“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” Brennan Manning
Lately, I have been offering to pray for people through social media. It has been a huge blessing for me to be a part of what God is doing in these individuals’ hearts and lives. I hear from both believers and agnostics alike. While I lift up their specific requests I am also praying that hearts will be softened and ears and eyes to be opened, so that they can see what God is doing in their midst and be transformed by His great love for them.
Earlier this week I heard from a friend who asked for prayer but also mentioned that she was not “religious.” I loved her approaching me this way. Of course culturally I understand why people would see Jesus as a purely religious figure. The way He is portrayed in classical paintings, stained glass windows and statues can take His ” hands in the dirt” humanity away, to a great degree.
Yet, He was and is so much more than a meek and mild, porcelain skinned, man depicted in religious works of art. In fact, I see Jesus as the ultimate “rebel with a cause.” He did not come to build a religious system. He came to “set the captives free,” mend the broken, heal the sick, find His lost sheep, give us full lives, build spiritually focused warriors, fulfill the “law” and shake up those that put their faith in their own self-piety and religion….
“….Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17(b)
This statement should cause pause in each of us. Are we feeling “safe” in our religious rituals and sacraments or is our security found in the person of Jesus Christ? If we look back, many of Pharisees (religious leaders of Jesus’ time) put their faith in their religious position alone. Let’s listen to Jesus describe them:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seat in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. But you are not to be called “Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’ for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. Your yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation….Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees….you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean out the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean….you are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (taken from Matthew, chapter 23).
Do these sound like the words of a strictly “religious” person? Not at all! This is a call-out by a spiritual revolutionary!
Remember when Jesus entered the Temple and the “religious” leaders had turned it into a marketplace? (see Matthew, chapter 21) It is safe to say that He went into a righteous rage….overturning tables and casting everyone out….”My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves….”
Jesus never calls us to religion alone (although there are important and critical aspects to fellowship, praying together as a band of brothers/sisters, corporate worship, etc.) but Jesus calls us to Himself. We need to look beyond the externals of religious systems and instead approach Jesus in our brokenness and sin. We need to ask Him to help us, to change us….to save us. He alone paid the price on our behalf. We don’t have to “get our act together” first. When Jesus called the first disciples they were fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. Come as you are! Jesus will change you. While man may turn you away, Jesus never will.
You just need to show up.
“I had a professor one time….He said, ‘Class, you will forget almost everything I will teach you in here, so please remember this: that God spoke to Balaam through his ass (see Numbers, chapter 22), and He has been speaking through asses ever since. So if God should choose to speak through you, you need not think too highly of yourself. And, if on meeting someone, right away you recognize what they are, listen to them anyway.'” Rich Mullins