Monday, May 26, 2014

Letter from an Agnostic

Letter from an Agnostic
By James Archer

Dealing with some sadness tonight regarding people and how they choose to treat me and mine in specific, but others in general. Would like to share a thought about beliefs, religion and dealing with people. If you'd rather not know my feelings about these things, please skip this post.

I grew up in a religious household, and have chosen to disassociate myself from religion as an adult. I am an agnostic, probably- I rarely feel the need to classify myself. From the Greek Gnosis, a basic noun referring to knowledge; the a- prefix makes it a negative: so lack of knowledge is the intended meaning- I admit that I don't know. I don't admit to or confess anything else, just to be perfectly clear.

The problem I find is that some people take it upon themselves to act inappropriately towards me and those I love because they have a religious feeling that is different from my own. And again, to be clear- I am very tolerant of others' religious beliefs- I have no desire to insult anyone's honest findings for themselves, and indeed can admire folks who have found themselves an answer honestly that they can truly believe. This post is not about religion- this post is about people.

When someone says to me and mine any of the following: You are going to hell; You are damned; You must do what I do; You must think what I think; (this one was new to me tonight) When I get to heaven, I won't even have known that you existed, because all of my sorrows will be removed and you will be in hell; or any other such statement...

...the only thing I feel is hurt. I do not feel inspired to believe anything. I do not feel motivated to avoid eternal damnation; I do not feel that the speaker has provided me a service, or shared their beautiful faith- I feel hurt that someone would take it upon themselves to insult my intelligence; to insult my sensibilities; to attempt to instill in me an eternal fear regarding my children; to bear their teeth necessarily and act in a way that insists upon a better than thou attitude; more blessed than thou; more deserving than thou; more insightful than thou; and - oddly - more lucky than thou.
If a person actually cared about me and mine, they would insist on loving us past the point that we could deny their altruism; past the point that we could doubt that they had some type of insight into this painful, stupid, silly and difficult human condition- to the point that we asked them to be let in on their secret-- that we asked to be instructed, if such a time ever came; and if that time never came, they would treat us that way anyway--- because their point would be loving us, and treating in a way they thought was right; not proving to us that we are wrong and they are right, which is the only point when someone informs us that we are damned.

Let me say that again, so it sinks in: If you are trying to win an argument of who has got it all figured out, you are actively turning me and mine away from everything you are saying.

The Jesus that I learned of as a child ate with the sinners; all you know how to do is throw stones.
And so-- if it is your prerogative to ever- ever, ever, ever- I mean one single time, ever-- tell me and my loved ones that we are headed to hell and should change to become more like you, do us both the favor and never-- and I mean never-- speak to any of us again. I have shielded my own feeling and thoughts many times in my life, in order to keep from upsetting people in this very important and very sensitive area, but I am officially done with that now. Now, when you behave offensively, I will speak my mind.

A last thought-

When I think of my father, I think of a great example of someone with strong religious beliefs who behaves correctly to the people he encounters-- my father would love to tell you his thoughts, but he is willing to love you even if you disagree with him, and he will feed you without feeling like you owe it to him to convert. A brilliant example of a person who professes love, and then attempts to live it. If all religious people did more of that, and less of the other, I imagine there'd be a few more folks at your church--- and more importantly than that, you’d be treating people in a respectable manner-- a manner that they deserve from you, no matter your opinion of their religious associations or lack thereof.

(a quick note to my atheist and agnostic or other friends-- please do not use this post as an open forum to bash the religious-- I have no desire to be involved in that; this is a thought about people, not about God)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It Is Well

It Is Well
By Frank A. Franco © 1986

You ask me to explain, what has caused in me this change. 
It’s Jesus.
You say you need release, and ask how I found my peace.  
Through Jesus.
Jesus lives within my soul, oh the Joy that fills my soul.

When your life is bare, there’s a God who truly cares.
It’s Jesus.
When you’re at the end, just reach out and touch the hem,
of Jesus.
Jesus lives within my soul, oh the Joy that floods my soul.

