We all belong to a religion! We can belong to a religion without having any form of relationship with anyone. Wait, what? I knew a man who watched the show “Law and Order” religiously! He never missed an episode, even while on vacation. This show drove his behavior in the ways he responded to people around him. He became highly judgmental of everyone who stepped in his path. He had no compassion for anyone who broke the law he had invented in his own mind from watching his television show. For example, he drove in traffic while consistently telling others how they should drive with hand signals and words no one else could hear while in his car. He was so principled about all of life that many didn’t understand his comments of correction for them that were rendered unsolicited. He became “a person of interest” but not in good ways. Most didn’t want to be around him and would avoid him when possible. This is religion.
There are many other types of “religions” that we follow religiously without any thought to relationship or reconciliation with our Creator.
Paul speaks to the Jews, his own tribe and culture, in which he grew up, about religion versus reconciliation and relationship. Paul found The Way to God through Jesus. Paul is sent by God to open the eyes of his fellow Jews and remind them that God came for them first but they turned their backs and followed their religion instead. He tells them the most important relationship they could have had is now offered to everyone. Why? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. The prophets told the Jews in their scriptures that the Messiah would come and reconcile God’s people, save them from their sins and his name would be called Jesus. But they stuck to their religion, their driving force for life on earth, but not life eternal.
Most Jewish leaders preferred religion over a beautiful, intimate, unconditional loving relationship with God, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Go figure.
We must ask ourselves and really consider…
What is my preference? What is my religion that I follow “religiously”? What do I think about most? What determination drives my behavior? These are all important questions for reflection as we celebrate the birth of our newborn King, our Savior, who God sent to set things right between us and our God. Our answers, along with our behavior will reveal what or who is most important to us. I pray that the most important relationship is yours and mine from repentant hearts seeking reconciliation with the One and Only who loved us first and loves us most.
ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING
Romans 10, The Message
Israel Reduced to Religion
1-3 Believe me, friends, all I want for Israel is what’s best for Israel: salvation, nothing less. I want it with all my heart and pray to God for it all the time. I readily admit that the Jews are impressively energetic regarding God—but they are doing everything exactly backward. They don’t seem to realize that this comprehensive setting-things-right that is salvation is God’s business, and a most flourishing business it is. Right across the street they set up their own salvation shops and noisily peddle their knockoffs. After all these years of refusing to really deal with God on his terms, insisting instead on making their own deals, they have nothing to show for it.
4-10 The earlier revelation was intended simply to get us ready for the Messiah, who then puts everything right for those who trust him to do it. Moses wrote that anyone who insists on using the law code to live right before God soon discovers it’s not so easy—every detail of life regulated by fine print! But trusting God to shape the right living in us is a different story—no precarious climb up to heaven to recruit the Messiah, no dangerous descent into hell to rescue the Messiah. So what exactly was Moses saying?
The word that saves is right here,
as near as the tongue in your mouth,
as close as the heart in your chest.
It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”
11-13 Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”
14-17 But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims,
A sight to take your breath away!
Grand processions of people
telling all the good things of God!
But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: “Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?” The point is: Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to.
18-21 But haven’t there been plenty of opportunities for Israel to listen and understand what’s going on? Plenty, I’d say.
Preachers’ voices have gone ’round the world,
Their message to earth’s seven seas.
So the big question is, Why didn’t Israel understand that she had no corner on this message? Moses had it right when he predicted,
When you see God reach out to those
you consider your inferiors—outsiders!—
you’ll become insanely jealous.
When you see God reach out to people
you think are religiously stupid,
you’ll throw temper tantrums.
Isaiah dared to speak out these words of God:
People found and welcomed me
who never so much as looked for me.
And I found and welcomed people
who had never even asked about me.
Then he capped it with a damning indictment:
Day after day after day,
I beckoned Israel with open arms,
And got nothing for my trouble
but cold shoulders and icy stares.
I found you! Now that we are reconciled, our relationship of love, peace, joy because of your love, mercy and grace unending becomes sweeter each day. I love you with all that is in me. You loved me and the rest of the world by dying to save us. Who can ask for anything more? YOU are my driving force. YOU are my religion, reconciliation and relationship all rolled into your forgiveness and abiding love for and with me. Thank your for holding tight to me and never letting go of our love for each other. I will follow you. I worship only you.
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen