The Road to Real (#591)

A dip into the old mailbag takes Brad and Wayne on a journey through the power of forgiveness in a curative view of atonement, what do you do when the Sunday service sucks the life out of your relationship with God, and how our so-called "Sunday worship" became so empty and lifeless. What Brad and Wayne celebrate through it all is the human heart that is unrelenting in its search for what's real and the risks it will take to find it. Some people settle for the comfort of the status quo even if they have to pretend, but those who continue to search for authenticity in their own connection to God will find it even though the journey be challenging and fraught with the mistaken accusations of those they love.

Podcast Notes:
Photo courtesy of Andrew Jacobsen Photography
Christianity Today article: Do We Treat Sunday The Way the Earliest Christians Did?
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20 Comments

  1. About four years ago, a colleague was giving a workshop on ethics. My colleague shared what he heard recently from a well-known atheist ethics researcher who was giving his last public presentation before retiring. The atheist ethics researcher said that in all his years studying ethics, he discovered the most ethical people had this one thing in common…..love for others. People who had a genuine love and compassion for others were more ethical, and those who didn’t have a more full and genuine love for others were not as ethical. Fairly simple conclusion after likely decades of research on the subject of ethics. I agree with this atheist ethics researcher.

    However, this is easier said (concluded) than done – at least for me. With the simplicity of this conclusion, all laws, commands, ethics, morals, values, do’s and don’ts, and should’s and shouldn’ts – basically eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – take a back seat to the greater revelation found in love!

    I have come to realize recently and painfully, I do not know how to love well. I know how to fear others well, but not love others well. And I do not know how to make myself more loving in a sincere and genuine and revelational way. So, I wait for the love of Father to connect with me in a greater and real and unmistakable way, so that out of this overflow, love for others can be more of a natural and instinctive reality.

    • Jim,
      Wow, thanks for your sincerity. Sounds to me that his revelation of love continues to flow out of you, given that you know it won’t come from what you know you do not yet possess. I have recently begun to experience love and compassion I never knew possible for me. And the more you lean unto love rather than good and evil it will flow. I have seen this firsthand, at work and in our neighborhood. No agendas, no schedule, nothing I need to accomplish for God, just being; living outside of the limitations of rules and religious regulations has opened up a whole new world, one which I always longed for but could never attain within the confines of the traditional religious establishments I attended. Godspeed friend.

      • Thanks for your encouragement, Mitchell! I really like your comment of “…nothing I need to accomplish for God, just being…” That sounds like such a wonderful place to be in. Those kinds of moments are usually the best moments I have with friends as well!

    • Hey Jim, just got back into town (Internet connection) and read your comment here making the connection re-love and how that differs to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – which I agree always translates into dos and don’ts, right and wrong et cetera which in short, provides mostly ‘external’ motivation for our relationship with God and each other, rather than the internal motivation provided by agape love. What took me many years to shake off was the way the Christian religion established that love and conforming are like two sides of the same coin. In other words, if you love you will be conforming (i.e. to rules) and therefore conforming to rules equals loving. Once you buy into this rationale, you can’t miss the natural progression here to trusting that when you are conforming others to rules (to someone’s idea of the right ‘knowledge of good and evil’) then you are supposedly loving them!
      However, clearly the reason we have the problem we have re-God and our relationship with him and each other since Adam is the product of God having established that ‘love and freedom’ are two sides of the same coin – and obviously, that reality has the very real potential downside, as history attests, that such freedom to choose to love allows us to also choose to not love i.e. choose to do harm/ evil in your relationship with God, your neighbour or yourself. Recognising that ‘love and freedom’ are two sides of the same coin so to speak and that this was the only explanation, based on Scripture, for mankind’s situation and also the only explanation for the way God is going about personally dealing with our situation set me free from ‘striving’ to love God, others and myself according to some external standard so to speak, to simply learning from Jesus how to gift forgiveness, acceptance and care which is often expressed through my gifting kindness, respect and generosity – which of course has me fulfilling our saviours ‘law of love’ i.e. the new commandment/instruction to love one another as I have loved you…..

      • Yep, I agree Ken. Once someone is conforming to rules as a demonstration of love, I see Matthew 23:15 sadly coming true again:

        “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!

