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By Mike Edwards

Beliefs claimed about God lead to many tuning out God. Our relationship with God cannot exceed our understanding of God. I have written HERE how we can decide what God is really like. One’s interpretation of a Book may be the only reason to think human and godly perfection are different. Why would a Creator not love us and others how we were seemingly created to love others?

Friends can smell a hidden agenda a mile away.

It simply is wrong to engage in friendships for the purpose of converting them to your beliefs without advising upfront this is your agenda. It should be obvious that we need to start acting like true friends act toward one another. We engage in relationships because we are interested in having friendships with others, both to love and be loved. Discussions about spirituality or God best come up naturally.

If people want to pursue a relationship with God, they should see in our life something worth asking about. What if I told you the Gospel is: God loves you and longs for a relationship so you can be the kind of person you deep down truly desire to be. I am convinced God wants you to know true freedom is knowing your Creator’s love for you so you might love others similarly. 

God has been a respecter of freedom of beliefs from the very beginning.

Why would a God who is powerful enough to create not annihilate immediately those who choose evil and oppose God? Jesus did not force God on others but discussed spirituality in a natural, relational way. Jesus brought up spiritual matters when it seemed appropriate and was accepted. Jesus’ agenda was to simply love people in the moment, not to manipulate them.

We have portrayed God as a Parent who has certain conditions to be loved and accepted. We portray God as wanting to save people from hell, which is a myth, rather than being a God who respects one’s freedom to consider how they might make for a better world. God knows what human parents know. Love is the only path to authentic relationships but can’t be forced. “Controlling love” is a contradiction in terms. Relationships come out of inspiration not fear!

Even the Son of God in the Bible didn’t require certain beliefs.

Jesus simply invited His disciples to follow Him and see for themselves as opposed to adhere to a set of beliefs. He told Levi (Matthew): “follow me” (Lk. 5:27). Jesus basic message could be summarize as: “But to you who are listening I say: ….Do to others as you would have them do to you” (6:27-31). Jesus only encouraged those seeking a better life to follow His example. 

We all know the story of how Jesus responded to the religious elite who had caught a woman in adultery (Jn. 7:53-8:11). When Jesus rightly shamed the crowd, they dropped their stones and left Jesus and the woman alone. Jesus didn’t lecture, pray with the woman, or tell her to go to church. Jesus simply said: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Jesus showed the woman all she needed to know – God loves you and encourages you to do what you know is right in your heart.

Jesus saved tough conversations for religious pretenders who claimed to represent God. The Pharisees were in love with their power, thus making religion self-serving rather than self-sacrificing. Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for their misguided emphasis on rules and obedience rather than a relationship and God’s radical love. 

Many may be surprised what Jesus said when asked how to have eternal life.

Jesus did not warn one to run like/from Hell. Jesus simply advised to love God and your neighbor. One saves their life by running from selfishness. A religious expert asks Jesus: “what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25). Jesus didn’t admonish one to get on their knees and pray for forgiveness. Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (10:25-27). Jesus knew loving God can empower us to be the person we deep down desire to be.

Eternal life in the Bible isn’t about one’s destination in the future but life in the present. J.D. Myers is right: “When Scripture teaches about being saved from sin, it is not referring to escaping hell and going to heaven when we die, but to the deliverance from the devastating and destructive consequences of sin in this life.” https://redeeminggod.com/confess-jesus-romans-10-9-10/

God-followers need to worry more about their example than what others believe.

Baptists, Methodists, Protestants, Catholics, etc. fight over their different doctrines, yet all supposedly believe in the same message of loving your neighbor as yourself. Why would anyone seek spiritual guidance from people that can’t get along? We have enough conflict in our families, friendships, and places of work. Christianity or any religion is better off without buildings with names on them. We simply need relationships that encourage one another in their spiritual journey.

What does God believe in and desire for us all?

People feel manipulated rather than loved when spiritual folks have an agenda. Engage in relationships only with the desire to love others as they wished to be loved. The Gospel is simply that our Creator desires a relationship to influence us for the world and our own good. Jesus only wanted to help others listen to their heart. I am convinced a close relationship with my Creator helps me to be a better man, husband, father, and friend. Loving parents seek the admiration and respect of their children, so they want to follow in their footsteps to make this world a better place. Similarly, knowing and understanding God’s radical love can inspire selfless love toward others.

