This is probably one of the harder things for me to write. I want to preface this with stating that I am not trying to avoid the question or justify any actions. Simply put, I want to state how it seems Jesus himself handled such situations.
I recently saw an outcry of response to an event in which a religious person refused to marry a gay couple. Honestly, I haven’t bothered much with looking into the details because I’ve stopped focusing on justifying myself by man-made laws. However, as I’ve written about before, this situation again confirms why I can’t be part of a religious institution. Many of the comments I’ve seen made come across as hateful when people “stand up for God.”
God is perfectly capable of defending himself. The manner in which we “stand up” for him only pushes people away. Notice in the gospels that Jesus didn’t take any type of political stance, especially against those we tend to label as “sinners.” Jesus went to them and loved them where they were. He even told the religious elite that the prostitutes and tax collectors were entering the kingdom ahead of them (Matthew 21:31)!
So, how does this fit with our current dilemma? How do we defend our institutions against the “onslaught of secularism?” Quite simply, we don’t. This is to say, why do we bother with man-made institutions to begin with? Are these reaching out to “sinners” or only appeasing the “righteous?” All of our efforts of outreach are hindered by our political and financial ties to our institutions. Our fear is that if we refuse the demands of the world, we will be retaliated against financially and politically. Therefore, we have to play the world’s games in order to uphold our institutions. Notice how Jesus didn’t himself establish buildings or call us to do so. He simply went to people where they were and loved them. Without our titles and buildings to defend, we are free to actually help those we would otherwise have to defend our religion against. Isn’t this what Jesus did and calls us to do? Could this be part of that freedom that Jesus wants us to live in and that we have chased all our lives but never achieved? Could we be shooting ourselves in the foot by so rigidly holding on to standards that Jesus never presented? Jesus’ comments, such as in Matthew 5, paint a broad picture that we are all riddled by sin and none are righteous by our own efforts. Why do we continue to label the “haves” and “have nots” when we are all broken and in need of a savior?
So what is my stance on this issue? None. I simply choose to follow Jesus as he changes my heart and go to those in love that he directs me to, when he directs me to. Whether this is loving a prostitute or speaking some hard truths to the religious, I will strive to live in him and by him. Jesus never drew a line in the sand; he went all the way to the cross for all of us. I can only attempt to follow him though this is a lifelong process of mind renewing that he produces from within me.
I’ve often seen people made to question their salvation status. Questions are asked of what they are doing for God, are they really sure, or what would happen if you died today. These type questions seem to produce guilt and manipulate people to conform and perform. All the while, it doesn’t seem like these people are shown what true salvation is; they are only given a list of ever deepening obligations to attempt to uphold to make it in to Heaven.
This whole system has come to sadden me deeply. When we are truly shown Jesus’ love, we are then able to freely return it and have a deep seated assurance that Heaven is guaranteed. This is how we know for ourselves.
So, how do we know about others? While it is true, the new spirit in us will be able to help us discern if others have this new spirit, it doesn’t give us any right to condemn if not. Condemnation seems to be mostly used as a defense to justify one’s own deficiency. Often, fingers are pointed to others as being more deficient, therefore I’m okay. God doesn’t judge on a scale like this though. Further, this is exactly what Jesus spoke against in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. We aren’t justified because we are higher than others on some sort of righteousness scale–we are justified by Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Like the thief on the cross, who was redeemed in his final moments, we have no inclination to know when God will redeem someone. The very reason the thief was on the cross was because he had already been condemned by man as un-redeemable, but Jesus deemed otherwise. The thief’s story now stands the test of time of God’s grace and redemptive power even if the person has no chance for spiritual growth in this life. There are many internal conversations we may not be privy to in someone’s life, especially near death. If God’s plan is that no one should perish, we have no right to say whether a person has made it or not based on our human observations. Likewise, we have a hard time grasping the depths of God’s grace and are not righteous to tell Jesus how he can and cannot judge. This is also conveyed in the parable of the vineyard workers.
Likewise, I recently heard a religious leader preach a funeral. He stated that the deceased had gave his life to God in his final moments, but also lamented of how much more he could have done had he been saved earlier in life. Like with the thief on the cross and the vineyard workers, this assumes we know how God’s plan should work out and when.
Our only ability lies in showing others Jesus’ love through us, by the methods that he desires, and letting him handle the rest.
In short, Pascal’s Wager states that if God doesn’t exist, a person who believes in and “follows” him only loses out on some finite pleasures they could have had in this life. If he does exist, those who don’t believe and follow lose out for all eternity.
