Making God in our own likeness (r)

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We are built for the light.
The light of life. The light of new living.
We are built for the light.

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We are built for the dark.
The dark of night. The dark of renewal.
We are built for the dark.

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You are each built diverse.
Strength in diversity. Richness in living.
Why do we not value diversity?

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We are taught to fear.
Not good fear. We are taught bad fear.
Why do you do that?

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You are taught control.
Not control to balance. To control all-everyonething-crap.
What “diversity” in that?

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We are taught un-love.
Transaction of fear. To confuse one with the other.
And now you fear love.

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You talk of false teachers.
Those who teach unfear as love.
We prefer correctness and belonging.
We prefer a flock the same we call diverse.
A monogamous diversity all the same.
Safe to bitch and unchange.
Safe to whine and unlove.
Safe to transact “love” and “law”.
And blame “God”.
Or somethingone else.
Have no other gods … ?
We have made biblically and scripturally correct
Your new God of Gods.

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Correctness in fear (of being wrongalone)

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And so you teach correctly
To (correctly) fear and (correctly) unlove
To (correctly) seek sin and (correctly) transact grace
To (correctly) bind together those who (correctly) follow
To (correctly) out-reach those who (incorrectly) unfollow
We don’t want our (correct) bible changed (really)
We don’t want change (really)
And this is taught as correct (biblically)
And that results in fear (and unlove)
Which isn’t false teaching at all (really)
You teach
Our new God of Gods (really)

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But taught un-falsely correctly

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(r) = reproduced from “Making God in our likeness” – Just me being curious 

1850 Know-Nothings Rise Again

©Library of Congress
©Library of Congress

Before the founding of the Republican Party in 1854, the two political parties were the Democrats and the Whigs. Anti-slavery Whigs met in February of 1854 – an election year – to establish a new party and oppose the spread of slavery into new, western territories. This caused an irreparable split in the party, causing the Whigs imploded previous to the election. The two-party system collapsed and secret societies abounded.

Where did the former Whigs who favored slavery go? Into these secret societies. Two such societies were The Order of United Americans and The Order of the Star Spangled Banner. Roaring out of these secret societies came nativism, xenophobia and the American Party.

When politicians from the American Party were asked about their membership in the secret societies, they would respond, “I know nothing.” They responded so frequently with this refrain, newspapers across the country coined the American Party the Know Nothing Party, and it stuck.

What did the platform of the American Party look like?

In the East it looked like finding and calling for the deportation of all Irish and Italian Roman Catholics, Jewish, and free Black immigrants who were blamed for all the problems of the country.

In the Midwest it looked like finding and calling for the deportation of all German immigrants who were blamed for all the problems of the country.

In the West it looked like finding and calling for the deportation of all Asian immigrants who were blamed for all the problems of the country.

In Donald Trump’s long-awaited immigration speech Wednesday night, these were some of the phrases he used about this country’s immigrants: “Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous criminals allowed to freely roam our streets…violent offenders…we have to release them into your communities…the results will be horrific…some of the most heinous crimes imaginable…accused of murder, rape and child molestation…local police know each and every one of them – they know where they live, they know them by name, when I am in office, the first hour, those people will be gone.”

Excellent speech by Donald Trump tonight. Deport criminal aliens, end catch and release, enforce immigration laws & American First. Tweeted by David Duke, longtime Ku Klux Klan member

So here we are with history repeating itself. It’s not as if we don’t know better. Yet we continue to turn our backs on lessons learned, ignoring the obvious, letting fear once again weaken our resolve to live our lives from integrity. And those of us who contend we follow a greater God have either remained silent and stepped away from the process entirely, or have instead mistakenly been worshiping an emperor who has no clothes.

I have been one of the silent ones for far too long. I can no longer remain on the sidelines and listen to racist rhetoric without calling it out for what it is. I must reiterate this is a country founded on religious freedom, whose foundation is build upon the sweat and backs of immigrants, country whose invitation to immigrants and their families (“Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free) has been calling out from New York’s Liberty Island since 1886.

I have been one of the silent ones for far too long. I can no longer remain on the sidelines and listen to racist rhetoric without calling it out for what it is.

We must hunker down and pray: for our country, for each other and for our souls. Let us pray and repent of our hate and our fear; let us once again revere Your name and exhibit compassion for each other. Let us embrace Your love – the kind of love that casts out fear. Let us embrace not our own agendas, but Your Agenda, Your Good News. Let us once again cherish what this country was meant to be.

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” (sic) Abraham Lincoln, Letter to JF. Speed, August 24, 1855

Back to Basics, Part 4

Continued from Back to Basics, Part 3

(See end note)
(See end note)

Following Jesus is all or nothing. He tells us to follow his commands – all of them, not just the few we feel comfortable following.

