Faith that Makes You Whole

Luke 17:11-19

Most of Jesus’s story about healing the ten lepers is easy to understand. But it’s the last line of the story that has always been confusing for me. Jesus said to the foreigner, “Your faith has made you whole.”

I thought all ten were made well. Why does his faith make him more whole than the others?

I’m not sure if I’ve figured it out or not but I think it has to do with the fact that there are two different Greek words used. All of the lepers were healed, or cleansed (katharizō) of their leprosy. But Jesus said the Samaritan was made whole (sōzō). In most other places in the Bible, sōzō  is translated “saved.” Your faith has saved you.

photo by Stephanie Lynn HindsSo what’s the difference between being cleansed and being saved?

I’m going to retell the story as it might apply to October, 2014.

Ten mid-level managers of a private company that does subcontracting work for the federal government have health issues. As supervisors paid on a salary basis, they are constantly under pressure to meet deadlines. If it takes working longer to get the job done—and it always does—they put in many more hours. The stress to their bodies and minds has taken its toll. High blood pressure, headaches and migraines, restless sleep at night from the pressure to do better than last month. They’re bad-tempered and unsympathetic. The people they supervise don’t like them. They are excluded from having any fun with people who know how to enjoy life.

One day the big boss walks in and says, “I can see that your work schedule is impacting your performance on the job as well as your health. I’m going to upgrade the manufacturing equipment and that will take two weeks. Because I’m still paying you during this shutdown, I want you to get out of town and help out a friend of mine who has a camp in the Rockies.” So the ten highly frazzled managers go to the Rocky Mountains for some rest, recreation, and community service.

In the mornings they do some painting and basic cleaning at a children’s camp. In the afternoon, they hike. They raft. They ride horses. They breathe air far from the hydrocarbon-filled spaces around the city. They take pictures of the beauty and the glory of the creation – the mountain peaks, the blue skies. Every night they gaze up into the endlessly clear, star-filled skies.

And along the way, their blood pressures begin to drop. Their headaches go away. They sleep like babies at night. They are cleansed and it feels good.

Then they go home and return to life as usual, the way they always have done it.

Except for one, and he’s an Iranian, who says, “What an awesome world my God has made! And I’ve taken so little time to appreciate it.” When he gets home, he volunteers at a neighborhood center. He sets up containers at home to separate out the clear plastics from aluminum cans from recyclable paper. He decides he’ll ride his bicycle to work (4-5 miles away) when the weather permits. He carries a couple of trash bags to pick up litter on the road. And he starts making plans to add some solar panels to his home.

And the One who cleansed him said, “Didn’t I cleanse ten? Where are the other nine? Was none of them except this foreigner awakened by what they saw and experienced that they might actually respond in gratitude?” And he said to him, “Go on your way. Your faith has made you whole—your faith has saved you.”

Everyone’s blood pressure went down. Everyone’s headaches disappeared. They all slept at night. Ten were cleansed but only the foreigner…the one outside the “chosen” religion, became a whole, mature, life-appreciating person.

I’ve written a lot about Jesus proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom is within your reach. I think being saved is also “at hand.”

To be saved is more than the promise of a better life when you’re dead. The meaning of the Greek word saved is: to be delivered or rescued from a current difficulty…in the present. End-times religion has made the kingdom, eternal life, and salvation all about life after death.

Being saved is being delivered from the absence of life today so that you can experience the things of the kingdom—the peace, joy, hope, beauty, goodness, etc., in all that surrounds you today. To be saved is to be rescued from your anger, your frustration, your impatience, your boredom, your greed, your insecurity—today.

The key to being saved from thinking you need more money in your bank account or more toys in your toy barn to enjoy life is faith. Faith that God will provide the true riches of peace and joy, even if you don’t add four more hours onto your work day and two hundred more dollars to your wallet. Faith that if you do your work well, like the birds of the air finding food each day, your heavenly Father will take care of you.

Faith that brings wholeness (salvation) is trusting that the true riches promised by God are better than those the world promotes—power, prestige, material possessions.

This is where salvation is truly a choice. You must choose to trust that the way of Jesus leads to the abundant life rather than the way of greed and capitalism. The way of Jesus is compassion, improving life for others, not selfishly storing up treasures that moths and rust can destroy.

And when you let yourself take a break, demonstrating your faith that God can control the world for a week or two, who will you thank for watching over you? And what will that gratitude look like?

