Storing Up Treasures in Heaven

Matt. 6:1-6; 16-21  

     In my short book, How to Store Up Treasures in Heaven, I wrote about how the terms “heaven” and “earth” can be understood at metaphors. Here’s the explanation from the book:

How to Store Up Treasures in Heaven Earth and Heaven as Metaphors

     Jesus spoke Aramaic, which is a sister language to Hebrew. Both are poetic languages that are full of images in which words carry meanings at many levels of body, mind, and spirit. If you don’t understand this, then it’s easy to miss the deeper meanings of some of the things written in the Scriptures. Here’s an example from the psalms you might recognize:

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. (Ps. 139:13, 15)

     “Intricately woven in the depths of the earth” is a metaphor of the mother’s womb. The earth represents the atoms and molecules from which we were formed. It represents the matter of the physical world. So in some cases, the word “earth” can represent anything made up of atoms and molecules—things you can touch and see that have form and substance, including a person’s body.

     In the same way, the word “heaven” can represent things that you can’t see or touch. They are the invisible or intangible things in the world. For example, you can’t see or touch any person’s spirit, or feelings, or thoughts, or sentiments, or memories. These things aren’t made up of atoms and molecules. Yet they are real. They are forms of energy on a “higher” plane than the material things in life.

     All I want you to recognize here is that “earth” and “heaven” have meanings beyond what some limit them to in the Bible. The earth represents more than just our planet and heaven represents more than simply a place to go when you die.

(Copyright © 2015)

     The treasures in heaven that cannot be destroyed or taken away from you have nothing to do with fortune, fame, or power. The treasures of heaven are things like peace of mind as moths, tornados, hurricanes, or fire are destroying your stuff. Peace because you trust God is going to see you through this.

     Other heavenly treasures are joy, love, confidence, and courage. You can’t have these heavenly treasures if your heart is holding onto the earthly things as if you can’t live without them.

     I’ve had the experience of placing my trust and money in people promising riches through Wall Street. It wasn’t pretty. They stole my earthly treasures. It took me a long time to get over it. I had placed my trust in the wrong things. I survived but it was a costly lesson.

     The good news is that I wrestled with God in it. And I gained something that money can’t give you – peace of mind. I still have retirement funds in the stock market. They could disappear much quicker than it took to earn and put them into storage. Just like some of it did last month. But I choose to put my faith in these words: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matt. 6:31-34).

     What do we want when we pray for earthly treasure like money, or promotions, or new jobs, or a winning lottery ticket? I think we want heavenly treasure. We want peace, and joy, and love, and contentment, and fulfillment in life. But too many times we think storing up earthly treasure is how we’ll get the heavenly treasures.

     Let your treasure be found in things that moths or rust can’t eat up – like wisdom, trust in the goodness and abundance of God, peace, hope, the love of friends and family, the joy of knowing someone appreciates you. When you pray for these intangible things in the heavens of higher consciousness, you are praying for the kingdom of God. For as the apostle Paul said in Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” These are the treasures of heaven.

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Never Too Old

Luke 2:22-40   

I’m learning that the older I get, the more important it is to carry a pen and paper with me so I can write down what people ask me to do, or as I think of something that needs to be done, I can record it for my eyes to see later. That way I’ll be more likely to get it done, because I’m not trying to ask my brain to remember more than it has to.  My memory is great, but sometimes it’s a little late in calling something to mind.  Some of you might know what I’m talking about.  I found a poem on the internet that describes it in one way:

Shall I? – Or – Have I?

 Just a line to say I’m living

That I’m not among the dead.

Though I’m getting more forgetful

And more mixed up in the head.

For sometimes I can’t remember

When I stand at foot of stair,

If I must go up for something

Or I’ve just come down from there.

And before the frig’, so often

My poor mind is filled with doubt,

Have I just put food away, or

Have I come to take some out?

And there’s times when it is dark out

With my nightcap on my head,

I don’t know if I’m retiring

Or just getting out of bed.

So if it’s my turn to write you

There’s no need of getting sore,

I may think I have written

And don’t want to be a bore.

So, remember…I do love you,

And I wish that you were here;

But now, it is nearly mail time

So I must say: “Goodbye Dear”.

Here I stand beside the mailbox,

With my face so very red,

Instead of mailing you this letter…

I have opened it instead….

Source Unknown.

Old age is dreaded by almost everyone because it usually means a decline in one’s physical health.  As it progresses, one loses the ability or desire to overcome some of those hurdles that are necessary to overcome so they can stay active, socially and mentally.  Some people tend to lose their enthusiasm for life.  It takes positive input and effort to keep that enthusiasm up.

History shows us that many people made some of their greatest contributions to society after the age of 65.  At 69, Hudson Taylor was still opening up new territories in Indochina on the mission field.  Galileo made his greatest discovery when he was 73.  The Earl of Halsburg was 90 when he began revising a 20-volume set of English law.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is generally thought of as one of the most outstanding justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. Holmes sat on the Supreme Court until he was 91.  Two years later, President Roosevelt visited him and found him reading Plato. “Why?” FDR asked.  Holmes answered, “To improve my mind”.[1]  At 93 he was seeking to improve his mind instead of making jokes about it that might lead one day to believing the self-criticisms are true.

When you look at these people, they continued to see important work to accomplish while they were here.  Age didn’t diminish their opinion that they could make the world a better place.  Retirement wasn’t an end to their contribution to life.  Their work continued to fulfill what God had in store when He formed them in their mother’s womb.  God never intends for us to retire from mental or spiritual activity or from bringing good into the world.  The Bible says we can “still bring forth fruit in old age.”  At a time when one’s wisdom from life experience has reached its peak, too many people decide they’ve done enough work, deciding they have nothing further to contribute.  God has a worthwhile ministry for you as long as you are here.

grandparentsIt was Anna, the prophetess from this gospel lesson that inspired today’s focus on old age.  Anna reminded me of two other stories in the Bible of elderly people that God had given a special task in their old age.  Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65 when God asked them to leave their homeland…and then at 100 and 90 yrs., to have and raise another child. That’s asking a lot!  And Zechariah and Elizabeth, after her child bearing years were over, were given the opportunity to be parents of John the Baptist in their old age.  Sometimes, that still happens today.  Some people are asked to be parents in their old age.  Many times they are grandparents who are given the opportunity to parent and influence their grandchildren.  Imagine what God might have in store – to raise and be the positive influence on a child for whom God has an incredible plan.

What have you been thinking you’re too old to do?

[1] Bits and Pieces, December 13, 1990.

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Where are the Prophets?

Luke 4:21-30

     Prophets are popular as long as they don’t step on anyone’s toes. And when they do step on toes, they pay a price. But I think prophets are like musicians and artists. They can’t not do what they are compelled to do.

     So what does a prophet say that makes people angry? He or she says something different from what has been said for centuries. That’s all it takes.

     Just because something has been taught for centuries doesn’t mean it’s true. Just ask Galileo. For two thousand years, the scholars and philosophers believed Aristotle’s theory that a heavy object will fall to the ground faster than a lighter one. Galileo was the first to test out the theory and try to convince others that Aristotle’s theory wasn’t true. Every time he dropped a ten pound weight at the same time with a one pound weight, they hit the ground at the same time.

     So he assembled the scholars and philosophers at the bottom of the Tower of Pisa in France and demonstrated the reality. The weights hit the ground at the same time. But the learned men would not believe it, even after seeing it with their own eyes. In fact, I believe Galileo was excommunicated from the church for upsetting the applecart. Why would the church get involved in scientific discovery?

     People are blind who refuse to see what they don’t want to see. That’s why Jesus and so many other prophets were killed. They were trying to open the eyes of the blind to the injustice of humanity.

     Are you agreeing with everything you’ve been told? Or are your eyes open? What if a Lutheran started asking some things that weren’t very Lutheran? You know, something like, Are we really saved by grace alone? Would he or she be accepted in his own land?

     I happen to agree with the statement “we are saved by grace through faith,” but from a completely different perspective. I no longer think there’s an Invisible Man in the sky who has a bucket full of grace that he pours on those who confess he’s up there and believe what they are told to believe. Or that salvation comes when you’re dead.

