Archives For Red Letters

Discussions about particular words of Jesus

Let’s continue on with our brief study of the Gospel of Mark. This time it will be about people’s faith and the Bread. I know that seems like two different things but let me try to tie them together.

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said,  “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”...

<<<<>>>

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them:“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?“”Twelve,” they replied.

It is hard for me to imagine the frailty of their faith that the apostles continuously had in the messages and abilities of Jesus. Any of the miracles that he performed would have made me a firm and total believer. But, of course that is total speculation on my part. As an aside Thomas Jefferson believed that all the miracles  attached to Jesus were add by those wanting to enhance is divinity after he ascended into heaven. If that is the case then things change.

I kind of like the story about feeding the five thousand. I can’t imagine that many people sitting at the feet of Jesus for three days and without much food at that.  The apostles seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the people were probably hungry but Jesus having God’s agape love for everyone was very aware of their hunger both spiritually and physically.

The second part of the quote above is believed to be shortly after the first one and bread is again the subject matter.  Jesus seems very disappointed that his twelve did not seem to learn anything from the previous encounter with bread. I can imagine that he was continuously disappointed in the apostles’ action much like he is about almost all of our actions in today’s world.

The apostles just didn’t seem to “get it” and neither do so many of us.  But, I would kind of like to give us an excuse. We only have passed down verbal accounts of many of Jesus’ dealing and the accounts that we have have been interpreted in so many different ways as to be confusing even to educated theologians. Almost every one of the red letters has many different beliefs about them. Sometimes I think that man has just taken the simple messages of Jesus and made them complicated by all our passed down traditions and dogma.

Let’s get back to the basics and that is Jesus told us to love God with all our hearts and souls and to love each other. It couldn’t be simpler than that. How have we lost that basic message in the church today?

As mentioned a few posts ago Jesus had some very stinging words about the religiously powerful of his day. The Gospel of Mark 7 is one of those places.  Lets study some of those words.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:” ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!  For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

In these verses Jesus was addressing the Pharisees from Jerusalem. These guys, being from Jerusalem were not some radical sect that was divorced from the mainstream Judaism, they were likely the leader of the leaders of the church. I’m sure they were totally shocked to have this carpenter’s son rebuke them so harshly. With that in mind it is not to surprising that they then went on to plan for his execution. They had, I am sure, the belief that they were the spokesman for God, not this lowly peasant.

Jesus told them that they were hypocrites as the humble and poor people who were surrounding him to listen to his messages knew more about God than they did. Jesus told them that their religion was more about human rules than about messages from God.  Can you imagine the hate they must have had for Jesus after these strong words?

The religion of Jesus day had devolved into traditions that had little to do with God but instead were implemented to keep the religious hierarchy of the day in power. It was more about man’s rules than God’s. He told them that they do many things against the true teaching of God.

I’m sure there are many in today’s church who consider themselves the leader of the leaders as the Pharisees did. I am also sure that Jesus would say many of  the same things against them as he did two thousand years ago. Many have devolved into organizations of human traditions and dogma.

The emergent movement within the church is attempting to force the original messages of Jesus back to front-and-center in today’s church. If they are successful maybe someday the light of Jesus and his true words will again be a shining beacon for the world to look upon.

Away From Me!!!

February 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

I have now spent several posts on the emergent church. It is time to get back to the red letters to see what Jesus wants to teach us.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:23 – 28

To those of you who have been around this blog for a while know that I am a firm believer that Jesus wants us to do what he says. It seems many today are convinced that to be a Christian all they have to do is make an altar call and profess their beliefs and then go on to live their lives as they please. Yes, I believe in the grace of God but that does not exempt me from obeying his commands.

The verse above which ends the “Sermon on the Mount” is a very direct one to tell us that there will be some, perhaps many, who come to their judgement day and will be surprised by what God says to them.  They will say “didn’t we call you Lord of our lives?  That is what we were told was required to get to heaven.” Unfortunately there are those flavors of Christianity around today that  do tell their congregants that.  “Make an altar can and then just sit back and let Jesus’ grace flow over you. That is all that is required.”  To these folks being a Christian is a very passive calling.  It is a something-for-nothing calling.

But the words above even go further, they include people who might say they made predictions about God and the even drove out demons and did miracles. Sounds like some of the current day televangelists doesn’t it?  Even these folks Jesus tells us will get a surprise. The second paragraph tells us why Jesus made this startling proclamation.  He told us that we must not only hear his words but we must put them into practice. As his brother James told us later “faith (only words) without deeds (putting those words in practice) is a dead faith.

