The Lightbulb

 

“Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out.”

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

When it comes to true religion, the right concept is always in the back our brains, yet the principle can quickly be snuffed out by our surroundings. The Bible defines true religion as being free from the world and loving others as we love ourselves. Continue reading “The Lightbulb”

Decisions in Zombie-Land

If you’re a Christian, you already know that your opinion about life and how your life should go will often run into a conflict with the Word of God.  God’s word is not designed to make us comfortable, but it challenges us spiritually to be more like Christ.   I write so much about spiritual awareness because I was so UN-aware of my religious surroundings most of my life.  I write from a place of learning.  Learning about Christ means learning more about me and understanding my journey to the present.  I didn’t realize how wrapped up in religion I was until one day I realized that I had only been studying the Bible with the voices of other people’s religious opinions in my head.

Let me explain.

I would read scripture and already decide what it meant because I  figured had already been taught that by my church (no need to explore further because the preacher said “thus”) or I would ignore any other meaning. It was as if I had become a spiritual zombie. Dead from the neck up.  Oh, I had a lot of company in zombie-town

An example of this, this will be my first time in 35 years putting up Christmas decorations.  It’s a long story about obeying my teaching. And no, we weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I’ll tell you more about this confusion later this week.
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There was a part of my spiritual life where I didn’t read scriptures to discover what God was saying. I might do it in personal meditation time, but when it came to doctrine, I would read and study with the mindset of confirming what I already BELIEVED.  I did this even when there were times that what I was taught was not matching with reality.  We had to support our practices.  They were called “standards,” but very few could you find in the bible. But, internal standards of love,  mercy, truth, and justice, etc.  seemed to take a back seat to traditions and the name of the church.

 I stayed in zombie mode. 

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Admit it! This is about the only place you can find, bible discussion, pictures of zombies and talks about Christmas decorations in the same blog post!

But what if some of the things you already practice are not based on careful study of the Bible in the first place? As a pew sitter, you just not your head if you know better and keep it moving.  But teaching it is a whole other ball game.

I was studying with blinders on.  There was honesty there because I wouldn’t allow God  (can you imagine?) to talk to me about anything different from what my religion taught!

If we read to understand the will of God for our lives, we have to read the Bible in a way that we fully understand God’s meaning.  Going to church with the blind leading the blind is horrible.  I know, because I was one of them.  At one point many years ago, when I was in seekers mode, I would listen to my preacher and just enjoy the show, not really planning on changing anything that would be painful to change.  Once I got out of that mode of low-level living and made a serious commitment to live right, I discovered a whole new world of understanding. It was wonderful.

However, it seemed I was falling back into a spiritual mentality that I had left many years ago.  The mindset of not really concentrating on Jesus and me and just accepting what was becoming the status quo.  But this time in a different way.  I equated disobeying man-made rules with falling away from God. To me, there was no difference. Yet, in the bible, there is a difference. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but while I taught against man-made religions, I also was following a lot of personal rules manacled to my testimony of salvation. 

Paul continually talks about ignoring man-made rules and focusing on Christ. But I couldn’t see how I wasn’t focusing on Christ.  I was DOING so much.

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (NASB) Romans 2

However, as I began to see significant conflicts,  that I knew were not godly,  it made me stop and think.  Believe me, I talked to my leaders but with no added clarity.  It only made it worse.

As I began to focus on my relationship with Christ and not assume I was saved because I was with a particular religious group, I decided to get back to the Bible– plainly as it was written. God called me to re-connect with Him for myself, which is something I think God wants all of us to do.

One thing I discovered was that I was beginning to accept things were not biblical.  My church always taught that saved people don’t have to join a denomination to be saved.  They merely must connect with Christ. “God didn’t call people to join a church. He told them to repent of sin and be saved, be connected to the true vine, Jesus Christ.”  That’s so true. I loved that truth.  I still believe that, but I saw that our churches overall had changed in practice. I noticed that people began to say “well, they’re saved, but they’re not Church of God.” How can that be if salvation makes you a member?

In practice, one became required to agree to not only general rules but the rules of particular leaders and their wives to be right with God and avoid prosecution or persecution.

Those 11 Herbs and Spices

Some churches require that you believe in Jesus, but you ALSO must include their 11 herbs and spices and special sauce to be a Christian TRULY.

This is no different than the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders who had adjusted the law of Moses and the Levitical ceremonial laws until it became their religion and not God’s.  Jesus had considerable problems with the religious leaders of his day because they began to serve themselves and change not only the laws of Moses but the emphasis of what was important in those laws. ( See Matthew 23).

In practice, one became required to agree not only to general rules but the rules of particular leaders and their wives to be right with God and avoid prosecution or persecution.  

