Menu Close

Tag: Will of God

Should Christians Rejoice Always and Thank God for Everything?

1-Thess-5-16-18

The Apostle Paul says in I Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (KJV)

The Message puts it this way:

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

This text tells Christians three things:

  • They are to rejoice always no matter the circumstance
  • They are to pray without ceasing
  • They are to thank God no matter what happens
  • It is God’s will that you follow these commands.

Paul is not making suggestions here, as Evangelical preachers make clear in their preaching. Ask any Evangelical if they have ever heard sermons about rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and always thanking God for everything, and they will tell you yes. Worse, they will likely tell you that these commands were an unattainable ideal; that they caused them much consternation and depression. What Christian has ever rejoiced always, prayed always, or thanked always? None. In the hands of Evangelical preachers, especially those who are IFB, these verses become millstones around the necks of people of faith. Often, they cause psychological harm.

praise the lord

I am sixty-five years old. I have experienced a lot of things that caused me to rejoice: my marriage to Polly, the birth of our six children, and the birth and growing lives of our thirteen grandchildren. I am quite stoic about life. I am not a clap-happy seal who gets excited about the trivialities. While I rejoiced when the Cincinnati Bengals made the Super Bowl last year, my feelings paled considerably when compared to watching my beautiful bride walk down the aisle or holding our first child in my arms, and many years later our first grandchild in my arms. Most of life just “is.”

I have experienced some things in life wherein I had no capacity to “rejoice.” When I thought Polly was going to die from ulcerative colitis, I did not rejoice. As I continue to struggle with gastroparesis and unrelenting debility and pain, I do not rejoice. When my parents suddenly died at relatively young ages and Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident, I did not rejoice. As I mentally page through the trauma I have faced in life, I find nothing to rejoice over. I have experienced horrific things in my life, things no child should ever face. How could I possibly “rejoice?” I see no redemptive value in these things. I wish I had experienced none of them. Yet, Evangelicals are taught that they are to rejoice no matter what happens in their lives; that they are to be thankful to God no matter what happens. Rarely do they ask, why? Why should I rejoice? Why should I give thanks to God?

Verse 18 mentions “the will of God,” and therein is the answer to the why? question. You see, Evangelicals are taught that their peculiar God is sovereign; that he is the creator of all things; that he controls all things; that everything happens according to God’s purpose and plan. Thus, when you are lying in bed, writhing in pain, rejoice! When your baby is born with fatal birth defects, rejoice! When your wife runs off with another man and divorces you, rejoice! When you lose your job, your house is foreclosed upon, and your car is repossessed, rejoice! And greater still, THANK GOD for what you are experiencing in your life. Paul said in EVERYTHING give thanks. No matter what pain and suffering you face in life, your experiences are God’s will. So dear Christians, God says shut the fuck up and take it! That’s what Paul, writing under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit, is saying to you.

I am so glad to be free from this kind of thinking. Though it still plagues me from time to time, I no longer feel the need to praise and thank Jesus when my life is in the toilet or when my pain is so bad that I want to kill myself. Shit happens, life is hard, and then you die. Live long enough and you will face a good bit of pain, suffering, and heartache. For some people, the hits never seem to end. I am grateful that my illnesses and pain aren’t the sum of my life; that there are moments in my life when I can rejoice.

Yesterday, Polly and I, along with our oldest son and his girlfriend, and Bethany, our oldest daughter who has Down syndrome, traveled three hours south to Cincinnati to watch the Reds play the Chicago Cubs. We had a delightful time, even though I was in a lot of pain. Afterward, we ate at a Bone Fish Grill, which was an unmitigated disaster. More on that tomorrow. We finally arrived home around 11:00 pm. By then, my pain levels were off the charts, despite taking extra narcotic pain meds, and my legs were swollen from fluid retention. I finally fell asleep around 4:00 am, though I had to get up repeatedly during the night to urinate as my body fought to remove the fluid from my legs. I slept to 4:30 pm, waking upon hearing the loud, playful voices of my youngest grandsons.

