Sunday, October 6, 2013

What Christianity has taught me, and why I am still a Christian

I have been told on several occasions that I am not a Christian, because I have liberal views about Jesus and the Bible. Things like hanging out with atheists to learn more about their perspective, to supporting gay rights, and more, have gotten me labeled as a heretic, blasphemer, sinful heathen, vile Christian, and many other colorful names that I won’t put in this article. Labels have never worked well for me because I cant find one that fits me perfectly.  

Before I explain why I am still a Christian, I want to take a moment to describe what being a Christian has taught me. I learned the real meaning of love, from being a Christian. The lessons of Jesus have truly changed the man that I am today. Just ask my wife. My wife and I, have a marriage that almost all of our friends, and anyone who knows us, envies on a regular basis. Not a week goes by, that someone doesn’t tell Jenise or I, that they wish we had what we have. But it wasn’t always like that. You can read all about it, if you want in my article about “my personal testimony.” In a nutshell, I learned how to love my wife when she wasn’t doing things my way. I learned to love her when she was being irrational, irresponsible, illogical, and just plain unfair. I learned to love her, the way Jesus loved us, when He was willing to die on the cross, for people who did, and would, despise Him. I learned about Agape love. I have always been told that “true love is blind.” The lessons in the Bible actually taught me that “true love is NOT blind. True love sees everything, but loves anyway.” If anyone wants to know, that is the secret to our happiness and longevity of our marriage. I didn’t know these things, before I was a Christian. In fact, I had a very “primal” attitude that only the strong had the right to survive. If someone hurt you, or took advantage of you, it was your own fault for being so week. That was the attitude my wife had to endure for so many years. Looking back, I have no idea why she was so determined to stay with me, in spite of my loveless, emotionless, and heartless beliefs.  
After reading about Jesus, and what the new testament says about how a husband should love his wife, I slowly changed my attitude towards my wife. I am indebted to my Christian faith for not just saving my marriage, but for making it a marriage that almost every person who really knows my wife and I, wish they could have. I know there are parts of the Bible that are not about love, and some parts are just outright horrible. But this isn’t an article in defense of my faith or the Bible. Some people have said things like “Well, you shouldn’t need a God to be good,” or “you are a pretty shallow person if you need ancient bronze-age fairy tales to be a good husband.” And to all those things I say “So what?” Good for you, if you can be good without a God. Good for you, if you are a good spouse without “fairy tales” and parables. I couldn’t. I needed those things in my life to change my perspective. And as a result, I have an amazingly strong and happy marriage of 20 years and counting. Every person that has ever criticized me, could not say the same, regardless if they were Christian or Atheist.

Now in regards to why I am still a Christian, who ever said that a Christian had to be perfect? Not any Christian I have ever met. Not the bible. Not any church I have attended. There seems to be this notion that “Christians” are supposed to act a certain way or do certain things. That’s all well and good, but none of this has been documented in the Bible that I can find. How about this? Being a Christian is a journey. And some people are further along in their journey. I will even retract the word “further” and replace it with “at a different place” in their journey. The bible was meant to be an experience for everyone. Everyone I know has different stories and different experiences with God. That says a lot to me. We are all supposed to have different experiences. Just like the prodigal son had a different experience than Esther. I could go on and on. The point is, I am a Christian. And for all the things I do that are “unchristian-like” in some people’s minds, is only a testimony that I need Jesus in my life. I am not as bad of a person as I was 15 years ago, and I am confident I will be a better person in 15 more years. But mostly, I am a Christian for what I believe and uphold. I uphold the divinity of Christ, the sonship of Christ, the incarnation, the fact that God the Salvation is imaged in Christ, and I hold that Salvation is by virtue of God alone; this salvation revealed as living revelation in the person of Jesus, and his actions: And that this atonement has alone been revealed by Jesus, the Incarnate Body, and all of this subsumed in the Godhead.

I uphold that God's Love, and Justice, and all of God's divine attributes work in one accord, one unity, for divine purpose in harmony, not in dichotomy.  I do not deny, or pit any of God's attributes against one another.  I hold that Salvation is a simultaneous work of God's Love, Justice, Mercy, and Grace in one unanimous accord, and will, for the holy, and righteous purposes of God.

I uphold that Christ was born of the chosen virgin Mary mother of Jesus, crucified by Pontious Pilate, dying, was buried, and resurrected to sit at the right hand of God the Father.

I affirm, and confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, and is God the Son, beloved son of the Father, conceived of God by the overshadowing of God the Holy Spirit; and established through his being, and actions, the Kingdom of God in Earth, as it is in Heaven.

I affirm that Salvation is by God and the exercise of God's power, nature, and agency - through Grace and Faith given by God to the Human, and uphold Monergism, and Monistic Agency whereby God achieves his will in the Human.

That I hold that Salvation is for all and achieved in all because of the majesty, power, nature, and attributes of God does not deny saving faith, nor does it imply "damnable", and it certainly does not mean that I am worshipping a "different god".  I worship the God.  Ho Theos.  Being itself.  The God of All in All, which the Bible testifies of, and which the God gives revelation through, as God also gives revelation through Creation, Revelation, Prophecy, Divine Encounters, and the Truths of God.

In so far as Universalism goes the only thing it does is take the issue of Eternal Damnation, Eternity, or Aion-Aionios (from the approach of both Temporality, or Eternality) and approach it from a different angle.  Which is that God's actions are corrective, and restorative (which is perfectly in line with his attributes in unity, and his personhood) rather than merely afflictive, or even anticorrective as in the case of Damnationalists who believe that "Hell increaseth the sin, and where sin increaseth, the wrath afflicts abounding all the more".

It is possible to derive Universalism from the spirit of the Biblical themes, and it is especially possible to derive from Philosophical approaches to Ontology, especially in light of Monism, and Monergism.

For example it is possible for a person to hold to both Eternal Damnation, and Eternal Salvation for all persons simultaneously.  One need only take the verses as saying, expressed by the Apostle Paul, that the "old man" (sin, and our identification with a sinful nature) is eternally damned, and destroyed.  It (by Christ) is put to an end in us.  It is by virtue of God's renewing power that the "new man" (righteousness, and our identification with the righteous nature in unity with Christ, as children of God, etc) is by Christ given life, and freedom in the Lord as silver is purged of dross, or wheat is purged of chaff.

I hold that God's Justice is so thorough that it will not allow sin, and a sinful identity to remain even in a state of imprisoned affliction.  And in doing so restores through Christ the very health, and holiness of that which God has expressed through his Creation.  In other words: God is not content to enshrine sin in a closet, but destroys it, so that the goodness of his workmanship (all of creation) shall live restored to him. 

God is not content to contain crime in a prison designed to afflict.  The purpose of God is to achieve the end of crime altogether such that the prison has served its corrective purpose, and the prisoners (by the omnipotent power of God, and the omniscient knowledge of how to achieve restoration in what he himself has made) rehabilitated, and reconciled through Christ to the Father.  Just as we, once being prisoners to evil, and in allegiance to the Enemy, were by that very merciful Christ reconciled back, for the glory of God, and all the goodness that is of his Name, and Nature.  Even as we were saved back to ourselves, seated in Heavenly Places in Eternity beyond Time, saved to Christ with whom, and in whom we have unity in God, for Christ, and through Christ, and in Christ; so too will "all be reconciled" and "all be restored" to the glory of the Father.  Whereby for the glory of the Father true worship will be expressed (in Truth [life, and way] and in Spirit) by every knee, and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.  A confession which can only be given by one who is indwelt by the Spirit, which is the seal of Salvation, and given upon Salvation, by the Lord God Christ Almighty and Beloved Son of the Father.

To add to this, if the thief on the cross can make his declaration just hours before his death, when he saw Jesus, then I contend a person can make the same declaration to save themselves, just hours after their death. When they have witnessed Jesus. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

My friend took his own life this past Friday; He was an atheist

This past Friday, I learned that a friend of mine took his own life. He was an atheist. In fact, I met him when I joined a local atheist club in town, to get a better understanding of the atheist way of life and outlook. I gave him rides to the atheist meetings several times and we became friends on facebook. We were never overly close, but from time to time he would message me late at night when he was sad or lonely. His name was Johnny. He came from a very religious family and he always felt pressured by his family to accept God. Instead, he identified himself as a staunch atheist. He even had the atheist logo tattooed on his chest. The thing is, I don’t think he was an atheist. He would participate in the typical atheist arguments about how God wasn’t real and science has shown time again that God wasn’t needed for life to begin. But there as more to him than that. When it was just him and I, he talked about being angry with God. He talked about how he had screamed out to God in anger, and despair. He felt that his family forced religion on him as a youth, and as a result he rebelled as an adult. I don’t believe that Johnny was an atheist based on some of our late night conversations. At the very least, he was definitely curious about a lot of my ideas and opinions about the Bible, God, Jesus, the church, and religion. I can’t say if Johnny was a true atheist or not.

What I can say, is that Johnny had some well-meaning Christians in his life who may have pushed him away from God. The very people who were called to bring people to the Lord, may have been the one’s who kept Johnny from wanting God in his life. Early in the past year, Johnny’s father passed away. When this happened, I got a random message from him asking if we could talk. I agreed and he began to tell me how alone and dark he was feeling. He told me that he didn’t want to live. He wanted to mourn the loss of his father, but he felt that he was being attacked by some family and friends. He was told that his father desperately wanted him to know God. He was told that if he loved his father, he would accept Jesus because that was his father’s desire.  He was told that he will go to hell. He was told he was a disappointment to his father. I want to tell all of my Christian brethren out there, that even if you really think all of this is true; not everything that is true, is always helpful. This is not the way.

I don’t know where Johnny is right now. Since I learned of his passing, I have prayed for him, several times a day. I have prayed that God knows his heart. That God can see how confused Johnny was. How betrayed he felt. How hurt he was. I have wept for Johnny on several occasions this past weekend. I wept when I first learned of his passing. I wept when I posted the picture he drew for me on facebook. I wept this morning as I drove to the gym. And as I type this, my eyes are watering and I am choking back tears. I cannot believe that Johnny is burning in some hell right now. What I know of God, is that He is 1000 times more loving and compassionate than I could hope to be. If my heart is broken for Johnny, then God’s has to be, as well. I imagine God wrapping Johnny in his arms. I imagine Johnny weeping and saying “I’m sorry, but it hurt so bad.” And I imagine God saying “I know my son. And I love you.” To me, that is “love.” That is compassion. That is everlasting fatherly love and mercy. That is what God is.
In the Bible, Moses pleads with God to have mercy on the Israelites because they have turned their back on God. Numbers 14:11-20 says:  11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? 12 I will smite them with [a]pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.” 13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will [b]say, 16 ‘Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have [c]declared, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children [d]to the third and the fourth generations.’ 19 Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your loving kindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” 20 So the Lord said, “I have pardoned them according to your word.” The people didn’t believe in God. They didn’t trust in him, and yet God was merciful because of the prayer of Moses. Later in the Bible, Jesus does the same thing. In Luke 23:24 He says “34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. In both the Old Testament and the New, we see an example of someone who knew and loved God, pleading with God for those who did not understand. Why would Jesus pray for those who turned their back on him, if it wouldn’t do any good? I have prayed to God, on behalf of my friend Johnny, that God would see how wounded Johnny was. How confused Johnny was. How hurt Johnny was. And I know that God can see that Johnny’s despair was caused in part, by people who were supposed to be God’s representatives. The one’s who were supposed to bring Johnny to od were some of the very people who pushed Johnny away from God. I know not every Christian in Johnny’s life was like that. I know a couple of the Christians in Johnny’s life were very compassionate and we tried to show God to Johnny, in a loving way. But maybe we didn’t do enough. I don’t know.

All I know is that my friend is gone. And it hurts. Like I said, we weren’t really “that” close. But I mourn for
Johnny drew this for me last January.
I gave it to my wife for our 19th anniversary.
He was very talented. 
him like we were. I mourn for his broken heart. I mourn for his mother who lost her husband and her son in less than one year. And I pray that Christians will think about the things they say to people and be aware of when they are slamming the gates of heaven shut, in the faces of those who are wounded, hurt, and confused.

Rest in peace, Johnny. I will miss you. And I will do everything I can to make sure your death was not in vain. I will tell your story in hopes that Christians will realize how powerful and hurtful their words can be. I will tell your story to encourage Christians to tell everyone the good news about Jesus’ death, rather than the horrific news of God’s anger, wrath, and death, that too many “believe in.” 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A letter to my christian friends; especially the fundamentalists

No, I do not know Hebrew and Greek, and no, I do not have a theological degree, and no, I do not understand how everything in the Bible fits together with everything in life, including my life.
Though I'd say that my life has more value to me than any book, and anyone's life, even yours, even though some of you frustrate the hell out of me, I believe counts for more than any book.

Personally, to be honest, sometimes I hate the Bible.
I hate how it causes so much strife and conflict and war, and how people use it to hurt each other, to weigh others down so they feel like life is empty and crazy, like the universe is run by Someone who is neither dynamic nor compassionate, who is, instead, petty and capricious... how people use it to fit life and all of its meaning into some tiny box, when life is so much bigger than that...

There are beautiful things I have read in its pages... there are wonderful things... I've found things that are encouraging and challenging, things that speak powerfully, things that give hope... but there are ugly and crazy things too, at least from where I'm standing.

But, to tell the truth, what has happened to me in my life has spoken more powerfully to me than anything in the Bible. The miracles, the love of people, all those moments of beauty and wonder and joy, and those moments when I thought life was not worth living anymore, but then, somehow, I found a reason to go on...

These things speak more to me than anything I've read in the book that others fight about and use as leverage to wound each other and crush each others spirits...

I spent more years as an agnostic/atheist than a believer, and though at times I have been afraid to ask questions, for fear of God lashing out at me for doing so, though there have been times I have kept my silence, even when my heart cried out for some kind of explanation, or at least some kind of comfort or hope, I will do so no longer. I cannot help but say what I feel.

I was not raised in a church and taught to accept only the answers fed to me, but rather I was taught by my parents that it is okay to think for yourself... and I've learned that being honest matters more than just about anything.

As Shakespeare said 'In these sad times we must obey... speak what we feel, and not what we ought to say.'

If I cannot be honest with God, real with God, then what good is it to even try and engage with Him? If He just tells me to shut up when my heart is breaking, when there are questions screaming inside of me, when there are fears and doubts raging within me, then why even bother to talk to Him, let alone listen to Him?
Why even bother to believe in Him? :/

One thing I can say I've gathered from the Bible though is that people in it ask questions... and though God sometimes questions them back, He never strikes them with lightning because they questioned, and never destroys them just because they were crying out for answers...
I dare you to deny that such is the case in the Bible, or in life.
If God could not handle our questions, then mankind would have been annihilated long ago, and we wouldn't even be here talking...

So I am not afraid to ask questions, or at least not as much as I used to be.

I question the traditional belief that homosexuality is wrong. And why? Because I have had and have friends who have struggled with this and cannot find any answers to it, any way around it, though they tried as hard as they could to be something they were not, to make others happy, or presumably, make God happy, even though it seems as though they were born the way they are, and thus it seems as though God made them the way they are, and now they should feel ashamed of something that God may be responsible for... and because I feel compassion for them, I wonder why God wouldn't have compassion too, since He supposedly is near to the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit...

I question the traditional belief that the Bible is inerrant because I believe that God can work through brokenness, through messes, through writers that don't have everything right (this includes me) and because I do not believe that God fits anymore in a book than in a box, and because I believe He is more than the God of the Bible, as if the Bible was all God consisted of, but the LORD of all creation is rather the God of you and me, the Creator and Father of all, and that is a truth that words alone cannot contain or describe...

And I question the traditional belief in an everlasting hell for sinners, because I believe that God can do better than that, because I believe that real justice is found in setting things right, in making things better than they are, in restoration and reconciliation... and that God's wrath is a passionate desire to make things right, to restore, and not just some desire to exercise fury and breaks things and hurt people, as it is with us... what good is punishment, if it leads nowhere at all?
Isn't God a master of bringing good out of bad, of bringing light out of darkness?

I believe that God making His enemies into His friends is more glorious than sweeping His enemies, which presumably includes the majority of the human race, even those who try to live and love as best they can, under a rug forever.
And I believe that God's glory is not in a show of power, but is in His character, and in His heart... that when Moses saw God's glory, he saw a God who was compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness...

I believe it is God's character and heart that is His glory, and when He is glorified in all the earth, it will be the glory of His character and His heart that will be spread... and in that day people will go out with joy and be led forth in peace, and the mountains and the hills will break out into shouts of joy before them, and the trees of the field will clap their hands...

I believe that the day will come when all of this fighting and bickering will be done, when God shall judge the nations, and settle disputes for many peoples, and when we shall beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks, when nation shall not rise against nation (nor individual shall rise against individual), and we shall not learn war anymore...

I believe that God will swallow up death for all time, and will wipe away tears from all faces, and will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth...
No more death, no more tears or pain, no more shame or blame... no more fear, or doubt, no more wrestling with sin, no more wrestling in the dark... when all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, and every heart will find its home, resting in the One who knows and understands every heart...

This is my vision, or at least as much as I can put it into words.
If you could step inside of me, you could see it in the connecting dots, in the stories that have moved me, in the memories, in the faces, the moments, the miracles, and most of all in the longing and the aching I have felt so often in my life.

And this is how I see things, though I'm hard-pressed to find words for it...

But, what I see matters nothing to some of you here, or so it seems. :/

It seems that you would like me to fit into your little box, so you will not be inconvenienced with all of my questions and my struggles, so you can glory in your own rightness, in having everything figured out, even if that means leaving others out in the cold. :/

Any belief, any theology, any worldview, that leaves anyone without hope or meaning, that leaves them longing and aching for more, in this crazy world, to me is not really worth believing in. It just doesn't cut it.

You can argue this till you are blue in the face, but the fact is, if what you're selling weighs a person down more than it lifts them up, and if it crushes them more than it heals them, then not many people will buy it, or should I think.

You can say 'well, it's the truth' as loudly as you want, but if 'the truth' you're promoting isn't good news to those stumbling in the dark, and isn't living water to those who are thirsty and dying, doesn't fit into their heart of hearts and say to them 'there is hope', then you shouldn't even bother promoting it.

People who refuse to settle for more rules or more fine print know better, that when it comes down to it, the truth has to be something better than all the pain and suffering in the world, and there's no point in living.

Or, even if your closed-in view of reality is the real one, all I can say is that I resonate with what C.S. Lewis wrote here in the Silver Chair, in Puddleglum's famous speech:

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so.
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right.
But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

You guys may think I'm stupid, you may think I'm naive, you may think I'm a fool, you may say this or that, quote this verse or that verse, do all you can to defend your position, positions which when I entertained them in the past caused me to hit my head against walls, claw at myself till I bled, and cry bitter tears and scream until my voice was hoarse, tensing myself till I went into involuntary convulsions and felt like little more than a frightened child, fragile and alone, like a fly fighting against the universe, longing and aching for someone to hold him, to give him peace...

No doubt you have suffered, but so have I, if that means anything to you.

No doubt you've struggled, but so have I, if that means anything to you.

You may not give a damn about me or about what happens to me, or whether I end up in heaven or in hell or as worm-food, but I would hope that you would at least listen... at least try to understand...

If you don't even try, than I feel sorry for you... sorry that your world is so small, and that your heart is so small...

I'll close with this, one of my favorite quotes, written by Stephen King:

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The "war" on Christmas

Each year there seems to be a "Christian movement" to declare that there is a war on christmas. The implication is that atheists are fighting to remove the the "Christ" from Christmas.  

I don't get it. 

To my knowledge there is no law that prevents of any christian from proclaiming "Merry Christmas." So where is the war? Where are we as christians being attacked? Is it because a few retailers decided to try and remain neutral and not be offensive to atheists? Ok.......I hardly call that a war. My military background assures me that this is no war. This is retailers modifying their policies with the changing times. So what? 

If Christians are so concerned about Jesus being the primary focus of Christmas then perhaps they should start with their own methods of celebrating Christmas. Like participating in the rampant consumerism that has become "the reason for the season." If Jesus is supposed to be the focus of Christmas, maybe Christians should do the things that Jesus did. Like feed the poor?  

Seriously?? Is this happening, anywhere??
Each year in America, christians spend billions of dollars support the pagan practice of consumerism. Some will argue that consumerism is not a pagan practice and perhaps that's true. But its definitely not a christian practice.  

Christmas didn't even start off as a christian celebration. It has pagan roots and christians adopted the holiday years later. So, Christmas has gone from a pagan holiday, to a christian holiday, back to a pagan holiday that christians participate in. 

If Christians really want to keep "Christ" in Christmas they are free to say "Merry Christmas or Jesus is the reason for the season" to anyone. They are free to put up all the nativity scenes in their home that they want. They can light advent candles and read their kids the story of Jesus' birth. 

But if they really want to make Jesus the focus on Christmas, then they should stop participating in consumerism and participate in feeding homeless people.


Like Jesus would do.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A christians "right" to judge others

The concept of “judging” seems to be one of the biggest topics of dissension among Christians today. On one hand, we see things that are bad and wrong. Someone says to us “Be careful, don’t judge them.” But we look at the situation and say “I don’t know, I kind of think I should be judging this.” Then we have other situations where someone just seems like they are elevating themselves above others. So when do we judge, and when do we not judge? 

Mathew 7:1- “"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

This verse begins talking about judging. Then it turns to wood; planks and specks (I am assuming specks of sawdust) Then it concludes by talking about dogs, pigs, and pearls. Makes perfect sense, right?

What exactly did Jesus mean when He said for us to “not judge?” The word judge, in the original Greek is the word Krino. In the Greek language, there are 3 different ways that the Krino is used.

In Titus 3:12 we have one example of how Krino was used. As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided (krino) to winter there.” This use of the word krino is to decide, to distinguish, to discern. It just means “to make a decision” about something. So let’s take this back to Matthew 7. Is Jesus telling us to not make decisions? Is He saying “Whatever you do, don’t make decisions, because then decisions will be made about you? I think you would agree with me that Jesus is not using that form of the word krino.

In John 18:31 Pilate said, "Take him yourselves and judge (krino) him by your own law." So the second type of use for the word krino is to judge something, as in a courtroom. So, is Jesus saying “Don’t have courts? Because if you do, someone will have courts about you?” Is He saying we should do away with our courts and not worry about laws? No, He isn’t.

