Tuesday, December 25, 2007

YOU Are The Saints!

Perhaps because it's the Christmas season I've been thinking about saints. I've been reading a little about St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, and while he seems to have been a genuinely good man the historical devotion paid to him, and other saints, proved disturbing to me.

This blog is about my "divine discontents" and one of my pet discontents is Christians doing or believing things that are not in the Bible. One such thing is this veneration of saints.

Through out Christian history there have been people who showed exceptional devotion to God and the life He would have us live. There is nothing wrong with holding such people in high esteem and encouraging the faithful to emulate them. But when people celebrate feast days, make pilgrimages to saints' shrines and pray to saints as if they were God something is terribly wrong.

The Bible clearly teaches that there is only ONE true God and that worshipping anything besides Him is idolatry. Yet, for hundreds of years the Catholic and Orthodox churches have promoted the virtual worship of human beings they call "saints". They've taught millions of their unsuspecting members that the veneration of saints is an integral part of the Christian faith. It's not.

Saint worship is left over, "Christianized" polytheism. It was a way for the early institutional church to deal with "converted" pagans who didn't really abandon their desire to worship multiple gods. Giving such people Godly heroes to venerate in place of their pagan deities may have seemed like a positive way to satisfy their polytheist urges but it can backfire on the church. When folks realize that practices and doctrines they've been taught all their lives are not in the Bible it can obliterate the authority of the church and discredit the entire Christian message. So this whole saints issue is serious business.

The church needs to follow the Bible's teachings on saints. According to the Good Book the saints are ALL the believers. Every person who sincerely believes in God and Jesus Christ is a saint. Look at yourselves in the mirror, Christians. YOU are the saints! That's what the Bible says. The only canonization process is believing in Christ and living life His way. Do that and you have instant sainthood. What you don't have is people praying to mortals as if they were gods.

Once Christians understand just what Biblical sainthood is they should strive to be worthy of the label. Being a saint is a lot harder than worshipping one. But once they fully realize who they are I know the believers will step up to the plate.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Baby Got Book (OFFICIAL)

Another example of not-your-typical-Christian-music Christian music. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Was Jesus Necessary?

In this season when we celebrate the birth of Christ, to many the Savior of the world, I thought I would write a post on a question I've had for a very long time: was Jesus necessary?

In orthodox Christian teaching, faith in Jesus is the only way to be saved, to be considered right before God. Yet the first part of the Christian Bible seems to contradict that doctrine from begining to end. In the Old Testament, as Christians call it, numerous people from Abel to Noah to Abraham to Moses and many more are called righteous, often by God Himself. They had an intimate relationship with God without "knowing the Lord". In short, they were saved. This has always perplexed me.

If Christian teaching is true, and no one is saved apart from Christ, then everyone who lived before Christ died eternally lost. But if pre-Jesus people could be and were saved, then Jesus was unnecessary. Really, what would be the point of sending Christ if salvation was already obtainable? And the Old Testament clearly reveals that it was.

Some Christians might argue that salvation by faith is the same in the Old and New Testaments and point to the NT Book of Hebrews as proof. In that epistle is the famous Roll Call of Faith where OT heroes and heroines are lauded for their unwavering commitment to God. The problem for Christians is that the people on the Roll Call of Faith had faith in God NOT Jesus, who hadn't come in their time. Yet they were righteous enough without Christ to be praised in the NT. So I ask again: was Jesus necessary?

I once posed this question to a nice pastor. I asked him how was it possible for people to be saved before the coming of Christ. His answer was that Christ's coming, death, and resurrection had already happened in God's mind so, for pre-Jesus people, believing in God was believing in Christ. I'm still disappointed at how lame that answer was. I expected more from a pastor.

So I still have the question: was Jesus necessary? If you take the OT seriously then the answer is no, Jesus wasn't necessary, at least not for salvation. He may have fulfilled other Messianic requirements, but saving souls couldn't have been on the list because righteousness was already obtainable. I realize that's a big monkey wrench in Christian doctrine. People could be righteous before Christ? That changes everything! Yes, it does. But if your heart is to follow the Bible you will happily change to align yourself with it.

