Blast From The Past-Or

I haven’t been to church in many years.  I’ve had my share of pain in God’s house.  I got saved in a wonderful little church; at our wedding, the pastor officiated, one of the church members sang, another played the piano, and my best man was the guy that taught me the Bible lessons, the truth about God and my sinful condition.  If it weren’t for that church, for those men & women that cared about a long-haired hippie over 25 years ago, who went out of their way to teach me and accept me unconditionally, well then I’d still be smoking pot, drinking whiskey and hating God and religion and everything else…

That’s where the tale turns sad.  The pastor was having an affair with the (married) singer, the piano player divorced my best man, because according to the rumors, he was actually gay.  The whole church fell apart; the man of God that constantly preached to the women about dressing appropriately to keep the men from sinning, even in their own imaginations, divorced his wife and married the (now divorced) singer.  We hung on for a couple of years as we looked for a replacement pastor.  Finally, we hired a guy that turned out to be mentally unstable, power-hungry, and systematically “disciplined” all of the church leadership, putting his own people in positions of authority, as the church dwindled down to a handful of families and eventually folded.

Church after church, pain after pain, it goes on: one pastor had all the time in the world to talk to me about the music program but never found the opportunity to talk about my daughter’s salvation, one pastor cared more about the building than the people & refused to let hurricane refugees stay there because they might mess up the carpet, another church was so darn perfect that my repeated attempts to join it went unanswered, and the pastor of the little church where my in-laws attend, after preaching about faithfulness and staying true to your church for years, quit and took a job in another city.

Maybe I’m being petty, maybe I’m just sick of hypocrites yelling at me from the pulpit to be a certain way and then finding out they’re the exact opposite, or being scolded and riddled with guilt about not giving or praying or attending enough.  Never, never enough.  I tried, I really tried to get into another one, but I haven’t been in church in a very long time.  The last time I was in a House of God was at my parents’ 50-year wedding anniversary commemoration.  I had to squelch the urge to laugh as the Knights of Columbus came in with their scrub-brush helmets, and the solemn procession of artifacts; the HUGE bible, the equally intimidating giant cross, the swinging, smoking box of putrid odors that reminded me of a funeral.  It all just reminded me of Monty Python…

Fast-forward to yesterday, when my 12 year old son got invited to church by a friend at school.  He went, and he LOVED it.  My wife went too.  She LOVED it.  It was fun, exciting, and the Sunday School teacher said that they were about to start the Bible classes for the kids, the same classes that I took those many years ago that led me to Salvation.  It’s been such a long time, I had given up hope of ever finding a church everyone was happy at, one that didn’t make you feel uncomfortably conspicuous, under-dressed or out of place.  There’s only one, teenie, tiny little problem.

It’s my old pastor’s church.  The one from the wedding.  The one who destroyed my faith and led me on a fruitless quest for a new spiritual home.  The one who ruined another man’s life by stealing his bride.  His church.

I swear (though I know I shouldn’t), God has such a weird sense of humor.  Everything about this is wonderful.  I’ve been praying that God would somehow find us a new church, or some way that my two young children could hear the Gospel.  And here it is.  The perfect opportunity, the only church my son has EVER enjoyed going to, the one where my wife met friends she hadn’t seen for years, and the only problem is me.  Funny, huh?  I think it’s hilarious.  I want my kids to go to church, any church at all, except that one, so of course, that’s the one God leads me to.  I just can’t stop laughing.

So what would you do?  I know what’s expected of me.  I’m supposed to forgive the lying, cheating bastard for all the pain he’s caused, even though he has NEVER apologized & never will, and go back to being, in a way, under his authority, swallowing this pride in the interest of making my family happy and getting them to know God and His son Jesus.  I just don’t know if I can swallow that hard.  That’s a humongous pill for me.  It’s about the size of a crocket ball, covered in spikes and coated with tar.  It just won’t go down.  Forgive him?  I’m afraid I’ll see him, say hi, and land a hard right cross on his stupid smug face.  He deserves it, he really does.  And I deserve an apology.

