Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
//Paul Froese and Christopher Bader published a book in 2010 called America’s Four Gods. It was based on a 2005 study that divided American believers into four categories, depending upon how they pictured God. These four types are the authoritarian God, the benevolent God, the critical God, and the distant God.
Of these four, the authoritarian God is the one which seems to me most spiritually harmful. This is the God of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. It is the God of war, the God who punishes America with 9/11 for its tolerance of gays, and the God of 43.5% of Southerners.
So now I ask: Which is your favorite gospel of the four? Would you say, like the early church, that Matthew is your choice? The gospel of hell fire?
Then here’s an interesting fact about Matthew: It is the only gospel which does not once mention the love or kindness of God toward us. Not once.
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
//I’ll shortly be reviewing a novel titled A Man Called Jesus by author Rick Herrick, and there’s a statement Jesus makes in his book that I haven’t forgotten. Jesus says that the first people to experience the new Kingdom of Heaven on earth will be the poor.
Readers of my own latest book, titled The River of Life, know that I emphasize how much Jesus cared about the poor, so I felt an immediate appreciation for Herrick’s Jesus. But why does Herrick think the poor will be the first to experience the kingdom?
Common sense, of course. The economic situation of the poor forces them to share. Sharing with love is the first step in creating God’s kingdom. That puts the poor in an advantaged position when it comes to creating a place where God’s love rules.
An interesting insight. Do you agree?
Although short, this thought-provoking book packs a powerful punch. As one of the “spiritual but not religious” folk Harmon mentions, I found myself thinking if the priests of my childhood had presented the Bible, God and the Christian faith the way Harmon does, I’d probably still be spending my Sundays on a church pew.
Clearly well researched and presented in the clear style of a friendly chat, THE RIVER OF LIFE is a balanced treatise of the heart as well as of the head, which discusses:
• Heaven & Hell
• The Second Coming
• The Good News
• The Historical Jesus
• Doing Our Part
• But What About Miracles?
• Faith in God
• The River of Life
Each of his theories are presented scrupulously and convincingly in a way that is respectful even when it disagrees with conservative Christian views. Harmon remains firm and strong on his own open-minded interpretations of his faith and “agnostic Christianity”, while not trying to convert or diminish other, more conservative, Christian views or different religious beliefs. He learnt from his grandmother that, “A man convinced against his will is of the same mind still,” [Location 1284] and he does not try to convert anyone away from their own beliefs.
Instead, Harmon uses his deep insights and alternative understanding of the faith of Jesus Christ to offer an interpretation that it would well serve the world to adopt in order to follow in the steps of the master teacher and healer Jesus Christ. Harmon suggests a way of following the teachings of Jesus Christ that make us, as spiritual beings, responsible for bringing the Kingdom of God into the here and now of our lives. “Imagine,” he says, “a world governed by light, life and love.” [Location 1279]. How inspiring to believe that the meaning of our lives can be found in actively emulating the Christ-consciousness, rather than waiting for rewards in an after-life.
There are areas where my experience of faith differs from Harmon’s – the after-life is one area – and, as a vegetarian, I would have liked to have read his thoughts on extending the compassion and love of Christ to all sentient beings, especially animals who are so sorely treated by humans. After all, in Eden did Adam & Eve not live in harmony with all the beasts? Do we not hope that the lion will lay down with the lamb?
Despite these minor divergences, this book left me uplifted and hopeful. When reading it (and re-reading some passages more than once) I didn’t need to imagine the world of light and love he speaks of. I felt that light and love in the living pages of this book that so sincerely reflects one man’s deep faith, and his determination to follow in the footsteps of Christ make the grace of God manifest in his life.
The hymn, Amazing Grace, is a favourite of mine, especially the words “I once was blind, but now I see.” As human beings, carrying immense divine potential within our souls, I think we’re closest to the Divine Source, to that same light of God that Jesus himself believed in, when we’re questioning our faith (whatever faith that may be) rather than blindly accepting it. If THE RIVER OF LIFE is evidence, then Harmon is very close to his God indeed.
Any spiritual seeker, whatever their search for faith in God begins, will find THE RIVER OF LIFE fascinating reading.
I recommend this book so highly, I’ve bought a second (print) copy as a gift for my husband who has a strong interest in comparative religions.
Energion Publications, © 2014, 94 pages
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
//Today’s teaching is found only in one book of the bible: The Gospel of Matthew. In fact, a good number of our Christian teachings come only from Matthew. A person, then, who rejects Matthew as not carrying apostolic authority would have a much different view of what it means to be a Christian.
This is exactly what Joshua Woodward argues for in his book, God of Fire: The Hope Reformation. He lists the following topics as unique only to Matthew among the gospel writers. I have not taken the time to research this list, but it definitely is interesting!
Kingdom of Heaven
Heaven or Hell theology
Keys of the kingdom of heaven
Primacy of Peter
Righteousness through the law
Jesus rejecting those who do miracles in his name
Separation of sheep and goats based on works
Lust as a precedent for self mutilation
Calling someone a fool or being angry endangers hell
Don’t resist an evil person
Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.”
//One of the most interesting “arguments” that takes place in scripture is this matter of whether the Old Testament law is to be heeded or ignored. Scholars recognize Matthew to be the gospel most sympathetic to the Jewish law. It’s in this book that Jesus promises that “not one jot or tittle shall pass from the Law till all be fulfilled.” We also have sympathetic epistles, such as the book of James, which twice refers to the “Law of Liberty” (James 1:25 and 2:12).
But Paul did not think kindly about the Law. In a fascinating passage to the Galatians (4:22-31) Paul refers to the law as just the opposite as James does. He considers it a law of slavery, not of liberty. He uses the sons of Abraham as an analogy to communicate that the Law brings slavery. The mother of each son represents the two covenants: Hagar, the slave woman, represents the Mosaic covenant (the Law) and Sarah, a free woman, represents the Abrahamic covenant (the promise). Hagar’s son, Ishmael, is a child of slavery, but Sarah’s son, Isaac, is a child of the promise.
Paul’s argument concludes with today’s verse, reminding us that God wanted Abraham to cast out the bondwoman and her son, and choose instead Sarah and the son of promise.
Thus, we as Christians are called to cast out the Law, becoming righteous not by works but through faith.
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular
//This is Pauline theology, and it’s an interesting concept. The Church, says Paul, is the body of Christ.
I’ve mentioned before that the word Christ is a greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, and both mean anointed, or “the anointed one,” named after the oil of anointing worn by kings. In Greek, oil for hair is Chrism, and the title for Jesus becomes Christ.
So we are the body of the Messiah in today’s world. Put another way, the Church is the current-day messianic reach of the kingdom. It is what the king is doing in the world today.
But what does this really mean? Do any of us feel like world leaders? I doubt it. Rather, we recognize the Kingdom of God as a grassroots movement, starting like a pinch of leaven in a loaf of bread, destined to expand and permeate the whole loaf with the fruits of the Spirit. We are an extension of the life of Christ, the man who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) as we seek to continue what Jesus began 2,000 years ago.
by Joshua Woodward
Who is God, really? A fire-breathing tyrant? A loving Father? Woodward wants to reintroduce us to a God whose purpose is love. Yes, there’s fire in scripture, but God’s fire is for refining, not punishing. Everyone goes through the fire, not just the uncooperative guys.
For everyone will be salted by fire –Mark 9:49
But what about the book of Revelation, which promises everlasting punishment in a lake of fire? What about the gospel of Matthew, which seems especially hung up on hellfire? Woodward suggests we forget about them. A number of books have covertly slipped into the canon, through the deception of evil angels, which do not carry the authority of Christ or the apostles. He insists that apocalyptic themes, especially those regarding eternal fire, are contradictory to the true message of Christ. This is not the purpose of God’s refining fire. Consequently, Woodward rejects a number of the New Testament books, and calls us to return to the gospel taught to us by Peter, John and Paul. His arguments for this radical action are very interesting.
As with most highly controversial books, there was much I agreed with and much I did not. For me, the value of a book can often be measured by how many notes I take in the margins reminding me to research the topics further. This time there were plenty! One fascinating example is Woodward’s suggestion that when Jesus spoke of returning on the clouds, the “cloud” he referred to was the Holy Spirit. Similar to my own interpretation of the Gospel of John, Woodward suggests that the arrival of the Holy Spirit represented Jesus’s Second Coming. (I hope I’m representing him properly.)
On the downside, I did find the book just a little bit preachy and assumptive. Woodward looks forward to the day the Jews finally understand their own scripture. He recognizes the Spirit of God working in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, while noting that they don’t really yet “know Him as we do.” I found such passages a bit distracting, so I dropped my rating one star.
I received an unedited version for review, and did not take into consideration its lack of editing.
Createspace, © 2014, 227 pages
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
//What does this verse mean to you? Should it be read literally–as a promise that Jesus would arrive in power within the lives of those he spoke to–or should we interpret the word “generation” to mean something other than the obvious?
I have a friend on a forum I frequent that often accuses me of hating the Bible. To him, much of what I say about the Bible is a loose interpretation–what he calls a liberal interpretation–and he feels I need to “read the Bible more closely.” Of course, it seems to me that he needs to do the same. To me, his beliefs about Jesus simply don’t match what the Bible says at all.
A while back I finished Richard Gist’s new book, and it was a fascinating read from cover to cover. He definitely reads the Bible differently than his conservative friends. But he reaches this unexpected conclusion about who reads the bible “liberally” and who does not:
“I slowly realized that, often, the more conservative the preacher, the more liberally was the Bible used. Such preachers created a Bible that did not exist to preach messages they wanted to convey. On the other hand, the more liberal the preacher, the more conservatively was the Scripture applied to preaching. In other words, people in the religious community misunderstood and misapplied the labels of conservative and liberal.”
I guess that means I’m really a conservative and my friend is a liberal? Uh-oh.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
//Mark’s Gospel is known for many peculiarities, and one of them is this matter of the Messianic Secret. Mark begins his gospel with this verse, introducing Jesus. Then, throughout the story of Jesus, he portrays the disciples as dim-witted, unable to grasp that their master is the Messiah. The Son of God.
Everybody else knows Jesus is the Son of God. Demons knew. Evil spirits would shout, “You are the Son of God.” The madman of Gadara figured it out. The Centurion (Roman soldier) knew it. Heck, God said it twice, quite loudly I bet.
But the disciples never do reach this conclusion, even after Jesus died. This Gospel ends with three women coming to the grave and finding it empty, then running away and telling no one. *
* The original gospel ends with verse 15:8.
And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?”
//The early Church met in homes, before the emerging Church structure, size, and political acceptance began to make dedicated church buildings practical. So here we find Jesus and his followers sitting together in a home (3:19). Mark 3:20 indicates that it was a “multitude” who met that day, so many that they could not share bread as was the custom.
To this home came Jesus’ mother and brothers. But they came not to join in fellowship, but to take Jesus home, because they felt he was “out of his mind.” They were not inside the home, and made no effort to be inside. So Jesus is told that they were waiting outside to see him, and here is his reaction:
And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”
There is no hint that Jesus ever goes outside to meet his blood family. He prefers his new family, in the exclusive house church.
Did this really happen this way? What happened to the idea of an angel appearing to Mary, telling her she would give birth to the Messiah?
Scholars continue to disagree on just how estranged Jesus was from his family.