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*Special thanks to Shila and Pragna for their encouragement and inspiration*

It Depends?

Out of curiosity I recently searched on-line in a quest to find out just how many denominations Christianity claims to encompass under its umbrella of inclusion. I was already keenly aware of the more obviously advertised brands but was frankly shocked by my findings on two levels, the second far more disturbing than the first.

Please pardon my gullibility in the matter but I innocently assumed perhaps fifty as a maximum and thought that as likely extreme. Common sense dictated to me that there simply couldn’t be “more” than “fifty” reasons to vehemently disagree with each other. Well, I was very wrong in discovering that common sense its far from common! I stand corrected with lesson learned.

While the numbers were surprisingly high the mathematical variances were even more so! The totals of those attempting to answer the query offered a multitude of differing conclusions with this explanation for their fluctuations? What being a “Christian” means is entirely dependent on who you ask! Really, I thought?

That took my proverbial breath away for an instant as I wondered if this was what Jesus had in mind while hanging on His cross? A faith that “depends”? Rather fragile don’t you think when considering the cost it took to establish it.

I don’t expect the world to understand but could it be that we, while confusing ourselves in an attempt to acquire some synthetic sense of self-importance over others, have confused them?

Labels Become Restrictive Coffins

True story for the sake of clarification: Many years ago I was innocently asked in a social setting by a lovely young lady what church I attended. After complying with her curiosity I was labelled as a Pentecostal. “So that means you are a Pentecostal” she said, as if updating me of a relevant fact she thought I needed to know. Again, all innocently expressed.

I being a lifelong, dyed in the wool, non-conformist, preferring instead to be a pro-transformist, responded, “No”. “But you have to be if you go to a Pentecostal church”, she demanded, as the young lady walked right into the crux of the problematic matter. “No, No, No, my young friend. What I “have to be” is a disciple of Jesus. The label can never super-cede the importance of the calling. If it does then it’s an idle”, I replied.

It took a few moments to register but I think she understood in the end. You see, the label and the calling are two very different dynamics and should not be pre-supposed as being one in the same. We should all know this as true: You can be a spiritually dead “church goer” regardless of the church you attend. You can have memorized your denominational routine by heart and yet not know Christ. That’s a condition far more prevalent than we like to admit!

It’s Not True!

The fact of the matter is this: The meaning of Christian does not depend on who you ask unless the Who you ask is Jesus. Jesus is not, has never been, nor ever will be, some religious icon that man gets to play with like a heavenly adjustable doll or a meal that we get to “season to taste”. He’s not sub-servient to us and our whims. That’s totally ridiculous!

With my on-line question sufficiently, while no doubt shockingly answered, I was left with this chilling thought to ponder: Have we in word and deed presented our Lord Jesus to the world as “The Pearl Of Great Price” which He is, or “Cheap Costume Jewelry” which He isn’t.

If the content of our walk with God is immersed in the latter, we walk in an illusion promoted by the reasonable facsimile of religion! Folks, a “reasonable facsimile” is not real! It’s no more than a counterfeit version of real.

Matthew 13 - 45 & 46: (Jesus speaking) Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found ONE of GREAT VALUE he went away and sold everything he had and bought it”.

Folks, we are the merchant in the scripture. The question for us is profoundly this: What are we shopping for? Is it religion which is dirt cheap thus worthless, or reality which is worth whatever the cost. Are we shopping for trinkets to adorn our necks, dashboards, and rear view mirrors, or are we holding out for the much higher “real thing”.

So with all due respect to my on-line sources, and although it may seem so from their lens of perspective, the truth is this: No, the meaning of “Christian” does not depend on who you ask because the created does not get to dictate to the Creator! When it thinks it does it’s lost its mind! That is beyond backwards thinking and likely the main reason for all the confusion.

It Can’t Love You Back

Religion with its cold divisive self-promoting labels truly has nothing to offer that is worthy of applause. Have you ever noticed that religion always has a smelly distasteful competitiveness permeating at its core. It is meant to entice you into thinking you are “just a little better” than everyone else. It’s a dangerous diabolical substance to play with folks! You can love “it”, but it cannot love you back! It has no heart!

