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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Was it near death or out of body or was I crazy? I do not know and I do not care

I have not spoken of this often. Mostly because when I first spoke about it, I was uncomfortable with the responses it seemed to attract. You see, I felt that this experience taught me something I was profoundly unacquainted with and in deep need of. But when I talked about this experience, people seemed to be more drawn towards a fascination with the experience itself and ignored the impact it had on me. So I stopped talking about it. But recently I have been asked to talk about it some more.

I grew up in a home that was for me emotionally abusive. I never felt loved by my parents. As I reached the age of adulthood I was a deeply troubled and dysfunctional individual given to very rigid coping mechanisms and not a few compulsive bad habits. I would not easily admit to it but I was full of self loathing and felt so inadequate to life. But I “knew” that for my own protection I had to keep a good front and keep those sorts of feelings quiet. I did not express them in any significant detail. Instead I became a hyper conservative, rigid, hellfire breathing and hostile fundamentalist Christian. I attended Bob Jones University and loved it even though poor health and a lack of resources prevented me from finishing my degree at that time.

I was particularly hostile because I could be good at it. And being a person of above average intelligence I had what seemed to me to be a very persuasive and well formed theology. To be honest, I was not trying to be a hypocrite, nor was I trying to be difficult. I was actually hoping that this faith that made so much sense to me would deliver me from the agony of my wretched existence. I had hoped it would make me pure, make me godly, that it would turn me into someone God could love.

One night past midnight in the mid to late 1970’s as I sat on my couch I was reading from the Acts of the Apostles and the part about how Peter preached after Pentecost and so many responded to his very effective message. As a young want-to-be preacher I was jealous of his effectiveness and knew I just did not have it in me. And I knew why too. I was a disgusting useless excuse of a human being. I was a harsh husband and father with little to no empathy and I knew the struggles in my heart made me a person no God could ever love. So how could I expect that I could ever be a real preacher like Peter?

As I sat to think it over a series of hypothetical questions came to my mind. I no longer recall how the questions came about but I will never forget the questions nor the way I reacted to them. The first question was: Let us pretend that something has gone terribly wrong in heaven and by some twist of events, Jesus will have to spend eternity in hell and the only possibility of getting him out is for me to stop being such a disgusting low life excuse of a human being. Well, I knew that was impossible. And that provoked the following question: So as it turns out I would stand by and let Jesus spend eternity in hell rather than change?

I knew the answer. My reaction to this was that I embraced the “obvious” reality that I was truly a deeply disgusting human being and that now I clearly understood the extent to which I was willing the universe should suffer without my making a change. I became even more despondent and my self-loathing reached an unprecedented peak. I fell to my knees and prayed one of the most sincere prayers I had ever prayed in my life. I begged God to do away with me. I begged him to put me in hell immediately and to rid the universe of my existence. I hated myself more than ever.

And then suddenly, I was no longer in my body.

I was floating in the emptiness and blackness of space. There were no stars or any source of light. There was no up or down, I was simply suspended in a weightless blackness and in a body of sorts but not my earthly body. I heard a voice saying, “How willing is the Father to give the Holy Spirit to those that ask.” When I first heard that my reaction was to be repulsed. The thought of a Holy God and my disgusting self in the same place made me feel beyond sick; it was in a sense the very torment of hell to even think of the idea. And then I heard it again, “How willing is the Father to give the Holy Spirit to those that ask.”

The sickness would not go away and I resisted, until finally I humbly asked. In the distance what seemed to be millions of miles away with perfect vision I could see a small source of light rushing towards me at great speed. It was so far away that it took several minutes to get closer even though its speed was amazing. Just as it was about to reach my body it suddenly turned into luminous water and it splashed all over me and I was suddenly drenched completely with a rush of water. But more than that what grabbed my attention was the physical sensation of being caressed and surrounded with love and a voice that spoke quietly and repeated for nearly five minutes or so saying, “Bob, I love you.”

I shouted out several objections but the voice simply came back without any change, “Bob, I love you.” None of my objections were addressed and yet I knew they were not ignored, they were simply completely irrelevant. I finally let go of the objections and remained in that love quietly and at rest.

I won’t go into much more of the details, but I spoke to this comforting voice and that voice spoke back. We talked about many things and conversed for about a half an hour. During that discussion I completely forgot to ask any questions about how to change, I totally forgot about how disgusted I was with myself. The time came for this to end and I was told I was going back. I said goodbye and expressed gratitude and relief for having been so loved. And then just as suddenly I came to. I was back in the living room lying on the floor.

But strangely, although the voice was gone, the presence was not. I tried to re-engage in conversation. Nothing. Nothing but presence; nothing but living loved. It made no sense to me but I did not fight it. It took me over 10 years to work my way through a paradigm shift in my thinking about God, about theology. But there were two things that were deeply ingrained from that moment forward. I had lost all ability to hate myself. I still had struggles and disappointments; I was still in need of working through my problems. But it was merely work to do; there was no risk of not being loved. And I knew I was not unique; I knew every human being was just like me; loved with a love that cannot be expressed.

From time to time that presence seems unusual. I remember one time walking into a busy bank to make a deposit for my employer and as I entered the outer foyer it sounded to me as though someone was singing through a loud sound system inside the bank which seemed quite unusual. But as I entered the bank no singer could be seen and no one seemed to hear what I was hearing. I listened to the words and it was a song of delight and celebration over the beauty in the existence of everyone in that bank. When I realized what was apparently going on there was silence.

