Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. – Proverbs 18:21 (KJV)
I’m not sure how to start this. I’m actually not sure what I even want to say. No, I take that back: I know what I do not want to say, and that’s any and all of it. God is making me do this, and since I’m the one forever saying, “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” I know I got to do what I got to do. Still, a part of me feels like writing this is akin to ministry suicide. Sometimes I wish God could let me be trendy for just a few minutes…but yeah, I know that is not going to happen.
So, I will start at the beginning.
Yesterday morning, Apostle Tim asked me if I knew what “gluten” is. I said, yes, I do know what it is. When the “gluten-free” fad began a year or two back, I looked it up, because people said it was responsible for all sorts of things: weight gain, bloating, diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other things that gluten was now responsible for. The truth is that gluten causes none of these things, it is only problematic for those with celiac disease (which is on the rare side, in which someone basically has an allergy to wheat and wheat products). But in learning about gluten, I learned the following:
- It is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.
- It gives elasticity to dough, making it flexible, easy to enlarge, “play with,” and shape.
- It helps it to rise.
- It helps it to keep shape.
- Kneading helps formulate the strands of gluten in a bread product.
Gluten is a vital and important part of the bread-making process. It is something that, in its essence, makes bread what it is.
Then, we’re at a church service and at Communion, we’re standing in line to receive and Apostle Tim turns around and asks me, “So do you think the Communion bread is gluten-free?”
But, that inspired me to lean over and ask him something about 30 minutes later:
“Was manna gluten-free?”
He said no, it wouldn’t have been gluten-free because it was “fluffy.”
So that gave me an idea for a message: how we keep trying to change things and formulate things and, in the process, we are losing our “gluten.”
Then, about another hour later, it hit me.
For a good ten years (if not more, it’s at least ten in my collective memory), we’ve been hearing negative messages as pertain to the word “religion” and against “religious spirits” or “religious demons.” I honestly don’t ever remember the word “religion” being used in a negative context before this time. People used it to describe individuals who were church-going or devoted to a belief system in some other way. In other words, “religion” was described as a devotional practice, something that someone believed in and adhered to in a profound and deep way. It marked conviction; and yes, it was a sign of something good in someone.
When I was Catholic (I left the church almost 20 years ago), the major “dirty word” people pointed out to us was not “religion,” but “tradition.” They believed the Catholic Church to be in error due to its many man-made traditions. It wasn’t the “religion” of the church that made it wrong, per se, but the traditions that were guiding it. In essence, individuals who said such to me were correct – the traditions, concepts, ideas, and things people had made up and passed off as being of God were the problem within the church.
Many today are surprised to learn the Bible does not actually speak negatively about religion. There is no such “religious spirit” designation, as people discuss, that marks people in a bad way. The only distinction the Bible makes between religion is that which is either true or false – and believers are encouraged to embrace true religion, rather than false:
“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:26-27, NASB)
This is very, very key to the realities of religion and why we have to be careful with what we say in church today. For a church that is constantly obsessed with words, speaking words, making sure our words agree with God’s, about speaking the Word, and about speaking encouraging things, it is amazing how much of what we say is either incorrect or taken out of context. If we truly believe “life and death is in the power of the tongue,” that should mean far more to us than just saying things we want – it should mean we aspire to align ourselves with properly understanding His intentions and what He has to say to us and about us.
So…if the term “religion” is only used in the context of devotion…we don’t have any excuse for using it improperly. I don’t care how we are using it socially or casually; we are using it wrong and we are calling something out of people improperly. If the true spirit of religion is to use our words properly, assist the poor and needy, and keep ourselves from sinning – and we are speaking AGAINST this “spirit” and casting it out of people or calling it problematic, is it any wonder that the church is completely self-centered and selfish? Everything that is good and noble, self-disciplined and self-sacrificing we are CASTING OUT OF PEOPLE…is it any wonder that “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge?” (Hosea 4:6, NASB) We esteem ourselves to be so much better and smarter than our “religious” ancestors…but we’re missing the point of devotion in our pursuit to sound more progressive or better than them.
“Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death, So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “Was I not joking?” (Proverbs 26:18-19, NASB)
“And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” (Ephesians 5:4, NASB)
Once again, echoing the fact that we hear so much about words (it makes me think we are hearing about them incorrectly), you would think we’d pay attention to something like this. The Word says, right there, that any time we are trying to pull one over on someone, when we are just a little too casual with our speech or are just a little too nasty, that it’s not funny, even when we try to cover it up with “jest.”
Now we all know we’re not supposed to make “fun” of people who are disabled, people who are somehow ill or sick, or people who have issues, but it seems as if we feel it totally acceptable, even enjoyable, to poke jest at those we deem to be “religious.” Such can be anyone that seems different from our own systems, our own “exterior forms” of devotion – anything more ancestral, liturgical, or pious – is the first to get made fun of, mocked, deemed as “inferior,” or often outright disgraced in our churches – even from the pulpit (and yes, I have been guilty of this myself – which means I need to repent, too.)
The verses above, however, mean every joke we make against more traditional churches, against liturgical services, against every mocking behavior we exhibit – we are accountable for all of it. We aren’t supposed to be making fun of people or of devotion. There is no “Oh, that’s not how I meant it,” because that verse in Proverbs makes it really clear that we shouldn’t be doing it at all, not even to begin with. The pursuit to not be “religious” has resulted in a whole new “religious” trend against being “religious.” In pursuit of whatever it is that people think they are trying to do, we’ve created an entirely new tradition whereby things are judged solely on their external qualities (style of music, devotion, worship, etc.) and not on the heart or quality of genuine worship. People can go wherever they want and have nothing more than an exterior form of belief, but deny the power thereof. They can be any denomination they want and learn the right time to sit, stand, kneel…or raise their arms…or cry…or look devoted…or dance…or jump around…and they can be totally devoid of the Spirit. For all the outcries against religion, the church has not gotten more sincere, it has gotten more superficial. Instead of addressing the issues of legalism (which is a spirit that needs to be addressed), we are just encouraging people to be self-centered and not consider other people in their actions or live their faith. We’ve just replaced new traditions with old ones, all of which are based on the opinions and speculation of human beings…and nullify the Word of God: “So for the sake of your tradition (the rules handed down by your forefathers), you have set aside the Word of God [depriving it of force and authority and making it of no effect].” (Matthew 15:6, AMP)
The Lord tied it all together for me: we, as the church, have lost our “gluten.” We have lost the elasticity, the ties that bind us together with other believers and the ties that bring us to a place where we can expand and move out upon the earth. We are creating spirits, destroying the church with our own words, and making it so we look the same, but aren’t at the basis of what makes us function, work, and hold our “shape.” Our own enemies are right within our backyards, in our own churches, speaking this, that, and something else, and we are cheering them on…as they take away everything that unites the church: past, present, and future. We’re losing our elasticity…and just like people take gluten out of a product and the result is a different consistency, taste, and texture, so the church is being fed a false manna that tastes different, has a different texture and is not as nutritious…but looks the same.
And we’re losing it all through our words, what we say to one another, what we teach, encourage, and what we allow to take root in us because we’ve heard it said so many times, over and over.
If a system is false, then identify it as such with proof. I am not advocating unity with every single person that claims to be a believer and I do not believe every church out there is right. But that’s a discernment call and something we should be working to discover in greater understanding. It’s something for the theologians and apologists to sort out (of course, we don’t have many of those now, but that’s a topic for another day). Stop talking against all religion before we destroy any desire for the church to serve humanity that may be left. Stop making fun of people, and grow up. Have some respect, because that respect may just translate to saving a soul or bringing someone to a deeper knowledge and understanding of faith.
We’re picking all the wrong battles. We are fighting all the wrong things. We are creating imaginary enemies. Instead of trying to figure out how we can separate ourselves as far as possible from religion and the past, let’s figure out how we can impact this generation. Let’s get back to our elasticity, that which comes from kneading dough, that brings many elements together to form a bond and a purpose beyond what it may seem. Let Jesus do a work in you…a religious work according to the Word, understanding the fullness therein, and the blessing that comes only from it.
Yeah, we eat the fruit of life or death as comes forth from our own mouths, from words that we shall be accountable for…let’s stop swallowing death whole, OK?
© 2014 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.