Archives For January 2009

The Lord’s Prayer

January 30, 2009 — 2 Comments

  I have been off the red letters for a few days so now I am going to spend the next few posts on them alone. In the past few weeks I have been reviewing the various commentaries on the Lord’s prayer. Quite frankly many of them aren’t very helpful to me. No one seems to be able to come right out and say what they think they mean in plain talk. Many theologians have “theologian speak”, that is fancy words they throw around, to describe the Lord’s prayer but nothing that the average Christian can make much sense of.

This is probably the most spoken prayer in Christianity and that is as it should be since it came word for word from Jesus Himself. But, I wonder how many people seriously think about what the words mean or do we just parrot them? I admit that I am guilty of the latter on occasion. I am not talking about sitting down and studying what others have said about it but instead trying to form your own opinion guided by the Holy Spirit.

As I say in my “about me” tab I am not a clergyman or a theologian but I am going to humbly attempt in the next few posts to put down my personal feelings about the Lord’s prayer. Some who read this will likely say “how dare he give us his thoughts on the Lord’s prayer; after all theologians have spent a life time trying to do this”. I am also sure there are those who believe quite differently than I as to the meaning of these words and that is quite as it should be. I certainly don’t claim to have an inside track. We each have to find our path to the Lord but it should be a personal path, not a public thoroughfare that we are guided down.

I am an admitted “cafeteria Christian” in that I do not fall lock step in line behind any particular Christian denomination. Instead I take to heart different aspects of different Christian circles. In my mind some denominations have much to offer and yes, some have very little. So I’m sure my humble interpretation of the Lord’s prayer will be different from many of you and certainly not aligned with any particular theologian. In fact it will probably be quite different most of them. I deem the Lord’s prayer and Christianity in general to be a call to action. More on the general theme of the Lord’s prayer in my next post. And following that I will address each individual petition.

It’s Just a Place

January 28, 2009 — 2 Comments

Why do Christians and other religions put such value on the places where their deities or prophets roamed? Jerusalem and its environs have been in a steady state of conflict from before Jesus’ time until now and will probably remain so in the future. It seems like there are constant fights going on over that ground. That is because three of the world’s major religions claim the area as part of their traditions. We seem to idolize the land on which our religious leaders roamed more than the teachings they gave us. I know I am going to offend several of you here but I have to say it. It’s just dirt much like the dirt outside each of our houses. Instead of worshipping the land we should set our hearts on living our lives as Jesus taught us.

I had a completely out of the box idea on foreign policy that I will share with you. Why don’t we dig up six inches of dirt from all over Israel and move it to South Dakota and then offer South Dakota as free sanctuary to all the people who will promise to peacefully live there. That would certainly reduce the reasons for conflicts in the Middle East. I’m sorry but I haven’t worked out the details of what to do the those folks who presently call SD home .

I know, I know that is absolutely not even in sight of the box but I’m not sure any other solution will ever end the conflicts in that part of the world. As Jesus said those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword. Constantly fighting and killing each other is just not the solution but is instead a drastic symptom of our failures. Let’s listen more closely to Jesus’ words rather than where he roamed. It’s just a place.

It’s Just a Face

January 26, 2009 — 1 Comment

 

 We have all seen many pictures such as the above portraying Jesus. Most show him as a fair haired blue eyed person of European descent. Of course in reality that is likely not what Jesus looked like. He probably looked much more like most of the 9/11 terrorists than what we are used to seeing.  Let’s get over what Jesus might have looked like and spend more time thinking about what He tries to teach us. Some people, including I think C.S. Lewis believe that any images of God, including statues of Jesus is a form of idolatry. We must never get fixated on the physical at the least expense of the thoughts. It’s just a face and it almost certainly didn’t have blue eyes.

I find it interesting that the Bible never mentions anything about what Jesus looked like. We just don’t know because it is totally unimportant. I’m sure on His second coming there will be no doubt that it is him no matter what he looks like.

