Licence to Sin – Reblog

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Grace and the Believer's Freedom

As I promised in my last reblogged post – Religion and Faith – there’s a Difference! – here is the second of my expositions of the believer’s freedom under Grace, my classic article ‘Licence to Sin’. This piece explores the claim that critics of Grace make, where they assert that Grace is a ‘Licence to Sin’, even though their own Rulebook is full of the concept of Grace; the unearned favour of God.


Licence to Sin

[Author’s Note: In this article, please bear with the different spellings of the word ‘Licence’ on the graphics. This is because the people who made those graphics spell it differently; the correct use is explained at the end of this post][1]


This is a piece I have wanted to write for quite some time, and I have had to crystallise my thinking on this over a period of months. I hope it was worth it!

I am quite free in declaring my total reliance on God’s Grace under which I live my life. Not that I bring it up as a conversation starter, of course, because that makes people’s eyes glaze over. However, many conversations in a faith context do eventually get round to the subject of Law vs. Grace.

It’s usual that someone will claim that a certain hobby/habit/preference/attitude/word, whatever, is ‘wrong’ or ‘sinful’, ‘because it says so in the Bible’, or because they personally don’t like it (in other words, rules made by men (Mt15:9)). Or, to put this another way, even though they are ‘saved’, there are still certain Rules they must follow (and of course everyone else must follow them too!) – and for some people, not following those rules can (they believe) mean that they can ‘lose their salvation’.

I, however, believe that Grace covers everything. In short, I claim that, for a believer, everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial (1Cor6:12; 1Cor10:23) . All sin past, present and future, has been forgiven (Is 43:25; Heb 8:12), and I am free to get on with living life in the Spirit without worrying about whether something is sinful or not, because I trust fully in the Spirit of Grace – in Whom I live my life – to steer me away from things that are harmful. Anything goes, essentially, but I don’t go everywhere, if you see what I mean.

It’s not surprising, then, that one of the first claims levelled at a Grace-living person like me is that this is essentially a ‘Licence to Sin’. I get that. Because I am free to do anything I choose, I am naturally going to go off and do loads of ‘sinful’ things, simply because I can.

And nothing could be further from the truth. Nor is it true for others who have been set free by the Spirit of Grace. I read on a Facebook group the other day about the ‘relentless, hard struggle against sin’. But, you know what, Jesus promised ‘rest’ (Mt11:28). And the key to that rest is this: to rest in His finished work, and to live your life of freedom in the Spirit. Being free from sin is not only having the desire to sin be removed, it is also – and especially – being free from the constant worry about whether something is sin or not. Just live life and trust the Spirit to keep you away from that which is harmful! As Paul says, ‘consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 6:11). This isn’t as a Law or a Rule, it’s the natural position of the person who walks in Grace. The whole idea of Life in the Spirit is expounded in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, and if it is read with the Grace filters in place[2], it all stands out so clearly. The problem with Romans, as with most/all other Scriptures, is that for centuries people have read them with their legalism filters in place, to find rules to live by and to impose on others. But Paul, as the Apostle of Grace, can also be read by those looking for Grace to live by.

Having just declared in the preceding verse that ” …[we] are not under Law, but under Grace”, Paul writes in Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” And this is exactly what the critics of living under Grace ask! Are you going to go ahead and sin because we are under Grace and not Law? And we, along with Paul, answer ‘No! By no means!’ But of course, and especially as Paul subsequently uses the example/illustration of slavery, critics will go on to say that obedience is key, but that’s not what Paul is saying here. He is directly answering those people who would accuse those living under Grace of having a Licence to Sin and he’s saying: NO!! It’s NOT a Licence to sin!

And the reason for that is because we are new creations!

Those in Christ are new creations; the old has gone, the new is come! (2Cor5:17) Those who look for rules to follow and conditions to impose in the Romans passages are missing the point. These people say you have to follow the Rules as written here. But the awesome, magnificent, amazing truth is this: It’s already been done! It’s a “fait accompli”! We are already new creations in Christ. The whole flavour of Paul’s writings is that these things are already in position. He doesn’t say that ‘one day, we will be free of sin’; ‘one day, we will be new creations’ or anything of the sort! No, it’s all been done for us by Jesus. We died with Him; we are also raised up with Him (Rom 6:8). In Colossians 2:9-15, Paul says this:

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off [killed, amputated] when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

This is an example of how these ideas are presented as already having been accomplished. How then can we not realise that these things are already true of us? I know I don’t believe that “the Bible clearly says…” all that much at all, but surely if these things are true, as written by Paul, then they are completely liberating, completely freeing? It’s already been done!

When Paul says in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace”, he’s not stating a Rule; he is making a statement of the true, actual nature of the believer. Someone might point out that ‘…the human heart is deceitful above all things’ (Jer 17:9) but for those under the New Covenant, this is no problem. I have a new heart; a new motivation for living my life. And so do you. “A new heart will I place in them” (Ezek 36:26). This is the New Creation; the new nature. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2Cor 5:17). In fact, the entire chapter of Romans 6 is about Paul handling various objections to people living under Grace, probably objections of ‘religious’ types who want to put people under Law once more. Or at least he’s playing ‘Devil’s Advocate’ while building his argument moving from the ‘religious’ and legalistic point of view (as he himself used to be a part of and indeed endorsed, before meeting Jesus) and progressing into the concept of Life in the Spirit through Grace.

Bear in mind also that Paul says in his letter to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…” (Titus 2:11-12). Did you see that? It is Grace itself that teaches us to say ‘No’; it is not Law, Rules, our flesh or anything else like that. Those efforts in our own strength are always doomed to failure. This is why Romans 6:14 is so true; it’s that sin shall not be our master because we are not under the rule of the Law, but under that of Grace instead, and it’s Grace that teaches us to say no to sin, not Law.

I also think that those who say that ‘Grace is a Licence to Sin’ don’t understand Grace. We have already seen above that it’s Grace that teaches us to say ‘No’ to sin. Because we are free to choose – we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:6) – we now have the choice; we can choose our way, or we can choose God’s way. And if that means saying ‘No’ so sin, then Grace helps us learn that. Note that it is a learning curve. I’m not saying it’s trial and error that we use to find out what is sin and what is not, but living in the Spirit, following His prompts, doing what we see Father doing, effectively keeps us away from the desire to sin. That’s how Grace teaches us to say ‘No’ to it. The Spirit teaches us all things, including this!

But the other thing about sin is that we get ‘entangled’ by it (Heb 12:1). How, you might ask, can we be entangled by it when I have just said that we are free from it? Well, sin ‘so easily entangles’ us when we are focused on sin; ironically, when we are focused on the task of not sinning! If we are constantly checking to see if we are ‘sinning’ (or, worse, if others are ‘sinning’) then we are focused on the wrong thing, and we have no room in our lives for the freedom of the children of God, which is our birthright. This is also the trap into which the ‘sin police’ fall – those who point out sin in others. Part of being free of sin is that we don’t need to think about it any more – ours, or anyone else’s. We don’t need to worry about it; we just get on with living in the Spirit. And for those ‘sin-police’ who feel it is their duty to point out sin in others, just think: wouldn’t it be amazing, light and free to be rid of that burden? This is not your job! Why bear that burden any longer? Be free from it! Live in the light and freedom of the salvation that Jesus has given you, free of charge and free of obligation!

Granted, some may ‘point out’ Scriptures that appear to contradict these truths, but in reply I would say that these Scriptures I have used here today are true for me, in my experience. All I am doing by quoting Paul is to say, ‘Look, I have found this to be true in my own life, and hey look!, Paul found it to be true for him too!’ I am not finding a Scripture to ‘proof-text’ my ideas, I am saying that this is true for me and Paul found it true for himself too, and he wrote about it. I personally am free of entangling sin. Sure, I ‘sin’ occasionally, and this too is covered by Jesus (1Jn2:1). But my motivation, flowing from my new heart and new life in Christ, is to live life in the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 says that ‘If you walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh’. This is what it actually says! Why is it so hard for some people to appreciate that this is actually true? In denying this truth, and the other truths I have expressed here, surely these people are denying the very Scriptures they base their arguments on?

‘But surely’, some may say, ‘you can’t walk in the Spirit all the time?’ To this, I would reply, ‘Why not? Yes, of course you can!’ It’s really easy; you just live your life and trust God to work the Life of the Spirit out in your life as you go about your everyday business. It really is effortless; His yoke is indeed easy and His burden is light (Mt11:29-30). This is why it is often referred to as ‘working from a position of rest’. I rest secure in my Life in the Spirit; nothing and no-one can take it from me, including myself.

As we have seen, many Christians don’t understand this Grace [undeserved acceptance], and they think that this undeserved, unconditional sort of acceptance becomes a ‘licence to sin’. If there is no ‘penalty’ for wrongdoing, they claim, or no Rules to follow, then basically people who believe in Grace can just do what they want and get away with it. Interestingly, in some ways this is true; we can indeed ‘do what we want’ (1Cor10:23). But the consequences of sin are that our lives take damage; we get into destructive habits, thought patterns, behaviour structures and attitudes that are not good for us. So yes, sin has its consequences. And for that reason, not everything is beneficial (1Cor10:23).

There is a certain irony that following the Law is actually, in my view, the biggest ‘sin’ of all, because it is based in our pride in our own self’s ability to follow the Rules. And even then it is pointless, except maybe for making us feel good about ourselves and how ‘well’ we are doing, because no-one will be declared righteous by following the Law. (Rom 3:20) No-one. That’s quite clear to me.

We’ve seen the Scripture that says ‘Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial’ (1Cor6:12) but, well, how are you supposed to know the difference? And I think that even as God’s children, we do not grow as people unless we push the boundaries, like teenagers do. And sure, things are going to hurt us when we get things wrong. But God is there all the time. He’s a much more laid-back parent than evangelicalism gives Him credit for. Whatever happened to ‘underneath are the everlasting arms’? (Deut 33:27) What part of God’s love for us don’t they trust? My own answer is that it’s perfectly acceptable for us to push the boundaries; we are safe as Christians, and to be honest, what’s the worst that can happen? We suffer, we die; but we do that anyway. The very worst thing that could ever happen to me (Job 3:25) has already happened to me, and I am still here rejoicing and walking with the Lord. The only way we find out what is beneficial and what is harmful (or, if you like what is not sin and what is sin respectively) is to push the boundaries. And if God’s really not happy with something we’d like to ‘try’, then He’s perfectly capable of warning us off. And not, I hasten to add, by some set of Rules ripped out of context from the Bible, but as a conversation just like a parent with a child. This is what freedom looks like, and it’s why the controlling priests of evangelicalism don’t like it – because it puts an uncontrollable God back in command. God is perfectly capable of catching us and raising us up again when we fall.

This is not a ‘licence to sin’; it’s more a licence to learn.

Also remember – and this is key – that Jesus Himself is the personification of Grace. In some inexplicable way, being under Grace and being taught by Grace is also being under Jesus, and being taught by Him. Remember John 1:17 – “For the Law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ”.

And I would also say that God is greater than all the ‘bad’ stuff we can do; all is forgiven, God keeps us safe, even should the ‘worst’ happen. This is pretty radical I know but it’s where I am at the moment. Once again, fear is not something that should exist in a Christian’s life, because perfect love drives out all fear (1John 4:18). And when people speak to us of ‘playing with fire’, ‘slippery slope’ and ‘dangerous ground’, they are pandering to fear, not Grace.

There’s a lot more on this subject here in one of my previous posts. I recommend you go and take a look; it’ll be well worth it!

And so, go ahead and LIVE in your freedom. Use the word ‘Freedom’ in my site’s search box to find other articles that I have written on this subject; you will find that the word figures very prominently in my writings. Freedom from sin is not a Licence to Sin. It doesn’t need to be; in fact it’s quite the opposite. Morality and Rules are the low road; Life in the Spirit under Grace is the high road.

God is for you, not against you (Rom 8:31). If what you are hearing, whether from your mind or from a preacher or other Law-based person, makes you feel otherwise, ignore it until you know that God loves you and His Grace empowers you to live the life He wants you to.

This is freedom.

This is your freedom.

Grab this with both hands and your teeth as well!

Take it and run with it!

Let me leave you with a quote from Mike Rough:

“If morality is your way of living, you are living way beneath your privileges. Living by love in the power of the Spirit is true living and there are no rules–there are none needed. The one who lives by love will live a life like Jesus lived which is so far above living by rules, the difference is like night and day!”

Can I also point out to you this excellent article by Paul Ellis, on the same subject. His writing is much clearer than mine 😉


The link to the original article is here

Footnotes

1 In ‘English’ English, as written in Britain and most other places where English is spoken, ‘Licence’ is the noun and ‘License’ is the verb (although ‘Licence’ is an acceptable variant of the verb spelling). It’s similar to ‘advise’ and ‘advice’, and ‘practice’ and ‘practise’. So, I have a Pilot’s Licence (noun), which means the CAA have licensed (verb) me to fly an aeroplane.

In the USA, however, the spelling ‘License’ is used for both noun and verb, and the spelling ‘Licence’ does not exist.

2 Grace filters: That is, if you read it with the assumption in mind that it’s about Grace, in other words, you are looking for Grace in the text. Hope that makes sense. This is not dishonest reading; it’s something we all do all the time. All our Scripture reading takes place with various filters in place; legalists will look for Rules, people who believe in Hell will interpret the ‘hell’ passages with that assumption in place, nobody lets the Old Testament tell them that bacon sandwiches are unclean, and so on. So long as we realise that we are always looking through filters, we will know that our perceptions are going to be coloured by them. And that’s fine as long as we are aware of that fact.
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Religion and Faith – There’s a Difference! – Reblog

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Grace and the Believer's Freedom

A couple of years ago, I posted my most thorough expositions to date on the believer’s freedom under Grace; our freedom from legalism and others’ expectations. I wrote about others’ objections to those living under Grace, and the ‘Licence to Sin’ that some believers still go on about.

Lately, I have been in dialogue with friends who are still in fear; still wondering whether or not God is angry with them, and sadly not being able to see the all-encompassing, all-accomplishing nature of the total victory that Jesus won on the Cross.

And so, in order to bring to the fore once again the fulness of our freedom, as given us by God’s Grace, I would like to reblog those two pieces, one after the other. The first one, ‘Religion and Faith – There’s a Difference!’ I reproduce here; the second, ‘Licence to Sin’, I will post next time.


Religion and Faith – There’s a Difference!

A few days ago someone asked me the question, “Are you religious?” And without thinking, I said. “Yes” – then immediately qualified it by saying, “Well, actually, no – I’m a man of faith. There is a difference”.

Now, call me pedantic if you like. And I know what the lady meant when she asked me the question. But to me there is indeed a difference.

Religion is simply humans trying to ‘do something’ – anything! in order to be acceptable to whatever god(s) they believe in. It seems to be the default setting for that part of humanity who seek after the higher purpose, deeper meaning, the Life Essence of the universe, or even the Creator Himself – whatever they call ‘god’, they feel the need to do something. (In this piece, I am not including those who don’t seek after things like this).

So whatever it is, people try to ‘do’ stuff. This involves rituals, rules/laws, behaviour patterns, conformity to some formula told to people. This can happen with Christians, or indeed any ‘defined’ faith, or it can happen with people of no set belief system. I once found a Pagan altar in the local woods where people had performed certain ‘rituals’ and carved Runes (letters made of straight lines suitable for carving on stone or wood) on the altar. I can read Runes, and they said something like ‘we worship you earth mother’. And so, this is an example of Religion based on ‘doing’.

Faith, however, is different. Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1 as, “…confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. For me, this means that I have confidence in Jesus alone, and an assurance in the complete and total efficacy of His finished work on the Cross (Jn 19:30). It’s not about me, what I ‘do’, but about what He has already ‘done’. I am already acceptable to God by Jesus’s finished work on the Cross, however that works. I say that ‘however it works’ because I am still plumbing the depths of just what Jesus did there, and it’s vaster and more thorough than I think anyone realises. God’s Grace is undeserved, unlimited, extravagant, and indeed completely unfair. In Grace, we really do get something for nothing. It’s free for the taking!

This is poles apart from the constant workload of Religion!

In Christ, we can ‘rest’ in His finished work, knowing there’s nothing more to do, indeed, nothing more we can do, to make our salvation more sure.

This is a different thing from St. Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:24 where he says, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” This, I believe, refers to the works and actions that proceed naturally, flowing from the life lived in the Spirit. What part of Christ’s afflictions were incomplete? Only that the death of Christ on the Cross does not cater for the ‘practical’ things that the Spirit-led person does; the ‘works’ that are the fruit of faith. So, things like feeding the poor, clothing the naked, that sort of thing. And this is what still needs to be done. And so, this Colossians passage does not mean that for some reason Christ’s work is not ‘finished’, or that it is lacking any efficacy for our acceptance before God. It doesn’t mean that at all.

Sadly, though, even Christians, for whom Jesus said ‘It is finished!’ and for whom St. Paul says that we have freedom from these Rules, can (and usually do) have Religious rule patterns and expectations of their adherents. This is tragic; every time I’ve seen someone propound the vast freedom and benefits of Grace-based faith, there’s been someone else come on and state his ‘cautionary’ case. ‘Be careful of Grace; you don’t know what you might be getting into’. ‘Don’t let Grace be a licence to sin’, and things like that. This is all just the thin end of the wedge for legalism – going back to those Rules again. There’s always something like, ‘Ah, but we have to be careful that we don’t…’, there’s always some cautionary tale. ‘Ah, but…’ in fact has no place in Grace! The Spirit-led life means that we don’t have to worry about Law any more! So many people are sitting on riches they don’t know they have.

This is why St Paul said in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Slavery to Rules. Slavery to Religion.

I personally find that, because I have to get into the Legalism mindset in order to discuss these issues with those still trapped in legalistic systems, I find that I too begin to think in the same way as they do. In some ways, I need to do that, so that a) I can listen to what they are saying, and b) so that I can base my discussions on what Scriptures they are using. And it’s quite stifling, actually. I often feel the need to take time out and recharge my ‘Grace batteries’. Despite my freedom from Law being revealed to me personally by Father, the tendency to slide back into legalism in order to get alongside those still trapped in there is always insidious and present, because I have to think in the same way as they do in order to identify with them. It’s like trying to rescue a drowning man. Maybe I should wait until they cease struggling….

Sadly, many religious people, those dependent on their own works, however disguised or unrealised, tend to view ‘freedom from Law’ with some suspicion. Just like they did in Jesus’s day. The people who were most often on his back about His ‘behaviour’ and that of His disciples (they were feasting and partying instead of fasting like ‘proper’ religious people do) were the religious authorities. And so, people like Rob Bell, Joseph Prince, Jeff Turner, Paul Ellis; Grace preachers like these are constantly denigrated by the religious authorities of this day. Believers are always warned off from their messages of freedom, hope and joy, precisely because the religious authorities want to maintain control[1]

. We can’t have believers realising their freedom, because we will lose control. Ok, so let’s ‘warn’ them about the ‘dangers’ of the ‘Grace Movement’ and use scare tactics like telling them that ‘Grace is a licence to sin’ and stuff like that. Actually it’s nothing of the sort; this is just used as a means of keeping people in their cages. Personally, as far as I am concerned they are wasting their time, such is the revelation of Grace I received nineteen years ago. For me, there is no going back into the cage. For others just learning the ways of Grace, my advice would be to trust the Holy Spirit within you. What He says, do (Jn 2:5). Ignore the Gatekeepers of heaven; they are actually nothing of the sort! Your freedom is yours; hold on to it!

Anyway, to sum up: Religion is always ‘do, do, do’ in order to be acceptable to God. Faith, for me, is ‘done, done, done’ and because of this I’m already acceptable to God. Wow!

“It is finished”, says the Lord!

The link to the original article is here

Footnotes

1 Actually, I am perhaps tarring some leaders with the same brush here – in the UK at least, most church leaders who have this kind of input into their members’ lives do so from a genuine desire to ensure that their members stay pure/clean/’sin-free’ or whatever. I understand that. But firstly, this is putting the cart before the horse; purity is more of a spiritual fruit than a spiritual task. It flows naturally from a life lived in the Spirit, and does not need to be either forced or policed. Secondly, this actually isn’t anyone’s job to do. It is not the job of Church leadership – or indeed any other person – to point out others’ ‘sins’. There are passages in the New Testament which might suggest that, and indeed St. Paul does give some ideas on how to deal with ‘badly-behaved’ church members, for the purpose of maintaining order in the church. But in our day this has been taken entirely out of context and also out of proportion; many people think that these Scriptures give them a licence to criticise and judge others. And this is simply not the case, from any of those Scriptures. Firstly, Jesus’s exhortation to ‘take the plank out of your own eye’ (Mt 7:1-5; Lk 6:41-42) is actually an exhortation to not point out others’ sin at all; secondly, the response of the person being criticised, if indeed any is required, is entirely between them and God. You might well point out someone else’s ‘sin’, but the response is up to them. You are not responsible to point out others’ ‘sins’; you are certainly not responsible for their actions or lack thereof in response to your criticism. Let’s not make any bones about it; you are actually judging and criticising others. Very rarely is it done ‘in love’!

(And how do you define ‘sin’ anyway; what is harmful for one person is not so for another)

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Old Heads on Young Shoulders

I’m only 58, but I am already beginning to identify with a lot of what this anonymous writer puts in this piece, where he taks to a 70 – plus – year – old friend. The essay was shared to me by an online friend 😉


I asked one of my friends who has crossed 70 and is heading to 80-years of age what sort of changes he is feeling in himself? He sent me the following very interesting lines, which I would like to share with you.

1. After loving my parents, my siblings, my spouse, my children, my friends, now I have started loving myself.

2. I just realised that I am not Atlas. The world does not rest on my shoulders.

3. I now stopped haggling with vegetables and fruits vendors. A few pennies more is not going to burn a hole in my pocket but it might help the poor fellow pay better for his family or health needs.

4. I pay my waitress a big tip. The extra money might bring a smile to her face. She is working much harder and for longer hours for a living than me

5. I stopped telling the elderly that they’ve already told that story many times. The story is for them not for me. The story makes them walk down the memory lane and relive the past.

6. I have learned not to correct people even when I know they are wrong. The onus of making everyone perfect is not on me. Peace is more precious than perfection.

7. I give compliments freely and generously. Compliments are a mood enhancer not only for the recipient but also for me.

8. I have learned not to bother about a crease or a spot on my shirt. Personality speaks louder than appearances.

9. I walk away from people who don’t value me. They might not know my worth, but I do.

10. I remain cool when someone plays dirty to outrun me in the rat race. I am not a rat and neither am I in any race.

11. I am learning not to be embarrassed by my emotions. It’s my emotions that make me human.

12. I have learned that it’s better to drop the ego than to break a relationship. My ego will keep me aloof, whereas with relationships I will never be alone.

13. I have learned to live each day as if it’s the last because one day it will be my last.

14. I am doing what makes me happy. I am responsible for my happiness, and I owe it to myself. Happiness is a choice. You can be happy at any time, just choose to be.

I decided to send this to all my friends. Why do we have to wait to be 70 or 80, why can’t we practice this at any stage and age?

 – author unknown, but I originally read it as shared on Mike Walsh’s blog here.


Header image shows the ‘spare heads’ of the android Kryten, from the popular science fiction sitcom Red Dwarf episode ‘DNA’, Red Dwarf Series IV Episode 2

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It’s Your Story

Here’s a profound little piece from one of my online friends. Simply let it speak to you whatever it needs to:


It’s your story. You have to pass through the Gethsemane (place of crushing you to extract your pure essence) and endure the accusation of blasphemy as you are put on the cross by the religious establishment. They think they are killing you, but they are actually killing the false idol god of accusation. The one thief on the cross which hurls accusations and contempt.

Now as you grieve, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” the still small voice of Immanuel, God with us, within us, as us, speaks and says, “I’ve never left nor forsaken you. If you remember this then even here today, you shall be with me in paradise.”

This is the first day of creation as the spirit broods over the abyss you face and whispers “I am the light.”

Because of this your false accusing idol god is dead and entombed where it always belonged, but was foolishly carried around in a heavy graven coffin filled with lifeless dead stones of graven images of burdensome and inflexible rules which accuse you.

Now you are free as you hear the voice of the spirit within you and follow the mind of Christ reborn within you and are now baptized in the image of Christ seeing that all is love and love alone is the power of transformation.

 – R. I. Fiar, shared with his kind permission

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The Lord’s Prayer, Extended Dance Mix…

Maybe you’ve heard of the Amplified version of the Bible. It’s a version where the meaning of each word is expanded in its context to aid in understanding – although it does make it a little difficult to listen to when it’s being read out loud 😉

Well, here’s a great version of what some call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, ‘amplified’ in similar fashion by the superb Nadia Bolz-Weber:


Our Father, Our Mother, Our Holy Parent, The Source of All Being from whom we came and to whom we return, You who knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus called you Abba and so shall we, even as we may have an ambiguous relationship with parenthood – Be to us our Holy Parent, the one who loves without condition.

Who art in heaven… Our Father who art in everything. Our Father who art in orphanages and neonatal units, and jail cells and luxury high-rises, who art in law offices and adult book stores, and in rooms alone with suicidal people. Our Father who art in the halls of Congress and the halls of tenements.

Hallowed be thy name. Holy is your name.  Ever since the beginning we have attributed our own sin and ego and wishful thinking and greed and malice and racism and ambition and manipulations of others to you and to your name – and yet your name remains holy. We print “In God we trust” on the US dollar and then worship that dollar and the power that dollar brings us, and yet still, your name remains holy.

Thy kingdom come… God, right now we beg you to bring more than just a small measure of heaven to earth because, if you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and millions are sick and dying, not to mention, the Earth is on fire. It’s a mess down here Lord, so we need your Kingdom to speed the hell up. We need wise leaders, and just systems and an extra dose of compassion for all of us.

Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Thy will and not ours be done. Forgive us when we use prayer as a self-help technique by which we can get all the cash and prizes we want out of your divine vending machine if we just kind of bug you to death through ceaseless prayer, because when it comes down to it, we know better. You are our Father whose name is holy and whose love is boundless and who wants, as our holy Parent, to hear our prayers.

Give us today our daily bread. Give us today our daily bread, our daily naan, our daily tortillas, our daily rice. Lord, give us real bread, even when we keep reaching for those literal and metaphorical Krispy Kremes. Give us the gift of enough-ness. May our response to perceived scarcity always be increased generosity for we are your children and from you we receive everything. Give us today our desire for the neighbor to be fed. Give us today a desire for a good that is held in common.

And forgive us our sins. As we forgive those who sin against us. Forgive us when we hate what you love. Forgive us when we would rather anesthetize ourselves than feel anything. Forgive us for how much we resent in others the same things we hate in ourselves Forgive us for the terrible things we think about our own bodies, bodies you have made in your image. Forgive us for thinking we know the hearts of our enemies.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the inclination that we too do not have evil in our hearts. Deliver us from religious and national exceptionalism. Deliver us from addiction and depression. Deliver us from self-loathing. Deliver us from self- righteousness. Deliver us from high fructose corn syrup. Deliver us from a complete lack of imagination about where you are in our lives and how you might already be showing up. Deliver us from complacency. Deliver us from Complicity.

As Jesus taught us, we are throwing this bag of prayers at your door. We are not asking nicely, Lord. We are your children and we are claiming your promises as our own today. Some of us are holding your feet to the fire, some of us don’t know if we believe in you, some of us are distracted and just going through the motions, some are desperately in love with you….but all of us are your children. Use these prayers to hammer us all into vessels that can accept the answer when it comes. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. 

And the children of God say, AMEN.

– Nadia Bolz-Weber

 

Here’s the link to the original article00

Secret Angel

My dear friend Sue is a fiery Welsh lass, who says it how it is and doesn’t pull her punches. She’d make a good Yorkshirewoman, in fact 😀

She’s also a gifted writer, with a tremendous sense of humour and sometimes quite a ‘coarse tongue’ which, to my mind, only adds to the hilarity in her writing.

Sue has quite a few tattoos[1], and I’ve seen a picture of the ones on her back: she has a pair of wings tattooed on there. Most impressive they looked too.

And Sue works in a local supermarket as a checkout operator, so of course she gets to meet loads of people of all ages in the course of her work. Yesterday, she shared a lovely story about a conversation she’d had with some of those people, and it really blessed me. So of course I had to share it here, with her kind permission.

Over to Sue:


So yesterday at work, I served an older couple who had their granddaughter with them, she was about 3-4 years old. She wanted to lift the items from their basket up to me but she took one look at me and hid behind her grandad in sheer terror (because unfortunately I have a face like a smacked arse when I’m not smiling).

So after doing the transaction I leaned down over the counter and, looking shiftily around, I loudly stage-whispered, “Hey! Do you want to see my wings? ‘Cos I have wings, I’m an angel you see. Wanna look?” Her face lit up, and she crept forward, nodding her head.

I turned around in my chair and said, “I can’t show you all of them because it’s my little secret, but here’s the bottom,” and I lifted the back of my polo shirt up, “and here’s the top,” and I pulled my collar down.

She gasped in delight when she saw them, and I stage-whispered, “Do you like them?” to which her grandma said, “Oh, aren’t they beautiful?” to her, and she vigorously nodded her head.

“You have to keep this a secret, just between us okay? You can’t tell anyone I’m a real angel, promise?” She nodded her little head, eyes still huge in wonder, big smile on her pretty face, and practically skipped out of the store.

Unfortunately the young chap who was on tills with me also saw, he obviously didn’t like what he saw though because he was kneeling on the floor, throwing up into the waste bin. I don’t know, everyone’s a bloody critic and you can’t please them all…


I love that story 😀

Grace and Peace to you

Footnotes

1 Including her own name, her husband’s name, and her son’s name, tattooed on her forearm in Elvish script – wow!
20

Picking Sides – Reblog

I think it’s important, in these days of political turmoil and on the day when the US Presidential election results start to come through, that we remind ourselves just Who our King is. And, therefore, Whose Kingdom we are a part of.

Here, then, is a piece I wrote about 18 months ago, which describes the believer’s position in God and why it is so important to remember it – because that is what maintains our attitude of freedom.

Please bear with the slight anachronism; when I wrote this piece, Mrs. Theresa May was Prime Minister of the UK, Trump was President of the USA, and they are mentioned as such in the essay.


Picking Sides

Recently, I have read quite a few things about the involvement of Christians in politics, and indeed the involvement of politics in Christianity. The current British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, has recently expressed how her Christian faith guides her politics; climate change protesters demonstrating on the streets of London have claimed Jesus’s allegiance in their cause; and as for the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, it is of course well known that the Evangelical Christian conservative right are completely behind him, and that, they claim, in a ‘Biblical’ sense too. There’s no point in me linking to references on these matters; these things are well-known and can be Googled if required.

Politics is a necessary fact of life, and indeed people have fought and died to make my country a democracy, and I will always be grateful for that. I really cherish my right, and my privilege, to have an influence – however small that might be – on the decision-making processes in my country. I value my ability to write to my Member of Parliament (MP) and express my views, in the hope that they will incorporate my ideas or whatever into their discussions and possibly in some small way influence the way things turn out. I do think it is extremely important to honour that privilege and to appreciate it. I don’t like how some groups, like, for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), declare themselves to be not a part of the world system and therefore do not take part in the democratic process. While I understand their position – as you will see below, and then some! – I do believe that we are a part of this world and we still need to live in it until our time is up. Therefore, it would be extremely silly to not take part in the influencing of Government policy, not least because if we good people don’t do it, then there are plenty of nasty people out there who are ready and willing to usurp the democratic process for their own ends. And that wouldn’t be pretty. Jesus came to bring abundant life, and our modern civilisation is an expression of that in that the standard of living nowadays is higher than it has ever been at any point in history, and what we call the ‘poverty line’ is much higher than it used to be. Granted, there will always be poor people (Mt 26:11) but still today’s standard of living is much better and it continues to improve.

All that having been said, Christians are still actually not ‘of the world’ (Jn 17:14). Whereas , as we have seen, some groups like the JWs would say that they remain neutral (and do not take part) in political systems at all, because they see their citizenship as being first and foremost in God’s Kingdom, I do believe that Christians[1] can indeed take part in ‘worldly’ politics in order to improve society. However, they can do this with their status as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven firmly in mind.

And that can mean a number of things. The first thing that springs to most people’s minds on this subject is that of course their Christian faith, morals and principles, which will of course differ from one Christian to another, will be used to inform and direct the political choices made by each individual. This is, I think, axiomatic, and forms the basis of all choices made at the ballot box.

But there is another angle beyond this one. As I have briefly described in a former article, I do feel that the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven also have a position that is above and beyond the considerations of mere worldly politics.

While the voting system is a granular, often binary choice – that is, you get to vote for one person or group out of a choice of two or more, and usually no more than about six or seven people or groups – everyone knows that the world’s problems are not normally simple binary, black-and-white issues. There are many shades of grey involved in most issues, if we are honest, and the asking of questions which allow only a simple binary (yes/no) answer is not really an honest way of looking at the issue. Especially when that question is intentionally polarising or designed to place the responder on one side of the fence or another. I find this to be disingenuous because the questioner is setting up his victim to be polemicised by the questioner and other readers. For instance, this one came up on one thread recently, seemingly one of these ‘innocent’ questions that is actually nothing of the sort because it’s designed to categorise the victim for either subsequent public grilling or subsequent full approval, depending on the answer (if that answer is presented as binary, as the question sets it up to be). Here it is:

“Can I ask, are you in favour of reducing our emissions to carbon neutral by 2025?”

You could answer ‘Yes’, and on the face of it that appears to be the easy option, but firstly, that implies that group approval of any further replies on the subject is dependent on your getting the first answer ‘right’ with that ‘yes’, and secondly, in order to gain said approval, if the victim actually believes ‘no’ (for whatever reason), then they would have to lie with a ‘Yes’ in order to be ‘allowed’ to participate further in the discussion, which would of course be further questions along the original line. In other words, leading questions. As always, these questioners take advantage of the general propensity of Christians to tell the truth, and sometimes, because of this, these a-holes deserve to be lied to, in my opinion.

Answering with a ‘no’ of course, is firstly against the general opinion that a) carbon emissions cause global warming, and b) global warming is bad. But in this case it was also against the general group agreement on those two points above. It’s like the question that sales people pose, “What, you mean you don’t want to save money?”, to which the obvious answer is also a leading answer because then the salesman has his foot in the door as it were. The correct answer to sales people like that is to crush the so-and-so’s foot in the door, because it shouldn’t be there anyway. Especially as my door has a ‘No Cold Callers’ sign on it 😉

To return to my original point, though, real life issues do not usually have a simple binary answer, or at least those answers would not be of much value. The case in the above example, about global warming, is that yes it’s a good idea to reduce global warming, but the issues are not quite simple enough to be expressed with simple binary answers. Now, while some people might relish the simplicity of binary answers, most of the time it’s far, far more straightforward, instead of being tied up in all this nonsense, to be free of all that and simply take Jesus’s example and to do what you see Father doing (Jn 5:19).

Some might think of this as a cop-out.

Well, firstly, I really don’t care if people think this; my thinking and decision-making processes are my own and I’ll run them how I like.

But, secondly, it’s not a cop-out because if Father asks me to perform a particular action in response to a particular need, then it’s action all the way. That’s how it works for me, anyway. I think that’s part of what Jesus meant when He said that apart from [Him] you can do nothing. If Father isn’t the main cause of my actions, then those actions are not worth doing because it’s not what He is calling. And that’s hardly a cop-out; instead it is divinely-inspired action which consumes you until the job is done. This is what it means to have Jesus as my King.

People accusing others of copping-out are simply annoyed because they haven’t been able to force their victims into the course of action that they wanted them to take.  Well, tough on them, I say. My freedom of action is my own, too, and it’s part of my freedom as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven to be free to take whatever action Father wants me to do, or to not do anything at all, and that all irrespective of others’ opinions and/or expectations. This is what it means to rest in Him; to be free to do or not to do as requested by Father. Falling in line with others’ expectations is not freedom; it is slavery to their opinions and their approval (Gal 1:10, Jn 12:43). So, exercise your right to be above the question, the situation, and the answers. But don’t tell them; just stay silent on the matter. There is no requirement for you to explain yourself to anyone else.

My thoughts on this, and indeed a decent summary of our position as believers with respect to being ‘above’ worldly politics, can be illustrated and indeed expanded with a real-life example. In this example, I explain the core of what I believe with regard to the privilege of the believer to be ‘above’ the mere black-and-white, binary thinking involved in many worldly affairs:

Last year, there was some kerfuffle over in the USA about some bloke being accused of yet another sexual assault on a woman. I have no opinion on the matter; I consider US news reporting – especially TV news reporting – to be some of the worst journalism in, well, the ‘free world’, at least. Because of that, I feel that I have insufficient data of any assured accuracy to form an opinion, which to be fair I wouldn’t express anyway because it’s nobody else’s business. I think that most other people had that same lack of reliable information too, but that didn’t stop me and a friend being blasted by people who thought our opinions should be identical to their own. My friend, an American man whom I have never met face-to-face, is a man who is far on in the faith and has an incredible spiritual maturity. He was accused of ‘taking sides’ on that matter, mainly because he can see both sides, just like Jesus can. His response, which I have mentioned in my blog before, went like this:

“I’m afraid my “middle of the road” stance is gonna get blasted by BOTH sides. You have to either believe everything that a potential victim says and demonize the alleged offender, making him unfit to serve our country in any capacity, or try and minimize what could be a serious crime and call their accusations “fake news”. And I’m not good with EITHER of those positions. I want to know the truth, but I don’t know if the truth can be ascertained in these circumstances. I want justice for [the person in question], but don’t know if justice means destroying a man’s career and possibly life over what COULD have been a stupid macho mistake or terrible misunderstanding. Can I trust a man to handle the law that has potentially hurt someone? Yes, under the right circumstances. But I’m not even clear on what those would be, but I want it to revolve around the truth, admission of any guilt, apologies, forgiveness and restitution. I really just want compassion and justice for all”

I wrote this to him:

“[My friend], I don’t see you as being ‘middle of the road’ at all. I see you as being above the road; being able to see what is going on – but not only not taking sides, but just being Jesus. Remember the theophany in Joshua 5? [Josh 5:13b-14 (KJV)] ‘Are you on our side, or the enemy?’ “No” was the answer. Not ‘Neither’, although that’s not far off, but ‘No’. ‘Neither’ involves the choice of taking neither side. ‘No’ indicates that the question is not germane. There is a detachment from sinking to the level of the human conflict and its ‘choosing sides’, or even choosing the middle road, and seeing it from God’s point of view instead. Any and every Christian has the right to sit in that position of ‘No’; it’s far above a simple refusal to take sides, it’s part of being who you are in Christ. There is neither requirement nor compulsion to declare or assume sides; you are not answerable to anyone because you are a spiritual man. And you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone either.”

His reply:

“Wow, thanks Anthony. I don’t know that that’s EXACTLY what I’m doing, but it sure is something I would aspire to. I am trying to see everyone’s point of view, to put myself in their shoes and think about what they would need and want. And, yeah, that’s why I can’t just pick a side. Argue for one side, and I’ll just end up telling you why the other side can’t be ignored or belittled. When it comes to perpetrators (or even alleged perpetrators) that becomes VERY difficult in this country [USA – Ed], even among the Christian population. Everyone seems to call out for their pound of flesh. I’m trying to see from the point of view of that flesh”

I finished off the exchange with this:

“And that was exactly what was in my mind when I wrote the comment. But as a man of peace, you naturally, well, maybe not always see both ‘sides’, but you at least are aware that both ‘sides’ exist and having that ability to put yourself in both sides’ shoes and try to see things from their point of view is about as Christlike as it gets. Unfortunately, those who cannot understand this see it as picking sides, merely because you express the fact that both sides have a point of view – but without making a value judgement on those points of view. So, you haven’t picked sides, but because you express attempted understanding of both sides, this makes you apparently complicit with both. But you and I both know that this is not the case at all, and this is why the spiritual man cannot be judged by anyone – because we see things from the spiritual point of view, not the worldly. Not that we are superior or anything, but we simply have a perspective that not everyone has”

This is the kind of wisdom that we learn from being close to Jesus and listening closely to His heart. It’s also the kind of freedom that we get when we are liberated from the slavery of others’ opinions and approval. In fact I would say that we cannot be free to do God’s will if we are still bound up with concerns about human approval. If we have to hesitate for any amount of time as we consider whether someone else will like what we are doing/not doing, then I would say that we are not free to make our own decisions about following Jesus’s voice. And the other thing is that this is a position that is arrived at through spiritual growth. Don’t expect others to understand it, because they may not have grown to that point yet themselves.[2]

And we must always be free to do what we see Father doing. This is my sole mantra in life: to do what I see Father doing. Anything else is superfluous.

So, if you feel that Father is doing in your life right now a work that involves some sort of political action, then that’s what you should go for, and go for it with all your heart. But don’t expect others to just leap in and join you – that’s their choice, and in the end, if they don’t see Father doing that in their lives, then it’s not something they should be doing either. And it’s not your job to persuade them otherwise, nor indeed to judge them. For as spiritual people, they are above your judgement – not in any ‘superior’ sense or in any way ‘better’ than you, but simply because your judgement – and that from anyone else for that matter – is irrelevant (1Cor2:15). Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master a man stands or falls, and he will stand. (Rom 14:4). And that passage in 1Cor2:15 especially applies when it is an unbeliever who is doing the judging, because they have no experience of the things of the Spirit and so also have no right to judge. They cannot understand the dimension of being in Christ, not yet at least.

And if you feel that what Father is doing with you at the moment is something else – whatever else! – then grab that with both hands and do that.

I appreciate this is a long essay, but let’s also take a look at what Jesus did in terms of compliance with people’s political demands. Basically He told them to go take a hike. Sometimes He explained Himself; sometimes He didn’t.

I mean, people around Jesus attempted several times to get Him to take a political stance. They wanted to make Him king by force (Jn 6:15); they tried to catch Him out by getting Him to stand either for or against Rome or the people when they asked Him about paying taxes (Mt 22:15-22; Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:19-26). Even his own mind, or the Devil, take it how you will, tried to get Him to take the political kingship directly by supernatural means, rather than walking the road to the Cross, during His ‘temptation’ in the desert (Mt 4:1-11, Lk 4:1-13).

But Jesus said that His Kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36). Sure, Jesus carried out His ministry during a time of huge political, religious and Imperial turmoil, and the principles He taught and demonstrated were largely about how to treat one’s fellow man. And I have read many things by various authors which strongly suggest that Jesus was a revolutionary, a radical, and all kinds of things like Him being a sort of first-century Che Guevara. But I’m afraid I don’t agree that Jesus’s mission was political in nature. Instead, His mission was primarily about demonstrating the love of God to people, and how much God values people. Inseparably from that, and indeed as a natural progression from that, He also demonstrated that love for God could, and should, also go hand-in-hand with loving others. And yes, that will lead to political change, as we shall see below, but that wasn’t the main thrust of His ministry at all.

