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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Jesus said to love your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Sadly, our religion is what we tend to do instead of that.

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Religion has a tendency to make the person of God seem distant, and to add unnecessary complexity to our walk with Him; while the scripture indicates that He has fashioned everything so that any lost child can find Him.  If we are not careful, zealousness for our particular brand of religious practice can lead us into the same trap that the Pharisee’s fell into (Matt 23:13-39).  Though they considered themselves to be the dutiful guardians of pure doctrine, Jesus described them as, “whitewashed tombs”, who make a big effort to keep up appearances, but who are inwardly corrupt (Matt 23:27).  He not only rebuked them for their hypocrisy, but also for blocking the way for others who wish to come to Him (Matt 23:13).

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I am currently reading, “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”, which was originally published in 1563.  While fumbling through the old English text can be a little challenging, there are also some unusual phrases that really resonate.  One of those is found in the description of the Apostle Andrew at the time of his martyrdom.  Knowing what awaited him, Foxe describes Andrew’s state as he marched toward crucifixion.  “Going toward the place, and seeing afar off the cross prepared, did neither change countenance nor colour, neither did his blood shrink, neither did he fail in his speech, his body fainted not, neither was his mind molested, nor did his understanding fail him, as it is the manner of men to do”.

 

While this is no doubt a beautiful portrait of unshakable faith, I was especially taken with the image of a mind that has been “molested”.  The word molestation has some interesting inferences, which makes it especially meaningful in this context.  Molestation almost always involves a child, or at least an innocent.  It also tends to be initiated by someone close to the victim, like a family member, a teacher, a coach, or maybe even an older child.  Often, the perpetrators of such crimes wrap their insidious intent in a cloak of legitimate authority, empathy, or even affection.   Because of this guise, these predators generally don’t have to break down the door, as their unsuspecting victims willing let them in.  And in all of this I see profound parallels to the manner in which our minds become corrupted from pure and simple devotion to the person of Jesus Christ.

 

More so than the hollow and deceptive philosophies of this world, I sense that it is the false doctrines of religion that have most defiled our understanding of Christ, and His Kingdom.  Generally, these things came to us when we were as yet still children in the faith, and dressed in their priestly robes, we succumbed to their implied authority.  Years later, and far removed from those circumstances, the taint of these formative experiences continues to stain our thinking, and distort our vision.  Like Andrew, the key to our freedom lies within a genuine relationship with the man Jesus.  We need to get past those things which have simply come to represent Him, and engage with Him actively and directly.

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As human beings we are creatures of habit.  It normally begins with a pattern of thought, which often evokes a specific pattern of emotion, which generally results in a certain pattern of behavior.  In and of itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but even a relatively healthy pattern can sour over time.  Just as we have a natural tendency to adopt these patterns, we also seem inclined to get stuck inside of them.  Unwittingly they begin to shape our concept of reality and of how we fit within it.  For too many of us, the pattern of our lives repeats itself over and over again.  Given enough time, we can easily begin to derive a sense of security (and maybe even identity) from our pattern; and if we’re not careful, we can quickly become a slave to it.

 

Patterns tend to breed rituals, and rituals tend to spawn religion, which is what causes us to rage against anyone or anything that might suggest we need to alter our pattern.  I remember working in a bar years ago, watching people cry in their beer about how terrible their lives were, only to have them curse the bartender who dared propose that maybe they should make a change.  I’ve heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting it to turn out differently.  Based on that measure, there would seem to be a good many of us battling this affliction.

 

Assuming that all of that is true, it should then come as little surprise that “repentance” is a significant tenet of the Christian life.  While many still associate that word with the idea of being sorry or regretting their actions, it actually refers to a change of mind or a change of direction (i.e. a change of pattern).  But more than that, I don’t believe that God would simply have us trade our old bad sinful pattern for a shiny new sanctified one.  I sense that the life He’s authored for us is meant to be filled with growth and spontaneity and wonder; none of which happens when you consistently march in circles (even when those steps are taken within the walls of the temple).  Indeed, the security and familiarity that accompanies repetition would seem to be the antithesis of faith.

 

To my mind, one of the great flaws of religion across the ages has been its propensity to create a pattern and then to spend all of its resources trying to defend and preserve it from change.  I believe that one of the reasons the Lord sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within us was to free us from the bondage that comes with being trapped within a rigid pattern.

 

While I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be a certain consistency within the life of a true believer (which could rightfully be described as a pattern), I am saying that if we are not diligent, adherence to our pattern can take precedence over the dynamic, real time relationship that the Lord intended for us to have with Him.  When that happens, it not only impacts the believer, but everyone that the Lord means to touch through them.

 

As I have endeavored to walk with the Lord over the years, I have found that He consistently challenges the presuppositions that are so often used to prop up my pattern.  It’s not always that what I have supposed is necessarily wrong, but at best it is incomplete.  Ultimately, I need to guard my heart against the complacency that so naturally accompanies a pattern.

 

In other words, am I really listening for His voice or do I believe that I know Him so well that I already know what He’d say?  I sense that this is part of what Jesus was saying when He admonished us to come as little children (Matt. 18:3).  Don’t come as an accomplished veteran, who is filled with his own ideas & experiences.  Come as a child, who genuinely relies on his Father for guidance.  Even for the seasoned follower, that is a pattern worth adopting.

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