Tag Archives: discipleship

Cancer in the Body of Believers in Jesus

Cancer begins as a few cells rapidly multiply without the purpose-driven orderly structure that controls the growth of healthy cells elsewhere in the body.  These rapidly multiplying, disorderly cancer cells form masses of tissue we call “tumors” and may eventually spread throughout the body to generate out-of-control cell-production that proves contrary to the purpose of the host organism.  Once the cancerous cells populate too much of the host organism, death looms as the original life-purpose of the organism is lost amid the disorderly purposelessness of the cancer cells.   Cancer is characterized by a disconnect between the main organism’s life-oriented purpose and the process of cell production and tissue regeneration.  Some people say that cancerous tumors “grow.”  But if the term “growth” applies only to orderly cell production that aligns with the life-orientation and purpose of the main, overarching organism then cancerous tissues do not grow.  They merely expand in a disorderly fashion that mimics growth but does not contribute to life.  Once the main organism’s health declines enough to bring about death, even the cancer cells die. They have sabotaged their host to their own detriment.

If Jesus’ institutionalized Church is Christ’s body of believers on Earth then what might be the cancer that is causing the Church’s decline and bringing the body of believers nearer and nearer to disintegration and ultimately death?  I suggest that the cancer can be spotted in every idea and resulting practice that disconnects the Church from the life-oriented purpose God gave it through Jesus.  Ideas and practices not in alignment with the God-given purpose of the Church are generating cancerous cell-production throughout the Church that mimics growth but does not contribute to the life of the Church as God defines that life.  These forms of illusory “growth” are sabotaging the Church and contributing not to its life but rather to its decline.

I believe that God is working through paths of faith other than the one associated with Jesus. Be that as it may, I’m devoted to the path of faith along which Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to lead all who believe in him.  As a believer in Jesus, I seek to hear the leading of the Spirit within my heart and to heed its guidance and honor the wisdom it transmits to faith-oriented believers in Jesus.  I accept without qualification Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.  John 16:13.  That is why this article is devoted to spotting the cancerous ideas and practices at work within Christ’s Church rather than focused upon the possible shortcomings of other paths of faith.  Until the Church of Jesus Christ has submitted itself to healing of all cancerous ideas and practices at work within it, it is in no position to point out the possible ills of other paths of faith. The Church must allow the Holy Spirit to point out and remove logs from its own eyes before it tries to point out splinters in the vision of other paths of faith.

To whatever extent any other path of faith may be failing to adhere to God’s purpose and plan for that path of faith, it is the responsibility of faithful adherents to that path to assess those shortcomings and take steps to rectify them from within the borders of that faith as a follower of that faith. Within the body of believers in Jesus we have our hands full addressing the ills of Christ’s institutionalized Church and cannot afford to cast our eyes upon other religions or paths of faith until we’ve resolved all of our own issues between us and God.  That is to say that the fact that I take up the task of identifying some of the Church’s blind spots does not imply that there are none present in other paths of faith.  It means only that I adhere to the principle of the Fourth Step of the 12-steps and suggest that believers in Jesus must focus on taking our own inventories and repent of our own ill-conceived ideas and sabotaging practices that have led to the decline of the Church at large. Once we’ve humbly submitted to the Holy Spirit’s removal of the logs from our own eyes, we can seek God’s guidance about what to do next with our clarified vision.  In the meantime, to honor Jesus as the head of our body of believers, we need to refrain from violating his principle of not judging others.

In this article I do not pretend to present an exhaustive list of the ideas and practices rampant within Christ’s Church that are proving to be cancerous.  I intend here only to highlight a few so as to contribute to a dialogue within the Church that may lead the Church, its leaders and its members of all stripes and flavors to humility, repentance and healing.  I believe that the process God calls us to engage in is akin to the repentance that Jonah’s message to Nineveh invoked.  Ideas and practices not aligned with God’s holy purpose for the body of believers in Jesus are “wickedness” (failure to adhere to holiness) in the eyes of God whether or not they qualify as “wicked” under popular definitions of the populace at large. If God’s people who are called by His name desire with all their hearts to see the world healed of all forms of violence and oppression and the resulting harm, we must heed God’s definition of “wickedness” in order to humble ourselves before God and participate fully in the conditions that permit healing to flow from God unlimitedly.

