This week we have a guest blogger who goes by the penname of Arthur D. Bardswell.
He is a writer and published author, often providing short stories as a Master Writer to FaithWriters.com, an international online Christian writing community.
He has given permission to use one of these short stories called "The Religion that Aint..."
We chose this because it illustrates what we have been discussing in our previous blog-posts.
Jerry shook his head in frustration.
He answered the altar call because he knew somehow he had to. Yet it seemed as though he was just walking the same old treadmill again.
‘I still don’t get it. I've been slaving my insides out for years trying to get this Christianity thing right, but there’s still something missing. And all you can say is “God loves you”? Sorry, but all this lovey-dovey stuff don’t cut it with me. Okay, God is the boss, and a good one I guess, but why do I still have this emptiness inside?’
Ken, his assigned counselor, smiled his understanding.
‘How did you relate to your own natural father?’
A bitter shade darkened Jerry’s face.
‘Don’t bring him into it. Bad analogy.’
‘Okay then. I know that you’re a good father yourself. You nearly lost your own little boy last year. We were praying for him when he was in hospital. How did you feel then?’
Jerry looked up.
‘Yeah, and we appreciated it. I was moved to tears, I’ll admit it. That’s why we came to church. But that’s a real life experience. What’s that got to do with…?’
He caught his breath as it suddenly hit him.
‘That’s right!’ Ken pursued eagerly. ‘God nearly lost you. He’s a much better father than even you are. This is not a religion, it’s a relationship.’
The light finally dawned in Jerry’s face. He blinked away tears he’d nearly forgotten how to shed.
Jerry shook his head in frustration.
He had started off well with his new Christian life, but it was such hard work staying on cloud nine. The preacher called for those who were struggling to come forward. Swallowing his pride, he went.
There was good ol’ Ken again.
‘Sorry, Ken, I just can’t do this. I’ve tried to walk the straight line, but the old habits are coming back. The temptations are even stronger than before. What do I do? God must hate me now, after all He’s done for me – and I throw it all back in his face!’
‘Jerry, this is normal for us all, myself included. God’s not mad at you.’
He smiled. ‘Hey, tell me how young Joey’s doing?’
‘Joey? The greatest young rebel never hanged!’ laughed Jerry. ‘Now he’s turned three, he’s going through a real learning curve, let me tell you. Into everything and won’t take “No” for an answer.’
‘...So... you have to stand over him with a big stick, right?’
Jerry was a bit indignant at that.
‘Absolutely not! I’m not that sort of father. I keep him from harm but make sure he suffers the consequences of any willful bad behaviour. I don’t expect him to be a saint. I encourage him when he gets it right. I work with him and explain why some choices will do him harm. We’re a team, him and I, and I’m proud of him, whatever he does.’
Ken looked Jerry in the eye.
‘That’s what the Father is like. This aint a religion...’
‘...It’s a relationship!’ finished Jerry, laughing with relief and pounding his head with his fists.
‘Man, I've got such a thick skull! Thanks Ken.’
Missions Week was a resounding success.
Many answered the altar call enthusiastically, ready to reach all nations with the Gospel.
Jerry answered the call too. He walked forward, but with less than the usual level of enthusiasm characterized by those other Kingdom warriors.
And there was Ken. Grey-haired now, but still with that twinkle in his eye.
‘Hi Jerry. Ready to “Go forth and make disciples….”?’
Jerry shook his head in frustration.
‘Well, I can’t lie, Ken, to you of all people. Yeah, there’s such a huge need out there, and who’s going if I don’t? I know all that. God commanded it, so I guess I’ll have to go. But I can’t honestly say my heart’s in it. I feel far better working in Community Ministry, but that’s nothing compared to what we've heard this week.’
Ken thought for a moment. ‘How’s Joey doing at college.’
Jerry brightened. ‘Great! He was worried that I’d be mad at him for choosing Engineering over Social Work. That’s been our family’s tradition for generations. But I told him he was destined to be a brilliant engineer. He’s never looked back since.’
