Unchurch

I have a confession to make. I don’t like “church”. Not “church” in the way most of us think of “church” anyway. We’ve all been at onetime or another whether as a child or adult, a guest to someone who invited us to attend their church, or maybe as a “holiday” church goer attending the Christmas, Easter or Mother’s Day service, maybe even as a member of a church or churches.

We know the drill: met at the door by the greeter who smiles, shakes your hand and thanks you for showing up. The music, traditional or contemporary, the prayer, a couple more songs, the sermon, the plate is passed, another prayer or offer to come forward for prayer and a couple of closing songs then the walk toward the exit to nod and shake hands with a few of the regulars and finally, for the newcomer, the invite from the pastor to come back again.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t have anything against the way we in America have chosen to “church”…..I just don’t fit in. Ever had that experience? That’s really why I don’t like church, I just have always felt like an outsider. Like I’m on the outside looking in. Even when I have been a member, lead a class,  or sang in the music ministry.

For the longest time I just thought that it was my perception and that I just needed to learn to fit in, to be like everyone else and so I did. I spoke “Christianese”, changed the way I dressed so that I blended into whatever the culture of the church “brand” happened to be, carried my Bible, memorized scripture enough so that I could sprinkle conversation with my obvious close relationship with God, attended dozens of women’s Bible groups, and volunteered to do my part so that I could BE a part. The problem was I wasn’t being “me”, I was faking it, pretending to be someone I was not and I didn’t like that.

Fast forward. After a series of events which will be left for a later discussion, I was done with God and church. I had no need for Him or prayer, or the Bible, or the myriad promises the church said God would make a reality; I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Again after a series of events I decided in my infinite wisdom and grace that I would give God another chance. How very generous of me, right? But in all seriousness I missed God, I missed the relationship. I did not miss all the trimmings, being focused on fitting in. So now what? How was I going to “be” a Christian without feeling like an imposter?

Well first I decided I didn’t have to “label” myself as a “Christian”. Now before anyone takes offense let me make my case, and let’s remember this is my story, not yours. If you identify yourself as a “Christian” I am completely cool with that, no judgment from me whatsoever, so no worries. But for me the word “Christian” had negative connotations because of my experiences in the church and because I had tried so hard to “be” a Christian.

Before abandoning ship I had done study in Messianic Judaism and I liked what I learned, so the “label” I gave myself was “Messianic Gentile”. That is just a fancy shmancy way of saying that I had adopted the mindset of those who were not Jews by birth, rather honored the “Jewishness” of Jesus and the scriptures. Again that’s a discussion for another day.

I started by talking to God, not praying in the traditional sense, but just talking. Mostly I just thanked Him. I thanked Him for my kids, my job, the “things” I had. In short I adopted “an attitude of gratitude”. It was the least I could do, I mean I was still here and kicking so I figured there was hope for me however sorry a human being I was!! In truth I wasn’t even sure God loved me or accepted me anymore because I had been down some not-so-pretty roads in my life since I had abandoned ship. I was dirty, bedraggled, foul mouthed, negative, had been suicidal, and participating in vices I had no intention of giving up and one I still don’t intend to give up, and really that is a relative statement depending upon how you define “vice”. If you find any of that shocking hang onto your hat, but I refuse to apologize for who I am. And that is really where I am going with all of this: none of us should apologize for who we are. God, I reasoned, was either going to love me and accept me for who I was, warts, wounds, scars and all or He wasn’t. It was as simple as that.

Oh yeah, I challenged Him, tested Him, said whatever I thought to Him daring Him to toss me out with the trash, but He didn’t. Imagine that. There were days I shook my fist heavenward, screamed, yelled and stomped my feet better than any 3 year old out there! And STILL He refused to go away!

You see, God is love. The Bible says that and so He can’t do anything else but love us. He loves me and He loves you! Maybe you don’t believe that but He does!

How do I know that? How do we know anything really?? I can’t explain it but I KNOW He didn’t move one step away from me at my worst, He just moved a little closer.

Well what I just said isn’t quite true. I do know because the Bible is our reference manual for God. Now wait before you click me off or flip me off, whichever, it’s all good, I don’t intend to go all “churchy” on you but we can’t talk about God without talking about the Bible. The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and if He is also love then He loves us as we were, as we are, and as we will be. We are at best a messy bunch of misfits on any given day and He knows that better than we do.

So, what has any of that got to do with an “unchurch”? It has everything to do with it. The “unchurch” is for all of us who don’t fit in, never did, never will. For all of us who are messy, bedraggled, insecure, fearful, struggling, rejected and stumbling through life but STILL want a relationship with God. And when I say God I also mean Jesus. The good news is there is a place for us. The “unchurch” is a gathering of people who want to know God, not to have all the do’s and don’ts dumped on us as we walk thru the door. The “unchurch” is anywhere 2 or more are gathered.

It’s time for “church” to be all inclusive. It’s time for us to make our relationship with Him our primary focus. It’s time.

A Journey of Truth…..Leaving Fear-Based Religion Behind

I am a seeker of truth and wisdom, and have spent the better part of my adult life on a journey for higher truth. The interesting thing about journeys is that often there are bends and twists in the road, sometimes we detour as the road less traveled beckons and the journey becomes an adventure.

