Religion vs Relationship
Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
I’m gonna start by being what Pastor Michael Todd calls HOT. Humble, Open, and Transparent. I don’t know how to say what I have to say without it coming out direct and writing about what has transpired in my thinking. You might remember that in some of my previous posts I talk about struggling with anorexia. That started to bother me when I started watching Youtube church and listening to all of my favorite pastors talking about how much they got from God when they were fasting. In my conversations with my Pastor Doctor, we have come to the conclusion that God is never going to ask me to not eat. It wouldn’t be giving up something that I didn’t want in the first place. I still struggle to make myself eat, so giving up eating is no sweat. “Ok, God, You want me to quit eating for 3 weeks? Cool. I got you!” God said, “Ok funny girl. Just be open to whatever I bring to you.” So, one day I was reading a book by Priscilla Shirer called “Discerning the Voice of God”, and she was talking about a friend of hers that goes on a silent prayer weekend and I had never heard of such a thing. God knocked on the top of my head. Not literally, of course, but the sound that it makes inside my brain when that happens is enough to let me know that he is about ready to reveal something I need to listen to. He said, “I’m not going to ask you to fast from food. That’s too easy. What I want is for you to fast from talking out loud. I want you to go on a silent prayer weekend. At your house. Alone. With nobody there.”
I thought about that. Sounded weird but I thought “I’ll give it a shot. I can do it.” The kids were leaving for their annual family trip to Ohio and so it was good timing. I could not talk for the whole weekend. I told the kids that they couldn’t call me because I wouldn’t answer. They said fine and I started at 3 pm. I did good the first day. No speaking. Not one sound (except laughing at Pastor Todd, but he has a way of doing that and surprising me). Then my phone went off on Saturday morning and one of my dearest friends was texting me and asking me if what I was doing. I picked up my phone to text her back and Ice Cube voiced God said, “Girl, I said no talking. That means no talking.” Oh. Okay, okay, okay. So, I stayed off all social media, texting, and phone stuff. The only sound coming out of my house was Youtube church and the sound of my breathing. There was one sermon in particular where I was moved enough to stand up and pray like the Pastor on TV was having his church do. I really wanted to yell at my dog who was clearly looking at me with a condescending look on his face and tell him to stop judging me, but I remembered my vow of silence. 40 hours of silence. (I am still asking God what the significance of the number 40 is for me as he’s been bringing it up a lot.)
Sunday morning at 8 am I could talk again. In that time, God talked to me because I shut up and listen to him. And we decided I hate religion. Here’s why. I can’t follow the rules. (Technically, I can’t even fast “right”.) There are so many, and I feel inadequate to everyone except God. God doesn’t make me feel inadequate. People do. People judge others based on appearance, language, color, profession, political party affiliation, religion, the list is ridiculously endless. So, since then, I have been being more intentional with my time and using my mouth less and talking less to God and letting him talk to me. I found out he even speaks when I don’t know that I am asking for an answer. Here’s where I go into being humble, open, and transparent. I have grouchy days. I have days where everybody makes me angry with all their complaining and fighting and name calling. I have always been a person who is affected greatly by other’s negativity. It drags me down. I am cool if someone wants to complain about something and does it in a funny way…I relate to that. Its also an incredibly sneaky trick of the devil to get me drug down when I didn’t want to be. So, the last time I had one of these grouchy days (and it was ROUGH) I struggled the whole day. Not so much because of its events but because one incident in the morning just set off my day in a bad way. Then every single place I went to had people arguing in it. It was everywhere. Unavoidable and unescapable. I went to bed grouchy and I told God, “I had a terrible day. I know part of the reason, but really it was my attitude that kept it that way. I don’t like that. So, I’m praying, and I don’t feel like reading my Bible because my head hurts, but I’m gonna watch more youtube church and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
I fell asleep with Youtube church on and woke up hearing Joyce Meyer say something about “stinkin thinkin”. Joyce Meyer is not someone I normally watch. I wasn’t awake enough to hear what else she said, but somewhere in that phrase Romans 12:2 was attached. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” When I woke up, I looked up the verse. I don’t normally concentrate on just one verse, but I kept coming back to conform. Con. Form. Con – like con man. So, I looked it up in the dictionary. The prefix con means “something using deception to gain another’s confidence” if used as a noun. If it’s an adverb, it changes a little to mean “on the negative side of opposition.” Okay…so then I felt God leading me to look up the prefix trans in the same way. Trans means “so as to change thoroughly”. All of the sudden it hit me. Conforming to this world is a deception that the devil plants within us. Con-form. Satan WANTS us to try to be like everybody else. We are easier to control that way. The con is that if we are like others then life won’t hurt and we’ll be happy because we have friends, and money, and we’ll get to experience things because we’ll have the approval of those around us. But that is exactly what that is. A con. And one of the biggest ways he uses to get us to do that is to invite religion into our relationship with God.
I’ll explain if you missed my meaning. (Technically, I’m going to explain anyway even if you didn’t.) Religion is the list of basics of any given belief system. It is the rules that you have to follow in order to be called a follower of God. Some of these rules seem sort of obvious, like you can’t murder people, you can’t have an affair with someone who is not your spouse, you can’t lie or steal from people, and you can’t worship idols. Others, like what you should eat, how you should take care of yourself, how much money you should throw in the offering plate, the way you raise your kids, or keep your house are not as obvious. Whether or not you can drink alcohol, have tattoos, live with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or use cuss words get thrown in the mix and pretty soon you have a bunch of people hanging out in the same building every Sunday talking about what everyone else is doing wrong. Religion is BS. Now, before you get mad that I’m “cussing” in a Christian blog, first let me give credit where credit is due. Pastor Michael Todd said it in one of his sermons I saw on Youtube, so be mad at him. Second, BS stands for Broken System.
