Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Call to Love

I’ve just read on another blog this excellent quote:

“It doesn’t bother me what [a well-known Christian speaker] or [another well-known Christian speaker] thinks, because I am 100% sure that after I die, no one is going to ask me why I didn’t hate more people.”

Let me tell you this: that posting was on a forum where lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and/or ‘queer/questioning’ (LGBTQ) people are affirmed.

I appreciate that many Christians feel it is their place, for a variety of reasons, to point out that being an LGBTQ person, or living an LGBTQ lifestyle, is wrong/sinful/whatever.

Actually, the Bible does not condemn homosexuality or any of these ‘different’ sexualities. There are many learned, Bible-believing, Spirit-filled scholars who consider that the ‘clobber-passages’ – the six main Bible passages used to ‘prove’ that homosexuality (etc.) is ‘wrong’ – are actually misunderstood both in their contexts and in their translation. (Click here for links to some excellent examples of such scholarliness) This means that there is realistic doubt that in fact the Bible means what we thought it meant in this regard. And surely, if there is any doubt whatsoever, we should give these people, many of whom are believers themselves, the benefit of that doubt. Default to the ‘Love’ setting; do not judge, do not condemn. We have no right even to judge others, never mind to condemn them!

You know, Jesus said that the Law boils down to only two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbour. (Lk 10:27 and Mk 12:30-31).

Most, if not all the time, people’s attempts to put LGBTQ people ‘right’, is manifested as hatred, intolerance, bigotry and downright nastiness. And I’m not just talking about Christians now (but really they should know better), but about all kinds of people in all walks of life.

Now is the time that God is calling us, the Church, to show that we are radically different from the World. We like to think we are different; now’s the time to prove it!

God’s command is simply to Love. Not to judge, not to ‘correct’, not to hate, but to Love. Love as you have been loved. Love as God loves you. Show others the Love He has given you by being like that to those around you.

Jesus came to rescue the downtrodden, the weak and helpless, the rejects of society. Today this equates to the homeless, the poor, and those whom society rejects…. including and especially LGBTQ people.

Remember, God does not call us to hate, no matter how much we feel it’s justified.

He calls us to Love.

“I am 100% sure that after I die, no one is going to ask me why I didn’t hate more people”.

True words indeed. Love them. Love them as you love yourself. That’s the commandment.

 

 

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Some thoughts on Forgiveness

Here are some of my thoughts on forgiveness – both human and divine – and how we can reap the benefits of forgiveness in our daily lives. It’s a bit of a rambling essay, but I hope you find it helpful.

Forgiveness is about restoration of relationship, or at least the opportunity of such restoration.

Unforgiveness is one of the most debilitating of human conditions. It is not a physical condition, of course; it is a condition really of a person’s soul. But it can indeed lead to physical illness, psychosomatically if you will, if it is not dealt with. But the main illness it produces is emotional illness. It will eat you up from inside and its fruit is things like bad moods, snappiness, preoccupation, and eventually conditions as serious as depression.

It’s essentially unilateral. You forgive the other person. Forgiveness can also be received, but it doesn’t have to be received – (it can be rejected by the other person) – for it to be effective for you. If the other person rejects the forgiveness, the chances are they have not forgiven you, but that burden is on them.

This is because, again, forgiveness is unilateral. It is asymmetric. There is always a giver and a receiver; if two people forgive each other, that is actually two separate acts of forgiveness.

Why do we need to receive God’s forgiveness? Surely, if God forgives us because of the Cross, even if we do not accept it, then we are still forgiven. That’s true; our forgiven status does not depend on us; our acceptance of it does, and repentance is still what is needed…..because unless we admit our fault, we do not admit that we need forgiveness. Not because God is all angry and radgy and all, but because then we know the relationship is restored. We ourselves know we’re forgiven, and that’s why we need to receive the forgiveness.

And remember that God does not forgive with strings attached. Whatever you’ve done is forgiven. You can debate as much as you like about ‘nice God, nasty God’ and why you need to be forgiven, and what you need to be forgiven for. There’s a fair chance that many of us feel that God will not accept us for some reason, whether that’s because of being made to feel guilty by things you’ve heard in Church or for some other reason. But whatever it is, release it, accept the forgiveness, and stop feeling guilty. As for strings being attached, I read recently that a lot of people think along this lines of ‘Right, you’ve been forgiven and now you’re a Christian, so now you need to do this, this and this in order to move on in that forgiveness’. This is plain incorrect, except for just one thing: yes, you do need to move on in your forgiveness but only in the sense of leaving all the guilt behind. Let it go. It has no power over you any more. Your guilt was nailed to the Cross; you can leave it behind for ever!

