Tag Archives: Religion

Loving the Truth Without Losing Your Mind — 7 Questions to Help Us All Avoid the Extremes

I’ve seen it time and time again. We’ve all done it at some point. We passionately reject one extreme only to embrace another. O how the proverbial pendulum swings to the opposite end of the spectrum! Regrettably, when it’s happening we usually don’t realize that’s what we’re doing.

About 10 years ago I left vocational ministry due to several bad experiences that left my family hurt and confused. The time away was a real blessing from the Lord, but it’s no secret that for a season I was influenced by the thinking that the “institutional” church was of the devil and that the only faithful Christians were those who met in house churches with no leader.

Yes, that was extreme. But some people out did me! The church to these extremists was some sort of nebulous idea involving a couple Christians getting together in a coffee shop—a concept born right out of Western individualism.

But Paul didn’t write letters to saints scattered throughout Starbucks or those who choose to “worship God in nature” while out hiking the trails with a friend on Sunday morning. He wrote to intentional worshipping communities.

It took me a few years to start coming out of this reactionary thinking and see it for what it is. Since then I feel like the Lord has heightened my senses to all manner of extremes embraced by well-intentioned people, especially within the church. So now I see it everywhere I turn. And I’m continually examining my own beliefs and behaviors as well. We’re always susceptible.

I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said that it is our embrace of the extremes that has become our greatest hindrance to peace and understanding today, in the world and the church. It’s in politics, academia, and in religion.

These extremes begin with the either-or, in or out, love us or hate us, for us or against us mentality. In the church we even fight among ourselves over who is the most faithful to Jesus in their doctrine and church practice, we want to argue that our group is more “authentic” than your group.

(Sigh) Man, this stuff gets old.

As I recently said in a sermon about justice, I even see many “progressive” Christian friends of mine, particularly young Anabaptists, leaving right-wing politics (which I applaud) only to embrace the left and its agenda, which amounts to a purely secular worldview baptized in Gospel lingo.

Clearly we’re still playing Caesar’s song, just a different verse.

What’s so refreshing about Jesus is that he rejected the polarities and extremes. He rejected them because he saw through them. It’s merely different sides to the same coin. It’s easy and expedient, but it’s not the way forward.

Let’s admit it. It’s hard to break free from the polarities.

Good news! Jesus gives us a way out. While I’m not always sure what that way looks like, if I’m honest, I usually know what it doesn’t look like. And if I’ll listen to the Spirit within me, I’ll eventually stumble down the road of Christ.

Jesus was a radical rabbi, but he wasn’t jumping to extremes. He wasn’t a fundamentalist. He challenged the polarities. We should do the same.

Fundamentalism is an attitude. It can be conservative or progressive. It is elitist and violent, in words and/or actions. It is dogmatic and narrow-minded about many issues. It’s emotionally charged and needs to offend people in order to survive. Without her enemies, fundamentalism has nothing to say.

Now that isn’t to say that God’s truth and the third way of Christ isn’t radically subversive or provocative within a culture of scoffers and skeptics, but it is to say that any ideology that purposely spends its time ridiculing, shaming, or doing violence to others is most definitely an extreme to be rejected, dare I say repented of in Jesus’ name. We need to stop it now. Not tomorrow. Now.

So I want to ask myself, where do I have a tendency to accept the extremes and spread the infection that is having negative effects on our families, churches, society, and culture?

It needs to be said that fundamentalism of any kind is born from a mixture of pain and irrational fear. Her symptoms are superiority, arrogance, and intolerance. You can find this sort of thing among Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists… from Franklin Graham to Richard Dawkins.

If you’re truly concerned about peace and understanding, I would look elsewhere, where there is no fear-mongering, name-calling, and bitterness. Even from those who do it in subtle ways.

The following are some questions that I’ve often asked myself when listening to the news, examining an idea, surveying social media, or reading a book. I think these questions can help disciples of Jesus avoid the polarities and extremes.

