Monthly Archives: July 2015

Freedom from Religious Rules

Another absolute belter from This is freedom!

We are not to Follow Burdensome Religious Rules

When I joined an evangelical denomination in 1970, they read me the teachings of the church. I agreed to abide by prohibitions such as drinking alcohol or using tobacco, swearing oaths, wearing jewelry, and belonging to lodges. There were also many such prohibitions not on the official list, but they were VERY serious about all these ‘sins’.

When a person begins to follow Jesus, their natural inclination is to want to live as he wants us to, but there are two ways believers go about doing this. The first is to discover the religious rules God wants us to follow, as my church did. The measure of success is how effectively we avoid ‘sins’.

This is called legalism, on which I have written a number of posts.

Jesus Teaches Us a Different Way

A second approach is to discover Jesus’ principles which give direction but not rules. These principles become our guide, and the measure of our success is how well we effectively treat people with their best interest in mind. There are no ‘sins’ to avoid; it is all in how we relate to people. I firmly believe this option expresses Jesus’ desire of us, based on his words and actions in the Gospels.

Following religious rules is actually the very opposite what Jesus teaches. Religious rules create a tremendous burden for the believer, while Jesus wishes to relieve our burdens; and they also prevent us from growing as healthy believers. Knowing that we should live by Jesus’ principles and not by burdensome religious rules is Good News!

On the other hand, legalism is Bad News. I don’t think those who teach and live by religious rules are bad; they sincerely think they are doing what Jesus asks. But they are misguided and heavily burdened down. Jesus wishes them better than that.

Image credit: Naked

What does it Mean to Love People?

This is all well and good, but how do we even begin loving people if there are no ‘rules’ on how to do it? It helps to consider how we would like people to treat us. How are some ways you prefer to be treated? Why don’t you write them down?

I think an important aspect is that our love and concern be genuine—not just a forced, legalistic duty we must perform. We can start by considering how much the Father loves us and is concerned with our good. As we get a glimpse of his love for us, we begin to feel more lovable and think better about ourselves in response. We can then consider how the Father loves everyone else in the same way, and as we come to see people as the Father sees them we can begin to love them as he does.

This leads to practical behaviors in our interaction with people, some of which might be:

  • Respecting them
  • Empathizing with them
  • Accepting them
  • Being kind and compassionate
  • Caring about them
  • Considering their feelings
  • Making them feel significant
  • Having concern for their well-being
  • Helping those who need it

Why don’t you think for a moment and add your own thoughts to this list? Then, if you wish, share your thoughts in comments below so we can all benefit from them.

We will never be perfect in these behaviors, but we can commit to improve our interactions with others by remembering the Father’s love for us and for them.

What Things Should We Avoid in Relating to People?

If we love people, some behaviors are inconsistent with such love. They might include:

  • Hurting people or taking revenge
  • Judging or excluding people
  • Gossiping, or slandering people
  • Expressing disapproval, disgust, disdain, hostility, or hatred
  • Taking advantage
  • Dominating people
  • Demeaning, insulting, berating, intimidating, or manipulating people

Here are a few behaviors legalists often use in their understanding of the ‘rule’ to love people:

  • “Loving the sinner; hating the sin”
  • “Confronting them with love”
  • “Loving” them in a shallow, meaningless way

These behaviors do not represent genuine love toward others. Why don’t you take a moment and jot down some other things that are inconsistent with genuinely loving people—then mention them in comments if you wish.

If we have no genuine love for people, then we have no message for them either. If we do not love and care for people then all our judging them, telling them how sinful they are, and badgering them to accept Jesus will be ineffective. We might succeed in having them ‘pray the sinner’s prayer’, commit to our doctrinal beliefs, and follow us in taking up legalistic burdens, but their spiritual lives will be terribly flawed and stunted.

Growing in Love and Practical Application of Love

We will never become perfect in loving people appropriately, but we can grow at it. Here are some steps that should help in that growth.

