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Archive for January, 2016

Did Jesus Say Love Or Hate Your Family?

One would think when Jesus proclaimed loving one another as the end all that this includes family members. Jesus said accepting Him is the same as accepting children who are often the most innocent and vulnerable in our society. Jesus encouraged marriage for a lifetime for a reason (Mk. 10:9). Who doesn’t know love isn’t kicking partners to the curb to enjoy your current fantasy whether in marriage, business, or friendship. There are innocent parties and the guilty with regrets. Jesus tells it straight but is not in the condemnation business. Jesus only encouraged the adulterous woman to leave a life of self-destruction for her own good (Jn. 8:11).

Jesus though seemed to imply other times that family is not important, that one cannot choose both family and God. See passages referenced here. Jesus says: “…..I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a main against his father, a daughter against her mother… (Mt. 10: 34-35). Did Jesus deny those who wanted to follow Him the right to bury their own family members (Mt. 8:21-22, Lk. 9:59-60)? Jesus even suggested that we can’t love Him unless we hate our own family (Lk. 14:25-26). Did God create family in the beginning and then demand we choose God over loved ones?

These were extraordinary times. The Messiah predicted for over a thousand years was here. God had come in person to lay down his life to influence the world for its own good. The context advises of dangerous times ahead for those who follow Jesus as His death was imminent: “as the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven” (Lk. 9:51). Jesus wasn’t encouraging to purposely hate your family, but family members can turn on each other. Jesus desired peace as He rebuked the disciples for requesting Jesus use special powers to destroy the enemy (Lk. 9:55). It is others sometimes who don’t desire peace. Why not just let the lunatic’s message peter out. Who was harmed? But, the religious turned on their own and insisted Jesus be killed for claiming to be the Messiah. Some today turn to new spiritual beliefs, while advocating the freedom of beliefs of others, but family members treat them as outcasts or even seek their death.

Jesus surely wasn’t insisting one not bury their family member. The man asking Jesus about following Him was outside and not in mourning (Lk.9:57). His dad was likely healthy but waiting around for family to die in years ahead can interfere with one’s spiritual calling. Jesus possibly had in mind a secondary burial. In biblical times the bones were reburied in a box in a slot in the tomb’s wall a year after the initial burial (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Craig S. Keener, p.68). It isn’t always dishonoring to leave parents to make the world a better place as Jesus and His disciples did. Today, parents for selfish reasons may not encourage children to follow worthwhile passions. Jesus clearly supported the commandment to honor your father and mother (Lk. 18:20). Jesus didn’t contradict future disciples such as Timothy who advised not providing for your own family opposes God’s desires (I Tim 5:8). Balance and judgment is required if one’s spiritual calling interferes with their family calling.

Jesus was pro-family as loving your neighbor surely meant loving your family members. But, some families put their members in a position that they will have to choose God or them. Jesus had to leave His family without their full support. Many may courageously leave family to protect freedoms for their family and others. Jesus’ hard sayings were not meant to take literal always. You can bury your family but family can be our idol and stand in the way of a higher calling. Sometimes, living out Jesus’ message to love your neighbor has extreme costs. Now, husbands often take a wife kicking and screaming because of their supposed calling. God surely makes any calling obvious to both partners. The applications for Jesus’ teachings today are personal and for each to decide. Seek the wisdom of those you trust.

Did Jesus Teach Self-Abuse By Turning Other Check Or Loving Your Enemies?

Jesus did not encourage domestic violence or other abuses when advising us to love our enemies or turn the other cheek. God doesn’t desire those who seek to follow Him to live in guilt because of any confusion regarding His ways. The Bible surely is not advocating a spouse continue to allow their partner to beat them or that soldiers cannot protect themselves in times of war. War with your enemies may be necessary to either protect yourself or others abused by evil dictators. But, there may be times when evil can be overcome with good than guns.

What did Jesus mean when He said: If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek; if someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt (Mt. 5:38-48, Luke 6:27-36). Jesus was not advocating nudity but perhaps illustrating the ridiculousness or cruelty of people’s ways. An “eye for eye” helped protect the weaker from further revenge being justified. But, the law can only protect but not change hearts. The law can condemn adultery but lust is a form of betrayal as well. The law cannot speak to forgiveness or showing mercy.

