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Archive for the ‘Discernment & Laodicea’ Category

It’s becoming so much harder for me to identify as “Christian” while at the same time being a U.S. citizen. I know the difference, but it seems to have been a bad blend of religion and statism since the beginning. Not mentioned here, the history and current plight of First Nations under colonial invasion and occupation. See also Brian Zhand’s excellent post about being a follower of Jesus and supporting human torture. http://brianzahnd.com/2014/12/christian-support-torture/

I share this out of a very deep grief that has been growing over the last couple of years. At times, I have been angry. But that anger was rooted in tears.

Ben Irwin

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We’re a nation that uses fear as justification for torture.

Despite the fact that, according to scripture, “perfect love casts out fear.”

We’re a nation worried more about whether torture was effective than whether it was moral, as if the objects of torture are somehow less than human.

Despite the fact that all humanity bears the divine imprint. Despite the fact that torturing human flesh is an assault on the image and likeness of God.

We’re a nation that held a mentally impaired man hostage, using him as leverage to extract information from a relative. We’re a nation of secret prisons, in which roughly a quarter of known detainees, perhaps more, were wrongfully held.

Despite the prophets’ condemnation of those who “deny justice to the innocent,” despite their warning that the Lord’s anger would burn hot against such people.

We’re a nation that engaged in simulated hangings, that forced…

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I have no idea where this saying came from but I found it swimming around in my head today after we went to a public pool.  My younger set of children started begging to go swimming as soon as the wearing of shorts commenced.  We live in Texas so they have been carrying on for weeks and weeks about how much better life could be IF ONLY they could go swimming in a real pool as opposed to the lawn sprinkler.  I held off for as long as I could because I don’t enjoy public swimming for various reasons not appropriate to discuss here.  In spite of my many objections, I do know they need to learn to swim for their own safety and enjoyment.  After looking at swimming lesson fees, it appeared I would have to be the teacher.

Last week we had met at a splash park with our home school Meetup group.  I love those places because they have loads of fun while I stay fully clothed and dry.  Our group took over a picnic table for all our gear and we sat around having a great visit while the kids played.  As I looked around the park, I observed something very normal, but sad to me.  Our table consisted of all Anglo women, another all Latino, and yet another all Asian.  We had cloistered ourselves into our own little ethnic groups while the children were playing all together in the park.  I realize this is a normal, comfort-zone situation, and often caused by language barriers too.  But what if we never sit at someone else’s table or invite someone to ours?  What we can’t see between those tables are the things that truly divide us;  fear, pride, misunderstanding, long-held but still-festering grievances.  If we never talk or form relationships with others outside our own social groups, how will we ever learn to understand one another, forgive, or love like Jesus asked us to do?  I longed for there to be a way to connect the tables but instead I sat there feeling helpless to change it.

But back to the swimming pool.  What is really cool about swimming (no pun intended) is that we are all in there together without tables for people to segregate themselves to.  And what is there to be shy about when you are already in a bathing suit?  Nothing really.  Two children asked my kids if they could borrow their floatation toys, so we began to share, which sparked a friendship between them.  Kids bond instantly and easily.  Soon they were asking me if I could teach them to swim too!  I almost expected a parent to come rescue their children from the crazy white lady who is shorter than a 4th grader, but no one intervened.  As we left I saw them running over to their mother who was not swimming.  I went to her and said how much the children enjoyed playing and that if they were able, we would try to make it the same time every week (way out of my comfort zone).  She seemed very friendly and open to the idea, and I thanked God for providing a way to break down walls and open doors with others.  I hope to see them again next week, and that she doesn’t instead resolve to avoid the pool on Wednesday for the rest of the summer! 🙂  I have such a deep burden for racial reconciliation and sometimes as an Anglo person, I don’t feel like there is anything I can do that won’t be taken as insincere, naive, or offensive.  And often I know it will be, because I have much still to learn.  It is so important to not assume anything.  I speak in general terms here, but each person must be seen as they are – a unique individual who may or may not fit anyone’s generalizations.

I was not prepared for the level of racism I found when I moved to Texas many years ago.  Then sadly, I became accustomed to it over time.  I had never met blacks who had so much bitterness toward white people where I grew up, or white people with so much blind bigotry.  I found it frightening and intimidating, so I decided I would do what most of the white people in Texas do – keep my distance and stay in my safe white world.  I ended up living in a small, rural town for 18 years (for economic reasons) that I heard had a notorious history for keeping out unwanted people of color.  Judging by the demographics, they seem to still have success in that area, except for more recent immigration.  We were blessed to live next to a newly immigrated family and their daughter became like our own as our children were growing up together.  But did I welcome her parents with the same hospitality?  No, I let my own fear of awkwardness keep the space between us.  And I have done this more often than I care to remember.

Today in fact was Juneteenth, a holiday I have truly only heard referred to in mocking ways – in my safe white world.  A few months ago while studying some history with my children, I learned that this holiday marks the date that the Texas slaves were finally told they were free, two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had become the law of the land.  I think I had to read it over a few times to make sure I had not misunderstood.  How many generations removed are we from these times of their suffering and our oppression?  How much of it do we both still carry with us?  Thankfully, we can all swim in the same swimming pool, at least.

I saw the water today as a powerful symbol of baptism which creates the stage for our unity in Christ, and the Holy Spirit who makes us one (Living Water) in our resurrected Life.  When we come into the water, we connect!  There is no more need for walls or unforgiveness.  No more need to feel superior, or inferior.  Outside of Him, we are all sitting in our little enclaves of security, scrutinizing one another with disdain and suspicion, or trying to pretend the others don’t really exist at all.  As followers of Jesus, we can lead the way, inviting others to join us in the unifying water of the Spirit.  We may put on the humility of Christ, see ourselves and our history honestly, and choose life and love.

The other factor today of course was the innocence of childhood.  Jesus had so much to say about this too.  Unless we become as little children…  I think I saw a glimmer of the Kingdom today in a swimming pool.

I am not suggesting a rose-colored-glasses course of action of just wanting to see the good and ignore the evil.  Sadly, we see the evil on other sides and refuse to own what lives on our own side.  This invitation is for the Way of the Cross, to lay down our pride, repent, ask forgiveness, and forgive, beginning in the House of God.  Jesus prayed that we would be in unity in our love for Him and each other, “so that the world may believe” that the Father sent Him. (John 17:21)   We often view unbelief in the world with an accusatory attitude when our divisions among ourselves, especially racially, speak more volumes than our evangelism.  When the world sees a people who truly love each other, from the heart, across all barriers of race, age, gender, and denominations (not saying to erase the distinctions – but to embrace the diversity) maybe our gospel would seem more true.  But as it stands, most of our children are growing up to reject that Jesus was real, for many reasons I suspect.  How can we expect the world to believe?

There are other areas of reconciliation I want to write about soon.  I have been putting off these posts for months, because I have been overwhelmed to know where to start, and I’m not past wanting people to like what I say from time to time.  This won’t be easy, but I invite you to come in and enjoy the water.

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A couple weeks ago I had a great time with a close family member who is still a very loyal member of the Seventh-day Adventist organization.  Some people believe they can pinpoint the errors in beliefs about God that would prevent a person from having what they call “saving faith” in God.  I’ve been one of those people.  When pressed, they (I) would admit we don’t know the person’s heart, but we DO absolutely know they are wrong.  It was evident to me this family member of mine (after many heart to heart talks) has the same heart I do – one that resonates of the same Holy Spirit and the Love He pours out, in spite of some really huge differences of opinion on doctrines.  If we were forced to talk about the fine print, we would still strongly disagree and say the other is wrong.  But how much does that matter to God?  How much does that matter to each other?  Maybe this person still believes I’m wrong enough to go to hell in the end, but she is kind enough to not let on.  I don’t believe that about her (and actually never have.)

God has been widening my horizons at a painfully quick pace the last year or so, and He showed me much during this visit as well.  I realize that if I went back a few years on this blog, there are posts I probably wouldn’t write now.  While I still passionately believe the core issues that delivered us from legalism, that same legalism has taken a long long time to work its way out of my thought processes.  It is so easy to replace one form of legalism with another.

