This morning, in fact all day, my mind has been all over the map as I consider the religious bantering of our day.
First off while dressing for church, a local radio station was heard proclaming, "The Bible is your manual for life, "read it, study, then do it!" This caught my ear, as it sounded so distant from the "saved by grace through faith, not of works lest any man should boast" gospel typically heard from that station.
Better per my experience, they might have offered: "read the scriptures, study the people in it and the lives of those who wrote it, learn from their mistakes, while listening to the Spirit with an open heart toward the promise of grace, by which our lives can be transformed!"
Their's was a much shorter sound byte!
That's why God became flesh, after centuries of scripture, so that we might see and experience human flesh acting out of a righteousness freely given, that neither text nor law could deliver, a righteousness "imputed", a biblical term used to describe a gift for all who would dare to pursue such promise.
I later went on to church, where I listened to the final accolades offered by Paul in his letter to the Christians in Rome. Our pastor had chosen to address the cultural bias so evident against women both today and in Biblical times. I found it quite interesting and insightful, especially given Paul's writings in his earlier letter to the Corinthians. Somewhere around three years later his concluding remarks to the Christians in Rome seemed quite softened no doubt by grace, given comments of affection toward the nine women named in Romans 16.
We then came home and I picked up on my read through Isaiah, my thoughts seemed captured by the contents of Chapter 61:1-3, the same text chosen by Jesus to describe his calling as found in Luke 4:18-19.
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified."
Our calling is to become like Christ, trees of righteousness, not prophets of doom, or divisive defenders of our particular faith. Rather, we are to bring good tidings, restoring beauty and joy within our culture. Imagine our world had Christians fully delivered and now for centuries upon just such a calling!
Truly prophetic words are always laden with promise. Given all the perplexities of Isaiah's day, both before captivity and during the time when the Children of Isreal were taken into Babylon, still hope leaks from this old prophet, and especially from those who picked up his writings in the second half of this great book. So it should be with Christ-followers today.
However, when we are bent on simply defending our particular faith rather than proclaiming good tidings by both our words and ways, we are often seen as little more than a people who cherry-pick the texts for the sake of justifying a faith that may have long lost its own leak of love and joy!
Unfortunately, this only adds fodder to the rational reader, those apart from the Spirit of grace, eyeing the text alone, only looking to argue. With each banter reopening the wounds of previous damage by those willing to engage in such divisiveness.
This morning I was reading through just such online comments from one I have determined to love. These comments were from one who perceives themself as excluded from grace given their lifestyle. Some comments provide an evidence of knowledge of scripture, even prior engagement in a life of faith, though now living a deliberately different and quite in your face defiance of the Christian faith.
Their comments are crafted to dare rebuttal, though in no way do they benefit from those of a more evangelical bent who offer stern, judgemental and divisive replies.
My thoughts are that their words somehow imply a search for some spiritual solace, a deep relentless hope of more than the typical familiar religious bias with which their cries are to often met with, that is perhaps what drove them from the faith.
I find it sad, how often push back occurs from those easily insulted by unbelievers, when better it would be to
offer a response layered with the same grace by which their lives were once transformed.
Why I don't know, but I decided to dig even deeper, several hours in fact into this ongoing online religious banter.
Various internet threads fimally carried me to a YouTube conversation among two leaders of a particular band of believers who profess that Jesus and Gabriel were one and the same. Their conversation seemed an attempt to enhance the status of Jesus among Muslims, both spoke Arabic when reference was made of Allah or Mohammed.
Once sufficient Old Testament "proof" texts were offered, they proclaimed Gabriel and Jesus as one and the same. The Word was Gabriel and was with God when Creation was spoken into existence. It was breathed through Gabriel, who then entered Mary's body and thus Jesus was birthed. He by way of Gabriel was in fact the Messiah of Isreal, linking Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
This mystical couple supposing themselves to be the answer to the struggles that now grip our globe due to these three primary Abrahamic religions!
I was intrigued by their passionate communication of scripture and attempts at prophetic delivery of remedy in these dark days, though I understand as of this year they were held captive in Turkey.
I am in heretic territory with those who declare present day Christianity as the only way to God. Yet, interestingly enough, other Christ-followers declare that what present Christianity has become was never God's intent? You can sense the challenge of exploring religion outside of one's preferred box!
That's leads to the numbers who now offer the remedy of deconstruction from that "box" as means for true spiritual liberty. Their recommendation being an unlearning of doctrinal beliefs, especially those which a growing base of scientific knowledge now may seem to challenge.
Bottom line this diverse menu of ideologies has our world in a turmoil.
My own personal journey of late has been more an exploration of love and grace alone, than any sense of need for doctrinal defensiveness. There are enough denominations out there to manage without my opinions.
As I said earlier, I am examining my own laundry, though in no way yet throwing the Baby, nor the Being I call God out with the wash.
Being Christ in both worlds is the goal, the religious and the secular, if they are so divided, while depending on neither!
My criticism of either, which at times it must seem I am shooting at both, is out of a deep love. A love for those apart from any faith and a desire for those of similar faith to live out their lives with a convincing joy, even while dwelling in a world of chaos. That's a hard thing!
That's why I smile so broadly, at least so I am told, when a prophetic word of delight does find me.