Friday, August 20, 2010

Is Christianity really a Religion? defines religion as follows:
"a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."
In my experience, many who do not believe in God state that religion is the reason for the wars and bad things that happen on this earth. Granted some things have happened in the name of religion, such as the religious wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan, even the September 11 attacks. Let's also not forget about the crusades either.

Granted, I can see their point. It makes sense. However, I believe God did not intend for a belief in Him to be a religion or agency of beliefs. Personally, religion is a man-made word, with a man made definition. This word generalizes all beliefs into one word: Hindu Religion, Buddhist Religion, Muslim Religion, even Christian Religion. If there is any mention of a God, then those beliefs are a religion. Regardless of the beliefs, as long as there is mention of an afterlife, a God, things of this nature, it is automatically categorized as religion.

God did not intend a belief in Him to be categorized. God intended to have a personal relationship with us. Specifically, Christianity is not really a religion; rather it is a relationship with God. Now, what is a relationship? defines "relationship" as:
1. a connection, association, or involvement.
2. connection between persons by blood or marriage.
3. an emotional or other connection between people: the relationship between teachers and students.
Notice how none of those definitions reference a belief system, or an agency, or even ritual observances?

How can you say Christianity is not a religion but a relationship? Some may ask this question. This is why I say Christianity is not really a religion:

1. Christianity is trusting in Jesus and what He did on the cross for you and me, not what you can do for yourself.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." John 14:6
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
2. Christianity is not about ornate buildings, flamoyant preachers, or traditional rituals. Muslims have mandatory prayer times. In the eastern religions, rituals need to be performed at certain times of the year. This is not what being a Christian is about. What is more pleasing to God -- religious rituals or a right relationship with Him? What God desires most from us is a right relationship with Him! If our focus is always on doing rituals and traditions than seeking to know God we miss out on what Christianity is all about.

Jesus Himself showed us what exactly it is to have a relationship with God. He was in constant communication with God through prayer. His prayers were not like the Pharisees or like the religious leaders of His day.
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Matthew 6:5-7
Prayer was so intimate it it even touched the disciple's hearts
Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1
The relationship that Jesus modeled on earth was one of closeness, oneness, and love. There was an intimate factor not seen in the religious leaders of His day. Jesus' life was one marked with a passion for His Father and an intense desire to do and accomplish the Father's will upon the earth.
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. John 4:34

I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. John 5:30

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38
Religion has long been the enemy of God when traditions and man-made ideologies are imposed into the relationship between God and man. Jesus even spoke of this to the Pharisees in His day:
“Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Matthew 15:3-6
These Pharisees and Scribes put human tradition about God's divine word and their relationship with Him. They took the Sabbath and put more laws and restraints on it when it was to be a day of rest and worship, not "You can only gather this much wood" or "you can only walk this far". Please note that Jesus was not condemning all tradition in the above passage of scripture. Only tradition that conflicts with God's word. All tradition or rules MUST be based upon corresponding truths in Scripture. Religious traditions, human wisdom or contemporary customs which are exalted above the Bible must be resisted.

God has made provisions for mankind to respond to His love through the scarificial atoning death and resurrection of His son. God has always wanted a relationship with man from the very beginning. Immediately after the creation of the first man and woman, God would come down in the cool of the day just to be with them (Genesis 3:8). But this relationship was ruined when Adam and Eve sided with the serpent, disobeying God. The relationship was marred and sin became the ruling force of man's dominion. Yet God did not give up on His creation; He loves us enough to make provision for man to still approach Him, albeit on a limited level.

Let me explain this "provision" that God put in place. After the fall of man, God had instituted a set of rituals and laws through the Levitical system, which was passed down by Aaron's sons with the sacrifice of bulls and goats which could never take away sin. (Leviticus chapters 1-9; Hebrews 10:1-4). The rituals and the Old Testament law were provided because of sin and were top be used as a school-master to bring us to Christ. The sole purpose of the Levitical system was to point to a time where God would liberate men from their sins and once again enjoy the presence and fellowship of God. Thus, by Old Testament rituals, religion was birthed!

