It’s not like Abraham was a Christian, or even a Jew.

My online ministry is pretty evenly divided between people who subscribe to Christianity and those who would not categorize themselves as such.  What unifies all of us however, is our belief in God and his/her role in our life even though we all have very different categories for how we understand “God.” We are all touching something transcendent, but what is it exactly?

When my more conservative Christian brothers and sister’s hear me use language that isn’t “Jesusy” enough, they question whether or not my belief is valid or whether or not it is even “Christian.”  It’s the same for those of other faiths when I use language that depicts the messianic story or when I talk about the Cosmic Christ. They may wonder at times if my content is just a trojan horse designed to trick people into Christianity.

But if you pull back and look at our world you can see that nearly all people are very skeptical of religious language. They are afraid they are getting sucked into something, or that if they believe something then they will be come weirdos.

Just look at the many fundamental beliefs within all religious systems and how “odd” they make people. Many religious people are very distinct from others in the culture and this is often seen as badge of honor for some people and sects.

The problems stems from the idea that Christianity was intended to be its own new religion. Jesus didn’t come to establish a new religion into which his disciples would now have to get others to convert. It was more about completing rather than converting. Nonetheless, the conversion idea is at the heart of why so many Christians read the bible as if its characters were contemporary Christians too.

Abraham was not a Christian. But what exactly was Abraham’s faith in God?

The new testament speaks about the great faith of Abraham (Hebrews 11:8). But what was that faith? It’s not like he had any idea of Jesus. In fact, Abraham precedes the ten commandments, mount Sinai, and the giving of the law. He may have been the patriarch of Judaism, Islam, or Christianity but he himself was not any one of them.

Abraham had a faith in God. Just like many modern people. Simple and without a religion piled on top of it.

It was certainly a simple belief that some force, or voice, or power was overseeing, guiding, leading, promising and engaging with him. Abraham didn’t go to church, or temple, or to a Mosque. He just trusted this “thing” that spoke to him deep inside.

To me, that’s not weird. In fact I think that is where I believe we all start, and why I use language that brings us back to this simple dynamic. I try and free our language from the formative systems and open us up to our own faith experience with the power that seems to speaking to each of us uniquely.

The Bible goes on to tell us that this power, voice, influence or force is called “the Christ”. Some know it as the “Spirit” (pneuma: breath, wind). It claims that the power that caused the water to flow out of the rock and save the thirsty exiles of Egypt was “Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). It claims that the power that saved people from the bites of the fiery serpents was “Christ” (John 3:14-15, 1 Cor 10:9).

So let me put all this together for you.

1.  Jesus didn’t come to make a new religion. He came to complete all religions as he does Judaism, by showing that the power behind the religion is “the Christ”.  He came to deconstruct religions back into a pure faith because the rules were killing and marginalizing people.  Early Christians didn’t stop being Jews. Centurions, samaritans, and others all were saved and remained as they were. In fact this is Paul’s exhortation that we remain in the state that we are called (1 Cor 7:20).

2.  Being saved and converted are not the same thing.

Furthermore, this proves that throughout the scripture and our world there is much evidence that people are being saved by Christ who have no idea who or what this power is (Numbers 21:9, Matthew 25:44). In fact the early Jews were so upset with Christianity because it was claiming that Yahweh, the god of the Jews, was now saving non-jews and they didn’t even have to covert to Judaism. Try superimposing that idea on modern Christianity as in: “God is saving non-Christians without requiring them to convert.”

Abraham was saved by the power of the cosmic Christ. So were the Israelites, Moses and countless others in history. Paul too was saved by Christ as well and yet none of these people knew Jesus. In fact no modern person knows Jesus. We all know about the stories. but any encounter we have is actually with the power Jesus personified, the Christ. We are all virtual disciples.

This means that all people, regardless of how they define the experience are actually having a Christ experience. If it could work for Abraham with his pagan child sacrifice paradigms, and it can work for an uber-Jew like Paul, and it can work for Roman soldiers, then it must also be working for Buddhist’s, Scientists, Muslim’s, tribal people, and even you and me.

Whatever that connection to the transcendent that we are able to perceive, is the voice of the Christ calling us, reaching us and inviting us into a deeper, and more expansive experience with love (vertically and horizontally).

If we are able to follow this voice, like Abraham, we will always meet the Christ. If we get derailed in the religious systems and they become the surrogate voice, we will always miss the Christ.

That is how we can know the real Church, meaning “the called out ones.” They are those who follow the voice (like Abraham) and recognize it in others regardless of their diverse introduction to it.

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Go and leave

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Seedling plants come in these little plastic containers which are great at first but later become a prison that will suffocate and eventually kill an otherwise flourishing plant.

It requires a new container. More space. Fewer boundaries.

We all come to the limits of our containers. For some, the rules become unbearable. The tension and pain of pressing against a constant limitation drives some people to just quit struggling and settle into a life of taking the shape of the container–Just like a root bound plant.  After a while they don’t even notice their slow death and once they become the container, those outside the system are painful reminders of the expanded self they once forfeited for the protection of the walls.

Inside the walls of family, religion, regulation, rules, and conformity lies power, protection, and an identity if you will accept the trade. Your energy to make the system work in exchange for an identity. Your life for it’s.

But some people just can’t settle in. The dying required to stay does not seem noble as it is spun from the inside, instead it feels eternal and permanent.

What is it that calls some people to leave their formative container? 

When I was living within my formative container, (matrix, system, whatever…) I believed that those who left did so out of rebellion or some deficiency of character. The insiders always had harsh words, threats, and judgement for those who would leave.  Now that I have left, I am more likely to see the leaving of others not as rebellion, but as integrity.

Integrity to what? What is is that calls people onward and upward or deeper or further?

It’s not instinct. We have the herd instinct, most like to do what others are doing. No, being called out is more than that. It comes from a voice we cannot disobey.

People have so many words, phrases and stories for this kind of escape or hunger for liberation. It’s a Shawshank Redemption story.

It could be an inner city minority who desires to free herself from being another generation on welfare. As her education surpasses those in her family she is actually ridiculed, insulted, and sometimes threatened if she would leave the projects and go toward her better life. Her rising up comes at a cost of her original identity.

It could be a man or woman who finds themselves in an acceptable marriage but one that has been highly dissatisfying. Leaving it comes at a huge social and financial cost. He/she is judged and criticized by the others who have opted to settle with their dissatisfying marriages. Some who stay have chosen duty over love and they tell him/her that true love is not real and that he/she is just going through a mid life crisis or phase. Their rising up comes at the cost of their original identity.

Is this what Jesus meant when he said; “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)  In other words, if we would follow that call to possess our most authentic self found in God, we must first escape our false self as defined by our formative containers.

It’s no wonder some people just can’t or won’t escape. The gravity inside is very strong.

I’m convinced the call to leave in order to grow is the voice of God. The voices that keep us small and stuck are all surrogate gods, religious shadow figures, even adversaries, who would have you not go after your truest self or best possible life. The voice to settle seems the most sinister of them all because it convinces us that our efforts won’t work or that the pursuit is itself is actually sinful.

Abraham is the patriarch of the world’s three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The story in Genesis 12:1 says that Yahweh told Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” We know now that this land was the “promised land”. Of course Abraham doesn’t get there personally, it was generations later that it sort of happened.

This may be a historical story but the historical details are not what makes this true. It’s true because it is true at much higher levels. It’s the story that emerges between the lines that is so helpful. It’s a story of a man who purportedly had great faith. He believed and followed this calling voice and it required him to leave family and enter an exile.

The journey never really ended with him. He passed it on to his kids. Abraham died looking. So did Isaac, so did Jacob, so did Joseph then 400 years of descendants then finally Moses himself got to look at it but didn’t get to go in. When Joshua entered, it was anything but peaceful, it was constant war. Abraham was a father of a nation of exiles. The first “Church” perhaps.

We all leave by thinking the arrival at “the land the Lord will show us” is the goal. It’s not until we are in the exile, when we have forfeited power, belonging and solidarity that we discover that “the Land” is actually the self that is forged by the journey.  The going is not a means to an end, it is the end itself. It is the end of one self and the birth of another.

This dying, then reliving is a cycle and a story that is also archetypical. It is the messianic story. It is the cosmic Christ living in you, the journeyman. First you question your system, then you reject your system, then you are rejected by it, betrayed, and hung out to die outside of town. You had no idea you were following him, but just look at your life, you are stepping right in his footsteps. Your life is a modern retelling of the same story.

(Here’s a brain buster: When Adam & Eve “disobeyed” they did so for the knowledge of good and evil. To truly expand where they were. They left the confines of their formative container in order to expand themselves. The amazing thing here is that they were never more “like God” than after they left. (Genesis 3:22). Being like God is the whole sum of religion. God sent them as he/she sends you. God ensured we would be sent (read “Go”) out of the garden into the exile of the world in order to be what we could never be in the garden. Jesus was not plan “B”, he was our cosmic role model. The garden was never the goal, the exile was.)

You suffer, then you rise again. Better than before. Bigger than before.

Solidarity is now with those who escaped, and compassion is for those who haven’t yet.

You’re now free to go back. But like revisiting your kindergarten class, you realize the chairs and desks are so small. This can never be your home again.

And you realize then that you have been saved.

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Review of Rob Bell & Pete Holmes: Together at Last

I had the privilege of attending a unique engagement of two very gifted professionals. Rob Bell is a very well-known author, speaker, former pastor, and beloved spiritual leader while Pete Holmes is a gifted and insightful comedian whose timing and inflection really differentiate him from the crowd. Both Rob and Pete have successful podcasts and the two met when Pete invited Rob onto his show.

Their duet was held at the Boulder theater, which is a smallish, historical venue that really adds to the intimacy and flow of their work.  I wasn’t too sure what to expect since the advertising and promotion of this show was pretty vague. I was made aware of it because I attended a recent event with Rob Bell in Laguna where he shared about this upcoming tour.

