Archives For Jesus

Sometimes I take a peak at the website I put up for the church I was once a member. I have been gone for three years now but nothing has changed on that site since I left. The pastor just doesn’t see the Internet as being valuable in reaching out to the community. But one thing that is updated is the text of his sermons are added each week. I glance at them from time to time just to get an idea of how the church is doing.

One thing that has not changed in these eight years of the church’s existence is the “Sit Back and Wait Syndrome” is still at the core of the congregation. Of course this is typical of many fundamentalists churches today so I should not be surprised the weekly message stubbornly continues to be the same thing over and over again.  The “SBAW” syndrome goes something like this:

  • Everyone of us are dreadful sinners and there is nothing we can do about that. All we can do after we accept Christ as our savior and then hunker down against the big bad world and sit back and wait for the second coming.
  • Since we are nothing but miserable sinners God doesn’t expect anything from us. He has done it all so it doesn’t matter how we act or what we do.  But if we feel like it we could try to do some good deeds and he won’t mind. The only thing that really matters is that we hold strong to the beliefs we have been taught and then sit back and wait…
  • Since God is absolutely in control everything that happens  is his will. We don’t need to do anything in our communities. He will do it all.  Neither do we need to do anything to bring new members to our church. All we have to do is sit back and wait for him to bring them to us in his own time, not ours.

You get the idea of the “SBAW” syndrome.  It justifies doing nothing within their communities or for that matter even making any changes in their personal lives. When they are confronted with those growing mega-churches they say they are only successful because they pander to sinners and tell them that God loves them anyway so they can just keep sinning.

Of course I, and hopefully many other followers of Jesus, take a very different track on our spirituality. We believe Jesus’ church to be about “doing” not simply believing. We are to do everything we can to make the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  We believe that Christianity is supposed to be a very active thing and is definitely not a sit back and wait proposition. Jesus clearly taught us otherwise.

My fundamental difference with the “SBAW” crowd is that my faith in Jesus is not only being my savior but, maybe more importantly, being my lord.  That is I study his words to find out what he expects, or maybe even as the great commission says commands, of me in this life. To me that is unquestionably to be very active in my community to love others with the love of Jesus in my heart. He no way intends us to  just sit back and wait while bemoaning the big bad world out there…

The Lord’s prayer is rightly the most spoken prayer in Christianity. But there are several statement in that prayer that are for the most part glossed over by many in the current day church.  One of the most obvious is “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  Here is what Martin Luther thought of these words:

The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

As expected, due to Luther’s extremely low image of self-worth he puts it all on God and nothing on man. Why would we need to pray that God’s will be done if it will happen irregardless of what we do or say? Luther was one of the primary people to help turn Christianity into a seemingly do-nothing religion. He has convinced so many that all you need to do is to say the right words and then get a “get into heaven free” card to use after your death.  Luther adamantly believed that all of us should be able to read the words of God, not just the Pope and his bastions. I certainly thank him for  helping to make that happen. I just wished he had not focused so much on one particular verse (you are saved by grace alone)  in order to justify his personal feelings and seemingly ignored so many of Jesus’ commands.

Jesus, through his many words in the Gospels made it ultimately clear how we as his followers were to make God’s kingdom come to earth. We are to love God with all our hearts and love our fellow man, even our enemies.

Was Jesus wasting his breath giving us all his commands when everything was actually pre-determined and set in stone?

Another of the perhaps the most quoted verse in the Bible has the most important verse glossed over by us Christians. The Great Commission as it has been called says:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

We do a great job of baptizing and an ok job of teaching but why do we almost totally ignore his words to obey his commands?

Jesus told us how to make heaven on earth. He almost gave us a roadmap to make it happen. I personally look at that roadmap daily and try to keep my life well within the lines. Do I do this perfectly? Obviously not, but I will strive till the day I die to fulfill his words and  yes, obey is commands.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1, ESV

The Bible is not the “Word of God.” It is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It contains words of God. It even talks about the Word of God… but it is still not THE Word of God. The Word of God is actually Jesus Christ. Not the words of Jesus, but Christ himself. This little misunderstanding has created a whole heap of confusion about the point Christianity and how we are to use Scripture in our lives.

While I would like to claim I am being brave with this topic, I was actually inspired by Zack Hunt’s recent article, The Bible Isn’t Perfect And It Says So Itself. As he has opened the Pandora’s box for discussion, I felt compelled to chime in. My contribution to is not to question the inerrancy of Scripture, which I believe, but define differently from most, but rather it’s place in the mental, spiritual, and religious life of Christians.

