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by Jim Gordon

Have you noticed how so many of us christian people seem to only include our preferred group. People who think like us and have faith like us. If you think differently, we feel you should stay in your own group with like-minded people, but leave us alone. Sorry to say I used to feel that way, but have thankfully changed my mind.

We seem to find this attitude in every walk of life, but within organized religion or institutional church seems even worse. We all should be accepting of people in general in our daily lives. Yet, we see this so often within Christianity with the wide variety of denominations and interpretations of the bible.

When it comes to including people who we see as completely different from us, African-American, White, LGBT, Atheist, Muslim, Jew and so on, we tend to want to keep each group separate. We think as believers in God we need to separate ourselves and not associate with those who see things differently. Why is it the word inclusion seems to make so many christian people cringe?

Really, behind all the labels we put on people we are all basically the same, so why not associate and get to know people who we feel are different from us? We can learn from one another and get to know one another and find that we really are not all that different.

We see Jesus do this all the time when reading the gospels in the bible. He did not differentiate people based on their religion, belief, lifestyle or nationality. He did not separate himself from those who thought, believed and lived differently. He loved and accepted all people and showed them the love of God.

Obviously loving and accepting people does not mean agreement nor are we going to always get along in life and live happily ever after together. Yet I believe it does mean treating others the same, with respect, kindness, acceptance and with the love of God through the power of the Spirit within.

Inclusion is not a bad word. It is not a bad or unholy way to live. Inclusion is about ALL of us. Inclusion is about living full lives – about learning to live together. It makes the world our classroom for a full life. Inclusion treasures diversity and builds community. It is about our abilities – our gifts and how to share them. Inclusion is the way of God and the way of showing the love of God to all we meet.

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by Michael Clark, Guest Blogger
https://awildernessvoice.blog/

Picture taken at a rest stop along the highway in central Idaho

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all… (1Tim 2:5-6, ESV2011)

The Lord drew my attention today to this word mediator. He wanted me to see just what a great and thorough salvation we have been given to us in Jesus Christ. So I looked up the definition of mediator in Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words and found the following:

<Grk. mesites>

lit., “a go-between” (from mesos, “middle,” and eimi, “to go”), is used in two ways in the NT, (a) “one who mediates” between two parties with a view to producing peace, as in 1Ti 2:5, though more than mere “mediatorship” is in view, for the salvation of men necessitated that the Mediator should Himself possess the nature and attributes of Him towards whom He acts, and should likewise participate in the nature of those for whom He acts (sin apart); only by being possessed both of deity and humanity could He comprehend the claims of the one and the needs of the other; further, the claims and the needs could be met only by One who, Himself being proved sinless, would offer Himself an expiatory sacrifice on behalf of men; (b) “one who acts as a guarantee” so as to secure something which otherwise would not be obtained. Thus in Heb 8:6; Heb 9:15; Heb 12:24 Christ is the Surety of “the better covenant,” “the new covenant,” guaranteeing its terms for His people.

Mesites not only means “to go and stand in the middle,” but to accomplish the task for whom He was sent. God sent Jesus to the earth with not only His own attributes and mind, but he was given the attributes and understanding of mere men, yet without sin. Or as it says in the letter to the Hebrews:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:14-16, ESV2011)

What can be added to that? Our salvation has been made complete as we abide by faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This is why the writer of Hebrews goes on to emphasize that there remains a rest for the people of God and warns us not miss that place of rest like the Hebrew people did in the wilderness. How do we miss it? By not resting, but rather choosing to do works, the works of the law, and the works of religion as we try to justify our existence as Christians. Yet the scriptures tell us, “The just shall live by faith.”

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9, ESV2011)

Even our faith is a free gift from God and not something we conjure up by positive thinking. Our salvation and faith is not of works! We rest in Christ as sons and daughters of God.

As I thought on this it became clear to me just how many “mediators” we who call ourselves “Christians” cling to in our constant state of un-rest, even though Paul makes it clear that there is only ONE Mediator between us and God. These can all be summed up as works, dead works!

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:13-14, KJV)

The writer of Hebrews was addressing the works of religion. We can serve our dead works or we can walk by the Spirit and serve God. In this same chapter about entering into God’s rest we read,

…Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (Heb 4:7, KJ2000)

“While it is yet today” we are to enter into His rest. Today means moment by moment, living in the now. When we are bound by sin and our self-centered ways we are driven by thoughts of the past, by guilt or by worries of what tomorrow may bring. God’s voice is in the now. He calls Himself, the I AM, not the I Was or the I Will Be. We must leave our old ways of doing things and stop listening to our own thoughts long enough to hear HIS voice moment by moment while it is still called “Today.” We don’t listen to His voice because we habitually listen to our own inner voice and the confusion of our own thoughts. God calls this state of affairs a hardened heart. Yes, today after so long a time we must start listening to His voice, and when we obey that voice we start doing live works instead of dead works.

