Monday, November 28, 2011

Leaving a Church

It is never an easy thing to talk about when to leave or stay at a church.  Here are a few of my thoughts on this sticky issue.  A couple weeks ago, I met with a man who is leading a small church. He said:  "I think people who are struggling need to just pick a church and plug in!"  Is that the kind of flippant attitude we should have, is one church just as good as another?  I don't think so, it is crucial to find out exactly where God wants us to be.  The fact that you may even be considering leaving a church(apart from selfish reasons) is a sign that you are desiring to break with the status quo.  I applaud you if you are truly seeking God.  I believe God is also excited that you are rethinking and seeking to discover where he wants you to be and what he wants you to do.

Luke 6:39-41 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher."

I have a few questions I would ask about any leadership I am considering placing my family under or removing ourselves from.  No matter how much we want to believe otherwise, we do become like those we place ourselves under.  It is prideful to believe we can remain in toxic environments and remain un-affected.

1.  Am I being taught and encouraged to Love God more?
2.  Am I being taught and encouraged to Love people more?
3.  Is there an expectation that we are building something greater than our own kingdom. Are we building our own little kingdom, or God's kingdom?
4.  Is there a religious spirit?  Is there pride, exclusivism, or pharisaical thinking.
5.  Are the main things kept the main thing, or have minor doctrinal issues and gray areas become the main thing? 
6.  Is the leadership in complete control, or are they facilitating the working of the Holy Spirit and listening to where God is leading?
7.  Is there an expectation that God can speak to more than just 1 person in the group.
8.  Are people encouraged to find their God-given purpose, and are they then released, empowered, and activated into it?
9.  Is doctrine the most important thing?  The Pharisees missed Jesus because of their over-emphasis on doctrine.
10. Have rules replaced relationship?
11. Is there life here?  Is spiritual birth happening, is spiritual growth happening?
12. How does the leadership respond to confrontation or differences of theology/practice?

 Of course, no church is without its problems - I was reading in 2 Cor. 12:20 the other day and was amazed at the problems existent in the Corinthian church.  Paul said - "For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder."
Sounds like the way things are around our house sometimes :)

This list from Paul contains different kinds of problems than the ones I mentioned in the first list. The kinds of problems the Corinthians struggled with are related to immaturity and can be resolved by helping people to grow up.  The kinds of problems that are much more difficult to deal with contain an extreme controlling or religious aspect. Of course, none of us are completely free from a religious spirit, so I am talking about a place where a Religious Spirit has almost complete and total control.  Jesus took a no-compromise approach to these kinds of people and environments.  Judging from the way he dealt with it, I don't think He would ever allow himself to be controlled by that kind of spirit or place himself under it.  Personally, I would be praying about when(not if) to come out from under that kind of spirit.

I remember when we first came to realize the fact that we were dealing with an ancient religious spirit in a church we were attending.  It was definitely sobering.  My wife sensed it spiritually as we sat in church one day, and she was able to see and sense its power and far-reaching effects.  It is so much bigger than just the church we were part of. It is ancient, and its effects are much bigger than you think.  We are not wrestling with flesh and blood in these environments.

It is certainly important to stay where you are unless the Lord moves you on.  Have you been asking the Lord if it is his time to move you on yet?  A number of years ago, my wife and I received a prophetic word that the Holy Spirit was like our Chauffeur, who would take us where he wants us to go.  When it was time for us to move on, we would get into the car and he would drive us to the next destination.  We have always sought to remain sensitive to God's timing about when and where he wants us to be.  If we are in the wrong place, it is very costly to remain there.  We don't even realize the fullness of the negative influences and wrong spirit we are under until we obey the Lord in leaving.  Sometimes, we don't even need to know exactly where we are going before we leave.  Just like Abraham, all he knew at first was that God was calling him to leave the familiar things(his country, his people, and his family).  He didn't know exactly what the promised Land was yet, all he knew was that he had to obey.  “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you."  Genesis 12:1

If a church is in serious doctrinal error or teaching unbiblically, it is time to seriously consider leaving that church. I am not talking about minor doctrinal issues, but major issues regarding who God is, who Jesus is, the authority of scripture, etc.

