Written March 31, 2015 in Ephesus
I ask to speak with you today about my journey to find Truth. I would like to be able to tell you that I had engaged in exhaustive research, read thousands of sources and - based on my great ability - found Truth. But that would be un-true: a bad way to start the part of my journey that is today. The truth is that I have been led to this truth and not from my ability - not even from my intent. Nor am I suggesting that there are no passages in the Bible which appear to be inconsistent with this. But stay with me through these 2,600 words of my search.
My journey began as a spiritual journey of a decade as a Baha'i - a religion related to Islam as Christianity is to Judaism. But on the first Sunday in May, 1986, I stumbled in to Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church - because it was cool on a hot morning and I was waiting on my lunch date to get out. There, for the first time, my heart heard the truth of Ephesians 2:8: "For it is by Grace you have been saved, and not by works, lest anyone should boast." "Saved"? From what? Why? I asked. Does God love me as much as... as my Daddy? It seemed so impossible, so... bizarre, yet inescapable. Yes! Over the next few months I turned away from my ambivalence toward God, as well as from my political affilliation which was - to me - clearly and inescapably in opposition to being a follower of Christ. That truth seemed so obvious, so universal, that I considered if perhaps I was one of the last people on earth to have his eyes opened. Of course I understood with my left brain that there were billions who had not seen. It took another 3 decades to understand what I am writing about today.
I ask in advance that you forgive me if this Truth I have been led to offends you. It is not my intent to offend anyone, but I would be remiss if I did not do my best to at least present it clearly as I have been led to find it.
I also ask two other things. That you accept that I am writing only to those with whom I can agree on the core issues of Christianity: that Jesus exists - and has always existed - as part of the triumverate with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. That He came to earth in human form and died a sacrificial death so that we can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. And that He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven but in the three years or so prior to ascending, He taught important truths for all mankind. Then, lastly, I ask that you be willing to consider that human organizations (which require power and money for their existence) could - could - have corrupted the lessons you believe to be from God.
Not knowing those lessons, I started with a blank slate. To come with me on this journey, you must be willing to reconsider these (what I ask you to consider as) non-core beliefs. Not "un-important." Non-core. Consider that you may have been misled for the oldest and most ubiquitous of purposes: power and money.
Immediately after encountering the truth in May 1986, I decided to marry the girl I was living with. She said yes and we were married in November. We were truly "unequally yoked" and what I call "the 20 dark years" began then. There were four bright spots in those 20 years: Rollin, James, and Tiana were three. The brightest was being carried in the arms of my Savior in those darkest times.
I emerged from the 20 dark years in February 2007. During those two decades I walked with God, talked with Him or Her, challenged Him, raged at Him, thanked Him, sought and received forgiveness from Him. Mostly I engaged in a relationship with Him, and tested over and over again - literally hundreds of times - the claim of Romans 8:28 "for we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His Purpose." I can assure you that even on the darkest of all of the days during the 20 dark years (Feb 6, 2006) Romans 8:28 was proven true. I tested it using my training receiving a BBA and MBA degree. I tested it using my training using my Juris Doctor degree. I tested it using my training in seminary and in serving as an ordained minister. It is true.
So having emerged from the 20 dark years (incidentally, it seemed that it would have been nice if - during those 20 years - I had known they would eventually end. Except that then - perhaps - I would have just hunkered down and suffered through rather than reaching up to be carried along by my God) I saw that God made even the 20 dark years a blessing.
My journey to The Truth began in earnest with a single word: "Tetelestai". It is a word in Greek. In the New Testament, part of the Truth is obscured by Tetelestai being translated two different ways. In the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus saying :"I came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Not one iota of the law shall pass away until" and Matthew writes "Tetelestai." Then, as He is dying on the cross - dying of asphyxiation - (the Apostle John, who was there, writes that) Jesus pulled Himself up to get one last breath of air and used that last breath to shout - the only time Jesus shouted in His ministry. He shouted out one word. One Great Word. One word to set the whole world free! John writes "Tetelestai". Jesus, who spoke Aramaic, used "ha meshalom" both times. [Even so, they are not translated the same which creates confusion. What possible reason other than to hide The Truth?]
So, if "Bill" and I were hanging out one afternoon and I said "I'm going to order a pizza at 7 o'clock" and then later said "It's 7 o'clock" Bill would know I was going to order a pizza. Jesus said the law did not go away until ha meshalom and then ended the law with His last breath, His sacrificial death, His shouted command.
Ok, the law is over and we are under Grace. But why were we under the law to begin with and what was the law? I learned in seminary that in addition to the 10 Commandments accepted as law from God, rabbis had added over 600 more laws. The first 10 were clearly to give the Israelis - who had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years, never being allowed to make a choice - some fundamental societal rules once they were out from under the lash. The other 600+? I "hear" the need for increasing power and control within the state religion.
Anyhow, they are gone. Next I came to understand that God seeks RELATIONSHIP with us. I had learned that all of His plans are for our good, but did not then yet realize how that was to my benefit. I did know that God did not need my time - He wanted me not to need it. He does not need my money - He wants me not to need it.
Jesus said, in summary, Love God, Love all of your neighbors, tell people about that love.
