The Vine and the Branches…But No Religion

 

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I had a friend ask me a question yesterday that sent me on a wild journey of thought. What I found surprised me, and I’m super excited to share it with you! Here is her question.

“How do we attach and re-attach ourselves to the Vine without it being works?”

She was referring to John 15 and the familiar passage about abiding in the Vine. Jesus is speaking.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:1-5.

I have heard this passage preached in a very works-based way. I have also heard it preached less “worksy” but with a checklist at the end…Ten Things to do to Abide in the Vine, etc. Abide isn’t a word we use anymore in everyday English. What does the word even mean, let alone an abstract concept like abiding in Christ?

As I read the passage again this morning, four little words jumped out at me. And it changed everything. 

Abide in me, and I in you” John 15:4

The grape vine grows down into the ground, sucking up water and nutrients, providing life for the branches. The branches are not doing anything. They aren’t trying desperately to hold onto the vine, trying to remain in it, trying to stay attached. They are just automatically part of it. The vine’s life and strength are in the branches. And because of that life, the branches are able to bear fruit.

We are so quick, as humans, to look for what we have to do. Religion, the business of appeasing gods, comes naturally to us. But that desire to appease is part of our old nature, not our new one. We have to remember that!

tori-1976609_1920I really believe that religion, more than anything, is the true enemy of God, especially within Christianity. It’s subtle, it distracts; it makes us believe we have effort to offer. It takes away from the beauty and wonder of the free gift. And it turns a life-giving friendship into dutiful servanthood.

Can I stretch your mind a little?

What if true Christianity isn’t about a checklist, or behaviors, or a list of rules to follow? What if it is about a restored life? What if, because we have been restored and reconnected, our lives are transformed? Not because of effort or determination or discipline, but because a new life-force flows within us? The life of the Vine.

Do you believe that? Did you feel your heart give a leap of hope? That’s the Spirit. Our life-force. 🙂

Here is the simple and beautiful gospel.

We have all been broken by sin and that sin separates us from God. Our very core has been corrupted, and the ones God created to be His friends are now His enemies. But He would not let us go…His love is far too great! So Jesus came and died, paying the price for sin once and for all. He rose again demonstrating His power over death and sin. If we will admit that we need forgiveness and trust in Jesus alone to save us, we will be restored.

It gets better! Not only has God forgiven all of our sins through the death of Jesus, He gives us His very Spirit to dwell within us. The Holy Spirit is all about restoration and transformation. If we will let Him, He will not only show us our broken places, He will empower us to heal. He will transform us into the image of God we were meant to be.

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True abiding has nothing to do with action or works, and everything to do with resting in our position. We don’t DO anything. We accept salvation. We accept the Spirit. We accept the life, and the transformation, and the power He offers. We accept His friendship, and we live as friends. We believe the truth about God and ourselves. As we rest in the Vine and in the Power that flows through Him, we will automatically bear fruit. Because that’s what happens with healthy branches who are connected to the vine.

And where does following God in obedience fit with all of this?

“Obedience is the natural offspring of trust-motivated love. All true obedience arises out of the heart and is attended by a deep inner sense of personal delight. You could call it obedience, or you could call it friendship.” – Pastor Ty Gibson

I love that! ❤ ❤ And I would love to hear your thoughts too.

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When Wrong is Right

He pushed himself up against the spikes one last time, his body trembling from exhaustion and desperate pain, and drew in a ragged breath. 

Collapsing once more, he spoke three last words.

“It…is…finished…”

His bloody head fell forward; his torn body sagged. Jesus of Nazareth was dead.

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Could there be anything more wrong? A truly good man, totally innocent and absolutely perfect, had been betrayed, falsely accused, denied a fair trial, tortured, and finally brutally executed. He hadn’t done anything to deserve it. But the religious leaders, motivated by things like jealously, fear, pride, and hatred had set him up. Pilate, not wanting to cause conflict with the Jews, agreed to their scheme. It was totally unjust, inhumane, and undeserved. It was evil. It was sin.

And it was also the most right thing that has ever happened.

Jesus’ death was right because it was God’s sovereign plan for the redemption of the world. It was right because He wanted it. Is it possible that the same can be true of our lives? That terrible, painful, unjust, and wrong things can happen and still be right?

I think so…

God never loses control. Sometimes He allows horrible situations for reasons all His own. His plans for us do not always include peace and happy feelings. Sometimes He doesn’t make any sense. But we CAN trust Him. I believe that with all of my heart!

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This truth doesn’t mean that we have to think positively about difficult and even evil experiences. We don’t need to make excuses or justify. Circumstances can still be very wrong. It’s okay to see them like that. But I believe that we can also see these painful times as right…because God was in them, working, moving, and changing us.