Jesus defended Himself rather than turned the other cheek when slapped by an official (Jn. 18:23). Would Jesus say Paul was wrong to escape from harm to protect himself (Acts 9:29-30)? Paul advised if possible live at peace with others, suggesting we can’t always leave in peace. (Rm. 12:18). Jesus was not suggesting passivity but actually provoking possible ways to avoid continued violence. Restraining can sometimes lead to less violence as violence breeds more violence. An attitude of going the extra mile is responding in less human ways. Actions often speak louder than words in responding to a wrong.

It is natural and appropriate to seek vindication from enemies (i.e. Rev 6:10-11). It is supernatural to show grace and forgiveness to those who seek it. Compensation is often impossible. Reputations that have been stolen for a time cannot be returned or childhood memories erased. We can pray for our enemies by hoping they seek forgiveness rather than continue to harm others. Jesus simply was saying there are times to show mercy than seek justice. There are times to not demand being treated as we want to be treated.

The Bible is not contradictory when it says to love your enemies but have nothing to do with divisive people (Titus 3:10). Uh, our enemies may have a touch of divisiveness in them from time to time. Jesus obviously had certain circumstances in mind when He encouraged loving your enemies. The Bible often warns followers to confront one another morally and withdraw fellowship if necessary in hopes this leads to change. But, our enemies may not have tasted or understand Jesus’ life changing message. We may only convince others of our Creator’s love by demonstrating God’s unimaginable love toward us.

We must use our brains and not feel guilty when we must protect ourselves physically or emotionally. Jesus expected us to use common sense in difficult relationship situations. I may give a brief talk to parents about the radical idea that they must love their teenagers the way they wished their parents had loved them at that age despite all their crazy behaviors. We must choose our battles. I may not have addressed that parents must show tough love sometimes for the sake of change if drug use or bullying is involved. Allow God to tug at your heart. Seek the wisdom of others. Make the best current decision and have no regrets. God doesn’t want us always wondering if we did the right thing. Seek God’s help in showing radical, unimaginable love in hopes to impact the world for good as Jesus did.

Did Jesus Really Threaten Others With Hell?

Some may not even bother to know God if imagining the Creator is a sadistic torturer. What God-person wants to tell others or defend such a God? Such a God is no different than the god of religious extremists. The traditional meaning of Hell must be dispelled as a biblical myth for God’s character is at stake. It is often not known that Jesus and the Bible say absolutely nothing about Hell. Hell, an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience, is not a translation but a word substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words. Like God is going to sadistically torture people forever for their beliefs while here on earth a short time!

Jesus used the word Gehenna, translated as “hell,” eleven times but only in about four conversations. The Gospel of John never uses the word. Mark and Luke record Jesus using the word once in an exchange but both appear to be the same conversations recorded by Matthew. Matthew’s Jewish audience was the most familiar with the history behind Gehenna:

  • Mt. 5:22, 29, 30 warns that the Pharisees’ brand of religion, which only thinks about the letter of the law rather than the heart of the matter, is a path to Gehenna (i.e. death)
  • Mt. 10:28 (i.e. Luke 12:5) warns to be less afraid of death of the body which is only physical death (Gehenna) and more afraid of death of the soul which is spiritual death
  • Mt. 18:9 (i.e. Mk 9:43, 45, 47) warns spiritual death is even worse than physical death (Gehenna)
  • Mt. 23: 15, 33 warns religious teachers again their message only leads people and themselves to death (Gehenna) and not a life worth living

The Greek word Gehenna in the New Testament was a proper noun and the name of a real valley nearby Jerusalem with a history. It was the local city garbage dump where fires were kept burning and symbolized a place of slaughter and judgment. Gehenna was the place of burned Israeli children sacrificed to false gods (Jer. 7:30-31; 19:2-5). Josephus said this same valley was heaped with dead bodies of the Jews following the Roman siege of Jerusalem around 70 AD. Gehenna was used by Jesus to symbolize where a life of self-centeredness can lead as opposed to what Jesus taught. Hell is no more a translation of Gehenna than Atlanta is for Chicago.