In my nineteenth year I attended a religious crusade and left a born-again, saved Christian. Not altogether sure what that meant, I did feel differently, refreshed, and as luck would have it, fell headlong into the Charismatic theology by virtue of marriage. Immersed in this exciting twist on the rote religion of my childhood, I soaked up knowledge like a sponge. Any number of events were likely to happen on any given Sunday; prophesy, laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, people being slain in the spirit, in other words, falling out under the power. Praise and worship was fresh, not the dusty tunes retrieved from the catacombs found in every hymnal in the country, not that I think that’s a bad thing, just boring at times. Let’s face it, the majority of the hymns aren’t the liveliest melodies known to man.

Over the years I studied, prayed, listened, and asked questions. The more questions I asked, the more questions I had, and the crazy thing is the answers didn’t always make sense to me, which usually ended with, “it will all make sense in heaven”, or some similar response. But, I didn’t want to wait for an answer, and more importantly, most of the whole didn’t resonate with me; it felt like a puzzle where the pieces didn’t quite fit together so the puzzle-builder pushed and squished the pieces together so they kinda-sorta fit together, but not really. No one else I knew seemed to have the questions I did, and they seemed pretty content swallowing doctrine that didn’t make sense to me, so I concluded I was the oddball, God’s problem child.

An abusive relationship and life got in the way, so I put aside the questions in an effort to merely survive. Once out of the relationship, and mad at God, which is another story, God and I found tolerable ground and we declared a truce, of sorts. The truce became the journey I am on, and here we are today, still journeying with God although we took a detour.

Before I go any further I need to be clear; I am not a church-hater. I think for many the safety of church life is necessary, comfortable, and easy. Lots of people sit in pews week after week and then go about their daily lives keeping the two separate. Some earnestly seek God trying to understand the deeper truths, doing their best to live lives within the boundaries of the Bible and church doctrine, some just like to belong to a group. All are welcome, or so they say. The truth is that all are not welcome; those of us who poke and prod, who are judged as not fitting in, as not having enough faith, or just plain being trouble-makers are not welcome, not really. And so, we fall away, some for good, and some looking for God elsewhere, outside the church walls, and, hold onto your hat, He does exist outside the church walls!

Being outside the church walls has been a blessing for me. The journey, much like that of the ancients who have passed before me, those without advantage of church walls, doctrine, theology-educated pastors, has brought me to the place I am today; a place of deeper and broader understanding of God, of life, of people, and of myself. Free of doctrine that was confusing, suffocating, limiting and most of all, fear-based, I am able to see myself through the eyes of God, not through the eyes of the church, or the world, a view devoid of judgments, thou shalt-nots, and shoulds. It’s not a journey that all can or want to take, but all are welcome on the journey; it is a journey of self-discovery, gratitude, forgiveness, and most of all love; learning to love self and others through the eyes of God, and not through the harsh lens of the church and the world.

The teachings and doctrines of western Christianity are fear-based. A founding tenet of fundamental, Bible-based churches is the need for salvation. Why? Because in their eyes we are born corrupt, evil, we are subject to a “fallen nature” before even one breath is drawn. The “Sinner’s Prayer is a mea culpa of sorts; it’s my fault, I’m guilty, I’m not worthy, and so we come to Jesus asking forgiveness for all of our sins, faults, flaws, we are in need of forgiveness for being human. The purpose of salvation is the avoidance of hell, we gain entrance into heaven through confession of unworthiness, some even go so far as stating that without salvation we are deserving of eternal damnation. If that isn’t fear-based I don’t know what is.

Studying church history and reading the Bible through the eyes of a loving God I have come to a radically different conclusion than what the church teaches. Man has meddled in the texts that became the sixty-six books we know as the Bible. The meddling, by and large, is a result of man’s insatiable, ego-driven, need to control, the desire for personal power, leading to the development of man-made rules and boundaries not necessarily in line with the mindset of God. The Bible declares that God is love, that He is merciful, slow to anger and quick to forgive, that all are welcome in His kingdom, all are welcome to ask and receive, and yet man has decided that none of that is quite true, making God out to be a liar, a fabricator of half truths that reel us in only to find out that there is a high ladder reaching toward heaven we must climb to be considered worthy. Am I reading it wrong? I don’t think so.

In the beginning God declared all He created “good”, and yet somehow we became fallen, tainted beings, worthy of eternal punishment for being human, for exercising our free will and making a poor, ego-centered decision, in need of being rescued from eternal damnation through a spoken prayer. All who speak the prayer will be saved, but what of those who speak it out of fear, their heart motivation being skewed by the desire to avoid the fires of hell more than establishing a relationship with Jesus?

Rapidly approaching my 60th year on planet earth, well in a few years anyway, I am done with fear-based theology. No longer do I choose to be held captive by man’s hellfire and brimstone teachings, nor do I choose to be elevated above others. That’s the other side of the coin of western fundamental Christianity; those who believe themselves to be the chosen of God, worthy of elevated status by virtue of the Sinner’s prayer, the us/them mentality that looks down on those outside the church walls, those who say they accept and love but judge nonetheless based on their set of standards that are not accepting or loving in the least. What I have chosen is to live a spiritual existence, in communion with God, the Universal Light, the Creator, the label we attach inconsequential; an existence living in communion and seeing others through the eyes of love and not judgment, an existence that acknowledges the worth and value of the whole of creation, not just a select few, on a journey to bring God to those who need to know He is a God of love and mercy, compassion and acceptance, a God who declared His creation good, and still believes in the goodness of all…..

