Tuesday, April 28, 2009


No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
- Joh 15:15 ESV

I recently attended a fantastic concert during which one of the musicians shared the difference made in his life when he began to understand that we are called, not into a religion, but into a relationship with the person of God in Christ. It was a beautiful encouragement in the direction of a love relationship with God. And I felt like he was speaking right out of my heart.

I’ve often heard preachers and evangelists call people to a “personal relationship with God”. And based on the content of their messages, I’ve wondered if they had any idea what they were talking about. The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” is tossed around so often these days that it has become just another catchphrase cemented into the popular Christian consciousness.

To some people it means little more than assenting to the Christian faith. To many others it means simply the series of behaviors most often associated with protestant Christianity: reading the Bible, ritualistic prayer and believing all the “right” doctrines. With all love and humility, that is not a personal relationship.

Living in a relationship with God in Jesus Christ may lead us to the Bible, prayer and even particular convictions He places on our individual lives. But the sometimes varying products of a relationship should never be confused with the relationship itself. That would be like confusing love with sex.

Sex is a beautiful expression of love. But it is not the only (or even primary) means of expressing love. There are relationships - and even moments within the married love relationship - that would be tainted, even violated, by the attempt to express love sexually. And there are myriad other expressions of love that are equally beautiful and joyous: hugs, kisses, touch, shared glances, laughter, smiles and sacrifice. None of which are more or less valuable than another. Some who have been hurt physically or emotionally may even find themselves unable to express love sexually. They are not less capable of love itself or less expressive of it because they are incapable of one physical expression.

People who enter into a relationship with Jesus will want to grow into deeper intimacy with himself and the Father through prayer in varying degrees. Many will want to know more about Jesus and his Heavenly Father and will discover that information in its most objective form in the Bible. And through their relationship with Christ, all believers will come into certain beliefs about God, people and the world around them. They will discover God’s calling on their lives with respect to that world based on how He has revealed Himself to them.
These remain only responses to a relationship, and are not to be confused with the relationship itself. Apart from a relationship with the person of God in Christ, they are without meaning. Such expressions are equally meaningless apart from a love for other people. And this is where much of modern Christianity misses the heart of Christ.

Let me be clear about what I mean by love. The phrase “love is a verb” is still pretty common these days, and it holds a great deal of truth. It is most often used to highlight the fact that love is more than an emotion. It’s true… love is a verb. But love is also a noun.

Love is more than a set of things we do. It is a state of mind that we are drawn into by the power of God’s own love. It is a state of care, interest and relationship that sets aside our own ego and concern with self for the sake of another and the Other.

Morality may have inherent value in both religious and philosophical circles, but we must remember that apart from love… actions ring hollow:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV

Paul isn’t speaking here of simple emotional love, but the concern and care for another person that sacrifices self-centeredness to be centered on someone else. And let’s gag the vicious false piety that wants to cry out “blasphemy!” at the mere suggestion of centering on another person instead of Christ. Humans can’t truly center on someone else unless it is done through the power of Christ working through them. But remember that merely being a “Christian” doesn’t mean you have centered yourself on Jesus, much less that you genuinely care about others. In fact, the religion of Christianity and the legalism that has accompanied it for so many years typically works in the exact opposite direction. Legalism – in all its incarnations - is poison to faith in Jesus Christ.

And since the vagueness of the Christian dialect allows even the legalist to read what I’ve written and feel pretty comfortable, let me put it another way.

Your good deeds do not please God. Someone else’s sins do not displease God. Jesus pleases God. Period. All you can do is trust that Jesus pleases God for you. Anything else falls flat.

Get the hell out of Jesus’ way and let him please God in your life. The hell I’m referring to is your own egotistical desire to do things for God so you can feel worthy of His love. Let go of your self-centered trust in your own ability to get things going the right way. You’re just getting in God’s way. Accept that He loves you - that He sees worth in you that you are not responsible for. Just trust that He loves His son who lives within you by the Holy Spirit.

And for Christ’s sake, please stop trying to tell everyone else to get their accounts together. God is not a collection agent. He isn’t interested in anyone’s spiritual bank account. He’s got more than enough capital for the whole universe.

While you’re at it, stop trying to tell everyone how to please God. He is pleased. He’s been pleased since the beginning of time in the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world”. The cross pleased him. It pleased Him so much that He woke up his beloved son to dance with Him in celebration. In fact, it pleased Him so much that He has spent every moment since that day waking the rest of us up to join in the fun!

If you trust in Christ, you are a friend of God. We are no longer servants, because He has shown us His business. His “business” is loving people into a relationship with him. Loving them... into a relationship with Him. Stop trying to talk people into balancing their spiritual bank account. You can’t convince them and they can’t do the math. Besides, in spite of that immaculately kept ledger, your own bookkeeping skills are highly suspect. And all this is particularly futile in light of that fact that every account has been finally balanced by the cross. We just have to learn to trust the Financier.