Starting a new series today. We are talking about choices that forever define our story.

I think back to one of the biggest choices that forever changed my life. I got married and had kids. Clearly one of the best decisions I ever made. I joke about it being one of the best decisions I ever made, most of the time.

When I was single, I owned one pillow. Now, in my married life, I own several. I don’t really know why and if you are a single guy, pay attention, I can tell you about your future. There are different kinds of pillows that have different purposes. There are big ones. Small ones. Ones you sleep on and ones you don’t. If you are single, seriously, when you are married, don’t try to sleep on a non-sleeping pillow. We have pillows for guests only and pillows for day to day use. Over 20 years of marriage, I still I have no idea why that is. I look back and can say that marriage has forever changed my story.

When I was single, it was all about me. I slept in, ate what I wanted, it was wonderful to be self-absorbed. Now, I am completely linked to my kids schedule. Sleeping in doesn’t really happen any more. We are traveling from sports field to sports field. From band to practice to games. An sometimes, late at night, you hear someone running to the bathroom to get sick. Ugh.

That’s what we are talking about today. Choices we make that forever mark your story. Spiritually, we are talking about seven choices that will forever define your story and today we begin with Religion v Relationship.

Here is our current human condition; all of us are a mess. We have compiled a long sorry record of being incapable of being perfect. We know that there is something between God and us. Our relationship with God has been disrupted and we don’t know how to fix it.

Religion says, “I must earn my way to God, it’s up to me to make it happen.”

Relationship says, “I’m going to relax in what God did for me.”

This is how scripture puts it.

22 The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this.  23 Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, 24 God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. 25 God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public – to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus. MSG Romans 3:22-25

Unfortunately, most people you meet, chose religion. They are working very hard to earn their way to God. It is an absolutely impossible thing to accomplish but they are struggling to make it happen. The choice many people make to be religious has devastating consequences. It has the power to forever destroy a person’s story. Let me give you a couple examples.

When I try to earn my way to God, when it’s up to me to make it happen,

I have to do enough good things to balance out the bad things.

So I am always weighing and measuring myself. I live in a state of being judged all the time. The weird part is, I’m the judge. I judge myself. On a good day I am prideful because I did a couple good things and think others should live like me. On a bad day, I feel guilty and I walk through life feeling awful. If you build a life around feeling guilty, every time God comes up, you will quickly dismiss yourself and never see yourself as being loved and valued by God. Just devastating.

So, like a yo-yo; your emotions go up and down, up and down, up and down. And we weird thing is, we are doing it to ourselves. Because of the extremes, it’s a really exhausting way to live. It’s religion and it is completely contrary to scripture.

Normally, this is a picture of someone who grew up in church or someone who attends church regularly. Real quickly; is this you? Would you say, your spiritual experience is like a yo-yo? Is it tiring for you? As you grow older, is you God experience based on guilt? Do you struggle to see that God loves and values you? You must know, that’s religion and you are feeling the effects of it. It leaves you so tired. Remember I said, if you make a choice to be religious it will damage your story. I will always leave you tired. Jesus didn’t hang on the cross for that.

When I try to earn my way to God, when it’s up to me to make it happen,

I have bang out a few Sundays a year or do some good God things to get the fire insurance and update the policy.

How many people feel this? I don’t want to burn in hell so I’m going visit church or do some good things in hopes that later, I can twist God’s arm into letting me into heaven.

Do you know the feeling you have when you eat cold ice cream too fast?   It’s brain freeze. It’d like an ice pick in your brain causing so much pain and you just want it to be over. That frozen, painful moment is how you can feel when you have to keep the fire insurance up to date. You would much rather be fishing, sleeping, on a beach somewhere, but you have to earn your way to heaven.

It’s a struggle to give your life to Christ and become a disciple. From attending church, reading scripture, prayer, following Christ, it’s all a struggle.

Don’t raise your hands, how many of you are pushing through today? Is Christianity a miserable experience for you? A struggle? That frustration that you have to ‘bite the bullet’ to keep your fire insurance up to date. You must know, that’s religion and you are feeling the effects of it. It leaves you feeling miserable.

When I try to earn my way to God, when it’s up to me to make it happen,

I can’t handle it when life goes bad.

You see, when you are working to earn your way to get close to God, when you are doing all the right things and the dirty secret is: God owes you… doesn’t He? You kinda make a contract with Goe in your mind. You think, I will do everything right, then God’s part is to make me comfortable, successful and healthy… forever. That’s the deal we want to cut with God.

When something goes wrong, nothing makes sense. You can become very angry at God because He owes you. Or, you can become very depressed because somehow you didn’t do everything perfectly in your past and you think, ‘He is now judging me now!’

Do you feel this way? You are angry at God or depressed about failing God? You must know, that’s religion and you are feeling the impact of it. You are angry at God or depressed about God. God isn’t a genie and you don’t get three wishes.

Please hear me, scripture tells us that “God did it for us.”   Think about that for a second. We are separated from God, we feel that reality inside and we know something is wrong. There isn’t one thing we can do to fix it. So God sends Jesus to die for your sins. Then God sends the Holy Spirit to raise Jesus from the dead and the same Holy Spirit to live in you.

That’s the good news. God did everything for you. The invitation is for you to relax it that.

2 Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? 3 Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? MSG Galatians 3:2-4

All of this is from God. Religion is useless. How bizarre, how crazy is it, that we think we can do something, anything to make us right with God? Doing good things to balance the bad. Really? That’s our plan? It just leaves you tired. Going to church or doing a few good things to keep the fire insurance up to date. Not very life giving! Actually it leaves you feeling miserable. Doing all the right things so God has to bless you. That’s naïve. It will leave you angry with God or depressed about our past.

All that religious junk has no power to make you right with God.