I have no idea what actually happened. Maybe I am simply an emotional whacko. I have no need to think of that experience as real or fake. I do not care. But from that day forward I have lived loved and it just does not stop.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Is it true that salvation is by grace and not works?

This is a question some evangelical Christians talk about quite a bit. I must apologize for sounding arrogant and yet I must say that a lot of what I hear them say strikes me as absurd nonsense. The question seduces them towards a very anti-works view of the Christian lifestyle all in the interests of never contradicting the concept that it is all by grace, not by works. And yet they speak about works in a very controlling manipulative way tied to duty that they never reconcile with their "grace" concepts.

I also blame Western popular notions of determinism as having set us up for this conundrum and because the truly random or freedom of choice is in too many ways inconceivable we give in way too much to the influence of determinism and end up denying a well developed freedom of choice as it can operate within a universe of apparently deterministic physics. In my opinion, the extremes of an out of balance determinism lead some Christians off the clear path into the ditch on one side into a false belief in Universalism or into the ditch on the other side into a false belief in exclusionism.

Calvinism is an example of deterministic exclusion. God does everything, controls everything and therefor those He has chosen are in and those He has not are forever damned. Period, you do not get a vote and have no influence on the outcome. Deterministic Universalism differs from standard Calvinism only in the extent and efficacy of the atonement, but both rely on a deterministic view. In Deterministic Universalism you still have no real say, do not get a vote and have no impact on the outcome.

I regard both Calvinism and Deterministic Universalism as false views of scripture. They are false in that they focus on the activity of God and dismiss all scriptures that speak of human activity as having any bearing.

Personally I think the problem gets even worse when we find nondeterministic verses in the bible and try to use them to deny the truth of the universal efficacy of Christ. Theology becomes a jumble of incoherent and absurd claims that we settle into for lack of thinking. And we settle where it seems most fair or grammatically correct. We tend toward a lucky break version of God's grace or an all inclusive view of God's grace, but we completely dismiss our own participation as having any relevance.

This is the reason I embraced Universal Reconciliation and rejected Universalism. I do not believe all are saved; I believe some are and everyone else will be eventually. In the mean time there is this tension between the universal provision of God including His universal intention and plan and the freedom of choice that humans have in their subjective limited particular awareness. And so human beings come as individuals one at a time at their own time into the provision God has for all.

As I understand it, this false pure-determinism has also given Christians a false understanding of the tension between grace and works.

Think of it this way: Can you make the decision to walk down to the nearby store? Yes you can, but only if you can walk and if there is a store to walk to nearby. But the work and effort of walking does not in and of itself create your ability to walk nor does it create the store. If you are well able to walk to a store that is actually there then you can be reasonably assured that should you choose to go to the store it will indeed happen.

In a similar way salvation is hard work, it involves facing lies, changing your mind, dealing with attitudes, learning to be honest with your self, with others, with your past, with your struggles, discovering ways in which we are not being loving, learning to live loved, learning to incorporate these changes into your consistent behavior, and so on.

Grace is the universal gift of God to make certain that whatever you require for the hard work of salvation is fully and completely supplied at no cost and with no conditions whatsoever. All you require is the willingness to receive it and to put it to work from deep within you. God has made absolutely certain, that all you need is there and that as Christ himself personally indwells you at the core of your being that given enough time and effort to discover "truth about life and living" that the very character and life of Christ will indeed without exception work its way out until you arrive at a point where you are the real you and totally Christ like.

You did not invent this process, you did not create the love God gives, you did not create the efficacy of the transformation You did not create Christ or the possibility of being like Him in character. If God had not created everything as He did, if God had not created us in His image as He did -- most importantly if God did not love as He does -- then salvation would not be possible no matter what effort you put forth. But because God has provided exactly all as He has, it is absolutely true that whoever starts this process will discover that the process itself propels it toward full completion.

So it is true that we are saved by Grace and that not of ourselves. But this does not change the reality that we must each as individuals face the issues, deal with them, agree to the changes, accept the abiding relationship, and so on. There is a great deal of work for us to do. If we do not do it, it will not get done. But that work is merely work we should do, it is therefore meritorious only in the subjective reality of human experience but in light of the objective reality of God and His creation, it is not particularly meritorious in light of the fact that it fully depends upon God providing all that He has. Without that reality, none of our efforts could ever make any difference whatsoever.

So works and grace do not trump each other. Both are very real and very true. The possibility, the process and the success of salvation are predetermined by God, but it is engaged in and received by the effort of the individual. As it is written, work out your own salvation.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Discovering your worst enemy

When I was growing up, I thought my dad knew everything. He was like a god to me and I thought he was right about everything. Now it is true that he was always highly critical. I have no memory of him ever offering any praise for anything I did during my years growing up. As I reached 18, it simply made sense to me that I was just an inept person very inadequate to life.

I was 28 before I realized he was so very wrong and so very abusive. And that was when I came to hate him. I hated him for every word of criticism he gave that destroyed my confidence and my every moment of depression in my life. Someone very dear to me told me, "He did not raise you, he lowered you." But to be honest, in spite of all my emerging anger and hatred towards him, I still felt like an incompetent idiot. I tried convincing him I was not an idiot but that did not seem to impress him at all. In fact I once said to my father that he was way too critical of me while I was growing up and that I needed more encouragement and recognition of my accomplishments. He responded by saying in as honest a voice as I ever heard him say, “Obviously I was not critical enough, after all, look how you have turned out.” 

