Liquid Footprints

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In His Image

So God created mankind in his own image ,in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1: 27

We often forget that all of humanity is created in God’s image. It is even said in rabbinic tradition  that the first man was illuminated with glory similar to God’s own.  Christianity focuses a lot upon the Fall of man and our sinfulness.  This makes us forget that even in our sinfulness we are still an image of God. Think on that a moment. We, despite our failings, are created in the likeness of the Supreme Creator.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 3:18

When we look in the mirror or upon another person, we are seeing a some of God’s majesty. Is it any wonder than that Jesus considered the two greatest commands to be love God and love each other? By loving each other, we are loving a part of God’s majesty. What we see within ourselves as an image of God isn’t the way we look. Rather, God creates us in His image of compassion and mercy. God isn’t an old man with the long flowing beard we often visualize. He is Love incarnate and powerful. The face we see in the mirror is a face that can shine with compassion and love for all of creation. Jesus exemplified this Love God is in such a way we can understand. Even His death on the cross doesn’t compare to the Love God is. Dying for another is the only supreme expression of love we can show or understand.

This limitation is why we are an image of God. In some versions of the  Genesis story, God created man only a little less than Himself. We are only a little less capable of being Compassion.

Certainly we sin, but there is a little too much focus on this aspect of being human. The greatest part of being human is being an image of God; no matter how tarnished, it is still there. It can be, as Paul points out, transformed into a greater image; we can grow in Compassion. Realizing this fact, helps us also realize our capacity for love is boundless. We simply do not work to develop it.

Christianity speaks often about God’s grace being a part of salvation from sins. God’s forgiveness is all the is necessary. I argue that we shouldn’t focus so much on this. God will, after all, forgive as He wants to forgive. Our responsibility is to grow in compassion and become increasingly like the Being we are images of. It is only through practicing Love, as Jesus and Paul point out, can we grow into the compassion God originally intended us to be.  We cannot earn forgiveness for sins. We can, however, work toward becoming a representation of God.


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Tithing and Giving

Tithing is the act of giving the tenth of one’s income, typically to a religious organization. I know of many churches that tithe their members. What does the Bible say about this?

First, tithes are practiced in the Jewish Scripture.  It was also very specific. It was the giving of a tenth of what the land produced. In other words, if you didn’t farm, you didn’t pay the tithe:

A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. – Leviticus 27:30

There were also various other tithes based on what year it was ( that totaled to around 23%  and not 10% of the harvest). But this regular tithe is what most people consider when they think of tithing. It was an ancient form of taxation. The tithe went to the Temple to support the priest class ( and help support widows and orphans under the care of the Temple).  Jesus wouldn’t have paid the tithe as a carpenter. In fact, He was against tithing when it was a focus:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. – Matthew 23:23

The most important matters of the law: mercy, justice, and faithfulness were considered more important by Jesus than paying a tithe.

So How Should a Christian Give?

Paul tells us that a Christian should give out of the first day of their labor:

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. –1 Corinthians 16: 1,2

By what did they store from their labors? And to whom did were they giving? Paul? No. Paul was making a collection for the saints, but who were they?  The saints Paul is referring to wasn’t the church in Corinth or even the church in Galatia. It wouldn’t make sense for the people in those areas to give to Paul since they could take care of it themselves. Rather, Paul was collecting for the poor at Jerusalem and elsewhere:

 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased those of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints who are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily, and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers in their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. When therefore I have performed this, and have secured to them this fruit, I will come to you on my way to Spain. -Romans 15:25-28

Paul was collecting food. The first Christians gave to the poor and not to a church organization. They gave of their harvest ( hence no need to be out collecting as Paul asks in the Corinthians verse). There is no set amount offered. Paul doesn’t ask for a tithe. He only asks for something as a person prospers on their first day of labor each week with the goal of feeding their poor brethren.  Paul wasn’t concerned about collecting funds to run a church as we do today. He was concerned with helping those in need.