But… and there’s always a but… but I’m not going to.  I don’t know how, but I’m going to have to find a way to let go of the past, while revisiting it again.  Kind of tricky, but I can do it because I have to.  Because being a father that cares about his wife & kids is more important that a vendetta against someone who abandoned his.  I love my wife and my children.  It would pain me for eternity if my entire family didn’t share God’s heavenly house when these clay homes we live in turn back to dust, because of my own sinful pride.  I’ve done it before.  I spent years hating my schoolyard bully that tortured me all during my younger years.  In my heart, I forgave him, realizing he probably had a horrible home life, bad self-esteem, or whatever – it didn’t matter, because as a Christian, I have to forgive, let go, and move on.  And so I have.

This one will be much harder.  It’s one thing to let go of fantasies of murdering someone for crimes they did as a stupid, ignorant child.  It’s quite another to put aside the pain caused by an adult that should know better, that did know better, that did it anyway; I need to see that underneath that tough, obnoxious, manipulative exterior is the same weak flesh that composes my body.  I am a sinner, so is he, and I am in no position to judge, I’m really not.

So I guess putting the past behind you is only a nice cliché; to really move on with your life, rather than ignoring it, sometimes you have to face & embrace you own painful memories.  Sometimes your past catches up to you, and stares you right in the face.  And then you have a choice to make: stay angry and bitter, or forgive & move on.  So blast the past – or forgive the pastor…

Christian Church: Bait and Switch

I would like to thank the people in my life who led me to the Lord.  Pastors, evangelists, teachers, deacons; they showed me a free gift from God, Eternal Salvation.  God has everything I need for a rich life: the true riches, like security, forgiveness, wisdom, peace, understanding, and most of all, love and unconditional acceptance.  The whole reason I left the Catholic church was because they didn’t know their Bibles; they have you all anxious about dying, because you never know if you’re going to “get in”, if your good deeds will ultimately out-weigh your bad ones.  The Independent Baptist church that I got saved in knows salvation.  They know it’s a free gift, based on faith, accepting Jesus’ price paid on the cross as payment for my death-sentence because of my sin nature.  They nailed that, if you’ll forgive the pun, having a profound and accurate understanding of the Cross.

And I would also like to thank those pastors for pounding me week after week with guilt and obligation to try & get me to pay back that free gift.  It’s a trick.  All that free salvation and unconditional love lasts about 3, maybe 6 months, and then they want you to turn into a worker, a slave to the church.  I’m supposed to tithe, ten percent of my GROSS income before taxes, and THEN give offerings on top of that.  I have to go to church.  Every.  Single.  Time.  It’s.  Open.

Tithing, I have no problem with, because I’m a giver.  Just look at my bank account; it gets precariously low at times, because I’m constantly helping people out when they need it.  Same thing with my time.  I can’t say no.  I just give & give until there’s nothing left.  I don’t have a problem with that.  But, that’s never enough.  It’s never, ever enought.  I’m supposed to be telling other people about Jesus.  I’m supposed to be cleaning the church.  I’m supposed to be volunteering for a mission trip, or at the soup kitchen.  I’m supposed to be handing out tracks to everyone I see, and finishing every sentence with “Praise the Lord”.

That’s just the stuff I’m supposed to DO.  For a long time, I also gave up music.  Dancing (not that I ever did, but now it’s forbidden).  Smoking, drinking, rated R movies, corner stores that sell Playboy, grocery stores that are owned by an affiliate company that is involved with an organization that supports abortions.  The list is endless.  And no matter how much I tried, gave, and gave up, it was never enough.  I felt constantly guilty.

You know, a lot of Christians complain about how church members act one way on Sunday, then “leave their Christianity at the door” for the rest of the week.  But we have to.  Do you think I would want my church friends to know I have a drinking problem, and I like heavy metal?  I can’t be honest and open at church. I can’t tell them about my new homebrew Beer recipe.  I caught hell for buying a new car.  The preacher would pound out a point about loving the world but not loving God, spending all our money on new cars but neglecting the Church.  Thanks alot, preacher.  Thank you so much, after living with broken-down, rusty cars, after driving for years in a vehicle that was so bad, I could look at every other car on the freeway for an hour in traffic, and NEVER see one worse, that I finally decided to give something to myself that would make my commute to work less like drudgery and ease my depression, but now I’m a selfish, carnal sinner.  Thanks for that.

