During my recent visit to Italy, I had the privilege to visit some 33 churches, museums, monasteries, and castles. An amazing world of beauty, creativity, and passion surrounded me but one thing surprised me. I felt an eerie absent of God’s presence in each church we visited. it seemed that the churches we visited had become places of tourism instead of places of worship.
At the beginning of my trip, I blamed my experience on jet-leg and continued to pray in each place of God we came to. It was only after seeing two different paintings of Jesus that I realized what had happened in these churches. These pieces of art became a symbol to me of what has happened in the churches we visited. The face of Jesus has been erased and replace with impressive art and architecture, tourism guides and historical information that spoke of time in the past when God had been the center of an individual’s life. Jesus had been replaced by religion. Relationship was forgotten.
There is a stark difference between religion and relationship. Religion is when we substitute relationship with rules in the effort to win the favor of God and others in our lives. Knowing that men and women are incapable of righteousness on their own, man created ridged rules to keep themselves in-line. Religion is the belief that humans have the control and will-power to make themselves God-like. Relationship, on the other hand, is unconditional love, acceptance, grace, mercy, and power to live like Jesus in communion with Him and others. There are no rules in relationship, only acceptance.
When I hear stories of why people have left the church, they are more often than not based on religion, not relationship. The very people that Jesus gave his life for were judged, not accepted. They were hurt, not healed. They received condemnation when they needed to know forgiveness. They were prosecuted for wrongs instead of advocated in their rights. Religion, has left the church empty.
How do we return the erased face of Jesus? What is your answer?