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Dress for Success in the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 22:1-14

    I explained many of Jesus’s parables about the kingdom of heaven in my recent book, but this parable didn’t make it into any chapter. It could have fit into the chapter about “who won’t get into heaven” (Chp. 13). This story would add a seventh grouping to the list. Those  who don’t wear the right clothing at the wedding banquet won’t stay in the kingdom of heaven.

     One of actor/director Woody Allen’s most famous quotes is this, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.” I doubt if Jesus would agree that “just showing up” for the wedding banquet makes you a successful disciple.

     Just “showing up” at your wedding might get you married, but it doesn’t build a dynamic, love-worth-fighting-for, mortgage-paying, in-law juggling, bank-account-balancing, children-challenged, lifetime relationship with your partner. Just showing up doesn’t cut it.

     Just showing up at the birth of your child might legally make you a “parent,” but it does not make you a diaper changing, dinosaur-name-learning, cheering-at-rain-soaked-soccer-games, doing-Algebra-homework, waiting-up-all-night enforcing curfews, saving for college Mom or Dad. Just showing up doesn’t cut it.

     Just showing up at church every Sunday morning might make you a member in good standing of a congregation, but it doesn’t make you a foodline-serving, church-property-mowing, Sunday school teaching, sound-system-managing, quilt-making, tear-wiping disciple in the kingdom of heaven. Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.

     To be invited to participate in the kingdom of heaven requires wearing the right clothing. Living your faith is about doing something, not just showing up.

     Let me remind you that the kingdom of heaven is the creative movement toward oneness in your life today. This interpretation of the kingdom makes the parables easy to understand. The unity or harmony you develop within yourself and your community results in bringing greater peace, joy, hope, and love into the world.

     In my last two blogs, Jesus said you will inherit the kingdom when you bear the fruit of the kingdom – feed the hungry, visit the sick, comfort the grieving, tell others how God has blessed you.

     So the answer to success as a disciple, living in the kingdom of heaven, is to dress for success.

     St. Paul told the church in Colossia how to do that, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). When you do this, you will be wearing a wedding garment and you will feast in the kingdom of heaven today.

     According to Jesus’ parable, the man at the banquet needed to be wearing the right clothes – a wedding garment – in order to enjoy the celebration. In those days, all the guests at a wedding were given a garment to wear. It visually identified you as a participant in the celebration.

     Lots of preachers and scholars have said that the wedding garment is faith, and that’s a good analogy. My only concern with it is that you can’t “see” faith that is in someone’s heart. You can only see evidence of faith.

     Clothing in the Bible is often a metaphor for one’s outer actions. It makes more sense to think the wedding garment is what can be seen on the outside of a person that proves faith exists. The evidence of faith is good works. The book of James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Ala, no works means no wedding garment.

     St. Paul also said we should wear the robe of righteousness. That’s not some mystical aura of perfection. It’s doing the right things. It’s our actions of love that others can see that are a robe of righteousness.

     I also explained in my book that the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” metaphor means sorrow and anger in this life. When you live in division, disharmony, apathy, etc., it’s a miserable life.

     The man who was invited into the wedding banquet accepted the invitation. He showed up. But just showing up doesn’t mean you will feast for long in the kingdom of heaven. How you dress as a follower of Jesus makes a statement. What you do or don’t do to live out your faith and bring harmony to others is what brings the joy, the peace, the love, the patience, and all those wonderful things that surround you when you live in the kingdom of heaven.

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The Kingdom of God is Being Taken Away

 

Matthew 21:33-46

     Here’s another group of people (to add to the list in my last post) that Jesus says will not participate in the kingdom of heaven (also called the kingdom of God). In my ebook about the kingdom of heaven, I restated this popular phrase in a couple of ways. The kingdom of God is

  1. The process of growth toward oneness.
  2. The movement toward unity.
  3. The potential toward harmony and working together of all things.
  4. The creative, driving force toward oneness (the harmonious working together of all things).
  5. The rising of unity in any place, both inside and outside of a person.

     Notice that Jesus said, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you,” as if they already had it in their possession. And they did. God had blessed Israel. They were in the Promised Land. Even though they were under the supervision of another power, there was relative peace in the land.

     However, when religious people put their faith in the Law and in egocentric dreams of ruling the land themselves instead of following the instruction and example of the One sent to demonstrate compassion and kindness, they will lose their peace.

map of US     This is a universal truth. Peace will disappear for any person or nation that places laws above people, retribution above forgiveness, punishment above rehabilitation, hoarding above distribution.