     In my reading of the New Testament, God is Love. God dwells in my heart and in your heart, not in the sky. Any grace God dishes out must come from you and me. When you show mercy and compassion to those who don’t deserve it, grace is no longer some theological word or symbolic sacrament proclaimed from the front of a sanctuary. It’s practical grace — it’s real, tangible, and true. It’s unconditional love. It’s as palpable as a handshake or a hug, as wet as a teardrop.

     And it takes a hell of a lot of trust to give unconditional love away.

     Saved by grace through faith. You have to be convicted that offering unconditional love is the right thing to do in the long run.

     The funny thing I’m discovering is that when the grace comes forth from the Divine within me instead of expecting Someone Else in the sky to do it, I’m the one who is saved no matter if the other person accepts it or not. When grace flows from me, I’m delivered from the burden of unforgiveness, judgment, and self-righteousness. Set free in this life, not having to wait until the afterlife. Hopefully, the recipient is unburdened in some way as well.

     What other things might not be exactly the way the Book of Concord states it?

     Are there things you can do to experience the kingdom of God? Absolutely. In fact, it’s necessary to do more than repent and believe. That’s in one of my books.

     Are there things you can do to inherit eternal life? Without a doubt. I’m on my third draft of that book. All I will tell you at this point is that the Bible is far more relevant to life in the world today than it is to when you’re dead. Stay tuned.

     Do prophets have to be religious? No. Susan B. Anthony spoke up for women’s right to vote. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. stood up against racism. Gene Robinson wanted to serve God from the position of an outcast. They all were prophets speaking against injustice. And they made a lot of people angry.

     If you hear individuals saying things that are different from what has been said for centuries, don’t automatically close your ears. Just watch and see how angry it makes people. And then remember that St. Paul said, “those who are angry will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  

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Jesus in the Presidential Debates

Luke 4:14-21

     Has anyone been following the presidential debates? I haven’t either. But can you imagine what we’d see and hear on the nightly news if Jesus was one of the candidates and he came out with a statement like this:

“The spirit of God is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring a joyful message to beggars (instead of Wall Street). He has sent me to publicly announce forgiveness and release to prisoners of war (at Guantanamo and everywhere else we’re holding them), and recovery of sight to the blind, to let go with a complete pardon those who have been beaten down (by society and religion: women, African Americans, gays, illegal immigrants), and to publicly announce that in doing these things, the Lord’s favor will come.”

     Of course, all the candidates think they’ve been chosen by God. Nothing new there. But how would they (and the audience – and you) react to opening statements like this?

     What would a joyful noise to beggars be? Free lunch if you’re unemployed? Free health care for everyone? Free education for everyone? What would you say to bringing a joyful message like that to people whining because they can’t pay for these things even though they’re working fulltime at Walmart?

     What if, as a candidate, Jesus promoted forgiveness and release to prisoners of war or terrorism? Release the sub-human animals who masterminded the taking down of the Twin Towers? You’ve got to be kidding, right? They’re scheduled to be terminated, after the lawyers get done arguing about it and we pay to feed, clothe, shelter them for twenty years. Promoting setting terrorists free would cost Jesus a few votes, if not a whole election.

     Recovery of sight to the blind. Well, that doesn’t sound too bad. Helping the blind is a good thing to do; but who’s going to pay for that? No more new taxes, not even if your neighbor can’t see her hand in front of her face. We’re being taxed enough.

     And then Jesus announces that we should give a free pardon to illegal aliens. Doesn’t he know they are all criminals, druggies, and rapists? And they’re taking all our jobs that can’t be shipped overseas and making criminals out of their employers who pay them under the table.

     There might be a few here who think I’m inching across a line here, that I shouldn’t mix politics with religion, that we need to separate religion from the affairs of state. We all can see what happens when religion rules the government. That looks like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia. But is it really possible to separate church and state completely, to believe in Jesus and what he taught, and then ignore his teachings when we go into a voting booth to determine who decides how our tax money is spent?

     Well, I’m pretty sure the folks in the first century had problems that weren’t much different than our own. People were hungry and begging on the side of the road. Many were unjustly treated because they were women or gentile or a different nationality. And rarely was there a time when they weren’t taking prisoners of war. They were highly taxed, and the money was abused by those who controlled it. Nothing has changed.

