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…..

The Road Less Traveled…..

Metaphorically speaking, have you ever found yourself standing at a fork in the road? Which way to go? Looking down each road, one familiar, one less so; faith will have to lead the way.

I am a truth-seeker. How much of what I believe have I just accepted because someone told me? As I stand here looking down one path, then the other, I hear voices from the past; voices that have shaped how I view God, the church, the Bible, and life, in general. What resonates within my spirit is not the teachings of the past, the lessons from various pulpits, or even people I hold in high regard. I don’t necessarily believe they are wrong, just that the interpretations they embrace, I cannot, or at least not fully, not any longer. There was a time when I believed that Christianity as it is preached across this country was the only way to heaven, the only way to journey with God. Today, I see organized religion as tainted, very often invoking fear to maintain the census, or worse, promising wealth, prosperity and an easy life from here on out if only we would come on bended knee, wallet open, and repeat the incantations, otherwise known as prayers of salvation, or any version thereof. At best, church is a gathering of people going through the motions of rote religious form hoping to fulfill an undefined quota of attendance and good works resulting in a seat in heaven. As I reflect on the words I have written I can see where some would think them a harsh judgment of the church, and that is not my intention. For a moment, set aside defense of the church, its practices and doctrine. Church and God are not synonymous.

One can have a deep and intimate relationship with God apart from church membership. We belong to churches because we seek to belong to a group of like-minded people; the reason for any group existence. If one feels connected, accepted, affirmed or nourished in the church setting, by all means, be present, be there. Certainly there are those who attend truly seeking relationship, living out the spirit of Yeshua’s ministry to a lost and hurting world; the genuine believers whose lives are centered on Yeshua whether inside or outside the walls of the church. Can one find God in church? I believe so, but in the end, God’s presence is everywhere; attendance in church is neither mandatory, nor guarantees a spot in heaven; therein lies a misconception.

Recently, I had a very spirited discussion with a childhood friend of my kids. I liked the young man as a kid, and now that he is grown he has adopted some ideologies I cannot embrace, nevertheless I still hold the kid close to my heart. One of the comments he made was that the church was “largely responsible” for my children turning out to be “great human beings”. I disagreed loudly and clearly, and my children chimed in, as well. Church provided them a place to meet friends, go on trips, and generally hang out in a safe environment. Do I believe it is responsible for their strength, resilience, compassion and humanitarianism? Not in the least. As one of my daughter’s pointed out to him, the church we belonged to knew the condition of our house, the abuse within its walls, and chose to turn a blind eye. Further, when I did reach out the pastor commented, “we have a lot of controlling men in the church”. That statement is concerning on a couple of levels and a mindset that must change.

In essence, often church leadership is condoning abuse in the name of Jesus, and willingly turning away from those most in need. Abuse of others occurs in churches across our country and likely around the world, when we exclude people from church life because of status, or lack thereof, lifestyle choices, and addictions, to name a few. Listen carefully to many of the sermons preached on any given Sunday; sermons dripping with the do’s and don’ts and why-I-don’t-measure-ups, and the need to scrub and scour the vessel until acceptable to God. Man puts conditions on God’s acceptance of the wounded, the sick, the needy, deciding who is worthy of God’s interventions. Matthew 11:28 calls those who are in need of relationship, “Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Complete Jewish Bible) Notice the verse says “all”; it is all inclusive, it doesn’t leave anyone out. We all struggle, we are burdened, and we are all in need of rest.

The church has carefully crafted the image of God and Yeshua (Jesus). From historical accounts of Yeshua, we know that He was not well received by the religious leaders of the day, shunned by the elite, linked to prostitutes and criminals, accused of being a drunkard, His methods called into question as from the devil. In other words, Yeshua wasn’t the popular kid in town. He challenged conventional thinking and the religious leaders, and worked outside the box. Many tend to picture Yeshua gliding through the streets of ancient Israel, a Pied Piper, of sorts, children and lambs trailing after Him. Yeshua came to restore relationship with God and in so doing upset the norm. Those who embraced Him, sought Him out, listened, followed, and ultimately took His message forward after His death and resurrection were not the synagogue pew-sitters of the day. Yeshua’s life and message resonated with the lost, the lame, the infirm, the drunkard, the prostitute, the tax collector, those who did not have place or voice in mainstream society. Why? Their hearts and minds were open, they sought truth, healing whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, they wanted relationship, truth.

So, here I stand at the fork in the road. One road is familiar, comforting only in that I recognize the path and its foliage. The other not as familiar. I perceive the path as partly shrouded in shadows, clarity not as obvious, however, the clarity of the other is based on familiarity more than truth, and my goal is truth. In the words of Robert Frost, he took the road less traveled and it made all the difference…..

Learning From the Journey…..

The other day I was in the process of doing a little research for a book I am writing about domestic abuse. I was specifically looking up spiritual abuse, mostly as it pertains to church teaching and doctrine justifying and overlooking the many cases of domestic abuse sitting in pews every Sunday. By definition spiritual abuse includes the misinterpretation of the Bible for selfish gain, encouraging ritual not included in the Bible, or opinions that are represented as fact, to name a few. If we look at the broadest definition, spiritual abuse would include every church and religion in the world, and I don’t agree with that.

Interpretation of the Bible seems to be at the root of most church-related definitions of spiritual abuse. Don’t we all interpret the Bible? I try to use the original text and keep everything in context as much as possible, but even then we can’t be 100% assured we are correct. In my prayer time I ask God to guide what I say and write so as not to mislead anyone. I surely would never mislead on purpose, and I am certain there are many in the pulpit who feel the same.

We have all heard the stories of church leaders who have exploited their congregations for personal gain or sexual favor; we also know the stories of cult leaders who have led their flocks into mass suicide. These are the extremes, the media sensations that make it onto the five o’clock news. But what of the more subtle abuses?

One source states that spiritual abuse occurs when others are held to a spiritual standard of acceptance or behavior, in other words, how we perform as “Christians”. Whoa…….that is concerning! How many of us have been in churches where the teaching from the pulpit involves climbing the ladder of spiritual perfection? Do this, don’t do that, memorize scriptures, wear a certain style of clothing, avoid or even  condemn certain types of people, learn the handshakes, pass the snakes…. Ok, now I’m getting a little ridiculous, but you get the picture.

Abuse is an umbrella term for the many types of abuse; the goal and end result of any kind of abuse is control and domination of others. The scariest type of spiritual abuse is the subtle, insidious indoctrination of a group of people. It is happening in churches all across the nation, their brand of abuse even permeating the homes of the congregants. Ever had a friend who “got saved” and your whole relationship changed, or worse, ended because of their “salvation”? You may even have noticed an aire of superiority since the salvation moment. What about the people who see or suspect demonic activity behind every negative event, misstep, or “unsaved” person?

I was part of all that nonsense for years, but I never felt that I fit in; something did not resonate well within. We should never rely on another for our understanding of anything. We are intelligent beings, capable of deciding for ourselves, and yet many churches attempt to strip us of our God-given ability to reason and decide for ourselves. I realize deciding for themselves is what got Adam and Eve in trouble, but God still let them do it, didn’t He? And, the story most of us get on that event has been colored a bit, too, by man, if we only read and accept the Biblical version or interpretation without the advantage of digging into the Greek and Hebrew texts.

So where does that leave us? Through prayer, study, more study, and more prayer, I have decided that our journey with God is individual, and it was designed to be that way. I keep coming back to the life and death of Yeshua (Jesus), believing His purpose, clothed in the flesh of humanity, was to open the door, once and for all, to all who would seek relationship with God. The relationship is what Adam and Eve had lost, not the amenities of living in the Garden. Yeshua restored what had been forfeited.

Do we have boundaries within that relationship even though we are not bound by Jewish Law? I believe we do. God, and Yeshua while He was on the earth, taught, with the familiar; those things common to man. Parenting is one such example. Do most of us parent by setting boundaries to prevent our children from experiencing life, to stifle them? No, but we do want our children to be safe, and to learn how to accept and love others, ultimately to live peacefully with all in the world at large. We journey with our children. We take them by the hand and teach as they grow. No one holds their child for the first time, looking lovingly into their unfocused eyes, and says, “ Do not run into the street, talk back to me, take drugs, hit others, disrespect your elders, do not steal, kill, or destroy, and whatever you do don’t drink, smoke or get tattoos!” That last part is obviously tongue in cheek!! I couldn’t resist, given the many “Christians” who believe any who drink, smoke, or get tattoos have boarded the fast train to hell! We haven’t. Boundaries are good, however.

Our journey with God is the learning process, much like the journey with our children. God meets us where we are in our lives at the moment we reach out to Him. He doesn’t back up the spiritual-do’s-and-don’ts dump truck and unload on us; many times the church believes it their duty to do so.

I have journeyed with God for many years, and I have also been in several different churches during my life. Each had their own set of standards that makes one acceptable to God, as determined by their interpretation of the Bible, and their particular doctrinal tenets and beliefs. Some aligned with scripture, many did not. As humans we desire to congregate with others of like mind, thus one of the reasons people gravitate to churches when seeking to journey with God. I don’t blame them; it’s human nature. We do, however, need to read, study and question for ourselves and not lean on the understanding of others. There is a scripture in Proverbs addressing that very thing.  “Trust in ADONAI (God) with all your heart; do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him; then he will level your paths. Don’t be conceited about your own wisdom; but fear (as in respect) ADONAI, (God) and turn from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7 The Complete Jewish Bible)

Having the advantage of years in the church I believe that many put their trust in their pastor’s interpretation while paying lip service to trusting in God to guide and teach. This scripture tells us that we are to let God level all our paths; in other words teach us as we journey with Him. Alone, we do not possess wisdom; we may have street smarts, but that is not wisdom. Pastors are on a journey as well, so do not have the only and correct interpretation. Accepting their interpretations as gospel is treading dangerous ground.

