Our focus determines our future

All of us have things in our past that we regret, or wish we had never done.  Some of those memories have no power over us at all.  They are simply that, memories.  And yet for some people they are something that consistently holds us back from the potential we all have.  Our  past keeps us from launching out into the unknown depths of our potential because of past failures, or other bad experiences.  Our past keeps us from meeting people, or from anything other than simple surface relationships often stemming from past hurts.  We have been betrayed before and as a result we refuse to trust again.

Our past can keep us from stepping outside our comfort zone because of our being ridiculed before when we tried.  Or people have mocked our ideas or dreams when we tried to share them, to the people who were supposed to care, when they were the most fragile, before the had even become solid enough for us to firmly grasp a hold of ourselves.  Leaving us wounded and unwilling to venture forth.  Our past can even see us launching forward into the unknown with a vengeance trying to prove everyone wrong and stampeding over everyone who doesn’t view life with the same intensity we do.

Whatever the form it takes, when we allow ourselves to be governed by our past we set ourselves up to fail.  While there is much that we can learn from our past that allows us to grow more into our futures it has to remain just that; our past.  We cannot do away with our past, because we will always have our memories, short of suffering memory loss or amnesia or Alzheimer’s, God forbid, and our character now is a summation, or adding together of our past.  Both the good and the bad.  But only if we don’t allow it to be a weight that pulls us down.  For many the past is like a pit full of quick sand constantly dragging them down.  They can never seem to get free.

And yet there is hope.  Our past doesn’t have to hold us down.  The most successful people in life are not free from mistakes and bad decisions.  They have just learned to take from their past what they need to learn that allows them to launch forward into their potential.   I loved what Captain Nemo said, in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, “I prefer to live in the now, where the ghosts of old wrongs do not abide.” It is our focus that determines whether we learn from our past, or simply continue to relive it.  Our past, if we choose to hold on to it, simply becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We expect the worst, and when we get it we use it to validate our fears and then continue to hold on to then.

Just as defeating is a fear of the future.  Consistently worrying about “what might happen if” destroys our potential just as fast as holding onto our past.  We simply plant an anchor deep into the ground of our soul and consistent spiral around it, all the while wondering why we cannot seem to get ahead.  And when it seems like we may get ahead, the new scenery feels so unfamiliar we shoot ourselves in the foot and simply remain in our comfort zone.  We prefer the “status quo”.  And yet “status quo” is simply Latin for “the mess we are in”.  But the mess is comfortable, and for many the saying “better the devil you know than the one you don’t” holds true for them.

And yet it was never supposed to be this way.  There is nothing healthy about life this way.  Just look at someone in a coma.  The body continues, but it is far from healthy.  And when we are held down by our past or our fear of the future it is like we put our soul into a coma, and it can neither grow or develop.  And the potential we all have within us is far to important to leave undeveloped. Regardless of whether we see the potential we have or not it is there simply waiting within for us to discover it.  We can choose to remain burdened by our past, or forgive ourselves and those who have wounded us.  We can remain fearful of what might be or launch forward into the greatest adventure we can ever have.  Jumping with both feet into the potential we have.  It really is up to us.

A fresh look at Jesus

Most of my life was spent in church.  I grew up in church, and as my church ran a school I grew up in church school.  I have been around “Christians” most of my life.  In fact, if it hadn’t been that I had enough of religion and got very angry with church and Christianity and God, I probably would have spent my whole life in church.  And one of the things that caused my disillusionment with religion was the amount of judgment going on between fellow Christians, and more often between Christians and those outside the church.  People were held to such high standards, that if the truth were known no one lived up to, that life was exceptionally difficult.  There was a rule for just about everything.  Some went so far to say if you were a boy that had hair touching the tops of your ears you were in sin.  Nothing but good crew cut for you young man.

Sound familiar?  In fact I have found many people who have had similar experiences, and have walked away from God and organized religion forever.   It is unfortunate because when you look at Jesus in scripture He was the most sincerely welcoming person in history.  He welcomed everyone He encountered, except for the hyper critical religious people.  And yet at times there seemed to be times where Jesus seemed critical of others.  On of those times is in a verse I want to look at.  It has been misunderstood by many and has been used to abuse people in churches for years.

The verses are found in Matthew chapter 18:15-17;

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

As a result of these verses many people have been ostracized and denied fellowship with fellow believers.  And it seems like Jesus is giving us permission to do this.  And it never sat right with me.  One person even asked me when it was right to kick someone out of the church and used these verses to back up his decision.  And many other abuses have happened.  In bible times a tax collector was the most hated of individuals by the Jews.  The were seen as traitors because they collected taxes for the Romans from their own people, and embezzlers because they were allowed to collect as much “taxes” as they wanted as long as Rome got what it wanted.  So they we very wealthy, and an extremely despised group of people.

This always gave me concern because Jesus accepted and fellowshipped with tax collectors so how could He be asking us to treat people in this way.  It just never added up.  And when I encountered God personally and came to know how immense His love for me was it just raised more questions.  Until I came to understand what Jesus was trying to say.  Jesus wasn’t trying to say for us to abuse people in this way at all.  Let’s look at these verses again but in the Message version;

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.

