“I gave up two addictions—religion and cocaine—one destroyed my marriage, cost me every penny I had, and ruined my life—the other is a white powdery substance.”

Yes, this is a joke–I was never addicted to cocaine. (A good friend responded to a similar post once in shock and horror because he thought I was serious.) But good humor is rooted in truth. Religion is often an addiction that can be just as costly as others.

And no, this joke is not my own, I did not write it, the credit lies elsewhere. (I have forgotten where I heard it.)

I would like to introduce a new subject to my blog–the birth of Jesus Christ.

Many years ago I was introduced to a provocative theory regarding the accurate birth date for Jesus Christ—and you guessed it—it is not December 25th. This theory fascinated me because it was based on real biblical, historical, and scientific evidence, and not on tradition. Because of this, I have been investigating the historical events leading up to and surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ for over 30 years.

It may come as a surprise that it has been widely known for several centuries, that not only was Jesus of Nazareth not born on December 25th, but in fact could not have been born on December 25th. In over 30 years of researching the birth of Christ, I have yet to discover a single serious biblical or historical scholar who defends a December 25 birth date for Jesus of Nazareth with enough significant reliable evidence to even put a dent in the mountain of evidence that suggests an alternative date.

Given the fact that it is widely known that Jesus could not have been born on December 25th and that no serious biblical scholar has suggested such for several centuries, it is frankly rather astonishing how often people are surprised when informed that Jesus of Nazareth was not born on Christmas Day.

This fact is accompanied by the tragic and ironic fact that the sources for most of what we think we know about the birth of Christ tend to be Christmas cards, Christmas carols, Christmas pageants, and nativity scenes—most of which are built on the false assumption that Jesus was born on December 25th. When it comes to an accurate knowledge of Christ’s birth, and even to a significant degree, who Jesus was and what he was like when he walked the Earth—the “Christmas” sources have done more harm than good.

This is doubly ironic when we consider the fact, that I will share in detail in a later segment, that we have known for several hundred years that Jesus was not born on December 25th—which means that most, if not all, of the “Christmas” related sources that presume a December 25th birth date were developed within a time frame when this fact was already well-known.

The holiday we now celebrate (“Christmas”) is an invention that occurred primarily in America starting in the late 18th century and developing into its current form through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Any association with the birth of Christ is based, although frequently unknowingly, on incorrect facts.

More to come…

As many of my friends are already aware, I have been teaching about the birth of Jesus Christ for many, many years. I have audio lectures available on CD. I have acquired so much additional information since I last recorded the lectures however, that I am in the process of upgrading my notes in preparation to re-record them. The upgrading process has brought many questions to mind that I will be addressing in the new version.

One question in particular I cannot answer from experience. 😉 So this question is for all you ladies who have been pregnant…

Could Mary (the mother of Jesus) even ride a donkey while more than eight months pregnant?

Tradition claims Mary traveled to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey, but no donkey is ever mentioned in scripture.

It is logically presumed that Mary was at least eight months pregnant when she and Joseph made the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem (approximately 90 miles). It is my personal opinion that Joseph and Mary most likely traveled in a caravan, and were making the pilgrimage for the annual fall feasts in addition to going to their ancestral home for the registration. Therefore, Mary most likely rode in a cart or wagon, likely with other women and children. This would have been virtually identical to the record later in Luke 2, when Jesus was 12 years old, and the family traveled to Jerusalem for Passover (41–44).

If for some reason this is not case, Mary would have either walked (Really? 90 miles?), or ridden on a donkey as tradition claims. But although I am far from an expert (I am male, and childless), I find it hard to imagine this is even possible. Yes, a donkey would walk (not trot or gallop), but the terrain they would have crossed on either of the two likely routes was rough enough that she couldn’t just “sit there,” she would actually have to “ride” the donkey—theoretically using muscles that I would think would be very hard to use under the circumstances.

I did a little research online, and several articles mentioned that horseback riding in early pregnancy is possible and apart from accidents that could happen, essentially safe. But once the pregnancy got past about five months, opinions changed dramatically. Several articles (obviously) mentioned the safety risks associated with horseback riding, and whether the rigors of riding were healthy for either mother or fetus. But again, setting that aside for the moment, my question is about feasibility and comfort. Wouldn’t you feel off balance? Nauseous? And just downright uncomfortable? Given the choice between walking and riding a donkey—ladies—which would you choose? I’d really love to hear your comments.