Am I suggesting people leave the church? No, of course not. I would like for us to consider what is taught; search out our own understanding as it applies to our journey with God. Accept what resonates, set aside that which does not for a later time. We needn’t reject what does not make sense since we are all at different places in our journey; that which does not make sense or apply today, may tomorrow.

I have been asked on many occasions to start a church. If I were to consider that, it would need to be different from all else out there, otherwise the purpose would be defeated. So the question becomes how to do that? At the moment I don’t have the answer, yet I believe many would gravitate toward something different from the standard fare. I don’t agree with everything I hear, or read, nor do I expect others to readily ingest everything I say. The lesson is in the discussion; how scriptures, and the Bible as a whole speaks to each of us. In so doing, we learn from one another’s journey…..

Journey to The Shack…..

There are just some books/movies that speak so much truth, touch us so deep within, we are forever changed. The Shack was one such book/movie. I read the book when it first came out. Last night one of my daughter’s and I watched the movie. It would be an understatement to say I shed a few tears; the floodgates let loose.

The movie made a much bigger impact than did the book, at least for me. Perhaps because I am at a different place in my life, my spirit more open to being washed with the beauty of such a tragic story. And, the word “journey” was used several times to describe the relationship we have with God; the word had been hidden from me when I read the book years ago. Hearing “journey” being used confirmed the desire I have to bring understanding of God and His love to those who have no use for organized religion, yet yearn for relationship with the Creator. The word I have used so  many times.

The book/movie portrayed God as a woman, kicking up controversy; a fact that likely preempted some people from reading based upon a false assumption. I just accepted it without question. When I read the book I had actually missed the significance however, in the movie the choice made perfect sense.  So why a woman to  portray God in the flesh? God meets each of us where we are in life. The main character saw God as the woman who comforted him when he was a child after his father abused him. The kind face, the easy way she had when she wrapped him in her arms, the offer of a freshly made pie, all represented safety, guidance, and the affirmation of love he desperately lacked. God is what we need at each moment of our lives. Sometimes our perception of God is based on negative images of Him we have learned in church or through relationship with the religious. How tragic; when we need Him most we reject His offer of comfort based on ill-perceived images of a judge seeking to condemn any who step out of line, or any other version that negates His true character.

“God” (the movie character) pointed out to the main character he was “stuck” in the tragedy of his daughter’s loss. How many of us have been stuck because of an unexpected upheaval, tragedy, or event in our lives? One of my favorite lines from the movie was, “When all you see is your pain, you lose sight of Me.” Isn’t that what happens to most of us in the midst of a job loss, financial ruin, terminal diagnosis, or unexpected death? Our focus becomes the circumstance, the situation, the loss, and we cannot see beyond the intensity of the pain to the One who understands, comforts, and heals.

The person of the Holy Spirit takes the main character to a garden and shows him a beautiful, yet tangled mess of flowers and foliage. The main character comments that the garden is a mess. She (the Holy Spirit – don’t anyone freak!) tells him he is the garden; the beautiful mess is how the Trinity see him. Each of us is a mess in our own right, are we not? Yet there was beauty in the midst of the tangled and twisted foliage. We are beautiful to God in our tangled and twisted condition. Too often we curl into a ball of depression and wither when He would prefer to help us rise from the ashes.

In order to fully appreciate the gold in the movie it does warrant being seen more than once. I did manage to write down a few quotes that spoke to me. One such quote was, “Religion is way too much work. I don’t want slaves, I want friends.” Yeshua (Jesus) and the main character were having a deep conversation about misconceptions related to Yeshua’s character. True statement! Religion IS too much work! Religion requires that I earn God’s acceptance and love, that I work my way toward restoration instead of embracing the fact the work was already accomplished on the cross. We tend to make a relationship with God so much harder than it really needs to be, when in reality relationship should be easy, peaceful, and refreshing.

In the end the main character understood God in a very different way, and learned God had been there through all the hard times in his life. The main character wanted to know why God allowed such tragedy and heartbreak; don’t we all? The answer was similar to what many of us have heard, and the answer was just as difficult to embrace coming from the character of God in the movie. The words of the book and movie were penned by a human; in the words of Paul, “we see through a glass, darkly…..” (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV), and as humans we are only privy to the story we see with our earthly eyes. For the time being, we cling to faith to fill in the blanks until we see Him face to face.

For the main character, the warm, inviting cottage, the smell of pie baking in the oven, sunlight streaming through the windows represented God, the place where he could find relationship and feel close to God. Where do you go to find God, to cuddle in, or take refuge from life’s trials and tribulations? How does God manifest to you…..?