     People started off thinking highly of Jesus. He was the favored son of the small town who was making it big in Galilee. He was popular and the image of success. They were proud to claim him as their own. Except by the end of the story, they were so angry that they were pushing him out of the synagogue toward a high cliff where they were going to throw him over it. Why? Because he was trying to open the eyes of the blind. Their religion possessed no compassion, no love for their neighbor.

     You know what happens to people who promote sharing the wealth, don’t you? Isaiah, the author that Jesus was quoting, was sawed in half by those whose blood started to boil from the things he recommended. And you know what happened to Jesus.

     Jesus butted heads with the rich and powerful in his day. He was liked when he didn’t step on their toes and mess with their egos, power, or money. He understood what he was doing. His compassion was greater than the world’s short-sighted economic logic. He died because he fought for something he believed needed to be changed. And he told his disciples to take up their crosses and follow his example.

     To follow Jesus is not easy, especially when you’re alone. But that’s the benefit and power of coming together as a group, a body. There’s strength in numbers. You can encourage each other when someone knocks you down for taking a compassionate stand that helps somebody that many don’t think deserve that help.

     What do you call it when someone gets something they don’t deserve? In the church, we call that “grace.” As the church, we are the means of grace, a model of compassion, giving to people in unfortunate circumstances what they don’t deserve.

     As the body of Christ in the world, the words of Jesus are supposed to be our own words:

     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon [insert your church name], for he has anointed us to bring a joyful message to beggars. He has sent us to publicly announce forgiveness and release to prisoners of war and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go with a full pardon, and to publicly announce that in doing these things, the Lord’s favor will come.” 

   You and I have no idea how much God wants to favor us in the coming year as we are faithful to following our call to be the body of Christ. God is faithful. We are the instruments and the stewards that God will use to get the work done. We need only to operate on faith that the Spirit has anointed us to continue the work of Christ in the world.

     As crazy as it sounds, Jesus is going to get my vote.

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Half Full of Water or Wine?

John 2:1-11   

     John wrote that Jesus changed water to wine. It’s a great miracle story that in the past I explained revealed Jesus’ power over the natural world. But Martin Luther helped me start to interpret this in a different light. Luther interpreted many things in the stories of the Bible in allegorical and symbolic ways. He said the Spirit spoke in the spaces between the words. This is where you discover how the story applies to you as an individual rather than simply as a historical event.

     In this story of the wedding at Cana, Martin Luther suggested water was symbolic of the law. The law is a good and necessary thing. People need water to live. People also need law to provide guidelines for living in community because they are immature and think only of themselves.

     Jesus told the servants to put water in the stone jars that were used for ritual washing in Jewish rites of purification. To Luther, water symbolized religious law used to wash/cleanse a person’s outside actions. The problem was that it did not bring forth willing obedience. It’s like forcing a child to wash their hands before dinner. Obedience by force or coercion.

     Let me add something about terminology. The Greek word for law (nomos) is defined this way: (1) anything established; (2) anything received by usage; (3) a custom; (4) a law; (5) a command, including the rule of action prescribed by reason. Christians have tossed out the first three definitions and made ‘law’ apply everywhere as a legal term. Even when applying the term “Law” to the Torah, rarely is it explained that torah in Hebrew means “instruction.”

     I’m starting to change the way I think about the word ‘law’ when it’s used in the New Testament. Maybe it’s more about customs and traditions that have been handed down over time than referring to a disciplinary mandate that manipulates compliance and requires punitive action when disobeyed. Whenever you see the word “law” in the scripture, change it to “custom” and see if it affects the meaning.

     Then Jesus entered the picture and transformed the nature of the law for us. Luther said Jesus made the law a delight. How did he do that? He took away the requirement of the law. Jesus satisfied the penalty for disobeying it. No longer do you have to force yourself to obey. it Nor do you have to force others to obey it. Hopefully you will learn that doing harmful things have consequences that don’t disappear. Luther said for Christians, the only law is love. Love is doing something because we willingly choose to do so. When the law is not a requirement, then it’s no longer a burden to you. And you are more likely to follow it for the positive results it brings. It’s no longer something to resist.

