Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are you getting your just-Jesus bonus yet?

I'm doing a lot of extra Bible study this year (since the start of 2011, I mean.) Adding additional readings, additional topics of inquiry, and so on. And it's really blessing me – because I've begun reaping the harvest of many years of learning to take the Bible, but not what's culturally (or subculturally) pushed as "Christianity", seriously.

Sometimes that means gaining new insights into Jesus and what it means to be a human being in a messed up world. But sometimes it just means basking in the offered comfort of the truths I've already long since learned, or getting a new look at an old map so I can realize just how far off the Jesus-path I am, and how best to get back on it.

All this convinces me more and more all the time that Jesus wasn't kidding, about any of what He had to say or require -- or about any of the comforts and rewards He promised. And that means (among many other things), that He means for His message to make more sense and be more available to those who want Him more than they want human-based teachings that use Him.

Like, if you want Jesus, open your Bible and read with Holy Spirit eyes, preparing to lose even the "goodness" of your current spiritual understandings and political leanings. But if you just want something that looks like Jesus but is more about belonging to a fulfilling human social network, or about telling you how much you deserve even though you haven't even starting down the right road yet, or about showing off how important your religious doo-dads and titles and buildings and so on are (the ones that don't have to be part of the original version of discipleship because they're part of "holy tradition") – well, then, you can buy your carnival ticket over there.

Just because I've got to start somewhere, here are just a few of the insights and comforts and corrections I've gained over the years from the first stories (chronologically) of the New Testament – the ones where Jesus hadn't even shown up. Some of these insights came to my heart, but others came from the hearts of others who shared them with and therefore made them part of my growing-in-Jesus experience, as well. And indeed, that sharing with each other is what true Christian fellowship is all about: every person (not just the human-educated ones, or the dominant ones, or the ones who like the spotlight), regularly bringing and sharing what the Holy Spirit shared with them, so that everyone learns from everyone else.

Luke, the biggest threat to good religious values

Take a look at Luke, for example, and the start he gave to our understanding of the man Jesus Christ. Luke documented not only most of the first stories but also a good portion of the lived-lives of Jesus and those who learned firsthand from Him. But consider this even more: Luke was a despised outsider. Luke lived in a time when most who called themselves Jesus' followers hadn't really absorbed the Gospel they'd been sharing, and so were going around telling some people they couldn't be acceptable to God or part of God's family until they changed who they were and became like them. Sound familiar? Some who pushed this remake of the Gospel back then were quite aggressive about it, while others understood the truth but simply did nothing to help those who were being so spiritually attacked (we can read that in another of Luke's writings that we call "Acts", but also understand it from the letters to the Galatians and to Timothy and Titus, for example).

Luckily for Luke – and for Gays and Lesbians and all other people through the last twenty centuries – there were also people like Paul who were willing to push back with the real Gospel of Jesus Christ, willing to risk even their church fellowship and family to stand for God's truth (just as Jesus said we all must be willing to do).Those who call themselves "Christian" today but do not stand up for those other "Christians" try to remake and cut off are demonstrating a weak or false faith that needs a lot of work to be right with God.

Zechariah, one of the best examples of what religion has to offer

Zechariah was a good church man. He was also totally wrong in what He accepted about God. Oh, he did his religious duties. Those religious duties were a good portion of his entire identity, and made him one of the religious elite of the day. But when one of God's angels showed up to tell him he and Elizabeth, his wife, had been chosen to be more visible players than most in God's coming Good News, Zechariah completely disrespected the angel. Why? Well, as a good Jew, Zechariah would have certainly known that God gave a child even to the elderly Abraham and Sarah, so it wasn't like the angel was saying something unimaginable to him. No, the problem for Zechariah was that the angel's message revealed just how shallow Zechariah's faith really was. And instead of going "Oh crap!" and realizing how ridiculous his current perception of God's power was, Zechariah instead challenged the angel to make as much "sense" as Zechariah just knew he himself did. I can almost see him poking a finger in the angel's chest, saying, "You big dummy! You have no idea how God really works!"

Lucky for us, the angel was smart enough to shut Zechariah's mouth until the promised baby was born – making sure that he couldn't continue to share his "greater understanding" with his soon-pregnant wife. Perhaps we should in the same way shut our ears (since we rarely have the power to shut others' mouths) against those good church people who also fancy themselves among God's elite while trashing the whole idea that He can or should act outside what they imagine of Him!

Mary, the worthless, whoring piece of trash

The same angel went to see Mary, several months later. He gave her a similar message, but one even more spectacular: working through Mary, God was going to fulfill the promise He made to Eve (and to all women), thousands of years before: that through Eve's seed (so, the seed of women, not men, even though men always assume they're the center of everything) the Savior of the world would come. And so through Mary – someone disrespected and despised by both "God's Chosen People" and the pagans of her time, alike, for being poor, for being female, for being powerless and subjugated – through puny, disrespected her God was going to start the final stage of fixing everything that Eve and Adam (and all human beings) had previously broken.

