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19 November 2018

The living bread wants to save us.

And how this got Jesus’s students to reconsider a few things.

John 6.30-42

To recap: Jesus is the living bread, and wants people to pursue him instead of ordinary bread—or any other ordinary material possession which gets used up, goes moldy or stale, or otherwise perishes. He wants an eternal relationship with us. Whereas sometimes all we seem to want of him too often are the fringe benefits of heaven.

So went the discussion Jesus had with the Galileans who sought him after he and his students fed 5,000. (John refers to them as Yudaíoi/“Judeans,” people from Judea who settled the Galilee centuries after the Assyrians drove the northern Israeli tribes out. I stuck with “Galileans” because obviously they’re Galilean Jews—same as Jesus.) The Galileans figured he was the Prophet from the End Times because he fed ’em bread like Moses fed their ancestors manna. Like they say here.

John 6.30-31 KWL
30 So they told Jesus, “So what miracle are you doing so we can see it and trust you?
What’d you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert.
Like it’s written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Ps 78.24

As I said previously, it wasn’t because they wanted a handout of free manna. It’s because being able to do such a miracle proved to them the End Times had come, and they oughta follow Jesus ’cause he was about to overthrow the Romans. Of course their timeline—and motives!—looked nothing like Jesus’s.

So he threw ’em for a loop by stating something which they’d immediately think was incorrect.

John 6.32-34 KWL
32 Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven.
Instead my Father gives you actual bread from heaven.”
33 For God’s bread is the one coming from heaven, giving life to the world.”
34 So they told Jesus, “Master, give us this bread, always.”

Whenever Jesus says “Amen amen” (KJV “verily, verily,” NIV “Very truly,” NJB “In all truth”) he’s not kidding. Not lying, not exaggerating; you can take this statement to the bank. It might be a metaphor though. But it’s still entirely truthful, which is why I interpret légo ymín/“I tell you” as “I promise you.” And what he promised ’em was manna isn’t bread from heaven. He is.

Thing is, biblical literalists are gonna insist manna totally is bread from heaven. ’Cause the LORD Ex 16.4 and Nehemiah Ne 9.15 said so! Asaph wrote this in Psalms!

Psalm 78.23-25 KWL
23 God commanded the clouds from above. He opened the heavens’ doors.
24 God made manna to rain down upon them, to eat. He gave them the heavens’ grain.
25 People ate potent bread. God sent them abundant food.

(The word “potent” in verse 25 translates abirím, which means “stallions” or “bulls”—basically any uncastrated animal, who’s mighty strong, but sometimes hard to control. You know, like Hebrews. Pharisees were a little weirded out by that idea, so in the Septuagint they changed it to árton angélon/“angels’ bread” in the Septuagint, even though abirím isn’t translated “angels” anywhere else in the bible. But that’s why we find “bread of angels” in most English translations. Turns out our translators are just as squeamish about testicles. But I digress.)

Obviously Asaph wrote poetry, and was being hyperbolic, as poets will. But literalists don’t know and don’t care what hyperbole is, and only wanna fixate on their favorite literal interpretation: God gave the Hebrews angel food! As if spirits eat. Wasn’t the whole point of Jesus eating after his resurrection to prove he’s not just a spirit, ’cause spirits don’t eat? Lk 24.38-43 Why would any angel need to eat manna?

Manna comes from heaven in that God, who’s in heaven, provides it. But it doesn’t literally come from heaven, as Jesus correctly points out. Get off the manna. ’Cause he’s offering us actual heavenly bread—and again, that’s a metaphor, but one we shouldn’t struggle to understand like the Galileans did.

16 November 2018

Elections and God’s will.

When people don’t understand “acts of God” really aren’t.

One of the myths American Christians like to tell ourselves, is that democracy reflects God’s will. Vox populi, vox Dei/“the people’s voice [is] God’s voice,” is the old slogan.

