Dan Duncan serves at the Hillside Community Church:
I sit looking at this grieving family, their friends gathered around them. Dabbing tears from eyes, holding back an onslaught of emotion as the music begins. We are here to honor the life of someone who is no longer this side of eternity. As we gather for the funeral, I can’t help but wonder what makes a life valuable. As you stand over the empty shell of someone you loved and cared about, what is it that you remember? Is it thoughts of the shared times (with tears and laughter) and the lessons learned? Or is it, ultimately, relationships lived doing the important, not the urgent?
But even the best of human relationships can’t fill the deep, empty places in our lives. Even the “good” can’t make us whole: it is not more things or even friends that bring meaning and purpose. Yet, we seek to fill the void with material “stuff” and busyness or, if the pain is too great, drown our pain with drugs, alcohol, sex and, gasp!, even religion.
We’ve all seen the results of abusing drugs, alcohol and sex, but the results of using religion to cover up pain aren’t as recognizable. The symptoms might include: a fixation to argue about things that are not core to the faith; two-faced living, i.e. being one kind of person at church, but another at home or work. Addicted religious living is not able to love and grant grace.
It’s not more material stuff, friends or better coping skills that makes life worth living. It is more of Jesus! It’s knowing Jesus on a personal level, not simply as a religious component in our lives or as something to “fix” the spiritual yearnings in our lives. This is the core of what makes historical Christianity different than other belief systems. Most systems of belief dictate what you are to do, but authentic Christianity, which has not been mutated into a structure that seeks to control and manipulate, is one that focuses on what God has done for us: as in “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
This empty spot in our lives can be filled with a loving heavenly father, who sent his only son to die for us! Jesus knew what it was to be separated from those that he had been in relationship with from an eternity past. Jesus longs to be in relationship with us for an eternity future. We need only trust in his work done for us, despite us. Instead, we think we can place God in our debt by our human efforts to please him.
Salvation is a gift given to us. It’s a “grace” thing. As we stand before God, it’s what Jesus did for us on the cross that allows us to enter the presence of God for eternity. That’s what separates Christ from religion. Religion puts the emphasis on what we do for God. Jesus, on the other hand, died for us and invites us into relationship with him. Religion is a to-do list, Jesus is a done list.
As we come into relationship with the living God, it radically changes us. It’s not a human performance of trying to please some authority figure. We change as we focus on the object of our love and we transform (sometimes painfully and slowly) into looking more like Jesus. I have found that it comes down simply to a few distinctions: Christ’s work versus my work; God’s will versus my will.
Thank you, Jesus, for being merciful to me, a sinner!