Saturday, February 20, 2010

Religious Rants


Today was a restful Sabbath. As I pried my eyes open to turn off my alarm and check the time I noticed the gloomy grey clouds that lingered in the sky and heard the drips of snow melt and/or rain. I find it incredibly difficult to get out of bed when the sun is hiding and no responsibilities are waiting. When I finally did manage to get my feet to the floor, I had a nice breakfast with some frosted flakes, banana bread, a ripe banana that had to be eaten, and of course, a cup of black tea. I ate, I read, and then I got ready for church. Church was a pleasant experience today. I really enjoyed it.

A former Student Missionary who has since chosen to stick around Almaty was the preacher today. He is a good guy and I have been privileged to spend some time with him. He preached a sermon that served as a breath of fresh air to my suffocated soul. He talked about religion, which in our culture and our day in age, has become something of a bad word. He used a text that I have come across a few times and have pondered in vain. James 1:27 says this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So often I think of religion as church. How about you? I think of religion as this thing that divides us into our certain belief systems marking us Christians, Buddhists, Atheists (they are probably shuttering at the thought of me calling them a religion), Muslims, or countless other labels. I think of the complex church structures and religious leaders, along with the passionate hand-raisers and conservative knee bowers. Lately I have been getting very tired of the rightness of religion and I just want to be able to be wrong. I’m not saying it’s good to be wrong or that I want to be wrong, I am saying that I want to be able to be wrong. I don’t have all the answers to God, neither do you and neither does your pastor. So why do we continue to pretend that we have it figured out? Why do we parade our ideas and put so much effort into proving that we are more right than other people?

Jesus was a good guy and I like to think of Him as my example although I am terrible at following this incredibly high standard. My friend who preached this morning said correctly that Christianity is the hardest religion one can pick because we choose to become disciples of Christ and this is not an easy task. A disciple of Christ is one who takes His love to the unlovable, acting in the same manner as Christ Himself. Have you done this lately? I haven’t. I may scold Christians for not living up to their name, but I scold myself with the masses. Believe me, I am no better than anyone who reads this blog and the problems I see with the church Christ founded are the problems that I see plaguing my very being.

Evangelism is held to a very high esteem in the Adventist church and to a certain extent, it should be. However, I’ve been thinking about evangelism and I’ve decided to be bold on this little blog because I don’t actually know who reads this stuff. Adventists often quote the great commission which is the incredible important last command of Christ. I speak mainly to the Adventists here because that is what I am most familiar with. Other denominations have their quirks, this I have seen and am sure of. Jesus declared: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We, as followers of Christ, have a mission to “make disciples,” “baptize them,” and “teach them.” Adventists love to jump to the part about teaching everything Jesus has commanded and they sometimes get to baptize a good crowd, which then translates into church membership. I don’t know if I’ve seen much disciple making and I haven’t actually heard people really talk about this part of the Commission at all. What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? Jesus said it plainly in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” A couple chapters later Jesus talks about how much He loves us and then tells us how we should love others (John 15:12): “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” So not only are we to “love each other” but we are to love each other as Christ has loved us, and if you ask me I would say that that is a whole lot of love! Christ loved by getting intimate with people, by caring for their physical needs while communicating to their heart and carrying their burdens. Jesus not only loved, but He loved the people society and the church labeled unlovable. That is like us reaching out and loving a bunch of homosexuals and young women who have had abortions. I’m not saying we should hug them and tell them we love them and that everything is fine and dandy. I am saying that Jesus spent time with these people, He worked past the social barriers and the uncomfortable feelings and talked real with these kind of people. He didn’t throw stones or condemn. He knew that it would have done no good. I don’t know if I’ve ever really loved someone with the kind of love Jesus has loved me with and if I have I know that it has been a family member or a best friend, certainly not a mere acquaintance and certainly not a stranger.

Church is nice and I am glad we have it, but it has become the face of religion. I find something wrong with that. Our faith and our experiences with God measure our Spiritual connection. According to the Bible, religion is serving those that are in need of love and giving them a kind of love that penetrates the deepest void in their hearts’. Religion today has become mostly a show, with some good sermons and some nice music thrown in. Once in awhile I see some churches having outreach that happens twice a month, or if we’re lucky, once a week. Something is wrong brothers and sisters and fellow blog readers. The first step in the Great Commission, the primary aspect of evangelism is to make disciples. The only way we can make disciples is if we show people Christ’s love and the only way we can show that love is to witness it, taste it, and experience it. Prophecy is interesting, but it just scratches the surface. Evangelistic campaigns are nice, but our ‘teaching’ becomes more about proving our rightness. It is in serving, in loving the unlovable, in quenching the void in people’s hearts that true religion lays.

Jesus told us that we are His body—that we are His hands and feet—but He never said we were to be His mouth. Why then, is that our favorite part to play? What would happen if Christians started acting more as disciples than believers and more as lovers than teachers? I think Christ would be seen much clearer in this world and we would have a lot less nut-jobs running around. I want to see love spilling from the pores of those marked with the blood of Christ. I borrow the words of my good friend Paul in saying that I have not that I have attained all this brothers and sisters, but I press on, that I may lay hold of the love Christ has for me and share it with every living soul I come into contact with, that this world marked with suffering and darkness can see an illuminating spirit of love that has the power to brighten the hopes of all.

Burnie was right when He said that Christianity is the most difficult religion. I would pick an easier one, but I love this love that I am shown and I want to live in it and share it with the world however difficult this task may be. Burnie also said something else intriguing in his sermon this morning and I will leave you with this thought and retire my rants for the night:

When someone asks you, “What is your religion?” don’t respond with a word.

May the love of Christ consume your entire being for the days to come.

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