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Showing posts from February, 2018

“…But God knows my heart.”

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The way I share Jesus is pretty basic: I talk with people. They ask what I’m doing. My answer is nearly always Christianity-related… ’cause that is what I’m doing. Sometimes they have hangups about religion, in which case I change the subject. But far more often they’ll talk about it. Frequently it turns out they’re Christian.But there are Christians, and there are Christians. Some of ’em are devout. Some of ’em only think they’re Christian. Most often they’re just irreligious: They don’t pray. Don’t go to church. Never read their bibles; wouldn’t know were to begin. (Somehow they found out the bible doesn’t have to be started at the beginning—and ever since, they’ve used this as an excuse for why they never started. Sounds like the options simply stymie them. Maybe we’d better stop telling people they don’t have to start at Genesis, and tell ’em they totally do. But I digress.)One of my shortcuts for finding out how religious they are, or aren’t: I ask where they go to church. And ev…

Jesus gets flogged.

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Beaten for our transgressions.Mark 15.15 • Matthew 27.26 • Luke 23.16 • John 19.1Jesus’s flogging was definitely part of his suffering. But it’s actually not one of the traditional the stations of the cross. I know; you’d think it was, considering how much time Mel Gibson spent on it in The Passion of the Christ, where they beat the hell out of Jesus—as if there was anything of hell in him. But nope; traditionally the stations of the cross began with Jesus getting his cross, ’cause they’re the stations of the cross, not Jesus’s pre-cross sufferings. They’re part of St. John Paul’s list though.And no, there’s no historical evidence that the Romans beat Jesus more than usual. The only details we have about his flogging is that he had a flogging. Takes up only a sentence in all four gospels.Mark 15.15 KWLPilate, wanting the crowd to stop it, released bar-Abba to them.He handed over Jesus, who’d been flogged, so he could be crucified.Matthew 27.26 KWLThen Pilate released bar-Abba to them.…

Christian leadership and age discrimination.

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If your church lacks young people in leadership, it’s gonna lose all its young people. Just you wait.Arguably Timothy of Lystra first met Paul of Tarsus when he was a teenager; old enough to come along with the apostles on their travels, but young enough for Paul to think of him as a son. Pp 2.22 When Timothy became the leader of a church in Ephesus in the 60s of the Christian era, Paul would’ve been in his 50s and Timothy in his 30s—certainly old enough to lead, but certainly not the oldest guy in that church. Quite possibly not even the one who’d been Christian longest, since Paul had evangelized Ephesus years before he ever met up with Timothy.In any case being in your thirties meant it was necessary for Paul to make this comment in his first letter to Timothy:1 Timothy 4.12 KWLNobody gets to look down upon your youth!Instead become the faithful Christians’ example in word, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity.Because people will look down on your youth.I know from experience. When I…

Jesus given a robe and crowned with thorns.

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When the soldiers had their sick “fun” with Jesus.Mark 15.16-20 • Matthew 27.27-31 • Luke 23.11 • John 19.2-3, 5-6People became Roman soldiers for all sorts of reasons. Some because they wanted to become Romans, and serving in their army was a path to citizenship. Some as punishment: It was either military service, or slavery and prison. Some for the adventure, or to get rich, or because they couldn’t imagine any other job options. Some because how else are you gonna get to crucify barbarians?So it’s safe to figure the soldiers under Pontius Pilatus weren’t there to make friends with the Judeans. On the contrary: They likely grew more and more tired of the Judeans all the time. Especially any self-righteous Judeans who figured Romans were inferior because they were gentile, or illiterate, or stole. (Soldiers tended to abuse their power so they could steal and extort. Lk 3.14) Plus since the Caesars had exploited Herod 1’s death so they could seize Judea for themselves, the Judeans rea…

Yahweh. (Or Jehovah. Either way.)

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The primary name of God… and its English translation.Because our culture is largely monotheist, even when we refer to the lowercase-G “god,” we nearly always mean the One God, the Creator, the Almighty. Other gods, like Baal or Thor, haven’t even crossed our minds; if we do mean them, we have to spell out they’re who we meant. Most of the time, if you say “god,” you aren’t even thinking about them. (Nor thinking of the One God either, but that’s another issue for another day.)Totally wasn’t the case 3,400 years ago, when “god” was more of a generic word for any being who was mightier than mere humanity. Heck, some kings even claimed they were gods. So when you said “god,” you had to spell out which god, and that was the issue when God sent Moses to go rescue the Hebrews from Egypt. Which god was sending Moses?Exodus 3.13-15 KWL13 Moses told God, “Look, I go to Israel’s sons and tell them, ‘Your ancestors’ god sends me to you.’They’ll tell me, ‘What’s his name?’ What do I tell them?”14…

How to do a word study.

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WORD STUDY'wərd stə.dinoun. Learning the scriptures’ definition of a word through its use in the text.In the churches where I grew up, when people talked about “doing bible study,” they really meant doing a word study. They weren’t actually studying the bible—by which I mean read a story or section of the scriptures, look at its literary and historical context, analyze the original language, determine what it meant to the people who originally wrote and read it, and determine how this info is relevant to us today. Much as you’d study any work of history or literature—but somehow the definition of “study” got changed in church into looking up all the instances of a word in the bible.Well you are using a bible, and you are studying.But properly they were doing a word study: They chose an individual, significant word, found in the bible. Like grace. Or gossip, redemption, repentance, longsuffering and any of the other fruits of the Spirit; any words which have a particular importance…

“Efficacious grace”: When God’s grace turns dark.

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The sort of “grace” which turns you into a new creation… by reprogramming you.Because popular culture tends to define God by his power, not his character like the scriptures describe him, 1Jn 4.8a lot of Christians do it too. The result is a lot of bad theology, where God’s love, grace, and justice unintentionally (but hey, sometimes very intentionally) take a distant second to his might and glory.Take grace.Properly defined, grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. It’s what reaches out to people who totally don’t merit God’s attention whatsoever, loves us anyway, turns us into daughters and sons of the Most High, and grants us his kingdom. It’s amazing.But when you imagine God’s single most important attribute is his power… well, grace looks extremely different. It’s no longer an attitude. It’s a determination. You will receive God’s grace, become his child, and be on the track for heaven. Or none of these things will happen, because God’s gra…

You realize other religions have their own apologetics, right?

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Their apologetics don’t evangelize you. Why should yours work on them?About two months ago on a Friday, I was walking to work when I was accosted by a street preacher. He wanted to say hi, strike up a conversation, find out a little about me… and invite me to synagogue that night.Yeah, synagogue. He’s Jewish; he stopped me as I was walking past his synagogue.He’s hardly the first evangelist from another religion I’ve encountered. I meet Mormons all the time, and expect I’ll meet a few more this spring. When I lived in Sacramento, the Muslims were mighty active in my neighborhood, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling every Saturday morning. I had a Buddhist roommate for a few years, and picked his brain about Buddhism. (Then led him to Jesus, ’cause I do that.) I would’ve had a long interesting discussion with the Jew, but I hate to be late to work, so maybe some other time.I know: Certain Christians are gonna be outraged that I dared let work get in the way of an “opportunity” suc…

Can’t hear God? Read your bible!

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’Cause sometimes God holds back his answers when he’s already given them in the scriptures. So I’ve written on how prayer is simply talking with God. It’s not a one way-monologue where we do all the speaking, but God communicates back through omens, signs, coincidences, and other natural revelations which we can easily misinterpret. We talk; he talks back. Once we get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to hear his responses whenever we pray.That is, till we don’t.’Cause sometimes we can’t seem to hear him. Much as we try, we can’t detect what he tells us. Maybe he’s talking and we’re too stubborn to listen; maybe he’s not, ’cause he’s waiting for us to finally act upon the last thing he told us to do. (Oho, didn’t think of that one, did you?)Or maybe it’s time we stop putting off reading our bibles.’Cause once we learn how to hear God, too many of us Christians get into the bad habit of not reading the bible. We figure why bother?—God already tells us everything we need to know! So we d…

Has God predetermined everything in the universe? Evil too?

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DETERMINISMdi'tər.mən.ɪz.əmnoun. Belief every event is fixed in place by external causes other than human will.[Determinist di'tər.mən.ɪstnoun, deterministic di'tər.mən.ɪst.ɪkadjective.]I first bumped into the idea of determinism when I was a kid, ’cause my parents let me read Mark Twain. A lot of people assume, thanks to Tom Sawyer, that Twain was a children’s author. Not even close. And in his later years, after so many of his family members died and Twain became more and more cynical, some of the things he wrote were mighty disturbing. What are the chances I read that stuff? Yep, 100 percent.In Twain’s novella The Mysterious Stranger, some 16th-century German boys encounter a young angel named Satan (named for his uncle—yeah, that uncle) who takes them on adventures. At one point, young Satan introduces the boys to the concept of determinism.“Among you boys you have a game: you stand a row of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks its neighbor ove…

Being holy and being solemn: They’re not the same thing.

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Years ago when I taught at a Christian school, our principal decided it’d be neat if we teachers went to a revivalist church for our staff retreat.She was a little surprised at the backlash she got for the idea. Y’see, the school was attached to a Pentecostal church… and not all the teachers were Pentecostal. The non-Pentecostal teachers were barely comfortable visiting our church. Visiting a super-Pentecostal church was way beyond their comfort zone. In the staff room, some of ’em expressed their worry our principal was trying to convert them to Pentecostalism. I figured I knew her well enough to explain no, she really wasn’t. It was just a simple case of being earnest… yet tone-deaf.“All right,” said one of the more conservative teachers, who attended a Fundamentalist independent Baptist church. In this article I’ll call her Rachel. “I’ll give it a try.”It’s a fairly well-known church nowadays, but wasn’t yet so known. It was one of their evening services, when they really cut loose…

Spiritual disciplines: Gotta develop the Christian lifestyle.

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If we’re gonna become better Christians, we have to get religious.I know; it’s really popular in Christian circles to insist, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.” We do it for the very same reasons pagans insist they’re spiritual, not religious: They don’t wanna follow anyone. They wanna do as they please, take advantage of God’s grace, and get into God’s kingdom despite being wholly unfit for it.But true Christians follow Jesus. We don’t just sit back on our salvation: We do stuff. We act saved. We stop behaving like we can’t help our sinful behavior; we know the Holy Spirit’s empowered us so we totally can. We stop acting like pagans do, as if we’re not a holy people, and behave as if we really are filled with the Holy Spirit. We stop being jerks and start producing fruit.I know; it’s way easier said than done. But acting Christian doesn’t happen overnight; doesn’t happen as if by magic. Wouldn’t that be nice.I realize certain Christians’ testimonies make it sound like that’s prec…