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Showing posts from August, 2016

The serenity prayer.

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Part prayer… part reminder we’re not in control. One of the more popular rote prayers is “the serenity prayer.” It’s prayed by Christians and pagans alike, ’cause it’s the official prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous. Other 12-step programs use it as well.God grant me the serenityto accept the things I cannot change,courage to change the things I can,and the wisdom to know the difference.Living one day at a time,enjoying one moment at a time,accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,taking, as Jesus did, this sinful worldas it is, not as I would have it,trusting that you will make all things rightif I surrender to your will,so that I may be reasonably happy in this life,and supremely happy with you forever in the next.Amen.Credit for the prayer is usually given to American theologian and philosopher Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), although the original version looks a bit different. Its first publication was in the March 1933 edition of The Woman’s Press, in Winnifred Crane Wygal’s articl…

God must be our first resort. Never our last.

“When all else fails, try God” is not how Christianity works.Let me reiterate: There’s nothing at all wrong with asking God for things. Jesus teaches us to do so in the Lord’s Prayer: It’s all prayer requests. (Even the parts Christians claim are “praise before the requests.” Asking that God’s name be blessed, his kingdom come, his will be done, are meant to be stuff we want.) When we need something, God expects us and invites us to turn to him for help.In contrast, our culture encourages us to be independent. Do for ourselves, then ask for help. And you wanna avoid asking for help as long as possible. The world isn’t kind. They don’t help you without first asking, “What’s in it for me?” Strings get attached. They expect cash, or a quid pro quo… or at least a pizza.As a result, a lot of Christians only turn to God when we need help with big things. The stuff we can’t handle. The stuff we need help with—and other people aren’t willing to give it, so in desperation we turn to God as a l…

The earth’s salt.

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We’re to flavor the world. Not preserve it, nor pour grit into it. Mark 9.43-50 • Matthew 5.13 • Luke 14.34-35 If you’ve ever heard someone called “the salt of the earth,” usually they mean a decent person—but kinda ordinary. No, that’s not what Jesus meant when he coined the phrase “salt of the earth.” Or as I translated it, “the earth’s salt.” I’ve no idea how it evolved from a remarkable person to an unremarkable person.But when Jesus uses it, he means remarkable. He means a flavor enhancer. Be the salt of the earth: Enhance it. Make it taste better.Mark 9.49-50 KWL49“Everything for the fire will be salted.Lv 2.1350Salt is good.When salt becomes saltless, in what way will it season things?Have salt in yourselves. Have peace with one another.”Matthew 5.13 KWL“You’re the earth’s salt.When salt is tasteless, in what way will it salt things? It’s of no use.Well, unless it’s thrown outside, to be walked upon by people.”Luke 14.34-35 KWL34“So salt is good.When salt is also tasteless, in …

My first Chick tract: “Bewitched?”

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A really awful way to learn about Jesus.After I recently critiqued a Jack Chick tract, a reader commented it had given her flashbacks from when she was exposed to the awful things when she was a kid. I know what she’s talking about. I grew up in Fundamentalist churches. Fundies love the accursed things. They already have Chick’s worldview: Everything in the world is evil and leading you to hell. Quick, say the sinner’s prayer before God has to righteously toss you in there!Thing is, Chick panders a little too much to the Fundie worldview. As a result Fundies spread his little Tijuana bible-style tracts everywhere, believing they win tons of people to Jesus… ’cause Chick tracts are everywhere! But they’ve no idea how creepy and wrong pagans (and fellow Christians) actually consider them. See, Chick doesn’t bother with fruit of the Spirit. He may have some, but you surely can’t tell from his tracts. They’re graceless, joyless, peaceless, unkind, impatient. “God so loved the world,” Jn …

The Lord’s my shepherd.

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Most everybody’s favorite psalm.Adonái ro’i (Latin, Dominus pascit me), “the LORD’s my shepherd,” was written by King David ben Jesse in the 10th century BC. In the Hebrew bible it’s the 23rd psalm. (In the Septuagint and Vulgate it’s the 22nd.)Hebrew poetry doesn’t rhyme. But really, all it takes to make a rhyming translation is a little effort. So I did. Went with anapestic septameter. (Poetry nerds know what that means.)Psalm 23 KWL0David’s psalm.1 I am never deprived, for my shepherd’s the LORD. 2 In his pastures of grass do I rest.I am guided by him to the waters so calm. 3 He provides me my life. I am blessed.I am led down the rightest of paths by his name. 4 In the valley’s dark shade, I may veer;but because you are with me, I won’t be afraid. In your stick and your staff, I take cheer.5 You arrange me a table in face of my foes. You rub fat on the wool of my head.You have made my cup overflow. 6 All my life’s days, love and goodness pursue me instead.I will always return to th…

When the miracles stopped. Oh wait; they didn’t.

