Thursday, December 15, 2011

"I'm Not Playing, so I Already Won"

Catchy title, huh?  This is what my daughter used to say when the game wasn't going her way.  (we tease her all the time about it now)  In a strange way, this kind of sums up where my spiritual walk has taken me.  Grace seems like an easy thing to understand--"getting something you don't deserve".  But I think it's a tremendously deeper concept than that. 

The physical realm makes some pretty hard demands on us---it's a dog eat dog world, as they say.  It's frightening, really.  And on top of that, there is this tremendous desire to make something of ourselves, to prove win.  We want people to praise us, to notice us, to make us feel we are important.  This is utterly normal.  What child doesn't constantly say, "look at me, Mom!".  This is what the teachers of contemplative prayer call the 'false self'.  Psychologists would probably call it the 'ego'.  It seems to me it's what the Apostle Paul is referring to as the 'first Adam', or maybe even 'the flesh'.   Literalists really don't this kind of talk...your not allowed to question that an actual Adam and an actual Eve were the start of the human race.  For a fundamentalist, your not a Christian if you don't believe that-- because then, "you might as well throw out the whole Bible". 

I'm not trying to be mean; I understand because I used to think the same way...I'm just glad I not longer need the Bible to line up with science in order to believe it has a lot to teach us.  (side note: There very well may have been an actual Adam and Eve; to me, it's not important.  It makes much more sense to me that the creation story is speaking of spiritual truths.  Therefore, I don't believe in a literal 'tree of life' one that grows fruit you would actually eat with your mouth.  That doesn't make the story any less important to fact, it makes it much more important)  So, back to the first Adam.  Here's the scripture I'm talking about :

"If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man" 1Corn. 15:45-49 

It seems Paul is meaning for us all to identify with the 'two Adams', doesn't it?  We understand on some level that this 'natural' self needs to die, and not just physically.  The 'new' self, the one in the image of the 'last Adam' (a life-giving spirit/the Holy Spirit) takes his place.  How?  Well, that's a tough one, isn't it.  How do we "work out our salvation", without trying to earn it?  How do we trust in faith to save us, and then be told faith without works is dead?  How does being "determined to run the race" have anything to do with receiving grace?    I'm not saying I have it all figured out...but one thing has become pretty clear to me;  if I'm playing the game as the 'old Adam', I'm bound to lose.  If I'm playing with the new Adam, I've already won.  So, in a way, I need to stop trying to win in order to make any progress.  I told you grace was more confusing that you thought!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Mind of Christ

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.  The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Roman 8:5-8)

This is where I would raise my hand to ask Paul, "Umm...excuse me, but aren't we all living in the realm of the flesh?  I still have a body... and hello, it's made of flesh".  I've spent quite a bit of my life in church, and during that time we all knew what 'living in the flesh' meant.  It meant doing anything fun. To be 'spiritual' meant denying all that, and 'living for the Lord'--aka, being a missionary or something.  Forgive me--I don't mean to completely dis that.  I think there is some truth in it.  It's missing something though...because to deny the 'flesh' so you can 'make to heaven' is going against the concept of grace.  So, I'm going to address this thought of 'making it to heaven'; because I think it's a problem.  As you can see from the above scripture, Paul is speaking about life right now.  Having a mind that is governed (controlled) by 'the spirit' is life. The life controlled by 'the flesh' cannot even try to please God...Paul is clearly saying this is not possible.  But how are we to be 'governed by the spirit'?  What in the world does this even mean?  Going back to this 'inner' place...the 'spiritual' realm if you will; what is it?  I'm going to throw out a very crazy idea; but stick with me, please.  Here is Hannah Hurnard's explanation:

"We have already seen that 'the heart of a man' is his individual thought life and that his spirit is the real being who thinks those thoughts and thus creates and produces this thought life.  It is clear therefore that thinking spirits live in a realm of thought and that the spirit realm or spirit world must thus be a world made up of thought substance instead of material matter.  It is in fact a realm of the mind".

Bizarre, I know...but it explains a lot of things.  We are told in 1 Corinthians that we are given the 'mind of Christ' this not the Holy Spirit?  We are told in 2 Corinthians that what we are making 'war' against 'strongholds' and 'casting down imaginations' and 'bringing into captivity every thought'.  If the heart or mind of mankind is a fallen world, then maybe this outer world in which our bodies live reflects that fallen spirit world.  When we change the 'inner', the 'outer' will be changed as well...because it is only a reflection.

"for we see now through a mirror obscurely, and then face to face; now I know in part, and then I shall fully know, as also I was known. 1 corn. 13:12"

Why are we here?  That's the big question, isn't it?  A spirit in a body of flesh...there has to be a reason for it.  But again, I need to continue on another post.  So much to consider.

The Inner Man

The inner man...a very strange concept.  But at the same time, really not that strange.  We all know we are more than just a physical body.  The things that make us who we really are have nothing to do with the 'outside'--you don't have to be religious to recognize this.  What's hard to recognize or believe is that this 'inner' self exists apart from the 'outer'--that what is the true reality of things cannot be seen with the eyes.  Certainly we cannot 'see' what is true about a person with our eyes--but hang around them enough, (especially in a stressful situation) and it usually becomes quite obvious. But to believe this 'inner' person has substance...something real, just like our physical bodies are real...that's a little weird. 

We only know substance as physical; how can something you can't touch have substance?  So if we are to believe in heaven as a real place we go when we die, it has to be somewhere else...someplace far away.  To even suggest that the kingdom of heaven is within you...well, most Christians get really uncomfortable and think this must be some new age theology.  What can possibly be 'within' us but blood and guts?  Our heart is within us, and our heart is the crux of the matter.  What is our heart? Not the beating organ, of course.  Here are some passages that speak of the heart:

"Search me O God, and know my heart, and try my thoughts", "The inward thoughts of every one of them and the heart, is deep", "God saw that every imagination of the thoughts of the heart was only evil continually", "Why do thoughts arise in your hearts?" , "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he".