In saying that I have identified a few of the Church’s misalignments with Jesus’ directions to his followers is not to say that I mention them in order of significance or priority or have cited the most important ones.  To contribute to the dialogue about Church-wide humility, repentance and healing, I cite only these for now:

  1. The error of judging people of other faiths, as mentioned above. We are not qualified to assess from beyond the borders of any other path of faith how that path of faith is best lived. That is an internal affair as to which responsibility rests with those who claim that path of faith
  2.  The error of citing quantifiable statistics as signs of growth while measures of quality are neglected. When quantity is valued over quality, the Church has dropped the ball that Jesus handed off to the Church. Throughout the Scriptures referenced by Jesus and the Church are many passages indicating that God is more concerned about the quality of life people are experiencing than about the quantity of people who are claiming to believe in Him. God has often preferred to rely upon a few people to accomplish His goals than to rely upon great numbers to prove His significance. In short, God is not concerned with social approval ratings as if God is a politician or Earthly monarch. God does not put His mind upon the things of man. God puts His mind upon the things of God whether or not humankind approves of God’s values, ideas or priorities. For the Church to express God’s orientation, the Church will have to stop catering to social approval, no longer seek to amass quantities of members or money and focus on God’s values, ideas and priorities. To measure the success of the Church by numbers is to measure by the same measurements attributed to newly released movies or TV shows. Audience ratings are not symptoms of the health of the Church except to the extent that high popularity may be a symptom of poor health. Ratings measure the cancerous illusory “growth” and call it admirable. Not so in God’s eyes.
  3. The error of measuring the quality of a believer’s faithfulness to Jesus by the financial prosperity or social popularity of his or her lifestyle. By his example, Jesus revealed the true measures of a believer’s life while he was on Earth. He was neither financially prosperous nor popular. In fact, he allowed himself to walk through life with few possessions and admonished his followers to do likewise. He traveled light but he did not travel far. He remained focused on a relatively small territory of personal concern rather than roam throughout the wider territory using means of transportation then available to him. Today the industrial/technological world has developed means of transportation that enable humans to travel the globe. The Internet empowers our minds to travel everywhere at any time. The practice of traveling widely is promoted by commercialism and mass media as “good.” Good for what? Good for profit-making by purveyors of travel-related services, including the marketing industry. Good for allowing those with wealth to congregate as mutual admirers around the globe and fancy themselves to be participants in a diversely multicultural world when in fact all they are doing is sharing their escapist activities and self-indulgences with other members of their economic class while remaining indifferent to the plight of other classes. I suggest that God disagrees with the standards of the world on this point and prefers that believers focus on local concerns in-depth, moving among all economic classes and other indices of human diversity as Jesus did, rather than spread themselves so thin as to have little significant, long-term impact on anything anywhere. Jesus impacted the lives he touched in significant, life-transforming ways (called “miracles”) and predicted that those who were his true disciples would do likewise, even having greater significance and impact than he had. Jesus was able to perform miracles because he developed relationships locally and allowed the least of these in his locality to have access to him personally. Although he participated in discussions with elites and allowed himself to be interviewed from time to time by representatives of the media of his day, he did not make a priority of doing so. Instead he remained directly accessible to the masses and most importantly to individuals who separated themselves from the masses to approach him one on one. In interacting with Jesus’ energy personally people were brought to faith and offered opportunities to act upon their faith to receive miracles of healing. The Church’s mass-media-influenced values and priorities today turn Jesus’ values and priorities upside down.
  4. The error of catering to worldly powers rather than serving those that worldly powers look down upon, exploit and oppress. The Church has become an apologist for those who wield social power instead of being an advocate for those the powerful disdain. Nowhere in Jesus’ model of life to which he called his disciples did he serve in the role of sycophant to the elites or aristocrats of his time. Moses set captives free. Jesus set captives free. For the Church now to cater to those who hold powerless people in captivity is an anathema to the Father who loves all of us. The modern world is awash with captives of all kinds. Many workers around the world are held captive in one way or another by their employment’s meager returns and harsh conditions. The worldwide trade in sex-for-money in all its forms imprisons participants on all sides of these transactions within walls of secrecy and shame. To help build prisons and justify their existence rather than to visit prisoners and help them never to return to prison ignores one of Jesus’ most strident quality control standards for his followers. To fail to invest its all in helping the least of these to take up lifestyles of freedom and no longer risk going to prison, being homeless or exploited or going without the necessities of life, including personal dignity and the capacity to provide for one’s children, indicts the modern Church.

Christians believe that God’s nature and priorities were expressed in a physical body through Jesus and that Jesus intends the Church as an institution to continue to express God’s nature and priorities.  After starting out so well in Jesus’ life, it may be hard to understand how Christianity drifted so far afield from the truth he promised would set us free.  But it’s vital that we admit the drift and correct the errors if ever we want to allow the truth to set us free from mistakes humans made in the past.  Self-examination, repentance, correction of errors and granting and receiving of forgiveness are not the ego’s talents because these disciplines to which Jesus calls us are expedited by humility and resisted by pride.  So long as spokespersons for Jesus filter their information through the ego and water down their ideas and their experiences – their principles and their practices – to suit their egos no significant correction will occur and the power of forgiveness, once so radically illustrated by Jesus, will remain stillborn.

