The Christ of Inconvenience

As Christians we have always seemed to miss the point God is making because of our own personal expectations of His love and plan for our lives. In Jesus’ time, we  know how many of the traditionalist Jews struggled to see the son of God right there in front of them because he didn’t fit their traditionally taught image of the Messiah. He was disruptive to every religious group he found, because he wanted them to see and receive the grace he was offering. The best known piece of this was the Pharisees, who followed every obscure tradition they could get their hands on in an attempt to lead the Jews to salvation, riding the wave of power that it provided. In many situations, we see Jesus and those following him clash with them, pushing back against the traditions and judgements they made that got in the way of God’s love.

The Pharisees tried time and again to trap Jesus with their rules and into the old traditions that they enforced. One of the most blatant examples of this was when they threw the adulterous woman in front of a crowd in one of his sermons and told him, as though he didn’t know, that the law of Moses required that she be stoned. They were most likely trying to get him to violate Jewish law by saying she shouldn’t be stoned or Roman law by saying it should be done without a lawful trial.  Their conviction to prove that the real Christ would bring down fire and judgement on those who fell short of the many laws was a misplaced one. Jesus simply put them off with writing in the dirt, trying to show love outweighed the stones in their hands. All He said was, let he that is without sin cast the first stone, knowing that this would trap them; He admitted to the Jewish law calling for punishment but prevented them from action knowing their hearts. Every one of the Pharisees began to slip away without further disruption leaving the woman for him to condemn, but Jesus was not looking to condemn her. Often times, we are taught this lesson as a way to forgive each other and to look past our sins to the bigger picture and to God’s plan. However, Jesus, himself, didn’t fit in so well with the church leadership, because he believed in love first. To the Pharisees, they believed that they knew His plan, that they were truly helping the people to come closer to God through purity and obedience. How a man claiming to be God incarnate could not bring the judgement and authority they believed in didn’t make sense to them. .The religious authorities then as now had stopped listening to God’s plan of love and faith in the Lord, preferring to judge the people and impose man-made standards. The Son of God didn’t fit in with religious authorities; we should need to concern ourselves with our own spiritual walk rather than the expectations of others.

Shake the Dust off

(Matthew 10:14-15)

We find comfort in the standards that we hold ourselves and our fellow Christians to: how we dress and how we act when we come to see the Lord in His house. But many times, I’ve seen this applied to newcomers, to those who aren’t even sure of their basic faith let alone a dress code. They could not possibly know the restraint that we’ve taught ourselves, so rather than welcoming their eagerness, we judge based on rules they never knew. Jesus of Nazareth was a Middle Eastern nomad travelling with a pack of less than upstanding men who rarely bathed or changed clothes, claiming to speak the Word of God. He would have been filthy to us, obnoxiously vocal, and more than likely we would have avoided sitting next to Him in a pew from smell alone. Remember that organized religion at this time was the Temple at Jerusalem, to us it would have seemed as structured as a rehearsed play: everyone had their places and knew their roles. I’ve been in many services where a man like that, or a whole family, would be escorted out by the deacons for disrupting service and worship, at times for saying amen too much, my own father doing so by request of the pastor. Seeing these “disruptions” bothered me, even before I knew why. Surely God was in the service and that needed respect, but how was it right to evict someone from the house of God? I wondered then as I wonder now if we as a church ever lost a chance to bring someone to Christ, because we were too busy throwing him out unawares.

Jesus was disruptive, first and foremost, to every religious group he found, because they led by human intention having structured the inspiration of God right out. He seized every opportunity he found to teach them, to save them, and to bring them back to that personal relationship with Him. He, as a newcomer and a foreigner to every church he walked into, taught the people with the Word of God. To the priests and leadership, this was a man who was pretending to understand God’s Word in a way only church leadership was ordained to do. When he got inside, he changed lives and worked miracles, to accredit himself as the Son of God and to then give them a true representation of God’s love directly man to man. Before he left, he would make sure to disturb the misplaced opinions of the church leadership and teach them what was expected of them from His teachings. Jesus came to be the man beside us in the pew, to remind us that a personal relationship with God was always the goal, with God’s love. Yet the Son of God would be turned away now because he was disruptive of our status quo. How many times have we missed a lesson in His love because we were too afraid of who may be on the other side to answer the door when someone knocks?

Perish with the sword

So often when I start a conversation about religious differences, both of us come to the fight prepared to fight to the death for each of our beliefs, because we know we’re right. Our passion for our faith can be destructive to communicating with others and to growing in our faith, because we believe that we know everything or that we have nothing more to learn. Often times, we are Peter, using a sword to defend Jesus with, from anything or anyone that could endanger him as if the divine can be harmed by our opinions.