Scientifically, we know we think with the mind.  If we look at the Bible as a book about science, we will be quite frustrated.  It's my opinion the Bible is not trying to teach us about the physical realm at all, but the spiritual...even though I do think the two are connected.  Hannah Hurnard gives an interesting analogy of this in her book The Inner Man.  She tells a story about a time she was staying at a hotel, and looked out her window.  There, in the water, she could see just as plain as day people playing croquet in a lake.  She knew this was impossible, but it looked so real.  Finally, she realized the optical illusion of a double reflection involving the window (being open, and not closed as she thought) and the water.  The people were real, only they were playing over on the other side of the building, not in the water.  Then the scripture came to her "we look not the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen..."  Here is a quote from the book:

I began to wonder if the Apostle really meant us to understand that the things which we perceive through our five physical senses, are really only a kind of reflection of far more real spiritual things.  And, if so, are the 'outer' men and women visible to our natural sight merely temporary reflections or 'shadows' in the mirror of materiality and time of far more real people--the 'inner man or woman'--the individual spirit dwelling in each human being?..."For though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." 2 Corn. 4:16

This is kind of a freaky thought...that my 'inner' self has a form.  What does it look like?  Imagine that people could actually see and know your thoughts and feelings--that your true nature, intentions, motives and desires were visible?  Yikes, right?  How do we 'renew' this person?  How do we change our nature into something we wouldn't be ashamed of if people could really see it?  I tried for most my life to do it the way I was taught by my your Bible, go to church, pray, tithe, do good deeds.  And when none of this worked in changing who I really was, then I was told, "Well, of course not. We are all sinners, that's why Jesus died.  You can't earn salvation."  How frustrating.  But maybe there is a way to change, AND maybe it doesn't have to do with earning.  Let's hope so...more about that later.

Friday, December 9, 2011


This is ironic, but I have really been drawn to certain aspects of the Catholic faith.  It's very strange to me, because I've always viewed Catholicism with quite a bit of suspicion and disdain. (like all good Protestants do)  And now after I've sort of 'dumped' religion altogether, to then want to study something as strict and unyielding and unmerciful as I have conceived the Catholic tradition to be...well, it's pretty baffling.  The thing is, within Catholicism there are some people who are quite simply inspiring.  Who can deny that Mother Teresa is a picture of what it means to love God?  And deep within this tradition is something I would have until recently been too terrified to even think about, much less want to understand..."Catholic Mysticism". (oogala-boogala)  I know for many the word 'mysticism' implies sorcery or seances and the like, but the definition is:
1. belief in or experience of a reality surpassing normal human understanding or experience, esp a reality perceived as essential to the nature of life.
What is wrong about believing in a reality that surpasses normal human understanding?  The problem with religion is, it thinks it can take this reality and shove it in a box.  Anyone that challenges this box and questions, "maybe your ideas about God are not completely correct" is perceived as a terrible threat. (how many wars have been waged because of religion?) 

But that's the problem with religion...and not everything about religion is bad.  The truth is, I haven't exactly 'dumped' it.  At the heart of any religion is a passing down of an experience of the spiritual realm--either by a person or a community.  Many people (in fact, the majority) believe in a spiritual realm...but they have not had any experience of it.  They need to rely on the experiences of others, and believe those experiences are true in order to have faith.  But this is not the case for those who have had their own spiritual the Apostle Paul. (author of most of the new testament)  He did not experience Jesus in the flesh, nor did he believe in the religion of Christianity...he had an experience of Jesus that was outside of a normal human encounter.  Isn't that 'mysticism'? 

The religion of Christianity is the passing down of Paul's (and others) spiritual experience, except now it has a stamp of approval on it-- making it safe.  (If your with the group of people who believe in that stamp of approval.  Obviously it's not safe for those who believe in some other group's stamp of approval)  Now that I disagree with the 'stamp of approval' of what the religion of Christianity has taught about the teachings of Jesus and the letters of Paul, I've had to 'dump' the religion.  Although, I still believe in the original mystical experiences...only now I'm free to consider that other people's mystical experiences can be true as well, even if they do not belong to my religion.  Except, I'm not really all that interested in studying other religions.  I'm interested in learning from others who love and follow Jesus, but who are not afraid of the spiritual realm.   And those crazy Catholic Mystics who boldly teach of having touched the spiritual realm all have something in common...they say it's found 'inside'. (nor shall they say, Lo, here; or lo, there; for lo, the reign of God is within you.' Luke 17:20 ) The method many of them teach in regards to having access to this inner place is something called "Centering Prayer" or "Prayer of the Heart" or "Contemplative Prayer".  I'll talk more about it another time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Book of Job

I heard once that the book of Job is the oldest book in Bible, though I'm not sure if that is true or not.   I do know that I always hated it growing up.  Is it a true story?  A parable?  Whatever it is, it's quite a tale.  Satan and God are arguing about whether Job only loves God because God is good to him, so God gives Satan permission to basically reek havoc, to see how Job will respond.  And for some reason people always refer to 'the patience of Job', but I never saw how he was patient.  He was in agony--how does sitting in agony mean your being patient?  If people think he was enduring the agony 'patiently', I don't think they've actually read it:

“Therefore I will not keep silent;  I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul...I despise my life...Let me alone; my days have no meaning. What is mankind that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention,  that you examine them every morning and test them every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?"

Yes, at the beginning of his torment he says, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”, but towards the end he changes his tune a little:

He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court.  If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more...I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I say to God: Do not declare me guilty, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me... Are your days like those of a mortal or your years like those of a strong man, that you must search out my faults and probe after my sin—though you know that I am not guilty and that no one can rescue me from your hand?"

I'm sorry, but these are not 'patiently enduring my suffering' words, these are fightin' words--pissed off words.  And the thing is, he has every right to be angry.  He didn't do anything wrong.  And to top it off his friends are saying, "You better watch your mouth, because God would never do this unless you deserved it" about insult to injury.

"Surely mockers surround me; my eyes must dwell on their hostility. God has made me a byword to everyone, a man in whose face people spit."

And then the end...God shows up.  This is the part I hated most.  Does He apologize to Job for allowing all this suffering?  Nope.  He actually seems mad at Job: "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me", and he goes on and on about being Creator of all and caretaker of all, so who is Job to accuse Him?  And Job, after all he has been through, and even through he was innocent and suffered so much, agrees:

Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." 

When I used to read this, I imagined that Job really didn't feel all that differently--I mean, God didn't explain why Job went through all that, or make it better (at that point) so I guess I thought that Job was just kowtowing out of fear, because he was in trouble for complaining to an all powerful God.  I imagine it very differently now.  Job saw God with his own eyes, and Job was no longer mad.  Job felt terrible for questioning the goodness of God...even without an explanation or an apology.  "You can do all things, no purpose of yours can be thwarted", he says.  And what are these things?  "Too wonderful for me to know".  I don't think it is fear that is making him react this way.  I think it's love.  Job must have seen something pretty amazing to make him forget all his pain.  I know a few people going through pain I just can't even imagine.  My hope, the hope that helps me not shake my fist at God even though He's all powerful and does nothing to ease their pain, is that there are things too wonderful for me to know that makes it all worth it.  In James 5 it says, "You heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the end of the Lord, that very compassionate is the Lord, and pitying."  Sometimes it's hard to see that--but I'll end with one of my journal entries from the book of Job.

