Bowie’s Blackstar: A Star With No Light

After initially posting this article, I realized that I may not have been as clear as I could be. I am not saying that Bowie knowingly poured all the meaning into this song that I am implicating. What I am saying is that there my have been dark forces working through Bowie to send a message. Bowie had an obsession with the occult, including occultist Aleister Crowley, who was a very dark individual and practitioner of magic and demonology. Bowie was also deeply fearful of evil spirits, and used various occult methods to ward them off. Whether or not each of us personally believes in a dark supernatural realm, Bowie most certainly did. As he said himself, “Rock has always been the devil’s music, you can’t convince me that it isn’t. I honestly believe everything I’ve said—I believe rock and roll is dangerous… I feel that we’re only heralding something even darker than ourselves” [DAVID BOWIE, Rolling Stone, February 12, 1976, p. 83].

Like many people, I recently heard the news that David Bowie had died. I decided to check out his final album entitled Blackstar, released a week ago. What would his final message to the world be?

What I found was alarming: a farewell address so dark, so disturbing, it would seem connected to a diabolical realm. I wrestled with my observations and decided that the best way to distill these thoughts was an analysis of the song. Is there a sinister presence underlying the elements of Bowie’s parting work? You decide.

The title track Blackstar begins with these lyrics:

“In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen”

The word Ormen is the Norwegian word for serpent and also the name of a village in Norway. Apparently there was a Viking king there who cursed the name of Christ. Based on the historical context, this seems like a reference to the Biblical depiction of the serpent of old, also known as Satan. If you want to take the meaning more literally then, the lyric would read,

“In the villa of the Serpent,” or “in the house of Satan”

Unlike many of Bowie’s lyrics which were artistically nonsensical, this song’s vision seems intentionally conceived. I realize the video’s director Johan Renck denies the song was trying to convey a particular message, and I accept that. However, if that is the case, why do both lyrics and images not only follow Biblical texts, but seem to be attempting to reverse them? Whether or not the meaning was intentional, the meaning comes through.

One of the opening scenes of the video is that of a deserted, gloomy planet. In the background is the sun, blacked out by another sun – or star, which covers it up – the blackstar.

Scripture calls Satan the “Day Star,” who was cast out of heaven. Scripture also refers to Jesus as the light of the world, as well as the literal light source in heaven, transcending even the concept of a sun. In this visual metaphor then, Satan – or the darkness, would be obscuring Jesus – or the light.

blackstar shot

Like the blackstar, Satan has no light of his own but can only try to cover up the light of Christ that already exists, by heaping lies onto the gospel of Christ.

The song’s lyrics continue:

“On the day of execution, on the day of execution
Only women kneel and smile, ah-ah, ah-ah
At the centre of it all, at the centre of it all
Your eyes, your eyes”

Overlaying these lyrics we again see the planetary scene and a woman walking up to a lifeless astronaut’s form. She opens his mask to reveal a skull adorned with elaborate jewels. She then removes the skull and carries it through what appears to be the ancient city of Jerusalem. High above the city on a hill, we see a modern, tower-like structure, with light emanating from behind it.

Jesus was crucified on a hill just outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha, which means “the skull.” Could the song be making a connection between the skull and the physical location of Christ’s crucifixion? In ancient pagan history, sacrifices and worship often took place on the “high places.” If this is a reference to the place where Jesus died, it is interesting that all we can see is a new monument, obscuring the cross from sight.

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The light emanating from behind the new structure echoes the image of the blackstar covering up the sun. The contrast of the new buildings against the ancient city also seems like a reference to something “new,” versus something “old.” Could this be a commentary that Satan, the new, is replacing Jesus, or the old? We know from scripture that Jesus alone establishes the new, through the power of his blood and resurrection.

Another image we see in this section of the song, is that of a group of women gathering together for some kind of occult ceremony. The women begin to shake as if possessed as they dance and kneel before the skull. The song’s lyric says:

“on the day of execution only women kneel and smile.”

These women are not sad, but happy on this day of execution, seeming to be witnesses of something great.

In the Biblical account of Christ’s crucifixion we also see a group of women present, who follow Jesus, weeping after him. Later, some of these same women are the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. How interesting that while they were witnesses of the life that overcomes death, the women in this song are witnesses to death only. At one point the women begin to levitate together – a clear reference to witchcraft and the occult, which amounts to rebellion against God. Could this also allude to a different kind of “rising,” in contrast to resurrection from the dead? 

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The lyrics continue:

“Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried (I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”

The video now shows Bowie with his mask off, as he raises a book with a pentagram blackstar on the cover. He shifts in the opposite direction, holds his position, then shifts back. This is the clear, pivotal moment in the song and seems to signify that some kind of positional transference has occurred.

The lyrics describe someone who died, rose, then stepped aside. I believe this is a clear reference to Jesus, while mocking his resurrection by claiming that that he merely “rose a meter.” This would imply not a raising from death to life, but a rising of an object a short distance. The image of Christ on the cross, being lifted a few feet off the ground comes to mind.

Again, as with the image of the blackstar positioned in front of the sun and the new monument positioned in front of the cross, we now see the concept stated blatantly: Satan positioning himself in front of Christ. It’s also interesting that as he assumes Christ’s position, the blackstar makes a declaration of himself. How very different from Jesus’ example, humbling himself by taking on human form, and being obedient, even to the point of death on a cross.

The lyrics continue:

“How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangster)”

Scripture describes Satan as the first angel to fall. The description of him trodding on sacred ground paints a picture of one who mocks what is holy. The blackstar’s declaration of who he is in disrespect of who God is goes even further in the next section, saying,

“I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar)
Just go with me (I’m not a filmstar)
I’m-a take you home (I’m a blackstar)
Take your passport and shoes (I’m not a popstar)
And your sedatives, boo (I’m a blackstar)
You’re a flash in the pan (I’m not a marvel star)
I’m the great I am (I’m a blackstar)”

If the meaning of the song wasn’t clear before, it is now. In the final statement, “I am the great I am,” the blackstar makes the overt, blasphemous claim to be God. This is a direct reference to Exodus 3, where we learn that the God of Christianity is the one true God, whose name is the great “I Am.” Jesus also claimed to be “I Am” and one with the Father.

When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he offered him the the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his worship. Satan’s attempt to take God’s position is nothing new. Indeed, it is the original lie the serpent told Eve in the garden of Eden, when he said that she could be like God.

In the rest of this section the blackstar tells us that we should follow him blindly “home.” If the blackstar is indeed Satan, then this home would refer to hell. The mention of passport and shoes makes it clear that this is a long journey, and “sedatives, boo,” to me implies that where those who follow the blackstar are going, drugs won’t help alleviate pain. The blackstar’s taunting statement “You’re a flash in the pan,”reveals that he, like Satan, cares nothing for our lives.

I also find it interesting that the echo-statements of “I’m not a filmstar… popstar… marvel star,” etc. are, in fact, being sung by a bona fide pop star in the person of Bowie. The blackstar no longer minces words: while we may think that what we’re beholding are pop and film stars, or the gods of our culture –  what we’re actually gazing upon, even in this song, is Satan himself at work.

The final lyric I’d like to address is:

“I’m not a pornstar, I’m not a wandering star
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”

The book of Jude specifically mentions “wandering stars,” as those who teach lies, and as such, have been sentenced to gloomy darkness forever. How interesting that the blackstar is another kind of star – yet he too will face eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

At this point in the video, we see three scarecrows hanging crucifixion style. They gyrate seductively, straw spilling from their clothing. Their eyes too, like Bowie’s, are covered with gauze. I think this crucifixion scene is undeniably another reference to Christ. The fact that “Jesus” appears in the form of a scarecrow implies that he is powerless, nothing more than a joke. The straw filling implies that Jesus is empty, but we know that all the fullness of God is in him. And while the mask implies Jesus is blind, we know that he actually came to open the eyes of the blind.

At the end of the video we see a demonic looking rope-creature approach the scarecrow “Jesus” and bow before him mockingly, the scarecrow in turn spewing back. The rope-creature then strikes his heel with a hand resembling a scorpion’s stinger, and the scarecrow cries out in agony. The Bible refers to Satan and his demons as serpents and scorpions, whom Christians have power over in Jesus name.

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This calls to mind the biblical prophecy that Satan would strike Jesus’ heel and that Jesus in turn would strike his head. How interesting that one injury is a temporary setback, while the other is a fatal wound. How amazing that we as Christians have assurance that the victory belongs to Jesus! How amazing that God had a plan of salvation, from the very beginning!

This video and song come as no surprise. In this life, we can expect to encounter attacks from the evil one. Yet, it is not people we contend with, but spiritual beings. As Ephesians 6 says:

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

In conclusion, dear brothers and sisters, I ask you: should we admire an artist or stand with a culture that promotes such things? Or should we, as scripture says, stand apart? Is the content of this song tame or ambiguous? Do you think my interpretations are outlandish? Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I ask you to prayerfully search your hearts with these questions. Because a time is coming when anyone who calls themself “Christian” will have to take a greater stand than this.

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”  

– 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

 

Merry Christmas from the Beams

1 Christmas EP CPver Final

This year I wanted to record a few of my favorite Christmas songs and give them away as gifts. I have spent the last month or so working on these three songs, singing and playing them the way I hear them.

So here they are. Listen, download, and share them with your friends this Christmas…
And a Merry Christmas to you from the Beams!

 

 

 

A special Thank you to Samuel Mazur, drummer extraordinaire, for his contributions on The Little Drummer Boy. You play a mean wine carafe.

Little Drummer Boy cover: Battle of Balaclava Drummer Boy by Richard Buckner

Silent Night cover: Snow and Crow by Ryohei Tanaka

O Come O Come Emmanuel cover: Winter in Volkovskoye by Vitaly Gubarev

Why I’ll Be Wearing The Armor Of God This Halloween

When I was a kid, like most people, we celebrated Halloween. And I loved it. I mean, what kid doesn’t like to dress up and gorge on candy? My first memory of Halloween was in Germany, when I was about 6 years old. They call it Fasching there, and people wear masks and have a parade through town. That year I was a sorcerer, and my outfit was replete with a magic wand, a wizard’s hat, and a robe, covered with moons, suns and stars. It wasn’t until some years later that our family stopped observing Halloween, making the switch over to the “Fall Festival” themed celebration. But I had been exposed to the occult. I had been introduced to images of evil in the context of light-hearted “fun.”

As I grew up, I encountered the occult periodically in different ways. When I would go to sleepovers, the other girls would play “light as a feather, stiff as a board,” play with ouija boards or chant “bloody Mary” into mirrors. I didn’t fully understand that levitation was an actual occult practice. I didn’t grasp that the Ouija board and bloody Mary were conduits for spiritual contact and opening oneself up to demons. But I knew those things were bad, so I didn’t participate. My parents probably gave me that impression, but I also just knew. I had trusted in Jesus at age seven, and the Holy Spirit was living inside of me, convicting me and protecting me from harm.

But I would be lying if I told you that I came to the conclusion to not observe Halloween, purely on the basis of the Word of God. While the words God has spoken are enough, and must be enough for the believer, sometimes it does take an encounter with the demonic to sober us up into reality – God’s reality; the true world that is seen, not with natural eyes, but spiritual ones. The apostle Paul said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (1)

Despite the fact that I was a Christian as a child, I still encountered the demonic. When I was about eleven, in the weeks leading up to her salvation, my sister went into a trance, saying the word “Beelzebub” repeatedly – another name for the devil. It scared me, but I prayed to Jesus, and clung to him in my fear. On another occasion, I was sharing the gospel with my best friend, and a similar thing happened. One minute we were carrying on a conversation, and the next minute she was somebody else, with a different voice and different movements. I didn’t understand it at the time, but she was possessed. The demon in her spoke disturbing words about blood and death. I fell to my knees and cried out to Jesus. That night she became a Christian. A few years after that, I had another friend who confided in me that she saw spirits constantly, to the point of becoming suicidal. Sometimes she would call me sobbing, saying that her doors were opening and closing, and closet lights going on and off… She was torchered and scared, but I prayed for her as best I knew how. She too put her trust in Jesus, and from that point on the visitations stopped. Years later, I also learned about the reality of Satanism, through a friend who had been trafficked for ten years as a child, and forced to partake in Satanic ritual abuse. She saw babies murdered, and other things too terrible to mention. Sadly, I have another friend who had a similar experience as well.

I realize that for many people, these things are hard to grasp. I understand the difficulty in wrapping your mind around the reality that this stuff goes on all the time. And many people just don’t believe it. But it’s real. It’s so real, that we have to face it. The Bible says that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (2) But do we believe that, brothers and sisters? Do we believe that Satan is hell-bent on destroying us and stealing souls? Yet we needn’t be afraid of him, because Jesus has conquered our enemy, and it is finished. Jesus taught us so much, when he told his disciples, “…do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (3) As amazing as it is that we are fully-equipped to stand against the evil one, it is even more wonderful that we are bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus! And there is literally nothing Satan can do to take us away from him or to change that. We belong to the Lord for all eternity.

There are many more instances I could refer to, but I don’t want to be gratuitous in the details of these accounts. I don’t want to draw any more attention to Satan than he is already getting at this time of year. But I do want to draw out the fact that while there may be a lot of cutesy depictions of the occult this October, as Christians we need to be sober minded, on guard, and remember that the spiritual realm is real. It’s not a joke or a game – its an all out war. If you wear the name Christian, then you know that when the Son of God walked the earth, he cast out demons as often as he worked healing miracles. As he said himself when he quoted the prophet Isaiah, he came to set the captives free – not just from bodily illness, but from spiritual bondage: the lies of the enemy that attempt to squash the truth of Christ. (4)

In my post My Life As A Christian Mystic, I talked a lot about my own involvement in the occult, and what it was like to be traumatized by spirits. But I didn’t talk about how hard I tried to fight the enemy, for so many years. I tried casting demons away from me, I tried “claiming” my healing – I even tried telling Satan off (which isn’t a Biblical method, by the way). I would find prayers for the purging of specific spirits, and pray them, in hopes that by saying some special series of words, God would finally free me this time. I didn’t understand that by the very fact that I was seeking methods, I was necessarily using magical thinking, not a regenerated mind. It wasn’t until I finally understood that all I need for spiritual warfare is Jesus, that I experienced freedom. I was grasping for a fix, but I didn’t get the gospel. All we need for warfare is right there in what Jesus did! He already conquered Satan, so we don’t have to! We just have to believe that Jesus did it, and rely on him and what he accomplished. Trusting Jesus to save me from the evil one has set me free. I don’t need a particular prayer. I just need to believe that Jesus conquered death and Satan on the cross, and put my faith in him. We have such a treasure in God’s Word, and when Jesus taught us how to pray, he told us to daily ask God to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (5) Jesus was not only teaching us how to talk to God, but emphasizing how serious, how imminent and how present evil is. We would be foolish to overlook it.

But while we may be able to make certain decisions for ourselves, it can be nearly impossible to shield a child from everything out there that could be categorized as evil. What I’m not advocating is the sheltering of our children to the point of absurdity. But I am exhorting us as Christians to take it to heart that Halloween is a holiday that exalts demons, witches, darkness and evil. We need to prayerfully consider the passages of scripture that plainly describe those things as detestable to God. (6) (7) And we need to pray about the very real possibility that Satan, if he could have his way, would love for Christians everywhere to let down their guard, even if for just one day. Wouldn’t he be thrilled if Christians took a break from lugging around that unweildly spiritual armor, and made excuses for him – just this once?

I remember a friend of mine telling me of an encounter she had on a plane once. She happened to sit next to a very friendly Satanist, and proceeded to have a conversation about both of their religious beliefs. I was shocked to hear of one thing in particular that the Satanist disclosed to her. They said that the Church of Satan was praying corporately for Christian marriages to fail.

For me it comes down this: I have experienced so much darkness in my life – why would I ever want to return to it again? As the apostle Paul said, “now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (8)

Halloween evokes images of hell, and seeks to draw me back to that hellish space I used to exist in. But now that I am in the light, and the light is in me, I want nothing to do with the darkness anymore. “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?(9) Let’s not lift up the things that are set against our Lord. Let’s lift him up, unashamed to stand apart from our culture. We don’t have to have a separatist attitude. We don’t need to look down our noses at the world. But we should freely and joyfully proclaim the power of the gospel, making no excuses for doing so. And we should pray for the strength to do it. Daily, we should put on the whole armor of God:

“… that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (10) 

In the words of Romans 13:12, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”  This Halloween, I’ll be wearing the armor of God.

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If you want to hear a fantastic lecture on the reality of evil from a Biblical perspective, listen to this talk by the late Walter Martin.

Scripture References:

1. Put on the whole armor of God – Ephesians 6:10-13
2. The devil seeks to devour – 1 Peter 5:8-10
3. Don’t rejoice that the spirits are subject to you – Luke 10:17-20
4. Jesus came to set the captives free – Luke 4:16-21
5. The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:5-14
6. Divination, magic and demon worship is an abomination to God – Deuteronomy 18:9-13
7. You can’t drink the cup of God and demons – 1 Corinthians 10:20-21
8. Don’t be enslaved to the world once more – Galatians 4:8-9
9. Light can’t fellowship with darkness – 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
10. Putting on the whole armor of God protects us from the evil one – Ephesians 6:10-20

Song for My Friend

Before I wrote my Open Letter to Erwin McManus, I wrote this song. It was my natural response to the pain I felt for my friend who took his life, and the realization that he may have never heard the good news of the gospel. I hope he did hear it, but I will never know, this side of heaven. I wish I could tell him now, but I still have the hope that others will hear and believe.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  – Romans 1:16-17  (emphasis mine)

Fits And Starts
(In memory of Ron)

You could cry me a river
You could flood my heart
You could tell me the story
Of how things fell apart

You could paint me a picture
You could draw the line
Of where you were when you started
To where you are this time –

These fits and starts
Got you fallin’ apart
Cause’ when you trust your own heart
You’re stuck in the dark

You could look for the answer
You could stand aloof
You could talk to a preacher
And still not find the truth

Cause’ hope seemed like an illusion
Despair was an old friend
And life was like buried treasure
Empty in the end –

These fits and starts
Got you fallin’ apart
Cause’ when you trust your own heart
You’re stuck in the dark

You should have heard how he came to make things right
Take the weight of the world and make it light…
You should have heard that the justice had to start
With the trial and sentence in your heart…
You should have heard it was when you stood condemned
That’s the moment he came and stepped in
And said take me instead

Those fits and starts
Had you fallin’ apart
Cause’ when you trust your own heart
You’re stuck in the dark
I wish that I could explain…
But it’s too late.

