(Originally posted at churchsetfree.wordpress.com)
For years, centuries even, we Christians have continued down the same destructive path. We’ve twisted scripture to justify our prejudices and outright hatred in order to feed our self-righteousness. We’ve surpassed the Pharisees in our arrogance. While they studied the scriptures (John 5:39), many didn’t understand that Jesus was the Messiah. Today, we readily acknowledge Jesus, yet still insist on following tenants we’ve developed, claiming they reflect the scriptures and the “Big Ten.” The religious of Jesus’ time pursued their own righteousness in the same way despite Jesus’ clear explanation of what the prophets and the commandments were teaching (Matt 22:37-40).
With the knowledge that history often repeats, we’ve continued to create the same environment of religiosity that Jesus seemed so distraught over (Matt 23, Matt 13:15). Repeatedly seeing religion built and then collapse, we still insist, as all before us have, that this time we’ll build our earthly kingdom better…that this time, our laws will control others’ actions, and that our religion will force God to be more adamant about defending our worldly assets.
At times, this incessant methodology is almost too disturbing to bear. Our continued blaspheming of Jesus’ love—instead persisting in violence, fear, manipulation, and outright hatred—has alienated much of the world from Christ. Yet, we still continue to double-down on our religious obligations despite a hurting world that is desperately in need of the compassion of our Savior through us.
Most often, what Jesus demonstrated, and what we seem to continually fail miserably at, is pure, unadulterated, LOVE.
Jesus offered no defense at his trial, willing went to his execution, and forgave those nailing him to a cross to demonstrate the depths of his love. Even when stripped of everything, his only retort was LOVE.
We, as Christians, have failed miserably in our calling to follow Jesus’ love. We continue to insist that we have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness regardless of Jesus’ call to lay down our lives in service to others. We continue to place our hope in politicians that use God’s name vainly. We continue to adorn the red-faced, bigoted banter of talk show hosts that tout war and violence as the way to Father’s heart. We continue to pursue evil to destroy evil in a perpetual cycle of hatred. We continue to look for a modern Messiah to save us from our own wicked creations and destroy those “other” evildoers that we wag our fingers at; those same others that we’ve refused to be love to as Jesus demonstrated.
Today, and for much of the past 1700 years, we’ve paralleled the same false religion that ancient Israel relished in. We’ve continued to build a worldly “church” that we insist is based in Jesus’ teaching yet demonstrates none of Jesus’ love. We continue to insist on prayer for our benefit, making long winded speeches with repetitive words (Matt 6:5-7). We continue to perform our “righteous” works for public accolades instead of in silence for the delight of Father’s heart (Matt 6:1-4). We continue to violate God’s commands for the sake of our traditions (Matt 15:3). We continue to blindly lead others into pits of hatred (Matt 15:14). We continue to define the Kingdom as our worldly constructs instead of what Jesus described (Luke 17:21, John 4:23, Matt 18:20).
We’ve traded in robes for suits, Sabbath for Sunday, and synagogues for sanctuaries. It’s the same false religion re-purposed for our modern society, yet we insist that in must continue. Meanwhile, our hatred only alienates the rest of the world and makes enemies of those Jesus won with love.
We continue to follow methods of bedazzlement, religion, and war—the same methods Satan tempted Jesus with in the wilderness…yet Jesus chose to pursue love.
Satan tempted Jesus to dazzle people to him by side-show miracles. Jesus’ miracles were to help others, not to make him a “prayer” fueled vending machine of worldly desires.
Satan tempted Jesus to rally the religious Temple-dwellers to his cause, thereby having a clerical army backing a religious campaign. After all, if Jesus could convince the religious that he was the Messiah, it would be easy to get the rest of the populace to fall in line. Yet, both then and now, religion fails because if often sucks the love out of people and replaces it with dogma and duty.
Satan promised the world to Jesus if he would just bow down…if he would just do things his way. Jesus could have conquered the world by force. He had 10,000 angels at the ready, yet he chose to win the world by love. Today, this is probably our most susceptible temptation—to conquer the world by force…and we’ll use any excuse to justify force of arms instead of love. We’ve lost the ability, if we ever had it, to love our neighbor.
But who is our neighbor?
When a lawyer asked Jesus who his neighbor was, Jesus makes a Samaritan the hero of his parable above both a priest and a Levite—the two most religious jobs under the Old Covenant. While we’ve associated Samaritans with “good” in our day, to Israel, they were the epitome of vileness. Jesus making a Samaritan the hero would have been a severe plot twist in his parable—so much so, that the seething lawyer wasn’t even able to say “the Samaritan” (Luke 10:36-37).
This is another fallacy we perpetrate as Christians—the ideal that only certain people are our neighbors that we’re required to love. American Christians tend to only demonstrate love to their fellow American populace, elevating “our” country, which we created and own, above the rest of the world. Even so, any “neighbor” who doesn’t fall in line with our agenda, we demonize as “not really American,” continuing the dichotomy of elitist Christianity. Jesus was fairly explicit in his statements against these things (Luke 22:25-26, John 13:35).
