Category Archives: Christian

Hell? No!

This post is part of the May Synchroblog “What The Hell” – thoughts about the controversial subject of hell. You will find the links to all the other participants at the end of this post.
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I don’t believe in hell.

There, I said it.

I cringe a little every time I say it out loud because I come from a place where I was thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea that there was a place called hell. It was where those who did not believe in God/Jesus would go when they died … but, if you believed in God/Jesus you would go to heaven instead of hell.

No one ever said what would happen to you if you didn’t believe in hell but it was kind of an unspoken assumption that if you didn’t believe in hell you probably weren’t “really” a “real” Christian and that meant you probably didn’t believe in God/Jesus and well … no need to repeat myself … you get the picture.

Once I got the picture I realized right away that I didn’t want to go to hell. It was an easy decision for me … believe in God and get a ticket to heaven … which by the way was the complete opposite of hell – it was a place where everyone was happy – so happy that no one ever shed a tear, and it was pretty too! Duh! – that’s where I wanted to go. So, I believed and I “confessed” that I believed and I got dunked and that was that … I was safe. I had my insurance and hoped everyone would be as smart and nice as me about it so no one would ever have to go to that horrible place called hell.

And the way I thought of hell was truly horrible. It was a place where those who “went” there would endure horrendous pain and suffering forever. The picture I had in my mind was a place where people were actually on fire – burning for eternity! The sounds I imagined coming from that place were even more horrible than the scenes that were conjured up by the hell fire and brimstone sermons I had heard. In my imagination the people were in so much pain that hell was filled with constant screams of agony that were louder than the music at a rock concert. Hell was a very scary place and any time I thought about it I was glad that I wasn’t going to go there when I died.

Then several years ago I began to seriously think about what I believed and what I based those beliefs on. That was when I realized that the idea of hell sounded out of place and wrong. It didn’t fit with what I believed about God. So, I began to re-examine what I believed about hell. Right away I discovered that the word hell (Sheol) in the Old Testament has nothing to do with a place of punishment and in the New Testament it (Hades and Gehenna) is used symbolically and masks a ton of metaphor.

It can be difficult for someone like me to see what scripture does and doesn’t say about hell as I had been thoroughly indoctrinated with what I’ve come to think of as “one hell of a lie”. But, a thorough study of scripture combined with a little knowledge and understanding of historical context and original language clearly revealed that scripture was being misrepresented and being made to appear as if it said stuff that it didn’t say.

From there it wasn’t a big leap for me to come to the conclusion that I had bought into a lie and although I might not have all of the answers about the afterlife I certainly couldn’t find sufficient evidence to support the idea of hell.

After more in depth research I have come to believe that hell is the invention of man and surprisingly, most, if not all, of our popular concepts of hell can be found in the writings of Roman Catholic writers like the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of Dante’s Inferno and the English poet John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. But, none of our concepts of hell can be found in the teaching of Jesus Christ! 

Since I have stopped believing in hell I have found that I am free to serve God because I love him and his ways – not because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t. I feel more compelled to love others just for the sake of loving them – not to convince them to believe something. Without hell I don’t find that there is as much need for thinking about who is “in” and who is “out” which can lead to more cooperation and unity … in other words we can do more good together.

At the same time not believing in hell has led to other questions which anyone reading this might be asking at this very moment. In an effort to give you some answers and much more food for thought here are three resources that you might find helpful:

One resource that I found especially helpful was the work of Crystal Lewis. She has written an excellent E-book (available for free) called Quenched – What Everyone (Especially Christians) Should Know About Hell. In the book she covers all the Old and New Testament verses that mention hell, the origins of the idea of underworlds and why people continue to believe in hell. You can download her E-book here and access her individual blog (which includes a series called “One Hell of a Lie”) here.

Another good resource I ran across was the story of Bishop Carlton Pearson. He was a super star preacher with a huge, devoted following. He rubbed elbows with the most powerful political and religious leaders in the U.S. He had it all. He was on top of the world. Until one day while watching the evening news he realized that he had bought into one hell of a lie and had been spreading it. He was so convinced that the hell he had preached about was a lie that he risked (and lost) everything to share what he believes to be true.

Here’s a little bit of Bishop Pearson’s story in his own words:

My kids were real small. My daughter, who’s now 16, was an infant in my lap. And I was watching the evening news, about the Hutus and Tutsis returning to Uganda. I was angry with God and very disgruntled – these poor African people were suffering so violently and I was overwhelmed with compassion and grief and guilt and anger.

I thought: “I’m here with this little fat-cheeked baby, and I’m eating my dinner watching the news in my lovely home, Mercedes in the garage, beautiful wife, everything going great.” I looked at children like my daughter, with flies around their eyes. And I assumed they were non-Christians under the judgment of God and going to hell.

You could see the little babies’ bellies distended and swollen, and they were scratching and crying and their mother was sitting there with this blank expression on her face, with her breast deflated, the child pulling at it, no milk. I thought, they’re probably Muslims or into Juju, they’re headed to hell.

I said to God: “How could you allow that? Call yourself a God of love? You let those poor people suffer, then suck ’em right into hell.”

And that’s when I felt I heard God say: “So that’s what you think we’re doing?”

I said: “Well that’s what the Bible says. They’re not Christians. They’re going to hell.”

“Can’t you see they’re already there? That is hell and I’m pulling them out of there, out of that place that you as humans have created for them and yourselves.”

You can find more of Bishop Pearson’s story here and watch a 4 part MSNBC video series “To Hell and Back – Is Hell Real?” that tells his story here.

And finally here is an excellent response from Shane Hipps that concentrates on the reality that whatever any of us believe about the afterlife it’s all purely speculative. I particularly like this piece because Hipps concludes by pointing out that perhaps we should be spending less time pondering the afterlife and more time on the here and now – which is something I wholeheartedly agree with!

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Check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jeremy Myers – Does Jesus Talk About Hell More Than Heaven?
Wesley Rostoll – Hell, thoughts on annihilationism
K. W. Leslie – Dark Christians
Angie Benjamin – Hell Is For Real
Paul Meier – Hell Is For Real – I’ve Been There and Came Back
Glenn Hager – Abusing Hell
The Virtual Abbess – What The Hell?
Kimbery Klein – Hell, if I know.
Michael Donahoe – Hell Yes…or No?
Liz Dyer – Hell? No!
Margaret Boelman – Hell No I Won’t Go
Loveday Anyim – Why the hell do you believe in hell?
Linda – The Y In The Road
Edwin Aldrich – What the Hell do we really know.
Mallory Pickering – The Time I Blogged About Hell
Elaine – What The Hell?

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You can’t get there from here

you-cant-get-there-from-hereThis post is a contribution to the April Synchroblog “Bridging The Divide”.  This month bloggers are encouraged to offer ideas on ways to heal divisions in the church.

 

You’ve probably heard the saying “you can’t get there from here.” The urban dictionary defines the saying to mean “the problem can’t be solved.”

As I thought about solutions to the divisions the Christian church is presently experiencing I realized I felt like “you can’t get there from here.”

When I think about healing the division in the church “here” becomes Christian unity and that’s where I see us needing to “get to” … I believe we have to know where we want to go before we can plan on how to get there, but, in order to pursue Christian unity we must first understand what it is and what it isn’t …

I don’t have a clear vision of what Christian unity is, so, I am limiting my contribution to some basic thoughts about Christian unity…

What I hate about Christian unity:

I hate the way the term or idea is used to shut down a criticism.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to bully someone who is disagreeing.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to avoid conflict.

I hate the way the term or idea is used as if it means agreement or uniformity.

Some things I believe about Christian unity:

Some things are worth division.

Uniformity is not unity.

Agreement is not unity.

Unity is better than uniformity or agreement.

Getting along with everyone is not equal to Christian unity.

Open acts of injustice are a real and formidable obstacle to Christian unity.

Christian unity is related to shalom in that it doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of conflict but has everything to do with right relations.

Christian unity is not so much a destination as it is something that we are continually striving for in each present moment.

What I love about Christian unity:

It is other centered.

We get glimpses of it when we look through the eyes of the other.

It is a high ideal.

It is centered around, justice, love and mercy.

We can make it happen.

Questions I have about Christian unity:

Is Christian unity the opposite of division?

Can Christian unity exist in the midst of divisions?

Should Christian unity be more about a way of living and interacting than about a list of rules or beliefs that we agree on?

How can I have unity with someone who embraces something I believe is harmful to people?

Is Christian unity really nothing more than the agreement of a few basic ideas?

What do you think? Can we get there from here?


Here are the links to the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog. I hope you will take the time to read more.

Uncomfortable Love

This post is a contribution to the February Synchroblog “Loving Your Enemies”. Check out the links to all the other contributions to the February Synchroblog listed at end of this piece.

As a follower of Jesus I have to take the instruction to love my enemy seriously.

The biggest problem I have with loving my enemies is that I’m uncomfortable with it.

It doesn’t feel good and it’s hard – really hard – and it’s not fun either.

Sometimes I try to water the instruction down a little and make it more palatable.

I say to myself “loving your enemies doesn’t mean that you feel all warm and fuzzy about them” or “loving your enemies doesn’t mean you have to invite them over for dinner” or “loving your enemies is a process” or “you don’t have to love your enemies the same way you love your friends”

And while all of those things may be true I don’t know that grabbing on to disclaimers gets me any closer to loving my enemies.

Other times I declare, “I don’t have any enemies!” because if I don’t have any enemies I don’t have to worry about loving them – but we all have experienced being hurt by someone and enemies come in many different forms.

And finally, if I get really honest with myself, I want to know how far forgiveness and love have to go.  What does it mean to love my enemy? What does that actively look like? Does that mean I let people take advantage of me? How does my passion for justice co-exist with compassion for my enemy?

I don’t have a lot of answers but over time I have discovered a few things – some good and some not so good …

sometimes understanding my enemy helps me to love them

unfortunately most of the time loving my enemy doesn’t change them

loving my enemy helps me remain free of bitterness and negativity

loving my enemy takes more strength than hating my enemy

hating my enemy takes more energy than loving my enemy

preparing my response in advance can help me love my enemy

loving my enemy does not mean that I don’t oppose what they do or say or believe

loving my enemy is uncomfortable 99% of the time

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Even with what I know I am almost always constantly just at the edge of chucking the whole idea of loving my enemies but something or someone usually seems to come along to give me a little encouragement to keep on trying.

Sometimes it’s a story like the one of 14-year-old Malala who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a bus in the Swat Valley. She made a full recovery in England, and became a remarkable, brave voice for the rights of women.  When Jon Stewart interviewed her he asked her what her reaction had been when she found out that the Taliban wanted to kill her. Her words have taken up a permanent residence in my heart.

“I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, if he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well,’ and I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

Malala’s story reminds me that loving my enemies is about aspiring to something good and right. That loving my enemies promotes peace and goodness for all.  That loving my enemies does not mean I am weak but takes all of my strength and courage.

But if I’m honest I have to admit that there are days when nothing inspires me.

Some days I just feel tired and weak.

On those days, when I can’t find any sane reason to keep on loving my enemies, when I am crushed by those who seem to be the most unloving and unkind, when I feel the weight of fear and anger becoming heavier than hope and love, when I am wrestling with what it means to stand up for the oppressed and at the same time to love the oppressors … on those days I utter the only line I can remember from a prayer penned by a Serbian priest during World War II …

 “Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.”

The words come from a prayer written by St. Nicolai of Ochrid, a Serbian priest, who was arrested by the Nazi’s during World War II. As the story goes he was betrayed by a fellow priest. As he sat in prison, anger began to consume him, leading him eventually to pen these words:


Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

What helps you to practice the uncomfortable act of loving your enemies?  

Here are more blog posts about Loving Your Enemies:

Stages of Faith and Beauty in the Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have done a rewrite so I could post it today as a contribution to the November Synchroblog: “Faith Stories”

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Over the years my faith has changed significantly – as I believe it should. For many years my faith was mostly about ascribing to a list of beliefs that were non-negotiable. Today my faith is more about living into the way of Jesus which mostly ends up being about loving others.