The wages of Sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Every sacrifice will be tested by fire, to see if it’s made of wood, stubble, or fine gold.  The rewards we get in Heaven are going to be for those times that we yielded to the Holy Spirit, and let Him work through us.  Anything I’ve done out of guilt, forcing myself into uncomfortable roles because the preacher said to, is just fodder for the fire; I will get nothing for it in Heaven, because I did it, not God.  Our souls are eternal, and nothing good can come from our sinful flesh.  That’s why the big bait-and-switch doesn’t work.  Sure, you may get people to be your little puppets for a while, confusing gratitude for Salvation with a sense of needing to pay for it, but in the end, they’ll burn out; they’ll run out of human-based fuel, because they’re not waiting for God to fill them with the desire and ability to perform His will, and they’ll be like me.  At least I’m giving them something to preach about: I’m the backslidden Baptist that they’re always talking about, a lost sheep, or maybe a prodigal son.

So I’m an enigma.  A Christian who is in the world, but not of the world, quietly doing what I feel is God’s will in my life, in such small ways that noone will ever notice.  And if that’s all God ever wants from me, I’m OK with that.  God loves me just like I am.  I trust God.  He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and I will wait on the Lord to renw my strenght, because if He wants me to do something, He will give the the will and ability to do it, NOT a red-faced screaming preacher…

Too weak for church

I thought I was past this.  I figured, hey, I’m a mature Christian.  I know about grace & faith.  Heck, I got saved over 25 years ago, got several passages of the Bible memorized, pray every day.  I’m ready to try going back to church.  I can handle it.  There’s a new pastor at the local church, and my daughter says he’s nice.  Going to give it one more shot.

Well, I found out I’m still too weak for church.  I can’t ignore the crap that the pastor says, that I know is not true, without feeling guilty, unwelcome and out of place.  They’re all the same.  Why does every pastor in the world think they have to motivate the members?  Why do they have to use guilt to manipulate them into giving money, time & effort?  It’s like they think we’re all just sitting around, bored, watching football or throwing quarters in the fountain at the mall as we watch the shoppers go in & out of Victoria Secret.

It wasn’t even that bad.  He said, If you haven’t talked to someone else about Jesus in the past week, I’ve got to say, I’d have to wonder if you’re really a Christian.  <HUH?>  So, if I’m not an evangelist like you are, I’m not a Christian?  If I don’t have the exact same spiritual gift as you do, I must not be saved?  In other words, if I’m not like you, I will go to Hell.  Really?  Are you serious?

There are many spiritual gifts.  I believe that when you get saved, when you give up on trying to do good deeds to get to Heaven, when you realize the only way is through faith, when you trust Jesus as your savior, you immediately get transformed, and one of the things you receive is a spiritual gift.  Evangelism is only one possible gift.  There’s the gift of administration, encouraging, teaching, giving, mercy, preaching, faith, tongues, the interpretation of tongues; I happen to have the gift of giving.  Probably why I only have $300 in my checking account right now.  I did NOT get the gift of preaching.  I’ve tried.  My first pastor guilt-tripped me bad enough that I actually went out on visitation, where you cold-turkey knock on a stranger’s door and tell them about Jesus.  I was so nervous I was actually shaking.  I can’t do it.  I’m shy.  I don’t push my beliefs on other people, and I never discuss religion unless it happens to come up in conversation, and, well that’s it – I’m shy, so I must not be a Christian.

I’ve heard the line before, if you’re a Christian, you should be producing fruit; the fruit of a Christian is another Christian.  Bullshit.  The fruit of a Christian is the fruit of the Spirit that dwells within him: love, peace, joy, kindness, gentleness, meekness.  Ever hear of that, preacher?  It’s right there in the Bible you keep waving around.  And by the way, the fruit of a tree is NOT another tree.  Duh.  What crazy person ever planted an apple tree to get more apple trees?  Don’t you plant an apple tree to get APPLES?

