Suffering: The Unwelcome Message in Western Christianity

I recently read about a Christian man who was criticized by co-workers for his liberal way of thinking, so he was forced to defend his right to share the gospel. One time they even sent spies to check out his ‘dangerous’ doctrine. The fact that he was a poor speaker and not much to look at didn’t help either. It also seemed likely that he lacked the faith to be healed from a condition that caused him much distress. He was often depressed and stressed out when he encountered the failures of people he ministered to. He was sometimes fearful and anxious, and spent long nights without sleep.

The plethora of problems and extreme difficulties that plagued this beleaguered soul rendered it quite evident to his detractors that he was carrying on without God’s blessing. But the poor guy didn’t seem to have a clue and kept right on with his crazy passion even when he lacked the means to purchase a change of underwear. He often went hungry and thirsty during the course of his missionary journeys. He even carried on in severe weather without proper clothing, suffering from cold and exposure to the elements. In fact, he was shipwrecked four times and once spent 24 hours adrift in the seas clinging to wreckage.

But he endured his greatest suffering at the hands of religious leaders who beat him severely on countless occasions. Once he was stoned and left for dead. In fact, he almost died 12 times! He spent about 6 years of his life in prison where he was finally beheaded.

Yet he wrote: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10.)

Are you ‘well’ content with weakness, insults, distresses, difficulties and persecutions?
Neither am I. Hmm. Wonder what we’re missing. Jesus made it clear that he called us to ‘come and die.’ Most Western Christians have never even been persecuted. And too many would rather follow after mega stars with mega churches and mega egos. Can you imagine such a ‘pastor’ trading his exorbitant salary, multi-million dollar home, luxury automobile, private jet and hair dresser for multiple beatings, ship wrecks and execution? Most of them will leave nothing behind but an impressive church building like a monument left in their remembrance. Just like Absalom who built a monument to himself because he had no son.

Perhaps that’s the point. There is no reproduction without the pain of childbirth. Paul says that ‘we…rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’(Romans 5:3-5) Transformation takes place when we yield willingly to suffering. It’s a necessary part of the lives of those who would follow the suffering Servant. Selfishness is displaced by love which alone reveals Christ to others who will also imitate him.

The Western church today is full of false converts who have been offered a ‘bless me’ gospel and a religious system that sells a form of godliness while denying its power’. As of the date of this writing, half of all Christians have left that system. Yet are we simply living the way we did before we left, other than enjoying the freedom from religious obligation? As was Paul, we are all debtors (under obligation) to reach out in love to rescue the poor and dying, to spend ourselves for the sake of others. (Romans 1:14-17) Are we willing to endure the suffering that always accompanies fruit bearing in a world that functions in direct opposition to the kingdom of God? If not, we are still stuck in religious complacency. God led us out to bring us into something greater. I for one choose to trust him for the wisdom to recognize it and the grace to embrace it.

David Fredrickson

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Child Like

FINALLY! A new episode of Untangled is up! We often are reminded of Jesus’ words to be like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. People have used that scripture to come against Bible scholarship or to perpetuate spiritual immaturity. But Jesus didn’t say “be CHILDISH” rather He said to be “CHILD LIKE.” This is what Loren and David discuss in this podcast.

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Prince of Peace

A new episode of Untangled is finally up!  In what is probably Loren’s most controversial podcast, he examines the two faced god of love and hate, peace and violence that is embraced by American evangelical Christianity and contrasts that with the God Jesus revealed to us.

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Taking it to the Extreme

Why is it when I state I don’t believe a particular way some Christians automatically

Two-faced head statue suggesting extremes or split personality. Fire & Ice.

Two-faced head statue suggesting extremes or split personality. Fire & Ice.

assume I believe the opposite extreme? They assume I’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water. Here are some examples.

“You don’t believe in tithing? You just want to be greedy and selfish with your money.”
No, I believe in giving, but tithing is part of the Old Covenant that isn’t even carried out correctly when applied.

“You don’t believe the Bible is the word of God? So you’ve just thrown out the Bible and don’t care what it says.”
No, I believe Jesus is the word of God (the One through whom God speaks), and the Bible is extremely useful when it’s interpreted through its proper historical and cultural context, viewed through the “Jesus lens,” and verses are properly exegeted. NOT when it is proof texted. (Grab whatever verse seems to fit a topic to prove a point.)

“You don’t belong to a church? So you’ve forsaken fellowship and are a wounded Lone Ranger Christian living in disobedience.”
No, actually I believe all who follow Jesus are the church. The church is not a building, but a people. And fellowship is not sitting in a chair staring at a platform, but genuine connections with other believers. I have that in abundance. I have forsaken nothing, rather I run to real fellowship.

