In “A Renegade's Guide to God,” David Foster, pastor of “The Gathering” — a Nashville area worship community, issues a call to all believers — forget the rigid rules, religious agenda and guilt scripted by many churches, and become an R4G — Renegade for God. Read an excerpt:
You might be a renegade if ... Four real reasons renegades are allergic to all things religious
Paradoxically, what propels people toward atheism is above all a sense of revulsion against the excesses and failures of organized religion.— Alister McGrath
Steve was my big brother and though he was shorter than me, I still looked up to him. I wanted, no I craved, his approval. I would do almost anything to make him think I was cool, so talking to him about my newfound faith was about the most uncool thing I could think of doing.
Religion was a touchy subject for us both. We swore once we got old enough we would never darken the door of a church again. But, I had just experienced a radical conversion. Today, we might call it a "total spiritual makeover." Without intending to, I became an all out, full-bore follower of Jesus. All I wanted was a chance to break the news to him gently, face to face, in my own words. Knowing his aversion to all things religious, it was going to take a careful, sensible explanation to convince him I had not gone "religious weirdo" on him. I wanted him to see "it's still" me, only it was a different me.
We decided to meet at Gary Force Ford in Bowling Green, Kentucky-the town where he lived and where I was going to college. We both liked cars and since the new Mustangs were out, it seemed like a perfect place to spill the beans. As we walked to the new car lot, I looked for a way to begin the conversation. I started by talking about religion, something we both disliked. As carefully as I could, I told him the Jesus we heard about had become real to me. I poured out my heart about how Jesus changed my entire outlook on life. Because of this experience, I felt more alive and excited about my future. Every day was different than the one before. I faced each day full of energy. I sensed my life mattered. I assured him this wasn't a religious phase and I wasn't going to turn into the kind of "goody-goody" guy we'd always made fun of. As I shared my faith as sanely as I possibly could, I could see the disapproval moving across his face like dark clouds advancing a storm. The tension thickened. He'd stopped listening and started waiting for me to breathe. And when I did, he leaned in and with fire in his eyes said, "Why in the hell would you want to waste your life being a G___ D____ preacher?" My heart sank. Man, I'd messed up big time. If I had known this would be our last conversation on the subject, I'd have lingered longer. But I was mortified.
This was not the response I prayed for. But instead of being angry or hurt, all I could think about was, "You know, he's got a point. Why would I want to spend my one and only life talking about a dead guy who lived 2,000 years ago?" Without thinking through what I was about to say, and as he climbed into his flaming red GTO to leave, I blurted out, "You gotta waste your life doing something. It might as well be about something big." What I blurted out as a seventeen-year-old nobody from Barren County, has stuck with me from that day to this. Little did I know I'd stumbled onto something that would become the prevailing principle of my life. I believed then as I do today: Jesus is the key to everything about the life worth living.
The renegade spirit
Everyone I've ever known is looking for a way to fit in and stand out all at the same time. Reputation and persona are important. No one sets out on a bland, boring, meaningless march to the mediocre middle. That's why we dress cool and drive cars with image. We want to be the person people want to be with and like. I saw a great example of this in a recent TV ad for the new Hummer 2. It opens with a bunch of kids racing homemade go-carts. The commercial has a rugged retro feel to it, harkening back to a simpler place and time. The kids are hunched over the steering wheels of their slick formula-one racers high-tailing it down the hill. But there's the one lone-wolf kid who defies convention in his homemade, rough-hewn Hummer go-cart screaming straight down the hill, oblivious to the winding, gradual course set out for the normal people.
He loves knowing that his is the most unique machine in the race. This kid has guts. He's cutting his own way through the great outdoors, blazing his own trail, and to everyone's utter chagrin he glides across the finish line in first place and wins the race-all to the accompaniment of the Who's "Happy Jack": a song about a boy who dares go his own way. After he wins the race you hear playing in the background, "But they couldn't stop Jack with the waters lapping and they couldn't prevent Jack from feeling happy."
Each time I watch it, it stirs something deep inside me. What are the Hummer people trying to tell us? A Hummer 2 isn't for the average person with prosaic aspirations. It's a machine with personality, crafted solely to inspire the soul of those who love kicking back against the encroaching boundaries of convention. Hummer people revel in the rockier road less traveled. They pride themselves on having a bigger and better machine and they are very pleased to outsmart all the others. They're unafraid of unrutted roads or unfamiliar territory. They live for it.
God created you with a stalwart spirit. It's the part of you that longs to live a free, fun, fulfilling life, brimming over with purpose, place, and meaning. And of all the fears we face and for all the demons who snipe at our souls, they can all be reduced to one common, core obsession. The number one fear of every man and woman I have counseled, coached, or conversed with is the fear of living a wasted life. And it's this constant craving to live a free, fun, fulfilling life which best identifies the renegade spirit.
Let's get this straight right here, right now; R4G's aren't rednecks. They weren't born with a proclivity to whine or wring their hands. They can't be identified by an outward appearance. They can't be pigeonholed as conservative, liberal, democrat, republican, or independent. They may or may not ride motorcycles. They might or might not have tattoos. They are as apt to wear Brooks Brothers' suits as Bermuda shorts or a Tommy Bahama shirt. They work in high-rise office buildings and on construction sites. They are teachers, lawyers, salesmen, statesmen, artists, painters, bluecollar workers, and ditch-diggers. They come from all races, creeds, and colors. They spill over into every social stratum. Many are highly educated while others are not. Their faith is neither cosmetic nor cultural. Hot-wired into their motivations is the drive to live life to the max. But they're not stressed out, over-reaching, success hounds.
Let's dispel another myth-Renegades are not rebels. They're not angry anti-socials. The sacred Scriptures say, "A rebel doesn't care about the facts. All he wants to do is yell" (Prov. 18:2, LB). Rebels are angry people. They use anger as a mask to cover up their hurt and disappointment. Rebels look for someone to blame, something to hit, and something to run from or over. Renegades aren't angry people. They are simply people who will not settle for less than the free, fun, fulfilling life for which they somehow know they were meant.
From the cradle to the grave, life comes at you hard and fast. Easy is not an option. If you are a bum, life is hard. If you're a businessman, life is hard. If you're a mother, life is hard. But it's never easy we're after. As a matter of fact, renegades avoid easy because we bore easily. It's not easy we crave, but worth it. To be who God created you to be and to do what God has called you to do is never easy, but it is what we won't live without, if we can help it.
Renegade real is an inner quest for authenticity, not a particular temperament or style. Renegades know they were created to be unique, distinctive people. As a matter of fact, the renegade spirit can be understood with these three words-energy, individuality, and significance. It's a desire, a passion to be an individual who lives a significant life. Like the hippies of the sixties, we want our chance at revolution. We look around us at the pain and we dare to do more than wring our hands and say our prayers. We want to get our hands dirty in the act of making this a better world because we lived.
A renegade is a live wire, someone who gets up with a positive outlook every day. They savor the moments by understanding that every breath is a miracle, every sandwich is like manna, and every person met is a priority. It doesn't mean they don't get down, it doesn't mean they don't go through hard times of hurt and pain, but they are resilient and resourceful. Give them enough time and opportunity and they'll find a way to make life great. They choose to live-not to lose. They are winners, not whiners. They are truthseekers, not agenda pushers.
Renegades are mavericks. We don't necessarily mean to be, but we have a low B.S. quotient. As such, we resist second-hand faith and hand-me-down rules. Orphaned obligations feel as distant and plastic as disco. Second-hand faith, second-hand experiences, second-hand rules chafe at the soul and the spirit of the renegade on the road to real.
At the core of the renegade spirit is an insatiable curiosity. They want to know why things are the way they are. We ask lots of questions. That's why for us, rule-based religion is a stodgy, staid, and provincial way to live. Renegades surmise if God can be known, it should be through a relationship, not through a set of rules, which do not relate to real life in the real world.
If there is one all-inclusive characteristic, which captures the spirit of the Renegade, it's the desire to be real. We want to be aligned with people who are real. We want to invest our lives in issues that matter, endure, and will prevail in the end when everything else melts away.
