Redeem Religion

There’s one line in one song that I have to emotionally prepare to sing.

No, it’s not singing about God’s “reckless love.” We’ve already been around the bend once on that one.

No, it’s not singing “yet” when singing about God not failing. That’s a discussion for another day.

When I see it pop up on Planning Center, whether by my hand or that of another, I know that I will have to prepare to sing the line,

There’s a place where religion finally dies. [1]

So, like, let’s get something straight.

Religion isn’t bad.

Now before you throw whatever electronic device you are reading this across, just follow along.

Semicolons aren’t bad.

However, semicolons are so misunderstood because they top the “I before E” rule with exceptions and permissions and long words describing when exactly to utilize them. Semicolons aren’t bad. They’re just hard.

On a grander scale, it is the same with religion.

I totally understand that people have walked away from any expression of faith because it might require some sort of participation in  religion, and while someone may expend their time in any manner of folly, they don’t feel truly defiled until someone describes them as religious. I understand because, as opposed to the semicolon that most of us can live without and therefore do not feel the lack of it, religion is powerful. It is necessary. We will worship, no matter whether we intend to or not. When describing the initial ingredient in worship, namely wonder, Warren Wiersbe says,

True wonder reaches right into your heart and mind and shakes you up. It not only has depth, it has value; it enriches your life. Wonder is not cheap amusement that brings a smile to your face. It is an encounter with reality… [2]

We naturally wonder. It isn’t until we grow old and jaded do we begin to say the word, “wow” less. It was my oldest son’s first word. Not “daddy” or “mommy.” It was “wow.” My children exemplify the natural state of the human heart to worship. Religion, minus all of the pejorative contexts within which you will find it is simply a method, corporate or individual, to express wonder to whatever higher revered power one seeks to worship.

So why do we treat religion like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park? We anticipate. We see the signs of its approach. We look for an escape route. Maybe we survive. It’s because religion is so deeply personal. Religion is the expression of a person’s heart toward that which he holds the deepest wonder. It is worship. It is service. It is commitment. It is ritual.

Some people have made a religion out of how much they hate religion.

They hate it because they have seen or received grave hurts from people within the context of an organized religion. Today it is quite fashionable to beat up on religious protestants within the evangelical tradition. You see how I described them? If I said “evangelicals” a portion of those reading this would see a bunch of gun-hugging tea partiers who occasionally remember God in the course of their blistering political rants. It is also fashionable to beat up on Catholics since they have such a rigid liturgy. It is less fashionable to beat up on emerging church Protestants. But really, it’s like trying to punch jello. It squishes when hit and makes you look silly. It is completely unacceptable to beat up on any other major world religion, including that one that you’re thinking of right now.

No, not that one, the other one.

It is true from the very beginning, when Cain’s religion sucked just enough for him to murder his brother over it, to the time when I made a student feel less than valued when she felt pushed out of my youth program by me. People hurt people. People have religion. In the course of doing religious things, religious people will hurt people. And people will source that hurt not to the person, but to the religion, because if we worship something, it ought to make us better.

When a person of faith rendered me extraordinary harm and my life reeled from it, you wouldn’t believe how many times I heard the phrase, “this is why people leave the church.” And I can see it even now. Sometimes I wake, still fighting the devaluation that that single experience conferred upon me. I have spent countless hours in glory and wonder and excitement in Christian environments, but one blip on the radar threatens my very value at every turn. I fight being defined by my wounds.

But does that really merit religion’s ultimate demise?

Scripturally, there are a few problems with that thought. Jesus came to perfect religion. He participated in it. If he truly hated religion, he would have forsaken the synagogue and temple altogether. He would not have so vigorously cleansed the temple in fulfillment of scripture. He would not so perfectly receive the final “holy, holy, holy” in glory. We see James write about religion. He describes pure and undefiled religion. So there is an actual quality to your religion. There is good religion and bad religion.

Remember our old buddy the semicolon. There is a right place for a semicolon; there is a wrong place. I’m pretty confident I nailed it.

But let’s stop defining ourselves by our wounds. Let’s stop defining ourselves by our religions or vaunted lack thereof. Let’s stop presuming we have permission to define ourselves at all.

In another famous song sung by Big Daddy Weave we hear this,

All my life I have been called ‘unworthy,’ named by the voice of my shame and regret. [3]

Isn’t that what we really hear from bad religion? We are unworthy. We hear shame and those who have given it, regret and the moments we have incurred it, and the powers of hell shouting so loudly that we don’t realize there is any other option. We hear “unworthy” shouted before the very Throne of Grace and we believe it!

But that’s not religion’s fault.

It doesn’t even matter whose fault it is because standing before us is a much more important truth to engage. It is integral. It is life changing. It takes our demons tormenting our name and twisting it all around and benches them before the awesome glory of this one thing.

I am redeemed.

My price is paid. In the halls of exchanges and worth, the powers that weight out the value of one soul know exactly what it would cost to bring me to that throne and shut the mouth of my accuser. That price is exact and known.

And paid.

My wounds do not define me because I have been defined through the wounds I could not bear. My cost I could not pay has been leveled, not to own me, but to free me and bring me beyond the noise and chaos of hell and to the quieting glory of my Creator. And in his gentle halls and “fields of grace” I find that I was made in His image and moment by moment, when in His path, grow into that shard of the devine to which I was cast.

Bob Goff, author of Everybody Always, says,

Our problem following Jesus is we’re trying to be a better version of us, rather than a more accurate reflection of Him. [4]

So on a Sunday, if I’m up front with a mic, or in the back with a four year old across my shoulders, and the drum roll leads up to the exciting beginning

There’s a place that I LOVE TO RUN AND PLAY!!!

I know what’s coming. I’m going to sing it with my full voice. And in in my mind will be “there’s a place where religion done badly by people who hurt people giving them grave hurts and sores that can be redeemed, but still incur unnecessary needs for redemption finally dies.”

But more importantly, I’m thinking about placing my small hands in his giant ones. I’m thinking about open fields and blue skies. I’m thinking of a forever dance that belongs to just Him and to me. I look forward to moment by moment loving Him more, being loved more by Him, and pursuing that beyond any other noise that offers a distraction.

I look forward to that moment religiously.

And that joy and love will never die.

 

 


  1. Darrell Evans, “Fields of Grace,” All I Want is You, (Integrity’s Hosanna!, 2002) CCLI# 2795638.
  2. Warren W. Wiersbe, Real Worship: Playground, Battle Ground, or Holy Ground, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000) 43.
  3. Benji Cowart and Michael Weaver, “Redeemed,” Love Come to Life, (Word Music, LLC: 2011) CCLI# 6219086.
  4. Bob Goff, Twitter; July 15, 2018; 8pm.

Categories: WorshipTags: , , , , ,

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