(Originally posted at churchsetfree.wordpress.com)
I’ve been contemplating a lot of differing thoughts and experiences over the past week. As I stated in a prior post, there are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way, as we humans always seem to prefer. These had me at somewhat of a standstill of what to do next.
As I prayed more over this, God said, as he has oh so many times before—just follow the Holy Spirit. I’ve been learning to do this more and more, just go where the Wind takes me though I don’t know where it’s going (John 3:8).
Over the past several weeks, many good things have been happening in my personal life. This isn’t so much because God is specifically blessing me. It seems God is always pouring out his love on us, it’s just that we want to do things our way and often end up hurting ourselves and others in the process. When trusting him, though the journey may be rough, we find he always has our best interest at heart.
On a similar note, I was talking with a fellow Christ follower this week who I know in my personal life. While there is much I wanted to say in regards to the faith, I kept feeling the Holy Spirit holding me back. I could have still said the things I wanted, but it most likely wouldn’t have been productive. In the end, I remember only saying one sentence that I felt the Spirit leading me to say—just a hint of words and nothing more. In this approach, I’ve felt a huge burden lifted of trying to lay out, in conversation, everything in my head. This approach seems to have made him contemplative, and, in these scenarios, I can go as deep as a person is willing to at any given moment.
There’s another couple of topics that have been on my heart, however.
I still constantly see a bombardment of obligated “church” attendance, laid out as rules of conformity.
Our gatherings have become about control, mandates, submission to the “leaders” (those that have been ordained by men), etc…
We see the early church coming together for fellowship under the most dire of circumstances because of the joy and intimacy of those relationships. Today, however, we mandate attendance under threat to maintain our kingdom—worse, we state that is the way God wants it.
Many churches today have become the same as the synagogues and temple during Jesus’ ministry. Though, because of the ineffectiveness of that system, Jesus came to establish a New Covenant. This isn’t because of the system itself, but because of the human stranglehold that had ensnared it.
Jesus even tried to teach in the synagogues and temple but was often ran off and threatened (John 8:59, Luke 4:28-29). The very sheep he came to rescue from that system instead rejected him (Matt 15:24, 21:42).
Today, we repeat the same things. We’ve rebuilt synagogues and call them churches. We view the Bible as a set of rules to run our churches and seize control of others—the same way the religious leaders imposed their view of the Old Testament, though Jesus redefined that also. Likewise, we continue to miss out on the main point—the Bible is to help us draw closer to Father, with Jesus, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Note, in a “healthy” congregation, the fellowship can be stellar. Unfortunately, I’ve not been privy to witnessing any, pursing the obligated approach, that are truly growing spiritually as the early church was.
For example, the early Christians were known to be singing praise to God when dragged into the Roman arenas for execution. That extravagant love that is joyful even in the face of death eventually broke down even the most powerful empire on earth.
We don’t see that in much of Christianity today.
Instead, we see churches pushing political agenda in an attempt to strengthen their control over others—not at all what Jesus’ intent was for the Church. That same type of agenda seemed to disturb him greatly (Matt 23).
I know, I’ve probably said these things before in one way or another, so I won’t go into any more detail here. Maybe I’m prompted to say it again so that one day that freedom and life Jesus promised (Matt 11:28-30, John 10:10) might start being truly pursued, if only by one person that is tired of being bound by endless mandates and man-made traditions.
That singular hope alone is worth any and all effort.
Yet another day where I have miscellaneous thoughts floating around in my brain. Here’s just one.
I heard a great couple of questions/statements yesterday from “The Shack” author WM Paul Young (Here is the link if you are able to view it).
If God has gone through such great lengths, because of his infinite love for us, to ensure our ability to say “no” to love, life, joy, hope, relationship—what would make us think that suddenly ends, that something changes God’s mind, at death?
I know some of the proof texts for this thinking, but I wanted to delve a little into my thoughts on this. The first is Hebrews 9:27:
Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, (NIV).
First, if we only take this verse alone, out of context, we can attempt to skew it into a threat that states—“You’re gonna die and be judged so you better do what we say to avoid torment.” However, there’s a comma at the end of this verse, signaling a continuance. Likewise, “Just as” starts off this statement, denoting something is about to be compared. If we hard stop at the end of the verse, then we can see how easily individual scriptures can be skewed to form doctrines that don’t sync well with other passages. This in turn creates chaos and confusion. Additionally, if we just see the words “face judgment,” we immediately default to our Westernized forms of punishment. Often, when a crime happens, the first reaction we see is a cry for judgment/punishment, under the guise of “justice.” This is a far cry from the grace Jesus showed to us while we were still sinners. Taking this verse alone and out of context, we can make illogical leaps that create just what we see in our world today.
If we look at some surrounding verses, we begin to see the broader picture of what this author was stating. Here’s a more full context of this passage: Hebrews 9:25-28.
We see that Jesus offered himself once for all sin. He took the eternal punishment once and for all for everyone. In context, this verse seems to imply the opposite of what is often implied, that we must continually cleanse ourselves of sin lest we die suddenly and are judged eternally for a minor slip-up or “un-confessed sin.” Is our all-loving Father really that bipolar?
This leads to the second proof text: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,“—Romans 3:23 (NIV)
Again, this verse brings us to a dead stop, quotable sledge hammer that we attempt to pound others into submission with. As with the first proof text, we see a comma at the end of the verse, denoting that their is a continuation. If we take a look at verse 24, we see another comparison: “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” In this, we see more of a complete thought from Paul instead of an out-of-context snippet. All have sinned and all are justified freely by Jesus’ redemptive grace.
We’re taught from infancy that we must submit ourselves to someone else’ insistence of right/wrong with all the sociopolitical bindings and financial implications that entails. Such doctrines of deceit, along with threats of damnation if you bother to research the context and question, have long been the foundation of much of religion.
When we take scripture out of the context of Father’s love and life in Christ, we in turn base all of our decisions on a single instance of time—our death. This causes us to ignore much of life and base all of our decisions on that moment. In turn, without even realizing it, we are controlled by death instead of living life that has been established by Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection.
I was going to write on a couple more topics, but the words flowed freely enough that this post is already long, so I’ll stop here for today. As always, please study these concepts for yourself as pertinent to your personal growth in the Spirit. These are my personal views that have helped me to fall deeper in love with Father as I walk and talk with Jesus.
The Bible is often made out to be a PG book. The “heroes” are turned into the stars of the show that exemplified what it means to follow God. While I agree with the sentiment here, a deeper look at the Bible shows that it is often R-rated.
I don’t want to get into much of that here as I try to keep my writings as PG as possible.
The Bible, IMO, was never meant to be a how-to book on life. It was meant to show us how these ancient people viewed God as they understood him at the time in their culture. Often, we attempt to retrofit archaic texts that were meant to guide an ancient people out of the societal rut they were in, but it doesn’t quite work. Instead, like with 1st Century Israel, we see Jesus presenting the opposite concepts from what they expected the Messiah to be.
It would seem our society has fallen back into the same rut. We vehemently defend the authority of the Bible while repeating the same mistakes that Jesus stated were being made during his earthly ministry. We continue to find verses that justify our biases and make us appear more righteous at the expense of others. Meanwhile, we claim to follow Jesus while ignoring how he lived. This, more than anything else going on in society, hurts our witness.
When Christians aren’t following Christ, they inevitably push others away from him. People are looking for love, joy, and peace. When Christians are only giving threats, condemnation, and self-righteousness, those “others” are repelled and the Good News is relegated to, “I’m right and you’re wrong” (or worse). All of this creates a mess that Jesus died to clean up originally. Our stubborn insistence on the ideals that we’ve built, mainly on the premise of institutional religion, in turn deny Christ by how we live out our religious “convictions.”
Much of what I see on social media boils down to posts depicting what people want to hear. If it will garner “likes,” people will post it. Meanwhile, if someone doesn’t agree, scripture is manipulated, such as 2 Tim 4:3, to condemn that dissenter. Ironically, these same people paraphrasing the Bible verse are living out the very definition of what it is saying by only perpetuating cliches that others will agree to.
And so the cycle continues as the Bible shows also. The religious continue to agree with their constituents while ignoring what Jesus was trying to show. Faith is boiled down to whoever agrees with “me.” That’s not how the story went in the Bible though. The prophets and apostles, those trying to spread Gods message, all seem to have been severally persecuted, beaten, and/or put to death. In the end, we somehow continually devolve back into the same state of ignoring who Jesus calls us to be as Christians.
I don’t say this just to complain. I say this in hopes that some will wake up to the reality of Jesus’ love; that they will spread that instead. I have seen a few people begin to try to live this out. Many others have dug in their heels in adamant refusal to reconsider what Jesus was teaching. They’ve doubled-up on the threats and condemnation, and so we see a deeper chasm forming between those who are following Jesus in love and those who are claiming his name, yet not living out what he taught.
Note here, this has happened before and had a quite gruesome outcome (70 AD). God’s chosen people, as Jesus stated, were not being the salt and light. They instead took the most vehement stance against Rome and were eventually massacred. They thought they were under persecution because of the laws they were upholding. Jesus had already defined how these laws were meant to be lived—by love. Paul additionally defines that following the law by the letter leads to death (2 Cor 3:6).
Yet, here we are again for the very first time.
Jesus’ message was not about a vehement stance in law, it was about a vehement stance in love. It wasn’t about being “right,” it was about being love.
Which stance are we as Christians taking today?
It’s reasonably undoubted that Jesus had great knowledge of the scriptures. Yet, according to John, there are many things that Jesus did that weren’t recorded (John 21:25). Having such knowledge, Jesus didn’t write or commission a commentary to outright describe every passage of the Old Testament. Some books he didn’t even quote or seem to allude to at all.
When considering these, perhaps the Gospels are to, hopefully in as straightforward a manner as possible, drive to the heart of what mattered in life.
We see Jesus embraced those who were the most despised by the religious elite of his day—tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, and the “unclean.” He didn’t hold them up as the example of what not to be. Instead he stated that they were entering the Kingdom before the religious (Matt 21:31). Note here that he didn’t say the religious wouldn’t enter the Kingdom, he stated that they would enter last (Matt 19:30).
In addition, Jesus, as much as this might offend our sensibilities, broke the Old Testament Laws. He touched the unclean (Matt 8:3) as forbidden in the Law (Lev 5:3), he broke the Sabbath (John 9:16), he didn’t allow adultery to be punished (John 8:1-11) as commanded by the Law spoken from Yahweh (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22). All of these are listed out as ways to uphold the Law. So what was Jesus doing? How did he fulfill the Law if he was breaking it?
Jesus was living to the Spirit of the law, not the letter (2 Cor 3:6).
But what about the Pharisees? Jesus was quite pointed with them.
It seems Jesus was trying to pierce through the callous wall they had erected around their hearts. In effect, he had to be brutally honest to love them. Note how often we get this backwards today. We’re “loving” towards the religious that agree and conform to our views, yet “lovingly honest” towards those we consider outsiders, heretics, and sinners. We even quote scriptures about “itchy ears” to justify our tactics in condemning those non-conformist, but who’s really surrounding themselves with teachers who only tell them what they want to hear—messages of justified hatred? Jesus approached these groups in the opposite way than we seem to, and his ministry was successful whereas many today seem to be flailing wildly.
What can we learn by this major portion of Jesus’ ministry—his approach towards people? Was it by law that he approached the “sinners?” Or was it by love? Is Christianity today more concerned with law than love? Are we more concerned with being right than following the path Jesus laid out? Do we search the scriptures to find passages that affirm our views to bind people or to know Jesus’ heart more intimately to set others free? We can’t mandate love by law and scripture, as the standards are higher than any of us are able to achieve (Matt 5). However, if we love, we are always upholding the law as Jesus did.
Are we really being love? Is the evidence of Jesus’ love clear to others that see our lives? Or are they only seeing the evidence of a life lived by law?
P.S. Thank you to everyone who has stopped by lately. Your encouragement in love is greatly appreciated!
How do Christians come together in unity? This is probably one of those questions that has vexed many over the ages. How is it possible to show Jesus to the rest of the world when we have a hard time loving other Christians (John 13:35)?
It seems there are at least 200 official, distinct, denominations in North America alone with worldwide estimates of various sects being around 33,000. Many of these seem to be in existence because of issues arising from how one group sees some passages versus the other. However, this isn’t just about the traditional congregations that we all know. As I’ve continued my journey, I see many Christians outside of the institutions are just as divided as those inside. I’m not speaking to being united within a congregation alone but with all Christians that profess love for Jesus.
Now, there are those that would seek to promote their view over others and make their living by carving out their section of the Body, and those should be lovingly denied such an agenda. In fact, such a platform often profits off of proffering an “us versus them” dichotomy. This methodology only serves to divide and not unite. Many seem insistent on these divisions as it makes their views more legitimized whether they succeed or fail. If succeeding—God is blessing us because of our message; if failing—Satan is fighting us because of our message. Therefore, love for others of differing opinion is routed in catch 22 phrases that only alienate Christians from one another and justify our biases.
This call to unity, also, isn’t to rally together to fight the “barbarians at the gates.” This call to unity is to love God and each other so that we can live to our calling to spread that love, and love primarily, to the rest of the world.
Anyways, back to the topic at hand.
How do we move beyond our doctrinal differences into a love relationship with Jesus and each other?
I think the question answers itself—we move beyond our doctrinal differences and just love Jesus and each other.
But what if we’re absolutely convinced that we’re right and someone else is wrong and in danger because of it?
Here, I would say each situation is unique. The overarching principle that I’m beginning to understand though is—if someone is evidently in love with Jesus, then nothing else is worth causing division over.
I was studying, among other passages, Romans 14 again last night. Here Paul explains this better than I can. He talks about the cleanliness of food and special days. While the food concept may appear antiquated to us today, and the special days is almost such (though many still hold Sunday in high regard), the concept works well for our divisions today.
One man esteems one day as more important. Another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind.—Romans 14:5
Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who doesn’t judge himself in that which he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because it isn’t of faith; and whatever is not of faith is sin.—Romans 14:22-23
In the above, we see a very interesting concept. If we believe we are right, we should have it to ourselves before God. Interestingly enough, if we are made to doubt what we hold to be true, then we aren’t living out our faith in Jesus.
Therefore let’s not judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion for falling.—Romans 14:13
Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love. Don’t destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.—Romans 14:15
So, it would seem that if we believe that we are right, we should live to that but not in a way that would harm our siblings in Christ. In other words, if we love with Jesus’ love, then those that we believe to be in error will be strengthened (14:19). Then, overtime, they may be able to better understand our point of view, but not to prove ourselves right. We may never agree on doctrinal concepts and that’s perfectly okay. My views have helped me to more easily love God and others and I believe that to be the point. If we insist that others aren’t Christian, don’t have the Holy Spirit, or are otherwise unsaved because of their views, we alienate our siblings and place stumbling blocks that may cause them to fall (14:13). In other words, if we insist that our interpretations are the absolute truth, and condemn others because they won’t perpetuate our beliefs, we may alienate them and/or ourselves from the love of Jesus.
In the past, I have put my beliefs out there, but these aren’t set in stone. They’re more of a snapshot of a step in my journey. For those that benefit from those views, great. For those who don’t accept them, feel free to toss them aside. I’ve mainly recorded my view as a way to think out loud and help others that may have the same thoughts rattling around in their head or heart.
Now to him who is able to establish you according to my Good News and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret through long ages, but now is revealed, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known for obedience of faith to all the nations; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.—Romans 14:24-26
I read and heard some great things yesterday that helped in the next steps that God seems to be leading me. I’m starting to see an overall picture of why he has led me to think on the things he has for the past couple of years. There’s one key, underlying element that remains once all the muck and grime are wiped away. That is, Love.
Much of what we see in the Bible we attempt to apply to ourselves—judgment, suffering, obligation. If someone individually is applying this to themselves, that is okay as may be needed in their developing walk with God. Where it all seems to go wrong is when these things are turned on others. It then seems that scripture gets manipulated to the worse possibly things we can imagine. Our default thought pattern seems to have been set to doom and gloom from birth. We talk about love, but the concept is so covered in other things that we hardly recognize what it is.
This is where my journey has led me. All of the passages God has been leading me to study are starting to reveal what love is and what it isn’t. The patterns I was conformed to are fading away more and more and Jesus’ love is pouring in. I pray that I know what to do with this.
My desire is to turn this outwards and start pouring it on others now that I’m starting to know what love is. It’s a bit scary, and could cost me those human comforts I hold so dearly to, but I hope God’s prompting continues in encouraging me to pursue this path.
It’s amazing that, in spite of everything I’ve been told, as long as I kept my eyes on Jesus, I arrived exactly where he wanted me to be. This is much to the dismay of others that expected my participation in their man-made plans, though they don’t seem to recognize that their plans are more about their worldly success than the spreading of the extravagant Kingdom of Jesus and his love.
