People often ask me what religion people are in Sudan.  I tell them there are Muslims in the north for the most part and there are some Christians in the south and then there are many religious people.  Now, there are very many who love and honor God here in South Sudan, many.  But, many of these honor God with their lips and not their hearts.  Of course this is true in most of the world so here in South Sudan we are no different than anywhere else.  It is very frustrating when you are talking with someone who praises Jesus and this person tells of how much he loves the orphans and what a great thing we are doing and then in the next breath they are asking for “pocket” money before completing their business with you.  Or this same person will charge you a ridiculous price for something because you are white and you can afford it.  It doesn’t matter that you are here for their children.  So very frustrating.

Religion is simply this, doing things to impress God or man so that He and they will look at you as a better person than another.  Whether we are performing Sunday morning rituals, and I say performing, or whether we are in ministry, or whether we even go to church, if we are doing it so we can say, “But God, I did this or I went to church every Sunday….”, this is religion.

Being a child of God is simply this, doing things because we love Him, regardless of what man thinks or doesn’t think or does or doesn’t do for us, and knowing our positions as sons and not servants.

In Genesis, where Cain murdered Abel, I used to never understand why God didn’t like Cain’s sacrifice.  I mean, all through the OT the priests were required to give grain offerings.  Why then was Cain’s not acceptable?  God was trying to teach us right from the beginning that He doesn’t want religion.  Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted by God because he was trying to give God something through his effort, something he did.  It came from the toil of his own effort from the ground, which was cursed by God.  Cain truly felt that he was “sacrificing” something because he did all this work “for” God.  Abel offered to God what only God could do.  Abel offered God’s gift of creation right back to Him.  All Abel did was to care for what God had already made.  Abel just had to follow some sheep around a field.

My calling as a missionary, maybe you as a pastor of a mega church, Billy Graham’s calling, all of these are not sacrificed lives.  We are just doing what we are asked of God to do.  The true sacrifice is offering our hearts to God even though we are a mess, far from perfect, or offering our hearts to God in a land where no one else really cares about what we are doing.  Every day working out our salvation, that’s the sacrifice.  God created our hearts to love Him.  He wants us to give Him these hearts as His creation and allow Him to do what He wants with them.  We cannot, through the toil of our own effort, make ourselves love Him any better or make ourselves look better to God.  We cannot through the toil of our own efforts “prove” to Him that we love Him.

My young friend in America wrote me this week saying that he feared being baptized because he didn’t feel worthy enough yet to give himself to God.  He was afraid to make the commitment and be looked at as a liar or not living right.  We have to trust God enough that if we sincerely offer our hearts to Him and “follow” Him, He will accept this sacrifice as pure and holy and He will change our hearts and help us.  We cannot change our own hearts without His help.  Nothing we can “do” will cause us to be more holy or holy enough.  It’s about the blood of Jesus and what He did.

Religion is all about what we have to do or how many times we pray or how much money we give to the church in order to qualify ourselves for God’s love and to be “looked” at by God and others as godly or holy.  Even in the mission field, so many come because they want to feel like they are “doing” something for God.  I love Jesus.  Love is all about the other person, it’s all about Jesus.  That is a true sacrifice, to truly love others no matter how they treat you.  True sacrifice is to do for others even when you know they will complain and not appreciate it.  True sacrifice is doing for others even though they will point a finger in your face and threaten you.  This happens all the time in America’s schools.  It happens even in the church.

We need to quit trying to please God by what we think we need to do.  Please God by loving Him with your whole heart and He will cause you to love others with His.  It’s that easy…… The next time someone asks you what religion you are, just reply, “Me?  I don’t have a religion.  I just believe that God really loves me and that is the substance of my faith.”  Amen!