Tag Archives: Jesus

Jesus Keynotes an NRA Rally at Liberty University

This just in! A stunning revelation that Jesus Christ- yes, the actual Jesus of Nazareth- miraculously appeared at a scheduled National Rifle Association rally at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Upon inspection of the wounds in his hands, feet, and side with residual scarring on his forehead, Jesus’s identity was confirmed.

In the words of Liberty University’s President Jerry Falwell, Jr, “We had been praying for some time that the Lord would show us how to better protect our students from the kinds of violence we’re seeing on other college campuses. The Holy Spirit convicted us that we must meet potential violence, especially from Muslims, with the strength of arms. Every student must be armed and ready to defend themselves and their classmates from any violent threat. Well, that led us to the National Rifle Association’s assistance and… to our great amazement… our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who was kind enough preach to us. Although I have to admit, I’m somewhat puzzled by the conclusion of his address.”

I, Pastor Chris Owens, have attained an exclusive transcript of Jesus’s keynote address to the NRA and Liberty University. The following are his remarks:

[Jesus walks onto the stage wearing two gun holsters with a rifle slung to his shoulder.]

jesus-gun-500x3001-630x378“Thank you, thank you, one and all for having me here today. I bring you greetings and blessings from my Father in Heaven and the Holy Spirit who has been trying to get your attention recently. I’m grateful that you have now heeded the call and have gathered together for this momentous occasion.

“Back in my day we didn’t have guns and rifles. We had swords, and I want you to know, my friends, that I would have been a proud, card-carrying member of the JSA, the Judean Sword Association.”

[thunderous applause]

“Yes! Yes! Those Romans were a severe threat to our people and to me. They oppressed us. They terrorized us. They certainly were not good Jews like us. And so the night before I died, I encouraged my disciples to sell a cloak and buy a sword. That’s right. I was beginning to come to my senses and I realized that the only way to fend off those heathen Romans was with a strong show of force. If any of those pigs dared come near us, they’d find a blade in their belly.”

[several minutes of applause]

“Now it’s true that I rebuked poor Peter for cutting off the ear from one of the guys arresting me in the Garden of Gethsemene. He was only trying to protect me with the sword I commanded him to buy. But I told him to put his sword away. Then I warned him that all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.

“However, I have had a few thousand years to think things over. So now I say unto you:

Whoever takes up the sword will LIVE by the sword. And whoever carries a gun will LIVE by the gun!”

[several minutes of rapturous applause with multiple refrains of “Hallelujah!! We praise you Lord Jesus!!”]

“Yes, thank you my friends. You know times change. Things that were good for people a long time ago are not relevant for us today. Your esteemed president Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr. led me to see that.

“It is a matter of common sense and even a good American duty to protect ourselves from the threats of people who hate us and want to harm us, especially those Muslims. In fact Donald Trump is spot on. Don’t even let them into your country anymore. You never know when one of them will turn on you.

“And when they do- and believe me, they will!- I want you to do the responsible, moral thing, and shoot them down where they stand. Then there’ll be fewer Muslims to terrorize the world.

[several minutes of applause and shouts of “USA! USA!”]

“Now, I know many of you remember my teachings about turning the other cheek and not resisting an evil person. Those teachings of mine have bedeviled you for 2,000 years, and I am truly sorry for that. Please forgive me for I did not know of what I said.

“How naively irresponsible I was for commanding you to be a bunch of pathetic wusses. How are we to stop evil people if we don’t take ’em out? Isn’t a bullet in the head of an aggressor the most loving, compassionate thing we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones? No more bad guys means peace and prosperity for us!”

[several minutes of applause, shouting, and gun shots into the sky]

[A hand of a young man in the front row goes up.]

“Yes, my son. Do you have a question?”

[The young main said, “Lord, didn’t you also say that we are to love our enemies and love our neighbors as ourselves? Have you revised that as well?”]

“Absolutely not, my friend! Loving our neighbors and our enemies are timeless principles which must be freshly applied to your context.

