This post is our very first guest post by our very first gospel guy. Usually around here he’s known as “the hubster.” In real life he’s known as Heshan (pronounced “hey-shawn”). We have a Portuguese last name thanks to the folks who colonized Sri Lanka in the 1500s and introduced his family to Jesus. The hubster’s from Colorado, we met here in New York City when we both helped start a church in Brooklyn, and the rest is history. He surprised me with this post, and I’m not going to lie… It’s a good one! I think I’ll keep him! Meet him in the comments section and let him know what you think.
A pastor once asked me, “Are you a religious man?” Don’t worry, I knew how to answer…
My wife (my fiancé, then) and I were in the process of driving home from Pittsburgh where we had just attended a wedding, and we decided to stop along the road at a local pancake joint, featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives (definitely Triple D worthy). When we got out of the car, I immediately spotted a church next door and I asked my wife if we could go in to pray for a moment. I prayed for the usual… forgiveness for my sins, health and safety for my family, a blessed relationship with my wife,
a laundry bag full of money, and a few other things.
Shortly after, I was approached by this hippie-looking gentlemen (I say this lovingly) who as it turns out is one of the pastors at the church (I guess the white collar is on its way out?). We made short introductions and that’s when he popped the question, “Are you a religious man?” Having aced a number of pop-quizzes in my short 32 years, I confidently answered, “Why yes sir, yes I am.” (I’m not in a PhD program for show people!). He nodded his head in response and made the same inquiry of my wife, to which she replied, “I wouldn’t say I’m religious, but I am faithful.”
Oh maaaaaaan… seriously, honey? I knew right away that I had failed the pop-quiz. In fact, the pastor had confirmed my erroneous answer and gently reminded me it was more important to be a faithful servant of Christ, than it is to be religious. He then engaged my wife and me in an educational discourse on the distinction between religious and faithful. I wish I could say that I listened to everything he said after that, but the truth is I felt incredibly embarrassed. For a moment, I honestly questioned whether I was a good Christian at all! (I’m Asian… we feel guilt and shame at the drop of a pin).
Embarrassment? Guilt? Shame? Feeling that I disappointed God? Feeling that I’m not a good Christian? Why am I feeling this way? Oh wait — That’s religion talking.
Religion is a code. Religion is a law. It’s a set of rules and regulations in which we abide by in order to be right with God. Christianity is something much different. Pastor Marc Driscoll once recited the words of his high school teacher:
“The difference between Christianity and every other faith in the world is that all other religions are about man trying to reach up to God. Christianity is about God reaching down to man.”
Now isn’t that empowering? For some reason, when I read this I could not help but ponder in amazement at this “revelation.” Now, I could just be dumb and perhaps this moment of wonder can be reduced to that of a caveman who discovers fire for the first time, but I am willing to bet that some of you similarly experienced this epiphany and said to yourself, “Oh snap, this dude’s right!” (Yes, I said snap. Apparently, we have Tracy Morgan to thank for this playful indication of surprise). But why is this surprise to some of us? Why is it that when some folks hear the word Christianity, they react adversely to this?
Perhaps it is because we spend a great deal of talking about the Christian religion, and not about the Christian faith. Whether we realize it or not, there appear to be a number of rules and regulations that govern good Christian behavior. Now, please understand that I am not advocating for a rule-free platform, wherein we don’t behave according to our faith, but I am saying that Christianity overall has now promoted the regulatory side of religion as the core tenet of Christianity over Christ himself. I’m sure we’ve all heard or experienced some of these general Christian rules… No drinking alcohol. No eating certain foods. You must attend church no less than 2 days a week. Being saved is conditional upon you having performed good deeds. I could go on for days…. Did you know my mom almost sent me to a Christian high school where it was illegal for you to be talking to a girl alone in the school hallway? Illegal? Wait, what the?!
“Christian Law” has been existence for a long time. And if you don’t follow the religious law, how good of a Christian are you? This sentiment, arguably first popularized by the Pharisees still continues in our places of worship today. Now this may be an extreme example, but you only have to look at the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church to see the ugly side of Christianity.
Jesus was an incredible man who rushed aid those in need… yet the face of Christianity has become the picket sign filled with words of hate, ultimately reflective of malice in our hearts and a means to subject power and control over others. Living a faithful life is a much different enterprise. It’s about love. It’s about giving up control and instead serving others. It’s also about recognizing that you don’t have to earn God’s love… it’s already given! You don’t have to build a skyward path to God because he’s already right down here with us! It’s more about seeking God in every moment of our lives and finding opportunities to share God’s love with others. In the words of a great Christian band, Casting Crowns:
Open our eyes to world at the end of our pointing fingers. Let our hearts be led by mercy. Help us reach with open hearts and open doors. Oh Jesus friend of sinners break our hearts for what breaks yours.
Unfortunately, religion has become the standard in which we not only judge others, but ourselves as well. But this isn’t what God has in mind for us – it’s not what he intended at all! God has a higher purpose for all of us, and judgment and condemnation are not the ways of a faithful Christian servant. Instead, Christ calls us to harness our energy to seek God’s will in our thoughts and in our actions – to help a neighbor in need, to feed the hungry, to speak for those who have no voice, to love those who are unloved. It is equally important to remember not to hold ourselves to a standard of perfection and recognize that God is always reaching down to you. So stop feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed in front of God. Just seek God and thank Him for his gentle reminder, sometimes in the form of a hippie pastor, that we are to be faithful followers of Christ.
What do you think of when you hear the terms “faith” and “religion?”