7 Questions to Help Us All Avoid the Extremes
  1. Do I love the truth or just my version of it?
    Contrary to postmodern relativism, there is such a thing as objective truth. Asking this question can help us step outside of ourselves and our cultural conditioning in order to consider the truth that is usually hidden beyond and beneath our personal biases, presuppositions, and emotions.
  2. Can I see a spectrum of views (or a third way)?
    There’s usually more than just two sides to a matter. If it’s always black and white to you, you’ve probably not paid enough attention to Jesus and his “third way” living. This myopic attitude leaves no room for grace or the possibility that there is more than one way to be faithful.
  3. Have I honestly considered other respectable positions?
    In other words, have you listened to the best voices on the subject–qualified folks you may not agree with but can still respect? If you haven’t, you’ll end up demonizing one extreme only to embrace another. You’ll become another version of what you hate. Ironic isn’t it?
  4. What does my community think?
    We are more fully human in healthy relationships. What does your church, organization, or your circle of trusted friends think? Are you listening? Shutting out an opposing opinion might make you feel better about your position, but it doesn’t make you right.
  5. Where is Jesus in this?
    That’s much different than asking what “side” is he on. It should allow us to see Jesus in more places than one. This may seem totally subjective, but it really isn’t. Our discernment comes from a full contextual reading of the Gospels (historical Jesus) and our sensitivity to the Spirit.
  6. Where am I in this?
    Following Jesus isn’t simply doing whatever you imagine him doing. It means obeying and acting out of the time spent listening to his desires for you and the world. Once you’ve felt his heart on a matter and have seen where he’s at work, are you willing to join him there?
  7. No really, where are you at with Jesus?
    If you’re busy trying to serve Jesus and do ministry but not regularly practicing spiritual disciplines in order to abide in Christ, I wouldn’t be so confident about your positions and heart on any matter. We must be connected to the Vine if we want to know his heart and bear his fruit.

I think these questions can help us to see that we’re always dealing with people created in God’s image and not just hot-button issues. This helps me to love people while simultaneously loving the truth and boldly navigating culture, even if it means hardship and suffering for being faithful to Jesus.

Can we rise above the extremes in our pursuit of truth? I believe so. But we need to know that the truth lay quietly in the fertile soil of grace and humility. Out of this soil will come conviction, but never condemnation.

In this way I get to love the truth and keep my mind.

Will you join me?

D.D. Flowers, 2015.

Play-Doh & the Multi-Racial Kingdom of God

Play-Doh-1We just got our two-year-old son a new Play-Doh kit that came with an assortment of colors and little plastic tools to cut, shape, and mold clay objects. Who doesn’t love Play-Doh, right? I still like to feel it in my fingers and get a good whiff of it. I’ve even seen Kainan pretending to eat it. He puts it to his mouth and says, “Yum, yum, yum.” Play-Doh is the stuff childhood is made of.

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I like things to be orderly, in their place, and without spot or blemish. If something is out place, I sense an urgency to fix it. Maybe I’m a tad bit OCD like that. Not nearly as bad as Bill Murray in What About Bob?, but my wife says that it is noticeable.

So Kainan was recently playing with his Play-Doh. I was trying to show him a few things (you know, the proper way to play with it), but he kept insisting on smashing the colors together. He’s not color blind. Why is he doing that? Clearly he just doesn’t understand that you can never get them apart again if you mix the colors like that. I just need to show him how it works, I thought.

Well, needless to say, our toddler didn’t like me messing with his work of art. He new exactly what he was doing, and it didn’t make sense to him why I was up in his business. After a couple attempts left him in tears, I left him alone.

And then I had a thought.

Is the church failing to be as imaginative as my toddler? I don’t mean in the arts, though that is important. No, I mean when it comes to our insistence upon keeping races, ethnic groups, and cultures separate from one another.

Maybe we’re not doing it on purpose. Maybe it’s just built into us like me wanting to keep the white, black, and brown Play-Doh from mixing. I suspect we’ve been conditioned not to see a greater beauty with God’s colors.

I think the only way to correct the problem is for us first to become aware of it and then begin the process of reconditioning our thinking, reimagining beauty. You know, rethinking the multi-racial Kingdom of God.

In John’s heavenly vision as recorded in Revelation 7:9-17, John sees people from every nation, tribe, and language worshipping God in perfect unity around the throne. He learns that these people “dressed in white (pure) robes” washed clean by the blood of the Lamb are those who made it through the great tribulation on earth. They paid the ultimate price.

Let there be no doubt. There is a price to be paid.

Think about this. Everything we need to envision a multi-racial, multi-cultural Kingdom has been given to us as children. Is it any wonder that Jesus calls us to embrace the sort of faith that children exhibit (Matt 18:3)? There is much that we can learn from the perspective of the little children.