When we leave a system of belief that touts itself as the elite truth above all others, we immediately sense battle lines will be drawn.  We need a way to reassure ourselves that we truly are right.  Often doubt and fear can creep in so we fortify our defenses, and as happens in all wars, the”enemy” becomes much worse in our eyes.  I believe most fractures over religion – in families, churches, etc.,  come not so much from the differences in the beliefs we hold, but the attitudes of the heart that lead us to feel we are superior, and the desire to exert control of our position over others.

I had already begun to write this post when someone on our forum for HRM friends and family asked a question about spiritual fruit.  The individual wanted to know what the connection was between this movement and the fruit of love in its followers.  Are there any loving Torah Observant people?  Are they all cold and judgmental?  (Don’t look at their comments here, but no – they are not).  Does it matter what theology they have if they are kind?  And does their theology interfere with that?

Lots of loaded, complex questions here.  Jesus said to identify false teachers by their fruit (love rather than Pharisaical righteousness or knowledge), so these are really important questions.  And is there a difference between a false teacher and the followers?  Is it more difficult for a teacher to be blindly sincere than the follower?  I just like to ask questions I don’t have answers for.

As my very long story posted on this blog tells, my eyes were initially opened to the error of our law-centric theology by the overall lack of good fruit (as defined by Jesus) in the Hebrew Roots Movement.  Yes, there were exceptions to this generalization, but the overall atmosphere and focus did not naturally generate a loving, compassionate, sacrificial attitude toward anyone who was not aligned with our way of thinking.  And Jesus did say there wasn’t any glory in loving those who love you back, because well… anyone can do that.  When you love the unloveable, then you are on your way to being perfect, “as My Father is perfect”.

So, we moved on to enthusiastically embrace mainstream Christianity, where we knew things would be so much better.  That idealism eventually died as well.  I am starting to see a more level playing field between those who claim truth and those accused of error.

Jesus remains my Truth and the most beautiful love ever demonstrated to humanity.  But  I see that we who call ourselves by His name, in general, don’t know Him, and His verdict on false religion is that HE never knew us.  The heresy hunter’s favorite accusation is that cults invent their own Jesus.  And they often do.  But I’ve seen some strange versions of Him in the evangelical world too.  If it’s true what they say, that a false Jesus can’t save you, then maybe we should start getting to really know Him.  Really.  Know His heart before we seek to know soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology.  What does He love?  What does He hate?  When you fall in love, you crave to know everything you can about the object of your desire, but you would not cut them open to study their organ tissue.  You would LISTEN to them and enjoy their company.  Scientists study cadavers and cells under microscopes.  They have great knowledge but take no thought of the life it used to be, before it came under their knife.  It is no longer a being but a source of information.  Do we benefit from what they learn?  Yes.  But oh the grief of what we may lose if we insist on living in the knowledge of God without really knowing Him.  We may look at a tissue sample and come to very wrong conclusions, because we see such a small part of the picture.  

So what do we do with this fruit problem?  I rejected a movement on a premise that indicts most of Western Civilization and its institutions, in orthodoxy or heresy either one.  The world is an unloving place but the light and fire of Christ still burns, sometimes in the most unexpected places.  I don’t have an answer for the question about theology and fruit.  Maybe there is a flaw in the knowledge base somewhere, but I have come to believe that the problem is not a lack of knowledge, but a failure to integrate Truth (Jesus) into the fabric of our whole being.  We have selfistic (my word) desires, half-truths from the world systems, a million other “isms” competing to be our paradigm for life.  This isn’t just an American problem, it’s an ancient one.

When Yahweh delivered the Hebrew nation from their slavery, they did not have a knowledge of Him in the way He was planning to reveal Himself.  They could comprehend very little of their Father and Creator, and even with amazing displays of power, didn’t believe He loved them enough to sustain them.  They didn’t resemble a priesthood, or a bride.  Yet these are the symbols He used to refer to them and describe His desires for them.  Even in their state of helplessness and ignorance he demanded Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”  They were HIS people, based on His covenant with their fathers, not on their own merit or worthiness.

Today there are many many children of God held captive by dogmas and falsehoods of countless kinds.  Can any of us say we really have everything right about God?  I don’t find my security in that pursuit.  And I don’t see other people’s spiritual worth from that vantage point either, anymore.     I can see where a certain untruth can hurt them, or others – like the whips of the slave owner.  But maybe someone is saying, “Let my daughter go.  Let my son be free to serve me in joy.”  Maybe they belong to Him right where they are, right now.

“Love the Lord you God with all your heart, mind and soul.  Love one another as I have loved you.”  These simple words will shatter slave-holding dogmas, if taken to heart.

God didn’t call me to be right.  He called me to be love.  It has taken a lot of humbling for me to give up that desire and pursuit.  I love to be right more than just about anyone. (Ask my husband!)  What good will it do to uphold the foundations of doctrinal purity while we let our love and compassion wither on the vine?

I am not negating the whole purpose of this blog.  I believe cults and heresies rob people because they cloud the Son.  But my reason for speaking isn’t to prove someone wrong.  It’s to point to the Son, so we may all be healed.  Because we all need that, no matter how right .. we think we are.

Only a small part of truth can be understood. The rest must be caught as an intense longing for a beautiful, loving, harmonious world. Truth is something much better than a set of ideas.

-Richard Wurmbrand

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The Hebrew Roots Movement’s often unstated belief (but seen in practice and focus) is that the greatest gift to man was the Torah itself.  So much so, that for an HRM follower, Jesus Himself must be equated with it – as the living version of the stone tablets and scroll.  This is how we justified in our minds, venerating a piece of wood with paper round around it, containing Hebrew writing.  Regardless of how old it is, where it came from, or who owned it last  –   it’s nothing more than wood and paper that was sent out into the world to say, “Look for the One who is to come and hear Him!”  It didn’t bleed and die on a cross, or come back to life, and it most certainly doesn’t forgive me.  No amount of adoration ever helped my black wool turn to white.  It just lies there on the table, or goes where it’s carried.

The main character in the story of Sinai isn’t a Law, but a living God who spoke and lived in a pillar of fire!  God Himself was with them!  In fact it was precisely when they begged God to stop speaking that Moses had to go up the mountain and get the message for them.  The written Law was necessary in part, because the living relationship was too terrifying.  Not that God didn’t have a purpose in how things transpired.  I’m not one who believes God is surprised or has a plan B in His back pocket.

While Moses was gone to get further instructions, they immediately set out to do exactly the opposite of which they had just promised God they would do, which was chiefly to love and worship Him only.  As a consequence of this bold and immediate disobedience, God threatened to not go with them anymore.  He said He would send His angel ahead of them to fight their battles, but He wasn’t going to follow along or lead because, He explained, the result would be consumed people, not chosen people.

But Moses steps in.  He intercedes, and he implores.  And God listens.  I have always loved this part of the story

For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.'” Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.  

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp.  Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.

When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.  Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’  Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”  And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  

Exodus 33:5-19 ESV

There are so many gems in this passage, it’s tempting to dig them all out.  Firstly though, they now had the book of the Law, (as soon as Moses was sent to make another set of stone tablets) but it as not in this that they found their comfort and direction.  No, they knew their Living God must be with them or they were nothing in this world.  An angel wasn’t going to be enough for what they had waiting for them on this journey, or in the Promised Land.  A book could not tell them in a moment to turn to the right or to the left, and it could not bring water from a rock or manna from the sky.

He made His presence known at various times throughout their history.  The goal of the temple worship was to have the offering accepted and blessed by His presence.   This factor alone is what precipitated the detailed instructions for the priests, and why Aaron lost two sons in a day for not realizing the magnitude of what His Presence meant.  Without it, there would have been nothing to obey, nothing to fear, and certainly nothing to desire or love, as we see Moses here begging God – to really know Him and His ways, and see His Glory!

This was our desire in Torah Observance above all things.  We believed that through this definition of obedience, we would finally know God as we desired.  But in order to experience the Presence as Moses and ancient Israel did, you must have a temple and an Ark of the Covenant, and sacrifices.  Oh, and a priesthood.  Modern Judaism has none of these, and neither does any Torah Observant person.  They have replaced the Presence with a document.  The goal of the book was the Presence, and this goal was met most fully in Jesus.  To go back to the Law and miss Jesus as the fullest way to know God, is tragic.

