Time Well Spent

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I have a music streaming app on my smartphone which keeps track of the time I spent the previous month listening to music. When I receive this notification, it gives me pause as I think about the amount of time I spent listening to the music I enjoy. What if our lives had an app that could keep track of all of our habits? What if this app could keep track of everything we do in life? This app could keep track of such things as:

-The amount of time we spend complaining about the current presidential administration.

-The amount of time we spend arguing with friends and strangers on social media.

-The amount of time we spend putting off important tasks.

-The amount of time we spend in anxiety, fear, or depression concerning the past, present, or future.

Believe me, I have my days when I’m not the most productive person. I know the struggles you face- you work a full-time job, there’s family obligations, bills to pay, the car broke down, you’re trying to get in shape, and you have to go to sleep at some point. You’re just as fatigued when you wake up as you were when you went to bed. Rest and lesiure are important, as I too spend some down time trying to relax and drown out the noise of the world.

Henry David Thoreau spent two years living in a cabin on Walden Pond in an effort to live a better, simpler life:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…”1

Walden was first published in 1854, I wonder what would Thoreau say about life in 2018? Thoreau also discussed the need to simplify our lives:

“Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”2

When it comes to how we spend our time, Thoreau echoes the sentiment of Stoic philosopher Lucius Seneca, who lived 1800 years before. Seneca challenged the general notion that “Life is short.”

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. Life is long enough and our alloted portion generous enough for our most ambitious projects if we invest it all carefully. But when it is squandered through luxury and indifference, and spent for no good end, we realize it has gone, under the pressure of the ultimate necessity, before we were aware it was going. So it is: the life we receive is not short,but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”3

One of the tenants of Stoicism I admire is the thought of living each day like it was your last. This doesn’t mean living in debauchery and unbridled hedonism, but giving careful thought to everything you do. We do not understand that we are given a certain amount of time to live, yet we plan as if we will live forever, a point Seneca makes so eloquently:

“It is because you live as if you would live forever; the thought of human frailty never enters your head, you never notice how much of your time is already spent. You squander it as though your store were full to overflowing, when in fact the very day of which you make a present to someone or something may be your last.”4

The life of Jesus Christ overlaps that of Seneca, and Jesus in Luke 12:16-21 told the Parable of the Rich Fool. In this parable, there was a rich man who was satisfied with the fruits of his labors and decided to tear down his barns and build bigger barns for his crops. The rich man then decided to rest on his ambition and “eat,drink, and be merry.” However, the rich man was unaware that he was going to die that night, not getting the chance of basking in his accomplishments.

James also warns us about presumptive conduct: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15, NKJV).

Thus, we must be mindful of how we spend this life, for it is the only one we get. Give consideration to all that you do and say, simplify, and focus your energy to what will build up yourself and others. You do not have time to dwell on toxic thoughts, relationships, and people. Don’t spent the next twenty,thirty, or forty years on trying to build for a future life, live the life you have now. God bless you.

1Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience, Introduction and notes by Jonathan Levin. New York: Barnes & Noble (2003): 74.

2 Ibid, 75.

3 Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca. New York: W.W.Norton & Company (1958): 48.

4Ibid, 50-51.

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Live for the Present, not the End

I used to be fascinated by the end of the world, the apocalypse, the end of days, whatever name you want to call it. I’ve poured over Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 (which is also found in Luke 21 and Mark 13); the Book of Revelation, and scoured the prophets as well. I read the first twelve books of the left behind series, anticipated the four blood moons of 2014-2015, sneered at the date setting, and I was an avid watcher of end times teachers. For good measure, I tried to see how current events such as 9/11, the War on Terror, the rise of ISIS and certain world leaders fit into the prophetic timeline.

What I’ve learned: waiting for the end only hampers living in the present. As a Christian I know Jesus and other New Testament writers told us to watch for the signs, but I believe we should be more diligent in teaching and showing God’s grace to the world around us. Don’t let this present moment pass you by as you wait for a heaven that’s a lifetime away.

Apocalyptic teaching, of course is not unique to Christianity, as many religions, cults, sects, and cultures modern and ancient have anticipated some cosmic cataclysm to generate rebirth or to rewrite the wrongs and social ills of their respective societies. In an age of scientific understanding we know that eclipses, meteors, planetary alignments, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on are all naturally occurring phenomena. In the past ages that had little or no scientific understanding, such events were attributed to the judgment of God or the gods upon society. Since many of our religions are based on these ancient texts and modes of thinking, we as a society still have these thoughts in a technologically advanced Twenty-First Century.

I believe we must take a more reasoned and logical approach in understanding the world around us. I’m not putting down anyone’s beliefs or discounting any sacred teaching, I’m just advocating that while we are “waiting for the end,” we make our current world the best it can be. A prime example is that we cannot trash our planet in the hopes of living on Mars or Jupiter, as those ideas may remain the dreams of science fiction.

As a church, we cannot find ourselves again on the wrong side of history when it comes to such things as civil rights, taking care of the less fortunate, the environment, and being the light of the world as Jesus said we should be. We have real issues that we must address. I have said in many blog posts before, I have no particular political affiliation-I’m not a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or anything like that. However, within the last forty years or so, many American Evangelical Christians have aligned themselves with political parties  who are against many of Jesus’ teachings- taking care of the sick, giving to the poor, elevating the status of women, recognizing those who have a different perceived social status, and just simply showing compassion to your fellow man, woman, and child. Many oppose how their tax dollars are spent, especially when it comes to social programs such as welfare, Obamacare, and other programs, yet fail to realize that the government has simply stepped in to fill the leadership void because a large majority of the church has been waiting for the imminent end of the world.

Let’s put aside the religious and political hostility and examine what is in our own hearts, casting the judgment on ourselves and not on our neighbors. To paraphrase Jesus, we have to stop picking the sawdust out of everyone’s eyes while we walk around with a two-by-four stuck  in our eyes. Let us love those who are different than us and step outside of our comfort zone. Two thousand years or more have passed since the end time discourses. I know the counter arguments about how the world had to catch up to God’s vision or  God’s measurement of time is different than ours, but we can find reason to rejoice in the present. We still have time to show love to our neighbors and try to have a little heaven on earth.

The Bible and Slavery

“Only the educated are free.”- Epictetus

I am currently reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the first of three autobiographies concerning the former American slave, who escaped to freedom and became an outspoken abolitionist concerning the anti-slavery movement leading up to the American Civil War.

Douglass in heart-wrenching detail describes not only his treatment as a slave, but the horrendous treatment of African-American slaves at the hands of the white, Southern slave owners. How one human being could treat another human in such a vile and despicable manner is beyond me. Moreover, what has drawn my attention was Douglass’ comments concerning how the so-called “Christian” slave owners were much harsher in their treatment of their slaves, using their so-called righteousness as a cloak for maliciousness.

Maybe it’s me getting older or the fact I am taking a more reasoned approach to my beliefs, but I find the hypocrisy of religion to be appalling. Just as these slaveowners used The Bible to justifying owing and degrading another person, this same book has been used to persecute religious minorities, oppress women, and is the basis for the right-wing church to justify their collective homophobia. My politics take no title such as Republican, Democrat, Fundamentalist, Socialist, or anything of the sort. It is difficult for me to write this post, as I know how some will perceive it, but I cannot control your opinions or perceptions. I am not out to “convert” anyone or change your mind, I am simply putting forth what The Bible says concerning slavery. For the sake of space and time, I will list ahandful of scrptures and cite other verses concerning this subject.

The Bible states the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for over 400 years and they cried out to God to deliver them. God sent Moses and the rest, as they say, is history. With all of the harsh treatment the Israelites received at the hands of the Egyptians, one would think they would not want to treat their fellow man as such. However, God, in the Law lays out the treatment of slaves, both Hebrew and Gentile.

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” (Exodus 21:2-11, NIV). Exodus also gives guidelines concerning the beating of slaves: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” (Exodus 21:20-21, NIV).

*See also: Exodus 21:26-27, Exodus 21:31-32, Exodus 23:12, Leviticus 19:20-22, Leviticus 25:44-46, Deuteronomy 23:15-16.

At this point, one may argue, “Well, that’s the Old Testament.”

It is an interesting fact to note that no New Testament writer, the Apostles, or even the Lord Jesus himself never in any way condemn the practice of slavery. Slaves are commanded to obey their masters as they would obey Christ:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9, NIV).

*See also: Colossians 3:22, Colossians 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18-19.

At this point there would be some doing what Iwould call “apologetic mental gymnastics” and down play the use of the terms slave and master and apply these Scriptures to the modern day employer/employee relationship, which is not analagous to one human owning another human. Elsewhere in the New Testament, slavery is spoken of in the metaphorical sense in that we are slaves to sin, from which Christ set us free.

The purpose of this post is not to rekindle hard feelings from events that happened centuries ago. Rather, I want to examine what I call “biblical difficulties” and how a non-Christian would respond to the Bible. The Bible’s support of slavery is one of the largest and most justified criticisms of Scripture. More importantly, I want to take deeper look at the book that so many people, including myself, hold dear and find out if it is truly relevant for our day and age. Why didn’t God or Jesus just come out and ban slavery? Why didn’t the early church fathers abolish it? Why did some American churches allow for such atrocities committed against our fellow people? I believe the soul searching question we must answer is “If your faith is not helping you become a better person to all, is it a faith worth having?” If your faith spews hatred and disrespect, should you go along with it? Can you continue to justify belief in any holy book that justifies discrimination or hatred against anyone?

Book Review- Deceptions and Myths of the Bible

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I was looking through the bargin section of my favorite bookstore several years ago and came across a copy of Lloyd M. Graham’s Deceptions and Myths of the Bible. The book was only a few dollars, so I bought it on a lark because it sounded interesting. However, ended up neglected on the bookshelf until I finished reading it this week.

The book jacket states this of the author: “Lloyd M. Graham is a psuedonym. Because of his controversial writings, he does not want his identity revealed. He is a biblical scholar and student of mythology.”

Deceptions and Myths of the Bible is supposed to be an in-depth look at the origins of the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity, yet the “biblical scholar” does not list a bibliography of his sources,which puts his credibility in doubt at the start.

Graham’s basic premise is that the power hungry priestly classes cobbled together the Bible from the mythologies of ancient cultures, including India, Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome and passed off this mythological stew to the widely ignorant masses as “the word of God.” In his criticsim, Graham also incorporates New Age terminology, occult symbology, misapplies the meaning of evolution and the term “involution.” What is supposed to be serious scholarship is thinly disguised venemous and vitrolic speech aimed at the Jews, the Catholic church, and religion in general.

If you have studied any type of biblical literary criticism or read the arguments that the Bible was stolen from pagan sources, you will recognize many of Graham’s arguments. For example, he points out that the story of Jesus has parallels to Osiris, Krishna, Mithra, and others. The same goes for Noah and the flood, Moses, Adam and Eve, and so on and so forth. If this is a topic that interest you, then there are much better scholars out there to explore.

Overall I did not find Graham’s case compelling. Though he does quote some people in the book, the lack of a bibliography as I said, hinders Graham’s credibility. Why did Graham not fully list his sources? Is he trying to hide something while trying to uncover something else? I believe it is healthy to examine what we believe and why we believe it, but Deceptions and Myths of the Bible would not be the place I would start.

Upon Further Review…

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates

In recent years, I have done a lot of what I would call “mid-life reflection,” where I have pondered the direction of my life. I have also taken a hard look at what I believe and why I believe it. Does what I believe stand up to critical examination, logic, reason, and common sense? Am I willing to let go of certain beliefs if they no longer stand up to scrutiny? Can I be intellectually honest enough with myself to admit to such a finding?

To paraphrase the great Jedi masters, I have not fallen to “the dark side,” but I do allow myself to play “devil’s advocate.” Let’s take my Christian faith for example. I was born in the United States, more specifically Indiana, where Christianity is the dominant religion. Indiana coincidentally, tends to more fundamental in its faith, which by default leads people to being more politically and socially conservative. However, what if I was born in Thailand? More than likely I would have become a Buddhist, because Buddhism is the dominant religion and culture in Thailand. Same goes for India, where people practice Hinduism, or what if I was born in Saudi Arabia, where people follow the teachings of Islam?

The question becomes is our faith simply a by-product of what we are born into and therefore accept without question because it’s the norm? Also, if we believe to hold onto the one true faith, why do we react so harshly to criticism? Why has religion been the source of so much bloodshed throughout the history of the planet? Much worse than an unexamined life are the consequences of unexamined ideas and the people who follow along. We must temper what we believe with reason and not give blind allegiance to people of any religious, social, or political group, because we can find ourselves disillusioned when we place faith in man.

Examining your values and beliefs doesn’t have to wait until all hell breaks loose, but it can be a daily exercise to cleanse our minds and spirits. I intend this year to go deeper into my reflection without fear of asking the hard questions. I also intend to examine the common responses, or in most cases, cliches that all of us say because we feel compelled to say something. I want to explore deeper subjects and go beyond the surface. If faith is an ocean, I intend to explore the Mariana Trench. I am going to take a reasoned, philosophical, and verifiable approach to faith. I hope you come along for the journey. God bless.

Book Review-The Jefferson Bible

jefferson bibleWhile at my local library earlier this week, I came across a copy of The Jefferson Bible, or as Thomas Jefferson referred to it, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, which Jefferson created using Greek, Latin, and French manuscripts of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Going through The Jefferson Bible adds another layer of complexity to the character of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is best known as the third President of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence, and the founder of the University of Virginia. However, Jefferson, like all of us had his moral failures as he was a slave owner who fathered children with one of his slaves. Jefferson also struggled with depression and was nearly bankrupt when he died-due to his overspending.

Thomas Jefferson’s faith was controversial in his lifetime and today. However, Forrest Church, who writes the introduction to this particular edition states that Jefferson has been associated with being a Deist and a Unitarian. Jefferson’s intention was to get to the true words and teachings of Jesus, as he believed Jesus’ teachings had become corrupted over time.

In a letter to John Adams, dated October 13, 1813, Jefferson wrote, “We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus. There will be remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

Jefferson began the process in earnest in 1804, but started and stopped along the way, finally completing  The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth in 1819. However, the book was not published until 1895, sixty-nine years after Jefferson’s death. What follows is a heavily redacted blend of the gospels. Perhaps more extraordinary than what Jefferson compiled was what he left out in his manuscript:

-No mention of the Virgin Birth.

-None of Jesus’ 37 recorded miracles are listed.

-No mention of His temptation versus Satan.

-Jesus makes no claims to His divinity.

-No references to fulfilled prophecy concerning Jesus.

-No triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

-No resurrection- Jesus is crucified, dies and is buried that is where Jefferson’s Bible ends.

-No mention of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

What Jefferson included was also edited. Jesus’ baptism story is included, but there is no mention of God speaking His approval of Jesus nor any mention of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. Luke’s story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple with the teachers ends with Mary expressing her worry, but Jesus does not reply about “Being about his Father’s business,” (Luke 2:49-50). Another prime example would be Matthew 24, such an important chapter for those who stress end times teachings, all verses concerning the last days and Jesus’ return are omitted.

In today’s world, it can be a daunting task finding the right Bible for you. Which translation? Do you want a study Bible, a prophecy, Bible, an apologetics Bible, or a Bible geared toward another topic? These Bibles say different things because of the manuscripts the translators use. We have disagreements among believers and churches concerning which translation to use and which parts of the Bible to emphasize. Add to this 2,000 years of Church teaching and multiple layers of interpretation, one can easily see why there is so much confusion concerning God’s word.

Back in my earlier, more fundamental Christian days, I would have found Jefferson’s Bible to be appalling, but I think Jefferson had the noble intention of trying to get at the truth for himself. However, as Christians, we take the Bible as an “all or nothing proposition.” We believe that either every word is true as it happened or the whole book is wrong. For Christianity as a whole, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important redemptive event in all of human history. If there is no resurrection, then what hope do we have? Conversely, if Jesus was simply a great teacher whom man turned into God, where are we placing our hope? I believe a faith worth having is a faith worth challenging.

I would recommend reading The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth with a Bible by your side for reference. I also recommend reading The Jefferson Bible for intellectual curiosity and to gain insight into the mind of one of history’s most celebrated and enigmatic people.

Source: Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Introduction by Forrest Church. Afterword by Jaroslav Pelikan. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

When did the Magi visit Jesus?

In the United States, people who celebrate Christmas typically start decorating after Thanksgiving. These decorations include trees, strings of lights, and various other yard or home decorations, which may include a Nativity display.

If you have never seen a Nativity display, it typically consists of a barn-like setting, with a baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, the Magi, and some farm animals. Though these Nativity displays are a long-held tradition and a great reminder that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the question is “are they biblically accurate?”Let us go back to the sources of these events, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2, NIV).

The Magi, traditionally called “the Three Wise Men,” possibly came from Persia or Babylon (modern day Iran and Iraq, respectively).

The idea of a king being born troubled King Herod, for he saw this newly born king as a threat to his power. Herod then asked his priests and scribes where would the Christ be born and they informed him Bethlehem. Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem.

“After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9-10, NIV).

From the text, there is an indication that time had elapsed between Jesus’ birth and the Magi’s visit to Herod, because it would take quite a bit of time to travel from Persia or Babylon to Israel. Herod, unbeknownst to the Magi, had murderous intentions, and asked when did they see this star? Thus, another indication time had passed. Matthew 2:16-18 describes Herod issuing an order to have all of the children in Bethlehem aged two and under to be killed, but Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled into Egypt.

The Bible describes the Magi’s visit: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream, not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:11-12, NIV, italics mine).

By the time the Magi came to pay their respects to Jesus, his family had settled into a home in Bethlehem, which would not put the Magi at the manger where Jesus was born. Luke’s Gospel makes no mention of the Magi, but does mention the angel appearing to the shepherds who were watching their flocks that night (Luke 2:8-20). According to Luke, the shepherds were the only people besides Mary and Joseph, present at the manager when Jesus was born. As to when all of this happened exactly, there is one historical fact: King Herod died in 4 BC. Given Herod’s order to kill all of the children two years old and under, could possibly place Jesus’ birth around 6 or 7 BC, which gives us a two to three year window for all of these events.

I write this not to step on anyone’s tradition or take away from anyone’s celebration, I just feel it is important for Christians to know what the Bible says about the events upon which our faith is based. Let us go back to the word ourselves and not succumb to artistic license or the traditions of man. God bless you all.