     Luther didn’t say this next part, but I’m taking it a step further. Maybe Jesus was just trying to change the “customary” legalistic way in which religion was practiced. Jesus was definitely not a traditionalist. The traditional way of getting people to help and get along with each other was to force them to do it under the threat of God’s wrath and punishment.

     Jesus had a better way to establish peace and order within a community. He showed them how to respect and love each other. He showed them how to act unselfishly. Jesus was filled with a Spirit of love. He brought relief and joy to those oppressed by law and custom. Jesus was wine, not water.

     When you start acting from the law of love within, others will experience joy. The more you act in the spirit of love, the greater joy they will experience. They will like having you around. One of the fruits of the Spirit is love. No one gets a hangover from that kind of spirit.

     The human body is made up of 65% water. That’s a little more than half full. This is the $100 question: is your jar/glass half full of water or wine?

     Become wine that brings relief and joy to everyone. You will add true life to the party.

 

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A Little Hinduism in Christianity

 

There’s a Hindu teaching used to explain dharma, or the essential order of things (an integrity and harmony in the universe and the affairs of life that cannot be disturbed without courting chaos). Maybe we can see how it corresponds with entering the kingdom of heaven. It goes something like this:

scorpion     A wise guru was sitting by the riverside, watching a scorpion that had fallen into the water. He reached down to pick it up and place it on the dry land. The scorpion stung him. Then it fell into the water again. One of the teacher’s students watched him reach down a second time, pick up the scorpion and place it on the dry land. Again, it stung him.

The student asked, “Why do you try to save the scorpion when you know he will try to sting you?”

The teacher answered, “It is the dharma of a scorpion to sting, but it is the dharma of a human being to save.”

Sorry to say, but fourth century religious policy-makers like Augustine got it wrong. Human beings are not poor, miserable sinners incapable of helping themselves. Humans are different from animals that can only act according to the nature of their species. For too long we’ve been conditioned to believe that we cannot argue with the decisions made by biased men fifteen hundred years ago, as if one group’s decisions are unchangeable.

The kingdom of heaven is the development of harmony on earth. Unity will not come by waiting for Jesus to ride through the clouds on a white horse. That’s a  metaphor or allegory that hasn’t be deciphered yet.

The New Testament and many other wisdom traditions tell us that God is within us. Every person entertains Divine Love within themselves. There is Goodness in everyone. It is the dharma/nature of human beings to reflect the light and love of the God in whose image we were created. Each person plays a role in the coming together of unity and harmony on this earth. But we all have to act like human beings, not reverting to scorpion-like behaviors when we get stung.

Jesus contradicted Moses when he said, “You heard it has been said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I tell you, do not resist evil.”

Instead, assist the one who stings you. There’s a reason he or she isn’t living from the power of Divine Love within them. Help them discover the goodness within them, then you won’t have to worry about being stung again.

Undeveloped human beings that have not discovered the element of Divine Love within themselves are going to act in ways that hurt others. Don’t lose your own goodness by becoming like the animal that stung you. It only shows that you haven’t developed any further than them.

Contrary to animals, humans have the capacity to learn and change their actions. Until we focus on helping each other to learn, to respect and love—first ourselves and then each other, there’s no way there will be peace and harmony on earth.

Live your dharma. Let the Divine Love that dwells within you shine through. As a human being, your dharma is to help others to develop into the beautiful creatures they were meant to become, not destroy them if they inflict pain on you for your efforts. Another name for that is maturity. You will find that acting with maturity brings greater harmony in your life.

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The Stars Don’t Lie – 3 Gifts of the Magi

Matt. 2:1-12

     I used to think the gold, frankincense, and myrrh brought by the Magi to Jesus were gifts meant to be symbolic that he was a king. Religionists tend to assign meanings that support their theories and reinforce their rituals.

1) gold symbolized kingship on earth,

2) frankincense was used as an incense offering to a God, and

3) one of the uses of myrrh was that it was sometimes used as an embalming oil which they say was symbolic of mortality and death.

Stars     But maybe it’s not the case that the wise men, who were Gentiles (non-Jews) probably from somewhere in Iraq or Iran or Saudi Arabia, came to honor a newborn king. They were astrologers. They read the stars. And contrary to what I was taught by good, God-fearing, practical people who thought reading the stars was more like witchcraft, the stars have “spoken” to inhabitants of the earth for lots of years. Christian leaders have stooped low enough to credit these magi with using their witchcraft to come “out of the blue” to worship a new king. The stars don’t lie when they back up your theories.

