Is It Religion or Is It Relationship?


During my time away (Let’s just call it an August Sabbatical…It makes me feel more important.), I not only wrote the first two chapters of a book I’ve been dreaming up for a few months now. (Who’s excited???) But I spent time studying the Kings. And I mean s-t-u-d-y-i-n-g 1 and 2 Kings. I’m not sure how I ended up there. But it was good.


Devotional Scripture: 1 Kings 15:1-8; 2 Chronicles 13:1-20
Key Verse: “And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22


If you read 1 and 2 Kings through quickly chapter after chapter, it’s like wait a minute – What guy is this? What kingdom is he with? (There were two – Israel and Judah.) Did he love God? (Chances are probably not.) It all just runs together into a big messy blob of long ago people.

There are well, a lot of kings. Twenty kings for the southern kingdom (Judah), and nineteen kings for the northern kingdom (Israel), in case you were curious. If you do the math, that’s thirty-nine kings to keep track of (not including Saul, David, and Solomon) and twenty years can go by in a matter of about three verses.

(It’s hard enough keeping track of four kids, let alone thirty-nine kings.)

But I had to try. So I went slow. I made notes. I compared 2 Chronicles verse by verse with 1 and 2 Kings. I fit in what prophet went where. I inserted some of the Psalms where theologians think they go. And I loved every minute of it. (I do kind of sort of love history though, as long as there’s no multiple-choice test involved, so I’d say that played in my favor.)

And when I came to Abijah or Abijam (depending on your translation), God was like, “No, you’re stopping here for today.” (He didn’t really say that. It was just one of those mornings a thought hit me so strongly, I couldn’t go on. Holy Spirit speaking? I think so.)

Abijah was the second king of Judah’s lengthy list. He only reigned three years. Probably taking the oath of office about 913 BC. 1 Kings 15:3 has this to say about him, “And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father.”

Hmmm, not exactly what you hope the Bible will say about you. So what were the sins of his father? Well, mainly idolatry. He led the people into the worship of false gods. Setting up high places and pillars and “Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree” (1 Kings 15:23). Asherim were probably wooden in nature. I’m picturing something tall and skinny carved in the form of a woman because it represented the goddess Asherah, wife of the chief god El and mother to the other gods.

Verse 24 says Abijah also allowed male cult prostitutes in the land. Lovely eh? This guy cared little for the LORD and his commands and ways and glory.

But if you jump over to 2 Chronicles 13 you realize Abijah had a whole different view of himself. While trying to entice the northern tribes to follow him instead of Jeroboam (the northern king), Abijah had this to say, “But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken him. We have priests ministering to the LORD who are sons of Aaron, and Levites for the service. They offer to the LORD every morning and every evening burnt offerings and incense of sweet spices, set out the showbread on the table of pure gold, and care for the golden lampstand that its lamps my burn every evening. For we keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him” (2 Chron. 13:10-11).

Oh really Abijah. What about the high places? What about the Asherim? What about the male cult prostitutes? But because they kept the daily, weekly, and festival sacrifices, offered incense, set out the weekly bread, and took care of the lampstand (all things we’re going to study in Exodus), Abijah thought they were good.

Interesting. Look at the way he points the finger at Israel – “We keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him.” Not so Abijah. The charge of the LORD is to love him with all our heart and soul and might (Deuteronomy 6:5). Not possible when there is idolatry going on.

But it made me wonder, how many, especially in America today, are floatin’ in Abijah’s boat?

Oh I’m good, I go to church Christmas and Easter.

Oh I’m good, I went forward when I was a kid.

Oh I’m good, I say my prayers every night before bed. I give to a local charity. I do my best to love others.

All good things. But what about the heart? Look what the LORD had to say about their actions – “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

(Clear enough.)

So concerned is God about the heart he goes so far as to say to Israel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26a). A new heart! Not because they deserved it but for the sake of God’s holy name, which Israel profaned among the nations by making God into a religion.

But God desires relationship. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

In other words, it’s not about the stuff my friends, it’s about the stuffing. What’s in you? Apostasy? Idolatry? Or a wholeness of heart devoted to God.

Ritual without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God. Sacrifice without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God. Worship without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God.

King Abijah thought he was good but God saw his heart and it “was not wholly true to the LORD his God” (1 Kings 15:3). Which begs the question, what would the Bible say about us? Or for that matter, about a nation who professes to know His name, but their hearts remain far from Him. (Sounds so vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?)

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” 1 Samuel 15:22-23a


My Father in Heaven, please forgive us. Help us to see it’s not about religion, but relationship. It’s not a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s a YES to Jesus because while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In Jesus name, because he made a way, Amen.

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Contrary to Popular Belief Our Redemption Has a Purpose

There’s a lot of inconsistency in the world. Like how I can fit into a specific size of jeans at one store, but am two sizes up at the next. Or how strawberries are delicious one week and terrible the next. Or how I can be roasting at Monday’s baseball game and donning my parka the next. Or how insurance will pay one bill but not the next. Or how my children are best friends one day and enemies the next. (You get the idea.)


Devotional Scripture: Exodus 9:1-12
Key Verse: “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” 2 Corinthians 5:15


Yet other times, life is so consistent you can close your eyes and jump with both feet and have no fear of the landing, because you know the Chick-fil-a drive through will still have a line wrapped all the way around the building. The ­­­­­shortest distance between two points will still be a straight line. The baby will always cry the moment your hot breakfast is ready. And someone will inevitably need to pooh, when it’s time to leave for church.

You can count on it my friend, just as you can always count on it to rain after spending nine dollars on a car wash.

Honestly though, it makes me feel cozy. Confident even, having consistency in my life. Driving past the same potholes, on my way to the same stores, for the same foods. Getting up at the same time (relatively speaking) every day to talk to the same God who walked with Adam and Eve.

Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes change is good. There’s just something about rearranging the family room furniture that puts a skip in my step. But God knew we’d feel safe in consistency, just as our kids do. And He knew, with our inquiring minds, it’d be the least confusing route.

So, sin is still sin. Life lived apart from the Creator is still miserable. God is still the same he was an eternity ago. We are still saved by grace through faith, the same way Abraham was. And for the same purpose, to serve God.

Six times the LORD commanded Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (9:1). Though each plague was uniquely different, God’s purpose remained the same. Whether it was frogs or flies or the death of “livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks” (v. 3), as we see in the fifth plague. Or “boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt” (v. 9), as we see in the sixth plague. It was all for the same purpose – so the Israelite’s would be freed to serve God.

But what struck me is not God’s consistency, because we’ve already established He’s good at that. What struck me is that God had a purpose. He wasn’t freeing the Israelite’s from bondage so they could go and live however they wanted to. Deciding for themselves what was right and wrong. What felt good and what didn’t. He was freeing them so they could serve Him!

Their redemption had purpose, and likewise, not surprisingly, so does ours. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Christ gave his life as a ransom not so we could say, “Hey thanks buddy” and then run off and live however we want. He redeemed us so we could be His. A people for his own possession, ready and willing to serve him (Titus 2:14).

Accordingly, Romans 6:22 says we’ve been freed from the slavery of sin to be slaves of God.  Not redeemed unto ourselves, but redeemed unto God. We are not our own, we’ve been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Indebted to God forever for the free to us (not free to Him) gift of eternal life we serve, to the best of our ability, wholly and fully devoted to Him. (At least that’s the goal, though I frequently get in my own way.)

Yet for fear of legalism, or teaching a works based salvation, purpose often gets set aside. Burying it under a beautiful pile of grace, we tend to flash our eternal security badge more often than we display our gold engraved name plate, exhibiting our position in God’s kingdom.

But it’s for the very purpose of service we’ve been redeemed! “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Not saved by our works (Eph. 2:8), but saved unto works, in order “that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4).

Not by living according to the law, but by living according to the Spirit. That they, a world in desperate need of a Savior, may see Him in us and seek the message of reconciliation we bear witness to. Thereby, fulfilling our purpose.

I see it as a clever tactic of Satan to make us so fearful of preaching a message of works, that in the end, we preach no works at all. But God’s standards haven’t changed. Obedience is still at the forefront of his agenda.

We aren’t saved because we serve, we serve because we’re saved. With gratitude and grace paving the way because grace isn’t a license to sin, but is in fact the core reason not to.

With the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God didn’t change the purpose, he simply fulfilled the promise. Just as he did in Israel, granting life and liberty and the ability to serve Him.

He still expects obedience, just as he did with the Israelite’s. He still honors loyalty, just as he did with the Israelite’s. He’s the same consistent God. A God who’s set His people free, so they can freely serve Him.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What purpose is there in your salvation?
What good works has God specifically assigned to you, that others may see and glorify your Father in Heaven?
How can you give glory to God today?

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