Religion vs. Relationship

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I was in Michigan visiting my daughter and granddaughters. Marissa is five and Audrey is three. I took all of them out to Bob Evans for breakfast where my granddaughters usually want to sit near Grandma Bon-Bon, but not this day!
They started fighting over the seats next to me and before I knew it, I sat on one side of the table with a granddaughter on either side of me and Bon-Bon sat opposite all three of us. I looked at my wife and said, “That’s right, Papa is in the house.”

However, I had no idea how much work it would be to help those girls through breakfast. Everything within reach became a play toy—straws, sugar packets, silverware, salt shakers. Audrey had somehow managed to get her hands on every fork within her reach and licked them all. When my food arrived, I was hoping for something clean and untouched, but my granddaughter quickly jumped down and picked a fork up off the floor and gave it to me as if she was handing me the greatest of all prizes. Then, expecting my gratitude, when I refused to use the fork of her
dreams, she took it personally and with tears she begged me to use the fork she had so graciously provided. Yuck! But you know what? I did it.

I used to think the joy of being a grandparent was that I get to come and play with
my grandkids, hold them and laugh with them and shake them up like a can of soda, and then I get to give them back to their parents and leave. I thought it was about the joy of relationship without having the responsibility of raising them. I was wrong. It takes a village to raise a child. (It takes an army to raise my grandkids.)

Let’s be clear, responsibility rarely fades away. Someone has to teach them how to eat and care for themselves. They need to learn to brush their teeth and how to play nice with others and how to share and how to read and how to swim and how to ride bike and they need to be taught to recognize danger. And as much as I love my family and enjoy just hanging out with them no strings attached, whether I want it or not, I’m still part of their training.

Maybe somewhere along the way you’ve heard someone say, “It’s not about religion, but about relationship.” Truth is, it’s about both. I understand why that’s said; we want to make Jesus as attractive as we can and there have been plenty of religious groups through the years who have made church unattractive. But does
that make a false statement true?

For starters, “religion” can’t always necessarily be a bad thing, because Scripture
speaks of “true religion” as opposed to vain religion (James 1:26–27).

Jesus said ‘His yoke was light and easy,’ but it is a yoke nonetheless (Matthew 11:28–30).

Jesus also spoke of leaving an old covenant and entering a new one, but again, it is still a covenant nonetheless.

Paul spoke often of being a servant (or slave) of Jesus; maybe a freely committed servant, yes, but a servant nonetheless (Romans 1:1). Paul would also remind us, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God with your body” (I Corinthians 6:19-20).

Not to mention, the word “relationship” doesn’t appear in Scripture one time. It’s true,
many churches are dying because no one is attending. Somewhere, they have bought into the relationship vs. religion sales bit. But the writer of Hebrews encouraged, “Do not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing
(Hebrews 10:25).

Just like being with grandkids: I get the joy of the relationship, but that doesn’t remove me from responsibility. I’m thinking it’s both . . . religion and relationship. What do you think?

[Ron Otto, preaching minister at Lincoln Christian Church in Lincoln, IL]


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