 

On the road from religion to relationship there was one specific discovery that caught me particularly unaware. And when I make this statement, I have chosen the word unaware quite deliberately. I considered using the words off guard, or surprised, or unexpected, but I think the word unaware works best. This is because I wasn’t surprised or caught off guard by the content of this realization, but by the depth and tragedy of its effect. I was aware of the fact of the matter, but I was unaware of just how deeply we are affected by it. I was unaware of just how deeply affected the human race was, and is, by the Fall.

Without going into unnecessary detail concerning the machinations of the Fall, the realization I arrived at is that humanity was rendered dysfunctional by the Fall, and by this I mean deeply, deeply dysfunctional, not the run-of-the-mill dysfunction I was taught in Sunday School.

Furthermore, and what I mean by “run-of-the-mill” dysfunction, is that I believe much of mainstream Christianity is either unaware of this fact, and/or utterly unwilling to admit it. (After all it is very uncomfortable to admit that we aren’t guilty of minor deviations from normal behavior, but are in fact wholly wrong-headed). As a matter of fact, I believe this is one of the root causes behind religion, and therefore the necessity of the journey from religion to relationship. Much, if not most, of mainstream Christianity is Christianity practiced as religion (not what it’s supposed to be), and not as the relationship with God it is intended to be, because we do not really address our deeply dysfunctional nature. Once “saved,” we proclaim that we are new creations in Christ (which is true), but then we blithely continue on our way, living entrenched within our religious paradigms, swapping out New Testament terminology in place of secular psycho-babble, and declaring we are “living the abundant life,” when not much has really changed.

I also came to realize that one of the areas where this hits the hardest is that fallen/dysfunctional humanity is incapable of formulating a correct mindset concerning the true nature and character of God. And furthermore, we unknowingly carry our erroneous viewpoints about God into our new faith when we get saved. This is particularly tragic because there are hundreds of verses in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, that can be used to proof text and therefore “validate” our dysfunctional point of view, thereby camouflaging wrong ideas about God in biblical language.

One way that we incorrectly view God is that because he is transcendent (which he is by the way—don’t get me wrong), we “translate” that into distant, detached, and even unsympathetic. He is “out there” somewhere, watching, and ticking off merits and demerits on his divine scorecard. This comes from viewing God as a divine judge overseeing a judicial paradigm, dispensing divine justice. This is an Old Covenant/religious view of God, not a relational one. The relational viewpoint is of God as father. And while we all are more than aware of this label (father), do we really look at God as a father, our father? Or do we look at him as divine judge, but we just call him father? Likewise, we tend to overemphasize God’s omnipresence and are only casually aware of his indwelling presence. While both are true, the New Covenant/relational paradigm is father, and indwelling. Think about it—God can be omnipresent and a divine judge without the slightest hint of real relationship.

This is the crux, pun intended, of the revolutionary paradigm shift that happened at the incarnation.

Now, do you see what I did there? I used the word crux to get you to think that the focal point of the paradigm shift between the Old and New Covenants is the cross. And while the temporal cross in Judea is the source of the blood of the New Covenant, it is the blood shed on the eternal cross before the foundation of the world that provides the blood of the Everlasting Covenant. Additionally, we (again) tend to see the blood of the temporal cross as satisfying a judicial paradigm—that Jesus was the sacrifice required by God to forgive the sins of the world (a paradigm that is demonstrably incorrect, but that is a different topic for different day). But, it is the blood of the Everlasting Covenant that is relational in nature because the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world set forth God’s deliberate intention to exit eternity, enter time and space, and dwell with his creation. In a word, the incarnation is the focal point of divine-human relationship.

Unfortunately the relational nature of the incarnation has been eclipsed by our judicial/religious mindset, reducing Jesus to little more than a distant on-looker as opposed to God with us. In our judicial paradigm the cross has replaced Jesus himself as the point of eternal significance.

Jesus is the place where the divine and human are united. Jesus is the place where God and humanity come together, connect, and relate (there’s that word again). The eternal purpose and ultimate intention of the Godhead is that the eternal son would become human so that he could mediate the divine life to us, with us, in us.

Another tragedy of the judicial paradigm is that justification has been over-emphasized almost to the exclusion of adoption—again, a systematic paradigm instead of a relational one. Our notion of “the Gospel” is all about humanity’s need for forgiveness. This is of course critically important because we all need forgiveness, but it falls short of the point—forgiveness paves the way for adoption. Forgiveness as a legal paradigm fulfills Jesus’ obligation and then conveniently sends him on his way—ascended to the right hand of the father, and no longer needed. Adoption however, is relational and speaks to our true identity as sons and daughters of God—continually connected to divine life.

Finally, and probably most alarming to many of us (if we are caught unaware) is our perception of God’s holiness. If we were to ask 100 Christians to name one characteristic about God’s nature, it is indubitable that the vast majority, if not all, would say, “God is ‘holy’.” But again, this reveals an alarming discrepancy in our understanding about God. This is yet another example of viewing God through a judicial paradigm common to religious thought. In our minds, holy means moral perfection (read: legal perfection). Because we have not been taught a relational paradigm about God to begin with, and we default to our fallen (old man) religious nature and espouse a religious/judicial mindset, we are completely unaware (there’s that word again), that the single most fundamental truth about God is not that he is holy, it is that he is relational. The true definition of holiness is the expression of beauty, joy, passion, and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their relationship, harmony, and intimacy together.

God’s eternal purpose and ultimate intention, as expressed in the Everlasting Covenant, cut by the members of the Godhead before creation, is that God desires to share himself with his creation. Nothing fulfills the purpose of God more than to receive a revelation of his love and then have that love transform us, and lead us through the rest of our lives as a visible expression and ezer kenegdo of the invisible God in the earth.

Have you ever heard a minister say…?

“Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship.”

If you have, did the minister who said this ever take the time to explain what this statement means in a substantive way? Did he or she “unpack” this statement so that it can be easily understood and then readily disseminated to others? Or, frankly, did the minister making this statement presume that the meaning is self-evident, and that the statement accurately represents the status quo—(that most Christians are presently experiencing relationship with Christ as opposed to religion)?

In my experience, the phrase “Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship,” has pretty much always been used as kind of punch line and was never followed with the kind of substantive explanation I would have expected, or at least hoped for—for example, “If Christianity truly is a relationship, and not a religion, maybe we should camp out here for a while and really explore what this means and what it looks like.” Instead, when asked to explain in more depth, the responses I received, while essentially accurate, tended to be superficial, such as, “Religion is the form—but not the power,” or “Religion is a set of rules—but relationship is intimacy with God.” Again, in my experience, no minister I have heard make this statement ever really made a significant attempt to explain it in a meaningful way, but instead appeared to be operating under the assumption previously mentioned—that the meaning of the statement is self-evident, and that current state of affairs reflects this obvious if under elucidated paradigm. In addition, every time I tried to press for a deeper explanation, I was met with even more “non-answers.” And when I pressed a little harder still, it was made quite clear to me that my questions were making people uncomfortable and were therefore becoming unwelcome.

Now I am not the kind of person who is deterred by a lack of answers—in fact I am essentially the opposite. If I don’t get an answer to a question, I don’t get discouraged, I get determined. So despite the lack of answers and cooperation, I set off to find the answers “myself”—so to speak.

Because this statement…

“Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship.”

… deserves to be explained.

This series of essays, in large part, is the record of my journey from religion to relationship.

So, if Christianity truly isn’t a religion, and truly is a relationship, what does this mean exactly?

The statement seems to imply that “relationship” is better than “religion”—so if this is true, why is it true? What are the distinctions between the two (Christianity as religion versus Christianity as relationship) and why does it matter?

And finally, and maybe most importantly—even at face value, this statement appears to imply that living in a relationship with Jesus Christ is not only possible but preferable to this thing called religion—and that the word religion, as used in this context, is pejorative (expressing contempt or disapproval). So if this is true—how do we “do” this? How do we live in relationship with Jesus Christ—and not in religion?

You see—life in Christ is not just about new or different ways to “do church,” or learning new “abundant life principles,” or learning to “exercise our spiritual authority.” Frankly, Christianity is not about us inviting Jesus into our lives as much as it is about the fact that Jesus has invited us into his life—the life he has shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. Jesus has invited us to share his relationship with the Father—in fact to live in his relationship with the Father.

This relationship (there’s that word), the eternal relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the origin and exemplar of all relationships. This is what sets Christianity apart from all “religions” and from Christianity practiced as a religion—God, the Godhead—is relational by definition, and the expression of this relationship—God’s original thought, eternal purpose, and ultimate intention—is the reason for creation itself.

Finally, nothing fulfills the eternal purpose, ultimate intention, and original thought of God more than to receive a revelation of His love, then to have His love overwhelm you, then transform you, and then lead you through the rest of your life as a visible expression and perfect counterpart (ezer kenegdo) of the invisible God in the earth.

Once upon a time, a well-intentioned ministerial friend, speaking within the context of Christian leaders who make mistakes and emotionally or psychologically hurt their congregants said: “You don’t have a right to be hurt–you have a right to be healed.” Such is the psycho-babble of religion. At the time I did not know how to respond, but I do now… horse-hockey (I’ll be moderately polite). What a load of cheese-whiz. This is nothing but arrogance camouflaged as wisdom. Of course everybody wants to be healed, which causes us to conveniently ignore the outrageous insult handed down in the first clause. Does someone with a broken leg not have the “right” to be injured? Does someone with cancer not have the “right” to be in pain? Would we ever say something so ridiculous to someone with a physical malady? The implication is, “You’re not ‘really’ in pain.” But emotional injuries are no less real–especially ones at the hands of those in positions of influence or authority in our lives–parents, employers, teachers, ministers, etc–that often take years to recover from. To unilaterally dismiss someone’s genuine emotional injury and the accompanying pain re-opens the wound, rubs salt in it, and then blames the one injured for not being compassionate enough to “forgive” their attacker of any responsibility or consequence for their actions–the implication is cover for the abuser because of the position. When Jesus encountered sin due to genuine human frailty he always demonstrated enormous compassion. But there was a certain group that garnered little to no compassion from Jesus, but stern warnings. Woe unto you religious leaders for you shall receive the greater condemnation. This does not mean that so-called Christian leaders are unforgiveable–God forbid. But statements such as the one quoted above are asking us to excuse the inexcusable–and there’s a huge difference.

I love the Bible–I really do. I enjoy hermeneutics as well–the science and art of interpreting the scriptures. This entry however is about “unscientific hermeneutics”–in other words, this is not about a rigid set of principles, it’s about an observation I have made between those who seem to interpret scripture from a religious mindset and those who interpret scripture from a relational mindset.

I recently saw a Facebook meme by a high profile minister. It read:

“Those who repent will be given the grace to change.”

Now this may be true if we are speaking of an unbeliever confessing Christ for the first time. I say “may” because one could argue that God gave them the grace to repent in the first place. And therein lies the rub.

If we are speaking about a person who is already in Christ, then this quote is inaccurate and reflects a religious mindset. Once a person is saved, then the default paradigm of being in Christ is…

The accomplished work of the cross supplies the grace we need that enables us to repent and change.

If we have already been saved and yet still have to repent in order to receive grace, the cross was in vain.

Religion teaches us that there is something we must do and then God can respond. Relationship teaches us that God has already done everything that needs to be done in Christ and therefore supplies us with the resources necessary to fulfill what He has called us to do. In other words, religion essentially gets it backwards.

As I have said in previous entries, that if there could be such a thing, the Old Covenant would be the perfect religion–it was written by God, but is kept by human effort. And furthermore, that much of Christianity is merely Old Covenant paradigms veiled in New Covenant terminology. Jesus did not come to start a new religion, or perfect an existing one–He came to put an end to religion in favor of relationship.

So here are a couple more doctrines that got flipped at the cross.

Old Covenant: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all they soul, and all thy strength.
New Covenant: Behold, I give you a new commandment–to love others as I have loved you.

Old Covenant: Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together and running over.
New Covenant: Freely you have received freely give.

So here is my unscientific hermeneutical principle: If you suspect that something you hear smacks of religion, try flipping it over and see what you get.