Since Easter is approaching, I have been thinking about this “good news” that Jesus preached — a message that got him in so much trouble that the religious people of his day had him killed. I have come to believe that contemporary Christianity mostly gets “the good news” wrong – to the detriment of the church and the world.
I grew up in a church where the good news was that Jesus forgave our sins so that we could go to heaven when we died. Of course this good news was limited to those who believed the “right” theology about Jesus and were truly sorry for their sins – enough to promise they would try very hard not to sin any more. Sin generally had to do with sex, cussing, dancing, drinking, rock music, and the like.
As a child and even into my teenage years, I continuously asked God to forgive my sins and save me, because I was never sure if I had been repentant enough the time before. It didn’t make for a great relationship with God. Though I was told that this God loved me, his hands were tied. He had to send me to hell if I was not repentant enough. So my prayers (and relationship with God) never consisted of more than “forgive me” and “give me (mostly a ticket to heaven).” I have come to believe that this cuts the good news off at the knees.
In the first chapter of the Gospel attributed to Mark, I think it states the good news clearer than anywhere else. This is how John the Baptist described the good news:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: . . . “I, John the Baptist, have baptized you with water; but Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mar 1:1-8)
The baptism of the Spirit – the indwelling of God’s Spirit – that Jesus was to make possible through his death and resurrection is the good news. This was promised by the ancient prophets: a time when the Holy Spirit would give wisdom and strength directly to those who desired to do the work of God. It is what happened first at Pentecost.
Because of my changing understanding of the good news, my definition of sin changed too. It is no longer focused on breaking a set of rules, but sin is now about not loving God and others, not serving others, not working for justice, not feeding the hungry, not forgiving each other, etc. Sin is about not doing the work of God.
Do you see how this is a different relationship with God than one of “forgive me” and “give me?” Instead it says, “lead me” and “empower me” to be your hands and feet. This is a life we live in service to God and others being guided by the Spirit of God – not a life of rule following. Not a life of fear. Not a life of trying to be sorry enough for our sins that we earn a ticket into heaven.
Back to sin… by the way, the Apostle Paul points out that when we let the Spirit guide us, the Spirit will not lead us into sin (Gal 5:16).
Please give us the wisdom and strength
to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Read one of April’s Books!
April’s new book, St. Francis and the Christian Life,
is about a life guided by the Spirit.
On the night of Jesus’ arrest a cup, a time of trial, and a prayer merge.
About the cup . . .
At the Passover dinner Jesus said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luk 22:20).
Later that night before he is arrested he prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luk 22:42).
On the night that Jesus was arrested, he told the disciples to remember him by sharing a cup of wine. The cup was his blood poured out for us. This sacrifice of Jesus’ blood on the cross, as taught by the ancient prophets, would clean our hearts, allowing them to become a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. And for the first time, each individual could be guided directly by the Spirit of God.
Jesus knows his role in the ancient prophecies. He has told his disciples of the suffering that he is about to experience on the cross. But he appears to be afraid of what is to come. I imagine the torture and pain would scare anyone. So he asks God if there isn’t some other way. God says no. God says no to Jesus’s prayer.
About the time of trial . . .
Days or maybe weeks earlier, Jesus had taught the disciples to pray what we know now as The Lord’s Prayer, ” . . . do not bring us to the time of trial” (Luk 11:2-4).
Just before Jesus is arrested, he rebukes the disciples, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial” (Luk 22:46).
I think praying that we will not come into the time of trial is strange. Why aren’t we praying for wisdom and strength to overcome our trials, instead? But this is not what Jesus taught. He said to pray that God will not bring us into a time of trial (often translated “lead us not into temptation”). Then by example, we see Jesus praying this very thing right before he is arrested: “Remove this cup from me.”
About the prayer . . .
Jesus bookends his request by praying, “If you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” This is the same way that Jesus had taught the disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer:
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
I had not realized it, but it was the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus was praying that night just before his arrest. Not exactly the same words and much more specific, but exactly the same meaning.
