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Showing posts from January, 2018

Our holiness and God’s holiness.

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Your average person thinks holy is a synonym for awesome : Something’s holy because it’s significantly great, worthy of honor, pure, perfect, or good. They figure God’s holy because he’s so… well, clean . Whereas we humans get awfully dirty. Nope, it’s not what holy means. The Hebrew word qodéš /“holy” means separate —set apart from anything else. The Greek word ágios /“holy” means set apart, specifically for the gods—which the translators of the Septuagint used instead of the similar Greek word agnós , which does mean clean and perfect. It’s this misunderstanding which produces a lot of the vengeful-God ideas about holiness. Because we’ve confused holiness with perfection, God’s holiness (and the constant emphasis the scriptures put on his holiness) leads a lot of us to think God’s really fixated on moral perfection . To them, “God is holy” means “God is good,” and because God is “holy holy holy” Is 6.3, Rv 4.8 —super-duper holy, as the angels describe him—they conclude Go

Fake goodness. (Yes, it can be faked.)

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It’s been long taught the opposite of goodness is badness, or evil. That’s not precisely true. The proper opposite of goodness is non-goodness. Which can take the forms of active evil, apathy (i.e. standing around doing nothing when we could be doing good—or stopping evil), or hypocrisy (i.e. pretending to be good when we’re not really). We humans don’t like to think of ourselves as evil. Even when we totally are: We seek out ways to justify our misbehavior. Good excuses, like “It wasn’t my responsibility,” or as Cain ben Adam put it, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Ge 4.9 KJV Semantic justifications, like “It’s not technically doing evil, and here’s why,” like you’ll find in theodicy whenever determinists try to explain how their view of God doesn’t really make him culpable for all the evil in the cosmos. Our self-preservation instinct means we’ll do our darnedest to defend ourselves… or get high so we don’t ever have to think about it. The usual route I find Christians take

Be good. It’s what God expects of his kids.

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Ephesians 2.4-10 KWL 4 God, being rich in mercy, loves us out of his great love. 5 Us , being dead in our missteps. He makes us all alive in Christ: You’re saved by his grace. 6 He raises us and seats us together in the highest heavens, in Christ Jesus— 7 so he can show the overabundant riches of his grace in the coming ages, in kindness to those of us who are in Christ Jesus. 8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith. This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it . 10 We’re his poetry, creations in Christ Jesus, for doing the good works which God pre-prepared. We should walk in them! Too often Christians get the idea that once God saved us—once we said the sinner’s prayer, and gained free admission to God’s kingdom—there’s not a whole lot left for us Christians to do. We don’t have to earn heaven; we don’t have to do anything . We can just kick back, bask in the knowledge of our election, and wait for the sweet re

Sharing Jesus and sucky Christians.

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If we make lousy representatives of Jesus, we’re often extra hesitant to share him with others. There’s a popular saying among Christians, attributed to Ragamuffin Gospel author Brennan Manning: The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. It’s popular among wannabe-devout Christians, ’cause it lets us point the finger at irreligious Christians and say, “See, it’s their fault.” (And so much for grace. ) But is it true? Has anybody bothered to poll nontheists and ask ’em, “Is that why you struggle to believe in God? Because of Christians who won’t act like Christ?” Have we sought to find out if there’s anything to it? Or is it too comfortable and appealing a “truth” to question? I mean yeah, irreligious Christians need to shape up and stop treating God’s grace so cheaply. Duh. But I’m loath to p

Doubt’s okay. Unbelief’s the problem.

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Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. Unbelief is. I’ve been told more than once, “In the scriptures, Jesus came down awfully hard against doubt. How then can you claim doubt is our friend? ” ’Cause Jesus’s objection wasn’t actually to doubt. It was to unbelief. Contrary to popular opinion—and way too many bible translations—doubt isn’t the opposite of belief. Unbelief is. Doubt’s not the same as unbelief. Doubt means we’re not sure we believe. Unbelief means we’re totally sure—and we don’t believe at all. Doubt’s what happens when we sorta kinda do believe. But we’re not entirely sure. So we suspend judgment till we get more evidence. And often that’s precisely the right thing to do. Y’realize Christians constantly get scammed by false teachers, fake prophets, and con artists who tell ’em, “Stop doubting me and just believe!” In so doing they’re trying to keep us from practicing discernment, because if we did use our heads we’d realize what they were up to. They don’t want u

Deacons: Those who serve the church.

