Among the Barbarians…

I’m done. Finally. The withdrawal period from Churchianity ran its course awhile ago.

If your church teaches things I don’t agree with, I don’t care. You will believe what you want to believe and you will see what you want to see. I no longer feel a need to create a blog post regarding something that I see as “incorrect” with the church. I no longer feel the urge to engage in an argument over the same stuff all the time on Facebook. What’s funny to me is that I notice people still argue over the same things: tithing, worship, dress code, alcohol, cussing, legalism, etc., ad infinitum.

Literally, same shit, different day.

It reminds me of the song lyrics of “What it’s worth” which go, “Singing songs and carrying signs. Mostly say, hooray for our side”. That’s what it feels like and I just don’t care anymore. It’s a big joke and I’m not laughing anymore. Not even going to listen to the same old lines.

Literally zero fucks given.

 

Here’s the thing: I want the real thing. The real Christianity. I haven’t found it. I’ve seen glimmers of it, like the sun being reflected off the water in a fast flowing stream. Here one moment, gone the next, here again, gone again. The closest thing I have come to in regards to a real “picture” of our Lord and Savior, our Elder Brother, our One True Reflection of the Father, is in the book “Beautiful Outlaw” and in the audio series “The Life of Jesus”, both by John Eldredge. On the whole, they are a “retelling” of the Gospels. It’s the most riveting description of Jesus that makes me want the real thing. I’m not saying it’s 100% accurate, either. There are things I don’t necessarily agree with him on in his writings, or teachings, however he has been a great help over the years. This isn’t a book review. This isn’t even to praise John Eldredge. I mention those things here on the off-chance that you even care about what I am getting at.

You see, I don’t see that Jesus being discussed and shared in the Institutional Church. When I was a leader, I tried to bring that Jesus in. Some took to it, the majority didn’t. They wanted gentle lover, school boy, creepy religious Jesus. Enough, it’s not about that.

Inside and outside the Institutional Church has profited me about the same, spiritually, within being outside profiting me slightly more. Why? All I know is that I know enough to know that I have more planks in my eyes than I thought I did when I was in the IC.

Let me try it this way.

The early converts to Christianity from Ireland used to call the Holy Spirit, ‘The Wild Goose’. Because the call of the Wild Goose was haunting and to follow it over the moors and foggy areas into the Wild could be dangerous. Forgive me if I am slightly inaccurate here, just stay with me. In ancient Greece, the term “barbarian” could refer to anyone of a different culture. In Roman times, it was used for many peoples, Germanics, Celts and Gauls to name a few. They were the people “outside” the protection and borders of the empire. Outside the city gates.

Those outside the gates of the IC are barbarians.

I don’t hear any semblance of the call of the Wild Goose inside the borders of the “kingdom” of the IC. Once outside the city walls and in barbarian territory, venturing ever outward, away from the IC, I could barely, barely hear it carried on the wind.

Does the word picture make sense?

I want the real thing. The real Jesus of Nazareth. I know more “of” Him than I actually “know” Him. Do you know him or are you just leaning on your theological degree, or your latest euphoric worship experience? Just because we know His words in the Gospels doesn’t mean we know him. Do you know him like you know your best friend, or your close neighbor, or your brother?

Isn’t that the offer? To know Him?

Why would He say, “I never knew you.”, if that wasn’t the offer.

And honestly, it should scare the living shit out of us that we do not know Him!

I think I am looking for a different kingdom, a different city. Where the battle hardened soldier and the young choir boy can agree on the character and nature of Christ, because they know Him. Where the career criminal and the old lady who sits in the second row of your church can relate to each other about their experience of Jesus, because they know Him.

It’s probably out there, amid the lands of the barbarians. And I am content being out here in the wild, among barbarians for now. To paint another word picture: Their lives are unfettered, their communities are close-knit, their words are true, their mead is good, their feasting is magnificent and their tattoos are pretty damn epic.

The truth is that none of us escape this life alive. The only one that we know of that has come back from the grave is the one we place our mustard seed of faith in. And all we know is that He is preparing a place for us.

That’s it.

You and I have to deal with this black wall of Mortality that creeps ever closer to us each and every day. Not a single one of us knows the day that we will meet our end. We just know it’s coming. And if we are truly honest with each other and ourselves. We would admit that none of us, not a single one, can see past that curtain. You don’t get to. I personally suspect anyone who boasts of being able to see through that curtain as trying to manipulate or sell me something.

If He truly is preparing a place for us, then we need to know him. Really know him. He would be our only glimpse of what is over there and only because He came back.

I can’t settle for anything less than actually knowing Him.

Really.

I can’t waste my time on anything less.

I won’t.

Book Review: The Utter Relief of Holiness, by John Eldredge

The Utter Relief of Holiness

The subtitle:  How God’s Goodness Frees Us from Everything that Plagues Us.

From the book description on the website linked above:

It may seem strange at first because most folks don’t think of holiness as an utter relief.  Hard perhaps, boring if we’re honest, necessary like flossing, a level of spirituality we might attain to one day.  But a relief?  Look at it this way: Take the things you struggle with and ask yourself,  ‘What would life be like if I never struggled with this again?‘  It would be an utter relief.  An absolute utter relief.

This is the second book of John’s that I have reviewed, and as you probably noticed in the helpful links, this is someone whose words I respect.  I believe that, to a certain degree, I have been mentored through John’s writings, specifically:  Wild at Heart, The Way of the Wild Heart, Epic, Waking the Dead and Beautiful Outlaw.  In many ways, these writings have influenced me, and I believe that is a good thing.  Before I go further, I will say, that there are things that I disagree with John on, but they aren’t viewpoints and opinions that I would deem worthy enough to just write him off.  The “negatives”, if you want to call it that, are a very small fraction compared to the positives and I am forever grateful for how God has used John’s writings to challenge and impact my life.

So, the book, then?

What does it mean to be holy?  Is it even possible to be or to become holy?  Is holiness something that is lofty and unreachable for us as “mere” mortals?  Is holiness something we “borrow”, because we cannot achieve it?  If possible, how does holiness come, or how is it achieved?  What would our lives look like if we could embrace or walk in holiness?  Should we even try?

Think about it for a moment.  Don’t worry, chew on those questions, reread them if necessary before going further with my review.

This subject of holiness is what John is after in this book.  I wouldn’t say that he tackles it completely, but, he does a good job of bringing up things for you to think about and he continually points you back to the Father as the provider of the answers.  At least that is how I saw the book.

I think the best chapter must be chapter eight:  What God Did For You In Jesus.  In this chapter, he answers the questions with at least three to four scriptures per point.  In summary, without the scripture references:

First, through the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth upon the cross, your sins have been completely forgiven.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you have been reconciled to God.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you are cleansed of all your sins.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you have been delivered from the tyranny of that part of you in bondage to sin.

Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Spirit of God, you now have the life of Jesus Christ within you.

You have been given a good heart.  (Tom here.  I know, I know… a lot of people don’t like this part.  Just read the chapter, or go download his sermon/conversation series called “The Good Heart”.  I personally believe this.  In short:  The old you, the old ways of coping, aka the flesh, isn’t you anymore.  That part, is the part of yourself that needs to be renewed.  Your mind holds the old ways of doing things, coping and relating and it is your mind that needs to be renewed, thus the scripture goes: be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  I give this to you here by way of explanation, not to try to get into a five point argument on whether the position is valid.  You can believe that you have an evil heart all you want, from what I have seen, God wanted to regenerate and recreate you from the inside out, starting with your heart and working out from there.) 

There are a few things I had a hard time accepting, or didn’t like in this book, too.  One thing in particular, by way of example, that I had a hard time with was in chapter ten:  Holiness in Stubborn Places.  Some of it was good, but when it came to the subject of renouncing the “sins of your fathers”.  He explains that:

“Often in these places of lasting bondage, you find that a father (or a mother, or brother, or grandparent) struggled with the same issue [that you do].  … The scriptures present to us the reality that sin is often passed down within a family line, and the effects of those sins are passed down from generation to generation. [Here he lists scriptures from Exodus, Leviticus and Nehemiah]

Now, I am a highlighter, under-liner and note-writer in my books.  This is what I wrote:

“No!  No!  No!  Jesus confronted this while on earth!  “Neither his mother/father nor this man sinned so he was born blind”.  We don’t carry the debt of our “father’s sins”!  Their choice may have ripple effects in our lives if their choice to sin hurt/impacted us in some way.  (Porn left in plain sight, raging at us, etc.)  But we are neither to blame nor are we held liable for their sins.  Shouldn’t this be where we are to forgive them?”

Now, I realize that yes, my notes interpret the account in John 9 in a loose manner.  But the point remains.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind.”  I personally believe this question revealed a terrible misunderstanding of sin and God when they asked it.  Jesus corrected it.  His parent’s sins didn’t affect his outcome.

The point I am trying to make, and probably quite terribly is this:  you are not responsible for your parent’s sins.  Period.

Now, for the sake of honesty, this particular subject is a sensitive one for me.  Mainly because after my parents divorced, it felt like my mother was on a warpath for years trying to convince me that I was “just like my father” (which can be a very good thing or a very bad thing, depending on the context in which the verbiage is used).  I remember going into a christian bookstore about fifteen or sixteen years of age and my mother buying a small book for me about “Sins of the fathers”.  For years I heard “your father struggled with X” and “your grandfather struggled with Y” and “you are just like your father (negatively spoken)”.  For quite awhile I bought into it, wrongly so.  My father’s sin, whatever they may be, are not me and I am not responsible for them.  His choices might have “rubbed off” on me, by way of example, but we have dealt with it and moved on.  My father and I have a pretty damn good relationship, and there are tons of things I see in my own life where my fathers “comes out” of me.  Those things are good things.

