I remember when I was in the prayer and fasting peak of my life. I prayed with authority, knew more bible verses than I ever had, probably had the least amount of joy in my life and that’s when God cut me with his words.
I will share a little background with you to help understand what he said to me. I know a man who has been a drug addict since he was 14 years old. He engaged in promiscuous sex, began dealing drugs, was in and out of courtrooms and almost killed himself through driving while super strung out on drugs…three times. He was my age.
God said to me in that little prayer room where I was giving up my life serving the poor, “I love him as much as I love you.” You might think this would have been a comfort, but I tell you, it was an offense. I had been taught by leaders in the church that God held a special place for people like me, the good ones. That he loved the saint more than the sinner. I didn’t notice the arrogance towards others that crept in under this teaching. I believed I truly was better than those other people. That is what I believed. And that is the lie that God wanted to root out of me.
There is sometimes a stench that comes in religious environments and its the stench of pride. When people move in the power of God or feel his presence or know his word or obey his commands, sometimes there is a smelly lie that accompanies this that we have earned his favor. That we deserve it. We are no longer like those unreligious secular commoners, we are the fingers of God and deserve the better than them. Surely we are better.
I can feel the slithering feeling of these garments of pride even now as I imagine it. Even now as I remember it. This is the stench the world hates. And let me tell you, it is also the stench Jesus hates.
Jesus did not separate himself. He did not pride himself on his spotlessness. He did not cast judgment, nor condemnation. The thing he openly rebuked is what I have written about above and it was alive and well in the reigning religious order of the time. There will be offense in heaven and it won’t be at God as a terrorist, it will be at God as a merciful king.
Teaching parables, “I will pay the wages I want,” he says as he pays someone who barely worked at all the same amount as the one who worked the hardest, causing offense at all of their efforts. “Let me give everything I have to my careless son,” he says to the offense of the dutiful, obedient, older brother. “Cast the first stone,” he invites to the guilty condemners of a whore, leaving them with nothing left to throw.
God is offensive. His love is offensive. His generosity is offensive. His mercy is offensive. Get ready to be offended by God, not by his judgment but by his mercy. No one has earned his love. No one deserves his favor. No one has maintained their own innocence. No one in Christ is treated as they deserve, they are only ever treated as Christ deserves and nothing less.
God the father didn’t wait for your life to change before you were worth dying for. No, it was the other way around. He wanted to correct me that his love truly is free to all right now in full, not just to those who climb the religious ladder.
God doesn’t love in part, love is who he is and we are his dream. All of us. We get to treat all people with dignity whether or not they have forgotten it. We aren’t invited by God to love every kind of person because he asks us to, we are invited to love every kind of person because they are worthy of it because his shed blood says so.
God wanted me to see that nothing I had of him was ever earned of my religious efforts, therefore none of him could ever be taken away from me. All of my religious-performance-self was offended. God loves the man I mentioned in the beginning of this piece as much as he loves me still to this day. Maybe one day we all will believe this and then the world will truly recognize followers of Christ by their love.
I have been thinking about writing this one for a week or so but haven’t been getting around to it. It’s not a topic I feel qualified to write about but I want to share my journey in relation to the topic.
At one time in my life when I was steeped very much within an extremely religious culture there were a lot of very good things and a lot of bad things that were unnecessary. Judgement was one of these topics. ‘God is your judge.’ ‘You will be judged.’ ‘He will judge the thoughts and intents of your heart well beyond your outward physical actions.’ ‘Your place in heaven for all eternity will be based off your ability to obey (successful religious performance, absence from things that appear ‘worldly’). ‘You (and most people) will experience the weeping and gnashing of your teeth because of all you have wasted in this life by not living 100% obeying holy spirit all the time.’ ‘If you relax, you are being lazy spiritually and will be pruned like a dead branch only good for burning.’ ‘Why aren’t you healing people miraculously. Jesus died to give us that. You should be. You’re not living up to your calling. You will regret that in eternity. God would show how much your close to him by signs and wonders. If you aren’t seeing that, you’re failing.’