The Ethical Imperative: Part 1

With all the news floating around lately about ISIS and the horrific persecution of Christians I, like many, have been sobered. I have been shocked into confronting the reality of how dark the darkness really is, and how much Satan truly hates Jesus and his church. But I have also been newly encouraged by the truth of God’s Word. Jesus’ words resonate in my heart, that “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (1)

As Christians, we have the comfort of understanding the sin nature of the human race, and what happens when people are redeemed and made new in Christ. But while we may still experience fear and despair, we ultimately have the peace of knowing why there is evil in the world, and that God has not abandoned us to be casualties in some cosmic joke of pain and suffering. He is building his kingdom, and calling people everywhere to himself. He is mighty and powerful, even in the face of persecution. The good news of what Jesus did for us is moving forward despite opposition, to the ends of the earth. And even in Muslim countries where the name of Jesus is illegal, he is yet proclaimed. As hard as it is to hear about what is happening to the Christians in Iraq and Syria, this strengthens my heart. Jesus assured us when he said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (2)

The book of Revelation details the coming global upheaval and persecution of Christians. It should be no surprise to us when we look around our world, to see the veneer of human ambition crumbling into the dust of apostasy and one-world “unity.” Because God told us this would happen. Jesus said, “Be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand… What I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (3)

As I work out Jesus’ admonishment to “stay awake” in my own heart and mind, I see confirmation of what Jesus warned us to be on guard against. I see it in the language used by the elite of the New Spirituality. I see it in the philosophies of a culture harnessed by the power of mass-media. And I admit that sometimes it scares me. But I cling to the cross, and Jesus’ blood which covers me like a cloak, protecting me from those who seek to destroy. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (4)

We know from scripture that a world-wide attack on believers will coincide with the rise of one man – antichrist, whom the entire world will worship. But the world cannot hate Christians without loving something else, and I believe that something will be themselves. The world pushes the message so hard: “it’s all about you,” “you deserve it,” “there’s a hero in you.” The ultimate message being sent is that “God is within you.” The same lie the serpent told eve – that truth is within you. It seems incredible to think that the whole world would buy into worshipping some person as God. But if that man were to come preaching the gospel of self – of god within us all and in all things – well, the world could get on board with that. Because who doesn’t love themselves? To put it in perspective, the goal of Satanism is self-indulgence. It is the true religion of self. As followers of Christ, it should alarm us that we too have fallen prey to the influences of this life-philosophy. We have been naive, falling for the old lie, marketed and packaged to look like something new; something that promotes our health, happiness and well-being.

As I understand it, when speaking in terms of morals and ethics, morals are the rules, while ethics are the reasons for the rules. As Christians, we believe in a moral Law giver. We look to the account of the 10 Commandments, where God gave Moses the moral Law for the people to live by. When Jesus came, he fulfilled that Law through his perfect, sinless life on our behalf, keeping for us the law that we could never keep ourselves. But he added a new commandment to the Law, saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (5) How amazing that in the freedom that Jesus, the only law-keeper gives us, we are required but to love God. From that love good works will flow from our lives; yet it is him at work in us doing the good we do, and not we ourselves.

True God-pleasing love only comes from God himself, and can only be taught to us by Him. We are only able to love him, because he first loved us. We are only able to serve one another because he served us. Jesus washed his disciple’s feet so that they would understand that they should wash one another’s. Jesus loves us with a sacrificial love that was willing to die to save us, and so we should love one another. Without love for God, our morality shatters, because it becomes wholly dependent on our ability to keep the law. When it comes to morality, we all fail the test. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expanded the Law, making it even harder for us to keep, saying that even to lust after someone in your heart is as bad as committing adultery; that even being angry with someone is as bad as committing murder.

But the world doesn’t look to the Ten Commandments or Jesus for their moral bearings. I think it’s fairly accurate to say that most people form their morality within their own hearts.  I am reminded of the movie The Matrix, in which appeared the ancient Greek Maxim “Know Thyself.” In our culture’s quest for truth and enlightenment, the emphasis isn’t on God, but self.

It was Kant who taught that the moral law comes from within each individual. He used a term called “The Categorical Imperative,” to describe his fundamental principle for all morality. “Categorical” in the sense that it applied to all human beings equally and unconditionally, on the basis that humans possess a rational, free will. “Imperative” in the sense that it was a command: that because we are rational and free, we are obligated to follow a moral law. According to Kant, “Duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the law.” According to my own definition, the “Ethical Imperative” for the Christian would be that we must love God, who is outside of ourselves, and that out of that love, all other good works flow. But for Kant and for much of the world, the term carries a different meaning: the “Ethical Imperative” is our duty to we obey the moral law within.

One of the most profound accounts in scripture is when Pilate is faced with the decision of whether or not to hand Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified. Jesus tells him “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice,” to which Pilate responds with the question, “What is truth?” But rather than waiting for an answer, he walks out. In essence, Pilate seems to be asking, “Can a person even define truth?” Yet before him stood God in the flesh, the one who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (6)

On another occasion, Jesus said,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (7)

Passages like this one used to confuse me. I read them as God’s stern warning to me, to try to follow the moral Law perfectly. And it always felt hopeless to me; because I knew my failures, and how wide I missed the mark. But now I understand that Jesus alone fulfilled the Law, praise his name! No one else has ever been able to live a morally perfect life. But Jesus did. And because he did it on our behalf, we are no longer under the guilt and punishment that comes from sin and moral failure. We have security in what Jesus has done for us. What he did is final, complete. In Jesus’ last words on the cross: “It is finished.”

Our ethics are unchanging, rooted in the Law of love God has written on our hearts. He said, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (8) But the world’s ethics are not constant; they are constantly changing, dependent on majority rule. Our ethics are motivated by Christ’s self-sacrificing love, but the world’s ethics are motivated by individualism and the “common good.” Our ethics are about trusting in God’s wisdom to define good from bad, truth from lie. The world’s ethics are about human reason, and society determining what is good, bad, or indifferent.

It is important for us as believers to think critically about Truth, and how people arrive at their various conclusions regarding it. It will have bearing on all our lives, in this post-modern, shrinking globe we are now living in. Yes, Jesus told us what was coming. It came for his disciples, and it comes today, too. He said, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (9) And, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (10)

Brothers and sisters, as we face a world that hates us, let’s not cower in the corner in fear. Let’s rejoice and leap for joy! Because God’s kingdom is not of this world. When we see the persecution of his people, we know that his kingdom, invisible to the eyes of others, is moving forward. And we count ourselves among the most blessed people on the earth. Because we are not slaves to a moral law, but we follow the moral law giver, and he has drenched us in grace. We don’t follow him because it’s our duty; we do it because we love him.

“God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:16b-19

Scripture References:

1. Hell will not prevail against the church – Matthew 16:18
2. Jesus has overcome the world – John 16:33
3. Be on guard and stay awake – Mark 13:23-37
4. Don’t fear those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul – Matthew 10:28
5. The great commandment: love God – Matthew 22:34-40
6. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life – John 14:6
7. Jesus didn’t abolish the Law, but fulfilled it – Matthew 5:17-20
8. God’s Law is written on our hearts and minds – Hebrews 10:16-18
9. You will be hated for my name’s sake – Matthew 10:22
10. You are blessed when people hate you – Luke 6:22-23

My Life As a Christian Mystic

The minute I started seeking an experience, I stopped seeking God. The minute I started trying to make God speak, I stopped hearing his voice. The minute I started searching for what is hidden, rather than what is revealed – that’s the moment I began my life as a Christian Mystic. But let me back up and tell you how it happened. Because I never thought it could happen to me.

When I was 18 years old, I left home and moved to Tennessee to be in a band with some friends. My hunger for God and his Word was insatiable, and the joy of my salvation was real. With just $200 to my name and a two-tank Ford Club Wagon, I left California and headed east. I was optimistic that I could serve God through music. I was trusting him to supply all my needs. And he truly did. He took such good care of me in a new town with few acquaintances. Yet, I would make choices that would lead me down another path – a different one than the one I had originally embarked upon.

When I first arrived in Tennessee, a woman and her husband were kind enough to take me in until I could get a place of my own. I had heard her referred to as a “prophetess” – a term I was unfamiliar with at the time. She seemed to see into my soul. I trusted her, and her relationship with God. She and her husband were very kind to me, treating me like their own daughter. Over time my respect for this woman grew, and I came to believe that she was not only wiser than me, but that she had a closer connection to God than I did. I began to rely on her insight, and “words” from the Lord. I didn’t see the subtle shift at the time, but I had refocused my trust from being wholly in God, to her. I began to look to her for guidance.

One night, this woman took me to a revival at a small country church so that I could get “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” She explained to me that I had not yet been filled with the Spirit to the fullest measure. I had been under the impression that since I was already a believer in Christ, I had been filled with the Holy Spirit. But I was at a point in my life when I wanted desperately to follow God and please him. I wanted as much of him as I could get. If there was more of God to know, and he was going to be at this revival, then I was going to be there.

Inside, the church was very small, consisting of one room with about 20 pews on each side and a small stage at the front. At the podium stood a traveling minister, doing something very peculiar. As each person came forward to receive the “baptism,” he touched them on the forehead between their eyes. As he did, they fell backwards into what seemed like an altered state of consciousness. The woman told me that the people were being “slain in the spirit.” I remember praying to God as I walked up to the front, saying, “If this is of you Lord, I want it.”

But I didn’t know what I was praying. I didn’t understand that I was putting God to the test. And I couldn’t see that I was already placing myself in a position to willingly receive whatever spiritual stuff was being dispensed that night. I had essentially already decided: I wanted to be touched. I wanted the “spirit.” I wanted to know what all these other people seemed to know, possess the secret knowledge they seemed to possess, and join the ranks of the truly spiritual. I wanted more.

