Monthly Archives: Apr 2018

The Face of Grace

Occasionally, when reading others’ blogs (in this case, a particular article on ‘Jesus without Baggage’), I come across some well-reasoned and presented discussions. The thing that impressed me in this particular discussion was that the participants were all respectful with each other; they discussed things in depth, yes, but they did it reasonably gently.

One of the participants, whose forum name is ‘wildswanderer’, also presented a link to an article on his blog, which I found to be really excellent. It’s interesting how, by following certain links, we can find unexpected treasures 🙂

I have copied and pasted the article in one go into my blog here, so it contains all the original links that the author included in his piece. It may look a little odd compared to my usual blog style, but this is not my article so that’s ok!

Here you go:


16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus arrives on the scene, after being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, and here, at the start of his ministry, he proclaims exactly what he was sent to do. Freedom? Is that what you think of first when you think about religion, about church, about the God you learned about in Sunday School, or Catholic school or even, if you weren’t raised Christian, is this what you think of when you hear people talking about evangelism? A quick surf around the ‘net will tell you it’s the opposite of what most people think about in reference to religion. Most equate religion with the bringing of oppression, the enforcement of rules and a loss of freedom.

This is not the God I always heard about from the beginning of my life. Oh, he was there in brief and fleeting glimpses, in Mom’s smile and unselfish love, in a Sunday School teacher’s kindness and the comfort of early morning prayers. But, sometimes between the fiery sermons and the faded flannel graphs of Jesus holding baby lambs, He got confusing. Was he the angry man in the sky or the gentle shepherd? He sure did seem to have a lot of rules about how we dressed, yet Mom insisted God judges the heart, not the appearance, while others seemed to think you could tell who was in or out by how long their skirts or sleeves were. And Chapel at school was certainly confusing. All Rock music was bad, along with all movies and T.V. And most of the time, it did seem that God was all about rules. Maybe he only died for those who kept them all perfectly all the time? But weren’t snide comments and gossip by the Christian kids at school sins, also? I was the quiet one who observed and learned from people’s behavior, that things aren’t always what they seem.

Many years later, as an adult, I heard a radio preacher winding up to deliver his killer pitch, and at the height of the tale was Rebel Joe, of course. I knew Rebel Joe well, and when Radio preacher spun his tale of Joe roaring by the revival meeting on his motor bike, I couldn’t help but laugh, and say to myself:

“It’s either going to be a telephone pole or a tree.” I knew he would hit one or the other, and his young life would end, because I knew the story by heart from hearing it repeated in Chapel service. The preacher who had Rebel Joe get decapitated gets extra points for creativity and creating fear induced altar runs. Wait, didn’t some of these kids get saved last week, too? I sat still and wondered if I was Rebel Joe.

The stories that frightened the others only hardened me against the God I thought was real. The one who apparently said we all had to wear our hair the same and dress alike and listen to the same music. It wasn’t that I had a problem with hell and certainty not that I doubted Jesus was real. I had felt the Holy Spirit’s call many times, and not all the preachers were scary, some did emphasize a Savior of love. The roadblock in my mind was what I thought God was out to do. To take my fun away, then wait for me to mess up so he could disown me. Perfection wasn’t possible, and I think even then, I knew by observation that those who claimed perfection didn’t possess it. So, what chance did any of us really have to escape the pit?

Somewhere along the way, I got tired of myself. God didn’t beat me up, he just waited for me to get worn down. God, I found, was no respecter of persons or preachers. The Holy Spirit was sneaky and would arrive at the scene when I least expected him to. He didn’t need fiery altar calls, he only needed to show me how miserable I was left to my own selfish whims.

But, as a believer, I still struggled with the belief that one sin could damn me at any moment. How do you get through the week, or even through the day without thinking one wrong thought, and instantly falling from grace? Even if an angry thought didn’t qualify, maybe I was just a little disobedient to my parents, or maybe it was a lustful look. My sins didn’t seem all that big, I mean, no fornication, no murders or stealing, but they were certainly real, nonetheless.

I really think it did take quite a few years to understand that God wasn’t out to get me. I remember I was writing a news letter for the Wesleyan church we were going to many years later and the piece started “ I thought God was out to get me.” then went on the portray God’s grace as being far more forgiving then I’d thought at one time. Surprisingly, they published it.

From where I stand now, let me just put it this way: I have resonated a lot more with the “Ragamuffin Gospel” ( by Brennan Manning) then with Francis Chan’s “Crazy love” I didn’t understand why at the time, but, although “Crazy love” is a good book in a lot of ways, it comes from a perspective of : if you aren’t a super Christian, you’re not a Christian. In other words, it’s a very works based view, which always ends up with Christians judging who is worthy or not based on what they are seen to be doing for God. What is the entrance fee for salvation? “Believe on the Lord and you will be saved.” I know, it can’t be that simple, right? Don’t worry, if it’s real, you will do works for God. They might be stumbling and awkward and may look small, or they may be huge and world changing to others eyes. But, they will be done from love, not fear.

Listen, if you think you’ve reached perfection, you haven’t. How do I know? Because if you had, you wouldn’t even be thinking about yourself, for one thing. Sorry if this offends anyone, but yes, saints still do sin. Jesus spoke of the Pharisees putting heavy weights on people, trying to make them live by extreme laws, and many of us have felt that weight, under certain versions of Lordship salvation. If you could get to heaven by doing perfect works, heaven would be empty, because only Jesus ever lived up to that standard. And let me just acknowledge that Churches can be confusing, especially if you’ve spent any time at all as a church hopper. You find out very quickly that the emphasis between radical grace and radical service varies widely from one congregation to the next, and yet, they all read the same Book.

And you might even start asking how this is possible, that we get such different views from the same source. Is God really the God of the lifelong alcoholic who still holds onto his faith, or is he the God of only the radical Christian who gives all he has to the poor, and lives in rags? Is Mother Teresa more saved than the person who constantly falls back into sin and constantly confesses? Hopefully we all want our kids lives to look more like Franchis Chan’s picture of radical service then Manning’s pitiful alcoholism. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that entrance to the kingdom is not based on how much tithe you put in the offering plate or how often you evangelize. Perhaps it would be good to just admit right here, that the lives of most believers fall somewhere in the middle. When Manning says that God loves you as you are and not as you should be, we feel relieved, because we know that’s us. When Chan chastises us for not stepping out of our comfort zone and giving more to the cause, we know he’s right, and we at least dig deeper in our wallet next Sunday. Are we lukewarm at times? You bet. Do we really love Jesus? You bet. Because that love is based on his love for us, not our performance for him. We are all of us, bundles of paradoxes wrapped in contradictions, committed Christians one day and moody doubters the next. And I remember my Uncle Andy, a Methodist pastor saying something similar and then adding. “That’s ok, if we admit it.” I remember being rather stunned by that simple admission. That’s not an exact quote, it’s been a lot of years gone by. And perhaps things are different now. If there’s one thing we’ve gotten a bit better at in the Church community, it’s admitting we are not perfect people, and allowing broken people in without asking them to fix themselves first.

This might seem like a strange place to quote Paul Simon, instead of say, the Apostle Paul, but the metophor fits: “I have reason to believe we all may be received in graceland.” and the Apostle Paul confirms that we all may be received:

8”For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not by works, so that no one can boast.…” (Eph 2)

You can’t earn your way in, you can only accept the gift. You can’t clean yourself up enough to be worthy. The Prodigal son still smelled like pig manure when the Father embraced him and welcomed him home.

When writing these things, I usually know what they are about long before I know what they are for. In this case, I thought I was writing about my life, when really it was all for a different purpose. No, not to say you should be a lukewarm believer or that you shouldn’t do good works, but to say, ok, you’ve messed up a lot, you’ve been the sloth or the prodigal, but don’t think you are disqualified and kicked out because of all your past screw ups. And don’t think you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be better, either. Only God can make you better, so you do what the prodigal did and fall on his grace.

 

One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to tell people we aren’t good enough for God to love us . And it works, because it’s true that we aren’t good enough, and there is something in the natural man that tells him that he has to earn his way into God’s grace. Look at just about any other religion and you can see this clearly. It’s all about saying your prayers often enough, and doing enough good stuff that God might take notice and allow you to meet him. Grace turns all that upside down.

James is known as the a book about doing good deeds. In fact, some will say that Paul and James were at odds as to how salvation is earned, because James emphasized deeds and Paul emphasized faith. But, listen to what James says:

8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”a you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”b also said, “You shall not murder.”c If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (James 2)

We all know about the Ten Commandments, but maybe you didn’t know that there were a lot more than ten. Actually, there are 613 commandments in Jewish law. In case you want to take a look and see which ones you are currently breaking: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/756399/jewish/The-613-Commandments.htm

And James said if you break one, you’ve broken all. He wasn’t saying don’t even try to do good, just the opposite, but it’s quite obvious that no one has ever earned heaven by keeping all of the law.

Paul puts it this way in Galatians 2:

15“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith ind Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

19“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”e

That’s a pretty strong statement. But he gets even more emphatic about it in the next chapter:

10For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”e 11Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”f 12The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”g 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”h 14He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

If you rely on the law to save you, you’re under a curse? What’s he saying? Christ took the curse of the law on himself. Paul says elsewhere that if you rely on the law to save you, Christ will be of no use to you.

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

I’m not going to copy the whole book here, but you should read it for yourself, if you’re stuck on trying to earn your way into God’s grace. It can’t be done. And if you think it can, if you live like it will, you will move away from Christ, not towards him. It doesn’t matter if you wear all the right clothes and say all the right religious stuff and refrain from dancing and bacon. None of that earns you any points with God, because God is concerned about your heart. If you think you’ve sinned too much or strayed too far for God to want you, let me assure you, you haven’t. If you had, you wouldn’t care at all about God. There are people in that state, who have seared their conscience and feel no guilt for their sins. But as long as you are awake enough to feel remorse, you can and should also feel hope, because God’s grace is still there waiting for you to receive it.