And what was Mary's response to all this? She saw and shouted happy-joy because:
  • God's mercy has always been reserved for those who respect Him enough to live His ways – which leaves out most "good church people" of Mary's day and now. Good church people always consider themselves most deserving of His rewards, even when they live counter to what He says and act in their own best interest – but Mary knew otherwise (as we should, as well).
  • God's power does powerful things, including undoing and scattering the pathetic, self-serving power of the arrogant to nothing. We have things we're arrogant about, too – our spiritual beliefs, our technology, our intellectual advances. And those are also going to mean nothing, in no time at all. We're as smart as Mary when we recognize that as a good thing.
  • God's actions – including those He accomplished through Mary – are always focused on reversing the way human beings think things should go. And He did that even in creating the Savior of the world. How long had the arrogant, the powerful, the rich assumed they and they alone were deserving and capable of producing and proclaiming God's goodness in the world? How much do the arrogant, the powerful, and the rich do the same, even today? But God intentionally denied  and denies them their place (which is why they still use complex theological inventions even now to erase and cover that – for them – embarrassing truth). God instead gave (and gives) it to those who don't think more highly of themselves than they should, and who have no control of anything of any consequence, and who have no material wealth. Does it matter if the world doesn't recognize that, and won't until Jesus comes again? Not one little bit
  • God keeps His promises. God made big promises to Abraham and the Jews who followed him – and He kept them. Just as He kept His promise to Eve. Just as He keeps His promises to us.
Mary saw all of that – and so should we!

John the filthy church-rejecter

The John that we call "the Baptist" was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah, since he was no longer in a place to trash what God was going to do, and since he'd obviously learned his lesson, also did a happy-joy shout to God. He finally recognized the powerful way that God was acting in the world, making happen the things He said He'd do. And he was blown away at the more visible part his son would be playing in all that: actually being the prophet who announced and prepared people to get ready for the Messiah! And, yep, John the Baptist would later do all that – but never as a good church man.

Like his father, John was born to be a priest and part of the temple culture. Unlike his father, John went outside the reaches of the human makings of religion he'd been born into, and instead served God where God and His real work could still be found: in the desert, and on the ridiculed and despised outskirts of "normal" society. Once there, John never did anything the good church people could be proud of or agree with. Instead, he barked accusations at those arrogant, powerful, and rich good church people who broke God's way. John even called B.S. on the local political leader when he dumped on God's way -- even knowing that sooner or later, this would all cost him his life (and it did). And then what was his concern? Begging for mercy? Promising to never preach outside his denominational box ever again? Learning his lesson and never bothering authority figures every again? Nope. He just sent some guys to check in with God, to make sure he'd worked the right road

And wouldn't the world be a better place if we would allow ever a quarter as much courage in our own faith lives? .

So what do *I* see in these people, in what the Bible shares about Luke, Zechariah, Mary, John the Baptist (and about Eve)?

I see that God's real work goes on in our real, every-day, puny human lives. Does God work through the rich and powerful and arrogant? The Bible shows us that yes, He does – but they are simply the pawns on the chessboard, and the poor and oppressed and humble are always the queens and kings.

Remember, for example, that God also used the powerful Assyrians when it worked out like He wanted – but who are the Assyrians now? Where are their dynasty, wealth, and advances? They're in the trash heap, where they belonged all along. But the people they oppressed and used? God kept them and their spiritual and physical descendants going even to today. And He will until He's done with this part of history and brings us home.

Remember that God used Pharaoh (the richest, most powerful ruler of the day), and Pontius Pilate (who held life-and-death power over Jesus, through the most powerful empire to ever exist until the modern USA), and Caiaphas (the highest ranking good church man in an entire nation of good church people who believed he as pastor / priest / pope could make and keep them right with God) -- but they were all pawns, weren't they? They were never His actual focus. Despite their vaulted place of honor in the human world and in human history, they were just side notes in God's plan, not truly required for anything.

The whole of God's plan has always been about saving those who want to be saved. It's always been about reuniting God with those who want to be with Him, and who are willing to recognize His God-ways are better than our human-ways. (That's why the arrogant, and the powerful, and the rich so rarely make it to salvation. They aren't necessarily any more evil than the rest of us. But they won't give up their goodies, won't stop hoarding what elevates them at everyone else's expense, even when it's choking the spiritual life out of them.)

What God wants more than anything else is for you and me and all the rejects, weaklings, outsiders, weirdos, oppressed people, impoverished people, puny people, and despised people to "make it". Jesus didn't come to do anything with the good church people. He used them to teach the rest of us, but He knew they always consider themselves above being saved, and therefore can't be saved.

So, when we're ready to set aside all the good church stuff, and to pay more attention to Jesus than to good church people, then we're finally starting down the narrow Jesus-path. That's how we get our gate admission ticket: just want one, more than you want the fake carnival ticket. 

It's been a very long road for me to learn to set aside all the good church stuff. First step required being grossed out by it. Then I tried rejecting all God stuff, but that didn't work. Then I tried different versions of good church stuff, but that didn't work either. It always came down to just more junk that made me happy for a short time, and then left me empty and grossed out, all over again. I spent about 35 years figuring it out.

But now? I can't tell you how "clean" I feel, and how much sense Jesus makes, now that I'm hearing and following Him, and not some funky, self-serving image of Him projected by other human beings. I'm still making mistakes. I expect to my whole life. But even the mistakes got smaller, once I started going right to the Source.

  • If you are already on this narrow Jesus-path -- even if you've just barely started, I can't begin to say how full and happy that makes my heart! I wish you God's best, and count you among my dearest spiritual siblings. 
  • If you are dissatisfied with what you've had of "church" and religion before, great! Start checking out just Jesus, and see how much better He is than the knock-off reproductions others have made of Him. Take it to heart and roll it around in your head: He just wants you to set aside all the "Christian" junk, just as He required the Chosen People 2,000 years ago to set aside all the "Jewish" junk, and just be about Jesus -- because He's there to demonstrate who God really is, in a way we could actually see and hear Him. Seek out those others who are also wanting just Jesus, and learn from them even as you share your learning with them. God's on your side!
And, as always, Jesus' message is very clear: 
Do your sincere best at doing what *I* say, and keep My love in your heart, no matter what -- and that makes you Mine.
This article written by Lynne at No Junk. Just Jesus. You can contact Lynne at