It is interesting to note how often the early church members would move from one area to another, or exchange people between churches to share gifts, ministry, etc.  I don't think there was such a strangle-hold on keeping people in one place to build a personal kingdom. Of course, we are to be devoted to one another, and not leave places for flippant, selfish reasons.  However, if God is leading or calling someone into a different area or to minister to a different group of believers, that is not a threat to God's kingdom.  It is only a threat to the person who is trying to build a personal kingdom.
We certainly should not leave a church because of personal offenses, personal taste issues, relational conflicts, or immaturity issues. We need to work through these issues and allow God to mature us and heal us. However, when a church is nothing like Christ really meant it to be, or is heading in the opposite direction that God is calling us to go in, we need to be in serious prayer about whether we are in the right place.
Excuses for not leaving:
1.  God just wants me to stay here and be an agent of change within the church.  While this may seem like a noble or lofty goal, I believe this is extremely rare.  You need to make sure that is what God is calling you to do.  I have found that far too often, this is simply an excuse to remain where you are and avoid making any serious decision.  What if Martin Luther had decided to remain a Catholic priest and try to change the Catholic church from within?  Yes, he certainly could have - but he had a much greater impact when he came out of it, stood up for what was wrong, and sought to be an agent of change from the outside.  You don't have to remain within a church structure for God to use you to change it.  Would you ever counsel a Mormon or Jehovah's witness to stay within their church and try to bring about change from within?  Doubtful.

2.  God wants me to remain faithful to the church or the leadership
Does God want you to be faithful to an organization, or does he want you to be faithful to him?  If you are being encouraged to be faithful to men or an organization, you need to be careful.  You need to be willing to follow God, whether anyone agrees with you or not.  While faithfulness is a noble virtue, we don't need to be faithful to the wrong things, particularly a church system.  While we never give up on people, we don't need to be faithful to an organization or man-made structure.   

3.  But I just love the people, they're such nice people.
We must be willing to leave behind any people or religious systems that are keeping us from really following Christ.  While we may still remain in relationship with them in various ways, we do not have to remain under the leadership structure of that church.  We do not have to go in the same direction they are going.  Also, sometimes people are just nice when you are going the same direction they are and believe all the same things they do.  When you start to go against the grain or speak up about whether God is really part of the church, you will find out quickly if these are really nice people or not!

4. I don't want to hurt the pastor's feelings or the people's feelings by leaving
The New Testament does not tell us to be nice to each other, it tells us to love each other.  Sometimes doing the loving thing or the right thing is not going to be interpreted as the "nice" thing.  You need to do what God is telling you to do whether it is interpreted as nice or not.

5I am breaking covenant if I leave this church
Time to get out of that church soon!  If you feel like you are a covenant-breaker, or you will come under some sort of curse for leaving that church, you need to find the exit soon.  That is a spiritually abusive and controlling environment, and you need to get out of it!

How to leave:
Assuming the church is not abusive or cultic, we need to make sure we communicate very openly and honestly with our church leaders about why we are considering leaving. Generally, there should be no slipping out silently with everyone wondering why you left. Of course, I never had that option since I was involved in leadership in some way in the last two churches we were part of. It was imperative to explain my position well and lovingly talk to the pastor(s) about why God was calling us out of those churches. The leaders may not be excited about you leaving, they may try to get you to stay - so it is very important to know exactly why you are leaving, and to remain obedient to God.

It amazes me how much time, effort, prayer, and thought we Americans will put into temporal things such as Jobs, Houses, Finances, etc. - but how little goes into finding out about our place in his eternal Kingdom. A large part of this is, what do I do about church? What is the church? How am I to be part of the church? This is a critical issue, and it is important to find out what God wants us to do. Much prayer and seeking needs to take place - it is not something to be taken casually or lightly.

