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The Problem With Religion

I’ve had the intense thrill of following Jesus for fifty years, through exuberant times and challenging seasons.


To the uninitiated, it’s hard to explain how Someone you can’t see or touch or hear—at least in sensory ways—could have such a remarkable grip on a twenty-something’s heart and then hold it for decades. In my case, it turns out it wasn’t a passing fad or fancy, much to the chagrin of some of my friends back then. I can say without reservation that God has been a very good Father to me, a relationship fueled by his grace.


But here’s the problem.


The nuanced differences between religion and relationship are hard to explain to those outside of a faith-experience. As I write this, the Mideast is inflamed (again) with a combustible mix of nationalism, power, politics and, of course, religion—the ingredient often brightest in the media spotlight. Perhaps religion is no longer “the opiate of the masses” as Marx famously wrote; rather, it’s the meth of the masses that inflames raging internecine conflicts.


In our own country, politics and religion are firing up again in our primary cycle, and the blurring of the two fuels a religious/nationalistic fervor.


In the average person’s attempt to discern the seemingly subtle differences between religious parties and sects, phonies and purists, filled with hypocrites and hucksters, maybe Jesus’ short story of the wheat and tares becomes more interesting. I’m no farmer, but it reads as if wheat and tares—or rye grass—look remarkably similar in the early stages of growth. But apparently in the end, the skilled harvester makes the distinction, excising the tares like a destructive cancer in the cells of humanity.


I’m glad that’s not my job.


Jesus implied that the differences between the genuine and those exploiting it are difficult for the untrained heart to differentiate, or worse, make the real thing appear ridiculous.


I would advise this: read Matthew 5, 6 and 7. It’s Jesus’ most famous message—the sermon on the mount. The lifestyle-call he invites his followers into is remarkably revolutionary. It’s filled with relational challenges that force us to lean into the power of the Holy Spirit in order to practice and live it out. And yet, he promises at the end of his message that those who exercise what he mandates as the Kingdom of God ethic, will experience a firmness and rootedness through the storms of life:


“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.”   MATTHEW 7:24-25 THE MESSAGE


Perhaps the Wheat/Tares Discernment Test may be best understood as this: does the supposed “religious” person exude the ethics and morality Jesus describes in his sermon? If not, then pay no attention to them in terms of what they demand and rant; they are not representatives of the Kingdom of God, no matter how religious their rhetoric.


Or perhaps our job as leaders is not telling our listeners who’s in and who’s out, but rather promoting a Kingdom of God “ethos-rebirth” in them.


Just a thought.



Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


Have you checked out the Elemental Leaders podcast? Over 30 thirty-minute episodes with challenging topics and inspiring interviews...along with our Fastbreak shows filled with encouragement and thought-provoking ideas for better leadership...all in less than 5 minutes! Find them wherever you get your podcasts or at the Elemental Group website.


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