In Which Lindsey Rants about the “Free Gift” of Salvation.

So, we’ve all heard it said that “Salvation is a free gift.”

I hate that phrase.  It’s dishonest at best and a flat out lie at the worst.  I know what people are saying, what they are basically saying is that all you need to do to get to heaven is say a simple prayer, it’s the easiest thing in the world, everyone should do it just in case. Ugh.  I’m a gentle person, but that makes me want to smack someone.  First; if one says “Jesus I’m so sorry forgive me of all my sins” but they don’t mean it, it’s only fire insurance, do you think Jesus is going to see that as honoring his sacrifice?  If we bully and nag and break people into saying a simple prayer just in case do you really think that is honoring God or that God will honor us in turn?

Oh, but someone might say, it’s still a free gift, even if it’s not meant that way.  If we wish to follow Jesus, he asks for nothing more.  Oh, really?  Really?  Please, explain to me in the Bible where someone told Jesus “I want to follow you”, and Jesus responded, “I ask nothing of you but your desire to follow me.”

I call bullshit.

The statement that Jesus asks nothing more than that we follow him is semantically sound.  Yes, all Jesus wants is our obedience in following him, but that obedience to actually follow him leads to all sorts of things like us having to treat our family like they are dead (Matthew 8), selling all of our possessions to give to the poor (Matthew 10), denying our own selves (Mark 8).  Not only does this call to sacrifice for Jesus’ sake come in those three places, but it is reiterated throughout every single gospel.  There is a cost.  The disciples did not walk beside Jesus down roads lined with flowers and people cheering (okay, they did that once, but Jesus was crucified shortly thereafter so I’d still argue that it’s not entirely a pleasant affair), it was a long hard slog through many trying, sometimes treacherous, and sometimes terrifying affairs.  In Jesus’ scant two years of ministry he still somehow managed to change the world.  Not because of hearts and roses and come on everybody let’s love one another- there was that, one cannot deny that- but there was also work.

There was sacrifice.

There were tears shed, long and hard prayers, countless miles logged and nights that dwindled into morning.

There was blood shed.

Ask the disciples, that last night in the garden, if they felt that their salvation was something free.  As Peter, as the rooster crowed, if he counted any cost.  Ask Paul, as he lay suffering blind, if he felt that Jesus’ call was a joyous thing.

It’s not free.

It’s worth the price, but it is not free.

I hear the words “Salvation’s Free Gift” with the same jaded ear that hears a salesperson in the mall asking if I want a free bottle of perfume.  Sure, it’s free, after I finish paying out all the contingencies.  Now, at this point I’m sure someone is thinking about the fact that we pray the Sinner’s Prayer and are guaranteed entrance into Heaven and all those nasty bits are about the reality of pursuing a holy life here on earth.  I could argue the theology that backs that realm of thought, but instead I’ll ask a practical question:

What use is it to be saved, if one does not actually desire to live out that salvation?  What use is my own salvation, if I have no desire to live in God’s light and offer up love for my fellow man?

If the only reason I gave my life to Christ was for my own selfishness, I don’t want him to let me into heaven.

And any Christian that would trap someone in selfishness in order to get them to follow God is as foul as the salesperson who claims that the bottle of perfume is free.  That’s no way to run a Kingdom, especially in the name of God.

/end rant

A God-given right to sin.

I recently received a comment that made this argument:  God made men in his image.  God despises homosexuality.  Therefore no one is born gay.

This is an argument I’ve heard before.  “God didn’t create anyone to be gay.”  Nor did God create anyone with the intention that they be a liar, or a cheat, or depressed, or impoverished, or ill, or unfriendly, or bigoted, or…  Well, here’s the thing.  Human beings are, in fact, all of those things.  Aren’t we?  We all have our foibles and our falling short.  And yet… didn’t God create us to be human?  The first man and woman, they were made in His image.  They were Very Good.  But God gave them a choice, to obey or follow temptation.  They didn’t obey, and since then, there’s been a falling away.  Like a copy made of a copy made of a copy made of a copy, humanity may resemble what once was called Very Good, but we’re splotchy and distorted and far from a perfect representation of God’s image.

Like a statue that has weathered a thousand storms, we are made in the form of the artist’s intent, but long ago there was a falling away.  There’s a lot of bird poo and insect skeletons and discoloration and the odd missing limb here and there.  Yes, God made Adam and Eve in His divine image- but you and I bear the image of the fall.

There’s this little nagging detail:  God gave humanity the right to fall away for a reason.  To be holy must be a choice, made freely, not an indictment.  And I strongly believe that inside of each one of us there is a vision of the person God desires us to be.  We don’t need to be reminded of our faults.  A liar knows it’s wrong to lie, those who hate derive no pleasure from it, those who eat to excess have their waistlines to remind them why it’s wrong- every sin bears its fruit, and in a very real way we are forced to consume the product of our fallen lives.  Throughout the Bible one sees a very simple truth constantly reiterated:  the path of Righteousness bears its own reward, and any other path bears its own punishment.

In my eyes the journey to salvation is not undertaken because one hates where one used to be and despises all that dwell there, but because where one is going is such a wonderful place.  It may be a small distinction, but it’s an important one.

In any case, God may not have “created” someone to be gay- but he did create them to be human.  And as maddening as this truth may be, we all have a God-given right to sin.

*small editorial note: sometimes I have to write as if I’ve made the assumption is that being gay is inarguably wrong, which I apologize for.  Constant Readers know it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Atheism: God’s gift to Christianity

Every once in a while I peruse atheist sites just to bone up on what’s going on around me.  If people are going to explain to me why I’m an idiot for believing in God, I want to take advantage of that.  (And read that last sentence without an ounce of sarcasm.  I really want to understand- especially when it’s a former Christian making the explanation.)

I am always horrified at the amount of time meant making the philosophical explanation as compared to the amount of time devoted to explaining what major narcissistic assholes Christians are.  There will be long articles about simple concepts such as “if the Bible is true and it’s words are true and as 1 John 4 explains “God is love”, then does it make sense for his worshippers to be such unholy JERKS?”  Often these articles display a fair amount of bitterness, and are generally accompanied by numerous personal stories of being treated like crap by Christians.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I read such diatribes with a fair amount of pain and embarrassment.  Years of listening closely have taught me that many Atheist’s principle argument against Christianity is, well, Christians.  I wish more Christians would look past themselves long enough to read what’s written between the lines.

Atheists aren’t our enemies.

They, and their harsh critique of our religion, are a gift.  While the philosophical critique of our faith is (hopefully) one we’ve all examined and overcome, their sometimes-slightly-venomous critique of our behavior as a people is a necessary one.  They ask questions such as; “If Jesus’ clearest commandment was to love our neighbor, how can Christians justify their political beliefs/offensive evangelism/lack of donations to neighborhood associations”; or “If Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery despite the law than how can Christians justify condemning homosexuals under the law”; or “how can anyone be so self involved as to think that God really cares that they lost their keys or spilled coffee on their shirt?”

I think that all Christians should both hear and prepare themselves to respond to such questions.  And when those questions bring a pill of conviction, we ought to take it.  I think we OUGHT to be ashamed that more Christian groups don’t donate to neighborhood associations.  (Or refuse to donate if said association doesn’t stock Christian evangelism materials.  Or to demand that associations block young womens access to pro-choice groups as a contingency to donation.)  I think there IS a great deal of confusion about how much time in the New Testament is devoted to our freedom from under the law and the fact that we so desperately seek to keep a set of laws to govern our behavior.  I think that there is a GREAT deal of narcissism in Christianity and not enough focus spent on, well, loving our neighbors.

But, most of all, I think that a Christian who is assured of their salvation need not fear hearing the voices from across the aisle.

Atheists aren’t our enemies.

And the more we treat them like it, the more we fill their forums.

The Bible is a Book.

The Bible is a book.  It is words on paper.  In and of itself, aside from the presence or essence of God or true revelation, it is only a tool.  It is incredibly dangerous to think otherwise.  Perhaps by saying that straight off and not giving context I’m doing my readers a disservice, but when trying to decide how to write this particular stream of thought I just kept coming back to starting with what I really believe.

I really believe that the Bible is a book.  It is a divinely inspired book, and it is capable of giving life and truth and hope, but simply because something is capable of doing another thing does not mean that it does it all the time.  Water is capable of preserving your life but can also take it.  Many things can be one way but are also another way in another context- and likewise the Bible can be used to give life but has also been used as a defense for taking it.  It can be used to share truth but has been twisted into lies.  The Bible can be used to find God- but that doesn’t mean that the essence of God is always found there.

Maybe I should talk about this another way.  I write.  And as a writer I know that no matter how carefully chosen my words are, I have no control over the way people interpret them.  There’s what I mean, there’s what I write, and there’s what you read.  And the Bible is like that: there is what God inspired, there is what men wrote, and there’s what the reader interprets.  And just because God inspired the original text doesn’t mean that He meant for you to interpret it the way you did.

NT Wright has a really intriguing article about Biblical Authority in which he basically says that when Christians talk about the Bible as an authoritative work they rarely mean what they say.  Either they mean to say that their interpretation of it is authoritative, or Christian belief is Authoritative, or actually that God is authoritative.  But you can’t sincerely say that the Bible, in and of itself, is authoritative.  Now, back to my own opinion: the Bible is a narrative.  It’s not a set of rules, regulations, or formulas that can be plastered across everyone’s life to the same affect.  While all of those things can be found in the Bible, I must say (with fear and trembling) that they have little intrinsic worth.  And I mean that sincerely.  The law, absent the revelation of God’s love, will bring only death.  That is why Christ came to the earth to die- to free us from the law of sin and death.

And it’s really a shame that we’ve taken that sacrifice as an opportunity to institute more of the same.

But I’m losing myself.  I came to talk about the worth of the Biblical text.  And what I want to say is this: It is worth little without the revelation of God’s love for you.  If you read it looking for God’s love, you’ll find it.  If you read it with God’s love in your heart, it will give you life.  Otherwise it’s just words.  Because, as NT Wright so brilliantly stated in his article, the Bible doesn’t turn to itself as an authority.  The Bible turns to God and revelation of God as the final Authority.

We as Christians should do the same.

Christian Housewife visits Atheist Site.

A few days ago an atheist by the login name of croixian1 left a comment telling me that God was a “magical faerie” and asking me to visit his site.

Anyone who knows me at all would realize that I then had to visit. No one is ever allowed to question my faith and have me not respond in some way. Really. Croixian1’s site offered very little that I found compelling, aside from a post which called the recent overturning of the gay marriage ban in California a “bad day for bigots”. Well, Thank God I’m not a bigot! It was a good day for me.

In the side bar he linked to a bunch of other sites that are supposed to also help me realize why God is Imaginary. Most of them talked about thinks like there being no quantitative proof that prayer works, or talking about the inherent hypocrisy in Christianity and how Christians don’t actually behave as if Christ were real.

Guess what? I agree wholeheartedly with many of their assertions, but I still believe that God is real. My favorite of the sites, simply enough called God is Imaginary had a list of several things to contemplate as “proof” of God’s unreality. I take issue with several of their points. I won’t go through them one by one all in one fell swoop because who has the time… but I will address a few here. Like their “look at your church” point, in which they describe a church that is moving onto 33 acres and building soccer fields and a new building with a “huge” sanctuary and library as “your typical church.” I don’t know what America those guys live in, but in my small town the “typical” church seats about two to three hundred, barely has sufficient parking and doesn’t pay their pastor much. In small towns the country over that is the case. Why a few hundred “mega” churches are accepted as the norm and the standard by which all churches should be judged baffles me. It’s simply not logical.

They also offer the fact that “You ignore Jesus“. I hope they didn’t mean me. They show several verses in which Jesus talked about the fact that we should sell our possessions to feed the poor, not acquire wealth, and serve God not money. All great verses. All teachings that I follow. We live in the first floor of a rental house and live sort of communally with our upstairs neighbors, sharing the work and sharing our things. We drive two vehicles, one a van we bought from my parents very used and the other another used car. We paid cash for both. We don’t have credit cards. We don’t have many possessions at all. We live a lifestyle of sharing and giving and work with our church to take care of our neighborhood homeless. My husband and I follow those teachings. So, people who made God is Imaginary, you lose on that point as well. Are there many Christians who don’t follow those teachings? Yes. Are there many who don’t know Christ? Yes. But this little Christian does.

There also seems to be a focus on the fact that many Christians don’t believe in evolution and thus Christians are irrational. Guess what? I don’t believe in the “Young Earth” teachings. I believe that evolution isn’t necessarily at odds with faith. If to God a second is a thousand years and a thousand years is a minute, then how do we know how long those seven days took? The Bible was written by humans and thus is open to human flaw, as human understanding simply cannot encapsulate the Godly mind. We don’t know how our Earth was created– but believing that it was created is still entirely possible.

I looked at the entry titled “Think about a Christian Housewife” because I am one, and I wondered if they might have anything interesting to say about me. They posed a situation in which a housewife prays for God to help her clean a mustard stain off of her favorite blouse and that prayer was “answered” and then they ask why the same housewife couldn’t just, you know, pray for poverty to be eased or the hungry to be fed.

Kiss my Christian Housewife Ass.

I never, ever, pray over such trivial things as a stain on a blouse. If I did, I’d spend my entire life in prayer as I’ve got two very young, very messy children. And I DO pray for the poor and the hungry. I DO pray for world peace. I pray for a lot of things which the people who penned that site have absolutely no concept of. Do I believe my prayers will be answered? That’s an insanely complex question to address and would take an entire post in itself, if not a series of them.

But one thing I am sure of:

If Christian Hypocrisy is the Atheist’s strongest argument against God, Christianity needs to change.

Free Advice Friday: dealing with conflict

Everyone ends up in arguments.  Every personal relationship has it’s moments of extreme tension.  How we confront them and the way in which we cope afterwards says a lot about who we are, our maturity, and our ability to maintain intimacy overtime.  So how to approach conflict?  Here are a few things I’ve learned in six years of marriage:

  1. Tell the person who hurt you that you are hurt.  The assumption that offense is known and acknowledged is a dangerous one.  No matter how intimate the relationship, your spouse, family and friends are not mind readers.  If there is pain, allow it to be exposed.  Be frank.  That is when healing is possible.
  2. Acknowledge wrongdoing. If you bring up thing (A) and your spouse brings up thing (B) that you did to hurt them, stop.  Breathe.  Apologize.  A true and heartfelt apology will open the door for your own hurts to be dealt with and healed.  What is more important, that you immediately achieve recognition of your own pain, or that intimacy can continue?  Be willing to be wrong, and you will find your spouse (or friends, or family) willing to admit their wrongs to you, as well.
  3. Deal with the fact that you only control yourself. You can’t force humbleness, you can’t evoke change, you can’t create better intimacy by requesting it from others.  The only one you can birth those things in is yourself.  If the most important thing is the continued relationship, you will have to make sacrifices.  If the only thing that matters is your own perceived needs…  You may just go on needing, forever.
  4. Always use a soft tone. You may be angry.  You may be red-in-the-face screaming angry.  You may be throwing the chairs up against the wall angry.  But if you approach the conflict that way, you immediately put everyone else on the defensive.  Use a soft tone and a gentle touch.  “Demonstrations” of anger don’t have to be loud and rude.  Softly saying, “I am angry.  I cannot deal with (this) or (that) and I need you to hear me.” will allow for the conversation to grow.
  5. Use personal language– don’t say “you did this, you did that, you hurt me.”  Say, “I was hurt when this or that happened.”  “I had a bad reaction to your words.”  “You may not have meant to hurt me by saying this or that, but I was hurt.”  Do not immediately place blame.  Speak sincerely about yourself and your feelings and needs, and allow an opportunity for the offending party to take blame.
  6. Don’t bring in a third party– don’t immediately bring other people into your personal problems.  It may be tempting to call your mother before broaching a subject with your spouse, but if you do and then say, “mom said this about what you did” expect the fight to continue.  If you must call someone else for emotional support, leave them out of the discussion.  Your problems with your spouse or family should remain between you and the people involved.
  7. Learn how to calm yourself down.  The heat of anger can be dangerous.  Figure out what calms you down, be it breathing slowly or cleaning or fishing or yardwork or painting or handling your Wii (gaming system, for the uninitiated), and if you feel yourself losing control- go do that thing-  BUT-  never just walk out on a conversation.  Tell your spouse (or friend, or family) what you are doing.  Say, “I really want to have this conversation, but if we keep talking right now I will say things to hurt you that we will both regret and be unable to unsay.  Is it okay if I take a few hours to do (this) or (that) and we can talk after?”  If you want to sweeten the deal, you could even say, “here, take this twenty and go see a movie or get dinner while I calm down.”  That way you both feel taken care of, and the discussion can take place over calmer waters.

