What Is Jesus To Me?

A friend recently asked me who Jesus is to me, and, admittedly, I couldn’t answer. Not because I was incapable of regurgitating the typical defining parameters–my savior, the Messiah, the Son of God, etc.–but because I wanted to make him more: he’s undefinable, he’s intangible, yet also tangible and has a palatable presence. He’s what I feel when I’m dancing and someone catches me and smiles. He’s what I see when a baby gives me a big toothless grin. He’s what I hear when I hear someone laugh, hearty and boisterous. His presence is undeniable when you see people loving in individual, private moments and en mass. As my friend Jeff Turner said, “Wherever and whenever hostility gives way to hospitality, there and then, the Kingdom of God has come.”

I don’t mean to nauseate anyone with a series of cliches, but it is sincerely how I feel. Jesus is a man that took the worst of humanity onto himself, and cried for his victimizers. I can’t think of anything that exemplifies the epitome of love and what humanity should be more than that action. Because of Jesus, I am “saved.” (Soteria means to be healed and made whole, to be delivered from oppression. So, being saved is being restored to peace, joy, and righteousness, union with God. I.e. – Not being saved later, but restored now.) I do recognize and acknowledge that grace and salvation. But, for me, so much more is the example of love that I strive to encompass and celebrate. For me, Christianity is about you, you, you, not me, me, me. And my salvation through Christ should benefit you–not just save me.

This begs a question: What does Christianity mean to you?

I think it’s easy to fall into habit of proof-texting (or using specific Bible verses to admonish and discredit someone else’s faith).
A. This is never cool. The point of Christianity isn’t–can’t be–proving that your doctrinal beliefs are “correct.” (I don’t want to get into what the “point” is for me in this paragraph.)
B. Unfortunately this is all too commonplace; we fall into this trap of proving our faith, or assuming the faith in others, by how many Bible verses we and they can whip out.

This doesn’t bode well for me, since my memory is essentially non-existent. I’ve read the Bible in its entirety, but heck if I remember what book and chapter verses are in. My head is chockablock full of verses, but I always–ALWAYS–have to Google the verse I have in mind to find the book and chapter. (I blame being raised with cellphones and not having to memorize phone numbers or addresses, etc.)
Proof-texting also dismisses blatant contradictions in the Bible–that’s not to say that Bible verses contradict each other, but proof-texting leaves no room for interpretation, and to make verses harmonize, you have to get creative and acknowledge your understanding of a verse may be incorrect.
For example:
Romans 10:9 – “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
(And yes, I had to Google both of these verses. I knew they existed though!)

By juxtaposition, you can see contradictions if you’re reading at merely face value. The first reads that being saved only requires believing Jesus is Lord and was raised from the dead, and the latter reads that acknowledging that isn’t enough, but ONLY those who do the will of the Father will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (And these aren’t the only two verses on this subject, obviously.)

Here’s where what Christianity to me comes in:
Christianity to me is less about the Bible, and more about spirituality. Admittedly, I need to find more room for the Bible, since Jesus is found in the testaments of the apostles and the prophets of the Old Testament. I do acknowledge that. And I also admit that when you seek verses to support and purport your already-established ideals, you’re going to find them. To combat this, I try to discern what I’m meant to be reading from what I’m reading. But heck, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 reads “Test all things and hold fast to what is good.”(“Good” here is kalos which means beautiful and noble.)

If I know that there are still isolated parts of the world that haven’t heard of Yeshua, how can my heart contend that, according to a literal Romans 10:9, they’re not saved? How can I fully love a God that would essentially damn these people for no less than where they were born?

It could be wrong, but here is my resolution and reconciliation of all the stated:
1 John 4:8 – “Whoever does not love does not know God. God is love.”
1 John 4:16 – “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
(I’m about to take these verses literally to the nth degree.)
1 Corinthians 13:13 – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.“(Emphasis mine.)
Romans 3:3 – “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?”

I hope you are smelling what I’m cooking. I think faith in God is subservient to love, and I don’t think that’s a nonsensical assumption. If God IS love, what if by loving God and loving others (the one commandment per John 13:34–notice it’s not faith in Jesus, but loving others) we are inadvertently worshiping God? What if bringing the Kingdom of God by showing love and compassion, we are doing the “will of God” referenced in Matthew 7:21?
Of course there are verses that contradict what I’m saying, such as Romans 10:9. But does it? I think by acknowledging Jesus is Lord, believing he was raised from the dead, we are restored NOW. Referring back to Soteria, being made whole and healed. Not “saved” in the afterlife sense, but experiencing the revealing of Christ within us.

