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Showing posts from December, 2017

The wicked, deceitful human heart.

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No, I don’t mean the blood-pumping organ in your chest. HEART /hɑrt/ n. Hollow muscular organ which pumps blood through the circulatory system.2. [in popular culture] Center of a person’s thoughts and emotions; one’s mood, feeling, enthusiasm, mood, or courage.3. [in popular Christian culture] Center of a person’s lifeforce; one’s innermost being; the true self, particularly one’s true thoughts and feelings.4. A conventional heart shape, as found on a deck of cards.[Hearted /'hɑrt.ɛd/ adj.]Jeremiah 17.9-10 KWL9“The heart is more twisted than everything.It’s human. Who knows it?10I, the LORD, examine the heart and test the kidneys,to give men according to their ways, the fruit of their deeds.”The ancients didn’t know much about anatomy. So all the stuff we recognize are part of brain activity, the ancients believed were the function of other parts of the body. The heart, they imagined, did our thinking. The kidneys did the feeling.Seriously. And why not? When we get excited, our he…

The Apostles Creed.

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Orthodox Christianity, in a smaller nutshell.My translation from the Latin—and as far as I can tell, the Latin’s the original.I believe in God,the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth.And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our master.He was conceived by the Holy Spirit; born from the virgin Mary.He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the afterlife.The third day, he was resurrected from the dead.He ascended to heaven; he sits at the almighty Father’s right hand.From there he will come; he is judging the living and the dead.I believe in the Holy Spirit,the holy catholic church, communion of saints, forgiveness of sins,bodily resurrection, and eternal life. Amen.Whenever I bring up the Apostles Creed to Christians, I tend to get one of two reactions: Positive and negative.I tend to get the positive response from Christians who grew up in formal, liturgical churches. Most of ’em can recite the creed right along with me… though the versi…

Set your hearts for Jesus’s return.

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Before Jesus returns, there’s a whole lot of lawbreaking.Different scholars have different ways they wanna interpret the Greek word parusía/“[second] coming.” Most of the time “appearance” or “coming” or “return.” When used to describe what Jesus is up to, it has more of a sense of “arrival,” or even “invasion.” Certain gutless commentators leave it untranslated, and just refer to Jesus’s parousia, as if it’s too difficult a concept to convert into English. Rubbish: The popular idea of “second coming” works just fine to describe it, 1Th 3.13 so that’s how I translate it.Today I wanna point to Jesus’s brother James, and how he referred to it:James 5.7-8 KWL7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:The Master’s second coming has come near.So. Ever since Jesus’s rapture, Christians have expected h…

Apostasy before the second coming.

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Before Jesus returns, there’s a whole lot of lawbreaking.Before Jesus returns, bad stuff was predicted to happen. Both by Jesus, who described some of the events 40 years hence when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem; and here by Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they reminded the people of Thessaloniki that there’d first be a time of apostasy.2 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL1 We should ask you, fellow Christians, about the second coming of our Master, Christ Jesus,and how we’ll be gathered together with him.2It’s so your minds won’t be shaken up, nor go into a panic,whenever some spirit, message, or letter (like those from us) claims the Lord’s Day has come.3 Don’t let anyone trick you in any way: Nothing happens till the apostasy comes first,till the lawbreaking person, the child of destruction, is revealed—4 the antagonist, the one exalting himself over everything called “god” and “worshipful,”so much so he sits in God’s temple and claims he’s a god himself.5 Don’t you remember the things I told…

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

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Because even in the first century, people grew tired of waiting.2 Peter 3.1-9I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,commands of our Master and Savior.3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to m…

“Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”

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Of course we have some iffy ideas about what “waiting on the Lord” entails.Isaiah 40.31Whenever I visit fellow Christians at their homes, a large number of ’em have a painting or sculpture of an eagle somewhere. Often it’s an American bald eagle, meant to express their patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores before it went bankrupt and shut down. Patriotic or not, if it was produced by Christians, it’s gonna be captioned with the following Isaiah verse:Isaiah 40.31 KJVBut they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.The sentiment which really appeals to Christians, whether it’s blended with patriotism or not, is the idea the LORD, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even though the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 God can indefinitely renew our strength. Is 40.31Well, if we trust in the…

The prayer of Nehemiah.

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And the need to seek God’s will in our prayer requests.Back in the ’00s, the prayer of Jabez got a bit of attention with a popular book. Which was quickly followed up by other writers, covetous of The Prayer of Jabez’s success, whose books probably didn’t sell as well for that reason: Books on the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer and other tricks to successful prayer.The only real trick is remembering God can’t be reduced to formulas, and that he has every right to say no. These books don’t necessarily teach this fact. Instead, the idea is if we pray like Jabez, God’ll expand our territory. Pray the Jesus Prayer and receive peace. Pray the St. Christopher prayer and kids get protection; pray the St. Jude prayer and get a yes to your hopeless cause; pray the rosary and get special protection; do X and now God owes us Y.Doesn’t work like that. And to help that idea sink in a little, I remind you of the Prayer of Nehemiah, offered by Nekhémya bar Khakálya right after he heard what a me…

Why skipping church messes us up.