Source Yaholo Hoyt: Mislabeling the Word of God – Red Letter Christians.

 

Another inspirational post over at Red Letter Christians that needs no comments. Click on the source above to see the whole post….

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.”...

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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?

Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked.“Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2:47-52

Unfortunately there is very little info in the four gospel in the Bible about Jesus outside of the three years of his ministry. I think there is more in the gnostic gospels but I have yet to really study them in that regard. This is one of the few stories about Jesus the child. He was reported to be eight years old on this account where he was preaching at a synagogue.

I’m sure if I were one of the witness from which this account was drawn I too would have been amazed at his understanding and his answers. I’m sure he was very different from any other eight year old of those or even these times.  The last sentence in this quote has invoked quite a bit of discussion within the church. If Jesus was God how could he grow in wisdom. Isn’t God all-wise? When he said he had to be in his father’s house did he make that statement figuratively as many did during those times or literally?

These questions are still being asked today. Some say Jesus was God from the very beginning. Some say he was not God until his baptism by John. Of course beyond pure speculation we will never really know the answer to that question. But I kind of like the answer that Jesus had pretty much a normal childhood and grew in his wisdom and his divinity as the years progressed. I really don’t know how to take the statement above about him growing in favor with God.  Does that imply that he was at least at some level out of favor with God? Isn’t he supposed to be God? How can he grow into favor with himself? Of course my opinion matters little except in my own mind but that doesn’t keep me from asking questions.

This is the true purpose of satire: to mock power. It is, truly, the language of the powerless. From the biblical prophets, to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, to Swift, to Twain, to Orwell to our beloved Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, satire works best when the targets are the powerful and elite—be they institutions or people.

Jesus’ sharpest comments were always directed toward the politically or religiously powerful. Always. Indeed, you could argue that Jesus’ entire life—from being born in a barn in the midst of a genocide, to hanging out with prostitutes and drunks, to healing on the Sabbath and touching the untouchables, to riding into Jerusalem on donkey rather than a war horse, to healing the ear of a Roman soldier after it had been cut off by Jesus’ allies—was a stinging indictment of religious and political power.

Source: Christians and Humor: Thoughts on Making It Work.

The above quote is from a post on Rachel Held Evans blog. I am a regular reader. I have never seen such a clear picture of Jesus as a satirist.  I announce it frequently on my other blog over at RJsCorner that I am a huge fan of Will Rogers so am kind of disappointed that Rachel didn’t mention his name in her list. 🙂

As Rachel says Jesus’ sharpest comments were always directed toward the politically and religiously powerful. He was by his very nature the ultimate spokesman for the marginal, down-trodden and on the edges of our society. He spoke for those who had not voice of their own.  So, shouldn’t we expect Jesus’ church to carry on that task? To me the answer is a very emphatic “YES”, but sadly that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

It greatly saddens me to see the radical right political agenda so often espoused by many evangelical fundamentalists is being perceived to be the voice of the church. It total dumbfounds me how that came to be! Why were so many in this group so adamantly against providing healthcare to those who cannot afford it on their own? Why are so many in this group so enthusiastic toward the Ryan/Republican budget that balances the budget on the backs of the poor instead of taking it out of our bloated war-machine budgets?

I have a very strong belief that if Jesus were to return to us today he would have even stronger comments directed towards the politically and religiously powerful of today. Why aren’t they carrying the mantel for those on the margins of our society?

Another thing the church of today seems to almost totally lack is a sense of humor.  I think Jesus was a pretty fun-loving guy who could give and take a joke. He means for us to joyfully live out our lives as he taught us.  He would be disappointed that his church is more in the mode of hunkering down against the big bad world than engaging it full-on as he did. Even if it does poke fun at him once in a while.

 

For example, let’s say we approach the Bible with this question: How should we treat our enemies? Matthew 5:44 tells us to love them. Romans 12:17–21 tells us to do good to them and never seek revenge against them. First Peter 3:13–17 tells us to suffer at their hands and set an example for them. Psalm 137:9 says we should joyfully dash their infants against a rock. Psalm 139:19 says we should hate them. Deuteronomy 7:1–6 says we should destroy them utterly and show them no mercy. If we want to call down fire on them, we can reference 1 Kings 18:20–40, but before we do so, we’d better check Luke 9:51–56, which condemns that kind of thinking. Similarly, we could find verse precedents in the Bible to justify polygamy and celibacy as equal or better alternatives to monogamy (Gen. 4:19; Exod. 21:10; Deut. 25:5–10; Titus 1:6; 1 Cor. 7:1, 29), not to mention a wide array of rules governing dietary, sanitary, clothing, personal grooming, and agricultural matters.