     At one time, I wondered what did Mary and Joseph do with all that money? Did they put the gold into an interest bearing account for Jesus to use to finance his itinerate ministry? Did they buy a condo on the Sea of Galilee? Maybe they used it to pay off the mortgage in the house they were living in when the magi came to them. The wise men never saw the stable or a cave. They came to a house. Look it up.

     Yes, these were gifts with great value. But I doubt they were symbolic of kingship. If that’s why they came, the stars lied. Because that prophesy never happened. Jesus didn’t become a new king who ruled in place of Herod or Caesar. And would a king appreciate a gift of embalming fluid? Is that what you would bring to a baby shower to remind the world that this child is going to die one day? I don’t think so.

     The gifts the magi brought had a more practical value. They had value for the immediate day—for a baby and for a mother who had just given birth. Let’ skip over the gold for a minute and deal with the fragrances.

     What is practical about frankincense and myrrh? The ancient people of the Holy Land used oils for every purpose under the sun. Frankincense and myrrh come from the same family of a desert tree. They are naturally created, and they contain a life force and a vibrational energy that gives them power to bring health and healing in people. Scientific testing has shown oils of this type have the capability of cleansing our cells, erasing incorrect information in the DNA, and to reprogram the correct information into the cells. They can actually correct the cause of a disease so that there is permanent, and sometimes, instantaneous healing.

     That’s what gets my attention: instantaneous healing. I’ve always wondered how Jesus could have been considered fully human if he had magical powers to heal people instantaneously. Instead, maybe Jesus used natural agents like these essential oils in his healing ministry.

     Specifically, frankincense in the Egyptian tradition was considered to be a universal cure-all. In the Old Testament, Aaron stopped a plague using an incense containing frankincense.[1] He took incense and walked between the people who had the plague and those who didn’t and created as barrier against the airborne germs. Fumigation was one of the ways that Biblical people made use of certain oils as antiseptics.

     The Israelites used frankincense as an anointing oil (anointing meant rubbing or massaging). In worship settings it was burned as incense to enhance meditation and elevate spiritual consciousness in worship settings, for embalming, and as perfume.

     Mary and Joseph would have understood that this oil was good for almost anything from cuts and bruises to the common cold. They would have understood it as a gift for them to use throughout the infancy of Jesus to protect him and keep him strong and healthy.

     Frankincense is still used today. It’s used to treat cancer, depression, allergies, headaches, bronchitis, tonsillitis, warts, brain damage, stimulates body’s production of white cells (enhance immune system). It’s used in commercial fragrances like Old Spice™ (Shulton), Cinnabar™ and youth Dew™ (Estee Lauder). Frankincense was a very practical gift.

     Myrrh is the most frequently mentioned oil of the Bible, 156 times. Mary would have appreciated the gift of myrrh knowing that it was also meant for her and not just the baby. Myrrh had several uses for pregnant mothers in ancient times, but Mary would have known that she could rub it on her abdomen and remove the stretch marks from her pregnancy. She and Joseph would also have known that myrrh was to be rubbed on the umbilical cord of the newborn child to promote healing and prevent infection.

    Myrrh was also used in ancient times for skin conditions, often labelled as leprosy – but that’s a generic term in the Bible for any of a number of skin diseases; they also used it as embalming, and as an insect repellent. Today myrrh is used as an antiseptic, to support the immune system, to fight bronchitis, and various diseases.[2] The wise men brought practice gifts that would help to feed, clothe, shelter, prevent and cure illness, this newborn king until he was grown up.

     What about the gold offered as a gift to the infant? In our Western culture, what is most valuable to us? Gold. Our monetary standard is founded on it. Heaven is going to be lined with it and built with it. What else could be more valuable than money? But does that add up? Was gold valuable to Jesus? What image do you have of him today? Wearing a gold crown, of course. But it doesn’t match the image he lived for us.

     In Jeremiah 8, the prophet asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” The balm of Gilead was a high-quality ointment with healing properties. Balms of this kind come from trees or bushes that grow all over the world. In that area, it was produced in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia.

