Less Religion. More Jesus.

September 26, 2018 | Written by Thomas Thompson

Stepping back into Pulpit Rock after my summer sabbatical, I found myself smack dab in the Exodus story, with my favorite Biblical character, Moses.

Religion, judgment and burden enslave us and that makes my blood boil.

I get Moses. He and I share similar struggles with anger. When he hauls off at an Egyptian Taskmaster, or swings a stick at a rock, I want to cheer…before remembering he probably shouldn’t do that! But I get it. Moses gets mad at the wrongs of the world and wants to set them right, one fist at a time.

And that day he saw that Egyptian beating his fellow Hebrew, I’m sure his anger was boiling. Maybe he felt that the best path was for him to haul off and punch slavery in the mouth. But that didn’t not achieve the goal. The anger of man rarely achieves the righteousness of God. God called him back home, to the dignity of basing his identity on God.

This summer both my wife and I realized that for far too long we have hated religion more than we have loved Jesus.

The slavery that boils my blood is the millions of Christians trapped in religious traditions, judgment, and burden. The captivity that focuses more on what we do for God than what God has done for us. The bondage so many believers are stuck in because of bad leadership—the Pharisees and pharaohs who lead with law and not grace. Good people locked into bad systems that keep them from the journey with God.

And so I always want to haul off and punch them in the mouth. That doesn’t really achieve the goal. And it can wear you out. There are too many Taskmasters and not enough fists.

And punching religion takes its toll. I had been experiencing some burn out in my life before my sabbatical. My life coach warned me about burnout last year and I told him—there is no way I am burned out …I preached a sermon series on Rest!

On sabbatical in Ireland.

But I was.

And one thing I needed this summer was some time in the desert, just tending flocks, to be reminded that while God cares about the CAUSE, he also cares about the CALLED. And as we are sent to our neighborhoods, our classrooms, our city, and our world, we go with a God who says, I AM the I am and I am with you, and I am FOR you.

This is how we begin to move from slavery to home.

So what’s next? Two things are helping me.

First, I am choosing to bless the raft that got me here. It is easy to curse the traditions, the tribes, and the teachings that I now reject. But without them, I wouldn’t be where I am—who I am. So while I can still be thankful I have drifted downstream from them, I can also realize that it was the planks of these boxes that God used to build a new raft, one that is taking me to new shores, invisible geographies and wider frontiers. I can both bless and turn from “the dead shell of yesterdays.”

Second, I can cling to something God has been trying to teach me. That for me, the way I am wired, I must live out that Beauty will save the world. This means I find much more traction and power in practicing and proclaiming the good than criticizing the bad. Anyone can point out the darkness. Many can punch the oppressor. But the call to point to a Promised Land is the Moses I want to be in the second half of life.

In both these movements, there is a Jesus to love that is much stronger than my hate. And he is both the Builder of my raft and the Beauty that will save the world.

Written by Thomas Thompson

Editor’s note: This post was originally shared with a different title. I have since updated it to use the original title that Thomas wrote. I realized that in changing the title, I had changed the tone of Thomas’ post. I believe it’s an important message so I want to make sure it’s communicated accurately. -Becky


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1 thought on “Less Religion. More Jesus.”

  1. “Bless the raft that got me here” – How I love this!

    I struggled for a long time with anger when I began to realize that some of what I grew up learning (whether I heard it directly or picked it up indirectly) was NOT in fact what I now believe to be true about God. But it is and will always be a part of me, and I’m now choosing to live by the motto “when you know better, do better.”

    I know God forgives me for all the times I failed by trying to prove my own righteousness or play judge and jury. I need to forgive myself and move forward, not get hung up in the “what if” or “what might have been” and instead be thankful for that firm foundation – there WAS truth and love and grace in my life. Those things look and feel very different to me now, but I’m still quite thankful for the people who influenced my early life and shared God with me in the best ways they knew how. I pray the same is said of me one day!

    My experience also reminds me to be mindful of the ways in which I speak about grace and love and truth around and to other people in my life – especially my son… I want him to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter what he does or doesn’t do, say, or feel, God LOVES him. And God LOVES that kid in his class that isn’t always nice, and makes bad choices sometimes. We don’t have to be perfect, or even GOOD, to earn God’s love. I missed that message somehow for literal decades, even though I know I learned the verses and songs that talk about his grace and love. What I SAW being lived out were people judging other people while downplaying their own “mistakes” as less terrible than their neighbor’s “sins.”

    I’m so thankful for Pulpit Rock’s leadership – the willingness to admit your humanity and struggles and the areas in which you live with tension speaks volumes more to me about the gospel than all the years of pastors trying to maintain and present an image of what a Christian’s life “should” look like. Thank you.


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