Do You Have a Radical Message?

Mark 1:1-9     

     I think I have figured out why John the Baptist was such a radical person. Think about it. Who were his parents? Elizabeth and Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest, and it’s a lot of pressure, to be a holy man’s son or daughter.

     I was a preacher’s kid so I know the pressure one experiences to follow in the footsteps of their father. Look at me – although it took thirty years for God to get me to follow in my father’s footsteps.

     As I was growing up, both my peers and adults told me that preacher’s kids are the worst—they are the wildest. You’ve all probably got stories about preacher’s kids. Maybe preacher’s kids have a tendency to resist being forced into a mold God didn’t create them to be. The pressure of conforming to the expectations of others is very powerful. If you were the preacher’s kid, you were supposed to act better than other kids. And everyone was watching you to make sure you didn’t step outside the box.

     I wonder if that’s what made John the Baptist so radical. Long hair. Unconventional clothes. I don’t know what he smoked, but he certainly ate some weird things.

     But you know, those things attracted attention. He’s about the only one in the Bible who is known for what he wore and ate. It made a statement. But he not only was radical in his dress, he was radical in the message he spread. He reminds me a lot of Lady Gaga. Some of you might know who that is. She’s a very unconventional singer who became a headline story when she wore raw meat to a celebrity function and the media went crazy over it. She continued with other wild and crazy hair styles and off-the-wall outfits.

     I have to admit that I did everything I could to avoid listening to such an  unconventional, radical personality as Lada Gaga. Only after getting up my courage to watch her Thanksgiving special one year, did I find out she is a highly creative, talented young lady who fit into no one’s box. She may be more of a marketing genius than an eccentric. I bought her album and it was my favorite for many years. Why? Because she has a message that’s deeper than what attracts the media attention. They’re more interested in her oddities. That’s what sells papers and advertising. Unfortunately, they don’t spread her message.

     The message I heard from Lady Gaga is this: Don’t be afraid to be the unique and special person God created you to be. There’s no one on earth like you. Don’t try to squeeze into the box that others, including your parents, want you to fit in. If you do try to fit into their box, you won’t find happiness or fulfillment in life.

     I’ve read that the #1 most common regret expressed by people who are on their deathbed is this: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” As the carrier of a message to be yourself, Lady Gaga lives her message.

     Lady Gaga makes me think about John the Baptist. A radical message sometimes needs a radical messenger. People outside the box attract a lot of attention. But rather than focus on his outer appearance, what was John’s radical message?

     John’s message was this: Change the way you think. Don’t think like the world has conditioned you to think. Because until we change the way we have been trained to think for two thousand years, the kingdom of heaven will never be at hand. Of course, John was speaking to Jews of the first century. But the message today is the same: change the way you think or the kingdom will never be at hand. Many Christians continue to think many of the same things the Jews of the first century thought.

     They think things like: God wants our sacrifices. God demands our obedience. God wants us to worship and praise him before helping our neighbor who is in need. God wrote the rules of behavior and they can never be changed. God wants perfect little robots who all look and act alike.

     I may look very conforming, but this preacher’s kid says “that’s BS.” God wants you to be you. God wants square pegs to be square pegs and round pegs to be round pegs. God wants the needs of his lambs and sheep to be more important than the need to follow religious rituals and ceremonies that do nothing for God.

     But that wasn’t the message of John that was so radical. Prophets had been saying those things for centuries. What was more radical was when John said this: Get ready for someone who is more drastic than me. Get ready to see and hear about the most unconventional image of God anyone has ever dreamed possible.

     Jesus was also perceived as a very unorthodox personality who fit into no one else’s box. But it wasn’t his clothes that attracted the attention. It was his actions that were so unlike everyone else’s. His loving and helping and healing actions to every person regardless of their gender or their race or their religion were the anomaly. And He drew audiences from far and wide to hear what he had to say.

     But even more important, Jesus gave a vision of God no one had ever considered before. He revealed a God who delights in giving, who sends rain on the good as well as on those who are not good. Jesus brought the message that God is generous, and loving, and kind. And that’s still a radical message today. So many Christians still believe God is capable of burning his children in eternal flames if they don’t believe everything their religion tells them. These are words from Jesus’s own mouth: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” That’s pretty radical, don’t you think?

     Have you changed the way you think about God yet? Are you ready to share a radical gospel, a radical message — that God has been good all along — a God who came as a child in a manger to show us his true nature?

     Every person is unique, and special, and created in the image of God. The Scriptures tell us that each of us is a holy place in which God dwells. If you want to make God happy, treat every person you meet as if they are a temple of the living God.  And if God is in them, then there must be some good in them. The most important commandment is to love God with all your heart. If God was hungry, would you feed him? If God was cold, would you give her your coat?

