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Showing posts from December, 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