Like Luther

"God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars." — Martin Luther

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Martin Luther, translating and interpreting the Bible for himself, started a revolution in Christianity. He discovered salvation is a gift from God to all who have faith in Jesus, not earned or purchased from a church father. Like Luther, I translate and reinterpret the Scriptures for my own life and time in history, with the gifts and guidance God gives me. If you find these interpretations and revelations and applications helpful, well, great!
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What About the Dinosaurs?

Posted By on February 16, 2011

Well ... That's ONE Explanation!

Communion: Seeking an Emmaus Experience

Posted By on January 31, 2011

 

In most Protestant churches, and certainly in the charismatic and evangelicals, there’s a practice called “Communion” performed at least every month. Essentially, the ritual consists of each person in the congregation, together, reverently eating a bit of bread or cracker and quaffing a sip of grape juice or wine. The Communion has its roots in the Last Supper, most literally as reported by Luke:

“And he [Jesus] said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.”

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you…” (Luke 22:15 – 20, NIV)

 

The Communion is a symbol of obedience, remembrance, honor, and celebration, and for many celebrants it is perceived as an act of fellowship with the living Christ. In their spirits, they feel they’re almost there, in that moment, even conversing with him. Most churches with read one of the synoptic accounts of the Last Supper, and perhaps another verse or two they feel explains the importance of those acts of virtue (obedience, remembrance, etc.). They usually stress a need to clear one’s heart, confess one’s sins and purge/end any conflicts or anger they might hold with another person (as Paul instructs in 1 Cor 11:26 – 29), treating the event as if they are entering holy ground when seeking such intimate fellowship with Jesus and their Christian brethren. It is felt, often expressed, this communion will increase their closeness, their cognition, their familiarity with the Lord.

So here’s my little bit of theology or revelation I want to share about this. As I’ve read the Scriptures, every time I read Luke 24:13 – 35 I wonder why that story is not read as part of a Communion service.

 It’s a long story, sometimes referred to as “The Road to Emmaus”, so I’ll just give you a short synopsis, but I recommend you go and read it in the original. The story:

Two men, followers of Jesus, were walking to Emmaus, about 8 miles out of Jerusalem. As they walked they talked remorsefully about all that had just happened. Jesus overtook them and asked what had happened. They told all about the crucifixion and resurrection and how disappointing it all was, but never recognized Jesus, even as he first chided them for their ignorance and then taught them all about the scriptures and prophecies about it. They neared Emmaus as evening fell, and urged Jesus to stay and eat with them. As Jesus took the bread and “gave thanks and broke it” and began to share it, their “eyes were opened and they recognized him”

 As I read it, this is the first communion service, the first time since the crucifixion and resurrection that someone(s) broke bread and drank wine in the Lord’s presence and surely in active remembrance of him and all that he had brought to them. Then, and only then, they became aware, they realized that Jesus was there with them! It seems to me exactly what everyone celebrating the communion hope is happening in their own life at that moment!

 Were I leading my church’s communion service, Luke 22:15-20 is the Scripture I would read, and a “Road to Emmaus” experience is what I would suggest they hope for.

Church Is NOT Christianity, Anne

Posted By on August 15, 2010

Article in the paper, yesterday, announced, “Author Anne Rice tells why she quit Christianity”. No headline could be further from the truth. Anne didn’t tell us why she was quitting Christianity. In an interview with an LA Times reporter, she simply told us some of her reasons for no longer attending the Catholic Church – and in the course of things, actually revealed how she’s really trying her best to become a Christian. It’s too bad the reporter missed all that.

This blog’s namesake, Martin Luther, earned his stripes some hundreds of years ago walking a path rather similar to the one Anne Rice has embarked upon, and by so doing founded the Protestant Reformation and the (well, much of) the church of today. Luther did so by establishing one revolutionary (for his time) doctrine: the Church is NOT Christianity. Luther discovered this by violating all the Church “rules”, by getting outside the Church, reading the Bible himself, and hearing Jesus’ actual gospel: the good news that He, Jesus, not synagogues nor the Pharisees and their rules, was the way to God’s heart and grace and eternal salvation. THAT is Christianity.

