Sunday, December 29, 2013

Running the Race (soap journal #8)

S) I have not yet reached my goal and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize...I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. (Phil. 3:12-13)
O) I can't forget that I am going towards something--I am not just aimlessly living life. It is a daily purposeful thing--a struggle--to allow God to use everything to bring me closer to Him. Keep looking forward, don't think about past failure.
A) This is another scripture to memorize. I am not perfect (duh) but I am in Christ's hands. If I'm willing, then He's taking me towards the goal.
P) Lord, I know nothing else matters except finishing this race. Help me focus. Thank you for your work in me. (written 7/10/07)

As always, when I write these old journal entries on here, I go back to the scripture and read it in context. Some Bibles use headings to summarize the chapter's theme, and the heading for this chapter was "No Confidence in the Flesh". Seems an odd explanation for a chapter talking about having determination to run a race, doesn't it?

This is one of the most frustrating round-about teachings of Christianity. On one hand you are told that there is nothing you can do can earn your salvation. No good deeds, no rule following or self discipline will ever be good enough to earn you favor with's only by grace you can be saved. Then, almost with the same breath, your told you need to do good deeds, follow the rules, and "run the race" so you can get the prize. And what is this prize we are trying to achieve? God's love? Heaven when we die?

Regardless of my beliefs when I wrote this, the struggle was obvious to me. "To allow God to use everything to bring me closer to Him". I wasn't thinking about making it to heaven, or earning God's favor...I was thinking about transformation. What does it mean to "get closer to God"? When we say that, we know we are not looking to find a literal throne where a big man with a beard is sitting so we can try to get close to Him. We know it's something that happens within us. 

And so Paul is describing this transformation as a race, because it needs to be finished. He describes exactly what he's trying to achieve:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

There it is--resurrection from the dead. Not making it to heaven when you die, but a transformation just like Jesus had. I know...nobody wants to think of salvation that way. Most Christians just want to think, "Jesus died for my sins and purchased my free ticket to heaven." But how can we just ignore what Paul is saying about "becoming like him in his death"? 

It's so very hard not to think of heaven as where we go when we die, though I'm not saying I don't believe in a realm that is hidden from us that will be opened to our understanding once we die. Jesus went somewhere when his physical body fact, the story is he went to hell to set the captives free. But that story aside, when he rose from the dead, he came back here...and he was changed. I know what your all thinking, "Yeah, but that was JESUS. We are not to ever think we can be like him! He's the only son of God!" But listen to what Paul is saying:

the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Everything under his control? Here is the Young's Literal translation:

who shall transform the body of our humiliation to its becoming conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working of his power, even to subject to himself the all things.

Not only is Paul saying we are to be transformed, but he is also saying that Jesus has the power to eventually "subject to himself the all things." (wouldn't that be people too?) But how?

Back to the "no confidence in the flesh" part. If you look at this chapter, you will see Paul is once again at war with religion. He describes in detail what he means by having confidence in the flesh:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

We cannot be transformed by following rules, but for some reason that is always where we come back to, isn't it? Am I following the right rules? It seems to me it's what Christians are always arguing about; who is breaking what rule, and how it proves they aren't really a Christian. We've been running a race alright...the race of religion, and it's gotten us nowhere but destruction. 

But I have to believe it will change...we will change. It's the power of God--LOVE--that will someday get it done.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fearlessness (soap journal # 7)

S) I sleep and wake up refreshed because you, Lord, protect me. Ten thousand enemies attack from every side, but I am not afraid. (Ps.3:5-6)
O) David has a lot to worry about; yet he says he "wakes up refreshed", which is quite remarkable considering his circumstance. What amazing trust.
A) I may not have enemies attacking, but I have plenty I fret about, especially concerning the kids. I can relax knowing they are in God's hands. Even when situations are scary, I don't need to be afraid. 
P) Help me not think about the bad things that "might" happen. Instead, help me think about how you are our protector. Help me find peace and rest in trusting you. (written 10/11/04)

Even though I wrote this, the truth is I struggle with this idea that we are to be fearless because we know God will protect us. The reality is, we can die at any moment; and any manner of bad things could happen to us at any time. Believing the right things or following the right rules does not change that. Christians talk a lot about obedience. If you want to prove you love God, you need to obey. Though, it seems to me, much of the rule following has more to do with fear and trying to stay safe than it has to do with love. And as much as Christians want to point out how we are to obey God's commands, they are particularly bad at following the two word command that is asked of us the most in the Bible..."fear not". 

I would even go so far to say we are encouraged to fear. Fear keeps us safe--keeps us from doing stupid, foolish things. We may talk about God protecting us, but the truth is we know there are no guarantees. 

For me, trusting God does not mean believing nothing bad is going to happen. It's more of a deep hope that because God is good, no matter what happens, ultimately it's going to be ok. The problem is, I wonder if this kind of trust makes me too passive. Does it make me less proactive in trying to make things better?

When I think about fear, a couple things seem clear. 1) Anxiety never makes anything better 2) People who have made the world better usually had to take a big risk, and taking a risk requires letting go of fear. 

When I'm fearful and protective over my life, in a way, I stop truly living. When I let go of my desire to be "safe", and risk failure, rejection, humiliation...then I find the joy in being alive. I wonder if this is sort of what Jesus is talking about when he says we have to lose our life to find it. 

I will end with a more recent journal entry, because it seems fitting.
(written 3/25/11)
S) Be anxious for nothing, but by prayer in everything, and by supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, that is surpassing all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Phil.4:6-7)
O) Anxiety is not good for us. It is a condition of the mind--thoughts running wild. Prayer is the remedy, if we can believe in a God who always has our best interest in mind.
A) We do not understand the ways of God, but peace is not a bi-product of understanding. It is a bi-product of trust. I lay down my desires and needs with thanksgiving, knowing God cares and loves and is working on my behalf...and my thoughts are guarded against needing to understand why my prayers are not always answered the way I want them to be. 
P) I'm scared to talk with Jay and Kathy. Thank you for setting my mind at ease. Please keep guarding my thoughts. I cannot know how things will turn out...and that's ok. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Our brokenness is the wound 
through which the full power of God 
can penetrate our being and transfigure us in God.
Loneliness is not something from which we must flee 
but the place from where we can cry out to God, 
where God will find us and we can find God.
Yes, through our wounds the power of God can penetrate us
and become like rivers of living water to irrigate the arid earth within us.
Thus we may irrigate the arid earth of others, 
so that hope and love are reborn.---Jean Vanier

I'm not a big fan of loneliness. But the weird thing is, I don't mind being alone. (which is why I love backpacking by myself) So, I have to ask myself...if being alone is not necessarily the cause of loneliness, what is?

Lately, I've been feeling the sadness of being lonely. And I can tell you quite easily what makes me sad. It's the thoughts about how nobody really cares about me--that I'm not important or worth anyone's time.  And I can have these thoughts whether I'm around people or not; in fact, many times they are at their worst around a group of people. So obviously, loneliness is an interior state, not an exterior one. 

I like what Jean says here about loneliness being a good thing...a place to start our pursuit of God. We are to seek so we can find; yet at the same time, we are drawn by a force far greater than ourselves. Such a lovely mystery.

I never have to feel alone. I really believe that. But I do feel alone sometimes...many times.  And in that place of longing and need, the mystery of God fills my soul and tells me I am loved...that I have value, that I am connected, and I belong. And in understanding this, and knowing it has nothing to do with how I can manipulate or strive or maneuver myself into a place of value; but I just believe it...somehow I tap into this river of living water. In that place there is no loneliness...and oh, how I wish I could learn to stay there.

You should Google Jean Vanier; what a fascinating man. Jesus told us we would know people who really understand God by their "fruits". Paul told us that anyone who says they love God will love people. And so, I feel safe listening to what this man has to say about God. Therefore, I will see this current state of loneliness as my opportunity to become 'irrigated'; and through this grace become a blessing to others--as Jean is. Oh Lord, let it be so.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Instruction Manual from God

Funerals are never something someone looks forward to going to. We try our best to proclaim them a celebration of someones life, but it's never really much of a festive atmosphere. People are grieving a loss, and it's always a tough time. You don't show up expecting a party--you go because you want to honor a life that touched you, or support a family in mourning.

And so it was with the funeral I attended last week. I very much wanted to support my friend who's father had passed; but I'd be lying if I said I really wanted to be there. Besides it being a sad occasion, it was held at the church that I had left years back; the church I spent over half my life attending, and the one my husband still works at. Awkward.

I know most of the awkwardness comes only from how I'm perceiving things; and I've been working really hard at trying to see things in a new light. I've been praying a lot for God to help me believe I'm not the enemy of the fundamentalist...nor is the fundamentalist my enemy. We are apprehending the Bible differently, that's all. I don't have to put my defenses up. I can leave my judgmental thoughts at the door, and enter any church as just another human who is trying to figure it out.

And it worked! I walked in feeling no anxiety, sat by an old friend who still attends, (and I'm pretty sure believes I've gone off the deep end) as well as had a real connection with her that was free of any animosity. So far so good; I was hopeful to get through it without incident.

Near the end the pastor concluded with, "It is at these times we are faced with the reality of death. We know where (name of deceased) is because of what he believed. Do you know where you will go when that time comes? I know (name of deceased) would want me to take this opportunity to"... and then it was game over for me.

I'm not writing this post to clobber the pastor. I know his heart; he is a deeply compassionate and loving man. But what he stood up there and preached was horrible in my opinion; and wrong. Of course, when it comes to matters of faith, nobody can prove what's right and what's wrong. But when anyone is trying to scare people into heaven, and using the Bible as their authority; then I can't help but take issue with it. This is just my way of sorting out those way of processing my frustration.

So, back to where the pastor was opening up an invitation for people to be saved. ("saved" meaning knowing where your going to go when you die--which is not what I think the Bible really means by saved at all, but I'll address that a little more later) And how do people have this assurance? By believing the correct things, like the deceased person did. But I guarantee you nobody really thinks that way. Who would ever say Hitler went straight to heaven because he believed the correct doctrine about Jesus? Wouldn't you even say that because Hitler believed so strongly the doctrine that God will torture anyone eternally who doesn't believe in Jesus, he had no problem at all putting to death millions of Jews who clearly would be going to hell anyway?

It became evident the pastor didn't think just believing the right things is what saves you either, when he held up the Bible declaring it the "instruction manual written by God" that you had to follow. This means obeying the rules, of course, because the Bible is full of them. "There are things you may not want to give up"...he explained. I wonder what things he was referring to...drinking, smoking, gambling?  I'm sure the homosexual man who was there (I recognized him from PFLAG--he just married his partner; a very sweet couple) assumed it meant giving up having sex with his spouse. I'm pretty sure he's going to stay "unsaved".

We know what instructions Jesus gave the "rich young ruler". He told him if he wanted to "inherit eternal life" (actually, "life age-during" is the correct translation; but let's not go there right now) he needed to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. This is when everyone switches to, "oh, we can't be saved by works. It's only by grace." So, your telling me the gay man can be saved and still be gay? Well...there is that verse that says, "No one who is immoral or worships idols or is unfaithful in marriage or is a pervert or behaves like a homosexual  will share in God’s kingdom. Neither will any thief or greedy person or drunkard or anyone who curses and cheats others." So, sounds like he's going to hell after all...along with the drunkard. (does it count if it's just on the weekends?) But wait, in the same chapter it says, "All things are lawful to me, but all things are not profitable". Then there's that bit in Romans that says that love is all that the law demands. Are you confused yet? Is the instruction book not clear enough for you? 

Alright, let's just skip to the "most important verse in the Bible" (the pastor's quote) to see if we can make some sense of this. "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, if not through me". To the fundamentalist, this means only Christians go to heaven. (too bad so sad Buddhists, but clearly, our way is the only way) And how does Jesus take us to the Father? Well, he sacrificed himself to appease God's wrath so we can be forgiven. If we believe that, then we are in. (because "coming to the Father" means going to heaven when we die, right? Because that's when we'll finally "see" him...I wonder if he has a beard?) But let's look at what Jesus says next. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?" Then he said if they really believed this, they would be doing the same works as Jesus--if fact, even greater works, "because I am going to the Father". When was the last time you saw someone call a dead person out of their grave? Maybe this is because none of us have been "taken to the Father" yet. Just a thought.

I think if we can see being "saved" as being transformed in the same way Jesus was transformed, things will start making a little more sense. How does this happen? Through the grace of God...which I'm not going to even pretend I comprehend. But I'm hanging on to the hope that someday I will see it not only myself; but eventually we will see all things being made new. Along the way, I'm trying to follow the "Spirit of truth" that Jesus promised to send. "But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." And I will keep reading the Bible, because I think it's the most beautifully disturbing, spiritual, mystical, confusing, conflicting mystery of a book I've ever read. Instruction manual though? I think not.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pondering the Starfish

I started this blog as a way to nail down and give explanation to how my spiritual beliefs had changed. I wanted to make clear to myself and anyone who asked why and how this happened...although, only one person ever did ask. I promised myself I was not going to let that bother me--why should it? The best part about how I now saw things is that I was no longer responsible for other people's faith. But the truth is, it did bother me. A lot. I wanted everyone to have the amazing, stronger faith I now had...if I could just get them to see that God's will is stronger than man's, and His will is to save us all. Everything's going to be alright--we can trust it! Though the more time goes by, the more I have to ask I really have this faith?

To think I could nail down faith, or give explanation to it, is probably a pretty good indicator of the level of my arrogance. But what is arrogance really, except a defense against our own fear. To have to so staunchly defend against criticism of our beliefs seems only to shed light on our lack of faith, doesn't it? And I don't say that to give myself (or anyone) a big guilt trip about not having enough faith...that kind of guilt is blessedly one of the things I've been able to let go of. (for the most part) But the ironic thing is, the less guilty I feel, the more confused I get. It's as if the guilt gave my life meaning, and without it, I feel lost.

What is it about guilt (or trying to avoid it) that makes it such an amazing motivator? I spent my life trying to be set free from my shame, (with very little results) but at least it gave me something to do. As I was running away from guilt, what was I running towards? Praise? I don't know if it's fair to say that. Worth? I think that's closer to the truth. How can you possibly have value if you haven't accomplished anything? So the more I tried to accomplish something, the more I felt as if I wasn't accomplishing anything, the more guilty I felt, the more I told myself I needed to try harder...and round and round it went.

Stepping off the merry-go-round felt great at first. Though, truth be told, I am missing the feeling of movement; circles or not. What the hell am I supposed to be doing? This is not just a selfish need to appease my guilt, though surely some of that remains. But is there not in my heart a very real desire to help alleviate suffering in the world? And this need exists in people of all faiths, as well as in people with no faith. In fact, I often see it the strongest in the non-religious...maybe because they don't think it's fair that people should suffer so.

I want to believe there is meaning in suffering. I've seen it...I know it can be true. But it rings hallow at times...when the suffering you see is so horrific all you can feel is sick. At church once (a long time ago) I heard an allegory to try to inspire you to do good. Here it is:
One morning an elderly man was walking on a nearly deserted beach. He came upon a boy surrounded by thousands and thousands of starfish. As eagerly as he could, the youngster was picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean.
Puzzled, the older man looked at the young boy and asked, "Little boy, what are you doing?"
The youth responded without looking up, "I'm trying to save these starfish, sir."
The old man chuckled aloud, and queried, "Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?"
Holding a starfish in his hand, the boy turned to the man and, gently tossing the starfish into the water, said, "It will make a difference to that one!"

Am I the only one who wants to weep instead of feeling inspired? Are we really supposed to feel good because we've done our good little deed instead of feeling complete despair and anguish when looking at the thousands we can't help? REALLY? 

I know, I know...what good is it to sit in anguish and not at least try to help? I get it. But trying to sort out a God who is supposedly in control and yet allows all that pain...well, there is no sorting it out. I still try, because I can't help myself...or maybe it's God who is sorting himself out in me; I don't know. I'm not going to worry about how anyone else sorts it out...if staying true to a religion is how someone hangs onto hope, at least they are hanging on. No longer do I want to find fault in someone's faith, and especially will I never criticize someone who has none. It's less painful to see no meaning in the endless shore of death than to try and trust a God that is incapable of fixing it. As for me, I'm inclined to think that death itself is part of the solution, even as ugly as it seems to us. And when I look at the trees and the flowers and the seasons, I can see that death never has the last word. 

When I was looking up the starfish story above, I came across the Wikipedia page on it. The story is actually derived from a 16 page essay called "The Star Thrower" which was published in 1969 in "The Unexpected Universe". Since then the story has changed quite a lot, and I think much of the meaning as well. I think it's fitting to end here with some quotes from it to ponder.

In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.
"It's still alive," I ventured.
"Yes," he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sunk in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.
..."There are not many who come this far," I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. "Do you collect?"
"Only like this," he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. "And only for the living." He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water. "The stars," he said, "throw well. One can help them."
..."I do not collect," I said uncomfortably, the wind beating at my garments. "Neither the living nor the dead. I gave it up a long time ago. Death is the only successful collector."
  (Later, after some thoughts on our relationships to other animals and to the universe, the narrator says.. )
"On a point of land, I found the star thrower...I spoke once briefly. "I understand," I said. "Call me another thrower." Only then I allowed myself to think, He is not alone any longer. After us, there will be others...We were part of the rainbow...Perhaps far outward on the rim of space a genuine star was similarly seized and flung...For a moment, we cast on an infinite beach together beside an unknown hurler of suns... We had lost our way, I thought, but we had kept, some of us, the memory of the perfect circle of compassion from life to death and back to life again - the completion of the rainbow of existence"

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Wrath of God

Is there anything more terrifying than the wrath of God? When I read the Bible as a child, it seemed to me God was angry and disappointed most the time. I'm certainly not the only one who saw it that way. Once, when a group of my Christian friends were sitting around talking about the old testament and the judgements therein, one person in the group finally ended the discussion with: "I don't understand the judgements of God. I'm just thankful Jesus took my punishment for me so now I don't have to worry about it". This troubles me. I want to understand God...I want to trust God and see his judgments as fair and good. Now that I no longer believe that the wrath of God will last forever, I can take a deeper look at how the Bible describes it, and see if something else comes to light other than disgust at humanity.

"Who knoweth the power of Thine anger? And according to Thy fear -- Thy wrath?
To number our days aright let [us] know, And we bring the heart to wisdom.
 Turn back, O Jehovah, till when? And repent concerning Thy servants.
 Satisfy us at morn [with] Thy kindness, And we sing and rejoice all our days.
Cause us to rejoice according to the days Wherein Thou hast afflicted us, The years we have seen evil."

