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Archive for June, 2020

By Mike Edwards

I grew up attending church often more than once a week. I referred to myself as a Christian because that was the common label used in the institutional church. I can remember not liking the label early on because people often associated it with being religious, and there is a lot of bad religion out there. I have grown uncomfortable with the label for myself for a long time now.

Christianity has become associated with beliefs about God I reject.

I don’t believe for a second Hell is real and God tortures forever those who don’t believe. This makes God terrorist-like – only God waits until life after death and keeps you alive forever to torture. I don’t believe women are second-class citizens. You can dress it up all you want in “loving leadership,” but I don’t want a man being my daughters’ go-between with God. I don’t believe God condemns gays for attractions they have no control over any more than straights do their attractions. There are many beliefs about God associated with Christianity that I reject. See here.

I don’t refer to myself as a Jesus follower.

I think many associate Jesus with the Bible which has been used to makes some claims I don’t accept what a loving God would be like. It’s okay to doubt claims made about Jesus. Jesus’ followers witnessed miracles by Jesus and still initially doubted He was coming back from the dead. It may be a little easier to believe once you are an eye-witness to a resurrection. Some can’t logically wrap their heads around how chromosomally Jesus can be both man and God. We can respectfully and openly discuss Jesus’ actions and claim made about God to discern if Jesus represented what a loving God is like.

Why I am a God-follower!

I don’t know all the reasons why some are inclined to believe there is Creator or God and why others aren’t. I know it isn’t because of moral superiority. I have my failures to prove that. Due to the complexities of the created world and humans, I just am convinced there is a God who created and loves each one of us like no other. A common Creator also explains best for me how humans seem to have an inborn feeling that we “ought” to treat others like we want to be treated. I have never met anyone who doesn’t want to be treated with love and kindness. I follow God because I am convinced God can turn bad people into good people and good people into better people.

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by Jim Gordon

Growing up in the world of Christianity and the church, I have memories of a time when all seemed well within the system. I thought we all loved one another and we could share the love of God with everyone we met. I felt if I stayed in the system and listened to the pastor, I would learn all I needed to know to be a Christian who could handle anything.

After many years within Christianity and the organized church, I began having feelings of not being satisfied. I saw people who wanted to have things their way or else. I saw people looked down upon or ignored enough to leave. I saw people outside the church service who acted just like everyone else and treated people who they disagreed with in a very unloving way.

I began to question if Christianity was truly what God intended and if the church was what Jesus talked about when he said he would build his Church. Jesus said he would build his church, which is his people. It is also said that God does not live in houses made by human hands. The bible makes it plain that we, his people are now the temple and the Holy Spirit lives within us. We no longer need anyone to teach us. We have the Word of God living in us teaching and guiding us throughout our lives.

It finally began to hit me that Christianity was just another religion like all the others. It was organized and controlled by human beings. It was an organization of power, control, disagreement and exclusion. I wondered what happened to the Christianity I knew growing up. I truthfully do not think it changed, I think I changed. I think the change was due to learning and following the guidance of the Spirit who is within me.

Have you ever felt frustrated with the Christian world today? Obviously, the church today is not what God intended and in America the church has become a big corporation more than anything.

It finally got to a point where my wife and I were frustrated enough with Christianity that we decided to leave the church. The more we read, prayed, meditated and thought about things we also got frustrated enough to leave Christianity.

Now before you have that common reaction to call us heretics, back-slidden Christians, or fallen from grace let me say we have not left God. I know many people believe if you leave the church or the Christian organization you have left God, but that is not the case.

Believe it or not, Jesus was not a Christian. He did not start the organized, religious church. He did not favor one group of people over another. He loved people, all people. He asks us to do the same and that was not something I was seeing within the organization.

I will say that if you are satisfied with the church system and enjoy meeting together with other like-minded people, that is OK. My only thought is that you remember church is not a place nor an organization. The pastor is not the middleman between you and God. One denomination or church doctrine is not the true church or only way of interpreting the ways of God.

The fact is that God loves us. There is nothing we have to do or stop doing to receive God’s love. We are saved and restored to fellowship with God through faith in Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and we do not have to listen to this group or that group, this speaker or that preacher. We follow God in the way He wants us to go and we no longer have to worry about our reputations or what others think. We no longer have to look to religion or man-led organizations to live for God.

I really believe if we accept God’s love, follow Him and listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit within us we will be pleasing to God no matter what others say. We no longer have to be tossed to and fro by listening to all the different voices in Christianity today. We listen and trust God and enjoy the fellowship we have with Him through Christ.

