Thursday, February 26, 2015

This week's Bible study will be First Corinthians chapter eleven

On Proper Behavior Before and During Worship
[1st Corinthians chapter 11]

First, my apologies for my recent absence and many thanks to all my readers who have waited patiently while my website was being rebuilt. My former Internet hosting account with Yahoo was hacked beyond repair, which is to say that Yahoo's tech support was clueless about how to recover my website and my extensive list of professional contacts. That's right, it all got wiped out and I am now using a different company. Now, however, it's time to get back to focusing on the promotion of Jesus Christ and His agenda, which is to reach out across the Web and help save souls through this on-line church, and to get the message of salvation to those persons on the Internet who would normally not be found in traditional churches or denominations. We all have so little time left before His return, which is why the message I am passing along has such a sense of urgency. The world as we have known it is dying from rampant pollution, pointless wars that have no end, overpopulation, potentially catastrophic climate change, and the overuse and mis-allocation of natural resources. And so it is time for all of us to get our minds off all the negative forces that make up our dying world, and to begin to focus on and engage with the forces of good. In so doing, the best way to begin to do this is to focus our hearts and minds on Jesus, whose Spirit causes us to rise up and stand against the forces of evil. That brings me to the topic of 1st Corinthians chapter 11, which delves into what is fitting and proper in the course of worshiping Christ, who is the world's only remaining hope.

I'm going to skim through the first 13 verses of chapter 11 without much comment due to some rather antiquated concepts about dress and personal grooming taught from a 1st century perspective. The most important is verse 1, which simply says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”, and this is timeless advice any way you look at it. We learn to follow the example of Christ by reading his Word and putting it into practice, and this should be an ongoing practice for everyone because faith in Jesus is serious business, especially in a world where we are surrounded by evil on all sides. Paul then writes in verse 3, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God”. Although these values were very relevant when St. Paul first wrote them 2,000 years ago, the part that says, “the head of every woman is man” is no longer true in today's world, where modern values dictate that men and women are equals and that there is parity between the two genders. Such thinking would have been considered heretical in Paul's time.

I grew up in a household where the father totally dominated everything and everybody else, both inside and outside the marriage and the family. The end result was a dysfunctional family that was ruled by fear and intimidation instead of by love and unity as it should have been. In short, the relationship between the father and the other family members was abusive. Abusiveness and domestic violence such as what I experienced when I was growing up simply have no place in any household, and that is doubly true for a Christian household regardless of church membership or denomination. And so I have seen this precept misused by “religious” people over and over again. Jesus does not rule over us by domination and control, He does so out of love, grace and mercy (“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”). The remainder of these first 13 verses is where Paul writes, mainly from his own viewpoint, about the type of dress right down to the length and style of the believer's hair. Very seldom will you see me disagree with anything in the Bible, but this is one of those rare exceptions. Paul even gets into whether or not people should cover their heads during prayers (as if that matters).

It is common to see me in church wearing casual clothes such as shorts in the summer (it gets plenty hot in the summer here in Atlanta where I live) or jeans in the winter. I find it most unfortunate that some churches use these verses as an excuse to dress up like they are going to a fashion show instead of to a house of worship. I have been in churches where men and women alike were wearing literally thousands of dollars in high-end clothing and jewelry, and these types of people invariably sneer at those who don't – or can't – afford to dress as they do. Remember what Jesus said when He was teaching in the temple at Jerusalem, and I paraphrase: it matters a lot more what is on the inside of a believer than what is on the outside. External appearances don't count for very much in the church of the last days before His return. God is far more interested in the state of our souls than in the state of our wardrobe.

The apostle Paul seems to at least attempt to clarify this when he wrote in verses 11 and 12, “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” It is difficult to tell whether Paul is offering this as a continuation of his train of thought in the previous verses, or that it is a caveat for the same. At any rate, I will now continue with this study by returning to the verse-by-verse teaching that you all have become used to, beginning at verse 17.

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! For I received of the Lord what I already passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me'. In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying,' This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me'. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.” (1 Corinthians chapter 11, verses 17-26 NIV)

Let me stop at this point and give a little cultural and historical perspective on what Paul is writing about. First of all, we must understand that Jesus Christ walked the earth as a Jewish man, and consequently the vast majority of new converts in the early church were mostly Jewish as well. It was actually Paul that first brought the message of salvation through Christ to non-Jews, first in ancient Israel and soon after to Greece and what is now modern-day Turkey, and ultimately to Rome, capital of the infamous empire of its day that could arguably be called the world's first superpower like the USA is today. The Jews of that time had a time-honored tradition that dated all the way back to the time of Moses. They would gather together on the Sabbath and have a celebratory banquet similar to pot-luck dinners today. The Jewish term for this celebration is “Shabbot” , and this tradition is still celebrated today in synagogues the world over as well as no small number of Christian churches such as this who embrace the Spiritual connection between Christianity and Judaism.

In the time of the early church, there were a lot of poor and destitute persons, many of whom did not always have enough to eat. Besides coming to worship the Prince of Peace, there can be no doubt that they looked forward to attending Shabbot on the sabbath because this was one day out of the week when they knew they could get a pretty good meal. Based on what Paul wrote in this passage, the services in that day and time must have been pretty rowdy by today's standards, and some believers were apparently far more devout than others. People would show up before the service began, eat up all the food and drink up all the wine and then leave, when in fact the feast did not begin until after the service was over, as well it should. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” It's pretty clear that Paul was upset with these people who showed callous disregard for the sacredness of the celebration. Paul then reminds them in no uncertain terms of why they gather together to commemorate the Last Supper, and he scolds them for having no appreciation for this solemn occasion, and for total contempt towards those in attendance who were less fortunate. He then finishes making his point beginning in verse 27 while giving the Corinthian church a very stern warning (as well he should have).

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it does not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.” (1 Corinthians 11, verses 27-34 NIV)

Going to church, whether it is to have a service, revival, or a pot-luck dinner, is a solemn and momentous occasion. Going to church is not so much a religious obligation as it is a celebration of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Let us therefore examine ourselves to keep from coming under God's judgment so we will not be “condemned with the world”. When our physical lives on earth are over – and everybody has their time including me – we look forward to spending an eternity with our Lord and Savior in heaven, remembering that we would not be there if it weren't for Him. The time to begin preparing for this is now. Worshiping God is serious business. Church is not a social club, or just a nice place to network or to sneak a peek at the opposite sex, and it most definitely is not a fashion show like I mentioned at the beginning of this study. Worshiping Jesus Christ is a sacred and highly spiritual co-mingling with Him, and it isn't always done in church. I pray every day, sometimes at home, sometimes on the bus or the subway, or when I am walking down the street. I can take my church with me everywhere I go if I want to. After all, since Jesus – and the guardian angels that He surrounds me with – is always with me, it seems fitting and proper that I should want to reciprocate.
And so should the rest of us.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Christian Right Is Neither, and Here Goes Your Proof

The Christian Right Would Disagree With Me
If I Told Them What Was Really In the Bible
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

I met someone not too long ago who insisted that the King James Bible is the only legitimate version available. As far as he was concerned, all other versions currently in print, including my New International version Bible, were “not from God”. I don't care to elaborate on this much except to say that I don't agree with that at all. But I'm using this example to make the point that there are a lot of conservative right-wingers like that guy who have some views about the Bible and Christianity that are totally contrary to the Scriptures. If indeed these people's beliefs are inconsistent with Scripture, then the question becomes why do religious extremists on the right (and Christianity has them just like the Muslims do) get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support (such as endless wars)? The answer is simple: Conservatives have not read the Bible. Of the ones who do, an overwhelming number of Christians are astonishingly illiterate when it comes to understanding the Bible. On hot-button social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, Biblical passages are invoked without any real understanding of the context or true meaning. What America needs is Christianity without the dogma, and faith without the spiritual pollution of conservative politics. Nondenominational Christianity with the commandments of Jesus Christ being first and foremost, viewed from a liberal or leftist perspective, would be far closer to what Jesus originally taught than the ultra-conservative slant being espoused all over the right-wing media today. That's why it's vital as we live in these last days to help the helpless whenever possible. In so doing, we become ambassadors for Christ while living our lives in complete accordance with God's will.

It’s surprising how little Christians know of what is still the world's most popular book. The Right has successfully rebranded liberals who gave away free healthcare and were pro-redistributing wealth into a white-skinned-only, trickledown, union-busting conservative. So how much do secular Americans know of the book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true (like I do)? Surveys that I pulled up on the Internet show that 60 percent of Christians can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A 2013 Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse. So, if Americans get an F in the basic fundamentals of the Bible, what hope do they have in knowing what Jesus would say about labor unions, taxes on the rich, universal healthcare, and food stamps? It becomes easy to spread a lie when no one knows what the truth is. That's why the Right has successfully rebranded liberals who gave away free healthcare and were pro-redistributing wealth into a white-skinned-only, trickledown, union-busting conservative. The truth, whether conservatives like it or not, is not only that Jesus was a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors – except when He threw the moneychangers out of the Temple in Matthew 21, verses 12-13 – but when one reads down a couple more chapters in any of the 4 Gospels, it was the religious conservatives who had Jesus killed. The fact that He rose again on the third day tells me everything I need to know about Jesus' view of conservatives. American conservatives, however, have morphed Jesus into a muscular masculine warrior, in much the same way the Nazis did, as a means of combating “terrorism”, which has become a synonym for American world domination.

Knowing the Bible requires a contextual understanding of authorship, history and interpretation. For instance, when Republicans were justifying their cuts to the food stamp program back in 2013, they quoted the 2nd book of Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” One poll showed that more than 90 percent of Christians believe this New Testament quote is attributed to Jesus. It’s not! This was taken from a letter written by Paul to his church in Thessalonica. Paul wrote to this specific congregation to remind them that there were too many people in the congregation that were freeloading off that church. Only a few were doing all the work and making the majority of the financial contributions, and everybody else was just hanging around for the free food. What Paul did say is that anyone too lazy to work shouldn't expect anything at dinner time, and that's just common sense.

What often comes as a surprise to your average Sunday wine-and-cracker Christian is the New Testament did not fall from the sky the day Jesus ascended to Heaven. The New Testament is a collection of writings, 27 in total, of which 12 are credited to the authorship of Paul, four to the Gospels (Luke also wrote Acts), and the balance with the remaining apostles. What we do know about Jesus, at least according to the respective gospels, is that Jesus’ sentiments closely echoed the social and economic policies of the political left in the 21st century. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount read like the mission statement of the ACLU: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is kingdom of heaven,” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called 'Sons of the living God'.” Jesus also said, “Judge not, or else you shall be judged, for you who pass judgment do the same things yourselves”, and “Sell what you have and give it to the poor” (I'm paraphrasing here). Sounds an awful lot like wealth redistribution to me, a societal woe that urgently needs to be addressed if ever there was one. So, when Republicans accuse Obama of being a brown-skinned socialist who wants to redistribute the wealth, they’re thinking of Jesus.

Biblical illiteracy is what has allowed the Republican Party to get away with shaping Jesus into their image. That's why politicians on the right can get away with saying 'the Lord commands' that our healthcare, prisons, schools, retirement, transport, and all the rest should be run by corporations for profit. When the Christian Right believes it’s channeling Jesus when they say it’s immoral for government to tax billionaires to help pay for healthcare, education and the poor, they’re actually channeling atheism. When Bill O’Reilly claims the poor are immoral and lazy, that’s not Jesus, it’s atheism! The price this country has paid for biblical illiteracy is measured by how far we’ve moved toward atheism’s “utopia”. In the past three decades, we’ve slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy, destroyed labor unions, deregulated financial markets, eroded public safety nets, and committed to one globalist corporate free-trade agreement after another. With the far-right, Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Koch brothers' Citizens United, the flow of billions of dollars from anonymous donors to the most reliable voting bloc of the Republican Party—the Christian Right—will continue to perpetuate the biblically incompatible, anti-government, pro-deregulation-of-business, anti-healthcare-for-all, Tea Party American version of Christianity, and I for one have had more than enough.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

This is what can happen when Murphy's law kicks in

Lessons Learned From Being Knocked Off the Internet, or
How I Spent My Involuntary Vacation

First, let me thank all my faithful readers who have waited patiently while I put up this new website, got all new email set up and restored access to my blogs and social media. Although I posted several messages apiece on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ alerting everyone that my site and email were all down, it sure is good to be back! For all the rest, or who may be seeing one of my postings for the first time, my website fell victim to a particularly ferocious hack attack on the 10th of January. This hack evidently originated somewhere in Russia, and was apparently motivated by the fact that mine is an exclusively Christian website (never mind the 'progressive' part for the moment) and the hacking was done by purported atheists. At first it was absolutely maddening – I couldn't log on to anything because all my passwords had been changed, and I had no way to change them back (can I get a witness?). But it didn't take me long to figure out there was nothing I could do about it – the damage had already been done. Being a follower of Christ, I did not allow any of that to make me angry, although having a fit of rage did cross my mind.

That was over two weeks ago. After discovering that there was a chance the hackers had at least attempted to access my bank account, I was compelled to go down to my credit union, close out my checking account and open a new one in its place. Afterwards came a slow-as-molasses-in-January wait for my replacement debit card to arrive in the mail. Since I'm retired and on a fixed income, I have only one debit card and no credit cards (if I can't afford to pay cash for it, I can't afford it). That's why I was forced to hold off on constructing my new website, since I had no way to pay for the new Web services I would need. But the new website you're all looking at now is the end result of all the fuss and the trouble I have been through to get this ministry back to this point. At least it looks better than the old one, mainly due to the fact that the 'app' I'm using to build and power this site is far more sophisticated than my old one, which was from 'Yahoo'. But there's so much more to this than that. Let's see what the Bible says about someone being attacked just because they're Christian.

First, it says in Matthew chapter 5 and verses 11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets that were before you.” Have I been insulted on line? I can't even print some of the junk I have been told, mainly by Muslims and atheists but also by a surprising number (to me at least) of alleged “Christians” who condemn everybody who doesn't believe what their little denominations believes in. This has been a problem within the greater Church since the days when the apostle Paul wrote what we now call First Corinthians chapter three, where he rightfully shamed the church at Corinth for conflicts over doctrine that were occurring at that time. What persons, living or otherwise, could be examples of Matt. 5:11-12 as I write this? The first and most obvious answer would be none other than Jesus Christ Himself, who was beaten and whipped unmercifully, and then shamed by his death by crucifixion, the ultimate death penalty. Jesus rejoiced and was glad in His Spirit when He was crucified – although He chose not to show it – and was buried, only to rise from the grave on the morning of the third day. Moreover, Jesus has received an eternal reward for his perfect fulfillment of Biblical prophecy by being seated at the right hand of his Father in heaven.

Another example I can think of is Rev. Dr. King, Jr. He was followed incessantly by FBI agents everywhere he went and hounded by the press for years, who hoped they could catch him in one kind of illicit behavior or another. But, even after all those years, they couldn't pin a single thing on that man – nothing! So, they killed him instead. In much the same way the prophets of old were treated, such as the original 11 martyred apostles, and even the prophets of the Old Testament such as Isaiah, who was killed by being sawn in half. More Christians were martyred for their faith in the 20th century than were killed in the previous 19 centuries combined! Moreover, there are as many Christians who have been martyred for their faith in the 21st century up until today than were martyred in the entire 20th century. If this isn't a ramping up in the Spirit towards the rapture of the Church, then I don't know what is.

There was at least several, and likely more, of the original 11 apostles (or 12 if you count Paul) who also had something important to say about enduring personal attacks as well as attacks in the spirit. Consider the following quotes from James chapter 1, verses 4-5: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops persevereance. Persevereance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. And again it is written further down in verse 13: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him”. Plus, let's not forget that the apostle Paul taught that “God does not show favoritism” (or, 'is no respecter of persons' in the KJV). Everybody has to go through strongly negative experiences at some point in life, but it happens so God can build us up, not so He can tear us down. God never does that to anybody unless it's a rebuke, but people can do it to themselves unawares.

So, from all that has happened here during the last couple of weeks, I have learned to feel blessed when faced with adversity, to praise God even when I am attacked, and to be at peace, even when surrounded by enemies. God has given me a lesson in perseverance, and I have evidently passed the test, although it wasn't easy by a long shot. There were times when my patience were pushed to its very limits and beyond, but now I'm stronger because of it. Now I know more than ever that a crown of righteousness awaits me when my life here is over and I enter heaven, because I have endured the trials that have been set before me, and I will continue, with God's help, to be made strong enough by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to endure any trial or trouble that may come my way. And, since I'm no smarter or better than anybody else, everyone who reads this can do the same.