Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Moving into a relationship with God.

Deuteronomy 6.4-5

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

This is the advice of Moses before he goes into the mountain to die. He knows his time is near and he wants to impart to the Children of Israel the words he feels are important for them to keep.

His words: The Lord is one Lord and love the Lord thy God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

The core of his message to the Children of Israel is not to adhere to the commands of Joshua, even though that is important. It is not the avoidance of the immorality of the Philistine culture that they will encounter over the mountain in the promise land, which is also of large importance. Moses understood that if the Children of Israel could just love God with everything they had, everything else would fall into its proper place.

Love God! It is that simple.

Jesus' take on it: The Kingdom of God is like a treasure buried in a field. A man, when he finds it, sells all he has to purchase that field.

In that day, there were no safety deposit boxes to keep your valuables. Your home security system was to be ever watchful. There were no hidden bedroom safes. One way to protect your valuables was to bury them. This is not something you would tell people. It was a secret place. The land would pass to sons and then to the sons of sons. The secret would be passed on as well. However, suppose a tragedy claimed the life of an owner with no one to continue to work the land. The secret dies with the owner. The land is on the market.

The law of the day was that whoever owned the land, owned anything found in it or under it. This man, passing through the field finds the treasure. He goes to buy the land. The cost is high. He sells everything he owns to get the purchase price. He knows there are immeasurable riches to be found on the land.

If we love God, we will desire to do that which is right in His sight.

A kindergarten class was working on their art projects. One particular little girl was working diligently on her drawing. The teacher asked her what she was drawing. "I am drawing God," was the reply. "Sweetheart," the teacher responded, "no one knows what God looks like." Without missing a stroke in her drawing, the little girl replied, "They will in a minute."

We have varying ideas of who God is. Sometimes those ideas are motivated by what we need at the time. How do we see Jesus?

· Bobble-head Jesus

o God is there when I want to consider Him. He is there when I need to know He is there. He is there to uplift my day. He is there to remind me we have a relationship. He is our good luck charm. When my day becomes hard or unbearable, I can look to the bobble-head Jesus and be encouraged.

· Action Figure Jesus

o Jesus is there when I need Him to come to my rescue. He is off in his secret identity most of the time. He is unobtrusive. He moves in and out of my life unawares. However, when I need him, He slips on that cape and swoops down and rescues me.

· Baby Jesus

o Jesus is still there in the manger. He is the hope of the world. He is the answer to prayers. He requires nothing of me other than believing that he is. When the world is chaotic, I can look to the manger and know that my Savior lives.

· Shroud of Turin Jesus

o He is my mystical and metaphysical Jesus. He operates in a higher plane. He is off solving world issues. He doesn’t have time to worry about my car keys or my electric bill. He is full of mystery and wonder.

· Shepherd Jesus

o This is the one that leaves the 99 and searches for me when I have gone astray. He finds me in my tears and lifts me to His shoulder. He comforts me. Nestled in His arms, I can feel the peace of His heartbeat. He finds me when I am lost. He returns me to the fold.

· Soft and Tender Jesus

o This is like the Jesus that wrote in the sand as the woman faced her accusers and accused her not. When I make a mistake, He does not come in judgment. He shows love and forgiveness. When I falter and when I fail, He is kind and nurturing.

· Tough Guy Jesus

o This is the Jesus that can be seen taking a stand and protecting me. He is like the Jesus that chased the crooks from the temple. He will rout the forces of the enemy for the sake of my soul. He is swift in His action against the enemies of my soul.

· Holy Jesus

o He is the standard by which the world shall be judged. He is the plumb line. He is the measurement by which we will be assessed. He is the reflection by which the actions of the world will be arbitrated.

· Suffering Jesus

o He is the sufferer of the consequence of sin. He is on the cross. I can see His blood dripping. I can see the sweat. I can hear the crowd call for His death. I can hear the soldiers casting lots for his garment. I can hear the cries of His earthly mother. I can see the anguish of His followers.

To which role have we relegated Jesus in our lives?

Moses summed it up nicely. The Lord is one God. He is the all in all. He is the express image of an invisible God. He is the reminder of our faith. He is our defense. He is our strong tower. He is our peace that passes all understanding. He is our metaphysical wonder working God. He is our Great Shepherd. He is gentle and caring to us ward and yet He is a powerful force against evil. He is Holy. He is the plumb line in the midst of the people. He is the suffering Christ, the recompense of my sins, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the one everlasting sacrifice for my sins.

He goes on to tell us that we are to love Him as such. We are to love Him as He is one. We are to love undivided. Our love is to be with all of our heart. It is to be with all of our soul. It is to be with all of our strength.

When Jesus was questioned as to which commandment was the greatest, He responded “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”

This goes far beyond so rules scribbled on tables of stone.

There comes a time when we must abandon religion for a relationship.

Too many have a checklist relationship.