The third use for the word Krino, we find in 1 Corinthians 4:5. “Therefore judge (krino) nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.”     It’s the second sentence of the verse that gives us the real meaning behind the use of the word. “He (God) will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts.” So, the third use of the word Krino is described as something that “God” does. It also says that it “exposes” the motives of the heart. So, this is saying that if we are going to judge someone the way God does, then we have to be able to know the motives of that person’s heart. If we don’t truly know the motives of that person’s heart, then we can’t possibly judge them correctly. That is for God to do. And God alone.

Jesus uses Krino in John Chapter 7:24. Jesus uses this third form of krino and he says “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." What Jesus is saying is stop using the third type of Krino, and use the first type of Krino.

Back to Matthew 7. What Jesus is talking about when He says “Don’t judge others” is about how we critique others. How we evaluate others. He is telling us that we are not to attempt to judge someone’s inner most motives, because we don’t truly know their heart. How can we, as humans, possibly know what a person is really thinking? And how many times do we judge someone and find out that we were wrong? We were wrong because although a person may have done a particular act, that “act” was just a simple action. That “act” doesn’t always “define” who that person is. We don’t always know the context of why someone does something. We don’t understand what led them to that conclusion. When Jesus is saying to not judge people, He is warning us to not to try and do God’s job. What He is saying in John 7:24, is for us to make right judgments. But that’s for us. We can judge in the sense that we can “decide” if something is right for us to do, but we are to be careful about trying to judge somebody’s motives. Again, that is God’s job according to the second sentence of John 7:24.

So what does this mean to Christians? Should we turn a blind eye to the evils of society? No. That’ isn’t what I am saying. What I am saying, is that we need to be very careful about when we judge others. First, do we know why somebody did something? If we don’t know, we should be careful about judging. A single action, does not always define a person. Sometimes, people do things completely out of character for themselves. Do we give them grace, or do we crucify them based on a single action. Second, do we have authority to judge them? Again, if we feel we have authority over someone we have already elevated ourselves above them. I feel that it is ok to judge my wife and my children. Maybe some close family and friends. But that’s about it. And I am very careful about judging them. And I only feel its ok to judge them because there is already a relationship. I know them very well and I have a lot of insight in regards to their character and personhood. I also am open to them judging me. I give them permission to judge me because I want to be accountable to be the person I should be, as a Christian.
I have been judged by several christians, because of things I post on facebook. I am told that I am a false teacher and too permissive in my interpretations of the Bible. I have been told that I will go to hell, because I don’t condemn sinners and those who hate God. The problem is that if you think you know me because of a couple of facebook postings, you are really missing the mark. There is so much about my character and person hood that doesn’t come out in facebook. There is so much more to me than being an outspoken christian who owns a gym.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My journey with atheists and thoughts on the modern day church

I found this article in my old stuff. I wrote it about a year ago, but I still feel the same way.

I am writing this piece as an attempt to explain some things in my life and gather support for a cause; the Jesus cause. I spent the last 6 months communicating with atheists on facebook and on forums on the Internet. I wanted to find out how they thought, why they denied the existence of a God, and why they were so hostile towards Christians. After communicating with them and listening to their stories it became very clear that if you were on the fence about a God or Jesus, that most often, it was a Christian that would push someone the wrong way. Believe it or not, most atheists I spoke to were very well versed in The Bible. In fact, I would say that more than half the atheists I spoke with, knew the Bible and it's history better than most people who claim to be a Christian. I realized that for most of them, they didn't have a problem with a mighty God as much as they had a problem with us. I say this because most of them were willing to admit that we don't have the answers to the universe, but they are confident it is not the God of The Bible. After listening to them, most of them would somehow admit that they couldn't believe stories about a God, because the people who said they believed in this God acted very much like they didn't. Of course, they are mostly seeing the churches that protest soldiers funerals and go on gay bashing protests, but what about the rest of us? Is the church body as a whole, on track with the message of Jesus? I guess that is for each person to decide as we see experiences and tell ourselves different stories about those experiences. Nonetheless, here is my take.

We are all children of the empire

Imagine the average youth group, in the average church, on the average Sunday. Imagine you came to visit my church in Bend, Oregon and visiting our youth group and having the Pastor say to you "I just can't get my kids interested in Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?"

How do you respond?

Let's start by breaking this down to what is really going on. To begin with, our church has a youth group. This is a brand new idea in church history. A luxury. Everbody in the church doesn't just meet altogether? All of the baby's adults, men, women, widows, and children aren't in the same room; but have gone to separate rooms? And there are resources for this? People and organizational structures? And a budget? Let's imagine that in this case, our youth pastor is paid a salary as most are. A church with enough resources to pay someone to oversee the students? Once again, this is brand new and almost unheard of in most of the churches in the world, and in church history; a brand new invention. This salary can be paid and this building can be built because people in the congregation have surplus. They have fed themselves and their children, bought clothes, houses, cars; and now after these expenses there is still money available. And this money is given in an act of generosity to our church, which disperses it to various places, among them, the bank account of the Pastor. In many, if not most churches in the world, immediate needs simply don't allow for such luxuries. Too many people are hungry, too many people don't have a roof, too many people are sick. So any surplus is spent immediately on the basic needs that are staring them right in the face. 

But this particular church is blessed; and we should be very clear about this. It IS a blessing.It is good. It is fortunate that this particular church doesn't have those issues. This church has enough resources to hire a Pastor, who had the resources to get training to gather these students in the student room to teach them about the way of Jesus. Many Christians around the world would simply stand in awe of THAT kind of blessing. And the students in this church, these are good kids. They are from families who just want to see their kids become good Christians. Imagine just how much is available to them. They have more at their fingertips than any generation in the history of the world. More information, more entertainment, more ideas, more ways to kill time, more options. Many of them own more than one pair of shoes. There are even some of them who have eaten at least one meal everyday of their lives. So we are talking about a minuscule minority of kids in the world.  

And so each week they gather to hear a talk from the Pastor. Their Pastor tells them about the Jesus Revolution. About Jesus resisting the system, and about the blood on the cross. And many of the first Christians getting arrested. About Jesus having dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors. About people sharing their possessions, about Jesus telling a man to selling everything he owned. About the uniqueness of their story, and the larger story of redemption. 

How do my children of the empire understand the Savior who was killed by the empire? How does my 12 year old who has never had hunger pangs for more than about an hour understand a story about a 12 year old providing fish and bread for thousands of chronically hungry people? How do my kids who are surrounded by more abundance than in any generation in the history of humanity take seriously, a messiah who said "I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor." How do they fathom that half the world is too poor to feed its kids when the church we recently left, just spent two years raising 1.2 million dollars to build a new front entrance? Families were losing jobs and homes. Marriages were failing from the economic stress and this church felt that the best use of it's resources was to build a nice new entrance to the church?! 

So we gather. We sing. We hear a talk from our Pastor. And then we all get back in the car with our families and go home. 

When we leave our church in Bend, we pass a Walmart which is across the street from the Albertson's, which is next to the Shari's, that is across the street from the Furniture Outlet.

We just listened to a message in Church about a "Jesus" who lived among the under-privileged and poor.  

Sometimes we get on the highway and get off a couple of miles down the road. There is a shopping center that has a Best Buy, and a Jamba Juice, and a Ross. A Home Depot, a Food 4 Less, and a Bed Bath and Beyond. Much like the other towns in our state and in our country. My kids all have an iPod and the music they listen to is distributed by one of five major corporations which also own the movie studios that create the movies they watch, which are also connected to the corporations that make the food they eat and the commercials they watch. Which also have significant ties to the clothes they wear and the cell phones they own and the ringtones on the cell phones. The ringtone by the artist that is signed by the record label, that is owned by the same company that owns the cell phone company and the advertising agency that announced the artist's new album. Which is owned by the same company that owns the beverage company in whose advertisement, the artist appeared, drinking that particular beverage. Singing the song that is now a ringtone on the students cell phone, that they purchased at the mall across the street from the Olive Garden, next to the home depot, on the other side of the starbucks.  

The garage door goes up. The car goes in. And the garage door goes down. 

And for most of us, that's it! That is the extent of our faith in action.

This is the revolution?!?!

This is what Jesus had in mind?

And so the youth Pastor turns to you and says again. "I just can't get my kids interested in Jesus." DO you have any suggestions?

What do you say?

How do you respond? 

I do not have the answer. This is something I have struggled with for some time now. Since I do not yet have an answer, I choose to take steps that I believe are aligned with what Jesus would have me do. I take my children to the homeless shelter every Saturday. We feed the residents food we brought and prepared, then we show them a movie. Does it make difference? Does it win souls for the kingdom? I don't know. I do it because I want my children to see that not everyone has been blessed the way we have. I do it because I hope that my children will learn to look beyond themselves and strive to help others, as they grow into adults. I do it because I want my children to be able to relate to a "Jesus" that came to preach to the poor.

My wife and I send our kids on mission trips. Does it make a difference? Aer they winning souls for the kingdom? I don't know. I just hope that by them being in poor countries and using whatever resources they have to help others, that they will learn to appreciate what they have and not become so entitled that they never help other people because they believe that everything they have is "theirs." I hope that when they return to America, the land of over indulgence, that they will use their resources to help other people.

Will my plan work? I am not sure. I can say, that I am going to do whatever I can to teach my children about the "Jesus" revolution, in spite of the fact that we live in an "empire."

