My Review of “Raising Hell” by Julie Ferwerda

25 06 2011

First of all, to anyone (especially any Christian) who has never heard of Christian Universalism: Please do not be scared by the name! Please consider reading this book and learning about the God of Love who never fails! If you are tired, frustrated, and scared, wondering about the fate of yourself, your loved ones, or humanity in general, I highly recommend you check this book out. If you have a truly open mind, you may find yourself overjoyed at what you find within its pages.

Now for the actual book review:

Having stumbled upon this belief system of Christian Universalism a little over three years ago, I have read several books, articles, and essays defending and promoting it. When I first heard that Ms. Ferwerda was going to release a book about it, I was pleased but not enthralled, as I have read so much about the subject already. Despite this, I read through the book and am very pleased with the results.

I think the thing I’m most pleased with about this book is that Ms. Ferwerda takes an approach to writing that is scholarly and yet, at the same time, has a personal touch to it that makes you feel as if you’re receiving a personal letter from a friend. The language is simple and easy to understand and avoids jargon (although I may be biased, having been raised in Christianity from my youth). Ferwerda’s book, to me, finds a sort of happy medium between Andrew Jukes’s “The Restitution of All Things” (which is very scholarly but may not be the layperson’s cup of tea) and Rob Bell’s recent “Love Wins” (which, though very informative and enlightening to someone who has never heard of Christian Universalism, is not necessarily a “scholarly” book).

Parts 1 and 2, “Hell: Fact or Fiction?” and “Love Does Not Fail…”, respectively, cover the basics when it comes to Christian Universalism and offer compelling evidence as to its validity in Scripture. I’ve read most of it before, but there are several gems that I’ve never considered before and greatly appreciate. It’s Part 3, “Hebrew Perspectives On Scripture,” however, that offers several ideas and concepts I had never truly considered to the extent I did after reading this book. Granted, I had heard of the idea that the harvest festivals and seasons written about in the Old Testament were types and symbols of future things (in books such as Jukes’s “The Restitution of All Things”), but I haven’t seen it explained so clearly and simply as I have in Ms. Ferwerda’s book.

I also greatly appreciated the “Resources” section at the end of the book, especially the section on “Talking Points.” It offers Scriptures to use in response to certain questions about “Christian Universalism” in order to discuss these issues with people. I’ve always subconsciously wanted a tool like this to help me out but Ms. Ferwerda thought of it and I’m sure it will be a benefit to many, including myself.

All in all, I found this book to be a very welcome addition to the growing list of books about Christian Universalism, and I feel it is quite likely that it is the best book on the subject to read if you want a clear, easily readable, scholarly introduction to the subject. If your life has been changed by Jesus but you can’t reconcile His love with His justice, please consider reading this book. It may just make you fall in love with Him all over again.

If you are interested in reading this book, feel free to download a free copy right here!  (I have permission from the author). Raising-Hell-Complimentary

Also, if you feel so compelled, you can purchase the book here for cheap.





Blindness

30 06 2010
John Chapter 9 tells the story of a blind man whose blindness is healed by Jesus and the subsequent trouble it brought him with the religious establishment of the day. The Pharisees, displeased with the attention Jesus is getting, grill the formerly blind man as to how he was healed. As a result of the man’s inference that Jesus must be of God because of His ability to heal, the Pharisees become angry and “cast him out” (v. 34). Jesus then reveals Himself to the man, who subsequently believes and worships Him.

Afterward, Jesus says of the situation, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind” (v. 39 [KJV]). The Pharisees hear this and respond with a degree of surprise. The King James translates their response as “Are we blind also?” (v. 40); however, in the Concordant Literal New Testament (a literal translation created to be as accurate as possible; for more info visit here), the question reads, “Not we are also blind?” What is interesting about this is the fact that in the Concordant translation it is made evident (through the use of special punctuation and symbols) that the pronoun “we” in this question is emphasized in the original Greek. Also interesting is the fact that the negative “Not” is omitted in the KJV. It seems that something is lost in the KJV translation of this question that is made especially evident in the Concordant version; namely, that of the degree of incredulity expressed by the Pharisees. A sense of “Who are you calling blind?” is given in the Concordant version that is all but absent in the KJV, which almost seems to suggest honest questioning on the Pharisees’ part.

The Pharisees, then, are dumbstruck that Jesus would imply that they could possibly be blind in any way. They are so sure of their own rightness that they find it difficult, almost impossible, to see new truth. Jesus says to them in verse 41, “If you were blind, you would have had no sin. Yet now you are saying that ‘We are observing.’ Your sin, then, is remaining” (CLNT). Jesus seems to imply that their arrogance in proclaiming that they are the possessors of all truth is what is keeping them in their sinful state. Their stagnation is the direct result of their pridefulness.

The Pharisees were the protectors of the Orthodoxy of the day. Anyone who disagreed with them was proclaimed, in essence, to be a heretic. Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath, seeming to break a long-established law held by the Pharisees and the religiously devout of the day. It must have seemed to them that He was breaking one of the Ten Commandments and, perhaps, even questioning the authority of their scriptures.

Jesus makes it clear in verse 39 that He came to turn things upside-down. Those who are blind are made to see and those who see are made blind. If people are to be made to see and experience truth, it will not necessarily come from established religious leaders. Truth that is in conflict with the teachings of established religious leaders is not invalidated because it is in conflict with it. We as Christians (or anyone else for that matter) need to stop looking to others to tell us what truth is and find it for ourselves. If we take Jesus at his word, we will realize that even those with seemingly superior knowledge of God may be themselves blind. As for those of us who are Christian leaders, we need to stop assuming that all beliefs that seem to conflict with Scripture are automatically false. God and Scripture are not bound to our own personal thoughts about them. The Pharisees assumed that Jesus was contradicting the Scriptures by healing on the Sabbath. We as Christians should seek to avoid a Pharisaical way of thinking that precludes seeing truth in a new, possibly better, light. Christianity should not be a stagnant religion, should not be a religion that closes off any possibility of growth and acceptance of previously undiscovered truth.

None of us, whether we want to admit it or not, has a complete grasp of the truth. We need to be willing to learn from one another and grow through our relationships with God and each other. If we automatically shut down every person that challenges our conception of the truth out of fear, we will be stuck in a state of stagnation and run the risk of becoming spiritually blind.





Love

7 06 2009

(Yeah, I couldn’t think of another title. Eye-catching, though, right? :) )

I read a very thought-provoking entry in my copy of Watchman Nee’s devotional A Table in the Wilderness earlier this week.

JUNE 5th

As many as touched him were made whole. Mark 6. 56.

Recall the incident of the Pharisee and the publican at prayer in the temple. The Pharisee understood all about tithes and offerings, yet from him there was no cry of the heart to God. It was the publican who cried, “Lord have mercy upon me!” Something went out to God from that man which met with an immediate response, and Jesus singles him out as the one whom God reckoned righteous. For what is it to be reckoned righteous? It is to touch God. The great weakness of so much present preaching of the Gospel is that we try to make people understand the plan of salvation, and all too often we see little or no result. Wherein have we failed? I am sure it is in this, that our hearers do not see Him. We have not adequately presented the Person. We point them only to their sin or God’s salvation, whereas their real need is to see the Saviour Himself, to meet Him and to make contact with Him.

“The great weakness of so much present preaching of the Gospel is that we try to make people understand the plan of salvation.” This statement especially resonated with me. I find that much of Christianity is overly focused on telling people about God and His plans and what He can do for people. It seems that most of what we call “witnessing” is telling people about what we’ve seen rather than showing them.

Say someone tells me about this awesome band that is groundbreaking in the genre of electro-emo-classical-industrial-metal-post-opera-rap-spazz-core. He tells me that it’s the single best band that has ever existed. This person can tell me all about the music, what his favorite songs are, how mind-blowing the technical skill of the players is, and even how the music has changed his life. I may even give mental assent to the fact that, yes, this may be the greatest band of all time, based solely on his description. However, until I’m actually presented with the music and hear it for myself, any admiration for the band will be feigned and derived from what someone else says about it rather than my personal experience. My friend will have to actually allow me to hear the music before I can fully agree with him, that yes, the band is flippin’ awesome.

In a similar way, many Christians will try to “win souls” for Christ by trying their damnedest to explain complicated theological concepts that most Christians barely even understand. As Watchman Nee says, “Wherein have we failed? I am sure it is in this, that our hearers do not see Him. We have not adequately presented the Person.” Instead of loving people as Jesus would, many Christians feign affection for people while in the back of their minds they think of them as projects that they are trying to complete for God. I’m not saying that they don’t care for these people, but many become so focused on “saving” them and become so desperate to do so that they forget to care for the person as a person.

Consider Matthew 9:9:

“And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.”

As I read this recently, I wondered to myself how I would have reacted to a call like that. If I was just sitting and doing my job when this strange-looking, relatively unattractive man (see Isaiah 53:2- “there is no beauty that we should desire him”) came along and told me to follow him, what would I do? There must have been something about Jesus that compelled Matthew to follow Him, but it wasn’t deep theology or complicated exegesis. Nor did Jesus say to Him, “Follow me so that you can be saved from your sins and an eternity in Hell, which salvation will become complete after I atone for your sins on the cross and then rise again three days later, after which I will return to Heaven and send you the Holy Spirit.” He simply saw Matthew sitting there and told him to follow Him. Consequently, Matthew simply saw Him and followed.

Shortly after this incident, Jesus is found in a house, eating and drinking with “publicans and sinners” (Matt. 5:10). Earlier today, my pastor did a Sunday school lesson on whether or not God has a sense of humor, and pointed to this passage. He found it hard to imagine that Jesus would sit there eating with a morose look on His face, remaining completely serious while the rest of the group enjoyed themselves and had a good time. No, as my pastor said, most likely He was enjoying the company of sinners and discussing things such as the weather and their occupations and being generally easy to be around.

All it takes for someone to want to follow Christ is to see Him for who He is. If we want people to know God, and “point them only to their sin or God’s salvation,” what good will it do? Will our words save them? Will their ability to comprehend the plan of salvation save them? Will their acknowledgment of their sin save them? NO. None of these things save a person, they only lead to dead mental assent and legalism. All that will bring a person to life is God revealing Himself to a person in His own time.

So, what is left for us to do? How can we present Jesus in such a way that people will “meet Him and … make contact with Him” without all our theological jargon? What is God that we can show Him to others? “God is love!” (1 John 4: 8,16). How do we show people God? — by showing them love! How do we show people love? — it starts by forming real relationships with people. As much as I tire of hearing the old cliché, “It’s relationship, not religion,” I find I must admit that this is the only real starting point when it comes to showing people real love, not throwing guilt or fear in people’s faces and expecting them to respond to “God’s call on their lives.” Of course, the natural next question is, “What is love?” To use another cliché, read 1 Corinthians 13 and you’ll find your answer.

It is not our job as Christians to convict people who don’t believe. Conviction can only happen once people have seen Jesus for who He is. Showing people love is the best way to show them Jesus. Let God take care of showing people their sin, and once it’s seen, God may use us to help people to understand the more complex matters. To start with fear and guilt, however, only leads down a dark road of legalism that forks into either excessive pride or insanity. Love is the most important gift God has given us, and it should be our primary concern to show that love to others in whatever ways we can.





“It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so.”

16 03 2009

(quote by poet Frank O’Hara)

A few weeks ago my Intro to Poetry teacher was talking to the class and made a random comment about one of the students’ pet turtle. She seemed really confused and asked how in the world he knew that she had a pet turtle. He said that she had mentioned in an e-mail she sent him that she had to clean out her turtle cage and that he had payed attention to what she said, which led him into a spiel about how no one pays attention. He said something to the effect that we should pay attention to what people say and that doing so is a good quality that is usually neglected.

I very much agree with that sentiment. I’m not going to claim that I’m the most non-self-centered person ever, but it seems that way too many people are so busy being self-absorbed and worrying about their problems and about what people think about them that they never notice the people around them. Sure, they’ll say “hi” or respond if someone talks to them or maybe even start up a conversation, but it’s never about the other person. The person is usually so self-conscious and worried about what the other person is thinking that they don’t even hear what they’re saying. I hate to admit that I’ve done this before, but it’s definitely a habit that I think should be strongly avoided.

So, where am I going with all this? In the past few years, I’ve become kind of a “people watcher.” When I was younger (teenage years), I used to see all the people around me and think about how terrible they probably were and how much they probably hated me. I figured that they were probably completely self-confident and just spent their lives trying to put others down to make themselves look better. What I didn’t realize then was that I wasn’t the only person in the world that was insecure… it turned out that just about everyone is.

I think most people spend most of their time in life trying to make themselves look “beautiful” or desirable to other people. They’re so afraid of being rejected by people and society in general that they spend all their time trying to conform to the images that media/the people around them/their parents/their own minds build for them. While I admit that everyone (both male and female) has to deal with these struggles with image (I personally with being quiet, not athletic, somewhat sensitive, etc.), I think women tend to get the brunt of it.

An avant-garde metal band named Lengsel that I’ve really liked for a while put out a CD a while ago called “The Kiss… The Hope” that I’ve grown to enjoy quite a bit. They released it sans lyrics (which drives me insane), but they’ve been posting some of the songs’ lyrics sporadically on their myspace page. The latest were the lyrics below, which have quite a bit to do with the topic at hand.

miss s.c

these nightlife peacocks, so filled up with tears it runs out their ears
still smiling stiffly,
still shouting helplessly,
trying to make expressions of euphoria convince their innerself
and become real, become expressions of reality
their loud laughter makes me wanna cry,
as it sounds to me more like
‘oh God, please let me die’
happy singing with empty eyes, cold kisses and desperate sex
trying to kill it all away with comfort poison,
an escape by chemicals
to escape this shallow prison of superficiality,
vanity and dead colors
longing to be loved without makeup and high heels,
without funny jokes and approved opinions, sexy walks and confident attitude

i wish they knew that they are
and what they are

The above lyrics should speak for themselves, and in my opinion are freaking brilliant (why didn’t they release these in the first place when the CD came out?). You can hear the song here.

One more great line from the band Oh, Sleeper, the song “Vices Like Vipers” (listen here):

“And to the girls,
You’re worth more than the cheap words.
You see your body as beauty, but your pulse is worth more.”

Women in American society (and plenty of other societies, I presume) are under immense pressure to make themselves look a certain way. They’re constantly told that unless they act and look a certain way, they won’t be seen as desirable, and therefore will be unable to find a good man, and therefore will be unfulfilled for the rest of their lives. They spend all of their time trying to make themselves look beautiful, when they don’t realize that they already are (see title quote… cheesy, I know). I think of all the women I know, and I can’t think of one of them that I haven’t at one time thought to myself that she was beautiful in one way or another (and yes, that was my pitiful attempt to score points with all the women in my life). The tragedy lies in the fact that many of them don’t realize this and therefore have low self-esteem, negative self-image, and feel that they are worth so much less than they actually are.

“i wish they knew that they are [loved] and what they are”

As for guys, the problem seems to mainly lie in the message that says that they need to be tough, stoic, and completely masculine (whatever that means). Not to get too personal, but growing up as an unathletic, scrawny, quiet kid made me feel like there was probably something wrong with me. So, instead of just accepting who I was and being confident with that, I figured I was inadequate and just became angry with myself and everyone around me. (All the while, of course, I had the whole weight of Christianity on me, which made everything even worse, but that’s another story that you can read here.) Anyway, what I didn’t realize, and what many men don’t realize, is that expressing emotion and having an interest in non-physical activities doesn’t make a man weak. “Variety is the spice of life,” people.

I’ve come to realize over the years (22 of them!) that God created people to be the way they are for a reason. No one is an accident, and no one’s personality is an accident either… God created each of us in a specific way and made us different on purpose. I no longer look on jocks and “stuck-up” girls as if they’re worthless or complete jerks. I realize that these people have problems of their own and they only act the way they do in order to appear beautiful (or whatever positive term you want to put there). My previous need to see others as worthless sinners (in my opinion, a typically Christian disorder) that could never be my friends unless they accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior and improved their behavior and… (etc., etc., etc.) has been (mostly) replaced with a genuine appreciation for all types of people (whether they are “my type” of people or not). I’m continually learning that even those who seem to be most self-assured and confident need love and acceptance just as much as anyone else.

“I used to wonder where you are-
these days I can’t find where you’re not!”
-mewithoutYou- “The Sun and the Moon”





Relevant Magazine Article(s?) on Universalism…

3 01 2009
Those of you who read Relevant (and my notes/blog) probably knew this was coming, right? ;) I know I probably seem to have a one-track mind, but really, I do have other interests.

In the Nov./Dec. issue of Relevant Magazine (a Christian magazine that is geared toward Christian twenty-somethings and has articles on everything from music to movies to theology to how to decorate your apartment), there is an article entitled “The Rising Tide of Universalism” (pretty scary-sounding, right?). The article takes a look at both Unitarian Universalism and Christian Universalism.

The article begins with a short description of Bishop Carlton Pearson, a minister who eventually came to believe in what he calls “The Gospel of Inclusion.” You can read more about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlton_Pearson

The first section in the article is entitled “Salvation for All?” and starts out [All bold emphases within the article quotes are mine unless otherwise noted.]:

Universalism, or the belief that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God, is neither new nor novel. Early church fathers like Origen and Clement of Alexandria held to universal salvation, although it was later deemed heresy at the fifth ecumenical council in 553 AD.

What the article failed to mention (as it would probably help to defeat it’s entire argument) was that the majority of the early church believed that God would eventually restore all people to Himself (read the sections “Bible Threatenings Explained” and “ENDLESS PUNISHMENT OF HEATHEN ORIGIN (Greek mythology)” at http://www.tentmaker.org/books/BibleThreateningsExplained.html#1 for more information. Although the sentence “That heathen invented this doctrine is undeniable” is a little iffy considering the fact that it is denied by the majority of modern Christianity, the article is a good, if brief, introduction to the likely fact that most early Christians believed in Universal Restoration. For a [much] more detailed description [one that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet], check out the following book [fully available online]: http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Prevailing.html ).

The article then gives a short description of Unitarian Universalism which seems accurate enough, but considering the fact that I’m not that knowledgable about Unitarians, I’ll refrain from commenting on it.

The article then goes into a short description of Christian Universalism:

Unlike the UUA [Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations], there is also a smaller but growing movement among people who hold to universal salvation while still attempting to maintain that salvation is found only through Jesus Christ.

(That’s not condescending at all, is it? Haha. Sorry… continuing: )

As opposed to Unitarian Universalism, which is an interfaith view that doesn’t elevate Christ above other great religious figures, Christian Universalism holds that Jesus Christ is the fullest expression of the character of God who offers salvation to everyone-even if they don’t actually receive it.

This is where the articles starts to become a little bit off. Barely halfway into the article, and Christian Universalism has already been largely misrepresented (for the sake of this particlar blog entry/facebook note, assume that I’m not a Christian Universalist. I’m only defending what most of them believe). Christian Universalists do not believe that receiving God’s salvation is unnecessary. They simply believe that everyone eventually will receive it, whether in this life or not.

The article just gets more confused from there. The next section, entitled “The One and Only,” only serves to prove that the writer has not done sufficient research about the beliefs of most Christian Universalists:

Clearly, there is a mammoth difference between Christianity as Scripture describes and the Christian Universalist’s variation. And it is not simply a matter of preference; it is a matter of Scripture. “Anyone who affirms universalism has a problem with biblical authority and ultimately with Jesus, Peter and Paul,” says Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Seminary and author of A Theology for the Church. “The Bible provides no theological support apart from special revelation, and nothing that would support the anonymous and eventual views. That is more the wistful musings of liberal theologians.”

In order to refrain from writing a thousand-word rebuttal to this paragraph, I’m going to try to limit myself to a couple Bible verses spoken by the aforementioned Biblical men where the Scripture certainly appears to agree with Christian Universalism (henceforth abbreviated by CU):

Jesus: John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (The article actually quotes this verse later on as one used by Christian Universalists to defend their beliefs).

Peter: Acts 3:20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: 21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.

Paul: I don’t even know where to begin with Paul, there are so many clear-cut examples where he boldly states (or at least implies) the Restitution of All Things that it’s mind-blowing that I ever missed it before, but here’s a good one:
1 Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

I’m not sure what Mr. Akin means by the “anonymous and eventual views,” but if he’s trying to imply that the majority of Christian Universalists are “liberal theologians,” he couldn’t be more wrong. The founder of the tentmaker.org site (a site dedicated to Christian Universalism) is a conservative Christian, as are a great deal of the people who post to the site’s message board. In fact, the only major difference between most Christian Universalists and the modern Evangelical Christian is the belief that God will eventually save all people (remember, I’m talking about most Christian Universalists, not necessarily myself). Most would agree with just about all the other doctrines of modern Evangelical Christianity, such as the virgin birth, trinity, authority of Scripture, etc. To say that there is a “mammoth difference” between the Christian Universalist’s “variation” and Scripture’s Christianity is to not look at the entire picture (especially considering the aforementioned verses). Alright, more on Scripture later. Moving on…

Darrel Bock, New Testament scholar and author of Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ, agrees with Akin that Universalism fails to understand the core message of the scriptures. “If a person says they embrace Jesus and the revelation from God about Him in the Bible, which is our only real access to what He taught, then to believe everyone is saved denies fundamental parts of Jesus’ message and warning,” he says.

This mostly has to do with the mistranslation of the Greek words αἰών and αἰώνιος, normally translated “eternal,” “everlasting,” “forever,” “forever and ever” etc. The more accurate translation according to Christian Universalists and many Greek scholars would be words such as “age,” “age-during,” and “to the age of the ages,” etc. Go to this site: http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Aion_lim.html for a book about this particular translation issue (another article I haven’t gotten around to reading yet) . Whether this is true or not makes no difference when one considers that this issue is not even mentioned in the article! Certainly the author must have known that translation issues factored into this debate! Why did he completely ignore it? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Again, moving on…

Furthermore, Universalism is irreconcilable with many critical scriptural lynchpins. For example, if God will eventually save all, the New Testament’s emphasis on evangelism is confusing at best. More importantly, if Jesus’ life was simply a wonderful example of how we must live, the cross becomes unnecessary. “To believe everyone is saved denies fundamental parts of Jesus’ message and warning,” Bock says. “In many ways, it risks making the cross very irrelevant, as well as the message Jesus taught and and commissioned the apostles to preach and write about to the world.”

Evangelism is confusing if God is allowing the fate of all humanity to rest on the shoulders of those he deems worthy of spreading his message to others. Christian Universalists believe that some people are ordained to be part of the “first-fruits,” others will be brought into the fold later.

1 Corinthians 15: 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

At the end, the entire kingdom will be delivered to God, which includes every human being. Does this make evangelism irrelevant? Absolutely not. God is completely in control of everything, including who is saved (which is everyone according to CU). He allows Christians to be a part of his “restitution of all things” by giving them a purpose, that is, preaching the gospel to others. This would be devastating for a lot of Christians to accept because they feel that their entire purpose in life is to work for God to prove their worth to Him instead of with Him and other Christians to bring His love into the world.

As for the cross being unnecessary if all were saved, I’ll post something I wrote in a previous note:

“As for the death of Christ on the cross, I say this: Imagine purchasing a 100-acre field full of a crop of corn. You’ve worked for many months in order to save up the money to buy this field, and finally you shake hands, sign contracts, etc. and are given the rights to the field. However, the next morning you wake up to a phone call. The voice on the other end says, “We’re sorry to tell you this, but there was a fire in the field you purchased last night. We’ve only been able to salvage 10 acres of it.” Would you be satisfied with that? Would you be able to say, “Well, I purchased it, but it’s too bad that most of the field had to be lost.” No! You would ask for your money back! You didn’t get all that you paid for!

If God sent His only begotten Son Jesus to die on the Cross, and it was unsuccessful in saving a vast majority of the human race, then God has not gotten all that He paid for. What a tragedy that Jesus died! He has failed to complete the work which he set out to do! This belief in no way trivializes Jesus’ death. It was absolutely necessary. If it succeeds in accomplishing it’s task, how does that make it unnecessary?”

Jesus being unable to save a majority of mankind through His sacrifice on the cross trivializes his death many times more than if He is successful in saving everyone.

[I]n reality, the chasm between Universalism and Christianity on judgment and grace is not one of degree but of definition. “What is amazing about grace is that it completely removes the huge debt of sin we rack up before God and transforms us into a new way of life where we can be what God created us to be, not simply go on as we were,” Bock says. “A savior who confronts me about the realities about myself and my utter need for God does me a favor. And I can love Him with all my heart because He has literally given me a new lease on life.

Um… uh… okay. I see nothing in that paragraph that most Christian Universalists would disagree with.

Indeed, one must make several scriptural leapfrogs in order to arrive at Universal salvation. First, there is Jesus’ assertion that “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6, TNIV, emphasis added). Then, there was Paul’s statement that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) And 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ.” The list rolls on and on in support of one central truth: Salvation is attained only through faith in Jesus Christ.

*sigh* Christian Universalists do not disagree with those Scriptures. In fact, most of them agree with them wholeheartedly. The issue is not that Jesus is or isn’t the way, the truth, and the life (both “normal” Christians and Christian Universalists believe He is), but whether or not all people will eventually come to saving faith in Him. CU simply allows for the possibility that God will work on a person until they are ready to accept Him, whether in this life or in the ages to come.

The next section is entitled “Tough to Swallow.” The third paragraph begins:

The Christian message […] can be a tough message to swallow in a world where inclusivity is king. We live in a culture where Little League baseball associations mandate that every child gets equal playing time and every opinion is considered equally valid. “Sometimes it seems like the only remaining taboo is intolerance-you can do and believe anything as long as you don’t tell someone else they are wrong and dare to believe you have found a universal truth,” [Ed] Stetzer [Director of Lifeway Research] says. And his work at LifeWay Research supports that claim.

The difference between the two items in the Little League baseball analogy is that the children who are given less playing time or don’t make the team aren’t tortured forever. It’s not a simple matter of inclusivity or exclusivity. It’s a matter of whether or not God will allow people to suffer for eternity for not making the right choice out of a billion possible ones.

Followers of Christ must come to realize that our message can unite in supernatural ways, but it can also be terribly divisive.

(No way, I never noticed that there were hundreds of denominations within Christianity. What a shocker. [I apologize for the sarcasm.])

If this doesn’t sound right, check out Jesus’ words in Luke 12:49-57 when He says He didn’t come to bring peace and warns that Christianity would cause division even within families. “Jesus told us that Christian truth would be divisive,” says David Wells, author of Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World. “He said it will divide families, and that is what has always happened. When people hold up as the norm that something cannot be true if it divides, it tells us how far they are drifting from a biblical understanding.”

Pardon me. [*goes outside and screams at the top of his lungs in frustration*] Okay, I’m good now.

Are you kidding me? You don’t think Christian Universalists realize that truth can be divisive? Seriously? When I first let my Evangelical Christian parents know about my changing beliefs (which don’t necessarily always line up with CU, by the way), do you think that it helped to unite us more in our beliefs? NO! Of course truth (or one’s perception of it) is divisive! That’s not the issue! The issue is whether or not God will torture people forever for not choosing Him the right way! (Oddly enough [*ahem*], eternal torture is not explicitly mentioned once in the article).

Okay, only a couple more paragraphs, I’ll try to get through this:

By its very definition, “salvation” assumes that one is being saved from something. Though it can be unpopular in our culture, the message that salvation is found exclusively through faith in Christ is the only one that Scripture supports. But this message is not one of judgment and doom. It is one of humble hope.

Again, most Christian Universalists would have no problem agreeing with the previous paragraph.

Alright, last paragraph:

“We should be as committed as Christians to making such efforts in our presentation of Jesus’ message-the difficult bits as well as the nice parts-because that is offering genuine help to those in dire need, a need every human shares,” Bock says [sic]. “If we were more humble about our dire need for God, we just might cling to Him more tightly.” Now that’s a salvation worth having.

Most Christian Universalists would not disagree that Jesus’ message contained “difficult bits,” but an eternity of suffering and pain should probably conjure up a more explicit word than “difficult,” no? Once again (I promise I’ll stop saying this soon), the major difference between CU and Evangelical Christianity is that of the duration of punishment (or “correction,” as CU likes to use), whether it is eternal or temporary.

One of the biggest problems I see in this article is that the issue of mistranslation and tampering with texts and religious bias and [etc., etc., etc.] is not even brought up in the article. That is the biggest point of contention between Evangelical Christians and Christian Universalists! Not whether or not Jesus is the only way to salvation! It is utterly baffling to me how the writer of this article did not see the need to bring up this problem somewhere in the article. Most Christian Universalists don’t have a problem with Scripture, they have a problem with the way that men have handled it throughout the years, and all that they’ve done to (in the Christian Universalist’s eyes) pervert its message. To claim that Christian Universalists have a problem with the claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation is to show yourself to be completely ignorant of what they actually believe. Maybe Unitarian Universalists have a problem with it (again, I don’t know that much about them), but Christian Universalists (on the whole) definitely do not.

Somewhat ironically, 24 pages later in the same issue of this magazine is an article called “The Pain Behind the Perfection: One Woman’s Struggle to Overcome Abuse.” Before I start describing it to you and quoting parts of it, I want to make clear that I am not saying that all Evangelical Christians are like this woman’s father and the Christians she knew. I’m merely using it as an example to make a point (or two) which I will get to later. It begins:

“When I was just a little girl, I learned quickly how to be afraid of God.”

I grew up in a seemingly Christian home. My father was a evangelical fundamentalist and devout Bible reader. He covered the walls in his bedroom with handwritten Bible text and commentaries, he taught kindergarten Sunday school at the church and he ensured that I behaved as a proper Christian girl should. I wore dresses, not pants (I didn’t own a set of jeans or shorts), and wasn’t allowed to pierce my ears. Makeup was a mortal sin, and cutting my hair was a sign of rebellion. Movies were simply not acceptable, and Christian rock (but not too hard) was my only acceptable vice. I was at church every time the doors were open, and was so consistently there that I won the perfect Sunday school attendance award eight years in a row.

[…]

My father used God as a weapon: psychologically, emotionally and physically. He would rape me while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. He would hurt me while singing Christian hymns. His words were knives that sliced through me, words straight from the verses of the Bible: words of wickedness, sinfulness, rebellion, punishment and the promise of hell.

This version of Christianity is certainly divisive, isn’t it? Does this make it any more true or right? I can’t understand why Mr. Wells thinks divisiveness is such a positive quality. It should rather be seen as a somewhat necessary evil. Christians should seek for unity with all people, not just those that agree with them. Jesus did not say, “Go out and be intentionally divisive” (and, yes, I do realize that He said that He Himself came to bring division, but the Bible says that God’s responsible for all the division/evil/struggle in the world anyway, so it’s not like He’s encouraging His followers to cause strife in the world). A message like Jesus’ is going to be divisive simply based on human nature and human desires.

The father in this case was the dedicated “Christian” during this woman’s childhood. His family was divided because he was a sick man who perverted his Christian beliefs to the point where he felt justified in sexually abusing his daughter. It’s one thing if Christianity is divisive because people simply want to live selfish lives and care only about themselves. It’s quite another thing if it’s divisive because of misrepresentations by Christ’s followers. There are innumerable reasons why people don’t want to become Christians. It’s not simply because they are “evil” or are living according to the “natural sinful man” (or whatever your favorite Christian terminology is).

The author of the article goes on to say that while in high school, she attended a Bible study run by an ex-marine youth pastor, who made the teens stick to a strict regimen every day. She says:

The few times I did something wrong-the times I didn’t run the mile in the time allotted or didn’t know my Bible verse-the pastor brought out an old heavy wooden board. He would pull down my pants in front of the entire youth group and swat me several times with it while quoting verses about temptation, Jesus’ blood sacrifice, the redeeming of wickedness and the fires of hell. The stinging ache of the physical injury was less painful than the crumpling of my heart. I would fill up with tears that I couldn’t cry (it wasn’t “Christian”), and my inner soul would feel even more unloved, more unsatisfactory and helpless.

[…]

I was sent to a Christian college, and things did not improve. Run by the same senior pastor and his staff who ran the church, the attitudes and beliefs were the same, even in this institute of higher learning and older students.

[…]

…I became even more utterly desperate and uncontrollable. I started talking about suicide with anyone and everyone who would listen, not just with people I trusted… I started to wonder if if perhaps it hadn’t been my fault from the very beginning-that God had known who I was and insisted on the abuse as punishment.

This is the part where some loving, Bible-believing Christian from the college comes along and shows her the true love of God, right? Not even close. These “Christians” were likely too busy avoiding “living in sin” and condemning those who did to notice the serious emotional problems this woman was going through instead of loving her for who she was and showing her how to get help.

Eventually the school staff noticed her behavior, and their solution was to hold a meeting with her to decide what she and the staff needed to do:

The counselor went on with words I will never forget. “I am asking that none of you listen to her thoughts of suicide. If she begins to talk like this, inform me immediately. I am insisting that you never talk alone with her in your office, in your classroom, even in the hallway. Do not be alone with her… ever.”

[…]

“Also,” I heard the counselor say to me as I came back to the moment, “you have to go to therapy in order to stay in school. We will kick you out if we discover you are not going.

This counselor cared nothing for this woman’s personal problems, only for the outward appearance (sound familiar?) of her school and its students. Instead of this enforced therapy helping her, it simply drove her futher into despair.

I became a shell. Hopeless that my future would ever change, filling my father’s sexual needs, I didn’t care about anything anymore. The self-injury I had been doing since I was younger increased. The idea of God was nothing more than a horrible man with a giant penis in the sky, a man who loved to punish girls for their disobedience. I felt I would never be loved, and I stopped even hoping for it.

Eventually, the author wound up “living next to a wonderful lesbian couple,” through whose influence she “learned about the compassionate God, the God who treated all people equally, the God who didn’t punish” (imagine that, learning about the love of God from homosexuals. I thought their only motives were to corrupt our children and ruin our country…). Later, she joined a Christian group called Youth Specialties and has been able to get back on her feet after all her struggles. She closes the article with the following paragraphs:

I still struggle daily with doubt and indecision, with fear and despair, with suicidal thoughts and with deep memories. Some days I am so depressed I can’t get out of bed or speak to anyone. This is still a part of who I am. Of where I have come from. Of what I have survived.

It’s true really-I’m stumbling toward faith. It’s not an easy path, and it isn’t a well-traveled one. But I have learned to pray one sentence throughout my days, my struggles, my rage, my sadness, my disbelief and my confusion.

“I believe. Help Thou, oh God, my unbelief.”

Now, imagine that this woman’s struggles, rage, sadness, disbelief, and confusion had led her to decide that Christianity was a crock and that God really was just “a horrible man with a giant penis in the sky… who loved to punish girls for their disobedience” or that He didn’t exist at all. What person with one ounce of compassion in their veins would blame her for rejecting such a God (or any God, for that matter)?

Would Jesus?

Would Jesus allow her to be sent to Hell to be tortured forever (or “separated for eternity,” whichever method of eternal consequences your particular denomination prefers)? Would Jesus be loving in granting her what she’s always truly desired- separation from Him for eternity (which I’ve heard implied by a pastor before)? Does this woman seem at all desirous of eternal separation from God in this article? Is anyone? Christians like to say that once you see Jesus as He really is, you cannot reject Him, He is too perfect and holy and loving. He is everything that someone could want in a friend, or a parent, or any other number of relational analogies. Therefore, can anyone truly wish to be separated from God eternally? If we really believe that God is as great as we say He is, then how can we think that anyone who sees Him for Who He really is would ever reject Him? It is my belief that people cannot reject God. They can only reject their illusions (or delusions) of Him. People reject what they see God represented by: they think He will take their fun away, He hates people who disobey Him, He only loves a select few, etc. If anyone currently seems to be rejecting God, it is because God has not yet revealed to them Who He really is. It is my opinion that the vast majority of Christianity has God wrong (due largely to our desire as human beings to see people get their “just desserts” or to feel special or better or more “chosen” than others). Christianity is so absolutely full of “God loves you, but…”s that I’m somewhat amazed at how I used to be able to rationalize such a God as all-loving.

Or, perhaps this woman was supposed to utilize her “free will” to choose God despite all of the terrible things that had been done to her. Was it her free will that led her to God? Was her will even free at all? Was she supposed to wake up one morning and say to herself, “Well, despite the fact that I’ve been told my entire life that God is like this, this, and this, I realize that all the authority figures that have shoved this message down my throat since birth are wrong and God is actually a very loving Creator who doesn’t take pleasure in punishing His children.” How can one who is raised with such perverted, distorted views of God possibly have the free will to discover for herself Who God really is? How is it even her choice? The only reason, I believe (and I’m sure she would agree with me were she to ever read this), that she discovered how loving God really was was because He, through various circumstances in her life, brought her to the place where she was able to accept such a belief about Him. It wasn’t because of her own wisdom or her ability to see through “the lies of the wicked one.” Only God has the ability to bring healing to someone who has gone through intense personal suffering in whatever way and at whatever time He sees fit.

The exclusivity mentioned in the first article would certainly have ensured that this woman would not have “made it into the club” had she not “received Jesus as her Savior.” Try telling someone who has gone through the immense suffering that this woman has gone through at the hands of Christians that she will go to Hell if she does not accept Jesus as her Savior and see how successful your ministry attempts are. See if it causes her to respect and love Jesus more, or if it drives her into incurable despair. You say, “No, we would show her Christ’s love,” and I have no doubt that you would. But what do you do when she questions whether God will forgive her if she chooses the wrong religion? What if she decides that Christianity has caused too much pain to too many people throughout the centuries? How could you possibly respond to a person like that without the answer sounding trite or canned or completely illogical to her?

God reveals Himself to people in many different ways. To say that the only way to experience God is to believe exactly what every other Christian believes (as if all Christians believe the same thing) and pray a formulaic prayer (“repeat these words after me”) is to put God in the most confining of boxes. One of my favorite Christian writers, Charles Slagle, wrote an article about how God revealed Himself to him in the form of a dog. ( You can read it here: http://sigler.org/slagle/newpage3.htm [I love this quote: “I hate you, God! You’re full of empty promises and even more full of cruel threats! I hate life! I wish I had never been born! When You condemn me to eternal fire, don’t You DARE say ‘I never knew you.’ Don’t You dare. Because I will tell You, with all Heaven and hell as witness, that You could have known me. I will remind You of all the nights like this one when I cried out to You!” Kind of hits hard, doesn’t it?] ) God is a personal God. He meets people where they are. God comes to them. He does not give people a 70-year time limit and then say, “Ah, well, good try, but you didn’t find me in time. Into the eternal flames of Hell you go.” He is much more understanding than that, and if Christians believed in a God that is all-loving and never fails, they would be much more successful in convincing others to come to Him.

If you’ve read this entire thing, then you are a fantastic, amazing person who deserves a prize, but will not get one. Forgive me if I seemed overly bitterly sarcastic at points, it’s not my purpose to offend, just to get my point across (I still need to work on that). I swear that I don’t think that I have God, life, and love completely figured out. I’m simply trying to find Truth just like everyone else. Even if you believe everything that I reacted against, I still love you :) I just hope that someone who reads this will be able to get something out of it, even if they don’t completely agree with me.





Cultural Café, or “I feel special :)”

1 11 2008

This Tuesday at Vintage was a special event called “Cultural Café.” People who came to this event were allowed to text a question to a certain number and during the service the pastor would try to answer the questions as best as he could. As luck would have it, with over 1,000 people at the event, my question got asked/answered first. Yay me.

That question was this (yes, I realize the second statement isn’t actually a sentence, it’s a freaking text, for goodness’ sake):

“Is God all-powerful, or is He all-loving? Because if anyone goes to Hell for eternity, He cannot be both.”

The response, in summation, was basically that an eternal Hell may look cruel to our limited human minds, but God has a different sense of justice than we do, so He is justified in allowing people to go there. This Bible verse, Isaiah 55:8, was referenced: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” The pastor said that every act of God is loving, even allowing people to go to Hell. Such an act would be loving, he said, because God would be giving them what they’ve always truly desired- separation from Him for eternity- and that it would be His last loving act to them. Therefore, according to the pastor, God is loving in sending people to Hell.

First of all, I have nothing personally against this pastor. It seems that a lot of Christians, including him, are reasonable about just about anything except when it comes to the doctrine of an eternal Hell. Why that is, God only knows.

I personally find the argument that God is loving in allowing anyone to suffer for eternity to be absolutely absurd. It goes against every moral fiber of our being, and yet Christians find the need to defend it with all their being (of course, they don’t talk about it too much, though, because that would be “legalistic”).

If God created us, then He is our Father. What father would grant their child the desire to be separated from them FOREVER and tortured FOREVER. If a child asked its mother or father to play in traffic or play with the pretty carving knife, we would accuse any parent that allowed them to do so as being completely incapable of raising children and of being a disgusting human being. How much sicker would it be for God to allow His children (who are, comparable to Him, nothing more than completely ignorant children) to be separated from Him for eternity with no hope of ever being restored to Him?

Why would God’s sense of justice, love, mercy, etc. be any different from ours? If His thoughts are really that different from ours, then we have absolutely NO reason to believe that He won’t someday change His mind about Christians and cast them off as well. If it’s okay for God to be unforgiving forever, then why wouldn’t it be okay for Him to change His mind whenever He wants? What hope do Christians have if they can’t trust God to always remain the same?

As for justice, why do we as Christians believe that justice=eternaldeathpunishmentHell? The Bible is very clear that judgment and justice only work through mercy. A few examples:

Isaiah 1:17- Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Seek judgment? Does that mean seek punishment for your enemies and their eternal torture? Obviously not, for we are told to “judge” the fatherless as well, and this means to seek their good.

Zechariah 7:9- Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother:

True judgment? True judgment is to “shew mercy and compassions,” not torture them for wrongdoing.

Isaiah 30:18-And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.

Hmm… the LORD is a God of judgment. That means panic because He’s a wild maniac waiting to torture you, right? Wrong. God will have mercy upon you BECAUSE He is a God of judgment.

You get the point, right? Now, let’s go back to Isaiah 55:8, but let’s read it in context this time…

Isaiah 55:6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God’s ways are higher than our ways. He is more merciful, more loving, more forgiving than we are, not less. These qualities are not in an entirely different nature from the way that we understand them, they are simply infinitely more abundant.

God loves us more than we could possibly realize, and He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked.

I might add more to this later, but that’s enough for now.





Children

7 10 2008
I attended Sunday School on Sunday for the first time in a long time (I’d been helping my mom teach it before that) and our lesson was about children. We started out by reading the following passage:

Matthew 18:1-6
1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Wow. Harsh words from Jesus. My pastor pointed out how this shows how much Jesus loves children and He doesn’t take kindly to those who harm them in any way, but particularly in matters of faith.

This raised an interesting point with me, and is one of the main reasons that I decided not to help teach Sunday School anymore. Those who know me well know that there are a lot of things within orthodox and/or Evangelical Christianity that I do not agree with. Some of the things taught in the childrens’ Sunday School classes nearly cross what I see as the line of what would “offend one of these little ones.” What exactly does Jesus mean by this?

Of course the obvious things like child abuse and abortion and deliberately deceiving children are included in the category of “offensive.” These are all terrible things and I become infuriated whenever I think about them. I wish I could do something to wipe these horrible acts off the face of the earth. However, I don’t believe that “evil non-Christians” and “unbelievers” are the only people who commit such a sin as is worthy of a millstone-drowning.

I’m the sort of person who really likes kids (probably having something to do with the fact that I act like a little kid most of the time). They are usually more interesting and fun to be around than adults or people my own age. They have an innate innocence about them and are very trusting. If you tell them that Jesus loves them, they will usually believe you and will begin praying to Him. However, one can also rob them of innocence and steal their childhood from them by telling them what is best represented by a cartoon I found somewhere on facebook:

I am going to declare right now that I will NEVER, EVER tell a child that if he or she does not obey Jesus or accept Him that He will send them to Hell where they will burn alive in fire for ETERNITY. I cannot imagine anything more horribly abusive to a child’s psyche than telling them something like that. Imagine a child hearing that for the first time. All his life he’s heard that Jesus loves Him and that Jesus loves everyone. He’s been told that we should believe in Jesus because He wants us to love Him just as He loves us. Now, someone tells him that UNLESS we love Jesus back, God plans to send us to a place of suffering where we will be not for a few hours, not for a few days, not for a few years, etc., etc., but for EVER. Can you even fathom how screwed up this kid’s mind will become? How can God love someone so much and then send them to such an awful place?

Most modern Christians believe in an “age of accountability” where a child becomes old enough to understand life, love, sin, death, etc. and are now responsible for their souls. In other words, they move from “If I die I’ll automatically be ushered into Heaven because I’m a kid” to “I will be sent to Hell forever if I do not believe something some guy said 2000 years ago.” Do you realize what you are doing if you tell kids about a God who sends people to an eternal place of suffering? You are forcing them through the gate of that “age of accountability” (by the way, I think that doctrine is absolutely bogus and has no basis whatsoever in the Bible). You are robbing them of their innocence and their faith in a loving Creator.

At the risk of sounding like a very bitter person, I was robbed of much of my childhood because of the doctrine of an eternal Hell. I harbor no bitterness toward any specific person for telling me this, because I’m sure that they honestly believed it to be true and were simply concerned about my soul (although I do harbor some bitterness toward the institutions and Bible-translators over the years that have kept this doctrine the prominent belief of Christians over the centuries through dishonesty and self-interest, but I’m trying to get rid of that). However, I spent many nights as a child and teenager in tears and terror, afraid that I somehow hadn’t done enough to appease this God that supposedly loved me. I often wished that I could just die and be in Heaven instantly so I wouldn’t have this fear hanging over me anymore. If you would wish this on any child, feel free to let them know what you think God will do to them if they don’t believe in Him.

Alright, back to the Sunday School lesson. We then moved on in the chapter of Matthew 18:

7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

Ironic, isn’t it? Here I am talking about how bad it is to tell children about an everlasting Hell, and yet it seems that that is exactly what Jesus does here (remember, He had just called a little child unto him). Of course, He’s not talking directly to children, but He’s still talking about it within hearing of at least one child. I don’t want to go into a long spiel about translations and things like that, but first of all, the word translated “everlasting” in verse 8 is the word αἰώνιον (aionion) in Greek, which I believe is better translated “age-during” or “aionian,” since it’s base word is the word aion, which means “age” (but that’s enough of that, I’m no Greek expert). Second of all, the word “hell” in verse 9 is actually the word γέενναν (Gehenna), which was an actual physical place in Bible-times and was the equivalent of a garbage-dump. (Interestingly, the word “hell,” when it appears in the Bible is translated from four different words, the Hebrew Sheol, and the Greek Gehenna, Hades, and Tartaroo. Apparently those who spoke Greek liked to use three different words for the exact same thing [according to many modern interpretations]). So, I’ll just leave it at that, with the fact that I don’t believe Jesus actually spoke about everlasting torture in front of children.

My pastor pointed out these sorts of words don’t usually come to mind when we think of a gentle Savior. As a matter of fact, it sounds downright violent… and it is. Sin (especially that committed against children) comes with very serious consequences and we would do well to avoid it.

Our final verse for the lesson was Matthew 18:10- Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

Angels are constantly watching over children and can instantly contact God. If that doesn’t make you careful to treat children the way Jesus would, then I don’t know what will. I’m not one to use fear tactics to get people to act rightly, but I certainly believe that the strictest judgment is reserved for those who abuse children in any way. Of course, we’ve all mistreated just about everyone we’ve come across in some way, whether children or not, but this passage should encourage us to take special care in how we treat children. We need to let children know that God loves them and not threaten them with God’s unending judgment.

Remember, God is love, not merely loving. God is just, but is not justice (or vengeance). Justice is one of His character traits, but it is not the definition of His very being. Love is both his character and His very definition. There is not a dualism of “God is love/God is just” as most Christians see it. Love and justice are not equal and opposing forces in Him. His justice is not without love, they are closely intertwined. Mercy (love) triumphs over judgment.





Sincerity

6 09 2008
You’re only looking through stained plexiglas. Quit pretending everything’s crystal clear. Your “manual” isn’t a window into the heavens.

If you haven’t been changed, then you need to make sure that you become changed, but it’s not really you who can change, you need Someone to help you change, but if you don’t change, you may lose your chance before you die.

In other words, you need to ask to be changed. So don’t worry, you can be changed as long as you change yourself enough so that your perspective changes to the point where you see your need to change and you are willing to make your request to change. Easy enough, right?

 

 

 

Oh, one more thing…

You can make your request and you may think you’re being sincere, but the Bible says that you must “believe with all your heart.”

But what if it’s only with 99% of my heart?

Sorry, 99% isn’t enough for my God. You see, Jesus loves you unconditionally, but we’re not robots, so He wants us to choose to love Him with all of our hearts. He died for us, so He deserves all of us.

Doesn’t adding a condition to something that is unconditional make it conditional?

God is love, but He is also just. He will not force anything on you (until you die, that is). He’s given you the free will to choose Him now. Do it now while you have that free will before He takes that free will away and forces you to the ground in worship before casting you off forever. God doesn’t like robots right now and wants willed worship, but if you refuse, He’ll just have to settle for forcing you against your will just before you are condemned.