But He steadfastly refused to take up any political position or power, or indeed to get directly involved in political matters at all, because from a very early point in His life, He was about His Father’s business (Lk 2:49). And since He did not feel that His Father was telling Him to get involved in politics, He didn’t. In fact, He was actually so non-political that although He was accused (amongst other things) of sedition – a political offence – before Pilate, Pilate did not believe Him guilty in that matter (Lk 23:4; Jn 19:4). And you can be sure that if Pilate had thought Jesus any kind of threat in this regard, he would have found Him guilty without batting an eyelid. Politically, at least for the Romans, Jesus was no threat at all, at least that they could discern. Sure, He also sowed seeds in His followers which, it could be argued, led to the eventual downfall of the Roman Empire, but this was not for another 300 years or so, and if anything it was caused indirectly and not as a direct effect of His teachings in first-century Palestine. The Kingdom of God as inaugurated by Jesus did produce political change, but only really as a result of the changes in individuals’ lives as they came to appreciate the wider ramifications of the Kingdom of God.

No, Jesus’s method for navigating the minefields of other people’s politics, approval/disapproval, attempted influence and social and political pressure, was to seek only the approval of God. More specifically, in fact, He took this a stage further in that in addition to seeking the approval of God, He also sought the will of God. He specifically chose to do only what He saw the Father doing (Jn 5:19). In this way, He kept His focus on what He was supposed to be doing instead of being side-tracked into other things which, although they might well have been important, were not what God had got planned for Him at that time.

So, then, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we are free. We partake of the ‘glorious freedom of the children of God’ (Rom 8:21). Like the Angel of the Lord in Joshua 5:13-14 (KJV), we too are free to say ‘No’ (or its equivalent) in response to polarising questions. We are also free to not answer at all; something Jesus did frequently.

I want to reiterate clearly, also, that I am not saying that believers are in any way superior to other people. We are not above these things as if we are somehow exempt from, or immune to, worldly political things; far from it. But we are able to take the Heavenly viewpoint on any issue which, almost by definition, an unbeliever cannot do. And in fact many, if not most, believers also have not yet learned to use the Heavenly viewpoint when it comes to worldly issues; not just in politics, but in other fields as well. But it is your privilege to do so, and your right. You are a priest of the Most High God. You are called to imitate your Father in Heaven; to do the things you see Him doing.

Why burden yourself with anything less than that?


 

Footnotes

1 Jehovah’s Witnesses do indeed call themselves Christians. It is not my place to judge whether or not they are ‘proper’ Christians – whatever a ‘proper’ Christian is! – but I make the distinction here between Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian denominations solely in order to differentiate for the purposes of my discussion.
2 I do not confine this to Christian believers, either. Most people can grow to this level of spiritual wisdom and maturity if they let themselves; it does not need to be ‘faith-related’. Most people are far more ‘spiritual’ than either they, or others, give them credit for. This is as distinct from the Heavenly point of view, which is similar to the ‘spiritual’ point of view, but is of course influenced by the precepts of the Kingdom of Heaven as well. I hope that makes sense.

10

No Return

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series The Stages of Spiritual Growth

I know I’ve shared a lot of stuff by Jeff Turner lately, but so much of it is prophetic and really needs to be as widely shared as possible. So I make no apology for reblogging this latest beauty from him.

As you may remember from my series on the Stages of Spiritual Growth, each of us grows in our Christian maturity in a different way, and sometimes in a different direction, from those of our peers[1]. And, understandably, sometimes those peers are shaken – often badly shaken – when they learn how we have changed in our views and beliefs.

This was exemplified to me very sharply only a couple of weeks ago, when a dear friend of mine was extremely shocked to hear that I no longer believe in ‘penal substitutionary atonement (PSA), or the concept that Jesus was punished for what I did wrong so that God would no longer be mad at me. I was devastated at my friend’s reaction, and I mean devastated on an emotional level because there’s no way I would have wanted her to be hurt by my beliefs. We go back over twenty years and we have been in many great worship meetings together (some of which I was leading) and we’ve shared life with each other through a fair bit of life’s ups and downs. Essentially, one of her core beliefs had been challenged quite out of the Blue by someone (me) for whom she has a great deal of respect, and that ‘s going to be a paradigm-shaking experience for anyone. And I appreciate that’s not going to be an easy thing to have to face, not by any means.

To her credit, my friend handled it all well – and we are still friends! – and in fact she herself said that she had grown spiritually from the experience. But still it brought it home to me that some people are genuinely concerned and even upset when they hear of ‘different’ beliefs like mine – particularly when they are expressed by close friends – despite the fact that today’s ‘orthodox’ beliefs have in fact not always been ‘orthodox’. Part of the problem is that we are not told about that point when we first believe; instead we are taught that ‘our way’ is the only way to believe; the inference is that it always has been so; and that everyone else is wrong to a greater or lesser degree. And that’s partly why it is so hard for some people to grow, because they see that growth as moving away from that which they were first taught, and that of course is ‘dangerous’ because what they were first taught is always assumed to be ‘right’. Therefore, any move away from that first learning is, almost by definition, a move into ‘error’. And that’s a move that, quite rightly, no-one wants to make.

In the past, I have kind-of assumed that most detractors against changing beliefs are simply being Pharisaical and awkward, and in some cases just in it for the argument. And, indeed, some of them really are – like the heresy hunters. However, I have learned from that recent painful experience with my friend that in fact some people are genuinely hurt by what they see as my/our rejection of much of what they hold dear.

With all that in mind, then, I’d like to share Jeff’s piece now:


Christians love sounding the alarm whenever another’s spiritual practice diverges a bit from the norm, and they seem to be heading in a direction that makes them feel uneasy. While said alarm may need sounding, it sadly typically involves calls to return to this or that practice from yesteryear, which is nothing that in any way needs returning to. The answers we seek do not lay in returning to the manipulative, high-pressure, performance driven revival services of the past, the prayer card-scanning and scamming prophetic meetings of the seventies and eighties, or the turn or burn, hit the altar repentance-a-thons that we’ve all had the misfortune of having been in attendance at. I’m sorry, and I’m sure your devout and sincere, but I don’t believe you when you say God is telling you this is what we need. We have a generation on our hands whose nihilism, absolute disdain for religion, and eagerness to replace it with something truly meaningful, tells us all we need to know about the efficacy of how we’ve done things in the past.

I don’t come from the mountaintop with the answer, but I can assure you it does not lay in the clear failures of yesterday. You might not be comfortable with where you see certain people going, but I honestly get more uncomfortable when I see people returning to practices and ways of being that they were once delivered from, and thinking of themselves as having “returned to their first love” in the process. I’d honestly rather see a person set off on a journey of their own, forge their own spiritual path, go totally bonkers for a bit (in our eyes), and actually discover who they are and who their God is, then to have them blindly turn back to tried and failed methods from the past.

If we actually want to be part of the movement “forward” we have to be willing to allow people to take uncomfortable turns, and to even go spelunking into some caves and caverns we think too deep and dark. There is no “forward” if we continually go backwards. And, no, I’m not buying that we used to be forward, and that our attempts at forwards were backwards, meaning that going backwards now would be going forwards. That actually works sometimes, like Chesterton’s search for heresy leading him to Orthodoxy. But unless we are returning to practices after having had our understanding of them *RADICALLY altered, I don’t buy it. The sons and daughters of the church must branch out and go on their own heroes journey, and, if they return, return transformed, along with their understanding of what it is they are returning to. So transformed should their understanding be, that it in no way seems to them like a return at all.

Let’s be honest: we’ve done things terribly wrong, and we don’t need to go back. We need to forge new paths and move into places we should have moved into years ago, but were too afraid to approach. I won’t be a part of a movement that was once on the cutting edge, but starts pearl-clutching like the Queen at a hillbilly Monster Truck rally, and whimpering like a dog during a fireworks display whenever things start really getting real. To be honest, I’d even rather fall into outright heresy for a season than blindly return to the heresy I left. No sir. No ma’am. No thanks. No way. I’ll pass.

– Jeff Turner, shared with his kind permission


I’d also like to share an excellent short blog post by Bob Ingle, which shows the attitude of some parts of organised Religion towards personal spiritual growth. I share this because it gives the less gentle side, very different from simply someone like my friend who was genuinely upset:


My Brother Will Rucker was recenty ask to remove the name of a Bible College he attended from his [Facebook – Ed] profile. Offended by Will’s greater understanding, the writer said “I pray that you return to the gospel that you have been taught”.

