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Showing posts from 2017

The wicked, deceitful human heart.

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No, I don’t mean the blood-pumping organ in your chest. HEART /hɑrt/ n. Hollow muscular organ which pumps blood through the circulatory system.2. [in popular culture] Center of a person’s thoughts and emotions; one’s mood, feeling, enthusiasm, mood, or courage.3. [in popular Christian culture] Center of a person’s lifeforce; one’s innermost being; the true self, particularly one’s true thoughts and feelings.4. A conventional heart shape, as found on a deck of cards.[Hearted /'hɑrt.ɛd/ adj.]Jeremiah 17.9-10 KWL9“The heart is more twisted than everything.It’s human. Who knows it?10I, the LORD, examine the heart and test the kidneys,to give men according to their ways, the fruit of their deeds.”The ancients didn’t know much about anatomy. So all the stuff we recognize are part of brain activity, the ancients believed were the function of other parts of the body. The heart, they imagined, did our thinking. The kidneys did the feeling.Seriously. And why not? When we get excited, our he…

The Apostles Creed.

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Orthodox Christianity, in a smaller nutshell.My translation from the Latin—and as far as I can tell, the Latin’s the original.I believe in God,the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth.And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our master.He was conceived by the Holy Spirit; born from the virgin Mary.He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the afterlife.The third day, he was resurrected from the dead.He ascended to heaven; he sits at the almighty Father’s right hand.From there he will come; he is judging the living and the dead.I believe in the Holy Spirit,the holy catholic church, communion of saints, forgiveness of sins,bodily resurrection, and eternal life. Amen.Whenever I bring up the Apostles Creed to Christians, I tend to get one of two reactions: Positive and negative.I tend to get the positive response from Christians who grew up in formal, liturgical churches. Most of ’em can recite the creed right along with me… though the versi…

Set your hearts for Jesus’s return.

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Before Jesus returns, there’s a whole lot of lawbreaking.Different scholars have different ways they wanna interpret the Greek word parusía/“[second] coming.” Most of the time “appearance” or “coming” or “return.” When used to describe what Jesus is up to, it has more of a sense of “arrival,” or even “invasion.” Certain gutless commentators leave it untranslated, and just refer to Jesus’s parousia, as if it’s too difficult a concept to convert into English. Rubbish: The popular idea of “second coming” works just fine to describe it, 1Th 3.13 so that’s how I translate it.Today I wanna point to Jesus’s brother James, and how he referred to it:James 5.7-8 KWL7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:The Master’s second coming has come near.So. Ever since Jesus’s rapture, Christians have expected h…

Apostasy before the second coming.

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Before Jesus returns, there’s a whole lot of lawbreaking.Before Jesus returns, bad stuff was predicted to happen. Both by Jesus, who described some of the events 40 years hence when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem; and here by Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they reminded the people of Thessaloniki that there’d first be a time of apostasy.2 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL1 We should ask you, fellow Christians, about the second coming of our Master, Christ Jesus,and how we’ll be gathered together with him.2It’s so your minds won’t be shaken up, nor go into a panic,whenever some spirit, message, or letter (like those from us) claims the Lord’s Day has come.3 Don’t let anyone trick you in any way: Nothing happens till the apostasy comes first,till the lawbreaking person, the child of destruction, is revealed—4 the antagonist, the one exalting himself over everything called “god” and “worshipful,”so much so he sits in God’s temple and claims he’s a god himself.5 Don’t you remember the things I told…

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

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Because even in the first century, people grew tired of waiting.2 Peter 3.1-9I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,commands of our Master and Savior.3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to m…

“Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”

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Of course we have some iffy ideas about what “waiting on the Lord” entails.Isaiah 40.31Whenever I visit fellow Christians at their homes, a large number of ’em have a painting or sculpture of an eagle somewhere. Often it’s an American bald eagle, meant to express their patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores before it went bankrupt and shut down. Patriotic or not, if it was produced by Christians, it’s gonna be captioned with the following Isaiah verse:Isaiah 40.31 KJVBut they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.The sentiment which really appeals to Christians, whether it’s blended with patriotism or not, is the idea the LORD, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even though the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 God can indefinitely renew our strength. Is 40.31Well, if we trust in the…

The prayer of Nehemiah.