When I first heard of Pascal’s Wager I thought it was reasonably sound logic. However, after I came to know Jesus more and walk in a deeper relationship with him, I began to see inconsistencies with this and what the Bible shows us of his love and grace.
First, this holds people under an assumed threat, something like, “you better believe just in case.” God doesn’t want “just in case” belief though. He’s not in the business of selling fire insurance policies. If we believe out of fear, then we are only wanting to go to heaven to avoid hell and not because we are in love with our savior Jesus and want to be with him.
Second, this seems to assume that works based faith gets us to heaven. In this scenario, we perform good works not out of our love for Jesus, but out of expectation that we are earning eternal life. Likewise, we expect our abstaining from “secular” things to get us closer to God. While abstaining from certain things might be a byproduct of that relationship, it doesn’t produce it nor does it earn one iota more of salvation. The same applies for good works.
Third, as touched on before, just believing that God might exist isn’t enough. It’s a relationship, not just wishful thinking. Performance and wishful thinking only create a religion. A relationship forms as a result of experiencing God. How do we have this initial experience? We open ourselves up and allow God to reveal himself to us.
The one area I can (sort of) agree with Pascal on is: what’s there to lose? This isn’t to say it is a life-long probing to see if God exists. It’s more of an asking that God reveal to us how he has already been working throughout our entire lives. God loves us too much to force us into this type of revelation as then we would only follow out of fear and obligation of knowing. Likewise, we show others to Jesus by our love relationship with him, not by threatening them that if they’re wrong then they’re doomed.
All in all, Pascal’s Wager seems to be a subtle form of doubting God’s existence as well as manipulation when used to attempt to convert others.
Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I wouldn’t be delivered to the Jews. But now my Kingdom is not from here.”–John 18:36
Jesus states fairly plainly here that his Kingdom isn’t of our world. To me, like he also states in other parts of the gospels, Jesus is the king of a spiritual kingdom. Paul also reiterates this and our status therein.
For the past two thousand years, we have seen man fighting physically and/or politically to establish a physical kingdom for Jesus. He states that his servants would only fight if his kingdom was of this world, but it isn’t. If his servants then didn’t fight, why do we continue to struggle against those people we could be reaching out to instead? It seems we want try to control people through politics and religion so they will be “encouraged” into a relationship with Jesus.
Our example is Christ Jesus. Sure, we may be flailing and imperfect, but we strive to be more. Being led to believe “this is the way it is and has always been” binds us to conformity in which we continue to attempt building a physical kingdom that hasn’t done a very good job of representing Jesus as he is presented in the gospels. Jesus states that he has already brought the Kingdom, all we have to do is enter in through him. Then, we can help others to see this spiritual kingdom. Our human methods of “kingdom building” may seem like a noble pursuit, but have only pushed those Jesus reached further away from us reaching them.
A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed this is how my life would be going. I had, and still have, my plans, but the way things have panned out has amazed me. I’m not an expert on spiritual matters, especially as it concerns man’s ordination.
For several years I wondered why we would need to be ordained by man if God was calling us to do something. This seems like we are putting our trust in something other than God. I was once told this was to narrow and test people to see who was truly being called, but this hasn’t seemed to work. We are taught a human sin management system instead. I’ve seen those who were truly adamant about spreading the gospel, but were told the only way to do it was by institutional means. Sadly, this places people inside a box and limits them from doing what God may actually want. This was the same type of system devised by the Pharisees. They decided who was worthy to present religious views by their standards, and those who did not agree were ostracized. This included Jesus and the disciples.
The disciples were directly taught by Jesus, but they had no religious seminary training. Why is it that religion today still wants to “train” people? Could it perhaps be that religious institutions have to test to see who is on board, who can be manipulated to tie their financial security to “ministry,” and who will not. It is indeed a sad state of affairs that so many have placed their livelihood in man-made measures instead of Jesus. I realize many are (or feel) trapped now as they have invested many years in the system. Others may know the pitfalls but have been convinced that these ways are the only ways and any other method will fail. This, again, takes the trust away from God’s methods and puts it in the hands of man.
Perhaps the system does work though. Those that cannot in good conscience bind themselves to such ways are the ones who learn to trust in God’s plan more. This place outside of the box can be an amazingly wide open space that leads us into an immense relationship directly with Jesus.
Pastors lie all the time.
Now, they don’t necessarily mean to, but so many of them are hopelessly trapped; stuck in the unreasonable expectations of pewsitters, pressured by perceived competition with other churches, and mired in just plain bad theology.
