IT’S NOT ABOUT RELIGIOUS ETHICS AND OBLIGATIONS!
THIS morning had topped it all! Dale had phoned me that I should come see him in his office the next day. My mind became blown at the discovery of ‘why’ I had been made to meet such demands. Maybe he wanted me fired from the institution. Yet, when I approached him that Friday morning which was the day of the appointment, he just sniggered at me as if I was a poultry chicken. Then he confessed that I had been seen around with someone in person of Oliver, planning the destruction of the church. Certainly, he was wrong and had been told a lie. And when I tried to explain what it was all about, he blew me off. He further unveiled that he had been snooping around everyday to discover what I was up to.
Later, in frustration, I hollered at him, saying that he only cared about himself and no one else. He had refused to have me paid and had further degraded me, so how would someone like me be insulted still further? I didn’t take it so easy with him.
After much warnings and threats, I left his office with his final shot which I hadn’t expected from someone whom everyone termed ‘godly’. He had warned that he would kill me if I corrupted his name out there. It didn’t sound like the Dale I used to know. It didn’t even sound good, but it had resulted to a furious burning inside me.
Again, I was longing to meet Oliver. He was the cause of it all and I couldn’t help myself but kept blaming him for this mess. It looked messier than I had thought it would. So I walked off, away from the environment, headed for the restaurant. And that’s where I met him: that figure of his, coming out of the restaurant doors. He was calculating his change to find out the amount he could use for boarding a taxi-cab.
“Where in the world ‘ve you been?” I cried out in amazement. It had been four months since we last talked, and everything had turned upside down since then.
Then he broke into a broad smile, “Oh, hi Bobby!” Simultaneously, we presented our hands for a usual shake.
“I just had a brief conversation with a friend in this place. He’s at his tail-end and is about giving up. He had become pretty frustrated ’cause of an institution which had wasted him, and finally, he’s concluded leaving. I believe he’s on thesame journey you’re on and is absolutely worn-out with religious obligations,” he replied in answer to my question.
Then he asked, “So how’re you doing, Bobby?”
And we got back into the restaurant.
“Not so much of good, Oliver,” I answered. “My life is at stake. Everything I had conjured to earn a living ‘re just seeming like it’s all gone. I don’t know why but the pastor called me today, threatening me that if I continue destroying the identity of his institution, he ‘uld kill me. I had been given so much of obligations and I carried them out faithfully. Now, why all these mess?”
“Listen, Bob. I know this isn’t easy but even at that, you got to see that God has a good reason for it.”
“Perhaps. Dale is preparing to have me fired because I didn’t meet the obligatory requirements of the institution last week.”
“Huh? So what’re you going to do about it?”
“What else than abandon the institution to find another that has better principles!” I guessed, very frustrated.
“And what good ‘uld that do, Bob?” He asked, gently, as tears began to well up in his eyes. “Do you think it ‘ll fill the vacuum of your heart?”
“However it may be, Oliver, I for sure just want to get out of the whole thing. I need to run from it.”
“Bobby, you may try running away from it just to find it unescapable.”
“How do you mean?” I wasn’t sure what he meant but the words stood out clear and I knew that how he meant that was very different from mine.
“I mean that if you try to run out of these problems, you’re sure to put yourself into others worse than this. Just wait and find out what God intends for you. He’s working things out through this and freeing you from so many excesses that try to hold you from entering that amazing friendship he has for you. Just hold to him, trusting him to work it out the way he wants best.”
“Then I shouldn’t search for better principles which can draw me closer to Jesus?”
“What change ‘uld that bring? It may even get things worse. We aren’t drawn close to Jesus by how much we perform our religious activities but through simple obedience to his will. Jesus remains the irreplaceable Way to his Father. Any other way we try won’t work; they will keep shoving us away from him. Abandoning the friendship he yearns to have with you in order to find principles that could draw you close to his Son is all zero. It will ease your emptiness further if what you try to accomplish is away from what Father has in mind for you.”
“But I once thought that the more I met those requirements, the further it increases his love for me.”
“Or makes you become more active on the outside,” he corrected. “There’s nothing you can do to make him love you more or less; he just loves you. Religious ethics ‘re religious, moral principles that control or influence our behaviors. That doesn’t sound like a journey we ‘uld want to be on, if we find out what Jesus wants for us. They can’t increase Father’s love for us today nor can we have it less if we don’t; but he forever loves us without any condition.”
“Which means that it has nothing to do with right and wrong?”
“In our lives, we know what is right and what is wrong but haven’t you discovered that some things we call right are really wrong and others we call wrong are very right?”
