Sick From Religion

 

English: First posture of ASL sign VOMIT (wikt...

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On a blog about how Christianity is Perceived, David Kinnaman took a survey where Non-Christians aged 16-29 years old were asked, “What is your current perception of Christianity?”

  • 91% said antihomosexual
  • 87% said judgmental
  • 85% said hypocritical
  • 78% said old-fashioned
  • 75% said too involved in politics
  • 72% said out of touch with reality
  • 70% said insensitive to others

(http://churchrelevance.com/david-kinnaman-reveals-how-young-non-christians-view-christianity/)

Lately I’ve been cracking open the letter that Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in the province of Galatia, which is now modern-day Turkey.  It’s funny how he introduces it, because in most of his letters to other areas of the Mediterranean he spends time thanking the people for their love, generosity and faithfulness.  Not so with the Galatians…  This is all he says as an introduction:

Paul, an apostle not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:1-5, ESV)

Then Paul goes on to ream out the Galatians because they have bought into a false teaching.  Certain religious people amidst them have tried to force the newly found gentile followers of Christ to get circumcised, and follow religious laws set down by Moses, the old traditions of God so to speak.

And in no way is following Jesus throwing out traditions that are worthwhile, but these religious people want them to follow traditions that are irrelevant to the spiritual lives of these new followers of Jesus.  They have nothing to do with obeying God, but were rather traditions that were relevant in the time of Moses, and had no relevance in the first century AD.

It begs us to answer the question:  “What does it take to become a follower of Jesus”?  Do people have to throw out all of their old music?  Do people have to completely clean up their life?  Do people have to renounce all the ways that keep them from God?  Keep certain religious rites?  Adhere to a certain institutional doctrine?

The invitation seems not to be to perfect religious people, but to drunkards, swindlers, sex addicts, thieves, cheaters, liars, and yes, even to perfect religious people who realize their imperfection and need for rescue.

But if you have claimed to be a follower of Jesus for any number of years I must challenge you with this…  what things about your religious expression stand as barriers in the way of people to walking through the door that Jesus has left wide open?  We are in great danger of repeating the error of the Galatians when we force people who don’t yet know Jesus into religious constructs.

Here’s the first thing we all need to know- Jesus loves us despite ourselves, and His offer of salvation is free to all who would consider it.  The only prerequisite is that you have to be sick of everything you’re doing.  You have to be tired of the life you’re leading, and aware of your own path to self-destruction and its infliction on others.  Then Jesus takes you as you are- garbage and all, and God begins to move in your life and change everything.

Don’t be distracted by people who force you into religion, but read and wrestle with what Jesus said yourself.

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“I Am a Rock” Confessions of a New England Individualist

America (Simon & Garfunkel song)

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I love salty New Englanders!  We all have our own things we’re doing, building, working on, creating, inventing.  But going it on our own, being a maverick, an eagle, can bring some pain!  Paul Simon, a famous songwriter, wrote about the feeling of loneliness that can come with self-sufficiency sometimes in a song called “I Am a Rock”- written in 1965.  Here are the lyrics:

A winter’s day

In a deep and dark December;

I am alone,

Gazing from my window to the streets below

On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

I’ve built walls,

A fortress deep and mighty,

That none may penetrate.

I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.

It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,

But I’ve heard the words before;

It’s sleeping in my memory.

I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.

If I never loved I never would have cried.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

I have my books

And my poetry to protect me;

I am shielded in my armor,

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.

I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;

And an island never cries.

Now I have to admit that I’ve resonated with Paul Simon’s words in my life, especially in my life before I knew Jesus, and also after. I’ve built walls before, fortresses deep and mighty, that none may penetrate. I’ve thought that I had no need of friendship; because friendship causes pain.

I grew up as an only child in Ohio back in 1981.  My parents had both rebelled against the church- my Mom against the Catholic church, my Dad against the fundamentalist Protestant church he was raised in.  They both raised me to be a very independent thinker, they wanted me to be an entrepreneur and a leader.  They actually hoped I’d be a senator or something like that. They raised me to question all authority and reject institutions and organized religion.

So when I first lived in New England back in 2001- I loved it!  I felt like I fit right in!

And it’s true that we have that mentality up in New England, many of of think that “we are a rock, we are an island”.

A Man Who Had Hipster Style

Albert Benjamin Simpson

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A.B. Simpson was a true example of what it means to follow Jesus in his era and in ours.

