LOSING MY RELIGION
The Trap of Religion
July 25, 2010
As followers of Christ, how do we avoid falling into the trap of religion? How do we avoid what happens to seemingly so many churches and movements of God that at once were thriving, but have now become a museum of the past? Learn to guard against the trap of religion in this powerful message by Stovall Weems.
We’re in a series called “Losing My Religion”. And if you missed it, I really encourage you to listen to the first message “Gateway to Heaven”, because this is one of those series that picks up where the previous message left off. It’ll be the same way for the next message as well.
We’re basically taking a look at the darker side of religion. In the last message, I talked about how currently, right now, there are 28 religious wars going on. We also studied the life of Nimrod, a Bible character in the book of Genesis, who was the founder of false religion. In fact, the name Nimrod actually means “rebel.”
We also looked at how that word – religion, basically means (and it’s what Babel was originally named, or what it originally meant) “gateway to God”. We talked about how religion is man’s way to God, but Jesus is God’s way to man. Jesus did not come to establish a religion. Jesus came to give us a relationship with God. And there’s a huge, huge difference between a relationship with Jesus and having a religion. In fact, many of us need to lose our religion so we can gain a relationship with Jesus.
Today, I want you to go to the book of Matthew, chapter 12. You know, religion was one of the greatest enemies of Jesus. If you read the Gospels, He was always battling religion and encountering religion, and everywhere e HeHwHe went, it seems like that religion would confront Him. And if you read the Gospels, you can quickly get a sense of what’s going on, and that is, that religion is out there, always trying to set up obstacles or put barriers in the way, to keep people from getting to God. But when Jesus came, Jesus’ ministry was basically removing all the obstacles. He removed the greatest obstacle—that was sin itself! He removed all the obstacles on the cross. And now there’s free access to God, and we can all come to Jesus, as we are, by faith. If you look carefully at the ministry of Jesus, it was really all about removing the obstacles. And one of the greatest obstacles that was out there was this thing of religion and here in Matthew 12, we find one of those many stories.
I’m going to read through verse 8, and then I’ll give you some background and context and tell you a little of what’s going on here. So starting in Matthew 12:1 it says, “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and He began to pluck heads of grain and eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!'” Here are the Pharisees. Here is religion, once again, trying to find fault. Here is religion, once again trying to set up a barrier. And they said, “Look, you are not doing what is lawful on the Sabbath.” But Jesus said to them, He says, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor those who were with him, but only for the priests?” Verse 5: “Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” So let me tell you what’s going on here.
Jesus and His disciples, are very busy going around and preaching from town to town. Now, as in a lot of agrarian cultures, farming communities—we see this a lot in Africa. If you’re going from town to town, the road might go like this (straight up)…and then go like that(sharp 90 degree angle) But someone might have a field in the middle of that, and you can kind of cut through that field. It’s like a shortcut. And so what was happening here with Jesus and His disciples in this Scripture, was that there was a path through this field. There was a shortcut to where they were going, and they were walking through, and they were taking corn, and they were eating pieces of corn. Now, you might say, “Well, wait, isn’t Jesus stealing? Isn’t He taking somebody’s corn?” Absolutely not, because in the book of Deuteronomy, we read about this special provision. In fact, God actually said, there should be paths in people’s fields to provide shortcuts. And as a traveler or a sojourner, whenever you’re traveling, if you take one of those shortcuts, it is lawful for you to go ahead and eat whatever grows along the path. You can’t take a sickle. You can’t go in there and harvest it, but basically, when you cut through a field like that, it is lawful for you to take and eat whatever is growing on the path. So this is what Jesus and His disciples are doing. But they’re doing it on the Sabbath. And so, of course, here comes religion. Here comes the Pharisees saying, “This is not lawful for you to be doing on the Sabbath.”
Now, the Sabbath—there was a commandment about the Sabbath. God says to honor the Sabbath and to keep it holy, okay? In fact, one of the words for “Sabbath” actually means “to exhale.” Everybody do this: [sigh]. Doesn’t that feel good? But you know, back in Genesis, when it talks about the seven days in which God created the world, it says, “Then on the seventh day, God rested.” That word “rested” actually means “He exhaled,” or in some translations, “finished.” God took a break. And in the same way, God commands us that one day in seven, it should be a [sigh]. It should be a day where we take a break from our normal routine. It should be a day where we honor God. It should be a day that’s different from the other six. And so that was really the commandment. Now, there were a few things of course about not doing your regular work on the Sabbath and things like that. But what the Pharisees did, just like religion always does, they took that commandment and the few things surrounding it, and they added tons and tons of extra rules and regulations around this commandment: what you could and couldn’t do, how you had to wash your hands on the Sabbath, what you could eat, what you were supposed to pray, what you couldn’t pray—all of these crazy things and extra laws built around that one commandment.
One of those laws was that on the Sabbath Day, you could not go farther than 3,000 feet from your house. So my question is, what in the world are they doing in the cornfield? And Jesus is telling them, “You guys come up with so many rules and rituals and regulations.” He says, “You can’t even do them!” He says, “You put all these heavy burdens on people. They can’t do them. You can’t do them.” And so what Jesus is going to do here is, He’s going to bring the correct interpretation of this commandment, just like He would constantly be challenging religion and get them to look at the big picture of what the purpose of the commandment was, and what a relationship with God is all about.
Now, I don’t know what was going on with Jesus this day. It was just not the day to mess with Jesus. You know, He could have just easily gone on and said, “Deuteronomy says that we can eat the corn.” You know, “Leave Me alone.” But there was something about this confrontation—Jesus stops, and He just lets them have it. He says “One greater than the temple is here” and He brings out three passages of Scripture that make mention to priest, prophet, and king and provide the greater interpretation to what this really means.
You see, Jesus Christ, is the fulfillment of all those things – Priest, Prophet, and King. He’s the King of kings. The Bible says that He is our High Priest. And then the Bible also says that He is not just a prophet that speaks the Word of the Lord, but He is the Prophet. In other words, He is the incarnate Word of God. He is the Word—God Himself. And here, He’s telling them, “Hey, look, One greater than the temple is here.” And then Jesus continues on and gives them three illustrations of priest, prophet, and king.
The first one He talks about is King David. He gives them the illustration from the perspective of the king. He says, “Don’t you know the story of King David? (It’s in 1 Samuel 21). David was anointed king when he fleeing from Saul.” You can read about it yourself. Some priest came and offered him the showbread that was in the temple that technically, he was not supposed to eat. But David and his men, they were obeying God. They were starving. They were running for their lives. They were doing the best that they could. Jesus said, “Don’t you see how that’s acceptable? That’s not the purpose of the commandment. That’s not the principle that I’m trying to lay out about the Sabbath.”
Then He goes on, and gives the perspective from the priest. He said, “And haven’t you ever read”—where it talks about that the priests, technically, profane the Sabbath and are blameless? Why? Because on the Sabbath Day, most priests, they worked two or three times harder than they did the other days of the week. I can relate. Why? Because it was on the Sabbath, many times, that people would bring sacrifices or honor God, all those kind of things. Jesus says, “Don’t you realize the purpose of the Sabbath?” So He gives them the perspective of the king, He gives them the perspective of the priest, and then He gives them the perspective from the prophet, and He quotes the prophet Hosea.
This is out of Hosea 6:6. He says, “Don’t you know what this means?” God says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Mercy, and not sacrifice.
So here’s Jesus, fulfilling the ministry of Priest, Prophet, and King, the King of kings, the High Priest, the Prophet, the Son of God, the Word of God. And He comes in, He basically says, “Look, you need to understand this about the Sabbath, and this is basically all the commandments of God. You need to look at it from this filter: Number one, I desire mercy always over sacrifice.” Jesus could have also said it this way: “I desire relationship above ritual.” Or He could have said it this way: “I desire love above law.” So Jesus comes and lays this out, brings the perspective from the priest, prophet, and king. He says, “Look, I always desire mercy over sacrifice, I always desire relationship above ritual, and I always desire love above law.”
