Two Kinds

I use to believe there were two kinds of people in the world–the saved and the unsaved. Of coarse, I could pick out which was which based on their actions–actions I was taught to recognize and acknowledge as good or bad. Thus, I could point out “those people” that were going to hell and “these people” who weren’t. I only state this as most of my life revolved around viewing others this way.
I wrote recently that my questions had ceased and, to an extent, this is true. Those initial questions, that I now see as the basis of (my) growing close to God, have caused me to re-evaluate everything I know or thought I knew. These questions seem to be common to many I’ve heard from. What questions have you buried in your heart because you’ve been made afraid of being divisive, wrong, ungodly, rejected, etc..? From my own personal experiences I can say that God is big enough to handle those question with a great amount of patient and love even if others don’t respond well to your new found freedom in Jesus.
Through many months of talking and even wrestling with God, and through many frustrations of trying to back God into a doctrinal corner to get him to be what I wanted him to be, he has led me to many amazing realizations. One of these is that there are two distinct “types” in the world–those who see God’s workings in their life and those who don’t…yet…
When I started seeing God as love and dared to believe him to be good, I began viewing all other events through both my life and all of history from that perspective. I don’t want to go into too many specific details, at least not in this post, but this view point has been liberating beyond words. In fact, I’m seeing how trying to explain it in words can fall woefully short. This has led me to seeing God working in the lives of those who don’t even realize it, whether they have labeled themselves as religious or not. Likewise, many who claim God’s name most often seem to be the most confused (like I had been) when the results of their works start to crumble.
Thousands of years after the initial scriptures were compiled, we still find ourselves pursuing a tribal mindset–I need to get me and mine into heaven/safety and those others are going to hell/have to perish. This isn’t the message that the Bible conveys overall though many have misconstrued it this way. Israel, and now Christians, are to be the light of the world that helps bring all other “tribes” out of that dark-age mindset. Whether it is the U.S. verses another country or “my church” verses “those others”, we still tend to fall flat on our faces even after thousands of years. We’re still concentrating on self-centered, my-tribe-only love instead of other-centered love like Jesus exemplifies, even when it cost him his life.
I write these type things mostly to myself–try to view everyone from the perspective of God working in their lives, and maybe I’ll find how he wants me to be a part of that work–to show others into the love, beauty, and freedom of the Kingdom that is here and now. This isn’t through an agenda of conversion, but through simply living for those that Jesus leads me to. While I’m new to this viewpoint, it’s an exciting prospect to pursue.

Losing to Win

Yesterday, I witnessed something quite ordinary yet quite remarkable.
A father and son were playing a board game. The young son was starting to lose as he didn’t really have much of a handle on the inner workings of the game. However, the father, seeing his kid getting frustrated, started dropping small hints on how to proceed. The father kept staving off his own victory to guide his son, though the son wanted to do things his own way. Eventually, the kid won with his dad having only one move left to win himself. The father had guided his son to victory even though he lost himself.
This father had been known through his life to be very competitive yet when it came to his son, he chose to lose instead, even in the sight of all of those around.
As I watched this unfold, I thought of how great a representation this is of God. He chose to suffer defeat at our hands, his own children, so that we could be victorious over sin. Jesus took all the steps to win victory for himself, yet, he chose to lose his life so he could defeat sin and give us that victory. He also continues to guide us to ultimate victory over death even though we may get frustrated when we continually fail by doing things our way instead.
God loves us. He already knows the glorious outcome to our lives and he is working, even in our mishaps, to bring about his ultimate plan of redemption and eternal life.

The Journey Continues

Lately, God hasn’t laid much on my heart to write about. However, he has placed much in my mind to think about. In a way, I want to write about these things, but maybe I have to get my bearings from these realizations first.
I’m still making my way through the New Testament again but the progress is slow. This isn’t because I’ve been slacking, but what I’m learning is taking quite some time to digest. The more my eyes are opened, the more amazing I see God’s love is for everyone.
The past few months have been particularly astounding to me. More specifically, in the past week, God has again challenged me to the core. At times I was mentally distraught until he reached out to comfort me again. This might not make a whole lot of sense from the outside, but it has brought new revelation as to the depths of God’s love for us, his children.

The Prodigal Son’s Brother

The Prodigal Son's Brother

We often hear the parable of the prodigal son, but rarely do we stop to consider the other son. This other son is rarely focused on, possibly because it doesn’t fit well into how we perceive Father.
The prodigal son of coarse takes his part of his father’s inheritance, travels to a foreign land, and wastes it. Once his life is to the point that he’s living in the mud with pigs, he returns home in hopes that his father will take pity and hopefully make him a lowly servant. However, the father fully restores him as a son and throws a lavish party. Further, his father never even considers that his son-ship was ever lost.
Most know this part of the story, but it is the elder brother’s story, that is often overlooked, that I wanted to focus on here as he is an integral part of Jesus’ parable.
The older brother returns from the field, hears the music and dancing of the party, and asks a servant what’s going on. The servant tells him that his brother has returned home and the father is throwing a party (Luke 15:25-27). It’s here that the story gets even more interesting.
But he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out, and begged him.–Luke 15:28 (emphasis mine).
Notice in this verse that the brother was angry and the father came out from the party and begged him to join in. It’s commonly accepted that the father in this story represents God. Not only did the father run to and embrace his dirty, prodigal son (which was considered disgraceful during this time period), but he leaves the splendor of the party to go out and beg his other son to come and celebrate his brother being found. In both cases, the father comes down to meet his sons in their misunderstanding of who he is.
But he answered his father, ‘Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.–Luke 15:29 (emphasis mine).
Again, there are some very interesting things going on here that can be easily overlooked or just outright ignored if the rest of the story isn’t considered. The elder brother thought that he had earned such a party in honor of himself since he had served and obeyed. The very least his father could have done was give him a measly goat to celebrate with his friends. We see here that the elder son was far more religious than the younger and thought that he had earned his way to a grand reward. In the elder son’s eyes, the younger brother hadn’t earned it—and he is exactly right, the younger son hadn’t. However, the point here is that neither son had earned it because works can’t earn it. It was the father’s joy to give to either of his sons. This is known as (the scandal of) Father’s Grace. It can’t be earned through religious works and when someone does think they deserve it, they ironically lose out on it.
Further, the elder son was jealous that the father had given to the younger son. He would have rather seen him rejected by the father because of his lack of compliance. In this way he was trying to withhold the father’s grace from his own brother who he had decided didn’t deserve it. However, it isn’t we humans who decide how Father distributes his Grace; it is Father who decides that. This same concept is stated in the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:15 ).
But when this your son came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’–Luke 15:30 (emphasis mine).
I emphasized the reference to the younger brother in the above paragraphs to note that the elder brother wouldn’t even acknowledge the prodigal son as his sibling. This is strikingly similar to how we tend to judge others who “devour their lives with sin” when in actuality they are our lost siblings.
“He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.–Luke 15:31
There is another beautiful, yet easily overlooked concept in this verse. When we are with the Father, all that he has is ours. That is, the relationship of being with Father is the reward. The elder brother was only working out of religious obligation because he thought he had to in order to earn his way in. He could have been enjoying life with his father instead of living in resentment of his sibling “out in the world partying.” Do we still do this same thing today? Do we live in resentment of our “siblings” out in the world partying their inheritance away while we “slave away” for God? Just imagine if the elder brother had cared to know his father’s heart and gone out to seek his lost sibling himself.
But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’ ”–Luke 15:32
This verse along with the rest of these scriptures make some interesting points.
-Do we try to mandate how God is allowed to show his Grace to others?
-Are we jealous when those we think don’t deserve it get a “blessing”?
-Are our hearts enjoying the relationship with Father and extending that to our lost siblings, or are we attempting to withhold grace from those we’ve labeled as “worldly” and doomed for hell?
-Are we holding ourselves outside of celebrating life with God because we are so focused on our works based religion?
When I was able to honestly answer these questions for myself, I was able to start living in an amazing relationship with Father through Jesus. Now I’m trying to extend that relationship outwards to others so they can come join the party!

Questions have Ceased

Heart Question

Something very strange happened this morning.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had questions about all that is Christianity buried inside of me. Those questions have seeped out over time, but were for the most part suppressed. This left me in a kind of drab situation where I tried religiously to be a man of God. As I’ve stated before, that approach wasn’t working.
For the past 1.5 years, I’ve decided to let those questions surface. It was almost as if my misery in not questioning finally surpassed my fear of God’s corrective actions for asking these questions. However, just the opposite of corrective punishment happened–God lovingly provided answers to my most troubling quandaries.
These answers didn’t come in an expected form. It isn’t like I asked, “What color is the sky?” and he answered, “blue.” It was more like I asked, “How do I draw closer to you?” and his response was, “I love you.”
I know that might not make much sense from an outside perspective, but that’s the most direct way to explain it.
I got to a point of religious burnout where I pleaded a simple, but heartfelt, request–“No matter the cost, even my life, I just want to draw closer to you Jesus.” Since then, I’ve allowed all of those troubling questions to be voiced. The answers I kept getting were along the lines of, “Don’t you understand? I love you.” This led me to trying to figure out what this “love” thing is.
I’ve come to see that it isn’t about a romantic feeling or even an uncontrolled response such as “falling in love.” It’s a very deliberate action.
God is love. And that love encompasses us.
I carried on conversations in my head with God (aka praying) throughout the past several months. As I began to truly understand and experience that real love that I never could comprehend before, those questions I had all my life began to find explanations.
I use to wake up every morning with a new topic in my mind that I would discuss all day with God. To my surprise, I awoke this morning with no real questions about God anymore but just a contentment of living in his presence.
This is not to say that I comprehend and can explain him.
This is not to say that I can give an answer to any question.
This is not to say that I will never have another question.
However, I’m starting to see, believe, and experience that God really is love and this has freed me in ways that I can’t describe. Maybe I’m not “there” yet, but I’m starting to see how it is possible to truly love others like Jesus does, even for an introverted, logical, cold, calculating person like me.
Much of my writing has been inspired by the questions I’ve had. This is the first time in my entire life, even from my earliest childhood memories, that I truly don’t have a question suppressed somewhere inside. The best I can explain it is “God is love” is the answer.
Don’t be afraid to ask good humbly what’s in your head and, more importantly, what’s in your heart. God is love, and he wants all of his children to know his heart of love.

Read Your Bible

How many times did I hear this expression growing up? It was probably stated hundreds if not thousands of times and almost came across like reverse psychology. I was made to believe that, even if I did read the Bible, I wouldn’t understand it because any view other than what the “anointed of God” described was heresy. Therefore, the phrase “read your Bible” came to mean “interpret the Bible the way we tell you to.”
Ironically, when I finally did start reading the Bible, a lot of what I was taught through the years came into question. I saw that there were a whole lot of gray areas that no one was allowed to dig deeper in to. Questioning was tolerated once or twice, but then I was told not to judge, that I was being doubtful, or just outright not to question. This confused me even further.
Because of all of this, I was too afraid to truly open up to most people because I felt I would be labeled as heretical if I did. I kept to myself and just mindlessly set through many of the teachings. There were some seeds of truth in all of this, but they generally got twisted, though this may not have always been intentional. Sometimes I wish that I knew then what I know now, but I’m realizing more and more that God has better timing then I do, and I can’t get the right words out in person anyway if God’s not behind them. To this day, I still have difficulty opening up in person, but I’m learning to just let God’s love flow through my actions and, where appropriate, he will manifest love in my words also.
This is still a learning experience and will always be. I’m seeing more and more what love really is, as exemplified by Father through Jesus. It seems that even our view of love has been twisted into something untrustworthy. Likewise, since our view of love is skewed, our view of God as love is also. We don’t trust in love so we don’t trust in God. Instead, we opt to trust in words on a page, regardless of how badly we may manipulate them.
We were created to be loved and to love others, but if we don’t understand what love actually is, we will only trust in laws and rules which do not have the capacity to love others. The very laws we so adamantly uphold, defend, and force on others in turn only show that we haven’t allowed the real love of God to truly fill our hearts.

The Shack: Second Read Review

The Shack

Initially, I felt led to read this book about a year and a half ago. I wasn’t at all sure of what to expect then.
While I was able to wrap my head around some of the concepts, it deeply challenged much of my Christian-conservative-republican upbringing. Since then, I searched the Bible a lot to see if what The Shack presented could be true and found some correlation. I largely thought that it was an okay story, and I understood the main lesson it seemed to convey: God is love. However, I wasn’t so keen on agreeing with too much else that the book presented. I recommended it to others more as a “read it and see what you think” type book.
I felt led to read it again this pass week and was in tears more times than I could count. I’m astounded by how God has been changing my heart, and this is coming from a deeply introverted/emotionless guy. There are many concepts that God has shown to me over this pass year and a half that I didn’t pick up on, or maybe just refused to, in the initial reading.
I would recommend this book, however, it may be hard to even consider much of what it presents on the initial reading.

Love and the Bible

It would seem our effectiveness as Christians is seen by the rest of the world dependent on how we present God to them.
If we look through the Bible, we can see God represented in many ways. Many Christians present the Bible as the authority we should follow on how to live our lives yet no one can agree on many of the the things the Bible presents.
How can we present Jesus to the rest of the world when we, as Christians, can’t understand and agree on God’s Word?
The Bible, to me, has to have some sort of underlying theme that ties it all together and makes some kind of sense. That one concept the entirety of the Bible points to is Father’s love as represented in human form in Jesus. Anytime we are confused about how to represent God, we can look to how Jesus did. Jesus’ representation contradicted the most religious people of his time as well as much of how God was represented prior to his coming. Jesus’ life also heavily contradicts the way the vast majority of Christians are representing Father today.
But, how do we reconcile God with love and the atrocities we see even in the Bible?
For me, real love means loving someone regardless of who they are, what they do, or who we think they should be. Many religious people extrapolate rules from the Bible of how a Christian should look externally based on such things as the Ten Commandments. However, Jesus stated what these commandments really were attempting to communicate: love (Matthew 22:37-40). Still we claim love, but the form of love is not unconditional like Jesus represented. We built our own god by our interpretation of the Bible instead of looking to Jesus, who exemplifies Father.
The love of God that the Bible communicates does not exist when extrapolated and manipulated to our desires. Then, we just have dead words that attempt to guilt trip someone into accepting a relationship which only seems burdensome instead of freeing.
God is love and he created humans to be in a relationship of love with him. Love can only be love if it is chosen freely without manipulation or force. In attempting to manipulate or force someone into that relationship, we push them away from love. Whether our efforts work to conform them externally or not, we still uphold a false standard that God’s love is based on our compliance which wouldn’t be unconditional love.
God’s intent is to redeem all of creation while working through all the “bad” things we cause by our actions (2 Corinthians 5:19, Colossians 1:20). In this way, he still shows his unconditional love to us while we maintain our free will. Love without this kind of free will would not be love. Our main “task” is to live in that love and let it flow through us for others to see so they can free themselves from the burdens of trying to live “morally,” whatever that may entail.
When we live in that love, we become obedient to God. When we try to produce love by obedience however, we only create confusion and chaos as can be seen in our world today. In turn, we end up extrapolating cliches to give ourselves some form of comfort when we see things falling apart around us. When we live in God’s love, we allow him to remove those things from us that distract us from growing deeper in that love. Many pray for this type of relationship but get confused when God removes something that they’ve put their trust into so they can see and trust in his love instead.
When we focus on God’s love for us, we fall in love with him. That love then flows through us to others. However, when we focus on upholding the Bible as a rule book, we have the exact opposite effect and alienate others.

Dark Corner

Dark Corner
Sometimes I think I’m starting to figure it out, or, at least, God helps me get pass one aspect of my psychosis.
To an extent, I can get comfortable for a while, which is kinda uncomfortable because I feel like I should be progressing spiritually in some way. When this happens, God tends to show me that I’m still growing either in ways I haven’t noticed or by letting previous growth fully substantiate.
There is a third occurrence which happened this weekend. Jesus shines his light into a dark corner that I’ve ignored, forgotten about, or possibly didn’t even realize was still there. When this happened recently, it first made me angry, then depressed, and finally contritely humbled.
God let me fume for a while in my anger which was directed towards others. “It’s their fault this is happening to me,” was my first thought.
After the anger subsided and I started to become depressed at the reality of the situation, God then asked, “Are you sure you didn’t have any fault in this at all?” This hurt somewhat to consider, but I’ve learned when God asks, I usually have some, if not all, of the fault to assume. After I could admit that maybe I was in the wrong, God began to move things along quickly towards restoration.
As I researched the issue and began to make amends yesterday, I noticed the people that I had placed the blame on, and now was working with to fix the problem, were reasonably gracious in helping. This further humbled me as I realized I had jumped to a conclusion which is quite common for most humans to assume. I humbly worked things out at God’s leading and I felt as though this dark and barren corner of my soul, that now had Jesus’ light shining into it, may be starting to see some positive growth and maturity.
Thank you God for humbling me again.

Is it possible?

When I was around 8 years old, I was sitting in a Sunday morning service just like all the Sundays before. As a young kid, I was typically bored. I’m not sure what led to my train of thought at that time as I honestly wasn’t paying any attention to the sermon. However, God asked me a question that has stuck with me. This question has gnawed at me from the back of my mind for over 25 years now.
“Do you think it’s possible to be so lost is Jesus’ love that you don’t sin anymore?”
I had a thought of being literally lost with no way out, surrounded by Jesus and his love.
As I think about it now, this was quite a deep bit of theology to lay on an 8 year old.
At that time, I really had no reference to know yea or nae, however, it did make me pay a little more attention during services from that point on. According to the pastors and teachers, the answer was a resounding “no!” In some way this depressed me as I felt God was teasing me with an impossibility. I felt as though a lifelong devotion of rule following was the path that would lead me to conquer my sin and just maybe catch a glimpse of that type of relationship.
This, however, did not work.
As I grew older, I figured it was possible, just not in this life. To that God seemed to reply “really?”
This sent me on another path of deep spiritual questioning. In a way, it’s almost funny now how God could turn my entire world upside down with a simple question or even with a one word reply.
What if Jesus really did what the Bible says? What if he really removed sin by paying the price in full for it? What if we’re the ones who insist that we have to overcome our sin on our terms. What if it really is that simple (yet oh so hard) to just stand with Jesus, to be lost in Jesus, forever away from sin? What if the Kingdom he brought is already here, in this life, (John 4:23-24, Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15) and we are free to enter and live in it—not free to sin, but free from sin. Could we, would we, dare to…..hope……that grace is really that powerful? Are there some who would try to stand in the way of those trying to enter (Matthew 23:14)?
As I strive to know Jesus more, as I hear his voice more clearly, as I learn about the words he spoke that religion often ignores, circumvents, or manipulates, and as I start to hope to believe he really did pay the price, I look to that 8 year old kid and begin to humbly, hesitantly consider that…..maybe…..just maybe…..the answer could be…..