Archives For August 2011

I got to thinking recently about what did Jesus teach us about where we were supposed to come together to worship God. As I have mentioned before there is actually almost nothing in the Bible about this topic. But I can take the many other words of Jesus and postulate what he would likely say if he had addressed this area.  Here is what I think Jesus would say.

The ideal church building would be in someone’s home. If the group is too large for that then it would be in a rented facility that is used for other purposes the other six days of the week.  Things like a dance studio, a movie theater, or other similar places would be ideal.  When Jesus told the rich man that in order to be a follower of Jesus Christ he should sell everything he had and give it to the poor and then come and follow him he was pointing us in this direction. When we spend such large amount of money building giant cathedrals aren’t we actually repeating what the rich man was doing?  Aren’t we putting ourselves and our comfort before God’s commands?

Jesus clearly told us that the church is not the building, it is the people themselves. As long as there are people in need, and as he said there will always be people in need, we should spend our collections in meeting those needs and not on lavish, or even not so lavish, buildings. If we did that then we might not have to rely on our government to do it in our place. The early Christians did meet in homes but somewhere along the line the Catholic church turned their attention to brick and mortar and became distracted from people’s needs.

So, in my mind Jesus would be pleased if we just stopped all these massive building projects in his name. Why do we spend so much money on buildings that are basically only used on Sunday mornings?  Are we actually just building comfortable club houses for ourselves?  God does not intend us to build monuments, some would say idols, to Him but instead to build loving relationships with each other including the least of these.

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The title to this post certainly sounds like an ultra pompous statement doesn’t it?  But this is indeed what some Christians are saying when they cling to the “Sola Scriptura” doctrine. To say that God has nothing else to teach us besides what is contained the documents that were collected more than sixteen hundred years ago is depriving them of much needed help in living in the world today.  In that regard I feel deeply sorry for those that stubbornly cling to the concept of “Sola Scriptura”. They are depriving themselves of lessons God has been teaching the rest of us for so many years.

But it seems at least to my simple mind that Jesus told us something different in that same book. Why do some overlook those words? Let’s look at those red letters.

I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Jesus clearly told us in these and similar passages that God will teach us additional things when we are ready to learn them.  In my opinion we are still learning things from the Holy Spirit today and will continue into the future. To say that God finished giving us lessons and insight almost two thousand years ago is utter nonsense to me!  As examples when the Bible was compiled people were just not ready to hear that women were not property of men or that slavery was not an institution blessed by God. It would be many years before we were ready to hear those types of lessons. 

One of the lessons in the above text I still don’t really understand but maybe someday I will and that is why did Jesus have to leave in order for the Holy Spirit to come?  But I am certainly grateful for the messages that the Holy Spirit continues to give us generally and me personally about living our lives as Jesus expects.

Lets jump a little further in the chapter of John cited in the previous post.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.

John 15, 12-17

If anyone has any doubts that Jesus had commands he told us to follow the above verses should strike down that doubt. Again and again in these verses Jesus used the word “command”. I’m sure there are some of the ever-present theologians out there that will somehow take the word “command” and turn it into something else. After all they have had almost two thousand years to hone in on that task.  But for me I take the word command to be what the current dictionary says it is:

com·mand      [kuh-mand, -mahnd]   verb (used with object)

1. to direct with specific authority or prerogative; order

2. to require authoritatively; demand

3. to have or exercise authority or control over

4. to deserve and receive (respect, sympathy, attention, etc.)

All of these definitions certainly point to what Jesus says. Jesus certainly had the authority to direct, demand, and have control over us. And what did Jesus command. The first command here was to love one another as he loved us.  That is an impossible command but we should strive to do it just the same.  Jesus said you are my friends if you do what I command. So, if we try to do what he commands we are no longer slaves to our weaknesses; in other words we are no longer just poor miserable sinners but are now friends of Jesus and therefore God. What an exhilarating feeling this is if we just take these words to heart.  Yes Jesus did come to us when we were in a far less than noble shape but now through Jesus we have the ability to do what he commands.  As is common with many of his talks with us Jesus closes out this one repeating one more time what he commands us to do.

I have been away from the red letters for too long in this blog. For that reason we will spend the next several posts getting back to the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and that is to take his words and especially his commands to heart.

Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

John 14, 11-15

I chose these words because of several things. One is that Jesus says that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. Some say this is a foundation for the concept of the Trinity but I don’t necessarily take it as such. To me it just says the Jesus and God in heaven are aligned in everything Jesus does and says. So, we are to treat Jesus’ words as if they came directly from God the Father himself. Let’s look as some of those words in this text.

