Posts Tagged ‘salvation



17
Apr
08

Locked up tight

For some reason, God just ain’t letting me finish up my rant about misuse of speaking in tongues just now. Ever since my post on April 8, I keep getting ready to sit down and address and refute some of the crazy and erroneous stuff I’ve found in researching the topic, but the Holy Spirit keeps popping some other idea into my head instead of that. Once again, maybe tomorrow.

Instead, I have a topic inspired by a post on religion over at The Field Negro. There’s a lot of good stuff not only in the post itself by especially in the comments, which are coming from a wide range of believers, agnostics and atheists. (One person even echoed my assertion on March 28 that atheism itself is a religion—boy I could have used him or her around here back then for backup. 😉 Ah, well.)

What Field’s post got me thinking about was why we close ourselves off to God so often in this world. Note, I said we. I did it before I became born again by ignoring Jesus and treating God like an afterthought. And even though I’m secure in my soul’s salvation now, I still close myself off at times by not going in the directions God sometimes nudges me. Hell, if I had paid more attention to what God wanted of me, I would have started this blog a year or two ago (at least) instead of only being in my third month of this.

We humans do a really good job of locking our spiritual side up. Sure, lots of people say “I’m spiritual,” but it’s just talk in most cases. As humans, we’re full of a whole heaping load of bullshit, and we sling it so well that we convince ourselves we really mean it. But most people aren’t spiritual at all—or aren’t nearly as spiritual as they need to be.

Why is that? Why do we shove our spirits, our souls, into a vault and slam the door? Why won’t we let someone like God inside? Why won’t we even open the vault door more than a crack every once in a while to see for ourselves what’s going on in there?

Because we’re afraid.

We’re afraid of what we’ll find if we explore our spiritual side too much. We’re afraid of what might have to change in our lives, not the least of which is how we view what we do and whether we can do it with a clean conscience anymore. We’re also afraid of what we might have to give up, never considering how much more we might gain in the process. We’re afraid of being held accountable. Of having expectations placed upon us.

It’s like the way we sometimes lock up our hearts. But our hearts are too deeply intertwined with our hormones to be kept locked up. For the vast majority of people, the heart cannot be caged. It is the ultimate jailbreaker. It’s the master safecracker. No lock can keep it back and no cell can hold it. At least not forever.

But the spirit…the soul…that’s another matter entirely. We can lock it up tight and ignore it. It’s the ultimate power of choice—of free will—that God gave to us. He lets us make the choice of whether to lock up our souls and possibly pay a horrendous price, or unlock the door and free our spiritual side. He also gives us the choice to take spiritual paths that are not good for us. And that is the tricky part of faith—accepting that there is something more than just the physical world but also acknowledging that not all faiths are correct. They can’t be. Some are in direct conflict and not all of them address what is wrong in humans and how (and why) it needs to be fixed. And so even in opening the door there is confusion, uncertainty and fear.

But much like love—no, more so—we need that uncomfortable period. Just as love can sometimes get messy before it becomes something deep and meaningful, so too is our soul’s journey something very heavy indeed. It is no small task to open the vault, and no small task to do what we need to with our spiritual side once we unfetter it.

Is anything worth doing easy though? I have yet to see anything of true value be easy. And nothing is more valuable than our souls and our salvation.

09
Apr
08

The party that never ends?

“Why go for Jesus? All the fun people will be in Hell.”

That’s not a verbatim punchline as far as I know, but it’s the jist of a lot of stand-up jokes about the relative value of living for God in this life vs. living for oneself. And it’s funny, I’ll grant you. Any decent comedian can get at least a chuckle from me with a joke like that. Really, I do have a frickin’ sense of humor, folks, despite being a born-again Christian. Lewis Black, George Carlin and everyone in the Original Kings of Comedy tour rank really big in my comedy pantheon.

And you know what, I might even agree with the joke. A lot of the “fun” people probably are in Hell, and they might very well be having the time of their afterlives right now.

It’s a popular notion that Hell is all about torment and gruesome punishments but let’s face it, the Bible makes analogies about Hell; it uses imagery. Nowhere does anyone, to the best of my knowledge, really give a detailed description of what Hell is and what goes on there. Dante had some fun playing around with the concept in The Divine Comedy, and the Sandman series of mature comics (a literary classic in its own right) also had some interesting opinions on what Hell is and why people really end up there, particularly in the “Season of Mists” story arc.

I don’t necessarily believe Hell is about tormenting folks directly. I think Hell is about making the wrong choice for eternity and putting your heart and soul into bodily pleasures rather than earnestly desiring something better. I think it’s entirely possible Satan has made Hell a very fun place for a lot of lost souls. Party central. I imagine he didn’t make many (if any) rules for people to follow. Which probably also means people probably abuse each other in the name of pleasure, too, but that’s a whole other story. You can probably get as much food, drink, drugs and sex as you could possibly want. And you’re already dead, so nothing to worry about, right? Pleasure without judgment or consequences. Every man and woman can reach for all the pleasures they couldn’t get in life and more. Fun stuff.

Until you finally exhaust the limits of carnal pleasures and realize how empty the choice really was. When you finally notice that you had a soul with so much spiritual potential and decided to ignore that. That’s the point at which you come to the knowledge that you utterly spurned Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit, and went for the base and limited pleasures. How much pleasure is endless partying going to be after a few dozen millenia? I doubt that Satan is setting out any meaningful pursuits. I’ll bet he’s setting out a very attractive buffet of nothing but carnal pleasures.

But you know what? God ain’t giving us harp lessons in Heaven, people. I don’t know what he’s giving us, but I know it’s going to be fantastic, and it is only a soul that seeks him and that admits its failings and sins and desires for something so much better that will be admitted to Heaven and equipped to do those fantastic things. In the comment section of one my recent posts, I mused a bit on what the afterlife might hold. Just to give you a sense of the huge things that could possibly be in store, I’ll share it again with you here (it’s a bit longish…if you want to skip the preamble and set-up, you can skip to the last paragraph of my ramblings):

Let’s imagine that you are a being who has created a universe. You have created servants to be part of your comings and goings through the cosmos (those would be the angels) but what you want is to populate the universe with beings who are not simply spiritual creatures who SERVE you but beings in your own image (spiritually) who can LOVE you. Freely. And thus bring you from being a singular being to the head of a family.

So, you decide to start small because, after all, you’re dealing in eternity here, and if you do anything fast, you’re going to have a lot of time to kill. You create beings (or modify beings) on one insignificant rock in the universe and give them that spiritual spark that mirrors your own spiritual blaze. You give them free will so that they can choose to be part of your family or reject you and be part of Satan’s. Your first two beings out of the starting gate, not completely unexpectedly, take the seemingly more attractive path of disobedience, and mar their spiritual natures in such a way that they essentially become dead to you.

But you still have love for them, and so you work within the tainted and fouled pool they have created to bring forth, thousand, tens of thousands or millions of years later, a being who embodies your spiritual nature but is, unlike you, in physical form and can bridge the gap between you and your lost children, thus creating a way for the family to begin forming up again.

Of course, this is still a huge work in progress, because the system you have set up is about faith and spiritual existence and sinless behavior. It’s your rules, still, and people are a long ways from internalizing those rules and, more important still, doing it because they WANT to and want to love you and not because you force them to. So humanity, even after the arrival of Jesus, continues to be a haphazard mix of the faithful and faithless and fence-sitters. But you know that as things progress, you will get a certain critical mass of those who choose your path.

Now, why choose one planet? Why choose a certain group (the Hebrews) to start fixing the mess humans made? Why choose one savior? Because again, you’re dealing in eternity, and there’s no rush. In fact, to do things in a rushed fashion is simply to create the end YOU want without getting any satisfaction (or us getting any growth) from the process.

So, let’s fast-forward to the end times, whenever they come. The situation on earth reaches the tipping point you’ve been working toward, when you finally bring everyone who’s willing into the family fold and finally settle the nonsense with Satan and the people who even after spending time disconnected from you after death and aware that they are spiritually dead, still don’t want to be connected to you. Now you have a new heaven and a new earth…you have sons and daughters who have shucked off their mortal coils and want to be with you as family and not created servants like the angels are. There is still a universe out there. Untold numbers of planets and a spiritual family that finally gets what you’re about (or mostly does). If you started things rolling on earth but planted the seeds for life in millions of other worlds as well, now you have young races coming up to whom you and your children can go, and build up THEIR spiritual natures in a similar manner. Perhaps, with your family having your spark but not your omni-everything power, your new sons and daughters maybe even create worlds of their own or small universes or whatever else. In other words, there is plenty of work and plenty to do, even with eternity staring you and your children in the spiritual face.