“Who are your neighbors these days? Aren’t they good Christians like you?

“And as for loving your enemies, the guiding principle is this: live to love another day. I mean, how can you be good, nice, loving followers of mine if you’re dead?? How can love prevail if evil people kill the true lovers?

“So I say this: love your enemy with an AK-47 at your side. Love ’em with all your heart. And the moment they begin to threaten you, show them the full force of good Christian love! Live to love another day, my friends!!”

[several minutes of applause, praises, shouts, and gunfire with a burning effigy of Mohammed.]

“Friends, I must leave you now. There is one more thing to be done. I am going back in time to correct a few errors. I am God, after all. I can do that.

Jesus with a rifle“Those nasty religious leaders who had me arrested and that fellow Pontus Pilate who condemned me to die– they’re dead men now. Yessir. How can I continue to love the world and bring about the kingdom of God unless those bastards are filled with lead?

“Greater love has no one than this: that he should take up arms to protect his friends. Crosses are for defeated weaklings! Sin, death, and evil– mow ’em down with everything you’ve got!!

“Farewell, my friends! Keep your ammo well stocked!”

[Jesus leaves the stage, and there is stunned silence. Suddenly a voice from the crowd says, “Does that mean we can sleep in on Sundays now?]

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Jesus in the Nitty Gritty

dirty handsThis has been a tiring, at times deeply frustrating week of moving, unpacking, cleaning, and adjusting to a whole new home, routine, and neighborhood. If you’ve made a recent move, you know the feeling all too well. I feel like I’ve been treading in a sea of bewilderment and disorientation, moving from pastoring a church to being “church-less” in a new position in which I’m resourcing lots of churches. And of course, switching from one set of comfortable digs to something altogether dissimilar shakes up all those subtle routines and environments I had come to unconsciously rely on.

It almost goes without saying that this has been a test on my walk with Christ and on my closest relationships. (I have to confess: poor Blairlee has at times been the undeserving victim of my tattered patience and sensitivity! Please forgive me, Sweetie…) Far from the mountaintop of mystical bliss with God, I’ve been in the trenches of sweat, boxes, dirt, and discombobulation.

But God is all about timeliness, God’s time, of course, and so– lo and behold!–  I found a daily devotional reading from my hero Brennan Manning, a man who knew all about God in the messiness of life. Here’s what he wrote. Read it carefully:

Am I unjustly criticized, rejected, betrayed by a friend? I can touch the life of Jesus who faced the same things and can will myself to respond as he did. The power of his Spirit passes into my spirit… Christ is formed within me not just in peak moments of transcendental bliss but in the nitty-gritty of daily life. I am confined to bed, sick, nauseous, racked with pain, utterly incapable of prayer. I have only to whisper, “It’s yours, my Friend,” and it is no longer I who lie there, it is Jesus Christ. And so it goes. Jesus slept. I can unite my sleep with his. I’m having a rollicking good time at a Cajun barbecue in New Orleans. I shout with them, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll), and connect with the Jesus who multiplied the wine at Cana to keep the party going.

-Brennan Manning, Reflections for Ragamuffins (HarperSanFransisco: 1998), 166 (bolded italics mine)

I love that. It’s another reminder of the truth that the Word of God (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Jesus will not confine himself to church services within the walls of a beautiful sanctuary. Jesus moves with and pushes beyond my solitary moments of prayer and devotion. Jesus is truly with me and in me throughout the nitty-gritty toils of daily life.

That’s a far cry from the way we are prone to compartmentalize faith and religion to one “holy” segment of our lives, relegating God to the diminishing vestiges of piety and religion. (Isn’t it true that we usually only talk to God during the day when we need something we can’t handle on our own? See what I mean??)

Why can’t there be something tremendously holy to the menial things of unpacking boxes, throwing out the trash, the rigors and struggles of family life, the daily grind of work and study, as well as our times of leisure and rest? If Jesus is real and is truly with me, then it follows that I can find him, obey him, and experience his Spirit within my spirit, even in the throws of the most exhausting, frustrating things of dirt, grime, sweat, and tears.

