Jesus said…

“This is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
let your name be kept holy.
10         Let your kingdom come.
Let your will be done on earth
as it is done in heaven.
11         Give us our daily bread today.
12         Forgive us as we forgive others.
13         Don’t allow us to be tempted.
Instead, rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13 (God’s Word version)

Short. Simple. To the point. It encapsulates everything that is truly important for us about prayer, and about life.

I would also suggest that it is Jesus’  complete “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) in a nutshell.

I don’t know how novel of an idea this is or isn’t, but I think it’s worth contemplating. Jesus was a masterful teacher and knew how to organize and present his thoughts. He used vivid stories to lock his teachings into the imagination of his hearers. He distilled truth down to its essence. And I think in this case he was providing a simple, memorable framework for prayer that followed the overall structure of his “kingdom manifesto”.


Jesus first starts off by clarifying who his audience is and who is blessed to be included in this new society he is founding. It’s the marginalized, the stepped on, the abused, the misfit, the hassled, etc. These people he called the “salt of the earth” and “light for the world”. These are the people who by their very nature will help preserve and enlighten the world, making it a place with zest and vitality.

Jesus also makes it clear that the whole point of the Torah – the way to the good life in harmony with God’s universe – is something he is upholding; he isn’t missing the real point of the Torah (the ancient euphemism is “abolish the Torah”) but rather he is  “gets the point” (the ancient euphemism is “fulfill the Torah”) and wants people to understand what the real point is. He calls out the Pharisees and scribes; these were the self-assured conservative religious types who insisted their interpretation was right and if you didn’t follow their way then God wasn’t pleased with you. Jesus said that what God deems as “right” is much higher and better than their way; later on he says that his interpretations of the Torah (the ancient euphemism is his “yoke”) is not burdensome, but rather it is very light and easy. The rest of his kingdom manifesto clarifies what he means by that…

Anger vs. Forgiveness & Understanding

“Forgive us as we forgive others.” Jesus’ first stop is the topic of anger. We live in a very angry and violent world these days. Turn on the radio, TV, view the comments section of any news article online or blog… people are angry and unkind. People are condemning, lashing out with words and sometimes worse. Anger is the doorway to murder.

The Buddha once said, “To understand everything is to forgive everything.” So often we are angered by perceived wrongs, furious at what seems to be a totally unjust action toward us. We seldom seek to understand what provoked the action, rarely consider how we might have triggered the response, and hardly ever have a grasp of the back story going on in the offender’s mind.

Jesus recommends we pray to be able to forgive those who wrong us, those who are indebted to us. Don’t harbor grudges, don’t jump to anger and condemnation. This is how things are handled in heaven, and it is how God wants it to be on earth. This change in us and in our civilization is something critically important for us to pray for.

Lust vs. Respect & Restraint

“Don’t allow us to be tempted.” We’re hard-wired with appetites and urges. It’s part of what makes us human. These instincts when observed with some degree of discipline are very good. And thankfully God made them pleasurable.  Eating, sleeping, making love – these are wonderful things to be enjoyed. But like anything else taken to an extreme, when we become their servant rather than their master, we spiral out of control and destroy the shalom God intended.

When we become slaves to our lusts, it is an injustice against nature that then can anger others who feel the brunt of it. People become victims, objects to be used and manipulated, dehumanized. And any hope of long-term relationships built on trust, faithfulness, care, and mutual respect go right out the window. Divorce becomes rampant, and sooner or later becomes “acceptable” in society because of its mere prevalence. But this is not the way of Jesus.

He understands our weakness, our tendency to give in to what is pleasurable and to become its slave… and he encourages us to pray that we will not be tempted to go to these extremes. He also recommends we pray for rescue from “evils that befall us” and from the clutches of  “the evil one” (the active spiritual agent bent on our destruction). God delights to rescue us, and we encouraged to seek his assistance.

More of the Same

What else does this passage of scripture say? Essentially more case studies to apply what we’ve already be taught:

  • Love your enemies. In other words, forgive them.
  • Do good, give, pray, fast, etc. quietly. It’s not about us, it’s about God’s name being kept holy and revered.
  • Don’t worry and don’t strive for riches. Simply trust God for your “daily bread”.
  • Don’t condemn others. Be understanding. Forgive them.
  • Don’t force good things on those who can’t appreciate it – it’s just another form of manipulation.

We’re encouraged to pray – asking, seeking, knocking – realizing that most of this “kingdom prayer” is about “us” (collectively), not merely “me” (individually). Be concerned, sure, but trust God to do the work needed in God’s time. And be on the lookout for when God does indeed open or close a door in your life. Trust God and don’t be afraid to walk through that open door.

God’s will on earth is that we treat one another the way we’d like to be treated. That’s the way it is done in heaven. That is the focal point of this entire prayer. That is what is means for God’s kingdom to “come” – it is here when we are living in the harmony originally intended by our willingness to sacrifice for each others’ good out of love.

And in that sense, this “kingdom prayer” is not only an encapsulation of the entire “kingdom manifesto”, but it’s also an example of Jesus’ “good news” at work. It’s the gospel of the kingdom. It’s good news for the poor, freedom for the captives, sight to the blind… it’s God revered by all, with everyone enjoying the freedom, peace, and restoration in living God’s way. It’s everyone trusting God for their needs and not shackled by worry. It’s people not enslaved to jobs promising riches and self-made freedom, but rather people serving, loving, forgiving, respecting, helping, caring. It’s what Jesus became a ransom for – to rescue us from the evil one… from the evils out there… from the evils within.

And if the Son sets you free… you are free indeed (John 8:36). Go in peace.


The inspiration for this topic may seem gross, but how it applies could be helpful to you…

This morning as I was seated in the bathroom and the normal, natural processes were underway, I thought what an amazing design… I consume food and my body separates it into that which is useful for energy (now and later), maintenance, repair, etc., and then simply sends the rest of to be “eliminated”. When I eat food that is healthier for my system and of better quality, my body is able to use a higher percentage of it, resulting in less waste. When I am unable to consume food or unable to eliminate it, my entire well-being suffers.

Then I contemplated how that same design applies to my thought process and emotional health. I take in the events that occur all around me and have to process them all day long. Some of these things invigorate me, encourage me, brighten my outlook, heal my soul. Others are actually harmful to hold on to and are best “eliminated” from my thought life, not dwelling on them or letting them infect me with poor emotional health. If I am unable to let these negative things go, or if I am only “consuming” negativity, my entire well-being suffers.

It requires an act of the will to consume good, real, healthy food and reject that which is marketed to us as “decadently sweet” or unnaturally manufactured and loaded with unhealthy chemicals, preservatives, dyes, etc.

It requires an act of the will to engage in positive, healthy, compassionate thoughts and reject negativity, bitterness, anger, lust, etc. Unhealthy thoughts are easy, tempting, and addictive, just like caffeinated high fructose corn syrup drinks.

It takes effort. It takes intention. It takes awareness of the harmful effects from consuming that which is unhealthy, and an appreciation for the benefits of that which is truly good for you. When we choose the healthy path, we are living in harmony with how we were designed to thrive on this planet. We are experiencing shalom – peace, wholeness, goodness, health. This does not come by accident; it comes by intentional living that is consistent with God’s universe.

I’m sure someone else has thought of this before, and probably even written books on the subject; I’m unaware of any, but there’s no way this is an “original concept”. As a matter of fact, Jesus (not so surprisingly) touched on this subject as he was addressing a larger issue:

Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man. 
(Matthew 15:17-20, New American Standard Version)

What you consume not only affects you, it has an effect on others. This is true for both the physical and emotional/spiritual aspects of our beings.

And isn’t it strange that there is simply no way to consume things that are 100% good for you, for which no “elimination” is necessary? Everything – I mean everything – carries with it both good and bad; the percentage of good vs. bad may differ, but there will always be both. So it takes discernment, awareness, and an act of the will to choose health. This is by design.

So when Saul of Tarsus (aka the Apostle Paul) writes “Test everything; hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), it is wisdom consistent with this design in nature. We don’t have to fear; instead, we need to discern, consume, and let the natural process of elimination occur based on the choices we have made.

When our life is considered in review, we know there will be both good and bad, both health and sickness. We know we will have helped people and harmed others. But we also know that God realizes this – it’s part of his design.

When the author of the book of Hebrews listed those who were considered heroic for their faith, it wasn’t a list of people who lived perfectly consistent lives; these people were messes like the rest of us, but happened to have periods in their lives when great good was accomplished through them as the took the risk of faith against the systems and powers that existed in their day:

  • Noah, a drunk
  • Abraham, a liar
  • Jacob, a thief
  • Moses, a murderer
  • Rahab, a prostitute
  • Samson, a murderer
  • David, a murderer and adulterer

Regardless of what you’ve done, you don’t have to remain that way. You may be unhealthy physically and/or emotionally, but you do not have to remain that way. Start by making some choices toward health. Choose what is better for you. Focus on that which restores and encourages you. Don’t let your prior choices weigh you down. Break the addiction to the negative. And don’t obsess over getting it perfect, because in the end the bad will be eliminated.


In the early 1970s a horror movie was released entitled Willard; it was about a social misfit with a creepy affinity for rats. The movie’s tagline was “When your nightmares end…Willard begins“. Creepy. I can understand why Willard Romney would run for president in 2012 using his middle name Mitt instead. I’m waiting to see the movie poster re-worked with Mitt’s face on it instead of the rat – you just know it’s going to happen at some point. But this isn’t about either of them.

In 1998, a former pastor turned USC philosophy professor by the name of Dallas Willard published a book entitled The Divine Conspiracy. This seminal work had a profound impact on a wide range of religious leaders, including those who ultimately led the short-lived “emergent” movement. It also connected with me at a time when I needed it most as my family fled the oppressive “home church/cult” we had been involved in for six years and sought to rediscover and redefine who we wanted to be moving forward.