Paul wrote fourteen epistles and never mentions Hell. Scriptures only say after death that all are judged by our merciful God. The Hebrew word Sheol in the Old Testament is wrongly translated as Hell. Sheol was simply a region or place of darkness occupied by the dead regardless of beliefs. Job, an extremely righteous man in God’s eyes, desired to go there to escape his tremendous suffering (10:21-22). Recent translations simply translate Sheol as “Sheol.”

Jesus never taught people can be scared into true righteousness and an intimate relationship with their Creator. God’s love and mercy is our necessary nourishment just as in human, parental love. Parents warn their children of evil for their own good. Jesus simply wanted us to know our Creator loves us and desires to empower us to be the unselfish people we deep down desire to be. Treating others as we want to be treated helps avoid leading to a life full of regrets. Jesus faced undeserved suffering to identify with us and hopefully influence to not be seduced by what the world tempts. Following in Jesus’ footsteps leads to life transformations best for us and the world.


Are We Better Off If The Bible Was Less Confusing?

One might rightly challenge why a loving God would not make the Bible clearer. Misinterpretations of the Bible have led to defending racism, inequality of the sexes, or that God favors certain nations over other nations. God didn’t purposely make the Bible unclear, but can a God who values freedom make a writer’s words not subject to confusion. How can the Bible be different than other literatures, especially written over a thousand years ago by different authors in different languages, and not be subject to different interpretations by future generations? What I am writing today is subject to misunderstandings so therefore should I never write?

Let’s say it was possible to write without words being subject to confusion by the reader. If the Bible were plain in meaning would there be less selfishness in the world, which was Jesus’ main message? Nathan convicted King David of his adulterous and murderous actions though the use of an allegory. David was less likely to regret his actions with plainspoken talk. Jesus didn’t purposely use parables to confuse his audience. Parables though enable one to continue to think on a subject to eventually accept the lesson intended. Straight talk often falls on deaf ears both with children and adults. Clear meaning doesn’t always produce positive results.

There can be some benefits to lack of clarity if necessary. I often wish I knew exactly what gifts my wife wanted. I angst over what gift my wife may wish for on her birthday or special holiday. If I knew exactly what she wanted, I miss out on the greater joy of giving her the perfect gift that I discovered on my own. I would feel a void in my life if deprived of the inspiration that results from intellectual curiosity and exploration of the meaning of a biblical test. If I fully understood God and didn’t have to discover that over time, I may think less often about God rather than spend time getting to know God. Getting to know God over time allows me make changes in my life later that I may not when initially reading God’s guidance.

The problem may not be that the Bible is confusing; the bigger challenge is what we do with lack of clarity. Confusion allows me to develop in the area of charity if I should choose. Certainty has led me to push “supposed” truth onto others. The Bible isn’t always crystal clear yet we are offended when people do not accept what we think the Bible means. Clearness doesn’t always produce graciousness toward others. There is reasonable debate whether Genesis 1-11 reveals historical facts or whether writers used other literary genres to convey theological truths about God’s relationship with humans. Does clearness matter more than how we handle confusion?

Confusion would be less problematic if we all considered one another’s opinion gracefully, as long as they don’t violate the freedom of others, so to work out our own convictions with as much consistency as possible. The truth is I might be wrong, you might be wrong, or we both might be wrong. Even if God could control us both being wrong, there is so much of the Bible that is clear that we can agree on and live by. We often try to make the Bible a bunch of rules that only divide people. Lack of clarity can lead to developing charity in our life and allow us to be more engaged and dependent on God that we would otherwise. I am convinced understanding meaning over time may lead to more meaningful changes in my life when looking back.

Are Their Plausible Reasons Why God Seems So Hidden or Distant?

