Thursday, August 28, 2008

Religion Beat Me Up and Stole My Lunch Money

Again, I hate religion.

If religion were someone that I went to school with, he would be the bully who beat me up and took my lunch money. You always tried to avoid him, but no matter what you would do, there he would be, lurking just around the next corner. He would steal your joy and excitement about even going to school and if you were not careful, he would steal your girlfriend. This guy made everyone look stupid by belittling them and elevating himself. This happened to me you know. I was bullied a lot in middle school and High School. I couldn’t get this kind of guy out of my world. I felt powerless to defeat, what I thought at the time, the powerful. I felt weak and alone against this mighty foe, till one day I fought back and discovered that I was not the weak one, he was.

This is the same when dealing with religion. Religion is for the weak and insecure, you know, people with something to prove to themselves and to the world. A relationship with God on the other hand gives us our ultimate security and strength. A relationship with God is not about us at all, it’s about Him. Religion always steals and kills. A healthy relationship, on the other hand, always gives sacrificially; it gives life, protects life, nurtures life, and produces life.

I remember one time in High School when I fought back when a bully jumped me. This guy was all in my face and he was twice as big as me. It was in the middle of science class and everyone was watching. I could sit down, run, or cower, or I could take a stand against this bully. I took a stand. I grabbed the desk beside me and threw it at this guy. He was crazy angry, but I saw the respect in his eyes and he retreated. That’s when I noticed Buddy standing behind me with his fists clinched. Buddy was the biggest guy at our school, he must have been 20 and still in High School, I don’t know if he was that smart, but what I did know was Buddy had my back. Because he saw my stand, and he saw the fact that this bully would have killed me, he stood for me and with me. Buddy and I had an unspoken understanding, we had an unspoken relationship; we had a friendship.

Jesus addressed the religious leaders of His time a lot in the gospel of Matthew, especially in chapters 22-23. Jesus took a stand against religion, He stands for us, and with us, and He stands for us against religion and it’s bullying. He called the religious leaders on their bullying. He called them white washed tombs. What He meant by this was that they sought to make themselves look good by their outward appearances, but inside, they were dead, weak, insecure, selfish, scared. . . Jesus told these people not to keep burdening others by their many rules and regulations. He told them not to keep showing off and not to keep pushing others down and stepping on their heads to elevate themselves and to make themselves look more spiritual. Jesus refused to let the religious leaders beat up the average man or woman and steal their lunch money so that they would not be nourished. Jesus fought on our behalf, taking a stand so that we could know Him without all the hoop jumping. He made a relationship with God attainable for all of us without religion lurking around the next corner.

So how do we keep ourselves from being kicked around by the bully of religion? Paul gives this instruction to his readers who are following Christ in Colossians 2: 20-23:

“So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important. ”

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 2:20-23

Fighting back against the bully . . . with backup,


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Do Not Miss a Trick

I was recently in a Christian owned business that sells books. For the sake of confidentiality I will not disclose the name of the book store. I will only tell you that the store has the word family in it, there are Christians that work there and run the place, and these stores are usually found in malls, and they only sell all Christian books, knick knacks, and other worthless trinkets and candies.

Now, I have to be honest, I would rather order my books from Amazon than to set foot inside one of these places, because they make me angry and they are overpriced.

Anyway, I was looking for a Bible that I could take backpacking with me and this seemed like the only store in the mall that could help, though I really did not expect to find exactly what it is that I was looking for. I tried to keep a low profile and to just look around and get in and then get out when I heard the voice, “Can I help you?” “No you cannot help me.” I thought to myself, but I dared not speak it. “Please.” I said to myself, “Say nothing and be nice.” “Yes you can help.” I said. “I am looking for a Bible.” “What kind of Bible are you looking for?” she asked. I snapped inside, but I don’t think she saw it. She then went on, “We have all kinds of Bibles: small ones, big ones, paper back, hard cover, leather, study Bibles, KJV, RSV, KJV, The Message, NIV, NKJV, The New Living, glitter and gem covered, . . . and many more.” I was freaking inside, “I mean really, am I even on this planet right now.” I thought to myself.

I knew they did not have what I was looking for, and then I laughed that I was even in the store looking for what it was that I was looking for, and then I came clean, and I broke down a bit and said, “No, none of these will work. I am looking for a small Bible with both the Old and New Testaments in it, preferably not King James. It needs to be small, compact, and light weight, and it also has to be waterproof and flame resistant. Do you have anything like that?” To my surprise, she did not skip a beat. She handed me a small leather bound compact Bible with a cool cross etched into it. It had the Old and New Testaments in it, it was nice and pretty, it looked cool, and was light weight. It was near perfect, and as close as I was going to get. She assured me that the Bible was not waterproof and to her knowledge it was not flame resistant. I readied myself for my purchase.

Just as I was finishing up with this nice young lady and getting into the check out line, a girl walked in and sought the clerks help. “Do you have any tarot cards?” she asked. The young woman who had just been so helpful to me was shocked, visibly shocked. “What! What are you looking for?” she asked again. “Tarot cards.” the shy girl, who was obviously not from this country, replied. “Not here we don’t!” The clerk said. “You are in the wrong store, maybe you should go down the hall to the Borders. We don’t sell that kind of stuff here. Do you know what kind of store this is?” The girl was embarrassed and walked out quickly with her head held low. I was angry and disgusted and thought hateful things.

The clerk walked around the counter to ring up my purchases like nothing ever happened. She had on this plastic smile and asked if I found everything alright and if I needed anything else. “Nothing, I am good.” I replied. Just then two other employees came out from the back, one was overweight and was eating Jesus candies, sorry, this is just my honest observation and recollection. The clerk began telling them what had just happened to her: “You wouldn’t believe what just happened to me.” “What.” They replied. “You wouldn’t believe what someone came in here asking for.” “Molly Cyrus posters?” they replied. “No! Worse!” The clerk responded. “What?” they asked. “Tarot cards!” the clerk finally answered. “OH, MY GOD!” the girls said in unison. I wanted to puke and then kill someone. I know, “Thou shall not murder.” I thought about that and kept my cool. “What did you say?” the sales girls asked. “I told her we don’t sell that here. Then I asked, Do you know where you are? Then I sent her to Borders." “Good for you!” the girls replied.

As I stood there the young woman finished ringing me up and asked for my “Perks Card.” I told her I did not have it with me, but she insisted she look it up. I had to give her my old address and phone number from three years ago in order for her to find my information. She gave me my new total and handed me a brand new perks card. Apparently I saved over $80.00 and my total was around thirty bucks. I looked down at my perks card and to my shock it said “Pastors Perks.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. “I am a pastor, and these are my people!?!?” I was nauseous. All I could think about was this girl who was looking for her tarot cards. I wanted to run after her and say how sorry I was about how she was treated and that the store that she was in was about Jesus and I wanted to tell her what that really meant. I felt sad, paid the woman at the check out counter, and left with my head hung low. Borders was on my mind and everything that I should have said and done differently.

Paul hits the nail on the head and sums up the issue at hand in Colossians 4: 5-6. I could not say this better. Paul writes:

“Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, do not put them down, do not cut them out. ”

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 4:5-6

Hopefully not missing a future trick,


Do Not Tolerate Religion

I hate religion.

I know, this is a crazy statement, especially for a youth minister. Let me explain, and let’s get our terms defined. Religion is simply our feeble attempts to get to God or to please God through our own power or our own efforts. Religion is about me and my manipulation of circumstances and choices in an effort to manipulate God. This is how I see religion and it seems to me that this is how Jesus sees religion, see Matthew chapters 5-7 and 22-23. In looking at religion through the lens of this definition, Christianity ceases to be a religion. Christianity is a relationship with God that He initiates and maintains through no effort of our own. There is an old cliché that I love that sums this up well: “Religion says do. Christianity says done.” See, Christ has made the effort and initiated the relationship with us and we can enter into that relationship because of what Jesus has done on the cross and through His resurrection from the grave. This is despite of who we are and what we have done. God moves toward us, despite of us.

In 1 John 4:9-10, John asserts that “We love Him (God) because He first loved us.” John says before this, in 1 John 4:7, that we are to “love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” This love is God. This love is motivated out of God’s initiative toward us. We only are capable of love because of the love that God has already demonstrated to us through His son Jesus laying His life down for His friends, and He has called us his friends. This relationship is initiated by God Himself, not us.

So where are we with this whole religion mess? In speaking about religion and following and learning from Christ, Paul gives this instruction to his readers in Colossians:

“So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.
Don’t tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They’re a lot of hot air, that’s all they are. They’re completely out of touch with the source of life, Christ, who puts us together in one piece, whose very breath and blood flow through us. He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us. ”

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 2:16-19

Despising and not tolerating religion, but plugging into the source of life,