Categotry Archives: religion

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On Coming Back to Life

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Categories: religion, Things that Will Probably Get Me In Trouble

He is risen!

He is risen indeed.

The past few years, I must admit that Easter has been something of a bittersweet thing for me. The church buildings are packed with people (many of whom don’t attend but once a year), and for over 30 years, I was an integral part of putting the church’s best foot forward to receive them, in the hopes that some would actually return the following week. Easter (or Resurrection Sunday, as some prefer to call it over its more pagan moniker) is supposed to be a high holy day for the church, bigger even than Christmas. After all, the reason the Church exists–the reason we can have relationship with God–is that Jesus rose from the dead.

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Swapping One Form of Religion For Another

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Categories: food for thought, religion

If you’ve read this here blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that I strongly dislike religion. By that, I don’t just mean the many different types of so-called “false religions” in the world (in my view, all religion is false, including the one we’ve made out of Christianity). By “religion,” I’m basically referring to any set of beliefs and/or practices that takes precedence in our minds and hearts over simple relationship with God.

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The Confrontational Gospel?

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, religion, Tags: ,

Maybe I’ve blogged about this in one of the many earlier posts, but since I’m thinking about it this morning, I’ll just launch out and talk about it anyway.

When I was pastoring a house church in Tulsa, there was one pastor in town whom I knew briefly and tried to be friends with–but the truth was, we totally butted heads, from the first day we met. We were at someone’s house for a dinner party, and while chatting within the group, I related a story of how I’d recently seen one guy “witnessing” to another outside a Tulsa restaurant. The person doing the “witnessing” was quite literally thumping a Bible, talking very vehemently to the other guy with pointing fingers and everything.  I said nothing at the time, but at the dinner party I mentioned how I wished I could have gone to the victim (’cause that’s what he looked like) to apologize on behalf of my brother for improperly representing Christ to him.

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It’s Different Here

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Categories: church, food for thought, religion

We’re still finding our bearings around our new digs–not just within walking distance, but also in the area.

Comparing Denver to the Bible Belt…it’s different here.

I might submit that last sentence to a “best understatement” contest, if I can find one. 🙂

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Shortcuts, Buffer Zones and No-Brainers

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Categories: Meanderings (look it up), religion

Douglas Weaver made a comment on my last post on labels that got me thinking. Here’s a snippet of what he said:

“I think it goes back to that tendency toward religion that resides within us all. The carnal nature is hopelessly religious – always seeking a new method or form that will get us closer to God.”

I think he’s right, and I wonder what it is about humans that makes us so religious. Even people who are atheists, or people who claim no faith at all, quite often hold to their non-religion “religiously.” Why is that? Why is religion such a strong default posture for us?

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What Religion Did for Me

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Categories: food for thought, religion

Religion made faith easy and safe. It gave me a set of understandable measure markers, expectations, and boundaries so I could easily tell if I was doing good, or doing badly.

Religion put things in my control. It laid out the parameters for a desired result, and told me I could obtain that desired result if I met the requirements (i.e., prayed enough, read my Bible enough, said the right things, did enough good deeds, or what-have-you). It took the guesswork out of trusting God.

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The Tower and the Ladder

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, religion

At a worship conference I participated in last year in Joplin, Missouri, a friend of mine there named Jim gave a Biblical comparison I’ve been chewing on ever since. And some things in Sarah’s post today indirectly stirred these thoughts again. So I thought I’d share them with you.

In the Book of Genesis, we find two powerful pictures of heaven-earth connections. One of them is the Tower of Babel, found in Genesis 11; the other is Jacob’s ladder dream found in Genesis 28. One negative, one positive.

The Tower of Babel is the negative example. Lots of speculation occurs over why the people were trying to build a tower reaching to heaven, but at the very least it’s understood that this was man’s attempt to ascend to the divine. And their heart-motive was “to make a name for ourselves.” God purposefully thwarted this attempt.

In Jacob’s dream–the positive example–a ladder came from heaven down to earth, and angels were ascending and descending on it, and in this transaction, God basically re-affirmed the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob. There must have been more to it than just a dream, because when Jacob awoke, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

In both accounts, there is an attempt at a heaven-earth connection. What makes one good and one bad? In the case of the Tower of Babel–man is attempting to ascend (earth to heaven). But in the case of Jacob’s ladder–heaven comes to earth.

This seems to be a consistent theme throughout Scripture. Anytime man tries to ascend to the heavenly realms to get to God, heaven takes a dim view of it, because at best it is a work of man. But whenever God initiates the heaven-earth connection, it is accompanied by His blessings. We can see this most obviously in the way Messiah came (Immanuel–God with us, God coming down to man), and even at the very end, when New Jerusalem descends from heaven to earth.