It is well within my soul, it is well within my soul.
Since Jesus died for me, it is well within my soul.
Since Jesus rose for me, it is well within my soul.
Since the Father took me in, it is well within my soul.
Since He set me free from sin, it is well within my soul.
Since He told me I’m His friend.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spiritual Fatherlessness

I had an interesting conversation with an old friend this week, it reminded me that I DO NOT what to be the church policeman. I don't want to establish, maintain, monitor and ultimately punish violators of "the rules", You know, those man made religious, rules and regulations with a side order of "the traditions of men." I have zero desire to be a church cop, but I have an enormous desire to be a spiritual father. In my humble opinion, the world has more than enough self appointed prophets, priests and kings. All the while, lacking drastically in spiritual moms and dads.

Back on October 29th, 2010 I posted to this blog a brief article titled What I Want to Do I listed 5 things, 5 simple things. Here they are:

  1. I want to be a friend of God.
  2. I want to comprehensively experience God's extravagant love for me.
  3. I want to love people as extravagantly as I have been loved.
  4. I want to introduce my extravagantly loving Friend to everyone I know.
  5. I want to help others others experience this ongoing love affair for themselves.

Missing something? Notice the absence of religious rules and regs? Good.

Back in the 70's the Charismatic Renewal sweep through the Catholic Church and took my family right along with it. We typically saw 22 year olds leading meetings while regularly providing opportunity for a skinny 16 year old kid from the neighborhood to lead as well. It was an absolutely wonderful season in my life. However, we did have one enormous problem, we were spiritually fatherless. The parish priest was happy enough to grant us permission to use the school cafeteria, but not happy enough to join our group of 250 every Thursday evening. On the other end of the theological spectrum, our Pentecostal brothers wouldn't touch us with a ten foot pole lest they too would get a sudden urge to pray the Rosary. We were fatherless and like most kids without a father, we made a lot of mistakes and got into a lot of trouble. With rare exceptions (men like Bob Mumford for example) the church didn't know what to do with us so they just left us alone.

So, I wonder, who's next? Upon whom will God almighty sovereignly choose to pour out his Spirit? I'm not talking fraud, I'm talking about the real thing. The real God's actual Spirit. Now that we're the grown ups,  will we step up and lovingly father and mother the next move of God or will we join the ranks of the too easily offended? What if this next move is among Muslims or Hindus or Mormons? What if God chooses to pour out his Spirit, dare I say it - among the gay community? Any one of these groups would be as offensive to Evangelical Christians today as Catholics were to the Pentecostals back in the 1970's or Gentiles were to Jews in the first century.

If you're on the church police squad you may feel this overwhelming need to get them back in line. However, if your only objective is to love them, to be a spiritual mom or dad, to help them experience God's love lavish and extravagant love for themselves... Well, then you just might want to turn in your gun and your badge because you're not going to need them anymore.

(C) Tom Zawacki 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Apology from a Christian

by Tanya Dwyer

I am sorry for the ways that Christians have behaved like idiots in your life.

I am sorry for the times they said one thing and did another.

I am sorry for the way you opened up your heart to them, believing they were representatives of a good God, and then they didn’t even really “see” you, and they trampled over you with their agenda to earn badges for God.

I regret, I deeply regret, the hypocrisy that was portrayed and how it has left you with a sour flavor wondering if that is who God really is.

The ways that religion and its manmade rules were purported as a higher way was wrong. The things you were told you had to quit or change were told to you by people who did not understand the model of transforming love. They took a role God did not intend for them to take.

Their assignment was to love you. In not doing that well, you got hurt. I wish that had not happened. I wish you had not been hurt.

I am sorry that you were seen as a project that someone else could use to gain approval with God.

I am sorry for the dishonor-for the ways your culture and heritage were not respected.

I apologize for the disregard of your personal story and history, and the way you were devalued as an individual.

I am sorry for the judgments; for the times when you were made to feel like a lesser than, or left feeling ignorant because the Christians all seemed to have a certain language they assumed you should know.

I am sorry for the times you felt excluded. That is the very opposite of love.

I am sorry for the times that ‘punishment’ included not letting you belong if you didn’t ‘behave’ according to their rules. How painful that is!

I just wanted to let you know today, I don’t know your story, but I would like to. When we sit down and talk, I don’t have an agenda.

I have done worse things than most people, so it’s easy for me to not judge you.

I don’t believe there is a set of rules that transforms me. I think it’s Love.

I give you permission to call me out if I get religious.

I think if we learn each other’s language we may be friends. I am hopeful that we can learn things from each other. I am sure we will find things to laugh about. I would like to try.

I am a Christian. To me, that means I follow the way of Love. I hope you won’t hold it against me.

Friday, December 02, 2011

How to Shrink Your Church

Pastors and churches spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year attending conferences, buying books, hiring consultants, advertisers and marketers, all to try and accomplish one thing: to increase attendance -- to be a bigger church.
I'm absolutely convinced this is the wrong tack.
Success is a slippery subject when it comes to the Church. That our ultimate picture of success is a crucified Messiah means any conversation about success will be incompatible with a "bigger is better" mentality. Yet, bigger and better is exactly what most churches seem to be pursuing these days: a pursuit which typically comes in the form of sentimentality and pragmatism.

Sentimentality and pragmatism are the one-two punch which has the American Church on the ropes, while a generation of church leaders acquiesces to the demands of our consumer culture. The demands are simple: tell me something that will make me feel better (sentimentality for the churchgoer), and tell me something that will work (pragmatism for the church leader). Yet it is not clear how either one of those are part of what it means to be the church.
Sentimentality is mother's milk to the church which has ceased to believe our faith should really make a difference in the way we live our lives. Instead of proclaiming resurrection, the sentimental church will devote their entire Sunday worship service to Mother's/Father's Day -- or worse yet, Valentine's Day. Not that we don't appreciate our parents and sweethearts, but the yielding of precious worship time to the celebration of greeting card companies signals a much deeper problem: we have lost track of the story of God. Yet, for a church to grow bigger, losing track of the story is precisely what is required.
Instead of pursuing faithfulness the sentimental church must provide a place where people can come to hear a comforting message from an effusive pastor spouting fervent one-liners which are intended only to make us feel good about the decisions we've already made with our lives. If our beliefs aren't actually, really true then at least we can have a Hallmark moment, right? Above all the sentimental church must never teach us that in the kingdom of God, up is down, in is out, and nothing short of dying to ourselves and each other can help us truly live.
Perhaps more than sentimentality, pragmatism is ravaging the church. Pragmatism has led to a fairly new niche industry I call the Church Leadership Culture. Taking their cues from business, church leadership manuals are more than willing to instruct the interested pastor in how to gain market share. I once heard church consultant and leadership guru Don Cousins say that you can grow a church without God if you have good preaching, great music, killer children's ministry, and an engaging youth minister. Cousins should know. He helped build Willow Creek Community Church and the church leadership culture. In the pragmatic church, there is only one question that matters, "What will work to grow my church?"
The fundamental problem with the one-two punch of sentimentality and pragmatism is, of course, the church's job is not to affirm people's lives, but to allow the gospel to continually call our lives into question. The church's job is not to grow -- not even to survive. The church's job is to die -- continually -- on behalf of the world, believing that with every death there is a resurrection. God's part is to grow whatever God wishes to grow. Growing a church isn't hard ... being faithful as the church, that's a different story.
I'm the pastor of a church called Redemption Church in Olathe, KS. Our church was planted in 2003 and founded upon church leadership principles that worked like a charm. We grew from 2 families to around 200 families in the first three years. We planted another church in a nearby town and continued to grow. But, when we decided to reject sentimentality and pragmatism and chase faithfulness instead we really began to grow ... smaller that is. I don't know for sure because we no longer count, but my best guess is that we have decreased by more than half. If pressed about my church's growth strategy, I usually say it is to get smaller and die; to continually decrease the amount of time, resources and energy we spend trying to have the ultimate church experience, and to spend more time actually being faithful. Nowadays, faithfulness -- not success -- is our only metric. Success is about "doing." Faithfulness is about "being," and it's really hard to measure.
Convincing the church she does not exist for the benefit of her members, but for the life of the world is a bad church growth strategy. It's also exactly what the church must do. It's a tough sell because crucifixion seems like a losing strategy unless you believe in the resurrection. Faithfulness seems like a losing strategy unless you believe that the power of the gospel trumps our ability to come up with all the right answers to all the right questions.
So, God save us from the successful church. Give us churches who shun sentimentality and pragmatism and aren't afraid to face the inevitable shrinkage which comes as a result of following Jesus. God save us from church leadership strategies. After all, it takes zero faith to follow a strategy, but incredible faith to pursue the kingdom of God and leave the rest in God's hands. If I've learned anything as a pastor, it is this: faithfulness flies in the face of sentimentality and pragmatism, and if you pursue it you have to expect small numbers.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Punishment or Cure?

The Crucifixion Misunderstood
by Wayne Jacobsen

Something about the story made me cringe every time I heard it, and since I grew up a Baptist, I heard it a lot: To satisfy His need for justice and His demand for holiness, God sentenced His own Son to death in the brutal agony of a crucifixion as punishment for the failures and excesses of humanity.

Don’t get me wrong. I want as much mercy as I can get. If someone else wants to take a punishment I deserve and I get off scot free, I’m fine with that. But what does this narrative force us to conclude about the nature of God?

As we approach Easter, the crucifixion story most often told paints God as an angry, blood-thirsty deity whose appetite for vengeance can only be satisfied by the death of an innocent—the most compassionate and gracious human that ever lived. Am I the only one who struggles with that? The case could be made that it makes God not much different from Molech, Baal or any of the other false deities that required human sacrifice to sate their uncontrollable rage.

We wouldn’t think this story an act of love from anyone else. If you offend me, and the only way I can forgive you is to satisfy my need for justice by directing the full force of my anger for you onto my own son by beating him to death, you probably wouldn’t think me worth knowing. You certainly wouldn’t think of me as loving. And this solution ostensibly comes from the God who asks us as mere humans to forgive others without seeking vengeance. Is He demanding that we be more gracious than He is?

Many of the Old Testament writers did look forward to the cross as a sacrifice that would satisfy God, and they used the language of punishment to explain it. But the New Testament writers looking back through the redemption of the cross saw it very differently. They didn’t see it as the act of an angry God seeking restitution, but the self-giving of a loving God to rescue broken humanity.

Their picture of the cross does not present God as a brutalizing tyrant expending His anger on an innocent victim, but as a loving Father who took the devastation of our failures and held it in the consuming power of His love until sin was destroyed and a portal opened for us to re-engage a trusting relationship with the God of the universe. The New Testament writers saw the cross not as a sacrifice God needed in order to love us, but one we needed to be reconciled to Him.

One of my best friends died of melanoma almost two years ago. Doctors tried to destroy the cancer with the most aggressive chemotherapy they could pour into his body. In the end, it wasn’t enough. The dose needed to kill his melanoma would have killed him first. That was God’s dilemma in wanting to rescue us. The passion He had to cure our sin would overwhelm us before the work was done. Only God Himself could endure the regimen of healing our brokenness demanded.

So He took our place. He embraced our disease by becoming sin itself, and then drank the antidote that would consume sin in His own body. This is substitutionary atonement. He took our place because He was the only one that could endure the cure for our sin. God’s purpose in the cross was not to defend His holiness by punishing Jesus instead of us, but to destroy sin in the only vessel that could hold it until—in God’s passion—sin was destroyed.

Perhaps we need to rethink the crucifixion in line with those early believers. God was not there brutalizing His Son as retribution for our failures; He was loving us through the Son in a way that would set us free to know Him and transform us to be like Him.

Now that’s a God worth knowing.

Jacobsen links: Life Stream, The God Journey, Transition & The Jesus Lens