red letter Christians

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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One of my daily reads is RED LETTER CHRISTIANS. It is a ministry which I use to lead my desire for simplicity in my faith walk.  You may have a red letter KJV Bible as I do.  Mine was presented to me on the occasion of confirmation at age 13 into the Lutheran Church.  Over the years I felt a need to add a Scofield, a Comparative Study Bible which presents 4 translations side-by-side, and an American Standard Bible.  I also have a translation of the Torah and a Concordance.  Additionally, my book shelves overflow with commentaries and theological opinions.

I am not trying to impress you with my collection of books.  I am letting you know that I am the ultimate doubter.  I am the apostle Thomas in the Jesus story.  “Let me see your hands with the nail holes and the scars on your head from the crown of thorns.  Prove to me through the many books which I have read that you are real, that you are indeed a Lord and Master.”

And nothing happened.  I learned an abundance of information about Israel, about Jerusalem, about the apostles who followed Jesus, about life under the Jewish religious hierarchy, about the oppression of the common people.  But, I sadly realized that somehow I was not getting the message.  And why was that?

I began to understand through engaging with the community of ‘red letter Christians’, those followers who find their truth in the red letters of the Bible, the words which are attributed to Jesus, the Christ, the union of man and God. The words, the teachings, the parables, the healings popped off the printed page and became real when I saw them as a guide to living rather than a God 101 course.  When I read those red letters as a call to action rather than a statement of belief, my faith can be transactional rather than static.

I believe Jesus spoke those red letter words in his ministry, but it doesn’t matter if he did not.  I believe he walked the earth as a common peasant, that he had healing powers, that he performed miracles, that he died on a cross.  But it does not matter if he did not because I do not worship Jesus, I merely aspire in my everyday life to be more like the man portrayed in my Bible.  I accept those red letters presented to doubters like me as proof that you and I can hope to live life abundantly even when persecuted,  even when destitute, even when crucified for being who we are.

Many of you, like me, grew up in churches with spectacular stained glass windows, with a crucifix in the sanctuary and paintings depicting Biblical stories.  Some of us mistakenly were taught to worship those icons and images.  The heavens were filled with angels and a wrathful God holding lightning bolts in his hand.  We recited the Creeds as statements of belief.  But nowhere in those creeds does the humanity of Jesus take precedence.  The love, compassion, forgiveness are forgotten.  In the Apostles’ Creed Jesus is taken from “born of the Virgin Mary” to persecution under Pontius Pilate to crucifixion on the cross, to death.

Did Jesus not live a life in his 32-34 years walking the earth between “born of the Virgin Mary” to “died and was buried”?  That was the missing link in my years playing the role of doubting Thomas.  The red letters tell me about the man who ministered to the poor, healed the broken, forgave the sinner, and also lived his life abundantly.  He did not shy away from a wedding with flowing wine or a good time with friends or supper with society’s disenfranchised.

That’s the Jesus to whom I can relate, the one I want my life to emulate.

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g.o.d.

orange treeThose of you in a recovery program will recognize this acronym and some of you who read me know that I have referenced it before in my writing.  It represents a concept which many of us newly sober men and women grasped gratefully because we refused to acknowledge an entity which had been so miserably projected unto us by religionists.  It stands for “good orderly direction”.

It kept me returning to the meeting rooms and undoubtedly led me to a serene sobriety.  Ultimately my Higher Power did soften my strident anti-God attitude and introduced me to the miracles found in all the scriptures and wisdom sayings of numerous religions.  For me to profess a God of any understanding is in itself one of the most profound miracles in my entire life.  To finally realize the love of a Higher Power and to name that power God was unimaginable even after several years of sobriety.

So, you can understand my aroused interest upon reading another man’s viewpoint that God is not truly a noun, an entity to be beheld, but a verb, a word of action.  Actually this is not merely a point of view, it is a legitimate interpretation by a recognized researcher and scholar of Jewish scriptures.

“COMMENTARY ON THE TORAH” by Richard Elliott Friedman discusses the passage in Exodus 3:14-15 in which Moses is speaking to God who has just informed him that he, Moses, would lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage.  Moses’ response was, “Well, who are you, what shall I call you?”

Thus we have the familiar words, “I am who I am”, YHWH, which is translated into Anglican texts as Yahweh.  Christian interpretation is, at best, confusing and unclear.  But in his commentary, the author explains to us that the imperfect verb used is not limited to present tense; it can also be future tense, thereby also rendering the words as “I shall be who I shall be.”  Furthermore, in this passage the name of God is now revealed for the first time to the Israelites.

“YHWH” is a verb, third person, singular, and masculine.  Its root meaning is “to be”.  It cannot be limited to past, present or future time.  It is timeless and its nearest translation would be, “He Causes To Be”.  Don’t get hung up on the masculinity attribute as that was the Jewish custom.  Biblical Israel conceived God as male.

Adding this insight to a compendium of prior revelations about the Higher Power whom I name God gives an added layer of meaning to the acronym, g.o.d., in the ongoing process of recovery.  It suggests motion, movement into a life of dedication and service which is essentially what Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and other recovery programs emphasize.  Good, orderly direction is more than a cute phrase hanging in a picture frame on our meeting-room wall.CANDLE

 

Cain & Abel

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”  He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”  Genesis 4:9-10  CANDLE

I sometimes find myself deeply conflicted.  That statement is possibly the greatest truth I shall utter today.  For me to allow myself to boast or lead any of you to believe that I’ve got it all together would be a lie worthy of a whipping….well, maybe just a tongue-lashing.  Should a person who has been granted a reprieve from the hell of addiction through the mercy and grace of a Higher Power in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous climb down into the slime pits with the dirty and grimy rhetoric of politics?  Doing so inevitably will challenge the message of the Lord to love my neighbor as myself.  I could be tempted to say things not totally spiritual.  I could show a degree of judgmental thinking.  I could possibly, in the heat of my inner passion, name-call.  How do I reconcile brotherly love with neighborly discord?   Ahh, the torture of internal conflict.

Am I the type of citizen who tries to discern  between righteous behavior and disingenuous behavior in the secular and political world?  Do I voice my opinion? Should I follow the lead of Jesus who turned  over the money-changers tables in the temple, who showed anger with the Pharisees, who challenged the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his culture?  I don’t believe I was saved from the hell of alcoholism to ride the fence.  I will either involve myself whole-heartedly and sometimes vociferously or recede into apathy’s woodwork hoping that justice will prevail without my input.  Either choice is a viable option and I certainly don’t know if either is the right way.

I accept as a resolution to this internal conflict that a conscience has been installed within me which is uniquely mine.  What works for me might not be right for you.  I should not expect my brother/sister to process circumstances in our society and our culture in the same way I do.  I love my Higher Power with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength, and all my mind.  Yet, my reaction and my behavior toward external circumstances will never be identical to yours.  That’s the beauty of a mysterious, indescribable, undefinable, universal entity named many names by various cultures.  Therein is the wisdom of covering my heart with the love of Jesus and “practicing these principles in all my affairs”  when encountering  the dirt and grime which is the gist of our world today.  That is the essence of “Solidarity: I am you, you are me, we are united as One.”  Wherever my path takes me, I know that I can never, ever, follow this course perfectly.  I have not yet received from God an application for sainthood.

But, should I see myself as my brother’s keeper?  Do you?  What if the entire world would see itself as its brother’s keeper?  Hey, bro, I’ve got your back covered.  Adam and Eve in the folklore of Jewish literature had a number of children.  If we believe the 1st book of the Torah to be literal, then the resulting incest between the first brothers and sisters produced the civilization who were forefathers of Abraham.  The first murder is recorded in Genesis 4.  Cain slew his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy.  He had reason to believe that the Lord favored his brother’s meat sacrifice over his own offering from the “fruits of the soil”.

When confronted by the Lord, Cain’s response was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Yeah, me too.  That’s my first thought whenever injustice, poverty, intolerance, oppression, hatred, or racism are perpetrated upon my fellow-man.  We live in a world of  “every man for himself”, “he who snoozes, loses”, and “what’s in it for me?”  I am the first to admit that my feet don’t always rush to the aid of my neighbor in need.  But, that’s where conscience kicks in and that inner voice won’t let me alone, it gets louder and louder until I do something.

One of my favorite contemporary Christian songs by Matthew West tells of a man who sees the inhumanity in the world and implores his Lord to do something about the abuse and injustice he sees.  God answers, “I did. I created you.”

That’s quite a directive, isn’t it?  We were created to do something about our fellow man’s plight on earth.  Cain asked many centuries ago, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The question continues to boggle the mind of mankind today.  Like Cain, many of us would sooner be exiled to an existence apart from God than follow his directive.  Today I know the right answer is yes but that does not guarantee a right heart or a right action.  Rightness comes from the willingness to be a better man than I was yesterday.  Not yet a saint, but working on that application.  Gonna need a bucketful of references.smiley 3