Often it’s the terrible things that draw us into God’s heart. It’s the unjust actions that show us sin lurking within our own lives. Sometimes it’s the devastating situations that end up setting us free.

The Kingdom of God is kind of ridiculous and rarely makes sense.

It’s crazy when we can look back on the brokenness and see God’s fingerprints all along the way. When we realize that He never left us alone, He never abandoned us, and He always had our back…then we can shake our heads in amazement.

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The Creator who allowed Himself to be wronged, tortured, and killed because He loved us, will use everything for our good. 

Do you believe that?

I have been contemplating this idea since last Sunday…and it has literally begun to set me free from painful circumstances that were weighing me down. If Jesus can turn His own horrific wrong into right, He can do that for you and me too!!

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The God We Long For…and the Real Jesus

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A couple of days ago I threw a few scattered thoughts out on Facebook.

“What if God cares more about your heart than your outward actions?

What if He wants to heal your deepest wounds and messes more than He wants your behaviors to change?

What if He wants you to understand yourself…your deep needs and longings and the things that trigger you?

What if He cares about ALL of you, the visible and invisible parts?

What if, instead of expecting you to get your act cleaned up, Jesus wants to sit with you in your mess? Sift through it? Sort it out?

What if He is totally okay with that? What if that brings Him joy?

Would that give you HOPE?

It makes my heart sing!!!

Those words resonated with you. I love when the Holy Spirit is doing the same thing at the same time in more than one of us. 🙂

This is the kind of God our souls long for…and the kind that we are afraid doesn’t exist.

But. He. Does.

There are a lot of Jesus impostors out there, even among Christianity, even in the church. This shouldn’t surprise us. Think about it, the most religious people in Jesus’ day completely missed God walking in the flesh right in front of them. Not only did they miss Him, they hated Him, and eventually had Him killed. Ironic. Religion killed God.

But that death set us free from Religion’s power, and the Real God won!

I’d like to re-introduce you to a man named Zacchaeus.

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His profession was traitorous. His character sketchy. He definitely wasn’t a model Jewish citizen. Instead, Zacchaeus had become wealthy by working as a tax collector for the Romans and cheating his fellow Jews out of their money. His behaviors definitely didn’t line up with the Law.

Then one day Jesus was passing through the area and Zacchaeus was curious.

“…he was seeking to see who Jesus was…” Luke 19:3.

There is so much that we could unpack from these words, but the most important thing is that Zacchaeus was seeking… I love that! Fellow seekers, this gives us HOPE. 🙂

Unfortunately Zacchaeus had a height problem. Unable to even catch a glimpse of Jesus, he climbed a tree. Perched at the edge of the road, isolated from the crowd, Zacchaeus was ready for Jesus to pass by.

Jesus was also seeking. He was seeking for a messed up, too short, social traitor and religious outcast. Jesus deliberately stopped by the tree, looked up at Zacchaeus, (smiled I’m sure) and said:

“Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down, for I must stay at your house today” Luke 19:5.

What?? The crowd’s grumbling reaction tells you how crazy this was! Jesus just boldly announced that He is going to intentionally hang out with an obvious sinner.

Jesus doesn’t give Zacchaeus a list of rules to follow. He doesn’t condemn him, or reject him, or tell him to clean up his act. Jesus seeks, notices, affirms, accepts, loves, and demonstrates His desire to build a relationship with Zacchaeus. And something interesting happens.

Face to face with the real God, Zacchaeus falls apart. 

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” Luke 19:8.

Jesus is delighted! Not because of the changed behaviors, not because of the list of right things Zacchaeus is going to do, but because salvation has been accomplished. Zacchaeus’ heart has been won.

“Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” Luke 19:10.

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. That is amazing news!!

Because that’s me! I’m lost. I need seeking and saving. That’s you too. We are desperately lost, desperately broken, but it’s okay because we are also desperately loved. We are insanely and scandalously adored! Jesus came specifically to seek and save us. He wants all of us, every bit of our broken pieces. He wants to forgive our sin and gently put us back together.

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Coming face to face with the real Jesus will change us. But contrary to Religion’s beliefs, change isn’t the goal. The goal is knowing Jesus. Experiencing Him, believing Him, and allowing Him to make us into the very best version of ourselves.

Religion, even Christian religion, is always about behavior, always about control. And religion never gets God right…because it doesn’t understand who He really is.

The real Jesus doesn’t control. He doesn’t motivate us with guilt and shame. He draws us with loving-kindness. He patiently woos us. He seeks and saves the lost. 🙂

 

Doesn’t that make your heart fill with hope? Explode with love? Jesus is amazing, and mind blowing, and crazy, and I don’t even know what to say! But I’m gonna let Him love me. Will you?

