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Showing posts from July, 2017

The king’s English.

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How to properly speak in Elizabethan English. A lot of Christians—myself included—are big fans of the King James Version of the bible. A lot of ’em even worship the KJV, but let’s not go there today.When I was a kid I memorized a lot of verses in this particular translation. As I got older my churches and AWANA preferred the New International Version, so I’ve got a hodgepodge of translations in my brain. But I like the KJV, and still quote it regularly. Often because I prefer the way they translated a verse; often because I like the old-timey English. To a lot of people it sounds formal and authoritative. I just think it sounds cool.The KJV was first published in 1611, but the language it uses was old-timey even then. It’s English as it was spoken in the 1500s; arguably even the 1400s. Some verses are no different from the way William Tyndale originally translated the New Testament in 1525. They weren’t striving for English as it was spoken—unlike modern translators like me. They were…

Jesus is returning. Sooner than you think.

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If not for everyone, at least for you personally.Immediacy /ɪ'mi.di.ə.si/ n. Bringing one into direct, instant involvement with something. (Usually including a sense of urgency or excitement.)2. Christian doctrine that Christ Jesus is returning at any time.[Immediacist /ɪ'mi.di.ə.sɪst/ adj.]I don’t know when Jesus will return.Neither do you. Neither does anyone. Neither did Jesus, Mk 13.32 although some Christians are mighty sure he found out after he ascended to heaven. And occasionally some nutjob will claim the Father told them when it’s gonna happen, and use the occasion to whip gullible Christians into a frenzy, and get ’em to join their death cult or something. All of them have been, and will be, lying. Because Jesus said that info is none of our business. Ac 1.7But we do know Jesus is coming back. It’s part of orthodox Christianity, y’know. Like the Apostles Creed has it, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he…

The rosary: Meditation… oh, and prayers to Mary.

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Why you won’t see a lot of Protestants pray rosaries. A reader asked me about rosaries. I gotta admit I don’t have a lot of experience with ’em, ’cause it’s a Roman Catholic tradition—and I grew up Fundamentalist, and Fundies are hugely anti-Catholic. Many Evangelical Protestants are wary of Catholics too; either way they don’t do rosaries.A rosary is a super-long series of rote prayers. How you keep track of which prayer you’re on, is usually with a strand of rosary beads. (People tend to refer to the beads as the rosary, but that’s not quite accurate.) Anyway, you pray a different prayer, or sequence of prayers, for each bead.The reason Protestants aren’t so familiar with rosaries, is because the bulk of the prayers are to Jesus’s mother, Mary the Nazarene. The most frequent prayer in a rosary, prayed from 50 to 150 times, is the Ave Maria/“Hail Mary.” Goes like so.Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Lk 1.28Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy w…

The Four Seeds story.

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So which soil do you figure you are?Mark 4.1-9, 4.13-20 • Matthew 13.1-9, 13.18-23 • Luke 5.1-3, 8.5-8, 8.11-15You’d thinkthis particular parable would be super easy to interpret, since Jesus actually provided his students an interpretation after he told it. But never underestimate the ability of Christians who wanna weasel out of the implications of Jesus’s lessons.The story is preceded by Jesus feeling the need to get a little bit of distance from the crowds who were swarming him. Since a number of his students were fishermen, he figured why not use this connection to his advantage?Mark 4.1 KWLAgain Jesus went out to teach by the Galilee’s sea.A large crowd gathered round him, so he entered a boat to sit in the sea,The whole crowd at the sea were on the beach.Matthew 13.1-2 KWL1 That day, Jesus left the house and was sitting by the Galilee’s sea.2 Large crowds gathered round him, so he entered a boat to sit in it.The whole crowd was standing on the beach.Luke 5.1-3 KWL1This happened…

TXAB’s spoiler policy.

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In case you’re annoyed ’cause I spoiled something.When you’re introducing your kids to the Star Wars movies, do try not to show ’em Episode III before Empire Strikes Back.Not that a lot of parents in my circle do, ’cause Episode III is rated PG-13, and a lot of ’em take that rating very seriously. ’Cause—and here the spoilers begin—horrific third-degree burns, y’know. But if parents do show their kids Episode III before Episode VI, it means the children are gonna find out Vader’s the father of two protagonists of the ’70s films, Episodes IV through IV. And it’s gonna kill any surprised reaction they might have when Vader finally declares, “No, I am your father.”It’s also gonna make the kids say Ewwwww! every time Luke and Leia kiss. And not just for the usual reasons kids are grossed out by public displays of affection: For the very same reasons I say Ewwwww when they make out. Yeah right George Lucas knew their backstory all along.Star Wars nerds tend to recommend watching ’em in the…

Mary the Magdalene, apostle to the apostles.

