Tag Archive: Perfectionism

How “Thirsting” for God Led to Dehydration and Almost Killed Me

thirsting for god

I grew up in churches that believed Christians were to give their hearts, souls, and minds to God. Followers of Christ were implored to lay their lives on the altar and give everything to Jesus. The hymn I Surrender All aptly illustrated this:

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

Refrain:
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at His feet I bow;
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power,
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Now I feel the sacred flame;
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

“I surrender my life to you, Jesus,” I often prayed. “I’ll say what you want to say, do what you want me to do, and go where you want me go.” Jesus commanded his followers to take up their cross and follow him. Those who were unwilling to do so were not his disciples. The book of First John had this to say about what Jesus expected of people who said they were Christians:

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:3,4)

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)

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:6-10)

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:7,8)

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4,5)

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. (1 John 5:18)

If these verses are taken literally, one thing seems clear: most people who profess to be Christians are what some preachers call “professors and not possessors.” These people have prayed a prayer and embraced cultural Christianity, but they know nothing of True Salvation®. These verses, taken at face value, show that God sets an impossible standard of living.

Evangelical pastors have all sorts of explanations for these verses:

  • There are two classes of Christians: spiritual and carnal. Both are saved, but carnal Christians still live according to the dictates of the “flesh.” Carnal Christians are “babies” in Christ. Readers might remember that this is how some Trump-supporting Evangelicals justified the President’s un-Christian lifestyle. He is just a babe in Christ who needs to mature in the faith, these pastors said. Thus, spiritual people will live according to these verses, and carnal Christians won’t.
  • People become Christians by believing a set of propositional truths. What truths must be believed vary from sect to sect. After they are saved, these newly minted Christians are encouraged to attend church every time the doors are opened, tithe, pray, give offerings above the tithe, study the Bible, give to the building fund, and follow the church’s teachings. Not doing these things will result in a lack of blessing from God in the present and a lack of future rewards in Heaven. Once people mentally assent to the gospel and pray to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, they are forever saved. (This is why some Evangelicals believe I am still a Christian.) These verses are a lofty goal Christians should strive to achieve, but if they don’t, no worries, they are still saved.
  • Saved people have two natures: the spirit and the flesh. The spirit cannot sin, but the flesh can. The verses that talk about not sinning refer to the spirit, not the flesh. Christians still sin in the flesh, but the spirit is sin-free.
  • These verses must be interpreted in ways that give them nuance, harmonizing them with the rest of Scripture. It’s hard to not conclude with this approach to these verses, that what pastors are saying is that God didn’t mean what he said.
  • These verses are to be taken literally. The Bible commands us to die to self, crucify the flesh, etc. Salvation is conditional. Do these things and thou shalt liveDon’t do these things and you will perish and go to hell. No one can know for sure if he or she is saved. Calvinists say that followers of Christ must endure to the end to be saved. And even then, God, on judgment day, will be the ultimate judge of whether a person’s good works reached the enter into the joy of the Lord (Heaven) level.
  • Some Christians believe that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in people’s lives the moment they are saved, but that there is a separate, special baptism or infilling of the Spirit that can take place at a later date. Often called being baptized with Spirit or a second definite work of grace, those who receive this second filling of the Holy Spirit live lives wholly consecrated to God. Some Christians believe in what is called entire sanctification — a state of sinless perfection. People who are entirely sanctified no longer sin. When doubters point out certain less-than-Christian behaviors by the sanctified, they are often told these bad behaviors are mistakes, not sins.

thirsting for god 3

I spent much of my Christian life seeking to love Jesus with all my heart, soul, and mind. I didn’t know, at the time, that there’s no such thing as a heart or a soul, but I took the commands to live this way as saying that I was to give everything to Jesus. I was to die to worldly pleasures and desires. I was to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. My desires, wants, and needs didn’t matter. All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give, I told myself. My life belonged wholly to God, and he had the right to do whatever he wanted with me. I was, as the Apostle Paul said, God’s slave.

Add to these beliefs my conviction that the Bible is the very words of God and that I had an intimate relationship with God where I talked to him (in prayer) and he talked back to me (through the Holy Spirit), it is not surprising that my life was in a state of constant turmoil. Peace? How could I have peace when there were sins to be confessed and eradicated. Remember, Evangelicals believe that all of us of daily sin in thought, word, and deed. Unlike Catholics who seemly to only sweat the big stuff, Evangelicals believe any thought, word, or behavior that does not conform to teachings of the Bible (and the leadership of the Holy Spirit) is a sin. Jesus, himself, taught this when he said in Matthew 5:28, But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Imagine how difficult life was for me when virtually everything I did in life was potentially a sin. Worse yet, I had to judge my motives for doing anything. Giving $50 to a homeless person was considered an act of compassion, but if I gave the money so people would think well of me, I had sinned against God. And then there were sins of commission and omission. Not only could thoughts, words, and deeds be sins, but failing to do something could be a sin too. Murdering someone was certainly was a sin, but so was not trying to stop abortion doctors from murdering zygotes (Greek for babies).

What I have written above about my spiritual quest can be summed up this way: I had a thirst for God. I needed God more than anything. I wanted his presence and power in my life. I read Christian biographies of great men who were devotes seekers God, men such as Hudson Taylor, E.M. Bounds, C.T. Studd, John Wesley, David Brainerd, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Adoniram Judson, George Whitfield, George Muller, Nate Saint, and Jim Elliot. These stories stirred a yearning in me that, for many years, could not be quenched.

Of course, living this way is impossible, despite what preachers might tell you. Trust me, there’s not a preacher on earth, dead or living, who met the mark.  But Bruce, what about the Christian biographies that suggest otherwise. Like all biographies, Christian ones are an admixture of truth and fiction. Unfortunately, Evangelicals only want to hear stories about winners; stories about people who were victorious; stories about people they could aspire to be. The recent death of Billy Graham has brought out all sorts of fantastical stories about the barely human Graham. Much like the Beatles decades ago, Graham has been made out to be bigger than Jesus. For those of us who don’t buy the Graham myth, we know the rest of the story. All we need to do is look at his two children, Franklin Graham and Anne Graham Lotz. Both of them are hateful, mean-spirited, caustic Fundamentalists. Where did their beliefs come from? The notion that Billy was not a Fundamentalist is laughable.

It took me until I was in my 40s before I realized that striving for holiness and perfection was a fool’s errand; that no matter how much I devoted myself to God and the ministry, my life was never going to measure up. Decades of denying self had destroyed my self-worth. Jesus was preeminent in my life, but Bruce was nowhere to be found (and my wife, Polly, could tell a similar story). I spent a decade trying to be a “normal’ Christian, but I still battled with thoughts about not doing enough for the cause of Christ; not doing enough to win souls; not doing enough to advance God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth. By the time I left the ministry in 2005, a lifetime of thirsting for God had led to dehydration and almost killed me. I have no doubt that my commitment to serving God day and night; to burning the candle at both ends; to working while it is yet day, for night is coming when no man can work, played a part in my declining health. And, at some level, I knew this, but I told myself, it’s better to burn out than rust out.

Come November, it will be ten years since I walked away from Christianity; ten years since Jesus and I divorced; ten years since I realized that the Bible was not what Christians claim it is; ten years since I concluded that the Christian narrative was false. Once the Bible was no longer central in my life, I was forced to build, from the ground up, a new moral and ethical framework. This, of course, required me to abandon or set aside the countless beliefs, commands, and laws that had governed my life for fifty years. Most of all, I had to find the life that had been swallowed up by God, the Bible, and the ministry. Somewhere along the way, Bruce Gerencser died, and I had to find where and start over. I had to answer two crucial questions: who are you and what are you?  For a few years, this process was quite painful, and without regular counseling sessions with a secular psychologist, I doubt that I would have been able to undergo it. Not that I have, in any way, arrived. I am still reconnecting with who I really am. I am still learning about my emotions; emotions that I had, at one time, surrendered to Jesus by laying them at the foot of his cross.

Rebooting your life at age fifty isn’t easy, as anyone who has done so will tell you. This is why most people who leave Christianity do so at much younger ages. By the time one reaches one’s fifties, it is hard to abandon a lifetime of beliefs, practices, and experiences. On one hand, I felt, and continue to feel, a great sense of freedom. I am now free from the bondage of religion. Much like the Israelites and their flight from the bondage of Egypt to the Promised Land, my Promised Land journey has been fraught with uncertainty and doubt. I wish I had come to the light decades before, but crying over what might what have been accomplishes nothing. I live in the here and now. My present life is all I have, and once it is gone, that’s it. No heaven, no hell, no afterlife. This is why I encourage people who leave Christianity to focus on the here and now. Evangelicals are fond of saying, only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. For the atheist, this little ditty goes this way: only one life, twill soon be past, and once it’s past you’re dead, so you best get to living.

In 2008, I was psychologically dehydrated, near death. It was only when I realized I was doing this to myself that I began to find strength and healing. I remain a work in progress. I will never arrive, but as the old gospel song says, I’ve come too far to turn back now. This blog will remain one man telling his story; a running biography of my former life as a Christian and my present journey as an atheist and a humanist. I have a story to tell, a story of death and resurrection. Thank you for continuing to walk along with me.

Living With OCPD

garfield ocpd

I have battled Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) for most of my adult life. While OCPD and OCD have some similarities, there are differences, namely:

  • People with OCD have insight, meaning they are aware that their unwanted thoughts are unreasonable. People with OCPD think their way is the “right and best way” and usually feel comfortable with such self-imposed systems of rules.
  • The thoughts, behaviors and feared consequences common to OCD are typically not relevant to real-life concerns; people with OCPD are fixated with following procedures to manage daily tasks.
  • Often OCD interferes in several areas in the person’s life including work, social and/or family life. OCPD usually interferes with interpersonal relationships, but makes work functioning more efficient. It is not the job itself that is hurt by OCPD traits, but the relationships with co-workers, or even employers can be strained.
  • Typically, people with OCPD don’t believe they require treatment. They believe that if everyone else conformed to their strict rules, things would be fine! The threat of losing a job or a relationship due to interpersonal conflict may be the motivator for therapy. This is in contrast to people with OCD who feel tortured by their unwanted thoughts and rituals, and are more aware of the unreasonable demands that the symptoms place on others, often feeling guilty because of this.
  • Family members of people with OCPD often feel extremely criticized and controlled by people with OCPD. Similar to living with someone with OCD, being ruled under OCPD demands can be very frustrating and upsetting, often leading to conflict. (OCPD Fact Sheet)

I have been considered a perfectionist most of my life, a badge I wore with honor for many years, and one I still wear on occasion. As we age — I am now sixty — we tend to reflect on our lives and how we got where we are today. Self-reflection and assessment are good, allowing us the opportunity to be honest about the path we have taken and choices we have made in life.

When I first realized fifteen or so years ago that I had a problem, a BIG problem that was harming my wife and children, the first thing I did was try to figure out how I ended up with OCPD. While my mother had perfectionist tendencies, she was quite comfortable living in the midst of clutter and disarray (but not uncleanliness). I concluded that it was my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing with its literalistic interpretations of the Bible that planted in me the seeds of what would one day become OCPD. I spent most of my adult life diligently and relentlessly striving to follow after Jesus and to keep his commandments. But try as I might, I still continued to come up short. This, of course, only made me pray more, study more, give more, driving me to allot more and more of my time to God/church/ministry. In doing so, the things that should have mattered the most to me — Polly, our children, my health, and enjoying life — received little attention. Polly was taught at Midwestern Baptist College that she would have to sacrifice her relationship with me for the sake of the ministry. I was, after all, a divinely called man of God. Needless to say, for way too many years, our lives were consumed by Christianity and the work of the ministry, so much so that we lost all sense of who we really were.

ocd santa

Perhaps someday several of my children will write about growing up in a home with a father who had OCPD. The stories are humorous now, but not so much when they were lived out in real time. My children are well versed in Dad’s rules of conduct. Granted, some of these rules such as “do it right the first time” have served them well in their chosen fields of employment, but their teacher was quite the taskmaster, and I am certain there were better ways for them to learn these rules.

My oldest sons fondly remember helping me center the church pulpit, right down to a one-sixteenth of an inch. Did it matter if the pulpit was slightly off center? For the world — of course not; but, for me it did. I felt the same way about how I prepared my sermons, folded the bulletins, cleaned the church, and countless other day-to-day responsibilities. When I took on secular jobs, employers loved me because I was a no-nonsense, time to lean, time to clean manager. (Is it any surprise that most of my adult jobs were either pastoring churches or management jobs?)

People walking into my study were greeted by a perfectly cleaned and ordered office. The desktop was neat, and the drawers were organized, with everything having a place. My book shelves were perfectly ordered from tallest to smallest book and then by subject. Dress-wise, I wore white one-hundred-percent pinpoint cotton shirts and black wingtip shoes. My suits were well-kept and matched whatever tie I was wearing. My appearance mattered to me. Congregants knew they would never find me shopping at the local Walmart wearing a tee shirt and sweatpants.

What I have mentioned above sounds fine, right? Surely, I should have a right to order my life any way I want to. And that would be true, except for the fact that I live in a world populated by other people; people who are not like me; people who are happy with clutter, disarray, and OMG even dirt! It is in their personal relationships that people with OCPD have problems, and, in some instances, they can drive away the very people who love them.

For the first twenty-five years of marriage, my relationship with Polly was defined by Fundamentalist/patriarchal thinking. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that such beliefs play well in the minds of people with OCPD. I had high expectations not only for myself, but for my wife and children too. We all, of course, miserably failed, but all that did was increase the pressures to conform to silly (at times harmful) behavioral expectations. It didn’t help matters that I was an outgoing decision-maker married to a passive, always-conform-to-the-wishes-of-others woman. While we put on quite a dog and pony show for most of our time in the ministry, behind the scenes things were not as they outwardly appeared to be.

Towards the end of my time in the ministry — the early 2000s — I began to see how harmful my behavior was when it came to my familial relationships (and to a lesser degree my relationship with congregants). While it would be another decade before I would finally seek out professional secular counseling, I did begin to make changes in my life. These changes caused a new set of conflicts due to the fact that everyone was used to me being the boss, with everything being according to my plan. While Polly and the kids loved their new-found freedom, there were times where they were quite content to let me be the stern patriarch. As with all lasting change, it takes time to undo deeply-seated behaviors.

I am not so naive as to believe that I am “cured” from OCPD. I am not. My counselor is adept at pointing out to me when certain behaviors of mine move towards what he calls my OCD tendencies. I have had to be repeatedly schooled in the difference between good/bad and different. For example, young people today generally discipline their children differently from their baby-boomer parents. Read enough memes on Facebook and you will conclude that young parents have lost their minds when it comes to raising their children. What that brat needs is a licking, right? What I continue to learn is that people who act differently from me, look different from me, or have beliefs different from mine are not necessarily wrong/bad. Most often, what they really are is different. Learning to be at peace with differences has gone a long way in muting my OCPD thinking.

Both Polly and I agree that the last decade or so of married life has been great. One of the reasons for this has been my willingness to realize where my OCPD is causing harm and making the necessary changes to end the harm. The first thing I learned is that everyone is entitled to his or her own space. I have every right to order my office, drawers, and cars as I want them to be. I no longer apologize for having OCPD. All that I ask of others is that when they invade my space, that they respect my wishes. And that works for others too. I have to respect the personal boundaries of Polly and our children. This is why I do not meddle in the lives of my children. I give advice when asked, but outside of that, they are free to live as they please. Do my children make decisions I disagree with; decisions that leave me mumbling and cussing? Yep, but it’s their lives, not mine, and I love them regardless of the choices they make.

The second thing I learned is that it important for Polly and me to have times of distance from each other. It is okay for each of us to do things without the other. We don’t have to like all the same things. Understanding this has allowed Polly’s life to blossom in ways I could never have imagined. If you had known Polly in 1999 and then met the 2018 version, why you would wonder if she is possessed. From going back to college and graduating, to becoming an outspoken manager at work, Polly is an awesome example of what someone can become once the chains of Fundamentalism and patriarchal thinking have been broken.

ocd cartoon

The third thing I learned is that my OCPD can be productively channeled, with my personal relationships surviving afterward. Polly loves it when she comes home and finds that I have emptied the cupboards, cleaned them, and replaced everything neatly and in order. The joke in the family is that people want me to come clean their house for them but they can’t stand being around me when I do. In the public spaces where our lives collide, Polly and I have had to learn to give and take. I have learned that it is okay to leave the newspaper on the floor until tomorrow, and Polly has learned, come holidays, that I am going to clean every inch of the house — with her help of course. She will never understand why my underwear drawer needs to be straightened up for company, and she will likely never understand the need to clean under the stove/refrigerator for four times a year. But, because she loves me, she smiles and says, what do you need me to do next?

My chronic health problems and chronic, unrelenting pain have forced me to let go of some of my obsessions. I can’t, so I don’t. I don’t find this giving in/giving up easy to deal with, but I have come to see that life is too short for me to not enjoy the moment even if everything is not in perfect order. That said, I still have OCPD moments, and I suspect I always will. Several years ago, I had a dentist appointment. The dental assistant had me have a seat in the exam room. When she returned, she found me tapping the valance on the blind with my cane. I told her, I have been sitting here for years with that crooked valance driving me crazy. There, it’s fixed! She laughed. Later, she returned and told me that the all the valances in the other rooms were off-center too. She said, I never noticed that until you pointed it out to me. I likely will always have an eye for when something is crooked, especially wall hangings and sign lettering. Why can’t the doctor’s office get notices straight when they tape them on the wall, right? Dammit, how hard is it to do the job right the first time! Sigh, you see, OCPD never completely goes away, but it can be managed and controlled, allowing me, for the most part, to have satisfying and happy relationships with the people I love.

Enough of this. I have two monitors on my desk, and the right one is an eighth-inch higher than the left. Time to fix this glaring, earth-shattering mismatch, right? Dammit, where’s my level and tape measure?

Do you have OCPD or OCD tendencies? Please share your experiences in the comment section. I am especially interested in hearing of how Fundamentalism affected your behavior.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

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Evangelical Dualism: It’s Not Me, It’s Jesus 

crucifying the flesh

Christians will tell you that the good works they do are all because of Jesus. Recently, an Evangelical woman by the name of Pam left several comments detailing her battles with perfectionism. It was only when she learned to let go and let God that she was able to find victory over her perfectionist tendencies. According to Pam, the flesh is the problem, and the only way Christians can live fulfilled, happy lives is to die to self and allow Jesus to have absolute control. It was Jesus himself who said to those who would be his disciples, let a man deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. It was the apostle Paul who said that without Christ he could do nothing. Paul reminded Christians that they must deny the flesh and give themselves over, without reservation, to Jesus. In First John, Christians are reminded that if they love the world and the things that are in the world, then love of the father is not in them. In fact, the writer of First John tells Christians that if they sin, they are children of the devil.

Now, everyone knows Christians sin. We know that Christians live lives that are, for the most part, indistinguishable from non-Christians. How then, do Christians square what the Bible says about how they should live their lives with how they actually live? Christians believe that humans are either bipartite or tripartite beings — body and soul or body, soul, and spirit. This dualistic understanding of human nature allows Christians to rationalize and reconcile conflicting teachings in the Bible about human nature and God’s demands. It’s the body that sins. It’s the flesh that Satan can take control of, resulting in Christians committing all sorts of sinful acts. The Bible teaches that Christians are to walk in the spirit and not the flesh. Over and over, the Bible reinforces the belief that Christians, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are dualistic creatures that will spend their lives on earth in constant battle with competing desires, needs, and influences.

For 2,000 years, Christians have been practicing some sort of self-flagellation that is meant to crucify the flesh, rendering them dead to sin and alive to Christ. Over the years, I heard countless illustrations (and gave many myself) about the battle between the spirit and the flesh. I remember one pastor saying that this battle is like having two dogs — spirit dog and flesh dog. The strength of these dogs is determined by which dog we feed. If Christians want to live victoriously, then they must feed the spirit dog. Feeding the flesh dog leads to lives of sin, carnality, and the chastisement of God. This cosmic battle between good and evil can be illustrated many different ways. What most Christians don’t know is that this dualistic understanding of human nature comes from Gnosticism, a system of belief judged heretical centuries ago. In fact, if you listen carefully to what Christians say, you will quickly conclude that in 2016 Gnosticism is alive and well. This is no better illustrated than with the way Christians explain the constant tug and pull in their life between good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, and the flesh and the spirit.

In Romans 7, the apostle Paul talks about this battle:

Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

From these verses, and others, Christians include that their flesh (body) is sinful and that the good deeds they do are not their own works, but the works of God who uses them for his own purposes. This is why Christian zealots can ignore the commenting rules on this blog and post comment after comment filled with Bible verses, sermons, and other acts of Evangelical masturbation. You see, it’s not them saying/writing these words, it is Jesus. They are just conduits through which Jesus speaks to poor deluded atheists and other unbelievers. In many ways, these zombies for Jesus are not much different from Madam Zelda, who channels dead loved ones so she can give messages to those they have left behind. Evangelicals must daily crucify their flesh. The use of the word crucify reminds them to the degree they must be willing to go to be used by Jesus. Jesus was willing to be brutally, viciously beaten, ultimately dying on the cross, so that human sin could be atoned for. Wanting to be like Jesus, Evangelicals physically and psychologically flagellate themselves, hoping by their acts of self-denial that Jesus will find them worthy and use them for his purpose and glory.

Lost on Evangelicals is the fact that their very acts of self-denial are they themselves doing works. They are the ones dying to self. They are the ones crucifying the flesh. They are the ones taking up their crosses and following Jesus. No matter how far along the Christian experience you want to go, eventually human action will be found. This is why I have argued that Christianity, at its heart, is not a religion of faith/grace. It’s all about works, and it always has been. If God is the same yesterday today and forever, then he cannot and will not change. The Old Testament is clear, God had a prescribed way his chosen people were required to live, under the penalties of judgment, death, and eternal damnation if they did not. In the Gospels, Jesus made it very clear in the Sermon on the Mount that if people wanted to be his disciples they would have to live a certain way. Paul continues this works-based thinking in his epistles when he contrasts the works of the flesh and the works of the spirit. James says that faith without works is dead and the writer of First John spends five chapters listing the works that must be in the lives of those who say they are followers of Jesus. Even salvation is a work. For sinners to be saved, they must accept the gospel message, repent of their sins, and believe in Jesus Christ. They must put their faith and trust in Jesus alone. No one becomes a Christian by sitting at home and just waiting for it to happen. The new birth — being born from above — requires an act of volition. Christians will go to great lengths to explain why these acts of the will are really God’s doing, but the fact remains that it is unbelievers who are making  conscious choices to either accept or reject Jesus Christ.

Dualism, of course, is a theological construct that is used to explain the contradictory teachings of the Bible. There is no possible way to reconcile Jesus, Paul, James, and John without resorting to some sort of dualistic magic. Those of us who are atheists have an entirely different view of human nature. We recognize that our lives are affected by genetics, environment, personal choices and decisions, and being at the wrong/right place at the wrong/place right time (to name a few). We also know that luck plays a big part in who and what we are. Most of us would agree that choices and decisions are not made in a vacuüm and that every action results in a reaction. Choices have consequences,  and while we can look at the various reasons that people make the choices that they do, at the end of the day all of us are responsible for the choices we make.

My life is in admixture of good and bad works and good and bad decisions, with a healthy dose of neither good or bad. As a Christian, I ascribed the good that I did to Jesus and the bad that I did to Satan and/or the flesh. As an atheist, I accept full responsibility for what I do, and when I do good things I rightly accept the praise and approbation of others. After all, it is I, not God or some other person, who did the good work. While I may deflect the praise of others through humility, realizing that others often play a big part in the good things that I do, I now know that is okay for me to say (and for others to say) good job, Bruce. I also know that when I do bad things that I need to look no further than me, myself, and I. While my wonderful, loving, awesome, super, fabulous, beautiful wife of 38 years can irritate the hell out of me, if I respond to her in anger or impatience I have no one to blame but myself. I am in control of my actions, words, and, to some degree, my destiny. I can look back over my life, as I am wont to do, and see how the various decisions I have made have affected where I am today. While I know the reasons for my health problems are many, some of which are beyond my control, I also know that choices that my parents made and choices that I have made play a part. Who among us hasn’t said, I wish I had done __________. I believe it was George Foreman that said that his obituary will one day read that he died of one too many cheeseburgers. Foreman understood that connection between choices and consequences. Our lives are complex mixtures of many factors, all of which are rooted in naturalism and materialism. I need not look far to find the reasons and answers for who and what I have become. Voltaire was right when he said, “Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her. But once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.” Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich, stated, “You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.”  While I certainly don’t take Hill’s words as far as those who believe that by mere thinking and believing they can cause things to happen, I do understand that the life that I am now living is mine alone and that to a large degree what I do with it is up to me. Believing that a deity is the master of my universe and the controller of my rudder complicates things, so cutting him out of my life allows me not only to make my own decisions but also accept responsibility for what good or bad comes as a result of the choices that I’ve made. While I still have moments when I wish there were someone to blame — say the devil or the flesh — I know that when I look in the mirror I see the one person who is responsible for how Bruce Gerencser lives his life. To quote an oft used line, the buck stops here.

How did dualistic thinking affect your life as Christian? How have things changed for you now that you no longer believe? If you are a progressive or liberal Christian or the practitioner of another religion, how do you view your life and the decisions you make? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Robert Lyte: Worldly TV, Music, Sin and the Pursuit of Pleasure

robert lyte 2015

Robert Lyte, near the Jordan River, the place where Jesus was baptized. 2015

As I was searching the internet for quotes on the evil of watching television, I stumbled upon the writings and videos of a man by the name of Robert Lyte. Lyte, a self-published author, had a come-to-Jesus moment in 2008. Lyte describes his conversion this way:

…in 2004, I started going to church. Here I noticed a few others who were serious about Jesus and this spoke to me. One day I was touched by the Lord, and broke down in tears knowing the Lord was the forgiver of sins, and that I had to repent and be forgiven. I felt the peace of the Lord that day, and later I was also baptised in water. A peace and joy came on me when I was baptised, which was the Holy Spirit, but I did not continue to walk the way of truth as a disciple of Jesus.

You see, I had heard of believing and baptism, but I had not heard the way of actually seeking Jesus, and living for him fully apart from my way of life. So I was still in sin, and sins got me down into many grief and troubles. I had a lot of trouble with depression daily, and needed help from God.

Then in 2008 Jesus woke me up. I had been in difficulty and I had nowhere to go, so I cried out to the Lord Jesus to please help. I cried out to the Lord, “Help me,” and the Lord gave me peace. But I continued living my own way and then a few months after I had cried out for help, the Lord brought me across the testimony of another brother in Christ who used to be in the occult and who had seen the reality of the demon world. He was also shown how true Christians are, how they are a light in this world, and how they have the joy of Christ around them, and how they walk in the light. I knew that I wasn’t walking in the light. I knew that I was not one of these true followers of Jesus.

At the same time, I also came across the testimony and warning of another brother who had come out of the world, and had turned to Jesus fully. This brother warned that the Lord had told him to prepare for the bridegroom’s return, for his waiting people. This brother was shown by the Lord that time was short and judgement was coming and Jesus Christ was coming back soon. He was shown the reality of hell, when he died of a heart attack, and Jesus saved him to come back from death and live for the Lord and warn others.

….

I knew I was on my way to hell. I realised that I needed to be saved because I wasn’t right with the Lord and not ready for him, and I realised that this was going to be the only chance I was going to get. It was either now, or never. I knew that I had to seek the Lord Jesus and I knew that I had to find him. I knew I had to seek until I found. I knew I had to make the most of this second chance. So I got on my knees and I started to seek the Lord. I decided to repent, because I knew that I was on my way to hell, and I knew that this would be the only chance I would get. I knew that time was short. So I got on my knees and I started to pray to the Lord. I repented of my sin. Then a light came into my life and that very night when I was praying, the Lord started to speak to me and he started to show me things and he started to open my heart to his reality.

….

So even though I knew I should be doing right and I knew what was right, I wasn’t free to carry out my good intentions because I was bound to sin within me that lived within me. And so Jesus set me free from that. It was a miracle. It was the power of my testimony that Jesus gave me a second chance and he set me free from sin. So I am using my second chance to enter the kingdom and walk the narrow way to the kingdom of God following Jesus.

Thanks to Jesus giving him a second chance, Lyte now devotes his life to preaching the true gospel, calling on all who will listen to repent and stop living in sin. Evidently, next to Jesus and Elvis, Lyte is the purest man who has ever lived. What follows is a 2007 video by Lyte titled Worldly TV, Music, Sin Pleasure Pursuit. I will warn you, it is hard to watch. Lyte comes off as a man who has taken way too much Zoloft, but I do hope readers will watch a few minutes of it so they can grasp Lyte’s obsession with sin and “worldly” living. After I watched it, I thought, man, even in my most fundamentalist of days, I didn’t take things this far. Perhaps Lyte is a truer Christian now than I was then. Whatever he might be, he is certainly a perfect example of what happens when a person takes the Bible and its moralism to its logical conclusion.