Jesus shows us that we are to ask God to keep us away from the time of trial, but we are also to be willing to go through trials if it is the will of God. This willingness to experience sacrifice for the sake of God is the most difficult thing a follower of Jesus will ever do and that is why Jesus rebukes the disciples, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
Are you and I asleep? Pray!
Quick Announcement… For anyone living near Tucker… I am going to be at the DCPL Local Author Expo today Saturday, March 30, 10am-4pm at the Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library – 5234 LaVista Road – Tucker, GA 30084. Stop by if you can!
Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Luke 10:18).
Scripture mentions several different types of supernatural beings – angels, fallen angels, demons, unclean spirits, Satan, the devil – to name a few. Some scholars believe that all of these supernatural beings refer to the same kind of entity. However, to the discerning eye, they seem to be different entities.
For instance, demons and unclean spirits don’t so much cause people to sin, but cause disease and mental illness in those they possess. Demons and unclean spirits can be cast out and the person can return to normal. People can be inhabited by more than one demon. Demons don’t seem to be able to lie, but they do sometimes talk. They were everywhere in the first century and Jesus often cast them out – sometimes into animals. But nowhere are they mentioned in the Old Testament. By the way, not everyone in the New Testament who had a disease or mental illness was possessed or tormented by a demon or unclean spirit.
Then there are angels and fallen-angels mentioned in both Old and New Testaments. Regular angels are God’s messengers, fallen-angels fight with God’s messengers and have a whole militaristic hierarchy of their own with Satan as their leader (Daniel 10:13).
When Satan, who is likely a fallen-angel himself, fell from heaven, his angels fell with him. Satan has the ability to possess animals (remember the snake in the garden?) and humans (he entered Judas before Judas betrayed Jesus). He likes to masquerade as a good angel (2 Cor 11:14) and plans all kinds of schemes to hurt humans (Eph 6:11). He is a liar (John 8:44) and puts temptation in front of us hoping we will bite (remember the fruit in the garden?). The reason Jesus appeared on earth was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), who wants nothing more than to devour us (2 Cor 4:4). Satan, Lucifer (more of a description than a name), and the Devil are the same entity (Rev 12:7-9).
Interestingly, though the followers of Christ are able to cast out demons, it has never been an instruction from God for us to try and destroy evil entities themselves. Instead we are told to resist their evil.
All that said, the information we have about these supernatural beings is scattered throughout scripture and hard to resolve into something that makes complete sense. Many scholars believe they are not real – just humanity’s way of trying to explain evil. Yet, the warning from Pope Francis is this:
“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea . . . This mistake would leave us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.” Taking advantage of that vulnerability, he added, the devil “does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice.” In the fight against the devil, Pope Francis added, “cultivating good, progressing in the spiritual life and growing in love are the best ways to counter evil.” – April 9, 2018, Catholic Herald.
Now as the King of Israel was walking on the city wall, a woman cried out to him, “Help, my lord king!”
He said, “No! Let the LORD help you. How can I help you? From the threshing floor or from the wine press?” But then the king asked her, “What is your complaint?”
She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son; we will eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son and we will eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.”
When the king heard the words of the woman he tore his clothes . . . and he said, “So may God do to me, and more, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat stays on his shoulders today.” (2Ki 6:26-31)
King Jeroram had been leading his people in evil ways which has caused the city to be under siege by an army. His people can’t get food so they resort to eating their children. Not good on so many levels.
But notice, the King not only doesn’t think it is his job to take care of his people, he sends his thoughts and prayers when they ask for help: “Let God help you.” He doesn’t take responsibility. He doesn’t try to help. He doesn’t even take action against this horrible crime. Instead… he blames the prophet Elisha by sending out an ancient tweet: Today I will cut off Elisha’s head!
Why blame your local prophet?
Elisah, the prophet, had made King Jeroram aware that because of his evil, a siege was coming where desperate men and women end up eating their children. The ancient book of Deuteronomy goes on to say that when that happens, worse will follow:
“God will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous maladies . . . until you are destroyed” (Deuteronomy 28:52-59).
King Jeroram is scared. It seems that, in his mind, Elisha was supposed to make things right with God. But that isn’t how prophets work – they warn you to repent and the rest is pretty much between you and God.
If you were Elisha, what would you tell the powers today to repent of?
Some exciting news! My (Georgia Tech) college friend Laura Moody and I are going to be doing a session at the Wild Goose Festival this summer based on my last book Dismantling Injustice on the Song of Solomon. If you don’t know about the Wild Goose Festival then get caught up here.
Here is an early preview of our session:
Casting Call for Song of Solomon Table-Read
The Old Testament book Song of Solomon isn’t what you think. It is not a love story between a king and one of his many wives. It is a story of resistance! The story of a sex slave who has been kidnapped by the king’s men and whose lover, a shepherd, has come to rescue her. This was the most popular translation and interpretation of the Song of Solomon until slavery became popular in the United States. It is a story that helps us understand how love can dismantle injustice. It is hilarious, sexy, and thought provoking!
This 6000 year-old play was performed on village greens across ancient Israel to encourage resistance of the unpopular King Solomon, who was ripping the country apart. It is a story very relevant to our world today!
So let’s rehearse this play together using the translation, which is laid out as a script in April Love-Fordham’s book Dismantling Injustice. We will come together with props and costumes, reading and acting it out together. The script will accommodate an impromptu cast of seven — and as many as want to be part of the harem. We will pause after each act to see what questions this ancient texts raises for us. Scripts, props, and simple costumes are provided.
Hope to see you at the Goose!
It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified. (Gal 3:1)
This is a sentence from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. There is no way that Jesus’ body was put on exhibit in Galatia before he was buried. Jesus died and was buried on the same day. Plus Galatia was nine hundred miles from Jerusalem.
So how did the Galatians see Jesus’ body publicly exhibited?
The word translated exhibited in the verse above is the Greek word, προεγράφη or transliterated proegrphee. Say it a couple of times. Remind you of another word? The word means visually portrayed. One translation says “a picture of his death.” It is the where we get our English word photography.
So where did they get a camera?
Now before I answer that… know that I love mystical, unexplained things. This is a weird characteristic for a scientist – an engineer who spent twenty years in the engineering world where being able to explain things was of utmost importance. So knowing that, read on…
The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth kept in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Torino, Italy. I visited it two summers ago. It bears the blood and negative image of a crucified man. There are many disputes – some of them scientific – over whether it is real. I won’t go into them here.
You can see the image in the picture of my necklace — a necklace that holds my treasures from all the pilgrimages/hikes we have been on. If the shroud is real, this is what Jesus would have looked like. Many believe this is the cloth that Jesus was wrapped in at his burial (John 20:6–9) and that the mysterious image was created as some kind of radiation was emitted from his body as he was resurrected from the dead.
Could it be that the Shroud of Turin made a tour stop in Galatia? Could this cloth have been the proegrphee that Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians?
I know, some of you just popped both hands open beside your head in disbelief. But who knows? Why not? What do you think? You can read more about the shroud here.
April’s latest book: St. Francis and the Christian Life: A Disorderly Parable of the Epistle to the Galatians mentions this and many other mysteries and teachings in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the Gods — Psalms 82:1
It is interesting how most translations come to this verse and show a bias toward what is considered conventional Christian theology. Conventional Christian theology says there is only one God. So even though the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is used for both instances of God in this verse, the translators do all sorts of contorting to distinguish between God and, well, God. They do a bunch of things like using “gods” (with quotes and a lower case g), judges, or heavenly beings when the truth of the matter is that the Bible says that Elohim was talking to the Elohim.
Using the Hebrew, this is what it actually says:
Elohim presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the Elohim.
To make it more complicated, Elohim is a plural word like the word deer: “I saw a deer” and “I saw a bunch of deer.” Both sentences properly use the word deer instead of deers which would be incorrect and isn’t even a word. Elohims (with an s) isn’t a Hebrew word.
