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13 July 2018

Problematic worship music.

The stuff I listen to. And don’t.

We sang a song in my church last Sunday, “Set a Fire” by Will Reagan & United Pursuit. It’s hardly the first time; we’ve worshiped with it dozens of times before. It was a popular song on the radio for a while, ’cause it’s catchy. We like the “I want more of you God” bit, and how there’s no place we’d rather be than in God’s love and presence.

But, to paraphrase Jesus, Rv 2.4 I have this against it. Here’s the relevant portion:

(So) set a fire down in my soul
That I can’t contain and I can’t control
I want more of you God
I want more of you God

What’s wrong with it? Well, that fire we can’t contain and can’t control.

The idea runs contrary to the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control. There should be nothing in our lives which we can’t take hold of. Yes, even things of the Spirit. For

1 Corinthians 14.32-33 KWL
32 Prophets’ spirits are in submission to the prophets,
33A for God doesn’t do disorder, but peace.

The prayer, “God, would you please just take me over and make me do [thing we lack the self-control to do],” is a really popular one. But it’s not one God wants to say yes to. He’s trying to develop self-control in us; he shouldn’t have to take such matters into his hands. (And y’might notice whenever he does, people really don’t like it as much as we imagined we would.)

So Christians might like the idea of more zeal. More “fire down in my soul” which we claim is beyond our ability to contain. Problem is, zealous Christians have consistently used that zeal as an excuse for unkind, unchristian, fruitless, godless behavior. An out-of-control Christian is always a harmful Christian. When have you ever seen someone who loves others (following the proper definition of love, of course) out of control? Well you don’t, ’cause love behaves itself.

Problem is, in many a church Christians are more familiar with the worship song than the bible. True of most worship songs. We quote them. We follow them. Less so Jesus.

I guarantee you this song’s fans, as soon as they hear this critique, will immediately swoop in to defend the song. “Oh that’s not what the songwriter meant to say.” Fair enough; it may not be what he meant. But it is what he said, and is how Christians are gonna interpret it. Good intentions don’t redeem a song. Better lyrics, better aligned with the scriptures, do.

But people don’t determine our favorite songs by the lyrics. We like the music.

12 July 2018

“Before I formed you in the womb…”

So you’re prolife. Doesn’t mean you get a free pass to misappropriate bible.

Jeremiah 1.5

May as well state my biases up front: I’m prolife.

In the United States we use this term to describe a person who doesn’t approve of aborting a pregnancy. Depending on the person, we either want the practice discouraged, banned outright, made a crime, or even made a capital crime with death penalties all around. Which goes way too far for me, because I’m prolife in the proper sense of the word: I don’t want anybody to die. Not just fetuses.

The real problem with abortion is a society which claims they care about women and motherhood, but they only care about self-supporting women and mothers. When women get pregnant, hadn’t planned on it, and don‘t know how they’re gonna have the time or money to raise a child, society’s response isn’t, “How can I help? Whatever you need, just ask; I’m there.” It’s usually condemnation: “You should’ve expected this.”

No moral support, no financial support, no personal support; God forbid we suggest government support. So the pregnancy is turned into a massive burden… and the easiest way out of the burden appears to be abortion. Social Darwinism turns into actual Darwinism.

You honestly want abortion to be gone, or at least rare? Start supporting women. Start caring for the needy. Love your neighbor. Don’t be one of those hypocrites who only care about fetuses, but not about women struggling to raise kids. Rant over.

So. In conservative Evangelical churches, it’s kinda taken for granted we’re prolife. Most of us are. But not all; you can kinda tell who’s not, by how much they squirm in their seats whenever the speaker starts to condemn abortion.

Me, I start to squirm whenever they misquote bible in support of their cause. I’m pretty sure “Thou shalt not kill” Ex 20.13, Dt 5.17, Mt 5.21 does the job just fine. But prolifers feel we gotta quote other verses to defend our worldview. Any verses which suggest “a person’s a person, no matter how small” Horton Hears a Who! and actually references a fetus, is trotted out as “proof” God considers them people.

This bit from the first chapter of Jeremiah in particular. For some reason, I hear people quote it in the NIV more so than the KJV. I suspect it’s because the KJV uses the word “belly,” which isn’t clinical enough for ’em.

Jeremiah 1.5 NIV
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“See?” prolifers will point out, “God knew us before we were born.”

Um yes, but y’all need to read that verse again. It says Beterem echorkha vebeten/“At [a time] before I formed you in [the] womb.” Not when God formed Jeremiah in the womb; before.

The verse is about foreknowledge, not fetuses. God knew Jeremiah before God created Jeremiah.

11 July 2018

“The bible says…” and people who have their doubts about the bible.

Don’t be naïve.

The written word is not authoritative.

I realize that’s an ironic thing to write. S’true though. People don’t believe everything they read. There’s this myth they did once; centuries ago, when the only stuff committed to print was important stuff, and therefore everybody figured people should believe everything they read. But of course it’s not true, because writers back then felt entirely free to challenge, critique, or refute the written word. Always have.

For the most part it’s non-readers, or people who only read their bibles, who think the written word has some sort of special value. The rest of us read the internet, and know full well there’s a lot of rubbish out there.

And when it comes to sharing Jesus, Christian apologists will regularly make the mistake of forgetting: We consider the bible authoritative. Pagans do not. To them it’s another religious book among thousands. To them it’s another centuries-old book written by dead white men. (Certain liberals are slightly more impressed when I inform ’em it was written by dead brown men… but not by much. They don’t respect the Bhagavad-Gita either.)

This is why apologists feel it’s very important to establish the bible’s credentials as an authoritative book. This way when anybody responds, “Oh ‘the bible says’—well who cares what the bible says?” we have an arsenal of arguments as to why the naysayer has to take the scriptures seriously.

Personally I’ve found I don’t need an arsenal. Whenever a former pastor of mine was challenged with “What’s the big deal with the bible?” he’d respond with, “Have you ever read the bible?” Few to none have. “Well perhaps you oughta read it before you dismiss it.” So either they’d read it, and the Holy Spirit would work on ’em thataway; or they were never gonna read it, but rather than say so, they just quit trying to put down the bible.

I just presume pagans have their doubts about the bible, and how valid it is. So I don’t bother to point to it. I point to Jesus.

Wait, but where’d I get all my Jesus stuff from? Oh I fully admit for the most part it comes from the bible. But pagans never really ask where I got my Jesus stuff from. They assume I learned it in church. (I kinda did.) If they want to know where in the bible I got this stuff from, I can point ’em to the book and chapter, and sometimes the specific verse. They don‘t ask, though. They just take my word for it… until they don‘t wanna take my word for it anymore. Same as they would with the bible.

Referring to the book and chapter only impresses Christians, anyway. Doesn’t impress a single pagan. In fact, peppering my conversation with bible addresses leads them to believe I’m not really speaking from the heart; I’m quoting a script, ’cause only somebody who wrote all this stuff out as a lecture would include footnotes. And they don’t wanna hear a canned spiel. They want something “more real” than that. Or what feels more real.

So ditch the bible references.

I know; it outrages certain Christians when I recommend this. And not just the bibliolaters. They assume I’m telling people to ditch bible. I am not. By all means, base every declaration you make on the scriptures. But do you need to regularly interrupt your speech with “John 3.16” and “Romans 3.23” and “Ephesians 2.8” and all the addresses which they’re never gonna remember to look up later anyway? Like I said, this only impresses Christians, and they’re the only people we do this for. But they don’t need to hear the gospel; pagans do. So quit pandering to them and consider your audience. The references aren’t actually helping. Ditch ’em.

10 July 2018

Convincing people they’re not all that good.

Trying to activate a conscience is a tricky thing.

Ray Comfort likes this particular evangelism trick apologetics argument. He didn’t invent it though; I’ve heard it from lots of people. Whenever he’s talking Christianity with someone, he’ll ask them, “Do you consider yourself a good person?”

In my experience, a number of people will actually answer no. Sometimes because they actually don’t consider themselves good people; their karmic balance leans way too far on the bad side of the scale. Sometimes because they’re just being contrary; they don’t know what’s coming next, but they anticipate you want ’em to say yes, so they’re preemptively throwing a monkey wrench into things. And sometimes they do know what‘s coming next, and definitely wanna sabotage it. But in order to keep this article moving, let’s say they answered yes.

