Saturday, March 6, 2010

"What is your religion?"

Recently I was asked this...  it proved more difficult to respond to than to simply say the name of a faith system. 

Below is a summary of my response... 

"I really don't know how to answer that... there are alot of ways in which when it comes to the system or the way of life of Christians that I do not relate to. The very word religion makes me think of sleeping in church services that are dull, oppressive and unrelatable and forced bible study running through those literature comprehension style cloze procedure questions...


When it comes down to it, my "religion" is a lifestyle that looks like this... - I find fellowship with people (of all backgrounds) who want to talk about God. My sweetest fellowship is with like minded people who want to see God be God and have life with Him (freethinkers childlike idealists within the Christian framework usually). I love listening to or reading about the testimony of people who have experiences with God (sometimes pastors sometimes just normal folk) and I love to worship and sing and dance before the Lord with others or alone (worship). I love to read the bible and search the words of Jesus for His person and His heart. I love to let the Holy Spirit mould me even if it hurts - and I love looking back in retrospect at the work of His hands in my life and in others. I love to encourage people to dive deeper into the heart of God and the life He has planned for them, to show let the SPirit teach me how to show love and grace when I don't feel it. I love to see God in little ways and expect greater things in the future. I love hear of those He's healed and the amazing things He is doing all over the world today. I love to see elements of Him in others. I love to look at the beauty of creation and feel my Spirit sing unprompted spontaneous worship to Him. I love to remember my smallness and His greatness, I love to realise deep within my heart that no matter what I achieve, or do, or whatever that without God my life is completely meaningless... even to me, I wouldn't want it. I love going to churches that are in love with God, drawn together by their shared passion, rather than those who are meeting "religiously".... out of shared belief "systems". 

Religion to me has a forced..ness to it -something that you do because you have to do it.

I love the Lord and am drawn to Him and other people who love Him... 
there is nothing forced in any of my lifestyle.. they just happen.. because He desires me and has captivated me and to I desire Him ... He has whet my appetite and I want more.. and this is how it was with people that would meet Jesus.. they would follow Him, crowds of them because they wanted more. Its very relational.. and of course relationships go through dry spells.. like a marriage there are times when the love is a choice over a feeling... 

Jesus is the door... before He died I could never have entered into the presence of God... now because of HIM I can have this sweetness with the Father, clothed in white perfection because of His goodness and not my own attempt.. because of Him I can be empowered by His Holy Spirit to be part of things that only God can do, because of Him I can have him as my closest friend.

So I guess the box I would tick is "Christian" but that word with all its connotations rings short for me..."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Denominational Division and Legalism

Denominations, Unity and Acceptance.

Denominations has always been a big issue for me, I grew up in a church that described themselves as "the only way", priding themselves in being separated from "worldly religion like mainstream Christianity"

However it has been my experience and observation that God finds us wherever we are and meets us there. Just old hymn declares "just as I am" there is something powerful in that unconditional love, that limitless grace that we are unable to hide from. It has become increasingly clear to me that Abba is not limited to or stopped by any one denominations perspectives or theological restraints.

In many denominations there are theologies and doctrines that I would say don't resonate with my interpretation of scripture, nor my experience of God. Yet I see God meet those believers with grace and love and lead them on their journey through life with Him. I too am on a pilgrimage that is not finished and so while I may disagree with some of their viewpoints I also don't have the final word or corner on truth. However, I believe that where there is a heart to seek the Father, He will meet that person, that is what He does. Who we have fellowship with becomes a choice - not a salvation issue. The form we choose should be the one that fits us best. We should naturally be drawn to where we are sharpened, challenged and encouraged.

However, if our institution or denomination becomes the definition of "our faith" we end up worshiping the institution or even a set of beliefs - instead of God. When this happens, we will want to either defend or attack the institution or denomination and in turn will feel threatened by others forms of worship. By reacting this way we often miss out on getting to know the Father better through the diversity of His people and the value of their variety of testimony with Him. What is true in my experience, does not discount the alternative experience of others, it is not a case of being right, God moves diversely.

He certainly moves through the gathering of His people, blessing and challenging us through community. He left us two commands, love God and love each other. Check that out for theology! It is so incredibly simple. Yet by labeling, defining and ultimately dividing we highlight out differences and make it all too easy to not engage with those whose beliefs challenge ours. I recently was reading the profound musings and writings of trappist monk, Thomas Merton, he stated The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
Imagine if all flowers we daisies, the beauty that we would miss in not having the lilies or roses.

There is power in meeting together to praise and pray but if we make it only about tradition and staunch unmovable doctrinal statements we can miss out on the personal levels of breakthrough that God wants to bring us into. It would be a sad thing to come to the end of life and still have the same view of God (whichever that maybe) after walking your whole life with Him. Our theology should be organic, grow and develop with our experiences. How ridiculous it would be for a husband who has been married many years to say he still doesn't know his wife any better than the day he met her.

Denomination have been formed and reformed, divided and redivided over doctrinal issues and definitions of faith. However, by limiting the movements of God into what we can define, within a set grid of understanding, we can hinder our walk from experiencing the new things that He may be doing. How often a church loses half their congregation because a revival arrives or God starts moving in a way that was not expected. We must reject the fear surrounding new moves of the Holy Spirit, because we are afraid of being misled or deceived. He always moved in ways that He had never done before, who else did He appear to as a burning bush, but Moses, who else got tongues of fire upon their heads but the disciples? Who decided that after the bible was canonized that God stopped moving in new ways?

Legalism the graceless executor

Often staunch denominational loyalty goes hand in hand with legalism, ironically regardless of the denomination represented. There are some unbelievers that I know that when I mention I am Christian they literally flinch. Why would a faith based on grace and love cause someone to flinch at the mention of its name? Legalism hurts people, legalism has a tendency to deny the humanness of that person and uniqueness of their situation. Legalism demands an eye for an eye a tooth for tooth, and devalues a persons encounters with a Holy God and intimate Father. People have been hurt by those who follow Jesus under the banner of love and grace, but every religion has hurt, damaged and destroyed, every religion has groups of people within that use it to control and manipulate.

Here's the things though, just as legalism dehumanizes so does taring everyone with the brush if they are within the same religious frame, it denies the uniqueness of their experience with God. I have met missionaries and pastors who are indeed from conservative backgrounds, yet filled with the fruit of Spirit and walking in closer intimacy with the Father. I have also met legalistic conservative pastors and missionaries who are so illogical, insensitive and unreasonable that they drag the name of the Jesus through the dirt. I have met charismatics who are true mystics, walking in daily encounters with a limitless God, and charismatics who are so pushy and forceful that I want to run from their presence rather than spend time talking with them or having to endure a sensationalist, emotion train wreck of a meeting. I'm not calling anyone salvation into question - its not a salvation issue. Simply an observation that swinging to either extreme is not the answer

A lot of spiritual development also comes from how willing we are to search and seek out with an open mind the heart of God. We mustn't judge by someone's place of gathering or the denomination that they fall under, but instead from the light in their eyes when they talk about Him and the passion with which they seek new revelation and truth, which comes from spending time, real time, united and abiding in Him.

Behavior Modification vs Baptism of Fire

There is always more to learn and there is always more that the Father wants to pour out.

When I first received the Holy Spirit, the bible took on a whole new life in front of my eyes and opened up. As I have grown and the walls within my heart have come down and my mind has been expanded by the presence of God I have received deeper revelation and I know there is always more to come.

Much like when we go to school we grasp numbers in KG or Grade 1, over time we will learn more difficult concepts, multipication, algebra etc. So it is in the Kingdom. We come to the Father and we learn according to the level we are at. He is so kind. The Holy Spirit just blew me away this weekend with these verses though. They really brought breakthrough in my mindsets.

Matthew 3:11 - (John the Baptist talking about Jesus) "He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire..."


He then goes onto say vs12 "He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat... gathering the wheat into His barn but burning the chaff in never-ending fire..."

Now perhaps I am the only one to misread this but the way I used to read that was this - Jesus will come one day and separate the redeemd - from the bad, evil people at the end of the world.

But actually I believe its saying something different completely.

We (our hearts) are a field. Jesus separates the wheat (our godly characteristics that His spirit produces or even the characteristics we carry in the natural, love, grace, selflessness, ) from the chaff (our evil nature of self love, self glorification, greed, etc - and also the wounds that life has inflicted on us that have created mindsets that are ungodly such a hate, misogynist, racism, cyclical abuse etc).

The "Good News" is that old covenant is done - He doesn't just tell us "don't live that way, don't think that way" - legalism never produces love.
Instead He died to set us free - literally free and now we receive His Spirit to help us to purify us, if we allow Him to baptise us with fire will burn up the chaff.

This will bring such freedom to our souls - so that as Christians with the power of the Holy SPirit resting in us can be the most free people on earth. He who the Son sets free is free indeed! What would the church as a whole look like if His children were crying out for the purifying baptism of fire? I'm not saying Christians as a whole don't walk in some level of freedom.. but there is greater freedom to be had. How the people around us would be impacted without us saying a thing, if we were to press into the promises of the bible like this one - the baptism of fire.. a freedom that is NOT behaviour modification or just "Try your best" but a freedom in our Spirits would be so profound that unbelievers would say "You must have God with you because you are so different and so free."

I'm not saying that we shouldn't avoid sin - we should..but behaviour modification is not transformation. Our efforts to be pure please the Lord, but if when we fail - it leads us into deep condemnation then it defeats the purpose. We must make every effort to not sin - but realise that the transformation is HIS job - and trust in the work that He is doing - while crying out for more, and not despising it when the fire comes (which is not always a walk in the park... getting emotional/spiritual/mental healing can be overwhelming).

Its SO important that we don't walk in legalism as it either puffs us up when we succeed or it defeats us when we fail. Not only that but the focus is so egocentric that it would be easy to fall back into the judaic steps of the Pharisees and become self-righteous and condemning of others. While we should try to live a Holy Life - when we fail, we must repent and cry out for more of His Spirit and more of the baptism of fire to burn up the "chaff" - calling the chaff out by name - there is such an unbelievable power in very specific, strategic prayer.


True breakthrough comes from knowing who we are in Christ. This will cause us to neither become puffed up of defeated - realising its because of who HEs (and not what we've done) that we have authority and freedom. Knowing we are already loved (not doing good in an attempt to be loved - or to keep in God's good books). We need to get past the self-condemnation that causes us to hide from His presence and realise He has already done everything to show He loves us - He has placed His own Spirit within our Jars of Clay. WE have creations power at our fingertips to be completely and radically transformed.

Doing church, knowing the bible, leading, serving etc is all good.. but if we are not "God Different" (by this I mean different from the world in a way that they could not emmulate because our Spirit transformation is such a Divine thing) - then why should an unbeliever look at us as say "Truly God is with them - I want that".

As I mentioned in my previous posts many unbelievers are walking in greater levels of compassion and mercy than believers. Father God just waits for us to cry out and ask Him for a heart transformation that will make our hearts like His - Jesus always, always asked people specifically for the healing they wanted to receive, He never forced it on anyone .. but perhaps we are too busy trying to please Him to ask? By climbing up into His presence like Mary, sitting on Papa's lap and beholding Him we can become changed, but often the church wants instead to polish His shoes like Martha and show Him what good sons and daughters we are.

Whats more, if we ourselves haven't experienced the breakthrough ourselves then what are we calling people into the Kingdom for? Is it really just a heaven/hell issue? Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven down to earth "Your Kingdom come..." we are to experience the presence of our Father now - not to wait until Heaven. That gift is for now! Now is that 'gospel' - good news! Much better news than "accept Jesus - live a well behaved life and if you do you'll go to heaven"

Has our aim become that we just convert people to be "church goers" (essentially comfortable christians) who at best just have to go through a short prayer and then behaviour modification? then if all goes well, soon they will lead bible study, sing in the choir, maybe even street evangelize and lead someone else into the same life style.

*Once again I want to reiterate, this is not a salvation or a denominational issue, I'm not calling a Christian's salvation or relationship with Jesus into question but rather saying.. Do you want more freedom? And how badly do you want it? Enough to pursue and ask for more... enough to get still and listen to the heart beat of God and pray inline with what He is saying... Enough to ask and ask and ask (Luke 18.1-8) Enough to believe like a child for the impossible...

These unbelievers... could we instead invite them into radical freedom that comes from spending time in the loving, grace-filled presence of an Almighty God. A truth and a freedom, a love, that is so powerful that no matter how great their problems are (drug dealers, prostitutes, trafficked women and children, HIV victims, alcoholics), no matter how impossible the problems are (mental / terminal illness) that Jesus died to set them free.
That THEY too would have life and life more abundantly.

Are we "hearing" about God... or "tasting and seeing that He is Good" Psalm 34:8

Job 42:5 "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you."

Suggestions to pray into ~ or to Contemplate
*a baptism of fire - specifically speak freedom in these areas Lord (list them>>>)
*a greater outpouring, sensitivity and awareness of the Holy Spirit
*a heart expansion that will allow me to love like Jesus
*ungodly mindsets broken (list them >>>)

thank-you for the authority of your name Jesus, its in your name we ask and pray~ Amen

Love of Knowledge vs Experiencing God.

I would rather I didn't have to put a VS in between knowledge and experiencing God (I don't think that it is always the case that they stand against eachother) but I have observed lately that often what we think we know can hold us back from what God is wanting to do, or how He is wanting to talk in this season. We often defend our knowledge with such defensiveness that we miss out on what the bible is actually saying - LOVE. It was no different in Jesus time the leaders and those who studied the law wanted to debate, but not out of a desire to draw eachother nearer to God but out of a desire to "be right".

I have recently been spending some time asking the Holy Spirit about why is it often the western church prefers to stop at knowledge over experience of God. Especially when we see how the Spirit of God pours out in amazing measures in poor countries. Why are we not asking for the same.. and expecting it? Now I know that there will be some respond - "their teaching is not biblically sound" or "the fruit of the spirit is more important than the gifts of the Spirit). I'm not interested in justifying one church over another, I'm not interested in putting down one denomination and uplifting another... I am not making any of these statements "salvation issues" -God loves all His kids. I'm just saying.. if God is opening blind eyes and raising the dead in Africa are you asking Him to visit your church in the same way.. if others are experiencing the power of God in physical tangible ways are your humble and childlike enough to not get offended but say "Father - we want some too!!!"

This just feed on knowledge (church and biblestudy) and not experience the power of God is not the example Jesus left, neither is it what was going on in Acts church. Jesus himself said if the works of the Father don't follow me then don't believe what I say.
Are we expecting too little from God?

Are we too busy doing life... or even doing "church". Are we too busy thinking of our own prayers to listen to the Father and hear what His heartbeat is saying and pray in line with that? Do we know too much... and so we have lost our heart of curiosity to discover the heart and person of an unlimited God. DO we expect too little...? "You do not have because you do not ask God" James 4:2

We see massive miraculous out pourings in other parts of the world and yet the western church on the whole is experiencing God in such limited measures. Often "doing" church in a way that doesn't require God to "show up" for things to continue as planned- in fact the opportunity for Him to do the miraculous is often not even created.

AS I pondered these things I started to read the beatitudes in Matthew and I observed that it says "blessed are the poor.. blessed are the persecuted... for their's is the kingdom of heaven". This satisfied me a little more as I realised that this could be why the Kingdom of Heaven in poured out in greater measure on these kind of people.

But then I though of the few churches in the West that do experience revival. (i am not solely in a blanket way about for example charasmatic or pentacostal churches) but the churches where God consistently heals, where is an extreme hunger for the presence of God and an outpouring follows.

The Holy Spirit then showed me that verse "blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God"... it is the purity of heart and childlikeness (of believing for the impossible) of a hunger and crying out for the presence of God that preceeds these outpourings. There is something powerful in the heart cry "I want God more than anything else".
Anything else - includes what we don't know (letting the Holy Spirit take away our limitations), it included what we don't understand and what we think we know (and as such what will fight to defend)- Knowledge. Are we so protective of what "We Know" that we won't let God act outside of it. When the disciples experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit it was outside their grid of understanding but they wanted God more than their knowledge.

Interesting to note (I'm particulary interested to see what Jason will say on this)
that in the "Olympics" of the New Testament, Knowledge didn't even get a "medal", indeed
love, hope and faith were the medalists with love taking the gold - figuratively.
So what do you say to the western church, whose bellies are fat with Knowledge yet
who often resist the variety of ways God likes to speak.
One of the key reasons Jesus came to demonstrate the freedom that He wanted to church to be ambassadors of. The freedom that comes with the Holy Fire of the Spirit of God burning up the chaff in your life. We are meant to not only experience that freedom ourselves but lead others to it - and I'm not talking simply about the sinners prayer - but an encounter - and on going encounters with Jesus, the Holy SPirit and the Father that transform us. So many of the people I have met within the church have the Holy Spirit but restrict and limit Him because they don't allow God access, they don't pursue Him for greater things. He is willing to pour out more and more freedom, all the characteristics about yourself that you don't like ... some of which behaviour modification or medication can't heal... Jesus healed everyone that He came in contact with -and called us to do GREATER THINGS... can any of us say we have reached that level of intimacy yet? That we do greater things than Jesus? What do theologians say this I would be interested to know..? If we haven't.. how many of us are praying into that promise...?

I find it particularly interesting that when a well respected knowledgeable leader said Lord what must I do to have eternal life, Jesus gave him the example of the good samaratian as an example of how he should be. Ironically Jesus chose the marginalized, despised and not Jewish (chosen) to be uplifted as an example of love.
we are so well versed in apologetics, in our 4 point plan and even our "ministry" that we miss the wounded all around us. Its so sad to see the non-christians showing more compassion and love than the Christians, while the CHristians stand proudly on their beliefs and use them as weapons to harm, control and justify.

Check the book "The Tipping Point" where the author discusses a study of a group of young theologians who were asked to prepare a sermon on the Good Samaritan. As part of a psychological study the were told that they were they were late and to hurry to present it. The researcher prepared a hurt person on the street to see if the theologians would stop and help. only 10% of them did stop and help... some even stepped over the hurt person lying on the street to get there in time.

In my observation there is nothing wrong with knowledge, as long as your brain is switched on during the process and you are not taking the status quo "christiany christianson" answers but testing the scriptures with the most wonderful teacher - the Holy Spirit. there are so many things we say as Christians that are just learned responses - things that we have heard and say and just repeat without thinking. At church the other day one of the older men told me in response to a issue I was having to just "lean on the Lord" but when I asked him to elaborate he couldn't describe in any real or practical terms what that looked like. Could we be so wrapped up in what we know that we miss out on relationship and worshipping God in all the fullness it could be. I have noticed that sometimes (not always) those who fall in love with theology end up worshipping the Bible instead of God. The importance of love escapes them and being "right" becomes more important.

Could you be in relationship / friendship with me by following 4 steps and then reading about me? No you would have to experience time with me to know me and be known by me.
SO why then are so many theologians and Christians threatened by what they have not experienced? Is it simply because they haven't personally experienced it or is it that they are afraid of what they don't understand?

Self-Help Christianity vs Transformation of the Holy Spirit

Recently I was talking with someone who was very anti-experiential Christianity.. claiming that really we had recognize the Word (by this they meant the scriptures) over a person's experience with God. That “You may say, ‘I have never known such love. I have never known such peace. I have never known such joy.’ The people who belong to the cults will often tell you exactly the same thing. So we must not rely upon our own subjective feelings (or anybody else’s).”
I was glad to talk with them and listen to their point of view. Overall I also believe in the importance of the scriptures, but I have some issues with the church body wanting to stop at doctrine rather than pushing into a Holy Spirit led life.


