Thursday, December 29, 2011

Jesus on the Revolution

The Revolution of God is very close—change your actions and trust in the revolutionary teachings.

The Revolution is like an acorn.  It begins so small—a simple word, a simple action.  The acorn is planted by a man, but he does not control its growth—that is determined by God.  It grows up slowly— first a sprout, then a sapling, then a trunk with branches.  But after it is grown—powerful and majestic— all the beings who rule the air live in its shade.

The Revolution begins with the King.  The King sends messengers to those who await him and they proclaim, “The King is coming!  Come out to meet him!”  But the proper authorities all made excuses.  “Sorry, I’ve got to get married.”  “Sorry, I’ve got to watch my investments.”  “Sorry, I’m heavily involved in politics.” “Sorry, my family needs me right now.” “Sorry, my business is taking up all my time.”  The King then commanded his messengers, “Then go out and tell the rejected to come.  Go out to the streets, go out to the slums, go out to the mental health facilities, go out to the disabled—tell them all to come.  As for those who were going to enter the nation—they will all be sent out.”

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be when the Revolution arrives.  In those days, everyone was enjoying themselves, eating pleasurable food, drinking to their satisfaction and more, they were marrying and participating in holidays and pleasures.  Then the flood came suddenly and destroyed them all. 

Even so, you must be ready for the Revolution to come.  It could come at any time.  If the owner of the house had known at what time the thief would come, then he would be waiting, shotgun in hand.  But you do not know when the Revolution comes.  So be ready for it at any time.

Whoever wants to be a part of the Revolution, they must be ready to give up their job, their family, their pleasures—even their life!  I didn’t come to bring peace, but division.  For the revolution, a son will be divided from his father, a daughter from her mother, a husband from his wife, a man or woman from their closest friends.  In fact, unless you hate your father, mother, children, spouse, sister, brother, friends and possessions you will never have part in the coming nation of God.  Unless you are ready to be condemned to death, you cannot take part in the Revolution.  Whoever pursues saving their own life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake or the Revolution will gain it.  Anyone who gives up their job, possessions, and family for the sake of the Revolution will gain more work, possessions and family—along with persecutions—in this life and the nation of God to come.

Whoever is ashamed of me and the Revolution before men, I will be ashamed of him before God.   But whoever declares me before men, I will declare him before God. 

How lucky are the poor—for they will rule the nation of God!
How lucky are those who sorrow—for they will laugh.
How lucky are the lowly—for they will rule the earth.
How lucky are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
How lucky are the merciful for they will gain mercy.
How lucky are the right in heart for they will live with God.
How lucky are those who make peace, for they will rule as God’s sons.
How lucky are those who suffer injustice for the justice of God, for they will rule the nation of God.

The day the Revolution comes, all men, all authorities on earth will see the King coming with all the power of God with him.  All the rulers in earth and heaven will be cast down.  And everyone will see God’s King take the throne of God above all other rulers.  Then the King will call to himself all of his people—the oppressed, the merciful, those who were ready for the Revolution—and establish them as rulers. 

Then the King will call all the people of the world to himself.  And they will be divided before him—the just from the unjust.  The King will say to the just, “Come and live in my nation.  For when I was hungry, you gave me something to eat.  When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink.  When I had inadequate clothing, you gave me clothes.  When I was homeless, you gave me shelter.  When I was sick, you helped me.  When I was in prison, you visited me.”  And the just will say, “When did we do all these things, Lord?”  The King will reply, “You did these things to these lowly and oppressed—my brothers, who now rule over you.  Even as you did it to them, you did it to me.” 

Then the King will turn to the unjust and say, “Get out of my face.  You hated me and now I spit in your face.  Because I was hungry and thirsty and you gave me nothing.  I was needing clothes and you gave me nothing.  I was homeless and you told me to get a job.  I was sick and in prison and you ignored me.  Get out of here.”  As they were leaving, the unjust will plead, “But Lord!  When did we do these horrible things?”  The King will reply, “When you failed to help these lowly who now rule, then you were expressing your hatred to me.  Leave!”  And these will leave and be punished for eternity.  But the just will live happily forever.

Taming the Revolution

The revolutionaries that make a difference never look revolutionary as soon as they get into the history books.  Lenin was truly revolutionary, but by the time Stalin came along, Lenin was co-opted, kidnapped, beaten and misshapen.  No longer was Lenin the compassionate genius, ready to do whatever necessary for the good of the working class.  He’d been adopted and abused by the ruling class in a way he’d never been when he was alive, because when he’d come out of the process, his image was no longer who he really was.

          Think of how modern China can use Mao to support their capitalist policies.  How Dorothy Day is made almost non-religious by many of her modern workers.  How Lutherans reformed Luther to make him the leader of the quiet, passive denomination.  How Buddhists made Siddartha an object to be worshiped rather than primarily a life to be imitated. 

          That’s what happened to Jesus. Again and again.

          Over two centuries of spinning, Jesus has become a never-ceasing top, and cannot be recognized in the theology that bears his title.  “Christology” is all about “the essence of deity” and “two natures” and “was it God or the human Jesus that picked up the toothbrush, May 2, 27AD?”  Jesus’ philosophy suddenly is about “intellectual assent” “faith and works” “predestination” and other non-issues.  The results of Jesus’ work has become building churches, pastoral education and conservative platforms.  Jesus isn’t spinning in his grave—although the church that bears his name treats him as if he were dead—rather, he is vomiting spiritual fruit.