Jesus says if you believe in God then you will imitate him in the works that he did. But he even goes beyond that and says that if you really believe in God you will actually do greater works than Jesus! So much for the belief that we are all just poor miserable sinners incapable of anything good!!  Jesus, by the words found here, was staking his reputation on his actions. He even said if you don’t necessarily believe in me then believe in the works that I do. He certainly puts a lot of emphasis on works in these words doesn’t he. In that regard when he says when you ask in my name (and in the works that I do), I will do it, he is saying when you do the works that I do I will be there to help you out. So when you do good works Jesus is there to help you out. What an awesome thought!

The final verse in this quote is the kicker. If you love me you will keep my commandments. Just what were the commandments of Jesus. He told us elsewhere in this words that the new covenant he brought only contained two commands and that is to love God and to love each other. He also made it clear that all the Old Testaments laws could be wrapped up in his new covenant and therefore in these two commands.  Notice that Jesus did not call his commands “suggestions if you feel like it”, he called them commands. These words like so many others found in the red letters goes contrary to what many who call themselves Christians today espouse.  When Jesus commands we should be listening but it seems many of us have glossed over these type words to make them almost meaningless. I am certainly not one of those and I hope and pray that each and every one of you who are reading these words aren’t either. When Jesus commands I am certainly going to listen.

Putting God in a Box….

August 20, 2011 — 2 Comments

When we insist that our version of God is the only true one are we putting God in a Box?  That is are we limiting him to how we currently perceive him or maybe just want him to be? I think that is the case with many Christians today. Here are some examples of putting God in a restrictive box:

  • The Bible contains everything we need to know about God — Jesus clearly told us that we are not, nor in my opinion will we ever be, ready to know everything about God; he will wait until the appropriate time to give us additional information as we need it.  When we block out that new information we are blocking out God himself and limiting him to what we currently know about him.
  • When Jesus said xxx he was definitely talking about yyy — This is the practice of taking something that Jesus has said and turning it around to mean something else. This seems to be too common in some of today’s religious institutions.  When Jesus told us the story about doing for the “least of these” he concluded it by saying if you don’t do this then our father in heaven will not recognize you on judgment day.  Those are direct words from Jesus that seem to have been totally changed into something else today, particularly by those who deem “works” to be a totally unnecessary aspect of Christianity.
  • All we need to know about God is he saved us wretched beings from eternal damnation — Several Christian denominations today put all of Jesus’ messages to be centered around his coming to save mankind from themselves.  They fixate on our sinfulness instead of our potential.  In that regard they make God into our savior and for the most part ignore the he is also, and maybe more importantly, our Lord. They turn Jesus into a life insurance policy and ignore the other 90% of his messages to us.
  • God is only going to save people who believe as we do. Everyone else is damned to eternal agony. — If this is not putting God in a box I don’t know what is. The people who fixate on “everyone is going to hell except us” have made God into their own personal savior. They totally discount the possibility that God just may, as he said through Jesus, desire that all men come to know him. They don’t give God the power to do what he says.
The above examples are just a few that are around today where people fashion a god to meet their personal needs and then limit him to that task. It is ludicrous for us to limit God to what we want him to be based our current understanding. When we do that we are saying that we know the heart of God and there is nothing else to be learned about him.  When we say we know everything about God and what he wants us to know isn’t that to one degree or another  putting ourselves in God’s place.
God is who he is and that is something that none of us can ever totally fathom.  To try to keep God contained in your personal or even denominational vision of him is almost as detrimental as not believing in God at all. God cannot be contained in your versions of him nor can he be totally contained in a small compilation of words written by men about him.

What We Read….

August 18, 2011 — Leave a comment

This post will be sort of a first review of the book entitled The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith. I say sort of because I will primarily be discussing something that the book brought to mind and not the book itself. The book is primarily about how many evangelicals have put the Bible into an impossible position by their very narrow interpretations. It goes into quite a bit of detail to back up this proposition. While the subject of the book is captivating the book is somewhat dry and full of biblical terms not commonly known by laymen. I will struggle through the book to glean the info it provides but it will not be particularly enjoyable. With this brief introduction out of the way let’s  get on to the topic at hand.

Here is a quote from the book to start this discussion:

If what I have said in the book so far is true, one would think that biblicists would be deeply troubled by interpretive pluralism and the implications it has for the biblicists theory of scripture, revelation, and truth. But for the most part they are not…..One possibility concerns the structure of social networks among biblicists. We know sociologically that the principle of “homophily” (love for and attraction to what is similar to oneself) is one of the strongest forces in social life. As a result biblicists (and many other Christians) who interpret the Bible in the same way have a very strong tendency to cluster together into homogeneous social networks…

Long story short those who believe in a very narrow view of the Bible never study anything outside of that belief. So, if the only thing you expose yourself to is your narrow view of something it is very difficult to see the consequences of your actions or to effect any change in your belief system.  During some discussion with my “literal and inerrant” friend this topic came up occasionally. I had asked him a number of times if he had read this or that book and he always said he didn’t. Once I gave him a copy of a book that was in no way controversial as far as theology was concerned. It concentrated totally on God’s love for us and our fellow-man.  About two weeks later I asked him if he had read the book and he said that he skimmed it and found too much that he didn’t agree with to read anymore. I was totally shocked by his comment! The book was about God’s love and that was it.

This and other incidents like it showed me that my “literal and inerrant” friend read very narrowly when it came to religious matters. It saddens me that those who hold very narrow views of God and scripture will make no attempt to understand those who view things differently. I can only imagine that they might believe that if they do venture outside their current belief system they may come to doubt some of the things they hold so dearly.

The way to enlightenment in almost any area of life it to study the different possibilities and then come to a knowledgeable and nuanced conclusion.  By locking out that possibility the “literal and inerrant” group are insuring their eventual demise and given the current church membership statistics that demise seems to be approaching more quickly these days.

This is a continuation of my discussions of the book entitled “When God Is Love” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. Here is the quote for today:

Working to make the world a more gracious place wasn’t a priority in the churches of my childhood. Some of this negligence was a result of apolcalyptic interpretations in which the world was doomed and damned anyway. One man insisted we shouldn’t work for peace in the Middle East because we were simply postponing Armageddon and the return of Christ. However, the primary reason the church didn’t have time to change the world was because we expended so much energy trying to save souls. We’d work for weeks on revivals, evangelism programs, mission support, and the like. We didn’t have time for soup kitchens, visiting prisoners, or working with the homeless — unless of course, we could figure out a way to work in an altar call.

When I became convinced of God’s intention to save every person, my perspective on the purpose of life changed. Salvation became a lifelong adventure in which God is gently and patiently drawing us away from self-absorption and toward authentic relationship with God and one another. The point of life was no longer to get saved or to save others. The purpose of life was to live graciously. Freed of personal anxiety about God’s acceptance and no longer obsessed with creating others in my own image, I was able to focus on what it means to be rather than do.

Working to make the world a more gracious place is still not much of a priority in today’s church. While I am yet to be fully in the camp that God will in his own way bring all souls to him, I am fully on board that much of the current church approach to those outside the faith is misguided. When we quit looking at others as projects to be converted and instead as fellow human being to be loved our whole approach to them changes. They become fellow children of God and not heathens to be saved.  The way we point others to Christ is through our actions and not our words or even necessarily those words found in our ancient books.

Lets finish up with a follow up quote on this subject.

Saving souls isn’t about altar calls, but about responding graciously to those we encounter in our daily lives. Being gracious is not about inviting others to our church, but about living an inviting life — one both attractive and winsome. The purpose of life isn’t to create more Christians , but “to let our lights shine before others, so they will see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven” Matthew 5:16

A few posts ago, and several other times on this blog, I have stated that we all at some time, and often many times, question what is our purpose in life. Why did God create us. I think Mr. Gulley and Mr. Mulholland have got it right in that regard. We are to be like the Son and let our lights shine in order to point others to Christ. Alter calls and such just don’t hack it. They never have and they never will.

The Nature of God….

August 14, 2011 — 2 Comments

Trying to determine the nature of God is something many who are much smarter than I am have been doing since our very existence. I don’t pretend to have any answers that they have not considered.  But, I have been looking at a different understanding of God at least from a personal perspective. This new approach came from a comment on a previous post here on RLL.  In that post I was lamenting how I have  trouble reconciling the God of the Old Testament to Jesus Christ in the New.  To me these two faces of God have always seemed to be in stark contract to each other.

The comment I received on this post was to the effect that maybe differences between the Old and New Testament Gods is the difference in men and not in God? I have been living in the “literal and inerrant bible” world for so long that I never really considered this a possibility.

  • Could it be that the Old Testament writers just didn’t understand the true nature of what God was telling them?
  • Could many of the words that they recorded have contained some well-intentioned words of man and were not words from God?
  • Many of today’s evangelist, mostly of the TV variety it seems, say they have direct contact with God but then they say things that are contrary to God’s nature. Could this be the case with some of the Old Testament writers as well?

I cling to the idea that God is God and therefore infinitely more wise than any of his creations could possibly be. When we see differences in our written text of God those difference just might have occurred due to man’s inability to understand God and his messages to us. Are we are making God into our image of what we want him to be by believing everything the biblical writers thought (or maybe wanted) him to be?

To my “literal and inerrant” friend this idea goes against everything he believes God to be. As he often says that if the Bible contains even one error then the whole thing must the thrown out as we therefore cannot believe anything in it. This type of logic, which primarily has come in to prominence in the last century or so, has put a tight straight jacket on their versions of Christianity. To say that if somethings is not 100% pure then it is worthless certainly prevents them from gaining new insights of God.

So, here I am contemplating the idea that the God of the Old Testament is very much the same God as Jesus Christ portrayed Him in the New Testament. The only difference is that in the beginning man’s understanding of God was very hazy at best but has evolved over time. Do I cling to this concept the same way my “literal and inerrant” friend clings to the total purity of absolutely ALL Biblical words? Certainly not!  I only think of this as another  possibility.  As God permits me to understand him more thoroughly this concept may end up in the trash alongside the totally inerrant and literal Bible.   The Bible is absolutely the greatest document ever written by man but the total understanding of God is just too big for even those pages. As man evolves, God continues to give us increasing understanding  into his true nature.

So it turns out that this intended study of the nature of God is actually a continuation of the study of man. God is unchanging; our study and understanding of him is not.

I am Humbled….

August 12, 2011 — Leave a comment

It is amazing to me that this blog is almost three years old and now contains  300 posts. It also humbles me that so many really care enough about what I have to say to come back so often.

  • If you want to see what I have talked about in the past the best way is to click on one of the topics in the tag cloud below or just search for a word or two in the search box above.
  • If you want to see some more, outside the area of Red Letter Living, that I blog about see my other blog at RJ’s Corner
Thanks for making me a part of your daily life. Let’s all strive to live by the Red Letters each and every day of our lives.

The Nature of Man…

August 10, 2011 — Leave a comment

Since this is my 300th post to this blog and as I am coming off a rather long hiatus, I thought I would handle an impossible topic and that is the nature of man.  I apologize in advance for this post’s length but describing the nature of man will take a few more than the five hundred words I try to limit my posts to. 🙂

The nature of man is to seek God –– Most of us are on this earth for seventy-some years and at least sometimes, and often many times, we have a deep spiritual urge to know where we came from and what it is we are supposed to do while we are here. Most of us believe that there is someone or something called God who brought us to life. What does this God want from us? Why did he give us existence? These questions have personally plagued me throughout my life but I am not alone in that regard. Seeking the meaning of life is built into the basic structure of us all.

The nature of man is self centered and self destructive— Some say that man’s self centered nature stem from the “survival of the fittest” attitude from our ancient past.  That is in the early days of man only the strongest survived; there was no place for looking out for others in that mode. As a history buff and someone who has seen man’s inhumanity to man it is obvious that the man is still a very self centered creature.  Jesus told us to love one another. That and to love God were the only two commandments in his new covenant that he brought to us. But as cited above the nature of man is contrary to Jesus’ command. The history of the world is, for the most part recorded in the histories of our wars. Just go to the history section of any modern library or bookstore and you will see that to be the fact.  We seem to define ourselves as to who we have killed; not who we have loved. Just look at the love affair with weapons of destruction among us, especially in the U.S. Our technology seems to advance first in our war machines and then migrate to other areas. We have become total experts in killing each other but total failures in loving each other.

The nature of man is to ignore the teaching of God ––  Many of us who were brought up to be Christians, have been taught that Christianity is a “do nothing” religion. God has done it all for us and absolutely nothing is expected of us but to believe in him. With this mentality we are at least indirectly trained to ignore the teachings of God beyond this one thought. We were taught that God views us as nothing but poor miserable sinners and expects nothing good from us. This “do-nothing” attitude is the reason that many outside of Christianity feel Christianity as a false religion. Hindus have a rather strict list of requirements that are deemed mandatory by their religion. Of course the same goes for Muslims. They, like their Jewish counterparts are even told what they are allowed to eat and how many times a day they are to pray.  With 80% of those in the world today believing that God wants us to do certain things and act certain ways it is hard for them to believe that a god who says nothing is required is not a false god.

Of course much of this “do nothing” mentality comes from a few of the letters of St. Paul not from Jesus himself who many times said just the opposite. In order to maintain this stream of logic it is necessary to ignore much, and I would even say most, of Jesus teachings.  Of course, those of us who look at “all ” the words of Jesus know that he intended those who called themselves his follower to do and act according to his words. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is definitely not a “do nothing ” proposition. How did so much of Christianity get this so wrong?  So many who call themselves Christians have latched onto a scant few pieces of Jesus’ words and thrown out the rest. This saddens me deeply. The most glaring example of this looking past the words of Jesus come from the “Great Commission” contained in Matthew 28:19-20:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to obey all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

There are so many who quickly cite verse 19 and then go on to ignore verse 20 where Jesus tells us to do what he commands of us. This selectively choosing the words of Jesus seems to be so prevalent in today’s churches I at times refrain from calling myself a Christian. Instead I am beginning to simply say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ.

The next time in a corresponding manner I will be tackling an even more impossible task and that is to try to understand the nature of God.