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Growing up in the organized church, I was taught over time that we actually had enemies within the religious world and that certain groups of people were to be avoided.

I do not think this was done openly but very subliminally, it was just something that you picked up over the years in the christian religion.

I can say this because I spent well over fifty years in the organized christian church and I know how I used to feel. Fortunately, not everyone in the church system feels this way but it does seem to be a pretty normal way of thought for those of us who grew up in it.

acceptoneanother2

Let me be clear, I no longer think this way. I believe Jesus came to show the love of God to all people and he accepted and respected everyone.

Yet in the church system I found that things such as, if you attend a certain denomination all the other denominations do not quite measure up.

If you are a christian then those outside of christianity are to be avoided. Of course acting like a friend so you can witness to them and try to convert them to christianity was OK. I know for a fact that friendship with ulterior motives can be very disheartening.

I found that inside the christian religion atheists are considered to be our enemy. They deny that God exists and it is best for us to stay far away from them so that doubt does not creep into our own way of thinking.

Inside the church system the gay community is to be condemned and shunned. Anyone openly admitting they are gay is an abomination to God and thus to us also. After all, people choose to be gay and that means they are choosing to go against God. Wait, I do not remember choosing to be straight, it is just the way I am. Is that not the case with people who are gay?

People of other religions such as hinduism, buddhism. confucianism, gnosticism, judaism, islam or a host of other religions were considered to be confused and wrong in their beliefs. Nothing measured up except christianity. Still, christianity is a religion created by men. Jesus did not come to start a religion and he is not the head of the christian religion.

Being outside the walls of religion, I have come to see people as people. I have come to know several people of all beliefs and ways of life and have found them to be good friends. We all have our different backgrounds and beliefs but we are all basically the same.

equals

No matter what label the world or religion puts on people, that does not completely describe who they are. Each of us is a person who basically wants the same things and same goals in life. We all want to be happy, to be loved and accepted and to live a good life. We all go about it in different ways but the basics are the same.

Rather than judge and condemn others who do not see things the way we do, it is time we do what Jesus said to do. Love God and love others. We are not here to judge, condemn and try to force people into accepting things the way we see them. The Holy Spirit will draw, convict and change people if that is what is needed. We are only called to be loving and kind to all we meet. Being loving does not mean we always agree, but we can show the love of God and be respectful even in our differences.

So often when we talk about leaving church, people usually misunderstand why we made such a decision.

Far to often christian people who remain in the traditional church system automatically think we have left our faith, gave up on God or are in a back-slidden condition spiritually.

Rather than listen to our reasons and trying to understand, many are more interested in proving why our decision to leave was wrong. They try their best to encourage us to come back to God by going to church. Unfortunately many just write us off as someone to avoid and forget.

If they would only watch and listen a while they would see that we have not left God. We have only left a system that we feel is flawed and not what God intended. We have left the man-made system to follow God in what we feel is a more natural way by putting our dependence on the guidance of the Spirit alone without the middle-man known as a pastor.

We feel we no longer get much out of the weekly organized service with one person doing all the talking. A building where only a select few have anything to do with the pre-planned service.

Churchislifestyle

We feel that when we gather with others each of us should have a voice, some word of teaching or encouragement.

For those who are followers of Jesus, most of us grew up in the church system. That is all most of us have known. Yet it seems the Spirit is drawing many out of the system and into a more organic way of gathering. Church no longer is seen as a building or an organization based on traditions and doctrines of men.

Church is community, it is people living daily under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. It is coming along-side other believers for fellowship, encouragement and building one another up in Christ. This can happen anywhere and any day, in homes, restaurants, parks, pubs……even in buildings when all can participate and be used by the Spirit to encourage others.

For those still in the traditional system, please do not worry about those of us who have left. We have not left God. There is no reason why we cannot all accept one another and the choices we make in regard to attending a religious organization or following Jesus outside the walls of religion and traditional ways of gathering. Whether in or out of the institutional church, each of us in our own way are trying to follow Jesus in the way we feel he is leading us.

Whether you are part of an organized church or not, we as followers of Christ are the Church. It is not a building or an organization but a community of believers loving God and loving others.

We should be able to get past our differences in doctrine and interpretation, get past what church we attend or if we attend at all and focus on our love for God and our love for one another.

We are not going to agree with one another and we are not going to come in contact with every person in the world. Yet we are to be ready each day to allow the Spirit of Christ, who is within us, to reach out to those individuals we do meet along the way to share the love of God with them.

All our organized services and plans to get people to a church building so the pastor can get the good word out will never make a huge difference. It is our job to go out into the world and live a life of love. That does not mean all of us have to become missionaries and go to some far-off land. The people we come in contact with each day during our regular routine are the people we are to show God’s love.

This is the way we will make a difference in our world, when people see the love of God within us for each other and for God.

Be Holy

1 Peter 1:16 –  because it is written, “you shall be holy, for I AM holy.”

I used to read this verse and think of it as a command. I thought God was telling us we had to live a holy life. Hearing this made me wonder how that could ever be possible.

As I became more aware of God’s grace and what all it means, I found my answer as to how to be holy.

God’s grace is a gift. Our sins were crucified with Christ when He died on the cross. Our old sinful nature was buried with Christ and we were raised up as a new creation.

You are Holy

Because of God’s gift of grace our spirits are now made perfect. Our hope is fixed completely on the grace brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We no longer have a spirit that is sinful. We are a new creation in Christ.

