“I Deserve God’s Grace”

[This phrase popped into my head this morning while I was waiting for the kids to get out of school. What surprised me was the immediate negative feeling I had when contemplating it. Exploring that feeling and the reasons for it led to this blog post.]

I deserve God’s grace.

Did that bother you at all that I said that? Does it maybe raise your “religious hackles” to hear me say (or anyone for that matter) that we DESERVE anything from God? Well, except judgement, wrath and Hell, of course. We’ve heard that PLENTY all our lives from the church. It’s only because of Jesus, and our acceptance of Him, that we don’t get all that stuff that we DO deserve, and THAT, is said, is grace. But I think we’ve been lied to. Or, at the least, been given a half-truth. Let’s look closer at this. I think you MIGHT come away from this article feeling OK with saying that you DO really DESERVE God’s grace.

First of all, let’s define terms. “Grace” — what is it? Well “dictionary.com” defines it as “favor or goodwill”, “mercy, clemency, pardon”.

In church, the definition I was taught was “undeserved favor” OR “unmerited favor”. You’re probably going, “Well, look, right there it SAYS ‘undeserved’, so HOW can you possibly DESERVE grace?” Well, because I think ‘undeserved’ is not the same as ‘unmerited’ and has crept into our vernacular over time. “Unmerited” means that you didn’t EARN it or WIN it, perform some task, fulfill some promise, etc., etc.. But “undeserved” doesn’t mean the same thing. You can deserve something without having EARNED it, simply by being who you are. For instance, the President DESERVES respect. You may not want to GIVE it to him because of his actions, but he DESERVES it by nature of his office. He didn’t EARN it, as it wasn’t HIS actions that got him the position. He, in a sense, was “gifted” the position, and WITH that position comes certain “perks”, and one of those is respect.

In the same way, we, because of who WE are, DESERVE God’s grace.

And there goes those hackles again. I know. I felt them, too. But let me explain.

We deserve God’s grace not because we did or can EVER do anything to “merit” it, but because of who He made us to be. He formed us IN HIS image and calls us ALL His “children.” Yes, even those of us who are currently “astray”. To be “lost” implies ownership. We are all belong to Him, and nothing we do can change that. We can DENY His Fathership over us but that changes nothing. And with that “position” as God’s child comes certain “perks”. And these are God’s unconditional love, His mercy AND His grace. These are a given, a reality that exists whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. God FAVORS you. In the words of the character of “God” in The Shack, He “is especially fond” of you, and me, and every one of us. At Jesus’ birth, the angels declared, “Peace, goodwill on earth, on whom His favor rests.” That’s not JUST a collective statement. It goes for EACH person. God’s favor (GRACE) rests on YOU. Because you, as part of mankind — God’s special, Spirit-breathed creation — DESERVE that grace and love because of who you are to God, your value to Him. And nothing you do will change that for the worse OR for the better. Nothing will earn you LESS of God’s grace. Nothing will earn you MORE of God’s grace. Because it’s not about YOU, but about who you are to HIM. And, by extension, who EVERYONE you meet is to God.

So, learn to be OK with DESERVING God’s grace. AND learn to give your OWN grace to everyone you meet, because, regardless of THEIR actions, they ALSO deserve God’s grace. Say it out loud. Not as a matter of PRIDE (cause you didn’t do anything), but as a matter of confidence (trust) in God. You can KNOW that God is FOR you, favoring you, desiring your best, because you are His precious child.

And you deserve it. 🙂

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On Salvation, The Gospel & Imputed Righteousness

While folding some laundry this morning (typical weekend chore), I had a nice “chat” with the Holy Spirit on a variety of topics. It was like a stream of conscious that was interrupted here and there by a thought from the Spirit that then led me in some new directions (for me). I apologize for the length, but I hope, if you take the time, you will be blessed as I was.

My first thoughts were about the subtle difference between the church’s idea of salvation and the salvation that Jesus provided. They seem so close, in fact, I was thinking it was so close that maybe it doesn’t REALLY matter if people believe the traditional paradigm. I mean, the result — a heart that understands the love of God — is the same, right?

Actually, no, the Spirit convicted me and impressed on me that I need to tell the truth, even if it is uncomfortable.

The church’s idea of salvation, the one that you will hear from 95% of pulpits today is based on this: We are saved by grace through faith. Sounds great. Sounds “right”. It fleshes out something like this… When we believe in Jesus, which means believing a litany of things about Him: His Godhood. His sinlessness. His love of humanity. His act of sacrifice in our place on the cross, we are saved. The cross is where He took the world’s sin upon Himself, so that God could punish HIM for our sin instead of us, and in that act we could be forgiven and have the righteousness of Jesus cover our own sin. Believing ALL of that and recognizing your place, your NEED of it, allows God to forgive YOU personally and accept you (adopt you) as His child. To simplify… believe in Jesus (as described above) and be saved (be forgiven/accepted by God). Your repentance and belief results in your salvation by God. Again. Sounds good, sounds right, right? Well, yeah, it’s what we’ve always been told.

But it is wrong. So subtly wrong. We are saved by our faith yes, but it is not the faith that causes or allows God to save us. We are saved THROUGH (via the process of) our faith. It is not the faith which allows God to change our position before Him. It is our faith that allows us to see our ALREADY (and before time) position before Him, where before we DIDN’T see/believe it. Our faith is not just in what happened on the cross. Our faith is in what that TELLS us about who God is and what He thinks of us. And when we BELIEVE that God really does love and forgive us no matter what we do (including killing Him), then we are saved from what we USED to believe about Him (our foolish ideas about God as judge looking to punish us for wrongs done which offend Him). What we are saved from is not “Hell”, or God’s wrath (directly), or punishment, but our FALSE ideas. And when we have FAITH, we are dispelling/denying/repenting of (changing our minds) about those ideas and agreeing with who JESUS says and PROVED on the cross that God IS.

Such a subtle difference, but it means SO much because it changes how we see God. And THAT is the crux of being “saved”. Our false view of God is the “SIN” that Jesus came to save His people from. There is more to it, more details, more to unpack, but that is the “big picture” paradigm shift that we experience at “salvation”. And that brings me to the 2nd thought I had today.

We have “the gospel” wrong.

Traditionally the gospel is said to be the cross. The sacrifice, and the EXCHANGE that happened — our sin for His righteousness — is the good news. That we can appear righteous before God (and be accepted) because God punished our sins in JESUS, instead of in us.

But that’s NOT the good news (gospel) at all.

I submit that the GOSPEL was declared LONG before the cross. The gospel was declared at the incarnation. At Jesus’ birth. When the heavenly hosts said, “Peace, goodwill towards men, on whom His favor rests.” THAT is the gospel. God ALREADY favors (accepts/delights) in us. God ALREADY has nothing but GOOD in store for us (not punishment or wrath) and God is in the process of bringing PEACE to the world through His Son, and not JUST “spiritual peace” between God and man, but actual, practical world-changing, life-saving, war-ending peace.

It started when Jesus was born, and that is STILL the gospel message. God’s peace, God’s favor, God’s goodness. For you. Right here and now.

So how does the cross fit in?

The cross PROVED that this was true. The cross proved that even though we were allowed (Jesus laid down His life) to kill our OWN God, that when He rose again and came back, the first thing He said was to repeat what was said the day He was born, “Peace be with you.”. NOTHING you do will change the good news of God’s favor, goodness and peace. The good news is that we had God wrong, but NOW we can see, because of Jesus and because of the cross, what God is REALLY like and how He REALLY feels towards us. Mankind killing Jesus was not “good news”. It was a horrible act. But it is what God felt was necessary to PROVE to us who He really was.

What’s so bad is that now we found a way to believe in the cross, but STILL miss who God is. Not only that, but now we have used the cross to ENFORCE our terrible image of God as judge and punisher of evil, and have made Him into a child-sacrificer to boot. How BAD can we make Him look? How far short of His glory CAN we fall in disparaging His good reputation? We have TWISTED the cross and twisted God’s image in the process. And most everyone believes this is the truth. It almost makes me believe in the devil again because it’s such a subtle, but deadly deception that has totally derailed the gospel message of God’s peace, goodwill and favor toward man.

It’s time to RECLAIM the true gospel that was declared to man when Jesus arrived here. God’s favor rests on you. You, as you are. Not you as religion wants to MAKE you so God will accept you. Not you who believes just the “right things” about Jesus so God doesn’t have to avert His eyes from your loathsomeness. But you RIGHT NOW. THIS news will transform lives. I know because it has mine. It has given me such a love for God and for humanity that I never even understood before. I always believed I loved, but now I can see how superficial (though sincere) that love really was, because it was still based on a God who is looking to ERADICATE evil and punish and torture all those who break His moral standards.

And you can’t really love a God who tortures people. You can SAY you do, but it’s half-hearted at best, even if you BELIEVE it is whole-hearted. I know, again, because I’ve EXPERIENCED it. You can only see it from the OTHER side. (Yeah, I know how ‘conceited’ that sounds, but I’m really being sincere here). I couldn’t see how “weak” my love of God was until I really understood who He is and how much He loves me.

You cannot love humanity, when you think the majority of them are lost forever because of their depraved state before God. You can PITY them, yes, but pity is NOT love. Pity does not give them the intrinsic worth and love that God gives them AS THEY ARE, “evil” and all. Yes, INTRINSIC worth, not IMPUTED worth. Which brings me to my third, final and most profound thought of the day.

The traditional view of “imputed righteousness” says that when Jesus died for our sins, He took them on Himself and gave US His righteousness, so that when God looks at US (if we’ve “accepted Christ”), He sees Jesus’ righteousness instead of our sin. It’s kind of like we are wearing a Jesus-cloak of righteousness that covers up our “filthy rags” of sin. But let’s examine this idea more closely.

The first problem is our misunderstanding of the word “righteous” or “righteousness”. We have equated this with “sinless” and “sinlessness” or “perfect goodness” or “purity”. And the word CAN be used that way in Greek, but it’s meaning is much more about trajectory than about purity. Righteousness is “going in the right direction”. That’s what the word actually means. If you were travelling down the road, and you stopped and asked for directions, and found out you were headed the wrong way, you were “unrighteous” (headed in the wrong direction). You needed to be made righteous (ie. JUSTIFIED, adjusted) and placed in the right direction (made righteous), so that then, as you continued your journey, you would be displaying “righteousness” in being headed in the right direction, and people could actually follow YOU if they wanted to know the right way to go. THIS is the picture of what righteousness is.

God is ALWAYS righteous, always headed in the right direction, towards peace, goodwill and love. His desire is to make us righteous, as well. To place us in the right direction, with the right goals. Now go back through your Bible and read all those verses that talk about righteousness and insert this idea into them and be amazed at how much sense they make. Not EVERY verse will work, as there are other words that have been translated as righteousness in the Bible. But most will work with this “going in the right direction” meaning. No, really, go look some up. I’ll wait. 🙂

So, then, how does this affect the idea of “imputed righteousness”? Can you only LOOK like your headed in the right direction, but not REALLY be righteous yourself? No. Jesus doesn’t just make us LOOK righteous. He places us in the right direction (justifies us), so we ARE headed in the right direction.

Then I started thinking about the idea of wearing Jesus righteousness like a garment. There’s a verse that says to “put on” the breastplate of righteousness. So I was thinking about whether there were any other places in the Bible where putting on a garment had to do with changing or going a particular direction. And the Spirit brought Elijah’s cloak to mind. Elijah passed his cloak on to Elisha in the old Bible story. However, my mind immediately dismissed this as I have always been taught that the cloak represented God’s power and authority being passed from Elijah to Elisha and that had nothing to do with going in a particular direction.

I continued thinking about this idea of righteousness being about being headed in the right direction, and thinking if about how FAITH puts us in the right direction (is counted as righteousness). When Abraham BELIEVED God, that God would make him a great nation and give him a land, he started out on a JOURNEY, both spiritually and physically, with God. He started on a particular trajectory. He was “made righteous” (placed on a certain path with a certain goal) THROUGH his faith. He certainly wasn’t thought of as “good” as in pure or morally perfect. Far from it. He made awful choices. God wasn’t OVERLOOKING those because Abraham believed in Him. His righteousness was not about what he did, but the TRAJECTORY of his life.

And then AGAIN, the Spirit brought up the cloak of Elijah. And I said, “OK, how does this fit, God, because I don’t see it?”

And then, I did.

The cloak of Elijah was how Elisha was COMMISSIONED, how he was “chosen” for the task as a prophet of God. When he took on the cloak, he took on the job, the mission, the PATH that was set before him by God. He “put on” his righteousness, because the cloak put him on the path that would determine the rest of his life. My jaw dropped. This is how Jesus “imputes” His righteousness to us. He gives us HIS commission to be HIS ambassadors of reconciliation. To continue down the path that He showed us. The path, the trajectory, of peace, goodwill and love towards mankind. And we “take up” this cloak (or breastplate), when we BELIEVE in the message of Jesus, in the Gospel. When we ACCEPT the commission (the way pointed out) of Jesus.

Our faith is counted as righteousness. I hope this blessed you today.

The Oft-Maligned Innkeeper

(Note: this was first posted on my Facebook on Dec. 8, 2014, before I had a blog. I thought it was appropriate to add it here during the Christmas season.)

Ah, Christmas!

The blessed baby. The virgin mother. The proud, but confused father. The excited shepherds. The majestic (if out of place) “wise men”. The lovely angels.

And the stingy, no-good innkeeper. 😦

We see him in all the Christmas pageants where the story is acted out. Everybody’s thrilled about Jesus, but THAT guy. I mean, what IS his problem anyway? Why does this “Scrooge” show up in the story?

Or does he?

We get the idea of an innkeeper from ONE verse in the Bible. Yep. ONE VERSE.

Luke 2:7: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Well, if there was “no room”, then SOMEBODY had to tell them that, right? So, it must have been that stingy innkeeper, who was apparently SO stressed out that he would turn away a pregnant woman about to give birth.

Never mind the fact that to do so would have been anathema in Jewish society, where taking care of travelers and guests was one of the MOST important things you could do. For a PREGNANT women, an innkeeper would have likely given up his OWN bed. If word of such a slight had got around, his inn would have been “out of business” in days.

But the idea of Mary and Joseph going to an inn is flawed in the first place.

The Greek word translated as “inn” is ‘kataluma’. But kataluma would be better translated “guest room”. In fact, most modern translations actually are now using that word. The only other time the word is used is in Mark 14:14-15 “And wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples? And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.”

This is referring to the “upper room” where Jesus and the disciples had The Last Supper.

Houses (at least of fairly well-to-do people) of that time were two-stories. On the first floor there would be a central courtyard where the animals were kept at night. Around this area would be common rooms, the kitchen, servants quarters, etc. On the upper floors (away from the dust) were the bedrooms, and the “guest room(s)”. As I said, hospitality was a BIG thing back then, and most houses had an available guest room both for relatives and friends or a stranger or sojourner. This was the norm. Not having a room for a stranger to stay in would have been a “bad thing”.

While we have no direct evidence, odds would favor the fact that both Joseph AND Mary had relatives IN Bethlehem. They were going there for the census, so it was his hometown. We also know that Elizabeth and Zachariah lived “in the hill country of Judea”. This COULD have been near Bethlehem. It makes sense, because Zachariah, as a priest in the temple, probably would not have owned property IN the city proper, but settled just on the outskirts of town. This would have also have made it fairly easy for the shepherds to find the babe, as well. Regardless of whether it was Elizabeth’s house or another relative, it makes more than a little sense that they were planning to stay with relatives, not going to an “inn”.

But “while they were there” (which could have been two hours or two weeks), it was time for her to give birth. I tend to go with a shorter time, because if they KNEW she was going to deliver, whomever was IN the guest room would most probably have given it to Mary. But if they did arrive late at night, and everyone was sleeping, Mary probably told them NOT to wake up the household, and that she would be fine downstairs in the courtyard area (with the animals), at least until the morning. Maybe she couldn’t even climb the ladder/stairs to the upper floors in her condition. (I’ll also note here that it’s quite likely she delivered earlier than expected due to the stressful journey there. They would have likely planned to travel AFTER the baby was born if she had been THAT close to delivering.) It’s also more than likely there would have been at least ONE other family member up with them, and probably some servants as well. They were not completely alone in this, like the romanticized story depicts. If they had been, the shepherds would have been mortified at such a thing, and would have taken them to their OWN homes. In the morning, the family would have been moved to an “upper guest room” and they would have stayed there until the child was old enough to travel. This COULD be the very house that the “wise men” visited after the baby became a “young child”.

But my point is…. NO innkeeper. NO “Scrooges” during the night of His birth. No abandoned mother and father. Jewish hospitality ensured that Mary and Joseph would have been well taken care of by family and baby Jesus was surrounded by those who were happy He was there. No grumps allowed!

So let there be “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Even innkeepers. 🙂

Did Solomon Lose His Wisdom?

(This post is inspired by a conversation I had with my wife, Jen, this morning in the car. Thank, babe.)

Solomon.

We all know his story.

God asked him what he most wanted, and he (wisely) choose wisdom with which to rule the people. God declared he hit the jackpot with that answer and give him not JUST wisdom, but riches, power, peace. Just about everything a king could ever want. Solomon did it all, experienced everything the ancient world had to offer. And at the end of his life he said it was all “vanity” (worthless) compared to knowing God, compared to having a relationship with Him.

According to the scriptures, Solomon made some bad mistakes that resulted in the Kingdom being taken from his son’s hands, broken, and the people eventually going into captivity. This was said to be a punishment for falling away and worshiping other gods besides Jehovah. And eventually, when they learned their lesson, many, MANY years later, they were allowed to come back to the land and restore it. This is the story of a LARGE portion of the OT. Most of the history books, some of the poetry and several of the prophetic books are concerning this time period.

So, quick recap. Solomon becomes king. Asks God for wisdom. Gets it “all”. Experiences it “all”. Part of the all is “other gods”. Solomon declares all the all worthless. The kingdom is taken from his son and broken. Israel goes into captivity. They “learn their lesson” and eventually return to restore “God’s ways”. That’s the basic narrative.

When reading ANY book, especially a book filled with history, it’s important to remember who is writing the narrative. No matter who it is, they are BOUND to be biased. There’s an old saying that, “The winners write the history books.” and it’s pretty true. When you are the writer, you will likely spin the story however you want to make your nation/tribe “the hero” (sometimes even when you lose). You can see this even in our OWN history books, and we tend to favor scientific objectivity over everything else. Not so in the ancient world.

Now most scholars agree that much of the historical writings of Israel were written during their time of exile. Sure, they had bits and pieces and records here and there, but a large portion up until that time was oral tradition passed down to each generation. One reason was because, well, writing was just starting to take off during Solomon’s time. In Moses’ time, they still wrote things on stone blocks (Ten Commandments) if they wanted them to last for awhile. They simply didn’t have a way to record huge amounts of text on “paper” (especially since it hadn’t been invented yet). So, Moses didn’t “write the Bible” (sorry, Keith Green). Israel’s early history was passed via oral traditions. I know to US it seem incredible that SO much information as is included in Leviticus, Numbers, etc. could be memorized and reproduced orally, but that was the “way it was done” back then. Besides doing the necessary things for survival, they didn’t have very much else TO do except learn to recite their traditions.

However, by the time they get to the exile, they want, they NEED, to not lose their tribal identity (something the Babylonians very much tried to take from them – hence the new names, customs, etc.), and so they began to write down their traditions in EARNEST as a way to safeguard it for future generations  So a great work of gathering, cataloging and writing down their history to that point (along with other writings – prophecies, poetry, songs, etc.) was begun and probably took a great many years. It may have even been done by different groups working independently. Hence the reason we have Kings AND Chronicles. Both these tell about the same time period, but have both the same and different things going on in them. They tell the story from different perspectives. Still, it’s amazing how strikingly similar they are. A testament to those who came before them.

So, let’s go back to the PURPOSE again for these writings. It was to establish a NATIONAL IDENTITY for the people of Israel. To help them remember “who they are” and their unique relationship with God. It was this history that they took back with them in order to reestablish Jerusalem, the wall, the temple and everything around that. This was their “guidebook” for who they were as a people.

So, their “agenda” was not 100% historical accuracy, but to establish identity and solidarity with the one true God. That doesn’t mean they LIED on purpose to make themselves look good. They didn’t THINK along those lines. They weren’t “historians” as we would understand that term. They didn’t think scientifically and empirically. They thought TRIBALISTICALLY and ONTOLOGICALLY (‘big picture’ truths). They NEEDED to be different, set apart, special and uniquely “in touch” with God.

It’s important to recognize this when you read the Bible so you understand what’s going on in the head of the writers. They’re not trying to tell you “the truth”, but who they ARE in their writings. They are imparting their identity to their children and children’s children. They are saying “Look, this is what you come from. Live accordingly.” All ancient cultures do this in their writings, stories, traditions. It’s the story of the PEOPLE, not the FACTS, that is MOST important.

OK, Ken, are you EVER going to get to the POINT of this post?

Why, yes, I believe I am. ALL of the proceeding we now need to keep in mind as we read the story and writings concerning Solomon.

So, Solomon is approached BY GOD. (That’s important to them, God speaks to THEM.) and asked what he most wants. He answers to rule the PEOPLE wisely. Again, see right from the beginning how it’s about the PEOPLE, the TRIBE. God grants him this desire and also blesses him with all the rest, the wealth, the status, the women, etc., etc. and a wonderful time of peace for Israel.  This was their “glory years”, when they were the envy of much of the world. Princes and princesses, kings and queens visited, leaving tribute and Solomon welcomed them all. He was the great gatherer, of both people (probably marrying into MANY royal lines)  and ideas. He promoted the sharing of ideas and peace in the world. Even God said he would be a man of peace. He opened the country to foreigners and allowed them to not just stay but to worship their OWN gods if they so chose. How scandalous. How WRONG.

Oh, but WAIT!

Isn’t Solomon supposed to be WISE, by God’s granting? If it was SO unwise for him to be this “open” with his people and his country, why would he have made this decision? Did God take BACK his wisdom? If so, why didn’t He take back all the REST of the gifts. Why allow Solomon to be “foolish” and allow such “inclusion” to become the practice in the land?

Remember, the “goal” of the writings of this time was to solidify the connection between the one true God and the people. To keep them “free” and “pure” of any other outside influences (“other gods”). The only way to do this is to make Solomon’s ideas to be “idolatry”, to be “wrong”. and ultimately to be the reason why God “punished” Israel with captivity.

Oh, but you say, “Solomon said all the stuff he did was worthless, which would include the other gods/religions/etc., right?”

Yes, BUT we need to see the CONTEXT of his proclamation. He said they were all vain in COMPARISON to knowing God. That doesn’t mean they have NO value. It means knowing God, understanding God, having a relationship with God is the MOST important which makes the rest pale by comparison. So, Solomon ALWAYS had his priorities right. He knew God was the MOST important thing. So, was Solomon still wise? I think so. So was he wise when he promoted inclusivity and peace throughout the world, especially within his own borders? I have to say, “yes”. So was this why Israel was “punished” with captivity? I’m thinking probably not. To THEM, yes, of course, it probably SEEMED that way. I’m sure their were many who SAID God was going to punish them for their “liberal ways” (just as we hear a lot about now). And we humans have always tried to see the reasons behind everything that happens to us, generally laying the “blame” at God’s feet as the ultimate bringer of both good and bad. So, if “God” did it, He had to have a reason, and those naysayers must have been right after all. We do the same things today.

But, let’s recall, Solomon ran his country PEACEFULLY with the world, bringing peoples together in harmony. But he was ALSO highly respected (not FEARED, but respected) by the rest of the world for his great wisdom. But after he died, that respect did not transfer to his son. They were a people who no longer knew war, who desired that everyone just get along and share. But after the kingdom split they became directionless and weak, militarily speaking. As an empire “ripe” from many years of peace, it was only a matter of time before somebody came in and picked the fruit and they were easily taken over and away by the Babylonian and later, the Assyrian empires

At that point, the cry for inclusivity (led by Solomon) turned to one of EXCLUSIVITY. God is for US. We are for God. We are united as a people due to our exclusive covenant with God. The rest of the world is “evil”. Peace became a dead dream of the past and Israel’s driving passion became to be a military power again someday, like it was under the “good ole days” of David. And so it continued till the days of Christ.

However, it’s interesting to note how, in all their time of exile, they continued to bring the light of God to other empires (even those like Darius, who already knew there MUST be a one, true God, but just didn’t understand Him). God used their captivity to do the SAME thing that Solomon did during HIS reign, to SHARE their knowledge of God with the world and to learn to live and work with “foreigners” (even while they cried for exclusivity in their writings).

Now, what will you take away from this. I think you will probably take away whatever you already come to this article with.

If you see God as exclusive, only “saving” those who believe the right way about Him, and that being INCLUSIVE is dangerous, makes God angry and invites His punishment, then you will see this story from the “traditional” viewpoint. The viewpoint it was arguably written from, in order to sell  a particular tribalistic way of thinking.

However, if you see God as inclusive, arms open, wanting the people of the world to unite, taking the best from every culture, every religion (but not abandoning God – just as Solomon never did) and using it all for the betterment of mankind, to wisely alleviate suffering and bring peace to the world, then you might see this story differently than you ever have before.

Did Solomon lose his wisdom? No, I don’t think so. But have WE (humanity) lost his wisdom, and, I think, the same wisdom that Christ shared? I very much think so.

In Debt

In debt.

Our entire lives, we live “in debt”.

As children, we live “indebted” to our parents. Even if they say we owe them nothing, we still FEEL indebted, at least at some point to some degree.

As adults, our very LIVES revolve around debt. Buy a car — debt. Buy a house — debt. Use credit cards — debt. Especially in America, very few of us leave this planet not owing someone something. For most of us (and of course there ARE exceptions) being indebted is one of our most familiar feelings.

So, it’s no wonder we carry this same paradigm over into the spiritual world.

According to popular theology, we are indebted to God.

The idea is that God is the cosmic CPA, and he’s got all our books. The FIRST line in everyone’s ledger reads “Original Sin”, and that one is enough right there to get us on the hook. Even IF we could somehow never break even one of “God’s laws”, we would still be in the “red” from birth. But it doesn’t stop there. We are told that every infraction of God’s law (some use the Ten Commandments or some other similar standard) “offends” God and He adds it to our list of indebtedness. We are told this cosmic spreadsheet MUST be balanced if we ever have any chance of living with God in the hereafter because apparently He cannot coexist with anyone or anything that is not perfect like Him.

So, in addition to all the EARTHLY Statements of Debt that stand against us and for which we are responsible (even after death), we have a SPIRITUAL “note” that must be satisfied after we die. And of course we believe all this. Debt is how we understand life. It all makes perfect sense to us

Except God is not like US.

Yes, you can find a smattering of BIBLICAL support for such a view of God. There ARE mentions of “books” that are opened. Although this is in Revelation, a book full of allegorical and apocalyptic imagery. There are a few other passages that seem to indicate that God holds a list of offenses against us that we can never “repay”. Now, popular theology proclaims that THIS is why Jesus died, to pay our debt to God so that we wouldn’t have to. However, the payment for this debt for Jesus was to die on the cross, and for sure that’s a horrible way to die. But OUR payment for this debt is to be tortured for ETERNITY in Hell. I don’t know about you, but that seems an inordinate and unbalanced payment system to me. Of course, there is NO Biblical support for this “payment” system. The “wages” of sin is proclaimed to be death (which is bad enough), NOT unending torture in Hell. But somehow that got added into the “wages”. I would think that the ETERNITY part would be MUCH more important to mention (and mention REPEATEDLY) than the “death” part.

This is all proclaimed to be God’s “justice” system. Somehow, because sin “offends” God, being tortured for eternity does the OPPOSITE of that (pleases Him?). That is how the scales of justice are “balanced”. But again, where is this system laid out clearly in scripture? I just don’t see it. Maybe somebody can enlighten me with the place where this cosmic “exchange system” is clearly laid out for us. And, no, I don’t mean grab a verse from here and a verse from there, like it was some cosmic Bible puzzle we were meant to figure out. If THIS is REALLY the way the universe works, the PRIMARY SYSTEM on which God sets the course of our VERY SOULS, then it had better be explained SOMEWHERE, quite plainly and hopefully, even more than once. But I have yet to find it.Even Jesus didn’t discuss it.

If we believe that Jesus came to reveal to us the Father (and He said as much several times), than He should have ALSO clearly laid out this debt/payment system for us, and made it clear to people when they were adding to their indebtedness. However, I see just the OPPOSITE in the behavior of Jesus. Jesus just FORGAVE sins CONSTANTLY, for no reason at all — just because. Now, either Jesus is the “good side” of God that forgives people OR Jesus is the full REVELATION of God and GOD forgives people as well.

And, by the way, FORGIVING someone is TOTALLY different than making/allowing/causing someone else to PAY the debt. PAYMENT is NOT FORGIVENESS. I’m sure your mortgage company will explain that to you if you don’t understand that. Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll PAY for that sin”. He said it was FORGIVEN. ERASED. GONE. OVER. FINISHED.

During His life He did this for INDIVIDUAL people as He met them where they were (in their sinfulness, by the way — so much for God not being able to be in the presence of imperfection). At the cross, He forgave us ALL. Why? Because He CAN! Because He’s GOD. God wasn’t up in heaven going, “Oh good, finally this debt is getting paid off (well, at least for some of them.)”. No, scripture says, God was “in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” How was the reconciliation accomplished? Through payment? No, through forgiveness. Why? Because God LOVES us. And the cross PROVES (demonstrates) that love.

The idea of DEBT is a HUMAN idea that God has been trying to reverse FOREVER. It has been PROJECTED onto the character of God by MAN. We OWE people, we figure we must owe GOD, too. When we are hurt, we figure they “deserve” (are OWED) hurt in return. If someone borrows from us, we EXPECT to get paid. All scales MUST be balanced.

But throughout scripture God has been trying to get us to FORGIVE all debts, both personal and financial. “FORGIVE” is forever on God’s lips. Remember the “Year of Jubilee” when all DEBTS were to be cancelled? Yeah, that was God, trying to get us to FORGIVE rather than hold ONTO debt. Do we presume that God doesn’t do what He tells US to do?

Jesus came to CORRECT our erroneous view of God as debt collector. He is not a cosmic CPA writing down ledgers of sin debt for us day by day. He is our loving Father who died to PROVE how much He loves us. Died at “our” own hands. And when He came back to life in the resurrected Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”. He’s not holding ANYTHING against us. LOVE does not “keep a record of wrongs”. If we believe that GOD keeps a record of wrongs, than gives us mental approval to do the same thing towards others. We TALK so much about God “forgiving” sins, but again, FORGIVING is not having someone ELSE pay. If you owe me money and somebody else pays it, I didn’t forgive you ANYTHING. I didn’t forgive ANYBODY anything. I got “paid”. I balanced a book. I satisfied an imbalance that I believed was more important than you. That’s not LOVE. That’s not about YOU. It’s about ME. It satisfies ME. It makes ME MORE important than YOU. Does that sound like the God revealed by Jesus? When we attached this “financial” way of thinking to God, we make Him much less than what He truly is, and we make it MUCH easier to be unforgiving of each other. Justice (as we understand it – balancing the scales — getting “paid” = retribution) is NOT forgiveness. It’s the OPPOSITE of forgiveness. God doesn’t need to be “paid off” in order to love you or accept you or want to be with you. He went to the cross in the person of Jesus to PROVE that to you. Your sin “debt”, unlike your mortgage, is all in your OWN head. Let it go. God has from the foundations of the cosmos. The books are not balanced because there never WAS any books. In God’s eyes, you are debt free!

“Another Gospel”?

As I have found my theological positions changing over the past eighteen months or so, I have been accused at times of preaching “another gospel”. Of course this is in reference to two verses in the NT:

Galatians 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! (NIV)

2 Corinthians 11:4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (NIV)

That last part was NOT a compliment, but a rebuke. They SHOULDN’T have been putting up with it.

Now of course these verses beg the question what IS the original gospel (good news) that they taught, and what is the “other gospel” that was coming in and deceiving some of the churches?

The more I’ve studied this issue the more I’ve come to believe that we have LOST the original gospel and the one the church has been preaching for about the past 1500 years IS the “other gospel” and really needs to be abandoned.

When Christianity became the “state religion” around 500AD things began to go downhill doctrinaly. As the church sought more control over the government, doctrines designed to control men out of fear arose and coercion into faith became the norm. After all, the more followers, the more cash, the more influence and the more power the church exerted over empires. History is FULL of the accounts of how the church and the government were wedded together most dreadfully, and the result was the preaching of this “other gospel”. Protestantism attempted to reverse this, but it didn’t do enough and eventually became just about the same as Catholicism, as it still was primarily concerned with power as the two views battled it out across the states of Europe. This is the “Christianity” that we have inherited from our forefathers. It’s all we know. It’s what we have been taught the Bible teaches. But it’s NOT the original gospel. If you want to know the original gospel, you have to go to the EASTERN churches, who did not have the same problems with empirical corruption that the West did. They STILL preach pretty much the exact same doctrines they did 1500 years ago. So, it would be WISE for us to see what they have to say and consider seriously going BACK to the original gospel.

This post was inspired by a Facebook post that I was tagged in that included a video. The video had the following message attached:

“Please oh please listen to this beautiful gospel presentation and respond to Christ. Please don’t be angry. It’s only because I care about you all so much and I hope and pray to see you all in heaven one day but I’m going to tag some people in the comments. Maybe you used to believe this with your head but you never truly repented and surrendered to Christ. Yet. Maybe you thought you knew the way to heaven and what the gospel is but after hearing this you will realize you were so wrong. Get right with God today. As you all know NONE of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Love you all.”

Obviously the person who tagged me is concerned with the destination of my soul and wants me to “return” to what they believe is the gospel. Please watch the video and then continue on to my comments concerning this gospel as compared to the gospel I now embrace as taught by the Eastern fathers..

While I appreciate the heartfelt, loving (for the most part) and sincere presentation given here, I simply no longer believe this is “The Gospel”.

Firstly, it paints a picture of a god who condones violence. Not just condones, but DEMANDS it against His own son in order to forgive people. This is not much different than the blood sacrifices that other pagan gods supposedly demanded of their followers. But the one true God declares, “I don’t desire sacrifices”.

Additionally this “gospel” says that god can’t stand to be around us unless we do the right things to get our “Jesus suit” of “righteousness” so that he doesn’t see our filthiness that we can NEVER really be rid of (at least not in this life).

But God does not love us because of anything we do or believe. He loves us because He is love.

God doesn’t accept us because Jesus died, but because He has ALWAYS accepted all men from the very beginning. Yes, even in The Garden of Eden God came and FOUND Adam after he “sinned” and stayed with him, and did all He could to make man comfortable around Him. He has continued to do that throughout history, trying to make man feel OK with God and with himself. The cross only PROVED that no matter what man does (including killing God HIMSELF), he is always and ALREADY forgiven. The first thing that God said when Jesus was born was “peace on the earth”, and the FIRST thing that the resurrected Jesus said was “Peace be with you.”. God is NOT at enmity (against) us. That is a lie that we have believed. A lie bolstered by religion.

God does not hold a record of wrongs against us, because that’s not love. Love forgives EVERY time. We don’t like to hear that because it demands of US that WE should forgive EVERY time, and we don’t WANT to forgive, we want our idea of JUSTICE, which is PAYBACK, even if that payback is done by God against our “enemies”. We want a violent God who will put the beatdown (Hell) on those who hurt us. But Jesus said to LOVE and do GOOD to those who hurt you, and that’s what God CONTINUES to do. It is that UNCONDITIONAL love and acceptance that is the “good news” (Gospel), not a legal exchange or payback of some sin-debt that God holds over our heads.

When we finally “get” the degree of love God has for us, no matter how despicable we might think we are or are told we are by religion, it changes our WHOLE LIFE. It changes how we see ourselves, God, and humanity. It makes LOVE the primary motivation of our life, and that brings us into harmony with God, ourselves and humanity in a way that fear-based economies of exchange simply can’t. We finally realize we have NOTHING to fear from God EVER, and that THIS is how God feels about EVERYONE else, too. This realization changes how WE feel about them, too. Not overnight, no, but as the love of God works into us and through us, transforming how we think, changing our minds.

