God’s Wrath vs. God’s Grace…….

The following is part 2 of a  series of posts which will subsequently be compiled as an In-Depth report here on RJsCorner came from my other blog RedLetterLiving.net.

If Grace is true“How can you believe that God’s grace isn’t sufficient, that many of God’s children will languish in hell forever, that they’ll never be restored to their Father, that evil will claim victory in so many lives? How can you believe that?”

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person

Some think the idea of universal salvation is a new thing but in reality it goes back to the founding fathers of the church. Origen and Gregory of Nyssa believed in the salvation of all people. But of course we know that the champions of God’s grace were often silenced by future theologians especially by those who followed King Constantine several hundred years later. Much like the old saying that “history is written by the victors”, much of Christian dogma was written by those who charged their opponents with heresy and got that claim to stick.

As I have mentioned before I am still wrestling with the idea of universal salvation. It is easy to show with pride how I am saved while so many are damned to hell for eternity.  Like the return of the prodigal son I don’t want to admit that some who have led totally broken lives will  somehow sit alongside me in God’s presence.

In the end I simply will not diminish God’s grace in order to sustain the belief of God’s wrath.  I want to finish the post with some final words from the book that took hold of me and shook me.

I insisted we were free to reject God’s grace. It never occurred to me that God might be free to reject our rejection.

Who is more powerful God or human will? I think I know the answer to that question….

If Grace Is True

After many years of resistance and finally accepting God’s love I find it strange to believe that so many believe he is going to damn the vast majority of those he loves to an eternal anguish.  We spend less than a century on this earth in one degree of happiness or another and then billions, if not trillions of centuries in total misery and anguish. That is just not the God that I have come to know.

I grew up in a very sheltered life in a small midwest town. There were no visible minorities there and there certainly were nothing but Christian churches of one flavor or another in the area. It was not until I went to college that I was exposed to anyone outside my usual cliche. Things would change rather dramatically for me during those years.  I learned that everyone who didn’t go to a Christian church were not bad guys. Many seemed to share the same level of morality that I did during those years.

It was later in my life than it was for Mr. Gulley that I saw the movie Gandhi but it also affected me greatly.  I went on to learn more about the man and the religious stands of his version of God. Gandhi was a man of infinite morals. He understood thing about loving your fellow man that I still can’t fathom. Why would God send him to hell while giving me a place in heaven.

I like the idea of emptying hell. Is God really going to eternally condemn those stubborn souls who fail to recognize him during their utterly brief time on this earth?

To Those Who Need It The Most…..

2016-12-17_15-19-24.pngToday I thought I would talk to you about my struggle with the inconsistency of the Bible. Philip Gulley who has written several books on this topic is a well know Christian author of the Quaker persuasion. He is one of my favorite authors of any genre. Let’s start this topic with a quote from one of his books.

For what good is grace—this unconditional love of God—if it is not extended to those who deserve it the least but need it the most? God is love. Holiness and justice are not competing commitments. God has not chosen to turn his back on us or to punish us as our sins deserve. God has chosen to redeem us. Nothing requires God to condemn us, so God has not. Rather, in his sovereign freedom, he waits patiently for the day of our redemption.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 87-88). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The above quote comes at the end of a chapter entitled “The Character of God” in Philip Gulley’s book “If Grace Is True”. I must admit that I have had many of the same painful questions about the character of God as Mr. Gulley.  When I was told to believe that absolutely everything in the Bible is literally and in absolutely true I simply could not reconcile much of the god of the Old Testament to the person of Jesus. Until I was willing to weigh scripture the dichotomy of a vengeful God vs. Jesus of “love your enemy” I was racked with doubt about all things the church pronounced. Could any of it really be true?

I must admit that the God of the Old Testament scares me.  When he supposedly in the tenth chapter of Joshua told the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child in the town of Libnash this horrified me. This simply didn’t sound like the God of Jesus I had come to know in the New Testament. I heard various rationalizations trying to reconcile the two gods. One was that God was trying to protect the Israelites from the corrupting influence that intermarriage would have caused. That sounds much like what Hitler used for destroying the Jews. That couldn’t be the answer…

When we finally reject the idea of every word in the ancient and pretty much unverifiable text is absolutely true and applicable for eternity then this contradiction between two gods goes away. I, as Mr. Gulley quotes above, believe  Jesus showed us that all scripture is not equal or inerrant.  There are just too many places where he taught us a much different way than was recorded in the Old Testament.

Evolving Faith…

I think for too long we’ve made Jesus just one character or episode in the Bible. If we want to see God, we look to Jesus. In Hebrews 1:3, the writer says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. So I think that if we could recapture that centrality of Christ in our churches through our teaching, our worship, our way of life, well then, what would change? …  We aren’t bringing Jesus into our lives: he’s welcoming us into his life. Years later, I still feel like the only place that makes sense is in his presence, the only place I want to be is in the dust of his feet….

Rather, I was more telling stories of the places where I have evolved and changed because I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to do that. I do have areas where I can’t imagine changing but I hold even those loosely now. My catalogue of Right Answers has grown smaller over the years, for sure, and I see God as much more wild and wonderful and generous than I could have ever imagined years ago.

Source:  Evolving Faith: An Interview with Sarah Bessey – Red Letter Christians.

I very much mirror almost everything mentioned in the above quote from my friends over at Red Letter Christians.  For me it is all about Jesus and his words. Everything else in the Christian Bible is very secondary if even that important. I evolved into this attitude over time to where it has become the cornerstone of my spiritual life.

I don’t particularly like the phrase “What would Jesus do?” Instead I live by the idea of what would Jesus have ME do? I can’t possibly imitate Jesus in most matters in life but I can take what he teaches me in both my heart and my actions.

I remember in 2008 when I started my now archive blog at RedLetterLiving I got a comment from a fairly high authority in the Lutheran church organization I belonged to at the time that totally confused me.  I admit that I didn’t really read much of my church’s writing so I didn’t realize the extent of my differences with them.

Getting back to the 2008 comment, the person asked me why I was concentrating on the words of Jesus!  He said all the words of the Bible are equally important! So, to him the words about not eating meat from animals with cloven hooves was just as important as Jesus’ messages of loving each other!  I was shocked by his comments but eventually discovered  that is pretty much the attitude of the clergy in the Lutheran church I belonged. To me they just seem to be  more of a “club” type association (they call it fellowship)  who focus on adoration of their Bible rather than focusing like a laser beam on the person of Jesus.

Needless to say these revelations started me down the road asking too many questions and  correspondingly being expelled from my congregation; in the end that was probably a good thing…. it allowed my faith to evolve to the next level.

2015-12-30_10-09-20.pngIf anyone is interesting in going deeper with this topic of evolving faith I would highly recommend the book shown here by Philip Gulley. Despite what some say, it is a normal process for our beliefs in God evolve as we mature. If they don’t then we are not growing in Christ as we should. Don’t get stuck in one static place just because someone tells you they have all the answers.  Question everything even your spirituality. I think God expects us to do just that…. and He is certainly up to the questions.

 

 

This Christmas Season…

2015-12-11_11-32-59.pngI want to spend some time this Christmas season talking about Jesus. After all, as the old saying goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season” at least for us Chrisitans. I have said more than once on this blog that I am  spiritual but not currently aligned with any particular religious organization.  At the same time I try to be a faithful follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  That might be a dichotomy to some but  not to me. I just believe that religious organizations today are too mired down in their dogma and theology that is simply not focused on the words and teachings of their founder.

Many seem to at best give Jesus’ word only a tepid acknowledgement and at worst readily admit that to them his words are no more important than any other words in their bible. Those folks treat the Bible as their god instead of Jesus. That saddens me greatly and drives me away from their version of Christianity.

One of my favorite Christian authors is Philip Gulley and one of my favorite books by him is “If God Is Love”. Here are some of my favorite quotes from that book:

For many, religion is a means of controlling human behavior. Dualistic religion, with the threat of hell and the offer of heaven, is especially susceptible to this temptation…


Jesus turns controlling religion, with its inflexible laws and requirements, on its head. The point isn’t obeying the rules (an act of the will), but in producing good fruit (an overflow of the heart). Our hearts are changed only when we realize God’s unconditional love for us and embrace our responsibility to love others unconditionally.


This is why many have left the church, synagogue, and mosque. They aren’t atheists. They’ve simply found the courage to reject religious fear and control. They seek a spirituality consistent with what they sense to be true—there must be more to life than escaping hell and keeping the rules. They yearn for a way of life that is gentle, humble, open, and compassionate.


SOURCE: Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-10-13). If God Is Love (Kindle Locations 1318-1320). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

When I read the words above several years ago I had an epiphany. I finally accepted that God is about love and not eternal punishment for failing to follow rules. God is not about condemning the vast majority of us to an eternity of unimaginable agony but instead is showing us how to love.

I like to include myself in the quote above about rejecting religious fear and control and instead seeking spirituality consistent with my senses. Yes, I’m sure some of you can rush to your Bible to find a verse or two, especially in the Old Testament, about a vengeful god. But if you concentrate on Jesus’ words it should become obvious to you that God is a god of love.

This holiday season I choose to celebrate life as Jesus taught me…

 

The Theology Of Love….

2014-03-06_12-42-52A theology of love begins with the assumption that all people are God’s cherished children and deserving of love. “We love because he first loved us. Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:19–20). Jesus demonstrated his love for the outcasts, those many considered unlovable. Regrettably, many Christians have been unwilling to adopt the ethic of Jesus—a theology of inclusion, acceptance, and love. We’ve been unwilling to love and accept our enemies. We haven’t even been excited about loving our neighbor.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-10-13). If God Is Love —  HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I must admit that this book “If God Is Love” is one of my top ten favorite books I have ever read. It was the first book by Philip Gulley I had read but it would certainly not be the last. When I read this book in 2005 there was no such thing as Amazon Kindle where I could tag a quote. Instead the physical book has many bent pages and starred paragraphs. I even subsequently bought the kindle version so I could more easily use quotes in my blogs.

If you really want to understand the magnitude of the love of God I would highly advise you to pick up a copy.

Muzzling God….

Time and again, those who opposed Jesus would quote Scripture. They would remind him of the Sabbath law, the requirement to fast, the provision for divorce, and the penalty for adultery. Jesus seemed unimpressed with a person’s ability to quote Scripture. His interest was in a person’s ability to hear God’s voice. He said, “He who belongs to God hears what God says” (John 8:47). To limit the word of God to the written word is to muzzle God.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person

If God Is Love… (Part1)

I am going to start a series of posts around quotes from some of the many books I have read. One of the favorites is the book “If God is Love” by Philip Gulley. Here is the quote for today:

The theology of love begins with the assumption that all people are God’s cherished children and deserving of love. “We love because he first loved us. Those who say ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars, for they do not love a brother or sister who they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen”  (1 John 4:19-20). Jesus demonstrated his lover for outcasts, those many considered unlovable. Regrettably, many Christians have been unwilling to adopt the ethic of Jesus — a theology of inclusion, acceptance, and love, We’ve been unwilling to love and accept our enemies. We haven’t even be excited about loving our neighbors.When Jesus redefined kinship, he was challenging their exclusive circle by declaring that anyone in any place who did the will of God regardless of social standing or religious affiliation, was his brother or sister.  Kinship is not a matter of racial, religious, or cultural conformity. It was the by-product of a commitment of the will of God — to love and care for all.

We should all be getting out of our church pews and into the community to re-affirm that we do indeed love our neighbor. We must show the Lord’s love in our lives if we are true followers of Jesus Christ. To hunker down in our church building  against the big bad world and wait for the second coming is not what Jesus preached. Jesus was a lover of the unlovable and we should at least attempt to do the same. If we are only willing to allocate those two hours a week on Sunday mornings to God then maybe we should occasionally skip the pews and get out in the community and get our hands dirty!