“Haven’t thought of that. It means christianity is beyond. . .”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. From sunday school days, I’d been taught that it was all about ethics but now Oliver was saying something different.
“Absolutely,” he answered, nodding his head. “I know you’ve learnt all your life it’s all about ethics. I certainly don’t see how. It bypasses our teachings based on right-wrong morally correct and acceptable principles. Where people ‘re mainly focused on ethics or living by it thinking that they are changed through these standards and that it draws them to Jesus, it’s no less a collaboration facilitating religion.
“Live daily in awareness that we come to know the Father through his Son and not by any obligation which we engage to serve him. While these obligations may look good, it doesn’t change who we’re on the inside. Therefore, this hollow place remains empty!” He explained, pointing toward his chest.
I grew amazed at all he had said. Should that be the reason why I often feel empty? I thought.
“It makes more sense now, Oliver,” I realized. “That’s the reason for my emptiness! It’s not about how much obligatory requirement I get to meet each day but if I am living in awareness of his love and life, or not.”
“Now Oliver, I understand! Obligation can be replaced as we learn to live his life, love others just as we begin to see how much he loves us.” I continued, “But one thing still bother me, Oliver.”
“It looks very true that ethics seem to hide who we’re on the inside. I had known a lady who attends our church, and lives a life of gossip and abusiveness as best as she could. I won’t say it’s natural, but it was becoming natural. However, the institution’s obligation states that such things aren’t allowed because it’s the duty of Christians to always avoid being gossips or troublemakers.
From that moment, Lois ‘uld always use these words when she was provoked, “if not for the rules of this church, you ‘uld have seen my true colors.” The commandments show that, but as you said, we can’t obey them unless we follow Jesus.”
“At best, she knew how real those colors are!”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t change who she is. Rumors still get to us that she does such things out there.”
“And Dale had no word for it?”
“He said such actions aren’t right and need to be put aside, so peace would reign. But I didn’t sense that peace when I talked to him. It’s as if he’s a victim of this too. Maybe, he’s hiding himself like Lois.”
“Sounds that way, Bobby,” he agreed. “However, it seems very clear that she’s being controlled by ethics. She believes more in punishing others through her own insecurity. It does make her opposite of who she really is.”
“But some people aren’t as miserable as Lois, even if they’re bound by such ethics.”
“I would say that the believers I have met aren’t affected by it because of their passion for more of Christ. However, that doesn’t last so long, we ‘uld admit, as much obligation are been enforced than necessary. Their passion begins to be replaced by excess doing to earn God’s favor, unknown to them that they already have it. Those ones who’re bound by it always feel such emptiness like that which you feel now. Some enjoy institutionalized Christianity and mistake their mere feelings for his presence, and his presence for mere feelings. They’re just lost or confused.”
“That means we ‘uld call the right thing, the wrong, and the wrong, right?”
“Yeah, Bob,” he answered. “That’s what it does. It convince us to see ‘going to church’ as something obligatory but I discovered that it’s just ethics, religious obligations. Therefore, attendance is considered right and not attending is tagged as an error. Do you see that you could become the supposed devil who’s trying to divide the organized groups?” He asked and added, “Just as Dale once accused you; refused your friendship and discredited you, so it breeds relationships with short lifespan. It cause division and aids much conflicts among the body.
“I haven’t attended church for over forty years and that doesn’t change my relationship with him. Instead, it frees me more to run closer to him without trying to do my good against his best. Others may agree am a backslider since I no longer take my regular pew, but the misunderstanding stemmed from their minds which survives being based on ethics, instead of the life of Christ and how this life can be expressed toward others.”
This moment, my mind had begun to beat, and for sure, I knew why. ‘Over forty years? Phew!’ That’s way too much than I had figured out.
“What’re you doing when you missed church for over forty years?” I asked, trying to understand what had led him to such decision.
“I was on this incredible journey, learning what Father’s life is all about and how I could live it and help others to, sharing the authenticity of this relationship with passionate believers who’re tired of religion and are hungry to embrace his love just as he makes it known in every part of their lives. Those forty years had helped me grow in both experience and love for him and the body; but he did it all.”
“And you had condemned institutional church since then, due to ethics?”
“Of course not! I hadn’t condemned anything at all. My main concern was exposing the shamefulness which exists so much in the organized system and how others can find how much Jesus loves them. Ethics isn’t enough reason for me to condemn institutional religion, but what I hate the most is how it gets people stuck without exposing them to Father’s life.” Then, he adjusted himself. “You had never thought religious ethics and obligations ‘uld lower you from the life Jesus needed you to live, had you?”
“No, I hadn’t,” I confessed. “But it somehow reflected in my character. Does it result to pretense, Oliver?”
