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Archive for April, 2019

by Cindy Felkel, Guest Blogger

I see your beautiful heart. Every time I talk to you, I am amazed at the resilience and bravery I see in you. I know that I have only seen a glimpse into the hurt that you have experienced. I know that life has been harder on you than on many people. I see the jaded parts of you and I see the defiant spirit too; that refuses to give in and rises stronger every day.

I know when you hear me say that I am a Christian, it causes you to cringe. You expect me to judge you. You think that if I saw half of what you have done, I’d run away in fear and disgust. But that’s not the kind of Christian I am. That’s not the way a lot of us who really know Jesus are.

I am a Christian who has dealt with abuse and I have seen its power to cause people to run from light and hide in corners of hurt and self-protection.  I have  been afraid of being seen because of all the secrets I  was hiding. I know what it is like to lay on the floor sobbing until I couldn’t move because the hurt was so deep that I couldn’t think of a reason to get up and go on.

My story may be mild compared to what you have seen. My story may not relate to you at all.  When you hear my story, you may see me as a spoiled clueless middle-class  white woman living in a bubble or a weak woman who let religious people shame me for the lamest things. I don’t know if anything I’ve ever experienced really relates to you. But what I do know is God’s healing heart that longs to embrace you and show you just how treasured and adored you are.

That  may not be what you’ve heard from religious people who have judged you, but it is completely what Jesus taught.

I imagine that you have experienced religion telling you that your mistakes keep you from God and that you have to get your act together before you can come to him. But that’s not what Jesus taught or modeled with his life. Jesus taught about God loving us and grieving over our sins because they hurt us and keep us from seeing him.

People misuse the Greek word “wrath”  when they talk about God.  The word actually means “the strong emotion we feel when someone is doing something that hurts themselves or our relationship with them.” It is more how a mom feels when her child is playing in the street and not at all about an angry vindictive God wanting to squish us when we disappoint him. He cares about the sin in our lives because it hurts you and it keeps us from accepting his love for us.

It’s a love that none of us can fully comprehend.

It’s a love that Jesus describes in the book of Luke, when he told us three stories about missing things. In each of these stories, the missing thing represents people who don’t know God and aren’t following him. Each of these stories builds on the other and gives us more insight into God’s incredible heart for you my friend and how he longs to bring healing and hope to your story.

In the first story, Jesus tells of a shepherd who has one hundred sheep but loses one of them. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are together and goes after the one sheep who has wandered away. When he finds the missing sheep, he doesn’t scold her and say, “Why did you wander away, I should have let you get eaten by wolves.” He joyfully picks her up and puts her on his shoulders and carries her back home. Then he calls all of his friends and celebrates with them, because he is so happy that he has found her. Jesus says this is the same way the father feels about you, my friend.

He continues to tell another story of a woman who has ten silver coins (which were much more valuable in Jesus’ culture than silver coins today). When the woman lost one of the coins, she lit a lamp and searched feverishly until she finds the missing coin. When she finds it, she calls all of her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her because she is so thrilled that she has found the coin that was missing. This is another amazing glimpse into how much God misses you when you aren’t walking through life with him.

Then, in the final and most beautiful story, Jesus develops a picture of a young man who does everything imaginable in ancient Jewish culture to insult his father. The young man defies convention and asks his father to give him his inheritance while the father is still alive. This was an unheard-of slap in the face to the father. It was if the son were saying, “I wish you were dead because I’d be better off and I can handle things better than you do.”

Then the young man takes his inheritance, which was supposed to be used to further his family’s estate and heritage in Israel, and he takes it to a foreign land where he wastes it all on “wild living”: sinning, breaking the religious rules of his people.

The young man finds himself so bad off that he takes a job feeding pigs (which is a disgusting job in any culture, but for an ancient Jew, it was as rock bottom as you could get. Pigs were unclean animals that Jews were forbidden to eat. Association with them made a Jewish person ceremonially unclean).

This young man was so desperate that he longed to eat the slop that he was feeding to the pigs.

When he finally came to his senses, he realized that even the lowest servants in his father’s house were better off than him. He decided to return home, apologize for all the mistakes he had made, admit that he was no longer worthy to be called a son, and beg his father to take him back as a servant.

For the people in Jesus’ day, the story would have been shocking and the expectation would have been for the son to be punished extremely. Before Roman occupation, a son could be killed for such defiance.

But Jesus tells a different story. I think perhaps the most beautiful words in all of the Bible are “while the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son…”

Jesus painted a completely different picture of God’s heart for people who aren’t following him. He gave us a beautiful picture of God longing to have a relationship with us.  The son was still a long way off! He hadn’t made amends. He was simply on his way home and the father ran to him!!!!

This is the true picture of how God feels about you, my friend! It’s so hard to fathom that those of us who believe it constantly struggle to live it out for ourselves and towards others, but it is what Jesus taught!

The story continues and to say that the father embraced the young man and kissed him.

The young man was fully aware of all the wrong things he had done and he said to the father, “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

But, the father completely restored the son to the position he was meant to be in. The father had his servants honor the son by putting the best robe on him. He gave his son a ring that showed his position of authority in the family and he put sandals on him which showed that he was not a servant.

Then the father had a huge celebration with his friends and neighbors to rejoice over his son coming home.

And that is how God sees you! Yes, he is hurt over the sin in your life because he loves you and wants the best for you. When he looks at you, he sees his beloved daughter. He wants you to know who you are. He wants to restore you to your position as his child with the full authority and honor that comes along with that.

That is the God I follow and he misses you.

Blessings my friend!

https://www.rumandcolaforthesoul.com/blog/2019/3/26/to-my-survivor-friends-who-hate-religion

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By Mike Edwards

Most agree an evil or less than perfect God is not worth believing in. We all assume One who dares calls themselves God must be perfect. We mostly get our ideas of what a good God is like from either a Book such as the Bible or from thinking alone or discussing with others what we imagine a good God is like. The majority born into this world only has the latter option because they never had a Bible. It is possible God’s Spirit communicates to all somehow, with or without a Bible, due to the universal belief that we ought to treat others like we want to be treated.

Moral intuitions or imagination are often downplayed based on assumptions about the Bible.

Many of us has been taught that God inspired every word of the Bible, so that is our definitive source for knowing what God is like. Many theologians today, who respect the Bible as authoritative, are advising the final word on what God is like is through Jesus’ eyes than Old Testament prophets because of OT challenges. Even if you believe the Bible is inspired, a Book cannot be the only or final word. Literature requires interpretation. Scholars disagree what the Bible says about homosexuality, gender roles, the afterlife, etc.

Even the Bible implies we can know God without the Bible.   

The Bible says we are made in God’s image or are God’s representatives here on earth. This implies we have much in common with God or can have some understandings of God. Parent is the most common analogy to describe God in the Bible. Godly and earthly parents must have traits in common. The Bible says to be perfect like God (Mt. 5:48). The Bible doesn’t spell out what total perfection is but assumes we know. When two plausible interpretations exist, chose the view of God that seems more loving humanly-speaking.

Does anything go just because the Bible isn’t the definite source for who God is?  

The truth is there is agreement on most moral matters such as murdering, lying, stealing, or not treating others like we want to be treated. It is universally accepted that it is morally wrong to behead people for their beliefs unless you are a terrorist. You can’t debate with a terrorist because their source is inspired by God thus the supposed truth. Terrorists won’t admit their interpretation is debatable, or they can’t prove every word by a prophet was inspired by God. We will always have to work with one another about what we think God is really like, and stop claiming we are right and others are wrong.  

How do we proceed when there are differences?  

Assumed certainty covers up what we all know – there will always be disagreement whether about God, politics, or marriage. You handle differences in any arena like you would in a partnership. Don’t assume you are always right. Don’t violate anyone’s physical or emotional rights. Find common grounds. Learn to live together happily incompatible. Not taking these steps means you think you are morally superior. 

What do you imagine a good God is like?   

Chances are you are right, especially if told something about God that suggests you treat others better than God. God is Perfect Love. This is very good news if told something about God you heard you knew couldn’t possibly be true. The other good news if you are already a God-follower, you don’t have to convince others what God is like. Let God do their own work. My views of God have changed from what I was taught growing up. My views now match more what I knew deep down to be true about love. Turns out that God is understandable and not some mystery.