When I first started having questions and doubts about “the list” of non-negotiables I was really thrown off balance but over time I have become pretty comfortable with having more questions than answers and embracing the mystery of God.  I no longer believe that changing my mind about some faith related issue is evidence of a weak faith or being an immature Christian.  In fact, I ascribe to the idea that an active, vibrant life of faith will often lead to stages of faith that are filled with questions and doubts (see stage 4 in the chart below) which can lead to wonderful revelation and transformation (stages 5 & 6 in the chart) that always seemed out of reach in the midst of being so certain about everything. [1]

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These days I assume that I am surely wrong about a multitude of things that I believe at any given moment. However, that doesn’t stop me from living out my faith with conviction and passion. Instead, it imbibes me with a dose of humility that keeps me from feeling like the world has ended if I happen to discover that what I thought was true doesn’t hold up under serious study, thought, prayer and scrutiny.

One of the things that I have a significantly different perspective about these days is suffering … or “the wilderness” as it is often referred to by Christians.

“The wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” – Nancy Wynne Newhall

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

It was during a wilderness experience where I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay for me to be me – in fact, it was better than okay, it was good.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in the wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God and about the world you live in even when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

[1] If you want to explore more about the stages of faith:

Read these three excellent blog posts about Stages in the Life of Faith  herehere and here which may lead you to read the book: The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet O. Hagberg & Robert A. Guelich

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Check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog:

The Woman Forgiven For Adultery (Guest Post by Susan Cottrell)

Note from Liz:

I know a lot of people say “the internet” isolates people from real life and real relationships but my experience continues to prove that wrong. I have made so many wonderful connections and friends online and it continues to happen.

I recently connected with Linda Mueller Robertson after I read her heartbreaking and inspirational piece Learning To Truly Love Our Gay Son in The Huffington Post  and she invited me to join a group she started and that is where I connected with Susan Cottrell. 

Susan is a writer and speaker who also blogs at Freed Hearts. Her and I are both passionate about making the world a better, kinder, gentler and more loving place for lgbt people.  We both live in Texas (a few hours apart) and will be meeting in person later this month (I can’t wait).

Here is a piece that Susan wrote and posted on her blog recently in which she challenges us to look closer at the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman.

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Remember the story of “Jesus Scattering Townspeople and Self-Righteous Men in the Name of Mercy and Justice”? Oh right, you may know it as, “The Woman Caught in Adultery.” I love that Jesus instantly knew the hearts of everyone involved. I love how Jesus never falls for any of it. I love that He lets her go!

It seems we rarely marvel at the whole picture of what is going on here. Instead – out of the entire story – many focus on Jesus’ parting words, translated, “Go and sin no more.” It’s also been translated to the softer, “Go and leave your life of sin,” but that doesn’t quite get it either. Instead, the translation I learned as a young Christian captures the heart of the situation and Jesus’ heart for people.

Jesus was not admonishing her to go do better, but inviting her to life, to His life. His message to this woman is, in essence: “You don’t have to live this way.” That is, “I offer you so much more than anything you’ve ever known.” This is true for several reasons.

First, let’s take a look at the setting: this woman had just been caught in adultery – most likely by the men who set it up to entrap Jesus (notice the man involved was not also caught). This is certainly not the first time they put their heads together to concoct a plan to bring Him down.

She is dragged out to the public square as an adulteress. Before Jesus. Before the crowd. Naked. Can you simply imagine the shame? I shudder to think of it. She knew that the consequence was to immediately be stoned to death.

Jesus then does the remarkable. Obviously stuck, obviously backed into a corner by these clever men who have succeeded in entrapping Him, Jesus has absolutely no way out. No way. Until He opens His mouth.

“You who are without sin cast the first stone.” The crowd is stunned. Flummoxed. This is not the way these situations were dealt with… ever. It takes a minute, but slowly the older men and then the younger ones drop their stones and turn away (most likely with guilt of their intended entrapment ringing in their ears, in addition to who-knows-what other skeletons they had hidden away). Only Jesus could have given such a mind-boggling response. Time and again in Scripture, Jesus circumvents their yes-or-no questions and gives an answer they never thought possible.