These dead works were being done by Jewish Christians, Hebrews who were still clinging to the Old Covenant. For them it was all about what the voice of God said YesterdayAll their religious activities were separating them from the perfect work of Christ as their ONE Mediator. They were still loyal to that other mediator of the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses, instead of the New Covenant of the Living Christ (See Jeremiah 31-31-34). They failed to enter into the Promised Land because of unbelief. They had works, but no faith and rebellion against God was the result.

Christianity has many traditions that we as Christians rigidly cling to that are not to be found in the New Testament writings. These traditions stand between us and God and displace Christ as our Mediator. We use them as a shield in our unbelief, just like Adam and Eve who made themselves garments of fig leaves to cover their nakedness after they sinned. Some of our traditions are regular church attendance, tithing, Sunday school, church hierarchy, the need for “all things spiritual” to take place in a special religious building, fellowship based on believing in and adhering to the same doctrines, outward appearances rather than being adorned by the hidden beauty of a heart that is resting in God, or receiving one another only to get into “doubtful disputations.” etc. There is no end to this list. Each of these things we judge as necessary to please God. They are MEDIATORS! They stand “in the middle (mesos)” between us and God and displace Christ as our All, the ONE Mediator between God and man, the Living Logos of God. Jesus told the law keeping Jews, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” (Matt 15:6, ESV2011) This condition contributes to us failing to enter into our Father’s rest because they are all of works and not of faith alone in Jesus Christ. There is no “Jesus And.” He is either our All in all or He is nothing at all. Paul wrote,

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:17-23, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Christ is our Head, not men. He is our fullness. All we can do is walk by faith and abide in God’s perfect rest as we abide in Jesus. Man was created at the end of the sixth day for a reason, that we might walk with God in His seventh day of rest and abide in heavenly places IN Christ. We must labor therefore to enter into that rest (see Hebrews 4:10) and cease from all our (religious) works as God ceased from His works and rested. The origins of religion (the offerings of Cain and Abel) were the direct result of sin consciousness. By faith in Christ we are set free of sin consciousness. Christ is the fulfillment not only of the Old Covenant law, but also of any laws that we might construe from reading the New Testament. There is nothing we can do or adhere to that can add to what Jesus has already done. Are all works dead works? No, if we do not harden our hearts and obey His voice within, the resulting works will be enlivened by His Spirit and will bring forth good fruit. If we are truly IN Christ as our Life, what can we add to that? As John put it, “In Him was Life and the Life was the light of men,” and it still is!

“…for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2Cor 6:16, KJ2000)

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Nine Church traditions that need to die
by Dan Foster , Guest Blogger
(Regularly writes at medium.com)

Growing up as Pastor’s kid in the eighties gave me a front row pew to the kind of vitriol and anger that can emerge from an otherwise lovely and mild-mannered Christian when you say or do something to offend them.

I remember the first time my Father preached a sermon on the topic of sex — something quite ground-breaking at the time. After the service, he stood at the door and greeted everyone as he always did. I remember one little old lady getting right up in my Dad’s face and, waving one pointed finger perilously close to his nose, screeching at him, “If you ever mention ‘that word’ in church again, I’m never coming back.” She couldn’t even bring herself to say the word “sex,” because I suppose she was far too upright and pious for the likes of anything slightly pleasurable or necessary for the survival of the human race.

Photo by Daniel Tseng on Unsplash

My father was a great pastor, but he was ahead of his time. He like to challenge the status quo, make people shift uncomfortably in their pews and, occasionally, he like to slaughter a sacred cow.

The term, “sacred cow,” has its origins in Hinduism, but it is commonly used in Christian circles to describe those elements of church life that have been elevated to such a high level of importance that they cannot be touched, criticized, changed or removed. Above all, sacred cows are not essential to the fundamentals of Christianity, but people treat them as if they are. In fact — truth be told — if you got rid of them, the church would function just as effectively — probably even more so.

Over three decades in the Evangelical church I have done a fair bit of cow spotting. Here are a few common sacred cows that need to be put out to pasture — maybe even slaughtered completely:

The Offering

One of the most awkward parts of many a church service is the moment that an open offering plate is thrust under your nose by an eager and expectant church usher (usually an older man), with the expectation that you will put a wad of hundred dollar bills in it. Okay… so maybe not that much, but the pressure to give is real.

This uncomfortable tradition of ‘sending around the plate’ is usually prefaced by an ‘offering talk’ (that is sometimes almost as long as the sermon itself), where parishioners are exhorted to let the moths out of their purses and fill the coffers of the church for the good of the Kingdom. In the worst of cases, some churches insinuate or even promise that your financial gifts will somehow unlock the blessing of God over your life — as if God could somehow be bought off in such a way. This amounts to nothing more than manipulation.