A slogan which doesn’t come from the bible, of course. It’s a very old Roman slogan… which is actually derived from the old Roman pagan religion. The Romans believed one of the ways they could deduce the gods’ will was to observe the masses. If suddenly everyone in the city wanted something, they figured it was a sure bet the gods wanted it, and were influencing humans to express their desires. It gave them a religious justification for democracy… and at the same time, gave the priests a religious justification to ditch their traditions when they were no longer popular.

But it’s not Christian thinking whatsoever. You might recall it was the crowds (riled up by the head priests, but still) who called for Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus. Mk 15.9-15 You might recall because the crowds regularly defied God, he had to flood the world, scramble Babel’s languages, burn down Sodom, have the Hebrews slaughter the God-resistant Amorites and Philistines, then have the Assyrians and Babylonians slaughter the God-resistant Hebrews. The cycle of history is full of people who not only didn’t reflect God’s voice, but blatantly defied him.

It’s why Alcuin of York, who did know his bible, commented to King Charles of Lombardy (whom historians call Charlemagne) in a letter in 798, “Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.” For those who don’t remember their Latin classes: “Don’t listen to those who keep saying, ‘The people’s voice is God’s voice’: The commoners’ rowdiness is always just on the edge of insanity.”

As we’ve seen demonstrated in just about every American election. If you deny it happens in your party, you gotta admit it absolutely does happen in the opposition party.

The reality is that humans are totally messed up. Christians included. We’re selfish. Human nature is not “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Lv 19.18 which is why God had to command it; it’s to think of ourselves first, others second—if at all. Some of us even claim it’s a virtue to think of ourselves first, others second. Sometimes individually, like those who claim charity demoralizes those who receive it, so don’t be charitable. (They certainly aren’t.) Sometimes collectively, hence those “America first” slogans, which too often really mean “America only.”

And because of this human depravity, what does this make our democracy and our elections? Collective depravity. We’re not voting God’s will into power, much as we’d like to imagine we are. We’re voting for our will. We vote to lower taxes, not because don’t care about our government’s crushing debt, not because we don’t care about infrastructure and security, but because we individually want that money more than economic stability and the general welfare. We vote to legalize the things we want, and criminalize the things we don’t want.

We might claim Jesus likewise wants or doesn’t want them, but he’s an excuse. We use him to justify our own behavior, or project our ideals upon him to salve our consciences. The votes of any nation might be influenced by how Christian the people are, or aren’t. More often—as proven by how people tend to tell surveys and polls one thing, but vote very differently in secret—they’re a barometer of how hypocritical we really are.

So when an election doesn’t go our way—and we’re naïve enough to imagine it therefore didn’t go God’s way—let’s not foolishly ask, “Where was God in this election?” He was, as usual, sitting it out. Because the United States is not his country. His kingdom is. He rules us that way. Not through our system of government.

15 November 2018

How non-supernatural Christians define prophecy.

How non-supernaturalist Christians confuse the gift of exhortation with the gift of prophecy.

In the scriptures, a prophet is a person who hears God and shares his messages with others. Anyone can hear God, so anyone can become a prophet, and since every Christian has the Holy Spirit within them, Christians especially can become prophets. It’s kind of our birthright. Ac 2.17-18

However. In popular Christian culture, particularly among Christians who have their doubts or fears about miracles and the supernatural, “prophecy” has been redefined. To these folks, prophecy still totally refers to sharing God’s messages with others. But as for hearing that message directly from God… well that’s not part of their understanding. Either ’cause they insist God doesn’t do that anymore, or ’cause they seriously downplay anything supernatural about the way Christians get God’s messages.

So to them, a “prophet” is anyone who shares God’s truths. They read ’em in the bible, preach the bible, and voilà they’re a prophet. Or they heard these truths from another preacher, shared ’em with others, and that makes ’em a prophet too. Basically every Christian preacher and teacher is a prophet.