PAGAN. “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person.”
APOLOGIST. [stifling that grin you get when they take the bait] “So if you stand before God on Judgment Day, he’ll be okay with you and let you in?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “You don’t have anything he still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Like what?”
APOLOGIST. “Like sins. Have you ever sinned?”
PAGAN. “Well I haven’t murdered anyone.”
APOLOGIST. “That’s the only sin you can think of?”
PAGAN. “Well okay, there’s lying, cheating, stealing, stuff like that.”
APOLOGIST. “Right. God lists commandments about that in the bible, like the Ten Commandments. The bible says when you break one, it’s like you broke all of them. Jm 2.10-11 So have you ever lied?”
PAGAN. “Yeah.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever cheated on your taxes?”
PAGAN. “No.”
APOLOGIST. “So you paid your taxes when you bought something out-of-state over the internet?”
PAGAN. “Okay maybe I cheated on my taxes.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever stolen anything, like downloading a movie off the internet, or a paperclip from work?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever lusted for somebody? The bible says that’s the same as adultery. Mt 5.27 That’s a sin.”
PAGAN. “Seriously? The bible’s strict.”
APOLOGIST. “Yes it is. It says if you hate someone that’s the same as murder. Mt 5.21-22 So, ever fantasized about murdering anyone?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, but that’s not really murder.”
APOLOGIST. “The bible says it’s just as bad, and still a sin. Like you said, the bible’s really strict. Ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?—that actually doesn’t mean cursing, but you swore to God you’d do something, and didn’t?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, I did.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever been envious of your neighbor’s house or car or wife? That‘s coveting; that’s a sin too.”
PAGAN.That’s a sin?”
APOLOGIST. “That’s a sin. God considers all these things sins, all of them violations of commands where he told people to never do them. So, do you have anything God still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Guess so.”
APOLOGIST. “Well he wants to forgive you. But you have to ask for forgiveness.”

And from there, a brief explanation about how God made it so everyone can be forgiven and saved, a bit of the sinner’s prayer, and you’ve won another soul for God’s kingdom. And all the angels in heaven rejoiced. Lk 15.10

09 July 2018

Trying to get away from it all… and failing.

Sometimes we need to take a break from ministry… if people will let us.

Mark 6.30-34 • Matthew 14.12-14 • Luke 9.10-11 • John 6.1-4

The bit where Jesus sent out his students to proclaim God’s kingdom and cure the sick, and where Jesus had them feed an audience of 5,000, were placed right next to one another in two of the synoptic gospels. Namely Mark and Luke.

Mark 6.30-31 KWL
30 Jesus’s students were gathered together to see him,
and reported everything to him—whatever they did, whatever they taught.
31 Jesus told them, “Come, by yourselves, to a place in the wilds. Stop for a little bit.”
For many people were coming and going, and they hadn’t time to even eat.
Luke 9.10 KWL
Returning, the apostles detailed for Jesus all they did.
Taking them, he withdrew with them to a town called Beit Sayid.

The reason they’re right next to one another? Because Jesus was training his students to be his apostles and minister on his behalf. With that came how to minister. And when he sends us to minister apostle-style, feeding the 5,000 is one of the ways in which he wants us to do so: Feed the hungry!

There are those Christians who figure our only job is to tell people about the kingdom—not demonstrate the kingdom by doing good deeds in Jesus’s name. Tell, not show. It’s a warped mindset, but I grew up among people of this mindset: They don’t actually love their neighbors, and this is how they weasel out of doing anything for ’em, contrary to Jesus’s teachings. Yeah, they need to get saved.

But after you’ve spent a bit of time intensively ministering to people, you do need to take a break. Get your Sabbath rest. Too many ministers work all week long: Saturday night services, Sunday morning services, and then it’s back to the usual workday ministries. They take no days off, then burn out. Jesus is the LORD who commanded Israel to take a break every week; he understands the value of rest. Don’t work yourself to death, even if your works are good works. Take a day!

Christians don’t always catch how Jesus sending his kids on a mission, is immediately followed by feeding 5,000. Because most of us aren’t in the habit of sitting down to read gospels all the way through. We break ’em up into daily readings, separate the stories from one another, read them without the previous story fresh in our minds, and don’t catch any of the context. Then people like me point out these fairly obvious facts, and Christians go, “Wow, I never realized that.” Yeah, well, stop reading it the way you’ve been reading it. You’re missing more than you realize.

Mini-rant aside: So, three gospels emphasize how Jesus took his students away for a brief rest. Problem is, they couldn’t catch a break. The crowds found out where Jesus had gone and went to see him. They had sick people and wanted ’em cured. Or they heard rumors Jesus might be Messiah, and wanted to see for themselves, and had a few days free ’cause they were getting ready to go to Jerusalem for Passover (no that’s not speculation; it’s bible Jn 6.4), so they took a detour to check him out.

So much for rest time.