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Showing posts from March, 2018

Falling down—and other false memories of Jesus’s passion.

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One of the odd things you’ll notice about the traditional 14 stations of the cross, is how often Jesus falls down. He does it thrice.Gets condemned, is given his cross, falls down.Encounters his mom, Simon of Cyrene, and St. Veronica; falls down.Encounters the daughters of Jerusalem, falls down.Then he’s stripped and nailed to the cross, so he’s not gonna fall down anymore—unless we count when he’s taken down from the cross, and likely they didn’t drop him in so doing. Still: Three of the stations of the cross involve Jesus falling down. And in St. Francis of Assisi’s original list of seven stations, Jesus falls in the second and fifth stations, so when Christians expanded it to 14, they added a fall.Yet in the gospels, he doesn’t fall down. Although we can certainly imagine he did, what with being weak from sleep deprivation and blood loss, and the fact he clearly wasn’t up to carrying his own cross. But the gospels don’t say he fell down. He might’ve, but the authors never said so.S…

Pagan and proud.

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Whenever I share Jesus with pagans, I run into two types: The open-minded and the closed-minded. Either pagans who are curious and have tons of questions; or pagans who wanna tell me about Jesus, ’cause they already know it all.The open-minded are fun. I may not get them to believe, or convince them to set foot in a church, but that’s okay: There’s still room for the Holy Spirit to work on ’em. There’s still hope. Whereas the closed-minded are depressing. They suck all the fun out of the conversation. They dismiss or mock what we consider important, and don’t care how insulting and condescending they come across. When Jesus compared them to swine, Mt 7.6 you can see why that analogy has become so popular.Why are they like that? Pride.Like I said, they already know it all. They think they have God all figured out. Or at least they have God figured out better than we Christians do. Sometimes they grew up Christian, so they actually do know a few things. Sometimes they didn’t, but they r…

“The mainline”: America’s older churches.

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Mainline is a bit of Christianese in the United States. The adjective refers to the Protestant churches in the United States who were around since the 1700s—since before our constitutional freedom of religion made it possible for all sorts of new churches to crop up, and add to the thousands of Protestant denominations.Some of these churches, like the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Unitarians, got their start here. Others, like the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches, got their start in England and Scotland—but when the colonies declared independence from the UK in 1776, the churches reorganized their leadership to become distinct from their UK governing bodies.So being “mainline” or a “mainliner” doesn’t refer to a belief system. They’re not mainliners by philosophy: Other than Jesus’s teachings and Protestant traditions, they don’t necessarily have a lot in common. (In the case of Unitarians, the rest of us figure they’re heretic.) They’re mainline because they’re old…

The mourning of Jerusalem’s daughters.

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Luke 23.26-31.Only Luke tells this part of the story.Luke 23.26-31 KWL26 As the Romans led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a certain Cyrenian coming from the fields,and they put the crossbeam on him to carry behind Jesus.27 Many crowds of people followed Jesus.The mourning women among them were also lamenting him.28 Turning to the women, Jesus said, “Jerusalem’s daughters, don’t weep for me.But weep for your own. For your children.29Look, the time’s coming when they’ll say,‘The sterile, wombs which never begat children, breasts which never fed, are awesome!’30Then they’ll start ‘to tell the mountains, “Fall on us!” and the hills, “Bury us!” ’Ho 18.131For if they do this when the wood is moist, what’ll happen when it’s dry?”Some teachers never can stop teaching. Even when they’re being dragged off to be crucified.Various Christians don’t know what to make of this passage, so they skip it. Which is easy to do when there are so many other horrors to focus on when it comes to Jesus’s deat…

Let’s suppose Jesus is dead.

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Six years ago I was asked to write on “the resurrection hoax” for a synchroblog. The idea was this: Suppose Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Suppose the story was entirely fabricated by the apostles. Hence hundreds of people didn’t actually see Jesus alive. 1Co 15.6 Hence he hasn’t personally appeared to thousands of people in the present day; these are all delusions. Hence despite evidence to the contrary, 40 days after his death, thousands became Christian, Ac 2.41 thousands more in the years thereafter, Christianity spread all over the Roman Empire and beyond, and now a third of the planet is Christian. But it’s entirely based on mythology and wishful thinking.Well… for contrast, a billion people claim adherence to Islam, and we Christians figure Muhammed ibn Abdullah al-Mecca was wrong about God. But then again Muhammed didn’t claim any big miracles for himself. (His followers did, later.) He only claimed to hear from angels. I don’t have any problem with that idea; I just doubt t…

There’s a rapture, but it’s no secret.

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When Jesus returns, everybody’s gonna see it. Which is kinda the point.“People are missing,” she managed in a whisper, burying her head in his chest.He took her shoulders and tried to push her back, but she fought to stay close. “What do you m—?”She was sobbing now, her body out of control. “A whole bunch of people, just gone!”“Hattie, this is a big plane. They’ve wandered to the lavs or—”She pulled his head down so she could speak directly into his ear. Despite her weeping, she was plainly fighting to make herself understood. “I’ve been everywhere. I’m telling you, dozens of people are missing.”“Hattie, it’s still dark. We’ll find—”“I’m not crazy! See for yourself! All over the plane, people have disappeared.”“It’s a joke. They’re hiding, trying to—”“Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was left behind. These people are gone!”So goes the first chapter of Left Behind, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ 1995 End Times novel. In the middle of a cross-country flight, where…

The “Not what I want” prayer.

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Sometimes we don’t pray for what we want. The “Not what I want” prayer isn’t a popular prayer. Downright rare sometimes. Because when we pray, we’re intentionally asking God for what we want. Why would we tell him to not give us what we want? Did we suddenly forget the point of prayer?Why pray “Not what I want”? ’Cause we’re mimicking Jesus. When he has us pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done,” Mt 6.10 and when he himself prayed this at Gethsemane:Mark 14.35-36 KWL35Jesus went a little ahead, fell to the ground, and was praying this:“If it’s possible, have this hour pass by!”36 He said, “Abbá! Father, you can do anything: Take this cup from me.But not what I want. What youwant.”Y’notice Jesus did tell the Father what he wanted: He didn’t want to suffer. He wanted “the cup” to pass him by. He didn’t wanna be crucified; what kind of madman would wanna be crucified? Yet at the same time he knew his purpose in this world was to do as the Father sent him to do. Jn 5.19, 8.28 At the…

Vinegar to drink.

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Mark 15.23, 26, Matthew 27.33-34, 48, Luke 23.36, John 19.28-30Back when David was in deep doo-doo, Ps 69.2 he wrote Psalm 69. More griping about his enemies. But when he talked about his comforters, Ps 69.20 he commented,Psalm 69.21 KWLThey gave me bitter food, and for my thirst, they made me drink vinegar.It’s a memorable idea, and one which no doubt the authors of the gospels thought of when Jesus was getting crucified. ’Cause Jesus didn’t wanna drink what they provided.Our culture might be unaware: Back then, you didn’t drink the water. You never knew where it came from, and rarely was it pure. Fastest way to get dysentery or cholera. So the ancients drank wine, either full-strength or watered-down. (Or beer, if your culture made beer.) The alcohol killed any bacteria. Ignore all those teetotalers who claim “wine” back then was actually grape juice: Grape juice was as potentially harmful as water. It needed to be wine.The gospels aren’t consistent in how they describe the wine Jes…

Miracles: Actual acts of God.

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As opposed to what insurance companies call “acts of God.”Properly defined a miracle is anything God does or enables. If a human performs a miracle, it’s not legitimate—it’s trickery—if the Holy Spirit doesn’t empower it.Improperly but popularly, a miracle is defined as a violation of the laws of nature. Blame 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume for that one. Hume didn’t believe in miracles, but he did believe in science, and decided to set the two of them at odds with one another: If you believe in one, what’re you doing believing in the other? As a result, today we have a lot of Christians who don’t believe in science—and don’t think we’re allowed to believe in it. Likewise a lot of people who do trust science, but are under the misbelief they’re fools if they also trust God—and as a result they hide their religious beliefs from their colleagues. All for no good reason; over a false rivalry between apples and oranges.Also improperly but popularly, a miracle is defined as an…

Mistakes we might make in our word studies.

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You saw what I did there, right? Last month I wrote about how to do a word study, and in that piece I largely emphasize how not to go to the dictionary first. ’Cause that’s how you do a word study wrong. Instead of drawing from the bible how its authors define a word, y’wind up overlaying the dictionary definition on top of the bible—whether it fits or not. (Or to use scholars’ words for it, y’wind up doing eisegesis instead of exegesis.)When people are overlay a definition upon the bible, they’re rarely looking at the context of the passage. (Yep, I’m gonna harp about context again. It’s important here too.) The few who do bother to look at context, often try to bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate it so it fits their new definition.Fr’instance a fellow teacher of mine was trying to tell his kids about making plans for the future, for “where there is no vision, the people perish.” Pr 29.18 KJV Except he couldn’t find that verse in his NIV, because they translate khazón as “revelation.” S…

Why the Dead Sea Scrolls are such a big deal.

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Other than being our oldest copies of the Old Testament. Round 1947—most likely some years earlier—Muhammad edh Dhib, a Bedouin goatherd, was chasing a stray goat through Khirbet Qumran, ruins near the Dead Sea. Checking the nearby caves in case the goat was hiding in there, he threw rocks into the blackness to scare out the goat. Instead he heard a pot break. So he went in to check that out. He found pottery which contained scrolls written in first-century Hebrew.Figuring they were worth a sheqel or two, he sold them to an antiquities dealer. In November 1947, the dealer sold ’em to Eliezer Sukenik of Hebrew University. Word spread. Hundreds of Qumran caves were searched. Eleven were found to contain tens of thousands of scroll fragments, which altogether make up about 875 books.Popularly they’re called the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sometimes they’re called the Qumran scrolls. They’re the writings of an ancient religious commune in Qumran, Jews from Jesus’s day who considered themselves neit…

Saying grace… and a little bit more.

