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Dear God, Thank You For This Food, In Jesus’ Name, Amen

king cake

Most Evangelicals are taught that they should pray over their meals. The Bible commands Christians to thank God for everything, and that includes their food. I spent much of my life bowing my head and praying, either silently or out loud, before I ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Failures to pray were viewed as affronts to God, putting me in danger of choking on my food. So meal after meal I prayed, thanking God for the food I was about to eat. Even drive-thru food was prayed over, a quick mouthing of a few words of thanks for the Big Mac I was about to eat. I believed that not praying was a sin, a sign of ungratefulness. Whenever the subject of prayer came up in my sermons, I made sure to remind parents that they should be teaching their children to pray over EVERYTHING. In ALL things give thanks! Pray without ceasing! Much like an Aztec priest offering a prayer of thankfulness before sacrificing a virgin to his God, I would pray to my God, asking him to bless the food I was about to eat.

There were, of course, exceptions to this praying rule. Candy bars and pop bought at convenience stores required no prayers. Neither did ice cream at the local Dairy Queen or snacks after church. I look back on these exceptions now and see how hypocritical I was. Surely, Cheeto-eating should be prayed over just as one would pray over a five-course meal. Later in life, I would take to silently praying before meals eaten in public. I didn’t want to be associated with the Christians who made a spectacle of their praying, joining hands and praying in loud voices. My grandfather was one such pray-er.  Not only did he pray over the food, he also used his prayer to preach the gospel to all who were sitting nearby. In his mind, it was important to let everyone know that Christians were in the house.

As an atheist, I no longer utter a prayer of thanks to a dead deity before I eat. I am still every bit as thankful and grateful for the food I eat. I know that I live in a land of privilege and abundance. I choose, instead, to thank the cook for the food. She’s the one who, from store to plate, prepared the food, and she alone deserves the praise for the meal. If it were up to me, I would try to live on Dr. Pepper and king-sized Snickers bars. I am so thankful that Polly cannot only cook, but that she is very good at what she does. She’s always busy refining her craft, ever willing to try out new recipes.

I am a big believer in giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone does something for me, I thank them — no God needed. It is farmers, not the Christian God, who grow crops and feed animals so we can have food to eat. Yes, the sun shines and the rain falls, but if these things come from the hand of the Almighty, he sure is schizophrenic. Every year, the weather is different. One year it is too cold, other years it is too hot. Rarely does it rain exactly when crops need it. If there’s a God behind the weather, he sure is fucking with us. Perhaps, this God is like an abusive husband who gives his wife just enough money to keep her coming back to him for more. If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, surely he is able to control the weather so that that crops will optimally grow and eight billion people will have enough to eat. Instead, farmers battle the elements, hoping that their yields will be enough for them to make a profit. Countless people will go to bed tonight hungry. Many of them live in countries plagued by drought or floods. If the Big Kahuna really is a God of love, kindness, and compassion, perhaps he can make it possible for starving Africans to have sufficient food to eat. Many of these people are Christian, yet their plates are empty. What does this say about their God? Should they offer up a prayer of thanks to the Three-in-One, thanking them for the 200-calorie bowl of U.N. gruel they are about to eat?  I think not.

Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, said it best when he prayed:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

Video Link

What are your experiences with praying before meals? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Where Did God Come From?

where did god come from

One of the questions most asked by children has to do with the existence of God. Children quickly learn that things require a maker/creator. When they sit at the dining table for dinner, they see food on a plate, ready for them to eat. Children know that mommy, daddy, or KFC cooked dinner. The food did not magically appear on a plate. Someone had to prepare and cook the food. The same goes for the dining room table, dinnerware, and eating utensils. Someone, somewhere, designed, manufactured, shipped, and sold these goods. And the same is true for the food itself. A farmer planted crops and/or raised animals to provide the food. From start to finish, we see human choices and actions. This process reminds me of Jimmy Stewart’s memorable (and hilarious) prayer in the movie Shenandoah:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

Video Link

Most parents teach their children the basic rules of life, one of which is that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Food doesn’t magically appear in the cupboards. Having food requires labor, either in a garden or working a job that provides money to purchase it. This is the way it has always worked. Sitting around praying for God to provide only leaves petitioners with growling, empty stomachs. King David, of Biblical fame, wrote one of the biggest whoppers ever told when he stated:

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. (Psalm 37:25)

Millions and millions of Christians will go to bed tonight hungry. They are the righteous spoken of by David. No matter how much these followers of Jesus pray, seeking God’s providential intervention, their plates will remain empty. God is not going to show up with a grocery truck. Having food requires human work, along with political environments where sustenance farming is valued and supported. In many of the countries facing famine, religion plays a prominent part in the lack of food. Catholicism, in particular, with its anti-birth-control, anti-abortion policies, encourages women to have large families. We see the same insane lack of family planning in Islāmic countries. When there are already too many mouths to feed, does it make any sense to have MORE children, thus exacerbating the lack of food security? Of course not. But, instead of handing out birth control and making abortion services readily available, religious leaders tell their followers to continue fucking for the glory of God, trusting that he will provide for their daily needs. How’s that working out?

Children should be taught when they are young that the only way things get done is for them to do it. Parents don’t help their children grow into responsible adults if they continue to do for them what they can do for themselves. Polly and I had many faults when it came to raising our six children, but not when it came to teaching them the value and importance of work. At an early age, our children learned that there was a connection between work and results. Want a weed-free garden? Someone has to weed it. Want a clean bedroom? Someone has to clean it. Parents wrong their children, crippling them as adults, when they do things children can do for themselves. When our children reached their teen years, they wanted stuff — cars, clothing, shoes, CDs, and money to spend on entertainment. Polly and I didn’t give them money, not even an allowance. If they wanted the trappings of our capitalistic society, there was one way to get it — work! And so they did. Learning this has served them well as adults; as a result, our children have often been applauded and rewarded for their work ethic (and been known as no-nonsense workers who give an honest day’s work for their pay).

My point is this: everywhere we look we see human endeavor at the heart of this experience called life. What we have comes not from a dime store deity somewhere who doles out his goodness and blessings according to some sort of mysterious lottery. While we humans fail in many of our endeavors, we know that the only option we have is to try again or try something different. The burden of security, prosperity, and success rests on us, not on a mythical God.

It is for these reasons that it is frustrating to hear parents, when asked by their children, where did God come from? respond with theological mumbo jumbo about God always existing, and that no one created him. History tells us that God — all gods — are of human origin. Take the Christian God. Has this God always existed? Of course not. Humans, attempting to explain the world around them and their place in it, invented Gods to provide a larger-than-life explanation to what, at the time, seemed unanswerable questions. For centuries now, humans have been appealing to the gods as the locus of their origin. These appeals were put in written forms such as the Christian Bible. When read with unbiased, uninitiated eyes, the Bible provides a fascinating look at the evolution of God, (The Evolution of God by Robert Wright) from the polytheism of the Old Testament to the monotheism of later Old Testament books and the New Testament (though one could argue that Christianity is still polytheistic based on its Trinitarian theology).

When little Johnny asks his mommy or dad, where did God come from? he should be told the truth. Johnny, ancient humans created God (s) as a way to explain their world. Our deity, the Christian God, was brought to life six or so thousand years ago by polytheistic Middle Easterners. Our God has been remade numerous times. Today, our God is very different from the God of Adam and Eve. The same could be said for Abraham’s God and the deity of first-century Jews. Humans, as time marches along, tend to shape God in their own image, adapting her to current cultural and tribal norms. While Christians speak of God having supernatural and divine qualities, it is clear to every honest observer that “God” is a human creation, with each worshiper shaping God into a human form that best represents their wants, needs, and desires.

But Bruce, Evangelicals might say, how do you explain the existence of the raw materials used to make things?  They had to come from somewhere, right? Using a variation of the God of the Gaps argument, Christians think anything that can’t be answered or known is God. Since no one can answer the “how did it all begin” question, Evangelicals wrongly assert that it is their God who birthed everything into existence. This, of course, is a faith claim for which there is no evidence outside of the Bible. This still leaves Christians with the question, where did God come from? Well, God exists outside of the space/time continuum. And your evidence for this claim is what? Uh, well, um, (hanging head), the Bible says ____________. And now we are right back to a book that was written by men, not God. The Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is the creation of humans, not a deity.

pale blue dot

Perhaps science will one day answer all the questions about our beginning. Maybe not. For me personally, it doesn’t matter. While I might wonder about what happened before the big bang, I know post-bang that science gives us a plausible explanation for our universe and our minuscule, insignificant place in it. This is a good place for me to remind readers of Carl Sagan’s words about our planet:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

Our planet, with its seven billion-plus inhabitants, is but a pencil point of light in the vast expanse of space. We who call this planet home are its caretakers. Our future success, prosperity, and life rest in our hands. God, whoever it might be, if anything at all, is not coming to rescue, bless, or take care of us. All we have is each other, and as Jimmy Stewart made clear, it’s up to us to provide for ourselves and those we love. Children deserve to be told the truth about these things. Telling them that there is some sort of Santa Claus-like God only teaches them a deluded view of the world and their place in it. Perhaps there is some sort of deistic God who set the things into motion. I don’t know, and, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. It is clear, at the very least, that such a deity is not the tiniest bit interested in that which she has created, and that this God has left it up to us to plot the future of the earth and the human race. This is the primary reason I am a humanist. (If you have not read the Humanist Manifesto, I encourage you to do so.) The Humanist Manifesto states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

….

Simply put, it’s up to us. Whether it’s avoiding nuclear war or combating the effects of global climate change, it is up to humans, not gods, to change the course of history. Whether we will do so remains to be seen. As long as humans think God is in charge of everything and that she alone can deliver and save us, there is little hope that we will survive to the days when our sun dies and our species ceases to exist. As things stand now, I wonder if we will even make it to the twenty-second century. Religious tribalism, political extremism, amoral (and immoral) capitalism, poverty, global warming, war, and a host of other problems work against our future survival. Our only hope lies in all of us working together for the betterment of the human race and the planet we call home.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Just Pray This Prayer and You Will be Saved!

gods simple plan of salvation tract

According to Evangelicals, getting saved is the most important decision you and I can make; more important than choosing whom to marry, where to work, what house to buy, whether to have children, and should I wear brown shoes with blue pants? (And the correct answer on the brown shoes, blue pants question is NO! NO! NO! Polly tells me I am fighting a losing battle. What’s next, women wearing white shoes before Easter? Dear God, what’s the world coming to? If this attack on propriety is not stemmed, people will be wearing pajamas in public.) Check all the boxes on your bucket list, but leave the PRAY SINNER’S PRAYER box unchecked and your life is deemed worthless — lacking in meaning, purpose, and direction.

Also according to Evangelicals, life begins and ends with Jesus. He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Jesus, according to the Bible, is the great I AM. He is not only the savior of sinners, but he is also the creator of the universe. All that has been, is, and will be, emanates from God alone. This deity is the one true God. All other Gods are false gods. This means that the overwhelming majority of humans — past, present, and future — are not saved, will die unsaved, and as a result spend eternity in hell and the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelicals believe that Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Mormons, and anyone else who hasn’t prayed the sinner’s prayer, will end up in hell with Satan, demons, fallen angels, and Barack Obama. Saying the sinner’s prayer is the one thing above all others that matters in this life. These false religions are sending billions of people to hell because their adherents haven’t prayed the Billy Graham-approved sinner’s prayer.

Fundamentalist Geri Ungurean recently asked the question, Have You Truly Been Born Again — Or Has the Evil One Deceived You? Ungurean used the God’s Simple Plan of Salvation tract published by Robert Porter’s Lifegate, Inc. as the primary text for her post. As I will show later, Ungurean edited the tract to better fit her theological beliefs, but for now, let’s focus on what she says about how a person is saved:

If you were to die today, and God asked you why He should let you into heaven – how would you answer Him?

….

I am asking you the most important question of life. Your joy or your sorrow for all eternity depends upon your answer. The question is: Are you saved? It is not a question of how good you are, nor if you are a church member, but are you saved? Are you sure you will go to Heaven when you die?

God says in order to go to Heaven, you must be born again. In John 3:7, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.”

In the Bible God gives us the plan of how to be born again which means to be saved. His plan is simple! You can be saved today. How?

First, my friend, you must realize you are a sinner. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Because you are a sinner, you are condemned to death. “For the wages [payment] of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This includes eternal separation from God in Hell.

“ . . . it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

But God loved you so much He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, to bear your sin and die in your place. “ . . . He hath made Him [Jesus, Who knew no sin to be sin for us . . . that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus had to shed His blood and die. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). “ . . . without shedding of blood is no remission [pardon]” (Hebrews 9:22).

“ . . . God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Although we cannot understand how, God said my sins and your sins were laid upon Jesus and He died in our place. He became our substitute. It is true. God cannot lie.

My friend, “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). This repentance is a change of mind that agrees with God that one is a sinner, and also agrees with what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

In Acts 16:30-31, the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas: “ . . . ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved ’ ”

Simply believe on Him as the one who bore your sin, died in your place, was buried, and whom God resurrected. His resurrection powerfully assures that the believer can claim everlasting life when Jesus is received as Savior.

“But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13).

Whosoever includes you. Shall be saved means not maybe, nor can, but shall  be saved.

Surely, you realize you are a sinner. Right now, wherever you are, repenting, lift your heart to God in prayer.

In Luke 18:13, the sinner prayed:

“God be merciful to me a sinner.” Just pray: “Oh God, I know I am a sinner. I believe Jesus was my substitute when He died on the Cross. I believe His shed blood, death, burial, and resurrection were for me. I now receive Him as my Savior. I thank You for the forgiveness of my sins, the gift of salvation and everlasting life, because of Your merciful grace. Amen.”

Just take God at His word and claim His salvation by faith. Believe, and you will be saved. No church, no lodge, no good works can save you. Remember, God does the saving. All of it!

God’s simple plan of salvation is: You are a sinner. Therefore, unless you believe on Jesus Who died in your place, you will spend eternity in Hell. If you believe on Him as your crucified, buried, and risen Savior, you receive forgiveness for all of your sins and His gift of eternal salvation by faith.

You say, “Surely, it cannot be that simple.” Yes, that simple!  It is scriptural. It is God’s plan. My friend, believe on Jesus and receive Him as Savior today.

If His plan is not perfectly clear, read this over and over, without laying it down, until you understand it. Your soul is worth more than all the world.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Be sure you are saved. If you lose your soul, you miss Heaven and lose all. Please!  Let God save you this very moment.

God’s power will save you, keep you saved, and enable you to live a victorious Christian life. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Do not trust your feelings. They change. Stand on God’s promises. They never change. After you are saved, there are five things to practice daily for spiritual growth:

Pray — you talk to God.
Read your Bible — God talks to you.
Witness — you talk for God.
Join a Bible Study — You will grow in your faith.
Develop relationships with other believers – Fellowship is so important!! – source

Here is a very simple prayer for those who want to know that they have truly been saved (born again).  God knows your heart, so He knows if you are genuine when you say this prayer.

Say this to God:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I understand that I am a sinner and I ask You for forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins so that I could receive Your forgiveness and have eternal life. I ask You to come into my life right now and become my personal Savior. From this day forward, Lord, I give you control of my life. Make me a new person and help me to live for You.  Amen”

If you said this prayer just now, I want to welcome you to the family of God!  There is nothing in this life that is as important than what you just did. And did you know that the angels in heaven are rejoicing over you at this very moment?

Pretty standard Evangelical fare:

gods-simple-plan-of-salvation

I would ask you the reader to right now stop what you are doing and take sixty seconds to pray the sinner’s prayer, thus guaranteeing your room reservation for Trump Tower — Heaven location. I’ll wait. Pray, do it now, don’t delay. Push pause on the TV remote, call a time out, and do whatever it is that you need to do to carve out sixty seconds to do soul-saving business with the Evangelical God.

Did you pray the sinner’s prayer? Great, you will now go to Heaven when you die. No more worries. Once you are saved, you can never, ever lose the golden ticket to your mansion in the sky. No sin is so bad that it is not covered by the ‘Get out of Jail Free Clause’ in your Eternal Salvation Contract — Evangelical Edition.

This kind of thinking is what leads people to conclude that Bruce Gerencser, the atheist, is still a Christian. Once married to Christ, there is nothing I can do, including blasphemy and adultery, to divorce myself from God. I will lose rewards in Heaven and I might be punished for my sins in the here and now, but there is NOTHING I can do that will separate me from the love of God.

This, my friend, is the bastardized gospel preached by countless preachers and believed by millions and millions of Americans. Is this the gospel preached by Jesus, the apostles, and the Apostle Paul? Lots of Christians think so, that is until they are confronted with people and lifestyles that offend their religiosity. Can a gay man pray the prayer, remain gay, and go to Heaven when he dies? Can an atheist pray the prayer, remain godless, and go to Heaven when she dies? Can an abortion rights activist pray the prayer, continue advocating for abortion, and still go to Heaven when she dies? Can a child molester pray the prayer, go back to molesting boys, yet still make it to Heaven? If Ungurean’s post is taken at face value, the answer must be YES!

Back in my Calvinist days, we called this system of salvation “decisional regeneration” or “one-two-three, repeat after me.” Much of the membership growth in Evangelical churches is based on the notion of people mentally assenting to a set of historical and theological propositions. Believe THIS and thou shalt be SAVED! The Bible, at least in some verses, supports this version of Christian salvation:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation….For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.(Romans 10:9,10,13)

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Acts 16:30,31)

That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.(John 3:15,16)

However, in other verses, a far different plan of salvation is found. Take Jesus’ words in Mark 16:15-17:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.

Wait a minute Jesus, didn’t you say:

 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John 6:47)

Make up your mind, Jesus.

The truth is this: Christians have spent the last two-thousand years fighting internecine wars over which and whose plan of salvation is true; whose one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism is the faith once delivered to the saints. If this post makes it into the broader Christian blogosphere, rest assured, zealots for this or that plan of salvation will set me straight on what must be done by whom to guarantee entrance into God’s eternal kingdom — which is the final home of all believers, not Heaven.

Towards the end of the Ungurean’s cut-and-paste of Lifegate’s God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, she edits the tract to better reflect her personal views about salvation and Christianity. The original tract says:

Do not trust your feelings. They change. Stand on God’s promises. They never change. After you are saved, there are three things to practice daily for spiritual growth:

Pray — you talk to God.
Read your Bible — God talks to you.
Witness — you talk for God.

You should be baptized in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ as a public testimony of your salvation, and then unite with a Bible-believing church without delay. “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord . . . .” (2 Timothy 1:8)

“Whosoever therefore shall confess [testify of] Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).

Ungurean edited the copyrighted tract to say:

Do not trust your feelings. They change. Stand on God’s promises. They never change. After you are saved, there are five things to practice daily for spiritual growth:

Pray — you talk to God.
Read your Bible — God talks to you.
Witness — you talk for God.
Join a Bible Study — You will grow in your faith.
Develop relationships with other believers – Fellowship is so important!!

The original gave three things to practice daily for spiritual growth. Ungurean disagreed, so she deleted what the original said about baptism, and added two practices: Join a Bible study [not a church?] and develop relationships with other believers.

Ungurean also had a problem with the tract’s proscribed prayer. While her post leaves the original prayer intact:

“Oh God, I know I am a sinner. I believe Jesus was my substitute when He died on the Cross. I believe His shed blood, death, burial, and resurrection were for me. I now receive Him as my Savior. I thank You for the forgiveness of my sins, the gift of salvation and everlasting life, because of Your merciful grace. Amen.”

Ungurean adds a prayer of her own:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I understand that I am a sinner and I ask You for forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins so that I could receive Your forgiveness and have eternal life. I ask You to come into my life right now and become my personal Savior. From this day forward, Lord, I give you control of my life. Make me a new person and help me to live for You. Amen”

According to Ungurean, if you pray her soul-saving version:

If you said this prayer just now, I want to welcome you to the family of God!

Did you notice the difference between the two prayers? Ungurean added: From this day forward, Lord, I give you control of my life. Make me a new person and help me to live for You. And there’s Ungurean’s out. Yes, getting saved is as simple as believing a set of historical and theological facts (what she deems as factual, anyway) and praying a prayer. But, those who are really, really saved give demonstrable evidence that their lives are controlled by God. Who decides what this evidence is? Why every Evangelical church, pastor, and congregant, that’s who. Behind all their talk about grace, most Evangelicals actually believe that truly being a Christian requires a certain way of life. Except for the grace-extremists who say that once a person is saved, he is a-l-w-a-y-s saved, (men such as Jack Hyles, Bob Gray Sr., Curtis Hutson, R.B. Thieme, and Steven Anderson believe this), most Evangelicals actually preach some sort of salvation by works. And that’s okay, because that’s what the Bible says too. In fact, the Bible supports EVERY plan of salvation.

Here are a few other posts I have written on this subject:

Are you saved? Are you sure? Can you even be certain? Or, perhaps atheists, humanists, and not-punching-my-ticket-for-heaven religions are right. What really matters is the here and now; what really matters is living life to its fullest; what really matters is reducing pain and suffering; what really matters is making sure Donald Trump and his followers don’t destroy the world.  When it comes down to it, Evangelicalism is little more than escapism. Evangelicals see the world as that which must be endured until death or Jesus returns. And while waiting for these things to happen — it could be today, MARANATHA! — Evangelicals withdraw into the safety of their Fundamentalist subculture — only leaving for work, shopping, ballgames, and making sure unsaved people live according to Evangelical interpretations of a two-thousand-plus-year-old religious text.

Let me conclude this sermon with the jailor’s question in Act 16: Sirs, what must I do to be saved? When you get the answer to this question, please let me know. Based on two-thousand years of Christian history and a myriad of books, blog posts, and sermons purporting to definitively reveal the way to salvation and eternal life, I think I can confidently say that Christians are hopelessly confused and divided about what Ungurean and her fellow Evangelical say is the most important question we will ever be asked. Until these purveyors of salvation get it figured out, what should the rest of us do? To paraphrase Solomon: eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Works for me.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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The Prayer Circle

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Five of us, in a circle, could barely fit into the cinderblock-walled, windowless room. George: earnest, stringy-haired lab assistant. Julie: tall, blonde lithe fresh-faced freshman. Deanna: the petite, attractive brunette whose ambitions in life were to translate the Bible “the right way” and to “bring souls to the Lord.” Thalia, a tall, rawboned Black woman whom, as it turned out, Julie had invited to a prayer meeting but didn’t seem to have talked much with her, or anyone else in that group or on that campus.

And me. It was the middle of October, a few weeks into the semester. At the beginning of it, I knew only Deanna, from the year before. With her smile and friendly manner, she had little trouble meeting people. On the other hand, when I met her, I was almost as socially isolated as I had been the year before, when I first arrived on campus. The one friend—or, more precisely, the friendliest acquaintance—I’d made was with Robert, a young gay man: the first person with whom I’d ever had a real conversation about sexuality—my own, his or anyone else’s. The other male freshmen, it seemed, were performing the same kinds of exaggerated masculine heterosexuality—or, at least their notions of it—I saw in high school.

I am now ashamed to admit that I spent time with Robert when there were no witnesses, save for two friends of his—one, a straight guy, the other a lesbian, both of whom seemed a few years older than either of us. On the other hand, as I became friends with Deanna, I made a point of being seen with her: Nobody would question my sexual orientation or gender identity—in those days, almost everybody conflated the two, as I did—at least, not openly.

Oh, and she was one of the reasons I joined a campus Christian fellowship and was in that room with her, George, Julie, and Thalia. I told her, and she told them, I thought I might be gay, mainly because I couldn’t identify with other males and the only trans women I knew about were Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards, both of whom seemed as different from me as the frat boys on campus. Turns out, Thalia told Julie she thought she was gay, which didn’t surprise me but, of course, I didn’t voice that.

The ostensible purpose of the gathering was for us to “be filled with the spirit” so that Thalia could “overcome” her “sinful” desires. They probably wanted to pray the gay out of me, too, though no one said as much. Anyway, George began with some soliloquy about gathering in the hope of receiving the Lord’s help and blessings. About all I can remember accurately is a paraphrase of a verse from Ephesians: “For we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.”

Since George was earnest in the way only a young person who believes he has God and truth and justice on his side can be, he wasn’t being ironic when he paraphrased that verse in the presence of me and Thalia, one of the few people I’ve ever met who seemed more alienated and adrift than I was at that time. He intoned, “Lord, we entreat you.”

Then Julie started to drone a bunch of syllables that began and ended with drawn-out vowels sandwiching truncated consonants: aaahbaaah, or something like that, followed by sounds even less coherent or recognizable, at least to me. Before that day, I’d heard from other members of the fellowship that she could “speak in tongues.” I guess that’s what they were talking about, I thought.

As Jo droned on, Thalia started to let out long, low sobs that turned into wails, then into near-howls. She lay on her side—I opened my eyes while everyone else’s were shut—in a near-fetal curl, shaking like a child who needs a warm blanket. Her body’s vibrations turned into seemingly-volcanic convulsions, in which she thrust her arms and legs, as if trying to heave them away from her body. Her howls abated into a series of staccato grunts.

Julie continued her incomprehensible “prayer.” Deanna shouted, “Satan, leave her! You have no authority over her!” But Thalia continued to heave, grunt, and thrust her arms and legs. Deanna grasped my left hand, George my right. They said, in unison, something vaguely comprehensible—a prayer? a Bible verse? —that I can’t remember now. Julie finally said something I could understand: “Oh Lord, we pray for our sister, Thalia, that you may heal her. “Amen,” she, George, and Deanna chanted in unison.

The following day, I woke on the worn carpet of that room. Deanna slept in a dorm bed to the left of me; Julie in another bed to the right. I saw George a couple of days later and asked about Thalia. “The Lord is helping her now,” he said. I never heard about her again.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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Prayer in IFB Churches — Part One

prayer

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement is known for its rules. (Please see The Official Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Rulebook.) Every aspect of life is regulated by church standards, personal standards, and Biblical standards. So many “standards,” is it any wonder church members have such a hard time keeping all the rules? For all their talk about “salvation by grace,” many IFB preachers actually preach a gospel of works. How does one know he or she is a True Christian®? IFB preachers will say that salvation is dependent on believing the right things; on asking Jesus to forgive you of your sins. If you believe the right things about Jesus and ask him to forgive you of your sins, he will come into your “heart” and save you. From that moment forward, you are a bought-by-the-blood, born-again Christian. By praying the sinner’s prayer, you have punched your ticket for Heaven. No matter how you live your life, you are guaranteed a room in God’s Heavenly Trump Hotel. That’s why many of my IFB critics think I am still a Christian. At the age of fifteen, I was gloriously “saved” by Jesus at an old-fashioned altar at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. (Please see My Baptist Salvation Experience.) I am still “saved” even if I don’t want to be.

While IFB preachers certainly preached up salvation by grace, the other side of the coin was incessant preaching about “standards.” While IFB preachers don’t explicitly say that unless a person keeps these standards, he or she isn’t saved, the implication is certainly there. IFB preachers spend an inordinate amount of time imploring (and haranguing) church members to obey the Bible (as interpreted by their pastors) and the church’s standards. Those of refuse to play by the rules are marginalized, labeled as backslidden, out of the will of God, carnal, worldly, and other pejorative terms.

Christians, regardless of their sectarian affiliation, pray. IFB churches are no different. Thus, it should come as no surprise that IFB preachers had rules for prayer too. The typical IFB church service includes at least three prayers: the invocation, the prayer before the offering, the benediction (always led by men). IFB churches also have midweek prayer services — usually on Wednesday evenings. And then there’s the all-night prayer meetings (please see 1972: My First and Last All-Night Prayer Meeting), men’s prayer meetings, prayer meetings before church services, especially revival meetings. Some IFB churches have congregants gather around people at the altar and pray for them as they are getting saved or getting “right” with God.

Outside of church services, IFB congregants were expected to pray without ceasing; to bathe every aspect of their lives in prayer. Prayer when you get up, pray when you go to bed, pray during your devotional time, pray before meals, pray for the church/pastor/missionaries/unsaved, pray while driving, pray before making decisions, pray, pray, pray.

My pastors during my formative years taught me that there were rules that governed “praying.” Praying the wrong way could result in God not hearing your prayer. Evidently, God values form over substance. Want your prayers answered? Start your prayer with Dear Father/Dear God/God and ALWAYS end your prayer with IN JESUS’ NAME! Don’t spend much time praying for your own needs, wants, or desires. Pray for the needs of others. Pray for sinners. Pray for America. Pray for the preacher. Pray for the deacons. Pray for the missionaries. Pray for the president (if he’s a Republican). And at the end, humbly ask God to meet your needs or heal your body. Just remember the JOY acronym: JESUS FIRST, OTHERS SECOND, YOURSELF LAST. In some churches, they use a different JOY formula: JESUS FIRST, OTHERS SECOND, YOU DON’T MATTER.

Further, pray-ers are expected to prostrate themselves before God when they prayed. Unless you just had knee surgery, you were expected to kneel when you pray. I still have visions of elderly people struggling to kneel, unable to get back on their feet without help after praying. Evidently, God won’t hear your prayers unless you show him proper fealty.

What’s one of the most common phrases heard in IFB churches? “I’m praying for you.” This is, in fact, the most common LIE told in churches. Telling people “I’m praying for you” is literally the least thing you can do for someone. I felt so guilty over lying to people, that eventually I started praying for people on the spot. No more promising to pray later. I had a lot less guilt after that — at least about prayer, anyway.

In Part Two of this series, I will share some of my experiences with prayer, both my own and that in the lives of others.

Do you have a prayer story you would like to share? Please do so in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

How (NOT) to Evangelize Atheists Through Prayer

praying for atheists

Several years ago, Polly and I traveled to Newark, Ohio, to spend the day with Polly’s parents. Physically, the trip was brutal. Three hours down, three hours back, and more potholes than I could count, the trip left me writhing in pain by the time we returned home. For chronic pain sufferers such as myself, this agony is often the price of admission. If I want to venture out among the living, I must endure the bangs and bumps that come my way. On days such as this, pain medications tend to be ineffective, so I grit my teeth and endure. To quote the Bible, he that endureth to the end shall be saved. My salvation came when we arrived home and I went straight to bed. I slept for fourteen hours. (Things have physically deteriorated for me since the writing of this post. A shopping trip to Toledo cost me two days in bed.)

Polly’s late father had his hip replaced in 2015. I previously wrote about Dad’s health problems here: How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain. Sadly, this post proved to be prophetic. Dad ended up in a nursing home, forced to wear a brace to keep his hip in place. Several days after the surgery the new hip dislocated. It was several more days before the rehab staff figured out that there was something wrong with the hip. If there ever was a circumstance that could be labeled a clusterfuck, this was it. I am sure that if Dad had it to do all over again, he would not have had the surgery. Dad was able to come home eventually, but he was never able to walk normally again.

While we were visiting with Dad and Mom at the nursing home, Polly’s preacher uncle, Jim Dennis, stopped by for a visit. He didn’t know we were going to be there, so he was quite surprised to see us. After twenty minutes or so, it was time for Polly’s uncle to leave. Before leaving, Polly’s uncle offered up a prayer. Recently retired from the ministry and in poor health himself, Uncle Jim launched into what can only be described as a sermon prayer. Those raised in Fundamentalist churches likely have heard many such prayers. These prayers are not meant for God as much as they are for those who are listening, In this instance, the prayer was meant for the two atheists in the room, Polly and Bruce.

The prayer started out with a request for healing and strength for Dad but quickly moved into a recitation of the plan of salvation. I thought, why is Uncle Jim praying like this? God knows the plan of salvation, as does Dad, so the soteriological utterance couldn’t have been for their benefit. Mom was nearby, but she was one of God’s chosen ones too. The only unsaved people in the room were Bruce, Polly, and their daughter with Down Syndrome. As Polly’s uncle prayed, I looked at Polly, smirked, and shook my head. Here I was, at the time, fifty-eight years old, having spent fifty years in the Christian church, and I was being treated like someone who had never heard the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) version of the gospel.

If this had happened a few years ago, I likely would have said something. But, as I looked at Polly’s uncle and her Mom and Dad, I thought, soon they will all be dead. Morbid? Sure. But, the truth? Absolutely. I have no desire to fight over religion with Polly’s diehard Fundamentalist Baptist family. I am sure Polly’s preacher uncle thought that putting in a good word for Jesus might somehow, some way, cause us to fall on our knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save us. Regardless of his motivation, it was clear that Uncle Jim did not respect us. (Since the writing of this post in 2016, Dad has died, along with Jim and his wife Linda. Only Mom is still alive.)

Polly and I, along with our children, are huge disappointments to her family. Since I was once considered the patriarch of our tribe, the blame for our fall from grace rests squarely on my shoulders. It has been thirteen years since Polly and I darkened the doors of a church. We have attended numerous family functions, and not one person in her family has attempted to understand why we deconverted — not one. Some of them read this blog, and I am sure this post will make its way in printed form to Polly’s Mom. Will it finally force an honest discussion about the elephant in the room? Probably not. Better to hope Polly and that $*%$ husband of hers are still saved. Backslidden, but still saved. Anything, but having a frank discussion about why we no longer believe in the existence of the Christian God, or any other deity, for that matter.

While I would never expect or demand that Polly’s Fundamentalist family stop living out their faith, it would be nice if they respected us enough to accept us as we are. We are ready and willing to share why we no longer believe. If family members want to know, all they have to do is ask. And if they aren’t interested in knowing, the least they can do is refrain from trying to evangelize us. There are no prayers that can be prayed that could possibly cause us to change our minds about God, Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible. Thousands of prayers have been uttered on our behalf, yet Polly and I remain happy unbelievers. We are living proof of the powerlessness of prayer.

Polly and I have known each other for almost forty-six years. I first met her preacher uncle in December of 1976 at a midweek church service at the Newark Baptist Temple. Uncle Jim let the church know that Polly had a guest with her. As the congregation turned to gawk at the embarrassed redheaded young man, Polly’s uncle said, They have a shirttail relationship. It remains to be seen how long the shirttail is. The next day, I spent my first Christmas with Polly’s family, meeting her cousins, uncle, and grandfather for the first time. Forty-six years have come and gone. Polly and I are now in our sixties. Our middle-aged children have greying hair, and their thirteen children call us Nana and Grandpa. We have spent many wonderful moments with Polly’s family, and more than a few moments we would just as soon forget. I love them dearly, as does Polly. We just wish that they loved us more than they love Jesus.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Gary, God Didn’t Send You to This Site, Google Did

pastor-gary-jackson

Several years ago, Gary Jackson, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, did a Google search for Faith Baptist Church in Ottawa, Ohio, and ended up on this site. The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser is a first- or second-page search result when someone searches for Faith Baptist. I have featured Faith several times in the series On The Road Looking For God’s True Church.

After reading a handful of posts, Jackson decided to send me an email. In the email, Jackson stated that it was G-O-D who “led” him to this blog. Actually, it was Google, not God, that sent the good pastor my way. I understand Jackson’s confusion. When confronted with an unanswered question, my family will seek the answer from God — God being Google. Perhaps Jackson, as the Gerencser family does, confuses Google with God. Just kidding. The Gerencser family KNOWS Google and God are one and the same. Jackson’s God? She has never answered a prayer, or a trivia question, for that matter. When I wanted to find out who Gary Jackson was, I didn’t pray. Instead, I contacted the all-seeing, all-knowing Google — praise be to the search algorithm.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Songs of Sacrilege: Bruised and Bloodied by Seether

seether

This is the latest installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Bruised and Bloodied by Seether.

Video Link

Lyrics

Add meat to the body, abandon your own welfare
Feel safe in the knowledge that you’ll save yourself with prayer
Disgrace everybody then bask in the afterglow
If I beat myself it seems like you just don’t care at all
It’s really fucking pitiful

I’m not asking to pray about
Parade around
Or save somebody
Lost the courage, I’m craven now
You’re way too proud
All bruised and bloodied

Conceit so lovely you’ve led me into despair
This rape and pillage of all things that I hold dear
Deface my body with gifts that you now bestow
When I need somebody it seems like you’re just not there at all
It’s really fucking pitiful

I’m not asking to pray about
Parade around
Or save somebody
Lost the courage, I’m craven now
You’re way too proud
All bruised and bloodied

These disembodied emotions are all laid bare
So please tell me, when will I wake from this new nightmare

I’m not asking to pray about
Parade around
Or save somebody
Lost the courage, I’m craven now
You’re way too proud
All bruised and bloodied

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser