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Showing posts from 2015

Getting hungry for God. Literally.

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Why we fast. And why we try to call every act of self-deprivation “fasting.” FAST /fast/ v. Go without food [for God]. 2. n. A period of going without food [for God]. Whenever I talk to people about fasting, their knee-jerk reaction is “No food? No food? No FOOD? You’re outa your [profane adjective] mind.” After all, this is the United States, where a 20-ounce soda is called a “small.” In this nation, the stomach rules. This is why so many Christians are quick to redefine the word “fast.” My church, fr’instance, is doing a 21-day “Daniel fast.” I’ll explain what that is in more detail; for now I’ll just point out it’s not an actual fast. Nobody’s going without food. They’re going without certain kinds of food. No meat, no sweets. But no hunger pains either. That’s why it’s not a fast. Fasting, actual fasting, is a hardcore Christian practice. The only things which go into our mouths are air and water. In an “absolute fast” you even skip the water. Now, we need food an

Yep, Christians have our own definition of “season.”

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SEASON 'si.zən noun. An indeterminate period of time during which something happens. Properly a season is a well-defined period of time. But people like to play fast and loose with how well-defined it actually is. As soon as the weather switches to cold, whether that’s in November as usual, or freakishly earlier like September, people ( Game of Thrones nerds included) start talking about winter: Winter’s coming. Some will go so far as to say winter’s here . Winter’s not here till the winter solstice, which in the northern hemisphere is 21 December. Winter is defined by the time between the day of the year with the least daylight, and the next time we have equal day and night. Ends at the vernal equinox, 20 March. But that’s considered the scientific definition of winter, the too-literal definition. Winter means “the cold season,” however long that season lasts. This sort of fudgery also happens with Christmastime. Again, Christmastime has a defined time: Starts

Go to church!

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I get it. I do. Churches can be a pain. But when done right, they’re far better for us than not. Church. /tʃərtʃ/ n. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God. 2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history. 3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings. 4. A Christian group’s building or campus. Ekklisía , the Greek word we translate “church,” really means “group.” Yeah, you might’ve heard some preacher claim it means “a specially-called-out people.” It’s ’cause ekklisía ’s word-root kaléo means “call,” so those who like to dabble in Greek assume that’s gotta be part of its meaning. But words evolve, y’know. Our word congress used to mean “group” too. Nowadays it nearly always means “our do-nothing legislature.” Sometimes ancient Greeks also used ekklisía to refer to their legislatures. But it’s just a generic term f

The prophets who recognized Jesus.

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Why Joseph and Mary went to temple, and the people they encountered who had “words of knowledge” about Jesus. Luke 2.21-40 Luke 2.21-24 KWL 21 Once eight days were fulfilled, Joseph circumcised him and declared his name Jesus, which the angel called him before he was formed in the womb. 22 Once the days were fulfilled for Mary’s purification, according to Moses’s Law, they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 just as it’s written in the Lord’s Law: “Every male who opens a womb will be called holy to the Lord.” Ex 13.2, 12 24 And giving a sacrifice, according to the saying in the Lord’s Law: “A pair of doves, or two young pigeons.” Lv 12.8 Jesus followed the Law. If he didn’t, he couldn’t be described as without sin, He 4.15 because sin is defined by the Law. Ro 3.20 And though, as an infant, he couldn’t yet do anything on his own to actively follow the Law, he had Law-abiding parents who took care of it for him. As instructed in the Law, eigh

“Silent years”: Did God once turn off his miracles?

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What proof do Christians have of an absentee God? Only the lack of books between testaments. Which is hardly enough. It’s usually round Christmas that preachers start talking about “the silent years,” or “the 400 silent years,” and how the annunciations of John the Baptist and Christ Jesus mark the end of them. As it’s taught, for roughly four centuries between the writing of Malachi , “the closing of the Old Testament canon,” and Gabriel’s appearance to John’s dad, God was silent. He had no prophets—’cause if he did, the prophet would’ve written a book, but no prophets wrote a book, ergo no prophets. And he did no miracles—’cause if he had, someone would’ve written a book about it, but nobody wrote one, so nothing happened. If those 400 years weren’t silent, we’d have more books of the bible. (Um… what about the books of prophets, and of divine doings, among the apocrypha, which were written during that 400-year period? Oh, insist these preachers, they’re mythology. They don

The unspoken prayer request.

