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