More posts in the I Doubt God Really ………. series:

Why I Doubt God Is An Excluder Of Religions

Why I Doubt Heaven Is Closed To Anyone After Death

Why I Doubt Hell Is Real

Why I Doubt God Is A Homophobe

Why I Doubt God Is A Sexist

Why I Doubt God Is A Mysterious, Moral Hypocrite

Why I Doubt God Is A Blood-Thirsty Child (Jesus) Killer

Why I Doubt God Expects Every Word Of The Bible To Be Viewed As Inspired

Why I Doubt God Is An End-Of-The-World Doomsayer

Why I Doubt God Is An Angry Egomaniac

 

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by Rocky Glenn

As I sit here on the couch working on the next post in the Enjoy The Moment series, What About The Love? from Amy Grant’s 1988 Lead Me On begins to stream on Pandora.   The song gave me pause and brought to the forefront once again the issues we are facing today concerning religion and self-righteousness versus love aren’t anything new but were being spoken about thirty years ago and all the way back to Paul.  Below are the lyrics of the song followed by the words of Paul from Galatians.

“What About The Love”

I went to see my sister, she was staying with a friend
Who had turned into a preacher to save the world from sin
He said “First deny your body, Then learn to submit
Pray to be made worthy, and tithe your ten percent”
I said “Is this all there is, just the letter of the law?”
Something’s wrong.

I went to see my brother on the 32nd floor
Of a building down on Wall Street – You could hear the future’s roar
He said “Here we make decisions, and we trade commodities;
If you tell me where there’s famine, I can make you guarantees”
I said “Is this all there is, Power to be strong?”
Something’s wrong.

Something’s wrong in heaven tonight
You can almost hear them cry
Angels to the left and the right
Saying “What about the love, What about the love, What about the love?”

I went to see my neighbor, he’d been taken to a home
For the weak and the discarded who have no place to go
He said “Here I lack for nothing I am fed and I am clothed,
But at times I miss the freedom I used to know”
I said “Is this all there is When your usefulness is gone?”
Something’s wrong.

I looked into the mirror proud as I could be
And I saw my pointing finger pointing back at me
Saying “Who named you accuser? Who gave you the scales?”
I hung my head in sorrow, I could almost feel the nails
I said “This is how it is to be crucified and judged without love.”

Galatians 5:4-6 from The Message:

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.

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Rocky

More posts in the Soundtrack of a Churchboy’s Recovery series:

 

 

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by Rocky Glenn

As I shared in You Are Not Alone, since my recovery from being a churchboy began, I have encountered countless others that are walking a similar path.  I’ve since learned this path has been given the term “deconstructing.”  I heard it said just a couple of days ago that deconstructing your faith has now become the fashionable or “in” thing to do.  Although I can look back over the past four to six years and say I have definitely been deconstructing my faith, in my four decades of life I have never been one to do something just because it’s considered fashionable, popular, cool, or the latest trend.  (That’s not because I refuse to follow the crowd, part of being a churchboy is being so opposite and opposed to popular culture that you aren’t accepted as part of that crowd!!)

On several occasions in the gospels, Jesus tells us that if one seeks to save or keep his life he will lose it but if he loses his life he shall save it.  Although I did not realize it at the time this journey began, losing my life is exactly what has been going on with me.  It’s been a journey of questioning what I’ve known since a child and seeking answers for why as Christians we act certain ways and do (or more specifically don’t do) certain things, at least in public where others will see!  The ironic and upside down part of all this is I thought that by living the churchboy life, I had chosen to lose my life.  After all, I played by all the rules, said all the right things, and played the part as well as any human could.  In fact, in losing my life being a churchboy, I had lost so much life if it weren’t for the fact that I was conscious and breathing, I don’t even know if you could say I was living!  Life was a constant pressure cooker of looking the right way, saying the right thing, not giving the appearance of evil, not judging that person, not saying what you think, and definitely not letting anyone know you were human!  After all, we must be perfect because our Father in heaven is perfect (Perfect Imperfection). The sad part about this is I thought that was the best life anyone could ever live.

It all changed when I learned God loved me.  Oh yeah, the churchboy knew that Jesus had died for me and I was going to heaven when I died because I had my “fire insurance” and had asked Him to forgive my sins, and He lived in my heart, but there was no way he actually loved me.  I mean, sure, He would love me if I became what He wanted me to be, but there was no way He loved me as I was.  I had more scriptures to memorize.  I had a ministry to build.  I had souls to save.  There was work for the kingdom that must be done and I was the one who must do it!  What a load of garbage!  I have lost that life, if that’s what you can really call it.

Losing that life means life now looks a lot different for me than before.  Life is now about losing those rules and lists of do’s and don’ts that religion forces upon you and tells you must stay within in order to be accepted.  Losing my life means I’ve lost the need to try to become acceptable because I know I’m already accepted.  Losing my life means I’ve lost the need to try and change to be loved because I’m already loved.  (For more on this, see He Still Loves Me.)

Matthew 16:25 says, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  By living the churchboy life and trying to do it on my own, I was trying to hang on to my life and didn’t even realize it.  So, when I realized how much He truly loved me, there was nothing I could do to ever change that, and He loved me as I am and not for who He wanted me to be, I gave up my life.

How has this saved my life?  Life is now about living in His love and sharing that love with others.  At home, at work, in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, dealing with the server at the restaurant who has clearly had a rough day, every situation is an opportunity to share that love.  It doesn’t require a sermon.  No scripture verses or references have to be mentioned.  In fact, you don’t even have to mention God or Jesus at all.  It can be as simple as a smile, as kind as looking someone in the eye and asking how they are doing, as pleasant as a gentle answer.  Love looks a lot like generosity and kindness.  Love gives without seeking anything in return.  Love is for the benefit of others.  Saving your life in this manner produces peace, joy, and freedom that can only be described when you experience it yourself.

To tell you that I have truly mastered this and express love in every interaction and live constantly in that peace, joy, and freedom would be just another futile attempt of the churchboy in saving my life and making myself appear as something I am not, but I will strive daily to continue losing my life and finding it in His love.

Rocky

(This post originally written January 28, 2018.)

 

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By Mike Edwards

It isn’t always easy to believe in an invisible God; it isn’t always easy to know how an inaudible God is speaking or guiding us. If God was more visible or audible, wouldn’t our spiritual journey be easier? Jesus established a 24-7 relationship with twelve men and they struggled to believe everything that came out of Jesus’ mouth. Today, God’s awing or overpowering presence may only lead to fearful obligations to obey. I am convinced the road traveled of learning and reflecting better leads to lasting convictions. Maybe God speaks to us in non-dramatic ways out of love!

We are right to look for God’s direction through God’s spirit.

It is reasonable to imagine that since God is invisible that God’s Spirit resides in us and somehow guides us. There is rightly an emphasis in Christian circles that God guides up by their Spirit as opposed to the Bible (i.e. Holy Spirit). When Jesus was leaving this earth, He said the Spirit not some Book such as the Bible guides us in truth (Jn. 14:16-17; 16:13). How do we discern such guidance?

We have more freedom than we realize if God truly created genuine freedom.

We often seek God’s voice in important decisions such as career or marriage. It is natural to think an all-knowing, powerful God has special insights into future outcomes to avoid problems, but creating freedom requires an undetermined future. To say God knows the future suggests a predetermined future which makes freedom nonsensical. God can’t tell you if the person you want to marry won’t end up betraying you or the job you take won’t end up being phased out. God is in life with us. We are free to make our own decisions while being open to the Spirit’s influence to act in the best interest of not just ourselves but others.

Doesn’t God mainly guide through influence?

The example a parent sets, than direct commands, is often how best to guide children to make wise decisions. Doesn’t the Spirit mostly speak through influencing? We know the Spirit’s influence when we have thoughts to be the perfect partner, parent, or friend we desire to be deep down despite our constant failures. We know the Spirit’s influence when we recognize violence begets violence and respond non-violently. We know the Spirit’s influence when we have wronged someone, we quickly confess and make amends. That just isn’t always natural. All we have to do is being open to the Spirit’s influence.

Isn’t the Spirit’s voice only human impressions or thoughts so we can never be certain?

I mentioned Jesus left this earth saying we would be guided by God’s Spirit in discerning Truth (Jn. 16:13). Jesus didn’t seem overly concern that Truth requires discernment. Jesus didn’t spell out what those specific Truths are. Which decision to make depends on individual circumstances. What may be best for one person about their marriage may not be best for another person. Relax, there is practically universal agreement on most moral matters. Criminals don’t defend their murderous actions; they deny they committed such actions. Certainty when it comes to politics or God has only led to justifying verbal or physical violence in the name of God or morality. Keep an open mind to what God is like!

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by Jim Gordon

I recently listened to a YouTube video by Richard Jacobson and in it he mentioned veal crates. I had never heard of that before so I checked it out a little. It was interesting reading about veal crates and it got me to thinking about another type of box.

What I found was that veal crates are a close-confinement system of raising veal calves. Veal crates are designed to limit movement of the animal because meat turns redder and tougher if the animals are allowed to exercise. In some veal crate systems, the calves are kept in the dark without bedding and fed nothing but milk.

Veal crates seem to limit the calf from being able to move about and roam in much larger areas thus getting exercise which would cause the animal to strengthen. It also keeps them from contact with other calves and under the control of the person raising the calf.

VealCrate

Personally, this makes me think of the institutional church. Before we go any further, I want to point out that I am not an enemy of the church. I was part of the institution for over fifty years and very involved, so I can speak as an insider rather than someone who knows nothing of what I am saying. I do believe the institution confines us and limits the freedom God intended us to have.

I also realize that people cannot just up and leave because someone else says they should. It is a choice between the person and the Spirit. I believe there is specific timing as to when and if someone leaves the religious institution. I know for me it took fifteen years or so of being dissatisfied and thinking there had to be more. As Barbara Symons mentioned in her book ‘Escaping Christianity: Finding Christ’, “There is a need for all of us to experience restriction until Christ is formed within—like a pearl within an oyster, closed tightly until the time of harvesting. Before I understood this principle, I tried to convince others to leave the system as I did and in retrospect, it was before their time. I felt like a cage fighter; only my opponent was the cage itself. I was battered and beaten by trying to dismantle the religious system from the inside out as I tried to liberate those still within its grasp. I now understand that people will remain within restraint as long as they need to”.

People are brought into the box of religion and kept there to support and grow the institution. Once inside the box they are taught what that particular denomination believes or how that specific pastor thinks. Sometimes they are kept in the dark and only fed the milk of the word rather than the meat that gives them strength, knowledge and the ability to hear the Spirit for themselves.

Many times, people are restrained from being free to serve and use the gifts they have been given. Therefore, due to lack of exercise of using their talents they become weak and have no confidence to do anything other than what the institution says.

Most of the time they are only having fellowship with those within the box and usually encouraged to avoid fellowship with people who see things differently or do not go along with their way of thinking.

Outofthebox

Rather than enjoying the freedom God has provided outside the box and a life of accepting others and loving others, they are kept inside. By doing so they learn to exclude people, avoid certain people and are only fed the knowledge the institution and pastor wants them to know, all with the purpose to keep them from leaving.

It seems to me that breaking out of the box and being free to follow God without the rules, regulations and expectations of religion would be a much better way of showing the love of God to others. Being free to fellowship with all people, accept and love others with the love of God no matter who they are or what they believe.

We are not meant to be confined within the walls of institutional religion. God has set us free to follow Jesus wherever he leads. We are free from the rules that religion puts upon us for the purpose of making us better Christians. We are the Church that Jesus is building, a people who love and follow him not a building or organization.

Rather than live within the confines of the box religion puts us in, break free and live in the world God has created. Love people, accept others and show the unconditional love of God to everyone.

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by Jim Gordon

Here in the United States we are always talking about freedom of speech. I have to say I am in favor of it, yet many times the practice of it seems to be done in the wrong manner.

Freedom to say what we think, how we feel and what we believe should be the right of every individual. Done in the right way it should not be a problem for anyone. There are questions as to how far we go with this and what is beyond freedom in regard to the rights of others and disrespect towards others, but that is for another discussion.

The trouble starts when one group thinks they should be able to say what they think but the other group should not. Or one person is very judgmental and condemning in what they say and are very rude in their presentation. Or the person or group speaking thinks everyone should conform to their way of thinking.

Freedom of speech should be done in a respectful way. Make your point and speak your mind but do it in a way that is not mean and judgmental.

FreedomofSpeech

Also remember that we will all have different views and opinions and just because we are free to speak them out, we should be accepting and respectful towards others whose views are going to be different.

Most of the time we would rather fight and argue over opinions, trying to prove ourselves right and the other person wrong. Name calling gets started and it ends up in a mean free-for-all and nothing gets accomplished.

Just because we have the right to say what we think, we have to realize that it is only our opinion. Not everyone will agree with what we say and we should be respectful of others opinions.

It would be best if we could say what we think in a kind and respectful manner, yet I know that does not happen most of the time. By being mean and condescending towards others we usually cause people to be defensive and respond in the same rude manner.

Enjoy your freedom of speech. Express yourself, give your views and opinions in a respectful way but allow the other person to have the same freedom. If we could express ourselves in this manner I think we would make more of an impact and we could actually have meaningful discussions with one another.

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Galatians 2:16 – nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus

Ephesians 2: 8,9 — For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works so that no one may boast.

We christians usually focus on pleasing God and living for Him by trying to obey the ten commandments and trying to do the right things.

We will go to church every time the doors are open, tithe our 10 percent, we will not smoke, drink, dance, go to movies, we will look down and condemn those who do not do what we feel the Bible commands. We feel guilty every time we mess up and think God is going punish us if we do not do everything we think is right to do as christians.

The truth is because of grace we do not have to be trying to keep the law at all. We do not have to try to do good works to earn our favor with God.

What happened to grace? What happened to being saved through faith in Christ and Him alone. Not Jesus and baptism, not Jesus and good works, not Jesus and avoiding certain things. We are saved through faith in Christ and we no longer have to do any of these things to be a child of God. We have freedom in Christ that was bought and paid for with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This freedom does not mean we just live our lives doing whatever we want. There are consequences in this world for doing things that are not good for us. As it says in 1 Corinthians 10, “all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good but that of his neighbor”.

We have freedom from the Law because of the grace of God. We do things out of love, love for God and love for others. It is no longer out of obligation or trying to follow any law.

Stop putting your faith in trying to follow all the rules and regulations of the old covenant law. Stop forcing the law on others thinking that will make them better people. Jesus fulfilled the old agreement and began a new agreement, an agreement of love and grace.

We no longer strive to please God through the law, but we do what pleases him because of love.

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