Here we have an example of the wisdom of fearing God. But there's more to it than just being afraid that if you disobey your going to get it, don't you think? It's an understanding of God's power (the anger IS power) and this understanding bringing wisdom. (Fearing God is the BEGINNING of wisdom; not the end. Perfect love casts out all fear, right?) I love how there is a plea to God to repent (meaning "change your mind about us God!") and to give balance to the suffering. ("Let us see rejoicing ACCORDING to the days we were afflicted.") This seems a pretty bold request if the idea is supposed to be "be afraid of God, because sin makes Him super mad, and really all we deserve is eternal suffering."

 I make man more rare than fine gold, And a common man than pure gold of Ophir.
 Therefore the heavens I cause to tremble, And the earth doth shake from its place, In the wrath of Jehovah of Hosts, And in a day of the heat of his anger.

I think the "therefore" is very significant here. What's the reason for the wrath and the day of heat and anger? "I make man more rare than fine gold." Pretty great news, if you ask me.

In overflowing wrath I hid my face [for] a moment from thee, And in kindness age-during I have loved thee, Said thy Redeemer -- Jehovah!
For, the waters of Noah [is] this to Me, In that I have sworn -- the waters of Noah Do not pass again over the earth -- So I have sworn, Wrath is not upon thee, Nor rebuke against thee.
For the mountains depart, and the hills remove, And My kindness from thee departeth not, And the covenant of My peace removeth not, Said hath thy loving one -- Jehovah.

Wrath for a moment...kindness age-during. Pretty straight forward; well, except for the age-during part. What the heck is "age-during" supposed to mean? It seems this is a discussion about what is going on at that time--during that age, and what this group of people are suffering during this span of history. "I have loved you through all of it" is maybe a clearer way to understand it.

Therefore, thus said the Lord Jehovah: Because of your all becoming dross, Therefore, lo, I am gathering you unto the midst of Jerusalem, A gathering of silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, Unto the midst of a furnace -- to blow on it fire, to melt it, So do I gather in Mine anger and in My fury, And I have let rest, and have melted you.  And I have heaped you up, And blown on you in the fire of My wrath, And ye have been melted in its midst.
As the melting of silver in the midst of a furnace, So are ye melted in its midst, And ye have known that I, Jehovah, I have poured out My fury upon you.'

God is taking full responsibility for what His people are suffering. Do you think this fury is hateful? Is He just so disgusted, He just can't deal anymore? Or is this wrath and fury purposeful...even redemptive?

he who is believing in the Son, hath life age-during; and he who is not believing the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God doth remain upon him.'

Is this saying that anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus is going to eternal hell? I don't see that. What does it mean to see life during this age? And what does it mean to have the wrath of God remain on you?
but, according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou dost treasure up to thyself wrath, in a day of wrath and of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who shall render to each according to his works; to those, indeed, who in continuance of a good work, do seek glory, and honour, and incorruptibility -- life age-during; and to those contentious, and disobedient, indeed, to the truth, and obeying the unrighteousness -- indignation and wrath

Here is an assurance of fairness of judgement..."render to each according to his works". Do you think the indignation and wrath to those who are disobedient (this is addressing believers) will last forever? Or do you think there is power and love inside the wrath that will result in making man as pure as gold?

and God doth commend His own love to us, that, in our being still sinners, Christ did die for us;
much more, then, having been declared righteous now in his blood, we shall be saved through him from the wrath; for if, being enemies, we have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in his life.

First, Christ dying for us (not instead of us--big difference) while we are still sinners is declaring God's love that is unconditional. (all of our sin does not stop it) Because of this, we have been reconciled to God (meaning we stop running from God in fear because we think He's just out to get us)...NOT God being reconciled to us. (as in, "now God can forgive and accept us because Jesus took all of God's wrath for us") Now that WE are reconciled (we are trusting that God is love) the saving (transformation/completion into perfection) can start. I really don't think this wrath is eternal anger and rejection. In the light of all that we have just read, it seems to simply be discipline that has the purpose of refinement. Once you are "saved" (perfected) then wrath is no longer needed. If being "saved" is simply "being forgiven", then why does it keep saying that we SHALL be saved?

giving back to no one evil for evil; providing right things before all men.
If possible -- so far as in you -- with all men being in peace;
not avenging yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath, for it hath been written, `Vengeance [is] Mine, I will recompense again, saith the Lord;' if, then, thine enemy doth hunger, feed him; if he doth thirst, give him drink; for this doing, coals of fire thou shalt heap upon his head;
Be not overcome by the evil, but overcome, in the good, the evil.

Are we to love our enemies with only the hope that someday God is really going to let them have it? Or are we to trust God with giving a fair judgement because he loves our enemies as much as us? Maybe God is asking us not to be vengeful because our vengeance has no love. 

So then, my brethren beloved, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,
for the wrath of a man the righteousness of God doth not work

God's wrath works's does not. If you think you understand God's wrath towards "sinners" because they piss you off had better reconsider.  
among whom also we all did walk once in the desires of our flesh, doing the wishes of the flesh and of the thoughts, and were by nature children of wrath

"By nature children of wrath"...does this mean God was pissed off at us from birth? Or does is mean "by nature" we (all of us) start off doing the wishes of the flesh, and suffer the consequences of that. (wrath) If this is how we all start off, (whether we want to or not) who do we think we are condemning our brother? (which seems to always be Paul's ultimate point)

As many as I love, I do convict and chasten; be zealous, then, and reform

Again, we can trust that with God, love and discipline go hand in hand. I think this is true for ALL his creation. Do you have to be a Christian in order to receive loving discipline? Does God love us because we decided to love Him--or is it the other way around? Does that love and purposeful discipline change just because our physical bodies have died?

he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, that hath been mingled unmixed in the cup of His anger, and he shall be tormented in fire and brimstone before the holy messengers, and before the Lamb,and the smoke of their torment doth go up to ages of ages

Here we are at Revelations; when supposedly God finally gives all those rotten sinners what they have coming. I want to point out that this torment is happening "before" the holy messengers and the Lamb "to ages and ages". (or maybe, through the ages?) The Young's Literal translation (which this is) is considered the most accurate. (other translations use "forever and ever" instead of "to ages of ages", which is inaccurate. That is not just my opinion--it's a fact) Do you really think Jesus and the angels are going to FOREVER stand and watch people being tormented? Also, look at the very first verse in Revelations:

"The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place."

Do you think it's possible that Revelations is talking about what has been going on throughout the ages in the spiritual realm, not the physical?

And I saw another sign in the heaven, great and wonderful, seven messengers having the seven last plagues, because in these was completed the wrath of God

Well, if the previous wrath that is served in the wine torments people forever, how is it then that the wrath of God is "completed"?

and the nations of the saved in its light shall walk, and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it, and its gates shall not at all be shut by day...Happy are those doing His commands that the authority shall be theirs unto the tree of the life, and by the gates they may enter into the city; and without [outside] are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the whoremongers, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one who is loving and is doing a lie.

First of all, I'm not sure what a "whoremonger" is, but it doesn't seem they are burning in the lake of fire. (where they appeared to be last time we saw them...the scripture above is just a few verses from the end) These whoremongers are simply wandering around outside the 'gate'...which is never closed. It seems a strange way to end things...unless of course this really isn't the end of things, but a new beginning of things. (Maybe the spiritual manifesting itself in the physical in a completely new way?) I really don't know, but I think we need to strongly consider that Revelations has been grossly misunderstood...along with the wrath of God. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Good News or Gospel?

"The Great Commission", as it is called, is Jesus' last instructions to his disciples. First he tells them that "all authority in heaven and earth" had been given to him, and then he tells them to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to do everything that he had taught them. 

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." (Matt. 28:16)

I never noticed this before. Doubt? What could they possibly doubt? They saw Jesus heal and do all kids of miracles, raise people from death, die himself, raise himself...what are they wavering about? I don't know. But if the gospel we are to preach is "believe the correct doctrine and never have any doubts about it", doesn't look like Jesus disciples are even capable of that.

Speaking of correct doctrine, I want to address the doctrine of Jesus crucifixion being a substitutionary punishment for sin. I've talked about this a lot before, because I see it as the main problem with how we relate to God. (it makes God incapable of forgiving unless somebody pays a price--can you imagine a earthly parent like that?) But here I'm going to come at it from a different angle. If Jesus dying for our sins is the main point of the gospel message, which at least in my experience it has been, then how could Jesus have sent out his disciples to preach it before he even died. 

Over and over Jesus is preaching "good news" and telling his disciples to preach it. Here is one example:

 "And it came to pass thereafter, that he was going through every city and village, preaching and proclaiming good news of the reign of God, and the twelve [are] with him"(Luke 8:1)

I'm using the Youngs' Literal, because for some reason other translations use "gospel" sometimes, and "good news" at other times. The Young's Literal only uses "good news". I don't know why translators thought it necessary to make the good news into the "gospel", but I can't help thinking it must have been because they needed to distinguish between the two so their doctrines would make sense.

How did we get to a place where correct doctrine was the difference between being saved or being damned? I think this verse sheds some light on that:

"but even if we or a messenger out of heaven may proclaim good news to you different from what we did proclaim to you -- anathema let him be!" (Gal. 1:8)

When I saw this, I thought I would have to retract my statement that Paul never mentions hell, (from my "Here Comes the Hammer" post) because I thought that "anathema" meant a sentence of eternal hell. But, according to it doesn't. It's definitely not a good thing; a curse of sorts, but "eternal" does not need to be applied, nor anything to do with the afterlife for that matter. Paul is pissed, no doubt, because somebody is messing with his teachings. If Paul is this upset, it must be they are messing with Jesus divinity--maybe denying the trinity?

