Monthly Archives: November 2013

Escape from the Box Life (Part 4)

Religion is a deadly and deceptive box. It promises everything but provides nothing It promises that if we know enough about God it is the same as knowing God. I believed this lie for a long, long time. Please allow me to share a personal testimony from my own experience of just how deadly religion is.

In 1998, I had just gone on staff at a large church. I was in my second year of pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree, having completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Pastoral Theology at a well-respected Bible college. I was forty-two years old and had been a believer for thirty-two years. I had been saved as a child of eight in a little Methodist church near my home. I had grown up in church, baptized as a believer in a neighbor’s lake, and re-baptized when my family joined the local Baptist church (in those days if you joined from a different denomination they re-baptized you to make sure it was done correctly—that’s religion at its finest!).

I was involved in Sunday School, a youth group, mission trips, retreats, conferences, and evangelistic outreaches. We went to church every time the doors were open. Later as an adult, I sensed God’s calling and eventually at the age of thirty entered the gospel ministry. I was licensed and ordained to preach by the Baptist church.

Over time, the doors opened for me to get some theological training. I studied systematic theology, Greek, Hebrew, church history, hermeneutics, and homiletics. I read the early church fathers like Irenaeus, Athanaius, Chrysotom, and Augustine.  I studied the reformers like Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli. I dug into the writings of Wesley, Whitefield, and the sermons of Spurgeon I was constantly reading books written by conservative writers and scholars.

I had memorized verses from the Bible and read it through several times. I had outlined many of the biblical books and had a folder bulging at the seams with exegetical sermons and lesson series developed over long hours of intense Bible study. I had done countless word studies tracing biblical words and concepts back into their original languages for their meaning.  I knew all kinds of biblical facts, figures, and dates. I had a head full of knowledge.

Through my years of study, I had become an arrogant, biblical conservative with a cessationist theology. I could and would argue my prideful position and belief system at the drop of a hat. My theology could explain what God could and would do and what he could or would not do. It was a neatly package system I had developed.

I thought I knew all kind of things about God, but I realized I didn’t really know God. I was a dry as a mouthful of desert dust. I was spiritually empty—hungry and thirsty for something (really it was someone) I could not find no matter how hard I worked or how much I did. I was saturated in religion with a head full of knowledge, but an empty heart.

I knew a lot about God, but I began to wonder if I really knew God. Religion, at this point, just pushed me to do more—to be better. But I began to question everything—except my salvation because I knew at eight years of age I had experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ. So I began to cry out to God in desperation for more than I was finding in my tiny religious box.

One Sunday night as we (the pastors) were praying for the sick and for those who had needs, I heard the Holy Spirit speak in my spirit. He said very clearly, “You have a spirit of religion, but I want to give you a relationship with me. If you will surrender, I will lead you out of religion and into the freedom of relationship in the Father’s heart.” Here I was, a pastor, praying over people to be healed and I was sicker than they were.

That night I confessed it to my pastor and the staff, and one of them prayed for me. As he prayed, God opened the lid on my religious box and lifted me out and he has been leading me on a relational journey for the past fifteen years.  He set me free. He has blown my safe little theological box of religion into bits. God has shown me over and over how narrow-minded and ignorant I was about his limitless character and nature. He is constantly expanding my belief system and purging my mind and heart of the garbage, lies, misinterpretations, bad theology, lack of faith, and unbelief I was drowning it. The more I learn about God—the more I realize how little I really know.

The more of God I taste, the more of God I want. He has given me an insatiable appetite for his presence and power. I want God—nothing more and nothing less. I want all God has for me—nothing more and nothing less. God is far bigger than I ever imagined and getting bigger each day.

Religion provided me with a system to construct a tiny god of my own making, who could only do what I believed he could do. Relationship has given me an ongoing experience with the living God who loves me for who he created me to be. I no longer have to fit into a religious system—to look like that system demands—to preach and teach what that particular system deems acceptable—to act like that system dictates—to strive and strive and hope what I do or say is good enough. No, Jesus made it good enough at the cross and in faith I am walking that out.

I no longer fit in a religious box and the box does not fit me—not because I’m a rebel or a non-conformist. No, I don’t fit in the box because God did not create me for a box life.

…And neither were you!

Escape from the Box Life (Part 3)

Revelation destroys the box of religion. God’s original plan was and still is a revelation of both a corporate and personal relationship. God’s desire was to build a people for himself one person at a time. God has revealed himself through the revelation of the Scripture. Genesis 1:1 opens with this mind-blowing revelation—“In the beginning, God. . . .” There is no explanation of God, just a revelation of God. He is! He exists! How? He is pre-existent—meaning he was here before time, or space or the world began. We can only know this by a revelation from God because religion has no credible eye witness avaible.

Revelation is God’s communication of truth to man so that we can be properly related to God. Religion, on the other hand, is man’s attempt to invent a god in our own image. Revelation is God declaring to us exactly who he is, but religion is us telling God who we are and who we want him to be.

Religion is a box, and a box by its very nature is limited. God’s revelation is limitless, meaning it will not fit in the nice neat confines of any box. Since the beginning when man and woman were created, God has not ceased to reveal his desire for relationship with each of us. He created them in his image and likeness so they might respond to his love and express the same kind of love back to him. You were created in the same image and likeness. He is not interested in how much you can do for him, but rather how much he can do for, in, and through you—if you will allow him.

That’s why God sent his Son Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of who God is, how he thinks, how he acts, and what he looks like in flesh and blood. Jesus came to destroy all the hideous caricatures religion had painted and labeled as God. With his coming, he gave us an accurate representation of God to worship and love.

But, this revelation must be received through faith by grace. Revelation tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him (God), for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Just knowing about God is not enough we must know—must intimately experience—must purposely seek after him.

Religion is built on rituals and rules, but relationship is birthed in an experience with God. Once you experience God’s touch your tiny religious box will no longer be able to hold you. It will disintegrate—blown to bits by the power of God.

Escape from the Box Life (Part 2)

Religion is one of the most dangerous boxes a follower of Christ can find themselves trapped in. Barricaded in this box, we find ourselves limited by boundaries and restrictions God did not place upon us.

Religion, when defined, is nothing more than people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity and his divine involvement in their universe and human life. It is an institutionalized or personal system of belief, with the key word being system.

Religion is man-developed, man-centered, and based on man’s beliefs and opinions. It is filled with endless rules, regulations, customs, rituals, duties, and expectations, which are nothing more than ways to measure a person’s strength or ability to do something on their own. Humans created religion to measure their own accomplishments. At the heart of religion is man, not God.

Religion is an empty box void of God with two deadly extremes. On the left wall of the box is the mantra that you must work harder and harder to chase the vaporous belief that it will make you better and more worthy of God’s love. Sadly, this is like a dog chasing its tail because you can never do enough to be good enough. You can’t measure up especially when you never know what good enough really is.

On the left face of the box is inscribed the belief that if you do the rituals correctly and keep all the rules perfectly you somehow become better than all the rest. It is a false sense of superiority and a deceptive sense of possessing some kind of super-spirituality that separates you from the rest of the crowd and makes you elite—one of God’s special ones.

Neither is true. Both create bondage—the former imprisons the soul and the latter incarcerates the mind. Religion is a dead-end box—a prison cell that places your abilities or capabilities at the center of your worship rather than God.

Revelation is the only key that can release a person from religion’s box!

Escape from the Box Life (Part 1)

Do you ever feel like you’re trapped in an invisible box and there seems to be no way of escape? Most Christians are even though Jesus came to set humanity free from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil. Most know this in their head but have yet to experience these benefits in their heart. Most never experience the liberty to be the person God created them to be. Most never experience a genuine relationship with God. Instead, they live in what I call a box—that is they live a box life.

Technically a box is a six-sided container with a top, a bottom, and four sides. A box is a container—it contains or limits the movements of whatever is placed in it. In the physical realm boxes are all around us. We live in a box called a house, an apartment, a condo, or a manufactured home. We shop in boxes called stores. We travel in boxes called automobiles, buses, taxis, trains, boats, and airplanes. If you work inside, you work in a box. If you have a cubicle you work in a box within a box. And eventually all of us will likely be buried in a box called a coffin, which will be placed in a box called a vault, and interned in a box called a grave. Boxes are our constant companion from the cradle to the grave.

But—God never intended for his kids to live a box life. His plan did not include emotional, relational, intellectual, philosophical, and most of all—spiritual boxes. These are the invisible boxes most of us find ourselves trapped in.

This invisible box is anything that limits God in your life or limits your ability or willingness to follow God wherever he leads.  This unseen box is the border of your comfort zone. It is also the outer edge of your faith. You know where the perimeter of your box is and you will do everything in your power to stay away from its boundaries. It’s not comfortable there because it’s too close to the unknown and most people hate the unknown.

Some of you exist in teeny-tiny boxes that are so tight and cramped you can’t even breathe or relax, always fearing someone might find out who you really are, what you really believe, or how you really look on the inside. Perhaps you live in a more spacious box with a bit more room, but the truth is—a box is still a box. It provides a modicum of protection but it also limits you. It contains you. It keeps you from becoming all that God intended and it prevents you from experiencing the limitless grace and love that God has for you.

We build these boxes to protect ourselves or hide ourselves or to keep others away from our wounded hearts and broken spirits. We build them to contain our treasures, attitudes, knowledge, experiences, theologies, world views, and belief systems. At first, the box seems spacious—just what the doctor ordered. But over time, it tends to close in, restricting and even choking us. It cuts off the blood flow to our brain, and we become entrenched with attitudes and beliefs and create a world we think we will be happy in. In this make-believe world we also create a god who fits perfectly and even resembles our image and likeness. But without the inflow of blood, by that I mean the discovery of new truths, or experiences, or successes and failures, or victories and defeats, we develop varicose brains.

Over time, we become hard-headed and hard-hearted. This leads eventually to fear, or arrogance, or jealousy, or shame, or loneliness, or depression, which is death on the inside of the box. The box we’ve built to protect us soon becomes a prison cell that entraps us or a grave that entombs us. It shuts us in and God out!

God never created you to experience a box life!