Video Link

Sadly, there are more than a few Christians who think just like Robert Lyte. What follows are a few of the comments on the aforementioned video:

  • AMEN. I don’t understand why so many “Christians” don’t see this. I am recently saved and I feel the DESIRE and need to flee from secular TV and Music and everything that does not glorify God. My wife has been told that “a lot of new Christians are like this but it will CALM DOWN soon, they all do”… THAT MEANS THAT MOST GET SUCKED UNDER by the pressure of society and the social norm!. Not I, JESUS KEEP ME STRONG!! Praise our LORD, KING, and SAVIOR!!
  • Thanks for informing us, i have being trying by all miss to stop watching things you mention, b/c i see evil in it. Inside i see all as inventor of sin as by apostle Paul. Pls i will like to learn from you God bless you .
  • I love your vids keep up the good work we as believers need these kinds of messages to keep us in check! Its so easy to stray and accept the things of the world. The church is now so full of so much false hood it baffles the mind!. In these deadly times we cant afford to slacken we must make more effort then ever to make sure we are READY. I am even deleting those who are not serious out of my phone book!
  • Jesus Bless you Rob!amen! 2nd thessalonians states that “they all will be damned who believed not the Truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Jesus also said do not be in (that) darkness that that day will overtake you. (we won’t even see the soon arrival of sudden destruction before it’s too late if we don’t forsake and separate from the lusts of this world before it’s too late. only in whole hearted REPENTANCE can we obtain Full Salvation in Christ Jesus the Controller.
  • Powerful message, brother Robert! May the Most High continue to bless you with the Holy Spirit!
  • Amen brother keep warning and speaking the truth we love you and pray for you and your wife Jesus bless you.“I hate this world,
  • i have separated myself already. I follow Jesus daily. Thank you for this message. Hope more souls come out , separate and repent.

Lyte conducts a live video meeting of like-minded sin-hating Christ followers every Friday at 8:00 pm. I suspect that he is unable to find a church pure enough for him, so he has taken to the internet in hopes of finding people who view God, the Bible, holiness, and the world as he does. Lyte even has virtual communion during his live video meetings. If you would like to check out a previous live meeting, please go here.

Not long ago, I wrote a post titled, Do Evangelical Beliefs Lead to Mental Illness? In the post I dealt with how certain Evangelical beliefs can lead to mental instability. Robert Lyte is a perfect example of this. While his beliefs are certainly Evangelical, he has seized upon the teachings of the Holiness movement and men such as Charles Finney, a nineteenth century revivalist, and taken them to their logical conclusion.

Let’s not forget that the Bible DOES say: be ye (the Christian) perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect. It also says, he that sins is of the devil. While most Evangelicals go to great lengths to explain away these verses, should Robert Lyte be faulted for literally believing the words found in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God? Perhaps Lyte is part of that remnant of believers who will be alive when Jesus comes back to earth. Perhaps he is the true Christian, and everyone else is headed for hell.

It’s hard to argue that the Evangelical church hasn’t gotten “worldlier” over the past half-century. While Evangelicals still show a voyeur’s interest in the sexual proclivities of others, they have largely abandoned the social fundamentalism of yesteryear. Evangelicals have little problem with drinking alcohol, smoking, getting tattoos, going to the movies, and the like–all things that were roundly condemned a few generations ago. Now, it seems that as long as Evangelicals don’t have sex before marriage, never have an abortion, and vote for God’s chosen candidate, they are free to pretty much wallow in the slime of the “world.” And even here, we now know that Evangelicals engage in premarital sex and get abortions just as their counterparts in the world. Perhaps, the only true sign one is an Evangelical is that he or she votes Republican every four years.

I have long believed that the internet, with its ready access to anything and everything, will prove to be the undoing of Evangelicalism. While hardcore Fundamentalists will draw away and join up with fellow world-haters like Robert Lyte, the rest will increasingly become a part of the world that their Bible tells them is evil. There is nothing like “worldliness” to cure the disease of Christian Fundamentalism.

Note

Robert Lyte has a Facebook page. As of this writing, 3,803 lovers of God have LIKED his page. His latest entry takes Christian pop star Justin Bieber to task:

Dear friends, real followers of Jesus, are disciples of Jesus. They are not the Christians of this generation who name Jesus by name, yet walk in the paths of this world. Justin Beiber is a good example of naming and shaming: such claims Christ, and has believing parent, yet, they walk and follow the paths of destruction, that lead to the gates of the eternal fire. Do not be deceived, if you walk an ungodly life claiming Christ in work only, you will SINK into destruction….Either we live as disciples of Jesus and are saved, or we walk the ways of this world (the lusts of the eyes, the pride of life, and pride of the eyes) all of which the entertainment industry represents, and PERISH…..

If you are a Twitterer, you can follow Lyte’s Twitter feed here.

Here’s a comment by a follower of Lyte which I found on the blog of Scott Postma:

Do people still go to churches to seek the true Jesus? I know I left them many many years ago. I have a daily minute by minute connection to Yahshua / Jesus my savior who gives me all I need. I recently had a dream where I was making a movie about all the churches that were closing. I then awoke and The Holy Spirit told me that people who have the Holy Spirit will meet with a few others of which some don’t and that will be the new way. It’s been my way for almost 30 years even though it took me until 2013 to actually get a visitation from ministering angels who cheered and celebrated Me… back into the fold.. They kept me up from 8pm til 2am last may 1st. Since that time satan has not had the hold on me like he previously had and my faith has increased immeasurably. Yes I do go to a online kinda church with one Robert lyte who holds teachings on youtube and facebook. There are a few who go but then again these are the end times and the churches / buildings have gone the way of the dinosaur.. Well the true churches.. the true church today is a body of believers who hold fast to the truth and stay filled with their oil so the thief who comes in the night is surprised we are ready. … Yes there are a few good small churches still teaching the truth. I went to one last year in ickesburg pa. may God bless you all and may you come to the knowledge of the truth.