When the preacher touched my forehead, it felt so light – as if his finger had barely grazed my skin. Immediately I felt a wind-like magnetic force blow my body over, pushing me backwards, down to the floor. I tried to get up, but I felt as if I were glued there by an unseen hand. I couldn’t even lift my head. So I gave in, surrendering to the experience. Waves of intense peace washed over me, like I had never experienced before. It was a little scary, yet exhilarating. As I lay there, I heard the mantra repeated over me again and again, “I love you, I love you, I love you…”

My “baptism in the Holy Spirit” proved to be life altering, and not just in terms of the experience I had that night. From that point on, I began to sense things, “see” things, and “know things” about people. As I went through my daily life, I would often see people – complete strangers, and hear words that I felt strongly compelled to share. I felt so sure that it was God speaking to me, and I believed that he wanted me to demonstrate my faith by speaking forth the words that he gave. There were times when I would tell a person something God had “told me,” and they would just start weeping. Sometimes I would just see pictures, like a flash, when I was looking at someone or praying for them. But whenever I shared “words,” people would respond affirmatively. I came to believe that God had given me the gift of prophecy. Little did I know this was just the beginning of a painful journey that would take years to unravel. A long chapter in my life that I am now re-reading, deciphering, and holding up to the light of God’s Word. In many ways, the end of that chapter would bring me back to square one in my faith. Yet I am grateful to God for delivering me from the evil of that false spirituality.

As I embraced a more charismatic Christianity, I needed to add experience to scripture in order to further validate my faith. Faith in the finished work of Christ alone was no longer enough. I needed to constantly “hear from God,” in order to feel that I was in his will. Perhaps most insidious of all, I viewed myself as more spiritual than what I perceived to be other more nominal Christians. (1) As my need for access to the spirit realm deepened, I began to experiment with my spirituality. I didn’t realize it then, but I had entered the Kingdom of the Occult. For the next seven years I heavily pursued the supernatural, all the while thinking that I was seeking God’s face.

My quiet times moved further away from God’s Word, and became sessions where I would sit with my Bible open on my lap, asking God to direct me to passages that would speak to me “prophetically.” Sometimes in an attempt to hear from God, I would do automatic writing. Pages would flow, as I wrote down “God’s heart for me.” I had a vague awareness that this was a technique used in the occult, but I rationalized that I was using it for good, because I was a Christian. How sad that I sought something better, when I already held in my hands the treasure of God’s Word. At other times, I would practice “centering prayer,” repeating a word like a mantra, emptying my mind and receiving subsequent words and visions. I didn’t draw a connection to Jesus’ admonition to “not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.(2)

When I met my husband, things began to change. Although a professing Christian, he was not as comfortable with the idea of going up to complete strangers and sharing words from The Lord. I began to retreat into myself more, and speak out less. Yet I continued to hear words, see pictures and have visions and dreams.

For the first 8 years of our marriage we attended a church in L.A. that we initially felt had a strong sense of community, but that we eventually came to believe is a Bible-based cult. In addition to many manipulative, relational dynamics, the church had a mystical view of God, with a particular emphasis on maintaining an emotional high based on experiential faith. The emphasis on doctrine was weak, and the poor teaching I received there taught me a worldly version of Christianity that made room for a lot of sin, impurity and half-truths. It was during this time that much of my involvement with the occult transpired.

On several occasions, I engaged in guided imagery, in an attempt to achieve emotional healing from past hurts. A friend who called herself a Christian led me in the exercise. At the time, I didn’t see any problem with the fact that she also had psychic abilities and read auras. In these guided imageries I would see “Jesus” appear in my childhood memories, helping me to work through the years of pain. Although I couldn’t admit it at the time, something about this Jesus felt terribly off. I didn’t understand then that guided imagery is an occult technique used by mediums, new agers and the like. It wasn’t until I read two good books – The Seduction of Christianity, and The Beautiful Side of Evilthat I was able to see this method for the counterfeit that it was; a replacement for the authentic healing work of the Holy Spirit.

During this time period I developed a lot of health problems, and sought the help of “doctors” who used a kind of divination method in order to pinpoint my physical issues. By asking “yes” or “no” questions, they would read my body, with magnetism techniques and energy charts. During this period I also opened myself up to practicing divination on my own, spinning a pendulum over my palm. A girl from our church had shown me how to do it, and I tried it several times on my own, with much success. I didn’t know then that I was engaging in divination, but I felt convicted that I was seeking answers outside of God, so I stopped. Yet I still had little discernment. And I continued to seek help from methods, rather than from God himself.

In the last several years in our church in L.A., my ability to “hear from God” became stronger than ever. Almost daily, words and pictures would pop into my head from out of nowhere. They began to make less and less sense, and were often either bizarre, or in the realm of the outright occult. At our church, the pastor had told me that I was the “most prophetic person” in our congregation, and asked me to share with him any words, visions, dreams or insights I received. Yet he did not have the discernment himself to test the spirits, or to question where my information was coming from. He gave me no Biblical instruction or parameters. It was the blind leading the blind. In my desperation to “hear from God,” I fell deeper into darkness.

Eventually, the sum of these experiences brought me to a place where my spiritual encounters no longer felt benevolent, but actually became hostile in nature. I became more and more disturbed in my spirit, even as I also became aware of an evil presence that seemed to always be with me. Strange things began happening to me. On one occasion, I heard an audible whisper of a mocking voice taunting me. I felt its hatred palpably. On several other occasions, I woke in the night pinned down in my bed, being choked by an invisible force. More and more I was tormented by evil beings that surrounded me, and the relentlessness of their presence. Why was this happening? How could I make it stop? I prayed to God to make them go away, but nothing seemed to work. I believed I was supposed to be a victor in Christ, but I felt like the living dead. (3)

Unable to take it any more, my husband and I finally cried out to the Lord for help. We had reached our end. We began to admit that something in our lives was terribly wrong. We didn’t know what it was yet; but we could see that what was happening in our lives did not match up with what scripture teaches about a full, free life in Christ. We began to actually read the Word, and submit to God’s wisdom, rather than our own reasoning. We prayed for God to take away all the confusion and lies, and to help us see Truth.

Then something amazing happened. We began to find freedom! As we started to understand the gravity of the deception and spiritual darkness we had exposed ourselves to, we were able to repent and shut the doors we had opened, one by one. Through reading the Word, I was able to re-learn who the real Jesus is. I was able to see that the spirit I had assumed was “Jesus,” was a fraud. I was able to begin to understand that the reason scripture over and over again emphasizes the importance of the Word, is because there are so many other spirits and lies that come in Jesus’ name, pretending to be him, to be the truth. The only way to know who the real Jesus is, is to know the Word. Personal revelations are not enough; we must hold up everything to scripture. (4)

As the truth about my involvement in the occult became increasingly clear to me, I began to research the practices I had engaged in. I learned that my experience of being “slain in the spirit,” was identical to a practice in Hinduism, where the guru touches the “third eye” on the forehead of the disciple, in order to awaken their “Kundalini power,” also known as the “serpent power.” I learned that the goal of this experience, as is the goal of yoga, is to awaken the individual to personal divinity  – i.e. the “god within,” thereby creating a sense of oneness with God and all things. I learned that much of what I experienced as a direct result of my own “awakening,” including the prophetic propensities which I developed, are well documented as typical supernatural phenomena for those involved in the occult. (5) I learned that sensations of deep peace and well being are common in the new age and many occult practices; yet they are almost always accompanied by evil encounters that follow the initial bliss. I was finally able to distinguish between the physical, almost drunken sense of well being I had experienced – and the true peace that only comes from the security of salvation by faith in Jesus, and his finished work on the cross. I learned that methods of materialization are cheap magic, inviting demons to “play house” in the theatre of our minds. I learned that the contemplative prayer traditions have no root in scripture, but make use of pagan ritual as a way of conjuring – rather than praying to God. All the practices I had engaged in had not drawn me closer to God, but pushed me  further away from him.

The word “occult” means “that which is hidden.” In a nutshell, that’s what I had been striving for, all of those years. I had called it “God,” and “Jesus.” But like most of us, I didn’t want truth that was free and available to all, as plain as the words on a piece of paper. I wanted something that was mine alone. I wanted something secret. I wanted something more. I didn’t really want to have to pray to God and wait on him for an answer; I wanted an instant granting of my requests. In the Old Testament, this practice is referred to as sorcery, witchcraft, divination, fortune telling and magic. It is forbidden by God, because it clearly seeks to circumvent him and his sovereignty by taking control into our own hands. Just like the gnostics of old, my quest had turned away from seeking God, to seeking power; power that comes from having privileged information.

In the Bible, we see the contrast between the way diviners, sorcerers and false prophets seek answers through magic, versus the way God’s people seek him through relationship. Abraham, the father of our faith, “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (6) What is faith, but to put your trust in another? And again in Hebrews 4:14-16 we are encouraged by the sacrificial love of Jesus who, “…in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The approach of the world has always been to do things on our own, apart from God. But this is diametrically opposed to what God commands of us: to acknowledge him and come to him, making our requests known, leaving the outcome in his hands. Whereas the way of sorcery teaches that one achieves results or gains the information they desire by following a set of steps or rules, God says “Come now, let us reason together… though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…(7) It’s such a simple litmus test, but it’s reliable: if something requires you to use a method or ritual in order to gain knowledge, wisdom, peace or health, it’s not from the true God.

