Man, I gotta get out more. Every time I get out into nature I remember what all I’ve been missing. I mean just look at all these colors! Writing my thoughts down helps me to stop and think. I love how the sunlight bursts through the trees. Talk about a religious experience. By the way, what comes to your mind when I say that word? Religion.
One definition I read defines it as a set of beliefs resulting in worship of a creator. In the middle of all this beautiful creation, I ‘very got to admit it makes me wonder about stuff like this. Speaking of Religion; Religion is bigger than ever. Not that it hasn’t always been big. When you look back at our history from The Reformation, Crusades, and even September 11th. Religion has always been a part of our history. I mean it’s the major driving force of our history. If you’re in America like me, you can’t get elected into office in politics unless you’re religious in some way. Even if you’re not you have to fake it to make it these days. Whether it’s some stem cell research debate or whether it’s a Jihad war on TV – whatever it is.
86% of the people in this world claim that they’re religious. That’s just about everybody! Week after week, billions of people gather together all over the world in groups of every size to worship. Some meet illegally in some underground church. Some meet Ina golden domed mosque. Some in stained glass cathedrals. There’s even a growing trend of people who log on the web in the comfort of their living room.
So let me ask you a question. If the world is so full of people who claim to follow God, then why is the world such a messed up place? I mean you’d think with all this religion out there, there’d be no poverty, no war, no crimes. But we live in a world that’s pretty broken down. Last year we had over a half a million people who were murdered on this planet. Think of all the violence,all the rape, think of all the theft. The world is messed up. I mean think of all the loneliness, think of all of the wives that cry themselves to sleep every night because of all of the husbands who have been abusive to them. Think of all of the children who are runaways, forced into prostitution just to survive. Think of the 200million orphans in the world. Did you know that today, not all week, not all month, not all year, just today, 35,000 people died of starvation in this world? I mean you’d think with all this religion, that the world would be better. Here’s a messed up world and here’s all these people who claim to follow God. It jus doesn’t add up. Come on, I want to show you something.
You know I grew up kind of religious. I was born in Iran and so I saw religion through the lens of Islam. We went to the occasional mosque and I learned prayers in Arabic that I would pray. And then in 1979, The Iranian Revolution happened in my country and I’ll never forget. Then everything changed. We saw over a million people killed under the name of God. It was a crazy time. To me as a little kid, we were escaping from people who represented God. People that were religious.
When we came here, I thought this is a free country and I’m not gonna have to be religious any longer.
Well, I was eighteen years old, and one time a buddy of mine invited me to go to church with him. And when he did, I thought ” I don’t want to go, I mean I hate religion-religion- I told him all the reasons I didn’t wanna go. But he named five girls from our high school and he told me that they all went to church with him. I thought man, if they go there, then I want to go visit. So I went, for the wrong reason. But when I went there, I saw something that I’ve never seen before. Let me tell you, I saw people that weren’t really just moral or just good. But I saw people that were different. People that had something that I’ve never seen before. Well, these uh “Christians” had definitely gotten my attention.
After that Sunday, when I visited their church, the next Monday, they came and visited me at my house. They came and they started to talk to me about regular stuff. They talked to me about the ball game, we talked about what’s on TV. But after that, we talked about spirituality. At first, I told them I was not interested in becoming religious. But they told me that Christianity wasn’t like any other religion in the world. I asked them what was so different and they said GRACE.They told me that grace makes Christianity different than anything else.
One afternoon, I’ll never forget, this waitress, she told us that it was Christmas and she had worked a double shift. She was trying to make money for Christmas gifts for her kids. Well as we were leaving the restaurant we were in the car in the parking lot and she ran and stopped the car and she made us roll the window down and she started to yell at us. She said “stop! You’ve made a mistake! You’ve made a mistake! You’ve given me over 100 dollars in tips and the bill was just 30 dollars.”
He looked at her and said “Mam, we didn’t make a mistake. We know that the bill was just 30 bucks and we just emptied our pockets and gave you everything we had because we wanted to bless you.we know that it’s Christmas, we just wanted to bless you.” She began to cry. They told her they were going to come back next week and she yelled in my ear, “Well make sure that you get my table!” I thought, this is unbelievable! She was crying, I was crying. And I yelled “What is wrong with you people?!” And do you know what, they said, “GRACE.”
And as soon as they said Grace, I finally started to get it. It wasn’t just a bunch of ” God Talk.” It was real.i knew that that was how they were treating me. And these were people from High School. I’d been such a jerk to so many of these people, but you know what, they were treating me exactly the opposite of what I deserved. They were treating me with grace fullness. That’s the night when everything started to make sense to me. That’s the night that was the beginning of the end.