Our soul has been made perfect by the grace of Christ. Does this mean we are perfect and never make mistakes….no, our body and our mind are still in process of being transformed. As we allow the spirit of Christ to change and transform us, our body and mind will start to come in line with our spirit. Of course, that will take a lifetime to complete.

I now realize this is not a command but a statement. We are holy because God is holy. Now that Christ has given us the gift of grace we do not live a holy life by works, but God sees a perfect and holy spirit within us because we have been redeemed by Christ.

This hit me one evening as my wife and I sat listening to one of our grandsons play in the school concert band. The band was an example of what the Church should look like. When I say Church I do not mean a building under the direction of a pastor but a community of believers, each with a part to play under the guidance of Jesus.

There were many people from many different backgrounds playing various instruments. As they played different songs some of them moved to another instrument playing two or three different instruments.

Each participated using the talents they were given. They blended together as a unit when they were under the leadership of the director.

Concert Band

If only one person played and all the others just sat there, we would be missing out on a beautiful sound. Or if each person played what they wanted, separately doing it their own way we would get many people playing different tunes and styles without direction. It would sound terrible.

Even though each individual had their own gifts and part to play, they all kept their eyes on the director who brought it all together in perfect harmony.

As the Church, each of us come from many different backgrounds. We all have a gift, talent or various talents given to us by the Spirit. We have different parts to play but each of us participates.

Imagine if we all came together and only one person participated. We would be missing out on a beautiful experience of the complete body participating and using their God-given talents for the good of the group.

Church is not a place to go where everyone sits down and just listens to one person, but it is people who are equally functioning parts of the body under the direction of Jesus who is head of the body.

Each of us make up the body of Christ, and as we keep our eyes on the director, Jesus, he will bring everything together in perfect harmony for the good of the body.

In our world today unity and agreement are things that are almost unheard of happening.

There are different areas where groups of people will unit in a common cause or belief, but even then complete agreement among members is hard to attain.

Look at Christianity. Those of us who claim to be christians are divided up into thousands of groups, denominations, doctrines and beliefs. We usually find a common group within a particular church or denomination, yet complete agreement is rarely found even there.

DividedChristianity

Seems our whole world is based on division. Just look within the church not to mention other religions. Do you think christians and atheist will ever agree? How about those who believe in marriage between a man and a woman and the gay community.  What about blacks and whites, or americans and those from other countries. Will republicans and democrats ever work together?

The thing is that unity and agreement is probably not going to happen in the world as we know it. There are so many different personalities, beliefs and lifestyles for all of us to agree. Yet that does not mean that we cannot accept one another, respect one another and live together in peace even in our differences.

In a world like ours we probably will not see the acceptance and respect for one another that we should. But does that mean we stop striving for such a world? Do we just stop thinking of others and do only what is best for us? Do we really think our way is the right way and everyone else is wrong?

Especially as those who claim to follow the way of Jesus, we should be known for our love of others. Each of us has the right to follow what we feel is right and live according to our convictions. That does not mean everyone is right or wrong, but everyone should be accepted and treated respectfully whether we all agree or not.

LoveOneAnotherAsIHaveLovedYou

Jesus said to love God and love others. He did not say we all have to agree or live the same way. Jesus lived and walked among all kinds of people, many of those the religious people would not associate. Rather than look at all the labels we place upon people and groups, look at the human being and see a person that God created and loves.

If we see things differently, if we cannot agree or come into unity together, at least respect each other and treat people like you would like to be treated.

For those of us who have left the institutional church, have you ever wondered why people get upset with us for our move?

We have grown up in the system and have friends whom we enjoy and have common faith, but when we leave one church to go to another they disappear. Seems as long as there is common belief we are good, but when we see things differently things change.

father son and holy bible

Even more so when we decide to leave the church system because we believe it is wrong. We have grown up in a system that at one time seemed like everything about God revolved around. We went to God’s house on Sunday the sabbath day. We gave God ten percent of our income to help with his work. We listened to God’s man or woman who was the pastor tell us what God was saying in the book God wrote personally. Really, sometimes I got to thinking the trinity was God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Bible.

I know since leaving the institution many people get upset and worried about us. “What? You do not go to church? Did someone make you mad or did you lose your faith”? Usually it is a matter of them trying to convince us where we are wrong and why we need to get back in church. So much for following the Spirit as our teacher and guide. So much for being the Church each and every day. According to most, we need to be in a church and under the authority of a pastor or we are not the christian we should be.

For some reason it is hard for people to understand our decision to leave the system. Even though we tell them we have not left God and we are enjoying life outside the walls of religion, they just do not get it.

In one way I can understand because I used to be the same way. Being in church was the most important part of my christian life. I always thought if we were not in church each week our commitment to God was pretty low. It is funny how we can base our relationship to God on how many times we go to church or read our bibles or witness. Within the system it is always a works-based mentality.

church has left building

Jesus set us free from works and law-based living. The good works we do now are a result of loving God and doing things out of that love rather than trying to earn our way by what we do.

If people would only give us a chance, listen to why we left the church system and what our thoughts are on living with God on a daily basis as the Church, they may see things a little differently. They may actually still want to be friends and hang out with us. I do not expect every christian to see things my way, yet I would expect others to still be friends and accept me even though we see things differently. We are still following the same Jesus and are to show his love to all people.

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