Life

Evangelical MLM Evangelism

Several days ago, I wrote a post titled J.A. Medders Asks: What Do You Think Jesus is Doing Right Now?.

As I read the comments on this post, I had thoughts about how similar multi-level marketing (MLM) programs are to the various methods and programs Evangelicals use to evangelize people they deem unsaved/lost/unregenerate and headed for hell. This post will details these similarities.

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. During my tenure at this church, I had to deal with well-intentioned members and Christian friends who tried to recruit me into their MLM programs. I was an attractive candidate due to the fact that I had a name-filled Rolodex that could be mined for new victims. Always polite and respectful, I never said NO and this made me an easy target for church members who were involved with selling everything from Amway to long distance telephone service.

One day the telephone rang and it was Brother Bob (names changed to protect the guilty) calling to ask if he would come over and talk to me about something that he was SURE I would find interesting and exciting; an opportunity to help other people and make money too. I thought, Not again, but not wanting to upset Brother Bob, I said, sure, when would you like to come over?

The next night a new Cadillac pulled into our driveway. Unbeknownst to me, Brother Bob had brought someone else with him. Great, I thought, now I have to deal with Brother Bob AND a stranger.  As they came on to our front deck, I opened the door, and putting on the biggest I love Jesus smile possible, I invited them into our spacious, palatial 14’x70′ home on wheels.

Brother Bob was wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, while the intruder who came with him looked like he stepped out of the pages of a fashion catalog. After trading pleasantries, I invited Brother Bob and the now-I-know-your-name stranger into our expansive 70 square foot dining room. Brother Bob sat on one side of the table, I sat on the other side, and the stranger — let’s call him Dick — sat at the head of the table.

Dick relaxed into his chair, putting both arms on the table with hands clasped. In doing so, I couldn’t help but notice his Rolex watch and large diamond ring. These accessories were a perfect match for his calendar model look. From this point forward, Brother Bob didn’t say another word. Dick began talking to me about wants, needs, and desires, focusing on the accrual of wealth and material goods. At this point, he had not yet told me WHY he and Brother Bob were there. Having evangelized hundreds of people over the years, I knew Dick was trying to make me think that we were friends and that we had common wants, needs, and desires. He regaled me with stories about how his standard of living had mushroomed since he joined — are you ready? drum roll please —  AMWAY.

Dick asked if I had ever heard of AMWAY. I told him I had, but that didn’t stop him from giving me a well-rehearsed speech about the history and wonders of AMWAY. After 30 minutes or so, Dick thought it was time to close the deal. He asked me if I wanted to earn more money and improve my standard of living — offensively assuming that there was something wrong with my current lifestyle. Dick reiterated all that Amway had done for him, sure that I would want the same things. Imagine his surprise when I told him that I really wasn’t interested in accumulating material goods.

Dick had said he was a Christian, so I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t know that the Bible said:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)

I shared with Dick my view of wealth and material goods, and it became quickly clear to him that I was NOT a prospect for AMWAY. Dick quickly ended his attempt to hustle me, saying to Brother Bob that it was time for them to go to their next appointment. I shook hands with them, walked them to the door, and off into the night they went looking to suck the blood out of other friends of Brother Bob.

Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church and twenty-five years in the ministry, I knocked on the doors of thousands of homes as I followed the Bible mandate to preach the gospel from house to house. My goal, regardless of the church I pastored, was to knock on the doors of every home, introduce myself, and, if possible, share the gospel. I also encouraged church members to get me into the homes of their lost loved ones so I could share with them the wondrous good news that Jesus Saves!

I believed throughout my years in the Christian church that every person in the world needed to hear the gospel. While my fervor greatly waned in later years, I still considered it my duty and responsibility to put a good word in for Jesus whenever possible. It always troubled me that OTHER Christians (and pastors) didn’t seem as bothered as I was about the lostness of their family, friends, and neighbors. Despite hearing and knowing the gospel, most church members showed little interest in getting others saved. I suspect most members viewed me as some sort of hired gun trained in the art of winning souls. Content to invite the unsaved to church so they could hear me preach, church members busied themselves with building a kingdom on this earth. No matter how often I attempted to raise an army to wage war against sin and the devil, most members were content to let me and a handful of other zealots do all the evangelism.