To some, what especially makes ’em a prophet is the message. If they radically stand up for God, over and against a culture which doesn’t care about him, or wants to water him down into something inoffensive and powerless, that’s what makes ’em prophets: They’re hardcore. Prophets aren’t just any teachers, but teachers of revolution. Of revival. Of profound, God-seeking change.

To others, the active ingredient is their effectiveness. ’Cause loads of Christians preach radical change. But if these preachers’ messages actually get people to radically change, they must have a gift!—and, they presume, it’s the gift of prophecy. God granted them the power for their words to make a difference. God made ’em really good public speakers, like Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. Isn’t that all prophecy is?

What these alternate definitions have in common is that exhortation makes the prophet. If you preach God’s message—maybe radically, maybe effectively—you’re a prophet.

Why I have a problem with these alternate definitions: Prophets don’t act that way in the bible. They heard God. Samuel’s first prophecy wasn’t radical change but judgment, and it clearly didn’t convict Eli to change his behavior.

1 Samuel 3.10-18 KWL
10 The LORD came, stood, and called, same as usual: “Samuel. Samuel.”
Samuel said, “Speak. Your slave hears you.”
11 The LORD told Samuel, “Look, I’m doing a work in Israel which everyone will hear of.
Their two ears will turn red with shame.
12 On that day, I do to Eli everything I said about his house, start to finish:
13 I told Eli when I judged his house for always, for its corruption.
He already knows: His sons made themselves unholy, and he didn’t stop them.
14 So I promised Eli’s house: Can it make atonement for always,
with a mere sacrifice and offering for Eli’s house’s sin?”
15 Samuel lay down till morning. He opened the door of the LORD’s house.
Samuel was afraid to present the vision to Eli.
16 Eli called Samuel, and said, “Samuel my son.” Samuel said, “Look at me.”
17 Eli said, “What was the word to you? Please don’t hide from me.
God do it to you, and do it again, if you hide the word from me—
all the word he told you.”
18 Samuel told Eli the whole message, and hid from him nothing.
Eli said, “He’s the LORD. He does what’s good in his eyes.”

Yeah, I know; various Christians will insist all the meanings and definitions of miracles and prophecy and revelation got changed between bible times and today, or between Old Testament times and New. It’s rubbish, but popular rubbish. Samuel was identified a prophet because Samuel heard God. Not because of what he said and how he said it. Solely because of how he got what he said.

If your “prophecy” isn’t the product of hearing God, ’tain’t prophecy.

14 November 2018

When faith won’t fit in the pagan pigeonhole.

’Cause skeptics hate it when you inform ’em you don’t believe in wishful thinking either.

When Christians define the word faith, we go with the definition found in Hebrews. “The solid basis of hope, the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” is how I usually put it. He 11.1 We haven’t seen something, but we believe it anyway—for solid reasons. Usually ’cause we’re taking someone’s word for it, like Jesus’s.

When pagans define it, they either go with wishful thinking, blind optimism, or the ability to believe imaginary things without evidence. You know, stuff we shouldn’t believe. And to be fair, some Christians do think of faith that way, ’cause they haven’t read Hebrews, or their leaders did a sucky job teaching ’em about faith. It’s not like they got their false definition from nowhere.

Yep, I read Hebrews, and my church leaders were pretty good about defining faith accurately. So when skeptical pagans start to mock faith—“Oh, you Christians only believe that rubbish because you want so bad for it to be true”—I correct ’em. Christian faith is based on evidence, not wishes. Based on the testimony of those who’ve seen stuff and shared it. 1Jn 1.1-4 Based on trustworthy, knowledgeable people, like Jesus. Based on the scriptures, which were written by such people. Wishing doesn’t make it so; wishing makes nothing so.