As they all stood there in shock, one man holding the side of his head and screaming in pain. No one was listening to anything Peter had to say right then. Armed guards had drawn back in shock and disgust. The other disciples reeling back in horror. All they could see was the bloody sword in his hands and the man’s ear on the ground. Even though Peter had never been a fighting man, he’d purchased a sword to defend Jesus, and hidden it for just such a moment to prove his faith. But Jesus didn’t congratulate him. His first words, whether the story is being told by John, Mark, or Matthew, was instruction first, lesson later. “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

When Peter was convinced that he would have to fight someone to defend Jesus, he hurt someone unnecessarily, with Jesus standing right there ready to handle it better. Had Peter trusted in Jesus’ ability to handle things in his own way, to know the dangers and to share his story in a positive way, Peter would never have needed the sword to defend his faith in the first place. Jesus spoke words and touched people’s lives. Around him were men who made profit from him and those who built reputations. Sometimes our human error is in trying to win a fight that God told us to teach in love. In His ministry, we have to remember that He has a plan and He will use us as he sees fit, as long as we share His love first, and those that He wants to teach will be taught in their own way.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity:

Like in so many things there is always that moment of fear before you start something, fear of how it will be perceived, fear of the reactions, fear of the unknown. I have known this fear every time I’ve sat down to pen anything, every time I’ve stood before someone to speak, and sometimes even in my own head when trying to come to terms with a profound thought. We’re taught the power that words have to hurt each other, but we often fail to use that power to heal and help each other instead. A lot of the people I’ve known inside and outside the Message fall silent to prevent either outcome. In most situations when we are unsure of the truth or what we believe, we would rather someone else be our absolute or authority on our beliefs rather than risk speaking for ourselves.

I learned public speaking from the pulpit; I watched my father and so many others use it to bring the audience along a biblical journey with them. His sermons consistently began by relating to the audience that he was lost too, that he was on equal grounds with them, I picked up this relationship to speaking.  I always believed that they were like-minded and open to everything I had to say because I was a part of them. We were based in the same knowledge, the same doctrine, the same scripture, and especially the same prophet. The Message gave me the foundation to stand on when I spoke and the belief that God was speaking through me. Leaving it forced me to better understand my beliefs and words because I would never again find an audience that agreed with me before I even had a chance to speak.  I had to be sure of what I believed and taught, because so many questioned my certainty and my faith in leaving. My words became the subject of many debates in my Sunday School lessons and in my talks with my pastor, and I realized that my audience, those that I spoke to during that time, were no longer on my side, what I had to believe was the Bible’s side and that alone.

I’ve seen a lot of destruction come from the Message and its followers, who base their teachings on accusations and guilt  to convince people of the dire need for salvation. The degrading speech that they use forces us to judge the believers and nonbelievers and destroys the very love that God tells us to have for each other. They’re taught a judgmental and angry God from those that evangelize with hate speech and calling people abominations. Their violent God is not what brings people to true faith, rather an obedience to them out of fear. I still shudder remembering how much I believed in their methods for a long time, not realizing my own self destruction in the way I spoke to people, the way I preached, and the way I was taught. I remember saying amen to the words of Branham when he described women as lower than animals and said that they were a byproduct of creation. Any man who claims to love his wife, his daughter, his mother, or any other woman in his life could never truly believe Branham speaks for the Lord and also tell her he loves her and she is meaningful to him. To love a woman would be to love something lower than an animal by Branham’s words. God made woman to be his companion, to be beside him in all things.

“There is no hog, no dog, or no other animal, designed like her or can stoop as low as she can stoop. Now, that is true.”

– Branham, 65-0221M

When I saw the post on SeekYeTheTruth, it hit home as it usually does when I see those that speak with the Lord’s name in destructive ways, not with teaching or understanding, only blaming and accusing those for not believing like them. I wanted to share this today because I look at the words now and struggle to comprehend how I ever taught his words when I was supposed to be teaching God’s love.

The article referencing the men I spoke of, you can find here:

http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/london/street-preachers-in-london-push-buttons-1.4299025

For more you can find the sources here easy to reference;

http://seekyethetruth.com/branham/resources-dig-women.aspx

For My Yoke is Easy, and My Burden is Light

          A large portion of sermons begin with the “humble” recognition that we are sinners. They begin by lowering all of us, so that we will listen to their answers. When we base the entire experience of church and of developing a relationship with God on guilt, on feeling insufficient for His mercy, we lose the love that He promised us first. We wear guilt with us every day to atone for our actions and to remind us to not turn back towards sin, but God said ask and you will be forgiven. The one thing that Jesus accomplished across the board was making those He encountered feel the love that God has for us before the guilt. I’m not coming to punish you. I want to fellowship with you. I want to talk with you. All that other stuff fades away, just lets you and me talk and walk together for a bit. He always let people come to Him and welcomed them before ever asking for a confession or for repentance. Jesus made sure that we didn’t associate Him with the church’s additional doctrines or guilt-tripping to increase attendance and tithing.

         In a lot of our current prison systems, we have the same mentality. We convince them that they are paying for their crimes without teaching them about reform, about being better people or how to manage their situations without resorting to drastic measures. In both instances, we don’t ask what they were missing that put them in that situation. A lot of times we are lost and don’t know where to look or where to start with the Bible, but rather we google verses or follow devotionals. But these aren’t always the answer or the problem that we’re struggling with in our lives.

          Prayer does not guarantee a direct answer. It barely even guarantees that we know what we are saying or asking for. However, He asked us to speak with Him, to come to know Him better, and to bring all of our problems to Him. We’ve all been told to pray at certain times or that if we prayed longer that we would get the answer we hope for, but that isn’t His plan; it’s ours. We have to work to communicate with Him, but primarily to become better Christians, not for fear of guilt, but for our love of God. If we focus on the wrong side of the equation, on the “Reformed Christian” and think we can build a system on how to turn A into B, we will always be lost: those that are in the pews and those behind the pulpit. Jesus was here to give us the grace and love and joy that transforms us in the first place. If we’re peddling heaven like a million dollar lottery ticket, trying to get everyone to buy in, in case they’re the lucky one that buys enough tickets to get in, we’re not following Jesus’ path. I never want to be a salesman or a magic man with his tonics. I’m a blood-bought son of God, speaking from a place of freedom and from God’s love. The truth has a way of selling itself, and we can only find reformation through that love.

 

These People are Not Drunk, As You Assume

        Sometimes the most comforting thing is to realize that everyone around you is just as lost as you are. Most of my most honest discussions with fellow Christians have been humbling in understanding that we all lose that fight, that we all need second chances, that we all have something to learn. I think every true believer has a moment in their lives when their faith changes them, where it challenges them to be bigger than they have been and they rise to meet God half way. For me, it was learning to be bold in my faith. Part of realizing that the Bible was the only faith and foundation I could trust was learning to stand firm on it as well. It put me at odds with several groups, because we so rarely learn directly from it, preferring interpretations or sermons. I wanted to know that I had the actual word of God behind me and that empowered me to actually defend myself and my faith.

         Jesus made a point to change the lives of those around him. Many were miracles, but a few were just through his acceptance and love of people just as they were. Often, he would pass through a town and in talking with the locals, sinners and religious leadership alike, his fair treatment of everyone around him would change the people he came into contact with. Peter has always been my favorite story of the difference Christ makes in our lives. He was one of the first called into the ministry as a disciple. He was outspoken and bold, like when he spoke for the group and called Jesus the Messiah. But the same man dealt with doubt, famously telling Jesus he’d never leave but denying Christ in his time of need. Peter was known as one of the truest believers and Jesus’ closest companion, but when he was alone,  maybe fishing or walking and praying to God, would have looked lost and doubtful of everything he had experienced thus far.  When Peter is finally and truly changed by Jesus, after his death and resurrection, he finds the faith he needed to stand firm in God and to defend Jesus and preach the word, free from doubt. I fought for a long time to find my moment. He took my fear and my doubt in arguing the Word and in teaching with any authority and changed me to help those who need to hear his message. Once I was bold enough to argue solely on God’s words and to teach free of their doctrines, my shadow was never to darken the door of my church home in the Message again. I’m here speaking now because God gave me the power to do so. What has God changed in you to better use you for His plan?

Different Stories

          The church had given me two main priorities when I was ordained into the position of Youth Minister: to get the youth engaged in church and give them an understanding of the core Message doctrine to give them a closer understanding of why we were separate from other forms of Christianity. I felt that I had to find the Tim-way of doing this so that they would be safe from the doubts and frustrations I had. I wanted to bring the Bible into their lives as they’d never seen it before, making it real to them. A big part of that was to dig up every article and fact I could about the people in it and taking artistic license to bring it into modern terms for them to understand.