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How to ask for prayer, yet keep everyone in the dark about what it’s about. When I was in high school church youth group, our youth pastor would pray during the service, and take prayer requests before he “opened up” in prayer. Anybody want a real live capital-P P ASTOR to pray for you?—’cause surely Jesus hears his prayers, if anyone’s. Here’s your chance kids. Pitch him anything. So we would. Big test coming up; we want God’s help, either in improving our memory, or compensating for our rotten study habits. Big game coming up; we want God’s help to do our best, and of course we’d like him to confound our opponents. God, help this kid I know whose dating life is a wreck (followed by some gossip about the juicy details, which is totally permissible because it’s a “prayer request”—yeah right ). God, help this kid I know whose family life is a shambles. Help me , God, ’cause I have stress for one of the myriad reasons kids stress. And just about every week, one of us—different ki

The sheep-herders’ vision of the angels.

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“Go tell it on the mountain!” isn’t actually part of the story. Sorry. Luke 2.8-20 The same night Jesus was born, a bunch of angels appeared to some nearby herdsmen, scared the bejesus out of them, told them Christ had just been born, then let ’em watch the angels rejoice at what their Lord had done. Nice. As usual I’m gonna pick apart that story in some detail, ’cause our average Christmas stories tend not to know the background (or care) and therefore miss significant things. Luke 2.8 KWL Sheep-herders were in that area, keeping watch over their flocks that night. Starting with the poiménes /“pastors,” the shepherds, or sheep-herders. Most preachers like to point out these were rough, dirty, low-class people. These weren’t like your refined upper-class Pharisees, the sort of people who thought they should be the ones to receive God’s birth announcement when their foretold Christ (or Messiah, or anointed king) had come. Nope; God hadn’t sent angels to those jerks. He se

Doubt is our friend.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. It’s unbelief. Doubt means we kinda believe. It’s a start. Matthew 21.21 KWL In reply Jesus told them, “Amen, I promise you: When you have faith, and don’t waver, not only will you do the miracle of the fig tree: If you tell this hill, ‘Be raised and thrown into the sea,’ it’ll happen .” Because of bible verses like this one, where Jesus contrasts ékhite pístin /“[maybe] have faith” with mi diakrithíte /“don’t waver,” people assume he’s comparing opposites. Wavering, or doubting, is the opposite of faith. Either we have faith, or we have doubt. So have faith, and never doubt. Doubt is bad. Doubt is evil. Doubt is how the devil gets us to never do what the Spirit wants. But because I studied logic in school, I learned a lot of supposed “opposites” aren’t really. What’s the opposite of big? It isn’t small. Those are contrasts , not opposites. Same with hot and cold, black and white, young and old, male and female. Especially male and fem

Christ the Savior is born.

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I know; I should’ve stalled this article till Christmas, right? Nah. Here y’go. Early present. Luke 2.1-7 Luke 2.1-3 KWL 1 This happened in those days: A ruling, to survey the whole Empire, went out from Augustus Caesar. 2 This first survey happened during Quirinius’s leadership of Syria, 3 and each and every one was traveling to their home towns to be surveyed. Some bibles refer to this apo-gráfesthai /“write-up,” as a census. But it wasn’t just a head count. The United States takes censuses every decade to figure out how many representatives each state should get, but the Romans and other empires took censuses to figure out exactly how much tax money they should expect from their territories. Historians were a little confused because for a long time they couldn’t find records of a specific Roman survey round the time of Jesus’s birth (roughly 7 BC or so). They assumed surveys were rare , something that’d have a lot of documentation around it. But surveys were regula

The Pharisees: Those in the first century who followed God.