Then one day I discovered the truth. The truth is – it was me who destroyed me – not him. Yes, me, I did it. I discovered it one day when someone else very critical in nature accused me of being stupid over something I knew a great deal about and that they knew precious little. I noticed that it did not hurt me at all to hear them tell me they thought I was stupid. So I asked myself, “Why did it not hurt me?” My answer was this: it did not hurt me because I did not regard their statement as credible and I did not believe them. That’s right; I knew better and knew I was not stupid. You see - hateful, abusively critical words cannot hurt you unless and until you believe they hold some sort of validity. 

That was when I realized that I was my own worst enemy. No not deliberately, and I cannot blame my child-self for lacking the sophistication to appreciate and understand the alternatives or the dynamics. But it still remains that I was the one doing all that damage. When I decided that various hostile events in my life actually said something valid about me – that is the very moment in time that the damage to my self-esteem occurred.

Our perception of ourselves is not affected by anything anyone says or anything we go through unless we at some level agree that what it says about us rings true. Others may throw verbal knives at us, but we are the ones who catch them and then stab ourselves by thinking they are true. Just as a hot poker will not burn you until it touches your skin, so too, words cannot do damage when you give them no credibility. 

This is good news. This means that if I am the one who gave those lies credibility, then I am also the one who can work through a process of exposing those lies until I no longer believe them. And that is what I did. Forget dad; forget trying to get him to change his tune. I will simply change my tune and I will discard the notes that fail to ring harmoniously true. I will feel good about myself based on MY opinion, not the opinion of others too self absorbed to recognize the loveliness of their child.

Strangely, as I independently moved forward, my father, before he died, came to see me as quite capable in ways that he grew to depend upon. But I digress; my point is that I had to take complete 100% responsibility for what I accept as true about myself. I had to accept the role that I and I alone must decide what aspects of criticism are valid and what aspects are not. Of course I make mistakes; I am not perfect. And many a genuinely honest person has helped me to discover some of my shortcomings. So I am not closed to all feedback simply because it might be critical or uncomfortable. But I have discovered that the only criticism that has any validity is the objective criticism that helps me see what I might not be doing procedurally correct or developmentally not quite fully formed. But all that criticism that seeks to bring me down a level as if I were some inferior existence or that seeks to place me into a category that eliminates me as a valuable human being are completely bogus.

And given the cultural craziness that promotes a self-deprecating false humility, I have come to believe that an honest evaluation that any of us could give to ourselves would involve a comfortable recognition of our limits but an incredibly high estimation of our value and beauty as a human being.

What is the key to being healthy in how you think about yourself? That’s just it, there is no key. This is an open door and you are the only one who ever walks through it and the only one you should ever allow to walk through it.

I encourage you to accept 100% of the responsibility for what YOU decide is true about you. I encourage you to be honest about it. There is no need to pretend to be what you are not, but whoever it is and whatever it is that you really are, is already quite amazing. If you learn to be that gate-keeper at your internal open door, no one can ever knock you down in their attempt to get you out of their egotistical way.

Lesson two is very similar: be gracious to others. They might be struggling with this concept. It is more likely than not that others are unquestionably just as valuable as you are. Encourage them to question the negativity they borrowed from the assessment of others. And as you think of others, take 100% of the responsibility to make sure your thinking about them never attacks their immutable dignity as a human being without regard to how unacceptable their behavior may or may not be. I have become convinced that the only way to get bad behavior out of a person is to first find a way to convince them they are intrinsically inferior to the acceptable standard of being human. They are only acting out their core self-imposed truth.

When you love yourself for just being you, you end up with one of the best friends in the whole world. When you do not love yourself, you end up with an enemy who knows a bit too much about you. So stop being your own worst enemy; become your best friend. It is really the only foundation so that you can be a good friend to others.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

So many asked for what I actually believe

When people discover that I am a believer in Jesus and yet I do not seem to believe the sorts of things most other Christians believe, they often want me to tell them exactly what I do and do not believe. As I share that I want you to know that whatever it is that I believe, it is simply my opinion. And my opinion is certainly not binding on anyone, including myself. I believe what makes sense to me and as I grow and mature as a person that modifies and changes over time. Sometimes it changes radically. So for those of you who are curious, here are some of the things I do and do not believe as of my last edit.

• I do not understand the trinity. I neither strongly embrace it nor reject it. It is to me a mystery and I am OK with that. If it turns out to be true or if it turns out to be false it makes no difference to me. In the mean time I usually relate to God as a whole making little distinction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I think it is possible that these 3 in 1 distinctions might simply be useful given the nature of God as a multidimensional being and the current limitations of humanity living in the perceptions of a 3 dimensional plus time reality. It could very well be that as a personality God is so multidimensional that His earthly interaction can be multifaceted so as to seem to us to be a trinity.

• I believe the person of God is unique. God alone was never created and everyone and everything else is derived from God. God cannot be fully understood by our minds. His ways and thoughts are not only unlike our ways and thoughts; they will always be so throughout all our existence. God remains forever a continuously discoverable but inexhaustible mystery. He nevertheless reveals Himself primarily through His character as embodied in Jesus the Christ and in all His creation so that we might know him relationally with authenticity and intellectually within the limits of our minds sufficiently useful to enhance our appreciation of this relationship.