So, there may not be any fires to sear your eternal flesh or pitchforks to prod you in the ass if you go to Hell. But what’s going to happen when it all ends and Hell is cast into the Lake of Fire and you’ve still decided that you don’t want to give up on that big party Satan’s been throwing? Now you’ve earned yourself eternal separation from God and everyone else in Heaven. I suspect that once the baser pleasures have been exhausted, eternity is going to start looking pretty awful.

That’s just a theory. But it’s often conjectured that we create and choose our own Hell. And a lot of people are going to assume Heaven is all about bowing and scraping before God’s throne instead of realizing that God is a pretty big thinker. He has grander plans for us. Things we cannot imagine. But we have to want what He’s offering and reject what seems like so much more fun: sex, drugs and rock-and-roll for eternity.

03
Apr
08

Baring my soul

eye02.jpgSharing what’s in our hearts is probably as intimate as a deep French kiss, just with less saliva involved and no chance of catching mono. And because it is so personal, it’s something that we typically have trouble doing with other people (and something that other people often don’t want to be on the receiving end of). So, it’s even harder to share what’s in our souls. This is particuarly true of something like Judaism or Christianity or Islam in their purest forms, because they are monotheistic, my-way-or-the hellway kind of faiths. God is not presented as a guy who tolerates any competition for the spiritual marketplace (then again, if He created everything, why would He?)

Looking at the Christian faith, folks will get up and give their testimony in the church about how they came to be born again or the ways in which God has touched their lives and helped them through their troubles. That’s great for sharing amongst the people who already believe what you believe, and yes, it can help lift the spirits of people who are in a dark place in their faith or new to the faith. But it does nothing to show to people outside the faith who you are or how God has worked in your life. It can even become masturbatory sometimes when people go overboard with it, and I cringed when I would see people give testimony every week in a way that suggested to me they just wanted people to see them standing up and talking in church.

But back to my point: I’m as guilty of not sharing my faith as anyone. In fact, I don’t even like getting up in church and doing it. No doubt the reason the Holy Spirit has led me to do this blog is because the management in the Heavenly Host has pretty much determined I ain’t a public speaker and even in middle age, still a pretty shy guy overall. No missions for me to the downtrodden. No televised religion program. Not even any handing out of pocket Bibles on the street.

But I can write. And the Internet provides a certain veil between us that makes me less shy, while at the same time opening up communications between us. It’s an interesting medium in that way, both shielding us and opening us up. So, let me share with you how I came to be born again. If nothing else, perhaps it will help you realize the position from which I am working and thus give you more insight into why I’m doing this blog and why I feel the need both to help Christians steer clear of traps inside and outside their churches and why I feel the need to remind folks that they really need to at least consider Jesus as an option.

My parents both came from Catholic stock; my dad is pretty devout overall and my mom was pretty apathetic. But the end result was that I was baptized Catholic, raised Catholic and, at least when I was with my dad, I went to Mass. That being said, my mom pretty much told me from the get-go that if I wanted to check out other faiths, I should. I never did, but that was more out of laziness than any particular loyalty to God the Father or the Roman Catholic Church.

Once I got my pass into adulthood, I went to church pretty much only on Christmas or Easter if I happened to be visiting my folks. So, essentially never. This went on for about a decade. I had only been going to church before because it was expected, and now I wasn’t going at all. Certainly, I believed in God. I believed in Jesus, too, but it wasn’t anything deep or personal. I never thought about the suffering he went through. I never thought really deeply about what he was preaching in his life. He was just “the son of God” (something I considered with about the same gusto I thought of my childhood friend Jack Prichard as the son of a city planner) and someone I thought it was OK in my mind and heart to gloss over in such a casual manner.

None of this is to say I was a “bad person” in life. I didn’t hurt people; in fact, I was a pretty sensitive guyto the point of being the man that women loved to cry on the shoulder of but never wanted to put a love bite on that neck. I was more honest than the average person. I think I had stolen a grand total of one item in my whole life, and that was a $3.99 item if I recall right. I didn’t have any particular awareness of  racial issues on a personal level, but I also never treated a member of another race as anything but a person equal to me (unless that person was an asshole, in which case they got the polite shrug-off like any other asshole I ever met).

I felt no spiritual emptiness in my life. No longing for something greater. Nothing like that. I was perfectly happy and content to putter through life and assume that all faiths lead to God and we’ll get into Heaven based on our actions in life.

Then I met the woman who would end up being my wife. She was the daughter of a pastor of a very small non-denominational church (probably closest to being Baptist than anything else). In dating her, it was natural, since I believed in God, that I would go to her dad’s church.

What happened there was a transforming event. Not because of any one person and certainly not because of the church itself, but because after more than two decades of being on the planet as a supposed Christian, I finally cracked open a Bible and (gasp) read it. Sure, in Catholic high school, I had religion classes, but I read the stuff about as passionately as I did my third year of slogging through Hamlet or the inevitably simplistic writing style of Ernest Hemingway. That is, I read it, I spat out the information I was expected to, and I deleted it from memory.

But finally, I was in a church where a preacher not only spoke with passion about God but who encouraged us to read the Bible. To check it out. To pray for God to open our eyes so we would better understand what we were reading.

I tried it. I read. And the more I read (and I finally read the Bible front to back for once) the more I saw how it made sense. The reasons why man got separated from God and why we’ve had to go through so much and why Jesus was necessary for us to come back to God. I saw how things tied together in the Old and New Testaments (Yes, there are inconsistencies and errors. You try putting a book like that through multiple lingual translations and multiple styles…after the original words themselves were filtered through people and see how much more imperfect and inconsistent yours would be.)

I got it.

Mind you, that was only the first step. And before I go on, let me relieve you of any misconception that I was simply charmed by the pastor or wooed into the faith by my future wife. I am not a joiner. I like to get together with people, but I am not big into joining groups, causes or anything like that. I am not a weak-willed automaton easily distracted by the first Jedi mind trick tossed my way. I was the guy in hypnosis stage shows whom the hypnotist would routinely ignoreand one time, the hypnotist actually told me why: Because he could see right away that I was someone who would be skeptical and who wasn’t just going to go under. And that explained a lot when at another show thereafter, another hypnotist not only ignored my raised hand when asking for volunteers, but made eye contact with me as he passed by and shook his head firmly.

I am not someone easily led. At least not by anything other than my dick when I was younger (but a lot of men, even the toughest bastards, are guilty of this). And certainly nothing, not even a sexy woman, could have led me to place my soul in anyone’s hands just because she asked me sweetly.

My future wife’s father may have been passionate, but it was not him but rather the Word of God that spoke to me. And even though I think I was already born again, I really realized it some months after beginning to go to church regularly and read the Bible, when I was driving down the street and suddenly felt the Holy Spirit fill me up. I knew with a certainty that no matter how shitty life might be now or in the future, my soul was secure. Jesus had taken care of that once I acknowledged my own faults and sin and his sacrifice on everyone’s behalf, including my own. There is no way to describe that feeling that consumed me; that feeling that burned away my old spirit of disobedience and separation. And it came from nowhere, yet I knew exactly what it was.

None of this is going to prove anything to anyone. But it’s my testimony. To you. And while it was probably not as good as the first French kiss you ever engaged in, I like to hope we’ve made a personal connection that will help you see me in a better light, regardless of my views, my swearing or anything other foibles I bring to the table.

05
Mar
08

Over the limit

cross01.jpgSo, what’s that magic number of sins that send you to Hell until judgment day? What number of sins, or what kinds, can rob you of your salvation once you accept Jesus as lord and savior?

This is a really divisive issue at times inside and outside the church (the worldwide body of Christ and actual brick-and-mortar worship places).

First, people outside the church structure, and people in very liberal churches, just don’t like the idea of sin and Hell. It’s just too icky. It makes God look mean. Of course, removing sin and Hell from the equation also renders Jesus’ atoning death on the cross entirely meaningless.

Simple fact (biblically speaking) is that it only takes one sin to put you on the road to Hell. We are born with the devil in us, so to speak. Working only toward our own interests is easy and often very satisfying. Serving others and obeying God doesn’t bring that instant gratification. Let’s face it, sin is crack cocaine for the soul.

Now, when you consider the multitude of sinful things, from little white lies where you have your spouse call in sick for you so you can play hooky from work to murdering your neighbors in a cold-blooded orgy of murderous glee, the average human can easily commit thousands of sins in a lifetime. That’s thousands of sins committed by a really, really nice person, by the way. If you’re average…or better yet, a complete asshole…you can bring that up into the tens of thousands and more quite easily.

