Subscribe News Feed Subscribe Comments

Routines for Routines Sake

God would often disrupt my routine when I was trying to be the nice little Christian that the church wanted me to be. Just when I was in full swing with the weekly prayer meeting, and the early morning prayer meeting, God suddenly stopped me from going. I began to doubt the scriptural soundness of the prayers of myself and the other people.

I would often wince when I heard Christians pray “Oh Lord give us faith” or “Lord heal so-and-so” or “Lord save so-and-so”. I knew that these kind of prayers did not work. They displayed a lack of depth of understanding. I realize also that I was mostly always praying in other tongues. What was I praying? I could be praying for absolutely anything, or absolutely nothing!

I felt that it was time to stop praying in other tongues for a while, well certainly decrease the intensity. I felt that it was time to grow in understanding instead. It was time for me to plead my case with the Lord, talk things over with Him in order to resolve my issues once and for all.

Sometimes I would be getting ready to go to church on a Sunday morning, when God would tell me that He didn’t want me to go to church. I would think it was the devil and I would go about my way preparing to go to church. But if God didn’t want me to go, then I couldn’t go. I remember one time I insisted to the Lord that I was going to go to church, but I couldn’t move. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move, I was rooted to the spot. I also remember another time when I was in the bathroom rushing my teeth whilst arguing about going to church. Suddenly, God threw me to the floor – gently, mind you! I suppose you could say that it was at that moment that I knew God had won the argument!

I would find though that when something like this would happen, it would be for a good reason. Usually, the Lord would have a powerful message for me - a message that would be more personal and relevant for me.

I am not saying that Christians should rebel and not go to church, I’m not saying that. But I believe that the Lord was encouraging me to think for myself. By that I mean be led by the Spirit of God for myself instead of constantly having to be shepherded by other people. We should follow the Great Shepherd for ourselves whenever possible.

We get so rigid with our rituals and routines, that we often do things that we shouldn’t be doing, we often do things just for the sake of it, just because other people expect us to do them. With anything in life you have to ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” and “What do I expect to achieve by doing this?” No-one in the secular business world will do something without first asking themselves these questions. The Bible says that if we do something without faith then it is a sin. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23).

Our time on this Earth is short. Whatever we do we must ensure that we are convinced that what we are doing is the right thing. Too often in the church we have a pot-luck kind of attitude that just gives something a go and hopes for the best, without us really being certain of the outcome. Prayers which are prayed with such an attitude will never bear fruit for us or anybody else. God may tend to have mercy on a new convert, but He expects more from mature Christians. Therefore, as soon as God revealed to me that I wasn’t really sure of what I was praying in the weekly prayer meeting then it was time for me to take a pit-stop to re-assess the situation.

Spiritual Autism and Pastor’s Wives

There is an "Into the Wild" podcast which I heard recently which kind of reminded me of an anecdote from Kenneth E. Hagin's faith books. When I thought of this anecdote it really struck me of both how my own approach to Christianity had changed and just how off-track and completely out of touch with reality I feel Christianity has been in the past.

I thought of this anecdote when I listened to the podcast entitled "Spiritual Autism" dated 2nd January 2010. One of the hosts of the podcast, Aimee Daselle, related how she had read a book written by a Christian woman who had a son who suffered from autism. In this podcast, the hosts related how many Christians have also suffered a form of spiritual autism which had been instilled in them by the institutional church.

At the end of this particular podcast, the hosts relate how pastor's wives can become very repressed and unhappy. Pastors and their wives are kind of lifted-up on a pedestal and expected to maintain a perfect standard. I once heard Brad Cummings on The God Journey podcast say that pastors in these days have become our spiritual coaches. In Biblical times, pastors would have simply facilitated gatherings of believers - without unrealistic demands placed upon them.

Anyway, there is a rather significant anecdote which Kenneth E. Hagin has referred to in several of his books on faith. One of these books is entitled The Triumphant Church, and the anecdote can be found in the chapter Can Christians Have a Demon? In 1952 Hagin had a vision of Jesus when he was enveloped in a cloud of glory. In this vision, Jesus told Hagin that he was now going to give him the gift of discerning of spirits.

At that moment Jesus gave Hagin a vision of a woman who happened to be the wife of a pastor he knew. This woman had left her husband and was now living with another man. Jesus said, "I'll show you exactly how demons and evil spirits get a hold of people and dominate them and possess them, even Christians, if Christians let them." In this vision Hagin could see into the spiritual realm. He saw a demon that look like a little monkey come and sit on the woman's shoulder and whisper into her ear that she was beautiful and that in the world she could have fame, fortune and popularity.

