22 May 2018

Saved exclusively through Jesus.

It’s the exclusivity that bugs people.

One of the things about Christianity that offends people most is how we claim we can only be saved through Christ Jesus.

We do have bible to back up the idea, y’know.

Acts 4.8-12 KWL
8 Then Simon Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, told them, “Leaders of the people and elders:
9 If we’re investigated today about a good deed to a disabled man—how was he cured?—
10 it must be made known to you all, and all Israel’s people:
In the name of Messiah Jesus the Nazarene—whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—
by this Jesus, this disabled man stands before you, cured.
11 This Jesus is ‘the stone dismissed by you builders, who became the head cornerstone.’ Ps 118.22
12 Salvation isn’t found in anyone else, nor is there given to people
another name under heaven by whom it’s necessary for us to be saved.”

Jesus is the only way by which people have access to God:

John 14.5-7 KWL
5 Thomas told Jesus, “Master, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?”
6 Jesus told Thomas, I’m the way. And truth, and life. Nobody comes to the Father unless through me.
7 If you knew me, you’ll also know my Father.
From now on you know him. You’ve seen him.”

These absolute statements make Christianity exclusive: You gotta have a relationship with Jesus if you want to get to God. There’s no getting around Jesus. He is how God chose to reveal himself, so if we reject Jesus, we’re rejecting what God’s trying to tell us. Bluntly, we’d be rejecting God.

Now if you’re of another organized religion… big deal. Your religion already has its own claims of exclusivity. Muslims figure there’s no god but God—and Muhammad’s his messenger, so if you wanna know God you gotta embrace Muhammad’s revelations. Buddhists don’t even care about Jesus; he’s a nice guy, but they prioritize the Buddha’s teachings. And so forth.

What these absolute statements tend to annoy most, are those pagans who are trying to claim all religions are the same, or just as valid as one another, or that it’s okay if people have a hodgepodge of beliefs from every religion. Namely it’s okay if they make up an eclectic religion, where they get to pick ’n choose their favorite beliefs from here, there, and everywhere. But if there’s no getting to the Father apart from Jesus, and they’re trying to get to the Father every which way, it kinda reveals they don’t know what they’re doing.

A lot of Christians claim what these bible quotes mean is we must become Christians or we’re going to hell. And that’s not actually what they say. They say—no more, no less—that salvation comes exclusively through Jesus. Not that we gotta first become Christians. Not that we gotta first embrace Christian doctrines. These aren’t statements about the steps anyone has to take. They’re only statements about how God works: Through Jesus.

So if God chooses to save someone from one of those other religions, be they Muslim, Buddhist, pagan, even atheist: He’s only gonna do it through Jesus. Regardless of how they—or we—imagine salvation works.

Yeah, here’s where I start to confuse and lose people.

21 May 2018

The Twelve and the miracles.

The hangups Christians have about how the apostles could somehow do miracles before Pentecost.

Mark 6.12-13 • Luke 9.6

Of Jesus’s students, he assigned 12 of them to be apostles, “one who’s been sent out,” and eventually he did send ’em out to preach the gospel, cure the sick, and exorcise unclean spirits.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Mark 6.12-13 KWL
12 Going out, the apostles preached that people should repent.
13 The apostles were throwing out many demons, anointing many sick people with olive oil—and they were curing them.
Luke 9.6 KWL
6 Coming out, the apostles passed through the villages,
evangelizing and curing the sick everywhere.

Yep, all of them. Even Judas Iscariot.

And here’s where we slam into a wall with a lot of Christians. Because they cannot fathom how these apostles went out and cured the sick and exorcised evil spirits.

They’ll grudgingly acknowledge that the apostles did it. The gospels totally say so, and who are they to doubt the gospels? But y’see, their hangups come from the fact they have a lot of theological baggage about how miracles work, how the Holy Spirit empowers people, when the Holy Spirit historically empowered people, and the fact miracles seem to have nothing to do with the apostles’ maturity level: Once they were done doing these mighty acts, they came back to follow Jesus, and seemed to be the same foolish kids they always were.

Oh, and we can’t leave out Judas Iscariot. Christians really don’t like the idea Judas was curing the sick and casting out devils. Since he was one of the Twelve, and since these verses imply he did as the others of the Twelve did, it means Judas did miracles. And this, many Christians cannot abide. I remember one movie in particular where Judas specifically did no miracles; he lacked faith, so Simon the Canaanite, whom Judas was paired up with, Mt 10.4 did ’em all. ’Cause later Judas turned traitor and appears to have gone apostate—so Christians don’t want him having power, and balk at the idea the Holy Spirit really entrusted him with any such thing. It violates their sense of karma.

First thing we gotta do is put down the baggage and accept the scriptures: Jesus sent out his apostles, young as they were, green as they were, to go do supernatural acts of power. Which they did. We can debate the how and the why, but none of this hashing out should violate the fact they did the stuff. If it does, we’re doing theology backwards, and wrong.

18 May 2018

Discernment isn’t prophecy.

If it looks like the science of deduction, or carnival mentalism, ’tain’t prophecy.

Here’s a bit from “The Red-Headed League,” a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labor, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.

“How, in the name of good fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labor? It’s as true as gospel, for I began as a ship’s carpenter.”

“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.”

“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”

“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc-and-compass breastpin.”

“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”

“What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest it upon the desk?”

“Well, but China?”

“The fish which you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks, and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”

“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid.”

So you saw what Holmes did there; he does it in most of his stories, and it’s kinda what he’s known for. He looked the guy over, noticed details, made deductions—and the fellow reacted as if Holmes was a mind-reader. Or a prophet.

This form of deduction is called cold reading: An analyst comes into a situation cold, with no prior knowledge of the situation or the people. (If the analyst already knows a few facts, it’d be a hot reading.) The analyst reads the clues, makes the deductions, and surprises everyone who hadn’t noticed the same clues. Detectives, like Holmes, do this all the time. So do doctors, psychologists; anyone who’s learned to notice these details.

Psychics too. If you’ve seen the TV shows Psych or The Mentalist, that’s precisely what the protagonists do. One’s pretending to be a psychic, but was trained by his dad to observe everything like a detective; the other quit pretending to be psychic in order to help detectives. (You’d think the detectives on these shows would know what’s going on better than they do, but the show writers have more fun in making ’em a little bit dumb.)

And fake prophets do it too.

17 May 2018

Sin.

In case you were unclear as to what that is. Hey, you’d be surprised how many people are.

SIN /sɪn/ n. Immoral behavior—from a religious viewpoint.
2. Violation of God’s law or known will.
3. A reprehensible action, or serious shortcoming.
4. A state of human nature in which one is alienated from God.
5. v. To commit a sin, offense, or fault.
[Sinful /'sɪn.fəl/ adj.]

I used to think it was a copout when Christians claimed they weren’t entirely sure what “sin” is, or what the word properly means. Sometimes yeah, they’re trying to weasel out of defining their behavior as sin. But I’ve found quite often nobody ever spelled it out for them when they were new believers. So they presumed. They figured a sin is when you break one of the Ten Commandments, or when you commit one of the seven deadly sins—but nothing else is a sin. As a result they kept right on committing the same fruitless behaviors they’d always done, unaware of how this activity was undermining their relationship with God and any religious growth.

The apostles defined sin as when we know what God expects of us—we know the right or proper thing to do—yet we ignore it and selfishly do our own thing. Jm 4.17, 1Jn 3.4 At its core sin is based on selfishness. If we aren’t so insistent on doing our own thing, and care more about doing what God wants, we’ll be far less likely to sin.

Here’s the problem: Sin is based on selfishness, but selfishness isn’t necessarily sin.

No, seriously. It’s not always wrong to think of ourselves first. In fact we kinda have to, when we’re following Jesus’s teaching to love others as we love ourselves Mk 12.31 —it’s expected we do love ourselves. And it’s sometimes necessary to think of ourselves first. If you’re serving others, but you work yourself to death in the process, you’re not gonna serve others for very long. If you’ve ever been on a plane and remember the safety lecture, y’might recall when the oxygen masks drop you’re supposed to put on your mask before you help others with their masks, ’cause you’re no help to anyone once you pass out from oxygen deprivation. Often we need to think of ourselves first.

The problem is when we think of ourselves only: We don’t or won’t love others too. (Or we don’t love ourselves, and use that as an excuse to be awful to others.)

Sin is the product of corrupted selfishness. Like nearly every animal, selfishness is hard-wired into the human body and instinct. After all, when we don’t look out for ourselves, when we ignore that self-preservation instinct, we get physically hurt! But humans have taken this instinct to a level God didn’t intend when he built it into us. We don’t just preserve our lives and well-being. We preserve our comforts too. Whenever God’s will runs contrary to the things which entertain us, please us, or suit us, we’re all too willing to ignore him. We figure he’ll forgive us. Or we just don’t care what he thinks.

Hence sin. And it hasn’t merely corrupted humanity: It’s warped the whole planet. Nothing works as originally intended. Instead of living forever as we oughta, humans die. Instead of a harmonious, balanced ecosystem, we have famines, plagues, and natural disasters. Instead of working together in love, and naturally sharing a close personal relationship with God, humans fight one another, and try to manipulate and control and dominate one another. Even Christians fight over our ideas about Jesus: We may know about the sin problem, but we’re hardly immune to it. We’re just as infected as the rest of the world.

But God intends to remove sin from humanity. In four steps.

  1. God’s Law, in which he spelled out his will for the Hebrews and humanity.
  2. Jesus’s atonement, in which our sin was defeated and dealt with.
  3. Sanctification, in which we learn how to stop sinning and resist temptation.
  4. Resurrection, in which we receive new, sin-untainted bodies.

16 May 2018

What’s America’s role in the End Times?

Same as the rest of the world.

The bible, in entirety, was written before the middle east, Europe, Asia, and Africa knew the western hemisphere existed.

True, God knew it was there. But his apostles and prophets had no idea. And God didn’t see any point in informing them. It’s not like the Americas, nor any other yet-to-be-discovered islands in the world, were excluded from the scriptures’ blanket statements about humanity. The LORD is God, and Jesus is King, of the whole earth. Known and unknown lands alike.

So North and South America—the Indian nations then, and the current nations now—aren’t in the bible. At all. Neither suggested nor alluded to in it.

So even if you’re citizen of the United States, loyal and patriotic, or even just a big fan of all things American like so many of our resident aliens, I gotta break it to you: Other than the bits about “all the world,” we don’t figure into End Times predictions whatsoever.

But you’d be surprised how many American prognosticators simply can’t have that.

Blame American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is special, the greatest country in the world, the greatest country in history, and the related belief that Americans are smarter, more capable, more innovative, more talented, than the folks of any other nation. No offense guys; we just grew up under more freedom. If you had American-style freedom, maybe you’d do as well. But probably not. We’ve been freer longer, and we’re pretty sure that has something to do with it too.

We’ve been taught exceptionalism all our lives. It’s a huge part of American-style civic idolatry. So yeah, this is a lot of the reason why we Americans behave as if we’re special. We’ve always been told we are, and we believe it.

This attitude has trickled into our religion. Our End Times prognosticators figure the United States is special, doggone it, so we oughta fit in the End Times timeline somewhere. They’re not entirely sure where, but they shoehorn us pretty much anywhere they can get away with it.