“You don’t believe in hierarchies, church offices, leadership positions, or titles? So you are rebellious and believe in a chaotic, ‘do-whatever-you-feel-like’ Christianity.”
No, I actually believe Jesus meant what He said when He instructed us about not wearing titles and not lording over others because we’re all brethren. Those who follow Jesus have a new nature so this is anything but chaotic. We hear and know His voice. To designate one or a few people as being the vessels God speaks through is dangerous, damaging, and divisive. We have one head, Jesus. He speaks through whomever He pleases. It just happens to be that typically those who are more mature in their relationship with Him will hear Him more clearly more often. But if one is truly speaking the words of Jesus no title is needed to point that out. His sheep will recognize the voice of their shepherd coming through that vessel. And it doesn’t take long to figure out who those are that are more mature and worth listening to. Titles often serve as sign posts saying, “I’m the one you should always be listening to!” This makes it harder for one to dismiss the words of that person when they’re speaking on their own accord. (I’ve endured many sermons where this was the case!) It also makes it easier to dismiss the words of one not wearing a title when they are speaking the words of Christ because they aren’t the one “in authority.” Also titles are divisive because they place one brother/sister over another.

“You focus on God being love. So you think God is just a big ‘ol softy who doesn’t care about evil.”
No, I think God gave us the cure for evil, which is His love as seen in His Son. I also think a lot of folks who get all bent out of shape about a God who is “too loving” have no idea what love is. Can a parent love his/her child too much? Does genuine love for a child equal spoiling a child? Does love not include correction? But any loving parent will tell you correction and abuse are light years apart from each other. Many make God out to be an abuser and call that “loving correction.” If you can’t treat your child the same way you say God treats His, you have a serious problem in your theology.

 

Loren Rosser

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Entertaining Angels

It was Thursday and I had a list of errands to run for my wife that needed doing before late afternoon when I had other commitments. So I tackled my online work early, made a considerable dent by 1:30 and took off for various and sundry locations. My last stops were Costco and Walmart. These super stores share a huge common parking lot, so I stopped at Costco first and picked up a prescription. Next I hurried next door to Walmart where I hunted endlessly for unrelated items such as 3M sponges, dog food, human food, plastic baggies and chandelier light bulbs. I began to feel a bit uptight as my watch told me I was getting behind schedule. During the course of this super store safari I solicited the help of three store employees, one of which must have been new and couldn’t find the next isle, much less the desired item. It happened to be out of its environment. But finally I sighted my last prospective prey, closed in and pounced on it before it could disappear. I think I had the cart up to at least 10 miles an hour by the time I reached the check stand. There I pulled up behind a man who was obviously on the winning side of a bet wagered on how many items one grocery cart can hold.

Finishing at the check stand an eternity later, I raced through the automatic doors into the parking lot and aimed the cart toward the direction of which I was certain I had parked the car. I mentally calculated that I had about 5 minutes max to make it home before engaging my next commitment. A quick scan of the immediate area failed to locate my vehicle; must be the next aisle over. Nuh-uh. Next aisle? Nyet. As I continued to push the cart all over the Walmart parking lot in the blistering hot sun in search of my disappearing vehicle while time marched on, my frustration grew. I tried to see the humor in the situation and managed to force a peculiar little chuckle. “I see how it is, Father”, said I, “Must be a control issue we’re dealing with here. Ha-ha.” By now I was becoming a familiar figure to those waiting in their cars for a spouse to return with the goods. I mopped the sweat from my brow with the back of my hand and tried to adapt the visionary expression that an athlete might wear while preparing for a Pushing-a-Loaded-Shopping-Cart marathon.

Suddenly a bright idea crept into my over heated brain. Maybe I just thought I had parked in the Walmart lot when actually I left the car at Costco. I made a mental note to schedule a test for early Alzheimer as I pushed the cart with purposeful determination toward Costco which loomed a hundred yards in the distance. I’d just reached my top-fast walk-while-pushing-a-shopping-cart speed when the front wheels of the cart locked up causing me to jack-knife over the handle bar. Snapping upright, I began yanking the cart back and forth trying to get the wheels unlocked. A Walmart employee happened to drive by and yelled out that the carts won’t work past the yellow line that marks the property line between the two stores. Apparently these smart carts have the uncanny ability to lock their wheels at the sight of yellow. So I began trying to wrestle the thing back out of the lock-up zone.

I paused for a moment to catch my breath just as a lady drove up and curtly demanded that I quit blocking the parking space she wanted. There was another space one car back, but she wanted that one. Of course, how could it possibly otherwise? I was now at least 10 feet clear of the dividing property line, but the stupid wheels still wouldn’t budge, so I dragged and see-sawed the thing furiously for another 8 feet and paused to rest again. The lady’s car shot into the space while she glared at me like I had just slapped her baby. I looked away just in time to see another car with its blinker on waiting for the space I was blocking now. I attacked the cart with purpose and a silent fury. The strikingly beautiful lady waiting to park watched my performance with a look that reflected a mixture of curiosity, pity and disdain. It was the kind of expression you might expect someone like her to have if she had been watching a crippled chimpanzee in a zoo when suddenly he turned his back side to her and relieved himself. When I finally managed to wrangle the cart clear of the space, she sprang from her vehicle and walked quickly away. Every three steps she glanced back as though afraid the Cart Freak might try to follow her.

