Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Prayer for the Coming New Year

Many of us look on the New Year with fear, fretting over what might be.

The Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr is fairly well known and has been used as handouts on cards to soldiers during wartime and is in the Twelve-Step recovery program. I am sharing this completed, unadbridged version in today's post because I find it so fitting for the coming new year.  Let these words bring you peace as you as you face the start of a New Year and turn the control back over to God.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

In a World of Mass Shootings, Part II

It's amazing what can happen in a little more than a week's time. In my last post I wrote about the rise of mass shootings and what I think are the underlying causes of them. If you haven't read that you might want to read that article here.

I promised in my next post I would discuss what, if anything, we can do about them.

However, first, I want to talk about some things that have happened since my last post that tie into the subject. The most obvious one is that the shooting in San Bernadino, California has now been attributed to terrorism, not just some angry person, although we don't know if the Muslim couple involved acted independly or under the direction of a terrorist group. It is extremely troubling that they shot the very people who had thrown them a baby shower just months earlier. Despite that, we should not label every Muslim a threat. Just as there are some touting religious beliefs in Christianity that are extreme, there are some, not all, Muslims who adhere to extreme beliefs.

Several other things have happened in my own life that reflects the growing fear in America of terrorist acts. The first is that I was summoned for jury duty and while waiting for the jury to be selected, I sat among 57 other U. S. citizens. We are not allowed to have any electronic devices inside the courthouse including cell phones. They had been restricted after a bomb scare three years earlier at the same courthouse proved to be the real deal with a bomb devised to be triggered by an electronic device such as a cell phone. While waiting for the judge to make an appearance, I struck up a conversation with a young school teacher next to me. I learned that she has two young children.  She and her husband are so skiddish about going out in public due to terrorists threats that they have drastically changed their habits and stay home much more than they did.

The second thing that happened this week was that my husband, Jeff was selling a used diving vest he had acquired. He advertised it on Craigslist and made an appointment with a guy who planned to come and purchase the vest at our home. This man arrived wearing a holster and gun in plain view, which was pretty unsettling. Jeff and I both discussed it later and Jeff especially found it troubling.

With so much violence, people are scared and those who do own guns are touting them more publicly. Some officials are urging people that own guns to carry them with them. To me, this is a recipe for disaster. How can the gun carriers accurately determine who to shoot and when?

Back to the topics I included in my last blog post. I'll address them one at a time.

1). Isolation due to technology. We need to be aware of the dangers of this. Actions we can take can include deliberately trying to get to know our neighbors, holding physical social gatherings, being on social media less, weaning children and grandchildren off of social media dependence and working more on getting them involved in face to face encounters with people.

2). Lax gun regulations. Yes, we have the right to bear arms but when that right interfers with our basic freedoms such as gathering in public places without fear of being gunned down, it's time to curb some of the rights. The loudest protests about gun control comes from gun owners themselves. They don't want to lose what they already have. Japan has an extremely low rate of violence and they have some of the strictest gun controls. Here's is an excellent article about those regulations. Maybe we don't have to go to this extreme, but I feel we should definitley implement many of these. Here's the link..

3.  Angry people who blame others. There will always be angry people, however, we can press for anti-bullying programs and programs that focus on teaching children and adults how to cope with anger.

4. Mentally ill people. The label mental illness covers a lot of turf. It can apply to anyone with depression to someone with Schizophrenia. Japan requires that every gun applicant pass a mental health test. If they are found to be a threat, they are not issued a gun.

5.  Violence in movies, books, and video games. Parents should screen what their children watch and what they allow them to buy. What is produced is based on supply and demand. If we stop buying and paying to watch things with extreme violence, then those who produce them will change what they produce to contain less violence. We can also write the manufactuers and producers of these and let them know that we disapprove.

6.  A wealthy culture consumed with capitalism. Live more simply. Own less. Teach your children to do the same.

7.  An entitlement attitude.  This attitude ties into issue #6. If we work to live more simply and teach that to our children, then we will have less of this problem. Also taking responsiblities for our own actions and teaching our children to own up to their own short comings and bad choices is another important move.

Politicians cater to public opinion. They are influenced by groups that pay big bucks for lobbying for their causes. Gun ownership is one of those causes. If enough of us wrote to our congressmen and other public officials, it will put enough pressue on them to start listening to those of us who feel stricter gun control laws should be in place.

I still hold to the truths that Jesus taught.  His message is one of peace. Paul wrote, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12:18.  (NLT)

Jesus told us to fear not. We should not yield out basic rights to go out in public and live our lives. Although there is a possibility that something might happen, we have to trust that nothing will happen that God won't allow. When we start playing God ourselves in order to retaliate against violent acts, it reveals a lack of faith and fans the flame of fear. Fear not, and trust that even our small acts to makes a difference will be the small drop in the pool that will slowly spread out and make the change we need to see.





Friday, December 4, 2015

In a World of Mass Shootings, Part I



My family and I lived in Colorado just a half hour from Columbine High School when the mass shootings took place on April 20, 1999. Twelve students and one teacher died that day.









The event rattled our world and our friends' worlds as we tried to wrap our minds around the senseless killings. Suddenly, keeping our children safe took on a whole new meaning. Later, as I stood at the site surveying the outpouring of the public's sympathy in the form of plush animals, heartwrenching notes and flowers, the grief I felt over such violence and the loss of young lives was unbearable.
It was an unimaginable act of violence, the likes of which had not been surpassed at the time. Sadly to say, since that event mass shootings have become a way of life in America. We have moved from the rarety of one or two a year, to one or two a month and now to weekly shootings. What has happened to bring us to this?

I think that no one thing is to blame but multiple factors are at the heart of the issue contributing to this severe illness that is effecting America. I know this will infuriate some people, but if I cannot express my heartfelt beliefs here on my own blog, where can I express them? In this post I will address what I think are the contributing factors. In my next post I will talk about what, if anything, we can do about it.

1) Isolation due to technology. We are at this point in time more connected to each other than we have ever been through phones, computers, and multiple technological devices, and yet we are less connected in a personal way through relationships.

2) Lax gun regulations. It is too easy for people to obtain guns. Just this past week I learned that you do not need proof of ownership in order to sell a gun in North Carolina. I also learned that because of laxer laws in the Carolinas, it is a source of supply for those in larger cities who sell guns illegally and use them for crimes.

3) Angry people who blame others for perceived wrongs done to them or others.  This includes people who are religious zealots, whether they claim to be Christian, Muslim, Atheist or any other perusuaion. It also includes people who have been bullied or ostracized.

4) Mentally ill people.  They may or may not also be religious zealots. Not every initiator of mass violence is mentally ill but some are unbalanced.

5) Violence in movies, books, and video games.  The more violent the content of what is produced the more desensitized the consumers become to the killings and the more likely they are to accept violence as a way of leveling perceived wrongs.

6) A wealthy culture consumed with capitalism. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. If you don't believe me, take a trip elsewhere and see how others live. We thrive on owning and building wealth. We mistake wants for needs and want immediate gratification. We give too much to our children. We own too much ourselves. 

7) An entitlement attitude.  We feel we are entitled to have things our way and if we don't get what we want, we blame others. We are a lawsuit crazy country. If we get hurt by a product we use, we don't look to our own ineptness, we look to the person who produced it to blame. Liability and lawsuits have sky rocketed. Americans can no long accept responsiblity for their own actions, instead we want to pin the blame on others and take them to court, not just to right the wrong, but to make a profit on it.

In my next post I will address what I think might be done to help remedy the stituation. I cannot think of any better words to close with thant these words of Christ.

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27




Monday, November 23, 2015

Developing an Attitude of Grattitude


I haven't always been a thankful and positive person. I grew up in a home with a perfectionist father and highly critical mother. Both followed Christ, but as you might expect, these faults (we all have them) shaped me. It took marriage and a husband who pointed out my negative attitude to make me realize I needed to change my outlook.

I know people who, no matter what good has happened in their lives, only see the bad stuff. They want to pull you down into their mud puddle and make you wallow in their misery with them. Though I pray for them, I try to limit my exposure to them because they are life suckers and not life givers.

What a difference a good attitude makes. Even when bad things happen, if we try to be thankful for what we do have, it can completely change our trajectory. This may sound cheesy, but some days I make myself give thanks as I take my daily walks. Even when it seems like everything is going wrong, I am surprised that I can find good things to show grattitude to God about.

With Thanksgiving only a few days away I felt it appropriate to focus on thankfulness and having a positive attitude. The apostle Paul wrote "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”(Colossians 3:17, NKJV.)

When we work for an audience of one, God, it can make suc a difference in out outlook. Here are a few things I am thankful for. 

For basic liberties that many in other countries don't have:  freedom of speech to express my opion without being censured for it,  the option to run and mange my own business, to go to a church of my choice where I can worship God and participate in discussions without fear

For health. I know so many people who struggle physically. I no longer take this for granted.

For family. A husband, children, and silblings who love me 

For an abundance of food. Even when money is tight, we always have a choice of what we want to eat.

For God's love and continued guidance.  He is a force field in my life. Though I don't always see his presence or feel it, I know he is there and loves me greatly.

What are you thankful for? I'd love to hear from you.


Monday, November 16, 2015

When Living by Our Own Moral Compass Snuffs Out the Light

In my last post I talked about people who didn't necessarily claim to follow Christ but who exemplified Christ-like behaviour.  When we live like Christ, light shines out of us into a dark world. When we do our own thing without regard for others, we make the world a darker place.

Below are some real life examples that have astounded me regarding how darkness creeps into the world. 


One of the galleries where I exhbit my artwork experienced a rift with a new member. Miscommunication between the new member and several others, plus the inability of the newcomer to follow the guidelines of the gallery caused the newest member to leave in a  huff. This person took a private battle and anger public. She posted a rant on the gallery's Facebook page, saying every negative and hateful thing she could think of in order to get back at the people she felt had wronged her. I am sure those who operate the gallery didn't intend to upset this person. What the former member did in response was so self-seeking and hostile I couldn't believe an adult could act this way. 

In another example, I recently met a woman who told me a story that again exhibited people using their own moral compass by which to operate. The event occured several years back when this woman lived and worked in New York city as a waitress while putting herself through school. A well-to-do family had come in for dinner along with their rambumtious children. They were very demanding and the children were out of control. All through the dinner the waitress ran herself ragged trying to meet their requests. 

At the end of the meal when she presented the bill to them, the mother paid with a credit card and signed the receipt with a sterling silver Tiffany's pen. The tip was for $2.00 and the family left without thanking their waitress who was extremely ticked off. The woman who paid accidentally left her expensive pen behind. 

As the waistress finished up, she spotted the pen and confiscated it. A short while later the woman who had signed the check came back and asked the waitress if she had found the pen. "No, sorry," she responded. "I haven't found any such thing." And that was that.

Last week I was a victim of identity theft. Someone attempted to charge $630 on my Discover Card but fortunately I, and the store at which it was charged, caught it in time. This is the second time I was nearly robbed via credit card. The first time the person scammed me using a stolen card to the tune of $1,000.

Last week Paris was rocked by multiple acts of terrorism. I could reference countless more scenarios but you live in the same world and already know what I do. 

Above are both minor and major scenarios which exemplify people doing dark things and doing what they want in order to achieve their own goals. They act according to what seems right in their own eyes in order to achieve a purpose. When we live this way, we do not shine any kind of light on the world, Instead, we make the world a darker place. 

I can't help but think of the passage that says, "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes. " Judges 17:6. Which refers to the Jews living according to how they saw fit prior to having kings.  When we don't let Jesus and his teaching rule over our lives, we have no moral compass. Instead, we do what seems right in oiur own eyes. If anything, the world needs the light of Christ-like living to shine bright in a dark world.  Without it, there is little hope.

Monday, November 9, 2015

When Pagans Act More Christian Than Christians

Having been raised in the Southern Baptist Church I absorbed teachings that placed God's elite, those who have been "found," as being more godly and Christ-like than those who don't necessarily claim to be Christian.

The older I get, the more I realize that those who claim to follow Christ sometimes are less like him in how they act or think than other people I encounter who do not make any outward profession of following Christ. 

Though this isn't always the case, I'll talk about secular people being the opposite of Christ and beiing counter to the light in my next post. It does happen, which makes me reconsider my past beliefs.

C. S. Lewis in his book The Last Battle, one of the tales of Narnia, touches on this. It has been a long time since reading the book so I cannot reference the characters or exact example, but his writing indicates we might be surprised as to who enters the kingdom of heaven when all is said and done. They may not outwardly make a loud profession of following Christ but may be more Christ-like in their behavior and principles than others who are sure they have a ticket into the kingdom.

Gandhi, who studied Christ and the Bible and modeled Christ-like attributes as he took on the cause of the poor and devalued in his navtive India, was of the Hindu faith, yet he admired Christ. He said, "The message of Jesus as I understand it," said Gandhi, "is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole.. If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, 'Oh, yes, I am a Christian.' But negatively I can tell you that in my humble opinion, what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount... I am speaking of the Christian belief, of Christianity as it is understood in the west."  (1 http://robtshepherd.tripod.com/gandhi.html)

Gandhi hesitated in calling himself a Christian because of all the bad examples exhibited by people who claimed to follow Christ.

The following examples may be minor to you but they are indicators of people's "heart" conditions to me. Here's what I have seen:

  • Secular people going the extra mile to care for poor and hungry people. On the other hand church people getting riled because they don't want to suspened their weekly Bible study for a night to participate in a group charitable act outside church walls.
  • At a craft show a young girl with her mother gave me her lovely filigree locket which she had in her pocket. She lost the chain and thought I could sell the locket for myself and make a little income. (At the same show I enjoyed putting it out on my table with a new cord. When she passed by the next time, I gave it to her, much to her delight.) 
  • At this same craft show, without my asking, people pitched in and helped raise my canopy. One man was from a group that promoted the memory of the Confederacy which I struggle with as being counter to Christ's teaching due to the history of slavery.
These are a few I can recall though I know there have been many others.

Jeus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."  (Matt 7:21)

My point in all this is that no matter what label we put on ourselves as being Christian or not claiming to follow Christ, it is our heart and actions that reveal where we truly stand.

Have you experienced moments of seeing Christ in other people outside the church walls? Share your examples below.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Jesus' Meaning in the Beatitudes, Part III

This is the last part in my series on Jesus' teachings of the Beatitudes.

Matthew 5:9 NIV reads, Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.

The term peacemaker is from the Greek word aranopois which means those who embrace or love peace. That's pretty straight forward.  The term "children of God" merely means a son or decendent.

Jesus tirelessly teaches the importance of living peacefully. Throughout his ministry he urged us to seek peaceful solutions. Whenver we use force or violence to solve our differences it only leads to more strife. We've heard the term, "like father like son."  If we adapt this peaceful way of co-existing with each other we verify that we are most definitely like our heavenly Father.

Verse 10. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake or righteouness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Persecuted comes from the Greek word deoko meaning persecuted or mistreated on account of something.

The word righteouness was explained in my study of verse 6 and is the same meaning -- that of being approved by God and it has to do with purity, rightness, integrity and virtue.

The term "heaven" can refer to the sky but it can also refer to the place where God dwells.

This verse means that if we undergo persecution for teaching God's message then we are a citizen in God's kingdom. So when you weather such torments (either physical or mental) hold on to this sure knowledge that no one can take away your spritiual standing and place with the King.

Verrse 11. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

God loves us and is proud of us when we are unjustly accused of wrong doings or not speaking the truth. It doesn't go unnoticed by him.

Verse. 12.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way the persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Don't dwell on these unjustices, In fact, be thankful.  That fact that you are being treated this way means that your message (Jesus' message) is having an impact and you are in good company. People didn't listen to the words of the prophets either and they were direct messengers of God. In the end you will have a greater reward so hold on to that treasure in heaven.

One thing I always wondered when studying the Beattitudes is why Jesus changed up his takeaway at the end of each verse. Sometimes he says, we will be the children of God. Sometimes he says we will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Nearly every statement has a slightly different end reward. Why is that?

