Doubt

I slept in a little this morning but I guess that’s a luxury of being retired. It’s quiet, I have my first cup of dark roast in hand, and God is already talking to me. The word “doubt” comes to mind for some odd reason.

Doubt is one of those words that Christians are uncomfortable with. As one Christian says, “In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God’s promises (note 1).” Jesus was constantly getting after his disciples for doubting:

“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. You of little faith, he said, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The Doubting Thomas by Leendert van der Cooghe

But, we all doubt – don’t we? If I told you that your spouse was cheating on you, wouldn’t you have some doubt and require some kind of proof before you believed me? I certainly hope you would. In our litigious society people are accused of many things every day. We may or may not believe the alleged accusations until there’s sufficient proof. We have a system that requires proof. We must eliminate all doubt!

No one is immune to doubting at one time or another. In an article written by Jesse Carey in Relevant Magazine he writes about “7 Prominent Thinkers Who Wrestled With Doubt” including Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, and Pope Francis (note 2). You can read the article here.

Our third President and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was a doubter. I get a kick out of those who believe America to be a Christian Nation and cite a quote or two from Thomas Jefferson. I’ll have to admit, he was a Christian – my kind of Christian anyway! Jefferson said, “I am a real Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus (note 3).” He went on to edit the Bible to his standards, cutting and pasting to create his own Bible, and wrote to a friend:

“I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.” See a pdf copy of Jefferson’s Bible here.

I may be like Jefferson in his thinking but I’m more like one of the twelve apostles who doubted. He even earned the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” He had followed Jesus through his ministry and was an eyewitness to all of the miracles that Jesus performed. He was there when they fed 5,000 men (more than that if you include the women and children) from scraps of bread and a couple of fish (Matthew 14:13-21). Yet, after Jesus died, he said:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe (John 20:25).”

And Jesus gave Thomas the proof he needed. He allowed him to feel the hole marks in his hands and where the soldier speared him in the side of his chest. Thomas believed.

Being the agnostic that I am, that’s where I stand. I’m leaving room for belief, but there’s gotta be some proof to make me a believer. As Leslie Hazleton says in her newest book, Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto (note 4), “Belief insists while faith hopes and trusts.” She goes on to say, “You need belief only when you are not sure. Belief is the product not of knowledge, but of uncertainty. It contains within itself the possibility of disbelief.”

I’ll end my thoughts by saying that I doubt like the apostle, Thomas. He was given immediate proof. I am still waiting. But right now, I have little doubt that a second cup of dark roast awaits me. Peace!

Notes:

1. Altrogge, M. (2017). Doubt Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary. Bible Study Tools. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/doubt/

2. 7 Prominent Christian Thinkers Who Wrestled With Doubt. (2014). RELEVANT Magazine. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from https://relevantmagazine.com/god/7-prominent-christian-thinkers-who-wrestled-doubt

3. The Bible According to Thomas Jefferson – TheHumanist.com. (2012). TheHumanist.com. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from https://thehumanist.com/magazine/march-april-2012/features/the-bible-according-to-thomas-jefferson

4. Hazleton, L. (2017). Agnostic: a spirited manifesto. New York: Riverhead Books.

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!

You Wash My Feet, I’ll Wash Yours!

I was baptized in a Methodist Church, belonged to a Lutheran Church for many years where my son was baptized, went back to the Methodist Church for awhile, before attending a Non-denominational Christian Church. And not once did I ever have my feet washed! But, there are many Christian churches who practice this ritual – and many who don’t.

Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples
Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples

While pondering this matter over coffee this morning I contemplated whether or not I had missed out on an important part of being a Christian. As it turns out, it is Biblical and is found in the Gospel of John. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” John 13:14-15. The churches who practice foot washing call it “the ordinance of humility” and is commanded by Jesus during His Last Supper.

As you can see, Jesus gives a clear command – since he had washed their feet, they should likewise, go out and wash others. Now, if it’s so clear, why are so many Christian’s feet not getting washed?

With a careful reading of the Gospels, all four of them, you will notice that foot washing is found in only one gospel – John. The first three Gospel writers either forgot about it, didn’t know about it, or didn’t think it worthy enough to mention. Another thing I should mention is that the foot-washing Gospel never talks about the Lord’s Supper. How interesting! Really! Get out your Bible and read.

So, it appears that the Christians who combine the foot washing with the Lord’s Supper as their Communion service, is combining the writings of two different authors, with two different thoughts, speaking to different audiences, in different time periods. It’s not the first time, though.

Whether we believe that foot washing was a part of the Lord’s Supper or not is not the point I’m trying to make – although a good one. The point is that Christians seem to ignore many commands and teachings of Jesus. When Jesus says to wash feet, shouldn’t we, as good Christians, wash each other’s feet? And when He says that we should love our gay neighbor and our enemies, should we not follow His commands? Wouldn’t it be easier to follow all of His commands and quit picking and choosing which ones we “should” follow? It’s all in writing! And inspired by God himself!

