Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: The End of Religion (Page 1 of 2)

January 31, 2021 – The Irreligious Implication  — What’s next?

Today’s Bible reading

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs. – Hebrews 4:9-11

More thoughts for meditation

Bruxy Cavey says, “Jesus has spoken to you already today” through nature, music, a person, an event, a dream, a thought or a book (he hopes HIS book). Whether we follow Jesus or not, the Spirit of Christ has come to us. Jesus engages all of us, each of us, by drawing us (John 12:32), by convicting us (John 16:8), or when we receive his grace coming to us as we are baptized into him, filled up by him, united with him and empowered by him. The next step is ours.

In his last chapter he is trying to get us to plan some application of all he has taught us. A main subject he notes is “rest.” Religion tends to wear people out. As he’s talking about today’s readings, he teaches:

Maybe when you read these words, you sense Jesus saying the same thing to you now: come and rest with me. Mind you, for people who have become so used to the hard labor camp of religion, learning to rest spiritually can be hard work. Maybe that’s why the author of Hebrews said, ironically, “We must make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11 NET).

Notice that Jesus is not pointing toward a different and better religion called Christianity, but instead inviting us to himself as an alternative to the weary way of all religion. (Come to me and I will give you rest.) Religion uses rules to force our steps, guilt to keep us in line, and rituals to remind us of our failure to live up to those rules. In doing this, religion adds more weight to those who are already burdened with life’s hardships. But Jesus offers us the rest we’re searching for.

Although Jesus does offer rest, please notice that he says, “Take my yoke upon you,” not “Take my couch underneath you.” He offers rest, yes, but it is active, constructive, creative rest. Yokes are farming implements put on the necks of animals so they can pull a plow or wagon. A yoke, then, is a symbol of purposeful work and cooperative labor. I say “cooperative” because a yoke often unites two animals, working side-by-side, together in rhythmic teamwork. Perhaps Jesus wants us to picture him alongside us in the yoke, or perhaps he is pointing to the fact that we grow best spiritually when we move forward in a partnering relationship with others. Either way, Jesus promises that there will be work involved if we want to learn from him, but it will be the kind of creative, purposeful, and partnering labor that is more a release than a responsibility, like life back in the days of the garden of Eden (see Genesis 2:15).

Suggestions for action

Pray Bruxy Cavey’s “Skeptic’s Prayer:

Dear God,

I don’t know what I believe. But here I am, talking to you, willing to learn, and wanting to grow. I think there might be something to this whole Jesus thing, and I’m asking you to please confirm the truth of his message to my heart. If I’m going to follow Jesus, I know I’ll need help, from you and from others. I am open to your Holy Spirit and I am ready to receive from you. Please fill me, forgive me, and empower me to believe.

Thank you,


1) Turn on and tune in. “God’s loving presence surrounds us like air…we simply need to stop holding our breath….[W]e are free to participate in [spiritual disciplines] as expressions of the life God gives us; but not as techniques to obtain that life.”

2) Get into organized irreligion. “We do many things as Christ-followers, and we do them all for celebration, not for salvation….The problem with organized religion is not that it is organized. The problem with organized religion is that it is religious.”

3) Read through the Gospels from this new perspective. Write down what you are learning and talk about it with others.

4) Get into a living community and ask your questions. Contribute to the community being in Christ, not just in their relationships.

5) Go on the offensive. “As C.S. Lewis says, ‘Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.’”

We’re celebrating John Mott, the  great missional visionary, and Menno Simons,  the one who lent his name to our cousins, the Mennonites — all on our sister blog, Celebrating the Transhistorical Body.

January 30, 2021 – The Irreligious Implication — The Irreligious Life

Today’s Bible reading

I will sprinkle you with pure water, and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative, and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NET)

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. – Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV)

And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. – Zechariah 12:10 (NRSV)

More thoughts for meditation

In this chapter, Cavey tries to reinforce the outlooks that will change our direction. An inward change of heart requires and outward change of behavior. This is kind of obvious, yet Gandhi wondered, “How can do many Christians be so unlike Christ?” And Steven Weinberg (Nobel Prize in Physics) wrote:

Frederick Douglass told in his Narrative how his condition as a slave became worse when his master underwent a religious conversion that allowed him to justify slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham. Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God’s will. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.