          Jesus wasn’t about opulent wealth, but surrendering possessions.
          Jesus wasn’t about taking the name of deity, but humble leadership.
          Jesus wasn’t about complicated philosophy, but straightforward ethics.
          Jesus wasn’t about intellectual satisfaction, but the release of prisoners.
          Jesus wasn’t about supporting the decadent authorities, but about radical politics.
          Jesus wasn’t about forgettable worship, but about life-destroying devotion to God.

          It is always the descendants of a great revolutionary that destroy his real persona, his pure revolution.   Some say that Jesus was co-opted by Paul, transformed to be “Christianity” as we know it.  It isn’t really true.  Paul’s presentation of Jesus was filled with radical politics and life-pretzeling ethics.  Some say that it was the early church, as represented by the interests of the writers of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Hell, if they were the problem, we would never know it, would we?  They are the only real way we experience Jesus as all.

          The real problem began in the second and third centuries, when the simple, straightforward words in first century Judea began to do flip-flops, becoming trained dogs in the hands of expert etymologists.  By the time the church of the fourth century, having bitten the fruit at the encouragement of Constantine, the original intent of Jesus was lost in quagmire of Greek philosophy, interpreted by Ignatius and Augustine, never to return. 

          Well, not “never.”  Should the true intent of Jesus never have been seen, then surely God would have nuked the church and started over.  All throughout the history of the church there has been a minority that pursued the ideal of Jesus—a slender thread that the church quelched or bureaucratized as quickly as possible.  Montanus, Francis of Assisi, Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, Michael Sattler, Dorothy Day.  Some intellects, some simple, but all of them cutting through the layers of lard that had been thrust upon the gospels.  They opened the velvet cage that had attempted to tame the wild Jesus, and the Tasmanian Devil of a religious leader was released, albeit briefly, to wreck waste upon the tame Christendom. 

It is time to do it again. 

It is time to open the real Jesus to scrutiny and public mocking again—this time by those who claim his name.  This Jesus isn’t passive or quiet—he is loud, boisterous, insulting and rebellious.  This Jesus is angry, violent, insane and superstitious.  This Jesus wasn’t killed as some supernaturally-fated accident.  This Jesus was killed for good reason.  If we met up with this Jesus, we might think ourselves that for the good of our society, he would need to be killed.  I’m not sure who would like him in our white bread, MTV-as-revolution, anesthetized society.  But it is time to set him loose.  Then we’ll see who follows him.

How can we do this, how will we set him loose?  We will write the gospels again—not as if they were set in this time.  But we will write them as if they were written by revolutionaries in first century Judea.  Some explanations will be necessary along the way, so we can understand what they were fighting.  This isn’t a translation, it is a paraphrase, but I am attempting to keep as close to the text as possible.  If I change it, it is change so we can appreciate how radical, how contrary Jesus’ look at reality and society really was.  

And is.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas: A New Viewpoint

Father walks into Son’s bedroom.  Son is laying on a single bed, playing with what looks like marbles in a box.  On the wall are posters and bumper stickers: “Creation: Love It Or Leave It” and “You Deserve A Sabbath Today” and “Next Time You Think You’re Perfect, Try Walking on Leviathan” and “The Few, The Proud, the Creators.” 

Father: (Cautious) Hey, Son.

Son: (Sulking, but trying not to show it) Hey, Dad.

Father: Haven’t seen you around lately.

Son: Been busy.


Father: (Trying to sound interested) Oh, really?  Doing what?

Son: You know.  The usual.

Father: (Sighs)  Let’s pretend I don’t know, okay?

Son: Whatever.  Well, right now I’m trying out a new atomic number.

Father: That sounds cool.  Is it stabilizing?

Son: I’m sure it will.  Just need a bit more dark matter.  Few more quarks. 

Father: Great.  That sounds great.

(Pause.  Son keeps playing with marbles in the box.)

Father: So…  I haven’t seen you around lately.

Son: Yeah, you said that.

Father: I kinda hoped that you’d show up at the last staff meeting.

Son: Oh, you wanted me to be there?

Father: Since you are on the creation staff… yeah, I thought you might want to show up.

Son: I don’t really see the point.

Father: Since you were so significant in starting this whole mess, I thought you might want a part in cleaning it up…

Son: Dad, don’t put that on me again…

Father: Look, we need to talk about this.  You were instrumental in the initiation of this project, and at first you were at the heart of sustaining as well, but your heart just hasn’t been in it lately.  Why?  Is there something wrong?  Something I did?

Son: (Rolling eyes) Dad, no, I mean, you’re perfect.

Father: That’s true, but I’m trying to understand your perspective.

Son: It’s just… I’m still disappointed.

Father: About what?

Son: About the humans.

Father: What about them?

Son: Well, look, Dad.  I thought that maybe you’d finally put me in charge of something.    I’m old enough now, I think.  Maybe you don’t think I’m responsible enough—I don’t know.  And here was this project.  The big one.  We were remodeling the earth—again—but this time I really thought we had hit on it, we had done it right.  This was the final try.  But instead of being put in charge of the project, you handed it off to… him.  The human.  I mean, he was a great idea—brilliant, really.  The capstone of the whole project.  But whose idea was it to put him in charge?
Father: I think you know…

Son: Yes, Dad, it was your idea.  And I know you’re perfect and all, but—  but—…   What a lame idea!  It wasn’t too many generations later that the whole project had to be wiped out and drafted again, all because of those humans.

Father: Noah was a good man.

