Lost in the Deep Woods of Religiosity

Amid a thick wood stood a big tent. Inside was a stage with many chairs, upon which sat a number of prim and proper looking people. A man in a stiff black suit and tie marched up to a microphone, followed by a lady in a fluffy pink dress and pointy red heels.

The man stood like a board as he spoke into the microphone. “Hello, I’m Doug.”

“And I’m Daisy,” said the woman with a plastic-looking smile. “Welcome, perfect pew sitters, to our ‘Chills that Thrill Dance Studio.’ We have come here to your church to teach you how to trick the evil forces in your lives with moves that no one understands, not even us. Now, let’s all stand straight as boards as we hum an introductory hymn. MMM… MMM… MMM.” She stood straight and tall, as if leading everybody in the pledge of allegiance. Shivers ran up and down their spines as they copied her. Then she raised her hand and whistled to get everyone’s attention. Ten seconds of silence followed as the congregation closed their eyes for a moment of silent well wishing.

Doug held up a stiff book with a black cover. “Now, folks, it’s time to get to business. This here is the instruction manual, see? Everybody bow your heads and close your eyes in reverence as I open it. Okay, you can open them now. Isn’t it amazing? I just opened the book to the very first page, which says that the proper way to start the dance service is to leap from your seats and yell ‘Hurray! It’s as you say!’ So, come on. Let’s all stand up and do it together.”

Everyone leapt up and shouted the words in perfect harmony, like good little Christian robots.

Before they finished jumping, Daisy told them to sit down. “The second line says ‘Stand and stretch,’ so that’s what you must do. Follow our instructions to the letter.’”

Most people in the audience didn’t understand what such predictable moves had to do with outwitting evil forces, but they did the stretches obediently as they were told.

Doug and Daisy demonstrated how to do each move, even as they barked orders. “Bend down and touch your toes! Bop your neighbor on the nose. Twist to your left, turn to your right. Now, lock elbows with all your might.”

It was like an old-fashioned square dance foisted on school children to make them suffer.

“Now make sure you memorize all these moves perfectly,” said Daisy, with a click of her red heels. “Because there will be a long, exhaustive quiz at the end.”

“It’s all in the footnotes on the bottom of this page,” said Doug, holding up the book for all to see. “The footnotes teach your feet the proper notes to hit. Now, everybody clap ten times and do a handstand.”

Nobody could see the notes, so they did their best to copy Doug. Not many people could do the handstands, but they tried their best, resulting in many a sprained wrist and bad back. As the instructions droned on, the moves became increasingly complex. The dancers were told to do things like:

“Turn to your partner and bray,” “Turn to your partner and neigh,” and “Turn to your partner and sprinkle him with Old Bay.”

Daisy really got into that last one. Her heels squeaked like rusty hinges as she shouted, “Come on, pew sitters! Shake your hands over each other’s heads as if you just can’t get enough Old Bay on them. Show us dance instructors that you respect our rules. You will be forced to do them until you get it right!”

It took the outdoor church goers an hour to do the motions. Then a bunch of hoops were brought out. Everyone had to line up and jump through the hoops like tigers. In the end, they were exhausted. But hey, they’d done their duty. They came to church, they listened carefully, they did all the moves they were told to do, and now they were ready to forget them all and go about their business, inspired for the week but completely unchanged.

“Now that’s what I call a doggone down-to-earth religious workout,” Doug told Daisy. “I can’t wait to do it all again next week. Can you?”

 

Be of Good Cheer

“My son, I say, be of good cheer. Your sins have been forgiven.”

Oh, what uplifting words to the poor paralyzed man were given!

No more sack cloth or ashes, for God’s strength was found in joy.

God’s grace did not depend upon him being a good boy.

 

His clapping friends above upon the shattered roof were smiling,

The righteous man had seen their faith, though others were reviling.

Their inward thoughts heaped tons of dirt upon the Lord of glory.

What happened next put even more excitement in the story.

 

The startled crowd that stood inside the house began to mumble,

With voices too hushed to be heard, “Our teacher isn’t humble!”

“To think that he can pardon sins! His mind must not be steady.”

Before the words had left their lips, he had his answer ready.

 

“What’s easier? To forgive him or to tell him ‘rise and walk’?”

With confidence and truth, he answered their unspoken talk.

The quiet murmurers drew back in shock. How could this be?

How did he get inside their minds? It came so suddenly!

 

His unexpected “snappy answer” took them by surprise.

They fell off their proverbial chairs and rubbed wide open eyes

To find themselves thrown off their high and mighty babbling tower

As Jesus, with one bold, swift move, made His Word known with power.

 

“Arise, pick up your mat, and go back to your house today,”

He told the man, who saw he had no choice but to obey.

He stood up with a shout, all smiles, jumped up off the floor,

Picked up his mat, sidestepped the cat, and walked straight out the door.

 

To those who say God ruins fun, I beg to disagree.

See how He healed the crippled man and made the blind to see!

For, if the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.

Or must somebody wreck a roof that you might see your need?

 

 

 

Entertaining or Training (In Righteousness)?

Dimmed lights enhance the atmosphere, but where’s the Sabbath rest?

Are we in church for entertainment or do we want God’s best?

What is the goal of worship? Is it to train for spiritual war

Or to do religious motions? What have we come here for?

 

It’s fun to please the masses and attract them to our church,

But have we truly led them to the Christ for whom they search?

We know God’s Word is powerful to save, deliver, heal,

But if it doesn’t show His love, then what does that reveal?

 

“You’ve made the scriptures to have no effect through your tradition,”

Jesus told the men bound in religious superstition.

God’s Word was in their minds but yet it wasn’t in their heart.

The Holy Spirit’s presence they neglected to impart.

 

Though in the seat of Moses, a position of respect,

They had no power to cast out demons, heal, or resurrect.

When Jesus healed the man who suffered from a withered hand,

They hated His authority. To have Him killed they planned.

 

And what if He should suddenly appear within our church?

Would we like how we’ve portrayed the One for whom the sheep do thirst?

For if we say “believe for wonders” but don’t show them many,

Aren’t some likely to conclude, “They really haven’t any”?

Bucking Religious Tradition

God wasn’t in the crashing drums or squeaky, loud guitar.

He wasn’t in the microphone that set my ears ajar.

He wasn’t in the whirlwind of religious-sounding prayer,

Or the fancy pictures on the screen that they put there.

He wasn’t in the “Clap now,” “Stand now,” “Sit down in your chair.”

 

He wasn’t in the motions they commanded us to do

Or the bright thundering video announcements, not a few.

He wasn’t in the vain, robotic “Say this after me.”

He wasn’t in the flashy lights (I counted twenty-three).

He wasn’t in the fanfare or the sparkling pageantry.

 

The only place that I could find Him was upon one knee,

As I ignored the sights and sounds and worshiped fervently.

While listening to the message, I asked God for clarity,

And in the stillness of my heart, I heard Him speak to me.

“I want to share a meal with you. Now share a meal with me.”

 

And as the flashy lights faded into obscurity,

I closed my eyes and tuned my ears to heaven’s symphony

Which resonates the praises of the One who set us free.

The words upon the screen took on new meaning just for me

As I spent some time alone with Him in all simplicity.