Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Religious Barriers

            Could it be possible that religion is a barrier to finding God? Can religion hinder a deeper or more meaningful relationship with God? 
            This is part 2 of a discussion on barriers to better living. The previous blog post talked about sin, unmet legitimate needs, psychological pain, and false beliefs as barriers to a better quality of life.  In some ways it may seem like religion is an answer to overcoming these barriers, but I'll unpack here, a statement I made.  "God is not accessed through religion, but through relationship.  Religion can become a barrier of its own  that hinders a relationship with God.  Religion can encapsulate all four of the barriers listed above." 
            Religion tends to direct more focus on the human than on the divine.  Religion is about human effort.  Religious practice is based on self-effort to achieve a self-imaged perception of the divine.  It's about becoming good enough, strong enough, or worthy enough to please God.  No matter how well we perform, however, our human limitations cause us to eventually "miss the mark."  The mark is placed  higher and longer with every tryout or race on life's journey. 
            Take "good enough" as an example.  Relationship of any kind is based on trust.  Although many point to evil things in the world and blame God for allowing them, God is not responsible for bad things that happen.  God has proved himself trustworthy.  Everything God thinks and does is for the good of people.  Anything bad has nothing to do with God.  Reframing our perceptions of God toward his goodness is part of trusting God more and improving relationship.  God is good, all the time.
            Somehow we think that in order for God to accept us, we must attain a certain level of goodness to qualify.  Some err by giving up on God completely, and others (calling themselves religious people) try way too hard.   If we try to "relate up" to God's goodness, we will fail every time because his goodness is inexhaustible.  The bar will always go higher and we will get more and more frustrated with trying harder to be good.  Religion does not see this deficiency, and tries to produce good rather than surrendering (yielding) to it. 
            Jesus came to solve this dilemma and tear down barriers that keep people from relationship with God.  Isaiah the prophet spoke of Jesus the Messiah's mission,
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1).
            Christ's earthly life, crucifixion, and resurrection restored the path to Father God. 
Our sin produces guilt that leaves our heart broken and wounded.
Our unmet needs may leave us in poor condition.
Our psychological pain holds us captive to inner turmoil.
Our false beliefs filter out the light of truth leaving us in a dark prison.
Believing in Jesus (not religion) is the Way through all the barriers. 
            Church background, family practices, and cultural norms may all factor in to our filtered perceptions of who God really is.  Some of our views may line up with what the Bible tells us about God's ways, and some may not.  Although a Christian since boyhood, my own personal journey is sprinkled with sin, unmet needs, pain, and mis-beliefs.  For example, I recently encountered a different interpretation of a Bible story I had known since childhood. 
            The classic Bible story of David and Goliath highlights a small shepherd boy defeating a heavily armed, giant of a man taunting the armies of ancient Israel.   A common interpretation is that  God strengthened the underdog David to battle Goliath;  God can strengthen us to defeat giants in our lives.  While it is true that God strengthens his people to do great things, that is not the point of this story.   In the story (see 1 Samuel 17), David is to be interpreted as a type of the Messiah Jesus.  Jesus came as the Savior.  Jesus has conquered the giants.  Jesus defeated the enemy of our soul and all evil.  Now we (as representative of the armies of Israel in the story)  battle from a position of the final outcome having been determined.  But fight we must.  And the cleanup of conquered territory must continue.  I recently discovered this insight about the story by watching a sermon online called "Goliath Must Fall"  by Louie Giglio at:
            By inserting ourselves into the story as David, we reinforce the idea that somehow we can become good enough, strong enough or worthy enough to conquer bad things in our lives.  We can add religion into the mix and say, "God wants me to conquer _____" (fill in the blank with your personal struggle).  But the truth is, by surrendering to Jesus as our Savior/ Messiah, our relationship  with God and access to his power is restored.  Our giants are not conquered by our own efforts (religion), but through the relationship Jesus made possible.  
            The largest giants in our personal stories are not the financial struggles, relational struggles, or health concerns.  The big giants are inner person issues like anger, fear, guilt, shame, and rejection.  These giants are too big.  Jesus is the one who conquers giants.  I've been following Jesus for about a half a century now, and I still need reminded of that truth!   I'm dependent more than ever on my relationship with God to repeal and replace the sins, needs, pain, and falsehood for the righteousness, abundance, peace, and truth for better living.  God is the one who initiated removing the barriers and he accomplished barrier removal.  Our part is not to try harder to remove barriers on our own, but to surrender to what God has done.
            The gospel of John records the details of the intimate fellowship the Son Jesus demonstrated with Father God.  At the very end of John, the very last words he recorded as spoken by Jesus, are "follow me."  Becoming a follower of Jesus means you commit to grow your relationship with him as life moves on.  Following Jesus is not just a concept, principle, prayer, going to church, remembering a stained-glass picture on a wall, or relying on a deeply spiritual experience in the past.  Following Jesus is an active pursuit of discovering more of the person of God and putting your whole trust in him. 
            I'm not encouraging anyone to sever all ties to religious practices and traditions.  My hope is for people to discern between religion and relationship with God.  One more thing to point out is mankind's vulnerability to false religion.  We must recognize that some people in our  would hold to ideologies which pose as religion, but are more aligned with forces of evil than good.   False religion can become  extremely dangerous.  Blaise Pascal has stated, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.”   Without naming them here, I'm sure we can all think of examples of this in our world today.  May God deal with this kind of giant as well.  
            My prayer is that everyone reading this will see through barriers of religion,  to find the authentic relationship with God that fulfills their true purpose and destiny.
            I end once again by returning to my roots in Jesus Music.  I couldn't decide on one, so I mention two songs that helped me overcome religious barriers.  These songs are about four decades old, but the message still rings true today.  John Michael Talbot "Would You Crucify Him?",  and Scott Wesley Brown  "I'm Not Religious Anymore" . 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry