Residual Guilt

This is something the Holy Spirit has been slowly pointing out to me as I could understand it. I read a phrase, over two years ago now, that has stuck in my head. The gist was, “You may be gone (from religion/the institution), but you’re still playing the game.” In a way I knew this was true for me, but I had no idea how not to play. Our society seems trapped in the idea that we need man’s approval in the way we follow Jesus.

It seems we all play even after we’ve been on a new journey for some time with Jesus. Freedom is most often a long and slow process of letting go of the past ways that bound us from seeing clearly, from being fully alive in Christ. For me, I’m still learning (or unlearning) a lot on this current journey. It seems we’re often discouraged to seek such a relationship directly and instead, taught to rely on an earth-bound, human liaison to commune with God for us—and even be our Shepard in lieu of Jesus.

This leads me to a current discussion (one of many) I’ve been in with Jesus. The residual guilt has diminished over time, but was still something that bothered me often. The majority of this guilt was applied externally. Constantly, I’d been told, especially from the pulpit, that to leave the congregation would be grounds for eternal damnation. Often, this wasn’t communicated directly, but ever so subtle with phrases like, “If you aren’t under the consistent teaching of ‘the gospel’ (as we define it), then you will fall out of favor with God.” Though I’m seeing more and more how that gospel isn’t the Gospel Jesus taught, it’s a discussion that is hard to communicate to many stuck in dogma because they don’t want to hear or see. Fear rules here—the fear of questioning what has been mandated to be believed under threat of eternal torment.

Still, there was some guilt that Father has been slowly draining away over time. I wasn’t consciously trying to hold onto this guilt, but now I realize my very thought patterns had to be changed, much to religion’s dismay and undoing much of their work, in order for that guilt to be fully released. In this way, my mind has been renewed over time.

There are many steps that this process has taken. The current one was guilt over not doing more. It seems the religious regime was always pushing for more and more investment into the institution—whether it was time, money, obligation, or blind following. This step in the process slowly came to light over the past few days after I heard a phrase and researched it a little more. I know all of this is kinda vague right now, but hopefully it makes some sense at the end.

I’d heard a statement that the common life expectancy of a 1st Century Jewish person was ~40 years. After researching this a great deal online, this seems to be the general consensus based on the historical records of the time. This, of coarse, could cause arguments as there were always exceptions to the rule with a handful living until their 70’s or 80’s, but the average life expectancy seemed to be 40 (and that’s at the distant end of the spectrum). Likewise, it seemed a generation, by the Bible’s own definition, was ~40 years, the general expectation that the majority of a new populace would be in place within that time.

But why is that important?

Jesus started his public ministry when he was 30, in a society where people weren’t expected to live until the age of 40. Jesus lived a full life before he ever entered public ministry, and then his ministry was a total of three years.

Now, there are a few factors to consider based on the canon we have today.
First, at the end of Luke 2, we catch a glimpse of Jesus at age 12 in the temple courts. It appears he already had the knowledge necessary to pursue his ministry, but he doesn’t, that we know of, until age 30.

Next, we see another glimpse of what Jesus was doing during his years prior to his public ministry. At the beginning of Mark 6, he travels to his hometown. The people there seem to know him as but a carpenter and are amazed at what he could do. It’s interesting to note that, based on their reactions, he hadn’t displayed the knowledge or ability he had, in his hometown, until this point. As he says himself at the Cana wedding, “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4b).

Here we see Jesus purposely holding back from what he could do likely because of the Father’s plan.

Okay, so where am I going with this?

We’re taught to devote our life to religion, yet, we see the Savior himself only spending three years of ministry at what was close to the end of his life expectancy. Perhaps he lived a full life as a human, though having the power of God, to truly know what a full life as a human was. He had already demonstrated his knowledge on the temple grounds and that he had the ability at the Cana wedding though it wasn’t his time.

Crunching a few numbers, this would be the equivalent of entering “ministry” (however that might be defined) myself at the age of 60 after 3/4th of my life expectancy had passed.

Now, my point isn’t that we should be complacent and just live our lives. My point is that we often assume that a life of religion is what Father wants when this wasn’t what Jesus’ life demonstrated.

We can live our daily lives while at the same time experiencing life in Jesus. While we could be called to do something great, we often pursue changing the world through religion instead of just living for God, trusting that his plan will unfold in our lives at his timing.

I’ve been made to feel guilty still even though I am no longer part of the institution because I wasn’t doing enough for God. It seems this is just another guilt tactic though. “Okay, so you aren’t attending a church service regularly anymore—what are you doing for God then?” These types of questions only seek to bind us back to a religion instead of freedom of relationship with God. These questions still keep us playing the religion game. Though we may be gone from attending, we’re still trying to live up to others’ standards and expectations.