I got tired of the regular social media sites and all of the name calling and fighting that was going on there, so I decided to join a Christian social media site that was sort of like Facebook but with only Christian content. The very first post I read almost made me cry. It was a post about mental health and doing things to relax you in this stressful time. One of the things listed was yoga. Man, you’d have thought someone suggested people move straight into a house in hell with their children in tow by the way the Christians on the site tore into the poster. What? Yoga is a sin? Since when? They were being just as nasty as “unbelievers” and my heart just sank. So very low. I had come here hoping to be uplifted and find are other normal people who struggle with everyday stuff like bills, and career issues, and kids, and questions about being a Christian and what I found was judgement and condemnation from people based on a list of rules.
The morning after I heard Joyce Meyer say “stinkin thinkin” I asked God “What do I do if other Christians are judging and being nasty and evil and calling it “God’s will”? How do I not tolerate hate and evil and show love at the same time?” God answered me and gave me Romans 14:1,4 “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.”
Talk about a hard command to follow. A few days before my grouchy day, God gave me a poem written by Mother Teresa. (God can speak through prostitutes and murderers so if Mother Teresa doesn’t belong in the Christian religion than neither do any of the people in the Bible.) It said,
“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives
Be kind anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough,
Give the world your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.”
Wow. Just really wow. This was followed by a quote from Dorothy Sayer (ya’ll already know I am a super dork about quotes…so you’ll find the ones that speak to me in most of my writing.) She said, “God did not abolish the fact of evil, He transformed it. He did not stop the crucifixion. He rose from the dead.” Talk about a conviction.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22:34, they were trying to trip him up. (Notice the arrogance of man here.) Jesus says in verse 37-40 “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all of the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” He didn’t say “Love those who believe the same things you do about ME, or the ones who belong to the same political party, or the ones who don’t smoke weed or the ones who don’t eat pork, and the ones who don’t cuss, or the ones who don’t drive you crazy” He didn’t say, “Love my people, but not the ones that have tattoos, and not the ones who are gay and not the ones that are not the same color as you.” He said, “Love me first. Then love your neighbor as yourself.” God is not interested in right doing. He is interested in right being in our hearts and when we are aligned with his will, the right DOING comes out of that. Not the other way around.
So how do we do this? Romans 12:14 gives us a start. “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” Then in Romans 12:17 he says, “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Verse 21 “Don’t let evil conquer you but conquer evil by doing good.”
That is a very tall order. People are annoying and cynical and judgmental. But God does not tell us to call others to him by giving them a list of all the rules they are breaking that don’t measure up to what he says we should be in the Bible. If we are to lead others to him it must be done in love or it will never happen. God’s mercy is for everyone. That’s how we are saved. God’s mercy was for us. God’s mercy was for me. If God can love me after everything I have done, then what business do I have in telling other people what they are doing wrong? I am not put here to do that. I am here to share what God tells me to share and share it in a way that shows love and compassion and REAL to others. That’s what God asked me to do. He never said, “Jackie, do all this and then I’ll let you judge others. I’ll give you some real authority if you can prove you love me by following all these rules I have listed in the Bible.” God didn’t say that but many times as believers we take it to mean that. We get to judge others because we love God and God knows our hearts. That is not how it works. God simply called us to love others and to show them what he looks like through the love he showed us by sending his only son to die for us on the cross.
We wonder why people don’t want to come to church. We wonder how they could live such horrible, sin filled lives. It’s because we as Christians show them religion instead of the way God transformed our hearts when we accepted him into our lives. We show them religion instead of relationship. Transform means to thoroughly change our form. Not to judge others the opposite way from what we did when we were still sinners. He calls us to love. I feel the need to say it again. Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” That is in the New Living Translation. The Life Application Study Bible says it this way, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person, by changing the way you think. Then you will learn God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
I’ll leave you with Numbers 14:18 because that was the last gift that God gave me on this particular subject for now. (When he really wants to drive something into the realm of my attention, he brings his A game every single time. I’m sharing with you in case, like me you were wondering what you are supposed to do when you don’t agree with someone’s beliefs or choices or lifestyles. I don’t have the authority to judge you just like you don’t have the authority to judge the woman that types this blog whether you know me in person or not. I don’t have to care about your judgement and honestly if you hate every word I say, let me tell you this. My haters are some of my best promoters. I appreciate their work.) Numbers 14:18 says, “The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children, the entire family is affected, even children in the third and fourth generations.”
I don’t know about you or what you get from this verse, but what I thought when I read it is that I don’t want my kids or my grandbaby paying the price for me being a jerk. I don’t want my inability to love others like God loves me to come sit on top of them and hold them down from being able to do the work that God has in store for them to do. I don’t want them wandering around for the next 40 years or however long it takes them to figure out that I was wrong in the way I taught them to treat people. I don’t want that to sit on my head or theirs when I go meet God and have my own judgement day. I don’t want God to look at me and be disappointed in what my heart looks like no matter how well I followed my religion. I want God to look at me and say, “Man you made a hot mess out of those first 40 years, Girl, but you got it together and you loved me first and then you loved my people. You did well, my faithful servant.”