     Hindsight prophecies are rarely heard because everyone has a better answer, but since it’s my blog, here are a few.

  1. If the US had forgiven the attack on the Twin Towers, spending money to insure the physical, mental, emotional, and financial care of the injured and the loved ones of those who died, terrorism would not have grown in leaps and bounds to the level it exists today. We did not act in a Christ-like way in response to 9-11 and we’ve multiplied our enemies instead of eliminated them. Repaying evil with evil fuels the cycle of evil. The kingdom of God is being taken away from us for our retaliatory sense of justice.
  2. Placing the earnings of wealthy (defined biblically as having more food, clothing, shelter than you need for the next couple of days) stock holders and corporate executives above employees has led to sending jobs overseas to take advantage of slave labor, massive layoffs to boost the bottom line, companies hiring temporary and part-time workers so they don’t have to pay health insurance or pensions, a widening of the gap between rich and poor (a disappearing middleclass), etc. I’m no economist but when the 1% have all the money in their bank accounts, who’s going to buy the cars, homes, toys, gasoline/oil, vacation rentals, etc., to keep their incomes growing and barns full? And when 90% are poor, there won’t be enough bombs or policemen to keep them peaceful. Of course, the poor will have plenty of guns to take matters into their own hands since the NRA wants no restrictions. With fear and greed ruling the land, the kingdom of God is being taken away from us.
  3. Let’s talk about immigration. Even the Old Testament says you should welcome the immigrant and stranger. I don’t know how well Israel was following scriptural guidance in the first century but today in the US there’s great resistance. Some are whipping us into a frenzy with fearful statistics about how legalizing those who are here illegally will drain us of our money. Some are building walls in the desert to try to slow down their entry. We’re turning away children who want an education and want to work, who seek hope in their lives. Yet, big business thrives on keeping aliens illegal. Many American business owners love to hire illegal aliens because they don’t have to pay minimum wage or pay social security. Others complain that if we make them legal, they’ll drain our Medicare money. Really? How many Mexicans over 65 do you see sneaking across the border? With the baby boomers starting to draw SSI, we need lots more legal aliens to pay the growing tab for SSI. The Medicare money will disappear if there are fewer legal workers to pay into it. Too much of that money already disappeared when it was placed in the hands of unethical politicians. We need to collect income taxes to pay for roads and infrastructures that are falling apart. The kingdom of God is being taken away from us in our lack of hospitality.

     Are there no creative leaders in our country who can envision a way that we can work together to solve some of these issues? Are there so few followers of Jesus who are bold enough to go against the grain of the world – which promotes retaliation, selfish ambition, and exclusion?

    In the words of Jesus, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” I don’t think there’s enough room in Switzerland for all of us who want the kingdom of God in our lives.

     The benefits of a kingdom of unity are peace, harmony, joy, love, goodness, kindness, patience, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control. You don’t need any laws against these.

     It’s your choice. Do you want the kingdom of God in your life?

     Who will you follow? FoxNews? CNN? Rush Limbaugh? Stephen Colbert? A house divided cannot stand – nor can it possess the kingdom of God.

     Shouldn’t we be following the example of Jesus? It’s the only way to bring unity and harmony back into the nation we love.

     And yet, despite division and fighting in our own land, those who follow Jesus’s example will possess the peace of the kingdom of God today. They are the ones turning off the television and radio and going into the fields to do their part.

 

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5 Groups of People Who Won’t Enter the Kingdom of God

Matthew 21:23-32

Jesus said tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before the religious rule-followers who say the right words. In the Gospels, He spoke of five kinds of people who won’t find the peace and joy God offers every person, if they’ll only enter the fields that are ripe for harvest.

First you have to understand what the kingdom of God is all about. It’s not about paradise after you die. Not even close. As I explain in painstaking detail in my 99 cent ebook, The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real, and It’s Open to Everyone!, the kingdom of God is that state of being— on earth—where you feel peace, joy, and harmony in your heart and mind because you know you’ve done the right thing. And when you do the right thing, it has brought harmony into the lives of others. The kingdom of God is the development of unity and harmony on earth. Everybody wins when the kingdom of God is at hand.

Chapter 13 of my book talks about all those who won’t experience harmony and unity in the kingdom of God. (This is Jesus’s list, not mine.)

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

prostitute in Brazil   In Matt. 21, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you do.”

