The first reason we don’t trust God or like God is because Religion told us not to.
Remember the chickens in the box. Well, Christianity is meant to be a personal relationship with God. It’s not about how you practice it, although you will have certain traditions pop up.
For example, I like to walk and talk with God. I call it ponder walking. It works for me and I recommend it to everyone I run into.
When a group of people starts to live out their faith-walk together–there’s a drive to create agreement. They have “their way” they do what they do–which they may not even be conscious of–and they gravitate toward people who use similar practices. I’m really okay with personal choice, and I believe God is gracious in this area, but I don’t believe that it reflects his heart for people in living in community.
I think God meant family to represent community. I think one of the biggest disservices we’ve done to the world, Christian or non-Christian, is creating the label Church instead of translating it as “the people’ or ‘congregation.’
A lot of authors have tackled this topic, far better than I could do it here. Look up Frank Viola, “Redeeming the Wine Skin,” or anything else he wrote (http://frankviola.net/). Look up what George Barna has been writing lately (https://www.barna.com/), it’s really compelling.
We’re meant to have unique ways of shining God’s light into the world. The gifts of the spirit don’t manifest the same in everyone and that’s by design. God doesn’t do anything by accident. We’re meant to have discussions about our differences and be gracious with each other. We’re meant to pull in so tight that the rough spots on us poke each other and cause relationship to happen. Some people are harder to love and, guess what, you need to ask God for more love for them.
Instead, we have a church policy and procedures manual. It’s a big turn off for most people. You don’t get to volunteer to be something that God put you on earth to do unless it fits criteria for which church leadership is looking. Want to lead song service? Great! Want to teach orphans to fly fish? Well, we don’t do that sort of thing here.
If I become influential, someday there will be a club of Christians who’ll believe that the path to Heaven is found from walking at least 100 miles a year while asking for guidance. They’ll have forgotten that my purpose in Ponder Walking is to hear from God. Like so many other Christians they’ll have forgotten you actually do hear from God at all because he might say something they disagree with.
You think I’m kidding? Wait, and see.
My point here is that we look around at the way people are doing Christianity and we interpret what God must be like from that.
Imagine that your going to have an arranged marriage. Your dad works it out with your neighbor. Then they work to be sure you never actually get to meet your wife. Then you meet briefly for the ceremony, but before the honeymoon you’re torn apart again, and you only find out about each other through letters your dads write each other.
Sounds ridiculous, but that is the Christian journey for most of us. One brief encounter with someone we’ve heard about, but don’t know. Just enough firsthand experience to think this might actually be the answer to the longing in your heart, then poof, your intermediaries step in and regulate the relationship again. It’s not what God wants. We must stop blaming him for it.
Agreements–Your Personal Deal with the Devil
The second reason we don’t trust God is our agreements.
One of my mentors, although he’s never met me and doesn’t have a clue I exist, is John Eldredge.
When my father died in 2003 and the roof was torn from my world, a friend from high school gave me a copy of “Wild at Heart.” It was an amazing book that I read straight through at least twice back to back. I highlighted the thing with two different colors. I absorbed that book and I attended a weekend “boot camp” based on it. It was a phenomenal experience that I recommend to any man whatever stage you’re at in life, but especially if you are in a place of searching and ready for a change.
Eldredge handles a set of topics he calls wounds and agreements. He does it well, and I recommend you read that book and attend a boot camp for yourself to dive deeper into your wounds and agreements. However, I’m going to spend more time here dealing with the impact of agreements and where it fits into the scheme of your life. I provide only a brief synopsis of the concept of wound/agreement topic below for convenient reference.
Wounds: There isn’t much room to argue about the fact that we are all impacted by the words and deeds of others as we develop into adulthood. When mentors, parents, teachers and even peers say things that hit us at a deep heart level, those can be wounds to our understanding of our spiritual identity. That mainly results from the agreements we make in trying to deal with the pain of the wound.
Agreements: We respond to the wound by embracing, rejecting, or both. There’s some controversy among Christian denominations about the impact of Satan and his minions. Eldredge takes a balanced approach and I’ve come to adopt a similar outlook. We can’t give the enemy credit for every bad thing that happens to us, but we can’t pretend like there isn’t a bad guy in our story. The reality is that dark forces come alongside you when something awful has happened and they try to help you interpret what it means. The degree to which you adopt their view of it is the degree to which you come into agreement with an outlook that isn’t God’s. More on this in a moment.
Theme: Finding your wounds tends to be a process. God will lead and mentor you through it, but when we do summon the courage to go looking for wounds we often uncover later wounds first and then stop looking. Wounds must be unearthed a layer at a time–tracing them back to similar wounds at a younger and younger age. You’ll find there is a theme to your wounds.
Most likely, there were people who said or did terrible things to you in your life, but the punches that landed were the ones that lined up with a certain theme.
The enemy seems to be able to read the unique purpose and gifting that God intends for you and he spends most of your life trying to derail that. He can’t allow you to become who you were born to be. So he has spent your entire life trying to substitute his own narrative. In the Kingdom, every problem is a set of stairs to climb to the next level. The enemy wants you to view it as a tsunami wave, overwhelming and cruel.
Some people are completely taken out by this war for their identity. It can easily lead to a mental illness that causes you to spend the rest of your life in therapy or on medication for the trauma. (I’m not saying that’s a ‘game over’ thing, nor am I saying that it’s a small thing. I’m just saying that, if he can keep you staring at yourself because of the pain, you won’t function for the Kingdom of God.)
Flesh: Self-preservation causes most of us to stop the bleeding from our heart wounds. That doesn’t mean that the wound isn’t properly healed. It gets covered in ugly scar tissue. All that scar tissue surrounding your heart acts like a shroud between the presence of God in your life and the life circumstances you encounter.
That’s the flesh. When we end up living from our flesh it distorts the glory of God we’re reflecting into the world.
Signs we’re living out of the flesh include:
- Fear based decision making causes us to lower the bar and stop trying if we’re not likely to succeed.
- Anxiety attacks because we must salve our problems in our own strength.
- We over celebrate areas of victory to hide inadequacies. Example, a husband works 50 hours a week to provide well for a family, who never get to see him.
However it plays out, scar tissue is not a sign of a healed wound. Just because you’re not hemorrhaging blood from a wound doesn’t mean it’s not impacting your life. When God fixes something, its as good as new.
Healing: God wants to heal your wounds perfectly. That involves restoring your true identity, which means restoring His image in you. It’s a process. A journey which you must take with God.
But how can we take a journey of healing with a God we don’t like or trust?
This is why Primacy of God comes first. We must find our own answer to our questions about God like, “Does God love me even though…” or “Can I trust God when…”
It’s easy to put off dealing with these questions when we have a formal church organization telling us “right from wrong,” but I urge you to have your own connection place to God. That’s going to be a vital prerequisite to living abundantly.
As Promised–Back to Agreements
Religious Agreements: One final thought combining religion and agreements. The dreaded religious agreement. These are false philosophies that work there way into the informal church culture.
Here are some examples:
- The Lord helps those who help themselves #notinthebibleanywhere,
- God will never give me something that I can’t handle #BS.
- God doesn’t speak to people directly anymore #getthebehindmesatan.
- I just need to keep reading the scriptures because all the answers are in there…
I know that last one pissed off at least some of you. So let’s look at these briefly.
God does want us to be the decision-makers in our lives. We steer the ship of our daily lives, but He wants to be there with us–guiding us–like a dad showing his teenager how to drive.
BTW, God’s goal is to give you more than you can handle. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is misquoted more often than not. God wants a relationship with you. Verse 13 continues on to say, “He will also provide a way out…” How can you ever grow as a person if you don’t take on things that you need his help to do? It’s a critical factor in entering the Promised Land.
God speaks to us in many different ways. He didn’t stop speaking to man directly at some point in history. If God put all the answers in the Bible and intended to only communicate that way then why does nothing in the Bible say that?
And the one that probably angered you most…
When I left the particular denomination that I grew up in, every time I read the Bible I heard their way of reading it. It’s a lot like brainwashing. I wasn’t in a cult, but I’d grown up listening to them tell me what all these verses meant. I couldn’t shake their interpretation.
So, I had to step back from the scriptures and listen to a variety of mentors for a year. I call this my reboot phase when I was recalibrating my filter of the Gospel. I was blessed to have mentors who wanted to point to Christ and actually wanted me to learn to hear God for myself. I ended up experiencing a creative variety of ways in which the Lord can, and does, direct me. As a result of my reboot phase, I returned to the scriptures with a renewed filter.
Does God ever contradict the Scriptures? No, but our understanding of the scriptures often needs to grow.
An interesting side note here, which will help you if you have heartburn with anyone saying don’t go to the scriptures when listening to the “voices” in your head.
I absolutely encourage checking everything you “hear” against the scriptures. However, I count on grace, a lot. We have permission to make mistakes. It’s almost more dangerous to believe that our theology is so sound that it protects us from leading someone astray.
We all share the Gospel we know, intentionally or not. You can’t give anyone a word from the Lord that’s accurate unless you first take a moment to align your heart with the heart of God, and you can’t share a God you’ve never met.
So, to the degree you’re still learning who God is, that’s the ceiling on your accuracy. And guess what, we’re all still learning who God is. Too many of the “authorized” evangelists share a Gospel that doesn’t really reflect God’s heart.
For example, all the brimstone crowd scaring people to Christ. Perfect love casts out fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It’s okay to realize fear at your place outside grace and repent, but it’s become a go-to technique to scare sinners straight. All those sinners need love more than fear, and they’ll respond to love even better.
Arguments about superior doctrines aren’t God’s heart either. Even when a congregation is actually right it doesn’t bless the Kingdom unless their individual and corporate relationship with Christ remains more important than that truth. Time and again I see religions circling the truth God gave them and making it the central point of life. It’s a congregational disease Frank Viola calls Koinoniaitus. When we’re all in one spirit because we agree with each other, not because we all rely on grace from God through Christ Jesus. Either way, when it comes to sharing your Gospel, the light of truth only matters when people think you give a rip.
Okay, one more quick anecdote, in case the above doesn’t quite cut it. On the subject of exercising your prophetic muscles to hear God’s voice, one of my mentors recommended asking God for an “inheritance word.” It’s a verse or something that’s true about me in Christ, which God wants to unpack with me so that I can begin to see myself through his eyes.
During that time period, I was single and deeply steeped in a masculine gospel. For the first time in my life, Christianity wasn’t in conflict with the design of God for me as a man like every other version of churchianity I’d grown up with.
So I prayed hard that God would guide me and I opened the bible to Ruth.
I tried again and again, and each time I got Ruth.
I said to God, “REALLY?” I felt him gently confirm to me that he wanted to spend time with me in Ruth. The whole book! One of only two books in the whole bible that’s named after a woman.
I hadn’t spent much time in the scriptures for almost a year and now I’m going to read Ruth. But, I did it. I read it three times.
Aaand, it didn’t do a whole lot for me so I bought a more transliterated version of the scriptures.
I strongly recommend reading things in a variety of translations because they have different strengths.
- NRSV = word translated,
- The Message = thought translated, (opposite end of the spectrum)
- NIV = a great balanced approach for daily reading.
- KJV = My favorite for memorizing, but I love Shakespeare so, that’s just me.
The NRSV made it pop.
I came to realize that Boaz had been burnt by a woman before. Loyalty was a big turn on for him. He “heard about” Ruth because of her faithfulness to her mother-in-law. He secretly wanted a chance to meet her. He began providing for her by proxy, instructing his servants to leave piles of grain for her. It progressed to a point where, even though all his workers are sort of eating lunch together, she’s the one sharing his bench and dipping her bread in his bowl. He’s putting himself in her situation with both feet and her savvy Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, spots it in a heartbeat.
What happens next is one of the most perplexing things in a Bible full of conundrums. It’s harvest and everyone gets drunk and sleeps in the field. She sleeps by him. There’s a cultural barrier to our understanding here so it always baffled me, but here’s what I learned reading it over and over.
She forced his hand by making herself vulnerable. She put herself in a place where he could choose to be a bad guy without fear of blame in the eyes of society or he could choose to be a good guy and step up. Her vulnerability called out his masculinity.
This is not a message that sits well with modern women. They’re told to be self-reliant, savvy, independent, and well, “macho.”
Suddenly, God opened my eyes to hundred shining, gem-like, facets to romantic relationships. AND:
- That strength and being impervious were not the same thing.
- That two people falling in love can bring out the best in each other.
- That societies conventions don’t always establish the best course of action and sometimes following our hearts–or God’s heart–will require personal risk.
From that time forward the Scriptures came alive for me in Technicolor, and it began with fasting from reading them.
There’s a group called the “Red Letter Christians” and one of their beliefs is that you should get a version of the bible where every time Christ speaks it’s printed in red. They suggest reading only the red letters for the first couple years that you’re a Christian, in order to give you a better perspective to read the rest of the Bible. It’s an interesting idea and it would probably have worked to reboot my filter better than relying entirely on second-hand inspiration. But in the end, I encourage everyone to rely on grace and stop fretting the doctrinal minutia.
P.S. If you’re interested in attending a boot camp based on Wild at Heart look up Ransomed Heart Ministries to find a list of them. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest I can personally recommend Boot Camp NW at BootCampNW.org.
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Expected update 4/17/2018