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 heard a quote from somebody on you tube last summer that I’ve never heard said before. They said, “I never judge anybody.” Whether or not this was true, the audacity of a person to live with the conviction of never judging anybody was still admirable. It was like a thought that was too impossible to believe but upon hearing it was like a new air I wanted to keep breathing.
This may sound like an overly simple topic for Jesus himself said, “Do not judge.” Pretty straight forward. But for a human person other than Jesus himself to casually dialogue as if that reality was possible was entirely heavenly.
The world would play us on a string to have us do just the opposite. Compare, condemn, divide, get defensive, get offended, react, live in opposition and controversy. It is “cool” to be opinionated and not close minded. The idea of not judging is cool but is often in reality partial as it stands in harsh condemnation of very judgmental religious institutions, therefore nullifying their non-judging stance.
But to really, I mean really, have the perspective in life that you have never walked in anyone else’s shoes, you have never lived their life, felt what they’ve felt, and been forced to make the decisions they have, never, for anyone, other than yourself. Yet all of us undoubtable stand in judgment of some “other,” some “wrong” individuals in our perspective.
Here’s what this does: it only hurts ourselves. When we stand in judgment of someone, of some hatred of act or word, whether based on politics, crime, color, or creed, we are smothering our own nature that was created in God’s image to love. It suffocates our joy.
When we make snap judgments at news headlines and video clips we diminished our capacity for understanding and compassion. He deny our role in helping where there is possible hurting need. We remove ourselves from another’s humanity.
And what that does is deny the Christ that is living in every person. Whether you agree with someone or not, whether you would have theoretically made differently choices than they have, they are still a living, breathing creation of God. His life is breathing through them and he is experiencing life through what they experience, the good and the bad. Nothing nullifies the value Christ’s death and resurrection has given all of humanity. ALL OF HUMANITY. Especially our enemies, especially those different from us.
Do not hurt yourself, do not deny your true nature as an origin of love, by judging another, by condemning them, by withholding your grace. Do not suffocate the breathe of love that lives within you. If you try and not judge, I will not try to judge either. God bless.
So I want to share with you a journey I have had in the lasts few years. It began in a bad place. It really didn’t have to be that bad but there was one move I made that I will not make again.
People make mistakes. Maybe you never have. Maybe you have never made the wrong decision or never said something hurtful to anyone or said anything negative behind someone’s back. Maybe.
It all began when I made a series of mistakes. I concluded something and it was the wrong conclusion, which led to the wrong behaviors. I can’t change that and I’m okay with that now. But that’s not my point in this article, what I did that I will never do again, is turn my back on myself.
I have become very familiar with these thoughts inside our heads that will replay mistakes, or wrong words, or wrong conclusions. At first I believed them because I thought they were true. For example, I was wrong, therefore I should like myself less. This equation is not true in heaven.
I was wrong! And it really affected people. And I still have permission to love myself today! I thought I was worth being thought less of. In a way, I was punishing myself because I thought that’s what I deserved. I questioned myself and doubted my partnership with God. BUT did you know there are no mistakes in heaven?!?!
Did you know that maybe I was setup to experience this whole in my character so that God could build a new thing there?? Learning requires humility to not know something to begin with. All of these things are okay and never have to involve the self-destruction of shame, guilt, condemnation, or exclusion.
Did you know God still loves you and values you? He never thinks less of you based on this learning journey you are on?? Did you know he speaks of your value, your worth, and your ability to always brush yourself of and dive right back into life. SO….
In conclusion, you may be having other thoughts. Even small incremental thoughts that get you to like yourself just a little bit less, maybe even one percent. I don’t believe these thoughts anymore. None of them. For any conversation, presentation, appearance or decision. Not one percent less. They are not from heaven, and God will rebuild in your life, wherever you tear yourself down. I will not partner against his work any longer.
You and I walk with a breastplate of Christ’s righteousness on that doesn’t let any accusing arrows through. Not one. There is no hole in his righteousness, no gap, no interruption, or weakness. His righteousness is a perfect FREE GIFT that I have experienced more now than ever before. Do not make room for any thoughts about yourself that get you to like yourself even one percent less. They are not from Him.
I wanted to write about this subject three weeks ago but am just getting around to it now. This subject is “unbiblical” to the conventional Christian. There is no life beyond church they would say. I have even heard people within the church call people who have left their church “bastards.” Yet here is where so many people find themselves. And so… I write.
I am not going to spend time here defending this topic, I am going to go right into writing about it. I remember asking God about his body, the church years ago which began a 15-year journey of seeing the ins and outs of church creation, growth, development, leadership, failure, hypocrisy, glory, strength, and blessing. If the church were a closet full of clothing, I have worn almost every outfit in different seasons where I felt God leading me through relationship with people.
And yet I find myself, and other people I both respect and would call people of great faith, outside of regular church participation at the moment. I will not group these people into people who are rebellious, hurt, bitter, or prideful. These are beautiful, servant-hearted, prayerful, joyful, faithful, creative children of God.
So why do we find ourselves here in this field of spirituality beyond where the paved road ends? Could there even be purpose in this? God of course lives within the walls of his church but I think he is also moving his body, his people beyond not only church walls, but Christian culture. There are so many people who carry the love of God and the ways of his kingdom into so many places; the home, business, arts, media, entertainment, education, etc.
Can I be a Christ follower without walking in American church culture and vocabulary? Of course I can. I hope we are sharing God’s culture, how he loves us and sees us, with people and nations. I’d like to make the argument that this can happen 100% outside of meetings and buildings set aside for this purpose. People can experience hearts and homes of heaven.
I don’t think there is necessarily a wrong reason that people have quit participating in a church regularly. I do think there is a fullness of God’s people operating as a kingdom of priests as he originally intended. His children have full union with the father.
Church family commitment is like marriage, you get involved because of what you have to give, what you have to offer, not what you have to get from it, or how they can serve you. Community is beautiful and I think this can be found outside of a church governing structure and weekly scheduled meetings. But…
What I’m seeing even more of is people who are very much on relative islands of preparation and intimacy right now. Little pockets of service and relationship more based solely out of energy spent on building/maintaining healthy family relationships. I do think it’s beautiful when the role of a mother and father are one and the same as the pastor and priest. That discipleship and family are one and the same with no definitive line between the love of God and the love of family.
Not being understood and being judged is a regular occurrence of life and I’m being reminded over and over again to not care what other people think. Especially people who care more about what my life looks like rather than wanting to hear my personal experience.
Being outside of a church structure doesn’t mean we quit learning about God as we live life with him.
I just wanted to write a bit of encouragement to those who find themselves in no man’s land. Or not operating in the fullness of their giftings at whatever church they find themselves in. You are not broken, you are not failing, and you have not been ‘taken out of ministry.’
God is so much bigger than our little religious mindsets of what freedom and spirituality look like. He grows things inside of us we don’t even know need growing and often times they have nothing to do with external appearances. Although God is in religious meetings every week, he is just as much at the dinner table, in the nursery of your house, at the grocery store, and in your office.
I love that the presence of the awareness of God is naturally felt at all hours in all places. Our existence is one with his. You are the church my friend, you couldn’t leave who you are. You are his temple and the only building he cares about. He’s never left the meeting of your life and God is not finished being in love with us wherever we are, whatever season we find ourselves in. Joy is in his house, in his bride, and in his family. Blessings to you, all the beautiful sons and daughters of God who find themselves in No Man’s Land.
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!
I’m not going to be talking about prayer in groups or at meetings. Just you and invisible other party. Welcome to the land of our imaginations. This wonderful, mysterious, curious place within our minds that absolutely no one else can see. Sometimes words are the form of communication that is seen or heard in our minds. There are endless other ways we communicate internally, feelings, physical sensations, pictures, colors, actual scene sequences, actual memories, our skewed memories viewed through feelings, songs, sounds, melodies, listening, waiting, just being, imaginary future conversations or interactions, premonitions, out of body experiences, dreams, waking thoughts, and a plethora I’m sure I have no idea about or haven’t mentioned here.
All of the above listed experiences communicate something about ourselves and God, back and forth with one another, God experiencing everything our internal spirit experiences, with us. Immanuel, God with us, not just here on earth, but inside our very selves. Our spirit is one with God’s spirit. Everything encompassed in this communion I would consider as “prayer,” others use the terms like meditation or spirituality.
God’s kingdom is gloriously unseen. It’s not at a place that has GPS coordinates. This is wonderful, because instead, it is everywhere. No matter what dirty hole in the earth a person finds themselves in, there God is fully alive within them. No matter about the people around us or circumstances, there, in all his fullness, is God’s beautiful self abiding in our hearts. Sometimes we have a harder time remembering this or experiencing it when we get distracted with ourselves, our performance, our strivings, our failures, and we believe lies about ourselves or the God that lives inside of us. But this never the less, makes all of the above no less true. The fullness of God lives within you. How awesome is that!
The first step in prayer is getting past our own religious performance involved with our interaction with God. God’s kingdom I imagine is a lot more like a children’s outdoor jungle gym than a church service. Modesty and restraint are not necessarily going to help us here. I would say the beginning of prayer is basically being completely and 100% honest with this God that lives inside us and this also involves 100% honest with ourselves. This concept sounds easier than it seems. Our minds are filled with justifications and self-perceptions that sometimes aren’t true. But no mind, moving forward.
Honesty with ourselves and God is just the foundation of relationship. Prayer is simply relationship. This does not exclude asking things and communicating needs, but involves so much more. God watches movies with you, rides bikes with you, cooks dinner with you, rides in the car with you. God lives with us! I enjoy expressing my feelings and verbalizing my questions and frustrations with God. When I intentionally chose to share life with him is often when I also get to enjoy his participation in mine. God will communicate love to however you are open to receiving it. He will tell you he loves you and he is with you daily.
Maybe you are more a picture person, or a word person, or feeling person, but when you engage with God in your imagination it may be unseen but it is possibly more real than any relationship you have living in these tents of flesh called bodies. Engage with God and have fun with him. He wants to set you free of your fears but he also wants to make you laugh. He is a gentleman and will not force you to engage with him, but he is looking forward to every moment you do. Love is the great mystery of our inner world with God, his kingdom of beauty and strength inside of us. He loves to respond to all that you offer himself of you.
I’ve been around the idea of trust for sometime, but I didn’t really begin to think about rest until listening to a series on it maybe seven years ago. I never realized how powerful rest is. When we strive and fear and fret, its not only so exhausting, its just simply a less fun way to be alive. I think it helped me to answer the question, what does trust look like? It can and often, looks like rest
Our imagination can cause our heart to tighten up and our breath to shorten when we imagine some undesired outcome. Sometimes this process of fear is actually worse than even what we’re fearing! Most times, these imaginings never come to fruition and they are nothing more than a haunting illusion. But the goal of fear in our lives is to cause us to become our own Gods. This is never in our job description.
The only thing that interrupts this is a living relationship with the one who is God. When we know he is good and we know he is in our future situations and events as much as he’s in our immediate moment, we will rest in the face of illusions of possible frustrations or disappointments. I think one of the ways God displays his greatness is actually in the personal details of our lives. He’s really good at.
In the kingdom of God, a living relationship with a good father, brother, and friend (just a few of the dimensions of our relationship with God) keeps our heart at rest. Because we experience his love for us, we believe it, we remember it, and we trust rather than react like someone who is alone and needs to fix/control things when there could be an event or situation outside of our expectations.
In God’s kingdom, peace doesn’t have to be forsaken. If there is a thought or conversation that threatens it, when you recognize that feeling, it is okay to let go of control, to change or fix something. It is okay not to figure everything out or why something went wrong. It is okay not having everything figured out for things to come. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. You are living loved. And there is someone very capable with you sharing in your experience who is not worried, not fretting, not far away, and who understands and loves you very much.
Trust/Rest is just one more wonderful attribute of God’s wonderful invisible kingdom. I have forgotten this in certain situations and events in my life. I can feel his tangible love even now. And just recently I have been able to completely let go of things in the past I don’t understand, aren’t fixed, and can’t change. I can trust/rest God completely with the past as much as we can with illusions of our future. He really is good and moves on our behalf. It is a beautiful journey of courage that only love creates: surrender.