Should we give? Yes! Christ calls us to be generous and to give to those in need. However, we are also told to give discreetly and without fanfare. In fact, the Bible says, “Each one of us should give what we have decided in our heart to give. We should not give if it makes you unhappy or if we feel forced to give. God loves those who are happy to give.”

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Photo by By Suzanne Tucker on Shutterstock — purchased with license

The Communion Table

I know of a worship leader who made the mistake of resting his guitar up against the communion table at the end of his worship set. The backlash was swift and brutal. The pastor’s inbox was full of complaints about the irreverence of the worship leader. How dare he use the table of the Lord to rest a common musical instrument up against!

True to its form, the church publicly humiliated the worship leader by making him get up on stage an apologize to everyone for his gross sacrilege. He left the church soon after. Good for him!

I heard of another pastor who moved the communion table from the center of the stage to a position off to one side, simply to create a little more space. The pastor was accused of attacking the centrality of the Lord’s supper, leading people astray and presenting a ‘watered-down’ version of Christianity. The following week, the communion table was back in the middle of the stage. From then on, the pastor would move the table just a few inches each week and, over a period of several months, successfully moved it back to one side without anyone noticing.

In some churches, the communion table is a scared cow. In reality it’s just a piece of ordinary furniture. Covering it in a nice white table cloth doesn’t make it sacred. Even the fact that the elements of the Lord’s supper sit on top of it doesn’t make it sacred. In fact, to place such high importance on an inanimate object would be akin to making an idol out of it, wouldn’t it?

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Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

Church Music

One of the sacred cows that my father was unable to kill, when he was a pastor, was the pipe organ. The church had an ancient pipe organ that was so seldom used that it was almost purely ornamental. I’m pretty sure that the last human being who actually knew how to play it had passed away a few centuries earlier. Even so, when the church outgrew its ancient building and attempted to shift the congregation into a bigger and more modern facility, they were unable to part ways with the pipe organ. Consequently, at great expense, the entire organ was painstakingly removed from the old sanctuary and transplanted into the new. There it sits as an ancient monument to a bygone era, gathering dust. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

This highlighted to me how we can get attached to certain instruments, styles of worship — even certain songs — to the point of elevating them to god-like status. Music is one of the most-complained-about aspects of church. Every week someone would say the music was too loud, too soft, too fast or too slow. They would complain that the number of old hymns was disproportionate to the amount of modern worship songs. They would say that certain songs lacked lyrical content, theological accuracy or a catchy riff. When it comes to the sacred cow of music, Christians can fire up very quickly.

However, we weren’t even commanded to gather around an organ and sing, were we? Singing is really just one way to worship. It’s not the be-all-and-end-all. These days, my favorite way to worship is actually to sit in silent contemplation. Try that sometime!

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Male-dominated church leadership

Once upon a time, the idea that power and leadership was ascribed to men by virtue of their gender alone was widely accepted. In some cultures it still is. However, as the modern, Western world continues its relentless and necessary march towards equality, patriarchal structures and systems are quite rightly viewed as unacceptable and outdated. Still, those who stand to lose the most by the deconstruction of patriarchal systems — namely conservative men — won’t go down without a fight. Nowhere is this more evident than in the church, when some men will fight tooth and nail to protect their turf.

A woman can be the leader of my country, but she can’t be a leader in many local churches. That’s because many Christian churches ascribe to a form of “benevolent patriarchy” commonly known as Complementarianism. This belief gives men the role of authority over the wife and children, and only allows men to be church leaders. Women are expected to submit unilaterally to men, fathers, husbands, pastors.

I remember the very last time I attended a board meeting at my conservative, evangelical church. The group — all men of course — had gathered, and a decision needed to be made that required some legal advice.

“What a pity we don’t have any lawyers who come to our church that we can refer to for this matter,” Said one of the board members.

“My wife is a lawyer,” I spoke up.

“True,” replied the board member, “What a shame she is the wrong gender.”

And the rest of the men chuckled knowingly.

We ought to be disturbed when it is suggested that those absent of male genitals must unilaterally submit and defer to those with.

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Photo by Lisa F. Young on Shutterstock — purchased with license

Church and politics

Many Christians are uncomfortable with the marriage that seems to exist between the church and the conservative side of politics. It is a well established fact that white, evangelical protestant Christians overwhelmingly support Donald Trump and his presidency to the point where “Evangelical Christian” has become a kind of synonym for “Trump Supporter.”

The idea that Jesus is somehow on the side of the Republican Party is laughable. If Jesus is on anyone’s side, it’s the side of the orphan, the widow, the refugee, the poor, the lost, the hurting and the weak.