I don’t really understand, but I don’t want to go to Hell. If this is the only way, I guess I have to accept it. Too bad for everyone who doesn’t, though.

Mr. Questioner lives as a Christian for ten years thereafter. He lives his life the best he knows how, but still has problems with sin. He wants to glorify God, but doesn’t know how to do so. Questions about God’s nature still linger in the back of his mind, but he suppresses them because “His ways are higher than our ways,” so why bother asking? Besides, it may be taken as heresy and he may have to be “delivered unto Satan for the purging of the flesh.” He then hears a powerful sermon…

 

… Are you living your life fully for Christ? Is EverySingleThingYouDo done for the glory of God?

If not, there’s a problem.

Do you watch television that does not directly glorify God? Do you forget to read the Bible everyday? Do you still struggle with sin?

If so, you’ve just learned something about yourself, haven’t you?

Don’t get me wrong, we all struggle with sin. But if it’s anything more than occasionally hurting someone’s feelings, then you’ve got some serious questioning to do. It may be evidence of something.

It may show that you’ve never known him.

[wait, never known him? i’ve been living life as best i can these past ten years. i’ve tried to follow all the rules of the bible, but i still fail all the time. i’ve prayed to him time and again to rid me of the private and public sins in my life, but it seems i’m never answered. is it because i’ve never known him? is he ignoring my prayers because i’m not ‘one of his children?’]

If you are not showing sufficient evidence that you have been changed by Jesus Christ, if you still look just like the world, if you still do the same things that you did when you first came to know Christ, then you probably don’t know Jesus and He doesn’t know You.

[what? then what can i do? if i change and start doing all the things mr. pastorman tells me, then it won’t be jesus changing me, but me changing me. how will that help? i’ve already asked god thousands of times for change, but nothing happens.]

You need to get serious with God and get your life right with Him.

[i’m already serious with god! deadly serious! i don’t want to go to hell! why won’t he change me?]

If God isn’t helping You to seek Him and putting You back on the straight and narrow right after you sin, then you may not be one of His children. Because those whom He loves He chastens. If you’re not being chastened, then you are probably not His child. If you are one of His children, it doesn’t matter how far you go, He will always bring you back.

[if i left god and christianity right now, would he bring me back? i could leave forever and i think he would just let me go. i’m so tired of this]

If you feel like I’ve been describing your situation and speaking directly to you throughout this night, I want you to repeat this prayer after me…

[this is bullshit. i’ve already done this a million times. i’m gone.]

Exit Mr. Questioner

Mr. Questioner realizes that his life as a Christian, trying to please God and live by the Bible, is making him miserable. He contemplates suicide, but realizes that this will only speed up his judgment of eternal condemnation. He decides to just live for himself and his pleasures, since he is headed for Hell anyway according to Mr. Pastorman. So he spends his days, living for himself by drowning himself in alcohol, women, drugs, entertainment, and anything else that will divert his attention from his internal terrors and fears. One night, after a long period of partying and drinking at the local bar, Mr. Questioner realizes that this isn’t any less miserable than what he was doing before. He decides that his eternal fate has already been decided and there is nothing he can do to change it, so why delay judgment any longer? He hops into his car, turns the key, and drives into the river, where he drowns to death.

fin





The Parable of the Two Sons

30 07 2008

Matthew 21:28-32

 28But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.

 29He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.

 30And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.

 31Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.

 32For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.

Jesus speaks this parable in the presence of some of the most important religious leaders of the day.  The first son in the parable initially refuses to do what the father requests, but eventually has a change of heart and does what is asked of him.  The second son feigns obedience to the father but then does nothing that has been told him.

Jesus then shows His audience that it was only the first son who actually did the will of his father.  Then, in one of the several moments that Jesus provokes the religious leaders to want to kill Him, He tells them that whores and members of the IRS will enter the Kingdom of God before them (at least, He probably would have said that if it happened today).  This is because the religious leaders didn’t repent when they heard the truth, unlike those they had deemed “sinners,” who turned to God.  The Pharisees and Jewish leaders thought they had all their doctrinal ducks in a row (stolen phrase- can’t remember where from though), and refused to believe that there was a possibility that they could be wrong.  Their self-righteousness had blinded them into thinking that they had all their bases covered and no one could tell them otherwise.

Is it possible that this same spirit of self-righteousness still exists today?  “Of course,” you may say.  “The Roman Catholics who are steeped in ritualism and extreme legalists who over-emphasize works-based salvation are very guilty of this.”  This may be true, but do not be too quick to judge others.  Look inside yourself and do a bit of soul-searching, and you may be surprised at what you find (I am guilty of this as much as anyone else).

Jesus said that repentant harlots and publicans would enter the kingdom of God before those He was addressing (notice He said “before,” not “instead of”).  Why do they get to go in first?  The answer lies in the fact that they were the ones who did the will of their Father.

The next question one would naturally ask is, “Well then, what is the will of the Father?”  Well, let’s make a list, shall we?  Which of the following do you feel is part of the will of the Father that we are to fulfill?

  • Holding rallies to ensure that a judge who wishes to keep the Ten Commandments displayed in his courtroom is allowed to keep doing so (The same Ten Commandments that were under the Old Law that Jesus took away [Heb. 10:9]).
  • Bombing abortion clinics
  • Boycotting any movie that disagrees with Christian values in any way
  • Calling women who have had abortions “baby-killers” and demanding they repent of their evil ways
  • Keeping churches “clean” by making sure that no one of obvious “questionable moral character” is allowed membership, or even inside the building in extreme cases
  • Fighting atheists tooth and nail to prove that God exists and they are wrong (by the way, I love this quote from the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller:  “Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”)
  • Writing songs with lyrics like “If you’re pro-choice, you’re pro-kill / Innocent bloodshed, murder at will” (no, I’m not kidding- the band No Innocent Victim wrote the song these lines are from, called “Pro-Kill.”  That is so soaked in irony right there that their very band name is a declaration that no victim is innocent, yet they call the killing of babies “innocent bloodshed.”  There are so many implications right there- I’ll save that for another day [By the way, don’t get me wrong, I think abortion is a horrific and wrong practice].)
  • Telling people who are not Christians that they had better get their life right before they die or God will sentence them to Hell to be tortured forever
  • Telling people that they need to start a personal relationship with Jesus Christ now so that when they die they can go to be in Heaven with Him or else they will end up in a place called Hell which is an eternal separation from God as a result of their own choices

I was listening to a message by a man named Gary Amirault the other day (a message that inspired much of this particular writing).  The message was called “Bull-DooDoo.”  Mr. Amirault told of a time when he was asked to speak at a Christian convention.  He spoke on the pharisaical ways of many Christians today and apparently used the word “bullshit” to describe it.  Having not realized he said the word, he was shocked when afterward he was pulled aside by two of the convention’s members of leadership and told that members of the audience had threatened to leave the convention over the use of the offensive word.  This got Mr. Amirault thinking, and after a lot of deliberating over whether he used the word because he was sinful or careless or what, came to a conclusion.  He looked through the Bible at all the strong language used by Old Testament prophets and Jesus against those who were doing particularly evil or deceptive things, and realized that perhaps God Himself had given him the word “bullshit” to describe the empty, useless doctrines/traditions/things valued by Christians, a word Mr. Amirault absolutely was not intending to use beforehand. (By the way, if you want to hear the message, let me know and I can send you the mp3 files so you can listen to it).

Take a good look at that list again.  Which of those things requires God’s intervention?  Which of those things, if you were to ask Him right now, would He want to be involved with?  Is God the God of guilt-trips?  Is God the God of improving the morals of those people who don’t even believe in Him in the first place?  Is God the God of the sort of justice that would compel a man to bomb an abortion clinic (after all, the abortionist had killed many before, right?  Surely, he deserves death?)  Is God the God of the death penalty?

(As an aside, take another good look at the last two items in the list.  Do you see a discernible difference between the two?  The first probably seems dated and legalistic to the modern Christian, whereas the second probably has a less harsh tone to it, and seems to relieve God of some of the responsibility of some members of His creation being lost forever.  A good question to ask yourself is why we as Christians have moved from “God condemns you to eternal torture” to “We sentence ourselves to eternal separation from God.”  There is a reason.)

When will we realize that Christianity is not about morality?  Jesus did not come to preach morality!  If He did, there would have been no reason for Him to come, for morality was already perfectly laid out in the Mosaic Law!

Look at this next list.  Again, ask yourself which of the following you think would be included in God’s will.

  • Telling people that God loves them unconditionally and has paid the ultimate sacrifice so that they can be saved
  • Loving people regardless of race, religion, color, sexual orientation, or political affiliation
  • Telling people that nothing they do could ever change how much God loves them
  • Visiting and caring for those who are suffering, regardless of if they have made bad choices that have caused them to end up where they are
  • Showing people that those who truly love Jesus are not condemning, but are, first and foremost, full of love and compassion for others




2 Corinthians 5:17

21 07 2008

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

This verse has caused me a lot of trouble over the years (or maybe I just brought the trouble on myself). I would read it and assume that because my “godliness” hadn’t increased tenfold and all my bad habits didn’t disappear when I “became a Christian” (it could be said I was a Christian all my life, since I grew up in the church) that I (1) wasn’t really a new creature, (2) wasn’t really saved, and (3) was on my way to Hell unless I did something, fast (although what exactly I was supposed to do always escaped me, I had already prayed the “sinner’s prayer” about 50,387 times and I wasn’t sure what else to try).

My Dad’s Bible had a section in the back about how to minister to people effectively called “Guide to Christian Workers.” Ironically, a certain section in it served more than just about anything else to make my Christianity a living Hell at times. It was in the section titled “Convincement” meant to convince the new believer that they were actually saved (more irony). It was in the third subsection of this and was entitled THERE IS A NEW IMAGE. Anyway, it starts out with the 2 Cor. 5:17 verse (actually, I didn’t even remember that it did until a minute ago when I looked it up in my Dad’s Bible). It emboldens and italicizes the words he is which is irony in itself (I’ll explain later). Anyway, this is what the rest of this section says (forgive me if I’m breaking any copyright laws):

“A New Testament Christian is not a patched-up job, a reformed sinner. There is a new will; there are new affections; there is a new purpose because there is a new nature.”

Here’s the kicker:

“The emptiest and unhappiest occupation in the world is trying to act like a Christian when you are not a Christian. You do not gradually stop stealing. You stop stealing. It is miracle, not magic.”

Wow. Let’s break this down. This is what I was thinking:
“I’m extremely unhappy and empty because I fear that I’m not really saved. I look to this little Christian worker’s guide to help give me assurance. I read that once you are saved, you instantly stop sinning habitually. I am still dealing with many sins and sinful habits in my life. I must not really be saved. If you are not really saved, then you go to Hell forever and ever. I’m screwed… unless I do something NOW. I’ve already prayed to God/Jesus numerous times to save me from my sins and forgive me and come to live in my heart. What else can I do? I must not be trying hard enough. I must not believe enough. Maybe I’m one of the people who isn’t meant to be saved.”

Okay, maybe I never thought that last sentence, but it lurked in the back of my mind, mostly because I was too afraid to think it. These thoughts tormented me for most of my teenage life. I probably already mentioned this somewhere in one of my other notes, but I would get caught in a cycle of doubt salvation/become terrified of Hell/get help from pastor or friends or family/be reassured/doubt salvation…

What I didn’t realize up until about a year ago was that there was nothing I could do to be saved. You can pray the sinner’s prayer all day and not have a single thing change in your life. You can will yourself to be sincere all you want, but sincerity will not save you. You can truly be seeking and even want Jesus in your life (which I did. Believe me, I did), but unless God chooses to bless you with a personal experience with Him, nothing will happen. You can’t force it. God alone is the One Who chooses when you will be brought to the point where you will truly cry out for Him from the depths of your soul.

Terrible memories are coming back as I write this. NO WONDER I was so doubtful. NO WONDER I couldn’t trust God like I wanted to. NO WONDER I couldn’t believe with childlike faith. Any childlike faith I might have had was perverted by reading wonderful “Christian Guides” like this. One cannot believe with simplicity with the fear of Hell and separation and death and torture hanging over their heads (by the way, there is no separation in the commonly held view of Hell. If you hold to the Eternal Separation view over the Eternal Torture view, read Revelation 14:10. The “torment” in Hell happens in the presence of the Lamb. There is no separation from the Lamb, He’s right there). If praying the sinner’s prayer and trying not to sin and trying to love people and trying to focus on reading the Bible and trying to enjoy and learn from church are not enough to escape Hell, THEN WHAT IS? I tried so many things! Luke 18:22 says that the rich young ruler lacked one thing… maybe it was also what I was lacking. Maybe I had to sell all that I had and give to the poor. I never did that and had no real desire to do it unless I felt God was calling me to do that. But maybe I just had to do it and the fact that I wouldn’t was keeping me from fully experiencing salvation. (I’m sure those who wrote the Christian Guide had done that [sarcasm]). Nothing I tried was working and giving me the assurance I needed. According to my guide, God only works in one way, and if you aren’t saved in this one specific way (excessively detailed by the author[s]), then you’re probably not really saved and had better do something about it.

Okay, now where was I… oh right:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

The italicized words in the King James version are words that are not actually in the original text. They are added in to make the text more readable and understandable for the English speaker/reader. In other words, the italicized words “be” and “he is” are not actually part of the verse. Remember when I told you that the author(s) of my Christian guide emboldened the words “he is?” Funny they would try to emphasize that part of the verse, when it’s not actually part of it in the first place. In my particular (King James) version of the Bible, there is a (1) before the words he is which refers to a footnote. This footnote says “Or, let him be.” In other words, the verse could also be read as:

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, let him be a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Hmmm, puts a bit of a different twist on the verse, doesn’t it? Could it be that instead of us automatically being completely cured of our sinful ways, this verse is calling us to make the qualities of this “new creature” become a part of us? Is it telling us to rely on God so that in our new Christian lives it will be that “old things are passed away… [and] … all things are become new?” Perhaps this verse means that it will not be easy to do such a thing, but that we must strive (not completely by ourselves, relying on God is absolutely necessary) to get rid of the qualities of the old creature?

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people who, once becoming saved, really are immediately transformed and seem to give up very many of the sinful habits they’ve had previously, and I think that’s wonderful. Does that mean that this is how God works with everyone? A thousand times no! What of those who have been raised in the evangelical church system for their entire lives and have been “good little boys and girls,” with nary a public sin to be spoken of? What of those who were “saved” when they were five years old because their parent or pastor led them in a prayer and as adults are no longer sure of what they believe? What of those who live with a pharisaical spirit, who think that God is on their side (and only on their side) and everyone else is doomed? What of Muslims/Jews/etc. who live perfectly moral lives and love others more than the majority of Christians do? What happens when these people are saved? None of these people seem like they have any sin that needs curing. God works in different ways with different people. Some He will change gradually, others instantly, some won’t seem to change at all, but God is still working in all of them.

Like I’ve said before, I’ve been “saved” most of my life, and had my “real salvation experience” at the age of 13 at a Christian speaking/music event. I remember shortly after that, I was very excited about God and I would look at the people around me and see sadness in their eyes. I wished that there were something that I could do to help them and show them love. But I never did. I was soon caught up in pharisaical thinking and the mindset of “I have to do this, this, and this and can’t do this, this, and this or I’m not really saved” and forgot about other people. Only in the past year or so have I begun to get back the love for people that I felt shortly after I was “saved,” and that was only after I abandoned the pharisaical, exclusionary way of thinking and the fear of Hell that had burdened me for most of my life.

Well, this note was only supposed to be a couple paragraphs about the verse, but it turned out that I wrote a lot more than I planned on. Oh well, I hope whoever reads this gets something out of it. I’ll close with the lyrics to a song by Michael W. Smith (words by Wayne Kirkpatrick) called “Calling Heaven”:

Chorus:
Calling heaven
Seeking mercy
Tell me there’s a place for these

What of the children who have never felt a love
Tender as the morning
Nursing the bruises
And the scars that never seem to go away

What of the babies who have never left the womb
Breathing in the lifeline
Angels in waiting
Gone before they could be given wings to fly

Chorus

What of the noble who are searching for the truth
With truest of intentions
And yet they’re jaded by
Hypocrisies behind cathedral walls

What of the humble and the meek that knew despair
And never got their moment
But sacrificed a life of comfort
So that others knew no pain

Chorus

What of the ones who call you Lord
But play the field
with faithless indecision
Forgive us father for we truly
Do not know what we have done

Chorus

(originally written 7/3/08 )