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veryone seems to "know" what Christianity is, but few can agree about how to live it. It's easy if you follow the original model, Jesus; it's easy to get off base if you take your focus off of Him. Much of what people think is Christianity is really religion. There is a difference. If you are not sure what the differences are, I suggest you read my article True Verses False Christianity, and then return to these pages to learn how to live a healthy and productive Christian Life.
Now that you are saved, what now? That is a very dangerous question, and unfortunately, at first, you may not like the ultimate answer.
In fact, this page, this section of this article will be the most difficult topic of anything discussed in this website, and lies near the heart, the center core of what it means to be a true Christian; at first, it may be difficult for you to swallow, digest, accept, and maybe even practice this foundational truth. This may make you angry, make you wonder if following Jesus requires just too much work, or that it asks too much of you in general. But, to be truly Christian, to be a true follower of Jesus Christ, and to really be happy, balanced, centered, and at peace in your life and inner self, then you really have no choice, and hopefully you will ultimately see the joy in practicing the act of "following Jesus." So, please bear with me to the end of this discussion, do not skim over it, or stop before you reach the end of the discussion, so that you can see the full picture in its proper perspective and place.
"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart (spirit), all your soul (mind), and all your strength (body), and likewise you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself." Mark 12:28-34.
The first half of this verse deals with you in relationship with God, and the second half deals with you in relationship with other people. First, this verse shows that it is important to God, and especially should be to you, for you to love yourself. In loving yourself, you strive to get the three parts of yourself into balance and harmony with each other, and into harmony and balance with God. Second, then that love is to flow freely, creatively, and effectively through you to help your neighbor also achieve the same harmony and balance.
God is three persons, Father, Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and yet one; you were created in God's image, three parts that interact to make you one, Body, Soul (mind, and emotions), and Spirit (your heart, most inner self). Until you professed faith in Jesus, your Spirit remained dormant-like; after your renewal, your Spirit awakened, and also within your Spirit is where Jesus and the Holy Spirit, who is given you to guide you into all truth, took up residence with you.
Without the influence of your spirit or soul, your body is an empty shell; it reflects what your spirit and soul directs. If, for example, you do not have a very good self-image, do not like yourself very well, that can become reflected in what your body does, the image it projects.
Your soul, your mind, is sort of like a computer, it spits out whatever has been programmed into it, saved to the hard drive; even your short-term memory acts like a computer's short-term RAM drive, recording information just for the time needed. For years, your mind has gotten away with the idea that it is in charge, it is the center of your being, the king on the throne; in many respects it was. But, now that your spirit has awakened, and your heart is now your real center and king, your mind has discovered there is a conflict, a competition for the throne.
The Apostle Paul said one of the first things a new Christian needs to begin to do is "...be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good, and acceptable, and the perfect, will of God." Romans 12:2. In today's language, we might call that deprogramming the hard drive, rewriting it. This is the gradual, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year process of bringing your mind into agreement with your heart. The goal is to bring all three parts of your total self into agreement, and thus, into harmony, balanced, and centeredness.
The trouble is, the mind is stubborn, it will not surrender, and go quietly into the night without a fight. In addition, the mind tends to shout, argue, and debate, whereas your spirit whispers, suggests, and encourages. Your spirit is not going to conquer your mind, force it into surrender. It will take you, exerting a determined choice to support, and follow your spirit, that will make your mind come into agreement and obedience with your heart. Many people mistakenly believe your will is always part of your soul. That is true until the day your heart began to shine, and then your will was transferred to your heart. Therefore now, your will, your inner ability to exert control over the rest of you, moves outwardly from your spirit, and not your mind; you will probably need to continually remind your mind that it is no longer in control, and no longer has any will of its own (except for what you give it).
Another problem your mind presents is its logic; it uses logic to argue with you. Often, the things of the spirit are not very logical, and yet they are very right. If you think about it, I am sure you can recall a time your mind logically told you something, it made sense, but it ended up taking you places you really should not have gone. If you doubt that, just look at the people who supported or went along with the horrors of the German Nazi government during World War II. You can use logic to explain away bad behavior and poor choices, justify wrong attitudes and negative actions. People use bad logic to remain in relationships with people who are dysfunctional, unhealthy, and irresponsible. Logic, in and of itself is not always bad, but when it operates outside of love, it has no moral center, and no true compass. Always remember, the most illogical things your spirit suggests you do and be are a thousand times more logical in the long term, than anything your mind can come up with, because your heart operates within the law and boundaries of love.
Your mind does not know everything, but it pretends to know all. It only knows that which it has heard, incorporated, or experienced in the past. Often, its interpretations of things are faulty, or viewed through not fully understood experiences. Having experienced several bad personal relationships, your mind logically tells you "all men are pigs." But, your heart speaks in love, saying "...perhaps, but you can 'cure' some men by turning them into bacon or ham." Just because the past was bad, does not mean the future will be. The mind tends to think and speak in absolutes, using the words "always" and "never" a lot, everything is one extreme or the other.
Because your mind is limited by what it knows, and by its logic, it has a tendency of seeing everything in simplistic terms, one extreme or the other. For the mind, life needs to be predictable, measurable, and simplistic. Life needs to be black or white, up or down, good or bad, right or wrong, left or right.
To your mind, there are only two sides to a coin, the head, and the tail. On the surface, that seems right and logical because when you toss a coin, the majority of the time it will land on either the head or the tail. But, in reality, a coin has three sides, the head, the tail, and the edge. Once in a great while, a coin will land on its edge.
"On the edge" is the world of the spirit, your heart, not limited by logic, your past, what others say about you, or make you be. You have the freedom to be diverse, to create, invent, move flow, and be. You have the freedom to move "outside the box," to think creatively, not limit yourself, nor allow other people or life itself to restrict you, bind you, control or destroy you. Life may not always give you what you want, but it will guarantee you nothing if you do nothing. God will give you what you need, help you develop and make the life you need and deserve, and empower you to handle life's ups and downs; anything given you beyond that is a grace, a blessing, never meant to be used and enjoyed by just you... but, to ALSO bless and grace other people, too.
To be led by your heart and less by your head, is a learning process, and you are, and always will be human; therefore, you may slip up now and then, and that is totally normal. What is not normal is falling back totally into the old ways of thinking and doing, or putting yourself under false guilt and shame for the occasional times you slip up and fall back on old ways. If you do error, then get up, dust yourself off, dress any wounds, learn what you need to learn from what happened, discard the rest, and move on.
What your heart is going to be telling you, teaching and guiding you, are three things. First, it will show you who God and Jesus are towards you, who you are towards Jesus and God, and furthering and deepening your relationship together. Next, it will show you how to develop a healthy and sound relationship with yourself. It will guide you into learning, and then beginning to express who you are, flowing in all of your individual liberties, your individual unique gifts, talents, and. Third, your heart will show you your place and purpose in the community, the world around you, and develop and deepen your relationships with and within it. This is all summed up in the Bible commandment, repeated by Jesus, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart (spirit), all your soul (mind), and all your strength (body), and likewise you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself." Mark 12:28-34; Romans 13:8-10.
This love of God is the tool, the yardstick given to you by the Holy Spirit, whereby you might know what is right for you to individually be and do. The Apostle Paul wrote that for the Christian "...all things are lawful, but not all things edify (build you up)." I Corinthians 10:23. The sole commandment of Jesus is "...to love one another as I have loved you." John 15:12. If you walk in love, and use it, it will reveal to you if the choice before you, whether it be thought, belief, behavior, emotion, attitude, action, or person, is going to lead to your edification, growth, and profit. If it does, then you can rest knowing God will both honor and support you in your decision. If it does not, then this same love of God will empower you to resist the choice, overcome it, or walk away from it. Thus, "...love is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:10. You do not need ten commandments, or hundreds of laws to know right from wrong, to determine what is best for you to do and be, all you need is love. Love will give you wisdom and discernment to see and know what things, persons, thoughts, beliefs, choices, and activities are positive, healthy, and responsible for you to embrace, and what ones are not.
This now brings us full circle to the opening question, "Now that you are saved, and on the right track to self-improvement, what now?"
There has always been an attempt to turn Christianity and the Church into mere religion, which is not part of its original teachings, nor is it compatible with the foundation of our faith, which is love and acceptance, adoption, family, and relationship. It is a throw back to the beliefs if you do this or that, follow certain formulas, laws, rules, doctrines, or dogmas, you will somehow connect with God, and/or especially somehow better yourself, improve your life and place in the world.
