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Better Than Religion

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By Roger Kruse

I’m not really a religious person. At least I hope not. Religion has to do with a system of beliefs, doctrines, traditions, and practices related to God. There is no end to the differing revelations, inspirations and contemplations on how to connect with the Almighty. The human spirit, it seems, is forever seeking to understand and link up with Deity. We are then left with comparative studies of the merits of one religion versus another. That sounds confusing and tedious.

I remember when I was a 19-year-old college freshman, on my own and trying to sort out just who I was and what I believed.  Despite being raised in the church, I had little or no use for the formalities of religion.  In 1970-1971, the cultural revolution of the late 1960s promoting defiance to authority, individualism, and moral relativism (free love) shaped popular thinking. By then, even this straight-shooting boy from Solon looked and acted somewhat like a hippy.  I even joined the march in Washington D.C. to protest America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Bob Dylan and James Taylor had my ear as well as my thoughts.   

 Everything began to change dramatically for me in June of 1971. A couple friends shared with me that they had met Jesus. These predictable “hell raisers” and “party animals” were well known to me. They spoke of a personal relationship with Christ, as if He was real and even alive. There was no talk of rules, do’s and don’ts, or which church I should go to. They simply pointed to Jesus and the newness of life they were experiencing.  I was intrigued and thirsty for something besides a cold beer. The words of Augustine seemed to ring true in my heart; “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”  Then I did something radical.  I simply invited Jesus to make Himself real to me. Soon, I even picked up the Bible and started to read it. I never heard any angel voices or saw any spectacular signs in the heavens. However, within days and weeks something began to happen on the inside. I became aware of a new-found Presence and a new way of looking at life. I began hanging out with some people who were Jesus followers. Our connection was unique and spiritual.  

In those days a good many young people found Jesus, or should I say, He found us! It was common to be labeled as a “Jesus freak.”  I am not so sure if I was a freak, but I certainly was (and still am) focused on the Savior. His working in my heart and life became the one defining and foundational thing that I was sure of. Without a doubt, God was making Himself real to me!  I was becoming a new and different person.  My relationships, daily decisions, and direction for my life were all changing.  Jesus was the Cornerstone of my life.

So isn’t that a religious experience, Roger? Why do you say you aren’t religious? For me, “religion” describes human efforts to reach God. Jesus is different. Through Him, God is reaching out to you and me. In Christ, God reveals Himself perfectly and then provides the pathway for us to know Him. We can’t help ourselves. God does what we can’t. In Jesus, our loving heavenly Father offers us the needed grace we can never earn.  

I share my story with deep conviction and assurance. However, only God can make you finally sure about Himself. Don’t allow religion to get in the way of meeting Jesus. His living and loving presence is for real. He never turns away a heart inclined to hear His voice. The One they criticized as being the “friend of sinners” is my friend and yours. I hope you get to know Him. 

Roger Kruse is a follower of Jesus who daily faces the reality of his many shortcomings. Nevertheless, he finds joy and peace in the assurance that God’s grace is sufficient for full forgiveness as well as encouragement and strength for all of life’s challenges.

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