Mary – Favored by God

 

Luke 1:26-38                

Baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph     And the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Greetings, favored one.”  When I think of being ‘favored,’ I tend to think that I have done something that has pleased another person.  I also think that I what I have done has been better than others around me. It makes me wonder, “Did Mary actually do something that made her stand out so that God picked her from among all the other young Jewish women in Israel?”

     The word for ‘favored’ – in the Greek comes from the same word as grace – and the word is a passive form of the verb indicating Mary was a passive object, there wasn’t anything Mary did to receive this ‘favor,’ or honor. She didn’t earn the title, Mother of God. She was favored by having the honor of giving birth to the child that would change the history of the world. Mary received God’s favor in the same way we have been favored because there was nothing we did to earn God’s grace in giving Jesus Christ to the world.

     God’s ‘graces’ aren’t always what we consider ‘gifts’ by this world’s standards. Not many young Jewish girls would consider pregnancy before the wedding to be an honor or a blessing from God…quite the contrary. But isn’t that like God? God takes what the world sees one way and turns it upside down. Whoever would believe the Son of the Creator of the Universe would be born in a smelly animal stable and laid in a feeding trough? A pregnant virgin, a king on a cross. God has a funny way of making contradictions out of the world’s ways of thinking. 

     Can’t you hear Mary say, “Thanks a lot for the favor, God, but that’s a total commitment of my body for nine months, then labor, then raising a child. And your timing seems a little questionable. How about favoring me by letting me sing in the choir, or being an usher at church on Sundays, something that doesn’t take my whole being and life. Or don’t make me do something that is uncomfortable or that takes too much of my time. My time is already planned.”

     But God had a purpose for Mary, and that was the gift. Mary allowed God to use what she had – where she was in life – for the good of the whole world.

     Mary’s qualifications to be the mother of the Messiah were not impressive. Her only future as a Jewish girl in those days was to be a Jewish man’s wife, to have his children, to care for the children and for her husband. God used her within the confines of her patriarchal culture, used her abilities and what gifts she had. Her gifts must have been to be a caring and loving mother and wife. And her greatest asset was that she was faithful.

     Part of Mary’s thinking had to include this: “I don’t understand a bit of this. But you are God, and I serve you…I’ll do whatever is your will.” Her words in the Greek are this – “I am the slave girl of the Lord.” Our modern translations soften the sound of that concept of slavery. We say ‘maidservant’ or ‘handmaiden’ or even just ‘servant.’ But the Greek word literally is ‘slave.’ 

     Graced by God to be a mother. And she said ‘yes.’

     Maybe it’s easier for someone who is poor financially, for someone poor in spirit, who’s humble, to say ‘yes’ to God, to say ‘yes’ to slavery. Maybe it’s easier for a poor person than for a rich person to see themselves as subservient to a Lord and Master. The rich, the self-sufficient, the independent, and those who are in control of their own lives must find it very difficult to give up control, independence, and self-sufficiency in order to follow the purpose of God and improves the lives of many people. 

     In baptism, we received a message just like Mary received from the angel. That message in baptism was: “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. God wants his Son to be born in you and to live and grow in you.” And in order to be truly favored, our response has to be the same as Mary’s response to the angel when she said: “I am the Lord’s slave. May it be to me as you have said.”

     All who say ‘yes’ to give birth to goodness and harmony in the world with whatever gifts and assets they’ve been given will bring Christ to life.

     May God favor you by using you to bring goodness to the world. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

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God is Light

 

John 1:6-8, 19-28

     Chaim Potok was a writer; an extremely religious man. He was a Jew and from an early age, Potok knew he wanted to be a writer. But his mother wasn’t convinced. When he went away to college she said, “Son, now I know you want to be a writer. But I want you to think about brain surgery. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying. And you’ll make a lot of money.”

     To which he responded, “No, Mama, I want to be a writer.”

     But, “No,” is not what Mama wanted to hear. So, every vacation break for 4 years she would repeat her comments about his becoming a brain surgeon – keeping people from dying, and making a lot of money. And always his response was the same.

     Finally he had enough, and, when the same mantra began, he cut off his mother and with great passion he said, “Mama, I don’t want to keep people from dying, I want to show them how to live.”[1]

     Some religious institutions today are like that mother. They think Christians ought to be like brain surgeons – sent out to keep sinners from dying eternally in the fires of hell.

     No. The early church turned everything Jesus said and did into an eschatological (end of the world) focus. We haven’t repaired the diversion away from Jesus’s teachings yet. Many people still think the kingdom of heaven is an after-life destination. That’s the reason I wrote The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real, and It’s Open to Everyone! In the words of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

     Jesus told his disciples, “I came that you might have life, and have it to the full.” He wasn’t talking about life in heaven after they died. He was talking about life in Israel in the first century.

     Christians are sent into the world to prepare the way for Jesus to come into the lives of those who don’t know God and teach them how to live an abundant life right here and now.

     John the Baptist came first. His message was this: “Change the way you think (that’s what the word “repent” means – change your mind) and let go of unloving actions/sins.”