S) My friends, you think up ways to blame and torment me, saying I brought it on myself.  But watch out for the judgment, when God will punish you. (Job 19:28)
O) Job's friends keep telling him he is suffering because he has sinned.  They can't believe he is blaming God.  But Job is not afraid to cry out and tell God exactly how he feels--betrayed and abandoned.  But he holds on to the hope that he will be vindicated.
A) Job has some guts to talk back to his friends this way.  I think when your in that much pain, you just don't care what people think anymore.  In the end, his friends were not punished, because God asks Job to pray for them--and he does.  How remarkable.  This is the compassion and pity of God.
P) God, you know the part of me that wants judgement to fall on the 'leaders of the church'.  What I really want is your heart of compassion and pity.  Help me surrender my rights to vindication and trust you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

God the Gardener

So many parables in the Bible used to terrify me.  They always made me feel like I was just not measuring up, and that God was so disappointed...and very angry.  Many of the descriptions of God's discipline involve chopping off and burning up, and so no wonder the focus has mostly been "accept Jesus so God won't punish you".  Here's a few I remember reading as a child and feeling like it was a good thing Jesus saved me from this God who disliked people so much:

Weeds are gathered and burned. That's how it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everyone who does wrong or causes others to sin. Then he will throw them into a flaming furnace, where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain. (Matthew 13:40-42)

Maybe you think those branches were cut away, so that you could be put in their place. That's true enough. But they were cut away because they did not have faith, and you are where you are because you do have faith. So don't be proud, but be afraid. If God cut away those natural branches, couldn't he do the same to you? (Romans 11:19-21)

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener...If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me. If you don't stay joined to me, you will be thrown away. You will be like dry branches that are gathered up and burned in a fire. (John 15:5-6)
(because I cringe even now reading how I will be thrown away, let me use the Young's Literal:  "if any one may not remain in me, he was cast forth without as the branch, and was withered, and they gather them, and cast to fire, and they are burned"...(and also to help with fear, don't forget what he says two verses later) "According as the Father did love me, I also loved you, remain in my love."

Because I now believe Jesus is the reflection of God, and his death is the symbol of God's suffering for us and in us and with us until we are transformed into his image, (instead of Jesus being punished instead of us, much like a loving sibling would take a beating from an abusive Father in place of another sibling) I see these parables in a whole different light.  If I wanted to convey to you that the pain you were going through was not a result of hate, but of love...what better image to use than a gardener?  Who is more patient and caring and gentle (and nonviolent) than a gardener?  Everything he does is for the benefit of his help them grow.  What gardener prunes his trees because he hates them?  Who would believe he picks the ripe grapes because he thinks they are so much more deserving than the unripe ones?  And when he burns his yard waste, he is just cleaning up.  Who would imagine him standing over the burning branches and saying "suffer, you piece of crap branches that didn't produce for me!"  But our shame over our failures, and our anger at those who hurt us, obscure our ideas about who God is.  When we can look at Jesus and say, "THAT is who God is", then we are able to see Him as the gentle gardener, weeding and pruning to make everything beautiful and productive.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Cross

Is there anything more central to Christianity than the cross of Christ?  On churches, on jewelery, on tattoos, on clothing--the cross is the symbol that is known everywhere to represent Jesus and what it means to follow him.  But what does it mean, really?  I'm certainly not the only one who is rethinking how the cross has been traditionally understood.  It seems odd though, doesn't it, that all of a sudden there is all this debate about it.  But I have to think that maybe there was always debate about it--I mean, it's such a deep subject.  Because I come from a religious background of such black and whites, (where you were told what was true, and that was that) I assumed that nobody ever questioned these 'truths'...especially this central belief that Jesus was punished in our place.

It's been a shock for me to find that a very clear "Substitutionary Atonement" theology has never really been agreed upon.  I understand why it makes people so uncomfortable to even think about it...there's a fear the meaning of the cross will be diminished or even discounted if you pick at it too much.  In no way do I want to do that.  For me, seeing the cross as a punishment for sin is what diminishes it, and that's why I'm so certain it cannot be it's true and fullest meaning.  And so, I'm going to try my best to present a deeper way of seeing it.  These are excerpts from Hannah Hurnard's book  The Winged Life,  from the chapter "Revelation Made by Jesus Christ".  I think it is the most meaningful explanation of the the cross I have ever found, but I certainly can't 'prove' to you it's true.  All I can say is, when I see it this way, my love and devotion deepens...for God and humanity both.

     "As a young Christian my first conception of God represented Him to me as...high and lifted up and inhabiting eternity.  He was entirely unapproachable by sinners, save through a mediator, his son Jesus Christ.  I knew that He knows everything and nothing can be hidden from Him...but I conceived of Him as cognizant of it all in an absolutely impersonal way, except of those who were brought into a personal relationship with Him through Jesus.  I was quite sure that when Christ arose again and returned to the glory of the Father...he is now past the reach of all suffering.   I can never forget the shock of horror of the very idea with which I reacted to a passage in a book...
     'God knows and is cognizant of all the sin and the horror of its manifestations and results all over the world.  Not a single detail is unknown to him...I can pity, I can sympathize, I can try to help, but then I can come home...and I am away from it all.  But he stays there.'
     With my whole will I longed to reject it--a suffering God instead of the high and lofty one, who had only needed to suffer once in order to atone for all the world's sorrow and anguish.  But God, being omnipresent, must be conscious of it all the time...and feeling it all with the anguish of holy love.  But still, revolutionary as this new idea was, I still thought of Him as suffering from without...suffering in much the same way as a loving and heartbroken father or mother suffers while tending a child in some agonizing illness.  It took another twenty years (when I saw) what our Lord Jesus has revealed about God through his choosing to become incarnate in a man--namely that he is conscious of himself in all men.  Until that moment I had thought of God as conscious of everything from without...but now I saw...he is conscious of it from within.  This is what the saints mean when they speak of God as immanent...immanence, not pantheism. God manifest in the not this stupendous and awe-inspiring revelation which was made by Jesus Christ?  Once, in the fullness of time, when we were able to be shown, God in Jesus Christ revealed himself to us and the truth about himself.  Every part of his incarnation, life as a man, and death on the cross--yes, and his glorious resurrection is a revelation of this truth.  
     The Jewish people found it overwhelmingly difficult to grasp the significance of a suffering God, of the Creator on a cross, just as they were so unable to understand the revelation of the presence of God actually dwelling in a tent of skins...and would not believe he was present and incarnate in a human body.  He was wounded and has been wounded for our transgressions all along...from the moment of the first sin it began to be true.  "Surly he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows", "In all their afflictions he was afflicted"...these passages now take on a marvelous and overwhelming significance, and a host of other ones as well.  Never again can I despise or be indifferent to a single individual that I meet...for I see someone in whom the eternal God and Redeemer is conscious of...feeling and bearing all they feel and bear and all the consequences of their sin and the cruel sins done against them by others.
     Here, at least as far as I can see, is the answer to the mystery of suffering...Love himself is in them, feeling it all, bearing it, crucified and rising to life making himself responsible to undo, in the end, all the results of sin...and bringing forth in his own good time resurrection life out of agony and death."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Belief vs Faith

