Religion follows the rules; relationships follow the heart. Relationships have boundaries that, if crossed, affect the relationship and can even end it. But religion does not have a relationship as it is too caught up in keeping score. And the score does not have balanced weights. Religion keeps score by deducting points for the person caught in sin while adding points to self for good intentions even if it leads to sin.

There are rules for healthy relationships, but rules can't dominate the relationship, or there won't be a relationship. People make marriage vows. But if vows are rehearsed daily to ensure your partner follows them, the marriage will crumble. Wherever we focus, it will be our path. If rules and laws, we draw close to rules and laws even when we can't meet them. If we have a relationship, then we will draw closer to the relationship. But relationships do have boundaries that are not to be crossed. There are relational rules.

A few rules to have a happy relationship with God are as follows: prayer, scripture reading, giving to others as has been given to us, praise and worship, and having ears to hear. Let me list some case studies of rules over relationships that you can investigate later.

Prayer: We have a man praying to himself in the temple, thanking God that he is not like other men. Religious people make long and repetitious prayers, thinking in an abundance of words and self-sacrifice God will hear them. At the end of time, a crowd of preachers will give a list of their sacrifices in the name of Jesus, and Jesus will tell them I don't know you, depart from me. Prayer is not listing our accomplishments before a holy God. It is knowing that we have access to the throne of God through Jesus's sacrifice and not our own.

Scripture reading: People who are ever learning but never coming to the truth. People are looking for a loophole in the law that claims a relationship without having to do the relationship. These people claim eternal life because they know the Scripture yet don't know the One Scripture points to for righteousness.

Giving: People often give to be seen. They elevate themselves over the poor, pathetic people that they are supposed to minister humbly. They take selfies and post all their good works on social media. They may even give up everything they have to get a good social score but are without love, a clanging cymbal. They 'virtue signal' to show their righteousness and not the righteousness of God that is only in Christ Jesus. The righteousness of Christ is the only way we can draw closer to God in a relationship. And giving comes from that intimate relationship.

Praise and worship: They worship me with words while their heart is far from me, Jesus quoting Isaiah: mere words and no spirit or truth. Like the woman at the well who worshipped what she did not know, so do countless Christians on Sunday mornings across the nation. Empty, heartless, and to a God they do not know. Praise and worship come from an intimate relationship, not a prescription of true religion.

Hearing Only: Jesus gave two parables about a wicked servant in the minas and talents. Both times, this servant refused to serve what was given to him and accused his master of being a taskmaster and a thief when called to accounting. Some people masquerade as servants in relationship with the Most High but not doing anything that has been given to them, even misrepresenting the goodness of God. They have a form of holiness but deny the living Christ His place in their life so that they can be transformed into His image.

Religion keeps us occupied with maintaining a social status while neglecting to come personally to Jesus to be saved. We can only be saved by coming to Jesus, bowing our knees to Him as Lord while relinquishing control of our lives. Jesus said this: "Take up your cross and follow Me."

Many people are not looking for a relationship with God but instead are searching for a set of rules to live by for personal success. But godly relationships seek mutual success. The religious think if they know the rules, they can play the rules to their advantage and ultimately win. We find this with Israel and Moses after leaving the tyranny of Egypt and Pharoh. Moses tells the people that God wants to meet with all Israel to know them. The people respond negatively and request that Moses go on their behalf and get a set of rules to live by. Israel wanted rules, not a relationship. God's rules or principles lead us to our promised land of success. But what is success without the one who made it possible? Israel would have traded Moses for a life coach if they could. I'm sure of this because people of our day choose life coaches over pastors.

Israel wasn't the first to want rules of success over relationships. Adam and Eve also chose the rules of life with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil over the Tree of Life in their relationship. Instead of walking with the Lord in the cool evening, they were drawn away by the temptation to rule themselves. They forsook the daily walk that brings about a healthy relationship with God for a set of rules.

