Holy books, wholly understandable

I try, every year, to read the scripture of some other faith. That is, read the books themselves, not just a second-hand analysis of them

In 2016 it was the Koran, which I found well worth the read, if a little repetitious. It is about 4/5 the length of the New Testament.

In 2017 I have read the Bhaghavad Gita, which is a substantially shorter book. And I have just started the Book of Mormon, which is twice as long as the New Testament.

The two books I did as Audible recordings, of which I am a major fan, the Book of Mormon on LibriVox.

My observation here has to do with clear communication:

The Koran I read was the Penguin edition (1956) by N. J. Dawood; it is meant for non-specialists and was very understandable. Click HERE.

The Bhaghavad Gita I accessed two ways; first through then through the wonderful introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran. And much, but not all, of the 2000-page commentary by Swami Ramsukhdasji, a gift from a dear Hindu friend.

Especially in the case of the Eknath Easwaran edition (click HERE), the rendering is very clear, with technical terms carefully explained; and then before each chapter, the author sums up the previous context, then gives a summary of the new chapter. In other words, it couldn’t be easier for the non-Hindu.

Foment curiosity and independent thinking? Sure! Create confusion? No!

All to say that, in both cases, someone exerted a great deal of effort to make clear to me the basic message of the holy books of another faith. In neither book was I ever lost, although of course my understanding of them remains superficial.

The application for the Christian should be clear.

How much more should someone who is interested in communicating our true message take great pains to

  • study it seriously,
  • meditate on it deeply,
  • pray about it thoroughly,
  • rely on God’s grace to live it authentically, and
  • seek God’s direction to proclaim it truthfully and powerfully.

Also, I would add, use straightforward language instead of flowery or technical; and to employ good English – rather than Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Bohairic, or who knows what. (See my long article on this issue HERE). To give Paul’s statement a different but legitimate application: “in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” And out of the church, even more so.

These versions of holy books remind me of our dear late professor, I. Howard Marshall; the first sermon I heard him preach, in Kings College Chapel in Aberdeen, was on the theme of “repentance” from Romans 2: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” He was speaking to a mixed group, some of whom were not very familiar with the Bible. I paraphrase him: “Repentance is not making ourselves out to be the worst person that ever lived,” he began, and then gave us a simple short sentence on what it does mean to repent. Clear as a bell. The handful of times I went to hear John Stott preach, same thing.

That is the apostolic way, it is the way of love.

“Holy books, wholly understandable,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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Love, sure, but during an election year?

A fresh preface to my essay, “The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people.” I include here not only things I observe in others, but principally the things I’d like to root out of my own heart.

The Lord’s return may – or may not – be near, but no-one who reads church history would conclude that we clearly live in the last days. There are relatively no more wars today than throughout history (probably fewer), no more frequent earthquakes, no worse famines. And we have 2000 years of unloving actions on the part of the church to make our current lack of love seem mild by comparison.

Still, Jesus warned us in Matthew 24 that part of the future apostasy will be that “the love of most [believers] will grow cold.” And while 2016 isn’t necessarily the end of history, the fact that it is a political season gives us pause to gauge our level of charitableness.

The Evil One wants to freeze your helping hand

The Evil One wants to freeze your helping hand

The Enemy is pleased to put our love on ice, and he uses arguments both old and new to entice us to join in with him.

A few of his LIES:

“If you really have the truth, then you have the right to be reckless in how you present it.”

“If you feel charitable toward the needy, that is just as good as actually doing something to alleviate their needs. E. g., if you ‘share’ a post about starving children, that’s as filling as a sandwich.”

“Violence is tolerable, so long as it is doled out against the Other, not Us. Because They probably deserve it.”

“Using bad words, even from the pulpit, is okay, since if we love people, we need to get their attention, and fast.  If not curse words, then at least use sheeple, wingnut, moron, etc. Oh, and again, this is cool so long as it’s against the Other, not Us.”

“If you want to help a woman with an unwanted pregnancy, don’t worry about saving the child she is bearing.”

And conversely, “Keeping her from ending a pregnancy is the sole expression of love we need to show toward her.”

Take up your cross and follow Christ refers to abstract, spiritual things, not our daily behavior toward other human beings, and certainly not to our behavior on social media.”

“Hasty and off-the-cuff responses are sweeter to the tongue than slow-brewed wisdom.”

“It’s okay to hate the haters.”

“Well, they started it!”

“Those victims probably deserved it and shouldn’t complain, Our victims are faultless.”

“When people encourage us to act with respect to others, that’s just a ploy of the Politically Correct to shut us down.”

“We should love ‘our own’ first (family, neighborhood, race, religion, tribe) and others less.” [Note: Charity begins at home, while a Christian truth, is perverted when in Satan’s hand.]

Cynicism is a favorite of Hell, to despise the sinner, to make the Other the focus of evil in the world and the butt of “Well, what do you expect of Them?” The fruit of cynicism is sarcasm, sneering, suspicion, contempt, and given time, hatred. Love teaches us remain vulnerable, and endure and even embrace the pain that results from being witnesses to wickedness.

Christ was the one who was “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isa 53:7), and he invited us to take up our cross and follow him, even during presidential elections, and he gives us the mighty Holy Spirit to rewrite the code of our mind to enable us to do it. This is what separates Christian charity from mere pleasantness or good manners.

But from all indications, Christian love apparently is meant to follow some weird liturgical calendar, by which the church allows us to lay it aside in 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, etc., you do the math. That’s why Francis’s prayer of self-dedication, “grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand” (see more below), strikes us nice and Christ-like, but only applicable outside of election seasons. Don’t eat meat on Fridays is sooo medieval; Don’t be charitable every four years is the new fashion!

I urge myself, and invite you, to take Francis at his word, in the run-up to the November election and in any season:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

CLICK to go to The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people.”

“Should we be loving during election years?” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, San José, Costa Rica

Grumpy Legalists

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What can turn happy, friendly Christians into a snarling mob? What transmutes a Good Friday Gang into a Black Friday Mob?

Legalism.

What transmutes a Good Friday Gang into a Black Friday Mob? Legalism!

What transmutes a Good Friday Gang into a Black Friday Mob? Legalism!

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Popular Christian Dance Moves: Be the Life of the Congregation!

You know, back in the day, we wondered if Christians should be dancing at all. There was even a school of thought that said we teens should take a note from home for those weeks when they pushed back the big curtains that divided boys’ side from the girls’, so they could teach us square dancing.

I was stricter on myself than my church ever was, but even I decided that square dancing fell into the category of Good Clean Fun.

But lately it seems like plenty of us Christians are dancing weird steps.

This occurred to me last year, when I saw a “Bible prophecy expert” doing a popular dance which I have taken the liberty to label…

The False Prophet Backpedal

So, this man told me that he had it all figured out: Christ would return on September 13, 2015. When that event “cameth not to pass,” he discovered that it was his arithmetic, not his prophecy, that was at fault: the true date for the rapture is now Oct 2, 2016 [Note to self – remember to email {name omitted} on Oct 3 and see if he’s still with us]. But a little sleuthing on my part, and it turned up that the same guy had already predicted that the End would come in September, 2011 – it was a slam-dunk certainty that time, too. When I pointed this out to him, he did the False Prophet Backpedal: Step 1, “I never said that”; 2, “I may have said that, but it’s not what I meant”; 3, “you are wicked for pointing out that I said that.” My guess is that he will later this year take Step 4: “it was a typo, I meant to say 2017.” (See my article, “How to Calculate when Jesus will Come, Without Even being a Prophet”)

Don’t try this at home, kids, but for purposes of illustration, here are the steps of the FP Backpedal. Cue music:

The False Prophet Backpedal

The False Prophet Backpedal

And suddenly, it seems like everywhere I look, we are trying out new dance steps. For example: (more…)

Preaching means putting yourself in the place of the listener

When we want to illustrate causation or chronology, we usually motion from left to right: that’s the way we do math, that’s the way we write. Preachers sometimes do so, but most will begin at their left and move or gesture toward their right. That is, what seems the natural order to the speaker is backwards to the audience, who see movement as from right to left, that is, like Hebrew or Chinese or maybe some new math.

It’s a detail, and only we fussy ones who notice things like this will see the difference. A student in preaching class wouldn’t even lose a fraction of a point over it.

But it illustrates a larger truth: when preachers want to communicate clearly, they must go beyond, “Does this seem clear to me?” They must put themselves in the place of the listeners and ask, “But will it be clear to them?”

For related articles, search for PREACHING in the right-hand column. Your right, not mine.

“Preaching means putting yourself in the place of the listener,” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Advice for a teenaged young man

mf6HAyEA few weeks ago, a young Christian friend of mine turned 13. His mom asked some of us to write out words of counsel for him. Here are things I wish someone had told me at age 13, given in no particular order and no with aim to be comprehensive:

  • At this stage, your brain is keyed to memorize things easily. It’s the best time of your life when you should memorize portions of the Bible. Believe me, it gets harder with every passing year.
  • You are also at an age when you can study the Bible for yourself. I read the Bible through for the first time when I was 14, and was pleased to see how much of it I could understand.
  • Always tell the truth, to people and to God, even about trivial matters. Always. Lying is for cowards and is one of the most corrosive practices in your relationship with God.
  • Choose your friends wisely. Don’t run with the cool people, run with the good ones.
  • Whatever bad habits you develop now will follow you the rest of your life (I’m thinking particularly of foul language, but the rule applies across the board). Even if you gain victory of them later on, they will never disappear completely, so I advise you to avoid them in the first place.
  • Treat women with kindness and respect, beginning with your mother and sisters.
  • Don’t just complain about problems, be a person who seeks positive solutions.
  • Extend your education, both formal and informal, as far as you possibly can. Read excellent books.
  • Seek out people of good Christian character and base your lifestyle on what you see in them.
  • Don’t be one of those Christians who just receives blessings; always keep an eye open to help other people in need.
  • When you are in a group, look around to see who is lonely; make them feel befriended.
  • Finally: You are at the stage when you can fully develop your own relationship with God, and not just relate to him through the church or through your parents. Go to him directly and build a good strong bond.

Happy 13th birthday! Gary

I live outside the USA: here’s how the country looks to me

Most of my blogs are on spiritual issues, but since I just returned home:

I spend most of my time outside the States, typically in Latin America. There’s nothing like living abroad to get to know your home culture better. Every time we return to the US we experience culture shock and pick up on things we hadn’t noticed before, some fundamental, some trivial, some positive and some negative.

In no particular order:

Americans are monolingual. Let’s start with a common observation. Most of us speak only English. Almost everyone I meet outside the US can communicate a little in a second language, and sometimes a third. In the case of recent immigrants to the States: I hear the adults speaking with an accent, but the kids speak perfect English.

Americans are really polite. I know there are exceptions (more…)