     Change the way you think so you stop hurting yourself and others.

     John said, “I can only baptize you with water…I clean you on the outside with water and the law…but the one who comes after me is so much stronger than I am. He won’t just clean your outside actions. He’ll immerse you in a Spirit that is worthy of praise (holy) and you’ll be clean from the inside out.” The things you do will be done for the right reasons…because you love each other.

     For most of my life, I believed Christians were sent into the world to keep people from going to hell when they die. Today, I’m convinced God sends us into the world to help people out of the hells they currently live in. They live in hells of poverty, of sickness, of debt, of depression, of materialism, of anger, of division, of discontent. Christians are sent to show and help people learn how to live an abundant life.

 picture by Stephanie Lynn Hinds    Jesus came for another reason. He reveals the truth about God. I gave a lot of details about that in How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever.

     The Gospel of John says, “Jesus is the light of the world.” The first letter of John says, “God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.” Another place it says, “God is love.” This is the good news!

     Darkness is a metaphor for lack of understanding. Jesus has helped us understand God. But too many people are accustomed to darkness. They shun the Light.

     Our role is to prepare a way in the wilderness by pointing to Jesus as the revelation of a God who is love and goodness. We don’t have to save anyone from a devil with a pitchfork and horns. We are to show people how to live the abundant life – how to find peace, and love, and joy, and meaning in life by helping each other to enjoy the ride through to the end of this one. Our eternal futures are secure. We know the end of the story.

     Jesus is the Anointed One, the Word made flesh who has shown us the truth about God. God is light. God is love. This is the good news!

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[1] Susan R. Andrews, Sermons for Sundays: In Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: The Offense Of Grace, CSS Publishing Company, Inc. (from illustrations in eSermons.com)

 

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Doing Your Part in Baptism

Mark 1:1-8                                             

     Baptism is one of the sacred rites Christians around the world share in common. It’s one thing that unifies us. We can all say we were baptized in Christ. If you meet a Catholic in Nova Scotia, he was baptized. If you meet a Pentecostal in Kenya, she was baptized. If you meet a Baptist in Paducah, she was baptized. Christians share this common initiation rite. All over the world, the sacramental rite of Baptism unites us.

     It’s the external details and intellectual explanations surrounding the sacrament of Holy Baptism that cause us headaches. It’s amazing how unloving people can use the most unifying of rituals to drive a wedge between Christians. 

 baptismal font    But what I want to do today is to look at what the Gospel of Mark says, and look at a couple of the words in the text, and see if we can grow in our understanding about what baptism means – and how it can be a powerful force in our own lives.

     The gospel in verse 4 says, “John [the Baptist] came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…and all the people…confessed their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

     The Greek word translated as repentance means “to turn around” or “turn away” or “change your mind.” Repentance means we make a conscious decision to turn our lives around by turning away from unloving actions that hurt others or ourselves.

     People have asked, “Why did Jesus have to be baptized? He never sinned.”

     Jesus was in a constant state of repentance according to the definition. He always turned away from unloving actions. He outwardly displayed his commitment to turn away from sin by going through the ritual.

     The Greek word (aphiemi) translated as “forgiveness” in this passage can be interpreted several ways. First is the religious way. Forgiveness comes from God because you “repent” – most often believed to mean “saying you’re sorry.” This is what many are taught when thinking of baptism. God lets go of our sins, washes them away, and God will never remember them again because you get immersed in water. That’s a traditional church way to think of it. 

     But in the verse: “John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” it doesn’t look like John the Baptist was suggesting we repent in order to get God’s forgiveness. God isn’t mentioned. John had no Christological atonement theology. And if repenting is all you have to do for God’s forgiveness, then Jesus didn’t have to die. There must be something else.

    Other definitions of aphiemi say it can mean “to release, let go, depart from, or abandon.” John proclaimed a washing in water (symbolic of cleansing the outside of the body, i.e., external actions) indicating one’s commitment to turn away (from sin) for the letting go of unloving actions. In this kind of forgiveness, you have a part to play: to let go of sin so it does no harm to others and you won’t suffer negative consequences.

     (I’m finishing up a short ebook on the power to forgive that goes into more detail about the variety of meanings of forgiveness and it will be ready to read sometime in January.)

     John said, “I baptize you with water,” meaning ‘I can only help you to clean up your actions by telling you some of the rules to follow. That will help you at the surface level.’

     Jesus repeated that external washing with water isn’t enough when he said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. (Matt. 23:25-26)

     Martin Luther compared the water, used for ritual cleansing in the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast, to the Law. The Law helps clean the outside. It can’t reach into the heart to clean the inside by itself.

     Baptism with water is an incredibly important and symbolic act that, when performed in a Christian church, initiates a life of commitment to God. The early church, and continues to be a practice in some churches today, required those who wanted to be baptized to go through a one or two year process of education and training to be accepted for baptism.