God never stopped doing miracles. But you’d never know it to listen to some Christians.Cessationist /sɛ'seɪ.ʃən.ist/ adj. Believing miracles happened in bible times, and may happen in future, but currently don’t.2. Believing miracles happened at some point in the past, but don’t now.3. Believing miracles never happened; that all biblical descriptions of them are exaggerations, fantasies, or misreports.[Cessationism /sɛ'seɪ.ʃən.iz.əm/ n.]When you read the bible, you’ll notice there are an awful lot of miracles in it.Jesus performed many. So’d the prophets of the Old Testament. Since Jesus empowers his followers with the Holy Spirit, Ac 2.38-39 same as himself Ac 10.38 and the Old Testament prophets, Zc 7.12 he told his students they’d perform miracles just like his. Potentially even greater than his Jn 14.12 —which arguably his apostles did do, in Acts.Certainly the world should be filled with more miracles, just on the basis of pure numbers. Instead of only one Jesus of Nazare…

Awesome and awful.

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The “Blessed are you…” and “Woe is you…” sayings.Matthew 5.2-12 • Luke 6.20-26A lot of Jesus’s teachings are bunched together as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. They overlap a bunch, so I’m going through ’em together. And both of them begin with beatitudes.Beatitude is an old-timey word for “blessing.” Most translations follow the King James Version’s lead and begins each line with “Blessed are the…” as Jesus lists the sucky, not-so-great situation which these folks are groaning under. They’re poor. Mourning. Humble. Starving for justice. Merciful in a world without mercy. Pure-hearted in a dirty culture. Striving for peace where there’s nothing but rage and fear. Getting hunted down, mocked, slandered, driven out. These things sure don’t sound like blessings.Let’s be blunt: They’re not. We’re not blessed with poverty, misery, no justice, no peace, and persecution.I’ll explain. But first let’s get to the beatitudes of these two gospels. Matthe…

Teaching science at a Christian school.

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And a side-rant about the anti-science fears running through Christendom. Years ago I taught the science classes at a Christian junior high school. Just for a year. Mainly ’cause the other teachers in our program didn’t wanna, and I had two classes free in my schedule. So those classes became Science 6, and Science 7/8.I’m not a scientist. My field is the social sciences—history, civics, economics. I also have a degree in theology, so of course I can teach bible. I find science interesting, but I’m no expert. But since I had the summer recess to prepare, I had to get familiar with what I’d be teaching. So first I read through the California state standards. Then I got hold of our textbooks.Great horny toads.I’m not talking about their condition, which was bad. If you’re running a school, never, ever, EVER buy paperback textbooks for the children. I don’t care how much money you saved; in the long run, you cost yourself way more. We had these books maybe five years. They were thrashed.…

The Sermon on the Mount.

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The ways people interpret—and weasel out of—Christ Jesus’s teachings.Matthew 7.24-27 • Luke 6.47-49When people read the New Testament, even though evangelists tell ’em to read John first, they usually go to Matthew, the first book. So their first real introduction to the teachings of Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount.As, I would argue, it should be. John is great for talking about our salvation and God’s character. But now that we’re saved, how are we to live? What are the good works God has in mind for us? Ep 2.10 Duh; Sermon on the Mount.Three chapters of solid Jesus. If you’ve got a copy of the bible which puts his letters in red, that’s three solid-red chapters. Entirely consisting of instructions on how he expects his followers to interact, treat others, and follow him. Pretty challenging instructions, too.A little too challenging for a lot of Christians. For some new believers, it’s like a punch in the face. This is what Jesus expects of us? Righteous behavior? Self-control? Radi…

The crowds who came to see Jesus.

Having fans isn’t always a great thing.Mark 3.7-12 • Matthew 4.24 - 5.1 • Luke 6.17-19Despite the Pharisees’ frustration with Jesus curing people on Sabbath, word about Jesus spread all over the province—and to the provinces nearby. Jesus gradually found himself with loads of followers. Impractically large loads of followers. From all over.These passages aren’t all that parallel, but they roughly cover the same ground, so you get the idea.Mark 3.7-12 KWL7 Jesus went back over the lake, with his students and many groups:People from the Galilee, Judea, 8 Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond-Jordan, Tyre, and Sidon.Hearing about whatever Jesus was doing, many groups came to him.9Jesus spoke to his students so they’d have a boat nearby, because of the crowds.Thus they wouldn’t crush him. 10Jesus had cured many.So the many plague-sufferers could touch him, they resorted to jumping him.11 Whenever unclean spirits saw Jesus, they fell down before him,shouting out, “You’re the son of God!”— 12 and Jesus

Christians, “adult content,” prudery, and self-control.

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When Christians respond, “You shouldn’t be watching that stuff.”Couple years ago an acquaintance of mine was casually recommending some movies to a group of us. Stuff he’d recently seen; stuff he’d seen, but we hadn’t, so he thought we might be interested.It just so happened one of the movies is what we’d call “adult content.” Lots of swearing. Little violent. Some sexual activity; not buck-naked thrashing around, but even so, it’d be stuff you might not want your kids to see. Although maybe you’re the type of person who doesn’t care what your kids see. I’ve had a few fourth-grade students whose parents were far from discriminating. Far.Most of this group were Christian, and the inevitable question came up: “Do you think it’s appropriate for you, as a Christian, to watch such a movie?”Not “to recommend such a movie.” Watch such a movie. The implied question wasn’t, “Is it okay to recommend such movies, ’cause certain people might be led into temptation?” but “Won’t everyone be led int…

The person with the paralyzed hand.

When Jesus’s lesson in synagogue turned into an ambush.Mark 3.1-6 • Matthew 12.9-14 • Luke 6.6-11Matthew bunched together all the stories about Jesus outraging people by doing stuff on Sabbath, but Mark (and Luke follows Mark) sorta told them in the order he knew the stories. Clearly the Pharisees believed curing disease and healing the sick counted as the sort of work you were to stop doing on Sabbath, and Jesus didn’t agree in the slightest.Considering Jesus couldn’t cure a soul without the Holy Spirit empowering him to do it, you’d think these Pharisees would’ve put two and two together, and realized God had mightily taken Jesus’s side. But we aren’t dealing with the sharpest knives in the butcher shop. They figured they were right, Jesus was wrong; they had 50 years of Pharisee tradition backing them up, and who was he?So yeah, once again here’s a story about the religious Right of Jesus’s day, taking advantage of their lack of separation of church and state, hoping to get Jesus p…

My big-ass bibles.

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A few months ago, someone left a bible at my church. It’s one of those big, leather-clad bibles. It’s the size of a bible that really should be reserved for large-print bibles for the visually impaired. I tend to call them “big-ass bibles.” Though, when I do, I tend to get startled stares from Christians who can’t handle the word “ass.” Even though it’s in the bible—in the KJV, anyway.I have some big-ass bibles too. But I stopped carrying ’em to church when I was in seminary. Since I needed a bible for nearly every class, I bought a smaller-than-average edition of the NIV, which I always kept in the front pocket of my backpack, and that was my go-to bible for school, church, work, travel, anything and everything. Years later I upgraded to a NASB compact bible with a teal pleather snap cover. But soon thereafter (a few years before phones became smartphones), I bought a pocket computer, loaded bible software onto it, and that became my bible-on-the-go. Today that software’s on my phone…

The Ten Commandments.

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Namely, the ones God spoke aloud from Mt. Sinai. The Ten Commandments (Hebrew aserét ha-devarím/“ten words”) are the 10 commands the LORD spoke aloud to the Hebrew people from Mt. Sinai.No, they’re not God’s only commands. When Jesus was asked about the most important, none of these commands made it into his top two. Mk 12.39-31 But they are the commands God considered important enough to tell everyone audibly.A lot of Christians fetishize them. In the United States, we make monuments of them, and try to have them put in public places. Especially outside courtrooms. It’s debatable whether that’s legal, since governments aren’t supposed to promote one religion above all the others. Historically, Christians have got away with it by pressuring all the pagans to keep their mouths shut and let us have our way. Lately they haven’t been, so now we’re crying persecution. But that’s all I’m gonna say about that today.In Christian schools, they’re on the wall of most classrooms. Christians are …

What KJV-worshipers believe about the bible.

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I know; I already wrote an article about the history of the King James Version—and the people who worship it. But two years ago I wrote a different article, and was asked to repost it. I was a little reluctant to, ’cause it’s largely based on a Chick tract.Some of you already know who he was: Jack T. Chick (1924–2016) was a conspiracy theorist who believed the devil was behind everything he doesn’t like. Seriously everything—and Chick didn’t like much. In order to prove it, he played really fast and loose with the truth. He’d misquote bible, mangle history, and apparently just make stuff up from scratch. ’Cause for some of his claims, I can’t find confirmation anywhere—well, other than books Chick himself published.Primarily his company publishes evangelism tracts. Nearly all of them lack fruit of the Spirit: They’re loveless, impatient, unkind, joyless (his humor is the ironic, mocking sort), graceless (any little slip-up on our part sends us to hell), and fearful. I needn’t remind y…

Picking your label.

Everybody wants to reserve the right to define themselves. Or redefine.Years ago I joined an internet forum. As you do, when you wanna interact with like-minded or similar-minded people, and you can’t find a whole lot of ’em in your hometown, so you try out the internet. They’re a lot of fun for the first couple years, but I find they invariably deteriorate. They’re so interested in getting more members, or new members, they start letting in the cranks, and cranks ruin everything. Those of you who are cranks know what I mean.Anyway, after the numbers got up there, the moderator asked that we all re-introduce ourselves for the sake of the many newcomers. “Please tell us your religious background.” How would you label yourself?A lot of us took the opportunity to be really vague about it:“Student of Christ.”“Disciple.”“Catechumen.” (Seriously.)“Worshiper of the King.”“Christ-carrier.”“Jesus person.”“Grateful believer.”“God-chaser.”Honest to goodness, I didn’t think I’d joined a group of …

Nontheism: When pagans don’t believe in God.

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Most people believe in God. Now let’s discuss the tiny minority who don’t.Nontheist /'nɑn.θi.ɪst/ adj., n. Believes no such thing as God, gods, a universal spirit, a universal intelligence, nor a supernatural higher power, exists. (A catchall term for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and others who are skeptical of God and religion.)[Nontheism /'nɑn.θi.ɪz.əm/ n.]Y’know, for the first couple centuries of Christianity, we Christians were called atheist.See, the Greco-Roman pagans believed in gods. Lots of gods. Not just the all the gods, titans, demigods, and demons in the Greco-Roman pantheon: They accepted the gods of other pantheons too. They didn’t presume they knew them all, so whenever they encountered an unfamiliar god, they’d accept it. Sometimes they added it to their pantheon, as we can tell by the fact they had multiple gods of war (Ares, Athena, Enyo, Polemos), the sun (Apollo, Helios, Hyperion), and the moon (Achelois, Artemis, Selene, Phoebe). Other times they fi…

“God makes all things work together for our good.”

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Wouldn’t that be awesome. Too bad God never promised any such thing. Romans 8.28“You make all things work together for my good,” goes the bridge of the 2008 Jesus Culture song “Your Love Never Fails.” (Or are you more familiar with the 2013 Newsboys version? No? Doesn’t matter.) It’s a common variation of a popular idea, borrowed from Paul in Romans, which goes like so:Romans 8.28 KJVAnd we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.Frequently people drop a “the” in quoting it, and end it, “to them who are the called according to his purpose.” More like the ESV has it. But however we remember it, the problem is why we remember it; and this being a “Context” article you can bet it’s about wrongly remembering it.Together with “Everything happens for a reason!” this is a myth we Christians use to comfort ourselves, and one another. When we’re going through a rough time, we like to imagine God’s permitting or allo…

Gentleness: Take charge of your emotions!

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“Gentle” doesn’t mean “nice.” It means, like a well-trained horse, you don’t spook easily.When Christians go through Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians—love, joy, peace, etcetera Ga 5.22-23 —we tend to skip gentleness. ’Cause we figure it’s just a synonym of kindness. Gentle people are kind, right? Gentle Jesus is meek and mild, according to Charles Wesley’s hymn; we assume gentleness is therefore meekness and mildness. Nice, friendly people.Or gentle people are patient. They handle others softly, not roughly. Like the washing machine on the gentle cycle: Treats your clothes softly and tenderly, kinda like the way Jesus is calling, “Oh sinner, come home” in Will Thompson’s hymn.What’re the chances I’m gonna tell you both those definitions are incorrect? Better than average.The word Paul used for gentleness is prahýtis. It describes someone who’s prahýs/“gentle.” In classical Greek literature, it’s used to describe people or animals who were angry, sad, or fearful… but they…