Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hope From The Message!

I've recently been listening to the New Testament on audio and in the version of The Message. It's a paraphrase of the bible written by a man named, Eugene Peterson to try to give a modern day translation of scripture.

  I've read the bible many times. Read the whole thing through twice and have studied and memorized multiple passages through the years. I don't say this to brag. It's just that I've actually been having a hard time reading it lately. It's not the fault of the bible; it's just the way that I've seen it used more and more as a weapon or a political point or a fear tactic in many circles of Christianity.

Eugene Peterson's version has been a really refreshing way to listen to it and has helped me fall in love with things of the bible that I fell in love with long, long ago. Things that showed me the Love of God. Sometimes I think we really need to take a deep breath, let go of perceived notions and allow the Spirit to breathe new life into things we have taken for granted or assumed. Pretty sure that's what the Spirit of God enjoys doing! Which may be why Jesus described the Spirit as wind in John chapter 3.

I was very much taken with the version of Mathew chapter 7.  This has been a chapter that I've often heard many legalistic and accusing bible teachers use to cut other teachers down, cast people off or excuse shutting people out...

Allow me to comment through the passage...

Mathew Chapter 7
The Message

 1-5 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

I just love how this version gives SUCH an accurate account of WHY we are NOT to judge one another and what it really looks like when we do. This is the sort of thing I need to be reminded of pretty much DAILY.

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

This section reads in the NIV as:
6"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they  may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."
I have often heard this passage used as an excuse as to why we need not bother continuing to share the Gospel with or associate with people who just don't want to become "Christians".

This has ALWAYS been a problem for me. Seems to me that the ones who are trampling people's pearls are the ones who think it's okay to treat people like dogs just because they don't want your version of religion. I would think this is especially true when the section right before it is talking about NOT judging others. Here's a thought, maybe people don't want to hear our version of the gospel BECAUSE we've reduced it to silly slogans rather than letting God do His thing and allowing it to be the Holy MYSTERY it truly is?

I thought the idea of reducing God to "slogans" was a great interpretation of Jesus' words here.  Oh, who of us that love God hasn't thrown out a Christian slogan once in awhile? Especially since the invention of e-mail!
  Well, when you've done so, was it to be cute and "relevant"... or because it really touched your heart?  Because THAT would not be sacrilegious. Reading Jesus words and teachings as though He is just LOOKING for a way to NAIL us is a huge mistake I believe.

7-11 “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

You know how, when people talk about God being a LOVING Father who is so approachable and then other people feel the need to quickly say, "OH! But He is HOLY and full of wrath too!!" Well, just go back to the section above.

How many of you with really good parents, when you talk about how much your parents have loved you, have to quickly say... "OH but they are full of wrath too!" ?? Sure, maybe they kept you in line like a good parent tries to do... but do you really focus on THAT in your best description of them? If you do... you may need counseling, just sayin.

Okay, for the people who I'm making nervous right now. When I share these things, I am NOT saying that God is not Holy and I'm NOT saying that He does not have wrath against the things that have hurt His children. He IS and He DOES. So you can just stop judging me now. Thanks. 

12 “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.
Being and Doing

There it is!  Simple. The Golden Rule. The NIV says that this SUMS UP the Law and the Prophets! Now quick, can we make up a whole list of things so we can nail this down perfectly?  Sums up, usually means someone is trying to simplify it for you. Why must we confuse it so?? 

13-14 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

I love how he uses the word "formulas" here.  Oh my, if I had a quarter for every Christian formula I've either tried to believe or do to ensure my happiness..  I'd be rich and would STILL not have joy.

This is also the part in the NIV where Jesus says the gate is Narrow that leads to LIFE. That, "wide is the path that leads to destruction".  Many teachers have used this passage to make their denomination or belief system or steps to take for Salvation the ONLY way to God. That if you miss THEIR Jesus... you're going straight to Hell.

You know that part that says don't reduce Holy Mysteries to "cute slogans"?  Well, there is a type of slogan stating that "Jesus talks more about Hell than he did about Heaven".  That's simply not true. That's because people have taken passages exactly like THIS one and used them as threats and fear tactics! I'm pretty sure this has been a grossly misused interpretation of scripture. You can say that Jesus is the Narrow Way... but then try to nail that down to a specific formul
a.  So, you're telling me that Jesus just gets done telling people how very much God loves them and that everything is SUMMED UP in a single command and THEN he's going to make the way very narrow to "get into Heaven"? 
Doesn't go with the flow of his teaching.

My opinion?  The Narrow Way is LOVE. It is indeed NOT the easy way. It's easy to follow religions. It's easy to create little formulas. It's easy to lose hope. It's easy to lose sight of and not believe in Love and a Good God. How much of humanity is on a destructive life path due to the fact that they rarely felt Love and rarely showed it? 

God IS Love.  The same God that sent this Jesus to earth to die for the people He LOVES and be resurrected to Life. THAT sort of LOVE, is the narrow way that leads to the "Abundant Life" that Jesus spoke of. Here now and also AFTER we leave this planet! 

15-20 “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.

Oh, don't even get me started on THIS one! I can't TELL you how much I appreciate the way that Eugene Peterson has paraphrased this one!  Basically this is the verse that people use to "judge" other people's "Truth" with and to move people into fear and bondage rather than love, freedom, security and sincerity. 
Again... please see the first part of this passage on judging others!

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’
What is it that Jesus commands us to do? To be obedient to??  Oh yeah... it was SUMMED up for us... Love One Another.

24-25 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

26-27 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Jesus stated that "His yoke is easy and His burden is light". A yoke was what was placed on the Oxen while they did their work. This phrase was also used in Jesus' day to talk about a "Rabbi's Teachings" their "yoke" would be placed on their followers. Jesus was a Rabbi who offered fresh words of Hope to the people.
He was relevant in the way He taught. His messages drew the lonely, the weary, the outcasts, the ones with very little hope. The people that Jesus' teachings offended were the religious leaders of His day. I think it still works that way today sometimes.

Jesus finished teaching this crowd and THIS is what happened: 

28-29 When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.

This is STILL happening to people today who are willing to hear the Gospel with Hope that the same Jesus who presented this Life Giving message is still actively seeking hearts of people who have been burdened by a religious message of guilt, fear and shame.

I have Hope that
this "Message" will live on in the hearts of people who believe in Love. Who believe that we were not meant to divide and cast out but to love and accept. Who believe that Light HAS conquered darkness and want nothing to do with that darkness.  Who believe in Holy Mystery that no one has yet defined perfectly. Who believe that we only need to worry about the plank in our OWN eye and just simply love the person with the speck in theirs.

Who believe that Jesus loves them.

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We have this Hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
Hebrews 6:19