Thursday, September 29, 2011

Here Comes the Hammer

The biggest clobber scripture of all time...the chapter in which some Christians feel they find utter justification in condemning gays as well as atheists, is the 1st chapter of Romans: (with some editing, because it's long)


The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them... Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.  Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another...Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones...Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error...Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind...They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,  slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;  they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. 


Some things to point out...first, Paul (the author) is saying the wrath of God is being revealed. This does not seem to be talking about a future judgement, but a current one. Paul says God "gave them over" to a depraved mind, and they "received due penalty".  He really makes a point of how bad these people are: full of envy, arrogant, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  And what is God's righteous decree against them?  Eternal suffering?  "Those that do such things deserve death".  (I will insert here that Paul never mentions hell.  Not even once in all his writings. Curious, don't you think?)  If you look into the history of Rome and the surrounding areas, and the sexual practices associated with the worship of idols, I think you'll get a better idea of what is being condemned here.  And even with as bad as all this is, do you think Paul is giving license to hate these people?  Do you think he's saying "We all need to take a moment and reflect on how horrible some people are and be glad we are not like them".  Let's look at chapter 2 (which is the very next sentence) to find out what Paul's real point is:


You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.  God “will repay each person according to what they have done."


Talk about a 180!  Paul takes the hammer these Christian's were using on others and turns it on them!  I don't think I've ever heard a sermon that connects chapter 1 with chapter 2, but of course when Paul wrote it there where no chapters.  Paul was writing a letter to a group of Christians in Rome, and we can never know for sure what concerns and questions of theirs that he's addressing.  All of Paul's letters are kind of like listening to one side of a conversation, but the group whom the letter was read to would have known exactly what the issue was. (as I understand it, these letters were sent by a messenger to be read out loud to the assembly, because most people could not read)  Maybe this group had been gloating over the 'due penalty' that some other city had received from God and thinking of themselves as so much better.


Have you ever had to discipline one of your kids, and looked to see your other child rejoicing over the suffering of their sibling?  How did that feel?  We have been taught that the wrath of God is only for the unbeliever, but Paul states quite clearly that these believers are "storing up wrath" against themselves by being so judgemental of others.  We had all better hope this wrath is loving discipline and not eternal punishment, because which one of us has never found a little joy and self-righteousness in seeing our enemy in pain?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Children of God

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.  The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.  This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:7-10)


So here we have a scripture that talks of children of God and children of the devil.  I'm just going to point out some things.  First a question; is Satan going around getting women pregnant? (in some movies, this would be a yes...but do you really think this is what the author of this book is trying to convey?)  "Anyone who does not do what is right is not God's child"...that's a pretty scary statement.  Do you do what's right?  Always?  And what is 'doing what is right', anyway?...yikes, where is that rule list so I can make sure I always do what I'm supposed to so I can be God's child and He won't reject me?! 


I really think if we're not going to get swept away in that kind of thinking, we need to establish literal teaching vs metaphorical or figurative teaching.  I think we can safely say the devil is not fathering children, nor did he create people. (But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. 1 Corn. 8:6...one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Eph. 4:6)  Therefore, this has to be more of a figurative type of teaching. So if I'm going to call you a child of the devil, what do I mean?  Maybe it means I think you resemble the devil. (like father and son resemble each other) In the same manner, when I say someone is not a child of God, I might simply mean they do not resemble God or the things of God.  If Jesus is the only one who can claim to perfectly resemble God so he can say he is the only true son of God, does that mean nobody else can claim God as their Father?  I don't think so.  We do not strive more and more to do the correct things so that God will love us like children, but we strive more and more to reflect the nature of God, so we resemble Him just like Jesus did. 


Now when I say you resemble the devil, does that mean you have a red suit and horns and a pitch fork?  The subject of the devil is a big one, and I don't think it's wise for me to dive into it here...but if your going to insist you know that the devil is a fallen angel, please get back to me with the verses you believe prove that.  Meanwhile, I think everyone can agree that whatever the devil is, he is in opposition to God.  So if I think you look like the devil, I'm definitely saying I believe you are against what God is for.  So when the author of this book (I don't think anyone knows for sure who that is) is trying to warn of people who resemble the devil in the way they oppose God, then in what way are they doing that?


Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love...If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.  (1 John 4:7-8)



As well as not knowing for sure who the author of this book is, it's also unknown what exactly the problem was or what group of people had come in to cause the ruckus that the author is trying to address.  But because his solution is so clear and redundant: "love each other", it seems the problem must have been that there were teachers who were saying things against loving each other.  And it seems to me we still have teachers like that--teachers who stir up hate for a group of people who they think should not be loved.  And I would agree to please beware and don't listen to those people, because they do not know God.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Children of Satan?

If I've lured you here because of my poster for a gay Christian group, you were probably thinking my "How I Got from There to Here" title was about how I came to accept homosexuality as not being sinful.  I'm getting there.  In continuing my story, I've been deciding how much I should talk about when my daughter "came out", and I've decided very little. 


Let me just say, for kids who have grown up in church, this is an extremely painful process. (not to imply it's not for other kids...but every story I've heard that is exceptionally awful has been because of religious issues)  During the most precarious time of their life (adolescence) they start having 'feelings' that they are told are WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.  It doesn't matter if they act on them or not, the fact that they have them at all is enough to make them believe they are disgusting to God.  And if they start looking online to see if they can still belong to the Christian faith, they will see hate.  Go ahead and try.  Pretend your gay and go online to see what Christians think of you.  (I hope this is changing.  But when my daughter did it several years ago, she realized there are actually people out there who wished she were dead)  And if you don't go online, just start listening to the way Christians talk.  See how often you will hear them talk offhandedly about how homosexuals are the enemy.  (God's enemy...and therefore Christian's too)


And so I thought it important to start with my belief that God is in the process of reconciling all things to Himself. (When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all... I Corn.15:28) If you can believe this, then you know we are trying to help reconcile people back to God, not the other way round. We are not trying to get people to 'accept' Jesus so that God can 'accept' them.  (and who doesn't think being accepted and being loved go together?)  We are trying to get people to believe that God ALREADY loves them, before they do anything. (we love him, because He first loved us...1 John 4:19) This gets rid of the 'us' (children of God) and 'them' (children of Satan) mentality that is so prevalent in Christianity. And where did we get the idea that some humans are not children of God? I'll jump into that next time, and ironically it will start from the same book of the Bible I just quoted from.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Letter to Churches

To whom it may concern,
I'm writing this in hopes of persuading you to display a poster that announces a support group I've started. Please allow me to start with an excerpt from the book, "Homosexuality and Christian Faith".  This is from the chapter  One Family's Story written by Bishop Paul Wennes Egertson:

"As a devout Christian who knew from early childhood that something was very different about him and who suspected from adolescence that his difference was something unacceptable to God, our son had devoted himself to prayer and trust in the grace and power of God...for years, night after night in the privacy of his closet, he took his broken and contrite heart to the throne of grace, praying for God to change him.  But God did not change him.  Did that mean he was so defective that even a gracious God did not love him?  What else is a teenage mind to conclude?  Since divine intervention did not occur, we pursued psychological therapy, only to discover that most psychiatrists and psychologists had long since come to the conclusion that homosexuality is not an illness and that no known system of treatment can change it...the best that therapy can do is help gay and lesbian persons accept the reality of their being before the socially imposed shame and the personal pain drive them to despair, drink, drugs, or death by suicide, all of which it does daily to numerous persons in our world...For we have come to realize the biggest problem in being gay is not the gayness, but the reaction of the heterosexual to it.  We want to join our voices with those of others who seek the way of healing and wholeness at the point of pain in our world."

I understand homosexuality is a controversial subject, and this poster is a little cheeky; but it's honestly not my intention to be antagonistic.  I am a Christian, and a mother of a lesbian.  This has been a very hard road, but on it I've discovered it's been a lot harder for my daughter, as well as many kids like her.  My heart breaks with the pain that they have gone through.  It took me years to come to a place where I can completely say I don't think there is anything wrong with being gay.  I came to this understanding by looking harder at the scriptures that I thought condemned it, not by ignoring them.  I really believe if people prayerfully looked at these arguments themselves, they would come to the same conclusion.  But even if some Christians can never believe a gay relationship is OK, let me ask you this; would any church refuse to put up a poster for a group of Christian remarried people, when the Bible "clearly" condemns remarriage as well? Gay people are hurting, and they have run from the church because the only message they have gotten so far is "God does not love you...unless you can be straight."  Isn't it time this changes? If you can display this poster in your church, then please email me back or call me at 360-***-****, and I'll bring one over right away. If you are unsure, and would like more information, please go to http://www.throughmyeyesdvd.com/ and watch the trailer for the film "Through My Eyes".  If interested, I will gladly bring this movie for you to watch so you can further contemplate a decision. 
  