It is essential to rise free of and beyond the ego to correct the errors that the ego has so diligently preserved.  Overcoming the ego is what the passages in Chapter 3 of Revelations beginning with “He who overcomes shall” refer to.  By the power of diligent self-examination, change of mind and forgiveness of errors, we can join together to resurrect the Church from the tomb into which popular opinion has shoved it by crying out for the crucifixion, censorship and silence of minority members of the Church who have called the Church to account for its harm.  It is a mistake to focus on errors as guilt-and-shame-ladened “sins.”  To encrust our errors with barnacles of guilt and shame only makes them all the more difficult to acknowledge and shed.  Let’s stop adding to the difficulties of the task of resurrecting the Church and simply let Jesus call us forth from the grave as he once summonsed Lazarus, as a friend he missed and wanted to see alive again.  We are each Jesus’ friend, no matter how far we may have gone astray.  He has not forsaken us.  We need no longer forsake him.  By God’s grace, we have the power to redeem our error-prone lives and live lives renewed by forgiveness and mercy and overflowing with liberty and justice for all.

The Church’s healing from spiritual cancer awaits us as individuals who accept healing on behalf of the whole.  The healing begins one by one and gains momentum as the healed ones gather as a healed body of believers.  Healed twos become healed threes, fours and so forth until the heart-count becomes too numerous to quantify.  There is no need to count because once we are healed we are all one.  When Jesus calls you to join the healing movement by submitting yourself to its heart-cleansing flow, remember that you as an individual do not need the permission of anyone else to participate in the healing. All you need to do to respond to Jesus’ call to be healed is to declare with all your heart, mind, body and soul, “I can, sir,” in the face of the Church’s cancer.  As we each do our part as Jesus did, God will do the rest.

© Art Nicol 2015

 

While the Unrepentant Church Defies Jesus’ Authority Believers Can Still Be Faithful Followers

Despite the best efforts of teachers of divisive doctrine who have risen to falsely represent Jesus throughout the centuries since Jesus walked the earth, Jesus continues to this day to espouse the same all-inclusive, non-divisive plan for building the Kingdom of God on earth that he announced originally.  He foresaw what was necessary and put it into motion. He has not changed his mind.  To carry out his plan it is his followers (“us”) who need to change our minds from being faithful to the Church in some Church-institutionalized format to being faithful to Jesus in his non-institutionalized format. Anyone who seeks to modify Jesus’ plan simply is defying his authority and failing to acknowledge him as Lord as well as Savior.

Many have been the modifiers and defiers in the time since Emperor Constantine first declared himself to be a believer in Jesus and insisted that leaders of the Church defy Jesus’ authority and instead knuckle under to the Roman Emperor’s authority.  The first council of Church fathers who gathered by Emperor Constantine’s command in 325 CE at Nicaea formulated a conformist creed that sought to impose on all believers a uniform set of beliefs akin to the uniformity of thinking Caesar demanded of his subjects.  In publishing this creed, the Church fathers adopted the political pattern of the Roman Empire and rendered unto Caesar what was God’s.  From this centuries-old error the Church has not yet repented nor recovered. The Church remains a monument to institutionalized cowardice-induced error, a whitewashed sepulcher filled with dead men’s boneheaded ideas instead of the light of Christ.  Until Church leaders humble themselves before Jesus as the only head of the Church, believers have the option of acknowledging Jesus as Lord independent of the failure of Church leadership to do so.

Since 325 CE, Church leaders have continued to adopt Caesar’s pattern of political oppression and repress all other voices of diversity and disagreement within the body of believers. Each fragment of the Church designated different voices to repress but all repress some voices to make repression and censorship their universally accepted norm.  In ancient times, those who did not adopt the Nicaean Creed or disagreed with the conformist Church fathers suffered and were silenced by the Church.  Caesar lacked the capacity to tolerate open dialogue about the distribution of power among men and about the purposes of power when wielded by men (let alone by women!).  Although Jesus cautioned against seeking power over others and advised that the greatest in the Kingdom would humble themselves to serve others as he had done, Caesar demanded absolute authority over others and claimed to be a god.  Caesar was in no way servant of anyone.  The Church fathers who conspired together to appease Caesar bowed to his claims and substituted him for Jesus and God within the Church.  By doing so, Church leaders subservient not to Jesus but to Caesar abandoned their responsibility for teaching believers how to share and wield God’s power of love in the best interests of the human race as stewards of God’s power and servants of God’s people.  To hide this blasphemy from common people who believed in Jesus, the Church fathers assumed the role of the Holy Spirit and like blind men led their congregations downward and stray into ditches rather than allow the Holy Spirit to lead them upward in God’s way into all truth.  In this manner, truth became the enemy of the Church fathers.  Truth became unknown to any but the most daring members of the congregations and to those who fled into regions beyond the reach of Church authority.

Those who dared to listen to the Holy Spirit and not limit their thinking to ideas authorized by the Church fathers, disagreed with the Church fathers’ politically expedient and cowardly positions. The Church branded them as “heretics” for sharing ideas of leadership in the direction the Holy Spirit led.  That label was accurate, because “heretic” means “one who thinks for himself” instead of knuckling under to false leaders.  However, the Church fathers added another element to that definition by declaring that one who thinks for himself or herself apart from the Church fathers – especially anyone who heard the Spirit accurately as revealing the errors of the Church Fathers – was guilty of offending God, as if offending them and Caesar automatically equated to offending God.  And they took another step in declaring that anyone whom they declared offended God could not be forgiven even by a gracious, forgiving God and had to be punished severely, ultimately put to death if he or she were unwilling to be silenced in any other way.