Then He turns to the woman. “Does no one condemn you?” “No one, Sir.” “Neither do I condemn you.” What?? You don’t? Why not? You have every right to condemn me under the law. Isn’t that what You do? Apparently not. But why not? That is part of the key to the puzzle of His following remark.

If Jesus used “Go and sin no more” as a mandate to go and rid her life of any sinful thought of action, He would have implied some condition, even though it came after her release. Like the policeman who lets you off with a warning might say, “Now, keep your speed down.” (Not that I have personal experience with this one…) The implication is, “I’m going to let you off this time, but don’t push your luck – and get out of here before I change my mind.” (That’s often the feel of, “Go and sin no more.”)

The trouble is, nobody goes and sins no more. Everybody sins and sins and sins. If she had the power to meet her own needs, or rid herself of her own sins, she would not have been tricked into this in the first place. Forget the heart, this interpretation would say. Forget dependence on God and just change your own behavior. But this is a fragmented concept, as if real change comes from the outside in, instead of inside out. Jesus always starts with the inside.

Further, if we think Jesus had to warn the woman in adultery not to do it again, we don’t grasp the situation. I’m pretty sure she got the message right then and there that if by some miracle she did not die on the spot from embarrassment, or from stoning, she would never, ever, no never, get caught in this situation, ever, again. The trouble is not voluntarily choosing to be in that situation again; the question is, how? How do I constantly find myself on the raw end of the deal? Why do I keep letting men like this take advantage of me? Why do I do this over and over again? How in the world do I find a way out from my broken and wounded heart? Anybody so shamed and humiliated would be searching for a way out, vowing never to let this happen again. That was the question Jesus answered! He always answers our real need! For Him to say, “You don’t have to live this way,” was astounding news for this woman! I don’t? She had to ask herself.No, Jesus was telling her, you don’t.

Jesus here makes an offer of deep healing. Jesus offers to make us a new creation, to break the bond of sin and death! He would not reduce his earth-shattering offer of life to a silly throwaway line that simply gives her more of the Pharisee’s lifeless medicine. That sounds more like exactly what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for, rather than reflecting the true, heart-focused Jesus.

“You don’t have to live this way” is consistent with Jesus’ offer to the woman at the well, whom He did not tell to stop living with her boyfriend, but instead offered her so much more than the scraps she was receiving. Likewise, He offers the woman caught in adultery freedom from the likes of these men who set up and expected her execution.

Jesus had compassion on the tenderhearted and showed them their need for Him. He never, ever shamed or humiliated people but instead gave them hope! Jesus soundly chastised only one group in His earthly life: the self-righteous religious leaders. This is the mode throughout His interactions.Come to Me for rest and peace and life – I will give you life. Rules don’t give life; rules produce death. To say, “Stop doing this,” would only heap death upon her shame and humiliation. But Jesus never did that! On the contrary, He heals the brokenhearted, He lifts our head, He offers hope and life.

To reduce Jesus’ words to “Go and sin no more” is to reduce the gravity of sin. It reduces Jesus’ work as some kind of moral cleanup instead of life from death! The only way to convince ourselves we’re able to “go and sin no more” is to reduce sin to something manageable. But Jesus said the very thought of sin is sin. He showed us that our sin is so large, so deeply rooted, and so unmanageable, that the only solution is to recognize that we desperately need Him!

The next time this interpretation is thrown at you as evidence of the seriousness of sin, as if you are not taking sin seriously enough because you don’t tell somebody to stop sinning, I entreat you to pause. Ask Jesus what to say. As hard as it is for humans to grasp a free-and-clear pardon, that is what Jesus offers. Don’t set that down and take up self-reform. Instead, let Him shape you personally, from the inside out, so that the sin areas fall away, replaced by the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and other attributes only the Spirit can bring. That is what He does!

 

 

The Best Religion

This was originally posted on 9/4/2012.

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There is a story that has been circulated online about a conversation that took place at an interfaith conference between the Dalai Lama and the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff.*

When recalling the conversation, Leonardo Boff confesses he thought the Dalai Lama would defend oriental religions as being the best, but instead, His Holiness answered, “the best religion is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.”

Expanding on that, he went on to say, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more responsible. The religion that will do that for you is the best religion, for you.”