Notably, the more I read, the more I’m convinced that we, those who faith, are the elect that Calvinists believe in. A few verses to consider:
Romans 9:15-16 – “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
Proverbs 16:4 – “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”
Romans 8:29-30 – “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
Romans 9:21 – “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”
Ephesians 1:4-6 – “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

Perhaps the elect, the “predestined,” are those who will believe in Christ in their lifetime, experience the Revelation of Christ. And those that aren’t elected simply love, and are saved by Grace. Maybe the elect will be the priests in the inner circle of heaven, and those who weren’t, that are saved only by fire, are on the outer circle.

I’m spitballing. Which means it’s time to go study and read. 🙂
I hope this clarified what Christianity and Jesus and God is to me.

I’m confident I have much more to learn and see, but I also know that I want to be in love with Christ and God’s plan for reconciliation. And if there’s room for anyone to be damned to an eternal hell for simply not verbatim saying, “Christ is Lord,” then that’s not a God I want to know.

Namaste!

Advertisements

God Loves You

When I was younger, “Hell” didn’t make much sense. The concept of eternal conscious torment for an innumerable amount of people didn’t seem like “justice,” much less “loving.” Sure, I’ve heard the age-old rhetoric that God’s ways are far beyond our own (Isaiah 55:8); but I’m not entirely sure how or why that’s a reasonable rebuttal. If I, in my limited understanding and capacity of love, wouldn’t damn my worst enemy to the doctrinal Hell for even five minutes, why would a God who is love? (1 John 4:8)

It was difficult for me to reconcile my love and knowledge of God to a God who would not only damn me to Hell, but others as well. Of course, I didn’t vocalize my agitation. I sat in the pew and listened to the expert on the subject. This was his career; I was just a member of the flock–malleable, unknowing.
But deep down, I knew that it was affecting my drive and desire to put God first.
How could a hypothetical 35-year-old atheist spend his meager 35 years loving others, but then be damned to Hell for an eternity for simply not giving God the attention He craves?

More damning (ha), why would you want to worship a God who operated like that? I stand by this: If the god in your head is one who would do that, and you still wholly love and worship him (can you even?), it’s to satiate your own fears and save your own skin. If Christ taught us to love our enemies, to love others who transgress against us, to love everyone, then why are Hell-believers unconcerned for those who are eternally damned?
One would think that if someone truly believed “others” are going to be damned to an eternal torment, they would be restlessly informing and educating; their sole purpose would be to save others from that fate. But, more often, you find people online gleefully telling others, “I hope you like it hot!” And, “Enjoy burning in Hell!”

The reasons for this dissonance is one of two things:
A. They are apathetic sociopaths that genuinely don’t care to warn others, or
B. They don’t sincerely believe in Hell.
Sure, it’s a doctrine they proclaim with their lips, but it’s still surreal and improbable. I think that on some subconscious level, they’re aware that Hell doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t jive with their soul, with their Christendom. They’re just afraid to say anything contrary to the man at the pulpit.

One of my favorite, but seldom-heard, verses: “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:9
The order of events is striking and important. We love Him, we come to Him, because He first loved us. We don’t love and adore Him, and then Him love us.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I began delving into Universal Salvation. Honestly, I didn’t even know that my annoyance and frustrations with doctrinal Hell were shared with anyone else. But I began reading Bible with the intention of finding verses that supported Universal Reconciliation, and I earnestly searched for verses that couldn’t coexist with Universal Reconciliation. (Such as Ezekiel 18, Revelations 20, etc.)

I wanted to ensure that my own preconceived notions and biases didn’t worm their way into my Bible studies, but I also wanted to ensure that I read with intent and purpose, and my purpose was to prove that God was the loving, grace-giving Papa I know He is in my heart.

With eyes to find and a heart to discern, the amount of verses that support Universal Reconciliation are in the hundreds. I alone have found 300+, and I continue to find more. Contrarily, the verses that support a doctrinal Hell are practically none, provided you look to the original Hebrew and Greek and consider the contextual history. (As a minute example, “Hell” being translated from “Hades,” “Gehenna,” “Tartarus,” and “Sheol.” How could all these words possibly be referring to the same conceptual place?)
Or consider that the word translated to “eternity” comes from the Greek “aionios.” Though this can mean for an eternity, it also means “for an age.” That is to say, until it accomplishes its purpose. Additionally, “aionios” references the result of the act, not the process. For example, we are saved once, and the result is eternal life–we aren’t redeemed and saved forever and ever. Comparatively, the Lost won’t be punished forever and ever, but rather punished once, and the results are eternal.