“It does, Bob. It results to self righteousness too,” he said, and I’m sure I didn’t understand that part.
How could ethics and obligations result to self righteousness? I thought.
“We could understand this through the reality of the troublesome tongue. It has always being a part that has the ability to set man on fire. It works directly with the heart and seem to be the most powerful of the body organs. Yet, this organ needs to be tamed but our efforts can’t help tame it, unless we turn to Jesus to help us. We can’t stop it in our power; for it detonates beyond what we expect. It could praise and curse God. Religious obligation is just that way, Bob. People ‘re given instructions on how to behave in the institution but when they’re out, they live obverse of who they’re minutes ago. Having ethical teachings or instructions mayn’t be wrong but it doesn’t change who we’re on the inside. It doesn’t encourage any further growth in him. Such a person who can’t control his tongue but try as much to stepdown due to ethics, ‘ll surely be back on it when out. It’s good to watch what we say but when such behavior is determined by ethics, there ‘uld be no real improvement in our lives. It’s pretense; hiding our real person and forcing ourselves just to be good.”
“And you say that’s wrong?”
“Yes, it is,” replied Oliver. “That’s why most religious collaborations has turned a deadly sea monster over the years. Religious ethics could appear corrosive, bring our lives to nut if we aren’t focused on him.”
“Should that be the reason why Dale is acting like a raging maniac?”
“It may,” he answered. “It seems obvious that those who turn raging maniacs the most are those who control the system. They’ve much time spent on preparing religious programmes instead of building the lives of others through encouragement.”
“So, where can I find the best principles to follow Jesus better?”
“Don’t think your search for principles will produce any life in you. It won’t! They ‘uld rather conform you to performance-based, shoving you from following Jesus freely. Instead of searching for principles, why not go to God directly and ask him to guide you into all he’s got for you today. Undoubtedly, you’ll discover more than you’ve ever thought you will.”
“Maybe the solution is to abandon church-ing and begin meeting other believers at home.” I was sure I wouldn’t get what I’d hope to.
“No. The solution isn’t shifting off, just to think you can hide away from the guilt and manipulation which you face at present or indirectly tell others that you’ve got a better way to do church. Shifting the focus to the home as the meeting place is no cure-all. What you ought to see is that the problem isn’t the place but we, ourselves. When Jesus approached the Syrophenician, what did he tell her about his people’s relational life?”
What’s that got to do with relational life? I thought again. I had taught that topic many times. So it didn’t require much thought. “He told her that in the days ahead, it wouldn’t be where we worship that matters but how we worship,” I continued, “but how does that relate to relational life?”
“It has a lot to do with it, Bobby,” he replied. “Jesus was not only talking about our relationship with one another but with him too. He wants every part of our lives to be done according to true worship which doesn’t exclude the reality of spirit-truth worship. Whether we are with others or not, our worship to him can flow in our lives. In our relational life, it’s worship involved. Don’t you think that if we’re learning to live alongside others, learning what it is to live as living sacrifices to him each day, we would all be helping each other grow in worship to him, no matter where we are or what we’re doing for him at the moment? We don’t have to be misdirected like the Syrophenician who had her focus on something unproductive. She thought it was compulsory for one to have their regular pew in either Jerusalem or the mountain, but he encouraged her to see that those things ‘re just a shadow of what he had in mind years ago: freely worship his Father anywhere, anytime. What concerns him is we live in spirit and truth.”
“Then I ‘uld better be that way,” I confessed.
“But that mayn’t last as long as obligation still keep surfacing.”
“Is worship an obligation?” I asked. “I don’t know, so I once thought it is due to some reasons. I’m sure you get that thought before when you begin to realize something quite strange, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, I’ve,” he answered, nodding his head. “It’s like a peppery feeling, I guess. But worship isn’t an obligation, Bob. It’s beyond today’s singing, dancing praise concert or whatever. These aren’t bad but when they become an obligatory requirement, you know what I mean. It’s about offering our lives as living sacrifices to him. Obviously, that kind of worship practiced today is no less an obligation as it’s compulsory for an institution to have it done, lest they ‘ll think the ritual is left incomplete.”
“Oh I see!” I exclaimed. “Any wonder why Dr. Brian Fletcher, a senior pastor at Jesus Foundation, and several other pastors had a misunderstanding. The choir wasn’t left out. He had told them one sunday morning that God had guided him to go straight into teaching without the usual Sunday morning praise and worship. The others were frustrated and complained that it never had been that way. The routine was compulsory and breaking the rule incurred serious punishment from the Board.”
