Re-Examining Religion

In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.…(Matthew 7:13)

In his brilliant book, Man’s search for Meaning, Viktor Frankel, who was a prisoner in the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the holocaust speaks of the stages a person goes through when despair has set in. It is always clear when a person is going to die, when they sit down wherever they are, and do nothing. 

“Let us recall, for instance, what sometimes happened in extreme situations such as prisoner-of-war camps or concentration camps. In the first, as I was told by the American soldiers, a behavior pattern crystallized to which they referred to as “give-up-ti-tis.” In the concentration camps, this behavior was paralleled by those who one morning, at five, refused to get up and go to work and instead stayed in the hut, on the straw, wet with urine and feces. Nothing – neither warnings nor threats – could induce them to change their minds. And then something typical occurred: they took out a cigarette from deep down in a picket where they had hidden it, and started smoking. At that moment we knew that for the next forty-eight hours or so we would watch them dying. Meaning orientation had subsided, and consequently, the seeking of immediate pleasure had taken over. Is this not reminiscent of another parallel, a parallel that confronts us day by day? I think of those youngsters who on a worldwide scale refer to themselves as the “no future” generation. To be sure, it is not just a cigarette to which they resort. It is drugs.”

Or religion.

Let me explain what I mean before we go on. By religion, I mean the man-made obligation of duties and practices which are based on particular scriptures, but not necessarily biblical, and certainly not relational towards God. For example, I have a relationship with my brother. I can call him at any time.  We laugh together and can talk for hours. We can also be very serious. We can do business together, or we can watch a movie. Whether the activities are shallow or deep, our relationship is based on who we are, not what we do. Still, that relationship could be ruined by what we do, regardless of who we are to each other. My relationship with a delivery person is different. It is focused exclusively on what they do, and the health of the relationship is based solely on that. A delivery person’s service is used for a purpose. They can only please me by what they do for me. I will not hug them when they bring my order. I will not ever call them for any reason except for the delivery. I only want them for what they can do for me. They are not family. 

God is family. He is the Father – the best Father, ever!

My experience with Christians suggests that many of us view God more as an employer than family. Do good work, and you will be fine. Do bad, and you’re fired. Go to hell where you belong. This is what religion teaches – heartless devotion – activities designed to appease an angry deity without ever reaching the innermost parts of our being. Sad.  
Religion is an escape from reality; an opiate which gives temporary relief, until you come home from church to hold the hands of a fictional deity, and go spiritually passive. Do you get it? God is impossible to find as a religion. We can’t reach Him by entangling ourselves into the religious web of church attendance, social activities, or even worship? Yes…worship, which is not truly worship at all unless you consider mumbling the latest guitar driven melody while half distracted to be worship. The world is spiraling downwards as we take in another drag of pious smoke. It doesn’t change the situation or impact anything in particular; it just relaxes us for a while. Another puff, and another…the music gets louder. The preaching gets more passionate. The prayers get louder. Here it is – sweet bliss. Inhale…hold it…exhale. It feels so good. The music, the sermons, everything is so peaceful; so awesome. 

It’s all an illusion. None of it is real. It is the drug. Religiosity is the drug. Most of those in attendance cannot find God anywhere, and that’s why they don’t truly worship him at home. Let’s be honest. Do we all really worship God at home, like we do at church? If not, have you ever wondered why? Isn’t He just as real on Thursday morning as He is on Sunday morning? That’s the heart of the matter here. For many Christians, He is just not real – a lot like having an imaginary friend who makes you feel guilty when you do things wrong, and justified when you do things right. 

For much of the modern church, the details of His agenda are not important. The drive to go deeper is not really there. Yes, the strobe lights and smoke machines are there. So are the modern buildings and the youth ministry rock concerts. But if statistics are correct, most of us check in to church on Sunday morning, and check out on Sunday afternoon. We do not see ourselves as the church. We go to church. Afterwards, God is in the background, as our clouded-out conscience navigates the noise of this busy life. 

Could it be that the message of the cross is for us, personally? I mean, we say it all the time that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship, but is that what we live out day by day? Is He really a family member, or an employer? Is there growth? Has your life really changed? Has mine? Let’s just face it: real change is not easy to find within the church. Of course, there are a few shining stars, but transformation is not common, although the Bible suggests that it should be. Still, a survey among Christian congregations found that, “…few adults believe that their faith is meant to be the focal point of their life or to be integrated into every aspect of their existence” (Barna: Six Mega themes Emerge from Barna Group Research in 2010 ).  There is a lack of connection, and it is not a problem exclusive to “carnal” church members. It is a problem for most of us. Somehow, many of us (perhaps most of us) are just not getting it. 

I’ve been there.  

There was a time when I had to reevaluate everything, taking an honest look at my relationship with God, my church, and my family. I had to examine my character and my dedication to God’s agenda. In the end, I realized that although I did all the “Christian” things such as going to church, volunteering, giving, and leaving behind a few choice sins, my life was not much different from the man who did not go to church, pray, or volunteer to do anything – but I was trying. Still, there was no real change; no power; no passion. I only felt guilt, as though I did not amount up to enough to accomplish those things that were important to me, or God. 

Have you been trying? Perhaps you have been pushing ahead for years, only to wonder if any of your efforts were worth it. Maybe you have been doing everything you knew to be a “good” Christian, only to look back and wonder what happened to your life. Has anything become new? Has there been change beyond the separation from a few sins, and a new Sunday schedule? Maybe you have stopped doing a lot of things since being a Christian. But what has begun? What journey have you embarked upon lately that required you to be a new person? These are the types of questions I asked myself, and I was not impressed with my answers. I realized that I spent far too long managing trials, and being weighed down by the cares of this world. Over and over again, I missed God’s still small voice calling me deeper. He was calling me to life – true life. He wanted to reveal His purpose for me, but I was becoming something entirely different. 

What are you becoming? Have the cares of this world led you to a destination that is contrary to where you intended to go? Did you purpose within yourself to become what you are today, or did life just happen, and then leave you stranded? Are you willing to reexamine everything? 

In some ways, this can be a dangerous thing to do, as it may alter the course of your life. Reexamining everything may cause you to reverse some decisions you made years ago. It may cause you to walk away from some things you’ve worked hard for, or even prayed about. Relationships may be affected, as everyone may not agree with you. Your career may be impacted. The way your marriage and family functions may fundamentally change. It may not feel good all the time, in fact, it may hurt to make some changes, but they must be made for true transformation to take place – and it is not too late. 

Change can begin now, if you are brave enough to go in a different direction – not away from Christ, but right out of the snares of heartless religion, and directly in the arms of Jesus. True life change may not answer every question you have, but it will enable you to be the person God had in mind when He created you. The answers to the deepest questions of life are inside you, but you have to be willing to step back, look at life, and admit that the direction you are going is not what you intended – or God. If you can admit that, then you are on your way to finding the One you have unwittingly been seeking, perhaps since you were very young.

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