Did you ever get a traffic violation? I did once. I remember this police officer gave me a ticket for going 4 miles per hour over the speed limit. The entire time he was writing the ticket, I was thinking, shouldn’t he be out there stopping real criminals? I mean, there are bank robbers out there. Shouldn’t he be out stopping them? But the truth is, the bottom line is, that it had broken the law. I was guilty. There was no excuses. See I think that’s how we think about sin. We look at sin and we compartmentalize it. We go, wow there are a lot of big violators of God’s law out there. Big sinners out there. Big sinners out there. People that have murdered somebody. People that have done big things. I’m a good person. Sure I have the occasional “slip up”, but you know, I’m different than others. We categorize. But the thing is, that a holy and a perfect God sees differently. Look , there’s really only two categories here.
There’s sinner and there’s non- sinner. God is over here, and God is sinless. He is perfect, He is righteous, He hates sin, that’s what makes Him holy. And then we are over here and we’ve violated and broken God’s commands and his laws. From the apostle Paul- sinner, to Mother Teresa- sinner, to Jeffrey Daumer- sinner, to Me- most definitely sinner. We’ve all sinned the bible says and fallen short of the glory of God. Our sin separates us from the holy and perfect god. There is no in between. As a matter of fact that’s one of the most deceiving sins of all; Self righteousness. People who believe that they need forgiveness. They believe that God is holy. But somehow believe that they can achieve salvation by being really good, by being really moral. By checking off a list of dos and dont’s. You know, the problem is that you can go to church every Sunday, but how many Sundays is enough? You can write the big tithe check to help build the new building but how much money is enough? You can be good; but when is good good enough? You know who Jesus got most stirred up about in all the Bible? The self Righteous. The religious people who try to earn it by doing all the right stuff. Come on, I’ve got to show you something. You’ve got to see this.
Okay, we finally made it. Okay before I take you in though, I’ve got to warn you that the reason I wanted you to come and see this place is because I think that this place represents perfectly the very best part of my story. Come on!
Now I know what you’re probably thinking. “You brought me all the way out here to a graveyard?” Yeah, I did but look, I didn’t bring you here to scare you. As a matter of fact, it’s the very opposite. I’ve brought you here to show you why Religion doesn’t work. But more importantly to show you what does.
Now, it’s a weird illustration I realize but take James w. Moore here who’s been dead for a long, long, time. Let’s say I dig him out of the grave- put a wig on him, put makeup all over him, put brand new clothes on him, and just douse him with cologne? What do I have? I have a really cleaned up version of a dead guy!
Well that’s religion, religion is putting the wig of mortality and putting on the makeup of good behavior on the outside of someone who’s still spiritually rotten. See you and I are rotten. Now come on, I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. Greed, Pride, Discontentment- those are just evidences that you and I are rotten on the inside. So, if we’re spiritually dead, what can we do? WE can’t do anything. The only ONE who’s going to be able to bring us from death to life is JESUS. A lot of people call Him a religious figure, but He’s God. Jesus lived the sinless life, but yet he died a sinner’s death to pay the penalty for our sins. Three days later, Jesus rose from the grave to show us that he even has power over death. He promises that if we give our whole selves to Him, He’ll give us a new life.
Now, I know what you might be thinking- ” I’ve done all of this, I’ve heard this,” but, have you really? I’m not talking about just going to church or just praying a prayer. I’m talking about complete surrender from the inside out. For lack of better terms, He becomes the landlord of this property, not just the property manager, or the handy man who comes in every once in a while to fix a few things. No- he becomes the owner. He takes over everything. Our money, our possessions, our thoughts, our stuff, our relationships. Has He done that? Has everything else taken a back seat to Him? To loving Him? To enjoying Him? Forever.
The night that I finally understood all this, I know that even though salvation was a free gift that if all of this was real and I really gave myself to Him, I know that everything would be radically different. I know that my Muslim parents would kick me out of the house. I know that my old habits, my old reputation, that all of that would be a thing of the past. There would be a new me.
Life no longer became about doing a bunch of stuff to earn His love. It became about worshipping Him because I already have earned his love. Death has got to come so that true eternal life can begin.
I mean just look at these leaves turning these colors. The orange, the yellow, the brown, they’re dying. The death of fall and winter has to happen so that the life of spring can come. See death can be a beautiful thing when the promise of true life lies on the other side.
The Bible talks about a whole new you. The spiritual death of the old self completely. Jesus calls this being born again. We become a new creation adopted into the family of God. We strip away the arrogance of religion and we fall humbly at the feet of Jesus, and we repent. But by asking for forgiveness, we come to the end of ourselves- our attempts, our deeds, our pride, all of it. And you say Jesus, take my life. Make me new. I want this new life to go from the death of fall to the beautiful life of spring.