Retiring From Religion

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a crooked lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life? Sounds like a reasonable question, except it’s a trap. First of all, the lawyer is asking the wrong question: what can anyone do to inherit anything? If you had a rich relative and they died, leaving you an inheritance, the only thing you did to earn it was that you were in that family. When you are saved into God’s family, our inheritance is Eternal Life in heaven. It’s a gift. We can’t “obtain” it by our works. The lawyer asked, “What must I do?” If Jesus were to tell him to jump over a twenty-foot fence, it would be equally impossible.

Jesus doesn’t answer the lawyer directly, but tells him he must, “…love the Lord your God with all his heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and your neighbor as yourself.” Truth: You have to have the love of God in your heart before you can love your neighbor as yourself, especially some “neighbors.”

So, the lawyer, looking for some wiggle room asks, “Who is my neighbor?” He draws some careful boundaries about who is neighbor is. To a good Jew, no Gentile could be considered his neighbor. Actually, he believes his “neighbor” could only be another Jew who carefully follows the Law. He thinks he’s covered.

So, Jesus tells the parable: A man is beaten, stripped naked, robbed, and left for dead. A priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan all encounter him. The priest and the Levite, not wanting to defile themselves by touching a dead person, or even a wounded person who is a Gentile, pass on by. The Samaritan stops, treats his wounds, and takes him to an inn to be cared for. Then Jesus asks him, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor.”

The lawyer is exposed, not only for his prejudice against non-Jews, but by the fact that he can’t ALWAYS love the Lord God with all his heart and strength, and ALWAYS love his neighbor as himself. No one can. It’s an impossible task. Only Jesus Himself could do that. Eternal Life is a gift, not something to be obtained by trying to live up to some impossible standard. We need God to help us to at least be moving in that direction.

“Our task is to encourage others first to let go, to cease striving, to give over this fevered effort of the self-sufficient religionist trying to please an external deity. Count on God knocking on the doors of time. God is the Seeker, and not we alone … I am persuaded that religious people do not with sufficient seriousness count on God as an active factor in the affairs of the world. “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” but too many well-intentioned people are so preoccupied with the clutter of effort to ‘do something for God’ that they don’t hear Him asking that he might do something through them. We may admire the heaven-scaling desires of the tower-builders on the Plain of Shinar, but they would have done better to listen and not drown out the call from heaven with the clang of the mason’s trowel and the creaking of the scaffolding.”

–Thomas R. Kelly

I spent thirty years of my life striving in a religious fellowship as a pastor and missionary, hoping I was “doing enough for God” to be accepted, not just by Him, but sadly, even more so, by my pastor and peers. Although I am grateful for the rich experiences, after leaving that organization I realize God is less concerned by what I’m doing for Him than just allowing Him to love me for who I am. I’m still unlearning all the legalism I thought was pleasing God, and that His love isn’t based on my performance. His salvation and love is a gift, and it’s only cheapened when I think I can earn it.

He who is without sin

The prophet Samuel’s death is recorded in 1 Samuel 25, and most scholars believe that David wrote the rest of that book and 2 Samuel, where he recorded in detail his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. But Ezra, in recording the same events in 1 Chronicles, omits any reference to David’s sin, only stating that “David tarried at Jerusalem.” Ezra didn’t feel it was his place to bring David’s sin to remembrance.

When Noah landed on dry ground after the Flood, he got drunk on some fermented grape juice. Two of his sons, Shem and Japheth, carried a blanket into their father’s tent to cover him, walking backward, so as not to look upon his sin. But Ham brazenly gazed upon his father’s nakedness and possibly mocked him. God cursed Ham for his lack of discretion, but honored Shem and Japheth, not because they ignored their father’s sin, but because it was not their place to expose it.

We once took some recovering addicts from Celebrate Recovery to our church and made the mistake of telling people their status. Later, they asked us not to do this—they didn’t want to be “outed.” If they wanted others to know about their background, that was up to them, not us.

In John 8, the Pharisee’s brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They wanted her stoned, according to the Law. But Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Then he stooped down and wrote in the sand, possibly naming their individual sins. Convicted by their conscience, the Pharisee’s dropped their stones and walked away. Jesus asked the woman, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” When she answered “None,” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Unless your name is Jesus, you don’t have the right to wag your finger and play Holy Spirit with people. Paul said in Galatians 6:1, warning people against correcting people in pride: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in a sin, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…”

The Father refuses to look upon our sin without seeing it through the Blood of His Son, that is, through the Mercy Seat. It’s called that for a reason. Only a merciful God, seeing our sin through the Blood, is qualified to “out” us.

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Spiritual gifts are very much alive today

There may be no greater controversy and misunderstanding in the Western church today than the subject of the Gifts of the Spirit, including the “sign gifts”–tongues, miracles of healing, and prophecy.

Most believe these gifts passed away with the disciples or with the completion of Scripture, but history tells a far different story. Justin Martyr, in the 2nd century, said, “For the prophetic gifts remain with us even to the present times.” He described church initiation as “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” And Irenaeus and Origen, among many others of their day, all practiced and witnessed numerous miracles. Augustine, in the 5th century, who originally believed the gifts had passed with the disciples, later said he witnessed more miracles in his lifetime than he could possibly record. Symeon, in the 11th century, called on believers to “return to the charismatic and prophetic life of the primitive church.”

In the modern era, John Wesley, “God’s firebrand,” said God had given numerous witnesses that his hand was still “stretched out to heal, and that signs and wonders are even now wrought by his holy child Jesus.” The same could be said of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and Charles Finney.

One of the main texts used by those who claim the gifts have passed away is 1Cor.13:8-12, which in part says, “when the perfect comes (which they claim is the completed Bible), then the childish things (sign gifts) will be done away.” But even if one believed their interpretation here, it further falls apart in vs.12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…now I know in part, but then  I will know [Him] fully, just as I have been fully known.”

Face to face? With who? The completed Bible? I think not. “Face to face” requires a person, and that would be Jesus when we get to heaven. The Bible has been completed for almost 2000 years. Do we now know Him fully? If we did, then we would have no further revelation of Him when we get to heaven. I don’t believe it is possible to “known Him fully” in this world, but only in our resurrected future.mirror-001

And, of course, we won’t need the sign gifts, or any of the Spiritual gifts in heaven, they will seem like “child’s play” compared to being with Him “face to face”


My back story

I converted to Christ from hippiedom in 1977, under a mesquite tree in an Arizona desert. At 27, I thought I was dying and wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to hell. That covered, I got baptized in the Holy Spirit, after dozing off in a women’s Bible study about Israel, where three men laid hands on me, and I shouted out in tongues and experienced the glory of God.

Six years later, married, with two children, I was ordained and sent to plant a church in Toronto, Canada. After two years and a handful of converts, and after burying my wife, Lynn, who died from cancer, I returned with two small children to my home church in Tucson. Three years later, I married Laurie, and with a family now of six, we packed up for Edmonton, Canada to plant another church, leaving it self-sustaining before leaving again to become missionaries to South Africa. Eight years later, while planting and pastoring two churches in South Africa, battling against a coup attempt to hijack our church fellowship into the “hyper-charismania” movement, and my family being held at gunpoint for four hours in a home invasion, we returned to Arizona, where I became an evangelist.

After 30 years of ministry and relationships, we were forced out of our church organization, when it was learned that Laurie, while consoling a friend,  who was angry with the senior pastor’s son, said that he would one day have to stand before God. With shades of Jezebel’s trumped up charges against Nabal, twelve unsustainable charges were invented to bolster our being ousted, and letters were sent to the 1000+ pastors, warning them against being contaminated by our rebellion.

I became re-ordained with another Pentecostal organization, where their Pentecostalism was practiced exclusively on their website. After two small, failed churches, where one of the present deacons had been kicked out of his home church in another city for marrying the young daughter of his best friend, and the other church’s board had voted, before we got there, to ditch their organization, steal the church funds and building, and join the hyper-charismatics. When I wasn’t keen on joining their coup, they retaliated by sending angry letters to headquarters, denouncing me for everything from changing the worship style to having communion after the preaching rather than before. Headquarters, siding with those who were threatening to pull their tithes, determined it would be best if my preaching credentials were rescinded and I was blacklisted as a “firebrand.”

And now I write on spiritual abuse, the hyper-charismatics, and in defense of genuine Pentecostalism.  I don’t write out of anger or bitterness, but as self-therapy and the hope of helping others.