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Showing posts from February, 2017

Shrovetide, Lenten fasting, and naysayers.

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Getting ready for Lent… assuming you do Lent.LENTlɛntnoun. A time before Easter for Christians to fast, abstain, and practice self-control. Usually 40 days, like Christ in the wilderness, starting Ash Wednesday.[Lenten 'lɛnt.(ə)nadjective.]SHROVETIDE'ʃroʊv.taɪdnoun. The Sunday to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, when Christians customarily confess sins (or “shrive”) before Lent.[Shrove ʃroʊvverb tense. Shrive ʃraɪvverb.]I didn’t grow up with Lent. I grew up Fundamentalist, and Fundies consider Lent a Catholic thing and dead religion. And popular culture’s irreligious shrovetide activities seem to confirm all their suspicions.In the United States we’ve got Mardi Gras. The term is French for “gross Tuesday,” a translation I like way better than the usual “fat Tuesday,” because while there’s a lot of awesome jazz, there’s also a lot of shameful behavior going on in these festivals. I’ve been to the New Orleans festival once, as a kid. All I remember were floats, beads, and coins whi…

The God who stays the course.

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Unlike the lights he put in the sky, God doesn’t wobble or change.James 1.16-18In verse 15, James used a pregnancy metaphor to describe how one’s own desires conceives and gives birth to sin. In these verses, he kept up the metaphors. God’s like the planets and moon, only unlike them, he doesn’t go through phases and retrogrades. And we’re like the firstfruits, the crops the Hebrews took their tithes from.James 1.16-18 KWL16 Don’t be led astray, my beloved fellow Christians: 17 Every good gift,every perfect present from above, came down from the Father of heavenly lights.There’s no phase, no seasonal shadows, with him.18His will birthed us by his truthful word, for us to be one of the firstfruits of his creation.“Don’t be led astray” connects with the previous idea: God isn’t the source of temptation and sin. We are. Determinists regularly make that mistake, figuring if they were almighty like God, they’d let nothing out of their control, and project that view upon God. Even though Go…

God’s grace is sufficient: What we mean, what Paul meant.

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We use “sufficient” to mean God’s salvation or provision. Paul meant neither of those things.2 Corinthians 12.9One really good example of an out-of-context bible phrase is the idea God’s grace is sufficient. Sometimes phrased, “Your grace is enough for me,” or “His grace is sufficient” or if you wanna put the words in God’s mouth, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” People don’t even quote the entire verse; just the “grace is sufficient” bit.And when we quote it, we mean one of two things.Most of the time it’s used to state God’s grace is sufficient for salvation. It’s a reminder we humans can’t save ourselves from sin and death, no matter how many good deeds we do; and that’s fine ’cause God does all the saving. He applies Jesus’s atonement to our sins, takes care of it, forgives us utterly; all we need is God’s grace. It’s sufficient. It does the job.Great is your faithfulness oh GodYou wrestle with the sinner’s heartYou lead us by still waters into mercyAnd nothing can keep us apart…

“Whenever you pray, pray this.”

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Jesus expected us to pray it more often than we do. Luke 11.1-4The Lord’s Prayer comes up twice in the gospels: Once in Matthew 6, and here in Luke 11. Today I’m gonna zero in on something Jesus taught about it in Luke. You’ll notice the Luke version is a bit shorter than the Matthew and Didache versions.Luke 11.1-4 KWL1 It happened while Jesus was praying in a certain place:Once he finished, one of his students told him, “Master, teach us to pray,like John the baptist taught his students.”2Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father!Sanctify your name. Bring your kingdom. 3 Give us bread for the day, daily.4Forgive us of our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who owes us.Don’t bring us into tribulation!’”You’ll also notice when Jesus taught it, he prefaced it with, “When you pray, say…” Lk 11.2 Which brings up the rather important question: Does he expect us to say these words every single time we pray? Or is it optional?Are we to take Jesus literally, as many a literalistic C…

Christians in private, but reprobate in public.