Maybe a better way to approach this would be to take a stance in prayer that your parent’s sins are not a part of your identity.  To understand and remind yourself that you are not the labels that have been placed on you, you are not what your parents have done.

Back to the book.  Take from the above what you want, discard the rest.

Overall, there are some good things to read in every chapter of this book.

I do find myself puzzled at the mixture of Law and Grace in it.  While some come from the “Grace must be balanced with Truth” camp, which really means it must be balanced with the Law.  I come from the peculiar camp of “the Law nullifies Grace and Grace nullifies the Law, they aren’t compatible” camp.  Falling from Grace means obeying the Law.  The Law’s only purpose is to bring you to the Grace and Truth that comes only by Jesus Christ.

However, as John points out in Beautiful Outlaw, we experience a void when reading any text, whether it be an email, a letter, a text message or even a book.  Because it is totally one-sided.  We lack many things that would help us get a clearer picture of what the author meant when he/she wrote the words they did.  That being said, I’m sure I might misunderstand some of the things John was saying, just due to the way he wrote them.  However, the way he wrote them is all I have to go off of, and he isn’t a bad communicator.

The Utter Relief of Holiness is O.K., it’s definitely not taking a place among my favorites.  However, I’ll probably revisit this book in a year or so to read again.

Not sure if this was a helpful review, or not, but it is what it is.  Take it as you will.

Book Review: Beautiful Outlaw, by John Eldredge

From time to time, you will find me writing a review on a book that I’ve recently finished, it might not be the best written book review in the world, but more than likely it will be on a book that I think might be helpful.  I don’t think I could waste my time writing a review for a book I don’t like or that I thought wasn’t helpful, but you do find reviews like that, just spend a couple of minutes on Amazon.  Last time, I shared with you a great book about the canon of Scripture, appropriately named:  The Canon of Scripture.   Here is another one of those posts.  Review time!

John Eldredge is one of my favorite authors, he has been for quite some time; ever since my father handed me a copy of Wild At Heart to read about seven years ago or so.  Although I’ve never met the man, I consider him to have mentored me through his writing, or maybe more correctly that God has mentored me through his writings.  Now, I haven’t enjoyed all of his writings.  Desire, The Sacred Romance, Walking With God each had good things in them, but I didn’t enjoy them quite as much as, say, Wild At Heart, Way of the Wild Heart (aka Fathered by God), Epic and Waking the Dead.

Beautiful Outlaw definitely goes into the latter category.  I first read this book in 2011, needless to say, I enjoyed this book…immensely.

The tag-line on the front of the book is intriguing to say the least:  Experiencing the playful, disruptive, extravagant personality of Jesus.  This is what John Eldredge sets out to do in this book.  Drawing from the accounts and records that we have of Jesus in the Gospels, Eldredge seeks, in a very real and sincere way, to bring these accounts to life.  In the first twelve chapters, of which I regard to be the best part of the book, Eldredge takes to picking out and magnifying traits of Jesus’s personality that, if veiled by religious fog or tradition, are often overlooked and ignored.  Here is a sampling of the Chapter titles:  The Playfulness of God and The Poison of Religion (Ch 1), Fierce Intention (Ch 4), Extravagant Generosity (Ch 6) and Cunning (Ch 9).

This book came out late 2011(October I think), and I was eagerly looking forward to reading it.  At the time, I had already listened to an audio CD by John Eldredge called The Life of Jesus, which is basically the genesis of what would become Beautiful Outlaw.  I was also on the Ransomed Heart Ministries mailing list and for the past ten months or so and was receiving advanced excerpts of the book.  I was hooked.  This was going to be good.

On occasion, when I get a new book, I will let it sit for a week, a couple of months, sometimes a year before I dig into it.  Call me crazy, but I chalk part of that up to being led by the Spirit and part of that up to reading it at the right time.  When I read this book it was during the Christmas season of 2011; a very interesting season in my life.

Long story short:  It was a breath of fresh air.

I let the book sit for the next year and a half before picking it up again at the end of June for my second time through.  I still immensely enjoyed the first twelve chapters, the last chapters (13 – 17) are O.K., there are still good bits in them, a few things I don’t necessarily agree with but that really doesn’t matter.  I enjoyed the different accounts of Jesus that Eldredge was bringing out more than anything.

In matters of trying to make sense of encounters we find with Jesus in the Gospels, John Eldredge goes a great job at bringing light, color and texture to the verse.

You’ll never look at the Wedding in Cana or the Raising of Lazarus or Jesus’s encounter on the Emmaus Road again.

Enjoy.

908 Bottles of Wine…