Postma, I believe, attends the infamous Doug Wilson’s church.

The Preacher and His TV

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In the 1960s, when I was a child, my Dad would drop my siblings and me off at the Bryan Theater so we could watch the 25-cent Saturday afternoon matinee. But somewhere in my primary school years, going to movies became unacceptable. From that point forward, outside of attending a drive-in movie one time at age 18, I didn’t go to a movie theater again until I was in my late 30s.  As a Christian, I believed that going to or renting movies was supporting Hollywood, an institution that I considered a den of iniquity.

In the late 1990s, having become more “liberal” in my thinking, I decided it was time for the Gerencser family to go to a movie. When I told Polly that we were all going to the drive-in to see a movie, she was appalled. She literally thought that God was going to strike us dead. Well here we are, all these years later, still among the living.  Evidently, God didn’t seem to care about us going to the drive-in. By the way, the first hardcore, violent, nudity laden movie we saw was George of the Jungle! The Second? Air Bud.

I grew up in a home that always had a television. My Mom told me one time that American Bandstand was my babysitter. The first memory I have about television is watching the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my Dad coming home with what I later in life called the “poor man’s color TV.” It was a colored, plastic sheet that Dad taped to the TV screen. The top of the sheet was blue and the bottom was green. Supposedly, the screen was meant to simulate sky and grass. Dad wasn’t impressed and we quickly went back to watching black and white TV. The Gerencser family didn’t own a color television until sometime in the 1970s.

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it.  How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps.  What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

calvin and hobbes tv

In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions?, you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

calvin and hobbes tv 2

Where was Polly in all of this, you ask? She was the dutiful, submissive wife who believe her God-called, on-fire, sold-out Christian pastor of a husband knew best. Polly rarely watched TV, so having one didn’t matter to her. I was the one who “needed” to watch TV. As I now psychoanalyze this period of my life, I think watching TV was my way of being normal. Serving a sin-hating God and preaching to others a rigorous morality meant that I had to live a Christ-honoring, sin-free life. Again, in light of the atoning work of Jesus on my behalf, I thought that forsaking the pleasure of the “world” was but a small price to pay for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Yet, I wanted to be like everyone else, so I would come home after a long day of studying for my sermons and visiting church members, and leave God sitting on the front porch. Watching TV was my way of unwinding after work days which were often 12 hours long. While I still was selective about what I watched, my attempts to avoid “sinful” viewing rarely kept me from watching whatever I wanted to watch, especially after the children went to bed. Over time, my guilt levels would increase, ultimately leading to the behaviors outlined in this post.

In 2006, 18 months before I deconverted, I finally put an end to my battle with the television. I decided, God be damned, I was going to own a TV and watch whatever I wanted to watch. From that point forward, we have owned a TV. While I have continued to buy televisions, my purchases are driven by resolution, refresh rate, and screen size, and not the thought that God was doing to strike me dead for seeing a naked woman on TV. (We now own two televisions: a 43 inch and 32 inch LED Vizio TV.)

Several years ago, as we were watching an episode of True Blood, I turned to Polly and said, who would of thought that we would be sitting here watching bloody, naked vampires having sex?  We laughed together, both grateful that the preacher had finally been delivered from the demon of TV.

Note

List of article and videos about the sin of watching hellivision and going to the movies. This list was compiled by a devoted follower of the late Jack Hyles.

Christian Perfection: A Personal Story

be ye perfect

I am sure you have seen the bumper sticker I am not Perfect Just Forgiven. The Christian driver of the car is warning you ahead of time that he plans to drive like a non-Christian. As he cuts you off in traffic or changes lanes without a blinker, just remember he is not perfect, but, he is forgiven. I am quite certain that there are no perfect people. I have met some great examples of human character, but given enough time they will always show that their feet are made of clay. In the human realm, perfection does not exist and it seems quite clear to me that perfection does not exist in the spiritual realm either.

I have battled with perfectionism most of my adult life. Coupled with an obsessive-compulsive personality, the end result is that I have often set an impossible standard of living for myself. I crave order and structure. I demand answers. The TV has to be perfectly centered on the entertainment center. All of the cables must be hidden away so no one can see them. When I go to the doctors office or the store, I am quick to point out crooked signs. Polly laughs as I try to straiten out these hanging monuments to human laziness and imperfection. I am the type of person who people would love to have clean their house but can’t stand to be there while I am doing it because it would drive them crazy. I am the one person in America who still has the receipt from the lifetime-warranted $4.00 can opener purchased 5 years ago. Any of my six children will tell you that they have heard their father say to them countless times, everything has a place. That, and the Bruce Gerencser classic, do it right the first time.

My desk drawers are kept in perfect order, though thanks to declining health I’m finding it harder to keep every paper clip and rubber band in its proper place. My clothes must hang the same way, sorted by type of garment. When I buy a newspaper, I have to be the first one who reads it. Why? Everyone else messes up the paper. I like to read it first, making sure every section is in its proper order.

I obsess over the smallest of things. If something isn’t working right I will expend  hours attempting to fix it. I know all about the law of diminishing return, but I just know I can figure it out if I have enough time. This approach has served me well in many areas of my life. With significant amounts of time invested in figuring things out, I have become something of an expert on certain things (computers for example). Sadly, an increasing loss of cognitive function is ever-so-slowly robbing me of my storehouse of knowledge (and minutia).

I bought my first computer 24 years ago. I started out with a DOS Vtech 286 and have owned numerous computers since. Currently, I have a Windows-based desktop computer I built, along with an iPad Pro. While I, at times, have Luddite tendencies, I do love owning new technology. Whether it is a new camera or the latest, greatest offering from Apple, I invest significant time in learning everything I can about my new purchase.

