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Showing posts from May, 2018

Gossip, prayer, and trustworthiness.

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Sometimes it’s not a prayer request; it’s gossip. The gossipy prayer request. High school likely wasn’t the first place I encountered it, but certainly the first time I became aware of it. We were in a youth group meeting, the pastor was taking prayer requests, and one kid raised her hand and proceeded to give us way too much detail about a girl most of us knew.Definitely gossip. But that’s how gossips have discovered a loophole: Gossip may be bad, but praying for one another is good! So now they can gossip freely, on the grounds it’s all stuff we need to know. Right?Wrong; rubbish. We don’t need to know a thing. All we need to know is someone needs God’s help, and that God can help. If your friend (let’s call him Vasko) needs prayer, all you gotta tell the prayer leader is, “Please pray for my friend Vasko; he’s having a rough time, and that’s all I can tell you.” A gossipy prayer leader will pry, but a wise prayer leader will say “Okay,” and respect it as an unspoken prayer request.…

Praying for ordinary stuff.

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Seriously. You can pray for anything. There’s this mindset people get into: Spiritual things take up one segment of our lives, and secular things the rest.Going to church and reading bible: Spiritual.Going to the coffehouse and reading the news: Secular.Going to a restaurant: Secular. Except for the bit at the beginning where we say grace. But once that bit of diligence is over, we needn’t think about God any longer.Problem is, that’s entirely wrong. Everything is spiritual. Not just ’cause we carry the Holy Spirit with us, and we need to stay mindful of his presence and instruction. But because we’re meant to be light in a dark world, and bless everyone around us. (Not just our food!)And one of the ways we get over that artificial secular/spiritual divide is by praying for ordinary stuff. What do I mean by “ordinary”? Glad you asked: Anything and everything. There’s no subject off-limits to God. Anything you can talk about with your friends, you can talk about with God. Anything you

When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.

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SUPERSTITIONsu.pɜr'stɪ.ʃənnoun. Belief or practice based on a false idea of cause and effect. Usually faith in magic, luck, karmic consequences, junk science, or ignorance. Sometimes irrational fear of the unknown.2. Belief or practice held despite reasonable contrary evidence.[Superstitious su.pɜr'stɪ.ʃəsadjective.]Obviously the title comes from the Stevie Wonder song. (And if you don’t know it then you’ve been deprived. That bassline alone makes it a classic.)Christians might claim we’re not superstitious: We trust Jesus, not circumstances! But spend any time at all among us, and you’ll find that to be utter rubbish. I would argue Christians are generally more superstitious than pagans.Some of it comes from dark Christians who are entirely sure devils are lurking under everything they don’t like. I grew up among such Christians. Some of ’em actually tried to teach me that because the rock ’n roll backbeat runs contrary to the human heartbeat (and no it doesn’t), it makes any…

The centurion’s servant—and his surprising faith.

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A gentile whose level of faith surprised even Jesus. Matthew 8.5-13 • Luke 7.1-10.Luke tells this story after Jesus’s sermon on the plain, and Matthew after his Sermon on the Mount—but curing an infectious man first. Mark doesn’t tell it. And John… tells a whole other story, although certain Christians try to sync it together with this one. But not well.The story begins with Jesus again returning to his home base of Kfar Nahum, and in Matthew encountering the local centurion; in Luke hearing from local elders about this centurion. Y’might know a centurion was what the Romans called the captain in charge of a century, 100 soldiers. I don’t know whether all 100 were stationed in Kfar Nahum, or spread out over multiple cities in the province; it all depended on how far the Romans felt they needed to clamp down on the people.What we do know is this particular centurion had a home in town, and an employee who was either suffering greatly, or dying. Luke calls him a slave who was éntimos/“h…

Near-death experiences, and the afterlife.

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Funny how everybody sees the afterlife they expect. In yesterday’s article, “How long does hell last?” I brought up the subject of near-death experiences, those cases where people died and came back, and have a tale to tell about what they saw in the afterlife.And they have all sorts of tales. Like of an out-of-body experience, where their ghost watched the doctors or EMTs trying to bring ’em back to life. Like a spirit-realm experience, where they met angels, dead loved ones, Jesus, or the Father. Like an afterlife experience, where they travel through a tunnel of light and get to poke around heaven for a bit. In some cases it’s the bad afterlife, and they’re in hell.These stories are really popular, and people share them and cling to them for hope. Books about them sell. Movies too. Since we have big questions about the afterlife, we figure near-death experiences help answer these questions.This is also true for Christians. The scriptures don’t tell us a whole lot about the afterlif…

How long does hell last?

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Some say forever, some say temporarily, and some say no time at all. As I explained in my article “The four hells,” there are four words translated hell in the scriptures, and the one I mean by “hell” is ge-Henna, the trash fire outside Jerusalem, reimagined in Revelation as a pool of fire and sulfur outside New Jerusalem. Rv 20.10-15 Into it go Satan and its angels, the Beast, the fake prophet who promotes the Beast, the personifications of Death and Hades (i.e. the afterlife), and everyone whose name isn’t listed in the life scroll—everyone who refused to turn to God for salvation, and therefore don’t get to enter his kingdom.The Beast and prophet are explicitly described as being “tortured there, day and night, age to ages.” Rv 20.10 Though this lake is known as the second death, Rv 20.14 it doesn’t have a sense of finality like death seems to. Death feels like an absolute stopping point—when you’re dead, you’re not alive, you’re not moving, you’re not breathing, you’re not thinkin…

Introducing death.

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Humans die. Here’s why. The first time we read about death in the bible, it’s in the Adam and Eve story. God tasks the first adám/“human” with taking care of a garden. Which is described as edén/“delightful,” but we tend to treat that adjective as a proper name, Eden, same as we do the word for human, Adam.Unlike fast-food jobs, Adam was given free rein to eat anything he found growing there. Well, almost anything. One particular tree, you remember, was off limits.Genesis 2.15-17 KWL15 The LORD God took the humanand set him in a delightful garden to work it and watch over it.16 The LORD God commanded the human, saying, “Eat, eat, from every tree of the garden.17From the knowing-good-and-evil tree: Don’t eat from it.For on the day you eat from it, you’ll die, die.”Ancient Hebrew repeated itself for emphasis. “Eat, eat” meant God was serious about Adam eating whatever he wished; “Die, die” meant God was serious about the knowing-good-and-evil tree being toxic.No doubt you also know the …

Saved exclusively through Jesus.

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It’s the exclusivity that bugs people. One of the things about Christianity that offends people most is how we claim we can only be saved through Christ Jesus.We do have bible to back up the idea, y’know.Acts 4.8-12 KWL8 Then Simon Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, told them, “Leaders of the people and elders:9 If we’re investigated today about a good deed to a disabled man—how was he cured?—10 it must be made known to you all, and all Israel’s people:In the name of Messiah Jesus the Nazarene—whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this Jesus, this disabled man stands before you, cured.11 This Jesus is ‘the stone dismissed by you builders, who became the head cornerstone.’ Ps 118.2212 Salvation isn’t found in anyone else, nor is there given to peopleanother name under heaven by whom it’s necessary for us to be saved.”Jesus is the only way by which people have access to God:John 14.5-7 KWL5 Thomas told Jesus, “Master, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way…

The Twelve and the miracles.

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The hangups Christians have about how the apostles could somehow do miracles before Pentecost. Mark 6.12-13 • Luke 9.6.Of Jesus’s students, he assigned 12 of them to be apostles, “one who’s been sent out,” and eventually he did send ’em out to preach the gospel, cure the sick, and exorcise unclean spirits.And that’s exactly what they did.Mark 6.12-13 KWL12 Going out, the apostles preached that people should repent.13The apostles were throwing out many demons, anointing many sick people with olive oil—and they were curing them.Luke 9.6 KWL6 Coming out, the apostles passed through the villages,evangelizing and curing the sick everywhere.Yep, all of them. Even Judas Iscariot.And here’s where we slam into a wall with a lot of Christians. Because they cannot fathom how these apostles went out and cured the sick and exorcised evil spirits.They’ll grudgingly acknowledge that the apostles did it. The gospels totally say so, and who are they to doubt the gospels? But y’see, their hangups come …

Discernment isn’t prophecy.

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If it looks like the science of deduction, or carnival mentalism, ’tain’t prophecy. Here’s a bit from “The Red-Headed League,” a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle.“Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labor, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.“How, in the name of good fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labor? It’s as true as gospel, for I began as a ship’s carpenter.”“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.”“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the st…

Sin.

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In case you were unclear as to what that is. Hey, you’d be surprised how many people are. SIN /sɪn/ n. Immoral behavior—from a religious viewpoint.2. Violation of God’s law or known will.3. A reprehensible action, or serious shortcoming.4. A state of human nature in which one is alienated from God.5.v. To commit a sin, offense, or fault.[Sinful /'sɪn.fəl/ adj.]I used to think it was a copout when Christians claimed they weren’t entirely sure what “sin” is, or what the word properly means. Sometimes yeah, they’re trying to weasel out of defining their behavior as sin. But I’ve found quite often nobody ever spelled it out for them when they were new believers. So they presumed. They figured a sin is when you break one of the Ten Commandments, or when you commit one of the seven deadly sins—but nothing else is a sin. As a result they kept right on committing the same fruitless behaviors they’d always done, unaware of how this activity was undermining their relationship with God and a…

What’s America’s role in the End Times?

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Same as the rest of the world.The bible, in entirety, was written before the middle east, Europe, Asia, and Africa knew the western hemisphere existed.True, God knew it was there. But his apostles and prophets had no idea. And God didn’t see any point in informing them. It’s not like the Americas, nor any other yet-to-be-discovered islands in the world, were excluded from the scriptures’ blanket statements about humanity. The LORD is God, and Jesus is King, of the whole earth. Known and unknown lands alike.So North and South America—the Indian nations then, and the current nations now—aren’t in the bible. At all. Neither suggested nor alluded to in it.So even if you’re citizen of the United States, loyal and patriotic, or even just a big fan of all things American like so many of our resident aliens, I gotta break it to you: Other than the bits about “all the world,” we don’t figure into End Times predictions whatsoever.But you’d be surprised how many American prognosticators simply c…

Prayer techniques that get God over a barrel?

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Such things don’t exist. But Christians are nonetheless looking for ’em, and frequently claim they have one. Years ago one of our prayer team leaders was talking about how she discovered the power of praying the scriptures.By which she simply meant she quoted a lot of bible as she prayed. This was nothing new to me; I grew up among people who did this all the time. They liked to pray in King James Version English. So, direct quotes from the KJV came in handy. “Lord, we pray thee for our meat this day, for thou hast told us to pray ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ Mt 6.11 and so we do.” Sometimes they’d even include verse addresses, if they really wanted to show off. But that wasn’t common.Our prayer leader wanted to emphasize praying the scriptures because there was, she insisted, power in praying the scriptures. If we wanna tap that power, we need to pray the scriptures too.Um… what power’s she talking about?Well, whenever Christians talk about powerful prayers, we nearly always m…

Sending out the Twelve.

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It is why he picked ’em. Mark 6.7-11 • Matthew 10.1-15 • Luke 9.1-5.I’ve previously written on the Twelve, the guys among Jesus’s students whom he designated apostle, “one who’s been sent out,” whom he actually did send out once or twice before he returned to the Father. Here we reach the point in the gospels where he sent ’em out. Mark puts it right after teaching in Nazareth,Matthew after Jesus commented the workers are few, and Luke after curing Jair’s daughter.Mark 6.7 KWLJesus summoned the Twelve, and began to send them out in twos.He gave them power over unclean spirits.Matthew 10.1 KWLSummoning 12 of his students, Jesus gave them power over unclean spirits,so they could throw them out, and cure every illness and every disease.Luke 9.1-2 KWL1 Calling together the Twelve, Jesus gave them power,authority over all demons, and ability to cure disease.2Jesus sent them to preach God’s kingdom and to treat the sick.Matthew even goes on to list the particular 12 students:Matthew 10.2-8 …

Short-staffed for the big harvest.

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Pray for more workers. We’re short. Matthew 9.35-38 • Luke 10.2.I’ve ranted quite often, and written regularly, about the fact the majority of Christians aren’t religious. We believe in Jesus and expect him to save us, but following him is another deal altogether: We don’t. We figure we don’t have to; that because we’re not saved by good deeds, there’s no point in doing any. Even though there’s so very much for us to do—so very much God wants to include us in—we sit things out, figuring God can do it himself, or even expects to do it himself. Meanwhile he’s waiting for his people to obey, and getting really annoyed at us that we don’t. And so the stuff doesn’t get done.’Twas ever thus. Jesus knew from experience. When he ministered to the people of the Galilee, that’s what he found. People who needed to be ministered to, but who never had been, because the Pharisees had the bad habit of only taking care of those they deemed worthy, or only tending to their own. Which which meant they …

Jesus visits his homeland.

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It didn’t go well. Mark 6.1-6 • Matthew 13.53-58 • Luke 4.16-30.Luke puts this story right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, right after he got tempted by Satan and gathered some students. It sounds like the right spot for it—if you’re gonna start teaching, you do it in your hometown, right?—but it’s not really. Because it seems Jesus already had a reputation as a teacher and faith-healer, which he got from somewhere… like the other synagogues and towns where he taught.Mark has it after Jesus cured Jair’s daughter, and Matthew has it after Jesus shared some parables. It begins with Jesus going to his patrída/“fatherland,” or as Luke nails it down, Nazareth, the town he grew up in. Friday evening after sundown, he taught in synagogue. Mark 6.1-2 KWL1Jesus went out from Kfar Nahum to his homeland. His students followed him.2A When Sabbath came, Jesus began to teach in synagogue…Matthew 13.53-54 KWL53 When Jesus finished these parables, this happened:He left there, 54A went to his h…

Curing a bleeder.

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Wasn’t actually Jesus who cured her. It was the Holy Spirit. Mark 5.25-34 • Matthew 9.20-22 • Luke 8.43-48Smack in the middle of the story of curing Jair’s daughter, where Jesus was on the way to Jair’s house, a woman snuck up behind him, touched him, and the Holy Spirit cured her of an ailment.I know; you thought Jesus cured her, right? But if you know the story already, you recall Jesus didn’t do a thing. Wasn’t his idea to cure her—and yet she got cured. People naïvely presume this is because Jesus was so charged with special healing power, anyone who touched him would get zapped. But that’s not how miracles work at all. Jesus did things by the power of the Holy Spirit, Ac 10.38 same as everybody. She was cured because somebody chose to cure her—and that’d be the Holy Spirit.Traditionally the woman’s been known as St. Veronica, even though her name never comes up in the bible. Doesn’t matter. Art and movies tend to depict her as an old woman; after all she had been suffering more t…

Jesus raises a dead girl. (Or was she only asleep?)

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When Jesus rescued the president’s daughter. (No, seriously.) Mark 5.21-24, 35-43 • Matthew 9.18-19, 23-26 • Luke 8.40-42, 49-56There’s a story in the middle of this story, about a woman with a bloodflow. I’ll get to it later.Mark and Luke tell this story after Jesus’s side trip to the Dekapolis, and Matthew puts it after Jesus taught on fasting.Mark 5.21-43 KWL21 After crossing back over the lake in the boat,a great crowd again gathered around Jesus. He was on the shore.22 One of the synagogue presidents, named Jaïr, saw him, fell at his feet,23 and urged him to come with him, saying this: “My daughter is at the point of death.If you come lay your hands on her, you can save her; she can live.”24Jesus went with him. The great crowd followed—and was crushing him.Matthew 9.18-19 KWL18 While Jesus said these things, look: A ruler came and knelt before him,saying this: “My daughter died just now, but come lay hands on her and she’ll live.”19 Getting up, Jesus followed him, as did his stud…

Killing the pigs.

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How the destruction of 2,000 pigs wasn’t at all Jesus’s idea—and actually got in his way.Mark 5.11-20 • Matthew 8.30-34 • Luke 8.32-39.Picking up where I left off: Jesus and his students traveled to the Dekapolis, a province (well, more like 10 provinces) in northern Israel inhabited by Syrian Greeks, located on the far side of the lake. They encountered a man (Matthew says two of ’em) infested with the sort of evil spirits which pagan Greeks worshiped as minor gods, a.k.a. demons. The spirits were making the poor demoniac’s life hell. They realized Jesus wouldn’t tolerate what they were doing to the man, and would order them out of there. But they had an idea, which maybe they could get Jesus to go along with.Mark 5.11-13 KWL11 There was a great herd of pigs grazing near the hill.12The demons begged Jesus, saying, “Send us to the pigs, so we can enter them!”13Jesus allowed them, and coming out, the unclean spirits entered the pigs.The herd stampeded to the cliff over the lake—like 2,…

Don’t exaggerate your testimony. Ever.

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Far too many liars are spreading stories about God. It should go without saying that Christians shouldn’t lie. But we do, for various reasons, all bad. So stop. Wean yourself off exaggerating in order to make yourself look good; wean yourself off dissembling to get yourself out of difficulty. Quit lying. Jesus is truth; Jn 14.6 stick to the truth. There y’go; your mini-sermon for the day.It should also go without saying we shouldn’t lie when we share our testimonies, and talk about our God-experiences. But once again, we do. Way too many of us do.It’s out of pure selfishness: We wish we had a good testimony. Or a better one. One where God did something really spectacular. And no I don’t mean “spectacular” as in really great; I mean in its original sense as a serious spectacle, something visible which really gets people’s attention. Like when Simon Peter raised Dorcas from the dead Ac 9.36-42 or something. We want those sorts of stories, because we wanna sound like we have more faith, …

Secret Christians.

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Most of the time, this particular teaching of Jesus has the effect of getting Christians to quit waffling and publicly declare themselves Christian. ’Cause Jesus doesn’t want secret followers.Matthew 10.32-33 KWL32“So everyone who agrees with me before people: I’ll also agree with them before my heavenly Father.33But those who disown me before people: I’ll also disown them before my heavenly Father.”Though y’might notice there were secret Christians in Jesus’s day. Nicodemus of Jerusalem and Joseph of Arimathea were two rather obvious followers… but give ’em credit; they did out themselves by entombing Jesus. Jn 19.38-42 We don’t have Jesus’s comments about them, but since they rather publicly got involved “before people” when push came to shove, I seriously doubt Jesus is gonna disown either of them at the End.Thing is, there are a number of people who secretly, privately, personally believe in Jesus. But they don’t have the balls to step forward and publicly say so. Maybe they’ll sa…

Facing Jerusalem.

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It’s a really old custom which you might not know about. Before Solomon ben David, the fourth king of Israel, the LORD’s worship site had consisted of a tent in Jerusalem. Solomon personally supervised the construction of a gold-plated cedar temple, and the day he dedicated it to the LORD, here’s some of what he prayed:1 Kings 8.28-30 KWL28 “Turn to your slave’s prayer. To show him grace, my LORD God. To hear his shout of joy.To the prayer which your slave prays to your face today.29May your eyes be open towards this house night and day,to the place of which you said, ‘My name is there.’To hear the prayer which your slave prays towards this place.30 You will hear your slave’s petition, your people Israel, who pray towards this place.As you sit in the heavens, you’ll hear and forgive.”More than once in his prayer, Solomon mentions the idea of praying in the direction of the new temple. 1Ki 8.35, 38, 42, 44, 48 And towards Jerusalem, towards Israel, towards the homeland God gave the Heb…