I don't think there is anything more confusing than the concept of "having faith." So much damage has been done in people's hearts and lives because they have been judged by their brothers and sisters for not having enough faith. We are taught we are "saved" (aka, not going to hell) if we "believe" in Jesus. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (Side note: why does perish mean go to eternal hell?)

"Believing" means to many "believe Jesus died and rose again, believe he was born of a virgin, believe he was the son of God"...basically, get your facts straight. If you don't "believe" any of the corrects "facts" -- then you're not saved. (Again, from hell, apparently.) This is why everyone fights so much over these critical facts...because getting them right is of eternal consequence. It sort of feels like you will need to take an entrance exam when you die...Question #1: What is the trinity? Don't know? Too bad so sad, that was something you had to "believe" in.  So!

But Jesus asked the people standing right in front of him to "believe" in him. I think a better word would be "trust." If I ask you to believe in me, I'm asking for your in, "Don't worry...I can do it." Christians spend a lot of time trying to prove the Bible is 100% accurate, because this will make people believe the correct facts. But the thing about belief is, is does not make something true. I can believe all day long the sun is made of jello, but it will not make it so. Either something is true or it is not true --belief does not change it. Faith is something different. The Bible defines it as "hope in something you can't prove is true."

Faith is a motivator into action. Faith is what gives me courage to do something, because even though I can't prove it, I believe it is true. (Maybe this is where faith and belief interact?) If there is a chasm, and I want to get across, and someone says "there is a bridge here, you just can't see it"-- it would take faith to step off the cliff.  And yes, belief it is there. But regardless of what I believe...either it is there or it isn't.

So, back to saved by faith. Many Christians think because they believe the correct things about Jesus, they have earned salvation. (Which to them is forgiveness so they get into Heaven.) This is why they can look down so terribly on atheists or anyone of another faith tradition, because those people have chosen not to believe the correct things, therefore, they are not forgiven. But FAITH is the thing that saves us. (And again I'll ask...saves us from what? God's rejection? His punishment?)

Paul goes on and on about faith in Romans and in Galatians, and guess what -- most of that faith didn't even have to do with Jesus.  It's just about people believing God could do what he promised, even when everything in the physical realm shouted "THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE!" The story of Abraham sacrificing his son is a good example. Everyone always talks about this story being about obedience...a good Christian would be willing to give up anything (even their children) if God asked them too. Sadly, I think this is why so many parents completely abandon their gay children, because they see it as obedience to God. But if you look closely at this story, you'll see the only reason Abraham decides to go ahead and sacrifice his son is because he believes God will make him alive again -- because he trusts that God will make good on his promise to make his son into a great nation. And sure enough, his FAITH is what God credits to him as righteousness, not his obedience. So, are we to feel superior to those who's faith is weak?

Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. (Romans 12:3)

And also:
If I have prophecy, and know all the secrets, and all the knowledge, and if I have all the faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. (I corn. 13:2)

Maybe faith is given to us so we can learn how to love. Maybe learning to love...becoming loving as God is loving and knowing and living in His love for being "saved." Just a thought.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The winds are your messengers, and flames of fire are your servants.
Psalm 104:3-5

My words are a powerful fire; they are a hammer that shatters rocks.
Jeremiah 23:28-30

The LORD himself has promised to be a protective wall of fire surrounding Jerusalem, and he will be its shining glory in the heart of the city."
Zechariah 2:4-6

Everyone must be salted with fire.
Mark 9:48-50

I came to set fire to the earth, and I wish it were already on fire! (Jesus speaking)
Luke 12:48-50

The disciples then remembered that the Scriptures say, "My love for your house burns in me like a fire."
John 2:16-18

Dear friends, don't be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing that is like walking through fire.
1 Peter 4:11-13

When the crowd of people saw the fire and the Lord's glory, they knelt down and worshiped the Lord. They prayed: "The Lord is good, and his love never ends."
2 Chronicles 7:2-4

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
Revelation 20:13-15

The Bible talks about fire a lot.  (roughly 353 times...if "" is right)  These are just a few scriptures I found interesting, and hopefully get you thinking that maybe fire is not such a bad thing according to the Bible.  God led the Israelites with fire, the Holy Spirit baptizes with fire, Jesus eyes are described as flames of fire, and so on.  But I certainly understand why it's seen as bad, especially after looking through them all...because most the time the fire was coming from God's wrath and burning everything up.  It's so terrifying, and so no wonder people blame Satan and say he's the one in control of the fire.  But I want to make a strong point that the fire God punished with always destroyed things...not tortured things. 

Fire is described as causing torment in a few places, like the parable of the wheat and the weeds and the parable of Lazarus. (a different post, but I really don't think these parables are teaching about what hell is or isn't) I've been in torment a few times in my life-- I look back at those times and can honestly say I'm thankful, because I know I would not have changed without that pain.  So many people believe the lake of fire and hell are the same thing, but how can that be when it says hell is thrown into the lake of fire?  And if  "God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) then shouldn't that mean that hell is destroyed?

The Bible is a difficult book, and it's even more difficult if we think of all these images as being literal.  (especially in Revelations)  If you need to believe there is an actual lake of fire, then you need to believe that Jesus is an actual lamb that stands before an actual throne.  To believe these images are conveying spiritual and not literal truths does not mean they are not speaking truths at all, it just means we have to be humble enough to admit that maybe we don't understand them, because we are spiritually blind.  May God open our eyes, so we can see Him for who He is.