Someone has defined religion as man's attempt to know God. But God could not be known without revealing Himself to us! Jesus Himself said:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:44
Man is totally incapable of entering into a right relationship with God through religion. Religion could not and can not restore the broken relationship mankind entered when we fell into sin. It takes God's initiative to bridge the gap between God and man:
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6
The gap of sin can ONLY be restored through a relationship with God's only begotten son. He came to seek and save that which was lost. He became the propitiation for our sins:
My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2
God never intend for us to just hold a pattern of religious rituals. The book of Psalms states:
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire;
My ears You have opened.
Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.
Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:6-8
And God said:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Jeremiah 31:31 – 33
There is one occasion in the Bible where Jesus encountered a Samarian woman who desired to debate the place of worship. Jesus had informed her that the hour is coming and now is that the true worshipers of God will not be concerned about the place of worship but they will worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:21-24). I want to consider the significance in what Jesus told this woman. Everything was related to the rituals of worship, formulated in the Old Testament law. However, Jesus redefined worship not in terms of rituals, but in relationship. It was unusual to approach God in a relational manner as a Father, much less to suggest that the Father is seeking such worshipers. When Jesus died on the cross, He restored this relationship to the Father, along with doing away with our sins.

We do not need religion in order to accomplish a right relationship with God. We do not need useless rituals. All we have to do is come to the Father through Jesus Christ, open our hearts, and pour our devotion and love to Him.

Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with God, through Jesus His son. Christianity is not based upon evidence, but is backed by evidence. Obviously, anyone could claim to be God but the difference with Jesus is that His life completely backed those claims of being God. Jesus fulfilled over 300 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Thanks to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the reliability of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, both of which have been proven to exist prior to the time Jesus walked on the earth, it can be assured that these prophecies were not "conspired" after the fact.
No legitimate scholars today will deny that Jesus lived about 2,000 years ago, was a great teacher and doer of good works, and that he was crucified on a Roman cross for the crime of blasphemy among the Jews. The only dispute is whether Jesus rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion and that He was, in fact, God incarnate. This is where everyone must test the evidence for the resurrection, examine their hearts, and make a decision about who Jesus really was.

Christians do not go around saying Christianity is the only way because they are arrogant, stupid or judgmental. They do so because, based on the evidence, they believe what Jesus said. Christians believe in Jesus, who claimed to be God (John 8:58; Exodus 3:14), who forgave sins (Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20; 7:48), and who rose from the dead (Luke 24:24-29; John 2:19f). Jesus said that He was the only way. Jesus is unique. He was either telling the truth, He was crazy, or He was a liar. But since everyone agrees that Jesus was a “good man,” how then could He be both good and crazy, or good and a liar? He must have been telling the truth. He is the only way.

Buddha didn't rise from the dead, nor did Confucius or Zoroaster. Muhammad didn't fulfill detailed prophecy. Alexander the Great didn't raise the dead or heal the sick. And though there is far less reliable information written about these “religious” leaders, they are believed in and followed by millions.

From: All About Religion
Part of me is the prodigal
Part of me is the other brother
But I think the heart of me
Is really somewhere between them
Some days I'm running wild
Some days we're reconciled
But I wonder all the while
Why you put up with me, when...

I wrestle most days
To find ways to do as I please

I always have, I always will
You saved me once, You save me still
My longing heart, Your love alone can fill
You always have, always will

I was born with a wayward heart
Still I live with a restless spirit
My soul is so well worn
You'd think I'd have arrived by now
I'm caught in the trappings of
My search for lasting love
I've made mistakes enough
To last me a lifetime

I still slip, I still fall
But I'll always run back to you

I'm gonna keep trusting You
I see what You've seen me through
I'm goin' where You have gone (yeah)
I'm letting You lead me on
All my days (always and forever)
Never far (never leave me never)
Here I'll stay (ever love me ever)
Here's my heart
I'll always love You, love You (yeah)

Oh You always have, You always will.

Avalon -- Always Have, Always Will

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