Now I recognise that some denominations are very focused on the experience of God over teaching. But in my opinion, at the moment people are far too concerned with reading their daily devotional books and being satisfied with that kind of comfortable christianity. This to me is just as dangerous as sensationalizing faith. This behavior modification Christianity, focuses on rules and accountability, rather than getting to know the person of Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father personally and becoming changed in a way that simply can't happen with out God - a way that will be more than an in the moment encounter - or "experience" (though that may be part of it) but to get to know and walk with God in a way that changes your mindsets and brings freedom into your person in ways impossible by self help - ie in ways impossible minus the Holy Spirit... This is what it means to follow Jesus.
I'm frustrated by and tired of "self-help" Christianity, when recently reading Ephesians I noticed it pours out words after words about the power of God belonging to us (YOU AND ME!!!) now that we are united to Jesus. We are not meant to be like unbelievers we are meant to be radically different.
Why is it many Christians prefer to read about others encounters and experiences with God rather than form their own, claiming God doesn't work that way anymore but at the cannonisation of the bible He apparently changed. God has not changed, and neither has His word- which biblically is not the bible but the person of Jesus "I am the word".

Now please do not think that I discount the scriptures, I am an avid bible reader... but as much as in the scriptures there is "life" and the divine, they are not to be worshipped. As someone once put it "don't worship the principals, worship the Prince". I love the word of God - the scripture is so alive, and truly revives the soul, but it quickly becomes "law" like the old covenant if we just try to mimic what the New Testament believers had without the Holy Spirit. In my experience - the church tries to control things down to the last letter so much that they really restrict the movement of God. Reading the bible with the Holy Spirit as teacher is a very different experience than going to a dry bible study with "Sunday School" cloze procedure questions that require no enlightement and are not that different from a literature comprehension question I might set my class.


Does God speak mostly through "His word" (the bible)?

In our western midset this is inconcievable, we never think about it, but there are christians all over the world who are illiterate (can't read the word), who live in communities where they recieve limited teaching because they are so rural, there are Christians who are living here in China who are under oppressive government rule who have limited access to the word of God, there are countries where its illegal to mention Jesus name in public or to hold pocession of a bible, even privately. Does God just not speak to these children of His because they are ignorant of His word...
In the western church we are so black and white and "task task". We forget that we are dealing with people in all kinds of situations and so we forget to show grace.
(**I can speak for Ireland that for 100's of years Christians didn't own bibles, and once they were commonly own many people didn't read- they were taught in church Latin about the Lord most of which didn't speak Latin** Now this may not have ALWAYS been the case, but for many it was... did these people go through life and not experience a relationship with God because they were not educated?)

God has OFTEN moved in ways that were unusal- that biblically that He had never done before. Job is a perfect example. All his friends were saying "God would never contradict His word, you must have sinned, He doesn't allow the righteous to be cursed... God doesn't do this" and they had scripture to back it up look at the psalms- well He did allow those things to happen to Job. Job pleased the Lord cause he wasn't willing to box God but (though complainingly) allowed God to be God and didn't loose faith in His goodness or His worthiness of worship. Ironically God was not pleased that job's friends scripturally accused him in this way and in the end he asked Job to make a sacrifice before Him on their behalf. Job's experience of God at that time contradicted the mindset of the religious people.

People also accused the apostles in acts of being drunken after they received the Holy Spirit because the people had no biblical grid for what was going on with them. Sometimes God works outside of the confines of what has happened before. And why shouldn't He? He loves diversity, He is the most intelligent being and He is also the most creative. If we are following Him and not just His principals then through relationship we will be able to discern if it is His Spirit that is moving.

I am not attempting to defend one denomination, that word has little meaning to me. I do not try anymore to define my faith by where I have fellowship, but instead enjoy the diversity that there is within People connected to God, the whole spectrum from conservative to charasmatic.

I realise there is alot of counterfeit "experience" out there, sensationalism etc. But at the same time I am reluctant to tar all charasmatics with the same brush - as all being sensationalist and not being grounded in the word... I know some amazing charamatics that are grounded in the word but who in certain times choose grace and love over beating people who have fallen with their principals.. and in that they have been accused of having weak biblical understanding. A good example I have read before is "one counterfeit hundred bill doesn't affect the value of a authentic one."
I am also reluctant to tar all conservatives as "spiritually dry and unversed in grace and love" - because I have friends that are conservative and that this is simply not always true.

I will end with these quotes
"I think we have made relationship with God into not a relationship but about meeting requirements"

"Jesus said I'm the truth... truth is not a teaching... truth is a person..."