One of the main concepts I’ve been considering, and that suddenly started making much more sense to me, is the progression of humanity throughout the Bible. As with their stories, we find ourselves moving ever forward, though often we take steps back. While many Christians seem to be wringing their hands at the current news stories, it would seem the entire world is moving in a forward direction. I get just enough glimpses of the Kingdom’s beauty to continue to hope for humanity’s awakening.
What really drove this home for me yesterday was a concept that I will try to boil down in one sentence—Most of what we know as Christian tradition today was once considered heresy. Think about this for a bit. As we move forward in our society with the utmost cries of coming damnation, we state the same things many of the predecessors of our own denominations had to overcome to bring us to the point we’re at. The Bible is an ever evolving story of humanity waking up to God’s reality of a people that are based solely in love for others. Imagine if we were able to just drop all of the distractions, politics, posturings, condemnations, finances, etc…and just live in that reality. It would be a beautiful world indeed.
But I have to say, getting to this point was both difficult and easy. It was easy when I stopped expecting to be led by man. While I got lots of help and advice from others, it was always Jesus leading. The difficult part was those I’ve been more ostracized from because of the changes and growth that they aren’t comfortable with.
On that same note, I’m beginning to respect each individual person’s journey. Whether they are conformed to the most strictest of religious traditions or the most devout atheist, I’m now trying to love them for who they are, where they’re at, and letting God direct both me and them from there. Sometimes I may drop subtle hints of things that they may pick up and run with or ignore altogether depending on their current walk. Now that I look back, it seems some of those who most had an effect on me did the same while giving me plenty of room to grow and see God at the pace I needed.
So what to do and where to go from here? I’m not entirely sure other than to just try to love people where they’re at and let Jesus handle the rest. Perhaps that’s what our primary purpose is in the Kingdom—not forcing, condemning, or manipulating—but simply living out love towards those God has placed us near.
Tree of Knowledge – I know what is right and wrong, and therefore, I’m obligated to enforce that on others.
Tree of Life – I don’t have to define right and wrong for someone else because the Holy Spirit is the one that convicts. My job is just to show them the love of Jesus through my life and let him take it from there.
Which tree are we eating from? We can pursue a steady diet from the Tree of Knowledge, but that only leads to a quagmire of ever heightening religiosity. In eating of this tree, we can condemn homosexuality. But, we also have to enforce everything else that is labeled as sin.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s not delve into the Levitical law here as no Christian that I know of upholds all of those. Instead, let’s just focus on how Jesus defined the law.
Please note I’m not listing these to condemn anyone, but simply as a comparison as to how we pick only certain platforms to campaign against so we can appear more (self-)righteous by condemning someone else.
Ever had contempt or called someone fool? Then you’re under the same judgment as a murderer (Matt 5:21-22).
Is there someone angry with you that you haven’t reconciled with? Then you’re obligated, by Jesus’ definition of the law, to go and reconcile with them immediately. (Matt 5:23-26)
Ever look at someone with lust? Then you’re under the same judgment as an adulterer. Unless of coarse you’ve plucked out your eyes, then you might be okay (Matt 5:27-30).
Divorced or married to a divorcee? It would seem this is a permanent state of adultery, with the only “out” being if the spouse was cheating (Matt 5:31-32).
I think every one of us, even the most devout of Christians, falls into at least two categories here. And this is only a snippet of the law.
So what was Jesus trying to say? None of us are justified by the law, so quit throwing around condemnation as though you are (imo).
In other words, anyone you consider an enemy is automatically qualified for your most devout displays of love as exemplified by Jesus (Matt 5:43-44).
This isn’t being soft on sin. This isn’t condoning anyone’s actions. This is simply being what Jesus calls us to be—the salt and light of the world—not the salt and vinegar of religion.
Love is hard on sin because people are convicted by the Holy Spirit without us ever uttering one word of whether they are right or wrong. In fact, it removes the burden from our shoulders of having to be the judges of humanity and the definers of sin and righteousness.
There is, of coarse, discernment, but this is for our personal walk with Jesus. Again, this is not a tool of enforcement of others’ walk when they haven’t even been introduced to who Jesus really is. First, we show the love of Jesus by entering in to their life and not dropping holy hatred bombs on them from a distance. Once they know Jesus’ love, the Holy Spirit guides from there. In addition, we can’t force change and may never see growth. Again, this is where we just follow Jesus’ guidance instead of an agenda of conversion by force.
Through Jesus, we are now free to eat of the Tree of Life and stop persisting on a diet of the Tree of Knowledge.
Which tree are you eating from?