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As described in the scriptures, the church’s workers—whether we give ’em the title or not. DEACON /'di.kən/ n. Minister. Might be the leader of a particular ministry, but not the leader of a church: Deacons are nearly always subordinate to the pastor or priest. [Diaconal /di'ak.(ə.)nəl/ adj., less properly deaconal /di'kən.əl/ adj. ] The word diákonos /“deacon” originally meant “runner,” like someone who runs errands. You know, someone we’d nowadays call a gofer—as in “go fer coffee,” or run any other errands. Deacon first shows up in the bible when Jesus said if we wanna become great, we need to be everyone’s servant. Mk 10.43 Or when he said if anyone serves him, the Father values them. Jn 12.26 Deacon is used to describe the folks appointed to run the early church’s food ministry. Ac 6.1-6 The Twelve didn’t give them any more responsibility than that. But they picked mature Christians, and as a result people recognized these servants as leaders in their

Undoing God’s grace?

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Before I started the bible-in-the-month thingy this month, I was reading a certain book (really, more of an extended rant) about holiness. Written by a guy I know; I won’t say who ’cause I’m gonna criticize him a little. We’ll call him Achard. Achard spent a chapter ranting about fake grace. Which he didn’t really bother to define… but from what I deduced, he basically means cheap grace. To recap: Cheap grace is when we take God’s amazing grace for granted: It’s meant to be our safety net for when we screw up and need forgiveness, but we treat it like a bounce house where we can spend hours in mindless fun, sinning away till we’re dizzy and kinda pukey. ’Cause grace! Now yeah, when we find the cheap-grace attitude among Christians, it’s deplorable. God’s grace may be granted to us freely, but it cost Jesus his life. Treating it with anything other than the deepest gratitude is bad enough. Ignoring how God feels about sin, because we can go on sinning and he’ll just keep gr

What does your church believe?—your REAL church.

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Some Christians do better in a church with more structure. Recently a pastor friend of mine posted on social media, “One of the core values at our church is…” something. I don’t remember specifically what. Some virtuous practice. All I remember is immediately thinking, “No it isn’t.” Because it isn’t . Oh, I’ve no doubt it’s one of his core values. A virtue he no doubt wants his church to have. Probably preaches it in his sermons, includes it in his vision statements, sticks it on the church website. Likely practices it in his personal life. But as I keep reminding Christians, the leadership of a church is not the church. The people are. Your pastor’s core values are not your church’s core values. Your leadership team’s convictions are not your church’s convictions. Your statement of faith and official doctrines are not your church’s theology. Because the church is people. And your people believe all sorts of things. And if your people aren’t solid, growing Christians, y

Evil spirits.

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Some of our beliefs about them are downright bizarre. It’s odd: Lots of people, Christians included, believe in spirits. God’s a spirit, obviously. Jn 4.24 Angels are spirits. He 1.14 Dead loved ones exist as spirits in the afterlife —or heaven, as many people imagine. Yet these very same people frequently refuse to believe in evil spirits. I used to say this mindset comes from Platonism. Though really, Plato of Athens wasn’t the first guy to assume if we could escape this world of matter and decay, and just become pure spirit, all our self-centered impulses, greed, materialism, lusts, and so forth would cease to exist, and we’d be nothing but good. The ancient Greeks believed this, but the present-day folks who believe the same thing, don’t necessarily believe it for the same reasons. They believe all spirits are good… because it simply never occurred to them spirits might be bad. Yeah, even though mythology, fairy tales, and horror movies are full of evil spirits. Monster