I deeply resonate with Simpson’s experience with churches, both in Louisville, Kentucky and in New York City.  As Simpson beginning to transition out of the Louisville pastorate to take a leap of faith into the chaos of New York City, he saw that God had used him to build a large ministry that was breaking social and racial barriers.  But unfortunately the people around him wanted to go into great debt to build a large building.  “Three thousand people crowded into the Broadway Tabernacle in Louisville on June 9, 1878, for the first service.  But the debt and its cause hung like a dark cloud over the pastor.  He refused to dedicate the elegant edifice and rejected any further salary until the debt was liquidated.  In his remarks during the service, Simpson made it clear that a church building, whatever its design, served the supreme, single purpose of bringing within its walls “the great masses of every social condition who attend no other church and practically know no God.”  And ironically, Simpson would return after moving to New York to help dedicate the debt free structure, and in another two months the beautiful edifice would be completely destroyed, burned down in a fire. (All for Jesus, 15)

Where are the A.B. Simpson’s of today?  We live in an American Church culture plagued by large, debt ridden mega-church structures…  many of which are even declining in attendance while pastors line their pockets with generous salaries.  And here we have Simpson, on the verge of becoming a Christian celebrity in the 1800’s, and he refuses to take a salary until the building is paid off.  He also charges the people in the church that the only point of even having the building is to reach the poor, and in his day the African-Americans, who were marginalized by the southern white church, and beyond that those generally just far from God who the conventional church failed to reach out to and love.  He also sees that the people of this church are becoming consumer minded and inward focused, so he leaves and moves into New York City to do ministry amongst immigrants, diverse social classes and the urban poor.  Then in New York the Upper-Middle Class church that he is a pastor of tries to stop him from inviting the poor lower-class immigrants into the walls of the building, so he leaves his denomination all together and starts a new church from scratch.

This was a man driven by principles.  Many even today would call him impractical and insane, but God would only deem him to be faithful.  We need more like him today in an American Church culture that is driven by money figures and numbers.  We need more like him today in a religious imitation of the church that is filled with pastors who thrive on comfort and wealth while our economy is sinking.  May we be inspired by A.B. Simpson, and further than that, inspired by the people of all generations who have lived out the wild life of following Jesus.

Jesus’ Pals Were Drunkards and Thieves (Jesus Had a Bad Rap! (part II))

Jesus went up to a tax collector booth and asked this guy “Matthew” or “Levi” to follow him.  Now tax collectors at this time were completely hated!  They had the reputation that some (not all!) lawyers have today.  Now there are good lawyers, but some have the reputation for being crooked.  This is how tax collectors were in Jesus’ time.  They extorted people for their money.  And the Jews of the time especially disliked them because they were “in cahoots” with the Roman Empire- which ruled over the people of Israel (or the Jews).

But here’s this guy- a notorious bad character, a real problem, a real outcast to the religious elite, bad news, a real criminal.  So Jesus comes up to him and says “Follow me” and he goes!  Now I’m speculating here, but I think word about Jesus had really gotten around and this guy was at the end of his rope!  So he leaves a dishonest job and a sinful life to become a disciple of Jesus!

So it seems like right after, Matthew invites Jesus over for dinner, and all his crooked buddies show up- “tax collectors and sinners”.  Now this was by all means a crowd of rowdy people!  We don’t know exactly what kind of people were there, but we know that they weren’t the typical church folk we normally see in American churches today.  Okay, maybe most Christians live rowdy Monday through Saturday, but usually put on a pious front on Sunday.  In the book of Luke it describes that Matthew had this dinner arranged in honor of Jesus.  It seems like he wanted people to get to know Jesus!  He was making it public, “hey, I’m following this guy- any of you wanna join me?”

So here come the Pharisees!  Now for those of us that don’t know these guys were the perfect religious guys in their day.  They were constantly making up extra rules outside of the Bible and basically trying to keep people that weren’t like them out of God’s temple.  So they viewed a lot of these people that Jesus was with as “unclean” or unworthy of God’s forgiveness because they were so sinful.  They also figured- hey!  Jesus must be doing the same things as these people if he’s hanging out with them!  They couldn’t put it together in their heads how someone could be around people like that, still love them & respect them but actually influence them for good & change or here comes a good Christian word- “repentance of sin!”  But repentance is not a justification for all the garbage we do, its actually inviting God into our lives to change us for good.  It’s only possible through Him.  See, we need to remember as well that Jesus never sinned!  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  Jesus didn’t fail like we do, but He did set up an example for us- to be in a world of people who sin, show compassion and love and truth and purity to them, and not participate in any destructive things they do while still capturing their hearts with the love of God and freedom that Jesus offers us all.

Now we have to love Jesus’ answer!  He overhears the Pharisees talking to his disciples and questioning what Jesus is doing here.  He tells them “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”.

So the Pharisees considered themselves healthy and “righteous”, but here, right in front of them, is the Son of God- and they won’t admit their need for him!  So maybe it was they that were “spiritually sick” and in need of healing.  But it’s funny, because it seems that these tax collectors & sinners- especially Matthew- did we mention he’s actually the one writing this story, and for that matter, this entire book of the Bible?- were more willing to acknowledge their sinful condition and ask for Christ’s saving power to heal them & lead them to “repent” of their sins.

