My own personal stance against religious hypocrisy - both my own, and any others who seek to hurt people in the name of God.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Refer to the Scriptures

I got to thinking about this topic because of something that happened today. Spouse and I had talked a couple of weeks ago about something, and I had pointedly stated that if we made the purchase we were talking about, there was a certain brand which I liked, and that the other brands I wasn't so keen on. So what happened today? Spouse, intending to be nice, makes the purchase - but purchases a brand I said not to purchase. And when I was displeased, suddenly I was the "ungrateful" person. It was a difficult moment, and the purchase as ultimately returned unopened.

But how often do we do this with God? He has given us the Holy Scriptures in which his will is recorded. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through our reading of these scriptures. Yet how often do we go directly against what God has told us, and still expect him to be pleased?

Here's a verse which can be troubling if one thinks about it and applies it their own life.

I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. John 16:1-2 Revised Standard Version

In the past I have read this verse as referring solely to people seeking to kill me. Terrorists who bomb public places. Vigilantes who don't like my faith. And so on.

But could the reverse be true? What is my attitude about the killing of terrorists? Vigilantes? And so on? Am I happy about this? Do I think God is pleased? The answer is in the Bible.

But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? Ezekiel 18:21-23 Revised Standard Version

God is NOT pleased when the wicked die. So we shouldn't be either. And we need to be careful about ourselves. It is entirely possible to do things - believing we are pleasing God - that actually displease God very much.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Things That Matter Often Take Time - Even With God

I was talking with my son the other day and decided to seek validation to a point I was making using my Bible. I knew what I wanted was in 1 Kings, so I opened the Bible up near the beginning. I was within three pages of what I wanted. Sometimes God doesn't want me wasting time searching.

The passage applies very nicely and neatly to some of what our family is going through at the moment. The background to the passage is Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal. The Baal prophets set up a sacrifice and spent an entire day praying and pleading for Baal to set fire to it. Nothing happened.

Then it was Elijah's turn. He prepared his sacrifice and then ordered water poured onto it. Several times until the trench which surrounded it was overflowing with water. Then he prayed.

And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back." Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 1 Kings 18:36-38 Revised Standard Version

Following this victory, Jezebel declares that she will have Elijah killed that very day. So Elijah flees her wrath and hides in a cave. Emotionally worn out he cries to the Lord, and God responds to him.

And he said, "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord." And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind and earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. 1 Kings 19:11-13 Revised Standard Version

God is peace. Not raging storms, volcanoes and earthquakes. The power of God is not God. God is more than that. Much more.

Following God requires faith. Having a relationship with God requires faith. Faith is NOT an emotion. Faith is a belief system and attitude which determines our decisions.

The enemy of faith is fear. Fear is an emotion. Emotions are not the friends of faith. Not even when they support faith. Why not? Because emotions are rudderless ships. Read James.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord. James 1:5-8 Revised Standard Version

Emotions - even those that make us feel closer to God - are not to be trusted. Emotions are the wind; the earthquake; the fire. The scream at us and demand our attention by being loud and forceful. But they deceive.

How often have we felt like someone hated us? Someone who actually loves us? A parent? A child? A spouse? God? We feel something, but it's a lie.

And how many times have we been deceived by someone pretending to be our friend? We felt good about the relationship - until they sprang their trap and took our money, our body, or whatever it was they wanted.

Emotions can be wonderful things. But they will lie to us.

God is not in emotions.

Ask for wisdom and you will get wisdom. But remember this: You will NOT likely get it as a dose of magic. You will get wisdom the way wisdom is best achieved - through living your life and paying attention to what is going on and what God has said in his Word.

It can be very hard to ignore emotions. Times are hard, and there is the threat of losing the things we hold dear. Having faith does NOT mean we won't lose them. Having faith means we will trust God whether we keep them or not.

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me; you were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-13 Revised Standard Version

Paul did not learn this in a day, a week, a month, or even a year. It took the greater portion of his life. And so it will with us.

God so often compares our faith to a mustard seed which, "starts as the smallest of seeds, but grows into the largest of bushes". Growth implies a passage of time.

Faith in God means patience with God. That's how trust is shown.

May God bless you in whatever circumstances you find yourself today.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Magic or Faith

It’s amazing sometimes to think about what we Christians are truly telling each other – and ourselves. So often (too often) we say things without understanding what it is we’re saying, and this causes others (and ourselves) to believe things which simply are not true.

We don’t realize this, of course. All we know is that we’ve quoted scripture. But what was our interpretation of that verse we just quoted?

I didn’t become a Christian until my nineteenth birthday. It was early in the morning. About four o’clock. It was a very relieving experience to put my fate in God’s hands. You see, I had come to the realization that I had mucked up my life something terrible, and only God could fix it. If he would.

My first year was something of a honeymoon. All smiles and sunshine. Then I began the process of actually living a life instead of sitting back and watching.

Some of my biggest struggles have had to do with claiming the promises of God. So many people kept telling me that all I had to do was “believe”, and then it would happen. It didn’t seem right to me then and it doesn’t seem right to me now. True, God has told us things such as the following:

And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matthew 21:21-22 Revised Standard Version

That is a true statement, or God would not have said it.

So how do we reconcile our believing in something that does NOT happen? We believe someone will recover from an illness or injury. We are convinced of it, and act accordingly. And then they die?

We are convinced we will marry someone. And then they marry someone else? The promotion does not come our way. We lose our job. We lose our house. All in despite of what we believe. Does this refute what we just read from the Gospel of Matthew?

I think not.

I think our understanding of what Jesus told his disciples is skewed. That’s the problem. So often Jesus was frustrated with his disciples because he would tell them things and they just wouldn’t get it. I don’t think we’re any different. We don’t always get it either.

Take this verse:

I can do all things in him to strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 Revised Standard Version

What does that mean for us in our daily life? What have we told ourselves it means?

We (Christians) quote this verse often. But I wonder – do we believe it? It’s easy to say we believe it. But do we? And do we understand what it’s telling us?

The problem is that we Christians too often believe in “magic” more than we believe in the power of God. We think this verse means we can suddenly do things for which we have no training or ability. That has happened, certainly. But that is not the normal course of how God operates. God uses the people and things of this world to achieve his purposes for the world. And he uses our own knowledge and abilities to achieve things in our lives.

So how is this applied in real life?

If you wish to be a great athlete, then you must train your body for athletics. If you wish to be knowledgeable about this or that, then you must study this or that to gain the knowledge. And don’t expect it to be easy. It will be just as difficult for the Christian as the non-Christian. Become a Christian does not remove us from being human.

So am I saying Christians need to do the same things as non-Christians in order to improve themselves in various areas? Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying. That is what the “I can do all things” verse is telling us. Work at it, and God will help you succeed. You want to remember scripture? Read it. Often. As often as you can. This is how God has ordered things. Sowing and reaping. God will help ALL of us in what we do. How? By giving us the ability in the first place when he created us. This is actually true whether we are Christians or not. Don’t believe me? Read this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of you Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:43-45 Revised Standard Version

He created us all the same. What works for one works for the other.

So what is the difference between Christians and non-Christians? What is the advantage in being a Christian?

The Holy Spirit.

Christians have the Holy Spirit in their hearts. They have forgiveness from God. When things get tough and the temptation is there to quit, we have the Holy Spirit to remind us that God is with us.

Don’t discount forgiveness. Without it, we have no future.

But God’s word is not about creating magical miracles for us all the time. It’s about how we can have an honest relationship with God. How our hearts can be at peace because we understand more and more His purposes.

We need to remember that God calls us children for a reason. We’re not so old and knowledgeable as we like to believe.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's Time to Return to Our Roots

We were watching "I Walk the Line" last night. At one point in the movie June Carter is in a mercantile store and is confronted by a haughty woman who remarks that June's parents are good Christian people. Then the woman says that she's surprised June's parents even talk to June. The reason? June was divorced.

I felt compelled to speak out loud at that point. The movie was quite correct in portraying the woman as judgmental and hypocritical. My comment was this: That's why people hate Christians. We like to think it's because we belong to God and they are against God, but that's not true. They hate us because we are such hypocrites. We received the free gift of forgiveness from God. And now we seek to cast everyone else away from his presence with hateful attitudes. We are such fools.

And it seems the more well known our name is in our community, region, or even in the world, the worse we are.

When Jesus was with us in the flesh he spoke often about forgiveness and acceptance. He accepted everyone who came to him for forgiveness. In fact, the only people Jesus ever spoke crossly with were "religious" people. People who thought - in their hearts - that they were better than others. Often, we are those people. We lie to ourselves and say we're not. But it is a lie. The tendency is to look down upon people who are doing things we don't do. But the truth is, we're no better than them. We may even be worse.

In Luke, Chapter 7, we read this passage about two people. One is a religious leader. The other is a confessed sinner. Read and listen with your heart to what Jesus is telling us.

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house, and took his place at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "What is it, Teacher?" "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon. "Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair." You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sin?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Luke 7:36-50 Revised Standard Version

We think we are doing God some big favor by lambasting others for the sins they commit. And for the sins we perceive they have committed. But we are wrong when we do this.

How did we received our forgiveness? Why? Was it because we straightened out our lives to the point where God came to us and said, "My, what good work you have done. You have certainly earned my forgiveness." Or was it because God saw that no matter what we did with the rest of our lives, our current status was hopeless. So he offered forgiveness free of charge. WE WERE FORGIVEN AS WE WERE AT THAT MOMENT IN TIME. Why do we seek to deny others this same gift? Are we jealous? What's wrong with us that we spew out such venomous feelings of hatred and intolerance at those we do not believe have forgiveness?

Get your bible and read this from the Gospel of Matthew.

Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven."

"Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, "Pay me what you owe.' So he fellow servant fell down and besought him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went out and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive you brother from your heart." Matthew 18:21-35 Revised Standard Version

Did you pick it up? Someone who had received forgiveness was cast into prison because they would not forgive others. That is a scary thought.

And do you know what is most pitiful about the Christian's intolerance and lack of forgiving nature toward others? They haven't even sinned against us. They have committed no crimes against us. They simply live lives not in accordance with how we believe they should live them. And so we seek their misery and demise.

If we do not stop this, prison is what awaits us.

Let us leave off with intolerance and return to preaching forgiveness. And love. And acceptance. "Love covers a multitude of sins." Don't tell people what their sins are. They probably already know. Show them God's love and acceptance by loving and accepting them for who they are. Sins and all.

Isn't that what God has done for us?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is it About Gays Anyway

Fairyhedgehog posted about a serious matter on her blog. The title of her post is: Death Penalty for Gays.

She is citing a New York Times article about Uganda possibly passing a law which institutes the death penalty for gay and lesbian people.

The issue of being gay/lesbian - or one of the other labels attached to people of sexual preference - is a serious one. It's one the world has to deal with. Historically, Uganda's proposed solution is not far from the way the people of the world have dealt with the issue.

The Bible seems to speak against it. And yet there are those who say the verses used to support this claim are being taken out of context. It is certainly true that Jesus is never recorded voicing an opinion one way or the other regarding homosexuality. Apparently, whether it was sin or not sin, he did not consider it worthy of his time.

And yet how many of us Christians invest tremendous emotion and activity regarding it? We openly condemn the gay community. We seek to pass legislation to inhibit gay rights, or revoke legislation which supports it.

We invest so much of ourselves in matters of sex - whether we admit it or not. We descry the unwed mother, unmarried live-in couples, and a host of other sexual related acts and attitudes.

I'm not saying the things we descry are not sin. What I am saying is this: Why don't we invest the same energy crying out against injustice? Intolerance? Stealing? Slander? Ignoring the poor? Speeding? Or anything else which constitutes sin? Why pick out sexual things as though they were the worst sin one could commit?

There is ONE sin, and ONE sin only which cannot be forgiven: Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

"And I tell you, every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And every one who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." Luke 12:8-10 Revised Standard Version

Can a gay man or lesbian woman be a Christian?

Many Christian talk as though that were impossible. They're wrong.

What makes a Christian? Our behavior? Are we Christians because of how we behave? Or do we behave because we are Christians? This is an important question. Are we saved by faith, or by works?

O foolish Galations! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Galatians 3:1-3 Revised Standard Version

Are you a Christian? Have you committed adultery? Fornication? Theft? Have you been prideful, intolerant, unloving, drunk with alcohol or high on drugs? Have you idolized someone, or something? Have you been disobedient to your parents?

The world is filled with sins. And Christians commit all of them. No Christian commits all of them, but all Christians commit some. And here what the Bible says about ANY sin.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. James 2:10 Revised Standard Version

We are ALL guilty. NO ONE is going to get to heaven without first being forgiven for who they are, what they are, and what they have said, done, and felt in their heart.

So how should Christians treat gay and lesbian people? How should we treat anybody?

I find that as I grow older I am less concerned with what is and is not sin. What matters is forgiveness. And treating others the way Jesus wants them to be treated. We were never called to punish those we believed to be "sinners". If we were, we should begin with ourselves and not move on to others until we are sinless.

In the meantime, we should raise voices in oppostion to what Uganda wants to do with the same righteous indignation that we have in condemning gays and lesbians. Leave them alone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Have a a very Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Apple

A long time ago (to me), perhaps as many as thirty-five years, I was attending community college. I carpooled with my best friend. I drove. Until one day he suggested we ride with his father and I leave my car at his place.

