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Showing posts from June, 2017

Jesus is Yahweh. Yahweh is Jesus.

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If you know Jesus, you know God.That’s gonna be a startling title for a lot of people. Needs to be said, just as bluntly: Jesus is YHWH, the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.Yeah he’s the son of God. Jn 8.54 Not saying he isn’t. But we also recognize Jesus is God incarnate, the word of God who’s with and is God, Jn 1.1 who didn’t figure his divinity meant he couldn’t also take on humanity.Philippians 2.6-8 KWL6 Existing in God’s form,he figured being the same as God wasn’t something to clutch,7 but poured himself into a slave’s form:He took on a human likeness.8 He was born; he was found human in every way.Being obedient, he humbled himself to death: Death by crucifixion.John continues:John 1.14-18 KWL14 The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.We got a good look at his significance—the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!‘The one coming after me has got in fron…

The prayer of Jabez.

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Why it’s not quite how popular Christianity imagines it.Back in 2000 Bruce Wilkinson wrote a tiny little book called The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. It sold like hotcakes ’cause it was inexpensive and brief—perfect for Christians with ferret-like attention spans. It contained a single sermon’s worth of material about an obscure ancient Hebrew by name of Yahebéch/“Jabez.”Here ya go: Every last thing the bible has on Jabez. It’s not much.1 Chronicles 4.9-10 KWL9 Jabez was heavier than his brothers.His mother called his name pain/Jabez to declare, “I birthed him in pain.”10 Jabez called on Israel’s god to say, “If you bless anyone, you bless me!You made my borders lengthy. Your hand’s with me. You’ve kept me from evil, lest it pain me.”God went along with whatever he asked.True, that’s not how people popularly translate it. First of all, they tend to translate nikhbód/“was heavier” as “was more honorable” (KJV) —possibly to match the Septuagint’s translation én…

Jesus’s family: No, he didn’t disown them.

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You seriously think Jesus would disown his mom?Mark 3.20-21, 31-35 • Matthew 12.46-50 • Luke 8.19-21Today’s story refers to Jesus, his mom, and his adelfoí/“siblings” (KJV “brethren”). And we start talking about Jesus’s sibs, we wander into a bit of controversy.Y’see Jesus’s mom, Mary, was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus. Lk 1.34-37, Mt 1.18-25 Hard to believe for some, but impossible things are no problem for God. But certain Christians consider virginity so vital to Mary’s identity, they insist she remained a virgin her whole life. Never mind the fact that in her culture, she and her husband Joseph wouldn’t be considered married unless they “knew” one another physically—and the scripture implies they did. Mt 1.25 Never mind sex was God’s idea, and good, ’cause God wants humans to be fruitful and multiply. Ge 1.28 They’re pretty sure it’s not all that good; that if you wanna remain spiritually pure you gotta abstain; so Mary perpetually abstained.Even though Jesus…

Why friends and family don’t read my blog.

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Or just plain won’t.They don’t, y’know. I can tell.My views aren’t mainstream. Though I think they’re fairly predictable, other people follow other trains of thought, so my viewpoint often catches them off guard: They’ve never thought of it that way. Or they’ve just plain never thought of it. Anyway, the surprised reaction makes it fairly obvious they never read it… back when I previously wrote on it.No, I’m not offended by this. It’d be really arrogant of me to be offended. I can’t require people to keep up with what I write. I write a lot. Always have.I’ve known people like that. Man are they a pain. I don’t wanna be the guy who’s regularly telling people, “Well you should’ve read my blog. Why aren’t you reading my blog? I’ll send you a link. You’ve never read my starfish poem? I’ll recite it: ‘A thousand starfish on the shore…’ ” I’d have no friends left. Deservedly so.I used to expect people to read everything I wrote… back in first grade. See, I had a free weekend, so …

False teachers and agitated students.

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James 3.13-18.Before James went off on his tangent about the tongue, he was writing about teachers and spiritual maturityJames 3.1-2 KWL1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.So, tangent over; we’re back to the sort of mature behavior we oughta see in a proper Christian teacher.Christians love knowledge. Heck, humans love knowledge: Everyone wants to believe they’re not dumb, gullible, nor ignorant. But Christians especially like to imagine we’re in on the truth. ’Cause Jesus is the truth, right? Jn 14.6 And we have Jesus. So there y’go.Trouble is, Jesus is right, but we aren’t. We took shortcuts or made presumptions. We don’t know him as well as we assume. And Christians get into serious denial about this fact: We insist we’re right because Jesus made us that way. Once the Holy Spirit got into us, he …

The uncontrollable tongue.

