I love airplanes. That‚Äôs because I love meeting people and getting to know them. And when you‚Äôre locked in an airplane for two hours, you‚Äôve got a captive audience right next to you. In the past, I‚Äôve led with ‚ÄúHi, my name‚Äôs Alex and I‚Äôm a pastor‚ÄĚ and let the conversation be defined by that. But recently, I‚Äôve realized that may actually end up being a conversation stopper. So, I like to just get to know the person, find out what they do and what they‚Äôre interested in. Ninety-nine percent of the time the conversation comes around to God and religion without me ever revealing my occupation.
The best way to stop a conversation short is by being judgmental and ‚Äúreligious.
I think we as Christians have a reputation as conversation stoppers. When we engage people on the other side of an issue, most of the time, the conversation doesn‚Äôt end the way we want it to. It gets stopped short or our side of the issue ends up being misrepresented. And that‚Äôs largely our fault. We prefer to be heard, as opposed to actually listening. We want the benefit of the doubt, but we‚Äôre reluctant to give it. Instead, we lead with our idea of what‚Äôs right and wrong ‚Äď our belief ‚Äď instead of leading with love.
The best way to stop a conversation short is by being judgmental and ‚Äúreligious.‚ÄĚ By that, I mean we come off as confrontational and condemning, rather than relational and loving.
Religion, for me, is a man-made path to God. That‚Äôs how I define it in my new book. It‚Äôs a list of things we do or don‚Äôt do that will either make God happy or make him mad. When we go down that dead end of religion, we usually end up judging others based on their behavior.
The name of my aforementioned book is "Jesus Hates Religion." With a title like that I‚Äôve had to field quite a few questions. ‚ÄúCan Jesus really hate?‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúIsn‚Äôt Jesus himself religious?‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúWhy would Jesus hate religion?‚ÄĚ I think the answer to nearly all of these questions goes to the core of who Jesus really is. He‚Äôs about love and relationship, not rules and religion.
Now, James 1:27 defends religion. It says that religious people will help those in need, especially orphans and widows. But it‚Äôs very interesting that of the four times in the New Testament that the word ‚Äúreligion‚ÄĚ is used, this is the only time it‚Äôs used in a positive way.
James is saying that religion can be good and helpful, but not always and certainly not usually. The whole idea of the book of James is that ‚Äúfaith without works is dead.‚ÄĚ But he‚Äôs not saying the opposite, that ‚Äúworks without faith is alive.‚ÄĚ He says that he can show you his faith through his works, but faith has to be there first. Which is the same argument that Paul makes in Ephesians 2:8-9 -- that we don‚Äôt and can‚Äôt do anything to gain God‚Äôs love and grace. It‚Äôs a free gift!
Religion, the man-made path to God, says the opposite. Religion says that if I work hard enough and strive high enough, I can eventually get to God on my own merits. But that‚Äôs getting the whole thing backwards. Nothing we do ‚Äď our behavior, our beliefs, our best efforts ‚Äď will ever make us good enough to approach God. The only way that happens is through grace.
Dr. Alex Himaya is the author of "Jesus Hates Religion: Finding Grace in a Works Driven Culture" and founding and Senior Pastor of theCHURCH at BattleCreek, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is one of the fastest growing churches in America, having grown from 120 to over 5,500 in just eight years. Himaya received his bachelor's degree from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas and his Masters degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. He finished his Doctorate in Church Growth and Evangelism in May 2002.