by David Y.
This last week I took a trip with my wife to Seattle to visit family. While we were there, we took a day trip up to beautiful Mount Rainier National Park to enjoy God’s creation. It was simply amazing! If you ever have the chance to visit the Seattle area in Washington, I encourage you to try and make a trip up to the mountains. They are simply spectacular and Mount Rainier is especially a sight to behold.
That was one of the highlights of our trip, as well as the joy of visiting my mom who as been recovering from a recent hip surgery and is doing awesome (thanks everyone for your prayers)! Another “highlight” of our trip (and, yes, I’m being a little sarcastic) was attending church with my family. I only make it home to visit my family every few months (sometimes longer), but when I do, mom likes all of us to go to church together.
Now, bless her heart, she means well, but I must tell ya that I’m not a big fan of her church. Nothing really in particular, but I suppose that right there is also the reason… It’s just a stereotypical religious organization. Of course my family doesn’t see it that way I suppose. To them it’s pure awesomeness (hehe).
We walked in and took a seat. A few moments later the service started and everyone hopped up on their feet to sing (on cue I might add). For a moment I felt like I was in an airplane just before take-off, watching the stewardess explain how to work a seatbelt; The worship leader started out by saying, “Come on everybody, clap your hands like this,” as if no one had a clue how to engage this strange new activity called hand-clapping.
The first thing that impressed me though was how the congregation was singing all these songs that described how amazing and magnificent and awesome God is, yet not a single person on the stage was even smiling. I remember those days myself; where Sunday morning worship was simply the result of a well-rehearsed performance, where every song is sung in the same key, the same tempo, and then a little pause with soft piano while everyone “waits on the Lord”… The funny thing is, even the waiting period is rehearsed. In fact, it was generally part of the song list!
My wife, who did not grow up in church and never even visited one until she married me (sorry dear – hehe), made all kinds of wonderful observations that so perfectly illustrate to me how this mess of religion that is so prevalent is not the least bit impressive to the unchurched either. The primary complaints from her involved fascinating words like: boring and… well ok, that’s pretty much it, followed by the most interesting expressions on her face (all spiritually motivated I assure you… or at least motivated… okay, maybe that was just constipated).
During one of the songs, I suddenly became curious if the Sound Hound application on my smart phone could detect the song that was being sung. For those of you without a clue what I’m talking about, Sound Hound is a little program on my phone that listens to music when you press the button and then figures out the song title, who the artist is, and even tells you the lyrics and where to buy the album. I just had to pull my phone out and see if this important piece of technology could recognize this song… My mom immediately became a little disgusted with me that I was playing with unsanctified technology during the song service, so I put it away…… right after the scan was done. Couldn’t figure out the song. Sorry about that, those of you who were eagerly waiting for the answer. All I know is that it had something about “you are the Lord” and “I am in awe”… Oh wait, I guess that describes most church songs doesn’t it. I’m probably gonna get in trouble too (mentioning those words from the song) because I’m not observing the copyright fine print below the Power Point projection screen. Yes, in case you didn’t know it, churches have to pay royalties for singing worship songs. Sigh…
After the worship, we sat down (again on cue) and then jumped up again (on cue) for “the reading of the Word”. In mom’s church it’s traditional to stand and read the selected passage together… You know, just like Jesus did before every sermon. Then we sat down again. I’m tired. 😉
The man directing the service (who was doing so because the pastor was on a three month vacation – and don’t get me started about preachers who subsidize their living on the backs of others under the guize of “giving to God”), quickly shared a Scripture before the tithes were collected that had nothing to do with tithing. In fact, the passage was 2 Corinthians 9:7, which talks about being cheerful in your free-will generosity to the poor. Somehow the application is made from this passage that you’re supposed to be happy about paying “taxes” (i.e. tithes) to the church organization. Like I said before, typical… but it still annoys me to hear.