Source: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (McLaren, Brian D.)

I have admitted several times on this blog that for the last several years I have focused almost entirely on the New Testament. The Old Testament seems to be, well old!  One of the biggest mistakes I made in my early Christian life was not that of moving away from it during my teenage years but instead trying to re-enter it by reading the Bible from cover-to-cover.

About half way through Genesis I found myself thinking “do I really want to be a Christian this bad?” It took several months for me to struggle through the Old Testament. By the time I reached anything to do with Jesus I was for the most part burned out on my cover-to-cover exercise. I must admit that as a result I pretty much only skimmed the New Testament. In other words I got it totally “bass-ackwards” so to speak.

Luckily I happened upon a few authors who gave me reason to go back and start again with a different view of the Bible. It has been years since I have done any serious study of the old stuff. I occasionally browse through Proverbs and Psalms. There are some very inspiring words in those two books. But I stay away from pretty much the rest.

When I do venture into the Old Testament now I come across much of the dichotomy found in the quote above. The god of the Old Testament just doesn’t seem to be the same god as Jesus told me about. Some say that the purpose of the Old Testament was to point to Jesus. In trying to justify that stand they give me this and that verse that if I hold my tongue just right and stand on one leg I maybe can see the link.

I might be doomed for the proverbial fires of hell because of these beliefs (I’m pretty sure some of the past clergy in my life would agree) but just give me Jesus. I will put my heavenly status on him and his messages alone.

If Grace is trueSince the very beginning, the disciples of Jesus have tried to destroy the opposition. Instead of patiently awaiting the transformation of others, we’ve quickly divided the world into “us” and “them.” We haven’t even reserved this distinction for those of other religions. We’re intolerant of any deviation from the party line. Catholics thought Protestants apostate and damned. Protestants returned the favor, then splintered into a variety of denominations. Many of those knocking on doors and sending missionaries overseas remain convinced their version of the Church is the only true Church.

This exclusive understanding of salvation has its comforts. It allows us to feel special, righteous, and part of the “in” crowd. However, in an increasingly pluralistic world, remaining comfortable with theological exclusivity is more and more difficult….

More disturbing are encounters with gentle, humble, compassionate people who understand salvation differently. What if they’re right and we’re wrong? Most of us ignore that question.

Limiting our interactions to those like us is one cure for discomfort. Another is to redouble our efforts to recruit more disciples to our group. There is strength in numbers. When denominations announce their membership or religions count their adherents, they imply numbers are an assurance of salvation….

We are uncomfortable with the thought that God might be at work in all the world, in all people, and even in all religious systems. Sadly, I’ve discovered that traditional Christianity, Islam, and Judaism share one common belief—they are certain God won’t save everyone.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 157-159). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The fights within the Christian church are the most troubling to me especially those over what to believe and that is almost all of them.  We have drifted so far from Jesus’ teaching to be one and he and the father are one.  Are there really any real Christian churches among us?  This troubling doubt about the homogeneity of the church has caused me to gradually migrate over into the spiritual but not religious category. The zeal that we all use to differentiate ourselves from other Christians, let alone those of other faiths, totally turns me off.

As Mr. Gulley says above I think a primary cause for this division within the church is seeking a cure for discomfort. We just don’t like to believe things that we are uncomfortable with. We want to be with others who think like we do; we just don’t like conflicts in our lives and particularly in our religious lives.  Counting membership is very important to every church I have been a member of. It is not good enough to call someone to Christianity but  instead they must be a part of our sub-sub-sub set of Christianity.

I’m sure it terrifies many Christians to think that maybe God will save everyone in the end and that what we believe in not as critical to our salvation as how we live out our faith.  Being a follower of Christ is not about getting more members, it is about loving each other and loving God.  I like the Lincoln quote about whether God is on our side or are we on God’s side. As for me and my house we will let God be God and not try to take any power from him. If God wants to save us all by one method or another it is certainly not my place to question it.

The one thing I like about the emergent trend now taking over the church is that they say they might not have it right about everything they espouse. Admitting that you could be wrong about some things is the beginning of bringing Jesus’ church back together.

A Simple Truth….