Read about Jesus in the Gospels

First of all, read the words and stories of Jesus and notice how he consistently treats people—even those that many others thought not worth bothering about. The more you read about Jesus, the more you will understand how he demonstrated love and concern for others.

You will also notice that he was often short with one particular group of people—the Pharisees. This is because they were legalists who despised the common people who needed love the most. Jesus said in Matthew 23:

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Choose Mentors who Understand Jesus’ Teaching on Love

Find people well along the way in loving people as Jesus taught. Talk with them about it and learn what helps them grow in love of others. These mentors might be authors of good books instead of someone you know, but in any case find people who evidence love and learn from them.

Create Some Guidelines for Yourself

Guidelines are not ‘rules’, and they do not replace good judgment in specific situations, but they can help prepare us for personal problem areas in interacting with people. An important one for me was ‘Don’t yell at people.’ Yelling at people is meant to be intimidating and dominating, and it leads to alienation rather than reconciliation. Often I was sorry once I cooled off, but the damage was done. Over time I was able to avoid yelling.

Guidelines need not necessarily be written so long as we are prepared to use them as situations require. It is important to remember that guidelines are only for us; we cannot impose our guidelines on someone else, and no one can place them on us—that is legalism.

I hope this post has been useful, and it leads into our next Good News topic: it is exciting Good News to learn that when we follow Jesus we become agents for expanding God’s kingdom on earth. And we have already taken an important step! Spreading love and reconciliation is an important part of the kingdom work.

Click the picture below to go to the original article.

The Security of Relationship

friend of jesus

I am a friend of Jesus. He is my Friend who has promised me that He will never let me go. Yes, He’s done this in the Bible but He’s also told me personally.

This relationship is incredibly secure. I know that Jesus will always hold on to me. And the great thing is that this means I can explore my theology, I can explore my belief system, all in perfect security. If I go too far off beam, He will gently prompt me back onto the path. But that path is broad. There is space for all kinds of ideas and thinking in Jesus, because He is the Way and He can cope with His people – His friends – thinking for themselves and questioning what they believe in.

I believe in Him and I love Him. I am free to be Him to my colleagues and friends. And there is space in the Christian faith for free thinking.

So where does the Bible come in to all this? Well we must remember that the Bible is not God. My approach is to follow the direction of the Bible, in terms of the way it points, but not to let it dictate my path. That’s the job of Holy Spirit to do that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bible and I love how the Spirit speaks to me through it. But it’s only as it is interpreted and applied by Holy Spirit that I take in what it’s saying. This means I can’t give you a scripture for all this, because the Bible only goes so far. It points me to Jesus, and after that it’s up to Holy Spirit and Jesus to take me on from there.

People who insist on legalistically following the Bible word for word are missing out on so much freedom, and the really sad thing is that they are actually following the Bible as interpreted by humans, not necessarily as intended by God. So although their hearts are technically in the right place, they’re going about it the wrong way.

Christianity is a huge, broad and ancient faith which really does take all sorts. For any one group to claim they have the whole truth is missing the point. What we need is for each of us to have a secure relationship with Jesus and then we are free to explore all that being a Christian can mean. It’s simply awesome out here in the freedom, free from the shackles of others’ rules. Where the only Voice we need to listen to is that of the Spirit of God.

It’s a Trap!

The ‘Grace Trap’

“Hold on! I thought your whole blog was about how brilliant God’s Grace is! How can it be a trap?”

The problem is quite simple. And, for you, it may not even be a problem, but for me it can be. You see, the human tendency is to drift towards legalism, and the practice of Grace is no exception in that it is easy to let the need for ‘living under Grace’  to become a Rule in itself.

In effect, being too ‘pushy’ about Grace, in ourselves and others, can simply become another form of legalism.

For example, sometimes I might feel like pointing out where someone else’s behaviour fails to live under Grace. Rather than living the example, and gently giving my testimony, I might want to point out their ‘error’ in still being under Law. Do you see the trap?

Or, sometimes, I even find myself reminding myself to not be like that, to not be legalistic. This can in itself become a form of legalism. The trap springs again!

Clearly, then, I am not yet used to living under grace in its entirety; I still need to be set free from some of the last traces of legalism stemming from my years of bondage to it.

And that’s an ongoing process. But, in the meantime, the Master is patient with me. As Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 (Message): “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG translation) I therefore need simply to rest in God, to simply live life and just get on with it in the knowledge that He has it all covered. Grace – in a lot of ways we may not even think about it all that much, except perhaps in gratitude. Because it will be normal life, if you like.

God is Good, all the time. And all the time, God is Good!

And boy am I glad about that!

What is sin?

We hear a lot about sin these days. But because Jesus has already dealt with sin at Calvary, it’s not really something that we should dwell on that much; so many people these days are so fixated with sin – theirs and others’ – that they take their eyes off Jesus and become ‘sin-management’ Christians. This is such a shame as we were set free for freedom, not bondage to sin or its effects. Take a look at my article ‘Freedom and Purity’ for more on this, as that’s not really what I want to talk about today.

So, what is sin? Sin is whatever separates you from God. Whatever you feel stands in the way.

It’s whatever you feel has set up a wall between you and God; a reason why you don’t feel that you can go into God’s Presence. Simple as that. And the solution is equally simple: Tell God about it and ask Him to forgive you.  Repent of anything persistent. And then get up and walk free of it. Job done! Keeping short accounts with God, once you become aware of any ‘problems’, is key to living in the peace of God.

So often, the problem is not that God ‘can’t look upon sin’, as so many Christians like to tell us. It’s that we feel that whatever we’ve done blocks us off from God; the problem is with us, not with God. But the solution is still the same. Talk to God, be forgiven, rise up and walk in freedom. And in His presence.

Things that set up these perceived barriers will be different for each person. For some, simply being mean to someone else will immediately trigger the barrier; again the solution is simple: ask God’s forgiveness, make amends with the person, and put it behind you. For others, the problem will be less obvious – like the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18:18-23. His problem was that his riches stood in the way. It was not the same problem for the other people present; these people would have had their own hangups though!

The reason that we can come with confidence into the Holy Place – the place where God ‘resides’ – (Heb 10:19) is because of what has been accomplished by Jesus on the Cross. There is now no longer any barrier, no reason for a guilty conscience. Your sin, that which to you is your personal barrier to being in God’s Presence, is dealt with on an equally individual and personal basis, that is, just for you!

This also means that others’ sins are between them and God, and are none of your concern. Unless they affect you directly, of course, in which case you might have to explain to them how they make you feel. But things that do not directly affect you are, quite frankly, none of your business. Other people’s sin does not separate you from God!

So, that’s what sin is. Don’t go looking for it, don’t get hung up about it, just deal with it when it when it occurs and then walk free. These are words of freedom, and they are for you today! Now, go and live it out!

Some people believe that if you can’t justify an action within your faith, it’s sin. This is incorrect. Have a look at my article The Definition of Sin?? for more on this.

“We’re Not Worthy!!”

Sin is such a hangup for many Christians, partially because they imagine that God is displeased with them for ‘doing bad stuff’. Well let me tell you that God is more pleased with you than you can possibly imagine. So often we get the ‘We’re not worthy’ attitude whereas actually God sees us as worthy.

Take a look at this classic clip from ‘Wayne’s World’ where Wayne and Garth consider themselves unworthy to be in the presence of their idols, Aerosmith.

Love how Steven Tyler says to them, ‘You’re worthy, get up!’, and then they proceed into the ‘holy of holies’ with their backstage passes.

And then again in the presence of Alice Cooper:

…after Alice invites them to hang out with him and his band.

This is so prophetic – God does exactly this. He invites us to hang out with Him even though we don’t consider ourselves worthy. Jesus made the way open!

So God is saying to you – this day and every day – “You’re worthy. Get up. Come and hang out with Me”

How awesome is that?

Why be a Christian?

If, as I have postulated in this article, there is no time limit on being ‘saved’, then why would one want to become a Christian in this life? Why not simply ‘enjoy life’ now without all those boring restrictions that Christians have to live under?