Creation….A Last Thought……For Now!

Supposing the Bible is a collection of stories, allegorical teaching, poems, and the like, what can we learn from the story of creation?

“In the beginning God created….” All religions, and the vast majority of spiritual teachers and seekers believe there to be a Creator, a Universal Life Force, a Higher Intelligence that existed before man, and was responsible, in some way, for creation. I was never a proponent of the “Big Bang” theory, or the “we are star stuff” mindset, mainly because at its core is the thought all things were formed by so many atoms and gases swirling around and bumping into one another creating life. I don’t believe the existence of life to be that random. Created by extraterrestrials? No, I can’t swallow that either. I prefer to be more simple-minded.

Creation, according to the Bible, began with a thought leading to the spoken word; the thought and word became matter, created things, and the things were declared “good”. God created man in His image and put man in the Garden. It is my contention that Eden was a Utopia of sorts, from our perspective, a place where thought became reality, Adam and Eve “walked” with God, in other words, they were one with Him on a spiritual level. Life was abundant all around the newly created beings, and they enjoyed their lives, living, learning, and breathing higher spiritual truths.

One day that all changed; evil does not exist apart from choice and Eve chose to exercise her right to choose. Here is another area I part ways with traditional church teaching; according to the Bible God handed out punishments, as it were. As sentient beings endowed with the ability to choose, we screw up, choose unwisely, make mistakes, and part of our mission on planet earth is to learn from those mistakes, to enable us to make better choices next time. Mistakes carry with them their own consequences, do they not?

The point of the Creation story is that there is a Creator, a God, a Universal Light or Power, we are not here by accident. The Garden represents a relationship with the Creator that was present before life on planet earth, and the relationship we will fully return to after we have completed our lifetime here. Adam and Eve lost that tight relationship with the Creator; Yeshua’s (Jesus) life and death on earth restored the relationship.

Down through history there have been those who walked closely with God; Moses, Abraham, David, Solomon, the prophets, to name a few. These chosen few were enlightened, gave us glimpses of living an enlightened life, and all of them had faults, slipped up from time to time just like we do. The Creator, as well, in the form of Yeshua, came once again to walk among His creation; to give us the opportunity to learn from Him and He from us. Yeshua’s death restored the relationship Adam had lost; the relationship available to every person on the face of the earth, not just a chosen few. Enlightenment is for all of us, no longer do we need to be spectators in the game of life. The more I research church history, the more I read scripture, the more I am convinced that man adulterated what we have come to know as the Bible. Why? Power and control.

Man is comprised of an ego, and a soul, or spirit. The ego identifies with the physical body, the senses, and believes itself to be separate from others and God, is self-serving, hungry for personal power and control, and is the root of our fears, worry and anger; it also is the self-preservation part of ourselves which is needed from time to time, so it’s not always a bad thing. Judgment of others emanates from the ego self, as do stress, anxiety, our need to be right and not have our actions thoughts, and words questioned.  The soul is the higher self, connected to God, to Universal Wisdom. When we are spiritually awakened the higher self comes forward, much to the dismay of the ego. The higher self seeks wisdom and understanding from the Life Source, from God, desiring to live in peace and love, putting others before self. Adam and Eve were created and lived from the higher self in the Garden; the Garden representative of the free flow of communication with God, not necessarily a physical place. The ego came forward in the form of the serpent, as the story goes, and challenged Eve’s understanding of her oneness with God, the Creator. She faltered, as we all can and do, when ego feels threatened by the higher self, and she chose to listen to the serpent, the ego, instead of what she knew to be truth. The fall was merely the expression of man’s ego taking the lead, gaining the foreground when before they lived from the spirit, from the soul, the higher self in direct communion with God. In the Garden ego and the higher self existed in balance and we know this because evil, as it was called, or ego, does not exist without choice; choice was always there, subdued by the higher self. And that is the battle each of us faces; the battle between the ego and the higher self, said another way, if you like, the battle between good and evil. I believe the reason Adam and Eve were “kicked out” of the Garden was to protect mankind in the short and long run. The Tree of Life was immortality; God, the Universal Life Force was, is, and always will be, and only created and existed from a righteous standpoint, if you will, choosing only that which is good, but Adam and Eve had proven they could not successfully keep the ego subdued and consequently were capable of choosing self over spirit, evil over good. Immortality in that state would be chaos, at best! I realize this is a rather simplistic way to look at the overall picture, but words are limiting to adequately explain higher spiritual truth, at least for me at this moment!

I do not believe God punishes. Choice brings it’s own consequences, what some believe to be punishment. The battle between ego and spirit was now in full force within the first humans as evidenced by their awareness of being naked after choosing to follow ego instead of spirit; “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked.” (Genesis 3:7 The Complete Jewish Bible) Further, in Genesis 3:9-10  ADONAI, God, called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” (The Complete Jewish Bible) Separation; ego had usurped the place the soul, the spirit, had once held and fear crept in. Outside the place of spirit-centeredness Adam could no longer call forth what he needed, the Garden experience was gone, for now, and man would journey through life separate from God, separate from the Light and Life Source with whom he once walked in union. Living in abundance was outside his grasp and he would toil by the sweat of his brow. And so began man’s journey to return to the fullness of living from the spirit, living in the fullness of the image and reflection of his Creator…..  

