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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

This week the world lost an incredible young woman.  She is the oldest daughter of one of my closest friends, a family that shared some of our crazy history, and that has stood by us in some really hard times.  We’ve both been through some trauma in the last three or four years.  We met in a home school group years ago and eventually formed a bond that survived all the religious transitions, moves, and family crises.  I guess we understood each other’s versions of crazy.  It’s hard to find friends like that.

Our kids grew, life changed, but our relationship often revolved around talking about our kids as they entered young adulthood.  As moms we share the joys, fears, struggles and frustrations.  We agonize over wanting to see our children come into their own, but it’s so difficult to make that transition sometimes.  We remember our own pasts.  We see them try to navigate the unknown territories and we hurt with them, pray for them, and then rejoice when the level places come in time.  Jessica had found her level place of a truly happy, thriving life.  Her last facebook post, “I. Love. My. Life.”  She had recently married the love of her life.

Jessica was always different, in a good way.  To say she was gifted would be an understatement.  When people would ask me to explain to them the benefits of homeschooling, I would say, “There is this one girl…”  And I would tell them about Jessica.  She learned Hindi, became a gourmet cook, was a horse whisperer, took up Krav Maga and became an instructor, worked on her own truck and motorcycle, and was one of the most gifted artists I’ve ever seen.  I knew her mostly through her mother after she left home, but I had (and have) the greatest admiration for her.  She was beautiful inside and out.

In reality, she would have been shown brightly no matter how she was educated.  I do believe being at home gave her the freedom to explore and develop in more ways than if she had been bottled up in a classroom.  But being at home also means the mother, teacher, mentor is deeply invested in her children on many levels.  Not saying it’s harder for one than another.  Just that it’s hard beyond words.  I have only come close to that edge and that was close enough.  My imagination carried me into that place I thought I might have to go, but we were spared.  Now my friend has been called to walk this road.

This past Monday Jessica was headed to work on her Harley, (yes, HER Harley) the bike she loved, living the life she loved.  A car pulled out in front of her and she walked into eternity at that moment.  I had been away from my phone for an hour (teaching my younger children) and when I came back to it my heart leaped into my throat as I read messages from so many people, and saw all the missed phone calls.  I called her mom, my friend.  Grief beyond words.  No words.  I went to be with her – although she had many friends and close family around her.  I just had to be there.  It’s all I can do.  Just be, and pray, and wipe away tears.

Tomorrow we gather to remember and celebrate her incredible short earth life of almost 25 years.  Her husband, parents, sister, extended family, friends, and Krav Maga community will mourn the loss together.  And then the next day, is Resurrection Day.  The New Day – and hope of Life and happy reunions.  As my own faith has been through the fire of testing and been dragged through the valley of doubt, this one thing – resurrection – this is the one truth that has kept me from dropping into the abyss of unbelief without hope.  And I cannot imagine facing a day like tomorrow without that rock of truth, that we are not just this body.  We are Life, His Life.

I may run out of things to expound on here on this blog because I’m not the same person that started writing here years ago.  I’ve moved on to other places and new vistas that have come after some deep valleys.  But one thing will not change.  The 8th Day is for Life.  Forever.  Rejoicing in the light of this, through the tears.

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Rejoicing In the Presence of Christ. Not goodbye, but see you soon Jessica

(For any who feel led to make a donation to help the family, a GoFund has been set up.  http://www.gofundme.com/FarewellJessica)

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Today I read a passionate argument against some “hyper-grace” teaching that has become popular.  Living under my rock, I am not in a position to comment on teachings I have not heard for myself, but this has never stopped me before.  🙂  I will concede that maybe the message of Grace in Christ could be presented badly.  But I find it hard to believe that it could ever be too much.

