Moving from Religion to Relationships
by Doug Bender
“God created everything. The stars, the planets, the earth, and everything in it. Then he made a special creation, people. He dressed this creation in his own image and granted them the title of sons and daughters…
“But that first man and that first woman … chose their own way, created their own rules, and became their own rulers. They exchanged goodness and eternity for evil, pain, and eventually death…
“But God never forgot his special creation and has worked a plan to bring us back. He spoke to Abraham, David, Isaiah, and others telling them the path of forgiveness, of life and restoration. And he promised a Savior, a Hero who would come and show us that path. He promised his very own Son. This is the story of our God and the rescue of his people…”
– an excerpt from Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First
I remember the first time I realized the Bible was more than a religious text but a grand story of God pursuing those he loved. It happened to be the same day I realized that God loved me. I always believed in God but just never thought he believed in me. Never did I doubt his existence, just his existence in my life, his care about my little troubles and small worries.
I struggled to make friends and struggled to fit in. I battled self-hatred and self-doubt. I hated the way I talked and looked. With tears I cried myself to sleep night after night asking God for one request, for one answer to one prayer. I wanted a friend. I didn’t ask for riches or fame or success, just a friend. I wanted one person who liked me, who thought my struggles mattered and that my issues were important.
Birthdays don’t matter in the whole scheme of the universe, I know that, but in the life of an eleven year old boy turning twelve, your birthday is the universe. And when nobody showed for my twelfth birthday, my universe shattered. Something must be wrong with me, I concluded. Why else would no one come to my party? So started my years-long struggle with self-esteem. I hated myself and felt utterly alone. It didn’t matter how many people claimed to be my friend, I still heard the voice in my head screaming: there is something wrong with you.
Then came another birthday, my sixteenth. I invited a few people over, had some pizza prepared. Not so different from four years ago. But when the party commenced, everything was different. People came, tons of people, a house full of people. People who called me their friend.
That was the moment I realized my prayer had been answered years before. For so long, I begged God for one person who cared, who liked me for me, who loved the way I looked, cared about my issues and enjoyed my presence. That night with a house full of friends, I realized that the friend I had always wanted was God. He heard my prayer and cared about my struggles.
God is not just some spiritual being who created the world. Jesus is not just some martyr who died a criminal’s death. The Bible is not just a religious text but the grand story of God chasing after those he loves. Jesus wants to be friends not church attenders, family members not preachers. He wants a relationship not a religion. My book, Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First, can be described in many ways, but perhaps the best description is as a daily reader designed to help you make Jesus your #1 God, Ruler, and, of course, Friend.