The A

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I don’t read as much as I should. I don’t know why that is. Which makes it all the more remarkable that I happened to have started on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter not long ago. It baffles me how a story about an adulterous woman managed to become a best seller back in the day when the heroes of books were usually gallant knights or stalwart soldiers or rich men that ought to be viewed as heroic examples overcoming difficult circumstances to prove themselves worthy. One might expect the story of that day and age to be written the other way around, how a righteous community dealt with sin in it’s midst, turned over the sinners so that they could be punish for a time in the hopes it would lead them to repentance and restoration.

I’ve seen similar attitudes in authoritarian churches that believe in having a plurality of elders in charge and discipline ought to be carried out for the same reason. Perhaps the similarity is more than coincidence, some call themselves Neo-Calvinist and others Neo-Puritan. I just wish all who would identify by that name would read the Scarlet Letter and put themselves in the story.

Would they be one of the righteous townspeople who segregate themselves from the sinners as much as possible to avoid being corrupted by the contagion? Would they be one of the gossips whose imagination would implicate the sinner in new and more creative sins? Would they be like one of the children calling the sinners terrible names, teasing and taunting them? Would they be the righteous pastors, condemning sinners and carrying out judgement and discipline as needed in order to save them? How would their perspective change if they were Hester or Arthur or Roger or Pearl?

The Puritans were people just like we are. They have the same faults we do. They had the advantage of making their mistakes in a time when they could get away with it. Nobody dared question them because that was like questioning God. Today, those who follow in their footsteps aren’t so lucky. They can and will be and are being questioned because we know that they don’t speak for God.

We might not force sinners to wear A’s or H’s or T’s or L’s or letters for anyone else to see as a mark of our shame, but even without them, Christians can be just as cruel and unforgiving as others and sometimes we’re more-so because we act on behalf of God and we know what stance He takes about sin. Which we mean other’s sin, not ours. He always forgives us. Which is why we have to learn to forgive others. We have to learn not be gossips who teach the next generation to hate or be unkind to anyone who has had a moral failure. We need to learn not to put pastors on a pedestal that’s so high above us or believe that they can do no wrong. We’re all human; we’re all capable of anything – good or bad.

Fortunately for us, we can look at an account of a community that dealt with sin the wrong way and ask ourselves how best to minister to everyone the right way were we a part of the story. Can you imagine how much differently the story would have turned out if instead of shaming Hester and treating her as a marriage-breaking family-destroying enemy of God one of the wise women of the church had reached out to her and helped her to raise Pearl? What if someone came to her defense in a scene like this one –

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.  As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said,“All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman,“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” ?

Whether we know it, we are a part of someone else’s story. We aren’t like the characters in a book who can’t change and are condemned to let things play out according to the author’s vision. We can choose to reach out to someone who’s hurting. We can choose to listen. We can choose to speak up for someone the church refuses to listen to. We can choose to drop our righteous stones and stop branding sinners as souls forever lost. So what part will you play?

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8 thoughts on “The A

  1. Poem – What is love?

    Two men came to Jesus
    With different motivations.
    They asked Him the same question
    Relevant to all the nations:

    Which is the Most Important?
    The answer was the same.
    Jesus did not manipulate
    He was not there to play a game.

    “Love the Lord your God” said Jesus
    as He quoted from The Law –
    to fulfill and not abolish
    was His purpose, full of awe.

    Jesus did not make all Scripture
    Into one new great commandment.
    He summarized The Law and Prophets
    “First and Greatest” and “The Second.”

    The Love of God is higher
    Than the love of any man.
    Receive from God, give back to God-
    Then to others, that’s His plan.

    The Love of God involves much more
    Than simply “love your fellow man.”
    Worship, trust, and pray to God,
    and obey Him – that’s His plan

    To worship and pray to neighbors,
    Whoever they may be,
    Or trust and obey our enemies
    Would be idolatry.

    The love of God is first and greatest,
    And the love of man is second.
    “All we need is love” are words
    of dead Beetles on the pavement.

    “The entire law is summed up in a single command”
    are not the words of Jesus our Salvation.
    It’s false teaching of Paul the Pharisee
    an “accuser of our brethren.”

    “Love” without God is Satan’s word through Paul
    in his chapter to the Corinthians.
    “I will show you the most excellent way”
    is the road to eternal perdition.

    Where is God in Paul’s chapter on love?
    Nowhere in view of the eye.
    Paul sings about himself like a Mexican Mariachi
    “I, I, I, I.”

    Jesus is The Most Excellent Way
    Not the words of a Pharisee.
    The words of Jesus are very clear.
    Jesus said, “You must follow ME.”

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    • Interesting poem. Since I speak Spanish, I’d quibble on the Mariachi lyrics but that’s not important right now. I think that loving God and loving our neighbors are both a part of what it is to get it right. In the Scarlet Letter, the Puritans thoroughly loved God but often failed to thoroughly love their neighbors. One without the other is a recipe for failing to follow Jesus’ teachings and example. When Jesus was given the choice, he saw that loving others was an important part of what it is to love God. After all, whatever we do to the least of these is what we do to God, so if we want to show that we love God, then we have to show that we love everyone else – fortunately, Paul describes what that love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

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      • Dear Unmasked Avenger,
        Dios le bendiga en el nombre de Jesus.
        I just saw your response today. God is missing from Paul’s famous “love chapter.” It’s “love without God” which is Satan’s message.

        So we agree with Jesus on the two commandments that fulfill the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and they are both essential.
        Yet, Jesus identified one of these two as the “first and greatest” “most important” one. Which one is that? The one in Deuteronomy 6, or the one in Leviticus 19?

        Many self-professed “Bible-believing Evangelicals” won’t listen to the words of Jesus, because they are brainwashed through reciting their “mantra” – “all scripture is God-breathed.”

        This “Evangelical Mantra” has been accepted by the collective subconscious mind of “The Evangelical Church” without thought, question, reflection, or even 2 witnesses from the Scripture itself. It’s based on a misinterpretation, out of context, of one verse in one letter written by one man, Paul the Pharisee, who was unfamiliar with the personal ministry and teaching of Jesus.

        But, “Once an idea has been accepted by your subconscious, it remains there and it governs your behavior until it is replaced or changed.” [ as a pastor named Bishop Dale C. Bronner observed in one of his sermons]

        (Definition from the American Heritage Dictionary.) Mantra (noun) (Hinduism.) A sacred formula believed to embody the divinity invoked and to possess magical power, used in prayer and incantation.

        When cult members repeat their mantra, it makes them deaf to the voice of God, unable to hear God. Instead, it puts their focus on their one “special man” above all others – his personality, words and teachings, character, life example, feelings, experience, intentions, mind, will, emotions, etc. Their cult leader is their hero – he is always right, could never be wrong about anything specific, and he must be obeyed in all things and never questioned. He will give himself a special title, write at least one special book, and claim special authority, with no need for a second witness to back him up.
        Here are 3 examples.

        .1) Fuhrer. The title of Adolf Hitler as the leader of the German Nazis, author of “Mein Kamph”. Mantra: “Heil Hitler.”

        .2) The self-appointed Prophet Muhammad, author of The Koran. Mantra: …..”and Muhammad is his prophet.”

        .3) Paul the Pharisee, the self-appointed Apostle to the Gentiles, whose 13 letters comprise one third of what, today, we call the “New Testament.” (The first, original “New Testament” was composed by the second century heretic Marcion, and he coined the term “New Testament.” His new “book” contained nothing except 10 of Paul’s letters and an abbreviated Gospel of Luke. There were no other “New Testament” books, and the Hebrew Scriptures were the “Old Testament” which was irrelevant, according to the heretic Marcion.) Mantra: “All Scripture is God-breathed….”

        I got my Masters Degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. I was attracted to the school because they put Paul’s mantra of “All Scripture is God-breathed” above everything else, and I wanted to heed Paul’s command and “Preach the Word” like Paul….

        This mantra is a misinterpretation out of context of 2 Timothy 3:16. It ignores the previous verse, 2 Timothy 3:15, which clearly indicates that Paul was NOT referring to his own letters when he wrote the words “All Scripture.”

        Paul was probably making reference to some of the Hebrew Scriptures, quite likely including the Law and the Prophets. We cannot be completely certain exactly which “Scriptures” Paul meant in “All Scripture”, and what Paul meant by “God-breathed.” Why can’t we be certain?

        Because we must establish a matter by the testimony of two or three witnesses, especially something as important as “What is the Word of God.” No one else in the pages of the Bible besides Paul ever said anything like “All Scripture is God-breathed”. And Paul only said it here, one time, in the middle of a personal letter.

        The Apostle Peter made reference to “Prophecy of Scripture,” not “All Scripture,” and no it’s not the same thing at all. Jesus never said anything like that. And no one, not even Paul, ever said that all Scripture was equal.

        I remember the general approach to the Bible at Dallas being that “every word in the 66 Books is the Word of God”….. and we should interpret it based on “the intended meaning of the author in the historical grammatical context.”

        That is the basic idea of the heavy-duty seminary language we were being trained in. It sounds so right, so intelligent, so professional, so “godly”….. but it is fundamentally flawed.

        When we look at Paul’s teachings and testimony about himself, (in his letters that make up 1/3 of the New Testament,) we should NOT immediately ask ourselves; “what did Paul say, what did Paul mean, and how does this apply to my life?” The fundamental question is NOT “what was in the mind of Paul?”

        Before any of that, the FIRST question to ask is; “does Paul agree with Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets?”

        Paul contradicted himself, and his teachings and testimony about himself don’t harmonize with the teachings of Jesus (or with Luke’s record of his life.) Let’s not waste our time with endless debates about “what Paul really meant” with his wacky teachings about “baptizing the dead” or “there is neither male nor female.” Paul was wrong. Jesus reminds us from The Law “at the beginning, the Creator made them male and female.” [Matthew 19:4, Genesis 1:27]

        As to the question of “whether the Bible is ALL truly Gods WORDS”…

        The underlying unspoken assumption is that “The Bible” (66 Books) was given to us by God as “one book” and it’s all “equal” in level of authority, priority, and importance. This comes from unconsciously believing Paul’s mantra, the “Evangelical Mantra”, that “All Scripture is God-breathed”, and falsely assuming Paul was referring to every word in the 66 Books of the Bible. Yet even here, not even Paul, not even once, ever said that “All Scripture is EQUAL” in authority, priority, and importance.

        No one in the pages of the Bible ever said or wrote that “all Scripture,” or “the Bible,” is “all truly God’s words”. Jesus never said anything like that, and Jesus did not see it that way. Jesus did not see even the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the “Old Testament”, as a whole unit or book that was all equal or “all truly God’s words.” Jesus spoke of The Law, or The Law and the Prophets, holding these 2 sections of the Old Testament above the third, least important sections the “Writings.” And Jesus held the Psalms, the first book of the “Writings” section, above the other books in the “Writings” section in importance, since some parts of some Psalms are prophetic.

        Obviously, the New Testament Scriptures were not written when Jesus was walking the earth. But if we want to get closest to The Source, Jesus himself, it makes sense that we should look first to the eyewitness testimony of two of His appointed Apostles who walked with Him faithfully for over 3 years, Matthew & John. (Also to other eyewitness testimony, recorded by Mark and Luke.) This is more accurate, important, and authoritative than personal letters written by Paul the Pharisee, who never knew Jesus personally, had no part in His ministry, and had no eyewitness testimony.

        We should follow the Jesus of the Gospel writers. We should not follow the “jesus” of Paul the Pharisee or Muhammad or any other man, who had their own ideas of who “jesus” was and what He did.

        Like

      • That’s certainly an interesting way to look at it. Paul’s own belief was “Christ and him crucified” He wrote something to that effect in a couple of places in 1 Corinthians and Galatians. I think my church had this line of logic: “If ALL scripture is inspired / inerrant / infallible because it’s the Word of God and cannot return void, then it must be really important.” Most evangelicals have this “either it’s all true, or none of it’s true” way of thinking about the Bible. Which is why their mantra is sometimes: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” When I left behind evangelicalism, I had to learn to think about the Bible in a whole new way – one where I could learn about the grey in-between the black and white (and sometimes red) letters, how to accept some things as “basically true” while allowing them room to be even “slightly untrue”. It helps to understand the culture of the Bible, and how even if the Bible is some magically perfect, the people who interpret it certainly aren’t – so there’s always that.

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      • Right! Wow, it seems like you really “get it.” Praise God!
        Yes, although we could say we should “learn to think about the Bible in a whole new way,” it might actually be more accurate to say that we should consider these texts in a more literally “Orthodox way”. By that I mean “Eastern Orthodox”, the original way they were given almost 2000 years ago.

        Still even today, the Orthodox church has one special book, containing nothing except the 4 Gospels, and this is the ONLY book that remains on the altar at church – not “The Bible.” Yes, they do use the other texts in our Bible too – but The 4 Gospels are held above all others.

        Of course the Orthodox church today is bound in spirit by some theologian from around the 4th Century, St. John Crysostim or something like that , which literally means “golden mouth.” They thought HE had the ultimate revelation, so almost every single Sunday in church they repeat his liturgy….

        That is similar to Paul’s letters being used by the second century heretic Marcion, or Muhammad writing the Koran. One special man with special writings that are held up above the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. It’s heresy, idolatry really.

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      • Maybe … sort of, I think that some of the epistles do contain elements of wisdom, particularly where they align with the heart of Jesus’ message.
        I’ve heard of Chrysostom, I learned about him when I was looking up the church fathers who influenced Christian thought through the millennia. I tend to view people from the past as products of their time, I suspect that were Jesus here today, his message would be one to/for our culture and it would be markedly different considering what’s going on now that wasn’t on the radar back then. I’m not keen on saying “the sum of wisdom dates back to so-and-so’s writing. There’s nothing written since that measure up to it.” I have to believe that even today God’s still at work, inspiring writers to continue to add to what was written for the next generation to learn from our mistakes and take the heart of the old message seriously – to love our neighbors, see to the least of these, help the poor, stand up for justice – to try to make the world a better place for everyone even if they don’t believe as we do.

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      • Your perspective is so refreshing.
        Likewise I would say “maybe…sort of.”

        Of course I agree that there are elements of wisdom in the New Testament letters. There is human wisdom in Solomon’s proverbs too – but they are not “The Law” or “The Prophets,” rather they are part of the third, least authoritative least important part of the Hebrew Scriptures, “The Writings.”

        Jesus understood these 3 sections of Scripture in their hierarchal order, Torah, Nabi’im, Kethuvim. The Jews today refer to this by the acronym TaNaKh.

        Jesus clearly taught us that “All Scripture” is NOT equal, in authority or importance. You can see
        Matthew 19:4-8,
        Matthew 22:37-38,
        Matthew 23:23,
        Mark 12:29-30

        In Matthew 22:40, the Two Commandments have only The Law and The Prophets hanging on them – not The Writings, not “All Scripture”, certainly not “The Bible.”

        It is essential for us to “love our neighbors.” But this is not the most important commandment, and I think I understand why……

        AMEN AMEN to
        I’m not keen on saying “the sum of wisdom dates back to so-and-so’s writing. There’s nothing written since that measure up to it.”

        Jesus didn’t write any books.
        He had 2 faithful eyewitnesses record his testimony, the Apostles Matthew & John, so they really should be top priority. supported by Peter. These 3 are the only Apostles who wrote Scripture.

        Mark is also very close to original eyewitness testimony, and Luke carefully investigated things from the beginning. None of these authors brought glory to himself.

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      • Dear Unmasked Avenger
        Greetings ! And thank you for supplying the link to the “Destinos” Spanish Language Learning videos. My wife and I spent many, many….many hours watching them last year, before they started blocking it – apparently because we are in Buenos Aires Argentina, and it wasn’t allowed in anymore for some reason, I’m guessing.

        Here’s a new poem.

        The message of The 11 (“The narrow gate”)

        “The eleven disciples went to Galilee”
        “Where Jesus had told them to go”
        They heard His voice and obeyed His will
        Despite uncertainty down below

        Jesus spoke to them at length
        He wasn’t really a Tweeter
        Only 3 of them wrote Scripture
        Matthew John and Peter

        “Feed my sheep” said Jesus, for though
        “Heaven and earth will pass away”
        I have the words of eternal life and
        “My words will never pass away”

        “Enter through the narrow gate”
        The voice of Jesus through the eleven
        Believe in Jesus “through their message”
        And “eat from the tree of life” in heaven

        Jesus commissioned the eleven
        With “everything I have commanded you”
        “Teaching THEM to obey” Jesus
        And “THEM” means me and you !

        “The command given by our Lord and Savior”
        Is not a Pharisee speaking alone
        It came rather “through your apostles”
        Matthew Peter and John

        If a Pharisee boasts proudly
        Those men added nothing to my message
        He doesn’t speak for Jesus
        His words are nothing more than garbage

        Bibliography
        All “quotes” in “quotation marks” are from the writings of the Apostles Matthew John and Peter in the Bible, mostly the “Red Letter” words of Jesus. [Matthew, John, Revelation, 2 Peter – NIV]

        Like

...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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