Tag Archive: Materialism

So, You Love Those Bears More Than You Love Jesus?

teddy angelsMy life as a Christian can best be described as passionate, committed, and devoted, yet at same time be described as wild, chaotic, and ever-moving. Years ago, I read a passage in one of Thomas Merton’s books wherein he talked about how people often judged him based on his past and not on where he was presently. As a devoted follower of Jesus, I often experienced similar judgment. I was an ever-moving target, and people bent on judging me often did so based on the past and not where I was presently. This happens even today. Evangelical critics will zone in on a particular point on the timeline of my life and use my beliefs, practices, and experiences at that point in time to render judgment. This, of course, totally misrepresents my journey and leads to faulty conclusions. In particular, critics will focus on what they consider the AHA! point in my résumé; for example, that I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. They think they have me right where they want me; however, I reply, yes, but I wasn’t always an IFB pastor. I left the IFB church and moved on to Calvinism, generic Evangelicalism, and then progressive Christianity. Always restless and moving — that best describes my life, even to this day.

I always envied Christians who were steady-eddies; people whose Christian lives never changed or moved. Of course, I couldn’t understand such staid living. Weren’t we to always challenge ourselves with the teachings of the Bible and be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Ghost? Weren’t we supposed to follow the promptings and directions of God’s Spirit? Why did it seem that God was ALWAYS leading me to take up my cross and follow him or sell all that I have and give it to the poor, but he never seemed to be leading my colleagues in the ministry to do the same? Why was I willing to do without to advance the kingdom of God, yet most of the Christians I knew weren’t willing to do the same? I often wondered why I seemed to be on a spiritual wave length different from most Christians, including men who labored in God’s vineyard.

I believed, for many years, that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, and that its words were to be read, meditated over, and obeyed. The Bible wasn’t a book of suggestions. Yes, it was a book that spoke of God’s grace, but it also had hundreds of laws, commands, and precepts Christians were commanded by God to follow. I never viewed these commands as optional. The Bible — at least to me — was clear: Do THIS and thou shalt live. Obedience led to life eternal, and disobedience led to God’s chastisement or Hell. Passage after passage in the Bible talked about the importance of following in Jesus’ steps and keeping his commandments. Solomon, in the twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes, summed up the whole duty of man this way: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. Jesus himself summed up the laws of God this way in Matthew 22:36-40:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

These verses described my heart’s desire: love God with all my heart, soul, and mind and love my neighbor as myself. I thought, at the time, these verses are in every Christian’s Bible, yet why do so few Christians take them seriously? By the way, I STILL wonder this to this day. Most Christians live lives indistinguishable from those of atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, and the adherents of religions deemed false by Evangelicals. Outside of what they do between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and noon on Sundays, there’s very little difference between saints and sinners.

When it came to material things, Jesus said:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)

These words come from a passage of Scripture (Matthew 5-7) commonly called The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gathered his disciples on a mountain side and taught them what it meant to be his followers; what would be required of them if they were to follow the Lamb of God withersover he goeth. I believed then, and still do, that Christianity and the world would be better served if the followers of Jesus actually read and practiced the teachings found in Christ’s hillside sermon.

I am in no way trying to paint myself as once having been a perfect Christian. As this story will later show, I ended up living a life no different from most Christians. I was far from perfect, daily breaking the commands of Christ in thought, word, and deed. That said, I couldn’t help but notice the difference between how I lived my life and how most other Christians lived theirs.

In the late 1990s I felt convicted over what I perceived was my materialism and that of my family. Hell was hot, souls were lost, and people were dying, and I believed God wanted me to do more to reach the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Thanks to my oldest to sons, who were living at home at the time and paying rent, along with Polly working at a local manufacturing concern, and me drawing a modest salary from the church, the Gerencser family was starting to take on the look of a typical middle-class midwestern Evangelical family. There were four cars in the drive, a TV in the living room and master bedroom, a computer in the office, and newer furniture in the living room. Polly and I were able to take our first vacation since the 1980s — without the children. We had money to go out on dates, buy clothing/shoes, and enjoy a bit of the American dream. But, thanks to Jesus and his teachings, I became increasingly uncomfortable with our way of living. I thought, how can we live this way when there are billions of people in the world who don’t know Jesus? What kind of example was I to the church and other Christians? These judgmental questions and others began eating at me, and soon I believed that the God want me (us) to embrace simplicity and frugality, giving our excess money to the church, missionaries, and other groups who were engaged in building churches, evangelizing the lost, and ministering to the poor. I began selling off things I thought I didn’t need: firearms, hundreds of books, electronic equipment, and a large collection of political memorabilia from the 1960s and 1970s given to me by my political junkie mother (letters from notable politicians and campaign buttons/literature.) I dutifully and happily sold these goods and gave them to the Lord’s work. I was gladly willing to do without for the sake of gospel. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last, went the Evangelical mantra. Little did I know that this time, my wife wasn’t willing to join me in suffering for Jesus. (One night, I gathered up all the things I had collected over the years from the various churches I pastored, including sermon notes and tapes, and set them on fire in the back yard. In my mind, this was me setting fire to the past and telling God I was ready to be used by him in any way he saw fit. I sure wish I had these things today!)

polly gerencser late 1990s

Polly Gerencser, late 1990s, carrying water from the creek to flush the toilets. An ice storm had knocked out the power.