    • Jim, Ken, Mitchell: you guys have touched on some things that have become key to me. When you are overrun by that loving presence, that person, many things begin to unfold to your heart. Some realizations come early, while others take some time and experience to become real. For me, one of the first was that God ‘is not who I thought he was.’ So who he really is is gradually unfolding in my heart.

      There is still a lot of counterfeit stuff swimming around in my experience. I still think I can show love to people, when the truth is that I am acting to manipulate, or cause an outcome. (causing more damage than I know) I only recently became aware that I was doing this, and how ‘uprightly’ cruel I have been to many people I have left in my wake. Honesty. Novel concept. The realization that I am broken, and that everyone else on the planet is also. And the kneejerk reaction we all have to try and ‘fix’ ourselves and our environment.

      None of us can ‘fix’ ourselves. More honesty. No one seeks after God. We don’t know we need to, and if we did, we wouldn’t know how. (If I hadn’t been ambushed by him, I wouldn’t be writing this.) I cannot create any kind of eternal spiritual reality. Everything, I mean everything does come from and has to come from and always will come from him. I am in a state of perpetual neediness. What I need most is LIFE. Without life I’m just a pile of dust. I’m talking about God-breathed into me LIFE. (the epitome of eternal spiritual reality, every other reality is a subset of this one)

      So to me, learning to live loved is all about learning to RECEIVE his life every minute of every day, and to revel in it like a pig in mud. The reason I don’t know how to love well is because I don’t know how to receive well, or even that my deepest need is to receive. I don’t know how to continuously eat from the LIFE tree, because there’s so much other fruit around that looks good. “FIX” is only ever temporary. Continuous receiving is the transformation. LIFE also makes agape love real.

      The more you eat from the LIFE tree, the more you realize that it is a one-sided coin?!! Transformation moves you in only one direction. There is no dichotomy, no polarity. “No agendas, no schedule, nothing I need to accomplish for God, just being.” More important to me now: no striving, no pursuing, less resisting. From my point-of-view, it’s more about being open, continuing to listen, and receiving. “What are you giving me today?” That’s a flow from the person, the source of life.

      • Hey Craig, love your honesty here brother. I know when I came to the end of myself and started being brutally honest to God about many of the same things, somehow he used that honesty to start opening my heart and eyes to the truth about himself i.e. what sort of person he really is – which turned out to be nothing like the person the Christian religion had built up in my heart and mind – particularly as I had, like many others, suffered (in my early years) the same sort of damage to my understanding of who God really is as a person that Bible-based cults (and many other cultic groups) are notorious for.
        In some ways, it almost appears that honesty and truth are like two sides to the same coin…. only kidding mate – as we all know parables, metaphors, analogies , allegory et cetera all have limitations in conveying a message or truth.
        For those struggling with what appears to be a snails pace in their growing in confidence of their heavenly dad’s love/favour, both towards them and working in them to bear fruit in love for themselves and others in all life circumstances, I would heartily recommend Wayne’s “In Season” which I only read a couple of months ago myself (a free download thanks to Wayne’s ongoing generosity there) though I immediately bought two physical copies, one of which was snapped up by my wife who is deeply appreciating it and the other is already on loan to another couple who were keen to read a copy due to my recommendations as they are struggling with similar questions to your own.

      • Sorry Craig (and Wayne), I just realised that I got “In Season” mixed up with Wayne’s “The Naked Church” which I had downloaded for free. I remember now that I purchased a download of “In Season” from Amazon (Kindle) then purchased the two hard copies from Amazon also due to lower freight costs to Australia …..

      • Yes, thanks for being vulnerable, Craig!
        I can relate to the manipulating to create an outcome; I have done this myself. Ugh!!! Much of the time I did it out of such fear of what I thought might happen, and trying to not have my fear come true. The more I did this, the more I hurt others and sabotaged myself. Like you Craig, I have become more aware of these ways driven by shame and insecurity and fear. Also, like you I don’t know how to fully stop the knee jerk reaction that gets triggered in me…I can not fix myself! I have participated in many things (counseling, codependency support groups, mens group, theophostic, reading, journaling, other support group, etc…) – and I suppose it has been helpful somehow – but not as quickly as I have wanted. I think the greatest way I have found to enter into something better is to be vulnerable and weak and authentic with safe and loving people. This has paradoxically helped diffuse the power these broken places have had over me little by little… And as I receive kindness and love and patience in the middle of my pain and brokenness I think there is something growing in me… I am not experiencing this with God as much as I am people. Two years ago I would have said I trust God, but not people; but now I have greater trust in people, but not God. Maybe this will change at some point, but for now God seems silent.

