Religion is not a four letter word.

I’m not too familiar with Jeff Bethke.  And if you somehow have been living under a rock and missed his spoken word piece, which has gone viral this week, you can see it here.  My hope in writing is not to tear down a Christian brother.  My heart is telling me that Jeff loves Christ, that he longs to be Christlike, and that he is very talented (which may be part of the reason people listen past what he is really saying).

The definition of religion has changed over the past years, this I understand.  There are people who see the religious structure as a legalistic hypocrisy.  There are people who call themselves Christian, possible attend church on Sunday, and yet don’t live as Christians at all.  And so a shift begins.  People who are religious sever ties with the term and cling to the core of what makes the structure beautiful.  This isn’t the answer to our problems though.

If it wasn’t for ‘religion’ I wouldn’t be blessed with a new pastor who has come to a broken church family and lovingly said to us, “We will mend this together”.  If it wasn’t for ‘religion’ I wouldn’t be blessed with elders who guide and lead me in a gentle and loving manner so that I do not stumble in my walk.  If it wasn’t for ‘religion’ I wouldn’t be blessed with a denomination, who in the wake of my young husband’s death, came around me to help with the physical, spiritual, and financial needs of my family.  I wouldn’t have a small group of women who I consider sisters.  I wouldn’t have a place to worship our God, who I love so much.

Let us not so quickly forget that Jesus was religious; a very devout Jew.  And so, I too, am religious.  I would like to say I’m not a hypocrite and that I’m a Christian the other six days of the week, but as Paul says in Romans, “For I don’t do the good I want to do, but instead do the evil that I don’t want to do.”  I do the best I can, but it is far from perfect.  This doesn’t mean I’m ready to throw the baby out with the bath water.

My fear is that we are trying to have an internal conversation with the whole world.  It is not that what Jeff, and others, have been saying for some time doesn’t have relevance in a changing world.  I understand people have been hurt by the structure we have built, and for those who have been I am sorry.  Do we take that pain and turn people away from the church though?  I think the answer is to build communities that don’t hurt.  Communities that when hurt does happen grace and forgiveness is worked through together.  These communities do exsist, I am part of one.

We can not undermine the importance of our communities, and I don’t believe that is what Christ wants for us.  We must tread lightly when we label people, and it doesn’t matter the label that you use … religious/legalistic, orthodox/heretic, conservative/liberal, Republican/Democrat, Catholic/Evangelical . . . Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female.

You see, because we are all one in Christ Jesus.  And a label is ALWAYS a label, no matter how trendy it might be.

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I Smell Good To God

I love the feeling of coming across a Bible verse that you never knew was there, but sure enough it was there all along. This happened to me in church today. We are in the midst of a sermon series titled A New Creation. This week we discussed the idea of the new covenant, and referenced 2 Corinthians 2. Here is the verse that caught my attention:

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

Often we underscore the sense of smell. If we had to give up one of our senses, with the alternatives of being blind or deaf, most of us would probably choose scent. But here is Paul, describing the body of Christ, as a sweet scent to God. How amazing.

And although we often undermine our gift of scent there is nothing else like it. Imagine you are at home and your children are away at the grandparents. Although the quiet is a beautiful thing, and it’s the first time you’ve gotten anything done in weeks, you still ache a little in your separation. You are doing laundry and as you go to throw your little one’s blankie in the washer it grabs you. That scent. You know the one … baby soft skin, sour milk, and Johnson and Johnson’s tear free baby wash. At that moment it takes all one has to contain themselves.

It has happened with my late husband, Matt, too. I remember clearly in the weeks after his death when I was acutely aware that his scent was leaving every last item I had of his. It was painful, but what was more emotional than that was coming across a box months later of his things. Opening the box, that I had packed, assuming it was nothing more than clothes now. Opening that box of t-shirts and for just a moment he was there. He was making me laugh; making Evelyn laugh. I grabbed at the shirts fruitlessly trying to identify the exact place the smell was coming from. Before I knew it the smell was gone. As if opening the box had just allowed the aroma to drift out and away.

We can be those emotionally charged scents to God. When we live our lives according to the Holy Spirit’s leading we send that drifting sweet smell straight up to God. And it says, we smell to God like Christ. We smell like his child.

This idea has me blown away today. I wish to smell good to God. I wish to smell of Christ (Which makes me wonder just how did Jesus smell?). The idea further discussed in the sermon was how, in the new covenant, we find freedom. Freedom, in this case, to smell the way you want. By listening to the Holy Spirit and being reminded to repent when told, to go when told, and to wait when told we have an opportunity to bring an unending sort of joy to God that only the ability of sweet scents, filled with memories and love, have the capability to do.

Yes, I want to smell good to God indeed.