On the other hand, I could be wrong. My understanding of Old Testament righteousness may be incomplete. The people of that time may have been lacking something that only Christ could give. In that case, Christ would indeed be necessary. A big part of me really hopes He was.

Friday, November 30, 2007

What is Love - PAX 217

This is one of my favorite Christian rock songs. I don't like the video that much--it's a fan vid, not the band's--but it'll serve to introduce people to the song.

The lyrics to "What Is Love?" aren't overtly Christian. Some might even consider them unChristian with their expressions of anger and veiled threats of revenge, but that's what I like about the song. It's not the sappy God-will-make-everything-alright-I'm-too-holy-to-get-mad junk all too typical of Christian music. This isn't typical Christian music. Hope you enjoy something refreshingly different.

Benny Hinn:

When I first saw this video on a forum I post to I nearly died with laughter. All those people looked like they'd been afflicted with the spirit of epilepsy. And Hinn appeared well schooled in the fine art of Las Vegas showmanship. But when you think about it Benny Hinn and his ilk aren't funny at all.

I know God is all-powerful. I know He can heal. But stage shows like the ones Hinn puts on are, in my opinion, an insult to God. They are an act of taking God's name in vain.

I don't see how Hinn sleeps at night. He must not really believe in God, otherwise he'd be in fear for his life. God doesn't play with people preaching and doing falsehoods in His name. And beleive me, what Hinn is doing and preaching is false.

Really, do you think God only heals at circuslike extravaganzas such as Hinn's? Do you believe you have to put on show equal to anything put on in Las Vegas to get the Lord's attention? NO!!!

God hears the prayers of His children, of hurting humanity, much better in the quiet valley of faithful persistence. A stage show isn't necessary.

God isn't a trained seal. He doesn't perform on cue, yet that's exactly what Hinn's shows depend on. Come to the stadium at 7 o'clock tonight and experience the power of God!! I don't think so. And sadly, Hinn's got a lot of company. Even respectable tv preachers sometimes act like they've got God on a string.

Pat Robertson is one of them. His show, The 700 Club, is very informative and grounded, but there's a segment called "the word of knowledge" that's always disturbed me. During this part of the show Pat and his co-host claim to receive knowledge from God about people being healed.

As I said above, I know God can heal, but at the same moment, on the same show, day after day? I mean, does Robertson have a contract with God requiring Him to show up on his show at the same time every day?

I've always felt insulted that Robertson seems to think no one in his audience knows this "word of knowledge" stuff is staged. Yes, it's much more subdued than Hinn's circus acts, but it's just as choreographed.

Why don't people stop doing this stuff? Don't they know they're only hurting the cause of Christ? Of course, if they aren't really believers the cause of Christ is meaningless to them. They just want the money and the adulation. Well, I hope they enjoy it because this is the only reward they'll get. Their souls are going to hit something far worse than the floor.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

God and Mammon

I just heard last night that six televangelists are being investigated for possible financial shenanigans. The evangelists are Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyers, Benny Hinn, Eddie L. Long, and a married couple surnamed White (sorry, I can't remember their first names). I have mixed feelings about this.

Our modern society is schizophrenic about wealth. We have a love/hate relationship with money and those who have more of it than we do. Entertainers and sports figures are generally worshipped for their money. They're presumed to have done something to deserve it. Wealthy businessmen and preachers, on the other hand, are held in contempt. They're presumed to have done something unethical to get their riches. This is neither fair nor rational. I hope the above mentioned televangelists weren't targeted for investigation based on this double standard.

But it's not only society that's double minded about wealth, the Church is too and has been from the beginning. Over the centuries there've been ascestics who shunned all material comfort and Popes who lived in the lap of luxury. Mother Teresa lived her life in self-imposed poverty while nondenominational preachers invented the "name it and claim it" doctrine that supposedly ensure their followers material success. And no matter how rich or poor individual Chrisitians were the Church as an institution as always been tremendously wealthy.

So how should Christians feel about wealth? I think it's simplistic to use Jesus' famous saying about a camel, a rich man, and the eye of a needle to build a doctrine about wealth. Many Christians do this, apparently thinking that one verse is the beginning and end on what the Bible says about wealth, but it's not. We tend to forget that Jesus didn't have a New Testament. For Him, the Old Testament was the entire Bible. That means that nothing Jesus taught could contradict what was in the OT. What does that have to with doctrines about wealth? Plenty.

In the OT there were many rich people who served God. Abraham was rich. His nephew Lot was rich. Jacob started out modest but ended a wealthy man. The same was true of King David. Solomon, David's son, was incredibly wealthy. Job was given riches by God not once but twice. What all of this means is that God doesn't have a problem with people being rich. There is no teaching in the OT that wealth is intrinsically bad. Jesus' camel, rich man, and needle saying has to be seen in that light.

Jesus was actually talking about faith, not money, in His saying. He was warning His listeners against putting their trust in money instead of God. He was warning them against idolatry. Rich people are more susceptible to idolizing money for obvious reasons, but the poor can also make a god out of wealth. Poor people can spend their entire lives yearning for money rather than God. They can commit crimes to get money, just like the rich. The idea, popular among liberal Christians, that the poor are inherently saintly is erroneous.

Equally wrong is the popular conservative idea that God wants Christians to prosper. Now I believe that God always wants the best for His children, but the "best" isn't always material abundance. We all like to think that if we were rich we'd be wonderfully generous and retain our faith in the Lord. God knows us better. He withholds wealth from many of us for our own good. God will provide our necessities but there's no guarantee we'll get more than that. That's why Paul taught Christians to be content with what they had.

How Christians should view wealth can be confusing. Part of the confusion can be cleared up by simply following the Bible instead of certain preachers. There were rich people who were faithful to God and there were poor people who were faithful to Him. One group isn't more "in" with God than the other. Yes, the Scriptures treat the poor with more sympathy than the rich. But that's because poverty can make people more vulnerable to abuse and victimization. It's not because poverty makes you holy. The way to be righteous with God is the same for rich and poor alike. There is no salvation by class in the Bible. If we would accept that truth the Church would be much better off.

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's That Time Again

Well, it's almost upon us. In two days it'll be Halloween and a lot of conservative Christians will be struggling with how to celebrate this holiday or if to celebrate it at all. Halloween raised scarcely a concern in the Church when I was a child. How things have changed! Now many Christians are being taught to have nothing go do with this scarily fun time of the year. Why?

Many Christians are just discovering Halloween's pagan roots. What they thought was just a time of innocent fun is now seen as worshipping false gods and opening the door to the occult. I agree. Halloween IS based on ancient pagan practices and I totally understand Christians who reject this holiday. The problem is that Christians aren't consistent in shunning all pagan-based festivals. The same ones who condemn Halloween enthusiastically embrace Christmas and Easter which are just as pagan in origin. I don't get it.

I've dealt with this issue in a previous post but I'm revisiting it because I haven't gotten a satisfying explanation for the inconsistentcy. Christmas and Easter are pagan, just like Halloween. Christmas is derived from ancient sun worship and Easter is based on the worship of a Middle Eastern fertility goddess. If Christians shouldn't celebrate Halloween they shouldn't celebrate Christmas and Easter, either.

Some Christians might argue that Halloween is different from Easter and Christmas because of the ghoulishness and scariness of it's theme. It could lead people, especially impressionable children, more easily into the occult. Christmas and Easter, on the other hand, have nothing to do with the occult. They come from the "bright" side of paganism: the worship of life and the life-giving force. It is much easier, they might say, to Christianize pagan practices celebrating life and rebirth than those fixated on death.

But the apostle Paul taught that ALL pagan gods were fronts for demons. He made no distinction between the dark deities and the light ones. Moses also didn't make such a distinction when he commanded the Israelites not to worship Yahweh the way the heathens worshipped their idols. In the Bible there's no blurring of the line between true worship and false worship. So there shouldn't be such blurring among Christians, either.

The origins of Christmas, Easter, and Halloween are equally pagan. I don't think they can be Christianized. Just because they've become traditions doesn't make them right before God.
Christians are supposed to revere Jesus, not custom. If custom is something He disapproves of then custom has to go. Many Christians understand this with regard to Halloween. They need to understand it with regard to Christmas and Easter, too.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Jesus loves you!"

