Embracing our Humanity

Outsiders GuideI’ve come to realize I can be honest to myself, I can embrace my true self fully, I can embrace my humanity completely, because that is what Jesus did when he walked the earth, and that is why he was able to love, and to live, as he did. That is why, though he was fully human, by truly embracing his humanity he also exemplified a divine way of living.

The experiences you have in life, including the challenges you have, the sufferings you experience, the answered and unanswered prayers that you pray, the riches or poverty that is around you or a part of you, the emotional roller coaster within you, and everything else you experience is an important part of how you come closer to God.

The more honest you can be to yourself and your experiences, the more honest you will be with God. In my opinion, to deny your own experiences in life is to create both a fantasy version of yourself, and, in turn, also a fantasy version of God. One who does only the things you dictate he does, and who never does the things you dictate that he never does. In this situation, life experiences are not needed, for everything about God runs exactly according to the script anyway.

When preachers say, “don’t let your experiences tell you who God is, let the Bible tell you” what I think they mean, though I don’t believe they consciously know it, is “Don’t let your experiences tell you who God is, let me, your mediator to God, tell you, based on my interpretation of the Bible, and nothing else.”

To do this, that is, to believe another person’s interpretation of the Bible and reject your own life experience, is to enter into a realm of fantasy and mask-wearing.

I’ve come to believe that my life experiences are very important to understanding God in as honest a way as I can. I still seek understanding through Scripture, but I don’t let any dogma or doctrine determine how to interpret Scripture if it requires me to act like my experiences never existed.

I believe being honest to our surroundings, the world, our own life experiences is essential in gaining a clearer, more honest understanding of our God, who is above all in glory, but also in the dirt, disappointment and distress of life too.

I’m fully human, and so are you. That’s good news, for in the embrace of our humanity, it is there, at our humanity’s very core, that we also discover our divinity; it is there that we can truly embrace the reality that we are one with God. It is there, we can be set free.

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An excerpt from my forthcoming book (out Aug 26): An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel.
(Also, when you join my mailing list you get a free audio book. Details at the top of the sidebar)

Leaving the Religious Program and Entering into Life

Outsiders GuideOne of the dangers with religion is it can so easily fool you into believing you’re living your life, when in fact all you are doing is going round and round in circles, doing the same thing week in, week out, talking to the same people, speaking with the same language, talking about the same things.

There is a whole world of random and wonderful people and things to experience, but until you give yourself the liberty to live your life free from the trappings of religion, the danger is that you end up just doing what is comfortable, what is endorsed by the church leaders, what is already programmed for you.

I think Jesus broke this mold, this religious idea of life, and stepped fully into the reality of life around him. He got out and lived his life with people, all kinds of people. Not as a missionary or holy roller, but as a friend, as a fellow adventurer in life—as an equal.

In the gospels we read how Jesus was always around people. He had a life full of relationships. Always talking, drinking, eating, relaxing; sometimes entertaining his guests and sometimes being entertained by them. What is fascinating is that these relationships were not based on these people holding to the same theology and doctrines as Jesus did. In fact, it’s safe to say that none of them believed like Jesus did. Yet he was always in the company of people, and these connections became very deep and heart felt relationships.

It seems to me that if we truly want a life full of loving relationships, we need to care less about what doctrines or world views people believe and more about the actual person. When we let our love for others be what unites us, we begin to have a life full of meaningful relationships.

Seeking out relationships or fellowship based on doctrinal agreements is a sad and ineffective substitute for love. What we need to do is choose the more divine way. The way that allows love to be what unites us to others, for that, I honestly believe, is the way of Christ.

Theology is interesting, fascinating, in fact. I spend a great deal of my life pondering it. But the theology we share and expound upon is still just a clanging gong in the ears of people if it does not first inspire our lives to actively transcend the social, racial, political, and religious boundaries around us, and to live a life of love. This, I believe, Jesus modeled. I don’t need to give you examples, just read through the gospels, you see it all for yourself if you’re looking for it.

Jesus knew God better than anyone, yet he did not live with his thoughts always stuck in Bible verses and theological studies. Rather, he was present in the moment, right there, happily engaged with a diverse variety of people and enjoying their company.