Consider what Jesus told the Pharisees about their tithing and what Paul taught. What matters is how we give and not how much or what we give. If a church doesn’t help the poor, the hungry, or those in need, we shouldn’t be giving the church a single penny.  We would serve God better in such an instance by giving our money directly to a soup kitchen or even another religious organization that runs a homeless shelter.

So Should We Tithe?

From a doctrinal standpoint, no we shouldn’t tithe. Tithes were based upon the yield of the land and were given to the Temple. Since the Temple doesn’t exist and most of us are not farmers, tithing doesn’t apply.Unfortunately tithing is also a part of the so -called gospel of prosperity (I won’t dignify it with capitals). Many people like to tithe because they think God will return that amount many fold. This is wrong motivation and just plain selfish. It is just like what the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time.

Now, can we tithe if we want? Certainly! Paul teaches that we should lay in store as we prosper on the first day of each week. If you can afford to take a tenth of your income (since most of us don’t harvest anything) then wonderful! However, you have to be certain that the money is going to help those in need and not fund the edifice of a religious organization. Certainly, pastors and preachers  need to eat too, but it cannot be the main purpose of the funds. Most of the funds should go toward helping people.

The funds shouldn’t be used to indoctrinate either. Jesus gave unconditional help to those in need. We also need to do so.  Compassion converts people to a belief system far better than doctrine.

We also have to remember that we must live as a Christian and not just give like a Christian. Jesus’s lesson for the Pharisees remains as a warning for us. A Christian who lives compassionately but doesn’t give is better than a person who calls themselves Christian, gives much and regularly, but doesn’t live compassionately everyday.

Giving is an act of compassion not of compulsion ( 2 Corinthians 9:5 – 7).  We shouldn’t expect anything in return, from those we help or from God. We give because we cannot stand to see others suffer.


Public Prayer

One of the aspects about modern Christian worship that makes me quite uncomfortable ( in addition to singing) is prayer. Heck, prayer is everywhere in public life. It is all over our television and even part of our political system.  This ought not to be so. I am not against prayer, but our current practice is actually contrary to what Jesus taught:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6

While the verse specifically refers to an episode of Pharisees praying out in the streets, it was a direct command to his followers. We are to pray only in secret.  Prayer is intimate alone time with God. Prayer is supposed to be as special and secret an act as sharing love with a spouse. So why all the public displays?

Namely it is for the same reason as the Pharisees prayed: attention. Public prayer is often a way of garnering attention from others and generally making a show of one’s piety. I am even against prayer in church services since it isn’t private time with God.  Jesus would go off alone to pray in the morning (Mark 1:35). The only time He would pray “publicly” was when He would give thanks for meals, but even then He was with His closest friends and family members.  The Lord’s Prayer wasn’t a prayer. Jesus was providing a template as to how to pray.

Whenever I sit in on someone leading a prayer I feel extremely uncomfortable; I feel like I walked in on something I shouldn’t have.  Doesn’t matter if it is at the dinner table or during Sunday worship. It just feels wrong since Jesus explicitly tells us to prayer in secret. In many ways, not praying secretly is cheating on God. Prayer is a time when we need to withdraw from everything that distracts us and sit alone in God’s presence. It is a time we share our weaknesses, concerns, and problems. It isn’t a time to stand in front of others, nor to treat God like a vending machine. Prayer is something we shouldn’t say we are doing for someone. It is far too intimate to treat it as publicly as we do.

Unfortunately many people look at me oddly when I express this discomfort of mine. I only seek to be as Christlike as I can be. Prayer has no place outside of our most secret part of life.


Sing and Make Melody in the Heart

“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;”

Ephesians 5:19

I grew up in a church that believe singing and only singing is the proper way to worship God. No instruments. The problem I had with it was this: I HATE singing. Yes. I passionately loathe singing . I am partially tone deaf, and while I like and enjoy music I do not enjoy sounding terrible to even my damaged ears. I don’t even like to talk that much. I think silence is the better way to worship.

