Some powerful quotes from the article:
There is nothing the Father desires for you more than that you fall squarely in the lap of his love and never move from that place for the rest of your life. God's plan from the days of creation to the day of the Second Coming was designed to bring people into the relationship of love that the Father, Son and Spirit have shared for eternity. He wants nothing less—and nothing else!
This is no distant God who sent his Son with a list of rules to follow or rituals to practice. His mission was to invite us into his love—into a relationship with his Father that he described as friendship. But what do we do? We are so quickly captured by a work-driven religious culture that thrives on guilt, conformity and manipulation that it devours the very love it seeks to sustain.
Won't it be a joy again to wake up confident about being loved by God every day, without having to earn it by any act of righteousness on your part? That is the secret to first love. Don't try to earn it. Know that you are accepted and loved, not for what you can do for God, or somehow hoping that you will be worthy of his acceptance, but because his greatest desire is to have you as one of his children. Jesus came to remove any obstacle that would prevent that from happening.
Don't you realize that the most powerful thing about the gospel is that it liberates us from the concept that God dwells in any building? For a people steeped in the rites of temple worship this was either great or terrible news. His followers thought it was great. No longer did they have to think of God as cloaked in the recesses of the temple, available only to special people at select times.
We're not changed by the promises we make to God, but by the promises he makes to us. When we make commitments that we can live up to only for a brief period, our guilt multiplies when we fail. Upset that God doesn't do more to help us, we usually end up medicating our guilt with something like drugs, alcohol, food, shopping or any thing else that dulls the pain or it creeps out of us through anger or lust.
If we do what he wants he will be good to us, and if we don't then bad things will happen in our lives. On its best day, this approach will allow us to be smugly self-righteous which is a trap all its own. On its worst days it will heap guilt upon us greater than we can bear. Your 'New Testament principles' are just another way of living to the law. You're still caught up in the process of trying to get God to reward you for doing good.
Walking toward him is walking away from sin. The better you know him the freer from it you will be. But you can't walk away from sin, Jake. Not in your own strength! Everything he wants to do in you will get done as you learn to live in his love. Every act of sin results from your mistrust of his love and intentions for you. We sin to fill up broken places, to try to fight for what we think is best for us, or by reacting to our guilt and shame. Once you discover how much he loves you, all that changes. As you grow in trusting him, you will find yourself increasingly free from sin.
The institution provides something more important than simply loving each other in the same way we've been loved. Once you build an institution together you have to protect it and its assets to be good stewards. It confuses everything. Even love gets redefined as that which protects the institution and unloving as that which does not. It will turn some of the nicest people in the world into raging maniacs and they never stop to think that all the name-calling and accusations are the opposite of love." Then as John reeled in the empty hook he held it up, "It's love with a hook. If you do what we want, we reward you. If not we punish you. It doesn't turn out to be about love at all. We give our affection only to those who serve our interests and withhold it from those who do not."
"What are you saying? I should just walk away? I can't imagine I'd survive without this church. It has been my home for so long and I'd die without it!"
"That's what they want you to think, but it isn't so. It also explains why everyone is fighting so viciously. They don't think they can give it up either, so they have to win. This trap has captured many a child of God. When we're so afraid we can't make it without the institution, then right and wrong go out the window. The only thing that concerns us is our own survival. That kind of reasoning has led to incredible pain over years of church history."
"For one, you think suffering is a sign of God's displeasure with you. Didn't Job make that mistake? Suffering often indicates that God is setting us free from something so that we can follow and embrace him more deeply. Walking in his life will always mean you are going against the grain. Don't expect your circumstances to conform easily to this journey. They will resist it at every turn. God wants to teach you how to walk with him through these things so that you can know a joy and peace that transcends circumstance."
Just remember he's not worried about tomorrow because he has already worked that out. He's inviting you to live with him in the joy of the moment, responding to what he puts right before you. The freedom to simply follow him that way will transform so many areas of your life. He loves you, and he wants you to live in the security of that, without having to figure everything out.
It's a lot easier for you to get out of the system than it is to get the system out
of you. You can play it from inside and out. The approval you felt then came from the same source as the shame you feel now. That's why it hurts so much when you hear the rumors or watch old friends turn away embarrassed. Truth be told, some of those people still really care about you. They just don't know how to show it now that you no longer play on their team. They're not bad people, just brothers and sisters lost in something that is not as godly as they think it is.
Learning to live by trusting Father is the most difficult part of this journey. So much of what we do is driven by our anxiety that God is not working on our behalf, that we have no idea of the actions that trust produces. Trusting doesn't make you a couch potato. As you follow him, you'll find yourself doing more than you've ever done, but it won't be the frantic activity of a desperate person, it will be the simple obedience of a loved child. That's all Father desires.
Certainly there are things that are right and things that are wrong. But we'll only truly know that in Jesus. Remember, he is the truth itself! You will never be able to follow his principles if you're not following him first.
Jesus didn't leave us with a system; he left us with his Spirit— a guide instead of a map. Principles alone will not satisfy your hunger. That's why systems always promise a future revival that never comes. They cannot produce community because they are designed to keep people apart.
We humans are notorious for taking something Scripture describes as a reality, giving a term to it and thinking we've replicated the reality because we use the term. Paul talked about the church that gathered in various homes, but he never called it 'house church'. Houses were just where they ended up in their life together. Jesus was the focus, not the location. As I said, you can have all the right principles and still miss his glory in the body.
That's where religion has done the most damage. By making people dependent on its leaders, it has made God's people passive in their own spiritual growth. We wait for others to show us how, or even just follow them in hopes that they're getting it right. Jesus wants this relationship with you and he wants you to be an active part in that process.
It's valuable for the body of Christ to find each other and share his life together. Where people are doing that they don't need commitment. They'll bend over backwards to be with each other. Where they aren't doing that, it does little good just to be committed to a meeting. I'm convinced that most Christian meetings give people enough of God's things to inoculate them against the reality of his presence.
"I never realized how much of what I thought was minister was only manipulating people's shame—whether it was to make them feel guilty for falling short or to earn other people's approval."
"That's what religion is. It's a shame-management system, often with the best of intentions and always with the worst of results."
"But it did work, at least externally."
"Yes, but it only drove the bondage even deeper. In the end people are still addicted to shame and bounce between self-pity and self-glory, never finding freedom to simply live in him. It makes people think God wants a cause and effect relationship with them. If they'll be good, he'll be good to them.
Whatever he gives you to do next. Remember, equip people to live in him first; then you'll see how he brings his body together. Don't get me wrong. I love it when a group of Christians want to intentionally walk together as an expression of community—listening to God together, sharing their lives and resources, encouraging and caring for each other and doing whatever else God might ask them to do. But you can't organize that with people who aren't ready. Remember, discipleship always comes before community. When you learn to follow Jesus yourself and help others to do the same, you'll find body life springing up all around you.
One can hardly conceive of body life today without an organization and a leader shaping others with his vision. Some love to lead; others desperately want to be led. This system has made God's people so passive most can't even imagine living without a human leader to identify with. Then we wonder why our spirituality falls so painfully short. Read through the New Testament again and you'll find there is very little focus on anything like leader ship as we've come to think of it today.
That's one of the strangest things about Christianity locking itself into an institutional box. Who would choose to be raised in an orphanage? Our hearts hunger for family. That's where children learn who they are and how they fit into the world. This is like an orphanage revolving around the convenience of the whole. You survive best in it by following its rules, but that's not how Jesus connects you with his Father. For that you need a family and brothers and sisters who can respond to you in the moment, not wait for a meeting or to schedule a seminar.
Part of the journey involves doing what he makes clear to you. If you've submitted it to him, then let him sort it out. If he were asking you to leave today, I think you'd know that, even in the face of your fears. If he hasn't made it clear to you then wait. Just keep loving him and following him every day. I'm learning the joy of resting in him, doing what I know to do and not doing what I don't know to do. It's been one of the hardest lessons to learn, but also the most freeing.
Where Jesus is given first place, the church simply emerges in wonderful ways. He will place you in the body exactly as he desires. And as those relationships grow, you may find yourself surrounded by a group of people who want to walk in more intentional community together. That's an amazing thing when it happens, but still you have to keep your focus on him. Even groups that start out centered on him are easily and quickly tempted to organize themselves to death. When Jesus ceases to be the object of our pursuit, our touch with his body will fade into emptiness.