     Scholars have suggested a fairly convincing theory that the gift of gold the wise men to Jesus actually might have been golden balsam oil. This makes a lot of sense because trees that produced golden balsam, frankincense, and myrrh grew in the same habitat.[3]

     When the wise men from the east brought gifts, the gold may have been another healing ointment. Gold balsam oil fits right in with other healing oils like frankincense and myrrh. That combination might have been a first century healer’s medicine kit. If the magi read it in the stars that this special child was destined to be a great healer, they brought the perfect gifts: healing oils of golden balsam, frankincense, and myrrh. Jesus did not become a great king. He became a great healer. Therefore, the stars didn’t lie.

     So what gift will you bring in 2016 to children being born to parents caught in difficult circumstances and forced to live like animals? Will it be words, religious symbolism, the gospel, the promise of a better life after they are dead? Or will it be something practical that will help a child grow up today with food, shelter, clothing, better health, and healing?

     Whatever you do for the least of these his children, you will be doing it for your Lord and King.

[1] Numbers 16:46-50.

[2] From Healing Oils of the Bible by David Stewart, Care Publications, 2003-2007

[3] ibid.

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The Logos Became Flesh

John 1:14

   Many words in the Bible have taken on individual (theological) meanings and thus, have lost the depth and multiplicity of meanings they were meant to convey. I think that’s why Martin Luther called the Scriptures a “dead word to a dead people.” Luther was a translator. He knew there were more meanings possible. That’s also why he said humanity “blinked” when it wrote down the revelations of God on paper. It sealed the truth in concrete, which has no life in it.

     The word “truth” is a good example. In our century, truth is indisputable fact. Rock solid. You can stand on it and it will never change. Except that the word translated into English as truth replaces an Aramaic word that actually means “right or harmonious direction; that which liberates and opens possibilities, or is strong and vigorous.”

     That means truth can be different for different people. I talked about that in this blog post. What appears as solid to some because it’s “in the Bible” might actually be sinking sand.

     Another word in question is found in the word “word” that comes from logos. One suggestion, and a very good one at that, is that the Logos was a name offered by the Greeks for the unknown God or force that brought about the creation of the world. John was blending something the Greeks understood with the Jewish belief that the spoken word carried an energy with it that accomplished its purpose. That’s why Isaac couldn’t give Esau the same blessing that Jacob had received. Those words were already working and couldn’t be retrieved.

     In addition, logos can be an individual word, or it can be a bunch of words designed to offer guidance, as in a “teaching” or even a doctrine (but doctrine tends to project a limited religious perception, so I don’t like “doctrine”).

     The word “father” automatically makes you think anthropomorphically, God as a type of human being. The Greek word for “father” refers to the originator of life, which by definition of God, is undefinable and inconceivable, therefore, not close to human in being or nature.

     Finally, the word “grace.” More thin ice, especially in Lutheran circles.

     According to Aramaic scholar, Neil Douglas-Klotz, the word taibuta, based on the root words tub and tab, means a state of ripeness, a readiness to fulfill the divine purpose for which one is intended. This word is the basis of Jesus’s first word of “blessing” in both Luke’s and Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes. (That’s what I focused on in my book about the Beatitudes.) So the expression melit taibuta, usually translated ‘full of grace,’ means literally “ready to fulfill one’s purpose in life.”

     So with this in mind, here’s a new way of interpreting John 1:14.

And the teaching became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Originator of Life, full of grace (ready to fulfill his purpose) and truth (offer right guidance that leads to harmony—or—to liberate and open up new possibilities).

     I think the passage also works with a more traditional understanding of grace as unconditional love…full of unconditional love and harmonious guidance. And that’s the beauty of the living word as opposed to a dead word with singular and rigid meanings. The Scriptures are mystical. They contain many meanings and interpretations that can lead you to understand God as a power of ultimate Goodness.

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Tradition and Change

     Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.  Tao Te Ching 76

    I wrote a book about the Beatitudes of Jesus two years ago. I found an Aramaic scholar (with a poetic heart) whose translation of them came directly from the language Jesus spoke.

