Archives For Salvation

Bizarre Religious Practices

Tim —  October 13, 2011 — 1 Comment

Some religions have crazy weird practices. In one religion, people hook someone up to an electronic device, ask various questions and track the meter’s movement to discover the person’s spiritual aptitude. What if your aptitude is off the charts, but you’re just not a good test taker?

In another religion, a live chicken’s head is twisted around three times, which naturally results in the twister’s sins being transferred to the twistee. Naturally.

Perhaps weirdest of all, and terrifying to think about, is the practice of dropping a one or two-year old child 50 feet off of a building to men below who catch the child in a sheet. This practice is believed to make the child smarter, healthier, and braver. I believe it’s an evil conspiracy thought up by therapists to ensure they have a steady stream of patients as these children grow up!

There are religious practices that make us scratch our heads, and yet, Christianity has some head-scratching issues of its own.

One area that has me scratching my head is how we preach the gospel and get people saved. There are three things in particular I take issue with:

1) Once we’ve persuaded people to “accept Jesus,” we tell them to “repeat this prayer after me.”

We’ve reduced the greatest and most mysterious transaction on planet Earth down to a simple prayer that is repeated once. We’ve reduced the very reason we were created (something you might assume would radically reshape everything about the rest of our lives) down to a one-time prayer that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with this life but will sure give us some nice benefits once eternity gets started.

We’ve reduced being a Christian down to making a one-time decision rather than being a lifelong follower of Jesus.

2) Asking everyone to close their eyes so that new believers can safely and discreetly admit to their decision. 

This reminds me of one of my favorite youth group games… Mafia.

Mafia is one of the best games for Christian young people because it promotes killing. And then lying about it.

The key to a successful game is making sure everyone keeps their identities top-secret. Nothing ruins a game quicker than someone peeking around the room when everyone except the Mafia are supposed to have their eyes closed.

But how is being secretive about your new identity in Christ a good thing? “We’re glad you’ve made the most important decision of your life… and don’t worry, we’ll keep it our little secret!” For some reason I can’t picture the Apostle Paul doing this with new converts. For one thing it’s bad for marketing, and for another the Christian life is to be lived in community for St. Pete’s sake!

Right out of the gate, we’re indirectly communicating the idea that this Christian thing is something to be ashamed of.

3) Using the phrase “accept Jesus” to describe what we do to get saved.

Upon close inspection, this phrase seems backwards and subliminally reinforces the idea that God’s plan of salvation is all about us. I would argue that it’s all about Him.

If you had the opportunity to share a meal with the one person alive you most admire, whether that’s Chuck Norris, Joe Biden, or Justin Bieber, what would you say to them before the meal? “I’ve given this some serious thought, and I suppose it’s alright for you to spend some time with ME. I am willing to accept your invitation to have lunch with you. I accept you.”

(Personally, I can’t imagine myself saying that to Chuck Norris. He’d break me in half and have me for lunch.)

Of course you wouldn’t say that. You probably wouldn’t say anything coherent at all; you’d be mumbling nonsense words because you get to have lunch with your man-crush.

If we really believe Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that one day every knee will bow before Him, how can we have the audacity to say to Him, “I accept you”?

Which brings me to my last point: regarding getting saved (and every day afterwards), do we recognize who Jesus is or do we just focus on what He’s doing for us (in other words, are we obsessed with Him or ourselves)? Do we recognize Jesus as King Jesus? Do we relate to Him as would be fitting for a King?

I can think of a few stories in which the royal person, a king or a princess or a prince, is disguised and out among the common people. And then the point comes when their true identity is revealed. They are recognized for who they are… And everything changes.

Do I recognize Jesus as my King? Do you? Or is He just our Savior?

I recognize that the title of this post is bold, and it is somewhat silly to say I definitively know the three most important words in the entire Bible. I recognize there should be an addendum to this title, like ‘IMHO.’

So, in my humble opinion, let me offer what I see as the three most important words in the Bible…

“It is finished.”

The phrase itself is a highly significant one. It’s a statement you might make after wrapping up a term paper, or a major project; or words you quietly utter with relief at the conclusion of an incredibly awkward conversation; or something your Mom might have said at Thanksgiving when the turkey was finally done and it was time to eat.

It is even more significant because of who is saying it. Think about it like this: replay your favorite tough guy movies and their corresponding famous movie lines. Picture John Wayne with his slow drawl, saying, “Go ahead. Make my day.” Clint Eastwood, his hand hovering over his holster, “Ask yourself, do you feel lucky?” The Terminator peering over his 80s sunglasses warning, “I’ll be back.”

Those guys made their lines credible. Try to imagine Pee Wee Herman or Justin Bieber saying, “I’ll be back.” It just doesn’t work. It’s not believable. Sometimes the person speaking is more important than the words being said; the person, by virtue of who they are, gives what’s being said greater gravitas.

But what I believe makes these the most important words in the Bible is not only the words themselves or who said them, but the circumstances in which these words are spoken.

Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man who left heaven and lived a sinless life on earth, is being crucified by his creation. He has gone to the cross willingly, knowing this is part of God the Father’s plan to reconcile humankind to himself. He is taking upon himself the sins of the world, becoming as it were a liar, thief, adulterer, rapist, and murderer. As one theologian put it, “On the cross Jesus became everything that’s bad about us, so we could become everything that’s good about him.”

Right before he dies, he breathes out these words, “It is finished.”

It’s finished. It’s taken care of. You can’t do anything because everything’s already been done for you. But can you believe that?

Can you believe in the finality and totality of Christ’s work on the cross on your behalf? Even when you want to earn it or at least play some small role in getting it, can you just believe? Even when you keep sinning and don’t seem to be progressing, can you still believe?

It. Is. Finished.

Those three words changed the world. They’re still changing the world.

How have they changed your life?

Every Christian knows we are saved by grace, that we can’t earn righteousness in God’s eyes. We know it, and we laugh at the silliness of someone trying to work their way to heaven.

But then, far too often, we catch ourselves trying to earn favor with God, trying to earn God’s approval, striving to work our way into God’s good graces. Ironic, isn’t it?

Brennan Manning, one of my all-time favorite authors and speakers, gives us some critical insight into this.
(Transcript below the video.)

In the 48 years since I was first ambushed by Jesus, in a little chapel in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania, and in literally thousands of hours of prayers, meditation, silence and solitude over those years, I am now utterly convinced that on Judgment Day the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question,

“Did you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day? That I longed to hear the sound of your voice?”

The real believers there will answer, “Yes, Jesus, I believed in your love and I tried to shape my life as a response to it.”

But many of us who are so faithful in our ministry, in our practice, in our churchgoing, are gonna have to reply, “Well frankly, no, sir. I mean I never really believed it. I mean I heard a lot of wonderful sermons and teachings about it. In fact, I gave quite a few myself. But I always thought that was just a way of speaking, a kindly lie, some Christian’s pious pat on the back to cheer me on.”

And there’s the difference between the real believers and the nominal Christians that are found in our churches across the land.

No one can measure like a believer the depth and the intensity of God’s love, but at the same time no one can measure like a believer the effectiveness of our gloom, pessimism, low self-esteem, self-hatred and despair that block God’s way to us.

Do you see why it is so important to lay hold of this basic truth of our faith? Because you’re only going to be as big as your own concept of God.

Remember the famous line of the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal? “God made man in His own image, and man returned the compliment.” We often make God in our own image and he winds up to be as fussy, rude, narrow-minded, legalistic, judgmental, unforgiving, and unloving as we are.

In the past couple three years I’ve preached the Gospel… (all over the world) … and honest to God, the God of so many Christians I meet is a God who is too small for me, because he is not the God of the Word, he is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ who this moment comes right to your seat and says,

“I have a word for you.

I know your whole life story. I know every skeleton in your closet. I know every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty and degraded love that has darkened your past. Right now, I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship.

And my word is this:

I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are and not as you should be, because you’re never gonna be as you should be.”

This is our rendition of the Lifehouse “Everything” drama our youth performed for the wonderful people of the Dominican Republic. Not so easy to see what’s going on, but they did a great job!

Can you identify with any parts of this girl’s story? Have you run to Jesus for rescue?