Category Archives: Progressive Christianity

Against Such Things There is No Law

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

What about contempt, anger, discord, impatience, ridicule, meanness, dishonesty, rudeness and sarcasm? Where do they fit into a Christian’s life?

What about judgement? What about HATE?

Do these words fit your “witness” in any way? Sometimes they fit mine. I get so frustrated, and I think of some really clever comeback, and BOOM, out it comes. The perfect way to “heap coals on the enemy’s head” right? And I gloat for a few seconds, (until the person I’m sparring with comes up with an equally withering remark). And we keep going, an endless back-and-forth of clever comebacks.

That’s not from God. That’s the devil. That’s me, filled with pride.

I’ve heard people say, many times, “It’s not hate; it’s honesty.” Oh, come on. If it involves an escalation of anger and name-calling, it’s hate. At best, it’s honest hate.

But kindness… “Against such things there is no law.” God will not strike you down for talking kindly to a nonbeliever, or to someone who believes differently than you do. You have an opportunity to gently guide them toward God. And He forgives them, even as they sin.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34

Before you open your mouth (or commit your words to a comment box), pray. Ask God to put kind thoughts in your soul, so only kind words will come out. Remember, He died for the person you’re arguing with.

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Is it Okay Not to Know Everything?

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I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16

Isn’t this beautiful? I feel such joy when I read this.

But so much of religion is about judgment and hell, who will be judged and for what and why, what a word means in Greek, which translation is the only “accurate” translation, or how exactly did Christ’s death save us. When I listen to the arguments, sometimes I get tired of it and I want to quit.

I’m told that it’s important, not just to believe, but to believe right. (And that seems to involve believing what pundits say on the television. Really? Since when did a news station become part of the Christian canon?) By trying to explain God, to tell other people exactly what and how to believe, aren’t we setting ourselves up as gods?

I read the Bible every day, but I still have lots of questions, mostly “why” questions: Why did my friend die of cancer? Why are there good atheists? Why did God allow me to be abused as a child, before I could form an image of a loving father? I’ve heard a few answers, such as “God doesn’t want us to be puppets,” but they don’t exactly fit the questions.

Before Jesus washed Peter’s feet, he said, You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7) So, like Peter, I figure I’ll just accept Jesus’ lessons as he shows me, and I’ll try to do what He asks me to do. He will turn the darkness into light just before my feet. Enough for me to walk forward, step by step, but not enough to see everything at once. It would probably be too much for me to understand anyway.

When I do–when I simply trust God–I glimpse the wild and wonderful beauty of His creation. I realize that He is far bigger, and far more complicated, than I can imagine. He’s also more intimate and more loving than I can conceive. I just have to accept it. When I do, He turns the darkness into light and makes the rough places smooth and I follow after Him… and that’s enough.

Creationism vs Science. A Pressing Issue?

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1

Isn’t this a beautiful, poetic passage? The next time you read it, take it in. Read it as poetry. Because that’s what it is.

If you’re a Christian and you believe the Bible is a science book, that’s okay with me.

But I don’t, for two reasons:

#1) So many things we know about science are overlooked in the Bible that at best it’s incomplete, and at worst, it’s inaccurate. Creationism is not science. It avoids the scientific method, which starts with the question, not the answer. Creationism attempts to start with the answer (God created the earth in six days) and make the physical evidence appear to fit that “fact.” To make the words of the Bible into science takes an amazing feat of mind-twisting that just isn’t necessary.

#2) The creation story is not central to our salvation, and trying to convince people that it is only muddies the message of the Bible: The Gospel—the Good News.

When I read the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, I could pick apart its details (Did Adam have a navel? Was the serpent actually a snake? What kind of fruit did they pick from the tree?), or I can read the message: Man disobeyed God. Man lied to God. Man is no longer in paradise. In fact, there are multiple, multi-layered messages. Sin is a two-part action. Doing (or not doing), and lying about it! I learn new things about it every time I read it. Personally, I think contemplation of Adam’s belly-button just gets in the way.

I hear this a lot: “I believe in science, not religion.” My response? I believe in both. It took me a long time to drop the story of Adam and Eve as a literal event, because I was told that I had to believe it all as a Christian. In fact, I nearly dropped my Christianity instead. And I know many who have.

Fortunately, our salvation doesn’t depend on an unwavering faith in Adam, or Samson, or even Noah:

… And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

This is How We Know What Love is…

Progressive 22This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18

I’ve seen many posters on social media that say to love yourself. (That’s good. You must love yourself to love others.) And I’ve seen posters that say to let go of people who hurt you. (Of course. You shouldn’t allow yourself to be hurt.) Lately, I’ve seen more that say to get rid of people who don’t make you happy. (Wait, what? Am I supposed to evaluate all my friendships and keep only the feel-good ones? I’ve talked some friends through suicidal times. Should I give them the boot? Some of my friends are poor. Some lost their houses. Some are in poor health and can’t find viable jobs. Should I reject them because they don’t make me happy?)

Love is an action. We must reach out to others. If you have something good, don’t just tell people about it; share it with them. (Yes, this includes material possessions!) If you see people lovingly, and you look at a poor person without a home or healthcare, you won’t think “What a loser;” you’ll think “How can I help?”

But does the Bible really mean “lay down your life”? Most people don’t have to do that literally, (though some have–just this week a firefighter gave up his life to save houses in California). I think the answer varies with each person according to their wealth—not only physical wealth, but spiritual and emotional wealth. I think giving my life means giving time to listen to people’s problems, and being open to help in little ways if I can. It means being a friend. (I don’t help to the point that I burn out, because that helps no one.) It means tithing. It means helping at church. It means voting to help those who are in need. I always ask myself, “Can I give more? Can I do more?”

If you really have God’s love, you won’t be able to do anything else.

Who Does God Want to Save?

Progressive 21I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. 1 Timothy 2:1-6

There was a time when I was really messed up.

I’ve been a Christian forever it seems–I grew up going to Sunday school–but religion didn’t insulate me from the world’s problems. When I went down, I went down hard. (I’ll spare you the details, but it involved a lot of alcohol.) I haven’t forgotten it, and I haven’t forgotten what it felt like: lost, lonely, rudderless. I stopped going to church after sitting, week after week, next to people who appeared to be happy. Why? Because I thought I wasn’t “good enough.” Instead I turned to twelve step groups, support groups, and counseling. I found God in rag-tag groups of broken people who clung together for sanity. Now I know that I was always good enough for God, even if I wasn’t good enough for some Christians.

I think many Christians have divided the world into two camps: Christians, and those who will never be Christians. And they’ve constricted the definition of Christian to “those who believe exactly the same things I do.”

Some people love the passage about the narrow gate (“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Matthew 7:13) even as they ignore the first line of the same chapter (Do not judge… Matthew 7:1) and the verses leading up to it.

It’s up to each person if they want to walk through the narrow gate. But let’s not push people off the road. Let’s invite them on, even if they seem beyond hope to our myopic vision. God knows their hearts and, for all we know, He might have great plans for them.

Every Christian has a before: a time when they weren’t Christians, or they weren’t walking with God, or they just didn’t understand. Every person has hope.

Will God save everyone? I don’t know. But I won’t stop Him if He tries.

Do You Have to “Believe Right” to be a Christian?

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Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17

[Jesus] answered … For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. … and now something greater than Jonah is here. Matthew 12:39-41

How old is the earth? How many animals fit in an ark? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Did Adam have a belly button? Can a fish swallow a man?

Hermeneutics. Substitutionary atonement. Dispensationalism. Supersessionism. Orthogenesis.

Does God love gay people? What about homeless people? Single moms? Does God love me if I love gay people, homeless people, and single moms?

 

These are the things my friends discuss, and they talk as if it’s very important to their salvation.

If I know the right answers, will I get into heaven? If I don’t, will I be turned away at the gates?

I’ve heard of Biblical inerrancy, infallibility, integrity, and literalism. Sometimes it leaves me scratching my head. Which do I believe? A little of each, maybe? According to Wikipedia, “‘inerrant’ means there are no errors and ‘infallible’ means there can be no errors.” *sigh*

I lean toward allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament stories, as opposed to literal. (In the story of Jonah, there was no fish: the story is an allegory, the fish is a literary device; maybe the story was a vision or a dream. Maybe Jonah was a real man, and his story was embellished (in much the same way Santa Claus—who may have been a real person—gained a supernatural ability to circle the earth in a flying sleigh), or… for all I know, there was no Jonah at all.

Here’s my confession: I’m just not sure.

Thankfully, my faith is not in Jonah, or Noah, or Adam. It’s in Jesus. For the time being, I choose to believe that Jesus really did die on the cross for my sins, but I don’t know whether to call it “substitutionary atonement” or not. I just believe. Yes, I “believe” science. And yes, I know coming alive after three days is not explained by science. Call it “willing suspension of disbelief,” if you like. Science explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain everything, and I still leave room for miracles.

What science doesn’t explain is the inner working of the soul. That, to me, is where God fills in the gaps. Sometimes I have a flash of understanding. I usually can’t put it into words: it’s (sort of) a feeling that everything is alright and God is in control (but that is far from adequate). This, I believe, is the Holy Spirit (God) speaking directly to my soul. Words would only muddle it up.

There is one thing about God that can move me to tears. Sometimes, when I strip away all the theology, when I think of Jesus allowing Himself to be executed by His own people; His choice to go through that kind of pain—for me—knowing that I don’t deserve anything like that at all…

Then I just believe.

Who is my Neighbor?

Progressive 20And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. Genesis 17:20

If you need a refresher, Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn son. His mother was Hagar, maid of Sarai; she was sent into the desert. The story in the Quran is similar, only with an emphasis on the branch of the family that led to Islam.

Hagar was clearly a godly woman: Genesis 21:17-21 says

“God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up.

If God blessed the originators of Islam, who are we to curse it? And why must we close our hearts to the many kind, peaceful Muslims?

I believe we should see Muslims as Jesus told us to see the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Who is my neighbor? Anyone who is loved by God!