“My experience of many Christians is that we have it backwards. We want the power to point out sin; we want the credit and glory for having saved them when it is not up to us.”

In every case I read in the Gospels, Jesus loved first (as he did for us), offered grace first, then gave outcasts and sinners (like us all) the space to recognize and acknowledge their own sins, come to him and allow him to transform their lives. We don’t give people that space; we don’t give them a chance to own their own fallenness. And changing behavior isn’t transformation; it’s a band-aid. Transformation changes hearts and minds.

As I listen in church, as I talk in person to fellow believers, as I read blogs across the Western World, my experience of many Christians is that we have it backwards. We want the power to point out sin to not only to individuals but entire groups of people. We want the credit and glory for having saved them when it is not up to us.

So, how do we follow the tasks to reconcile people to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-19), and how do we make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)?

Our job, through God’s love, is to open the door for people to reach out to Jesus and for him to hand them the opportunity for His Love and Grace. That is when Transformation occurs. That is when the “Aha” moments happen. That is when the thirst for discipleship transpires.

When we attempt to argue or accuse people into Christ, all we do is cause them to be offended, to turn their backs on God. That isn’t what we want and it certainly isn’t what God wants. If our mission is to reconcile everyone to God and what we’ve been doing isn’t working, we must change our methods.

“The elder son…cannot see the difference between restorative justice and punitive justice. And restorative justice is the Good News.”

In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus begins with, “A man had two sons.” Even though many of our Bibles call it the Parable of the Lost or Prodigal Son, it is really The Parable of the Lost Sons. This parable is not simply about the younger son who was lost to sin.

It is also about the elder son who stood to inherit twice what his younger brother took as his inheritance. The elder brother was lost to legalism, the son who is so focused on the sin of his brother his anger will not allow him to offer grace or accept the double treasure of his Father’s grace and love which has always been there for him. He cannot see the difference between restorative justice and punitive justice. And restorative justice is the Good News.

As we love unconditionally, it doesn’t mean we condone sin, just as forgiveness doesn’t mean we accept bad behavior. But trying to teach someone about acceptable behavior before you accept and love who they are regardless of their behavior will fall upon deaf ears. It will erect a wall that will never allow them to feel safe enough to let down their guard.

Loving unconditionally means we communicate without disgracing or treating people without dignity. It means we create a safe space for them to discover the love, mercy and grace of God. It means we allow them to choose, through that saving grace, to repent in their own time because God’s love and His Spirit moves them to do so. It means we don’t stand in their way or erect barriers of any kind, otherwise we become stumbling blocks.

The bottom line is this: we can either continue pushing ahead, attempting to teach through condemnation and accusation, or we can build authentic trust and relationships through the wisdom and patience of the Holy Spirit, through the compassion of Jesus, and through the love and grace of our Father.

 

The Tree of Life, a nearly 10-foot tall sculpture, was created by four Mozambican artists: Cristovao Canhavato (Kester), Hilario Nhatugueja, Fiel dos Santos and Adelino Serafim Maté. The sculpture was made entirely from weapons that were the remains of the 17-year civil war that killed one million people and only ended when the Soviet Union collapsed and funding ended. This piece was part of the Transforming Arms Into Tools project which employs former child soldiers to dismantle weapons, which has dismantled more than 600,000 weapons in nine years.

Back to Basics, Part 1

©SamanthaSophia
©SamanthaSophia

I don’t know about you, but I find the more I hear disparate (and angrily stated) points of view about politics, values or theology, the more I feel my heart and mind under spiritual attack.

The more I recall this country’s history, understand and see evidence of our division, the heavier my heart is. Still vivid in my memory from 24 years ago is the vicious beating of Rodney King, the subsequent, atrocious beating of Reginald Denny and the riots in Los Angeles. We have not come very far, and I cannot simply let go of the events of last week. I cannot simply forget and move on.

Speaking with a friend of mine early this week, I listened to stories of her upbringing in Mississippi. Her childhood memories still vivid of walking past black men swinging from trees on her way to school, she visits a different world when she travels back to see her mother who still lives there. She tells me,

“Signs on public bathrooms still say, ‘Colored’ and ‘Whites Only.’ And when you walk into a restaurant, it’s understood which section of the restaurant you can sit in. You might legislate integration, but you’ll never legislate the heart.”

This is when I must go back to basics. This is when I go back into the heart of the One who was lynched for all of us. This is when I reread the Gospels for the actual words of Jesus. As I do so, I keep in mind what I have learned in a wide variety of Bible interpretation classes, studies and books:

  • Recognize and appreciate the frame of reference – the history and the audience being addressed.
  • Understand the context; never read just a verse, read the entire paragraph or chapter.
  • Don’t rely on just one Bible version or translation; compare and read parallel versions.
  • Repeated statements are the significant principles requiring our attention.

