The Bible Clearly Says…!

Bible in HebrewWhen I was working with my friends David Fredrickson and Bob Humphrey on our video series Church Outside the Walls, one of the things that was a bit rattling was realizing that when scholars approach scriptural texts, the way they interpret them is at times influenced by the people and/or organizations that are paying them for their work. This isn’t to say the scholars have evil motives or are purposely twisting texts. But what it does mean is when they come to a word or phrase that’s meaning is either unclear or can lean one of two or more directions the interpreters will choose the interpretation that is most satisfying to those who are paying for the work to be done.

Dr. Stephen Crosby illustrates how challenging translating texts can be in his book, How New is the New Covenant by relating it to our use of “hot dog.” He points out that when one says “hot dog” he could be referring to something we eat, an overheating animal, a person performing dangerous stunts, or he could simply be making an excited exclamation, “Hot Dog!” The interpretation depends entirely on the context and one’s understanding of our culture. This is why you can have one scripture but depending upon the translation, two different interpretations.

Let me give you an example of this. One scripture where this can be seen is Hebrews 10:25. In the King James Version it reads, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Notice the phrase “the assembling of ourselves together.” The NKJV and the NASB also use similar phrasing. Looking at the verse at face value in these translations, what does the writer seem to be saying? I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “assembling of ourselves together” I immediately think of an assembly. You know, those large meetings we had to attend in high school held in the cafeteria or gym? So the writer seems to be saying we need to attend large scheduled meetings in which most of us are spectators.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible also upholds this point of view, “not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” So there you have it! Make sure you don’t skip out on attending worship meetings.  Got it!

That sounds correct until we turn to the 1599 Geneva Bible which says, “Not forsaking the fellowship that we have among ourselves, as the manner of some is: but let us exhort one another, and that so much the more, because ye see that the day draweth near.” Wait a minute! Hold the phone! What is this business of, “the fellowship we have among ourselves”? That doesn’t sound like an assembly type meeting at all but rather relational connections. The NIV says, “not giving up meeting together…” That one can go either way. It can be an assembly type gathering but it can also be simply getting together with others. The New Living Translation has similar wording. While The Voice says, “not forgetting to gather as a community…” That sounds similar to the Geneva Bible.

What’s up with the mixed messages? Why do some seem to be saying “attend assemblies” while others seem to be saying, “stay relationally connected with other people?” Well, it hinges on what the translators want the Bible to be saying. Take the KJV, for example. Can you think of any reason why on Earth the translators commissioned by a Protestant king who wanted to maintain law and order in his country would prefer the phrase, “assembling of ourselves together” over “the fellowship that we have among ourselves”? Can you think of any reason why churches with leaders whose salaries depend upon the faithful contributions of members would feel the same?

So next time you pick up your Bible and are tempted to say, “The Bible clearly says!” Stop and realize that is not the case. You are reading an ancient collection of writings that has been painstakingly translated into your language by passing through the filters and “biases” of the translators and publishers.

Loren Rosser

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Little Timmy and Big Tom: Two Different Views of the Cross

Many of my Christian views have radically changed over the last 16 years. A big one is my view of the cross. While growing up in church and attending vacation Bible school, before asking us if we’d like to receive Christ as out Lord and Savior, my pastor used to tell us a story about Little Timmy and Big Tom. I even told it several times myself in high school as a counselor at a Christian camp. The story went like this:

Once back in the 1800’s there was an old one room school house where all the children of all ages would gather to attend school. The school house had a small room by the entrance where they would all leave their coats and lunches. One day at lunchtime one boy’s lunch turned up missing. The teacher, a just man, warned the class not to be stealing lunches. The next day another student’s lunch was missing. Then a third day the same thing occurred. So when class was in session the teacher stood in front of the class with hickory stick in hand and firmly informed them, “This stealing needs to stop. If I find out who is stealing the lunches he will be brought in front of the class and be whipped 10 times with the hickory stick.”

To everybody’s surprise, the very next day the culprit was caught in the act. It was a frail, skinny boy they called Little Timmy. His family’s crops had failed that year so they didn’t have much food. The teacher cringed at the thought of whipping this young man, but being a just man he knew that rules are rules. He had to carry through with what he said. So Little Timmy was brought before the classroom and the teacher asked him, “Did you steal those lunches?” Timmy nodded yes. The teacher’s heart sank. He asked Timmy to take off his shirt. His tattered shirt practically fell off exposing his yellowish skin and the bones beneath it. “If I whip this boy it may kill him.” thought the teacher. But he knew somebody had to pay for stealing those lunches. He told Timmy to clasp his ankles. Then the teacher raised the hickory stick and just as he was about to bring it down on Timmy’s back a large hand grasp the teacher’s wrist and stopped him. The teacher turned to see Big Tom standing there. Tom was the biggest and brightest student in the class.

Tom said, “Teacher, don’t hit Timmy.”

The teacher responded, “I don’t want to Tom. But somebody has to pay for what he did.”

Tom said, “I know. I’ll do it. It was my lunch he stole. Whip me instead.”

The teacher agreed. Timmy put his shirt back on and took his seat as Tom took Timmy’s punishment for him. Afterwards the teacher commended Tom and Timmy ran up to him, threw his arms around him, and with tears in his eyes cried out, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

And then the teller of the story turns to the audience and says, “Big Tom did for Little Timmy what Jesus did for us.” But now I don’t agree with that story.

Today if I were to tell the story, it would go like this:

Once back in the 1800’s in the town of Willow Glen (founded by the rich and powerful Captain “Big Tom” Collins) there was an old one room school house where all the children of all ages would gather to attend school. The school house had a small room by the entrance where they would all leave their coats and lunches. One day at lunchtime one boy’s lunch turned up missing. The teacher warned the class not to be stealing lunches. The next day another student’s lunch was missing. Then a third day the same thing occurred. The anger amongst the students as well as with teacher was rising. It was becoming very difficult for the teacher to maintain a constructive learning environment. Something had to be done or he would lose control of the class. So the teacher stood in front of the students and told them, “When I find out who is stealing those lunches he will be brought in front of the class and whipped with my hickory stick ten times.” The class cheered!

Sure enough! The very next day the culprit was said to have been caught in the act. Little Timmy, a skinny, frail boy who was bullied from time to time was brought in front of the class. “He was caught eating my lunch!” Cried out Will, one of the students. “Look! Three bites were taken out of my sandwich.” Will’s best friends, Jeff and Jason shouted out, “Yep!” and “I was there! I saw him do it!” The students all turned and sneered at Little Timmy. Some could be heard muttering words like, “Criminal!” “Thief!” and “Jack-ass!” The teacher signaled the class to be silent and he turned and asked Little Timmy, “Young man, tell me, did you steal those lunches?” Timmy didn’t say a word. He just stood there. The teacher asked again. “Timmy, I’m going to ask you a second time, there won’t be a third. Did you steal those lunches?” Timmy remained silent. The teacher picked up his hickory stick and said, “You leave me with no choice. Take off your shirt.” Timmy removed his shirt exposing his yellowish skin and the bones beneath it. The teacher was undeterred. He ordered Little Timmy to clasp his ankles. As Timmy bent over to do so he could see the faces of his classmates. Some were sneering at him, others had twisted grins of satisfaction. One thing was for sure, there wasn’t a friendly face in the crowd. Not even counting those who he played with every day. He looked at them and said, “I forgive you all.” He clasped his ankles and the teacher proceeded to whip him. After each blow a faint whisper coming from Timmy’s lips could be heard saying, “I forgive you.” By the seventh blow Little Timmy collapsed on the floor. The teacher struck him three more times then asked a few of the big students to help him to his seat. They carried him to the desk in the back where he sat slumped over like a corpse for the rest of the day while the students peacefully returned to their regular instruction.

The next day the teacher and students began to hear rumors that Timmy had been treated by the best physician in town. This troubled them. That physician only treated the rich and important. When they returned to class they were shocked to see Timmy sitting in his seat looking perfectly healthy and stronger than ever. It was as if nothing had even happened. And to make matters even worse, a rumor had begun to spread and was proving to be more and more true, that Timmy was the son of the rich and powerful naval captain Big Tom Collins, the founder of the town who was lost at sea for over a decade and was recently discovered alive and well and was returning home. Seeing Timmy sitting there caused them all to shutter with fright. Timmy smiled at each student as they walked by his desk, wishing them a good morning. Some sheepishly responded back with a nervous “good morning” while others had no idea what to say. Who knew what Big Tom would do to them and their families when he found out what they’d done to his son? One thing was for sure, they’d pay a hefty price!

Then, as class was about to begin, Timmy did something shocking. He stood up and called for everybody’s attention. He said, “You’re all forgiven. You have nothing to fear.”

The class was silent and then finally the teacher got up the nerve to ask the very question they were all pondering, “Wh-what about your father?”

Timmy smiled reassuringly, “I’m just like my father.”

The class was left speechless and completely dumbfounded.

Jesus didn’t take our place on the cross as a sacred religious sacrifice to appease an angry God. Jesus revealed us to us by exposing our constant drive to scapegoat and sacrifice others by becoming the victim. Through the resurrection he revealed a terrifying thing: we, Jews and Gentiles alike, are even willing to go so far as to scapegoat God Himself. And Jesus revealed God to us by being the meek victim and forgiving the very people who had done this to him and refused to return to us what we deserved. Rather, he calls us family and welcomes us with open arms. God is not like us, demanding blood and sacrifice. It is we who demand it. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13) The prophet Hosea spoke, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6) Jeremiah prophesized, “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Jeremiah 7:22) And David, under prophetic inspiration wrote, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire– but my ears you have opened — burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.” (Psalm 40:6) And again, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” (Psalm 51:16)

Is it any wonder Jesus was angered when he looked upon the temple sacrificial system? Instead of prayer (communion with God) they were charging the people to sacrifice to Him! Jesus was in line with what the prophets had revealed about God’s view of sacrifice.
It is we who demand sacrifice. It is we who demand blood. It is we who scapegoat to maintain peace and order. And it is humankind all through time who has created a god in our own image who does the same. The first story of Little Timmy and Big Tom is actually a picture of our fallen nature and humanity’s view of God. He is the unforgiving, unrelenting exactor who demands blood. No. That is us.

In order to break the barrier WE had constructed between us and God (God was never hiding from anybody), Jesus became the very thing we wanted; a scapegoat. He went right to the heart of humanity by revealing us to us. He stood alongside all of the scapegoats throughout history, from Able to Joseph to Achan, to the daughter of Jephthah, to Isaiah. As theologian Michael Hardin pointed out, the Bible is not a book about God. It is a book about us. We see through most of the Bible who we are and God’s attempts to break through our wrong perceptions of Him. By becoming OUR scapegoat, Jesus blew the lid off our delusion. God knew this was the ONLY way we could see Him.

I don’t think the conversation in heaven between Father and Son went like this:
Father: Sin has a price. I have to kill those sinners!
Son: Don’t do it Dad!
Father: But I have to son! I demand blood!
Son: Then let me take their place! Kill me instead!
Father: Okay Son. You just saved humanity!

Rather, I think it went more like this:
Father and Son (as one): They just don’t understand who I am! Oh how I want to commune with them and for them to abide in my love! But they won’t have it. The veil over their hearts and minds is too thick. There is only one way to remove that veil. They need to meet me in person. They need to see me. I must live amongst them. But surely if I do this, they will kill me. I am so opposite of their image of me and who they are that they won’t be able to handle it. Just by being who I am, I will so completely disrupt their status quo that they’ll do to me what they do to everybody who doesn’t fit or disrupts the status quo. They will scapegoat me and kill me. But this is the only way they will ever truly understand my love for them. I will go to them so they can know me because I love them, with no illusions of what they’ll do to me. They want to punish and shed blood for sin? Then I will BE sin for them. They want to curse people? Then I will be the curse for all of them. They want to scapegoat others? Then I will be the scapegoat for all of them. They want to shame and humiliate others? Then I will bear the shame and humiliation for all. I will end the blood lust and thirst for a sacrifice to appease their version of me once and for ALL. They believe they can’t commune with me without a sacrifice for their sins? Then I will be their sacrifice once and for ALL. Then after they have broken my body and shed my blood I will return to them loving them as I always have. I will make it clear they are all forgiven and the slate is wiped clean. The drive to appease their illusion of me will forever be removed because they will finally see me as I AM. The veil will finally be lifted and their eyes will be opened. They’re self-delusions will crumble and we shall finally commune together as a family. The very thing for which I have always yearned. I will bring peace on Earth by ending the friction between humanity and I forever!

Loren Rosser

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Being Instead of Doing

In our culture and mainstream Christianity there is such a drive to do stuff. We are so prone to get our identities from what we’re doing. And often, all we’re doing is spinning our wheels and not really accomplishing anything of value. Yet, the truth is when you’re living loved by your heavenly Father you are producing fruit through your connection with Him. We have to realize in ourselves we can do nothing. Only through Him does anything of lasting value happen.

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Change: The Mark of Following Christ

From the first moment Jesus appeared on the scene His message was, “Repent, for the

Autumn tree. Eps8. CMYK. Organized by layers. Global colors. Gradient used.

Tree in the Wind

Kingdom of God is at hand.” Being that following Jesus is marked by repentance, I don’t think much of mainstream Christianity is following Jesus. Notice, I didn’t say they’re headed to hell or they don’t have affectionate feelings about Jesus. But I don’t think they’re actually following Him. Here’s why. Repentance means “to change one’s mind.” Now this is taught in mainstream Christianity as changing one’s mind from unbelief in Jesus to belief in Jesus and then locking down the doctrines of their particular denomination and sealing those beliefs in concrete so as to never be swayed again. And then the only time repentance is applied to a believer’s life is when he or she sins. This has earned Christians the reputation of being narrow minded, something many believers wear proudly like a merit badge.

 
The problem is this mentality (that I embraced for years) completely misses the point. Repentance is not a onetime deal, unless you’re so arrogant to believe your thoughts are THAT similar to God’s thoughts and your ways are THAT similar to His ways. Rather, repentance is a lifestyle for a follower of Jesus. We live in a state of constant change. Sure, our core belief that Jesus is Lord never changes, BUT, if we truly believe that then we are going to find His Spirit constantly challenging our perspectives, beliefs, and attitudes in all areas of our lives. A follower of Jesus is going to find his/her views of God, church, the scriptures, money, politics, and his fellow man constantly being challenged and changed. But I’m not talking about something somebody goes out and grunts out in his/her own strength. “I need to change my mind! GRRRRRRRR! There, I changed my mind!” Rather, it is a restful work of the Spirit that occurs over our lifetimes as our hearts and minds are open to Him.

 
Don’t be mistaken, we do hit some points of real wrestling with God when He begins to challenge some of our core beliefs that aren’t in line with Him. We have to remember, He is the rock, not us. He is the one who doesn’t change, not us. He is the one who is unmovable, not us. Far too many Christians seem to think those attributes are to apply to them. Nope. We’re to cling to Him as the storms of change are upon us because He is the ONLY one who is stable and will keep us secure even while we are being changed.

 
I used to have tremendous respect for those Christians who had been following God for 60 plus years and still believed the way they did when they were 13 years old. They still read their Bible the same way, voted the same way, fellowshipped the same way, and viewed their fellow man the same way. Wow! It must be wonderful to have been so much like Jesus your entire life! Are you His twin? Now, I’m troubled by these people. That is a life void of repentance. That is a life crowned with stubbornness and lived unto one’s self. If transformation isn’t occurring then life in Christ isn’t occurring. This isn’t a scathing judgement against Christians, rather I’m simply pointing out the obvious. If you don’t see a tree flexing then there is no wind. If you don’t see a life shifting then there is no active work of the Spirit taking place. Transformation is one of the key marks of following Christ. Too many Christians think it’s a onetime thing that took place when they converted to Christianity. Then they spend the rest of their lives building walls around their beliefs so as not to be moved. That’s not following God, that’s human insecurity and the mark of one who is his own god. We grow from relational trust to relational trust (faith to faith). I’d hate to break it to you, but the Spirit of God goes around tearing down our walls, not building them up. Jesus Himself displayed this when He died on the cross and tore down all walls. If you are going to follow Jesus then you better get used to change.

Loren Rosser

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Spiritual Abuse

A new episode of “Untangled” is finally up! Loren and David discuss an article by Jonathan Hollingsworth titled, “What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Been Hurt by Church.” When church is mutated from being who we are to an “it” the doors are flung wide open for all kinds of terrible things to happen.

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Arrogant Evangelicals

A new episode of Untangled is up! Loren and David discuss the odd and troubling phenomena that presidential candidate Donald Trump is resonating with 20 to 30 percent of Evangelical Christians. A recent article exposes why this is probably the case. Both Trump and many Evangelical Christians are quite narcissistic so they find themselves on common ground. It is a troubling thing when people who claim to follow Christ act in ways that are directly in contradiction to everything for which Jesus stood.

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Living Loved

A new episode of Untangled is up! When things aren’t going “our way” it’s easy to feel like God let us down. But as Loren’s guest, Richard Broadbent points out, God’s goal is not our moment by moment happiness. Rather, His desire is that we know in the core of our being just how much He loves us. Often this involves us facing discomfort and even pain in order for the dross that blinds us to His affection for us to be removed. We believers constantly speak about God’s love but we so lack revelation of just how deep and wide His fondness for us truly is. Join Loren and Richard as they share some glimpses of Father’s heart.

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Loving ISIS

Saul of Tarsus was a passionate defender of what he believed was the word of God. As a Pharisee, he was found blameless according to the righteousness found in the Law. According to Saul’s understanding, the God of the Torah ordered the genocide of tribes who did not serve him. So in his great zeal, he became a terrorist, a persecutor of the Christians who he believed were turning the chosen people away from Yahweh’s law to follow a heretic called Jesus.

Today ISIS is a passionate defender of the Quran and the Old Testament God who, according to what they read there, ordered the extermination of those who would not convert and obey the Law. They are just like Saul in their zeal, and are behaving in the same way. Many of them are willing to sacrifice their lives to fulfill Allah’s will.

Most people, including American Evangelicals believe ISIS should be exterminated.
It only makes sense to destroy them, they reason, if the slaughter of innocent victims is to be stopped. But does this reasoning come from the mind of God?

It’s interesting to note that there was no plot among the early church to kill Saul. Most likely this was because they were followers of Christ who taught them to love their enemies, to do good to them, to turn the other cheek and pray for them. As Stephen was being stoned to death, he fell to his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Saul was present, giving approval to his death, but Stephen’s prayers and the prayers of the church aligned with the heart of God, who stopped Saul himself. He didn’t strike
Saul dead, but overwhelmed him with his glory and called him to serve the kingdom.

God is not willing that ANY should perish, but that all would come to repentance. I wonder how many Christians are laboring in prayer for ISIS. Sadly, many would revel in the destruction of such evil doers even though God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

Yet there are still those that follow the Prince of Peace; that serve a God who loves and forgives. They practice Jesus’ teaching regarding overcoming evil with good. God help us to turn from our obsession with self preservation and to be possessed of his heart and passion for all to know him!

David Fredrickson

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You Will Have Trouble

A new episode of Untangled is up! Loren sharing about his difficult week due to tensions in relationships and dealing with his own humanity sparks a good conversation with David about the troubles we face in this world. Jesus did say we will have trouble in this world. That’s a verse we usually would prefer to skim over but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s reality. David and Loren discuss the propensity of us humans to look for what we or others have done to deserve the hardships of life. In spite of Jesus’ words on the matter, we often still hold to a view in line with the Old Covenant that God operates in a system in which we earn blessings and deserve curses.

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Suffering: The Unwelcome Message in Western Christianity

I recently read about a Christian man who was criticized by co-workers for his liberal way of thinking, so he was forced to defend his right to share the gospel. One time they even sent spies to check out his ‘dangerous’ doctrine. The fact that he was a poor speaker and not much to look at didn’t help either. It also seemed likely that he lacked the faith to be healed from a condition that caused him much distress. He was often depressed and stressed out when he encountered the failures of people he ministered to. He was sometimes fearful and anxious, and spent long nights without sleep.

The plethora of problems and extreme difficulties that plagued this beleaguered soul rendered it quite evident to his detractors that he was carrying on without God’s blessing. But the poor guy didn’t seem to have a clue and kept right on with his crazy passion even when he lacked the means to purchase a change of underwear. He often went hungry and thirsty during the course of his missionary journeys. He even carried on in severe weather without proper clothing, suffering from cold and exposure to the elements. In fact, he was shipwrecked four times and once spent 24 hours adrift in the seas clinging to wreckage.

But he endured his greatest suffering at the hands of religious leaders who beat him severely on countless occasions. Once he was stoned and left for dead. In fact, he almost died 12 times! He spent about 6 years of his life in prison where he was finally beheaded.

Yet he wrote: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10.)

Are you ‘well’ content with weakness, insults, distresses, difficulties and persecutions?
Neither am I. Hmm. Wonder what we’re missing. Jesus made it clear that he called us to ‘come and die.’ Most Western Christians have never even been persecuted. And too many would rather follow after mega stars with mega churches and mega egos. Can you imagine such a ‘pastor’ trading his exorbitant salary, multi-million dollar home, luxury automobile, private jet and hair dresser for multiple beatings, ship wrecks and execution? Most of them will leave nothing behind but an impressive church building like a monument left in their remembrance. Just like Absalom who built a monument to himself because he had no son.

Perhaps that’s the point. There is no reproduction without the pain of childbirth. Paul says that ‘we…rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’(Romans 5:3-5) Transformation takes place when we yield willingly to suffering. It’s a necessary part of the lives of those who would follow the suffering Servant. Selfishness is displaced by love which alone reveals Christ to others who will also imitate him.

The Western church today is full of false converts who have been offered a ‘bless me’ gospel and a religious system that sells a form of godliness while denying its power’. As of the date of this writing, half of all Christians have left that system. Yet are we simply living the way we did before we left, other than enjoying the freedom from religious obligation? As was Paul, we are all debtors (under obligation) to reach out in love to rescue the poor and dying, to spend ourselves for the sake of others. (Romans 1:14-17) Are we willing to endure the suffering that always accompanies fruit bearing in a world that functions in direct opposition to the kingdom of God? If not, we are still stuck in religious complacency. God led us out to bring us into something greater. I for one choose to trust him for the wisdom to recognize it and the grace to embrace it.

David Fredrickson

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