Today I thought I’d share a few thoughts that have been running through my head concerning the difference between truly being led by the Lord in contrast with that occasional inner compulsion that sometimes is tempted to resist the Lord’s leading if it seems to conflict with a long held stance you’ve held. To use a familiar example, I could point to those individuals that many of us might regard as “religious” (in a negative context). In other words, individuals who will sometimes resist truth for the sake of holding on to their comfortable religious traditions. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day are one such example.
Matthew 15:2-3 – (NLT) “Why do Your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?”
But let me now put this in a personal context with a little bit different application… There is, for example, this confidence I have in what I believe is right and, to the best of my ability, I endeavor not to compromise on that conviction… Then, there seem to be these moments when God intervenes and speaks to my heart and prompts me to do something that, at first, appears to be out of character with that long-held conviction or opinion I’ve been faithful too.
One example of what I’m referring to would be like standing on the conviction that you want nothing more to do with organized religion, but then the Lord speaks to your heart to attend a service somewhere or, even more difficult, get involved with a group of Christians (in a “church” environment) and contribute your time and resources. I know that, for me, this would be an incredible challenge in one regard because I am so done with church as usual. Nothing about that environment appeals to me anymore… but even in this frame of conviction, the Lord has spoken to my heart on occasion to attend a service somewhere or contribute to some cause that an institutional church is sponsoring. When I feel that prompting, it sets off a massive internal conflict of emotions. The kind of things I find myself complaining to the Lord about might sound a little like this:
- “How can I get involved in this way Lord? I don’t do church anymore! If I do get involved with these people, it will be like I’m going back on all my convictions and all that I have made such an effort to detach myself from. It will look like I am suddenly condoning it! I hate religion Lord! In fact Lord, it is because of the good things you’ve done in my heart that I hate it so much now. You set me free from it, so how could I even affiliate myself with it in any way? I hate what religion and man-made church does to people. I hate the Christianese (that I learned so well and which took so long for me to stop leaning on), the static routines and legalism, the hypocrisy, the manipulation, the glorification of titles, the authority trips, the false clergy/laity distinctions, the emphasis on money, the impression of ministry as a profession or vocation rather than simple service among the body, the spiritual and emotional abuses that often occur, the whole routine is disgusting! I have written against this nonsense Lord… How in the world could I now step into that environment again? People would get the wrong idea, wouldn’t they? Church folks would think I had ‘come back to the fold,’ so to speak, and was now out of rebellion and finally stopped backsliding… Ugh Lord, I don’t want to deal with all that junk… how can I allow them to think that? What good can possibly come of it? And, the people who are well-acquainted with the kinds of things I talk about on my site, including my close friends and family who know how adamant I am about the distraction religion presents against real life relationship with Christ that is NOT dependant on church buildings and programs, they will think I have changed my mind and am now compromising on my own statements.”
As I look over my own comments, it’s not too difficult to see a fair portion of my concern is still over “what other people will think” and that’s the first thing that stands out to me. My response to the prompting of the Lord should be, “Who cares what anyone thinks! What does my Master and closest Friend desire of me? That’s all I care about!” And this is where I come to the title of my blog today; the importance of being led over being “right”.
Geesh, sometimes I feel like a pastor trying to figure out clever titles for his sermons with these blog posts (hahaha)… I actually wasn’t going to blog about this topic today because I was sitting here, thinking to myself, most people probably already understand this in their heart of hearts… but then I thought, that’s kind of the point of a blog isn’t it? To share what’s on your mind and heart and let others draw from it what they will. I’m sharing this because it is from the heart and I have felt the Lord prompt me to do things at times that are certainly out of the ordinary for me and definitely uncomfortable, not to mention challenging to my opinions and my concerns about how people might view me. In the end, God usually wins the argument. I say usually because, surprise surprise, I sometimes miss His leading and fail to recognize His voice or yield effectively. When I realize my error, I repent and ask for His grace to help me follow through next time.
On a couple of occasions over the last several weeks I have attended a couple services at area churches. Many of you know that I have blogged about occasions where I was invited to a service and attended, but I’m talking about something a little different here; the sense that God himself was actually prompting me to go someplace. Not to necessarily “join” them or even attend regularly, but to be there for whatever duration or purpose the Lord has for me (and my wife).