Monday, October 24, 2011


We die only once, and then we are judged. (Hebrews 9:27)

Here is another scripture used to prove that once we die, there is no hope if we haven't accepted Jesus. (Actually, as far as I know, it's the only scripture that 'proves' this.) Supposedly this means we are judged, either to go to heaven or hell for all eternity; end of story. But let me show you another scripture:

Don't be surprised! The time will come when all of the dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man, and they will come out of their graves. Everyone who has done good things will rise to life, but everyone who has done evil things will rise and be condemned. (John 5:28-29)

Hummm...the dead who are in eternal hell will be brought back so they can be thrown back in. That seems odd, doesn't it? Let's look at it from the Young's Literal translation:

Wonder not at this, because there doth come an hour in which all those in the tombs shall hear his voice, and they shall come forth; those who did the good things to a rising again of life, and those who practiced the evil things to a rising again of judgment.

Notice the difference between "condemned" and "judgment."  Condemned sounds sort of final, sort of hopeless. Judgment sounds a little more hopeful I think. When singers stand before the judges on "American Idol," and they say, "That sucked"...usually it's because they want to help them, and not just to let them know they are a piece of crap. (Unless it's Simon you think God is like him?) Let's look at what Jesus says right before he says this, and maybe it will shed a little light:

For, as the Father doth raise the dead, and doth make alive, so also the Son doth make alive whom he willeth; for neither doth the Father judge any one, but all the judgment He hath given to the Son, that all may honour the Son according as they honour the Father; he who is not honouring the Son, doth not honour the Father who sent him. `Verily, verily, I say to you -- He who is hearing my word, and is believing Him who sent me, hath life age-during, and to judgment he doth not come, but hath passed out of the death to the life. `Verily, verily, I say to you -- There cometh an hour, and it now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those having heard shall live; for, as the Father hath life in himself, so He gave also to the Son to have life in himself, and authority He gave him also to do judgment, because he is Son of Man.

A few things I think are important; first, Jesus says he makes alive those whom he chooses. (His choice, not ours.) Second, he says the hour is now that the dead hear his voice and have life. (Physical or spiritual death and life?) Thirdly, Jesus said God gave him authority to do judgement because he is son of Man. "Doing" judgement seems active...again, like it has purpose. And why point out he has authority to do this action because he is son of man, instead of son of God?  Things to think about.

PS...I was just watching "Super Nanny," a show where a nanny spends time with families who are struggling with parenting. At one point, she brings in video footage to watch with the parents so she can "judge" their parenting. Today the mother turned to Super Nanny and said, "You are such a good teacher, because you don't make us feel like loser parents." Do you think Super Nanny is a more compassionate and loving judge and teacher than Jesus?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Living in the Kingdom of God (part II)

Starting where I left off:

4) "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled"
The need for love is a hunger implanted by the Creator.  This instinct has become a torment and tyrant to most who seek to fulfill it unrighteously.  Jesus is righteousness personified--the expression of everything that is lovely and like God.  When we hunger for union with him, we will be satisfied.

5) "Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy"
We should have sympathy and understanding for the needs, sufferings, and testings of others; not indifference and contempt of their weaknesses.  The unheavenly practice of criticizing and talking spitefully about others will murder the lovely qualities of mercy, gentleness, compassion and understanding, which the Holy Spirit so longs to cultivate in our hearts.

6) "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God"
To be pure in heart means your actions and words are a crystal clear reflection of the motives and intents of your heart.  The hypocrite desires to veil the true thoughts and purposes of his heart, because it would bring disapproval from others.  If he can appear well in the eyes of men, he is satisfied.  Only those who practice sincerity and truthfulness in all things can 'see God' (or know what He is truly like) because every falsity in our lives must result in a distorted conception of God.  Matthew 6 shows three examples of hypocrisy and dishonesty to which religious people are most liable:
a) Charity given from motives of desiring praise in the eyes of men.  Showing off our 'generosity' to attract attention to ourselves.
b) Fasting (or any self-denial) and then making sure people know about it.  A spirit which hates to do good in secret, but must have an admiring and appreciative audience is not pure.
c) If our prayers are not the expression of real desires in our hearts, but only pious ideas which will sound fine to the ears of others, then it is hypocritical.

7) "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God"
The root cause of all discord, separation, division, and disunity are: anger at one another, indifference to the feelings of another, and contempt of others. (Matt. 5:21-26) Broken, sin-diseased relationships within mankind can only be healed through the power of God working through his 'peacemakers'--those who are connected with the life and healing power of the head of the body; Jesus (the Prince of Peace)

8) "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven"
This principle is enlarged upon in 5:43-48 when Jesus says "love your enemies, bless those who curse you".  This is the heavenly principle of forgiveness, a willingness to bear the wrong done against us without demanding retribution or holding a grudge.  Our Lord did this when he "bore our sins in his own body on the tree"--he did not count our sins against us.  He forgave the hatred and malice of the men who were watching him die.  Forgiveness is the highest of the heavenly laws, and the one we are slowest to practice.

9) "Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you"

It is one thing to suffer as an acknowledged martyr for the truth...quite another to be made to appear as an evildoer suffering only what is just and right.  Jesus was put to death by his own people for the most audacious wickedness known to a Jew, that is blasphemy.  Jesus remained silent before his judges.  This is not to say it's wrong to state our innocence; but when men continue to falsely accuse us, then we must not insist on self-vindication, but to willingly suffer as Christ and the prophets did, and leave God to vindicate us in his own time.  The world waits for another Pentecost when the Holy Spirit can work unhindered in men and women.  But he can only come upon us when we, like the first Christians, see what they saw--that these heavenly principles taught and practiced by Jesus must be accepted as the standard for ourselves also.  May he empower us to begin practicing these primary lessons "till we may all come to the unity of the faith and of the recognition of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to a measure of stature of the fullness of the Christ", (Eph. 4:13) who when he taught these things summed them all up in a tenth Beatitude--"If you know these things, happy (blessed) are you if you do them".

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Living in the Kingdom of God (part 1)

Hannah Hurnard, author of Hinds Feet on High Places, is one of my very favorite writers.  A former darling of the Christian community, she was somewhat quietly swept under the rug when it was discovered that she believed that God would save everyone eventually.  "High Places to Heresy" is the type of heading you'll find if you google her nowadays, and the book often referred to as poof she changed from orthodox to "gnostic and even occultic" beliefs later in life is The Inner Man.  (quote from Internet site: "In The Inner Man Hannah weaves together her new age teachings and Scripture with such beguiling skill that she, without debate, proves herself to be a sorceress of the first order. The witch at Endor did not display a fraction of Hannah’s spiritual treachery...How unfortunate that so many Christians are embracing Hannah’s "holiness through suffering" message and are deserting the unique Gospel of complete and free salvation.")  So, if this book made Christians so mad, of course I had to buy it!  I wanted to see for myself if Hannah believed people became animal spirits and other strange things that were claimed that this book taught.

