I've been going through my files, looking for material I have written over the years that stands the test of time and growth. This is one of them, a piece I wrote in the Holy Spirit in 2008:
Religion is very swift to get us bogged down in a legalistic pulling back and forth of "good behavior" vs "bad behavior" that is often absolutely crushing -- especially when we get caught in a "bad behavior".
When I first began exploring Scripture, something I noticed early on was that the New Testament was offering a choice to see things differently. The epistles offered a way of living and responding to people and circumstances that I had only seen partly, back when life in America was simpler, and which, these days, is becoming more and more rare. Everything taught in the Bible points towards treating each other with dignity and respect. So our relationships are no longer bound to the restrictions of what pleases me, but rather what makes living in peace with each other possible.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.
I have pondered these words for years. As I departed further and further from the way of life I had always practiced, I realized more and more deeply that the ways Jesus Christ was teaching were making not only my own life make more sense, but having a positive influence on people around me.
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
I have been given an option to try something other than bitterness and revenge as a way of coping from the challenges that confront me. By making it clear that my sins could be left behind, through Jesus forgiveness and my own willingness to stop doing such things, it became possible to see my whole life in a much more positive way. People had always confronted me with negativity. Jesus was teaching me something very different. He was showing me that there was a way to depart from the framework of negativity that had always been the standard; to learn the difference between what was built to last, and what was just passing by. It can get rather tricky, because some statements may be true, so it is important to sort out the application of truth in the context of the situation, and pray into that until it makes sense.
If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
We fight over things that shouldn’t matter, all the while killing the things that do. Christians proudly proclaim themselves “pro-life” all the while denying the very gifts of the adults they deal with on a day-to-day basis. Isn’t that what is happening when instead of cooperating together, everyone seems to want to “out do” each other, or shout the other person down, simply because we don’t understand the other person’s point of view? Or worse yet, as soon as we see that someone got something, in comes that horrible little voice that says that you didn’t get “anything”, causing us to forget or devalue what we did too get! The tragedy is that the unbelieving world is watching the way the church carries on in this manner, and either laughing themselves helpless in sheer contempt or fading away from any possible hope in Jesus Christ in sheer despair.
Accusation is a Spiritually fatal plague that does much to destroy first the individual from within, then, by extension, our relationships as well. It is accusation that causes divorce, family disputes, church splits, to name a few. Accusation is probably the number one cause of depression. I think it starts from within, then works outwardly towards others. All it takes is to fall short of what we might have hoped for or expected of ourselves, and we fall rapidly into self-accusation, considering ourselves a failure.
One of the more amazing things I have found in Jesus Christ is that His opinion of success and failure is very different from my own. Let's take an example from Scripture:
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."
The poor widow very likely apologized to God every step of the way from her home to the Temple for the inadequacy of her offering. She was very likely afraid that God might be disappointed at how unimpressive her tiny little coins were among so much gold and silver that got there first.
How often do we accuse ourselves of falling short of the glories of success in some way or another? I once found out that rich women spend more per month on skin care that I spend on my house payment! That right there is what self-accusation does to a person, and this is an example of what I meant when I said while a statement may be true, it is important to consider the value. Unfortunately the world rewards beauty, so all that expense on skin care can definitely seem necessary. However, one reason so many Americans are losing their houses is that they felt pressured to spend more money than they were actually able to afford, trying to defeat the accusations! So they find themselves bankrupt, and looking great as they fall into genuine disaster, all the while trying to avoid being accused of not being beautiful enough!
When Jesus calls you, He was not looking for someone else, and settling for you instead. He was looking for you. No one sees us the way Jesus does. He has the most amazing way of being able to tell what our best gifts and talents are; He often sees things in us that we ourselves would never have guessed were there. He also sees our hurts and sadnesses in a way that is totally unique to Him.
1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
“…For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.”