"When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong. He used to eat with Gentile followers of the Lord, until James sent some Jewish followers. Peter was afraid of the Jews and soon stopped eating with Gentiles...but when I saw that they were not really obeying the truth that is in the good news, I corrected Peter in front of everyone and said:
Peter, you are a Jew, but you live like a Gentile. So how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Gal.2:11-14)

Paul is upset because certain Jews want to keep everybody under the Jewish law. So, Paul is wanting to give anathema to people who exclude people because of rules. I want people to reconsider the validity of the "homosexuality is a sin" rule, because it excludes you think Paul would be upset? Do you think he would be telling me that "I don't take the Bible seriously enough"? Do you think he would understand my anger over it? I also want people to believe that God can save everyone--that physical death is not a hindrance to the power of God. Do you think Paul would be warning people that I'm preaching a message other than his, when he said himself that all would be made alive in Christ? Here is an excerpt from Thomas Talbott's essay called "St. Paul's Universalism" which I think sheds light on what the good news really is.

"Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” This is typically Pauline. In the eleventh chapter of Romans, Paul again writes: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:32); and in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians, he writes: “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ”(15:22). In each of these texts, we encounter a contrast between two universal statements, and in each case the first “all” seems to determine the scope of the second. Accordingly, when Paul asserts in Romans 5:18 that Christ’s one “act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all,” he evidently has in mind every descendant of Adam who stands under the judgment of condemnation; when he insists in Romans 11:32 that God is merciful to all, he has in mind every human being whom God has “shut up” to, or has “imprisoned” in, disobedience; and finally, when he asserts in I Corinthians 15:22 that “all will be made alive in Christ,” he has in mind everyone who has died in Adam. The grammatical evidence here seems utterly decisive; you can reject it only if you are prepared to reject what is right there before your eyes. And though there seems to be no shortage of those who are prepared to do just that, the arguments one actually encounters have every appearance, it seems to me, of a grasping at straws.

I know that when most Christians read "one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life", they hear "Jesus death makes it possible for God to forgive us so we can go to heaven". But it doesn't say that. Here is one possible definition for justification:  "the act of vindicating or defending against criticism"

Humans criticise, we condemn, we want people punished for their sins...forever. If people hurt us, they need to pay for it! But it seems that Paul is saying there are two stages of being human. The first stage leads to death, the second to life. We can't help the first stage--it leads to the second stage. (sort of like the stages of a butterfly; why condemn a caterpillar, when that is how it's created in order to turn into a butterfly) Dare I say Paul is saying this was the plan of God from the beginning, when he clearly says it was God who " has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all." (Romans 11:32) So maybe, Jesus' righteousness is vindicating that being human is a beautiful thing; or at least it will be when we are finished.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ouch...It Still Hurts

I'm going to get really personal. I'm going to tell the story of my breakup with a good friend. It's a hurt I just haven't been able to really let go of, and I'm hoping maybe working through it in this way will help. I think this friend subconsciously represents fundamentalism in general to me. She's one of a few people that when they come to mind...I hate to say this, but I feel a sort of disgust. I know this is because I'm not relating to them as people, but instead as a belief system and mind set that I want nothing to do with; that I can honestly say I hate. But feeling disgust towards another person...well, it's really wrong. "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness." (James 3:9) I'm hoping that if I define the belief system I hate, I can view it as separate from the people I need to love. And so, here it goes.

I took a long time (a couple years) to tell my more conservative friends that my daughter was gay. I didn't decide to tell them so that I could convince them or even discuss with them my views on the matter...I completely understood that was pointless. But, if I was going to be around them, I needed them to know so they wouldn't talk about how wrong and sinful gays are in my presence. (Which they did more than I think any of them realized.) I told myself that as long as the subject didn't come up, then we would be just fine. I underestimated, though, the damage that had already been done in my heart. With one friend in particular, I wanted to get these hurts out in the open so that maybe they could heal. That's what I told myself, anyway. But if I'm really honest, I have to confess I didn't expect there to be any healing. If I really thought the friendship could be saved, I would have spoken to her directly. Instead, I sent an email. Here it is:

Dang, I've been sitting here for the last 10 minutes just trying to figure out how to start this. I'm sure it's no surprise to you I've been avoiding you. I've been telling myself I'm not responsible to try and mend the friendship, because your not trying either.  But I'm the one with the bitter heart, and so I'm the one who needs to confess.
It started when you told me your son had refused to play at a church, and you were proud of him because he was upholding his values.  I figured it was because the church accepted homosexuals...and it hurt.  I know you see those churches (and myself) as not taking the Bible seriously...and that hurts too.  Just because people don't agree on what the Bible is teaching doesn't mean they don't take it seriously.
Then, I saw a Facebook post where you said you were disappointed in the Washington legislators.  I knew that was also about the gay issue, and sure enough someone posted "Romans 1", and then another "the ungodliness".  That just pushed me over the edge...I still get angry when I think about it.  I honestly wanted to tell all your "godly" homeschool friends where they could shove it.  I almost posted this link to your wall, but thought better of it. (I gave a link to my "here comes the hammer" post, that deals with Romans 1. It's in Sept. 2011 if you want to read it, but I can guarantee you that she didn't)
I'm sorry I've held onto this for so long, but I knew it was nothing you could apologize for--so what was the point?  But, it seems the point is me not being a big fat phony, and pretending I'm OK.  I'm not...and I know you think I should be able to just accept your views and not be offended by them, but that is a lot easier said than done .  I do love you, and I regret that our friendship could not survive this controversy...I will always hope and pray that maybe someday things will change.  

