3 Problems if Jesus is Your GPS

Mark 7:24-37

     It took me a long time before I finally broke down and bought a portable GPS for my car. That was before smartphones. I’d been holding out like the thrifty Lutheran that I am. I weakened when I saw how it helped three cars of teenagers and adults get to New Orleans and back. Then I rode with a colleague from Paducah to a conference pastors’ meeting in Stendal, Indiana. His GPS told us exactly what time we’d get there. It was correct. It told us the speed limit on major roads. It found the shortest route to the church. gps 1Unfortunately, that meant driving on ten miles of gravel roads, winding through cornfields to get there. I didn’t know there were places in Indiana that you can’t get to from here. But we found several along the way.

     I wish we had a GPS designed for the church. We need something to guide us through all the stuff we are going through these days. Oh, to have that wonderful female voice talk to us and tell us how best to navigate through the growing maze of rules and rituals, and the rights and wrongs of religion. If we make a wrong turn somewhere, to hear her say: “Recalculating. Go to the next synod assembly and turn around.”

     The closest thing we have to a GPS in the church is Jesus, God’s Peace Secured. His directions will lead us to great places like the kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

     You probably remember that Jesus said he is the way, the truth, and the life. The Aramaic word translated to English as truth means “right or harmonious direction; that which liberates and opens possibilities; or that which is strong and vigorous.” Jesus gives right and harmonious directions. He liberates and opens new possibilities. And he provides the strength to get to that place called “peace” in your world today.

     If you’ve read any of my other posts or books, you know that the kingdom of heaven and eternal life are places you can reach in this lifetime. You can get to them from here. And they’re not very far away. Jesus said they are at hand…within your grasp.

     There are several problems you’ll run into if Jesus is your GPS.

(1) Faith. One problem is that you have to believe his directions are the best ones to follow. When the Bible tells you to believe in Jesus, that means believing the whole package—believing his teachings are true, believing his example is the way you should live, believing his death leads to forgiveness of sins and resurrection. Belief, or faith, is the number one problem. It’s not easy to believe that nonresistance to evil or love for your enemies are the best ways to peace. But the directions he laid out and the route he took in his life will get you to the kingdom of heaven.

(2) Openness. Another problem if Jesus is your GPS is being open to new possibilities. When you think you already know the best route, it’s easy to be deaf to new possibilities, especially when you don’t understand how a different path is going to get you where you want to go. The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman comes directly after Jesus taught that his ancestors were wrong in calling Gentiles unclean. If Jesus wasn’t open to that possibility, he would have rejected helping this woman. Jesus said no person is unclean except the one from whom harmful things arise – like adultery, theft, fornication, deceit, wickedness, murders, envy, a negative outlook, putting others down, arrogance, unreasonableness. These are logs in one’s own eye. You can’t get to peace when they are in your path. Not only that but when Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man, he took him away from others as if to say, “Don’t listen to others. They’ll pull you back into the old way of thinking. Listen only to me.”

     It’s very clear that Jesus said some things we don’t understand. Like when he said “Ephphatha” to the man who was deaf. For people whose ears are closed, Jesus speaks a foreign language. In Aramaic, that word means “be open.” To those who don’t believe his teachings are true, he says, “Be open to the directions I give. They will lead you to peace and the kingdom of heaven that is within your grasp.”

(3) Strength. Using Jesus as your GPS, you’ll need more strength than you can muster on your own. If you follow Jesus’s directions, a lot of people will attack you. They’ll revile you. They’ll persecute and even crucify you. But hang in there. Hold firmly to the Truth. He is with you always. In fact, St. Paul said Christ is within you. He will give you strength to rise again. It might take a couple of days to get back on your feet, but peace and the kingdom of heaven will return if you have faith.

   It’s not easy to follow Jesus, but he is the GPS you should be using. He is the truth. He gives right and harmonious direction. He liberates and opens new possibilities when you follow his direction. And he provides you with strength to get where you want to go – to places of harmony and peace, within yourself and in the world you inhabit.

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True Religion is Not Tradition

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, James 1:17-27

     I heard a story that helps me think about tradition and how it can get in the way of religion that is true. A man was hired to paint the lines on a highway. The company didn’t have a lot of resources so he had to do his painting on foot with a paint brush and a five gallon bucket. After the first day the supervisor was very impressed. This new employee had painted three miles’ worth of lines. The next day his results were not quite as impressive. He was only able to paint the lines for a mile and a half. The third day he painted less than a half mile of lines. The supervisor called him into him into his office and said, “I’m going to have to let you go. Your work has become unacceptable.” The man whined, “It’s not my fault. I’ve never worked so hard in all my life. It’s just that the paint bucket keeps getting further and further away.”

     Is that what some traditions are doing to us today? Is our paint bucket getting so far in the past that we can’t get any of the real work done because we keep going back to imitate how our ancestors did it? Have you seen anyone painting lines on the road by hand lately? Time moves forward.

     It’s time to bring the paint bucket, and your religion, into the present day where the work needs to be done.

     Your religion is supposed to be about the way you live your life. And not just on Sunday mornings. It’s how you live your life every day of the week. Religion isn’t about following rituals and rules that others have created for you. James says religion that is pure and undefiled is about being attentive to the needs of those who cannot care for themselves, widows and orphans. True religion is about how you treat others, not about who you think is or is not following rules collected into a book two thousand years ago.

     Jesus quoted Isaiah, “These people praise me with their words, but their hearts are far from me.” Worship is more than words you sing and speak in a building on Sundays. Worship is the act of expressing your reverence and love for God who dwells within your neighbor. The God who dwells even in your enemy. True worship is how you treat others. You show your reverence and love for God when you love, when you do the right thing for anyone God places in your path who is in need.

     When we hold rules and traditions in higher priority than acting on the opportunities to love the person in front of us, our religion and our worship is in vain.

washing hands in bathroom    Don’t get me wrong. Many traditions are good and helpful. And you’d think that in Bible days, it was good for people to wash their hands and utensils before eating. You yourself probably have a tradition of washing your hands and dishes to protect yourself from spreading disease to each other.

     Except the reason the Pharisees washed when returning from the marketplace was not because the figs or fruit or vegetables or the tables were dirty. The Pharisees washed because they came in contact with Gentiles. They considered the Gentiles unclean. And so they were washing off remnants of any contact they might have had with unclean people. They called this their religion. That’s like considering the prejudices handed down to you from your ancestors a part of your religion. Some Christians think they are practicing their religion by labelling certain people unclean and not wanting to be dirtied by them.

     Good rules and traditions are a means to a desirable end. And that end is peace, joy, harmony, and unity among people. Good rules and traditions are created to guide people in the way of love and peace and harmony. Those rules and traditions that don’t do that are worthless. The end we strive for is to unite people together as one.

     When traditions become a wedge between people, causing separation and pain and discord, then maintaining the tradition has become more important than love for God who dwells in every person regardless of race, creed, orientation, gender, nationality, or political party.

     Examine your traditions closely and compare them to what Jesus said is the summary of all the law and prophets: treat others the way you want to be treated. That’s true religion. And remember: God’s love is not only unconditional, it’s untraditional.

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Is It Time For You To Leave, Too?

John 6:56-69

      People (disciples) who were following Jesus left because they didn’t understand the metaphors he was using. How could he say “eat” him? He sounds nuts.

   It surprises me that more people haven’t stopped following him because of the clear instructions he gave. You know, the ones that people don’t believe he really meant or that they think are impossible to follow. Like these:

(1) Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

(2) Love your neighbor, even the ones you avoid because of their beliefs, nationality, color of their skin, or sexual orientation.

(3) Be reconciled to your brother who has something against you before you offer any gifts to God.

(4) Do not resist an evil person. Whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go another mile.

(5) Judge not. First remove the plank from your own eye.

(6) Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven.

     He still sounds nuts.

     Peter said Jesus had the words (the teachings) of eternal life. They happen to include the ones just mentioned.

     So. Are you in or are you out?

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Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

     This is a follow up revision to a post in July that I did about there being no unforgivable sin. Since then I’ve been praying the same gospel text because I’m also retranslating the Gospel of Mark into words that speak more to me and guide me toward love, peace, and unity in the world. (I’ll be doing that for the other Gospels, too. But give me a year or two.)

     I still believe the passage in Mark 3:20-30 indicates Jesus is telling the Pharisees that he’s going to excuse himself from their ugliness for an undefined period of time. You’ll have to review the post to find out how I came to that conclusion.

     The adjustment that I want to make is in reference to the Holy Spirit.

DISCLAIMER: This is not an attempt—in any way, shape, or form—to deny the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. So don’t get your panties in a wad just because I’m disagreeing with one small story in Mark that the early translators were inclined to support with the Trinitarian concept. More traditions than I realized have some form of trinity in their deific beliefs, and that’s okay. I’m simply trying to interpret Greek words of this one text without the indoctrination of fifteen hundred years of religious dogma…the way people of the first century might have heard it.

      For clarification, there are no articles like “the” or “a” in Greek. They are added by translators to make sentences flow. No problem with that if it’s necessary. But it is a choice.

     In the early Greek texts, there was no separation into chapters or verses. There were very few punctuations. There was no capitalization. And…

 thisoneisreallygoingtoamazeyoutherewerenospacesbetweenlettersaswellasnocapitalizationorpunctuation

      Now that your Greek lesson is over, let’s look at the sentence in question from the NKJV:

     29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— 30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

      The word for “unclean” is closer in meaning to ritually impure, unatoned.

     The word for “holy” also can be translated as pure.

     Are you ready for my interpretation? Here it is:

 but he who speaks against a pure spirit will not be forgiven for an indefinite period of time, but is subject to an indefinite time of separation.” Jesus said this because they said, “He has an impure spirit.”

     In context, the Pharisees claimed Jesus was drawing out demons by the ruler of demons, Beelzubul. In my book, The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real, I have a chapter that talks about a human parasite, the guinea worm. It crawls under the skin until it reaches a person’s feet and then emits a stinging, hot sensation as it erupts. People run to the nearest watering hole to get relief and the parasite releases eggs that infect more people. First century healers drew out the parasite by twisting it around a stick.

demon portrait     You know what people think of when they see something that comes out of a person that looks like a small snake, don’t you? Demons. The Pharisees said Jesus was drawing out demons under the influence of Beelzubul.

     They said he had impure motives. That’s insulting.

     So, you can go back to my earlier post, erase Holy Spirit in every place and replace it with “pure spirit.” It makes as much, if not more, sense.

     Some sins are just not as easily let go (forgiven) as others. Ain’t it the truth?

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Eating Flesh and Blood

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John 6:51-58                                                       “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” That almost sounds like a scene out of Ann Rice’s book and movie, “Diary of a … Continue reading

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Deeper Than Bread

John 6:35, 41-51

     The Gospel of John is deep. Deeper than manna. The teachings of Jesus are deep. Deeper than bread. loaf of bread

    Manna was the “bread from the heavens” that fell on the surface of the ground. Manna was helpful to a degree. It helped the children of Israel survive the wilderness. But I think eating manna was also a metaphor for a surface interpretation of the Law. (Rather than limit the word “law” to commandments and official regulations, understand that the Law – the Torah – means “instruction.” The stories in the Torah also gave much instruction.) The Law helped make uncivilized people more civil. Yet it never brought life in its abundance.

     Manna fell and lay on the surface of the ground. It had no roots. There was no depth to it. “What you see is what you get.” The Israelites could only collect and eat the manna that fell each day. They couldn’t store it for the next day. Why? Because it would spoil and get rotten. Things that spoil end up hurting you or others.

     Laws created today help for “a day.” You can’t expect to be able to apply the same instructions “tomorrow” that were intended for today. Why? Because things change. Today’s instructions won’t apply perfectly to tomorrow because everything will be different. Just look at all the ridiculous laws still on the books today that haven’t been eliminated.

     If you don’t adapt, you will die. It’s the rotten laws that will steal life in its abundance from you and others. (Note: “everlasting” life in the New Testament doesn’t mean heaven-when-you-die. It means life in its abundance today. That’s in my next book about eternal life.)

     On the other hand, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life that came down from the heavens.” Jesus spoke in metaphors and allegories. If you interpret his teachings literally, their surface interpretations, you are eating light and fluffy manna that lies on top of the ground. It might help you survive today, but it won’t give you everlasting life, i.e., life in its abundance.

     Bread comes from something that has roots in something solid that has depth and substance. Love has depth. Bread is the substance of life. It’s created from the fruit of a plant that was rooted deep in the soil. Jesus called himself the “living bread.” He was rooted in a God of love and compassion. Jesus’s actions of love—healing, comforting, feeding, spreading good news—these were the fruits of his life. His actions are the bread that will sustain us and give us life.

     Yet, the old men that made religion an institution in the form of the “church” ate the manna of Jesus’s teaching. They took what lay at the surface and made a ritual out of this teaching. That’s what religious people do. They make more rituals and call them important. Surface meanings have no depth. Rituals don’t change people. That’s not to say that God can’t use rituals to initiate change in people. But too often rituals deceive people.

     People of liturgical traditions joke about “letting loose” on Saturday night because they’ll go to church the next morning, confess, commune, and receive forgiveness. I’m not sure if they really believe this, but it’s the impression they’ve been given and they give themselves permission to let go of constraints to their actions.

     To eat Jesus’s body, the living bread, is to take in and absorb the fruits (loving actions) produced in Jesus’s life so that they become who you are as a person. That would be a person rooted in love who feeds, heals, comforts, and brings good news to the poor and outcast.

     It’s easier to eat a piece of bread and drink a sip of wine than it is to love your neighbor. Love requires looking deeper into the reasons for the unloving actions of others and trying to assist in mending those wounds. It takes time and work to love. Those whose don’t have the time to go deeper relish rituals and make them more important than healing the wounded, feeding the hungry, comforting the prisoners, getting to know the outcasts, and sharing the news of a God of love.

     Eating manna is going no deeper than the surface of words or actions.

     Eating the living bread is meditating on the life and actions of Jesus so that they become part of you and motivate your actions. Those actions will be rooted and grounded in love.

     When you bear fruits grounded in love, you will become living bread for the world. And that’s when you’ll experience “everlasting” life—the kind of life God desires for you in the world today.

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Gay Marriage – Love is the Narrow Gate

Matt. 7:13-14

Gay Wedding Rainbow Rings Isolated on White Background.

     Gay marriage is a holy exception to the biblical generalization of the union of two people. Exceptions to the Law are found by entering the narrow gates of love. Jesus said there are few who enter by way of the narrow gate. This post is part of the July 2015 synchroblog that invited bloggers to write about “Gay Marriage.”

     If all the exceptions to the instructions of Moses were included in the Scriptures, a library of holy exceptions would be needed to cover everything the early writers failed to identify. The children of Israel would have needed an additional forty tabernacles filled with exceptions to drag with them in the wilderness.

     The wide gate is the unsorted accumulation of religious laws, and many are ruined by it.

     Jesus should have brought a paper shredder with him for all the hurtful regulations that had been collected over the centuries. Ultimately, he reduced the Law and the Prophets into one: Do to others what you would have them do to you. St. Paul said love is the fulfillment of the Law. Love is the narrow gate.

   Of course, without electricity, Jesus used parables about the kingdom of heaven to teach people how to get rid of hurtful regulations. I explain them in my book about the kingdom of heaven. I’ll just identify the two parables here – the net cast into the sea, and the wheat and the tares.

     For a long time I walked by way of the wide gate. It was a righteous feeling being in the right and on the right. I won’t go into all the details of how I moved to the middle of the road, unsure which way I was going to finally tip. But I’ll tell you the tipping point that threw me 100% on the side of love over law.

     For six years, I served a loving, united, and harmonious church community as their pastor. It was the kingdom of heaven. In 2009, the universe led my denomination to accept the partnering of gay clergy. That’s when Satan threw some weeds into our garden of Eden. (Seeds in the Bible are metaphors for teachings or “the word”.) Hurtful teachings started stealing the Light and living water from the good teachings. You can’t always tell the weeds from the wheat until you start seeing the fruit they bear. Then the teachings bore their fruit.

     The weeds (hurtful teachings) produced suffering, division, pain, and anger. That was a difficult time in our congregation. For some people, the Law was more important than caring for the outcast. Some left quietly. Some departed loudly and tried to pull as many away from the body as they could. The kingdom of heaven was torn asunder.

     That’s when I knew that to follow the way of Love was the hard way. It was Jesus’ way. And it has led to life—a life that is true to compassion, love, and the well-being of outcasts, strangers, the sick and imprisoned.

   It would have been far easier to follow the Law with so many others in the religious community. But that’s the wide gate. And many people follow it. Yet the wide gate brought anger and division. Only Love can bring life and joy to those who despair.

     Martin Luther gave me both permission and the freedom to let Love be my guide. He said, “Therefore we conclude that all law, divine and human, treating of outward conduct, should not bind any further than love goes. Love is to be the interpreter of law.”

     “When Jesus said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it,” he wasn’t talking about gays experiencing difficulty to find life. Christians and other religious traditions have made sure the way for special people of the world is difficult. Jesus was talking about religious people finding it difficult to experience life in its abundance when they are ruled by Law rather than by love. There are many angry, hate-filled, law promoting Christians out there. They are constantly dividing each other.

     Love softens the heart while law hardens the heart.

     Sometimes it takes the universe moving itself forward without the help of the self-righteous to teach the religious world how to love. Fortunately, God is in control of the world. God is love and Love will ultimately bring all things together in perfect harmony as one.

     In the creation story, the human being was alone and it says this was “not good.” He need a “helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18 NKJV) to make him complete.

     Love recognized this. Love tried animal companionship first, but that didn’t do it (Gen. 2:18-20). The religious idiot who said gay marriage will lead to marriage with animals forgot God already figured that out. Pets aren’t sufficient to make one whole and complete. The human being needed someone like himself, capable of thinking, speaking, caring, and understanding his innermost needs. He needed someone to assist him and make him complete. Someone to help him through the many struggles on the journey of life.

     Marriage is a covenantal tradition in which two human beings commit themselves to each other in the image of love, uniting their energies to bring wholeness, healing, and harmony to each other. Their completeness brings them closer to the image of God, which is love.

     God is love. Love is the narrow gate. Love is the way of God. The Good Book is helpful in many ways, but love is the law God has written on my heart. That’s why I whole-heartedly support gay marriage.

     Will married gays do marriage perfectly? No. And law promoting, heterosexual Christians have provided no leadership or example worthy of following.

     Gay marriage is a positive step toward helping two people find the companionship they need in this journey of life. In my opinion, standing up for gay marriage is loving my neighbor the way Jesus intended. I hope you’ll join me in entering the kingdom by way of the narrow gate.

Here are the links to other bloggers on this topic:

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Is There An Unforgivable Sin?

Mark 3:28-30

     A long time ago, I was praying the gospels. I asked for an answer to this question: Why is the sin against the Holy Spirit unforgivable? Doesn’t that minimize the sacrifice of Jesus, even it’s by only one sin? It took a long time for me to get an answer. Since I’m following up my book The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real with a book about Eternal Life, I was drawn to analyze the question again.

     Part of the problem was that I was focusing on the wrong thing. I was assuming the headings given by the editors of various translations of the Bible was accurate. Headings can send you in a direction that might be a deviation from what Jesus meant.

     I started looking at the Greek words. Eternal is in the verse and that’s why I was drawn to it.

 28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:28-30 NRSV).

     Other translations say “eternal damnation” or “eternal condemnation.”

     Is this an accurate translation? You be the judge.

     (Keep in mind that Jesus’s words came in response to the Pharisees saying he was casting out demons by the power of an unclean spirit, Beelzebul.)

     The Greek words literally translated as “has no forgiveness into the age” were replaced with “never.” Never has no end. But as I describe in my new book, every age has a beginning and an end, but its duration is not always definite.

     Guilty can also be translated as “subject to, liable, in danger of.”

     The primary focus in my book is that eternal (aionios) means “an undefined (but limited) duration of time,” literally, “into the age.” It does not mean “forever.” You’ll have to wait for the book for that full explanation.

     Oddly, the noun modified by “eternal” is not the typical Greek word (hamartēma) translated as “sin.” It’s a word (krisis) usually translated “separating, sundering (dividing, splitting), judgment, or condemnation.” The focus is on separation.

     If I put all these literal translations together, the verse sounds like this:

whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness into the age, but is subject to an undefined period of separation.

     Separation from what? Separation from the grace, favor, or blessing of God? Or maybe Jesus was simply saying he would separate himself from his accusers until they stopped saying he was casting out demons by the power of Beelzubul.

     Was Jesus proclaiming this as a blanket statement to all the world? Or was Jesus speaking personally to the Pharisees? If Jesus understood the Holy Spirit had descended upon him at his baptism, to speak against this kind-hearted, holy, loving, compassionate, peaceful Spirit within him was hurtful.

     Matthew’s version says, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, not in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32). Two ages of unknown length don’t necessarily make an eternity. Maybe Jesus was saying, “You can insult my human nature all you want, but to insult the Spirit that motivates me is going too far. It will take me longer to let it go than normal.” It’s an explanation that returns the meaning to the context of the passage instead of expanding it into a generalized theology that applies to every person in time.

     For how long would there be separation? Maybe for as long as they continued to speak against the Holy Spirit and claim Jesus healed in the power of Beelzebul. If it was for the rest of their lives, then it’s a lifetime. If they saw the Light and changed their minds, then forgiveness would be available to them.

     I don’t mind contradicting (blaspheming) the humanness of editors and translators. I’m seeking a way to avoid blaspheming the Holy Spirit. To suggest blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable puts a limit on God’s grace. I believe the saving actions of Jesus open the way to forgiveness for every sin including the one unjustly labeled “unforgivable.”

     Let me take this one step further. The verse preceding the passage in Mark says, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered (3:27 NRSV).

     The New Testament says that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit motivates your actions that bring peace, love, hope, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control.

     The strong man in each of us is the Holy Spirit who motivates our good actions. If someone wants to steal your peace, joy, patience, et all, they simply have to insult you (blaspheme you) and the strong man (the Spirit of goodness) is tied up within you. It’s difficult to act in goodness when someone questions your motivations. The verse makes sense when you look at it this way.

     If the Spirit of goodness is mature and stronger in you than in most people, it can’t be tied up. Jesus proved this when he said from the cross, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

     To tie up the strong man, the Holy Spirit, in a person’s house is to limit the ability of that person to bring forth peace, hope, love, and goodness. How do you tie up someone’s strong man? By casting your insulting and unclean spirit into them. That will tie up the Spirit of goodness within them.

     Do you want to tie up the good actions of someone? Insult them. Say evil things to their face. That will hurt their feelings and it will take a longer time than usual for them to let go of your insult. It’s human nature and you will reap what you sow.

     Is it forgivable? Yes, but it will take longer than usual.

     What do you think? Is there an unforgivable sin?

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The Fires of Hell

     A friend asked me what I thought about “hell,” as in “Is there a hell?” So I thought I’d limit myself to 500 words and put it here:

     There are three words in the Bible that some translators have converted to the word “hell” (Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna).

     Sheol and Hades refer to (1) death, the place where people go when they die, or (2) in poetic language, as metaphors for places of darkness, despair, and pain. David implies he’s been to Sheol.

For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul (also translated as “life”) from the depths of Sheol  Ps. 86:13.

David says he has a choice to go to Sheol.

If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there Ps. 139:8.

If God is in heaven and in Sheol it would negate the explanation that hell is the absence of God or that God is turning His back and not watching people burn.

fire2     Most important for the Bible, fire is a graphic image of pain and sorrow, not of final punishment. The consequence (wages) of sin is death (a place of pain and sorrow).

 “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction(Is. 48:10). 

 “For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation(Sirach 2:5).

“The vapor and smoke of the furnace precede the fire; so insults precede bloodshed” (Sirach 22:24).

     Gehenna is the New Testament’s image for the furnace of fire, i.e., pain and sorrow. Gehenna was literally a dump outside Jerusalem where garbage and refuse was burned, among other things.

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell (Gehenna) fire. Matt. 18:9

 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell (Gehenna) as yourselves. Matt. 23:15.

“and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping (sorrow) and gnashing of teeth (anger)” Matt. 13:42.

     Death itself is also a metaphor in the Bible for the absence of true life, not merely the soul leaving its body. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full (true life).”    

     The bottom line is this. The Bible is packed with multi-leveled metaphors and images. When we interpret the words literally, we are as the children (of Israel) who were unable to see below the surface of the literal word. The essential teachings lie in the metaphors, if we would only take the time to meditate upon them for what they can teach us that will bring peace and harmony into our lives today.

     Therefore, we create hell (pain and sorrow) for ourselves when we sin because every action has its own karma or consequence (wages). What you sow is what you’ll reap.

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Do the Right Thing

Mark 6:14-29                                    

How many times have you let others pressure you into doing things you really didn’t want to do? Some call it peer pressure. Some call it pride. Some call it wanting to fit in. Some call it avoiding embarrassment. Think about it. Why does something in your gut tell you that you shouldn’t do what you’re about to do? Because your gut is another name for your heart and your heart is the dwelling place of God.

Herod didn’t want to harm John. Something in his gut told him John was a righteous and holy man. Yet he tried to avoid embarrassing himself by having John beheaded. The truth is he’s looked like a weak-minded fool to the world for two thousand years already. How’s that for an embarrassing legacy?

This begs the question: Who are you trying to please or impress? Who is so important in your mind that you’d willingly hurt someone in order to save face?

Sin begins with a chain reaction in people trying to please someone else: Herod wanted to please his wife’s daughter for putting on a good performance. The daughter wanted to please her mother. Herodias wanted revenge and she used her daughter to get it. Herod wanted to save face in front of his friends and community leaders. Ultimately it led to doing harm to a good person.

Have you ever used your influence to get someone to do something they didn’t want to do – maybe to get back at someone who embarrassed you or who offended you? It happens all the time when couples divorce. People hold grudges and they use their children to try to hurt each other. It happens in the workplace, using coworkers to get even.

Not only does Herodias use her husband to get revenge, even worse, she uses her daughter.  Parental pressure is a very strong thing. We teach our children they are supposed to obey their parents: the Bible says so. We teach our children this means they have to do what their parents say, or it will be a sin before God.

Children have a different kind of pressure – they don’t always know what is right.  They can only trust their parent is telling them to do the right thing.  The daughter in our story never even questioned her mother. She didn’t ask, “Why do you want me to do that?”

How many have told their children they don’t have to obey the fourth commandment if a parent is asking them to do something wrong? If following a parent or a superior’s instructions will end up hurting someone – it is our Christian duty to do the right thing because Jesus is our Guide in making our choices. That’s what following Jesus is all about. Jesus gave us a higher command – to love – because love is the fulfillment of the law.

That applies even when the instructions we are told to follow are in the Good Book. You see, there are some instructions in the Bible that have ended up hurting our neighbor. Martin Luther taught that if a law doesn’t serve love, then you can overlook it. More than that, he said get rid of it.

God is Love     How do we know what is the right thing to do? The answer is found in asking that great question – what would Jesus do? He would serve love. What decision will bring good to my neighbor instead of harm?

The New Testament says God is love. To let God reign in your life is to let love reign in everything you do. To let your pride get hurt is better than letting your neighbor get hurt. When Love is guiding you, God is guiding you.

So what is the good news in this story about Herod and Herodias and her daughter? Maybe the good news is that you can trust your heart to tell you the right thing to do. You have invited God into your heart and Love said, “Yes.” God is love. God is in your heart. So you can trust what your heart is telling you when it tells you to do the right thing rather than harm your neighbor.

The good news is that Love is within you. Listen to Love when there’s a hard decision to make. And if you make a mistake, God still loves you, blesses you, forgives you, and doesn’t give up on you.

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