A prison minister who volunteered to counsel high-risk violent offenders was visiting an inmate for the first time. The inmate interrupted the minister asking: "Are you one of those religious types here to preach to us?" He said that he was there to talk about spirituality, not religion. The inmate grumbled, "Religion, spirituality -- what's the difference?" Before he could answer another inmate nearby spoke up, "I'll tell you the difference," he said. "Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those of us who've already had a taste of it and now desire to be close to God." I don’t know what you think about that statement, but it is worth thinking about.
When Jesus was on the earth He frequently confronted the difference between religion and spirituality. He emphasized the spiritual life isn't simply saying the right words and following certain traditions, it's about a personal relationship with a loving God. We should want God to transform our minds and hearts and for this to happen, we need to be saturated in Jesus. The inmate was on to something. He knew that Christianity is more than just taking out fire insurance. Jesus offers what religion cannot: restoration, peace, and fulfillment in Him (John 6:35).
For many people, life seems dull at best, and at worst, filled with anxiety and turmoil. Our nation’s constitution guarantees the pursuit of happiness as a right, but it does not guarantee our ability to find it. Most people are in great need of a JOY transfusion, but they don’t know where to get one. I am persuaded that no method or program would attract unbelievers to the church like the message that real happiness can be pursued and gained in Jesus Christ, the Lord.
Here comes the irony: most nonbelievers do not associate the concept of joy with church or Christianity. I have asked myself, do they have a reason to think that way. Haven’t we been to church services where the assembly looked like they had gathered to mourn a defeat rather than a victory? Too many Christians look like they were baptized in freshly squeezed lemon juice.
God intends Christians to live a joy-filled life. The Psalms are full of calls to come before the Lord with a spirit of gladness (Psalm 100:1-2). Brothers and sisters, we must remember that real joy does not come from things, nor is it found in some package. Real joy only springs forth from a close relationship with the Savior, Jesus.
One little key can make the difference from being able to get into your house, or office. One key lost or misplaced can keep you from getting from point A to B. The small key you keep in your pocket gives you access to your car, home, or office. Without that piece of metal that goes into the doorknob you will have to wait for someone to bring a backup key. The little key is important!
If you have a lawnmower and the little plastic center breaks on the rear wheel, it will render the machine unusable. We're talking about a little piece of plastic the size of a half dollar that probably costs less than that to make, but without it the mower is as useless as, well, a three-wheeled lawn mower. You don’t think much about the little piece of plastic on the wheel before it breaks and then that’s all you can think about. The bottom line is without this fifty-cent piece of plastic, your mower is sidelined. It’s impossible to mow with only three wheels.
The absence of one tiny, seemingly insignificant part can cripple the whole machine. It's the same way in the ministry. 1 Corinthians 12:12 reminds us, the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. Every member is vital to the whole.
I remember in my pre-Christian days how hard it was for me to get out of bed on a Sunday morning to go to a church assembly. It was a real chore for me because I would rationalize how tired I was and how little sleep I got the night before. However, if the poor night sleep was on a “work day” I would always muster the energy to get out of bed and go to work. Why? Well, work was a priority to me and my boss might find someone else to do my job. The employer says, “Be here!” We say, “Yes.” God says, “Be here!” We are tempted to hit the snooze button. After I became a Christian I came to understand the value of being with God’s people as much as possible for public worship and study. I still found on some Sunday mornings it to be a challenge to get out of bed, but I did because it became a spiritual priority. I thought, what if the Lord said, “I don’t feel like going to the Cross today?” His decision to love me drove Him to the Cross. The secret in my getting out of bed and looking forward going to the worship assemblies boils down to my perspective before going to bed the night before. Do I love the Lord and appreciate what He did for me on the cross? What a blessing to be able to meet together to praise the Lord and lift up God in song and prayer.