Following Jesus cannot be reduced to the most correct ideology. Love is bigger than that. It cannot be led by our unreformed hearts. Jesus cannot live “in our hearts” unless we have transformed hearts, otherwise our faith is just what our heart feels most deeply. We’ve got to relate to God. So Cavey teaches:


I want this to sink in—can you tell? Jesus taught that he was instituting this New Covenant era (Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20), and that human beings could really start all over as reborn, remade, renewed versions of themselves (John 3:3-8). He claimed to be curing hard-heartedness (Matthew 19: 8 and context). And he promised he would somehow indwell us via God’s Holy Spirit (John 14:15-27; 16:13-15), which would give us the power to live a better, more courageous life (Acts 1:8). This is the furthest thing from today’s common moralistic therapeutic deism that often passes as Christianity in our cultural moment. *

Before this curative heart transplant, we read things in the Old Testament like “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV). Yes, that was then, but this is now: Jesus comes to give us a new heart. Fascinatingly, some circles of Christianity are still fond of quoting verses like this one to refer to all people, including themselves. “You just can’t trust your heart, you know. The Bible says it’s wicked.” But these Christians are talking like the New Covenant never came! King David’s prayer has been fully and finally answered: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 NASB). You got it, David. And now so do all of us who trust in Christ.

*“Moralistic therapeutic deism” is a term first introduced by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book about the spiritual beliefs of American youths, Soul Searching. The term refers to a popular trend of (a) valuing a basic morality common to most religions; (b) a generic spirituality that helps us feel good about ourselves; and (c) a God who exists but who doesn’t interact or interfere with our lives unless, perhaps, when called upon for help.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Search me Lord, and show me whether I have let myself settle for religion when I could be reborn.

Most of us probably got a heavy dose of “moralistic therapeutic deism” in the last 20 years. How did you relate to Cavey’s footnote about it? Why don’t you go back over that paragraph and ask God whether you are infected with a, b or c – not in theory, of course, but in practice.

Likewise, how stuck are you in the Old Testament? If someone leads us in “Create in me a clean heart, O God” perhaps you should stand up and ask, “Are you implying that Jesus did not give me a new heart and I still have to ask for it like he never died for me? Or do you just want to help me feel better after I turn to God from my distractions?” When you look around for the old sacrifice system in the church, Catholic or Protestant, you don’t have to look far.

January 29, 2021 – The Irreligious Implication  — Love Instead of Law

Today’s Bible reading

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory! – 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

More thoughts for meditation

In his last section “The Irreligious Implication,” Bruxy Cavey gives a number of inventive and corrective teachings to help us do the word.

The words of Paul, in today’s readings, might be the harshest he delivers to Jesus followers. He really does not want them to try to preserve the Ten Commandments as the key ethical guide for the Church. Cavey teaches the law is just not good enough to be central; it is preliminary, a tutor, at best. Love is the core.

Love is not doing what makes us feel good, but doing what is good despite how we feel. Love is the backbone that helps us walk uprightly in this world. Law, on the other hand, is more like an exoskeleton that holds us together from the outside in. Love, in the end, is life itself. Life did not precede love, as if love were a late-dating accessory bolted onto life. Instead, Love preceded life and is the cause of life. Hence, the apostle John writes, “The person who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14 CEB).

Using today’s reading, Cavey summarizes one of his chapters in the last section of the book: “The Irreligious Implication,” like this:

Paul calls the Ten Commandments (the only commandments “engraved in letters on stone,” written by the very finger of God) the ministry that brought death. The way of law is over and done, because Jesus has established the New Covenant and ushered in the age of the Spirit. If we try to go back to the letter of the law, we’re ignoring the new, life-giving thing God is doing by his Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Jesus gave us a “better” way to live (Hebrews 7:18-19, 22; 8:6). Living a law-abiding life aims too low. Yes, for a season in our human development, law was the manifestation of love for our needs at that time. But Jesus has now given us one new “platinum rule”—love others the way Jesus has loved us—and his own Spirit to help make this happen. This isn’t religion. This is a revolution.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Where I have a heart of stone, soften me to your Spirit.