Luther rediscovered the truth that Jesus had actually taught that “Christianity” was not going to be a matter of belonging to some organization or following a plethora of men’s rules, but of entering into a personal relationship with Him, His Spirit, and making a personal commitment to serving Him and living out His commandments. Luther rediscovered that “Christianity” is deeply individual and personal: a personal faith in Jesus and the “circumcision” of one’s own heart, not anyone else’s. It’s not a corporate thing, we don’t get saved as a group by joining a Jesus club.

It looks to me like Anne Rice is going exactly where Luther went, working out her own salvation by developing her own personal relationship with Jesus. She’s leaving the Church in order to discover the mind and life of Christ, and to work out the details of her own beliefs and applications of them, not just accepting the Church’s prescriptions and proscriptions.

The Bible tells us who Jesus is. The Bible tells us what we must do to become a Christian, a believer and follower of Jesus. The Bible tells us how we must live if we would honor and serve Him. It has nothing to do with any church, or government, or organization. They are not, any of them, Christianity. They are only “Christian” if their members are. And the only reason we should join them is if they consistently facilitate and reinforce their members’ relationship with, and service to, Jesus.

The article about Anne Rice made it abundantly clear that the Church she quit was not doing that for her. It was disrupting her relationship with Him, giving her a plethora of rules that men had devised – that did not guide or develop her understanding of Christ but confused and created all sorts of contradictions in her own spirit and heart.

The reporter did ask a great question, but a question that also revealed a lot about her own lack of knowledge of Christianity. “You have said that you quit Christianity ‘in the name of Christ.’”, she asked. “From a practical standpoint, what does that mean, how do you follow Christ without a church? Are there rituals you intend to maintain?”

As to the reporter’s naivete, she’s the one putting “Christianity” in the place of “Church”. Anne initially corrected that idea saying she was walking away from religion, but the reporter failed to catch it, continuing to conflate religion with Christianity as is so common in the modern media. As for the rest of the question, we might point out that there’s nothing really “practical” about following Christ. Truly following Christ is anything but practical in the world’s perspective: loving enemies, tithing, being crazy generous, trusting in an invisible God rather than earthly employers and earthly sources for our provision, even prayer, sacrifice, and honor while amongst theives, is generally seen as “foolishness” in this world. And as for her concern with rituals … well, I guess that’s OK since Anne was a Catholic.

But back to Anne’s answer. It was both elegant and simple: “I think the basic ritual is simply prayer. It’s talking to God, putting things in the hands of God, trusting that you’re living in God’s world and praying for God’s guidance. And being absoluteley faithful to the core principles of Jesus’ teachings.”

That is a remarkable testimony about Anne’s “Christianity”. I think Luther would take off his hat, bend his knee, and say, “My lady, you are a model of what Christ wants of us.” And I think Jesus must be very fond of her. She, if that is truly her heart, IS Christianity.

I’m sorry she had to get away from her church to be a Christian, but I am sure that, if she begins to look around at the new churches Luther helped get going, she will find another that will welcome her into a fellowship – which is what churches are supposed to be – and merely help her be faithful to the core principles of Jesus’ teachings, and live in God’s world with more richness and ease.

If “Doctrine” Denies the Obvious, Science, Reason, and the Bible, Well …

Posted By on June 6, 2010

I just finished writing a post for another blog about reasons evangelical profs and theologians refuse to consider the possibility God has used evolution as means or method of creation. I think sometimes (because I was guilty of such thinking myself, once upon a time) they resist evolution because they fear condemnation or retribution from their fellows.

Bruce Waltke, a professor at Reformed Theogical Seminary received such treatment, recently. After twenty years teaching the Old Testament, he found himself looking for a new job when, during a video interview posted on the BioLogos website, he made the remark, “if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not really interacting with the world.” Well, duh! For that he was given the boot? Sounds like the way cults act to me!

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but, instead of looking to us and hearing the “Good News”, much of the world does tend to think of evangelicals as cultish, at least like the Amish or, as the mainstream media likes to say, “Right Wing Fundamentalists”, and tune us out. This is not good, I think, considering what we want to do (uh, “evangelize”). In fact, this I know. We’re not even doing a good job evangelizing our own children, or keeping those we’ve once had in the church.

Most amazing to me is the fact Waltke actually had the qualifier “if the data is overwhelming”. If his fellow faculty, even faced with “data overwhelming”, couldn’t go there … that’s cultish! I wonder if any of them ever read Romans 1:19-20. If you’ve read anything of mine, you know that’s a verse I try to live by. It tells us the second best testimony about God is the natural creation. And science, as best I can tell, is indeed our best response to Romans. However many bad guys are in science, like atheists and worse, the majority are not. The majority are honest truth-seekers, hoping to understand the whys and hows and nature of the creation, and if – as at least 30 – 40 % have concluded – that leads to God, so be it. But stubborn unreasoning resistance to, even intemperate attacks on, good scientific work only pushes them, and our children, and millions of otherwise eligible souls away from ever receiving Christ! Once more I recommend reading Romans 1:19-20.

Waltke apparently got into his troubles because he took an assignment from the Biologos Foundation to deliver a white paper at a 2009 workshop they were sponsoring. They asked him to identify the “barriers for the typical evangelical theologians to accepting the possibility of creation by means of an evolutionary process.” Waltke got the basis for his paper by posting a survey of likely reasons and inviting evangelical professors and theologians across the country to go to a website and participate. The survey consisted of eleven reasons, eleven “Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process”. I undertook to comment on the four top vote getters.

I felt the most egregious example of cultish behavior, of refusing to change one’s mind even with “overwhelming data” being against you, was this (choice of 34%): “Evolution does not harmonize with the doctrine that Adam brought death and decay into the world.” This was my comment:

That “doctrine”, I fear, is on a par with the geocentric (“earth-centrism”) doctrine that condemned Galileo, still goads the culture wars, and delayed our learning where we really are in a creation far greater than we can imagine, even today. I think a doctrine that insists there was no death or decay before Adam is even more naive and illogical than geocentricism. It practically makes nonsense of the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2!

If physical death and decay were not already part of the ecosystem before Adam, (and when Adam was in the Garden!) then all before Genesis 1:27 wasn’t real, was not the creation of what we have now because there could be no biological life as we know it, no dynamic ecology or web of life with its hierarchy of “kinds”, of creatures as Genesis describes. The fact is, everything bigger than a microbe eats other living things. Eating fuels a biologically based energy system and provides the building materials that are the basis of living! Creatures eat seeds and leaves and flowers and fruits of plants; plants thrive in their own detritus, create seeds and leaves and fruits to create more plants – and plant materials – which themselves must fall to the ground and decay or the earth would soon be one big haystack. Animals are even worse! They eat and excrete, and reproduce and multiply. Genesis says so! The planet would be overwhelmed in very short order, if nothing died and nothing decayed! Surely, physical death and decay came with the creation, was part of the system, from the very first instance of life. If not, if it had to await Adam’s intervention, then until that moment it could only be a chimerical creation, like a plastic terrarium or aquarium!

You might try to answer this with a “Young Earth” interpretation, that it was all a stage but only for several days until Adam was given his batteries (he can’t be biologically complete until the “Fall” either, you know). Well, what about the time Adam spent in the Garden – must have been years, right? Was everything still “on hold” during that time too? If so, what was he “tending” or “taking care of” (tilling and pruning?) if not living plants? What did he do with the clippings? And, he was obviously eating. He was told to eat anything he wanted but the one fruit. Why would he eat if not to fuel and provide the biological processes of a biological body? And another question: was everything that God created inside the Garden? Or outside also, throughout the whole world? Remember, Genesis 2:8 suggests the “Garden” (from gan, a word denoting “an enclosure”) was not “all”, but a “special” place. And if life (the whole ecosystem of life) was ongoing outside God’s special place, well, then there must have been much life and … death and decay!