         This season of Advent, let’s get prepared to share the radical good news about a child that was born and laid in a manger. God has been good from the beginning of time.

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Love as Good-Will

 

          Agapē-love is a choice we make. We make it because we admire and respect a person, and thereby become self-denying in our devotion to him or her. This is often the basis of the marital commitment to another, a good reason why the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is read at weddings.

          This is the same kind of love that we are supposed to have for our neighbor (Samaritans and others we despise), our enemies, and each other (including liberals or conservatives). How can we admire, respect, and dedicate ourselves to the well-being of people we despise? Until we take the log out of our own eye, we won’t be able to see that Christ is in our neighbor, enemy, or rival.

          When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he didn’t write it for weddings. The people gathering together to follow the teachings of Jesus were having some trouble admiring, respecting, and dedicating themselves to each other. Go figure. So Paul tried to help them in his letter.

          I’ve worked my way through most of the first letter, re-translating it from the Greek using some new terminology. I decided to do this after writing my most recent books about the kingdom of heaven, eternal life, and my newest: Dry Bones: Breathing New Life into Petrified Words of the Bible. I will release it early in January. I’ve been busy inserting what I understand the Greek text to say, hoping it opens the New Testament and makes it more accessible to readers. I thought I’d just give you a sample here, choosing 1 Cor. 13 because most people are familiar with it and because it doesn’t threaten anyone’s theology.

          The basis of my upcoming book is that important words in the Bible have developed post-first century theologies that the writers were not necessarily trying to convey. And certain words like “love” have such a wide range of meanings (because one English word – love – replaces four Greek words), leaving too much to the untrained imagination. Therefore, my goal is to identify more clearly what each Greek word means. Every word has a context, and every word has degrees of meaning. Thayer’s lexicon allows these options: affection, good-will, love, benevolence. So I’ve chosen to use one of these that are different from “love” to add a little variety to the text. Here it is:

13:1 If I speak in the languages of humans and of angels, but have not good-will,a I have become one who is sounding brass or clanging a cymbal. And if I may possess divine inspiration declaring the purposes of God, and may have understood all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all the determination so that I could move mountains from one place to another, but have not good-will, I am nothing. If it might be that I supply with food all coming forth in front of me, and even if I commit the work of my body to the service of another, but do not have good-will, it is of no advantage to me.

Good-will endures patiently. It is kind. It is not envious. Good-will is not boastful, nor arrogant, not abusive, not self-serving, not frustrated; good-will is not adversely manipulative; does not delight in injustice, but rejoices with another in the certainty of equality;b good-will bears all things, is fully committed in all things, is hopeful in all things, perseveres in all things. Good-will never humiliates.

Consequently, whether having divine inspirations, they will be negated; whether speaking languages, they will stop; whether intellectually proficient, it will be invalidated. Truly, we understand imperfectly and we declare the purposes of God imperfectly. 10 But when completion of one’s being comes, then that which is imperfect will be put to an end.

11 When I was untaught,c I spoke in the manner of one untaught, I was striving as one untaught, I was thinking as one who was untaught; but when I became an informed adult, I put away the things of the untaught. 12 Truly, at this time, we observe with a mirrord vaguely, but at that time, face to face. At this time, I understand imperfectly, but at that time, I will know accurately even as I also was accurately known.

13 Therefore, at this very time, conviction, expectation, good-will ‒ these three continue to be present; but the greater of these is good-will.

agapē, consistently translated as “love,” a word confused by variations of love. Bullinger’s lexicon describes agapē, as  referring to “the love which springs from admiration and veneration [respect], and which chooses its object with decision of will, and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it.”

b truth: one definition in Bullinger is verity, i.e., “truth as the revealed reality lying at the basis of, and agreeing with an appearance; truth as the representation of what is and the realization of what ought to be.”

nēpios: an infant that is not old enough to speak; a metaphor for someone untaught, unskilled, childish.

mirrors in those times were not glass, but polished metal.

          So, what do you think? Could you treat your neighbor, enemy, or political rival this way?

 

Coming Soon!

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Continuing Reform in the Church

 

          Changing one word in the New Testament could help the church reform itself and redefine its mission. But will anyone listen? Late in the twentieth century, popular study Bibles began suggesting the beloved concept of “eternal life” means something other than living forever in Paradise. Here are comments from popular Bible translations that explain the meanings of specific passages mentioning “eternal life”:

Eternal life is a present possession, not something the believer will only obtain later. (NIV Study Bible, 1985, on John 3:36)

Eternal life: used here for the first time in John, this term stresses quality of life rather than duration.  (NASB, 1995, on John 3:36)

 Eleven out of forty-two times, eternal life is presented as something to be attained. (NKJV Study Bible, 1997, on Romans 6:23)

          There has been no attempt to justify why commentators suggested this, and few people in positions of religious leadership seem to have paid attention to it. However, I just received the new book by David Bentley Hart, published by Yale University Press, The New Testament: A Translation, and I’m pleased to see that he made a big step that helps to validate my proposal about the translation of aiónios zoa. Supposedly he removes church doctrines developed later that have been interpreted into the text, but I’m not endorsing his book yet because I haven’t read its translation beyond some parts that speak about eternal life.