So, this weekend, have a happy relationship!

Free Advice Friday: Polite discussion

*Note:  I’m just some girl.  Take any and all advice at your own risk.

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who like to argue just to get their blood up.  People who don’t really even care about absolute right and wrong but just proving that they are right- even if they don’t truly believe in what they are saying.  There is a fine art to disagreeing and an even finer art to winning people over.  If what matters most to you is making people concede, you’re a jerk.  So, if what matters most to you is people respecting your beliefs, you have to learn to tame your tongue.

  1. You don’t have to win to be right.  You can still be right, even if other people don’t say you are.  If you feel the need to always have other people agree with you, perhaps your convictions aren’t as strong as you think they are.  So, before getting into a discussion, ask yourself a few simple questions:  “Am I doing this to express myself?” “Do I feel like I need this person’s approval?”  “Will conceding if there is no hope of convincing them harm me in some way?”
  2. Be okay with saying, “we will never come to an agreement.”   Sometimes you have to shake your head and walk away before things get ugly.  Learn to say, “we will never agree”, and leave it at that.  If the person you are talking to says that you are stupid or being unreasonable, walk away quickly.
  3. If what you are discussing is strongly tied in with your beliefs beware of emotion.  It’s easy to lose track of yourself when you are defending something close to your heart.  So remember to separate the belief from the person- just because someone disagrees with your point of view does not mean they think that you are stupid.  (Or… at least…  it shouldn’t.)
  4. If someone tells you that you are just stupid, stop talking.  That person is too belligerent and cannot argue their point of view, so they attack.  Explaining yourself will likely do no good.  The person with whom you’re conversing can simply continue to retort, “you are stupid.”
  5. Be respectful of others, as well.  If you have the right to believe A, B and C even though others think they are wrong, that also means others have the right to believe X, Y and Z even though you think they are wrong.
  6. Everything eventually comes down to personal opinion.  Even when the vast majority of facts support a single argument, people may choose to side with the minority of opinion.  Just look at elections:  there are plenty of facts to defend either candidate- yet those facts will not necessarily garner support.  Why?  Because eventually it boils down to a matter of personal preference.
  7. Use good language.  Be well spoken.  There is language which is contrary and rude, and that kind of language while it may cause people to cede the point, won’t necessarily win them over.  Use gentle language, and always phrase things in a way that shows that you are aware there is a difference of opinion and that is okay.

A simple guide:

Good:  “Personally, I support Senator Obama because I like his Health care plan.”

Bad:  “You support Clinton?  Moron.”

Good:  “There are plenty of good reasons to become a vegetarian, it’s cheaper, it takes less manufacturing and thus conserves energy, etc…”

Bad:  “Barbarian.  Eating meat is murder.”

Good:  “My religious beliefs inform every aspect of my life and make it richer. I don’t care if you believe in God, but you should respect my lifestyle.”

Bad:  “You are a heathen and will burn in Hell.”

Good:  “A liberal philosophy embraces the most sacred tenets of our Constitution, like autonomy of persons and states.”

Bad:  “Conservatives are bigots and selfish fat cats.”

Perfect:  “Are you trying to engage in a discussion about my opinion or only voicing your personal beliefs?”

Atrocious:  “You’ve got to be the most ignorant person I’ve ever seen.  No, don’t open your mouth.  I can tell just from looking at you.”