In Christianity, faith ultimately takes Jesus’s word for it. In the rest of life, we tend to take other people’s word for it. When reporters present the news, we take their word for it. When a dictionary, encyclopedia, or other reference work says something’s so, we take their authors’ word for it. When a scientific journal makes a claim, we take the researcher’s word for it—or we do the research ourselves and debunk ’em, but more often it’s easier to just presume they did the research properly and do take their word for it. In every last one of these areas, we’re practicing faith. ’Cause like Hebrews describes it, these are actions we’ve not seen. But we have a solid basis for believing ’em anyway.

Now. When I explain it to pagans that way, you’d think they’d respond, “Oh! That’s surprising. I didn’t realize you guys thought about faith that way. I’m still not sure I’d reach the same conclusions about God as you, but it’s good to know you put some intellectual rigor into your belief system.”

Instead it’s more like, “…No that’s not what you people mean by faith. It’s the ability to believe imaginary stuff as if it’s real. You’re trying to pull a fast one.”

And sometimes it’s outrage. “How dare you compare my trusting a scientist in any way with your religious belief in God. What I’m doing isn’t faith. Faith is a religious thing. It has nothing at all to do with what I practice.”

Either way, pagan skeptics absolutely hate our definition. They imagine they have religion all sorted out. When they’re told otherwise, they lose their cool: Their worldview is based on the idea faith is purely a religious practice—and a dumb one—which has nothing whatsoever to do with the real, material world of facts, evidence, logic, science, and reason. Faith is for the religious; they’re not religious; ergo they don’t do faith. Period. Don’t you dare use the F-word on them.

Why does it freak ’em out so much? Well they‘re gonna hate this explanation too: They’re really fond of the idea religion is intellectually pathetic. Makes ’em feel good about themselves for being irreligious. Finding out they’re wrong—that they never made the effort to find out what religion actually has in it; that their dismissive attitudes are actually based on prejudice and presumption—shakes their faith in their skepticism. Getting your faith shaken tends to freak anyone out, Christian or not.

Yep, I used the F-word to describe ’em again. Hey, if the word fits.

13 November 2018

The “Your will be done” prayer.

Not just praying it for others, but ourselves. And meaning it!

The “Your will be done” prayer is part of the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously it’s the “Thy will be done” bit. Mt 6.10 I’ve already discussed where we’re praying for his will to be done. Today it’s more about how we fulfill that particular prayer of his. Yep, it’s about doing God’s will.

Typically when Christians pray “Your will be done,” we’re not talking about ourselves. We’re talking about everyone. “Thy will be done on earth,” is how the full clause goes, so we’re thinking about how God’s will gets done on earth as a whole, and by all humanity instead of us as individuals. When we pray it, we’re praying humanity collectively does God’s will. We’re not always remembering that we—you and I and everyone else—have to do God’s will too. Usually we’re thinking about how everybody else really oughta follow God’s will, ’cause they don’t, the earth sucks, and it’s their fault.

So when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re not always praying that we do God’s will. We make it a prayer for everyone else. Everyone not us.

But we are part of collective humanity, and today let’s get away from how everybody else isn’t pulling their weight. When you pray “Your will be done,” trying praying it this way: “Your will be done by me.”

’Cause we do wanna do God’s will, right?

Well no, we don’t always. Let’s be honest. We wanna do our will. We’re ready and eager to do God’s will when it coincides with our will. God wants us to go to church, and if we like church, this is no problem! And if we hate church, this is a huge problem, and suddenly we’re gonna be very receptive to any Christian who tells us we might not have to go; that “the communion of saints” is an option, that you can forsake gathering together, He 10.25 and that you won’t grow undisciplined, weird, heretic, and less loving because you’ve no one to sharpen your iron. Pr 27.17 Basically we’ll just do our own thing, cling to any excuse for why God might be okay with it, and even imagine it was all his idea, if we can mentally get away with it.

So, sometimes we wanna do God’s will. Which is why we need to keep praying this prayer. We need to learn to always wanna do his will. We need God to not let us get away with weaseling out of it.