Willard’s book provided a fresh focus on the teachings and example of Jesus, especially as it relates to the passage in The Gospel of Matthew 5-7 known as “The Sermon on the Mount”.  Willard asserted:

“Jesus is not just nice; he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived…he always has the best information on everything and certainly also on the things that matter most in human life.”

For many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, the focus is on the writings of Paul and Jesus is only important so far as the crucifixion and resurrection are concerned. For those who primary aim is to reach a blissful afterlife, the teachings of Jesus are of little interest compared to “the finished work of the cross”. But Willard argued that what Jesus taught (and lived) is actually the most profound and important of all.


The order in which Jesus presented his good news, values, and principles reveals a keen understanding of human nature and the sequence in which inner transformation occurs most effectively. He starts with the good news of the “Beatitudes” as he proclaims who is included and welcome and “blessed” in his society: misfits, outcasts, down-and-outers, the hassled and marginalized. These are the people who have the most to gain and the least to lose, those who need really good news outside the social/economic/political/religious systems of the day. He first of all provides hope and vision of what could be.


Jesus continues on to the inner attitudes we need to cultivate to truly be in harmony with his way (his torah). First stop: anger. Our dealings with one another should always be with civility and kindness, because the seed of anger grows into the weed of brutality and murder. We live in a very angry generation – just listen to an hour of talk radio or read the comments at the bottom of any online news article if you doubt this. Road rage. Hate speech. Shout-downs.

The media leverages this frenzy to sell more advertising so they make more money. Politicians and media have a vested interested in this divided country, and we are doomed unless we let go of anger and instead embrace civility, love, kindness, and a willingness to understand one another without necessarily having to agree.


Jesus then moves on to the topic of pleasure, especially sexual. We are a society that indulges our appetites without restraint. Telling someone else they should consider delayed gratification, self-denial, public propriety… might fall back on us and we would have to restrain ourselves.

In this culture, that would never do. But in Jesus’ society it is part and parcel of how we achieve harmony with one another. We don’t view each other as objects to manipulate for our personal pleasure, but rather as humans created in the image of God… as brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers… as family.


When anger is diminished and mutual respect and care are fostered, then his other topics like adultery, divorce,  business integrity, peace-making instead of revenge, etc. become possible. When sacrificial, compassionate love become the hallmarks of our society, we can live at peace with one other (both at home and abroad).

When these attitudes are in place, then our good deeds, spiritual practices, etc. are not used to draw attention to ourselves bolstering our pride, but are truly motivated by heart-felt charity. The spiritual disciplines of giving, praying, fasting/self-denial, serving, trusting without worry, accepting without condemnation or condescension – these practices strengthen us and transform us into the kind of people who truly reflect the way of Jesus. As we cultivate these, as we let them do their inner work, we become ambassadors of a new society that can restore this planet.

“[Jesus] matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weaknesses he gives us strength and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.”
– Dallas Willard

Can I get an amen?

The Big Idea

A number of years ago I watched the movie “The Russia House” with Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. I don’t remember much other than I didn’t enjoy it, felt Michelle’s attempt at a Russian accent was awkward, and… the scene where British Secret Intelligence Service (the “Russia House”) wanted Sean Connery’s character to contact a Russian with a list of verifying questions to determine if the document is as valuable as they hope it is. It included this dialogue:

Sir, the “shopping list”… It’s only questions, isn’t it? It wouldn’t tell anyone anything?

Everything. It would tell what we know by telling what we “don’t” know. And it would tell what we would most like to know. If the Sovs get the list, we might as well have published the notebooks…

The questions we ask betray our perspective. They reveal what we really think is important, what’s truly at stake.

Typically when I hear people discussing the topics like “salvation”, “heaven”, “hell”, “the church”, and “universalism”, it reveals what they think is “the big idea” behind it all: insuring that your destination in the afterlife is a good one.

If you’re on the wrong side of that question, you’re essentially screwed forever and ever and ever. So you don’t want to get that question wrong.

But is that really the big question? Is that what the good news Jesus proclaimed was really about?

Certainly people have packaged something they call “the gospel” as having to do with getting into heaven and avoiding hell. This is sold regularly at most corner churches. Join our crowd, believe our dogma, engage in our practices, and you’ll be certain to have an afterlife of bliss (regardless of how hard you might have it down here). The important thing (to them) is to make sure you’re escaping this planet to the right place. But this smacks more of the Greek Plato’s dualistic view of things than the good news Jesus the Jew actually proclaimed in 1st century Palestine.

The idea that the physical is bad and the mental/spiritual is good, that we need to escape our bodies… this is way more of a Greek idea than a Jewish one. The Jews were focused more on tikun olam (“repairing the world”). They still are to this day. They cared about shalom – peace, harmony, wholeness. The torah (what we call “the law”) literally means the way. In other words, if you want to know how to live in shalom with your fellow humans, follow this way. It includes not only how we should behave with God and one another, but also what to do when we misbehave.

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the notion of animal sacrifices being an acceptable form of restitution for wrongs done, the focus was on the here and now. And in reality, the animal sacrifices were ultimate a giant barbecue that the priests got to eat (and in certain cases, so did the people who brought the animals). Sacrifices were a costly way to settle a score; these days it might be kind of like giving your car to your pastor/priest/bishop to show true repentance (and because he needs a car since his rustbucket-on-wheels recently died). Sacrifices were a way of sharing out of what we had so that nobody – especially those busy with “the Lord’s work” – went without their needs being met. They met a need in the here and now, not the afterlife.

When you look at the scope of Jesus’ good news and teachings for what they actually are (rather than how some Church, Inc. outpost packaged it to benefit them), you see that he is primarily concerned with the here and now. He was concerned about relationships. About restoring shalom – in our homes, villages, nations, planet. He called himself “The Way”, and the earliest disciples were called “Followers of The Way”. And remember what the word torah means?

The night Jesus was betrayed, just before his “ultimate sacrifice”, he basically said this to his disciples (John 13:34-35):

I give you a new command:
love one another as I have loved you.
By this shall all know that you are my followers.

Love. It’s the force that repairs the world, that restores shalom, that heals all wrongs. Love.

That’s the big idea.

Why Bother?

We say we aren’t attempting to change anyone’s mind.

We say we aren’t trying to start yet another group the world doesn’t need.

We say we are simply expressing our thoughts and if it resonates with someone then great.

Why bother?

  • First of all, I think this is what sets us apart from the animals. What animal creates great works of art, muses on philosophical alternatives, encodes thoughts into printed symbols (writes) understood by others of its kind (reads)? Certainly there are some common things all creatures do, but these higher functions seem to be reserved for humans. Whether this evolved or was created to be this way we cannot know for certain and isn’t our concern. These are matters  that go beyond “survival of the fittest”  kinds of activities and elevate the human as something special (however that came about). We think, we express, we share – on levels that appear to exceed anything else in creation.
  • Secondly, we aren’t trying to start another group because we suspect this group already exists anyway. Its members are floating around like us alone, isolated, misfits in the culture that bred us (or outcasts from it). We believe there are a number of people with whom these ideas resonate deeply, but they haven’t been able to find the words yet that articulate what they feel and think and have experienced. So we’re suggesting that if you feel the way we do, if these thoughts resonate within you, then maybe you (and we) won’t feel so alone in an oppressive, judgmental, intolerant religious world. And maybe you’ll find some peace that has been lacking as you take the leap of doubt into the freedom of uncertainty. It’s really OK to not have to have all the answers. Really.
  • Third, maybe you’ll begin to enjoy the freedom of embracing truth wherever you find it. It doesn’t have to come from the Bible or from Church, Inc. (though if it does, that’s OK, too). No human has jurisdiction over your thoughts – especially not us. You’re even free to reject this idea – it’s your choice to honestly follow what you believe in your heart to be true. In the end this is what everyone does; it’s why people leave one church or denomination for another (or for none at all) – everybody makes up their own mind in the end, and that is GOOD. Just be honest with yourself – it’s OK.
  • Fourth, putting our thoughts into writing provides a self-check for us. If you can’t write it down, then you don’t really know it. If you are unable to articulate it, then you haven’t really thought it through enough yet. And if once it’s written down people find massive holes in your logic, you have the opportunity for additional reflection, self-correction, re-direction, etc. In other words, putting it all out there exposes us, but we aren’t afraid of that because it will in the end only help sharpen us (when coming from friends) or give us opportunities to cultivate peace and grace (when dealing with enemies). We are pretty sure we’ve got some things wrong (like everybody else on the planet)… and that’s OK. We’re not afraid of being corrected in matters of truth or faulty logic, and we’re not afraid of saying “I don’t know” in matters that cannot be verified.

We distrust anyone who has gone their whole life completely certain of themselves; these are the kind of people who typically lack empathy and/or want to dominate others and/or are social jerks. We fully admit we’ve changed our minds, beliefs, practices, etc. many times in life and probably many more before we’re through.

We believe that we humans need to work together in gracious opposition to the natural order (“kill or be killed”). We believe the way of living that Jesus taught is a concise collection of attitudes and practices that help us rise above and cultivate harmony, peace, cooperation, shalom as we work together to repair this world that all too often operates under the natural order.

We don’t view ourselves as merely capitalistic animals who greedily consume to dominate others. Neither are we socialist or communist where we take from others and distribute equally among us all. We respect the rights and choice of each individual, and encourage all to be willing to voluntarily make the sacrifice of love on behalf of those in need. It’s when we resist dominance over others and instead share out of what we have for the good of others (not out of guilt but out of true compassion and good will) that we best emulate the way Jesus taught and lived.

Any religion or philosophical school of thought that includes this as part of their scaffolding is appreciated. Just be careful to not shift focus from the life you’re building over to the scaffolding used while building it; scaffolding is a tool to assist, not a master to serve. We believe there is only one master to serve, and helping people develop a society consistent with his design and wishes is ultimately the reason why we bother.

Challenging Assumptions

I used to believe every single word in the Bible was perfect. Not just in the original languages, but also the English translation of the King James Version. Perfect. Because God had “inspired” it and made that possible.