At first this woman dismissed this demon's temptations, but after a while, she became seduced. Okay, we have something of a correlation here with the temptation of Jesus in the desert – but as far as I can discern, she was not exactly making a pact with Satan. Something that strikes me as rather odd is that Hagin says that according to Philippians 4:8, these thoughts were not in-line with the Word of God. But this is the man who made the prosperity message widespread -- so I am quite flummoxed by that statement. There are quite a few pastors, Bible teachers and evangelists who have become like celebrities and live in mansions; they use scriptures such as Isaiah 1:19 to substantiate their claim to wealth -- and most charismatic Christians just don't bat an eyelid about it at all. We seem to forget that the majority of the fortunes of these people comes not from “the world” but from desperate Christians who seek to be just like they are.

Anyway, back to the story. This woman resisted the demon by saying, "Get thee behind me Satan." So she exercised her authority over the devil. That tactic has not always worked for me personally, when I start thinking on thoughts that don't line-up with the Word. But she stopped resisting the devil after a while and then she become obsessed, and finally, she become possessed.

The moral of the story was that Christians should resist the devil when they think thoughts that don't line-up with the Bible, which is the Word of God. Darin Hufford would argue that the Bible is so open to misinterpretation that it is virtually impossible to do that. Darin would say that we are to live according to what we know is right in our heart. Darin Hufford calls this approach to the Bible that many Christians have towards scripture as "Back-up Verse Theology".

When I reflect on this anecdote of this pastor's wife who committed adultery, I am inclined to see a woman who is terribly repressed and bored out of her mind. Surely, if a woman is happily married and she's got good friendships and she's doing the things that she enjoys doing most, she wouldn't even dream of committing adultery, it wouldn't even be an option for her. After all, doesn’t 1 John 3:9 say that we cannot sin, because we have been born again of incorruptible seed? When it says we “cannot sin” it must mean at the very least that if a person is born again, sin should be a difficult and unnatural thing to do.

I just see this poor pastor's wife just sat at the piano on a Sunday and singing old hymns or cheesy contemporary Christian numbers like Charlie LeBlanc's classic "Celebrate Jesus Celebrate". Not many churches have access to a huge crowd of worshippers and a world-class worship leader like Dom Moen, so it’s bound to look and sound more like this. This pastor's wife must have got fed up of dull, quirky middle-aged housewives approaching her after the service and talking about knitting and canning fruit.

I believe the pressure just builds-up over the years of trying to be someone that you are not. I think in church we just get this impression of what it is like to be spiritual: what other people expect us to be like and even what God wants us to be like. It must be especially bad for a pastor’s wife. But in actual fact, I believe that oftentimes God has no intention for us to be that way.

We create this impression that the Christian life is so difficult and it's so full of temptation. We get this impression that we've got to resort to biblical formulas in order to live our lives the way that God wants us to. The notion is implied that we cannot survive and thrive as Christians, unless we buy the latest book on spiritual warfare, faith, healing, finances or whatever. We are fed ideas by the church which gives us the impression that we would wither away and die, or that we’d be easy prey for the devil, should we dare to stop attending church on a Sunday.

This reminds me of an episode from Blake’s 7, which was a cult, low-budget, British science fiction series which ran from 2nd January 1978 to 21st December 1981. This particular episode was titled Cygnus Alpha (Series 1), which guest starred Brian Blessed in which he played a character called Vargas. Vargas is the power-hungry dictator of a planet whose oppressed people are told that they cannot leave the planet because they need a daily antidote to a disease which infects all who visit or live on the planet. Vargas later reveals to Blake and his crew that the sickness does not exist; the symptoms are created by a mild poison that clears itself.

So what I get from Hagin’s anecdote is that this woman was expected to resist temptation and remain spiritual, by constantly saying, "Get thee behind me Satan". But is this practical? In actual fact, what we end up doing is trying to use flimsy formulas to try and hold back the sheer weight and pressure of years and years of repressed thoughts and desires; as we try in vain to become somebody that we were never meant to be in the first place. The struggle is not the devil or temptation – it is the concepts that have been handed down to us over the years that we are still trying to hold onto.

Rather than seeing this woman in a condemnatory manner, I am more inclined to look at this woman's plight with compassion and kindness. No, I do not condone adultery in any way, shape or form. But I do hold to the belief that people should be allowed to be who they are and be allowed to live their lives naturally. If a person is allowed to become who they are meant to be in Christ, then I believe the desires of God will be in them; they will have a heart of love, temptation should not really be the difficult thing that Christians have made it out to be.

Changing Beliefs

I think at the moment I'm in serious detox-mode: I've just been fed so much garbage from the institutional church, that I really don't know what's right and what's wrong anymore. I hold fast to the message of grace, of course, but am still unsure about a lot of things such as the role of prayer, healing, miracles, prosperity and so on.

I believe what’s helping me at this stage in my life are the podcasts I am listening to. I've been listening to Growing in Grace, The God Journey and The Free Believers Network: "Into the Wild". I've downloaded as much as I can of these podcasts and am mostly listening to Into the Wild. This podcast does "sail close the wind", but I feel I'm in serious need of Christians being totally genuine and down-to-earth; instead of Christians who are puffed-up with all kinds of unrealistic goals and talking about incredible miracles from fifty years ago.

I'm absolutely amazed at the frankness of these podcasts, especially The God Journey and Into the Wild. I also enjoy the humour of these people. I thought it was rather weird at first because the first five minutes or so of the podcast which just everyday chit-chat. But I got used to it and rather enjoy it now because it sort of relaxes you and “tunes you in” to the discussion. I also like the way that it is not a direct teaching like most Christians are used to: it is just a discussion, a conversation of ex-pastors and people who have been disillusioned by the institutional church.

I like the way that the hosts of these podcasts admit that in a lot of areas of Christianity they don't have the "right" answers - and that is acceptable. When it comes to Christian formulas and pat answers that we have been used to in the institutional church, I particularly like the Into the Wild podcast entitled The Unteachable Truth.

For a long time Christians have been trained to believe that they have to have an answer for absolutely everything. It amazes me that the and even books in Christian bookshops that give quick, pat answers to difficult questions of life such as abortion, euphemism and the like. But the attitude that I gather from the hosts of The God Journey and Into the Wild, are that it's okay to not have answers to everything. I get the impression that these hosts have only just discarded all the religious nonsense that they had been programmed with for so long; that there are still many Christian concepts that they are still unsure about such as healing, miracles, prosperity and so on.

Darin Hufford likens institutional church concepts to a huge web of tangled lies that have been constructed over years to support one concept after another. But as soon as you see just one of these concepts as being a lie, it causes you to also question many of the other concepts that you were told true. I agree entirely with what Darin and the hosts of these podcasts say in that as soon as you start looking at some of these traditional Christian concepts through the lens of love -- you see them in a completely new light. It seems to me that for too long, the church has been substituting love and living according to what your heart tells you is right, with principles, rules and formulas.

Being Led by the Spirit and the Word

We read in Genesis 22 that the Lord told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham was obviously distressed and confused at this request - but he was sure it was God. Abraham went along with it and sure enough, God revealed to Him that He was just testing him. What was the test? Obeying the inward witness. It was not a test of knowing scripture and obeying the rules therein.

Now, if Abraham would have had a Bible to hand - he could have argued with the Lord and quoted scripture, such as Exodus 20:13 which says, "You shall not murder". If Abraham had a Bible, he could have used it to doubt he was even hearing from God. Abraham could have argued that God would never tell him to do something that was expressly forbidden by scripture.

The point I'm making here is that the Word of God ought to be the means by which we come into the New Covenant, having contrasted it with the Old. We can still refer to scripture in order to know who we are in Christ. But it is futile to always be checking everything you do against scripture all of the time. Scripture is open to interpretation and manipulation. Churches use scripture to control people and impose rules on their congregation. Questioning a lead of the Holy Spirit against the Bible is exhaustive and confusing; it leads to Christians doubting themselves and God and lacking the confidence to do what they're called to do.

For years, Christians have been told to not trust their feelings, that their feelings are bad and misleading. But the Bible does say that we are children of God and that we are led by the Holy Spirit. But what the church has done is to lay down rules (or what is calls “principles”) with a view of providing a safety net for believers. But this leaves people confused because they are taught to deny what their heart is telling them – because they cannot always make it line-up with their interpretation of the Bible. It is little wonder that Paul calls the law “the ministry of death”. Feelings can be misleading, I’m not denying that, but there must come a time when believers start to follow guidance from within their heart.

The more a person embraces the message of grace, the freer they are from rules and restrictions and the more they are attentive to the leading of the spirit. I believe it is harmful to resist going with what your heart tells you is right – goodness knows what would have happened if Abraham would have resisted God when He told him to sacrifice His son Isaac. I remember a catchphrase in the church during the nineties, “Bring your Isaacs to the altar.” If Christians are so pre-occupied with scouring the Bible for verses of scripture to back-up what their heart tells them is right – their Isaacs won’t end-up anywhere near the altar!

Darin Hufford of the Free Believers Network calls this approach of always referring to scripture as Back-up Verse Theology.

The Allure of Jesus’ Love

9 As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he arose and followed Him.

Matthew 9:9

When Jesus "witnessed" to Matthew - He did not hand him a Bible tract, or warn him of the impending dangers of Hell's flames; neither did He anxiously recite Bible verses in the hope of changing his life-long beliefs there and then on the spot. No, He simply spoke from a heart of overwhelming and irresistible love. Jesus never pleaded and begged people to come to Him – He simply drew the crowds; people often followed Him wherever He went, even before He uttered a word to them.

2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.

3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.

4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.

5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house."

6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.

7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."

8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."

9 And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;

10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

Luke 19:2-10 nkjv

Jesus did not have to beg Zacchaeus to invite him to dinner. No, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings simply spoke and the man obeyed Him. Just as with Jesus, as soon as we as Christians start spending time with the unsaved, we get accused by the rule keepers that we are doing something wrong, that we will go astray if we do so. Spending time with people who have the love of God can bring about immediate transformation in the hearts and minds of other people – even those who do not yet profess to believing in Jesus.

Just as with Zacchaeus the chief tax collector – if we truly love and serve the Lord from a genuine heart of love – we will see its effects on those people around us. This is what it is, I believe, to be the “light of the world”. We don’t have to be right – just genuine, kind and honest – God will do the rest. Jesus did not “Bible bash” Zacchaeus with versus of scripture on how we should be kind to others and do good unto them. No, Jesus simply loved him and watched as love did its work by itself.

16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him.God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world.

18 Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us.

19 We love each other as a result of his loving us first.

20 If someone says, "I love God," but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?

21 And God himself has commanded that we must love not only him but our Christian brothers and sisters, too.

1 John 4:16-21 NLT

The Need to Prove That I am Right

I don't need to prove that I am right in order for people to believe, trust and accept me. My witness as a Christian is not determined by how many Bible verses I can memorise and recite - but by how much I love other people. My love for others is not determined by good deeds, which can be done from wrong motive in order to prove that you are a "nice" person. No, love is determined by your attitude towards others.

I've noticed in my own life that I tend to be drawn towards those people who don't have a point to prove; those people who keep themselves to themselves. Whilst I find that I am repulsed by people who are highly opinionated and want to force their beliefs on others.

There are some people who, in the past, could have told me that the moon was made of cream cheese and I would have believed them! There seems to be something so wonderfully appealing about humble people.

I think we have developed a crooked way of labelling warm-hearted people in the church. We tend to think that in order to qualify as a warm-hearted, loving person in the church then you need to perform acts of charity that are associated with the church and go around acting “nice”. I find such people are often saccharine-sweet and while their efforts might be appreciated in the institutional church – they are seen as the falsehood that they really are for those people in the world who know the difference.

I remember seeing one such “nice”, sweet old lady in the church: she was smiling one moment and saying the usual “Christian” things, such as, “I just sooooo love Jesus!” Then the next moment she is bawling and crying, running to the front of the church at an altar call for those struggling with finances. The conclusion I come to through this anecdote is that charity and kindness in the church is often a front for desperate, insecure people to win the favour of God and other people – it can become an expression of insecurity and desperation.

I don’t think Jesus ever expected people to associate love with a false, saccharin-sweet kind of pleasantness as a means of “proving” their new-nature in Christ. I think Jesus expected love to be the acceptance of others as they are and a willingness to help when the right moment afforded itself. Love should be the precious option of being who you are without feeling the need, from guilt, fear or pride to change a thing. That kind of love expresses itself to other people as well as we no longer seek to impress our ideas and opinions on them; otherwise, we end-up arguing with others and bearing grudges against them when they don’t conform to our expectations. Instead, Christians have opted to hold onto their grudges and the need to be right whilst pre-engineering so-called acts of kindness in order to prove their “love” for others. These acts of so-called kindness are just seen by unbelievers as being rather corny – it just puts people off.

There is a time and place for charity – but the church cannot become a place for insecure and proud people to “qualify” for their love-badge. The institutional church should be a meeting place for likeminded people who want to share their faith and the good news of Jesus; a community of believers who support and encourage one another and share ideas.

I often find that a lot of our beliefs that we try to persuade others to agree with - are often nothing more than personal preferences, such as music, fashion, politics and so forth. The Gospel is not a personal preference, I acknowledge that, but there are some people who are simply not ready to receive the Gospel yet. If we try to force the Gospel on other people, outside of love, we resort to fear and intimidation in order to "win their soul". Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” certainly had the desired effect of scaring people into saying the “Sinners Prayer” – but did it really win the hearts and minds of people to knowing God’s love for them?

I find that the more we seek to prove ourselves through logical reasoning - the more argumentative, spiteful and obnoxious we become. You don’t even need to plan it or practice it for it to happen – it is simply the natural conclusion when a person seeks to prove that they are right according to their logical reasoning, achievements, abilities, status or personal possessions. Let love do the witnessing - not your beliefs, arguments and opinions.

The Divine Nature | TNB