Should I Stay or Should I Go?

One of the wonderful, amazing things about people is their variety. God has created us with different personalities and placed us into different environments, with different people surrounding and influencing us. He has given us unique stories to shape us as we grow in Him.

It’s no wonder that we have such different tastes and preferences, and this variety truly is the spice of life. But it comes at a cost. As Christians, we worship one God, accept one Lord and Saviour of our lives, but we have so many different ways of expressing our love for Him that to the outsider – and maybe to the insider too – it can sometimes seem like our beliefs are totally different too.

Do you prefer to worship just with voices? With timbrel and harp? With a pipe organ? An acoustic guitar? A rock band? Do you like your service to follow a set format, even a standardised liturgy? Or should it be free to follow the movement of the Holy Spirit?

And what do you want from your sermon? How do you want to be preached to? Again there are many forms and styles, and I’ve heard a few of them. The truth is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of sermon, just as there is no ‘best’ way to worship, or to organise a Sunday service.

If you’ve been asking yourself questions about life, and what it’s all about, and if this has led you to a church, but you haven’t felt comfortable, don’t assume that this means Christianity isn’t for you. Please believe me when I say that Jesus does love you, and wants a relationship with you. Is there anyone in the world who could honestly say they don’t like music? I think not. If someone who had been deprived of music all their life was introduced to The Beatles and told “this is music – how do you like it?” How would they react? Of course we don’t know, because it might touch them deeply, or it might just sound like a cacophony to them. But would they be right to dismiss all music as a result? No, they could try a different style – many different styles – and I’m sure they would find several that fit just perfectly to their taste and sensibilities. So if you’re uncomfortable in one church, find another with a different style. And if that one isn’t right, try another. Eventually you’ll find one that really connects you to Jesus, and that will be an awesome day!

If you were brought up in church and you’re heartily sick of it, does that mean you’ve ‘outgrown’ Christianity? Does it mean it was never meant for you in the first place? No it doesn’t. How many of us have the same musical tastes as our parents? There may be a little crossover, but probably not much. Through our early years we have no choice but to listen to what our parents play, and when we get a chance to rebel against it, we usually do; but by cutting music out of our lives? I don’t think so! Nor do we have to cut Jesus out of our lives if the way He has been introduced to us doesn’t feel relevant anymore. No, look for a church with a different angle, a different style, one that fits you – and that church is out there.

If you have been attending a church for some time, and found it fulfilling, but now it feels stale, or just wrong for some other reason, then it’s maybe not wise to jump ship so quickly. Here is an article that provides good food for thought in those circumstances: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/07/23/good-reasons-for-moving-on/. Ultimately though, I would say this is a time for prayer and contemplating the will of God in your life. Any reason to move on is right if it is God’s reason.

I want to add one caveat to everything I’ve just said. I’ve spoken a lot about what is basically finding a church that fits you. I think this is very different to finding a religion/faith/worldview that fits you. The former is vital for your spiritual growth, pursuing the latter could be disastrous.

Although I believed in God, creator of the universe, for as long as I can remember, it took me a long time to find my life in Christ. I spent many years in a wilderness looking for a religion that fitted me. That was of course a doomed project. The only way to succeed would be to create my own religion and fill it with my own truth. It’s been done before, and it’s almost becoming a desirable goal in today’s relativistic, secular society. See this excellent article for a discussion of the problem: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/february/dear-rihanna-your-truth-wont-set-you-free.html?paging=off.

When I opened my mind and heart to listen to Jesus I didn’t understand everything I was hearing from Him. And when I gave my life to Him I didn’t like everything He asked me to do. Being a Christian isn’t about God fitting around your will, it’s about you fitting around God’s will, or as the apostle Paul said far more eloquently: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Don’t expect any church to make you feel great and comfortable and righteous all the time. If it does then there’s something seriously wrong. A good church, like the indwelling Holy Spirit, is also there to make you uncomfortable sometimes, to convict you when your imperfect will contradicts God’s. But a good church will be one that helps you connect with Christ at the times when you feel disconnected, and one that draws you deeper into Him at all times, because its style fits yours and you don’t get distracted by the wrong type of music or the wrong kind of preaching.

A final thought. Your church may change, and you certainly should change, but “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

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The “R” Word

In March 2011 I sat down to complete my UK Census form. For the most part it was straightforward and uncontroversial, but then I reached a question and my heart sank. I had to make a decision about whether to lie or to express my beliefs.

I chose to lie.

What question could cause me such a dilemma? Why would I lie? Here is the question:

20 What is your religion?

  • No religion
  • Christian (including Church of England, Catholic, Protestant and all other Christian denominations)
  • Buddhist
  • Hindu
  • Jewish
  • Muslim
  • Sikh
  • Any other religion, write in ____________________________

Ever since I was saved, and for a short while before that, I’ve had it drummed into me, from preachers, from God’s word in the New Testament, and from the Holy Spirit’s influence within my heart and mind – that I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship with God through His Son and my Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is in Him, and my relationship with Him is what persuades me to do things that the world might consider “religious”. But to me, religion is the law, religion is doing what I’m told out of fear of consequences, religion is following traditions for their own sake, or to fit in to a group. It is so many wrong things.

I wrote about religion in my John Lennon post. I referred to what I consider to be Jesus’ response to that religion which I just described, found in Matthew 23, from verse 13. I don’t want any part of religion, and I don’t want to be thought of as religious.

I haven’t read any of his books yet, but whenever I’ve heard Richard Dawkins speak about his atheism, I can only recall him rallying against ‘religion’, rather than particular faiths. Yes, he will use an Old Testament example of his “evil God” idea, but the main thrust of his argument seems to be against religion in general, and the way he thinks it stops people from thinking critically or objectively because it forces people (especially vulnerable children) to accept blindly and unconditionally what the religious leaders tell them.

This isn’t the Christianity I recognise. I am expected to test the spirit of those who teach (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Hebrews 13:9, 1 John 4:1). I am expected to give the reason for the hope I have (1 Peter 3:15).

Maybe there was once a definition of religion that concerned itself with obedience to God’s commands out of the love of God – a reflection, or consequence, of our faith, rather than being its own purpose. Maybe this is the religion we see mentioned in the Bible, for example in James 1:26-27. But the definition in common use today seems very different.

So I was strongly tempted to answer the Census question with “No religion,” but I realised that this would be a hollow kind of protest against a poorly worded question. And I would be reducing the official count of Christians in the country, which definitely felt like a foolish thing to do. So I chose to read “religion” as “faith” and answered it accordingly.

I’m reminded of my Census quandary every time I read or hear the word “religion” in the media. And it still troubles me. But why do I have such a problem with the word? Am I just making a big fuss over nothing? Am I getting tied up in an argument about semantics and does it hinder me when I want to spread the good news of Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation? I think probably yes, and I think I need to get over it. I include “Religion” as a category for my posts because I think it is something people will search for. It hurts a bit to do so, but perhaps I’m making a start in my rehabilitation.

What do you think? Words are important, and we need to use them wisely, precisely, to be properly understood. Has religion become a barrier between man and God? Does the word “religion” and its connotations form another kind of barrier? Or is it commonly understood in a more positive light than I see it myself?