Monday, 3 April 2017

Together, we can work for good, or for evil.

What if your cow falls down the well on a Sabbath?
Luckily this cow survived!

I do not hold with much Evangelical teaching. I believe it is focussed too much on referring to a book, reverently known as "The Word of God"  and much too little on the teachings and examples of the Christ, referred to by John the Evangelist as "The Word of God".

I have been advised against "hardening ones heart against the Word of God".i.e. the Bible, and in particular the Old Testament.  By this the writer of the advice was expressing doubt in my faith 

As Christians, we don't need to waste our time asking God to unravel all the apparent contradictions of the Old Testament. Once we free ourselves from the notion that God himself dictated it, then the contradictions don't seem very important. Neither do we need to suffer confusion over the many things that Paul wrote that do not tie up with what Jesus said and the examples that he set us.
The bottom line is, be an apostle of Jesus, not an apostle of Paul.

The reason WHY we do not need to unravel all this stuff is that JESUS unravelled it in one simple explanation.
The scholars who knew the Hebrew Scriptures backwards-forwards tried to trap him many times.
The key moment is when they asked "What is the most important Commandment?"
They were expecting him to select one from the Ten Commandments in the Book of Exodus, which everyone present would have known by heart
But he did NOT. He quoted from Deuteronomy, the verse that was so beloved by the scribes themselves that they wore it at all times:
"Love God with all your heart and mind and strength!"

The scribes and Pharisees might not have been expecting this answer, but EVERYONE would have been satisfied with it.

But wait a bit! Jesus is not finished! "There is another commandment JUST AS IMPORTANT!"
And at THIS point they start to wonder what he will say next!
"Love your neighbour as yourself!"

And while they are still wondering, he puts even more weight on the fact that these are EQUALLY important.
"On these TWO hang all the law and the teachings of the prophets!"

OK. These are the two things that MATTER. Nothing else really does.

Jesus elaborated on the fact that you shouldn't sweat the small stuff. He made it clear that anything that doesn't comply with kindness and common sense really doesn't count for much in the sight of God.
Praying loudly doesn't impress God. Eating Kosher food doesn't impress God. Keeping the Sabbath in a ritual manner doesn't impress God. Treating women in a lesser way than men doesn't impress God. You cannot buy bonus points, with God.

BUT, God is a loving father, and like any good parent, he has expectations.
Are his expectations about holiness and righteousness, about how many times you pray or whether you go to church? No they are not!
God's expectations are that you feed the hungry, tend the sick, be hospitable to strangers, remember to keep contact with people who are in gaol or who have fallen into disgrace of some sort, visit the dying. etc.

In today's world, your attitude towards refugees, homeless people, people with addictions, and people with mental health issues  are all covered by God's broad expectations.

Basically, Jesus cut through the crap.
One of the lines that I really enjoy is the bit where the disciples are accused of working on the Sabbath, and Jesus says something totally OUTRAGEOUS- God gave one day off in seven for the benefit of mankind. Mankind doesn't exist for the benefit of keeping one day a week Holy! Hey, he is talking like a member of the labour movement!

And.... "So, what if your cow falls down the well on the Sabbath?"
Imagine this scene. If they leave the cow there, it will die. The man will loose his valuable asset and the well will be poisoned.
So all the neighbours run to get ropes and crowbars and planks of wood and shovels. They all fight about how it should be done. There is yelling and swearing and loud bellowing from the cow, and things going wrong.
When the cow is finally out, they all flop around and drink every bit of wine in the man's house. And the neighbouring women run with all the food they prepared for the Sabbath, and it turns into one big neighbourhood party.  Very few things could be more noisy or neighbourly, or harder work,  than pulling a cow out of a well.

Today, I am grieving over an incident that happened yesterday in Croydon, London.
A young migrant teenager was set on by a group of young men and women. Some of them beat him to the ground and together they kicked him until they had fractured his skull, severely injured his face and caused a clot to his brain. Some of the young people, between ten and twenty of them, were spectators, while eight to ten others were responsible for the attack. They only stopped and ran away when they heard police sirens.
The terrible act is being treated as a "hate crime", but we do not know yet why that poor lad was the victim of hate. Was it because he was Kurdish, or Muslim, or Iranian, or a refugee, or foreign, or was it because he looked like an easy target? Like the men pulling a cow out of the well, this was an unprepared event, where the participants co-ordinated themselves for a joint action with remarkable speed. And like the men in the hypothetical cow situation, they probably would have celebrated when it was over, if they were not fearing that they would be arrested.

So far, ten young people have been questioned, and one released. They may be charged with "attempted murder". My prayer for these young people is that somehow God will find a way to touch their hearts and turn their lives around.  

Think how much Good these young people could do, if they made a co-ordinated attempt to welcome  new refuge neighbours into the community!

What could ten energetic young people achieve, if they were to prepare a house for an incoming refugee family?

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

What is the Old Testament really about?

What is the Old Testament really about?

I know that fundamentalist Christians are not going to like what I say, but if you hang in there and absorb this, you will realise that you can go right on believing, while still changing your view of the Bible, and accepting a more rational one.

The Old Testament is a wonderful LIBRARY of ancient Jewish literature of all sorts. It includes: creation mythology, legendary heroes, genealogy, history, law, poetry, old sayings, allegory (that means a fiction with symbolic meaning), erotica and prophecy.

Should we believe that all this was virtually dictated by God himself?
Definitely NOT!
Can we be Christian without believing all this in a literal way?
Definitely YES!

So what is the Old Testament?
It is a TESTAMENT (i.e. written testimony).
So what does it testify?
It testifies that very many people, in very many ways were recorded as claiming that GOD had made himself known to them. Those people claim that God made himself known through Angels, through miraculous gifts of food, water, healing and guidance, that he led people with a pillar of flame or cloud, that he was heard in a still small voice. Right through the Old Testament people testify to the existence of God.
This EVIDENCE OF GOD'S PRESENCE is what the reader of the Old Testament is expected to believe, not the fanciful story that God created the universe in six days and took a rest on the seventh, or that God will give military power to those who follow him.

Once you have freed yourself from any notion that the whole book has to be taken literally, then you can start exploring the testimonies for the revelations that they contain, and start looking for God's continued revelations to people, to this day.

Does God STILL reveal his presence, in the ways that are described in the Old Testament?
Most definitely YES

You only have to start talking about this to friends, and you will find people who will say, (often cautiously, expecting to be disbelieved) that they saw, or felt, or heard the presence of Jesus at a time when they were feeling down-hearted, sick, lonely or were in trouble.
Sometimes people report dramatic experiences, like the one that the Apostle Paul had, on the road to Damascus.
These experiences sometimes happen to people with no Christian background, and no knowledge of the Bible, because they live in Saudi Arabia, or some such place where Bibles are rare or forbidden.
This phenomenon is not new, and it is also not a thing of the past.

What are the main teachings of the Bible?

Jesus summed them up:
God loves you, and has expectations of you.
You must love God, and love others as you love yourself.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Jesus, did he exist? - thirty-three teachings that have stood the test of time

Here are some of the teachings of a 1st century man, described in literature, but claimed, by some, never to have existed. The teachings seem very humane and sensible, and apart from the mentions of "God", quite devoid of superstition. Taken on merit, these teaching are evidence of a highly enlightened mind.

1. That God is a loving Father.
2. That like any loving father, God has expectations of his children.
3. That every person who walks this earth is your neighbour, and worthy of your kindness in times of trouble.
4. That you should treat others as you would like to be treated.
5. That showing loving kindness means responding to the needs of those around you- the lonely, the poor, the disadvantaged, the incapacitated and those who may be suffering as a result of their own doing.
6. That women should be educated, along with men, and have their voices heard, along with men
7.That the poor, the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill, the foreigner and the person who holds to a different faith have the same human rights as the majority.
8. That rape is totally abhorrent.
9. That ritual cleanliness/uncleanliness is a load of nonsense.
10. That the words that come out of a person's mouth are more important than whether the food that goes into it is kosher, halal or even tasty.
11. That everyone ought to have enough to live on, even if they cannot do a full days work.
12. That having a day off every week is good for people.
13. That you shouldn't fuss about your appearance.
14. That when someone does you an honour, you should respond appropriately.
15. That if someone is determined to act like an absolute dickhead, you should turn your back and walk away.
16. That being preoccupied with money can seriously get in the way of living a good life.
17. That before we criticise others, we ought to take a long look at ourselves.
18. That sometimes we have to use a good deal of courage to break from patterns of behaviour that are wrecking our lives.
19. That a sincere apology can turn around a situation.
20. That forgiveness is healing.
21. That greedy, disrespectful people need their butts kicked.
22. That bigots who think they are better than those around them have seriously missed the point.
23. That you can help a person who knows they need your help, so it is worth putting in the time with them.
24. That we are individuals, and what is good for one person might not be appropriate for another.
25. That there is no ordinary task that is beneath our dignity so if something needs cleaning up, then just do it.
26. That sharing a meal together, whether it is a formal dinner or a barbecue on the beach, is important for relationships.
27. That truly dangerous people can often be hard to recognise.
28. That a great leader is one who serves the people that he is leading.
29. That if what you have to say really matters, say it, even if you are despised for doing so.
30. That sometimes it is best to be silent.
31. That we may be called upon to make major sacrifices, for the good of others.
32. That death is not the end
33. That one good person really can make a very big difference.

Image of Jesus from a catacomb in Rome, 3rd century AD.
Previous images had not attempted to depict him as a
Jewish Rabbi but had used a symbolical figure of a
shepherd with a sheep on his shoulders