My walk with God has not been at all what I was led to expect. I’ve always only known living a Christian life as following all the rules as they’ve been presented. This never fulfilled me though. The harder I tried to be “good” the worse I felt. It was never really working anyways, my faults were only pushed deeper inside.
Yes, I prayed. Yes, I read the Bible. Yes, I attended every meeting. I checked all the Christian boxes. I took active roles in the congregation. I did it all and I still ended up dead inside despite my longing to be closer to God in a real, unhindered relationship of love.
At a point in my convictions, at a point where I tried everything, at a point where I couldn’t attend one more service without experiencing that promised relationship with God, at a point I couldn’t try any harder, at a point I couldn’t give any more—that is when I just openly, un-piously, cried out to Jesus to make sense of all the right things I was doing that still left me barren inside.
And he answered.
The journey over the past couple of years has been absolutely amazing. It’s been like learning to fly when the ground has been ripped from beneath me. Yet, out of habit, I’m still trying to feel for the ground.
I’m no longer tethered by shackles. Those images I always envisioned of the chains falling away finally came to be, but not because I did what I was told by others to obtain that freedom. In fact, a real relationship with Jesus is almost contradictory to most of what I was told. Jesus will come to us right where we’re at, but it often involves hitting rock bottom in our ways before we truly let go and let him work in us.
But don’t you think Satan is tricking you? Of coarse I’ve considered this. This wasn’t a decision I made lightly. Most with my personality don’t speak their point of view without very careful consideration. “Satan” has no means to embrace with love the way Jesus has. I can understand why people are so concerned when they are still tied down by institutional obligations and their livelihood depends on that. I can understand those who would rather stick with the familiar and have been made afraid that their salvation will no longer be affirmed if they make the slightest deviation. None of that is really living though, not like Jesus taught.
For me, the love of Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit has driven out all fear of such punishment, because there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18).
Regardless of the persecution I may receive—especially from the religious—I will continue to follow God. I will continue to sympathize with those he has led me to, even though they’ve been cast off and labeled by everyone else. Everyday, God is revealing new things to me, some of which bring me to tears (and I’m not a very emotional person). I see people who’ve been hurt, abused, and lied to. All their hope in a loving God has been torn away because they’ve been led to believe lies about our loving Father. They’ve been presented with a god that more resembles Satan. A god that would require fear, hatred, manipulation, bigotry, racism, violence, murder, and, oh yeah, the almighty dollar.
Jesus represents the Father yet didn’t represent any of this stuff, regardless of how it’s candy-coated (John 14:7).
I’ve come to be more comfortable with the “tax collectors and prostitutes” than with the religious elite. I’m beginning to understand, in some small part, why Jesus related more to those isolated by religiosity than those propping up a system that was in their best worldly interests to propagate. I still love those people, but to be brutally honest, it’s hard to even have a conversation anymore with all of the religious posturing and presumptions.
This isn’t at all what I expected. I thought climbing the ladder of religion would get me close to God. Instead, I find his presence more with those who have been isolated, ignored, condemned, or otherwise despised as moral abominations to avoid lest salvation be lost. Praising God that I’m not like “them” never drew me any deeper into a relationship with Father (because in actuality, I am like them)(Luke 18:11-12).
I don’t write these things out of anger or to shame anyone. I write them because they are often glossed over and coated with religious pleasantries. These things seem to hurt God’s heart, yet are held to as a religious standard of exclusivity. I write, because of the great sadness I see in others and the burden on my heart. I write for those who feel trapped, burdened, and who are just playing along so they aren’t condemned.
I write these things because I would rather die following Jesus than to be comfortably miserable in a loveless religion.
I know this is a long one, but in order to state my point, I first need to explain my overall view of the story God unfolds in the Bible. If you just want to know my main point, please feel free to skip to the last paragraph.
This is a statement that most people know about that have heard of Jesus. It’s also one of the taglines used when presenting the Gospel to others—Jesus died for our sins. It’s presented, though, as a transaction. Jesus did something, now we have to do something in return to make the transaction “work.” While ever so subtle, this contradicts the concept of God’s grace as a gift to be freely received and lived. Instead, the view is upheld of a process to fulfill to receive grace other than just accepting it. Parameters are established to delineate what a “good” Christian is versus an otherwise damned person.
For most of my life, I’ve believed that Jesus died because there had to be a punishment for sin and that God couldn’t be holy if there wasn’t. However, God makes the rules and is sovereign to do what he wants. Jesus forgave sins without any kind of sacrifice (Mark 2:5), and he even gave the disciples authority to do the same (John 20:23). It seems that even some of the religious leaders acknowledged that God could forgive sins outright (Mark 2:6-7). Likewise, Abraham was righteous because he believed in God and not because of anything Abraham, himself, did (Genesis 15:6).
Now, there are many considerations and many roads this discussion can take. Jesus died to prove his love and prove that we don’t have to fear death. This is very true, but there’s still something that bothered me. I still had the question of why like that. As I thought about it more, I also realized that he was practicing what he preached—love for enemies (Matt 5:43-44), not using evil to defeat or repay evil (Matt 5:39), and self-sacrifice (John 15:13). These are all great points and part of living a full life of following Jesus, but the question still remained—why like that? Why in such a gruesome manner? Why as a sacrificial lamb?
First, these two verses, God speaking through the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus repeating this in his own words:
The Lord said, “Because this people draws near with their mouth and honors me with their lips, but they have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which has been taught—Isaiah 29:13 (emphasis mine)
You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine rules made by men.’—Matt 15:7-9 (emphasis mine)
It seems there were two sets of rules—the ones God established (The Ten Commandments) and Israel’s written interpretation of those that they stated “God said.”
Jesus further hints that it wasn’t really God doing these things. Moses compromised with the people in some cases because of the hardness of their hearts:
They asked him, “Why then did Moses command us to give her a certificate of divorce, and divorce her?”
He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been so.—Matt 19:7-8
(note: This appears to be different than divorce today. It would seem men could divorce their wives on a whim without any consent or consideration for the women.)
It seems rules were being made to suit those who wanted to water down what God had established, so they could live like they wanted, control others, and still appear righteous. Jesus saw right through the charade though (Matt 23). He begins Matt 23:1 saying that the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, basically making rules that they ignore.
We further see the two different styles of viewing the law with Joseph and Mary. Joseph was a righteous man, therefore he didn’t obey the law to put Mary to death, instead he was going to handle the matter quietly (Matt 1:19). Here we see what Jesus later goes into more detail about in Matthew 5, punishing people because they broke the law (as it had been misinterpreted), was not something righteous. How often today have we heard Christians state that someone deserves death because of what they did based on “Christian” laws? Is that what Jesus represents?
So where am I going with all this? Everything I’ve stated up to this point are statements I may have made before. It seems the story of the Bible has been sorely misunderstood. God lets his children tell his story—even at their worse. He then leads us to a better understanding of who he is as we can handle it. Taking everything above into consideration, what was Jesus actually teaching?
The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.—John 10:10
Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”—Matt 22:37-40
In effect, Jesus was showing us how to live life to the fullest, in love with God and others, even if it costs us our lives. He didn’t ask us to do what he wasn’t willing to do himself.
So what about the sacrifice system? If God and Jesus could forgive sins without a sacrifice, and living righteously was a matter of following God and not the misinterpreted view of the law, why did the Israelites do such things? They saw the way the rest of their society in the Old Testament were worshiping their gods and they seemed to assume this is the type of worship that Yahweh required. Instead, it seemed to be a system that was more to try to compensate for the shame they felt for their lifestyle. They only had to turn around to God, as Isaiah also prophecies, to be redeemed (Matt 13:15), instead they set up systems to attempt to cleanse or otherwise cover-up their shame while continuing to do what they wanted. They were cleaning the outside to try to make clean the inside (Matt 23:28), even down to their dietary requirements (Mark 7:15, Acts 10:14-15). Again, Jesus defined and lived what the law was actually for (Matt 5:17).
So what’s my point in all this? Jesus indeed died for our sin and shame, but not because Father required it to appease his holiness or wrath. We humans are the ones who adopted the requirement of sacrifices because of our shame and stubborn insistence on righteousness by rituals. God, through Jesus, obliged us because of his love for us. He did it to free us from our own distorted view of God and ourselves—to show us what love really is! Imagine for a moment the implications of that kind of love!
First, I want to state that this isn’t bragging on something that I did. This is stating something that I happened to experience with God. It had little to do with my actions other than I’ve been seeking a deeper relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit. I will keep the details generic as to not bring attention to those that may not want it.
I was talking with someone recently about the Bible. The things we were discussing wouldn’t be allowed in most traditional congregations and would probably be labeled as heresy or something. I don’t want to discuss the details of the question that came up because I’m still trying to process the answer we received myself. When the question was raised, a question I had contemplated but had no real answer for other than the standard line most know, I found myself giving an amazing answer that I had to struggle to comprehend. Profound words that weren’t mine, coming from my mouth. We both set in stunned silence for a few seconds as neither of us was expecting what we heard.
Now, the answer itself was amazing, but equally awesome was that the Holy Spirit spoke through one of us in such an amazing way. I’ve experienced this personally in bits and pieces, but never so profound. I was both humbled and thrilled to experience that. The words could have just as easily come from the other person’s mouth in the conversation.
It is amazing the place God has led me. More and more I find myself ostracized from popular Christianity but experiencing an ever growing relationship with Jesus. I don’t say these things to brag on myself, but to present the type of relationship that Father wants with us, his children. A direct relationship where he is free to move and be among us even if it is only 2 or 3 that are gathered.
Now, anyone reading this can throw out anything I’ve just written. I would half expect it as I probably would be skeptical of someone claiming the same thing. I would only like to say, whether this story can be believed or not, that God does and will speak through those that are willing to let him lead them, and it will likely be shockingly beautiful when it happens.
This is another topic on my mind lately that it seems God is now prompting me to write a little on.
First, I would like to define inerrancy. There are different perspectives of what this could mean but the two main points, which are also combined by some, seem to be:
1. The Bible is accurate from a historical standpoint.
2. The Bible is accurate about what it says as a rule book.
Both of these statements tend to be tied together under phrases such as: “The Bible says it, therefore I believe it.” However, there’s a lot the Bible says that seems to be glossed over.
The historical standpoint has yet to be definitively proven by any historical records or physical evidence. This doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate, just that the proof hasn’t been found yet. There are other historical records of Old Testament times, though, that don’t align with how the story is said to have unfolded in the Bible. I don’t want to get into that topic here as that could be a post or ten of its own. The overall point is, while historically there is the probability that the Bible may not be accurate, it doesn’t diminish the overall lessons and story of the Bible. In fact, it strengthens these aspects for me personally as I began to understand why those ancient, tribal people, who believed in warrior gods that demanded violence and sacrifice, would initially view and write about Yahweh in that same manner. They only knew any divine being to be vindictive and fickle. God came to them where they were in their understanding and guided them, step by step, to a greater reality.
This leads into my next point—the rules the ancient Israelites developed were based off of the violently disturbing world in which they lived. Rape, slavery, and murder were common practices. Genocide and taking women as possessions was to ensure a tribe’s survival or further their power in a region. God came to them where they were at and let his children tell his story even though they had little ability to comprehend him as love. Things like the Ten Commandments, which seem almost common sense today, were huge steps forward in the chaotic world of that time. Yet, because these rules were so astounding, the Israelites seem to have made a long list of caveats to ensure their survival by the means they thought were necessary in the times they lived. Do we still make lists of caveats today to justify not being love to others?
For example, God says, “Don’t Kill.” The Israelites are recorded, in the Bible, to have committed genocide against multiple societies. Does this sound like the God of love of the New Testament? Does someone writing “God told us to do it” mean that God condones such things? Besides, when Jesus came along he said, “No, really, don’t kill.” In fact, he raised the bar on what the law actually meant—love your enemy, do good for them, pray for them, bless them. Jesus showed us how to “destroy” our enemies in a radically different way—by loving them into friendship, no matter the cost. Are we doing that for our enemies today?
If we uphold that the Bible is inerrant, we will attempt to apply those “perfect” words to our lives today. Then, we can find archaic passages, that were meant to tell a progressive story of a certain people at a certain time, and use them to justify any kind of hatred and injustice that we want. Additionally, we have to attempt to defend all the messed up stuff going on as though God was just cool with it. This can harm our witness immensely and put us on the defensive to justify every concerning passage of the Bible.
That said, there is a third kind of inerrancy that I would like to point out—The Bible is accurate in that it points us to the perfect love of God. While there’s a lot of messed up things recorded, we still see the story of God’s love winning out in the end, and I think that is the real story worth retelling.
This is a question that’s been on my mind for the past couple of days. How do we, as Christians, become unified?
The answer is obviously through Jesus, but if the answer is that simple, why does Christianity remain so fractured?
It would seem that, in my opinion, we don’t understand the basics of Jesus. I know it is hard to understand a lot of Jesus’ words and actions at first glance. Even when we think we’ve got something figured out, Jesus can humble us again with a whole new perspective. However, I do think the basics are easy enough for a five year old to understand. That is—Jesus represents love. He is the manifestation to show us who Father is (John 14:7). I believe this is the starting point—the foundation of our entire Christian faith. When we begin to deviate from this foundation, we get thousands of different factions with thousands of different interpretations. For me, any interpretation I read or hear first has to pass through the filter of God’s love.
If an idea fails the test of God’s love, then it is something that I can’t personally consign myself to. It isn’t that I’m being stubborn and insistent on my way. It’s simply that religion without love is dead, and I believe that Jesus shows us, in the Bible, how to live a life of love (John 10:10, Matt 5:44). Admittedly, I’m struggling more with these concepts now than when I was following a set of rules to look Christian.
We also see, in the Bible, what tends to happen when man lives out a religion of obligation instead of love. The religious leaders during Jesus’ ministry were devout in their beliefs. They held the scriptures in highest regard and prompted their society to draw closer to God in the same way. Yet, Jesus comes along and tells them they’re not getting it. He redefined everything they thought they knew about scripture (Matt 5 and 23).
Are we still upholding scripture in that same way today? Are we rejecting the love of the living Cornerstone and instead building on dead words that only seek to further our power and comfort in the world? Is the world becoming darker because people aren’t upholding religious mandates or because we Christians aren’t being love like Jesus calls us to be?
We can keep chasing our doctrinal tails around in circles, but until we start actually believing that God is Love, we will never be unified as Christians. In turn, we will just be brushed off by the rest of the world. If we misrepresent Jesus and alienate each other, how can we expect those in the world to follow him? Why do we have to try to sell our religion, especially when it’s not working for us? Wouldn’t our victorious Christian lives naturally draw others if it was really the outworking of Jesus’ love?
What? What’s the point of me posting these blogs if I’m not trying to convince people that what I’m writing is right?
Why bother if I don’t want others to believe the words and logic I use to make my case?
What I desire is that everyone comes to have a direct relationship with Jesus. I desire that people are in constant communion with God; that everyone is free to ask the troubling questions they’ve been made to bury deep in their heart. I try to ask those questions so that others are less afraid to.
I desire that people have a joy of reading the Bible and that they can freely ask God who he really is.
There are many troubling passages out there and I state my view on the harder issues that are often ignored. This is mainly for those who have those same questions buried deep but don’t know how to ask and have been made to fear even considering them.
I desire that everyone come to the freedom and joy of a real relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit that is known by living it and not because it is confirmed by man’s external rituals.
I could attempt to write hundreds of books and thousands of blog posts, but they won’t make a single bit of difference until someone wants that relationship with God themselves. No amount of good points or logical analysis will do that for someone. It might start in the head, but the decision has to reach the heart. Otherwise, it’s just dead words on a page, the same way the Bible can be if it is read that way, becoming a boring obligation. If it doesn’t invade the heart, it won’t be lived; and if not lived, others won’t be convinced no matter how many words are used.
This isn’t just for outward appearances though. People are smarter than that. Most can tell a fake and will be repulsed. This isn’t an overnight transformation either. It is a slow renewing of the mind where the Holy Spirit rewrites the default patterns of the world we’ve become accustomed to.
Don’t believe me though. Follow God. Ask him anything. He’s big enough to handle it!
This is a lovely notion. We all stumble and fall. We’re all broken in some way. We all need the community of others who love Jesus to share each other’s burdens.
It is great to have a group of people that love you despite your faults, despite your sin. A fellowship of people devoted to each other and to the lifelong journey of being more Christlike.
Sharing the life of Christ and growing spiritually is great. Admitting our faults and embracing others who are broken in different ways is a beautiful concept.
However, this doesn’t seem to be what is actually happening in the vast majority of congregations. Some sell this line of the Church being full of sinners so we’ll all fit right in. That sounds great on the surface, but then the hook.
