How Do You Respond When Religion Meets Reality?

I’m sure you’re really busy right now–demands, deadlines, children, traffic. The noise of life is around you, becoming increasingly louder, like the roar of a freight train. Somewhere, there is a list of boxes to be checked and somehow you’re supposed to get all of this done.

Instead of feeling free, you feel trapped–pinned against expectations.

And, if you’re a Christian, or even religious, there’s an increased pressure to obey the rules. Yet, when you come up for air, you suffocate when religion meets reality.

I’ll ask you to do me a favor: take three minutes and read this. I believe it may just be some fresh wind in your sail as it was for me.


I have been reading through the book of Acts these past few weeks and I’m amazed. It is the story of life after Jesus and how our church began. This is where it all started.

These men and women had watched their friend and teacher be crucified on the cross, only to be raised from the dead. They ate with Him again, learned from Him again, only to watch Him be taken up into heaven before their very eyes.

After He’s gone, they’re met head-on. Religion meets reality.

Bruised. Beaten. Imprisoned. Persecuted. Beheaded.

At one of the most tumultuous scenes in the early church, as a young disciple, Stephen, is being stoned to death by the religious leaders, we see these words:

The witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And Saul was there giving approval to Stephens death. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.Acts 7:588:3

Here is a new character, Saul of Tarsus, a devout Jew–a keeper of the law. He was wholly religious, zealous and faultless. He persecutes the early church with fervor.

Instead of living in freedom, he’s completely captive to the law, bound by its rules. He is chained by religion.

Checking boxes and marking everything off of his list consumes him.

Does this sound familiar when you think of religion?

People who claim to be religious, yet have no true joy within themselves. Their only joy is found in their own praise, when they compare themselves to others. Their pride is their playground and obedience fuels their fire.

But as I read, that’s not God’s story. He had other plans for this man named, Saul.

Just one chapter later, Saul is soliciting letters from the religious leaders who give their support of his persecutions and he’s met face-to-face with the Truth–a light from heaven.

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?

A risen Jesus meets him on the road to Damascus and everything changes. Saul is blinded for three days and then is instructed by God to begin delivering His message to the world.

He is given a new name, Paul. In addition, he is given a new life.

As I think through this story, I feel like I hear God telling Paul, “It’s not about rules. It’s not about religion.”

Within our faith journey, I believe, there’s a single calling: a calling to trust God at such a level that you’re willing to look at yourself through His eyes. To be willing to take off the outer facade of what the world sees and truly expose yourself to the Creator, lifting the veil and allowing Him to look upon what you truly are.

Frightening, I know. Maybe even terrifying.

To be transparent with you, when I do this, I see something painful. Something ugly. Somewhere inside me there’s a hardened seed, rooting itself in the need for approval, watering itself with the pride of comparison.

This is the place where religion meets reality. This is the crossroads where many diverge by convincing themselves that they’re not up for the journey. They allow themselves to believe the lie that they’re not worthy or that they just can’t do it. They drink in the damaging fallacies of the enemy, “This isn’t for you. You’re not good enough.”

As this ugliness is revealed beneath the veil, I hear God. He speaks in a faint whisper.

“I don’t care, I love you anyway. You are enough. It’s not about rules. It’s not about religion. It’s about freedom.”

The Freedom of Obedience

The more I read about the Apostle Paul, the more I see he wasn’t concerned about approval and consumed by his pride.

He was concerned about one thing:

For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28

Paul was fully transformed inside and out by his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. The face of the risen Jesus placed a fire within Paul for the hearts of men. He rested in God’s calling and provision, fully trusting.

  • So much so that followers brought the cloaks of sick people to touch Paul and these individuals would be healed.
  • So much so that when Paul was imprisoned, earthquakes occurred that set him free.
  • So much so that a hurricane would destroy his ship, but not harm one hair on the 247 passengers’ heads.

Paul reminds me that there’s an unexpected freedom that occurs when you trust.

There’s a life out there waiting, if we could learn what it looks like to trust – a freedom resting in the provision of the truth of the gospel – regardless of circumstances, others’ opinions, or resistance from the world.

The truth of the Gospel is an open invitation to richness beyond any comprehension.

Paul knew this because he had met it head on. Face-to-face, he saw the risen Savior. His experience taught him of the freedom that comes through obedience.

Not the kind that prides itself on checking boxes, but the kind that rests in the provision of trusting a Savior.

It’s in that kind of obedience where we catch a glimpse of the face of God.

Not from following rules.

Not from the duty of religion.

In the freedom of trusting in a Savior.

The freedom of obedience.


Question: What do you see when you lift the veil? Have you considered that God loves you anyway?

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6 Responses to How Do You Respond When Religion Meets Reality?

  1. Lily Kreitinger May 7, 2014 at 10:13 am #

    WOW! I love this, Matt. This passage from Acts was exactly what I read last night. I am listening again to an audio series I attended years ago called Hungry for God. In the session I played today, it talks about the difference between accepting Salvation, and accepting Jesus as Lord and I never really thought about it. It was sort of on autopilot, Jesus is my Lord and Savior. Salvation leads you to get in to Heaven, recognizing Jesus as your Lord too, is asking him to reveal to you the perfect plan He has for your life where He is in control. Resting in God’s loving arms and letting him show you the path to become who you were created to be, will make checking the boxes unnecessary. You will not follow the rules out of obligation, but seek relationship first and let the rest of it fall into place.

    • Matt Ham May 7, 2014 at 10:30 am #

      Yes! RELATIONSHIP! That is the key – thanks Lily!

  2. Deb Miller May 7, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    Absolutely agree…and what a great reminder on a Wednesday when I’m struggling a bit. 🙂

    Reminds me also of the phrase coined by my friend and pastor growing up, Dr. Jack Miller – “Cheer up, you’re a lot worse off than you think you are, but in Jesus you’re far more loved than you ever could have imagined.”

    I will never forget the day when the reality of that statement hit me like a ton of trucks carrying bricks – it was a defining moment in my life that God used to show me how truly desperately in need of Christ I am…and how awesomely loved.

    • Matt Ham May 7, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

      Deb I love that quote. The sooner we begin figuring out what Paul says in Philippians 3 “I consider it all loss when compared to the surpassing greatness of Christ”

      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing! I hope your Wednesday brightens magnificently!

  3. Chad Biggerstaff May 8, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Awesome, awesome stuff, man! I absolutely love the story of Paul’s conversion… His life and ministry leave us with no excuses. Humbling for sure. Let’s have lunch again soon…

    • Matt Ham May 9, 2014 at 4:32 am #

      There’s a great little book called ‘20,000 Days and Counting…’ it’s actually by Andy Andrews manager and friend Robert D. Smith. In it, he references a slogan adopted by a young missionary named William Borden. He died preaching the Gospel is unreached territory bak in the early 1900’s. Borden was heir to his family’s fortune, yet chased the Gospel with his life. In his journal, they found the words, “No Retreats, No Reserves, No Regrets.”

      Lunch soon