“Red and yellow, black, brown, and white… they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

That’s a powerful truth captured in a children’s song. We will never outgrow this one, folks. This is the Kingdom. This is where it’s all going, sooner or later.

It’s the oppressive, even demonic, powers of this world that teach us to group ourselves according to like kind and distance ourselves from the other. It’s time the church—the church from every nation, tribe, and language—bring John’s vision of heaven to earth. Reversing Babel is all a part of the Kingdom program.

If we want to reverse Babel, we’re gonna have to be willing to join the oppressed in the margins. Jesus lived in the margins where the mess is obvious.

Where are the margins in your community? Where is the racial segregation? Where are the cultural roadblocks to peace and harmony? Look for Jesus. He is there calling us forward to respond to injustice, and conform it to the Kingdom.

Remember this: It is Satan who scatters, but it is the God revealed in Jesus who is the holy unifying force that brings peace and harmony to our broken world. God is always against dehumanizing systems that tear apart his creation.

If Jesus lived in the margins of society, and calls us to live there too, then he is clearly saying that God lives there and it’s in those places that he creates beauty. The margins can be a womb for the Kingdom, if only our lives are planted there as gospel seeds intent on birthing new creation.

This takes courage. It means risking everything for the gospel.

Our “safe” religion is nothing more than the sanitized, sterile mechanism of infertility. It doesn’t make disciples or birth Kingdom movements. While it may be easy, comfortable, and “safe” for our churches to remain segregated on Sunday mornings, it is aborting the colorful life of the Kingdom of God.

Take it from my toddler and his Play-Doh. It’s time to mix it up.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (3 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I discussed two reasons the world system hates Jesus. Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God and Jesus Was Not Patriotic.

When you’re a part of the world system that glorifies one worldly kingdom over another, you oppose the transnational Kingdom of God.

Likewise, when you respond to the good news by following Jesus in radical discipleship, you oppose nationalism and the politics of Caesar. You become an enemy of the state. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself hated like Jesus.

As I said in the introduction, I’m using seven provocative statements to summarize the radical life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the NT.

If you’re a skeptic, I hope that you will seriously consider the historical Jesus of the Gospels. If you count yourself among the church, I pray that you will rethink what you thought you already knew about Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, let’s look at another controversial, and oft-neglected, aspect of Jesus’ teaching and example. This specifically involves the religious leaders and the hatred Jesus incited among them for rejecting their religion.

3. Jesus Was Not Religious

The word “religion” derives from the Latin religio, which referred to a binding obligation. In first century Palestine, the word was not used the way we use it today. In the time of Jesus, if someone said something was “religio to me”, it meant that they had a special obligation to it.

This obligation could be anything from a commitment to cults of the gods, to something more “secular” like oaths to family, government, military, etc.

Whatever the oath involved, this special obligation was about life and identity. Therefore, it meant that this “religion” involved a set of rules, regulations, and rituals that provided cultural meaning and purpose.

The danger of religion, in ancient or modern times, is that LIFE is said to be found in a system of behavior and beliefs.

This requires that a person root their identity in the ideas and boundaries set by the religious community. You don’t want to buck the religious system.

For this very reason, second temple Judaism could not contain Jesus. The religious leaders, and guardians of their sacred religion, demanded strict adherence to their own system of correct behavior and beliefs.

Consider some of the ways that Jesus rejected their religion:

  • He healed on the Sabbath, violating their religious code (Matt 12:9).
  • He ate with enemies and sinners (Matt 9:11; Mk 2:16).
  • He touched “unclean” people, they touched him (Lk 5:12, 8:43).
  • He turned over the tables of the Temple (Mk 11:15; Jn 2:15).
  • He challenged religious traditions (Mk 7:3-5).
  • He challenged traditional interpretations (Matt 5:38-48).
  • He despised religious prayers (Matt 6:5-8; Lk 18:11).
  • He rebuked religious authority (Matt 23:13; Lk 12:1).

While Jesus was certainly a good Jew, a true Israelite (Jn 1:47), it can’t be denied that he opposed religion’s threat against the Kingdom of God. And for this act of sedition, the religious leaders wanted him dead (Mk 12:12).

Since religious people get their life from the rightness of their behaviors and beliefs, anyone who challenges them, is a threat to their life. Their response is to stop the threat, violently if necessary. We call them fundamentalists.

Jesus said that religion is merely a self-righteous platform by which a person can judge others who aren’t like them. It’s bad for the soul. It creates obstacles for people, even repelling them from coming into the Kingdom.

Not only did Jesus oppose this club mentality, invariably found within religion, he rebuked the religious leaders, saying that they themselves didn’t live up to their own standards of behavior and belief.

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” Jesus, Matt 23:1-4 NLT

Religious people crush others with their religious demands, and they are a burden as they stand at a distance condemning people that don’t share their beliefs and practices. All the while they’re dirty on the inside.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Jesus, Matt 23:27-28 NLT

The words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 23 has to be the strongest rebuke by Jesus in all of the Gospels. In fact, nothing quite compares to Jesus’ rebuke of religious hypocrites. It’s no wonder they hated him.

“Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” Jesus, Matt 23:33

Jesus taught that if you want to escape the doom of religious people doing religious things, then you must repent of religion. Stop trying to find LIFE in your system of “right” beliefs and behaviors, even in the Bible. And instead root yourself in the One of who is LIFE:  Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Jesus, Jn 5:38-40 NIV

Many evangelicals are convinced that they are getting their LIFE from Jesus, but instead they continue to drink water from a well that has been condemned by Christ. They drink insipid water. And the symptoms of this religious disease is pride, arrogance, intolerance, and a judgmental spirit.

“The Kingdom’s revolt against religion, including the Christian religion, is on a totally different level. It is a revolt against all attempts to get Life from particular beliefs—including true ones. For where God truly reigns over an individual or a community, their only source of Life is God, not the rightness of their beliefs.” Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Religion, pg 60.

It is quite clear from the Gospels that “religion” is part of the world system. When Jesus said the world hated him first, religion is a part of that world.

Those who repent of religion will stand out like Jesus, and be known for their love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness (Matt 23:23; Jn 13:34-35).

Like Jesus who led the way, his followers may be dubbed a liberal, sin-loving, blasphemer by those who are invested in the religious system, but they will be called the greatest in the kingdom of God.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the next post:  4. Jesus Rejected Materialism.

Church Drama or Christ Dogma?

There seems to be a great deal of drama surrounding the church today. It would appear that many Christians believe that more talk about church practice will lead to a fruitful end. Apparently, arguing over church forms and methods are going to lead us to unity in the Body of Christ, and that through pragmatism we will be able to obtain a church utopia on earth.

Many believers have been fooled into thinking that more emerging conversations will give birth to a glorious epiphany in our ecclesiology. I don’t have to defend my statements with statistics. Anyone paying attention to the church climate in this generation can see the ridiculous mess we have created for ourselves.

Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna is causing the much expected firestorm of debate. We are even seeing Christians persecuting Christians. It is proof that history does indeed repeat itself. In the middle of the conversations I am hearing the way in which the bruised up and world-intoxicated church should conduct herself when she gathers together.

Primarily, I hear conversations centered around “forms” and “models.” When bloggers and the occasional “anonymous” writers are not trying to make judgments against a book they have not read, they pull out old arguments to ease their conscience and defend their uncontested and undigested presuppositions concerning the church. I would laugh at some of the things I am hearing if I wasn’t so deeply disturbed in my spirit.

The church is torn and caught in a whirlwind of drama, and the one thing we should be talking about is being replaced with narcissistic ecclesiastical conversations perpetuating the feeling of utter despair.

In my review of PC and in all of my comments elsewhere, I have stated over and over that this book is not about “doing” church or about “forms.” This book is about returning to the person and work of Christ–it is about spiritual revolution, not religious reformation.

When we examine the New Testament without bringing the last 1700 years of church practice with it, we will see a church that gathered around Christ in simplicity.  We see a church consumed with all things Christ, not self-absorbed in a crazy array of emerging church practices.

When it comes to the historical research and work presented in PC, we must be willing to accept that the pagan origins documented in this book sound an alarm that should result in great concern from us. We must be open to a paradigm shift and be willing to lay aside many things before we will hear the clear exaltation of Christ in his Body the church. And this is the purpose of the book: “to make room” for Christ!

A person should not hear the authors as trading one church form for another. All readers should take a mature view of the message undoubtedly being presented in this book. There is a clear cry of spiritual revolution back to the centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in the church.

The way by which we are able to remove our preconceived notions concerning the church, is by a complete emersion and commitment into rediscovering the Christ of the Gospels.

