Archive for March, 2011

New Review of What He Said

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 by JEL

Dr. Steve McSwain is an interesting guy. He’s a prolific writer, speaker, and church/faith consultant. You can read more about him at his website. I first came across him a couple of weeks ago when I saw his series “Perspectives of a Former Fundamentalist Christian.” I wrote a post about it, and then decided to send him a copy of What He Said. Based on his writings, I had a hunch Dr. McSwain would “get” what we were trying to do and I was interested in his reaction. He wrote me back a week later:

“Thanks for the copy of What He Said. Yep, believe you hit the mark here. I’m pleased to see someone clarify what we are TOLD Jesus said, as it is recorded in the Gospels.  This book helps readers get to the core of Jesus’ teachings and sifts through all the rest so as to create a readable and valuable tool for those interested.  It’s spot-on. Good work.”

Nice to hear we’re on the right track. To read more of his work, check out:

Life Lessons in Genesis

Monday, March 28th, 2011 by JEL

Last week, John R. Coats wrote a nice piece called “Five Lessons from Genesis (About Being Human) That Still Apply Today.” There are some great insights, and I loved the way Coats took an ancient text and made it understandable and relevant for current times. For Cliff Notes aficionados, here are the lessons:

  1. Nursing anger is a fool’s game: Cain.
  2. You reap what you sow, and that thing you want more than anything might arrive with more than you bargained for: Jacob.
  3. There are people who just don’t get it (and never will): Laban.
  4. Even though Mommy and Daddy say it’s not you, if everyone else hates your guts, it’s probably you: Joseph.
  5. There are certain experiences that we humans are not designed for: post-flood Noah and his family.

Reading the Gospels: Matthew, Chapters 17-20

Friday, March 25th, 2011 by JEL

Chapter 17 begins with Jesus taking Peter, James, and John to a mountain. Before their very eyes, Jesus becomes transformed, His face shining like the sun and His clothes bright white. Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus. A voice then calls out of a bright cloud overhead:

“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

This causes the disciples to fall on their faces and tremble with fear, but Jesus calms them down and tells them to keep quiet about all they have seen until “the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

They then go back to the crowds where a man asks for his epileptic son to be healed. The man apparently tried the disciples first, but they couldn’t cure him. You can hear the frustration in Jesus’ voice:

“Faithless and perverse generation! How long will I be with you? How long will I bear with you? Bring him here to me.”

The disciples wonder why they couldn’t heal the boy, and Jesus answers “Because of your unbelief…” He then tells them:

“The Son of Man is about to be delivered up into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and the third day he will be raised up.”

The chapter ends with a tax/toll collector in Capernaum looking for Jesus’ payment. Jesus tells Peter to go fishing and that in the mouth of the first fish he catches will be a stater coin.

Chapter 18

The first of two long speeches begins with a question from the disciples asking who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus beckons a small child over and says:

“Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone should be hung around his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea.”

Peter prompts the second speech by asking “how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?” Jesus says:

“I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.”

He then tells the story of a king who is trying to collect the debts of his servants. One servant owes the king ten-thousand talents, but has no money. The king orders the servant and his family to be sold into slavery but compassionately relents and forgives the debt when the servant begs for mercy. The servant then goes out and finds another servant who owes him money and demands payment. When the second servant begs for mercy, the first servant throws him into prison. The king finds out about this and is angry:

“Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?”

…and throws him into prison, too. Jesus finishes the story with:

“So my heavenly father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.”

Chapter 19

Jesus leaves Galilee and goes to the borders of Judea where Pharisees started testing him again. They ask him whether it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, to which Jesus replies:

“What therefore God has joined together, don’t let man tear apart.”

A man then comes up and asks what he has to do to gain eternal life. Jesus answers that he needs to follow these commandments:

“‘You shall not murder.’ ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ ‘You shall not steal.’ ‘You shall not offer false testimony.’ ‘Honor your father and mother.’ And, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The man says he’s done all those things. Jesus then tells him to go sell what he has and give it to the poor. This makes the man sad, because he’s loaded. Jesus sees the woe in the man’s eyes and says to his disciples:

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”

Chapter 20

Jesus tells the story of a landowner hiring laborers to work in his vineyards. He hires some in the morning for an agreed-upon denarius a day. He then hires others throughout the day who are idle with nothing to do. The last are hired at the 11th hour. When pay time comes, those hired last get a denarius, which makes the ones who worked all day think they’ll get more. They don’t and they get angry. The landowner says:

“‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me for a denarius? Take that which is yours, and go your way. It is my desire to give to this last just as much as to you. Isn’t it lawful for me to do what I want to with what I own? Or is your eye evil, because I am good?’”

Jesus then heads up to Jerusalem and pulls his disciples aside to tell them what is about to happen to Him. A woman then comes up to him and asks that her two sons be able to sit on His left and right in His Kingdom. Jesus says that’s a wish he cannot grant.

The chapter ends with two blind men pleading with Jesus “that our eyes may be opened.” Jesus, feeling compassion, touches their eyes and their site is restored.

Next week: Matthew, chapters 21-24

How’s it going so far? Not so hard if you read it a little at a time and you have the easiest book around to read the Gospels, eh?

Bart Ehrman’s New Book

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 by JEL

Bart Ehrman is a serious biblical scholar and a prolific writer. His past books include Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible. The guy does his research and can back up everything he writes.

Well, he’s got a new one: Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. There’s a press release out now about the book and its claims “that parts of the Bible contain intentional deceptions, and that some of its texts were deliberately and painstakingly crafted to further the agendas of Christians living after the apostles…” Here are some examples:

  • The Apostle Peter was illiterate, and therefore could not have written two letters (1 & 2 Peter) credited to him in the Bible.
  • Six of the Pauline letters in the New Testament are forgeries.
  • The First Book of Timothy, known to be a forgery, is still used today to oppress women, and provides the Scriptural basis for the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to ordain female priests.

Sounds like another interesting read for the open-minded.

If “F*&^ You” Wasn’t for You

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by JEL

Personally, I don’t mind all that much when songs have profanity in their lyrics–as long as kids aren’t listening to them. Cee Lo’s “F*&^ You” from late last year is a perfect example. It’s ridiculously catchy and the profanity, to me, is more comic than offensive. But, realizing he could widen his market by removing the naughtiness, he recorded “Forget You” with Gwyneth Paltrow. Still catchy, but it lost a bit (or all) of its punch.

If that version was still too much for you, check out GMDOCNICE’s video below. WARNING: you will have to suffer through a 1:20 setup that Christians will definitely not like. But, like I said, it’s a setup for the “Bless You” song to follow.

Reading The Gospels: Matthew, Chapters 13-16

Friday, March 18th, 2011 by JEL

In chapter 13 of Matthew, Jesus is sitting by the seaside and preaching to “great multitudes.” Rather than speaking directly, he instructs through parables. The first is the parable of the farmer who goes out to sow seeds. Some fall in rocky, thin soil (sprout fast, burn out), others among thorns (deceitfulness of riches choke the plant), and still others on good soil (thrive).

In 13:15, He talks about why people can’t receive the message:

“for this people’s heart has grown callous, their ears are dull of hearing, they have closed their eyes;”

Kind of a common problem today, wouldn’t you say?

Jesus continues with two other parables: the wheat and the darnel weeds; and the mustard seed and then explains them (somewhat unclearly). He finishes with:

“So it will be in the end of the world. The angels will come forth, and separate the wicked [darnel weeds] from among the righteous [wheat], and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”

Chapter 14

Herod hears tales of Jesus and thinks that He is John the Baptizer “risen from the dead.”

You quickly learn in a backstory aside that Herod’s brother Philip is married to Herodias, and John had told him that the marriage wasn’t lawful. Herodias wasn’t happy about this and had Herod throw John in prison. At Herod’s birthday party, the daughter of Herodius danced so well that Herod granted her whatever she wanted. Mother clearly had some input into the request, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptizer.”

The terrible deed is done, and John’s disciples go to tell Jesus who then withdraws by boat to a deserted place. The multitudes follow on foot. He tells his disciples to feed the people, but they say they only have five loaves and two fish. There are 5,000 men plus many women and children. Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish and feeds everyone with plenty of leftovers.

After the meal, Jesus tells his disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side. He sends the multitudes away and then heads up into the mountains to pray by Himself. In the evening, a storm comes up and the disciples are being rocked around in the waves. Jesus walks across the water to save them and they cry out “It’s a ghost!” Jesus, clarifies his identity and invites Peter to come walking with Him. Peter takes a few steps on the water and then gets afraid and starts to sink and has to be saved (“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”)

This chapter instantly makes me think of John Lennon’s quote:

“Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.”