I find it fascinating that so many people falsely perceive Christianity as primarily about keeping a set of rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. While as believers, we desire greatly to do the things that please God, we understand that nothing we do can save us, improve us, or make us acceptable to God. It’s not about rule-keeping, because we know we cannot keep the rules, because we are fallen and sinful, and will therefore always break them. But thank God, we rely on Jesus – the one who kept the rules perfectly, in order to justify us. We have the joy of being able to come to him, fully approved and cleansed from all our evil and failures. We have the privilege of being able to be in a relationship with the very God who created us. And we know that while we still follow the law, we are no longer bound to it; because Jesus alone could fulfill it, and he has.

By God’s grace he has brought me out of the christian-occult. By his grace, he has brought me out from under weak and false teaching, and shown me the gloriousness of his Word and the finished work of Christ. By God’s grace he has taught me the difference between seeking him alone, and seeking hidden knowledge. And isn’t that the original sin? The lie the serpent told Eve, that she could know what God knew? It tempts us all in our pride – in our presumption to question, “Did God really say?” We all fall for the Lie, when we seek to be like God. We all fall into deception when we fail to take him at his Word(8)

The question that is now ever before me is, “Is God enough?” Will I be fully satisfied in him alone? Or do I need something more than God? Do I need some other version of Christianity, that makes promises to me that I can’t even find in my Bible? Will I believe what God teaches: that we are called into a relationship with him, to know and love him by receiving the pure gift of salvation, through no good works of our own? Or will I believe what the world teaches: that we can gain knowledge, wisdom, peace and health – not through relationship or a gift of grace, but through the effort of method and practice? Will we prefer to have our itching ears scratched with the lies we crave to hear? Or will we desire the truth that calls us to pick up our cross, and follow Jesus? Do we prefer a secret that makes us feel like one of the privileged few? Or do we want the good news of the gospel, proclaimed from roofs and hilltops for all to hear? (9) Will we seek added revelation to God’s already revealed Word? (10) Or will we trust him? Every wrong path seeks not God himself, but knowledge. Only the narrow path will lead to life. (11)

Scripture References:

1. All Christians are equal in Christ – Galatians 3:26-28
2. Don’t pray with empty phrases & repetitions; The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:5-14
3. You can’t drink the cup of God and demons – 1 Corinthians 10:21-22
4. Not every spirit is from God – 1 John 4:1-6
5. Christian Counseling and Occultism – by Kurt E. Koch
6. Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness – Genesis 15:1-6
7. God calls us to reason with him – Isaiah 1:18-20
8. Satan’s lie: we can know what God knows & be immortal – Genesis 3
9. The good news is good – Romans 10:14-15
10. Don’t add to God’s Word – Revelation 22:18-21
11. The broad road leads to destruction; the narrow road leads to life – Matthew 7:13
12. Slaves to righteousness – Romans 6:15-19

Live in the Light

False teaching is no joke: it has the power to keep us in spiritual chains, locked away from the freedom that Jesus bought for us with his blood. It was the apostle Paul who said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (1)

If we call ourselves Christians we should take to heart the fact there there is warning after warning in scripture against deception and false teaching. Jesus’ first response, when asked what would be the sign of his return, said “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” (2) We would be naive to take an attitude that says, “As long as they preach Christ, isn’t that enough?” On the contrary, we are commanded to “…test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (3) Time and again we are cautioned to beware of false teachers. The Bible describes them as those who “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction… in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (4)

I believe we all have to make the choice: are we going to rely on our own reasoning when it comes to matters that are difficult to understand? Or are we going to pray and look to scripture, asking God for discernment and truth? Is our starting point going to be “what makes sense to me”? Or will it be God’s Word, revealed by his Spirit? Who do we believe has the corner on truth? Is it some guy standing on stage who needs a spotlight to point him out? Is it our well meaning friends and family, whom we care for deeply? Is it the daily blogosphere, or the pop-philosophies of a godless culture? Or will we turn to the God whom we claim to worship and serve? Paul said, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.” (5)

God makes it clear in his Word that his wisdom is not like ours. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if it’s logical to your human mind, chances are that it’s not the way God thinks. Because his thoughts are not our thoughts, and our ways are not his ways, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (6) God has destroyed the wisdom of the so-called wise, since “in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, (therefore) it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (7).

I don’t know about you, but those are sobering words that make me want fall on my knees and pray to God for mercy—to see his truth, know his wisdom. Jesus taught us to pray “Deliver us from evil,” (8) and apparently even his close friends were susceptible to it, as in the case of Jesus telling Peter “Get behind me Satan.” So wouldn’t it therefore follow that we are all desperately vulnerable to wickedness, and need God to save us from deception? Or do we really think we are so masterfully wise as to outsmart the schemes of the evil one by relying on our reasoning alone? I for one do not think I am that strong.

It all hinges on the message of the cross and Christ crucified. If we aren’t hearing that message clearly preached from our pulpits on a regular basis, then we aren’t hearing the gospel. We are hearing something else—something manufactured by men. Jesus himself said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”(9)

We all have doctrine. We all form a belief-system from the influences that surround us. We all choose what to let in and allow it to shape our lives. Some people argue that Biblical doctrine is a waste of time; that only actions of social justice matter. But actions that are untethered from faith in God are just good works, and scripture says that, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (10) And again in Romans 3:20 we learn that, “By the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.”

The Bible makes it clear that it is only the works of those who live by faith that please God. That means that all the well-meaning, good stuff being done out there to “make the world a better place” brings no pleasure to God. God’s wisdom is not like ours alright. I don’t know about you, but if I’m being honest, that concept is disconcertingly counter-intuitive to me. Yet we know that Christ always and only could do the things that pleased his Father. Likewise, it is only through Christ that any believer is able to please God. Apart from him, we can’t even approach God, let alone please him. But praise be to God that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (12) It is only in Christ that are we are able to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence. (13)

My prayer for myself, for the Church, and for you my friends is that we turn back to scripture, and there discover an abiding relationship with the one true God. He has gone to great lengths to reveal himself to us. Don’t buy the lie that you cannot know truth. It is possible to know the one who knows us, and created us to be known by him. I pray that we will have a revelation of his holiness, knowing that our good works, pontifications and even “common sense” can’t save us. I pray that we will stop grasping for a faddish, ethereal experience, but instead reach out for the grounded-ness that is the reality of Jesus, and the good news he died to bring. And I pray that you won’t take my word for it. Because I don’t have the truth; only God does. I pray that you will seek God to see what he says, what he thinks, what he wants. And I pray that believers everywhere will live in the light, and cling to the cross of Christ alone for the power and strength to do so.

1 John 1:5-10 says it best: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Scripture References:

1. Only one gospel – Galatians 1:6-9
2. False Christs will come – Matthew 24:3-8
3. Test the spirits – 1 John 4:1-6
4. False teachers – 2 Peter 2:1-3
5. Examine yourselves – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6
6. God’s ways are higher than ours – Isaiah 55:6-9
7. God has destroyed the wisdom of the wise –1 Corinthians 1:17-31
8. We need God to deliver us from evil – Matthew 6:9-13
9. The futile, man-made gospel – Matthew 15:8-9
10. Only faith pleases God – Hebrews 11:6
11. Works can’t save you – Romans 3:9-31
12. In Christ we are new – 2 Corinthians 5:17
13. In Christ we can draw near to God – Hebrews 4:14-16
14. Walk in the light; live in the truth – 1 John 1:5-10

An Open Letter To Erwin McManus

Dear Erwin,

It has been a long time since I have seen you. Ten years, in fact. Before I get into this letter, let me just say that I care for you and wish only the best for you and your family. In my time at Mosaic, you and Kim were always kind to me. You both took a personal interest in me and gave me many opportunities. While I did have a falling out with leadership regarding my decision to not take on my own worship band at the time, things remained amicable for the most part, until I left Mosaic. The concerns and criticism I am putting forth in this letter are not meant to be a personal attack but to focus on things you have said that I sincerely believe have caused damage for many. Although I am going to speak plainly, my prayer is that you will hear my heart, which is to speak truth in love. My desire and purpose is not to tear you down. But I take God’s Word to heart, and there is precedent for confronting those who claim the pastoral office and yet do not faithfully preach God’s Word. What you have spoken, you have spoken publicly. And so I am responding to you with this open letter.

[I would also like to say a quick word to anyone attending Mosaic: this letter is not meant as a criticism of you. I still have friends whom I dearly love who attend Mosaic. It is my sincere hope that you will be able to discern the intent and tone of my heart in this letter.]

When I heard about the release of your new book “The Artisan Soul,” I went and watched your promo on YouTube to get a sense of what it was about. The message is a typical one for you: the idea that at our core, we are all artists. I heard that same message over and over again in my time at Mosaic LA from 20002004. Again and again I heard the message that artists are more fully-realized people and that realized people are more artistically and creatively in tune. The focus was on creativity, and the talented individual was held in high esteem. And I loved it. It stroked my ego at a time when my identity was completely wrapped up in my artistic ability. I was in my early twenties, and was insecure and looking for purpose in life. But I didn’t hear much about Jesus. What I heard about mostly was myself.

