Jesus, No Stable, Just Love

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But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
 Luke 2:10

Merry Christmas or whatever your holiday is this holiday season.  I hope you have or are having a good one.  I am a Christian but don’t hold to the traditional look at the Christmas story.  I don’t think Jesus was born in a barn or cave, but in a home of Joseph’s relatives.  He did after all go to Bethlehem because he was from there.  The word that Luke uses for inn when we translate “there was no room in the inn” is the same word that is used for the “upper room” at the last supper.  Now I don’t know about you, but I never pictured the last supper in the Holiday Inn banquet hall.  Ok, that’s stretching it a little.  But what makes more sense that Joseph and Mary were visiting relatives and when she was reading to give birth they moved her to a bigger room or they were traveling and about to give birth and some jerk throws them in a stable?  Especially when you think about the importance of hospitality in that region during that time and before.  The Old testament has many verses about taking care of the stranger or traveler so it was important to them to do that.

If you are wondering about the manger,…. Many people kept their animals in the house at night for the extra body heat.  They would keep a small manger filled with food in the home to keep the animals quiet at night.  I wish that worked with my cats.

Do we know about what year he was born?  Absolutely not.  Everyone says 4-6 BCE because they  only read Matthews account talking about Herod the Great.  Yes, He died in 4 BCE so that should make Jesus born before that date.  That would work except that Luke says that Jesus was born while Quirinius who took the position in 6 CE.  That’s 10 years after Herod died.  Hmmmm Can’t exactly make the stories not fit can we.  Yes he was the Legate of Galatia from 5-3 BCE but that isn’t the word that Luke uses.

So we either have to admit that Luke is wrong or our tradition is wrong about the time of the birth.

Now we could sit and debate about whether I’m right or wrong, but that isn’t really what is important.  What is important is what the birth of Jesus represents.  It’s a change.  A big Change that calls to us all.

Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, judges and the books of Samuel and the Kings there is a cycle that is continued to be pointed to that Matthew points to.  the Deuteronomy cycle is basically this.  You are in good standing with God, you commit sins, you are punished and a Messiah (judge, good King) comes and brings you back to good standing.

The Jews at that time would have felt they were in bad standing and Jesus is pointed out as the Messiah.  The one that would lead them back to good standing.  He would lead them into caring about one another and not following some religious laws or tradition that has been made up.  Jesus calls us to love and sacrifice.  He said the greatest command was to Love God and love your neighbor as yourself and then he showed the way by sacrificing himself for this idea.  When he says to take up your cross he is saying you better be willing to die as a revolutionary.  Not necessarily a revolutionary against the government, but against any group or organization that holds to ideas that are hurtful to people.

A true Christian follows in the steps of Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and fights for the poor, oppressed, persecuted, underprivileged and victimized.  Just like Jesus fought for women and foreigners we must continue to change the world as he did.  To do that we have to see each other as someone to be loved, no matter what they are liked or what your religion has taught you to think of them.

When it all comes down to what is important, those traditions aren’t important. It’s whether you actually love.  Are you willing to sacrifice it all and make the change?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quirinius

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Turning Misbelief to Relief

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 The first step toward change is awareness.  The second step is acceptance.

Nathaniel Branden

Have you ever really believed in something and found out that it wasn’t true? Maybe it was your Santa Clause moment. That time when you discovered Santa really didn’t bring your presents. I never had that moment with Santa. That’s one falsehood I didn’t grow up believing.

I’ve had many of those moments though. The first came in my late teenage years. I had just read a book on how “Christian” America’s founding fathers were. So being a lover of God and history I had to go read their writings and biographies to see their faith in action. I read Jefferson and Franklin and was like “What the hell was that author thinking?” So I said “Well, maybe they weren’t but I bet Washington, Adams, Madison and others were. Nope, Nope, Nope! Now I’m not saying that I found no Christians, but the vast majority of the founding fathers were not conservative orthodox Christians as I had been led to believe.

Still that did not change my belief in Orthodox Christianity and I went on to become a pastor and surprise surprise, college brought a few more, “What??!” moments.