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James 3.3-12.In talking about the sort of mature Christian who’s got the self-control necessary to teach others, James went off on a tangent about how out-of-control the tongue can get. Which, if you think about it, is a little ironic. Wasn’t he talking about teachers?Well, anyway. This just after he briefly wrote how mature Christians oughta be able to control ourselves. Under the Holy Spirit’s power, of course, ’cause it’s profoundly difficult to get such hold of ourselves without him, since self-control is one of the Spirit’s fruit.Ge 5.23 For Christians, it‘s totally doable. It’s just we don’t do it. Cause we demand the “freedom in Christ” to do as we please, say what we wish, and unwittingly hurt one another and hinder God’s kingdom.James 3.1-6 KWL1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.3 If we put…

Wanna teach? Get ready for criticism.

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James 3.1-2.Historically, the way Christians have chosen to interpret the following passage has been, “If you become a teacher, God’s gonna hold you accountable for every single thing you ever taught. And judge you harshly. If you ever taught the wrong thing, ever led anyone astray, God’s putting it all on you.”What about grace? Nah; forget about grace; doesn’t apply to teachers.That’s how we know there’s something screwy with this interpretation. So let’s look at it again. The passage du jour:James 3.1-2 KWL1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.See, according to James, everybody stumbles. A mature Christian is gonna stumble way less than a newbie, but everybody stumbles. Including James, who wrote this book.The perfect teacher—other than Jesus—who’s never ever gonna make mistakes? Doesn’t exist. At be…

Can’t divorce works from faith.

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James 2.20-26.To demonstrate how works are part of faith, James pulled two examples out of the bible: Abraham and Rahab. Both are good examples of faith. So much so they got listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11… for the very same two acts of faith James brought up. He 11.17-19, 31Now, how do we know these two people had faith? Because they acted on that faith. Abraham trusted God so much, he was willing to sacrifice his son to him. Ge 22.1-14 Rahab believed so strongly God was giving Jericho to the Hebrews, she risked her life to hide two Hebrew spies from the king’s messengers, then sent the messengers on some wild-goose chase while she snuck the spies out of there. Js 2Which I didn’t really need to recap; here’s what James wrote about it.James 2.20-26 KWL20 Do you want to know, you silly people, how faith without works is useless?21 Our ancestor Abraham. Wasn’t he justified by workswhen he brought his son Isaac up to the altar?22 You see, since Abraham’s faith cooperated with…

Unproven, uncomfortable, devilish faith.

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James 2.18-19.More than once in these James articles, I’ve mentioned Christians who don’t realize sola fide means justification by faith alone; who think it means salvation by faith alone. And because they know we’re not saved by works, Ep 2.9 they therefore insist faith isn’t a work. Can’t be. ’Cause we’re not saved by works.I don’t know that James suffered from Christians who believed the same way for the same reason. More likely he was just dealing with people who don’t understand what faith is. Lotta Christians have that problem. Some of us still think it’s the magic ability to wish so hard, stuff comes true. Which is what’ll happen when you base your theology on Disney princess movies instead of your bible.It’s why James had to demonstrate, from the bible, why this sort of thinking was all wet. But first his comment about how even demons, the lesser gods of Greek mythology and the fake gods behind idolatry, also have faith—for all the good it does ’em.James 2.17-19 KWL17This “fai…

Favor, grace, same thing.

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There are many words for “grace” in the scriptures.Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards us. And favor means a generous, forgiving, kind, gracious attitude. In other words, they mean the very same thing.This is some of the reason people don’t see grace in the bible as often as they oughta. They don’t realize grace and favor are synonyms.When God grants people favor—when he picks favorites, be they individuals or entire nations—he’s showing ’em grace. They don’t merit his favor; they don’t earn it. You don’t earn it. That’s the usual complaint about favor: It’s not fair. “Why do you keep playing favorites?” Because they’re favorites. It’s not deserved; it’s inherently unfair. Just like grace—which is kinda what makes it awesome.But I realize a lot of people use the term incorrectly. Such as when they insist, “You owe me a favor”—supposedly they’ve racked up enough karma points, and are hoping to draw from them.Or “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.…

The first 12 apostles.

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Despite the kingdom’s unlimited resources, let’s not be stupid with them.Mark 3.13-19 • Matthew 10.1-4 • Luke 6.12-16, 9.1-2The word apostle means “one who’s been sent out.” We Christians use it to refer to anyone whom Jesus has sent out. If your pastor sends you somewhere, you’re just a representative; maybe a missionary. But if Jesus sends you, you’re an apostle.I know; some churches insist the only apostles are the 12 guys Jesus designated when he was walking the earth—with a special exception made for Paul, ’cause Jesus appeared to him special. I’d point out Jesus still appears to people special, and can therefore send any one of us to do anything he chooses. So yeah, he still makes apostles. But the first 12 guys are special, ’cause they’re the guys Jesus used to start his church.As for why he picked ’em, we have to read the bit which comes before the list of apostles. It makes it kinda obvious.Mark 3.7-12 KWL7 Jesus went back over the lake, with his students and many groups:Peop…

An irreligious religion.

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RELIGIONri'lɪ.dʒənnoun. Worship of a superhuman controlling power, usually a personal God or impersonal universe.2. Particular system of belief and worship, as demonstrated through actions and declarations.3. A supremely important pursuit or interest, followed as if worship.[Religious ri'lɪ.dʒəsadjective.]A significant part of authentic Christianity is religion: We worship God, and we do it through actions. For any belief system which doesn’t take any action, which doesn’t result in any changed lives or good deeds (or even bad deeds), isn’t real. Or, as James puts it, it’s dead. Jm 2.26But for a lot of Evangelicals in the United States, religion’s become a bad word. “Religious” has become mixed up with traditional. More specifically with the more empty, meaningless traditions which attempt to express worship through action, but don’t appear to bring us any closer to God.Fr’instance. When we were kids, and somebody taught us a rote prayer, they didn’t always explain why we pray…

Christians, Islamophobia, and “Who Is Allah?”

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Yep, I’m taking apart a Chick tract again. Recently an interesting yet annoying argument came up in a discussion group about the difference between devout Muslims, and the nutjobs who call themselves Muslim—then murder people and blow stuff up. Watch certain news channels and you’ll never hear there’s any difference. As a result many Americans think there is no difference. They assume the fakes are actual Muslims and call ’em “radical Islam.”I’ve pointed out this is like claiming a white supremacist is a “radical Christian.” Scary thing is, there are many pagans who actually respond, “Yeah, that’s precisely what it’s like.” To their minds when you call yourself Christian or Muslim, even if you’re not at all like Jesus or Muhammad taught, it’s still what you are.Anyway. If you wanna know how various Fundamentalists and certain conservative Evangelicals think about this, I find it really useful to turn to fear-mongering tract-maker Jack T. Chick.Chick tracts are meant to convert people …

Demons.

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The evil spirits who get us to follow and worship ’em.One fairly common pagan belief is animism, the idea everything has a anima/“soul,” or lifeforce. No, not just things that are actually alive, like plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. Inanimate objects could have a lifeforce too. Like weather, water, or fire, which certainly act alive. Like the sun, moon, planets, and stars, which pagans actually worshiped as if they were alive.And lest you think that’s just an ancient pagan practice, look how often people still do it. People talk about the “vibe” of a place—a workplace, nightclub, school, restaurant, home, whatever. Or the luck attached to a charm or item of clothing. Or the “feels” attached to a favorite chair, blanket, toy, car. Or the “spirit” of a good idea, like charity, patriotism, wisdom, and prosperity.The ancient Greeks believed these lifeforces were intelligent beings. Like little gods. Everything important had one. They weren’t necessarily important enough to be full-o…

Jesus doesn’t teach like scribes.

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A new authority. One that really bugged ’em.Mark 1.21-22 • Matthew 7.28-29 • Luke 4.31-32As Jesus wrapped up his Sermon on the Mount,Matthew includes a comment about the way he taught his lessons, and the way his listeners reacted to it:Matthew 7.28-29 KWL28 It happened when Jesus finished these lessons, the masses were amazed at his teaching:29 His teaching wasn’t like their scribes, but like one who has authority.It’s much the same way Mark and Luke described it when Jesus first began teaching in synagogue.Mark 1.21-22 KWL21Jesus and his students entered Kfar Nahum, and next, Jesus joined the synagogue.He was teaching on Sabbath 22 and they were amazed at Jesus’s teaching:His teaching wasn’t like that of the scribes, but like one with authority.Luke 4.31-32 KWL31 Jesus came to Kfar Nahum, a Galilean city.He was teaching on Sabbath, 32 and they were amazed at his teaching,because his lesson was given with power.Incorrectly, preachers tend to claim this whole “not like scribes, but so…

Adultery, concubines, and marriage, in the Old Testament.

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Adultery has a whole different definition in the Old Testament.Years ago one of my eighth-grade students asked me what a concubine was. ’Cause he wasn’t familiar with the word, and it was in his bible. It’s in everybody’s bibles: Pylegéš/“concubine,” which Strong’s dictionary defines as “concubine; paramour.” I just went with the 21st-century term for paramour: “It’s a girlfriend,” I told him.Later that day his mother called me to complain. She heard the story, spoke with her pastor, and he assured her a concubine is a wife. Not a girlfriend. What sort of morality was I attempting to teach her son?Um… it wasn’t a morality lesson. It’s a definition. The morality lesson comes from whether you think the bible’s references to concubines is prescriptive or descriptive: Whether because the patriarchs did it, we can; or whether the patriarchs simply did it, but Jesus calls us to be better than they. (I’ll save you the guessing game: It’s nearly always the second one.)The patriarchs had concu…

Punishing ourselves. (Don’t!)

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Stop it! Crack open a dictionary and the first definition you’ll find for penance is often “voluntary self-punishment as an expression of repentance.”Actually that’s not what penance is supposed to mean. Our word penance comes from the Latin verb pænitere/“be sorry.” That’s all penance means: We regret what we did, we apologize, we ask forgiveness, and we resolve to do better in future. Period. When Christians confess our sins to one another, that’s all penance, penitence, repentance, or whatever word we wanna use for it, ought to consist of.Problem is, the way Christians have historically demonstrated how sorry we are, is to prove it by making ourselves suffer. By undergoing punishment. Sometimes voluntarily. Sometimes not.So let me make this absolutely clear: God’s kingdom is about God’s grace. Christians punishing themselves, or punishing one another, is contrary to grace. It’s not a fruit of the Spirit.I won’t go so far as to call it a work of the flesh. That’s because there’s a t…

Evangelicals, climate change, and creation care.

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Why American Evangelicals don’t believe in, nor care about, climate change.Gotta admit: For the longest time I was skeptical about climate change.Back then it was called “global warming”—the idea of pollution changing our planet’s atmosphere, creating a “greenhouse effect” which trapped heat and gradually upped the world’s average temperature. And even if it did exist, big deal. So the world’s temperature went up a degree or two. What kind of impact would that make? Hardly any, I expected.’Cause naïvely I’d imagined “average temperature” meant everywhere only got warmer by a degree. The north and south poles, however, got warmer by more than that. Warm enough for a lot of ice to melt.
Between 1980 and 2003, the north polar ice cover shrunk 1.6 million square kilometers. It’s getting so ships can now travel the Arctic Ocean. NASAThe reason I hadn’t believed in climate change was because, at the time, it was speculation. Based on evidence, but still speculation. I’m old enough to remembe…

When pagans die.

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Have they no hope? Well, let’s not rule that out.Yeah, this is gonna be a bummer of an article. Sorry. It needs saying.When Christians die, it’s sad. ’Cause we’re never gonna see those people again in this lifetime. We often say, “We’ll see ’em in heaven,” and that’s true—though not quite as pop-culture Christianity imagines it. We’ll see them in the kingdom of heaven. Once Jesus returns to establish that kingdom, we Christians are all getting resurrected, and they’ll be back, better than before. As will we. That’s our hope.But it’s not pagans’ hope.The Latin word paganus meant someone from the country, and therefore not from the city. Christians adopted it to refer to people who don’t live in the city of God, or civilians who aren’t in the Lord’s army. By definition a pagan isn’t in the kingdom. Not going to heaven. They’re outside—and outside isn’t good.So when pagans die, it’s a profound loss. Not only are we not seeing them again, we’re likely not seeing them in the age to come. B…