“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” - Mahatma Gandhi
It has been MONTHS since I’ve posted something, and because I am convinced (either foolishly or hopefully) that my followers are having “The Ramblings of a Christian Skeptic” withdrawals, I must continue to acquiesce to my readers’ needs and literary demands.
Can I get a witness? No?
(distant crickets chirping away in a melancholic chorus)….
Looks like it’s just You and me, Lord. I’m totally OK with that, because I want to reflect on some words your Son Jesus passionately blurted out a couple thousand years ago which kind of feel like a one-two punch from Mark Wahlberg in the climactic scene of The Fighter:
“These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.”
Ouch. Knock-out is right. I bet there were a few stitches involved after that punch. And whenever we read these words and realize that Jesus was directing this lethal punch right at the religious leaders of His day, our sense of justice-being-served inevitably kicks into high gear as we say: “You go, Jesus! You tell those Pharisees and Teachers of the Law! Take that, you unmerciful legalists!”
Yes, once in a while, we love a good fight where the jerk gets knocked out and the Good Guy stands above him waiting for the count.
That is, of course, until we’re the jerks on the ring and the one-two punches are flying at us.
Because the last time I checked, I fall just as short of honoring God as the Pharisees did. In fact, let’s be honest and face the reality we would often rather attribute exclusively to the Pharisees and teachers of the law: We all fall short of honoring God adequately. We are all guilty of “worshiping in vain”. This truth becomes even more realistic for me when I reread the verse a la “up-close and personal”:
“Sebastian honors me with his lips,
but his heart is far from me.
He worships me in vain;
his teachings are merely human rules.”
Is this a guilt trip? No. Absolutely not. If you think it is, you’re missing the point. It’s more of a necessary yet awkward reality check. I feel like it’s more of a reminder that the Son came to do away with our dependence on these “merely human rules” which we incorrectly consider to be the foundation of our relationship with Jesus. I believe we worship God in vain when we worship the rules and regulations instead of the God who made them.
How can we bring our hearts closer to God? Is there an easy-to-follow user manual involved?
Well, simply put, ask yourself how your heart is close to your spouse, your best friend, your neighbor, and you have your answer: It is by means of communication, relationship and interaction, and that’s what the Son is after. And all these elements are set forth against a beautiful backdrop of Grace. And that backdrop of Grace hinges on the eternal and unconditional Love from a God who yearns to connect with and restore everyone. For your convenience, dear reader, I have placed a dictionary definition of the word “everyone” in this blog post:
every person : everyone deserves God’s grace | Jesus died for everyone, even if you are just a mean old legalist.
In conclusion: it is good to be put in our place. It is good for us to realize our need for Grace, even if it sometimes involves spiritual punches and metaphorical stitches.
The next time the words of the Son put you in the boxing ring of reality checks, be thankful.
A one-two punch from Jesus may be exactly what you need.
The Christian Skeptic.
In these days of space-age information technology, where opinions are made and posted for the world to see in the blink of an eye, I feel like my analysis of Rob Bell’s latest literary creation, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”, would only add to the already overloaded virtual bookshelf of book reviews frantically typed out by some of the nicest and harshest critics known to man.
However, in light of the fact that one of the two people who read my blog (the other one being me) vehemently insisted that I share my opinion on the subject, I have no choice but to succumb to the desires of my fan(s).
Allow me to start by listing the lengthy prerequisites required to properly read this book:
1. Have an open mind.
And that’s pretty much it.
The first thing I earnestly prayed for yesterday morning as I sat down with my yerba mate tea and this book was that God grant me an open mind, free from all of the preconceived notions that I’ve carried all my life as a Christian. I prayed for the feeling of paranoia that my beliefs are being attacked to be replaced with the desire to find and process the truth, and I prayed that the Holy Spirit guide me through the pages of what many have called heresy (Many without even reading the preface).
I’m not in the habit of spoiling things for people, but suffice it to say that the first chapter took me on a roller coaster of questions and sub-questions and questions within those sub-questions that made Sheikra in Busch Gardens look like a little kids ride.
I am so absolutely thankful for that!
I’m thankful because all of these questions set my mind on “inquisitive mode” and effectively set the tone for my level of openness and understanding of the remainder of the book. Immediately after the first chapter, the book eagerly takes off towards the intended destination: To openly discuss and challenge the conventional beliefs we have all grown up with in regards to heaven, hell, God, judgement day, and the true meaning of the Gospel.
Contrary to the popular belief of quite a few terrified Christians afraid their beliefs will be trampled and stepped on by this postmodern heresy, Rob Bell does not deny the existence of heaven and does not deny the existence of hell. You can put your pitchforks and torches down, people.
He does, however, consider that we have the God-given choice to begin the process of being “heaven-bound” here on earth, because he considers heaven to be a lot more than just a physical place where we go and play harps for millions of years and wear white robes and sing in perfect pitch. He considers heaven to be the restoration of all things to the way they should have been in the first place.
According to Bell, heaven is now. Because when you begin to live heaven now with the people around you, when you save someone from a destructive path or give a starving person a plate of food or give a thirsty person a drink of water (shameless plug for my charity: water page, http://mycharitywater.org/turning34), you are living heaven on earth. You are essentially preparing yourself for the day when heaven becomes a tangible, beautiful reality. (And no, I doubt we will be playing harps and singing like idiots all day).
Along the same lines, Bell describes the place we know as hell as a very real possibility already existing here, among us. Look at Japan. Look at the HELL they are going through. Look at the father who goes to jail for raping his 18 month-old daughter. Imagine the HELL the poor mother is enduring as she walks in on that terrible scene. Even less drastic, look at the person who could care less about others, who lives only unto him or herself, a victim of a selfishness and greed that can only lead to self-destruction.
Yes, there are definitely many hells on this earth, and Bell’s desire is for us not to only focus on what will happen to us at the end of time, but what is happening to us NOW. What am I doing to create heaven on earth? What am I doing to quench the fires of hell burning in this world TODAY?
Because the BIGGEST HERESY we can commit as Christians today is to say, “Oh, Jesus is coming back anyway, so why should we even worry about the world around us? It’s gonna burn anyway! As long as me and my loved ones are saved, I’m good.”
I find that type of thinking selfish, disgusting and repulsive. I could even consider that type of mentally a sort of hell on earth.
In the end, while there were certain things I did not agree with in “Love Wins” (very few of them, actually), they were VASTLY outweighed by the things I agree with. In the end, what Rob Bell is getting at with this book is that there is a God who is MADLY in love with us, a God who is in the habit of restoration in this world and the next and who truly, deeply wants EVERYONE to be restored to the way they are supposed to be. Notice I didn’t say “saved”. I said “restored”.
Is that universalism? Depends on who reads it.
I like to think of it more as hopeful, inspirational and breathtaking.
The Christian Skeptic
So driving on I-4 last week, I had the, um, the “privilege” of seeing what I believe sweeps up first prize as the most inspirational Christian bumper sticker:
And so, without further ado, and taking rather inappropriate judgmental liberties, I would like to address that person who carefully pasted this message on the bumper of their Ford F150 for the world to see.
Dear random person driving on I-4 by Lake Ivanhoe at 4:45 pm on Thursday of last week and who will probably never read this:
You are the reason my blog is entitled “Ramblings of a Christian Skeptic”. I understand you are fully exercising your freedom of speech and I guess the world thanks you for that. From your sticker, I can safely assume you are against “Obamacare”, most likely pro-life and would love to see Sarah Palin grace the halls of the White House in 2012. I respect your right to want that.
I also realize you most likely have an elaborate gun collection and have no problem in using any of them when your country demands you to and you are most definitely protective about your money and your freedom.
But please, don’t keep God all to your lonesome Republican self. Have a heart to realize that the Democrats, the Independents, the liberals, the conservatives, the pro-choice activists, gays, lesbians and transsexuals, the poor and the well-off, the hungry and the overweight, the disease-ridden and the health nuts, the welfare moochers and the hippies, the Hollywood actors, producers and artists (and yes, even Justin Bieber)…they all need God just as much as you do.
God is not an exclusivist, so don’t make Him out to be one. Otherwise, people like us, sinners in gigantic need of something infinitely bigger than your guns, your freedom and your money, will never get a chance to experience the same grace that keeps you alive and driving your Ford truck around Orlando every single day.
And if you ever read this, no hard feelings.
The Christian Skeptic
In the past few years as a Christian increasingly questioning my beliefs to the point of skepticism, I’ve asked myself where we got it wrong. I ask myself when in the history of our belief system did we begin to develop an incorrect theology and doctrine about God and Jesus and the essence of that often misunderstood, err, 9-letter “S” word, “salvation”.
A man named C.S. Lewis once wrote: ”Christians do not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” It makes sense, right? Of course, in a perfect world where there aren’t any “performance driven” Christians like myself, it makes perfect sense.
But we’ve somehow got it the other way around. The Gospel, which essentially means “good news”, states, among other wonderful things, that God loves us no matter what, regardless of our circumstances, personal issues or actions. We can come to Christ just as we are and we receive absolute forgiveness, no questions asked. It really is that simple, believe it or not.
Somewhere in our story as a Christian generation, we’ve managed to flip the order of operations. We believe we have to be good for God to love us. We believe we have to stop cussing, stop lying and stop cheating, in no particular order. We believe we have to attend a regular church service which will make us good Christians. And who taught us this? Our own parents, in most cases!!! And our parents were taught by their parents, and so on and so on, passing down an incorrect Gospel from generation to miserable generation.
The reality of the Gospel is summed up in Jesus’ words: “Come unto me, all you who are tired and weary, and I will give you rest.” It doesn’t say, “Come unto me, all you who have it all together, who go to church every Saturday or Sunday and who don’t say bad four-letter words.” It says “weary and tired”.
You and I are weary and tired of the BS we’ve been fed all our lives about God and Jesus. We’re tired of the hypocrites running things. Our souls are weary of people coming to us in the name of Jesus saying we’re going to burn in hell and we’re most definitely fed up with the people holding up signs saying we “must repent”.
Jesus is not asking you to be a nice little Christian boy or girl. He’s not asking you to be good. He’s asking you to realize that you are loved just the way you are. Let Him be the good guy in the relationship. Let Him be the one to bear that burden. You just be yourself, nothing more, nothing less.
In the end, all He wants is you, the real you. :-D
This past Friday, I spent the entire evening glued to the television, fixated by scene after scene of devastation as a paralyzed country, desperate for ways to salvage anything amidst the disfigured wreckage produced by nature’s fury, attempts to get back on its feet.
Inevitably, with a tsunami involved, Japan reminds me all too well of the horrific events of the Indonesian tsunami in 2004 that claimed the lives of almost a quarter of a million victims. The world also watched in horror as last January’s earthquake in Haiti destroyed the country’s already crippling infrastructure and killed an estimated 300,000 people, by some accounts.
For those of us living on the wealthy “side of the fence”, these kinds of tragedies change your life, albeit temporarily, and make you think about a lot of things. I say temporarily because I can attest to the fact that about 90% of us will forget what happened and move on with our wealthy lives, rejoicing over our latest achievements and actively doing things to further our individual “causes”, if you will. And by individual causes I’m referring to us finding answers to life’s daunting questions: “What should I eat today? What’s the latest gadget I can buy and how cheap can I get it for? How can I get my body beach-ready by summer?” You know, important questions like that.
As a Christian who is standing at the precipice of skepticism about to jump off the ledge, I see a “religious” version of this mindset permeating within my own people. I’m slowly gaining a deeper understanding of the situation, here, and it’s getting ugly. I had always asked myself why the world hates Christians but I’m starting to confirm the words of Mahatma Gandhi on an almost frequent basis: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
It is in the midst of tragedies such as the Japan earthquake and tsunami that I see us, as a Christian people, falter the most, and not even the words of Gandhi on a gigantic neon sign seems to help us fight the urge of being “Christian-y”. Our biggest failure lies in what we SAY in contrast to what we DON’T do. When tragedy strikes, we pray. Nothing more, nothing less. Originally intended by God to help us communicate with Him in order to gain a deeper understanding of what we should DO, prayer has become a mere crutch which we rely on to get past these uncomfortable situations.
It’s of no wonder that the author of the book of James vehemently challenges us to the core when he says that “faith, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Of course, upon hearing this statement, we would much rather let our Christian “indignation” step in and triumphantly proclaim that we are “saved by grace, not by works!” But the reality is that it’s easy to be “saved by grace”. What is often not very easy is to do something in reaction to that grace.
So what can we do to revert this situation? How do we veer this “Christian train wreck” from its apathetic collision course? The answer is very simple in theory yet very sacrificial in practice: We have to stop, take a look at ourselves and put our money, time, energy and resources where our mouths are. We have to put an end to the audacity of thinking prayer is the only thing we can do to help this world. Prayer without action means NOTHING to the person dying for a glass of water, needing a place to sleep or desperate to find something to eat.
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:15-17
Ultimately, it is about doing something that will benefit someone other than yourself. Am I crazy or is that what Christ (I believe that’s where the word “Christians” actually comes from) came to do?
We MUST continue to pray. It is vital that we keep our connection to God consistent and vibrant. Pray all day if we have to! But we cannot let another minute of prayer pass by without backing it up with life-altering, life-giving ACTION.