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Showing posts from August, 2017

Unitarians: Those who insist God’s not three.

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And how they try to get out of obeying the persons of the trinity.Unitarian /ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən/ n. One who emphasizes God’s oneness, and rejects the orthodox view of God as a trinity.2. [capitalized] A member of a church or group which asserts this belief.3.adj. Having to do with this belief.[Unitarianism /ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm/ n.]The belief God’s a trinity is the hardest concept in Christianity, and a really difficult idea for a lot of people. Not just non-Christians: Plenty of Christians struggle with it too.A lot of us spend a lot of time trying to invent clever explanations for how trinity works. More of us figure it’s a paradox; it’s beyond our finite human capabilities; let’s leave it at that. But a number of us figure it’s ridiculous: God spent the entire Old Testament trying to get it through the Hebrews’ thick skulls that he’s one. That’s the description he prefers; that’s the one they’re going with; forget about this “God is three” business.They’d be unitarians. Sometim…

The Independent Fruit story.

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How do we imagine we’re growing God’s kingdom?Mark 4.26-29Back to Jesus’s parables about agriculture.Because in Mark Jesus told this story right after he told the one about the Four Seeds, some in the connect-the-dots school of bible interpreters leap to the conclusion the seed in this story, means the same as the seed in the previous story. In the Four Seeds story, the seed is God’s word. Mk 4.14 In this story, which I call the Independent Fruit story (and other Christians call the Seed’s Growth story, or the Kingdom Growth story), Jesus states the seed represents God’s kingdom itself. Miss that fact, and you’ll miss the whole point of the parable.Clear your mind about the other parables. Come to this story fresh. Got it? Good. Now let’s read.Mark 4.26-29 KWL26Jesus said, “This is God’s kingdom: Like a person who might throw seed on the ground.27He might sleep, might get up, night and day…and the seed might sprout, might grow, without him knowing.28The earth automatically produces fr…

Prophesying your own issues.

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Funny how a lot of prophecies particularly apply to the person sharing it.From time to time—in bible studies, church, conferences, prayer groups, what have you—prophets get up and say a little something which “God laid on their heart,” which is Christianese for “God told ’em.”Or at least they think God told ’em. They were listening to their consciences, which is probably the easiest way to hear God. When we become Christian, the Holy Spirit gets to work on our consciences, growing good fruit in them, fixing our attitudes, poking us there whenever we misbehave. For some of us, it’s our most regular form of communication with him; we’re used to it. Many prophets have learned to listen to our consciences, in case any tugs we might feel are messages from God.So let’s say a prophet detects this idea in there: “Someone’s not so sure she believes in God. She has doubts.” Sounded to them like something the Holy Spirit would say. So they take it and run with it.“I feel in my spirit,” they’ll s…

Same-gender marriage in the United States.

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And why it freaks certain Christians out to no end.Depending on your politics, same-gender marriage is either a done deal or a huge issue.I think we can figure out which camp you’re in, based on what you call it. I’m gonna describe it as same-gender marriage, ’cause that’s what it is. Conservatives seem to prefer “same-sex marriage” and “gay marriage,” and of course cruder terms. Progressives frequently use the term “marriage equality,” ’cause they’re trying to emphasize how, as they see it, it’s no more nor less than marriage—so why add adjectives?Me, I know a lot of conservatives. To their minds, same-gender marriage is gonna be the ruin of the United States.Mostly that’s because their beliefs consist of a combination of replacement theology and civic idolatry. Replacement theology presumes Christianity has taken the place of ancient Israel, and all the LORD’s promises to Moses and the Hebrews in the wilderness, now apply to us present-day Christians and our nations. Civic idolatry

Do you trust your church’s leadership?

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If not, you need to do something about it.Either you trust your pastor and your church’s leadership structure, or you really don’t. Ain’t no third option.You may claim there is so a third option; that I’ve made this sound like a black-and-white issue when there are plenty of shades of gray. Y’see, we trust everyone up to a point—because everyone but Jesus is fallible. So we trust the leadership of our church to a point. After all, the devil’s constantly on the prowl, 1Pe 5.8 tempting church leaders to fumble and fail, so we gotta be on our guard constantly, lest we crash and burn right along with ’em.Okay, in principle I have no issue with this reason. Makes sense. Seems consistent with the Christian principle of testing everything. 1Th 5.21But in practice, it becomes an excuse for holding a church at arm’s length. In practice, it’s not that Christians trust their leaders for the time being, yet stay vigilant lest they slip up: They stay disconnected. Uncommitted. Ready to bail at the…

Eventually everyone will understand Jesus’s parables.

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Of course, some of us are just willfully stupid about ’em.Mark 4.21-25When Jesus was explaining parables to his students—how they work, and why he uses them—he said this.Mark 4.21-23 KWL21Jesus told them, “Does the light come in so it can be put under a basket or under the couch?Not so it can be put on the lampstand?22It’s not secret except that it may later be revealed.It doesn’t become hidden unless it may later be known.23If anyone has hearing ears, hear this.”Quite often Christians quote this passage as if it applies to every secret: Anything we say in secret, it’s gonna eventually come out in public.And y’know, Jesus did say something like that, in Matthew and Luke. But he did so in a different context. There, he was talking about critics of Christianity, people who were gonna hassle us for proclaiming the gospel. In time, their evil was gonna become public. In time, all of Jesus’s other, private teachings were also gonna become public. In time everything becomes public. The trut…

How to annoy people. Or not.

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And how their bad attitutes infuse what I write.When I first got into the newspaper business, I regularly wrote opinion pieces. Got my own column in a few different papers. I would, on occasion, deliberately try to bug people.My justification for it was:Really good writing pushes people’s buttons.So they get angry. At least they’re reading.I have every right to express my opinions.Those who get outraged by this stuff? Cranks.It’s all in good fun.Yeah, I was a real jerk about it. I’d write really obnoxious stuff sometimes.At the same time—more of my youthful and spiritual immaturity coming out—I was also under the misbelief that opinion pieces actually could change people’s minds over to my way of thinking. They don‘t work that way. Only fools read the op/ed pages to learn what to think. Most of ’em read to learn what others think, but for the most part they already have their minds made up. They’d either discover I agreed with them, and feel vindicated; or discover I believed otherwi…

Paradise: The nicer part of the afterlife.

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Where Christians go when we die… and why we prefer other ideas to that of paradise.Paradise /'pɛr.ə.daɪs/ n. In the afterlife, the place of the blessed. [Usually equated with heaven.]2. The garden of Eden.3. An ideal, happy, peaceful, or picturesque place or state.[Paradisal /pɛr.ə'daɪz.əl/ adj.]Perdís was an ancient Persian word for “a park.” Persian parks were particularly known for their decorative, ornamental gardens.Both Hebrew and Greek borrowed the word. Late Biblical Hebrew turned it into pardés, which is found in the bible thrice. Sg 4.13, Ec 2.5, Ne 2.8 Ancient Greek turned it into parádeisos, also found thrice. Lk 23.43, 2Co 12.4, Rv 2.7 It’s where we get our English word paradise.Of course in English a paradise refers to any nice place. I tend to hear it describe tropical beaches, which are hardly garden-like. But the Pharisees grew to use it primarily to describe Eden, the place of the first humans. And the afterlife.Like Ecclesiastes commented, nobody really knew…

Works righteousness: Salvation through good karma.

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Christians who try to merit salvation—and Christians who try to weasel out of good works. WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS /'wərks raɪ.tʃəs.nəs/ n. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through good deeds.Works righteousness is how the world works. We tend to call it karma: If we want people to think of us as good, upstanding, and deserving, we’ve gotta publicly do good deeds. Like doing charity work, making big donations, rescuing needy people, doing stuff for the public good. Not just the stuff ordinary citizens do, and should do, like follow the laws and not be jerks. It’s gotta be actions which go above and beyond.Or (and this is the much harder way, although a number of people prefer it ’cause you can do it passively) we’ve gotta suffer some kind of catastrophic loss. One which totally doesn’t seem to fit our circumstances. You know, like Job being a really good guy, yet losing all his kids and stuff in a single day. Jb 1 Getting a deadly disease, getting your house flooded, gett…

Losing your faith when you go to school.

