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17 May 2019

Abortion and conservative Christians.

May as well dive headfirst into the United States’ biggest controversy of the past 40 years.

Abortion doesn’t come up in the bible. At all.

Infanticide does. Strangling or smothering the babies after birth, Ex 1.16 or if you really wanna terrorize people, as the Egyptians did, toss ’em in the Nile. Ex 1.22 The scriptures don’t specifically condemn it as murder, but neither do they treat it as if it’s not murder. And most Americans agree… although not all humans have. In some cultures—partly justified by high infant mortality rates—infant death is kinda okay, and causing infant death is also kinda okay. It’s famously known in ancient Rome, if a patriarch didn’t want a baby, he could order it be abandoned in the woods, to die of exposure. Although a 1988 archeological discovery in Askelon, Israel, revealed a number of Romans were okay with just drowning ’em in the local bathhouse.

Miscarriage also comes up in the bible. Again, it’s not condemned as murder. But it’s not like the ancients didn’t know how to trigger a miscarriage. There were certain herbal poisons you could take, and a miscarriage would result. Sometimes the mother would die too, but them’s the risks. Since people didn’t care for these risks, what they usually went with was infanticide.

Now there is a command in the Law which indicates God doesn‘t approve of triggering a miscarriage:

Exodus 21.22-25 KWL
22 When people fight, and one strikes a pregnant woman so her children come out:
If there’s no harm, still: Penalize, penalize.
Whatever the woman’s patriarch charges him, he must pay, as confirmed by judges.
23 If there’s harm, he must pay soul for soul,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, cut for cut, bruise for bruise.

So if the fetus came out dead, the guy who punched the mother could merit a soul-for-soul penalty. Unless her בַּ֣עַל/baál, “master”—meaning her husband, father, brother, father-in-law; whatever patriarch had the care of her—or judge had mercy, the perpetrator would be executed. Usually by her closest male relative, who was instructed to take vengeance in such cases. Nu 35.19

There are those who interpret this passage very differently. They presume verse 23 has nothing to do with verse 22; that it has to do with other acts of violence and their appropriate penalties. So killing a fetus didn’t merit anything more than a fine, but killing the woman—even if she’s a slave Ex 21.20 —merits the death penalty. Obviously they’re not reading this passage in context, and you can judge whether it’s because they really don’t like the context.

Otherwise, as I said, the bible is mum on the subject of abortion.

Not that people don’t try to read abortion into all sorts of verses—and again, take the scriptures out of context. Hey, whatever supports their cause. It’s not about what God has to say on the issue; it’s about them being right, and insisting God must be on their side.

16 May 2019

Forgetting the past.

We’re meant to learn from our past—whether we did stuff right, or made colossal mistakes. Forgetting it isn’t wise.

Philippians 3.13-14.

Here’s a verse that’s really popular with motivational speakers:

Philippians 3.13-14 NLT
13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

They especially wanna zero in on the “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” bit in verse 13. Then they add, “This is precisely what we need to do: Forget the past! Don’t dwell on it. Put it behind you. Those things don’t matter anymore. Look only at the things which are right in front of you. They’re the only things which matter.”

Okay. It’s true a lot of people spend way too much time living in the past. People obsess about it. Speculate about all the “what ifs” which might’ve taken place had they done things differently. Regret mistakes. Grow more and more bitter about those mistakes as time go on.

That unhealthy fixation on the past is a real problem, and needs to be discussed and dealt with. But the healthy way we deal with it is not to forget the past; not to blot it out of our minds, suppress it, or otherwise no longer think about it. Our pasts, like ’em or not, are part of who we are and how we came to be.

Meanwhile it isn’t even what this verse is about.

14 May 2019

Unidirectional prayer: We talk. God doesn’t. No point.

No it’s not how prayer works. But you’d be surprised how many Christians believe otherwise.

Too many people firmly believe God doesn’t talk back when we pray. We talk to the sky, we form sentences in our head… and God doesn’t respond. At all. Not a word. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. May as well have spoken to a brick wall. Heck, a brick wall’d be more responsive, ’cause people have graffito’d on it.

