On Spirituality

No matter where our choices have led us, we are not alone. It should be clear that there are people out there--- in fact, total strangers, who want to love you and support you. There is hope in this truth. Our Father, our Creator, loves us so much he sent his only son to live amongst us and teach us the way to live. Sometimes we listen; sometimes we don’t. But even when we don’t listen God never stops wanting our friendship. Imagine having a friend like that? What would you do to have such a friend for life?

Nobody but you can choose to embrace the friendship and love God offers you. Nobody will force you to live your life by Christian principals. Nobody will demand you belong to a Christian community. For God to make friendship with Him mandatory is to say we are nothing but preprogrammed robots, which is not true. God gave all human beings both intellect, and free will.

But perhaps you think you have done so much bad God wouldn’t want you. You have your anti-God litany: Leave me alone. I quit. I’ve stopped listening. I don’t want to hear that religion and spirituality stuff. I tried it before and it didn’t work. I’m not sure I believe in God. I’m distracted by the filth masquerading as entertainment piped in through television shows, newspapers, magazines and social media. I’ve got some bad influences around me. The Christians I see are the biggest hypocrites around; they all say one thing, but do another. Or my personal favorite: knowing God takes all the fun out of my life, as if it’s going to be fun spending eternity apart from God.

If you think you have to be good enough for God’s friendship, trash can that idea. God has made this very easy for all of us: God takes us as is, where is, in whatever condition we are in, whenever we finally make the choice to fully accept him into our daily lives. God forgives each of us, no matter what is in your past. And I stress--- no matter what. You are worthy, just as you are right now. Which brings me to the next point: you do not have to earn God’s friendship. In fact, you cannot earn God’s friendship; it’s a free gift. All you can do is choose to accept it, or continue rejecting it. Or you can try to pretend to be a Christian, but there really is no fooling God. He knows your heart.

Perhaps you are willing to accept that God freely offers you His friendship, and you don’t have to do anything to earn it, but you’re still not sure you want to be a part of a Christian lifestyle. That’s fine, but it’s also fair to ask: Do you even know what an authentic Christian lifestyle is? Have you seen one lately?

Or maybe you are not sure you want God in your life? Maybe you don’t want what God is offering? Well, if you weren’t sure you liked ice cream; would you at least give it a taste? Would you look at a bowl of ice cream and just walk away, or would you try it? Have you given the Creator of the universe the same courtesy as a bowl of ice cream?

I can certainly understand any resistance to invite God into your life. It took me 42 years to invite God into my life. When I look back and ask myself why I took so long, I have to say I had a lot of misinformation in my head, and some bad examples around me. My Dad had no use for God, so we toss his example out the window. And I use to think a relationship with God meant just following a bunch of rules, until I figured out knowing God is really about a relationship between mutual friends, except I am guided by one friend who is supernatural, much wiser than me, and loves me so much he actually sent his only son to die on a cross for me, to redeem me, so that I could be with him forever. Finally believing God sent his son to a Roman scourging and crucifixion party helped me understand what unconditional really love is.

I also don’t like hypocrites. Let me tell you right now there are no shortages of so-called Christians who can find the shortest distance and quickest path to immorality, but can’t find the neighborhood Church. They can get drunk and crawl on their knees, but they won’t ever get caught praying on their knees. The ways a so-called Christian can tarnish all Christians through hypocritical behavior is almost endless. So, it didn’t appear to me that God and His Christian communities were doing these self-proclaimed Christians any good. Why would anyone want to join a group like that, because whatever they were selling sure didn’t appear to work. The so-called Christians were just as immoral as the atheists.

I made this mistake, allowing the behavior of uneducated or misguided individuals tarnish the reputation of all Christians. The fact is there will always be people labeled as Christians--- or Muslims, or Jews, or any other faith--- who do not pray or who do not know their faith or who do not live their faith. Ignore their actions and ignore them as role models. They do not speak for their faith, only for themselves while exhibiting their free will. They do not represent you. Understand by their actions they only degrade themselves, and not their entire faith community. Every group has its hypocrites, brokenness, and failures. Jesus even had one on his original team--- his name was Judas, and Jesus loved him anyway. So from the very first days of Christianity there have been people who say one thing, but do another. This observation does not invalidate God, but it does validate free will.

