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19 September 2019

When’d the events of the bible take place?

Humanity largely uses the Gregorian calendar, Pope Gregory’s 1582 update of the Julian calendar, which was Julius Caesar’s 46BC update of the old Roman calendar, which according to legend was an update of Romulus’s 10-month 360-day calendar. So, y’know, it’s clearly not the calendar Moses used.

Add to this the fact the bible’s authors didn’t really tie their events to specific dates. They rarely said, “On the , such-and-so gave this prophecy….” Didn’t occur to them to be this kind of exact. That’s a western priority, and one a lot of today’s middle easterners share. But it’s not an ancient middle eastern one. Doesn’t make a story more true, or feel more real and less mythological or fairy-taleish, when you can begin with an exact date instead of “Once upon a time.”

This lack of dates makes westerners bonkers: We wanna know when these events happened! What year did the Exodus take place? What year did Abraham die? When’d Noah’s flood happen? We want details, dangit. But honestly, we don’t have those details. We have estimates, based on the few clues the bible provides.

So this article isn’t gonna give you any peace of mind about these dates. All I have are best guesses; namely the guesses of various Christians who don’t always know what they’re doing.

18 September 2019

“Christ-followers”: Rebranding for the wrong reasons.

CHRIST-FOLLOWER 'kraɪst fɑ.loʊ.ər noun. Adherent or devotee of Christ Jesus.
2. One who believes themself a real devotee of Christ, as opposed to other Christians.

To be fair, a lot of Christians aren’t doing the title “Christian” any favors.

There are irreligious Christians, who figure all they need do is believe, and figure obedience is for suckers people who don’t believe. There are fruitless Christians, whose character is no different than pagans, but who point to their beliefs or works and think that should count for something. There are Christianists, who don’t know there’s any difference between their culture or their politics, and what Jesus teaches—but they clearly aren’t doing as Jesus teaches.

And there are Christians who aren’t as bad as all that. They’re working on it. Some harder than others. But let’s give ’em some grace, shall we?

But other Christians have decided there are so many substandard Christians, the title “Christian” has simply been ruined. Same as the titles “Evangelical,” or “Fundamentalist,” or “born again,” or “disciple,” “apostle,” “believer,” “Christ-bearer,” or what have you. The usual titles have been so befouled by posers, they’re gonna rebrand.

So they call themselves Christ-followers. As in,

SHE. “Are you Christian?”
HE. [correcting her] “A Christ-follower.”

Not in the sense that “Christian” and “Christ-follower” are synonyms. To these people they’re not synonyms: A “Christian” is someone who claims allegiance to Jesus but doesn’t really follow him. Doesn’t really take him seriously. Not like they do.

Yep, that’s the underlying message they’re trying to give everybody: They follow Jesus, and the rest of us [sneer] “Christians,” not so much. They… well, lemme have our Lord Jesus more accurately express the way they feel.

Luke 18.11-12 KWL
11 “Standing by himself, the [Christ-follower] prayed this: ‘God, thank you that I’m not like the other people!
Those greedy, unrighteous cheaters—or even like this taxman.
13 I fast twice a week. I tithe everything I get.’ ”

Yeah, this bit comes from Jesus’s Pharisee and Taxman Story. Lk 18.9-14 You may recall Jesus didn’t care for this particular prayer. It wasn’t that of a humble follower, but a pretentious ass. Those who exalt themselves, Jesus concluded, get humbled. Those who think they’re better than other people have another think coming.

17 September 2019

When God answers our mundane prayers: Thank him!

I’ve written before about how we can pray for ordinary stuff. That it’s okay to pray for ordinary stuff. God wants us to cast all our cares on him, 1Pe 5.7 and not worry about all the silly daily things we ordinarily do, and that pagans fret about. Mt 6.25-33 So go ahead and pray for God to help you find your phone. Or to speed up a traffic light. Or to help your kids do well on that spelling quiz. Or for a generally good day.

And y’know, plenty of Christians already do precisely this. We pray all the time for little trivial things. “God, I’m gonna be late!” “God, take care of this.” “God, help her out.” Some of us make these little prayers all day long. Good!

Thing is, God answers these prayers. All the time. Sometimes with no. Frequently yes.

But because they’re mundane requests, because our prayers are so numerous—and kinda automatic and unthought—we kinda take God’s answers for granted. We have a good day… and forget to credit God with it. We assume circumstances made our day good. Less so God.