Polly loves collectible bears. As our finances improved, I started buying Polly Teddy Angel bears for her birthday, our wedding anniversary, and other special days. As my great sell-off continued, I noticed Polly wasn’t joining me in giving a burnt offer to God. We had a few “discussions” — Greek for Bruce talking and Polly listening — about her unwillingness to forsake all and follow Jesus. I specifically mentioned her bears. One day, after yet another round of eBay listings and nothing given to the cause by Polly, I said to her, “So, you love those bears more than you love Jesus?” “No, I really do love Jesus,” Polly replied. “It’s just that some of these bears have sentimental value.”  I asked, “what bears, then, don’t have sentimental value?” One by one, I picked up the bears and asked, “This one? This one?” I learned that almost every bear had a story: “Mom gave this to me for my birthday, you gave this to me for Valentine’s Day, you gave this to me with a letter that told me you loved me.” In what would be one of the greatest regrets of my married life, I badgered Polly — in Jesus’s name, of course — into selling many of her bears, regaling her with stories about what would be accomplished with the money gained from their sale. With tears in her eyes, Polly gathered up half of her bears and gave them to me to sell. I remember saying, “see that wasn’t so hard!”

Brutal, I know, but if I am going to honestly and openly tell my story, I must tell it, warts and all. Quite honestly, I am embarrassed to even write this post. All I can visualize is the love of my life crying over giving up her bears. She had few things to call her own (as did I) in our married life, yet here I was asking (demanding) that she give up reminders of some of the happy times in her life. Gifts were far and few between for both of us. We didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts, so, for Polly, all the gifts she had from me were bears, Fenton glass, and other collectibles. Small tokens of love, yet each of them carried great meaning for Polly. I grossly underestimated how much these things meant to her. At the time,  I saw her attachment to these things as a sign of love for the world; an unwillingness to forsake all and follow Jesus.

This phase of my life would pass, never to return. I finally realized that I was standing alone on this matter, and that every other Christian I knew was busy pursuing houses, lands, cars, and material wealth. I realized while still a Christian that I had been a fool; that I had sacrificed my health and financial security, and to what end? Hell was still hot, souls were still lost, and people were dying. Bible verses that spoke of laying up treasure in heaven no longer satiated my spiritual desires. I wanted the lives other people had, as did Polly and our children. I became, I suppose, just another preacher who loved Jesus, but also loved the good life.

I left the ministry in 2005, and left Christianity in 2008. Since decoupling from Christianity, I have had a lot of time to reflect on the religious and psychological forces that led me to a life of servitude, self-denial, and poverty; that led me to demand that my wife and children follow in my steps. Had I been single, the only harm caused would been to self, but as a married man with six children, I harmed those I loved and cared for the most. There are not enough lifetimes left for me apologize for the harm I caused to Polly and our children. I now know that I spent much of my life serving a myth; and that my sacrifices and voluntary poverty accomplished almost nothing. I say almost, because I know the money and material goods I gave to the poor, sick, hungry, and homeless helped them, so my giving had some effect, but all in all, my life of devotion to Jesus was “a waste of time, money, and talent” — to use the line oft recited by Baptist preachers when trying to goad congregants into doing more for Jesus. I pissed away tens of thousands of dollars, and even more when not-taken salary is added in. As with all past misdeeds, there’s nothing I can do to undo them. The past is the past. All I can do is learn from past mistakes, pass what I have learned on to others, and spend what life I have left living one hell of a hedonistic, sinful life — that’s sarcasm, by the way, for the Evangelical dullards who happen upon this post.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Reading Atheist Blogs is Like Looking at Porn

science antidote to religion

In addition to avoiding gazing at people no one really wants to see naked anyway, one of the things I believe I absolutely have to do in my quest for godly obedience is to give up my bad habit of occasionally scanning atheist blogs just to see what the pseudo-intellectual blowhards are up to and, as rare as the instances are these days, I need to stop interacting with them.

In my opinion, their drivel is not much better than looking at porn. Yes, there are distinctions between the two but they have a huge common denominator in the sense that they are both poison to your mind.