But what a bold a request Moses made!  He wanted to KNOW God, and His ways.  He wanted to see His Glory.  And this AFTER he had heard the entire book of the Law the first time.  What knowledge of God and His ways did he still lack after this experience of receiving the Torah? I think the answer might be somewhere in the word “mercy” there at the end.  But Moses was already exhibiting the mercy and self-sacrifice of His Maker, because he was bathed in the light of His presence.

I have had the deep yearning for God’s presence and been saddened by those who didn’t even know there was something to miss in their churches, or felt they needed to manufacture the illusion of it instead.  There is the emperor who doesn’t know he hasn’t any clothes, and one that clothes himself with falsehood, and remains naked still.

I can’t take credit for this post really because it was inspired by a sermon on the radio this week, and it’s been well over a year I think since I even turned on a preaching station.  He didn’t make the same applications here as I have, but the implications began to grow in my mind as I listened.

The first thing that came to mind as I heard this sermon (will share an excerpt below) was not the Hebrew Roots Movement, but a young person who doesn’t see anything that portrays God as a reality rather than an idea.   I faced the same struggle at that age.  We as the Church have forgotten what makes us distinct among the peoples of the earth.  His purifying Presence.  There is so little evidence in most congregations of lives being transformed in repentance to God and His apage love for one another.  (Let’s start here before we even move on to signs and wonders please!)  These things can come only through His Spirit in us and with us.  Without Him, we are a facade, a cheap imitation, and a wizard with nothing more than a microphone and a big screen.

The Hebrew Roots Movement cares little for the Presence.  Many come from charismatic circles, and leave behind the excesses of that movement for something more concrete in this one.  Soon the Trinity and the Spirit are relegated to heresy and little more than “wind”.   Others come from churches where immorality and worldliness are rampant with no reverence for the things of God.  Soon they believe they can start a Law-observing campaign to address this heathenism in the ranks. The church has abandoned His Law!!  And yes, it has.  But the Law of Christ.  It cares not for His Presence or His words.  This sermon brought in a parallel New Testament verse that I never saw in this way before.  “

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  John 14:21-23

He can lead us by an angel, or we can ask for His Presence.  We can seek to know Him and His ways. Jesus said, “my commandments”.  (If you think He didn’t say anything Moses didn’t say, try reading Him again.) The really awesome thing here is that God gave Moses what he asked for!  And I believe this is His heart for us also.  The other verse that comes to mind is “By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  The pillar of fire made the Israelites distinct among the nations.  Love is supposed to be our identifying mark in the world.  And that is where we must begin and never end.

Here are the words of the mighty preacher with a delightful accent (sorry couldn’t type that in), who is far more eloquent and educated than I… and a link if you would like to hear it all.

 (quoting Moses) How will anyone know you are pleased with me and your people UNLESS YOU GO WITH US?

That’s the great question of the New Testament.  That’s why the promise of Jesus is, “If a man loves me he will keep my commandments, and I and my father will come to him and make our home with him.”

How will anybody know unless Your presence is with us?
Is there anything remotely tangible about God in my life? That’s the question.  
Is there anything distinguishable about me? I fear lest the answer is, “no.” 

He (Moses) says the only way that people will know is if you are with us. If You’re not with us we’re on our own. And the same is true as you go to your office tomorrow and as we gather here to worship. This is the cry of our hearts, “God, show us that you’re with us.” Otherwise how will anyone be able to distinguish between this and any other event. The only thing that will make it a reality is if you show yourself to be here.

Oh we can get together and have a shindig.  We can get together and sing songs. We can get together and have revelry. We can sing everything on a horizontal level, and make the bystanders walk in and say, “You know, that is a wonderful time.” But we will not see men and women turn from their sins. We will not see men and women broken-hearted before God, unless God comes by His Spirit among His people.

Do you pray for revival in church? Do you pray for the Spirit to be poured out on our congregation? Are you telling me you are content with things the way they are? Are you content to take your place while our neighbors and friends are lost without Christ? Or maybe you’d like another kind of leader, someone who would say simply kind things to you, and tell you, “Listen, it’s just fine.” Loved ones, it is NOT fine. The night comes when no one can work.

….  And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the thing that you ask because I am pleased with you, and I know you by name.”   And Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” It is for this then loved ones, that we long, that God would honestly respond to the cries of our hearts and that He would show us his glory, the revelation of His goodness and his name, a glory that will be seen far more in his mercy than His majesty. A mercy that is fetched from within Himself, and not from any merit in His creatures. I can’t ask God to be merciful on the strength of who I am because who I am is a can of worms. The only way we can ask God to show His mercy is because He fetches His mercy from within Himself. Because He is mercy.

Prone to Wander – part B

Alistair Begg

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Our Nation

Which rules the earth,

Great is her name.

Let her kingdom come

Her will be done

On earth

As the will of heaven.

Give us always

Our American Dream

And excuse our excesses

As we pursue our enemies.

Lead us not into tyranny

But deliver us from economic depression

For ours is the victory

And the power

And the glory

Forever.

Does the prayer of our Lord only reach as far as a church wall, or does His mind rule within us in our affairs?  Which master do we serve and trust?   Let the world follow their beasts of power and might.  Let those who trust in the Lord seek His face.

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”   

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me,“You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalms 2

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Japanese Garden – Fort Worth

This morning I woke up with a view of tree branches swaying gently, directly overhead.  The first light of the sun illuminated some branches at the tops of the trees, while the lower ones were still shaded.  Morning breaks loudly around here as a flock of crows and a young litter of squirrels compete to be heard above one another.  About a month ago I set up our tent in the backyard as a sanity preservation technique.  The intense heat of our summer began to break, and my craving for being outdoors won out over my inability to go on a camping trip.

We are so blessed to live in a neighborhood of huge, old pecan trees.  Our yard is one of the best camping sites in our whole region, complete with a nature trail out the back gate, and a river to fish in.  (Someday, I’m actually going fishing!) But these old trees come with their hazards too.  As I looked up this morning, I saw a few more dead branches without leaves, and thought of the folly of sleeping under them.

Recently my youngest daughter and I were enjoying a delightfully breezy afternoon in our lawn chairs when one of these branches came crashing down in front of us.  This one however still had all its leaves.  We would have never noticed they had dried up and died because they were still green and blended in with the rest of the tree.  I assume it must have been damaged in the last windstorm and its connection to the tree compromised.   After the shock, we observed it fell from a very high place in the tree and would have caused a substantial injury if we had been standing under it.

While enjoying my backyard paradise this morning, praying for all the tree limbs to stay put, I realized I have been shocked and saddened by the spiritual equivalent of these crashing branches several times.  People I have looked up to.. (the higher I esteem them, the harder the shock), and trusted, have let me down.  Maybe I wasn’t looking closely enough, but I thought they were really connected to the Tree.  The leaves were green!  They had an amazing testimony, or a thriving ministry. Then one day – crash!  I feel let down, betrayed, angry, and saddened by the ensuing injury caused to those around them.   As I observed a few years ago in a post called Ending Well, this is not at all uncommon.  Many begin with life, but then move out of His Life and into the flesh, living on yesterday’s revelation and move of  God.  They sound genuine because they are talking of real things that happened in the past.  But they are no longer being moved or directed by the Spirit.

Why am I shocked?  Why do I put my faith in a human or an organization?  Why do I think I’m immune to the same fate?

Christianity is full of teaching on how to make our life better with Jesus.  But the Royal Law…(love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul, and one another as Jesus has loved us)… doesn’t say anything about following Jesus to make ourselves happy.  I won’t say He won’t bring us peace, joy, and contentment, but there is a greater purpose to our lives when taking on His name.  We are created as branches to beautify the Tree, and to bear fruit.  When we crash and fall, we not only mar the image of the Tree that the world sees, but can potentially cause spiritual and emotional injury to those around us.

Some have entered seasons of severe doubt through these downfalls of prominent Christians.  People wonder, “If they were false, maybe the Tree isn’t real either?”  We can fault their misplaced faith, yet at the same time, Jesus spoke very clearly about religious hypocrisy.  The Church loves to make excuses for it, and demand that the world accept them in this state.  But I believe our Bridegroom desires us to be real, so we may be healed.  (See the message to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3).  Hypocrisy comes not when we sin, but when we pretend we don’t.   And we have a horrible blind-side when it comes to our own heinous sins, while we point our fingers at how badly our culture has spiraled into depravity.

Are the green leaves on our branch dead – just having the appearance of what we think a Christian is supposed to look like?  Or are we rooted and grounded in our Tree, to have His mind and Spirit in us – to be one with Him?  In all our self-serving religion, and all our busyness, and all our pride, it is so easy to forget for what purpose we have been redeemed.  Except for His grace, I am also a dead branch pretending to be hanging on the Tree of Life.  It is all of faith in Him, or it is nothing, and I am nothing.

The Good News is that God can do what we can’t do to a natural tree.  He can graft a dead branch back in and bring it to life.  He can heal, restore, and bring us all to forgiveness of ourselves and each other.  I pray to look only to the Tree for my strength and inspiration!

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”  Revelation 3:2,3

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I have often said that telling a story is more effective than arguing a point, and this film, Paradise Recovered, demonstrates this to be true.  It shows a young woman who believes in her church as the very voice of God.  She devoutly obeys every teaching, even looking for a part-time job so she can financially support “the work”, in addition to her position as a live-in nanny to her pastor’s family.  As the picture of perfection begins to crumble, she finds a new friendship at work that challenges her to the core.

The depiction of spiritually abusive religion in this movie represents an interesting composite of various cults as well as some mainstream Christian belief and practice.  As I have maintained here repeatedly, the cults do not have a monopoly on legalism. The injured lambs leaving the cults often find the same spiritual illnesses in evangelical churches.  How can doctrinal orthodoxy produce the same fruit as a heretical cult?  Rightly dissected doctrine by itself (whatever that is) doesn’t affect the heart.  It only creates a mind that knows it’s right.   And we all know where that leads.

Fruits of love come from abiding in the vine – a genuine spiritual experience in Jesus.  The only head-knowledge that produces the fruit of love is the mind of Christ.  Jesus didn’t write a list of doctrines, however useful we may find them.  He lived and died for love.  He spoke truth, but drew people to love God and one another as the highest aim.  Much of Christian religion attempts to wash the outside of the cup.

I found the most poignant scene at the beginning of this film.  Esther, the main character, tries to tell the pastor’s little girl a Bible story with the same felt characters I grew up with in Sabbath School.  She tells her the story of the Good Samaritan with the Law as the focus, not love.  (How we teach our children… topic for a different post).  The little girl squirms and says, “I don’t like this story.  I want to hear about baby Moses.”   How many adults have I known, and how long was I also of this opinion?  We would have never admitted it, but our lives and words professed this:  Jesus, we don’t want to hear you.  Let Moses speak to us instead.

Fear, control, performance-focused thinking,  Jesus-plus-something teaching – these all come naturally to us.  To truly believe and ingest the truth about what Jesus has done feels so unnatural.  He defies logic and we like justice that we have something to do with, not the kind that takes us out of the equation.   Freedom can be terrifying as well, as this young woman in the movie finds out.  I identified with her brief return to the confines and security of the church, even after the abusive treatment.  She said, “I miss God.”  She had not yet experienced Him apart from her church culture.  Just as an abused wife may repeatedly return to her husband because she “loves” him, she possibly has not yet known genuine love.

Someone recently commented to me that we should not worry ourselves over hypocrites in any belief system – no matter what it is.   But I find a problem deeper than hypocrisy.  In dysfunctional families, as well as churches, we find the ability to compartmentalize thinking so that opposing ideals do not touch one another and conflict.  To the greater degree we do this in our own lives, as well as in religious communities, we find various forms of insanity.  The goal of mental, spiritual, and emotional health is to integrate truth into every aspect of our hearts and minds.  That truth, is a Person.  He is Jesus.  Knowing Him, abiding in Him, and allowing Him to fill us up with Himself – isn’t the focus of legalistic Christian practice or teaching.  Instead, we become no different than the Pharisees that sought to promote themselves above the Man who would set the people free.

Some may find this movie uncomfortable in some ways, and challenging, but I hope it gives some the courage to be free, in Christ alone.

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