To Those Who Need It The Most…..

If Grace is trueFor what good is grace—this unconditional love of God—if it is not extended to those who deserve it the least but need it the most? God is love. Holiness and justice are not competing commitments. God has not chosen to turn his back on us or to punish us as our sins deserve. God has chosen to redeem us. Nothing requires God to condemn us, so God has not. Rather, in his sovereign freedom, he waits patiently for the day of our redemption.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 87-88). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The above quote comes at the end of a chapter entitled “The Character of God”. I must admit that I have had many of the same painful questions about the character of God as Mr. Gulley.  When I was told to believe that absolutely everything in the Bible is literally and in absolutely true I simply could not reconcile much of the god of the Old Testament to the person of Jesus. Until I was willing to weigh scripture the dichotomy of a vengeful God vs. Jesus of “love your enemy” I was racked with doubt about all things the church pronounced. When I fell in line with the idea of the “infallible words of God” my two views of God were irreconcilable.

I must admit that the God of the Old Testament scares me.  When he supposedly in the tenth chapter of Joshua told the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child in the town of Libnash this horrified me. This simply didn’t sound like the God of Jesus I had come to know in the New Testament. I heard various explanation trying to reconcile the two gods. One was that God was trying to protect the Israelites from the corrupting influence that intermarriage would have caused. Like Mr. Gulley mentioned about this story to me it sounds much like what Hitler used for destroying the Jews.

Here is a quote from Mr. Gulley relative to weighing scripture when it comes to these sort of opposite visions:

Weighing Scripture allows for the possibility that some descriptions of God and his behavior are inaccurate. It is not merely counting how many Scriptures say “this” about God and how many Scriptures say “that” about God and believing whichever one receives the highest score. Weighing Scripture is what Jesus taught when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” If Jesus had believed that all Scriptures were of equal worth, he would have answered, “All the commandments are equally important.” Instead, he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). Then Jesus added a pivotal footnote. He said, “All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). In other words, these two verses exalting love are as heavy as the rest of the Bible. Jesus tipped the scales irrevocably in favor of love.

When we finally reject the idea of every word in the ancient text is absolutely true and applicable for eternity then this contradiction between two gods goes away. I, as Mr. Gulley quotes above, believe  Jesus showed us that all scripture is not equal or inerrant.  There are just too many places where he taught us a different way than was recorded in the Old Testament.

I don’t spend much time in Old Testament lessons anymore. I know there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the experiences of those before Jesus but I choose to concentrate on Jesus and his lessons at this point in my life.

Having It Both Ways…

If Grace is trueWe can’t have it both ways. We can’t honor the words of the men and women of the Bible while ignoring their example. They trusted their experiences with God more than the words of those who preceded them. They believed in a God of fresh words. How can we canonize their words but ignore their radical obedience to the voice of a living God? We have become people who read well but listen poorly.

Yet, if we were to read Scripture carefully, we would discover an interesting truth. Of the nearly four hundred and fifty times when Scripture speaks of the “word of God,” only a handful of references imply any written document. In Scripture, the “word of God” is almost always spoken or heard. The word of God is a voice. It is experienced.

Time and again, those who opposed Jesus would quote Scripture. They would remind him of the Sabbath law, the requirement to fast, the provision for divorce, and the penalty for adultery. Jesus seemed unimpressed with a person’s ability to quote Scripture. His interest was in a person’s ability to hear God’s voice. He said, “He who belongs to God hears what God says” (John 8:47). To limit the word of God to the written word is to muzzle God.

This doesn’t mean I reject or ignore the Bible. It means I remember that the God I am reading about is looking over my shoulder, whispering in my ear. 

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 40-41). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t say that God told us everything he needed us to know two-thousand years ago and then say that God doesn’t speak to us today. But that is just the dichotomy that many Christians put themselves in so that they can believe that the Bible is literal and inerrant and the final word.  As the quote says “we have become people who read well but listen poorly”. I think that is the case with most Christian denominations today. My Quaker friends, of which the two authors above are members, might be an exception to that general thought but there seem to be few others. It is very interesting to see the quote above about the use of the biblical phrase “word of God” being a spoken word not a written word.

I don’t know about those of Jewish faith if any of them believe in the literal truth in their holy documents but certainly many Christians are told to believe in the literal truth of the Old Testament which is based on the Torah. Jesus again and again throughout his time on earth told us not to believe in things that were considered law by the clergy of his day.  I remember vividly the places where Jesus said “you have heard it said… but….” It seems that Jesus did more discounting of the then Scripture than he did backing it.

As Mr. Gulley said that doesn’t mean that we are to reject or ignore the Bible. We must understand that much of that text was more about passed down stories of ancient times than they were about lessons for today.  God continues to whisper in our ears but he also speaks to me through through these ancient stories…  Yes, as my once clergy friend says I have to be aware that some things I might hear are not from God. But I must also be aware that some things I read in the ancient text are just stories. Jesus told me that much….

Suspicious of Experiences With God…..

If Grace is true

This is an ongoing post about the book “If Grace Is True” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.  Here are the words for today.

Many people are suspicious of experiences with God. The believers in Jerusalem were suspicious of Peter’s experience. You may be suspicious of mine. Some argue that such experiences aren’t trustworthy, that infallible Scripture is the only safe guide in our search for truth. They forget the Bible contains the accounts of hundreds of experiences with God. Again and again, God came to individuals and spoke to them….

The Bible was never intended to end the conversation, but to encourage it. God didn’t fall silent with the last chapter of Revelation. He continues to reveal himself. It makes no sense to glorify the accounts of our ancestors’ encounters with God while dismissing our experiences with him today. We who are Protestants should be especially conscious of this need to listen for the voice of God. We are the descendants of people who, based on their experiences with God, challenged the Church’s interpretations of Scripture and its long-held beliefs. Martin Luther, John Wesley, George Fox, and many others described such experiences. They believed they had received a clearer vision of God’s character and will. All these people respected the Bible. Indeed, it was often in reading Scripture that they began to glimpse God’s new word. But they were also open to God’s leading in their lives. They understood what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 37-38). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I believe that God has spoken directly to me on a few occasions in my life. The most recent one was when he told me to quit being worried about what all those Christian theologians say about him but to listen to his words  for myself.  When I have mentioned experiencing God in the past it has come under suspicion of some, particularly a Lutheran clergy friend I once had. He came right out and said “How do you know it was from God and not the devil?” These words shocked me as I think I could tell the difference.  This was the beginning stage of losing that friend due to theological differences.

I truly believe as Mr. Gulley stated above that the Bible was never intended to end the conversation, but to encourage it. I believe that my previous clergy friend’s staunch insistence that the Bible is the last and absolutely final words of God are depriving him of so much more than he realizes.  Dismissing the experiences with God for the last nineteen-hundred years makes absolutely no sense to me!

It seems ironic that my previous Lutheran clergy friend discounts direct experiences with God when the founder of his denomination claimed to have just that when taking on the pope more than five-hundred years ago. It is obvious that not everything Luther believed was from God. His absolute hatred of Jews was certainly not. His belief in the total inerrancy of King Constantine’s bible wasn’t either. But then again his wanting to completely throw out the book of James among others shows he really didn’t either.  I will say that his understanding of just how wrong the church had gone did come from God.

If God said he wants all of us to accept his grace then I will take his word for that…. He certainly has the power to make it happen in whatever timeframe he deems best.

On The Path….

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I got to thinking the other day about how I am different than I was ten years ago and especially twenty years ago.  Although much is the same a lot has also changed in my life in those years.  I have a friend at the soup kitchen where I volunteer who proudly wears a T-shirt that says “Thank God, I am not the man I used to be”.  He is a recovering drug addict and one of my dearest friends. I too should be wearing that shirt as I am not the man I used to be either. Thank the Lord I was never involved in drugs, other than a thirty-year addition to tobacco which was bad enough,  but I have changed a lot in other areas. Mostly for the good I think. Sometime, well really often times, I get impatient with others who call themselves Christians but don’t act like it.  I can’t understand why they don’t understand the words of Jesus like I do.  Why do they still stubbornly cling to words of man instead of their creator?

Recently I posted part of Rachel Held Evans who is fellow Christian blogger, much more famous than I am, that managed to get an interview with Shane Claiborne.  Here is part of what he had to say regarding how we all are, or at least should be, constantly growing into what it means to be a Christian:

I do think it’s important to keep in mind that conversion is not just about a moment; it’s about a movement, about continually changing into the people that God has made us to be. So we need to have the same sort of patience with one another that God has with us as we move through that process.  Sometimes, when I speak at a mega-church or something, someone will ask, “How do you come here, after being in Iraq or Calcutta? How do you speak into a culture like this with love?” And it’s because I see myself in the mirror!  We’re all in process and that should give us great patience and peace with one another.

….That and the fact that the Bible is full of really messed-up people! Saul of Tarsus was a terrorist, for example. David was a womanizer who pretty much broke every command there was in two chapters of the Bible. But that’s part of the story—that God uses not only our gifts, but also our brokenness and our history. Desmond Tutu says that the love of God is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. What a beautiful reminder that we should should never write anyone off.

Conversion is not as many seem to believe, just about a moment in time. It is really about a lifetime change. We all take baby steps in the beginning and then our stride increases as we grow in life. Some as Shane points out above start out more screwed up than others but we must all realize that each of us no matter what we think, are at various stages of growth.

Shane Claiborne is a young man, at least by my standards, who is a visionary leader of the Simple Way, a faith community in inner city Philadelphia and helps birth similar communities around the world. He is also a prolific author.  If you have yet to pick up one of his books I pray that you will do so soon.  His words just might change your life.

Didn’t Die For Us Personally…

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‎”Can you imagine our Savior dying for all of us, yet we have to argue over just whether he dident die for us personally, and not for you. Sometimes you wonder if His lessons of sacrifice and devotion was pretty near lost on a lot of us.” – Will Rogers, 7 April 1935

Those who follow my at my other blog at RJs Corner know that I am an avid Will Rogers fan. I quote him often on that site. But, when I came across this quote I knew it was time for him to appear on Red Letter Living.  Will was not a very religious man; he spent little time talking about that but he did get it down with this quote. Since the quote aligns with my current study of universal salvation it belongs here.

I don’t think that Will is the only person who might be an agnostic to think about the idea of God’s grace. Will is troubled here with the idea that Jesus’ death was not for all. Most religions today believe that one of the reasons for Jesus coming to earth was to satisfy God’s wrath. That is God had to punish someone for the world not turning out as he had wished. So, he took on a human form as Jesus and allowed himself to be killed for our sakes.

Will Rogers here is lamenting the fact that so many who call themselves religious seemed to think , even in Will’s day, that Jesus’ sacrificial death was meant for them only and excluded those who saw religious things differently than they do. As Will said I think that the real messages of sacrifice and devotion is pretty much lost on a lot of us.  We just don’t seem to get it that God loves each and every one of us and not just a select few.

Did Jesus put conditions on his sacrificial love for us?  That is one of the primary things to think about when it comes to universal salvation.

If grace is true, it is true for everyone. – Part 4 If Grace Is True….

If Grace is trueI didn’t consider this for many years. I actually thought my experiences rare. I was one of the chosen. I was special. Now I know the truth. God whispers his love in every ear. He isn’t interested in declaring his love to a select few. He doesn’t limit his presence to Vatican City, to the halls of seminaries, to the offices of preachers, or to church altars. God doesn’t restrict his communication to the Bible. He doesn’t confine his presence to any single denomination or religion. God speaks to all people, even when they’re not inclined to listen.

Fortunately, God looks for the slightest yielding, the smallest opening, to make his love known. God doesn’t stand with his back turned until we ask for him. God doesn’t hide and expect us to seek him. God doesn’t keep his distance and await our call. God said, “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here I am, here I am’” (Isaiah 65:1). What God did for the children of Israel, God does for all. God stands at the door and knocks, and if we don’t answer, he looks for an open window.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 18-19). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The quote above is about the time that Philip Gulley first experienced God’s Grace.I too remember the specific time when I finally stubbornly admitted that I finally get it. I felt the Holy Spirit enter my soul. So you could say I was born again if that is your thing. God chose that particular moment and method to communicate with me maybe because my stubborn resistance was at a low point. It was a very emotional moment for me.   I felt like one of the chosen; one of the special ones. God found that smallest opening and made his love known to me. But what if it is really true that God does not choose among his children but has agape love for all of us and chooses us all?

I know there are places in the Bible that seem to say something contrary but if you really look at them with an eye toward universal salvation they also make sense in that venue.

  • What if we got this eternal damnation thing wrong?  After all it wasn’t really even formalized until the tenth century.
  • Are we wasting our time trying to get others to see Jesus when he already has a plan for revealing himself to each of us?  Could we be spending our time doing something that God has already worked out?
  • If grace is true then why isn’t it true for everyone?
  • Instead of trying to save souls maybe we should be teaching others about Jesus and how to follow his ways?
  • Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we all concentrated on doing the work that Jesus told us to do?

These are the questions I have been asking myself lately.  God doesn’t turn his back to us until we ask for him. He doesn’t lay back waiting for us to call his name.  He patiently keeps coming to us until we set aside our stubbornness and pride and see him as he truly is. God loves us all; I will leave universal salvation up to him to make that happen. I know he can if he wants to and he told us he wants all of us to have his love.

Putting Conditions On Accepting God’s Love…..

I am going to jump off the series of posts about God’s grace for a quick aside.

It amazes me how God can have agape love for us humans. He puts no conditions on his love and he loves each and every one of us. Knowing that God’s love for me is not dependent on me is reassuring indeed. It also amazes me how we Christians seem to put so many conditions on accepting that love!

I was recently vegging out for a few minutes with TV and came across a series that documents a Hutterite community. I didn’t get much info about it so I went to Wikipedia to try to learn a little more. Hutterites are Anabaptist in nature. They are similar to the Amish and Mennonites in that regard. It was obvious from the TV show that the male is the dominant figure in the family; women are very secondary to them but I’m getting off topic here.

The scene I watched was of a young, probably twenty-something, girl trying to get permission from her mother to go to an out-of-town wedding. The mother went on and on about how she didn’t like that idea as the girl might do something to jeopardize her upcoming baptism. She wanted reassurances that the daughter would not do anything “crazy” while she was gone. She just didn’t seem to trust her daughter when she said she would “behave”. Eventually mom gave in and off the daughter went. That is all I saw so I don’t really know if the daughter “behaved” or not.

It seems strange to me to put some conditions on being baptized and given my Catholic roots it is also strange that a twenty year old is still unbaptized. I am not trying to judge the folks on the TV show or even the Hutterites in general.  Generally I am more aligned with Anabaptists than most other versions of church.  They, unlike many other churches try to live out their faith in very discrete ways.

To illustrate another story about conditions that are placed on God’s grace by the church we need only go to the first stories out about the new Pope Francis. It is said that he chastised priests under him for refusing to baptize children born out of wedlock brought to them. Thank heavens (literally) that a future pope set the priests straight in this instance.

The point of this discussion is more about us putting conditions on getting God’s love when he puts none on giving it. To me baptism is one of the most fundamental ways of accepting God’s love. To say that you have to earn God’s grace by behaving in a certain manner seems strange to me, especially when it comes to baptism.

The Fullness of God’s Grace….. (Part 3 – If Grace Is True)

I was certain if I could preach the perfect sermon the altar would fill with people overcome by God’s grace. Now I realize there are many hindrances to experiencing the fullness of God’s grace—confusion, fear, prejudice, ignorance, and pride, to name a few. The removal of these obstacles ought to be the primary purpose of the Church.

Unfortunately, the Church has often erected more barriers than we’ve removed. Too many have entered our doors, only to experience condemnation rather than welcome. We’ve acted less like Jesus and more like his opponents.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 14-15). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

It is indeed hard to comprehend the fullness of God’s grace. Man puts many obstacles in the way of it and unfortunately as the above quote says the church which should be about removing obstacles seems instead puts many of them there. Many versions of church tell us that God can’t stand to look at us because we are just too sinful. They tell us that God sees us as no more than a piece of snot. Each individual version of church almost always tells us that they alone know the heart of God; everyone else just has it wrong in one manner or another.

They tell us that if we really want to be saved from God’s wrath then we must jump through all the hoops they put in front of us. If we dare to skip one or two or question why the hoop is there in the first place then we are told that we are not good enough to be with them.  Of course all these hoops and barriers are man-made; they are not from God.

When Martin Luther, a lowly monk, dared to question the practices of the church of his time the hammer came down hard. He was severely chastised and eventually kicked out.  The rules/hoops of those times mandated that you must pay indulgences in order to get your departed loved ones into heaven.  Martin Luther said no to that hoop.  You might think that he would have learned a lesson from this but that was not to be the case.

Luther decided to put his own conditions on church membership. For you to belong to his church you had to believe that the only way God can communicate with you is through the man-made document of the fourth century. You had to believe that everything in that document compiled under the eyes of a Roman emperor is literally true (or at least according to Luther’s understanding of literally true) and without the possibility of any error. If you don’t jump through this hoop then you were not good enough to be a part of his newly formed church. When Luther limited God’s communications with us to only a 1200 year old document he put in place a condition that was perhaps more harmful than the one he rebelled against.

It appears that I am picking on one particular denomination of the 39,000 different versions of church around today. For this post that may be the case but in reality the only thing that is different between most of the rest are the hoops themselves.

Confusion, fear, prejudice, ignorance, and especially pride get in the way of experiencing God’s grace.  All of these conditions are man-made, especially the last one. The church should be about getting rid of these obstacles. That should be its primary purpose.  Sadly that is not yet the case…..

God’s Wrath….

Many share my love for Jesus. We accepted him as Lord. We were baptized in his name. We became his disciples. We worshiped and adored him. Yet we’ve often divorced the words and actions of Jesus from the God he worshiped and adored. We’ve forgotten the very one Jesus came to reveal.

Those of us raised in the Church have a good excuse for this confusion. It’s what we were taught. The church of my childhood often glorified Jesus at God’s expense. Jesus was Savior. God was judge and executioner. Jesus was closer than a brother. God was distant—remote at best and hostile at worst. Many churches fail to emphasize that the love we experience in Jesus is the persistent grace of God.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 13-14). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I was raised for the first fourteen years in the Catholic church. Like most I was baptized in the first weeks of my life so by that act I guess I was accepted as a child of God. I was confirmed in the first grade and received my first communion. I later kneeled at the foot of the altar and spoke the latin words that was expected of an altar boy. I went to the first seven grades in a Catholic school. In school I was taught that only Catholic would be in heaven.  So , I was raised in the church so to speak.

I can’t say that I really remember much about what I was taught during those years. I knew that God and Jesus were two different things. God sat on a throne and passed judgements on everything I did and I was told he knew my every thought. That was kind of scary because I had some rather unusual thoughts.  So, to make sure I stayed a faithful member of his church I was to say my prayers every night before bed and confess all the “sins” I had committed during the week on Saturday morning.  I didn’t really have a good idea of what “sin” was so I usually used the same ones I had been taught over and over again.  It didn’t seem to matter to that mysterious person behind the screen. He forgave me every week and told me to say so many “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” as punishment. That was just the way life was; I really didn’t question it much.

As I then understood it, when I grew up that all of this stuff  such as prayer and confession would no  longer apply. My parents seldom went to church on Sundays; they just dropped us off and went home for some additional sleep; or so I imagined. They did invite the priests over for dinner on occasion so I assumed that was the grown-up version of confession and punishment.  It would be several years later that I really came to see Jesus as something more than the guy that hung on the cross above the altar.  It would actually take me abandoning church entirely for almost fifteen years before I came to actually even begin to understand  what being a follower of Jesus was really supposed to be like.

When I went back to the church it was to a Protestant version and that is where I was primarily introduced to God the judge and executioner.  But even then I was told that even though God was very vengeful, Jesus appeased his wrath by dying on the cross so I was covered. It would be several years after that before I took up the Bible myself instead of just being fed very selected verses by the cleric leader. But more on that the next time.

If Grace Is True…..

Gracae Book CoverI’ve never experienced a God of wrath. I’ve heard such a God preached. I’ve read of such a God. I’ve encountered wrathful people who claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. I’ve even allowed such sentiments to tarnish my view of God. Yet, in the midst of all these distortions, I never experienced a wrathful God.

The God I’ve experienced is the God of Jesus—a God of unlimited patience, infinite love, and eternal faithfulness. Jesus described a God who waits long through the night, with the light lit and the door open, confident his most defiant child will one day realize his love and turn toward home. Jesus revealed a God who loves the unlovable, touches the untouchable, and redeems those thought beyond redemption. He said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). My earliest experiences were with the love of Jesus.

I want to start off this mini-serious around the book by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland entitled If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person with a quote from the beginning pages. Being I buy most of my books from Amazon I can review a few pages to decide whether I want to purchase the book.  When I read these words I knew this was a book I wanted to learn more from.

I must admit that most of my church experiences have not aligned with the assumption that God will eventually reconcile all souls back to him. Especially from my Protestant years, I was taught  that I was to fear a wrathful God who would send me to an eternity of pain and suffering if I didn’t do what the church leaders told me to do. I was told to fear the power and wrath of God or risk eternal damnation. I was told that God only viewed me as worth no more than a piece of snot but he loved me anyway.

I was told that all the bad things that have happened in my life was probably just God getting back at me for things I had done in my life. It was his retribution for not being perfect. But even with all this rhetoric about a vengeful God I, like the quote above,  can’t say that I have ever really experienced a God of wrath.  I have encountered wrathful people inside and outside the churches I have attended over the years. They insisted on telling me week after week that people like us, that is those who made a declaration of faith in the beliefs they espoused and attended their particular version of church were saved from God’s wrath but just about everyone else would not make the cut.

When I dared to go off on my own and study the words of Jesus without those fearful words being chanted in my ears I discovered a different God. Now I will admit that there are some words attributed to Jesus that I can’t yet understand (I will have to do another series on that topic) but the vast majority that I do presently understand is about a God of love. One who has an agape, that is unconditional and infinite, love for me and all those he created.  With this new view of God I am beginning to align with Mr. Gulley’s notion that God will save every person.  How he is going to do that is not up to me and my petty understanding of him.  I just know that he is an all powerful God and if he loves us as the Bible proclaims then he will eventually bring us all back to his fold.

Much more about this and the book in the following posts.