Creation, Original Sin, And All That Good Stuff Part 2…..

Adam and Eve hanging out in the Garden, nurturing and caring for the creation and living in a state of gratitude; life was good and abundant, with Adam and Eve the benevolent leaders of all creation, no need to subdue or bring anything into submission, so far, so good. Enter the serpent; that crafty creature who twisted the words of the Creator leading the first humans into doubt. We know the rest of the story, right, at least what is recorded in the Bible; Eve ate of the fruit, offered it to Adam, he ate, and voila, sin was born. God comes along looking for the man and woman who were now aware of their nakedness and were hiding. Of course, God knew what had happened, but He wanted their version of the story. Long story short, Adam blames Eve, then God hands out the consequences. Adam had enjoyed “avad”; caring for and nurturing the creation, but now he would “atsav” – toil by the sweat of his brow. No longer would Adam speak and the creation would respond.

This is where the subject of free will and original sin come into Christian theology. Here’s my take on it; God gave free will to man when man was created, it existed in man from the moment Adam was fashioned from the elements of the earth. The problem was not that Eve chose to exercise her free will, the problem was that she and Adam had been given dominion over the entire earth and were to subdue its inhabitants, the serpent included; they were to walk among the creation as the benevolent leaders, keeping the creation in check, so to speak, not letting any in creation get the upper hand. The serpent, however, did take the upper hand by introducing doubt, telling a half-truth, skewing the words of the Creator, and instead of Eve subduing the serpent, she chose to have a conversation and allowed the serpent plant a seed of doubt.

God’s directive had been clear, so what happened with Eve? I don’t believe the act of eating the fruit was the “sin”, the disobedient act that led to what the church views as “original sin” resulting in condemnation of all mankind. Rather, I believe Eve allowed her heart motivation to be affected by her conversation with the serpent; she wanted the knowledge the tree offered, and she didn’t take into consideration that her decision would affect others. Isn’t that self-centeredness? When our heart motivations are inward centered, centered on self, instead of outward centered, centered on others, we choose wrongly.

Man, made in the image and likeness of God, operated within free will from the get-go. God is free to exercise His will freely so it stands to reason that man would enjoy that as well. God is Love, He is merciful, kind and just, and only chooses to act righteously.  Eve’s decision did not take into consideration how her one act would affect Adam. As the story goes, Adam and Eve were put out of the Garden to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life and living forever; forever able to make self-centered choices. Wow, wouldn’t that create a lot of unnecessary havoc!

So, let’s talk about “original sin”; the concept identified by the church as the reason we all need salvation. The church contends because Adam and Eve sinned, every person from that time forward would be born a sinful being, in essence, from the moment we are conceived we are doomed without having done a thing! If free will got Adam and Eve in trouble, how is it that a fetus, so many cells destined to become a human, has already sinned by virtue of fertilization? Doesn’t make sense, at least not to me. Further, in Genesis 4, in the story of Cain and Abel (Adam and Eve’s sons), Cain kills Abel and God curses Cain. Are we to assume man from Cain on down, now has received a second helping of condemnation for his sin?

The Creation story, as is much of the Bible, is just that, a story, which is not to say that it is falsehood; only that a story is man’s interpretation of higher spiritual principles and concepts. We understand what we do not know through the eyes of what we do know. The Catholic Bible says as much in the pages explaining how the Bible came to be, along with other interesting facts and ideas, so not even the church supposedly built on Peter, the Rock, the first church, believes the Bible to be a book of absolute fact; rather the Bible is God’s inspired Word as seen through the eyes of man in story, poem, allegory, and the like.

Original sin, a foundational doctrine of the church, teaches man screwed up and thereby cursed all of mankind necessitating the need for a Savior, the One we know as Jesus. The church fails to answer questions that we have all likely had, at one time or another, and have passed off as a mystery God will reveal in the sweet by and by. Study of church history will show that original sin is a post-New Testament idea, and did not enter any teachings until after the time of Jesus. Interesting, is it not? Yeshua (Jesus) never mentioned it. To further challenge the church mindset, the original script and characters involved were Jewish, and as is often the case, a different picture emerges. In Hebraic thought, sin is merely an act of disobedience, a wrong choice, the opposite of righteousness, and speaks to our relationship with God, our nature as humans, versus a flaw in our character.

When God created man He declared him good, so how did man become flawed? Man was created in the image of God, endowed with the ability to choose; free choice, as it were. Evil, or disobedience is a choice rather than a thing, or creature, as we are often taught; the serpent in the Garden being the embodiment of evil. God did not “create” evil, it doesn’t exist without choice. Why would a loving God create evil to trip up the created He called “good”?

Church history is enlightening; it gives one a very different view of the Bible and of man. The doctrines we have come to know and believe as the inerrant Word of God is, in reality, a doctrinal soup based on the theories and interpretations of Augustine and embellished by various writers that were not established until after the advent of the New Testament church. These theories and interpretations have been used to justify man’s nature and the traditions and practices of modern religion; we accept them without questioning their source. It is my firm belief that there is a God, a Universal Life and Light, a Power greater than ourselves, and that we have been created in His image. Man, however, has done a fine job of creating God in his image…..

