I spent some time over the last couple weeks on a quiet beach. Perfect for reflecting and evaluating the year that was and the year to come. My only rule was to be as painfully honest I possibly could… In looking back over 2016, I saw traces of the thing I promised myself I would always fight… that is “religiosity”. ..my efforts to somehow impress God with my service, piety or talent.
I have prayed for an “allergic reaction” to religiosity because I believe that Jesus is more concerned with my heart being close to His, my faith being rooted in a dynamic relationship with a living savior that I know and talk to … a lot, rather than a dry, duty-flied obedience to a list of rules and regulations almost completely designed to impress other religious people. In fact I would argue that “religion” has, for centuries, impeded the Christian movement that Jesus established 2000 years ago.(but that is an argument for another post.)
From April 2011…
Last week, while I was reading in the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 10:11) and the word “religious” stood out to me. It reminded me of a time, many years ago, I attended a summer church party where soft drinks were being served out of an old metal ice chest. In the afternoon sun I made what I thought was an innocuous comment about the Diet Sprite can looking a lot like a Coors Light (trust me, it would have been hysterical with a different audience). One of the men in line started to chuckle before being “caught” by the “older, wiser” matriarch of the group who informed him that she “did not even know what a Coors Light looked like”.
Her condescension and “snootiness” were unmistakable and the implication was clear….. “if you love the Lord you will be so against the world that you will be totally unfamiliar with anything “evil””. (To make the episode more interesting both her son and her husband are known to have a beer….or two……. or more. So she clearly understood what a Coors Light was…and could probably tell me how much they cost and the best place to get one)
Before I am too harsh with her, I think anyone who really has a committment to live a Holy life has to wrestle with her perspective….that is, wanting to be so far removed from the world that you are unstained by it (even ignorant of it) ….. And then wearing that ignorance as a “badge of honor”.
But the command God gives us to “Love our neighbors”, the examples Paul leaves of “sharing not only the Gospel of God but his life as well” , and of course Jesus’ example of dinning with “tax collectors and sinners” does not leave this option available to us. In pursuing “separation” from the world we have developed the desire to actually be so removed that we are, at best….irrelevant and at worst… irritating.
At our worst…
1. We Believe We are Better Than Other People. It is true. We all spend some degree of effort ranking ourselves against other people. Sometimes it is financial ranking, aesthetics, age, etc…. but for the religious person it is piety. How many or to what level are others aware of my good works? If I am known as a good person then I rank myself higher than someone else….
2. We Extend Grace to OURSELVES and JUDGEMENT to Others. I had a reason for cutting that guy off in traffic. The guy who cut me off is a jerk! Can’t tell you how many times people have jumped to conclusions because they believe that they know another persons motives, thoughts and purposes.We think we are good and everyone else is bad.Luke 16:15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.
3. We See Everyone Else’s Sin but NOT Our Own – I have attended a 1000 conferences in my life (at least it feels that way) but I will never forget about 10 years ago watching a man who had to weigh in at 350 lbs explain to us how smoking and drinking were sins. (for the record I did not go to this conference voluntarily!) Strangely he failed to mention gluttony, lack of discipline or slothfulness in his message. He is like many of us…quick to see the “speck in another’s eye” but not the “log in our own”.
4. We Believe that God Owes Us for Living “good lives”. “I will behave well and You have to bless me”. That is the deal. “No blessings and I will be disillusioned and frustrated”. If this is our attitude towards God then Jesus can be our “life-coach”, our “role-model” and even our “friend”…but He isn’t our Savior.
5. We Justify Hate – From Homosexuals to Obama to Hollywood. We have made it OK to hate other people. 1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. Luke 6:27 “Love your Enemies”
6. We Believe God is an American… and/or a Republican. He isn’t.
7. We Place “Style over Substance”… as long as we look good on the outside then we are good. Matthew 23:27-28 …You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.
8. We Separate the “Sacred and the Secular” Phil 4:8 …finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
9. We nurture “Respectable Sins“ Things like thanklessness, anxiety, frustration, discontentment, gossip selfishness, arrogance, entitlement, anger, disunity are embraced as pious and upright. While things like lust, murder, smoking, drinking and foul language are considered evidence of a heart far from God. All are sins, yet we have made some acceptable…even desirable.