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Showing posts from June, 2016

The “Wild at Heart” kind of guy.

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Nine years ago a friend, who should’ve known better, gave me a copy of John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart as a Christmas gift. The book was all the rage among Christian men five years before. At the time (’cause I tried to get rid of it on Amazon) it was going for 20 cents. Betcha she found it on sale. People buy books like Wild at Heart to inspire the men in their lives. That’d include men who don’t read. Consequently there are a lot of men who own a dusty copy of Wild at Heart , and mine’s pretty dusty too, ’cause I refuse to read it again. I’d read it years before. It wasn’t my copy, which is the only reason I didn’t throw it across the room in disgust. Nope, I don’t care for it. Here’s why. Eldredge’s profoundly misguided thesis is constructed around certain Happy Premises. (I stole this term from Bowfinger , which I watched again recently. Loony self-help ideas tend to gravitate together in my mind, whether fictional or not.) HAPPY PREMISE #1. Man needs to be wild, fre

Isn’t God gonna save everybody?

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God definitely wants to. Therefore some Christians insist in the end, he will. UNIVERSALIST /ju.nə'vər.səl.əst/ adj. Believing all humanity will (eventually) be saved. I’ve mentioned before how pagans believe good people go to heaven, and bad people to hell. I should mention there’s a minority among them who believe there is no hell. Nope, not even for genocidal maniacs. Everybody goes to the same afterlife, and if you’re a westerner that’d be heaven. There might be some karmic consequences; you might find yourself in the suckier part of heaven. But considering it’s heaven, it’s not bad. Y’see, these folks figure God is love. Don’t we Christians teach that? Why yes we do. 1Jn 4.8 And God loves everyone—“for God so loved the world” Jn 3.16 and all that. So why would a loving God throw people in hell? Especially for something as minor as not believing in him?—which most of the time is really an honest mistake. Doesn’t sound very loving of God to toss someone into hell

The proof text.

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If we’re gonna refer to the bible, let’s be sure we’re doing it right. Proof text /'pruf tɛkst/ n. A scriptural verse or passage, used (or misused) as evidence to support the idea one wishes to teach. 2. v. Using (or misusing) the scriptures as a reference. Y’know how sometimes I’ll mention a biblical idea, like God saving us by his grace, Ep 2.8 and do exactly what I just did there: Tack on a link to a bible verse which proves my point. It’s called proof-texting. If you weren’t sure whether that idea was backed by the bible, I pointed you to the bit of bible which confirms it. I know; the word texting can confuse people. Especially if you’ve always thought of texting as sending a Short Message Service file from your phones. (Didn’t know that’s what SMS meant, didja?) I made the mistake of not clarifying that when I was instructing kids in how to proof-text properly. Some poor lad thought every time he referred to the scriptures, he had to send a text message—and was

The Jesus prayer.

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The simplest prayer we can make. In Psalm 123.3, the psalmist asked the L ORD to show grace to his people. Quote it? Why sure. Psalm 123.3 KWL Show us grace, L ORD . Show us grace, for we’re greatly despised. The Septuagint translated it, Eléison imás , Kýrie , eléison imás /“Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us.” And in Jesus’s Pharisee and Taxman Story, it comes up again. Luke 18.10-14 KWL 10 “Two men went to temple to pray. One a Pharisee; one a taxman. 11 Standing by himself, the Pharisee was praying this: ‘God! Thank you that I’m not like the rest of humanity!— Greedy, unfair, unfaithful—or even like this taxman. 12 I fast twice a week. I tithe everything I get.’ 13 Standing far away, the taxman didn’t even want to lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his chest, saying, ‘God, be gracious to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you: This man, not the other, went to his house right with God . For all who lift themselves will be lowered. All who lower themselve

Betting on God.

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PASCAL’S WAGER pə'skælz 'weɪ.dʒər noun. Argument that it’s best to presume God exists: The possibility of hell outweighs any advantage of believing otherwise. My first exposure to Pascal was actually PASCAL . (I lived in San Jose in the late 1970s, so as you can guess, my middle school had the best computers.) I knew PASCAL was named after Blaise Pascal (1623–62), a French mathematician and statistician. I didn’t know he was also a Catholic philosopher who came up with a popular apologetic argument. Goes like yea: Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or he is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions. Do not, then, repro

An unclean spirit in Jesus’s synagogue.

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We’ve got ’em in our churches too, you know. Mark 1.21-28 • Luke 4.31-37 The first time we see Jesus teach in Mark (and Matthew too, for that matter) it’s in synagogue. As was appropriate. Even walking-around rabbis like Jesus would teach in synagogue: They’d teach their kids on weekdays, and the general population on Sabbath —meaning Friday night after sundown. (Jewish days go from sundown to sundown, not midnight to midnight.) Pharisee custom was for the synagogue president to let anyone have the floor, provided he recognized ’em as valid teachers. Visiting rabbis and scribes, new guys, or young teachers spoke first. This wasn’t necessarily to honor them. If any of ’em turned out to be wrong , as sometimes they did, the last teacher—usually the synagogue’s senior scribe—would correct them, and get the last word. Synagogues were schools, and Pharisees liked to debate, so sometimes they’d spend all night debating. Good thing it was Sabbath; in the morning they could sleep in.

Preaching, relocating, gathering students.

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When Jesus started preaching the gospel in the Galilee. Mark 1.14-20 • Matthew 4.12-22 • Luke 4.14-15, 5.1-11 I’ll admit right now: Whenever bible scholars try to sync up the gospels, we’re guessing. They’re educated guesses, but still guesses. The authors didn’t expect we’d ever try to line ’em up; some might’ve assumed there weren’t other gospels, or that theirs superseded all others. But we wanna tell Jesus’s story comprehensively, so sometimes we do. I don’t know whether the events I’m writing about here, come right after Jesus healing the prince’s son. But it kinda works, so it’s the order I’ll go in. At some point, John the baptist got hauled off to prison, ’cause he pissed off the Galilee’s ruler, Antipas Herod. Luke 3.19-20 KWL 19 Quarter-king Antipas Herod, embarrassed by John about his brother’s wife Herodia, and everything evil Herod did, 20 shut up John in prison, adding this to everything. The gospels eventually get into what became of John; it’s not pre

Ritually clean and unclean: Ready for worship!

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It’s not literal cleanliness. It just happens to look like it. From time to time the scriptures talk about tahór /“clean” and tamé /“unclean.” Sometimes it’s meant literally, like when the bible refers to pure gold or silver, or refer to a dirty person or animal. But most of the time the scriptures use these terms not literally, but ritually —what the L ORD defined as “clean” or “unclean” for the purposes of worship. “Clean” things could be used for worship; “clean” people were free to worship. “Unclean” things and people couldn’t. If you were clean, you could go to temple—and the Pharisees would let you go to synagogue. If not, not. And if unclean things were used for worship anyway, or unclean people worshiped without first purifying themselves, there were dire consequences. Leviticus 10.1-11 KWL 1 Aaron’s sons Nadáv and Avihú: Each man took his incense-burner, lit it, placed incense in it, and brought it into the L ORD ’s presence— weird fire, which God didn’t perm

“Woman, be silent!”

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One of the verses sexists misquote so they can keep women down. 1 Timothy 2.12 Years ago I taught the bible classes at a Christian junior high. It was overseen by an Assemblies of God church, and if you know the denomination, you’ll know we have women pastors. Haven’t always, but have way longer than most denominations. I should also mention the school accepted students, and hired teachers, from just about any denomination. Frequently half my students were Catholic, which used to weird out the Protestant parents whenever I taught on purgatory. Anyway, one morning one of my kids informed me, “Mrs. Gopinatha” ( name randomly picked; actual name withheld to protect the guilty) “says women can’t be pastors.” This came as no surprise to me. Mrs. Gopinatha was a member of one of those independent Baptist churches. You know the sort. Most of the reason they’re independent is ’cause they figure everybody else is wrong. “Oh does she,” I said. “Because she says the bible says wom

The first time Jesus cured anyone.

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Somebody figured if he can turn water to wine, he can cure sick boys. John 4.43-54 Jesus spent two days with the Samaritans of Sykhár, proclaiming God’s kingdom. Now he needed a break, so he went back to his homeland, the western side of the Roman province of the Galilee. More precisely Cana (today’s Kfar Kanna), 4 kilometers north of Nazareth, where he’d done the water-to-wine thingy. Or I could just quote the gospel… John 4.43-46 KWL 43 After the two days, Jesus left Samaria for the Galilee, 44 for Jesus himself testified that in their own homeland, prophets have no value. 45 So when Jesus came to the Galilee, the Galileans received him. They’d seen all he did in Jerusalem at the festival, for they also went to the festival. 46 A He went to Cana, Galilee, where he made the water wine, again. Now the part which tends to throw Christians is Jesus’s comment “that in their own homeland, prophets have no value.” Because in the other gospels, Jesus says it like i

Nobody knows what “selah” means.

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Not that it stops Christians from using it. SELAH /si'lɑ, 'seɪ.lɔ, 'si.lɔ/ v. Term occurring 71 times in Psalms and thrice in Habakkuk . Probably a musical direction, but meaning unknown. 2. [ excl. in popular Christian culture ] Amen; or some form of blessing, greeting, or praise. There’s a friend of mine who loves to end her emails with “Selah.” Just for fun, I started ending my emails to her with “Callay”—a word from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” apparently said in celebration, but like selah we don’t precisely know its meaning, ’cause Carroll was deliberately being silly. Last month she finally asked about it: “What’s ‘callay’ mean?” “Same as ‘selah,’” I replied. She didn’t inquire further. I’m guessing she thinks she knows what selah means, so she just accepted my explanation. A lot of folks who use selah think they know its meaning. It means amen, right? It’s a declaration of support, agreement, truth, joy… something positive. It’s why they put it

When the Spirit touches you… and you fall down.

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Yeah, God’s involved. No, it’s not from the bible. So? SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT /sleɪn ɪn ðə 'spɪr.ɪt/ vt. Fall down as a result (primary or secondary) of the Holy Spirit’s activity. [Slay in the Spirit /sleɪ ɪn ðə 'spɪr.ɪt/ vt. ] A lot of Christians believe if a practice isn’t found in the bible, we shouldn’t do it. Nope, we’re not at all consistent about this belief. Loads of churches and Christians have outside-the-bible practices. In the bible, churches met daily, not primarily Sunday mornings. In the bible, the worship songs are the psalms; where’d all these new compositions come from? In the bible, Christians prayed in tongues, but you’ll notice a number of churches have banned that practice. In the bible, women prophesied, and you’ll notice a lot of these same churches banned that too. I frequently read my bible on my computer or phone, or listen to it on my iPod—and you do realize electronics aren’t in the bible, right? Obviously if it’s banned in the bible—i

Jesus harvests the Samaritans.

See what can come out of a brief, but powerful, conversation with a stranger? John 4.25-42 After meeting Jesus and realizing he’s a prophet, this Samaritan woman he met at Jacob’s Well tried to get him to settle a theological dispute—namely which temple was the correct one, the one at Shechem or the one at Jerusalem. Jn 4.20 Jesus pointed out it’s neither Jn 4.21 —God wants worshipers “in spirit and truth,” Jn 4.22-23 who can worship him anywhere. In temple, out of temple; in church, out of church. But since Jesus appeared to side with the Judeans, Jn 4.22 the Samaritan did the intellectual equivalent of shrugging her shoulders: John 4.25 KWL The woman told Jesus , “I know Messiah comes, who’s called Christ. Whenever he comes, he’ll explain everything to us.” As I’ve said previously, Samaritans didn’t believe in a Judean-style Messiah. Their bible only went up to Deuteronomy , so no Messianic prophecies. They believed in the Tahéb /“coming one,” a prophet-like-Mose

The fivefold ministry. Or is it fourfold? Sevenfold?

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The ministries God puts in our churches… versus the people who covet leadership roles. FIVEFOLD MINISTRY /'faɪv.foʊld 'mɪn.ɪs.tri/ n. The belief the five gifts Christ granted to build up his body Ep 4.11 are best held by individual church leaders. There are several different ways we Christians have chosen to run our churches. Some of ’em are run by archbishops, some by pastors, some by elders, some by democratic vote, and some are anarchist: Supposedly no one leads but the Holy Spirit. (I used to attend such a church, and discovered in practice, certain folks just happen to “hear the Spirit” far more often than others, and wind up leading by default. Sometimes they legitimately do hear the Spirit; sometimes not so much.) Some of these leadership models are based on the bible. Some not. Is there a particular way God wants Christians to run his churches? I would definitely say so—but I’m not hard-and-fast on it. ’Cause regardless of your church leadership structure, t

Sharing Jesus… with liars.

’Cause not every irreligious Christian wants to admit that’s what they are. Yeah, I admit “Sharing Jesus… with liars” is a harsh-sounding title. But it’s accurate. Sometimes when we share Jesus with people, they lie about how Christian they are. Four out of five Americans consider themselves Christian. That’s not anecdotal; that’s based on surveys. The Pew Forum currently has us at 70.6 percent of Americans. Gallup has us at 75.2 percent. ABC and Beliefnet have us at 83 percent. And the Barna Group has us at 78 percent. Now anecdotally, it’s been my experience that two out of three people tell me they’re already Christian. But I live in California, not the Bible Belt. Stats vary by state. Of these self-described Christians, there are obviously a number of ’em who aren’t Christian. Do a little prying, and you’ll discover they’re pagans who think they’re Christian. They’re not what I mean by liars. They’re not lying. They honestly do think they’re Christian. It’s just they’re