Religion is Dead

It seems like many (if not most) of us, like to take refuge in religious activities. SpellPeaceWe feel like we’re better people if we’re doing something pious.  If we can just follow the right rules, pray the right formula, or chant the right words, we’ll be okay with God.

Unfortunately, as I understand Scripture, it seems the Lord is not very interested in religion.  In fact, it seems as though the more religious people get, the less He likes it.

All the man-made rules may make us feel better about ourselves, but it’s the heart of the matter that makes the difference.  Yet even after all these years, I continually catch myself setting up new rules to follow (at least I hope I catch myself).  You’d think I’d learn to follow Jesus instead of a bunch of rules.

Rules are a little easier, though.  They don’t move around like Jesus does. But then, why follow things that aren’t moving.  They can’t take you anywhere.

Long ago, people approached the prophet Zechariah with a question for the Lord. They wanted to know if they should “mourn and fast in the fifth month” as they had for many years. The Lord answered with a couple questions of his own:

“When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?  And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?”

The implication was that the people were basically doing these things merely to make themselves feel better. We somehow think we’ll be better off if we “pay our dues.” Follow the rules, give a nice offering, and go about business as usual.

The Lord then told Zechariah to pass on these words to the good folks:

“Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”

Someone could say, “Well, those are just more rules!” Maybe. But there is a stark difference between going down a checklist of dos and don’ts as opposed to being a merciful, compassionate, and just person. In fact, one might sum it up as “doing versus being.”

It Becomes Personal

When we follow Christ, it becomes a very personal thing. We are transformed into what the apostle Paul calls “living sacrifices.” That, my friends, is a far cry from enumerating a heavenly spreadsheet of religious activities.

JESUS OF NAZARETH -- Pictured: Robert Powell as Jesus -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

If we grow to become compassionate, we don’t have to be told what to do. Life will happen, and we will find ourselves doing benevolent activities. We will do them because they have become part of our nature.

An agenda of rules quickly becomes a dead religion. It’s very impersonal. Your relationship is with a worksheet rather than with people. I know from personal experience.

Having done both, I highly recommend Jesus. He’s a lot more fun than a spreadsheet.

Nose Rings: An Old Testament Hangover

bull-with-nose-ringWhen I was young, all the nose rings I saw were attached to bulls.  Heavy rings were inserted into their noses for obvious reasons.  A chain or rope was hooked to them in order to lead them around. If you think about how tender your nose can be, you can imagine how it would feel. Try going in a different direction from the one in which you’re being pulled.

I always felt badly for bulls because of this. At least I did until I stood next to one. Those babies are huge! I wouldn’t want to try riding one for sure. Leading one around wouldn’t be a picnic either.

In the Old Testament, we read how victors led losing kings around by nose rings. It was a definite sign of forced submission. It also had to be more than a little painful. The piercing alone must have been brutal (I doubt they took them to a tattoo parlor to get it done).

Today we see lots of people with nose rings. I guess they think it’s cool or distinctive.  Regardless of how fashionable it is, it definitely sets them apart. Every time I see someone with a nose ring, I think of those Old Testament kings being led away by their enemies. I’ll never get one. (Why make it any easier on my enemies than they already have it.)

THERMAL, CA - APRIL 13:  Kendall Jenner attends Day 2 of the LACOSTE Beautiful Desert Pool Party on April 13, 2014 in Thermal, California.  (Photo by Chris Weeks/Getty Images for LACOSTE)
Kendall Jenner (Photo by Chris Weeks)

Today, we get them of our own volition. No one forces us. Being stylish can cause us to do unusual things. We all know plenty of women who wear shoes that kill their feet. As long as they look good, that’s all that matters. I suppose a few guys do that as well.

I have to hand it to them. Comfort is usually paramount. But if you’re willing to bear the pain to look different, that’s commitment.

I think the church could take a lesson from these hardy folks. If there’s one drawback to the American church today, it’s our insistence on being permanently comfortable. We don’t much care how it looks. We don’t even care much how little ministry is done. As long as we are comfortable, that’s what matters.

I’m certainly no exception to the comfort seekers, and I’m a pastor. I want the place of worship to be heated in winter and air conditioned in summer. I even want any actual ministry we do to be under good conditions. Even as I write this, I’m sitting in a very comfortable study in extremely comfortable surroundings.