I finally found an empty cart into which I quickly transferred my bags. I raced back into the store where I informed a checker of my dilemma. Could I leave my cart under her watchful eye until I retrieved my car from Costco? No problem. I hurried to Costco and began searching. No car. Was it stolen? I wondered. Couldn’t be; no one would want my old work pick-up. I sweated back to Walmart and promptly found it very close to where I had begun looking at first. It was cleverly hidden between larger and longer vehicles. I didn’t have to worry about feeling stupid, because I had already scraped the bottom of the barrel in that department.

Later that day I shared my ordeal with a friend. The next morning he called to say that he had thought things through and decided it would be a good idea for me to attach a long pole with a flag on the end to my pick-up. He said I might also consider an ankle bracelet that beeped when I wandered over 500 yards from home. Some friend.

If there’s a moral connected with this incident, I’m not sure what it is. There is a scripture somewhere that tells how the angels long to look into the grace coming to us through the unfathomable mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the God-man. I understand that the word picture in the original language has the angels standing on tiptoe straining to get a peek at what He’s doing for and with us. They are apparently overwhelmed by and uncomprehending of the depth of grace and love lavished on earth dwellers. Anyway, if any of them are watching me I think they probably schedule their coffee breaks around my excursions. I can hear Gabriel now: “Hey guys, over here quick! Fredrickson’s getting ready to leave his home, and he’s in a hurry. This should be good.” And it’s not long before a little corner of heaven echoes with the slap of angel’s wings striking angel’s knees.

David Fredrickson

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Free to be Human

This week’s episode of Untangled is up! Religion teaches people to despise their humanity. Yet, Jesus fully embraced his humanity. He showed us what it is to be fully human – who we were meant to be from the beginning. Of course this caused him to be hated by the religious crowd. Some things never change. We were created as humans because God wants delights in our humanity. This is what Loren and David discuss in this freeing episode.

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God Thoughts from the Man Cave

Here it is! The first video in my new series, “God Thoughts from the Man Cave.” The topic of this one is “God is Love.”

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Living Freely and Lightly

This week’s episode of Untangled is up! Jesus invites us to live in his rest, free of heavy burdens and that which doesn’t fit us. Sadly, few find the narrow road that leads to the broad place of freedom. In this podcast Loren talks about how the church is alive and well as she is listening to the voice of her shepherd. He also discusses various sufferings many are facing right now on their journey and offers words of encouragement to carry on.

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Christian Stockholm Syndrome

This week’s podcast is up! What happens when you believe in an all powerful God who strips you of your identity, motivates you by fear and threats of eternal torture, and then spares you? You end up with Christian Stockholm Syndrome. You become a captive who develops positive feelings for your captor because his lack of abuse is perceived as an act of kindness. Any moron can tell you a relationship based in fear is anything but healthy. Do we really think the author of relationships utilizes fear to win our affections? This is what David and Loren discuss in this controversial podcast.

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Christless Causes

The following paragraph from an article by C.J. Werleman, an Australian born atheist author, neatly sums up the misdirection that so many Evangelicals have embraced since the early ‘80s.

“Ironically, the rise of the Christian Right over the course of the past three decades may well end up being the catalyst for Christianity’s rapid decline. From the moment Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, evangelical Christians, who account for roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population, identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. Michael Spencer, a writer who describes himself as a post-evangelical reform Christian, says, “Evangelicals fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith. Evangelicals will be seen increasingly as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.””

“Evangelicals fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.”
In Revelation 2:1-6 Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for their hard work, perseverance and their lack of tolerance for wicked men who rule over others. But he warns them that they have left their first love. Essentially their focus turned from Jesus to a cause; exposing wickedness and promoting a “righteous” agenda. The outcome of their hard work and perseverance in fighting evil was that they were about to lose their witness to the world.

A sure sign that one has left his/her first love is the need for a cause. Common causes in Evangelicals today can range anywhere from church growth to pro-life to anti-gay marriage to turning America to God. Yet Jesus never started a movement or promoted a cause. He wasn’t interested in moral issues or in preserving what good may have remained in society during his earthly pilgrimage. He came for one purpose; to offer himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life to a world that he loves. “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”(John 3:17) Jesus Christ came to redeem people, not cultures, societies or systems. It is impossible to be both in Christ and a part of the worldly systems. There is no way to merge the two, no truth outside of the person of Christ and no life apart from his.

But God loves all who inhabit this planet and has provided a Way for those joined to him to be in the world but not a part of its systems. Those who are in love with Jesus are building a kingdom that is not of this world. They become leaven that impacts every level of society through love that cannot be contained in any specific culture or identified with any movement. It’s a love that does not discriminate between right, wrong, good or evil people; a love that never stops flowing weather it is received or rejected. It’s a love so powerful that when his people are joined together in trusting Christ they are filled to the measure of all the fullness of God!

“That power is like the working of (God’s) mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age, but also in the age to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:19-23) (See also Eph. 3:17-19)

How ridiculously futile are the causes the wayward “church” pursues in the light of the truth above! But does anyone truly believe the inspired words of Paul? When Jesus returns will he find faith on earth? Will his bride be distracted by so many things when only one thing is important? Yet for good or bad, a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. There are untold numbers of mostly unseen believers around the world that are living and growing in the power of love, and one day every knee shall bow in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father.

David Fredrickson

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