This is why it was such a big deal that Jesus took on himself every sin ever committed and every sin that would ever be committed in the future. He bore an amazing amount of really bad juju, folks. And in so doing, he had to allow himself to be separated spiritually from God for a time. A guy who had been in touch with his heavenly father every day of his life, cut off until he rose again from the dead. The physical suffering he endured during crucifixion was unbelievable already, and if you ever read about what crucified people went through before death, you would have to be insensitive to the point of serial killer psychosis not to shed at least some internal tears for Jesus and anyone else who suffered that form of execution. And then you add the spiritual factor, and you get some sense of why God wants people to acknowledge His son’s sacrifice and truly accept Jesus in order to benefit from his atoning death on our behalf.

So, that alone is a reason why everyone should seriously look into Jesus, and learn about why he makes sense not just spiritually (how many other religions try to restore a connection between God and humans and provide a savior for us) but historically as well (I highly recommend The Case for Christ, written by a former atheist, Lee Strobel, as a starting point on the logical reasons for believing in Jesus as the son of God). You may decide it still doesn’t make sense, but you have to give serious consideration to Jesus for your own sake. If you reject him after a real and sincere search for truth, I’ll respect your decision, even as I fear for your soul.

Now, how about losing your salvation? There are things in the Bible about how the branches can still be cut away from the olive tree and how certain sinners cannot inherit the kingdom of God and so on. So, a lot of Christians argue that being born again through faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t necessarily get you off the hook. You have to reject sin and live like Christ.

Bullshit.

If God made nothing else clear through all those commandments and convenants over the centuries, it was that humans are inherently disobedient, ever since screwing up in the Garden of Eden (thanks so very fucking much, Adam). To make Jesus’ protection over our souls contingent upon our behavior after accepting him is ridiculous. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us is a spiritual thing, and it can moderate and guide us in our earthly activities, but we still live in human bodies that really like sin, be it physical or otherwise. Temptation occurs, and the world presses in on us, and sinning in a multitude of ways is still easy and, frankly, unavoidable. You improve, but you don’t become perfect.

The problem with saying there are certain sins, or a certain number of them, that can cost you your salvation make no sense. Now, saying that failure to accept Jesus and be accountable for your mistakes before everything is tossed into the Lake of Fire is pretty clear-cut. On the other hand, saying you are saved unless you commit too many new sins is hazy as can be. How could you ever know when you crossed the line? How could you know when you are over the limit? That places Christians into more bondage, more confusion, more doubt and more fear than before they accepted Jesus. Being born again is supposed to free us from bondage and fear and the love of sin so that we can do God’s work.

That doesn’t mean that someone who claims to be born again and commits all sorts of nastiness is necessarily born again. But that’s for that person to come to grips with. Someone who kills for the mob for a living, for example, and continues to do so after claiming to have accepted Jesus is someone whose spiritual sincerity I doubt. But that’s between that person and God and Jesus. He or she really needs to look inside and reevaluate but, for all I know, maybe that person is truly born again. It’s not my place to judge, even though an awful lot of people seem to like to set themselves up as God’s earthly judges.

The idea that you might not inherit the kingdom of God for certain sinful behavior, even after being born again refers not to losing your salvation but to the fact that depending on how well you do avoiding sin and sharing the Gospel, you will have varying rewards in Heaven. The idea of differing rewards for the really, really faithful is established in the Bible. But when you get down to it, I’d rather live in the “slums” of Heaven (if one can even say there is such a thing) than have 10 earthly homes to rival what Bill Gates, Donald Trump and any major sheik can boast.

(Image by Joshua Miller, from ebibleteacher.com)

25
Feb
08

Hypocrisy hell, part 1

lady-justice.jpgOK, just for fun: When you find someone who says something like “I just can’t believe in any God that would sentence anyone to damnation for eternity. That’s not a loving being”…wait a few days, and then ask this:

“So, what do you think about the fact that any sins can be forgiven by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?

You’ll be surprised how often the same person who was aghast at eternal damnation will say some variation of this:

“I couldn’t believe in a God who could let some baby-raping, murdering freak into Heaven just because he ‘accepts’ Jesus and seeks forgiveness. That isn’t fair to the victims.”

Amazing in the human mind how forgiveness, spiritual justice and the like are acceptable only when applied to those with whom we feel sympathetic or who are more or less like us.

This is why I’m glad God and Jesus are in charge of the judging of our souls, and not mortal folks.




Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley

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