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by Rocky Glenn

My thoughts going into Easter this past weekend were a mixed bag of criticism, questions, and self-analyzation.  Although this wasn’t the first year we have not actively participated in any church based Easter activities, ghosts of special sermons, carefully selected worship songs, newly purchased clothes, and orders of service timed to the minute haunted my mind.  I have actively, willingly, and intentionally played a role in times past of ensuring Easter Sunday morning service is meticulously planned and flawlessly executed.  Every effort was made to make the right impression on the countless visitors we were certain would be in attendance.  After all, if the plan was executed perfectly it would draw people to join our congregation and our attendance would increase showing how great of a place we were.  Heck, if we performed well enough, visitors might even make a decision to follow Christ!  Oh yeah, I guess we were actually celebrating Christ’s resurrection as well, but, despite being repeatedly mentioned throughout the course of the service, it never seemed to be the real focal point.  There was more concern taken over the timing of every agenda item and every detail of cleanliness and structure rather than celebrating the day for what it was to represent.  It was the biggest Sunday of the year and was treated as such.  It’s the institutional church’s Super Bowl!

Late last week I had a conversation with a long time friend via text and we discussed the subject.  Having walked together through many different courses of life, and many changes in beliefs for each of us, I knew he was someone safe to talk to and would not return any judgment if I shared my true feelings.  I mentioned my disdain for what it has become and how I referred it to as the Evangelical Church’s Super Bowl.  The response I received was a simple, “It’s pretty much all Christians’ Super Bowl,” and he went on to explain it should be a cause of celebration.  He mentioned the resurrection should truly be the one thing in the world we have reason to celebrate and the manner in which we do so should inform people of the power of the resurrection.  I pointed out my problem is it’s the one day of the year we talk about the resurrection and we then live the rest of the year forgetting  it.  We celebrate and look forward to the day itself and gloss over the event.  The next response I received was significant and gently reminded me there were three fingers pointing back at me on the same hand with which I was pointing at others, “Most people are very inconsistent.  I know I am to an extent . . . I say that to seem somehow piously humble, I mean it. I’m an inconsistent mess sometimes.”  The conversation which followed took us everywhere from the prodigal son and his older brother to being focused solely on our own salvation to the true purpose of our faith being faith itself and not our eternal destination.

As I reflected back on the conversation over the next two days, I believe he hit the heart of the matter with the word inconsistent.  If we are all honest with ourselves, we are all just a giant bundle of inconsistencies. Paul stated this in his letter to Rome as simply, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”  To live a human life is to live a life of inconsistencies.  Inconsistencies appear in both our actions and beliefs and become glaringly obvious when the two do not align with one another.  What we believe as absolutes today are the very things we may question tomorrow.  Theologies and beliefs I would have once defended I now despise and detest.  Though I lived a life once grounded in rules, regulations, and expectations, I strive now to live with an open minded letting Love be my guide.  Yet, in the very same breath with which I proclaim to live in Love I often find myself judging and looking harshly at those who choose to remain in the path I traveled for many years.  Despite striving to live freely in grace and seeking to show grace to others, my back still stiffens as my blood pressure raises when I’m cornered about why I walked away from the life I once lived.  I find it difficult to not respond in anger when being accused of leaving my faith and when I am judged as sliding down a slippery slope to damnation.  The churchboy I lived as would never openly admit to living such a life of inconsistencies no matter how true it would have been.  His life was all about maintaining the perfect image of what he believed a Christian should look like.  I would like to believe the churchboy I once was is dead, but as I shared recently I am forever recovering.  

Brennan Manning admitted his inconsistencies like this:

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”

I’m at a point in my journey where I can truly recite Brennan’s words as my own.    Brennan captured what I now believe a Christian truly is as he concluded his statement above with the words of Thomas Merton, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”  This goodness of God is found in returning to Paul’s letter just a few sentences after his admission shared above, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Paul’s words bring us back full circle and return us to Jesus and his resurrection which is where our discussion began.  In pondering and reflecting on Easter, I found I was not alone in the process.  One friend spent the week on social media questioning if our obsession with and promotion of holy days had gotten in our way of enjoying the blessing we have in Jesus Christ each and every day.  On Easter Day itself, he gracefully summed up the week with the following sentences:

There is nothing wrong when we celebrate a certain day as “holy” when it is an option you choose in your own conscience before God.

At the same time, there is not a single instance in the grace portion of your and my bible where a holy day is presumed true and where celebrating a certain day is ever mandated.

Whenever and wherever a mandate to observe a holy day is present, it is a violation of God’s grace who cleansed our consciences and who liberated our minds and our consciences to enjoy him free of manmade ritual and tradition.

A life of grace is a life free of manmade mandates of ritual and tradition.  It all comes down to your own conscience before God.  To share grace with others is to refuse to view them through your own personal mandates which arise as result of that conscience between you and God.

Inconsistencies will arrive and plague us as long as we live but as Paul, Brennan, and Thomas all point out, it’s through Jesus we overcome them.  His consistency overcomes our inconsistencies just as His perfection overcomes our imperfection.