I cannot read the Sermon on the Mount or the Parable of the Two Sons or the Allegory of the Sheep and the Goats without being reminded of the paradigm shift in thinking Jesus brought to us from our Father – the thinking we still seem hesitant to adopt.

Contained in these words are principles of humility, forgiveness, grace, generosity, compassion – and most of all love. This is the paradigm shift of which Jesus spoke, and He put His actions solidly behind His words. He did not raise a hand to anyone; He extended His hand in invitation and empathy.

I don’t know how long this series will span; I will follow where my heart leads and where the Spirit takes me. I just know I must lean in, dig in, and go all in; I must surround myself with His wisdom and surrender to His will. I must rediscover, not the whys, but the Who in all of this, and allow Him full access. I must acknowledge that I am His child, and so are we all.

“You, beloved, are worth so much more than a whole flock of sparrows. God knows everything about you, even the number of hairs on your head. So do not fear.” (Matthew 10:30-31)

Black parents across America have been having “the talk” with their children for quite a while. It’s a painful family discussion necessary to have about ways to act – and refrain from acting – if stopped by white police officers with a gun, about how to survive in America unlike Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Maybe we all need to hear this to understand the fear and pain Black parents feel every time their children walk outside their homes.

Following the Thread

But I am like a green olive tree, thriving in the house of God.

I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)

OliveTree

On occasion I like to look at a verse revealed to me and follow the thread (those tiny, inside marginal notes) through my Bible until it leads right back to that verse again. My devotional this morning presented me with the verse above.

I do thrive when I spend time with God. There is nothing better than opening my heart and mind to the Spirit, allowing a mystery to be imparted from the Living Word. Sometimes, His hand, His love and grace travel deep into my core, and I feel Him surrounding me with His unfailing love. Which led me to the verses below.

goldthread.1The Lord once called you a green olive tree; beautiful with good fruit. (Jeremiah 11:16a)

And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things. (Galatians 5:22-23)

But some of the olive branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive branch, have been grafted in their place. You get your nourishment from the roots of the olive tree. So don’t brag about being better than the other branches. If you brag, remember that you don’t support the root, the root supports you. (Romans 11:17-18)

As I respond to other people – people unlike me, who have different ways of being, contrasting points of view, I must recall His commands to love. They are not many and are not optional, but vital to my life under His domain. Instead of letting anger or fear control my mind and heart, I humble myself to the Spirit’s control.

As I allow His Spirit to work in me and mature my faith, His strength uplifts me and enables me to embody His fruit when I alone cannot. He empowers me to love, to have patience, to be kind and generous, to be gentle and to have self-control.

I am the Vine and my Father is the Vinedresser. Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. A branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine, and neither will you if you are not connected to Me. I am the Vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear sweet fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing. (John 15:2, 4-5)

What mysteries are revealed to me in the thread of these verses?

Do not adhere to ideologies; to not cling to law.

Do not hold fast to doctrine; do not grasp onto litmus tests.

Do not worship the word

Or let it become your god.

Instead, hold fast to Jesus; cling to the Father.

Worship God; give dignity to His name.

Gain nourishment from the roots of the Tree;

Obtain wisdom from the Vine.

Discern with clear eyes through truth and the Spirit.

Forgive, dispense grace and mercy; offer compassion and love.

Honor all life: the unborn; lgbtq; Christian, Jew and Muslim; Democrat and Republican; man and woman, white collar and blue collar, those from every nation, faces of every color, for God loves the heart.

Whenever possible, be a peacemaker.

Stay humble, open to the Spirit’s teaching.

We are here at His behest, His creation, all beloved children of our Father.

Isn’t it time we treat each other that way?

Would a Muslim know you are a Christian?

I was planning on this topic before Susan’s excellent post on a story out of Kenya (read it here).

In the ancient Roman world, before Constantine made Christianity the Empire’s state religion, Christians were under constant persecution in varying parts of the Empire. Even during the times when Rome itself did not openly outlaw Christianity, local authorities would take it upon themselves to jail, if not execute, Christians to keep the peace and the population appeased. Even Roman soldiers would take joy to go out of their way to make life difficult on the Christians they encountered.

Throughout all of this one thing remained consistent, Christians (for the most part) followed Christ’s teachings

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matt 7:12)

If any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles (Matt 5:41)

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44)

Christians showed agape not only to other Christians, but to everyone they encountered, friend or foe. Citizens knew that if they were in trouble, needed help, were destitute, or were ill, they could go to a Christian household, ask for help, and they would be given whatever they needed, no questions asked. Even Roman soldiers knew they could go to a Christian and seek healing for wounds or illnesses and not be turned away.

Today, would people know you were a Christian because of how you treated others, even those who would do you harm? Would you invite a Muslim into your home if they needed your help? Would you allow refugees into your country, knowing there is the possibility that they might do you harm?

A short tale. Recently I had the opportunity to help a local food bank collect much needed funds. At a holiday fair near where I live we asked patrons to donate whatever they could afford. I was pleased at the generosity of the people, but two things surprised me:

  • A gentleman who looked like he should be receiving assistance walked up to me. I looked down at the cracked screen on his cellphone, and was prepared to give him one of the free meal coupons we were giving out. To my surprise he put $5 into my container, wished me a Merry Christmas, then disappeared into the crowd. I was moved, and remembered Jesus’ comment about the widow he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.” (Luke 21:2-4).
  • The other thing that struck me odd is that during the entire three hours we were collecting contributions not a single “suit” (male or female) contributed anything. While their attitude towards us was no different than any other person, not one contributed so much as a single dollar. These are people who could have easily afforded even a small contribution. Asking others there about what they noticed (as this was my first year at this event) I was told that was not unusual.

So, how does the world see your Christianity? Would those that knew you say that you lived your Christianity? If you were taken to court and accused of being a Christian would you be found guilty?

Simply and Honestly Yourself – Secret Santa Worship Day

©Aaro Keipi
©Aaro Keipi

QUOTE “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” (John 4:23-24, The Message)

All editors on Church Set Free, along with other contributors, have decided today to write about Worship. What it is in our point of view. What it means to us. How we participate. And since we’re all different, all a ragtag bunch of square pegs in round holes, I imagine we’re called to worship uniquely. Some following corporate guidelines. Some using private boundaries. Some using no boundaries at all. Some somewhere in between the lines.

As you read my own point of view, I encourage you to go deeper, to explore how others find their connection with God, and to seek ways you best unite with the One who abides in you.

I discover worship in this group. And I treasure worship just the two of us, alone with my Father. At home on my deck. Or in my rocking chair. Or writing praise poems in front of my corner window, my cat sitting in repose on the window sill. God surrounds me with His beauty, and I embrace Him with my heart. It is sacred and holy. It is warm and inviting. It is laughter filled and joyous. And sometimes, it is simply silent.

To be quite frank, I rarely worship in church anymore. Have I had some bad experiences in church? Sure. But I’m not blaming church. And I’m certainly not going to tell stories here that would add grist to the mills of people who simply want excuses not to go.

I’ll just say I’ve had a calling to spread the Good News in an expansive way for about 5-6 years now. A Spirit-led calling which has become stronger with every passing year. Not some airy-fairy thing, this calling has become so strong that a few years ago, I attended and completed a 2-year Bible interpretation certification program. Because I wanted to ensure I was not only reading, but writing about the Word correctly. To live a life of love, reflecting Jesus in my heart and in my words. My sense is my Father wants me to use this gift of writing to spread His Good News of Christ’s love and grace, of compassion and mercy, of everlasting salvation and life to as many as will read the words He places in my thoughts.

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” (1 John 4:17-18, The Message)

tapestry-panelWhen I first found this group of bloggers online, I felt an immediate connection – a koinonia – I hadn’t felt in years. It wasn’t just an emotion. It was a spiritual relationship, like a thread in a tapestry sewn by the Holy Spirit. I’ve been knit together with some of them for about two years; some of them have been connected for longer. And to be able to meet this way in real time together – across this country and other countries – reminds me of the way the apostle Paul met with and disciple his churches. But Paul had to travel long miles and over much time to see other believers face to face. Oh, but what if he had Skype!

I truly believe church and worship comes in different forms for different people. Truthfully, when I first became a believer, I couldn’t have done it without traditional church. Attending church bolstered my prayer life and my bond with other believers. It started me on a lifelong journey of study and discipleship. And I would never, ever tell anyone not to belong to a traditional church. I think fellowship is important. I think it’s particularly important for young, growing families.

However, I also think there may be a season or more when another kind of church is appropriate. A more intimate kind of church. A living room kind of church, where getting to know the heart and needs of people is important. Where worshiping through daily words and actions is more important than listening to a sermon on Sunday morning. Where a good cry, a belly laugh or a hug can lead someone to the Father’s heart more certainly than a seat in a building. I am fortunate. I have both in my blogging community and in my housing community.

“And let us consider how to encourage each other to show love and do good works.  Let us not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but continue to encourage one another all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

If you look at the Church Set Free Aboutpage, you’ll see we’re all here to build up and encourage, to learn and disciple, that it’s a safe place of mutual love and respect, and “seeing someone come to a new relationship with Christ is more important than having our own way.” I invite you to worship with us today, to see how ten different people unite together to love the same God. While we each worship in our own way, we all do our best to listen to the Spirit and follow God’s way.

We’re all growing in the Spirit; God isn’t finished with any of us yet. As we plant seeds of encouragement in you, I hope you pass along whatever has encouraged you, whatever has caused your heart to swell with love and grace, whatever thread has connected you to the heart of Jesus in worship.