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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Religion, Relationship, and Stolen Shows

'Notre-Dame de Reims' photo (c) 2010, troye owens - license: too long ago I read an article that says that according to a new Gallup poll, confidence in organized religion has hit an all-time low. My reaction to that was: "I blog about the Bible, and I don't care much for religion myself!" When I think of the word "religion" I think of a set of requirements I must meet. I must go to church, I must pray every day, I must read the Bible every day also, and so on and so on. Basically, that's what a dictionary will tell you "religion" is. There is certainly a place for that, and there is value to it; if there wasn't, you wouldn't find me spending several hours of my week every single week hanging around my church. But I don't think the answers to the major questions that we all face... Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with myself while I'm on this planet? What happens to me when I die? Does anyone love me, really love me? ...those questions are not answered by going through the motions of religion.

And maybe that's why people have lost interest. Maybe after 9/11/2001 they tried the whole showing-up-for-church-making-everything-better route, but then they figured out that if they show up for church on Sunday, on Monday they still have problems and they still have questions and they still have doubts. Maybe they discovered that closing their eyes reverently when someone else prays only lasts as long as the prayer lasts. Maybe they wondered why reading some verses from a Bible promise box doesn't always provide much reassurance, or prayers issued in panic mode often seem to bounce off the ceiling.

The reason is because the actions without a real personal connection are just actions.

How long does a marriage last when the husband and wife have all of the motions down pat, but there is no passion? No spark between them? It doesn't last long. We found out last week that God clearly sees His relationship with mankind as something very similar to a romantic relationship (actually, my theory is that God created romantic relationships to give us a model of the relationship He wants with us) - if a romance doesn't do well when the participants are just going through the motions, why would a relationship with God do any better?

Don't get me wrong - although a human relationship may end in divorce, God has said in His word that He will not "leave or forsake" us (see Hebrews 13:5-6), so once you and God have a relationship, I'm confident that even if you turn your back on God, you can't really "walk away" (how can you walk away from someone who is omnipresent? How can you turn your back on someone who is in front of you and behind you? But just as a marriage that lasts until the death of one partner is empty and joyless if there is no love, no heart behind the actions of birthdays and anniversaries and holidays and Valentine's Days, your relationship with God can seem empty if religious actions are the only thing that you put into them.

Being present in a specific place, church or not, is not the answer all of those big life questions. Opening a book every day and reading it is also not the answer to those questions, and neither is speaking into the air to someone you cannot see. According to the Christian faith, any of those three activities might lead to you finding some of those answers, but if "religion" is the actions itself, religion provides no answers.  Religious activities are, in themselves, empty.

So if people are becoming disenfranchised with religious actions, maybe that's a positive thing. Maybe people are figuring out that the "religion" part of Christianity isn't the real thing. The real thing is that God loves you; Jesus gave everything He had for you; God accepts you into His family. And not only accepts you, but welcomes you with open arms! You are the object of His affection! It's about love, not about actions.

Even more mind-boggling is the fact that once you have lost yourself in that loving relationship with the Father God, the actions come naturally. When you understand how much God loves you, you want His will to take control. Check out this video from Christian rap/pop star tobyMac explaining the meaning of his song "Steal My Show":

What's your take on the whole "religion vs. relationship" debate? How much religious activity is enough? How much is too much? What do you do when going through the motions just doesn't cut it? Sound off below by clicking the "comment" link and join the discussion!


J.R. said...

Well, my view is that religion is indefinitely neccesary - Religion is made up of disciplines and activities and such that help nurture our growth as Christians, as long as we do them out of a sincere desire to please God. The relationship with God can't happen without at least the disciplines of Prayer and Bible study. Attending church is (supposed to be) fellowship with other Christians and a learning experience for us, as well as a place to hear (again, supposed to) the inspired word of God. And of course we go to church to help other Christians if applicable. But again, we need authenticity. We can't be 'Sunday Morning Christians'. We must be led to an earnest relationship to God, not flee to Christian-like activities for passing comfort whenever there is an arms race or bubonic plague or something. It's a double edged sword: Jesus wants a relationship with us; when we get a relationship with Him we start desiring to do things to please him; some of these things -the disciplines - help grow our relationship with Him. What goes aroung comes around. Basically, we need both (what we call) Religion and Relationship.

TulsaMJ said...

Well-stated, J.R. I think the word "religion" gets a bad rap sometimes; the New Testament even tells us that there are both "false" and "true" forms of religion - James 1:26-27. Maybe a better term, since "religion" has turned into such a dirty word, would be "discipline" - the discipline of weekly church attendance, or the discipline of studying the Word regularly, etc. "Discipline" at least publicly has a positive connotation, although when it comes right down to it I'm not sure most people care much for discipline either. We like it when we see it in others (i.e. the Olympics, spelling bees, virtuoso musical performances, etc.) but we don't care much to apply it to ourselves (by actually being consistent with exercise, healthy eating habits, prayer, etc.)