Within minutes of opening, Pete had the audience in a massive uproar. As I sat there I wondered how the night was going to play out. I thought, “Is Rob going to do comedy?” I know he is very funny as a communicator but comedy isn’t is usual vehicle. The two shared how they met and how they were hoping to share the hysterical conversations they enjoy with a larger audience. These conversations, like all of our conversations, are laced with meaning, real questions, and laughter that stems from a love and connection to God and close friends. I can tell you that it actually worked very well, though some people might struggle going back between meaning and humor if they are “black & white” thinkers.

Personally, the most distinct and enjoyable aspect of the night was the up and down, fast and slow rhythm of the two together. What started as a question mark as to whether it would work, became a most welcome balance. Not unlike really fine food where salty and sweet, spicy, and mild all come together. Meaning is actually very funny and funny things contain vast meaning.

They would begin with a topic and each would give their spin on it. Pete would bring the energy level up and put the audience in stitches, and then Rob would dive into his forte of telling vivid stories that illustrate the depth of life that we all touch but somehow fail to put our words around. Back and forth they would go, interjecting their own humor and one liners in an improvisational way, keeping the audience engaged, and truly inspired.

I’ve always respected comedians as some of the most intelligent people and this event really exemplifies the power of humor to be a tremendous delivery system for meaning and even transformation. Both Rob and Pete mine what most of us call the minutia of our daily existence for the ingredients that fuel their craft. Pete does so with an emphasis on humor without forsaking the deeper questions that boil up from life experience. Rob does so with an emphasis on transcendent meaning without forsaking the humor and oddities that living brings us everyday.

Perhaps the neatest ironies of the evening is that Pete and Rob hint at their post-evangelical spiritual journeys. While many modern people dismiss contemporary evangelicalism because it is so distant from it’s founders intention, I actually believe that events like this are the new hallmark of what it means to be evangelical.  The events call all comers into a deeper contemplation. It is inclusive and not exclusive. They embrace and even laugh at the hard questions of life rather than avoid them or argue them.  They actually model what life should be for each of us: a deep experience of laughter, tears, questions, fears, and pains along with meaning and  purpose that transcends us all, while it brings us together for joy and brotherly love.

Congratulations Rob and Pete for living out what all your critics claim you lost. And thanks for bringing us all into this amazing conversation. God is no doubt the source that makes us “Together at last.”

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The First, the Last & People who “Get it”

“So the last will be first, and the first last.” ~ Matthew 20:16

The book of Matthew recounts Jesus teaching a lot about a Kingdom.  It’s a place where there is a new set of rules.

Life in the ancient world was harsh. It was primitive by our modern standards and lacked many of the innovations that we have today. While poverty still exists, it is far less prevalent today than it was back then. The likelihood of going hungry, being oppressed, or living in some form of suffering was much higher then.

So you can imagine what it would be like to be in poverty, or to be oppressed or to suffer and then hear a teacher talk about a new kingdom where the present rules don’t apply. A “now but not yet “kingdom that is this world.

A place where things are reversed. A place where paradox makes more sense than it does right now.

One of the many illustrations of this Kingdom was a story of hired workers. Some were hired in the morning and worked all day, some were hired mid-day and worked half a day, while others were hired at the end of the day and only worked a little bit.

The story turns on its heels when the master divides out the wages. To everyone’s astonishment he gives every worker the same wage.

Of course those hired at the end of the day were thrilled, and those at hired in morning were most disappointed.

This leads me to conclude that this is teaching us something about proximity.

Thus the people who enter the kingdom first, are most distant from what it will look like when it is completed. Those who come last, whose paradigms most align with the kingdom recognize it and celebrate it far more.

This depicts the many divisions and cultural issues of our day. Those who are stuck in the old ideas about what the kingdom of God is all about, are most likely those who are least happy about any changes from what it presently is. Ideas that sound soft or easy for newcomers are rejected because they just don’t have skin in the game.

Of course those who are entering now are most excited about the possibilities and the changes that are being made in the world. They are happy to move away from old ideas that caused so many to burden during the heat of the day.

See how the two sides emerge so easily? Conservative. Liberal. Progressive. Traditional. Change averse. Pro change.

The take home is that this Kingdom (the Kingdom of God) that Christ is initiating is one that starts small and gets bigger. It is here now and will remain here, its not an evacuation strategy, and its one where the long laborers and the short laborers will be gifted with equal generosity.

All comers are benefactors. Our efforts, while important, are not as important as the inclusive generosity that defines the new world. It is not a meritocracy. We all simply do our part, big or small. All are included, valued, and equally rewarded. Rising to the top means, first serving at the bottom.  Becoming great means first becoming nothing.  In order to gain more, we must let go more.

Open hands, not closed fists.

The beauty for us today is the same as for those back then. We can possess this kingdom today. While it isn’t complete, it is still being written by each of us each day.

The greater proximity (consciousness) we are to its completion, the more comfortable we are with it’s unique set of rules. The greater distance (lower consciousness) we are to this kingdom, the more likely we will operate within systems that employ fear, control, shame, guilt, and other external measures in order to determine another persons worth, value, status in the system. Those who have power in the “first” way of doing things, will be those who are most resistant to the kingdom, because they know they will be “last” in the new system.

It was that way for the religious people back in Jesus day, and it is the same for the religious today.

The first will be last. Those who “get it” are the first to enter.