Jesus isn’t into blame, but sometimes He will explain where and why something went wrong. He can and does also simply heal us from the inside, or correct our harmful emotions. His goal is always to heal; since passing blame doesn’t do any good, He doesn’t do that. This is where forgiveness ties in; blame and unforgiveness are the same thing. So in order to join hands with Jesus and cooperate with Him, we must be able to find a way to forgive; forgive ourselves, and forgive those who hurt us. This isn’t something we are able to do easily, so prayer is very important, and so is the Holy Spirit, Who specializes in making the impossible possible.
While it certainly can be difficult to forgive someone else, it is even more difficult to forgive yourself. Thanks to the seemingly endless criticism that comes at us from the media and from other people, we tend to see ourselves in a constant state of not-good-enough. Women can never be thin enough, men can never be successful enough, so we are being constantly battered with negative messages. No wonder we do the same sort of thing to each other! Well, I’ve got news for you, most of those negative messages are lies. That’s right, lies.
What is success, really? What is of value, really? Some people speak of what you can and cannot “take with you” when you die, but we should also consider what is really of value while we are here living. Take money, for example. Money is only useful if you have somewhere to spend it. You can have a stuffed wallet, but if you’re stuck in a traffic jam, 5 miles from the nearest gas station, that money doesn’t mean much, but the person whose willing to take you to the gas station suddenly means everything! Now what about relationships; someone who is good to look at can be very nice, but someone you can really trust will matter so much more when you need them most.
So trust would be the most valuable thing we can develop. First, we must be able to trust ourselves. Jesus obviously saw something in you that He can trust, so a good thing to do would be to ask Him what He saw. I once asked in prayer, “Who do You think I am?” at a point when I got sick of everybody else telling me who they seemed to think I am. The answers to that question are still unfolding, and that part of my journey is really special. That’s one of the really cool things about Jesus Christ, is His opinion of who you really are. He can pick out gifts and talents in you that you might not have even guessed were there.
So try to develop yourself to be someone you can trust, Jesus can trust, and everyone else can trust. If you are tempted to do something wrong, its always safe to just not do it and see what happens. Cars have brakes for a good reason, and so do we. Its OK to take a chance on giving thanks for the good things about yourself, and try to build on those things. Its also OK to try to be satisfied with what you do have, even if its maybe not as much as you’d like to have, until things have a chance to change. Try to be as stable as possible with what you have safe; sometimes we get caught thinking what we do have isn’t good enough, so we throw that away before we have something better to replace it. Try to be careful to hang onto what you do have until you are sure you have something better to replace it.
BUT this NEVER works with people. One nasty trick the devil pulls on us is to put down someone we love “You can do better…” is the deadly little thought. That was one of the most grievous lessons I have ever had to learn; people cannot be replaced. If you have a special friend, please understand that there is only one of that person. You almost certainly will not find someone else who has most of what’s special about that one person, but with all that and more! Believe me, I’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work that way!
Hi Mark, you're so very right when you say "many people are overwhelmed with too much information...Pastors nowadays tend to think transformation happens through information but the next week we forget sometimes the very next day"
I can see that you've had it happen to you too. They try so hard to keep church "interesting" that they go from topic to topic way too fast. I was praying this morning about all the religious confusion, and the Holy Spirit said that there is too much information in the Bible for most people to keep up with, so they take one small part to build on.
It just breaks my heart the way people shut each other as well as themselves down. You are again absolutely right when you say "we compliment one another with different gifts and insight." Oh yes, absolutely! Thats why its so important to allow one another to speak, to explore, to ask questions. I search as deeply as I do, because #1, I honestly didn't believe that Christianity expressed the truth about God in the first place, and #2, this Faith is absolutely not something I would have chosen or ever wanted to. For most of my adult life I viewed Christianity with real disgust. I am going through a phase right now where Christianity as a "religion" is just a real turn-off. But at the same time, the things I have struggled with for the first 5 years are coming sharply into focus, because these very things have strengthened my faith to the point where I am actually able to withstand the current challenges.