Are we raising Disciples or Pharisees?

The question that has been going through our minds lately is:  Are we raising Disciples or Pharisees?  First, we parents need to get rid of any Pharisaical leaven in our own lives before we can train up true Disciples.

I remember when our family was heavily steeped in the following:
1. Our daughters and my wife had to wear skirts (I am all for modesty, just not defining it so strictly)
2. We didn't watch any Television
3. We had to have lots of Children to be of any spiritual worth
4. We felt like we had to have a small farm in order to be highly self-sufficient in case the end of the world occurred or the stock market collapsed. (I am not against being prepared, but in this case I was making decisions out of fear - not faith!)
5. We had to homeschool(By the way, we still homeschool and value it highly)
6. The Man needed to be the Priest of the Home
7. The wife should have no real thoughts of her own, the man chooses the direction and what he says goes!  If the wife disagrees - she must just quietly submit and not say anything - let the man make his mistakes and blunder through life.  Just feed him and do his laundry, but never, ever confront him or question his motives.
8. We had to have Family Worship twice a day and it was my job to theologically instruct my family. (By the way, not against this either, but we also don't have to do it the same way every time - and I don't do it because I feel like I have to)
9. Our Children were expected to outwardly behave a certain way whenever in public or in church.  Any fleshly behavior was frowned on and parents were made to feel bad if any display of flesh occurred.
10. We would never, ever put out kids in a Children's church or nursery.  They might get corrupted by the other children there!  (By the way, we are careful about not letting our kids be around bad influences, but in the past we lived in complete fear - not believing that our kids could possibly act responsibly and influence others in a positive way)
11. My wife was expected to grind her own wheat and bake her own bread.  (She still does this at times, but she doesn't have to in order to feel spiritual)
12. It was important to have our own milk cow and make our own yogurt, cheese, etc.
13. You must give birth to your children at home.  Hospital births and C-sections are frowned on.

I am not against limiting television, having lots of children, dressing modestly, homeschooling, etc.  But you see where we can get off track if we judge others for the standards or convictions the Lord has placed on us personally.
Of course, some of the standards in our list were unspoken and somewhat self-imposed, but you see where I am going?  How many of us have some list in our minds that we judge others by?

We and our children judged other people's spirituality upon whether they were upholding the same external standards.  Do they dress like us, do they have as many children as us, do they homeschool, do they watch TV, etc.  These were the standards we judged others by.  We began to notice that we and our children began to love others less, have less compassion on them, and instead were judging them for the way they looked or whether they measured up to our list.  We measured our success as parents by how well our children performed when around other people.  We measured our success by how well they performed at home too.

Are we raising performance-oriented children who look down on others who aren't performing so well, or are we reaching their hearts?  Do our children have a desire to really please and follow Jesus out of love, or are they just trying to keep all the rules we have set for them.  We will know this if they obey our rules when we aren't looking :)

Are we training our children to value and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit?  Can they discern the voice of the Shepherd for themselves, or do we have to personally tell them what to do all the time?  Are they taking ownership for their spiritual state - are they willing to repent when they have wronged their brother or sister without being asked?  These are areas our own children are growing in, and are far from perfect - but at some point a couple years ago, we realized we were on the wrong track.  We have switched tracks, and are now beginning to see some fruit - but it is a process.  We are learning to look at our children differently, look at others differently, and look at life differently.  We are learning to look at life and at God from a relational point of view, not a performance-based point of view.

I am reminded of the verse in Luke 6:39-41 - He also told them this parable:Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher."