I got a little off topic toward the end of this list, veering into believers of God walking in the ability to perform miracles but for me, it all stems back down to the point where you will stand face to face with God and what we believe this interaction and accountability will be like for our lives. There was a point where I carried great fear of this pending day. It was a real fear and it stifled joy. There are some who believe this is wisdom and good for living. That it is appropriate and should be taught. For them, they believe that the cause for fear is real.
I still had images of passing through fire, where everything that isn’t eternal gets burned up, and there unfortunately, because I know me, very little, if anything, remains. And of course, because I know me, I would get stuck on some distant dark shore of heaven only being able to see the light of Jesus on the horizon. Finally taking the place I deserve, I made it in, but barely. For eternity.
It’s so sad. I think many religious people carry thoughts like this around in the back of their heads but wouldn’t necessarily articulate them or even recognize them as they pass through their mind. I think this one sole issue of our imagination of God’s judgement of us sometimes is the single motivator towards religious works. Fear keeps the hamster wheel spinning.
What Can Save Us from God?
Wheeeww. It’s getting pretty heavy in here, even as I write this! I really do believe the news of heaven is good news, not bad news that should be good news if we get this life right. I really do think that the things that make our heart leap and dance and get excited are whispers of the heaven that is home inside us. God really is nicer than the nicest person you’ve ever met, and kinder than the kindest. He is gentler than the gentlest, and more understanding than the person that’s understood you most. Humans across the board only stand on one ground, the ground of forgiveness, there are no religious superstars that skipped that step on the way to their ‘best-buds’ seat in heaven. God sees us all as his children. He dreamed of each one of us. He created us. He knew us before we were even born. Maybe we knew each other then too, 😉
Fortunately God intervened and delivered me from lies about himself that I had interpreted from either scriptures or teachers, whether the intent to cause this reaction within me was there or not.
God brought me back to relationship. I had a relationship with him at the time. I interacted with him in my heart and he with me as I lived my life. He brought up the scenario in my head. “Am I kind to you today and you think that one day many days from now, after you pass from this world, my character is going to change in my relationship to you and I’m going to point out all your flaws, weakness, mistakes, and failures. And not only that, but you imagine that on that future day I will finally release this anger I have been holding towards you, because I finally am completely honest with you? What kind of friendship is that? Don’t the humans around you love you better than that? Do they love you better than I do? Then I will?
Now I believe God is so good I can’t wrap my brain around it. Do you understand that goodness is most displayed in God’s seat of judgement?!? When God is justified in punishment–there’s the word–punishment. God The Punisher, the devil’s favorite lie. Yes, God the father in heaven is waiting to… punish you? Was Jesus waiting on the cross just hoping for the day he could punish the very people who were unjustly murdering him in torment? What was his judgement of them? Forgiveness. Where can we escape God’s presence? Not even in the depths of hades. Love will be there. In God’s role as judge he cannot turn off being the essence of love. And I don’t mean a perverted form of love where he delights in seeing someone being tortured. Even on earth no one would say that type of person is full of anything but the devil.
In some ways I see Jesus bearing ALL our sin, receiving ALL our punishment, taking ALL of the curse upon himself, undoing ALL that Adam did in the garden, as God’s introduction handshake with humanity. Hello, this is who I am, this is what I possess within me to redeem your choices, this is how I feel about you, this is my character, this is my nature. Hello, it’s okay, I made you and I’m here. I’m not leaving, I’m not going anywhere. Nothing separates us, you don’t have to hide here. I love you.
God Saved Us From Everything But His Judgement
Some people get really touching when you threaten their beliefs about judgement. As if in the absence of the threat of future suffering, our new hearts and minds in Christ will grow depraved and corrupt. This is not true my friends. Welcome to the taste of true freedom outside fences of fear that have kept some from feeling the full effects of salvation. Fear is sad when you see people hold onto it, as if it originated within love.
