Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Thank God for the April rains even though it may cause inconvenience in traffic. Our land needs even more rains to help resolve our water shortage. We give thanks to God, our ultimate Provider and Protector of life. It is Him who creates all things and sustains all things for us to enjoy. We exalt His Holy and Lovely Name.
It seems odd to have to say so, but too much religion is a bad thing. We can’t get too much of God, can’t get too much faith and obedience, can’t get too much love and worship. But religion the well intentioned efforts we make to “get it all together” for God—can very well get in the way of what God is doing for us. The main and central action is everywhere and always what God has done, is doing, and will do for us. Jesus is the revelation of that action. Our main and central task is to live in responsive obedience to Gods action revealed in Jesus. Our part in the action is the act of faith.
But more often than not we become impatiently self-important along the way and decide to improve matters with our two cents worth. We add on, we supplement, we decorate. But instead of improving on the purity and simplicity of Jesus, we dilute the purity, clutter the simplicity. We become thoroughly religious, or anxiously religious. We get in the way.
That’s when it’s time to read and pray our way through the letter to the Hebrews again, written for “too religious” Christians, for “Jesus-and” Christians. In the letter, it is Jesus-and-angels, or Jesus-and-Moses, or Jesus-and-priesthood. In our time it is more likely to be Jesus-and-politics, or Jesus-and-education, or even Jesus-and-Buddha. This letter deletes the hyphens, the add-ons. The focus becomes clear and sharp again: God’s action in Jesus. And we are free once more for the act of faith, the one human action in which we don’t get in the way but on the Way. “You don’t make your words true by decorating them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no’” (Matthew 5:36-37).
This is a common temptation for some serious Christians like we, pastors, to make relation with God to become too complicated. I always compare myself with the Pharisees and the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, lest I fall into the same “religious snare” of trying to help God determine religiosity or framework of religious expression. In America, religious community is corrupted by consumerism and narcissism. We go to church not to worship and desire God’s words, but to meet my religious needs. My “need” becomes the center of worship. People look for church to meet their needs. This is a consumer’s attitude of “shopping for a church.” And we, pastors, are therefore tempted to meet the congregation’s needs. The pastor becomes like a “chef” of a restaurant who seeks to produce more delicious “dishes/sermons” to attract and retain his customers. Just like a good restaurant, the church needs to provide a nice ‘spiritual dining’ environment, ample parking space and entertaining music in order to please the customers and create their appetite for spiritual food. When all the perfect ingredients for a spiritual restaurant are in place, this church will grow and more resources will come in as a result.
I don’t think our Lord Jesus would be able to find a pastor’s job or survive in many churches in America. It is simply because He would not work well with those “religious leaders” by playing their game, and He would be “political incorrect” in his sermon as well. His message/spiritual food would NOT be appealing to their audience, who expect to be entertained instead of being irritated by His challenging words. Have mercy on us O Lord! Help us take caution with our “religious inclination” and take the teaching of Christ to heart, in building a genuine relationship with our Triune God, and a community of faith.
Love you as your brother in Christ,