Renegades are spirited, positive, energetic people. We love life and want to experience everything it has to offer. We want a big life that matters and makes a difference. We're not looking for neat and tidy. We want our lives to count, now and forever. We want to live everyday unafraid, unashamed, untamed, and unleashed. And as a renegade myself, I join all my mates in the renegade nation as we dare to imagine and create a better world.
Renegades are also curious; they want to know "why?" And this curiosity starts early. If you doubt that, spend an afternoon walking in the park with a four-year-old. He will ask you a thousand questions without taking a breath, about everything he sees, touches, or smells. He will ask, "How do bees fly?" or "Why do humming birds hum?" or "How can brown seeds buried in black dirt produce a green watermelon with a red center?" If you dare to offer answers, he will counter with, "Why?" Why do we always have more questions than answers? It's because life is best lived as a quest-an adventure through uncharted territory, fraught with great peril, yet loaded with great reward. Renegades know that "why" questions, when asked openly and honestly, lead to truth, then to the reality, then to God, the one whose life and love makes us real. The goal we all have.
Allergic to all things religious
OK, here is where the Renegade Spirit is most misunderstood. While renegades run from religion, they're not necessarily running from God. For us, religion is like a refrigerator filled with three-month- old moldy pizza. It may fill your stomach, but it's probably going to make you sick. To a renegade, religion is about man-made do's and don'ts. Religion is finger-pointing preachers screaming, "Turn or burn and die and fry while we go to the sky." It's about someone's mythical opinion about how we can get the franchise on God. And we all know opinions are like noses; everybody's got one.
In an interview with a long-time friend, international superstar Bono, of the hit band U2 and professed Christian, made this astute observation, "Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship."
Renegades run from religion because they resist being named, revolt at being shamed, and rebel against being tamed. Stephen Brown said, "If we are only out to be nice, mild-mannered folk, we should either change our name or change our calling." We crave a bigger, better, bolder life than religion allows. My gut tells me I was meant for more than just being a nice guy and maybe that's why men are so noticeably absent from church. I don't want to be Pee-wee Herman or the Terminator, but I do want to be a man of love and honor. In his insightful book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow observes:
Although males have not completely abandoned the church, tough, earthy, working guys rarely come to church. High achievers, alpha males, risk takers, and visionaries are in short supply. Fun-lovers and adventurers are also under-represented in church. These rough-and-tumble men don't fit in. Today's churchgoing man is humble, tidy, dutiful, and above all, nice. What a contrast to the men of the Bible! Think of Moses and Elijah, David and Daniel, Peter and Paul. They were lions not lambs-take charge men who risked everything in the service of God. They fought valiantly and spilled blood. They spoke their minds and stepped on the toes of religious people.
I crave the free, fun, fulfilling life my gut tells me I am destined to live. Like a stallion kicking against his cramped stall, renegades smother under the smallness of rule-based religion. It doesn't take a spiritual giant to see God is bigger than the Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, or "__________" (fill in the blank) box. Surely He didn't create you and me, the crowning jewel of His creativity, to live little, safe, self-absorbed, cookie-cutter, humdrum lives.
Renegades are allergic to religious know-it-alls passing themselves off as God's anointed. This is a huge issue with me, because I grew up listening to preachers who were not real or nice once you got to know them. Real will be a core character quality of anyone who dares speak for God. When the messenger is disingenuous, we discount the message. Renegades are not contentious, but we retain the right to decide for ourselves. Renegades are mission-driven, movement-oriented, get-it-done activists. That's why we are attracted to Jesus; the one who draws His circle of friendship large enough to include "whosoever will" may come. Christianity is a big tent with lots of room for characters, comrades, and cohorts.
