Archives For June 2011

If God is Love (Part 2)

June 29, 2011 — 1 Comment

This is a continuation of my collection of snippets from the book by Philip Gulley entitled If God is Love.

The Psalmists boats, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hate. I count them my enemies” (Psalm 139:21-22). Hatred, when directed at those we have judged wicked, becomes a sign of religious devotion rather than a grievous sin. The enemy is not loved, but destroyed, not prayed for, but preyed upon.

We can protest religious hatred and violence are sins of the past, but to do so we must ignore current Christian visions of the future. How do we explain the tremendous popularity of the “Left Behind” series of books? These books, which have sold millions of copies have spawned two movies, portray a future in which Evangelical Christians are saved while everyone else is destroyed. They proclaim a Jesus with a sword in hand atop a charging steed, initiating a violent end.

Our violent religious past and expectations of a wrathful future impinge on Christian behavior today. David Beneke, a leader in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, discovered this reality shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He was suspended for eighteen months from his duties and required to defend himself before a variety of denominational panels. His sin was not something as radical as believing in the salvation of all people. His crime was joining with Muslim, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, and Sikh religious leaders in a prayer service at Yankee Stadium. He was accused of praying with “heathens”. He said “This ordeal reveals the hard side of Christianity”.

If fairness, similar stories abound in other religious traditions. This arrogant exclusivity plagues all the great religions. Adherents of each faith hate the “other” — Christians hate heathens; Muslims hate infidels; Jews hate Gentiles. For many, religion is how we decide who to love and who to hate.

As I have said many times Jesus melted down the Old Testament laws into just two: Love God and Love your fellow man. Hate was not in this mix. Why do so many current day religious institutions base so much of their practices on hate? One thing I love about reading Philip Gulley is that he doesn’t pull any punches. He certainly didn’t in this example. 🙂

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Since judgment day seems to be on the short list of things Christians talk about lets look at the story about it as spoken by Jesus Christ:

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

(Matthew 25)

Many Christians like to quote the part here about separating the sheep and the goats. They take this separation to mean the believers and the non-believers. This is yet another example of Christians who take a few sentences out of a store and twist it to accommodate their version of faith.  If you read the entire store it is clear that Jesus is also talking about those who care for the “least of these” and those who don’t. Those who think of their faith as more or less fire insurance should be shaken by these words. It is not enough that you make some proclamation of faith and then go back to the way you were before. As James so directly put it, your faith must be backed up by action or you have no faith at all! Jesus made it clear just what a big part of that action is. Yes, faith in Jesus as your savior will be a critical factor on judgment day but it will not be the only factor. Many will have proclaimed “Lord, Lord” at some point in their lives but will not enter into heaven on that final day. That is what this story is all about.

Lessons Learned….

June 25, 2011 — 4 Comments

I have been getting hit by some because I don’t quote the Bible often enough for them.  As I have stated many times before I am just not a “chapter and verse” Christian. I do read the Bible frequently but instead of memorizing the words I try to learn the lessons behind the words and then attempt to make those lessons a part of my daily life. As far as I am concerned there are just too many “bible thumpers” around today.  I will not be one of those.  When I was in my godless years the bible thumpers constantly quoting this sentence and then that one actually had a negative effect on me. I might have come to God sooner if I had not been exposed to them. When I accepted Christ back in my life many years ago I vowed to never be like them.

This topic also goes back to one a few posts ago about not being able to see the forest for the trees. If you are too focused on each of the words (trees) you lose site of the overall message (forest) those words are meant to convey.  And as I have also  said several times before anyone, if they look hard enough can find some “words” in the Bible to back up whatever circumstance they want to push.  By looking at the lessons the Lord intended us to discover we can apply them to our lives and therefore be more pleasing to God. I am not one of those who think that God views me a something less than a bowl of snot. Yes I am a sinner but I am also a saint. It is my job to make sure that I be more saint than sinner. If I do that I believe that God is pleased with the responsibilities he has put upon me. If I lay back and say that I can’t do anything because I am a poor miserable sinner then I must realize that I am  shunning the responsibilities that God has given to each of us. We are to do two things while on this earth, to love God and to Love each other.