I am going to do a cross blog thing today. I promise not to do it often. Trevin Wax, who is an author and pastor of a Tennessee Baptist church has a blog entitle “Kingdom People”. He has quite a large and loyal following. Wednesday’s post he questioned the “smug superiority” of the United States especially given the recent inauguration. The post below is a comment I posted on his site. To see his entire posting go to http://trevinwax.com/2009/01/21/echoes-of-babel-our-new-national-sin/

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Trevin:

As usual I will take a somewhat contrarian view of some of your statements on this post. Before I start I want to acknowledge that I agree with you on much of the beliefs underlying your message. But I do take exceptions with the examples you use to justify them. Let me comment on your direct words.

  •  “I sense that we as Americans are facing the rise of a new national sin – one that is more subtle and even deadlier than the sins of our past – one that is common to all other empires that have risen and fallen throughout the ages …..
    “I hate to be the one to pop the balloon of our collective national pride in this historic moment, but I sense that we as Americans are facing the rise of a new national sin…. A smug sense of self-righteous superiority that usurps the rightful throne of God.”

Yes, you are the party pooper aren’t you (ha). If you see a smug sense of self-righteous superiority then you must be looking at the last eight years not the coming years. Mr. Bush’s black and white worldview certainly had a smug sense of self-righteousness about it. “We will bring all the nations of the world, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the fold of democracy” Now that is I call smug and totally naive.

What do I see for the coming eight years? I see a country that will finally restore a sense of the “common good” which Catholics are the long term standard bearers (I do admire them for that). I see a government that will return to trying to unify us as citizens of the United States but even more importantly of the world. If only there were the same drive of unity among us Christians maybe we could begin unifying the 35,000 different denominations and seeking the Lords will to be one and He and the Father are one. I see a nation that will strive to be “our brother’s keeper” not one that pushes “ownership” meaning you are on your own.

  • “the average citizens fawning over Obama as if he were the Messiah”
     

I think you are confusing the man with the message. I don’t think the average citizen sees Obama as anything other than a man with inspiring goals for us as a country. There is nothing wrong with attempting, even in the smallest degree, to make God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. The Lord tells us all to do that and it certainly refreshing to see our civil leaders following that theme. After the arrogance of the last eight years it is certainly refreshing indeed! 

I could say that reading your daily blog and all the “right on” comments you receive almost every day that your readers are fawning over you as if you were the Messiah. That would be unfair to you just as it is unfair to put that tag on President Obama.

  • “we can see that what truly unites us as a nation is a sense of superiority over the rest of the world, a belief in America as our savior, a naïve assumption that our cause is always right.”

 Again, I assume you are critiquing the last eight years and not foreseeing the coming years? Is there anything wrong with having a hope and a desire to see a better world than what we have seen in the recent, and even distant’ past? If I approach the world totally in the Pauline mode of being a poor miserable sinner unable to do absolutely anything right then I would say yes any hope is smug superiority. I instead choose to say that through the Lord we can make the world a better place. I don’t call that a “sense of superiority”, I call it a dream to be chased. There is certainly nothing wrong with having dreams especially when they are centered around Jesus and Isaiah’s’ words.

  •  “How many examples of government injustice have to take place before we realize that Christ’s Church is still the greatest force for good in the world?”

I only wish that Christ’s Church were the greatest force for good in the world. If that were true we certainly wouldn’t have to rely on civil government to promote the common good and to make sure our ‘brothers’ are taken care of. But instead what we see is that churches today spend more than 90% of their donations on themselves. They buy ever bigger and bigger temples while the least of these are suffering and dying in our own streets and in most third world countries. You might say that is NOT Christ’s Church and I would certainly agree with you. But that is the face of Christianity today, like it or not.

  • “Nations rise and fall, but the Word of the Lord stands firm forever”

This is one point that we are in total agreement on. That is a nice way to end this discussion so I will stop here. Thank you for your blogs. They are certainly thought provoking.

  
Subtitle: Some very inspiring words

I just finished a book entitled “The Twenty Piece Shuffle” by Greg Paul. It is about a ministry to the poor in the Toronto area. Greg Paul has done such a great job in putting us inside this ministry by telling stories of those who have frequented the mission over the years. It is a very worthwhile read to anyone who would like to understand more about these types of missions and the people who frequent them. At the end of the book Greg bears his heart via the following words

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God, I believe, has granted me resources of intelligence, health, money, emotional stability, position, citizenship, and much much more in the expectation that I will use those resources to lift up my brothers and sisters who are depressed, set free those who are oppressed, seek healing for those who are afflicted, and share with those who are destitute.

God does command, over and over, those who are rich and powerful – the 1 or 2 percent of the world’s population that includes the majority of us living in first world nations – to engage with and care for our poorest “neighbors” spiritually, materially, emotionally, and politically. So clear and consistent is this message, so redolent with it is the life and teaching of Jesus, that it must be said: A wealthy person who claims to follow Jesus and des not find some way to share his or her life and material goods with people who are poor has stumbled off the Way.

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If we could just get this message across to more of us who are rich and powerful wouldn’t it help God’s kingdom come on earth. If you are ready to be surprised by some of the people in this book both for their gentleness and their grittiness then you should pick up a copy of this book.

The Thing about Mary

January 19, 2009 — 1 Comment

 


 I have always wondered why Catholics are so focused on the Virgin Mary and Protestants, except for Christmas Eve, almost totally ignore her? If we read the Gospels and the Book of Acts, besides for Jesus’ birth Mary is mentioned only a couple of times in the text so that doesn’t lead us to believe that Mary had a very prominent role among the early Christians. Some say this is because the culture at the time of these writings treated women more or less as property of men and therefore their accomplishments were downplayed in the writings. Maybe that is true but there were several women who had significant interactions with Jesus during his ministry so I don’t think Jesus personally bought into that line. But then there is St. Paul telling women to be quiet in church and wait till you get home to ask your husband any questions. This seems to feed into that inferior woman mentality of the time.

When Jesus was crucified only the women stuck around. All the male disciples had, at least temporarily, abandoned him. It took the Holy Spirit coming into them to give them the courage the women seem to have never lost. And of course Jesus first appeared to a woman after his resurrection. So the women might have been shortchanged in the Gospel text. But that still doesn’t explain why Mary seems to be on an almost equal footing with Jesus in the eyes of many Catholics, at least attention wise?

I read somewhere, but I can’t remember where right now, that one view of this is that Mary was actually a PR project by one of the Popes around 500AD. Ok, I will probably get flamed here but I want to tell you what I heard. It seems that around that time Christians, meaning Catholics, were having a hard time competing with pagan goddesses who were very popular at the time. To counteract that the church started giving Mary much more status than they had before that. Now I don’t know how much truth is in that. I would welcome anyone to set me straight if you have evidence this story is way off base.

I personally think Mary deserves all our respect. After all she did give birth to the Son of God. But, I think the Catholics have gotten carried away with their almost deity of her. There is only one son of God and everything and everyone else takes a very distant second to Him. It is not about Mary, Paul, or the Apostles. Our attention should be focused on Jesus and Jesus alone. But as I usually say these are just my opinions and I will respect other who differ from them. One final pet peeve of mine, as with Jesus, Mary always being shown as blue eyed fair complexion young girl. Please remember that Mary was a Middle Easterner like Jesus. She very most likely had dark hair and brown eyes.

Salt of the Earth?

January 16, 2009 — Leave a comment


 
 

 Just what does it mean when Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth.” That phrase doesn’t have much meaning for us today but it was very clear to those who lived 2,000 years ago. About the only thing we hear about salt today is that we are getting too much of it in our diets. Too much salt can result in high blood pressure which can lead to heart attacks or strokes. So, was Jesus condemning us by saying we are the salt of the earth?

Salt back in Jesus’ day was a very scarce and valuable commodity. Among other things it was used for preserving meat. If you didn’t have salt your life was much more challenging. So, to say that you are the salt of the earth meant that you were very valuable and much needed. These words are a short distance past the Beatitudes. It is important for us to always realize that some things in the bible just don’t mean the same thing today as they meant back then. This, in my opinion, includes some of the sexist comments made by Paul about women being quiet in church. Women were definitely thought to be inferior to men in Christ’s day. But, that does not mean that it is meant for all times. Indeed, Jesus by his actions showed that he didn’t believe it either.

Christian Doublespeak?

January 14, 2009 — Leave a comment

 I’m going to move away from my focus on the red letters to look a little at what St. Peter said in the book of Acts

 Acts 2:14-21

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 These are some powerful words from St. Peter. Many Christian churches say that since Christ has come and saved us that there is no longer a need for prophets and therefore God has not sent any. But these verses say that sons, daughters, servants and others will prophesize. Maybe the church distinguishes between the act and the person? At the other end of the spectrum, there are churches that claim that their pastor is a prophet and the congregation therefore has an inside track to God’s plans. I was a visitor at a church like this once and they seemed to be praising the pastor/prophet almost to the exclusion of Jesus Christ! I believe that those preachers are letting their pride take over a big part of their lives. That is very dangerous for themselves and of course their congregation.

I just don’t know what is the right answer for accepting people who call themselves prophets in the coming days.

The curse of riches

January 12, 2009 — 1 Comment

 Matt 19:24

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

  Putting a camel through an eye of a needle sounds like an impossible task! That is unless the needle is the size of a building. Will there be no rich men (or women) in heaven? These types of words are among those used by some who say Christianity is just to appease the masses and is otherwise useless. There argument goes like this:

Everyone who is currently poor (often as a result of those who are greedy and rich) would like to believe that the rich won’t be with them in heaven. They have had their rewards on this earth. The Bible has these types of verses to make the poor feel better about being poor.

Others say these words are meant to say show that God can do anything. Even pull a person through the head of a needle. I think the answer to this lies somewhere in the middle. That is, if a person becomes rich treating money as his god and has little or not concept of being their brothers keeper then he has replaced the real God with a worldly item and he has not taken the words of Jesus to heart. Among these type of people are Christians as well as non-Christians. They will definitely discover the error of their ways in the next life. But, then again this is probably one of those verses that will mean something different to me next week or next year. There are a lot of those types of red letters in the Bible. They keep us thinking and studying.

There is a wide disparity of opinion about how true to Christ mega-churches are. I probably fall somewhere in the middle of that opinion. As I see it, the pastor of the small church that I currently attend doesn’t have much good to say about any of them. He seems to say that, in order to appeal to the most number of people, they dilute the words of Christ almost beyond recognition. And, of course, they would never show a cross in their building because they believe is just too much of a downer. He doesn’t seem to differentiate one mega-church from another; as far as he is concerned they are all pretty much the same.

I do believe that some mega-churches are as my pastor describes but there are others who follow a truer path to Christ. Many churches become very large on the skills and personality of their pastors. As long as those pastors don’t let the sin of pride consume them, and many of them in the past have done just that, then they are indeed expanding Christ’s mission on this earth according to His will. Rick Warren is one of the very successful mega-church pastors. He is senior pastor at Saddlebrook Church in California. To the disdain of many in the homosexual community, he will be giving the invocation at the Obama inaugural coming up in a couple of weeks. He is the author of The Purpose Driven Life and several other similar themed books. He is also a reverse tither in that he gives 90% of his income back to God’s work. He doesn’t fixate on the “poor miserable sinner” aspect as many evangelical churches seem to but instead chooses to concentrate on viewing God as a benevolent father who loves us all. Just what mix of benevolent God/Vengeful God is proper I don’t know and I’m not sure anyone really knows.

I think the put downs on mega-churches by some is from a streak of envy rather than strict theological boundaries. It is hard to see your church shrinking while the mega-churches are growing and not have a tinge of pain. A book that I will soon be reviewing on this blog is entitled The Present Future by Reggie McNeal covers this topic in more detail. In the book Reggie McNeal questions the old notions of what the church is and should be in today’s world.

We who are in smaller churches should, instead of putting down the mega-churches, be trying to learn from them how to bring more people to Jesus Christ. All the glory be to God alone.