     The catechumens immersed themselves in a process of prayer and study and worship so they understood what they were making a commitment to. It’s a good practice. It’s not a biblical command that you have to do that, but just because it’s not biblical doesn’t mean it’s a bad practice. It’s a baptism with water—teaching you the rules to help you manage your outward behavior.

     Then John said, “But one is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

     Jesus baptizes with “a holy spirit.”

     The early translators turned this into “the Holy Spirit.” I’m not dissing the Trinitarian doctrine here. I’m just pointing out that translation is always subjective and dependent upon the theology of the translator.

     There are no articles like “a” or “the” in Greek. And no capitalization either.

     “But one is coming who will baptize you with (a) holy spirit” is another way to translate it.

     Jesus immersed himself in the goodness of God, in a life of prayer, study of the Scriptures, worship of God in spirit and truth—service and love for the welfare of his neighbor. Jesus possessed a spirit that was worthy of awe, praise, and honor. He helped people because he loved them, not because a holy book told him he had to do it to go to heaven one day.

     Jesus baptizes (immerses, surrounds, pours out) with (or “in”) a holy (worthy of awe, honor, praise) spirit that helps clean the inside of the cup (your inner motivations, the spirit in which you do things). Your actions will be good because love will be the motivation.

     Religion should be more than an attempt to clean the outside of the cup. Your actions might appear worthy of praise, but your motivations could be selfish and conniving. God sees the heart and knows why you do what you do. God wants to see actions coming from a spirit within you that is worthy of praise.

     You continue to play a part in baptism. Baptism is not a historical thing. Baptism is an immersion in the Spirit, in the goodness of God—today and for the rest of your life.

     Isn’t it strange that some churches make you think it’s sinful to be baptized more than once? That doesn’t make sense. Martin Luther said we should remember our baptism every day. We should remember the commitment we have made to be followers of Jesus Christ every day.   

     Baptism is always about today—it’s not about what happened years ago when you got wet in the church. Baptism is a today thing. Are you committed to following the example of Jesus Christ today, immersing yourself in the goodness of God? St. Paul said, “Don’t you know that it’s the goodness of God that leads you to repentance?”

     Doing your part in baptism means you will continue to immerse yourself in the things of God—prayer, Bible study, worship, service, fellowship and breaking of bread for the building up of relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, acts of love to our neighbor that are pleasing to God, and to let go of sin in your life. And it’s a daily thing.

     Once you’ve done your part in immersing yourself in the spirit of Jesus and the goodness of God, a spirit that is worthy of praise (i.e., the Holy Spirit) will motivate you to act in the best interests of your neighbor.

 

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Christ Comes Every Day

Mark 13:24-37

     I like the way Leonard Sweet began a sermon on this Advent text. “Salmon do it. HummingbirdHummingbirds do it. Butterflies do it. Turtles do it. All these creatures, and many more: they all . . . go home again. Salmon find their way from the ocean back to whatever tiny tributary in which they were hatched. Hummingbirds fly over six thousand miles to find their nesting sites. Butterflies gather in the same trees, generation after generation. In the summer of 2011, turtles closed down whole runways at JFK Airport as they migrated back to home ground. The instinct to “go home” is widespread in creation and often times, it’s unstoppable.”[1]

     We see this urge to go home every September when school starts. I’m reminded of the teary kindergartner on the first day of school. The teacher asked, “You aren’t homesick already, are you?” He said, “No, I’m HERE sick.”

     Something about Christmas and the holidays has a way of making people get a bit homesick – even when we are “home.” We get homesick for our childhood homes and the memories of times when all we had to worry about was if there would be enough friends to play kickball tomorrow. We get homesick for dining rooms filled with family members, both here and departed. We get homesick for images of the way we think homes should be like during the holidays. We get homesick for those moments of peace and contentment that made us feel safe, and needed, and honored, and loved.

     I wonder if this instinctive urge to go home is what makes people interpret everything the Bible says with an eye for the end times, the Last Day, heaven-when-we-die? We want to go home, to the place of peace from which we came.

     But you and I don’t have to wait for Jesus to come at the last day in order to be home. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is here today. We simply have to be attentive to where Christ shows up in our lives.

     Even Martin Luther interpreted the tribulation texts with a view to the present day. I peeked at the prayer I wrote in Praying the Gospels with Martin Luther for the complimentary text in Luke 21:25-36. In his sermon, Luther explained the imagery as a metaphor rather than a literal description of Judgment Day. JD wasn’t even a first century Jewish theory.

     Luther said when religious leaders focus on everything except Christ, then Christ is covered like a cloud. The church becomes like a darkened moon when it stops reflecting the Son because it’s caught up in worshiping obedience to rules and mandatory morality. And Christian leaders whose self-importance and outward displays of piety surpass their passion for Christ. They are like stars falling in the darkness of night.

     Jesus assured his disciples that after the hard times will come a holiday, a time the Son of Man will return in “great power and glory” to usher in the kingdom of God. (The Greek word for “power” can also be translated as “actions.”)

     Let me repeat what Jesus said to open his ministry – the kingdom of heaven/God is within your grasp. You and I must work together to assemble it, like a thousand piece jig-saw puzzle we got for Christmas.

     What will it look like when we get the kingdom together? It will be a place filled with unity, harmony, peace, love, hope, joy, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control — all the heavenly treasures.

     When we get the kingdom right in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our communities…we’ll be home for sure. There won’t be any disharmony like in Ferguson, MO. We will love one another, making sure each person is valued and has equal opportunities to develop into the image of God.

   But the answer to change rests with each one of us. We have to be the change. We must become the image of the Christ that dwells within us before we can expect the world around us to change.

      There’s a story about a famous Bishop in Greece (Carthage) named Cyprian who wrote these words to a friend (Donatus). This was two hundred years after Jesus died and rose again: This seems a cheerful world, Donatus, when I view it from this fair garden under the shadow of these vines. But if I climbed some great mountain and looked out over the wide lands — you know very well what I would see. [Outlaws] on the high roads, pirates on the seas, in the amphitheaters, men murdered to please applauding crowds, under all roofs misery and selfishness. It is really a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world …Yet in the midst of it I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of this sinful life. They are despised and persecuted but they care not. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians – and I am one of them.

    How can Christians have such joy and strength in the midst of a really bad world? Because they are Christ to each other. They bring peace, joy, and love to each other in the midst of military wars, economic wars, religious wars, health wars.

     Christ comes to us every day. We miss him when we are not attentive to Him in every person we meet.

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[1] Leonard Sweet, Mark 13 the sermon titled “The Four Sacred Chords of Home”. (Sermons.com)

 

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Eternal Life isn’t Eternal

Matthew 25:31-46

     Does it make any difference to anyone (preachers included) that the concepts of the kingdom of heaven and eternal life have been so misconstrued over the centuries that we miss proclaiming the true life God wants for us today?

     Look at me. I’m jumping up and down, waving my hands, trying to get everyone’s attention. But I think I’m invisible. Why?

     Because of conditioning. Religion is about conditioning—saying something so many times that the repetition alone imprints the words on the brains of the elect.

Sheep-Goat_png     The strategies of religion begin the conditioning as early as possible. Moses said, “If you teach them these things when they are children, when they are old, they will not depart from it.” And it’s true, at least for the 99% who don’t combine their study and worship with meditation, where God becomes the Teacher.

     I wonder if seminaries aren’t as damaging to spiritual growth as anything out there. They don’t teach budding spiritual leaders how to sit and spend time with God. They give the illusion that the human theologies they teach are undeniably true. And without question, each seminary’s particular flavor of theology is always superior to any other.

     Anyone who questions the tradition is a rebel, or worse, a heretic. But heresy is not bad. Just look at Jesus, John the Baptist, Jon Hus, Martin Luther, etc.

     Heresy is defined as departing from what “the church” has taught. That’s it. Heresy is not departing from truth. It assumes “the church” has understood Jesus and the gospel (and the Law) without error. And if you challenge tradition, just ask Jon Hus what the “body of Christ” will do to you.

     I believe heresy is the positive movement toward Truth.

     Let me teach you a little heresy today. I’ve already covered the kingdom of heaven in my book – showing how understanding it in today’s terms changes many ways of understanding the parables and teachings of Jesus.

     Eternal life is no different. In brief, in the Old Testament and New Testament words translated as “eternal” rarely if ever mean “without end.” They refer to an indefinite period of time that has a beginning and an end. King David’s reign was supposed to be  “forever.” (It’s my theory that when Jerome converted Greek to Latin, he chose a word in Latin that altered the meaning from “indefinite” to “never-ending.”)

     Bible translators recognized the discrepancy and began hedging on the “never-ending” meaning as new versions appeared after the King James Version. But I don’t think seminaries caught on. Let me show you how translators began explaining eternal life late in the 20th century.

     The NIV commentary notes and the NKJV commentary notes are in agreement that the term “eternal life” had more meanings for writers of the Bible than we understand it today. This is what they say:

Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible-©1997, commentary for John 10:10 – “Life here refers to eternal life, God’s life. It speaks not only of endlessness, but of quality of life.”

(They haven’t converted their thinking completely. Most of their commentary about eternal life in other passages continues to point to a better quality of life after you’re dead. You can’t depart too far from tradition without losing sales.)

NRSV Study Bible commentary on Romans 6:23, p. 1890 – “Eleven out of forty-two times eternal life is presented as something to be attained (6:22; 2:7; Matt. 19:16, 29; Mark 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25; 18:18-30; John 12:25, 26; Gal. 6:8).”

In eleven places, NRSV commentators think eternal life is something you can achieve. This is clearly in opposition to many denominational theologies that say we can do nothing to earn eternal life. (References in other places to eternal life in the NRSV point to a core theology that eternal life is the afterlife. No one wants to be accused of diverting from tradition. We are well-conditioned by martyrdom.)

NIV Study Bibles-©1985, commentary on John 3:15, p. 1598 – says, “[eternal life is] an infinitely high quality of life in living fellowship with God—both now and forever.” 

NIV, Commentary on Matt. 19:16, p. 1469 – …eternal life. [This is] the first use of this term in Matthew’s Gospel (see v. 29; 25:46). In John it occurs much more frequently, often taking the place of the term “kingdom of God (or heaven)” used in the Synoptics, which treat the following three expressions as synonymous: (1) eternal life (v.16; Mk10:17; Lk 18:18), (2) entering the kingdom of heaven (v.23; Mk 10:24; Lk 18:24) and (3) being saved (vv.26-26; Mk 10:24; Lk 18:26-27).

Did you get that? (1) eternal life, (2) the kingdom of heaven, and (3) being saved are the same thing. They are about life today—on earth.

One more example:  The New American Bible, commentary on John 3:15, p. 149 – “Eternal life: used here for the first time in John, this term stresses quality of life rather than duration.”

*  *  *

     Those who put forward afterlife rewards rather than abundance in life today and working for justice today have hijacked the meaning of all of these important theological words.

*  *  *

     The last verse of the story about the sheep and goats – who is going to become overcooked meatloaf and who isn’t – is what tends to dominate the fears of the faithful. Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

     Everlasting and eternal are the same word in Greek. As I said earlier, it means “an indefinite period of time.” It DOESN’T mean “never-ending.” Goats were loved by their shepherds as much as sheep. They are just a bigger pain in the butt. And they don’t receive the quality of life God wants for them…a life of joy, hope, kindness, faithfulness, patience, self-control, etc.

     Old goats are hard to get along with. They think only of themselves. They consume, consume, consume. They butt heads with everyone.

     Sheep are peaceful and calm. They hang together. They are not competitive.

     One of these groups is happier than the other. Which do you think it is?

     Eternal life means “the quality of life God wants and intends for you and I to have as we live on this earth…today.”

     Any parable or teaching of Jesus about the kingdom of heaven or about eternal life that does not interpret it in the context of life today is of little value and will have no effect on bringing in the kingdom.

     (I’m done flapping my arms, for now.)

+  +      I STILL NEED YOUR HELP!      +  +

0 - FINAL - small - How to Love GodMy new and short ebook, How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever will be released on Nov. 23! I would be honored if you would pre-order it NOW for 99 cents (for reasons explained in a previous post) and it will be delivered to your Kindle or ereader on the 23rd.

You can also pre-order it for any ereader at a site called Smashwords.  Thanks.

 

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The Day of the Lord and the Kingdom of Heaven

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 / Matthew 25:14-30

How long has it been since you’ve heard or said these words: “You just wait ‘til your father gets home! He’ll make you pay for the way you’ve been acting!”? We hear the same words from fire and brimstone preachers when they say: “You just wait until the day of the Lord when your Father makes you pay for how you’ve been acting!”

“The day of the Lord is at hand.” What’s your image when you hear those words?  Zephaniah gives us some cause for concern when he says, (v.14) The great day of the Lord is near and hastening fast…that day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation…(17)… Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath; in the fire of His passion the whole earth shall be consumed…”

     That’s a frightening picture of the day of the Lord. It’s very easy to project this day into the future and point to it as ‘the day of judgment’ when the sheep will be divided from the goats, and the goats will be sent away into everlasting punishment.

The day of the Lord is a major theme in Old Testament prophecy. Except the day of the Lord was a present day thing, a day that was very close at hand. The first day of the Lord recorded in the Bible was when Israel entered Canaan. The Hebrew writers said it was a day of judgment on the wicked Canaanites when the Lord battled to defeat them.

Another day of the Lord came when the locusts invaded Israel and ate all their crops, bringing hunger and starvation to the land – that day of judgment came because Israel had turned away from God.

The day the Babylonians invaded Israel to take them into captivity was ‘the day of the Lord.’

Whenever the prophets saw something bad coming because the people were not following God’s commands, they gave God the credit for the bad things happening because of sin. Any day the people suffered punishment was called ‘the day of the Lord.’

But there’s another side to ‘the day of the Lord.”

In the book of Amos (2;32; 3:16, 18-21), the day of the Lord was a day of deliverance and extraordinary blessing for God’s people when they did the right things—like when they practiced justice and mercy. The day of the Lord was a day of blessing.

You can be a prophet, too. You can predict a day of the Lord for anyone.

reap what you sow    It’s as easy as saying, “If you spend time doing what is good and right, the day of the Lord for you will bring much blessing.” And you can say, “If you don’t do what is good and right, if you aren’t committed to the welfare of your neighbor because you are living selfishly, the day of the Lord that is near isn’t going to be one of your better days.”

The consequences of our actions are not about God reaching down and punishing us as the fact that unloving actions have negative consequences. There is always a price to pay for our actions. Good actions are rewarded with blessings. Poor actions bring penalties.

The same thing can be said about the kingdom of heaven (also known as the development of unity and harmony in my ebook about the kingdom of heaven).

A day in the kingdom of the heavens will be a good one for you when you live it in service to your neighbor and your Master. You will have peace, joy, and hope. But a day in the kingdom of the heavens will not be as good if you don’t use the talents you’ve been given to increase the treasure of the Master.

The day of the Lord for the Hebrews is pretty closely associated with the kingdom of the heavens in the Gospels. There are consequences for your actions. You reap what you sow. And you’ll probably experience the consequences sooner than later.

Jesus’s teaching about the talents applies here, too. What did the master give to each servant? Jesus used the monetary term “talent.” But I think he was using it as a metaphor. Gold and silver are not the heavenly treasures. They get tarnished with use and time. The master didn’t want material possessions managed for their increase.

When the master rewarded the good servants, he offered them what he treasured. “Share in my ‘joy.’” Joy is one of the treasures of the Master. Peace is another. Love. Kindness. Patience. Hope. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-control. These are the treasures/talents of the heavens that are given to us today.

If God blesses you with the treasures of peace and love in your life, you are to increase that peace and love in his service by increasing peace and joy in your neighbor. “What you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”

If God has given you hope, patience, and kindness, the expectation is that you will share it and cause it to increase in others.

So many talents given by the Master are buried in the ground. You and I, like Adam, are made from the clay of the ground. A talent buried in the ground is one that has been used for selfish purposes rather than shared with the world.

When we use the talents we’ve been given for our good alone, the blessings are not multiplied.  Instead of living in the joy the Master wants for us, we are destined to live in the worry and troubles of the world…in outer darkness, unable to see God’s abundance and goodness, where there is weeping (sorrow) and gnashing of teeth (anger).

What kind of ‘day of the Lord’ do you want today?  It will depend upon where you invest the treasures God has given you.

All Jesus’s parables in this run are about “the day of the Lord” and the kingdom of heaven. They are as near as the next thing you do.

+  +      I NEED YOUR HELP!      +  +

0 - FINAL - small - How to Love GodMy new and short ebook, How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever will be released on Nov. 23! I would be honored if you would pre-order it NOW for 99 cents (for reasons explained in a previous post) and it will be delivered to your Kindle or ereader on the 23rd.

You can also pre-order it for any ereader at a site called Smashwords.  Thanks.

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Asking For Help

 

     Do you have as much trouble asking for help as I do? I’m far happier about responding to requests from others for help than I am to ask for another’s kindness. I’m not sure what that’s all about. Yet I’m going to break through that barrier today and ask for your help.

     You know that I’ve been writing for several years. Sometimes I wonder why. I wonder, “Couldn’t I be doing something more productive?” There’s not much reward in writing about religious things. Most people would rather read fiction and fantasy for their entertainment, which is okay. One day – soon I hope – I want to sit down and read a good, entertaining book of fiction. The stuff on television these days really stinks.

     I think it’s the personal feeling of “wow” as I write when something new pops into my mind that keeps me writing. And so I will.

How to Love the Lord Your God     What am I asking for today? (and what I’ll repeat two or more three times in my blogs before Nov. 23) I’m asking for 99¢. I need you to spend 99¢ on my behalf to help promote the image of God that Jesus came to improve upon…the image that proclaims “God is good ALL the time.”

     If there’s one ebook out of the six I’ve written that I would want anyone to read, it’s the one that is being released Nov. 23 – How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever.

     It’s the shortest of all my books so far. Forty pages. Short is better – just like in sermons.

     The help I need is for you to pre-order the ebook now at Amazon. All last week I tried to get my ebooks downloaded in the iBookStore using an old Macintosh my brother gave me. But it was too old to use the software needed to convert my files for iphones, ipads, and Apple products.

     You can pre-order the ebook for Nooks and Kobo ereaders here.

     Yet, Amazon has a free application for Kindle ebooks that allows you to place ebooks on your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. You can get the Amazon app here. Personally, I wish Apple and Amazon would be able to work together so everyone could have access to what’s in the ebookstores. That’s about as likely to happen as denominations and religions working together to advance the kingdom of heaven. So we have to work with what’s available.

     The pre-order price isn’t any cheaper than when the ebook becomes available. How much cheaper can you get than 99¢? I suppose you can get it 99¢ cheaper if it were free. I considered making it free because I think it’s that important.

     But I also think that people don’t often read free nonfiction books because if it’s not worth anything, then why read it? Some think, ‘you get what you pay for.’ Free means you get nothing of value. The non-fiction books that I run across in yard sales and library giveaways are free because they are outdated. I think this book can change a person’s whole outlook on life. If it improves your life for a day, like a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, that’s worth at least 99¢.

     I’m asking you to pre-order this 99¢ ebook before Nov. 23. Why? Because when it becomes “live” on Nov. 23, then it will be listed higher in the Amazon ranking system – as if all the pre-order people ordered it on that day. A significant number of pre-orders will bump it into public view on the Amazon Kindle Store for a couple of days, and this alone will help it to be seen by those few people looking for a book that might help them in their spiritual journey.

     If you don’t like to read religious stuff, that’s okay. Don’t read it. I’m just asking for a 99¢ donation from you to help it get in front of the people it’s supposed to reach. Thanks in advance for your pre-order.

     You can order it here: How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever.

 

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Ready or Not — Here I Come!

Matthew 25:1-13

     My first title for this piece was “Good Works are the Ticket into the Kingdom of Heaven.” That’s a title/statement that would make the average Lutheran theologian react in defense of what he/she was taught in confirmation and seminary. Let me explain how Jesus’s parable about the kingdom of heaven via the Ten Wise and Foolish Virgins supports the first title, and yet, isn’t the whole answer.

     Before you can begin to interpret this or any parable about the kingdom of heaven, you have to know that Jesus was not speaking about what will happen at the end of time. Jesus and the Jewish tradition had no judgment day theology that spoke of people going to heaven or hell at the end of the world.

     The kingdom of heaven that Jesus spoke of (as I explained in detail in The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real) is the development of unity and harmony in the present day.

     With that in mind, how is the progress toward unity like ten wise and foolish young boy-scoutwomen, i.e., bridesmaids, who have varying supplies of oil?

     Oil makes things work smoothly, with less effort. Oil greatly reduces the friction between objects. It unblocks the joints or junctures that have been stuck in one place by rust or inaction. Most important in this story of the ten virgins and their ancient lamps, oil is what feeds the flame and brings light into the world.

     The oil for the lamps represents good works. “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Your light can’t shine without good works fueling the light.

     There’s more to this justification. Just look at the string of stories before and after this parable in Matthew 24 and 25. Who is the faithful and wise servant in the story immediately before the ten bridesmaids? The one who does his job, caring for and giving food to household of the master. Servants who treat the household poorly will end up living in sorrow and anger.

     The parable following the parable of the ten bridesmaids is about a master entrusting servants with his talents. The servants who used what they had been given to increase the treasure of the master will enter the joy (which is plentiful in the kingdom of harmony and unity) of the lord. Those who don’t use what they are given to increase the treasure of the master will not experience the joy they could have experienced.

     A third parable seals the deal. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned (good works) and you will be welcomed into the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed – unity. Good works, done from compassion and commitment to the well-being of others, will allow you to enter the development of unity that Jesus called the kingdom of heaven.  

     There’s one small question. In the parable, it’s not the oil or the light that gets the five wise virgins into the wedding banquet where there is joy and celebrating. After all, the foolish virgins bought some oil and came back. Still, they were not admitted into the celebration. To focus on the oil misses the point.

     The parable was about their readiness or not. The wise bridesmaids were ready, willing, and prepared to act when the need presented itself — ready to feed, ready to clothe, ready to visit, ready to welcome the Son of Man when he showed up in their lives.

     Everything Jesus talks about in these two chapters is about being ready for the Son of Man to appear. If you are ready to act, to perform a good work, when a hungry person, a sick person, a homeless person, etc., appears in your life (“Inasmuch as you did it for the least of these, you did it to me”), you will be assisting in bringing the kingdom of harmony, unity, into being.

     To quote Martin Luther: “But know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend.…If you do not find yourself among the needy and the poor, where the Gospel shows us Christ, then you may know that your faith is not right, and that you have not yet tasted of Christ’s benevolence and work for you.” 

     If he (or she) shows up and you aren’t ready to help, you will lose out on your chance to bring peace, hope, joy, love, goodness, and unity into the world. Every time you are able to respond by doing the right thing in love, you will enter into the joy of the lord…and the kingdom of unity.

      So in the words of the Boy Scouts: “be prepared.”

     The Son of Man is coming at a time you do not expect it. Will you be ready to act in love?

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How to Love the Lord Your GodANNOUNCEMENT: My new and short ebook, How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever will be released on Nov. 23! You can pre-order it NOW for 99 cents and it will be delivered to your Kindle or ereader on the 23rd.

You can also pre-order it for any ereader at a site called Smashwords.

 

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Promote Love, Not Religion

Matthew 23:1-12

Aramaic scholar, Neil Douglas Klotz says that the word “woe” from a Semitic language viewpoint is a cry of alarm or warning in the context of being cut off from the sacred flow of life. Jesus wasn’t warning the Pharisees of impending doom after they die. At that point in time, the Jews had no Judgment Day theology.

Jesus was worried about the quality of peoples’ lives (including the Pharisees’ lives) today. Jesus came preaching, The kingdom of the heavens is at hand!”

Jesus was focused on life today. Modern Christianity has moved so far toward end-times religion that it has lost the meaning of Jesus’s message, “I came that you might have life and have it to the full.”

What were the Pharisees doing that was stealing their abundance in life? They were more focused on what the common folks were doing wrong instead of how they personally could enhance the lives of the sheep they were charged to care for.

Jesus Pouring WaterThe purpose of the Law was to guide people toward living in peace and harmony with each other. Martin Luther preached that “Love is the only law for Christians.”

The prophets kept pointing to the spirit of the law – caring for those who couldn’t care for themselves. “Welcome the foreigner who is now without a home. Feed the hungry. Care for the sick.”

I always believed Jesus was chastising the Pharisees with this reading. Now I see that Jesus was truly concerned for the Pharisees. He wanted them to experience life today. And he was distressed that they were missing out because religion was getting in the way.

Jesus’s words were a heartfelt cry, an expression of alarm arising from a well of compassion. The sacred flow of life depends on people working for the good of each other.

Preachers and teachers tend to think their main role is to announce to people what they are supposed to do. Jesus wasn’t deprecating the preaching of law, for the law to love is about the heaviest burden anyone can bear. But the Pharisees were not practicing that same love they were teaching.

Not many today can claim they are any better at practicing love than those who came before us. Only Jesus was able to teach the truth about entering the sacred flow of life. He didn’t just preach it. He lived it.

Therefore, he is the Teacher. He has revealed the Father as love.

We should be so humble as to never dream to be considered equal to those who have carried the heaviest burden and succeeded.

Yet if you believe Christianity is a burden, why would you tell your neighbor about it? Why would you want to invite someone to church if it is not a joy and comfort to you?

Laws don’t get us through the struggles of life. Knowing all the commandments by memory and keeping the letter of the Law will not help us when the rug is yanked out from under us, and we must face the realities of life.

What helps us deal with life as it happens is that we have consistently shown love to others by our actions, and that gives them the motivation to come to our aid in our need. That’s a religion worth sharing with others. Life can become a joy and a celebration when we are less concerned about law and religion than we are about love and harmony.

The greatest among you will be your servant.” The Kingdom of God, the creative advancement toward unity, is marked by servanthood and humility.  Your actions as a servant will carry far more weight in preaching the good news than the words of any reverend doctor or professor who does not practice the message of Jesus Christ.

Practicing what you preach is given more significance by St. Francis when he said, “Preach the gospel at all times…use words if necessary.”

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If you’re interested in the other text (Matt. 5:1-12) for Nov. 2, All Saints Sunday, check out how I explain the Beatitudes as interpreted from Aramaic.

How to Love the Lord Your God

ANNOUNCEMENT: My new and short ebook, How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever will be released on Nov. 23! You can pre-order it NOW for 99 cents and it will be delivered to your Kindle or ereader on the 23rd.

You can also pre-order it for any ereader at a site called Smashwords.

 

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Love is to be the Interpreter of the Law

Matt. 22:34-46

     I preached so many times on the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul” that I’m tired of it. However, you can read a centuries old method that teaches you How To Love God With All Your Heart, as soon as it’s released. I don’t have a definite date yet but it will be soon.

    Instead, I thought I’d make some comments about the last half of the text for this Sunday.

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose Son is He?”

They said to Him, “The Son of David.”

43 He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying:

44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’?

45 If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.

man on the throneBy tradition, no father calls his son, or offspring, “Lord” (Master).

My question is this: Why did Matthew think this was an important message to put in his gospel? What are we to learn from it – that Jesus outwitted the Pharisees with his own biblical proof-texting?

Is there any practical lesson for us to glean that can be used in our lives today?

On one hand: Isn’t there a time when a parent should call his/her son or daughter (which is pushing the biblical envelope further!) “master”? Is a father always wiser than his son (or daughter)? Is a father superior in all things to the ones who come after him?

Shouldn’t wisdom and maturity directed toward the good of all be given more weight than birth order?

It’s a wise father/mother/preacher/employer who recognizes the gifts of his/her children and lets them take the lead when they can do a better job.

It’s a wise father/mother/preacher/employer who recognizes that their memory, their knowledge, their physical skills are no longer superior to their offspring’s. There’s a time to give up the illusion that you are in complete control of your life or your church or your business.

This approach begs the question:

What are you insisting on, thinking your way is better than your children/members/ employees/partner, when you might be wrong – and instead, your need to be in control is slowing the progress of the work that needs to be done?

On the other hand, the dialogue comes after Jesus has named the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God…and your neighbor…”

Give honor and dedicate your efforts to the Creator God, and your neighbor as well. “This is what the Law and prophets are about.”

How the tradition understood the Law and the prophets had evolved away from the purpose for which the Law was given. Human interpretation had swayed toward worshiping the Law and demanding obedience to it so people could be kept under control.

The Hebrew Scriptures were King. Loved, revered, and worshiped. The purpose for the law, to guide persons toward loving God and neighbor, were made subservient to the written words from antiquity.

Yet there comes a time when the elder (King David, and Moses) must become subservient to the Son, the revelation of the Creator, for the purpose of loving God and your neighbor.

Since the Christ who came after the King revealed God as love, we should love love with all our heart, mind, and soul…and our neighbor, more than we love law.

Martin Luther said it this way: “Love is to be the interpreter of the law.”

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If you are planning ahead for using the text for “All Saints Sunday” on Nov. 2 (Matt. 5:1-12 the Beatitudes) – I wrote about each of the Beatitudes in my book that is on Amazon, The Beatitudes: Finding New Meanings in the Language Jesus Spoke.  There are some new ways of understanding them from an Aramaic interpretation – and for the ridiculously low price of 99 cents!

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