I began to accept wrongdoing in our religious group as typical.  If you internally start to recognize something as commonplace, then you will begin to excuse it.   No Christian should accept wrongdoing privately. If I became too disturbed because nothing was done or said about it,  it was just too stressful.  So I would ignore it for sanity sake and move on to other things. The problem was, I found myself ignoring stuff –a lot. We may not always be able to do something about wrong but to accept it as just part of the Christian landscape kind of diminishes the whole purpose of coming out of darkness into light. Don’t you think?

3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them. (NIV), Ephesians 5

 

The Shock of Romans 14

One day a Christian friend was driving me to an appointment. I was thankful for the ride, but we began to talk about Dan Ryan Expressway drivers and how some of them were just crazy. If you’ve ever been to Chicago and drove on the Dan Ryan, you would have given us a high-five. Some of the drivers are just insane the way they dodge in and out of traffic, won’t let you in the adjacent lane. The trick seems to be DON’T use your turn signals, just TAKE the opening.

Ahh…the Dan Ryan

I drive it every day of the week and understand the madness.

However, my friend began to say that the drivers were morally wrong. I was trying to figure out if he was serious. Then he started to talk about how the drivers had the wrong spirit (and many of them absolutely do), but he said this mainly because the drivers would not just wait in line for the feeder to merge onto the I-290. They would go the next lane, get as far as they could to the front and then cut in.

Ok. So it’s not the best thing to do, but I’ve done it, and no, it doesn’t work for the grand scheme of traffic, but sometimes I just don’t feel like waiting and want to get ahead of the other 50 cars. Am I going to hell for this?! I don’t think so, but my friend was so adamant that it was morally wrong I was concerned that they may have walked out the next time I preached. So I listened rather silently with interest, as my friend was taking his theory over the top declaring  that these drivers were “in trouble with God.” His protests were met with my “oh, yeah?” and “Hmm.” I kept my expressway sin to myself. So far, Jesus and I are okay with my driving style, and that’s where it stays. I feel no condemnation when I’m running late, doing what I’ve got to do short of riding the shoulder and putting people’s lives in danger. See how people can think differently.  So let’s talk about personal convictions in Romans 14.

Verse 14

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

Years ago I preached on Romans chapter 14, and as I went through the scriptures, I realized how problematic it was for our brand of religion.

Romans 14 is a scary thought to some. If people are led by God, won’t they feel differently about different things? Absolutely! Will God always point them to the same solution? Absolutely not!

After I preached about this chapter, someone came up to me totally confused  “How do you practice those scriptures and not compromise our standards?” So I took some time, there in the parking lot, and went over some points of scripture with them, but they left my presence very, VERY concerned. I didn’t know how to put any spin on it to make it fit what we practiced (controlling people’s every move) so I just taught it as it was.

I believe what stirred the pot was,  how does a church give people such liberty of conscience and still make them follow all of our rules? That would mean they would just be in the hands of God for Him to talk to them as He saw fit.  To some, that would never do.  I guess they would have to leave people alone and trust God to lead them. Like I said, scary thought.

This chapter gives Christians the freedom to walk with God based on His Word along and their culture.

It was then I realized that for some it was easier to explain AWAY Romans 14 or ignore it.

So let’s rip that page out.

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What is Romans 14 Telling Us?
Romans 14 speaks of matters of conscience, personal convictions in our walk with God. For those that enjoy controlling other Christians, this may seem a fate worse than death.
What we personally feel free in doing and what we don’t is subjective and personal when it comes to the unwritten aspects of scripture. Paul addressed this because of the culture clash between Jews and Gentiles that caused a schism in the church at Rome. Paul spends 13 chapters talking about doctrine and then says in 14 and 15, “oh, by the way, stop fussing with one another over this small stuff, you’re all going to just give an account to God for yourself anyway.” Paul explained how to overcome this point of contention. These were minor issues that had little to do with salvation and the gospel of Christ but had everything to do with differences in visualizing of what it means to be a Christian in practical application. Something that frankly has caused divisions throughout church history.

Romans 14 has everything to do with being aware of who you are spiritually are in Christ. What you do to honor God and what you feel as a Christian you should restrain yourself from. It’s a chapter about holding your convictions in the spirit of love toward your fellow Christian Let’s take a look. Paul says:

1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.

First thought: Don’t be arrogant about your convictions! To walk with God, one must keep a spirit of humility. This involves just being happy with whatever freedoms the Lord gives your conscience and leaving other people’s convictions alone. None of the Gentiles could feel superior to their Jewish counterparts and vice versa. We have many Christians today who will downgrade your walk with God to 0, if you don’t vote a certain way, or feel like they feel on social issues. It’s important to look at Romans 14 and dial it back a bit.

My husband has a Christian friend who is on the total opposite of the political spectrum, but they never attack one another’s commitment to God. I admire that.

Frankly, anytime the reality of our religious practices fail to match up with the principles of the scripture, something is probably wrong with the method and not the scripture.
Throughout Romans, Paul talks to both a Jewish and Gentile audience. He switches back and forth between these two audiences. The Book of Romans is one of the most solidly doctrinal books about salvation in the New Testament, and I believe Paul, in this letter, stops a moment to address the differences in their cultures.

Second thought: Paul calls those that have severe conscience scruples, weak. One Christian may feel they need to bow their head in prayer before going to the even the grocery store down the street; another may not feel all that is necessary and prays as he goes, knowing and believing the Lord is always by his side. Paul said both are just fine.
In matters of conscience, this is where you have to be “fully persuaded in your own mind.” According to Paul, we should not force our convictions on others. These people were all serious about serving God. The ones who had scruples were just as serious as the ones that did not.

I am painfully aware that there were times in my walk with God that I felt ALL Christians should follow what the Lord showed ME. There are times I was so confident that God had spoken that I couldn’t imagine that he didn’t tell the next guy the same thing. But that’s how some Christians behave. Thankfully, I’ve grown.

God knows our make-up, our constitution. He remembers that we are dust. He knows what will send us down the wrong path and what will keep us in the straight and narrow. It’s not the same for every person. Everyone is not tempted by the same things. God focuses on the condition of our hearts, and our heart purity. I cannot decide for another person what will affect their heart purity toward God in matters of personal conviction. So in the gray areas, we have to keep in connection with God so that we can stay on the right path. Walking with God cannot involve someone else telling you what convictions you must have.

3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.

God’s love toward us is immeasurable, and he will not allow us to drift away if we stick strictly to the instructions he’s laid out in his Word. He also wants us to treat others with His amazing love, even when we don’t agree.

12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God…

19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.

So we have spiritual responsibility internally and externally. A Christian must be aware and persuaded of what pleases God in his personal walk. He must be tuned in to the voice of God and what God requires of him. He also must commit to carrying his conviction in the love of God and not flaunt his liberty in a way that will cause someone to lose his faith in Christ.

#walkonwater

Worry Never Changes Anything

One summer afternoon, I received two notices: the gas was going to get turned off and the bank was going to foreclose on our home.  I did what most responsible adults would do—I worried.  How can I fix this?  I pondered. Who can I call to help me?  It’s amazing how easily we can tell others no to worry until we are the ones who have to pack our bags and sit on the curb.  Panic started to trickle in.  My daughter, who was about seven years old, was concentrating on a double-dutch game. I had promised to show her how to turn while she was jumping rope.  She came in from playing outside and said,  “Come on, Mom; I thought you were going to show me.”

My first reaction was “Not now.”  But then I realized that life goes on and there was nothing I was going to do in the ten to fifteen minutes it would take to show her that would mean a hill of beans in the outcome of the situation.  In fact, I probably would have just sat and worried some more.  So she and I went outside, played Double Dutch, and had a great time. Both of us got really involved in the game, and I was able to relieve the emotional stress of the looming crisis. We all have to “let go” when we need to. My husband always says, “When there’s nothing you can do…there’s just nothing you can do.”  As adults, our lives can be filled with stressful circumstances, but I learned that day that having the heart of a child helps us relieve that stress.

Having the heart of a child, even in adult situations, is what the Bible encourages us to do.

Matthew 18:3 (KVJ) says, “ …Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Children are more trusting than adults and adjust to their circumstances more easily. As we grow older, we learn that everything may not turn out the way we’d like. Our problems seem larger and the consequences greater.  What was once a natural reaction—adjusting—has now become a chore. So as adults, we lose our sense of safety and have to relearn how to find the silver lining in the clouds,  smile when things are going badly, and trust that we will survive whatever happens to us. Seem impossible? Seem unrealistic?download

As I go through life, I realize God enables us to accomplish the same impossible feats over and over again when we overcome our fears and stretch out on faith.  I hope the stories I share with you will encourage you to trust God with your life. And even though you will make mistakes because that is part of the journey of life, I hope the lessons I’ve learned will teach you not to make the same mistakes that took me so long to realize I had made.

Nathanael’s Story is Our Story

Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me?  Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.                                                                                                                                      –St. John 1:48

I’ve read this story many times and didn’t get the depths of this until this morning.  I would read it and think ‘how did Jesus know that Nathaniel had no deceit’ in his heart. Well, of course, Jesus knew all things and as I began to meditate on this more, I realized the depths to which Christ knew men’s hearts.   Continue reading “Nathanael’s Story is Our Story”