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Finding Answers at Book Club?

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Why are so many of us, former Church People, so cynical and cranky? Even those of us, like me, who haven’t actually left the church? What’s wrong with us?

I’ve wondered about that (and what to do about it) for a while now. Thanks to Mike Cosper, I finally have an answer.

Who would’ve thought it would happen at Book Club? Who would’ve thought I’d ever end up at Book Club? I guess that’s what happens when you make new friends and ask the Holy Spirit what to do next.

I am NOT a literary. I’m not really even a writer, at least not personality wise. That fact is made painfully obvious at every writer’s conference I attend. I actually prefer Math over English because it is concrete and has nothing to do with people’s opinions.

herbal-2562218_1920But there I was, tucked into my corner of the couch, knees curled, a mug of hot tea cupped in my hands, listening to the Book Club members talk about pencils. Apparently there is a store in New York City dedicated to pencils and they were very excited. Then the topic switched to pens and the size pen point they like to use on their paper because of the way it feels. They might as well have been speaking Mandarin. I was that lost. I like black pens. Black pens that write smoothly without leaving excess ink on my paper. And that’s all I got. 😉

It’s good to get out of my comfort zone. Book Club is good for me. It’s good to listen to truly literary people talk about authors I’ve never heard of, and pencil stores in New York City, and favorite pen sizes. And it’s okay that I can’t contribute to those conversations. I’m learning that we need all sorts of people in our lives! We cannot live in a bubble with people who only think like us. It’s not healthy. We need to be stretched in order to grow.

Besides, we are going through a book by Mike Cosper called, Recapturing the Wonder – Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World.

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Reading the title is what convinced me that I needed to join Book Club. I want transcendent faith! Who doesn’t? But as I started reading the introduction, my heart lurched. Trigger words!! This book was actually about spiritual disciples? Sneaky Mike Cosper!

I have struggled with the concept of spiritual disciplines ever since I left my legalistic church/mindset. Sure, I practice some of them, but I don’t call them disciplines. Spiritual Disciplines were too often used in an attempt to impress God and other people with our spirituality. Maybe I didn’t want to go to Book Club after all.

I resisted the urge to pitch the book across the room and kept reading. Near the end of Chapter One, I found this gem.

“But if our starting place with God is the radical grace extended through Jesus, then the spiritual disciplines are invitations, not obligations – ways of being with God, not appeasing Him.”

The first two chapters ended up being a breath of fresh air. Redeeming. Freeing. Then I got to Chapter Three and this huge light bulb exploded in my brain! Everything was weaving together and it all made sense.

We are spiritual beings living in a disenchanted world. Our modern culture doesn’t embrace the supernatural and mysterious anymore. We have logical answers and a scientific understanding for everything. It’s cut, and dry, and over. And this disenchanted world is totally unsatisfying. We long for more.

The Christian culture has bought into this idea too. We don’t expect God to actually show up, so we go overboard to “make an experience” in our church services, retreats, youth events, etc. As Mike says,

“If we’ve primed ourselves to live in a world where God doesn’t show up, then we have to figure out how to make something happen on our own.”

As a result, we live from one emotional high to another, but it doesn’t really satisfy and we kind of know that it’s fake. So we end up cranky and cynical.

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We don’t know how to have an ordinary, every day life with God. We don’t know if it’s really possible. We are so busy seeking the big moments (and yet feeling cynical about them) that we miss the still, small voice of the Spirit.

“All of our religious efforts grow from hearts that long for redemption, for transcendence, and that most of all long to connect with God.

The mountaintop experiences don’t satisfy, but the presence of Jesus does, and he’s promised that he won’t forsake us” Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder.

I love this!!

Sometimes I just get so overwhelmed with the problems in our modern church. I’m frustrated by all the people who are blissfully ignorant of the problems and content within their Christian bubble. I’m angry at all the hurt that happens and gets covered up in the name of “Jesus.” But as I’ve read books, and written, and heard your responses lately, I’m also encouraged.

There are a lot of us cranky people out there! And we are seeking after Someone who will satisfy our desire for more. He probably won’t come in a whirlwind or a burning bush, but we are gonna find Him. We are going to learn to hear His still, small voice in the ordinary moments of our lives. Because He promised we would…because He wants to be found!

And we ARE the church. So, there is hope!!! 🙂

Our Cranky Hearts are Leading Us Home

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This is the final part of a three part series. Yesterday I left off with this sentence:

“So where do we go from here? How do we find enough faith to seek when we just feel tired, and cranky, and cynical?”

That’s exactly where we are going to pick up. Fair warning, this might be a rant! 🙂

Don’t be ashamed of your doubt and questions about God. Or afraid of your cynicism and the snarkiness that simmers just beneath the surface when it comes to organized religion. Or feel guilt because of your depression and/or disillusionment with Christianity.

Can I be honest? I am so over American Christianity. I literally HATE how political it has become. The black and white thinking on both sides of the spectrum drives me insane! Besides, what does politics have to do with Jesus anyway? He refused to become a political puppet two thousands years ago, and you’d better believe He doesn’t want to be one today either!

I’m sick and tired of cheesy Christian movies, memes, and marketing. I’m frustrated by tradition, and ritual, and people who say “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” while piling on expectations and standards. Christianese phrases, and formulas, and “easy answers” make me cranky. And don’t even get me started on the gold dust and angel feathers supposedly demonstrating God’s Presence at Bethel Church in California!

I just want more. I want something real. I want truth.

If you resonate with anything that I just said, then I have good news for us. We want more, because there is more. Our cranky hearts are disillusioned because they are calling for home.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

What if our frustrations, and doubts, and disillusionment are simply evidences of the real God?  How’s that for a crazy thought?

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As people, we have such an intense longing for connection, for meaning, and for acceptance. We try to satisfy those desires through people, social media, technology, entertainment, etc…but they all fall short. Why? Because we were created to be intimately connected to God. How do we get there? How do we find that connection? How do we find satisfaction and “the more” our hearts desire?

It starts with faith.

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

We believe a Real God exists, and we begin to seek Him. Our whispered prayer is, “Show me who You are.” We believe that He will reward our search with Himself. God is our reward! The best ever!!

Jesus is next.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” Colossians 1:15.

“Show me who You are” will lead us to Jesus Christ. He is God in human form. So we seek Him through the gospels. We soak in His words. We watch how he treats people. We follow Him to the cross. We listen to what He said about Himself.

For whatever reason, the Old Testament God is who people turn to when they want to boss you around with Christian religion. He seems to be easier to twist to their own advantage than Jesus. So, we will run to Jesus and choose to interpret God in the Old Testament through Him.

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And then we need more faith.

 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” John 3:17-18.

We believe in Jesus…that He is God and that His death gives us life. This is the gospel! The good news that God Himself came to heal the relationship between Creator and creation. We acknowledge His amazing love and we are overwhelmed by His grace.

It gets even better!

“In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” Ephesians 1:13.

Ah, the mysterious Holy Spirit…I love this part! This is where the relationship happens. This is where it gets awesome and crazy!! (And once again takes faith.) If we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, then we are God’s children and He has given us His very Spirit. Which means that we are never alone. When we cry out in the darkness, “God, where are You?” we must not miss the gentle whisper in our ear, “I’m right here.”

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And that, my friends, is where we start to reconstruct our deconstructed faith. These are the simple core truths of original Christianity.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or know me in real life, then you know I’ve experienced some of what this broken world has to offer. I spent ten years in a legalistic, twisted, cultic sub-culture of Christianity.  We had two late term miscarriages in a row, and I delivered my second, tiny baby on Valentines Day. My father-in-law died suddenly and tragically a few years ago. I’ve been hurt and betrayed by Church People I trusted on more than one occasion. Prayers I’ve prayed for years have gone unanswered. I have more than enough reasons to doubt.

But, I’ve met Jesus, and there is no way I am leaving Him. I want you to meet Him too!

You aren’t going to find Him on a screen. 🙂 You might find information about Him, people’s opinions, Bible verses, etc. These are a good start. But you will need to put your device down and seek the old fashioned way if you are really going to meet Him.

Be quiet. Listen to the longings of your heart. Ask the Spirit to show you who He is. Let me know what you find!

 

I’m including some links to other posts I’ve written as well as to a few books I found amazingly inspiring. 🙂

The Missing Member of the Trinity

God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks

Rediscovering Jesus – In the Garden

“The Jesus-Centered Life” by Rick Lawrence 

“Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper

 

 

But Jesus isn’t White…and Why it Matters

PicMonkey CollageBack when my husband was a youth pastor, one of his favorite object lessons was to print a bunch of images of Jesus and lay them on the floor. He would ask the teens to choose a picture that they resonated with and stand by it. He found some really crazy Jesus’s as well as more traditional ones.

Sweet Jesus in white robes, surrounded by children.

Tough Jesus, arm wrestling Satan.

Gentle Jesus, holding a lamb.

Powerful Jesus, calming the storm with one outstretched hand.

Bad Ass Jesus, with his sleeve rolled up showing a “love” tattoo on his muscular arm.

Hot Jesus, tall and handsome with a confident stride.

There were some similarities in the Jesus pictures, most noticeably His apparent ethnicity. In almost every image, Jesus had fair to medium skin tones, long hair, and light eyes. He appeared to be tall, thin, and good looking with definite European features.