April 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

If Grace is trueI once considered human freedom the most persuasive argument against the salvation of every person. My friend asked, “How can you believe God would send his children to hell?” I replied, “God doesn’t send anyone to hell. They send themselves. God simply respects their freedom.” Human freedom was the linchpin of my theology. We were saved not by grace, but by our decision to accept God’s grace. I argued that though grace is a gift, it must be unwrapped. Though God’s grace was for all people, only those who accepted the gift could enjoy its benefits. I thought God’s mercy and compassion were reserved for those who, like me, responded quickly and correctly. Grace, when rejected, was withdrawn.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (p. 103). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I must admit that I too hinge much of my theology on human freedom. I often say that the bad things that happen to man are the result of his previous poor choices and they are not the will of God.  I rail against those who claim that everything that happens on earth is God’s will or that every baby born of rape was God’s will. I absolutely disagree that every baby that dies in childbirth is what God wanted. Free will is indeed a lynchpin of my theology. I put everything back on me. It was my choice.

I totally rejected predestination as much as my Calvinist friends cling to it. They think God has chosen them to be in heaven but generally damns most to hell.  But I did believe that somehow God hides his grace from those who don’t work hard to find it and personally accept it. I believed that God is only gracious to those who have been baptized in his name.  He would be gracious to me if I jumped through all the hoops that my clergyman put in front of me. If I didn’t do that or failed to say the right words that God would turn his back on me and  push me into hell. In other words I put condition after condition on God’s grace.

It was only after much prayer and meditation that I come to the conclusion that Jesus didn’t come to give us a magic formula for salvation that he hid away for us to discover. Jesus told us that God loves us all and the only thing he asks is that we love him back and to love each other as he loves us. Given the hell and damnation that many of us grew up with this simple lesson is hard to accept.

I have come to apply Occam’s Razor to my beliefs in this area.  We tend to try to complicate everything we touch. We add conditions and rules to everything. But as Occam said oftentimes the simplest solution is the best one.  God told us through Jesus that He loves us all and wants all of us to be with him. Why shouldn’t I accept that simple statement as the real truth? Why do I insist on taking that power away from God?


If Grace is trueFor what good is grace—this unconditional love of God—if it is not extended to those who deserve it the least but need it the most? God is love. Holiness and justice are not competing commitments. God has not chosen to turn his back on us or to punish us as our sins deserve. God has chosen to redeem us. Nothing requires God to condemn us, so God has not. Rather, in his sovereign freedom, he waits patiently for the day of our redemption.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 87-88). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The above quote comes at the end of a chapter entitled “The Character of God”. I must admit that I have had many of the same painful questions about the character of God as Mr. Gulley.  When I was told to believe that absolutely everything in the Bible is literally and in absolutely true I simply could not reconcile much of the god of the Old Testament to the person of Jesus. Until I was willing to weigh scripture the dichotomy of a vengeful God vs. Jesus of “love your enemy” I was racked with doubt about all things the church pronounced. When I fell in line with the idea of the “infallible words of God” my two views of God were irreconcilable.

I must admit that the God of the Old Testament scares me.  When he supposedly in the tenth chapter of Joshua told the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child in the town of Libnash this horrified me. This simply didn’t sound like the God of Jesus I had come to know in the New Testament. I heard various explanation trying to reconcile the two gods. One was that God was trying to protect the Israelites from the corrupting influence that intermarriage would have caused. Like Mr. Gulley mentioned about this story to me it sounds much like what Hitler used for destroying the Jews.

Here is a quote from Mr. Gulley relative to weighing scripture when it comes to these sort of opposite visions:

Weighing Scripture allows for the possibility that some descriptions of God and his behavior are inaccurate. It is not merely counting how many Scriptures say “this” about God and how many Scriptures say “that” about God and believing whichever one receives the highest score. Weighing Scripture is what Jesus taught when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” If Jesus had believed that all Scriptures were of equal worth, he would have answered, “All the commandments are equally important.” Instead, he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). Then Jesus added a pivotal footnote. He said, “All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). In other words, these two verses exalting love are as heavy as the rest of the Bible. Jesus tipped the scales irrevocably in favor of love.

When we finally reject the idea of every word in the ancient text is absolutely true and applicable for eternity then this contradiction between two gods goes away. I, as Mr. Gulley quotes above, believe  Jesus showed us that all scripture is not equal or inerrant.  There are just too many places where he taught us a different way than was recorded in the Old Testament.

I don’t spend much time in Old Testament lessons anymore. I know there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the experiences of those before Jesus but I choose to concentrate on Jesus and his lessons at this point in my life.