So what’s the answer? Rather simple, really. I’ve been talking about it for a decade. First, it is not the “First Death” that matters, not to God, and not really to us. The First Death comes to us all sooner or later. However long we live, our body will go through the cycle of life: birth, childhood and growing up, maturity and mating, parenting and grand parenting, and death. Whether it takes 70 or 700 years. (A 1000 years is but like day, remember, to the Lord.) And though He might care (because we do), our physical death merely ends a “blink of an eye” in eternity, and it is really whether we die or do not die to eternity that He really cares about. Adam was not warned about the first, physical, death, but of the second.

What do you think?

A Parable, Biblical History, and the U.S.ofA.

Posted By on April 15, 2010

A parable, said a pastor I know, is a symbolically fictitious narrative about life which is intended to teach us some truth or moral about life. Jesus used them frequently in his teaching. I think he’d like this one. If he was telling to us in this era.

The Parable:

“A certain widower, a respected and successful trader of oils and wines, returning from business in a distant city, found a puppy, bedraggled and starving, asleep in front of his door. He felt compassion for it and took it into his house and gave it food and shelter. Having no family or livestock, he decided to keep the puppy for some companionship. So he trained it to live in his home. He loved the dog, and so arranged for friends to come and feed it whenever he had to leave on business. And he looked forward to the dog’s warm joyful greetings whenever he would return to his home.
Then one day, when he’d been away for four days, the dog was not at home but had taken up with a widower nearby. He went to that man and brought it back to his own home. He was happy that the dog was every bit as joyful and obedient as before. But every time had to go away on his business the same thing happened. Almost as soon as he left the dog find another masters to give him his food and shelter. Each time the widower firgive the infidelity and bring him back home; but his heart was ever more sorrowful and jealous that the dog so readily went after other masters, and followed after them, obeying them just as joyfully as himself, even when they did not treat him nearly so well.
And there came a day when at last the widower admitted where there was no faithfulness, there was no true love for him, and he decided to leave the dog with its new master.”

The History:

There is a passage in Scripture that tells of Israel’s rejecting God’s own arrangement for their being led by judges. They saw the peoples around them being ruled by kings who, in return for great authority and power and wealth, provided for their defense and welfare much as governments do today. Samuel was at first Israel’s judge, and then when too old for that, became one of its greatest prophets, speaking as directly with God as Moses had in his day.

1 Samuel 8:1-20
“When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges … But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain …
So the elders of Israel gathered together and …. said to him, ‘You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all other nations have.
…. . this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.’
Samuel told them…. ‘This is what the king … will do …: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots …. others to to plow his ground and reap his harvest …. take the best of your fields and vinyards and olive groves … a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants .… the best of your cattle and donkeys … and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.
But the people refused to listen …. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Us Today:

As its said in Ecclesiates, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” If you’ve read much of the Old Testament, you’ll probably agree.

Our nation, U.S.ofA., was once quite (almost unanimously) a God fearing nation. We wanted our government and leaders to act much more like the judges than kings. Americans were proudly independent, individualistic, and trusted in their own God-given abilities and the largesse of their God to supply their needs and fight their battles.

Nowadays, we seem to look to government for more. We don’t trust God as much, don’t like having to fight our own battles, whether they be with landlords, illness, the grocery store, college tuitions, or raising our children. We’ve come to envy the socialistic “nanny states” of Europe (they’re about 10% God-fearing, now). And the last election we sounded a lot like the Israelites: “we want to ‘be like all the other nations with a king to … fight our battles.’”. At least that’s what all three branches of the government think that’s what we said.

Read Judges, and 1Kings, see if it sounds like a familiar story (or stories) to you too.

The Easter Gift: Resurrection … and The Hope of Rapture

Posted By on April 4, 2010

Ten, fifteen years ago I was a much younger Christian (and much older sinner) than I am now. Like so many new believers, I was greatly attracted to the subject of the “end times”. I pored through innumerable books and spent countless hours in the equivalent of today’s chatrooms, the slowmotion but tough and dangerous arena of “Bulletin Boards”, trying to sort out what I would/could believe about the “Tribulation” and “End Times” and the even more vexing question of the “Rapture”.

Its been years since I last spent much time on such subjects so I’m not sure about this, but it seems like the Rapture is much more widely accepted as true doctrine by many more, if not most, Christians and churches and denominations. It might just be that I’ve settled in with Christian communities that share my belief that it is. But in those earlier days, many people who did, however tentatively, believe in a Rapture, were almost as concerned about the matter of timing – its place in the order of end times events. One could be pilloried as much for whether one believed it would be a “pre-trib”, “mid-trib” or “post-toastie” Rapture as for believing in it at all. Which it was going to be – pre, mid, or post – made the difference for some whether they believed at all.

The wife of the pastor of the church I went to when first came back to the faith (I was for several decades a dedicated evangelist for atheism) believed in the Tribulation as a 7-year hell yet to come, and said she would believe in a pre-trib Rapture that would let her escape the Tribulation, but had no interest if it would not.

I wanted better grounding for whatever I would believe. I’d read enough and heard enough of other peoples’ opinions to know what most of the discussion was about, and what reasonably well-reputed authors believed. I didn’t need any more opinions. I wanted facts. Scriptures. I knew the usual Scriptures most people adduce to define and describe and support their own beliefs and opinions, i.e., in Revelation,Thesallonians, 1 Corinthians. I wanted to dig deeper, see if there were any more, perhaps even in the Old Testament, that foretold a Rapture. I was, in keeping with my training in archeology, as ready to dig again into old ground as much as dig in new.

A year or two earlier I’d gone through the entire Bible, word by word and line by line, in a study for another purpose, and put every verse the Spirit led me to, into a computer file. I felt this distillation was equally good for this new task, also probably intended by the, so I pored through it again. I might well have overlooked something, but I must say I found much other scholars and writers had neglected to dig up and put into the evidence locker. So I studied this new collection of evidence, looking at each bit and piece from every angle I could. Then I wrote about my research. I tried to maintain a free and unbiased presentation – explaining my reasoning but trying my best to at least pretend I had reached no conclusion – so anyone reading my manuscript would be as uninfluenced by me as much as possible.

I titled my manuscript, “That Blessed Hope”, both referring to a phrase Paul used in his letter to Titus, and to what my pastor’s wife wanted it to be. I did find verses in the OT, in Daniel, that seemed to point to it. And scores of verses throughout the New Testament that no one else seems to pay much heed to. I cite well over 100 places in the Scriptures, and 100’s of verses in all, which have led me make up my own mind and establish my faith. But there is one verse I found, in the Book of the Revelation – where everyone has dug before, yet never noticed – that, if you believe in the Rapture, seems to answer the “timing” questions, to give almost conclusive answer to whether it will be pre-Trib, mid-Trib, or post-Toastie.

I give it to you free of charge, if you’d like to read the manuscript yourself. Simply go to:

“That Blessed Hope” to download a pdf. copy. My Easter blessing to you.

Hutarees’ Irony: Preparing for Tribulation Times…

Posted By on March 30, 2010

A so-called “Christian Militia”, known as Huttarees, justify their taking up arms (big-time arms) and plotting to incite a broader insurrection against the government by assassinating policemen and then blowing up their fellows and families at funerals. Their theology, in this, is that Jesus wants them to protect themselves and other believers during the Tribulation times. There are a few problems there.

Start with the idea Jesus wants any of us to take up arms for our own protection. That rather flies in the face of all His life and message. He always turned aside from such defenses. At His arrest, He undid the Disciple’s use of a sword. Paul talked endlessly of the suffering he accepted, even rejoiced in, “in service of the Lord”. The Jews were totally taken aback by, and most could not believe in Jesus because of, His pacifism.

The Tribulation will be a very hard test (the very definition of the word we translate as “tribulation”, that is really a time, I believe, for us to have our lives and spirits teasted in fidelity to Christ, not by insulating ourselves in jihad, but living Christlike lives. Christlike in depth and surity that we who are living in the Tribulation had not exhibited in our lives before. Tribulation, a time of testing. Sorting the wannabe from them that is. Refining gold that may have been gold, but with enough dross in it that Jesus could not (or we could not) be sure of our faith. Faith that must be eternal, lest some of behave like those angels who forsook God and joined Satan.

The Hutarees must believe in a Tribulation, but not a Rapture. If they believed in the Rapture, they would as true Christian believers, have enough faith in the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life with Jesus and the Father to not be afraid of death. They would be much more willing to, while perhaps fearing the pain of life in Tribulation times, to prefer the “Blessed Hope” that risk falling from grace as jihadists of a Christial ilk.

If they do, as their explanations suggest, believe in the Rapture, then they must not believe in a “pre-trib” or “mid-trib” timing, but only in a “post-trib” Rapture, to wit, our rescue (which is what the Rapture really is) after the hellish test of the entire Tribulation, the entire seven years of persecution and suffering in a world ruled by Satan and the anti-christ. That is another serious error, I believe.

As I’ve shown (though I don’t require you or any reader agree) in my study “That Blessed Hope” (manuscript is available as free pdf., here) there is strong reason to believe (and have faith in) the Rapture is pre-Trib! While that is still a debate, whether it is pre, mid, or post-Trib, I am convinced there is a scripture in Revelation that makes it perfectly clear that the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation begins. So if your belief and faith is sure and certain, it need not be put to any testing, and Jesus will take tou with Him before He starts the testing. If the Hutarees had that in their beliefs, and had the faith of that or any number Jesus’ teachings, they’d not have become the outcasts and wannabe jihadists they were, and be enjoying the freedom and joy Jesus intended His followers. Preparing for Tribulation times would have been serving and leading others to Christ, not killing them.

The Power in Forgiving…Or Not Forgiving

Posted By on December 26, 2009

Most Churches, and certainly all I’ve ever attended, preach a lot about the importance of forgiving – forgiving anyone and everyone who has aroused our ire or resentment. Considering the number of times we are told, through the New Testament, one wonders why we should even need to be told about it again from the pulpit. Like:

Matt 18:21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but, seventy-seven times….(NIV)

Jesus then tells the parable of a debtor who is forgiven his large debt owed the king, but who then goes out and refuses to forgive, but punishes terribly, a man who owes him only a small amount. When the king hears of it he revokes the forgiveness he had just given that debtor, and cast him into prison. Lest the connection be missed, Jesus makes it eminently clear, explaining:

Matt 18:35 This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.(NIV)

And there is “The Lord’s Prayer”.

Luke11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name…. (4) Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us…(NIV)

Pastors, usually teach us these sorts of things by showing us how it applies/works or our own life experience. I imagine a lot of you have more than once seen a bag full of rocks used to illustrate the burden that unforgiven hurts and resentments (like rocks) can be in our lives. Psychologists pretty much agree. Almost all counseling therapies emphasize finding out what unforgiven injuries we are still hiding or harboring in our souls, and how we must drop them by the wayside, forgive all those who have trespassed against us, if we are get on with healing and growing in life.

So that’s the power of forgiveness. If you’re a Christian, I’m sure you are familiar with it. You’ve had the teaching and read the Scriptures. And as you grow, you discover, just as the world, through science and psychology has discovered, forgiving is one of the cornerstones of healthy lives, and the only way to reach that “peace that surpasses all understanding” that God promises.

What’s not so well explored, or taught, is the power of unforgiving. Oh, we’ll not be left ignorant about the “other side of the coin”. That’s pretty obvious. Forgiving frees us, takes a load off. Unforgiving hurts us. But we hear little about the power of unforgiving that carries over to and affects another. To the object of our (former) resentment and hating. Scripture actually teaches that our unforgiving doesn’t just hurt us, but hurts the other person(s), even if they are unaware of our feelings! That’s something we need to know about as well.

You get a hint of it, in some churches, when the Pastor tells us we should not take part in certain liturgies and sacraments. In my churches, its common to admonish us not to take communion until we make certain we don’t still hold on to any grudge or unforgiveness. Many churches include baptism and confirmation as conditional upon having a heart unburdened by unforgiveness.

Some churches will even advise against putting your offering in the collection plate or box. That’s an admonition well-founded in the Scripture:

Matt 5:23,24, If you are offering your gift at the alter and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the alter. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.(NIV)

This comes closer to showing the exact nature of the power of unforgiving. It tells you that God is not even interested in your offerings if you are unforgiving of another, or, even if some other person has not, or not been able to have, forgiven you and you know it! There is truly power! The power of unforgiving! From either side of a grievance, unforgiving disrupts your relationship with God!

This point, that unforgiving is a power unto itself, came across to me just the other day as I was reading John. It’s one of those I’ve-read-it-a-thousand-times, even underlined the whole passage, and-never-saw-that experiences. It’s in John 20:

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.
22 And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

That, my friends, is the real power of unforgiving. And it explains why Jesus put so much emphasis on forgiving. Forgiving is part and parcel of the never-ceasing command that must all love one another, do all that we can to avoid disputes and disagreements, do all we can – in the most discrete way we can (first go to your brother alone, then with one or two others, then with the elders…) – to settle problems, to be always messengers of peace, and take our peace (which is the Peace of God) with us wherever we go.

(Playing “Pastor” here), look at how it works in the “natural”. Unforgiveness disrupts your relationship with God, in no small way. It angers, hurts, and usually causes a like resentment in the other person, and so disrupts his/her relationship with God as well. So it is one of the most serious stumbling blocks we can put before anyone. We disrupt their ability to have communion with, to pray to, to put offerings before, and may even block their ability to develop faith and belief in, God. We break their peace, cause them all those sorts of psychological and spiritual pain and damage we talked about before. Unforgiving is a wicked power, a power unto itself, which we are bound, for our own salvation, to give away and refuse to touch!

Lord, Help My Unbelief … and Skepticism

Posted By on September 26, 2009

 

“Why do you believe in God?”. That’s the question Michael Shermer, America’s Skeptic in Chief, asked of some 10,000 of us.** I think he hoped to show it was because we are not too bright, that we simply “cling to religion” to assuage our fear and anger and insecurity. To his surprise, the survey showed that most of us have much more intellectual and reasoned motivations for believing in God. But to my surprise, at least, it also showed that we tend to think like Shermer as to why other people, our fellow Christians, believe in God!

You see, the answers to “Why do YOU believe in God?” broke out like this:

1.The good design/natural beauty/perfection/complexity of the world or universe (Intelligent Design, essentially)
……….28.6%
2.The experience of God in everyday life
……….20.6%
3.Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (for emotional more than rational reasons)
……….10.3%
4.The Bible says so
…………9.8%
5.Just because of the need to believe in something
…………8.2%

but when the same people were asked “Why do you think OTHER people believe in God?”, their answers were:

1.Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life
……….26.3%
2.Religious people have been raised to believe
……….22.4%
3.The experience of God in everyday life
……….16.2%
4.Just because of the need to believe in something
……….13.0%
5.Fear death and the unknown
…………9.1%
6.The good design….. etc.(I.D.)
…………6.0%

There’s more than just irony, here. Apparently, even when our own beliefs and faith are on solid ground, when we ourselves have considered the evidence of our own observations and personal experiences and reached a conscious, “intelligent and reasoned” decision to believe in God, we don’t so often feel that others have! We’ve come to share the critics’ attitudes: we, too, suspect that most people do not believe in God for particularly  “good” ( intellectual, reasonable – even personal experience with or of God in our lives) reasons, but do so out of weakness or lack of intelligence (i.e., they are “clinging” to religion, as Obama said in his 2008 campaign, and Karl Marx intimated when he called religion the “opiate of the masses”). We, like them, won’t even believe the testimonies of people who say they’ve actually encountered or experience God in their own lives.

The culture wars have taken their toll, won quite a bit of ground, and left us in a serious state: we don’t respect, or trust, or believe our own Christian family! We have become skeptics of each other, become one with the culture of the other side! We, whom God has given us the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and hearts to believe, we have been encultured, co-opted, all too persuaded to the naturalistic, scientific, and skeptical attitudes of the atheistic world!

That’s what I read into Schermer’s survey. 50% of us think our beliefs are sensible and intelligent, rooted in experience and rational inference from the universe we live in. (Not to to mention, of course, our reading of Scripture and what it tells us about the creation and how God speaks and relates to us.) But we do not so evaluate or respect others’! Is that really right?

Where better might I start than with my own thoughts and attitudes? Looking critically at myself I find validation of my surmise! I have to admit that I am susceptible to doubting testimonies others give about experiences with God. I don’t doubt my own, but… ! And I’m not unique! I hear many others, even pastors, immediately question – with obvious and oft-intimidating skepticism in their voice – anyone, on TV or face to face, who says “I heard God say”, or “God …. (did something)” to us. Sure, we should be wary of false claims and charlatans, anti-christs, as John would say. It’s called discernment. Wisdom. Those are good. Necessary. But that’s not exactly what we’re seeing here. I think we’re seeing something not so constructive or wise. We’re seeing a pervasive skepticism that is weakening our faith. Weakening our fellowship. Undermining our church. A certain hypocrisy that suggests we are becoming swayed by the relentless drumbeat of “the other side”.

Why? They, the atheists, are not that numerous. Sure, they are many and loud, buttressed by degrees and credentials, aided by like-minded media and a Pharisaic government … yet, all in all, they are a rather small minority. Even 30 to 40% of scientists are believers. At least 80% of the world’s peoples are believers, though not necessarily of our own faith or religion. We have no shortage of literate and talented artists and scholars and writers and … even neighbors. So why are we so … skeptical of other believers? I don’t have much in the way of answers. I can hardly presume to know whats in your mind. But I do know that it is important we look at the questions raised, here, and each take stock of our own thinking.

I do have one answer for someone who might wonder why we are so skeptical, and so easily persuaded away from belief in God. During my former atheism, that atheism, and my ability as a scientist and college teacher to undermine the faith of Christians, was largely rooted in my disbelief in Genesis 1 and 2. And after I had become a Christian, I still had a terrible time getting past Genesis. The conflict with what modern science has so ably and thoroughly argued is the history of creation was too much. I, and a lot of other well-educated (especially in the sciences) Christians, always tried to look past it, but ignoring the first two chapters of the Bible, and it’s case for God as the Creator, left us on rather shaky ground.  As it does millions of us. So I was led to re-translate Genesis 1 and 2 into modern language and in light of what we all know now of history and creation, and uncovered the unknown truth of Genesis. And at least hundreds of believers have personally expressed to me that they are relieved, encouraged, and able to enjoy, now, a peaceful co-existence with science. I encourage you to visit:www.theunknowngenesis.com

**In “Why Darwin Matters”, Henry Holt and Company, 2006. I am writing a couple of posts in my blogs in response to that book. “Why Darwin Matters … or Not” is one such.

Become as Little Children

Posted By on August 26, 2009

 

“…Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Jesus, in Matt 18:3, NKJV)

Got this in an email today:

A Little Boy’s Explanation of God

It was written by an 8 year-old boy (name withheld) in Chula Vista, CA. He wrote it for his third grade homework assignment, “Explain God”.

EXPLANATION OF GOD

“One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn’t make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.

“God’s second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times besides bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because if this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.

“God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere, which keeps him pretty busy. So you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mom and das’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.

“Atheists are people who don’t believe in God. I don’t think there are any in Chula Vista. At least there aren’t any who come to our church.

“Jesus is God’s son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him. But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said ‘O.K.’

“His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.

“You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.

“You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy. And if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God.

“Don’t skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.

“If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He’s around when you’re scared, in the dark or when you can’t swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids

“But you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.

“And that’s why I believe in God”

I tell you truth, if you think like this young man, you will have no problem with God, or enjoying the blessing of your faith! A lot more, for sure, than all those adults who quarrel or fret about theological fine points and denominational nuances. Or whether or not they are “saved” or not. Even so, if you think about it, there’s a lot of very excellent theology, as well as good righteous lifestyle, packed in this boy’s “Explanation”. Jesus loves the little children just for faith such as this!