Out of Christ is born the church. Out of Christ is born this house church “form” many readers see Viola describing. It is natural to first see this as strictly being forms, I know. I was distracted by the “doing” in the beginning. Nevertheless, if a person will continue to seek the Lord in spirit and in truth, in time, you should see things differently. In time, the Lord will bring more light that illuminates himself, not the church.

Many readers may not agree with the premise of the book because they ultimately have not taken the time to rethink Jesus’ words. Church history and its 1700 years of accumulating paganism speaks for itself. The reason for documenting these facts of history is to clear the stage for a narrative ecclesiology built upon Christ. In order to have a correct ecclesiology, we first need a renewed christology.

Readers must not confuse the thesis of this book with “doing” a different “model.” The book’s claim is that the “organic” church is born out of the natural faith of Christ (i.e. life and teachings) and the institutional church is born out of man’s wisdom in applying pagan models of leadership and acquiring all sorts of religious practices. 

I would rather people become even more upset by this, then they hear something else and be upset for the wrong reasons. Again, the purpose of PC is to spur us on to removing all church models and forms in order that our reactions to Christ would produce a church life that reflects his person and work.

This is the church that gathers in the “New Testament fashion”–the church gathered around the centality, supremacy, and headship of Christ.

I am now very cautious when recommending this book to people who have not already come to a place of total dissatisfaction with the Christ and the Christianity that is taught and practiced in America. The book could build up walls that prevent any real search for the authentic Christ from ever happening. And then again, it may be the shot in the pants that many professing believers need. Time will tell.

It was because of my own experience with church drama and the discontentment I felt with the Christ presented in the traditional church… that I was even open to a renewed Christology.  It is by the mercy and grace of God that I found Christ instead of latching on to forms, methods, and movements, and being distracted by them.

It is quite a thing, I know, to claim that the reason people react harshly to the message presented in this book is because they are not “hungry for more of Jesus.” However, I have given this a great deal of thought. I am certain that this is the case.

If a person can quickly pass off the Christ-centered message presented in PC, or any Christ-centered book for that matter, then it is apparent that there are things coming before Christ. These things, whatever they may be, are keeping people from their heart’s desire. These people may find that Christ is not the sum of all spiritual things wherever they are at in life.

The truth of the matter will only be found in discerning with the Spirit of Christ that indwells the spirit of man. When all is still and quite within a man’s soul, a person can know if Christ is truly first in the matter.  The Holy Spirit longs to exalt the Lord above all other pursuits and things that stand in the way of his absolute centrality and supremacy.

The purpose of this article is not to defend PC or the authors who are but mere men. The purpose is to sound a call for all believers to be consumed with Christ dogma instead of church drama.  It is a plea for the church to see the need for spiritual revolution (i.e. return to Christ), instead of religious reformation.

Before anything else is said or written, we must be aware of the fact that we are so easily misled into hype and drama with talks of methods and movements.  It is time to trade in our methods and movements dialogue for a renewed understanding of Jesus.

I’m afraid that much of the talk today about the church has little to nothing to do with Christ’s headship.  It would appear that many believers are taking the devil’s bait.  The evil one has the church talking about everything but Christ. He can’t keep us from noticing the problems, but he can keep us busy trying to solve those problems with some “new” way of “doing” church.

There is a revolution rising. The men and women who make up this revolution want to give the church back to Christ. However, if we do not concern ourselves with the centrality and supremacy of Christ, we will no doubt continue the drama that has lasted for over 1700 years.

The drama is evidence that there are many who have not concerned themselves with the centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in the church.  If Christ was central and supreme, we would be patiently discussing his person and works with each other instead of debating forms and methods.

Where will the church go from here? What voices will she listen to in this generation? Will she settle for reform and be persuaded by man and his movements or will she press on to her Lord and aid in the tearing down of the kingdom of hell?

There is only one road that leads to Christ, that is the way of the cross. If the church is willing to press on to Christ, she must ready herself for a major shift in the culture. For when the church is founded on the rock of Christ, the mighty winds of persecution will blow. And in the storm we will find peace.

May the Lord give us a continual hunger for his centrality and supremacy in all things. May Christ be our primary pursuit, the centerpiece of our conversations, and the subject of our personal meditation and reflection. Let us set our hearts to learning Christ, and we will be led to a normal “organic” church life that is born out of knowing the person and work of Christ Jesus our Lord.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

Paul, Letter to the Colossians 1:15-18

D.D. Flowers, 2008.


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