• God has been misunderstood by the organized church and by so many others, including myself and you as well. The God many others talk about strikes me as no different from the Satan they talk about. So many see God as defined primarily by His power and licensed with the privilege to do whatever He arbitrarily desires to do with self-defining impunity. Although WHAT God is seems to strike most as truly impressive – and there is a sense in which God is an impressive entity simply being God – but His capabilities are largely involuntary and it makes more sense to me to commend and define God primarily for His voluntary character of love which is the foundation of His other character traits such as righteousness, goodness and mercy. For me it is His character that motivates His actions whereas His abilities are merely the means and certainty of His success. God’s character is not derived from His attributes. His character is chosen and every action He takes is an expression of His chosen character by means of His abilities.

• I believe the scripture shows a progressive revelation of God. I think mankind struggles with a mature and healthy concept of God and that God knew this and deliberately chose to reveal Himself in a progressive transition from our distortions into His true representation. It starts with God being much as we might imagine Him to be, scary, powerful and angry about sin. He starts out almost indistinguishable from the character of Satan being simply a more powerful and technically more righteous and different entity. That view of God progresses and falls apart in an unjust application of faith and a law that serves ultimately only to condemn us. Until we meet Jesus who finally shows us who and what God is really like. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. I think that means that He is the anointed one which is a peculiar way of saying that the presence of God lives in and through Him in totality. And yet He came to us as a vulnerable human being retaining but emptied of His divine privilege. In Him is found the mystic union of the human and the divine.

• Jesus knew He would be murdered and accepted it because He had foreseen that as an opportunity to make a powerful redemptive point. For our sakes He allowed His death to be to us a sinless sacrifice. He died as the representative substitute for all mankind. He considered it a penalty He did not deserve but it was a penalty that those not in union with Christ or the immutable love of God would nonetheless feel must be necessary to believe we did deserve in light of the honest contrast between a life lost in selfishness to a life lost in authentic love. But the cross was an expression of our rejection of God Himself as well as an expression of what we originally imagined God to be like. Except that the punishment for sin was taken by Him instead of us. One could say we projected our guilt upon Him and in killing Him we exacted the punishment we imagined an honest self-aware sinner deserves. So Jesus became sin for us, in us and to us. But He did not save us from an angry Father God, but rather He saved us from our own delusions of an angry God that seems to make so much sense to a person who honestly confronts their life that has honestly compromised the demands of genuine love for others. Now that this issue of sin has been dealt with, the issue is hereafter moot. And since He could not be held in death’s power, He rose triumphant over death in the resurrection bringing us in mysterious union with Him through His death, his burial and His resurrection. Since when we did not understand God, we projected our self-hatred on God and imagined He must hate us. Jesus used that difficult to shake delusion by allowing us to murder Him and in so doing we murdered the only one who could not remain dead. He let us thereby in projection kill ourselves. Now the issue is settled, it is finished, we can cease our self-hatred, stop projecting it on God and reconcile with Jesus so as to start learning what living loved is really like.

• The Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost available to all. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ and became an indwelling witness to the human spirit, effecting spiritual rebirth and being the power within us that derives both the fruits and the gifts of the Spirit in the life of those who abide in the mysterious union with Christ living loved. The presence of Christ within is self-evident and requires no one else to confirm it.

• I reject both the notion of man’s predetermined life and the concept of man’s free will. God alone has free will.  Only God can self-determine His endeavors in accord with His own character. Only God has the capacity and ability to self-generate how He will express His character. Human beings, on the other hand, have only the ability to choose among the truly available options insofar as they are aware of them and able to act. Having choices, not free will, gives us responsibility to choose wisely and lovingly. There is no responsibility without an ability to respond. I reject the notion of a sin nature as a teaching made popular by Augustine who embraced the notion because in his life of sex addiction he imagined this modeled everyone’s struggle with sin. Believing one has a sin nature only serves to constrain our options to act accordingly. That belief creates the non-victorious life. As humans we often operate with only partial knowledge and our most profound choices are choices involving our character, will we do what loves as best we can understand it, or we will do what appeals to our insecurities?

• We human beings are vulnerable and dependent creatures. On the physical and conscious planes we can creatively modify our environment and engage in relationships. But unlike God, we cannot create options that do not exist. And so we can only look to our physical and social environment for options and potential modifications. Our spiritual options are also narrowly limited. We do not know the actual limits. We can either reach out to an ultimate mysterious source of universal loving character or we can reach out for an ultimate mysterious isolated personal superiority. All spiritual quests are well formed or malformed pursuit of one or the other. Although we can and do pursue these spiritual quests we do not have it within ourselves to pursue universal loving character without first being unconditionally loved and adored. This is ultimately discovered in mysterious union with God. And so we derive our character from this spiritual strength either borrowed directly or indirectly from God or we seek some form of unloving personal superiority. Spiritually we are therefore receptive creatures, not self-generating.

• God, however, chooses His own character, requires nothing but Himself in order to act and can create whatever He chooses and requires in order to express His self-sufficient love. That is why He created you and me and this universe we live in.

• The spirit of God is the only true source of life of any and every kind. He created it of His own free will and it is sustained by Him unconditionally. Life cannot arise out of death, but death can be overcome by life.

• We were created as individuals and as a race to grow from full naiveté into participators of the divine nature. From the beginning it has always been God’s plan to prepare us to be His home, so to speak, and that He would live mysteriously deep within us as our spiritual energy and life. From within us He would generate all the character that would resonate with our mysterious likeness to Him having been created in His image. Jesus through His indwelling presence is our ultimate source of abundant life and our indismissible hope of eternally existing glory.

• Jesus can indwell people anonymously who have rejected the horrible lies commonly believed about Him.

• Lucifer is spoken of as an angelic spirit-being, and it is unclear to me if as such he is a personified figment of our powerful imagination or an actual creation of God. But I suspect he is little more than a figment of the natural imagination of a mind unconcerned with the spiritual quest of love. Satan represents the selfish rebellion of the quest for personal superiority. He represent the desire to be “like the Most High God” in terms of attributes but with no authentic attraction to His character. This is the very attitude of enmity with God and the spiritual quest for personal superiority violates and contaminates the genuine purposes of love and is in every way opposed to the self-chosen character of God’s love.

• Human beings are the loveliest aspect of God’s creation. When God created human beings, He breathed into them the breath of His life. Humanity now bears the indelible image of God at our deepest core.  We have been created physically which makes us vulnerable to an assault on our physical wellbeing. We have been created consciously which makes us capable of a wide array of aptitudes, emotions, desires and awareness of an unknown limit. We are also created spiritually which allows us to draw our ultimate character from God directly or indirectly, or to fabricate our character from a quest to exploit our condition to achieve superiority to others. The image of God contains male, female and nongendered expressions of compatible similarities to our creator allowing for a meaningful relationship with each other and with our creator. We could not exist without God and our quest for superiority isolates us from God. We are incapable of living without a spiritual quest. And that quest will be some form of perceived superiority to others or some form of love towards our self and others. As human beings life currently saddles us with the tasks of sustaining our health physically, mentally and spiritually as social beings in a balance.

• I understand the story of Adam and Eve to be a representation that clarifies our origin as created beings made in the image of God and as beings that have “fallen.” I understand this in a Hebrew sense of being a description intended to help us relate to our condition rather than to know the actual historical facts. Our actual and factual history is both unknown and irrelevant.

• In a similar manner I understand the creation story to be a poetic attribution to God for having created all the heavens and the earth to help us relate to our environment in a manner that represents its true source and purpose but that the actual historical origin of all things is irrelevant to the biblical account.

• Being what is described as “fallen” we exhibit a character contrary to God’s character and contrary to our design. Because we must derive our character either from our perceived superiority or the character of God we are unable to lift ourselves out of our lost condition until touched by the love of God directly or indirectly in such a manner as we are able to embrace a radical paradigm shift whereby we invite God into a relationship that is permitted to transform us radically and completely in a process over time in which we subjectively participate step by step voluntarily.

• I understand God’s statement in the account of Adam and Eve wherein He says, “You will surely die,” to be an honest expression of the pain God feels in being isolated from the creation He loves and I do not take it as a threat. The quest for personal superiority alienates us from the heart of God and is spoken of as a spiritual death. I take that to mean that in such a condition we are incapable of making any lasting progress in deriving our character from the character of God until such time as we are reunited with Him. We are still, however, capable of responding to the love we receive from others and can thereby derive indirectly a love that ultimately is derived from God originally.

• Although concepts of atonement can help us draw analogies that help us understand the death of Christ, ultimately the death of Christ was an event, and no theory of atonement can explain it properly. It is ultimately a mysterious and inexplicable expression of God’s character that Jesus would willingly lay down His life, but it was certainly not anything God required for or from Himself. It was for us with an eye toward our redemption. It is in the cross that we are secured to a God who will not be deterred from reuniting with us and it makes no difference how that specifically happens or what theories we entertain. The event itself accomplishes it somehow and we are only asked to trust that the way back to God is fully cleared of any and all obstacles that might be in the way whether real or imagined. God endures as loving in need of nothing and more than ready to accept us back into full union with Him.

• I understand the blood of Christ to be an expression referring to His death, and although that death is mysteriously operative in our redemption and unencumbered return to God, I do not understand the blood to be some sort of magical substance effective to invoke in prayer or upon demons, but rather that the character of God in the event of Christ’s death is the very power that is represented in the expression, “The blood of Christ.”

• Although there is great benefit to bodily exercise and eating properly, and great benefit in educating ourselves and learning to socialize with each other with propriety and respect, and great benefit to learning more about ourselves and improving our self-image and sense of personal adequacy and purpose in life, our most fundamental need and our deepest root is to know what it is to live loved, to abide with Christ and to experience the outworking of His character from deep within as His love becomes what transforms our own character into an authentic and personally meaningful Christ-likeness. I reject the notion that we wear a “Jesus Mask” that hides our true nature from God but rather that the indwelling Christ transforms us so that what emerges is the real and authentic us, perfected in every way. Redemption is the process of becoming who we really are.

• True Christians, without regard to their personal development or theological understanding, are those in whom Christ lives. They are the ones who, as a subjective experience, have embraced the spirit of Christ with openness to the relationship that now results in the emergence from deep within them of the very character of God in a process of transformation that takes place inside each Christian in different sequences and at different rates according to the wisdom and knowledge of God who understands wisely the process required specifically for each Christian. It tends to be more efficient in those who understand that Christ lives in them as they abide in Christ learning to live loved. The process is not abortive in those who do not understand the process.

• Regeneration is an overly churched word that simply refers to the event of being mysteriously reunited with God deep within our spirit. It also results in our mysterious union with each other as the mystical body of Christ. We are one because it is the exact same Christ who indwells all true believers.

• Justification is one of those churched words that have been defined, even in Biblical Greek dictionaries a bit too much like a theological term. It is usually perceived only as a divine forensic term in reference to a pardon or an expunged record from God. But I contend that God has not really ever kept any “record of wrongs.” He is not dim-witted and unaware either as if He did not fully understand our complete and honest history. But I see the term as analogous. Our justification is an honest one. Through the indwelling Christ, the believer now has the character of God deep within working towards the outward behavior through the conscious mind. The transformation takes some time but deep within the Christian, in ways that take time to fully comprehend, is a character that only wants to do what loves and has only excellent reasons for wanting and doing what it expresses. It is only because the transformation from darkness to light takes its time to do a complete and thorough job that it takes so long to develop into its fullness.

• In my opinion, part of the Hebrew cultural approach to talking about the relationship between God and man is to talk on two planes of existence. There is the absolute and objective reality known only to God and in many ways difficult for us to express clearly, and there is the subjective experience of those who draw near to God. Care must be taken to distinguish the two when interpreting biblical texts. Hebrew culture prefers to use descriptive language in order to help us relate to the things it describes. In Western culture we tend to use description to explain how something works or how it is actually composed. What God has accomplished for us is for God a completed and fully endorsed reality. But what we understand of His works and the degree to which we are conscious of God’s presence and of the indwelling Christ is a relative and subjective perception. Although everything that is accomplished in God’s mind is our destiny, we can only experience it to the degree to which we have subjectively participated in it. For God our redemption is finished and complete. But to us we are in the process of growth in grace. We talk nonsense when our theology ascribes to God our subjective condition or when we ascribe to our condition God’s absolute and finished intention. Those who emphasize the objective and complete work of God give great encouragement to our hope but they can endanger the process by making us feel that there is nothing subjective for us to work out or struggle with. Those who emphasize the subjective experience of man can provoke us to good works but they can also discourage us into feeling as though we have a need to attain a stature with God that is in reality already a done deal. Keeping these in balance is not easy but over time we get better at it.

• Christian reconciliation to God is always a fully completed dynamic from God’s point of view as He sees the beginning and the end clearly, but from our point of view it is only through abiding with Christ in His unstoppable love that we come to appreciate, understand, and participate personally in working out our transformation. It often times requires so much effort that it feels like “salvation by works” but we are pursuing options laid before us, created by God and given to us as through lavished love. Our work does not make it so, our work makes it personal. God’s work makes it possible, makes it so, and it is the very character of Christ within us that creates the fruit of our progress.

• All theology is manmade and represents nothing more than a human opinion. God does not operate from a theological principle but rather only from His character of love. From God’s point of view this is well-nigh inexpressible, but our theology can more or less approximate an understanding to the degree we are personally capable of a relative subjective grasp of absolutes known only to God.

• Holiness is a condition of being engaged in the quest of God’s character of love with a singleness of intent sustained perfectly by the indwelling Christ.

• God has begun a good work in all who have been receptive to His spirit. It is God alone who accepts responsibility to see it through to the end. Our responsibility is to abide, live loved and allow the challenges in life to be the opportunities that increase our subjective grasp of our happy condition in Christ. None of our alleged imperfections are capable of being obstacles to this completed work and it is God who causes all things to work together toward our absolute subjective perfection. There are many in risky and dangerous circumstances who may or may not suffer various consequences and yet no one is in danger of being separated from the love of God. There are times when from our point of view it feels that way, and perhaps there are times when feeling that way can be part of our personal participation in rethinking our ways in preparing for further transformation. But as God sees it, the work is every bit as good as already fully completed.

• The work of discipleship is the work of helping people learn how to simply rest in the presence and love of God as they live in honesty before Christ and bear fruit toward their growth in grace.

• The practice of communion is not a time to think about sins nor is it the receiving of special grace, it is a time to remember how Christ loved so much that it cost Him His life. Think about sin on your own time and receive all the grace you could ever need in the person of Christ.

• There is no such thing as a Church in the sense of an organization. The universal (sometimes called the Catholic) Church is a mystical body made up of everyone in the universe who is joined to Christ. Your local church is everyone in your general proximity who is in union with Christ. It makes no difference who they are, what else they know or think. Organizations are useful man-made ways of getting things done through a group effort. Do not confuse one for the other. There is no such thing as church membership you can neither join nor quit your local church. Jesus does that for you and once it is done the only way to move to a different local church is to move to a different locality.

• The kingdom of God is within you. The gospel message is not a message about how to get saved or how to go to heaven. The gospel message is the good news that Jesus wants to abide with you and in you, everything else is bonus and pales in comparison.

• The unity of the “one body” does not depend upon being like-minded in theology but rather like-minded in recognizing the event of the death, the burial and the resurrection of Christ and the subsequent indwelling of the spirit of Christ permitting us all to live loved. These events alone are the basis of our unity. This is a bond only Christ can create. We need each other but when we cannot find a way to connect with each other based on what unifies us while respecting the proper boundaries of our differences as we encourage each other, then we all suffer the loss of participating fully in the gifts Christ has given to His church.

• Although the scriptures are spoken of by Paul as God-breathed, I do not know what that means exactly. None one does. The scriptures nowhere claim to be the sole authoritative document prescribing faith and practice. The Sola Scriptura argument was used by the protestant reformers to counter the claims of the Roman Catholic Church that they were the sole authority. There is no evidence that the scriptures were inerrant by any standard from that culture or any other culture. And standards of determining accuracy of a document do differ from culture to culture. The scriptures appear to be written by individuals who in so doing did not escape the biases of their common assumptions and they are only to be taken as an authentic witness moved and compelled to write is response to the presence of God. And even so, since it is the nature of language that words combine with domains of meaning and that the meaning is contained in the minds of those who use language and not a part of the language itself, there is no guarantee that any complicated scripture can be interpreted in a manner exactly consistent with the intent of the author. The nature of scripture has been radically overstated by Christian tradition and there exists no secular knowledge of language to substantiate the possibility of such claims as inerrant or plenary verbally inspired. Furthermore, the Christian culture has consistently ignored other forms of credible information and held the scriptures way out of balance at the cost of repeatedly denying solid scientific claims and ignoring insights garnered from other fields of study. The universe created by God’s breath, the human nature breathed into man and the biblical text are all god-breathed – whatever that means – and all three must be considered and interpreted by fallible human minds. Jesus made it clear that the scriptures point to Him and that He alone is a sole authority for faith and practice if there were ever to be a sole authority.