Creation, Original Sin, And All That Good Stuff Part 1…..

What are your thoughts on the creation story? We can’t stop there, after all the story of creation runs headlong into the concept of “original sin”; the sin of Adam and Eve eating of the fruit resulting in condemnation for all mankind. Me being me, I have thought a lot about it and researched it from the church perspective and the Jewish perspective and have concluded, once again, the story we are so familiar with is just that, a story. Keep in mind, man creates stories using the familiar to explain the complex. To explain the creation of the earth we have the story version we read in the Bible that contrasts with the scientific version of evolution; the solution to the creation/evolution debate, I suspect, lies somewhere between the two.

For the sake of conversation, let’s lean toward the creation story, as recorded, understanding God, the Creator, is capable of all things and is not limited by man’s finite imagination. I do believe in a Creator, a Supreme Intelligence, a Universal Power, God, and I believe at the conclusion of His creation efforts He declared all that He created good, including man. Following that line of thinking, let’s assume there was a conversation between Adam, Eve and God setting the boundaries for the Garden, in other words, don’t eat from the Tree of Good and Evil.

Backing up to the beginning, God had created the whole earth, so when Adam was created God put him in the Garden. (Genesis 2). God decided Adam needed a partner and from a rib Eve was created. Then God said to be ”fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the air and every living creature that crawls on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 The Complete Jewish Bible) Notice it says “fill” the earth, “subdue it” and “rule over” it. Adam and Eve were not meant to stay in the Garden forever, which should lead us to understand that God knew Adam and Eve would choose to listen to the serpent rather than the directive they were given. We don’t ever catch God “off guard”; He is fully aware of our fallibility and loves us in spite of our flaws and faults. We were created “in His image”, we are not clones.

So what exactly does it mean to “subdue” the earth and “rule over” all that is within it? English is so limited. It is truly difficult to get the full understanding and meaning of the original Hebrew. The verb form of the word subdue is “kavash” and literally means to place a foot on the neck of the conquered enemy, to demonstrate submission of the enemy; figuratively, kavash means to bring a nation or a people into submission, stop the shenanigans. Ever heard or said, “I’m putting the kabash on that right now” ? My grandmother used to say it. Same concept. Dominion or to rule over something in the Hebrew is a different word; “radah”, and means to descend, go down, wander and spread. Its literal translation alludes to rule by going down and walking among the subjects as an equal.

Man has massaged the scriptures many times over through the centuries, but I still believe God watches over His Word to ensure the gold remains intact, ready to be mined by those willing to search and find, so I don’t think it accidental that subdue and dominion are both used in the same scripture. Together the two words relate to a relationship with all of creation. The creation is to provide for humankind, and we are to learn from the creation, always acting as a benevolent leader, not a dictator.

“On the seventh day God was finished with his work which he had made, so he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. God blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy; because on that day God rested from all his work which he had created, so that it itself could produce.” (Genesis 2:2-3 The Complete Jewish Bible) Anyone who has ever darkened the doorway of a church or Sunday School class knows that on the seventh day of creation God rested and that is why church is on Sunday, at least for much of western Christianity. What we haven’t been told is why God rested; “so that it (all that He had created) itself could produce.” God was done, out of the creation biz, now the job of creation was in the hands of humankind, and humankind had been put in charge. Created in the image of God, man would “produce” like God had; makes sense, right? Adam didn’t know any differently. How did God produce? According to the scripture, He spoke, so man would produce by speaking to bring what he needed into being. Perhaps Adam told the trees to bear fruit, told the rain to fall? We don’t really know. What is recorded says in Genesis 2:5, “ADONAI, God, took the person and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it.” (The Complete Jewish Bible). Cultivate at this point is “avad” and means to serve both the creation and worship the Creator; cultivate after the conversation with the serpent became “atsav” meaning “to toil”; very different connotation. Mankind was created from the earth and in turn was to care for it, nurture it and all of creation, and in so doing is serving the Creator, worshiping the Creator, in other words, in relationship with God. Worship is simply living in a state of gratitude. Adam enjoyed the creation, lived in abundance and not by the sweat of his brow as he will eventually do. Enter the serpent…..

In His Image…..

Without salvation and the “Sinner’s Prayer” we are unworthy of His love, unworthy of His blessings, unworthy of His sacrifice. Unworthiness is the battle cry of Western Christianity, and yet is it sound theology?

“So God created humankind in His own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 The Complete Jewish Bible) Think about that for a moment in the light of the opening paragraph. Does it say that we were created unworthy? No, it doesn’t. We didn’t lose our worth, or the image of the Creator in the Garden, as many believe. And yet, we as believers, Christians, seekers, whatever we choose to call ourselves, embrace the falsehood of unworthiness, wearing it as a badge of honor. Some who claim no spiritual path believe themselves unworthy. Whose voice are we listening to?