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Nowadays it’s just another synonym for “hypocrite.” Just like, all too often, “Christian.” Pharisee /'fɛr.ə.si/ n. Adherent of a first-century denomination of the Hebrew religion, which emphasized the widespread teaching of the Law. 2. A hypocrite. [Thanks to Jesus’s regular condemnation of hypocrites among the Pharisees.] [Pharisaic /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪk/ adj. , Pharisaism /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪz.əm/ n. ] People nowadays don’t really know much about the Pharisees—other than that they opposed Jesus an awful lot, and that he called ’em hypocrites right back. Mt 23.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29 So there’s a lot of false information floating around about ’em. Stuff like this: “But they were hypocrites.” Yeah, some of ’em were. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have had to denounce that tendency in them. But be fair: A lot of us Christians are hypocrites. A lot of us humans are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is universal. Singling out the Pharisees just means we’re gonna ignore our own tendencies towar

True compassion: Offer help, not just advice.

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Hebrews 4.14-16 KWL 14 Since we have a great head priest who passed through the heavens—Jesus, God’s son— we should hold sway by agreeing with him : 15 We don’t have a head priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses. He was tested by everything just the same— and passed the test sinlessly. 16 So we should come to his gracious throne boldly: We should receive mercy. We should find the grace to help us in time. The fruit of the Holy Spirit reflects the thinking and attitude of the Spirit, those traits of his which oughta come pouring out of the people he lives within. And which are invisible, or nearly so, in the people he’s not within—or they’ve figured out a way to fake ’em. Compassion , the ability to feel for other people, to sympathize with what they’re going through, to want to be gracious and helpful to them, is definitely a Christlike trait. Conversely its lack is definitely an antichristlike trait. Christians will care; antichrists won’t. Christians wi

Wanna feel the Holy Spirit? Crank up the bass.

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’Cause people don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion. That title—if you want people to feel the Spirit, crank up the bass—is a joke I regularly make to the folks in my church. ’Cause it’s true. If the sound guy were to take all the lower frequencies out of the sound mix during the worship music, I guarantee you we’d have people in the congregation mutter, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I really couldn’t feel the Spirit today.” Whereas if we turned that puppy all the way up to 11, those same folks would tell everyone, “ Man the Spirit was moving this morning!” Bass, as any sound expert will tell you, makes people feel the music. Literally. Yeah, I put this on Twitter. The sound waves hit a frequency which physically vibrates your innards. Most of us are aware we hear bass, but aren’t always aware we feel it too. All we know is we feel something —and because music sparks emotions, often the bass will spark ’em too. So because people don’t know the difference

Keep (most of) your prayers private.

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Too often public prayers lead to showing off. Matthew 6.5-6 In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught this. Matthew 6.5-6 KWL 5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who enjoy standing in synagogues and major intersections, praying so they might be seen by the people. Amen! I promise you all, they got their satisfaction. 6 When you pray, go into your most private room with the door closed. Pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what’s private, will satisfy you.” Thanks to these directions, we don’t see a lot of Christians praying publicly in the visible parts of our churches—or on the streets, in the middle of shopping centers, in front of public buildings… Okay, we see some Christians praying in front of public buildings. And there’s the occasional football player who takes a knee every time he scores a goal. And the people who gather round flagpoles and businesses and walk the streets and pray over them. And there’s the folks who pitch a fit be

How Joseph became Jesus’s father.

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I know; people say Jesus’s foster father. Nope; adoptive father. Matthew 1.18-25 Luke tells of Jesus’s birth from Mary’s point of view; Matthew from Joseph’s. In Luke she received a message from an angel. Now Joseph had to receive a message for himself. ’Cause obviously he didn’t believe Mary. Matthew 1.18-19 KWL 18 The genesis of Christ Jesus was like this: His mother Mary was promised to Joseph. Before she came to be together with him, she had a child in her womb from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her man Joseph was righteous. Not wanting her to make a scene, he wished to secretly release her. Greek myths abound of stories where Zeus disguised himself as traveling salesmen or geese or bulls golden rain, and impregnating all sorts of loose ’n freaky Greek women with his hybrid spawn. And now here it seemed Mary was trying to tell him a Jewish variation of that same myth: “The Holy Spirit did it. Seriously.” Moderns like to assume the ancients were stupid, and actually b

Taking the Lord’s name in vain.