In order to really follow Jesus, in order to really break free from your sin, in order to really fit in, you gotta do it our way. You must attend all of our services. You must tithe to keep our building open and build it bigger. You must agree with our rules and regulations. You must take active roles in our ministry and do it the way we tell you. You must actively tell others they are to be here, even if you have to use the threat of everlasting torment to convince them God loves them. You must support our political party and our agenda. If you don’t do all of these things then you aren’t really a Christian. You aren’t really saved by grace. If you are doing all these things and you’re not growing spiritually, well, then it’s your fault. You’re doing something wrong. You need to pray more and read the Bible. Oh, you have questions about the Bible? Then you’re being doubtful, divisive even. Just believe what we tell you and you’ll be okay….eventually. Just keep believing that even if you don’t feel spiritually free, you will be in the next life.
It always seems to start out great. A fellowship of broken humans trying to be more Christlike while helping each other out. Then, manipulation and obligation take over and people are guilt tripped into doing and provided more and more until they reach a point of numbness with a few emotional reactions once in a while, or they give up all together.
Is this really the abundant life of freedom and rest that Jesus promised? Are you really experiencing that relationship with him?
If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.—John 8:36
The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.—John 10:10
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30
Many consider the weekly gatherings, that tend to follow a routine, the primary expression of the church. For example, sitting in pews facing a stage, singing a few songs together, public prayer, passing around a collection plate, listening to one speaker, etc… This isn’t the way all of these type of meetings go, but it’s a general format many seem to use.
Another view of the Church is that referring to the body of Christ throughout the world.
The two entities mentioned above are two separate things for me. They may overlap here and there. There may be people of the body inside the weekly gatherings as well as people who don’t gather in the traditional ways that are part of the body.
Why do I make such stipulations? There are many concepts, including “The Church,” that seem to have been co-opted over the centuries and translations to have a different meaning than their original intent. This may not have been intentional, but the dilemma still remains. Our religious society ends up believing adamantly in misunderstood concepts. I’m not saying this as though I know it all, but the Bible has become understandable as a whole once I was able to view it in proper context. The institutional understanding that I was taught was just chaotic and contradictory as the full context was often not considered.
I ended up leaving because I was unable to uphold the misinterpreted mandates being presented as well as being withheld from discussion of things I’d been discovering. I began asking questions. The answers ranged from “I don’t know” to threats of “there’s some dangerous things out there.”
I admittedly had a severe dislike for these gatherings when I first left. I thought maybe I was just burned out and needed a little time away. However, something quite odd, and opposed to what I’d been forced to believe, happened. I began drawing exponentially closer to God once the institutional agendas were no longer able to force their way between us.
Several months passed and my disdain for these institutions has subsided in many ways. I’ve tried to attend a few services with high hopes that I would see some way to be an active participant in these meetings. I didn’t go in looking for things to criticize but was more hopeful that some of the Biblical discoveries I’ve came across would give me new and better perspectives of the gathering. Unfortunately, these services were even less appealing to my walk with Jesus now that the blinders are off.
I’ve never had much of a desire to sing, but there are a few songs that I don’t mind singing even within a group of people. I’m mostly the type to think about the word meanings. That said, many of the congregation’s songs had the same shortcomings as the rest of the theology. Now with this new perspective, I could see much more clearly how skewed many of these meanings were.
I won’t get into the tithing portion or the public prayers as these have been debated a lot already. I will say that giving money to the homeless is a better option for me. Prayer for me has become a dialogue with God, not a one way oration of what I expect of him.
The one point I tend to actually like, and even get a little excited about, is when the scripture is read. During some of the readings, I began to see the beauty of God’s love and plan for humanity. I get excited to hear this communicated through the speaker. Then, something awful happens. The message gets skewed in the direction of obligation, performance, financial gain, fear, and/or political agenda. Then, I pick my shattered hopes up off the floor and leave thoroughly disappointed.
I don’t say any of this out of spite—more out of sadness. If there was a way that I could be an active participant to help bring the living Jesus Christ into these institutions, I would. It’s been made clear in many of these organizations that I am to follow their conflicting scriptural views and carry their party line. No discussion or questioning allowed openly. After attempting discussion to show how God is love and his amazing plan for all of humanity, I felt Jesus telling me to “leave them alone, they’re blind guides.” It seems people will only accept real freedom in Jesus when they reach a breaking point and can admit that no amount of religious rule following or service attendance will get them there.
The Church, outside of the confines of religion, seems to be flourishing. People are free to be a “work in progress” and question where they need understanding. Meanwhile, obligation is being pressed even harder inside the institutions and attendance continues to dwindle as leadership adamantly upholds defective mandates and cliches.