Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Saying No to Religion, and Yes to Jesus

Part of my family and I spent the morning volunteering at a local food pantry.  I spent the time getting to know people, hearing their stories, and re-introducing them to Jesus.  I say re-introduce because Jesus is so familiar, and yet so unknown.  Most people have been inundated with religious jargon, that seems completely irrelevant to our lives.  We've heard that Jesus died on the cross on our sins.  People know they should go to church, pray, read their bibles and try to be good people.  Religion is all about trying to be good.  Over and over I've heard  people talk about going back to church so they can start living better, or get themselves right.  Others go to church so that they hear an encouraging message that will jump start them for the week, then they go back to life as usual.  I spoke with a lady today who was more concerned about God answering her prayers than God himself.  "Yes, I believe God answers my prayers because I always see a rose when he does."  That's cool, but do you know God?  Why would God do something so personal, if he didn't want you to know Him intimately? 

(Many of us want God to answer our prayers, but we're uninterested in actually knowing Him. He's just our Genie-in-a-bottle.)

The American culture is full of religion.   So many of us put on religious masks that keep us from encountering the real Jesus.  We can say the "right" words.  We pray the "right" prayers.  We can quote scripture, and sing the "right" songs.  We go to church and participate in church activities.  But... do we know God(aka Jesus)?

How, you ask?

Great question.  How do you get to know anybody you want to know?  It's quite simple.  By spending time with him or her.  Get alone and spend face to face time getting to know God.  That requires, quite obviously, a recognition that there is a God to be known.  If you don't believe that God exists, why would you ever attempt to spend time with Him?  Once alone, talk to God.  We call that prayer.  If you're going to talk to God, you must believe that He's listening.  Why would you waste time talking to someone who can't hear you, or who doesn't care to listen?  Next you must listen to Him.  That's right, listen.  Of course, that means that He speaks.  Not only does that mean He speaks, but He wants to speak to each of us personally.  He speaks through His words.  Many of His words are written in the Bible.  He reveals to us who He is.  He shows is ways of working in the world.  He gives us examples of others who were His friends.  He teaches us much about ourselves and the world. 

He will speak specifically to us.  About our lives. About our destiny.  About our circumstances.  About who we are.  His words aren't simply printed words on a page, they are words that are overflowing with life, and meaning.  They are relevant and true.  They go beyond our natural understanding. They go deeper than deep.  Those who continue to dive into His word daily find themselves discovering treasure after treasure. There's an endless supply! 

God also speaks to our Spirits in ways that cannot be explained in words.  He speaks in our minds.  He speaks through creation.  He speaks in dreams and visions.  He speaks  in the silence.

And once He's spoken, we must believe His words to us.  What's the use in listening, if you won't believe? And what's the point of believing, if you won't do what He tells you to do?

We can also know Jesus by being around others who know Him--His children.  His children are also known as "the church".  God wants us learning together, praying together, and serving together.  TOGETHER is the key word.  He doesn't want us on our own.  In fact, He promises a special manifestation of His presence when we gather together.  I can't completely explain it, but I've experienced it many, many times.  When we come as humble seekers of the true and living God, expecting Him to speak to us and to do something special among us, He does.  Often, we come with our own agenda, that we expect Jesus to follow.  We often gather with others in order to check off our, Went-to-church-this-week box, rather than with the desire to meet with Jesus, and pour out our love and devotion to Him.

Don't abandon gathering with other true followers with Jesus.  Just find some true followers to gather with.  God will guide your search. He doesn't want you alone.

I'm currently reading a book that is encouraging me in my search to know the "real Jesus".  I want to know Him for myself.  So I'm reading the gospels with new ears, and new eyes, asking God's Spirit to show me the real Jesus.  The author of this book encourages His readers to do the same.  We've painted this flat, uninteresting, powerless, and quite frankly, impersonal Jesus.  We've made Him distant and unapproachable, sorta like the Pope.  That's not the real Jesus!  The real Jesus was continually surrounded with sinners.  Prostitutes. The despised. Thiefs. The sick. The demon possessed--crazies. The destitute. The broken. The  poor. Jesus welcomed these people in His presence.  Jesus isn't somewhere up in the clouds, unapproachable by us.  He wants us to know Him and to live in a continual relationship with Him. 

The last lady I spoke with today talked about her frustration with her church.  She wants more.  She thought that there was more. 

There is.

Religion doesn't fill the deepest longings of our souls.

Jesus does.

Say yes to the real Jesus.

He wants you to know Him.

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