But here’s the problem. Jesus isn’t White.

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Why do I love that so much? I think it’s because I can trash my mental image of Jesus along with my churchy, Christianese ideas of who He was. I’m super excited about starting from scratch!

While the Bible doesn’t give us a clear snapshot of what Jesus looked like, we definitely get some clues from Scripture as well as from history.

Jesus was a Jewish man in the 1st century. So, He looked Middle Eastern, with dark hair and eyes, and a medium to dark skin tone. Historians agree that 2000 years ago, the average human was significantly shorter than we are today. It’s likely that Jesus was just over five feet tall! And, don’t freak out, but there is absolutely no evidence that He had long hair or even a beard.

Jesus grew up in Roman occupied Israel where the cultural norm for men was short hair. I think people confuse the fact that He was a Nazarene (meaning He grew up in Nazareth) with being a Nazirite (someone who took a specific vow that included not cutting your hair). Jesus was not a Nazirite, so He probably had shortish hair….definitely not the long feathered locks we see in many traditional images.

As far as beards go, the only Biblical reference to a beard is a prophecy about the Messiah in Isaiah 50:6 “I gave my back to those who strike me, and my cheeks to those who pluck out the beard…” The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John mention soldiers slapping Jesus in the face before they crucified Him, but that is all. No beard pulling.

Does your mind feel boggled yet? 

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It gets better. We know that Jesus was a carpenter before He started His 3+ years of ministry…or we think we do. “Carpenter” in our language means someone who makes things out of wood or potentially builds houses. I’ve seen many movie scenes with a tall, slender, European Jesus making wood shavings. But there is a problem with this picture. Israel doesn’t really have trees and they don’t build with a lot of wood.

When we were visiting Israel in 2015, I noticed this fact almost immediately. Historic and modern buildings are built from stone (along with things like chairs and mangers).

It is more likely that the real Jesus was some kind of stone mason. There goes slender, wimpy looking Jesus. If the real Jesus hauled around stones for a living, he probably had some decent muscles…which explains him easily flipping tables in the temple. 🙂 (Matthew 21:12-13.)

A prophecy in Isaiah 53:2 says that “…he had no form nor majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

Jesus was just an average looking Jewish man. He blended in well. So well in fact, that he was able to slip into the crowd and disappear on more than one occasion. (Luke 4:30, John 6:15, and John 10:39 for example.) Jesus was so ordinary looking that sometimes people didn’t even know who it was who healed them (John 5).

Why does this matter?

It matters because Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and everything about Him points us to the Father. The truth is that the All-Powerful God of the Universe chose to come to earth as an ordinary man, a very ordinary man. His humility blows my mind and makes me catch my breath.

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It matters because if our mental image of Jesus is totally wrong, maybe other things that we believe are wrong too. Maybe there is a lot of tradition mixed up with our truth.

It matters because too often we modern Western Christians seem to think we have a special insight into Christianity, and we need to remember that we are just Gentiles. We don’t have a full grasp of the Bible because we don’t have a full grasp of the Jewish culture. (Wow, did I feel that when I visited Israel! It was so good for me!!)

I want you to throw out every image of Jesus you have ever seen, and instead picture a short, stocky Middle Eastern man with dark hair wearing neutral colored robes and sandals on his dusty feet. His looks might be average, but the things He says and does are radical! And that beautiful, ordinary, incredible, unremarkable man is also God in the flesh. He came to show us the invisible God, die for the sins of the world, and restore our relationship with our Creator. And that’s amazing news!!

Why does an accurate picture of Jesus matter to you?

 

 

Christian Religion is Not Enough

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I just finished a book called, Unveiling Grace, by Lynn K. Wilder. It’s the true story of a family finding their way out of Mormonism and into a relationship with the real Jesus. Amazingly, Lynn and her husband were converts to Mormonism as adults even though they were exposed to Christianity as children. Their story proves the burden on my heart.

Christian religion is not enough. Attending church or Sunday school is not enough. Living a “good life” is not enough.

I’m afraid the corporate American church is horribly broken.

I’ve met a lot of people lately that agree with me. People who have left, and people who have stayed. Frustrated, bitter, cynical, hurting people. It’s not okay that so many people have been damaged by an institution that is supposed to be the body of Christ!

The world, is lost…broken…dying. Have you listened to the news lately? It’s terrifying. And we, people Jesus asked to be salt and light, don’t seem to have the real answers.

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The answer isn’t in bigger, fancier, more awesome mega churches with hip pastors, talented worship bands, fog machines, relcaimed wood stages, or trendy coffee bars.

The solution will never be found in sticking to the “old time religion,” the KJV Bible version, and whatever other standards and rules we want to impose on people.

The answer is not to focus on social justice issues. People can have equality, clean water, and physical freedom, but still spend their eternity separated from God.

The solution is not moralism. Yelling about abortion, the LGBTQ+ movement, or pornography does not show God’s love and grace. There are many very moral people who have never met Jesus.

The answer is not to become culturally relevant by discarding passages of the Bible that don’t fit with our ideology. Human reasoning and intellect is not the ultimate source of truth.

So, what is the answer? What is the solution to the brokenness within the church and within our own hearts?

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” Matthew 7:13-14.

Growing up, I thought this verse was talking about worldly, sinful people waltzing down the wide road of death. While good, moral, spiritual people stuck to the hard, narrow road of life. But who was Jesus talking to here? Very spiritual people who had been given the word of God. An ethnic group called “God’s chosen ones.”  Men who had memorized the first five books of the Bible by the time they were twelve. Yeah…

So, what is this narrow gate? This hard way? Maybe it’s not a what…maybe it’s a WHO.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me‘” John 14:6.

It’s Jesus, you guys. It’s always been Jesus, and it will always be Jesus.

Jesus is the only solution to the brokenness in the church. Have you met Him? Do you know Him?

True Christianity is not a moral code, or a Sunday service, or an ideology.

  • It’s an encounter with a man who is also God.
  • It’s a door into healing and restoration of our most broken parts.
  • It’s a lifestyle because we have been changed from the inside out.

I’m afraid that there are a lot of people who sit in church on Sunday, and do their “good Christian” things, but have never met Jesus.

We can slap on some spiritual paint, add some emotional glitter, and think we are good. But, without the real Jesus, we have NOTHING.

Jesus isn’t just part of Christianity. Jesus IS Christianity.

Do you really KNOW Jesus? Do you believe that you can?

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If your version of Jesus is boring and mundane…if thinking about him makes you say, “meh,” then you haven’t met the real Jesus. If the grace of salvation seems unimpressive and dull…if you “already know everything” about it, then maybe you need to question if you really understand.

Where do you start? Have an honest look into your own heart. What does Christianity mean to you? And then seek to know Jesus. Read the gospels with childlike curiosity. Who was/is He? The answer will transform your life.

 

Name

Love Beyond Words

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I probably should have been scared. He was very noticeable, standing at the Starbucks counter. Not only was he was dressed all in black, with tall black combat boots, he also had this amazing hair. It might have been fake, but it was really long, black, almost woolly, and kind of jagged. As I got closer, I saw the black gauges in his ears, and not one but two rings through the center of his nose. I smiled.

Standing behind him as he ordered, I was close enough to see his chains, tattoos, and black, zippered, leather jacket. My smile got bigger.

We waited for our coffee together, although he never looked up from his phone. From the front, I could see the Satanic goat head on his black ball cap, and catch a glimpse of the death metal t-shirt under his jacket. By this point, I was almost in tears…I could hardly contain the love I felt for this boy-man I’d never even met.

He didn’t acknowledged me. But I do have to wonder if he noticed the overly-happy woman watching him with a stupid grin on her face.

***

I sat in my car for a minute, sipping my coffee, tears trickling down my face, praying for this stranger that I now loved. The Holy Spirit began to whisper.

“I see you just like that, Christy…every bit of hurt and brokenness and mess, and I love you even more than you can imagine. I see you, and I think, ‘How beautiful! What a beautiful, broken mess. I want her.'”

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It’s one thing to read the Bible and believe that God loves us. But, friends, this is how I KNOW that God loves us…adores us. I know, because sometimes He lets me feel a little bit of His heart. God’s love is passionate and ridiculous, intense and crazy. We don’t even have a WORD to describe the power of the love He feels for us. There was no reason for me to love that tall, skinny, potentially satanic, black-clad, young man that I’d never met before. But I did…because the God of the Universe loves him beyond words. And He loves you too!!

Do you believe that? God loves you. And, He likes you! 🙂 SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!

We are all broken. That’s the truth.

I think this is one of the reasons I love “alternative type” people so much…they are brave enough to wear their brokenness openly. The rest of us scramble around, pretending we have it all together. We fake it, hoping to be believable. Trying to fool other people, and ourselves, and God. We find more socially acceptable ways to be screwed up.

There is no shame in being broken…not in the arms of Jesus. No condemnation. He already knows our deepest, darkest secrets, and He doesn’t care. They do nothing to affect His love for us. If anything, maybe our brokenness makes Him love us even more.

Think about it…what takes more love? Loving someone who is good, and wonderful, and perfect, and easy to love? Or loving someone who could care less about you, who is your enemy, who hurts you, and runs away? Yeah…

Being broken is part of being human thanks to our sin nature. Accept it. It’s okay. And then bring those broken pieces to the foot of the cross and be healed. It’s not by our own efforts…that would be like trying reconstruct a broken piece of china with Scotch Tape. We are healed by the blood of Jesus. His grace, His forgiveness, His death and resurrection.

When Jesus fixes us, it’s like Kintsugi.

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Photo: Wikipedia

Not familiar with this word? I found this great definition online at mymodernmet.com

Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Beautiful seams of gold glint in the cracks of ceramic ware, giving a unique appearance to the piece. This repair method celebrates each artifact’s unique history by emphasizing its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing it with new life.”

Jesus wants to gather our broken pieces into His arms and love us just the way we are. Then He wants to put us back together. We tend to think God is looking for perfection and we feel our inadequacy. But, Jesus has already given us His perfection…God sees us as perfect because of Jesus’ death! We are broken, but we are whole.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” 2 Corinthians 4:7.

In the same way that Kintsugi emphasizes the gold lines fixing the cracked pottery, when people look at us, they will see Jesus.

Please hear me. I want you to begin to believe this.

  • Every single one of us is broken. Some of us just hide it better than others.
  • Jesus looks right through our masks, sees our reality, and loves us beyond words.
  • There is no shame in being broken, not at the cross.
  • We cannot begin to be healed until we face our mess and give it to Jesus.
  • Jesus cares more about our broken heart than our outward actions.

Will you let Him love you?

 

 

 

The Elusive Knowledge of Good and Evil

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“You won’t really die,” the serpent hissed. “God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God. You will know about good and evil.”

What the serpent said made sense…maybe Eve was just confused. Maybe she had misunderstood God’s original instructions. The fruit was lovely to look at, and it would make them more like God. Why would God keep this knowledge from them? Surely, eating the fruit was the right thing to do…

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil offered an elusive promise.

Forgetting she was already made in God’s image, and thinking she was becoming more like God, Eve listened to the serpent’s words. Deceived, Eve believed she was making the good choice. Ironically, choosing to disobey God and eat from the tree immediately perverted the knowledge Adam and Eve gained.

As humans, we now have the capacity to know good and evil, but can we really differentiate between the two? I’m honestly not sure we can.

Think about these examples.

Growing up in an ultra-conservative version of Christianity, many normal behaviors were considered evil. Listening to rock music, dating, going to college, women wearing pants, men growing beards, being friends with the opposite gender, women working outside the home… All of these things were bad, not to mention going to movie theaters, drinking alcohol, getting tattoos, multiple piercings, etc. It was a long list.

If you don’t come from a conservative background, this list of “evil things” seems ridiculous. But, look at extreme versions of any religion and you will find the same scenario. In a frenzied desire for holiness, normal, good things become evil.

The opposite is also true. People call plenty of hurtful, damaging, truly evil things good. I don’t need to make a list of the behaviors and attitudes we see in our world, because just reading that sentence brought them to your mind…

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We know that there is such a thing as good and evil, but our ability to distinguish the two has been perverted.

It gets worse.

In our brokenness, we not only want to classify behaviors as good and evil, we also want to classify people. This is where we really screw things up!

Differences can be scary and uncomfortable. We don’t like that feeling. If you are different than me (in your beliefs, your actions, your looks, etc) you must be wrong…you must be bad. It is true that sin has broken people and some of them are unfortunately controlled by evil. But, different isn’t the same as evil. Different isn’t wrong; it’s just different. And that’s okay!

Then there’s motives.

Motives can make good behavior evil. Prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, Scripture memorization, giving, serving…all of these things are good, right? Not when they are done to gain something, or to prove something, or to pridefully show off spirituality. When our motives are evil, then our good actions are no longer good.

But, people can also do bad actions with good motives. If the bad things they do are motivated by a desire for justice, or because of intense hurt, are they really bad? Does it make them bad people?

Are you confused yet?

This is kind of a depressing blog post, Christy. The world, and the people in it, are really messed up!

They are. It is. It’s a mess. A dark, confusing, depressing mess. But into that darkness came a Light.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:9-11.

Jesus lived as the only perfect person to walk our little planet. He defied human laws, norms, and expectations. He loved people no one else would look at. Everything he did was right and good, even though sometimes it looked wrong. He was God in a human body, but the religious leaders said he was possessed by the devil. They missed the Messiah because he didn’t fit their ideas of good and evil.

These religious leaders murdered an innocent man, convincing the Roman’s to crucify him even though they couldn’t find fault. And yet, that horrific act of evil was the best thing that ever happened. Because, as Jesus drew his last breath, as his blood dripped down, He provided forgiveness for the world. He became our Savior.