Then several months ago I listened to the message you gave at Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, entitled Created to Create (20:58). In that sermon you talked a lot about our “intention” as humans—i.e., that our intention, or purpose in life, is to be creative beings. But you also talked about something else that I want to discuss, and by way of that discussion, bring up my other concerns. You shared a story about an artist friend of yours who had committed suicide. Most of us who attended Mosaic LA for any length of time in the last 15 years will know who you were talking about – a man who was an amazing fine artist and all-around remarkable guy. I remember the first time I attended Mosaic, he was on stage painting a 6-foot tall cross during the service. I reconnected with him about 3 years ago, just a few months before he ended his life. I wanted to collaborate with him on a music video for my song “Man of Sorrows.” He had been excited to work together. When I heard the news of his suicide, I was in shock. I kept asking myself, “Didn’t he hear the gospel? Didn’t he know that Jesus came to set him free?” Sadly, as you demonstrated in this sermon, I can only wonder whether you ever shared the gospel with him. In your account, I heard no words of hope at all. This caused me to further reflect upon your teaching in my time at Mosaic, and I realized that I had, in fact, never heard the good news of the gospel from you either. In fact, I cannot think of a single time that the topics of justification, atonement, or repentance of sins were clearly stated. This is the reason I am writing this letter.

In the sermon you gave at Gateway Church, you shared about your artist friend, giving your assessment of what went wrong:

I remember years ago I was talking to an artist. He was always depressed, which is sort of redundant. And I remember sitting down with him, and he said, “I’m having a hard time getting a job,” which is also redundant. And I said “Why?” and he goes, “Well, everybody who wants to hire me wants me to prostitute my talent.” I said, “What do you mean?” And he goes, “Well, they don’t want me to use my art to speak things that are real.” I said “Why?” He goes, “You know, like pain, despair, brokenness, sorrow, violence.” I said, “Well, what do they want you to use your art to communicate?” He said, “You know, things like hope, happiness, joy, love.” I said, “Can I ask you a question?” He said, “Sure.” And I said, “Is it possible that emotions like happiness even, could be real? That hope or love could be real? That joy could be an authentic human emotion, inspiring art?” He paused, and thought for a long time, and I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “That thought has never occurred to me.”

See, the reason it seems as if all honest art comes from the dark places of the human spirit is because most of us have not allowed our lives to be transformed, so that joy is an authentic human experience. So that hope is an authentic human experience. Twenty years later, before he turned forty, that friend of mine took his life because he could find no reason to live. One of the most talented artists in the world. Because you can only create out of your essence, and that essence must then come in alignment with God’s intention. I love how everything God creates has intention….Only humans have the highest intention, and can live without our intention. We can live against our intention. You wonder why you’re miserable? Why you feel unfulfilled? Why you feel this internal angst? It’s because as a human being, your intention is so divine in its nature that you can forsake it. Because that intention must be chosen. That’s why we keep asking these questions, “What is God’s will for my life?” If there’s beauty in my soul, if there’s hope in my soul, if there’s light in my soul, if there’s love in my soul, that’s the world I will create. If there’s bitterness, anger, envy, despair, that’s the world I will create.

This friend always seemed like the textbook “tortured artist” type to me, and it seems he did to you too. As someone who has also struggled with the weight of portraying truth, I identify profoundly with what he expressed to you in that conversation. It was clear from his response that happiness, joy, and hope were not real to him. And it was not in his nature to fake it but to express only that which he knew. It is also clear when you observe his art itself, that he placed the utmost importance on honesty. His response to you was essentially him saying, “I don’t know happiness, I don’t know joy, I don’t know hope.” As you pointed out, people can’t preach what they don’t know. So he wasn’t able to make “happy” or “uplifting” art because he didn’t have hope. But he needed it. Desperately. And he was reaching out for it.

But in that moment, when his disappointment and despair was laid bare before you, what hope did you offer him? Did you share with him the good news that although we are all born dead in sin and at enmity with God, (1) Jesus came to make peace with God on our behalf? (2) That because of our sinful condition, punishment was justly deserved (3); yet Jesus, who had done no wrong, stood as a substitute in our place and said “take me instead”? (4) That because he’s cleared our debt, we no longer have to go on living under the crushing burdens of our successes or failures and the unsurmountable injustice and pain of this world? That through his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to bury our old self (5) and be born again as a new creation, the way God always intended us to be? (6) That because of that, we don’t have to strive anymore to earn God’s favor or to be “good enough” because he has already done everything that needs to be done? (7) That no amount of effort to improve ourselves or to be happy or positive can save us because our trying always shifts the burden of salvation back to us? That either we can save ourselves or we can’t—and if we cannot, then we need a Savior to literally come and rescue us from ourselves? That we are therefore finally free from the lie that we have to change ourselves in order to be good or acceptable; that it is only God’s love and goodness that matters, not our own? That nothing can give us hope or transform the human soul, except to place one’s faith in Jesus and all that he’s done for us?

No. Instead you suggested that he “allow” his life to “be transformed so that joy is an authentic human experience.” But what gives us the power to transform our nature, Erwin? In your sermon in Austin, as well as in every sermon I have heard you preach, you never explained how that transformation is to take place. As it has always been in your preaching, the focus was not on God but on human potential. When listening to your teachings, we are left to assume that we are each responsible for changing our own attitude from bad to good. But how do we do that? This view of things puts us at the center and all the burden of transformation squarely on our own shoulders. But the gospel says that none of us can ever measure up or change ourselves—and we don’t need to; because Jesus lived a perfect life for us, and he has promised to change us.

Additionally, in your conversation with him, you completely disregarded his assertion of the reality of suffering and pain in this world. Instead of acknowledging his cry for help, you pontificated with “what if” questions. “What if joy is just as real as pain?” you asked. I’ve heard you speak enough to recognize that your worldview is based on “the truth within,” rather than objective truth, found outside of oneself. On one hand there is you, talking about the truth you see inside of yourself as one single person; on the other hand there is God, and the truth he has divinely spoken through his holy Word. I would argue that unless you are openly submitting your teaching to the Word of God, then your own heart is your barometer for truth. But scripture says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (8) He saw injustice in the world, as we all do, and he wanted answers. Answers that would satisfy the deepest longing of his soul. But instead of pointing him to what Jesus had done for him, you essentially told him that his negative worldview was his own fault.  Instead of acknowledging that injustice is not only real, but that ultimate justice has been met in the person of Christ, you implied that the ills of the world could be reduced to a personal choice to stifle one’s own beauty or light.

Which leads me to this question: what is your definition of sin, in a worldview like this, where we can rid ourselves of all evil by simply willing to do so? And does sin only exist within the individual, or also in the world, outside of human beings? And if it does exist outside of the individual and the choices they make, then can we ever truly get rid of sin, evil, darkness, or negativity? I would sincerely like to know where you get this teaching from because I can’t find it anywhere in the Bible. Your philosophy does not seem any different from the gospel of the world, which has always said, “If we just put our minds to it, we can do anything.” We see this concept, which is alive and well today, presented centuries ago in the passage of the Tower of Babel, where God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” It was never God’s intention for us to accomplish wonderful things on our own, apart from him. The idea of “human potential” is meaningless in the light of the utter human failure that is sin. Our potential was fatally compromised in the Garden of Eden. But when we trust in God, who is not merely “potential,” but who is Himself the very accomplishment and fulfillment of all things (10), then and only then do we we live in the light. As the Psalmist says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (11)

Let me pause for a moment to be clear: I am not implying that you are responsible for this man’s death. Taking his life was his own decision. But that you would use it as a means of casting yourself in a wise, knowing light is reprehensible. He was in a sinking ship. But instead of throwing him the lifeline of the gospel, you threw him the bricks of your own philosophies. As saddened as I am by his suicide, it saddens me even more that he was not given the truth.

I am aware that you do not consider the Bible to be the ultimate authority on matters of faith or life. You have gone on record before stating that “I build my life not on the Word of God, but the voice of God” (Relevant Magazine, September 23, 2005). During the time I attended Mosaic, I would have had no problem accepting a statement like that. At that time, I was a gnostic and a Christian mystic, dabbling in the occult without even realizing what I was doing. I was deceived into mistaking another voice for God. I emptied and opened up my spirit to what I thought was God and Jesus but eventually learned were impostors, voices of demons. I learned the hard way that only God’s Word is life and truth. (12) In my own experience at Mosaic, you always went to great lengths to keep scripture out of the conversation. Although in your preaching you would read texts and portions of the Bible, you poured your own meaning into them. Rather than asking “What does this say?” you focused on your own opinion, vision, thoughts, and words.

In your promo video for The Artisan Soul you said “I think it’s the most important message of my life,” and that you could teach people the “process for how to craft your life into a work of art.” But where does a life like this artist’s fit into that scenario? Was his life a work of art, or not? And if so, then why do you think he was compelled to end it? Or is true art defined only as that which promotes a positive message? And who, in the end, is the judge of what is good and worthwhile, and what is not? I have to be honest Erwin, when I heard this, it truly saddened me. You could have made the gospel the most important message of your life!

As you pointed out in your sermon, Jesus said that “only God is good.” (13) Yet instead of understanding that Jesus was teaching us that we desperately need his goodness because we have none in and of ourselves, you concluded that, “Everything is good because God is good.” Such a statement reflects a pantheistic worldview that walks hand in hand with the new spirituality and human potential movements, which teach that God is in everyone and everything. But this isn’t what the Bible teaches. It’s a Christ-less Christianity, hardly distinguishable from the “christ-consciousness” teachings of the high-profile, pagan gurus of today. Jesus himself warned that in the last days many would claim to be the Christ, but would not be, and instead be posers, deceivers, and ultimately, anti-christ. (14)

Your message of human potential kept me in bondage for years. Your message that, as you say in the YouTube promo, “people all over the world are waiting to be awakened to the deep God-given potential that is waiting to come to life. Every one of us are artists; we all have the artisan soul.” For years I believed that unless I did something outwardly impressive with my life, my gifts, and talents – my life would fall short. You had so built up this idea that we have to “do something big” that I became desperate for success. Pursuit of career became confused with pursuit of God, and my hunger for God was slowly choked out, replaced with a lust for the things of this world. That burden of transformation was all on me; and I was sinking under the weight of it. You didn’t tell me that no matter how hard I tried or what I accomplished, it would still fall short of the glory of God. You didn’t tell me that Jesus had already met the mark for me, so I don’t have to. You didn’t tell me that I don’t need to change the world because Jesus already did. But when the true gospel gripped my heart, I finally understood that because Jesus succeeded, I am still accepted by God when I fail. Now I know that my worth isn’t found in what I do, but in Jesus, and putting my faith in him.