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More accurately, being the pagans you always secretly were.In my town, today’s the first day of school. I have friends in other parts of the United States who say, “You start school in August? You’re nuts.” I look at it from an educator’s point of view: The shorter the summer vacation, the less chance there is for the kids to forget everything before we get ’em back in the classrooms. Plus most of the parents do not mind at all.Colleges and universities are also starting up this time of year. Along with that comes a common worry Christians have: They worry their good Christian kids will go away to school, and gradually ditch their Christianity.It’s hardly a new worry. It’s been around since the very first Christians sent their kids to the ancient version of university, the academy. It’s been around since the first universities slid away from the goals of their Christian founders, and became secular.Since I grew up Fundamentalist, I got to hear their version of that worry. Fundies susp…

Telling your pastor you’re leaving.

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Are we obligated to give our church an exit interview before we leave?Got a question from a reader: “Last year my pastor preached about the steps you need to take before you leave the church. One of them was you first have to go to your pastor and talk it over with him. But most of the reason I’m leaving my church is because of him. Do I really have to talk with him first?”No. You don’t have to say a word. You can go to another church immediately.This “You gotta talk to the pastor before you leave” idea doesn’t come from bible. It comes entirely from pastors. They wanna know why you’re leaving.Ideally, it’s because pastors wanna help. People leave churches for all sorts of reasons. And the pastors are hoping maybe, just maybe, they can help you work out some of those reasons, and change your mind. (I think it’s naïve of them to hope so, but many of them will try it just the same.)Often, and more realistically, they’re troubleshooting. They wanna know why you’re leaving in case it’s th…

The subtler type of racism.

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Once again I bumped into an odd phenomenon; one I briefly mentioned in my article on white Jesus. In short, it’s racism; the type people tend to get away with because it’s subtle.But first, a big long bit of backstory.Robert Edward Lee was the commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the United States Civil War. (The army started burying soldiers on Lee’s front lawn during the war, as a way to stick it to him; it’s now Arlington National Cemetery.) He was one of the better generals in the war… and arguably it’s because he was such an effective general that the war lasted way longer, and killed more, than it ever should have.Y’might be developing the idea I don’t think much of Lee, nor the reputation the American south has granted him in the 150 years since the Civil War. You’d be absolutely right.
Robert E. Lee, 1863. Wikipedia
Idol of Lee on his horse Traveller, erected in Charlottesville in 1925. WikipediaWhen Lee originally joined the U.S. Army Corps of …

Criticism and self-promotion destroys. Humility restores.

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Plus how “Christian businesses” aren’t really.James 4.11-17.Continuing on his whole theme of pride and its destructiveness, James went after those Christians who took it upon themselves to critique and condemn others, and those Christians who exaggerate their big plans which ultimately aren’t gonna come to anything.Starting with the bit about badmouthing Christians. You know the type. Every church has ’em. Sometimes they’re even in leadership.James 4.11-12 KWL11 Don’t badmouth one another, fellow Christians.One who badmouths or criticizes a fellow Christian, badmouths and criticizes the Law.If you criticize the Law, you aren’t a doer of the Law, but a critic.12Onlyone is the Law-giver and critic, with power to save and destroy.Who are you to be your neighbor’s critic?This passage confuses people because of the different ways we interpret katalaleíte/“you all speak evil.” After all there’s many ways to speak negatively. Might be minor nitpicking (“Her pasta sauce is bland”) or gossip (…

Pride and coveting destroys. Humility restores.

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Our lifestyle should reflect wisdom from above, not covetousness from within.James 4.1-10.At the end of chapter 3 of his letter, James was making the point zeal and argumentativeness don’t come from God.James 3.14-18 KWL14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.Just because Christians split this teaching into separate chapters, doesn’t mean James was done with his idea. That’s the context for the next 10 verses. Righteous fruit is sown by peace… and wars and battles don’t come from the same place. They don’t come from above.James 4.1-4 KWL1 Where do the wars and battles all of y…

Swiping my words.