I could go on and on I feel but I will start to close here because who reads blogs that are even this long anyway?? I will leave you with this. Love expressed itself in forgiveness. Forgiveness really means forgiveness! In true forgiveness, your old stuff isn’t brought up anymore. ever. It’s not held against you. You don’t have a tallying punch card. It’s not shoved in your face. It’s not used as a tool for power or shaming you. It’s forgotten. Like it never happened. Like you can really let it go. Like you can learn from your experiences without holding on to ANY of the negative effects of sin on your relationship with God or your relationship with yourself. Have faith in your forgiven-ness. Experience the miracle of no longer punishing yourself or fearing future punishment from God. God’s goodness is not bound by time or space, or the confines of your poor choices. Your troubles are not to hard for him to love you through. Poor choices ARE NOT FUN TO LIVE THROUGH.
The preaching of threats and fear may have intended to produce sinless living, in attempt to help out God in the advancement of his kingdom, but one thing it never produced was a greater love for his character, his person, his nature. Is obedience based on threats true relationship? He is altogether trustworthy with all of you. All of your emotions, your thoughts, your relationships, in all of your past, all of your present, and especially–ALL of your future, including any day called “judgement day”. I don’t think God was joking when he said ‘nothing can separate you from My love’–as if the only exception here is his own judgement of you?!
Experiencing Our Choices
Leaving you with my concluding topic, one thing I do expect to experience in heaven is the full comprehension of how my life affected those around me. This includes my lack of care and consideration for others. I don’t carry this as a weight or fear but just as a reality I will understand in the future. I will understand how my judgment of others felt, how my negative words affected them, how my choice of myself over them felt, etc. You get the idea.
This reality is judgement enough. Other people’s experiences are real and are valuable. I will understand how my life affected the people I love around me and even the people I love less for some reason. This truth motivates me to live with an awareness to let God live through me; he cares, he gives, he understands, he is patient. It reminds me what’s important about being alive. My choices matter. Sometimes if there is something being said about someone else in a negative way, I can feel that person’s presence when they will hear what’s been said about them in future. Like everything we say about others will one day be heard by them.
I can trust that even this future process of understanding and knowing more, is for my good! I actually think living in community where communication is regular and intentional helps us grow in a similar way here on earth because we are forced to confront and experience the consequences of our own words and actions on a daily basis which naturally fosters the growth of our ability to love others and ourselves when done in an open, honest, and safe environment.
I esteem the life of God in others and to the best of my ability at the time, seek to enjoy their company and share in our freedom together. When freedom is celebrated, it displays the love that lives inside of us. When lies of our own false judgements of others takes root within us, love remains unexpressed, hidden in darkness. Getting to love others is a delight and an opportunity, and is neither a burden nor a scorecard. God is not burdened by his relationship with you. There is Grace like an unending ocean in this classroom of life as we learn to grow in love. (Which is not growing in my ability to hold grudges and punishing people for not obeying me and tormenting them. Which is what we imagine God does in his relationship with them or us–one day.)
We will get to see God apart from the lies about him we hold in our hearts, and we will get to see one another apart from the lies we believe about each other. AWESOME!
One more thought. Some people think that the God I’m painting with words here is weak. What about the God of Anger, Wrath, Power, and Full Control? A man who talks with his child instead of just using his fists is stronger. A man who doesn’t lose his temper with his wife is stronger. A man who forgives over holding grudges is stronger. The greatest strength is displayed in Mercy.
A God that teaches us to love our enemies, really love them, is not pushing us to do something beyond his own capacity to love as he sits there and judges and wants to punish his enemies. It’s not just a ministry strategy. It really is what he’s like. Those who do the same are like his family because he really does love his enemies! He loves them.
Now I really am stopping there! I haven’t solicited invitations for comments before but am tempted to do so now. Share with me what your thoughts are below!