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Treating it as an optional practice blinds us to the fact we’re going heretic.Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian.In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do ’em. They figure they believe in Jesus, and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right?So by this metric, they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary—’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s…

When is Jesus returning?

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He doesn’t say. Not that this stops us from guessing.Jesus is returning. But when?That’s the question every Christian asks, whether it’s in the front of the back of our minds. When’s Jesus coming back? Sooner rather than later, we hope—though considering the past 20 centuries, he’s taking an awfully long time to get round to it.What did Jesus himself have to say about it? Well, this. You’re not gonna like it.Mark 13.32-37 KWL32Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.Neither the heavenly angels, nor the Son. Just the Father.33Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.34It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.35So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.37What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”In short: “I dunno. And even if I knew, I’m not telling. You just ne…

Liturgy: A formula for worship.

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Some Christians do better in a church with more structure.LITURGY /'lɪd.ər.dʒi/ n. Detailed order of service for (Christian) worship.2. [capitalized] The eucharistic service in an Orthodox church.[Liturgical /lə'tər.dʒə.kəl/ adj., liturgist /'lɪd.ər.dʒəst/ n.]Some churches—namely the older ones—are liturgical: They have a very particular order of service, and all the churches do it the same way. Go to nearly any Catholic church anywhere on the planet, and you’ll instantly find it familiar, because all of them use the very same prayer book, the Roman Missal. True, it’s been translated into all the local languages, but whether the service is in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, or Italian, it’ll be the very same order. Same bible readings. Same prayers. Same songs. Same everything. Everywhere.Some Christians are bothered by this level of conformity. They don’t get it: The point isn’t conformity, but unity. All these Christians are worshiping God together, as …

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it.

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It’s gonna be really obvious he’s come back.When Jesus returns, it’s not gonna be a secret second coming. It’s not gonna be an event which only takes place metaphorically, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim; where they believe God’s kingdom began in 1914 but Jesus isn’t coming to earth till the final battle.It’s not gonna be a secret gnostic event, which only the chosen few know about. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, where the Christians vanish and go to be with Jesus, and the rest of the planet has to wait seven years. It’s not secret. It’s nice and visible and obvious. As Jesus himself describes.Matthew 24.23-28 KWL23“Then when anyone might tell you, ‘Look! Here’s Messiah!’ or ‘He’s here!’ don’t believe it:24Fake messiahs and fake prophets will arise, and will give great signs and wonders to deceive you.If possible, to deceive God’s chosen people too.25Look, I’m forewarning you26so when people tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the wilderness!’ you don’t go out;‘Look, he’s in the inner ro…

Humility, and the “cage-stage” Christian.

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When we’re willing to toss fruit aside, and fight for our beliefs. The first principle of theology is humility—knowing who and what you are, and not claiming you’re anything more. Or, as we so often see in false humility, less.That means we’re fully aware we’re wrong, and Jesus is right. The purpose of theology isn’t to believe we’ve “arrived,” and defend our newly-acquired high ground. It’s to correct our beliefs, poor character, and bad attitudes. Because they’re misbegotten and wayward.Wemay be redeemed, but they’re not. Bearing this in mind, with the Holy Spirit’s help and power, the goal is to get those traits to match Jesus’s.The problem? A lot of Christians have utterly skipped that first theology lesson. Or weren’t paying attention, ’cause they were too busy staring at the syllabus. Or promptly forgot all about it, ’cause all their new knowledge puffed ’em up. However it happened.Hence they imagine theology’s first principle is, “I was wrong—but now I’m not. Jesus fixed me.” W…

Jesus describes his second coming.

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The first hint we get that he’s bodily coming to earth more than once.The first hint we have that Jesus is arranging a second coming—that he’s not taking possession of his kingdom during his first coming—appears in the Olivet Discourse, the bit in Mark 13, Matthew 24-25, and Luke 21, where Jesus answered his students’ question about a future disaster he’d just casually referred to. Mk 13.1-2, Mt 24.1-2, Lk 21.5-6In each gospel’s version of the discourse, Jesus brought up the persecution of his followers, a particular time of great suffering which’d take place in Jerusalem, and fake Messiahs and prophets who’d try to lead them astray. But afterwards, this:Mark 13.24-27 KWL24“But in those days after that suffering:‘The sun will be darkened and the moon won’t give its light.’Ek 32.725The stars will be falling from the skies; the heavenly powers will be shaken.26Then people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ Da 7.13 with great power and glory.27Then he’ll send angels, and gath…