You know, last weekend, I talked from the perspective of world religion and religion in general. This weekend, I’m talking more about as Christians or as churches, and how do we avoid falling into a religious trap? How do we avoid, what happens to seemingly so many churches and so many movements of God, where at one time, there was this great, life-giving move of God going on, and then something happened. Now the very church that was experiencing this incredible move of God 200 years ago, is nothing but a building. You can even go today and visit it. It’s a museum. How do we avoid that? Well, here’s the first principle: We must always value mercy above sacrifice. Oh, I know you value that for yourself. I know you want mercy above sacrifice for yourself, but what about others? What about other people that don’t act like you, that don’t look like you, that don’t talk like you? Do you truly desire mercy for others? And think about that as it relates to the house of God?
Listen to this: I sent out a Twitter this week. You know, Tiwtter is a great way to spread the Word of God. It really is. You can retweet what people say. It’s a great way to witness and get out there in those social media streams. But I twittered and facebooked this week and asked the question, “What manmade religious standards have ever made you confused or feel unaccepted by a church?” Man, I got back a ton of comments. I summarized them here and picked out a few of the more common ones. Listen to this, there were a whole lot on rules of dress and outward appearance. In other words, you weren’t accepted unless—or you couldn’t be in a particular church unless you dressed a certain way and had a certain outward appearance. Listen to this one: “I couldn’t wear pants, makeup, or fancy clothing. Just looking attractive, period, was ungodly. Looking depressed was acceptable and the norm.” Oh, that’s a great testimony. Go around looking depressed. That really shows the joy of the Lord. Listen to this one: “Not only did we have to wear dresses, but they had these really long dresses, no skin, no pantyhose, no TV, no makeup.” Do you know what I’ve noticed about all these dress codes? Well, except for one of them – I’ll get to that one in a second. But all these dress codes, first of all, they’re all aimed at women. That’s kind of unfair. Hey, Preacher, before you go making a woman wear all this kind of stuff, how about you can only wear three-piece suits for the rest of your life? Do you know where we get all this stuff? There is one Scripture in Peter that talks about that a woman should not let all of her beauty come from her outward appearance and making herself up, that she should also let her beauty come from on the inside of her, which is what God commands all of us to do-to work on our spiritual man, to be spiritually healthy. So we take one verse, and we build an entire denomination around it!
What did Jesus say to religion? “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You don’t enter in, and you prevent those from entering in.” And can I just say this? Listen, in this day and age, if a kneecap can turn you on – you’ve got a lot of bigger issues. I’m just saying. Am I being real or not? Come on, a kneecap? Am I going to tempt some of you women by showing y’all my kneecap?
Listen to this one: “I couldn’t wear pants, couldn’t cut my hair.” Here’s a different one: “There was no dancing, no swimming, no going to the pool, no going to the beach.” This one person, they said their church wouldn’t allow them to watch movies, so what they did was, they found a loophole. And they couldn’t watch movies or go to the movies, but if you were technically on your computer, that wasn’t technically at the movies, so you could watch a movie, as long as you were doing it through your computer.
You know what the thing is about religion? Let me tell you, watch this. Because people can’t bear up under religion, wherever there’s religion, there’s always secrets. That’s the thing. Where there’s religion, there’s secrets, because people can’t be who they are. They can’t be themselves. And this is why being accepting is so important, and it’s why understanding that God values mercy over sacrifice is so important. When people come in, especially into the house of God, here’s what happens. Today – consciously or subconsciously, all of you did this. (Now, if you’ve been coming here for a while, you probably didn’t). But let’s just say it’s your first time, or you’ve come to church here a couple of times. Here’s what human beings do. Consciously or subconsciously, this is our nature. When you came in church, once you kind of absorbed everything, what you did was, you looked around, and you thought, “Could I fit in here? Could I belong here?” That’s how we are as human beings. In other words, let’s say that you’re a young, single person in your twenties. When you came in here, if you were new, you were subconsciously thinking, “Are there other single people in their twenties?” Maybe you’re a married couple in your late thirties, and you have kids in elementary school. You’d come in, and would be looking around. Are there other young families, or young couples my age in here? If you’re an older couple, you did the same thing. It works the same way with race. If you’re African American, you came in here, you’re – are there other African Americans here? Can I fit in here? Especially if you’re a bi-racial couple, or something like that.
It’s really sad, some of these comments I got back on twitter. We have one comment, it says, “My mother was asked to leave a church because she had biracial children.” Ridiculous! We have biracial couples on our staff. Now, watch this: So how important is it, when people come in the house of God, and we’re supposed to be representing Jesus. We’re His hands. We’re His feet. How important it is for people to come in the house of God, no matter who they are, no matter what they’ve done, no matter what they’re dressed like, no matter what they smell like, to come in and not have any barriers in getting to God!
One guy said they weren’t allowed to have goatees because they were too trendy. Now, you tell me in the Bible where it says, “Thou shall not be trendy.” You tell me in the Bible where it says, “Thou shall not have a goatee.” You tell me that. You tell me that you’re saved by grace, unless you’re wearing a skirt that’s above your knee. I’m telling you, don’t cheapen the cross! Don’t cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice! This is what religion does, man! It just stacks on all these extra things. Do you know what religion says? It says, “Conform.” It says, “Be like us.”
I pray the day never comes where someone walks in Celebration Church, and we’re all the same color, and we’ve got all the same hairdo, and we’ve got all the same clothes. The Bible says in heaven, they’re every nation, every race, every tribe. So do you value mercy over sacrifice? Here’s another one—I’ve got to read you this one. Oh, I’m not done. I got like a couple of hundred of these between Twitter and Facebook. I’m just pulling out a few. I like this one: “We could not drink coffee or tea. I was scared to go to Starbucks with my nonreligious friends.” Can you imagine being with someone unsaved in Starbucks, and you’re not drinking coffee, not just because you don’t drink coffee, but because you say, “My church, that represents the heart of God, says we cannot drink coffee”? What that’s basically saying, is – if you drink coffee, you’re not accepted by God. That’s why we have a coffee bar right in the church. I’m telling you right now, drinking coffee is holy! And some of you that are not drinking coffee, you need to start drinking it, because you and your old grumpy self, all negative… Where does religion get these things? Where do we get these things? Listen, I’m not advocating crazy behavior or anything like that. But do we value mercy over sacrifice?
I’ll never forget, one time, I was preaching on a Sunday morning. And it came from right over there—where the staff sits. All of a sudden, I said something, and I heard this guy say, “Amen! Blankety-blank-blank-blank, Amen! Yeah!” Like, not in a negative way – he wasn’t cussing me out. He wasn’t disagreeing. It was positive! It was like he didn’t know how to express himself! At first, I thought it was one of our staff. But watch this. Listen. I’m not advocating—some of you are like, “Great, can I cuss you out now?” I’m not advocating that. I’m not advocating bad language. The Bible says don’t let corrupt communication come out of your mouth—do you see what I’m saying? But he doesn’t know that verse! So if someone’s around, when you hear that, you know, what is your first reaction? Mercy over sacrifice. Is your first reaction if you heard that, “[Gasp] Oh! Oh, I just can’t believe this. This is terrible. This is horrible,” and judge that? Or is your first reaction, “Thank you, Jesus, that we’re reaching the right people. Thank You, Jesus, that somehow that lost person felt comfortable enough in the house of God”? I’m not advocating crazy behavior, are you following what I’m saying? But I’m saying this: Do we value mercy over sacrifice? Are we willing to pull down prejudice? Are we willing for the church to be a bridge to God and not a barrier?
Think about this. Do you realize, some of these places that Jesus was in? it’s so funny. You know, you may have gone to Sunday school, and they tell stories of these gatherings with Jesus. And first of all, Jesus is always kind of like, [facial expressions] all nice, all pale white, like He’d been born up in Iceland somewhere. Okay…Jesus was not pale white, okay? But He’s sitting there in these Sunday school stories, and all the disciples are sitting around Jesus, and everybody’s just there, you know. And there might be a little boy off to the side, with a bucket of fish and loaves. Religion! It paints this picture, and we get this idea that this is how Jesus is, and this is how church is. The real deal is stories like this, where Jesus is sweating, and going from town to town and just trying to get a couple of spoonfuls of corn, and He’s getting rebuked by religion! Do you know what the real deal is? Think about some of those places Jesus was at. How about the party Jesus went to? Not just with all the sinners, not just all the partiers and the druggies and the gangsters. Not just regular people like all of you. Oh, no, these were the notorious sinners! These were, like, the famously bad people. Jesus went to a party with all of them. How do you think the language was at that party? Do you see?
Let me tell you something about Jesus. I believe this is why God chose to have Jesus born in Bethlehem. You know what Bethlehem was? Bethlehem was an outlaw town. It’s where all the raw people hung out. And that’s what you see about Jesus. He’s constantly getting into the rawness of humanity, and getting out there. He’s taking away barriers. He’s removing obstacles, and He’s saying, “Whosoever will, God loves you, and I died for you! Come to Me, all of you who are heavy laden, and I’ll give you rest! I’ll give you rest!” Jesus says, “My burden’s easy. My yoke is light. Come to Me. You’ll find rest for your souls.” That’s the real Jesus.
Do you know who the real Jesus is? He comes into Jerusalem—now, imagine this: Here it is again. He encounters religion in the temple, all kind of corruption going on, people doing dirty deals and all this kind of stuff. Imagine this if your one of the disciples—Jesus comes into the temple with all the people. Imagine if you’re a disciple, and you look over, and you see Jesus, and He’s braiding a whip. And all of a sudden, He gets this whip and just kind of [whip cracking sound]. You know Peter James and John were like, “He’s lost it, man. He’s lost it. He’s just had enough.” But the Bible says that Jesus goes in there with a whip and cleans out the religion, and suddenly the disciples remembered a Scripture that says “the zeal of My Father’s house has consumed Me.” Jesus basically went in there, and with a whip, turned over every barrier that was keeping people from truly worshipping God. And He taught us this principle: If you are really passionate for God, you will be passionate for mercy. If you are really passionate for God, you will be passionate about having mercy on other people.
I remember after I was saved for a while, that I got into this group. And they were real attractive in the beginning, because they were so zealous for God. It was kind of just real attractive to me. And they prayed a lot, and they fasted a lot, which, you know, we believe in here at Celebration Church. We pray and fast a ton. But this group was into all this stuff. But what I noticed was, like the more zealous they got for God, the more judgmental they got towards other people. And the more zealous they got for God, the more religious, or wanting to judge or put burdens on other people they became. Listen, that is a false zeal. If you’re truly zealous for God, you will be zealous about having mercy on other people. You will be like Jesus, and you will desire mercy above sacrifice. You’ll desire relationship above ritual, and you’ll desire love above law.
I remember one time this guy came on campus and he was preaching and I really admired him initially. I mean, he drug this cross around, now – I know a lot of people out there are carrying crosses. This guy drug this cross, and he started preaching in our student center. And he had all of our attention, and I was a new Christian, but man, he was preaching and students were listening to him, and some of the students, like, started to respond. And I remember thinking, “Wow, this could be like a move of God, man. All these students – wow.” So he started telling them to believe in Jesus, but then he started adding things to that. And he said things like, “Believe in Jesus, but, you know, you’re also going to have to drop out of school. And, you know, you’re also going to have to do this, and you’re also gonna have to do that”, and started adding all of these things. And he shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in their faces. I went up to him afterwards, and I said, “Look,” you know, and I told him a little bit of my story. How I was a bouncer in a bar and into drugs and all this stuff, and how God had saved me, and how I just didn’t understand why he was telling the students all those things. I’m like, “Man, God has saved me.” He looked right at me, and he said, “You are not saved.” Looked at me right in the eyes. He said, “You are not saved. You are not going to heaven, and you are not a true follower of Jesus.” I was like, “How can you say that? How do you know that?” He said, “I know it because of that polo shirt that you are wearing.” What? Come on, dog! It’s the late eighties! I got on the polo on with the collar up! Do you know what I’m saying? It was the eighties man! Come on, I was buff back then, man. I had those biceps working! He was like, “I know you’re not a true follower of Jesus because you’re wearing a polo.” So that’s it, huh? We’re saved by grace, as long as we’re not wearing a polo shirt. Where do people get these things?
You know, think about denominations. I mean, think about when we talk about ritual, or wanting relationship above ritual. When you read the Bible, and the way you relate to other people, you have to do it through a filter of Jesus, and the filter of Jesus is always gonna be mercy above sacrifice, relationship above ritual, and love above all. That’s how we read the Bible. That’s how we relate to other people. Do you realize there are whole churches all about the ritual of baptism. Now, baptism is very important. But guess what? Your relationship with God is more important! Whole denominations have split over how you baptize! All because of where in Matthew 28, Jesus says, “Baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” But then you get to the book of Acts, and all the baptizing recorded in the book of Acts is done in the name of Jesus! So there are whole denominations that have split because of this. I’m talking money spent, arguments, councils, committees, division, over do you baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit? Or do you baptize in the name of Jesus? Let me tell you what we do at Celebration Church to make it simple: We baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and in the name of Jesus Christ. We cover ’em all! There! Can we move on and reach people? Can we move on and advance the kingdom of God? Man!
Or how about music? Wars over music. Some religion says things like, “Well, a violin is more holy than an electric guitar.” Let me tell you something about music—here’s how music works, okay? It’s not the instruments that are holy. It’s the lyrics that are holy, and it’s the spirit behind those lyrics in wanting to express and exalt God. Okay? So watch. For some of you—here’s how we, as human beings, are wired, okay? Whatever you grow up listening to, like when you’re in middle school and high school and college – those sounds, along with however you’re wired – you hear those sounds, and your mind actually records those. And those are accesses to your soul. And so if you hear Christian music with Christian lyrics, but with those sounds that you prefer—do you see what I’m saying? You’re going to like that song. But not all of us like the same sounds.
There are some denominations that have said no instruments. You can’t be accepted. You’re not accepted if you play an instrument when you worship God. There’s some denominations or some churches that have said Southern gospel music is the only anointed music by God. So sorry, rest of the world: China, Asia, Africa, and all the other billions of human beings on the face of the earth. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s religion! Let me tell you something about music. Here’s what I mean. For example, today we have Blameless in the house. That’s hip-hop. Did you see the lyrics in that? Man, those lyrics exalt God. Now, for some of you, you didn’t necessarily like those sounds, but guess what? For some people here, they love those sounds, and they worship God to that music. Now, right after that, guess what? We sang an awesome hymn. Some of you didn’t know what a sea billow was, did you? Let those sea billows roll, baby! “It is well, it is well, with my soul.” Beautiful.
See, this is what Jesus is talking about when He says, “We—we sang the dirge, and you didn’t mourn. We played the flute, and you didn’t dance.” He’s rebuking religious people in this passage of Scripture. He says, “But wisdom is justified by our children.” He’s basically saying this: People that truly know God and understand mercy over sacrifice, relationship over ritual, and love over law, guess what? They can see God in both of them. They can see God in the old hymns. They can see God with just an acoustic guitar. They can see God in the hip-hop. They can see God in the rock. They can see God in the easy listening. Are you following me on this? Wisdom is justified. Don’t get religious and just think because you liked it, then this is the way it should be. No, I challenge you to value mercy over sacrifice, and maybe, every now and then, sacrifice your personal preference of music so that other people in the congregation can experience the mercy of God!
I want to conclude with this, and we’ll pick it up again next week. I want to end here with verse 9. Jesus says all of this that we’ve been reading, but then look at what happens here. This is what happens when a church or followers of Jesus fall into this religious trap. This is what happens when we begin to value sacrifice over mercy, when we value ritual over relationship, or if we value law over love—when we stop being accepting. If we stop being a “whosoever will” church. Look at verse 9.
It says, “Now when He had departed from there”—speaking of Jesus—”He went into their synagogue.” “He went into their synagogue.” Not God’s synagogue. Not a place of worship. Their synagogue. And that’s what religion does. It takes what was God’s, what was a bridge, and it converts it to man’s. It creates a barrier. In other words, no longer was that synagogue God’s synagogue. No longer was that place Jesus’ synagogue. Jesus says, you’re going the religious route? That’s their synagogue. That’s man’s. That’s manmade. That’s religion.
My prayer is that all of us in Celebration Church let this place never be our church. Let it always be His church. Let this place never be a place that puts up barriers in front of people. Let it always be a place that’s a bridge to Jesus, to our Heavenly Father. Let this place always be a place that values mercy over sacrifice, relationship above ritual, and love over law.