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It’s not actually about swearing. Deuteronomy 5.11 Deuteronomy 5.11 KJV Thou shalt not take the name of the L ORD thy God in vain; for the L ORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Christians often teach, and pagans often assume, “taking the Lord’s name in vain” refers to swearing with God’s name. Might be when we blurt out “God!” in surprise, or “Christ!” in pain, or “Oh Lord!” in exasperation, or “God damn it!” in anger. Scandalized yet? Most Christians are. “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!” There’s a whole commandment against it. It’s one of the top ten. “Thou shalt not take the name of the L ORD thy God in vain” forbids us from using “God” as any part, or as the whole, of a swear word. Well, that’s partly correct. The command is about God’s name and swearing. But it’s not about swearing “God!” It’s not about profanities. It’s about swearing to God, yet we’re totally lying. It’s about promising, “as God is my witness,” but we’re not gon

You know you can write out your prayers, right?

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They sell whole books of ’em. Talking with God is a tricky thing when you aren’t much good at talking with anyone . Loads of people have great difficulty when they have to keep up their end of a conversation, any conversation. Unless they can keep their answers to simple yeses and nos, or platitudes which they’re comfortable saying, they’re gonna fumble. Sometimes they’re tongue-tied. Other times there’s just a lot of stammering. It’d be nice if they had a script. That’s why rote prayers appeal to them. Thing is, a lot of us don’t always wanna pray rote prayers. We wanna say specific things to God. But we struggle to get the words out, y’know? Well if you’re one of those people, relax. Load up your word-processing app, or grab a pen and paper, and start writing your prayers. Stop thinking of prayer as a phone conversation, and start thinking of it as texting. You can text, right? Then you can pray. Write out your end of the conversation. Or write out a monologue: A whole

How feedback works around here.

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As you might’ve noticed, I have an email link on TXAB , and each article has a comments section. So if you wanna send me a note, ask a question, or comment on a post, feel free. However. If you’ve ever bothered to read the comments on YouTube videos—and I really don’t recommend it—you’ll notice a lot of them are stupid and awful. Because people are awful, as you already knew. Let ’em post whatever they want, with no moderation, with no accountability, and you’ll get the very worst of humanity. Even among Christians. Christianity Today finally got rid of their comments section last year because the commenters were consistently acting far, far less than Christian. My previous blogs didn’t always allow me to moderate comments—nor moderate them easily. TXAB uses Disqus, so now I can easily moderate ’em, and do. When anyone comments in any way I consider less than Christian, I’ll edit or remove the comment. Do it twice and I’ll block the commenter. You can repent and ap

The birth of John the baptist.

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John’s birth both fulfilled and inspired prophecy. Luke 1.57-80 When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and announced he’d have a son, the confirmation of its prophecy was Zechariah would be mute áhri is iméras géniti távta /“until the day this one is born.” Lk 1.19 Problem is, if you’re a biblical literalist —you insist the bible be interpreted as literally as possible—it’s not literally what happened. Zechariah was mute for more than a week after John’s birth, and didn’t speak till his circumcision. Doesn’t matter what logical gymnastics you use to prove Gabriel didn’t really mean John’s birthday, or that “the day this one is born” can be fudged to mean a week or so (an exactitude such people won’t apply to the six days of creation). Gabriel’s prophecy was fulfilled, but not with the precision any literalist demands. As is true of every prophecy—and all of scripture. But let’s not poke that bear any further. On to the bible! Luke 1.57-61 KWL 57 Time came for Elizabeth to

Santa Claus and misplaced, misunderstood faith.

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It’s not Christian to trick children. Years ago round Christmastime, one of my 9-year-old students asked me, “Mr. Leslie, is Santa real?” Oh good Lord, I thought, her parents haven’t had the Santa talk with her? I punted. “Ask your mom.” This girl’s mom was one of those people with the common misconception that the way you keep your kids innocent is by keeping them ignorant. Of course this doesn’t work. You know this from when you were a kid: When you had serious questions, you sought answers, and if your parents didn’t have ’em, you’d go elsewhere. Usually to school friends (who don’t know anything either). Sometimes authority figures, like teachers (i.e. me), or pastors or mentors or people the kids believe are experts. Which is why I got all the questions about Santa. And God. And why people are so terrible. And how babies are made. And the definitions to certain terms the children’s dictionaries correctly didn’t include. And that’s just fourth grade; you should see what ju