Well, a lot of translators don’t want to confuse Bible believing readers with what the scripture actually says so they fudge the translation to make it jive with conventional theology. But once we accept what scripture actually says, then we can start asking the questions – was the Psalmist being poetic? Sarcastic? Did this Psalmist believe there were many Elohims – many Gods and that they actually gathered occasionally for an industry association meeting? There are many scholarly theories. BUT the real crime would be to get hung up with the question and discredit the whole shebang. Because what God says to the Gods is utterly amazing:
“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. – Psalm 82:1-4
If that doesn’t speak into our world today, what does? So let’s get out there today and defend, uphold, rescue, and deliver! If we are attentive, we will find this work everywhere around us. Because if you aren’t defending, upholding, rescuing, and delivering the guy in the cube next to you, then you aren’t going to do it for the big societal issues either. And you don’t get a pass for being busy. Let’s get out there… Go!
When we were in Paris just before Christmas, we got to attend a special exhibit at the Cluny Museum on unicorns. The Cluny is a museum of all things medieval and my favorite museum in Paris.
On display were unicorn horns, unicorn poo (yes, I am serious – picture below), and all kinds of medieval unicorn art. The Old Testament mentions unicorns nine times so people believed they were real. Pliny the Elder wrote in his very serious Natural History Book way back in the first century: “the unicorn is the fiercest animal, and it is said that it is impossible to capture one alive. It has the body of a horse, the head of a stag, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, and a single black horn three feet long in the middle of its forehead and its cry is a deep bellow.”
There are many theories about what animal scripture was actually speaking about, but many believed that the unicorn signified Christ. The fierce wildness of the animal showed the inability of hell to hold Christ. The single horn represented the unity of God and Christ.
The original King James translation of the Bible, which is actually a remarkably good translation, mentions unicorns nine times. In Hebrew, the word translated unicorn is re’em.
- Numbers 23:22 and 24:8: God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
- Deuteronomy 33:17 His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth . . .
- Job 39:9 Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?
- Job 39:10 Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?
- Psalm 22:21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
- Psalm 29:6 He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.
- Psalm 92:10 But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.
- Isaiah 34:7 And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. (Isa 37:36)
This verse literally says that the dead woke up the next morning and found their own dead bodies. Different translators have handled it different ways . . . instead of “when they woke up,” the translators have changed it to “when the morning dawned.” Other translations say “when the surviving Assyrians woke up.” But the word “they” is only vague if you don’t think dead people can wake up to find their own dead bodies.
The translators didn’t think so. Hence, they scrambled to make sense of the verse. I don’t like it when the translators interpret in order to answer questions that the text doesn’t answer. I like reading the oddities. Sometimes they hold great mysteries. Sometimes they are just ancient grammar mistakes.
It makes me think… where do we interpret happenings in our own lives in a way that they make sense to us instead of facing the oddities?
Yep. It’s in the Bible! Pot is deadly. Or maybe what is in the pot is deadly . . .
When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the company of prophets was sitting before him, he said to his servant, “Put the large pot on, and make some stew for the company of prophets.” One of them went out into the field to gather herbs; he found a wild vine and gathered from it a lapful of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were. They served some for the men to eat. But while they were eating the stew, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” They could not eat it. He said, “Then bring some flour.” He threw it into the pot, and said, “Serve the people and let them eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot. (2Ki 4:38-41)
Someone a lot wiser than me explained the symbolism in this story to me once. You tell me if they are right.
The school of prophets are holding class and they get hungry. The story is about physical hunger, but the prophets are also spiritually hungry. It’s in a middle of a famine. I am told that if you get too hungry – famine kind of hungry – whether it is spiritual or physical hunger — sometimes you will eat (or believe) anything.
One of the students goes out and gathers food, but he gathers gourds that he doesn’t know anything about and brings them back to feed to the prophets. Spiritually speaking. . . he stumbles on some theology that he has never heard before and readily accepts it as right. He is so spiritual hungry that he will believe anything. The student-prophets accept it too. No one questions it and they all eat it up. But this food – this theology – is poison!
The students cry out to the Prophet Elisha. He grabs some flour. Spiritually speaking, the bread of life is made of flour. He throws the flour – the bread of life (the Jesus story) – into the pot. And suddenly the stew is edible. Spiritually speaking, he measures the new theology up against the teachings of Jesus and the theology suddenly takes on a right meaning.
For all of you who read this thinking my story was about the kind of pot you smoke . . . shame on you! 🙂 So… what do you think this story is really all about?