So you can bet that I’ll be pausing to remember and follow Jesus in the moments of nitty-gritty living. I think it’s there that we can truly experience the powerful presence of the Holy. If not there, where else?

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Smashing the Jesus Idol of Churchianity

In my last post, I pointed out that the Church in its present state hosts many false idols of Jesus that need to be called out and smashed. In so doing, my intentions are not to bad-mouth the Church, but rather to help the Church reform and recover a more authentic, effective, and sincere discipleship under Jesus Christ. By naming and smashing these false Jesus idols, we can move closer to the real Jesus and to the abundant, eternal life he calls us to share in community with him and with each other. Some of these idols are glaringly obvious. Some are far more elusive. But all are equally damning if we worship them.

So in this post, I’d like to call out and smash one of the more elusive, difficult-to-understand false idols of Jesus. It’s the Jesus idol of “churchianity.” This idol has been created and paraded around to bless and propagate the traditional, institutional church structure in which most all mainline denominations and churches fit. This idol props up and spiritualizes the goals, agenda, and values of the institutional church.

Admittedly this is smart ploy! I mean, if the institutional church can claim that it’s only doing what Jesus commanded them to do and carry it out in his name, then who can argue with that? But this tactic is what makes this false idol of Jesus so crafty; the institutional church puts the most sacred words and commands of Jesus into this idol’s mouth and drags it out into the open when they need its justification.

But to properly describe this churchianity Jesus idol, we need to better understand the condition of the institutional church which created it.

Roman Emperor Constantine

The institutional Western Church as we know it today has enjoyed a long history of power and prestige from the time of Roman emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 AD until nearly 50 years ago. The Church thrived in a state of Christendom in which Christianity of some form was the official religion of every Western nation. The Church stood at the center of such a society and by virtue of having its doors open and services conducted, it maintained Christianity as the civil religion of the land. Church and State became virtually synonymous, and the Jesus of this Church stood as the patron of their union.

The last century saw seismic shifts in society and culture which drastically affected the Western institutional church. The rise of democracy in the 18th and 19th Centuries gradually eroded away Christendom. But in the last century, with the influx of post-modernism’s deep skepticism towards all things central and institutional, the last vestiges of Christendom crumbled away completely, leaving behind a crippled institutional church. From the early 1960’s until now, the church has continued in a state of denial, believing that its ornate buildings, traditions, grand worship services, and programs would continue to attract and keep its adherents. But instead, most mainline institutional churches have suffered an accelerated decline in membership and worship service attendance.

So what do once-powerful, threatened institutions do? They throw themselves into survival mode. They ramp up their efforts to become productive again. They uplift institutional identity and fidelity as a chief value for all its members. And, in the case of the institutional church, they dig into the wellspring of biblical and theological treasures they’ve inherited to find ideas, slogans, and self-serving principles they hope will make them vibrant again. This sludge is what I call churchianity.

The United Methodist Cross and Flame

For example, I’ve too often heard my own denomination and Conference promote the following institutionally-minded goals:

  • increasing worship attendance and professions of faith, i.e. boost our flagging institutional membership statistics
  • increase stewardship and giving for the spreading of the gospel, i.e. bringing in money to keep our programs going, staff paid, and buildings operational
  • do more evangelism and faith sharing, i.e. attracting people back into our church institutions so that we can convince them to become members of it
  • making disciples of Jesus Christ, i.e. recruiting good, giving, serving church members who will uphold the church institution

Are you seeing a trend here? Every one of these goals has been couched in theological and missional language in order to keep the church institution afloat. Numbers of people and amounts of money are tantamount to this institution’s self-credibility and existence.

Then comes the Jesus idol of churchianity. Forged by the institutional church, its purpose is very simple: to speak and act in a vain effort to salvage what’s left. Now here’s the dangerously elusive aspect of this false Jesus. It very clearly speaks the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, so convincingly, in fact, that its utterances could easily be mistaken for those of the  real Jesus… except for one small but fatal difference. It pronounces the Great Commission and Great Commandment with the singular intent of numerically adding to the rebuilding of the institution who created it.

When the real Jesus commanded his disciples to go into the world to baptize and form new disciples (the Great Commission) and to love God and love others (the Great Commandment), he was not at all interested in creating and fostering an institution. Jesus’ prime and only motivation was relational and connective. In other words, Jesus sought to reconnect people back to God the Father in a community of disciples of his who would then build the kingdom of God’s shalom and righteousness in this world. There’s not a breath of institutionalism or self-preservation in any of this!

Jesus intended his Church, his living and holy Body, to be the catalyst and example for this kind of holy connectedness and transformation. But the Church was never intended to be the ends or even the focus of Jesus’ mission in the world. Jesus’  focus is the world he died to save with the purpose of raising all of creation to life in the wings of his resurrection. So whether or not the Western institutional church as we know it survives is of no ultimate consequence.  What God has accomplished and will accomplish in Jesus Christ will always stand. His Church, in whatever form it takes, will stand with him.

So, in the name of Jesus, we smash the false Jesus idol of churchianity and we strive to dissemble the last remnants of churchianity.

In their place, we worship the Jesus who reconnects people back to God through his work on the cross. We worship the Jesus who connects these same people to him and to others to form a vital community of fellow disciples called the Church who, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, enliven the world around them for eternity, inviting and teaching new disciples of Jesus, never for their own sakes, but for the sake of all others.

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Smashing Our Jesus Idols

From inside the dense cloud on top of Mt. Sinai, the Lord met with Moses and gave him two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Both Jews and Christians have come to adore these commands as the epicenter of God’s will for us. We even find them adorning the walls of the United States Supreme Court.

In my experience, the second commandment has been one of the least understood by most Christians. It reads,

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)

I believe there are three reasons for this prohibition against idols.

First, for ancient Israelites, it kept them from adopting and worshiping the idols from surrounding cultures. They were not to worship multiple gods of their choosing, but the one Lord God who delivered them from bondage in Egypt. Consequently, God would later exile the Israelites to Assyria and Babylon precisely for their idolatry.

Second, this commandment keeps Jews and Christians from containing God to a singular image. God’s vast greatness cannot be limited to any image, form, or description. That’s why very rarely will you ever see a picture of God. The only exception I can think of is Michelangelo’s iconic Sistine Chapel fresco depicting God reaching to touch Adam.

But there’s also a third, crucially important reason why God prohibited idols of any kind. Idols tend to be the projected wants and needs of those who make them. If someone is suffering a fertility problem, they would create and petition fertility idol. Anticipating a harvest, a village would make a harvest god to please with offerings and gifts. Through the ages, there have been idols for literally any need and want. Idols also tend to be projections of ourselves, too. People worship idols that represent their own aspirations and ideals in a well-meaning yet insidious form of self-worship.

For all these reasons, and for the sake of our souls, we must always call out and smash the idols we make.

Jesus idolThese days, the church is filled with plenty of idols that compete with our faithfulness to God. There are idols of material comfort, power, self-righteousness, traditionalism, and even the idol of religion itself. Since becoming a Christian, I have heard Christian leaders call out and attempt to smash these idols.

But I think there are even darker, more dangerous idols in our midst. These are the idols we forge of Jesus. These idols are our own self-projected needs, prejudices, and ideals that we shape into our version of Jesus. These idols come to shape innocently enough, but once they take full form, they turn Jesus into a singular thing that serves our own self-interests.

Scattered throughout my next several posts, I’m going to call out and smash some of these Jesus idols in my effort to point us to a more authentic, biblical understanding of Jesus. For non-Christians and post-Christian Agnostics, I fervently hope this might heal some of the wounds and deep misgivings you’ve had at the hands of  the church’s Jesus idols. For Christians, I hope to move us to a more faithful discipleship as we embody a truer semblance of the Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom we read about in the Scriptures.

