So if you know Truth, why would you abandon it? Well, in case you may not have noticed yet, once you accept Christ the words “And she lived happily ever after” do not appear on the screen and the credits do not actually start to roll. The happily ever after bit comes later, when your time here on earth is over and you get to go to heaven. In the meantime, there are so many things that can draw you away from truth, and so many different directions I could go here as to how truth can be abandoned, it was hard to pick what to say. And I should point out that I’m not talking about abandoning truth as in losing your salvation, but as in letting the world slip little ideas in your head that contribute to forgetting who you are now in Christ.
No kidding, I sat down to work on this talk and accidentally wrote 33 typewritten pages on the subject. So I’m going to have to gloss over a few things…let me say this really fast: We each have the chance daily to stand up for what we believe in or to keep quiet and not rock the boat. It’s a hard line to walk and there is risk involved. Many of us face opposition to the truth we’ve bet eternity on every day. If you have been a believer long you know there will be times when you get the chance to state your beliefs and stand firm by your faith, to speak out and risk ridicule and ostracism, and you know that some people in some places in this world even face torture and death in the name of Jesus. You guys all have your stories and you all have your burdens in this area and I think we should just pray right now:
Jesus, I ask that you make us strong in our time of need, when our hearts know we should speak up for you and our flesh wants to smooth things over instead. Lord, let us stand up for truth boldly and in love, and strengthen and protect our brothers and sisters who face persecution, bodily harm, and martyrdom because of your precious name. Amen.
I guess that this talk could be over right now, but God’s been putting something on my heart that I think we, as women…as women living in Utah…need to hear.
Friends, don’t let your faith be reduced to religion. I think one of the biggest ways we manage to abandon our faith, one of the biggest traps the enemy sets for us, is through religion. On the side of our church building, we have a sign that says “Interested in God, but not Religion?” I think many people have not stopped to really consider the difference between the two. And it’s so very important! You see, we humans are programmed to seek truth. We want it. We know that there is that gap there between us and God, and we have this huge empty space in our hearts because of it. We long to pass through that fathomless space, past the sorrow and sin and sickness of humanity to grasp the hand of God. And the enemy keeps whispering in our ear, “you can do it, if you just work hard enough.”
Religion is about trying to reach God through our own work. A central part of what you and I believe is that we get to go to heaven not because of anything that we’ve done ourselves, but because of what Jesus did for us. Ephesians 2:8-9 says:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
But we live in a culture that stresses religion over faith…picture it this way: Religion is like building a scaffolding to try to bridge the gap between earth and Heaven. We try to build a structure that will reach God, one stone at a time. We make that structure beautiful, we gild it and paint it with frescos and we pour all our most precious things into it…our toil, our creativity, our intelligence, our good works, our money. The structure is beautiful, intricate, and also dangerous. Because sooner or later, the focus becomes the structure itself. People are working so hard building this bridge to heaven that they forget why they started in the first place. Sooner or later, they realize that they no longer believe that the structure will work. No matter how high they build, they still fall frightfully short of their goal. They lose passion for it, it all becomes rote and empty, their hearts grow cold. The futility of trying to reach God through our own merit exhausts us and steals our joy!
It breaks my heart how easily people can know so intimately the man-made structure, but be a stranger to the One that the structure was meant to reach out to! Because if we would only take our eyes off that structure for a moment and look up, we’d see that God in heaven is standing there, his open hand is reaching down to us. Christ died to build that scaffold for us, and his death and resurrection are a thousand times more beautiful than anything the human mind could imagine or build. There is freedom in Christ! Freedom from running around and around in the hamster wheel of religion, trying to earn something that we weren’t designed to attain on our own.
Friends, living in Utah can sometimes be tough. This culture is burdened by the weight of religion. I read a newspaper article last week in the Desert News that had the headline “LDS women in Utah are at risk for depression due to ‘toxic perfectionism’ and a host of other cultural factors.” One of the factors mentioned in the article was “feelings of being judged by others.” The researcher said that “the church’s teachings on striving for perfection led to misinterpretations and contributed to feelings of inadequacy.” And the participants in the study described feeling like they had to be the “Perfect Mormon, ” the “Perfect wife” and the “Perfect homemaker.”
Toxic Perfectionism. Ouch. And living here, really living anywhere, it can be very hard for you and I to resist falling into that, too! We may not believe that we have to work to attain our salvation, but if we’re not careful it’s very easy to slip into the mindset that we have to be perfect women. Perfect Christian women, but still, perfect women. It’s something I think all women have to look out for, but I do think living in Utah makes it even harder to resist.
It’s easy to forget, but here in Utah we live right smack in the middle of some of the toughest mission territory in the world. Consider this: There are only a few places on earth where religion plays as big a part as it does here in Utah. We are one of only a handful of places that are known for being the religious epicenter for a particular type of faith, where there is a main temple, where the roots of the religion are located, and where people make pilgrimages. Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Vatican City in Italy, Jerusalem in Israel, Salt Lake City in Utah. In the city where I live, 59.34% of people are LDS. Would it shock you to know that all but three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have higher rates of traditional Christianity than Utah?
People here are in need of hearing truth, and we need to be ready to share it with them. It’s clear that God’s moving here in Utah. But we have to keep in mind that we need to be aware of what’s going on behind the perfect-looking exterior of our neighborhoods. Because what that newspaper article didn’t say is that these women are working their hearts out and wearing their souls out not just to look good for the now, but also because they believe that if they are not perfect, it will negatively effect where they spend eternity. That’s a whole lot of weight for a person to carry, isn’t it? No wonder Utah has the highest rate of antidepressant use in the country. Friends, a lot of suffering is going on here! If you are finding yourself struggling with depression and anxiety, I think it’s good to keep in mind that we are right in the middle of a spiritual battle that if we could see with our eyes, would rival any battle scene from “Saving Private Ryan”. At any rate, it can be very easy to get discouraged and lose heart and struggle to keep perspective. And the predominate religion where I live is not the only one guilty of fostering toxic perfectionism, I think human nature drives us all in that direction. Our perfection, our salvation, comes in depending on Christ…Christ who is the only human ever to be perfect…and not on our own efforts. Praise God for that!