Looking at things in this way, it has become a life of following the example of Jesus and doing what is pleasing to God. We no longer worry about following the religion of Christianity, but we go by the guidance of the Holy Spirit who lives within us. The religious organization we so commonly call Christianity has become something we no longer need. We now live life by following the Spirit, loving God and loving all people. For us, this daily way of living has replaced the man-made organization with a more meaningful way of life.

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By Mike Edwards

Many grew up with a view of God that encouraged fearing God. The threat of Hell was used to encourage such fear. Who doesn’t want to avoid being kept alive to be tortured forever? Good news! Hell doesn’t really exist. See here. So, since Hell doesn’t exist maybe God didn’t create us to whip us into submission.

What does the Bible really say about God? 

I am not going to quote you Bible verses to defend God is loving or wrathful. Verses can be quoted to suggest God is an angry son-of-a-bitch and you better get in line. Then, I could quote you bible verses that defend God is merciful, graceful, and loving. I am appealing to your common sense about love. Why would a Creator desire anything different relationally that what we were created to desire from others in relationships? 

Why would a loving God desire fear?

How do you want to be treated by your parents? Do you want to visit a parent who demands or instead seeks to earn respect? Do parents want us to fear them and visit out of obligation or like just hanging out. Do you want to be able to go to your parents for support or rebuke when you continue to mess up? I have a hunch God knows also fear doesn’t lead to change.

Where does fear get you?

Fear doesn’t work in spiritual or human relationships. People may suck up to you because you have something over them. They need a job, they need money to survive, whatever. Good luck when they don’t need a job or money. Genuine relationships happen not in an environment of fear but mutual respect.

Fear of God doesn’t make you a better person. 

Do you every think God needs a break from you at least for a day or do you think God can’t possibly forgive you for the 10th or 100th time? Guess again! God’s love and mercy, not gloomy uncertainty of God’s favor, is our necessary nourishment for breaking free from habitual habits or bad behaviors. God isn’t looking to pile more guilt on us. God already knows we heap enough guilt on ourselves. God seeks to continually assure us of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love so we don’t every give up no matter how demoralized we may feel. 

But, don’t we need fear to control selfishness?

Has fear of consequences always stopped your selfishness? Fear only leads to trying to not get caught or doing enough to soothe others’ feelings. A great advantage in being a God-follower is being secure in knowing good enough isn’t enough. Relationships aren’t about just being good enough or not as bad as other partners. I have the “want to” to be perfect. My God allows me to pursue perfection while not being paralyzed by guilt when failing.

God’s approval can be a breath of fresh air.

Some parents beat down their children all their life, reminding them constantly how worthless they are. You aren’t thin enough. You aren’t pretty enough. You aren’t smart enough. You aren’t successful enough. You are worthless! God will never betray us like parents or partners can. A relationship with God always entails mercy, acceptance, and encouragement when seeking change.

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By Mike Edwards

This Post is longer than usual. It is an essay I wrote that was recently published in a book Open And Relational Leadership. Such a view of God, as opposed to a closed, standoffish God can be a game changer. Leaders proclaiming certainty have not allowed God’s open and relational ways to guide individuals in their own time.

I am grateful for pastors of churches I attended in the past who encouraged getting to know God. In retrospect, it seems pastors felt compelled to proclaim certainty of what God thought, according to their understanding of Scriptures. Perhaps they felt an internal pressure due to leadership expectations from parishioners. Didn’t pastors, though, read books where biblical scholars, who respect the authority of Scriptures, do not always agree? Total certainty is an illusion because even if God is Truth, we still have to discern what is Truth. For example, can preachers or priests be women or gay? Many are leaving the institutional church because of the lack of honest, open dialogue. God’s example seems more open and relational because of the freedom given to understand God in our own time.

It’s hard to be relational when you are so damn certain.  

One would think Christians would be the least judgmental people in the world. After all, they believe in loving others like they want to be loved. Catholics and Protestants, or whatever other representation of the church may apply, seem compelled to establish creeds, as if uncertainties about God are a sign of weakness. It isn’t always voiced that you are required to accept their doctrines to participate, but try challenging them and see where that gets you! If God was so concerned about beliefs such as the Trinity, angels, the Bible, the Virgin Mary, or hell, it seems there would be more agreement. Maybe Christians would be more united and less judgmental if religions only encouraged the Creed of Love as the Spirit guided individuals. 

No, uncertainty doesn’t have to lead to lawlessness!  

I am not suggesting anything goes in the declaration that we can’t be certain. No one questions laws against murder. Criminals don’t deny their actions are wrong; they deny they committed such a crime. Unless you are a terrorist, it is almost universally accepted that it is morally wrong to kill or behead someone because of his or her beliefs. We don’t have to fear uncertainty. Different opinions, expressed without physical or verbal aggression, can stand side by side, as we continually evaluate the most loving approach or understanding of God. 

