You may have seen this video. It's been all over Facebook. I love it. I saved it to a Pinterest board for when the boys are older. I'm surprised by the number and variety of Facebook friends who posted it. I'm intrigued because I think almost every believer I know would say this guy is right on. More Jesus. Less religion. But if we overwhelmingly agree, why does the American church suck at this so spectacularly? Why do I suck at this so spectacularly? I've had snatches of JESUS > religion in my life, by I inevitably gravitate toward rules and performance. The answers I've come up with so far are religion is familiar and Jesus is hard - simple but hard.
Religion is "spiritual capitalism."* It's getting good church grades and being better than enough other people. We're soaked in it from birth. I'm an American, I've been performing for gold stars since I could grab one with my chubby little hand and stick it to my shirt, and my spiritual life has so often been just another place to dance. Am I doing enough - praying enough, reading the Bible enough, teaching my kids enough, serving enough... Religion is comfortable. It just takes faith and makes it like everything else in my life where I'm trying to be good enough.
But if religion is my comfortable armchair, and Jesus is rock scrambling on a beautiful day, once I've experienced the beauty and exhilaration of the hike, why do I find myself back in the armchair over and over and over and over again?
I was reading about Solomon recently and was struck by how well he started and how poorly he finished. He wanted the things of God. What happened? I don't think he stopped wanting to be faithful, he just wanted some other stuff, too. Saying yes to things that probably seemed neutral to him at the time, actually meant saying no to God.
Choosing Jesus is hard - simple but hard. Seriously, there's TV in there with the armchair. I can do internet shopping and eat all my favorite food.** It seems like, in theory, I should be able to take all that stuff with me on the hike because, really, if I'm excited about the hike and willing to go, who cares if I bring my favorite snacks. But it turns out that saying yes to all that "innocuous" stuff is actually saying no to the cool hike, so the comfortable, if slightly stinky, chair is really my only option.
So, it's not so much that I want religion and not Jesus. It's that I want Jesus plus a lot of other stuff, too. And that's not what following Jesus IS. So I inevitably end back at religion without Jesus, ad nauseum.
Romans 7:17 - 25, The Message
17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.24I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?25The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
*The term, "spiritual capitalism," is stolen from a wonderful daily meditation that a friend sent me and I have since lost.
** I wish these were more metaphorical.