Above all else I am convinced of this, that God is love, that Jesus Christ is his Son and is the full and final revelation of the Father to mankind.
I have known the deep despair that comes from hopelessness. Years of addiction had rendered me basically homeless, estranged from my family and unable to cope with even the minutest details of life. I could say it was in this darkness that God finally found me, but the reality is that He never left me. It was I, finally stripped of my pride and misconceptions, with a broken and humbled heart was able to find Him, calling out for mercy. God answered that call and began that day to lead me closer to Himself.
I can say with upmost certainty that I have FELT the love and mercy of God at the core of my being. The overwhelming crushing ocean of love that washes over all of us all the time. There have been specific moments when it was real and tangible. Kneeling in prayer and pouring my hurt and weakness out to the only one I could. Standing in worship and feeling the presence of Heaven worshiping in tandem with us. But more often than not it’s the still small voice I have painstakingly learned to hear. The voice of peace, and mercy and wisdom that I KNOW is not my own who urges me to be better, more patient, more forgiving.
I find it interesting having studied the people Christ called to repentance that it was always AFTER a transformative experience with the living God (in Himself). I think it is still this way. No amount of judgment, condemnation or sermonizing will move a single person towards God. It’s not until we experience Christ tangibly in some way that we are able to truly repent and move towards Him. To me this is the heart of the Gospel.
Enumerated here are some of the things that I have come to believe that have helped me finally experience freedom in Christ. This is not a complete list and things may change but it is where I am today.
The Bible is a trustworthy and accurate record of what humans have believed and taught about God since nearly the beginning of recorded history. It is a faithful testimony to the experiences of the apostles and the revelation of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Time and time again both archeology and scholarly research have borne that out. However modern Protestantism has thrust the bible into a role I do not believe it was ever meant to take, practically a fourth person of the Godhead. This modern form of idolatry has infected how we approach this incredibly important (and beneficial) book. Modern Protestantism preaches that the bible is a perfect and infallible book, unaltered and intact letter for letter, word for word. This is demonstrably false. There are countless editions, additions and subtractions. While none of these alterations dramatically alter the message it does underscore that the Bible is the product of human hands. To me the Bible is as an amazing collection of books, written by man on his long journey towards God. Yet it is unquestionably a product of the various times and cultures that produced its many authors. It is a map to lead all of humanity on our journey towards God, not the destination. It is a guide to the hope that can only be found in a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
The west is obsessed with the definition of sin as disobedience to some proscribed law handed down by God. While I think that is in partly true it’s not the whole picture. I have come to believe that sin is more than just the breaking of a rule, it is anything that separates us from God (which disobedience certainly does). This could be ANYTHING that we allow to come between us and Him. Living a life that is pleasing to God is not about avoiding breaking some arbitrary list of rules, it’s about joining ourselves to Him every day by conscious effort. It’s resisting our natural human tendency to rebel and go our own way.
Jesus was (and is) God incarnate, born of a virgin, lived a perfect human life and died a brutal death only to be raised three days later. He taught twelve men about the Father, bore that teaching out in his life and left such a mark on them they had no choice but to tell the world about it. Jesus defeated death by rising on the third day and offers us all freely the gift of life in him. Daily we must choose to follow Him and bear out that faith in our lives. Only the free gift of Grace offered to us by the Father can do this for us, available to all of humanity because of the gap that Christ bridged by his birth, life, death and resurrection but only if we choose to accept it. THIS is the Gospel, the good news!
To me this is the key pin to the pains and problems systemic to Protestantism. The overarching belief that God is angry with us personally and wants, NO, NEEDS to punish us is toxic and damaging. No matter what mental gymnastics you try to apply, this concept is counter to the claim that God is love. It flies in the face of the specific revelation of God among man, Jesus. Above all else Christ was Merciful, Kind and Giving to the people around him. He called all men to himself with loving kindness and humility. Christ lived the life that we were meant to live, Defeated Death by partaking of it and bridged the gap once and for all between humanity and its Creator. It is up to us to accept that salvation, every day choosing to join ourselves to Christ, taking up our cross and following Him. Our salvation is a love story, not a court procedural. It’s the Notebook not Law and Order.
This is a stumbling block for many (and was for me as well). I LOVE Science, I love knowing how things work and why the world is ordered the way it is. Due to fundamental literalism many people believe that the Bible and Science are opposing forces. The bible is not a Science textbook (nor does it claim to be). It IS a faithful testament to what people believed when the various books were written. We now have a much better understanding of how our universe works than our ancestors six to ten thousand years ago. I can hear the protests now, “If the earth is not literally 6000 years old then how did the fall happen, what about the Flood, what about X?”. My simple reply is, I have no idea. But I will tell you what I do know. Humanity is dreadfully broken (CNN anyone?). We have a propensity for selfishness, violence and pride that clearly speaks to the condition of our hearts. Two thousand years ago a man was borne who claimed to be one with God. He performed miracles, died and rose again. We know this because his twelve closest friends were so changed by this event that they told everyone they could about it. There was (and is) a lasting power in this message, it is the only power sufficient to work against the evil propensities of the human heart. I don’t care that age of the cosmos is greater than what the bible implies. It doesn’t bother me that genetics tells us things about the origin of life on earth and that doesn’t mesh up with the account of creation in the Bible. These discrepancies (and more) no longer bother me because frankly that doesn’t really impact my day to day faith. The sin and death that surrounds us DOES and the only answer I know for THAT is JESUS CHRIST the Lord.
This is a topic that I am still learning about (and unlearning). When you look at Acts, the first centuries of Christianity, even the first thousand years of the church you’ll notice that it doesn’t look ANYTHING like the church we have inherited in America. There were no Joel Osteens (shudder), no Pat Robertson’s (double shudder) no Westboro Baptists (I can’t even). The hate and ignorance being postulated as “faith” was nonexistent. The church the Apostles left to continue their work taught Humility, Love, Sacrifice and Union with Christ above all else. Sadly this seems to me the opposite of most mainstream protestant denominations. The early church was Liturgical, Sacramental and Unified, how far we have come from that foundation.
This is a list that stood out to me when I tried to think of what I have read that has helped me along my path. This is by no means complete but it’s a good start.
- The Bible (this should be a no brainer but try reading it on it’s own, without all the dogma and programming we all have recieved).
- Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (If there is only one other book you read it should be this hands down)
- Cold Case Christiantiy by J. Warner Wallace (an amazing look at the historocity and validity of the Gospel accounts).
- Misquoting Jesus by Bart Erhman (The author has an axe to grind and books to sell but I found this to be an interesting and informative analysis about the preservation of the text we take for granted).
- The Writings of the Early Church Fathers (you can buy the 28 volume set or just read them for free online like a sane person)
- Jesus as they saw him by William Barclay
- What we talk about when we talk about God by Rob Bell
- Love Wins by Rob Bell