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Showing posts from September, 2017

The Fish-Sorting story.

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What kind of fish are you?Matthew 13.47-50But before the Fish-Sorting story, let’s have the Fish Slapping Dance.
You wanna watch the whole thing, do it here.Monty Python’Cause this parable’s about the End, and about judging the wicked, so it’s a bit of a downer. So I thought I’d first cheer you up with some grown men hitting each other with dead fish.Considering a few of Jesus’s students were fishermen, stands to reason he’d include a fishing parable. This one compares sorting fish to sorting the wicked. Bad fish get tossed; bad humans get burnt.Matthew 13.47-50 KWL47“Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea, gathering every kind of fish.48Once filled it’s pulled up onto the beach and sorted.People gather good fish into a vat, and rotten fish are thrown out.49It’s the same at the end of the age:The angels will come out, and separate the evil from the middle of the righteous.50The angels will throw the evil into the fiery kiln.It’ll be weeping and teeth-grinding there.”

The Hidden Treasure, and the Valuable Pearl stories.

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God’s kingdom is worth everything we have.Matthew 13.44-46Two quick parables Jesus told in Matthew are sorta parallel with one another. Maybe Jesus told the same story two different ways, so Matthew bunched ’em together. In any case here they are.Matthew 13.44-46 KWL44“Heaven’s kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field which a person found—and hid it again.In his joy, he runs off and sells all he has, and buys that field.45Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a person—a trader seeking good pearls.46Leaving after finding one valuable pearl, he’s sold everything he has, and bought it.”In both cases Jesus describes people who discover something so valuable, so worth it, they’re willing to give up absolutely everything they have for it. We’re not unfamiliar with the idea of Mammonists, gross materialists, who are willing to say and do anything for wealth. Including risk their existing wealth, if they figure the payoff is vast enough. Well, God’s kingdom is the very same way: It has just as va…

The Yeast in Dough story.

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How much dough do you imagine this was? Think bigger.Matthew 13.33 • Luke 13.20-21Jesus gave this parable right after the Mustard Seed story in both Matthew and Luke. It’s hardly a long story.Matthew 13.33 KWLJesus told them another parable: “Heaven’s kingdom is like yeast.A woman who had it, mixed it into three tubs of dough [80 pounds] till it leavened it all.”Luke 13.20-21 KWL20Jesus said again, “What’s God’s kingdom like?21It’s like yeast.A woman who had it, mixed it into three tubs of dough [80 pounds] till it leavened it all.”But it greatly resembles the Mustard Seed story. That’s about how God’s kingdom is like a tiny seed which became an impossibly giant tree. In this story, the kingdom’s like yeast which a woman mixed into an impossibly large amount of dough. Three tubs’ worth.I used our word tub to translate Matthew and Luke’s word sáta, because your typical bible translates it with the generic word “measures,” and who knows how big a measure is? The NASB went with “pecks,” …

Hyperbole. So I don’t have to explain it a billion times.

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You saw what I did there, right?Hyperbole /haɪ'pər.bə.li/ n. Deliberate exaggeration: A claim not meant to be taken literally.[Hyperbolic /haɪ.pər'bɑl.ək/ adj.]You may not be so familiar with this word, but you’ve seen examples of it all your life. And that’s not hyperbole.Humans use hyperbolic language to get attention. You might not think much of the statement, “I had to clean a lot of dishes.” You pay a little more attention to, “I had to clean a truckload of dishes.” The exaggerated image gets attention. May even inspire a mental image of a literal truckload of dishes. May even strike us as funny, horrifying, sad, irritating; like most acts of creativity, it runs the risk of pushing the wrong buttons.Of course some hyperboles are so overused, they get no reaction anymore. They’ve become clichés. “I worked my fingers to the bone” probably horrified someone the first time they heard it—“No, really? Ewww”—but nobody bothers to flinch at it anymore. Not even if people claim, “…

The Mustard Seed story.

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Lots of weird botany involved in this story.Mark 4.30-32 • Matthew 13.31-32 • Luke 13.18-19Another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. In Mark he told this one right the Independent Fruit. In Matthew it’s in between the Wheat and Weeds and its interpretation, Mt 13.24-30, 36-43 and in Luke it’s after Jesus cured a bent-over woman. Lk 13.10-17Uniquely (in two gospels, anyway) he starts it by especially pointing out it’s a hypothetical comparison to God’s kingdom.Mark 4.30 KWLJesus said, “How might we compare God’s kingdom?Or with what parable might we set it?”Luke 13.18 KWLSo Jesus said, “What’s like God’s kingdom? What can it be compared with?”Just in case you weren't yet clear he’s being parabolic. After all, there arecertain literalists who struggle with the concept. Particularly in this story. I’ll get to them.So, what’ll we compare the kingdom with today? How about a mustard seed? Various preachers, and maybe a Jesus movie or two, like to imagine Jesus holding up one such s…

Modalism: The illusion of three persons in one God.

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On those who believe God is sometimes Holy Spirit, and sometimes Jesus.Modalist /'mod.əl.ɪst/ adj. Believes God has multiple personas, approaches, functions, or aspects of his nature—which other Christians confuse with trinity. [Modalism /'mod.əl.ɪz.əm/ n.]When Christians don’t believe God’s a trinity, either they fully embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus isn’t God, or they kinda embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus is God… but God still isn’t three. He’s one. But he looks three, from our limited human point of view.Why’s he look three? Time travel.No, seriously. Time travel. I know; time travel hasn’t been scientifically documented. It’s still just theory. But we’re all familiar with science fiction, so we have a general idea of how it works.If you don’t: Imagine a man, whom we’ll call Doc Brown. (I know; real original of me.) Brown has a time machine. He hops into it and travels 30 years into the past. There, he encounters himself from 30 years ago—the younger version of …

The immature prophet.

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The dangers of someone who can hear the Holy Spirit, but lacks his fruit.Every Christian can hear God. This being the case, every Christian can share God’s messages with others: They can prophesy. They can be prophets. That’s why the Holy Spirit was given to us Christians in the first place: So we can hear God, and so we can share God. Ac 2.17-18 Now, whether every Christian hears God accurately, and prophesies accurately, is a whole other deal.See, Christians are at all different levels of maturity. Some of us call it “spiritual maturity,” but there’s no practical difference between intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturity: No matter what kind of immaturity we’re talking about, immature people are gonna do something dumb, because they don’t know any better. An immature human is always gonna be an immature Christian. We need to recognize this, and not move ’em into any positions of responsibility before they’re ready. 1Ti 3.6 And since I’m writing on prophecy today, obviously t…

Submission. It’s not domination.

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It has two definitions, and evil people are promoting the wrong one.Submit /səb'mɪt/ v. Yield to or accept a superior force, authority, or will. Consent to their conditions.2. Present one’s will to another for their consideration or judgment.[Submission /səb'mɪs.ʃən/ n.]Notice there are two popular definitions of submit in use. The more popular of the two has to do with acceptance, obedience, and blind capitulation. To turn off our brains, do as we’re told. And most sermons instruct Christians to do precisely that. Submit to one another, as Paul ordered.Ephesians 5.21 NIVSubmit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’Cause we kinda have to. If we can’t submit to God—if we insist on our own way, our own standards, our own values, our own lifestyles—it’s a pretty good bet we’re outside his kingdom.Romans 8.5-8 KWL5 Carnal people think carnal things. Spirit-led people, Spirit-led things.6 A flesh-led mind produces death. A Spirit-led mind, life and peace.7 For a flesh-led min…

Praying when we suck at prayer.

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Hey, we’re not all experts. Years ago I was reading Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, a useful book on prayer. In it he described the most basic, elementary form of prayer he could think of, which he calls Simple Prayer. Basically it’s just talking with God, which is all prayer really is.But I believe there’s a form of prayer even more elementary than Simple Prayer: It’s what I call the I-Suck-At-Prayer prayer. It’s the prayer every new Christian prays. The prayer every pagan prays when they’re first giving prayer a test drive. The prayer even longtime Christians stammer when we’re asked to pray aloud, and suddenly we feel we’ve gotta perform… but not overtly. Christians might pray every day and rather often, yet we’ll still pray the I-Suck-At-Prayer Prayer from time to time.It’s based on discomfort. It’s when we realize we need to pray in a manner we’re not used to. Maybe somebody else has been leading our prayers. Maybe we’ve been praying too many rote prayers—…

The wealthy, their crimes, and their coming judgment.

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James 5.1-8.This next bit of James was directed to the specific people of James’s day.Problem is, not every Christian has understood this. You know how we humans are; we wanna make everything about us. So we’ve looked at this passage and tried to figure out how it applies to us and the people of our day. Especially the people of our day, since rebuke and judgment are involved: We definitely want those bits to apply to other people.Since James dropped a reference or two to Jesus’s second coming—an event which’ll take place at any time, a belief Christians have held since the beginning, and even Jesus’s first apostles watched out for it, as Jesus instructed—historically we’ve interpreted this bit as an End Times reference. It’s not really. In the New Testament, “the last days” doesn’t refer to the End Times, but the Christian Era. Ac 2.17, He 1.2 The “first days” were before Christ; the “last days” are after God’s kingdom has come near. As historians call ’em, BC and CE. And in these la…

Arianism: One God—and Jesus isn’t quite him.

