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Unity in Christ

Updated: Feb 17

The Urgency of Embracing the Great EQUALIZER

Disclaimers:
*This is a giant topic and I can’t unpack everything here to make my case. I strongly recommend you consult God for yourself, which is really the point.
*For my precious Guideposts readers, this is a departure from my usual vulnerable life lessons, but I hope you'll read it anyway.
*My conclusions may be wildly offensive to some of you. I’m truly sorry and can only say that we’re all in this together.

A January Guideposts MWJ entry (down below this post) elicited feedback that's prompted me to share something that has been heavy on my heart, highlighted by this verse and so vitally important during these chaotic, toxic, divisive times. In the devotional, I mentioned that I was raised Catholic but didn't have a transformative encounter with Christ until my thirties. The person who wrote thought I was making a judgment about Catholicism. I’m definitely not. I cherish my Catholic heritage and am richly blessed by the many precious, extraordinary contributions of countless Catholic faithful through the ages to this very day.


Still, my friend's concern highlights a greater issue that has an increasingly far-reaching impact. It's part of the reason I’ve been absent from blogging and social posting for a while. So let me begin with a brief explanation about that first.


Reconstruction, Not Deconstruction

As I reported earlier last year, my absence was partly due to some all-consuming paying work that occupied my energy along with work on my own book project. (I’m thrilled to report that as of December 31, my drafty-draft manuscript is 100% done.). Providentially, this intense period coincided with a need for deep retreat with God.


I’m joyfully emerging from a very prolonged period of agonizing disillusionment, religious trauma, narcissistic recovery, soul-searching, and a sweetly transformative, remarkable time with God. Some call this a "dark night of the soul," so well-described by St. John of the Cross and by many other spiritual traditions. (I did not physically retreat, but if I did, this fine little monastery in Montenegro might be the place to go.)


Photo: Getty Images/Iryna Veklich. Source: Architectural Digest, St. George Monastery, Montenegro St. George Monastery is on a small island in the Bay of Kotor, near southwestern Montenegro. The stone Benedictine monastery was built in the 12th century and is surrounded by cypress trees on the picturesque natural island, which is also the site of a cemetery, giving it the nickname of “Island of the Dead.” The island is not open to the public, but visitors can stop at nearby Our Lady of the Rocks Island, a man-made island with a 17th-century church.

I’ve had some excruciatingly distressing and revealing run-ins with humanity, including my own beloved self. Unsurprisingly, my first-hand experiences and observations seem in step with the utterly nutty, world-shaking crescendo of headlines full of violence, corruption, perversion, and natural disasters all over. The escalating, divisive political vitriol of election season doesn't help.


Then there was my odd, uncharacteristic foray into binge-watching true crime YouTube videos, which was ironically relevant. This was another stark reminder that even the most ordinary and innocuous humans can seemingly blindly go way off the rails under the influence of certain forces. Then lie about it to themselves and others in unconvincing but totally convinced fashion.


Cunning, baffling, crazy, and more common every day.


I won't call my dark night of the soul deconstruction, which sounds terminal and is just plain incorrect. I'm calling it reconstruction. Reconstructing relationship and reconnecting with the God who swooped into my chaotic, painful life twenty-three years ago, embracing me in a love so enormous, penetrating, and unconditional, I just knew it was the real thing.


Lousy News

Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” Galatians 3:11

Tragically, I soon traded God's amazing grace for a merciless checklist, a wack-a-mole of sin-conscious labor and relentless self-criticism and condemnation. Sadly, I turned my mighty, misguided finger on others, too.


This, increasingly common distortion is not The Gospel, which in Greek means "Good News." This law and fear-based religion is extremely lousy news for every last one of us. It's the very poison Jesus railed against more than anything else when He first came into a world eerily similar to today's version.


It doesn't produce lasting change or loving fruit. It produces fear, self-righteousness, depression, and division.


On the other hand, the other prevailing distortion that Christ's perfect atonement means a moral free-for-all is equally destructive, as we see in vivid and terrifying technicolor today.


Both views are profoundly polarizing, extremely dangerous to individual and common welfare, and surely grieve our Father's heart.



Destructive Divisions

"But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned." Titus 3:9-11

There are more than 45,000 Christian denominations, many were surely formed by sincere, smart people who sought to interpret the complexities and paradoxes of God's words to humanity. Many believe they’re absolutely, positively right, often at the exclusion and condemnation of others, and most can back up their perspective with scripture.


History and headlines testify that all manner of horrors and errant nonsense have been justified with scripture and continue to this day.


(BTW, this is a non-partisan post.)


Ironically, human “discord,” “dissension,” “factions,” “division,” “judgment,” and “condemnation” appear on various Bible lists of capital offenses in God’s view, along with the trendier, easier-to-vilify sins that make headlines, sermons, or social rants.


Moreover, see Matthew 7 or Romans 2 for just a small sample of God's thoughts on judging others. As though any mere human could presume to know another’s sin or heart or complex contributory backstory, or even our own! Sheesh!


God doesn’t make such distinctions. See Romans 1, Galatians 5, and Matthew 5 for a more inclusive, sobering, and decidedly ego-leveling list of extreme to everyday sins. Let’s not forget Christ condemns mere thoughts as bad as the actual act to underscore God’s elusive standard of perfection.


Bottom line: Anything short of perfect separates from God. The need for a perpetual, universal posture of humble and grateful dependence on The Cross is greater and more continual than we seem to grasp. Hurray for that comforting recourse! I believe it's more important than ever that we all get this.

“…No one is righteous—not even one.” Romans 3:10
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23

These judgments, however seemingly supported by biblical evidence, have caused destructive fractures and feed self-blind, self-righteousness, hypocrisy that divides rather than unifies and enraged Jesus more than anything. See Matthew 23.


It's not limited to religion either.


An Epidemic of Narcissism


"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Matthew 7:5

Any kind of self-based rightness tends to drive us into hiding--lest we be canceled for our persistent humanity--and compels us to point fingers to minimize and deflect our own faults and failures, or to elevate our egos.


(By the way, I can spot all this because I got all this. "I repent, I repent, I oh so repent. Thank you, Christ, for forgiving me even this!")


This divisive pattern is increasingly pervasive everywhere, including the American church. That is, like all other problems, self-righteousness hypocrisy is a human problem, not a religious problem.


Narcissism is an extreme form of hypocrisy:


"the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense." (Oxford)


Narcissists are modern-day Pharisees and secular super-hypocrites. Not surprisingly, narcissism is most prevalent in religious leaders, politicians, and corporate moguls. Headlines sure do corroborate this.


Narcissists deify themselves, often going to extraordinary lengths to deceive, control, collect, and exploit others to elevate and protect their egos, usually enabled by a cadre of minions who are sometimes complicit or unsuspecting victims themselves.


They may present a morally superior, grandiose, and glamorous persona, or a loving, philanthropic facade, concealing an altogether different person. They are often controlling and even overtly dictatorial, or can conceal their ego with more cunning schemes behind the scenes. The covert variety may present a more benign, vulnerable persona, hiding a dark, passive-aggressive epicenter.


Diagnosable, malignant narcissism and the garden-variety are epidemic today. We are all hypocrites to one degree or another. Look for more on this topic next week.


Thankfully, God offers all humans a solution for our shared human problem: Jesus.


The Great Equalizer

Christ wanted all of mankind to be unified under Him, as He prayed for us Himself:

"I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me." John 17:21

This unifying and equalizing principle transcends mere denominations, as affirmed in Galatians 3:28...

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

I increasingly believe that many denominations—and all humans—celebrate and reflect some distinct aspect of God‘s unfathomable fullness. I’m grateful for the many sincere, thoughtful believers who are moved by different dimensions of our Creator’s infinite expression of Himself to His finite children.

Since we're all fallible, every human institution gets stuff wrong and sometimes seriously wrong. Money, power, and prestige are corrosive risk factors for all of us, as we see everywhere in the world...including churches of all stripes. Size, time, and our inclination to codify God or conduct in any setting for our own misguided motives contribute to institutionalized errors.


Remember that Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, didn’t break from the Catholic church until 1517, launching a dizzying number of fractures since. It’s worth noting that the Catholic Church is by far the largest of Christian denominations. Despite all manner of messes over the centuries, and with a dramatically broad range of individual beliefs that depart dramatically from official doctrine, most Catholics still call themselves Catholics.


Regardless, relying on any institution, individual, or religious practice for our faith, eternal security, and serenity is shaky ground indeed. That's why an intimate, personal relationship with God through Jesus is so critical.

Rather than pointing fingers at other denominations or people, we’d do better to soberly examine ourselves in light of that accurate standard of perfection. That should keep us all very busy, humble, and gratefully and joyfully dependent on Christ’s completed work.

Really, how might my attitude be different if I fully comprehended that my own sin--whatever it is--totally qualified us for the same punishment as that guy doing that sin?


This doesn’t change God’s benchmark, it elevates Christ, whom God gave as the living, loving fulfillment of the law—every last one. It also unifies us humans if we can acknowledge our common imperfection and need for rescue.


The Unifying Principle

"And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity." Colossians 3:14

After long and first-hand painful experimentation, I believe that the unifying principle, as Christ said Himself after all, is LOVE.


This is not the blithely saccharine or screwed-up libertine nonsense that Paul chastised in those wacky Corinthians and others. It's a way higher standard in every sense.

"Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

God offers handy checklists for this “simplified” law (yes, that simplified is sarcastic):

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

(As I was recently lamenting my routine failures with just this list alone, a pastor suggested replacing "love" with "Jesus." That immediately alleviated my angst, and in a revealing fashion, I promptly sensed a rush of empowering love because the law condemns and enslaves, but grace empowers and liberates! Read my favorite book of Romans for more on this topic.)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

This, too, is an impossibly tall order for most of us to ace and is itself subject to (usually self-serving) interpretation, so it’s better still if the unifying principle is CHRIST Himself.


Law-keepers can easily nullify any of these loving traits with another verse that justifies our lack of love in meting out judgment.


I’ve done it, I’ve seen it, I’ve been clobbered to smithereens by it.


For this reason and then some, I consider myself inter-denominational, FREE to enjoy what is revealed and revered by different Christians (and to myself personally) in UNITY under Christ, just as He commanded.  This perspective allows us to more readily marvel at God’s spirit in others. In fact, wherever we see the One and only Truth.


It also helps us be more transparent and humble about our failings, and more tolerant of others, receiving and relaying God's grace.


Grace for the Sketchy

We can all rest and rejoice in this equalizing, unifying, liberating, and loving truth:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” John 3:16-17 (NLB)

(emphasis added)

Jesus even came to save those folks who are wielding loveless judgment and condemnation of sins that differ from their own (whether liberal or conservative, by the way).


Mind you, this doesn’t minimize the perfection of the law, the benefits of obedience, or the real-life consequences (built-in punishment) of sin on us and others…the whole world. Boy, are we seeing this world-wrecking ball today!


Yet we can find tangible comfort in the fact that all our biblical heroes had very human foibles up to and including utterly depraved, icky, criminal behavior. For instance, the Father of the Faith, Abraham, cowardly quasi-pimped his treasured wife out of fear and later defied God by cowering to his wife and sleeping with the handmaid, contributing to a world of trouble we still live with today.



The wonderfully made and foreknown King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” power-preyed on a married woman, then schemed to off her husband to cover up their love child. Despite the obviousness of his crime, David was clueless until he was called out. Then David repented, heartbroken by the revelation and suffered awful consequences.


Grievous human fallibility also plagued the celebrated apostle St. Paul, who evidently struggled with a recurring sin he called “evil.” Thus, likely not merely too much pie or a short temper.


Paul called it "evil" and was anguished by the fact that he couldn't seem to stop doing whatever it was and, conversely, struggled to do the good he wanted to do.


At various times, all the apostles, however devoted, proved to be full of fear, doubt, ego, powerless, and weak. Right there sitting next to Jesus at the campfire.


Anything other than the Gospel of Grace would be lousy news for everybody. Every last one of us.


Hallelujah, "it is finished!"


The Remedy of Repentance

“The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” Mark 1:15

This is where repentance comes in, the mechanism by which we access God’s mercy and grace. It seems obvious: We need to know we done wrong and need forgiving to enjoy the Good News offered by The Gospel. After all, Jesus' first recorded sermon after emerging from his desert temptation was "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 5:17.


Here’s the challenge: repentance isn’t merely a rote, flat confession of known sin. It’s feeling genuine remorse for our failures and harm done, leading to a change of heart and mind. Like I discussed in last week's blog...Conscience in plain language. We can’t fake it. Sometimes this arises spontaneously out of our love for God or knowing we hurt someone else. Sometimes, like even David on some level, we're clueless until confronted or God Himself points something out, then may or may not feel remorse or be willing to change. Sometimes, we have to suffer increasingly intense consequences to feel the genuine remorse that prompts a change of heart.


If we willfully ignore our conscience—the prompt to change—our anxiety will intensify as will the consequences. I suspect this partly accounts for the epidemic levels of anxiety and depression, up 25% worldwide according to the World Health Organization. Repenting and realigning with God might fix a lot of that in our individual lives and on a global level. It may be that our fear is less about global events or our own problems, and more about a lack of confidence that we're at peace with the God of the Universe.


If this sounds like God is mean or manipulative, remove God as the active agent and see it as our own trajectory as the result of our choices--like violating the law of gravity. Yes, I am revisiting last week's theme cuz it's so pressing and timely doggone it...


If we willfully persist in silencing the prompts to change, our conscience may go silent and then at some we’re eventually slammed with intense consequences until we respond. God, who identifies as Daddy, would be a lousy parent if He didn’t discipline our bad behavior, for our sake and for the sake of the people impacted by our conduct, sometimes all of humanity.


Believing sin or defying God is its own punishment, I also believe this discipline takes the form of allowing us to experience the full brunt of our consequences to compel us to come rushing home to Him like the prodigal son. He awaits us with open arms, ready to restore us and rejoice in our return.


The Good News is indeed EXCELLENT because God’s motive is always love. He is faithful and we're assured,

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9-10

Along with others, I sense God will soon be illuminating our sins, revealing what’s been hidden, upsetting the apple cart of our self-righteousness. This includes those of us who put on a pretty good show of “goodness” or measure our “goodness” against another person’s “badness,” which is pride, the original, big daddy sin...largely because it separates us from God and others.


The Urgency of Christian Unity

But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. Luke 11:17

I can't help but ponder the fact Jesus first showed up to a world so much like ours, a Roman empire of the modern age. Mighty Rome was taken down by corruption and division of an eerily familiar variety, that left it vulnerable to enemies.


Here I take a sharp, but totally relevant detour.


SPOILER ALERT:

My case will be much more compelling to you if you’ve seen the newly released Obama-produced mega-hit, apocalyptic Netflix movie Leave the World Behind starring Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke. In eerily prophetic and terrifyingly believable fashion, the movie depicts the alarmingly rapid unraveling of American society with unlikely companions unwittingly thrust together in tense interdependence.



Julia Roberts plays a distrustful, angry cynic who has had it with people and is in flammable, race-fueled conflict with a smart, snarky, equally wary young adult, played masterfully by Myha'la Jael Herrold.


Before an ominous ending, Roberts and Herrold set aside their differences to find Robert’s missing child. Softened by a mother’s terror, Roberts laments how very messed up humanity is and confesses her own brokenness and contribution to the morass. Soon after, faced with a common threat, their demeanors shift and the two overcome their personal conflict to defeat their shared foe. Elsewhere, Robert’s husband and Herrold’s father take a similar path to reconciliation and cooperation, and we’re left hoping they’ll all be reunited.


The movie ends with the bombing of a major US city, attributed to a coordinated attack by unnamed Middle Eastern and Asian nations. Viewers are led to believe that Roberts and the unexpected allies will be spared a horrifying fate left for the nation.

I believe this movie is a prophetic warning uncannily aligned by yesterday's news report about the FBI dire warning about imminent cyber attacks to our infrastructure.



I suspect we’re at a national tipping point and confess I fear we too, might have to actually experience the threat of a common foe to become unified. It would be so much better to get there beforehand to avoid disaster and tap into the true Superpower who can rescue us in earnest.


Given the current state of extreme polarity, this seems unlikely apart from supernatural, divine intervention.


We urgently need God to heal us, our nation, and our world. Loveless division won’t get us there. Loveless division destroys. It's not an exaggeration to say our common welfare, if not survival, depends on unity. The chasm that divides us can only be bridged by a formidable Superpower.


Acknowledging our shared and equal need for rescue and the Loving Remedy gains us access to God's limitless love, protection, and power. It’s more critically important than ever to be unified in Christ.


Amidst so much bad news--way beyond fixing with an election or targeted bombing or “moral” legislation by any measure--Christ is mighty Good News.


Grace, peace, love, and unity in Christ.





PRAYER: Father, help us please set aside the many elusive doctrinal differences that fracture us, divide and disable us, grieving Your heart. Help us be unifed by the ONE truth, way, and life, Jesus. Amen. Thank you. We love you.

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