        I like this quote from Brené Brown, Rising Strong:
        “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

  2. Receiving God’s forgiveness is the method by which attainment of a right relationship with God is revealed in us. Faith is the price we pay for entrance into God’s family but forgiveness is the act of God which accepts our faith as the price of admission. And when we receive God’s forgiveness we encounter the Father in truth and for real. This real and actual experience is life changing and causes us to desire to share the experience and help others to find it in themselves. In order to do that we must forgive others as we forgive ourselves, if for nothing more than for our being human. This is the act of loving others that is so inspiring. Therefore, loving is forgiving and forgiving is loving and that is the reality of ethical living. Nice and kind are not the same. Being loving in this Godly way means confrontation with the lack of gracefulness in those who need forgiveness. Overlooking their error to be nice and kind is not Jesus like. He confronted error and it got him hung on a cross. And nobody was more loving or forgiving than he.

  3. I really appreciate your discussions. One thing that concerns me, though, are the definitions we are using. Legalistic Christianity is infamous for building a belief system on a foundation of assumptive premises. Who says Christianity is based on forgiveness? If so, what actually IS forgiveness?

    The point I am making is that somehow everything Christian addresses nothing beyond surface issues. Everything is actually about behaviors and appearances, and ultimately, concealment. (you never confess to anything you don’t want anyone to know about) So all these things get defined from the ‘surface perspective’: apology, forgiveness, repentance, the confession treadmill, etc. (there are MANY more) Changes and ‘fixes’ are never permanent, seldom genuine. No matter how good the doctor is, or effective the treatment, eventually that body will die.

    All my life I have been taught to graft ‘good branches’ into the old tree in hopes of getting good fruit. (surface theology) What I really need is for something to reach in deep enough to uproot the bad tree. God’s love goes deep! God’s wrath goes deep! We’re not talking temporary fixes here! We’re talking eternal and permanent. Planting in me an oak of righteousness.

    The redemption and reconciliation achieved for me by the cross & resurrection transforms me at my very core. If it did not go that deep it would be useless for me. I am unaware of the specifics of God’s transformation of me, but I know it is happening, partly because I’m getting to know him, but also because I notice a difference. My reactions and responses to pressures are different, but the biggest difference is my perspective.

    Example of perspective: Father forgives me because I am broken and I am helpless to do anything about it. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” I forgive my brother because I realize that I’m every bit as broken as he is. (redefinition of forgiveness from ‘transformation perspective’)

    Truth be told, I trespass against God and others many times every day, yet about 99% of the time I’m unaware of it. But that’s what broken people do. What is the remedy for that part? I am reassured that Father is transforming that 99%. (I’m less broken today than yesterday!) And I have a new appreciation for his involvement in everyone else’s 99%. But what is that to me? Ha!

  4. Salvation isn’t about forgiveness; it’s about rebirth.

    All whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life…before the foundation of the world…have hearts who want God. They are the sheep of His pasture.

    All mankind was “born and shapen in iniquity.” Why? Because we are the seed of the first Adam. We inherited our father’s sin nature. Jesus came as the last Adam—without the sin nature. We inherit His righteous nature through rebirth—literally/spiritually we become new creations in Jesus Christ.

    Christ’s death on the cross was the death of death for all hearts who desire God. His resurrection was the life of Life for those same hearts. Jesus, the last Adam, becomes our father by re-birthing us to Life. Death is conquered by Life when we are reborn as new creations—a new earth—in Jesus Christ.

    Adam chose death over life; all mankind was condemned. The Law was given until the Law of righteousness and grace was put into force through the cross and resurrection. All hearts who choose God and His grace choose the Tree of Life… This Tree is once again available through salvation, which eternally establishes a new relationship—God becomes our Father instead of our judge. The redeemed have instant fellowship with God through Life—the Root of that relationship.

    Paul’s Pharisaical teaching was steeped in the Law. That was all he knew. When the scales dropped from his eyes, the word, scales, was code word for the Judge vs. Grace. The scales of justice fell from his understanding. He no longer saw God as his judge. He newly saw Him through the eyes of grace by His Spirit.

    We are not “forgiven” at salvation; we are reborn into Life. The old nature is gone; we inherit our new nature from the last Adam.

  5. Lots of good questions Craig. Thanks. Just know God loves you, blah, blah, blah and all that.

    How’s that for shallow?

    The answer is in the questions we ask, in my view. We ask questions so we can know God. What is forgiveness? What is repentance? What is salvation? What is sin? You tell us. We tell you. What difference does it make? When we ask questions like this, we discover that even the answers are hollow. They are unfulfilling, That is true because the truth is only discoverable through personal experience. I tell you of my personal experience in discovering these answers so you will know it can be done, not so you will know what to do. Truth is something we experience deep in our soul or else it is simply a conversation piece.

    The Love of God, the wrath of God. . .those are man’s terms. Love is the expression of reality, true reality. It isn’t something God does, it is something he is. Knowing him is real or it is imitation. And being imitators of reality only makes us imitators. Being real makes us real. If we want to know how to do that, we must ask God and believe him when he answers. If we don’t hear him we aren’t listening hard enough. That is depth. You must have heard it said, Jesus meets us at our point of greatest need. How true, but that is the only place he meets us. So to hear his voice we must become very comfortable with being in great need of him. The more self satisfied we are the less we hear. The act of studying to acquire knowledge of God makes us puffy and self satisfied. Our being comfortable with ourselves is the great preventer of spirit awareness. Learn to give up, give in and be forgivable. Seek the welfare of others above ourselves and spend our lives being real with others, that is the process. The deeper our personal reality the deeper our love for others.

    Humans have this silly idea that if we learn of God we can know him. That is silly because God is spirit and we are not. Learning doesn’t make us spiritual. Experiencing God does; it makes us more aware of him and by that we can choose to be like him in character, or as you say, righteous. But if we approach this with the idea that we already know what it is that we are looking for, that we are adequate to evaluate his responses because we have studied the Bible or some such, so that when we find it we will be sure it is right and proper, we will never actually come to terms with God. Being spirit, he isn’t like anything we can conceive. We aren’t spirits. We are flesh and blood. He is so different that we can only know him by personal experience and even that doesn’t make things as clear as our human minds wish.

    So the idea here is we must willingly “unknow” what we know of Him. We must let him forgive our self-fulfilled-ness so he can fill us back up with his life. We must practice the process, as Brother Andrew has said. Living Godly is a way of life not a what we know. We mustn’t let knowing God get in the way of experiencing him. God doesn’t need us to know about him, he needs us to know about us in relation to him.

  6. Even though the conversation was 5 weeks ago, I wish I could have joined in. It covered so much ground: the cross, experiences like Renee’s, and about ‘worship’. I could relate very much to all of it.

    A couple of things that stuck out to me: “It’s so easy to turn on a heart like Renee’s just because the externals don’t fit with the paradigm.” That is so true. I remember doing that a lot in the past (and probably still do): having a paradigm about God where everything fit together so perfectly, I dismissed anything and anyone that would be a ‘chink in the armor’ to my thinking, and I dismissed people so quickly I didn’t even realize I was doing it … And now I’ve found myself on the receiving end of that same treatment.

    Something else that stuck out to me was a question Brad mentioned a couple of times: “Why would you trade ‘that’ for ‘that’?” and the response “it’s probably because they haven’t experienced ‘that'” … It’s so sad, I find myself relating to God through rules and human effort when I lose sight of the reality of God’s life, and becomes hard to distinguish the counterfeit from the real thing. I liked Brad’s question because it seemed to be saying: As God does His work in us, it doesn’t have to be hard to see the difference between the real and the fake.

  7. I never challenged the main flow of Christendom ; but as an unfilled new born what I was getting out of the same book everyone else was reading led me into a deeper realistic walk, in so far as within my own religious constructs and assumptions. Once I hit that wall and digressed, God had to remove me from it to allow me to see Him (and that was the way it was said to me that day).
    Over a decade later, outcomes, agendas, dead works, etc are of no interest to me and I trust that Father has me right were I need to be, for now. Getting caught up in what everyone else might mean or attempt to convey, or I misread or incorrectly interpret, isn’t where life is at, so I don’t waste time with sorting it all out anymore. He’s the author and the finisher, I’ll kick back and lean into him and the relationship he has built by love. I certainly hope that the main point of this personal conversation we are privileged to listen in on isn’t lost on the dynamics of some antics, semantics or religious counter culture which we have inherited and conveyed throughout Christendom for centuries.
    Jim George’s assessment is correct! You will never know an author through a book he wrote over and above an actual relationship which can be established. Regardless of our brokenness, misplaced humanity or whatever the trending term may be, God will and does reveal himself to lead us freely into a relationship with him. It’s not my job to dispense judgment or measure against terminologies, which all come from the wrong tree anyway. If one can get one thing from the Bible, get that this relationship can be had by and through God’s love alone. Instead of seeking knowledge about God, let’s seek to let our hearts be one. If he’s finished the necessary component to reconnect me to him, do I really care if it’s tomatoe or tamotoe? Eat what’s sat before you and let his spirit lead you into the dance, and relax a little.

  8. Love the conversation!

    I especially like Jims comments, that we can’t know love or who Father is, unless we experience him for ourselves! That’s very true for me!

    Just a note for Wayne, about the comment that money is the main driver for institutions to continue in their evil ways 😉

    I have no doubt that money is a factor for most churches, the pastor must be paid, he must therefore bow to the needs of the flock, ( even if what they need is an ass whooping 😉

    It’s only a secondary factor though, I came from a very exclusive faction which had no pastor or leadership, everyone was on a level playing field. Speaking and doing positions were voted on by ballot, and no one got any money, all volunteer!
    The amount of rules and standards and expectations and conformity and judgement of others I still have found no equal! It would make most evangelical churches look like an unstructured playground!

    I’m not actually sure why this is so, maybe it was because there was no leadership, a set of rules was developed called a ‘constitution’ and no one could do anything outside these rules. I’m sure they made sense to the first generation who made them up, but by the third generation, it was just tradition and peer pressure which kept these heavy and suffocating rules in place.
    Maybe also because they didn’t believe in salvation, it really piled on the performance thing. Only if we were ‘worthy’ would we get into the kingdom! Except no one knew what ‘worthy’ was!

    On the other end of the scale, I spent a year meeting with a wonderful few family’s in a relaxed and comfortable fellowship, and still by the end the tradition and expectation made us leave. No money involved, just one senior member who had to do things a certain way, and was perfectly happy with the few traditions that had followed them in from the church they left.

    Thoroughly enjoyed our time with them though! Definitely a Father prompt!

    I think maybe it’s a deep thing in human nature to follow patterns, rather than allow the adventure of following Fathers prompts.

    Or maybe while we aren’t hearing from Father, we aren’t prepared to stick it out, until we do, and fall back to routines as a substitute.

    Still trying to digest all the comments on forgiveness and love, it’s either quite complicated, or too simple for me to grasp right now! 🙂

  9. Reading other’s comments and thinking about forgiveness and love and intimacy with God, I think of the titles and roles and names there are for God. Then I imagine what my title and role and name would be in relationship to His. For example:

    Judge – Defendant
    Savior – victim/rescued
    Lord – servant
    Forgiver – offender
    Master – slave
    Provider – Needy/charity
    Physician – patient/sick
    Father – Son/Daughter
    Friend – Friend
    Immanuel – Friend Who sticks closer than a brother
    Abba – Daddy’s boy/Daddy’s girl

    The words from top to bottom of this list grow in intimacy and vulnerability. So, even though I can be forever grateful for someone rescuing me from calamity, that does not necessarily mean I will have an intimate and vulnerable relationship filled with love with my savior. However, I would have an intimate and vulnerable relationship with a Father, Friend, and Abba… These relational dynamics would likely fill my heart with more consistent love and peace and joy, than a moment of being rescued from certain death and punishment. I do not think I am living in such a reality of intimacy with God, but it sounds good!

  10. Just a thought, not finished listening yet. Is it possible that the legal aspect of our salvation forgiveness and redemption are more about our relationship with the enemy than our relationship with the father. In other words, when the Accuser whispers in my ear with guilt and shame, I can rebuke that with 100 percent authority because of the legal redemption by Jesus on the cross.

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