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

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In which both of them prophesy to one another. Luke 1.39-56 When I teach from the gospels, it tends to throw people. Y’see, most of the interpretations we hear in American churches are based on cessationism , the belief prophecy and miracles only happened in bible times, and don’t anymore. As a result of this false, faithless belief, popular Christian culture isn’t familiar with how prophecy works. So when they read about prophets in the bible, they don’t understand what these people are doing. Either people don’t recognize what they’re saying is prophecy, so they miss it altogether; or people interpret everything based on how they imagine prophecy works—and they’ve got some pretty immature ideas. Starting with why Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth. I kid you not: I’ve heard it preached Mary went to Elizabeth because she wanted to hide her pregnancy. ’Cause that’s what women did in the past when they got pregnant outside of marriage: They went to “visit relatives” for

My irritating politics.

My worldview must be built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness. My politics annoy people. I’m not as conservative as my friends assume I should be. To their minds, all Christians should be as conservative as they. If we’re not, they wonder just how Christian we really are. ’Cause in their minds, Christianity is conservatism; conservatism is Christianity; if you follow Jesus you’re naturally gonna think like they do. Thanks to the human self-preservation instinct, they assume because I don’t think like they do, I’m the one at fault. I’m wrong. (Doesn’t help that I’ll totally admit that. ) I’m not as progressive as my other friends assume I should be. To their minds, all Christians should buck the knee-jerk conservatism of popular Christian culture, ’cause it’s hypocrisy, corrupted by social Darwinists who’ve manipulated gullible social conservatives into adopting their worldview and voting their way. Because I still side with conservatives on many issues, t

“Lay down your life” means what now?

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It’s way easier to die for our loved ones than live for them. John 15.13 John 15.13 NIV “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I know; George Benson’s popular 1977 song “Greatest Love of All” (which Whitney Houston remade in 1985) said learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. Obviously the lyricist didn’t read her bible, and figured the way to feel best about herself was to value herself way above her friends. (Didn’t I just write about how people are inherently selfish? ) No surprise, popular culture gets it wrong again. Translators are awfully fond of phrasing this verse Yoda-style: Object-verb-subject “Greater love has no one,” rather than the usual subject-verb-object “No one has greater love” of today’s English. (The NRSV phrases it normally.) It’s ’cause the King James Version is the most familiar form of the verse, and if translators make it too different for no good reason, people balk. I think clear, readable

Leading people in the sinner’s prayer.

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When people come to Jesus, they gotta pray something . This is it. Among the very first Christians, when people wanted to become Christian, they got baptized. Right away. Soonest they could find water, in they went. Splash, and you’re Christian. By the end of the first century, Christians insisted new believers oughta fast a day or two before baptism. By the third century, there was a whole catechism thing: You had to learn everything Christianity teaches, and then if you still wanted in, you’d get baptized, and you were in. Lotta churches still work that way. But this process could take weeks, even months—and when we compare the whole catechism/baptism process to what we read in Acts , it’s like, “If people wanna follow Jesus, why are we making ’em wait so long and jump through so many hoops? The apostles didn’t.” Weirdly, instead of dropping all the fasting and catechism and preparation, and just baptizing newbies straight away, a lot of churches kept all that and just added

…Don’t we all have some fundamental beliefs?

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FUNDAMENTALIST fən.də'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪst adjective. Adheres to certain beliefs as necessary and foundational. 2. Theologically (and politically) conservative in their religion. 3. [ capitalized ] Has to do with the 20th-century movement which considers certain Christian beliefs mandatory. [Fundamentalism fən.də'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪz.əm noun , Fundie 'fən.di adjective .] I grew up Fundamentalist, and refer to Fundies from time to time. But I need to explain what I mean by the term. Too many people use it, and use it wrong. For most folks fundamentalist is just another word for conservative . If you’re a Fundie, you mean conservative like you are. If you’re not, you just mean more conservative than you: You may believe women can minister, but Fundies sure don’t. You may believe Jesus can save anyone and everyone, but Fundies sure don’t. Or conversely, you may not believe miracles still happen, but Fundies sure do . It’s not all that consistent a definition. But pro

How Mary became Jesus’s mother.