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The myths (and sexism) behind the first person to see our risen Lord.22 July is the feast day of Mary the Magdalene, whom we also call Mary of Magdala. She’s the woman who shows up in all the resurrection stories, ’cause she’s the very first person Jesus appeared to after he was raised from the dead.John 20.10-18 KWL10 Then the students went away again, to their people,11 and Mary stood outside the tomb, mourning.As she mourned, she then bent down into the tomb, 12 and saw two angels in white,one sitting at the head, one at the feet, where Jesus’s body was placed.13 They told her, “Ma’am, why do you mourn?”She told them this: “They took my Master away, and I don’t know where they put him.”14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing—and didn’t know it was Jesus.15 Jesus told her, “Ma’am, why do you mourn? Whom are you looking for?”Figuring he was the groundskeeper, she told him, “Master, if you took him away,tell me where you put him, and I’ll take him away.”16 Jesus told h…

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

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When leaders try to evade accountability by the very verse which makes ’em accountable.1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15Today’s out-of-context scripture is found in two places in the bible, ’cause either Chronicles is quoting Psalms or vice-versa. (Hard to tell, since they were written round the same time.) To get the full effect, you gotta quote it in the King James Version.1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15 KJVTouch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.The way it’s typically quoted is in the third-person form of “Touch not the LORD’s anointed!” But it doesn’t take that form in the bible.I’ve seldom heard preachers quote it. More often I’ve heard it from people in church leadership, or people who are defending church leadership. Usually it’s to discourage us from questioning, critiquing, condemning, or otherwise interfering with those leaders. ’Cause they were anointed by the LORD—and look, it says right there in the bible you’re not to touch the LORD’s anointed.It was written …

The effectual fervent prayer… of an obnoxious person.

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God expects us to get in his face sometimes.Luke 11.5-8, 18.1-8Right after teaching the Lord’s prayer, Jesus told the Friend at Midnight Story. Yeah, he meant it in context of prayer. Yeah, it’s an odd little story. Odd because the protagonist is so annoying. And Jesus presents this as if it’s a good thing.Luke 11.5-8 KWL5Jesus told them, “Any of you will have a friend,and go to him at midnight and tell him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves,6because a friend of mine came off the road to visit me,and I have nothing I’ll give him to eat.’7At this point, he’d say from within in reply, ‘Don’t put your trouble on me.The door was shut already. My kids are with me. We’re in bed. I can’t get up to give you a thing.’8But I tell you, if he’ll not give it, nor get up for the sake of being your friend…actually, he’ll get up for the sake of your rudeness, and will give you as much as you need.”Now use this story as an analogy for prayer. You’re the person beating on the door. You have a friend in nee…

Parables: Because the kingdom’s secrets are only for us.

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Why Jesus was so heavy on the metaphors.Mark 4.10-13, 25 • Matthew 13.10-17 • Luke 8.9-10, 18, 10.23-24, 19.26 • John 12.37-40The first of Jesus’s parables is the story of the four seeds. Mk 4.1-9, Mt 13.1-9, Lk 8.4-8 But before I get to that story, I’m gonna discuss Jesus’s frequent habit of teaching things enparabolís/“in parables.” Or at least it’s frequent in the synoptic gospels;John skipped nearly all the parabolic stories, and stuck to Jesus speaking in metaphor, which is also a form of parable.Parabolí literally means “to throw over,” kinda like the parabola a ball makes when you throw it in the air. Like such a throw, it’s deliberately meant to go over the heads of people whom you don’t want catching it. If you aren’t clever enough to figure out what Jesus means by his analogies, you’re gonna miss his point. You know, like pagans often will. And irritatingly, a lot of Christians also will, because we’re looking for the wrong things, and don’t care Jesus is trying to explain h…

Eugene Peterson’s rough week.