My theory is that Jesus varied what he said to state nearly the same concept in different ways so that people grasped it better. Just as he taught the parables on the same subject matter with different illustrations, he changes up the takeaway for much the same reason.

In each circumstance he wants us to know that God understands the challenges and suffering we endure and they they don't go unheeded. Jesus' teaching in the beattitudes illuminates a peaceful kingdom, one where the underdog and down trodden are valued. We are challenged to mirror our lives based on Jesus' teachings. When we do, even when life gets us down, we can hold on to this truth, the suffering is only temporary.  There is a just and loving King who welcomes us into His spiritual kingdom and will balance out all the injustice in the end.





Friday, October 23, 2015

Jesus' Meaning in the Beatitudes, Part II

This week my discussion of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11) continues and we'll pick up at Matthew 6 which says Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.

Have I picked up any new meanings behind the translations of the original words used? Perhaps a little for this word. He uses the Greek word panao which means hunger or crave. 

Desparo, the Greek word Jesus used for thirst, can mean to thirst literally or figuratively.

Dekiosuna is the word from which we translate righteousness which means the state in which we are approved by God. It has to do with purity, rightness, integrity and virtue. 

In college I had filled most of my credits for the semester so I could take some less demanding classes. One class I took was advanced reading. The teacher taught us to look at synonyms of words and their connotations because they may mean nearly the same thing but there are different degrees of meaning. Some words can have a stronger message or a more negative or positive message. The word crave sounds like a deeper, on going hunger.If we crave righteousness we have an unquenchable appetite for it.

Jesus referred to himself as living water when he spoke to the woman at the well (John 4).

God is pleased with those who spiritually thirst and crave at state of purity, rightness, integrity and virtue because it indicates they acknowledge a spiritual void in their lives. They are ready to fill themselves on his teachings and take on his character and virtues.

Matthew 5:7  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. The word mercy translates from the Greek word eleamon which means you get what you give.

Currently I am reading a book about Lachlan Macquarie who served as governor of New South Wales (Australia) from 1810-1821.  This area was basically no more than a penal colony, Bottany Bay, where England shipped out convicts of all kinds to serve seven harsh years of punishment. Young children as young as 14 were sent to pay of crimes as insignificant as stealing a loaf of bread along with more hardened criminals including murderers. The system was highly unjust and for most the length of punishment lasted 7 years were up. When the seven years was up, though they had paid their debts, many were still prevented from living productive lives. Young girls who wanted to return home following serving time had no funds or skills to help them and many turned to prostitution. A group of wealthier residents called "The Exclusives" felt they were a superior class and wanted to keep the convicts in their place. 

Macquarie sought extensive reforms and is credited with turning the area from a penal colony to a free settlement. Under his watch he employed many former convicts, establishing schools, a home and wool mill for young women to help them earn their passage back, organizations and opportunities for former convicts to make a new life. If anyone exhibited mercy in an unjust society, it was Macquarie who soon won the hearts of the people.

As we try to be more like Christ, we learn to extend mercy to others. It shows compassion and willingness to set aside rigid rules and see the person behind the act. The more we put it into practice the more we reflect Christ. When people see us as compassionate, they are more likely to extend mercy back to us, though that is not why we put it into practice.

Verse 8  Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God..

Pure translates from the word katharos which means clean (figuratively) from anything that soils.

Horao is the word from which "see God" translates. It means to perceive, become acquainted with, care for or pay heed to.

Gold is purified by putting it through a fire to burn all impurities. We truly begin to clearly "see" God and understand him we we allow him to work on impurities that would stand between us and him.

We'll pick up next week on the remaining verses. As always, be sure and share your comments.



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What Did Jesus Really Mean in the Beattitudes?

Matthew 5:1-11 has come to be known as the Beattitudes. Jesus delivered this talk to a crowd gathered on a mountain top. He is at the beginning of his ministry. The Jewish people have been waiting for  Messiah, an earthly king to rescue them. He wants to prepare their hearts for his very different message that he is the one they are waiting for but his kingdom is not of this world. What better place to start than with our perception?

His talk focuses in on people of all kinds of spiritual, emotional, and life conditions. Some have relabeled them the "be attitudes" as they describe a state of being along with not only God's attitude toward them which mirrors what our attitude should be when considering these individual circumstances.

One word we find that is repeated over and over comes from the Greek word makarios. Some translations such as NIV and King James translate the word to "blessed." Other translations have chosen to use the word "happy." Neither seems to truly embody the meaning. Makarios can mean supremely blest, fortunate, and well off. Some people would take this literally to mean financially stable, well off, secure. But I choose to put my own words in there and they are "God's favor rests on you, be at peace. You are not forgotten."  It's  lengthy so I will reduce it to "favored."  I still don't feel it encapsulates it well but it is the best I could come up with. If you can think of a better word please share it with me and my readers.

I dug into what Jesus really meant verse by verse. Here is what I found.

Verse 3  Favored are the ptochos in spirit. Ptochos means poor, beggar, beggarly, destitute, lowly, afflicted, downtrodden or lacking in anything. It goes beyond just physical poverty to an emotional poverty.  Have you ever been so down that you have felt completely void of hope? These are the people Jesus is talking to. Jesus goes on to say," for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  The word kingdom is translated from the Greek word basileia which refers to royal power, or a monarch's rule. It can also mean a territory of rule, or the reign of the Messiah. So in this case I believe Jesus meant his rule as a spiritual king. Heaven translates from the Greek word ouranos and it can apply to either the physical heavens or the spiritual realm in which God dwells. In keeping with the context I believe he refers to the spiritual realm.

Jesus is giving hope to the emotionally and spiritually destitute. People who are this bankrupt are more open to Christ's teaching of heavenly treasure.

Verse 4. Favored are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. The word mourn is from pentheo meaning to mourn or lament. Comforted comes from the word parakaleo meaning to console, encourage, comforted.

The verse is one of the easier ones to translate and is pretty straight forward

Verse 5.  Favored are the meek for they will inherit the earth.  Meek translates from praus which means mild, humble, gentle. Inherit is from kloronomeo meaning, inherit, receive an allotted portion. Earth is from the word ga meaning land or the whole earth.

Jesus often spoke about humility and putting our pride aside. He encouraged us to come as a child to him. Meek doesn't mean weak. I am not clear on the rest of this passage's meaning. Perhaps he meant that when we have a meek attitude and spirit the whole world will belong to us in the proverbial sense. It awaits our meek influence. What are your thoughts?

I will continue this study in my next few posts and welcome your input.


Monday, September 28, 2015

How to Gain Deeper Understanding of Bible Text via Blueletterbible.org

In my last post I talked about the dangers of  becoming a zombie by swallowing what we are taught about the Bible and Jesus' teachings without learning to think or research for ourselves. Yes, most pastors have more Biblical training than the average lay person, but with so many resources at our fingertips today, there is no reason we can't be good biblical scholars.

Knowing the historical and cultural context in which a passage is written is crucial. Just as important is understanding what the original words mean. Sometimes they do not translate well into English.
Today's technology makes it much easier to research these days. Even I can do it!

I invited my husband, Jeff, who holds a Masters of Divinity and who is the one who first told me about blueletterbible.org,  to explain how to use this resource. As I've been walking through the gospels to dig down to Jesus' teachings and what he really means, I sometimes use blueletterbible.org to better grasp a concept.

How to Use Blueletterbible.com

by Jeff Stewart

Blueletterbible.org is a great resource for breaking down biblical verses and passages. The most valuable feature is the tools link that helps you look at the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word used from historic manuscripts used to translate the King James Version of the bible. The tool makes use of Strong’s Concordance of the Bible (originally published in 1890 and revised several times since). This not only enables you to see what the various English translations used, in deciding words and concepts, but you can also see what other words the original may suggest.

 I will guide you through the process I use with graphics provided from the website. I will use 2 verses to demonstrate the use of the Old Testament Hebrew (Psalm 23:3) and New Testament Greek (John 1:1).

Let’s start with Psalm 23:3. Let’s say you read this verse and wonder what the word “righteousness” comes from.

                
Type “Psalm 23” in the “Search the Bible” box and click the magnifying glass icon. Notice, you can also select an English translation in a pull-down menu.



   Go to verse 3 and click on the “Tools” icon.



  Select the word “righteousness” on the Strong’s reference number.



 The Hebrew word will appear. You will see the Hebrew word, followed by the phonetic “transliteration” English pronunciation. If you want to hear the pronunciation, you can click on the wave bar and some old man will say it twice with a hoarse voice as he is on his 6,664th verbalization. You can also learn the part of speech used and you can see the root word and learn about it by link.



Scroll down for more information. You will see Strong’s definitions of the word as well as a PDF graphic from the Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon.




Scroll down farther and you will see how this Hebrew word is used in other verses. This is helpful and it gives you a broader idea of what the word originally meant. This information can provide some insight and surprises that can result in a transformation of what you’ve held about an English concept. Notice how Leviticus 19 uses the same word (H6664), but the translators choose the word “just” instead of “righteous.”



 Now let’s look at the New Testament use of Blue Letter Bible. I’ve typed “John 1” in the search box. As before, click the magnifying glass icon.




 Now you see John 1 in the KJV default translation. Let’s break down verse 1 by clicking on “Tools.”


The verse can now be seen in the Greek (Textus Receptus is the translation used only by KJV). Below the verse you can see a column of the Greek words used with the Strong’s reference number.



  Let’s learn how the translators select the English word – “Word.” Click on G3056.


Now you see “logos.” Guess what English word we get from the Greek. But the translators decided to use “word” instead of “logo.”


  
   As you scroll down, you can see the variety of concepts “logos” carries.



Scrolling further, you see Strong’s Definition plus the PDF graphic of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon.



Continuing to scroll down, you will see the verses where “logos” is used and what it means in different references. Notice how Matt 5 translates “logos” as “communication” in verse 32, but “sayings” in verse 37. That is useful to demonstrate how much more versatile Greek is than English.



I hope this has been helpful to you. I find this tool very valuable in my own thorough study of the Bible. It has helped me in my own ongoing transformation as a Follower of Christ

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Common Link Between Zombies and Many Mainstream Churches

Zombie movies and lit have made a huge comeback and the resurgence doesn't seem to be slowing down any. I am not sure why zombies are so popular or why we are so fascinated with the macabre. I guess death or the fear of a gory death will always have some fascination for us.

The living dead are grotesque creatures who really don't do much other than wandering around looking for more people to bite and devour. And we all know what happens when someone gets bitten. They join the living dead and become a part of the masses of stinking dead.

I can't help but notice a similarity between zombies and many mainline Christians. There's not a lot of mental processing going on.  Like zombies, many "churched" people show up waiting to eat and digest what is being taught in their church with little or, no thinking involved.

One of my favorite illustrations, and I have used it on occasions in a couple of my books, is the story of a father and son team  working on putting a picket fence. The father shows the son how to trace around a cut out a picket, and then puts the son to work doing just that while he nails pickets to the fence in progress. Things seem to go along well until the father begins to notice that the pickets seem to be getting wider and taller as he continues to nail.

Finally he asks the son if he did what he had shown him to do. "Yes, " said the son, "I have been tracing around the pickets and cutting them out."

"You were supposed to trace around the pattern I gave you of the first picket, not each one after that."
No wonder the pickets were becoming distorted.

This is what has happened with how we are being taught to live out the teachings of Christ. Instead of learning to look directly at what Jesus taught ourselves in context with the culture and historical happenings of the time, Christians are feeding on what previous theologians have determined to be true. If the theologian got it wrong, then those beliefs are handed down from one group to the next. Soon we have nothing but distortion instead of truth.

Many churches do not encourage their members to think and delve for themselves. They send a message whether stated or subliminal that only the educated paid staff really has a right to teach. To that a say, "bunk."

One of the things Jesus is most known for is encouraging people to break away from the traditional, legalistic teachings and consider his teachings with fresh eyes and and open heart. We should never follow blind guides or we will probably fall into a ditch. (Matt. 15:14)

I you want to follow Jesus' truth  and teachings stop eating dead meat and learn to research and think for yourselves. It's the only true way to come alive in the true teachings of Christ.

In my next post I will share more about how you can learn to research for yourself.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why I am Sharing My Spiritual Struggles Publicly on a Blog

I thought today I would share a blog post I wrote in my journal in July of 2015. There's nothing profound here, just a follower of Christ expressing what is currently creating tension and stress in her life.

. . .Why am I sharing my spritiual struggles on a blog?  Because life continues to get more complicated. I have difficulty knowing what I believe, making up my mind and knowing that what I believe is in line with God's thinking.

In just the past few months, I've seen gay marriage legalized, people in a Charleston, South Carolina church shot dead because they were black. Now South Carolina took down the confederate flag. It has pleased some people and infuriated others and all of this is so stressful. These are only a few examples of things that are going on....

End of my journal post.

Though I didn't say this in my journal post, I will add that I am sharing my struggles publicly because I am convinced there are others who might feel just as torn. So it is to give permission to struggle and to know we are not alone. We don't have to have everything neatly tied up in a bundle.

I will also add that since this entry other stressors for me include the argument to take the conferate flag off of  NC license plates, the arrest of a court clerk Kim Davis who, despite the legalization of gay marriage, refuses to issue marriage licences to gays because she believes it is morally wrong. She has since been released from jail and her release became an occasion to make a political statement by Senator Mike Huckabee who has presidential aspirations. His statement "God's laws are above the laws of a nation.," gets cheers from the conservative right and raises ire from more liberal parties. Now Huckabees group is being sued by the band who produced the song played in the background during the release press conference

Add to that that this is the anniversary of 9/11 and I can't even look at the photos of the event because they are so disturbing to me. And we have quote unquote Christians calling for action against radical Islamic groups because they think retaliation and force is the answer.

What a mess we make of things. On social media we flaunt our beliefs, baiting and enticing others to disagree with our stance, like egging someone on to a fight. We take an arrogant "I am right and you are so off the mark attitude."  How can we be so arrogant and sure?  This danger of over confidence and infallibility is what leads to friction and eventually to violence and wars.

What do I believe about these issues and concerns?

 If I put my true thoughts in this blog post will I be blasted by different parties who believe differently? Will they call me a liberal, a conservative, or a biggot? I want to get along with everyone, but if I hold to my beliefs where does that put me? By trying to be a peacemaker, am I selling out? Some would say I am and yet Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Do I have answers. Yes. Some. What I don't want to do is cave into popular beliefs held by the bulk of society. Just because the bulk of the majority believes they are right, are they?  The spiritual journey and wrangling with what is right continues. It's certainly not getting any easier.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Revelation about the Book of Revelation

First off I want to say the the book pronunciation is singular and not plural, Revelation and not Revelations, which many Christians tend to mispronounce. Okay, I got that off my chest.

As with most books in the Bible, there are different schools of thought regarding the book of Revelation. Since my recent group study of the book I must say that I have drastically changed my beliefs regarding this book. I now have a difficult time applying the book to futuristic events that will effect Christians. If you get the time frame wrong regarding this book it definitely skews the interpretation.

The other disturbing thing about Revelation is the number of "biblical experts" who try to interpret its symbolism to be one hundred percent locked in while they pinpoint the exact date and time of when events will occur. Jesus told us the no one will know the hour and date of his coming (Mark 13:32) so people who continue to try to nail it down when all events will take place are in direct contradiction to his teachings. We are to be ready, but not to be preoccupied with accelerating events to speed up his arrival.

If you follow the belief that is most popular today it is that the book is written around 95 A.D. But if you believe it was written between 60 and 90 AD that drastically changes the interpretation. Here's why.

John addresses his letter to the seven churches. There was only a short window of time when there actually were exactly seven churches (the ones mentioned in the letters). Any earlier then only a few existed. Any later and then less that that number existed.

John starts off by stating the time is near. Thousands of years later people think it applies to us. If the time is near, and this prophecy wasn't sealed up as in the prophetic book of Daniel, then there is a sense or urgency.

John was addressing the persecution of Christians happening at that time and there are specifics that apply to the symbolism that relate to the different locations of the churches and who was in rule in their regions at that time. So, for instance, the reference to the Beast, may refer to the Emporer Domitian who persecuted Christians. (It was actually his nickname during that time.)  The mark of the beast may refer to the mark people had to wear in order to sell in the market place. If they didn't comply and express their loyalty, they wouldn't receive the mark which meant they couldn't sell. Not selling meant hunger and poverty. Today's interpretation of Revelation and the Beast make him more the anti-Christ and people are always trying to figure out exactly who that anti-Christ is. Adolph Hitler, Obama, you name it. I've heard it all.

Why was Revelation written with so much imagry and symbolism?  Why didn't God just give direct instruction to John? What possible purpose could the crypticness serve?

Here's a guess on my part. The only means of communication John had to warn these churches was through letters. And his purpose was to warn them about coming tribulation and looming destruction. If he had been straight forward without the coded symbols and the letters had fallen into the wrong hands, the bearer, the churches, and John could have been arrested and executed. As it was, he put forth these documents to both encourage the churches to hold fast to the true teachings of Christ, to resist the onslaught of pagan beliefs they were surrounded by, and to impress upon them the importance of following Christ's teachings without becoming luke warm or distorting them which was already taking place among some of these bodies of believers.

Here we go again.I said  this before, the Bible is not a novel. When you piece together a cohesive storyline you are forcing jigsaw puzzle pieces together that do not fit and yet Christians do it all the time.

I am not going into a detailed break down of the book. But I do want to address the Left Behind series. Some Christians have been sucked into this series hook, line and sinker. These stories are literally scaring the hell out of people. I think it's way off the mark. A couple of writers let their imaginations run wild. It touts the popular and unbiblical teaching of the rapture based on just a few verses of scripture such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, then the mash it all together with all the apocalyptic events in Revelation. One of the reasons people are being suck is is because of the Christian desire to see their faithfulness to God rewarded while everyone else's avoidance of him gets their just rewards. Who doesn't want to feel vindicated and yet this angry vengeful God and warrior Christ, seem at odds with what we know about the God/Jesus we see in the gospels. Somethings not right here.

Again, we have to look at the primary filter of our biblical understanding through the lens of Jesus. I am presently going through the gospels to see more on what Jesus has to say about everything, including judgment and his coming again. Will it be this bloody battle scene such as we see in Revelation where the blood runs as deep as a horses bridle?  Knowing Jesus' character and that he reflects the true nature of God, I have to say I question it. I will know more in the coming months. I invite you to dig for yourself, just be sure to keep what you study in the context of the time and the audience for whom it was written. 

What can can take away from Revelation is this. First, we should never let our culture water down Jesus' teachings. That we should be ready to meet Christ when he does come but we should live every day in complete devotion to his teachings. That we should share this good news by being a reflection of Christ to everyone we come in contact with. 

If you want to listen to the podcasts from A Place to Talk where we just finished a study of Revelation, there are recordings of these sessions. It's a very interactive church so lots of dialogue. This is the intro http://aplacetotalk.net/weeklytalks/page/2/. I think the second podcast in the series may talk about the time frame. The things about these discussions any time we have them is that we don't feel we have to say we have nailed it down. We leave conclusions open ended.In many ways I feel that's healthier.



Saturday, August 22, 2015

Game Changer Book That Made Me Rethink How I Read the Bible

Just as learning that the Bible isn’t inerrant changed my perspective on the Bible, one particular book I read stretched me to let go of previous beliefs about the Bible. Peter Enns’ book The Bible Tells Me So was a game changer for me. In fact, I would call the book disturbing. Enns, a biblical scholar and professor of theology, touches on instances of what he calls, “the Bible behaving badly.”

I will add that Enns has been criticized for emphasizing the human nature of scripture over the divine nature of scripture. In fact, his approach was so unsettling to the Board at Westminster Theological Seminary where he taught that they decided to let him go. Having read his book I have to say that I understand why. It is unsettling, but deep inside I had to admit that his argument made so much sense that I simply couldn’t dismiss it.

We’ve all experienced those instances where something we’ve read in the Bible jars us and we don’t know how to deal with it. Instances of the Israelites being called on to annihilate the Canaanites always made me cringe. It depicts a brutal, unmerciful God. I always tried to justify the wrathful behavior. Enns spends time talking about the Israelite beliefs and treatment of the Canaanites.

What about the differing accounts of the Israelite Babylonian captivity? Why are they so different? What about that Levitical laws, intricate, demanding laws that no one could follow to a T. Even those who tout that the Bible is inerrant and who take the Bible literally, skip over many of the Levitical laws. What was God thinking when He came up with all of those? Why is God so kind and loving in some books of the Bible and bi-polar and vengeful in others? He’s a God to be feared. One wrong step and we’ll be obliterated.

We are told God is unchanging and yet He seems much more approacable in the New Testament. The Old Testament God is scary.  If Jesus is God’s son, then he and God are one but I never saw Jesus being the wrathful diety. We did see him get angry, but it was a just anger.

When Christians read about these incidents of the Bible behaving badly, we either lock it behind a door in our mind and don’t talk about it, or we wrestle with explaining to others who criticize the Bible trying to invent explanations that “God’s all just and all knowing and His ways are not our ways," or some other contrived explanation. We work hard to make the Bible line up with our expectations. It’s stressful.

For many Christians there are things in the Bible that make us squirm. Enns’ explanations make so much sense. If we understand how the Bible was written—not as a history book but as documents shaped from individual human perspective and with specific purposes in mind, then it makes much more sense. That’s how you get different accounts of the Babylonian captivity.

According to Enns, Christians feel they need to defend the Bible against criticism but maybe this isn’t the right approach. Many Christians use the Bible in such a literal and inflexible way they have turned it into law, much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time did. It also leads to cultural cleansing and the “just war” excuse.

If we take the perspective that there is still good in the Bible but that we shouldn’t make it so binding that we need to allow for errors and that human spin, then we hold to it more lightly which is a healthier approach. It is when we try to force it on people and we take it literally that we evolve into judgmental, self-righteous people.

Accepting Enns' perspective was very difficult for me at first. It all made great sense but opening the door to the belief that perhaps only some parts of the Bible are inspired and some parts are distorted because of the agendas of the writers really challenged me. I find myself still bouncing back and forth to wanting to believe Enns’ perspective or tossing it out and going back to what I once believed.

To summarize now where I stand on the Bible I would say it is this:

  • First, I believe it is well written but does contain errors.
  • I believe parts of it are the inspired word of God but not all. I don’t feel God dictated word for word what was written down. I believe that fallible humans wrote what they felt was right but that their human nature and agendas sometimes interfered.
  • I believe that many people use the term The Word of God incorrectly. Each instance where the Bible speaks of God’s word may mean different things dependent on how it translates from the original language. In some cases The Word is talking about Jesus. In some cases it is talking about a direct message from God. And there may be still other cases it may mean something entirely different. People who say the Bible is the Word of God act like it is an all comprehensive novel that God dictated all at once and that is simply not the case.


There is much good in the Bible, but it should not be taken literally. Despite what some Christians hold to, you won’t go to hell if you don’t read it every day. Jesus is God in the flesh and the lens through which we should view what God’s will is and what God’s nature is like. If you read a passage that seems out of sync with God’s nature then question it. 

In my next post I will talk about what I believe about the book of Revelation, one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Is the Bible Really Inerrant, Part III

We've looked at how the Bible was written, first passed down via oral tradition and then eventually penned on parchment by various individuals. 

We also looked at the review process through which various documents were passed and voted on in order for them to be canonized to give us our present Protestant Bible,

In addition, we saw where errors are present for a variety of reasons. After making this study (this was all part of a Tough Questions book I was working on) at the conclusion of my book in process, I reached the conclusion that it is more accurate to say that the scriptures are God-Breathed than to say the Bible is inerrant. 

Those who still hold to the complete inerrancy of the Bible must either be unaware of its history and the errors that exist, or they choose to block them out. I must ask why we should we respect the beliefs of those who stick to the inerrancy  argument if they choose to live in such ignorance? It certainly doesn't lend them much credibility.  

Here is what I originally wrote while concluding my chapter on inerrancy in Tough Questions.

God-Breathed

The Bible is over 3,500 years old. It has a history of textual issues as any translated document would. Despite this fact, it is one of the most accurate documents ever translated. If someone confronts you saying the Bible is filled with errors, you might surprise them by agreeing with them. Then you can choose several errors or discrepancies to talk about and how insignificant these are.

Inconsistencies can be explained without loss of integrity to the Bible. Rather than saying it is inerrant, it is more accurate to say it is God-breathed and the inspired word of God. The Bible remains a solid foundation for our faith.
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Having written those words a little over two years ago, I have to say that I am in continuation of transformation and refinement and I no longer feel that even this conclusion is absolutely spot on. 

There have been times all throughout my Christian formation where certain passages in the Bible have troubled me because they seem so completely out of sync with what Jesus taught and how he responded to people. At times, especially in the Old Testament, God seems almost bi-polar. One minute He's kind and loving and the next minute He's wiping people off the face of the earth.

In one story Abraham goes toe to toe with a very patient God trying persuade Him not to destroy the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:16-33). Little by little He whittles down the numbers until God agrees to sparing the cities if just 10 righteous people are found.

How could God be so approachable and merciful in this story and so harsh and destructive in others.  Why would God give such strict and meticulous laws as the Levitical laws? The 10 commandments seem right in sync with what seems reasonable Then come these Levitical laws with so many details and impossible scenarios. They sound so much like  the rules the Pharisees placed on the public. 

Have you ever noticed how Christians skip over them because they are so overwhelming? God sure was into making things hard.   Why are there two different accounts of the Babylonian captivity?  Why are there three different versions of the story of Christ's birth. You get the idea.

Have you ever read something in the Bible that really troubles you because it puts God in such a harsh light?  Have you ever read something in one book of the Bible that seems to contradict something you have read in another book of the Bible? Have you ever been bothered by depictions of ethnic cleansing in the Bible that made God seem like a vengeful, hateful God and then tried to reconcile it with Jesus being God's son and how different and loving he seems and yet he says, "I and the father are one?" (John 10:30)

I have, but in order to cope with these seeming disparencies I did what many Christians do, I shut them behind a door in my mind because they are so troublesome and I don't know what to do with them. I have heard Christians explain away the behavior in  answers such as this, "God is all wise and all knowing. His ways are not our ways and He knows best."

Peter Enns, author of The Bible Tells Me  So calls these incidents cases of the Bible behaving badly. In my next post I will talk more about what I learned from the book that has rocked me to my core and what I currently believe about the Bible and how we should be using it.