One of the most unlikely hit songs of the 1990’s was recorded by the Georgia-based rock band R.E.M. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a quarter century since “Losing My Religion” was released in 1991. The song was nominated for several Grammy’s, mainly because of its popular music video that played on MTV. In 2004,Rolling Stonemagazine listed it at #169 among the 500 greatest songs of all time. (Of course, we know what kind of credibility that magazine has, but that’s another story.)
The song itself really didn’t have anything to do with religion, though I’m sure the counter-cultural theme probably struck a cord with many listeners. The title, from the main refrain, comes from a common southern expression that generally means losing one’s temper, or being at your wit’s end. Like, “traffic today was so bad I thought I was going to lose my religion.”
For us as Christians, we weren’t sure what to think about that song when it came out. On the one side, it seemed like yet another secular statement from popular culture bashing religion. But on the other side, losing our religion is something we as followers of Christ have all been trying to do for a while. It may have become a bit of a cliche by now, that “Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.” But that doesn’t mean it’s any less true.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture that illustrates the point is found in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, where he recounts his own religious heritage as a Hebrew and a Pharisee–“as for legalistic righteousness, faultless”–and then says, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (3:8)
He was saying, essentially, I have had religion, which was empty and worthless, and now I know Christ, and it’s made all the difference in the world. I gladly “lose my religion” if I can trade it in for relationship, because of the difference Jesus makes in my life.
Paul was not the first to espouse that kind of teaching, of course. Jesus radically exposed the external religious observance of the Pharisees of his day, and pointed them to a heart-level relationship with God the Father, through himself. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, he figuratively turned over the tables of their religious thought, and introduced his first-century followers to a whole new way of thinking about God, and themselves.
We will be kicking off a new spring series of messages on that great sermon this Sunday, entitled “Rethink.”If you are ready to lose your religion, and discover the depths of what a real relationship with Christ looks like, I hope you can join us. Invite a friend or two as well.
I am praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.