I borrowed some insights from an author named Rob Bell to write this. I related everything to my own experiences and I waited to the end to share this because I know Mr. Bell raises a lot of controversy. He does not "fit in" with the modern day church as it is defined by society. He goes against what a lot of church's in our day proclaim. Funny, so did Jesus, and Paul, and John the baptist.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Should homosexuals burn in hell?

To address this question I first want to cover a Jewish concept called "binding and loosing." Jesus said "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." --Matthew 16:19; 18:18

For me, believing in the Bible is very easy. Actually applying the Bible is very tricky and sometimes quite difficult. The concept of binding and loosing was something the Jewish rabbi's did with scripture. They would sometimes lock themselves in quiet rooms for days and sometimes weeks to wrestle with interpretations of scriptures and their applications to the current day and culture. When the rabbi's would "bind" a scripture, they were declaring that after careful study and application, that scripture still held meaning for that day. If they were to "loose" a scripture, then they were declaring that although that scripture had meaning in the past, it did not have the same application or meaning that day.

Jesus gave us some examples of binding and loosing in His ministry. He binds murder to include anger.(Matt 5:22)  He binds adultery to include divorce/remarriage.(Matt 5:32) He binds/extends the commandment on loving neighbor to loving enemies. (Matt 5:44) But he looses Sabbath-keeping so that one might harvest grain by hand and even heal people.(Matt 12:12) He also looses the restrictions against idolatry by allowing tax payments to Caesar who considered himself a god. (Mark 12:17) Make no mistake, Jesus was a first century, Jewish Rabbi and He did what rabbis did—they took the law and applied it to daily practical issues of morality—loosening the grip of some rules and tightening and extending others. He never disposed of the law, but applied it to real-life through the process of binding and loosing.

Jesus said "I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." Since that was the statement right before he discussed binding and loosing, I think we can say in context, that He was giving us permission to bind and loose the scriptures. Some (particularly Protestants) will say that Jesus was giving permission to bind and loose, only to "the Church." If we go along with this, we have to recognize that "the church" did not exist yet, in the way it does today. But even if we do accept that, which Church? The Catholic Church? The Mormon Church? The Baptists? Which doctrine gets the keys. According to wikipedia there may be as many as 38,000 Christian denominations. I have seen other authors cite as many as 130,000. So which Church do we give the authority to "bind and loose?" If we go out of context of the scripture and look at the actual concept of binding and loosing, we find that it was not done by the church, but by individual rabbi's. Each rabbi would bind and loose certain scriptures and this was called their "yoke." It was list of interpretations that the rabbi held, that he would teach his students. For instance one rabbi might say you could walk one mile on the sabbath and not violate the law. And then another rabbi would say you could walk 3 miles and not violate the sabbath. Both ideas were a part of that rabbi's teachings, or his yoke.

Now that you understand what binding and loosing is, let's see what we can do with it today. I want ot take a bold step and attempt to apply binding and loosing to homosexuality. Before you condemn me to hell for eternity, for twisting God's word to suit my own needs, please hear me out. It makes perfect sense to me, why God would forbid homosexuality 6000 years ago. In the days of Moses, the world's population was very low. And we know that the population of the Israelites was around only 1.5 million. If God wanted them to increase their population, they would not be able to be "fruitful and multiply" if they were in homosexual relationships. Since then, the population of "God's people" is estimated to be at around 2 billion people. That is one third of the population. We have defiantely been "fruitful and multiplying." We have populated the earth as God intended. So do we still need the decree that homosexuality be banned? Especially when we consider how many parts of the world are suffering from a lack of resources. If we are so over-populated in some parts of the world that there are not enough resources for everyone, should we still be being fruitful and multiplying? Is it possible that we can "loosen" the restriction on homosexuality based on what is happening in our world today?

This is the point where condemnation comes flying my way, especially from my fundamentalist brethren. Let me point out that I am not trying to "re-write" the Bible or God's word. I am simply trying to do what rabbi's have done for hundreds of years, what Jesus did, and what Jesus gave us permission to do. And even if we all decide that we cannot under any circumstances "loose" homosexuality, let me explain what I believe my "job" is, as a christian. I believe that it is my job to lovingly and gently bring them to the cross. And then leave them there, and let the Holy Spirit do, whatever He will. It is not for me to change the heart of a person. I find it to be the height of arrogance, when a christian believes that they are going to change someone's heart and bring them to God. And please consider how many homosexuals are scared to death to enter a church because of the abuse they have received from christians. Shouldn't we do everything we can to encourage them to come to Jesus, "as they are" and let Him change their hearts as He sees fit?

Please consider my words, consider the scriptures I have provided, consider your heart when you speak to someone about our Father, and consider your mission as a christian.

in His grip,