I was taking my Theology 1 class and had to write a paper. I chose to write on the canonization of the Bible. When I was young, I was basically led to believe that these wonderful Christian men got together and in unison chose exactly these books because God led them.   Ummm Nope. They fought over books put in, fought over books left out and pretty much chose the books that Eusibius wanted because he was Constantine the (not so) Greats right hand man when it came to religion. The same Constantine who made the religious leaders create the Orthodoxy of religion by getting rid of the Arians and the vote there was almost unanimous. Those couple that voted no were exiled from the empire. Hmmm. I wonder why it was almost unanimous. Could it be that people didn’t want to lose their jobs, homes, or lives?

Then I started studying the Bible about the Rapture. That’s a huge belief in the conservative world.  But it just doesn’t fit anywhere in the Bible unless you like to look at your Bible as a pretzel and twist away your doctrine. But hey we can make money with books and movies so let’s keep the deception going…

Those moments kept coming and coming and coming. Especially as I read about the late Roman Empire and its hold over Christianity. One big reason I love the separation of church and state. And while we are being political let us at least acknowledge that the Republican Party has no interest in religion except that it great for getting votes.  The Republican Party is nothing more than a bunch of Pharisees with the Tea Party candidates being their High Priests and you know what Jesus thought of them.

The Democratic Party is not Satan’s tool as I was led to believe either. That was another “lie” that I had to overcome.

I had to learn that Muslims are not evil or setting up the anti-Christ and neither is the pope, most people on welfare are not milking the system, immigrants are people too. Did you know that the earth isn’t 4,000 years old or created in seven 24 hour periods? Ok, those are ones I never believed, but I know people who do.

Soon my naïve beliefs of youth one by one fell off, each one easier and not as noticeable. The rules of the church fell away and were replaced with life and love. My love of God grew, my love of people grew and I learned …….

What about you?

My hand at Bible Translating

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There are so many versions or translations of the Bible out there that it is often hard to really know if one is any better than the next. I once counted mine and I had around 25 different versions in my house.  Each version or translation tries to bring into modern language what the Bible writers were trying to say. So each Bible has bias, good or bad, of the person or people translating it. What they understand and believe will come across in how it is translated. I could not come up with an exact number of translations there are but several sites said there were thousands. So we have thousands of people trying to tell us what they think the Bible writers were trying to tell us when actually they weren’t talking to us at all. They were talking to someone of their day.

What we have to discover is what they said in their time and see if any of it fits into our time. Lately I have been toying with that and have tried to make a few verses more real to people. Some have liked it and some not, but here are a few of what I have tried.

So with the idea of bringing the Bible to modern language, I gave my attempt at a few of the more famous scriptures.

 

When our time began God created the Big Bang. Genesis 1:1

Love mom and dad, so that you may have a good life wherever you live. Exodus 20:12

Jesus told him, “I am the path, the realness, and the full life. No one can come to the Father except doing what I have taught you.” John 14:6

There is neither American nor Russian, neither citizen nor alien, nor is there male and female, nor is there homosexual or straight for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3;28

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and the second is this, Love that dude that cut you off this morning, don’t complain about that bum begging for money, don’t put down that person with different political or religious views, and for Christ sake, don’t be mean on facebook!  Mark 12:30-31

Go and make followers of God, baptize them in the name of God, and teach them to love one another like I loved you and not to follow what church laws you grow up with just because that’s the way you’ve always done it. If you do this, my spirit will be with you always. Matthew 28:19 &20

 For by grace you have been saved through faith; it is the gift of God, and not by following all the rules of the church or what you think everyone ought to do, so stop telling everyone how righteous you are. Ephesians 2:8 & 9

The price of sin is a horrible and lonely life, but the gift of God is a rich spiritual life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

For all have messed up, and remember that includes you and fallen short of what God intended. Romans 3:23

Do not give your opinion about what others are doing, and others won’t go around talking about what you are doing. Do not attack others, and you will not be attacked. Instead forgive and show mercy to those that talk about you and attack you, and you will be forgiven as well. Luke 6:37

Hey everyone, love each other, because love begins from God. Everyone who loves, understands God and truly knows God. Those that say God hates others, or is mean to another in God’s name or is unfair to others using God’s word has no clue, because if God is anything God is LOVE! 1 John 4:7-8

 

So what do you think? Did I miss the mark completely or was I close? Feel free to give it a try for yourself. After all it’s all about trying to understand the authors meaning or meanings the best we can so we can live it today.

Here is a list of the translations available if you are interested. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_Bible_translations

Questioning our beliefs makes us grow.

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“Religious belief, like history itself, is a story that is always unfolding, always subject to inquiry and ripe for questioning. For without doubt there is no faith.”

Jon Meacham.

 

A decade or so ago, I read a book called “20 Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Ask”. I was reminded of this book this past week in part because of Jars of Clay’s lead singer Dan Haseltine’s question. All he asked was “Not meaning to stir things up BUT… Is there a non-speculative or non “slippery slope” reason why gays shouldn’t marry? I don’t hear one.” And then followed it with “I’m trying to make sense of the conservative argument. But it doesn’t hold up to basic scrutiny. Feels akin to women’s suffrage.”

All he did was ask a question and then was berated for okaying LBGT people, gay rights etc… Why attack someone for asking a question?

Then a day or two later a friend of mine posted a meme that asked a question of Christians. It was a conversation between an Eskimo and a Christian. Eskimo: ‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ Priest: ‘No, not if you did not know.’ Eskimo: ‘Then why did you tell me?’ I found that to be a legitimate question and luckily no one jumped his case.

At my last church it was impossible to really ask questions. They were either ignored or ignored. It was either a roll of the eyes and “anyone else have anything to add?” question or you were given the “this is what the denomination’s beliefs are” speech. No answers, only frustration.

If the church does not allow questions how can it grow? Jesus was always asking questions of the religious leaders of the day. “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied (Matt 22:41). The religious leaders also questioned Jesus many times. Jesus never told them to stop asking, but he hoped by hearing his answers they would learn something.

Questions are to help us think. To help us try to understand what the teacher is trying to teach. Most people aren’t trying to trick the teacher or pastor. They really want to know, to learn. However, many church leaders discourage questions. They want people to just take their word, because they are the teacher or pastor. Obviously they know what they are talking about.

I feel that if a pastor or teacher does not allow questions, they are a lecturer, not a teacher. A teacher encourages others to think for themselves, a pastor leads people to the answer but doesn’t give it to them. He allows people to find the answer for themselves. Many churches and their leaders today, find these questions dangerous. It was only dangerous because they feel their power slipping away.

As I write this it is the anniversary of the day that John Wycliffe and Jon Hus were condemned at the council of Constance. Two people who merely asked why. Why do we pay indulgences? Why can’t the people read the Bible? Does not seem like the church or its people have changed much does it?

It seems like anyone who questions the teachings of the church gets ridiculed by those who have to hold on to that belief. It often seems to be when we question our beliefs that it is an attack of Satan or “how can you question God?” types of responses. There does not seem to be a path of meaningful dialogue. It’s “Why?” and in response, “You’re going to Hell.” Not “Why?” and in response “Why do you feel that way?”

The thing is people believe that if you ask a question you are questioning God, but really it questions the human theology. Humans make mistakes, so our theology should not be set in stone and yet we hold on so tightly to our man made ways of thinking.   If your theology can never be wrong then maybe, just maybe, deep inside you are questioning it too, but are afraid to let it out. If not, then at least be open to listening instead of berating those who question something. They are thinking and learning and growing. Something we all should be doing.  Theology has changed over and over in the 1900 years of Christianity and if Christianity wants to continue it must continue to change.  But it will only change if we are allowed to ask questions.

So, I encourage you to go ahead and ask. Keep asking until you understand, even if that is 50 years from now.   “The key to wisdom is this- constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.” Peter Abelard.

 

http://www.thewire.com/politics/2014/04/jars-of-clays-christian-fans-lash-out-after-the-lead-singer-tweets-for-same-sex-marriage/361256/

http://www.glaad.org/blog/jars-clay-frontman-posts-apology-stands-support-lgbt-equality

The meme http://www.whyistheresomething.com/answer/going-to-hell

Crazy Life, Crazy Love

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People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing,
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game,

John Lennon

 

Nope, I no longer play the game. I don’t want to play the game. The rules suck and I want no part of it. If I could overturn some tables I would. I’m not crazy; I’m just not going to follow traditions to make everyone happy. Just like someone I admire and most of you do to.

Mark 3:21 and 22 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him home with them. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.”

These verses make me think about what some family and many religious people think of me. That I’m crazy or out of my mind that I have changed my beliefs from what I grew up with. According to Mark, I’m in good company. Even the family of Jesus thought that he was a lunatic and we follow what he taught 2000 years later. Now that’s crazy! Those that knew the law (their holy words) thought he was possessed and yet now the words of Jesus are the holy words. Maybe that is crazier!   Guess the religious know it alls didn’t quite know it all.

I think often it is a lot of misunderstanding. I’m misunderstood because my family lives so far away and don’t know me like they think they do. They see through a cloudy window filled with visions of what they remember me as. But that window has been fading for 20 years.

You see today, all I want is to stand up for the helpless, hurting, oppressed, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, help the homeless, clothe the naked, help the prisoner etc.. What I got from religious people is “they are sinning”,” they want to be like that”, “they live in a scary part of town”,” and they are the wrong color”, etc.. etc… I guess my question to them would be “what is Christianity?”

Is it a set of beliefs and like thinking and looking people or is it how we treat one another? When I look at Jesus and his teachings, he doesn’t discriminate against the Samaritans. Those people who married the wrong person and worship at that other place of worship is basically how they were seen in Jesus’ day. They were hated much like an illegal alien who was homosexual would be hated by religious people today. Samaritans were not welcomed in the homeland and they loved the wrong person.

But I want to be like Jesus, so I welcome these people. I make them know that Jesus is for them and that they are loved. Is that crazy or what? I bet that is what the Samaritan woman at the well thought. Crazy that someone like him actually talks to me. That just doesn’t happen. The woman caught in adultery probably thought,” thank God, someone actually cares.”

A few verses after this Jesus asks, Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he looked at those around him and said, “These are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (33-35) So get this. The real Christian family is the ones who follow God’s will of loving, self sacrifice, acceptance, kindness etc… are the real family members. They are the ones the religious leaders and those that follow the religious leaders think are crazy.

I like this quote by R.C.Sproul . He said “Was Luther crazy? Perhaps. But if he was, our prayer is that God would send to this earth an epidemic of such insanity.”  Like Jesus and like many reformers Luther had to be different (crazy) to change the world.

So let’s get crazy and make a difference. Drop traditions, drop the my way or the hellway, drop your stones and learn to accept and love people unconditionally as Jesus did. Let’s go CRAZY!

Making Lent Real

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“Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice and is never the result of selfishness.”  Napoleon Hill

Lent is about sacrifice.  It has been practiced for at least 1800 years as Christians prepared for the celebration of Easter.  I find it ironic that some churches don’t understand what sacrifice means.

Let me back track for a bit.  About 7 years ago I was with a church that was meeting to define its purpose.  Just what did it want be hold as it’s main standards of living?  What did that church want the community to know about them?  Those who were there split up into groups of fours and fives and talked and discussed what each person wanted.  I’d bet there were close to ten groups that night.  Terms were tossed around like caring, friendly, good kids program, Bible based preaching, good music program and on and on.  But I did not hear sacrifice.  I told my small group that without sacrifice there is no Christianity.  Sacrifice must be the center of everything that we do.  The others in my group eventually decided that sacrifice should be added to our core.  My wife had a similar experience in her group.

All the groups were brought together and each listed it’s ideas of the core values of the church.  My group and my wifes were the only ones that listed sacrifice.  We again had to fight for the idea that sacrifice should be part of the church.  That blew me away.  Then the leader of the meetings said that in the ten years he’d been doing these seminars no church had listed sacrifice as a core value.  I was astonished.

Eventually I got my way and sacrifice was listed as a core value.  However it was only listed as a surface value.  It had no depth.  When you have to fight to put sacrifice or anything into a groups core, the group really doesn’t hold to that deeply and they just let it slip under the rug.

What is Easter if it is no about sacrifice?  Jesus went to the cross to sacrifice himself for the greater good of humanity.  Without his sacrifice there would be no Christianity, and yet sacrifice is now too hard for the church.  To hard for the church to do for the God they so eagerly say they want to serve.

No man can serve two masters, they cannot love God and safety, they can not love God and their comfortable life.  We can not love the poor without sacrificing our pride.  No one can love the sick and dying without sacrificing their comfort.  Jesus loved the lepers, the poor, the prostitutes, the destitute and more.  How much are you willing to sacrifice to be like him?

From Tertullian we got the phrase “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  What is a martyr but someone who sacrificed everything for God?  You may not give up your life in the name of God, but would you be willing to?  That is a hard question, not easily answered.  No one knows for sure until it’s too late.

Lent as well as life is about becoming more like God.  Giving up our lives to follow the path that God has laid in front of us.  I have found that the more I follow the true path the harder it becomes.  It is not about a life of ease, the nice house, family or job.  It’s about stripping away the things that hold us all back from truly loving those people that we just can’t stand.  Stripping away wants and desires until all that is left is God and nothing else.

Who’s willing to be spiritually naked before the world and let them see your true self.  Not the self that is hidden behind fear, religion, rules, or what society tells us is right.  But the self that God wants the world to see.  The self that God created in the first place.

The Definition of Marriage

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Answering the Gay Question Part 4

What does the Bible say about marriage?

There has been a lot of talk about what the definition of marriage is in this country.  Is it between a man and a woman or between two people regardless of sex?  The conservative Christians hold to the idea that the Bible states that marriage should be between a man and a woman.  After all God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

There is really very little consistency in the books of the Bible as to what really defines marriage.  Shall we have one spouse or multiple?  Is divorce ok or not?  Exodus 22:16 says that if a man rapes a women all he has to do is pay a price and he gets to marry her.  Good thing we don’t follow that one today.  I have found only one verse (1 Timothy 3:2 & 12) that says a man should only have one wife.  In that instance the writer is specifically talking about overseers and deacons and not necessarily about everyone.

What about Jesus?  Jesus didn’t really say much about who should marry.  His main statement is that there should be no divorce and boy we aren’t very good with that one.  In that verse he says, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulterer, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”  Matthew 5:22.  Many people argue that since Jesus said wife and did not talk about a husband’s husband or a wife’s wife that marriage is between a man and a woman.  My question to them would be why would he?  The question of homosexual marriage was not happening in their time.  If he started talking about irrelevant things then he would have become irrelevant.

Going back further to Adam (or Mankind as it could be translated, Eve meaning the source of life), there is a contradiction in the two creation stories that is worth looking at.  Many discuss that the two become flesh as meaning that God wanted male and female to partner up in marriage.  However in Genesis 1:27 it says that God created man (Adam) in his own image, in the image of God he created him, Male and Female he created them.  So they are already of the same material.  They are already of the same flesh.  So why would God (Elohim) in Genesis 1 create them in the same image and God (Yaweh), in chapter two create them differently?  Which is correct?

In Genesis 3 the story continues and Yaweh declares that the woman will be ruled by the male. (Vs. 16) By the way, that belief in male domination is about the only consistent marital connection throughout the Bible.

Also we must take into consideration that the writers of Genesis lived in the days when a man could have multiple wives and taught according to that belief.  Paul however said that you should only get married if you burn for another.  1 Corinthians 7:9-10.

1 Corinthians 7 also says that divorce is ok in some circumstances, that according to Jesus was not.  But according to the Pentateuch it is ok.  So which is right?  Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the final answer and yet our churches are full of divorced people?  Many of them are in leadership too, but that isn’t what the writer of Timothy says.

Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Peter 3:1 and Ephesians 5:22-33 all tell women to submit to their husbands as we do to the Lord.  There is no equality in this. We submit all things to the lord.  Our entire life is given up and we serve him faithfully.   Is this what women want? Do women want to serve the husband?  To give up their entire life and follow the man wherever he goes without getting explanations?

Of course we have rejected this idea and want a partnership in marriage.  We want one spouse for life.  But if that somehow does not work out, there is forgiveness and you can be reinstated in the church and in life.  There is no real sound definition in the Bible.  The only definition is what we want to believe it is.  Maybe that is how God left it.  For us to decide who we want to love.  After all, he loves us all and created us all, so why shouldn’t we be able to love that person who God created for us?