              The youth group that had been my sole focus in church for years taught me about being accountable for everything I believed. While tapes and sermons were inspiring and powerful for a congregation, frequently, they failed to explain many of my questions. This was in part because I could not begin a conversation with them and ask things of it when I was lost. I could have researched the transcriptions of William Branham’s sermons, but regardless of how deeply I searched, many of his most famous and referenced quotes rarely followed with grounding and explanation, especially rarely with explicit Biblical support. The one place that always gave me an answer or a direction was the Lord’s Word, so I set the youth group on that same path. In some ways, it was my own failure to find answers for myself within Message doctrine. My inability to continue to follow it, which led to my departure from the Message, was the beginning of the youth’s falling out as well.

            On several occasions, the church leadership asked me why I taught primarily the Bible to the youth group, in place of our more exclusive Message doctrine.  In consideration of tapes and quoting William Branham, they had memorized and and learned almost nothing, because  he was so rarely the answer to their questions, when it came to breaking things down for them.As they participated more in the Question and Answer services, they wanted to know more and more about Biblical concepts to apply in their lives, replacing much of the Branham’s teachings.  Finally he came in my classroom early one Sunday when it was just staff preparing for the service, and told me that I needed to be including Branham’s sermons into my lessons. That’s why I was there to be their youth pastor, and I needed to teach them the Message, and that they would learn the Bible through William Branham, as that was the right way to reach God.

            I was afraid of questioning my faith in the Message for many years, because all of my spiritual leaders, my father and pastor and the deacons that I had come to know so well, couldn’t see what I was learning. When I backed up, asking things of Message doctrine and William Branham’s teachings that the Bible had answered for me and that deep prayer and desperate conversations with God had opened up for me, I found so much out of place. When I compared the two and one came up short, I could see no other answer than to take time and develop my own direct relationship with God outside of the Message and many of its spiritual leaders. I always believed, even as I left, that if the Message was true and best for my spiritual journey, God would’ve led me back to it in a way I could understand.

Children of God

When I think back to my times in church, my first and most precious memories are my times spent with the kids in my youth class. The 3-5 services a week made church seem more like a job than enjoyable. The pressure to run the soundboard and produce copies of the services that met the Pastor’s approval made services more stressful than a time to hear from God. The kids would run around the church, goofing off, to the consequence of a lot of disapproving looks from the deacons and other church leaders, which ultimately fell on me.  After everything, it was still worth it to close the door every Sunday morning and open up the Bible to them.

My goal was to take all the stories and questions they had ever had and take them off the shelf. I wanted them to see the Bible as a book of stories about people as real as them and their friends. I wanted to make them think about the deeper parts of each story in the Bible, the human side: the questions the characters must have had and the doubts and fears they experienced. From the pages of the Bible I would pull the characters out and use my imagination to make them come alive for those kids. I thrived on their curiosity once they got into it. By being direct and open to discussion with all of their questions, not just Bible lessons, my classroom became a place for them to work through things at school, home, and church. As part of their journey, church and Biblical teachings became intertwined in their decisions and plans, as a place to be open up to God’s plan through discussion with other followers of God. We talked and laughed and cried about so many topics but they began to listen in ways I never even hoped I’d reach.. It became clear as they returned each Sunday with questions about the lesson from the previous week that they had read their Bibles between classes, in both personal study and by paying attention.

Whenever the adult service would gather for questions and answers, I encouraged them to be as comfortable with the adults as they were in Sunday School class. Eventually my class was the main source of questions for those services. Many of the lessons involved games, to put fun and practice into the association while they learned. We got  together at bonfires, games, or anything else I could do to make sure they were active and engaged in the church regularly. In a matter of months, I took the teenager population from sleeping during the sermon to taking notes for questions later. It meant the world to me to see them grow in Christ. I had found my focus. I loved teaching them. They made studying my Bible fun and challenging. I couldn’t just talk about Solomon and his temple, I had to know the measurements and value of the thing, cause they would ask me anything and everything. Youth Ministry was my calling. After so much fighting, God had brought me there to give me hope in my faith again.

If you continue in My word…

As I was becoming accepted by those in leadership, I was still dealing with my own doubt. I felt like I was missing part of the relationship with Him. Typically, when faced with a problem where I seem to be the only one not getting it I do one thing; take it apart and learn every piece one by one. I assume that because there are others around they must have figured it out, it must work, the issue therefore is me. So I made sure that I learned it better than anyone so I could help others find what I was clearly missing.

My immersion started with learning the rules and doctrine of the Message better than anyone around me. If this thing was to be what my eternal destination was gauged off of, I would own it. My fellow believers were happy to provide me with books and tapes and quotes. Digital copies were passed around like they were the Holy Grail. The amount of money made off of those first 30gb ipods (27ish gbs were needed to hold the message at that time) must have been insane. For much of my church, this became a convenient way to expose themselves to God’s word, which I too fell into. I listened to recordings when driving, read the books on my lunches, and studied my bible at all hours of the night.

Due to this and my Father’s appointment to assisting minister and deacon in the church, it became known that even as a young man, I was ahead of most in doctrinal understanding. I was becoming respected for having my life together.. I was often invited to the men’s breakfasts and other gatherings; it wasn’t long before I was involved on multiple levels. I took over the recording and reproduction of the services at our church, assisting with almost anything technical. Eventually, I was ordained into ministry and spoke from the pulpit on a number of occasions, which was rare at only nineteen.
Eventually as the previous youth minister stepped down, he and the assistant pastor came to me and offered me the position. I laughed. I was young; I didn’t know how to be in charge of kids not that much younger than myself. I prayed about it and finally. During prayer and fasting I felt like the lord had told me to “Be strong and of good courage, and do it: Fear not, nor be dismayed: For the Lord God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord.” (I Chronicles 28:20)

I had never been so nervous in my life. Standing there in the suit I’d preached to hundreds in still left me shaking in front of these kids. I was a young and naive twenty years old about to face my first class of 11 to 17 yr olds. I was tasked by the Pastor and his assistant to fix the problem of the teenagers not being engaged and wanting to give up on church. I was to turn them towards Christ. I had to show them the missing pieces that I, myself, had barely found. They reminded me every day that even I didn’t know how to find God in the Message all the time, but that I was going to find the answers for them, because my pastor and my God had asked it of me.

Look for the helpers

‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ Fred Rogers
I have been writing some about the churches I left and the church that eventually caused me to almost give up on God because of the mishandling. So today, I want to sidebar into a lighter short about what I learned about church and why it has always been worth the struggle and hurt I endured to get where I am today.
In speaking about my experiences in church, I can come across as rude, angry, and bitter. Those emotions are certainly there. I am a passionate person who without major self discipline wears his emotions on his sleeve for all to see and poke at. I often times get carried away wanting to rail against those who have not only done me wrong but hurt those I love. I take up arms and want to fight a war to save them, that is in my heart. I would spend a lifetime trying to tear down those would enslave people by any means let alone in the name of God.
Waging war may win you a cause, but it is never without high cost. I lose sight of that so many times. I can feel so vindicated, so justified in my righteous cause that all I’m doing in that moment is creating more collateral damage for others to clean up. Church is not for us to fight one another; it has but one purpose: sanctuary for all.
Church is to be a place of healing. You don’t check into a hospital in perfect health expecting to just hang out. You go because things beyond your control are happening, and you need help. Your soul may be hurting from loss, your spirit broken from betrayal, your body sensitive from an unwelcome touch, anything. Church is supposed to be the place you can come to, not that everyone there is some expert. Most are just as wounded and hurting as you are. However, there are always those helping in the church that have been as hurt and broken as you and are ready to be there for you, a place where you can be understood and listened to.
Church is not meant to be judgmental. The Bible teaches us that God judges the heart of men. So regardless of our tattoos or scars, our rags or suits, we should be able to come and sit next to one another without judging. God is working in all of us. (Matthew 11:28-30) He hasn’t gotten you further along simply because you look better. Have you already forgotten the mental battles you were facing as you dressed nice for church? We all have our own struggles, pitfalls, and path. We can never know what someone else is going through. Encourage them, don’t stare. Smile, don’t shake your head. God is the one who will sort things out after all is said and done, not us.
The Bible also shows us that God is a gracious and loving father. If we have a need and ask for something he won’t punish us for it. (Luke 11:13) Why do we turn to those we’re supposed to be showing love to and do this then? When someone comes in battered from a rough week at work, at home, or just in their mind, why would we do anything but help them? There have been times if you stop to think of them, those moments that turned an entire situation around for you. The moment someone gave you the words you needed or the smile that changed your outlook or even the money that got you past the due date. Someone somewhere helped you when you couldn’t help yourself. That is the goal of church.
On the field of battle in the med centers they don’t belittle soldiers for how they got wounded. They don’t withhold medicine unless you’ve said the right things. They want you in top shape so you can be back out there fighting for the cause asap. That is how we should be, looking to be that pick-me-up that someone around us may need. So in all this, I want to help. There are those in the cult fighting just as hard as those outside it. I want to help those on both sides and those stuck in the midst of cross fire. I want to be a helper. Not someone who makes the yoke of Christ heavier than it was intended. I love you all, even when we disagree about things, know that I am praying for you, and I hope you continue to do so for me.