Posts Tagged ‘God’

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JESUS IS ALREADY HERE

October 29, 2009

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The end of conflict.

I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox church (at the age of one), but I have not been a part of the church since my late teens. This is not because I think there’s anything wrong with the Greek Orthodox faith, I do not. The Sunday Service is a moving experience that captures the imagination and is rich with tradition and symbolism. But when I looked around the cathedral with its gold trim on… everything: icons, platters, robes, crosses, walls, ceilings, arches, and stained glass visages everywhere, a discomfort came over me.

I couldn’t imagine Jesus speaking in a room like this.

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Entering adulthood, I occasionally experienced other churches’ Sunday Services and discovered a seemingly endless variety, each with their own unique way of offering the “…word of God.” The stoicism of my childhood religious experiences seemed rigid and out of touch, by comparison.

SingersLightsSoundI found myself enjoying the “celebration” of many contemporary services: rooms mildly decorated, some with non-descript stained glass windows and often without the traditional large cross; gospel choirs and small vocal groups with drums, bass, guitars and keyboards; people standing up, clapping in time to the music – on 2 and 4 for a change – filling the room with joyous sounds and once the songs ended, offering thunderous applause; messages that lifted people up, instead of asking them to get on their knees; ministers, dressed in business casual or even casual attire, asking questions and challenging the congregation to respond, engaging them to think not only with their minds, but with their hearts.

I could imagine Jesus speaking in a room like this.

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There are, of course, the mixed messages within organized religion: Jesus was not the son of God, therefore (the son of God) has not arrived on earth verses He is the son of God, and is coming back; the Old Testament’s “an eye for an eye” verses Jesus’ “love your enemy”; back in the previous century, the world – which was only 6000 years old according to some – was in its sixth day of creation, Armageddon was near, and by the year 2000, only 144,000 would survive as God’s chosen people, yet here we are nine years after the “seventh day” has begun; a newborn baby, pure of thought and deed, is somehow born a sinner;

It appeared Jesus’ teachings differed greatly with some of what was said in traditional Services. I had many questions and no reasonable answers. I understood faith is “…the evidence of things not seen.” What I didn’t understand was how do we as people of faith, live our lives according to scripture, when scripture is conflicted?

bandstandDuring this time I realized I had to make a decision on what (not who) “God” is (for me) and why the man from Nazareth came to be the most quoted yet misunderstood (my opinion) person in Christianity. For three decades, being a member of a church was not a top priority. From time to time, I read about the teachings of different denominations, realizing that none have a lock on Christianity, although many would have us believe they do.

When I finally learned how to walk this gauntlet of contradiction, the answers came. I discovered a peace that will sustain me for the rest of my life. Whether my conclusions are in agreement with any denomination is not the point. Each denomination of the Christian faith represents nothing more than the conclusions of a few people who think their way is better.

Who can say they’re right and I’m wrong? No one. So, here’s what works for me:

1.)   The man, Jesus of Nazareth, showed us through words and deeds, we have all we need to live peaceful, loving lives. It’s our choice.

2.)   My mother did not give birth to a sinner.

3.)   Armageddon is a man-made concept, created to control people through fear.

4.)   An “eye for an eye” results in blindness, to paraphrase Gandhi.

5.)   You attract that which you are.

6.)   The “…second coming of Christ…” is already in progress, in each and every one of us, every day. Jesus, the “the Son of God,” is not coming back – there’s no need. His work on earth was done years ago. He showed us we have the power to become whatever we choose. The future is our responsibility, not His. Our choices and their consequences were made crystal clear.

In other words…

Jesus is already here.

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As for those who absorb these contradictions, week after week, year after year, without ever asking questions? How does this affect their beliefs?

Soon after the 9-11 attacks, I had many conversations about traditional Christianity. In one discussion, I was told the invasion of Iraq was necessary. When I disagreed, it was then brought to my attention that, “…there were wars in the Bible that were justified, as is this one.”

“I’m pretty sure Jesus would not go to war,” I said.

“Jesus wasn’t around during those wars.”

“So which is right?”

No answer.

Jesus is already here.

RockChurch

I once presented a hypothetical to one of my Greek Orthodox relatives:

A man, or woman, lives in such a remote part of the world that he or she has never heard of Christianity, the Bible, God or Jesus. They’ve unknowingly lived their life, according to Jesus’ teachings, to the letter: never wronging anyone, having forgiven anyone who may have wronged them; helping to care for the sick and the elderly in their village; giving of themselves selflessly day in and day out. They’ve led an exemplary life.

“Would they be accepted into the ‘Kingdom of God’?” I asked.

 “No, no! Unless they ‘give themselves to Jesus Christ,’ they would not be accepted into God’s Kingdom.”

