How You Can Have Jesus and Organized Religion

organizedNice try.

I mean…I get it. You love Jesus, but you’ve had it up to here with organized religion. You’re tired of churches with lifeless doctrine, petty in-fighting, denominational quirks valued more than sinners, neglect for the poor, financial priorities so backwards that…I could go on. The reasons for rejecting organized religion are many.

So you walk away from the church. Jesus is still your Lord and master, and it’s not my place to say otherwise. But you’ve decided to be a “Christian at large”, to practice a “Christianity stripped down to its bare essence”, or however else you prefer to say it.

But what many people miss: Jesus didn’t want it that way.

I could talk about how Jesus (through Paul’s New Testament writings) sees organized religion…but I’m operating under the assumption that, for whatever reason, “God said to do it” just isn’t a good inroad with you right now. I wish it was.

Instead, I’ll talk about Jesus. We can all get on board with that.

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A New, Victorious Definition of Comfort

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When you’re walking, pizza bags in hand, through the hallways of a scuzzy motel echoing with muffled yells and odd wafts of broccoli, it’s plain to see that people don’t have a lot of optimism.

I found myself joining them that day. Weighing on my heart were several battles and dreams that seemed no closer to breakthrough than they were a decade ago. Heaven seemed a distant abstract, with the perpetual winter clouds and muddy roads my reality. (I’m sorry, but this city is ugly in winter like few others. It just is.)

The many blessings I’ve received in the last few months didn’t mute the knowledge that others I love are dying without the gospel. In fact, those blessings seemed like my backhanded enemy. They taunted, You’ve gotten a lot from God. You’re being ungrateful by wanting more. Jesus never said you’ll win every battle in this life. Truth on the face of it, but deadly despair in practice. Where to turn?

I could either let despair have me that day, or I could seek God’s take on the matter.

Spoiler alert: This is one of those many stories where God has the perfect Scripture waiting on your Bible app.

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Does Jesus Command Us to “Be Ourselves”?

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“Be yourself”.

It’s the rallying cry of our generation. The idea is that our choices will prove positive as long as we stay in our natural groove, or personal comfort zone, or whatever you’d like to call it. We trade this mantra like a recipe, a handy formula for success in interviews, dating, choice of college major, what have you. Feels pretty affirming.

At first.

This last weekend, I was myself. I made a joke at someone else’s expense. It was an outgrowth of my teasing sense of humor, and it wasn’t taken very well. I apologized, but you can bet that “myself” didn’t look so appealing to me in hindsight, which is always 20/20.

It left me with an ominous question. Just how much sin do we keep under the umbrella of “being ourselves”?

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How We Are All in a Constant, Neverending State of Worship

worshipWhat’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word “worship”?

Probably music.

If I were to invite you over to a “night of worship” at my house, you’d probably expect a couple guitars, some bongos (because I love bongos), and some bad singing. Some of us might be excited. Others, particularly the not-musically-inclined, quail. Singing doesn’t grab everybody.

Which is why it’s a vaguely guilty relief for some, then, to find out that worship and music aren’t the same at all. Worship is much bigger. I’ve consistently been reminded of this vital truth in the evangelical circles in which I’ve flown, and I’m grateful for it.

But what is worship, then?

The answer I most commonly hear is that it is a lifestyle, one that we struggle to maintain. Real worship involves our actions and our obedience; we truly worship not through a one-time experience, but through our daily lives. Hands raised in church are trumped by choices raised in surrender. This is closer to the right answer, I think, and a much more spiritually productive definition than “what we do on Sunday”.

Yet that doesn’t seem to quite nail it down. In Jeremiah 2:23-24, God laments over the Israelites’ idolatry with words that make us squirm: “You are a swift she-camel running here and there, a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving — in her heat who can restrain her?” Or Jesus’ sobering words to his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

There seems a fierce momentum to worship here, something not to be flipped like a light switch, but resisted like a gale.

A new definition of worship hits like a nor’easter.

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