Here are some of the Jesus idols I’ll be sledging apart:

  • the prosperity/Santa Claus Jesus
  • the get-out-of-hell-free/one-way ticket-to-heaven Jesus
  • the Jesus of blind love
  • the Jesus of great political causes
  • the Jesus of churchianity

There are undoubtedly many more of these Jesus idols, and there may be others you’d want to mention, too. I’d encourage you to call out and smash your own. However, I leave us all with one warning: don’t smash one idol just to make room for another!

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Another Look at John 14:6– What Does Jesus Really Mean?

In my last post which wrestles with the difference between Jesus and Christianity, I gave some attention to John 14:6. This is a loaded verse, and unfortunately, because of my lack of clarity and the preconceived notions many people bring to this passage, there’s a lot of confusion about what I was trying to say.

In response to Thomas’ question,

“Lord we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way,”

Jesus responded by saying,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Now, I want to restate some things I said before and perhaps make them a bit clearer:

1) Jesus was primarily addressing his disciples. His disciples had yet to fully realize that Jesus himself is the only way, truth, and life they need. There is no other way to God but by him. He goes on to say in verse 7, ” If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” To put it another way, coming to Jesus is the same thing as coming to the  Father because Jesus is the fullest expression of the Father. To know one is to know the other.

2) Jesus was more deeply explaining his seamless connection to the Father. In John’s Gospel, the central message is that the Word, God himself, became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. To know Jesus is also to know the Father. Right after Thomas’ question, Phillip asks, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus responds with, “Don’t you me Phillip, even after I have been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” In other words, to see Jesus is to see the Father. That’s why Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through him. He and nothing else is the fullest expression of the Father. As Paul puts it, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

Now the sticky question is whether or not John 14:6 is applicable to all people, including non-Christians. Certainly, Christians have used this verse to try to convince their non-Christian neighbors that Jesus is the only way to the Father. So, the logic goes, they’d better turn to Jesus and become a Christian or risk damnation. Now, I firmly believe that Jesus is the one through whom God has fully revealed himself. Jesus is the one through whom God has saved the whole world from power of sin and death. He is the hope of the world.

My concern, however, in holding out Jesus Christ for all people, is that we wrongly insist that the religion of Christianity is the sole means through which people come to Christ and are saved. We tell people to come to such and such church or church event, believe such and such words from a preacher, convert and then become a Christian and church member in the mold of who we are.

We’ve made the religion of Christianity the exclusive claim of salvation, not Jesus himself. Now that may sound like splitting hairs, but it’s not. Just ask any non-Christian. We hold up church life and membership, a set of doctrines and rules, traditions, a certain church culture, religious expectations and other norms, package it all up and call it Jesus. That simply will not work for a very large group of people, many of whom are deeply suspicious of the religion of Christianity and Christians.

I think Paul would argue the same from his experience of bringing Jesus to the Gentiles. Jesus was Jewish, his earliest disciples were Jewish, and his message and teaching were from a Jewish foundation. But Paul argued that Gentiles (non-Jews) are not required to be both a disciple of Jesus and Jewish, specifically with regards to the Jewish rites of circumcision, kosher eating habits, and the observance of Jewish holy days and synagogue worship. Yes, Gentiles abandoned their idols to worship and follow Jesus, but their discipleship took on a very different shape than their Jewish neighbors who also followed Jesus.

So… I’m arguing here that we Christians need to be careful to only hold out Jesus as the means of peoples’ salvation. I suspect that people of other faiths, those previously agnostic or atheist, or those from radically different cultures than our own will come to know, trust, and follow Jesus in ways that will not resemble Christianity as we’ve come to know it. They will create communities of the Church that will be very different. But that’s okay. Conversion is to God through Jesus Christ, not our religious system called Christianity.

