Grow Closer to God this Holiday Season

Closer to God

I love the song “O, Holy Night.” Its lyrics are so reflective. The line “Until He appeared, and the soul felt it’s worth” jump out at me.  It’s easy with all the chaos that the trimmings of Christmas bring, to forget what the Holiday means. The birth of Christ is a big deal because his life and legacy changed the world. His was a humble birth and life, but look what came from 33 short years.

Christmas is a commercial holiday that is celebrated everywhere. You see Christmas trees in China, the Middle East and countries that don’t have a Christian heritage. The trappings of Christmas are just too enticing to ignore. Like people the world over, I love all things Christmas!

Old Traditions and New Answers

I live in the second most unchurched state in America. Most people I know don’t believe in God. You could see that as a negative, but I like to think of it as a positive. If most people don’t have a church affiliation, then they are not hindered by the need to defend a certain denomination or “ism.” This gives them the freedom to explore questions central to our existence without restrictions: questions such as who am I and what is my purpose? If God exists, how can I get closer to God? If you are not bound by the constraints of an “ism” you may find some new answers!

The trouble is we are stymied in our exploration by the seeming conflict between religion and science, and the doubt it casts in our lives. Author Dan Brown, a fellow New Hampsherite, delves into the matter in his latest novel, Origins. He asks an interesting question, “Will God survive science?” He said that science makes it hard to believe in some established doctrinal truths such as the idea that the world was created in six literal days. Dan went on to say, “It was easy for people to believe in Thor, until science showed where electricity really came from!” Dan worries that science will snuff out religion. At the same time, although not religious as such, he recognizes the importance of spirituality. In the religion vs. science debate, science seems to have won. Or, has it? There are shared experiences across cultures that simply can’t be ignored.

People want to connect to something bigger

People around the world look up at night into the stars and want to connect to something beyond themselves. We are wired for spirituality – that much you can’t deny. The Divine is there, even when you resist it. God keeps trying to connect.

It is interesting that despite our different backgrounds we share some universal truths:

  • Kindness is better than cruelty
  • Creating is better than destroying
  • Love is better than hate

These are inner truths that go beyond one people or religion. Rev. Moon stated:

In today’s world, millions of people live in miserable circumstances in spite of tremendous scientific progress, efficient technologies and economic abundance in many places. Many nations live in constant strain and even in a state of war. In most of the world such problems as poverty, illiteracy, disease, violence and crime, drug addiction and mental disorders, social discrimination and inequity, broken families and teenage immorality threaten the future of our planet. Why do anxiety and agony increase constantly, even though many leaders — especially conscientious, distinguished scholars — have been devoting themselves toward realizing a pleasant and peaceful world? The reason is an ethical, moral and spiritual crisis that brings with it mental exhaustion. Traditional value systems are now inadequate for societies that are changing with unprecedented speed. Time-honored ethics and morals are no longer persuasive. Criteria for goodness have been disappearing.  In the face of all these problems, it is difficult to speak of moral standards or of eternal life.”

Perhaps you have felt at a loss as to how to bring God into the conversation – I know I have. It’s awkward and it can feel like no-one wants to hear about God.

Rev. Moon went on to say: “If in such a reality there is no room for God, then we cannot expect to fulfill our ideals or to substantiate happiness. God is crucial to improving humanity’s lot.

Both science and religion are trying to improve our situation. They both seek truth. It’s not an either-or equation. We need both. This is why we need the real spirit of Christmas.

Making a distinction between God and religion

Most people I speak to don’t want to believe in God because they see the limitations of religions. They often cite all the terrible things that have been done in the name of religion. I can’t deny that. Religion often ends up becoming about power and position. This is where we have gone wrong.

The essence of religion is about grace. When we get too focused on religion and rules, we lose sight of what matters. Religion becomes a complex web of protocol and procedure. God’s love is simple! Grace is simple – it’s about relationship rather than ceremony.

Jesus’ birth was momentous. As Jesus grew into manhood, he turned the world upside down; challenging conventions, laws, attitudes and prejudices of his day. He was a revolutionary. He made incredible claims.

In Mathew 5:48 Jesus said, “You can be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Just think about that statement. He didn’t say you must have position and power to get closer to God. Anyone can become perfect – in other words be like God – love like God, live like God, share God’s attributes. That’s an incredible promise.

The Bible tells us we are to be the temples of God. Rev. Moon spoke of this:

God made Adam and Eve, male and female to represent His dual characteristics of masculinity and femininity. Thereby they would become His temples, and He would enter and dwell within them. Adam and Eve can act in an ideal way only when God comes, dwells within them and guides their actions.”

Listen for God’s Voice from Within

When we let God in, amazing things happen within us and through us! When we let God in, our soul knows its worth, and the worth of each and every person. Yesterday I saw a FB post by a woman sharing her encounter with a homeless person. She had an interesting story to tell. On her way into the grocery store, she saw a homeless man. As she shopped, she heard a small, still voice whisper, “Buy him some food,” She began to put things in her basket for the homeless man. Being from the South, she naturally thought the man might enjoy some fried chicken. She went over to the deli but felt something stop her. She hesitated, but then reached out for a portion of the tasty dish. Just as she was about to take a piece, she again heard that voice, “Don’t get the chicken.” It was almost like a battle of wills. Why couldn’t she do the kindest thing and just bring him chicken. But that voice pulled her back. She decided to listen to God’s voice and went to the checkout.

On the way out of the store, she stopped and gave the man the food she had purchased for him. Just as she was about to leave, a woman stepped up to the homeless man and handed him some fried chicken. God already had it covered!

You could feel through this woman’s emotion as she recounted the story that she really felt guided by God. She repeated over, and over again into the camera, “God loves you”. Her experience provided her with proof.

When God is in your life, guiding your life, everything is exciting. Everything is imbued with meaning because you see God’s hand at work.

Be the Temple

The human body is God’s Holy Temple. It is God’s dwelling place. Rev. Moon said many times,

You will know this when you enter a mystical state and call out, ‘God!’ and He replies, ‘Here I am’ from within you. When you ask in this way, the answer comes not from the sky but within your heart.”

Jesus wants people to come home to their Heavenly Parent. He didn’t say, you can come home if you belong to a certain social class, or you can come home if you’ve paid your tithes. He said, the gentile can come home. The Samaritan can come home. The tax collector can come home. Women can come home. The criminal can come home. All can come close to God.

Jesus didn’t come to create a new religion.

He came to invite people into a relationship with God. Religion always says “no”. “No, you can’t do that, you can’t say that, and you definitely can’t think that!” Religions by definition have boundaries – keeping some people in, while leaving others out. Ritual and rules limit who can belong. Religion perceives questions as a threat. On the other hand, relationship says, “I’m interested in you, what do you think?” It’s expansive. If there is a problem, it seeks a way around that problem. That’s what grace is all about.

In Jesus’ day, there were so many rules. The people of Israel lived under the weight of more than 630 laws. It was oppressive. Every year, the faithful would make a trip to the temple to make offerings for the forgiveness of sins. If their animal sacrifice wasn’t quite perfect – there was a blemish on the animal, out it was tossed, and presumably salvation with it.

How many times has a Bible verse been used to cut someone out. But the gospels tell story after story with a common thread. Jesus invites people in, to share his life with them.  John 14:2 reminds us, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house and I go to prepare a room for you.” There is room enough for all. Jesus invites us to live with God. We are family. Family goes beyond law and ritual.

The Soul Felt it’s Worth

God is a relational God. It’s the core of who he is and how he works. He sent Jesus to remind us that he is all about relationship. That’s the only thing that matters. If you read the Bible through that lens, you discover a broken-hearted Father looking for his lost children. If we understood God’s heart, we would know our worth. That’s something science can’t tell you. It’s why science by itself is not enough. Science is infinitely fascinating, telling us about how the universe works. But a relationship with God opens up a whole other universe where we can discover invisible things, such as love and value. This is why Jesus’ birth changed the world.

In John 14:10, Jesus said,

“Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on My own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in Me, carrying out His work. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.”

This is the relationship that God wants with each one of us. It’s ours to discover and develop. As December unfolds and the spirit of Christmas chaos envelopes us, remember that the reason for the season is that we might know our worth. That we remember that God dwells in us, and through us, leaves His mark on the world. God is saying, “Come closer to me.

 

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