Understanding the Bible

Finally I can understand the Bible

Recently a friend of mine shared an article about 9 things every Christian should know to understand the Bible. It got me thinking so here is my list.  Whether you are a Christian, casual reader, or Atheist, these 11 simple ideas will help you understand what the Bible is really saying.  Understanding what it meant when it was written is essential to knowing how or if it can be related to today’s issues.

  • What is Jamnia? I went through Bible school and Jamnia was never brought up. Really? It wasn’t even in my text-book! I want my money back. (At least some of it.) Jamnia was the council in 90 CE that kicked the Christians out of Judaism. Up until then Christianity was simply some weird sect of Judaism. So if you read a book taking about church structure or leadership… It was written after Jamnia.
  • Know something about history. The New Testament was written during the early Roman Empire and this influences the authors. They have been through several horrible emperors like Nero, Caligula and Domitian. The philosophy of that era was Hellenism from the Greeks. Romans liked to steal ideas from cultures they conquered and make it their own.  The Old Testament was written in several different era’s. They are the Late Kingdom period, the captivity period, the new Temple period and the apocalyptic period. Learning about the times of the Old Testament is a bit harder because of this but not impossible.
  • Forget chapters. These books and letters were not originally with chapters and verses and many people tend to stop reading at the end of a chapter and believe a new thought is about to happen, when it isn’t. For instance, Genesis Chapters 18 and 19 are one story in which we are supposed to compare and contrast the actions of Abraham and his dealings with strangers and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and they way they dealt with strangers. Instead they are taught as if they have nothing to do with one another.
  • Know the author. Forget tradition when it comes to authorship. Many traditions say that Moses wrote the Torah and disciples wrote much of the New Testament. The Torah was written by at least 4 or 5 separate people or schools of thought and none of the disciples could read or write. Only about five percent of the world could read and write at the time the New Testament was written and they were not fisherman. They were the wealthy and the elite. So just because 1 Peter says “This is from Peter” does not mean it is from Peter the disciple.
  • Know why the book was written. Each book or letter was written for a specific reason and the content of that reason is for that reason. For example, the book of Romans was written because certain members of the Romans church were complaining about “sins” of other Christians in Rome. They are listed in Romans 1. Oops forgot, get rid of chapters. Those sins are listed at the beginning of Romans. Then Paul basically says in the next section, but you also have sins and here they are. That is why later Paul says, “For all have sinned and fallen short…” Paul was saying, don’t judge them take care of yourself, or get that “plank out of your own eye” etc…
  • Who was it intended for? The books of Matthew and Mark were mostly intended for a Jewish audience so understanding the background of Judaism would be good. But much of the New Testament wasn’t. It was written to Gentiles and they had little knowledge of the Old Testament or ways of the Jews. The book of Leviticus was written to people of the late kingdom period or during the exile. Either way it is saying to be holy you must follow these rules and God will take care of you.
  • Learn the types of writings. Especially true of the Proverbs and Psalms. They are NOT to be taken literally. The Psalms are like taking our favorite Hymns or choruses and making a book out of them. They are our Casey Kasems Top 150! They are the authors’ feelings and thoughts about the struggles they are going through.   Nothing more. Proverbs are just that. Simple sayings that are most of the time true. So when we say “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” 22:6. It is not a promise it’s just that most of the time this will happen.
  • Prophetic books are not about the future! Prophecy has come to mean that there is something that is going to happen in the future. That is not what these books are about. They are about telling the people to get their act together. A Prophet is one who speaks the word of God. In other words they tell the people what God needs them to do to live a Godly life. They are not trying to tell a person about something that will happen at the end times. The book of Revelation is about the Roman Empire and it’s persecutions on Christians and how God will take care of those who are pure and have the “right to the tree of life”.
  • Understand the meaning of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.   In the late 60’s there was a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire. In 70 CE the Romans destroyed Jerusalem laying waste to the city. The temple was torn down and destroyed. Up until that time the Christian thought was an imminent return of Christ. Then things changed. No Jerusalem to come to, no soon return. You start to get ideas of if Christ should wait 1000 years it’s ok, it’s like a day to god.
  • Understand the tension between the authors. Some authors love Grace and the equality of everyone. (Paul) Some authors want people to live by the rules that they are laying out. (Timothy’s and Titus) It’s the same tension today between the right and left wing of the church. Some want us to follow their rules to make it to heaven and some believe God’s taken care of that already, just love one another.
  • Question everything!  Jesus questioned the authorities and so should you.