Yes, Jesus died and rose from the dead for you; however, He also died for your neighbor, too. Too much of Christianity has become religion, and religion is all about me, myself, and I. It is self-centered, self-directed, self-rewarding, and selfish. It turns the Church from a community of believers of one literal family, into individual consumers determined to get all they think are entitled to, and often get it at the expense of others. The Church becomes nothing more than self-help groups, and positive thinking seminars. It becomes success oriented and driven, and judges its place and success by the number of its members, the wealth and success of its members, their wallets and pocketbooks, their pastor's ranking on the bestsellers lists, and how well know and recognized they are as a name brand. Yes, Jesus wants you to be all you can be, but not in a vacuum, and not just for you to be you.
The love commandment of Jesus says, "...love your neighbor as you love yourself." Matthew 22:39. But, too often the neighbor gets left out, and it becomes all about yourself. True, if I do not love myself very well, or I have problems with self-esteem, self-love, self-acceptance, and even self-actualization (putting into practice that which you are and meant to be), then that lack is going to be manifested in the way I think, and the things I do (or do not do that I should), and this would include my interaction, or lack thereof, with people, too. Thus, if I really want to be effectual towards my neighbor, be able to full utilize my individual gifts, talents, and callings, then it makes sense for me to devote time and attention to my own development. Matthew 15:11.
However, this development is not to be done separately from my association with my neighbor, but the process progressing at the same time as my interaction with other people. It is too easy to fall into the trap if thinking I need to become the best first, and then later on exercise and flow in the things I can or should do. To begin with, you will never succeed at being the best, it is a life-long process; to get obsessed with it is to fall into the trap of perfectionism, and get swallowed up by religion's laws, logic, and formulas.
Your personal spiritual development is not meant for you alone. There is the old saying, "The only thing you can take to Heaven with you are your friends." But, who are your friends, and who is your neighbor? The answer, found in true Christianity, based on Jesus' love, and relationship with God and each other, is... anyone and everyone. You would not be a normal human if, at reading this, you are not knocked off balance, or ever pissed off by hearing that. I know I was, and still am. Unfortunately, I am here to tell you, or hopefully just remind you, that you are, indeed, "...your brother's keeper."
This is why I both love and hate being a Christian. When people ask me how I describe my relationship with God and Jesus, I reply, "God is dragging me kicking and screaming into the Kingdom." God constantly is challenging me to be things, and do things I just do not want to do. As the Apostle Paul said, "The things I do not want to do, I do, and the things I ought to do, I do them not." Romans 7:18-25. If I had my way, in many respects I would really rather be left alone. I would rather not be a minister, not have to love my neighbors, or remind them of the same things over and over again, wondering if and when they will ever "get it." I get tired of people coming up to me all the time asking for advice, telling me I am so wise and smart, and could they have a minute of my time, but never think to ask me how I am doing. I get tired of running a website, writing articles on different topics, updating information, reading all of the hate mail I get, and telling people over and over again that God really does love them.
I especially get tired of being mostly alone. People are often surprised to learn that I really lead a rather small life, with very few friends, and almost no social life; they assume, because of my intellect, talents, and the things I do, that I have a large network of friends, and a busy social life. I have never been very successful at making friends. I am an only child of only children of only children who has lived his life mostly alone, except for the small surrounding circle of family members. It seems that for all of my life I have been the person people come up to for advice, wisdom, help, information, and assistance, and then walk away. If I wanted to, I could become very bitter, sarcastic, and caustic towards people. What about me? Does anyone ever notice me? Want me for just me? If you ever wanted to see a three dimensional "Charlie Brown," I am he.
But, I still love, serve, and help anyway; I cannot not do it. If I kicked back, coasted, and settled for the shallow life of the many people I see around me, I would be miserable, AND I would not be the real me, not flowing in my individual gifts, talents, and callings. In reality, I am the person I am, able to be effectual and helpful to people, because of these very frustrating things. My aloneness has made me sensitive and aware of the real things people need: love, acceptance, connectedness, family, and relationship. It has given me the wisdom and insight to see the shallowness and harmfulness of the things that separate us from one another, and isolate us from not just other people, but from ourselves, and God, too. Through the Holy Spirit, my spirit is empowered to enable me to do and be the things I need to do and be, even if my mind or body does not like them.
In true Christianity, there are no barriers, between God and us, nor between you and I. The Christian life is all about you, but only up to a point, to the point where you are free from the chains that bind and prevent you from being all you can be. You have and are being set free "from," so that now you can move on "to." It has to become about you AND everyone else, too. Religion creates barriers. Laws, and formulas create differences, distinctions between persons, classes, races, creeds, values, and worth. It tells you this is your place, and stay in it; this is what you are allowed to be, and nothing else; one person is more important and valuable than another; submit to those more important than you and allow us to determine who is most important and not you; diversity, difference, and intellectual freedom is suspect, not to be trusted nor encouraged, sameness and obedience is expected; if you are not like me there must be something wrong with you; you deserve your problems, and I deserve my right to tell you your problems; I deserve all of God's blessings, but you are unworthy; and, God forbid, you happen to be a woman, a child, poor, a widow or widower, a sinner, or... shudder... gay or lesbian, because you not only do not have a place at the table, but not even under the table, and should be neither seen nor heard.
This is why I both hate and love Jesus' commandment to wash each other's feet. This practice reduces everyone to the same level with no one the servant nor the master. It makes everyone embarrassed, exposed, and uncomfortable. I do not like being reminded that I have an obligation to call you my equal and my blood relative, and I do not like being served, either. Yet, at the same time I love it, just for those very things. I hate washing feet so much, that I force myself to not bring or use a towel when doing it, but to dry the feet of others with the very shirt from off my back, to stress to myself just how much love you can give and receive from this simple, and yet profound, disturbing gesture. Peter was kind of the same way. When he told Jesus he could never have his feet washed by someone as profound as Him, Jesus said if he refused, then he could have no part of Him. Peter replied telling Jesus to wash not just his feet, but his hands and head, too. I can almost hear Jesus laugh when He replied, "Your feet are enough." I think I can sometimes hear Jesus say, "Put your shirt back on, a towel is enough." John 13:4-17.
I am the same with books. I prefer to read books that challenge me, or point an invisible finger in my face, saying, "So, what are you going to do about this?" If it is good book, it is one that makes me want to throw it against the wall in disgust, and then pick it up and continue reading.
But, here's the even more difficult news to swallow and accept, "...you cannot just keep reading or hearing about all the things you are supposed to do or be, you have to start doing and being them all." The Apostle James said, "Faith without works is dead." James 2:17. We cannot just believe, but believe AND act on those beliefs. There is no other choice. Otherwise, you are just another hypocrite, your faith is dead, and your church is nothing more than a "feel good about yourself" weekly club meeting, a self-help seminar to make you healthy, wealthy, and sadly not very wise. James 1:22-27.
When you look at the way Jesus ministered, it is often in a pattern of: 1) "What do you want from Me?" 2) "By your faith, receive it;" and, 3) "Now go and do likewise." Jesus commanded his Followers to do the same thing He did. Originally, they did, and the message spread throughout the whole world. But, today, most Christians seem to do the first two steps, but completely forget about the third step. For most of modern Christianity, it has become "...all about me." What can God do for "me?" What can I get, or am entitled to? What was meant to be selfless has become selfish. To be very brutally honest and blunt, most of modern religious Christianity, as especially expressed in the various fundamentalist churches, is nothing more than spiritual prostitution; they offer false substitutes for real intimacy, love, and relationship, and sidetrack people by selling not what they really need, but self-centered promises on how to gain happiness and getting lots of stuff.
But, to follow Jesus means to "...pay it forward." One Christmas, I loaded my family in the car to visit the local Christmas light show, where you pay to drive through a section of the city park to view Christmas light displays. When I drove up to the gate, the gatekeeper said we did not need to pay, the car in front paid, and to tell us "Merry Christmas." So, I told the gatekeeper we would still pay, but for the car behind us. As I drove through the park, while my family enjoyed the lights, I wondered if the car behind us paid for the car behind them, or did they just say thank you, and move on. I thought, "how wonderful it would be if car after car after car paid for the one behind it."
In a way, that is what Jesus has done. He paid for the first car full of people to come behind Him, and taught us to do the same. Even though Jesus was Master and Savior, He gave, washed feet, fed, cleansed, and served. We, who are not greater, should do the same.
BUT WANT TO?
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