Now I can totally understand when pagans adopt this mindset: They don’t talk to God. Or they talk to fake gods, which of course don’t speak back, ’cause they’re imaginary. So what would they know about what prayer is and how it works? Stands to reason they’d think prayer is nothing more than putting “good energy” out into the universe, and expecting to get some of it back, ’cause karma.

But a disturbing number of Christians think this way. Seriously.

Often ’cause they’re cessationist and think God switched off the miracles inbetween bible times and the End Times. This’d include prayer. So they’re entirely sure he listens. But in this present era, he never, ever talks.

Yeah it’s crap, but they firmly believe it: That whole “I’ll never leave nor forsake you” bit in the bible? He 13.5 Technically he didn’t leave… but in order to emphasize how he’s not gonna intervene in human history anymore, the only way he cares to reveal his will anymore is through the scriptures. If God communicates at all, it’ll only be through feelings—when we read the bible, it’ll bring out the feels, and that’ll tell us we’re on the right track. You’ll feel this powerful sense of self-righteous conviction. Your mind’ll snap shut like a bear trap. Or you’ll have understood it wrong, so you’ll feel anxious and unsatisfied, like an ex-smoker whose nicotine patch isn’t strong enough. And if you feel nothing… well, which one do you think you oughta feel? Concentrate really hard. Maybe you’ll start feeling it!

If you can’t detect the mockery in this description: Hi there. Welcome to TXAB, my blog where I talk about following Jesus. Sometimes I use sarcasm. Read enough and you’ll get the hang of it.

Anyway, the reason these Christians believe as they do is ’cause their fellow Christians taught ’em wrong. Not intentionally; it’s the garbage they were taught, in an unbroken line back to various faithless individuals who weren’t listening to God, didn’t try, guessed at how he works without looking to the scriptures for evidence, guessed horribly, woefully wrong, and now God’s a deadbeat Dad.

The Orthodox, Catholics, and early Protestants correctly taught God talks back, and suppressed those who taught otherwise. When the suppression ended, the idea God doesn’t talk spread. (Hey, sometimes freedom of religion is a double-edged sword.) So over the past five centuries there’s been a lot of teachings, theology, and practices centered on the idea God doesn’t talk. Instead—like a deafmute who thinks he’ll be cured soon, so he stubbornly never learns sign language—for TWENTY CENTURIES God’s supposedly been manipulating us through warm fuzzy feelings. Is it any wonder Christians come in a thousand denominations?

Obviously these folks never learned to listen to God. Or think he would only speak in an audible voice—and if he does, it’d be rarely, to only a very small number of prophets. That is, unless prophecy’s done till the End Times; till then we gotta make do with bible-based warm feelings.

I grew up cessationist, and man alive is it difficult to read anything they’ve written on prayer. It’s faithless, godless, and largely useless. Because if prayer isn’t two-way communication, that’s what it is: Useless.

13 May 2019

The Holy Spirit’s temple: Multiple Christians.

God only has the one temple: His church.

From time to time Christians talk about how you, singular, individually, are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

’Cause the Spirit is sealed to every individual Christian. Ep 1.13 He lives in the heart of every single believer. And whatever God lives in is, properly, his temple. If he lives in you, it makes you his temple. If he lives in another Christian, it makes that person a temple. Dozens of Christians are dozens of temples. Billions of Christians are billions of temples. Get it?

But it’s not accurate. God has one temple.

As was kinda emphasized in the bible. Moses built the portable temple at Sinai, which English-speaking Christians call the tabernacle, and that was the temple for 4 centuries till Solomon ben David built a permanent one of gold-plated cedar in Jerusalem. The Babylonians burnt that down; Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel built another of stone; Herod 1 and his successors renovated it; the Romans eventually destroyed it. It was the one and only place the LORD intended to meet people for worship and sacrifice; it was the one and only place they kept his ark, representing his relationship with Israel. It was the one and only his name dwelt Dt 12.11 —which was the LORD’s way of putting it, ’cause obviously the Almighty can’t be contained by a mere building.