On the other hand, reality has nothing but heart! One that pulsates vibrantly from our Creator with an immeasurably lavished and tangible love to be experienced and shared as we sojourn on planet earth.

Reality in Christ is always all-inclusive and never exclusive. “For God so loved THE WORLD” is heavens unchangeable refrain. Religion cannot tolerate that truth. It’s simply not set up to do so with its boasted “exclusivity of supremacy” component. That’s why: Jesus is not a religion!!

It’s A Blinding Spirit

Throughout the centuries Jesus has been politicized, institutionalized, and denominationalized by us to the extreme and interestingly He’s none of it. That’s what we are! He reigns high above it all as the altogether lovely One of heaven and to be experienced as such. To know Him within the context of religion is “to not” truly know Him at all.

How strange our behavior becomes when self-interest is at the forefront of our thinking. Jesus encountered this very thing during His three years of ministry. The religious folks hated Him as He spotlighted their inconsistences! Jesus called them hypocrites for good reason. They were, as is common amongst religious folks!

While conversing with His disciples Jesus infused these cautionary words of spiritual protection into their hearts which no doubt continue to be applicable for us today as individuals in Christ.

Matthew 16 - 6: “BE CAREFUL”, Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the YEAST of the Pharisees and Sadducees”. Simply stated: The “yeast” being the spirit of religion.

He Could Have - Had He Wanted to

Now think about this for a sobering moment. If Jesus were religious or desired to the leader of a religion, He could have easily had it all right there and then. No fuss and no muss!

He simply brings Rome to its knees, gets hailed the King Of The Jews, and done! That is exactly what His followers wanted. No crucifixion. No horrific abuse. No suffering while being mocked. No sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Instead of a crown of thorns, Jesus could have had a crown of “costume jewelry”! It was there for the taking if He had wanted it! But He didn’t want it at all.

Jesus, considered us as having far more worth than “costume jewelry” and chose to wear the thorns that would pave the way for our by grace redemption! That is as “real” as it gets folks. Jesus now asks us if we would mercifully stop trying to squeeze His radiant magnificent-ness into the labelled boxes of our pitifully limiting mindsets of religiosity.

Who Do You Say I Am?

There are profound cross-road moments in the bible. Those times when heaven reaches in and kisses the heart of man with an illuminating, crystal clear, revelation.

Matthew 16 - 13 & 14: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist” others say Elisha” and still others Jerimiah or one of the prophets”. To note: All dead people assumed reincarnated in Christ. Isn’t it amazing that apart from the names of “dead people” we’re still having the same conversation over 2,000 years later with the same confusion!

“Who do people say I am”, is still being asked by Jesus with the strangest of responses all things considered. One of those “all things” is the bible where He told us exactly who He is and who He isn’t! It’s not a mystery anymore as it was to those of His day. So my question is to all of us: Do we really need thousands of denominations with their own versions, to figure it out? Well, let’s go to the horse’s mouth and hear what Peter has to say.

Same chapter in Matthew versus 15 to 17: “But what about you”, who do you say I am? Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah the son of the living God”. Jesus replied, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my Father in heaven”.

“You are the Messiah/the Christ, the Son of the living God”. That is what Peter said as heaven gave him the answer. Pretty clear don’t you think? Now, who do we say He is? Do we align our words with Peter’s, or have we crafted some of our own and in doing so made Christ less than who He is? As previously mentioned: If the latter is true we’ve crafted an illusion and confused the world in the process!

Isn’t it interesting that those who would follow the post-assention Jesus, never debated Peter’s words of divine clarification. At least not until those amazing originals had left for heaven, most being executed for their faith .

Vibrant reality in Christ’s followers reigned until the second century when the aforementioned “leaven of the Pharisees”, would creep its way into the story as a toxic controlling component. They call it the “dark ages” for a reason folks. The second century was only the beginning of a very long “lights out” spiritual period in history.

Back in the day, Peter’s words were the defining center piece of faith in the resurrected Christ with all else perceived as trivial by comparison. Further of interest these originals had no bible to squabble over, it hadn’t been written yet. Therefore no big bible colleges rooted in divisive denominationalism as their center piece of importance and justification for existence.

Woops, there’s that non-conformist attitude of mine rearing its head again with apologies. I do wonder though: Are we to be producing disciples or cloned parrots who will tow the party line for a cracker regardless of what that “party line” might be? It’s just a thought that crosses my mind periodically. You know, I’m not actually an anti-denominationalist. I’m an anti-separatist!

I think Jesus was of the same mind when He commanded us to love one another as our marking of identification to the world as being His. He said: “By this everyone will know you are Mine”. Perhaps another reason they don’t or at the very least find it easy to dismiss our genuineness, thus Christ’s? For better or worse, we do represent Jesus to the world. When we are perceived as irrelevant, so is Jesus. That would be sadly wrong but as I see it, they are simply taking their cues from us!

So, Why All The Confusion?

Let’s first back up two thousand years to a time the descriptive “Christian” didn’t exist. Jesus said: “I am the way” thus his followers were simply but accurately inscribed “followers of the way”. It wasn’t vague nor complicated but it was challenging in that everything Jesus taught was diametrically opposite to that of the world’s way of thinking.

You see, the spirit of religion doesn’t call for transformity but rather conformity. Jesus stated the exact opposite would be true of His followers! They would be the radically different ones duplicating the radicalism of Christ himself! Folks, there has never been one more radical than Jesus to ever walk this earth! He turned “religion” on its ear with a disregard for its rules and regulations. He broke them all to express a “higher right” and He did so without ever raising a hand of violence to anyone. He loved radically, all the way to His cross.

Why in the world would we now think He would like to be portrayed as a “religious leader” or worse a “religion”. Jesus was neither in His complete uniqueness and we have not been given heavenly license to change a single thing in regards to His nature or identity! God said: “This is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased”.

He could have added for our much needed clarification: No need to adjust the One in whom I’m well pleased! Perhaps followed with this daunting “caution”: Be careful Who you are adjusting! Avoid seasoning Him to taste!

These followers of Christ weren’t queried: “Which version of the way”? No, there was only one version and only one way! The curious on-lookers peering into our faith for the first time would have had many questions no doubt, but not that one. Even they knew Who was at the center of the “following”, He being a resurrected Christ and not a frivolous label of idolatry type worship! He being a Who and not a what would set His followers apart as being obviously different in the most glorious of ways! They didn’t fit in they stood out radiantly, in the face of life threatening persecution.

What we are experiencing today is “reverse evolution of reality based faith”. More sizzle, less steak. More pretending less contending. More consuming, less being consumed. More versions, less clarity! Less clarity more confusion!! Folks, over the past two thousand years we have gone backwards into the very thing Jesus came to abolish. Religion and the spirit that indwells it!

Church Broke Out In The Dairy Section

A touch of spiritual levity into our chat if I may. This actually happened folks! It’s just one of the hundreds of encounters I could share but this one has a little humor in it I thought you’d enjoy reading.

The bible is directional and prompts us to walk in the Spirit of Christ’s indwelling reality. Being a “reality junkie” I don’t need much encouragement. Furthermore, I don’t know any other way to do this walk with Jesus thing but on the water.

As I see it: If that’s what Jesus is offering, why would I want to settle for sitting in the boat and watch Peter experience all the excitement. I don’t want to live on someone else’s stories. I want my own and that has been promised by heaven if I will voluntarily make myself available daily for God’s use. Quite an invitation and way too delicious for my radical side to turn down!

If my memory serves me correctly it was a mid-afternoon Friday when I recently headed north on foot to the grocery store to pick up some milk. I’m now two years into retirement so I have learned how to do a slow stroll. That took a little while to embrace as having value, seeing as I was a courier for thirty five years. I’ve noticed the main benefit of going slower. You seem to be much more aware of the blessed potential of your immediate surroundings.

Upon arriving at my destination I voiced my usual hello’s to those I have grown to know over the years. Employees of the grocery store, all wonderful people in their own right.

I made my way to the “dairy section” and interestingly crossed paths with some ladies that I’d never met before who were hovering in the same area. It seemed obvious they hadn’t arrived together as confirmed by the one asking the other: “So how have you been?”

Now to be clear: I was not eavesdropping. I just have very sensitive ears! The lady’s response to her friends question? “Just thanking Jesus for His faithful goodness! And cue the “bold old guy”.