Pay tithes

Dress holy

Attend church

Pray daily

Fast weekly

Witness to people

We must stop measuring our Christianity by our neighbor’s yardstick (religion) and worry about how God feels about our life (relationship.) Religion is external. A relationship is internal.

"God loves me more because I do this or I do that," or "I love God more because I do this or I do that."

That is the spirit of the elder brother. When the prodigal lost son returned and the feast was given, he refused to attend and celebrate the return of his brother. He bemoaned, "I have served you faithfully and you never gave me a feast." He had his checklist.

Stay home

Keep the flocks

Labor for Father

Keep the commandments

"See here, Father. I have done this, and this, and this."

The elder brother was as wrong in his spirit as the younger brother was in his actions. He was resting on his religiosity. He was convinced that the culmination of his good acts was to be enough. However, his bitter spirit was hurt when the Father gave a blessing to someone he felt was undeserving.

There is a line in a song by Casting Crowns that says, “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come.”

Religion draws the lines. Religion identifies by outward acts. Please understand, I am not denying that there are to be outward acts and signs. When we come to a new relationship with God, we will walk differently. The Word says we will walk in newness. Old things are to pass away. All things will become new. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

There will be an instantaneous and continuing change in our lives. However, this change will be the result of a new relationship, not a new religion. Paul. In his letter to the church at Corinth, told us, “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” 2 Corinthians 3:3

God did not save or deliver Israel because they were good, but because He was good. The Ten Commandments were a reminder of what a life dedicated to God looks like. They were never meant to be the checklist for religion. The rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what he had to do. Jesus told him to obey the commandments. He proudly displayed his checklist. "I have done all of these from my youth." Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus saw a man that was ready to move beyond religion and into a relationship. "Sell all you have, take up the cross, and follow me."

It was time for that young man to move beyond religion. It was time to move into a relationship.

There comes a time when we must push beyond the rules of religion and move into the freedom of a relationship. Those that love God with all their hearts, mind, and strength, desire to do the things which please Him. This is freeing. Rules of religiosity are confining.

Let me show you the difference.

A person living a religious life can often be heard complaining about the life. There are too many ‘cannot dos’ and not enough ‘can dos’. They will describe their life by their actions. If you ask them about their salvation, they will tell you the rules of their religion. “I do because the church says so.”

A person in a relationship with God will answer the question with a glowing monologue about the goodness of their Savior. The conversation will be about blessings and goodness. The talk of service will be a joyful service. “I do because I love God.”

Where are you?

Are you living a checklist life or do you have a real relationship with God?

There is a definitive difference in the ways we treat infants, toddlers, children, teens, and adults. When our children are small, we surround them with protections. We make the house safe. We put outlet covers on unused outlets to prevent electrocution. As they grow, we establish rules to protect them. We have a checklist. Do this and don't do this. Eventually, we hope they have reached the time when they have learned enough and have their own relationship with right and wrong. We remove the rules. We remove the protections. We trust that our training has taken hold.

Paul said in his letter to the Hebrew Church, "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment." Is Paul saying that these things are no longer important or necessary? No, he is saying that we know them well enough that they do not need to be rehearsed daily in our ears. It is time to move from the religion to the relationship.

Earlier in his letter to this church, he challenged them with, "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."

Paul is telling them, at this time they should be moving into a deeper relationship with God. There will always be a need for teacher, but they should be the teachers by this time. They should have left the checklist of religions and moved into the freedom of willing service in a relationship.

Where are you?

Do you converse openly and freely with God concerning the contents of your life and the way you live, or do you have a by-law book in your hand?

I cannot emphasis enough how much I believe there is a standard of holiness to which Christians will gravitate and to which they will adhere. Those in a relationship with God will live holy. They will joyously relinquish the things of the world for the things of God.

You can set your timer and pray for an hour and never really talk to God at all. When you have a relationship, the conversation comes.

You can set days and/or meals to fast and never really reach a sacrificial level. When you have a relationship, the sacrifice comes with joy.

I am not talking about a free loving, live any way you want, lifestyle. But, we do need to understand that God is looking for those to worship him in spirit and truth. He is looking for the same thing today that He was looking for when He created Adam and Eve. He is looking for individuals to make a choice to have a relationship with Him.

He is looking for those that will love him with all of their hearts, with all of their minds, and with all of their strength.

There are as many issues as there are pet peeves. Paul addressed a church that had issues with others in the same congregation. They took umbrage with those that were uncircumcised. Paul told them that circumcision was under the law. Jesus fulfilled the law. If they, the detractors, chose to live under that old law, they would die under that old law, in it was not perfect, or a perfect sacrifice would not have needed to be made.

Put away your yardstick of religion and get a relationship.

Seek God.

Find the one true God.

Love Him:

With all of your heart,

With all of your soul,

And with all of your strength.

Then, and only then, will you move past religion and into a relationship.

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