Saturday, June 09, 2007

Religion vs. Relationship

I recently had the opportunity to teach the youth group at my church. Now, I am not accustomed to being around teenagers for any longer than 10 minutes at a time, so it was a bit of a stretch for me to actually willingly volunteer for this task.

The topic was “What happens after we die?” The youth leader got a list of questions from the group and emailed them to me. Being teens, the questions ranged anywhere from “Do we get what we want (video games, etc.)?” to “How do you know if you are going to heaven or hell?” All the questions were serious, but the youth leader admitted that some were a bit out-of-the-box. (A complete list of the questions is available upon request.)

To make the lesson interesting, I had one of the group choose a question out of a basket, and I answered it. The first question was “How does God judge us for entrance into heaven?” I told a story about a man who died and was met at the gates of heaven by St. Peter.

“Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”

“Okay, the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, not even in my heart.”

“That’s wonderful,” says Peter. “That’s worth three points!”

“Three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.”

“Terrific!” says St. Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.”

“One point? Golly,. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”

Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” he says.

“TWO POINTS!?! At this rate the only way I get to get into heaven is by the grace of God!”

“Come on in!”

The point being that God is not some “great scorekeeper in the sky,” and that entrance into heaven is through accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Other questions were chosen from the basket … Are there animals in heaven? Can we fly? Do we eat? Can you start a family in heaven? Can you see God? Can we play sports? Can we get kicked out of heaven?

We got to the question “What is the religion in heaven?”

I asked them what they thought the answer was. Some said “all religions” … some said “Christian” … being that this was at a Presbyterian church, a couple of the youth proudly shouted, “Presbyterian!” …

“There is no ‘religion’ in heaven. It’s about a relationship with Jesus.”

Next question. “If you are good and bad, do you end up in a ‘middle place’ between heaven and hell?”

I had a Holy Spirit moment … I got my Preach on!

“It’s not about whether you are good or bad. Everyone is “bad” … we all have sinned … just look at the “wrongdoings” sign. (click on the picture for a full view.) That sin is what separates us from God. But it is through our relationship with Jesus that the “wrongdoings” are removed … once and for all. It’s the relationship that opens the door to heaven. God is not the Great Scorekeeper in the Sky, counting up your points until you reach 100. You either believe in Jesus and are welcomed in to heaven, or you don’t, and you spend the rest of eternity separated from God. You have a choice … what’s it gonna be?”

As I was finishing my point, I found myself with about 15 pairs of teenage eyes watching my every move. I even heard a couple of AMEN, SISTAH’s. I knew I had it in me … I just wasn’t expecting it to come out right then.

Why do I tell this story?

Because religion can be complicated. Do we kneel? Do we stand? Do we baptize by sprinkling, or full-immersion? Are we allowed to dance, or is dancing discouraged? Can we eat meat on Good Friday? And what if I never speak in tongues? None of these issues are matters of the heart. They are not relevant to the story of God’s unlimited love for us. Love is about relationships, not rules. God knows that we all will break the rules. That’s why he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him will have everlasting life.

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