Basically, if you are not interested in opening the door to God and living a Christian life there are an almost infinite number of excuses you can choose from to keep living the way you are. Or, you can have the courage to take the first step, which is to surrender yourself to God, even if only for the most brief amount of time.

Let me tell you it takes much more courage to surrender yourself and place God first in your life than it does to play foolish games of pride. It takes a leap of faith to surrender your pride, your ego, and your need to believe you are in control. Notice it’s not too hard to say the words, “I surrender, Lord,” but it’s not easy at all to live what the words mean in this world without His grace. But once you make up your mind to open the door to Christ and accept his plan for your life, instead of doing things your way, your life will be different. His grace will support you.

The process of declaring Jesus your friend has a name. It’s called “Spirituality.” If you know or have heard of someone who is a “Spiritual” person, this is simply a person living every day in partnership with God’s plan for his or her life. You will know when you meet such a person, and many times just by looking at them, even if only in a photo.

If you can get your mind around the notion that you can be best friends with the Creator of the entire universe and all that is or ever will be, you have just become a spiritual person. Your current address or present circumstances are irrelevant to God. Make Jesus your best friend by demonstrating this is so, decide to follow God’s plan for your life instead of your plan for your life, and you became a spiritual person.

The second step, if you choose to proceed, is to grow in your knowledge and in your relationship with God. That takes desire on your part. You have to want to learn about this Jesus, Son of God. Who is He? What did He say? Why did He say it? What did He do? Who did He do it with? It takes effort. It takes discipline. You don’t get to just declare yourself anything without study and a commitment to learning. If you want to know who this Jesus was, and is, there is a way to do it.

But I will tell you now what you already know: You will find following Jesus is the road less traveled. Expect to be in the minority. Expect to be ridiculed and mocked for your beliefs. Expect to be challenged. But you can also expect a restoration. And peace, and comfort, and blessings. And at the end of our time, we will live eternally with God.

How do we know this? Because God said so. Listen to this:

 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,

       he leads me beside quiet waters,

 3 he restores my soul.

       He guides me in paths of righteousness

       for his name's sake.

 4 Even though I walk

       through the valley of the shadow of death,

       I will fear no evil,

       for you are with me;

       your rod and your staff,

       they comfort me.

 5 You prepare a table before me

       in the presence of my enemies.

       You anoint my head with oil;

       my cup overflows.

 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me

       all the days of my life,

       and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

       forever.

That’s Psalm 23, straight out of the Bible, and you either buy what it says or you don’t. I happen to buy it. It supports me in the tough times; it gives me strength for the journey through life. It reminds me God doesn’t guarantee me--- or anybody else, an easy ride through life, just that he’s always around and he’s got my back when things get tough, and that with Him, I will prevail over whatever comes my way--- so long as I never quit.

The path you take to Christ is personal. You pick what works for you, and what works for you may or may not work for others. But whatever works for you, you must stick with it. Like Winston Churchill said during WWII: Never quit. Never, never, never quit.

Should you choose to grow closer to Christ, there are many paths to do it. There’s Bible reading and reflection--- in private or in a group study. Or maybe right now you don’t want to read the Bible--- that’s fine, too. There’s also prayer, and there are many forms of prayer: Silent prayer, contemplative prayer, group prayer, action prayer, prayer of thanksgiving, prayer of petition, or prayer of intercession. Or right now you might simply be asking, “What is prayer?,” or, “How do you pray?” There’s also self-examination of your actions and relationships with others, trying to identify ways you can improve living as a Christian. There’s Spiritual Direction, which is simply private counsel one-on-one from a trusted spiritual advisor.

Maybe it’s time to try a change in perspective; learn to live with joy. In other words, pick up on the invitation that God wants you to walk with him, starting right now. He has a plan for your life, and mine, right now.  God knows your heart will be restless, until it rests in Him. So I ask you reflect on the title of this little talk, and if you so choose, open the door to your heart. Make a new start. Allow Christ to enter. Don’t ask why, ask, “Why not?