A stunning answer and one I couldn’t disagree with more. It’s obvious to me Jesus’ teachings are already in that person’s life, whether he or she knows it or not.

Jesus is already here.

ContemporarySanctuary

I was once asked if I believe in God. Before I answered, I took a moment to collect my thoughts, because I did not want to give the impression that I was either Atheist or Agnostic.

“Yes. But not in the traditional sense of God in a place called ‘Heaven’ and the devil in a place called ‘Hell.’”

“I don’t understand.”

“For me, God is not some being – in the sky somewhere – that we pray to. Instead, God is inside each of us. It’s the moral compass – the power to reason and choose – the power of free will. That’s God, to me.”

“So why don’t you go to church?”

“I can’t find one that has what I’m looking for.”

“Do you know what you’re looking for?”

“No. But I’ll know when I see it.”

“Would you go to church if you found the ‘right’ one?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll start looking.”

This paraphrased conversation took place between my wife and I very early in our relationship. I’ll never forget it. It was the only time I have ever been asked the question and finding the right words was not easy. Not long after that, she found a church home that’s part of the rapidly growing movement known as “New Thought” or “Practical” Christianity. Most of these churches are non-denominational and welcome people of all faiths, races and sexual orientation.

Jesus is already here.

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Many traditionalists have voiced their discontent with these new, more progressive approaches to Christianity. Could it be their discontent stems from the diminishing attendance at their own Sunday Services? Is it possible the more progressive approach to Christianity is the future? Are people growing weary of the conflicting messages? Are they concluding, as have I, the answers to their questions are actually inside of them?

The incredible growth of progressive, forward-thinking ministries seems to answer these questions. Case in point: the highest attendance of any church in this country belongs to the very progressive Lakewood Church in Texas, which draws well over 40,000 people, in three separate Services, each weekend.

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Borrowing again from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe we have all we need – here and now – to be that change.

Jesus is already here.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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CONTRARIAN

March 20, 2009

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My last name means “contrarian” in Greek. I’m about to live up to it – again.

Most of us grew up with the story of Adam and Eve and how Eve enticed Adam to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge – after she partook – against God’s orders. By doing so, they both committed the ultimate “sin” (disobeying God) thereby committing all of us to pain, suffering and mortality through the curse that God placed upon them which will not be lifted until the second coming of Jesus Christ. (I know there’s a serpent in the story, but I find it more than challenging to wrap my head around the concept of a talking serpent.)

adameve2A couple points need to be made before I go on. First, I realize that although it is absolutely not my intent, I may upset some of my Greek Orthodox, Methodist and Evangelical family members and friends. And second, I want to make it clear that these are my personal thoughts, and not those of my church or our minister.

That said…

The story is an allegory. If you believe the story actually happened, then all human beings on this planet are blood relatives and we’re all born from incest. So let’s stay with allegory, shall we? In addition, I believe we humans are – and always have been – created with free will and the power to reason.

With this in mind, I have some questions. (You’re shocked, I’m sure.)

According to this allegory, Adam and Eve became aware of many things that they did not know or care about prior to eating the fruit. Was their new-found knowledge about good and evil, a bad thing? Did this knowledge really make them less “perfect?” Would God really create beings only to “curse” them and force them from their surroundings?

adamevebanned6I think not.

The idea that God curses people was a man-made concept to control peoples’ religious thinking through fear of His supposed “wrath” and “condemnation.”

This allegory does not represent the God I know. I believe we are born with the ability to choose (again, through free will and the power to reason.) It is, among other things, what separates us from other mammals. Why couldn’t we believe that Adam and Eve’s actions resulted in knowledge that is helpful to mankind, not detrimental? If God did not want them to have the knowledge, why create the temptation?

The answer that is always given, of course, is, “…to test their obedience.” What if it was, instead, to test their free will?

Surely God already knew what the outcome would be, did He not?

He is, after all, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, is He not?

The God I know would not have been at all surprised or disturbed by Adam and Eve’s choice. The idea that all of us are cursed because they “disobeyed” doesn’t make sense if we are to believe that our God is a loving God, as Jesus taught us. Through Jesus, we learn that God is not judgmental, wrathful or condemning. He taught us that we have the ability to walk in God’s light, if we so choose. If we choose not to, so be it. How does choosing not to mean we are somehow cursed?

If I am born in His image and likeness, with free will and the power to reason, then I was born with the ability to challenge religious concepts, such as the one presented in this allegory.

Because of Jesus’ teachings, I live my life knowing I am free, without limits and unyielding to fear.

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How different this world would be had we focused on God’s love all these years instead of man-made concepts about His supposed “wrath” and “condemnation” in some allegory.

Still love me?

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com