Of Forgiveness and Taxes

Imagine this scenario of you will…

You are in a coma. You have been for some time and are completely unaware of your surroundings.

Now imagine while you are “out” the President and Congress passes a sweeping tax reform bill for our country. It is announced that beginning in 2019 everyone will pay a simple flat tax of 12% (I just pulled that number out of the air, so don’t read any significance into it).

Now let’s say that sometime early next year you come out of your coma and after a few weeks of therapy, you are ready to return to your former life, job and all.

But you are unaware of the tax law changes.

Now, let’s assume, for the sake of argument alone, that when told about the tax reform and the new rate. A rate that will save you significantly on your tax bill, you simply refuse to believe it. It’s just “too good to be true”. You request that your taxes be taken out at the same rate as they have always been “just in case”. Maybe you mistrust the government. Who knows? The point is you are paying something you no longer owe simply because you refuse to believe that you don’t have to pay it.

But isn’t this what mainstream Christianity teaches we should do?

It is said that Jesus “paid” the debt of sin to God on your behalf. But if you don’t BELIEVE that, then you have to pay the debt YOURSELF in the form of punishment in Hell for eternity. Basically, if you don’t BELIEVE Jesus secured your forgiveness, then you are not forgiven.

But let’s go back to our real-world scenario. If the tax reform was passed, then those taxes are NOT owed. It makes NO difference what a person BELIEVES about the taxes they think they should pay. If the government has declared a certain rate, then that is ALL they are going to accept. Anything you pay over that will be returned to you, because that is not your debt. In other words, your BELIEF does not change the REALITY of the tax rate. So, why does your belief change your state of forgiveness? If Jesus paid it all, for all humanity, then how could OUR will, our stubbornness or ignorance be stronger than that act of reality? If OUR belief is the linchpin on which forgiveness rests, then wouldn’t we, in the act of believing, an act of OUR will, be effectively saving OURSELVES?

I submit that OUR wills do not make for reality. Jesus PAID the debt. The debt that the LAW demanded — blood. Forgiveness was secured. Whether you or I BELIEVE that fact does not CHANGE the fact. It changes our RESPONSE to that fact, our ability to live in the knowledge of that fact, but not the fact itself. I can continue to pay the old tax rate if I am stubborn enough to, but that doesn’t force the government to take my money. It doesn’t change what IS.

Our faith is for US, not for God. Our faith allows US to accept and live in the forgiveness we’ve ALREADY been given. It does not “allow” God to forgive us. God forgives because He’s God, not because of what we believe, say or do.

So next time someone tries to convince you that your faith is REQUIRED to effect God’s forgiveness (or love or grace or anything else), remind them of this little analogy. Faith believes what is real (truth). It changes SUBJECTIVE reality (what I think and feel), not OBJECTIVE reality.

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In Pursuit of “Truth”

We REALLY want to be right.

Especially in the West, I think this is one of the most important things for people today. Certainly on social media it seems that way. We our literally obsessed with having OUR truth equal objective truth, and we will go to great lengths to prove that it does.

The cry of “fake news” is all about this. We want news that we believe is provable, objective truth, or we label it “fake”.

Even this week’s Trump incident is all about finding out the truth. I think short of a recording of the word (not likely) we will never have more than “he said/he said” to go on. It’s just a matter of who’s story you find most convincing or whom you trust more, which of course, is gonna be different for different folks. But the cry from many is “prove it or go home”. In other words, give me the objective truth or I won’t believe it.

Even in religion, including if not primarily Christianity (in it’s popular form) it’s claimed that having a lack of objective truth WILL ultimately land you in some kind of “bad place”. So, we MUST get things right. It is imperative. Eternity depends on our knowledge of objective truth.

But is this really GOD’S goal for us? Does God expect us to make sure that everything we believe is objective truth? Or else?

I’m not so sure.

Now Jesus DID say He was the way, the truth and the life. (If the Bible is to be believed — let’s just go with “yes” for the sake of our discussion here.)

But the word translated as “truth” is better rendered as “reality”. And notice He didn’t say He SPOKE truth (more on this later), but that He WAS truth (reality). As is common in Jewish thought the “way”, “truth” and “life” are really all about the same idea. So Jesus was saying that HE (His “essence”) was REALITY, was the WAY to be, and was what LIFE was really about. In other words, He was declaring that He was the perfect example for how humanity should see the world and live their lives. He was the REAL WAY OF LIVING!

So, that’s not so much about objective truth, as about a life-changing shift in thinking and “being”. It is “true” because of the fruit it brings to your life, the RESULTS. Jesus said we would be known by our LOVE, not by our TRUTH. Living the “Jesus way” leads to love, and Jesus declared over and over that this was the ultimate goal.

Now, let’s get back to what Jesus said and believed. Was all of it 100% objective truth? We sure want to think so. Why? Because then we have a “standard” to follow for our OWN objective truth claims (at least on the subject of faith). This objective truth standard has then filtered down from Jesus to the Bible, and THIS has now becomes the source of objective truth for most of the Protestant church in the West. If it’s in the Bible, it equals objective truth. If Jesus said (or can be shown to have believed it), it is objective truth. That’s the view that few would challenge.

But I don’t think it’s true. And I don’t think that’s a big problem, either.

Many things in the Bible have fallen on “hard times” in the area of being provable as objective truth. Some will deny that this is so, but that’s only because their very afterlives depend on it. You cannot threaten to pull the foundation of someone’s spiritual life down without expecting a fight. But if we’re really honest, we have to admit the “evidence” is sparse if not non-existent for some of the historical events and people found in scripture.

But Jesus BELIEVED these things (as far as we can tell), so they MUST be true, right?

Well, yes, and no. They certainly COULD be objective truth. Lack of empirical evidence doesn’t DISCLAIM them, but merely casts doubt. But what matters is that to Jesus, they WERE true. They were true to every other Jew of His time, as well. This was the culture that He was born into and was taught from. This was the truth that He knew. As a man, He only had TWO sources of truth — those around Him (His culture/upbringing), and the indwelling Spirit (which likely did not fully “engage” with Him until His baptism) that brought Him revelation as He needed it. Unless the Spirit CONTRADICTED His learned cultural truth, it was still TRUE to Him.

Therefore, there were no lies or deceit in His mouth when He referred to events and people that may or may not have empirically existed, because to HIM, they were “true”. We do the same thing, within our own cultural context. You can see this all over social media. We share the truth WE believe. Sure we would LIKE for it to line up with objective truth (and will argue that it does, presenting whatever facts we believe support us). But for MANY things, we can’t really KNOW. And neither did Jesus. He believed what He was told and what made sense in His culture. If this is not true, then He was not really a man at all. Men can only know the truth they have been taught, either by other men, or by the Spirit’s revelation. Jesus was not given ALL knowledge, as Christ He had laid that ability aside. He was only given the knowledge it was necessary for Him to have to proclaim the message He was here to share. He used the historical things He BELIEVED (and that would have also related to His audience) as a vehicle to convey greater, Spirit-revealed, truths.

Had He KNOWN all truth, and attempted to correct every detail of their historical narrative, he would have been so out of touch with reality (as they understood it) that He would have seemed completely insane and/or a liar (by their understanding of truth). It was hard enough for them to grasp the message of love and reconciliation, etc. that He was sharing without dismantling their historical narratives in the name of declaring only objective truth. It didn’t MATTER if He ALWAYS spoke objective truth. What mattered was that He communicated the subjective experience (the “way/truth/life”) He had with the Father to them, and demonstrated what that relationship MEANT and how to apply that in practical ways. In other words, His real way of living (eternal life, Kingdom living) was the most important truth, not objective truth.

Unfortunately, we have totally lost this knowing through unknowing in the church. We seek for, COMPETE for, and divide and separate our world, including the church, based on truths that WE believe, but can rarely if ever really know for sure that they match objective truth.  But God’s desire for us is to seek HIM, His way/truth/life. That may not look EXACTLY the same in your life as it does in mine. We may even believe different “objective truths”, because we will be at different places in our “way/truth/life” journey. God gives us what’s best for US in the now. We aren’t yet ready for the truth we will receive in ten, twenty or thirty years down the line. But we keep seeking, knowing He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  And we do not unite within the body around our particular understanding of objective truth. That’s the way of the world, constantly dividing and sub-dividing based on conformity of beliefs. We are united by the life-changing love that flows from Jesus’ real way of living.

So, seek ye first His kingdom (life/way/truth), and all these things will be added unto you (ie. the revelation you need will be given to you in due time). Pursue JESUS, not (empirical) truth. He’s all the truth you will ever need.

“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. 🙂

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.