CONVERSATION A "So you're religious", someone tells me. "No I'm not", I reply. "But you are. You talk about God a lot." "I'm not religious. I have a personal relationship with God."
CONVERSATION B "What church do you go to?" someone asks me. "I visit churches if I'm led to," I reply. "But you're a Christian, right?" "Yes, and I believe that just us talking right now is the church."
CONVERSATION C "So you're a believer," I say to someone. "I used to," the person says. "What do you mean by that?" "I stopped going to church." "That doesn't mean you've stopped believing in God, right?"
These are just some of the actual conversations I occasionally run into with people. With these conversations alone, I honestly feel that the concept of having a personal relationship with God has not been fully understood and grasped by a number of those who believe in God.
The world has connected spirituality to religion, and the church to a building. This has been ingrained in us. If you believe in God, you must be a religious person who goes to a church regularly. Thus, when people get hurt or offended by people who go to church, they stop going and they think that they've stopped believing in God, or they are not Christians anymore. This is why I hear those phrases, "I used to be".
Since I am a Christian and have not been a part of any other religious belief, I will speak from this point of view.
My parents are both devout Catholics who raised me in the Catholic belief. I went to Sunday Mass every week, and participated in almost all the traditions of the church. I went to Catholic schools from Elementary to College. That was my religion. I knew about God but didn't really know God. It took utter brokenness to lead me in full surrender to God. Because I had my religion to fall back on and had a clear understanding that there is a God who hears my prayers, I cried out to Him one day. Prior to that I was merely going through the motion of saying sorry and then going back again to my old ways. He was simply a God who was like a switch that I can turn on and off. That cry of desperation for Him, that day, transitioned me from having a religion to having a true relationship with Him. I was changed and transformed! I was never the same again.
My dad was raised with no religious belief. He knew there was a God, but he didn't go to any church growing up. One day, while he was in College and going through some crisis, he decided to go to the Catholic chapel to say a prayer. He found himself crying and believing in God. He stuck with the Catholic belief since then.
My mom, on the other hand, was raised in a very conservative Catholic family. She is the 7th of 9th children and was well-guarded by her older siblings. Mom remained pure for her future husband. In fact, dad is her first boyfriend.
It was mom's rebellious eldest daughter, "me" who brought her all the pain and sorrow. She asked God back then why she had to go through all that. How can a good woman like her have a rebellious daughter like me? That was very difficult for her. Well, that crisis in her life, and so many other trials after that brought her to that place of desperation in God. She finally had her own personal encounter outside of her religious belief.
This personal encounter is what a true belief in God is about. It is that light bulb moment, a life-changing experience. Anything outside of this is simply a religious belief.
This awakening is the same as falling in love for the first time. It sticks with you. You never forget about it. You live it, breathe it, and speak it. It is all over you! You can't seem to get enough so you keep wanting more. This is what Jesus meant when He said to the woman in the well: "The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14).
Eternal life is not simply dying and going to heaven. It starts with that personal encounter with God that will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
Anyone who's had this encounter will not rely on any church to fill his or her void. The church becomes a place where he/she goes to: whether it is to fellowship with other believers, worship, serve, and other reasons that simply complements the personal relationship that he/she already has with God.
Anyone who falls out of the church for whatever reason, and doesn't want to have anything to do with God anymore has not experienced God personally in the first place.
As I mentioned in my book, "religion restricts you; relationship with God liberates you." Religion is focused on converting others to their belief. A relationship with God is focused on sharing His love with others.
I remember talking to two young Mormon girls who were at my doorstep. That was the first time I even considered engaging in a conversation with them. Honestly, I am so turned-off with religion. This is how our conversation went.
Me: How old are you? Girls: 19 Me: Wow. I was already a mom at that age.
I continued sharing my story and how I surrendered my life to Jesus at age 33. I also told them that if we can talk about Jesus, just Jesus, then I will continue talking to them. I warned them that if they start presenting their belief to me, I'm out of there.
Girl 1 (the one being mentored): I also have a story to share. Me: Sure, go ahead.
Girl 1 shared her encounter with Jesus, almost copying the pattern of my story. Her tears though showed me that there was some truth to her testimony.
Me: It seems like you had an encounter with God. That's what I'm talking about. Girl 2 (the mentor): I have your favorite Scripture for you. Me: How do you know my favorite Scripture. Girl 2: Let me read it to you.
She pulls up her phone and started looking for the Scripture.
Me: Where are you reading it from? Girl 2: I'm sure this is your favorite Scripture. Me: But where are you reading it from? Girl 2: The book of Mormon.
That was the end of our conversation.
If only we can focus on sharing God with others, He will be glorified, and not the religion. There will be no going back and forth in an argument. But ... nobody can really talk about "just God" or "just Jesus" unless that person has had that personal encounter that changed his life.
I know God and not just about God. I know Him because of this personal relationship I've built with Him. I am not religious at all but I have a relationship with Him. And because it is a true relationship, there is no way I can hide it. It will still come out of me even if I shut my mouth up.
If you know someone who needs to read this ...
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