That’s such a common pitch.  It’s like all the multi-level marketing companies out there.  The product is beside the point – what they really want you to do is recruit two friends, who will recruit two friends, who will recruit more, and so on, until the company is busting at the seams with fresh, new people who are all excited about having this wonderful new opportunity.  Why can’t they just preach the Word?  Isn’t that their job?  It’s the Word expounded that makes believers.  Yes, the world needs missionaries, it needs preachers, it needs people to go and tell the ignorant masses about Jesus, but it’s ridiculous to think that everyone in the church is supposed to reproduce.  God has picked me, given me my place in life, saved me, and right now the best guess I have is that He wants me right here, providing for my family and doing the best I can to help others when the opportunity arises.  If He wants me to preach, witness, or whatever, he’s going to have to miraculously give me that ability, because I don’t have it now.

And what’s this that they always say?  Come as you are, totally accepted?  That’s a lie.  It’s just something they say to get you in the door; they don’t really mean it.  Why do you think everyone dresses up for church?  Because that’s the standard.  You either look nice, or feel awkward in your cutoffs & flip-flops.  And what about my drinking problem?  I’ve struggled with alcoholism for years; sure I can join the church, but if they find out I drink, I’ll be kicked out of any leadership position I might be in, or I’ll turn in to their project; if I don’t get “healed” within a reasonable amount of time, then I’ll be shunned.  Oh, I must not be a Christian because of that too – because I still sin, right?  I’m not under the power of sin any more, so I must not be a Christian because I don’t have the same sin as you?

I know, it wasn’t that bad, but after a couple of decades of preaching, I’m sensitive.  I believe that God loves me just as I am.  I know, I should be going to church, I should be doing a lot of things.  I used to have a long, long list of should’s and shouldn’ts.  It drove me crazy.  Look, when I got saved, I got a new heart; I’m still in this body, and I’m going to have temptations & struggles until the day I die.  Go ahead & judge me, but remember, when Jesus came here his harshest words were for the hypocrites that judged people for sinning, rather than begging forgiveness for their own sins.  Why can’t people figure out that unconditional love is just that: unconditional… you don’t have to DO ANYTHING to get saved, so why do preachers have to guilt-trip you to DO stuff AFTER you get saved?  Is he saying I’m supposed to pay Jesus back for something I couldn’t afford in the first place?

I’m just a weak, flimsy man.  I’m struggling with things that I never in my wildest dreams thought would be an issue for me.  I’m getting older, fatter, drunker and ever more depressed when I thought I’d be fit, rich, successful and happy by now.  And I don’t need someone to make me feel bad every Sunday morning, to remind me of my failures and shortcomings.  I need love, acceptance, encouragement & forgiveness, that’s all, and the preacher can take all of that other crap and shove it up his ass, because I’m not buying shit today.

How to get to Heaven

The sad news is, you have to die.  With the Mayan appocolypse just around the corner, that may happen sooner than you think.  Unless you’re talking about a PERSON named “Heaven,” then you just have to go for a visit.  Otherwise, the chances that you’re going to die some day are 100%, it’s an absolute certainty, and then what?

There are a lot of colorful stories about meeting St. Peter at the “pearly gates” and having to pass some test or quiz to get into Heaven.  The Bible does mention that Jesus gave Peter the “keys to Heaven” so maybe he will actually be there.  Kind of a stretch, but who knows.  Most people believe that it’ll be a numbers game; all your good deeds will be weighed against your bad deeds: if your good deeds outweigh the bad ones, you get to go in!  If not, then you go straight to Hell to burn in flames and tortuous separation from God.  Catholics believe there’s another option called Purgatory, which means, well, you’re not THAT bad, so you have to go to “timeout” for a little while to pay off your remaining debt.  Purgatory is not mentioned in my King James bible, so I tend to not believe it.  There’s actually a narrative of what actually happens on Judgement Day in Revelation chapter 20:

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works…And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

There’s not much wiggle room here; no mention of anyone pleading their case, or being given a chance to make amens.  If your name’s not in the book of life, then you’re doomed.  Sounds a little harsh, but we’re looking at it from the wrong perspective.  It’s true, that people are judged by their works, but for the Christian, it’s to determine what kind of reward you get; for the non-Christian, it’s to convict you.  So how many sins does it take to send someone to Hell?