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On Christians who think Jesus is a lesser god.Arian /'ɛr.i.ən/ adj. Believes God is one being, one person, not three; and that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are created beings and lesser gods.[Arianism /'ɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm/ n.]So I’ve been writing on unitarian beliefs—namely that there’s one God, but contrary to how he’s been revealed in the New Testament, these folks insist God’s not a trinity. Now, pagans and other monotheists don’t bother with the New Testament, so of course they don’t believe in trinity. But Christians do have the NT—yet some of us still don’t believe in trinity. We’d call these folks heretics, and of course they’d call us heretics, and round and round we go.The first major anti-trinity heresy Christians came across is Arianism—a word pronounced the same, but not the same, as the white-supremacist view Aryanism. It’s named for Áreios of Alexandria (c. 250-336), a Christian elder—or in Roman Catholic thinking, a priest. In Latin he’d be Arius. It’s based on Áre…

Free will. And God’s free will.

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He’s given us choices. Choose wisely.A will is the ability to make choices and decisions. Might be limited in what we can choose. Fr’instance when I’m at In-N-Out Burger, I can either order a hamburger or cheeseburger; I can’t order a tuna sandwich. But the fact I have a choice, any choice, even a really small one, means I get to exercise my will. If they give me no choices—i.e. they’re out of cheese—I still have the choice to get a burger, or not.Yeah, various people are gonna argue a limited free will isn’t truly free. Which reminds me so much of little kids who throw tantrums ’cause they don’t like any of their options. “But I don’t want cherry or pistachio ice cream! I want chocolate. If I can’t have chocolate I’ll have nothing!” And as the patient parent will usually respond, “Well, that’s your choice.” Limited choices are still choices. Even if you’re not given any options whatsoever, you still get to choose how you’re gonna accept that fact: Cheerfully, or bitterly.Now if you w…

Sometimes you shouldn’t say amen.

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It’s important to agree in prayer. It’s also important to know when not to. Ever been in this situation?— You’re in a prayer meeting, church small group, or some other Christian function. And whoever’s praying at the moment is saying something you totally don’t agree with. Something you kinda can’t agree with.Fr’instance someone who uses prayer time to go on long rants about stuff they don’t like, and disguise them as prayers. Sometimes it’s political stuff: “Oh holy Lord, knowest thou those liberals in Washington? Gettest thou them out of the White House!” Sometimes it’s social issues, or pet peeves, or whatever those radio talk show hosts have got ’em riled up about today.Or it’s bad theology. “Lord, I know you’ll give us what we ask because your word won’t return void,” even though none of what they prayed was his word (and it doesn’t even mean that). Or assumptions about how some evil we’re praying against was part of God’s plan all along, or name-it-and-claim-it demands, or state…

Hurricanes and bad theodicy.

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The Atlantic hurricane season begins in June and ends in November: Weather agencies keep track of all the warm-weather tropical cyclones which crop up in summer and fall. (They give ’em names, in alphabetical order, and mix up the names every year.) The heat lets ’em grow in speed, size, and moisture, and warmer-than-usual weather means they grow extra large; often into full-on hurricanes. And if they make it to land, they create extra mess.The United States is was hit with two hurricanes in 20 days. Hurricane Harvey flooded southern Texas on 26 August. Hurricane Irma is currently working on the west coast of Florida. At its largest, Irma was a category 5, with 185 mph (295 kph) winds; this prompted widespread evacuations in Florida, and rightly so.Of course these aren’t the only natural disasters we get in the States. We get wildfires: I live in California, which has fires every year. Has ’em in drought; has ’em in flood years. Fire is how brush naturally clears, but humans built hou…

How we treat enemies—and how we oughta.

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The “Matthew 18” principle—for when people sin against us.Luke 6.27-36 KWL27“But I tell you listeners: Love your enemies. Do good to your haters.28Bless your cursers. Pray for your mistreaters.29To one who hits you on the jaw, submit all the more.To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them.30Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.31Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.32If you love your lovers, how’s this an act of grace from you?—sinners love their lovers.33When you benefact your benefactors, how’s this grace from you?—sinners do so themselves.34When you lend from one from whom you hope to receive back, how’s this grace from you?Sinners lend to sinners so they can receive an equal payback.35In contrast: Love your enemies. Do good. Lend, never expecting payback.Your reward will be great, and you’ll be the Most High’s children:He’s kind to the ungrateful and evil.36Be compassionate like your Father …

One God—but not interpreted through Jesus.