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” John 14:23

Time for another cup, please!

Super Apostles!

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15

It’s coffee time! I wonder if the apostles ever sat around the fire on a cold morning craving their coffee as I do? Just a thought. Here’s a question for you that’s been bugging me for quite some time. What would you do if Jesus gave you the same powers that he gave to his apostles? Would you heal the sick or cast out any demons (Mark 6:7), maybe cleanse those infected with the ebola virus or help a psychotic neighbor – or two? Would you resurrect any deceased people that you know – maybe a family member that died at a young age or your favorite aunt? Would you forgive anyone’s sin (John 20:23)? Most of all, wouldn’t you immediately believe in Jesus?

appostles_13v

Peter was so good at healing others that people were healed by just being in his shadow (Acts 5:15). But on the other hand he could make someone lose their life without blinking an eye (Acts 5:5). The apostles must have gotten a little arrogant with their powers which caused Paul to sarcastically call them the “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5).

I once asked a Southern Baptist pastor why I had such a hard time understanding the Bible. He quickly insisted that I was not saved or that my faith wasn’t apparent. “No one can understand the Bible until they have faith,” he exclaimed. Now wouldn’t that have been great if Jesus gave the apostles the power to make the Jews understand that Jesus was truly God? That would have been miraculous!

And with all these powers given to them, some of the apostles still weren’t sure. So, what would it take for you to be a believer? I’m pretty sure that if Jesus gave me super powers, I would be a believer. Up, up and away!  Time for another cup!

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!

“But I Say to You…”

As a teacher, I always try very hard to simplify things.  Over my first cup of coffee this morning I wanted to see if I could simplify Jesus’ teachings by jotting them down briefly on a sheet of paper.  I thought the Gospel of Matthew was a good place to start since Jesus did a lot of teaching from a mountainside.

He starts out with what we call the Beatitudes (5:1-11), or the “Blessed are” statements.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  That’s a tough one to live up to.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Then he says in 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law of the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  He says that if we break “any” of the old Jewish commandments or causes others to break one, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But, here’s the shocker.  “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:21 starts out with what I call the “But I say to you…” statements.  For instance, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  And adultery was forbidden by Jesus.

Jesus sums it up in Matthew 7:14 “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Amen to that.  Very few I would say.

To enter the kingdom heaven, according to Jesus, is a very difficult thing to do.  But wait a minute.  Paul saw a vision on his way to Damascus.  The bright light that blinds him on that road turns out to be Jesus.  Paul, a Jewish Pharisee, immediately converts from an executor of Christians to a faithful follower of Jesus.  He dedicates his life in the teachings of Jesus.  Most Christians will say that he started the Christian movement.

Now, the hard part for me to understand is that Paul appears to “simplify” the teachings of Jesus.  He claims that all you have to do is believe in Christ and that he was risen – no works necessary.  Matthew’s Jesus was all about works – how you conduct yourself and how you treat others.  It appears that Paul’s teachings were at odds with what Jesus taught on the mountainside.  Did Jesus, aka God, change his mind about what he taught earlier?

Oh well.  Another mystery goes unsolved – at least in my mind.  So, I’ll just have another cup of coffee.

The Adulterous Woman

Thou shalt not start the morning off without a great cup of coffee!  One of God’s missing commandments, well, in my mind anyway.  The Ten Commandments and Bill Clinton were on my mind this morning.  What the… I know what you’re thinking.  Remember back in 1998 when our President did not have “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinski?  Ha!  Adultery comes to mind – so I have a quizzical question for you.  What number on the Ten Commandments scale is Adultery listed?  Here’s a clue.  The answer varies depending on whether you’re a Protestant or a Catholic.  Protestant’s answer is number 7 and Catholic’s answer is number 6.  Trick question for most of you!

In the Gospel of John there is a very popular verse, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”  Remember?  [Read John 8:1-11 for compete details.]  This story was about an adulterous woman who the Pharisees brought to Jesus.  For some reason they forgot to bring the man (Deuteronomy 22:22).  In any case, after the Pharisees cower away with their tails between their legs, Jesus lets her off the hook and tells her, “Go, and sin no more.”

What is Jesus trying to say here?  He chose not to condemn her.  I’m thinking that maybe we should take the planks out of our eyes first before judging others.  This is a great story but according to most scholars, this story isn’t in the “earliest and most reliable manuscripts.”  Yep, it’s one of those dang footnotes again.  Oh well.  Someone thought it was a great story to add it to John’s Gospel.

Let’s have another cup, shall we?

Oh, one last thought.  What do the following people have in common?
John Edwards, Arnold Schwargenegger, Prince Charles, Newt Gingrich, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jim Bakker, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Rooselvelt, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Mark Sanford and Robert Tilton.   You guessed it!  They violated the 6th or 7th Commandment of God!