Tag Archives: Intimacy with God

Religion or Relationship?

Jesus came to make the heart of God visible, knowable, and experiential to all humanity. If you want to know what God thinks or how he feels, just explore Jesus. He is the heart of God turned inside-out.  Jesus explains or exegetes the Father according to John 1:18. Absent from the Gospel narratives, which clearly portray Jesus, is any attempt to start a new religion. That’s not why Jesus came. His was not a new spiritual movement, but rather a fleshed-out example of what genuine relationship with God looked like.

Religion has a way of sucking the life out of relationship. The Old Testament is rife with relationship gone bad resulting in religion. Relationship is the practical outworking of being connected to heart-to-heart with Jesus. Relationship requires a 100% buy in with spirit, soul, and body. It requires all. On the other hand, religion is a cheap imitation filled with rituals, rules, and rote behaviors. All it requires is going through the motions. It is a “form of godliness, but denies the power of God.”

Religion is relationship without any heart. It is a check-list of do’s and don’ts, a psuedo belief that a human being can somehow be good enough, gain enough merit, or somehow deserve God’s love. The very thing most people are trying to earn, God has freely given to us in Jesus Christ. The cost of religion never satisfies the hunger of the human heart. It promises what it cannot provide and promotes what it does not possess.

Relationship reveals God’s heart little-by-little, moment-by-moment. It is far more than a glorious destination; it is an eternal journey into the heart of God’s infinite love. We tend to fall into religion, almost by default, but relationship is a passionate pusuit that results from a continual choice.

Religion or relationship? It depends on what you really want.

To Explain or Experience? That is the Question

There is a hunger, a craving in all of us for something more. Something we can’t explain or describe. This longing is a desperate need that can’t be satisfied with facts, figures, or fickle fantasy. It won’t be met with any of the alternatives we, as desperate human beings, have attempted to substitute throughout our generations of habitation on this earth. No—power, position, prestige, money, sex, food, drugs, idols, and a thousand other endless, empty pursuits simply lack the power to quell the gnawing pangs of an internal hunger generated from the very genesis of our DNA. Blaise Pascal, a 17th century mathematician and Christian philosopher, summed it up this way: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are…”

 This is not a “me” or “you” problem—this is a human problem. This satisfaction, this craving and helplessness as Pascal calls it, is etched in the primordial memory of our consciousness. The problem is no created thing can scratch this infernal itch and we can’t seem to remember what or perhaps who can.

That is—except God. Pascal provides the solution to the unanswerable question and the insatiable internal appetite: “…Since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”  This abyss in our soul and spirit needs far more than you or I can cram into it—we need God.

We were created by God for God. Let that sink in for a moment. God needs nothing so he did not create us out of a need. No, he created us out of desire. A desire fuel by an unconditional love he longed to lavish on created creatures made in his likeness and in his image. God desired that his heart be experienced—that is known intimately.

Sadly most of us have spent our entire Christian life in an attempt to explain God in a way we can understand. We demand rational explanations, deductive arguments, and laboratory experiments, which are finite at best and flawed at worst, to explain the infinite. We preach three point sermons with revelation, application, and illustration on things we cannot comprehend, or teach in-depth, perhaps inept lessons on things we have no real clue about, or worse, we write endless articles, papers, and books with seven steps to this and twelve steps to that when we are totally out of step in our flawed, yet limited approach. Yes, God did give us a brain to think with, but he also gave us five senses, an impassioned soul filled with emotions, and a spirit that can only receive communication on God’s personal frequency. God is not looking to be explained. He never explains his omnipotence, his omnipresence, or his omniscience. He simply declares it or demonstrates it. So why should we think we can explain him. No, God is intent on our experiencing him.

Perhaps this kind of thinking frightens you to death. Perhaps it sounds dangerous—you know that right brain stuff oozing into good, solid theological thinking. Perhaps you have been trained not to trust your emotions, and because of this, have shut them off completely in your pursuit of God. Instead you have chosen to be dependent on rational, intellectual, and cold, hard objective facts and figures to gratify that voracious hunger. So how is that working for you? Have the fangs of your ravenous soul stopped gnawing? Has your heart stopped longing for something more? Are you still cramming things that don’t fit in that God-shaped vacuum?

Stop the explaining and begin the experiencing. You can use your brain, but realize you are far more than a brain—you are a spirit, soul, and body with a brain, not vice versa. Psalm 46:10 (KJV) says, “Be still and know that I am God…” To paraphrase this powerful statement—stop cramming everything you can into an infinite abyss and allow an infinite and immutable God to satisfy that ravenous desire he’s hard-wired in you.  Be still—stop explaining! And know—start experiencing!

Finding Intimacy with God

photoThe difference between finding intimacy with God and talking about intimacy with God is as different as day and night. Human beings are notorious for talking about things but never experiencing them. All of us were hard-wired by God to experience intimacy with him, but few people ever do. We talk, write, teach, and preach about our relationship with God, but without a genuine intimate experience the best we can hope for is a casual acquaintance. Intimacy is the game-changer. It’s what transforms an acquaintance into an authentic relationship.

Jesus didn’t die to restore a casual acquaintance; he died to restore authentic relationship with God. He hung on the cross and suffered unbearable pain so that we could have true intimacy—a heart-to-heart connection with God, one that could be experienced.

This intimacy I’m talking about is one you must find for yourself and on your own. It’s one you must pursue with the passion God implanted in your heart. Your hunger must drive you. My hunger and passion for God is not enough for you because when things get tough (and they will) you may discover you have little or no hunger or passion of your own and give up. I can paint some pictures, describe some experiences, and point out various pitfalls, but you can’t find intimacy with God based on my own personal encounters. Those you must pursue on you own.

All I can tell you with certainty is that if you pursue God with all your heart you will most certainly find him. That’s a promise straight out of Jeremiah 29:13 and God cannot lie. I can point, but the pathway you’re on and the speed at which you are traveling are likely not the same as mine. Besides that, I can only lead you to the places I’ve visited.

Pursuing intimacy is first a choice you must make and second, a step of faith you must take. Included in the backpack you will need for that journey is a copy of God’s Word that you can understand, a journal and pen for writing down what God shows you (as well as the pitfalls you encounter), a desperate desire to carry on a conversation with God (some call this prayer), an appointed time and location for meeting God, and likely some worship music of your particular persuasion. You may choose to pack more and that’s up to you. Take what you can carry comfortably.

A word of caution and encouragement—find a time and a place where you can quiet your self and not be interrupted. Intimacy is something you have with one person—not a crowd. Don’t become mechanical and check your religious list at the door. Be spontaneous (that may take a while), experiment (keep what works and discard what doesn’t), and be adventurous in your pursuit. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid—whatever happens in the secret place stays in the secret place. God certainly won’t tell and no one will know unless you do.

There are countless ways to find intimacy with God. You can do it quietly, with shouts of praise and proclamation, with hands uplifted or on your face in the floor. You can sit, kneel, stand, jump, spin, or dance. You can sing, shout, or run about. God won’t be offended by how you pursue him as long as you do it with all your heart in a genuine manner. Find out what works for you—but don’t be afraid to take a step past the artificially installed boundaries of your denomination or your teachers, preachers, and mentors. Push the boundaries—veryoften God eagerly awaits only a step passed where your comfort level ends and his grace begins.

So pick up your backpack and begin to pursue. If you pursue God’s presence with all your heart you will find him.

Now it’s your turn to share something from your journey for others who will follow?

1) What is an artificial boundary that your hunger for God has demolished?

2)What kind of location harbors your secret place? A closet—a porch—a quiet place in your yard—a walk in the woods?

3) How has time in God’s presence changed the ways in which you worship?

