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Showing posts from April, 2016

Lifting up Jesus exposes the world’s problems.

Jesus came to save the world. But not everyone wants saving.John 3.12-21Most Christians have heard John 3 all our lives. (Particularly verse 16.) It’s an old lesson. It’s not a hard one to grasp, either: Gotta be born again; the Father sent the Son into the world to save it; those who love the dark won’t love the light. Plus that bit about John the baptist being totally in favor of the growth of Jesus’s ministry.So we sometimes forget: To Nicodemus this was all new. Unless the Holy Spirit had been slipping him some information in advance—so that Jesus could confirm it, and Nicodemus could believe—this is the first time he’d heard any such thing. Again, it’s not a hard lesson to grasp. But Nicodemus recognized Jesus was telling him he had to put his faith in the Son of Man to have life in the age to come. And this was a new idea. Put your faith in the prophet sitting across from you? The guy with the rustic accent, a rabbi followed by a bunch of kids, a former laborer who’d never studi…

How do you know you heard from God?

“I just know” isn’t gonna cut it.Let’s say I’m talking with a Christian friend about the time she had to make a great big decision. Like where to go to college, whether to move to Chicago, whether to buy her house, whether to marry her husband, whether to quit her job. You know, the usual life-changing, life-rearranging decisions which make people wanna ask God for advice, because since he knows the future, maybe he can steer us in the right direction.So after my friend made the request, but before she made the big decision, she drops the inevitable, “Then God told me….”Me. “Okay but how’d you know it was God?”She. “Well I just knew.”Me. “Just knew? How could you ‘just know’? Because it felt like God?”She. “Exactly.”Me. “Well, fine; I can work with that. So what’s God feel like?”She. “Oh, he’s indescribable.”Me. “Yeah yeah; we all know the Chris Tomlin song. Now try to describe him.”She. “I just felt an incredible peace about my decision. That’s how I knew it was God.”Me. “I know what…

Bad fruit: The “works of the flesh.”

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St. Paul didn’t even wanna call them “fruit.” That’s how bad they are.In his letter to Galatia, before he even got to the Spirit’s fruit, Paul made another list of the érga tis sarkós/“works of the flesh.” Ga 5.19 It’s not the Spirit’s fruit; it’s our fruit. Fruit gone wrong. Rotten fruit. He didn’t even wanna call it fruit.Galatians 5.19-21 KWL19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying. And other people like these.I warn you of them just like I warned you before:Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.Here’s the disturbing thing: You know Christians who are totally doing such things. The weed-smoking Christian who’s never not high. The partisan Christian who’s pretty sure if you’re in the opposition party, you can’t be Christian. The Christian who doesn’t mind ly…

It’s hard to teach people whose minds are made up.

When you already know it all, you’re always gonna struggle with new knowledge.John 3.9-13Nicodemus had come by night to suss out Jesus, and Jesus began their discussion by talking about getting born again. Re-generated. (Resurrected, I believe, ’cause flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s kingdom. 1Co 15.50 But we can debate that.)It’s a deep idea, and Nicodemus balked at it.John 3.9-13 KWL9 In reply Nicodemus told him, “How are these people able to be generated?”10 In reply Jesus told him, “You’re Israel’s teacher, and you don’t already know this?”11Amen amen: I promise you we know what we’re talking about.We saw what we’re testifying about—and none of you accept our witness.12If people won’t believe it when I tell you of earthly things,how will you believe it when I tell people of heavenly things?13Nobody’s gone up to heaven but the one who came down from heaven:The Son of Man.”[Who’s in heaven.]There’s a regular theme we see in John: Jesus tries to teach people something, and the peo…

How to pray in public.

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I know; it’s scary. But follow these steps and you oughta be fine. You might have an amazing, consistent prayer life. You might have regular deep, meaningful conversations with God.And then, when it comes time to talk to God in front of other people—when it’s time to pray in public, lead a prayer group, say grace before a meal, or even “close out” any meeting with a short blessing—you seize up like a buck in front of a truck.Totally normal.No, it doesn’t mean you suck as a Christian. It has nothing to do with how spiritual or religious you are, or aren’t. It has to do with public speaking. That’s the number one fear of all Americans. Jerry Seinfeld loves to joke that at a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy. People don’t wanna pray in public, not because they suck at prayer, but because it’s another form of public speaking.Worse: You’re already worried about messing up. You especially don’t wanna mess up a prayer. Not because God will never forgive …

Creationism. (Don’t let it distract you!)

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On the origins of the universe… and defending our views of them unnecessarily.When American Christians use the word “creationist,” they’re often thinking of the folks who believe in young-earth creationism (YEC for short). These people seriously believe God created the universe about 6,000 years ago.This date isn’t deduced by observing the universe around them. If we did that, we’d notice we can see stars in the night sky which are billions of light-years away. We’d come to the natural conclusion our universe must be old enough for the light from these distant stars to make it to Earth. In other words, creation took place billions of years ago.Why do YEC adherents insist the history of the cosmos is less than a millionth of that? Well, they claim, they’re literalists. When they read the bible, they don’t believe Genesis 1 is using metaphor, nor trying to describe creation using the view of the universe familiar to ancient middle easterners. Every day of creation is a literal 24-hour p…

Introducing Nicodemus to the “born again” concept.

Jesus and Nicodemus meet, and talk theology.John 2.23 – 3.10The bible didn’t originally come in chapters, y’know. Cardinal Stephen Langton is usually credited with dividing it up that way in the late 1100s.They do come in handy when we wanna find stuff, but some of the divisions get in the way of the story. When people dive straight into John 3, they often totally miss the verses which came right before. And they’re kinda important.John 2.23 - 3.2 KWL23 When Jesus was in Jerusalem at Passover for the feast,many believed in his name, having seen the miraculous signs he did.24 But Jesus himself didn’t believe them. He knew them all.He had no need for anyone to testify about these people. He knows what’s in people.3.1 A person named Nicodemus, a Judean senator, was sent by the Pharisees.2Nicodemus came one night to speak to Jesus, and told him,“Rabbi, we’ve known you were sent from God as a teacher.When God isn’t with them, nobody’s able to do these miraculous signs you do.”Because of th…

The lenses we use to do theology.

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We don’t just use the bible to develop our theology. Don’t kind yourself.
Verses cited:
Matthew 23.8, 10.
John 1.18.
John 14.9.
John 14.26.

Do you have friends in your church?

If the people in your church are nice enough people, but not really friends, I can understand not wanting to go.Christians tend to go to church for four reasons.Worship. They love music, or love ministering to the needy.Teaching. They wanna learn about God and Christianity, or otherwise love a good sermon.Sacrament. They wanna pray together, or practice any of the other rituals we can only do as a group.Fellowship. They wanna see their friends.At some other point I’ll write about the churches whose primary focus is on one of those four. Today I’m gonna bring up the fellowship thing—because it’s a way bigger deal than a lot of Christians realize.Well, some of us already realize it’s a big deal. It’s why certain churches structure things so people will interact with one another a lot. They push their small groups. They extend their “meet ’n greet” time. They have potlucks and pizza parties and movie nights and other social functions. They don’t charge for the coffee.It’s not for any ult…

Lucifer: The myth the devil used to be a big deal.

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Since the bible doesn’t include an origin story for the devil, Christians just made one up.Isaiah 14.12-15Where’d the devil come from? Bible doesn’t say.No it doesn’t. I know; popular Christian culture insists the devil’s origins are totally spelled out in the bible. When I ask ’em to point me to chapter and verse, they gotta track it down—really, they gotta Google the word “Lucifer”—but that’s where they invariably point me. Here, they insist, is where the devil went wrong.Isaiah 14.12-15 KJV12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven,I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell,to the sides of the pit.You gotta quote it in King James V…

Knock the temple down?

Did Jesus ever threaten to knock down the temple? Nope. He told them to do it.John 2.18-22First Passover we read about in John, this happened:John 2.15 KWLMaking a whip out of ropes, Jesus threw everyone, plus sheep and cattle, out of temple.He poured out the money-changers’ coins, and flipped over the tables.In the other gospels, Jesus took critique for it the next morning, Mt 11.27-33, Mt 21.23-27 or days later. Lk 20.1-8 In John it appears to have happened right after. Now it could’ve happened some time later. The author wasn’t always too concerned with chronology (as you’ll notice from his brief flash-forward where the students recall this event after Jesus rose from the dead). John sticks to themes, not timeline.Still, let’s get to the story.John 2.18-22 KWL18 So in reply, the Judeans told Jesus, “What sign are you showing us so you can do this?”19 In reply Jesus told them, “Break down this shrine. In three days I’ll re-raise it.”20 So the Judeans said, “This shrine took 46 years…

“You take that back!”

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How curses freak Christians out.Curse /kərs/ n. Solemn utterance, meant to invoke supernatural evil, punishment, or harm.2.v. Invoke supernatural evil, punishment, or harm.3.n. Cause of evil or suffering.[Curser /'kərs.ər/ n.]Some Christians are mighty sensitive about curses. (Also mighty sensitive about “cursing,” by which we mean profanity, but I already discussed that.) Sometimes they call ’em “word curses,” which means precisely the same thing: You used your words to curse something. (How else are you gonna curse something? Waving one’s hands? Magic wands? Yeesh.)For certain dark Christians, any negative statement—or anything they can interpret as a negative statement—counts as a curse. Fr’instance, I could say, “Hmm, cloudy day; looks like rain.” And to their minds, I just cursed the sky. Seriously. “You take that back! Don’t you call down rain on us!” As if my casual observation has the power to call down rain—and y’know, if it could, I’d make a fortune.See, according to the…

Meaningless things.

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“Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t describe our God at all.Ecclesiastes 9.11 KWLI came back. I saw this under the sun:The fastest don’t win the race. The veterans don’t win the battle.Even the wise don’t earn bread. Even the intelligent don’t get rich.Even the experts fall out of favor. Dumb luck happens to them all.Et va-fegá/“time and accident” tends to be translated “time and chance,” like the KJV has it. I went with “dumb luck.” ’Cause that’s the concept the author of Ecclesiastes was going with. Dumb luck. It exists; it’s why the best and brightest aren’t guaranteed success, no matter what our culture insists.Dumb luck grates on those Christians who insist nothing happens outside God’s evil plan. He’s got it all mapped out; he’s got everything under his thumb; even evil and chaos and destruction and sin are part of the arrangement. Dumb luck, they insist, can’t exist in the realm of our sovereign God. There’s no such thing as luck. Everything happens for a reason.They hate

The prophet Jesus of Nazareth.

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Part of following Jesus is using him as our example of how to prophesy.Jesus of Nazareth is a lot of things. Christ/Messiah/King of Israel, and King of Kings; rabbi/teacher and wise man; savior and healer; God incarnate, and second person of the trinity; and rumor has it he’s particularly good at woodcarving. But listed among these job titles and abilities is prophet. He shares what God told him. Arguably, he never taught anything else. Jn 12.49That makes him a prophet.Problem is, every single time I teach Jesus is a prophet—but I fail to refer to him by the usual job titles, “prophet, priest, and king,”—I get blowback. Lots of Christians feel the need to point out he’s not just a prophet. Well duh. He’s all those things I mentioned in the first paragraph. And he’s a prophet.And the funny thing is, I don’t get this reaction when I teach Jesus is our head priest. Or Jesus is our king. Or Jesus is our teacher. It’s only when I state Jesus is a prophet. What’s up with that?It’s about des…

The “What do I lack?” prayer.

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Just in case we’re sinning and unaware of it, or we’ve left anything undone. Matthew 19.16-20 KWL16 Look, someone came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, what good deed could I doso I’d have life in the age to come?”17Jesus told him, “Why do you ask me about goodness?The One God is good. If you want to enter life, keep his commands.”18This teenager told him, “Which kinds?”Jesus said, “Don’t murder, adulter, steal, nor testify falsely;19 honor father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.”20 The teenager told him, “I follow all these. Am I missing anything?”21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions. Give to the poor.You’ll have treasure in heaven! Come follow me!”This comes from the “rich young ruler” story: A wealthy neanískos/“teenager” (KJV “young man”) whom Luke identifies as a ruler Lk 18.18 wanted to know how to be part of the age to come, and was astute enough to know following God’s commands wasn’t gonna be enough. Something was lacking. He had a …

Profanity, and why Christians get freaked out by it.

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People mean three things by “swearing”: Oaths, curses, and profanity. Today I’m writing about profanity, meaning stuff that’s obscene, or stuff people consider irreverent towards God. Either various words or practices which are considered forbidden in polite company, or forms of “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” as popularly (and incorrectly) defined.Since the beginning of human history, different cultures have had certain taboos. Stuff that’s forbidden. Or forbidden to children. Or forbidden to one gender and not the other: Men can go shirtless in public and women can’t; women can wear dresses in public but men can’t; that sort of thing.Some of these taboos are for very good reason. Forbidding sex with children: Obviously it discourages people from exploiting children. Forbidding people to poop just anywhere: If it weren’t taboo, people would poop just anywhere, and this keeps their elimination practices in private. Where we prefer it. ’Cause ewww.Because of the taboos against the pr…

When Jesus got out the whip.

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Yes, it’s a critique of capitalism: There’s a place for it, and temple isn’t it.John 2.12-17In the other gospels, Jesus kicked the merchants out of temple during Passion Week.Mk 11.15-17, Mt 21.12-13, Lk 19.45-46 In John, it’s a different year, another Passover.The debate amongst scholars is whether Jesus kicked the merchants out of temple once, and one (or three) of the gospels don’t have their facts straight; or whether Jesus did it twice—once at the start of his mission, and once again before he was killed. It is an awfully similar story; might even be the same story.The most common theory—even the inerrantists I was raised among would teach it—is this event happened once. During Passion Week. They wouldn’t overtly teach it that way: What they’d do is teach on Passion Week, teach on Jesus tossing the merchants out of temple, and in order to fill in any blanks in the story, start quoting John. ’Cause you know that bit about Jesus using a whip to do it? Not in the other gospels. Seri…