It was precisely because he knew God better than anyone that allowed him to truly live in the moment. He valued the interaction of people, of all people, and it did not depend on what kind of people they were, or what kind of theology they held, of what kind of social standing they had.

What does this show me? It shows me that I need to be careful I don’t become more in love with Bible verses and theological musings then I am with the people in my everyday life. It shows me the real value of knowing God is seeing the divine value of connecting with and loving the people around me.

It shows me that I don’t have to be a religiously sanitized person to be approved by God. Rather, I need to fully embrace my oneness with God to the point that I don’t mind getting messy if I happen to be in the presence of a messy person; more than that, it has allowed me to accept that I am a messy person, that parts of my character are flawed and parts of my personality awkward…and that’s just fine. I realize more and more that the value is not in my appearance or reputation, but in interactions I have with others, genuine connections, where I can feel my heart is fully alive.

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An excerpt from my forthcoming book (out Aug 26): An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel.
(Want to help out a little with the book launch? You’re invited to join this facebook group here)
(Also, when you join my mailing list you get a free audio book. Details at the top of the sidebar)

Where is God?

Outsiders GuideI asked myself this question not long ago: Where is God? Not ideas about God. Not biblical explanations about God. Where is God? Where can we find him, feel him, see him?

The answer I discovered is this: To experience God with our physical senses, we need to seek him in a place that is not physical; not a building or a book, but rather in an abstract, yet divine place. That place is love. God is in love, because he is love. Seek genuine, loving friendships and you’ll find God there. Offer others a genuine, loving friendship and you’ll reveal God to others.

God is not discovered in the theories and theologies we talk about. The technicalities, perhaps. The head-knowledge, maybe. But the hands on experience of God is discovered in the practical, real-life relationships we build. When we build them with love, every time we meet one another, we stand in the presence of God.

God is not a program. God is not a building. God is not a financial offering. God is not a pastor. God is not a pastor’s vision. God is not a ministry. God is not a service. God is love. If you want to put God first, then let love be the guiding light in all you do.

Putting ‘God first’ in your life means putting love first. Put the way you love your family, your friends, your neighbors first in your life. Let love, in its active form, be first in your life. Do that and you’ll always be putting God first, for God is love.

God is love and love is God. The two are the same Spirit at work in the world. You cannot separate them, for they are perfectly the same entity. Every time someone loves another person, that is God. Every time someone is moved to help another person, that is God. Every time someone chooses to lay their life down for another person, that is God. God is love. God is the Spirit that is moving people to do these beautiful heart-actions that we know as love.

Coming to the place where you fully accept that God is love results in breaking the mold religion has made for God to fit into. It liberates you, by pulling down the boundaries previously set up for God to play in. The alternative is to make Jesus fit into a mold that we control and define, but who wants that?

Well, not me, anyway.

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An excerpt from my forthcoming book, out Aug 26: An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel.
(Also, when you join my mailing list you get a free audio book. Details at the top of the sidebar)

The Internal Reality of Faith Vs. The External Framework of Religion

Outsiders GuideWhen it comes to the New Covenant, this new way Jesus established, I believe the central change is leaving behind an external expression of relating to God, and embracing the new internal expression. In the New Covenant, everything is internal. That’s the way faith in Christ works. It is an internal reality.

All the practices of religion are external, but, contrary to this, the reality of faith in Jesus is internal. Everything foreshadowed in the Old Testament that was outworked in external religious practices is now worked out in the internal reality we experience with God.

The Temple is no longer a place you physically visit. Christ’s revelation to us is that God’s Temple is within us, but even more than that, we are actually the Temple, when we are joined together in love, in oneness.

The word of God is not something you read. Christ’s revelation to us is that the Word is not a book, it is the Spirit of Christ abiding within you. Jesus is the Word of God.

The worship we offer God is no longer external songs sung to him, now it is the way our hearts participates in love.

Take communion for example. This has actually become a religious observation. Can you believe that? It’s actually become what in most religious circles is called a sacrament. But what is it really? Communion, in the true sense of the word, is a time of coming together and connecting over a warm meal and a few drinks.

It is meant to be a celebration of intimate friendship, yet it has become a time of absolute silence and separation from other believers. Did God ever want it to be about you and him? Is it meant to be a silent ritual? Isn’t the whole point actually about connecting joyfully with other believers around you? That’s what ‘communion’ means to me: to commune, to enjoy time together, and in the midst of this time of connecting with one another, to remember our God who has brought our hearts together.

I don’t believe communion should be recognized as a religious practice; the spiritual significance of it should only really be recognized by believers. To everyone else it would simply look like a group of friend having a meal and enjoying each other’s company. But when someone looks at the mainstream way ‘communion’ is outworked they don’t have to be Einstein to see that a very religious activity is taking place.

When you break it right down, the core problem we see when we review church history is the compulsion, generation after generation, to fit the New Covenant internal realities into the Old Covenant external framework.

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This was excerpt from my forthcoming book (out Aug 26): An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel, a follow up to my novel SNAP (everyone has a breaking point).

The Problem with Paying ‘Professional’ Believers

Outsiders GuideWhen we look at church history, as well as the modern church, it seems to me that many of the problems have grown out of believers receiving a salary from other believers. The concept of being paid to be a believer, a ‘professional believer’ of sorts, has historically resulted in church leaders not only failing to understand the gospel, but, instead, subtly or overtly enforcing a mixed gospel (one that causes no conflict to either the congregation’s comfort nor the preacher’s job security) upon the very people who are paying them.

It is a problematic circle. For if the ‘paid believer’ is to grow in his understanding of the gospel, it will result in his theology evolving and changing, sometimes quite dramatically, and this will inevitably challenge those who he shares it with, and in doing so they will most likely remove their financial support, for fear they are financially supporting a heretic (for everything people can not immediately understand is considered heresy).

More than this, the notion of ‘full-time paid ministers’ creates the illusion that these people must know more than the average believer because they have more time to study. But, again, what does history show us? It shows us that the only preachers who even came close to the truth of the gospel were persecuted and, in many cases, violently murdered by the paid church leaders.

Those who spent all their days studying the Scriptures could not see the gospel even if it was right in front of their face. More than that, they aggressively persecuted those who could see it, those who dared to share it with the greater body of Christ.

We are all the same when it comes to protecting our jobs and income streams. We all need to look after our families. We all need to make sure the money is there to pay the rent and feed the family. But, in my opinion, when your income is connected directly to your faith a serious problem arises, for the protection instinct we all have within us, regardless of how we make a financial living, directly interferes with and overpowers the journey to come into the full freedom of the gospel.

Personally, I don’t think it is possible to enter into the full freedom Christ gave us while within a religious system; the reason being, that your freedom will challenge the very structure itself. While the people within may very well welcome the change, those being paid to administer/manage the system will not (and they are the ones setting the tone for the whole community), for they will be out of a job, and also out of a position of authority and respect.

I think, and this is just my opinion, that Jesus came to break us free from this very concept of relating to God and one another via an institution. Jesus made the way to come directly to both God and others without the need for an external mediator, without clergymen and pulpits. Jesus made a way for us to have faith in God without the structure of religion hedging us in.

It sometimes makes me wonder if following Jesus didn’t turn into a profitable empire where entrepreneurial types could so easily make a healthy living out of controlling pockets of the empire and receiving endless donations to build the Jesus-empire in the name of their chosen ministry―I wonder how the average Christian would live like in society today. I wonder if the whole world would be a healthier place. More than that, I wonder how much freer Christians would be?

It seems that, as a Christ-follower, after we get out of the religion of Christianity, we spend years, maybe our whole lives even, trying to get that religion out of us. Physically stepping out of the walls of the Christian-empire is relatively easy compared to emotionally uprooting those walls and getting them out of our own hearts and minds.

But what if there were no walls to begin with? Would we have entered into Christ and have been free from the start, and have stayed free? For the past 2,000 years, would we have made a greater impact in the world by not trying to rule it and obsess over empire-building, but rather by truly living it with the fullness of love God has deposited within us? Would we have let love be our guiding light instead of another man’s religious vision for institutional construction of one religious building after the next?

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An excerpt from my forthcoming book (out Aug 26): An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel.
(Want to help out a little with the book launch? You’re invited to join this facebook group here)
(Also, when you join my mailing list you get a free audio book. Details at the top of the sidebar)

Freedom from Indoctrination

Outsiders GuideIt is the invention of man—under the banner of religion—to indoctrinate people into a rigid set of beliefs. But Jesus, it seems to me, was fundamentally opposed to forcing a dogmatic set of beliefs on anyone.

What does this show us? It shows us that God himself will not indoctrinate you into a belief system. He will call you to follow him, and he will stir your heart with questions, and if you take the courageous step of faith to ask those questions, he will be a light upon your feet as you search for the answers.

Seek, and you shall find. You want truth? Yes, I bet you do, and that’s important, because on this journey of discovering truth you must first have the courage to ask questions; not easy questions, but the kind of questions that no man or woman, no one else but but the Spirit of God within you, can answer.

Do you want to know more than tradition, more than the doctrines religion has handed down from generation to generation? Do you want more? Do you want to know the cosmic-sized reality of truth in all its glory and be set free by it? Good. I’ll throw out my thoughts that I’ve been mulling over. Some ideas that might stir your imagination, or help you see things from a different perspective.

But if you want to really know the truth, you won’t find it by reading this, or any book, you’ll find it when you start asking questions yourself, when you find the courage needed to embark—with the Spirit within you as your guide—on an adventure of discovery, a seeking of truth for yourself.

A word of warning: If you have the courage to question everything, then get ready to have your theological world rocked. Remember, the first thing we do when we come into contact with a new perspective that directly challenges our own is to go on the defense. That’s a natural reaction. We automatically try to defend our position. But if we desire to seek the truth, and to grow in the cosmic-sized reality of truth, we must get used to our own perspectives and paradigms being shifted, or even completely replaced.

In our honest pursuit of understanding the truth, we’re not going to replace Jesus, but perhaps Jesus will replace some of our long-held doctrines and dogmas. Perhaps he’ll even turn our entire theological foundation on its head.

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An excerpt from my forthcoming book, out Aug 26: An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel.
(Want to help out a little with the book launch? You’re invited to join this facebook group here)
(Also, when you join my mailing list you get a free audio book. Details at the top of the sidebar)

Why I Believe Jesus Spoke In Parables?

Outsiders GuideI believe Jesus spoke in parables because what he wanted most was for people to start thinking. It wasn’t about just proclaiming information that could be accepted ‘by faith’. Rather, he spoke in a way that forced people to really think about what he might possibly mean, and they needed to think quite a lot before they could even get to the point to believe it ‘by faith.’

In a world full of preachers proclaiming information about God, or information about the covenant, or information about how God relates to us, Jesus was different. He didn’t even make his message clear. He spoke in parables, in pictures, and none of them had a quick and easy explanation.

In the gospels, Jesus called people to follow him, just as he calls us today, but it is significant to note that he did not indoctrinate any of them. He did not sit them down and force them to understand his theology, to repeat it endlessly so they had it memorized and could then force it upon others.

While he did teach them, it was mostly through creating word pictures in the form of parables, it was through captivating their imagination and their hearts with questions, but he did not enforce them to have the answers he himself knew. That was a significant part of freedom Jesus seemed to respect: The freedom to seek our own understanding so when we have it we will know it really is what we believe and not just what others have told us we must blindly believe.

I guess Jesus knew it was not the accepting of information that was important, but rather the actual act of thinking that was important. For when we think, we engage our spiritual life in a personal way. When we think things through, then our conclusions belong to us fully. When we think, only then do we truly begin to believe, for only then do our beliefs truly become our own.

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This was an excerpt from my forthcoming book, out Aug 26: An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel.

A Greater Peace within all You Don’t Know

Outsiders GuideThe further away you travel from religion and the know-it-all mindset you inherit with it, the more freedom you find in asking questions about your faith. You no longer feel obligated to pledge undivided allegiance to your doctrines. You become pleased to put them on trial, to examine then, and to discard them if they are found to be without substance.

You begin to enjoy the engagement of such questions with others; whether they agree or disagree is no longer the point. The point is to have an honest, respectful and open conversation. You get used to being uncomfortable with new questions. More than that, you begin to expect them to arise and for your next rabbit-hole experience to begin where you follow questions wherever they take you, and discover truth in strange and wonderful ways.

Religion’s starting point is answers. When you enter into it you are stuffed full, and over time you get into the habit of stuffing newcomers with the same answers. But walking away from religion, while maintaining your faith, sends you on a very different path. You step into a wildly different pattern.

It is no longer a starting point of answers, but continual journey of questions. Each question draws you into a greater understanding of God. Also, at the same time, each questions leads you into a deeper acceptance of the mystery of God, and a greater peace within all that you don’t know.

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This was an excerpt from my forthcoming book, out Aug 26: An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel.

Jesus Didn’t Teach with Answers, He Taught with Questions

Outsiders GuideJesus talked a lot in parables, in little short stories. He also seemed to be more interested in questions then answers. When people asked Jesus a question, often he gave them a question back. In fact, he hardly ever gave a direct answer to anything. Even his big statements about himself such as: ‘I am the bread of life’ required people to go away and work out for themselves what it possibly meant.

Jesus didn’t teach with answers, he taught with questions; he taught in parables that required the hearer to go away and figure out the answer for themselves. I think that is a really significant thing to understand regarding how we learn from God. It’s not about waiting for answers, but, rather, we learn by daring to follow the questions God stirs in our hearts.

From the earliest times of the human experience, religion was steadfast in presenting God to mankind in the form of as an exclamation point; when Christ entered the world, he bent the presentation of God into a question mark. Jesus loved questions. We should, too.

Jesus didn’t try to enforce upon us a doctrinal statement. He didn’t come to indoctrinate us. He came to liberate us. He came to encourage us to ask what we truly think about God. He presented parables to get us to stop and think, to question our own perception of God, to draw us into questioning what our own beliefs about God’s nature and plans are.

Jesus showed us that not only is it okay to question who God is—what his nature is, how he operates, and how he thinks of us—it is actually the only way to truly step out of the prison of Belief-by-Indoctrination that religion binds us to.

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This was an excerpt from my forthcoming book, out Aug 26: An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel.
(Want to help out a little with the book launch? You’re invited to join this facebook group here)

What Does a Personal Relationship with God Look Like?

Outsiders GuideSo what does a personal relationship with God feel like? It feels personal, that’s what. It’s a relationship that you and God experience and understand. It’s not a corporate relationship.

Yes, many others also have a personal relationship, and that’s a beautiful thing, just as connecting with other believers is a beautiful experience, but I don’t expect their relationship to God to be a cookie cutter of mine. Vocabulary that describes my faith and belief is—and I think should be—different. The way I connect with my divine Father naturally varies to others.

The thoughts and questions that God stirs my heart with—and the answers I find—are never going to be the same as everyone else, because my relationship with God is personal.

Contrary to this is religion. Religion creates a corporate identity. When we buy into religion we end up speaking, sounding, even looking like everyone else within that corporate branded identity. Same thoughts. Same beliefs. Same well-defined doctrines—and if you step out of line and have questions that don’t fit that corporate identity, chances are you might be silenced, or even booted out.

Well, you know, I don’t mind if I don’t fit the corporate identity of Christianity, nor do I seek membership. I’m happy to have a relationship that is unique with my creator. I’m thankful the Spirit of God is leading my life, and showing me more each day how to let go of religious ambitions, and simply live the life of love he’s always been inspiring me to live. To walk freely in each day, with an open mind to learn new things, and a open heart to connect with others gracefully and genuinely.

To live. To love. To celebrate the gift of life with others, and to enjoy the personal relationship with God I’ve been graced to have.

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This was an excerpt from my forthcoming book, out Aug 26: An Outsider’s Guide to the Gospel.
(Want to help out a little with the book launch? You’re invited to join this facebook group here)