One may rightly question why a loving God seems to keep their distance. Are there plausible reasons why God is physically invisible and cognitively or emotionally hidden to many? The Bible doesn’t teach that all who don’t believe there is a Creator are simply suppressing what they know to be true deep down. Paul instead said “many knew God…they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God” (Rm. 1:21, 29). They believed God existed but sought to justify their wicked ways. Many don’t believe in a God or lack a passion for God, but this is not always for immoral reasons. I am confident all God-folks have such friends.

I am mainly writing to suggest if there is God, there might be plausible reasons or justification for God not revealing themselves more openly. Let’s suggest for the sake of argument there are those who are convinced there is a God and those who are convinced there isn’t a God. If you believe in a God, why do you not trust God to reveal themselves to others when deemed the best time to do so? Jesus didn’t require people kneel and express belief in God. Jesus respected everyone’s journey. Jesus only had an axe to grind with the religious of the day who implied for their own benefit that obedience is taught not caught. Jesus simply wanted us to know our Creator loves us and desires to empower us to be the unselfish people we deep down desire to be.

The nature of one’s relationship with their Creator, of lack of, may be impacted by understanding if there are rational reasons why God is so hidden. Loving parents makes themselves obvious to their children. As the story goes God was visible in the beginning with Adam and Eve. When the first couple went against God’s advice, it was humans that ran and hid from God. As rebellion continued (at least it does for me), God apparently decided it was in our best interest if God not continue to overwhelm us in person. Being in the presence of others we offend isn’t always initially conducive for lasting change. God wanted us to come to them on our own terms rather than out of feelings of obligation or awe. God wanted it to be all about us and not God. Loving parents desire their children freely reciprocate their love as opposed to feeling manipulated.

Miracles make God more obvious but don’t always lead to belief. God dropped manna from the sky to survive in the wilderness, but the Israelites turned on God when Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Miracles often lead to seeking only physical cures and not spiritual cures. A healed soul is far better than just a healed body. We parents tend to shower our children with gifts to avoid the painful realities of a free world, but interference can prevent growth and self-satisfaction resulting from making wise, independent choices.

Freedom is absolutely necessary for authentic relationships. Without freedom we could accuse God of not creating the very best world. When evil was chosen in the beginning and continues today, God’s constant interference and presence may prevent a superior world from emerging as a result of the moral development and improvement of free creatures. Also, God may know a person may reject them now as opposed to a time in the future – even after death – so one can best choose their destiny. God revealing himself after swearing to change can lead to more guilt. God may hide himself not out of cruelness but love as timing can be important in relationships.

Let’s not accuse those who believe as needing a crutch and those that don’t believe of being wicked and not knowing their feelings. If it is a sin to doubt God exists, then Christians sin if they doubt God in troubled times. A traumatic experience such as being raped by one’s father can keep one from wanting to have anything to do with God their Father. Some are taught growing up God is a sadistic torturer who burns people in Hell forever if they don’t believe in God, which is a direct contradiction of a loving God. People are not immoral because they doubt or don’t accept certain teachings without reflection. Readers know their own reasons for not believing and they are valid as reasons for believing.

Honestly, I can think of many reasons that we are better off with moral people that are less religious than others. I can understand why some may think the Bible teaches hierarchical relationship between the genders, though I would argue such a stance is a haven for abuse by men. But, most Churches don’t state interpretations are fallible and encourage sharing and considering one another’s opinions gracefully as God helps individuals work out their own convictions with as much consistency as possible. Churches encourage good morals but sometimes the message they give about God may not reveal what God is truly like. I wonder if we are better off sometimes with no message about God than the wrong message about God.

A parent, who has a child taken from them at birth, stills loves that child though that child may not know them or believe they even exist. We cannot assume that not feeling God’s presence means there is no relationship from God’s perspective. Nonresistant nonbelief is obviously plausible and reasonable if such a belief is not used to justify selfish behaviors. Spiritual discussions should only take place if both parties wish to discuss such matters for their own benefit. It seems to me as a God-person, to not have an open-mind what others are saying about themselves lacks faith in God revealing themselves to others if they trust exist. It seems to me there are rational reasons why God may not make their presence always so obvious.

Why Is Freedom Of Beliefs So Important In Religion?

It is hard to imagine anyone would believe that a loving God condones blowing up innocent people. It is hard to believe anyone would think that a loving God would condone beheadings and videotaping such despicable actions in the name of their God.  Victims are not even asked their beliefs, because terrorists clearly kill for their own selfish reasons. But, we may be able to prevent the radicalization of some if we can convince a loving God would never deny one the freedom to choose their beliefs, even if they are opposed to their God’s.

Those who believe in the God of the Bible must be able to defend why their God respects the freedom of beliefs. God has respected freedom of beliefs from the very beginning; otherwise, God who is powerful enough to create would annihilate immediately those who oppose God by choosing evil. Spiritual or human parents brings children into the world hoping their children freely reciprocate their love, because they understand controlling decisions doesn’t result in true love. Freedom is necessary for authenticity, the highest good in relationships, or we could accuse God of not creating the “best” world. Only the God of terrorists supposedly thinks that controlling or destroying freedom of decisions leads to the highest good for the world.

The God of the Bible does not control decisions in this lifetime or the life to come. The traditional understanding of Hell, where you will burn forever after death for not believing in God while on earth, is a fabrication that doesn’t exist in the Bible. Hell, not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words, is an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience. Jesus did not threaten a non-existing Hell in His interactions. As it turns out God is a respecter of freedom in this life and life after death.

The God of the Bible respects the freedom of beliefs while on earth as evident by Jesus’ life. Jesus interacted in a non-threatening matter except with religious hypocrites who taught religion is self-serving rather than self-sacrificing. Jesus didn’t die to appease God’s anger and honor so God could love us. God is not a blood-thirsty Creator. Jesus faced undeserved suffering to gain credibility and influence. Jesus’ main message was treating others like you want to be treated (Mt. 7:12). Jesus only tried to convince us to be the unselfish people we deep down desire to be. Religions emphasize rules and obedience; Jesus talked about a relationship and God’s unimaginable love. A friendship with God can empower one to shun evil and do good. Jesus understood selflessness is chosen not forced.

The God of the Bible did not choose war to impose Israelite beliefs on other nations. There are some challenging passages in the Old Testament, but God didn’t prefer violence over peaceful alternatives. See here for further discussion. God never condoned torture or rape when war was necessary. God never insisted any nation believe in God or else. The Canaanites were involved in evil practices including burning their children as sacrifices to their gods (Deut. 12: 31; Lev. 18:21). Driving the Canaanites out of their land and into neighboring nations where they would be the minority could force them to change their evil practices. Despite the loss of innocent lives, future generations may look back on the 21st century and agree with nations invading lands inhabited by evildoers who seek power only to destroy freedom other than their own.

The God of the Bible never thought fear lead to any kind of desired relationship. A survey of the times “fear of God” is used in the Bible suggests fearing God was synonymous with fearing evil. Fear was for evil folks in the Bible, not those did not impose their ways on others. God’s judgments during lawlessness were to protect the innocent and hopefully redeem the guilty, but punishment can only deter but not change one’s heart. Fearing God is only necessary in an immoral world. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I Jn. 4:18).

The God of the Bible does not suggest women are to be under the authority of men as if half the world needs a mediator between them and God. This only encourages dominance on the man’s part. God did not create a male-controlled relationship between Adam and Eve in the beginning. Nations thereafter chose to be patriarchal. Jesus clearly encouraged equality between the sexes and mutual respect against culture norms. The Apostle Paul advised husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. Some religious extremists would rather be dead than advocate for that. The gods of the nations in biblical times were described as either male or female. By contrast, the Jews did not speculate about the gender of God. In the Old Testament the word for God’s spirit is feminine. The Greek noun for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is gender-neutral.

I understand appealing to the Bible may not be always the best thing. One has to wonder if we might be better off without the Bible as often interpretations are not acknowledged as possibly being fallible. The truth is you might be right, I might be right, or we may both be wrong. All humans have an internal moral compass and most can agree on good from evil. We must consider if a biblical teaching seems plausible based on what a loving God or parent would be like. Questions about God must be solved on biblical and relational grounds since interpretations are imperfect. Bad theology has consequences. We often don’t trust our own God to guide individuals. We, as God does, must allow each the freedom to come to their understanding of God if they are not violating the rights of others.

