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Relationship, Not Religion

A homeless man woke up one morning, desperate for a change in his life. He was living on the street, addicted to meth amphetamine, and had no where to go. This desperation for change washed over him as he woke up after a long binge. He was craving change, community, help, and also another fix.

As he walked down the street in search of any of the former, he saw the front steps of an old church building. He watched as people were walking in the front door getting ready for the service to start. This was it. This was what he was looking for. So he started toward the steps. But before he could get in, he was confronted by the person attending to the door. He was asked if he needed something. His response was simple. He wanted to come in. Than man frowned, looked him up and down, and spoke the following phrases:

"You're going to need to cut your hair, take a shower, and cover up your tattoos. Then you can come back. We bring God our best around here."

This desperate man who woke up looking for hope that day, went on to find the next thing on his list. He found another fix. It would be three more years of sleepless nights, homelessness, and short stents in jail cells before this man would put drugs down. And it would be even longer before he trusted a church, or even a christian enough to show up to church.

What this man encountered was another person's standards for belonging. What he had encountered is a religion that was build on requirements. What this man experienced was rejection based on temporary circumstances that had nothing to do with God's love, God's grace, God's mercy, or God's ability to restore. Religion like this seeks to elevate some people over others. But that isn't how Jesus approaches us, even though He has a right too. 

When we look at how Jesus responds to encountering people in similar situations, we don't see Him tell them to go away and come back when they are cleaned up. What we see is Jesus cleaning them up so they can go a live differently! We see Jesus provide them with hope. He doesn't condone their short comings, but he doesn't condemn them either. He invites them into a relationship that allows them to move forward despite their past. And that is exactly what Jesus continues to do.

As a church, it is our responsibility to share this gospel, this good news. It is our responsibility to invite people into a relationship. To invite them to belong before they behave. Let's be a church who chooses relationship over religion. Let's choose to build relationships with people regardless of whether they "measure up" or not.

Take a look at what the apostle Paul says in his letter the church in Colossae. 

Colossians 2:16-3:8 The Message (MSG)

16-17 So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.

18-19 Don’t tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They’re a lot of hot air, that’s all they are. They’re completely out of touch with the source of life, Christ, who puts us together in one piece, whose very breath and blood flow through us. He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us.

20-23 So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention?
Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.

1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Relationship trumps religion, every time.