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Showing posts from November, 2017

The bible: An inspired anthology.

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God got people to write ’em. And God gets people to understand ’em.Inspire /ɪn.spaɪ(.ə)r/ v. Breathe in (air); inhale.2. Fill with a positive, creative feeling; encourage.3. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something; provoke.[Inspiration /ɪn.spə'reɪ.ʃən/ n.]Whenever we Christians talk about inspiration—inspired prophets, teachings, and writings—it’s assumed God did the inspiring. He’s the one who breathed into us. One word we regularly translate “inspired” is theó-pnefstos/“God-breathed,” which is how the NIV prefers to treat “God-inspired” in this verse:2 Timothy 3.16 KWLEvery God-inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.It’s more than just “I was so excited about my thoughts of God, I decided to create this for him.” It’s God involved with, and behind, this creation process. The Holy Spirit, living within the teacher, prophet, or author, pointed ’em God-ward. Got ’em to describe God with infallible ac…

God’s unmerited favor.

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No, seriously: We don’t earn it. We can’t.When the LORD chose Avram ben Terah, renamed him Abraham, Ge 17.5 promised him the land of Kenahan/“Canaan” and had him relocate there, Ge 12.1-3 and promised him an uncountable number of descendants, Ge 13.16 it wasn't because Abraham was a good man.You might’ve known this, but in case you didn’t, go read Genesis again sometime. Most of the Abraham stories involve him screwing up one way or another. Abraham had loads of faith, but that was the product of his God-experiences; it came after God made all his promises. Abraham wasn't a particularly outstanding specimen of humanity.So why'd the LORD establish a relationship with him and his descendants? Grace. Pure grace.When the LORD sent Moses to rescue some of Abraham’s descendants from Egypt, patiently dealt with all these Hebrews’ misbehavior thereafter, and finally got their descendants to Canaan and helped them take the land, it again wasn’t because the Hebrews were good people.…

Patience. Or longsuffering. Either.

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How angry Christians lack it, and how to work on it.Years ago I casually mentioned to someone I was praying for greater patience.He. “Aw, why would you do that to yourself?”Me. “Why, what’s the problem?”He. “You realize how God teaches you patience, right?”Me. “Of course. He’s gonna make me practice.”He. “And life’s gonna suck. You’re gonna wind up in more situations where you gotta be patient. You’ll have to wait for everything.”Me. “So everybody’s been telling me. They’ve been about as encouraging as Satan itself. You sure it didn’t send you? Get thee behind me.”Yeah, don’t tell the dude who’s struggling with patience that his life’s about to suck. He’ll turn on you.But it’s something we Christians need to strive for. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, one of the ways love behaves, and impatient Christians wind up exhibiting works of the flesh like anger, unforgiveness, argumentativeness, and unkindness. Much of the reason Christians get a bad reputation with pagans is because of ho…

“…But what if that message is from the devil?”

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On psyching ourselves out of sharing.In my early days of learning what God’s voice sounds like, from time to time an idea’d pop into my head, and I’d wonder—as one should—whether the idea was mine, God’s… or Satan’s.I kinda blame my Fundamentalist upbringing. Y’see, there were a number of people in that church who insisted God doesn’t talk to people anymore, and anybody who claimed to hear from God was really hearing Satan. The effect is it makes a lot of Christians really wary of prophets. And, because the Holy Spirit actually does speak, really wary of listening to God for themselves.So I’d be at a bus stop, and the idea’d pop into my head, “Go tell that person ‘God bless you.’ ”And my knee-jerk reaction would be, “Is that God’s voice, mine, or Satan’s? After all, what if that person’s really anti-God right now, and my ‘God bless you’ prompts some sort of angry tirade? What if that person’s a cult member who sees this as an opportunity to try to convert me? What if…? What if…?” and …

Changing God’s mind.

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And those who say God never changes his mind.If you know your bible—heck, if you’ve seen The Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston—you know the Hebrews had a major lapse when they were at Sinai. The previous month, the LORD handed down his 10 commandments, then Moses went up the mountain to get more instructions, and while he was gone the people decided they wanted an idol. Whether this idol was meant to represent the LORD or some other god, we don’t know. What we do know is the idol violated the very command the LORD handed down last month. Ex 20.4-6Understandably, the LORD was pissed.Exodus 32.9-14 KWL9 The LORD told Moses, “I see this people. Look, the people are stiff-necked.10Now leave me: My rage is hot towards them. I’ll end them. I’ll make you a great nation.”11 Moses begged his LORD God’s face, saying, “Why this hot anger towards your people, LORD?You brought them of Egypt’s land with great strength and a steady hand.12 What will the Egyptians say?‘He brought them out …

Some people don’t wanna argue. And they’re right not to.

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Apologetics isn’t about picking fights. Don’t use it that way.An acquaintance of mine just started an “apologetics ministry.” Currently it consists of his blog, his Twitter account, and a whole bunch of his spare time. You know, exactly like TXAB, except I don’t do apologetics.Except dude went out and created a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Got board members. Accepts donations. He’s seriously hoping to turn it into a full-time job. He got really irritated with me for calling it “getting paid to argue with strangers on the internet in his pajamas.”But that is what he’s up to. He’s doing it “for Jesus,” but still. He considers it a vital, necessary ministry—that there simply aren’t enough Christians out there, arguing with strangers on the internet, whether in their jammies or not. I’d beg to differ, but he claims they’re not good apologists—not as informed as he is.If you’re picking up the idea I’m not as jazzed as he is about his burgeoning “ministry,” you’d be so right. Yet he’s ha…

Graceless advice.

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Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. And include your name… but I likely won’t.I don’t really have to remind people that TXAB has an email link. I get questions on a fairly regular basis about all sorts of stuff. Usually asking my opinion about various Christian practices and movements, which I often wind up turning into TXAB articles on the subject.And sometimes people ask for personal advice, which I’m much less likely to turn into TXAB articles. ’Cause they’re dealing with particular specific things. If I just posted these emails for the whole of the internet to read, it feels like a huge invasion of privacy. Even if I heavily censored them. The rare times I’ve done it, I tend to rewrite them entirely, which is why they kinda sound like me.Not that this stops the various advice ladies from doing this on a daily or weekly basis. But then again, the people who send them questions know precisely what they’re getting into. If you send “Dear …

“Prophecy scholars”: Neither prophets nor scholars.

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I’m Pentecostal. So whenever I see an notice or ad for an upcoming “prophecy conference,” they tend to refer to prophets. Actual prophets. Meaning people who’ve learned to listen to the Holy Spirit—and thereafter share with others what he’s told them. True, some of ’em practice some really iffy methods of identifying his voice. But when Penecostals, charismatics, and most continuationists refer to prophecy, we literally mean the same thing we see done in the bible by Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Simon Peter, and Paul of Tarsus. They heard God; they shared what they figured he told ’em; that’s prophecy.Outside Pentecostal circles—though not far outside Pentecostal circles, ’cause from time to time it gets in here—is a whole other type of “prophecy conference.” There, they aren’t at all talking about hearing God. They mean predictions about the End Times. They’re throwing a conference ’cause they wanna tell you what they think the apocalypses mean.Um… didn’t God deliberately make tho…

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

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DOCTRINES OF GRACE'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪsnoun. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny.A number of Calvinists aren’t all that comfortable with the title “Calvinist.”For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer, and claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who was comfortable with determinism.) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was.Others concede not everything John Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character. But obvious…

The legion of evil spirits.

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Jesus meets a man filled with thousands of demons.Mark 5.1-10 • Matthew 8.28-29 • Luke 8.26-31Let’s begin with ancient northern Israel’s geography. First there’s Kinneret, the lake.
The Galilean sea.On its northeast was the province of the Galilee, named for the word galýl/“circle,” referring to its circle of towns. Jesus lived there. On its west was the Dekápolis/“10 cities,” a region of Syrian Greek city-provinces created by the Romans after they conquered Syria in 65BC. Jesus visited this territory often, and it’s where today’s story takes place.In Old Testament days the Dekápolis belonged to the Hebrews. Today part of it is called the Golan Heights. In Jesus’s day, even though it was full of Greek-speaking Syrians, it was still considered part of Israel, and still part of the territory Antipas Herod supervised. But it was full of gentile, Greek-enculturated pagans. They weren’t even Hebrew like the Palestinians are.By Greek-enculturated I mean they lived like Greeks. Alexander of M…

Jesus stops the weather.

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Mark 4.35-41, Matthew 8.18, 23-27, Luke 8.22-25.Right before this story, Jesus had a really long day. He’d been teaching the crowds, likely healing the sick, and he needed some sack time. So he got the idea to cross the Galilee’s lake.Mark 4.35-36 KWL35Jesus told them when that day became evening, “Can we cross to the far side?”36 Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus as-is into the boat. Other boats came with him.Matthew 8.18 KWLJesus, seeing a crowd round him, ordered his students to go to the far side of the lake.Luke 8.22 KWLThis happened one day: Jesus entered a boat with his studentsand told them, “Can we cross to the far side of the lake?”Matthew 8.23 KWLEntering the boat, Jesus’s students followed him.Luke called this particular body of water a λίμνης/límnis, “lake,” although the New Testament frequently refer to it as a θάλασσα/thálassa, “sea.” Homer used it to refer to the Mediterranean, but ancient Greeks really just meant any large body of water. Properly, our English word “s…

“Be still and know that I am God.”

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It’s not about being quiet. Psalm 46.10Most people shorten this verse to simply, “Be still and know that I am God.” But sometimes they actually do know the entire verse:Psalm 46.10 KJVBe still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.When people do remember the rest of this verse, they tend to recall (and prefer) a translation without that bothersome word “heathen” in it. The word goyím properly means “foreigners,” which we also translate “foreigners” or “nations”—the Amplified Bible, ESV, NASB, and NIV went with “I will be exalted among the nations,” which works better for them. Be still, know God is God, and if everybody can just chill out and meditate for a bit, God can be exalted by all the nations, round the world.Yeah, this tends to be considered a meditation verse. I’ve been in prayer groups where Christians have talked about meditation, and they misquote Psalm 46.10 all the time. “Remember, we’re just trying to be still and k…

Tongues trigger emotion. Don’t let that misdirect you.

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It’s an emotional experience to pray with God’s power. But we’re called to more than that.1 Corinthians 14.20-21.Praying in tongues is an emotional thing.Y’see, when we pray tongues, it’s usually because we aren’t sure what to say to God. We’re too overwrought to say anything. Or there are so many thoughts in our head, and we can’t sort out what to prioritize. Or we don’t even know what’s going on, so we can’t articulate anything, but we know we oughta pray. Or we have prayed, but it wasn’t enough. For these and many other reasons, the Holy Spirit has granted us the ability to let him say it for us. Ro 8.26 But y’notice in all the circumstances I listed (and the dozens I haven’t), emotion’s a big part of it.Here’s the catch. It’s also possible to pray tongues when we don’t know what to pray—but initially, feel nothing. That’s right. We haven’t resorted to tongues because we wanna pray; we’ve resorted to tongues because we wanna feel. We’re seeking the emotion which comes along with pr…

Bibliolatry: When Christians straight-up worship the bible.

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When reverence for God’s word crosses a line.Christianity is based on the person and work of Christ Jesus.I hope you knew this already. Most of us do. But you’re gonna find a strain of Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, who consider Christianity to be based on the bible. As a result they’ve exalted the bible to a really high position in their belief system. Nearly as high as God. Sometimes even higher, and we call that bibliolatry. They call it all sorts of other things—a “high view of scripture,” or love and respect for God’s holy word, or Christian apologetics in which they argue for the bible’s centrality and preeminence. But Jesus is meant to be center and preeminent, and if you put anything else there, it’s idolatry. Even when it’s the bible.In my experience, bible-worship tends to happen most often among cessationists. No, they’re hardly the only ones who do it. But once you insist God turned off the miracles, and won’t talk to us anymore, what’re you left with? Well, your …