The idea of an infallible or inspired Bible may be a reason Christians claim certainty. 

The Bible certainly is a resource to discover what God is like, though the majority of people born into this world didn’t have a Bible or knowledge of Jesus. There must be other ways to know God! Infallibility is a non-starter because we don’t have the original manuscripts. The many translations or versions of the Bible we have today suggest copying is not an exact process. Even if we had the original autographs, interpretation is still required. Scholars who believe in the authority of Scriptures disagree regarding what the Bible says about critical issues such as homosexuality, gender roles, divorce, and hell, among many other things.

Interpretations are fallible, but most people do not begin a discussion with “I may be wrong…” Keep in mind that we can’t prove that God inspired every word of the Bible, unless you argue a biblical writer making such a claim is definitive evidence. The possibility of a fallible book encourages questioning rather than demonizing views to the contrary. We have every right to question interpretations that suggest a Creator does not love in the way we were created to love. God-followers seem unaware of how often they appear to be unopen and morally superior based on their assumptions about the Bible. 

How can we know God?

Some declare God is mysterious when their interpretation of the Bible makes God appear immoral, but how can we have a relationship with a God we can’t understand with the brain God gave us? Is evil sometimes mysteriously good? The Bible assumes we can understand God by challenging us to be perfect like God (Mt. 5:48). We can only understand God’s perfect love by the way we humans were created to love perfectly. It is intuitive to think that the perfect love of God and human are the same. That is why the mystery card is used when God seems unloving from a human perspective. A Creator surely loves others and us in the same way that we were seemingly created to love others. 

Where has certainty in God’s name gotten us? 

It is logical to suggest we can’t be certain of what an invisible, inaudible God thinks. But supposed certainty has led to justifying slavery. It has led to revered theologians such as St. Augustine and John Calvin not firmly opposing the execution of those who didn’t agree with their theology. The Bible can’t be the definitive guide to what God would do because scholars who respect Scriptures disagree on so many issues. And it clearly is wrong to behead people because they don’t share your personal beliefs about God. 

Jesus didn’t judge uncertainty.  

Jesus performed many miracles, but his disciples/followers still didn’t believe. Jesus didn’t cast away Peter when warning him he would deny Jesus three times; I believe Peter now is called the “Rock.” Jesus hung out with all kinds of people that didn’t share his certainty. Jesus didn’t unload on others when their beliefs weren’t his, unless you were a religious authority who was misrepresenting God. My hunch is that God, like parents, would rather be doubted than ignored. 

Is God unloving by not being more visible, thus more certain?

We may wonder why God isn’t more obvious in our lives. God’s awe-filled or overpowering presence may only lead to fearful obligations to obey. When parents push their agendas, even if in their children’s best interests, a child may resent or rebel against coercion and never turn back from that rebellion. If God communicates in less demonstrative ways, this may allow for heartfelt choices. God may know what a controlling parent never learns: the road of learning, reflecting, and non-coerced choices may best lead to lasting convictions.

God’s love is not controlling. Controlling love is an oxymoron. Authenticity, the highest good in relationships, is impossible without freedom. Not even an almighty God can force true love. It isn’t that God has the power to do something and doesn’t. God can’t control or violate freedom and love perfectly. God, like parents, had a choice—not to create or to create knowing suffering was a possibility in the pursuit of intimacy. Divine love limits divine power. God is open to changing the world at relational speed. 

Uncertainty can lead to acting more lovingly.  

Being unable to declare the certainty or morality of our opinions forces us to listen and express ideas openly. God understands, as much as humans do, that forcing beliefs does not lead to long-lasting changes. Starting a conversation with “I may be wrong…” will more likely lead to new understandings and creative solutions. Conversations change when humility is part of the tone. Certainty, when it comes to political matters such as taxes or health plans, has led to justifying verbal or physical violence in the name of God or morality. Differences don’t have to lead to chaos but can be resolved by remaining open-minded to the most loving ways.

The Bible tells us the Word of God is not the Bible; it is flesh in the body of Jesus (Jn. 1:1-14). Jesus, when leaving this earth, didn’t promise to leave us with a Bible, but with God’s Spirit to aid in discerning good from evil (Jn. 14:16). Doesn’t the Spirit speak to us somehow when we have thoughts to be the perfect partner, parent, or friend we desire to be deep down, despite our constant failures? It may be good that that the Spirit doesn’t communicate audibly. The Bible may be more direct communication, but it has been used to force beliefs on others despite being subject to interpretation. Leaders who admit uncertainty, rather than certainty, about God, keep from imposing beliefs on others, which is just not in God’s open or relational nature.