Jesus wasn’t telling us to remove them from fellowship at all.  He was simply asking us to treat them as a non-believer.  Simply to show them God’s love and share the message of the redemption from sin offered in Jesus.  Maybe they didn’t understand it before.  Not to treat them as less than human and not worthy of breathing the same air as us.

We as Christians have harmed a lot of people following verses like these without understanding them.  Jesus welcomed sinners with open arms and asked us to do the same.  I think much of what we consider “doctrine” needs review because our churches are supposed to be places you can feel welcome, especially when there is no where else to go.  A place of safety and non-judgment, where you can feel loved and accepted.  We are supposed to accept the person, and not the sin.  They are separate from each other.   Jesus would welcome everyone including the despised of our culture.  The pedophiles and homosexuals and murderers and rapists and everyone else that we look down our noses at.  He died and sacrificed His life for each of them.  Jesus never tolerated sin, but He never asked people to change until they came to Him as Saviour and Lord.  And then He began working inside them changing them from the inside and working with them until their lives reflect His image.

This is the Jesus I came to know, and the one who is still working on changing me.  And what an exciting journey it is.  I welcome everyone to come and take a second look.

Is Jesus returning for you and I

This past weekend hundreds of people around the world did their religious duty and went to church.  Others, who have become disillusioned with Christianity, spent their time in other pursuits, the last thing one their minds being “religion”.  In fact many people have been so put off by organized religion that they refuse to take part in anything remotely resembling it.  And with good reason.  Those of us who call themselves by the name of Christ have done Him a great disservice.   We have not been the “image of Christ” to the world.  Which is what we are supposed to be.

We have spent our time fighting among ourselves over non issues.  Whole denominations have been started over simple fights that could not be resolved.  Like the question of baptism.  Two denominations continue to fight about whether or not to baptize people in “the name of the  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or in “Jesus name”.  Kinda seems trivial compared to the thousands that are going to hell each and every day.  Or the fight about what kind of music should be played in service, be it hymns or choruses, contemporary or classic, or even what instruments should be used.  Organs, or piano.  Or whether an electric guitar belongs in church.  Or, for that matter, whether or not instruments belong in church at all.

We fight over small doctrinal issues, that really don’t matter  in the scope of eternity, and spend our time in, what Paul warns against in 2 Timothy 2:23 “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish arguments, which only upset people and make them angry.” And yet we consistently get involved in these quarrels.  Which church is right.  Which church is better.  Sounds like a playground squabble if there ever was one.  We choose to separate ourselves from each other based on simple differences that have been blown completely out of proportion.  And this happens within churches as well.  We form little clichés of people who are “faithful” and push aside those whom we don’t see as measuring up.

And yet if the truth be told none of us measure up.  We put on a good show, but like the Pharisees of scripture we are simply looking good for peoples benefit, and inside there is death.  Jesus called them “white-washed tombs”.  “I am not at all like the Pharisees” I can hear some people say.  But as soon as we lose site of our need for Christ, and begin to see ourselves as of more value to God than others that is exactly who we become. And then we wonder why no one wants what we are offering.

I think we have done ourselves a  great disservice.  Because Jesus isn’t returning for you and I anyway. I know this will be a controversial statement but it is the truth.  Jesus is returning for His bride.  One who is pure and spotless.  And the church is His bride.  Not a building somewhere we gather in.  We do not “go to church”.  We are the church.  And Jesus is returning for the church one day.  The whole, world-wide church.  We have chosen to separate ourselves from each other, and yet we all are who Christ is returning for.  Not you and I as individuals.  But the church body.

I broke my thumb a few weeks back, and as it heals I have been limited to what I can do.  And one morning while I worshiped together with other believers I can to a fuller understanding of Paul’s remarks that we are “all members of one body” in Romans 12:5 and the understanding of when one member of  the body hurts, all the members are affected.  And as I raised my hands in worship, you wouldn’t think that raising your arm would affect your thumb, my thumb began to ache.  And slowly that ache was felt up into my shoulder.  And I realized just how much of an effect an injured member has upon the other members of the body.  Or as my pastor says “Just try dropping a bottle of pop on your toe and see if your head doesn’t hurt.”

We need to come together, not to become the same as each other for that  is not how God created us, but in our diversity.  God did not make us all thumbs.  We would look pretty funny if  He did.  And yet when we attend our weekly services we seem to expect that of each other.  God is a God of diversity.  If you don’t believe me just look up at a rainbow, or watch a snow fall and try to find two that are the same.  And yet we try to “cookie cutter” ourselves.  Time for each of us in our uniqueness to rise up in our relationship to God and give that relationship voice and accept each other as we are, and for who we are.  Only can we then be the example of Jesus called us to be.  “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:34,35

Christians were meant to be the most welcoming and accepting people.  We are in the same boat as the rest of the world, except for the fact that we accepted the free gift of Jesus.  Which doesn’t make us better than anyone else.  We are still sinners saved by grace, and without the help of the Holy Spirit would not be able to change our lives at all.  Time for us to return to our roots, and forget ourselves and simply begin again to welcome people into the arms of Christ once again.  For without His work in us we would be just as lost.