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And the need to seek God’s will in our prayer requests.Back in the ’00s, the prayer of Jabez got a bit of attention with a popular book. Which was quickly followed up by other writers, covetous of The Prayer of Jabez’s success, whose books probably didn’t sell as well for that reason: Books on the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer and other tricks to successful prayer.The only real trick is remembering God can’t be reduced to formulas, and that he has every right to say no. These books don’t necessarily teach this fact. Instead, the idea is if we pray like Jabez, God’ll expand our territory. Pray the Jesus Prayer and receive peace. Pray the St. Christopher prayer and kids get protection; pray the St. Jude prayer and get a yes to your hopeless cause; pray the rosary and get special protection; do X and now God owes us Y.Doesn’t work like that. And to help that idea sink in a little, I remind you of the Prayer of Nehemiah, offered by Nekhémya bar Khakálya right after he heard what a me…

Why skipping church messes us up.

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Treating it as an optional practice blinds us to the fact we’re going heretic.Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian.In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do ’em. They figure they believe in Jesus, and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right?So by this metric, they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary—’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s…

When is Jesus returning?

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He doesn’t say. Not that this stops us from guessing.Jesus is returning. But when?That’s the question every Christian asks, whether it’s in the front of the back of our minds. When’s Jesus coming back? Sooner rather than later, we hope—though considering the past 20 centuries, he’s taking an awfully long time to get round to it.What did Jesus himself have to say about it? Well, this. You’re not gonna like it.Mark 13.32-37 KWL32Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.Neither the heavenly angels, nor the Son. Just the Father.33Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.34It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.35So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.37What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”In short: “I dunno. And even if I knew, I’m not telling. You just ne…

Liturgy: A formula for worship.

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Some Christians do better in a church with more structure.LITURGY /'lɪd.ər.dʒi/ n. Detailed order of service for (Christian) worship.2. [capitalized] The eucharistic service in an Orthodox church.[Liturgical /lə'tər.dʒə.kəl/ adj., liturgist /'lɪd.ər.dʒəst/ n.]Some churches—namely the older ones—are liturgical: They have a very particular order of service, and all the churches do it the same way. Go to nearly any Catholic church anywhere on the planet, and you’ll instantly find it familiar, because all of them use the very same prayer book, the Roman Missal. True, it’s been translated into all the local languages, but whether the service is in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, or Italian, it’ll be the very same order. Same bible readings. Same prayers. Same songs. Same everything. Everywhere.Some Christians are bothered by this level of conformity. They don’t get it: The point isn’t conformity, but unity. All these Christians are worshiping God together, as …

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it.

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It’s gonna be really obvious he’s come back.When Jesus returns, it’s not gonna be a secret second coming. It’s not gonna be an event which only takes place metaphorically, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim; where they believe God’s kingdom began in 1914 but Jesus isn’t coming to earth till the final battle.It’s not gonna be a secret gnostic event, which only the chosen few know about. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, where the Christians vanish and go to be with Jesus, and the rest of the planet has to wait seven years. It’s not secret. It’s nice and visible and obvious. As Jesus himself describes.Matthew 24.23-28 KWL23“Then when anyone might tell you, ‘Look! Here’s Messiah!’ or ‘He’s here!’ don’t believe it:24Fake messiahs and fake prophets will arise, and will give great signs and wonders to deceive you.If possible, to deceive God’s chosen people too.25Look, I’m forewarning you26so when people tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the wilderness!’ you don’t go out;‘Look, he’s in the inner ro…

Humility, and the “cage-stage” Christian.

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When we’re willing to toss fruit aside, and fight for our beliefs. The first principle of theology is humility—knowing who and what you are, and not claiming you’re anything more. Or, as we so often see in false humility, less.That means we’re fully aware we’re wrong, and Jesus is right. The purpose of theology isn’t to believe we’ve “arrived,” and defend our newly-acquired high ground. It’s to correct our beliefs, poor character, and bad attitudes. Because they’re misbegotten and wayward.Wemay be redeemed, but they’re not. Bearing this in mind, with the Holy Spirit’s help and power, the goal is to get those traits to match Jesus’s.The problem? A lot of Christians have utterly skipped that first theology lesson. Or weren’t paying attention, ’cause they were too busy staring at the syllabus. Or promptly forgot all about it, ’cause all their new knowledge puffed ’em up. However it happened.Hence they imagine theology’s first principle is, “I was wrong—but now I’m not. Jesus fixed me.” W…

Jesus describes his second coming.