How did you like Cavey’s definition of love? : “Love is not doing what makes us feel good, but doing what is good despite how we feel.” I might say, “Love makes doing good feel good.” (Cavey is a bit more cerebral than I am). But we all probably need to have a definition. What does it mean to love in Christ? Is it all about connection for you? Feeling loved? Is it all about justice for you? Loving people hard? When you ask Jesus and listen, do you get any direction for how to proceed today, in love?

Cavey’s assertions seem obvious, at least when one reads the Bible, until you hear about Christians fighting to the death to keep a plaque of the Ten Commandments on the wall of the courthouse. More people in the U.S. probably believe in the “rule of law” than they believe in today’s readings. What is your knee-jerk reaction – follow the rules or follow the Ruler? obeying discernible commands or living in an eternity of love? It is the age-old question with a lot of interesting answers? What is yours? Journal about it.

January 28, 2021 – A Scandalous Life  — The Day Religion Died 

Today’s Bible reading

They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2

 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” – John 19:12

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. – John 10:17-18

More thoughts for meditation

We pray through a Jesus lens. We come to God via love, not appropriate religion, just like God came to us in Jesus. Many people who don’t follow Jesus appreciate their spiritual capacity — religions all over the world reflect the fruit of their exploration. The claim of Jesus is his right and capacity to unite us all in a renewed humanity in right relationship to God. Bruxy Cavey centers on the crucifixion as the event that unites us all and puts an end to our religious substitutes for living in Love.


As we’ve already seen, from the human perspective, Jesus died because of the perfect storm of religion and politics. Now, from the heavenly perspective, there is a fourfold answer to the question, “Why did Jesus die?”

First, Jesus died to show us God’s love. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). In fact, Jesus treated all of us like his friends, even when we were his enemies. The apostle Paul says, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NET).

Second, Jesus died to save us from sin. One of the quickest answers to the question of why Jesus died is given by the apostle Paul: for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Jesus died because of our sins, to do something about our sins. Somehow, through his death, Jesus absorbs our sin, takes away our sin, becomes our sin. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we imagine the Roman soldiers driving the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet, we can picture our own sin becoming embedded in Christ. Humankind, as a species, poured out our wrath, our hate, our judgment, our racism and sexism, our fear and fanaticism onto and into Jesus. And Jesus didn’t retaliate or reflect these evils back at us like some ricochet of our own judgment. He took them willingly into himself, offering only forgiveness in return, and then dragged it all into the grave.

Third, Jesus died to set up God’s kingdom. What the Roman soldiers do to Jesus in ironic mockery, Jesus uses to reveal his triumphant coronation. Before his execution, the Romans give Jesus a purple robe (the color of royalty), a mock scepter, and a crown twisted together out of a thorny vine. And, just to antagonize the Jews, Pilate has a sign nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head that reads: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews (John 19:19). Jesus has ascended to his throne, the throne of a different kind of kingdom—a kingdom where the king himself conquers hearts by loving his enemies to death.

Fourth, Jesus died to shut down religion. Through his blood, Jesus knew he was cutting a new covenant between God and humankind. The religious leaders wanted Jesus dead to preserve their religion, but little did they know his death was God’s means to end it all.

Suggestions for action

Pray: We killed you, Jesus. I am sorry. Thank you for forgiving me and opening up the way to everlasting life.

In a variation on a theme, Cavey says, “”History shows that when religion and politics get in bed together, violence is their love child.” Jesus is the scapegoat who bears that reality. Maybe our recent political violence reflects the same impulse. Consider your theology of the crucifixion. Have you ever really pondered your own thoughts, ever received the love, or have you been moving with some religious herd without too much thought?

I think the Lord’s statement about laying down His life in today’s readings is one we might aspire to make ourselves. On the one hand, Jesus has given resurrection life to us, so we have no need to be afraid (even when we are!). On the other hand, we have a lot of confidence born of our freedom in the here and now, so when our lives are threatened, we don’t need to think someone else but God has power over us (even when they threaten violence!). Investigate the scared part of yourself.

« Older posts