I sincerely thank you for your time in reading this and your consideration in this matter. 

What Does it Mean to be Destroyed?

Let me go back to my story of why I left my church. (if you are just coming in, you may want to start with the first post and work your way up. It will make more sense)  So, I found I now believed that God would save the entire human race somehow, and that none of my Christian friends or the leaders in my church could believe this.  One leader did email me back though, to let me know he had changed his mind...he now believed in 'annihilation'.  He made sure to point out that this would happen "after they had been punished for exactly as long as they deserved". 


Let me ask you a question.  If you had a dog that had rabies and hurt your other dogs, and you knew you couldn't rehabilitate him...would you take him out back, beat the holy crap out of him, and then shoot him?  What would be the point?  "Because justice would demand it."  Really?  Aren't you the owner of the dog, and can't you decide not to beat him, but just mercifully put him out of his misery? And where's the justice in beating a dog that has rabies and couldn't help himself?  "People choose to sin, they don't have rabies".  As much as people want to judge other people for the sins they 'willingly' commit, it's curious how when it comes to themselves they'll cling to the apostle Paul's description of the human condition:


I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:15-20)


Sounds a little like rabies to me.  Is the best God can do is forgive a few of us for having rabies and destroy the rest?  So, back to my original question...what does it mean to be destroyed?  One of the scriptures this same leader immediately quoted when refuting the idea that God will save everyone is this one:


Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)


What a terrifying scripture, right?  But look a little closer.  First, Jesus is confirming that God is able to destroy a soul in hell.  And I think it's also significant that the spirit is not mentioned.  Most Christians believe we are spirit, soul and body. (May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. 1 Thessalonians 5)  So, what happens to the spirit after the soul is destroyed?  But anyway, the best part of this scripture is what Jesus says right after it:


Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.


First Jesus tell his disciples (not unbelievers) to fear God because He can destroy them in hell.  Then in the next sentence he tells them not to be afraid, because they are of immense value to God.  Huh?  If the first sentence is supposed to be a threat, (you better follow me well, because God will destroy you if you don't) the following sentences seem odd, don't they?  How can we fear someone, and not be afraid of them?  Maybe the 'fear' he means is understanding authority.  Understand, God is in control, not men who think they are because they can kill your body.  God is the real authority, because He can destroy your soul.  But if he immediately tempers this with, "don't be afraid, you are valuable"...then how can being destroyed be such a bad thing?  How can I say "Understand that God has the power to destroy your soul, but don't be afraid of him because He loves you more than anything".  But...if my soul is something connected to, but somehow apart from my spirit, and it is diseased and deformed...wouldn't I want it destroyed?  Wouldn't I want my spirit to be freed from such a soul?

The Road that Leads to Life

One of the scriptures that Christians always use to try and prove that most people go to hell (which they believe to be an eternal place of torment...I will keep saying that, because I'm not saying I don't believe in hell.  Don't know what it is exactly, but I'm not going to deny that the Bible speaks of it. My argument will continually be that whatever hell is, it's not eternal)  is found in Matthew:


“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."


First of all, notice heaven and hell are not mentioned in this scripture.  Destruction and life are.  Where is the narrow gate leading?  To life.  Where is the broad road leading?  Destruction.  And what is the narrow gate?  This is where everyone stands up and says, "JESUS!". (you have to have grown up in church to appreciate that)  But what about Jesus makes him a gate?  "Ummmm....because he died for our sins?"  I'm not trying to mock, because it's a tough question.  I think you have to really look at what Jesus is teaching to try and understand what this narrow gate is, because I don't think he's instructing us to say the sinner's prayer so we can get our free ticket to heaven.  In my opinion, the terror of the threat of eternal hell makes people believe whatever they think will keep them safe, which the church has taught (as I explained in the previous post) that because God punished Jesus, he doesn't have to punish them...if they accept the deal.  (asking Jesus in your heart /praying regularly /going to church once a week or more /and following certain rules determined by the church, especially the sexual ones) But what is Jesus talking about before he mentions this narrow way?


“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."


Jesus is talking about a radical trust in God.  A good God, a God that gives good things.  And then he says "so", (as in "because of this") "do to others what you would have them do to you".  If you do not believe in a good God, one that you can completely trust, you will not love your neighbor as yourself.  You cannot, because you have to take care of yourself...because God can't be trusted.  Fear of losing things, of people taking things from you, of people hurting you...this will keep you grasping, guarding, and fighting to keep yourself safe from the neighbors who are out to get you.  And so maybe this narrow way is being able to let go of this need--being able to let go in trust, even if it means someone may hurt you...even kill you.  Talk about a narrow gate!  What if you ask God to keep your family safe, and then your neighbor hits your kid with their car because they were drunk.  Could you say, "God is good.  He takes care of us", and then treat that neighbor with kindness?  I think truly very few of us have gone through this gate.  And what saddens me most is the people who claim Jesus as their savior are so often the ones who are the biggest worriers.  They are often the ones who make the biggest fuss if your going to take something away from them. (especially the right to say "Merry Christmas")  But how do you really trust in a God who will at best destroy you, at worst torture you forever if you can't find this narrow path?  And what does it mean to be destroyed, anyway?  I'll share my thoughts about that next time. 
http://kellbell-justmythoughts.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-does-it-mean-to-be-destroyed.html

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Then, What's the Point?

Why did Jesus die on the cross then?  If everyone gets saved in the end, then what's the point of even being a Christian?  These are the questions that are bound to come up, and there's no way I can give you a pat answer.  I can only try to communicate how I see things differently now.  You most likely know the old way of explaining the cross--Jesus died because we are sinners and God being holy needed to punish sin, so Jesus took our punishment for us. People that agree to follow Jesus are covered under this sacrifice, people who don't agree have to be punished. (without end...because of the word eternal)  I do believe Jesus came and died for us and to save us from sin and death, but of course he didn't die instead of us.  Of course he wasn't punished instead of us, because the apostle Paul clearly tells us to accept punishment from God as a sign of His love...just like a parent disciplining their child.  


We get worked up around the word punishment, because we see it as hateful.  And if a punishment lasts forever, of course it's hateful.  And this is why I believe Christians are so conflicted about loving sinners.  Now, every Christian will say of course they love sinners...God loves sinners!  Unless you bring up the name "Bin Lauden", or "Hitler".  Then it's of course they are rotting in hell for eternity.  God hates them as much as we do, even more! (because He's holy)  Then if you say, "I thought God loves everybody the same?", then it changes to, "Well, these men had a chance to turn to God.  They chose hell instead.  God loves them, and wanted to save them, but now He can't."  Well...which is it?  Did God's love turn to hate as soon as these men died, or will God be eternally mourning the loss of men which he created in His image, but lost to Satan?  And that will be the end of the conversation, if you dare to go there.  But if you truly believe that God is the "Savior of all men, especially of those believing" (1 Timothy 4:10), then it becomes a little easier to love your enemy.  It becomes a little easier to turn the other cheek.  Not easy, just a little easier, because it's hard to hate someone you know God loves. (no matter how bad they are; and then you really know your own badness doesn't stop His love either)  Then you can trust God with giving a just and loving punishment...even if it leads to destruction, because isn't God able to remake what's been destroyed?  Doesn't He desire to eventually make all things new? (Rev.21:5)  Until then, we keep bearing the sins of others against us, not demanding retribution, just as Jesus did.  Because I believe he came, not to be punished in our place, but to show us the road that leads to life.  I'll talk about that next time.

The Dark Night of the Soul

I couldn't get my head around it.  My mind was swimming, "I know the Holy Spirit's voice...sometimes I don't listen, but I know the voice.  Although, Satan can come as an angel of light...so maybe I've been tricked?  But how could God allow that?  I was so genuinely asking and seeking...would He then mislead me as some kind of test?  Would He allow me to feel all that love and peace and comfort, and then just say 'not really...just making sure you can't be tricked by Satan to finally believe I can fulfill my promises'."   I knew better, but now I was wishing I could just "un-believe" it, because I understood at this point nobody else was going to believe it. (This was almost four years ago...many more people believe it now, though still nobody I know personally*)


I begged God, "Just let me have one person who can see it...just show somebody what you've shown me, and I can do this".  But He didn't...and so in a fury I told Him, "You cannot ask me to believe this by myself...you know me.  I cannot do this!",  and I determined not to believe it anymore so I could go back to my nice safe place in the church.  Only, my belief in an eternal hell did not come back...instead, my belief in God went away.  For one night, He was gone.  This was pain like I've never had...never ever.  I sobbed a scary kind of sobbing...a crazed, unstoppable sobbing.   I knew if my faith did not return, I could not go on living in that torment.  But it came back in the morning.  A simple solution illuminated my thoughts..."I guess I have to believe something I don't have permission to believe; and so what if church people think I'm nuts?".  Suddenly people thinking I was crazy was nothing--just nothing--in comparison to losing my faith in God.  I guess I could do this after all.


* Actually, God did answer my prayer and gave me someone who believed, and He did it at I time when I needed it most.  It's such a very personal story, I don't know if I can ever share it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Clash of the Titans

Up to this point, I was somebody who would never question authority.  I did as I was told.  And I believed what the pastor of my church told me to believe...because God put him in charge.  So, all I needed was for my pastor to agree with the author of this book.  And why wouldn't he?  It all seemed so very plain to me.  If you fixed "eternal", everything fell into place.  No more problem with predestination. He doesn't choose some and not others, he chooses some for the benefit of the others.  Same reason he choose the Jews...not instead of, just first.  First fruits, second fruits...these illustrations now made more since. (and each in his proper order, a first-fruit Christ, afterwards those who are the Christ's...then...the last enemy is done away -- death. 1 Corn. 15:23-26All the bread rises eventually, just not all at the same time. (Matt. 13:33)


No more problem with God "wishing" he could save all (but He can't accomplish His will) vs. God being able to do all things.   TIME is our problem, and the fact we cannot understand being outside of time and that God is not restricted by time.  "Failure is only possible if you have a time limit" was a quote I saw once, and now I knew God had no time limit.  He can and will accomplish everything he wants, which is to "reconcile all things to himself". (Col. 1:19) Every knee will bow...willingly.  Not once someone dies God will force then to admit they were wrong before he casts them away forever--of course not!  We can completely and utterly trust God...wasn't this great!!!! 


I honestly could barely contain myself waiting for my pastor's "approval" to believe what God so clearly showed me.  It was going to be so great seeing the look of joy on his face, and how excited he would be to finally be able to give comfort to those who think their loved ones are burning forever with no hope of relief.  There are no words to describe my disappointment and confusion that he did not.*  And suddenly I didn't have permission to believe it.  What do I do now?


* side note...I don't mention this to make my pastor look bad.  It was my honest emotion at the time.  I can appreciate and sympathize with how much pressure there must be if your pastoring a church and everyone is always looking to you for answers.

Who to Trust?

Now that I was reading the Bible a lot, I was coming across more and more scriptures that just frustrated me.  Nothing fit the way I was told it should fit.  I was baffled.  This was my last journal entry before everything changed:


s)  For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)
o) I am confused by this scripture.  What judgment is he talking about if it's starting right now?
a) I am trying very hard to understand the atonement of Christ and what it will mean on judgement day.  I know it's supposed to mean "if you believe in Jesus, your saved, if not, your going to hell"...but I know it's more than that.  Maybe it's not for us to truly understand until that day.
p) Lord, you are a just God, and you are a merciful God--I know this is true.  If it's your will for me to understand how you will show mercy to the unbeliever, I ask that you will show me in your word.


A week later I came across a book on the internet called "Hope Beyond Hell", and it was like finally reaching that itch you've been wanting to scratch for a lifetime. http://www.amazon.com/Hope-Beyond-Hell-Gerard-Beauchemin/dp/0977279308  As I read it, I felt the presence of God in such a powerful way that I began to weep. It felt like God smiling...like He was as excited about showing me this as I was about finding it.  But these answers were so much better than I had imagined!  All I wanted was to feel secure in knowing God would not punish forever good people who just happened not to be Christians.  But here was the assurance that "for even as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ all shall be made alive". (1 Corinthians 15:22)  It felt like winning the lottery...but could I trust it?  What if this was one of those "collect your money at yo' momma's house" kind of lottery tickets.  And so began the most painful lesson of my life thus far..."Do I trust what I believe was unmistakeably the Holy Spirit's answers to my questions concerning scripture, or do I trust the religious authority of the church?"


PS.  In looking up this scripture in the Young's Literal (the one I use now because of it's accuracy in translation...published in 1862) it reads:
"because it is the time of the beginning of the judgment from the house of God, and if first from us, what the end of those disobedient to the good news of God?"  I still can't say I completely get it, but the change from "with the household" to "from the house" is significant, don't you think?  I will note that the Young's Literal Translation uses the word "age-during" for the word "eternal" in a few very significant passages.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Unconditional Love

And so, after finishing "The Satisfied Heart: 31 Days of Experiencing God's Love", I believed (possibly for the first time) that God loved me unconditionally.  I know Christian's teach this, but there are some seriously conflicting scriptures. (if you believe in an eternal hell)  First the parable of the talents.  If you are a Christian, you know what this is, but in case someone reads this who is not, it's found in the book of Matthew. In a nutshell, servants are given money to invest for their master.  One servant doesn't do anything with the money, but instead hides it.  The master is not pleased, and sends that servant into "outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth".  Now, if being thrown outside is forever, it cannot be disciplinary, but only rejection. Use your talents, or you will be thrown away like garbage. How can one not see that as a condition for love?   BUT, if being thrown outside is for a period of time, it can be disciplinary.  We as parents understand that discipline can be done in love, in fact, not disciplining can be unloving.


But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I came to believe in the unconditional love of God before I came to believe 'eternal' has been mistranslated. (but please do notice 'eternal' is not used in this parable at all)  Trusting in God's love was only possible for me by focusing on the scriptures that speak of His love...for 31 days straight.  Growing up in church I was so programmed to focus on service and obedience and repentance...there was not much time to focus on the fact that none of these are required to be loved.  "It's not what you can do for me, but what can I do for you" is a song we sang at church, and it really was the focus of our lives.  And if we could manage to do good works, then we could give ourselves a big pat on the back and know we really do love God. (and prove it to everyone else as well, who are of course always watching and sizing you up) 


But the problem with that is, at least for me, the good works never seemed good enough.  So my spiritual walk was primarily asking for forgiveness, and feeling despair because I was such a failure.  But then reading day after day that I was loved...period...well, it started to set me free from that.  Like I said in the journal entry I shared last time, having a 'devotional time' became something I longed for and actually looked forward to.  It had ceased to become a duty.  Amazing.  Because I did get ahead of myself in this post, I will go ahead and end with one of my journal entries that addresses another difficult scripture that I now see in a new light.


S) A field is useful to farmers, if there is enough rain to make good crops grow.  In fact, God will bless that field.  But land that produces only thorn bushes is worthless.  It is likely to fall under God's curse, and in the end it will be set on fire. (Hebrews 6: 7-8)
O) Are we to believe that God will curse us and send us to an eternal hell if we don't produce for Him?  Is that consistent with anything we know about God?
A) What is the field? People, or people's actions? What is the curse? Is it rejection, or punishment? What is the fire?  Eternal torture, or destroying what is of no use?
P) Lord, I want to understand, I want my kids to understand, and I want the church to understand--what is hell?  Please make it clear to us, so we can understand your nature.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Predestination

Before I even started my "prayer journal", I was having serious problems with some scriptures.  Of course, I'm not the only one who hasn't understood the whole predestination thing.  It's something the church has argued and split up over since the beginning.  And just like any other subject that is difficult or contradictory in the Bible, you'll have books and sermons that give the pat answers that "explain" it.  So I bought a book about predestination.  Ugh.  I asked some Christian "experts" what they thought.  Double ugh.  No "explanation" explained anything...the arguments just always went in circles.  I absolutely could not get around the scriptures that said so clearly that God does the choosing. ( You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. John 15:16...just to name one) If God does the choosing, then how can he condemn those he doesn't choose? 


Alongside this frustration was the guilt I felt for having a good life, when my best friend had such a difficult life.  And it wasn't like her difficulties where because she made bad choices.  These were difficulties that were completely out of her control...out of any one's control.  Except God.  But how could a loving God choose not to heal a child, or choose that a child be born with an abnormality at all?  I couldn't believe God would make this choice, so my only other alternative was to believe that these things are out of His control.  He created egg and sperm to meet, but after that...well, the chips will fall as they may.  This theory of mine may have let God off the hook, but ultimately it made God to be quite indifferent and weak.  And it left me distant from Him.  But at least I was still wrestling, because I wanted closeness.  So I started my "S-O-A-P" devotionals.  (scripture/observation/application/prayer)  I was also given a book that would be the beginning of a great transformation in my thinking, "The Satisfied Heart: 31 Days of Experiencing God's Love."  I'll end with one of my journals from when I was reading it.


S) He who trusts in the Lord, Loving-kindness shall surround him. (Loving-kindness=mercies, kindness, steadfast love; such a tender, compassionate word) (Ps. 32:10) His joy is in those who reverence Him; those who expect him to be loving and kind.
O) I'm starting to believe that my relationship with God is important to Him, not just something for my benefit.  He desires my company (so hard to accept!) and when I'm understanding His character; that is, believing He really is loving and kind (expecting it) this brings him joy.  He wants me to feel His love (always) and when I do, it makes Him happy.  This blows my mind!
A) I want to spend time with God everyday--not out of guilt--this is so new! But because I want to feel His love (who wouldn't?) and because I want to give God joy.  To think I could give God anything worthwhile, much less joy, is utterly mindblowing! 
P) Please make my faith stronger--and I'm understanding now what faith is.  It's simply believing you love me.  I want to take hold of as much as I possibly can.  I am so excited about being loved by you!

My First (Unspoken) Unconventional Thoughts

I can't ever remember feeling comfortable with the idea of an eternal hell.  I really thought that everyone was uncomfortable with it.  It was shocking for me to hear Dr. Laura (whom I listened to quite frequently at the time) say she would be more disappointed if there was no hell than if there was no heaven.  I knew there would have to be a "reckoning" for the evil that people do...I mean, who does not understand the need for justice?  But the idea that God just "doesn't have any other choice" than to send people to eternal hell if they don't accept Jesus, well, I never really got that.  Why couldn't they accept Jesus after they die?  Why is death the "cut off" point?... "Because people have to 'have faith' in Jesus, and when they die, it's no longer faith."  But Jesus' own disciples didn't even have faith.  They had to see him before they believed he rose from the dead, so why are they off the hook?


These were just some of the questions that plagued my mind, but I kept them to myself.  You could question and debate a few things in Christianity, but hell was not one of them.  I came across quite a few verses on my own that confirmed in my mind that death was not a hindrance to God, or a cut off point where he can no longer forgive someone.  So I made the quiet conclusion that the only people going to hell where those who even after death, and the understanding that God truly loved them, still wanted only evil.  I could live with that.  So when we had an exchange student from Japan who didn't "accept Jesus" when she was here, I didn't worry too much. (even with the pressure from one of my relatives to know if we were able to get her "saved" or not)  But my kids did worry.  And I really wished I had better answers for them.  So I kept praying and searching the scriptures.  I'll end with one of my old entries in my prayer journal.


S)  The good news has even been preached to the dead, so that after they have been judged for what they have done in this life, their spirits will live with God...most important of all, you must sincerely love each other, because love wipes away many sins. (1 Peter 4:6)
O)  Here is a scripture that supports my theory that God will give people a 2nd chance at salvation even after death.  They will be 'judged' for their actions, but Christ's blood is capable of covering them, even if they didn't 'accept' him in this life.  Also, "love wipes away many sins"...I'd like to better understand what he's talking about.  Only God can forgive sins; what does "wipe away' mean?
A)  Preaching to people is one thing; sincerely loving them is quite another.
P)  God, teach me to love others.  Use my life to wipe away many sins.