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Not every monotheist is Christian, y’know.Monotheist /'mɑn.ə'θi.ɪst/ adj. Believes there’s only one god.2. Believes there are various beings known as “gods,” but only one mighty enough, or worthy enough, of the designation and worship.[Monotheism /'mɑn.ə'θi.ən.ɪz.əm/ n., monotheistic /'mɑn.ə'θi.ən.ɪst.ɪk/ adj.]Whenever Christian teachers talked about unitarians—people who don’t believe God’s a trinity—they assumed they were dealing with Christianity-based heresies of one kind or another. Like Arians or modalists.In the United States, that might’ve been true in the past, back when the population was predominantly European, and somewhat biblically literate. Ain’t the case anymore. Hasn’t been for decades. Christian teachers need to get with the times.Most of the pagans I encounter are unitarian. They do believe in God, in one form or another. They might’ve had contact with Christians (but don’t count on it), and some of our religious beliefs might’ve rubbed off o…

The Wheat and Weeds story.

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How things’re gonna be n this world till the End.Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43Another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. Doesn’t appear anywhere else but Matthew, and it happened right after Jesus explained the Four Seeds story.Mt 13.18-23 Historically Christians have used it as a parable of the End Times.Matthew 13.24-30 KWL24Jesus set another parable before them, telling them, “Heaven’s kingdomcompares to a person planting good seeds in his field.25During the person’s sleep, his enemy came and planted weeds in the middle of the wheat.He went away.26When the stalks sprouted and grew fruit, the weeds also appeared.27Approaching, the householder’s slaves told him, ‘Sir, didn’t you plant good seed in your field?So where have weeds come from?’28The master told them, ‘An enemy—a person did this.’The slaves told him, ‘So do you want us to go off and pluck them?’29The master said, ‘No, never. Plucking the weeds can uproot the wheat with them.30Leave them both to grow together till the harv…

“Devotions”: Times we especially focus on God.

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And hopefully pray. Don’t forget to pray! DEVOTIONS /di'voʊ.ʃənz/ n. Prayers, religious observances, or worship.[Devotional /di'voʊ.ʃən.əl/ adj.]It’s a really good idea for Christians to block off several minutes of time, every single day, solely for the purpose of connecting with God. A little bible, a little prayer, a little meditation or contemplation. Something which helps us focus our lives on God.’Cause life is busy. Or it’s not really, but we just suck at time management, so we never make the time for God. You know how there are certain friends and family members you just never hear from?—they’re either way too busy, or time with you frankly isn’t one of their priorities? Well, for a lot of Christians, we’re in danger of having that kind of relationship with God. One where we sorta take him for granted in our lives, but when’s the last time we really sat down with him and talked?So, devotional time.Part of your average Christian’s struggle with devotions, comes from the…

The Nashville Statement, and sexism.

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Or, how to disguise prejudice as orthodoxy.Last Tuesday, 29 August, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a manifesto they titled the Nashville Statement. Likely they balked at calling it the Nashville Creed, ’cause even though the creeds predate Catholicism, there’s still a sizable number of anti-Catholic Protestants that figure everything which took place before 1510 is “Catholic” and therefore wrong. But I digress.In short, the statement is a declaration against homosexuality and transsexuality. Supposedly it presents the “biblical” view on these subjects, although if you read it y’might notice it neither quotes, nor provides references to, the bible. Whatsoever.Nor does it refer to the Holy Spirit. Whatsoever. Supposedly any repentance and transformation is gonna be achieved by “the grace of God in Christ,” i.e. the force of God’s loving attitude, as opposed to the person of the trinity who empowers change and applies grace. You’ll see in a bit why this significan…

“Tough love”: Anger disguised as love.

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Contrary to popular belief, it’s as unlike love as we can get.Tough love /təf ləv/ n. Promotion of a person’s welfare by enforcing certain constraints on them, or demanding they take responsibility for their actions.2. Restrictions on government benefits, designed to encourage self-help.When I wrote about love, I mentioned there are plenty more things our culture calls “love.” C.S. Lewis listed four, though he was looking at classical antiquity. Your dictionary’s gonna have way more than four; I bunched ’em into eight categories.I also pointed out it’s important for us Christians, whenever we’re talking about love, to stick with Paul and Sosthenes’s definition as closely as possible:1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly. It doesn’t act with uncontrolled emotion.It doesn’t draw attention to how great it is. It doesn’t exaggerate.5 It doesn’t ignore others’ considerations. It doesn’t look out for itself. It doesn’t provoke behavior.It doesn’t plot evil. 6 It …