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Showing posts from November, 2015

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