In my home country, Australia, I believe that the more progressive political parties often have ideas more aligned with the compassion and grace that Christianity is supposed to espouse, particularly in matters pertaining to welfare, foreign aid, equality, asylum seekers and the environment. Yet, it is kind of an unwritten rule that Christians should vote for the conservatives.

Yes, I have had friends walk away from the church because they can’t reconcile why the church supports political parties that turn away the refugee and oppress the minority.

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Photo by ehrlif on iStockphoto — purchased with license

The Building

Let’s be clear. The Bible never mentions a building called ‘Church.’ Never. In fact, the Bible never speaks of church in those terms. The buildings came later when the state got a hold of the church, under Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 AD.

On the other hand, Jesus said where two or three are gathered He is present. Two or three — not 40 or 150 or 6,000. Not in an auditorium with a speaker, a band and dozens of rows of chairs. When Jesus spoke about the church, he was talking about people. People are the building blocks of church, not bricks and mortar. That is why church began in the humble homes of believers and that is why church can still continue in the humble homes of believers even as we are forced apart on occasions such as global pandemics.

Jesus never instructed believers to buy land, build buildings, establish a weekly worship service, create a liturgy or institute a sacrament. He simply commanded believers not to forget Him; to live together, and to eat, and to remember. A building is not needed. It might be helpful, sure. But real Christianity is a fully portable experience.

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Photo by Skull Kat on Unsplash

Children’s Sunday School

At various times in the Gospels, Jesus’s disciples are seen to try to keep children away from Jesus, because Jesus was — in their opinion — far too busy and important for kids. Yet, in Matthew 18:10, Jesus commands us not to look down on children, but to welcome them.

Therefore, it strikes me as odd that many churches segregate children to some far-removed corner of the church property so that the adults can worship God in peace and quiet. Here, during an hour of glorified babysitting, we teach children to be good little boys and girls. We teach them to be nice, obedient and compliant.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for children’s Sunday School lessons, but I think the whole system needs an overhaul. Better yet, here’s an idea. How about we design worship services that are inter-generationally friendly so that we can all participate together? We ought to stop patronizing children, and start to treat them as people who have a things that they can teach us, and meaningful contributions they can make.

No wonder my kids found church so boring, because — let’s be honest — young people are drawn to risk, challenge and adventure, but these things are often discouraged in the local church. Instead, many congregations offer a safe, nurturing community — an oasis of stability and predictability. Studies show that women and seniors gravitate toward these things. So not surprisingly such congregations are over-represented with women and seniors.

Richard Rohr, in his book, “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” says it like this:

“Real spirituality should emphasize movement over stillness, action over theory, service to the world over religious discussions, speaking the truth over social niceties, and doing justice instead of self-serving. Without this, spirituality becomes characterized by too much inwardness, a morass of unclarified feelings, and religion itself as a security blanket. This prevents a journey to anyplace new, and fosters a constant protecting of the old. It is a no-risk religion, just the opposite of Abraham, Moses, Paul and Jesus…”

As long as we present the Christian faith, inaccurately, as something less than the great, challenging, risky, dangerous, treacherous adventure that it was meant to be, we sell out. And children will find their adventure elsewhere.

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Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Pews

In the small village of Okeford Ftizpaine in South West England, locals are up in arms after their parish church made the decision to sell off their 150-year-old, antique Victorian-era wooden pews.

As comfortable as old wooden pews are, I would not personally object being able to sit on something more modern and easy-on-the-backside, especially during the weekly sermon by the local vicar.

Not the people of Okeford Fitzpaine, though. They would rather keep their old pews. However, it turns out the removal of these ancient bench seats is rather a matter of necessity as the sanctuary requires more flexible furnishings to allow space for people who are… how do you say it nicely? More rotund than the average human.

A recent report by the church committee concluded: “We have had occasions at weddings where the couple have been too large to be able to walk side by side down the aisle. With different chairs we would be able to widen the aisle.” They also added that the the pews were not suited to the “human form of today” — presumably that means the larger human form.

Even so, it beats me how a church community could somehow think that uncomfortable, 150-year-old wooden pews were so essential to church life that they are worth fighting for — as if single chairs might somehow the instruments of Satan.

Burn the pews, I say!

And while we are at it, let’s get rid of rows all together. I say that because rows divide and differentiate. Rows promote the consumerist mindset. Rows promote the brainless acceptance of information without critique. Rows perpetuate the hierarchical model that places an expert up the front to mediate between us and God. How about we meet in circles instead — around tables even? Tables invite connection. Tables invite conversation. Tables invite friendship.

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Photo by Kyler Nixon on Unsplash

Marriage

In 2017, the satirical Christian website Babylon Bee published an article entitled, “Woman In Singles’ Ministry Gets Married, Promoted To Real Christian.” The article gently pokes fun at the idea that getting married is basically a ‘level up’ in Christian circles.

The reality is that the popular view of our day is that singleness is a bad position and marriage will cure it — that being single is not sufficient, not adequate. It’s something you need to change because it’s wrong. And, if this is the popular view in our society, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s the popular view in the church. At first, we make fun of single people (mainly while they are young), but only for a while. As they get older, we begin to wonder what’s wrong with them. Are their standards too high? Eventually, we end up pitying them, as if they were destined for a miserable life.

Somehow, we arrived at the idea — the myth — that singleness is bad. It’s the reason my Mum started suggesting suitable partners for me as soon as I turned 18. It’s the reason why I signed up to a dating website when I was in my early 20s. It’s the reason why people in the church ask, “So, when are you gonna find yourself a nice girl?” It’s the reason why half of you are trying to match-make for your single friends. Christian are often guilty of treating singleness like it’s a problem that needs to be solved — despite the fact that Jesus and the Apostle Paul were single men.

In fact, the Apostle Paul comes along in 1 Corinthians 7 and lifts up singleness as a legitimate way to live, in a way that would have shocked the world in which they lived at the time. Suddenly Paul is calling singleness a gift. A gift! Imagine that! In so doing, Christianity was the first religion that held up singleness as good. So, the church ought to quit making it out like married Christians are on a higher level, somehow.

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Photo by Richard Jaimes on Unsplash

It’s time to kill the sacred cows

Call me a heretic if you like, but I don’t think that Jesus is impressed by our attempts to clutch at power, to elevate some and to put others ‘in their place,’ to resist change, preserve the status quo and uphold ancient practices and models that are superfluous to the fundamentals of Christianity.

And I really don’t think that Jesus cares too much about the form of our worship — our buildings, our furniture, our music, and our religious traditions.

So, why do we elevate these things to such a high position that we would be willing to fight over it? I’ve seen churches split, people hurt and relationships destroyed over these trivial matters.

They are sacred cows! Now let’s slaughter them!

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by Jim Gordon

If you have grown up in the organized church system and later change your views, what do you do with all your all friends who are still in the system?

Sometimes the first thought is to separate from them. They no longer understand you so why be a part of them?

To this I say that the bible says to forsake not the assembling of yourselves together. I do not believe that means we need to stay a part of an organized church and attend their meetings. I feel it means we still need our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not done through a Christian organization on a certain day of the week. How much fellowship can we really have sitting in an organized service listening to one person do all the talking?

We need a daily interaction with believers for encouragement, strength, prayer support, helping others and sharing the love of God to lift one another up. We need communion with other believers, and not necessarily always about spiritual things. Just good old fellowship and communication on a number of topics: spiritual, our various concerns and needs, funny things and basic conversation.

I honestly feel we should not separate ourselves from those who think differently from us, but sometimes it cannot be helped because they will cut us off. They tend to think we have lost our faith or have fallen under the lies of the devil.

When my wife and I left the organized church, we did not leave God. We still believe in Jesus, in loving God and loving others. We love our brothers and sisters who are still in the organization and believe we still need each other.

We do need to get past the us versus them mentality and accept one another whether we attend a religious organization or not.

If they feel we have lost our faith or walked away from God, it does not mean they are our enemy. We are still to love them and do our best to get along and support them. If they choose to stay away from us, there is nothing we can do about that, but we cannot write them off and forget them. We still love them, pray for them, and go on with our lives sharing the love of God with them any everyone we meet.

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by Jim Gordon

In our world today there seems to be a lot of talk in the Christian world of standing up for our beliefs and doctrines. It seems we feel this is the best way to show our devotion to God and be a witness for Him. I am not so sure this is the best way. As Christians we are getting to be known more for what we are against and being unloving rather than showing the love of God to others.

Many of us go to a church building on Sunday and sing and smile and listen to a sermon and think we have fulfilled our duties for the week. All day we are feeling good and close to God and think everything is good.

Then Monday hits and we go grudgingly off to work with a frown on our face and feeling down. We should be ready to show the love of God to those we are around but often due to being in a bad mood we snap at fellow employees and try to make them feel as bad as we do.

It seems we often forget that Christianity is not a religion or a one day a week event. As followers of Christ we are to let Christ live through us in the strength of the Holy Spirit. We are to let his love flow out of us to touch those we come in contact with throughout the day.

Rather than trying to prove our faith by pointing out what we think are the mistakes and shortcomings of others, rather than condemning them and making them feel like outsiders we should be allowing the love of Christ to touch them. We should be accepting and treat all people like we want to be treated without any ulterior motives.

While Jesus lived on earth he constantly spent time with those the religious crowd would not even think of being around. He spent time doing things that the religious leaders thought were wrong and against their religious laws. They could not even accept him as the messiah because he was so different from them and what they thought was a godly way to live.

Jesus accepted people for who they were, just the way they were and did not show condemnation toward them. As followers of Christ we are to do the same. It is not our job to be the judge of others. We are not to be pointing out what we do not like or disagree with and treating people like second class citizens. The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin where conviction is needed. We do not need to do the job of the Holy Spirit, we are here to be Jesus to all people, loving, accepting and treating everyone with respect no matter who they are or what they believe.

Rather than fighting, arguing and trying to prove our way of thinking, we should follow the leading of the Spirit for ourselves. Let each person make the decision that is right for them based on their walk with God. Live your life in love and under the guidance of the Spirit, letting your life be a witness to the love of God.

We are called to love God, live for Him and let Him work in us. We are also called to love one another, which means we pass on the unconditional love of God to all we meet along the way.

In our world today with all the discrimination and unloving ways of the world and even of religion and the church, we are to allow the Holy Spirit to love others through us. Let them know they are accepted and cared for and that they are loved beyond measure by God. Love is the way of God because God is love. Stop the unloving and condemning attitudes and let those you come in contact with each day know they are loved and accepted just for being themselves.

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by Jim Gordon

Growing up in the world of Christianity and the church, I have memories of a time when all seemed well within the system. I thought we all loved one another and we could share the love of God with everyone we met. I felt if I stayed in the system and listened to the pastor, I would learn all I needed to know to be a Christian who could handle anything.

After many years within Christianity and the organized church, I began having feelings of not being satisfied. I saw people who wanted to have things their way or else. I saw people looked down upon or ignored enough to leave. I saw people outside the church service who acted just like everyone else and treated people who they disagreed with in a very unloving way.

I began to question if Christianity was truly what God intended and if the church was what Jesus talked about when he said he would build his Church. Jesus said he would build his church, which is his people. It is also said that God does not live in houses made by human hands. The bible makes it plain that we, his people are now the temple and the Holy Spirit lives within us. We no longer need anyone to teach us. We have the Word of God living in us teaching and guiding us throughout our lives.

It finally began to hit me that Christianity was just another religion like all the others. It was organized and controlled by human beings. It was an organization of power, control, disagreement and exclusion. I wondered what happened to the Christianity I knew growing up. I truthfully do not think it changed, I think I changed. I think the change was due to learning and following the guidance of the Spirit who is within me.

Have you ever felt frustrated with the Christian world today? Obviously, the church today is not what God intended and in America the church has become a big corporation more than anything.

It finally got to a point where my wife and I were frustrated enough with Christianity that we decided to leave the church. The more we read, prayed, meditated and thought about things we also got frustrated enough to leave Christianity.

Now before you have that common reaction to call us heretics, back-slidden Christians, or fallen from grace let me say we have not left God. I know many people believe if you leave the church or the Christian organization you have left God, but that is not the case.

Believe it or not, Jesus was not a Christian. He did not start the organized, religious church. He did not favor one group of people over another. He loved people, all people. He asks us to do the same and that was not something I was seeing within the organization.

I will say that if you are satisfied with the church system and enjoy meeting together with other like-minded people, that is OK. My only thought is that you remember church is not a place nor an organization. The pastor is not the middleman between you and God. One denomination or church doctrine is not the true church or only way of interpreting the ways of God.

The fact is that God loves us. There is nothing we have to do or stop doing to receive God’s love. We are saved and restored to fellowship with God through faith in Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and we do not have to listen to this group or that group, this speaker or that preacher. We follow God in the way He wants us to go and we no longer have to worry about our reputations or what others think. We no longer have to look to religion or man-led organizations to live for God.

I really believe if we accept God’s love, follow Him and listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit within us we will be pleasing to God no matter what others say. We no longer have to be tossed to and fro by listening to all the different voices in Christianity today. We listen and trust God and enjoy the fellowship we have with Him through Christ.

Looking at things in this way, it has become a life of following the example of Jesus and doing what is pleasing to God. We no longer worry about following the religion of Christianity, but we go by the guidance of the Holy Spirit who lives within us. The religious organization we so commonly call Christianity has become something we no longer need. We now live life by following the Spirit, loving God and loving all people. For us, this daily way of living has replaced the man-made organization with a more meaningful way of life.

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by Jim Gordon

I have talked a lot about the church system, pastors and leaving the institutional church. I do not want anyone to think I am against the organized church. Even though we are divided with denominations and various interpretations of the bible, we should be united in love for God and for one another.

My parents took me to church when I was so young I did not know what church was, and I was faithful just about every Sunday for the next 58 years.

Many good things happen in church, many good friends are made in church, a lot of good information and knowledge about God, love, grace and hope are found in church.

For my wife and I, we grew very dissatisfied with the method of church that is so common today. We would rush to get ready, rush to get there on time, shake a few hands, sit and listen to a few people do all the talking then rush out to get on with our day. There were times when we participated with the various meetings and opportunities the church offered and there were times when we only went to the planned meetings on Sunday and Wednesday.