Still today, in spite of Jesus’ teaching, we only love those we deem worthy to be our neighbor by our religio-political agenda. And we’ll make any excuse feasible to refuse to be love and instead propagate the satanic agenda of hatred while attaching God’s name to our actions.
As Jesus stated (John 8:44), this father we’re representing more resembles Satan than God.
When does it end?
When will those claiming discipleship to Christ actually start following him? When will we, as Christians, stop creating more darkness by attempting to destroy evil by evil methods? When will we, as Christians, stop performing for the accolades of our constituents (John 12:42-43) and instead live in a relationship of love with God?
I truly believe that love wins fully and completely in the end, but it may be thousands upon thousands of more years of a handful of Christians consistently being love before that happens. In the meantime, we’ll continue to repeat the same dark history by following the same religious mandates that seek subjugation in the place of love.
Why so harsh?
I realize these words may come across as harsh, but, like with Jesus’ dialogues (many linked above), I believe hearts hardened by years of religious indoctrination need sharp words to penetrate that callousness. Otherwise, we dance around with false pleasantries but do those trapped in theological gymnastics a disservice by not speaking the truth.
My hope is that those claiming Christianity come to know what love is, so they can actively seek Father’s heart and pursue the type of life Jesus lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only then will we truly be able to spread the Kingdom, in love, to the rest of this hurting world!
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.
This is a concept I’ve been considering writing about for awhile. It can go quite a bit more in-depth than this, but I only want to focus on the basis of what I’m seeing in scripture—a plan too beautiful to ignore.
“All,” just like the word “soon,” seems to be one of those words we have to twist far out of its’ original context in order to make ourselves appear more righteous by our religious pursuits instead of relying on Father’s plan. We stretch “soon” to mean then and for unknown centuries in the future. Likewise, we attempt to contain “all” into a narrow box that only means a select few. In doing this, we deny Jesus’ very words. We’ve made a god in our image so we can justify exclusion of others that won’t conform to our doctrines of power, control, finances, politics, “justified” war and hatred, etc….
Okay, so where am I going with this?
Colossians 1:15-20 (Emphasis Mine)
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
The above passage is so beautiful, I couldn’t just boil it down to 1 or 2 verses. Here, Paul goes into detail of God’s plan—for ALL. We can twist and bend this amazing passage, we can add or take away words, we can throw around thoughts of heresy and blasphemy, or we can just ignore this passage all together since it doesn’t conform to our preconceived notions.
However, if we can so easily throw out or manipulate such a block of scripture, there’s nothing Biblical we can enforce. In other words, if Paul could be so wrong about God’s plan for all of creation, what can we trust in the Bible?
For centuries, passages like this have been ignored or twisted to mean something other than the direct meaning that they imply. If we truly taught this, our man-made power structures would crumble. We would have to actually love and include everyone. Then, the good news would actually be good news.
How do we incorporate such a glorious message into our current system of religion? I honestly don’t think those old wine-skins can hold this new wine. For centuries it has been tried and for centuries, both have been ruined.
We’ve repeatedly tried to reform the system. While on the surface, it may seem better, we’re only treating the symptoms and not the disease—we’re only changing external features so we look more compliant from the outside while we rot away internally. We continue to push obligation, agenda, accountability, participation, mandates, politics, etc…as relationship with Father. All the while we miss out on a relationship with him ourselves because we refuse to believe and live by what he has already stated. We don’t allow people to be in a relationship of freedom with Jesus; we attempt to force them through guilt and manipulation no matter how subtle and politely we try to present it.
How do we get to that place of loving others without the structures we’ve created, whether physical or otherwise?
Perhaps we just trust that God has already succeeded with his plan and has all under control.
And then suddenly, when those others start having faces and hearts and stories and brokenness, you begin to see just why Dad loves them like he loves you—unconditionally.
It’s not always easy to love if we’re honest. It’s not always easy to understand, from our perspective, how God is now, and has always been, love.
We expect performance. We expect to earn someone’s affection. We expect to be loved based on what we’ve accomplished.
Dad has no such expectations.
God created us to be the objects of his affection. It is our sole purpose to be loved by him and to love him back. But love is a choice, so it can only truly be love when the recipient chooses to love in return.
Thus, we get this creation we live in. There first had to be a choice—to turn away from God’s love and experience something other—or to turn…
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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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
What is sin?
The answer can be varied depending on who is asked.
Mostly, what I was taught to believe is that sin is breaking a list of rules that God has established. Again, that list can vary.
When we get down to it, it seems we uphold the Ten Commandments as the basis of our sin dichotomy. However, if we go down that list, we quickly see that much of Western Christianity is not holding up those rules, especially when we look at Jesus’ definition of righteousness by law such as Matt 5. Another example: the Sabbath is from Friday at sundown until Saturday evening. If we aren’t remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy, we’re already breaking one of the rules. And if we break one, we break them all.