Lennon’s got a point don’t you think? The disciples have been traveling with Jesus for quite a while by this point, have seen him bring back people from the dead, heal every disease, feed thousands with 5 loaves and 2 fish, calm storms, and many other fantastic deeds. And yet, when they see Him walking on water, they have no idea who it is and think it’s a ghost? Pretty thick.

Chapter 15

The Pharisees complain to Jesus that His disciples, by not washing their hands before the eat their bread, are disobeying the traditions of the elders. Jesus blasts away, call them hypocrites and utters this nice line (15:11)

“That which enters into the mouth doesn’t defile the man; but that which proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”

Jesus then leaves and goes into the region of Tyre and Sidon. He heals a demonized woman and then goes to a mountain near the sea of Galilee. Huge crowds follow him and Jesus feels bad that they haven’t had anything to eat for three days. The genius disciples ask “Where should we get so many loaves in a deserted place as to satisfy so great a multitude?”

HELLO. You were there just a couple of pages ago!

Jesus, of course, does the same thing he did in chapter 14 and this time turns seven loaves of bread and a few small fish into a feast for thousands. Jesus then sends away the multitudes, hops into the boat and heads for the borders of Magdala.

Chapter 16

After being poorly tested by the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus meets up with his disciples who have forgotten to bring any bread to eat. Jesus says:

“Take heed and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

The disciples huddle together and the best they can come up with is “We brought no bread.” Jesus has to patiently explain that he was using a metaphor and that they should be beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

He asks His disciples who the people think He is. “Some say John the Baptizer, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Jesus then ask His disciples who they think He is. Simon Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Ding, ding, ding! Finally, a correct answer. Jesus is very happy with Peter and offers to give him the “keys of Kingdom of Heaven…”

The chapter ends with Jesus telling his disciples not to divulge to anyone He is Jesus the Christ. He also says He has to go to Jerusalem, suffer greatly, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up. Peter takes him aside and says, “Far be it from you, Lord! This will never be done to you.” Jesus gets angry with Peter and tells him off with a “Get behind me, Satan!” for good measure. He then turns to the rest of the disciples:

“If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Religious Abuse

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 by JEL

The title of this post is a new term for me. Jack Watts, author of a new book Recovering from Religious Abuse: 11 Steps to Spiritual Freedom, defines religious abuse as:

“the mistreatment of a person by someone in a position of spiritual authority, resulting in the diminishing of that person’s sense of well-being and growth – both spiritually and emotionally.”

or

“misuse of Scripture that harms a person’s relationship with God.”

There’s a whole article on the topic over at The Christian Post including the anecdote about kids being lectured by a priest about the correct way to take communion. “You don’t want to drop Jesus on the floor, do you?”

Interesting that Watts’s book is available at Barnes & Noble, but not at Lifeway Christian book stores.

A Former Fundamentalist

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by JEL

Steve McSwain has written a series of really interesting articles entitled, “Perspectives of a Former Fundamentalist Christian.” His latest piece, the last in the 3-part series, is filled with nuggets.

As a former fundamentalist Christian, I felt the need to defend my beliefs almost continually. While I thought I was being a good “Christian apologist,” defending the faith against heretics and disbelievers, I realize now that all I was really defending was a threatened little ego — (that very “self” Jesus counseled us to deny – Matt. 16:24) with its belief system. Someone has rightly said, “Beliefs are a cover-up for insecurity; you only ever believe in the things you’re not certain about.”

[...]

Then, one day, I awakened. [...]  So, there’s a sense in which, to borrow the words of Gerry Spence, I was liberated — liberated “to have a mind that was opened by wonder instead of one closed by belief.” Only when you feel the need to argue and insist your beliefs are “right” — by which you really mean the beliefs of others are wrong — do you create inner conflict that then manifests itself as outer conflict. That is, you create an “us” against “them” world, a “We’re right; You’re wrong!” environment which is humanly untenable.
This would explain virtually all human conflicts.

[...]

I take Jesus and his teachings very seriously. More so than I ever did in those days when I ran around trying to save Jesus from the liberals and disbelievers and convert the world to my way (or “our” way) of thinking and believing. Today, I am committed to following Jesus. I trust his teachings. As a follower of his way of knowing the Divine, I am living a much more conscious, compassionate, and charitable life.

[...]

My perspective is that there is room enough for everyone on this planet. But, until Christians actually live as Jesus lived, treat others, but especially their enemies, with forgiveness, openness, and respect, even as Christ did, human division and suffering will continue. Instead of “being in the world but not of it,” as Jesus taught (John 17:15-16), Christians will be neither in the world nor of any benefit to it. And, my own perspective is: that’s a consequence neither I nor any other genuine follower of Christ really wants.

Read the whole thing to get the full flavor of McSwain’s perspectives.

Reading the Gospels: Matthew, Chapters 9-12

Friday, March 11th, 2011 by JEL

In chapter 9, Jesus continues his travels, preaching and healing along the way. He heals a paralyzed man and tells him his sins are forgiven. Some nearby scribes say to themselves, “He blasphemes” but Jesus quickly shuts them down and tells them He has the authority to forgive sins. He then has lunch with some tax collectors and sinners, which bewilders the Pharisees. Jesus calmly answers, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Verses 9:15-17 I don’t understand. John’s disciples ask why they and the Pharisees fast, but His disciples don’t. Jesus replies with three metaphors (bridegroom, patched garment, wineskin) that I have read a dozen times. Is the “food” Jesus’ teaching and only new teaching can go into a new wineskin (like a disciple that has been cleansed, baptized and ready to receive it)? Please help here by posting in the comments.

Then there’s more healing. On his way to bring back from the dead a ruler’s daughter, a woman touches his clothes. Immediately her 12-year “issue of blood” stops. Jesus then touches the ruler’s daughter’s hand and she rises. Onlookers are amazed and go spread the word of what they have just seen. Two blind men get their site restored and despite Jesus’ request for secrecy, they blab about it anyway. A man has his demon cast out. News of Jesus’ deeds is spreading far and wide, and you have a sense that things are building to a crescendo.

Chapter 10

In this chapter, he calls together his twelve disciples and gives them the power to cast out unclean spirits and heal every disease and sickness. He sends them off with quite a speech. Some highlights:

  • 10:8 – “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Freely you received, so freely give.”
  • 10:16 – “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
  • 10:22 – “You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved.”
  • 10:34 – “Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword.” This quote has always bothered me as a direct contradiction to all of the other quotes concerning peace. What happened to “Blessed are the peacemakers”?
  • 10:37-38 – “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me. He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me.” This section feels like an abrupt shift in tone to me. Less humble, less forgiving, and less tolerant.

Chapter 11

John the Baptist, in prison, hears of Jesus’ works. He sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He really is the one. Jesus lists His accomplishments, praises John the Baptist, and says “If you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Then some bitterness creeps in as he talks about the cities where he did his healing, yet little repentance occurred. Finally, he wraps up his speech, wearily, with “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Amazing the shift in tones from commanding to angry to boastful to critical and then back to calm, gentle and loving.

Chapter 12

On the Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples go walking through some fields of grain. The disciples are hungry, so they pluck some grain to eat. The Pharisees, who apparently follow them everywhere, complain that plucking the grain “is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” Jesus gives the Pharisees an earful.

Jesus then healed a man with a withered hand, saying “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.” The Pharisees begin to plan how to destroy him. Jesus continues his healing, and commands the multitudes to “not make him known.” The multitudes are amazed and say, “Can this be the son of David?” The Pharisees, of course, say He does not cast out demons “except by Beelzebul.” Jesus replies with his “house divided” speech. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who doesn’t gather with me, scatters.”

At the end of the chapter, while he is speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers appear and want to speak with him. He answers, a little harshly, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” and then gestures toward his disciples and says, “Behold, my mother and brothers!”

AOK Thursday: Daily Interactions

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by JEL

I think a lot of people view “being kind” as taking on some sort of project. They need to brainstorm what to do, bounce it off a couple friends, plan it out, practice, and then execute. Well, that may be effective for big-whopper acts of kindness, but what about your daily interactions with people you see every day? These are certainly more frequent opportunities for kindness and may yield more benefit.

This Amanda Marrazzo column was well done. Think about how you treat the people you see the most…

“So, think about the guy who gives you coffee in the morning, the garbage man, waiter or waitress, anyone who is doing anything that makes your life a bit better. We are all of equal value sharing this earth for a short time, working hard to make a better life. Each interaction presents an opportunity to leave the world a little warmer or a lot colder.”