I want to point out that if you enjoy gathering together on Saturday or Sunday with other believers in an organized service, there is nothing wrong with doing so.

While I personally do not believe church attendance is a must to be a follower of Christ, many people do believe so. That certainly does not make us enemies. Whether in the organized church or not we are all people who love God and are brothers and sisters in Christ. God loves us all just the same.

For me, a few things I look at differently about church is that I do not believe true church is a building, a place, or an organization. I believe Church is people and it does not matter if you attend a building or not. If you want to meet in a building that is OK, just realize you do not have to. We are the temple of God.

Pastors are not the mouthpiece or middle men/women of God. They are fellow brothers/sisters in Christ who are to support, encourage and build up others in their walk with God. The Holy Spirit lives within us and the Spirit is our teacher and guide.

Sunday is not the sabbath. That was old covenant. Many people call Sunday the Lord’s day and I agree, but I also say Monday is the Lord’s day just as every day is the Lord’s day. This (today) is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I no longer believe in tithing. That also is old covenant. That is not to say we are not to give but we give as we determine in our heart. We give to help others, not to support a religious system. If you regularly attend an organized church then you should give to help support it. There are salaries to be paid, mortgages and utilities to be paid and various expenses to keep the organization running. Yet giving to those causes is not tithing and not required.

So basically, what it boils down to is that each of us in our own way want to love and worship God and we want others to know of God’s love. How we go about it, if we attend a building for a religious service with others or if we do not, makes no difference. We can go out daily knowing the Spirit of God lives within us, teaches us, guides us and shares the love of God with others. We do not need to look at each other and think the other is wrong for the way they choose to follow God. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we are called to assemble together in the commonality of showing the love of God to all we meet.

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by Jim Gordon

To take this title literally would be something that would make me mad and upset. In the midst of a pandemic some think it is spiritual to show they are not afraid and can ignore all that is being said because God will take care of them.  They tend to think it shows a lack of faith on their part to take the precautions many are calling for. Many say trust God and throw caution to the wind.

I do believe we will make it through this time and I do believe we can trust God to provide for us. Yet I do believe we have minds and common sense to do what we can, without panic to protect ourselves and to protect others.

The one statement that so many pastors and church organizations use to promote church attendance is the one mentioned above, forsake not the assembling of ourselves together. I have always been told that means we need to come together every Sunday at a designated place to sit through an organized meeting led by the pastor. If we fail to do so we are certainly not being the ‘good’ Christian we are supposed to be.

Yet to me, and especially in this time we are going through, this phrase speaks more to assembling together by helping one another, encouraging one another, checking on one another.  The dictionary describes assembling as bringing together or gather into one place. That does not necessarily mean a physical place but a place of agreement, a place of commonality for a similar purpose.

Now is the time to physically keep your distance, but it is also time to assemble together in the sense of fulfilling a common goal of caring for your fellow human being. It is time to put aside differences and join together for the purpose of caring for one another and supporting each other through these difficult times.

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by Jordan Hathcock

Ritual is simply a set of practices in a period of chaos so we can experience the chaos safely.  –Jason Coker

In a time of unrest and chaos, the tool that seems to work most effectively is the practice of rites and rituals. Now, this can be (and most likely is) triggering for most of us who have experienced unhealthy spiritual practices. Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is something more and more people are dealing with and I know its something that is not to be taken lightly. When it comes to the Christian tradition, the “church” has not always been a place that produces healthy rites and rituals to assist us in getting through the ambiguous times in our lives. Instead, church practices often get the process ass backwards: We develop rites and rituals to control and manipulate people to believe and act a certain way instead of creating spaces available for us to grow in these times of pandemonium. Cognitive dissonance is viewed as an issue of faith instead of a step needed to be taken within the spiritual journey.

Deconstruction has been the “new” practice within the religious sphere in the last twenty years or so due to many factors. With the new internet age and the huge amount of access to resources, its been more and more difficult for the “powers that be” to keep a more discrete way of posturing when it comes to past, present and future church practices. Postmodernism has brought a lot of problems to be answered when it comes to religious institutions. When people have these crises of faith, the church is not equipped with the space (rites and rituals) to help heal and liberate those who need it. Deconstruction is a step that should be perceived as a healthy process that helps us mature in our faith. It shouldn’t be perceived as a problem to be solved but as a ritual to be practiced. We must learn to let go of corrosive practices of rules due to fear and embrace a more playful experimental practice of understanding.

How does that look like? Well, there are many ways we can experience spiritual practices that help us through the journey of life. It doesn’t have to be practices in a “brick and mortar” church setting. It can be a nature walk, surfing (my favorite), exercising, playing music, painting a picture, or crafting some good beer (my other favorite). There are various of ways to experience divine guidance. The Christian traditions rites and rituals that have been with us for 2,000 plus years can be practiced in a new light as well. We can always find new ways to interpret and repurpose a practice within a church setting to help us better connect and move to more liberating heights. Traditions are good if used in a healthy and freeing way. We can let go of the damaging aspects of a rite and ritual and still actually practice the act itself. I understand some are unable to ever practice certain rites and rituals within Christianity due to RTS and that is OK! Along as you find some time of ritual to practice to better center you as a human being, I think the world can benefit from it. With that being said, there are still some beautiful practices with this Christian religion that I still find beneficial. An example that I have come to experience when it comes to repurposing a certain spiritual practice is Communion/Eucharist/Lords Table (whatever name floats your boat).

The tradition that I grew up in (L.D.S.) named this practice The Sacrament. It has elements of truth (like all spiritual practices do in a sense) but also some pretty damaging aspects as well. In my opinion and experience (along with many others) the concept of purity codes comes to mind. In order to partake of the sacrament, you had to be “worthy” and “believe” in the church’s teachings. The point of this ritual is to renew the covenant you made at baptism. Unfortunately, this interpretation of the purpose of the Lords Table misses some really important factors to help oneself to become part of the gospel message. Instead of bringing us together with Christ and participating in the way of love, it becomes a rule one must follow in order to remain a “member of a church”. We are not part of some corporation that keeps track of its members “loyalty”. This also brings out zealot faith and judgment on others who do not partake of Communion. This should not be the point of why we partake of the bread and wine of Christ.

Fortunately, I found a Church (Oceanside Sanctuary ) that has taken the practice of Communion to a level of healing and liberation one needs when it comes to healthy rites and rituals (yes, a bold claim I know). We think it is important to take Communion weekly, so we can come to the table of love and mercy despite our differences. Let’s face it, we all have our own views on anything from sex, politics, sports, education and of course on our theological views regarding the Christian tradition itself. But, guess what? Unity is possible within diversity. That is what Jesus came to bring. The commonwealth of God is the reality where love can guide us to true freedom even through our messy differences. If we cannot practice healthy rite & rituals in a church setting, how the hell will we ever expect to see needed results outside the sanctuary walls?…

For Christians, to share in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, means to live as people who know that they are always *guests*—that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted. It is perhaps the most simple thing that we can say about Holy Communion, yet it is still supremely worth saying. In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ tells us that he wants our company. -Rowan Williams

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By Jim Gordon

When you first hear this, you think of someone who has lost their faith and turned their back on God. That is certainly not the case with me. Let me explain.

When I say christianity I am talking about the religious organization. The true sense of the word Christian means little Christ, or someone who follows the example of Jesus by loving God and loving others. This is not what I am talking about.

The religion of Christianity is the many denominations, the various doctrines and the requirement to follow the rules that men and women tell us we need to follow to be “good christians”.

Church attendance, tithing, adhering to the belief that the bible is inerrant, basically following the rules of the traditional institutional church organization. Being told that grace is not enough because we have to add following the rules and do things that people think are right to be considered a christian.

So often you see two or three church buildings within a mile of each other. There are so many usually because those that attend cannot agree on doctrine and bible interpretation and they have to separate from one another. They still try to follow the ten commandments and try to be good people by what they do when God said it is finished. Because of the grace of Christ we can rest in the love of God.

Jesus said to love God and love one another, but we tend to fight and argue amongst ourselves while those outside of christianity watch and wonder why they would need to be a part of it.

It seems more often than not, when christianity is mentioned the thought is of people who go to church on Sunday then act like everyone else the rest of the week. The thought of people who try their best to follow the rules but spend most of their time feeling guilty because they cannot do so. So much of christianity seems to be so exclusive to people who they feel are different. It says love your neighbor and love your enemy but christianity so often loves only those who have the same views and opinions about the bible.

That is why my wife and I have left the religion of christianity. We have been walking outside the walls of institutional church and religion yet have not left our faith in God. We want to follow the example of Jesus who showed us what God is really like. A God of love and acceptance. A God who loves people and treats everyone with kindness, respect and as equals. We want to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit who lives within us. We have given up on following the pastor or evangelist or any human who thinks they are the mouthpiece of God. We no longer need a human teacher or guide since Jesus sent the Spirit to be with us constantly.

All that is asked of us is to share the good news of the gospel which is that God loves us. We share that by loving God and loving all people, not by shoving our opinion down the throats of others. Making disciples is sharing the love of God, encouraging one another and helping each other to daily live a life that is loving and helpful.

So yes, I am done with christianity. I am not done with faith in God. I am not done with following the example of Jesus. I am not done with loving people and sharing the love of God with everyone. Forget the religion and follow the way of God by loving one another.

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