The decision to obey this kind of prompting has not always been an easy one, for reasons as I’ve just shared. I have long felt that the answer to the problem of churchianity is not to ask God to fix what He never ordained, but to rather answer His call to COME OUT unto Him. I still believe this and I still believe this is the Lord’s will… But I also believe that God calls people to serve Him in many capacities and for different seasons. Missionaries sometimes go to foreign lands to share the Gospel (and often this is not the “comfortable” choice for them). Even the early Christians went to the Temple courtyards to gather with their fellow unsaved Jewish brethren and share Jesus with them. Certainly it’s possible for God to call some people, at the appropriate time and condition of heart, to go to “church” for the sake of some greater plan of His. This would not be an endorsement by God of “church”, but mere obedience to His call by a willing servant. It also shows that God equally loves every soul trapped in religion, even enough to send in someone that He has pulled out of it and set free from it to go back in.
I know that when I was still in church world, there were individuals that I know God sent in to minister, but whom themselves did not appear to be stained with same religious junk everyone else around was stained with. One such man was my youth pastor for a season (eventually he was removed from that position by the leaders of the church). Years later I had some incredible conversations with him about how God used him in my life as such an amazing instrument of God’s love and this brother also shared with me about his own struggle with religion and churchianity, but he followed where God led him and I am so thankful to God this man obeyed. Words cannot express how thankful I am for this brother in Jesus, who remains my friend to this day.
There is an obvious tendency among us out here in “out-of-church land” to fall into the “us vs. them” mentality because we have been set free from religion… and, to a point, there is a truth in this. Even the Scripture calls US to come out from among THEM.
2 Corinthians 6:17-18 (GNB) – And so the Lord says, “You must leave them and separate yourselves from them. Have nothing to do with what is unclean, and I will accept you. I will be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
The fact we have to remember though is that even Jesus said there will always be tares among the wheat and we must be cautious not to damage those who are truly His followers despite the presence of those who are not.
Matthew 13:24-30 (GNB) – Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, ‘Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?’ He said unto them, ‘An enemy hath done this.’ The servants said unto him, ‘Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
Keeping the focus that we are first servants of God should enable us to serve others, even if the environment is not a comfortable one. Like the brother I talked about earlier who befriended me and showed God’s love to me as a young man IN CHURCH despite his annoyance with many aspects of religion, because he kept his focus on God’s will and the walk of love in Christ, my life was benefited by it in a great way! I had no idea at the time that he wasn’t as steeped in religion as I was and it didn’t matter. God used him at a critical stage of my journey (and, presumably, his). It’s hard to understand the reason God does things the way He does at times, but it’s always amazing to look back in hindsight and see how good He has been all along. How much better it is when we can look back and see ourselves as a willing disciple that followed Him through those times rather than making ourselves an obstacle because of stubbornness, pride or ignorance. God’s grace is so amazing!
It’s also very easy for those of us who have complaints about the errors of church world to forget that some of those listening to us speak are, presumably, hoping we have a better example to offer. The most immediate example some are likely going to see is how we react to them when the subject of “church” comes up. What example is it if they only see us angry about the problems and always talking about the error, but never see a manifestation of God’s genuine love in action. We don’t have to “do church” or get caught up in all of that in order to reveal that God’s love rules our hearts. Often it is merely the attitude in which we approach situations and people. If we are confident in our freedom, then why should we ever act threatened when the ones we already know disagree with us come at us with accusations, complaints and arrogant attitudes?