It’s been said that I can be a little overtly bold at times but to be honest it has served me well. No broken noses or bruises to show for it, and the experiences have been truly wonderful as God imparts His spiritual treats to my life that I so love!

As if being invited into their chat I queried: “Excuse me ladies, is that my best friend’s name I just heard mentioned? You know the name that’s above every other name?”

What do you all think? Too bold? Well it was too late to adjust, I was already in up to my neck. These ladies would either call security and have me removed from the store or we were going to have church in the dairy section, folks!

“You heard right my brother”, was their response, and testimony time between my sisters and I broke out in a blaze of glory! I can’t tell you what the passers-by thought but we had a hoot and weren’t quiet in doing so. If we had been a little closer to the ice cream I am sure it would have melted!

You see, there’s just something about “the name of Jesus” that ignites a person’s spirit when it’s immersed in His reality. Religion can’t offer me that. Religion would call that inappropriate behavior considering the location.

But Jesus said: “Where two or three are gathered together in His name, He would be in their midst”. He did not specify where or when and has always been faithful to supply His presence. You see, it’s His inclusion that transforms these simple times into “events”!

To add a little extra intrigue to the story, my newly discovered family members were non-white. My friends, you’d be amazed how quickly I can get “non-white” when given the opportunity by God to do so! I find that when standing next to those who don’t look like me, I tend to look far less anemic!

A real life story to hopefully bring a smile to your hearts but also to point out: Reality in Jesus is experiential not intellectual. It’s improvisational to the extreme which makes life truly exciting to the same extreme.

Religion offers me merely a beige lifestyle while Jesus offers me all the colors of the rainbow in amazingly florescent and panoramic technicolor! But I must abandon religiosities’ mindsets to sojourn there. The leaven of the Pharisees is simply not applicable in such a divine atmosphere.

It’s the spirit I must never embrace as if having any substance to satisfy my spiritual palate. We belong on the water. We were re-born to be water walkers. To break out of the “status quo” as Jesus did into the place where He resides. A place that has no limits, high above it all!

When you attempt to make Jesus into a religion you only hurt yourself in the process! He won’t co-operate nor should He. You will end up eating crumbs off the floor when heavenly manna is to be your portion and provision! What label could possibly be worth missing out on that? And the hard part to ingest? We would be doing so by choice not necessity!

To be clear and in closing: I am not for a second suggesting church attendance is irrelevant or wrong. That would be totally incorrect. I’m simply saying if the Kool-Aid is tasting a little funny you have the God given right to check out its content. If the label is getting far more attention than Jesus you might want to consider relocating your devoted attendance. I think that’s only fair.

My Ministry - Our Ministry

Mark 6 - 38 & 41: “How many loaves do you have He asked?” “Go and see”. When they found out they said, “Five and two fish”. Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to His disciples to DISTRIBUTE to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all”. ( Five thousand plus, were fed that day! )

In the biblical story of the “fishes and loaves”, I so clearly see three dynamics in play to achieve the desired completion of the heavenly orchestrated equation. The young boy GAVE what little he had, our Lord then MULTIPLIED it, and the disciples then DISTRIBUTED it.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus, after the multiplying didn’t say, “Come and get it”. What He did say was, “Everyone find a place to sit on the grass and I’ll bring it to you, through my own”. Folks, He loves to involve us. He loves to make us matter! We are blessed beyond measure to be written into, His stories! Just imagine: Invited by Him to participate in His plans for others!

From the inception of the idea of writing books to be made available to “all freely”, there has never been a moment when I haven’t been aware of its ministry context. I could easily be seen as the “young boy” in the story. Jesus has most certainly multiplied my meager offering to Him.

So may I invite and encourage you to be a distributor of that which He has multiplied, thereby elevating “My Ministry” into “Our Ministry”, thus completing “His Ministry”. There’s something about that idea that sounds “perfect” to my heart!

We all have friends, family, work mates, school mates, etc. I’ve included a simple directional on “how to find” the “fishes and loaves”. Please feel free to share “what you eat” with others. You have no idea where it could lead to! That young boy’s mother could never have dreamed, what that little lunch she had prepared for her son on that fateful morning, would produce!

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