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 3.12-21 Most 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’

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 3.9-13 Nicodemus 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 KWL 9 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?” 11 Amen 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. 12 If people won’t believe it when I tell you of earthly things , how will you believe it when I tell people of heavenly things ? 13 Nobody’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

How to pray in public.

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

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

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 period. Every genealogical chart elsewhere in the book represe

Introducing Nicodemus to the “born again” concept.

Jesus and Nicodemus meet, and talk theology. John 2.23 – 3.10 The 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 KWL 23 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. 2 Nicodemus 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 thes

The lenses we use to do theology.

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 cof

Knock the temple down?

Did Jesus ever threaten to knock down the temple? Nope. He told them to do it. John 2.18-22 First Passover we read about in John , this happened: John 2.15 KWL Making 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 KWL 18 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

“You take that back!”

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 for

Meaningless things.

“Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t describe our God at all. Ecclesiastes 9.11 KWL I 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 hap

The prophet Jesus of Nazareth.

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 12.49 That 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

The “What do I lack?” prayer.

Just in case we’re sinning and unaware of it, or we’ve left anything undone. Matthew 19.16-20 KWL 16 Look, someone came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, what good deed could I do so I’d have life in the age to come ?” 17 Jesus told him, “Why do you ask me about goodness? The One God is good. If you want to enter life, keep his commands.” 18 This 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 go

Profanity, and why Christians get freaked out by it.

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 tabo

When Jesus got out the whip.

Yes, it’s a critique of capitalism: There’s a place for it, and temple isn’t it. John 2.12-17 In 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