These days I recognize that men wrote the Bible. It is a library of 66 (or more) books written over 1500+ years by 40+ human authors in numerous cultures and a handful of ancient languages. Some of it may have been under the “miracle” of inspiration; some things may have been revealed to them somehow ahead of time; however, there is no way you can really prove or disprove that, so I’m not taking up that argument. It’s not enough to say that the Bible says it is inspired; that’s circular reasoning.

The thing I notice now is that the God of the Bible appears to morph quite a bit from the first to the last book in the collection. What I realize now is that it isn’t God who is changing, but the perception of each author from culture to culture. These men are simply describing God based on their current understanding. So I think God gets lots of blame for commands given in the Bible that God never really gave – for example when God supposedly told the Israelites to go into Canaan and “slay every living thing that breathes”. Yeah, right. Brutally kill every man, woman, child, and animal because “God said” it’s our land now. Sure…

Now, the God I see Jesus describe isn’t like that. This God is a father – our “heavenly father”. This God makes sense to me. He loves, protects, forgives, patiently corrects, supports, provides, and shows me by example how I should treat my own kids.

Jesus even went as far as to say “he who has seen me has seen the father” and “whatever the Father does, the Son also does”. I refuse to get into a discussion of whether or not Jesus is God – that can neither be proven nor disproven. But I can say that if the example of Jesus shows us what the Father is really like, then the genocide recorded earlier in the book of Joshua could not have been ordered by God, because that’s not how Jesus treats his enemies. When his disciples wanted to “call fire down from heaven” on a village that wouldn’t let them spend the night, Jesus totally rejected that approach and said they’d just move on to the next town.

I view the Bible as sacred and helpful. It’s a great library of ancient wisdom. But it’s not perfect, it does have internal inconsistencies, and you have to read it with an open yet critical mind like any other wisdom literature. I do believe that something special can happen inside anyone honestly and humbly seeking truth in the Bible…but I think that can also happen by seeking truth in nature, in a film, in a reflection on the past, etc. If you are trying to draw closer to God, God will draw closer to you; I think the author of the Book of James (one of Jesus’ disciples) accurately depicted a truth there that I have personally experienced.

Related to this, I had a great conversation with a longtime friend who pastored a church for over ten years. He was the one who introduced me to some of the authors that led to my leap of doubt.  We worked closely together and shared many, many long hours of philosophical sharing. Nothing was ever off-limits then, and nothing has changed to this day. He’s a true friend.

As I began to reveal the leap of doubt concept to him, he asked a challenging, honest question:

How do you follow Jesus if you don’t trust the book that tells us about him? Too far down that road and it becomes a faith of “whatever feels right to me”, in which case you become your own God.

I appreciate questions like that when they are genuine and not a set-up (like our banned poster). I know him and know his was an honest question trying to understand, not to pigeonhole and condemn. So I replied:

Yeah, it’ll kind of end up that way with me working out my relationship with God directly. I can see that. But there are things in the Bible that resonate within my being (very subjective, I know) and those I follow without having to convince others that I have the only right way.

In the end I think it’s that way for everyone – if what your preacher says doesn’t ring true, you’re not going to truly “believe it”, though you may go along with it for the sake of peace. Same thing for interpretations of scripture. So, in the end, everybody decides what they think is true, even if they’re part of an organized religion.

I know quite a few Roman Catholics who do not believe the Pope is infallible. I know Protestants who are evolutionists and do not take much of the book of Genesis as literal history at all. People choose what they will or won’t believe ultimately based on what makes sense to them – that’s good and right. Then my buddy asked:

How do your own assumptions ever get challenged? What if what “rings true” isn’t really? Didn’t Calvinism “ring true” at one point? Is there no authority outside your own desires and experiences? I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m truly curious. I do think it’s important to have some anchors outside of myself to keep me from running away with things. I don’t trust myself enough to make all the judgments myself. And some, if not all of those anchors, are chosen by faith…not by reason.

These are great questions from a good friend. They deserved a reply:

I’m not threatened and I don’t feel judged – no worries. Just being honest about where I am, which frees me tremendously. I don’t have to have all the answers (or even many answers). But see – you are challenging my assumptions right now, which is totally cool. So have quite a few others over the last six months.

Calvinism indeed “rang true” at one point because of how I was processing stuff – supposedly rationally. I distrust much about that approach now. I’ve grown to distrust men who want to make judgments FOR me. They’re just men. God and I are connected vitally – I know this by personal experience, so I’m not worried about my “standing” with God. I really believe God is my heavenly father, not a psycho/whack job who says “love me love me love me or I WILL BURN YOU!” Some of that understanding came from the lips of Jesus recorded by the apostles, then confirmed by life.

He responded:

I’m not talking about anyone making judgments for me, I’m just talking about having some checks and balances on my own flawed judgment.

To which I replied:

Yeah, and I’m willing to hear people out but in the end it’s still ME who has to decide whether my judgment is flawed or not after hearing people out. So in the end, each of us really IS our own judge. And I may still be led astray…by MYSELF… or by those who challenge my judgment and I capitulate to it. But I’m not worried about my connection with God, and I believe/trust that God will help me deal with it. That personal responsibility with a loving father there to support me… priceless.