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The Difference between Jesus and Christianity

a Jewish JesusOn the night before he was crucified, Jesus said something to his disciples so beautifully profound that it changed their lives. Ironically, this same statement has also been badly misused by future generations of Christians. It began when Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, asked him this question: “Lord, you say you’re going back to God. How can we find our way back way to God, too?” [John 14:5, my paraphrase]

In response, Jesus said,

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).

To put it another way, Jesus was trying to say, “Thomas, I am the way to God, and the truth and the life you seek. I’m the way because when you know me, you know God, and when you look at me, you’re also looking at the face of God. Since I am he, don’t look anywhere else for what you seek. You’ve found him already.” That was Jesus’ way of assuring Thomas and countless other disciples, myself included,  that in Jesus is the way, the life, and truth we’ve always been looking for.

But many Christians have taken hold of this beautiful verse and have used it to say quite emphatically to our non-Christian neighbors, “Jesus Christ is the only way, the only truth, the only life, and the only way to the Father. You can’t come to God unless you come to him and convert to Christianity.” I join a lot of people in shuddering at the way some people misuse Jesus’ statement about himself.

As a disciple of Jesus, I believe he is God who has come in the flesh, both fully God and fully human. So I believe what Jesus is saying about himself when he invites his disciples and anyone else to come to him and to discover the life, the way, the truth and the fullest expression God. I mean, just give a fresh read to the gospel accounts of Jesus from the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll find the reason why billions upon billions of people through the ages, both Christians and non-Christians alike, have flocked to this man and love him.

But many, very understandably, have stopped short at the doors of the Christian church and have said, “No, thank you.” One such prominent example was Mahatma Gandhi who once said,

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it’s not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time.

The problem is Christianity has often done Jesus a great disservice. Some of you reading this post already have a bad taste of suspicion or even disdain in your mouth because of the ways Christians have betrayed the true spirit and person of Jesus. (I have to admit that my life has at times betrayed him, too. I’m very much a work in progress!) Christianity is a diverse culture and organization which has a long history of being both faithful and unfaithful. Christianity has spawned and revolved around God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ is not Christianity.

So, I want to make a very clear distinction for both my Christian and non-Christian readers. There is and always has been a clear line of demarcation between what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ and the religion of Christianity. If Christianity can remember this principle, then it will always remain in a constant state of reform in order to be more faithful to Jesus. If non-Christians can understand this, they might have the freedom to explore and believe in Jesus without the worst of Christianity to to contend with. Perhaps non-Christian believers in Jesus can be Jesus Christ’s Church (the community of his disciples) in a way that might shine the light of Christ into the Christian world and into their version of the Church. Wouldn’t that be a sight to be behold??

I’m not saying here that Christianity is all bad or that it’s wrong to be a disciple of Jesus as a Christian. Christianity and Christians come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are more faithful to Jesus than others. There have been and continue to be Christians who are model disciples of Jesus. Without deceiving myself, I hope to be one.  There are wonderful Christian congregations out there who truly embody what it means to be the Church, the community of Jesus’ disciples and his Living Body and presence in the world. As a pastor in a Christian church, I work to make my congregation more faithfully one of those.

But let’s be clear: there is a major difference between believing, trusting, and giving our lives to Jesus and converting to the religion of Christianity. The former may happen within the later, but it doesn’t have to and it won’t for a great many people, including, in many instances, people of other faiths.

Will much of the world come back to its Creator through Jesus Christ who died and rose for the salvation of the world? I believe so, yes. The grace of God leaves out no one. Admittedly, I don’t know how that will happen; I simply believe it will. And yes, some will inevitably reject God and his Son and lose out on life. However, not all those who come to know and follow Jesus will be of the Christian religion, and that’s fine by me! I welcome them as my brothers and sisters in one common faith…

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An Upcoming Post You Won’t Want to Miss

In the next couple of days, I’m going to post a blog that looks at the difference between Jesus and the religion of Christianity. I’m sure it will rattle the cages of many Christians, but… so be it! No matter your faith background, I hope you’ll find it to be both challenging and liberating.

Keep your eyes peeled, and thank you again for reading and leaving your comments. I do read and value each one!

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