Granted this is easier said than done… Not just because of our flesh sometimes getting the better of us, but also because we know the price we paid to get free. Many of us well remember the anguish we felt when separated from our friends and family members who thought we were crazy for stepping away from church world and/or various religious mindsets. We know the frustration of those same individuals who always seem to look at us as though we are backslidden rebels because we don’t swallow everything the organized church system dishes out to the masses. We remember how long we were captive to a different mindset and the incredible joy and release we felt when God peeled the blinders off our eyes and set us free. Speaking for myself, I know that when the prospect of participating in religion of any kind comes up, I feel like I automatically shift into protective mode; I don’t want to ever find myself under that same deception and religious manipulation again. It’s like I feel like shouting, “Everyone just back off! Don’t trample on my freedom! Keep your religious bondage to yourself!” That’s what I sometimes feel like saying, but I never say it… well… almost never. 😉
I’m sure many of you can think of many more reasons besides the few I have shared. When all of this emotion and conviction is connected to our freedom in Christ (which is good), it can be easy sometimes to feel like anyone who questions our resolve is attacking that freedom and trying to take it from us. And there is a part of this where it is important to guard the good God has done in our lives and not let that good be spoken evil of, butyou’ve probably already noticed some of those outside the church system who have gone to various extremes; while leaving behind one legalism, they merely embrace new legalisms like (forgive me if this offends anyone) making sure you say the name of God correctly, making sure women don’t speak in gatherings and cover their heads, men should always have their hair cut short, you must meet on “the Lord’s Day” every week “in a home” and eat vegetarian food. Others get hung up on legalisms like making sure you don’t listen to rock music or cellebrate holidays because they are from pagan origins and it might pollute your soul… Don’t have any nice possessions because real Christians are poor, etc. And it’s not so much that any of these things are necessarily wrong in every case, if an individual has a sincere, personal conviction about them, but it’s when they take over their life and end up getting imposed on everyone around them. That religious smugness carries right over from churchishness to out-of-churchishness and is just as stinky! It seems we find “that which we believe is RIGHT” but we continue to fail in love and essentially beat the crap out of everyone who doesn’t see it the same way.
In our “rightness” sometimes our conviction becomes so hardened in us that we even push out the voice of the Spirit. This is what I’m talking about! This is what we have to be careful about. I will be honest with you in telling you that I have come to disregard “church” so much that it’s sometimes very hard to separate the people from the error they get caught up in (just like I once did). Just to be blunt and honest for a second here… One of the big little things that really annoy me is when a institutional church pastor walks up to me and introduces himself as Pastor so-and-so… I feel like saying, “Oh, is Pastor your first name or something? Am I supposed to just assume you have a pastoral gift because you flaunt the title in front of me and expect me to see you as a separate class higher than me instead of a simply brother in Jesus? Who do you think you are?!!!” Ok, ok… yeah, it’s a peeve, and the problem is it often immediately sets me against a person, even if they had every positive (not to mention innocent) intention in their approach and truly love the Lord, despite the fact that they presently remain ignorant to the damage their accepted traditions tend to cause.
God is teaching me to love and to walk in grace. He is teaching me to not feel threatened when I run into disagreeable folks (or even folks that aren’t necessarily disagreeable but just whom I disagree with -hehe). Sometimes my flesh still gets the better of me, but I’m winning this battle more often than losing it now. I am beginning to see people differently; separating them from the disgusting vice of religion that seeks to overtake them. God’s love is more powerful than religion and therefore is not threatened by religion. I am learning that I can truly love someone, even if they are fully-engaged in the smelliest religious activity thinkable! After all God fully engaged Himself in humanity through Jesus coming to earth, despite our grossly depraved condition. Jesus could have put His nose up in the air, like the Pharisees, and talked about right He was… Instead, He demonstrated it by expressing God’s love in action – even when those He showed that love to put Him to death literally! Most of all, He found it more important to be LED by His Father, regardless of how that appeared to everyone else. So we find Jesus hanging out in the Temple and the Synagogues at times, even though He knew that He was greater than the Temple and the Temple’s significance had reached its end. Yes, He called followers, but He also went to the meeting places to speak to the people (and to a lot of places He didn’t have to go if He didn’t want to). Love compelled him and moved Him. And even though He knew that the most religious among the people had big problems with Him and His doctrine and eventually would set out to put Him out of their misery, He still went to them and shared God’s love and truth with them.
At no time did Jesus succumb to their religious mindset. Everyone observing knew He was different and didn’t fit that mold, yet He was there among them, loving them, speaking to them, sharing meals with them, doing good for them, even commending them when He recognized faith in action. Sometimes His disciples nagged at Him that what He was doing didn’t seem right and might offend some folks, but He said (John 5:30), “I can’t do anything on my own. As I listen to the Father, I make my judgments. My judgments are right because I don’t try to do what I want but what the one who sent me wants.”
So I find this as an example for myself to follow as well. It’s less important to just do things because I want to appear right and consistent, when I have an even greater sense that God has prompted me to something. In that moment, my conviction must be set aside to embrace His conviction! The cool thing is, because I love Him, His conviction quickly becomes my own as well. But it’s still a process of growth to allow this to become as “second nature”.