Earth-to-heaven connection, bad. Heaven-to-earth connection, good.

Now it’s time for a disturbing question. How much of what we currently do in our Christian walk is actually an attempt to ascend? We pray, study, and even worship fervently in our attempts to “get to God”, to “be spiritual”, to “be stronger Christians.” And don’t get me wrong, those are great things to do–but are we really supposed to be doing them for those reasons? I think many of us do these things in an attempt to ascend spiritually–and the tell-tale sign that this is the case is when we feel self-satisfied, even a bit proud of ourselves, when we feel we have done enough. I know that’s how I used to approach it. And looking back on it, I can truly see that this is the path of religion–just another attempt to build a tower to heaven. This is not something God blesses.

This whole approach actually flies in the face of the message of grace. The whole point is that we can’t be good enough; we can’t earn it; we can’t do anything to ascend to the divine. But by the work of Christ coming to earth, and by His grace, He comes to man and places His divine nature in us…and then He lifts us up. God initiates this whole thing. All we do is yield, receive, and submit to the blessing He wants to give. And as Sarah points out…this is where the fruit of the Spirit is birthed in our lives.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t seek to develop godly virtue in our lives, because we should. All it means is that our very ability to be and to do good comes to us because God has come down, not because we are going up.

This understanding has totally reshaped my thinking, even about ministry. Anything I do, I want it to be a response to what God has initiated–not an attempt to get God to do something. I want what I do to reflect the ladder rather than the tower. Heaven comes to earth–not the other way around. May our lives ever more be a reflection of this truth.

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Confusing Method for Principle

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, food for thought, religion

I’ve alluded to this topic probably several times, the most recent being in my post “Questions of Heresy?”. It’s probably time to cover this one head on, because in my opinion it is at the root of many of our relgious practices. A lot of the disputes that divide the church, and a lot of the resistance to new things, boil down to a confusion between method and principle.

It is apparent through the Scriptures that God does not change. This makes sense, since Someone who is eternally perfect has no need to evolve. His character, His nature, His love, the things that He likes and dislikes…all of this remains constant, and always has. However, it is also apparent that while God does not change, His methods do. (A key example of this is in Isa. 43:19, when He says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”) Because man does change over time, God will alter His methods in His relentless quest to reach man.

By the same token…there are principles in Scripture that I believe derive from God’s constant nature, and these should not be tampered with. But there are often a wide range of methods that we can employ to fulfill those principles.

The problem that so often occurs with the church is that we employ a method for so long that we begin to confuse it for the principle that we are trying to fulfill. When this happens, our method essentially becomes one of those sacred cows people talk about, and this is one of the key ingredients that turns our relationship with God into religion. Over time, the method loses its effectiveness, but we hold onto it tightly because we deem it sacred. So when someone comes along and challenges the method’s effectiveness and suggests a better one, it often creates havoc. The method often will be staunchly defended–even though it isn’t really working–and the person will sometimes even be labeled a heretic, even though there has been no tampering with Scripture. All this happens when we confuse method for principle.

Let’s look at one example of what I’m talking about. The church has a mandate in Heb. 10:25 not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. I consider this to be a Biblical principle. However, there is very little said in Scripture about when, where or how to assemble. It relates a few methods that the early church used to fulfill that principle, but otherwise the Bible gives a great deal of latitude. I personally believe this is on purpose–to allow the church to adapt to the different cultures of the world and last through the centuries.

Now look at the church today. There are people who believe if you do not meet at a set time on Sunday morning, or in a specific building, or follow a specific liturgy, you haven’t been to church, and therefore you haven’t fulfilled this principle. And the first time someone suggests a different method of meeting–the “don’t forsake the assembly” Scripture gets thrown at them. This has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with method. It’s just that we’ve carried this method for so long that we don’t know how to handle it when someone says we might be able to do it another way.

I’m a pragmatist about these things, which means I’m into what works. So if your methods are working for you and bringing good results and truly helping you fulfill the principles of Scripture, I’m inclined to leave you alone about it. It is when your system or method no longer works, or is counter-productive, or violates Scriptural principles, that I want to say, “Hey, are you sure this is the best way you could be doing this?”

Now to a more direct example, and the crux of the matter. To me, institutional Christianity is a method–not a principle. If you look at Scripture carefully, you’ll find that most of the trappings of institutional church–from the buildings to the government structure to the order of service–most of these are extra-Biblical (which means they aren’t found in Scripture at all). And some elements are currently even in violation of Scripture. There are methods we have used for centuries, and perhaps at one point they were effective in fulfilling certain principles of Scripture. But they are only methods. Many of our methods aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves. But they should not be held as sacred. If our methods aren’t producing good fruit, we should change them–without compromising Scriptural principles.