I must admit that I feel closer to God when I do community service than when I am sitting in a church pew.  And according to Jesus that is how it should be.

If God Is Love – Part 5

This is the last installment for the review of the book “If God Is Love” that I brought over from my other blog.  This book was a major factor in forming my current view of the Church of Christ.

<<<<<<< Post from August 16, 2011 >>>>>>>>

This is a continuation of my discussions of the book entitled “When God Is Love” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. Here is the quote for today:

Working to make the world a more gracious place wasn’t a priority in the churches of my childhood. Some of this negligence was a result of apolcalyptic interpretations in which the world was doomed and damned anyway. One man insisted we shouldn’t work for peace in the Middle East because we were simply postponing Armageddon and the return of Christ. However, the primary reason the church didn’t have time to change the world was because we expended so much energy trying to save souls. We’d work for weeks on revivals, evangelism programs, mission support, and the like. We didn’t have time for soup kitchens, visiting prisoners, or working with the homeless — unless of course, we could figure out a way to work in an altar call.

When I became convinced of God’s intention to save every person, my perspective on the purpose of life changed. Salvation became a lifelong adventure in which God is gently and patiently drawing us away from self-absorption and toward authentic relationship with God and one another. The point of life was no longer to get saved or to save others. The purpose of life was to live graciously. Freed of personal anxiety about God’s acceptance and no longer obsessed with creating others in my own image, I was able to focus on what it means to be rather than do.

Working to make the world a more gracious place is still not much of a priority in today’s church. While I am yet to be fully in the camp that God will in his own way bring all souls to him, I am fully on board that much of the current church approach to those outside the faith is misguided. When we quit looking at others as projects to be converted and instead as fellow human being to be loved our whole approach to them changes. They become fellow children of God and not heathens to be saved.  The way we point others to Christ is through our actions and not our words or even necessarily those words found in our ancient books.

Lets finish up with a follow up quote on this subject.

Saving souls isn’t about altar calls, but about responding graciously to those we encounter in our daily lives. Being gracious is not about inviting others to our church, but about living an inviting life — one both attractive and winsome. The purpose of life isn’t to create more Christians , but “to let our lights shine before others, so they will see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven” Matthew 5:16

A few posts ago, and several other times on this blog, I have stated that we all at some time, and often many times, question what is our purpose in life. Why did God create us. I think Mr. Gulley and Mr. Mulholland have got it right in that regard. We are to be like the Son and let our lights shine in order to point others to Christ. Altar calls and such just don’t hack it. They never have and they never will.

If God is Love… Part 3

This is the third of five posts I made on the book If God is Love by Philip Gulley. I have slightly modified it from when it was written over at RedLetterLiving last July.

This is a continuation of my expose of the book by Philip Gulley entitled If God Is Love. In this post he talks about Dualistic Theologies.

Dualistic theologies reduce the questions of life to one: Are you saved? Nothing else matters. The purpose of life it to answer that single question. Of course, simply saying “yes” is not enough. You confirm your salvation by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, getting baptized, and receiving the Holy Spirit. Until you have done these things, your life has no meaning.

When salvation is defined so narrowly, it too easily becomes a status rather than a process. It becomes a contractual agreement between an individual and God….  Too often, God’s desire to transform us into mature, responsible, and gracious people was obscured. When religion factored in the fragility of life and the threat of eternal damnation, the product (a spot in heaven) rather than the process (becoming an authentic person) became the priority.

Growing up, I was asked repeatedly, “If you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?” I was never asked, “If you live tomorrow, what kind of life will it be?”

Some call this supposed contract between you and God fire insurance. We sign the papers and then put it on the shelf until it is needed. That is NOT what being a follower of Jesus Christ means to me nor should it to anyone else. This is another instance where I believe men have fashioned a god who pleases them; not the other way around. Yes it is nice to I know where I will be spending eternity but equally important, if not more so for our times,  is how I will live my life tomorrow and all the tomorrows I have left. If they do not reflect God’s love then is the fire insurance policy still valid? I have deep reservations about the answer to that one.