Now on to us forgiving others. The decision to forgive can be instantaneous; it can be as quick as you want it to be. However, applying that forgiveness, in terms of it changing the way you feel – and that’s the most important part about forgiveness – can take a long time. You may have to constantly keep reminding yourself that you have forgiven. The power is in your hands but so is the responsibility – and so is the burden. Remember that the goal of forgiving someone, which gives you the freedom from the burden of unforgiveness, is that you yourself take on the blame and the guilt of the offending party – let’s call them the ‘offender’ for now. You can then choose to let that go because it doesn’t belong to you, and equally the offender does not owe you a debt either.

Forgiveness is in fact independent of the offender, it is *entirely* in your hands. Whether or not the offender is penitent (admits their fault) is irrelevant because the initiative has to lie with the forgiver. You don’t even have to announce forgiveness to anyone except yourself. You don’t need to tell anyone. However, again, you will find that as you release the burden, any need you may have to make the offender feel bad about what they’ve done will naturally fade away – sometimes quickly, sometimes not. The need to let the offender know and feel what they’ve done wrong tends to abate when you forgive them. If you hold on to the unforgiveness, then the bitterness becomes a desire for revenge, a perceived way of punishing the offender for what you feel they have done.

Forgiveness is not a warm fuzzy ‘that’s all right then’ feeling. In fact forgiveness is often painful. You see, forgiveness is where you decide to take on board all the hurt that someone has put on you, whether deliberate or unintentional, and keeping it for yourself. And then letting it go; it has nothing to do with the offender any more. The forgiven person then owes you nothing. For any Star Wars fans reading this, It’s like when Yoda absorbs Dooku’s Force lightning in the cave in Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones; he just absorbs it into his hand and it has no power over him any more. If you’re interested, it’s at 1:15 in  this YouTube video

Think of forgiveness as a lifeskill. There’s no getting away from it: people are going to hurt you all your life. The trick is to not let this damage you as a person – if you do not forgive, it just eats you up from inside and you are the only one that will hurt. Your lack of forgiveness will not make others do what you want them to do; they will just blissfully get on with life and you are the only one who will still be harbouring bitterness about the event, long after it’s happened. Decide to forgive and then move on and get on with life; there’s no point brooding about things and holding on to the hurt because the only person it damages is yourself. It doesn’t matter whether or not the person acknowledges their role in your hurt or not; you need to forgive. This is how some people seem to manage just to let all the hurt slip off them. Water and ducks’ backs, and all that.

If you are going to hold on to any kind of relationship with anyone, you need to learn this lifeskill. Otherwise every time anyone hurts you, your relationship will break down and it may well stay broken. I’m not saying ‘forgive and forget’. Certainly you need to forgive, but also remember your experiences during the episode. Otherwise there is no learning involved, so the whole experience has been a waste. Try to get something out of each experience that teaches you something else about life. Once you have forgiven, the memories can be stored and accessed without bitterness.

The trick is to work out for yourself just how much you need to forget – but still the forgiveness has to happen, and it’s 100% from your end, not from anyone else’s. The responsibility lies with you to forgive, or not to forgive. It’s probably also worth pointing out that you don’t have to actually declare the forgiveness to the other person or people; however, if you feel you can, and at the right time and with the right attitude, such a declaration can go a long way towards restoring the relationship.

Asking someone else for forgiveness means that you are offering them a chance to experience the same freedom that you yourself have experienced when you forgive.

And an apology should be viewed as the opportunity to let someone know you have forgiven them. It brings release to both of you. Whether you think that the apology is genuine or not, it is always best to act as if it is genuine.

I’ve saved the best till last. After all that essay, the best news of all is that when you forgive, you are set free. You are set free from the need to feel bitter, from bad feelings, and you are set free from the power of the event, and of the offender, to continue hurting you.

Now that’s good news!

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Oceans

Probably the most profound song of worship and faith that has been made over the last few years. Pure gold.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

Oceans by Crocker, Houston & Ligthelm

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“What Hell tells us about God’s Character”

An ongoing research project in my theology journey is that of the concept of Hell. Eternal suffering for, well, whoever is in there. I find it incredibly hard to match up the loving Heavenly Father whom I know, with a god who would do that to someone. Indeed, the concept of Hell is one of the main stumbling-blocks that prevent lots of good, conscientious and thoughtful people from wanting to know more about God. Because who’d want to know a god who’d do something like that?

This article addresses this issue in a scholarly and thoughtful manner.

hellgodscharacter-1024x607

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Eternal Life is Now!