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On the “yes” heard round the blogosphere.Most Christians know Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson from The Message, his popular bible translation that’s looser than a boot on a pegleg.
Everybody’s favorite Wikipedia image of Eugene Peterson, as seen on various news sites lately. (So loose, people gripe it’s more of a paraphrase.) Others are more familiar with his writings on pastors and church leadership. But thanks to The Message, loads of American Christians have at least that work of his on their bookshelves.It’s because of this fame Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt interviewed Peterson on a number of topics relevant to Evangelical Christianity. Plus, Peterson’s sorta retiring. He’s 84, promoting what he figures is his last book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire; he’s kinda saying farewell to his public.But Merritt’s brief interview with Peterson, posted last Wednesday, 12 July, probably got a lot more attention than Peterson ever bargained for. The headline: “Eugene Pet…

The bible’s genres.

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It’s not all written in just one style of literature.Genre /'ʒɑ(n).rə/ n. Type or category of literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, and subject matter.Our word genre originates from the Old French word gendre/“gender.” ’Cause while men and women are both human, we’ve still got some important, distinctive differences. (Not as many as our culture dictates, but still.)There are many types of literature. Stop by the local public library, and you’ll notice how the books tend to be lumped into categories so we can find them easier. Whether your library uses the Dewey system or the Library of Congress system, you’ll notice the gardening books are on one shelf, the photography books on another, the legal books on another, the biographies on another.Now when the average person picks up a bible, they assume they’re picking up one category of literature: Non-fiction religious instruction. After all, that’s where we’ll find bibles in the library.Thing is, the bible’s an an…

Where do Jews fit into God’s kingdom?

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When we confess Jesus as our Lord, and believe he’s alive, we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Duh. True of anybody—whether Christian, or people who kinda shun that title; whether women or men, young or old, knowledgeable or ignorant, gentile or Jew.Particularly if you’re a Jew. ’Cause Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. He particularly came to save the lost sheep of Israel. Mt 10.6 And if anyone’s under the delusion there aren’t any Jews in God’s kingdom, they’re nuts. Their antisemitism is making ’em heretic.But here we slam into a little bit of controversy.Y’see a number of Jews don’t confess Jesus as their Lord. Don’t believe in their hearts God raised him from the dead. Yet they still figure they’re in God’s kingdom, ’cause they’re following his Law. (Their rabbis’ interpretations of the Law, anyway.) God saved the Hebrews from Egypt, gave ’em his Law, told ’em to follow it, said he’d make a kingdom out of them, so they do. So they’re in God’s kingdom, right?Well… no.Because people are not, and have ne…

Don’t mess with our Messiah.

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A psalm for coronation—and a warning for the nations round about.The second psalm, Lammáragšúgoyím/“For what reason rage the nations?” (Latin, Quare fremuerunt gentes) is considered a Messianic psalm ’cause it’s about Israel’s king, and one of the king’s titles is of course Messiah. And it’s considered a Messianic prophecy ’cause Jesus is Messiah, so Christians are gonna look for ways in which it gets fulfilled in the present day—kinda like the apostles did when they quoted it.Acts 4.23-28 KWL23 Once released, the apostles went to their own peopleand brought news of whatever the head priests and elders told them.24 Those who heard it unanimously lifted their voices to God and said, “Master,you who made the heavens, earth, sea, and everything in them,25 who said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our ancestor David your child,‘Why are the nations furious?—the people practice stupidity?26 The earth’s kings stand forth, and rulers gather themselves together,against the Lord and aga…

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit: The unforgiven sin.

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Yep, it’s a big big deal.Mark 3.28-30 • Matthew 12.31-32 • Luke 12.10Fairly soon after we become Christians, we hear a rumor going round that there’s such a thing as an unpardonable sin: If we commit it, we’re doomed. God’s grace apparently has a limit, and this crosses it. Do it and you’re going to hell. Game over, man, game over.Problem is, the rumor doesn’t always tell people what this unpardonable sin is. I’ve had newbies ask me whether it was murder. (Nope; Moses and David were murderers, y’know. Arguably so was Paul.) Others figure any of the seven deadly sins are unpardonable. (Nope; still not it.) When I was a kid, I thought cursing God would do it. (Still nope.) According to Jesus, it’s when we commit the sin of blasphemy—but not against the Father nor himself, but specifically against the Holy Spirit.Turns up in the gospels, right after Jesus had to correct the Pharisee scribes for accusing him of using Satan to perform exorcisms.Mark 3.28-30 KWL28“Amen! I promise you every

Getting baptized.