Slowly, I’m learning to live for God, with God. I’m learning from Jesus little by little. He’s teaching me to let go of the guilt and shame and just trust Father’s plan even in the mundane—especially in the everyday, mundane—minutia of life.

This life isn’t about religious crusades to force Christianity on others—it’s about bringing the love of Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit within us—to one heart at a time as we live out our life in him. It’s that life of love that Jesus died to give us. It’s that love that overcame the confines of Sheol forever. It’s that love that sustains us daily where religion drains us. It’s for, and by, that love that we live a full, or (as the Bible states it) everlasting/eternal life.
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Correct Doctrine, Faith, and Inerrancy

In some iteration, this is one of the focuses I continually hear or read as the basis of a disagreement between views.

A discussion may start out quite pleasant, but when a viewpoint doesn’t align with tradition and popular belief, the “dissenter” is often labeled as heretic and threatened with things like hell fire.

It’s truly a sad state when we believe we have to threaten people into a love relationship—or that our threats somehow even remotely resemble Father’s love.

Church and state
It seems, at least in the US, we are continually trying to merge church and state—despite the fact that this was probably the biggest downfall of Christianity. When Constantine legalized Christianity, it ironically lost much of its potency. Church and state combined became about human power constructs. Today, we are still trying vigorously to merge church and state so that “Christians” have worldly power. We do this through blaming “secular” society for anything that doesn’t align, again, with “correct doctrine.”

It’s ironic and more than a bit sad that the Kingdom Jesus presented was completely counter-cultural to the worldly power regimes of Rome and religion that were prevalent at the time. Jesus offered a completely new kind of Kingdom that existed based on a love relationship with Father and each other.

Note: Jesus presented a counter-cultural Kingdom that was opposed to relationships of power and control. He didn’t present a sub-culture that slapped a “Christian” label on pop-culture and politics to justify hatred and injustice.

Likewise, popular doctrines seem to completely drain the love from relationship by placing them under obligation.

How do we force someone to love? It is no longer love when it is forced by threat.

Often, though, instead of two or more people existing in a love relationship, the association becomes about power, who is right, and who gets to lead. This seems to be where things go off the rails. Love is replaced by a power structure of submission to man-made authority. We then, as subtle as it may be at times, have to threaten people from growing spiritually to keep them under our control.

Faith
“There’s some dangerous things out there,” is one of the threats I’ve heard on more than one occasion. This belays a severe lack of trust in God. This exemplifies faithlessness.

Faith isn’t about knowing absolutes. If we did, it would no longer be faith, but knowledge.

Faith is about trusting God each step of the way. Again, this goes all the way back to the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve wanted to know for themselves instead of having faith in God. Here we see our doctrines are based primarily on eating from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil instead of relationship with Father.

Wrong
This leads me to a point that’s been heavy on my heart for the past month or so. I’ve stopped trying to convince people of a relationship with God through words—I’ve stopped worrying about being “right.”

I can point to every proof that God wants relationship and not religion, but many seem not to care because they’ve been made afraid to seek outside of what they’ve been told God is—a monster ready to pounce and torture us endlessly.

Why do we continue to hold up Eternal Love as such maleficence? Why do we add “buts” to Father’s love? That’s not a representation of unconditional love.

It’s truly a sad state when we wrap our Savior in political agenda. His ways were, and are, completely different than our human methods of power and control.

Inerrant
Yet another technique I see often is the upholding of a claim that the Bible or Jesus never makes—that the Bible is somehow inerrant.

We know all scripture is God-breathed, yet, we also know humans are God-breathed—and we all readily admit that humans, God’s grand work, are far from perfect. The scriptures are all filtered through man’s view of God, which can easily be misconstrued. Again, we have to consider that God wants us to have faith in him, not absolute knowledge of everything—because then we have no need of him and we become our own gods—much like the state of religion today. And again, this is what Adam and Eve sought—to have their own knowledge of good and evil to be like God.

Further, we tend to worship the Bible as our god. We’ve even twisted the phrases of the Word of God (Jesus) to mean the Bible.

If anything is “heresy,” it would be that, though I don’t write that to badger anyone. It seems we’ve established religious idols and have long lost what it means to be in relationship with Father. We continue to extrapolate rules to conform us externally, while ignoring any vestige of the type of relationship Jesus offers.

Conclusion
Again, I say all this because I’ve been learning to just exist in relationship with others. Some, even/especially the zealous religious types, will be repulsed by that because it undermines their institutional power structures—just like Jesus did. When those who wield power begin to see their grip and financial security slipping, they react vehemently with even more mandates of obligation. This goes back to faith versus knowledge—being secure that God has everything under control instead of our own human securities—even those religious ones.

I hope this helps and doesn’t come across as mean spirited. Much like Matt 23, I’m only trying to free others from the political, financial, and even religious restraints that have alienated them from a real and faith-filled relationship with Father.

This is what this entire existence is about—-entering into the joy of relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit, then inviting others in through the love we share with God.

More Pieces of the Puzzle

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.

The Assembly
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.

Assuming Love

(Note: I intended this topic to be about something else when I started it, but God led me in another direction as I wrote. I’m leaving in my original start as reference.)
Near the end of a prior post, I listed some “assumptions” that I’ve made while reading the Bible. To me, the way God has always been presented to me, these assumptions would be very natural. To sum up, I assume that Jesus was right about everything he said, spoke in a way the disciples would understand (once they got their hearts in the right place), and wasn’t intentionally being evasive or confusing. Likewise, the apostles all communicated to the early Christians in this same manner.
Many Christians may agree with the above positions, but the popular Biblical interpretations today seem to contradict this. In light of such contradiction, Christians that begin to voice their concerns and confusions are told not to be doubtful, even being threatened that it’s sinful. In as polite of a manner as I can muster, I’d like to say that’s hogwash. In actuality, many presenting these claims seem to be just as confused and afraid to make any considerations outside of the indoctrination to which they’ve been bound. All of this, in turn, hurts our witness to the rest of the world. We try to force beliefs on others that don’t make any sense in our own head or heart. How can we adequately witness to the world if we don’t even understand our own religious text?
We assume that people are damned to hell based on what little knowledge we have of them from an external view and what little assumptive knowledge we have of the afterlife. We simultaneously condemn from a distance while refusing to enter into their lives. Inviting them to meetings that only present more confusion and guilt doesn’t help them either. They will only start believing in Jesus when we start showing him through our lives! I can type until my fingers are bloody and I can talk until I go hoarse, but it won’t change a person’s heart until they start seeing my faith lived out in me—until they see Jesus in me. In other words:
Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen.—Hebrews 11:1 (emphasis mine).
Is that proof evident to others who see us? The burden of proof of Jesus’ love is on us as Christians! All the proof needed to convince others should be evident through the life we live. This doesn’t mean doing all the acceptable “churchianity” things and laying guilt on others. This means embracing those sinners even when other religious folk condemn us for it. This means following in Jesus’ footsteps of love. This means choosing love even if we think we’ve found a valid Biblical loophole not to.
I can make arguments. I can exegete and eschotologize. I can use big words that I’m not even sure I understand the meaning of (or if they’re even words for that matter). I can give my interpretation of the Bible. I can even lay down my life—and if it’s God’s desire, I will do so. But all of this means nothing if it isn’t in love. Is the Christian walk we’re presenting love? Are we truly embracing the “tax collectors and prostitutes” like Jesus did? Are we adamantly holding on to our religious doctrines like the Pharisees did? Have we redefined what it means to be a Christian—that is, our political beliefs, our patriotism, our American dream, our traditions, etc…?
Are we insisting that what we’re upholding is love, but it looks nothing like 1 Cor 13? Have we redefined such scriptures to fit to our Westernized comforts? Have we, like the religious leaders during Jesus’ ministry, chosen comparative righteous over love, all the while condemning even those who are trying to live out love to others because it makes us feel uncomfortable and guilty?
Jesus, please help me to live what I believe in love and remove from me anything that isn’t showing you to others! Help me to assume that you love everyone just like you love me and not assume that they are evil, malevolent sinners that deserve such a severe fate as eternal punishment. Help me be the proof of your love to a hurting world!

Love NEVER fails!

Is this true?
Does love fail?
Isn’t God love?
Does God fail?
What is God’s plan?
and through him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross.—Colossians 1:20
Is God really interested in reconciling all or is it just rhetoric?
Have we really studied the Bible and what was meant?
When we say, “The Bible clearly says” have we clearly understood what the Bible was actually saying?
Are we using scripture to justify ourselves while condemning others?
Is that what the Bible is for?
Are we truly ready to be judged in the same way and by the same measure that we judge (Matt 7:2)?
Is there any darkness in God (1 John 1:5)?
Why do we continue to resist what the Bible says?
Did Jesus really represent the Father in bodily form (John 14:7)?
Why do we continue to insist that God is malevolent and that Satan will win the majority of souls in hell?
Why do we continue to believe Satan has any such power to ruin even one single part of God’s ultimate plan?
If we continue to insist this, aren’t we insisting that God loses?
Can any single part of God’s plan fail in the end?
Why do I ask such things? I truly believe that God is love, that God does not and will not fail—that love wins, completely, in the end! I believe in the power of love to win everyone!
Is that too much to hope for?
Is God not also the God of infinite hope?
Are we limiting our love by insisting that this can’t be?
Are we attaching “buts” to water down God’s love—to bring God’s infinite power into our human forms of justice, revenge, and limitation?
Do we dare to truly believe that God is infinitely powerful, infinitely merciful, and infinitely loving?
What would be the result if we truly had that kind of faith—that God is love without limits?