In taking these regressive steps in abusing their roles as leaders, Church fathers took upon themselves the role of declaring who offended God and what consequences the offenders they identified should suffer.  Their pattern was not Jesus’ pattern of forgiveness and reconciliation but was instead the pattern of Judaism, the Old Testament Jehovah and the New Testament Caesar – a pattern of unforgiveness and retribution.  This was the very pattern that had led Jewish leaders to conspire with Roman leaders to crucify Jesus.  When Jesus’ pattern of forgiveness and peace among men did not suit their political ends and threatened to be inconvenient for those who preferred to appease Caesar to preserve their comfortable lifestyles as Caesar’s cronies, the Church fathers dispensed with Jesus as an authority figure in the Church and substituted themselves in his place.  In this manner, the Church fathers insured that believers would be conformed to the world Caesar wanted to rule over and not be transformed by a renewal of their minds.  And they insured that believers who conformed to the world about prove the popularity of the polluted and polluting will of Caesar and relegate to obscurity the perfect and perfecting will of God.  That is why Caesar’s will that we be as unholy, selfish, arrogant and ignorant of love as ego is has long prevailed in the world despite Jesus’ will that we all become holy as God is holy.  If the Church as spokesperson for Jesus will not speak up honestly in his behalf, how will the truth of Jesus’ living presence on Earth be shared?  It will be shared only as the Holy Spirit whispers in the hearts of those who doubt the validity of the Church’s stands and confirms their doubts about the Church.  Ironically doubters of Church authority now have the best chance of learning the truth that sets us free.

Thus it came to be that the Church was indeed founded upon the example of Peter who denied Jesus when his personal safety was threatened.  When Roman persecution threatened the safety of Church leaders, they ran for protection under the cover of conformity to Caesar’s demands.  Cowardice rather than courage became the Church’s norm in the face of opportunities to stand up to injustices generated by abuse of power.  With rare exceptions such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s standing up to Hitler, modern Church leaders adhere to the ancient norm of supposedly benign cowardice today. Modern politics models itself after Roman intolerance for courageous freedom of thought and expression and the Church knuckles under as if God were powerless in comparison to popular opinion.  Church leaders justify their cowardice as necessary to keep the collection baskets full, their salaries fully funded and attendance numbers high.  They are willing to betray Jesus and those who look to them for trustworthy spiritual guidance in order to maintain their opportunities to rub shoulders with the rich and famous and collect retirement checks at the end of their illustrious careers as cowardly frauds.

Almost 1700 years have passed since the Nicaean Creed was first published and imposed as the conformist thought system of the Church.  Subsequent councils have revised the Church’s creeds but have not repudiated the Church’s choice to knuckle under to Caesar and substitute political and social conformity for God’s supreme authority.  For centuries this unrepentant attitude towards God has been passed down from one generation to the next leaving Church-trusting followers of Jesus with a diluted, inaccurate vision of God. Only those who dare to defy the Church’s politically expedient stands and listen to the Holy Spirit directly become aware of God’s true nature and position on issues central to life.

By and large, as predicted in Revelation 3:16, Jesus has spit the Church out of his mouth as lukewarm, rendered neither hot nor cold by its compromising ways.  The Church has failed to align itself radically and unequivocally with Jesus and will continue to fail to do so until it repudiates and thoroughly roots out the doctrine of political appeasement that the Church fathers adopted at Nicaea.  The Church must muster the courage instead to stand for all-inclusive peace, justice, mercy, forgiveness and grace at any cost to the Church’s relationship with politicians and no longer stand for appeasement at any cost to the Church’s relationship with Jesus.  If ever Jesus is to build his Church upon the Rock that the disciple Peter represented, the Peters within the Church will have to repent of their habits of political expediency and learn to but their minds upon the things of God and not upon the things of man, as Jesus admonished the first Peter to do.  They will have to step out of the comfort zones of their political boats, walk on the stormy waters of life and learn the self-disciplines needed to “serve a risen Savior who is in the world today” and no longer serve their ravenous egos over whom the world holds too much sway. It is time for Church leaders, individually if not yet collectively, to decide whom they serve, for they cannot serve two masters.  Each must decide for himself or herself who is the Master he or she serves.  Each must learn what it truly means to sing and live “What a friend we have in Jesus” as well as “O, Jesus, I have promised” with Jesus being truly honored as Master not merely trusted as Friend.