Because I dislike singing so much, Sunday services was a source for dread. I couldn’t sing or make melody in my heart to the Lord in that manner. I felt far more attuned to God alone in silent contemplation or walking quietly in the woods. Notice how I emphasize silence. My heart sings when I am in a silent environment away from people. I grew up thinking this was wrong. After all, Christians are commanded to sing. The key is singing and making melody in the heart. Songs, psalms, and the like do not make my heart feel melodious toward God. Silence, however, does.

Christianity has become an extrovert’s religion. It is often loud and touchy-feely with hands held together in prayer. For those like me who crave silence and solitude, worship is often a trip through a hell of anxiety. I don’t think God had that in mind with worship.

I spent many years trying to make myself enjoy traditional worship and all the extrovert trappings. I like being around people…sometimes. I also had to motivation that any other form of worship was wrong. Yet, despite my efforts and prayer my heart could never sing with my mouth. My heart couldn’t pray when publicly praying.  I found that when I am with silence my heart sings to God. When I am alone, my prayers are sincere. Besides, Jesus said we should pray in secret instead of publicly (Matt 6:6). He viewed prayer as something intensely private.

I cannot deny my nature; I cannot be anyone I am not. I cannot feel comfortable or joyous singing with the congregation, but I am when sitting in silent contemplation of God.

Modern Christianity needs to rethink its extrovert bias. Singing in the heart can be done (and I think is BEST done) quietly in different ways. Singing can be painting on a canvas, writing, or meditating. Not everyone wants big social hullabaloos.  The extrovert bias only alienates Christians like me. Congregations miss out on the music we sing.

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Jesus: The Middle Way

Let us take a look at three different figures: John Galt, Jesus, and the Buddha. They each represent a certain way of living and viewing the world.

John Galt is the “spokesman” of objectivism. Objectivism is a belief system that has grown in popularly lately. Ayn Rand is one of the major movers of the system. In objectivism, the individual and their senses are the focus. People who work hard, “produce,” and live how they want are considered ideal. The senses depict reality as it truly is. It champions independence and freedom. It frowns upon share wealth and the common worker. John Galt is a character from the book “Atlas Shrugged” an exemplifies the ideals of objectivism. He is hard working, dislikes government’s efforts to control his wealth, seeks freedom and independence. He eventually founds his own city where everyone can start a business of their own; work on their own and keep what they earn.

On the opposite end is the Buddha. Buddha teaches that the senses are deceptive, and everything we consider real is like an illusion. The concept of a computer, for example, isn’t reality. The reality is the some of all the parts, materials, and human effort needed to create the device we conceptualize as a “computer.” Buddha also taught extreme altruism. We are all related to each other and connected. The concept of the individual is also like an illusion. Because of this, we should care for others with all our abilities. In Buddhism there is even the idea of a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is a person who decides not to enter nirvana but to instead be reborn endlessly so they can help people. A rough approximation of this idea is to think of a Christian who refuses to enter heaven after they die and demands to be reborn so they can help other people become Christians. Yes, according to Buddhism a person should even give up heaven so they can help people for as long as people exist.

Between the poles is Jesus. Jesus, of course, leans closer to the Buddha than to Galt. Jesus taught selflessness but also with a bit of self interest. For Jesus, it is okay for someone to take care of their own to a certain degree. As long as taking care of one’s own doesn’t preclude you from helping people. Jesus considers those who do give up everything to others as people to emulate. However, He recognizes not everyone can do that. He doesn’t expect you to give up heaven so you can help others. However, he doesn’t tolerate the focus on the individual to the extreme Galt does. Jesus viewed everyone as related, as neighbors. You help when there is need, as much as you can.  He suggests that life is like an illusion, but He leaves it at that. People have to live within this realm of the senses.

Okay, I really glossed this over. There is a lot of depth these short paragraphs doesn’t scratch. I suggest you read “Atlas Shrugged” and books wrote by the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. Of course, I also suggest you read the Synoptic Gospels.  You could easily write a short book on this subject. However, what is important is how Jesus provides a balanced view on life. One that Buddha would approve. Likewise Jesus would approve of Buddha’s teachings on compassion. Both would frown upon Galt and the focus on individualism and the senses. I find it funny how objectivism is embraced by many Christians considering how anathema it is to what Jesus taught: altruism and compassion.


Jesus the Radical

We’ve lost sight over the past 2,000 years of just how radical the message of Jesus was. It is hard to see it now with all our doctrine and layers of thinking laid on top His messages. If we strip them away, however, we can see that Jesus’ message is likely even more radical to our modern eyes than to His culture. Honestly, if He returned or was sent for the first time today, He would be assassinated quicker than He was in the Roman period.
Let’s toss away what we think we know about the messages of Jesus and take a moment to look at just how radical His pure message is:
1) Love God; Love your neighbor (Mark 12:29-31)

Most of us have heard this very often. Jesus equates loving our neighbor with loving God. According to Him, all the Law hangs on these commands, and they are inseparable in the way He presented them. One cannot love God without loving their neighbor. Who is your neighbor? Everyone. Jesus even tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:42-44).  He is saying we need to love everyone as ourselves. Think about that a moment. Really think about it.  We can only show our love for God by loving all His people no matter the religion or ethnicity. Jesus makes no distinction.

2) Those who are not against us is on our side. (Luke 9:48-50)

Jesus makes His message all inclusive. His disciples forbid a man who isn’t following them from teaching the messages of Jesus. Jesus tells them not to forbid the man even though the man isn’t a part of the “religion.” Jesus states that those who are not against Him are with Him. In other words, those who practice #1 are a part of the Kingdom. People who help Jesus’s message of compassion for everyone is with Him regardless of their beliefs.  Judging others because they believe in a different flavor of Christianity goes against this explicit principle of Jesus.  As long as they are not against the message, they are on Jesus’ side.

3) Stop being indifferent

Throughout the Gospels Jesus shows us unconditional forgiveness and compassion to adulterers, the lowest classes, the sick, and others that live on the margins of society. He lived a life that teaches us not to be indifferent to those who are poor, sinners, sick, or just different. He spent time with prostitutes, tax collectors, and others. In modern terms He would spend time with prostitutes, people with AIDS, the homeless, and other marginal groups. Jesus didn’t spend His social time with the ruling classes. He only spent time with them when He was trying to break them out of their indifference and attachment to wealth. By today’s labeling Jesus would be a Leftist Socialist since He abhorred how wealth failed to help those in need.

His entire life was spent trying to shake us out of our indifference to God, love, arbitrary division, and the marginal in need.  His messages have been buried under doctrine and shaped into a Sunday pill we can easily swallow. However, it takes only a moment to deeply realize just how radical Jesus really was. Love God and everyone. Do everything you can to help them as you would help yourself.  Do not divide on the basis of religion. We are all in this. Do not be indifferent to those who suffer or make mistakes. Do not be indifferent to those who need help.  Modern society has buried His message under the so-called gospel of prosperity, capitalist rhetoric, work ethic, and other barriers to compassion. The message is still there if we stop and think about it.

It would do Christianity well to strip away all the distortions and deeply look at the radical Jesus.

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Considering Abraham and Isaac

I’ve been too busy lately with a lot going on in my personal life. But I finally have a moment to post a little something:

You know the story of Abraham and Isaac? God tells Abraham to take Isaac up to an altar and sacrifice him. Abraham, despite obviously being torn as a father, does what he believes he is told. As the story goes, an angel stops Abraham at the last moment. God was only testing his faith.

The story can be viewed as a test of faith – Abraham believes so deeply that he will kill his only son. It can also be viewed as a story that sets the Israelites separate from other people; God doesn’t want or require human sacrifice.

On the deepest level, the story is about a believer becoming faithful; of a man who adheres to doctrine becoming spiritual.  Abraham went up the mountain a believer; he returned deeply faithful. He was, by all definitions, a fundamentalist, but at the last moment he realized God wouldn’t want a human sacrifice. God is love and not command or doctrine. Abraham learned that blindly following doctrine and beliefs is foolish when it goes against God’s nature. He left the mountain a spiritual man. Isaac too learned the difference between doctrine and spirituality.