Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Burned out on Religion

In my work as a funeral celebrant, the phrase that I hear most regularly is, “we are not religious”. In fact, almost all of the funerals I officiate at are understood, at least by the families whom I serve, to be non-religious. Yet they request prayers, Bible readings, a brief message of hope in the grace of God, and a hymn with words that give honour and glory to God.

When families tell me that they are “not really very religious”, they do so with a sense of apologetic determination. As if they are saying, “we are not really very religious and we are not going to be persuaded otherwise”. As I dig a little deeper during our discussions, I find that people have often been put off of the church, by their experience as children or by a kind of assumed cynicism. They may not be ‘religious’ but they have a suspicion of faith in God.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

As I sit with them, I tell them the truth. I am not very religious either.

I believe that religion sucks the life out of faith in Jesus. To be religious is as helpful to faith as making formal rules for the conduct of love. As if a love affair can only be a ‘real’ love affair if one uses specific words, visits particular venues and involves only prescribed movements to acceptable pieces of music.

We all know that pretty much every love affair involves certain elements: words that declare love, dates where couples hold hands, sofas where they canoodle, physical touches that send shivers down the spine, all done to a soundtrack that, when one hears it years later, engenders sharp memories of a time of sweetly sharp love. Love affairs do not need to be formalized and controlled, they need to be given space and minimal boundaries.

Religion is rubbish! It is the codification of our relationship with God. Religion turns our relationship with God, that would otherwise be a love affair, into a stuffy meeting over afternoon tea. It takes all of the vibrant reality out of faith in Jesus, telling us that it is only the prescribed methods of spending time with Him that are unacceptable. Religion makes the love of God into something that it should not be… a contract.

Faith in God is supposed to be unfettered, unrestricted, and wonderfully real. We should not dread and avoid our encounters with Him. We should be excited to be early, so that we waste none of the time we spend in His company as possible. Our desire to be with God should be a reflection of the overflow of a forgiven soul. We are the recipients of His grace, welcomed into union with Him by His open arms, desperate to squeeze every moment out of our joyous time together.

Going to church, praying, singing, reading God’s word; none of these should be a bind or a chore. They should be a wonderful overflowing pleasure. And it is almost impossible to make them so, unless one has a very specific taste, through codification and formalization. My time with my beloved wife is not characterized by our prescribed words of devotion and strictly timed liaisons, but by our sheer pleasure in simple having opportunities to sit, laugh, talk, touch and love.

That is not to say that there are not boundaries in both love and faith. The boundaries of a love affair have to do with restricting the expression of passion so that it does not become destructive to ourselves and those who are witnesses to our love. The boundaries of faith expression are similar, having less to do with what we practice and more to do with what might be destructive.

I am not Religious. I am deeply, passionately, breathlessly, sincerely, seriously, amazingly, desperately in love with Jesus who, when I was lost in destructive sin and far away from my Father Creator, paid the price so that I could be reconciled and reunited with Him. I love Him. And I want to tell Him that I love Him. I want to be with Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit and close to my Father. I don’t need prescribed words and movements to do that, although there are times when it is a little help, I need space and opportunity and desire. I WANT to spend time with God, so that is what I do. Freely and lightly, as an overflow of my very forgiven, renewed soul.

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Adoption

I was talking to friends of mine who are a lovely couple who, over 20 years ago, upon finding that they were unable to have children of their own, made the decision to adopt a child.

After all of the tests and paper work were complete, their new 5 year old daughter turned up their doorstep. She burst into the midst of their otherwise calm life together with all of the emotion and energy of any 5 year old. In her case, however, she had already been shaped and altered by the abuse and neglect of her life so far. Through no fault of her own she was, to say the least, a challenge. From that moment on, my friends committed their lives together to love and bless this little girl who was now their daughter.

I heard them share their testimony on Adoption Sunday in the UK, and they were so proud of their daughter. They showed some photos on the screen and talked about how she had come to faith, was baptized and later married. They shed tears of joy that she was grown up, happy and loved. Yet, the journey of parents and child had also been incredibly challenging.

Their daughter’s life before adoption had had some effects on her that were permanent. And the parts that were not permanent have taken years to heal, and will take more years yet. Even as I write this, however, I have a tear in my eye at the awesome love and sacrifice that my friends have given for the sake and good of their beloved daughter.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12)

As we were talking in their kitchen it dawned on me that their action was the same as that of God.

We talked about the fact that by the age of 5 years, the character and experience of a child are already mostly formed. That, in many ways, it is too late for their new parents to form them through nurture. Their adoptive parents might cover their new children in love and devotion, but there is no guarantee that their child will grow to maturity as a healed and balanced person. We talked a little about the parents and marriages that have been wrecked after adopting challenging, hurt children, lives left exposed and attacked by the challenges that come with loving the lost and broken.

My friends, together with so many adoptive parents, made the deliberate choice to lay their lives on the line for the sake of a child in need of love and care. They had none of the run-up of pregnancy to develop a bond. Their child exploded into their life with all of the hurts and pain of their previous life. Every vulnerability in their lives was exposed and all that they could do was trust in Jesus, everyday choosing to love and nurture their daughter simply because that was what she needed. There was no guarantee of a happy ending, only of the challenges and difficulty that would come with each day. That is not to say that there were not joys, only that the life of a parent is not all joy and sweetness and light.

But the price was worth paying. I will write that again, more clearly. THE PRICE WAS WORTH PAYING!

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:14-16)

The Bible tells us that those of us who believe in Jesus are children of God, adopted into His family. Men and women, accepted by the Father into the inheritance position of an elder son. Everything that is our Father’s is also ours.

God, our Father, adopts us. We turn up with all of the hurts and anguish, damage and disability, that result from the lives we lived before we come into His home. There is no guarantee to the Father that we will turn out alright, or that the unconditional love that he lavishes upon us will be accepted and bring us to healing and wholeness. The only thing that is guaranteed is that it will cost the Father all of his love.

Our Father loves us, because He chooses to do so. He is willing to deliberately pay the price for our adoption in effort, time, energy, love and, as necessary, in blood. Our growth as children is worth, to Him, His sacrifice of love and devotion.

This is a mind-blowing truth. Father offers us life as a child in His home. Not because we deserve it, but because He gives it to us. I am a child of God. I am a son of God, because he chose to love me.

Adoption is a sacrament. It is an imitation of our Father God who adopts us as his beloved children, despite all of our own issues and damages. He spends a lifetime nurturing us, leading us to healing and maturity. He sacrifices all, including the life of his true son, in order to restore us to wholeness as his beloved and blessed children. Thank you to all of you who adopt as my Father God has adopted me. How ever the situation might have turned out, wherever you and your child has ended up, you are a blessing and an inspiration. As an adopted son of God I bless you in the name of my Father who is also your Father.

“The Father bless you
and keep you; the Father make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Father turn his face towards you
and give you peace.” (my version of Numbers 6:24-26)