Son: Yeah, fine, when he wasn’t drunk out of his skull!  You told him about fermenting grape juice didn’t you?

Father: He had a long, hard life...

Son: Sure he did.  That’s because all of these humans—all of them, from Adam to Noah on down— are all STUPID!  As a group they are technologically brilliant, but whether in a group or individually they are moral imbeciles!  They are just as likely to worship a stump of wood as they are a true god.  And the way they treat each other—paranoia, lack of empathy, rejection and being rejected for the most idiotic reasons—“Oh, you’re stepping on my land, looks like I need to kill you…”  Just ridiculous!

Father: Moses wasn’t ridiculous.

Son: Yeah, he’s the only one who would pay attention to you.

Father: Abraham paid attention.

Son: Sometimes. But the incident with Abimelech…

Father: Hey, he’s only human…

Son: That’s the point!  They’re ALL only human.  Yeah, Dad, you chose some great ones there (although I still have some questions about Samson) but still, as a race they have no right to rule.  No right to be in charge of my project!

Father: So, you see this as really being yours?

Son: Oh, no, Dad.  It’s yours.  All yours.  I wouldn’t want to be in charge of it now. 

Father: Oh, really?

Son: No way, it’s all too messed up now… (Father stares at the Son)  Stop it!  Stop this omniscient bit, it’s getting really annoying.

Father: You would like to be in charge of the project.

Son: Well, I think I could do things better…

Father: Then why not show up to the staff meetings?

Son: C’mon, Dad.  The staff meetings are a joke.  You know that Satan’s plan is just to wipe the whole project out.  He’s got most of the staff in his pocket, and they are all subtlety subverting all of humanity against you.  They are trying to force you into a corner to just destroy the whole project and start with something else.  So the staff meetings end up being as ironic as a human committee: (Begins imitating the council) “This human’s great!”  “Oh no, Most High, let me show you what he’s really like.”  “Well, you can try.”   And there are these manipulations of nations that end up changing nothing at all.  It just doesn’t matter if it’s Babylon or Persia or Greece or Rome—humanity is still just as stupid and just as immoral. 

Father: So you think you could do better.

Son: You bet I could!  We just need to get rid of these gods that encourage evil and guide them into following your law.  Who knows, perhaps even humans can be trained to do right, if they had the right guidance.

Father: So you want to replace the gods?

Son: Dad, look, they’re taking all the credit that belongs to you.  All creation honors these lesser beings and ignore the Most High.  You’d think they’d know better, but they don’t.  If we got rid of the gods, we can retrain all of creation and not have to wipe it out again.

Father: Hmmm… good plan Son.  Of course, the gods wouldn’t like that.

Son: So who cares?  You just get rid of them.

Father: I could… if I had a good enough reason.  I can’t just willy-nilly get rid of whatever power in heaven I want to.

Son: Why not?  You’re the Most High, right?

Father. Of course.  Technically I can do whatever I want.  But for me to be just, I have to have sufficient reason to do away with any being.  I don’t just destroy life because I can.  Well, look Son.  I’ve always thought that you had the best aptitude to deal with this project—certainly you were more involved in it initially than any of the others. 

Son: Well, sure.  I got to spend time with my Dad.

Father: Yeah.  It was great, wasn’t it?

Son: It sure was. (Pause.) I’m sorry, Dad.  I… guess I could show up to more staff meetings.  Participate more.  It’s enough to know that you’d listen to me, even if no one else does.

Father: Thanks for the thought.  But I have another committee in mind for you.

Son: (Unsure) Really?  Not the Subcommittee of Restricting Unapproved Epiphanies?  I really think that those guys are…

Father:  No, this committee is really… unique.  And I think you alone have the gifts to do it.

Son: What is it?

Father: I want you to train the humans.  Yourself.

Son: (Sighs) Dad… you know what happens.  You get a group of humans, and there’s all this bowing and “Almighty” this, and nothing ever gets done, and no one listens to you.

Father:  But it might be a way to train the humans not to worship the other gods.

Son: And replace them for me instead.  Sure, I can train them, but it seems wired into the human genome to worship any old slug, as long as it’s got something “glorious” about it.

Father: Not if you are human yourself.

Son: (Shocked)  What?  Be a…  I don’t think you know what you’re asking.

Father: I sure do.  It’s the biggest challenge anyone’s faced.

(Long pause)

Son: But humans… breathe, Dad.  All those germs constantly entering into their lungs, then passing through the tissue and entering the blood stream.  The bacteria they have in their intestines.  Their mouths—they are like a living, walking, zoo!  Disgusting!

Father: I understand.  If you recall, I made the design.

Son: But I’d have to give up creating.  Give up my life’s work…

Father: You won’t stop creating.  Just think of it as just finishing the work you had begun.

Son: I don’t know, Dad.  I mean, if they just saw some human descending from heaven, they’d certainly think that I was a god, no matter what the body…

Father: That’s why you’d have to be born human.

Son: In a womb?  Floating in amniotic fluid for nine months?

Father: Yep. 

Son: Unable to speak for… years?  Humiliated by human parents every day?  Never seen as more than a slave?  And then… puberty? 

Father:  All of these experiences are a part of what makes one human.  If you are going to have the experience, you have to have the full experience.

Son: Adam didn’t, and wasn’t he fully human?

Father: And look how he turned out.

Son: I don’t think being pushed through a vagina would have changed him that much!

Father: (Smirking) You never know until you try.

Son: Dad, this is disgusting!