There are four very real reasons why renegades run from religion. They are: the fear of being shamed, tamed, lumped, and limited. Renegades shy away from being shamed. They know something is terribly wrong with the world. They feel the effects of sin and brokenness, they agree that what's wrong with everyone else is what's wrong with me, but when we say we sin we're not saying we're worthless or unlovable. Religion makes little or no distinction between guilt and shame. And that is one of its many fundamental flaws. Real guilt, the kind which drives you into the waiting arms of a merciful, forgiving, grace-infusing God, is a good thing. But shame only drives us away from God, deeper and deeper into our own depravity and despair. Shaming is not just wrong-I believe it's one of the reasons why we see so much violence plastered across the nightly news. If you beat into my head I'm bad, then don't be shocked when I am.
Renegades buck at being tamed. They see religion as the denial of desire and ambition. And that sucks because desire and ambition are the two commodities we have in abundance. The Renegade's active mind thinks, wonders, dreams, and imagines better days and bigger things. We're not interested in sitting in rows of church pews like little clones looking at the back of other cloned heads in a robotic Sunday morning nod to God. We won't be "told" what to do or "commanded" how to behave. For us, compliance and conformity are the ultimate sellouts. We want to give our entire heart, mind and soul to something bigger than ourselves. Renegades know we need to do things better, but we live to do better things.
They don't want a small, simple, or safe 9 to 5 life. They want a big, bold, exciting, life; one more like an adventure, a quest, or a roller-coaster ride with God at the helm with better days and great victories ahead. We want to go way beyond good into great. We yawn at safe. We yearn for dangerous! We have William Wallace's confession, in the movie Braveheart, "All men die, but not all men really live!" tattooed across the front of our brains.
Renegades loathe being lumped together in a homogenized herd. In this way they're like cats, they can't be herded but they can be led. They don't join monolithic groups of people who may or may not represent their own heart commitments. In other words, renegades don't like labels. They don't like one denomination or group lording over everyone else. They don't like being divided by what really seems to be trivial matters. They like large groups of interesting, diverse people. They like movements aimed at achieving greatness motivated by larger-than-life ideas, not petty arguments over outdated allegiances. Renegades also fear being limited. They won't listen to longwinded, red-faced preachers telling them what they can or cannot do. Their wild heart tells them a well-lived life can't be built on a negative foundation or a long list of religious cliches. Sermons on the evils of smoking, drinking, movie-going, the clothes we shouldn't wear, or the theme parks we should boycott seem insulting.
The renegade cry
The renegade's heart cries to live free, have fun, and change the world. Freedom is what we want and from Jesus freedom is exactly what we get.
Renegades long to be free from rote religious rules and regulations. The idea of rules is not the hang-up here, but their meaning must be rooted in love. Wherever love is the ethic and gratitude is the motivation, you can expect Renegades to gather. Jesus frees us from the pain of the past and the regrets we have over the things we should've but didn't do. As the Scriptures say, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love" (Gal. 5:13).
I almost want to apologize on this one, because fun is so trivialized in the minds of religious people. But fun is exactly what we crave and without it our lives dry up, our relationships crack up, and our jobs become jails. Southwest Airlines has adopted as its recruiting slogan, "Feel free to actually enjoy what you do." Fun lubricates the friction of the mundane and routine. The renegade wants to have fun because he believes loving God and living in His wonderful world is a privilege, not a right. When God looks at me, He smiles. Dare I do less when I look back?
No one I went to church with as a kid would mistake it for a fun time. I'm not advocating a frenetic, frivolous, self-serving emotionalism here. I'll never forget the Tuesday morning I was called to report to the seminary president's office. He came to hear me speak the Sunday before and man did he intimidate me sitting there looking presidential. I thought, "He was so impressed, he wants me to speak at chapel?" I was ushered into his office. Sitting behind his over-sized mahogany desk, leaning back in his high backed, overstuffed red leather chair, he said, "I heard you speak this weekend and your sermon was nice." "Nice" is not the word I was hoping for. He said, "Son, you have a big choice to make. You have a gift to be funny, but humor has no place in the pulpit. You can either be a comedian or a preacher, not both. You're dismissed." I was stunned, embarrassed, and mortified. I left his office feeling emasculated, fighting back tears. I continued to respect him for the godly man I knew him to be, but from that day on I was deaf to his influence. Why? Because, though I couldn't argue with him, my gut told me he was wrong-dead wrong.
Laughter is as necessary as air. It is a gift from God and when the Bible says a cheerful heart is like medicine, it is right on. What I'm calling fun, the kind which shakes the soul awake, the Bible calls joy. Joy is the reality of Jesus experienced and expressed here in the real world. Life is difficult and it's not always fun, but if you're not having any fun at all then you've been hoodwinked. Because living, loving, and serving Renegade Jesus is fun. And how could it be anything less? If Jesus is who He claimed to be, then there's no way you can be somber, sad, and serious all the time. In Christ, we're wanted, loved, and free. God's love paid a debt He did not owe-that's plenty enough reason to shout-Yea God! After all, the largest book in the Bible is a songbook. You can't sing all of those songs as a dirge. Sometimes they're an anthem and a march. David was a musician before he got into politics. On one occasion, he was filled with so much fun and he danced so hard down the middle of Main Street his clothes fell off (see 2 Sam. 6:20-22). Religious people frowned on it then and if you dare dance today, they'll frown on you. But not to worry; God's got rhythm and He definitely invented soul.
In 2005, for the first time since records have been kept, people participating in sports and exercise programs decreased while attendance at all sporting events rose. We are losing our drive, because we're losing the belief that one life can change the world. That's one of the battle cries of the Renegade life. We are not consumers; we are world-changers. We wake up every day with the conviction that how we live today does make all the difference.
The J-life is a life of action. We are so hungry for it we deify athletes and actors who portray it. We watch extreme sports to live vicariously through those who refuse to be couch potatoes or pewwarming wannabe's. R4G's are tired of being over-stimulated and under-involved; over-stressed and under-stretched. We won't settle for being over-weight and under-challenged.
As a Renegade for God, I refuse to sit on the sideline watching things happen. I want Jesus to place me on the crest of God's new wave. I won't be here long so I dedicate my life to fulfilling God's divine design for me. As Jesus lives and loves through me, I will meet needs, right wrongs and run to the eye of the storms. "It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian," laments Roy Hattersley, a columnist for the U.K. Guardian. An outspoken atheist, Hattersley came to this conclusion after watching the Salvation Army lead several other faith-based organizations in the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina.
"Notable by their absence," he writes, were "teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers' clubs, and atheists' associations-the sort of people who scoff at religion's intellectual absurdity." Hattersley concluded Christians "are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others."
"The only possible conclusion," says Hattersley, "is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make [Christians] morally superior to atheists like me."
Wow, what a statement! And what is the moral superiority the R4G displays most proudly? It is the ability to rally to action when compassion thrusts us to the frontline as first-responders.
Using Jeff Foxworthy's famous tagline, "You might be a redneck if ..." as a starting point, let me just say, as we travel along this road to finding life outside conventional Christianity, you might be an R4G (Renegade for God) if you want to live an expanding life; where you're totally free to become all that God's love, God's gifts, and your willingness to work hard and prevail, can make of you. If you want to have fun, smile a lot, lighten up, and live the joy-filled life Jesus promised, you might be an R4G. If you want to seize your divine moment to fulfill your destiny; if you believe God made you for this moment in time, you might be an R4G.
Jesus came to love you and give you life. He did not die to make you religious, but to give you a new heart. Because nothing changes until your heart changes, and the heart never changes by itself, we need help. Jesus' death and resurrection is God's promise fulfilled. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). And this new freed-up, joy-filled heart of flesh doesn't tame, shame, limit, or lump easily. Instead, it sets the R4G in us free to be an agent of change with a message of hope for a world in pain.
As R4G's we will dedicate ourselves to living a Christ-centered, grace-empowered, mission-driven life. We will jam-pack our lives with other happy people who ache to be wave-makers in the dangerous, uncivilized Renegade Nation. Our corporate mission is the fueling and funding of a global revolution aimed at the radical reclamation of the human heart. We are driven by a relentless, passionate pursuit of the divine scandal-namely-every life matters to God.
The R4G cry
Late in his life John Steinbeck, winner of the Nobel Prize, decided to travel across the country. He wanted to explore the human condition and chronicle his discoveries. His friends warned him it was too late in his life for such a quest. Of their objections he wrote, "I had seen so many begin to pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions and gradually retire from their manhood into a kind of spiritual and physical semi-invalidism. In this, they were even encouraged by their wives and relatives, and it's such a sweet trap."
Steinbeck knew the potential problems of driving thousands of miles alone in a truck with only his dog. But as he said, he was not about to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage. His adventures are recorded in Travels with Charley: In Search of America. Much of it portrays the sad, cellophane age we live in, so safe and sterile, and the profound consequences of such lifelessness. He noted, "It was all plastic too-the table linen, the butter dish, the sugar and crackers were wrapped in cellophane, the jelly in a small plastic coffin sealed with cellophane. It was early evening and I was the only customer. Even the waitress wore a sponge apron. She wasn't happy, but then she wasn't unhappy. She wasn't anything."
Steinbeck observed how insulated our society has become and how mediocrity overtakes us little by little, day by day. Before leaving, a well-known political reporter said, "If anywhere in your travels you come on a man with guts, mark the place. I want to go see him. I haven't seen anything but cowardice and expediency. This used to be a nation of giants."
God is looking for men and women to be giants in the land of the dying. Imagine the unlikely, against-all-odds miracles Jesus performed through the first little band of feeble followers. They were the definition of ordinary. They had no money, no connections, and no master plan. Jesus didn't write a manual or give them detailed instructions. He simply sent them out to tell what they'd seen and to give away what He gave them-new life. In the Book of Acts, Jesus welcomed those who gathered in the upper room to the revolution. It would start in Jerusalem and spread like a love virus to Judea, and then like a world-wide tsunami, the J-life slowly covers the known world. Jesus made them different and that difference is still making all the difference.
In 1997, Apple came out with an ad campaign called "Think Different." The commercials were short clips of influential figures in the twentieth century. They included Albert Einstein, Mohandas Gandhi, Alfred Hitchcock, Pablo Picasso, and several others. In the background was Richard Dreyfuss reading the following:
Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things, they push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.— Apple Computer, Inc. commercial "Think Different"
The renegade's cry will guide us along this non-religious road to real. I will, by the power of Jesus Christ, live free-free from the bondage of past shame, past guilt, and free from past prejudices and put-downs. I will have fun every day understanding that the joy of the Lord is my strength as I walk in the real world power of the resurrected Christ. Death has been defeated because the love of Jesus paid the bill. As an R4G, I am a citizen of the Renegade Nation. Together, we will do the one thing religion can never do-love like Jesus loved, live like Jesus lived, and leave the revolution intact. We won't tolerate anyone wanting to hijack our sacred honor for their religious agenda. We are joined to the revolution Jesus set in motion two thousand years ago-the radical renovation of the human heart.
Welcome to the journey to life outside conventional Christianity, where men and women learn how to live big, bold, bodacious lives. On this road, we do not cower in corners, or spend our lives apologizing for our freedoms, our joys, or our ambitions. Welcome into the sunlight of our Savior Jesus Christ. He loved us back to life, placed a servant's heart in us, and a hero's path before us. Our fight is against anyone who tries to water down Jesus or His radical message; love conquers all. We boldly proclaim "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us [and gave Himself for us]" (Rom. 8:37).
As we walk this non-religious road to real together, we will praise God for our freedom, as well as our future. We're going to see God show up at all our stops along the way, as we discover the majesty and the mystery which is Jesus. You'll experience for yourself the power of the human heart, set free to dream, to dare, to move, to risk everything for love. His aliveness, His realness, and His mission is still shaking the world. After 2,000 years, Jesus is still cool, as He should be, of course. As Jesus people, our challenge is to live out His aliveness in front of a dying world.
Excerpted from “A Renegade's Guide To God: Finding Life Outside Conventional Christianity,” by David Foster. Copyright © 2006 by David Foster. Excerpted by permission of FaithWords, an imprint of Warner Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.