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The first hint we get that he’s bodily coming to earth more than once.The first hint we have that Jesus is arranging a second coming—that he’s not taking possession of his kingdom during his first coming—appears in the Olivet Discourse, the bit in Mark 13, Matthew 24-25, and Luke 21, where Jesus answered his students’ question about a future disaster he’d just casually referred to. Mk 13.1-2, Mt 24.1-2, Lk 21.5-6In each gospel’s version of the discourse, Jesus brought up the persecution of his followers, a particular time of great suffering which’d take place in Jerusalem, and fake Messiahs and prophets who’d try to lead them astray. But afterwards, this:Mark 13.24-27 KWL24“But in those days after that suffering:‘The sun will be darkened and the moon won’t give its light.’Ek 32.725The stars will be falling from the skies; the heavenly powers will be shaken.26Then people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ Da 7.13 with great power and glory.27Then he’ll send angels, and gath…

The bible: An inspired anthology.

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God got people to write ’em. And God gets people to understand ’em.Inspire /ɪn.spaɪ(.ə)r/ v. Breathe in (air); inhale.2. Fill with a positive, creative feeling; encourage.3. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something; provoke.[Inspiration /ɪn.spə'reɪ.ʃən/ n.]Whenever we Christians talk about inspiration—inspired prophets, teachings, and writings—it’s assumed God did the inspiring. He’s the one who breathed into us. One word we regularly translate “inspired” is theó-pnefstos/“God-breathed,” which is how the NIV prefers to treat “God-inspired” in this verse:2 Timothy 3.16 KWLEvery God-inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.It’s more than just “I was so excited about my thoughts of God, I decided to create this for him.” It’s God involved with, and behind, this creation process. The Holy Spirit, living within the teacher, prophet, or author, pointed ’em God-ward. Got ’em to describe God with infallible ac…

God’s unmerited favor.

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No, seriously: We don’t earn it. We can’t.When the LORD chose Avram ben Terah, renamed him Abraham, Ge 17.5 promised him the land of Kenahan/“Canaan” and had him relocate there, Ge 12.1-3 and promised him an uncountable number of descendants, Ge 13.16 it wasn't because Abraham was a good man.You might’ve known this, but in case you didn’t, go read Genesis again sometime. Most of the Abraham stories involve him screwing up one way or another. Abraham had loads of faith, but that was the product of his God-experiences; it came after God made all his promises. Abraham wasn't a particularly outstanding specimen of humanity.So why'd the LORD establish a relationship with him and his descendants? Grace. Pure grace.When the LORD sent Moses to rescue some of Abraham’s descendants from Egypt, patiently dealt with all these Hebrews’ misbehavior thereafter, and finally got their descendants to Canaan and helped them take the land, it again wasn’t because the Hebrews were good people.…

Patience. Or longsuffering. Either.

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How angry Christians lack it, and how to work on it.Years ago I casually mentioned to someone I was praying for greater patience.He. “Aw, why would you do that to yourself?”Me. “Why, what’s the problem?”He. “You realize how God teaches you patience, right?”Me. “Of course. He’s gonna make me practice.”He. “And life’s gonna suck. You’re gonna wind up in more situations where you gotta be patient. You’ll have to wait for everything.”Me. “So everybody’s been telling me. They’ve been about as encouraging as Satan itself. You sure it didn’t send you? Get thee behind me.”Yeah, don’t tell the dude who’s struggling with patience that his life’s about to suck. He’ll turn on you.But it’s something we Christians need to strive for. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, one of the ways love behaves, and impatient Christians wind up exhibiting works of the flesh like anger, unforgiveness, argumentativeness, and unkindness. Much of the reason Christians get a bad reputation with pagans is because of ho…

“…But what if that message is from the devil?”

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On psyching ourselves out of sharing.In my early days of learning what God’s voice sounds like, from time to time an idea’d pop into my head, and I’d wonder—as one should—whether the idea was mine, God’s… or Satan’s.I kinda blame my Fundamentalist upbringing. Y’see, there were a number of people in that church who insisted God doesn’t talk to people anymore, and anybody who claimed to hear from God was really hearing Satan. The effect is it makes a lot of Christians really wary of prophets. And, because the Holy Spirit actually does speak, really wary of listening to God for themselves.So I’d be at a bus stop, and the idea’d pop into my head, “Go tell that person ‘God bless you.’ ”And my knee-jerk reaction would be, “Is that God’s voice, mine, or Satan’s? After all, what if that person’s really anti-God right now, and my ‘God bless you’ prompts some sort of angry tirade? What if that person’s a cult member who sees this as an opportunity to try to convert me? What if…? What if…?” and …

Changing God’s mind.

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And those who say God never changes his mind.If you know your bible—heck, if you’ve seen The Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston—you know the Hebrews had a major lapse when they were at Sinai. The previous month, the LORD handed down his 10 commandments, then Moses went up the mountain to get more instructions, and while he was gone the people decided they wanted an idol. Whether this idol was meant to represent the LORD or some other god, we don’t know. What we do know is the idol violated the very command the LORD handed down last month. Ex 20.4-6Understandably, the LORD was pissed.Exodus 32.9-14 KWL9 The LORD told Moses, “I see this people. Look, the people are stiff-necked.10Now leave me: My rage is hot towards them. I’ll end them. I’ll make you a great nation.”11 Moses begged his LORD God’s face, saying, “Why this hot anger towards your people, LORD?You brought them of Egypt’s land with great strength and a steady hand.12 What will the Egyptians say?‘He brought them out …

Some people don’t wanna argue. And they’re right not to.

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Apologetics isn’t about picking fights. Don’t use it that way.An acquaintance of mine just started an “apologetics ministry.” Currently it consists of his blog, his Twitter account, and a whole bunch of his spare time. You know, exactly like TXAB, except I don’t do apologetics.Except dude went out and created a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Got board members. Accepts donations. He’s seriously hoping to turn it into a full-time job. He got really irritated with me for calling it “getting paid to argue with strangers on the internet in his pajamas.”But that is what he’s up to. He’s doing it “for Jesus,” but still. He considers it a vital, necessary ministry—that there simply aren’t enough Christians out there, arguing with strangers on the internet, whether in their jammies or not. I’d beg to differ, but he claims they’re not good apologists—not as informed as he is.If you’re picking up the idea I’m not as jazzed as he is about his burgeoning “ministry,” you’d be so right. Yet he’s ha…

Graceless advice.

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Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. And include your name… but I likely won’t.I don’t really have to remind people that TXAB has an email link. I get questions on a fairly regular basis about all sorts of stuff. Usually asking my opinion about various Christian practices and movements, which I often wind up turning into TXAB articles on the subject.And sometimes people ask for personal advice, which I’m much less likely to turn into TXAB articles. ’Cause they’re dealing with particular specific things. If I just posted these emails for the whole of the internet to read, it feels like a huge invasion of privacy. Even if I heavily censored them. The rare times I’ve done it, I tend to rewrite them entirely, which is why they kinda sound like me.Not that this stops the various advice ladies from doing this on a daily or weekly basis. But then again, the people who send them questions know precisely what they’re getting into. If you send “Dear …

“Prophecy scholars”: Neither prophets nor scholars.

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These are the folks who write all the End Times books.I’m Pentecostal. So whenever I see an notice or ad for an upcoming “prophecy conference,” they tend to refer to prophets. Actual prophets. Meaning people who’ve learned to listen to the Holy Spirit—and thereafter share with others what he’s told them. True, some of ’em practice some really iffy methods of identifying his voice. But when Penecostals, charismatics, and most continuationists refer to prophecy, we literally mean the same thing we see done in the bible by Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Simon Peter, and Paul of Tarsus. They heard God; they shared what they figured he told ’em; that’s prophecy.Outside Pentecostal circles—though not far outside Pentecostal circles, ’cause from time to time it gets in here—is a whole other type of “prophecy conference.” There, they aren’t at all talking about hearing God. They mean predictions about the End Times. They’re throwing a conference ’cause they wanna tell you what they think the…

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

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DOCTRINES OF GRACE'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪsnoun. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny.A number of Calvinists aren’t all that comfortable with the title “Calvinist.”For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer, and claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who was comfortable with determinism.) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was.Others concede not everything John Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character. But obvious…

The legion of evil spirits.

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Jesus meets a man filled with thousands of demons.Mark 5.1-10 • Matthew 8.28-29 • Luke 8.26-31Let’s begin with ancient northern Israel’s geography. First there’s Kinneret, the lake.
The Galilean sea.On its northeast was the province of the Galilee, named for the word galýl/“circle,” referring to its circle of towns. Jesus lived there. On its west was the Dekápolis/“10 cities,” a region of Syrian Greek city-provinces created by the Romans after they conquered Syria in 65BC. Jesus visited this territory often, and it’s where today’s story takes place.In Old Testament days the Dekápolis belonged to the Hebrews. Today part of it is called the Golan Heights. In Jesus’s day, even though it was full of Greek-speaking Syrians, it was still considered part of Israel, and still part of the territory Antipas Herod supervised. But it was full of gentile, Greek-enculturated pagans. They weren’t even Hebrew like the Palestinians are.By Greek-enculturated I mean they lived like Greeks. Alexander of M…

Jesus stops the weather.

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Mark 4.35-41, Matthew 8.18, 23-27, Luke 8.22-25.Right before this story, Jesus had a really long day. He’d been teaching the crowds, likely healing the sick, and he needed some sack time. So he got the idea to cross the Galilee’s lake.Mark 4.35-36 KWL35Jesus told them when that day became evening, “Can we cross to the far side?”36 Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus as-is into the boat. Other boats came with him.Matthew 8.18 KWLJesus, seeing a crowd round him, ordered his students to go to the far side of the lake.Luke 8.22 KWLThis happened one day: Jesus entered a boat with his studentsand told them, “Can we cross to the far side of the lake?”Matthew 8.23 KWLEntering the boat, Jesus’s students followed him.Luke called this particular body of water a λίμνης/límnis, “lake,” although the New Testament frequently refer to it as a θάλασσα/thálassa, “sea.” Homer used it to refer to the Mediterranean, but ancient Greeks really just meant any large body of water. Properly, our English word “s…

“Be still and know that I am God.”

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It’s not about being quiet. Psalm 46.10Most people shorten this verse to simply, “Be still and know that I am God.” But sometimes they actually do know the entire verse:Psalm 46.10 KJVBe still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.When people do remember the rest of this verse, they tend to recall (and prefer) a translation without that bothersome word “heathen” in it. The word goyím properly means “foreigners,” which we also translate “foreigners” or “nations”—the Amplified Bible, ESV, NASB, and NIV went with “I will be exalted among the nations,” which works better for them. Be still, know God is God, and if everybody can just chill out and meditate for a bit, God can be exalted by all the nations, round the world.Yeah, this tends to be considered a meditation verse. I’ve been in prayer groups where Christians have talked about meditation, and they misquote Psalm 46.10 all the time. “Remember, we’re just trying to be still and k…

Not faith, but a faith.

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And we’re not saved by faith.Faith /feɪθ/ n. Complete trust or confidence in someone/something.2. Religion: A system of beliefs and practices about God.3. A strongly-held belief or theory, maintained despite a lack of proof.4. A name Christians like to give their daughters. My niece, fr’instance.[Faithful /'feɪθ.fəl/ adj.]I bring up the definition of faith again ’cause today I’m writing about the second definition: A system of beliefs. A religion. The word most people tend to mean when they talk about faith: “Oh, you believe in that stuff because you have faith.” By which they often mean the magical ability to believe in goofy rubbish. Or, if they’re being more generous, they mean we have a religion—and the religion requires us to believe in goofy rubbish.So that’s what pagans mean when they speak of “people of faith”: People who have a religion. Particularly the people who like to insist, “No I don’t have a religion. I have a relationship.” (Which implies they’re not consistent i…

Tongues trigger emotion. Don’t let that misdirect you.

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It’s an emotional experience to pray with God’s power. But we’re called to more than that.1 Corinthians 14.20-21.Praying in tongues is an emotional thing.Y’see, when we pray tongues, it’s usually because we aren’t sure what to say to God. We’re too overwrought to say anything. Or there are so many thoughts in our head, and we can’t sort out what to prioritize. Or we don’t even know what’s going on, so we can’t articulate anything, but we know we oughta pray. Or we have prayed, but it wasn’t enough. For these and many other reasons, the Holy Spirit has granted us the ability to let him say it for us. Ro 8.26 But y’notice in all the circumstances I listed (and the dozens I haven’t), emotion’s a big part of it.Here’s the catch. It’s also possible to pray tongues when we don’t know what to pray—but initially, feel nothing. That’s right. We haven’t resorted to tongues because we wanna pray; we’ve resorted to tongues because we wanna feel. We’re seeking the emotion which comes along with pr…