• There is plenty of evidence to prove that the scriptures have gone through a history incapable of preserving the text in its original form and furthermore there is no way the languages of the text can be understood in a manner consistent with modern linguistic knowledge about dead languages. We are therefore left with a text that possesses a clear witness to certain events but lacks metaphysical precision to undergird an authoritative theology. It is what it is and we can only make the best of it. The biblical text is not to be equated with the word of God which is a reference to Christ nor elevated to supersede the inarticulate reality of the person of Christ. To do so is bible worship.

• Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Neither the scriptures nor the church leadership trump the authority of the person of Christ. Christianity is union with Christ - Christ in you, the hope of glory. Although there are perceptions and beliefs that will attend that subjective reality, those beliefs and ideas merely help us to make sense of something that is fundamentally what it is prior to any description of it. Jesus lives in those whose receptivity has embraced His activity. I see the church - both local and global - as those in whom Jesus lives. My local church is everyone within my proximity in whom Jesus dwells. Our unity is based not on our ability to agree on how to make sense of the reality of the indwelling Christ, but that we share this subjective reality with a need to make sense of it. And so we can share and compare notes - as it were. But we should not codify and require agreement and do other forms of mind control. Christ alone is at the helm of whatever it is He accomplishes where He dwells. I feel certain that even we do not know or understand much of what it is He is doing deep within us. Trying to "control" it probably gets in the way far more than it helps. Getting organized is also helpful in order to get things done, work on projects, and things like that. The first deacons were brought into being as a way of trying to organize getting food distributed to widows and orphans. That is a task far easier to get accomplished by organizing it, but it is NOT church, it is church people getting together to get something worthwhile done. If organizations could stay away from slipping into the identity of being a church in the mystical sense, that would help a lot. When we think of a group of people organized around a charter and a joint statement of faith as a church we displace the mystery that connects us to our true family - all in our proximity who know Him.

• Predestination is falsely claimed to be a reference to a predetermined trip but it only has to do with the final destination, and it in no way dismisses our freedom of choice. It is our adoption as children and our being conformed to the image of His son that is predetermined.

• The Mosaic Law was a superficial and shallow representation of God’s character. The Mosaic Law has been annulled. The only valid law is God’s character of love. The Christian is dead to the performance requirements of Law and alive in Christ being transformed by His abiding character.

• Faith is not mental assent to propositional truths or confidence in God. Faith is receptivity to the activity of the indwelling Christ. Faith is a work of participation in options sustained by Christ whose personal activity created them. We are not transformed by our faith but rather by the activity of Christ received by faith.

• Christianity is not a belief-system; it is the subjective discovery of living loved by the indwelling Christ. Christianity is trust in the very person of Jesus.

• God alone is immortal. Human beings do not become immortal until the resurrection at which time the mortal will put on immortality through our unity with Christ. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

• The final judgment is a happy day. That is the day when we will have all reached the fullness of Christ. None will be found wanting. The judgment will be thorough and have a level of authenticity that reaches to our depths.

• I find it absurd to believe that a person's personal eternal destiny is contingent upon their submission to a truth that cannot be independently verified and requires figuring it out in spite of its association with a bunch of crap from people who have rejected solid scientific breakthroughs in every generation for the last 2000 years in order to defend their already figured it out traditions? This is why I believe the Gospel is NOT ABOUT OUR ETERNAL DESTINY. Believing the Gospel now only determines who gets to subjectively experience the reality of Christ in this life. Part of what I am saying is, "I believe in Ultimate Universal Reconciliation."

• Our lifestyle is to be “filled with the Spirit” I take this to mean we are to live conscious of the presence of the indwelling Christ and with an openness to allowing Christ-like character to be expressed in all we do. This is not perfectionism; it is abiding in Him-ism. It naturally tends toward attitudes such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Although it is true that we cannot create such attitudes if we have not experienced them somehow modeled towards us, these character traits are modeled and nurtured by those who love us and by the presence of Christ, and because of the indwelling Christ these attitudes become an authentic expression of our own true self.

• Who am I? The question is often answered with what I do for a career and what accomplishments I might be known for or what abilities or possessions I have. But for me these things simply accompany my identity. My identity is comprised only of my character. That is who I am wherever I am with or without anything I might have accomplished or acquired. My identity is the character of Christ living in me transforming me into someone who will emerge eventually with different abilities and different skills from others but the same quality of character. That is my destiny and my identity is wrapped up in “who I am becoming,” not “who I have been.”

• Before I embraced Christ, my entire effort to be me was a solo performance and easily tossed to and fro by numerous external events and people. Now that I have embraced this mystical union as a free gift the “old man” is dead, I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer just me by myself, Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

• The concept of a sinful nature is an abusive and denigrating doctrine. There is no such thing. Evil is a quality of outcomes and a quality of character. Character is ultimately a habit of choice founded on personal values. Outcomes are either circumstances beyond our control or circumstances we have played a role in creating. Just because a car is useless without fuel does not make the car useless by its very own nature. So too, although mankind was always by design intended to be the dwelling place of God, and although loving character was always by design intended to be something we learned in relationship and not simply self-derived, no depravity of any sort is required in our very nature in order for sin to be a universal problem. The abuse and mistreatment we experience as well as our being without Christ until such time as we embrace Him is all that is required to explain our character flaws. It is for reasons perhaps only known to God that it is best that we embrace the life of Christ knowingly and voluntarily later in life. I contend that people who do not know Christ but nonetheless experience genuine love are fully capable of learning from that love and incorporating it into their character. Since love in all people is derived from their having been nurtured by it, I contend that all authentic love has its initial source in the love of God.

• Love should not be confused with affection. Love is a compelling awareness that the high and inexpressible value of a human being is something that is immutable and intrinsic to their mere existence, should not be violated and is worthy of honor and celebration. Affection is an emotion of happiness towards those we enjoy during moments we are enjoying them. It is only because love in its quiet moment experiences affection that we confuse them as being the same thing. It is possible to have great affection without love.

• The renewing of our mind is not the issue of changing propositions or even paradigms although those will certainly change. The Hebrew concept of mind is more focused on consciousness and awareness. The renewed mind is primarily a change of focus, and a change of awareness, rather than a change of belief system.

• God does not have a specific will for your life. There is no mysterious hidden path to find or options to discern as to which one is His preference. We are responsible to make our own decisions. God’s will is general and has to do with your abiding close with Him and your character development as one who loves your neighbor. But this is your life and the only wisdom you gain is by taking full responsibility for your own choices. If God ever has anything specific for you to do, a possibility, that is His problem and He will make it clear to you.

• The spheres of scientific discovery are not a threat to truth. We harm our credibility when we pick fights with science. Almost every generation of Christians has been up in arms about something that the scientific community is considering. In almost every case Christians have been wrong and they changed their interpretation of the bible without difficulty. However it takes the Christian community anywhere from 25 to 150 years to acknowledge their error. In the meantime the gospel and the faith lose credibility.

• Jesus is the only person with any authority in the church.

• Christian giving is motivated from love and not from duty or obligation. The Christian is free to give and free to not give.

• The only growth of a congregation that matters is the growth of their character of love. Organized fellowships are useful and for tax purposes it is a benefit to be organized as a "church" but such organizations are actually parachurch organizations. Congregations do not need more money than what is given to them willingly and without compulsion, what they need more of is love.

• Selfishness and the quest to be superior to others is the opposite of love. We need to be responsible about taking care of our own affairs and we should certainly strive to be developing toward our best, but life is not a competition, it is community. The wellbeing and success of your neighbor is not to be compromised as you seek to get ahead.

• The gospel is best spread by exhibiting the character of Christ in your love for others.

• God is not impressed with the performance of good works. This is not to say that God is not pleased. God is fully pleased with us at all times. If, for example, we feed the hungry, God is not pleased that we fed them; God is pleased that they are filled and that love was expressed in feeding them.

• Christian faithfulness and obedience consists in abiding with the ever present love of God as it nurtures our character motivating us to interact with others in accordance to the call of love.

• God is not the least bit interested in securing from us a greater commitment, more dedication, a more powerful devotion. Our lifestyle grows like fruit on the tree of simply abiding in the presence and love of the indwelling Jesus. We are at our best when we are living out the character and love of Jesus Christ welling up from His presence within us into our own hearts and out to the world. We do not copy Christ, we manifest Him. We do not follow His example, we follow Him.

• Prayer changes us. God needs no changes.

• Being spiritual is not a matter of how deeply connected we feel we are to God, but how well His love pours forth from us to others.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Faith is a WORK and so is righteousness

As I understand it, faith is not belief in a proposition. In the bible faith is a work. That is right I said it is a work. Faith is the work of receptivity.

Christians are radically and dare I say foolishly gun shy of this word "works." Now if I come over to your house and do a ton of work and you pay me for the work I have done with a check for $3,000. Next I will put forth a little bit of effort and get myself down to the bank so I can cash that check. Did I earn that $3,000 by cashing the check? No I earned it by doing the work at your house. Is cashing the check something that requires some sort of effort on my part? Yes. Does my effort in cashing the check create the $3,000? No, the $3,000 already existed in your account. Can I go down to the bank and endorse any piece of paper and turn that into $3,000? No, I can only endorse checks made out by someone who actually has the money in their account. Cashing that check takes a bit of faith on my part that the bank will honor it and that the check is good.

What about the righteousness that comes by faith? Is that work too? Absolutely yes!

So too, Jesus worked to create for us this awesome gift of His life within us. However we do need to embrace the gift. Everything it cost Jesus to make that gift available is work we never did. We can embrace Jesus all day long 24/7/365 but if Jesus has nothing to give us then all our effort spent embracing Him will amount to little more than a hug. BUT if Jesus had a great gift to give us, with a little effort on our part to receive what He has provided freely then we will receive all that He is offering us.

Faith is the work of receptivity of Christ's activity. In this way righteousness is a work of faith. The indwelling Christ has made me an offer. He is willing to live in me, He will stay with me, He will encourage me and tell me that He adores me beyond description. As I put forth the work of abiding in Jesus, His character begins to grow inside me. I do not create it by myself, Jesus creates it for me and in me. However, I receive this gift of real actual righteousness whereby I become a loving, Christlike person down to the depths of my genuine true character and I obtain this reality by faith in the activity of my indwelling savior.