Atheists believe that everything in life has a purely material basis. They completely deny the existence of anything spiritual. They believe that all our thoughts, dreams, passions, loves, hates, hopes, ambitions, virtues, sins, and sufferings are driven solely by atomic activity. They believe that all our philosophies, politics, cultures, art, literature, music, history, as well as our deepest desire for eternal life and all that is transcendent in the world—that is, the good, the true, and the beautiful—that all of this is purely the result of biochemical reactions and the random movement of molecules in an empty and lifeless ether. This is not science—it’s faith.

What’s more, it’s an irrational faith that serves as the foundation for all superstition. Indeed, atheism is a whole system of beliefs—a system that has its own philosophy (materialism), morality (relativism), politics (social Darwinism), and culture (secularism). It even has its own sacraments (abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia). And this system of beliefs has been responsible for more death, carnage, persecution, and misery than any system of beliefs the world has ever known.

Face it folks, atheism is horrible thinking. No matter how logical it may appear, when it is stripped of its pompous proclamations and arrogant allegations, its naked soul is seen for what it really is: weak, illogical, unscientific, and worthless.

Like a train wreck, I understand that it’s hard to look away sometimes but, exposing yourself to it too often is a dangerous and, for lack of a better word, stupid practice.

Atheists who read this, and there are some who troll this blog just to use what they read here as fodder for their own blog posts and in their conversations, will see my admission that atheism is dangerous and to be avoided as a win for their side and a lame cop out from me.

They will say I can’t handle the truth of their claims or hold a candle to their their extensive intellects, educations, or life experiences.

They will say I’m afraid of admitting I’m wrong about faith because doing so will virtually ensure that I will be shunned by my church, community, employer, or something.

Or they will claim I am warning the “duped and gullible” to stay clear of the “forbidden fruit” atheists offer because just one taste and the walls any sensible person’s faith will immediately begin to crumble.

Nonsense, all of it! [ this Christian doth protest too much, methinks.]

— Isaiah 53:5, The Isaiah 53:5 Project, Naked and Afraid of Atheists, July 27, 2018

How Fundamentalist Christianity Affected My View of Money and Material Things

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2

Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us. We paid $2,800 for it. I tore out closets, replaced floors, etc to make it livable. We heated it with wood and coal. Such memories of the good life, right Polly?

These and other verses were the guiding principles of my life for many years:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Matthew 16:24

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

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Matthew 6:24-34

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:10

I was a Baptist. Not just any old generic, run-of-the-mill Baptist either. I was an Independent, Fundamentalist, the-Bible-is-the- inerrant-inspired-Word-of-God Baptist. There were five things that every good Baptist church member was expected to do:

  • Read the Bible every day
  • Pray every day
  • Attend church every time the doors of the church were open
  • Witness
  • Tithe and give offerings above the tithe

I will come back to the last of these, tithe and give offerings above the tithe, in just a moment, but before I do I need to write a bit about how I looked at life in general.

I was a committed follower of Jesus. I believed God spoke to me individually through the Bible, prayer, and the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. I believed that God led me or directed me to do certain things. It was important to “wait on the Lord.”and NOT trust my own understanding. My life verse was Proverbs 3:5.6:

 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

I knew God had saved me and called me to the ministry. For every church I ever pastored I believed God led me to that specific church. It is important to understand this point because this line of thinking permeated my entire thought process.

cars I have owned

One of the many junk cars we owned over the years. Polly HATED this car and the kids were embarrassed when I would drive up and pick them up from school. Isn’t Jesus Wonderful?

When a small church came calling and wanted me to be their pastor, I never concerned myself with how much they could pay me. I thought, “If God wants me to pastor this church he will make a way for me to do it.” As a result, I developed a willingness to live in poverty if it meant doing what God had called me to do. No matter how much suffering and difficulty it caused my family, the only thing that was important was being in the center of the will of God. I now see that God’s will was actually my own will and that the passivity that led me to “wait on God” wreaked financial havoc in our lives, a havoc  from which we have not recovered  to this day.

The most I ever made as a pastor was $26,000 a year. Most years my pay was more in the $10-12,000 range. I never had health insurance or any of the work related benefits that almost every church member had. I am not complaining as much as I am explaining. I sincerely thought this is how God wanted me to live. I gladly sacrificed my financial well-being for the sake of THE CALL.

I did work secular jobs on and off over the years. Pumped gas. Sold insurance. Delivered newspapers. Managed restaurants. I always made significantly more money in the world. I viewed these jobs as a means to an end. Out of the 25 years I was in the ministry, I worked secular jobs for about 7 years.

Even when I worked a secular job, I still worked full-time at whatever church I was pastoring. I was of the opinion that every pastor should be full-time regardless of whether he had a secular job. I was taught this way of thinking in Bible college and it was a drove me to burn the candle at both ends for most of the time I spent in the ministry. When I was wasn’t working a secular job, I would take the extra time I had and devote it to the church. Either way, I was a consummate  workaholic, rarely taking a day off or taking a vacation.