We find the misplaced phone, and forget to thank God for jogging our memory: “Maybe you should check yesterday’s pants.” We whip down a street full of green lights, and forget to thank God for smoothing out the traffic. We breeze through the line at Starbucks, and forget to thank God for giving the baristas a good day too.

Is this ungrateful of us? Yeah, just a bit. But that’s not actually the problem. The problem is our little prayers for these mundane things weren’t actually prayers of faith. They were prayers of habit. We did ’em without thinking, because it’s just what we do.

A prayer of habit is a heartless prayer. One which expects nothing, but says the prayer because “Christians gotta pray.” One which doesn’t remember to thank God for his answers, because it’s not actually looking for answers, and credits circumstances or ourselves.

Kinda sad, but kinda common.

16 September 2019

More than a great moral teacher: The world’s light.

John 8.12-20.

If we skip the Adulterer Story as we read John (as we probably should, ’cause whether it happened or not, it didn’t happen at this point in John), this lesson took place right after Sukkot was over, after the Judean senators had decided Jesus isn’t a relevant prophet. Because, among other things, he’s Galilean.

Which only goes to show they didn’t know anything about Jesus’s family and backstory. They could’ve found it out with some very minor investigation. Talk to any of Jesus’s family members; they knew the entire story. But the senators didn’t bother, and stuck with their fairly superficial observations—which Jesus, in today’s passage, calls judging “according to the flesh.” Jn 8.15 They presumed they knew better, and missed their Messiah.

So when Jesus made really bold statements about himself, they naturally balked: These statements are too bold. You can’t go making unsubstantiated statements like this. Like “I’m the world’s light.”

John 8.12-20 KWL
12 So Jesus spoke again, saying, “I’m the world’s light.
My followers should never walk in the dark, but will have light and life.”
13 So Pharisees told Jesus, “You testify about yourself. Your testimony isn’t true.”
14 In reply Jesus told them, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true:
I know where I come from and go to; you don’t know where I come from and where I go.
15 You judge according to flesh; I judge nothing.
16 When I judge—and I do—my judgment is true, for I’m not alone:
Instead I and my sender, the Father, agree.
17 It was written in your Law that a testimony of two people is true. Dt 19.15
18 I’m a witness to myself, and my sender the Father witnesses about me.”
19 So the Pharisees told him, “Who’s your father?”
Jesus replied, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you’ve known me, you’ve also known my Father.”
20Jesus spoke these words in the treasury, teaching in temple.
Nobody seized him, for his time hadn’t yet come.

And y’notice Jesus kinda agreed with them: No, he can’t make unsubstantiated statements about himself, but his statements are substantiated, because they’re backed by the one who sent him to us, his Father. Whom, he radically commented, they don’t know. If they did, they’d listen to him, and know from him Jesus is legit.

13 September 2019

Bible “difficulties”: The passages which won’t do as we want.

Whenever you hear Christians refer to “bible difficulties,” you’d think we meant scriptures which’re hard to translate, hard to interpret, hard to understand, or hard to follow. Often we do. Certainly I do.

But why do Christians consider these scriptures difficult? Three reasons.

  1. We believe the bible contains no errors—but these passages appear to be in error, or appear to contradict other scriptures. Like Jesus’s two different genealogies.
  2. We have certain beliefs, doctrines, traditions, or assumptions—and these passages appear to violate them. Like Christians who don’t wash feet, Jn 13.14 or Christian men who don’t kiss one another hello. Ro 16.16 We don’t wanna say these passages don’t apply anymore… but honestly, we don’t wanna follow ’em either.
  3. These passages actually are obscure, and Christians throughout history (and Jews too) have found ’em hard to interpret.

The most common reason would be the first one: Discrepancies. Scriptures which appear to contradict other scriptures… or reality itself.

Nearly every Fundamentalist insists the bible has no such contradictions. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Have these guys ever read the bible?” Tried to line up the resurrection stories, or Jesus’s aforementioned genealogies?

Plus several orthodox Christian teachings—based on bible, I remind you—are kinda contradictory as well. Like how God’s kingdom is here, yet not yet here; like how God is one yet three. Fundies know all this stuff, but regardless: One of their fundamentals, one of their non-negotiable beliefs, is that the bible has no errors. Contradictions would be errors; therefore no contradictions.

Hence Fundamentalists have written big giant books about bible difficulties. In which they try to explain away any discrepancies, plus any other problem scriptures, as best they can. Sometimes reasonably, ’cause these passages only look like discrepancies but aren’t really. Other times Fundies really stretch reality in order to defend their doctrine.