As we were sitting there watching the offering plates fly around the room like flying saucers, my mom leaned over and said, “what do you think of our church?” She was referring to the recent remodeling work. New carpet, new paint, and new chairs throughout. Not being impressed by this kind of thing at all, I probably would have said, “not too much…” But I was nice… I said, “Uh, nice.”
About that time, Tammy noticed that mom had written out a check (her tithe) to put in the offering. For mom it was a large amount, considering the fact that she’s on a fixed income. Almost nothing agitates me more than this subject, to see widows paying tithes to an organization that finds it more important to spend tens of thousands of dollars decorating the interior than it does lift a finger to help any of them. I’ll admit it that I’m still disgusted over the fact that mom’s church charged her a number of significant expenses for funeral costs when dad passed away back in 2001, not the least of which was a $500 fee for the preacher (who was supposedly a close friend of the family). I think a true man of God would have handed that check right back! When I noticed that the church had a video camera standing at the sound board, I asked if they would mind recording the service for us. They said they could have someone run the camera for just $75 an hour! This is my mom’s church! She is a widow! This frustrated me a great deal and so I called a close friend, who happily grabbed his gear and brought it and filmed the service FOR FREE (and edited it and made copies available to loved ones). Thanks Bud! (really, that’s my bud’s name; Bud)
The Bible, as most of you reading this know, does not describe a Jesus who was at all impressed with organized religion. In fact, at just about every turn He was condemning it. Jesus was also quite furious over the treatment of widows by the religious. In Matthew 23 he issued the following rebuke to the religious leaders:
Mathew 23:14 – Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and pray at length as a pretense. Therefore you shall receive the greater condemnation.
Interestingly enough, the only place in Scripture I’m aware of that condones any kind of New Testament style “religion” is in the book of James, and listen to what he said on the matter:
James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
So, according to James, PURE religion fully takes care of widows! If you are at all familiar with the Old Testament, you’ll see time again how God made detailed provision in the Law for the care of widows and the impoverished. In Isaiah 10:2, God warned those who “deprive the poor of justice and deny the rights of the needy among My people. They prey on widows and take advantage of orphans,” and God promised to punish them severely!
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 – “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing.
Deuteronomy 27:19 ‘Cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows.’ And all the people will reply, ‘Amen.’
Psalm 68:4-6 Sing praises to God and to His name! Sing loud praises to Him who rides the clouds. His name is the LORD—rejoice in His presence! Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But He makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
Psalm 146:9 The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but He frustrates the plans of the wicked.
Proverbs 15:25 The LORD tears down the house of the proud, but He protects the property of widows.
Isaiah 1:12-17 – When you come to worship Me, who asked you to parade through My courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing Me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts Me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to Me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of My sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.
Isa 1:23-25 – Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows. Therefore, the Lord, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the Mighty One of Israel, says, “I will take revenge on My enemies and pay back My foes! I will raise My fist against you. I will melt you down and skim off your slag. I will remove all your impurities.
Jeremiah 7:5-6 – But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols.
Jeremiah 22:3 – This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent!
Zechariah 7:9-13 – “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other. “Your ancestors refused to listen to this message. They stubbornly turned away and put their fingers in their ears to keep from hearing. They made their hearts as hard as stone, so they could not hear the instructions or the messages that the LORD of Heaven’s Armies had sent them by His Spirit through the earlier prophets. That is why the LORD of Heaven’s Armies was so angry with them. “Since they refused to listen when I called to them, I would not listen when they called to Me, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
Malachi 3:5 – “At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear Me,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
For those church leaders who love to preach on tithing, I have yet to hear even one of them comment on the following tithe passage. Notice what it says about the use of this tithe for the poor and the widows:
Deuteronomy 26:12-13 – “Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that they will have enough to eat in your towns. Then you must declare in the presence of the LORD your God, ‘I have taken the sacred gift from my house and have given it to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, just as You commanded me. I have not violated or forgotten any of Your commands.”