Don’t tell me that I am amazing, Erwin. Tell me the truth about Jesus, and him crucified, buried, and risen for me. That is true human potential: what Jesus alone did on the cross. None of us could have done it, but the God-man, fully divine and fully human. Biblical human potential requires that God act on man’s behalf because our humanity equals sin and death. The Bible teaches that we are sinful at our core. But you teach that every human being is an artist at their core. When you say, “Everyone of us have creative potential that is to be unleashed for the good of the world,” where does a cross or a Savior fit into that scenario? As far as I can tell, in a world where we can make things better on our own, there is no need for a Savior.

Scripture makes it clear that God is saving us out of the world, not calling us to change it. (15) His purpose is not to “release everything inside of you and me, our passions, our intellect, our imagination, our creativity…to make the world more beautiful, to make the world a better place, to create an extraordinary future,” (The Artisan Soul ). His purpose is to seek and find that which was lost and adopt us into his family, so that each of us can share in Him and His inheritance.  We were never meant to build a kingdom here in this world. Hebrews 11:16 says that those who have faith, “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” It is those who look to the here and now, rather than to eternity, for whom the message of human potential rings true.

I thank God he saved me from a false gospel. He has shown me that there is infinitely more power in the Word he has already spoken in scripture, than in the word I hear within. He has shown me that he exists objectively outside of myself and is not merely something I sense spiritually with my own inner compass. I am desperately grateful for the gift of his Word, by which we can test all who claim to come in his name, as the Bereans did, and were commended for doing so.

In the years since I left Mosaic I have found it troubling that you self-apply titles like “futurist,” “cultural anthropologist,” and “cultural architect.” In your recent message in Austin, you used a new self-applied title, “expert on humans.” Yet ironically, when faced with the hardest questions and most primal longings of the human soul, you were unable to give anything more than empty platitudes. Instead of sharing with him the fantastic news that Jesus died to set him free from slavery and bondage to darkness, you told him to make happy art. When I attended Mosaic, your primary message week after week was, “Live the life God dreams for you.” From what I have heard in your recent preaching, and now your new book “The Artisan Soul,” your message has not changed. Your emphasis has remained on the creature, rather than the creator.

Maybe people do have God-given gifts. Maybe God even uses them. But the greatest gift, and the only one that really matters, is the gift of eternal life in Christ. Without the power of the message that we are sinners in need of being saved, all of your heartfelt attempts to be profound and meaningful are empty—like clouds without rain. You use a lot of words as the backdrop for your passionate and persuasive language, words like “soul,” “potential,” “dreams,” “passion,” “intellect,” “beauty,” “creativity,” “imagination,” and “materialization.” And although you are able to captivate your hearers, your message is foggy. What you are saying isn’t so important as the power of the emotional response you are able to draw out of people. Your lofty teachings may have a sort of power, but they do not have the power to save. Ironically, you fail to acknowledge that which makes us not only most human, but truly beautiful: God’s saving grace.

I earnestly pray that God would reveal truth to you, Erwin. I pray that his Word would cut through to your heart, as with a double-edged sword (16). I pray that you would work not to further your own kingdom, but the kingdom of God—which is not of this world. I pray that you will be undone, in the kindest, most merciful way. I pray you will hear The Lord calling your heart back to himself, and not harden it, but heed with surrender. Then your life will be truly epic. Then you will become a part of the most powerful movement since the dawn of time. Not one that sprung out of the mind of any man, but the one that the only true revolutionary, Jesus, began, and that he alone can accomplish and finish. I pray you will finish the race with your eyes fixed not on yourself but on the one who bled and died for you; not to affirm the “beauty and light” of your own soul, but so that your sins could be removed as far as the east is from the west and so you could be made a new creation in Him. I pray for you, Erwin, that you will hear the words of this letter, and if you find your heart pricked, repent.

For his glory—broken, yet alive to Christ,

Thena

UPDATE: After receiving a message suggesting that I was self-servingly revealing the identity of the artist referred to above—and willfully bringing harm to his family—I have decided to remove his name and picture. This criticism is unfounded. However, I desire to respect his family and show kindness to them in their grief. My intention in revealing his name was only to show my admiration and mutual respect for him as an artist. I pray for healing for his family and the hope of the gospel of Christ. 

Scripture References:

1. Born dead into sin – Romans 5:12-21
2. Jesus is our peace – Ephesians 2:13-22
3. The wages of sin is death – Romans 6:20-23
4. He stood in our place – 2 Corinthians 5:21
5. Buried & raised with Christ – Colossians 2:8-15
6. In Christ a new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
7. He has done our works for us – Isaiah 26:12-13
8. The heart is deceitful – Jeremiah 17:9
9. Tower of Babel – Genesis 11
10. All is summed up in Christ – Ephesians 1:9-10
11. In his light we see light – Psalm 36:9
12. All scripture is God-breathed – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
13. No one is good except God – Mark 10:17-18
14. Many will claim to be the Christ & lead many astray – Matthew 24:3-5
15. The Parable of the Weeds – Matthew 13:24-30
16. The word of God pierces the heart – Hebrews 4:12

Our Religion is a Torn Religion: Part 2

Click here to read: Our Religion is a Torn Religion: Part 1

I remember when the Berlin wall came down. My dad was in the military at the time, and I recall actual hunks of the wall appearing on the desks of officers in my dad’s battalion. They were like holy relics. To have a piece of the Berlin Wall was like owning a tangible piece of freedom. By definition, to posses a piece of it meant  that separation had ended, and the wall had been destroyed. When the wall fell, it was a huge deal not just for Germany, but for the world. It had stood for years as an impenetrable reminder of oppression and separation. But when it came down, families were reunited, and East and West were joined once more. There was reconciliation.

Yet unlike the Berlin wall that crumbled to bits, Jesus remains whole. Although symbolically he was torn, he physically bears the scars to prove his love for the world. The prophet Isaiah foretold of his sacrifice when he said,

“He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (1)

The wounded healer. The account in Revelation 5 always strikes me to the core, when the four living creatures and twenty-four elders fall down before the Lamb and sing a new song saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

The Lamb who was slain. His scars, irreversible. His death-conquering life. My ransomed life. The curtain torn. My fourth-degree tear. The permanence of it all. The finality.

Then I came upon another verse, in Ephesians 2:13-18, which says,

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

And again, in Micah 2:12-13:

“I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men. He who opens the breach goes up before them; they break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king  passes on before them, the Lord at their head.”

As if that weren’t enough, Jesus himself said, (5)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

When I look back over the past four years and see how God has been speaking his Gospel into my heart, it just amazes me. Because as much as I was encouraged then by what I was learning about Jesus’ finished work on the cross, I still hadn’t grasped the truth that because he has done it all, there is nothing left for me to do. It’s all on him. There’s nothing I can do to earn God’s approval, or my own salvation. All I can do is receive his free gift of grace. All I can do is say “I need you Jesus.” It has taken me awhile to understand that. Because it’s human nature to want to earn approval. It’s natural to want to have to do something – anything, in order to feel that we deserve God’s love.

I have believed in Jesus for years – but I still thought there was something I needed to do in order to be saved; in order to be “good enough.” But Christ’s work is finished, it ‘s complete. And God wants all the credit. He’s God. He tells us there is nothing we can do; in fact, nothing left to do. Jesus did it all. Tullian Tchividjian puts it best when he says, “Jesus plus nothing equals everything.” (6)

I have had a hard recovery. When something is completely rent, it doesn’t easily return to the way it was before. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t think I would have looked at these scriptures as deeply as I have, had I not experienced being torn myself. Seeing that our religion is a torn religion, has been the point of my salvation. Seeing the complete and utter “done” of what Jesus did has changed me forever. It’s a pure gift. It’s the pinnacle of love. It’s love that loves, just because.

I have longed for peace with God. I think everybody does. Even people who don’t know what to call it, feel it. That something is wrong in this life, this world. That something needs to be made right. That it’s not just what’s out there that’s messed up, but what’s inside, here, that needs a cure.

As a believer, I know why Jesus came to die. I know he came to save me from my sins. He came to make things right. We could never do it on our own. We were injured, sick and helpless. We needed a doctor. We didn’t know it, but we needed a physician with scars himself. He healed us, and took the blame, punishment and separation away. He came to restore us to where God always intended us to be, in union with him. His death was a sacrifice, because he effectively stood in my place and said to God the Father, “take me instead.” He took my lashes. He took my scars. I was unable to make peace with God because my sin made me unholy, separating me from him. But because Jesus is God, he is holy. He alone is able to make peace with God, for me, for you.

Realizing that God approves me fully – no parenthesis, no footnotes, no conditions added, has set me free. Realizing that Jesus is enough has diminished my burden. I am unweighted with joy.

