Tag Archives: Lord

Are You a Christian in a Religion or a Relationship?

I usually try to avoid describing myself as a Christian, instead using the term Christ follower. Why the attempt to differentiate? Because the terms Christian and religion have such a broad application that they don’t truly represent what I have come to learn about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and our personal relationship with each element of this Trinity.

Merriam-Webster gives three definitions for the word “religion”:

  1. the belief in a god or in a group of gods
  2. an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
  3. an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

This is what the public generally thinks of us who identify ourselves as Christians. Their view of us tends to be around their perception of the rules and ceremonies. The multitude of Christian denominations has not helped clarify this perception either, especially with some seemingly focused on the rules and ceremonies instead of Bible teaching.

These definitions don’t come very close to describing the true nature of a Christ follower. What does Merriam-Webster say about “Christian”? “A person who believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ”. That is certainly a true statement in a broad sense, but leaves out many elements of the relationship between a Christ follower and Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. The key elements beyond believing in the teachings of Jesus are the commitments that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord. Savior means that Jesus is the only way to be with God in Heaven after we die. Lord means that we are in continual submission to Jesus everyday of our lives. My relationship with God is that He is my Father. The Holy Spirit is my guide and advocate, helping me to make wise choices and helping me communicate with a God who is truly beyond full understanding.

So what does it look like to be in a relationship instead of a religion? It starts with purposefully spending time in the relationship. The communication elements of a spiritual relationship include reading the Bible, which is how God talks to us (revealing who He is and His plan for humanity, as well as how we should conduct ourselves), praying, which is how we talk to God (with the help of the Holy Spirit when we don’t have the words) and worship, both alone and together with other Christ followers. Submission happens when what I want contradicts what Jesus wants for me and from me.

These are daily elements of the relationship, not once a week for an hour or two on Sunday morning. They should be elements you are participating in throughout your day. In addition to my daily habits of Bible reading and prayer in the morning I regularly get wisdom and guidance from online Bibles and prayers when confronted with a decision or request for help or advice from someone. With the easy access to Christian radio and podcasts I am able to worship in my car and at home, as well as listen to Bible teaching from a number of qualified pastors. Sundays I am able to worship with other Christ followers at Bible teaching churches in my town or other towns when traveling. Every choice and decision, including business ones, that I make is rooted in these elements of this relationship I began 20 years ago.

How about you? Are you in a relationship with Jesus, reflected by your daily choices and activities? Or, are you in a religion, practicing ceremonies without a true understanding of what they mean? Are you participating in a religious ceremony on Sunday morning, then leaving every other aspect of following Christ at the door as you leave? Read Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and think about your life and your relationship with Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord.

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Obedience or Duty? Is There a Difference When Serving God?

Is there a difference between obedience and duty when you are doing something for God? What is the definition of “obey”? Merriam-Webster offers this definition: to do what someone tells you to do or what a rule, law, etc., says you must do. This definition of “obedient” conveys what I believe when I think about being obedient to God: submissive to the restraint or command of authority.  Here is what Merriam-Webster has to say about duty:

1)      Conduct due to parents and superiors

2)      Obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position 

3)      A moral or legal obligation.

What has prompted me write about two English words that are close in meaning? One is my experience on a missions trip to Indonesia this January and the second is devotion from Oswald Chambers that I read shortly after my return.  This was my third trip to Indonesia since July 2009. Our church has a partnership with a national church planting organization and we have sent small teams of three to six people to help them with a retreat that they have for their staff every two to three years. I have led all three teams that have gone. Usually we provide some teaching at this retreat. This year we also helped provide child care for thirty children between the ages of two and seventeen. The travel to get there is quite demanding, usually a short flight to a major hub like Minneapolis or Chicago followed by approximately thirteen hours in the air to Tokyo followed by a two hour layover then a seven hour flight to Singapore followed by a six or more hour layover followed by a one hour flight followed by a three to five hour drive to the retreat site. Sometimes there is an overnight hotel stay before the last road trip. Adding up the time, it is roughly 40 hours of non-stop travel with very little opportunity for a full night’s sleep. This particular trip was a little more challenging as the first short flight was cancelled and we ended up driving to Chicago three and a half hours then starting our flights. We also had our Singapore to Indonesia leg cancelled two days in a row and had to find an alternative airline to get there at all.

I was not excited about going on the trip this time, primarily because the physical demands of the travel from 2011 were still fairly fresh in my mind. I also do not like the hot and humid climate, even when it’s subzero here in Wisconsin. I felt a “duty” to our church planting partners to make the trip again. I felt I was being “obedient” to God to offer to lead and recruit a team. The work being done by the Indonesians is important and their efforts are being blessed by God, especially in a very dark place. My leadership skills were tested by the travel challenges we faced getting there. The team responded well and the Indonesian partners appreciated our efforts once we got there. We did have an impact on the children and their parents as well.  While on the trip and since coming home I have been conflicted about my future role in this partnership and about returning in a few years. Reading this passage from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost of His Highest devotion a few days after my return has me wrestling with this even more:

“If we do something simply out of a sense of duty, we are trying to live up to a standard that competes with Jesus Christ. We become a prideful, arrogant person, thinking we know what to do in every situation. We have put our sense of duty on the throne of our life, instead of enthroning the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to “walk in the light” of our conscience or in the light of a sense of duty, but to “walk in the light as He is in the light . . .” (1 John 1:7). When we do something out of a sense of duty, it is easy to explain the reasons for our actions to others. But when we do something out of obedience to the Lord, there can be no other explanation—just obedience.”

What I read in Chambers’ comments is that the difference between “obedience” to the Lord and “duty” is my motivation. Even if I have that right, it is not easy for me to discern what my true motivation is for going on this trip, much less my motivation for being involved in our church partnership with the church planters. I would like to think my motivations are pure and submissive to the Lord, not prideful and arrogant, but I’m not completely sure, primarily because of my role as “team leader”. I did not enjoy the challenges of the trip, but I did get satisfaction out of my teammates’ compliments as we returned home. My ego was also fed by the appreciation and gratitude of our partners in Indonesia. Was my behavior and conduct God honoring or Marc honoring?

I wish I could say I have this figured out. I guess the fact that I am still wrestling with it is a good sign that I haven’t completely come down on the prideful side of this discussion. I do want to be obedient to my Lord and Savior. I feel a strong sense of duty to be a soldier in this ongoing battle that we Christ followers are actively involved in. My nine years in the U.S. Air Force may have contributed to that heightened sense of duty. My prayer is that I can balance both concepts in being a servant of Jesus Christ in every aspect of my life, including my business. My prayer is that you also have a similar struggle.


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Some Certainty in Uncertain Times

Fiscal cliff countdown, U.S. economic confidence falls to lowest since January, Congress’ job approval rating at an extremely low level historically, European economy worse than the U.S., Iran intent on having nuclear weapons. These are just a few of the challenges facing us today. If you dwell on them it can certainly lead you to a place of fear and anxiety. I have to admit to spending some time there myself. The good news is that I don’t stay there once I’ve made that trip. What helps me get out of that place? A certainty that I can focus on, one that trumps all uncertainty in this world, a certainty I was reminded of this morning in two separate passages of my daily Bible reading (something a Christ follower likes to do each day).

First, a promise in Jeremiah that love, justice, and righteousness will continue to happen here on Earth. It is happening every day, it just doesn’t get reported in the headlines. Here are the relevant passages with my highlighting:

Jeremiah 9:23  Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Second, a promise of Jesus Christ returning, just not when we expect it. This is challenging for us, because we want to know the day and hour, but no one knows (remember that when you read about someone predicting His return). The time may be uncertain, but the return is not. Again, highlighting is mine.

Matthew 24:36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

This is a topic that is much too large to be covered in a simple blog, especially one written by a person of my limited background. Take the time to read the best source for this material, the Bible. Last week’s post gave some recommendations on reading the Bible, so I won’t repeat it here. One book written by someone with better qualifications than me and that I highly recommend is Timothy Keller’s “The Reason for God”. Some of the chapter headings will give you a sense of what he addresses:

  • There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
  • How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  • Christianity Is a Straitjacket
  • How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
  • You Can’t Take the Bible Literally

Weighty stuff, but a valid, well-researched and well-written discussion. Check it out (and read the Bible). http://timothykeller.com/books/the_reason_for_god/



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