To further bolster this, look to Sodom and Gomorrah.
“In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” – Jude 1:7
But then…
“Your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to their former state, and you with your daughters will also return to your former state.“- Ezekiel 16:55

(My friends are probably tired of my referencing S&G. But it’s been used against me my entire life as proof that my sexuality is a sin, so I like using it for a positive focus.)

A verse that I found most recently exemplifies this punishment (presuming I’m not taking it out of context, which I’m wont to do):
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:32-35

Points of interest:
— “This is how the Heavenly Father will treat you.”
— The master had him tortured UNTIL he payed back all that he owed.
And neither should we fret over “tortured!”
Tortured is from “basanos,” a touchstone to test the purity of metals. Or the verb “basanizo”–test the purity or chasten by scourging.

So quite literally, we see this servant being tested for purity by scourging until he paid his dues, and then it reads this is what God will do.
And then look at Hebrews 12:11:
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Another verse that I have come to adore regarding salvation:
“What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” Romans 3:3-4
With a root of apistos, “unfaithful” here means unbelieving, incredulous of God, or unfaithful.

My point with this isn’t to change the world. Not wholly. I don’t have the means or resources. But if I can convince even one confused person that God loves them, I’ll consider my life a success. I know what it’s like to wonder and doubt if God loves you, to be scared of eternal torment and torture. I also know that I’m not alone with that fear. There are so many young adults that feel lost and alone, that are incredulous that God loves them, that He adores them. The church shouldn’t be dividing and creating “others” for the purpose of sanctimony and self-righteousness.
It’s nice and human to assume you’re favored and loved more than others. But it’s a wholly human characteristic; God doesn’t favor and love anyone more than anyone else.

If you’re reading this, and you’re bogged down by the concept of Hell, or if you’d like to know more, reach out. Doesn’t have to be to me. But anyone. You can’t fully love and know God’s compassion unless you free yourself from that old, controlling belief system. It’s archaic and damaging, and we are currently seeing the world paving way for a liberating movement of Love.

Papa loves you. He loves you. He loves you.

Who am I?

