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.

Good and Evil

A Personal Note
Lately, I’ve been in a state of sadness, not for me personally, but for those I use to be bitter against. Truthfully, knowing I was bitter towards certain people helped some, but actually having that bitterness removed was impossible by my own means. I had to just let Jesus work in me to slowly wither it all away. Now it seems all that bitterness has been, unexpectedly, replaced with sadness. I feel like my heart is broken every time the though crosses my mind of people being misled and misleading others by the ways they present God. This has been a large part of the burden on my heart lately. However, this does place me in a better position to love those same people instead of the bitterness I use to have towards them.

Good and Evil
Sometimes it feels like we’re looking at things from the wrong angles. The Holy Spirit has to continually nudge me on this personally. We continue to define good and evil by our human viewpoint instead of trusting Father. It seems we categorize every action as good or bad, black or white, without ever stopping to consider the hurting, confused, and/or angry people caught up in these situations.

We’re still eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

We even categorize God’s actions, who is pure light, into our human conceptions of good and evil. We use all kinds of references to justify our stances. “God’s love and wrath are two sides of the same coin.” We scramble together words that only confuse to attempt to defend God as good. In turn, we don’t trust that all of God’s actions are good, because they come from the source of all goodness. If we try to justify why God did “bad” things, we defer to a humanistic view of good and evil.

We continue to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.

God is good and all that he created is good. Therefore, any action he takes, or seems to allow, is for our good. I know this can be a hard pill to swallow because we still want to define “good and bad.” Somehow, if we can categorize the two, we can justify our stances. We can then, based on these good/bad things we witness, determine who is good and going to heaven, and who is bad and going to hell.

We continue to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.

How do we know what to do? Maybe we just follow the Holy Spirit.

How do we know who is good or bad? Maybe we just follow the Holy Spirit.

How do we know who to trust? Maybe we just follow the Holy Spirit.

Maybe, just maybe, we stop eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and we start eating from The Tree of Life—we start partaking in the life and love of Jesus.

Life and Death

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.

Recounting the past two years

Every once in a while, God seems to stop me to show me the “whys” of how he has led me. This isn’t to muddle around in the past, but more to encourage me to put more faith in him by showing me how he’s already working. A lot of my current journey started about two years ago, though it had been slowly building up over a lifetime prior to that point.
Over the past two years, there were some things God led me to do. I didn’t understand fully at the time, but I was to a point in my spiritual journey where I was learning to trust him, especially since everything else I’d put my trust in wasn’t sufficing. For some time, I’ve had inklings as to why, but never had quite a full grasp. It seems he has led me like he has so I could focus more on what he was saying instead of what I’d traditionally known.
First, he led me to study the Bible more. Like most, I dreaded it. The Bible had always been confusing and I was afraid that if I did come to different conclusions than those around me, I would be labeled a heretic. That fear has been removed now.
I read through Matthew and kinda understood it. Then I started reading Romans and the other epistles of Paul. I started seeing Paul talk a lot about the concept of not being under the law anymore (i.e Rom 6:14, Gal 2:21, 5:4). As the congregation I was in pressed a law based lifestyle all my life and continued to, I started feeling more and more isolated. As any good parishioner might do, I approached an elder with my concerns. At the time, I really didn’t realize this outright, but for every verse I brought up, there was a verse to contradict it. When I stated that it seems like Paul talked several times about not being under law, but grace, the response was “Jesus said he didn’t come to destroy the law” (to which my response was, “Yes, he said he came to fulfill it”). As the conversation went on, it seemed to quickly become evident that anything I tried to present was going to be countered with another scripture. This depressed me greatly because, even then, I knew the Bible wasn’t to be manipulated to contradict itself. When the elder realized I had some knowledge of the Bible because I’d been reading it, like he himself kept insisting that we all should, he changed tactics. He filibustered with a lot of religious stories that had little to do with the Bible or were heavily manipulated. For about an hour and a half, I tried to listen and take into account his words, but they were so loaded with agenda that it only depressed me. I would interject a sentence in every once in a while that would completely blow the previous rant, but after a few second of stuttering or silence, he would go back into another dictation that had little to nothing to do with my statement or was otherwise just a denial with no Biblical backing of any kind. I tried for some time to make sense of his stances, but there was nothing there.
I spoke with another elder after that. While he tried more to understand, we didn’t quite see eye to eye on how to grow towards Jesus. I spoke with many others from the congregation and while they had some surface level agreements, it seems most were comfortable to continue in their traditions, doctrines, and rituals until either they died or the congregation could no longer sustain itself. Reluctantly, and with a heavy heart, I left to find a real relationship with Jesus.
I’m not saying any of this to beat anyone up over it. I’m trying to give a fair evaluation of the happenings as pertinent to my spiritual growth over the past couple of years.
Looking back over those times, I see why God led me away from that. I could have stayed and faked it, but I didn’t feel like that was the honest thing to do. I tried understanding that viewpoint and adapting myself to it, but that just drained away the little spiritual joy I was discovering. There was such a limited space to present God’s love to others and even that was heavily regulated.
A lot of the reasoning of God’s leading I’m now seeing. The Bible is an overall story of humanity’s awakening into the fullness of God’s Kingdom. It was never meant to be a static picture of “how to be a Christian.”  That view just creates confusion and allows verses to be pitted against each other depending on the agenda we’re supporting. We can take a stance for grace and deny justice. We can take a stance for law and deny grace. We can take a stance for judgment and deny mercy.
But I digress.
As I talked with more believers, I saw varied stances. Often, if I didn’t agree with a stance, I was told, in a not so loving manner, that I needed to go back and read the Bible again. Ironically, I often complied with this (but more so because of God’s prompting) and found even more amazing things.
Several months ago, I was beginning to get the urge to read the New Testament again, stopping at every difficult verse to find a reasonable explanation. I got to Matthew chapter 5 (again) and contemplated that for a while. After several more months, I started to see how it fit into Jesus’ overall message. This didn’t seem to be how many Christian were operating though. Love your enemy, pray for them, do good for them, bless them. Like the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, many Christians seemed to pray, do good, and bless themselves, their friends, and those who will support their views. Enemies were generally condemned to a hell fire of eternal torment.
For a while, seeing how I should treat those I considered enemy, my heart became more softened to those I’d been told I should avoid. Many Christians didn’t seem to like this and again I was told I needed to read the Bible because I wasn’t seeing things the way they insisted I should.
So again I started at Matthew. I started researching what all this Gehenna and Hades talk was about. What I discovered blew away all my preconceptions about the afterlife and eternal punishment as I had traditionally viewed it. Again, I was told I need to read the Bible because I wasn’t getting it.
So again I started with Matthew. I re-researched much of what I had learned, even into the original Greek and Old Testament cross passages, to ensure that I knew what I knew. I got all the way to Chapter 24 this time and wasn’t seeing anything yet in Jesus’ teachings that contradicted my views. Matt 24:1-3 hit me like a ton of bricks though. I carefully read the rest of the chapter taking into account the first three verses and looking for any type of transition that might indicate Jesus was speaking of two different times. However, I found nothing. In fact, I found that Jesus was being very specific that his coming would be in that generation (Matt 23:36-38 and 24:34). This cross references with what he also says in Matt 16:27-28. As I continued reading the New Testament, I saw that Jesus and his followers all had a firm belief that he would return very soon. As I compared the symbolic language of things like “heavens and earth,” “coming in the clouds,” and “age,” I found an amazing correlative story that runs through the entirety of the Bible.
So, this is basically where I stand now. I know this is quiet long and if you’ve made it this far, thank you for hearing me out. I feel it is only fair to lay all my cards on the table as often as possible and not be elusive or confusing on anything. No, I don’t have all the answers, and I never will. However, the vast majority of the Bible now makes sense when placing it in the context of the original recipients and what the message was about for them.
This has been both an amazing and liberating journey as well as a harsh and depressing one. Having everything I’ve known stripped away was brutal, but I can say, I wouldn’t change the relationship with Jesus that has been developing for anything. There is nothing else that will suffice.
PS: Read the Bible 😀