This is a brilliant post that not only assures the reader that God actually likes them, but also describes how Eternal Life is available in the here and now, something I will be developing in future posts. So I’ve posted this today as a sort of a preview. Here’s Tim from the blog Jesus Without Baggage:


God is not Angry and Harsh with Us as Many of Us Thought

Do you think God is angry, harsh, and vindictive toward us? Millions of people do, and I used to believe it myself—for good reason. All the preachers, teachers, and other church leaders taught that he is; if we don’t walk the straight and narrow, God will pour out his wrath on us. It was constantly in the pulpits, on the religious radio programs, and in Christian books, magazines, and tracts I read.

Even American Literature books often include the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

Jesus Tells Us the Truth about God’s Love

Jesus does not support this perspective of God’s relationship toward us. Instead, he tells us that the Father loves all people and wishes to give them eternal life, which begins as a new quality of life we can have today and continues in eternal life after our resurrection.

Jesus speaks of the quality of our current eternal life in his conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4. After she asked him about the well water, Jesus answered:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

In my opinion, this present aspect of eternal life is not sufficiently emphasized among believers today. But as we understand the truth of the Father’s love for us, our inner quality of life changes dramatically. We no longer feel alienated from God; our fear and anxiety dissipate; our self-image improves; and we are more at peace with ourselves and other people. As we continue to grow in love our inner life continues to improve.

The Good News of John 3:16

In John 3:16, the most well-known passage of the Bible, Jesus makes an even stronger statement about the love of God and eternal life:

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This refers, I think, both to the quality of our present life and to our life after death. It is a powerful statement of God’s love for us. But some believers counteract this Good News message by inserting the idea of an angry and harsh God into John 3:16—and changing the message into something else.

Here is their typical understanding of John 3:16 with added assumptions:

God so loved the world [though he can’t bear to look at us because of our sin] that he gave his one and only Son [to suffer and die on the cross in our place and take the punishment for our sins], that whoever believes in him [and prays the sinner’s prayer] shall not perish [in the eternal fires of hell] but have eternal life.

None of the bracketed concepts are part of the Good News of John 3:16 at all. They are misguided assumptions, and they cause fear, alienation, and other great harm. In fact, they turn the good news of Jesus into bad news.

We can understand John 3:16 better by taking note of the context of the passage.

 

Picture credit: Jesus and Nicodemus Providence Lithograph Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Context of John 3:16

If we read from the beginning of the chapter, we will see that this statement about God’s love builds on Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus about entering the kingdom of God. If you like, you can read it on a separate window at John 3.

Nicodemus, a rigid legalistic Pharisee, approached Jesus about Jesus’ relationship with God. Apparently Jesus sensed Nicodemus’ true concern and replied that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they change their old perspectives about what God requires and become as receptive and teachable as a baby.

It was in this context that John writes:

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But the context continues. The very next thing he writes is:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

God did NOT send Jesus to the world to condemn people; nor, by the way, does he call on his followers to condemn people. He sent Jesus to save the world. This is an amazing contrast to what many believers understand about God’s mission for Jesus.

But what does it mean to ‘save’ people? It certainly does not mean to save them from eternal punishment in a burning hell, as some believers teach. Rather Jesus saves us from our alienation from God, ourselves, and other people. He saves us from fear, guilt, and self-condemnation. He saves us from our destructive and self-destructive behavior and the consequences that follow them.

John continues:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

It is wonderful to learn that those who believe in Jesus experience eternal life in this lifetime and are not condemned to their old experience of alienation, negative feelings, and destructive behavior. But does John mean that those who do not believe in Jesus are robbed of these benefits for the rest of their life? I don’t think so.

Those who don’t believe can yet believe in Jesus and his Good News at some point—they are not forever barred. Even after death, there will likely be many who, with clearer minds and a clearer understanding of Jesus, will believe and experience eternal life after death; but they will have missed the quality of eternal life during their natural existence.

Yeah, but What about the Stories of Angry God in the Old Testament?

Those who read the Old Testament can easily conclude from certain passages that God IS angry, harsh, violent, and vindictive. What about these stories? The short answer is that many ancient Israelites did think God was angry and harsh, and they attributed many misfortunes to him; however, I think they were mistaken. You can read more about that at The God of the Old Testament vs. the Father of the New Testament.

Jesus tells a much different story about God. One huge result of learning Jesus’ Good News of the Father’s unconditional love for us is that it releases us from our burdens of fear, guilt, and self-condemnation. We will talk more about that next time.


Click the image to go to the original article and/or to follow on in Tim’s series:

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Vintage Worship Tapes

vwt_pageA couple of years ago I began a project to preserve out-of-print worship tapes, specifically from the now-defunct Harvestime movement in Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK. This was undertaken in order a) to preserve this music for posterity, and b) to bless worshippers all over the world with this wonderful worship music.

The music will bless you, I am sure. There’s loads of it, all in mp3 files suitable for mp3 players, iPods, smartphones, you name it – and it’s all free to download.

Enjoy!

Click here to go to the Vintage Worship Tapes site

 

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