This approach leaves me free to follow the advice of the apostle Paul (whom I have some doubts about, but that’s for a later post): “Test everything; cling to what is good”. So I’m free to test ALL things – whether it’s from Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, or even Bill Maher. “All truth is God’s truth”. I don’t have to be afraid of it; instead I should embrace it wherever I find it. And when I can’t be certain if I’ve found truth or not, I can be okay with not having to have all the answers because I’ve taken the leap of doubt into the freedom of uncertainty.


What did Jesus teach?

What was his actual “good news”? What did he actually mean by that?

Was it really “believe these facts and pray this prayer and you get to go to heaven when you die?” Is that it?

Here’s his first recorded “sermon”, documented in Luke chapter 4:

Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As usual he went into the synagogue on the day of worship. He stood up to read the lesson. 17 The attendant gave him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened it and found the place where it read:

18     “The Spirit of the Lord is with me.
He has anointed me to tell the Good News to the poor. He has sent me to announce forgiveness to the prisoners of sin and the restoring of sight to the blind, to forgive those who have been shattered by sin, 19 to announce the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Jesus closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue watched him closely. 21 Then he said to them, “This passage came true today when you heard me read it.”

Good news to the poor. Forgiveness to prisoners of sin. Restoring sight to the blind. Forgiveness to those shattered by sin.

So then Jesus went out and built himself a church building, hired a staff, and began weekly services with a rock band, multi-colored stage lights, giant video screens, and comfortable seating…?

No. You know what he did…exactly what he said. The poor heard good news that they were no longer marginalized in God’s “society” (despite how they were treated in the Roman Empire). Addicts were forgiven and encouraged. Blind people saw once again. He announced that it was the “year” (not the day) of the Lord’s favor – God was wanting to draw people back to him, eliminating any perceived obstacles or boundaries. God was restoring, delivering, rescuing, healing, saving people from themselves and the consequences of their poor, foolish past choices. God was welcoming, not condemning. Loving, not judging. God was to be viewed as our “heavenly father” – and there is much to be gleaned from considering that.

Those of us who have had horrible experiences with earthly parents know what we wish would have happened instead. I think the kind of parents each of us wished we had reflects an innate understanding of the kind of parent God actually is. And I think Jesus was opening the door to that understanding, reminding us that though we have wandered off and wasted our resources like the younger brother in the tale of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), God lovingly, patiently, compassionately waits for us to return, ready to cover our shame, restore us, heal us, encourage us, and let us know we never stopped being his children.

If you know that tale, you also know that the older brother in the story – the one who stayed at home supposedly faithful, loyal, and well-mannered – was hateful and spiteful and condemning of his younger brother. And when Jesus told that tale, it was directed at the Pharisees – the self-assured, self-righteous, judgmental religious establishment of his day. These were the conservatives who had all the “right” teachings and “moral” practices, yet were the ones Jesus reserved his very harshest words for.

But for those of us who have experienced heartache, shame, guilt, and consequence for our foolish and obsessive choices – for those of us like the younger brother who squandered our gifts, resources, and so many precious years – the good news of Jesus is that Father God is patiently waiting for us to give up, to surrender, to return to the family. He waits for us to enjoy the love that was always there and to heal the shame and pain that could never come between us and our father. And he longs to see us become all that we can be for his sake and for the sake of this spinning globe we inhabit. But not merely for ourselves. No. Because everyone is part of this family. All are welcomed. And all have a special place and special gifts/abilities that enhance everyone else’s life.

You see, I’m put here for you. I am your keeper. Your encourager. Your helper. We are family. So we need to live as family. We need to stop treating others as tools, enemies, inferiors and instead treat one another with patience, respect, and a love willing to sacrifice our own comfort so that none of us lack what we really need – physically, emotionally, spiritually. When you read Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” in Matthew 5-7, you see that kind of society proclaimed; some call it his “Kingdom Manifesto”. And when you read about people entering into “life” in this passage, it’s not about getting into the afterlife (“heaven”), but rather real living – vibrant, purposeful, love-filled joy that never gets old when compared to the fleeting pleasures many of us have wasted our time, money, and efforts to experience.

In other words, Jesus was concerned about the quality of our lives in the here and now, not in the “Sweet Bye and Bye”. He’s micro-focused on our relationships with others here as we cultivate his kind of society by our actions and character, not by legislating our morality and forcing others to capitulate. It is a society without borders where we all have a unique role to play for the sake of everyone else. Everyone is valued. Everyone is loved. Everyone is forgiven. And everyone is welcome. It doesn’t require a building, a non-profit corporate charter, and board-certified college-trained staff. It’s just humble people who think his way of living, his plan for peace, is the best path and hope for this planet. You come, too.


I was raised in a hellfire-and-brimstone Baptist megachurch, complete with all the rules, prohibitions, fear, guilt, manipulation, and self-righteous certainty that goes along with it. Not only were Baptists the only right ones, our particular collection of churches (the Baptist Bible Fellowship) was “the best” and our particular church (Temple Baptist of Detroit) was the pinnacle. Or so we thought.