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Christians play really fast and loose with plagiarism.Years ago I taught junior high. Various subjects: History, literature, grammar, science, bible, algebra. Sometimes ’cause the other teachers weren’t up to teaching those subjects; sometimes despite the fact they really wanted to teach those subjects, but I’m more qualified. (That’s a story for another time.) Anyway, I made the kids write. A lot.Often in class: I’d give ’em an assignment which needed to be completed during classtime. I had an ulterior motive, which they didn’t always suspect: I wanted to learn how they wrote. Partly to work on improving it… and partly to catch ’em when they plagiarized.’Cause time would come when they had to write reports. And when they did, I’d seen enough of their writing to immediately detect whether they wrote it personally, or not. I mean, it’s fairly obvious when they lift entire paragraphs from the encyclopedia; suddenly they were writing at a collegiate level, with vocabulary words I knew th…

Tongues and unfruitful minds.

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Plus the unfruitful cessationist interpretations of this passage. 1 Corinthians 14.13-19.This is a passage Christians like to quote. For different reasons.For Pentecostals it’s to quote the apostles—specifically Paul—when they wrote, “I speak tongues more than all of you.” Then argue, “See? Paul did it. Why can’t we?” And then, more often than not, proceed to do it contrary to everything else Paul taught about building up the church.For anti-Pentecostals, it’s to point to the statement, “Pray that you can interpret,” then loudly object, “People ought never speak in tongues tongues at church unless they follow up with an interpretation.” Then they proceed to ban even the tongues which might be followed up with interpretation, just to be on the safe side. If they’re full-bore cessationist, they’re pretty sure tongues are devilish anyway.Well, let’s look at the passage in question.1 Corinthians 14.13-19 KWL13 So tongues-speakers: Pray that you can interpret.14 When I pray tongues, my spi…

Killing false prophets: Wanna bring it back?

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Fake prophets can be really destructive. But killing them is the easy way out.When the LORD explained to Moses how his prophets were gonna work, he wasn’t messing around.Deuteronomy 18.17-22 KWL17 “The LORD told me, ‘What they say is correct,18so I’m raising up prophets for them—from among their family, like you, and I put my words in their mouth.They speak to the people everything I command them.19When anyone doesn’t listen to my words which my prophet speaks in my name,I myself demand accountability from that person.20However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name what I’ve not commanded them to speak,or what was spoken in the name of other gods: This prophet dies.21When you say in your heart, “How can we identify a word which wasn’t spoken by the LORD?”:22When the prophet speaks in the LORD’s name, and it’s not my word—it’s not something the LORD’s spoken; it won’t come to anything.The prophet spoke it in pride. Don’t fear them.’ ”True, we don’t execute false prophets anymor…

Connect-the-dots interpretation: Stop that.

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Just because your brain sees a connection, doesn’t mean it’s real.Your brain is designed to recognize patterns.It’s how the brain stores data. It takes a memory, breaks it down into “what I know already” and “what’s new,” stores what’s new, and stores links to the memories we know already. And they don’t have to precisely be memories we know already; just stuff that’s close enough. If it sees a similarity, or pattern, in what we experience, that’s close enough.That’s how we pack 50-plus years of experiences into a 100-terabyte brain. And explains why some of our memories are kinda sloppy: Our brains were pattern-matching things which weren’t accurate matches.Our brains pattern-match inaccurate things all the time. Sometimes for fun: Ever played the game of “What does that cloud look like?” Or had to put up with your mom insisting that so-and-so looks like some celebrity, but you can’t see it at all? Or been startled by a shadow which kinda looked like a stranger was in your house, but…

The Almighty our defender.

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This psalm isn’t necessarily about you, y’know.Yoshév b’setérElyón/“Seated in the secret [place] of the Highest,” (Latin Qui habitat) is our 91st psalm. It’s often called the Psalm of Protection, ’cause it talks about how the LORD will protect “you.”Who’s the “you”? Actually that’d be the king. This is a messianic psalm, addressed to (and possibly written by) Israel’s king. This fact isn’t obvious; the psalm never bluntly says it. Hence loads of Christians figure they’re the “you,” apply it to themselves, and take a lot of comfort in the idea God’ll deliver us from our every foe.Problem is, God never promised us any such thing. On the contrary: Jesus promised us we’d suffer. Jn 16.33 So to claim Yoshév b’setér Elyón for ourselves is not only taking the bible out of context, but setting ourselves up for huge disappointment when it inevitably won’t come true that way.Yeah, my translation rhymes. Went with trochaic octameter.Psalm 91 KWL1 Seated in the Highest’s secret, seated in Almight…