The issue yet to be decided righteously is the identity of the Chief Authority in Christ’s Church.  Who reigns supreme as head of the body of believers – Caesar and his political successors in humanity’s various forms of government or Jesus who has and needs no successor because he lives beyond death?  Who among us desires to honor God and Jesus no matter how the egos of Caesar and his minions inside and outside of the Church may take offense?  We need not wait until the Church leaders repent of their errors.  We can repent, seek God’s face, pray, humble ourselves to experience God’s dominion beyond ego’s dominion and forsake the ways of the world in favor of the most excellent way of Jesus. (See 2 Chronicles 7:14, Micah 6:8 and Matthew 6:33 for interlocking Biblical guidance on this point.) In doing so, we will make ourselves available to enter into oneness with the Father as Jesus did and set a flood of healing power free to sweep across all nations of the world.  By that flooding power of God’s presence, we will do the works Jesus did and greater things shall we do, just as Jesus foresaw.  It is up to each of us to stop inhibiting the flow of God’s healing grace by our adherence to socially conformist ways.  We must dare to be radically alive as Jesus sets before us his model of life! Jesus did not wait for the permission of religious leaders of his day to step forth as God’s child and we need no wait for permission either.  To defy the Church’s mediocre, lukewarm leadership is either to reject Jesus entirely or to embrace Jesus as the Holy-Spirit-fired leader he is and become Holy-Spirit-fired ourselves.  To stand with Church leadership in this day of suffering and loss is to stand not on compassionate holy ground but on cold-hearted, stony ground. Jesus was moved by compassion to work miracles.  What moves you to what work?  Does money move you to work for a paycheck and that’s it?

Perhaps if we show the way, the truth and the life, Church leaders of modern, technologically overdeveloped and spiritually underdeveloped societies will join us by following our example. Or they may continue to follow the example of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time on earth and declare that the long-awaited Messiah has not yet come.  That may be their choice but it need not be yours or mine because we are free to be heretics who faithfully invite the Holy Spirit to liberate us from chains forged of our appetites for social approval.  It is by this appetite that Church leaders have enslaved us to conformity rather than trained us to be transformed by the power of Divine Love.  To be liberated from the mind-and-heart-enslaving chains of social approval, we need not flee along the Underground Railroad.  We escape to freedom within God’s kingdom by seeking first His/Her Presence within our hearts and allowing the Holy Spirit to add there all the love, grace, wisdom, courage and power that we ever need.

As God comes to reign within our hearts, perfect Love will cast out all fears.  As clouds of fear and doubt fade from our minds at the Sonrise of our renewed lives, we will see God’s nature with increasing clarity and never again wander into ditches under the Church’s fear-befuddled blindness.  Those who Jesus sets free are free indeed – free to live and move and have our being in the Holy One for Whom Jesus is Ambassador Supreme on Earth.  For believers in Jesus nothing else really matters.

Imagine the chagrin of Church leaders if they were to open the doors of their bogus churches and no one showed up because all their former sheep-like congregants heard and heeded the Holy Spirit’s voice within their hearts and no longer went astray.  Sheep who learn to hear and heed their Master Shepherd’s voice do not need compromising Church leaders to show them the Most Excellent Way Jesus reveals. They already know it by heart and remain faithfully within its gracefully disciplined and elegantly anointed pathway by using the GPS guidance of the Holy Spirit — the God-Positioning Spirit.

© Art Nicol 2015

 

Social Justice Implications of Jesus’ Prayer for Oneness

Jesus’ prayer for all believers to know oneness with God is recorded in the 17th Chapter of John.  As is always the case with Jesus’ ideas, they interrelate and cannot stand apart from one another.  His thoughts form a complete system of thinking that is rooted in the integrity and holiness of God.  Although we may reasonably challenge the authenticity of some quotes attributed to Jesus, the main point of everything Jesus in fact said and did while present in a body on the Earth was to demonstrate “that you may believe that my Father is in me and I in my Father.” John 10:38.  This core theme of oneness with God, repeated in Chapter 17 of John, echoes throughout Jesus’ ministry as he constantly questions the standards used by others to separate “good” people – who are supposedly worthy of social approval and warm welcome by God and the people of God – from “bad” people who supposedly deserve only disapproval and avoidance or exile if not outright attack – by God and the people of God.  Its implications ripple outward into his call that his followers treat the “least of these” as if they are one with him – so totally identified with him that what a person does to any of them a person does to him.

Jesus’ life, by word and deed, reminds us that we are all one within God and with each other because we are all (each and every one of us!) created in the image and likeness of God, expressing God’s divine nature.  Long ago, a fundamental flaw crept into Christian theology when elitists bent on accumulating power over the masses adopted the concept of “original sin” or “inherent flawedness.”  This transparent lie helped to keep the masses controlled by their constant fear of being condemned by God, for whom the elites conveniently claimed to speak to the terror of the masses who already feared the elites.  The elites equated their neglect and abuse of underlings with the way God saw and treated humanity. How convenient to claim to speak for God to justify one’s own cruelty!  What a complete undoing of Jesus’ ministry to call believers back to the religious self-righteousness of Judaic elitism with which Jesus so fervently contended.

The concept of “original sin” is such an insulting idea in its disparagement of God as Creator that Jesus has to constantly serve as Redeemer to correct it.  We who faithfully struggle with how to relate to God need a Redeemer only because we believe false ideas trumpeted in the marketplace by those who hog the soapboxes and pulpits as socially aggressive personalities who crave social approval so much as to demand that they set the standards for social approval. They are like bullies who take over the clubhouse and declare that they now can ban whomever does not please them.  As their craving for political power as a false substitute for spiritual power corrupts their minds and hearts, these religiously garbed bullies do all they can to lead others astray with them. How else would they have followers if not to lead them to embrace the same errors that bullies embrace to justify their dominance? Those who question such absurdities are colored as heretics and blasphemers and made to serve as martyrs and scapegoats for religio-political heroes/bullies.

Who sets the standards?  Man or God?  Woman or Goddess?  Jesus says that his (and our) heavenly Father* sets the standards. He modeled that truth so radically that he submitted his own lesser will to the greater will of the Father even unto death on the cross so as to demonstrate the power that arises from Oneness lived to its most radical extreme. We are called today to do likewise, but few are willing to endure the merest hint of social disapproval (let alone the public humiliation of a cross-hung criminal) to do so.  We mistakenly keep expecting religio-politicians to approve our “deviations” from their critically acclaimed social norms and flinch when they disapprove instead.  How timid we are compared to Jesus and his original disciples!  As a result we cling to our pathetic powerlessness and declare that the age of miracles has closed when in fact it is our own timidity as disciples that has caused miracles to cease to flow.  We are the cause of the lack of divine healing in the modern world.  We thwart God’s will by failing to surrender our lesser wills entirely to the Father’s will as Jesus modeled.  God’s grace permits us to defy Him but to do so costs our children dearly.  Violence, harm and chronic suffering flood our modern world in place of the outpouring of divine miracles God stands ready, willing and able to set free if only we’d listen and heed His call.  Long ago He said it, “[I]f my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14.  God is entitled to set conditions for our receiving His blessings.  He has clearly stated those conditions in many ways.  Jesus’ example is an entirely integrated and sufficient restatement of all God wants us to know about how to relate to Him.

Why does Jesus direct us towards serving the “least [familiar or approved] of these?”  Why relate to the “stranger” or the “disapproved social outcast?’  Because the more we embrace the stranger in the other person, the more we’ll have opportunities to get to know the stranger in ourselves and accept ourselves more completely too.  And the more we relate to ones who society has labeled as rejects the more we’ll come to accept in ourselves aspects that society would also reject if we were brave enough to reveal them.  We have maintained social approval at the cost of utter honesty about ourselves and our own hidden issues, whatever each of ours may be.  As a result, we’ve also cut ourselves off from the divine love that the Father would have us experience uninhibitedly, without fear or limitation.  We crimp the flow of God’s love by making false idols of social approval in all of its various forms and formats.

It’s all a developmental thing actually.  The human race’s diversity expresses more than mere diversity of surface appearances and actions summed up as “images,” “lifestyles” and “cultures.”  In addition to expressing our demographically measured diversity of gender, age, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, educational level, economic class, veteran status, etc., humanity also expresses our developmental diversity.  We are all arrayed along steps or stages of development as each of us has achieved some steps or stages ahead of others.  With respect to the multifaceted range of human wholeness God designed us to master, most if not all of us are as yet incompletely developed or evolved.  Since we develop in response to our social environments, we tend to develop different facets of our gemlike wholeness on different timetables depending upon the social environments to which we have been exposed so far.  (Do we not sometimes say, “He is a product of his environment?”)

For this reason, when we encounter a “stranger,” he or she is “strange” to a significant degree precisely because he or she has been exposed to different social environments or conditions (families, cultures, etc.) than we have.  We encounter the effects of those different social environments as embodied in and expressed through the “other” or “stranger.” Yet if we were totally honest with ourselves we would say, “There but by the grace of God go I.”  We’d admit that we would be much like the stranger had we endured the social environments and its conditioning through which he or she has evolved.

Each person we meet offers us another opportunity to learn more about ourselves as we might be had we lived a life different from the one we’ve lived so far.  Those opportunities offer insights into our wholeness because they reveal aspects of ourselves that our current or previous social environments may not have mirrored back to us before so powerfully or at all.  And we tend to mirror for the other person in each relationship similarly helpful feedback about himself or herself.  When we mirror feedback consciously without judgment or fault-finding, we are lovingly nurturing each other.  We are learning to walk in each other’s moccasins with empathy and compassion.  The social environment of lovingly nurturing each other with gracious feedback is the kingdom of God Jesus represents and encourages us to enter into – seeking first God’s righteousness and no longer asserting our own (inadequate!) self-righteousness.  That God’s righteousness is infused with grace and mercy is a lesson we need to learn by heart until we master it.  Meeting and serving strangers so as to be their gracious hosts affords us opportunities for such mastery.  Through practice, our mastery of hosting strangers empowers us to rise beyond xenophobia and learn to welcome each supposed “other” as a sister or brother – no longer a stranger at all.  The same benefit to ourselves arises from our treating any of those least approved of by our society as if he or she were Jesus.

Jesus calls us to be servants of those we know and approve of and those we don’t know or approve of because he knows how developmentally immature we are and always will be if we remain trapped within our social-approval bubbles or cocoons.  Unless we explore beyond our bubbles (comfort zones or familiar territory) to find opportunities to serve as Jesus served, we will remain uninvolved and unevolved as well.  Within heavily defended comfort zones based on conformity, discipleship as well as personal maturity stagnates.  The world calls it “arrested development.” Constant rebirth amidst the challenges of diversity is a part of maturation as Jesus’ disciple.  Jesus’ own journey illustrates that one must never pitch a tent or set up a booth in an attempt to preserve the status quo, even one as magnificent at the Mount of Transfiguration.  For us to develop or mature progressively as spiritual beings, humility requires that we admit that we are often ignorant – not stupid but lacking in information and ill-informed.  The brightest genius can still be uninformed or ill-informed.  In humility we listen and learn – and perhaps even laugh at ourselves more readily rather than fume over every little error or non-erroneous nonconformity we or others may adopt. Jesus asks us to listen within our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit.  That’s why he sent the Holy Spirit to be our constant Teacher as we develop greater maturity as his followers.  Even today there are things that many of Jesus’ disciples cannot yet bear to hear, as he long ago foresaw. (See John 16:12.)  Yet we can all become delightfully competent, ever-growing-wiser students of the Truth that sets us free to develop our wholeness more and more completely.

Freedom to be authentic and whole beings of integrity and love as God created us to be is scary – yet it is also the essence of social justice.  It implies letting go of social structures we once depended upon to guide and protect us on our journeys as if social approval were the only purpose of our lives.  In His quest for our highest good, our Father does not intend that those social structures with which we become so familiar during various phases of our development become our imprisoning status quo of traditions or “laws” (rules, roles and rituals).  Like the gantry of a rocket that once enabled the rocket to stand erect and not fall over while it was assembled, equipped and fueled, social structures must at some point release us to soar beyond them.  When that happens we are dependent on our internal guidance systems.

The more our internal guidance systems are attuned to God’s will, spirit, heart and mind the more at peace with God we’ll be as we journey onward in our quest for more elegant mastery, deeper enrichment and more lasting satisfaction as our Father’s servant-sons and -daughters. Those who serve with grace achieve a high orbit from which to envision and embrace the whole of humanity as God’s family of beloved and much favored children.  From that orbit it is increasingly possible to understand and live within the terms of Micah 6:8: “O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Walking humbly with our Father as Jesus did in full surrender of our otherwise socially distorted will is essential to our acting justly as servants of social justice.  As preserved in the King James version of the Bible, we must live by faith to be just: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”  Romans 1:17  Let us dare to live as it is written and as it is revealed over and over again in our hearts as we listen to the Holy Spirit and “[d]o not conform to the pattern of this world, but [are] transformed by the renewing of [our] mind. Then [we] will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

*Today Jesus would have no problem calling the Supreme Parent “Mother” too.  He could not do so earlier due to the social constraints of his historically first human audience with whom such a concept would have sidetracked communications too much. See, John 16:12-15 for Jesus’ explanation of his plan of sequential communication with successive audiences.

Copyright by Art Nicol 2015

Implications of Jesus’ Prayer for Oneness

Jesus’ prayer for all believers to know oneness with God is recorded in the 17th Chapter of John. Its implications ripple outward into his call that his followers treat the “least of these” as if they are one with him.  This core theme of oneness echoes throughout Jesus’ ministry as he constantly questions the standards used by others to separate “good” people who are supposedly worthy of social approval and warm welcome from “bad” people who supposedly deserve only disapproval and avoidance or exile if not outright attack.

We are all one within God and with each other because we are all (each and every one of us!) created in the image and likeness of God, expressing God’s divine nature.  Long ago, a fundamental flaw crept into Christian theology when elitists bent on accumulating power over the masses adopted the concept of “original sin” or “created flawedness.”  This transparent lie helped to keep the masses controlled by their constant fear of being condemned by God, for whom the elites conveniently claimed to speak to the terror of the masses who already feared the elites.  The elites equated their neglect and abuse of underlings with the way God saw and treated humanity. How convenient to claim to speak for God to justify one’s own cruelty!

The concept of “original sin” is such an insulting idea in its disparagement of God as Creator that Jesus has to constantly serve as Redeemer to correct it.  We need a Redeemer only because we believe false ideas trumpeted in the marketplace by those who hog the soapboxes and pulpits as socially aggressive personalities who crave social approval so much as to demand that they set the standards for social approval. As their craving for political power as a false substitute for spiritual power corrupts their minds and hearts, they do all they can to lead others astray with them. Those who question such absurdities are colored as heretics and blasphemers and made to serve as martyrs and scapegoats for religio-political heroes/bullies.

Who sets the standards?  Man or God?  Woman or Goddess?  Jesus says that his (and our) heavenly Father* sets the standards. He modeled that truth so radically that he submitted his own lesser will to the greater will of the Father even unto death on the cross so as to demonstrate the power that arises from Oneness lived to its extreme. We are called today to do likewise, but few are willing to endure the merest hint of social disapproval (let alone the public humiliation of a cross-hung criminal) to do so.  We mistakenly keep expecting religio-politicians to approve our “deviations” from their critically acclaimed social norms and flinch when they disapprove instead.  How timid we are compared to Jesus and his original disciples!

Why does Jesus direct us towards serving the “least [familiar or approved] of these?”  Because the more we embrace the stranger in the other person, the more we’ll have opportunities to get to know the stranger in ourselves and accept ourselves more completely too.  It’s all a developmental thing actually.  The human race’s diversity expresses more than mere diversity of surface appearances and actions summed up as “images,” “lifestyles” and “cultures.”  In addition to demographically measured diversity humanity expresses our developmental diversity, the steps of development each of us has achieved with respect to the multifaceted range of human wholeness God designed us to master.  We develop in response to our social environments.  So, we tend to develop different facets of our gemlike wholeness on different timetables depending upon the social environments to which we have been exposed so far.  (Do we not sometimes say, “He is a product of his environment?”)

For this reason, when we encounter a “stranger,” he or she is “strange” to a significant degree precisely because he or she has been exposed to different social environments or conditions than we have.  We encounter the effects of those different social environments as embodied in and expressed through the “other” or “stranger.” Yet if we were totally honest with ourselves we would say, “There but by the grace of God go I.”  We’d admit that we would be much like the stranger had we endured the social environments through which he or she has evolved.

Each person we meet offers us another opportunity to learn more about ourselves as we might be had we lived a life different from the one we’ve lived so far.  Those opportunities offer insights into our wholeness because they reveal aspects of ourselves that our current or previous social environments may not have mirrored back to us before so powerfully or at all.  And we tend to mirror for the other person in each relationship similarly helpful feedback about himself or herself.  When we mirror feedback consciously without judgment or fault-finding, we are lovingly nurturing each other.  The social environment of lovingly nurturing each other with gracious feedback is the kingdom of God Jesus represents and encourages us to enter into – seeking first God’s righteousness and no longer asserting our own (inadequate!) self-righteousness.  That God’s righteousness is infused with grace and mercy is a lesson we need to learn by heart until we master it.  Meeting and serving strangers so as to be their gracious hosts affords us opportunities for such mastery.  Through practice, our mastery of hosting strangers empowers us to rise beyond xenophobia and learn to welcome each supposed “other” as a sister or brother – no longer a stranger at all.

Jesus calls us to be servants of those we know and those we don’t know because he knows how immature we are and always will be if we remain trapped within our social bubbles or cocoons.  Within heavily defended comfort zones based on conformity, discipleship is moribund. Constant rebirth amidst the challenges of diversity is a part of maturing as a disciple.  Jesus’ own journey illustrates that one must never pitch a tent and try to preserve the status quo, even one as magnificent at the Mount of Transfiguration.  For us to develop or mature progressively as spiritual beings, humility requires that we admit that we are often ignorant – not stupid but lacking in information and ill-informed.  The brightest genius can still be uninformed or ill-informed.  In humility we listen and learn – and perhaps even laugh at ourselves more readily rather than fume over every little error (or non-erroneous nonconformity called an “improvement!”) we or others may make. Jesus asks us to listen within our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit.  That’s why he sent the Holy Spirit to be our constant Teacher as we develop greater maturity as his followers.  Even today there are things that many of Jesus’ disciples cannot yet bear to hear, as he long ago foresaw. (See John 16:12.)  Yet we can all become delightfully competent, ever-growing-wiser students of the Truth that sets us free to development our wholeness more and more completely.

Freedom to be authentic and whole beings of integrity and love as God created us to be is scary.  It implies loss of social structures we once depended upon to guide and protect us on our journeys.  In His quest for our highest good, our Father does not intend that those social structures with which we become so familiar during various phases of our development become our imprisoning status quo of traditions or “laws” (rules, roles and rituals).  Like the gantry of a rocket that once enabled the rocket to stand erect and not fall over while it was assembled, equipped and fueled, social structures must at some point release us to soar beyond them.  When that happens we are dependent on our internal guidance systems. The more our internal guidance systems are attuned to God’s will, spirit, heart and mind the more at peace with God we’ll be as we journey onward in our quest for more elegant mastery, deeper enrichment and more lasting satisfaction as our Father’s servant-sons and -daughters. Those who serve with grace achieve a high orbit from which to envision and embrace the whole of humanity as God’s family of beloved and much favored children.

*Today Jesus would have no problem calling the Supreme Parent “Mother” too.  He could not do so earlier due to the social constraints of his historically first human audience with whom such a concept would have sidetracked communications too much. See, John 16:12-15 for Jesus’ explanation of his plan of sequential communication with successive audiences.

ã Art Nicol 2013