Religion or Kingdom?

Isn’t mans biggest complaint with God that God doesn’t do as man wants?

And is it also true that mans greatest worship of God is that God satisfied his deepest wants?

Every religion known to man is really a delicate dance where man convinces himself he can get God to do as man pleases or to get  necessary support or validation and this happens “IF and only IF” certain religious behavior is followed closely.

A religious man who obey’s these rules will usually find a place of leadership in a religious delivery system, where others look to him or her on how to get God’s favor too. This has the effect of ratifying these beliefs and elevating those closest to the system to power.

Overtime the beliefs are not questioned and further back still, no one questions any longer if God has actually attended this effort at all, except those with the greatest doubt. Those who are seen as dissidents. The unbelievers and outsiders.

But a stopped clock is right twice a day, so religious traditions continue. Those that have all the answers, do not permit any real questions.

BUT….

What if a new idea came along?

What if an idea said; “You can’t manipulate God and make him your subject.”

What if this idea said: “You can know aspects of God, and as a result you will really get to know yourself.”

What if this God’s ways were such that they force us to experience the full bandwidth of humanity, rather than help us escape from it?

If so, then we could finally liberate ourselves from our systems and varied prisons of choice and habit.

People who lived like this would be an amazing counter culture. They would be like a city within our cities. They would be distinct or “Called Out” by the liberty in which they lived among us.

These would be people that no longer used religion to endorse their agendas of control, but they would bring liberty to those in bondage, and clarity and peace about their human experience.

Faithfulness to this kind of system wouldn’t look religious at all. It would be the enviable life. The organizational rules of play would be shared and certainly not burdensome.

  • Not pious, but inspiring.
  • Generosity would not have expectations attached.
  • Belief wouldn’t be “extra-terrestrial” but on the plane of common life.
  • Diligence may be reflected in the system, but it wouldn’t be for the sake of the system.

Like a non-stick surface, this type of people would have open hands to all the culture offers:

  • Receiving but not possessing,
  • Savoring, but not hoarding,
  • Utilizing, but not wasting,
  • Creating, but not destroying.
  • Motivated by doing right for others.

This would be a kingdom and not a religion, and its King would be a king who really reigns, not one who bows.

This would be a place where the gates remained open to all who would desire to be a part.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered its construction had already begun.

Access to knowledge is changing everything: Thank God!

We live in a world where third world bush person in Africa who has a web enabled cell phone has more access to information than the president of the United States had 20 years ago.

In the past people relied on the big institutions, those with the biggest names, the biggest reputations and the most social and economic power to be the genesis of new ideas.

This institutional power continues to be protected and enhanced by “group think” and the vast number of followers and constituents that these various power houses form the fundamentals of thought.

…until….

…access to new ideas, and new knowledge is readily available to the masses. NOW IS THAT TIME!

Let’s suppose you had startling research that challenged the American Heart Association’s low fat diet. How would a small organization (with less social power) be able to advance personal health with the weight of all those cardiologists behind the AHA?

It could only happen if the masses could access that info without it being disseminated through the usually institutional channels.

It’s the same in medicine. Try advancing medical care with a new way of thinking about health. Rather than focus on the sick, alternative health focuses on staying healthy. At first, it was the laughing stock, now it’s a viable alternative in most aspects of health care.

It’s the same in education. Try getting your smaller socialogical study recognized if it didn’t come from the Big Institution. Well, now it can thanks to the internet and its distribution channels.

It’s the same in business too. Now small business is comprising more and more of American employment.

Yes, it’s even happening in one of the biggest institutions: The Church.  There is a huge wave of people all over the planet who have grown tired of the typical delivery system and have realized that they can relate to God in different ways without being sucked into unnecessary process, or pretense.  People prefer a body without walls, and that has the power to change the world, not just throw stones at it.

Modern people are right to question fundamentalism in all of its forms.  While I would never say that the institutions are completely wrong, as many people find a sense of comfort and true benefit from their contributions in the world. An organizing a lot of people requires process and systems. but their size doesn’t mean the possess all the truth, and technology means they can no longer possess all the knowledge.

