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Showing posts from March, 2016

Strong numbers. Or Strong’s numbers. Whichever.

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From time to time I refer to Strong numbers or Strong’s numbers. I suppose I need to explain ’em before people get the idea I’m introducing them to numerology.A concordance is a list of every single word in a book. People make ’em for the bible so they can use it as kind of an index: You might remember there’s a verse in the bible about “the meek shall inherit the earth,” but not remember where it’s found. (And you might live in 1987, when you couldn’t just Google it.) So you bust out that concordance, flip to “meek,” and find out where it’s hiding. Seems it appears 17 times in the King James Version.Nu 12.3the man Moses was very m., above all the menH 6035Ps 22.26The m. shall eat and be satisfiedH 6035Ps 25.9The m. shall he guide in judgmentH 6035Ps 25.9and the m. shall he teach his way.H 6035Ps 37.11But the m. shall inherit the earthH 6035Ps 76.9to save all the m. of the earth.H 6035Ps 147.6The LORD lifteth up the m.H 6035Ps 149.4he will beautify the m. with salvationH 6035Is 11.4re…

When the heavens are brass?

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When it feels like God isn’t listening. But it’s just us. Deuteronomy 28.23When Christians start talking about how “the heavens are brass”—or bronze, depending on whether they grew up with the King James Version or the New International Version—they’re talking about unanswered prayer. The phrase comes from this verse:Deuteronomy 28.23 KJVAnd thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.But the context of this verse isn’t actually about unanswered prayer at all. It’s about the sort of blight the Hebrews are gonna experience when they dismiss their relationship with God. Moses went into a bit of detail about it, too.Deuteronomy 28.1-24 KWL1 “If you happen to listen to your LORD God’s voice,so as to observe and do every command I instructing you about today,your LORD God will give you power over every country on earth:2 All these blessings will come to you and overwhelm you,for you listened to your LORD God’s voice.3 You’ll be blessed in…

“Why do you write all that Catholic stuff?”

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In some of my posts about the stations of the cross, which I was writing about as Easter 2016 approached, I got trolled. Certain commenters (whom I’ve deleted and blacklisted, obviously) objected, profanely, to my writing about “Catholic stuff.”I get this kind of pushback every so often. Because I write about Christianity, every so often I’m gonna write about medieval and ancient Christianity. The medieval stuff would be the Christianity which took place before Protestantism was invented in 1517. And the ancient stuff would be the Christianity which took place before Catholicism was invented—back when there was only one universal church, back before the Christians split into Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics by holding separate Fourth Councils of Constantinople in the 870s (and finalized in the Great Schism of 1054).But your average person nowadays doesn’t know jack squat about history, much less Christian history. So as soon as I start writing about any Christian practices outside…

The “Forgive me” prayer.

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On repentance. And on feeling too guilty to turn to God in repentance. Part of the Lord’s Prayer is the line, “Forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses” (it all depends on the translation) “as we forgive those who sin/trespass against us/our debtors.” It’s one line in the whole of the prayer.But there’s a whole category of prayer which consists of asking God’s forgiveness for sins. Sometimes as part of the bargain with God; we wanna make sure we have a clean slate with God before we start negotiating with him for stuff. But most of the time it’s because we’ve sinned, we know it, we feel bad or guilty about it, and we wanna repent and get right with God.Emotions vary. Some of us, when we’re praying, get mighty weepy. Lying on the floor, mascara running, blubbering, sobbing, and so forth. I’m not one of those; I’m the type that’s more annoyed with myself for repeating the same stupid behavior again. Far less weeping; far more angry self-recrimination. Still others are upset, frustrated, exa…

Simon the Cyrenian, the man who carried Jesus’s cross.

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Mark 15.21 • Matthew 27.32 • Luke 23.26Enroute to Golgotha, leading Jesus to the place they’d crucify him, the Romans decided he was inadequate to carry his crossbeam. Movies and art, following St. Francis’s lists of the stations of the cross, depict Jesus falling over a bunch of times. The gospels don’t, but who knows?—maybe he did. He had been up all night and flogged half to death. Between sleep deprivation and blood loss, carrying a hundred-pound crossbeam would’ve been too much for anyone. (No, not the 300-pound full cross we see in paintings, such as the El Greco painting in my “Stations of the Cross” banner. Even healthy convicts would’ve found that unmanageable.)The Roman Senate had made it legal for soldiers to draft conquered peoples—basically anyone in the Roman Empire who lacked citizenship—into temporary service. Jesus referred to this law when he taught us to go the extra mile. Mt 5.41 So they grabbed an able-bodied passerby to carry the crossbeam for Jesus. And since h…

Simon Peter pretends he doesn’t know Jesus.