Jesus was not saying prostitutes are 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 intend on judgment and punishment than they are on unity and compassion.

Prostitutes or tax collectors (traitors) clearly do not have lasting inner peace and joy in their lives. Jesus was using overstatement or cynicism to maximize the effect of his teaching. The point he was making was that the Pharisees, like the second son in this story, were quick to say, “We’ll be glad to help, Lord,” but they weren’t going out and working in the healing fields. They weren’t bringing harmony to the sick, poor, or imprisoned. They were diverted from the true work with their focus on religious rules and rituals.

Pharisees with their rules and judgment will never experience the peace that passes understanding. We have not been called by Jesus to simply say the right things, but we are called to be doers of the word. Like the second son in the parable, it’s easier to say the words that we are supposed to say …“yes, father, I will go and work in the vineyard”…than to do them.

Maybe the second son had good intentions, but there was no follow through.  Jesus asked, “Which son did the will of his father?” It’s rather obvious that the first son who changed his mind and went to work did what the father wanted – the father simply wanted the work to be done. The words of the second son were nice to hear, but they had no substance.  Jesus is saying, “I don’t care what you SAY you believe, DO what I ask you to DO.”

Yet it becomes easier to enter the fields and do what is right when we link arms together with others and carry out Christ’s work in the world. Let’s not get sidetracked by just talking about religion and what the church should be doing. Let’s go into the fields and work to bring peace and harmony to the poor and outcast.

Who else won’t enter the kingdom of God/heaven, according to Jesus?

(2) Those who don’t receive 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).

It takes a whole chapter to explain all these others right here, so for 99 cents to Amazon you can get the full details about why these last four groups won’t experience harmony and unity in life. You’ll also get answers to who will inherit the kingdom, answers to kingdom parables, how you too can heal in the kingdom, etc. Get it here, The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real, and It’s Open to Everyone!.

(If you didn’t see my last post about new titles and covers for my In Living Color series, as well as their introductory prices of 99 centscheck it out here.)

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New Titles, Covers, and 99 cents for ebooks

Retirement has given me the time to reassess and revise some of the hurried work I did in the first few ebooks and books I’ve written. The result is that I’ve changed the titles and covers of the books that started off as the “In Living Color” series.

That title had more meaning to me because the Aramaic interpretations of traditional biblical words opened up a beautiful way of understanding them. It transformed the rather plain, black and white understandings I had from the English words and converted them into colorful descriptions that made more sense. It helped that the books I read were written by a translator (Aramaic to English) who is as much a poet and mystic as he is an Aramaic scholar. You wouldn’t get the same depth and beauty in interpretation from an academic scholar.

In my reading about writing and titling books, I found that the search engines on the internet look for keywords in titles. This helps them to find information for the consumer in a micro-nanosecond. Thus, when people want information about the Lord’s prayer or the kingdom of heaven, they don’t type “in living color.” My mistake. Now I’ve corrected that.

Here are my new book covers for those three books:    

The Lord's Prayer

The Beatitudes

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kingdom of Heaven is for REAL

If you bought any of the books in the “In Living Color” series, keep them. I’ve made some micro-adjustments, but nothing to negate what was in them.

The study guides for the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes are still the same. The new ebooks, however, will not have the study guides at the end of the ebook. This is to keep the ebook shorter and to fit in the “short read” categories. You can  still download the study guides them from my website.

The best news is that I’ve lowered the price of all my ebooks (except Praying the Gospels with Martin Luther) to 99 cents.

How many people like to read religious stuff? Most “normal” people read to be entertained rather than to read material that could be included in a Sunday sermon. But I wrote these because I felt there was some very helpful things to be learned by clergy and laypeople. Maybe it was all I learned as I wrote them that made them valuable to me.

 In order to lower any barriers to reading a book focusing on religious understanding, I don’t want money to get in the way. I need to recover some of the editing and book cover and other costs, so I won’t give them away free. I’ve found that when you give books to people, they usually don’t read them anyway.

I will say that I think these are the best ebooks on these religious topics you can buy for the price of 99 cents. Obviously if they weren’t worth that, I wouldn’t have written them in the first place. :)

Lastly, people buy books based on the reviews – I know that I pay a lot of attention to the opinions of others when I’m trying to decide what to read next. Unfortunately, religious topics stir emotions in people who don’t like to read something other than what they’ve read for fifty or more years. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I don’t say the same old things. I keep learning as I go and since you’re still reading this, I think you are open to hearing and pondering new things, too.

Any help you can offer in a review on Amazon will help others make a decision to read or not read what I’ve written. I encourage you to go to the Amazon ebook page for each title whenever you finish the book and leave your opinion.

And if you received any benefit from a book, please recommend it to a friend. If you read anything that brings peace, hope, joy, or understanding to you, feel free to share it. The way good news spreads is by word of mouth. People who respect you will listen to your recommendations. Thanks.

 

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Everyone Eats at the End of the Day

 

Matthew 20:1-16

     Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like some people who worked all day in a field and received the reward that they were promised for their work. No problem with that. Then the landowner hired others later in the day. Although they didn’t work as long or hard, their reward was the same as the first group hired.

     How can the kingdom of heaven look like every worker in a field getting paid the same amount of money at the end of the day, no matter how long they worked? That doesn’t fit the rules of American capitalism. You should get paid in direct proportion to the labor you put into a job – and preferably – for most landowners hiring laborers, that will be minimum wage.

     Let’s remember one thing. The kingdom of heaven isn’t about what’s fair by worldly/capitalistic justification. It’s about what’s good and right for all.

     This is adapted from chapter two of my ebook In Living Color: Heaven that puts “the kingdom of heaven” in different words.

The Aramaic word for kingdom, malkuthakh, refers to the quality of rulership or the governing principles that guide one’s life. Neil Douglas-Klotz says the ancient roots of the word point to the image of “a fruitful arm poised to create, or a coiled spring that is ready to unwind with all the verdant potential of the earth.” A kingdom is a state of perpetual readiness to bring forth its fullness.

“The heavens” are all those things, visible and invisible, that work together in unity or perfect harmony.

The phrase “kingdom of heaven” can be more broadly understood as the potential for governing principles to bring unity - or as the harmonious interaction of all things working as one. This can be applied at many levels: (1) to the internal level and the resolution of the many thoughts and feelings within an individual, (2) to the unifying of the voices within a household, (3) to a congregation, a township, a city, (4) to a state, a nation, (5) to the global community, (6) to the natural world.

 Where there is unity, all will be working for the good of each other. It’s the sense of spontaneous agreement when voices come together to work toward a common purpose.

When Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like this,” it might have sounded like this: “This is what the development of perfect order and harmony looks like.”[1]

+  +  +

children in Haiti     During my time at Vanderbilt Divinity School, a visiting seminary professor from a third world country gave a lecture on this story of the workers in the vineyard. He said the people in his country understand this story from a different perspective. Many of them do not have work that extends from one day to the next. Sometimes they work for a day and then the work is over. They don’t know if they will be hired tomorrow. The pay they receive is usually just enough to feed their family for that day. 

     In his country, workers go and stand in the marketplace early in the morning, hoping someone might hire them so they and their families can eat that night. To be hired early means peace of mind for that day. And then if someone else is hired later in the day, they are grateful because a friend or relative will be able to feed their family, too. They don’t know if tomorrow, they will be that one that waits all day long to be hired. To have to wait until late in the day to be hired means they lack peace or the security that they will be able to feed themselves and their family.

     It’s no party to stand in the market all day long, worrying if their children will go to bed hungry.  Hope fades as the day goes on. It’s only when the landowner finds and hires them that they are assured that they will be fed and taken care of. To the people in this professor’s country, the landowner is more than fair. He is generous and they are grateful. Instead of calling this the story ‘the workers in the vineyard’, they see it as the story of the generous landlord.

     In the kingdom of heaven (which Jesus proclaimed is “at hand” on earth) everyone is assured that they will eat at the end of the day, no matter who worked the hardest or longest. It’s about time we make that happen.

 

[1] Adapted from Paul W. Meier, In Living Color: Heaven, chapter two.

 

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Following Jesus, the Serpent on a Stick

John 3:13-17

13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (NKJV)

Jesus is speaking. Christians understand Jesus to be the Son of Man. In this reading, Jesus says the Son of Man is in heaven. But Jesus is on earth when he’s saying this. Then Jesus compares himself to a snake on a stick. We are supposed to believe in him, the serpent on a stick, and if we do, we’ll have eternal life.

I’m really confused.

medical symbolA former parishioner once told me I sounded like the “snake in the garden of Eden.” It was during the time when people were upset about my denomination approving gay ministers having partners. To have been compared to a snake helps me to understand this Bible verse from a different perspective.

Jesus was viewed as a serpent (as well as called Beelzebub, ruler of demons) by religious leaders who wanted the old religious laws to be in force. They believed he was promoting evil because he proclaimed a new understanding of God and scriptures. Jesus ate with outcasts and sinners which was a sign that he accepted them and wanted to be in relationship with them. He taught things in opposition to Moses.

Heaven forbid.

At least, that’s what the tradition, the religious community, the institutional “church” believed. Anyone who honors God follows Moses – every well-trained Jew, Muslim, and Christian is taught that.

Jesus’s words help me to understand that he was saying, “Believe the one the current religious tradition (Moses followers) thinks is a serpent – believe in me and my teachings – then you will have eternal life.”

I’m working on a new book. It’s about eternal life. Eternal life, like the kingdom of heaven, is now. In short, eternal life is the quality of life God wants you to experience today. That’s why Jesus came—to show us the way to the quality of life God wants for us—today.

How many of us are following Jesus? How many of us are repaying evil with good? How many are not judging others? How many are accepting outcasts and sinners into their homes to eat with and develop relationships? How many think we should drop bread on our enemies instead of bombs?

Too many modern-day Christians believe in “an eye for an eye” retribution, the teaching of Moses. They don’t believe Jesus’s answer to receiving evil…return evil with good…and turn the other cheek and love your enemies. If you say something like this in public, even in a church, some people will look at you like you’re the snake.

Did you know that snakes are an important part of the ecosystem? They keep the rat and rodent populations under control. And there are lots of rats out there.

Most of the churches in my Bible Belt community would not see me as a “true” believer of the Bible. That’s okay. As a follower of Jesus, the serpent on a stick, I don’t believe in (trust) every written word in the Bible. I’ve found too many passages that promote hatred, harmful treatment, and exclusion. Instead, I trust in Jesus and his teachings.

There’s a big difference between being a Bible believer/lover and a Jesus follower. And I’ve chosen Jesus. That gives me the quality of life God wants for me today, filled with inner peace and harmony. I encourage you to do the same.

[Did I tell you that I started another blog that’s not as much about “religion?” Check it out here – http://pursueharmony.com.]

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Binding and Loosing in the Name of Jesus Christ

unityMatthew 18:15-20

     Jesus taught a direct approach to dealing with relationship issues that progressed from the one on one approach to going before the ekklesia.

     If someone is not complying with the goals of the group, go to the person, one on one, and talk about your concern. “I need your help. Maybe I’ve misunderstood what happened. My goal in this is to make sure we’re on the same page and mission in our efforts as a group.”

     More often, people do the opposite. They speak their fears and hurts to anyone and everyone in the group, seeking their own validation and setting up the group to be biased toward their argument or agenda. Then everyone gets angry. Peace flies out the window. Good luck trying to work things out from that point.

     If the one to one approach doesn’t work, bring others who have the objectives of the whole group at heart and discuss the issue further—peacefully. If no agreement can be reached and the goals of the group are not honored, then take it to the whole body, i.e., the ekklesia.

     The way translations of the Bible insert the term “church” for this Greek word makes us think this is all about religion. But Jesus wanted unity and harmony to take place among all people, even outsiders to the religious tradition. The word ekklesia means an assembly of the peopleconvened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberating. An assembly of people who have the same concerns or goals could be a bridge club, a neighborhood association, a basketball team, one department of a business

     Jesus said the same thing in Matt. 16:19 – “I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” (which I refer to in my book In Living Color: Heaven as unity or harmony among all creation) – whatever you bind on earth will be bound in the heavens, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in the heavens. I explained Matt. 16’s binding and loosing in a previous blog post.

      In this case to bind is to do something, to set a boundary designed to clarify the objectives of the group and holds them together. The word earth could be more like a metaphor for the group itself, as one of the definitions for the Greek word is “a country, land enclosed within fixed boundaries.” Most groups have fixed boundaries that define their goals and objectives.

     To loose is to unbind what is fast bound. You can redefine boundaries or you can let some of the established boundaries go if that appears to be appropriate. However, this phrase about binding and loosing comes after Jesus said, “Let him be to you as a man of the nations, i.e., an outsider to the group (the Greek term originally had nothing to do with religion, so to say “heathen man” is forcing religion into the passage), or let him be as a tax-collector (someone not well-liked because he appears to oppose the group’s desires).”

     How can harmony and unity exist in a group if one person doesn’t agree to follow the group’s goals and objectives? One bad apple has the potential for spreading disharmony among everyone. Except I don’t think Jesus meant “excommunicate” them. Remember that Jesus, in his own way, was disrupting the harmony in the status quo of “the group.”

   “Let them be to you like someone who isn’t in agreement with the group’s objectives.” The foreigners and tax collectors weren’t thrown out of Israel. They continued to live as part of the community. They were simply not included in the group’s activities because no one likes a party-pooper. It’s okay to disregard people who don’t have the same goals as the group in the same way a mature parent disregards the tantrums of a toddler.

     You can’t help someone come to completion (maturity) as a child of God through formal rejection or ultimatums. You can’t convert a terrorist into a law-abiding citizen of the community through ultimatums or fear tactics. Fear feeds fear. When will we ever learn? You can only help people come to completion when you gather together in the name of Christ to discern the best way to live in unity with all people. Chapter 2 in my book on the Lord’s Prayer speaks to how one’s name refers to the nature or character of that person. To gather in Jesus’s name is to gather in goodness and love to bring unity and harmony (the kingdom of heaven) to all.

     If a group’s goals are in line with Jesus’s goals of unity, harmony, and love for all people – we can be assured that his Spirit is in our  midst.

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The Unforgiven-ness in the Cross

Matthew 16:21-28

Take up your cross. Why did Jesus tell his disciples to take up their crosses? Did he mean it literally, as in, “Wear a gold cross around your neck or put it on a bumper sticker as a sign to the world that you confess me as Lord and this will be a sign for the world that the one wearing it is forgiven by God?”

cross of pain and rejectionThe cross is the iconic image of pain. It’s an image of death. The cross was never an image of forgiveness. It was quite the opposite.

As Jesus was speaking to his disciples, the cross was a sign of unforgiveness and rejection for the person who was impaled upon it. No person nailed to a cross is forgiven by the one who is holding the hammer.

Modern Christianity has deftly flipped the image to dress it up. The cross is now a badge of honor, a visual sign to remind the wearer (and the observer) that God has graciously forgiven the one who wears it (and he or she is damn proud of being forgiven, an inheritor of heaven – the good life after death).

I readily agree that many have received great comfort in understanding the love of God through the image of the cross.

I’m afraid decorative crosses remind rich Christians that God forgives them even though they hoard their riches with the plan of living in comfort for forty years after they retire. Then when they die, having been forgiven for their greed and avarice, they will live the good life in heaven, too. How sweet it is being a Christian.

I’m afraid the poor wear crosses as reminders that even though their cross-wearing sisters and brothers in Christ don’t love them enough to help them today, God loves them enough to feed them like the sparrows and clothe them like the lilies – and they will have to wait for the good life after they are dead. But at least eternity will be good.

It’s not the cross that saves people who continue to cry out in hunger and pain in this life. Life is about today. You and I, living out the example of Jesus, are sent in baptism to be saviors of the poor, sick, and imprisoned as we follow the example of Christ.

At this point in history, the only rejection some people experience by wearing crosses is because it links them with the loud, hate-bearing Christians who condemn everyone and everything but themselves. They are not following Jesus as they hit everyone with their crosses. I don’t want to be associated with them for the false-Christianity they spew.

Did the disciples understand what Jesus meant by taking up a cross? I’m assuming they did. It must have been a common thing Jesus had explained to them before. And it must have been common to all the people who would be hearing Matthew’s version of the good news. If it wasn’t common knowledge, Matthew would have explained it right then.

The cross is a sign that the person placed upon it is unforgiven. No mercy will be extended. This person is not redeemable and must be eliminated so the status quo can continue.

Jesus was preparing his disciples for what to expect if they followed his example. Some people will hurt you, vehemently oppose you, even to the point of taking your life.

The religious leaders of the day had the power and ability to forgive, to let go, of the unorthodox teachings Jesus had been proclaiming. They placed their rules and rituals and traditions ahead of the work Jesus had been sent to accomplish – bringing unity and peace to the bodies, minds, and souls of the broken. They placed the riches of gold and silver that lined their temples and their pockets ahead of the health and education of the sick and imprisoned. Jesus was a threat to their lifestyles.

As history records it, the religious leaders and those in powerful positions would not forgive Jesus for stepping out of their box of neatly packed, but life-draining, self-serving, and harmful regulations. He was a threat to the social and religious order designed by the healthy, wealthy, and privileged. You can’t oppose those with power or money without being verbally and sometimes physically beaten, and then hung out to dry.

Take up your cross…and follow me. To follow Jesus didn’t mean to walk meekly behind him, wearing a cross around your neck, and pointing out the faults of everyone. To follow Jesus meant to follow his example. Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Help the prisoners. Proclaim God’s desire for a world of peace, justice, and equity for all people (the kingdom of heaven) – not just for the privileged.

If you do this and follow the example of Jesus, just be ready to be unforgiven by those whose bulging barns are being torn down so they can build bigger barns.

I wonder if those who wear crosses today would still wear them if they understood that imitating Jesus risks being placed upon that cross, as one who will be unforgiven when they stand up for the poor, the sick, the broken-hearted, and the prisoners?

One day, I pray that the cross will assume it’s original meaning to convey this idea, “I stand up for the poor, the sick, the broken-hearted, and the prisoners…and I’m proud to wear it even at the risk of your anger and rejection. I’m willing to bear that pain as one who is following the example of Jesus Christ.”

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Who Do People Say I’ve Reincarnated From?

Matthew 16:13-20

     People in biblical days believed in the teaching (i.e., doctrine) of reincarnation. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian wrote about the Pharisees being believers in reincarnation. The Pharisees were the Jewish sect which Paul belonged to before his conversion experience. Josephus wrote about the Pharisees’ belief that the souls of evil men are punished after death. And the souls of good men are “removed into other bodies” and they will have “power to revive and live again.”

reincarnation1     Throughout Jewish history, many believed and promoted the concept that some of the dead prophets returned to life through reincarnation. But the Sadducees, a purist sect of Judaism, rejected the concepts of resurrection and all Greek influences involving reincarnation that were occurring in Jesus’ day. They accepted only the orthodox Hebrew belief in Sheol, the place of the dead, or the grave.

     When I took a class at Vanderbilt, a course on Judaism at the time of Jesus, the adjunct professor was a rabbi. He said they have identified at least twenty-three sects (I’ll call them denominations) of Judaism in Israel at the time of Jesus. It’s clear that every Jew did not believe the same things even though they were descendants of Abraham. Who can agree about things that are Unknowable?

     When Jesus began his ministry, many people wondered if he was the reincarnation of one of the prophets. Some people wondered the same thing concerning John the Baptist. And even Jesus affirmed to his disciples that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of the prophet Elijah.

     The doctrines of pre-existence and reincarnation existed as secret teachings of Jesus until they were declared a heresy by the Roman Church in 553 A.D at the Second Council of Constantinople. At this time the Roman Church aggressively destroyed competing teachings and so-called heresies within the Church. Along with the destruction of unorthodox teachings came the destruction of Jews, Gnostics, and ultimately anyone who stood in the way of the Inquisition and Crusades.[1]

     So let’s take a peek at some scriptures where Jesus supports the concept of reincarnation. “For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:13-14)

     Jesus clearly identifies John the Baptist as the reincarnation of Elijah the prophet. Later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus reiterates it. “And the disciples asked him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’

      “But he answered them and said, ‘Elijah indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also shall the Son of Man suffer at their hand.’

     “Then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:10-13)

    There are other New Testament references that some think confirm the teaching of reincarnation. That’s not my intent here. A lot of people have done the research. I simply think we ought to open the conversation so we can discuss it in adult-like fashion. After all, it really is biblical.

     Unfortunately, we been conditioned to think we are sinning by even talking about unorthodox things.

     Heck, we can’t even talk about the truth of what Jesus said – “do not repay evil with evil.” This is a teaching of Jesus that has been rejected. It opposes the American way of being the policemen of the world. Christians are to be healers in the world. Repaying evil with evil is not Jesus’s way…never was…never will be.

     Why is it so hard to open the doors in the Christian church to talking about the teaching of reincarnation that is biblically supported by Jesus himself? Are we afraid of offending a group of men from the sixth century who didn’t think it supported their own theories? Must we remain 6th century Roman Catholics in order to be considered orthodox? Are we orthodox to Jesus’s teachings or to the Second Council of Constantinople?

     If you give it some meditation and thought, you might start to realize that the concept of reincarnation has the potential for being very, very good news indeed—and it makes a lot of other mysteries from the Bible make more sense. It’s time we started to discuss reincarnation and the possibilities for the good it can bring into the world.

 

[1] Information gleaned from Kevin William’s article found at http://www.near-death.com/experiences/origen03.html

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