During my travels last weekend, I stayed at a truly elegant hotel. I can't afford such places and never choose them for myself. But the great generosity of friends told me to close my mouth, stop the protest, and enjoy myself. So I did. And the experience was one I will not be able to repeat anytime soon.

Such a nice place has history, of course. Part of the appeal to people who choose to stay there is that they are inhabiting space previously shared by the likes of European royalty, world-famous athletes, and rock superstars. Who knows? The person in a given room may be in the same room once used by a man or woman or family tonight's overnight guest is occupying.

Let me spare you the expense. It isn't worth it! When I got up the next morning, I was still just an ordinary citizen; there was no more royal blood in my veins that morning than when I went to bed. Neither did I have an athlete's body or any sense of being able to hit a baseball out of the park in dead center field. And I certainly couldn't sing any better. Why, I was just sure that my morning shower would have me singing in such fine form that somebody would be pounding on my door with a multi-million dollar recording contract in hand.

Okay. I'm just kidding. The trip and overnight in elegant surroundings didn't make me lose my mind. I didn't expect that occupying hallowed space would transform me into any of those things. Just being in a place once occupied or made distinctive by distinguished souls doesn't transform anybody.

But you already know that. So what's the point?

It seems to me that some people think they have a spiritual life just because they come from a certain religious tradition, are church members, or observe regular rituals associated with religion. But this works for them no more than staying at the famous Adolphus Hotel turned me into Queen Elizabeth II, Babe Ruth, or Bono!

This is a terrible, satanic myth!
One of the most terrible satanic myths I know comes in forms such as "I am a Christian because I live in America!" or "I am saved because I joined the church!" or "Only the people in my church are true Christians and will go to heaven!" No more than being a member of a certain group kept King David from adultery or being an apostle kept Judas from betraying Jesus or being a church leader whose name comes to your mind right now kept him or her from the moral and criminal behavior that landed that leader in jail.

The call of the biblical prophets rings true across the millennia: it is not words, rituals, and claims that prove you are God's child but family resemblance:

Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world (James 1:26-27 MSG).