Jesus gave a parable of the minas. Ten servants were called, and each was given one mina to invest while the master of the house was headed to a far-off land to be made King. While he was on his way, seven of his servants got word to him that they didn't want him as King. When he returned as King, he called the three servants who didn't oppose his kingship. Two of the servants were filled with joy. The third servant made excuses and was judged. The new King then called the seven servants who didn't want him King before him and had them slaughtered. The seven wicked servants wanted the kingdom but not the King. They wanted to make the rules of religion in their favor and oust the King of relationships.

How many Christians want the kingdom of God but reject the relationship with the King? How many Christians manipulate and distort kingdom principles in their favor while ousting whoever they will? They say, please give me a point system of religion to improve my game without bowing my knee to the King of relationships. Even Jesus bowed his knee, not needing to, in washing our feet. And He is the King of kings.

The Pharisees were the rulekeepers and accountants of Jesus' day. They had the keys to the kingdom but kept people out, and neither would they enter a relationship with God. The name of G-d was so holy that it couldn't be said or spelled out.

The point system of religion matters to legalists by the end of the game. But a relationship matters by the end of the day to people who love God. The question of where I am going at the end of life is more religion-based than where I stand with God today, which is relationship.

Gandhi, the deliverer of India, also encountered these Pharisees during his days and was turned away. Gandhi has said that he would be a Christian if it were not for Christians. And he likes Christ but does not like Christians. These statements are echoed by many who do not come to church. A religion of keeping score turned off Gandhi and many other people.

However, I wonder what they seek if you go deeper into Ghandi's statements and those who agree. If Gandhi had been looking for a relationship with God, he would have found Christ, but instead, he was looking for a set of rules to live by, and he found Christians who couldn't keep the rules. If we want an authentic relationship with God, we will be hindered by religion but not stopped. A relationship with Jesus makes us accountable. But if we keep an accounting of our wrongs and work as a means to draw closer to God, we will be without a relationship, stranded in a dead religion.

Dead religion is not about canceling a debt but canceling the person. Cancel culture has existed in and outside the church for a long time. The rules change, but the result is always the same.

Cancel culture is a religion, not a relationship. Cancel culture doesn't want a relationship. We want rules to guarantee a clear path to win in life. Even if we must manipulate the rules in our favor while disqualifying others, in the religion of cancel culture, there must be losers for there to be winners. But Jesus paid the sin debt for humanity so that all could be winners, and no one lost.

No one has to lose for you and me to make it with Christ. God is not harvesting the cream of the crop. He is not limiting heaven to the top ten percent of good-doers. God is not an airline overbooked where some RSVPs are canceled. Judas, the betrayer, dropped out of the race for a last-minute temptation and lost his place. He was looking for a set of rules to position him for success other than a place in a relationship with Christ. His position as an apostle was reappointed, but his place in heaven will be forever vacant. Heaven has a vacancy. It is hell that is overbooked.

Religion is about positioning oneself, as Zacchaeus tried to do in the Tree. Or the disciples were arguing about who would be on the left and right of Jesus in His coming kingdom. The relationship is about finding our place in Christ and bringing others to the table of God, no matter the positioning.

Gandhi gained the freedom of India but, in all accounts, lost his soul because he, too, was looking for a set of rules rather than a relationship with the most high God.

Without a relationship with and in Christ, all of us will be rule-keepers, rules that bend to our will and not the relationship where we bow to the Father's will. The Bible is full of knowledge. The law brings the knowledge of sin. Proverbs bring knowledge of success. Jesus brings the knowledge of the Father. Many Christians use the Bible as if it is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And in some ways, it is. The Bible can be our rule book for successful living, and we miss the point of the Tree of Life, where the relationship with God is found. We deceive ourselves like Eve when we trade relationships for religion. Religion is helping ourselves to the fruit of God for personal gain, denying the relationship with the Father and The Son.

Many Christians are living on the border of religion and relationships, not sure which way to turn. We are weighing our options to see if there is another set of rules to live by other than our relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. Or do we have a tyrannical relationship with God through religion and not freedom in Christ Jesus? Even the good fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil seem tyrannical without the relationship of forgiveness of sin and debt found hanging on the Tree of Life.

The answer to religion or relationship is to draw close to God, and He will draw close to us. We have a better covenant in which we can draw close to God. When we draw close to religion, we get all the further away from God.

Now, onto my second closing. If we are not religious but all about relationships, what does a healthy relationship with God look like? There are rules to a healthy relationship, but they can't be the relationship.

I know some Christians who know Jesus in name only. Have you had a friend or family member say they have a significant other, but you have yet to meet them? I know a few Christians that show no fruit of knowing Jesus. If you are in name only and don't know the heart of God, you will be part of the group that Jesus exclaims doesn't know him. To know someone takes time. I don't doubt you have been born again. But being born-again doesn't equal knowing God. Did you know your mother as soon as you were born of the flesh? Know it took time together for years to know your mother. It is also true with knowing God. To be born-again is a clean start—eternal life is found in knowing God and His Son Jesus. Don't know God in name only!

Other Christians have an open relationship with God. Have you ever known a married couple who dated outside their covenant? The marriage didn't last. They don't seem to know the rules of relationships. God is jealous and will not be second to other love interests. And Jesus will not allow co-ownership or co-lordship with anyone. We are not our own. We are bought at a price. To repent and turn to God means to repent of self-reliance and stop playing god in our lives. We must turn to the one true Lord, Jesus. If Jesus is Lord, then we are not. If we bow our knees to Jesus, then we cannot turn our knees to the desires of our carnal flesh. John the Baptist almost looked for another when he became offended that Jesus wasn't coming to set him free from prison. If we want to have a relationship with God and not a religion, then we must close our options.

Then there are the social media Christians: relationship status is set to 'it is complicated.' They have an on-and-off relationship. Most of the time, it is a struggle: is it a religion or a relationship? It will be complicated if we try to connect with God through legalism. Only when we knew God wanted a relationship with us so much did He give His only begotten Son to pay the penalty of breaking the rules. Sometimes, it is complicated because we violate love and its boundaries and don't want the accountability that a healthy relationship necessitates.

And we know about long-distance relationships. Like the prodigal son who takes his inheritance and then leaves to live far off as he wills. How many Christians want the inheritance that is promised to those who love Him but also want to live far off so that there is no relationship or accountability? It is easy to become enamored by the gift and forget the giver. The younger you are in Christ, the easier it is to do. We start with a close relationship, going to church with fire in our bones, reading scriptures, and hanging on every word of God, but then we begin drifting. Before we know it, we no longer have a close relationship but a long-distance relationship.

If this is you, come to your senses quickly and come home. God is anticipating your return to restore you and not condemn you. You are not out of the family but must return now while you have a lighted path home. When you were young, like a sheep, Jesus came after you. But now that you have matured enough for the inheritance, it is up to you to return home. God is waiting.

And then there is the secret relationship. It is not a secret at church, but it is a secret everywhere else you go. Closet Christianity? Jesus is hidden because of embarrassment, persecution, or ostracization. Maybe the fleshly church has put in your head that you have to run through the streets and proclaim the gospel, or you are not an authentic Christian. Being in a relationship with God in Christ Jesus expects us to live a holy, quiet life that is light and salt to the world. So, the world will ask how we can have such hope beyond hope. Our conversations should show that we are not our own but are in a relationship with God in Christ Jesus. We don't have a ring on our finger. The ring should be in our conversations.

There is a time to be aggressive. And we should ask the Lord daily to give us an open door to someone. But we are not alone in directing our steps and planning our ways.

Last but not least, and first because it was sent a couple of weeks ago: The 'Home Alone' Christian.

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