Think for a moment about soulwinning Evangelicals and the preachers of the  various MLM gospels. The methodology, techniques and promises are quite similar:

  • Both attempt to befriend people in hopes of getting them to buy what they are selling.
  • Both attempt to manipulate emotions in hopes of making people sympathetic to their sales pitch.
  • Both attempt to bolster their sales spiel with stories of how wonderful their lives are since betting saved/joining MLM program.
  • Both attempt to appeal to prospective customers with promises of a better life.
  • Both promise lives of meaning, purpose, and helping others.
  • Both attempt to impress on people the importance of making an immediate decision.
  • Both leave literature if people want to think about it or are unwilling to make an immediate decision

I am sure there are other connections. If you think of any, please share them in the comment section.

I am sure that Evangelicals will object to how I have painted their evangelistic efforts, but the fact remains the Evangelicals are sales people with a product to sell: forgiveness of sin, salvation, and a home in heaven. This product purportedly offers purchasers joy, happiness, meaning, and purpose. The difference between what Evangelicals are selling and what the MLM zealots offer is that Evangelicals attempt to sell an invisible product that may not pay off until after death. Those who buy into the Jesus Saves program must exercise faith, believing in the end that the multi-level marketer in the sky — Jesus — will move them to the top of the MLM pyramid, granting them a sparking new mansion along streets of pure gold. With AMWAY, at least, converts can — in this life — judge the quality and truthfulness of its claims. This is why most people drop out of MLM programs, while most  Evangelicals stay in their program until the end. Imagine what might happen if people required Jesus’ soul-saving MLM program to pay out BEFORE death. Why, most people would abandon Evangelical churches in short order.

As long as Evangelical churches promise things that can only be gained AFTER death, people will hang on, hoping that after death they will cash in their eternal lottery ticket. While religion certainly has (for some people) utilitarian value, I do wonder if people would spend time going to church, giving their money, and attempting to live according to the teachings of an ancient religious text if there were no divine payoff.

Think back to your Evangelical days. If there was no life after death, no eternal reward, would you have been a Christian? Would you have lived as you did? If this life is all there is, how differently would you have lived your life. Please share your thoughtful ruminations in the comment section.

Thirty-Eight Years of Used Furniture 

new couch

Several weeks ago, Polly and I bought a brand-new loveseat and couch. This was a monumental decision for us. Prior to this purchase, we had never owned a brand-new couch. Never! Over the years, we bought second-hand furniture or used family castoffs. Our thinking went something like this: there is no need to buy nice furniture as long as you have children. As any parent knows, children are hard on furniture. From spills to flops, children can turn nice furniture into something from a CSI crime scene in a few years. And then came grandchildren, and we repeated the process all over again. Our last loveseat and couch came from a nearby secondhand store. I believe we paid $399 for the pair. Weathering the abuse of our grown children and grandchildren, this furniture had reached what they call in the tech industry its end of life. But even then, after eight years of service, we couldn’t bear to haul the furniture off to the landfill. Instead, several of our sons hauled the furniture out to the curb. We placed FREE signs on the furniture, hoping that someone might haul them away. Less than an hour later, a noisy beat up pickup truck pulled up to the curb and its passengers exited the truck, excited over their new find. They quickly loaded the furniture on the truck and drove away. Mission accomplished!

Polly and I love our new furniture. It’s nice, even at this late date in life, to have something new. Of course, we’ve turned into furniture Nazis, not allowing the cat or dog on the furniture, or allowing the grandkids to get anywhere near the furniture with food or drinks. Now if we can just get our adult children sippy cups for their beer and coffee, all will be well. In time, the new furniture will settle into the rhythm of our home, and then the dog and cat and grandkids too will know it’s okay to sit on Nana’s precious (said with Gollum’s voice).

After Ashley Furniture delivered the loveseat and couch, we decided that we also needed a new end table. We did not buy a new table, choosing instead to go to the used furniture store to find a table that would match the new furniture. The end table set us back $69. After that, we decided that we wanted to replace our entertainment center with something a little more understated, giving us more space in our small living room. For this purchase we bought ready-to-assemble (RTA) furniture from the Sauder Woodworking Outlet Store in Archbold, Ohio. Polly chose a unit with colors that matched the new loveseat and couch. Thanks to a 35% employee discount, the new entertainment center cost $120. I spent time last night and today putting the unit together. Polly helped me finish off the project today. I am happy to report that I successfully put the unit together without swearing and without getting into an argument with the love of my life. My children will know that this is a huge milestone. Our older children likely remember the time Polly and I decided to hang wallpaper — together. Needless to say, things didn’t go well, with both of us realizing that we loved each other deeply, but hanging wallpaper together was a sure way to end up in divorce court. I am glad after 38 years of marriage that we are now able to somewhat work together on household projects. Who knows, we might just stay married.

How about you? Do you have any furniture stories to tell? Do you work well with your spouse or significant other? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

God Kills Man and Leaves Three Girls Fatherless

god of love

Several days ago, a young father drowned after attempting to “save his three daughters from a rip current off the North Carolina coast.” According to several friends of the man, he was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ:

“Rick was just a loving father, you could see that when he was with his children, a loving husband, just a wonderful Christian man,”

Becky Mason

“Loved his family, loved pretty much anybody he was around and was not afraid to be concerned about people’s problems, or about their faith because he was a committed Christian man.”

Dr. Dean Baird

Atheists and Christians alike agree that this tragic story is heartbreaking. I can only imagine how I might feel if one of my children or grandchildren died in similar circumstances. This man, by all accounts, behaved heroically in his attempt to save his daughters from drowning. Yet, his bravery cost him his life.

I write about stories such as this because I think it is vitally important to point out to Christians that their God is not who they say he is. In the midst of great suffering and loss, Christians turn to faith to give them strength and hope. That is all well and good. Religion certainly offers something that atheism cannot offer: comfort. That Christians feel comforted in difficult times doesn’t, however, mean that their God is real.  It is people, not God, who comfort, encourage, and help those in need. Both atheists and Christians can and do comfort and help others — no God needed.

What I hope Christians will do, as they suffer pain, heartache, and loss, is ask the question, Where is God? In the story that is the focus of this post, the following questions beg for answers:

  • Why didn’t God miraculously save the three girls from the rip current?
  • Why didn’t God keep their father from drowning?
  • What possible reason could God give for killing the father and leaving the girls orphans?

Why is it when tragedies such as this happen, Christians turn to God, yet never ask him WHY? Conditioned by preaching that tells them God’s ways are not our ways and God has a purpose and a plan for everything, Christians rarely take the big step of reason and ask WHY? How is it possible to square the notion that God is loving and kind and always does what’s best for Christians with stories such as this?

My heart aches for those grieving over loss of their loved one and friend. I vividly remember the day our home phone rang and on the other end was someone telling us that Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident. (Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All.)  Polly and I were still Christians at the time, and I can still “feel” the emotions of the moment as Christians tried to make sense of a senseless death. Some people prayed, while others quoted Bible verses. Many of us wept, while others put on a strong face, not wanting to appear weak. And yet, not one of us dared to say to God, WHY? The reason for this, or course, is that asking WHY is viewed as having a lack of faith, a ploy by Satan to draw Christians away from Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith. Christians must always believe that God is good all the time, never doing anything that is not for their betterment.

Here’s what I know: the day Christians dare to ask WHY? is the day they have taken their first steps away from Christianity. Reality tells us that believing there is a personal God who loves and cares for us and always does what is in our best interest is a lie. A well-intentioned lie, perhaps, but a lie nonetheless.

The only rational explanation for life on planet earth is that shit happens. Life has its wonderful moments, but it also has moments that leave us reeling, suffering great heartache and loss. While we should do what we can to maximize the wonderful moments and minimize the bad shit that happens, the fact is things are going to happen that take us by surprise, often leaving tragedy, heartache, and loss in their wake. This is life on planet Earth. We can either embrace life as it is or we can run to deaf, blind, and dumb Gods when life turns ugly. For me, I choose to embrace reality, knowing that just around the corner I could find myself neck deep in shit.

The Bible says in Proverbs 27:1, Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. The Bible also says in James 4;14, Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. These verses aptly describe how all of us should view life. None us knows what tomorrow will bring. This could be the last blog post I ever right. Pain, suffering, loss, and death, lurk in the shadows, ever ready to pounce when given the opportunity. This is why it is important for us to embrace each and every day as if it might be our last. This is hard to do. We humans are optimistic, thinking that the sun will rise in the morning and another day will be ours. However, as this story aptly illustrates, there is coming a day when each of us will meet our end. No matter how sure we are about the future, all that we really have is the present.

We’ve Only Just Begun

bruce and polly gerencser 2015

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2015

Forty years ago, a young man from the flatland of rural northwest Ohio moved to Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. Also enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College was a young woman who hailed from Bay City, Michigan. What follows is their story.

The young man packed his worldly goods into his beater of a car, and waving goodbye to his Mom, drove out of the trailer park, turned east on U.S. Hwy 6 and set a course for Pontiac, Michigan. His mother had kissed him goodbye, letting the young man know how proud she was that he was the first Gerencser to go to college. He pushed her away, uncomfortable with her display of affection, a behavior he would one day regret. The young man thought, finally, away from the craziness and the drunkard husband.

Two-and-a-half hours later, the young man turned off of Golf Drive onto the driveway for Midwestern Baptist College. He stopped his car in front of the dormitory so he could unload his belongings and move them to his assigned dorm room — room 207. On that day, the young man wore a maize and blue shirt with the number 75 on the front and the word REV on the back. This shirt was a gift from a young woman who hoped the young man would remember her. He didn’t, knowing that enrolling at Midwestern would provide him ample opportunity to meet attractive Fundamentalist women. He would soon learn that a wide-open field of romance would quickly fade in the beauty of a dark-haired, beautiful young woman.

Shortly after classes began in the fall of 1976, the young man and young dark-haired woman began flirting with one another. At first, they sent flirtatious notes, often meeting up for card games in the dormitory kitchen. While both of them would briefly date other people, by the end of September, the young man and young woman decided to give dating one another a try.

They were an odd match. The young woman was quiet and reserved, rarely speaking more than a few words. The young man, on the other hand, was a talker, and opinionated. He lived life in the fast lane, serving Jesus, yet pushing the lines of Fundamentalist decorum and acceptability. Years later, the young woman would tell him that she was drawn to his wildness — her bad boy.

Midwestern Baptist College — a Fundamentalist institution founded by Dr. Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church  — had strict rules concerning dating and male/female interaction. Dating couples were only allowed to date on Saturday evening and after Sunday night church. Couples were required to double-date, and all dates had to be approved by dorm supervisors. Couples were not permitted to travel beyond a ten-mile radius from the college. Coupled were not permitted to have any physical contact with each other. Breaking this rule would result in being campused — meaning that offending couples were not allowed to date off campus. Repeated infractions led to being kicked out of school.

The young man and young woman quickly found that keeping the six-inch rule — the width of a songbook — was impossible. Fearing expulsion, they sought out other dating couples that also found the no-contact rule a strain on their relationships. On date nights, the young man and young woman could now snuggle close to one another and hold hands. As with all young couples with raging hormones, their desire for physical intimacy increased as time went along. Yet, fearing being discovered and expelled, the young man and young woman — for three months — didn’t kiss.

Christmas of 1976 found the young man visiting the young woman at the home of her parents in Newark, Ohio. The young woman’s father was a preacher — a recent graduate of Midwestern. Her father was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church pastored by the young woman’s uncle, Jim Dennis.

One evening, the young woman’s mother asked her to retrieve their clothing from the laundry room. The young man followed along, and it was there, in an apartment laundry room, the young couple kissed one another for the first time. Many kisses would follow, but neither of them would ever forget that one brief moment where they were able for the first time to express their love for one another.

Love for one another? Yes, their relationship quickly moved from casual to serious, culminating in the young couple’s engagement on Valentine’s Day 1977. A quarter-carat diamond engagement ring was purchased from Sears and Roebuck for $225, sealing their commitment to marry in July of 1978. Little did they know that the young woman’s mother would do everything in her power to foil their plans, going so far as to tell her daughter that she forbade her to marry the young man. He comes from a divorced family, her mother said, and divorce is hereditary.

After a year of pressuring the young couple to abandon their plans, the young woman’s mother relented and consented to the wedding — not that she had any other option. For the first time, the young woman stood up to her mom, telling her that she planned to run off and get married if she continued to oppose her marriage to the young man.

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

July 15, 1978, was a hot and humid day. There was no air conditioning at the Newark Baptist Temple, not that this mattered to the young couple. Their special day had finally arrived, the day when they would become Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser. Their friends from college, along with family members and church members, filled the pews to witness the joining of the young man and young woman in holy matrimony. Songs were sung, vows were exchanged, and then, with a kiss for luck, they were on their way, innocent of where their life together would take them.

Six weeks after their wedding, the young man came home from work and was met with the news, I’m pregnant. Nine months later, the first of the young couple’s six children was born in Bryan, Ohio. After almost three years at Midwestern, the young couple was forced to drop out of college and move to the Bryan – the birthplace of the young man. This would be the first of many moves for them. Over the next thirty-eight years they would move numerous times, living in dozens of rental houses.

Life was not easy for the young married couple. Ignorance about how to manage money quickly led to all sorts of problems. Years later, the young man, now a seasoned Baptist preacher, would remark, it took us a few years to figure out that you had to pay the electric bill to keep the lights on. They faced numerous problems, wondering if their marriage would survive – thus proving the young woman’s mother right: divorce is hereditary. Survive they did, and here on July 15th they will celebrate their thirty-eighth wedding anniversary.

The young couple walked out of the Newark Baptist Temple, cheered on by family and friends — two innocents wondering what fate would hold for them. Six children, one with Down Syndrome. Poverty. Moves to Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and Ohio. Bankruptcy. Health problems. Constant struggles to survive, living on poor wages and food stamps. Leaving the ministry and losing faith. Yet, despite stresses that often cause marriage failure, the commitment and love of the young couple endured. Seasoned by adversity and failure, the pair — now nearing their 60th birthdays — continue to honor the vows they made to one another years ago.

Later today, the ageing couple will celebrate their wedding anniversary with a meal at a fancy restaurant and a night of watching races at a local dirt track. They will make jokes with another, promising hot, torrid sex before the night is over. And more than likely, once they arrive home, they will each give the other the look, the one that says, I’m tired, maybe tomorrow. Climbing into bed, they will turn to one another — just as they have thousands of times before — and say, I love you. The young woman, now with gray hair and weathered skin, will quickly fall to sleep, leaving the young man to his thoughts; thoughts of a well-lived life, of love and commitment and adversity and failure. But thoughts, most of all, of the fact that he is the luckiest man alive.

Soon the young man — now with a white beard and failing health — will gently run his fingers through his sleeping love’s hair, pondering the life they have shared together. His mind will likely return to a basement laundry room and the moment where he realized that the young woman in his embrace was his one and only. Forty years later, she remains not only his wife and lover, but also his best friend and confidante. Life is good, he will say to himself as he drifts off to sleep, hoping that come morning he will have one more opportunity to say, I love you.

Your God is Not Here

barbara ehrenreich god quote

Last night I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of girl who survived the murder of her mother and sisters. After the killings, the murderer scrawled a message in blood on the bedroom wall. The message said: YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE

Your God is not here….five little words, yet they succinctly summarize one of the reasons many people walk away from Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that God hears and answers prayers and is intimately involved with the day-to-day machinations of life. This God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. For Evangelicals, they “see” God everywhere, even going so far as to say that God lives inside of them. He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, Evangelicals sing, rarely considering how often in their lives God is nowhere to be found.

Evangelicals are taught that God is everywhere, yet it seems, oh so often, that the everywhere-God is AWOL. In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets to an Old Testament Cook-off.  Verses 20-24 states:

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.

The prophets of Baal went first. As expected, their God was silent and no fire fell from heaven. Then it was Elijah’s turn, and sure enough God heard the prophet’s prayer and sent fire to burn up the sacrifice. Not only did God burn up the sacrifice, he also totally consumed the stone altar (imagine how hot the fire must have been to melt rock). Afterward, Elijah had the prophets of Baal restrained and taken to a nearby brook so he could murder them. All told, Elijah slaughtered 450 men.

I want to focus on one specific element of this story; Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal. As these prophets called out to their God, Elijah began to mock them:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

The Living Bible puts it this way:

“You’ll have to shout louder than that,” he scoffed, “to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

barbara ehrenreich god quote 2

Every time I read these words I think about the Evangelical God, a deity who is supposedly on the job 24/7. If this God is so intimately involved with his creation, why does it seems that he is nowhere to be found?  This God is supposedly the Great Physician, yet Christians and atheists alike suffer and die. Where, oh where, is the God who heals? This God supposedly controls the weather, yet tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches and mudslides maim and kill countless people, leaving those who survive without homes, food, and potable water. This God supposedly causes plants to grow, yet countless children will starve due to droughts and crop failures. This God is supposedly the God of Peace, yet hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children are maimed and slaughtered in wars and terrorist attacks. This God is supposedly the giver of life, yet everywhere people look they see death — both human and animal.

Perhaps it is the Evangelical God that is — to quote the Living Bible — ” talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” Taking a big picture view of life leads many of us to conclude that either the Evangelical God is a heartless, indifferent son of a bitch or he doesn’t exist. For atheists such as myself, our honest, rational observations makes one thing clear — there is no God. Perhaps — throwing a bone to deists and universalists — there is a hand-off God, but is he worthy of worship? This God created the universe, yet he chooses, in the midst of our suffering, to do nothing. What good is such a God as this? Warm “feelings”  will not suffice when there is so much pain, suffering, and death.

Imagine how different the world would be if the Evangelical God fed the hungry, gave water to thirsty, healed the sick, brought an end to violence and war,  and made sure all people had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone in their pockets. Imagine if this God tore the pages of the book of Revelation from the Bible and said, my perfect, eternal kingdom is now!

Christians have been promising for centuries that someday their God will make all things new. Evangelicals warn sinners that the second coming of Christ is nigh, after which God will make a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21:3-5 we find these words:

I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”

Yet, despite the promises of better days ahead, the world remains just as it always has been, an admixture of love, joy, and kindness and hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? As I type this I am watching ESPN. They are running clips of notable athletes, coaches, and reporters whose lives have been touched by cancer. I cry every time I hear cancer-stricken Jim Valvano’s  ESPY speech:

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Cancer-ridden Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech elicits the same emotional response:

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Today, I heard the story of a sports reporter who lost his daughter and son-in-law to cancer — both in their 30s. I wept as I pondered this man’s heart-wrenching pain. And then I said, where is God?

I think the murderer was right when he scrawled on the  bedroom wall, YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE. Surely, the cold reality and honesty of atheism is preferred to begging and pleading with a God who never answers. I spend each and every day of my life battling chronic illness and disease. My health problems started 15 years before I walked away from Christianity. Countless prayers were uttered on my behalf. I pleaded with God, Help me, Lord. Heal my broken body, take away my pain. God uttered not a word, nor did he lift a finger to help. As a pastor, I prayed for numerous dying Christians. I asked the churches I pastored to pray for the sick and the dying. Yet, despite our earnest petitions, all those we prayed for died.

The absence of God from the human narrative of life is but one of the reasons I no longer believe in the existence of God. I think Jimmy Stewart summed up my view best with his prayer on the movie Shenandoah:

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There is no God that coming to deliver us from pain, suffering, and loss. We are on our own, so it is up to us to ease the suffering of humans and animals alike. Knowing that death always wins shouldn’t keep us from attempting to alleviate the misfortunes of others. We shouldn’t need promises of homes in heaven to motivate us to help others.

Do We Need to Believe in the Christian God to Have a Meaningful Life?

jesus all about life

Do we need to believe in the Christian (Evangelical) God for our lives to have meaning? Larry Dixon, professor of theology at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina thinks so. In a post titled Man’s Significance, Dixon stated:

Why does man consider himself such a “big screaming deal”? Is there no basis for our thinking we are unique in the universe, that there is something about man that shouts “You have value! You have worth!”

Evolutionary theory essentially argues that man makes up his own significance. The Bible teaches that we are made in the image and likeness of GOD — and we, therefore, have meaning.

How sad to miss that fundamental truth of our creation, and to simply sit back in despair and entertain ourselves to death with our machines!

Listen carefully to what Dixon is saying: Those who deny that meaning is derived from belief in God, live lives of despair, spending their brief sojourn on this earth entertaining themselves. Dixon, an Evangelical, shows that he is clueless about how secularists, atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-Christians find meaning and purpose. One can reject a created by God anthropocentric view of life and still find great satisfaction in living life to its fullest. In fact, it is unbelievers who often value and cherish life the most because they only get one opportunity to walk the path of life. If you have taken the time to read my ABOUT page, you likely read my answer to the question If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?  Here is what I said:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Another explanation of how non-believers view life can be found in the Humanist Manifesto:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

That Evangelicals can’t wrap their minds around this fact is their problem, not ours. Perhaps Evangelicals are unable to comprehend a meaningful, purposeful life without God is because life before death is viewed — in theory — as little more than:

I say in theory because — as observers of Evangelicalism know — God’s chosen ones love THIS life as much as atheists do. Christians profess to be ready to go home (Heaven), but few of them are lining up to board the next bus to the pearly gates. Blissful, pain-free eternal life might await Christians once they cross to the other side, but they don’t seem to be in a hurry to experience the pleasures of Club Heaven®.  Simply put, Evangelicals say one thing and do another.

life all about jesusBelievers and unbelievers should alike admit that this life matters, and how each of us finds meaning and purpose is no one’s business but ours. My wife’s parents are 80 years old. Their world revolves around Jesus, the Bible, and their church — the Newark Baptist Temple. Nine months ago, Polly’s father had his hip replaced. The surgery proved to be a disaster and he is now in a nursing home. My in-laws were forced to sell their home — a place they have lived for 38 years. Knowing that they had to move, Polly suggested to her Mom that they move near our home so we could take care of them (We live 3 hours Northwest of their home in Newark, Ohio). Polly’s Mom replied, I can’t. My church is here. I have known Polly Shope Gerencser for 40 years and I have NEVER seen her so devastated as she was by her Mom’s words.

Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. (Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It is Worth it All)  Polly is her parents’ only living child. Both Polly and I thought that they would not only want to be closer to their daughter (we see them 5-6 times a year), but also near our children, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. When Polly’s Mom said I can’t. My Church is here, Polly heard, My Church is more important than you! My “real” family is my church.

And Polly’s parents have the right to choose what matters most to them. When Polly and I returned to rural NW Ohio, we did so because we made a conscious choice to be near our children and grandchildren — all of whom live less than 20 minutes from our home. Family matters to us. For me personally, I know that chronic illness and pain have likely shortened my life expectancy. Knowing this, I want to spend as much time as I can going to races with my sons, watching my grandchildren’s school and sporting events, and doing all I can to leave those I love with a lasting memory of a husband, father, and grandfather who lived life to its fullest. Some days, all I can do is sit quietly by and watch my grandchildren play. Other days, infused with a false sense of energy and vitality, I play hard, laugh, argue and debate, and remind my children that I am still the intellectual king of the hill (I can hear them snickering). Regardless of how I feel, it is my family that gives my life meaning and purpose. It saddens me that my in-laws have chosen a contrived family — one that will dump them if they ever fail to bow in obeisance to Jesus — over a flesh-and-blood family that loves them. It is, however, their choice, so I must live with it. Their decision is yet another reminder of the fact that Christians often forsake the earthly for what they think will improve their room size in God’s mansion in the sky.

Now, let me get back to aimlessly living a life of despair.

Victoria Wilson Says Birthing Babies is All About Jesus

praise jesus

My wife and I have six children, ages 23, 24, 27, 32, 35, and 37. Polly had all of the children vaginally, without epidurals. Over the years, I have stood in the background and watched as Polly traded birthing war stories with other mothers. Mothers love to talk about length of labor, epidurals, methods of birth, breast feeding vs. bottle, cloth vs. disposable, and various other things that only those who have been to war can talk about. For the record, Polly breastfed and used cloth diapers for all our children. Do these stories make her some sort of Super Mom? Hell yes, they do. Due to living in poverty — thanks Jesus — Polly had to do without. Sure, she would have loved to use Pampers, but we couldn’t afford them. Sure, there were times bottle feeding would have given Polly a break, but we couldn’t afford formula. Yes, it would have been nice for Polly to have been pampered at an upscale obstetrician’s office, but we couldn’t afford it. Instead, Polly went to the local state-funded clinic for care — often waiting hours to see her doctor. If awards were given for Suffering for Jesus, Polly would surely receive the highest honor. To this day I applaud her willingness to soldier on, while at the same time hanging my head in shame, knowing that my dear wife deserved far better.

In a July 6, 2016 The Gospel Coalition article titled, Moms, Jesus is the Hero of Your Birth Story, Victoria Wilson rebuked women for the stories they tell one another about the births of their children. You see, according to Wilson, Jesus should get all the praise, honor, and glory. Suggesting that women had anything to do with their babies births is pride. Wilson wrote:

During my first pregnancy, I drank the birth junkie Kool-Aid poured out by my foremothers. I practiced relaxation techniques and did my Kegel exercises. I read childbirth books and watched an inordinate number of water births. The contractions came, and I never asked for pain medications. I had a natural birth. And I was proud of it. In fact, I recall asking my husband if he made sure our family knew that I did it naturally.

After my “successful” natural birth, I felt a real sense that I had earned my stripes. Friends began to ask me how I had achieved this task, and I reveled in answering their questions. My husband quietly observed this trend for months. He saw my desire to walk alongside new mothers and eventually suggested I become trained as a birth doula.

But my husband, being a godly man, also notice an unsavory characteristic developing: pride.

How did such pride exhibit itself? I would judge the birth experiences of other women. I might have congratulated the new mom, but I was truly convinced that I had the better accomplishment.
….

My professional circles [Wilson is a doula] place great emphasis on the “innate strength” and “goddess-like beauty” of a woman’s body. It is tempting to get caught up in their excitement. But worshiping creation rather than the Creator is sin. God pours out wrath on “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:18, 25). Why would we worship our own bodies when the God who made them demands exclusive praise?

When Wilson asked her husband if she could at least take a little bit of pride in her successful labor and delivery, her worship leader husband replied, “No, babe. No. You can’t abide the tiniest bit of sin.”

Wilson concluded her article with a call to repentance:

I pray you will examine your motives and consider how you have been telling your children’s birth stories. Have you written yourself in as the main character? Have you been robbing God of any glory? Have you missed opportunities to communicate the gospel?

Learning who God is shows us who we are not. God, not birthing women, is the Creator and giver of life. If you’ve been claiming responsibility and praise for giving life to your children, repent.

I have no doubt that many of the mothers who read this blog will find Wilson’s words to be, not only offensive, but outrageous. Wilson lives in a make-believe world where Jesus is given credit for everything. If women have an “easy” birth, praise Jesus! If women have a “hard” birth, praise Jesus! and remember pain in childbirth is due to original sin. No matter the scenario, in Victoria Wilson’s world all the praise and honor goes to Jesus — a single man who never had sex with a woman or watched his wife go through great suffering to bring another vile sinner into the world.

Here’s what I know: for the Gerencser family, all the praise, honor, and glory belong to a strong woman who endured suffering, pain, poverty, and neglect as she carried her children to term. This strong woman washed thousands of cloth diapers and was the primary caregiver for six children. Her busy pastor husband — the head of the home, as Jesus ordained — rarely helped with childcare. From the early morning hours to late into the night, this strong woman nursed her babies, never complaining about a lack of sleep. There was never a time someone named Jesus showed up to give this strong women a respite. Day in day out, for two decades, this strong women was a wonderful example of a mother who loved her children.

So what do you think of Wilson’s groveling before Jesus? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

The Calming Effect of a Power Outage

power outage

Power outage.

No worries, the battery backup will keep me connected to the life-giving force of my existence–the internet.

No internet either?

Dammit, I have things to do.

I NEED the internet.

Blog.

Facebook.

Messenger.

Twitter.

Email.

My digital life has come to a standstill.

Dammit!

In the stillness of the moment, I begin to hear sounds that are normally drowned out by the buzz, hum, and whir of electronics, appliances, and fans.

A frog in the distance croaks out its mating call.

Crickets chirp, reminding me that summer will, in a few months, fade into fall.

A finch chirps as it eats seed from the bird feeder.

A block away, children are playing, their laughs and loud voices echoing my way.

Cars, one after another, make their way past my home.

A feral cat wanders into the yard, meowing as it stops to eat from the communal food dish.

The wind is silent, save for an occasional rustling of the backyard crabapple leaves.

I wonder, why is there no power?

A huge storm rumbled through Northwest Ohio last night, dumping lots of rain and downing numerous trees. Could this be the reason the power is off?

Perhaps a transformer failed or a car hit an electric pole.

Regardless of the why, I sit here typing, hoping to finish this post before the battery on my laptop dies.

In the quietness of the moment I am reminded that the sum of life is not Facebook shares, Twitter retweets, blog comments, and emails. While I have no desire to forsake modernity and its digital wonders, the sounds I now hear remind me that life continues, with or without Thomas Edison’s greatest invention — electricity.

It’s been an hour now…

A light breeze is now blowing and the lone frog has been joined by a chorus of other frogs hoping to get laid tonight. As dusk nears, I can hear other birds singing their songs. The mourning doves have arrived for their late feeding.

I feel calm, relaxed.

I think I will read a book.

The power needs to go off more often.