Just another day in my life. If I am going to do anything that matters in life, I must be willing to pay what I call “the price of admission.” I could drug myself enough that I wouldn’t have any pain, but I wouldn’t be able to do anything — literally. So, because I plan on living until I am dead, I must daily determine how much pain I can live with. I take hydrocodone, NSAIDs, and powerful muscle relaxers, just enough so my pain is lessened so I can function. There’s never a day when I feel well or am without pain. That’s just how it is. Does this mean I never have any reason to rejoice? Of course not.

I rejoice over spending the day with my son, his girlfriend, my wife, and my daughter. I know that I have a finite amount of time I can do so. Someday, sooner than later, I will no longer be able to do these things. I rejoice over the Reds beating the Cubs, a highlight in a depressing season. I watched Joey Votto play, knowing that next year might be his final season. I watched numerous young rookies hit and field, wondering if I were seeing stars-in-the-making. I rejoice over the endless banter between us as we drove to and from Cincinnati. I rejoice over hearing my son laugh as we listened to comedians on our way home. Most of all, I rejoice over not having to rush to the bathroom, avoiding shitting my pants or vomiting. That is a good day in and of itself.

Yet, I know there will be days that I have nothing to rejoice over; just moments and days to be endured. This is life as it is. No religious fantasy or delusion. Imagine how much better it would be for Evangelicals if their pastors told them the truth: sometimes life sucks. Expecting people to rejoice over whatever happens in their lives, or expecting them to thank God no matter what, doesn’t help them, especially when they are also told that someday after they die, God will reward them for not blaming him for the shit that happened in their lives. Instead of every human being brought before God’s throne in Chick tract This Was Your Life fashion, perhaps it is God who should be called to account for his mistreatment and abuse of humanity.

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.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Uvalde School Shooting All Part of God’s Perfect Plan

uvalde shooting
Cartoon by Nick Anderson

If I lost one of my children I’d be pretty devastated, especially in a way that is so senseless and seemingly has no purpose. I think … I would just have to say, if I had the opportunity to talk to the people I’d have to say, look, there’s always a plan. I believe God always has a plan. Life is short no matter what it is. And certainly, we’re not going to make sense of, you know, a young child being shot and killed way before their life expectancy.

They’re not following murder laws, they’re not gonna follow gun laws. So this idea that somehow if you ban guns from law-abiding citizens, somehow these people that kill people, they’re gonna follow the gun law, but they won’t follow the murder laws, is somewhat ridiculous.

— Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, The Houston Chronicle, ‘Life is short’: Ken Paxton faces backlash for suggesting Uvalde massacre was part of God’s plan, June 16, 2022

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 Evangelicals Make Decisions

decision making

Many Evangelicals have a decidedly convoluted, complex process they follow when making decisions. In their minds, it is essential that this process be followed lest they be accused of missing or being out of the will of God. The goal is for every decision to line up perfectly with the will of the Almighty. In Romans 12:1,2, Christians are commanded to seek after the perfect will of God:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 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.

And if Evangelicals find the perfect will of God, that one true God promises to answers to their prayers. 1 John 5:14,15 says:

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

When Evangelicals are faced with an important decision, here’s the process they follow:

  • What does the Bible say about the matter?
  • Pray about the matter.
  • Seek godly counsel about the matter.
  • Has God opened the door for you in this matter?
  • Do you have peace about the matter?

It is only after following this process that Evangelicals can know for sure that they are following the perfect will of God. Some Evangelicals turn to putting out fleeces or casting lots when this process still leaves them with doubt about the rightness of a prospective decision. Both are found in the Bible.

In a 2015 post titled, Putting Out a Fleece, I wrote:

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:36-40)

Let me give you a bit of context. The Israelites, those oft-sinning followers of Jehovah, disobeyed Jehovah and he punished them severely for their sin:

And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD. (Judges 6:1-6)

Jehovah impoverished the Israelites because of their sin. Modern day followers of the Christian God must really be living right because they are definitely not impoverished.

For seven years, God pummeled his followers with the judgment stick. At the end of the seven years, the Israelites cried out to God and God sent a prophet to ask them if they had had enough of his judgment.

After the prophet left, an angel came to an Israelite named Gideon. The angel and Gideon had a conversation:

Angel: The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.

Gideon: Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.

Angel (or Lord): Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?

Gideon: Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.

Angel (or Lord): And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.

Gideon: If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.

God gave Gideon the sign he requested and Gideon went forth to be a messenger for God, for a while.

It seems that Gideon’s skeptical side kept getting in the way. He wanted to make sure it really was God speaking to him, so Gideon asked God to prove to him he really was God.

Gideon put a fleece of wool on the floor. He said if the fleece was wet in the morning and it had not rained (or dew covered the ground) outside he would believe what God had said.

Sure enough, the fleece was wet in the morning. Did Gideon believe God? Nope. Skeptical Gideon asked for more evidence.

Gideon reversed the fleece experiment. He said if the fleece was dry in the morning and there was dew on the ground outside he would believe what God had said.

Sure enough, the fleece was dry in the morning.

God allowed Gideon to test him multiple times. (read Judges 7 to see more of Gideon’s God tests) Evidently, Gideon had a faith that required authentication and proof.

In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement I grew up in, putting out a fleece was common practice. Putting out a fleece was a way of “testing” God or finding out the “will of God.”

….

In Acts 1, the disciples of Jesus were having trouble deciding who should take Judas’ place as an apostle. After praying on the matter, the disciples decided to cast lots — the equivalent of pulling straws to see who gets the short straw — to determine who would be numbered among the eleven apostles. Verses 24-26 state:

And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Evangelicals can follow this process and conclude that God wants them to do something and still find themselves out of the will of God. Christians are encouraged to seek out God’s will. Their pastors preach on the importance of being in the “center” of God will; in running the race as a horse with blinkers on, focused on exactly what it is God wants you to do.  However, when congregants put their pastor’s preaching into practice, they often find themselves at odds with their pastor, elder board, or other church power structures. You see, the men running the show only want you following the will of God if it lines up with their purpose, plan, and agenda for the church. Worse yet, in Evangelical churches that have strict disciplinary practices, following what you believe is the will of God can get you kicked out of the church. Let me illustrate this point. Years ago, I met a single woman at a meeting I was preaching at a Reformed Baptist church in Findlay, Ohio. She had moved to Findlay from the east coast. She told me a heartbreaking story of her believing it was God’s will for her to move to Ohio and her pastor and elder board disagreeing with her. Her being single meant that she had no man to rule over her, so they expected her to submit their authority. After numerous meetings on the matter, she decided to follow her bliss and move. The church leaders punished the woman by excommunicating her.

I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I watched scores of congregants follow the aforementioned process for making decisions. I have watched countless church members make harmful decisions, believing that it was God green-lighting them. I can say the same for some of the decisions I made. I was oh-so-certain that the Captain of my Salvation was leading the way, yet in hindsight it was clear that my decision-making process was flawed or based on wrong or incomplete information. I can confidently say that there are several churches I never should have pastored, yet, at the time, I sincerely believed God wanted me to do so. And therein is the crucial point I want readers to see; that Evangelicals, much like their counterparts in the real world, make decisions based on feelings. If it feels right do it, the old mantra goes. We humans do what we do because we can. We may weigh the pros and cons of a matter, but when it comes right down to it, we choose to do what we want. Evangelicals may think that God is “leading them,” but the fact of the matter is that the only things leading any of us are wants, needs, and desires. In the end, we do what we want to do. We may seek out the counsel of others — certainly a wise idea — but once the opinion of others has been registered, we do what we think is best for ourselves at the time.

I am sixty-one years old. I have made a lot of decisions with and without God — not that there is any difference since there is no God. Many of my decisions have worked out as planned, but others haven’t. I have, over the years, made some horrid, wrong-headed choices. All I can do is learn from my mistakes, and hopefully not repeat them. I am sure the same can be said for all of us. Live long enough and you will have regrets.

Have a decision-making story to share? Please share it in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser