Posts

Showing posts from September, 2016

Multiple levels of truth.

Image
Which we Christians shouldn’t have.Matthew 5.33-37, 23.16-22Thus far the Sermon on the Mount stuff has had parallels in the other gospels. This teaching doesn’t. It’s only found in Matthew.Matthew 5.33-37 KWL33“Again, you heard this said to the ancients: You will not perjure.Lv 19.12You’ll make restitution to the Lord for your oaths.Dt 23.2334And I tell you: Don’t swear at all.Not ‘By heaven!’—it’s God’s throne.Ps 11.4Not ‘By the land!’—it’s the footstool of his feet.Is 66.1Not ‘By Jerusalem!’—it’s the city of the great King.Ps 48.236Nor should you swear by your head; you aren’t able to make one hair white or black.37Make your word, ‘Yes yes; no no.’ Going beyond this is from evil motive.”Yes, Jesus used to punctuate certain sayings with “Amen amen,” Jn 1.51, 3.3, 5.19, 6.26, 8.34, etc. and the LORD used to punctuate certain commands with, “I’m the LORD.” Ex 6.2, Lv 18.5, 19.3, 21.12, 22.2, etc. Arguably these too are oaths; stuff our Lord said in order to make it crystal clear he’s n…

Needing not that any man teach you.

Image
The verse the go-it-alone Christian uses to evade accountability. 1 John 2.27Ever heard of a “life verse”? It’s a Christianese saying. Means a bible verse which isn’t just a Christian’s favorite verse; it’s one they kinda consider their own personal mission statement. It’s one they base their life, or lifestyle, upon. Heck, there are a few of these “life verses” found in the very same chapter of 1 Thessalonians.People who are big on joy: “Always rejoice.” 1Th 5.16People who are big on prayer: “Pray without slacking.” 1Th 5.17Big on prophecy: “Don’t dismiss prophecy.” 1Th 5.20Big skeptics: “Put everything to the test.” 1Th 5.21Anyway, I once worked with this woman… and Random Name Generator is gonna call her Svanhildr. Okay, why not. (Doesn’t that mean “swineherd”? Probably not.) Anyway, Svanhildr’s “life verse” was obviously “I need not that any man teach me.” Not just because she quoted it all the time: Nobody could teach her anything. Nobody was allowed to. She wouldn’t let ’em.The …

Getting hold of our lusts… before we end up in the trash.

Image
It’s the metaphor Jesus used when he brought up ge-Henna.Matthew 5.27-32, 18.8-9 • Mark 9.43-49 • Luke 16.18In case you didn’t read the last lesson on how the command “Don’t murder” Ex 20.13, Dt 5.17 is connected to anger, I should remind you: Christians too often read these teachings, and assume Jesus condemns people for being tempted towards anger. He doesn’t. Everybody gets tempted. His teachings are warnings not to act on these temptations. Same thing with his next lesson on adultery—and how it’s connected to lust.Matthew 5.27-28 KWL27“You heard this said: ‘You will not adulter.’Ex 20.14, Dt 5.1828And I tell you this: Everybody who looks at a woman to covet her,has now adultered with her in their heart.”(The Textus Receptus has “You heard this said to the ancients.” It borrowed “the ancients” bit from Jesus’s previous instruction, Mt 5.21 to make it line up better.)First of all, I need to remind you of the historical context of adultery. Our culture assumes it means extramarital s…

Doesn’t matter how “prolife” the president is.

Image
Abortion politics don’t actually do anything. ’Cause we need to do something. I’m prolife. By which I mean I’m anti-death.I know: Most of the time when Evangelical Christians call ourselves prolife, we really mean anti-abortion. We’re against that kind of death. All the other kinds?…Well, some of us are against the other kinds of death. The rest of us only care about preventing abortion. To them, the unborn baby is the epitome of innocence, and totally undeserving of death. The rest of humanity: Meh, they’ve sinned already. Screw ’em.In case you’re not clear what I mean by “the other kinds of death,” let me spell out a few of them.Death due to criminal or terrorist activity.Death due to domestic violence or child neglect.Death due to inadequate healthcare.Death due to inadequate gun laws.Death due to inadequate prison supervision.Death due to unnecessary, unjust war.Death due to unnecessary, unjust police shootings.Death due to inconsistent implementation of the death penalty.Christ J…

One Spirit for the one body of Christ.

Image
So stop dividing the body for the sake of your particular gift!1 Corinthians 12.4-27The way pagans in the first century understood the supernatural, there were many different supernatural abilities—and each ability was produced by a different spirit.If you wanted healing power, you prayed to Apollo.For wisdom, Athena.For speaking in tongues, Dionysius.For mighty acts of power, Zeus.You get the idea. Different abilities require the intercession of different gods. Or lesser gods, little helper gods, personal gods, known as daimónia, from which we get our word “demon.” Nope, not real gods. Unclean spirits.Of course, when these gods did no good, as was usually the case, you do realize there were other gods. Apollo wasn’t the only Greco-Roman healing god. There was Asklipiós, Panákia, and Ygihía. And if the Greco-Roman gods didn’t work, there were always the Egyptian gods, the Persian gods, the Norse gods…Today’s pagans still think this way. First they try western medicine. If the doctor’…

Heresy: When we really get God wrong.

Image
When we’re wrong about the non-negotiables of Christianity.HERESY'hɛr.ə.sinoun. Belief or opinion contrary to Christian orthodoxy.[Heretic 'hɛr.ə.tɪkadjective, heretical hə'rɛd.ə.kəladjective.]Basically we define heresy by how we define orthodoxy. ’Cause they’re opposites. If it’s not orthodox, it’s heretic; if it’s not heretic, it’s orthodox.There are other words people throw around, like unorthodox or heterodox. Technically they’re synonyms of heretic. But that’s not at all what Christians mean when they use ’em. What they really mean to say is, “I’m gonna question certain beliefs we take for granted,” or “I’m gonna say this in a way you’re not used to hearing.” But they’re not heretic; not at all. They’re orthodox. It’s just the way they explain their orthodoxy comes from an unexpected direction. They’ve chosen a unique way to describe the same traditional beliefs. It’s just unorthodox means heretic, and heterodox means “other than orthodox,” and therefore heretic.Yeah …

“Can I pray for you?”

Image
Most people don’t mind at all if you do. When you don’t know what to do, talk to God.Not only is this always good advice to follow, but it’s good advice when dealing with others. When other people share their difficulties with us, we don’t always know how to respond. Prayer’s one of the best responses—if not the best, period. It’s turning to God as our first resort.I know; plenty of people think they know just what to do when they hear someone’s troubles. That’s why they immediately offer it: Advice. No, the person sharing their woes didn’t ask for it. Often they just wanted to vent to someone. But that’s not gonna stop people from inflicting bad advice upon ’em anyway.Remember Job’s friends? For a week he kept his mouth shut, Jb 2.13 but then he made the mistake of lamenting in front of them, Jb 3 and it opened up their floodgates of bad advice, naive statements, sorry platitudes—you know, the same stuff people still offer as advice, which just goes to show they’ve never really read

When our anger gets us into trouble.

Image
Because people respond to anger with reciprocity, or worse. Not grace.Matthew 5.21-26 • Luke 12.57-59In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, after explaining he’s not come to do away with the Law, he proceeded to give his commentary on the Law. These are the bits which follow the pattern of “You heard this said... and I tell you.”Typically bibles translate Jesus’s followup as “But I tell you.” (KJV, NIV, ESV, NLT, etc.) It’s because the generic Greek conjunction de, which is meant to connect sentences to one another, can be translated…“And” if it’s connecting similar ideas.“But” if it’s contrasting dissimilar ideas.“Or” if it’s comparing options.“Then” if it’s showing a sequence of ideas.Yep, it can be translated whatever way the interpreter thinks would make the clearest English. But really it’s got no more meaning than a semicolon. (I’d even translate it that way… if it didn’t wind up producing giant run-on sentences.)Here’s the problem: Interpreter bias. When we correctly recognize Jesus i…

Is it worth our time for me to be the advice guy?

Image
Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. Not as part of a regular advice column; that’s not what I do.I don’t know how I turned into the advice guy. It just sorta happened. Years ago I was contributing to a couple different websites, and I had my own personal blog, and out of the blue strangers started asking me religion questions. Guess I sounded knowledgeable to them, so they figured they’d test my knowledge.So what’s the best bible translation? Or what do I know about a particular Christian denomination? Or what have I heard about this or that book?—this or that preacher?—this or that theological idea? Am I Arminian or Calvinist, and why? Pretrib or posttrib, and why?It’s not a new experience for me. I got questions like this from my students in Sunday school classes or Christian school. Or from newbies in my church who found out I knew stuff, and consider me less intimidating than our pastor. (Intimidating for no reason, I should add; he’s …

When we remake Jesus in our image.

Image
PROJECTIONprə'dʒɛk.ʃən, proʊ'dʒɛk.ʃənnoun. Unconscious transfer of one’s ideas to another person.[Project prə'dʒɛkt, proʊ'dʒɛktverb.]When we’re talking popular Christian culture’s version of Christianity, i.e. Christianism, we’re not really talking about what Jesus teaches. We’re talking about what we’d like to think Jesus teaches. We’re talking about our own ideas, projected onto Jesus like he’s a screen and we’re a camera obscura. We’re progressive… and how about that, so is Jesus! Or we’re conservative… and how handy is it that Jesus feels precisely the same as we do?Y’know, the evangelists told us when we come to Jesus, our whole life would have to change. But when we’re Christianist, we discover to our great pleasure and relief our lives really didn’t have to change much at all.We had to learn a few new handy Christianese terms:PAGAN WAY OF SAYING ITCHRISTIAN WAY OF SAYING IT“I think…”“I just think God’s telling me…”“I strongly think…”“God’s telling me…”“I feel…”“…

Priests, under Jesus our head priest.

Image
Every Christian is part of God’s nation of priests. Elders especially.Priest /prist/ n. Person able to perform a religion’s rituals, and therefore intercede between God and his followers.[Priestlike /'pris(t).laɪk/ adj., priestly /'pris(t).li/ adj.]Protestants tend to translate presbýteros as “elder,” by which we mean the senior Christians in a church.Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and some Lutherans, translate it “priest.” Properly “priest” would be the Greek word yeréfs—but for the most part, I don’t disagree with this translation. Y’see, the elders of the church are our priests.Technically every Christian is a priest, for it was after all God’s intention to create a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. Ex 19.6, 1Pe 2.9 Jesus made his followers, us Christians, a kingdom of priests to our God and his. Rv 1.6, 5.10 Elders in particular happen to be able and mature enough to perform priestly functions. They can preach, prophesy, lead us in worship, perform baptisms, anoint sick …

Jesus’s most misinterpreted teaching.

Image
He didn’t do away with the Law… much as dispensationalists love to think he did. Matthew 5.17-20 • Luke 16.16-17.Matthew 5.17-20 KWL17“Don’t assume I came to dissolve the Law or the Prophets.I didn’t come to dissolve but complete:18Amen! I promise you, the heavens and earth may pass away,but one yodh, one penstroke of the Law, will never pass away; not till everything’s done.19So whoever relaxes one of these commands—the smallest—and thus teaches people,they’ll be called smallest in the heavenly kingdom.Whoever does and teaches them,they’ll be called great in the heavenly kingdom:20I tell you, unless morality abounds in you, more than in scribes and Pharisees,you may never enter the heavenly kingdom.”This connects to Jesus’s similar teaching in Luke.Luke 16.16-17 KWL16“The Law, and the prophets up to John: From their time on,God’s kingdom is proclaimed as good news, and all struggle to get into it.17It’s easier for heaven and earth to pass awaythan for one penstroke of the Law to fall…

My favorite End Times novel.

Image
And no, you’re never gonna find it on ChristianBook.com. Years ago, I was complaining about one of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s Left Behind novels. Don‘t remember which one, but I do remember my complaint—for once—wasn’t about the terrible Darbyist theology, but about the poorly-developed characters. Caricatures of characters, really.The fellow I was ranting to was a bit of a Left Behind fan, so he didn’t appreciate my critique… although he admitted the writing “felt rushed.” There, I don’t agree. My beef wasn’t with how fast the Left Behind novels were cranked out. Some authors only need a month, start to finish, to produce a book. But they produce three-dimensional characters, whereas the Left Behind books produced melodramatic heroes and villains.“Well fine,” he said, “what’s your favorite End Times book?”“Easy,” I said, “The Stand.”
Yep, this book.When I realized I meant the Stephen King novel, he was outraged. Which I get. After all, King uses swears in his novels. And some Chri…

Lukewarm Christians.

Image
It’s not about being emotionally be excited. That’d be a way easier problem to solve, right? Revelation 3.15-16.I give youth pastors a bad rap sometimes. Okay, often. Because I believe a lot of them fundamentally misunderstand their job. As did most of the youth pastors I’ve had to deal with, both decades ago as a teenager, and in the years since as I’ve worked with kids and young adults. Their job is to minister to the young people of the church, and share Jesus with the young people of their communities. You know, like any other pastor. Only with youth.Problem is, many of the YPs I’ve run into, don’t think that way at all. Sometimes because their churches don’t think that way. My church, growing up, thought of the YPs as our babysitters. They were to make sure the church’s members’ kids behaved ourselves, and stayed Christian—at least till college. Once we graduated high school, we weren’t the YP’s responsibility anymore. My YPs made this fact quite clear to me when, shortly after m…

Coming together. Or not.

Image
ECUMENICALɛk.jʊ'mɛn.ə.kəladjective. Representing multiple Christian churches or denominations.2. Promoting unity among Christian churches, regardless of affiliation.3. Representing all Christian churches, regardless of affiliation.[Ecumenism ɛ'kjʊ.mɛ.nɪz.əm, ɛk.jə'mɛn.ɪz.əmnoun.]One of Jesus’s commands was that we Christians love one another, Jn 13.34, 15.12, 1Jn 3.23 and one of his prayers was that we be one, like he and his Father are one.John 17.20-23 KWL20“I don’t only ask about these, but about those who believe in me by their word,21so they could be one—like you, Father, in me, and I in you.So they also could be in us. So the world could believe you sent me.22The honor which you gave me, I gave them, so they could be one like we are one.23I in them, you in me, so they can be perfected as one,so the world could know you sent me, and love them like you love me.”Originally we Christians were one group. Or at least every Christian church was affiliated with every other C…

The world’s light.

Image
Mark 4.21 • Matthew 5.14-16 • Luke 8.16, 11.33 • John 8.12.In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his students they’re the light of the world. And multiple times in John, Jesus is declared the light of the world. Here, I’ve got one of those passages lined up for you.Matthew 5.14 KWL“You’re the world’s light.A city can’t be hidden when it lies on a hill.”John 8.12 KWLSo Jesus spoke again, saying, “I’m the world’s light.My followers should never walk in the dark, but will have light and life.”So which is it?Both, obviously. It’s not a contradiction. Jesus is the true light who entered the world; Jn 1.9 as long as he’s in the world he enlightens it; Jn 9.5 whoever believes in him needn’t live in the dark; Jn 12.46 he reflects the fact that God is light. 1Jn 1.5 And we’re the light of the world when we follow his example, and reveal to the world God’s kingdom is near, same as Jesus did. Once we were darkness, but now light, Ep 5.8 for since God’s now our Father, we are light’s children, …

The sucky starfish story.

Image
My take on an overdone sermon illustration.I grew up Christian, as some of you know. As a result I’ve heard hundreds of sermons.Seriously, hundreds: I grew up Christian, and never took any longer than three-month break from attending a church. (And during that time, I was going to daily chapel, which was mandatory in seminary.) So, since I grew out of the childcare program at the age of five: One every Sunday, and sometimes two. One during many a midweek evening service. One every time I went to chapel, both in school, and when I taught school. Three to ten during conferences. At least one every time I listen to preacher radio, or download a church’s podcast. I listen to my own pastor’s sermons twice: Once on Sunday morning, and once again as I scrub the audio for podcasting. So no, I’m not kidding when I say hundreds. It’s possibly thousands.Since many of these preachers tap the very same sources for sermon illustrations, the result is I’ve heard thousands of clichés. Some of these p…

The best of all possible worlds.

Image
When Christians assume “God’s will” means good fortune.You mighta noticed my articles on God's will thus far, mainly focus on what God revealed in the scriptures to actually be his will. His commands. His instructions. His wisdom. What he literally wants us to do.Problem is, whenever Christians wanna know about God’s will, that’s not what we mean. Nor what we want.Poll the Christians you know, and our overwhelming attitude about God’s commands is they’re either “too hard” cf. Ac 15.10 or “old covenant.” We don’t care about the commands. Well, unless they make us feel good about ourselves ’cause we’re already obeying them—whether intentionally or accidentally. (And if we’re not obeying them, we offer our excuses.) Or unless they justify our prejudices, ’cause it appears God doesn’t like certain sins any more than we do.But whenever we Christians say, “I just wanna know God’s will for my life,” you gotta understand we don’t mean God’s commands. We don’t wanna be directed to the Serm…