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Then getting baptized again.My nieces got baptized last month. Part of their church’s vacation bible school (if you’re not familiar with the phenomenon, it’s a weeklong church program meant to evangelize kids) to of course to get kids to choose Jesus. And of course after such decisions naturally comes baptism.The girls had chosen to follow Jesus some time before. But one of the things about the Evangelical subculture—kind of a peeve of mine—is how it can sometimes takes years before new Christians finally bother to get baptized. We’re meant to do one right after the other, ’cause we’re supposed to make a solid mental connection between the two. Get saved, get baptized, ’cause baptism represents salvation. But many Evangelicals turn the sinner’s prayer into that thing we’re meant to mentally connect to salvation: “Did you ask Jesus into your heart? Okay, you’re saved.” Hence baptism becomes way less of a priority. Once you’ve confessed Christ, evangelists tell you to get plugged into a…

Jesus, and heretic theories about his identity.

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He’s God. And human. But obviously some folks don’t agree.I’ve written about how Jesus is Yahweh, and when he became human.Plenty of people struggle with these ideas. Usually people who are bugged by the idea of God becoming human. Often people who imagine it working the other way round: A human becoming God, or earning divinity by being so very good. And of course people who figure Jesus never was God, and was just a great human being and no more.Now, they’re wrong. And to be fair, we’re all wrong. But these folks are so wrong as to be called heretic, where their beliefs stand a really good chance of leading people away from God, his grace, and his kingdom. They’re not little errors. They’ll interfere with people’s salvation, or trick ’em into rejecting God. Of course these heretics already refer to us orthodox Christians as “heretics”—they’re entirely sure they’re right and we’re not.It’s a pride thing. They prefer their ideas about what God is like, over what God actually revealed …

Blasphemy: Slandering God’s character.

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It’s not the same thing as sacrilege. It’s worse.Blaspheme /blæs'fim/ v. Say something about God (or holy things) which isn’t true. Slander.2. Speak irreverently about God or holy things. Sacrilege.[Blasphemer /blæs'fim.ər/ n., blasphemous /'blæs.fə.məs/ adj., blasphemy /'blæs.fə.mi/ n.]That second definition tends to be how popular culture defines blasphemy: Means the same thing as sacrilege, when one treats the sacred profanely. When you make fun, or make light, of holy things. When we tell jokes about God, or treat our bibles like any other book, and set ’em on the floor or doodle in them for fun. When people take God’s name in vain. When I treat him like my dad instead of OUR FATHER WHICH ARTIN HEAVEN. (Heck, when I don’t capitalize all the Almighty’s pronouns.)That’s what people consider blasphemy. That’s why they go utterly ape when Christians won’t take off our hats in church, or wear jeans. Business attire only!—and only Jesus gets to wear a toga.By this defini…

Prayer and posture.

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On assuming the position. I neither close my eyes nor bow my head when I pray.Yep, that’s right. My eyes are open and I’m looking forward. Sometimes upward; sometimes downward. Sometimes at a list of prayer requests, or at a bible ’cause I’m looking for relevant scriptures, or at the person I’m praying for.If I’m praying in the middle of an on-the-street ministry, of course I’m watching out my fellow ministers. ’Cause when people pray in public with their eyes closed, that’s the very best time for people to hassle us. Or lift our wallets. Or even shank people. It’s neither practical, safe, nor wise to close our eyes in some neighborhoods.And if I’m working with kids, you know some of ’em are gonna take advantage of the times no one’s looking. They’re regularly surprised to find me looking. And a little disappointed ’cause now they can’t get away with anything. Sometimes they feign a little offense: “Why weren’t your eyes closed while you were praying? You know you’re supposed to close…

Exorcisms by Satan’s power? Hardly.

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You seriously think Jesus would disown his mom?Mark 3.22-27 • Matthew 9.32-34, 12.22-30 • Luke 11.14-23In between Jesus’s family fearing he was overworked,Mark inserts this story about the Jerusalem scribes (or Pharisees, in Matthew) accusing him of performing his exorcisms through the power of the devil.Matthew and Luke tell the story in the context of an exorcism Jesus had just performed. Matthew even tells it twice. Likely this accusation took place more than once.Mk 3.22 KWLScribes who came down from Jerusalem said Jesus had Baal Zevúl,and that he threw out demons by the head demon.Mt 9.32-34 KWL32 As they left, look: People brought Jesus a mute person, a demoniac.33 Once Jesus threw out the demon, the mute man spoke.The crowd was amazed, saying, “This never appeared in Israel before.”34 The Pharisees were saying, “Jesus throws out demons by the head demon.”Mt 12.22-24 KWL22 Then they brought Jesus a blind and deaf demoniac.Jesus cured him, so the deaf man was speaking and seeing.…