I’m a lot of things. But pursuant to a blog regarding my faith, spirituality, and personal walk with Christ, I want to say what’s germane. I’ve known I was gay since I was six years old. Of course I didn’t know or understand what sexuality was, but I vividly remember distinct feelings for a boy named Sergio DeJesus. Juxtaposed to the feelings I had for my other friends (a sense of brotherhood), it was evident that there was something just a tad more for him. I remember having a birthday at Chuck E. Cheese, and I cried because I wanted him to sit beside me. I also remember kissing him on the cheek when the parents finally arranged us side-by-side.
I don’t say all this in some kind of crusade to convince non-birthers that I didn’t choose to be gay. (I know what I know, and that’s all I need to know.)  But I say it because it’s incredibly important.
Growing up in Mississippi as a gay male is hard enough; growing up as a Christian who happens to be gay is even harder. And make no mistake: I’m a Christ-follower first, gay man second. But people rarely consider that when they’re throwing stones. To them, it didn’t matter how many sleepless nights I had, how many tears I shed, how many times I self-harmed in my closet praying for God to make me straight. They didn’t care how hurtful it was to know, without a doubt, that God exists, but be told Papa doesn’t want to know me.
In the South, there’s a production titled “Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames.” (You can find YouTube videos of it if you want to see.) Though they have good intentions, these shows would prove to be the first finger around my throat that would end in a choke hold. A dash of strobe lights, a teaspoon of red lighting, a cup of audio recordings of people screaming and being tortured, and 40 pews of cheering audience when the disgusting homosexual was finally damned to an eternal torment is a recipe for PTSD in a 10-year-old. I was pretty convinced that I would be damned to Hell, eternal separation from God’s love.
It’s … scary and defeating to know with certainty what awaits you when you die. I can’t stress enough just how scary it is. I couldn’t simply choose to not believe in God and live my life in comfort. I’ve always known He exists. It’s built into me.
Y2k was my first “end of the world” date. I can’t explain how terrified I was. I was pretty convinced that everyone was right: it was the end of the world. Christians celebrated, but I wasn’t. For me, my days were numbered. I would stay awake and cry into my pillow as the minutes ticked into the next day, and that day into the next. I don’t think I slept more than 5 hours that year, lol. When the year rolled over into 2000, and nothing happened, presumably I’d stop considering people’s guesses and postulations of end-of-time dates. … but my fear increased exponentially, ultimately culminating into a botched suicide attempt. I was made to see a therapist for a while, but she was largely unhelpful. I maintain a fear of an idea, an abstract construct, can’t be cured. If I had a fear of heights, she could make me sky dive. If I had a fear of spiders (“if,” lol, I totes do), she could expose me to a spider. You can’t expose me to the end of the world. You can’t assure me that I’m saved by God’s grace. She taught me some breathing techniques to help when my anxieties are high. She taught me how to calm myself during panic attacks, but that was as much as she could do.
When I was 14, God spoke to me. Or well, I think He did. I had skipped school, and I was sitting in the recliner. Did your parents have a recliner that you were not allowed to sit in? I was in that one. I also had a bad ingrown toe nail on my left big toe. (So bad, in fact, that I would later get surgery to have it removed.) I was flipping through the channels, and I stopped on the Christian Broadcasting Network to see if there was any “End of the World” news. (Yes, I was that obsessed.) The man on the TV was speaking to a woman, but after a few seconds of my hesitating on the channel, he stopped and looked at the camera. He said that he had something he felt he needed to say;  he said that God needed him to say it.
He said that he felt there was someone at home, watching. He said that they weren’t supposed to be at home, and that they were sitting in a chair they shouldn’t be. And he also said that the person had an injured foot, maybe a toe. He said: “God wants me to tell you that He loves you. So much. That you’re His child and you don’t need to be scared anymore.”
I literally collapsed on the ground from crying. I was so overwhelmed. I’ve always felt so much weight, so much pain, so much self-hate. Maybe it was coincidence, but it was the moment I considered that everyone was wrong–He DOES love me. I’m His. I bought a study Bible with my allowance that weekend. I still haven’t set foot back in a church, but I immensely enjoy reading my Bible alone in my room. Just me and Him.
However … my fears still remained.
My fear of the end of the world really came to a head around 2006. Any strange news, any weird event, any bizarre weather patterns became the end of the world in my head. The weatherman would report that the temperatures were record breaking, and I’d have a panic attack. Five thousand black crows would drop dead out of the sky, and I’d call into work for a week straight. I lost so many jobs. I lost a boyfriend. When you’re convinced the end of the world is going to be any day now, you lose the will the live. When you’re gay and you’re going to be “left behind” to experience the bowls, trumpets, and scrolls of wrath and God’s anger, you lose whatever is more than a will to live. A few times I wished I didn’t exist–period.
One night, in 2005, I woke up to the radio saying the stars were falling out of the sky, and that reports were coming in from all over the state. This was it. This is what I’ve been waiting on. I threw on my shoes and ran outside into the front yard. I picked a star and stared. The fixed star blinked back at me, like any other night, but then I watched as it began falling. I cried, around 3AM, on my knees in the muddy grass, begging for God to spare us. Give us more time. To be honest, I’m not sure what happened the rest of the night. I remember it so clearly, and we all know the difference between dreams and reality. It definitely wasn’t a dream. I had felt the soil.
(Later, a friend would suggest that maybe I had a prophecy. Not of a future event, but maybe it was a vision of what was happening inside me. I had been told that God loves me, that I don’t have to be scared, and the stars falling were my old belief systems falling away. I have Googled insistently looking for any news article or blogger or anything that means “stars falling out of the sky 2005,” and I can’t find anything.)
Another example of how stupidly debilitating my fear is: In 2012 I was driving down the road, and I saw a white square in the sky. Just a large white square. My first thought was, “Alien attack!”  I pulled over on the side of the road and cried and prayed. It was shortly thereafter that I notice the plane feet ahead of the white square. And that the white square was a banner being pulled by the plane.

It’s 2017, and my fears are … somewhat calmed. I’m much more confident in my belief systems. I’m better at reassuring myself. After diligent studies and reading about Jewish historians like Josephius and Tacitus, as well as other Jewish apocrypha, I coolly have a Preterist view of the book of Revelations (it was all fulfilled in 70AD). The concept of Hell has also since been abolished for me; universal salvation is the only thing that makes feasible sense.

This blog is a way for me to continue growing in Christ. I have a lot of catching up to do. But it’s also my effort in reaching out to other people who may be struggling with the things that I did. Children, people, shouldn’t be made to feel scared and alone. They should know that God loves them. I want everyone to know that God’s love for them is unmatched.