Rocky

 

 

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by Jim Gordon

Continuing on the subject of church and abuse, we know many people have been abused and treated wrong within the system. Some more severe that others, but none of it is good.

I think one of the groups that seem to be affected most by this are those who are LGBTQ. I have seen this group of people treated rudely and like second class citizens in the church where they should find love and acceptance more than anywhere else. God said to love our neighbors, he did not say to love only those we agree with.

Even in the churches that are actually accepting, LGBTQ people are often not allowed to participate fully within the organization or hold certain positions.

GodsDoorsAreOpentoAll

Christian people will deny rights and services to LGBTQ people based on their christian beliefs and that even includes fellow christians who are LGBTQ. Even government office holders can refuse certain services and basically get away with it because they say it goes against their christian morals. As as christian I say these things should not be.

Labels are placed on many people, gay/straight, black/white, male/female, christian/atheist, American/foreign. Yet behind those labels are human beings who were created in the image of God. They are loved and accepted by God and we are told as followers of Christ we are to be known for our love for one another also.

I feel for those who are LGBTQ. It hurts to see people who were created and loved by God be rejected and abused by his followers. I think it is time to look past the labels, look past your personal feelings and accept people just the way they are….created and loved by God.

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by Jordan Hathcock
Guest Blogger

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

When it comes to the chaos in life, it’s hard to determine the best course of action. I mean, the “technology driven, non-stop on the go” culture we find ourselves in, who can blame us? It’s almost as if we arrived in a whole new terrain that only functions at warped speed. Where do we find the tools to assist us through the path that will lead us to healthy and liberating results?

Well, research is showing that this new technology-driven on the go lifestyle is having some unhealthy results. As, psychologist Dr. Stephanie Brown keenly points out:

Researchers note that this push for speed is changing the way people think. The need to be efficient and instant leads to a dumbing down of information intake so that people become scanners and “decoders” of information, cruising horizontally across the screen to pick up bytes, rather than delving towards a deeper understanding.

Maybe the biggest cost we’ve encountered already is the harm to human relationships. Instead of enhancing close bonds, technology has facilitated avoidance of direct person-to-person contact, which takes too much time. We maintain the illusion that we’re connected more closely than ever by the number of Facebook “likes” we accumulate. But it’s all fast, now, this instant. Everything is impulse. Our sense of connection exists in the action, not an accumulated, deepening experience.

Yikes! So, our relationships are unhealthily inauthentic and our capacity of obtaining information is declining! What are we to do? This mode of being is becoming more and more prevalent the more we succumb to the status quo. Does there need to be some type of revolt to end the madness?! Well, I think we have to really step back and ask ourselves “what really is important”? I know, to simple right? But I think this mind of contemplation is really key to getting us grounded back to a more healthy social atmosphere.

Look, we all have access to so much information at the tip of our fingers. It’s hard not to be addicted (yes I said it) to this extraordinary power! The thing we need to come to grasp with is that to really “connect”, we have to encounter flesh and blood relationships. This goes from the snip-its of information we obtain on Wikipedia–to our most avid “like” sessions on Facebook. There is nothing like the real McCoy.  True connection comes into full fruition when we stand face to face with either a real book (yes, try it sometimes) or a real person (I know it can be hard for us introverts). Actual contact matters! Lets get spiritual (within the material) here for a minute. When we understand that the true reality–Logos, the Christ–works through a “gathering” of people (Mat 18:20), we come to recognize the need for community.

Here is the paradox of this all.  I truly believe for us to come back to a more interrelated social structure, we first have to step back and center ourselves in the quietness of life.  The ever-present moment is calling us a species back to her folding arms. This reminds me of how surfers ride waves. Let’s see if this analogy works for you as it did for me (haha). As a rider of the waves myself (I just don’t like labels), I am constantly battling the on slot of the never-ending tide push of waves, when out paddling in the salty seas.  It is always seems that to really be present and ready for the ability to finally catch a wave, I first need to understand that this constant ripple of waves can be used as a very enjoyable ride of bliss.

It is a matter of practice and technique to finally find the perfect set, pass the break, to surf. See, there is a moment in all things of life where within the chaos, we can find a moment of mercy to go with it. In this, we discover a way that deeply matters and shapes us for the better. I can tell you first hand that there is nothing like starting your day off by catching an amazing wave of nature (yeah, I know, so cliché but I can give two shits hehe).