7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

9“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The old law was a long list of rules. The new law is love.

1John 2:1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

When you fail even in that, and you will, you can rest assured that confession will result in forgiveness. Every time. So, live in the freedom of love, not the in the bondage of useless laws.

Shalom, peace to you.

– ‘Wildswanderer’, used by permission


To read the original article, click the graphic below:

30

Combat Fatigue

This entry is part 26 of 33 in the series Fiona

I have lived in the South-West of England for over 20 years, and Fiona and I lived the greater part of our married life here. While we missed Yorkshire, we never regretted moving here and I would probably not move back, unless my Dad wins the Lottery and buys us a cottage in the Dales 😉

While I am progressing well along the grieving path having lost her eighteen months ago, I was taken completely by surprise by an unexpected emotional response I felt a few weeks ago.

Ellie and I were up in Yorkshire on holiday, at the holiday cottage near Skipton where our family have stayed for the last sixteen years – with the exception of last year as the anticipated memories would still have been very raw. And the cottage was no problem; we had a lovely week in our tranquil, idyllic refuge from the hustle of everyday life. Fiona’s memories were strong there, of course, but in a good way.

Where I came unstuck was when I went to my home town of Yeadon, passing through my original home town of Guiseley, to see my old friend with whom I’d arranged to meet up. Seeing all the places that Fiona and I used to frequent in our earlier years together, was what I found made me feel very odd, and indeed rather sad. While we love South Devon, our formative years as a young married couple were spent in Yeadon, and the memories evoked by the visit that evening – even though it was a dark evening and I couldn’t see much – were poignant and sad. I arrived back at the cottage that evening really quite shaken by the intensity of the emotional reaction I’d had. I have so many happy memories from our past life in Yorkshire, before the immense and life-changing adventure of moving more than 300 miles away to start a new life.

Memories of taking our boys out for walks, with the dogs, in their prams and pushchairs (the boys, not the dogs!). Seeing how hugely my home towns have changed over the past 23 years (since I left) – and not for the better, either*. Memories of surviving in poverty and hardship, where the last few pennies we needed to buy a loaf of bread had to be scraped out of the back of the cutlery drawer. Memories of the boys’ birthday parties; my Dad’s bodybuilding gym; our tiny first house; and our second house which was like a palace in comparison. The grubby black muck of melted snow and the bone-numbing cold so typical of Yorkshire in the winter. Memories of friends, music and worship; walks and stunning views from the hills; memories of seeing God work amazing things in our lives. The griefs, the challenges and the joys of two young lives shared and merged into one.

Somehow, all that came back to me in a rush, comparable to the combat fatigue I had experienced during the fight. And it shook me up good and proper.

I think of it as combat fatigue because it took only a small trigger to kick off all the painful feelings again; the feelings from the battle with cancer and the pain of losing her. Dr. John W. Appel, a U.S. Army combat physician, had this to say about the strain of constant battle: “…there [is] no such thing as ‘getting used to combat’. Each moment of it imposes a strain so great that men will break in direct relation to the intensity and duration of their exposure. Thus psychiatric casualties are as inevitable as gunshot wounds in warfare“. (1) And that’s what it was like, and still is even now, years after the constant, unrelenting battle (which began in late 2013 and ended in October 2016). I am bruised, broken, damaged, and in need of continuing healing from my best friend, Jesus, Who holds my hand on this road.

I suppose that what I have realised is that, while I have (largely successfully) dealt with – and come through – the pain of losing Fiona, and coming to terms with living here in my house that is now so obviously devoid of her light and presence, I had not appreciated how much it would cost me to revisit the good memories of the past, in the places where they happened. The places we went together. The place where I first saw her; the place where she used to live before we were married; the place where I first asked her out. All those familiar, physical places, which, again, no longer look like they used to do back then, so it’s almost as if the memories are all that is left. And that’s very painful; seeing the places where I grew up so changed, and being reminded of the good times we had there. Yes, it’s great to remember those times, but it also has the effect of reminding me of just what I have lost, for this life at least. It has highlighted the gaping space at my side which is where Fiona used to be. In the same way as the old landscapes up there in Guiseley and Yeadon have been lost forever under the blight of tarmac and concrete, so my lovely wife is no longer here with me – until we meet again on the other side of the veil.

So, how do I cope with that?

Well, I am processing it all in a similar manner to how I have processed everything else that’s happened. I confront the feelings, see where they come from and how they affect me, and then turn them around for good. I remember the good things fondly and with gladness and gratitude, and I remember the hard times with gratitude also because God always came through for us, and He never once let us down. And so, the happy memories I hold precious as examples of how good life was, and indeed still is. In essence, whether Fiona is here or not, those memories would only ever be all I have left of those times, because what is past is indeed only ever memories. But the lasting effects of all those experiences are what build up wisdom, gratitude and love – both for God and for others. They convince me even more that death is not the end – don’t ask me how; I actually don’t know, it’s just a deep-seated conviction I have about that.

St. Paul puts it like this: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – (Romans 5:1-5, emphasis mine). And it’s that hope – something to look forward to, and to live in, in the here and now – that keeps me going. Hope for this life, and hope for the next.

As always, with any painful experience, it’s how we deal with it that determines how we will come through. If we can find the strength and determination to just press on and get on with it, that will carry us through, no matter how hopeless things seem. Even if it’s just one small step at a time. And even if you don’t feel it, even if you are not aware of it, still the Presence of God is right there with you as you struggle with your feelings. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and He saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18). He really is, and He really does. In the meantime, keep your hope alight and press on. Determine that you are not going to let this time beat you. The human spirit is tougher, stronger and more resilient than you would ever believe possible, but it’s not until the hard times come, of course, that we actually see that in action. Wholeness is coming, and your salvation – that wholeness – is at hand.

Be encouraged!


Header picture shows my beautiful Fiona at the age of 29, with my son Richard on her shoulders, in May, 1993. Rich would have been nearly four years old there; he’s now the same age as Fiona is in that photo. She was so gorgeous, wasnt she? 😀 What a blessed man I am to have been married to such a beauty.


*My Dad always used to say, “When I were a lad, all this were just fields”. And now I know how he felt.


References

(1) Dr. John W. Appel, U.S. Army combat physician, quoted in ‘Eighth Air Force – The American Bomber Crews in Britain’ by Prof. Donald L. Miller, Aurum Press Ltd (2007), p.129

50

Lee O’Hare on the Bible

Here’s the brilliant Christian writer and pastor Lee O’Hare, writing about the emphasis of ‘the Bible over Jesus’, which is a prevalent point of view in mainstream Evangelical thought (although most would deny it!):

“The foundational and essential problem with the popular theological system of modern fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity which gives us so many doctrines and passionate beliefs that are so contrary to the message and Person of Jesus (such as penal substitutionary atonement, belief in a “hell” of eternal torture, a perverse emphasis upon the wrath and justice of God over His love and mercy, etc.) is that they have deified and actually worship the Bible as the ultimate standard of all Truth and they bow down before and submit their hearts and minds to a crass literal and flat interpretation believing every word and phrase therein to be the very “Word of God” regardless of how it may directly contradict what Jesus (who is the only true Word of God) taught and revealed about the true character and nature of God.

“In short, they have traded the worship and surrender of their lives to a book rather than to the Lord of Life Himself, Jesus Christ, the true and only Word of God– the very One who alone is the visible image of the invisible God and the “exact representation of His being” (Col. 1:14, Heb. 1:3), the One who said “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 1:14). This is nothing short of idolatry — the worship and deification of a thing, i.e., a book written by men, rather than the true and living God.

“Please do not take this to mean I do not greatly love, appreciate and value the Bible. I do, in fact, believe it to be inspired and it is the primary and essential way we learn about Jesus. But the point is to remember that it is the scriptures that testify of Jesus and not the other way around. HE is the focus and the purpose of all that is in the Bible. And unless we read and interpret it through the interpretive lens of who He is and what He has revealed about the Father we will take away images and portrayals of God that are completely unworthy of Him. As long as I am reading the Bible through the interpretive lens and filter of Jesus Himself it has an awful lot of truth to reveal to me.”

10

Lunatic, Liar or Lord?

The great Christian writer and apologist, C. S. Lewis (one of my favourite authors), wrote a book called ‘Mere Christianity’ which I have read more times than I care to remember.

In that book, he stated (quotation above) that it is not possible simply to accept that Jesus Christ was just a great moral teacher. In fact, says Lewis, given the things that Jesus said, He must have been either a despicable liar, a bloke completely off his trolley, or in fact Who He said He was – God Himself. These are the only three alternatives.

In this excellent piece, Mike Douglas, author of the blog Getting Back to My Future, summarises Lewis’s arguments on this subject perfectly.

Over to Mike:


Even those who are not persuaded by the Bible often have respect for Jesus. Among those who reject the idea that Jesus was God, there are many who follow Him to some degree. “Jesus was a great moral teacher”, some say, “but he wasn’t God”. According to this view, Jesus is to be followed as a great human being, but not as a divine one.

This idea that Jesus was merely a great human being but nothing more, is, as C.S. Lewis argued in  ’Mere Christianity’, indefensible.

Here is my take on what Lewis argued:

Jesus made incredible claims, not only about God, society and ethics, but also about himself. He claimed to have the authority to forgive sins, to be one to come to die to reconcile man to God, and to be the only way for people to recieve salvation.

Faced with the fact that Jesus made these claims about himself, there are three things that we may say about him: Either Jesus’ claims were false and he knew it, or his claims were false and he didn’t know it, or his claims were true. None of these suggests that Jesus was a simply a great, teacher.

Here’s why.

Claims were False and He Knew it

The first thing that we might say about Jesus is that his claims were false and he knew it, in which case he was a liar. If Jesus did not believe that his claims about himself were true, then He was lying. If he was a liar, he was also a hypocrite-a guy who told others to be honest even while he taught and lived a huge lie.

Jesus’ claims about himself were so central to his teachings, though, that if they were lies then he can hardly be deemed a great teacher. If Jesus set out to systematically deceive people about who he was and how their sins could be dealt with, then he was among the worst teachers there has ever been.

Claims were False and He Didn’t Know it

The second thing that we might say about Jesus is that his claims were false and he didn’t know it, in which case he was a lunatic. If Jesus believed that his claims about himself were true, and they weren’t, then he was a delusional egomaniac. If an ordinary person believes himself to be God incarnate, then that person is, quite simply, insane.

If someone told you he was God, you would believe him about as much as if he said he was Santa Claus. You would call him deluded and self-deceived. Yet Jesus didn’t display imbalance that usually go hand in hand with being mentally unstable. Jesus was a guy who spoke some of the most profound words ever recorded-words that have set free many individuals, even some in mental bondage. Jesus Christ was no lunatic.

Again, if this were the case, if Jesus taught that this is who he was and was mistaken, then he was as bad a teacher as there has ever been.

Claims were True

The third thing that we might say about Jesus is that his claims were true, in which case he was, and is, Lord. If Jesus believed that his claims about himself were true and they were, then Jesus was not only a great human being, but was also God walking on earth.

If we take Jesus seriously, then we must take Jesus’ claims about himself seriously. We cannot say that Jesus was a great teacher whom we admire and look up to, but the basis of his teaching was a huge error.

Also, if He truly was who He said He was, then each of us most decide on how we are going to respond to this.

Jesus was not a great teacher; he was either much less than this, or much more.

The issue with these three alternatives isn’t which is possible. Any of the three could be possible. The question is, which is more likely? Determining who Jesus was can’t simply be an intellectual exercise. You can’t put him on the shelf calling him a great moral teacher. That isn’t a valid option.

If he was so great and so moral, then what do you do with his claim to be God? If he was a liar or a lunatic, then he can’t qualify as a great moral teacher. And if he was a great moral teacher, then he is much more as well. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord God. You must make the choice.

Those who respond to this argument by writing Jesus off as either a liar or a lunatic are just as reasonable as those who respond by accepting Jesus as Lord. My argument is an attack only on the view that Jesus was a great teacher but not God. You have a right to land on any of the three options.

To show that it is better to view Jesus as Lord than as either a liar or a lunatic, it would have to be demonstrated that there is some reason to take Jesus’ claims seriously.

You have two resources to help you make that choice. One is the historically credible record of Christ’s rising from the dead. The other is the Bible. Giving you solid reasons to believe is a huge reason God gave you his book. As John wrote, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life” (John 20:31).

Your decision from these three – lunatic, liar or Lord – is the most important decision with the most far reaching consequences you will ever make. Will you join me in deciding Jesus is Lord?


Great piece, Mike – thanks! 🙂

Here is the link to the original article

21

Dylan Morrison on ‘Tongues’

I probably don’t need to explain what ‘Speaking in tongues’ is, because in this day and age most people – inside and outside Christianity – have heard of it. (But in case you don’t know what it is, there’s a short explanation at the end of this article*). Personally, I dislike the term ‘tongues’; I prefer to call it the ‘Spirit language’, which I know sounds just as weird, but at least it doesn’t conjure up in my mind the images of naughty children pulling faces.

Trying to find a meme for the header for this article, I noticed so many different perspectives, from those who believe that people who speak in tongues are ‘demon-possessed’, to those who use the gift privately, to those who make a right old exhibition of themselves. And then, on the ‘outside’, people thinking it’s all a little bit insane. And I get that. But I would say that there are fully rational people, cynical even, people like me, who use this gift without batting an eyelid. In fact, once you have read the article presented below, take a look at some of the replies to the original post and you will see what I mean. Ordinary people using an extraordinary gift.

Anyway, in this piece which I am sharing today, Irish writer Dylan Morrison presents a gentle, balanced and enquiring view on the practice, and which is refreshing to read. I’ve prattled on long enough. Here’s Dylan:

Nothing divides the religious world as much as the slightly spooky practice of speaking in tongues. Most Jesus followers of the Reformed tradition believe it to be totally obsolete for those on the spiritual path. If you’ve got the Bible that’s all one needs, apart that is from a trained pastor-teacher to feed you its gems! Meanwhile, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians are only too willing to burst into tongues at the drop of an ecstatic hat, before trying to sell you their beatific experience! No wonder the non-Christian world shies away from such opposing camps, dismissively declaring ‘Thanks, but no thanks!’

Now, many books have been written for and against the modern psycho-spiritual phenomenon known as tongues speaking, or to give it its more respectable Greek name glossolalia. In this little article I’ve no intention of arguing my way through the theological minefield of trying to prove either the validity or spurious nature of this religious utterance, for like a well-loved security blanket, the proponents of either side of the argument are highly unlikely to change their minds. Instead, I wish to briefly examine the psycho-spiritual practice from a slightly different perspective.

First, let me come clean! I am still a tongues speaker even after all my painful experiences within the somewhat whacky world of Charismatic Christianity. My disillusionment with the vision and often dysfunctional, hierarchical practices of faith groups within that particular religious stream have surprisingly not shifted this most unusual of verbal curiosities. Many of my fellow ex-Charismatics dumped their tongue many moons ago, as they ran back into the security of conservative Christianity or into the freeing wilderness of non-belief.

Let’s face it – speaking in tongues doesn’t have a particularly good press. Wide-eyed fanatics dancing wildly in little wooden churches while belting out their glossolalic gushings to all and sundry, do tend to make the casual onlooker more than a little nervous. Send for the ‘Ghostbusters’ or the men in white coats is one’s instinctive reaction! Yet, the experience of being in a crowd of well-behaved tongues singers is a most uplifting spiritual high; one similar to tuning into the most sublime Gregorian chants. There is definitely something to this strange but comforting occurence, but what?

Let me come at this question from the angle of mimetic desire and the freedom of the Queendom/Kingdom of God. In our day-to-day consciousness, ego or fragmented psyche is never far away. When pressure situations unexpectedly confront us our little ego warrior is always there ready to protect us, albeit by demonizing the other, the one blamed for our fast-approaching catastrophe. The pre-wired fight or flight tendency within the neural programming of our magnificent central nervous system, is all too willing to work hand in hand with our edgy ego advocate. Sadly, it looks like we’re stuck with such an automatic reflex response to perceived, if often illusory, dangers. Or are we?

Saul of Taurus, aka St. Paul, who claimed to be the most prolific of tongues speakers within the early Yeshua movement, has a somewhat interesting take on things. He claims that glossolalia is a verbal expression of the human spirit; a psycho-spiritual link joining our inner Divine Spark to the transcendent Divine Fire without. In previous articles I’ve suggested that experiential salvation has less to do with escaping a fearful fiery hell and more to do with our release from our internal psychic prison, viz. our skewed desire center and its ego ally.

So may I respectfully suggest that tongues speaking is a psychic switch of sorts, a tool to unhook us, albeit temporarily, from the dominance of our conscious mind and its default desire settings. In other words, the voluntary act of speaking in an unlearned language is a form of desire detachment, a realignment with our spirit I AM, and subsequently, an experiential connection with the energising flow of Divine Presence. The tongue in question is somehow tuning our inner receiver into the Divine channel, while defusing our psychological tendency for desire conflict.

Without having to enter into an uncontrollable, frenzied state of nihilistic abandonment, the tongues speaker has consciously moved into an altered state of consciousness, one where they retain full control but have a therapeutic, detached space in which to breathe – a mini ‘holy of holies’ if you like, one free from the constant chatter of their restless, love-starved sub-personalities.

So where does that leave us? Well, for me, the gift of tongues is an authentic psycho-spiritual ability for the purpose of disengagement and connection. To disengage from the swirling desire Matrix in which we all swim – to connect to our core Self and its Mother Ship, Divine Love. Though best done in private I reckon, far from the showbiz settings of white-suited TV evangelists and their somewhat hypnotised followers.

Excellent, thanks Dylan 🙂

To read the original article, click the graphic below. I would also recommend reading the comments from other readers of Dylan’s blog; they are most interesting.


*But for those who do not know what ‘speaking in tongues’ is, I would suggest you read in the Bible the passage in Acts chapter 2, verses 1-1, and 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14 for a general (and probably still confusing) overview of what ‘spiritual gifts’ are, and ‘tongues’ – one of the gifts – is mentioned in there a fair bit. Again, another term there: ‘spiritual gifts’. These gifts are what many believe are given (well, they are ‘gifts’, after all) to Christians by God the Holy Spirit; supernatural abilities that are used to encourage and build people up in their faith. So, things like healing, miracles, words of wisdom and knowledge (things that the person would not have known for themselves but are given by God), and one of those gifts is the ability to speak in languages unknown to the speaker – that’s what’s known as ‘tongues’. Whether these are earthly languages or not depends on the circumstances. If you don’t have a Bible you can always look those passages up on the Internet easily enough.