In this, we get a rather subjective list that is easily open to interpretation based on other parts of the Bible. We toss aside or change/justify what we don’t care to uphold and weaponize the rest in an attempt to beat others into submission to our standards. If we take a step back and look at this process, it’s all just comparative righteousness. We have a scale by which we weight our righteousness against others’. This is also known as self-righteousness and is prevalent in the institution we call “church” today.
So if the list is so undefinable, what is sin? If we don’t know what sin is–if there is no list that won’t contain holes—how do we avoid it? Is this even the appropriate question we should ask? Perhaps what we’ve been asking is the wrong starting point.
So let’s look at “original sin.” What was Adam and Eve’s sin? Looking at Genesis 3, it seems they wanted to know what good and evil was by their definition instead of trusting in God. This is how the serpent deceived—trust in self instead of God. Again, righteousness by human means instead of relationship with Father.
Perhaps this is the root of all sin—our trust that our way is right because of our insistence that it is, even when we state the Bible backs our conclusion. This same methodology was used all throughout the Old Testament, yet, we see constant failure by man to avoid the sin condition. Interestingly enough, it seems that even if we’re “right” about our statements, we can still be in sin because of our self-righteous attitude about it.
So far it doesn’t seem quite clear what sin is and how we avoid it.
How I’ve come to see it is, sin is anything that separates us from being in relationship with Father. Jesus came to end that separation:
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”—Mark 1:15.
In effect, it seems Jesus was trying to get people to stop attempting a relationship with Father by rules.
If fear separates us from God, it is sin—even fear of hell.
If we believe that our rule-following justifies us, we no longer trust in Jesus as bridging that separation, or if we add addendum to Jesus’ completed work, we in turn nullify the effect of his accomplishment in our personal life.
If we try to force mandates, accountability, obligation, etc…on others, we are only propping up man made agenda and become separated from Father.
If we use intimidation, fear, guilt, shame, etc…to try to force others into a “love” relationship (what sense does that make?) we are separated from a relationship with Father.
If we’re trying to summon the Holy Spirit into our meetings by long-winded/extravagant prayer, rituals, speeches, music, etc…we deny that the Holy Spirit has been given to live in us and in turn are separated from Father.
If we trust in politics, power, finances, military might, etc…we in turn are separated from Father.
If we refuse to engage others because we consider ourselves “right” and consider them as “wrong,” we are separated from Father.
If we insist that our behavior justifies us/causes God to act—negatively or positively, we in turn are separate from Father. Example: I’m a good person so why is God punishing me with this?
None of this is Father separating us from him, but, like Adam and Eve, it is our insistence that our ways are right, and we remove ourselves from relationship with Father. Thereby, we justify ourselves because of our doings and not the completed work of Jesus. We trust in our own knowledge of good and evil and not in Life itself, which is Jesus.
In conclusion, my view of sin is anything that inhibits our relationship with Father—whether we label these things as secular or sacred. In addition, what inhibits my relationship may not inhibit another’s. Attempting to force a standardized list of religious mandates and obligations can in turn separate us from relationship with Father because of our insistence in our own righteousness by what we achieve. Jesus never forced—he invited any who would come, into a relationship with Father. This, too, is our calling as Christians—not obligation, fear, shame, hatred, accountability, religion, manipulation, mandates, etc….but just a simple invitation for others to come to know our Father through Jesus and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
If this were a prize fight, organized Christianity wouldn’t quite be knocked out yet, but it would certainly be on the ropes and we’d be way behind on points coming to the bell.
It’s no secret that people are leaving the Church in record numbers and although they may not all be rejecting Jesus, they are surely saying no to the faith that bears his name—and for many good reasons.
I spend a great deal of my time each day listening to many of these good folks and they educate me. Based on what I see from where I am and what I’ve learned from nearly two decades in church ministry, here are some ways we Christians are obscuring Jesus and hurting people, and severely damaging our testimony in the world in the process:
1) Vilifying non-Christians.
In the face of attrition and growing public ambivalence, too many Christians and Christian leaders lazily lean back on attack language…
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Here’s a post I wrote for Church Set Free. Please have a look-see. Note: the site is still under construction.
How do we see the Bible? Is it a love letter, historical record, rule book—all of these?
Why do we strive to prove our view of the Bible as “right?”
Are we really in love with Father, or are we just paying fire insurance premiums by our rituals and traditions?
Love or Fear?
First, it’s beneficial to consider—Are we viewing the Bible from the perspective of God’s love for us or our fear of him?
If we’re afraid of God, we may see the Bible as a rule book, full of threats if we don’t comply. If we choose to fall ever more deeply in love with God, we may see the Bible as a companion guide through which the Holy Spirit can guide us in growing spiritually.
Digging a little deeper into this, in a church service during my teenage days, the pastor asked the congregation a question—Are we serving God to avoid hell or because…
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