It all causes them to do some pretty nasty things to the truth: to bend it for attention, to stretch it to rile up the troops, and sometimes, to outright abandon it.
One of the greatest lies so many pastors sell you, is that they know who’s going to Heaven and who’s not.
It’s many church leader’s go-to game; pounding the pulpit, and declaring with unshakeable certainty, who’s in, and who’s out; who’s bound for puffy, cotton candy clouds, and who’s headed for scalding sulphur pools.
This eternal destination-forecasting by pastors, has become so commonplace in the Church, that most people in the congregation accept it all, without realizing the contrary…
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This is a part of my life that I haven’t discussed in detail with many people. Everything happened over ~a three year period starting around 9 years ago. Over the course of the years, I had so much bitterness wrapped in the memories surrounding this time that I didn’t want to talk much about it even though there were also some good memories. I don’t want to include all of the specific details as to protect the person that I talk about here.
So, it started when my desire to know God began to grow. I had the notion in my head, like many have seemed to have at one point, that there was something major I had to perform physically to prove my desire to know God. I would pray at night asking God what I should do to prove myself to him. At that time, I still didn’t realize some significant things that would have made getting to know him much easier, and I was still stubborn at this point.
Around this time, I began talking to a girl who lived relatively close to me but far enough away that I couldn’t see her often. We played video games online together with several other people and mostly talked through voice chat. She seemed to want to develop a relationship with me. For several months we talked and got to know each other. She had several traumatic events that had gone on in her life which left her mostly isolated from her friends and family.
One day, she disappeared from the online community. I felt like God wanted me to find out what happened to her. She had left me some clues as to where she went and so I looked her up. I got into contact with her again and she seemed very relieved that I had found her. She was dealing with some issues again and seemed to have felt it was an all or nothing proposition to withdraw from everyone.
We continued to talk online for several months. She kept asking me to come to where she was and spend some time with her. I was hesitant, but eventually committed to go see her. Before I got the chance though, some personal things came up again in her life and she had to move much further away. At this time, I kinda figured it wasn’t meant to be. However, we continued to talk online and she continued to ask me to come see her. Again, one day she disappeared and I lost all contact with her. I never saw her online and her cell phone was disconnected. I worried about her some but figured maybe she just didn’t want to talk with me anymore.
After about six weeks, God led me to attempt to contact her one last time. I was a bit frustrated with the whole situation at this point but decided to do it anyway. I called where she use to work and left a message for her. She called me a few days later from a borrowed cell phone. She had gotten badly injured and lost her income. Her landlady at the time let her rent slip for a couple of months so she at least had a place to stay and brought her food and such. Her cell phone had been disconnected because she was unable to work to pay the bill. When I got back in contact with her, she pleaded with me to come see her and stay for a week or so. Reluctantly, I gathered my things and made the 16 hour trip.
In truth, I was hoping that maybe a relationship would ensue. We talked about it and she asked for some time to try to get her life together. The plan to stay a week turned into 6 months as I tried to help her get caught up on bills and such as best I could. I worked a job there many times 60+ hours a week and still was accruing debt just trying to provide the basics. After about 1.5 years, she still didn’t seem to want a relationship with me and she started seeing other guys. I got fairly depressed for a few days and decided I was going to make the 16 hour return trip to go back to my hometown. I let her know and turned in my two week notice. She seemed okay with it but I could tell that she was worried again of how she was going to make ends meet. As heartbroken as I was at the time, God kept hinting that I should stay a little longer. The relationships she seemed to attempt didn’t end up working out and again she was alone. I begrudgingly decided to stay.
Several months passed and she was able to get around like normal again after her injury. We talked again about a relationship, but she didn’t seem to want one with me. She stated that she was too messed up for me and seemed a bit guilt ridden that she had been using me for those past 2 years. I assured her it was okay though I had constantly questioned God of why he had let me get into this situation and why he kept wanting me to stay with someone who didn’t seem to want me. For the most part, God seemed to have remained silent during these years. I was admittedly frustrated and depressed within about the situation.
The job she had wasn’t quite panning out like she had hoped. Mine was about the same. She decided she wanted to move somewhere else in the U.S. and wanted me to come with her. I thought and prayed about it for a while trying to see what God wanted now. He seemed to express that I had done enough and led me to return to my hometown and even directed me to use my GI Bill to pursue an IT degree. She seemed a little disappointed, but understood. I was still angry internally because all the time I had been there seemed wasted. During those two years, my grandmother was sick and eventually passed away. I was only able to leave for a few days to attend her funeral before the bills piled up again.
I helped her pack a U-haul and we chatted a bit as it seemed to be one of the last times we might see each other. I had one final shift I had to work before I left the following day. I was still asking God the entire time before her departure, “Why?”
Why did you have me leave my family God?
Why did you have me come here when it never amounted to anything?
Why did she not like me? Was I not good enough?
Why did you let my grandmother die while leading me far away?
I was angry.
As we said our final goodbyes, she thanked me for all I had done for her. This hardly felt like much of a consolation prize but I begrudgingly accepted. Then she slowly and hesitantly expressed with pain in her voice that I was the only one who pursued her when she continually tried to run away from life. When she got injured and we had lost contact for several weeks, she had decided she was going to kill herself as she just couldn’t seem to ever get her life under control. When I reached out for her again through her work, she had the faintest glimpse of hope that, for the first time in her life, someone actually cared enough about her to keep pursuing when she ran away. She then hugged me and drove away.
As I stood there a bit stunned, God simply said, in response to all the questions, anger, and frustration I had shown him, “That’s why.” I’m amazed that as obstinate as I was, he still did his will through me and allowed me to be a part of his greater plan. I’ve come not to regret any of that time now and have even come to cherish how God has led me. His astounding grace reached out to me and her in that situation.
I kept contact with that girl for about 3 months and she seemed to be doing well. We drifted apart though I occasionally hear of things that are going on in her life. From what I’ve heard, she got a good job that she enjoys and is engaged. I don’t know what her relationship with God is, but, especially based on how he has led me, I believe a seed was planted. Seeing his plan unfold helps me to better understand how his love always wins in the end.
I’ve been amazed at the things God continues to show me. I talk with and read about peoples’ experiences from all walks of life and tend to learn something from all of them. It doesn’t matter if I agree with them 99% or 1%, I still seem to get something even if it’s just a question or different point of view. I don’t find myself agreeing with anyone 100% and I don’t tend to disagree with anyone 100% either. Likewise, I would start to worry if someone agreed with me in everything. Also, I get disappointed when others reject every single thing I say because I won’t conform to their visions of how I should be. We are all on this journey at different stages. I’ve seen pastors with the spiritual maturity of infants and “backsliders” or “sinners” (as they’ve been labeled by others) who have such a deep connection with Jesus it continually amazes me.
One of the most controversial things that has built my faith in God actually came from atheists! I know many atheists may be trying to dissuade belief in God, but their questions have caused me to seek real answers and not just believe because someone else says so. As I’ve questioned things in the Bible, God has revealed that it isn’t about rules so much as it is about Jesus. I know we hear this all the time, but how have we actually come to understand it?
There are a handful of verses that I’ve come to comprehend a little better recently through others’ experiences. Many I’ve come to know through reading the Bible with the Holy Spirit. Some verses get stuck in my head and I continue to try to figure them out until Jesus reveals them through others. The first one is:
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.–Revelation 3:15-16.
The lukewarm references have always been unsettling to me as, in all honesty, I was in this very state most of my religious life. I was taught how to maintain the status-quo and give the external appearance of being on fire by being in full external agreement with those around me (i.e. being a Conservative Republican who hated all the same things everyone else did). This made me a good Christian in the eyes of those around me, but left me empty inside and lukewarm. After I left this institution, I was able to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus that drove me away from such worldly, political power structures.
Once I got to a “hotter” state though, this verse still nagged me for some reason. I wasn’t so concerned if others in that congregation viewed me as “cold” and even considered it a compliment as Jesus states that being cold is better than lukewarm. I realized this is what was also confusing me. Wouldn’t lukewarm be closer to God and cold further away? Considering a truly cold person would be like an atheist, while a lukewarm person would be someone who at least went to “church” on Sunday. I began to see how Jesus approached the “cold” (with a great compassion) and the “lukewarm” (with the Pharisees, Jesus used sharp words in an attempt to penetrate the traditions, obligations, and religion they had made such as in Matthew 23).
Another set of verses that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around were these:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you,–Matthew 5:43-44
I realized some time ago that in the second half of Matthew 5, Jesus was showing people just how impossible it is for us humans to uphold the righteous standards of the old law. It would entail us chopping off our hands and plucking out our eyes to even come close! I was shown yesterday that verses 43-44 continue these very concepts! If we’re honest, we have a very hard time loving our enemies. Again, Jesus was showing us by our human means, this isn’t possible. Earning righteousness by rule following has never worked. Only Jesus was able to uphold these standards (as he was born without the sinful spirit) and he gave that righteousness to us.
The final set of verses that I want to present here tie directly to this concept:
One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.–Matthew 22:35-38