Clearly inspired by where his thoughts were leading, His Holiness added, “I am not interested, my friend, in your religion, or if you are religious or not. What is important to me is your behavior with your peers, family, work, community and in front of the world.”

I am a Christian and have been all of my life. I was born into a Christian family, as a young girl I chose to be a Christian and many times throughout my life I have chosen to remain a Christian. However, my idea of what it means to be a Christian has changed so dramatically over the last decade that it sometimes feels like I have completely changed religions.

I have changed enough that some Christians have even questioned if I still have the right to call myself a Christian. To them I would say, “the best Christianity is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.”

I might even add, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more loving, more responsible … that’s the kind of Christianity one should pursue. You should not be so concerned with what I believe as how I behave … with my peers, my family and friends, at work, in my community and in front of the world.”

Just as some have reasons to choose a new religion I have reasons to remain a Christian and yet, that doesn’t mean that I am not changing my religion.

I hope I continue to change my religion as I grow and learn more about what it means to be the best kind of Christian – the kind that moves me closer to God and makes me a better person.

*I could not verify that the story is true, however, the ideas presented seem to be harmonious to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and the teachings of Buddhism.

Turn the other clip, this one is empty

imagesThis post is part of the March Synchroblog “Guns and God” which asks us to explore the controversial subject of gun control from our faith perspective.

First, I should let you know that I am all for stricter gun laws and I believe I could use scripture and my Christian faith to argue my point because my impression of Jesus is he was not only non-violent, but perhaps even a pacifist  However, it seems that those who disagree with me are also comfortable using scripture and their Christian faith to prop up their arguments.

For example, some Christians who oppose stricter gun laws have used Luke 22 to support the idea that Jesus would approve of individuals owning guns to protect themselves and their families because he said, “if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one”. And Wayne LaPierre, the NRA Executive Vice President, said that “No government gave [the right to bear arms] to us and no government can take them away” which in turn caused many Christians (some right from the pulpit) to begin to proclaim that owning guns is a “God-given” right.  It seems that some Christians are hearing a message that sounds more like “turn the other clip, this one is empty” when they read scripture than the one of non-violence that I hear.

Of course I could probably put up a good argument against that kind of logic.

I might bring up that later in Luke 22 Jesus actually rebukes one of his disciples for using a sword for protection and in Matthew 26 (another telling of Jesus’ arrest) he not only rebukes the disciple but adds that “all who draw the sword, will die by the sword”.  Or, I might caution Christians who talk about owning guns as a “God-given” right about confusing constitutional issues with kingdom issues as I don’t think the freedom Jesus talked about had anything to do with the second amendment.

But, I would also be careful about getting caught up in that kind of back and forth as I am not so interested in winning an argument as I am at solving our problem and I believe our problem is bigger than whether we should have stricter gun laws or not.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want stricter gun laws. I think we should ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons and high capacity clips.  I am in favor of stricter registration laws, better background checks and better mental health services.  And although I don’t think those things will solve all of our problems I do believe they would help reduce gun violence and even contribute to changing our culture (I realize it would be a process and wouldn’t happen overnight).

But, what weighs heavy on my mind and keeps me up at night is the question as to why other countries, where lots of individuals own guns, have a significantly lower murder rate than the U.S.

After a lot of thought I’ve come to the conclusion that it might be linked to the individualism that has grown out of pursuing and living the “American Dream”.  The pull yourself up by your own boot straps, every man for himself, I don’t want to pay the way for freeloaders, this is mine, not my problem attitude creates a society where people are alienated and separate from each other.  In that kind of society we see others as a threat to our freedom and well being rather than someone we are together with on the path of life. Most other countries around the world seem to have realized that there is a national benefit to taking care of the sick, elderly and poor but here in the U.S. most people think that everyone should take care of themself. I’m not saying it is perfect anywhere but I do think it is time that we stopped ignoring the fact that something is awry in the U.S. when it comes to gun violence.

Which brings me back to looking at this thing from a Christian perspective and causes this thought to keep going through my mind:

It’s harder to kill someone if there is a sense of connection.

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I hope you’ll check out some of these other great posts for this month’s synchroblog: