I was reading John 14 today, as I’ve done countless times before. However, after having just reading a bunch of vile “Christian” declarations on the Internet, I had tears in my eyes.
See, I don’t read the Bible to reinforce what I’ve been told it says. I don’t read it to find loopholes in what I’ve been told. I don’t read it to memorize it. I do what Paul praised the Bereans for doing – I scrutinize what I’ve been taught and even what I think it means. I challenge myself and those that attempt to teach me. I don’t do it out of rebellion, I do it because I want to know God and His Word for myself.
I want to learn everything I can about who is speaking, who they are speaking to, where they are, when it happened, what was the culture and politics there, as well as what the listener(s) understood from what was said. (Needless to say, I also spend a lot of time with an online interlinear reference to see it in the original language.)
One thing I don’t do is try to support my agenda. If I hear a teaching, read a post, or watch a video that conflicts with my understanding, I research it. However, if the view in question is being used to promote an agenda that is in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus or the Apostles, I tend to ignore it (or get really worked up by it and respond with a blog post, Facebook rant, or Tweet about it to vent and purge my system of it).
For me, the most important first step of being a Christian (after receiving salvation – which in itself requires its own post) is knowing and reflecting the Heart of God. This cannot be accomplished by dryly reading and absentmindedly being taught what the Bible says/means. (And, yes, I believe the Bible often means something other than what it [has been translated/interpreted to say].)
What do you mean? I’m glad you asked!
I’ve come to accept that the Bible should not always be taken at face value. Jesus, when first addressing Peter, didn’t literally mean He would teach him and his brother to catch men hook, line, and sinker – that’s more of a conman’s job description. He meant He would teach them to gather followers (for/of Him) by the net-full, so many that they would threaten to sink the ship they were on, just as what had happened with the fish they just caught by listening to His instruction.
Jesus was an expert in talking to people in their own language: He talked about farming to farmers, He talked about fishing to fishermen, etc. One place it seems He did a poor job of this was in talking about spiritual matters with religious experts. He talked about love and grace to people who were obsessed with following the rules – this, sadly, is still a huge problem in the Church.
We all read the same words in a book that have been translated and interpreted, but we stumble and fall when we read them as black and white, when we read them as if Jesus were standing in front of us here and now saying them to us. Jesus and the Apostles lived in a different time, a different region, and were typically speaking to people of a different religion than we are. When the Bible refers to Israel or Jerusalem it’s not talking about America – to think it is, is utter arrogance and a massive problem for much of what we now call the Evangelical Right.
Case in point, I saw a meme today with a reference to Luke 22, saying that if you don’t have a sword you should sell your cloak to buy one – this was being used to convince Christians that to be a true Christ-follower they had to own a gun. That’s sick! Apparently they didn’t consider the fact that they had two swords (among the 13 of them) and Jesus said that they were enough. Learning about the culture we find out that the Roman government proclaimed that a gathering where two or more swords were present was considered a rebellious uprising. Jesus also warned Peter (after using one of the swords to cut off an ear) that if you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword. Something tells me I don’t have to own a gun (or a sword) to go to Heaven.
Understanding scripture is of the utmost importance.
We can quote the scriptures day and night, but if we don’t know the heart behind them, we are lacking and will be less effective in Jesus’ mandate to make disciples (not converts – another pet peeve of mine). Jesus’ message (the Gospel) always centered around the Kingdom of Heaven. His ministry was the ministry of reconciliation. Everything He did, He did out of self-sacrificial love. It is our role to take up His mantle and continue His work.
But how can we do that if we are still stuck on picking out the rules to follow and trying to scare people into saying a prayer to go to Heaven?
All through the book of John, Jesus said things like, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” How awesome would it be to know the Father’s Heart and be that in-tune with Holy Spirit?
Jesus broke the rules.
Again, He wasn’t trying to be rebellious, He was just more concerned about the people He interacted with and showing them the love of the Father. He found God’s Heart when He read “the Law and the Prophets.” He attempted to translate it to the people who should have got it, but their hearts were hard and couldn’t receive love, couldn’t accept a peaceful Messiah, couldn’t reconcile the fact that God called sinners and gentiles unto Himself.
Most overly religious people don’t even talk to me… My friends are either like-minded folks at church or my heathen/agnostic/atheist co-workers.
I assure you, there is nothing like having someone you know and love tell you that they had given up on Christians, but you are actually what they think Jesus was like.
Let’s have this be the primary goal of our lives: To know and reflect the Heart of God; to say I do only what I see my Father do, I say only what I hear my Father saying.