I went knocking on doors trying to convert people for the church, gave much money, time, and talent to the organization. I sang in their choirs, performed solos of original music, and even became an ardent “Bible Believer” (code for those who believe the King James Version is the only God-inspired translation of the Bible in English, and the only one that matters).

I went to their Christian school for junior high and high school, then went to a BBF college (Liberty University, home of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority). I read the books, studied the theology, surrendered my life to their version of spirituality. I wasn’t perfect, but learned how to hide my “moral failings” like any good hypocrite.

The more I read the Bible, especially the book of Acts, the more I came to see that the church I grew up – actually the entire fellowship of churches – looked nothing like what actually happened in the Bible. There were always rationalizations, reasons, explanations, excuses given for this disparity, but in my late 20’s my wife and I started looking for what we considered “authentic Christianity”.

The Search

This search led through a number of smaller church communities, including some of the Nazarene tradition. The main difference between Nazarenes and Baptists is that Baptists believed once you were truly “saved” you could never lose it; Nazarenes, on the other hand, believed you could lose it (but Baptists figured those people were not “truly saved”). Nazarenes also believe  you can reach a state of “sinless perfection”, while Baptists don’t worry about that at all.

We noticed that people were the same regardless of which tradition they held. We also noticed that we felt more love, acceptance, and grace from non-religious people than we ever did from the religious types. That was confusing. In our continuing search, we tried out a home Bible study that in a short while turned into a home church.

Feeling that we had finally find a community of people who authentically practiced what we read in the Bible, we stayed with these people for six years as it slowly morphed into what we now realize was a cult. It was led by a charismatic, intelligent, and very arrogant person who was a gifted teacher and expert manipulator. We became entrenched in a Calvinist perspective of scripture where only those previously chosen by God (“the elect”) were saved, and your evidence of your election was that you lived faithfully to the end. Anyone who left the group, therefore, was deemed unfaithful, unelect, and clearly destined for Hell. Fear is a powerful motivator.

We finally began seeing through the distortions, lies, and manipulations of the leader, and decided to confront our fear and put our destiny in the hands of God. We discovered through this that God is not a tyrant or psychopath demanding to be loved or else, but that God is a tender father/mother who loves us, cares for us, provides for us, and desires what is truly best for us.

The Search continues

We continued our search for authentic Christianity. I explored Eastern Orthodoxy – the most ancient Christian tradition – on and off for several years, but came away from my studies realizing that nothing of substance is really documented for about one hundred years after the formation of the church. As entrenched as the Orthodox were in their tradition, no one knows if their practices were passed down from the apostles or if they were invented in that hundred years as something that “seemed right” to the practitioners or leaders. Church tradition became very suspect.

I can appreciate the symbolism and beauty of both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions – perhaps more so than regular attenders – but that doesn’t mean it is the one “right” way. We explored the Plymouth Brethren tradition for over  a decade and came away with the same reservations, only worse. Their focus on weekly communion, dispensationalism (that gave us the whole “Left Behind” phenomena), and their approach to interpreting scripture felt more like we were back in the cult at times. And seeing that their whole brand of teaching and worship was invented less than two hundred years ago, it can hardly be argued to be ancient or apostolic.

We have Lutheran and Presbyterian friends with whom we’ve shared in depth, even attending some of their services. We’ve experienced worship with the Disciples of Christ, Pentecostals, and a number of other spin-offs and splits. And yet, didn’t Jesus pray that his followers would all be one? Certainly these churches weren’t helping that cause, but were rather encouraging the distinctions, differences, and division.

So who is right?

They can’t all be right. And based on our experience, none of them is. So the megachurch we currently attend (mainly for their ministry to kids and teens, not for it’s “correctness”) launched a campaign over a two-year period to unite churches in southeastern Michigan to promote the good news of Jesus primarily by acts of service, but also by words at times. This looked promising – especially the service projects – but in the end it just felt more like marketing and manipulation. If you’re doing something for ulterior motives, it comes through as disingenuous and isn’t love at all.

Along the way I’ve also read a lot by authors from emerging/Emergent Christianity and modern bible scholars who question a lot of the perspectives held dear over the last 400-500 years. N. T. Wright, Scot McKnight, Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, Rob Bell, Shane Hipps, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Erwin McManus, and many others have much to say that for me adds context back to the Bible that has been lacking for a long time. Instead of reading scripture as if it were written to the 20th century white American  middle class, they’ve insisted we do the very hard work of understanding what the original author intended the original hearers to understand in their culture using their shared stories.

I came to understand that much of what I have been taught by men that the Bible “teaches” it doesn’t actually teach. Instead, men have interpreted it (incorrectly) and taught their interpretation as fact and even as absolute truth. The interpretations of men, not the “word of the Lord”. This is what divides people into denominations and sects (this plus fear). But Jesus said that love would be the hallmark of his followers, and it would be evidenced by unity. So whatever it was that Jesus actually meant, it can’t be what has led to this proliferation of religions and traditions.

That begs the question -what did Jesus actually teach, and what did he actually mean by that? What was his actual “good news”? Was it really “believe these facts and prayer this prayer and you get to go to heaven when you die?” Is that it? Read Matthew chapters 5 – 7 (it’s not that long and you may even find it enjoyable – but don’t read it in the King James Version, try the New International or New Living Translation or The Message or the God’s Word translation). See what his essential good news really was and we’ll pick this back up in a day or two.


I had to ban our first person today. It was weird, but not unexpected.

We have no intention of trying to convince anybody of anything. We are simply stating where we are, and if it resonates with you, then great – maybe we can encourage each other through honest conversation that doesn’t have any ulterior motives or secret mission to persuade, shame, or otherwise manipulate each other. We respect each person’s right to make up their own mind – as a matter of fact, we encourage it. Even if you disagree with us… that’s OK.

What’s not okay is sneaking in pretending to want a conversation when really you are just trying to pigeon-hole us into this or that category so you can then agree with or condemn us. What’s worse is asking all kinds of leading questions trying to trap us into revealing the nugget that enables you to condemn us. Jesus never did that.

Let me repeat: Jesus never did that. When confronted by those trying to trap him in his words, he usually provided terse replies that revealed their lack of understanding of where he was coming from. Jesus saw through them; and having grown up in Bible-believing fundamentalist and evangelical circles, I know exactly where those types are coming from. I know the arguments, the tactics, the dead give-away signs that reveal their ulterior motives. Heck, I was one of them in the past.

In Matthew chapter 7 Jesus makes it clear that we should trust others into God’s care and not resort to manipulation/shame/condemnation to get people to change, nor should we resort to giving out all kinds of unwanted, unrequested, irrelevant “pearls of wisdom” or other kinds of positive manipulation. He used the metaphor of trying to give pearls to a pig (which can’t appreciate or value it) or giving holy things to a dog (which likewise cannot grasp what is so special about the item).

You don’t have to agree with us, and  you’re fully welcome to ask honest questions; we’ll probably have a response, but not necessarily an “answer”. But if you’re coming here to “evangelize” us to your modernistic evangelical paradigm, just move on elsewhere because we see through it, reject it, and aren’t interested in your pointless polemics.

As I offered our banned user, you are welcome to email us at, but don’t annoy us with your posts or else you’ll lose the privilege of posting here. We’re welcoming and non-judging except for those who come to condemn…in their case, they have judged themselves to be unwelcome by their actions which are not in keeping with the spirit of this page.

We’re not looking to gather a mass of adherents to start yet another organization the world doesn’t need, but we are open to a community of people tired of the chains of so-called certainty who are seeking the freedom to love God, follow Jesus, and not have to say they “believe” stuff that in their heart they doubt.


A couple years back my band was performing at a club in Pontiac, Michigan. Our songs were intended to get people’s toes tapping, their bodies moving, and along the way express some of our philosophy that may or may not resonate with anyone in the room. It was our mission to play great, honest music; if it helped someone on their journey, that’s a bonus and side-effect.

After our set, one of the customers came over and asked if he could buy me a drink, and said, “Dude, that was really great…but it was deep, too. I didn’t know whether to slit my wrists or change my ways…”

His buddy came up quickly and said, “Yeah, Jesus Chr…. uh… and Freud and Nietzsche, that was really deep!”

I thought it was comical how he seemed to intuitively know that Jesus influenced our way of thinking and songs in spite of the fact that we were not on some kind of evangelistic mission for any church or anything, and didn’t even mention the name Jesus much less anyone else’s name – we were just guys playing tunes we believed in a bar.

I responded, “Well, since you mentioned Jesus, I have to say that Christians give him a bad reputation that he doesn’t deserve.” That received a “Damn, straight!” from both of them. I went on to say that if Christians actually did what Jesus taught – treating people with love, respect, patience, humility, and lack of condemnation, things would be a lot better for everyone. They wholeheartedly agreed.

I think it’s a shame how unscrupulous and dishonest some people are in trying to “market” Jesus to the masses as they build their religious organizations. There’s always some kind of ulterior motive that is obvious to those who are being “ministered to”.

It’s evident when someone doesn’t really want to be your friend, but instead is using friendship as a tactic for getting you into their group. It’s obvious when someone really doesn’t want an actual empathetic give-and-take conversation trying to understand one another, but instead is using it to pigeon-hole the other person into some neat little box or set them up to lose at some kind of debate as though that will change anyone’s heart.

Jesus did good. He spoke honestly. He was merciful and kind with people who were social outcasts, misfits, the “scum of the earth”. But with religious people trying to trap him in his words he was cagey, short, and didn’t play along with their little schemes. Whatever anger he displayed was always directed at the religious people of his day for their hypocrisy, manipulation, greed, heartlessness, and dishonesty.

It’s no different today. And, in truth, I’ve been on the bad side of this equation too many times in the past. I’ve been the “dishonest evangelist” that people saw right through and distrusted immediately. It sickens me, but I now forgive myself and move on, taking the leap of doubt into the deep, deep freedom of not having to have all the answers anymore, and being just fine with that.