‘You know what, Jerry? I think you’re destined to be a brilliant Community worker.’
Jerry gasped, then laughed out loud.
‘It aint a religion, it’s a relationship!’
One thing that makes biblical Christianity unique from all other faith systems in the world (which includes atheism) is that our God wants to have a personal relationship with His people.
“So what’s the difference?” you may ask. “What do the scriptures mean that He actually personifies all these benefits?”
Here’s a few thoughts:
We are not robots, God created us with a personality, just like Him. A computer might benefit from a good set of instructions (“Truth”) and obey it to the last byte. The human heart is way too complex for that. God’s instructions always benefit in the long run, but what we are crying out for is relationship. We are made in His image for that very purpose.The more we get to know Him, not just the instructions He gives, the more benefit we get out of the instructions. Truth always originates in His beautiful character, warming our hearts, not just informing our minds. Then Truth and all the information that is incorporated starts to make sense. We can see the reason why He told us to do, or not to do stuff. We begin to appreciate His goodness, generosity, care etc -- especially if we learn the hard way!
Love, for example, is more than just a gooey feeling. No matter how good it feels, a gooey feeling cannot be relied upon in real life, in real living. It might help, but sooner or later we have to make loving choices when the gooey feeling is not there. God is like that. He first chose to love us no matter how horrible we made Him feel. Why? That’s just His nature.
Love is not love unless there is a giver and (hopefully) a receiver, or at least an object of that love. Ultimate love takes on a God-like personality -- it’s an expression of Him.
God wants to be fully involved in the whole process. More than that, God initiates and IS the whole process.
Imagine a father giving his little boy a ball for his birthday and then saying “Go out and play now, I’m busy.” Whereas a good father would not only find (or make) the right kind of ball the boy needs, he would go out and show him how to throw and catch, and play with him often. That’s what our Heavenly Father is like, but on a much larger scale, of course!
A good trainer or business mentor doesn’t just drop a set of instructions on the trainee, he personalizes the process, stays with him until he “gets” it. Not as a slave-driver, a father-figure. The trainee then takes on the characteristics of the trainer in his new competence.
Don’t just ask God for a gift, seek Him as the Giver.
So much more could be said. Any thoughts on that?
I like the quote that Bruce Laird made last Sunday at MCF, about Aslan the lion in C S Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, where it said “He’s not a TAME lion.”
How often we try and keep God in our little theological cages, thinking we’ve got Him sorted.
Many times we meet well-meaning believers or even whole churches who believe that God is either a big teddy-bear Santa figure or a wrathful unapproachable task-master.
The secular media love to highlight the latter especially, giving us the message “Who’d want to believe in, let alone worship a god like that?” They quote all the passages in the Old Testament about God sending terrible judgement on us, but ignore all the connected passages where God leaves the door open for restoration, often taking the initiative Himself.
On the other hand, many professing believers say: “Well, let’s just do what we like. God will forgive us! He’s too loving to send us to Hell!” and ignore scriptures like:
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7. We only go to Hell (whatever form that takes) because we’ve chosen that road.
God is neither of those two extremes.
Yet we seem to go through seasons where God tends to be like one or the other.
We still haven't got the balance right yet!
But we see this balance right throughout scripture. A few more examples:
Personally, I’d rather trust His justice than that of mere people, be they theologians or secular philosophers. He’s the only one who has the whole picture.
The laws of nature are consistent, and don’t let you off the hook because you defy them.
If God wasn’t consistent in being the ultimate dealer of justice, I’m convinced the whole universe would come apart at the seams, not just morally. But He has made provision for our restoration because He is not only our judge, He is our loving Father.
Relationship is what God is all about. He is not merely loving -- “God is love.”
I’d like to explore that a bit further.
(By the way, you're welcome to post comments below -- even challenging comments.
Healthy discussions on these things can be very helpful. I don't profess to be a guru-of-all-wisdom.
Anything overly negative or abusive will be deleted, however.)