I have broken, crashed, and screwed up more computers than I can count. Well, I could count them. Making lists of things is another thing l seem driven to do: how many jobs have I had, how many cars have I owned, how many houses have I lived in. That’s how my brain works. I don’t know that I understand it, it’s just how I am. If I’m sitting in the doctor’s office impatiently waiting for my savior to walk through the door, I will occupy myself with counting how many ceiling tiles there are or some other silly game. Polly, did you know there are 43 ceiling tiles in this room? No, I didn’t, she says, smiling as she returns to reading a six month old issue of People Magazine. Polly, did you know that the tiles on the one end of the room are a different size from the tiles of this side? No answer, just a smile as she returns to the latest on Brad and Angelina. Polly, did you…no smile this time. Time to silently play the ceiling tile game, I tell myself.

My three oldest sons have a plethora of stories they could tell about their fathers obsession with perfection and order. They’ve watched me go to great pains to make sure this or that is level. My need to make sure the church pulpit was exactly in the middle of the center aisle is legendary. Right down to 1/32 of an inch.  Back before we had HD television, I would obsess over cable roll in the TV picture. I’d check every connection, every cable, as I attempted to find the cause of the roll. While digital equipment has put an end to cable roll, rarely does a weekend go by when one of my sons  doesn’t make a joke about there being something wrong with the TV’s picture quality. Ah, fond memories.

In every area of my life I strive for perfection. It is a frequent topic of discussion during  my visits to my counselor  For all my striving to be perfect, I know I’m not. I have character flaws and shortcomings that are ever-present reminders of my imperfections. However, as any perfectionist will tell you, knowing you have imperfections just makes you try all the harder to be perfect.

Where did my drive for perfection come from? I wasn’t raised in a perfection-dominated home. My mother kept a clean, but cluttered house. If I wanted to play sports I could, but my parents never push me to excel. The same could be said for my schooling. There never was any pressure from my parents to be an exceptional student. By the time I got to high school I had learned how to get by, a smart kid, who with little effort, could get B’s and C’s. So where exactly did my perfectionist tendencies come from?

I am convinced that my battle with perfectionism and all its attendant problems stems from my religious upbringing. It goes something like this: A perfect God gave us a perfect Bible and he expects us to keep his commands perfectly. For 50 years, I believed the Bible to be the perfect Word of God. a direct revelation from God to me. In this perfect Bible are verses that speak of perfection. Verses such as:

These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:9

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. Genesis 17:1

Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. Deuteronomy 18:13

Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day. I Kings 8:61

And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. I Chronicles 28:9

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. Job 1:1

Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. Psalm 37:37

For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. Proverbs 2:21

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Matthew 19:21

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you 2 Corinthians 13:11

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:17

One verse, above all others, reminded me of God’s standard for my life:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect Matthew 5:48

stop with the excuses

I remember thinking as a newly-saved, baptized, called to the ministry teenager, Wow! God demands and expects perfection from me. And according to the Bible this goal was attainable. 2 Peter 1:3 says that God gave me the Holy Spirit that would teach me EVERYTHING that pertains to life and godliness. God saved me, called me, and filled me with the Holy Spirit. He also gave me a perfect book, the Bible. Within its pages was all knowledge necessary to live a godly, holy, perfect life.

The new-fangled grace and love passivity that is quite common in Evangelical circles these days had no place in my life. James said “faith without works is dead.” While I knew that good works saved no one, I strove  to show my love, devotion, and dedication to God through my good works. As a pastor, I expected churches services to be orderly. I expected parishioners to give 100% of themselves to the work of God. I taught them, and tried to live by example, that God deserved 100% of our time, effort, and money. Think of what Jesus did for us, I often said. Should we not give our all for him?

Such thinking led to an outward form of righteousness. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but God demanded it as did many of the people  I pastored.  Over time, I learned the fine art of covering my imperfections. I didn’t commit awful, evil sins, but I did do things that were contrary to the perfect standard set forth in God’s infallible Word. This dualistic way of living kept me in constant turmoil. Right with God. Messed up, not right with God. Pray for forgiveness. Right with God. Rinse and repeat.

Eating too much, watching R rated movies, going to a strip club, fighting with my wife, not claiming love offerings on my tax return, buying non-essential stuff, not giving more money to the church, not praying enough, or not reading the Bible as much as I should–all these kept me in a seemingly constant state of repentance. This kind of thinking was reinforced every time I attended a preacher’s or Bible conference. Great men of God, great outwardly anyway, would rail against sinning preachers and their worldly habits. I’d hear their pronouncements and their words would cut me to the quick. You need to repent, I’d tell myself. So I would, and with the fervor of the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, I would strive for perfection once again, knowing that in a day, week, or month, I’d be right back on my knees pleading with God to forgive me of my sins.

Since leaving the ministry 12 years ago and leaving the Christianity 5 years later, I have been on a path towards regaining self-worth and personal identity.  Christian perfectionism robbed me of my humanity, and here I am, an aged, broken-down ex-preacher learning what it is to be human. My focus and standard of conduct have changed dramatically. My list of “sins” is much smaller than it ever has been.  Bit by bit I am learning to just live life and enjoy what comes my way. Above all, I’m working to embrace my imperfection. This isn’t easy and it doesn’t mean I no longer strive to be better in areas where I need improvement. The difference now is that the standard has changed. There’s no God to please and no church demanding perfection. I’m free to be who I am, a man who still craves order, but  who is learning that it is okay if the window valances at the dentist’s office are off-center or the pictures in the doctor’s waiting are crooked.

How about you? How you have a story to tell about how Christian perfectionism affected your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Note

The line about the dentist’s office window valances references the fact that all the valances at my dentist’s office were a quarter to a half an inch off-center. I asked the dental assistant is she ever noticed it and she said, No. She then looked at them and said, Why, you are right. They are crooked. She then laughed as I reached up with my cane and tapped a valance over to the right spot. Order restored, I thought to myself.

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