Hope this will help you understand the Bible a little better.

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Choose Love not Hate

love all

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Gospel of John 13:34 & 35

 

June 29, 1964 a sweeping civil rights bill passed the United States Senate after 83 days of filibusters from its opponents. This was in the middle of the Black civil rights movement. The 19 senators from both parties were mostly from the south.
When the vote finally took place it was an over whelming vote of 73-27 in favor. So, 19 people with an agenda of hate stopped progress for nearly 3 months. Nothing could be voted on during that time that they stopped everything. That saddens me. What is even sadder is that that kind of hate is still around.
We still have a long way to go regarding civil rights. Yes it is better, but it has a long way to go. In the past few years there have been laws passed trying to stop the LBGT Civil Rights movement. Kids who are running to America for help are hated. Many want troops sent to the border.
In recent years states like Arizona, Missouri, and Tennessee have tried to pass laws trying to stop the LBGT movement. Laws like homosexuality being illegal to discuss in school or being able to not serve a customer if they are gay. Thankfully those laws have not passed.
This morning my pastor spoke on being nice to one another. Why can’t we be nice? That’s a good question. One thing he said is so very true. I can’t exactly quote him but here are the basics of what he said. “If you hear God telling you to hurt someone, to be mean to them, to do damage to them, it is not of God and you’d better see your doctor and get some medication.” If God is love, and I think God is love, then those that follow God can do no harm to others.
The saddest part of today’s Civil Rights movement is that the Church is one of the most vocal against people that it should love. It is not love to fight against a person’s rights. It’s just mean and selfish. It has nothing to do with God or the Bible. I almost want to say it’s Satanic but this isn’t Satan doing this. It’s people making a choice to hate instead of love.
President Johnson had a choice too. He was from the Deep South. Texas. He feared that passing this bill would hurt the democrats in the south. He feared his party would lose control of those areas. He was right. Many of those areas turned Republican. Johnson however knew it was the right thing to do.
I wish more people, not just out leaders thought like this. Doing what is right instead of what would benefit us the best. What if we started thinking of others first? If we put each other first we would not need an act of congress for Civil rights. It would simply be a normal part of life.
Next time you see someone different from you don’t think of them in negative terms. Think about what you could learn from them. Think about what their culture can bring to you. It will open up new and exciting times of growth that will benefit us all.

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/on-this-day–record-83-day-senate-filibuster-against-u-s–civil-rights-act-ends-165011753.html#vxAD9IM
http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/02/03/3241421/9-state-gay-propaganda-laws/

I know what Jesus Meant! So just follow me!

 I'M RIGHT

As I write this, yesterday was the anniversary of the start of the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE. The council was there to discuss whether Mary the mother of Jesus was the Christ bearer or the God bearer. At the end of the council the decision was in favor of the “God bearer” and those siding with the “Christ bearer” were kicked out of the church or left on their own. Those who left continued to worship Christ and God in their own way, establishing their own brand of Christianity.

I grew up part of the Wesleyan church. It was named after John and Charles Wesley who were kicked out of the Anglican Church which had left the Catholic Church. The Wesley’s then started the Methodist church. The Wesleyan church split from the Methodist church over how they chose their pastors and the slavery issue. For a while it was called the Wesleyan Methodist church but then merged with the Pilgrim Holiness church and formed the Wesleyan church. You will find some Wesleyan Methodist churches still around, because they left when the merger took place.

According to Wikipedia there are over 41,000 different denominations in the world. Did you get that? I thought we were supposed to be one. Anyway, this kind of got me thinking. How many times has the church had a schism and kicked someone out only for them to start a new brand of Christianity? Or how many times did a group leave because they didn’t see Christianity in the same way that they others did? And who really has the truth? How do we know that our brand of Christianity is the truth? It is only our brand because it was Spirit of God choosing it to be the victor. At least that’s what we are told. However most of these were simply church votes.

I’ve been to many church and denominational meetings about many different things and there is no real looking to the spirit to answer the questions before us. We vote for what we want and decide that is what God wants. How do we know that these councils were any different?

Then there is the Bible. How many of you actually know that there are several different books in other denominations around the world? The protestant bible in America has 66 books, the catholic bible has 73, the Greek orthodox has 76 etc… So who has the correct bible? All of us started as one and yet we can’t even agree on our text. What if there should be more books? What about fewer books? When the bible was first put together it wasn’t some divine intervention, it was several church councils.

So how can anyone say they really have the truth? We really only have what has been passed down to us by those in charge. It was that kind of person that Jesus yelled at repeatedly for abuse. How many times over the last 2000 years has our theology changed? A council in the early 300’s (Council of Nicaea) decided Jesus was indeed God; everyone else is free to leave. Another council 100 years later decided that the Spirit was also God. Several councils took this under consideration before it became orthodox. So it took the church 300 years to settle on that Jesus was actually God and another 100 years to create the Trinity. Those things that we hold so dearly today and without believing in them many would say that you could not be a Christian. What about those people in the first few centuries when that belief was not orthodox?

Anyway, for those that think they have it all together in their theology, maybe you really don’t. Maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to say “the Bible tells me so” or “the bible says it and that settles it”, because if anything the Bible hasn’t settled anything. In fact those who think they know the Bible seem to split the church apart. So being right in doctrine does not seem to work for the church. Maybe we should try to be right with each other instead. Jesus did say “love your neighbor” but I don’t remember him ever saying get your doctrine right.

 

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

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

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

A Religious State: What I fear

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May 20, 325 – 1st Christian ecumenical council opens at Nicaea, Asia Minor. This was the first major marriage of Christianity and state. The Emperor Constantine the (not so) Great called the church together to figure out what they believed. All those who disagreed with the Nicene Creed were kicked out of the church. Within 60 years (380 Edict of Thessalonica) all other Christian beliefs and ideas were deemed heretical and the “church” proceeded to eradicate them. This kind of thing is why we have separation of church and state. So we can have freedom of religion.

The same kind of thing had been happening in England for quite some time. When the Church of England broke from Catholicism in the 1500’s the King (or queen) became the head of the church. Whatever the king or queen was (protestant or Catholic) the other was persecuted. There was a revolution in which Oliver Cromwell and the far right Protestants took over and then were over thrown. For six years (1653-1659) the Commonwealth of England controlled the nation’s religion. People were jailed, killed or exiled for speaking their minds. Cromwell did have some people exiled instead of killing them to show his tolerance for religions. (Yeah, right, as I roll my eyes)

Many of the colonists that came to America were running from the wars and religious oppression from the government. They often settled in the Virginia area and in New England. This is where many of our founding fathers were from. Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Madison, and Patrick Henry were born in Virginia. Hancock, Franklin, John Adams, and Samuel Adams were all born in New England. They were born into areas filled with people who did not like the government and religion being married as one. I find it interesting that the bigger leaders and the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution all came from these areas, as well as our first six presidents.

The conservative Christians in America want a “Christian government” like our founding fathers but our founding fathers didn’t want religion in government. They had seen its affects on the people around them. I question how many of them were really Christians. John Adams said the Bible was full of myths. Jefferson took out all the miracles in the Bible when he printed the Jeffersonian Bible. That includes the resurrection. Washington seldom spoke about Jesus, only about the almighty God.   Franklin was a womanizer and Madison said “The establishment of the chaplainship in Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights as well as of Constitutional principles” Not exactly what you would call Christian ideas.

Madison also stated that “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”

The end of that is really what scares me if this country becomes a government run on religion. Our government would start persecuting based on the bigotry of whatever religion was in power. We don’t need that. We need freedom. The freedom that the founding fathers wanted us to have.  The freedom to worship without being persecuted. And when I say persecuted I mean beaten, thrown in jail and killed.  That would actually be persecution.

As John Adams once said, “Government has no right to hurt a hair on the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices.” Nor should it hurt the hairs on any head of a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jehovah Witness, Mormon or any other religion. Let’s allow all people to worship as they like, no matter if we disagree with them.  Keep religion out of the government and we can all have true freedom.

 

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

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Puritans_from_1649

http://www.usconstitution.net/constframedata.html

 

 

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!