My point here is that fundamentalism by its nature strives to protect what it is. While it may want to find progress, it’s bias is to be regressive and protect the status quo because it’s survival requires it to maintain institutional power and all the economic engines that are a part of it.

We are in an age of new ideas and new knowlege. Some of it is probably worthless but some of it is revolutionary. Access to information will change so many things in the comming years. Wisdom will be required to sort it out, but the balance of power and how information is disseminated is in a revolution, and that is a very good thing.

There are many examples of businesses and institutions that are now relics. Churches in Europe, the classified ads in the news paper, and VCR’s all had their day of influence, but progress has replaced them. While there will alway be people who use phones with cords attached to them, the field of harvest has left them behind.

Let’s make sure we ride the wave as it comes rather than become a museum piece.

The Path to Authenticity: Be Careful!

There is such a thing as our “True Self” or our “Authentic Self.” This also means we also have a “false self.”

In religious people, there is a religious false self that is very distracted and busy trying to be authentic, but it just misses it. The religious false self employs spiritual processes and institutional instruction in hopes of building up their faith and finding God. The cultural church in like manner tries to build itself up with a menu of different processes for spiritual progress.

These processes each have the potential of creating and growing the religious false self because each of those processes is tainted or formed through a lens created by other religious false selves. They presuppose they know the path to God.

Thus the pursuit of authenticity is usually separate from these processes, but it may employ aspects of these means and benefit from them. This is why there is subtle confusion between the process and that progress which is behind them. Enlisting in the process is not a sure path to spiritual formation.

The point at which one is satisfied with spiritual formation, or the point at which one believes any direct process or method is the way to such satisfaction–is the moment falsehood is germinated. This starts a cycle where the persons deeper journey toward God is paved with falseness, and they get more religious but not more authentic. They actually miss God because of their efforts not despite them.

The tension is to eliminating the false processes as a way of exposing the kernel of authenticity, or to continue on a path where faith is in the process itself. It’s subtle. This is why Jesus said the road is narrow and only a few find it.

The question is how do we define authentic progress?

If we gain understanding and embrace it, how do we know that understanding isn’t an attachment to a learning process that is more false or if that understanding is the voice of liberation?

When we change our positions on things, we presuppose progress or that something higher is gained. Thus we have a tendency to aim for the new idea.

But be careful here! While we need new ideas, and paradigms for progress, authenticity is not about the new idea, but the process of conformity to that source which is higher up or further back than the new idea. Authenticity ties us to the mind behind the idea, not the idea itself. For if spiritual progress takes place, our beloved new idea will be replaced with one newer in time.

If we focus on the idea, we will forfeit the source behind it. Thus going deeper must mean going “indirect.” This is because the direct path is biased toward possession of the idea, not toward proximity to its source.

Possessing knowledge is vital, but misleading. Proximity without knowledge means we lose the riches that proximity offers.  Deeper authenticity seems to be “informed proximity” in flux. And this means ambiguity without confusion. Certainty in change.

Thrive in Exile

Thriving is Possible!
Thriving is Possible!

Exiles are people displaced. They lack a permanent address. There is an aspect where they don’t belong. They are left out. They are not mainstream. Neither is their thinking. Their life is unconventional by necessity.

Exiles are diverse. But exiles share something wonderful. Something powerful. Something beautiful. They share their journey. Fellow travelers have community. Their differences are minimized because they recognize their need for each other.

Life can be like living in exile. Like a homesick journey. Groups, clubs, denominations, races, zip codes, creeds, and politics, are all surrogate communities. They index us; telling us who we are. They lie and tell us life is better if they govern us.

But the authentic know that thriving is independent of such limitations. There is an army of people who apprehend something the mass followers miss through their process. These are people that touch something more in life. Something Devine. The people who truly thrive.

Exiles thrive in ambiguity. Uncertainty is not unsettling. Questions and doubt come from integrity, not rebellion. The good Samaritan was an exile.