That’s an interesting question, and the answer is related to what benefits there are in being a Christian.

Let’s just clear one thing up, though, before we begin. Being a Christian is not all about being a boring stick-in-the-mud that makes protests about everything that’s enjoyable. It’s not about being the one person at a party that won’t touch alcohol – if indeed you’d even be seen at a party anyway! It’s not about being against everything that other people consider normal.


Oh indeed, no! Christians are not supposed to be an irritant to society; they’re supposed to enhance it! I have written on this subject before in this blog in the article ‘salt and light‘. Being a Christian is actually a life of freedom, not of restriction! Freedom from religious rules and regulations, freedom from fear, freedom to live, freedom, freedom, freedom! Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life in all its fulness” (John 10:10)

So here’s the premise I’m going to work from. Jesus, in His life and death and resurrection, showed us what Kingdom life is like, and also He made the way open to God’s throne room for all those who would like to enter it. Being a Christian is simply deciding to appropriate our inheritance in Jesus, right now, as opposed to waiting until after we die. In short, again: Jesus came to bring us life – in all its fulness. Everything that life was intended to be, Jesus brings us! That’s why life with Jesus is so much better than life without Him.

So, what is that inheritance? Let’s take a look at Psalm 103:2-5 –

Praise the Lord, my soul,
  and forget not all his benefits—
 who forgives all your sins
 and heals all your diseases,
 who redeems your life from the pit
 and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”.

Well, that’s some of it. He forgives all our sins, He heals all our diseases, and He redeems our lives from the pit. He crowns us with love and compassion and satisfies our desires with good things, and our ‘youth is renewed like the eagle’s: He makes us fly in the Spirit. Like an eagle; effortless soaring and easy flying.

What does this look like in practice?  Let’s look at that, shall we?

  • He forgives all our sins. Because of what Jesus did on the Cross, there is now no longer any barrier to any of us being in God’s Presence. Whether you believe that Jesus died to ‘placate an angry God’, or whether you believe that Jesus died once and for all so that we now have no reason from our point of view to be afraid of going into God’s Presence, whichever – that’s what He’s bought for you on the Cross. Believe it, feel His presence, and walk in it. There’s nothing separating you from God now, because of what Jesus has done. Yes, this means you too! Even now, some of my readers will feel a burning sensation in their chest, or perhaps a lightness in spirit, or what feels like a warm blanket around your shoulders. That’s God’s Spirit speaking to you right now. Believe it!
  • He heals all our diseases. We see healings in our Church; my wife was diagnosed last year with inoperable pancreatic cancer and she has just been taken off chemotherapy because of how well she is doing. Not everyone is healed all the time, or right away, though. But in those cases, God works wonders in people’s lives to give them the strength and patience to endure. He draws near to the brokenhearted and He binds up their wounds. I have never felt so close to God in my entire life than over this last year and a half. And, whatever the outcome, even death, it’s still a happy ending because He guarantees our life after death (see below)
  • He redeems our lives from the pit. My Church works with the rejects of society; the homeless, drug (and other) addicts, the broken, the rejected. The lives of these people are indeed redeemed from the pit. I have a friend who, only eighteen months ago, was sleeping under a bench down by the harbour; an alcoholic, homeless and down-and-out. Now he’s a man of God, a man of honour – restored, healed, forgiven, free. Jesus has redeemed his life from the pit. My best friend was once a drug addict; a wheelman with organised crime gangs. He’s now free from all that, he has chosen God’s Way over his own way. God came looking for him in his brokenness, and lifted him up out of the pit. Jesus did this. He repairs lives, repairs relationships, repairs people. And He can repair yours too.
  • He crowns us with love and compassion and satisfies our desires with good things. God walks with us in life. He’s there when we need Him, and he will never leave us. On September 9th, 1980, I made the decision to be a Christian. A very wise lady (my friend’s mother, who is the wife of a Methodist minister) said one thing to me, the day after: ‘He will never, ever, let you go’. And He never has, not once. I’ve always been aware of His love. And He provides; in all the 35 years I have walked with Jesus, I have never once been short of food or not had somewhere to live. He has always given me exactly what I needed, when I needed it. And I’m not on my own in this; many people in our Church have exactly the same testimony. This is not an isolated incident; this is a real God who really does provide for His own. Sure, life still presents problems, difficulties and hard times, but with God walking by you, it makes all the difference.
  • He gives power over sin. A healthy Christian life does not pay much attention to sin, because it has been dealt with at the Cross. But, if there is something that is bothering the believer, Jesus can deal with it. Sin no longer has mastery over the believer; he/she now has the choice to sin or not. And what is sin? That depends on who you are…but as a rule of thumb, it is anything that prevents you from being close to God. And He has given us power over it; power to overcome it.
  • Our youth is renewed like the eagle’s. I’ve described this above, but basically He sets us free into the glorious freedom of the Children of God (Rom 8:21). This is like flying; like the eagle. Take a look here  –  and here for more on this.
  • He gives us His Spirit as a deposit to guarantee what is to come. Ephesians 1:14 and 2 Corinthians 1:22 say that the Spirit is a “…deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance”. Not only does the actual feeling of the Presence of God in our hearts remind us of our inheritance in the here and now, but it also reminds us that the end of this life is not the end of everything. There is life after death, and this is a solid reassurance that this is indeed the case.

There’s actually so much more, too. But I won’t describe all of it; that would be spoiling the surprise! God loves to delight those who belong to Him with good things, most of which are complete surprises. He’ll change your attitudes, your prejudices, your whole life, if you’ll let Him. There’s worship, the incredible sensation of being in His Presence as you offer up your life and worship to Him. There’s fellowship, with other believers, where you find out that you’re not alone in the way you feel. You learn to see things from God’s perspective; from a Heavenly viewpoint. And He’s good. All the time!

This does not rely on the Bible, either. This is a relationship with Jesus. You’ll have heard people talk about this, no doubt. It’s a relationship as real as any visible relationship; He speaks to us and we can speak to Him. Sure, the Bible describes the relationship, but it does not define or delineate it. What the Bible describes is simply what others have experienced in this relationship; it does not set a pattern telling us what is and is not allowed in that relationship. You will see things in the Bible that are familiar because they have already happened to you. The Bible points us to Jesus, in so many ways, and once we have come to Him, part of its job is completed. However, it’s still vital in that it is still one of the main ways in which God speaks to us – but it is not the be-all and end-all. The relationship with Jesus is the most important thing! There’s a post on this blog on the interpretation of scripture which will inform you more about this important point. Remember that the Bible is not God – the Trinity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not Father, Son and Holy Bible! The Bible simply points us to Jesus and provides Him with a way to speak with us. Note I said a way, not the way. Jesus is the Word become flesh; He has the final say.

So, why be a Christian? Because:

[He] forgives all your sins
 and heals all your diseases,
 who redeems your life from the pit
 and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”.

How to do this? How do you become a Christian? Well, basically it’s a decision. You don’t need to do the ‘sinner’s prayer’; you don’t have to tell anyone, you don’t necessarily have to pray, indeed, you don’t even have to believe everything that you think Christians ‘ought to’ believe in. Just decide it’s what you want, and ask Jesus to make it all real for you. Perhaps invite Him to come right in to your life. Make him your King. And then let Him take it from there. Let Him instruct you, guide you, lead you, speak to you. If you like, go to a good Church and talk to the people there. But don’t let anyone take away your new-found freedom by imposing rules and behaviour patterns on you. Jesus is the only Person who has any right to change you from now on, by His Spirit.

This is a new life, in a completely new dimension. Explore, enjoy and be blessed!


Judging others leads to the Dark Side!

So many people see it as their mission in life to judge others.

Actually, that’s just me using hyperbole; I think it’s just that if someone else does something that makes a person feel uncomfortable, they try to stop that discomfort by any means necessary, including (and, for religious people, especially) by getting God on their ‘side’ in the ‘argument’ as to the perceived right and wrongs of the problem!

Jesus did – sort of, and on the surface – say we could judge others, but only on the huge proviso that we first get our own lives in order. Get the plank out of our own eye before trying to get the speck out of our brother’s eye (Matt 7:3-5). Personally, I almost feel as if Jesus is actually saying do not judge at all. Because in Matt 7:1 He says ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged…’ and then He uses the plank/speck parable to illustrate that actually unless we are perfect  – which to be honest none of us are – then we should not judge others at all. I think the parable actually means that its not possible to accurately judge because we have such a blinkered vision – i.e. the plank – that we can never see clearly enough.

However, God can see clearly enough to judge – He can see all the factors that cause a person to behave in that way that makes us feel uncomfortable – and even then He judges in a loving and fair way, not in the self-centred way that we do. Maybe the plank represents that actually the problem is with us rather than with our brother; in the way we receive or respond to the factor causing the discomfort, whether it’s something someone’s said, something someone’s done, or even the way a person is or lives their lives.

Judging others is therefore not something we should do. ‘Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?… his own master he stands or falls’ (Romans 14:4)

Sure, often we need to make judgements about certain people’s reliability. ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’, for example. But that’s a whole world apart from making a character judgement on someone who is just another person and who happens to do or to be something you don’t like, that makes you feel uncomfortable. Something you want to call ‘SIN’ simply because you don’t like it. Something for which you want to get God’s ‘backing’ to add more weight to your argument, where actually all you should be doing is to lovingly bear with that person instead, not judging them.

God’s grace is so much bigger than we can imagine. Learning to bear with one another is part of learning to live in that grace and all its fulness.

By contrast, when I refer to the ‘Dark Side’, I mean that if someone insists on concentrating on the negative aspects of life, like (in this instance) judging others, they are missing out on all the blessings (of that grace and fulness) that God has for those who want them. “The Kingdom of God is not about [rules and regulations], but righteousness, peace and joy in Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). So, as it says in Philippians 4:8, “…brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things….and the God of peace will be with you”. So when I use the word ‘Should’ above, I mean it not in the sense of ‘Here’s more rules for you to follow’, but ‘You’ll miss out on God’s blessing because your own attitude prevents you from entering in’.

Judging others – that way lies the Dark Side!

For another interesting angle on this, take a look at Susan Cottrell’s Freedheart blog entry from a couple of days ago.

“When all things that surround become shadows….”

My Favourite Worship Songs

Worship is one of the greatest gifts that God gives, especially so because in the act of worship we’re actually giving it back to Him. As a worship leader, I have of course heard, learned and played hundreds of worship songs, some good, some not so good.

But, just occasionally, a real gem comes along. As I say on my website Vintage Worship, each tape in those days had at least one outstanding song on it. On the tapes Let Your Spirit Rise and Lift Up His Banner were published my two all-time favourite worship songs, ‘When I look into Your Holiness’ and ‘Great is the Lord’. Here they are, the original and (to me) definitive versions of these two classic songs. In my opinion, these are the two finest worship songs that have ever been written. Feel free to worship along with the music…..

When I Look into Your Holiness

When I look into Your Holiness
When I gaze into Your loveliness
When all things that surround become shadows in the light of You
When I’ve found the joy of reaching Your Heart
When my will becomes enthroned in Your Love
When all things that surround become shadows in the light of You

I worship You, I worship You
The reason I live is to worship You
I worship You, I worship You
The reason I live is to worship You

Great is the Lord

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise
The City of our God, the Holy Place
The joy of the whole earth
Great is the Lord in whom we have the victory
He aids us against the enemy
We bow down on our knees

And Lord we want to lift Your Name up high
And Lord we want to thank You for the works You’ve done in our lives
And Lord we trust in Your unfailing Love
For You alone are God Eternal
Throughout earth and Heaven above


It is my sincere hope that these two glorious songs bless you and help you into God’s Presence. Where all things that surround become mere shadows. There’s no place else I’d rather be.