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.

The Hell by Coppo di Marcovaldo circa 1301

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

Is America A Christian Nation?

Russell D. Moore is an American evangelical theologian, ethicist, and preacher. He is currently president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Listen to what he has to say about whether America is a Christian Nation or not:

 

A little history lesson about our Founding Fathers:

Rainbow Bible

I’m sitting here at Starbucks waiting for my bother to show up. Great coffee this morning! I got to thinking about the various versions/translations of Bibles out there on the market today. There must be at least a million.

What’s your favorite Bible version? Which one do you read the most? I studied the NIV the most in church and have a study version that’s all marked up. I’ve acquired several versions over the years of research and consider the NRSV the most accurate, and you’ll probably disagree with me. That’s okay, though. I’ve never studied ancient Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic, so what do I know?

rainbow bible

There is one type of Bible that I would like to see on the market. I would like to see a Bible with highlighted passages in one color for verses that no longer apply to Christians and another color for those that are to be taken seriously. I get so confused sometimes. I’ll read a passage and someone will correct me and say something like, “Oh, that passage no longer applies to Christians…” or “you’re taking that out of context…” or just a number of things that I don’t quite understand. Everyone seems to understand particular passages that I don’t.

So, a Bible that had all this stuff highlighted would be great. For instance, Leviticus 18:22 could be highlighted in yellow, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” And then for the more severe ones highlighted in red – something like Leviticus 20:9, “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.”

You see how easy it would be to read through your Bible and skip over the ones that no longer apply and pay more attention to those that are important? Other colors could be for other types of passages like: NT passages that negate OT laws; passages that explicitly state the doctrines of Christianity such as the Trinity, Baby Baptism, One-man/One-woman Marriage, the Rapture, and so on. We would have a rainbow of highlighted areas – maybe call it the Rainbow Bible. Wait, is that name already taken.

Time for another cup. Where’s my brother, anyway?

A River Runs Through It

How does anyone live without coffee?  My Christian friend and I were talking about the sacrament of Baptism so I thought I would talk about it this morning.

Baptism has always been a mystery to me.  And once again, baptism is one of those things that Christian sects just can’t seem to get a handle on.  Should we baptize babies or is it for believers only?  Does sprinkling work or is immersion the only way?  Is baptism just symbolic or does it actually save us?  These are just a few of the questions that separate Christians and yet many apologists still claim that the Bible is clear about baptism.  Here’s a quote from one Christian apologist:

“In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9).  So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation is a faulty interpretation.”

And here’s another view from a different Christian apologist:

“Believing and being baptized to be saved, as Mark 16:16 says, does not nullify the grace of God, but it activates it…  Baptism is a very serious matter.  According to the Bible, baptism is for the purpose of salvation.”

These are just two examples out of a multitude of ideas about baptism.  You’ll notice that each author is basing their interpretation from one passage of Scripture.  By choosing which scripture is true, aren’t you saying that the other parts of the Bible are not correct?  Or are you saying that man has not interpreted Scripture correctly – and who’s interpretation is correct?

I believe that it is man’s nature to try and figure out how everything works.  But when it comes to God, who is an omni-God, can we really say why, when or who about anything He says or does?  Life is a mystery.  Nature is a beautiful mystery.  Love is an exciting mystery.  Can we not let it be – just a mystery?

I think that I will immerse myself in another cup, please.

The Greater Commission

Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! Anyone for Coffee?

This morning I flipped open my thick NIV Study Bible and guess where I landed? I landed right in the last part of the Gospel of Matthew where I had highlighted a few verses and in the margin next to it was labeled “The Great Commission.” So, I got to wondering…

When Jesus came back from the dead, He gathered the eleven apostles in Galilee and gave them a firm directive on what He expected from them after He ascends to the clouds. These instructions became known as The Great Commission – the most quoted comes from Matthew 28:18-20

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus teaching

What I get out of this is that Jesus wanted His Eleven to make disciples of everyone, to baptize (a Trinitarian baptism) them, and then indoctrinate them in all His teachings. That sounds like a heavy load for these illiterate, Jewish laborers from a small community who Jesus rebuked many times for not understanding.

Did you know that The Great Commission is also found in the other three Gospels and also in the beginning of Acts? One slight problem though – they’re all different. But, I have an idea. Let’s combine the five commissions to figure out what Jesus really said. Isn’t that how we get the real birth story? We harmonize the two birth stories of Jesus from Matthew and Luke to come up with our own version of the birth story that we tell every Christmas. Anyway, here’s what the entire Commission might sound like…

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations and preach the good news to all creation. Preach also repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. You have the authority to forgive sins as well as not forgiving sins. Whoever is not forgiven will not be forgiven. Whoever believes and is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit will be saved. As a sign of their belief in me they will be able to drive out demons, speak in tongues, pick up snakes with their hands, drink deadly poison – and it will not hurt them. Whoever does not believe will be condemned. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:14–18, Luke 24:44–49, Acts 1:4–8, and John 20:19–23.)

With this new, harmonized Greater Commission in mind I decided to read through the book of Acts to see how well the apostles followed directions. And sure enough – they forgot again. For one thing Jesus demanded a Trinitarian baptism and all they did was baptize in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38-39; 8:15-16; 10:44-48; 19:4-5). Not once did they give a proper baptism! And they never once gave anyone a drink of poison to test their faith. Holy cow! I can now understand why Jesus rebuked them so much. And Peter must have been the misfit of the group seeings that Jesus called him Satan (Matthew 16:23).

Oh, for those of you who enjoy Christian history, the Commission is not found in two of the oldest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament – the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus. I wonder when God actually added them to the Bible? Another mysterious act of God!

Time for one more cup… or two.

Like a Virgin!

While perusing the Gospels this morning over coffee, I ran across a note in my Bible about the virgin birth of Jesus.  The virgin birth stories are found only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  The rest of the New Testament writers either didn’t know anything about it or thought that it must have been so insignificant that no one mentions it.  Paul mentions Jesus’ birth twice (Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4) but never says that there was anything spectacular or that it was a virgin birth.

Galatians 4:4 “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law…”

According to Matthew the virgin birth was to fulfill a prophecy (Isaiah 7:14).  However, scholars say that “virgin” was a mistranslation in the Septuagint (the Greek translation) and should have read “young woman.”  Also, the verse quoted in Isaiah has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth and was taken out of context.  Not knowing Hebrew or Greek and I couldn’t tell you one way or the other which is correct.  What about you?

All throughout history there have been many gods and goddesses born of a virgin that pre-date Jesus, such as Krishna, Odysseus, Romulus, Dionysus, Heracles, Glycon, Zoroaster and Horus to name a few.  This is just a small list that I got from my buddy, Google.  I’ve never studied any of these mythological gods before so I won’t respond if you ask me.

Ever since the Bible was canonized it has had plurality in translation and interpretation.  Just think, though.  If Christianity were a unified religion with one translation and one interpretation, we wouldn’t require so many priests, pastors, ministers, preachers, cardinals, bishops, deacons, presbyters, subdeacons, apologists, etc.  The Christian Book industry would collapse because there would be no need for commentary books or books that tell you what the Bible really says.  But best of all, we could all read the same Bible and have a same understanding.  Just my thoughts!  What are yours?

More coffee, please!

Seventh Inning Stretch

“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.”  (Genesis 2:2 KJV)

Ahhh, good coffee this morning.  Did you ever wonder why an omnipotent (all-powerful) God had to “rest” as stated in Genesis 2:2?  I suppose that for us humans regardless of our strength and endurance, we would still need to rest sooner or later.  But, God?  Rabbi Dr. Michael Samuel says that the more accurate translation of Shavat in not “rested” but “abstained” or “ceased.”

Regardless of why he rested or ceased all His work, He chose the seventh day and made this day holy – and He called it the Sabbath day.  As a covenant between Him and His chosen people He listed it in his all time top Ten Commandments:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  (Exodus 20:8-10 NIV)

He was so adament about keeping the Sabbath that He imposed a severe penalty on those who disobeyed:

“For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of Sabbath rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death.” (Exodus 35:2 NIV)

So, you’re probably wondering what I’m getting at here.  Well, let’s take a closer look at the first verse I stated in Genesis 2:2 taken from the King James Version of the Bible.  It says that on the seventh day God ended his work, which implies that he did a little work on the seventh day but “ended” it on that day.  Then He creates a commandment for his chosen and tells them not to do any work on the seventh day even though he did work himself?  Doesn’t this pose a bit of a theological dilemma?  Why would God not permit the people to work on the seventh day when God performed at least a minimal amount of work on that day?

Come to find out, scholars have debated this issue for years.  The New International Version of the Bible tried to fix the boo boo by changing a couple of words:

“By the seventh day God had finished the work…”  (Genesis 2:2 NIV)

Nice try!  If you read the Hebrew (the Old Testament was written in Hebrew) text, or the Masoretic text, it literally says, “And on the seventh day God finished the work…”  But, the Greek Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew) has God finishing his work on the “sixth” day.  This verse was not found in the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Scholars find multitudes of reasons to side with either interpretation.  But for me?  I sit here sipping on my dark roast, contemplating the plethera of textual varients of the Bible made available to me to peruse with my friend, Google.  And for now – time for a second cup…