It reminds of this verse in Psalms:

Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.

Deep calls to deep! We have to awake to the things that matter in life. When the constant push of waves come over us, we have to learn to center ourselves back into the Divine Balance of the universe. When all else is spinning out of control, let us be reminded of Love and how it never fails to bring us home. Let us paddle with the waves of chaos and be energized by the ride that brings us to shore with mercy. Where we find people laying on the shores, enjoying the Sun of everlasting warmth, and laughing with others who are experiencing the stillness of life…

A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when, in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living.

https://welcometothetablesite.wordpress.com/2019/04/19/waves-of-mercy/

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By Mike Edwards

Many don’t pursue God when what they imagine a good God should be like isn’t want many claim. In simple terms a moral hypocrite is one who treats others different than they wish to be treated. If you were gay and felt you had no choice in who you had feelings for any more than straights, wouldn’t you desire acceptance and respect concerning your consensual and loving relationships? God surely loves others like we humans know how we ought to love one another.

Are God’s morals the same as perfect human morals?

It is intuitive to think one claiming to be God must be morally perfect. The Bible tells us to be perfect like God (Mt. 5:48), but we can’t know what this means if we don’t know what perfect, moral love is. We can’t follow God’s example if God’s good is sometimes evil. God’s love surely is the same as perfect human love. God is morally perfect humanly-speaking.

Doesn’t God care to be understood and relatable?

I don’t know many who would claim a good God or the God of the Bible doesn’t desire a relationship. This is what makes the story of Genesis so moving. Other ancient near east creation stories tell a story of humans being held in contempt by the gods. The God of the Bible esteemed humans in the beginning and desired a close relationship. If God is claimed to be mysterious at times or God’s evil is good sometimes, how are we supposed to know and love like God?

We may only think God and human morals are different because of an inspired Book.  

It isn’t natural to think God has different moral expectation of themselves from those God created. That is why interpreters play the mystery card because they understand some explanation is required when their views of God are incompatible with most people’s idea of a loving God. Since they believe God gives us our mind and conscience, some rationalization is needed. God surely can’t be a moral hypocrite humanly-speaking.

It is true we don’t always agree what true or perfect love is.

Common moral, loving sense is not the enemy. Don’t let your interpretation of a Book, which could be wrong, override the golden rule with others of different gender, color, or sexuality. Terrorists or extremists justify immoral treatment of others by hiding behind a supposedly infallible Book. Even if the Bible is infallible, one must never claim their interpretations are infallible since they could be wrong. Actions of love are always more important than any beliefs you may have.

The God I know can’t be and isn’t a moral hypocrite!

I suppose some would condemn gays not because of a Book but because they think it isn’t natural. Listening and being open-mindedness though may change your mind. Please don’t judge when you can’t be certain. I can’t imagine one would think – except because one deems their interpretation of a Book inspired – that a woman shouldn’t be the CEO, priest, pastor, etc., if more qualified than the man. Loving others like you want to be loved is true, human, godly love!

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by Jim Gordon

Since doing the article on abuse in the church I have come across several people who have left the church system but not because of abuse. Unfortunately, abuse does happen and it is terrible especially within a place that should be known for its love.

Yet, even more than stories of abuse the one comment that seems to keep being said is that ‘I left because something just did not seem to be right. I felt there had to be more’.

I think this is a common feeling among those of us who have attended church for some time and have seen some things that just do not make sense. Sitting in a service once a week looking at the back of someone’s head does not make a lot of sense when in the bible we are told when we come together each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. Yet that does not happen. We all sit quietly listening to one person participate.

BetheChurch

God said he is building his Church from living stones, or in other words from us. Church is people. It is not a building nor an organization. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit and if the Spirit of Christ lives within us, why are we just sitting letting only a few participate?

Many people are coming to the realization that the organization we know as church is flawed and not what God intended. We seem to be putting our focus on the pastor and the organization rather than emphasizing the Spirit of Christ who lives within us. We are to allow him to love others through us as we go about our daily lives. People are getting tired of just sitting along the sidelines when we can walk daily with the Spirit of Christ walking with us.

The Church that God is building is a living organism, many people making up one body under the headship of Christ. The church that many attend is an organization made of brick and mortar, doctrines and denominations and led by human beings. Many good things happen in the church building but the body of Christ is an active, living body where everyone has an equal part to play. Rather than attend a pre-planned service once a week we are to be living daily under the guidance of the Spirit. It is by his power from within that we can show the love of God to everyone we meet.

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