I wonder where we’d be today if Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had returned to the gospel they’d been taught. I believe God reveals His truth in many ways, but I’m glad the Brothers participated in writing 27 new books. If they’d returned to the gospel they’d been taught there’d be no New Testament, there wouldn’t be as many Bible colleges, and Paul (Saul of Tarsus) would have continued persecuting those who didn’t believe the way he did…hmmm

Jesus’ home synagogue threw him out and tried to kill Him when he revelealed His greater understanding of the Gospel He’d been taught… The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free...Luke 4:18-19

Brother Will, don’t look back. Some will follow, some will throw you out but rest assured, God will continue reveal a far greater understanding of The Gospel you’ve been taught.

– Bob Ingle, shared with his enthusiastic permission

Here is the link to Bob’s original blog post


I don’t know if I can add anything to all that, except maybe to reiterate that spiritual growth looks different in each individual, because each of us is unique and needs to grow in our own way, in our own time, and under the personally-tailored guidance of the Holy Spirit. Despite their concerns, it’s never going to be any other human’s place to have the final say on what that growth can or cannot look like.

Grace and Peace to you all 🙂

Footnotes

1 In fact, I have gone ahead and added this piece to that series, because I think that is says much that is relevant with regards to spiritual growth and therefore complements the series nicely

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Why Grace is Coming For Us All

I love this essay. Yet another one about the fear, horror and yet eventual shedding of the Hell doctrine, written in a beautiful style by a lady who has compassion. I need say no more:


All shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things
shall be well.
Julian of Norwich

I don’t believe in hell anymore.

I don’t think believing in hell makes us very good at loving our neighbor.

It doesn’t makes sense to believe in hell given what we know about human development and trauma and psychology.

And mostly, I don’t believe in hell because I think that God comes for us all. The name of God is Love, and God can’t betray God’s own name.

I don’t believe in hell because I think that it’s grace, all the way down.

Tales of a Tiny Missionary: Evangelical Objectification

I didn’t used to be a hell skeptic. I grew up in fundamentalism, and I believed everything they taught me. I believed in hell so deeply that I wanted to be a missionary so that I could save as many souls as possible.

I was eight when I started practicing, and backed a tiny neighborhood friend into our garage, enthusiastically reading out loud from the Children’s Story Bible. She was uncomfortable, but I was persistent. The next day at Sunday School, I announced that I had “told a neighbor about Christ” and that she “really wanted to hear more about Jesus.” (Reader – she did not). When I started working in restaurants, I used to stay up all night praying for my co-workers, asking God for moments where I could turn the conversation to Jesus (poor Brandon, who had to finish mopping the floor and thus could not escape my triumphant theological trump card – Lord, liar, or lunatic, Brandon??). In college, I hoped that my answers in philosophy class would show students and professors that Jesus was the answer for their meaning-haunted lives. I prayer-walking the campus at midnight, laying hands on brick sorority buildings, praying for revival.

I was so earnest about converting people because I was so scared for their souls, and loved them so much, and truly wanted to save them from being punished for the rest of time by the God that I loved. Every conversation with a non-Christian was a chance to witness, and every friendship with a non-Christian was missional – which is to say that everything that was supposed to be intimate became goal-oriented. Neighborhood BBQ’s were Jesus MLM’s. Politely asking about church was an opening to the Gospel. Most horrifically, when people shared their losses or suffering, those heartbreaks and rock-bottom moments were retold in prayer group – because when our non-Christian neighbor suffers, it means they might just be closer to finding Christ. I’ve sat in those prayer groups. I’ve held hands and thanked God for bringing more “openness” through suffering for people I barely knew.

Jesus weeps.

In our defense, in whatever defense we have – we were so scared.

We were so, so scared.

Imagine looking at your sister, your mother, your next door neighbor, your coworker – good people that you loved! – and believing that they’re only an inch away from eternal damnation. If we did see non-Christians as salvation projects, it was because we loved them so much, and were so scared for them.

In our fear, though, the people that we loved became a project to fix, and whether we intended all these relationships to become manipulative or not – once we have particular outcomes in place for conversations and relationships, that is manipulation. As we try to mold those around us, we stop loving them fully, as they are, without requirements and without strings attached.

I guess if we think that God only loves people with strings attached, why shouldn’t we?

***

The beginning of doubts about hell got planted during my brief, chaotic, glorious season as an angry atheist. Shortly after leaving Christianity, I got coffee with one of my old philosophy buddies. He was smart and kind and loved Jesus, and was one of my dearest philosophy teammates at our secular university.

While I told my story, Derek got more and more uncomfortable. He twisted in his seat, anxiously interrupting me. He had answers to questions I wasn’t even asking. He may have even dropped the big Lord, liar, or lunatic. I was startled and confused, wondering why our honest, vulnerable conversations had become like like this. Then I realized that I was a non-Christian now. I used to be a whole human being who did beat-the-clock drink challenges with him at Libby’s or took silly pictures at Wagon Hill. Now I was only a project.

Looking back, I know that Derek was just scared. He didn’t have any tools to deal with his faithful Christian friend walking away from absolute truth. It wasn’t his fault. But it broke my heart. I felt unseen and betrayed. I cried the whole way home, at first because I was angry, and then because I knew I had done this to every non-Christian I’d ever loved. I had betrayed them, too.

When I eventually wove my way back to Christianity, that conversation with Derek stuck with me. I stayed uncomfortable with the idea of hell. I still took the Bible seriously if not literally, and the New Testament seemed unflinching about eternal punishment. But something didn’t feel right.

Beyond the objectification of “friendship evangelism,” the idea of hell seemed to have done a lot of damage for a long time. I started to interrogate the idea of “missions” – hell has been the cover for colonization and oppression and white supremacy, as we break into people’s countries, wipe out their cultures, steal their wealth, and insist they accept a God who apparently could not be bothered to speak to them in the culture and with the language they already have.

Hell may be true, but believing in it seemed to be very bad for our souls.

Chaplaining: Stories and Trauma and Cracks in Our Souls

When I worked as a chaplain, hell stopped making sense in another way.

If there is a hell, the criteria for escaping it can’t be just “accepting Jesus before we die.”

When I started working as a chaplain, I really thought that we had a lot of choices about who we are and who we become, but the more I listened to people’s stories, and the more I studied generational trauma and family systems theories, the more it felt like few of us have may fully “free” choices at all.

The reason that some people “accept Jesus” and some people don’t is chance mixed with generational trauma plus cultural baggage plus personality plus the stories we carry with us. I met people who will never go to church again because of an abusive pastor or abusive church community. They’ll never “accept Jesus,” and I can’t imagine any compassionate God blames them for that.

Beyond “accepting Jesus,” the reasons that we seek the good in healthy ways or find ourselves trapped in unhealthy patterns are often also outside of our control. I sat with people with serious mental illnesses like narcissism, formed in them by abusive parents before they could walk. There is no therapeutic treatment for narcissism. A narcissist is hurt so deeply at such a young age that they grow up to do almost infinite damage to everyone around them, because they don’t know how to love or be loved.

Does God really just allow all narcissists to go to hell?

Even though they didn’t choose this? Even though they can’t choose otherwise?

The sins of our mothers and fathers do a number on our souls. Sin makes sin, and hurt people hurt people. Generational wounds and wickedness spill out onto innocent kids, who don’t stay innocent, but grow up to turn those wounds into swords. This doesn’t mean we don’t hold people accountable for evil. It just means that at the root of evil is a deep wound, and some people have fewer choices than we like to admit, in this culture of rugged individualism and bootstraps.

Fully free choices just aren’t an option for everyone on this side of heaven.

Some of us do find a way to healing. But for a lot of people, healing won’t happen, because of terrible luck, because of an unjust system, because of systemic racism, because of generational trauma, because of abuse, because of overly indulgent parents who never taught healthy boundaries or consequences, because of a thousands decisions that were made before they were born that shape who they are.

I can’t believe that Jesus just lets those people go.

God’s grace is either coming for all of us or none of us – otherwise, we’re all just one traumatic childhood way from being cast out of the Presence.

Annihilation itself is no death to evil.
Only good where evil was, is evil dead….
That alone is the slaying of evil.
George MacDonald

When I started letting go of the theology hell, it astonished me how angry some Christians were about it. Wouldn’t it be a good thing if this weren’t true?

But in their anger, I hear an echo of the workers in the vineyard, who showed up early and then watched in shock and rage as the ones who never even went to church stream into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I hear an echo of the older prodigal son who couldn’t believe that this punk kid was getting a party when “I have been good for so long.

Sometimes I wonder if Christians are angry at the idea of universalism because they don’t actually enjoy being Christians. Their faith is a Get Out Of Jail Free Card, and if they have to tolerate the misery of religion in order to get to heaven, how dare anyone else get in without it.

We need the bad people to be punished, otherwise why did we work so hard??

If you take away hell, it forces us to reexamine why we’re Christians at all.

