I've been reading a few blogs, and posting a few comments here and there, and it has just been shocking today to realize just how much anti-Christian anger there is in the blogsphere.
You all likely know I am a born-again, Bible believing Christian. I don't have all the answers, by any long stretch of the imagination, but I have enough answers to satisfy my own faith and my own questions about The Nature Of Things. I'm convinced of the things I believe, and there's really no way to change my mind.
That's the crux, the very root, of faith - having a conviction and following it.
I have great respect for those Christians who feel a calling to go out into the world and face the anger and hatred spewed by those who feel judged by the Christian message. Most who DO feel judged don't truly understand the message. That they don't understand the message is likely the fault of those bringing the message. They don't tell it correctly, and they don't illustrate it with their lives.
Most people hear the gospel message as this: "convert to Christianity, believe in Jesus, or burn in hell." Slogans like "Fire and brimstone","turn or burn", "God hates gays" are wrong-headed thinking, hateful, and only isolate and alienate the very people that should be hearing the TRUE message.
If that was the entirety of the message, I'd tell the messenger to screw off too, because that's NOT the message Jesus brought. Far from it.
Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction."
The very first thing one must do to understand the message of Jesus is realize or acknowledge that, there IS a God. "Fear" refers to respect, reverence, and acknowledgement of the FACT of God, not trembling in your boots fear.
--If you truly believe in your heart that there is no god, no higher being, no higher plane;
--and that we are all just protoplasmic proteins and chemicals;
--that through a billion-year-long series of amazing strokes of blind and dumb luck those proteins and chemicals have combined in just such a way to form more and more complex organic systems in millions of different forms (plants, animals, bugs, viruses, bacteria, etc) all over the world, with each new version being better than the previous model;
--and that through our fantastic luck, fate has somehow conspired to allow chance to pass us from unliving chemicals and proteins into the realm of true living things, and has built us into the penultimate creatures on earth, with thought processes that outstrip every single other living organism on this planet;
--if you truly believe all that, then STOP READING HERE. Your faith in dumb luck far outstrips my faith in a coherent being designing us, and nothing will convince you otherwise. Have a nice journey.
But, if you have an inkling that there is something more, some design, some purpose that you just can't put you finger on.... then you are at the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. The understanding that God just might exist opens up to YOU the possibility of something more, and whole new realm of ideas to ponder that just might have meaning for you.
Just about everyone knows about the New Testament's pivotal verse, John 3:16. You see it displayed at football games by chubby men with painted heads, or by screaming kids holding up signs at baseball parks.
But not everyone knows what it says.
Jesus said, "God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die."
Hmmm. Not so threatening. Kind of reassuring really. We all know we're going to die someday. The idea of not dying is kinda cool. Hmmm.
Yeah, but... if God loved us so much, why doesn't he just make it so we don't die at all? Why do we have to die, period? The answer I've found it quite simple, really.
God's ultimate act of respect for the human individual is free will. You have the choice to either believe or not. An all-powerful God could have designed you without free will, to only accept God as your.... well... god. But you have the choice to look around at all the worlds religions, ideas, thoughts, or even into your own heart, and come up with what YOU think is the right approach to life and religion. Pretty cool, actually. God respects your choice, and lets you make it whether it is (in God's eyes) right or wrong. But we all are responsible for our choices.
We humans do die. All of us, eventually. What happens after that? Most people have the Gospel message backwards.
Most people have a concept that, as punishment for not believing or having faith in Jesus, God is sentencing them to hell. But this is wrong, and not Biblical. The truth is, everyone is already condemned, every single person has broken God's laws and, as justice, is under a death sentence as The Law demands. God, in an act of true compassion and love, is offering mankind the hope of being saved from that judgment through faith in Jesus. The judgment is already done. Everyone is already condemned. Jesus is the chance to be saved from that condemnation.
Read on past John 3:16:
John 3:17 & 18, Jesus said, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! No one who has faith in God's Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn't have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God's only Son."
Sounds a little ominous, I'll admit, but it's very clear. Have faith, and you will be acquitted of your crimes, because Jesus will stand for the punishment in your place. Don't have faith, and you remain under the condemnation order, and will pay the punishment for yourself. It's not vindictive, or angry, or vengeful. It's very logical.
Humans broke the law (sin). Justice must be served because the law was broken. Jesus offers to stand in for the punishment of anyone who will ask him and believe in what he's doing. God honors Jesus' sacrifice for those that believe in that sacrifice, and releases the believer from condemnation.
There's no hatefulness here. No anger. Just truth (in my opinion). The Way Things Are. That's where I think far to many Christians fail in presenting the case for their beliefs. They get to emotional, to judgmental, and too forceful.
Jesus never once yelled at anyone to get his message across. People encountered him on their road of life, and Jesus simply told them his message, and people either responded or they didn't. But, Jesus' message was not an easy one to hear. It was radical, challenging, and life-changing. And not everyone who heard it, liked what they heard. Jesus knew this. He was eventually killed because of this message.
(As one author I've read put it: Jesus was a radical, dangerous man in his day, and his words were dangerous to the status quo. He brought God to the common man, which the religious leaders had tried to bottle up for themselves. You don't crucify Captain Kangaroo or Mr. Rogers. You crucify someone you think is dangerous.)
Read on just a little further in John 3:19-21: Jesus continues saying "And this is the judgment: the light (the truth of God existence and message revealed in Jesus) has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."
And therein, folks, is the choice granted to you as a birthright from God. Nothing hateful or horrifying, but something a bit sobering, if you truly stop to consider it. We all know the concept: we do things we don't want anyone else to know about, something we like to keep in darkness, which we'd be horrified if anyone else found out about, but that we WANT to keep doing, for whatever reason. This is what Jesus is talking about. That's the judgment, how each and every one of us has already condemned ourselves.
But Jesus offers hope, and salvation.
That's the Christian message I know and am convinced of. I don't know this homophobic, gay bashing, angry, vengeful, judgmental Christianity I see all around. They are off the mark and have gone astray, and I'm sorry for the message they portray. But, again, even the correct message...
--that all people, everywhere, have sinned and fallen short of the righteousness of God;
--and that we are all under judgment because of it, and must ultimately be brought to justice;
--and that Jesus is the savior who till take the punishment for us if only we'd make the choice to accept it and believe in it;
...even this message brings hatred and venom from many. Jesus knew this stuff would happen. I'll leave you with these parting words straight from Jesus' mouth:
Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you whenever they revile you, and they persecute you, and they say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Thank you for attending church today. Drop a donation in the plate on the way out. ;-)