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Some of the story behind Mary of Nazareth. Luke 1.26-38 Last week John’s birth was foretold; this week Jesus’s. Goes like so. Luke 1.26-38 KWL 26 In Elizabeth’s sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a Galilean town called Nazareth, 27 to a young woman affianced to a man of David’s house, named Joseph; a young woman named Mary. 28 Entering, the angel said, “Hail, your honor! The Lord ’s with you. You’re blessed above all women. ” 29 She was alarmed by this message, and was speculating about what this greeting meant. 30 The angel told her, “Don’t fear, Mary: You’ve found grace with God. 31 Look, you’ll conceive in your womb. You’ll give birth to a son. You’ll name him Jesus. 32 He’ll be great. He’ll be called the Most High’s son. The Lord will give him his ancestor David’s throne. 33 He’ll be king over Jacob’s house in the age to come . His kingdom will never end.” 34 Mary told the angel, “How will this happen?—since I’ve not been with a man.

How CCLI shakes down your church.

Thanks to CCLI, copyright-exempt churches across the United States are paying a lot of unnecessary royalties. One of my responsibilities at my church is multimedia. Yep, I’m the guy who makes sure the words to the worship songs are on the screen, so you can sing along to them. When I was a kid we still had hymnals. Then we upgraded to overhead projectors; then PowerPoint; then specialized multimedia presentation software which was pretty much PowerPoint with a huge database of songs. Currently I’m using this app called ProPresenter. It’s not bad. Whether you’re using one app or another, it pretty much works the same way: Our worship leader tells me which songs she intends to inflict on us Sunday morning. If I don’t already have slides for that song, I hop onto the CCLI database and get the lyrics. Then make slides for the verses, the chorus, the bridge, the “extemporaneous riffs” which are really just imitations of what the original musicians did on their YouTube video, and the

Back to the Book Pile.

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I know it doesn’t float everyone’s boat. Which is weird, because books do float, y’know. I know; books aren’t everyone’s thing. That’s why, according to Christ Almighty’s stats, last month’s Book Pile article was the least-read thing last month. The public has spoken, and it’s a resounding, “Good Lord, Leslie, you write 1,000-word essays and you expect me to throw books on that? What’re you trying to do, kill me?” Followed by a quick Netflix binge, just to get the foul taste out of their system. (Shudder.) Reading. Ugh. But for the tiny minority who wants to know what literature I’m plowing through, ’cause they figure it’ll give them some insight into my odd little mind, here y’go. Glean what you can from it. This month: The Last Days According to Jesus by R.C. Sproul. Did God Kill Jesus? by Tony Jones. Imagine Heaven by John Burke. If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis by Alister McGrath. Next month, more books. ’Cause I’m gonna keep reading… and gonna keep ranting about

Sealed—not yet baptized—with the Holy Spirit.

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’Cause there’s a difference between the two, despite what non-charismatics claim. Ephesians 1.13-14 KWL 13 In Christ you heard the truthful word—the good news of your salvation! In Christ you believed; you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit! 14 He’s the down payment of our inheritance— releasing our trust fund—praising God’s glory. ’Member when you got saved? Maybe not; maybe it was a gradual process. Doesn’t matter. At some point in that process God decided to take up residence in your life. We call it indwelling. You got “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” as Paul put it. He’s in you. Right now. Whispering God’s will into you. Hope you’re listening. Now, non-charismatics claim when the Spirit gets into us like that, yeah it’s called indwelling, but it’s also called “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Lk 3.16, Ac 1.4-5 Those two events, they insist, are one and the same. ’Cause the Holy Spirit gets in you and on you, kinda like the water does in the baptism

Taking God’s amazing grace for granted.

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Legalism is the opposite of grace. But we’re quick to cry legalism if it gets us out of stuff. CHEAP GRACE /tʃip greɪs/ n. Treatment of God’s forgiveness, generosity, and loving attitude, as if it’s nothing special; as if it cost him little. Whenever I bring up the subject of cheap grace, some Christian invariably objects: “Grace is not cheap.” Even if I’ve explained in advance what I mean by cheap grace; even if I’ve written an entire essay defining the idea. Every. Single. Time. ’Cause some Christians don’t read. The title’s about cheap grace, so they skip to the comments and object: “Grace isn’t cheap!” They see a link to an article about cheap grace, so they respond to the link or the Tweet or the post, “Grace isn’t cheap!” While speaking, I use the words “cheap grace” in a sentence, and they wait for the first chance to interrupt: “Grace isn’t cheap!” Y ES . I KNOW . I’ M TRYING TO MAKE THAT POINT . I WOULD IF YOU ’ D LISTEN . So can you please keep your knee from jer

One heck of a birth announcement.

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In the other gospels John just shows up. In Luke he’s miraculous. Luke 1.5-25 Most Christians vastly underestimate the importance and significance of the prophet John bar Zechariah, whom we more commonly know as St. John the baptist. Largely it’s because we see John as a minor figure, and kinda weird. He showed up, made a lot of noise, preached obedience and repentance… and once Jesus showed up, he faded away. (Or got arrested and beheaded. Same difference.) His only purpose was to point to, and baptize, Jesus, and that done, he died. Others figure John’s a much bigger deal than that. But only because they believe—incorrectly—that John was the first prophet to appear in 400 years. Supposedly after Malachi finished the Old Testament, God went dark. For four centuries he said nothing and did nothing. Then John shows up, and wham : Prophecy’s back! Revelation is back! The miracles turned back on! God is up to something. Yeah, that’s entirely wrong. ’Cause The apocrypha , th

“If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

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Our misbegotten biblical justification to only help out the deserving needy—as we define deserving. 2 Thessalonians 3.10 2 Thessalonians 3.10 KJV For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this verse quoted by people who don’t want to give to the needy. Till recently if you went to any of the grocery stores in my town, you’d find a beggar, holding a sign which generally said, “Help me,” sitting on the sidewalk at the edge of the parking lot, right where the customers drive in and out. I’m serious; any of the stores. They were everywhere. So the city council passed an ordinance moving the beggars 15 feet way. Last week I caught a cop ticketing a beggar who hadn’t been notified. I don’t know how much money they got from sitting there, but their existence really irritated people. Not because those people are outraged by the plight of the poor in this country. It’s solely b

Jesus’s two genealogies.

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Which happens to be a big fat bible discrepancy many Christians skim over. Matthew 1.1-17 • Luke 3.23-38. Most Christians are aware Jesus has two genealogies. These aren’t genealogies the way we do ’em. We do family trees: We include ancestors from all sides of the family, fathers and mothers both. Often we include aunts, uncles, and cousins; if we’re not particular about blood relations we’ll even include step-parents. Our family trees can get big and complicated. Hebrew genealogies don’t. They turn into trees downward, when they’re listing one person’s descendants, as you can see from the first chapters of 1 Chronicles . But when they’re listing ancestors, they’re straight lines: You, your father, your father’s father, that grandfather’s father, that great-grandfather’s father, and so on back. Thing is, Jesus has two of these lists. In Matthew 1, it’s a list of ancestors from Abraham to Joseph. And in Luke 4, it’s a list of male ancestors backwards, from Joseph to Adam to

Positive. Encouraging. White. K-LOVE.

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My least favorite radio network. ’Cause without that space, they’ve simply misspelled “clove.” I stopped listening to radio in the early ’00s, ’cause I got an MP3 player. It wasn’t the iPod I wanted; I finally got one of those in ’04. It was a pocket computer, a Windows PocketPC; imagine a smartphone which wasn’t a phone, or a tablet which was more phone-sized. Among other things, it included a mobile version of Windows Media Player. I also discovered podcasts around that time, and even though I still had dial-up internet at home, I set up my good ol’ Gateway to download a bunch of shows overnight, and I started ripping every CD I owned into Media Player files. Loaded up the SD card and never looked back. (The pocket computer still works, by the way. I used it till I finally bought an Android tablet. I like to use my technology till it completely dies, or is so obsolete I can’t really use it anymore. Still got my clamshell iBook too. But I digress.) The last radio stations I