Religion or Relationship? An Introduction.

This is post #1 of a series entitled RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ. We hope you’ll enjoy this series of 27 podcasts and blogs that focuses a bit deeper on the first five days of what we now call Holy Week. Using the Gospel text found in Matthew 21 through 25, we explore the major differences between organized religion and true relationship with Christ. Practical sessions that give us Jesus’ view of spirituality as compared to the religiousness found in so many people today. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.


Click here to listen to the podcast version of this blog!

Today’s Lectio Divina:  Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at Me, your High God, above politics, above everything. Psalm 46: 10 (MsgB)


Once again, my friends, the Lenten season is upon us.

Lent, as you might know, extends from Ash Wednesday through Resurrection Sunday. Take away the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter and you have 40 days.

40 days we call Lent.

And as I understand the Lenten season and its purposes, it’s a time for serious reflection. A season of stepping out of the busy traffic of everyday life, giving ourselves some extra time to reflect upon our life, and most importantly, our life as it relates to God.

You see, at the time of this writing, I’ve been a believer in God all of my 67+ years. I plan on remaining faithful to that belief until I die. I’ve known Jesus of Nazareth as my personal friend and Savior for most of those years, giving my life to Him from the earliest part of my childhood. I’ve also been a church-goer my entire life and have faithfully served Jesus as a pastoral shepherd for over 30 of those 67+ years.

So, on these few days before Ash Wednesday, I am pondering on what my Lenten season should look like this year. My work schedule between now and Easter is crammed to the hilt. Extended trips to Kansas City/Wichita, Minneapolis/Boise, Kansas City/Ames, and Cincinnati are scattered over the next 40+ days and I’m thinking to myself, “How in the world will I slow down enough in order to reflect and ponder?”

As I sat in my easy-chair this morning, preparing myself for my devotional time, I pulled out my I-phone to look up a scripture that was on my heart. But before I got too far into that assignment, I found myself poking my head into a Facebook post that caught my attention. Admittedly, this is probably not the best way to step into a time with God, but regardless, I guess my brief journey into the world of Facebook did the trick.

Here are some of the sad themes that caught my attention:

A post by a conservative Christian writing a poem that was celebrating God’s victorious work over the devil using our current US president and his administration to defeat evil in America.

A post by yet another Christian, now turned atheist, warning conservative Christians to turn away from their evil, and how supporting our current US president is turning many away from the church and even into atheists.

Another post about a long-time Christian musician who has now decided that he, his wife, and family can be atheists and still be good people.

Another post about how the executive board of a major church denomination, whose president has strongly denounced sexual abuse by pastoral leaders, has decided to give a pass to many churches where pastors had been accused of such evil things.

Two different posts, written by Christians, one stating how the leaders in another church denomination who stood their ground against homosexuality were being godly, bold and brave, while the other stated how these same leaders were disappointing God, disowning the very people they were called to serve.

Oy Vey.

As I closed up Facebook, opening up my Bible app, I felt my heart sinking into a deep despair. The American Church that I’ve been an active part of for so long seems to be fracturing right before my eyes. And yes, I realize that a few Facebook posts don’t reflect the whole of what is actually happening, but today, I truly felt the pain and loss in seeing so many who call themselves Christ-followers going down a path that offers so little hope, so little light, and so little love.

As I often do when feeling despair, I went over to the Gospels. For me, whenever my heart gets overwhelmed, over-burdened, or over-taxed, returning to the simple stories of Jesus brings me back to a centered truth, a safe haven of hope. Only today, as I opened up my Bible app to Matthew’s Gospel, I didn’t find much comfort but a strong challenge to my faith! You see, my reading today took me to Matthew 24 where Jesus tells His disciples that things aren’t going to get better before He comes to earth the second time. In fact, according to the Master, things are going to get pretty hairy for men and women living in those days!

Yikes!

As I sat there, struggling with the words of Jesus, I decided to read a bit before the Matthew 24 passage and then, after it, making certain I had a better context of the words I was pondering. The only problem was the further away I went from Matthew 24, the more issues that surfaced as I read. By the time I was done, I realized I had covered the entire time Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21) through the time right before His Passover dinner with His disciples (Matthew 25)!

As I closed my Bible app, I thought to myself, “Well, I guess I just found the text for my Lenten journey this year!” So, as it is with all of my scriptural studies, I will blog/podcast my way through them, so my dear friends, with your kind permission, here we go.

So, beginning next week and continuing through Ash Wednesday, Lent, and to Easter Sunday, my goal will be to journey with Jesus during the first five days of what you and I call Holy Week.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday.

Matthew 21 through Matthew 25.

The five fullest days, quite possibly, of Jesus’ three-year ministry. Five days that, as I see it, can define our call in Christ. Five days that reveal the major differences between organized religion and true relationship with Christ. Practical stories that give us Jesus’ view of spirituality as compared to the religiousness found in the religious people of His day.

So, let me warn you.

I don’t expect this journey through Matthew 21-25, using Eugene Peterson’s Message Bible, to be a cozy, warm picnic with the Master, but a bumpy ride that just might shake us all out of some complacency. A twisting road that just might insist that we re-evaluate our faith, inquiring if it has become too crusty to digest, too sour to share with others, or too religious for much earthly good.

My Prayer: Jesus, it would be easy for me to get bogged down with the bad news that surrounds me. I’m thankful that You are always inviting me to step out of the traffic in order to take a long, loving look at God, at You, and all You are doing around me. Holy Spirit, lead and guide me on this Lenten pathway. For Your Name’s sake. Amen.

My Questions to Ponder: I believe it was St. Ignatius who said, “Don’t always turn to the Scriptures that comfort you, but to those that might trouble you.” Am I resistant to that suggestion? If so, why? Am I willing to go with Jesus to places that are uncomfortable, rocky, and unpredictable? And, am I willing to trust Him along the way?

So, what are you hearing from Jesus as we take this journey into the first 5 Days of Holy Week?


Religion or Relationship: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ. 

A 27-session Lenten blog series from Matthew’s Holy Week Gospel.

Throughout the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday), you and I will take a deeper look at Matthew 21-25. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use. 

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others!

Click here to go onto the next session in this series…

4 thoughts on “Religion or Relationship? An Introduction.

  1. I recently blogged through Holy Week in Mark, so I’m excited to see a similar, yet different, journey through Matthew playing out.

    Like

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