Her response didn't shock me -- it was just what I expected. It was a very detailed explanation for why I was wrong to feel the way I was feeling; and who knows, maybe I was. But the part that really bothered me -- the part that I knew was true but didn't want to know was true -- was her beliefs about hell. 

This friend was one of only two people who would dare to read the book "Hope Beyond Hell" at my urging. (Well, she said she read it. There is a good possibility she read very little of it.) The book explains very clearly that the word 'eternal' is mistranslated in many places in the Bible, and most importantly in the scriptures that reference judgement. It gives a very good argument that God's discipline could never go on forever, because that would be pointless. (Unless your point was to torture someone without end.) So, here is my friend's defense for why it's wrong for me to be "unconditionally accepting"of my daughter's unrepentant sin:

My guess is that you feel conflict over how God can be what you were taught about Him and yet still be a loving God.  I believe that hell is real and that discipline does not make Him an unloving God; not exactly sure where you are on all of these beliefs, but just stating where I am coming from. God clearly defines sin and how he will deal with it; and absolute truth and holiness do exist.  Therefore right and wrong and morality clearly exist.  We just can't make up morality relative to what seems right to us.  In reality, true love separates.  It has boundaries.  It hurts and it heals and when we step outside of His perfect plan for our lives we do not feel peacefulness in our lives and this is one of his ways of bringing us back to a right relationship with the Father.   I also believe that Jesus is God's son and that He came and surrendered Himself as payment for our sins.  I believe that if we ask Jesus to forgive us of our sins and follow him, that He will cleanse us and be our advocate before God and redeem us to Holiness and eternal life.    I believe that if we live in any type of unrepentant sin and try to find ways to justify that sin (by being unconditionally accepting), it doesn't change the absolute definition of it as sin.  I have to always be praying for myself and my family as we grapple with our own areas of sin. It is always evident that we are not pleasing Him when we are feeling the void of His peace and blessings in our lives. Thankful for much grace and guidance and remembering that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.  

I want to point out some things here. First, did I ever say discipline makes God unloving? I said discipline that HAS NO END is unloving. She says God clearly defines sin and how He will deal with it. So, she's saying God said clearly, "No same sex relations" (along with not eating pork...just saying) and if you do, He's going to deal with it!! How does God deal with sin? By rejecting you forever, of course!... UNLESS you are "in Christ". If you're "in Christ" then God deals with your sin with grace and forgiveness. If you're not "in Christ" then he deals with your sin with eternal hell. That is her belief about God. Here she makes that even clearer:

I am concerned that you have allowed teachings of people who have adapted their definitions of truth to their ideals to filter into your belief system because it is more soothing for you. I understand your heart to protect you daughter and to understand her.  My understanding of the bible seems quite different from yours, but I hope you remember that I did spend a lot of time reading a lot of literature that you asked  me to read and to have an open mind toward it. I found it interesting and challenging.  The spirit of God did not lead me to accepting those writings, especially when taken in the context of the totality of scripture.   I do appreciate that you helped me to go through an exercise to seek the bible more and to gain deeper understanding about why I believe what I believe.  I just can't let go of my belief that God is exactly what the scripture says.  If I am wrong than I will meet your definition of God one day and he will love me unconditionally into heaven.  There is no risk for me.  If you are wrong, you may be jeopardizing a lot more and may be responsible for that outcome.  That is a heavy burden and a huge risk that I wouldn't take on the opinions of these people you are following.  Ultimately God will judge and we will both know the truth.  I am at complete peace with my belief and where I am. It is ok if we do not agree as each person must be completely convinced that they stand on a rock.

And so, because she believes the right things, she is safe. I am not safe, because I'm not believing the right things. (Because I listened to "those people," who I might add are all Christians...just not the right kind of Christians, who follow the right rules and believe the right things.) That is the rock that all fundamentalists stand on. How can that not cause me to feel disgust?

I don't know if this exercise has helped...I feel just as troubled as the first day I read her response. But it does help to think maybe someone will read this and think, "Do I really think God can only accept those who believe the correct things?" In the meantime, I pray God will use all this turmoil to show me what it means to be "in Christ" -- because I believe with all my heart he loves my daughter unconditionally and always will.