Saturday, December 28, 2013


"There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be made known.  So then, whatever you say in the dark will be heard in the light and what you've whispered in the ear in secret rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops."
Luke 12:2, 3

Jesus said these words nearly 2,000 years before Facebook, Twitter, blogging, texting, sexting, YouTube or even the telephone!  And nearly 1,000 years before Jesus, the author of Ecclesiastes said, " ... in your inner thoughts don't curse a king and in your bed chamber don't curse a rich man, because a bird of the air will carry the sound, and a winged creature will relate the words" (Ecclesiastes 10:20).

It happens all the time, and with electronic media nothing that is said (or printed or texted or tweeted) goes unheard or unread.  It's almost as if these Scriptures were speaking of our age.

A star of a popular TV reality show is suspended because of remarks in a magazine interview that were considered homophobic and racist.  A celebrity tweets remarks considered racist and thoughtless while in flight and before she lands she is attacked by the news media.  It seems to be a continual problem -- celebrities, politicians, sports stars make comments considered by the word police to be racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, bullying, or who knows what else.  And then these (sometimes) are followed by the  necessary confessions, excuses and expressions of regret.

At the risk of having my words condemned as being construed as belonging in one or more of the above offensive categories, I must confess that my usual initial reaction to the indignant tsk-tsks is to simply say "Get over it!  People are stupid and they're going to say stupid things."

I long ago came to realize that original stupidity is one aspect of original sin!  Jesus' brother James said, "For we all stumble in many ways; if anyone doesn't stumble in his speech, he's a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body" (James 3:2).  And James wasn't talking about a speech impediment; he was talking about abusive and/or offensive speech, as the rest of the passage makes clear.  (I have yet to meet "a perfect man.")  As James tells us, we are all guilty of saying things that cause offense.  And I suspect that we often do so out of ignorance of how hurtful our speech is.

But it is also true that what we say really expresses what we think or believe.  Jesus said that " ... out of the abundance of the heart (one's) mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45).  If I am interpreting this saying correctly, it's telling me that when someone blurts out offensive words (though he may utter without thinking) he is expressing what is really in his mind.  So if I utter racist or bullying remarks, they are an expression of my own inner racist or bully, and if I shout, "Damn you!" at someone who cuts me off on the freeway, I really am desirous of his damnation.

I think the greater lesson to be taken from seeing and hearing well-known people saying offensive things, is to recognize that we who claim to be followers of Jesus are also capable of offense.  We need to watch our speech and we need to watch our thoughts.  We need to recognize that every word we say has consequences and to treat every word as if immediately on leaving our mouths it would be heard by all.  That applies as well, if not even more, to words written, texted, tweeted, e-mailed or posted on Facebook or blog.

"Don't let any nasty word come out of your mouth, only that which is good for building up according to the need, so that if may give grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 6:23).

"But sexual immorality and impurity and any greed should not even be named among you, as is fitting to saints -- or filthiness or stupid talk or crude sarcasm which are unfitting -- but rather thanksgiving" (Ephesians 5:3, 4).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I suspect that for many people, Christmas just doesn't live up to its promises.  I'm not speaking here primarily of all the commercial hype, though that does add to their distress.  Of course, I'm speaking from my own personal experience.  I haven't done any studies or surveys, although I've sensed this feeling from conversations with others.

I grew up during World War II in what would probably be considered a not-too-religious home.  My mother was Roman Catholic who seldom went to church.  My father, to my knowledge, never professed any faith at the time.  But preparation for Christmas was always exciting with decorating the tree -- often one freshly cut from the back yard.  I recall a book of Christmas cards, illustrated with the typical scenes of the season.  I especially liked the pictures of those pretty female angels floating around with their harps.  There was also talk about Santa Claus and I and my sister were quizzed about what gifts we hoped to receive.  (Somehow I don't recall ever "believing in" Santa Claus, but played along to humor my parents.)

It was in a rural school where I learned the most about Christmas.  Public schools in those days never had a problem with this.  We sang Christmas "carols" (hymns) along with songs like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."  Every year the school would have a huge Christmas pageant in which (as I recall) every child would take part.  (Our school went from kindergarten to 8th grade.)  To me the most fascinating part of the program was when three eighth-grade boys would march up the auditorium aisle in their exotic garb singing, "We Three Kings," in their cracking bass (at times) voices.  I dreaded thinking that one day I'd be chosen for the part.  Thankfully I wasn't.

But all of this was a mystery to me.  I knew that at Christmas we celebrated Jesus' birth and I knew who Jesus was (See:  WHY DO I BELIEVE?) but what did it all mean?

The hymns were especially mystifying.  We sang all of the verses, many of which are now no longer sung.  There were baffling lines like these from "Hark the Herald Angels Sing":  "Veiled in flesh the God-head see"; "Rise the woman's conquering seed, bruise in us the serpent's head."  Creepy sounding.

The most confusing, however, were the lines from "Joy to the World," that spoke of the Savior's reigning and all of "heaven and nature" responding.

And lines about "peace on earth, good will to men."

There was a war going on!  And when Christmas was over there would still be war going on!  This was obvious even to me as a child.  So all this anticipation of something better was nothing but a huge let-down.  All things remained the same.

And then there were the much-anticipated presents.  There were gifts at Gramma and Grandpa Lorenz's house on Christmas Eve.  There were gifts under our tree on Christmas morning.  More gifts at Gramma Ball's house Christmas afternoon.  I always received more than what I had hoped for.  And yet by evening the novelty wore off, some of the toys were already broken and a feeling of disappointment would engulf me.  And of course the Christmas celebration was reinforced by alcoholic beverages.  Sometimes there was tension and angry words.  It didn't always end well.

There are many more memories, some very bad and some very good.  But even the good memories finally came to an end, leading to the question of, "Is that all there is to Christmas?"  It never lived up to its reputation, to all that promotion, to all that hype.  And every year, as I grew older, it seemed that the best way to deal with the post-Christmas feelings of despair was to celebrate in the way I learned from my family, with alcohol.  New Year's Eve was coming -- more of the same.

And then in my teens I met another family, the Cooks.  I started dating Uni two months before Christmas, and began hanging around her house all the time.  Christmas there was different.  There weren't many decorations.  The tree didn't appear until a few days before the holiday, after the trees that remained on the lot were discounted.  There were few gifts beneath it.  Mom Dad Cook couldn't afford them.

What impressed me most was the nativity scene; few homes had them in those days.  This one was different from those I'd seen previously.  The stable was home-made; there were little figurines of Mary and Joseph and there was a manger, but it was empty!  I found that when they woke on Christmas morning, the kids (eight at the time) rushed out of their rooms, not to see what Santa brought them, but to see the baby, whom Dad had placed in the manger before going to bed on Christmas Eve.  It seemed that they understood that Christmas isn't about them -- it's about Jesus.

My feelings toward the holiday changed as I began to understand that truth.  And to understand, as well that it's not just about Jesus' birth.  Christmas is not an end in itself, but the beginning of a story that reaches its climax on Easter and doesn't come to a conclusion until He returns.  It is then that we'll be able to truthfully say, "Joy to the world, the Savior reigns," but we can "repeat the sounding joy" in anticipation of that day.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


I recently was forwarded an article entitled "Romans 1:26-27:  A Clobber PassageThat Should Lose its Wallop" by Don M. Barrows, 10/1/2013.  In this article the author tells us that when he is debating with someone who quotes Romans 1:26-27, as proof that the Bible condemns homosexuality, he comments, "What do you make of the vocative at the beginning of Romans 2?"

The author admits that the question is pretentious, but is effective, especially against those who are "eager to wield the Bible as an authoritative weapon" and especially "those who have read it only in translation."

Well, I have to admit that I felt it was pretentious, even pompous, the sort of trick that someone with a knowledge of Greek (no matter how little) would use to show his readers or hearers how smart he is, and to tell them to submit to his authority.  I've heard preachers and debaters do this many times:  throw out a few Greek words, and even better, references to Greek grammar which make little if any sense to the uneducated.  (I confess that I've even done it myself a few times.)

[By the way any reader of an English translation would understand that Paul was speaking directly to the person referred to as "O Man."  One need not be a grammarian to understand the address or the use of the vocative or the second person, though he might not understand the labels.  The English does just fine.]

After reading the challenge at the beginning of the article, I immediately scrolled down to the blurb giving us the author's qualifications.  Among other things, he's "a former Christian fundamentalist" who is "completing his Ph.D. in classical studies."

So, as one who has a bit of working knowledge of the Greek New Testament, I felt I needed to say a few things about Dr. Burrows' argument.  I feel that I may be qualified for this task as one who has been reading the Bible "in translation" for nearly 60 years and as one who has been reading and studying it in the original languages for 40 years.  I, however, only have a Master's degree in theology with a major in New Testament.  I also am, as he is, "a former Christian fundamentalist," though I still consider myself an evangelical and I like to think of myself as a fundamentalist in recovery.

The argument of the article is that Romans 1:18-32, with its offending verses (26, 27) about homosexuality is not original with Paul, but rather "boilerplate"; Paul is here simply presenting standard "Hellenistic Jewish material" attacking Gentiles.  We're told it "does not represent Paul's views and doesn't fit well here as part of Paul's argument, except as some sort of lead-in to his address to his (self-righteous Jewish?) readers in chapter 2, whom he addresses in the vocative case.

I would concur with Dr. Burrows that what Paul is saying in Romans 1:18-32 would be agreeable to a Hellenistic Jew of his day, and I suppose that similar thoughts can be found in contemporary Jewish writings.  But I can't see where Paul in any way disagrees with these thoughts.

Paul and other New Testament writers frequently used the "straw man" tactic, putting words in the mouths of their readers, so that they could refute thinking with which they disagreed.  But usually they give us some indication that they are doing so, often using "but" or some other adversative ("All things are lawful to me, but not all things are profitable" - 1 Corinthians 6:12).  There is no adversative, however, at either end of Romans 1:18-32.  In fact, Paul introduces the section with "for" (gar), which is a conjunction used to indicate cause.

Paul tells his readers earlier in chapter 1, that he is "eager to preach the gospel in Rome" (1:15).  This statement is followed by a series of statements, each introduced by the word "for" (gar).
          "For I am not ashamed of the gospel," (verse 16a)
          "for it is God's power ... " (verse 16b)
          "for God's righteousness is revealed in it ... " (verse 17)
          "for God's anger is revealed from heaven ... " (verse 18)

There is a smooth flow of argument here.  He continues with a "because" (dioti) and a "for" (verse 20) and a "because" (verse 21).

And then we come to 2:1, the passage that has that scary "vocative."  However, it does not begin with the vocative, but with a "therefore" (dio), an inferential conjunction.  The implication would be something like, "what I just said in the previous applies to you" (the person addressed in the vocative).

We should notice that Paul uses the word translated "without excuse" (anapologetos) in both 1:20 and in 2:1.  If I may paraphrase, "these heathen are without excuse for their behavior, and you 'O Man' are also without excuse," because as Paul says, " ... you who judge do the same things!" (2:1b)

Dr. Burrows points to Paul's "similar conclusion" in Romans 14:13, in which he finds similarities to 2:1.  I'll agree that there is a similarity, but 14:13 is near the close of Paul's argument, while 2:1 is near the beginning.  Romans 14:13 is not in the vocative case, but in the subjunctive mood.  It is an exhortation, which includes Paul himself ("let us").  And there's a lot of argument in between.

Paul's argument in the first chapters of Romans is a blanket condemnation of the whole human race, Jew and Gentile.  He wants all to recognize their need so that they can freely receive God's free gift of His righteousness in Christ.  He states in 3:9:

"When then; do we (Jews) excel?  Not at all!  For we have previously accused (proaitiaomai) both Jews and Greeks to be under sin."

But it is in 1:18-32 that Paul had "previously accused" the Gentiles!  If we omit this passage from his argument than he has not accused the Gentiles as he claims.  1:18-32 is a necessary part of his argument.

So I suspect that not only would most of Paul's 21st century English readers see 1:26 and 27 as a condemnation of homosexual behavior, but his first century Greek readers would as well.

But I do also believe that this passage (1:26, 27) is not meant to be a "clobber passage."  A few points need to be made:
·       First, Paul speaks of homosexual sex as an "exchange," as an act that is "contrary to nature."  As such it is used as an illustration or metaphor for man's "exchange" of the revelation of God in nature for something else - idolatry.  The word "exchanged" is used in this way in verses 23 and 25.
·       Homosexual acts are not singled out as the most degraded acts, as many of my conservative friends seem to believe.  They are seen as only one manner of behavior that results from God's giving humankind over to the consequences of their rejection of Him!  See the phrase "God gave them over" in verses 24, 26 and 28.
·       The list of condemned behaviors does not include sexual acts only; there are enough listed here to hit every one of us:  lust, impurity, dishonoring of bodies, a debased mind, greed, envy, murder, gossip, slander, etc., etc.  We all find ourselves here!  We are all "without excuse."

Paul does not give this list in order to condemn any one particular group of sinners, but to point out that we "all have sinned and are falling short of God's glory" (3:23).

And he tells us this to show us our need for a right relationship with God through simple faith in Christ.  " ... even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe; for there is no distinction" (3:22).

And I agree, that "Paul goes on to offer advice on healing the rifts between Jew and Gentile," as he finally attempts in chapters 14 and 15.  But this is only after his readers have recognized their needs for faith and commitment, which occupies much of Paul's argument in the intervening chapters.

I suppose the above thoughts will not be satisfactory to those on either side of the issue of homosexuality.  I make no apologies.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


"And just as you want people to do to you, do to them in the same way" (Luke 6:31).
“Everything then, whatever you want people to do to you, in the same way also do to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Just about everyone seems to have some knowledge of the verse in the Bible known as the Golden Rule found in Jesus' Sermon On The Mount.
We have two different versions of this rule, which differ slightly.  When we remember that Jesus was most likely speaking in Aramaic, while Matthew and Luke have given it to us in Greek, and that both give us condensed versions of the Sermon, the differences can be easily accounted for.  The real difficulty is that Luke places it early in the Sermon, tucked into a longer passage on love, while Matthew places it much later, separating it from other sayings.

Why is this?  I believe that the simplest answer is that Jesus said it twice.  Most preachers (myself included) repeat themselves in the same sermon, so why couldn't He?  The first time it's spoken (Luke 6:31), it is tucked away within Jesus' commands regarding loving our enemies.  The second time was nearer to His closing remarks.

Most people could probably recite the Golden Rule in one form or another, or at least paraphrase it.  It also seems to be the verse most often deliberately misquoted:
·       “Do unto others what they do unto you.”
·       “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
·       Or (my personal favorite) simply:  “Do others!”

The saying (sometimes referred to as the ethic of reciprocity) is so familiar to Christians who know that it’s a quote from Jesus, that they are often surprised to find that this concept is also found in many religions and cultures.  A Google search will quickly show many similar sayings in Buddhism, Baha’i, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, as well as in many ancient writings much older that the Gospels.  A few samples:
  • Buddhism:    
    • "...a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?" Samyutta NIkaya v. 353
    • Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18
  • Confucianism:
    • "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" Analects 15:23
    • "Tse-kung asked, 'Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?' Confucius replied, 'It is the word 'shu' -- reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'" Doctrine of the Mean 13.3
  • Hinduism:   This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata 5:1517
  • Islam: "None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." Number 13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths." 3
  • Judaism: 
    • "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." Talmud, Shabbat 31a
    • "And what you hate, do not do to anyone." Tobit 4:15 4
Theologically liberal Christians gladly receive this information as evidence that all religions are equal.  Theologically conservative Christians are sometimes rattled or upset, feeling that this sort of thinking is a threat to the uniqueness of Jesus.
But is it?  Does finding truth in other religions threaten the uniqueness of Jesus?
No way!
  • First of all we need to realize that not everything Jesus said was original with Him.  Every word He said was and is true, not because it was all original with Him, but because He is God.
  • Secondly the doctrine of natural revelation teaches us that God has revealed Himself in many ways.  “…that which is known of God is evident among them (humankind), for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:19).  “For whenever gentiles, those not having the Law, do by nature the things of the Law, these, though not having the Law are a law to themselves, such ones as show the work of the Law written in their hearts…” (2:14, 15).
But Jesus’ statement is unique for a number of reasons.  The first reason is that it is the word of the Son of God and as such has an authority over His hearers that the other sayings do not.  Also, many (though not all) of the other sayings were in a negative form (“Do not…”), whereas Jesus’ was in a positive form.

Many of the other sayings were stated or could be interpreted with a utilitarian motive, i.e., be nice to others, so that they will be nice to you.  Jesus gives a different reason for this behavior, “…for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  This, I believe, is the radical difference.
Jesus’ hearers were mostly Jews, living under the Old Testament Law of Moses.  In Matthew's Gospel we read that Jesus had already devoted a large portion of this sermon to the proper understanding of that Law (5:17-48).  He taught that God’s Law is not simply about the performance or non-performance of external acts, but began with the thought life.  Much of that teaching was in a negative fashion.  Here, in this one statement, He gives a positive summation of the keeping of the Law, as well as the teachings of the Old Testament prophets.
Later, when Jesus is questioned by a Pharisaic law expert (Matthew 22:34-36; Mark 12:28) as to which is the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus replied, “’You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31).
Jesus here was quoting from two texts in the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18b.  And He ties these two together as a summation of the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus quoted these passages a number of times, but sometimes only the second, Leviticus 19:18b, about loving one’s neighbor.
I would even venture to say that when He placed the two love commands together, He was implying a link between them – an unbreakable link.  Can one actually love his neighbor without loving God?  Can a person love God without loving His neighbor?
And if the “Golden Rule” and the Law of Love are both said to be the fulfillment of God’s Law, can we not assume that they are one and the same?  This elevates the Rule to more than a utilitarian social ethic.  Though it may be found to be good practical advice, it is so much more than that.  It is an expression of the Love of God worked out in our lives.  As John, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, would later write, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
The other disciples also grasped this concept.  James, Jesus’ brother, who was not a believer at the time Jesus preached the Sermon, but may very well have heard it, wrote of it in his letter, referring to it as “the perfect Law, the Law of Liberty” (James 1:25) and “the Royal Law” (2:8).
And then there’s Paul, another who was an unbeliever at the time of the Sermon, who probably never heard Jesus at all, and who many believe wrote before the Gospels were written.  Yet he grasps Jesus’ sayings and almost paraphrases Him.
“For all the Law is fulfilled in one word in this, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for the one who loves the other has fulfilled the Law.  For this, ‘You will not commit adultery, you will not murder, you will not steal, you will not covet,’ and if there’s any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does not do evil to a neighbor, therefore love is the Law’s fulfillment!’” (Romans 13:8-10).
So for the follower of Jesus, the “Golden Rule” is more than just good advice, more than the best advice.  It is the living out of the love of Christ in our relationships with others.
{NOTE:  Most of the above thoughts were previously posted on THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, 20.}

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Luke 6:27-35

          "But I'm saying to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you!  To the one who hits you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the one who takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt!  Give to everyone who asks from you, and from the one who takes away your stuff, don't demand it back! (verses 27-30)
          And just as you want people to do to you, do to them in the same way. (verse 31)
          And if you love those who love you, what grace is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them!  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what grace is that to you?  Even sinners do the same thing.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive what grace is that to you?  Even sinners lend in order that they may receive back the same! (verses 32-34)
          However, love your enemies and do good and lend, not hoping for anything back, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful!" (verse 35)

When Jesus was questioned elsewhere as to what the first and great commandment of the Law was, he replied:  “’You will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the great and first commandment.  And the second is like it.  ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; See also Matthew 19:19).

Jesus was quoting, of course, from the Old Testament Law.  The commandment to love the LORD was from Deuteronomy 6:4, 5.  The commandment to love one’s neighbor came from Leviticus 19:18.

We should note that in the same chapter in Leviticus that Jesus quotes, there is another commandment:  “The stranger (or alien) who resides with you shall be to you as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).  Both verse 18 and 34 conclude with “I am the LORD!”

And later, when a lawyer (teacher of the Law) tried to find a loophole by asking, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus told him a story of how one about whom the lawyer held racial and religious stereotypes (a Samaritan) behaved as a neighbor, and then told the lawyer to do likewise (Luke 10:25-27).

So then, our neighbors include not only those who look, behave and worship like we do, but also aliens, and people of different races and religions.

And here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that we are to love those who hate and persecute us, and we are even to pray for them!  I don’t see how this excludes anyone.  There are no loopholes!

We will have enemies; we’re not told that we won’t.  The New Testament is filled with promises and examples of persecution and conflict.  But I don’t believe that we are to choose our enemies, nor to consider those with whom we simply disagree as our enemies.  Nor are we to pray for their demise.  We can’t prevent some people from being our enemies, but we should leave the choice to them.  And we are to love them.

And the reason given for loving indiscriminately is “You will be sons of the Most High.”  I don’t believe Jesus is speaking here of that sonship that we have through faith in Him, but rather He’s referring to a concept found throughout the Bible.  To be “the son of” someone meant to be characterized by the same traits as that person.  Paul says in Romans 4:11, 12, that Abraham was “the father” of those who believe, even though not physically related.  Jesus accuses the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:31 of being “sons of the murderers of the prophets.”  In similar fashion we show our family relation-ship to our Heavenly Father when we love and do good indiscriminately.

We often tend to read Jesus' commands rather abstractly.  We nod our heads and agree with Him without really considering what it means to love another person. 

There was a dear sweet lady in a church I pastored years ago, but she had an uncontrolled tongue; gossip and hurtful sayings were often part of her conversation.  When I finally confronted her about these things, she gave me a sad puzzled look and said, "But I just loove everybody!"  I'm afraid many of us, myself included, tend to use this as our defense or excuse. 

But Jesus doesn't just give us this command in the abstract.  He gives us specific examples of how that love is to be worked out toward even our enemies:
          Do good to them.
          Bless them.
          Pray for them.
          Don't retaliate.
          Don't withhold.
          Give expecting nothing in return. 

Can we really say that we love our enemies? 

{NOTE:  Most of the above thoughts were previously posted on THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.]