20

The Fulness of Joy

Here is a great article by Ronnie Herrema, as published on Periecho.com recently. I will leave it to the article itself to speak to you; I don’t want to influence what God says through it in any way 🙂


And just as the boy was getting ready to set out on his journey, the angel gave him one final word of advice…

“The road ahead of you is very long and difficult, full of trials and hardship and loss. Of the many kinds of people you’ll come across, It is of the utmost importance that you find someone to walk with you, who, has walked with god.”

“But how will I know if they’ve truly walked with god?” The boy asked. “There’s so many cultures, languages, religions.”

“Beware of those who are quick tell you of how they walk with god, for they often speak of what they do not know. Those who truly have met god often don’t know it, and if they do, know there are some things best left unsaid.”

Thinking for a moment, the boy asked again, “So what can I do? I don’t want to be misled, but also, I don’t want to judge too harshly, for if someone claims they’ve walked with god, who knows, maybe they have. But if someone hasn’t, and they don’t even know if they have, how can they be of any help to me? And if it’s of the upmost importance to find such a person, there must be a way to know. Angel, will you please tell me how to know if someone has walked with god?”

The angel smiled. “Don’t look for words, or customs, or religion, or wealth, or status. All these things have the appearance of godliness but can lack the substance. So don’t be deceived. You will know a person has truly walked with god by this…

When wronged; they forgive.
When mistreated; they show mercy.
When they work; they have joy.
What they earn; they share.
When they fall; they get up.
When they fail; they try again.
In their pursuits; they think neither of winning nor losing, only of giving genuine effort, and they sleep soundly knowing they did the most important thing—simply try.
When they’re weak; they ask for help.
When you talk; they listen.
When they talk; they tell the truth, and, when speaking of others, their words, though painful, heal.
When they meet a fork in the road; they pray, and then choose a path, knowing; a choice is all the path was looking for.
When the wind blows; they bend.
When everything’s dark; they hope.
When their city is attacked and their friends lose heart; they bleed, they cry, they trust that there is a season for everything under the sun, even death, so they wait and let God work, believing love is carrying everything along.

“But what’s the most important thing?” The boy interrupted. “What matters most? What’s the biggest thing to look for?”

“It’s impossible to make such a thing so small,” the angel replied, “but if I must, and I say this after many, many years watching mankind, I’d say it is this: Against all odds, those who have walked with god believe in themselves. Even to the point of meeting god and wrestling with him, fighting against the almighty until dawn. One such man did, and when he was done, the lord changed his name from Jacob, which meant “heel grabber, or, follower” to Israel, which means “one who struggles, contends, or fights.” This act of standing on his own two feet brought such delight to god that god blessed him and his lineage, affecting the course of human history forever.”

“How will I know if someone believes in themselves, and has fought with god?” asked the boy.

“They will have a limp.” The angel chuckled. “But beyond self belief, there is another trait I would leave you with. A trait that I would say is even above what father Jacob, and wonderful names like Noah, Elijah, David, or even Solomon displayed.”

 “What is it?!” They boy urged excitedly.

“Laughter.”

“Laughter?”

“Yes, laughter. For though Noah’s obedience and Jacobs independence and David’s passion were acceptable, they were all signs of what humans do who have not yet walked with god. David would later learn that “in his presence is the fullness of joy, and in his right hand is eternal pleasure.”

It’s incredibly hard to go to battle when you can’t stop smiling. It’s very hard to worry about the future, to pray, to hate, to envy, to judge, to regret, to even think straight, when you’re overcome with joy.

Joy is the key to eternity; to stepping past time. For as it is written, “…God would fill them with the gladness of heart that he wouldn’t even take into account the length of his days.” When we find joy, we stop counting. For time is an illusion, a curse, the result of a mind that has lost its joy.”

The boy wasn’t sure what to think at this moment. He had thought the angel very wise up til’ now, but this seemed too simple. But, even though he was unsure, he had lived enough days with the picture of a distant, dissatisfied god in his head. And for some reason, it just felt good (even for a moment) to trust someone who had pictures in their head of a god laughing.

“My boy, remember, don’t be deceived with words. Look for people who do the things I told you, and most importantly, as if your life depends on it, look for someone who—through all of life’s ups and downs and trials and hardships—has a limp, and still smiles and laughs, like a child.”


There you go. Click here for the link to the original article.

30

Licence to Sin

[Author’s Note: In this article, please bear with the different spellings of the word ‘Licence’ on the graphics. This is because the people who made those graphics spell it differently; the correct use is explained at the end of this post]*


This is a piece I have wanted to write for quite some time, and I have had to crystallise my thinking on this over a period of months. I hope it was worth it!

I am quite free in declaring my total reliance on God’s Grace under which I live my life. Not that I bring it up as a conversation starter, of course, because that makes people’s eyes glaze over. However, many conversations in a faith context do eventually get round to the subject of Law vs. Grace.

It’s usual that someone will claim that a certain hobby/habit/preference/attitude/word, whatever, is ‘wrong’ or ‘sinful’, ‘because it says so in the Bible’, or because they personally don’t like it (in other words, rules made by men (Mt15:9)). Or, to put this another way, even though they are ‘saved’, there are still certain Rules they must follow (and of course everyone else must follow them too!) – and for some people, not following those rules can (they believe) mean that they can ‘lose their salvation’.

I, however, believe that Grace covers everything. In short, I claim that, for a believer, everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial (1Cor6:12; 1Cor10:23) . All sin past, present and future, has been forgiven (Is 43:25; Heb 8:12), and I am free to get on with living life in the Spirit without worrying about whether something is sinful or not, because I trust fully in the Spirit of Grace – in Whom I live my life – to steer me away from things that are harmful. Anything goes, essentially, but I don’t go everywhere, if you see what I mean.

It’s not surprising, then, that one of the first claims levelled at a Grace-living person like me is that this is essentially a ‘Licence to Sin’. I get that. Because I am free to do anything I choose, I am naturally going to go off and do loads of ‘sinful’ things, simply because I can.

And nothing could be further from the truth. Nor is it true for others who have been set free by the Spirit of Grace. I read on a Facebook group the other day about the ‘relentless, hard struggle against sin’. But, you know what, Jesus promised ‘rest’ (Mt11:28). And the key to that rest is this: to rest in His finished work, and to live your life of freedom in the Spirit. Being free from sin is not only having the desire to sin be removed, it is also – and especially – being free from the constant worry about whether something is sin or not. Just live life and trust the Spirit to keep you away from that which is harmful! As Paul says, ‘consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 6:11). This isn’t as a Law or a Rule, it’s the natural position of the person who walks in Grace. The whole idea of Life in the Spirit is expounded in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, and if it is read with the Grace filters in place**, it all stands out so clearly. The problem with Romans, as with most/all other Scriptures, is that for centuries people have read them with their legalism filters in place, to find rules to live by and to impose on others. But Paul, as the Apostle of Grace, can also be read by those looking for Grace to live by.

Having just declared in the preceding verse that ” …[we] are not under Law, but under Grace”, Paul writes in Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” And this is exactly what the critics of living under Grace ask! Are you going to go ahead and sin because we are under Grace and not Law? And we, along with Paul, answer ‘No! By no means!’ But of course, and especially as Paul subsequently uses the example/illustration of slavery, critics will go on to say that obedience is key, but that’s not what Paul is saying here. He is directly answering those people who would accuse those living under Grace of having a Licence to Sin and he’s saying: NO!! It’s NOT a Licence to sin!

And the reason for that is because we are new creations!

Those in Christ are new creations; the old has gone, the new is come! (2Cor5:17) Those who look for rules to follow and conditions to impose in the Romans passages are missing the point. These people say you have to follow the Rules as written here. But the awesome, magnificent, amazing truth is this: It’s already been done! It’s a “fait accompli”! We are already new creations in Christ. The whole flavour of Paul’s writings is that these things are already in position. He doesn’t say that ‘one day, we will be free of sin’; ‘one day, we will be new creations’ or anything of the sort! No, it’s all been done for us by Jesus. We died with Him; we are also raised up with Him (Rom 6:8). In Colossians 2:9-15, Paul says this:

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off [killed, amputated] when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

This is an example of how these ideas are presented as already having been accomplished. How then can we not realise that these things are already true of us? I know I don’t believe that “the Bible clearly says…” all that much at all, but surely if these things are true, as written by Paul, then they are completely liberating, completely freeing? It’s already been done!

When Paul says in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace”, he’s not stating a Rule; he is making a statement of the true, actual nature of the believer. Someone might point out that ‘…the human heart is deceitful above all things’ (Jer 17:9) but for those under the New Covenant, this is no problem. I have a new heart; a new motivation for living my life. And so do you. “A new heart will I place in them” (Ezek 36:26). This is the New Creation; the new nature. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2Cor 5:17). In fact, the entire chapter of Romans 6 is about Paul handling various objections to people living under Grace, probably objections of ‘religious’ types who want to put people under Law once more. Or at least he’s playing ‘Devil’s Advocate’ while building his argument moving from the ‘religious’ and legalistic point of view (as he himself used to be a part of and indeed endorsed, before meeting Jesus) and progressing into the concept of Life in the Spirit through Grace.

Bear in mind also that Paul says in his letter to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…” (Titus 2:11-12). Did you see that? It is Grace itself that teaches us to say ‘No’; it is not Law, Rules, our flesh or anything else like that. Those efforts in our own strength are always doomed to failure. This is why Romans 6:14 is so true; it’s that sin shall not be our master because we are not under the rule of the Law, but under that of Grace instead, and it’s Grace that teaches us to say no to sin, not Law.

I also think that those who say that ‘Grace is a Licence to Sin’ don’t understand Grace. We have already seen above that it’s Grace that teaches us to say ‘No’ to sin. Because we are free to choose – we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:6) – we now have the choice; we can choose our way, or we can choose God’s way. And if that means saying ‘No’ so sin, then Grace helps us learn that. Note that it is a learning curve. I’m not saying it’s trial and error that we use to find out what is sin and what is not, but living in the Spirit, following His prompts, doing what we see Father doing, effectively keeps us away from the desire to sin. That’s how Grace teaches us to say ‘No’ to it. The Spirit teaches us all things, including this!

But the other thing about sin is that we get ‘entangled’ by it (Heb 12:1). How, you might ask, can we be entangled by it when I have just said that we are free from it? Well, sin ‘so easily entangles’ us when we are focused on sin; ironically, when we are focused on the task of not sinning! If we are constantly checking to see if we are ‘sinning’ (or, worse, if others are ‘sinning’) then we are focused on the wrong thing, and we have no room in our lives for the freedom of the children of God, which is our birthright. This is also the trap into which the ‘sin police’ fall – those who point out sin in others. Part of being free of sin is that we don’t need to think about it any more – ours, or anyone else’s. We don’t need to worry about it; we just get on with living in the Spirit. And for those ‘sin-police’ who feel it is their duty to point out sin in others, just think: wouldn’t it be amazing, light and free to be rid of that burden? This is not your job! Why bear that burden any longer? Be free from it! Live in the light and freedom of the salvation that Jesus has given you, free of charge and free of obligation!

Granted, some may ‘point out’ Scriptures that appear to contradict these truths, but in reply I would say that these Scriptures I have used here today are true for me, in my experience. All I am doing by quoting Paul is to say, ‘Look, I have found this to be true in my own life, and hey look!, Paul found it to be true for him too!’ I am not finding a Scripture to ‘proof-text’ my ideas, I am saying that this is true for me and Paul found it true for himself too, and he wrote about it. I personally am free of entangling sin. Sure, I ‘sin’ occasionally, and this too is covered by Jesus (1Jn2:1). But my motivation, flowing from my new heart and new life in Christ, is to live life in the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 says that ‘If you walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh’. This is what it actually says! Why is it so hard for some people to appreciate that this is actually true? In denying this truth, and the other truths I have expressed here, surely these people are denying the very Scriptures they base their arguments on?

‘But surely’, some may say, ‘you can’t walk in the Spirit all the time?’ To this, I would reply, ‘Why not? Yes, of course you can!’ It’s really easy; you just live your life and trust God to work the Life of the Spirit out in your life as you go about your everyday business. It really is effortless; His yoke is indeed easy and His burden is light (Mt11:29-30). This is why it is often referred to as ‘working from a position of rest’. I rest secure in my Life in the Spirit; nothing and no-one can take it from me, including myself.

As we have seen, many Christians don’t understand this Grace [undeserved acceptance], and they think that this undeserved, unconditional sort of acceptance becomes a ‘licence to sin’. If there is no ‘penalty’ for wrongdoing, they claim, or no Rules to follow, then basically people who believe in Grace can just do what they want and get away with it. Interestingly, in some ways this is true; we can indeed ‘do what we want’ (1Cor10:23). But the consequences of sin are that our lives take damage; we get into destructive habits, thought patterns, behaviour structures and attitudes that are not good for us. So yes, sin has its consequences. And for that reason, not everything is beneficial (1Cor10:23).

There is a certain irony that following the Law is actually, in my view, the biggest ‘sin’ of all, because it is based in our pride in our own self’s ability to follow the Rules. And even then it is pointless, except maybe for making us feel good about ourselves and how ‘well’ we are doing, because no-one will be declared righteous by following the Law. (Rom 3:20) No-one. That’s quite clear to me.

We’ve seen the Scripture that says ‘Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial’ (1Cor6:12) but, well, how are you supposed to know the difference? And I think that even as God’s children, we do not grow as people unless we push the boundaries, like teenagers do. And sure, things are going to hurt us when we get things wrong. But God is there all the time. He’s a much more laid-back parent than evangelicalism gives Him credit for. Whatever happened to ‘underneath are the everlasting arms’? (Deut 33:27) What part of God’s love for us don’t they trust? My own answer is that it’s perfectly acceptable for us to push the boundaries; we are safe as Christians, and to be honest, what’s the worst that can happen? We suffer, we die; but we do that anyway. The very worst thing that could ever happen to me (Job 3:25) has already happened to me, and I am still here rejoicing and walking with the Lord. The only way we find out what is beneficial and what is harmful (or, if you like what is not sin and what is sin respectively) is to push the boundaries. And if God’s really not happy with something we’d like to ‘try’, then He’s perfectly capable of warning us off. And not, I hasten to add, by some set of Rules ripped out of context from the Bible, but as a conversation just like a parent with a child. This is what freedom looks like, and it’s why the controlling priests of evangelicalism don’t like it – because it puts an uncontrollable God back in command. God is perfectly capable of catching us and raising us up again when we fall.

This is not a ‘licence to sin’; it’s more a licence to learn.

Also remember – and this is key – that Jesus Himself is the personification of Grace. In some inexplicable way, being under Grace and being taught by Grace is also being under Jesus, and being taught by Him. Remember John 1:17 – “For the Law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ”.

And I would also say that God is greater than all the ‘bad’ stuff we can do; all is forgiven, God keeps us safe, even should the ‘worst’ happen. This is pretty radical I know but it’s where I am at the moment. Once again, fear is not something that should exist in a Christian’s life, because perfect love drives out all fear (1John 4:18). And when people speak to us of ‘playing with fire’, ‘slippery slope’ and ‘dangerous ground’, they are pandering to fear, not Grace.

There’s a lot more on this subject here in one of my previous posts. I recommend you go and take a look; it’ll be well worth it!

And so, go ahead and LIVE in your freedom. Use the word ‘Freedom’ in my site’s search box to find other articles that I have written on this subject; you will find that the word figures very prominently in my writings. Freedom from sin is not a Licence to Sin. It doesn’t need to be; in fact it’s quite the opposite. Morality and Rules are the low road; Life in the Spirit under Grace is the high road.

God is for you, not against you (Rom 8:31). If what you are hearing, whether from your mind or from a preacher or other Law-based person, makes you feel otherwise, ignore it until you know that God loves you and His Grace empowers you to live the life He wants you to.

This is freedom.

This is your freedom.

Grab this with both hands and your teeth as well!

Take it and run with it!

Let me leave you with a quote from Mike Rough:

“If morality is your way of living, you are living way beneath your privileges. Living by love in the power of the Spirit is true living and there are no rules–there are none needed. The one who lives by love will live a life like Jesus lived which is so far above living by rules, the difference is like night and day!”

Can I also point out to you this excellent article by Paul Ellis, on the same subject. His writing is much clearer than mine 😉


*In ‘English’ English, as written in Britain and most other places where English is spoken, ‘Licence’ is the noun and ‘License’ is the verb (although ‘Licence’ is an acceptable variant of the verb spelling). It’s similar to ‘advise’ and ‘advice’, and ‘practice’ and ‘practise’. So, I have a Pilot’s Licence (noun), which means the CAA have licensed (verb) me to fly an aeroplane.

In the USA, however, the spelling ‘License’ is used for both noun and verb, and the spelling ‘Licence’ does not exist.


**Grace filters: That is, if you read it with the assumption in mind that it’s about Grace, in other words, you are looking for Grace in the text. Hope that makes sense. This is not dishonest reading; it’s something we all do all the time. All our Scripture reading takes place with various filters in place; legalists will look for Rules, people who believe in Hell will interpret the ‘hell’ passages with that assumption in place, nobody lets the Old Testament tell them that bacon sandwiches are unclean, and so on. So long as we realise that we are always looking through filters, we will know that our perceptions are going to be coloured by them. And that’s fine as long as we are aware of that fact.

60

Getting the Message Across

I love the wisdom of Jeff Turner (pictured above), and I have shared many of his writings on my blog before.

In this piece, Jeff talks about how we feel when we try to get across the message of Grace, into an environment where our listeners have only ever known the shackles and straitjackets of hard Religion. And then he gives some wise advice on how to deal with the way our message is received.

I need say no more. Over to you, Jeff:

“For those of you who have embarked upon the journey of thinking for yourself, asking difficult theological and philosophical questions, and as a result have experienced backlash and opposition, may I make a suggestion? Do not expect for people to be immediately receptive and understanding. Do not expect for them to be as enthusiastic about the whole thing as you are. Don’t expect them to thank you for opening their eyes, or rescuing them from poisonous doctrine. Don’t expect for a single argument to change their minds and hearts, when it likely took you years to get to where you are.

“I know that it’s upsetting when people don’t receive what you’re saying or thinking, but you should not place the burden of needing to be a perfect responder on them in the first place. When you decide to stop seeing people as being obligated to support you, their lack of support stops hurting so bad, and you can get on with the business of growing. I see so many people who start on this journey and then get sucked into the black hole of anger and resentment towards those who aren’t all that pleased with where they’re going and what they’re saying. Their speech goes from that of a child thrilled by the things they’re discovering, to that of an angry teenager.

“Look, you have to walk your own path, and you have to let others walk theirs. No one is obligated to applaud you for your bravery, or even to respect your beliefs. Should they? Yes, sure. But are they required to? No, and you shouldn’t expect them to. Follow truth where it leads you, and don’t get hung up and hampered by those who disagree. They are not your enemies, and you are not theirs. If they see you as one, let that be their problem, and one you allow them the space to have.

“One thing I’ve learned over the course of my faith journey is that the fewer expectations I place on others, the better. I know that respect *must be earned, and it’s the only sort I want anyways. I don’t want you to respect my beliefs because you have to. I want you to respect me because of how I handle myself, and then possibly consider the validity of my beliefs because I’m able to present them rationally and articulately. If you choose to do otherwise, well, it’s no skin off my back, and you exercised your autonomy. Well done. I am not going to allow my entire being to form around the opposition of others, though.

“Seriously. I daily see people talk endlessly about their detractors, and how triggered they are by their…detractions. You are not owed respect. Don’t act like you are. Journey your journey, and when others disrespect that journey, listen to their criticisms, and then keep on moving forward.

“You will never grow up if you embrace a childish mindset as though it were a virtue.

“Peace!”


Excellent. Link to the original Facebook post is here.

10

The Wall

This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series The Stages of Spiritual Growth

This article is the sixth in my series about the Stages of Spiritual Growth, and it describes Fowler’s Stage 4, which he calls the ‘Individuative – Reflective’ stage, but which can also in some cases be thought of as ‘The Wall’, or the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to get it published, but I wanted to get it right.

To set the scene, I will begin by quoting an article of mine from four years ago, ‘The Dark Night of the Soul‘:

Sometimes a believer has to go through a spiritual wilderness, which may or may not include a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, as described by St. John of the Cross. In those times, God feels distant, Church feels irrelevant and you wonder what your faith was all about in the first place.

“Well-meaning people suggest that you ‘go back to God’, repent, change your way of thinking, whatever. But what I would say, having been through fifteen years of this Wilderness experience, is that what they don’t understand is that actually God has His hand on you all along. There is no need to feel guilty, no need to feel lost, no need to feel ‘wrong’. God is using the time to sort out your feelings, your theology, your priorities, your ideas, your preconceptions and your motives.

“For you, it may last fifteen years, or it may last fifteen days. It doesn’t always feel good over that time. The thing is that God still has His hand on you and is using that time to mould you into the person He wants you to be. In some ways He has His hand on you more than ever, if that’s possible.

“Don’t be distressed that He takes you out of your familiar surroundings, such as a Church, a city or a relationship. Sometimes He has to take us out of the familiar surroundings so that we re-evaluate without distraction or preconception. Be encouraged; the next stage of your development as a believer is happening. You will emerge, sooner or later, but all in His time, into a new era of blessedness because of what seems like a real ordeal at the time. But never, ever forget that He has hold of your hand, even if you don’t feel it, and He will never let go of you no matter how it feels at the time.

“For those believers who have experienced this, you may well notice others going through a similar process, and indeed it is a process, and recognise the signs.

“If you have not been through this process, let me tell you that it will look from the outside as if your brother (and here I include sisters, but let’s keep it simple) has lost interest in the ‘things of God’; perhaps he comes up with some radical ideas about God and how He relates to others and himself. He may well especially have ideas that go against the orthodoxy of his previous belief structure. Maybe his behaviour will not reflect accurately what you believe should be ‘acceptable’ Christian behaviour. This is part of the process. It is those very preconceptions of belief and behaviour that are being challenged and changed, usually by sovereign Divine interventions, in apparent defiance of his previously professed faith – or perhaps he does not profess faith, so profound are the changes in action in the believer.

“Should we be surprised? For a believer who has never undergone this process, then yes; they may well be surprised. How can a ‘supposed’ Christian profess to believe in these things; how can he behave in these ways?

“But for those who understand, instead of passing judgement on the believer, they continue to believe in him. Believe in him as a person, believe in him as a brother and believe in him as a precious Child of God. For as in Romans 14:4, ‘Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?’. Judge him if you will, but do not expect that judgement to have any visible effect. Because, by the time the believer has come out of the other side of the process, the judgement of others will not matter nearly as much. For him, the second half of Romans 14:4 will have new meaning: “To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

“Remember that the believer is undergoing a deep transformational process. What comes out of the other side may well have a passing resemblance to the person the believer was before, at least in a spiritual sense, but remember that this is God who is doing the transforming. We believe that the Spirit is transforming every believer, daily, to conform to the likeness of Christ. So why, then, are we surprised when that transformation occurs, and why are we surprised at its results? Transformation means by its very nature that changes will occur. That’s what transformation means. So in that sense, no, we should not be surprised that the believer comes out a different person from what he was at the start.

“And the amazing thing is that God is far more real to that believer after the process than He was before. God has not changed; His ways have not, but the believer has changed; how can things ever be the same again?

“And as for missing out on what God has been doing for all that time, don’t worry. God is still the same as He was before. He still does things in surprising, novel and delightful ways. It is amazing how quickly the believer comes back up to speed and hits the ground running. Things are kind-of as they were before, but now the believer has a new perspective. Wow, this is pretty deep stuff, but it’s real.

“So, don’t despair if you, or someone you love, is undergoing something like this. It’s not backsliding, falling away, or becoming apostate. When you first believed, did you not trust God with the whole of the rest of your life? Do you really think that He’s going to reject you because all of a sudden you no longer believe exactly what you’ve been told to believe by men? Do you really think that your salvation rests on such a shaky foundation as the weakness and failings of human flesh? By no means can it ever rest on that, otherwise Jesus would not have had to die for us. No, this is transformation, and it’s exactly how God has planned it to happen for that person.

“Finally, I want to thank those people who have believed in me during my time in the wilderness, who have never stopped believing in me and loving me. Thank you all!”


That’s my personal account of what it feels like, and it is of course going to be different for everyone.

But the fact remains that most believers, or at least those who think honestly about their faith, will come to a point in their spiritual walk where they feel that it’s ‘not working’, there’s ‘something more’, there are deeper depths to be plumbed in the things of God. Here’s theologian Pete Enns:

“You get the feeling from the Bible that being unsettled is almost a normal part of the process. Not that we should go looking for it— it will find us soon enough— but struggling in some way seems like something we should expect on our own spiritual journeys. True struggling in faith is a stretching experience, and without it, you don’t mature in your faith. You either remain an infant or get cocky. Feeling dis-ease and challenged in faith may be God pushing us out of our own safety zone, where we rest on our own ideas about God and confuse those ideas with the real thing. God may be pushing us to experience him more fully, with us kicking and screaming all the way if need be. Feeling unsettled may be God telling us lovingly, but still in his typical attention-getting manner, it’s time to grow.” (1)

To me, this is the most fascinating of the Stages of Faith/Stages of Spiritual Growth. This article describes the Stage of questioning; the Stage of deconstruction, and the Stage which, I personally feel, brings the largest single jump forwards in a person’s faith life – if indeed they ‘make it’ through*. Don’t worry about my terminology here; the very fact that you are reading this indicates that you are finding out what this Stage is all about and what it might mean for you, and hopefully increase the likelihood that you and your faith – even if you don’t consider you have one at the moment – will benefit greatly from knowing what is actually happening**. It is the period of huge change, usually resulting in huge positive growth, and yet to those looking on from the outside it often appears as if the believer has ‘fallen away’ from the faith, or is at best ‘backsliding’. This is why I find it so fascinating.

So this is what Fowler called Stage 4 – the ‘Individuative – Reflective’ Phase.

It’s a time of great change; of learning to stand on our own two feet, in a faith sense. It’s the ‘growing-up’ Stage; the Stage of the spiritual adolescent.

For a believer***, it is the Phase that presents the greatest challenge to his or her faith; although of course each Stage has its own challenges, this is the tough one. This is the Stage where the believer begins to come to terms with the awkward questions that don’t quite make sense. It is a time of change, almost always a large change, which has been likened to a caterpillar going into the chrysalis phase. It looks as if nothing is going on, or even that the caterpillar has died. But before long, the former caterpillar emerges from the chrysalis as a completely new creature. This is what I feel happened to me when I went through what I called my ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, as I described at the beginning of this piece.

Some other commentators (for instance, Pete Scazzero) refer to this Stage as ‘The Wall’. It can indeed feel as if your faith has hit a ‘Wall’ and there’s no way forward in terms of growth. Partially for this reason, it can be the Stage that many Christians in fact avoid or simply never make it through – although that’s not really what I mean. You see, as we saw in the previous article in this series, it can be terrifying for someone to confront the disturbing questions and doubts that threaten what they perceive as their spiritual security. Remember that for some people, their beliefs may be, apparently inextricably, mixed with instilled fears about those who ‘fall away’ becoming liable to ending up in ‘hell fire’. By a combination of their own thinking, ‘warnings’ and other teachings from authority (usually a combination of leadership teachings on, and their own personal interpretations of, the Bible), a person has a strongly-held and yet tacit (that is, ‘understood or implied without being stated’) belief structure that, consciously or unconsciously, they realise will not stand up to intense critical scrutiny such as would be posed by such doubts and questions. The doubts and questions can come from any source, but they very often stem from inconsistencies in doctrinal statements, contradictions in authoritative statements (whether from leadership or in the Bible), modern discoveries in archaeology and/or science, or reading material written by people who themselves either have similar questions, or who have passed through that questioning and into further maturity in their faith. Maybe the believer gets the feeling that their church leadership are not telling them everything they know, or that things are being withheld. Actually, that’s not usually the case; more often than not, and assuming a loving, non-controlling leadership, it is far more likely that the believer is actually reaching beyond and above the experience and knowledge of their leadership. Really mature leadership will see this and hopefully use their wisdom to encourage the believer onwards and upwards. But some will feel threatened by it, by a perceived loss of control, and that’s where the danger lies for the growing believer. The danger, that is, of not growing any further due to them feeling that they have to do as they are advised/told by leadership who do not understand the transformation that is taking place, as in my opening quotation. This is usually not a deliberate obstruction of the believer’s growth, but it probably stems from a genuine care that the believer does not go ‘astray’, but, as we have seen, this is not really what is happening.

In short, there is a tacit realisation in the believer that there is ‘something more’. My friend David Matthew has expressed this very well in his book ‘A Poke in the Faith’, an eBook version of which is downloadable for free from his website. In his book, David likens the structure of a person’s faith to being like the game of Jenga. In this game, you have a tower made of stacked, interlocking wooden blocks, and players remove said blocks from the tower one by one with the aim of being the last person to remove a block ‘safely’ before the whole lot comes crashing down. So, how ‘safe’ is it to challenge one’s own beliefs, removing one block at a time, while not wanting the whole tower of your faith to come crashing down? How vital is each belief or doctrine – the virgin birth of Christ, the inerrancy/inspiration of Scripture, a belief in hell, the deity of Jesus – to the entire structure of one’s faith? What will happen to friendships with people in the Church if you change your belief structures? In David’s book, he argues that as long as a person’s Relationship with Jesus Christ is real and living, then it is perfectly safe to ask of God all these awkward questions. Indeed, like me, David is a gentle man with a real pastor’s heart, who has taken these questions head-on and has come through the other side with his faith intact, and wants to help others who are going through similar questions. Here’s a quote from the book:

“My commitment to Jesus Christ, to his people and to the Scriptures as God’s Word remains undiminished. But I have undergone some changes in my views on certain aspects of the faith — including some of the ones listed above. I want to come clean and say that grappling with these issues hasn’t always been easy. In fact, they have caused me quite a few spiritual wobbles at times. I have come out the other side of those wobbles and find that my faith is now stronger and fresher than it has ever been since I became a Christian over sixty years ago. And my desire, in writing this book, is to help you reach a similar happy place.  

Your choices  

“That, then, is where I stand. My intention in what follows is two-fold. First, I want to introduce you to some of the new ideas that are challenging traditional ways of viewing the Christian faith in general and the Bible in particular. I will do this as one who believes these ideas should be taken seriously. And second, I want to convince you that you can embrace some or all of them without losing your faith. Indeed, I want to strengthen you in your faith. But I will be asking some searching  questions about issues that you may never have questioned, and you need to be prepared for that. Which leaves you now with two choices. You can say, ‘I  don’t think I’m ready to have my boat rocked, thank you. I’m happy living out my Christian faith as it currently is, in the company of good friends in my church, and I’ve no wish to risk anything changing that.’  

“Okay. Shut the book now, and God bless you. But if you do that, I suspect it won’t be long before some of these issues sneak up on you from other, less sympathetic, quarters, and you can only keep your head stuck in the sand for so long. Might it not be better to face them in my company, as someone who is rooting for you and your faith, rather than risk being shot down in flames by some bitter ex-Christian? That’s why I’d recommend the second choice, which is for you to say, ‘Okay, I know some big issues have been brewing in the background. It worries me, but I’m not one to shut my eyes and pretend it’s not happening. So here goes: I’ll stick with the book and hope it does me some good!’  

“I think it will”. (2)

I feel that this book can be a most helpful read for believers in Stage 3 who have realised that they have ‘difficult’ questions, and who may be approaching their own personal ‘Stage 4’. It would also be excellent for those who feel they are actually passing through their own Stage 4, or maybe consolidating the thoughts and ideas they had during that time.

In fact I would even go so far as to recommend it as a ‘manual’ for people going through the ‘Dark Night’ or other Stage 4 experience; people who are trying to come to terms with the huge, and usually frightening, changes to their belief structures.

It will come as no surprise, then, for me to say that I consider David’s book to be one of the most important books written recently that speaks into this little-known area of Christian belief, and I am disappointed that no publisher has yet come forward to produce a paper version of it that I can read in the bath (it’s only available as an eBook). It’s a lot harder to read an eBook without dropping your Kindle in the bath water.

Right, let’s now examine what our old friends James Fowler and M. Scott Peck have to say about this Stage. Here’s what the chart says about it:

Fowler:

This is the tough stage, often begun in young adulthood, when people start seeing outside the box and realizing that there are other “boxes”. They begin to critically examine their beliefs on their own and often become disillusioned with their former faith. Ironically, the Stage 3 people usually think that Stage 4 people have become “backsliders” when in reality they have actually moved forward.

Fowler’s formal description of this Stage is as follows:

The movement from Stage 3 to Stage 4 Individuative-Reflective faith is particularly critical for it is in this transition that the late adolescent or adult must begin to take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own commitments, lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes. Where genuine movement toward stage 4 is underway the person must face certain unavoidable tensions: individuality versus being defined by a group or group membership; subjectivity and the power of one’s strongly felt but unexamined feelings versus objectivity and the requirement of critical reflection; self-fulfillment or self-actualization as a primary concern versus service to and being for others; the question of being committed to the relative versus struggle with the possibility of an absolute.

“Stage 4 most appropriately takes form in young adulthood (but let us remember that many adults do not construct it and that for a significant group it emerges only in the mid-thirties or forties). This stage is marked by a double development. The self, previously sustained in its identity and faith compositions by an interpersonal circle of significant others, now claims an identity no longer defined by the composite of one’s roles or meanings to others. To sustain that new identity it composes a meaning frame conscious of its own boundaries and inner connections and aware of itself as a “world view.” Self (identity) and outlook (world view) are differentiated from those of others and become acknowledged factors in the reactions, interpretations and judgments one makes on the actions of the self and others. It expresses its intuitions of coherence in an ultimate environment in terms of an explicit system of meanings. Stage 4 typically translates symbols into conceptual meanings. This is a “demythologizing” stage. It is likely to attend minimally to unconscious factors influencing its judgments and behavior.

“Stage 4’s ascendant strength has to do with its capacity for critical reflection on identity (self) and outlook (ideology). Its dangers inhere in its strengths: an excessive confidence in the conscious mind and in critical thought and a kind of second narcissism in which the now clearly bounded, reflective self over assimilates “reality” and the perspectives of others into its own world view.” (3)

This formal description is perhaps better expressed in this passage by Margaret Placentra Johnston:

“According to Fowler, it is ideal that a person reach this stage in their early to mid-twenties, but as has already been discussed, it is evident that many adults never reach it. If it happens in the thirties or forties, Fowler says, it is much harder for the person to adapt.

“In Individuative-Reflective faith, what once was tacitly held becomes explicit. The faith the person never reflected about, and was not completely able to articulate how he arrived at it, becomes filled with both a freedom that he now CAN reflect on it, and the burden that he now feels he MUST examine. The responsibility of this can be frightening, and it seems religious groups are always trying to discourage people from making this examination (of course, because it threatens the viability of the institution if people start questioning!)

“Fowler’s Stage 4 faith requires that the person be willing to interrupt their reliance on external authority and relocate the source of authority within himself. Fowler calls this the formation of an “executive ego,” which is not a bad thing, like the other kind of ego. It just means the person is more able to govern himself without the need for rules from the outside. In Fowler’s Stage 4, meanings in stories are separate from the symbols themselves, so the stories are demythologized. (In losing the literal meaning of the religious symbols, people can – I think often! – at the same time lose ALL meaning of the symbol and that is how you wind up with so many atheists and agnostics at this stage.)

“Loss or demytholization of the symbols can result in grief and guilt in some cases, and the process can take up to seven years to complete. But in the place of the literal symbol, the person gains the ability to make comparisons and whatever meanings they retain are explicitly held (and thus more authentic in that they are personal.)

“The strengths of this stage lie in the capacity for critical reflection (and the willingness to face truths that may cause distancing from comfortable thought patterns and thus pain.) But a weakness of this stage is that the person may put excess confidence in the rational, conscious mind, thus ignoring unconscious forces that become more prominent in the next stage.” (4)

Peck:

Peck – who calls this phase Stage III – the ‘Skeptic-Individual’ Stage – says this:

Those who break out of the previous stage usually do so when they start seriously questioning things on their own. A lot of the time, this stage ends up being very non-religious and some people stay in it permanently.

Let’s hear from Johnston again: “According to Peck, people in the third stage of spiritual growth have the principles of goodness “engraved on their hearts.” Thus they no longer need the forms of society or a church to keep their behaviour in check. They are self-governing. Because they no longer need the services offered by a church, they begin to feel free to question the value of religion in their lives. They may at this point choose to reject religious belief. Even though they may describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, people in Stage III are actually more spiritually developed than most of those content to remain in Stage II. They are often deeply committed to social causes. They are active seekers of truth.” (5)

Richard Schwartz quotes Peck thus:

STAGE III:

“Skeptic, Individual, questioner, including atheists, agnostics and those scientifically minded who demand a measurable, well researched and logical explanation. Although frequently “nonbelievers,” people in Stage III are generally more spiritually developed than many content to remain in Stage II. Although individualistic, they are not the least bit antisocial. To the contrary, they are often deeply involved in and committed to social causes. They make up their own minds about things and are no more likely to believe everything they read in the papers than to believe it is necessary for someone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Saviour (as opposed to Buddha or Mao or Socrates) in order to be saved. They make loving, intensely dedicated parents. As skeptics they are often scientists, and as such they are again highly submitted to principle. Indeed, what we call the ‘scientific method’ is a collection of conventions and procedures that have been designed to combat our extraordinary capacity to deceive ourselves in the interest of submission to something higher than our own immediate emotional or intellectual comfort–namely truth. Advanced Stage III men and women are active truth seekers.

“Despite being scientifically minded, in many cases even atheists, they are on a higher spiritual level than Stage II, being a required stage of growth to enter into Stage IV. The churches age old dilemma: how to bring people from Stage II to Stage IV, without allowing them to enter Stage III.” (6)

I know this is an awful lot of information to have to take on board, but I wanted to make it very clear what this Stage looks like, why it happens, and what the evidence is for its existence, because it so often either unknown or misunderstood.

But I also wanted to make it personal; applicable to me and you and people whom you meet.

Firstly, we have established in an earlier article that not everyone necessarily goes through these Stages. Spiritual growth is different for each individual, and some people have an entirely different way of maturing spiritually than to go through these Stages. However, I personally feel that I have gone through Stages in my spiritual walk, and so I am espousing these ideas to illustrate, with personal examples, what it can be like, from my own experience. We will look into the sequencing of the Stages later in the series. But for now, just know that many believers (and indeed non-believers) do go through these Stages.

So, we can summarise Stage 4/III (Fowler/Peck Stages) by saying that there comes a time in many believers’ lives when they start to question the belief structures that they have tacitly held, and possibly begin to deconstruct their old beliefs and to form their own beliefs.

This could take months, or it could take years. It depends on how much ‘baggage’ you need to lose from your previous Stages (most of this ‘baggage’ usually originates in Stage 3/II). For me, it took fifteen years.

The ability to question, deconstruct and reconstruct learned in Stage 4 are usually also carried forward into Stage 5; this ability is a good example of how the best and most useful parts of each Stage are carried forward into the next Stage. Which parts are so carried forward will be different from person to person, as each person will have generated different belief structures which they will need to modify individually, and different ways of coping with them. But we will look at Stage 5 in more detail next time.

If you feel you are at Stage 3, the ‘conventional’ Stage, and you feel there is more, maybe ask Jesus what He wants you to do next. If you are already in your ‘questioning’ Stage 4, then take heart. Others have trodden this path beore you. God is still with you and you are perfectly safe. If you are watching others whom you consider to have ‘backslidden’, please don’t judge them. God has them in His hands, and He will not let them go. They are perfectly safe. Remember that Jesus will carry on the good work to completion in them – but in His own time, and in His own way. You can trust Him.

Entering the Dark Night of the Soul – or indeed exiting it – cannot be rushed. You will not go through this before the right time. And you cannot rush coming out of it either. Read my testimony at the start of this article, and take encouragement. And, to use the most common phrase in the entire Bible – “Do not be afraid !

Let’s take a look at this from another angle; another viewpoint. Here is a YouTube video of the aforementioned Pete Scazzero, with his wife Geri, talking about the Dark Night of the Soul/The Wall, and it is well worth watching. Pete is one of  the few people I have heard talking about this Stage in the walk of Spiritual Growth, and he is pretty well-versed on it. Hint: As this was recorded in a large church service, maybe you might want to skip the housekeeping and preliminaries by fast-forwarding to about 4:30 in the video 😉 :

If you watch that video right through, you will notice that although Pete has a different set of names for the different Stages of Faith, still he is recognising that the Stages of Faith do exist, and he emphasises that the Wall is the tough one, but also the biggest growth phase of them all 🙂 The only thing I don’t agree with, in all that excellent talk, is this: when he says ‘Stay with God, don’t quit church; stay with Jesus…’ – sometimes the Church stuff is the problem and so you do, in those circumstances, need to quit church, as I did. (There are no rules or conditions for this Stage, and it’s going to be different – unique, in fact – for each of us). You might feel like you have given up on God; that you have ‘left Jesus behind’, but actually that doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that Jesus has not left you behind, no matter how much like that it may feel! And I think that another important point is, again, that the Wall/Dark Night/Stage 4, or whatever we call it, will be different – in fact, unique – for each of us, so there is no prescribed duration, frequency, content, requirement, or anything else involved. This is a time of setting-free, remember! I’m not even sure that everyone has to go through this Stage; I personally know people who have not had to shed baggage or religious preconceptions, and they may very well be ‘exempt’ from going through Stage 4. We just need to trust that God will bring each of us to it, and through it, in His own way, and in His own time. Remember it’s always going to look different for each individual.

Slight change of subject. Here’s a thought. Maybe the revival ‘breakthrough’ that Charismatic/Evangelical Christians pray for is already here. Maybe these people, like me, who have faced into the Dark Night and come through the other side, maybe we are the answer to those prayers. Maybe the breakthrough they need is to face into Stage 4/III themselves, and be honest with their questions. Maybe breakthrough isn’t possible without facing these questions, and the answer to their revival prayer is right there, staring them in the face. Maybe they need to cast aside their artificial security and learn to float free (see this article and this article for examples of what this looks like). If you feel that might be you, then, to trot out a well-used Christian phrase, I would suggest you ‘Let go, and let God’! I strongly feel that there is no way forward, for some people, other than to go through the Wall and out the other side into the broad, sunlit uplands of the true freedom of the Christian faith. He whom the Son sets free is free indeed (Jn 8:36).

Let me leave you with another excellent quotation from Pete Enns:

“Let go of fear. If I had to name the most common obstacle for Christians to a life of true trust in God, it would be fear— mainly the fear of being wrong about the Bible, which is often equated with being wrong about God. What we believe about God is very important to us, as it should be. Our faith defines who we are and helps us make sense of the world around us and the world that awaits us afterward. Our faith is the page upon which our personal narratives are written. To feel that our faith is threatened can easily turn to fear. But, judging from the long and varied history of thinking within Christianity, “being right” is elusive, and the Bible is never something we will actually master. The relentless and sinful human habit of creating God to look like ourselves, and thus distorting God, is also a constant problem. The choice we all need to make daily is whether we are willing to hold our narratives with an open hand and let God rewrite them when necessary. In the spiritual life, the opposite of fear is not courage, but trust.” (7)


If you are interested in reading more on this fascinating Stage, I have consulted many different sources during my work on this piece, the links to some of which I give below. In addition to the numbered references quoted and attributed to various authors in the References list below, then, you might find the books and articles linked to interesting and illuminating:

James W. Fowler, “Stages of Faith – the Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” – Harper San Francisco, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1995

David Matthew, “A Poke In The Faith” – Kindle Edition, 2016.

Peter Enns, “The Sin of Certainty – Why God Desires Our Trust Rather Than Our ‘Correct’ beliefs” – Kindle Edition, 2016

Peter Enns: “The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It” – Kindle Edition, 2014

Bill Huxley on ‘Fowler’s Stages of Faith’. His observations on Stage 4 (what he calls Stage IV) are particularly interesting. I did not include them here because my present article is huge already. But his observations are well worth a look.

The chart of Fowler’s Stages of Faith and comparing them with Peck’s, referred to in previous articles.

Margaret Placentra Johnston’s website (quoted more specifically in the References below)

A shorter piece about the Stages by Rose Anne Karesh

My story of how God brought me into, and through, my own personal Stage 4

A slideshow by Brian McLaren about the practicalities of leading churches with people at multiple stages. (They’re probably more common than you’d think!)

A link to the Kindle edition of the spiritual classic ‘The Dark Night of the Soul‘ by St. John of the Cross.


References quoted in this article:

  1. Enns, Peter. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (p. 239). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  2. David Matthew. A Poke In The Faith (Kindle Locations 207-224). Leaf Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. James W. Fowler, “Stages of Faith – the Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” – Harper San Francisco, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1995, p. 182
  4. Margaret Placentra Johnston, James Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development, from her website “Spiritual Development Concept“.
  5. Margaret Placentra Johnston, Spiritual Growth and M Scott Peck’s Stages, from her website “Spiritual Development Concept“.
  6. Richard Schwartz, “The Stages of Spiritual Growth“, an abridged online version of the relevant sections of M. Scott Peck’s book ‘A Different Drum‘.
  7. Enns, op. cit., pp. 239-240.

*I have heard it estimated that 60-80% of believers who hit the ‘Wall’ do not ‘make it’ through to the other side. They either stay where they are with their doubts and questions, push them down, or leave the faith altogether. However, I personally feel that the recent increase in awareness of the Stages of Spiritual Growth will bring this percentage down markedly, as people increasingly realise that this Stage – however it appears to them – is simply a normal part of Christian growth, and they embrace it and go through with it. This can only be a good thing. Actually I think that the Lord is making this more well-known in these days, so that more people not only understand it, but also they are able to help thers through it. For more on this topic of ‘The Wall’, follow up on Pete Scazzero’s course on ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’ as mentioned in this piece, and also in that video above.

**The caveat I would re-emphasise, as in all these articles in this series, is that not everyone goes through the Stages of Spiritual Growth; you may not identify with any of this, and that’s fine. It’s not intended to explain or categorise your own, or anyone else’s, faith standpoint. Just be aware that these Stages do happen with many people, and, for some of those people, it can be a great relief to realise what is happening.

***For someone who is not a ‘person of faith’, for want of a better term, this Stage can also occur in their lives too since it can represent a major revision of one’s life-paradigm or worldview. Although I have written this article mainly for ‘believers’, those who are not ‘believers’ may also see some parallels with their own life journey and be encouraged by this article. That is my intention; encouragement of others is always my intention.

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If Jesus Really Is Alive…

For Easter Sunday – today – I just wanted to keep things simple. Or maybe not…because this might get you thinking.

A couple of months ago, I published one of my quotations, and it was this:

“That death is no longer the end has profound ramifications. Absolutely profound. Rather than spoon-feed you, I’ll just let you think about it for yourself. Ask yourself this question: ‘What attitudes would change in my life if death is no longer the end?’ If you think about this in any great depth, the results will change your life. It did for me”.

If you are looking for an Easter Sunday meditation – and I appreciate that there wil be many out there today – then have a think about that quotation.

Not just, ‘what attitudes would change…’  but what are the ramifications of that? If Jesus really is alive, if He’s been alive for two thousand years after being dead and then raised back to life, as crazy as it might sound; if it’s really true, then what are the consequences, the ramifications, of that? For you personally, for your family, friends and loved ones, for your community, and for the world at large?

I will leave it with you.

Grace and Peace to you today, when we celebrate the day that death itself died…

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