I agreed, but it didn't set well with me, and by lunch time I was walking back to his house to get my car. Any reason to skip class, you know.

It was a hot September day, and the walk was something like seven miles.

Back in those days we didn't carry backpacks, water bottles, or things like that. And so at about the halfway point I was thirsty.

The route I chose was the shortest I could think of. It followed the divided highway. Along the one side was a residential district, separated from the highway by a four foot chain link fence. A path through the tall grass showed I was not the first to take this route.

I got to thinking about apples, and how a nice juicy Macintosh apple would taste just wonderful. The more I thought about it the more I wished I had one. I decided that when I got back to my car I was going to drive to a store and buy me a bag of Macintosh apples. That's what I was going to do. And then I would savor it's juiciness and flavor.

All of a sudden I stopped walking. There, laying on the path before me, was a bright red Macintosh apple. I looked around. Aside from the cars whizzing by there were no people to be seen. There was no apple tree from which the apple could have fallen. But it was there.

Now normally I would not have paid this apple any mind. Fallen food on the ground is just that: Food on the ground. Dirty. Germs. Disgusting.

But I had been thinking about an apple. Specifically, a Macintosh apple. And here before me now was exactly what I had been wishing for.

I picked it up and made a cursory examination. No bruises. No bite marks or cuts of any kind. I thanked God for the apple and ate it. It was as cool, juicy, and refreshing as I hoped.

So how did the apple get there? And why?

Logically, it was there because some other person had put it there. Either accidentally or on purpose. It could have been thrown from a car. It could have been dropped by a previous walker. Or, perhaps God just created an apple right there. The truth is, I don't know. I may never know. What I believe is that God answered the prayer of my heart and gave me an apple. I expect it was a small thing to do, but much appreciated. So much so that I still remember it with thanksgiving.

There are people who are searching for God but say they cannot find him. Why not?

Read this piece of scripture and think about it.

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:7-12 Revised Standard Version

God is always at hand to be found. He really is. However, when we restrict ourselves to only seeing him in a way of our choosing, we are probably going to miss him. Kind of like hiding in plain sight.

God nearly always uses the things and people of this world to answer prayer. We don't want that. We want the parting of the Red Sea. We want to walk on water. We want to raise the dead.

When things seem to happen as a natural order of events we wonder if God was involved. "It would have happened anyway," we say. Do we really know that? When much needed money arrives in the exact amount we need we rejoice. Then we find the money was sent days, or weeks, before we even knew we needed it. Was God involved?

It all comes down to faith, doesn't it? And faith is NOT what we feel about a thing. It's what we CHOOSE to believe. And we know we believe because we ACT accordingly.

If we really believe God forgives everybody, including those who have been especially horrible to us or those we love, then we will forgive everybody, including those who have been especially horrible to us or those we love.

If we really believe that salvation is based on forgiveness and not our own self-righteous efforts, then we will not be troubled about admitting our failings, for we will be relying on forgiveness to get to heaven.

What we feel is often at odds with what we believe. And this confuses us.

Read what Paul wrote:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do what I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. Romans 7:15-20 Revised Standard Version

Often we hear ourselves and/or other Christians - or people of faith - wail that they desire to be more patient. This cry from the heart is based on a misunderstanding about what patience really is.

We think patience is how we feel during stressful times. It is not. It is how we behave.

Think of the baseball player, standing with a bat in his hand and waiting for the pitch. It comes. His mind processes that it is a curve ball. Every muscle in his body wants to swing NOW. His emotions are screaming for action. But his will forces himself to wait. Just a fraction of a second longer. And WHAM! He gets the hit. Maybe even a home run. The impatient hitter feels all of these things - and swings early, striking out.

Patience isn't how we feel. It is how we discipline ourselves to not make decisions based on feelings.

When we see someone behaving patiently we assume they are not feeling the pressure. Wrong! They are simply holding back their actions.

God is here. With us. He grants us what we want through the people and things of the world. Sometimes to receive it we must wait. And wait. And wait.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9 Revised Standard Version

The above verse is, of course, speaking of Christ's return to earth. However, I believe we should keep it in mind when waiting for other things, too.

We forget that this life is just a short blot in history. We are in a nursery of sorts. When we are ready, God will let us into the wide place of heaven and everything else.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Possible Ending

I am seriously considering turning off access to this blog and shutting it down. Should know by Thanksgiving. But even if I choose to keep it going it may only be temporary.