Saving Souls and Selling Cosmetics
Introduction by David Y.
There’s a close friend of mine who occasionally enjoys listening to an internet Podcast called The Moth and the other day he shared one of them with me that he found interesting. For those of you unfamiliar, The Moth is a New York City based nonprofit organization that conducts live storytelling events. It is not a Christian organization and has no religious agenda, but may involve participation by people of various walks of faith or even no ascribed faith at all. The website describes the shows as being:
- “renowned for the great range of human experience they showcase. Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways. Since each story is true and every voice authentic, the shows dance between documentary and theater, creating a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience. Moth stories dissolve socio-economic barriers, expose vulnerabilities, and quietly suggest ways to overcome challenges and see with new eyes.”
I’ve decided to post this audio message my friend shared with me that is given by a lady who quit religion after realizing the similarities between selling Jesus (i.e. church-sanctioned evangelistic tactics) and selling Mary Kay Cosmetics (hahaha). It’s actually a great story with some very eloquently-stated observations and a powerful conclusion; however, the sad part seems to be that she also lost her faith in the process (or at least that’s how she describes losing her religion). Despite this unfortunate detail, I feel the story is significant and there is something to be learned by listening to this woman’s testimony (if you will forgive the term).
This, to me, is one of the most damaging aspects of organized religion; it convinces people that loving Jesus is the same as being a good servant of the organization. People who finally get burned out on the lifelessness of religion sometimes see it as losing their faith. The rest of the religious crowd then shakes their head in disappointment at another backslider. Then, they look at folks like us and what we talk about and they say, “can’t you see how dangerous that talk is? Your view may be causing people to fall away from Christ and lose their faith!”
My argument would be, “Maybe they never really had a genuine faith (i.e. relationship with the Master) to begin with!” Many church folks (granted, not all) can’t seem to tell the difference. To me, when I see someone who regards leaving religion as “losing their faith”, although it is sad to me that they don’t always immediately understand the difference between relationship with Christ and religion, at least they now understand that religion isn’t a relationship with Christ at all.
The religious are disappointed about “backsliders” because they see them as details that slipped through some crack in the program (that might only be remedied by prescribing more religion, more sermons and guilt trips to the rest of the congregation about the necessity of “evangelism” (i.e. proselytizing), or more programs to manipulate people to get into church, or – even worse – to look for clever ways to diminish the offensiveness of the Gospel and make their church organization more “seeker friendly” and adaptable to people’s lifestyles so they won’t pull out)… In other words, they think the religious machine needs to be oiled up and fine tuned so it will run more efficiently. For them, the truth is, salvation is in the religious system – not really the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those of us who trust Christ, know that He is not weak or unable to save whomever He desires. Perhaps it will take some folks “losing their faith” to at last find it, and REALLY find it, in HIM!!! Those folks weren’t lost… They just never were really “found” yet.
The woman who shares this story goes by the name Jen Lee and I really think it would be cool if she found this post while browsing the Web one day. To her I would say, “Awesome story Jen! Thanks for putting this subject into words so thoughtfully, eloquently and transparently (and humorously to boot).” I don’t know whether or not she still has a faith in Jesus, but I really think so much of her observation was right on and one I have felt similarly concerning the subject of “evangelism” and the way organized religion tends to describe and present it. I hope she (and others like her) will be encouraged to find that, not all of us who have been duped by the same religious mindsets in the past, continue to be controlled by them… but, even more, I hope she will be encouraged to find that it is possible to enjoy a genuine faith and relationship with the Creator without also being “religious” or participating in religion. The truth absolutely is they are not synonymous at all!
Even Jesus himself condemned the religious in His day for their infatuation with proselytizing and effectively creating converts who are twice as deluded and misguided as they were themselves. While the religious leaders boasted of their knowledge in the Scriptures, Jesus pointed out that for all their knowledge, none of it had helped them come to the purpose of what those Scriptures present; a genuine relationship with Him.
Matthew 23:15 (NLT) – “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!”
John 5:38-44 (CEV) – You have not believed His message, because you refused to have faith in the one He sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think you will find eternal life in them. The Scriptures tell about Me, but you refuse to come to Me for eternal life. I don’t care about human praise, but I do know that none of you love God. I have come with my Father’s authority, and you have not welcomed Me. But you will welcome people who come on their own. How could you possibly believe? You like to have your friends praise you, and you don’t care about praise that the only God can give!
It’s pretty mind-blowing to think that, in reality, it was the very people who should have been more ready than anyone to receive the Messiah because of their expanse of Scriptural knowledge (as well as experience over the centuries with the miracles of God), yet they were completely blind to His arrival and utterly rejected Him and even put Him to a brutal, tortuous death! Is it really so amazing to consider that the exact same thing is probable today? While so many church folks sit in their Sunday pews, listening to the pastor read Bible verses as they shake their heads at those foolish Jews who failed to recognize Jesus when He came to them, they don’t even realize that they may be guilty of the very same thing!
John 1:10-13 (MKJV) – He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
For all the religion that exists today, you would think that millions walk in relationship with Christ… Yet, I believe, that most are only captivated by the wiles of religion. Just look at the fruit they bear… Jesus said that because the religious refused to see the truth and embrace Him, He was going to extend His invitation to all the non-religious and undeserving sinners who might at least accept the invitation!
Matthew 21:31 (Jesus to the religious leaders) – “…I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.”
Mat 21:43 (Jesus to the chief priests and religious leaders) – “I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken from you and given to people who bring about that which God desires…” (vs. 45-46) When the religious leaders heard this story, they knew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held back. Most people held him to be a prophet of God.
Matthew 9:10-13 (the Message) – Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with His close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw Him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?” Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”
It encourages me that even Jesus Christ himself found no affinity for organized religion and He effortlessly pointed out its futility! He did not come to establish religion, but to save men from it and connect them directly to the Father!
Matthew 11:28-30 (the Message) – “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 12:6-8 – “There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant–‘I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’–you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.”
Matthew 15:1-14 (the Message) – After that, Pharisees and religion scholars came to Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, criticizing, “Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules?” But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules. Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye: These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.” He then called the crowd together and said, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.” Later his disciples came and told him, “Did you know how upset the Pharisees were when they heard what you said?” Jesus shrugged it off. “Every tree that wasn’t planted by my Father in heaven will be pulled up by its roots. Forget them. They are blind men leading blind men. When a blind man leads a blind man, they both end up in the ditch.”
On and on, Jesus highlighted the heart of the Lord and rejected the futility and lunacy of religion. How sad that so many today remain captivated by something that God rejects. How sad that so many people would be duped to believe that being religious is the same thing as being born again – and how sad that some will think they need to discard a faith in God because religion failed them. How deceptive and wicked this thing called religion can be; even the tool of the devil himself.
With that I encourage you to listen to Jen’s story. Some of you may not like her conclusion, especially if you are presently a proponent of organized religion and mainstream Mary Kay-style evangelism (you’ll understand when you hear Jen’s story). More than anything I could possible convey with this blog, I pray that the Spirit of God would speak to your hearts and convict and encourage you with the truth. Never again do I want to treat my faith in Christ like a product I need to sell. Testimony should naturally flow out from reality that has changed the heart. It shouldn’t be programmed, manipulated, or artificially motivated. It must be genuine, sincere and stimulated by God’s amazing grace and love. I think our lives should provide enough evidence so that, even if we were mute and physically lame, a testimony of truth could be observed by those who are seeking it out. We can trust God to save those He desires to save! That’s His business anyway and He is well able to accomplish whatever good work He sets into motion! If I were a preacher, I’d probably call for an Amen right about now (ha)!
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