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It’s not that rare a phenomenon.Whenever people claim to be Christian, but it’s kinda obvious they’re following the Christian crowd instead of Jesus—or at least sucking up to the Christian crowd heavily in order to get votes—I call ’em “Christianist.”It’s a word I learned from Andrew Sullivan, and it’s a godsend. ’Cause too many people don’t know what to call such people. Fake Christians? Cultural Christians? Christians-in-name-only? I don’t wanna call them false Christians, ’cause they may very well have an actual saving relationship with Jesus. Maybe they just suck at religion. Maybe they’re hiding their light. A lot of partisans claim our current president is a “baby Christian,” and the reason his behavior is as filled with bad fruit as a moldy mock apple pie, is because he hasn’t learned any better… but he does know Jesus. Well, “Christianist” gives him the benefit of the doubt.But people of course assume by “Christianist” I mean you’re not Christian. So I get rebuked from time to…

Quit the excuses and resist temptation.

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’Cause some Christians are nothing but excuses.James 1.12-15The letter of James moves from suffering to the related subject of temptation—’cause when we’re suffering, or even threatened with it, it’s easy to fall into temptation.But when presented with quick ’n dirty ways out, a bothersome number of Christians shrug, and take the immoral and sinful option. Because it’s easier, and because of cheap grace: They figure God forgives all, so God’ll forgive that too. Sin some more, and there’ll be more grace, which’ll take care of it. Ro 6.1 Resisting temptation is just too hard.Worse: Some of us will get downright fatalistic about it: “I couldn’t see any other way out.” Never mind the apostles telling us God always provides one; 1Co 10.13 they figured our fallen world is so twisted, they’ll find themselves in no-win scenarios, trapped with a tragic moral choice where there’s nothing but sinful decisions. (Pry a little and you’ll find there were moral options, but they just didn’t care for …

Sometimes prophecy encourages. Sometimes not.

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Too often, wannabe prophets insist prophecy and encouragement are one and the same. They’re not.When Christians teach about prophecy, one of the more popular verses we throw around is this one:1 Corinthians 14.3 NIVBut the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.’Cause if prophets are looking for a mission statement, Paul and Sosthenes provided us a convenient one-line description. Prophecy is for the purpose of strengthening, encouraging, and comfort.Sometimes they tighten it up just a little bit: Which of those three words can encapsulate the other two? So these prophets will see it as their particular mission to strengthen… and less so to encourage or comfort. Others, to comfort… and not so much strengthen and encourage. What I encounter most often are the prophets who wanna encourage. Wanna get Christians all confident and excited about our role in God’s kingdom, and wanna give us nothing but encouraging messages which’ll shove us forwa…

God, Job, and the cost of unexamined theodicy.

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Job 1–2.10, 42.10-17Since we’re gonna talk theodicy, it’d be all kinds of stupid to not begin with Job. Worse, to ignore it… as so often happens.The entire book, and entire point of the book, is why bad things happen to good people. The problem? Your average person only reads the beginning and ending, and skips all the discussion in the middle. And the middle is the meat of the book.I intend to bring up Job a lot in the theodicy articles, so brace yourself. I’m gonna dig into it a bit.Job is part of the ketuvím/“Writings,” the third section of the Old Testament, collected round the 400s BC. Job was written at some point in the 500s, as we can easily deduce from the Late Biblical Hebrew vocabulary (with lots of Aramaic loanwords) and historical context.The book’s about iyóv/“Job” of Utz, a land located in Edom. Lm 4.21 Job’s friend Eliphaz of Teman Jb 2.1 had a really obvious Edomite name: The same name as Edom/Esau’s oldest son, 1Ch 1.36 and his city had the same name as Eliphaz ben E…

How to pray the Lord’s Prayer.

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Don’t know why you’re not practicing prayer with it.When Jesus’s students wanted to learn to pray, he taught them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Wanna know how to pray? Here ya go: Practice with that.Weirdly enough, in most of the Evangelical churches I’ve been to, when new Christians wanna learn to pray, we don’t always point ’em to the Lord’s Prayer. We point them to our prayer groups.Why’s this? Well, there’s a weird Evangelical stigma about rote prayer. It’s because a lot of Evangelicals grew up in churches which prayed a lot of pre-written, canned material, and it felt like dead religion to them, and they prefer living religion. So, out went the rote prayers. Their only prayers are spontaneous. Sometimes they won’t even pray biblical rote prayers, like the psalms or Lord’s Prayer.The down side? The only prayer examples they see aren’t from the bible, but from their fellow Christians. Some of whom don’t even read the bible. All their prayer behavior comes from mimicking other Chr…

Point to your humility. Not your wealth.

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When persecution comes, only one of these things will help you out.James 1.9-11Americans like to believe we’re all equal; that we don’t have classes. We do so. Wealthy people don’t associate with poor people. It makes them uncomfortable.I’ve been poor; I speak from experience. The wealthy honestly don’t know what to do with the poor. If the wealthy wanna do something, like go out to dinner, go see a movie, go to Paris over the weekend… well, the poor can’t afford to participate, and regretfully decline. Whereupon the wealthy think, “Well, that was rude of me, inviting them to something they can’t afford. Maybe I should foot the bill. …But maybe I shouldn’t, ’cause they’ll feel I’m treating them like a charity case.” (Not if you don’t make a big deal about it.) “They’ll resent my offering to pay for everything.” (Not unless they’re ungrateful jerks.) “I really shouldn’t have to foot the bill for our entire relationship.” (Clearly you’re unfamiliar with dating.) “Maybe it’d be easier al…

The second coming of Christ Jesus.

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Yes, he’s coming back.Acts 1.1-11 KWL1 Theófilos: In the first work I made about everything Jesus began to do and teach,2 giving commands to his chosen apostles through the Holy Spirit, till the day he was raptured.3Jesus also stood before them, alive, after his suffering,appearing to them 40 days, speaking about God’s kingdom.4 While together with them, Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem,but “wait for the Father’s promise which you heard from me:5John baptized with water, and after not too many days,you’ll all be baptized in the Holy Spirit.”6 So when they came together, the apostles questioned Jesus:“Master, is it at this time you’re restoring the Kingdom of Israel?”7Jesus told them, “It’s not for you to know times or timing.That, the Father sets by his own free will.8But you’ll all get power: The Holy Spirit is coming upon you.You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world.”9 Saying this as they watched him, Jesus was raptured. A clou…

Baalism: The icky religions we find in ancient Israel.

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Why’d the Hebrews keep falling into Baalism? They did it for the nooky.Baal /bɑ'ʕɑl, commonly mispronounced 'beɪ.(ə)l/ n. The title of various middle eastern gods.2. Lord, master, sir, husband.[Baalim /bɑ.ʕɑl.im/ n.pl., Baalism /ba'al.iz.əm/ n.]The main competitors to the ancient Hebrew worship of the LORD were various middle eastern gods which tended to be called by their word for “master.” In Hebrew and Aramaic that’d be bahál; in Arabic and Ugaritic bahl, Amharic bal, Akkadian Belu, and in English it takes the form “Baal.”Most people assume “Baal,” like “God,” is a proper name instead of a title. It’s not. Every major god was called “Baal.” There were multiple Baals in the middle east and ancient Canaan, which is why the bible refers to them as bahalím/“Baals” (KJV “Baalim”). Jg 2.11, 1Sa 7.4, 1Ki 18.18, 2Ch 17.3, Jr 2.23, Ho 2.13 Rather than refer to these gods by their proper names, middle easterners respectfully called them “lord,” much as we do with YHWH. They used …

Can we really ask God for anything?

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Does God put any limits on our prayer requests? Well duh. Matthew 7.7-11 • Luke 11.9-13 • John 14.13-14, 15.7, 16.24These passages are found in the middle of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, in a teaching on prayer requests in Luke, and as part of the Last Supper lesson in John. Obviously the Matthew and Luke bits line up neatly, but the John ideas match their idea.I tend to summarize this idea as “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” If you want something from Jesus, ask. It’s okay for us to do that. He does take prayer requests.Matthew 7.7-11 KWL7“Ask!—it’ll be given you. Look!—you’ll find it. Knock!—it’ll be unlocked for you.8For all who ask receive, who seek find, who knock God’ll unlock for.9Same as any of you people. Your child will ask you for bread; you won’t give them a cobblestone.10Or they’ll ask you for fish; you won’t give them a snake.11So if you’re evil, yet knew to give good gifts to your children,how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”

The Johnson amendment, and preaching the wrong kingdom.

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In the United States we have a Constitutional right to freedom of religion. Since tax status has been specifically used in the past to interfere with unpopular religions, the U.S. Code makes churches tax-exempt.Yeah, here’s where the legalese comes in. (Hey, I wanna be thorough.) Most churches fall under what we call a 501(c)(3) organization, named for that specific subsection of Title 26 of the United States Code. For your convenience, here it is.Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the a…

James, and optimistically growing in faith.

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Be positive! It’s the only way you’re gonna get through life in Christ.James 1.1-8James 1.1 KWLJames, slave of God and of Master Christ Jesus.To the 12 tribes in the diaspora. Hello.Who was James? This’d be Jesus’s brother Mt 13.55 Jacob bar Joseph. The Hebrew/Aramaic Yahaqóv got turned into Yákovos in Greek, then Iacomus in Latin, then James in Old French, and here we are. He was the bishop of the Jerusalem church till his martyrdom, around the year 66.Protestants figure James is the son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s mom and adoptive dad.Roman Catholics, and many Orthodox Christians, don’t care for that idea. They believe Jesus’s mom remained a perpetual virgin; that Mary and Joseph’s “marriage” was more of a guardian/ward deal, so Jesus was her only offspring, and James was either Joseph’s son through a previous marriage, or he was Jesus’s cousin James bar Alphaeus (“the Less,” ’cause he wasn’t Jesus’s other cousin James bar Zebedee) who was one of his Twelve, Mt 10.3 who was only cal…

Fake guilt, and where grace comes in.

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If you can’t shake your guilt, it’s because your conscience is defective.Guilt /gɪlt/ n. The culpability, and moral responsibility, attached to one who committed a deed. (Usually a misdeed.)2. A feeling one has committed a misdeed; often regretful or remorseful.3.v. Make someone feel remorse for wrongdoing.[Guilty /'gɪlt.i/ adj., guiltless /'gɪlt.lɪs/ adj.]Guilt is healthy. Fake guilt, not so much.If I do anything, good or bad, I’m guilty of that action. Most of the time we use “guilt” in a negative sense, like when we’re responsible for sins or crimes. But we can be guilty of good deeds, particularly ones we do in secret. Like if I slipped an extra $20 into the waiter’s tip, or turned in a lost backpack to the lost and found, or deleted all the Nickelback from your iPod. Guilty. You’re welcome.Being guilty of misdeeds—assuming you were raised with a properly-functioning conscience—tends to come with a negative emotional response. We feel bad about ourselves for what we did. E…

The 13 tribes of Israel. (Yes, 13. I didn’t miscount.)

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Hope you’re not triskaidekaphobic. In case you are, the bible usually says 12.The Hebrews whom the LORD rescued from Egypt during the Exodus, consisted of the descendants of Jacob ben Isaac—whom a man, probably an angel, renamed Israel after their wrestling match. Ge 32.28 Hence they’re regularly called benéi Yišraél/“children of Israel.” Ex 1.1Since Israel had 12 sons (through four different women), and all the “children of Israel” are descended from the sons, they’re also known as “the 12 tribes of Israel,” each tribe named for each son. In English, the sons areSons of Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun. Ge 35.23Sons of Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin. Ge 35.24Sons of Bilhah: Dan, Naphtali. Ge 35.25Sons of Zilpah: Gad, Asher. Ge 35.26They’re listed in various orders, but Reuben tends to come first, ’cause he was firstborn. However, Israel reassigned the birthright, the patriarchal obligations of the eldest son, to his favorite son, Joseph.Hence Joseph received twice the i…