But the fact is that we’re all sinners in need of Christ’s grace!  We’re all those people at the table with Jesus trying to understand who He really is.  We are all alike- sinners in need of God’s mercy, and it’s a good thing that we are, because Jesus has a prescription for people like you and I:

See, we can:  go to bible study, tithe, attend church regularly, take communion, do charitable things, etc.- and still have no faith in Christ that will lead us to having true mercy and the love of God in our hearts.  So Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to the Pharisees to remind them that God doesn’t want rituals to be a substitute for truly being righteous.  And my friends, we all struggle with this.  See I was with some good friends- and we were hanging out drinking coffee a couple weeks ago.  We were having a conversation with this guy that was sitting close to us.  At some point I just asked him- “do you think Jesus is out here in New England?”  You know what he told me?  He said, “no- people out here aren’t religious so I don’t think Jesus is out here- He’s more likely in the Bible belt or places like that, but not here”.  So I responded and said, “I disagree with you- I think He’s more here in New England than anywhere”.  The guy thought that was kind of weird!  But we kept talking about other things and had a good conversation.

Friends, Jesus’ heart breaks for those that don’t know Him!  But if I don’t step out in faith and follow Jesus in reaching out to “crazy folks” like myself (especially how I used to be), then I’ll become like the Pharisees- stubborn, proud, self-righteous, and unrepentant.  What a chilling thought that is.

Jesus Had a Bad Rap! (part I)

Many would have thought of him as a “70’s hippie, rabble rouser, pot smoker, hippie commune leader…”  and in a sense they’d be right about all of those!  I’m talking about a dude named “Keith Green”.  He was a musician who was highly involved in 70’s hippie culture.  After a dissatisfying lifestyle, searching through many different religions and philosophies, and being caught up in drugs and a fleeting music career, he began to make friends with followers of Jesus, eventually went to church, and Jesus grabbed a hold of his life.  He then became one of the most renowned Christian musicians in history.  Literally, where Keith Green went, revival and great repentance happened.  His ministry led many people to Jesus, including many hippies, hitchhikers, disenfranchised maniacs and skeptics.  The religious establishment of the day often questioned him, but it was obvious that he had a love for Jesus that was much more powerful than pithy religiosity.

A.B. Simpson- was the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  But did you know about his ministry in New York City that inspired this movement?  He pastored at the Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church in New York City (NYC). His desire to minister to the flood of immigrants pouring into NYC met with great opposition from the leadership of his church. He eventually resigned his “prestigious pastorate” and set out to establish the Gospel Tabernacle, a church in the heart of the city, where all—the poor, homeless, sick, and displaced—would be welcome.  He was definitely a “friend of sinners”.  The religious establishment of his day often criticized him and misrepresented him.  But it was obvious that he had a love for Jesus that led him to a greater devotion… a lifestyle more powerful than mere religious hypocrisy

1 Samuel 16:7 says “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  I encourage you to check that chapter out and read the story of God choosing a mighty king- David, who was really a short fella who tended sheep.

But we do judge by outward appearance, whereas the Lord looks at the heart.  If only we could see people like He does!  He saw the heart of the apostle Paul, before he was Paul he was called “Saul”.  He was a super religious guy.  He was a trained Pharisee- the strictest sect of Judaism.  He thought he knew the Old Testament inside and out.  He believed that the Christian movement was dangerous to God’s people and hated Christians, persecuting them with no mercy.  The first time he shows up in the Bible is in chapter 8 of the book of Acts, where he’s in agreement with putting Stephen to death by having rocks thrown at him!  And Stephen was a guy who gave his life to serving widows and the poor, healing the sick and preaching the gospel of Jesus’ death on the cross for people’s sin!  But then BAM!  Paul’s travelling on a road to Damascus and is blinded by the light, and Jesus shows up in a vision calling him to himself.  The rest is history man- Paul went from chasing down and killing Christians to risking his life to spread the message of Jesus to everyone- mostly people of a Roman pagan background- getting beaten up and rejected by the Pharisees- so that what he once inflicted on others was inflicted on him, and he counted it pure joy to suffer for Jesus!

Many would have labeled him a “drug addict, heavy metal freak, criminal, insane person, rebel…”  In a sense they’d have been right!  Now I’m talking about “Brian ‘Head’ Welch”.  He was formerly in a band named “Korn” where he was addicted to Meth-Amphetamines and basically living a hardcore rock and roll lifestyle.  In the middle of having great success as a rock star and having heightened depression, a concerned friend invited him to church.  He went from being what many in the church may think “unreachable” to being completely fired up for Jesus!  He’s helped to start orphanages in 3rd World countries and travels the United States using his music to give his story and share the gospel with others.  Many in our modern day religious establishment have judged him and banished his music and book from their bookstores and churches, but his life is a wildfire offering, a sweet aroma to Christ.

And there are many more that could be written about…  But next we will talk about the Son of God- who may have had the worst rap of them all…  Stay tuned friends…