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Mark 14.66-72 • Matthew 26.69-75 • Luke 22.54-62 • John 18.15-18, 25-27Earlier that night, during dinner, Jesus told his students they weren’t gonna follow him much longer; they’d scatter. At this point Jesus’s best student, Simon Peter, got up and foolhardily claimed this prediction didn’t apply to him. He wouldn’t scatter. He’d never lose heart. He’d stick with Jesus, fight his arrest, and die for him if he had to. Mk 14.26-31And y’know, Peter wasn’t kidding. I’ve heard way too many sermons which mock Peter for this, who claim he was all talk. Thing is, he really wasn’t. When Jesus was arrested, Peter was packing a mákhaira/“machete” (KJV “sword”) and used it. Slashed the ear right off one of the slaves in the mob. You don’t start swinging a long knife at a mob unless you’re willing to risk life and limb. Peter really was ready to fight to the death for Jesus.I already wrote about that bit, y’know. First Jesus healed the slave, then rebuked Peter: Having a weapon was only gonna get …

Jesus’s arrest: His abuse begins.

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Mark 14.45-52 • Matthew 26.50-56 • Luke 22.49-54 • John 18.4-12The second station, in John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, is where Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus was arrested. Same station for both. But different forms of suffering: Judas was about when your friends or confidants turn on you, and the rest was about the pain and dread people feel when their enemies have ’em right where they want ’em.Let’s go to the gospels. Mark 14.45-52 KWL45 Immediately going to Jesus, he told him, “Rabbi!” and kissed him hello.46 So they grabbed and arrested him.47 One of the bystanders, pulling out a machete,struck the head priest’s slave, and cut off his ear.48 In reply, Jesus told them, “You come out with machetes and sticksto snatch me away, like I’m an insurgent.49 Daytime, I was with you in the temple, teaching. You didn’t arrest me then.But this—it’ll fulfill the scriptures.”50 Abandoning Jesus, everyone fled.51 There was some teenager following him who was naked, wearing a toga.They …

Judas Iscariot sells Jesus out to the authorities.

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Mark 14.41-46 • Matthew 26.45-50 • Luke 22.47-48 • John 18.1-3In John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, the second station combined Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and Jesus of Nazareth’s arrest. ’Cause they happened simultaneously. (Well, perhaps broken up a bit by Simon Peter slashing one of the head priest’s slaves.) But I want to look at the two events separately, ’cause getting betrayed and getting arrested are two different kinds of suffering.So first, right after Jesus Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, this happened.Mark 14.41-46 KWL41 When he came back a third time, he told them, “Oh, sleep the rest of the time; stop it.Stay back, for look: The Son of Man is arrested by sinful hands.42 Get up, so we can go. Look, the one who sold me out has come.”43 And just as Jesus was speaking, Judas Iscariot approached the Twelve.With Judas was a crowd carrying machetes and sticks,with the head priests, scribes, and elders.44 The one who sold out Jesus had given them a signal,saying, “He’s whomeve…

Does suicide send you straight to hell?

Short answer: No. But here’s why people claim otherwise.Years ago I taught at a Christian junior high. We had the usual classes you’ll find at most schools, but we also had bible classes and a weekly chapel service. Principals led most chapel services, but in the last year of our junior high program, our principal handed the duties off to various guest preachers. Earnest guys, but let’s be blunt: Some of ’em didn’t know what they were talking about. Some churches have no educational standards, and’ll let anyone babysit pastor the youth.One of our regular chapel speakers was a youth pastor, the husband of one of our daycare teachers. As far as theology is concerned, my eighth graders knew more. Not just ’cause I trained them; he was really that ignorant. One week this guy was talking about salvation, and he let slip that if you commit suicide, you go to hell. It wasn’t his main point, but one of our seventh-graders did question him on it: “You go to hell for suicide?”“Yes you do,” he s…

Jesus provides six kegs for a drunken party.

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Making wine of water.John 2.1-11Yeah, it’s a provocative title. But read verse 10: The planner pointed out you serve the lesser wine once people were drunk, and this was the point Jesus pulled the water-to-wine miracle. Everyone was too drunk to appreciate it.Or, really, to notice this miracle. Which may have been why Jesus did it when he did. Like he told his mom, “My time isn’t come yet”—he was still trying to fly under the radar. But she knew what he could do, and—having the same character as his Father and the Holy Spirit—our Lord saw no good reason to deny the request. Why not?Anyway, I like to bring this fact up whenever Christians start to object to people drinking at all. I don’t drink myself, and like them I’m not a fan of drunkenness (particularly public drunkenness). But Jesus did provide wine for a party, and no small amount either. Barrels of it.John 2.1-11 KWL1 For three days there was a wedding-feast in Cana, in the Galilee. Jesus’s mother was there.2 Jesus was invited …

When God turns off the warm fuzzy feelings.

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Some of us are only following him for the euphoria. He wants us to follow him.As I wrote in my article about confusing our emotions with the Holy Spirit, there are a number of Christians who aren’t pursuing God so much as they’re pursuing endorphins. They want the emotional high. That rush is their primary motivation for pursuing God.Now, God’s got two typical responses for that sort of behavior:He puts up with it. It’s not really harming us right now, and he can use it to redirect us towards proper, healthy ways of following him. So he’s gonna work with it.He shuts it down. ’Cause it is harming us, or others; or it’s about to. ’Cause he’s trying to redirect us, but we’re either not listening, or we’re too easily distracted.For endorphin junkies, when God makes ’em go cold turkey, it’s devastating. They feel nothing. In comparison with before, they feel like God went away; that he’s no longer there; that his presence is gone; that “the heavens are brass” (an out-of-context reference t…

The cycle: The good old days, and the dark times.

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Why history repeats itself.Cycle. /'saɪ.kəl/ n. Series of events, regularly repeated in the same order.2. [biblical] The repeating history of apostasy, oppression, revival, and salvation.[Cyclical /'sɪ.klə.kəl/ adj.]History repeats itself.Most people figure it’s for the reason philosopher George Santayana famously stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” More accurately it’s that people didn’t learn from the past. They remember it just fine. But they think this time, they’ll get it right. The disasters of the past? People were naïve back then. We’re more intelligent, more evolved now. They failed, but we’ll succeed.Then we don’t. ’Cause history repeats itself.The usual form of this repetition is an up-and-down cycle. Historians call it all sorts of different things. An economic boom, followed by a period of downturn. An era of good feelings, followed by serious partisanship. A gilded age, followed by a panic. Good times, bad times, you know we’v…

Be kind. For once.

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Christians know better than to pass off certain things as love… but we often overlook this thing.We Christians don’t have a reputation for being kind. More like a reputation for being easily outraged, quick to judge, holier than thou, shunning, condemning, impatient, unforgiving buttholes. And if you were immediately offended by my using that word, you just proved my point: Our bad reputation is totally deserved.What’s with all the Christian jerks? Largely it’s our lack of love. Love is kind, 1Co 13.4 but we Christians largely substitute the charitable, unconditional love of God, for the vastly inferior substitute: The sort of love which expects payback or reciprocity. We only love the worthy, not the undeserving; we only love good people, not sinners. Our so-called “love” has no real connection to grace.And that’s a huge problem. Hristótis, the Greek word we translate “kindness,” Ga 5.22 actually means “graciousness.” True, kindness involves being friendly, generous, and considerate,…

Jesus gains his first four students.

In which he meets Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathanael. (James and John later.)John 1.35-51Honestly, the gospel of John doesn’t line up with the other gospels, which we call synoptics ’cause they share so many of the same stories. Wasn’t really meant to: The author likely knew one or more of those gospels, and was filling in all their blank spots. The synoptics make it sound like Jesus first met his students in the Galilee. John corrects that: Jesus met ’em in Judea.John 1.35-39 KWL35 Next day, John was again standing with two of his students.36 Watching Jesus walk, he said, “Look: God’s ram.”37 His two students heard what he was saying, and followed Jesus.38 Jesus, turning round, watching them follow, told them, “Whom do you seek?”They told him, “Rabbi,” (i.e. teacher) “where are you staying?” 39 He told them, “Come look.”So they came, saw where he was staying, and stayed with him that day.It was the tenth hour after sunrise.Here we see two of John’s students. The word mathitís/“st…

Sovereignty: God’s our king. Not our puppet master.

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SOVEREIGN'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)nnoun. A supreme ruler.[Sovereignty 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n.tinoun.]Usually people talk about a nation’s sovereignty—their right to do as they please, with no one telling them otherwise. Like in the face of international treaties: If the United States signed an agreement to cut pollution, but our President doesn’t believe in climate change so he felt like breaking it, hey, we’re a sovereign nation; more carbon for everyone! Or in the face of state laws which contradict federal laws: If Colorado wants to legalize marijuana, yet the FBI wants to jail me for growing a field of weed, which government takes priority?But the Christian discussion about sovereignty is a little different. There, we’re talking about God’s sovereignty: His right and authority to rule the universe. He has a kingdom, and he the king. (If you wanna get picky, Christ means “king.” so Jesus is king—but Jesus is God, so there.)God didn’t create the universe, then leave it to function on its own, w…

God knows the plans he has for you.

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When inspirational quotes are shown in historical context.Jeremiah 29.11Jeremiah 29.11 NIV“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”Whenever English-speaking Christians quote this verse, I tend to hear the New International Version translation most often. Oddly, not the been-around-way-longer King James:Jeremiah 29.11 KJVFor I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.I suspect it’s ’cause the words “prosper” and “hope” and “future” are in the NIV, so it comes across as way more optimistic and inspiring. It’s why Christians quote it like crazy.’Cause we do. Like the evangelists told us, “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” and this verse brilliantly affirms it: God thinks warm, wonderful things about us. He has a good, fine plan, with a good future.Some of us figure that future is heaven, and some of us fi…