My book provides a full explanation for the validity of suggesting aiónios refers to a period of time in the present age. It justifies why aiónios should always mean in the present age and it shows the impact it makes on the message of the New Testament. The change has no effect on theologies about getting into Paradise but it offers expanded guidance to people in their lives today, offering the church a means to become increasingly relevant to life in this world. You’ll see that when aiónios zoa is applied according to its first century meaning, the New Testament comes to life in surprising ways.

I self-publish my books to keep the costs down to readers. My ebook is $3.99 on Amazon and the paperback is $9.99. If you don’t agree that I’ve provided a rational and scholarly explanation for this, and if it doesn’t encourage you to rethink your focus in religion and in life, I’ll give you your money back.

Here are some comments I’ve received from beta-readers:

     I am taking you up on your invitation for feedback. Overall, I think that your book is a brilliant, and potentially revolutionary, reinterpretation of the familiar teachings of Jesus. Understanding the Greek words in their original context makes the Gospel more believable, authentic, and relevant for the everyday people for whom it was written. My hope is that this new understanding, so well researched and explained in your book, would permeate the church and the wider culture over time. David K., Monterey , CA

   This book deserves a wider audience, even a national publisher, for it addresses important issues of how we read scripture as well (albeit in a different way) as does the work of folks like John Shelby Spong. Your question, “Is the church capable of dealing with the fallout that a significant change to the emphasis of its book of authority would create” is one I have been asking myself and worrying about as I read progressive Christian authors. I hope you are correct in suggesting that we might be able to do this “with humility and grace,” but both of those qualities seem in such desperately short supply these days. Ken W., Murray, KY

          Officially, the book will be released on October 31. I know, it’s a little dramatic. But the church needs to work harder at reforming its theology and its focus to life on earth. It’s still stuck in the fourth and sixteenth centuries. Preorder it today and it will be delivered to your device in a few days. Then let me know your thoughts about it.

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Christians — Agents For Change

Matt. 22:34-46

     Circumstances in my early days of ministry led me to write a book of prayers based on the sermons of Martin Luther. I’d been a Lutheran for fifty-five years, but by reading his sermons and writing these prayers, Martin Luther changed my theology about God and my understanding of what he stood for. Christians tend to forget one of the key lessons of the Reformation — the church should always be reforming itself. The bottom line is that we are to be agents for change in the world, not for doing things the way they’ve always been done. And the change is always toward caring for the well-being of our neighbor rather than obeying laws, whether divine or manmade.

     In his sermon on Matt. 22:34-46, one of Luther’s themes was the law. He said the law was given to serve love, founding it on Romans 13:10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the Law.” Let me give you a few quotes from his sermon:

11. We are also to notice here that all the works of the law are not commanded merely for the purpose that we simply just perform them; no, no; for if God had given even more commandments, he would not want us to keep them to the injury and destruction of love. Yea, if these commandments oppose the love of our neighbor, he wants us to renounce and annul them.

13. Therefore, when the law impels one against love, it ceases and should no longer be a law; but where no obstacle is in the way, the keeping of the law is a proof of love, which lies hidden in the heart. Therefore ye have need of the law, that love may be manifested; but if it cannot be kept without injury to our neighbor, God wants us to suspend and ignore the law.

17. … From this you are to conclude, all works are nothing that do not originate in love or are against love. No commandments should be in force, except those in which the law of love can be exercised.

20. [Christ] teaches them what the law is, namely: that love is the law.

     This wasn’t Luther’s only sermon where he focused on a Christian’s freedom to ignore specific church or biblical laws. He also used Luke 14:1-11 to help people discern which laws they should follow and which laws they could eliminate:

8. 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. Where there is no love, these things are meaningless, and law begins to do harm… This is in brief spoken of divine and human laws. The reason for enacting all laws and ordinances is only to establish love, as Paul says, Rom. 13:10: “Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.”

9. Since then all law exists to promote love, law must soon cease where it is in conflict with love. Therefore, everything depends upon a good leader or ruler to direct and interpret the law in accordance with love. (p. 161)

10. And thus we should apply every law, even as love suggests, that it be executed where it is helpful to a fellow-man, and dispensed with where it does harm.