Father: Yes, I know.  And it is even worse than that.  You will be abused by those who need you the most.  There will be attempts to kill you and there will be nothing you can do.  The gods will come after you, but I will protect you in some limited ways.  But all of this, all of your power, all of your knowledge—you’ll have to set it aside.  The only things you can do or know will be what I give you on a day by day basis.  It’s a tough job.

Son: I just can’t.  This is too much!  Asking me to give up everything I know.  Only to become one of those filthy creatures you erroneously placed in charge of that chaos?  I can’t imagine.  It just isn’t worth it.

Father: It isn’t worth rebuilding all of creation?  It isn’t worth finishing the project you began?  If the project isn’t worth some self-sacrifice, think of this.  All along, you regretted the fact that I gave humans the opportunity to rule the planet.  I believe you called them “filthy worms” at the beginning.

Son: Well, I was exaggerating…

Father: Fine, I accept that.  But the fact of the matter is, I DID give humans rule over creation.  And I can’t just take it away.  That’s one thing I will never change, if I make a promise, I keep it. 

Son: Didn’t you promise Moses you’d kill off the Israelites?

Father: That wasn’t a promise, it was a threat.  You’re getting off the subject.  One way or another, it is a human who will rule all creation.  That’s the foundation of the whole project.  A human will rule, not a heavenly being, but one bound to the earth, made from earth…

Son: Yeah, so, a human will rule…  Oh, I see.  So this gives me the rule over creation. (Brightens) You are giving the project to me!

Father: I’m giving you the OPPORTUNITY to have the project.  It must be given to a human.  If you become a human, it is possible for you to be in charge of the whole project. 

Son: And the other gods?

Father: If they don’t become human, they aren’t even in the running.

Son:  And Satan?

Father: Don’t underestimate him, Son.  He will do everything he can to stand in your way.  And it is possible for him to stop you. You will have to defeat him.  But remember this—you can’t defeat him through your creation powers.  You can’t defeat him through a human army.  There is only one way to defeat him…

Son: Which is…?

Father: We’ll talk about that later.  What I need to know now is, are you going to make the attempt?

Son: To be human?

Father: Yes.  And to be completely obedient to me.

Son: I always do what you say, Dad.

Father: Yes, but trust me, your submission to be will be tested to the utmost limit.

Son: Are you telling me to do this?

Father: Only if you want to.

Son: (Closes eyes)  If I want?  Of course not.  It is the most horrifying thing I could ever imagine.  Being one of those crawly beings on that planet.  Giving up all the honor and power I have here.

Father: So your answer is…

Son: Yes!  Oh, yeah.  The possibilities… wow.  I’ll have to start making plans.  Thanks Dad, this is a great opportunity. (Looks directly at Father)  Thanks for giving it to me.

Father: (Smiling, he shakes his head)  You are such a weird kid…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christianity v. Jesus (part 1)

Jesus, The Stranger

Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, came to this world a stranger.  The apostle John said, "He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.  He came to that which was his own, but His own did not receive Him."

Jesus, Himself, said, "I was a stranger and you invited me in."  In effect, He stated that not only had He come as a stranger but He had come for the stranger.

Jesus was estranged not because He wasn't what He should have been but rather because the world wasn't what it should be.  Even though the world had been created through Him, it didn't recognize Him.  The world suffered from human sin, as well as mankind.  Even now it groans, Paul says.

In the end, it is not Jesus who is the real stranger, it is us.  And one sad symptom of our estrangement is the sound of our groaning.

Though ultimately Jesus was not the one who was estranged, He still did come for the stranger.  If you invite a stranger in it is as if you had invited Him.  He has come so that no one has to be a stranger ever again.
            -Michael Card, from the book Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pre-Rabbi Jesus

Jesus lived with his mother Mary and his adoptive father Joseph and he grew to be a good man.  He had a good reputation with everyone and he increased in wisdom.  Above all else, he desired that God’s will be accomplished.  He obeyed his parents and God’s command in everything he did.  And he studied God’s word to know what God’s will was. 

But Jesus also saw that God’s will was not being accomplished on earth.  He saw God’s people disobeying God in important areas.  And he saw that God had made many promises that were not yet fulfilled—God’s spirit had not yet descended upon his people to cause them to do His will; a righteous king had not been chosen to lead his people and to bring justice; God’s people still suffered in need.  God’s will was not accomplished.  And Jesus determined to do all he could to change that.

John the Baptist was a powerful man of God.  He lived in the wilderness at the Jordan River, eating wild honey and locusts.  He wore rough clothing and preached.  Perhaps at first he preached to the twigs and flowing river, but soon he had many people listening to him.  He told them to repent, for God’s promises were going to be fulfilled.  “God is going to quickly judge his people—get ready for it!  You are all doing wicked deeds—change your ways and God will forgive you!” 

Those who committed themselves to repent John brought to the Jordan river and led them across it.  He was reenacting the crossing of the Jordan and of the Red Sea long ago.  If they were going to repent, they needed to be swallowed by the destructive water and be made alive again by God.  In this way, God was making a new people, a new generation that would be obedient to him.

Jesus came to John in order to be led across the Jordan.  John saw Jesus and said, “You don’t need to be drenched by water.  You are already righteous.”  Jesus replied, “We must do it in order to accomplish God’s will.”  So John led Jesus across the Jordan and caused him to be drenched by water, as a repentant one of God’s new people. 

Just as Jesus was baptized, a revelation from the spirit world came upon him.  The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and filled Jesus.  And the voice of God came from heaven, saying to Jesus, “You are my son, whom I love, the king of my people.  I am pleased with you.”  No one heard this but Jesus and John and the powers of the spirit world.  They all knew that Jesus was selected by God to lead God’s new people.

