did Jesus come to create a religion?

1

Category : Exodus, Jesus, barbarian, bible, different, love

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God spent a lot of time explaining every detail he wanted in his home with the Israelites.  He didn’t leave much to the imagination or ask us to do “whatever works.”  God had a very specific plan in mind for his home, and the people who would be directly interacting with it.

Interestingly Jesus didn’t do this.  Jesus was messy.

There wasn’t a lot of formality around how to approach him.  There wasn’t a lot of people wearing only certain types of clothing.  Or saying certain types of things.  In fact, Jesus constantly had people touching him who were “ceremonially unclean,” meaning people who couldn’t enter God’s presence.  And yet he didn’t do anything but love them.

Sometimes you hear people say that Jesus meant to create a religion.  But I don’t buy that.  I think Jesus came to establish a relationship with us.  This is why he always loved the people who needed it, and why the New Testament isn’t filled with rules on how to establish a physical church.  Jesus went out of his way to break social conventions in order to build relationships.

Relationships are messy.  Religion is organized.  Relationships have sacrifice, love, compassion.  Religions have rules, structure, bureaucracies.

What would Christianity look like if we were more interested in showing that same love, and less interested in showing religious protocol?  How would your life be different if local churches worked to create a relationship with God and not to create a religion?

suffering because of faith

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Category : Exodus, God, faith, fear, trust


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”  (John 1: 1-4)

Sometimes I find myself thinking that as long as you believe in God, you won’t have to suffer.  Yet that’s not the story the Bible presents.  The people closest to God are often the people who suffer the most for their faith.  Despite knowing this, it never really occurred to me that God might intentionally bring challenges into my life.  That he might be an “active” gardener.

I suppose it was just wishful thinking.

We view gardeners as someone who helps plants become stronger, more beautiful, and healthier.  But do you really think the plant feels that way when it’s getting cut apart?  Do you think the plant believes in the good intentions of the gardener?  Makes you have second thoughts about cutting your grass, doesn’t it?

I believe we’re like that plant.  The minute we start feeling “pruned” we start wondering why things are so miserable.  “Does God really want me to be suffering?” we ask.  “Does my life need to be like this?  Do I need to go through all this pain?”

Sometimes the answer is “yes” we must suffer.  Not because God wants us to be in pain.  But because there is no other way to get to our destination.  There is no other way to become stronger and healthier.  There is no other way to move out of our pride, our complacency, or our self-centeredness.

In order to prune a plant, a gardener must “hurt” the plant by pulling off dead leaves or rotting branches.  Even in medicine we do this.  A doctor will amputate a severely injured limb.  This isn’t because they want you to suffer, it’s because the only way you will survive is to lose a limb.

I believe God is sometimes that doctor.  Not all the time.  Just sometimes.  I think a lot of our suffering is our own fault.  If you don’t believe me, ask yourself when the last time you did something you knew was wrong.  How did that turn out for you?  I’m betting you regret it.  But I suppose that’s all for another conversation.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not easy when God starts pruning.  When Israel left Egypt they had an 11 day hike to the Promise Land.  It took them 40 years.  Now it’s possible that Moses just didn’t stop to ask for directions.  But it’s more likely that God chose to take Israel on a route because they needed to be pruned.  In fact, that’s exactly what God says – “If they (Israel) face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

God was allowing Israel to suffer  so they would be prepared to handle the challenges ahead of them.  He was making sure their faith was strong enough to overcome the challenges they would face.  Was it fun?  Not at all.  Was it necessary?  Absolutely.

My natural reaction is to run from pain.  I don’t like being uncomfortable.  So I certainly don’t like it when God is bringing obstacles into my life.  But I’m struck by the fact that I need to embrace these challenges.  How different would Israel’s journey have been if they had recognized what God was doing?  They never would have been tempted to build a golden calf, or complain for 40 years.  (And you think it’s bad with a kid sitting in the back seat saying “are we there yet?”  Imagine a 40 year car trip!)

Instead of running around looking for an exit strategy, I need to calm myself down and ask, “God what should I be learning?”  If I must suffer, then I want my suffering to be caused by my faith.  I want it to be brought about by a loving God who’s desire is to help me, not hurt me.

I am willing to sacrifice if it means knowing God better.

As spring approaches and the world starts turning green again, consider the hardship the plants go through each winter.  I challenge you to think about your own suffering as well – each time you see a budding bush or a blooming flower, ask God what needs to be pruned from your life to help you to bear more fruit.

rest

Category : Exodus, R3, trust

  

R3 has been in existence for almost 1.5 years.  And during that time I’ve never taken a leave of absence.  The most time I’ve taken off is over the weekends, or occasionally a day or two when I’ve been sick.  But all that’s about to change!  For the first time since R3 started I plan on taking a few days off.  Two weeks to be exact.  But don’t worry.  You’ll get regularly scheduled posts over the next two weeks.  I have lots of content pre-written. 

I’ve never been very good at taking time off from anything.  Because I get bored easily, I look to keep myself occupied.  Which means I tend to ignore the idea of a Sabbath.  But there’s a reason God tells us to rest.  Nothing was made to always work.  Not even a website. 

For me this rest will allow me to catch up on some reading.  It will also let me refill my “creative well” so to speak.  Those are important reasons to rest.  But perhaps the most important reason is to simply see that the world goes on even if we don’t.  We often talk ourselves into believing that if we stop working, the world (or perhaps just your house) will fall apart.  It doesn’t.  The world always goes on.

It’s comforting knowing that when I come back in two weeks, R3 will be chugging along, even without my direct supervision.

the 10 commandments

Category : Exodus, God, Matthew, taking action

  

Sometimes I find myself thinking about the 10 commandments.  

They are such a part of of western society that sometimes we don’t even notice the influence they have.  Almost everyone agrees that the “big” one’s are a good idea:  don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony.  Other commandments are not always as popular, but most people still think it’s not a good idea to cheat on your spouse, or lust after the things another person has. 

But there’s one commandment that always seems to stand out: “remember the Sabbath.” (Exodus 20:8).  Doesn’t it seem like a weird thing to add to such a short list?  I mean it is a top 10 list.  Shouldn’t there be something, I don’t know, more important in that spot?

And yet, that simple commandment was so important that God included it right before he talked about how we shouldn’t murder or cheat.  I have to think there’s a link there.  I have to believe that God knows when we don’t have the right priorities only bad things can happen.

Out of all the commandments this is the one I break most often.  And for those of you about to dial 911, don’t worry I’ve never killed anyone or stolen anything.  But I have been furious with people, and according to Jesus that’s enough (Matthew 5:21-22).

So the question becomes, why? 

Why do I feel free to break this one?  Is it because the other commandments seem so obviously important?  Is it because maybe I think I’m a little too good to need special time with God?

I’m not sure I have an answer.  But I do know that if God thought this was important enough to be included in such a short list, then I need to rearrange the priorities in my life.  I need to make sure I’m making time to build that relationship with God.

 

why does God take so long?

Category : Exodus, God, faith, hope, trust

  

Why can’t God just answer my prayers?

I wonder that all the time. 

I mean he is all powerful.  How hard can it be to snap his fingers and just make something happen?  I don’t see what the issue is.

And that, I think, is the answer.  No matter how much we know, there are simply some things that we can never know.  For instance, we can never know what would happen if we went to a different college, married a different person, or slept through our alarm.  Well that last one might get you fired.  But in general we will never know the road not taken.  

The interesting thing is, God does know.  He’s fully aware of what would happen if things went differently.  When God promised Israel their own land, I’m sure some of them thought, “well why can’t we have it all at once.”  To me that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable question.  God did, after all, promise it to them.  

Yet there were things that Israel couldn’t know.  There were things they probably never even thought of.  Fortunately God had, “But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.” (Exodus 23: 29-30)

God knew their lives would be harder, not easier if he simply gave them everything they wanted.  I wonder what I am impatient for, and God is saying “Be patient, trust me, you aren’t ready for this yet.  But you will be.”

 

proof of God

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Category : Exodus, God, faith, miracles

  

“You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him.” (Exodus 16: 8)

I’ve often heard people say, “if only God would do something to prove he was real, I’d believe him.”  If I’m honest I have to admit that I’ve said that exact thing.  Sometimes I still do.  But is that really what makes you believe in God?

The Israelites had all the proof they could ever want.  They had just been delivered from years of slavery.  They had seen their families and livestock spared while Egypt’s were destroyed. They had seen miracle after miracle, and yet, they still couldn’t simply believe in God.

Doesn’t this hold true to our experiences as well?  When God gives us exactly what we want, don’t we find a way to discredit the miracle?  We find ourselves saying it was coincidence or “a lucky break.”  Sometimes we even take credit for it ourselves.  After all, it was only your determination that got you that job interview, right?

God is always giving us evidence for his existence.  He was no different with the Israelites.  That’s the amazing thing about God – when Israel doubted him, he simply gave them more reason to believe.   “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’” (Exodus 16: 12)

I would have told Israel they could eat when they found the next Quick-E-Mart.

For some of us no amount of evidence seems to be enough.  But maybe, just maybe, the issue isn’t really about God.  Maybe it’s more about how we respond to what God does show us. 

time to be free

Category : Exodus, God, bible, faith, taking action, trust

   

What would you do for your freedom?  This is exactly the question that Israel was facing.  Of course the answer was simple: follow God’s commandments.  It doesn’t seem like that much really.  God even gave Israel a straightforward ‘to do’ list. Their sole responsibility would be to follow a couple of rules about how they were to prepare the meal (Passover). (Exodus 12: 1-11)  If they did that they would live and escape Egypt.

As we know, they escaped.

You’d think that after seeing everything they saw, they would be forever grateful to the one who set them free.  But you’d be wrong.  By the second month they were already unhappy (Exodus 16:1-3).  As they say, the honeymoon didn’t last long.

We spend so much of our time wondering where God is.  But maybe that’s not really the issue.  Maybe we should wonder why we aren’t willing to do the things necessary to set ourselves free.  Maybe we should ask, “why am I not allowing God to set me free?”