My view of life, God, and my call to the ministry deeply affected how I viewed money and material things. God was first in my life, the church second, the souls of others third, and my family came in a distant fourth.  As a sold-out lover of Jesus I knew I was expected to die to self and live only for the glory of God.

jesus loves the poor

Keeping the church going so it could be a light on a hill in the community was very important. My personal finances and well-being didn’t matter. All to Jesus, All to Jesus, All to Him I freely give...the song went and I was quite willing to give everything to make sure the work of God continued on (and I taught my children to do the same). We tithed. We gave love offerings. We supported missionaries. We gave money to people who were poorer than  we were. We gave cars, appliances, computers, and clothing to people in the church. We sold household goods so we could give the money to missionaries, evangelists, or help with some need in the church. We were givers…and we shouldn’t have been.

About year 20 in the ministry I began to see how foolish this kind of thinking was. I started looking around and I noticed that while I was busy sacrificing and giving most other Christians were busy building their kingdom on earth. They were buying houses, land, and cars, contributing to their child’s college fund, and preparing for retirement. I was living in the here-and-now; with no thought of tomorrow, no thought of retirement. I had planned to die with my boots on. I realized I had been a fool. I came to see that neither God, Jesus, nor the church was going to take care of me or my family.  (I was still a Christian and a pastor when I came to this conclusion.) If the church didn’t care about my financial well-being while I was their pastor, they sure as hell weren’t going to care about it when I retired. (I could tell numerous stories of pastors and their families who were left destitute by churches who promised to care for them when they were old)

After realizing the error of our ways, the first thing we did was stop tithing. If the church couldn’t pay me a living wage it made no sense to give money to the church so I could have less of an unlivable wage. The second thing we did was that Polly went to work so we could have a better income and health/dental/life insurance. By the time we made this decision I was already starting to have health problems.

These two decisions dramatically improved our lifestyle. For the first time in our marriage we were able to enjoy life a bit. It was refreshing not to have to sacrifice our financial well-being for the sake of the church. Either the church stood on its own two feet or it didn’t. We still gave money to the church, but not like we used to. No more Sundays when the offering was bad…telling the treasurer…don’t pay me this week…I’ll be fine. I expected the church to pay me. After all, a laborer is worthy of his hire.

Decades of living at the bottom of the economic ladder have hurt my wife and I greatly. Low or no wages means a lower social security check when we retire. I never had a retirement program so there is no extra money come retirement. We will have to adjust and try to make it on social security. Hopefully, Polly will be able to work for another 10-12 years and perhaps my in-my-head-book will become a reality and make it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. All we know to do is move forward and do what we can. We have no choice but to play the cards we’ve been dealt. Hindsight is a great teacher, but it can’t undo a lifetime of ignorance and stupidity in the name of God.

As an atheist, I have no God that is coming to rescue me or see me through to the end.  I know that financial security comes through hard work and making a good, livable wage.(and a good bit of luck)  I know planning for the future is important. While there is not a lot we can do about our own affairs, Polly and I have tried to teach and show our children a better way. We are quite happy about how they have taken to this better way. All of them are light years ahead of where we were when we were their age.

I am sure some well-meaning Christian is going to say, it seems Bruce that becoming an atheist has made you selfish and more focused on your family and not others. Yep, and I make no apology for it. I am still a giving person. I go out of my way to help others, BUT I am not going to sacrifice my financial well-being for the sake of a deity that doesn’t exist or to meet a need in the life of people I do not know. I do what I can, but I now realize that my wife, children, grandchildren, and yes. myself, come first.

A family we know very well is an excellent case study. They are lifelong Christians with 40 years in the ministry. They are retired now, and their health is declining. Their house is falling in around them and it is in a neighborhood that is now all rental properties. Their house has lost 50% of its value.  Month to month, they barely make it. Yet, no matter how tough things are they tithe, give offerings, and contribute to every cockamamie financial appeal their pastor comes up with. What do they need to do? Stop giving to the church. They have sacrificed enough. They have given enough. Let others pay the freight now. Take that tithe and offering money and fix the house or buy medicine. But, I know they won’t. Jesus and the church come first. After all, the Bible says:

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:8-10)

For many years, I shuddered at the thought of robbing God. These days I think…God deserves to be robbed. He has all he needs. He has become a robber-baron who cares not for the suffering of his peasants. If he did care he would pass a note along to all those preachers who say God talks to them and tell them to STOP fleecing the flock. Maybe they could tell their congregations that God doesn’t need any money in 2015. Maybe they could tell their congregation God doesn’t need a new building, gymnasium, the latest AV equipment, or the latest, greatest sure-to-make-the church-grow magic trick. How about emptying the church’s bank accounts and giving a rebate to every person who has sacrificially given their money so the pastor could have the best of everything.

I feel Polly shaking me…Bruce, Bruce wake up…you’re dreaming.

032216

 

[signoff]