“Was he aware it ‘uld be so devastating?” Oliver questioned, lifting a brow.
“Yeah he was,” I answered. “He didn’t bother and it caused a wide disagreement between the others and he, and many refused attending the church again.”
“Why? That’s just a small incident!”
“I don’t know how it got worse, Oliver but they had a division that Sunday. Those who didn’t mind the praise stuff had fallen to Fletcher’s group. The others remained where they had been. Fletcher was almost beaten but those dozen or so rescued him and they shared relationship together.”
“Did he call their attention and explain further why his actions were that way?”
“Of course, he did,” I replied. “But they’re damn angry. They kept thinking he didn’t let them perform their usual duty. It looked like they had wronged God a lot and had no better way to get rid of it.”
“I don’t know if that’s the word but I will say it’s not the kind of body we wanted to know.”
“That’s true, Bob,” he agreed. “That’s what happens when we think it’s all about being obliged to certain rules or rituals. It’uld cause disagreement between two fellows since they’re lost in thinking Father is caught in one religious web and that without several routines the church has missed the point of what it means to enjoy the life of one-anothering. He isn’t lost in our selfish way of thinking. He isn’t confined to a particular system nor is his body. He has made more ways and places for them to meet. That’s why the officials of that institution missed the point. No doubt. If they’d any idea that his body can meet anytime and anywhere he calls them to gather; not necessarily on Wednesday evenings; Friday mornings or Sunday services, they wouldn’t need to worry if Fletcher was saying the truth or breaking the rule but that they were about to embrace the reality that Father isn’t limited to a particular system.”
“Which means that the church can meet in many ways, not necessarily this institution! Whew!” I was very amazed to hear that. The expression of church-life isn’t limited to our usual institutional structures.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “The life of the journey can be shared in local groups, homes, attics and basements, underground hideouts, orphanages and a thousand other places where it can be shared without any obligation tied to it. Obligation can be replaced as these believers come together to have their focus on Jesus, instead of a building programme or spectacle.”
“But, I thought you said meeting in homes isn’t a good option?”
“I didn’t say anything like that, Bob, did I?” He asked. “I just wanted you to see that the solution isn’t about moving the meeting to homes because it won’t even free you from the guilt and manipulation which you feel now. The way out is to follow Jesus as best as he leads you, and he’ll open bigger opportunities for you to meet other believers on the journey, not minding the color of their skin so you can serve as a big help to them.”
“Wow! That ‘uld be so much fun!” I exclaimed, excitedly.
“Yeah, but what matters most is that you live it first, then you’ll find never-ending folks to share it with.”
Just as Oliver was completing his statement, someone walked behind me, hugging me from behind. I tried to guess who, not until she spoke before I recognized. Diane? How did she find me? I thought. Then she drew another chair and sat beside me.
“What ‘re you doing here, Diane?” I questioned, at her unexpected arrival.
“Was coming from a meeting at church and felt hungry, stopped by and found something to eat,” she replied, opening her bag to have the burger.
“Nice, anyways,” I accepted. “Here, Diane, this is Oliver, the one I had been telling you about.” Turning to him, “This is my beautiful wife, Diane. She knows few things about our conversations.”
I noticed how delighted he was to meet her.
“I’m glad to meet you, Diane. Really, you must ‘ve heard much about me.” He said, confidently.
“Well, could we settle here a little to talk?”
“I’m really sorry, I’ve few minutes left before meeting someone at the park. I believe we ‘uld meet sometime later.”
“But I’ve much to ask, Oliver.”
“So do I.”
“Trust Jesus, Bob and Diane,” he encouraged. “I ‘uld keep talking from this moment till next time, but what Jesus intends is that this life ‘uld be lived by you. So, trust him with that and find out how great it turns out.”
Then he waved us ‘goodbye’ and headed for the park. I wasn’t sure when we would meet again but I was sure of one thing: whatever it would take to live this kind of life which Oliver had been talking about, I’m very ready for it.
Well, I ‘uld admit that all I had hoped to find just in time wasn’t what I found. The flowing income, good job and having a church of my own was just off the point. I needed to go through the ups and downs of the journey, learn many lessons through them, so I would know how to encourage others when I find them going through thesame.
“You’re fond of him than I thought,” Diane commented as my senses returned. “What ‘re you thinking, Honey?”
“Oh, Diane,” I caught myself. “I ain’t thinking anything at all. I’m just amazed at everything which have been sorting out in the past months. Oliver has opened my eyes to something I hadn’t seen for years. . .”
“For sure; a great treasure, I would say.”
She laughed as I quickly joined her, walk out the restaurant.
This is a fictional story but from life experience.
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