In the book of 1 John, the disciple is explaining how we are to know if a teaching is from God or from another source, in this case credit is given to the “spirit of the Anti-Messiah”. John teaches that those voices from God, in other words, people who teach from a Godly position, acknowledge Yeshua (Jesus) and love others because God loves. That seems pretty straightforward and reasonable. In my opinion, one of the more well known and misinterpreted verses from 1 John is “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 The Complete Jewish Bible) I have heard that verse preached on too many times to remember and the message always boiled down to God in us (being saved) and the devil who is in the world (not being saved). Do I believe in an actual “devil”? No, not in this sense of the word, but the idea, and the word itself creates fear, and I don’t believe that was the intended message.

After much study, prayer, and soul-searching I have come to the conclusion that the Bible is not literal, most of it anyway. No surprise there! Rather, the Bible was written from the perspective of the understanding and culture of the day, heavily influenced by man, as it is today. Does that mean it is wrong? Absolutely not. I believe God watches over the essence of His Word, His message. Man seeks to understand his world from what he knows in his world at that moment. It is why Yeshua (Jesus) taught in parables; people could understand spiritual principles in terms of the familiar. People for centuries believed illness was due to demonic possession, natural disaster was a result of sin and required sacrifice, and the like; today we believe differently. I do believe God communicates with His people and often it will be through the familiar, but we do need to bump what we believe He communicates against what we believe to be true; God is love. Creating fear is not of God. Operating from an attitude of fear is not of God.

Religion is based on fear. That is a radical statement, but if you think about it, religion has taught us to fear God, fear “sin”, fear the “devil”. In so doing, journey with God, relationship with Yeshua (Jesus) is steeped in fear. We are told to accept Jesus as Savior, confess Him as Lord, or we risk the fires of hell, so I question how many come seeking true relationship with God versus ensuring entrance into heaven? Even if we don’t truly believe in heaven or hell, the thought niggles in the back of the mind, what if? Religious tracts, and “Fires of Hell” performances at local churches during the Halloween season center on that very theme. We start children on their journey with God in Sunday school classes teaching songs and lessons about Jesus loving the little children, we see pictures of children gathered around Jesus while He holds a lamb on His lap, and then somewhere along the line we transition to approaching Yeshua (Jesus) in fear of condemnation should we stray far from the path of righteousness.  Fear creeps in, wriggling its way into our subconscious, and sometimes consciousness, edging out the still, small voice of our Creator in whose image we were created. The voice we lend an ear to is the voice of the world, the lying tongue whose bold declaration is that of unworthiness.

John differentiated the two voices; the greater voice being the one inside of us, and the lesser voice, the lying tongue of the world. The voice inside of us whispers to our spirits, bearing witness to our worth as having been created in the very image of God. The voice of the world clamors loudly proclaiming our unworthiness, the mistaken idea that we don’t measure up; and the crazy fact is we listen to that voice! What’s more is often that same voice speaks from the pulpit.

I must give the world credit where credit is due, however. Humanity has the uncanny ability to adapt. In a world that seeks to diminish the image of God within each of us through berating one another, setting impossibly high standards of achievement, ensuring we feel better about ourselves by verbally slicing and dicing our perceived competitors, we also manage to clothe ourselves in robes of false self-esteem and self-worth; an illusion that can be ripped from our spirit in a moment. The evidence is everywhere we look. Bruised and bloodied bodies of humanity painfully crawling through life, figuratively speaking, having been battered by cruelty in word and deed.

But what if, for a moment, we believed, we embraced the voice of the Creator whispering in our spirits that we were created in His very image? What if, instead of looking at ourselves in the mirror of the world, we viewed ourselves in the mirror of the Most High? How differently would we see ourselves? How might we live our lives differently? Am I speaking of elevating self to the status of God? Never! Are we risking becoming narcissistic, egotistical beings? Absolutely not! Believing ourselves made in the image of God humbles us. We no longer need to compete with others for position in a world that glorifies status. Instead we seek to serve others realizing others are also fashioned in the image of God; there is no need for competition. We will see one another as the image of God and not as belonging to a particular race, religion, socioeconomic group, educational background, or sexual orientation different from ours. Made in His image means we have the wisdom of the Most High available to us; we don’t need to seek out other sources for interpretation. 1 John 4:4 takes on new meaning. The voice of God in our spirits speaks to us and His message is greater than the world’s message; we are created in His image, not the image the world will create for us. The darkness of fear is banished in the light of God’s message that we are worthy in His sight…..

Far From Home…..

“Are you far from home and lost in a sea of confusion? Does your broken heart seem beyond repair? Has the fire in your soul gone out and grown cold? Do you think that no one sees, or even cares?” Words I penned several years back for a song called, “The Prodigal”. The song is probably my favorite, or at least one of the top two favorites of those I have written; the story of the Prodigal is my favorite in the Bible.

I have been the prodigal child in my life. I bet you have, too. Whenever we live life on our terms, in our own way, ignoring the still, small voice inside our hearts, we walk the path of the Prodigal. Interestingly, God lets us live life the way we choose, and He will be there to help pick up the pieces when we finally have had enough, when we find ourselves broken in spirit, financially ruined, face down in the gutter, literally or figuratively. Some folks will cry out to God, others defiantly choose to maintain their right to live life on their terms all the way to the grave. Years may pass and we think we are the “bomb”, we have the world by the tail, the cards are stacked in our favor, and then we find out our thinking was little more than an illusion. I believe many of us come to that crossroad in life, however, the place where we decide His way, or my way.

As the story goes, the young man begged his father to let him have his inheritance to go out and live in the world, to make his own decisions, learn from his own mistakes. The father did as he was asked, knowing full well the world outside his covering was harsh and unforgiving. At first the young man lived high on the hog, so to speak, partying, partaking of every sensual pleasure and buying up friends by the dozens. Ever notice we have lots of friends when we are paying the tab? When the young man’s money ran out, his so-called friends left as quickly. For a time, the young man found ways to get by, temporary setback, he would be back on his feet in no time. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon how one looks at it, he found himself down for the count, the only job available to him was to slop the hogs; decidedly one of the worst jobs for a Jew. Face down in the mud, sharing the trough with the pigs, he reasoned if he returned home he could work as a servant in his father’s house. At least he would have shelter, food, and drink. The young man began his trek toward home. One day when he was still a long way off, the father spotted the young man having searched the horizon each day since his son had left for signs of his return. The father ran, he ran to meet his son and welcome him home. The celebration began.

There is so much gold to be found in this story; I have written on it before. The message for today is the young man’s attitude that led to his return home and the subsequent celebration. Humility and gratitude, plain and simple. Two of the most important and hardest lessons ever to be learned. The young man had come to the end of himself, the place we all need to find before God can use us, the moment in our journey when self and selfishness no longer have purpose.

We may say, “I am humble and God is still not blessing me.” Me. Who is the concern in that statement? Me. Humility is one of the greatest, if not the greatest virtue in Judaism. Our society knows little of humility, we undervalue its strength, misinterpreting the strength of humility as weakness. During the course of my lifetime I have watched the “me” mentality unfold before my eyes, gaining speed with each passing year. Keeping up with the Joneses has become commonplace, putting ourselves out there, declaring our own worth and talents to the world because Lord knows, others are not going to lift us up. It is a dog-eat-dog world out there, everyone striving to best the other. Life is about “I”; what I have, what I do, what I drive, where I live, the list is endless. Selfies are the norm, the standard.

Pride is the opposite of humility. Pride elevates self. Humility puts others ahead of self. It is not so much we need to think less of ourselves; humility sees the need of others outside self and seeks to serve others first. Humility is more often than not born of suffering, usually personal suffering. Those who are humble have been face down in the dirt, emptied and broken, and because of the brokenness become a usable vessel of God.  The young Prodigal found himself sharing the trough with the pigs; in the Jewish mind man cannot fall much lower. The Prodigal had come to the end of self, believing himself unworthy of the riches from which he had been born.

Another form of pride is elevating our seeming humility above others. Perhaps we are self-effacing, believing we treat others better than we are treated. Although it may appear as humility, it is not. Instead of entering through the front door, we opt to enter from the back door, believing and speaking as though we are continually hurt by others all the while decrying our tolerance, patience, and respectful treatment of others. The focus again is “I”; look at me, “I” am respectful of others, yet look how they treat “me”.  Very subtle, yet dangerous to our journey.  Maybe we believe respect is to be earned, a variation on this theme. Our demands for respect while being intolerant of others, or holding them to a higher standard than we hold ourselves, is veiled pride.  

Matthew 44-47 speaks clearly to both of these subtle forms of pride, You have heard that our fathers were told, `Love your neighbors — and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Then you will become children of your Father in heaven. For (H)e makes (H)is sun shine on good and bad people alike, and (H)e sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. What reward do you get if you love only those who love you? Why, even tax-collectors do that! And if you are friendly only to your friends, are you doing anything out of the ordinary? Even the Goyim (Gentiles) do that!” Whether this was in the original texts, or has been embellished through the ages, the principle is sound; we need to love all, which is not to say we need to spend time with those who have persecuted, or treated us poorly. Love is an act of the will regardless of feelings. Learning to love in spite of being persecuted requires humility.  

We are worthy in God’s eyes, our worth must be seen thru His eyes as we are an extension of Him. Humility is an attitude not a place. We live within an attitude of humility recognizing our worth as we live and breath the presence of God into a hurting world. All attitudes and being emanate from within transforming us from the inside out. A form of outward humility is not humility. In other words, appearing humble without being humble is not humility; that being the attitude of the religious leaders Yeshua (Jesus) called vipers.  

The Prodigal had been humbled. In his heart of hearts I believe he knew his father loved him in spite of his wanderings, behavior, and poor decisions. Our Father, the Creator of all, the Universal Life Force, whatever name resonates, loves each one of us, every cell of our being, thru our wanderings, behaviors, attitudes, and poor decisions. Gratitude naturally follows the humble of heart, grateful for every blessing, big or small. Just like the Prodigal’s father, our Father searches the horizon for us to return. In the end, we are all prodigals…..                                                                                       

 

Possibility Thinking…..

Several years back there was a television preacher who advocated and taught the power of positive thinking. Depending upon which side of the Christian fence one was on determined how his message was viewed. Some cried foul, misrepresentation of the scriptures, Christianity-lite, and some embraced his teaching. Because of the doctrine I was being fed at the time, I stood with the misrepresentation crowd, and not necessarily by choice. It was confusing to me why thinking positively was a bad thing, but what did I know? Didn’t the Bible tell us to do that?