What this passage doesn’t mention is that, besides this “special tithe” that was offered every third year, the regular annual tithe ALWAYS held provisions in it to care for widows, orphans and strangers! In fact, the famous tithe passage in Malachi chapter 3 is actually a rebuke to the religious leaders for neglecting to use the tithes they received appropriately (scroll up and read verse 5 again)! Anyway, that’s another topic for another time.
Ok, I guess I’m done with that rant… I’m just tired of seeing churches eagerly take money from people who don’t have it, only to refuse them services and then to waste their money on stupid things like new pews. The old pews were not even in disrepair.
After the offering, there was a guest speaker. The speaker was a lively guy in a three piece suit who was quick to point out that he had worked during the last couple days to put together this sermon for Sunday morning. Trying to be a good sport, I whipped out my smart phone and opened my Bible application and my wife and I tried to follow along. This only earned me some disgusted whispers from the person beside me (who will remain nameless to spare them embarrassment in case they ever read this). “Hey, put that thing away… We’re in church!” The really funny thing was, I was actually trying to follow along in the Bible on my device, when the person complaining next to me didn’t even bring a Bible.
Perhaps needless to say, I didn’t put my device away. I just responded by saying, “This is a Bible,” to which I received a disgusted nod. By this time, the preacher was already onto his fourth verse of the message. Here I was, with the latest in touch-screen technology, where you can find a passage of Scripture in a split second, and I was having trouble keeping up with this guy. He jumped from verse to verse, all over the Bible, and in several different versions (whichever one suited his point best). This was most frustrating to my wife who was trying to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but found it hard to follow along.
I explained to her that this is sadly typical of many preachers who love to jump all over the Bible to piece together their sermons. Because I was familiar with most of the passages, I also knew that most of them were slightly removed from their proper context (some more than others). So Tammy and I took extra time to read the entire passage of surrounding text, rather than just jump through every sermon hoop along the way. Tammy would often tilt her head the way a cute little puppy does when he’s confused or curious about something. She would say, “What does that passage have to do with this passage?” To which I’d give the most spiritual response, “Honey, these are the deep things of God that go so far beyond what you could possibly understand. You have to speak in tongues for three weeks and eat nothing but dried locust before you can even begin to comprehend this B.S. (Biblical Stuff).” 😉 Actually, I just said, “nothing honey.” The truth is, I was tilting my head like a confused pup too.
The sermon, apart from a few average and lame attempts at humor (much like my own in this article – haha), involved nothing really profound at all. In fact, the whole message was so all over the place that I really can’t even summarize any of it for you… and no, that’s not because I was playing the Angry Birds video game on my phone either. Truly, I was trying to be a good little boy and listen. What we basically got Sunday morning was some guy who threw together 20 passages of Scripture and then tried to give us some kind of moral to follow. It was a very general message about getting along in relationships.
I noticed several folks (including members of my family) taking notes and nodding in agreement with the speaker. I remember taking notes in church. I also remember that it didn’t amount to squat! There’s something about taking notes in church that makes a person feel extra spiritual. “Look at me, I am really paying attention to the pastor’s sermon and really putting forth the effort to not just be a hearer of the Word but a doer! I’m taking notes! Look God, NOTES! Do you see this? Only serious Christians take notes… Never mind the nasty fight I had with my sibling last night where I should probably putting one of these noted messages into practice. The point is, I am showing extra achievement today in front of everyone by writing on this pad of paper… Ok, so it’s not a pad of paper, it’s actually a preset note sheet supplied by the pastor where I fill in the blanks. But still…” Don’t forget all the “repeat after me” phrases the pastor throws in for good measure. That really helps the spiritual significance of the message to soak in. By the end of sermon, people leave with a sense of accomplishment; that they have somehow grown spiritually because they listened to some guy tell jokes, read a couple of out-of-context Scripture verses, and filled in the blanks on the bulletin’s note sheet.
Ok, all seriousness aside, that’s not to overlook the fact that some folks actually do take the message to heart and try to make application. Good for them. I hope all that church attendance works out for them. I remember church friends who told me they thought it was rather arrogant for me to suggest that I don’t need to hear another sermon as long as I live because I’ve heard just about everything there is to hear. I realize how that might sound a bit arrogant, but if you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize how true it is for most of us. The American church system is overloaded with information. We’ve been taught everything, and most of it by so-called “experts” who don’t even live this stuff out in their own lives. They prepare all week to give an eloquent oration, but rarely does any of it come out of their own experience. Like that recent article I posted from Plain Truth magazine; it’s like a teacher who can’t fly himself trying to pose as an expert who teaches frogs to fly, never mind that frogs can’t fly anyway.
I remember a story about a farmer who was approached by a book salesman one day. The bookseller said, “Mr. farmer sir, I would like to introduce you to this amazing set of books that can teach you everything you never knew about farming.” The farmer replied, “No thanks.” The salesman said, “I don’t think you understand sir. These books include state of the art technologies that can seriously advance your farming skills into the next century!” The farmer again said, “No thanks.” The salesman persisted, “Sir, perhaps I’m not making myself clear. This information can help you increase your production and minimize effort. Your crops can grow bigger, healthier, and more abundant than they are right now. This can totally change your life! You can enjoy bigger profits and vastly improved production quality. You’ll have more time and money to spend more time with your family. You can send your kids to college, maybe buy a new house, new equipment… think of the possibilities if you’d only read what these books have to offer.” The farmer sighed, smiled as he looked down at the ground for a moment, and then replied again, “No thank you young man.” After not being able to convince the farmer of his need for this information, he begged a question of the farmer… “Sir, if you don’t mind me askin’, why would you turn down this information that could literally improve every facet of your farming industry.” The farmer looked at the salesman and said, “Because I’m not farming now as good as I know how.”
I love that story because it’s absolutely what I’m talking about when I say that I’ve heard enough sermons. We’ve all heard more than enough, and the truth is that most of us aren’t doing now what we already know how to do. We’re really not lacking information at all, and simply swallowing more information isn’t going to change our predicament! Only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives can accomplish what is needed. If we simply learn to yield, day by day, to the instruction of our Master, Jesus, that alone will propel us far beyond the benefit of tucking more knowledge from more sermons into our already crammed full heads.
It seems, these last several years since I’ve been out of the church system, my theology has gotten a lot simpler too. It used to be that the Gospel wasn’t all that impressive to me (I’m ashamed to say). Don’t get me wrong, I was thankful for the gift of God’s grace and for what Jesus accomplished for me on the cross, but that was “old news”. I became infatuated with finding the “deeper things” of God. To me “the Gospel” was just that thing you had to believe to get saved and then you’re supposed to move on to bigger and better spiritual stuff. I told myself that I was justly craving spiritual meat and in my mind I basically equated the Gospel with milk for the weak. God forgive my arrogance and ignorance… but I know I am not the only one that has been influence with this kind of mindset so typical in the institutional church system.
In recent years since flushing the organized religious mindset, the Gospel has taken a MUCH bigger place in my heart than ever before. The revelation of Jesus’ love is more than I have words to describe. In fact, it often brings tears to my eyes when I think about God’s amazing gift and what that means for every facet of my life. Today, with all my heart, I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the very real power of God! I love how Paul said it, that he had determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This revelation today burns deeper in my heart than ever before.
I am convinced that there is a massive deception among much of the organized, institutional church system that has convinced people that the Gospel is only a marginal part of the Christian life (i.e. it’s just the start of it; how you get saved, but not that big of a deal once salvation has been achieved). Oh sure, it’s significant on some level… After all, it’s the subject required to fuel all the evangelism programs. Unfortunately, even the thrust for evangelism is ultimately driven by baser motives, such as the need to keep the organization financed and adequately sustained with new volunteers. The Gospel ends up getting used as the mascot for the whole operation and it generates plenty of excitement, but rarely is there a genuine revelation beneath it. If there was, I would dare say there would be no need for all these religious programs, rules, regulations, legalism and human agenda to drive a manmade system that controls, manipulates and manages its converts.
Religious Christianity, in this author’s perspective, is NOT real Christianity at all and it grieves my heart to see so many people out there who don’t know how incredible Jesus is and to see them being led to think that Christianity IS churchianity. Consequently, when they see the hypocrisy of “Christians” in these churches, they equate one with the other and it is completely understandable why! I get sick of pastors and other Christians who say dumb things you read on a bumper sticker like, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” as though this is a grand excuse for all the mess caused by religion. It’s like they’re saying, “Hey look, even though we’ve been telling you that belonging to our religion and attending church is essential, don’t blame us when we fail to demonstrate a Christ-like behavior, because our religion can’t really produce that anyway, and God forgives us, so you should too.”
If there is a person reading this who does not prefer to consider themselves a Christian, let me tell you, organized religion is NOT Christianity. Sadly it took me almost 30 years to figure that out for myself. It has tried to convince you and manipulate the masses to believe it is, but God does not need it, nor has He ever ordained it! Just read the words of Jesus in the Bible and you’ll never find Him EVER prescribing religion or talking about joining churches or any of that stuff. In fact, Jesus more often railed against religion than He ever said anything positive about it or about those associated with and who regularly prescribe it for others. There are plenty of happy church folks that would rather have me stoned for saying such a thing, but it was Jesus himself, NOT ME, who said the following:
Mat 23:15 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisee religion experts. Hypocrites! Actors! Frauds! 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!
Is it just me, or does that sound a little bit like the modern church systems fascination with what they call evangelism? They have this massive agenda to proselytize the world with their brand of churchianity and I’m really not sure that God is the least bit impressed by it. Jesus certainly wasn’t.
A relationship with the living God, through Jesus Christ, does NOT require an organized church system, a pew, a pulpit, a hymnal, or any kind of weekly church service at all! It requires YOU and GOD. Pretty simple! And when that transaction of relationship comes into being, you begin to find that God himself will connect you with others in His family who have also discovered the revelation of a true relationship with Him.
I’ve found that the further I move away from institutional thinking and the closer I move toward the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus, the easier I find it to love people that I used to have a problem with… the easier I find it to enjoy the company of other Jesus folks who may not come from the same religious background as I did, because I no longer qualify people based on those things anymore. The more I allow Jesus to have the central place in my life, the more ALL the pieces start to fall into place. The less anxious I am. The more confident I am in His ability to care for my needs and to teach me what He wants me to learn day to day. I no longer stress over whether or not I’m “reading my Bible enough” or “praying enough”. I just take life one day at a time and grow as I am fed by my Master’s hand. When I fail, I humble myself and get up again. Hopefully, I learn from those mistakes and don’t repeat them, but where religion tends to beat you down for failures and then manipulate you with programs and more legalism, I see my Father in heaven as a proud daddy who loves to see His children learning to walk, even though they sometimes stumble. God’s grace fills my heart and gives me so much joy! Religion NEVER provided that kind of freedom, peace or confidence in the love of my Heavenly Father! And in this freedom I do not crave to sin. The organized church tries to threaten folks by telling them that if they buy into this freedom and grace talk, they will plunge into sin and the displeasure of God. On the contrary, my observation has been that those who truly revel in the freedom God has granted, become as birds with the wind under their wings. God’s love and truth motivate them to seek Him all the more. They begin to grow, really grow, and to walk with more joy, more confidence, and their light shines brighter than ever!
No amount of servitude to religion could ever produce in my heart what the Gospel of Jesus has brought into being. Religion can NEVER satisfy and its grip WILL fade the more people reach out for truth and accept the freedom and grace and love that God gives to all who seek Him.
With that, I think I will close this out for the day. I hope you will be encouraged to continue seeking HIM! Don’t be distracted or discouraged by the devices of religion. They exist all around us, but they do not have control over us so long as we render our hearts to the care of one Master, Jesus! Let that freedom take you to greater heights in His love!