Immediately after this, Jesus left the Jordan and the Spirit lead him into the wilderness.  While Jesus had water in the wilderness, there was no food, so Jesus fasted for forty days, relying on God for his needs.  After many days of waiting before God, Jesus became very hungry.  At this point, Satan visited Jesus, in order to test him and to get him to disobey God and so become disqualified from being God’s king.  Satan told Jesus, “If you’re hungry, why don’t you turn these stones into bread?  You’re the Son of God, the king of God’s people—surly you can do that if you want.  Why go hungry?  God certainly wouldn’t want you to be hungry, would he?”  Jesus was weak and could only respond with Scripture he had memorized.  He weakly but firmly replied, “Scripture says, ‘Man cannot live by bread alone but by every word which comes from God.’” 

Satan was determined to cause Jesus to disobey God, so he said, “So you are the king of God’s people. But who is going to acknowledge you?  Certainly no one will pay attention to you.  Let me help you.”  Satan transported Jesus to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem.  “Here you go.  If you throw yourself off of the temple, you won’t be hurt—aren’t you the Son of God?  The Scripture says, ‘He will command his angels to keep your foot from being harmed by a stone.’  So throw yourself down, the angels will assist you and all of Jerusalem will acknowledge you as having come from God.”   Jesus replied, weakly, “Scripture says, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”

Satan was running out of ideas.  So he said to Jesus, “Here, let me show you something.”  And he showed Jesus all of the great nations of the world—the civilizations of India, China, the Aztecs, the Huns and powerful Rome. “Do you want to rule all of these powers?  Look, I’m in charge of them all.  They gave me their authority when they rebelled against God and God handed them over to Death.  Aren’t I in charge of death?  And when they worshipped their gods instead of just acknowledging their authority, they were placed under my judgement. Do you want to rule over them? Look, I can give them all to you.  They are all yours—just bow before me and I’ll give them to you.”  Jesus replied with strength, “Scripture says, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God alone and serve him only.’  Satan, get lost!”  And Satan left Jesus until a better time.  God, meanwhile, sent angels to feed Jesus after his ordeal.

After Jesus gained his strength back, he began to visit synagogues in Galilee.  Every time he visited a synagogue, he was given an opportunity to tell news or to say something of significance.  Jesus stood in front of each synagogue and proclaimed, “God’s government is coming!  Get ready for God’ revolution.  Repent from your sins.  Obey God.  And be faithful to God’s victory that is coming soon.” 

From Luke 3-4, Matthew 3-4 and Mark 1

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Blessing for the Giver

Agrapha 1: Acts 20:35—“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Although this is a passage of Jesus not found in the gospels, it is as famous as many of his other sayings, although most people do not know it is referenced to Jesus.  Scholastically, it is a doubtful saying: the writer of Acts is quoting Paul in one of his frequently rewritten lectures, and this lecture is quoting Jesus.  On the other hand, this saying fits Jesus’ other teachings about giving and humility.

What is important to know is that in the context of Jesus’ teachings, it doesn’t have the meaning we usually use it.  Let’s say it’s Christmas day and parents are both giving and receiving presents.  They take such joy in watching their children open the presents they have carefully selected and wrapped.  But when it comes to their presents—a tie, or perhaps a sculpture of one of their kid’s hands quickly produced at school—let’s just say there isn’t as much joy.  So they look at each other and knowingly say, “It is better to give than to receive.”

Yeah, that.  That’s not what Jesus meant.

We need to think about the reason why Jesus would say it is better to give.  Not because there is simply more joy in giving—although that can be true.  But rather because of the eschatological reversal.


Jesus taught that whatever we gave to ourselves or from others on earth, we would receive the opposite from God on the final day.  This is why he said “Blessed are you who are poor”, because God would give them great wealth in the end.  “Those who humble themselves will be exalted” because God would grant the humble the opposite of humility in the kingdom.  And, on the converse, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled” because God, on the final day, will reduce the great to nothing.

So Jesus is simply applying this principle to giving.  The one who gives no longer owns what they surrender.  And that act of giving humbles them.  And the humbled—the poor, the meek, the persecuted—will be granted great things by God on the final day.  Even so, the giver will BE the receiver—eventually.  And what they receive will be greater than what they give.

This is stated more explicitly by Jesus in other sayings: “ Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure-- pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your measure it will be measured to you in return." (Luk 6:38)  And also, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.” (Luk 12:33).  In other words, whatever you give, you will obtain what you gave and more from the Lord.

This is in agreement with the book of Proverbs, which says, “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed.” (Proverbs 19:17) and with Psalms which says, “How blessed is he who considers the helpless; The LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble. The LORD will protect him and keep him alive, And he shall be called blessed upon the earth; And do not give him over to the desire of his enemies. The LORD will sustain him upon his sickbed; In his illness, You restore him to health.” (Psalm 41:1-3)

The only caveat to all of this evidence of the giver’s blessing is that it must be to someone in need that we give.  Someone must be poor or in humble circumstances or in great need—if we give to them, then the Lord will give to us, in abundance, on the day we need it.

So give!  Give to the third world, give to the homeless, give to those who have nothing to give.  And God will not forget you, even if it is only a cup of cold water. 

Agrapha: The Jesus You Haven't Met

What is an “agrapha”?

Literally it means “unwritten”, but in context it means a saying of Jesus that wasn’t written in the four canonical gospels, but copied down elsewhere.  Some of them are copied in other early Christian documents, some in alternative gospels or "acts" which aren't found in the New Testament.  Many of them were written in gospels we no longer have complete copies of.  This is what used to be the case for the Gospel of Thomas, a sayings gospel, which for centuries only bits of the gospel was available.  But in the last century, a complete copy of this gospel was found and so it presented a fun argument for scholars.

If there are sayings that are given by the resurrected Jesus to Christian mystics or prophets (such as chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation), these are not included as agrapha.  Only sayings that are stated or implied to be given by Jesus while on earth are included.

Are agrapha from Jesus originally?

This is a tricky question.  Many scholars deny the accuracy of Jesus' statements even in the gospels.  Almost all agrapha, we suppose, were written down at least 70 or more years after his death, which makes their accuracy suspect, at best.  However, since many of the agrapha could be dated even earlier than the earliest canonical gospels (like John D. Crossan dates the Gospel of Thomas), then they might be considered just as or more accurate than the canonical gospels. 

For our purposes, we will be looking at the agrapha as important sayings of Jesus that aren't usually discussed and yet need to be taken into account.  I don't honestly think that any scholar can truly assess the accuracy of any of the sayings of Jesus.  There isn't any reliable supporting evidence for their accuracy or inaccuracy.  So let's just look at them and make some comments and see what we got. 

So I will be offering the occasional post on an agrapha with my own thoughts.  I am not a scholar of agrapha, so don't take my thoughts as authoritative.  But think about them yourself and make your own assessment. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jesus on the Bad Guys

Jesus taught,
The ancient Scriptures taught eye for eye and tooth for tooth.  Th ey said that if an evil person attacks you, justice is getting back at them.  Many people today have taken this to mean to rebel against authorities who attack you.

But I'm telling you, don't rebel against evil authorities.  In fact, give them exactly what they want.  If a judge sentences you unjustly with 30 days, recommend that he make it 90.

If a debt collector clears out your account, send him a check for more.

If a cop rips up your tent and sleeping bag, give him your shoes as well. 

If they insist on taxes you can't afford, give them more.

In doing this, they will incur the wrath of God who demands justice for every oppression.  Give your revenge to God, who is the greatest advocate of the oppressed, and the final court of appeal. 

The ancient Scriptures also taught, "Love your neighbor, but hate your enemy."  They advocated care for those like you and war for those who oppose you.

But I say to love your enemies-- to do good to those who do evil to you.

Pray that those who oppose you will be benefited. 
Give food and presents to those who hate you
Help and listen to those who irritate you
Restore those who tore you down
Work on establishing peace to those who warred against you

This is what God the Father did with us all-- fed, restored and brought peace to us whether we were God's supporters or His enemies.  Although we often opposed God with our actions, He acted in good faith, helping us on every side.  So if we are to truly be God's children, we need to be like God. 

Look, anyone can love those who love them.  Even gangsters do good to those who do good to them.  Even  the most evil cultist is friendly with those in his own group.  Why do you expect some reward from God for doing what everyone does? 

Instead, let your love be mature, like your Father's is: love everyone without exception.

SKV of Matthew 5:43-48

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jesus' Wisdom from the Desert Fathers

Translation from Thomas Merton's The Wisdom of the Desert:

An elder said: Do not judge a fornicator if you are chaste, for if you do, you too are violating the law as much as he is.  For He who said 'thou shalt not fornicate' also said, 'thou shalt not judge.'

Malice will never drive out malice.  But if someone does evil to you, you should do good to him, so that by your good work you may destroy his malice.

An elder was asked: What does it mean, this word we read in the Bible, that the way is straight and narrow?  And the elder replied: This is the straight and narrow way: that a man should do violence to his judgments and cut off, for the love of God, the desires of his own will.  This is what was written of the Apostles: Behold we have left all things and have followed Thee.

One of the elders said, It is not because evil thoughts come to us that we are condemned, but only because we make use of evil thoughts we suffer shipwreck, but it can also happen that because of them we are crowned.

A certain brother came to Abbot Poemen and said, What ought I to do, Father?  I am in great sadness.  The elder said to him: Never despise anybody, never condemn anybody, never speak evil of anyone and the Lord will give you peace.

A brother came and stayed with a certain solitary and when he was leaving he said: Forgive me, Father, for I have  broken in upon your Rule.  But the hermit replied, saying: My Rule is to receive you with hospitality and to let you go in peace.

Abbot Pastor said: A man must breathe humility and the fear of God just as ceaselessly as he inhales and exhales the air.

One of the elders was asked what was humility and he said: If you forgive a brother who has injured you before he himself asked pardon.

A brother asked one of the elders: What is humility?  The elder answered him: To do good to those who do evil to you.  The brother asked: Supposing a man cannot go that far, what should he do?  The elder replied: Let him get away from them and keep his mouth shut.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Women by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery: but I say to you, that every one that looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

For Fullmetal Alchemist fans

Adherence to Jesus allows no free rein to desire unless it be accompanied by love.

To follow Jesus means self-renunciation and absolute adherence to him and therefore a will contaminated by lust can never be allowed to do what it likes… Instead of trusting to the unseen we prefer the tangible fruits of desire, and so we fall from the path of discipleship and lose touch with Jesus.  Lust is impure because it is unbelief, and therefore it is to be shunned.  No sacrifice is too great if it enables us to conquer a lust which cuts us off from Jeus.  Both eye and hand are less than Christ, and when they are used as the instruments of lust and hinder the whole body from the purity of discipleship, they must be sacrificed for the sake of him.  The gains of lust are trivial compared with the loss it brings—you forfeit your body eternally for the momentary pleasure of eye or hand.  When you have made your eye the instrument of impurity, you cannot see God with it.

 Surely, at this point we must make up our minds once and for all whether Jesus means his precepts to be taken literally or only figuratively, for here it is a matter of life or death... If we decided to not take it literally, we should be evading the seriousness of the commandment, and if on the other hand we decided we decided it was to be taken literally, we should at once reveal the absurdity of the Christian position, and thereby invalidate the commandment. 

Jesus does not impose intolerable restrictions on the disciples, he does not forbid them to look at anything, but bids them to look at Him.  If they do that he knows that their gaze will always be pure, even when they look upon a woman.  So far from imposing on them an intolerable yoke of legalism, he succours them with the grace of the gospel. 

For Ang Lee fans

Taking the Supernatural Out of Jesus

Many say that we can follow the morality of Jesus, but avoid the supernatural overlay that has been placed “over top of the pure gospel” of that moral message.  I appreciate these concerns and the heart that is behind such a belief.  They recognize that Jesus’ extreme teaching of love is a high and noble standard, even for those who cannot abide a “foolish” belief in resurrection or supernatural healing.

However, Jesus cannot be divided in such a way.  With almost all of his moral positions, Jesus also gives reason for such extreme good actions and they are all based on supernaturalism.

  • Jesus says that surrender one’s own possessions to the poor is based on the idea that such a one would receive greater goods in God’s future kingdom. (Luke 12:33-34)
  • Jesus says that loving one’s enemy is a good act because imitating the God who gives food even to the ungrateful is a proper goal of life. (Luke 6:35)
  • Jesus says that we forgive others because otherwise God would not forgive us of our sins. (Matthew 18: 21ff).
  • Jesus says that we should not look at the opposite sex with lust, for to do so would send us into hell, and likewise insulting another, and so displaying hate toward them. (Matthew 5:21-32)

Thus, Jesus bases his morality on the final judgement and the resurrection. 

Frankly, to have such an extreme morality makes no sense in a strictly material world.  Loving all, even those who do us harm, makes no sense if this world is all there is.  After all, those who do us harm should learn that harm-doing is unacceptable, and the best way to do that is to harm them for their harm-doing.  That is basic human morality.  That is what makes sense in a limited universe.  But Jesus’ high level of morality only makes sense if there is a second chance on life for those who live that high morality.  Only if this life is not all there is could there be enough time for all to be made right. 

On the other hand, Jesus recognizes that such a high level of morality is necessary for this world to be made right.  Only if some live to never punish another, but to help all those in need—even those who do not deserve it— can the world be a place of justice.  Only if we forgive the unforgiveable can we be forgiven for our unforgiveable actions.   Only if we give to those who have nothing to give back will our needs be met when we have nothing to give.   For us all to survive, at least some must live the outlandish morality of Jesus.  But none of us will do it unless we believe in an outlandish justice, beyond life’s limitations.

Thus, faith is the basis of living.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jesus' Moral Teachings-- A Summary

Jesus’ teaching isn’t just some general statements, but a whole lifestyle. Jesus didn’t just tell his people to love. Rather, he told us who and how to love. And his teaching isn’t just a good idea or some wise suggestions. Rather, they are the commands of a king to his people—the law of the kingdom of God. If we live our Jesus’ commands, then we are paying attention to the following principles of Jesus: “Be alert”, be prepared for Jesus’ coming, “abide in me”, “do the Father’s will”, “come to me”, “my burden is light”, “you are the salt of the world”, “follow Me”, “in this way everyone will know that you are my disciples” and many more.

Jesus—the basis of morality
To live according to Jesus’ life, we must have Jesus. Jesus spent quite a bit of time speaking of the necessity of being committed to him. He said “believe in me”, “follow me”, “learn from me”, “whoever loves his father and mother more than me can not be my disciple” and “whoever would come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” To have Jesus, we must invite him to be king and Lord of our lives—where his nation is our nation and our first priority. To be a part of Jesus, he wants us to be baptized and to regularly participate in the Lord’s supper. But most of all, we must learn about Jesus, his teaching and live it out in all of our ways. If we commit ourselves to Jesus, He will give us the Holy Spirit—God within us—to guide us in His ways.

Jesus’ Commands—
A. The Basics
Jesus basically summarized the ten commandments, but he also applied them in specific ways.
Don’t murder

Don’t steal

Don’t defraud—
This means not lying in court or trying to cheat someone in business.

Don’t commit adultery—Jesus described this as not cheating on your spouse, not having sex with someone else’s spouse—even if they are divorced—and not desiring that someone else’s spouse was your own.

Honor your parents—Jesus described this as giving respect for your parents and providing for them in their old age.

B. Loving God
“No one can serve two masters”—This command also comes from the first two of the ten commandments. Jesus doesn’t want us serving other gods, nor does he want us to worship images as God. The main issue that Jesus spoke of in this regard was wealth. He considered wealth, money and possessions to be another god that demands service. There are certainly other gods that we can serve instead of God as well, such as sex, drugs, alcohol, or television/movies.

“The Lord’s name in vain”—Part of respecting God, Jesus says, is using His name carefully. So we do not use God’s name in cursing, falsehood or broken promises.

“Pray this way”—Jesus told us that we need to pray on a regular basis. When we pray, we use the Lord’s prayer as a model. Also, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit. Another thing that Jesus would often do when he prayed is to listen to God and see if he has anything to say to us.

“Clean the inside of cup”—To be right before God, Jesus says, we have to have our intentions and motivations pure, not just our actions. Even the smallest of actions display our true intention, and that is what we will be judged on. This is why we pray for the Holy Spirit, to clean our inner thoughts.

“Don’t be as the hypocrites”—Jesus wants us to take care when we worship or serve God that we are doing it for Him and not for other people. Jesus said that it would be good if we did some of our religious deeds in secret, so no one would know else would know we are doing them.

Porneia— As a part of our purity before God, Jesus wants us to not participate in sexual immorality. By this Jesus meant not being involved in: sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, pornography, or incest.

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”—Jesus wants us to focus on two things—what God says and helping people. But he doesn’t want our added traditions or commands—our religion—to in any way harm others or to stand against God’s commands. This means, for instance, that we don’t use the Bible to destroy others, emotionally.

“Faith the size of a mustard seed”—Jesus wants us to recognize that God can do anything He wants to—and that He will respond in love to our prayers. This means sometimes that we need to step out in faith to do what God wants us to do, even if it seems crazy to those who don’t trust in God.

“Seek first the kingdom”—Jesus wants us to do work for God, expecting no wage. There are different kinds of work Jesus affirmed—evangelism, giving to the poor, prayer, teaching Scripture, healing the sick and more. Also, Jesus tells us to pray that God would call more workers.

C. Love your neighbor
“Do Unto Others”-- Treat others as we would have them treat us. We want to be respected, communicated with and supported—so, Jesus says, we do the same to others.

“Whoever is angry”—Jesus told us not to act in hostility against others, including insulting them or harming them in revenge.

“Look of lust”—Jesus told us that our sexual purity must include even the smallest actions such as looking at someone with lust.

“Certificate of divorce”—Jesus tells us that the only thing that breaks a marriage is adultery or divorce. But to divorce and get remarried is adultery, and a forced divorce could cause great harm.

“Let your Yes be Yes”—Jesus said that if we make a promise, we must keep it, even if it’s inconvenient. To do less than keep our word, Jesus says, is of Satan.

“Love your enemies”—Rather than getting revenge, Jesus says that we are to do good to those who do evil to us. We are always to think of how to best benefit others in all circumstances.

“Be reconciled”—If we have done anything wrong to others, we should make our wrongs right by going to the person we have wronged.

“Judge not lest you be judged”-- Don’t judge without mercy. Always assume the best and give people a chance to make their wrongs right.

“Forgive and you will be forgiven”—Jesus says that if anyone tries to make their wrongs right, we must take them back into relationship. We cannot keep people at arm’s length because we don’t like something they’ve apologized for.

“Give to the poor” – Jesus says that if we see anyone in need, we should do what we can to help them.

D. Church Morality
“Love one another”—Jesus said that in the church we are all to look out for each other, caring for each other as we would family members.

“Be at peace”—Jesus doesn’t want us to have arguments about minor matters. Nor are we to divide ourselves from others in the church, except for continuing sin.

“Rebuke him privately”—Jesus told the church to correct anyone in the church not living up to Jesus’ morality. This correction is to be done gently, with the intention of restoring the sinner.

“Well done, good and faithful servant”—Jesus said that everyone in the church needs to do work for the kingdom of God, with God as our employer and rewarder.

“Wash each other’s feet”—Jesus wants us to be hospitable to others who follow Jesus—including feeding each other, inviting others to our homes, praying for each other, and visiting each other when we are sick or in prison.

“I came to seek the lost”—The church of Jesus is to constantly be open to those who have failed God and wants to come back to Him.

“Preach the gospel”—Jesus tells the church that we—especially our leaders—are to proclaim God’s kingdom, the death and resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins.

“Heal the sick, cast out demons”—The church of Jesus, especially the leaders of the church, are to pray for others to give them spiritual freedom from sickness and evil spirits.

“Beware of false teachers”—The church is not to put leaders over ourselves who teach something apart from what Jesus taught. Nor are we to place people who are disobedient to Jesus over us as leaders.

“The last shall be first”—The leaders of Jesus people are there to serve all the others, to be humble and merciful.

“Freely received, freely give”—The teaching and the ministry that Jesus gave the church to give to others is to be free—without cost.

“The worker is worthy of his hire”—The church of Jesus is to take care of their leaders, providing for their basic needs.

E. Humility and Sacrifice
“The humble will be exalted”—Jesus says that we are to allow ourselves to be humiliated, disrespected and put down. If we do this, God will honor us and raise us up.

“Invite the poor”—We are to give honor to the lowly, poor and outcast, who cannot repay us, so God will give us honor.

“Sell your possessions”—Jesus wants us to not just give to the poor when it is convenient, but to sacrifice our own personal wealth for the poor.

“Turn the other cheek”—We are to submit to authorities, even if they do us harm. The only time we do not submit is if they tell us to disobey Jesus.

“Take up the cross”—Jesus wants our lives to be surrendered for the sake of others and God. Doing minor acts of mercy or devotion is not enough—we must surrender our whole lives, even literally if necessary.

“Rejoice and be glad”—Jesus said that if we do get persecuted, hated, isolated, or rejected because of following his way, speaking the gospel or living for Jesus, then we shouldn’t be depressed, but happy. For God will look at our faithfulness and reward us greater than the persecutions we suffered.

To love Jesus is to obey Jesus willingly