Jesus told the early church to be his witness Body-Piercing“to the ends of the earth.” Then they promptly hunkered down in Jerusalem for the next few years. It wasn’t until the church fell under heavy persecution that they began taking the Gospel elsewhere.

I don’t want to put any ideas in God’s head, but maybe we could use a few nose rings (figuratively speaking, of course). Or maybe we could actually go to the ends of the earth of our own volition.

There is Someone that I Love

“There is someone that I love, even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept, though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive, though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is me.” ~C. S. Lewis~

CS-LewisC.S. Lewis was one of a kind. He’s one of those guys that seem to have garnered everyone’s respect. On top of that, he was a gifted writer. Consequently, he is about as quotable as they come.

This particular quote reveals his humility. It’s certainly self-deprecating. Apparently, he didn’t think more of himself than he ought.

With his accomplishments and the acclaim he received, he certainly could have had an ego bigger than the sky. Yet, he appears to have been well grounded. He also appears to have understood his own shortcomings and sin.

We usually look up to people because of their talent, their abilities, and/or their achievements. Seldom do we know these people intimately. When we do get a look at them behind the scenes, we often find a skeleton in their closet that knocks them off the pedestal we erected for them.

Cop an attitude…

With people like Lewis, however, there is an openness that precludes any idol worship. It’s an attitude that says, “I’m an imperfect sinner. I’m not crazy about it, but here I am. Help me get better.”

Any of us would do well to cop that kind of attitude. For most of us, however, it’s highly likely that we would try to hide any chinks in our armor. We want to put our best foot forward and leave it there. Our failings can remain in the shadows.

However, we best serve the human race that surrounds us by being a little vulnerable. When someone seems a little too perfect, they don’t seem human. If they aren’t human, they become an unfeeling robot destined for obscurity. No one looks up to a façade without wondering what’s behind it. Eventually, we get tired (even suspicious) of someone who never fails.

Lewis not only had a healthy view of who he was, he admittedly loved himself. Sometimes we get the feeling that’s wrong—that we shouldn’t love ourselves. We need to realize, that’s how God made us.Self-Love

We have to have some self-love in order to be everything we can be. We need it for self-preservation. We need it to reach our potential. It’s when we don’t care about ourselves that we become less than productive or worse.

Without self-love, we can actually become self-loathing. It’s then that we fall prey to self-destructive habits. These can place us in the position of becoming burdens on society rather than blessings.

Like Lewis, there is someone that I love. It’s me. As messed up as I am, I think I have potential and can get better every day. I love me because God loves me. I’ve read in his book that he loves you too.

Growing Corn: A Lesson in Life

corn

I recently ran across this post on Facebook:

“There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best-grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it.

The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

‘Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.’

So is with our lives… Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all…”

I certainly couldn’t have said it better myself. What a great example of what it means to make everyone around you better than they were.

Each year, as a baseball fan, I hear about players who make all their teammates better. They do that by taking some of the pressure off them and carrying it on their own shoulders. When they’re in the line-up, the rest of the batting order hits better. It’s a ripple effect.Roberto

It’s much like the farmer sharing his good seed. He reaps the benefit of his own benevolence. Ball players reap the reward of a winning team. We could do the same in our day-to-day lives.

Unfortunately, the opposite is often the case. Too often we want less for our neighbors so we will look better by comparison. It’s the reverse of “a rising tide raises all boats.” If we can just drag those around us down to our level, maybe we can outshine them.

That’s a really sad commentary on the way many of us live. There’s no victory in someone else’s demise. There’s no joy in someone else’s degradation. There’s no moral achievement when someone else falls below our standards.

We would do well to take a page from the life of Jesus. Look at some of the folks he chose to befriend. The Pharisees of his day thought he was terrible because he ate with sinners. On the other hand, everyone else thought he was pretty special.

He didn’t hang out with them so he would look better by comparison. He hung out with them to lift them up. He gave them encouragement to be better than they were. He gave them nuggets to build their lives upon.

Maybe it’s time we did the same. Any hand up you can give will be a rising tide…for everyone.rising-tide-lifts-all-the-boats