THIS! THIS is the “Gospel”! This is the Good News! This is freedom from religion. From fear. From rule-following or fear-inspired checklists of specific beliefs necessary in order to “please God”. This is freedom to be yourself and be the person that you always knew you wanted to be, the “Christ-self” that is hidden inside each of us. We become part of the Kingdom of God, that has always already been here around and inside us, but that we now become AWARE of. And with that we become part of a movement that is driving forward the ideals of peacemaking, equality, reconciliation and compassion for all mankind and all life, the ideals that Jesus taught while He was here.

So, don’t fall for religion’s lies that have corrupted the original gospel message. Embrace the good news of God’s unconditional love for you and for EVERYONE.

I may be accused of twisting or ignoring scripture in presenting this view of God, but I’m really not. Scripture has been twisted and misrepresented for many hundreds of years in order to perpetuate the violent, wrathful, hateful view of God. I urge everyone to watch the video below that gives a visual explanation of these two very different views of God and the gospel, the “penal view” (Western) and the “healing view” (Eastern).

If you would like to discuss further, comment, PM or find me on Facebook. God bless.

Because I said so!!

Authority. Our entire world systems are based on it. Traditionally, the ultimate authority is that of God, which He then “delegates” to “lesser” powers: Jesus, the Spirit, the Bible, Christian leaders, government leaders, parents, etc. We teach that all authority is “granted” by God. Scripture in several places clearly posits this particular view of the world. Basically, we obey because of those in authority over us. To put it rather simplistically, we obey those in authority BECAUSE they are in authority, and will punish us in some manner if we don’t. The phrase, “Because I said so!” is not too far from the way we have defined reality in regards to authority. However, I have come to believe this way of relating to the world is not of God.

Jesus is said to be the EXACT representation of God, and he ESCHEWED any claim on authority, and became the ultimate SERVANT, both in life, and ultimately, in His death. Yes, He was GIVEN authority by the Father and of course, we GIVE Him Lordship in our lives. But it was not His desire to “rule” over us. In fact, He resisted that earthly idea at every turn. I believe He was showing us the TRUE heart of the Father.

God does not wish to relate to us as an authority-OVER us with a “rulebook” of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and doctrinal beliefs. Yes, He wants what’s best for us (He is FOR us) and sinful behaviors result in things that are NOT good for us or for mankind. So His desire is for us to abstain from sin by learning to love for our OWN sakes, not for HIS, for His “pleasure” or out of a need for us to “obey” HIM. Rather than authority, He chooses to relate to us as a servant-UNDER us, lifting us up from whatever moral plane we may currently be at to ever higher ideals of love for each other. It is His mercy, forgiveness and love that COMPELS us to put our trust in Him, which in practice equates to making Him Lord (authority) in our lives. But it’s something we GIVE based on our love of His “servanthood” towards us, not something we SUBMIT to because God has the largest stick (Hell) to punish us with someday.

When we become aware of this principal, we realize all the authority structures of MAN no longer really applies to us. Does that mean we can now sin all the time? No. We have NO desire to sin, because love reigns in our hearts. Sure, we still mess up. We are human, and know not what we do. But God does not count this against us. Our HEART is still ruled by love, not by our desire to “get away with things” like a child sneaking around behind their parent’s back. It’s a more “grown up” way of relating to God that doesn’t require Him to be a disciplinary figure anymore, but a friend and confidant that knows us inside and out and still accepts and loves us, warts, failures, struggles and all.

But let’s get back to authority. I believe all authority structures (governmental and religious) are made by MAN who then CLAIMS the authority of God as their reason for having the “right” to rule in our lives. The same with the Bible (scripture). Man proclaims it’s authority and says it’s from God.

But let’s look at what Jesus said was our authority. He told us that we would have no need of MAN to teach us. He said that we should do the bear minimum to keep the government off our backs (‘render to Caesar…’ — basically, not to tick them off on purpose). He told us the purpose of scripture was to point to HIM, not to be a rulebook reigning over us, like the Jews were using it. Paul reiterated this idea. And then He told us the Spirit (His “proxy” on earth) would be our teacher and lead us into all truth. When we become aware of the Spirit working in our lives, we surrender to His desire to serve us (teaching us is a service) and MAKE Him our authority. But the Spirit never DEMANDS to be heard or obeyed. The Spirit is the ONLY thing that Jesus intimated would be an authority in our lives. Not men, not scripture, not even HIMSELF really (and therefore, as revealed, not God, either.).

I know it seems like a backwards way of looking at the world, but I think this is a FUNDAMENTAL piece of theology that the church has LOST or never fully understood that changes our ENTIRE view of LIFE and relating to God and others. We no longer acknowledge any man’s authority over us (though we still may choose to obey in the interests of peace-keeping), or exercise authority over others, but only claim servanthood to mankind, just as Jesus showed us by example. Therefore, we have no place to tell people how to behave (while still striving to prevent harm and promote love) or even really what to believe (unless they ask to know). We are living epistles that when asked should be able give a reason for the hope within us (that hope is the attractive quality that the world just doesn’t have). We are the SERVANTS of the world, just as God is OUR servant, dying at our hands so that we could understand His true character and disposition towards us.

This Facebook post by Jacob Wright describes how this “upside down” authority structure is described in the apocryphal book of Revelation. This is the way that Jesus wins back the world — through servanthood, not authority.