Men who videotape beheadings are simply evil and sometimes the only way to combat such evil is to destroy it. But, early in the radicalization process some may be open to reasoning. But, we must inform the law, even on our own family members, when we notice beliefs that can lead to blowing up innocent people. One hint terrorists are misguided is they don’t just blow themselves up to spread their gospel. Jesus didn’t come to conquer the evil Roman Empire; Jesus sacrificed His own life to influence others. Any religion that is based on control than service is not truly religious. You are free to even blaspheme God but you can’t treat others immorally without consequences. God pursued a friendship rather than overpowering or demanding obedience in hopes of changing the world for good.

Why Do Some Pursue God And Others Don’t While On Earth?

Do we really think that one believes in God because they are more enlightened or moral? I cannot explain why I personally think about God as often as I do, but I can tell you that I am not more spiritual than many non-God folks. If I thought I treated my wife a lot more like Jesus would than I do, I may advise otherwise. I can say I am a better man, husband, father, and friend because of my conversations with God. Some admit they were hell-bent in pursing evil until they meet God. Let’s not accuse those who believe as needing a crutch and those that don’t believe of being in denial and suppressing the truth.

The value God and parents place on freedom may help to justify the dissimilarity of our circumstances and how we are influenced. Freedom is necessary for authenticity, the highest good in relationships, or we could accuse God of not creating the “best” world. Human or spiritual parent brings children into the world hoping their children freely reciprocate their love because controlling or destroying free, moral decisions doesn’t result in true love.

It matters the environment you grew up in as to whether you may believe in God. Some despise their Heavenly Parent because of their earthly parents. If there is a Creator, we may only realize when meeting that God is not a representation but perfection of our earthly parent we always desired. We don’t only get into heaven based on decisions and beliefs in the short time here on earth. Do we really think a thief is going to enter Paradise but not others with lesser sins simply because they weren’t next to Jesus hanging on Cross right before their last breathe?

Hell in the Bible is a substitution not a correct translation for certain Hebrew and Greek words. Hell is an invention over the centuries to scare people into obedience. Like God is going to sadistically torture people forever for their beliefs while here on earth a short time! If it turns out there is a God, we can be hopeful Universalists. God will remove all components that led to any unfounded thinking. Would anyone in their right mind not choose living in heaven with a loving God? God who gives millions of chances here on earth will give one a second change when meeting their Creator after death if justice can be defended in such a scenario.

The possibility of eternal decisions after death doesn’t lead to less urgency to change on earth. Do you really think it doesn’t matter how you treat others here on earth if there isn’t a law against your actions? It is not God’s nature to give up on an addict after their 10th relapse. It is God’s love, not fear, that can lead to being the unselfish people we deep down desire to be. Victims will be vindicated when the guilty face their sins before their Creator.

A Muslim or Christian may or may not worship the same God but strive to love others how they wish to be loved. Some Buddhists have more the heart of Jesus than those who call themselves Christians. More people than not born into the world have never heard the name of Jesus. Entrance into Heaven doesn’t depend on a decision one didn’t have an opportunity to make. Specific knowledge of Christ or saying the right words is suspect as being necessary. Those who don’t believe are not wicked people in denial. If it is a sin to doubt God exists, then Christians sin if they doubt God in troubled times.

Some may ask why Jesus even came if beliefs don’t matter. We all have internal moral compasses. Jesus was asked how one obtains eternal life. Jesus said simply to love God and love others as yourself (Lk.10:25-27). Changing directions, not perfection, was Jesus’ message or heaven will be empty. Jesus talked about how true living begins here on earth by understanding how much your Creator loves you. Such knowledge empowers one to shun evil and be the unselfish person we all desire to be deep down. If you wish you had more of a connection with your Creator, reconsider any beliefs about God that keep you from pursuing a close friendship.


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