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When you don’t have time to pray, but do have time to eat, multitask. Whenever I write about taking time out from every day to pray, I hear the excuse, “But I’m so busy.”This, from people who always manage to find time to keep up with certain TV shows and movies, to play their favorite video games for hours, to comment on Facebook about an hour wasted in some other recreational activity. Yeah right you’re so busy.But I accept there are plenty of people out there who are legitimately busy. Every once in a while I have to work a shift, rush home for an eight-hour break (and in that time squeeze out six hours of sleep), then go right back and work another shift. Certainly doesn’t happen often, but I know people whose jobs regularly require that and more. I’ve had such jobs. I get it. Life gets crazy busy, and who has time for “me time”—much less God time?When my life got busy like that, I discovered the one spot of time I could spare for prayer: Saying grace before meals.Yep. In grad sch…

The St. Veronica story.

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One of St. Francis’s original stations of the cross was when St. Veronica let Jesus wipe off his bloody face on her veil. Some of you have already heard this story, or bits of it.And others of you are going, “Where’s that found in the bible?” Well, it’s not found in the bible at all. It comes from Christian tradition. It’s a really old tradition, and a really popular story. So popular, it’s still in the traditional stations of the cross. And while I’m trying to discuss the biblical stations of the cross, I feel I still need to give a mention to St. Veronica… ’cause a number of Christians aren’t entirely aware this story’s not in the bible. Some of ’em even remember seeing it in a bible somewhere. But that’s a false memory. It’s really not there. I’m not kidding.As for whether St. Veronica herself is in the bible… she actually is. She’s traditionally identified as the woman in this story:Mark 5.25-34 KWL25 For 12 years, a woman had a bloodflow, 26 and had suffered greatly under many wi…

The “six days” of creation.

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Creationism is the belief God created the universe and life.Creationism is an orthodox Christian belief: It’s found in the creeds. “I believe in one God… maker of heaven and earth, of all things, visible and invisible.” God initially created everything. He didn’t necessarily create everything since—fr’instance, he didn’t create evil. But he created their creators.So yeah, technically all orthodox Christians are creationists. Problem is, the word “creationist” has been co-opted by the young-earth creationists (YEC for short), the folks who insist God created the universe only 6,000 years ago. Or if you wanna get specific, 6,021 years ago, in October. They’re the ones pushing the idea that if you’re a real Christian, if you’re truly orthodox, you gotta believe as they do.
A diorama from the Creation Museum of a primitive human and featherless dinosaurs. (Yeah, they’re a bit slow to keep up with the latest science. Be fair; so is Jurassic World.) Atlas ObscuraOf course young-earth creatio…

Is faith a gift?

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Mixing up the types of faith, is why a lot of Christians don’t develop their faith.Oh, I won’t bury the lead. Is faith a gift? Well, supernatural faith is a gift. The other types of faith? Nah.I know why various Christians claim faith, all faith, is a gift. It’s usually ’cause it says so in their church’s catechism. Fr’instance the Heidelberg Catechism:65. It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: Where then does that faith come from?A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.Various scriptures indicate that people have faith after hearing the gospel, Ro 10.17 and the writers of the catechisms kinda stretched these verses to imply it was the gospel, and God granting us the ability to understand the gospel, 1Co 2.10-14 which generated the faith in us. It wasn’t our ability to trust what we heard; it was God sorta flipping a switch in us so that now we had the ability t…

Jesus confuses Antipas Herod.

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Luke 23.4-12All the gospels tell of Jesus’s suffering, but only in Luke do we find this bit about Jesus being sent to Antipas Herod. The other gospel authors skipped it ’cause it didn’t add anything to their accounts. Doesn’t add much to Luke either. But it’s interesting.It begins right after Pontius Pilatus, at the time Judea’s Roman prefect, was presented with Jesus for crucifixion. Pilatus didn’t see any reason to crucify him, ’cause as John related, he figured Jesus’s kingdom wasn’t any political threat to Rome. (But it did take over Rome all the same.) So he didn’t feel like crucifying Jesus… and a loose comment the Judeans made, gave Pilatus the idea to hand off the problem to Herod.Luke 23.4-7 KWL4 Pilatus told the head priests and the crowd, “I find nothing of guilt in this person.”5The crowd prevailed over Pilatus, saying this: “He riles up the people,teaching throughout Judea—having begun such behavior in the Galilee.”6 On hearing this, Pilatus asked whether Jesus was Galile…