Many of the 39,000 versions of Christianity use the first paragraph above to proclaim that they are the only ones who will get to heaven. But they most often omit the conditions Jesus used to explain this omission.  Lets always remember that being a follower of Jesus Christ is not just saying words it is putting Jesus’ messages into practice as he commanded via these red letters.

Do What I Say….

January 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

Let’s get back to Luke 6 for our study today.

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

This is one of the most direct passages about “being” a Christian found in the Gospels. When someone is a lord in your life that means that he has great authority over you. You listen to him and do what he says. The first sentence in this passage Jesus sternly tells us to do what he says and then he goes on to be more specific. What more could we ask for?

If we actually do what Jesus says we have a solid foundation for the rest of our lives. Whenever we question what we should do about any circumstances in our lives we are supposed to go back to Jesus’ words and commands to find the answers.

The problem with all of this is that we tend to pick and choose which words of Jesus we will obey. If we don’t like a particular part of his message we ignore that and concentrate on the words we like. I must also admit that many of the red letters are somewhat hard to understand. For instance when he tells us to chop off our hands if they cause us to sin. I don’t think he meant that literally but it seems to be up to us to determine that. I wish he had made things like that clearer.

But the words above could not be clearer. We must never ignore his words  and especially his commands just because we don’t particularly like what he said. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case with many Christians today. A partial reason for that is that we have watered down his words with so many of our own. Some theologians over the years have even relegated Jesus words to be no more important than any others found in our Bibles. Jesus and Jonah seem to be on the same plane to them. How sad is that?

The Words of Jesus….

December 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

This is a continuation of the previous post about the words of Jesus taking front and center in Christian living.  Last time we talked about  how the red letters came about in our Christian bibles and about an organization dedicated to putting them back in their proper place in Christianity.  This time I want to tell you about a couple of books that put the red letters front and center.

Words of JesusThe first is a book by Phyllis Tickle entitled The Words of Jesus. This book which was published in 2008 was the first time I have come across something dedicated entirely by the words coming from Jesus’ mouth (at least as reported in the Gospel text). Phyllis Tickle is a firm member of the emergent movement and therefore one of my current favorite authors. This book was a rather ambitious undertaking as she admits in the preface. It is broken down into categories including:

  • Words of Public Teaching
  • Words of Private Instructions
  • Words of Healing Dialogue
  • Words of Intimate Conversation
  • Words of Post-Resurrection Encounters

I have used this book on several occasions as a way to find a particularly verse I was looking for. If you browse Amazon you will see it gets its share of low ratings from those who say all the words in the Bible are just as important as any others and also from those who say only their bible version is the “correct” one (she used several different versions).  As Tickle points out in her book pulling the red letters away from their surroundings in the Gospel text allows us to see them without prejudice of others interpretation. But to some degree they also then deny us the wisdom of the early fathers. I have most often used this book as a way to find a particular verse and then go to the gospel text for further understanding.

Red LettersThe second book in this area is a recent one entitled the Red Letters edited by Timothy Beals. This book is pure red letters and is organized in two distinct sections. One is the words are presented in chronological order as they were spoken. The second listing is by topic including: Kingdom and Creed, Hearing and Doing, Warnings and Woes.  This book resides on my Kindle beside the one above as a ready source for finding a particular verse for further study.

I would recommend both of these works to anyone serious about the teachings of Jesus. As pointed out above they do put all the emphasis on the unvarnished words of Jesus and then leave it up to you to understand the meaning. You do that by searching your heart and also looking at the surrounding text while keeping in mind that the surrounding text is just one man’s understanding of the words.

As I have mentioned several times on the blog over the years I believe it is up to each of us to come to our own understanding of what Christianity is all about and what the words of Jesus mean to us. While there have been literally thousands of theologians and such that have written their opinions very few of them seem to agree with each other.

If you want to know what Christianity is supposed to be about you must get that information directly from the foundation and that is Jesus. Any other source, which is always another person’s interpretation, is secondary at best.

I think its time to revisit a little history of the red letters and some of the people besides me who concentrated on them.  Who started putting the words of Jesus in red letters? Here is what Wikipedia says about that:

The term red letter edition is used to describe Bibles in which words spoken by Jesus, commonly only while he was on the Earth, are printed in red ink. This is not to be confused with the Red-Letter Christian movement, which has used this term to emphasize the teachings of Jesus in the Bible, particularly in regards to social justice.

The red letter edition was invented by Louis Klopsch, then editor of The Christian Herald magazine in 1899, and first published in 1900.  This style of Bible instantly became popular, and is sometimes favored by mainly Protestant Christians in the United States. Especially in King James Bibles, this format can be useful as quotation marks are not used.

Klopsch’s idea of printing the words of Jesus in red originated in Luke 22:20, which says: This cup is the new testament in my blood, which I shed for you. This inspired Klopsch to ask his mentor what he thought of printing the words spoken by Jesus in red, to which he replied, “It could do no harm and it most certainly could do much good.

Wikipedia made the point to emphasize that the  decision to put the words of Jesus in red letters has nothing to do with the Red Letter Christian movement now underway and growing quickly. Here again is what Wikipedia says about this movement

Red-Letter Christians constitute a non-denominational movement within Christianity. Proponents of the movement believe that Christianity, and especially evangelicalism, has been exploited by both right-wing and left-wing political movements and become too partisan and politicized. As a response they endeavor to create an evangelical movement that focuses on the teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly in regard to social issues. The two most prominent figures associated with the movement are Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo. 

Red Letter ChristiansAs you can tell from the title of this blog I am very much aligned with this movement. To me the words of Jesus Christ, especially those aligned with social justice take front and center in my life. If you are interested in learning more about this movement I would recommend the book entitled Red Letter Christians by Tony Campolo. If you search for the term “red letter christian” on Amazon several books will come up. This is a testament to the growing popularity of getting back to the words of Jesus as the early Christians did.  Most of what we call Christianity now is actually the result of men, both well-meaning and otherwise, who came after Jesus, sometime long after Jesus.

If you have read much of what I have written here you will know that to me Christianity has been hijacked to be what we believe about Jesus and many other unrelated things versus trying to “be” like Jesus as he commanded us. Part of the emergent movement that is now taking place in much of the world also aligns with putting the red letters back as the focus of our faith.

As I have mentioned in previous posts Luke Chapter 6 is at the heart of the Bible as far as I am concerned. Lets look at some of it starting at verse 27.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  

These are some very hard words when we take them literally! Jesus gave us many messages through parables, stories, and such. Sometimes that is difficult to understand. Why didn’t he just come out with a set of rules instead of constantly telling us stories. I think part of the reason for that is because he knew that two thousand years in the future we would still be studying his messages and they needed to seem relevant to that time and all the time before and after.

When I look for the underlying message from the above words I think Jesus was trying to tell us  that we are not to have a retaliatory attitude. In other words he was canceling the Old Testament verses about an eye for an eye. Even though he claimed he only came to fulfill scriptures, Jesus seemed to take several  Old Testament rules off the table during his ministry. When God said vengeance was his I think he really meant it. It is not up to us to take revenge on others who we deem has done us wrong. God will do that; maybe not in this life but certainly in the next.

Of course, like so many other messages from Jesus the final sentence above is the one that attracts all the attention. Like the story of the sheep and the goats where Jesus is talking about “being” Christians instead of jut mouthing the words, we often ignore the verses we don’t like.  Many have turned sheep/goats story into being about beliefs instead of actions. Yes, there are messages hidden within many of Jesus’ word  but we should not immediately discount the possibility that he might have also meant them literally.

For most of us it would be extremely hard to turn the other cheek or to not try to get back what others take from us. But I think the underlying message in this instance is that we should not give much priority to the “things” we own. They are just things and are not that important in a true Christian’s life. Being our brother’s keeper is a hard thing to practice in this world but that is what Jesus insists if you espouse to be a Christian.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless and pray for those who mistreat you.  Don’t fight back, give to anyone who asks. These are hard lessons to learn. May we all struggle daily to try to live up to them.

Luke Chapter 6…

December 4, 2012 — Leave a comment

The gospel of Luke Chapter 6 is the most important chapter in the Bible for me. Of course it includes the Beatitudes which are primary in teaching us how to live our lives but they include much more than that.  I want to concentrate on the first beatitude for this post.

Luke 6:20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,  for yours is the kingdom of God..” 

I take these words more literally than some. I believe that those who are treated poorly in this world will have a special place in the next. Conversely those who have much will be judged by how they use their affluence to further God’s kingdom.  This thought also aligns with Jesus’ word about those who are first will be last and for those who much is given much will be expected.  I think Jesus was talking about the same thing in all these examples.

Like many places in the Bible where there are differing accounts for the same circumstances. Some differences are slight and some are rather dramatic. The writer of Luke deemed his account as the  Sermon on the Plan while there is another account in Matthew that author called the Sermon on the Mount.  I suspect that both of these accounts were from the same event and just recorded differently by the two authors.

Over the centuries even slight differences in biblical accounts have spurned some pretty significant differences in interpretation. The author of Matthew added two words after the word “poor”; he added “in spirit”. This opened the door to a completely different meaning than what Luke proclaimed.  With the words “in spirit” some now say that everyone is included in this and all the other beatitudes as all of us humans are “poor in spirit”.  By doing this they are taking away any special or specific meaning the beatitudes.

One thing to remember about all of this is that we don’t really know with any certainty who any of the four authors of the Gospels were. During those times many would write their accounts “in memory of” as we would say today. The accounts were often written from verbally passed down stories of the times but in memory of a particular founding Christian. An example of that this the Book of Judas.  Obviously this book, which was not included in the bible and was not rediscovered until recently, was not written by Judas himself but in his name. Realizing that the vast majority of the early Christians were illiterate this  understanding should not be surprising to any of us.

There have been literally thousands of theologians over the past twenty centuries that have dissected almost all  of Jesus’ words to support their version of Christianity.  We have to remember that everyone has an agenda in one form or another when it comes to the biblical interpretation.

Luke 6 covers a wide spectrum of Jesus’ message to us today. I will be interlacing those messages along with additional info about the emergent church movement in future posts.

This is a continuation of my review of the book Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus by Robin Meyers. Here are the quotes we will look at on this post:

Adoration of the post-Easter Christ so dominates the language and liturgy of the church that the wisdom of pre-Easter Jesus is all but lost.

We know that Saul of Tarsus, who never met Jesus, became the apostle Paul through a completely mystical experience and seemed to care nothing for the earthly teachings of Jesus, only his “adoption” as the Son of God through the resurrection. Not only did he alter the nature of the gospel from a story to an argument, but his letters and those written by others in his name are the earliest Christian documents we have, written long before the gospels.

These words above were an eye-opener for me. I had been studying the words of Jesus in a serious way for over three years before I encountered them. It had just not occurred to me that there is indeed a very different view of Jesus by many after his resurrection than before.

The post-Easter Jesus was radically different from the pre-Easter Jesus in the eyes of many. To some he suddenly turned from a teacher of great wisdom into a God to be prayed to instead of followed. I think Jesus wanted us to remember is words more than that he conquered death as he had predicted. We need to learn how to take the stained glass off the gospel text and put back the life messages Jesus gave us. That is what he intends.

As Mr. Meyers said Paul was one of the dominant figures in creating the post-Easter Jesus. Paul, in fact never mentions any of the actual messages of Jesus but since he never actually met him that is understandable. The gospels were years away from being written when Paul penned his letters to the various churches so he did not have them to use as a reference. Paul’s words, even though inspired by God, were mainly from his background and experiences as a jewish authority.  When he was struck down on that road to Damascus he knew that Jesus was God. That, not the lessons Jesus taught, was the theme of most of his writings.

Coming from a Roman Catholic background to a Lutheran one I often found it interesting that the Protestant focus is primarily of Paul. The words of Jesus seem to take a background. Especially now that I have left the Lutheran fold I find it strange that they filter the words of Jesus through the words of Paul and not the other way around. Jesus spent three years with his disciples teaching them daily what it meant for the kingdom of God to come to earth. Since many of the words of Jesus were not recorded until years after his death I wonder how many of his precious messages from those thousand days that were lost due to incomplete human memories.

We must always remember to filter the words of Paul, and all the other words in the Bible, through the words of Jesus.  To do it any other way is just “bass-ackwards” in my mind.

A New Direction…. Again….

September 8, 2012 — 2 Comments

In recent days I have been getting frustrated by the progress I have made into the parallel studies of the Roman empire and the Christian church. It is not that I am not learning things it is just that it is taking longer than I originally anticipated. My wife claims that I always underestimate these sort of things and maybe I do 🙂  I certainly like to blog on Red Letter Living as it keeps me centered on what is important in life. Having to put off posting here because I am not ready to do it intelligently is frustrating to me.

So I have decided to put this study on the back burner for now. I am not putting the study of the study off but only the blogging about it. When I think I have enough background knowledge on the subject then I will start blogging about it. Until then I have decided to do some blogging about what Jesus says about our personal and corporate responsibilities toward the poor. This topic has been on my mind lately due to some interactions over at my other blog at  RJ’s Corner. I have been in a some discussions with some Christians who give the usual response about Jesus saying we will always have the poor so there is nothing we can do about it. Of course to me that is very much taking his words out of context.  I will expand on those thoughts in this new study and back it up with red letters.

So, come back soon for a new direction on this blog. They say that religion and politics don’t mix but when some Christians vote based on a warped sense of Jesus’ words that does harm to Christianity as a whole. Let’s investigate just what Jesus said in quite a bit of detail about this issue. I’m sure there is nothing I could say here that will influence the way some people vote in the coming election but if I can just nudge them a little maybe their attitudes will change for a future one.