I’m not sure if the reaction is toward something that may actually be heretical or if maybe much of the Church has never understood that law and grace were never meant to be in balance.  Grace replaces law because it does what the law could never do; creates a new life, draws with love rather than fear of punishment, transforms desires which in turn guides a life toward Christ instead of self.  Maybe those teaching “hyper-grace” don’t know this either, but I have never heard anyone teach that Jesus has no affect on a life.  He just saves you and that’s all there is to it?  Nothing changes except you go to heaven instead of hell?  Are people really teaching this?  Or are some people afraid to let go and let Him be the Lord of the road people are on while seeking Him.  I would speculate it’s possible that neither side of this debate really know Grace.

I have wanted to write about this so many times, and never could quite seem to figure out how to approach it – because it’s kind of the depth and scope of everything about living in Christ. It’s like, if you don’t get it – I can’t give it to you.  But I see so many Christians , churches, and creeds missing the awesome power of Grace.

Real Grace (which is even beyond my ability to accurately define) is such a transforming power that squabbling over what you think you are allowed to do or not allowed to do becomes pointless.   Those debates are for those who don’t have enough grace, not too much.  Grace fills you with love for God that keeps Him in mind in all your actions, words, and even your thoughts.  Grace fills you with love for other people so that you lay down your prejudices, hates, grudges, and feelings of superiority.  Your heart lives with those who are last, not first, and you learn to lay down your life and take up your cross.  You even find yourself loving those who hate you.  Grace isn’t always easy, but it’s glorious.  It’s Jesus on a cross loving you and His executioners, saving us who were against Him.  You can’t have too much of Him.  Loving Him with your whole heart, mind, and soul does not lead to licentiousness.  Quite the opposite.  People think that when Christians begin to get comfy with sin (which is also sadly defined only by moral behavioral lines while the sins against love are ignored), they need more law.  I disagree. They need to see more Jesus, and we so seldom speak of Him.  We love to dwell on agendas and abstract ideas.  Even New Covenant recovering theology junkies like me are in danger of this.  Life is not a good idea we can talk about at a distance.  It’s a Person who is your Life and has an active participation in it.  We often turn His Spirit into a dead doctrine  or a band-wagon, either one.   Both of these forget that He is standing there as our Bridegroom, waiting for us to realize the intimacy and power of His Love.  Imagine an unpublished final chapter of Pride and Prejudice.  Elizabeth Bennett,  in spite of her hard-won love and admiration of Mr. Darcy, turns to a life of crime because he wasn’t stern enough to keep her in line.  That’s not how love stories go, and I don’t believe it’s what Jesus intended for those who fall in love with Him.

It makes me sad when people believe Jesus isn’t enough and we need to step back to Moses to get a good dose of morality to stay on the straight and narrow, or to even find conviction for sin.  This isn’t what He taught.  The inheritance He gives us, His Spirit, His Life.. is so much more, so much greater.  And it’s continuing to open my eyes to areas that I had not surrendered to Him before.  Grace loves me enough to not leave me to wallow in my own ways.  In the last year, I’ve seen things that were so out of line with Him, that I used to believe were true (similar to the awakening which inspired the start of this blog).   The areas of my life being pruned would never have been brought into the light with the Law.  His Spirit goes deep into the heart and tests things against the Law of Love.  So much in my heart has failed this test.   This did not come about because someone came and said, “you need to repent of x,y, and z”.  Rather, it’s the fruit of walking with Him, and hearing His heart.  And I have much further to walk.  Maybe we need to move past God as a doctrine and realize that living in communion with him (as a husband and wife, father and child, etc… whatever family or friend relationship you relate to) doesn’t operate on this score and control system when it’s healthy.  What friend of Jesus did He ever have to force Himself upon?  Was there ever a more attractive Person?

I may have never encountered this actual problem of hyper-grace, and I may misunderstand the arguments against it, but I do appreciate the chance to say, Jesus is enough. 🙂  Always.

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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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Yesterday I sat down for lunch with two men who will both be 70 within the next twelve months.  They could not be more different if they had been born on separate planets.  One had lost his way in the drugs and parties of the 70’s.  The other had gone to seminary and doesn’t even know a single Led Zeppelin song.  One worked for over 40 years as a union worker, even through the party life, and lives on an adequate retirement, in a rent house.  The other re-built his life from scratch after divorce and career change left him with nothing.  One watches TV most of the day, the other works his small ranch and plays basketball on a city league with men half his age.  They are my fathers – one by birth, the other through marriage.  Even though my husband and I have been married over 20 years, this was the first time our fathers had ever been together long enough to have a conversation.  My dad is a former SDA pastor, and my father-in-law, former long-time member of the Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong.  Over lunch at this home-cooking diner, they found common ground, and I sat in awe of God’s amazing love and faithfulness to all of us over the last many years.

My father left Adventism  in the 80s during the big upheaval when the truth began to come out about their prophet, Ellen G. White, and prominent leaders began to question the doctrine that had been seen as the founding pillar of the group.  He lost his job for the sake of the gospel, and over other matters, his wife as well.  For a long time I feared he was going to give up on faith altogether.  He never seemed to find a church where things worked out after that, and his questioning began to take directions that frightened me as I began my own life with Christ in my early adult life.  But through all the confusion, he has found Jesus to be the only worthwhile Truth.

After Worldwide Church of God shifted their theological position from Old to New Covenant in the early 90s, through the influence of their leader, Joseph Tkach, my father-in-law also embraced the new path.  On a side note, my father’s mother – also a long time member, did not.  She followed one of the many splinter groups that sprung up after the shift in opposition to the change.  My grandmother passed away seeing grace as too good to be true, and my father-in-law drifted out of fellowship and back into drugs.  As often happens when people let go of the Law-based religion, they feel lost and alone, and overwhelmed at the thought of trying to attend a mainstream church. (His old congregation dwindled and floundered badly.)  If you don’t replace the void with a very real Jesus, you will feel hung out to dry.  Simply changing your mental understanding *about* God, does not always spark a living relationship *with* Him.

After losing his wife two years ago, and surviving massive heart attack, followed by bypass surgery this past year, I saw a huge transformation in my father-in-law.  He stayed with us during his recovery and we really formed a new bond with him.  I saw His spiritual heart had been broken when his physical heart nearly ended his life.

Yesterday he was re-baptized at his new church two blocks from his home.  My father, visiting from another state, attended the service with me.  The significance of the day began to sink in as I sat on the pew, between them.  Two men with long journeys to tell.  And a young whelp of a pastor who had no sense at all of the holy ground he was treading on.  He was in a hurry.  Dunk the new member, rush through the sermon, brush off the old man who puts a hand on his shoulder and tries to tell him how much he reminded him of himself as a young pastor back in 1966, with tears brimming in his eyes.  I believed a good lunch was in order so insisted we sit down for some real fellowship after church.  There two men were able to share and rejoice in what God had done for them, with someone who understood.  I sat mostly quiet (I know, hard to fathom) in awe of what God had orchestrated this day.

Early yesterday morning before getting ready for church, I saw a friend living on the opposite side of our planet had posted a quote by Joseph Tkach on his facebook page.  I took this amazing “coincidence” as  gift from God for the day, and printed it for my father-in-law.

We have always understood grace to be unconditional, an unmerited pardon of our sins. But we tended to think of it as one of the components of salvation that needed to be “stirred into the mix” because we can’t keep the law. We need to see that God’s grace is much more than that.

Grace is not just a spiritual supplement that God provides because we can’t keep his law, like a whiff of oxygen to help a sick person breathe a bit easier. Grace is the love and freedom-producing action of God that reconstitutes humanity into an entirely new creation. It transforms us and gives us a new kind of life – life that no amount of law keeping could sustain. Grace is the environment that allows us, God’s new creation, to not just survive, but to grow and flourish.
Joseph Tkach

Sometimes it takes a long time to see what Grace can do.  It knows that life cannot be forced or coerced before its time.  In our short life spans we find it so hard to endure this slow process, in ourselves and others.  It reminds me of the words in Corinthians, that love bears all things, and believes all things.  I have often been like the young pastor, in a hurry and unable to see the miracles in front of my face, wishing for big things to happen.  But God is at work in every moment,  no matter how hard or dark.  I pray to be more aware of every day of Grace!

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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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…the day many Christians in America demonstrate that it’s easier to have an agenda than a gospel.  I have been urged by so many to show my support for a Christian-owned, fast-food chain being “oppressed” because of its vocal stance on …  what was it again?  Christ and Him crucified?  The “least of these”?  Loving our enemies?  Turning the other cheek?  Are we being attacked for something Jesus wanted us to be saying and doing in the first place?  Do our agendas communicate the gospel of Christ or distract and confuse?  

I agree it is SO much easier to fight for a social/political cause than to just be sharing the gospel.  I have had the same problem.  I found it so much easier to talk about obedience to God and the rules than to focus on Jesus.  That is a good summary of my Christian witness until a few years ago.

When I was younger, political causes often sucked me into their fervor.  I’ve always been interested in politics and had started pursuing political science in college.  I ascribed to dogmas and drew lines between “us” and “them” based on philosophy and culture.  Just like false religion feeds the pride cycle of being the  MOST right, most political agendas do as well.  I have not seen love and compassion come out of these Christian political movements, but there is plenty of fear, hate, personal attacks, misrepresentations, half-truths, and a righteous indignation toward all the unspeakable sins of this evil world.

As I’ve grown older and less willing to follow preachers or politicians, and wanted only a Jesus Worldview,  I see things really differently than I used to.  A Biblical worldview is a deceptive word. Muslims have a pretty Biblical worldview, as do followers of Judaism.  They believe in Creation, judgment of sin by a Holy God, and morality.  But neither of these religions have Jesus, or His Good News.  Christians as well can tout a Biblical worldview without any grace or love.  Without any Jesus.  

I love it when I find other authors who say what I want to say, only better.  Here is an excerpt from Carl Medearis in his book, Speaking of Jesus.  He went to a coffee shop in his hometown where he liked to hang out (a place Jesus would probably spend His time too, on the wrong side of the tracks), and started asking questions.

One day I took a notebook and started polling every person I could get my hands on.  I wanted to test out some word associations.  I worked for a couple of hours, and I got some surprising results.  The most striking responses I got were the replies to questions like “What do Christians do?”  

 

Eighty-five percent of the people polled said the same thing, each in different words.  “Christians are against things.  They fight us and judge us and they hate us.”

 

That should set us all back on our heels.

 

…Guess what Jesus was never accused of?  Of being against things.  He wasn’t defined by His hatred of things.  Imagine if He were.

“Here comes Jesus the sin hater.”

“Jesus, Son of David, opposer of liberals, have mercy on me, a sinful man!”

 

Or, Jesus asks the disciples…

“Who do you say that I am? “

“Easy, Jesus.”  Peter raises his hand.  “You’re against the Romans, the Samaritans, the barbarians, and the French!”

The author goes on to say that the people he talked to were very interested in Jesus, as long as He didn’t have anything to do with Christianity.  I think there is enough evidence to suggest that we have failed miserably to show the world who He is… in the United States at least.

I do not like the manner in which we have drawn the attacks, nor in the way we have responded to them.  Jesus promised we would be hated of all men, but I don’t think He meant through political, social agendas.  This wasn’t His way.  Real persecution comes when we really follow Him, not when we act out of fear of losing our “way of life”.  

We act surprised that anyone would dare infringe on our right to say what we want.  And instead of communicating love to those people who are behaving exactly as we should expect them to act, we fight back with a crusade to continue proving we are right and God is on our side.

I am amazed how many Christians will rally around a chicken sandwich because they are so opposed to gay people having legal rights, and so concerned that we maintain the right to speak out against them.  What if Christians in America could rally around Christians who are really truly suffering for their witness, such as this man who spent many years in a prison because he shared Jesus with three families in a single village?  He was beaten, deprived food, kept in solitary confinement, forced to labor gathering firewood for YEARS in a jungle.  All for Jesus.  Not an agenda.  How many Christians in the U.S. are sharing in this fellowship of suffering, with Jesus, and our brothers and sisters?  In all my years of trying to advocate for the Persecuted Church, these beautiful souls have never gotten the kind of support that a wealthy Christian business family is finding.  Forgive me if that breaks my heart.

 

In John 12:26 Jesus said, “If anyone serves Me, He must follow Me.  Where I am, there My servant also will be.”  

Are we with Jesus?  Or have we let someone else define for us what it means to be a righteous Christian?  I know I have allowed other voices to shout Him out many times.  But thankfully when they have worn themselves out, His still small voice is still there, urging us to Himself.

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…is why Jesus came.  He turned Mission Impossible into Mission Accomplished.  We were in chains we could not break, both of our own making, and to men’s idea of who God is, and what He wants.

So why don’t we want freedom?  Why do we find endless ways to move back under the hard service of bondage to ideas, people, and systems?  Anything which implies we have to work hard for God’s blessing has us running to buy the book, video, and see the live performance to learn more.   The cults have these principles down to a science.  But mainstream, every-day Christians deceive themselves so often into the same mindsets.  When they do, they lose the one precious truth that makes Jesus different among all other gods.  Unconditional Love based on His Grace alone.  We say we believe in Grace, then proceed to focus on what we believe WE have to do… not for our salvation of course.  No, that would be legalistic.  But obviously we can’t just rest.  We have to work.  We must keep telling ourselves and others what we need to be doing.  We have to hold up our end of the stick or there is shame, defeat, humiliation, falling out of favor with Dad and losing His approval and blessing.  We must work hard not to fail.  At what?

You name it!

….marriage, health, finances, reading the Bible every day, praying our prayer list every day, inviting five friends to church each month, making sure the stranger on the street knows he is a sinner, giving our exact tithe to the church, attending church every week, keeping a high Christian standard of appearances, charity, staying positive no matter how much grief you experience….. I’m sure you could finish out this list for me if you’ve spent any amount of time in Christian circles.  I have held high expectations of myself and others often.

One week I walked into the church we attended and received a bulletin with the morning’s message boldly printed on the front, with great graphic illustrations:  “Never Stop Working!”   My heart sank instantly.  The message  played out as I feared,  “We must strive hard to maintain this Christian life or we will surely fail. We can’t get lazy!”  I still have the church bulletin as a souvenir.  The pastor, who had asked the man to speak, shouted loud “Amens” from the back of the room.  A few months later, the speaker of this great sermon fell into extreme disgrace by his own actions.  Maybe now he knows the joy of following Jesus (as opposed to the duty), His real grace, and the power of it.  I do pray so.  But the sermon left me in shock.  Like Bono asks in a song, “How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?”  I know we all have.

My personal unfavorite is the strange idea (with its origin in mystical, metaphysical practices – future post content), that Jesus wants you to say the right faith words and think the right faith thoughts so He can bless you. Or even further, that your own words are so powerful, that you are a co-creator with God and faith is the substance that will give you sorcery-level control over your own physical realm.    This is  a hugely popular form of legalism in the church.  The formula is “right words” + “enough faith” = healing, wealth, peace and love.   This religion needs its own name.  Jesus didn’t come to be our Santa Claus, or teach us how to be our own genie in a bottle.  He asked us to follow Him, yet he said HIS burden is light.  Everything I have described above, is not a light burden at all and reveals the truth about our greatest desires.

The churches who pride themselves in rejecting false teaching such as this prosperity gospel, often require church members to enter into a covenant in order to join!  One I visited even had the members stand and read it out loud together every week.  I was so thankful to just be visiting.  I couldn’t imagine the pressure to live up to what they were speaking every week.  I speculate it leads to a great deal of striving for appearances, because no one can live up to these covenants.  Doesn’t Mt. Sinai teach us anything?  Why do we want so badly to be in bondage?  Why can’t we realize our promises always fail?  Don’t we see in the beautiful Good News of Jesus that only HE keeps a Covenant?  He is the author, and the finisher… the only real Promise.  He needs to go on TV and say, “I’m the Promiser around here!”  🙂    Then maybe we would get it.

I have a friend who was held in the bonds of an abusive marriage for many years, partly because of the belief that it was her responsibility to uphold a sacred covenant.  When she finally broke free, she was riddled with fear and guilt that God, her loving Father, would disprove and be unpleased with her escape.  Her husband and church both impressed on her the importance of the marriage covenant, even though he had tried to kill her.  She started a blog called A Covenant Broken about her healing journey, which I find incredibly enlightening.  Her experience with man-made, covenant-based thinking, reminded me so much of our journey too, and different types of abuse that take place because of it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I HATE divorce.  Broken marriages, (the love is broken or the covenant would not be) caused so much pain for me and now for my oldest daughter too.  But you can’t uphold that which is already broken.

Any spiritual teaching or practice that puts the responsibility on the human to perform, sustain, uphold, or create that which is good, is distinctly not from Christ, no matter how Christian people want to make it sound, or how much Scripture they want to pull out of context.  There are as many forms of legalism as there are churches.  I beg you, turn off the TV preacher, put down the best-selling fad book, and just read Jesus for awhile.

Jesus did not come to bind us into performance-based covenants with him or anyone else.  I can’t begin to fathom the damage done to so many people by continuing to hold on to these misconceptions.  And they sound so logical to us, especially as self-sufficient Americans who are taught we are not supposed to need any help.  Our pride depends on being able to WORK at something.  We also feel obliged to make sure everyone else knows what they should be doing also. I can gripe, because I’ve done it, and am still repenting of it!

Below is an excerpt from a book I read recently on healing from sexual abuse.  I was jumping for joy to see a Christian author speaking of real grace, because it’s when we are in the hardest valleys of our lives, that fellow Christians sometimes put the heaviest burdens on us.  We must obviously have the formula wrong, or we wouldn’t be having such a hard time right? More faith, more obedience, more prayer, more whatever..

I leave you here with her words and rejoice that Jesus keeps teaching me, there is nothing I can do.  I can only be a branch and let Him make fruit.  Jesus + nothing = everything!

Q:  Since I began working on my abuse issues I’ve had trouble in my relationship with God.  It is difficult for me to pray, read my Bible, and attend church.  I really love the Lord, but find such an emptiness in pursuing anything spiritual.  Am I doing something wrong?

A:  My heart goes out to you as I remember so well those times in my own healing journey. It often seemed that God was no where to be found and that the Word of God no longer nourished me as it once had.  Do not despair.  This too shall pass!

I have discovered in my own walks with God that there are times we go through our own wilderness experience even as many of God’s choicest vessels in Scripture did.  I am convinced that it is during these times our hearts are opened up and we are faced with ourselves.  It has been through these dark times that many of the distortions and faulty beliefs I have unknowingly held about God and myself have been exposed to the light of His truth.  I am not sure exactly why or how this happens, but I see it throughout the Scripture – in Job’s life, in David’s psalms, and in the life of King Hezekiah:  “God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know what was in his heart” (2 Chron. 32:31).  I really believe that God already knows what is in our hearts, even when we do not.  He allows these barren times to help us grapple with our motives and our deepest desries and to examine where our treasures really lie.

Many victims of abuse who go through this lack of zeal feel extremely guilty and fear impending punishment from God.  I believe God actually ordains many of these times in our lives to help us gain perspective and realize there is NOTHING we can do to gain more of God’s favor or love than what Christ already did on the cross.  He wants to free us from the performance mentality and the legalism that has ensnared so many of His children.”  (emphasis mine)
From “Door of Hope – Recognizing and Resolving the Pains of Your Past” by Jan Frank

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