17. As Christ here treats of the law relating to the Sabbath and makes it subserve the needs of man, so we should treat laws of that kind and keep them only so far as they accord with love. If laws do not serve love, they may be annulled at once, be they God’s or man’s commands.

20. If you are a Christian you have power to dispense with all commandments so far as they hinder you in the practice of love.

28. The sum of this Gospel then is: Love and necessity control all law; and there should be no law that cannot be enforced and applied in love. If it cannot, then let it be done away with, even though an angel from heaven had promulgated it.

     Here are two other sources showing his guidance in discerning laws:

Sermon on John 10:1-11

19. Christians are now free from the curse and the tyranny of the Law, and may keep the Law or not, according as they see that the love and need of their neighbor requires. Vol. 3:381

Martin Luther (Preface to the Old Testament)

“For since all laws aim at faith and love, none of them can be valid, or be a law, if it conflicts with faith and love.”

     How do we decide what laws to keep, who and what helps us decide? There’s no better authority for Martin Luther than the Holy Spirit, as he says in a sermon from John 14:23-31:

14. … You see very clearly that the Holy Spirit’s office is not to write books nor to make laws, but freely to abrogate [repeal, revoke, annul, abolish] them; and that he is a God who writes only in the heart, who makes it burn, and creates new courage, so that man grows happy before God, filled with love toward him, and with a happy heart serves the people. When the office of the Holy Spirit is thus represented, it is rightly preached … when he [HS] comes in this manner he abolishes the letter of the Law and desires to liberate the people from their sins and from the Law; the latter is no more needed, for he, himself, rules inwardly in the heart. (p. 278)

     I often wonder why I was never taught these things in my religious training, formal or informal. They would help to reduce the division in every Protestant denomination.

“The church should always be reforming itself.”

     Maybe you can use these quotes to become an agent for change, to help the church continue to reform itself in the next 500 years, so that it actually begins to look like Christ, a church focused on pointing to a God who is good all the time, who brings comfort, peace, and healing for the world rather than a set of laws to follow.

+  +  +

     On another note, I am releasing a new book that explains the REAL meaning of aionios zoa, which has been translated as “eternal life.” Jesus wasn’t speaking about Paradise when he spoke of aionios zoa, and this is good news! It’s available for preorder here. It will be delivered to your Kindle app on October 31.

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St. Paul’s Advice on Premarital Sex

1 Cor. 7:36-38

     So, does the apostle Paul say anything about premarital sex? I think he addresses a specific component of it in the seventh chapter to the Corinthians. However, one cannot make wide generalizations about what he writes. He spends almost two chapters giving advice about sexual activity, marriage, divorce, and appropriate conduct while betrothed. Here again I disagree with translations that follow the interpretations of King James’ translators. They make it difficult to understand and they leave too much to the imagination about what it means to be a virgin. I’ll give you a brief example.

     First you must remember the context. Paul was answering some questions specific to the congregation of Gentile Christians in Corinth. And in this example, he was giving advice about a man and “his virgin.” Some translations interpret virgin in these verses as virgin daughter. Applying daughter to the first mention of virgin would suggest a father is abusing his daughter. While that may have been a likely problem in the community in the same way it happens today, I think there’s a better interpretation. Several translations accurately deal with “virgin” as a fiancé, but engagement and betrothal are like equating apples to oranges.

     In an age where women and girls were greatly devalued by men, young girls were often betrothed to a male prior to puberty to protect them from indiscriminate males. Paul appears to be addressing an issue of whether a betrothed man could engage in sex during the time of betrothal, but prior to the determined time of marriage, ideally, after puberty. In my opinion, Paul appears to be trying to protect pre-pubescent girls from the inclinations of men before they were physically or emotionally ready for sexual relations. He has also clarified that this advice is from him alone and not directly from the Lord.

     Take a look at a popular translation and then compare it to mine.

(NKJV)

36 But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin does well. 38 So then he who gives her (his virgin)  in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.

(My translation)

36 Furthermore, if any man follows the customa to behave inappropriately toward his betrothed, if he is past puberty and he is compelled to be fulfilled in this manner, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin—let them marry. 37 However, whoever has established firmly in his heart, not having necessity, but has control over his own will, and has decided in his own heart that he will preserve his betrothed, he will act honorably. 38 So then, the one who marries his betrothed [early] acts uprightly, but the one who does not marry his betrothed [early] will do better.

a nomizō: to follow a custom. The custom of the Corinthians (Gentiles) may have been that it was acceptable to harvest the pledged fruit before it is ready.

     The NKJV confuses the issue when suggesting a man’s “virgin” might refer to his daughter. The first mention of virgin puts the father in the position of abusing his own child, but then, if he marries her, he doesn’t sin (a violation of Mosaic law). The second suggests he can “keep” his virgin or daughter, which leaves too much to the reader to speculate on, especially when the third mention of virgin gives him power over whether his daughter or virgin is given in marriage. That may have been a cultural practice at the time, but it doesn’t make sense to suggest the father does “better” if he doesn’t give his daughter in marriage at all. Other translations suggest it’s better for a man not to marry at all because Paul has talked about being devoted completely to the Lord. But this diverts from dealing with a specific problem. 

   Most translations suggest the person being mentioned as being “past the flower of youth” applies to the “virgin” and assumes it to be the female. But in Greek, the noun suggesting one is past the flower of youth is masculine. It’s talking about boys having gone through puberty. It appears Paul is dealing with a young boy and girl who have been pledged to each other by their fathers, at least in this congregation.

     The bottom line is that if the teenage boy is unable to keep himself under control, it’s better to let them get married earlier than planned. Still, Paul appears to think it’s better for the male to wait until the female has reached puberty. Commitment in marriage is a good thing and waiting until after puberty is even better. Unfortunately, the needs of the girl are not given equal consideration. That was the culture.

     What do you think?

*   *   *

     On another note, I am releasing a new book that explains the REAL meaning of aionios zoa, which has been translated as “eternal life.” Jesus wasn’t speaking about Paradise when he spoke of aionios zoa, and this is good news! It’s available for preorder here. It will be delivered to your Kindle app on October 31.

Preorder for delivery on October 31, 2017!

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New Translations of Paul by Paul

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted – not because I’m not working but because I’m working on what I think is a more accurate translation of the apostle Paul’s letters. Why the heck am I doing that? I don’t know. I wish I didn’t feel compelled to do this. I’ve got fish to catch. But I also am convinced translators for King James had a particular perspective that wasn’t helpful when they converted the Vulgate and Greek versions to English.

You can see my opinion of how they did not properly translate the texts on divorce and remarriage in the book I released in the spring. I’ve worked on retranslating the texts of the Gospels, but then it seemed like I should do the earliest writings of Paul before the later writings of the Gospels. So let me give you a sample of what I’m finding in his letters to the Corinthians. First, take a look at five verses in 1 Cor. 4:6-10 as it was translated for the NKJV:

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us—and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!

     Okay, so what did you learn from this? Are you inspired to be a better Christian? The part that gets me is in verse 6 that I underlined. Paul wants us not to think beyond the written words of Scripture (Old Testament)? Just listen to the religious authorities. They know best.

And what does the rest mean? It’s rather useless.

One thing that has been helpful to me is reading Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink. He argues convincingly that the term “world” is more limited in its understanding by Paul than we in the 21st century understand. First century writers didn’t think of the “world” in cosmological terms. They thought of it in terms of the system in which they were existing, the religious system, the power structures of domination, etc., that were oppressive.

But what affects the translation most is the perspective and opinion of the translators – what they believe, what they’ve been conditioned to believe. I don’t hold the same theology, nor am I under the same danger they faced if they disagreed with the established Latin translation. I also have the advantage of four centuries of people who have suggested additional options for the meanings of Greek words.

Remember that Paul was addressing specific questions and problems going on in the church in Corinth. We don’t know the exact issues that had caused friction. As I worked with it, it began to appear that they had been arguing back and forth about what the Scriptures meant. Imagine that. Some couldn’t accept what Moses said about certain things and others couldn’t depart from what Moses said. Sound familiar?

Therefore, take a look at how I have retranslated these same five verses:

4:6 Now these things, friends, I have applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes to the end that because of us you may learn this — nothing has been written concerning this — that no one writing may be inflated one against another. Truly, this divides you. 7For you hold fast a certain scripture; you do not accept a certain scripture; and even though accepting a certain scripture, you flaunt it in the same manner as the scripture not having been accepted. 8Are you satisfied yet? Have you had enough yet? Without us, did you exercise control?a Indeed, I anticipate that you have exercised control, and that we might oversee things together with you! 4:9 Truly I think God displayed us, the apostles, lowest, as doomed to death because we have been made a spectacle by the religious system, both by divine agents and by human beings. 10We are impiousb on account of the Anointed One, but you are prudent in the Anointed One! We are without influence, but you are powerful! You are reputable, but we are dishonored!

areign: a verb indicating the manner in which a leader governs or oversee a kingdom or territory.

bfools: by human standards, especially religious standards of that time.

     How could these two varying translations come from the same Greek text? Perspective. That’s how much translation depends upon the opinions of the translator. What amazes me is the inability of modern day translators to follow Greek grammar when it varies from what KJ translators decided four hundred years ago. Something’s got to change.

I’m working on it.

On another note, I am releasing a new book that explains the REAL meaning of aionios zoa, which has been translated as “eternal life.” Jesus wasn’t speaking about Paradise when he spoke of aionios zoa, and this is good news! It’s available for preorder here. It will be delivered to your Kindle app on October 31.

