Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Musings on Religion vs. Relationship – Fox




(The following is a Guest Post by Grace Fox who is the author of four books including Moving From Fear to Freedom: A Woman’s Guide to Peace in Every Situation. She has written hundreds of magazine articles for publications including Focus on the Family and Power for Living. She’s also a popular speaker at women’s events and national co-director of International Messengers Canada. Grace can be found at www.gracefox.com )

There’s a big difference between having religion and having a relationship with the living God. A recent trip to the Ukraine provided me with an unforgettable visual in this regard. It happened in Odessa, at one of Europe’s largest Orthodox monasteries.

Upon entering the fenced grounds, two girlfriends and I covered our legs and heads with scarves. Only then could we proceed into a chapel adorned with burning candles and paintings of various saints. A half dozen worshipers sat in silence on straight-backed wooden chairs along the right wall. Several more occupied a bench against the back wall.

Suddenly a man’s snoring shattered the silence. His filthy clothes, straggly hair and beard, and the stench of urine betrayed him as a vagrant seeking refuge from the cold. A worshiper barked a command in Russian at him. The sleeper jerked his head and squinted through alcohol-glazed eyes before returning to his slumber. The worshiper turned away, muttering. Disgust etched his face.

We tiptoed outside where we found a small cemetery. Silk flowers and pussy willow branches decorated the graves. These willow branches, once blessed by the priests, guarantee good luck for the next year. A necessity, I suppose, for the deceased still trying to reach heaven.

We also saw a black BMW with a bottle of vodka perched on the cobblestone beside one rear tire. It’s hard to explain the car’s presence considering all visitors’ vehicles were parked along the public road outside the fence. My hunch is that the owner – perhaps a man of political influence – used his clout (and maybe a bribe) to drive into pedestrian-only territory to avoid walking in the rain. But the vodka bottle? Likely deemed inappropriate for a place of worship, so it waited outside for its owner’s return.

We peeked into other unlocked buildings and found intricate mosaics, marble floors, and gold throughout. The monastery’s architecture and cleanliness inspired awe. Its atmosphere, however, did not. It left me feeling sad and empty, for while the facility boasted religion’s finery, it lacked life and warmth.


My Odessa experience has caused me to reflect on the contrast between religion and relationship. One insight recurs: Religion focuses on a polished exterior. It traps people in performance and leaves them hoping, in vain, to please God with good deeds. Relationship, however, focuses on the interior – the heart condition. It provides confident assurance of God’s forgiveness and acceptance through Christ’s death and resurrection. It promises an abundant life filled with peace and hope not merely for the hereafter but for today, tomorrow and every day between now and eternity.

My experience has given me a fresh appreciation for Christ’s redemptive work. It has also forged in me a greater passion and urgency for those trapped in mere religion. Millions around the world are living without hope and dying without knowing Jesus. My relationship with Christ compels me to do something on their behalf so they, too, might know Him. And so, I will pray, give, and go.

How about you? Will you join me?

5 comments:

Dolores Ayotte said...

I say a resounding YES to your question...and Amen to your appreciation and insight on the differences between religion and a relationship with God.

They are as different as night and day...almost polar. You explained it so well. One is so confining and the other is so liberating. Thanks for a wonderful article. :)

Peter Black said...

Grace, you present here a variety of contrasting images and scenarios, and attitudes and actions. These bear the potential for contrasting reader responses. Thank you for the challenge to engage in Christ's redemptive mission.

Dolores Ayotte said...

Peter...you are so wonderfully tactful and kind. Thanks for being you!

Glynis said...

Great post, Grace. I really don't like it when I am referred to by my family as the 'religious one.' How much more do I love to be known as the 'Christian one!'
I love where you said, "It traps people in performance and leaves them hoping, in vain..." How very true! Thanks for making me reflect! Blessings back to you!

Hannah said...

This is Hannah Bevills, Editor for Christian.com which is a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians, to directly fulfill Christian's needs. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the ENTIRE christian community an outlet to join together as one (no matter denomination) and better spread the good word of Christianity. Christian.com has many great features aside from the obvious like christian TV, prayer request or even find a church/receive advice. We have emailed you because we have interest in collaborating with you and your blog to help us spread the good word. I look forward to an email regarding the matter, Thanks!

God Bless

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