     Today as I was listening to an audio version of the Tao Te Ching in my truck, the teaching above sounded exactly like my explanation of the beatitude usually heard as: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

     It takes great strength to be flexible. Hardwood trees break the fastest in a tornado while evergreens stand a greater chance of surviving. Those who are meek, or flexible, have inner strength and possess control over their actions. Pride isn’t sending them off in defensive and destructive reactions.

     Too many churches, i.e., denominations, cannot bend or adjust to changing conditions in life. When put under pressure, they splinter like hardwoods in a tornado. Clinging to tradition is simply a worship of the past. You cannot have life without change. Anything that does not change is dead. That includes denominations. You don’t have a single cell in your body that is the same as seven years ago. You’ve been totally replaced in seven years.

     Some will claim that God never changes. That may be true, but to imagine that people two thousand years ago understood God perfectly (remember, God is inconceivable), is folly. Jesus told the Pharisees that they didn’t know God. They had memorized their Scriptures. No wonder they hated him.

     To imagine that you understand God completely is also folly, no matter what you were taught in Sunday school. That alone should give you a clue about the depth of your understanding.

     If the church hasn’t learned anything new about God in the two thousand years since Jesus was born, thinking that a right theology is cemented in concrete, then that church is dead.

     I hope your understanding of God has changed in the last seven years, no matter what tradition you ascribe to.

 

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Another Prophecy of Isaiah

Luke 3:1-6

     What if a person took out all the entrenched theology of the fourth century, changed Bible terms that have become so ingrained, as well as illuminated the metaphors in a particular way that other scholars and concordances have suggested the words could mean,  and reinterpreted this lesson? What might it say to us? Of course it would only be one possible interpretation since there are often many levels and perspectives possible in every story or verse. But why not give it a try?

     Here’s a list of some options for words that can be adapted.

word = a message, teaching

wilderness = desert, solitary, desolate place

preaching = proclaiming, announcing

baptism = immersion

repentance = change of mind, amendment of life

forgiveness = letting go, release

sin = missing the mark (of love)

biblio (book) = roll

way = road, beaten down path, journey

lord = one who controls or has power, owner (The NT says God is within us.)

straight = immediately

salvation = saving means, relief, freedom, deliverance

God = Oneness, Unity

Isaiah     I’ll start after Luke lists the people in power at the time.

A message of God came to John the son of Zacharias in a solitary place. Therefore he went into all the country around the Jordan, proclaiming an immersion in the amendment of life for the letting go of unloving actions,  as it is written in the roll of teachings of Isaiah the prophet, saying:

 “A voice of one crying in a desolate place. Make ready a journey of the one who has power. Bring forth his time-proven ways immediately. Fill every ravine and level out every mound and hill. (level the playing field) Make what is unfair right and make uneven behaviors level. (stop treating people unequally) Then all flesh shall see one who brings the relief/saving means of Unity.”

     Luke used this teaching of Isaiah as proof that John the Baptist was a forerunner of the Christ. That’s one perspective. Yet Isaiah probably wasn’t predicting the future when he wrote it. He wrote it for the people of his time. A prophet wasn’t a fortune teller. A prophet interpreted and declared the will of God in the current day. So these were instructions to the people – the children of Israel. This is how they should conduct their business.

     Luke was suggesting that John the Baptist was going to proclaim the same things Isaiah instructed the people of his day. Prophets have a way of saying things that have been said before.

 

     In the poetic language of metaphors, Isaiah was telling people that there shouldn’t be such a gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in society. If the Old Testament pounded on one concept over another, it pounded on unequal weights and measures—calling this an abomination.  

     The problem is that we all do it. We judge people using unequal weights and measures. We make some people pay a higher price for their mistakes than others. We charge a higher price to those who can’t afford it and a lower price to those who can buy it in excessive quantities (insurance companies making hundreds of millions pay less for medical/dental services than people who can’t afford insurance). Our whole system of commerce is built upon unequal weights and measures.

     Clearly, you and I can’t change a whole system. But we can change the tiny part of the world we live in. Isaiah says claim the power of God within you to do the best you can in your own life. Make the playing field level so all have an equal opportunity in the business you conduct. Treat each person fairly. That’s not asking too much. You will be the one bringing relief to those who are in a desolate place in the world. And you will reap what you sow.

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