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Showing posts from October, 2017

God reveals himself through prayer.

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Why does God listen to our prayers? For the same reason he reveals himself to us. Prayer is of course talking with God. We talk to him and he talks back. It’s not a complicated idea, though we might, and do, complicate it. Prayer is therefore the most common, most usual way God communicates with his people. Yeah, we can… Experience a personal appearance by Jesus. Hear prophets share what he told them. Read about his will in the bible. See, or be empowered to perform, miracles. Have warm fuzzy feelings in church and assume that’s a God-encounter. Have warm fuzzy feelings about nature and try to deduce what he’s like from that. Christians list all these things as forms of revelation, though I would object to the last two. But nearly all of us pray, and nearly all of us hear God when we pray, so that’s how nearly all of us get revelation. Now yes, there are those Christians who insist they don’t hear anything. To their minds, prayer is unidirectional : We talk, God h

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

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When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, one of the most common platitudes we hear thereafter is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” In the past several years the expression has seen a bit of backlash. Mainly because the people who say it have turned it into an empty, hypocritical saying. By their actions, they demonstrate they’re not really thinking of the disaster victims. And either they’re also not praying, or they’re praying in some manner that doesn’t change ’em whatsoever—contrary to how we all know prayer is supposed to work. To be fair, some of the backlash comes from nontheists who are pretty sure prayer is bunk: Nobody’s listening, so we Christians are only talking to the sky; nobody’s interacting with us, so we Christians aren’t gonna change. Prayers are therefore just as useless as when some pagans attempt to send positive thoughts, vibes, and energy towards the needy: All they actually do is psyche themselves into feeling really happy thing

“Train up a child…”

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It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted. Proverbs 22.6 This particular proverb, best known in the King James version— Proverbs 22.6 KJV Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. —has brought a lot of comfort to a lot of Christians whose kids don’t appear to be going anywhere close to the way they should go. After high school, a lot of the kids from my church youth group didn’t stay in church. Some of us did, and some of us went away to school… and the rest decided since they were adults now, they could choose to go to church or not. So they chose not. To the great consternation of their parents, who thought they raised their kids better than that. They really didn’t. In despair, the parents turned to this proverb. The way they chose to interpret it: Yeah, the kids had quit Jesus, but the parents had trained ’em up in the way they should go. They’d raised ’em Christian. Took ’em to church. Made ’e

Faith is not blind optimism.

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Hoping for the best needs something substantial to hope in. As I wrote in my first piece on faith, it’s not the magical power to believe in goofy rubbish. Like believing in Santa Claus, fairies, unicorns, and non-western medicine. Related to that, and actually a big part of what people assume faith to be, is the power to believe everything’s gonna be all right. Everything’s gonna work out. Times may be tough right now, but we’ll persevere, we’ll be successful, we’ll be vindicated, we’ll come out on top. Life will be good. Love will conquer all. How do we know any of this stuff? Why, we have “faith.” No, you have blind optimism. It’s not faith. No, I’m not knocking optimism. We Christians are called to be optimistic. To reject nihilism because even though our world is in fact meaningless, it’s being overthrown by God’s kingdom. To reject cynicism because even though humans are totally self-centered, some of us are actually seeking God’s kingdom. To reject pessimism becau

Potential, fixable followers.

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These aren’t people who didn’t make the cut. They, like all of us, need work. Matthew 8.18-22 • Luke 9.57-62 In Mark and Luke , after Jesus taught his parables he crossed the lake, and had to stop the weather. In Matthew , Jesus made these comments just before boarding the boat. Whereas in Luke , Jesus made ’em enroute to Jerusalem to die. If you’re the sort who goes absolutely nuts because gospel passages won’t sync up as perfectly as you’d like, tough: The gospels’ authors had entirely different priorities than you do. They weren’t trying to follow a timeline; they were trying to bunch themes together. It’s entirely likely none of these sayings took place at the same time; if only life could be so neat. More likely they were three different guys on three different occasions. All of them prospective followers, and all of them not entirely ready for God’s kingdom. All of ’em object lessons in case we’re not ready: Get ready! Matthew only brings up two of them, but don’t f

Throwing out “treasures” new and old.

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Because the Spirit’s correcting us—assuming we let him. Mark 4.33-34, Matthew 13.34-35, 13.51-53 After Jesus taught a string of parables in Mark 4, Matthew 13, and Luke 8, Matthew had him wrap it up with one final parable: Matthew 13.51-53 KWL 51 “ Did you understand all this?” They told Jesus , “Yes.” 52 Jesus told them, “This is why every scribe who’s studied heaven’s kingdom is like a person— a householder who throws out new and old things from his treasury.” 53 Once Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there. I realize most translations prefer to describe the householder as “bringeth forth out of his treasure,” Mt 13.52 KJV as if he’s showing off his riches, like King Hezekiah ben Elah. 2Ki 20.12-19 (Which, if you know that story, should give you an idea of where I’m headed with this.) On this basis they wanna claim this is a teacher to whom Jesus has granted lots of wisdom, both new and old. But Jesus didn’t describe him as bringing out

Prayer walks.

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’Cause walking and praying is super easy. Well, for most of us. One of the few activities we can do, yet pray at the same time, is walk. For this reason certain Christians take prayer walks. More than just pacing back in forth in our rooms while we pray, we take some time out of our day to just go for a walk. Not to any specific destination; we’re gonna loop around and come back home. Not for exercise, although we might do that too. (Turn it into kind of a prayer jog.) Walking’s not the purpose. Prayer is. Although sometimes we Christians turn the prayer-walk route into something significant. Fr’instance at the beginning of every year, Christians in my town wanna pray for the town. So they take a prayer walk which is specifically mapped so they’ll reach certain important places. Like city hall, the town square, the civic center, certain parks and schools and fire departments, maybe the run-down or more criminal parts of town, maybe certain businesses Christians do and don’t appro

Women and covering up. Or, frequently, not.

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On covering one’s hair, and why many Christians don’t bother. 1 Corinthians 11.3-16 I was asked to say a little something about this controversial passage, so what the heck. I’ve gone to Protestant churches all my life. Visited Catholic and Orthodox churches too. In most of the churches I’ve visited, American Christians utterly ignore this passage. Our women don’t cover their heads. Now yeah, there are parts of the bible which the bulk of Christians figure no longer apply to us. Like the curses upon humanity, Ge 3.16-19 which we figure Jesus undid. Or the commands about ritual cleanliness and sacrifice, which we figure Jesus rendered redundant. Or all the commands in the Law, which we figure Jesus nullified —which is absolutely not what he said. Mt 5.17 In general, Christians tend to assume Old Testament commands ( except maybe 10 ) are out, and New Testament instructions are in. Yet this is totally New Testament. Comes right before the apostles’ instructions on how to

Satan’s fall.

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Satan used to have access to heaven. Now it doesn’t. Revelation 12 One of the popular myths about the devil is it used to an angel. Not just that it fakes being one. 2Co 11.14 Christians will teach it straight-up was one. Even more: It was Lucifer, the greatest angel ever. The best and brightest and mightiest angel in the heavens. Head of the heavenly choir. Ruled over earth as God’s number two. The Holy Spirit’s vice-president, more or less. Anybody else think someone’s been padding its résumé a little? Pause a moment, go some basic digging through the bible, and you’re gonna find out it says nowhere that Satan used to be an angel. It may have angels, working for it. At one time it came and went before God, just like God’s mightier angels. But Satan’s species is never once identified. Given Satan’s reputation as a liar, Jn 8.44 I’m mighty suspicious about any stories about its origin which attempt to make it look like it used to be kind of a big deal. Or still is.

Pantheism: God is everything, and everything is God.

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On those who believe God is the universe. Pantheist /'pæn.θi.ɪst/ adj. Identifies God as the universe, or recognizes the universe as a manifestation of God. 2. Identifies all gods as forms, manifestations, avatars, or persons of the One God. [Pantheism /'pæn.θi.ɪz.əm/ n. ] Popular culture believes Hinduism to consist of the worship of thousands of gods. That’s not quite accurate. Hindus themselves tell me that they tend to worship maybe one or two gods themselves… but the “thousands of gods,” as westerners call ’em, are really just different faces of the One God. So they’re monotheist? Still not quite accurate. It’s not that there’s one God with thousands of faces. It’s that God consists of every face. Everything is God. God is the universe. Whenever you meet a pagan who talks about “the universe,” and speaks of the universe as if it has an intelligence—“The universe wants me to do such-and-so,” or “The universe is sending me a message”—that’s the mindset we’re

Apocrypha: The “extra books” your bible may lack.

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APOCRYPHON ə'pɑk.rə.fɔn noun ( plural apocrypha ə'pɑk.rə.fə ). Writing or book not considered part of the accepted canon of scripture. 2. Story of doubtful authenticity. 3. Story that’s obscure or little-known. [Apocryphal əˈpɑkrəfəl adjective. ] One of my favorite stunts with new Christians used to be, “Turn in your bibles to the book of Wisdom , chapter 4.” Well, they’d try. They’d flip around their bibles, then give up and look at the table of contents… then realize the book wasn’t in there. “Well it’s in my bible,” I’d tell ’em, and hold it up to show them, confusing them all the more. ’Cause my bible included apocrypha. “Oh, you mean a Catholic bible,” you might be thinking. Nope; it’s a Protestant bible. Some Protestant bibles have apocrypha. I own two others. I can’t pull this stunt anymore, ’cause nowadays people look up the bible on their phones or bible apps. Hence they can sometimes find Wisdom in there. Spoils my little joke. Oh well. Bu

Te Deum.

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One of Christendom’s better-known rote prayers. Te Deum /teɪ 'deɪ.əm/ is a rote prayer. Really it’s a hymn which dates back to the late 300s. It’s named for its first words, Te Deum laudamus /“To God we praise.” Traditions say it was written by St. Ambrose when he baptized St. Augustine. Or St. Hiliary or St. Nicetas of Remesiana wrote it. Meh; who cares how we got it. It’s been a popular prayer for the past 17 centuries, and has been set to music many times in many ways. The Presbyterian Church’s Book of Common Worship translates it like so. We praise you, O God, we acclaim you as Lord, all creation worships you, Father everlasting. To you, all angels, all the powers of heaven, the cherubim and seraphim, sing in endless praise: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. The glorious company of apostles praise you. The noble fellowship of prophets praise you. The white-robed army of martyrs praise you. Throughout the

Guns, and why we Americans don’t control them.

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I have friends outside the United States who look at our rampant gun violence, who notice how our mass shootings happen on a daily basis, and who wonder why on earth we do nothing about it. Two reasons. The first is Americans consider gun ownership a right. Not an option, not a privilege, a right . We even put it into our Constitution. Y’see, in the 1760s and ’70s, the British occupying forces tried to take Americans’ guns away lest we start a revolution. (A well-founded concern, but anyway.) Once we Americans got our independence, we became fearful lest the Brits, or any other government, try to take us over, or go too far to curtail our liberties. So we made gun ownership the fourth article of the Bill of Rights, which became our Constitution’s second amendment. A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Guns aren’t an obvious and inherent right. This is why the Congres

The gender-inclusive bible.

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Because the scriptures weren’t only written to men. Psalm 8.4 KJV What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psalm 8.4 NLT … what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? If you grew up with a King James Version, as I did, you’ll notice lots of verses refer to “man,” “men,” “sons,” “fathers,” “husbands.” They address men. Talk about what men do and what men oughta do. Refer to the promises God made to men—curses upon evildoing men, blessings upon God-fearing men. Men men men. With some exceptions (and I’ll get to them in a bit) most of us Christians are agreed these verses don’t only refer to men. They refer to anyone who follows or seeks God; anyone whom he interacts with. Or not. Unless a verse refers to specific men, like Abraham or Moses or David or Simon Peter, or unless a verse refers to the specific male-only duties of husbands and fathers, it should rightly be in

“I stand at the door and knock.”

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It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted. Revelation 3.20 Revelation 3.20 KJV Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. This’d be Jesus speaking. When I was a little kid, I was told Jesus lives in my heart. I didn’t then understand the difference between one’s physical heart, the blood-pumping muscle/organ in one’s chest; and the spiritual heart, the center of one’s soul. That “Jesus lives in my heart” means Jesus takes priority over all. Arguably the spiritual heart is a metaphor, and Jesus living in it is definitely a metaphor. You wanna talk persons of the trinity who live in you, look to the Holy Spirit. But you know how literal-minded a kid can be. Tell ’em “Jesus lives in your heart,” and they’ll wonder whether there’s a little tiny Jesus, physically inside their chests. And of course that’s not what they meant. Or at least I surely ho

Sadducees: The secular power of religion.

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SADDUCEE 'sæd.ʒə.si noun. An ancient denomination of the Hebrew religion which upheld the written Law alone, and denied the supernatural and the afterlife. [Sadducean .sæd.ʒə'si.ən adjective. ] Protestants seldom know this history, so let me fill you in. John bar Simon was the head priest and king of Judea from 134 BC to 104 BC . He was a member of the Hasmonean family; his dad was Simon Maccabee, one of the Maccabees who freed Judea from the Syrian Greeks (the “Seleucid Empire”) in 167 BC . His dad had become the first head priest after the temple was restored, and since he was functionally the head of state, he was also recognized as Judea’s king. The Hasmoneans ruled Judea till the Romans deposed them in 41 BC and gave the throne to Herod bar Antipater . John’s also known as John Hyrcanus. He got his nickname Hurqanós /“from Hyrkania” after defeating the Syrian general Cendebeus, and since it’s probably an inside joke which was never recorded, we don’t know

These godless kids these days.

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Little bit of griping about the younger generation… and now it’s in the bible. Psalm 14 Amár navál be lib ó /“The fool said at heart” (Latin Dixit insipiens ) is by David, and we number it at 14. Commentators figure it’s a lament: David, or Wisdom (i.e. the Holy Spirit) mourns the fact kids these days don’t follow God anymore. Not like “our righteous group,” Ps 14.5 the dor /“age group” ( KJV “generation”) David’s in, which he deems more devout than the younger set. Back in his day people followed God, took his side, knew where their help came from, and expected God to rescue ’em yet again. In comparison, this generation is hopeless, nihilistic, cynical, faithless, and godless. Basically, the same lament every generation has about the next one. Well, with one exception: The people from this generation, who gang up with the previous generation about their peers and successors. That’s a phenomena I’ve seen quite often lately. My parents are “baby boomers,” I’m in what marke

Relevance, and blogging on current events.

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Why Christ Almighty! doesn’t dogpile on current events. Earlier this year something happened in the Christian blogosphere. I won’t say what; you’ll see why in a moment. I’ll simply say I have a few readers who were looking forward to me writing one of these Rants about it, but instead I didn’t write any Rants for three weeks. (Had other things I wanted to cover.) When I finally returned to Ranting, the issue had passed, the Christian blogosphere had moved on, and for the most part so had they. Well, until recently. At church yesterday— She. “I remember when [that issue] happened. I waited to see what you were gonna write about it.” Me. “I wrote nothing.” She. “You have no opinion?” Me. “I have an opinion, but it didn’t provoke me enough to write a whole blog post about it. I don’t think I even Tweeted about it.” She. “You gotta feel it before you post it.” Me. “I don’t gotta feel anything. It’s not about whether it makes me happy or mad. It’s about whether it draws