It is important for us to be teaching our kids to love like Jesus did, and follow him wholeheartedly.  No amount of external standards can produce disciples.  Discipleship starts with the heart, continues in the heart, and ends in the heart.  We need to be modeling a passion for God.  So many times, we substitute passion for God with rules, regulations, and external standards of righteousness.  We need to be very wary of any mindsets that focus on washing the outside of the cup, but ignore the inward decay.  We want everything we do to be based on love.  They will know we are his disciples by our love for one another.  Let's stop hiding behind our outward displays of morality and begin to just love on people right where they're at.  The pharisees saw the lepers and outcasts as untouchable.  Have we in the protection of our churches fallen into the same trap?  Are those we don't agree with untouchable, or can we touch them with compassion and let the love of God flow through us?

Mark 1:41,42
41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and said to him, I will; be clean. 42 And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fresh Bread

Some people think the main purpose of gathering as the Church is to hear the Word of God. Is this true? Not entirely. Our main purpose is to meet with God, worship God, and share God with others. That certainly might include hearing the Word of God.  Of course, we do need to gather to hear the word of God, but not in the way you might traditionally think. The Word of God comes through more than just 1 person teaching. Most of the time in church, people are hearing someone(the pastor) reading what some commentator or theologian thinks about what the Scriptures are saying.  Best case scenario in this setting is when the pastor is in tune with the Holy Spirit and shares what God wants to say to the church.  This is good, but the church meetings were meant to be so much more! The entire church body is intended to be sharing the Gifts of the Spirit during its meetings. Prophecy, exhortation, etc. People do not get bored when the Holy Spirit is really speaking through people. People get bored when they hear the regurgitation of a bunch of information. That is not really feeding sheep solid food, that is just giving the sheep stale bread. God-hungry people want fresh, daily bread that is God-breathed and spirit-inspired. People need a “demonstration of the Spirit’s Power”.

I believe there are to be different types of meeting in the church.  There can certainly be meetings where one person is sharing or teaching in order to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.  And, then there can be the types of meetings where spiritual gifts, worship, prayer, fellowship, etc. are shared.  There needs to be a variety of meetings - without locking ourselves into any 1 type all the time.
Acts 2:42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
I don't believe for a second that the apostles' teaching was what we see in most churches today. I believe the people devoted themselves to the apostles' way of life - the life of following Jesus. The apostles were teaching people and leading people in such a way that the people were coming into an intimate personal relationship with the one who had just risen from the dead. I don't think they got together and had big doctrinal debates, I believe their purpose in getting together was to let the life of Christ flow from one to another.
I and my family desire real life, not dead, stale Religious services where the same pattern is repeated over and over with no real change week in and week out, year in and year out. It seems the pattern of 1 Cor 14 is being ignored for the most part in our church gatherings today. 
1 Cor. 14:26-29
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. 29Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.

This scripture says 2 or 3 prophets should speak. Not 1 person dominating the service with an extra-long teaching every time. We should have people sharing hymns, words of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation, or a prophecy. I encourage you to really imagine what this might look like. Maybe the problem is, you don't really believe God can speak to or through people today. Maybe you believe God can only "illuminate" the scriptures, not actually speak to you personally. If you don’t believe God can reveal(only illuminate) then this scripture will mean very little to you. It says very specifically that someone can share a “revelation”, not just an “illumination”.
The following links have been a source of inspiration to me over the years.

Man as Priest of the Home?

Blblically, I find no support for a man being called on to be the “Priest of the Home”.  There is not even any references to man being "head" of the household.  Man is "head" of the woman, but the word "head" does not mean "has authority over".  With a concordance, I can’t find this concept in the bible or any scriptural language alluding to man being Priest of the Home. –Old or New Testament. This is a concept that was popularized by people such as Douglas Philips and Dennis Rainey. In Dennis Rainey’s book, “Building Strong Families”, there is a chapter authored by another man called “The Husband as Prophet, Priest, and King”. The author states that patriarchal rule of the Old Testament is proof that God wants men to act as priests in the home today. He says “The patriarchs, who were the family and tribal leaders in ancient Israel, knew they had a duty to lead their wives and children into God’s presence for worship, to remind them of God’s grace and mercy in forgiving their sins, and to intercede on their behalf. Husbands today have the same priestly assignment.”

