I can be at peace, but I am not ready to choose joy.  I am not ashamed to admit it either.   And that is because I believe God honored Habakkuk’s choice to choose joy, and I know he honors the place where I am- that no matter what comes my way it is well with my soul. 

                       I know this because of the words written in Habakkuk 3:19, “The sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes me as surefooted as the deer, able to tread upon the heights.”  Climbing a mountain is full of craggy, slippery places.  God gives me the strength and the sure footing I need to climb.  I know he will also help me get to the place Habakkuk did, the place of choosing joy in the darkest moments of life.     

March 11, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Habakkuk Looks Back

    We are always told not to look back.  To keep our eyes forward because looking back can only hamper our progress; make us yearn for what was instead of what is to be.  I agree, but there are exceptions to every “rule”.   There are times looking back is essential in order for us to face what is ahead.

          God had just finished giving the prophecy of what was to come to Habakkuk.  I can’t imagine the weight of the burden he was carrying. The answer was hard, and suffering was coming.  If I were Habakkuk I probably would have cowered in worry, wondering how I was going to survive.  Habakkuk did no such thing.  He started looking back.   Habakkuk began singing a song of praise about all the things God had delivered his people from.  He spoke of many things including the deliverance from Egypt and when God helped Gideon defeat the Midianites. These were stories Habakkuk had heard because they had been handed down thru the generations.    The bible doesn’t tell us, but I imagine Habakkuk praised God for some things God had done in his own life as well.    I believe nothing would have brought more comfort to Habakkuk’s heart than remembering what God had done for him personally.  Habakkuk stood there in awe of all God’s deeds.

     There have been many times in my own journey that I can only move forward by looking back.     Not only have I looked at the difficult things God has brought me through but I have remembered stories told to me of difficult things God has brought family or friends through.   In those moments I have felt that I haven’t had any strength, faith, or courage left to move on.  But when I look back? I have managed to take a deep breath and forge ahead. 

    Want to move forward? Take a look, just a look, back. 

Scripture reference:  Habakkuk 3: 1-16

March 6, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.