If we’re only Christians because of fear, then universalism will crush our entire religion.

The mark of a mature faith, though, is not one based around fear of punishment (1 John 4:18). In a faith based on love, not fear, we’re Christians because it is good to be here, because we’ve found something true and beautiful in the Person of Jesus Christ, because our lives are stronger and richer since we’ve met Him, because we have found Love.

If I found out today that there’s no eternal reward for loving Jesus on this side of death, I would still love Jesus, so very much. I would still show up at church. I would still write words trying to help us all encounter a God who aches to encounter us. I would still believe in the deep, deep love of Jesus, in this life even without the next.

“This much is certain –
that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ.”
Karl Barth

I do believe that there’s another side to this life, and I believe that in that new heaven and new earth, every one of us will be gathered into Love.

But what about free will? Do we get a say at all?

I don’t believe in a God who is chasing us down and forcing us to worship God when we decide we don’t want to. What an awful idea. Consent matters.

But God isn’t an angry, punitive father figure, a divine top cop hunting for people to love Him or to suffer the consequences.

If the name of God is Love, then God is the One who sustains everything that ever is and ever will be through love. Everything that has ever tasted like joy is God. Being gathered into Love means that for the very first time we’ll be entirely free of our own broken souls that keep hijacking us to chase power or lust or greed. For the first time, we’ll actually be able to make a free choice – without the defensiveness and rage and fear that has always seemed to keep us from loving and being fully loved on earth.

Maybe there is always a choice to reject God, but if our souls are whole, cleaned of our baggage and woundedness – would a fully healed person ever say no to a God whose name is Love?

I do believe in a just God, a God who cares about the poor and oppressed, a God who does bring judgment to people who do great evil.

But God’s judgment is restorative, not punitive. If Hell is just a place people get sent to punish them, to separate them from God without chance of reunion, than Hell is just another kind of human prison system. But our God is an abolitionist. God is not a God of arbitrary punishment – God’s justice heals the wounds that causes the evil in the first place. 

And I don’t believe that this God, who heals instead of hitting, whose justice is in service of love – I don’t believe that this God ever encounters a wound that this world made that cannot be healed.

I have crossed the horizon to find you /
and this does not define you /
I know your name
.
Moana

My favorite Disney Princess story is Moana. I love the Gospel moment at the end, when Moana walks through the parted sea towards evil, because she knows that evil is just goodness that has lost its name and misplaced its heart.

On this side of the Kingdom, people doing terrible evil need to be stopped to protect the innocent. There is human judgment on this side of the Kingdom, and it’s necessary.

But in the Kingdom whose name is shalom, I don’t think there are limits to the restorative, healing justice of the God whose name is Love.

Jesus never stops crossing the horizon to find us all, every one of us.

Jesus knows our name – the true name that grace gave us, the name that’s underneath all our anger and evil and wounding. Jesus will never stop walking towards us, through the sea, until the end of time, to return our heart and speak our true name, Beloved, over us.

This world has really hurt a lot of us, and has failed to be safe or kind, and for some people, there may not be redemption this side of heaven. For some people, the wounding is too much and their resources are too low and they might never be able to hear their name when God speaks it over them. But God is stronger than the world, and grace is stronger than our broken stories, and Love always has the final word.

Grace never fails the ones whom this world has failed so deeply.

***

Some book recs on this for further reading: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis are both allegorical stories about hell and grace that I hope everyone takes time for. George McDonald’s theology on universalism, and Julian of Norwich’s theology of sin and Divine Love, have both shaped my theological imagination as well. For an overview of universalism (even if the Biblical exegesis is a bit sloppy), Love Wins by Rob Bell is very good, too.

– Laura Jean Truman

Here is the link to the original article20

Hell and ‘Liberal Theology’

Here’s a great piece by Jeff Turner about the misinterpretation of the three main ‘Hellfire’ prooftexts[1], by Infernalist[2] people who themselves cry ‘Liberal!!’ when someone tries to interpret them differently.

Ho-hum. Surprise, surprise.

Ok less of my cynicism. Over to Jeff:


Far too often, those of us who do not hold to the eternal conscious torment view of hell are met with accusations that we do not take scripture seriously enough, or that we are far too liberal in our interpretations.

Ok.

Well, the top 3 passages I usually have it suggested I’m not taking seriously are 1) the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, 2) the parable of the sheep and the goats, and 3) some variation of Matthew 10:28, which reads: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

So, allow me to show you how those who use these scriptures to justify eternal conscious torment do not take them seriously enough, and are far too liberal in their interpretations:

1) The parable of Lazarus and the rich man [Luke 16:19-31, Ed], while a favorite of the infernalist, does not typically match their doctrine of salvation in any way. How? Well, for starters, we are not told that the rich man went to Hades for not believing upon Jesus, nor are we told Lazarus went to “heaven” (that is, to be with Abraham) because he did believe on Jesus. Rather, the text simply says: “…in your (the rich man) lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.” In other words, this isn’t actually about saved vs. unsaved, but is something of a role reversal tale.

Literally, just five verses before beginning this parable, Jesus said:

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
-Luke 16:14-15, NIV

Clearly, the rich man represents the wealth-loving religious leaders, who justified themselves by their wealthy status, and Jesus simply was illustrating through this parable that God just didn’t see things as they did.

Additionally, if this were really about heaven and hell, you would think it would include a very, Very, VERY clear plan of salvation. Instead, the rich man is told that his brothers, if they wanted to avoid coming their themselves, could find salvation in Moses and the prophets (verse 29). Now, what grace loving Protestant on planet earth would ever stoop to say salvation could be found in the law or prophets? Never mind the fact that Abraham goes on to tell the rich man that Moses and the prophets’ words should hold more sway than testimony concerning a man risen from the dead. Interestingly, though, after expounding upon this passage, most hell believers then go on to preach salvation through a man raised from the dead, rather than anything from Moses and the prophets.

Clearly, this was a parable aimed at the greedy religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Not a hellfire and brimstone sermon aimed at the middle aged man denting pew # 11.

2) The parable of the sheep and the goats similarly lacks any Protestant plan of salvation. You have this great division that occurs, fire, judgment, the works, but not a word is breathed of, “now believe upon Jesus, and you can avoid this fate.”

No, the sheep are told that they’re sheep-like for works they’d done, not things they’d believed or prayers they’d prayed. It’s the same for the goats as well. They neglected to do certain things, and so found themselves on the goats list. There is nary a whisper about salvation as we’d preach it today. Just “works.”

Clearly, this too is a parable, aimed at the religious elite whom Jesus begins rebuking in chapter 23, and continues to speak of here.

Using this passage to preach “hell” and heaven is irresponsible, lazy, and a result of piss poor exegesis. This is not a 21st century turn or burn message, but a parable aimed at specific people, who understood God’s kingdom to consist of literal power, whereas the Kingdom Jesus revealed consisted in love for the poor and marginalized.

3) For this passage, the main thing missed is that “body and soul” are said to be destroyed, not tormented forever. This would be more in line with the annihilationist view, if taken literally, than it would the eternal conscious torment view.

Also, if we’re taking things hyper-literally here, notice that it isn’t “hades” spoken of, but Gehenna. Now, some insist that these are just two generic names for the same specific place-hell-but that doesn’t work out when you’re coming at things from a hyper-literalist perspective.

Notice, Jesus speaks of bodies being in Gehenna. Now, according to the literalist, there will only be bodies in the lake of fire, à la Revelation 20:13-15, after a physical resurrection occurs. So, this would mean that Gehenna, according to this logic, would have to be the lake of fire, but since Hades is thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 20:14, they can’t be the same place.

Another problem arises for the hyper-literalist in Matthew 23:33-36, when Jesus says plainly that some of the religious leaders of his day will find themselves in Gehenna within a generation. Why is this a problem? Well, if Gehenna is the lake of fire, no one is supposed to go there until after the final resurrection, which, at least to my knowledge, has yet to occur.

Now, I know, I know. These are absurd ways of looking at these texts, but I’m just following the logic of the hyper-literalists themselves, and staying faithful to their own methods of interpretation.

Bottom line? Those who cry “Liberal!!!” are often far more liberal in their interpretations of texts than they’d like to admit. And while maybe I am too, so are they. So who’s right? That can only be decided by looking to the character of the God Jesus reveals, not by badly interpreting parables and words spoken by Jesus.

Just some thoughts.

Peace.

– Jeff Turner, used here with his kind permission

Footnotes

1 I alluded to two of these texts in footnote [4] of this piece some weeks ago; this present essay goes a long way towards justifying why I was correct to explain them as I did
2 That is, people who really, firmly and gleefully believe in eternal conscious torment in Hell for all those who do not believe in Jesus, in the way they say He has to be believed in. Happy people, these, and so full of joy 😉

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