Preorder for delivery on October 31, 2017!

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Who Enters the Kingdom First?

Matt. 21:23-32 

     In my book about the kingdom of heaven for today, I wrote a chapter listing the people who the apostle Paul and Jesus said would not inherit the kingdom. This is Jesus’s list:

 (1) Those who don’t treat people any better than the Pharisees or religious leaders (Matt. 5:20).

(2) Those who don’t accept the kingdom like little children (Matt. 18:3).

(3) Those who don’t forgive (Matt. 18:21-35).

(4) Those who keep looking back (Luke 9:62).

(5) Those who trust in money for their security (Matt. 19:23).

     Similar to the first on the list, in this week’s text, Jesus asked the Pharisees which of two sons did the will of his Father. They said, “The first one.” He said, “Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you do” (Matt. 21:31).

     “Jesus wasn’t saying prostitutes will be first on the bus to go to ‘paradise when they die’ ahead of the Pharisees. He’s saying they will experience a sense of unity with others long before the righteous Pharisees will experience it. Their compassion and ability to share the little they have with others will bring them a personal sense that they’ve relieved the suffering of another person. Pharisees are more interested in judgment and punishment than they are on unity and compassion.

     “Prostitutes might reject the piety of religion. But they meet people daily who have unmet needs, people who have not found unity within themselves. Prostitutes witness human suffering. They live in the fields where the Father beckons all to work. They have opportunities to give a few dollars to someone living behind a dumpster. In their acts of kindness, they experience connection as they provide relief to others in the mud pits of life. Acts of compassion are the evidence of a growing sense of unity with all creation.

     “Jesus wasn’t condemning all scribes and Pharisees. There were and are many religious leaders who are trying to do the right things…”

                  In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today  © Paul W. Meier

     Of course, if a person thinks the kingdom of heaven is the same as Paradise, then I’d like to hear his or her explanation of what Jesus meant by his statement.

+   +   +   +   +   +

     On another note, it’s been a while since I’ve posted consistently on this blog. I’ve been working on a few other things. Most notably, I finished a book last year that is finally ready for me to publish. It’s similar in many ways to my book about the kingdom of heaven because it explains (are you ready?) – it explains how the term “eternal life” is a reference to a specific kind of life on this earth.

     How many people want to believe eternal life is experienced here on earth? Not many. Especially Christians. People don’t want to hear something they’ve never heard before. They might have to change the way they think. But let me point you to the following commentaries in three different (and traditional) study Bibles printed BEFORE the turn of this century:

Eternal life: used here for the first time in John, this term stresses quality of life rather than duration.6

Eternal life is a present possession, not something the believer will only obtain later.7

Eleven out of forty-two times eternal life is presented as something to be attained 8

       In some cases, the Greek word for life (zoa), when used by itself implies a shortened reference to the term “eternal life.” An example is John 10:10 (NKJV) where Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” One commentary explains it this way:

Life here refers to eternal life, God’s life. It speaks not only of endlessness, but of quality of life.9

6 New American Standard Bible, Revised Edition, commentary on John 3:36 from United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, http://usccb.org/bible/john/3.

7 The NIV Study Bible, New International Version, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985), on John 3:36, 1599.

8 Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville: Nelson Bibles, 1997), on Rom. 6:23, 1890.

9 Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville: Nelson Bibles, 1997), 1782.

The Ancient Understanding of Eternal Life: Biblical Coaching for Living an Abundant Life  © Paul W. Meier

     This isn’t new information. I’ve been preaching it since I began parish ministry in 2003. I’m still not sure anyone believed me. Why? Because it requires a huge change in the way a person thinks. I don’t know of any other Christian preachers or scholars who believe it either. Was I wrong for believing what a few biblical scholars were brave enough to express in the small print of popular study Bibles (used by conservatives and liberals alike)?

     No. I was not wrong. And I explain it in detail – why and how “eternal life” in the New Testament refers to a specific quality of life that can be lived in the world today. If you don’t believe it after reading it, I’ll give you your money back! The ebook version can be pre-ordered now at this link, and it will be automatically downloaded to you on October 31, 2017. Yes, I know that’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But I was taught that the church is always supposed to be reforming itself and what better way to begin the next 500 years of the church’s reformation than on this special day?

     Available for delivery on Oct. 31, 2017

 

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Binding and Loosing in Love

Matt. 18:15-20 

     What does it mean to bind something on earth or to loose something on earth? And how will our binding and loosing have an effect in heaven?

     It’s no accident that this text on binding and loosing comes immediately after Jesus told the story about a shepherd taking time to find one out of a hundred sheep that got lost. That’s easy to see in verses 15-17. But verses 18-19 tend to go off and refer to ethereal realms while verse 20 almost stands alone. Furthermore, in the text that follows this one, Peter asks how many times he’s supposed to forgive his brother. What’s happened with the flow of the text? Things appear choppy.

     The text should flow naturally from point to point, especially if Jesus is teaching his disciples, because flow allows the meaning to be understood. Jesus wasn’t trying to be mysterious. He was trying to explain how to build the kingdom of heaven on earth.

     What I’m learning in my re-translation of the Gospels is that if there is a change in flow, there must be more metaphor than literalism in the meaning, or the translator(s) varied away from the verb tense or voice. What we think is metaphor today was probably colloquial expressions of the first century that have been lost to us two thousand years later. People of that day understood exactly what Jesus was saying while theologians of today are trying to invent ethereal explanations that point to the end of the world or to the goal of the afterlife.

     Therefore I think you’ll see that the flow of the text improves considerably when “earth” is taken to mean “the physical” group who has been called together to solve a problem, while “heaven” refers to the “mind.” Three heads are better than one when trying to be objective and loving in response to a problem in the community.

     This is another way to read the text:

15 “Moreover if your brother (the lost sheep) wanders from the path of uprightness and honor, to do wrong against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the whole group. But if he refuses even to hear the group, let him be to you like a person of the outside world and a tax collector.

18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you (forbid, prohibit) on earth (in the group) will be (forbidden) in heaven (the mind), and whatever you (annul, subvert; do away with; deprive of authority) on earth (from the group) will be (annulled, subverted; done away with; deprived of authority) in heaven (in the mind).

[When there is agreement in how to solve a problem by a group, there is peace of mind. But peace only comes when the process is handled with love. Unfortunately, people take the next verse out of context:]

19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree concerning anything on earth (in the group) that they ask, it shall come to pass for them in heaven (minds of those who agree) by my Father. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name (in the goodness and righteousness of Jesus), I am there in the midst of them.”

     Contemporary religious zeal suggests that if two or three get together under the righteous name of Jesus and ask for a church van to be given to them for their ministry to seniors, the Power of the universe will go into action for them. I don’t deny the power of several people focused on their agenda, but this is taking the verse totally out of context. Jesus is teaching people how to solve their immediate group dynamic problems. The binding part is about prohibiting unloving actions. It’s not about deciding to set policies in place that actually bring harm to some people. And it’s not promoting the power of prayer by more people than yourself.  This is not instruction on how to increase the odds of fulfilling your agenda. The whole point of gather two or three together is to stop unloving behavior committed against a person violating love in the community.

     That’s why Peter, no longer coming from out of the blue, asks, “How many times should I forgive my brother (the wayward sheep) who is doing harm to someone in the community? What do you do with a non-compliant or non-conforming brother or sister? This answers a big question at the end of verse 17 when Jesus said, “Let him be to you like a Gentile/heathen and a tax collector.” What did that mean? It sounds like Jesus says it’s okay to kick him out. Therefore Peter asks our question and Jesus says, “If he is sorry and says he won’t do it again – forgive him. Let it go and get back to my work.” If he isn’t sorry, if he doesn’t want to follow the decision of the group, then let him go his own way. “These are the rules we go by in this group. If you want to be part of us, we’d love that. But these are the rules we live by.”

     Always open and inviting. It’s an open door policy. You can come in and be a part of the group or you can try to find a group with rules you are willing to follow. Either way, we wish you well because you are a child of God and God has a purpose for you. Binding and loosing in love, that’s our calling.

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Healing the Disease of Racism

 

     It’s time I weighed in on racism. I went to my weekly spiritually gathering last night and a topic came up concerning how one might deal with problems in the world. One suggestion from ancient wisdom teachings is to not resist evil. Even Jesus said that. I once read someone’s analysis of the Greek word for “resist” that explained it as “don’t make it your priority” rather than don’t offer any opposition. That makes sense to me. You can stand up against racism without making it your mission in life. And yet, God has given that mission to some, aka, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

     Let me clarify up front that when I speak of racism, I’m narrowing it to the skin coloration component in these comments. One general observation I make is that racism is a disease that infects Caucasians more than any other race. And the male gender is clearly the most aggressive and violent in displaying the symptoms of the disease. I guess that’s the testosterone element.

     One way to treat the eruption of racism is to control the release of testosterone in whatever ways possible. But that’s not very practical and it only addresses the outward and ugly demonstration of the disease. It doesn’t get rid of the source of the problem, which is founded internally in fear, ignorance, or cultural programming.

     How do you address these sources in people without making it your mission in life? You don’t make it your priority, but when you see it happening, you make an effort to stop it. Hopefully, that won’t require physical intervention, but Jesus also said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Friends are those you love and care about. We are to love everyone, to consider everyone a friend.

     Treating the mental disease of racism requires active involvement by those who witness it. Racism is a violation of the kingdom of heaven, where there is always peace and harmony among people. Even though Jesus said, “Don’t resist evil,” he also said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven is taken by violence and the violent seize it by force” (Matt. 11:12 NKJV). You didn’t know there is violence in heaven, did you?

     I have a different perspective based on my translation of the Greek text. The word translated as ‘violence’ is most often used in the New Testament in a poetic way rather than in a negative or hurtful way. It means to use force. My translation of the text comes out more like this: people are seeking a share in the heavenly kingdom (a place where there is harmony and equality) with passion and intense energy. It’s explained in detail in Chapter Twelve of my book about the kingdom of heaven.

     Sometimes people who want peace and harmony in the kingdom of heaven within themselves must resist evil when it stares them in the face. That’s what Rosa Parks did when she refused to let a white man have her seat on the bus. She didn’t get violent. She just refused to passively give in to evil.

     Clearly, we still have a problem with the disease. The ugly pus of its presence keeps revealing itself. It may not be your purpose in life, but whenever it raises its evil head, you and I must employ passion and intense energy to help our friends who wear coats of many beautiful colors to receive the kingdom of heaven that God wants for everyone.

     Force can be applied non-violently in many ways. Sometimes it’s as easy as saying, “You’re wrong. I don’t agree” or, “Wow, that’s a racist remark.” Other times it’s more difficult because it may impact your future. But you will always reap what you sow. If you stand idle and complacent, you are allowing pus to spread and infect others, and possibly allowing harm to your neighbor. Not resisting evil is becoming part of it. You are sowing a seed toward your future. However, if you sow love for your neighbor, you may not know how that love will be reaped, but trust that goodness always yields goodness.

     The kingdom of heaven within you will be lost when you don’t resist and achieved when you apply pressure against ignorance, fear, and cultural programming. Trust your future to God. Sow love and help your neighbor today.

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What Does Perishing Mean?

 

     My interest in the Greek text and the English translations has led me to conclude that translation is more subjective than most people think. Most notably are the translations of the divorce and remarriage texts that I explained in that book. I also found many new ways of understanding Jesus’s and Paul’s teachings as I wrote a new book – Dry Bones: Breathing New Life into Petrified Words in the Bible

     Some of the variations I found do not necessarily change the meaning of a passage as much as it clarifies a more specific meaning. Let me give you an example.

     One of the dry bones I wrote about is the Greek word sometimes translated as “perish.” It’s apollumi, translated several ways in the New Testament. In my younger days, I understood ‘perish’ as being on the slippery slope toward the lake of fire. That seems to be how many churches have interpreted their purpose – to keep you out of the fire.

     Here’s a list of potential meanings for apollumi that translators have used:

(a) to destroy, to die, to lose, to perish

(b) put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to

(c) to be lost, ruined, or destroyed; to be thought of as useless

(d) go astray, fall into decay, be drawn down by the desires of the flesh.

          Most translators seem to default to the quick and easy meanings of “to be lost” or “to perish.” But that’s lazy or conditioned translating. Jesus told his disciples to permit the little children to come to him. In his time, women and children were undervalued. He taught the disciples that little children were to be appreciated. He said anyone who causes a child who trusts [pisteuo] in him to sin would pay a high price. Then Jesus continued in Matt. 18:11, “For the Son of Man has come to protect from harm [sozo “most often translated as “to save”] those who are considered useless [apollumi].” The NKJV reads “lost.”

     At that point, he told a parable about a shepherd who went looking for a sheep that had wandered away from the safety of the flock. The shepherd left ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one who was wandering. Jesus concluded, “And if he should find it, surely I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Therefore it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be drawn down by the desires of the flesh [apollumi]” (Matt. 18:13-14). The NKJV uses “perish.”

     The traditional translations leave a lot to the imagination, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet “lost” children and “undervalued” children are a bit different in my mind. And “perish” is not as clear as my choice in replacement words.

     We still undervalue children today. We expect them to act like adults long before their brains are fully developed and capable of rational, abstract thought. The world puts helmets and pads on six year olds and thinks it’s cute. The world teaches them how to compete with each other instead of get along. The world teaches them that winning is what is important. Getting a high paying job is more important than helping others. The world tells them who they should fear rather than who they should love. 

     Think about it. If you aren’t willing to contribute to educating the children of today, when they grow up, they may not think old folks are worth spending money on either. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. 

     The USA may be the most powerful country in the world, but it’s #29th on list in terms of education. What do you think will happen in forty years to a country that values its children less than competition, Mammon, power, or the desires of the flesh? How much will the children of today value you? Will you be apollumi-ed?

 

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