This is a tradition that may sound biblical, but it isn’t actually scriptural. Nowhere are we men told to oversee and be responsible for the spiritual condition of our wives. What a heavy load has been placed on men that we were never meant to carry. Our wives answer to Christ for their spiritual condition, not to us. The concept of being a “Resident theologian” is also found in Dennis Rainey’s book, which is also unscriptural. The concept of washing our wives in the water of the Word is not even biblical – it is lifted out of context. It is something Christ does for the church, not Men for their wives. It is assumed washing with the water of the word is something we men need to do for our wives, but that is not correct. Only Christ can do that for his church to make her holy and cleanse her. It is given as an example of Christ’s love for the church, not a command for men to follow. Can we make our wives holy? No, only Christ can do that. This tradition has also been responsible for many men concluding that God does not speak to women directly, but only through the man. No wonder so many men feel a spiritual superiority to women. There may also be a temptation to have a spirit of pride with the man thinking that he has been set up as a sort of intermediary between God and his wife.

The greatest harm that I see from this is that women will not grow up in Christ as fully mature Christians, but will stay under the limits placed on them by the highest level of spirituality that their husband attains to. A fully mature Christian woman will not be dependent on another person’s hearing from God, but will hear God’s voice for herself. When we keep a woman dependent on the spirituality of her husband, we are treating her as a dependent child all her life. Her sons may grow up and be spiritually mature, but somehow she is treated as one who cannot be depended on to hear from God on her own.

To summarize: It is the husband’s responsibility to give himself up for his wife and join himself with her. This will result in harmony, gentleness, and oneness. The result of the doctrine of the husband as “priest in the home” is a heavy burden on the husband that scripture never lays on him. It also results in a childlike reliance of the woman on the man for her own spirituality.

I have watched as this mindset has eroded away the confidence of women in the church and the man assumes a sort of kingly mindset over his household. Over-emphasis of this doctrine has led to verbal and spiritual abuse in some instances and can result in the mindset that women are to simply be silent and not hold any opinions in the church or the marriage relationship. The visions, dreams, and goals of the man are all that really matter in this type of marriage. As long as the wife just submits and agrees to everything the man wants to do, there is peace. The wife is not usually able to question the authority of the man or his decisions. The man becomes the king of his castle who ends up lording over his wife and she is seen only as the one who fulfills the domestic responsibilities. What she hears from God is not valued greatly in the decisions made in the church or the home. The men’s voices and thoughts are the only ones that really count in this way of thinking. Even if a woman in this situation is told that it is OK for her to share, prophesy, or use gifts in a church with these mindsets, she will be very afraid to ever do so since she has been oppressed and is made to believe she is a lower class citizen in the kingdom of heaven.

The true role of male leadership involves “mutual submission” as in Eph. 5:21. Should wives submit? Absolutely, but it is a willing submission that is never forced in a Christian marriage.
Should husbands submit? Absolutely, we husbands are to submit to our wives when they are hearing from the Lord. (Gen. 21:12). Our role of leadership is found in following the example of Christ in loving, serving, elevating others, and considering others as more important than ourselves in a true spirit of humility. (Philippians 2). We men need to value and listen to the wisdom God has placed in women in all areas of life, including decisions relating to church, doctrine, and spirituality. (Prov. 31:11, 26)

If we husbands are not hearing from the Lord in an area, should our wives still be forced to submit to us and follow our direction? No, they should have the freedom to resist being forced to do something they determine goes against their conscience or against what the Lord is speaking to them. That is where we need to practice submitting one to another. There have been times where I thought I was hearing from God and my wife simply went along with it since she was taught to not voice her opinion or question my decisions. This has led to some selfish, faulty decisions and led me away from the Lord for seasons of my life. Those seasons could have been avoided if I would have given my wife the freedom to speak truth and share her true feelings in those situations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Lord is Seeking

Here is something I wrote last year to put into words what we are praying and hoping for to be manifested in the Church. Some of the pieces toward the end were quoted from a statement from "The Mission", a church in Vacaville, CA. Many of the things in there resonated with me. Here is the link.

The Lord is Seeking …
1. A people who will put the first command first! A people who live out of a First Love relationship with Jesus! Luke 10:39-42; Revelation 2:4

2. A people who will truly love one another.
· Wives loving their husbands
· Husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the church.
· Hearts of children turning to the Fathers, and Fathers to the children.
· Living out the new testament “one anothers” – examples:
a. Bear one another’s burdens
b. Be kind to one another
c. Forgiving one another
d. Submitting to one another
e. exhort one another daily

3. A people who will worship God in spirit and truth – John 4:23,24
· I don’t want to simply sing songs to God, but I want to gather with others who give everything they are to God in worship. Like David, the man after God’s own heart! I want to give God everything I am when I worship – Heart, soul, strength, mind, will, and emotions!

4. A people who will not just read the scriptures, but who will let the living Word abide in them. These people will truly hear God’s voice. It’s not good enough to simply hear and read the scriptures, we must encounter the living Word – Jesus himself! The only one who can reveal to us the living Word is the Teacher, the Holy Spirit! This is the only way to become doers of the word and not hearers only! We must hear the voice of Jesus speaking through the scriptures, and then we can follow him.
1 Cor. 2:10-16; John 10:4; John 5:37-40

5. A people who will have the kind of Faith required to do the things Jesus did! A people who will truly represent Jesus to a hurting, dying world. This means not only loving like Jesus did, but doing the kinds of miracles and healings that Jesus did.
God is seeking a people who, like Peter, are willing to get out of the boat. The boat represents safety, predictability, and comfort. We will only find the abundant life when we get out of the boat and believe God for the impossible.
John 14:12; Mark 16:17,18

6. A people who are full of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who enables us to do the impossible. Reading about the book of Acts without living the book of Acts must become unthinkable to us! Acts 4:31; Acts 6:3, 8; John 7:37-39

7. A people who desire, walk in, and practice Spiritual Gifts. 1 Cor. 14:1.

8. A people who really want to know God and are seeking him. These people will have a genuine, 2-way relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
· Truly knowing God in our heart, not just our head, brings real faith.
· True knowledge of who God is comes by Revelation, not just obtaining information. Matthew 16:17
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
· When we truly know him, we will no longer strive in our own strength, but his power and nature will flow through us and his grace will enable us.
· The level at which we Know God in our heart determines the level at which he can flow through us, use us, and speak to us.

Good preaching, good doctrine, and being good people is good, but not good enough.
Having a good church club is not enough, good fellowship is not enough, and just
being a member of that club is not enough.
Having good Bible studies is good, but not good enough. Knowing about God without truly knowing and experiencing God is meaningless.
Singing songs without worshiping is shallow and having meetings without God showing up is pointless.

I am tired of the traditions of men and forms of godliness without the real power. I’m tired of playing Church. I want to move on to the real thing. I want the living Word and the free flow of the River of life in our midst. I desire that we all become more vulnerable and honest with one another so we can help and love one another. I long for God’s glory or manifest presence to be among us as we worship him wholeheartedly in spirit and truth. I desire that as we gather corporately, we would come to know Jesus better and have the mind of Christ. I want to encounter the living God, not just fill my mind with information about him. I want to be so filled with his love and Spirit that it flows out of my innermost being in a rushing river of living water. I want to cultivate an atmosphere where we can encourage one another and use our spiritual gifts to build up one another in our faith. If this speaks to you and is what you are contending for, let’s contend for it together!

Philippians 4:12
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

The Religious Spirit

I believe we have all been influenced by the spirit of religion or phariseeism to one degree or another. We are all seeking to be free from it. Here are some characteristics of this spirit.

1. Has a form of godliness, but denies the true power thereof. 2 Tim. 3:5

2. Makes things too complicated – leads people astray from the simplicity of knowing Christ and living in childlike Faith. – 2 cor. 11:3

3. Steeped in various theological constructs intended to explain away the miraculous and the supernatural. Luke 11:14-16

4. Thrives on predictability, sameness, rituals, and traditions of men.

5. Concentrates power into a select few rather than releasing and empowering people to find their gifts so they can play an active part. Despises the priesthood of believers. Seeks to make a strong distinction between clergy and laity.

6. Loves titles and the recognition of men.

7. Gets confused by and disgruntled by those who really know God and hear God’s voice.

8. Seeks to suppress all displays of emotion. Outbursts of Joy, Love, tears, praise are not welcomed since that might offend people.

9. Keeps up a show of outward holiness, but suppresses and ignores the real evil within. Luke 11:39

10. Seeks to stay in control. Cannot stand it when the Holy Spirit or Jesus does things that might seem strange, unpredictable, or abnormal.

11. Prefers rules over relationship with God and others. Luke 11:42
“'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” Matthew 15:8

12. Compartmentalizes life so is unable to hear God’s voice. John 9:19-34.

13. Judges others harshly for their sins and looks down on others who struggle with sin. John 8:1-11; Luke 18:9-14

Religion vs Reality

This is an excerpt from something I wrote a number of years ago, and I wanted to revise and post it here because it still speaks to me today.

What do most people mean when they use the term “Religion” in our culture? Webster’s dictionary says that the term Religious comes from a Latin word “Religare” which means “to Bind up, restrain, or tie back”. Religion is simply keeping rules or codes of behavior to try to be Holy or at least keep up the appearance of being Holy. It is being bound up with traditions and man-made rules that force upon us a pattern of how we should behave and act.

Jesus was likely the most anti-Religious man who ever walked the face of the Earth. On nearly every page of the gospels, we find him confronting those who were the “Religious” folks of his day.

Matthew 23:25-28.
25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Jesus also called these rules and teachings that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were keeping “Traditions of men”. Jesus was showing them that their “Religion” wasn’t working for them, it wasn’t resulting in a changed life. Paul said it this way in 2 Timothy 3:5
“having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”
These people had a form, a shadow, an appearance of godliness, but if you probed deeper into their lives, there was no substance or reality to it. You can try as hard as you like to keep certain rules and practice your “Religion”, but unless it results in true Holiness, it is worthless.

“We are not seeking an antidote that deals with the effects but not the cause of our human condition. We are seeking the Living God. For true holiness does not come from following rules; it comes from following Christ.” Quoted from Francis Frangipane’s book “Holiness, truth, and the presence of God”

To follow Christ means entering the narrow gate.
Matthew 7:13,14
13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Another translation says, “difficult is the way that leads to life”. It won’t be easy to find truth and reality, but God never said it would be easy. It is a life of hardship, testing, and trouble, but it will be worth it, because it leads to true life. So, how do we enter into the narrow gate? How do we find life? What is “Real”? The cry of my heart is, “I am tired of Religion, I want something real. I want the power of God in my life, I want to experience his presence, I want more of him.” If that is the longing of your heart as well, I invite you to come, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. Come, He is calling you to the deeper life in him. If you are hungry for more of God, seek him with all your heart and you will find him.

A little story: While driving in the car on the way home from meeting me in town one day, my wife was pondering and praying about the church we were attending at the time and heard the words "Whitewashed tombs" in her head. But, she argued - they're such nice people! The words just resounded repeatedly in her head  "Whitewashed tombs".

When we or others become religious, we may try to be nice to each other - but that is only external. It is easy to keep up appearances, and be nice to others once a week. However, let's be honest - how do we behave when we are confronted, or when someone disagrees with us? That's when the real self comes out, isn't it? God has been dealing with me personally over the last year and a half regarding getting the inside of my cup clean. It has been a season of great fire, and intense dealings of God - but it has been worth it. There is nothing that can replace the joy of having God be the center of your universe, and having a heart that burns with devotion for God, pure and untainted by the pursuits of the world.

Living in the Present

Last week, I read in Oswald Chambers - "My Utmost for his Highest", a really interesting devotional. You can find it here.

The article sparked some further thoughts for me.

It is interesting that the first thing Martha says is:
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Notice here that she is focused on the past - "If you had been here". Like Martha, we also can become focused on the past, "Lord, if only things had worked out like this or that" or, "Lord, if only I hadn't had an alcoholic, abusive father" and so on. There are a thousand things we can wish were different. The point is, if we focus on the regrets of the past, it will keep us from seeing what Jesus wants to do in our lives right now. We may have prayed for healing a thousand times, and nothing happened. This can lead to disappointments and unbelief. However, we need to be able to let go of the past in order to embrace what God wants to do in our lives right now. Even if Jesus hasn't healed, delivered, or come through in the way you expected yet - it does not mean he does not care about you or that he won't act right now. One of the biggest obstacles to childlike faith is past disappointments.

Now, look at the next 2 verses in John 11:
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Martha had enough faith to believe for something in the distant future, but she had no idea that he was going to do a miracle "right now". Like Martha, we can also be consumed with always looking to the future. This also can keep us from having faith in the present. It is easy to believe that Jesus will take us to heaven someday, but much more difficult to believe that Jesus can do a miracle today. Jesus is about to show Martha that is not so much about looking at what he did or did not do in the past, or what he can do in the future, but he wants her to have a revelation of who he really is. He wants her to see that he is truly God, the "I am", and with God, all things are possible. Look at the next 2 verses:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

The key is learning to believe in who Jesus really is, not looking to the outward, external things. When we have faith in him, we can really experience him "right now", not just sometime in the distant future. Our depth of understanding and revelation of who Jesus is determines our present experience of him. If you believe he is the God who only did miracles in the days of the Bible, that is the kind of God you will get right now. If you are only looking ahead to the Rapture, or some distant event, you will also miss the God who can do all things "right now".

Finally, we can also note from John 11 that Jesus does not always do things the same way we think he should. My wife pointed out the fact that Jesus deliberately waited until a couple days after Lazarus had died before going back to his house.

John 11:6 - So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Jesus could have went earlier and healed Lazarus before he died, but he had a miracle of far greater proportions in mind.

If you have been praying for answers, or praying for healing or deliverance, and God is seemingly silent - it might not be the right time yet. Be assured that God has great plans, but his ways are not our ways. His timing is most definitely not our timing either.

Freedom from Fear

I have been praying about and meditating on freedom from Fear since yesterday. I am reminded of the verse that says "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Freedom". And the verse that says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear".

When the spirit of the Lord came upon the disciples in Acts, they were completely freed from fear. They no longer had any desire to compromise with the world system or try to please people. The spirit of the Lord came upon them and they were able to speak the word of God with great boldness.

Acts 4:31 - After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Galatians 1:10 - Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I believe to be really free means to be free from worrying about what other people think about us. Are we free enough to really be ourselves no matter who is around, or do we start acting like we hope they want us to be? A wise man I once knew defined humility and pride in the following way:

Pride - Trying to be known for something we are not
Humility - Willing to be know for who we really are

Think about Satan, the epitomy of pridefulness. He is trying to be something he is not - he wants to be God. He masquerades as an angel of Light. Whenever we give in to fear, we are really denying who we really are, and trying to be something that others want us to be. Pride and fear go hand in hand.

The opinions of others can be very fickle, and are usually based upon emotions or where the crowd is going. What a waste of time it is to try to please other people, we really need to be focused on pleasing God! I think way too many Christians are caught up in trying to please the world, or even trying to please members of their own family. Jesus said we need to be willing to leave even close relatives behind if they are preventing us from following him.