But the Jerusalem temple wasn’t the only temple of the LORD on earth. Jeroboam ben Nabat, king of Samaria, feared losing subjects to the king of Jerusalem, so he built two more temples. They didn’t have arks, but Jeroboam put gold calf idols in them, figuring that’d do; and since there’s a whole command against idolatry in the Ten Commandments, God and his prophets condemned Jeroboam’s temples ever after. After the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, Egyptian Jews in exile constructed a temple to the LORD in Alexandria, and Samaritans constructed a temple to the LORD at Mt. Gerazim. But neither of these temples were commanded nor authorized by God. He had his own plans. Always had.

And once his temple’s veil ripped open, Mt 27.51 it signifies God wasn’t interested in being worshiped from Herod’s stone building any longer. He was gonna build a temple from entirely different stones: Living people. Christians. Every Christian.

I’m not the Spirit’s temple; I’m one of the stones of its temple.

As are you. As is every Christian. We’re parts of his temple. Because the temple us us—collectively. The Spirit doesn’t have billions of temples; he only has the one. Same as always.

10 May 2019

Guard your heart.

Which properly means guard your mind.

Proverbs 4.23.

Proverbs 4.23 NIV
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

As a teenager I heard many a youth pastor quote this verse. Except they’d use the 1984 edition of the NIV, which goes, “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Which I like much better than the update; it’s more poetic. Although the way I initially memorized it was the KJV’s “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life.”

They quoted it ’cause they were encouraging us kids to be very, very careful about who or what we loved. ’Cause you know teenagers: Either you are one, or used to be one. And I’ll be blunt: Teens are so horny. The flood of new hormones in our systems, combined with how we’ve not yet learned to control our emotions, don’t help at all. I had all sorts of crushes on all sorts of girls and women, and stifled them as best I could. Of course, once two teenagers find they’re mutually attracted to one another, they seldom stifle anything, which is why so many of the kids in my youth group—good Christians or not—were fornicating like monkeys in the zoo. Precisely what parents and pastors fear. Hence all the sermons.

Of course “guard your heart” has other applications. Because teens are immature, they fall for anything. Not just for sexual temptations; they get sucked up into any ridiculous fad. Fr’instance my nephew is into vaping. It’s dumb, but so’s cigarettes, and I knew plenty of kids who got into cigarettes for the very same reason: They figured it was cool, all their friends did it, and they were so susceptible to peer pressure. At his age I liked to think I stood apart from the crowd, but even so, I got into all sorts of fads. And trouble. I was young and naïve, didn’t know any better, didn’t listen to the adults who did: I followed my heart every which way.

Hence adults kept returning to this verse, time and again. Or at least these three words: “Guard your heart.”

Don’t follow the crowd’s taste in music, clothes, cars, and especially misbehavior. Don’t fall in love with the wrong people, especially half-hearted Christians who might lead you away from Jesus—or worse, pagans. Don’t have sex, lest the girl get pregnant and wind up having an abortion (and since this was a conservative church, everyone pretended this never happened, even though I personally know five girls in my youth group whose pregnancies way-too-conveniently disappeared). Marry, but not yet—not till you’ve finished college, secured a good career, and made other caveats to Mammonism which Christians like to disguise as “good stewardship.” Basically anything which might derail your parents’ plans for your life: Just don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. Telling teenagers to get hold of their emotions is very good advice. Hard to follow, but still good advice. ’Cause teenagers—and for that matter most adults—don’t know how. They’ve never developed because kids suck the Spirit’s fruit of self-control, of gentleness, of learning the difference between love and desire. Hormones fuddle teenage minds way beyond reason. Even if the poor kids do learn some level of self-control in childhood, they’re going through an entirely new obstacle course. Adults who never learned self-control either, imagine the solution is to give kids lots of rules… as if that tactic ever worked on them. What teens, and really all of us, need is patience, kindness, guidance, and grace.

But since this article is part of my series on bible verses in context, you know I’m gonna point out that Solomon wasn’t writing about emotions.