Christ Comes Every Day

Mark 13:24-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Eternal Life isn’t Eternal

Matthew 25:31-46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     I believe heresy is the positive movement toward Truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

*  *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+  +      I STILL NEED YOUR HELP!      +  +

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

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

 

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The Day of the Lord and the Kingdom of Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+  +      I NEED YOUR HELP!      +  +

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

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

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Asking For Help

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ready or Not — Here I Come!

Matthew 25:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Promote Love, Not Religion

Matthew 23:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Love the Lord Your God

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

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

 

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Love is to be the Interpreter of the Law

Matt. 22:34-46

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

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

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

They said to Him, “The Son of David.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This approach begs the question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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