One.  The sin of being born.

Adam and Eve were without sin when they were created.  When they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they became sinners.  That was the first time that they needed someone ELSE to pay the penalty, so they wouldn’t have to; God sacrificed an innocent nearby ram, both to cover their sins and to make coats to cover their naked bodies.  From then on, sin was in the world, hard-coded into Adam’s DNA.  Any descendant of Adam is automatically a sinner at birth.  It’s part of our human nature, passed down from father to child.  (Interestingly, it’s not passed via the mother: the Bible says, God “visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation.”  Something like that, anyway.)

So, mankind has a problem.  You are a sinner, I’m a sinner, and the only way to be in the presence of a perfect God is to have someone pay for that sin; either you pay for it yourself, spending eternity in Hell, or someone else, someone who IS actually perfect, who actually HAS no sin, has to pay it for you.  And, it can’t be just anybody; he has to be human (like you), and has to be perfect (unlike you).  But, if everyone who is born is already a sinner, how can ANYONE be prefect?  Ah, but remember, Jesus was born of a virgin; he inherited no sin from a tainted father, but was conceived of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, Jesus was born sinless, remained sinless his whole life, and gave his life willingly to pay the price for our sins.  It’s a substitution, law-type thing.  You have a hefty fine to pay, and you can’t pay it; either you accept someone else’s offer to pay it for you, or you go to jail.

I can hear what you’re saying: but what about little kids?  ESPECIALLY the tiny little unborn ones that never ever got a chance to even see daylight?  Well, there’s an exception for those little guys.  Jesus was talking about some kids, and in Matthew 18:14 said “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.”  Kids are innocent and aren’t held accountable until some time when they reach, oh I don’t know, 13?  Depends on the kid.  There are all kind of other groups that you may wonder about; one is, what about those isolated little villages that never even heard of Jesus?

Romans 1:20

“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”

Faith.  That’s all it takes.  That’s how everyone in the Old Testament got saved.  Read the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11.  Faith in the coming savior.  Worship of the Creator rather than his creation.  And it’s absolutely, positively not about works.  Remember, Jesus was crucified with two other criminals.  One saw Jesus as who He was (took a lot of faith to see a dying man as a king), and that day, Jesus said he would be with him in Paradise.  That’s what you call a last-minute goal, a full-court throw at the buzzer – nothin’ but net…  He had probably thousands of bad deeds on one side of the scale, and one good deed (faith) on the other, and it wasn’t even close.

So how does one get saved:  Easy peasy.  1. Recognize you are a sinner, born that way, a child of the devil, and if you can’t remember, just ask your mom 2. Trust Jesus as your savior and put all of your faith in Him and only Him.  3.  there is no three.  This is  a two-step program.

It’d also be nice to join a church, a Bible study, even an online one can be helpful, and to publicly proclaim your new faith.  If you never say it out loud or tell anyone, it may not really have happened.  Personally, when I got saved, I got baptized;  Full immersion in the water, showing that I identify with His death (into the water) and Resurrection (coming back up).  Technically, it should have been three days & nights, but I couldn’t hold my breath that long…

I’m still a sinner.  If you doubt that, just look at my other posts… but I’m in God’s family now, not Satan’s.  No matter how bad I am, no matter how many imaginary bullets have flown from my mind into other drivers on the freeway, there is nothing I could do, even if I wanted to, to get out of my new family.  Just like my kids.  Sure, they can do all sorts of bad things, misbehave, run away, hurt themselves or others, but there is nothing, NOTHING they could do to ever get out of the family.  And as angry as I may get, they will always have my unconditional forgiveness.  No matter what.  Period.