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By Mike Edwards

Most agree One claiming to be God must be loving and perfect. Such a claim is nonsensical if we are clueless what perfect love is. The only way to understand God’s love is to compare to human love. God surely loves us the way we know we ought to love family, friends, and others. Question when suggested otherwise. You may be right!

What may be the only reason God’s love and human love are different?

We may only think God’s love is different than human love because of our understanding of a Book. When one’s interpretation of God according to the Bible doesn’t seem to mirror perfect human love, the mystery card is played. Isn’t this because we all have an inborn sense that God and human perfect love must be the same? We must question interpretations or whether a biblical writer truly understood God when God’s love doesn’t seem the same as perfect human love.

We may only condemn women, gays, and other religions because of a Book.  

Question if a loving God really favors men over women in leadership roles which has encouraged centuries of domestic abuse and other atrocities women face! Question if a loving God really condemn gays, who have to hide their sexuality because of bigotry and hostility, when gays can no more choose who attracted to than straights can. Question if a loving God really approve only Christians going to heaven, when the majority of people born rebel or adhere to the religion born into. Our hearts know how we ought to treat women, gays, and non-Christians.

But isn’t the Bible God’s Word and not our hearts!

You may believe the biblical writers always understood God perfectly. Still, the Bible requires interpreting what the writer would advise in our circumstances. We don’t always know what the writer didn’t say. I once wrote telling my kids to never lie, but if lying saves a life lie through your teeth. Biblical scholars, who respect Scriptures, don’t agree the Bible teaches different roles for women and men. Scholars disagree if the Bible condemns monogamous same-sex relationships. Not questioning and using common moral sense has led to sick and weak minds justifying evil.

Even the Bible tells us we are to love others like God.  

The Bible encourages us to be perfect like God or follow God’s example by walking in the way of love (Mt. 5:48, Eph. 5:1). The Bible doesn’t spell out what such love is but assumes we can understand such love through the lens of human love. We don’t always know what perfect love is, but I doubt God is the parent that says “do as I say not what I do.” What would a relational Creator love differently than the way we are created to love?

It matters what we think God is like!

Our mental images of God shape our relationship with God and how God-followers might treat others. We can’t know what God is exactly like, but continually evaluating the most loving approach openly with others is better than claiming certainty and being wrong. We all seem to have an inborn feeling that we ought to treat others like we want to be treated. Even extremists want to be treated with loving kindness. Imagine what God is like. You may be right!

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By Mike Edwards

What we believe about a person impacts our relationship. What we believe about God influences our relationship with God. I couldn’t have any kind of real relationship with my parents when I didn’t respect them or they didn’t seem to really care through their actions. What can we believe about God and why does it matter? 

We can’t know what God is always like through the eyes of the biblical writers?

Let’s be honest. We can’t prove God exists or doesn’t exist. Either belief takes faith. We can’t prove God controlled the cognitions thus writings of the biblical writers or they simply expressed their own understanding of God at that time. Regardless, scholars don’t agree if the writers believed God condemned monogamous relationships of the same gender, if God believes only men can serve as priests or pastors, etc. A Book can’t be the only guide in understanding God. 

What do you imagine God is like?

Atheists and believers agree. The only God worth believing in and following is a perfect God. We may not always know what perfect love entails but at least we seem to know the question we ought to ask ourselves – am I loving others perfectly? It is only natural to think a Creator would love us and others how we were seemingly created to love others. We can’t claim with certainty what God would do in every situation but human perfection is our best starting point for discussion. Our imaginations about God may be more correct than claimed interpretations of a Book.

It matters what you claim about God!

If the Bible supposedly condemns gays, you may condemn gays out of devotion to God. Did God really appoint men in authority over women which has been conducive for abuse and other atrocities women have face at the hands of men? If God can do Hell, we may think we should emulate God in our attempts to judge and punish. The traditional meaning of Hell is nowhere to be found in the Bible and few would imagine a loving God would create such a place.

How can faith in a loving God make a difference?

Most of us want to be a better version of ourselves. Most are convinced an unselfish life than selfish live lived is a better legacy. What I believe is morally true about God intuitively is a far better version of God than what many claim according to the Bible. Most of us are decent people to begin with. Personally though, I am a better partner, father, and friend than I would be because of the insights, encouragement, and forgiveness that I sense from my Creator. A right view of God may be the help our world and individuals need in striving to be who we deep down desire to be.

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