Thursday, July 14, 2005

Where Religion Finally Dies

I've always loved the Darrell Evans song, "Fields of Grace." The line, "There's a place where religion finally dies" is very profound for me. As I've been studying and preparing messages from the book of Acts, I've been enlightened to more of the significance of that song.

Jesus was killed by religious people. The government tried to let him go, the religious people demanded that he be crucified. The government was scared of the crazy religious people so they complied. A little while later, this guy Stephen shows up who's doing what Jesus did. He's teaching, he's healing, he's serving, he's proclaiming the message of the Gospel. He's real, he's wise, and he can't be argued with. While many religious people (priests to be exact) were walking away from the shackles of religion into the freedom of Jesus, the most religious people were so threatened that they had to do something. So, they grabbed him and killed him.

Right before he died, Stephen delivered the most comprehensive Gospel presentation in the entire book of Acts. He painted the big picture for the religious. Here's my summary:
God loved you so much that He led you out of captivity into the promised land. He gave you the law and said He would take care of if you would just live by it. You thought your way was better. You thought your plan would work out in the end. He sent prophet after prophet to help you see that you were putting yourself above God. You would torture and kill anyone who was different than you. You were worshiping weird gods, with a a particular affinity toward sexually immoral ones. You separated yourself from God b/c you ran your plan. So now, same song ... about the 5th verse. Jesus came to allow you to be free. He died so that you might experience life. Walk away from your traditions created by man. Religion is sin. You've missed it ... again.

What they didn't know was that this was God's last plea to His chosen people. That's why it's so long. He wanted them to be able to understand, but one last time ... they missed it. From this point on, God sent the message to those who would receive it.

This is the way I see it here and now. When we follow Jesus, the religious people will hate us, or at the very least not understand us. Yes, those comfortable with their status in "church" - complete with rank, title, policies & procedures - will look at those who are following Christ differently and pass judgment. They will assume the Christ-followers are not right in their manner of worhsip. They will be threatened and afraid. In the end they will try to destroy the Christ-follower. Jesus was opposed to religion when He walked the earth, and today his followers still should be. The problem is religion in churches is the status quo. Statements like, "'we've never done that before" or "it doesn't feel like church" are indications of religion. A living breathing relationship with Christ eliminates the opportunity for religion. If we want to thrive as a Church, religion must be dead. Religion dies in a relationship with Christ.

As we've been questioned by the religious, we've faced statements like, "You're not going to make it," "You're a cult," "You're just a church for college students," "You're a fad," "when are you going to start meeting on Sunday mornings like a real church" and on and on. All I can say right now is that at the moment we've won the approval of the religious is the moment that we're not following Christ. It would also be easy to say that we're rebellious or liberal. The reality is that those who encountered Jesus would've said the same of Him. I don't mean to say that we've reached the place where we look like Jesus, but as long as we don't look like religion - I'll be happy with the progress we're making.

"There's a place where religion finally dies,
There's a place where I lose my selfish pride."
-- Darrell Evans, "Fields of Grace"

May we have the strength and boldness to never find ourselves in the status quo of religion, but may we float in the wind of the Holy Spirit as He blows us in whatever direction He chooses.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Your Life is a Mission Trip

A couple of weeks ago, we (Holly, John, Clay, Brian, Mark and I) had the opportunity to accompany Grand Parkway Baptist Church's students on a mission trip. They were serving City Church in Amarillo. Our experience taught me a lot as the week went on.

First of all, City Church loves their community. They feed thousands of kids every month. They feed the kids of people who spend food money on drugs. They take the food into the 'hoods where these kids live. What they've gained in the process is an opportunity to procalim the message of Jesus. The week we were there, the church held a three day crusade to reach out to the families of these kids. Jesus earned the right to talk to people about who He was because of the unbelievable love He lavished on people. City Church modeled this. The beauty was that these people did "church" completely different than we would have, but God used it. You know what was more important than the style of how they ministered? It was that God had told them to do it, and they said, Yes, Lord. We learned a lot - not that we need to go home and do that, but that we need to continue to be who God has created us to be in our community.

I learned something else from my Father-in-law, the Yoda of Youth Ministry. Rick told the kids in a teaching time, "Your life is a mission trip." What a concept. How could I have missed that? Why do we think we have to spend some money and go to a different place to do missions? The reality is that now people are sending missionaries to the United States to reach the pre-Christian population. We should be offended! We should be filled with holy anger! That's why God put us here - to reach our community. We are missionaries. Wherever you live, your life is a mission trip. If we lived each day as if it were a mission trip, we would see the Kingdom of God growing in our daily lives. Acts says that day by day and house by house people were being added to the Kingdom. That's an attainable goal for us or any community of Christ-followers continually devoted to pursuing the fullness of God. Let's live on mission together and pray that the Kingdom would come on earth, maybe even in San Marcos.