So here I am as usual telling you that God loves you and wants you to take his message of love into your heart. Until you do that you will always be seeking something that seems to be missing from your life. Taking on the responsibilities that God puts on you is a life filling ambition.

I am going to start a series of posts around quotes from some of the many books I have read. One of the favorites is the book “If God is Love” by Philip Gulley. Here is the quote for today:

When Jesus redefined kinship, he was challenging their exclusive circle by declaring that anyone in any place who did the will of God regardless of social standing or religious affiliation, was his brother or sister.  Kinship is not a matter of racial, religious, or cultural conformity. It was the by-product of a commitment of the will of God — to love and care for all.

The theology of love begins with the assumption that all people are God’s cherished children and deserving of love. “We love because he first loved us. Those who say ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars, for they do not love a brother or sister who they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen”  (1 John 4:19-20). Jesus demonstrated his lover for outcasts, those many considered unlovable. Regrettably, many Christians have been unwilling to adopt the ethic of Jesus — a theology of inclusion, acceptance, and love, We’ve been unwilling to love and accept our enemies. We haven’t even be excited about loving our neighbors.

We should all be getting out of our church pews and into the community to re-affirm that we do indeed love our neighbor. We must show the Lord’s love in our lives if we are true followers of Jesus Christ. To hunker down in our church building  against the big bad world and wait for the second coming is not what Jesus preached. Jesus was a lover of the unlovable and we should at least attempt to do the same. If we are only willing to allocate those two hours a week on Sunday mornings to God then maybe we should occasionally skip the pews and get out in the community and get our hands dirty!

I must admit that I feel closer to God when I do community service than when I am sitting in a church pew.  And that is how it should be.

The Old Testament has always been a struggle for me. I find far too many places where God’s wrath is brutally shown. This is in such a total contrast with Jesus Christ I know in the New Testament. It is almost like the good cop/bad cop scenarios that play out so much on the TV cop shows. I tend to refer to it as the all powerful God vs. the all loving God. Can the two really co-exist or did God basically change his management style between the Old Testament and the New Testament or you could say between the old and the new covenant? These are the things I have been thinking about lately. I know they are theological in nature and I have sworn off that sort of thing but it still crops up from time to time. I just can’t seem to help it.

I must admit that I almost ignore the power side of God. In that sense I seem to be in conflict with many evangelical religious establishments today who  revel in God’s power. They deem that God is all powerful and absolutely everything that happens happens because He has willed it.  One of the dictionary definitions of the word will  is: the faculty of conscious and especially of deliberate action.

So following this “all powerful” to it’s conclusion means that God deliberately brought millions of children into existence so that he could kill one every three seconds today by depriving them to have safe drinking water or enough to food to eat! Or in another example he purposefully created all the dictators of the world so that they could kill thousands (millions collectively) of the people for little or no reason.  The people who  pray to the all powerful God say they don’t understand these sort of things but God must have a divine purpose for his extreme brutality.  I find it very difficult to even contemplate praying to that kind of god.

Here is how I see all of this: 

I kind of believe in the God of the Possible as illustrated by Greg Boyd in one of his many books. That along with the fact that God gave man free will answers the good god/bad god dichotomy for me. No, God is not responsible for all those children dying. That pitiful condition belongs totally to us humans. We are the ones who can’t seem to get along with one another.

Jesus told us to love one another; we just can’t seem to get that right especially when it comes to loving across national borders. God gave us free will and except for some very very rare circumstance he does not go back on his word.  It is not God doing his will, as some say, that causes all the suffering in the world it is that WE don’t do God’s will to love one another.

I know I have no right to speculate but so many theologians do it every day so here goes. I do kind of believe that God did change his approach on how to guide us between the old and the new covenants. He could see that the “powerful God” approach just didn’t work with us sinful human being and at that point He just decided to love us anyway.  God’s love is called agape love that is it doesn’t have conditions attached. What the ramification of that has concerning heaven and hell are a matter for a future post.

Source:  Wanted: 1,000 Pastors For the Poor – Jim Wallis – God’s Politics Blog.

Sojourners, which is a Christian based organization founded on the principle that  Christians are called to be their brother’s keeper and that governments are accountable for the well-being of all their citizens. The source post is a call for 1,000 pastors to come forward and say cutting the safety net out from under those in dire needs should be the last thing to take the axe in today’s deficit reduction mantra (These are my words not Sojourners)

Here is part of the letter calling for 1,000 local pastors to stand up for the poor in their communities:

We are local pastors. Our lives are committed to our churches and communities … We work, pray, and do whatever we can to remain faithful to the responsibility of every Christian to help the poor. Still, we can’t meet the crushing needs by ourselves. We do our best to feed the hungry, but charitable nutrition programs only make up 6% of total feeding programs in the country while the government makes up 94% …  We have seen this support allow young people to be the first members of their families to get college degrees, ensure mothers can feed their children a healthy diet, enable those with disabilities to live fulfilling lives, give much-needed medical care to those who can’t  afford it, support seniors, provide housing for families, and help people in finding a job.

As the post, and the words above mention, presently only 6% of the needs of feeding the poor come from charitable programs (that includes Christian and secular sources and only includes the U.S. ). Since Christians can’t/won’t step up to answer Jesus’ call we must insist that your government representatives continue to fill the gap for us.  As Ron Paul, a Libertarian candidate for president has said, we must cut absolutely everything possible for other programs/budgets before we start cutting strings from the people’s safety net.

I wonder if there are 1,000 pastors out there willing to take this call?

This is going to be a short post about the religious establishments of today. I hope this closes out my recent thoughts in this area. I really want to move on to other things about Jesus. This post is based on some words in the book entitled If the Church Were Christian by Philip Gulley. Here are those words:

We have built a vast institution based on these “hints” Jesus gave us.  But we should never delude ourselves into thinking that today’s church sprang directly from the mind and witness of Jesus.  All we have is extrapolation, a few bones upon which have been erected a larger organism.”

As Mr. Gulley pointed out further in his book this is like building a dinosaur skeleton based on just a couple of vertebrae. Its seems a stretch to do that but in reality that is what actually happens at least with dinosaurs.

These words by Philip Gulley have had a serious effect on my life. Up until I read them I, as most people seem to do, ignored that Jesus said very little about establishing a formal religion to replace the then current day Judaism. As Mr. Gulley says we have taken a few bones and erected a vast institution around them. Since we are actually so fragmented you might even say we have established many vast institutions and each one thinks that they are the only ones to truly follow Jesus’ few words in this area.

I am hard pressed to really know what the “proper” response to this dilemma should be? Most of what we know as the Christian church is actually based on the words of Paul not Jesus. I know Paul was a big time guy in the Jewish hierarchy so starting a new religious establishment is where he would naturally migrate. Was Paul inspired by God? At some level I’m sure he was but was it really Jesus’ intention to let Paul and a few others  show us the “rules” on how to live as followers of Jesus? I personally am just not ready to accept that premise in totality.

I must admit that I have become pretty turned off by most theological things. At one time I was deeply embedded in theology and studied it on almost a daily basis. But after several years at it I discovered that, like the original Bob Newhart TV show character did about psychology, that theology is pretty much a crock! 🙂  Of course the business of theology is pretty much interpreting scriptures.

Many of us get carried away with “interpreting” scriptures. We take a message that says one thing and try to turn it into something else or in some cases we might take  add a few words to make it mean exactly what we want.  This post is sort of aligned with the one about mining tidbits in scriptures but in my mind intentionally misinterpreting the words to fit a particular agenda, as some seem to do, is even more harmful. I think much of this, especially by the amateur theologian, is a very innocent practice. We read the words and automatically think it means one particular thing. So, we add a word or two to make that meaning clearer. Much of this “adding words” is innocent in nature but some of it is very intentional and not for noble purposes but more for self glorification.

When I personally look at Jesus’ words I try to take them for what they say, not necessarily what I want them to say. In some places I am disappointed that he didn’t go on to say something a little clearer to me but I am not about to intentionally put words in Jesus’ mouth! If anyone has the ability to say what he means it surely was Jesus.

I must admit that when I read the words of Jesus in totality,  and I do this on at least a semi-annual basis, he spends too much time talking about the kingdom of heaven and other such things for me. Since I am an altruist through my soul I want him to say more about “the least of these” and being “my brother’s keeper”.  He does speak often about that but not enough for me. Some of Jesus’ words just don’t make much sense to me, at least at this stage of my life. I know there are a myriad of theologians out there to “help” me with those areas. I certainly know that there are many who are more wise than I am but in reality I’m pretty sure most are just guessing as I do.

I try very hard is not to add words or change the meanings of what Jesus says to fit my particular agendas. I pray that I will always become aware when I might be trying doing that.

The Duality of Jesus??

June 12, 2011 — 1 Comment

I’m sure according to the theologians I have the wrong word in the title  but in this post I want to spend some time pondering the duality of Jesus. That is Jesus the man and Jesus the God.

Here are some words of a Quaker friend of mine:

It is not that Jesus is God more than he is human, or human more than he is God, but that the nonduality of human and divine is encapsulated in his life….                     http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/jesus-christ-a-integral

While I don’t by any means agree with all of this post this sentence got me to seriously think about Jesus being human  It is hard to conceive that Jesus being God could ever think and have emotional responses as we humans do!  I remember bringing this up as a young boy in Catholic grade school. I believe a nun’s, or maybe it was a priest’s , explanation made me more confused than before I blurted out the question. The answer basically, as a twelve-year-old remembers it, was that Jesus did not really understand his divinity until he was baptized by John the Baptist. The thirty years of his life up until that time he lived pretty much as a human, that is with human understandings and emotions. I don’t know how the responder to my question would have handled the gospel story about the young Jesus in the temple as I did not know enough to bring it up at the time.  I am not saying that this answer is according to Catholic teachings or even if I remember it correctly.  But this was the first encounter with my questions about Jesus being human.

After contemplating this dichotomy for the next fifty-some years I still have problems dealing with the human side of Jesus. Jesus being human would almost be like me morphing into the body of an ant and still maintaining my human intellect. Would any of my fellow ants really understand if I tried to tell them about that “other world” of human beings? Could I really understand and live my life as an ant? It seems my human side would drown out that possibility. To me the divinity of Jesus would also surely drown out his human nature. How can the two co-exist?

Jesus several times in the Bible said he did not know the answers that God the Father knew. This goes to the understanding of the trinity more than the human side of Jesus but maybe in that response Jesus was displaying his human nature. If as the theologians conceived several centuries after Jesus left the earth that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three in one (the Trinity) then how could one know something that the other didn’t? I’m sure if I dug into this deeper I could find a myriad of different explanations from scores of different theologians. But, that is not what I am about at this point in my life. I guess I am just ready to continue to ponder this type of thing and let it ride as such. It is small stuff when it come to my faith. But as usual I have questions. That is just who I am.

Getting Back…

June 10, 2011 — 2 Comments

I have been away from the red letters for a while now so it is time to get back to them. Let’s look at Matthew 7. In that chapter Jesus talks about  heavenly things including doing the will of God. Jesus uses several parables and other stories to relay his message about the heavenly kingdom and who and how we are to get there. One of these messages is about a tree and it’s fruits.

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.You will know them by their fruits.Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you;

Matthew 7:15-23

Here is what I hear Jesus saying in these words and how it relates to us today.  There are many people who call themselves Christians but are really more of this world than dedicated to Jesus’ teachings.The way Jesus (and us) will know the difference is how they act.  In today’s terms they talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk.  Or maybe the old saying “Actions speak louder than words” is more relevant for you. If they only mouth the words and don’t put them into action (don’t bear fruit) then when judgment day comes  Jesus will say “I never knew you”.

Some say the reference of being thrown in the fire is about hell. I’m not sure I am ready to accept that. Maybe it just means they will not be part of the harvest. In Jesus’ time they burned the chaff and stalks to clear the fields after harvest. When I read these words I think of the Barna study I posted about a while ago. In that study most people could not tell a Christian from a non-Christian by the way they live their lives. In other words they were not bearing the fruit of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

This is one of many places where Jesus confirms what his brother James said in his epistle and that  is faith without works is a dead faith and may very well not get you past the gates. Christianity is not a sit back and wait religion.