I believe that most Christians really do mean well. When people they know are having severe problems Christians will "encourage" them with a cheery "Jesus loves you!", totally not understanding how lame and even depressing that sounds. Yes, I believe that Christians' faith can be a barrier to their acknowledging the depth of other people's pain and feeling real empathy.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Christians don't feel for people; I'm saying that they often don't understand that more than an obligatory "God loves you!" is needed to comfort them. Suffering with those who suffer is a part of the faith that many believers have totally rejected, even if they don't realize it. Instead, the seductive "health, wealth, and happiness" doctrine has convinced too many Christians that life is to be problem free, and they're often emotionally and psycologically unprepared when it's not. Saying "God loves you!" becomes almost a magical spell which, when repeated often enough, is expected to put things right.

This can be galling to a lot of hurting people. Talk of God's love is often NOT what people need to hear when mourning the death of a loved one, facing a cancer diagnosis, or reeling in shock from a spouse's infidelity. In such trying times the love of God is NOT what many folks are feeling. The abandonment of God, the distance of God, the coldness of God, the incomprehensibleness of God are what dogs most people's hearts and minds in the dark times. Christians need to acknowledge and validate such feelings rather than try to soothe them with religious platitudes.

When everything is going wrong in a person's life God does not seem very loving. It's ok to admit that. It's ok to be mad at Him. God, as I once heard on a tv show, can take our anger. Trying to paper over it with pat answers insults the intelligence of people. Face it. A relationship with God doesn't guarantee you'll get loving care and attention from Him at all times. Sometimes you get the cold shoulder, and nobody knows why but God. Staying faithful to the Lord in such times is possible but far from easy. People need wise and patient counsel to stay on the right path, and the way to begin is to stop saying "Jesus loves you!"

Sunday, September 16, 2007

P.O.D "Youth Of The Nation"

I'm going to add music videos to "God and Me" from time to time to spice this blog up a bit. :) Here's the first one, "Youth of the Nation", by P.O.D. I know some really traditional Christians have a BIG problem with Christian rock music but I, for one, love it!

I've always felt that Christians are trying to reach the culture in the entirely wrong way. Secular people, and even many Christians, have NO interest in the overly "religious", and all too often cheesy, stuff Christians put on the market. Christians need to rediscover the art of the parable, where spiritual truths are communicated to people in nonreligious stories. Jesus reached people that way. I think Christian rock groups like P.O.D are simply using a modern version of the parable. Their songs might not have "I love Jesus!" in every line but they teach the truths Jesus taught. And in the end, that's what really matters.

Enjoy the video!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Quotable Quotes: Faith

"The idea that nothing is true except what we comprehend is silly." Sir Winston Churchill

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Magazine Review: SALT Magazine

A few days ago I was surfing the 'net for "alternative" Christian magazines and I stumbled upon one called SALT. It sounded interesting so I sent for a free sample copy. Last week the June issue of SALT arrived in my mailbox and I've been reading it with delight ever since.

SALT magazine is not your typical glossy consumer Christian magazine like Charisma or Christianity Today (althought there's nothing wrong with those). Rather, SALT is a labor of love published by Christian couple Jim and Cindy McDermott, who have 12--count 'em 12!--children. With all those kids, who are homeschooled, you wonder how the McDermotts find the time to do anything for Jesus and their fellow Christians, but they do. And I, for one, am really glad.

When I read SALT I get the distinct feeling that the writers, the McDermotts and others, really believe what they're saying and strive to practice what they preach. Their writing has a sincerity that I don't see in mainstream Christian mags. The McDermotts truly trust in God and His Word and, on many issues, their publication offers viewpoints that even professed Christians will find decidedly unworldly.

The articles in my issue of SALT vary from celebrating bold preaching to encouraging Christians in self-control, but the bulk of them center on family life. My favorite family article is "Addicted to Adultescence" about the growing trend of young people avoiding adulthood by, among other things, living with Mom and Dad and delaying marriage. This article was so well written and entertaining that I was shocked to discover that the authors, Alex and Brett Harris, are teenagers! I hope they will be writing for future issues of SALT.

I also enjoy the quotes columns. The quotations are very enlightening and come from an interesting variety of sources. The quotes are grouped into the following categories: education quotes, home management quotes, counterculture quotes, and political quotes. These columns alone are worth the price of the subscription. All and all, I think SALT is a gem of a magazine. I'm definitely going to subscribe and I can't wait for my next issue!

For a 12-issue subscription to SALT send $24 to: SALT, 2131 W. Republic Rd. #177, Springfield, MO 65807, or go to the website @ http://www.saltmagazine.com/. I'm sure you'll enjoy SALT as much as I do.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Not in the Bible

Here's a little list of a few words and sayings that a lot of people, Christians and non-Christians alike, think are in the Bible but aren't. I'll add more as I find them!

Money is the root of all evil
Cleanliness is next to Godliness
Personal relationship with Jesus Christ
God helps those who help themselves
End of the world
Second coming of Jesus Christ
The Anti-Christ
Old Testament
New Testament

Interesting, huh? If you think I'm wrong on any of these--and I could be!--let me know and we'll chat about it. God bless!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thoughts on Forgiveness, Part 2

I'm back to continue my thoughts on forgiveness. When I signed off Wednesday I had made the point that forgivenss doesn't make everything alright like so many Christians say it does. I believe that with all my heart. Forgiveness has limits and that should be admitted by believers; it doesn't make everything ok.

Yes, forgiveness can liberate people from the grip of toxic emotions and give them a new lease on life, but only if it's part of a larger process. It doesn't do that all by itself. The belief that it does has, I suspect, left a lot of hurting people sitting in pews all across America and the world, people who don't dare admit their true feelings for fear of appearing unChristian and/or getting chastised by their "caring" pastors and Christian friends.

Why do so many Christians believe that forgiveness is a panacea when the Bible no where says it is? I think it may be because of a discomfort with the emotion of anger, a discomfort that is itself unBiblical. A lot of Christians believe that anger is a sin; the Bible does NOT teach that! The Bible tells us to be angry but sin not, making a clear distinction between anger and sin. Jesus got angry at the Pharisees and at the moneychangers in the Temple. If getting angry is a sin, then Jesus was a sinner and, therefore, can't be the Messiah, who is supposed to be sinless. So Christians need to dump this false and harmful doctrine that getting angry is sinful and follow what the Bible actually says.

Another reason I think Christians believe forgiveness is a cure-all is the false "health, wealth, and happiness" doctrine. Simply put, this doctrine states that Jesus came to earth to give us health, wealth and happiness, and if we're not healthy, wealthy, and happy it's because of some secret sin in our lives, usually unforgiveness. Forgiveness is the ticket to God's blessings, to heaven on earth; unforgiveness blocks the divine gravy train. So, many Christians are "forgiving" people just to have access to the Cosmic Genie, also known as God. This is a sad state of affairs indeed.

By turning forgiveness into The Answer To All That Ails Us, Christians can end up being quite cruel to hurting, victimized people, even without meaning to. More than once I've heard tv preachers demean the feelings of wronged people. "You don't have a right to be angry!" "Who are you to judge anybody?!" "If you don't forgive, you're worse than the person who hurt you!" I've heard tv preachers say these, or similar, things without the slightest comprehension of the damage they were doing to a lot of people in their congregations.

The worst thing you can do to someone who's been hurt is to invalidate their feelings. Hurt and anger are natural and thoroughly appropriate reactions to being wronged, and they don't go away just by chanting the spell, "I forgive you". If Christians really want people to offer--and benefit from--truly genuine forgiveness, the first step is to agree with the injured person on both the depth of the injury and the rightness of his "unChristian" reaction to it. In other words, validate his feelings. Stop expecting instant forgiveness, and stop condemning when it's not forthcoming. And PLEASE stop telling people that forgiveness heals!

The idea that forgiveness causes emotional healing is, perhaps, one of the most deeply ingrained doctrines in the Church today. And I think it's one of the most unhealthy doctrines to dump on injured people. As I've said before, anger, hurt, and the desire for revenge are natural human feelings, but no matter how natural they are they can become horribly destructive if not handled properly. Teaching people that simply saying, "I forgive you", will banish these potentially deadly emotions from their hearts and minds is a gross disservice. These feelings need to be worked through, and the process can be long, hard, and messy. The end result, though, is an emotional healthy person who's ready to forgive. That's right; forgiveness can be and, if the truth were told, usually is the RESULT OF healing, NOT the means to healing.

That goes against virtually everything Christians today are taught about forgiveness. But Christians need to start thinking outside the box--not outside the Bible!--on what forgiveness really is and how to achieve it. Christians are commanded to forgive. If they really want to obey their Lord they should look at every possible means to do so and dump whatever doesn't work.

I will be posting on this subject again later. I'm not finished with forgiveness, and forgiveness isn't finished with me.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Thoughts on Forgiveness, Part 1

Well, here I am. Returning at last to my blog about God and God and me. Sorry for the long delay; I promise I won't be gone so long again!

As some of you may recall, I don't consider myself a Christian but, rather, a Christianist(see the post "Christianism" to learn what a Christianist is). Why am I not a full Christian? I have a lot of problems with some of Christianity's teachings and this post with deal with one of those.

Everyone knows that one of the central teachings of Christianity is forgiveness. I understand why Jesus would teach his followers to forgive, but I have a problem with making forgiveness a commandment. I've often felt that Islam's teaching on forgiveness was more realistic. In Islam, if memory serves, forgiveness is encouraged as the superior response to a wrong but it's not commanded; you can choose to not forgive those who've hurt you and still be right with Allah. Of course, in Christianity you're taught that if you don't forgive others God won't forgive you. I have a problem with that.

I'd like to say right off the bat that I've never been seriously hurt by anyone. Oh, people have made me mad and done things to me that at the time seemed like the crime of the century, but in hindsight I realize that those "crimes" weren't so bad. So I don't have any personal experience with hardcore forgiveness. I admire people who truly forgive those who've hurt them in truly horrifying ways, but I also understand people who don't, and it's always bothered me that God apparently doesn't understand them.

God, who can understand someone committing the most egregious evil, can't-- or won't-- understand the victim's unwillingness to forgive. In God's eyes it's worse to be unforgiving of evil than it is to actual commit evil. At least, that's the God portrayed in Christians' teachings on forgiveness, and I just can't swallow that.

Yes, I know that God loves everyone and that He makes His rain to fall on the wicked and the good alike, but surely God can't be so cold as to not understand the anguish of someone who's been horribly victimized and how that anguish can make forgiveness out of the question, at least initially. Surely God understands that pain, grief, hate, and rage are normal reactions to being wronged, reactions for which no one should be condemned. Yet, when I listen to Christian pastors on tv or radio talk about forgiveness, or read Christian books on the subject, I'm always struck by how judgmental they are toward those who haven't, can't, or just won't, forgive.

I remember watching Joyce Myers--I hope I spelled her last name right--on tv several years ago, strutting across the stage delivering a blistering sermon against unforgivers. Her attitude was so smug and self-righteous I wanted to puke. As she condemned those who hadn't forgiven their victimizers I wondered just how quick she'd be to forgive if she'd been hurt the way some of the people in her audience might have been. Rather than offering victimized people compassion, understanding, and a helping hand to lovingly guide them to forgiveness, she virtually opened the doors of hell and pushed them in!

Another tv preacher, one of my favorites, also said something about forgiveness that completely turned me off. John Hagee, whom I usually agree with, once said that if you don't forgive instantly and completely you're not a true Christian. When I heard him say that I was stunned. As with Joyce Myers I felt, and still feel, that Pastor Hagee's statement was totally devoid of compassion for the victims of evil. Forgive instantly?! And if you don't you're not a true Christian?! If the police came to Pastor Hagee's house and told him his son had been shot by a mugger, I seriously doubt if his first response would be, "Forgive him Father, he didn't know what he was doing." Yet Hagee, in effect, told his flock that that should be their first response.

I don't care how saved people are, giving forgiveness to the bad guy isn't going to be the first thing they do after they're hurt. Oh, they might say the words, but their hearts will be in the hurt, in the rage, in the grief, in the hate. That's only human, and that's ok. But too many Christians are telling people it's not ok. They're telling them to just say the three magic words, "I forgive you" and--presto!--all's right with the world. But that's not true; it's just not true!

Unfortunately, I've run out of time on the library's computer. I will be returning tomorrow or Thursday to finish my thoughts on forgiveness. Sorry for the interruption.