Shake off your religion

When you think of the church, have you ever ask yourself this question: “Are you in relationship with a person or with an organization?” As with any relationship, there is always the opportunity for misunderstanding, hurt, neglect and abuse. Sometimes it is intentional and sometime not. The thing that pushes people away from God is not isolated to just one thing. It is like trying to pull apart a hairball. [Thanks Jason for that illustration!] The problem with religion is that it was a good thing that went wrong a long time ago. It comes down to four basic issues.

With religion there is the issue of “us and them” or whether one is “in or out.” Jesus encountered this when the religious leaders of his day asked “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders?” In other words, how come you and your group do not do things as we do them. We are right and you are wrong. You are out while we are on the inside.

Religion can also create the problem of power. Power equals control and is too easily turned into manipulation. How often have you heard a TV evangelist tell their audience that they just send in money they will be blessed by God. I heard one man tell his audience that they would just send in handkerchief to him he would blessed it and return it to the sender; and God in turn would bless them in answer prayer all for a small donation.

The problem of righteousness scale is a problem of trying to keep certain commandment to please either a group of people or to please God. It becomes a thing of judgment if you fail to keep those certain requirements. Who is keeping track of the ‘righteous scale.’ Is it a church group? Jesus made a startling statement when he said to the religious leaders “Truly I say to you that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.” In Jesus day, tax collectors were the scum of the earth. They were Jewish people who worked for the enemy, the Roman oppressors. They were hated and seen by their own people as traitors of the worst sort. But here’s the point of what Jesus was saying. Tax collectors and prostitutes were generally not proud of their professions. They knew they were not living a life that would be pleasing to God. And when Jesus confronted them they were humble. The people that were not humble or those that thought they were living a righteous life. They were proud of their ability to keep the law and were not of the worse sort, tax collectors and prostitutes. And because of that pride their heart was closed to God when Jesus appeared on the scene. You might want to read the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7. It will give you insight into the difference between prideful righteousness and humility that God seeks.

And then there’s the problem of just simply missing the point. When we’re missing the point we are spending more time obeying and loving what men have set up as the right thing to do rather than loving God and our neighbors. Being legal is more important than loving others. And interestingly enough the world is not becoming less religious but more religious. Jesus told the religious leaders of his day they were setting aside the guidelines of God to follow the guidelines of men. They were setting aside what God wanted in order to keep their traditions.

One reason people adopt following a religion and not a relationship with Jesus has to do with humility. Following a religion and being part of ‘in crowd’ can give us a false sense of security, all in the name of worshipping God. Jesus said “whoever exalts himself will eventually be humble; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” So if you turned your back on religion for whatever reason, that’s a good thing. Now start afresh and go seek out Jesus. Abandon fear, fighting, control, wall building and just simply trust Jesus. He is far superior to religion.

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Storms

The day was like any other day full of Jesus healing people and telling stories. And we were all tired. Jesus had told one story about a farmer and some seed that we were having trouble comprehending. But then Jesus said a lot of stuff to us that was difficult, sometimes just impossible to understand at the time. It was late afternoon when Jesus told us to go to the other side of the lake so we could get some rest form the pressing crowds. He had already secured a boat and was in it, waving to us to hurry up. Those of us who made our living on the water and could read the weather were nervous as we climbed in to this old fishing boat. All of us sailors have seen some sudden storms during our careers. A few of them, like these on the Sea of Galilee, can be violent and frightening and potentially destructive. This afternoon we can see that a storm is brewing and it would be dark very quickly. This trip did not seem like a wise thing to be doing.

Sure enough, we were not too far out in the lake when the storm moved over us. As with most storms on the lake they could increase suddenly and be life threatening. Our little boat with it sides low to the waterline was built for hauling in fish but not for keeping waves out. The wind picked up to gale force and high waves began to break into the boat until it was nearly full of water. The landlubbers among us immediately started losing their lunch over the side. It was difficult bailing and trying to hold on so that we were not tossed into the lake. And what was our fearless leader doing? Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. Nobody wanted to go wake him. So we bailed and bailed but we were losing the boat. Here is the thing that was galling those of us who were sailors. There is an unsaid rule that when the ship gets into trouble everyone pitches in to help. Some of us murmured irritation that Jesus was not be pulling his weight and help.

Finally out of desperation we made the decision and some of us when back to wake Jesus up. It seemed like the storm even more in the time it took to get to Jesus. Frantically we woke him up, shouting at the top of our lungs to be heard, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are going to drown?” What happened next was, how can I put it, surreal! What we expected Jesus to do was wake up and see the mortal danger were in, jump up and help us. But no, this man did the opposite.
When he woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, “Quiet down!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. It was absolutely freaky. The silence was deafening. We were stunned. A great fear settled among us. We thought that we had been afraid for our lives during the storm, even the sailors among us, but this? The only sound was the water gently lapping against the boat.

He stood up and looking at each one of in the eye asked us, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still not have faith in me?” No one answered. There was a greater fear residing in our hearts. Jesus turned and stepped over to the side of the boat leaning over splashed water on his face. We turned to each other and were all whispering among ourselves, “Who is this man, that even the wind and waves obey him?”

A couple of days later, a fellow sailor I have known for many years asked me a question after I related what had happened a few days ago. He asked me “How did I know that Jesus was someone who cares for me?” What he was really asking was ‘why would I follow someone who put me into dangerous circumstances. I told him that it was a good question. We, his disciples had been wondering the same thing more than once. It was amazing to us, looking back at the night, that Jesus was sound asleep in the midst of a storm on a small fishing boat being swamped by the sea. We concluded that only someone who was completely confident of their abilities in their surroundings would be asleep in such a precarious situation. Further insight by Jesus as to his relationship with his Father helped us conclude that he trusted his Father implicitly. His being asleep in the midst of imminent danger contained the secret of something not readily apparent to us at first. He had no doubts or reservation as to his Father’s love for him. It was not something that he questioned. Frantically I and my shipmates had to yell at him over the noise of the storm to wake him up out of a sound sleep and instead of being annoyed he did our bidding.

The question Jesus asked has haunted me, as well as all of us. Looking back on my fear of the storm as I frantically tried to save myself, one thing is apparent. Jesus took away the immediate fear by removing the storm. But that left another greater fear in my heart. If this man Jesus can do what no other man can do and control a storm, then what can he do to me. He did not just control the storm, he eradicated it completely. There is a part of me that keeps asking questions. Can he control me? If I make him angry will he annihilate me? What are his intentions? Are they good?

I think that I have discovered something. Jesus asked two questions: “Why are you so afraid?” And “Do you still not have faith in me?” And the answer is in the questions! I am finding that when I am afraid I am not trusting Jesus. He has proven himself over and over again. [Wait till I tell you the pig story.] He has the power. So I am learning that I just need to keep my eyes on Jesus and not what is going on around me. So simple to do when I chose to do so! From the storm I learned that Jesus is far greater and more powerful than the storm and he is willing to take me through the storm. All I have to do is trust him enough to ask.