Over the past several weeks, the Lord has put it on my heart to visit a couple of churches with my wife. One day I will share more of this story (because there is really a lot I could share), but the important thing I want to convey today is that I want to follow Christ accordingly as He leads me, not just according to what I think is right. Indeed conviction and conscience are very important. God gives us a path to follow and a truth to hold on to and we should stay the course… However, we simply must not neglect that “extra sense”; the prompting of the Holy Spirit, which at times may compel us beyond what is typical or comfortable.
Here is the best part of all: When I obey that still small voice, I see God work real miracles! Things seem to happen that I never could have imagined would have happened otherwise. It’s those little rewards that encourage me to want to be even more sensitive to the Spirit’s voice. I don’t ever want to get stuck in the rut that some of these out-of-church extremists fall into; where they are so concerned with being right (to the point where they come across angry, bitter, contentious, combative, arrogant and resistant to genuine people) that they can’t allow the Lord to lead His people HIMSELF. I am no one’s guru and neither are you! We are simply disciples of the same Master. That means there needs to be lots of grace to go around because none of us are gonna get it right 100% of the time.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (Darby) – For we see now through a dim window obscurely, but then face to face; now I know partially, but then I shall know according as I also have been known. And now abide faith, hope, love; these three things; and the greater of these is love.
The point of this blog post today is not to marginalize the corruptness of organized religion. God forbid anyone would get that notion. The point is to submit yourselves wholly to the authority of Christ your Lord and let your confidence be in HIS leading. I’m probably not the only person who has struggled with the issue of going back to church services on occasion (or even for an extended period of time) when just about everything in me resists the notion in general. My heart with this website has always been to encourage believers to put their trust wholly in Jesus and to live freely in Him. This site has never been directly about “how to do church”. I, personally, do not even think this is a issue that needs to be bothered with. Church is who we are in Christ, not where we go or what we do.
That having been said, some do have the present conviction that organizing meetings under the label of “church” is important. To me it is less important to argue with them than it is to find common ground in Christ Jesus and concentrate on that detail (if at all possible… and if it’s not, then I’ll shake the dust off my feet and move on). Yes, I will speak freely about my convictions regarding religion and it is for those who can relate and those who have ears to hear what the Spirit may be saying. But I love my brothers and sisters in Christ who attend churches just as much as those who don’t. It’s sometimes harder to find common ground to relate on when people keep throwing church in the middle of every discussion instead of simply Jesus, but that need not change my resolve to submit my heart to the leading of the Spirit and the ability to love every person God brings into my life. Since Christ died for me, I don’t have the luxury of nit-picking those I would rather love, for that is not love at all. For God to effectively make use of my life, I must effectively yield it to Him. The glory of this is that the more I listen and obey, the easier it is to hear Him speak and the more rewarding it is to see how He works all things together for my good and allows me the joy of seeing His hand touch other lives in addition to my own.
I want to be led by Jesus, not just “right”. I don’t want to just be some guy that clings to his convictions and puts his foot down and who gives the opposition what for. I want to be the guy that others see God’s love in manifestation through. I want to humble myself and be obedient to my heavenly Father so that He can speak as He wills without me getting in the way. I want to see people glorify HIM because He is good and faithful and I don’t want to miss seeing Him accomplish this just because He chose to do it in a way that was maybe uncomfortable to me at one time or another. I want to be a friend of sinners and saints, of the religious and the free. In my decision to stand free from any sect, I want to keep my heart right so that I may serve everyone whom God calls me to serve… even if that means I darken the door of a church on occasion.
If you feel the Lord prompting your heart in a particular direction, FOLLOW HIM! Try not to get anxious about what others will think. Concern yourselves with only what HE thinks. Remember, if you are free from religion you remain free even though there are times when you will serve those who do not understand or agree with your freedom. Our freedom depends on Christ, not on anyone or anything else. So stand firm in this freedom! Let love rule your heart! Forgive those who misunderstand you in the process and keep moving forward in the truth God reveals to your heart. It’s nice to be right… It’s even nicer to be led because that’s what it means to truly walk in righteousness.
Well, that’s what’s been on my heart this week… in a nutshell (hahaha)… Love you guys! God bless!!!!