Stamp it on my forehead please. REBELLIOUS-ANTI-RELIGIOUS
I have been labeled as "religious" more than once over the years, and I am OK with that because I know I have been guilty of it in the past. Religion however, kills relationship. Too many times in the past we have gotten it wrong. Church is not supposed to be about giving people a set of rules and new things to feel guilty about. It's about helping them to see who God created them to be. He created each of us with gifts, talents and with a unique purpose. Jeremiah 18 speaks of God as the potter. "Can I not do with you as this potter? Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand." What the potter makes depends on the quality of the clay. What God makes of His people depends on their response. The clay can frustrate the potter's intention and make him alter the vessel. The quality of a people limits what God will do with them. It is not up to us to mold people into the "image" we want. God does not want cookie cutter Christians. The church needs to have a garage sale. It's time to clean house and get rid of all the "junk" collected over the years that have separated people from God. Church is about relationship with God and others. Religion is about rules and regulations.
Jesus's greatest anger was reserved for religious leaders who weighed people down with guilt and shame. He says to a group of Bible scholars and teachers, "You experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them." He goes on to say that it is possible for religious leaders to actually get in the way of people entering into the life of God (Velvet Elvis - Repainting the Christian Faith, Rob Bell).
Let me clarify something. I am not saying "church" is bad, or a certain denomination is bad. The past twenty years that I have spent in church have been very influential in my life. However, like anything else it has its ups and downs. The recommendation that I would give is this: Don't be a church hopper. It's not healthy and takes away from what matters most - relationship. The relationships we form with others (and by relationship I mean we can truly say we let them into our "messy" lives) is what spurs us on in our relationship with God. If you are in a unhealthy church, or it is not healthy for you, find something else that works. Sometimes that is necessary. In the Bible, the term "church" refers to not a building, but to the group of people who believe in Christ and are followers of Him - the body of Christ. If you do not go to church, at least find others in the body who you can fellowship with. What I have learned the past few years is this: When I visit with my best friend over coffee each week - I am at church. When my girlfriends and I go out to dinner on a Friday night - I am at church. They speak into my life. I speak into theirs. We share a common bond. We are followers of God. It's all about relationship. And please don't say that you don't go to church because it's full of hypocrites, because OF COURSE it is. They are everywhere! Half the population has been married to hypocrites that they are now divorced from. They said one thing, and did another.
M. Scott Peck in his book, Further Along The Road Less Traveled, decribes my relationship with God perfectly.
Stage 1: The Criminal Stage: Our lives are chaotic, without boundaries, and we just grab for whatever we can get.
Stage 2: Rules-Based: We find God. We find church. The church helps us set rules and boundaries. In stage 2 the teachings of the church are effective and help us raise good families. Most people stay in Stage 2. Though not necessarily bad, it's very religious.
Stage 3: Rebellious: We begin to question all the rules we learned in Stage 2. The healthy rebellious kid asks, "What's behind these rules?" Stage 3 is threatening to Stage 2 and you may hear loud cries of alarm. "Lawbreakers!" Stage 3 people don't usually realize there is a Stage 4.
Stage 4: Mystical - Stage 2 is about the answers that were given to our questions. Stage 4 is about experiencing the answers for ourselves. It's about a REAL God who actually is doing REAL stuff in our lives. It's about relationship. It's about tearing down religion.
When you experience Stage 4 you find yourself in a place of not just knowing "about" God, but knowing God. In Stage 4 you not only know you are supposed to love people, but you truly learn to love people. It's about passion.
"I came to love you late, O Beauty so ancient and new; I came to love you late. You were within me and I was outside where I rushed about wildly searching for you like some monster loose in your beautiful world. You were with me, but I was not with you. You called me, you shouted to me. You broke past my deafness. You bathed me in your light, you wrapped me in your splendor, you sent my blindness reeling. You gave out such a delightful fragrance, and I drew it in and came breathing hard after you. I tasted, and it made me hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned to know your peace." - St. Augustine