Requiem for a Warrior…Russ Calvin

photo_20150609_AL0068019_0_russcalvin_20150609A requiem is a lament—the wailing of a heart broken—a song of sadness that emanates from deep within the soul. Throughout human history these songs have accompanied the death of a warrior. Russ Calvin was such a warrior—a man who battled and wrestled in spiritual realms so that we might enjoy God’s blessings in the physical one. He was my friend, Worship Pastor, and brother-in-the-faith. And today I choose to put my sadness in words to encourage others on their own journey. Perhaps it will push you farther, higher, or deeper in your own excursion through life.

Russ was a gentle giant, whose passionate pursuit of God leaves deep footprints to follow for those of us still chasing after God. Russ finally caught the Savior whom he had run after throughout his short lifetime. Thirty-seven years seems so young—so brief, yet Russ accomplished more in that limited span than most of us will in a long lifetime. He made time count, knowing that none of us is promised tomorrow.

Russ was soft-spoken, not loud and boisterous. But when he spoke, the volume, tenor, and depth of what he said often rang like a clap of thunder. When he spoke of Jesus, it was not the platitudes of a preacher or the clichés of a theologian, but rather the experience of a lover who had experienced the heart-to-heart connection of genuine intimacy with God. Russ knew God, not facts and figures about God. They were on a first name basis—a beloved Father and his treasured son. You can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake what it’s like to have been in the intimate presence of God. Russ knew—he’d spent long spans of precious time in that secret place.

Russ was also a man who knew and understood God’s Word. His grasp of God’s promises was not a shallow one. No, he staked his life, his marriage, and his ministry on the fact that God cannot lie. In the midst of the suffering he endured as he battled heart and kidney issues, Russ refused to let go of or give up on any of the promises God had whispered into his spirit. He tenaciously hung onto those promises like a bulldog. He stood faithful when many who were treating him gave him no hope. Russ believed God, and he acted on that faith. He spoke it. He prayed it. He shared it with doctors, nurses, technicians, strangers, and friends. He obeyed the words God had given him—he acted on the revelation whispered to him by the Holy Spirit. Obedience is the outward sign of an inward belief. Russ heard the Word—then he acted by obeying the Word—the promises given to him by the God who cannot lie!

Russ was a spiritual warrior. He understood the battlefield and his ancient foe. His calling was a simple, yet profound one. He had been commissioned to enforce the victory of Calvary, to destroy the works of the devil, and to be a vessel God could use to set the captives free. Spiritual warfare was not a theory to discuss for Russ. No! It was a daily life and death wrestling match to engage in. He knew what it took to snatch souls from the jaws of the hounds of hell and he was willing to engage those demonic mongrels if it meant freedom for another person. He was feared by hell and empowered by heaven.

Russ did what he could do with what he had to work with. His complaints were few—just a wish that he could do more, serve more, share more, or worship more. He was limited by the weakness of his heart—but not anymore! He fought through debilitating pain, weakness, discouragement, and frustration—but not anymore! He was limited, constrained, and unable to do many of the things he longed to do—but not anymore! Russ is now free—free to worship without restraint or limit. He is free to dance. He is free to lift his hands like an eagle spreading its wings to heaven. He is free to run, to jump, and to spin in utter unbounded joy. And best of all, Russ is free to sing with an unrestrained voice that cannot be silenced by disease, death, or even the devil.

I could sing a sad lament, a wretched requiem, but if I did it would have to be about someone other than Russ. Yes, we are separated from Russ for a time, but Russ is not dead. No he is more alive than he has ever been. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living according to Jesus. You see—God cannot lie! Russ is alive and he is enjoying the literal presence of the One whom he chased after so hard.

In the meantime, all of us need to get after it while we still can. Pursue God with all your strength. Russ did! Love people with all your heart. Russ did! Don’t worry about those things you can’t do—do the things you can. Russ did!  Worship the Lord with total abandonment. Russ did! Trust God’s promises, walk them out, and enjoy every one of them. Russ is!

Crisis: Religion or Relationship

broken_rope2

The Crisis Issue (Part 2)

When it comes to religion or relationship, what is the crisis issue? The crisis is a connection issue—how will you or I connect with Jesus Christ. The options are religion (an artificial connection system) or relationship (a heart-to-heart connection). The difference between these two options would seem obvious, but it is sometimes indistinguishable except in the tiniest of details. Details really do matter!

Let me illustrate. Perhaps you are familiar with the television series American Pickers. It chronicles the exploits and adventures of two antique and collectible buyers (or pickers) named Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz. They travel America searching for treasures by calling on people who collect, hoard, or have inherited overwhelming collections of apparent junk.

Several month ago, I was watching as Mike and Frank where climbing through one of the outbuildings of an elderly couple. Suddenly they stopped dead in their tracks as they uncovered an extremely rare 1935 Auburn Phaeton convertible partially visible from under a stack of junk. The old man had gotten the automobile from his uncle decades earlier and had parked it in his shed to protect it. Over time, it became covered with other collectible trash and treasure. The car still had its original paint and leather interior. It was the mythical barn find—a treasure of great value that had been sitting hidden for almost seventy years.

Mike and Frank were foaming at the mouth and immediately asked the old man to name his price. He obviously knew what he had and replied that the car was worth at least $80,000. In fact, he and his wife were counting on the car’s value to help support them in their old age.

So Mike and Frank called a friend who was an expert in vintage cars to get a second option. The expert asked them to check the size of the engine because the size of the engine would determine the price of the car. It seems that only a few Phaetons (the ones worth $80-$110,000) had a bigger engine. Sadly, the old man’s car had the smaller engine and was worth only $20-$30,000. The value difference was the detail—a detail the old man had apparently missed. All the 1937 Phaetons looked alike on the outside, but the difference was in the detail of engine size.

Like the Phaetons, religion and relationship often appear indistinguishable but the difference is in the details. The treasure of relationship is often buried beneath the trash of religion.

Here are a few details that will help us distinguish between religion and relationship:

  • Religion is the counterfeit connection of hell. Relationship is the heart cry of humanity for connection with God.
  • Religion was created by humanity to measure his/her pursuit of God. God pursued humanity so that he might connect with us through relationship.
  • Religion requires rules, rituals, false measurements, and perfection that results in frustration, rejection, and shame. Relationship requires simple surrender, but results in ultimate satisfaction that leads to self-less service and sacrifice.
  • Religion deadens relationship, but genuine relationship destroys religion.
  • Religion crucified Jesus Christ, but relationship held him on that cross until our sin debt was completely paid.

You see the details really do matter! The time has come for each of us to dig deeper into what we believe and why we believe it. The time has come to throw out the trash of religion and uncover the treasure of relationship. The time has come to pay attention to the details of how we connect with Jesus.

Crisis: Religion or Relationship (Part 1)

 

broken_rope2

Crisis (Part 1)

Fasting is tough. I am eighteen days into a 40 day fast from religion, as are many of the members of Eagle’s Wing Church where I pastor. We are driven by a desperate hunger and a passionate desire to experience a genuine relationship with God. Our desire is to know God rather than the facts or things that point us to God. We want to personally experience God and his love rather than live off the past experiences others.

Perhaps you’re wondering—why a fast from religion? Isn’t religion a good thing? Isn’t religion all about God?

Let me define religion. Religion is a system that must be practiced so that perfection can be reached. On the other hand, relationship is a heart-to-heart connection with a real person. You can’t have a relationship with a system. Relationship requires two people (not a person working a system). Jesus came to pay the price of sin so he might restore our ability to walk in communion with God—to have a personal relationship with him. Relationship is pursued,  while religion is practiced. And in this case practice will never make us perfect.

Our hearts yearn for relationship. We are born with a hunger to be loved and to give love in return. God created us that way. And he created a deep craving within all of us that can only be satisfied by a genuine relationship with him. God is relational. It is a part of his nature. Relationship starts in the heart of God.

Humanity created religion because we like systems where we can achieve things on our own. For some reason, we want to do it our way, rather than God’s way. Religion demands a pseudo perfection that is somehow achieved through rigorous practice and good works. The problem with that is we can’t rise to the measure of perfection God requires. Otherwise the death of Christ on the cross was a tragic waste.

The modern Christian church is in crisis. Most preach salvation by grace but then we turn around and try our hardest to achieve God’s favor, love, and blessings through works and activities. That’s religion, not relationship. Most believers attempt to connect with God through religion—through the system. But the only way we can make this heart-to-heart connection is through relationship.

For the next several weeks I want to share the subtle deception of religion and the satisfying depth of relationship through this blog. I encourage you to join us in a forty day fast from religion. If you will commit—God will bless you and set you free from religion’s crushing coils.

How do you start? Simply ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything in your spiritual life that is smacks or smells of religion. That may be a belief, a doctrine, a cherished idea or practice. It could be anything. As the Holy Spirit exposes those hidden things, confess them and move on. Invite the Holy Spirit to examine all your beliefs, doctrines, practices, and way of thinking. Don’t be afraid to invite him in to those things—he should be at home in all of them or that belief is not from God. That’s it!

You may be thinking there’s got to be more to it than this. What are the rules? If you need more rules than I’ve shared, you can start right there with that thought—it’s riddled with religion!

God is Passionate About You

Passion is the driving force in humanity’s pursuit of satisfaction, whether it is in a relationship, a vocation, or an activity. Passion is the fire that causes one’s love to flourish, or one’s anger to seethe, or one’s willingness to sacrifice even their life for a cause. Without passion, love wilts, anger ceases, and sacrifice becomes routine. Passion is the sole ingredient that can ignite the smoldering embers of the life’s fire and cause it to blaze with renewed intensity. The object of one’s passion determines the intensity of the desire.

The object of God’s passion is you. Don’t be startled or embarrassed; the Father loves you with an intense passionate love. His is desire for you and He is a jealous God (“You shall not make for yourself and idol, any likeness of what is in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” Deut. 5:8-9a). You are His bride and the intensity of His passionate love is white-hot.

Perhaps you’ve never considered passion and God together at the same time. Perhaps for you passion is desire out of control and thus evil. The passion of love out of control becomes lust, but the passion of love under control brings life. And life can never be all that God intended unless God is the priority of your passion.

Perhaps you are not totally your Beloved’s. Perhaps the object of your desire is not God. God designed your heart to burn with love for Him in the same way His heart burns with an intense love for you. But often we contaminate the fire of our hearts with polluted fuel like position, power, or prestige. Anything that excites you more than God is contaminated fuel. Oh, a heart fueled by pollution can burn with a passion, but when the fuel is gone the flickering flames slowly recede and leave only the empty smelly shell of unrequited love. Unrequited love is frustrated love. Frustrated love results when the object of one’s love does not respond in like manner.

Thus, the ultimate difference between the Bridegroom, the Lover of our soul, and everyone and everything else is that God’s love never frustrates, instead it always stimulates. God’s love is not the result of a reaction or a response; instead it is the unconditional choice of a heart that truly desires you without regard to who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. The passionate love of the Father depends on Him not you. And He has chosen you as the object of His love and He will not be frustrated in His desire for you.

When passions of like manner collide, tremendous explosions always take place. When the pure fuel of God’s love is injected into your heart, it will beat with the song your spirit was created to sing. But an intimate God will never force His love. You must invite His presence and His love to burn away the contamination of the world. It is in that moment that you will know His passion for you.

Understand this: He will not share you with another. The choice is yours, His passion or your perversion. Are you frustrated in your walk, in your relationships, with your prayers? Have you settled for less than the best? If so, open the door to the Bridegroom and allow Him to passionately love you and then respond to Him with the passion He calls forth from within your spirit. You will be satisfied and complete in His love and in His love alone.