I love my exile. I love my life. I love my fellow journeymen. I love the solidarity I share with the fringe. It’s who I am.

Progress or Regress?

Jesus said that his kingdom would start out as small as a mustard seed or a little pinch of leaven. Over time this kingdom would incrementally advance and grow until it was the greatest influence in the universe. It wasn’t a “one-day” kingdom, it was “at hand”, as in here and now, though not it its most complete state.

Fast forward 2000 years and this kingdom has advanced substantially, yet still not complete.

Along the way, progress has required God’s people to part with the status quo. They had to bear the reproach of their religious brothers and sisters for insisting on things like:

  • Salvation would extend beyond the Jewish people. (seems like a little thing now, but to a Jew, the idea that people of other religions would be saved by their God without becoming a jew was atrocious–oh wait, it’s still that way)
  • That the non-clergy could read and interpret the bible for themselves.
  • That slavery needed to be ended.
  • That women were smart enough to have a voice and a vote.

Jesus referred to progress as “New Wine” and unfortunately it always bursts the old containers as it matures.

So why are Christian people the most resistant to cultural progress and transformation? The God of scripture is moving forward, he is leading a kingdom from a simple garden into a great city.

But the cultural church wants to retreat into yesterday.  They hate the city. They hate the new ideas on which they are built. They prefer convention. The want to conserve the old containers and along with it, their old ideas.

It makes me wonder who they are following. Does God want us to shrink back or to progress?

It is possible to experience God in new paradigms and in new ways. The traditional way is losing ground. It’s already lost touch.  Thankfully God hasn’t.

If the picture of heaven is a beautiful, giant city, that manifests itself here on earth, I can only imaging that the most religious people of our day will be living in bunkers in the outskirts of town bemoaning its progress.

k

According to “The Way” part 2

The Church had replaced the process. So what happened?

I believe the answer is that the system has become the focus. People now see the modern local church and Jesus Church as the same thing. Jesus’ Church is expanding. Yet the local church delivery system loses 2% per year of its population, now only reaching approximately 35% of your city (more in the south, less in urban areas).

So where did these people go? They became the church alumni when they stopped going to church and became The Church. They didn’t quit God, they quit the expensive, control hungry, out dated delivery system.

Are the church alumni a sect? Many will say the Alumni are rebellious, or even lost. Of course these are the same criticisms they laid upon Jesus as well as Paul and the early church when they began “Relating to God” outside the cultural delivery system.

This is not to say that going to church is a bad thing, for in every sunday service are sincere people who genuinely relate to God in their way despite the system.  It’s just that most people (65% and growing 2% per year) have a WAY other than the Sunday show.

While many would say that it isn’t ok to find and relate to God in your own way, I would argue that it is the only way any one ever has.

Why else would Paul say in Romans 14:22:  “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.”

According to “The Way” Part 1

Every denomination and type of church usually has at least one weekend service–a time to relate to God.

The recipe for each service contains the following ingredients:

  • Reception time (coffee, donuts, smiling church people).
  • The gathering and greeting of the people.
  • Music and the singing of songs.
  • Prayer time or multiple prayers.
  • Offering, time to give money.
  • Sermon, homily, teaching, preaching, Sunday school.
  • Response time, prayer, alter calls.
  • Dismissal to lunch, potlucks or potato salad.

Now if you add to this:

  • Mid-week services.
  • Community groups, home groups, life groups, care groups.
  • Outings, retreats, or other types of meetings.

…then you have the recipe for how modern religious people relate to God and each other. It’s a culturally contrived process. It’s traditional. It’s not biblically required.

It’s just like what Paul was facing when he was changing how he practiced his faith from devout Jew to follower of Jesus. He said in Acts 24:14 that he was worshiping the God of their fathers “according to the Way” which the religious people called a sect.

Paul was relating to God in a new way.  New paradigms. New practice. New ideas that replaced old ones.

Same God. New way of relating.

The new way was liberating.  He was now free to worship in authenticity, not by external form and perfunctory function. Obedience was out of love now, not duty.

The Church had replaced the process. So what happened?