For thousands of years the tithe was a celebration of new life, of growth, of friendships. Of the 19 references to the tithe in the Bible all but one describe people bringing their tenth to a huge celebration where the tenth was eaten by the people (not donated to the priesthood) - and every third year the priests and widows and orphans were invited to join in the feast. The other time? Deuteronomy 14 is clear that money is not to be given to the synagogue, but rather to be used to purchase whatever your heart desires - be it "oxen or strong drink."
In the 4th century AD the Roman emperors starting with Constantine had a political problem. They were converting the Empire to Christianity - a faith that never had had buildings. Meetings were in people's homes. But the priest class had temples to Zeus and Juno and Hera, to Venus and the other panoply of Roman gods. What would happen to the temples, the powerful priests, where would the funding come from to take care of them?
By decree, the pagan priests became Christian priests, the temples often became churches. The high pagan holiday of December 25 was adopted as Jesus' birthday. The symbol of the fish was replaced with an overlayed Greek Chi (C) and Rho (R) - the first two letters of Cristos - which form a cross. And the tithe was usurped to fund the organized, state, religion. Organization and rules replaced relationship and true freedom.
The next two steps seem obvious now. They did not so seem then. The first was the translation of the Old Hebrew "ZR". Hebrew lacks vowels so we don't know how ZR was pronounced. But in the Torah we find that God said to Adam "It is not good that man should be alone. We will make for you a" ZR. Later, Moses names his 2nd son "El ie zr": God is my zr. It is generally accepted that Eliezr means "God is my defender and protector." So, too, was Eve for Adam. She was the defender and protector of Adam's heart as her relational prime directive just as Adam was the defender and protector of her person as his prime directive. Why would male translators translate zr as "helper"? Hmmm....
The second inevitably came from 1 Corinthians 7:12 where Paul writes that that instruction is not from God but rather just from Paul. So if not all of the NT is authored by God, how is it the infalible word of God? The question that commanded an entirely new look at the NT was "Is the NT what IT says it is, or is it what WE say it is?" IT says it is - at times - the Word of God. At times it says it is not. And at times it just doesn't say which.
Paul and Peter and John were humble, truthful men. They spoke with authority because it was given to them by God. And sometimes He spoke through them. I concluded that whenever they say some instruction is from God, it is. They wanted everyone to be clear about that. When Paul says it is not, I believe him. And when they don't say, I believe the instruction is from them because they would not weaken an instruction from God by not giving it the proper authorship.
So God wants relationship with us and among His creation. Clearly He is willing to go to great lengths - sparing no expense so to speak - to redeem His creation. So why did Jesus have to die? Could He not have just snapped His fingers and forgiven sins? Surely. So, why did He have to die?
Jesus said "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand". Was He wrong? What is the kingdom of Heaven and how does that relate to why Jesus had to die? In the Gospel of John we find it said that everything that was created was created through Jesus. That in the Trinity all creation emerged through Him. And in that same book we find Jesus saying that "If [when] I am lifted up to heaven, I will gather all people to me". Well, that was quite a shock to me! All means all. So everyone gets "in"? What about the passage that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus? Well, if Jesus says He will bring all mankind to heaven, and no one comes to heaven except through Him, isn't that the same thing? That's what it says and presupposes a God whose love is so unlimited that He welcomes into heaven even those who reject Him. But if that is the case, why did Jesus have to die?
The answer clicked while reading The Shack. Mackensie asks Jesus "Does that means that all paths lead to heaven" to which the character representing Jesus says "No, most paths don't lead anywhere, but it means I will take any road to find you."
I have concluded that Jesus came to die so that those sons of Abraham known as the Jews would recognize the sacrifice: He was born within their faith, a Son of David; they had an organization that had grafted on to God's word hundreds of sacrifices and the observation that without the shedding of of blood there can be no forgiveness of sin. So, because that is all they would understand, He came and suffered and died. But when they irrevocably rejected the great I Am, He took away from them the Kingdom of Heaven and gave it to another people (us - the Gentiles).
Which leads to the next two questions in this journey - the last two I will cover here. What is the Kingdom of Heaven and what is sin?
If God is love and if God wants relationship with us, then sin is simply anything - anything - that interferes with my relationship with God. And nothing else. NOTHING ELSE. Thus sin is its own punishment as we will see in a moment. For I believe the Kingdom of Heaven at hand means that Jesus opened the door for us - IN THIS LIFE ON EARTH - to walk hand-in-hand with God. We are all going to heaven (wow, my friends in organized religion are going to hate that contention, but it's not mine), but most of us are missing out on the incredible gift in this life of being a most favored child of the Creator of the Universe.
Having walked with God, having been led and carried by Him, I can tell you I'd rather give up air than give up being carried and led by Him. Halting that... communion is painful. It is the consequence of sin. And thus sin is individual. Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He is saying it is exceedingly hard for someone who has focused on gaining money to walk with Jesus in this life where money is merely incidental.
Sin is individual - just as love is individual - thus YOU can't see what interferes with MY relationship with God. Gambling - which existed during Jesus' ministry and was not condemned by Him (the Apostles even cast lots - gambled - to see who would replace Judas) might not interfere with your relationship with God. Alcohol might. It's the reverse for me.
So, finally, the reason that we are not to judge others' behavior as sinful or not is because we are not on the inside of that person's relationship with God. We are to live in the joy that is the here-and-now Kingdom of Heaven and invite all others to the party - and not require them to change to participate.