Though beyond bland and tiresome, it’s still cool in Christian circles to say “I love Jesus, but hate religion.” Most of the time I hear people say this I suspect it means nothing to them. Repeating it like a mantra confirms that one is head-over-heals in love with religion. We’ve put Jesus’ Name on it, but it’s still religion, at least the kind we say we hate. A few seconds of thought will show anyone that the saying itself is just another form of religion. That so many people won’t even take the time to recognize this shows just how far in the tank we are for this thing we say we hate called religion. Strangely, the Bible speaks about “pure and undefiled” religion, but it obviously means something different by the word “religion” than we do. In James, religion is presented as the high mark of genuine Christian faith. Bridle your tongue. Visit orphans and widows in their affliction. It’s a beautiful picture in God’s eyes that few of us can say we’ve shown Him with our lives. No, when we talk about religion we’re usually talking about what the 20th popular apologist Josh MacDowell called “rules without relationship.” His full saying, if I’m remembering it correctly, was, “rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” So what does this have to do with cats and sweaters? Well, we just had one of our cats “shaved.” She got what is called a Lion Cut. They leave face hair and a bit of the tail hair so that the cat has something to work with. (Odd to see “cat” and “work” in the same sentence, eh?) So, with record cold temperatures, we were advised to find a sweater for our cat (not the one pictured). She wore it and licked it constantly with her long, raspy, reptilian tongue and, in little time, ripped it to shreds. Externally imposed religious behavior intended to earn favor with God (but, if we’re being honest, more so with people) works the same way. Or, shall we say, it doesn’t work. We can’t wear it long; it doesn’t keep us warm. At best, it’s some form of washing the outside of the dish only. With this kind of religion, the only ones we’re trying to please, really, are ourselves and other people. (Saying “I love Jesus, but hate religion” demonstrates this perfectly.) No wonder something we do with ourselves and for ourselves does nothing for our relationship with God. This is where Jesus comes in, because no one else can. Nothing beats the real thing. Nothing beats what really works. In a few weeks, we’ll walk through the days recounting exactly what Jesus Christ did for us before, on, and after the Cross. With the Holy Spirit’s help, let’s cherish our relationship with the Son, and, because of Him, with His Father.