Since the birth of my first child, I identify more than ever with what Jesus did for us. We all enter this world through the pain and suffering of another. But we are born spiritually, and enter into fellowship with God through the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. We all enter the Most Holy Place through the torn curtain of Jesus’ life, laid down. The moment of his death has become the moment of my life.

Scripture References:

1. By his wounds we are healed – Isaiah 53:5
2. The Lamb who was slain – Revelation 5
3. Jesus broke down the wall of hostility – Ephesians 2:13-18
4. Prophecy of Jesus breaking open the gate – Micah 2:12-13
5. Jesus is the door – John 10:7-11 
6. Jesus + Nothing = Everything – “I’m Addicted,” by Tullian Tchividjian

Our Religion is a Torn Religion: Part 1

The birth of my first child was my own re-birth. Not only did I enter into the wonderful, exhausting and rewarding world of parenthood; I entered into the holy place. Let me explain:

We had decided on a home birth, which meant no drugs and no epidural. We had a birthing pool, which took up most of the teensy living room in our one bedroom L.A. apartment. I was in labor 52 hours. When Field finally came, I was so tired, but so determined that I was going to have this baby right here and now. I had pushed for 2 hours, and then the final thrust. I felt such relief when he came into the world, and what a joy it was to discover we had a boy, the one our hearts had longed for! I was completely caught up in the moment, holding him for the first time, looking into his eyes and calming his cries – at first I didn’t notice what was going on around me. The midwife and two assistants were moving quickly, my midwife shouting things to the others, to get it done fast. Then she told me the unimaginable: “You’ve had a fourth-degree tear and we are going to have to go to the hospital.”

It turned out that Field was a whopping 11 pounds 4 ounces. It seemed there would have been no way for me not to tear, given the circumstances. With my midwife on one side and my husband on the other, we slowly walked down the stairs to the car. I was disappointed to have to leave my baby right after giving birth, but the endorphins kept me going. They had to call in a surgeon at 1 a.m. to fix me up with about 30 stitches. I was home again within 6 hours of giving birth. Then began the lengthy healing process.

That’s when I learned what a fourth-degree tear really is. Without getting too explicit, let me just say that it’s a tear from top to bottom. Recovery was scary at times. In the months to come I developed some complications as a result of the tear, and had to have several subsequent surgeries. And there was physical therapy as well, to deal with the trauma caused by the tear. There were days when I was in so much pain, I just wept. Days when I had to get in front of college students to teach my classes through clenched teeth. And days when I just couldn’t.

A few months before I gave birth I had started to think a lot about the idea of “being torn.” Not in the sense of physical tearing, but in the metaphorical sense, as it related to my faith as a Christian. But when I gave birth, I experienced what it means to be torn in such a profoundly personal way, that I started thinking about the concept again. I opened up my Bible and read Matthew 27:50-51, which says,

“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.”

Then again in John 19:28-30:

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

When I read this, I was astounded. The moment of Christ’s death and his final words was the exact same moment the temple veil tore in two. It was as if his death was the signal for the curtain to rend. Not only did his death result in the curtain tearing in two, but in his own words, it was not until that moment that the he fully accomplished what he had come to do.

But what was the significance of the curtain tearing? I looked it up and learned that the veil in the Jewish temple was about 4 inches thick, and hung in the holy places, separating the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple. The Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place was the innermost sanctuary, considered to be so holy that only the high priest could enter there, and only once a year at that. Annually he would enter to offer sacrifices to God for the forgiveness of the sins of the people. The veil was there as a tangible reminder of the holiness of God, and our separation from him, because of our sin. We could not approach him. We could not enter freely. But God never wanted it to be that way. And so from the beginning, he had a plan for redemption (3). He knew exactly how he would reconcile us back to himself; and there was only one way.

Hebrews 10:19-23 says,

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Wow. According to this passage, the torn temple curtain was a symbol of Jesus’ flesh, tearing apart, opening the way back to God the Father. The visual picture is stunning. The holy place. The curtain. And us, relegated to the other side. It was inches thick. It was heavy as lead. It was immovable. Like our sin, it was impossible to overcome. But when it tore, it opened the way to the Father. What once barricaded me from a relationship with God – the requirements of the law and the demands that they be kept – has been torn apart. Now I can enter freely. Now I can have confidence, because this new way is a living way. Because Jesus didn’t remain dead, but came back to life. Because his purity has been imputed to me, and all the grime of my sin has been washed clean. Because he is the living sacrifice.

For centuries the sacrifices given on that altar were dead as dead can be – that’s why they had to be made over and over again. But because Jesus died once, then lived again forever, his sacrifice is once for all (5), and never, ever needs to be made again. Jesus’ words “It is finished,” actually mean “paid in full.” The debt of all mankind

I know what it feels like to have a conscience seared. I have felt the consequences of my own sin. For much of my life I have believed in Jesus. But it hasn’t always been the real Jesus. A lot of people, Christians included, make the false assumption that if it seems like Jesus, then it must be him. I have learned the hard way that nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead of putting my faith in Christ, I have trusted in myself; and contrary to popular belief, this has not been a triumph but a tragedy. The lie of “believe in yourself” is so treacherous, that it will mercilessly push you to the outer limits, and set your soul at war with the very God who created and loves you.

For years I was caught in a web of self-adoration, the god of Self eating me alive. My pride led me down a dark path, where I began to manipulate my relationship with God to make his will seem like my own. I convinced myself that he wanted what I wanted; that my dream was his. And there was no shortage of “Christians” along the way who heartily encouraged me to do so. I reworked all the details of my life in my head, until they “prophetically” pointed to me getting what I wanted in the end. I shut out God’s Word in favor of “experiencing God.” I silenced his still, small voice in order to receive “words,” and “visions” from the Lord. God himself wasn’t enough.

My career was my idol. For years I chased the dream of being a successful singer-songwriter in the music industry. I had lots of “almosts,” but in the end, I wasted years chasing after vapors and smoke. My sin led me to seek people’s approval, rather than God’s. I wanted the accolades, the prestige, the applause. Yet in my heart, I tried to spin it as if I would still somehow be serving God in the midst of all that success. After years of living that way, believing that way – my faith got lost. So lost, that darkness enveloped me, and the voice which I had been so sure was God’s, turned into voices of demons.

I thank God that he allowed me to experience demonic oppression, because when I finally realized that what I was serving wasn’t the real God, it sobered me up. For years I would “hear” and “see” things in the spiritual realm, always assuming them to be from God, from Jesus. In times of prayer I would empty myself, opening myself up to receive insight indiscriminately.

It wasn’t until I was desperate for discernment that God finally gave it to me. It wasn’t until I was willing to admit my sin and the evil within me, that I could see truth. I know it may sound extreme to say that there is nothing good in any of us, but it’s true. If there were, we would live in a perfect world. We would never feel disappointment, shame, anger – or any of the rest. Romans 3:10-12 says,

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

When I looked within, it never lead me toward God, only away from him. And when I compared what I had sought on my own, to his Word, there was a chasm too wide to measure.

There is a singular beauty in admitting that we are sinners in need of a Savior. It’s a beauty that can only be understood by the lowly and faint of heart. Because it’s only when we recognize our need, that we can see God. It’s only when we acknowledge how lost we truly are, that we can get rescued. And I need to be rescued! From myself, and what this world would look like if I were in charge. I love Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus (8), which Jesus himself read in front of the religious Jews when he came, proclaiming,

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.”

Apart from Jesus my life is like a heap of ashes. But he took that shell of a person – all that ugliness, and replaced it with beauty. Not my beauty – his. This is what it means to “enter the holy places with confidence.” This is why I can draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith. This is what it means to have my conscience washed clean. Because Jesus has eradicated my sin, “…as far as the east is from the west.” (9)

In John 14:6 Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The visual is shocking. The picture of Jesus’ flesh as the curtain torn apart. A picture that shows what the way into the holy place looks like. That Jesus is the passage, is the path, is the way. We must literally go through him to get to God.

In the Old Testament, when two parties would make a covenant with one another, they would cut an animal into two pieces and walk between them. This “covenant cutting” made the agreement binding. It was as if they were saying “may I suffer the same horrible fate as this animal, if I don’t do as I promise.” Breaking covenant was serious business.

But in the case of God cutting covenant with Abram (11), it was God who made the promise, and he alone passed between the two pieces, as if to take the implied curse upon himself. It was as if he was saying, “it’s all on me,” placing the responsibility of following through with the promise squarely on his own shoulders; on his work alone, and nothing of Abram. God has made it crystal clear that we are not justified by our own efforts or goodness, but by him, his saving us.

Jesus carried the cross on his shoulders to the place where he would be murdered on it. There, he took the curse of our sin upon himself. There he became a curse for us. (12) And there, just like the covenant sacrifice, he was torn in two. It was up to him to keep his promise. It was all on him.

Click here to continue reading: Our Religion is a Torn Religion: Part 2

Scripture References:

1. The temple curtain tore in two – Matthew 27:50-51
2. Jesus’ “It is finished” – John 19:28-30
3. God’s plan for redemption was from the beginning – Genesis 3:15
4. The blood of Jesus is the new and living way – Hebrews 10:19-23
5. Jesus died once for all – Romans 6:6-11
6. Test the Spirits – 1 John 4:1
7. No one does good, not even one – Romans 3:10-12
8. He came to set the captives free & beauty for ashes – Isaiah 61
9. Our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west – Psalm 103:10-13
10. Jesus is the Way – John 14:6
11. Covenant cutting & the Blood Path – BibleMesh.com; Jeremiah 34:18
12. Jesus became a curse for us – Galatians 3:13