Narrow Gates

I’m at Starbucks this morning with a great cup of the bold blend. Ahhh! Got me to thinking about what life is like after death – or what Christians call Eternal Life.

When Jesus started his ministry, he took his chosen twelve and a bunch of other people up on the side of a mountain and gave what we call the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:5 NRSV). “If we were to summarize the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence, it would be something like this: How to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God…” (note 1). Jesus talked about adultery, divorce, loving your enemies, and praying for those who persecute you (Matthew 4-7). Then he states the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

As a Christian I took this lesson very seriously. These were clear instructions that we should be following every day – if we are to be a Jesus follower. To me, these instructions were very frightening because I was almost certain that I could not meet all the criteria from his great sermon. But what really scares me is the Narrow Gate passage (Matthew 7:13-14):

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Holy crap! Can you see what Jesus is saying? To paraphrase, he’s basically saying that most of us will enter through the wide gates leading to hell (to destruction) and very few of us will get to walk through the narrow gates leading to heaven (that leads to life). That’s a lot for me to digest. Let’s see…

I looked at the statistics (note 2) – only one third of the world’s population practice Christianity, which means two thirds or 66% of the world are going through the gates that lead to destruction automatically. And Jesus told the crowd on that mountainside that only a few of those that heard his words will enter the “narrow gates.” That makes me think again. The statistics also say that there are over 43,000 different denominations in the world. I’m almost certain that each denomination might have a slightly different formula for being saved (salvation). I’m hoping that I am lucky enough to have chosen the correct denomination.

And then I got to thinking – what if I was absolutely sure of my salvation? I have that ticket to paradise in my back pocket. Now what? What is heaven like? The Bible is not clear as to what I could expect. Is it all-inclusive? Is there free tv and internet? Would I have a roommate? Vegan food? Eternal is a long time! It’s forever plus one! What would I do for the first 1,000 years? The next million years? If I didn’t like it, could I change my mind? What if God changed his mind, like he did with Noah?

A lot to think about. Time for a second cup. I wonder if Mahatma Ghandi or Buddha drink coffee. Have a wonderful day!

Notes: ============================================================

1. What is the Sermon on the Mount?. (2017). GotQuestions.org. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from https://www.gotquestions.org/sermon-on-the-mount.html

2. (2017). Gordonconwell.edu. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/StatusOfGlobalMission.pdf

3. Bible Gateway passage: Matthew 7 – New Revised Standard Version. (2017). Bible Gateway. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7&version=NRSV

No Master Copy

Coffee! Coffee! The sun has finally risen. After my first cup of dark roast I got to thinking about the master copy of the Bible. Wouldn’t it be great if the original manuscript of the Bible existed? Wait! You didn’t realize that the original, the master copy of the Christian Bible does not exist? It has disintegrated! Poof! I am not making this stuff up!

Over the many, many years that I attended church, none of my pastors ever told me that the original Bible is nowhere to be found. You gotta ask, though! If God can give man error-free instructions on how to live, why would he not provide the materials on which to write that would last forever and ever? Sorry. That was just a passing thought that zipped right through my brain.

So, no original copy of the Bible. But, luckily, man has managed to make copies of copies of copies of copies of this Great Book over the centuries. When the printing press came along centuries later, copying got a lot easier. Up until then, man had to do everything by hand. The original apostles were illiterate so they weren’t able to dictate what Jesus had to say so they went about telling stories. These stories were passed on orally for decades until, poof, some Greek-speaking-writing guy comes along and decides to write them down. Four of them to be exact.

I don’t know about you but that makes me think again. These stories of Jesus, or what we know as the Gospels, were passed on orally for decades. Do you think that these stories might have changed just a bit, maybe exaggerated a little here and there? Oh, come on! There’s proof that the stories must have changed because this guy, Luke, wrote at the beginning of his Gospel that there were many writers out there that were telling their stories and that he wanted to write his own version. Maybe Luke thought that these other guys really weren’t inspired by God. So, if Luke’s is the correct story, then what about the other three guys?

As it turns out, the other three guys (Matthew, Mark, and John) didn’t get it right, either. Well, not if you compare them to Luke’s version. For instance, Mark and John didn’t write about Jesus’ incredible birth from a virgin. Did they not think that was important or did they not hear about it? John thought that Jesus had been around since the beginning. Luke talks about how Shepherds came to visit at Jesus’ birth and Matthew thought they were Wise Men from the East. Matthew also has this strange story about King Herod massacring a bunch of infants sometime after Jesus was born.

Oh well! It doesn’t matter to me whether or not there are any original manuscripts around or not. I’m not sure that not too many of us pay much attention to actually reading the Bible. Who knows which version of the Bible is correct. We don’t have the master copy to compare them to. But, we do things like cherry-pick certain verses that we think meet our needs. We combine the two birth stories of Jesus to make one story without thinking that these two writers heard two entirely different ones. We wouldn’t have any idea where to find doctrines of Christianity – like the Trinity, or Salvation, or the Sacraments. We condemn gay people but not sure where in scripture it says to do it. We certainly don’t greet each other with a “holy kiss” as prescribed by the Bible, either.

It’s time for another cup. Have a great day!

Forbidden Fruit

Enjoying my first cup of coffee on a beautiful Saturday morning. I got to thinking… did Adam and Eve have coffee in the Garden of Eden?

There are two creation accounts in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Chapter one of Genesis describes the first creation story and isn’t at all about Adam and Eve. Instead, God creates man and woman. He did not give these two creatures a name at this time.  If you read the entire first chapter you’ll also notice that God creates everything else before creating man and woman.

In chapter two of Genesis, God creates man (Adam) first and then decides that it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He then puts Adam into a deep sleep, pulls out one of his ribs, and creates Eve. It was much simpler in chapter one because God had created man and woman at the same time.

To continue with the chapter two story, God told Adam that there are many trees in the garden and has allowed him to eat from any tree except for one – the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. I find it odd that God would create a tree that couldn’t be eaten from, but that’s how the story goes. I also thought it odd that God would pre-program Adam and Eve with language and the knowledge to understand language but decided to embed the knowledge of good and evil into a piece of fruit. But, that’s just me!

Along comes the serpent and slithers up to Eve. The serpent tells Eve not to worry about that fruit in the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Go ahead and eat it! Since Eve had no knowledge of good or of evil, she didn’t know that the serpent might be trying to trick her. How could she know that the serpent is good or evil? She doesn’t have the ability to make a value judgement because God chose not to program her that way. Eve tells Adam not to worry about eating that special fruit because the serpent said it was okay to do so. And they both ate from the forbidden tree.

And you know the rest of the story. God punishes both Adam and Eve (oh, and the serpent!) because they didn’t follow God’s command. But think about that! Adam and Eve were behaving the way that God had created and programmed them to behave. Doesn’t an omniscient being know what the outcome is going to be? Yet he punishes them anyway for behaving in a way that they were programmed to behave. I guess you can’t apply logic to this story. It’s another one of those mysterious things that God does.

My knowledge of coffee is good – sometimes evil. Come join me!

Categories God

Good Friday

Good Friday is the last day of Jesus’ life. This past week Jesus’ closest followers became liars, cowards, deserters. These hand-selected men deny and abandon their Messiah.  Each author tells the “Passion” story in their own way. Each one gives their perspective of the death and resurrection events. Each writer has their own unique theology, creating a style that suits their audience. If you read each gospel as an individual book, you’ll see those differences. We Christians tend to take parts of each gospel, as we do in the birth stories, and combine them to create a new gospel. Mark doesn’t agree with Luke in many ways. John seems to have his own message – nothing like the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Here’s an example of how Mark and Luke’s story differ:

gardenagony_signorelli

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied three times by Peter. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. The Roman soldiers mock and beat Him on the way to His crucifixion. On the way, Jesus says nothing. The soldiers dress Him in a purple robe (scarlet robe in Matthew) and a crown of thorns. The other apostles scamper off like scared rats in a sewer. Jesus follows Simon of Cyrene, who is carrying His cross. The soldiers are laughing and mocking Him. People on the way mock him, some are crying. Jesus still says nothing. The soldiers placed Jesus on the cross next to two robbers. Both robbers mock Jesus. People passing by look up and mock Him. The Jewish leaders mock Him. Finally, Jesus ends His silence and cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then he dies. Jesus had felt forsaken by God. He was in great despair. Why had His followers betrayed and rejected Him? This is how Mark portrays Jesus.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter just as in Mark’s gospel. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. However, it is not Pilate’s soldiers that mock and beat Jesus – it’s King Herod’s (a minor difference in stories). There’s no purple robe and no crown of thorns. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross. Jesus, however, is not silent on the way to His crucifixion. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me… (v.23:28),” he says to a group of women crying for Him. Jesus does not appear to be in despair and knows exactly what is going to happen to Him. He appears to be confident and knows what’s ahead. Jesus speaks again while being nailed to the cross. He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (v. 23:34). Jesus is more concerned about those around Him than Himself. Only one of the robbers on the cross next to Him mocks Him. The other robber rebukes him and asks Jesus to remember him when He gets into His kingdom. Jesus says to the robber, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 23:42-43). Then Jesus prays to God, “Father, into your hands I command my spirit” (v. 23:46). He does not feel forsaken, but is confident of what is happening to Him.

Mark’s Jesus is in despair, not knowing what is to come. He says nothing on His way to His crucifixion. He feels forsaken by His followers and by God. Luke’s Jesus is not in despair. He is confident and knows exactly what is ahead of Him. He is concerned for others more than Himself. He speaks to others on His way to the cross. He is prepared to enter His Father’s kingdom.

We can’t say which writer gave the most accurate account of Jesus’ death. We have no way of knowing for sure. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death. The stories were passed on as an oral tradition until these educated Greek men wrote them down. The authors were not eye-witnesses to Jesus’ death. We risk calling some of the authors liars if we believe in one account over another. And if you think that combining the events of each account to make your own story is alright to do, then feel free to continue the Christian tradition.

For this Holy Week, I challenge you to read each “Passion” account in each one of the gospels (Matthew chapters 21-27; Mark chapters 11-15; Luke chapters 19-23; and John chapters 12-19). Take detailed notes on each account. Compare your notes. Learn what each author has to say. Become a Bible Reader. I dare you.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday gets its name from the palm branches thrown on the road ahead of Jesus’ trek into Jerusalem. Oddly though, the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke never mention palm branches but instead, “leafy” branches. The Gospel of John is the only one that mentions “palm” branches (John 12:13) but never says that they put the branches or even their cloaks on the road ahead of Jesus. John was one of the twelve chosen apostles so we should believe him. But were the other three wrong? The leafy branches were put on the road but what did they do with the palm branches? Something else to think about – some Bible scholars say there is no firm evidence that palm trees ever grew near Jerusalem but only in the south in the warm, fertile valleys. Just a thought.

Palm-Sunday-2013

Let’s look at another difference that occurs in the four stories. Did Jesus ride one donkey or was he riding on two? I know that sounds like a crazy question but Matthew seems to believe that Jesus rode on two donkeys (Matthew 21:7), or a donkey and a colt. Christian apologists try to cover this up by saying that they brought a donkey with its colt and Jesus rode on the donkey and the colt walked along side them. But read the verse: “…they brought the donkey and the colt and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.” That, to me, is pretty clear that “them” indicates the donkey and its colt. Matthew was one of the twelve recruited by Jesus himself. Why would we not believe his inspired words? But wouldn’t that make the others wrong?

Another difference I observed in this very short reading of Palm Sunday is that in three of the stories Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead of him to get the donkey. In John’s Gospel (John 12:14), Jesus finds a donkey and sits on it himself without the help of any of his disciples. In the other Gospels, two disciples bring a donkey, or two, throws their cloaks on it (them) and then Jesus sits on it (them).

I’m not saying these are contradictions or errors of the Bible. I’m just pointing out that there are differences in the four stories and I often wonder why we choose certain parts of one or more stories to make our own. I can see in some instances where it might sound better and make sense like Jesus riding on only one donkey. But, then again, sometimes the stories are more interesting with the oddities included.

So, what happens on Monday, the day after Palm Sunday? That just might be my next blog. Stay tuned and drink some coffee!

Let’s Talk God

I’m enjoying coffee with the Gods this morning. My wife and I went to dinner last evening with some good friends. We enjoyed a nice meal and a very nice conversation. Thank you, guys!

I find the discussion of the philosophy of God fascinating. If you know me you’ll know that our discussions usually end up on the subject of God and religion. Depending on the company, we’ll discuss either the arguments for God or the arguments for atheism. Some people think that I’m a Christian through our discussion. Some will think I’m an atheist. I appreciate good, open-minded conversation to see what one believes and how they became to believe that way.

I can usually tell when someone isn’t comfortable in our discussion – a sign for me to back off or change the subject. They will usually try to convert me or to convince me that they know the truth. I’ve heard most if not all the arguments for God (and for atheism) and not interested in being converted to anything. I simply enjoy a good, philosophical conversation without admitting to any truths or condemning anyone’s beliefs.

i_am_the_teacher

What about an afterlife, someone asks? There are many theories of an afterlife. Why does it matter what I believe? Will that make it true? There are many who have “died on the table” and claim to have been there. They claim to know the afterlife. It’s ironic how their particular religion comes into play while they’re dead. If their evidence is the truth, then someone is lying because wouldn’t the afterlife be the same for everyone? I don’t know whether there is an afterlife or not. It’s a mystery and will remain a mystery to me.

As you can tell, I’m not smart enough to know whether God does or doesn’t exist. The arguments for God are strong and the arguments for atheism are strong. There are thousands of religions in the world all claiming to know the truth about God through their religion and rituals. What I see in most cases, are that beliefs in a particular religion are established by geography. For instance, if you were born in India, your beliefs will probably be in Hinduism. Most people in Indonesia believe in Islam. And the majority of Americans are Christian. And even in America, your beliefs in Christianity are dependent on what part of the country you’re from. If you were born in the Southeast, you’re probably a Southern Baptist. The Northeast has a lot of Catholics. And the North has a lot of Lutherans.

For now, I will enjoy my coffee and whoever will join me in conversation. Life is short, as they say. We have to make the best of it right now whether or not there is something afterwards. Loving and being kind to each other in all our beliefs is my religion. No sacred books. No rituals. Just peace.

Categories God