So all that to say…I do not have a moral problem with the institutional church in general, and I do not consider myself a better Christian than others because I am outside of it. I have not broken fellowship with the Body of Christ that remains within those walls. I simply believe this is a method that is losing ground rapidly, one that in most cases no longer works, and one that has never fully allowed the church to be all she is meant to be. My journey outside the walls is an honest attempt to find a more effective way to live my faith and fulfill the mission of Christ. And my hope in processing this publicly is that my journey would encourage others to simply strip off the filters through which we hear and see things, and take an honest look at the state of things in the church, and make honest decisions about our methods to make us more effective and fruitful in the world.

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The Strange Appeal of Religion

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Categories: changing mindsets, Meanderings (look it up), religion

If you were to know anything about my background, the fact that someone like me is writing a blog called “Losing My Religion” might be enough to convince you that there is a God.

I am the most unlikely candidate for this sort of thing because I have spent most of my life being religious, and liking it.

I like rules; I like to keep rules; I like to help other people keep rules.

I like to know what is expected of me, and I like to meet and exceed those expectations.

I enjoy routine. I like to know what’s coming. I’m not that big on surprises. And I’m not nearly as glamorously adventurous as I imagine myself being.

What the stink is a guy like me doing writing a blog like this??

Two books that have been recently on my reading list–The End of Religion by Bruxy Cavey and The Reason for God by Timothy Keller–have indirectly sparked my thinking on this topic. I am seeing how the message of grace is so contrary to religious thinking.

Religion (of pretty much any flavor) compels its followers to jump through a given set of hoops, either to appease the wrath of a god, curry the favor of a god, or even influence or manipulate a god into doing something. How many Christians treat their faith in this manner–praying, studying, attending church, witnessing, all to be a “good Christian?”

The scandal of grace is that we don’t do anything to obtain it, except simply receive it. Through the cross, Christ did something for us, not the other way around; and the salvation He offers through His cross is sheer grace, which cannot be earned. It’s truly good news, but it messes with our continued mindsets that tell us we must perform a certain way to gain God’s approval. Grace, no matter how amazing, is often hard for people to accept because you literally have to cease from your labors–to stop trying–in order to receive it. It is also profoundly humbling, because the message of grace basically takes things out of our control.

And that’s the rub for me. I love to be in control of things. And that, I think, is why the bondage of religion has been so strangely appealing to me, and why it’s taken such a long and painful process to be extracted from it.

You see, under religion, we have a bit more control over our destiny (we think). We perform a certain way, we expect a certain reward. We know what God expects, and when we do it, we make Him happy with us. When we are blessed, we can take credit for it because we prayed and had faith and practiced the principles and worked the formulas. When we pray enough (whatever “enough” is), study hard, and show devotion to the church, we become self-satisfied in our performance, and we can see ourselves as superior to others who don’t do it as well as we do–and if we’re really good at it, we can conceal our smug pride in a cloak of sugary-sweet condescension and false humility.

Simply put–religion is God on our terms: everything in its place, a system we control by good performance. A control freak’s utopia.

But the problem is, God doesn’t fit in that box at all.

For those who are desperate and at the end of their rope, grace is a welcome thing. But for those who have put so much effort and work and energy into earning God’s favor, grace can be downright offensive. Grace requires us to lay down our efforts, to admit that all our striving cannot bring us one step closer to God or to the salvation He offers–to relinquish control of our destiny.

For me, the de-constructing of my religion pretty much required that I become one of those people at the end of their rope. My religion failed me and died a slow, painful death while for an extended period of time I worked every system I knew, prayed every prayer, made every confession and prophetic declaration I could think of. (See Heather’s post here for a good example of what I’m talking about.) And all the time, God simply refused to jump through my hoops or show up on my terms. Not until I literally ran out of strength, gave up, and fell on His grace, did my situation change for the better. I literally had to see for myself that I never really was in control–that the control my religion had promised me was a myth.

And once I found that I could relinquish control and not die–once I found that things actually got better when I fell upon God’s grace–that is when I began to find true rest from my labors, for the first time in my life.

I have come to understand that religion, although strangely appealing to someone like me, is a harsh taskmaster, promising goods it cannot possibly deliver. And I have come to understand that grace, although offensive to the religious mind, is truly an amazing gift from God.
I hope to continue this stream of thought in future posts. Stay tuned…

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What We Were Never Meant to Be

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Categories: changing mindsets, Meanderings (look it up), religion

So I’m working out in the gym this morning, and the song “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. comes up on my ipod. As I listened and pondered the lyrics, I thought about maybe covering that song someday with a band.

And then I remembered a day years ago when that thought would have totally offended me. I used to turn the radio off when that song played, because I assumed it was anti-Christian. Now I have it on my ipod, and the title inspired my blog name.

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