Philippians 4:8-9 says, “focus your thoughts on what is true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy. Keep doing what you have learned and received from me, what you have heard and seen me doing; then the God who gives shalom (peace) will be with you.” (The Complete Jewish Bible). The answer is yes, the Bible does tell us to think positively. The Bible also takes thinking a step further and crosses right over into doing, which makes more sense. Thinking positively is a good start, but it isn’t the whole enchilada! Paul is teaching an if/then concept here. Now, realizing I am quick to point out the Bible has been massaged many times over so we can’t truly be certain anything is stated as it was, or if it was, originally, I do maintain there is wisdom to be found even if the words and concepts aren’t 100% authentic. As I have stated before, I believe God watches over His message, concerned more with intent than exact wording. So the message in its entirety becomes train your mind to think positive thoughts and the thoughts will lead to positive acts; the result will be God’s peace in the midst of doing His will.

Like begets like; positive and negative thinking not excluded. The more negative thoughts we have, the more our speech becomes negative, and soon negativity seems to be closing in on us. In essence, we paint ourselves into a box, a black box of doom, gloom, and depression. Thinking and speaking positively allows us to see other possibilities in the midst of problems in our lives. Life is not fair, life is difficult at times, and how we approach those times will affect our perception of the outcome, and may even affect the outcome itself.

Training the mind and heart to think and speak positively is a process. Isn’t everything? In the beginning we have to practice thinking and speaking from a positive viewpoint, looking for the good versus the bad in all situations; no easy task for many. The Charismatic mindset, from my past experience, is a form of positive thought and word, and yet it often seeks to deny the reality. I heard a well-known Charismatic evangelist say that if he had a headache he would rebuke it, tell the headache to go away, but would never admit to anyone he had a headache. In psychological terms that is called denial, some would just call it a lie. His teachings and beliefs were and are commonplace, often based on scriptures like Mark 11:23-24Yes! I tell you that whoever does not doubt in his heart but trusts that what he says will happen can say to this mountain, `Go and throw yourself into the sea!’ and it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, trust that you are receiving it, and it will be yours. ” (The Complete Jewish Bible) Charismatic theology has been deemed by some as the “name it claim it” theology largely because of idolatry of scriptures like these.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with the above scripture; my opposition comes with how we use any scripture. Having known plenty of Charismatic adherents, scriptures like Mark 11:23-24 are treated as if they are edicts from on high, given far too much power, makes the focus about us rather than God, and are often spoken as an incantation, of sorts. This is misuse of the scriptures. Yeshua (Jesus) left us with the possibilities, a way of thinking differently to open the minds of His followers. Keep in mind the religious leaders of the day were among the few literate, and therefore those who were not depended upon them for interpretation of The Law. Yeshua is debunking that mindset when He says, “if anyone…” Anyone is you, me, the guy down the street; anyone is not just the person standing at the pulpit. Yeshua is saying with faith, ordinary people have power within them that can move mountains; the playing field has been leveled. Open the mind to possibilities!

Here is where we go astray; when the outcome is not what we expect, we assume we have done something wrong, or someone is quick to point out if we only we had a little more faith the ‘mountain’ would have moved. That mindset breaks people! Instead of allowing our relationship to teach and transform us on our journey, we become disillusioned, believing we have failed, and negativity moves in and sets up housekeeping. Some “get mad” at God, or lose faith in Him because He didn’t do what we said. What’s wrong with that picture?

Another scripture often used in the Charismatic/Pentecostal venue is Mark 16:17-18 “And these signs will accompany those who do trust: in my name they will drive out demons, speak with new tongues, not be injured if they handle snakes or drink poison, and heal the sick by laying hands on them.” (The Complete Jewish Bible) The extreme adherents are those who actually handle snakes, or drink poison; the remainder believe it possible when needed, or smorgasbord the list believing in new tongues and healing the sick, yet set aside the snakes and poison. Again, I believe it more a concept to teach a principle rather than an actual directive; the concept being the impossible is possible when we believe, or trust God is capable. Too often we put God in a box of impossibility, in other words, deciding He can do this, but probably not that.  To say with faith we can do the impossible through His is to demonstrate a principle.  The above scripture discussion in Mark allegedly took place following the resurrection when Yeshua (Jesus) appeared to His disciples, rebuking them for not believing He had risen, showing He had just done the impossible.

The possibility also exists this scripture was not found in the original texts at all. Mark was a friend of Peter, not having the advantage of actually walking with Yeshua as Peter did. Biblical scholars also note that Mark wrote more about what Yeshua did as opposed to what He said. Some of the earliest manuscripts end the Gospel of Mark at verse 8 of chapter 16 when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, later versions include verses 9-20 completing the resurrection and Yeshua’s appearance to others following, so we really have no clear directive at all, it seems, for driving out demons, handling snakes, drinking poison, speaking in new tongues, or healing the sick.

What if this scripture was meant to be metaphorical? Is it possible these scriptures are related? Yeshua said do what He does. How did He live His life? He lived a life of peace, of trust, of power. His thoughts were focused on His Father, in other words, positive thoughts. As Yeshua journeyed through His life clothed in the flesh of humanity, He healed the sick, cast out demons (negativity fled), the words He spoke were definitely new to the ears who were able to hear, and He called the religious leaders of the day vipers. The curses, or poison of those opposed to His teaching did not harm Him. In Him, we can do the same. Possibility thinking? Perhaps…..