My biggest shock when getting the book (out of print and difficult to buy, but I finally found it) was it was published in 1955.  (same year Hinds Feet was written)  So, any occultic beliefs expressed in this book were the same beliefs she had when she wrote her completely well received and beloved Hinds Feet on High Places.  Not so shockingly, I found nothing in the book offensive in anyway, but deeply spiritual and insightful. (and understandingly frightening for anyone who is uncomfortable thinking about the spiritual realm)  Now that I felt secure that Hannah didn't turn into a witch later in life, I bought several of her "off limits" books.  The one I will be quoting from here is Walking Among the Unseen, from the chapter "How to Live in the Kingdom of God". (a study of the beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-29)

1)"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"
To be poor in spirit is to stop ruling ourselves and submit to Jesus.  The poor in spirit humble themselves, considering all they posses to be God's, trusting him to care for all their needs.  This is a life of dependence on God; a life of faith.

2) "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"
It is in times of sorrow and suffering when we call on the Comforter and draw nearer to God.  If we react to difficult situations with trust in God, they are turned into blessings. (trouble teaches us endurance which will bring maturity...James 1:4)  This is the cup of suffering Jesus gladly drank, but if we react to the cup with bitter resentment (the earthly and not heavenly reaction) it poisons the cup and makes it almost impossible to drink.

3) "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth"
Meek= mild, gentle, kind, forbearing.  The heavenly way of dealing with evildoers who wrong us is "resist not evil (with force) but whosoever shall smite thee on they right cheek, turn to him the other also."  It is not a principle which allows evildoers to get away with their ill-gotten gains, but rather of gentle and wise understanding of why they so acted, and willingness to give the right kind of help to them in their need, even if it means loss to ourselves.  And this wisdom and power to help them can only come by practicing meekness. (or humility)

Because this is getting a bit long, I'll finish up the rest of them in my next post.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dying to Live

S) But we ourselves have had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we may not be trusting on ourselves, but on God, who is raising the dead, who did deliver us out of so great a death, and does deliver, in whom we have hoped that even yet He will deliver. (2 Corn. 1:9-10)
O) There sure is a lot of raising out of death in these verses.  It seems to me that being brought to life is a process, but it must happen through death.  Obviously Paul means this in more than a physical way.
A) Trusting God and not yourself...this is so hard when you feel "the sentence of death in yourself", and you want so desperately to have life, but just don't know how to get it.  But God has, and does, and will deliver me. I must hang onto hope and take one day at a time.
P) I hate feeling so tired and 'over it'.  Maybe this is part of my dying to self, and if it is, then I'm thankful.  Please raise me to life!  Show me how to really live.

I really think death and life are something very different in God's eyes than in ours.  We see it only in the physical realm, but it seems something different is going on in the spiritual realm.  Jesus eludes to this a lot.  In my last post, I quoted a verse where he says, "But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you,  ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”  It seems to me he's saying "If you think Isaac and Jacob need to be brought back to life...well, they are already alive".  He says a few other strange when a follower said they needed to bury their father, and Jesus replied "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead".  And of course there's the statement that you have to be born again to enter God's kingdom..."Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again."  And once again, we have focused only on entering God's kingdom as going to heaven when we die, but how can that be what Jesus was talking about when he says, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." (and how is this possible when Jesus hasn't even died yet, so they can be forgiven?)  A couple more verses about death and life:

1) Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above...For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:1) 
2) But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.

I want to look at these verses with fresh eyes, and they just make so much more sense when your not reading them with the 'heaven and hell' lens we so often read all scripture with.  God made us alive...did we choose this?  Did we choose to be born in the flesh?  Maybe we don't choose to be born in the spirit either...maybe God does the choosing.  God gave us FAITH as a gift--what a concept.  How can we look down on anyone?  We can't, and we shouldn' one can boast.  In the coming ages, everyone will see just how kind and good and wonderful our God is.  We can stop worrying, and just enter His Kingdom.  I want so much to live there...TODAY, and forever.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Scripture and The Church

I was thinking of going through all the proof texts used to condemn homosexuality and show why maybe they don't...but it's been done so many times, I don't see the point.  Here is an article that I think does a better job than I ever will:

The problem is, no matter how good the arguments, many Christians simply cannot change their view, because it would compromise their faith.  When it comes down to it, they simply cannot believe that the Church has taught something incorrectly for this long...I mean, how could God allow that?  Of course, this applies to the belief in an eternal hell as well. (I do want to note that from A.D. 170 to 430, there were six Christian schools...of these, four taught the restitution of all things, and only one taught endless punishment)  But consider the religious leaders of Jesus day--they studied their scriptures very intently, and prided themselves so much in doing so.  And even still, they couldn't agree on what the writings really meant. (just like today) Remember the story of them trying to trap Jesus by asking him a difficult question about what brother would be married to a wife after they died, since they had all been her husband at one time? 

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him.  Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother.  The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh.  Finally, the woman died.  Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.  But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you,  ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

I want to point out that this argument is not over who's going to be married to her in heaven, but who will be married to her after the resurrection.  I think this is the biggest mistake we've made in looking at scriptures--thinking the whole point is 'where will we spend eternity when we die--heaven or hell'.  But if you look closely at the writings of Paul, you will see that the hope he has is for the resurrection from the dead. (in the coming age)  Some Jews believed in this resurrection, some did not.  And notice Jesus' reply to these men who had studied scriptures probably their whole life and knew them forwards and backwards (and had authority over others in teaching what they meant)..."You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God".  How can any of us be sure we understand the Scriptures or the power of God?  If your putting all your faith in how things have been understood so far, and that the church would never make a mistake about scripture, I think you need to take a closer look at church history.  Remember that the church at one time taught that babies not baptized before death would go to hell, that the world was flat (there is a scripture that talks about the four corners of the can the Bible be wrong?) and that the sun rotated around the earth. (again, scripture confirmed this to them, and anyone that argued differently was in big trouble--because they were denying the authority of scripture)  The church was also the biggest defender for slavery...because clearly the Bible condoned it.  But even with all this evidence against the church NOT always getting it right, still people need to put their faith in the church leaders guiding them instead of in the Holy Spirit.   And if you think all church leaders are listening to the Spirit concerning these two issues because they are "staying true" to the Bible, I would have only one question for them..."Have you even considered the possibility that you are wrong, and if so, have you prayed that the Holy Spirit show you if you are?"

 P.S.  I'm so glad I have no authority to tell you what to believe.  I am an absolute nobody in that regard...I'm certainly no Apostle Paul.  But look what he has to say about his 'authority'..."We are not bosses who tell you what to believe. We are working with you to make you glad, because your faith is strong." (2 Corn.1:24 )  If you are waiting for the church leaders to reveal truth to you, because you think men in power are the first to hear from God--read what Jesus has to say about that: 
Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. (Matt. 11:25-26)  And just one more thing...who were the first ones to see Jesus after his resurrection?  And did his disciples listen to them, or think they were just hysterical women?

The Lazarus Parable

Most Christians are familiar with the Lazarus parable.  It's one of the 'proofs' for an eternal hell.  For those who are unfamiliar, it's a story Jesus told about a rich man and a poor man that die...the rich man goes to hell, the poor man to heaven.  The fact it's a parable doesn't seem to stop most people from saying it's proof that hell lasts forever, simply because Jesus states there is a "great gulf" between them.  For a very in depth explanation of the parable go to  (I can't say I completely agree or even understand the whole thing--but it's quite expansive and will make you think)

When I first came to believe that hell is not eternal, I heard a sermon at church about this parable.  My pastor explained how Jesus spoke this parable to the religious leaders of his day, because they were complaining about Jesus hanging around sinners all the time.  He explained how the Gentiles (who Lazarus most likely represented in this story) were looked down on by the Jews as "unclean dogs".  After that sermon I wrote a sermon of my own, because everything about how I saw this parable changed drastically from how I saw it as a child.  So here it is...(written four years ago, just for myself) I find it ironic that I wrote this before I knew my daughter was gay.

(Begin with parable...I don't want to cut and paste the whole thing, you'll have to look it up if you don't know it.  It's found in the 16th chapter of Luke)

What are the main points most Christian's learned from this story when growing up.  I know what I learned:
1) Once your in hell, you'll never get out.
2) Hell is hot, therefore torture.  It's purpose is only to inflict pain for all eternity.
3) The people in heaven look down on the people in hell with disdain, because they were too stupid or evil to understand what they were choosing when they were alive.  If they didn't get the message of the gospel, it's their own fault and we shouldn't feel bad for them.
All this equals=NON COMPASSION

But the points Jesus are making seem to be:
1)You can't count on your religion to save you from hell.  Love for God should equal love for people.
2) We are going to be accountable if we do not show mercy to the suffering.
3) God wants to comfort those who are mistreated and looked down on in this lifetime.
All this equals=COMPASSION

Why was the message we got growing up so far removed from what Jesus was actually teaching? Maybe it's because:
1)  Just like the Pharisees, we want a "formula" that gets us favor with God and a ticket to heaven.  For us, it's "accept Jesus".  But if "accepting Jesus" does not equal loving God and loving others, then it really isn't anything else but a free ticket to heaven.  Was a free ticket really the point of the cross?
2) Just like the Pharisees, once we know we have the ticket and others don't (they were 'offered' one and rejected why feel bad?) we have license to look down on them.
3) Just like the Pharisees, we do not feel we are required to show compassion on those God will ultimately reject. 

What if Jesus came today?  How would he update this parable?...

"There was a wealthy Christian preacher who had great influence in his community.  He loved to preach on how displeased God is with the people of this world, and how different and set a part Christians need to be by not watching R rated movies or smoking or drinking, like the unbelievers do. Next to the church was a really run down trailer park where a gay man lived who was dying of AIDS. This was a very religious town (thanks to the preacher) so the gay man was a complete outcast and had no friends. He wanted to go to church, but he knew he would not be accepted there. When it was discovered he was so sick he could not even go out to get food, the preacher decided to do a sermon... 'The world, with all it's high talking, gay loving liberals would want us to hurry to this man's side to help him. But we cannot! This is just one step closer to the church accepting that homosexuality is OK! If God has given him AIDS, then that is the punishment he deserves.' So, the gay man died a very painful and lonely death. The preacher was so proud of nurturing such a pious community, and he was sure God was pleased with him...but when he died, not only did he find the gay man being comforted by God, he found he had to go to hell to be punished for his self righteousness and lack of compassion."

What if a man came today and said he was from God and preached this message? How many people would say he was from the devil? (which is what the Pharisees said about Jesus) If he started a church where gays were accepted as they are, how many Christians would look on it with contempt? If he kept saying that Christians were bad and needed God's discipline, how many would think he deserved to die? It's easy for us to judge the Pharisees, but let's think about their situation. They were already told how to get to heaven. Obey the Torah. This came from their Holy scriptures...there was no new testament. Jesus was teaching things that contradicted everything they had been taught since childhood. And he was saying they were in danger of hell--God's own chosen! What if the Holy Spirit wants to tell us--the church--that we have become Pharisees? Are we in danger of hell? Do you think there is any chance the information we got growing up:

1) once your in hell, you cannot get out
2) hell's only purpose is torture
3) we will not have compassion for those in hell...
                                                                           Is wrong?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Is Jesus a Religion, or a Man?

Did you flinch a little at my title, worried that I would deny the deity of Jesus? 

I think it's curious that in all the scriptures I come across, the writers are most concerned with people denying the humanity of Jesus. When I took a quick look at commentaries about why this was so important, they always talk about it being because Jesus had to be human so he made the perfect sacrifice for our "atonement".  But if Jesus being the atoning sacrifice (to appease God's wrath) is the main point of his death, why can't I even find the word "atonement" in the new testament? (Using the Young's Literal translation--the one scholars say is the most accurate.Yes, Paul talks about Jesus shedding his blood for our sin. But his point is always "we don't need to keep making sacrifices", not "Jesus had to die so that God could forgive us". God was ALWAYS forgiving the Jewish people.) When I wrote to a Jewish priest about sacrifice being to appease the wrath of God (remember...the authors of the new testament all came out of the Jewish faith) he was disgusted.  He wrote me back and emphatically said that was never what sacrifice was about.  When you look at what Christianity was while it was under the leadership of Jews, (in the book of Acts) and what it became when it was under the leadership of people who had come out of pagan religions (where sacrifice was all about appeasing the gods) you see a big difference, don't you? 

It seems to me that for many Christians, it's not about what is being taught as much as who is doing the teaching. So, two people can teach the same principle, (for example, loving others as we love ourselves) but if a Buddhist teaches it, then it's wrong. If a Christian teaches it, then it's right--doesn't matter that they are both saying the same thing.  Seems silly to me...shouldn't the principle be correct regardless of who is teaching it? But because Jesus said, "I AM the way, the truth, and the life", Christian's interpret that as "Christianity is the only true religion", without any regard to the fact that Jesus was speaking about himself, not a religion. And was he meaning to let everyone know that anyone who doesn't follow him in this short lifetime will be lost for all eternity? Does that seem right when Jesus promises to "draw all men" to himself? 

But so many Christians have absolutely no problem believing that a man like Gandhi, who lived out the teachings of Jesus better than many Christians do, is rotting in an eternal hell simply because he didn't believe there correct things. It blows my mind.  Makes me so sad, but all I can do is pray that more and more Christian's will start taking a harder look at the things they believe and why they believe them, and maybe just consider that the religion of Christianity has maybe not understood everything about the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Effort vs Trust

S) What you believe about these things should be kept between you and God.  You are fortunate if your actions don't make you have doubts.  But if you do have doubts about what you eat, you are going against your beliefs.  And you know that is wrong, because anything you do against your beliefs is sin. (Romans 14:22-23)
O) Even though eating meat (sacrificed to idols) is not a sin, it would become one if you did it thinking it was wrong.  Sin is anything that seperates us from God; I think we get messed up when we view sin as just "not following the rules".
A) I know people are going to think I'm sinning because I'm not following the going to church 'rule'.  That might hurt them.  But I really believe that God told me that for the time being, I shouldn't go.  If I went anyway, just to make everyone happy, wouldn't I be sinning--even if my belief is incorrect?
P) Help Lord!  If I have misunderstood your direction, please show me!

This is a journal entry I wrote soon after I left my church.  Looking at it now, I know my concern with 'hurting' people was more just worry over how people would judge me. And as I've come to a place of not caring much what people think, I have to admit a little of that has a 'screw you' attitude in it. (which is never good)  Feeling secure in God's love helps me to see these flaws a little clearer, without beating myself up over them.  I do want it to change, and I pray for change...but there's also a surrender to God in admitting I'm not exactly sure how to change. 

This is one of the big shifts in my thinking, and it's all about the will.  Many times so much of my effort in 'living for Christ' is actuality rooted in self. (will power) This is really a hard concept to convey, but basically my identity in trying to be a 'good Christian', and my efforts in achieving that can be mostly ego centered and not spiritually centered.  But as I begin to understand "it is God who is working in (me) both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13), there is more of a letting go in trust that God can change my heart, instead of an effort to obey and earn approval.  Unfortunately, we have been taught it is our will that saves us--because this is the only way to explain why some are and some are not saved.  But if it is our will that achieves our salvation, then it cannot be by grace, in my opinion.  (Salvation meaning our transformation into the image of Christ, not forgiveness so we won't be punished forever. Just want to keep clarifying that)

I exhort, then, first of all, there be made supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, for all men: for kings, and all who are in authority, that a quiet and peaceable life we may lead in all piety and gravity...  for this [is] right and acceptable before God our Savior, who doth will all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth;(1 Timothy 2:1-4)

There is a lot of argument over the word "will" in this verse.  Most translate it as "wish", but the better translations use will.  I know there can be confusion over why we need to pray if God's going to just save everyone in the end.  Again, if you think of salvation as going to heaven when you die, then it is confusing.  But if you think of salvation as the restoration of the earth and everything in it including us (God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven) then the prayers are more like, "I'm on board with this plan, God...I'm excited about you doing this and believe you can and I want to be a part of it" instead of, "please God, do what you can to make so-and-so become a Christian so they won't go to hell when they die." The first prayer is about resting in the confidence that this is God's work and He can do it and only wanting to be involved, the other is about doing our best to help God out with something He can't do, but can only 'wish' for.  Trusting that God can accomplish His will has made all the difference, and has begun in me the change from self effort into total surrender.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Set Free

Coming back to my story...after I could not convince anyone in my church that hell was not eternal, I really did not know what to do.  My husband and I had been attending our church for over 20 years...and not only that, he works there!  I couldn't just stop going, but nothing in me wanted to continue.  My heart was broken.  I kept telling myself I should be fine with others having a different opinion than me, and that it shouldn't affect my 'fellowship'...but I couldn't help it effecting everything.  Because this wasn't just a different opinion--for me it was a complete paradigm shift. 

I prayed and prayed about what to do.  One of my biggest concerns was my husband.  I wanted to be a good wife--a supportive wife--a godly wife.  Good Christian women do not just stop going to church...especially one that their husband works at.  Good Christian women support their men by putting his needs before their own, by making sure the husband knows he's the boss of the family...all of that.  When I shared how unhappy I was at church, my husband never said I had to keep going, but I knew that he would be extremely displeased if I quit.  I had so many conflicting emotions.  It was at this time I came across another life changing book.  First a journal entry from several years prior:

S)  A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.(1 Timothy 2:11-15) 
O) This is one of those passages of scripture I don't think I'll ever get.  It sounds awful!  I once asked a youth leader about it, and he said "Well, Paul didn't like women".  I think Paul was a great respecter of women, and had many very close women friends who were leaders in the ministry.  So obviously it must just be translated badly or we just can't understand the situation he was trying to address.
A)  I certainly cannot get out of this that God made women lesser than men, or that He loves them more.  I do know God honors humility--I can always apply that.
P)  After 2,000 years of nobody quite getting this scripture, it seems arrogant of me to ask you to reveal it to me. But I do ask you to reveal to your followers the true meaning of this scripture.

The book I stumbled across was "The Christian Woman Set Free".   Once again, I felt God smiling as He answered my questions when I really didn't think there was an answer.  The author (who holds a bachelor's degree in history and a master's in theology) explains not only these troubling verses, but he also tackles 1 Corinthians chapter 11 and Ephesians 5.  (where women are 'commanded' to cover their heads in church and submit to their husbands)  He explains the historical situation these letters were addressing and the history of how it was translated, (badly is an understatement) and he does all of that in a way that is very easy to read and understand.  I was set free!  Not to disrespect and belittle my husband, but to respect myself and trust I could follow the Holy Spirit even if my husband did not understand or agree. I really felt God was leading me to stop attending church...but I was still very afraid and uncertain.  Another scripture I came across at this time gave me courage.  This is a WEIRD one, I have to warn you.

At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. So the LORD let him alone. (Exodus 4:24)

I bet you didn't even know Moses had a wife!  I didn't.  We know very few women 'heros' of the Bible besides Mary and Esther, but that's not because they are not there.  I had no idea why Zipporah did this or what it meant, but it seemed to me she did something either Moses did not understand he should do, or something he was unwilling to do.  So she did it--and I bet Moses thanked her for it. So I stopped going to church, and I can only hope one day my husband will see and understand it was a good thing, and maybe even thank me for it.

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 judgmental 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?