It’s broken, you guys. We are broken. The sooner we realize that, the better off we are. We desperately need Jesus. He is the only hope. The good news is, we can have Him! He offers Himself as a free gift for the taking. 🙂

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:11.

It gets better!

Jesus didn’t leave us alone. The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ very Presence, comes to dwell within everyone who believes! Not only does the Spirit convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8), He also gives us the power to live (Romans 8:10).

But, how should we live? How do we know what is right and wrong? Does it really matter? When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, ultimate list of right and wrong, what did Jesus say?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” Matthew 22:36-40.

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“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” Romans 8:2.

Since we are terrible at truly discerning good from evil, and our fixation on correct behaviors only brings death, maybe we should focus instead on love. How can I love God with everything I am? And, how can I truly love my neighbor? If we are genuinely seeking to love God and others by the power of the Holy Spirit, I don’t think we can go wrong. 🙂

How do you think focusing on love instead of behavior would change you?

 

 

 

Rediscovering Jesus – On a Mountain

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Slowly the old man trudged up the trail, his feet weighed down more by dread than age. One hand clutched his staff, the other stroked a piece of flint he carried in his pocket. He could feel the knife on his belt bump against him with every step. Behind him strode a boy just stepping into manhood. Lean and agile, he hardly seemed to notice the weight of the wood strapped to his back. With eager eyes and sure feet, the hike up Mount Moriah was more adventure than effort for him. Suddenly, the boy stopped.

“Father! I am carrying the wood for the sacrifice, and you have the knife and flint. But, where is the lamb?”

The old man sighed, and a tear trickled down his leathery face. Little did his boy know what was about to happen. His heart threatened to break within him. Yet, the father held on to hope. It had been a long and sometimes difficult journey becoming a friend of the Most High God. There had been many failures along the way, but Abraham had learned one thing. El Elyon could be trusted; His promises were true. And so, the old man drew a deep breath and spoke from a heart of faith.

“God will provide the lamb for the offering, my son.”

And He did! Just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his beloved only son, God stepped in and provided a substitution.

“So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided'” Genesis 22:14.

I have heard this beautiful story used over and over again in moralistic or formulaic ways, and maybe you have too.

“What are you holding back from God?”

“What is your Isaac that God wants you to sacrifice?”

“When you give things to God, He will give them back.”

Blah! I agree that we can learn things from the life of Abraham and that we can indeed apply this account to our own lives. However, I think we often miss the main point of this story.

The New Testament has this to say about Abraham.

“and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ – and he was called a friend of God” James 2:23.

“Abraham believed God.” The funny thing is that he didn’t. At least not all the time. Abraham is listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, but if you read his story in Genesis 12-22, you will see more instances of doubt than of faith. Twice Abraham pretended that his wife was his sister and allowed her to be taken into a harem. He fathered a child with his servant because he doubted God’s promise, and then abandoned them both in the desert. Abraham wasn’t some super spiritual giant of the faith. He was just a guy who became friends with God…and that’s the point.

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Years before the Law, before the sacrifices, before the temple, before Jesus died on the cross, there was a man who became friends with God. It wasn’t because of the rules he followed, or disciplines he undertook, or any of his outward actions. Abraham had a relationship with God through faith.

He talked with God, followed God, questioned God, doubted God, and saw God do miracles. Eventually, after a lifetime of this relationship, Abraham was at a place where he knew the Most High so well, and his faith was so strong, that he was willing to do the unthinkable.

But it didn’t happen, because the angel of the LORD stepped in.

“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven… “Do not lay your hand on the boy…” Genesis 22:11-12.

The angel of the LORD is the one who shows up all throughout Abraham’s life. He is the one Abraham meets, feeds, talks to, argues with, and the one who stops his sacrifice. So, who is this angel of the LORD?

Are you ready for this? Most theologians believe that the angel of the LORD is pre-incarnate Jesus. Jesus!!! I love this! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this!!

It get’s better. 🙂

Roughly two thousand years later, Mount Moriah, the mountain where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, had been developed into a city. Jerusalem. One spring, on the outskirts of that city, a controversial rabbi was crucified.

“On the Mount of the LORD, it shall be provided.”

And it was.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.

Whoever believe in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in condemned already, because he has not believed in the same of the only Son of God” John 3:16-18.

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Jesus has always been Jesus. 🙂 The God whose name is I AM does not change. The Jesus that we shake our heads at, and yet adore, in the New Testament, is the same in the Old. If you look closely, you will recognize Him: the God who pursues, forgives, loves, gives grace, and sacrifices Himself for the sins of the world. He is powerful, amazing, crazy, confusing, addicting, and beautiful. Will you seek Him with me? Let’s keep rediscovering!

For more info on the angle of the LORD, check out this link.