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Showing posts from June, 2018

A religion without works.

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It’s devilishly easy. A friend recently expressed her great frustration about phony Christians. You know, the sort of people I call Christianists —they’re not necessarily unsaved, but they sure do act it, ’cause they’re immature, and have mixed up all sorts of other things with Christianity. They keep surprising this friend; I suppose she expects them to act like Jesus, and is regularly disappointed. I know the feeling all too well. But it doesn’t surprise me, ’cause I grew up around so many of them. I was a hypocrite myself once, who got suckered into the fake stuff in lieu of the real thing. It’s a really easy trap, too. If I were giving directions to a devil as to how to trick people into it… Yeah, like one of the Screwtape letters, except I don’t know devilish psychology; I just know how to be evil, which is likely close enough. It’d go a little something like this. Oh hi devil. So you’re familiar with how our evangelists like to present Christianity as if there are no

Surrendering our authority to Jesus.

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When I was a kid I came across one of Bill Bright’s gospel tracts, in which he diagrammed the difference between a self-centered life and a Jesus-centered life. Looked like yea. Or “self-directed” and “Christ-directed.” Either way. Discover God If our lives are self-centered, supposedly they’ll be chaos. Whereas if they’re Jesus-centered, they appear to be neat and orderly and crisis-free. With none of the challenges, persecutions, temptations, suffering, or any of the things Jesus totally warned us were part of life. Yeah, certain gospel tracts tend to promise a little too much. Bright’s was one of them. But lemme get back to my point: The idea of a Jesus-centered life, as opposed to a self-centered one. That is in fact the whole point of Christianity: Jesus is Lord. We’re meant to follow his steps in everything we do, 1Pe 2.21, 1Jn 2.6 always take him into consideration, obey his teachings, seek his will. He’s the king of God’s kingdom, and if you want in, he has to be i

Antipas Herod and John the baptist.

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The despot who ruled the Galilee, and the prophet who dared critique him. Mark 6.14-20 • Matthew 14.1-5 • Luke 9.7-9. After Jesus turned loose the Twelve to go round the Galilee, do miracles, and proclaim God’s kingdom, word of Jesus got back to the Galilee’s governor, King Antipas Herod. Luke 9.7-9 KWL 7 The governor, Antipas Herod, heard all that was happening and was confused by it: Some were saying John the baptist was raised from the dead. 8 Some said Elijah appeared; others said one of the ancient prophets had risen. 9 Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who’s this man about whom I hear such things?” He sought to see Jesus . Mark and Matthew give details about just how and why Herod beheaded John, but today I’m gonna focus on Herod himself. The gospels don’t provide a lot of details about him, which is why we have to turn to the history books to fill in the blanks. The Herodus family was Roman. That’s why so many of them have the same names; that’s why the

Being a member of the jerk club.

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Which, as a follower of Jesus, I’m not allowed to do. One of the neighbors, out on a power walk, decided to pause for a moment and strike up a conversation with me as I was doing some yardwork. Once he found out how old I am, he realized I was the same age as his son. “Do you know Cloelius?” he asked. No, Cloelius isn’t his son’s actual name. I don’t care to give his name, and you’ll see why. It took me a few seconds to recall him. “Yes,” I told him, “I know of him. We weren’t in the same circles.” There’s actually a bigger story behind this. One I didn’t care to tell Colelius’s dad, ’cause I don’t think he’d have been happy to hear it. But to be fair, we were kids then. The summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved into a new neighborhood. Across the street lived a boy whom I’ll call Azad. And for no reason I could figure, Azad decided I was his sworn enemy. No, I still don’t know why. Knowing myself, it’s possibly for the very same reason I irritated

Repent!

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REPENT rə'pent verb. Turn away from one’s current, usually sinful, behavior. 2. Feel regret or express remorse about wrongdoing or sin. Our culture has used the word repent to mean feeling bad. For centuries. For so long, you’re not gonna find the definition “turn away from one’s behavior” in most dictionaries. Even the Latin word repent is based on, re-paenitere , gets defined as “feel great penitence or sorrow.” When people repent, they feel bad for what they’ve done. Sometimes they bother to make amends, or try to. (Penitentiaries, annoyingly, have little about them anymore which involves making amends, community service, or good deeds in general.) But the Christian definition comes from the Greek words we translate as “repent,” namely metanoéo the verb, and metánoia /“repentance,” the noun. The word’s literally a compound of the words metá /“after” and noéo /“think,” but combined they mean “turn round.” In other words, don’t go that way again. Don’t do that agai

Lies!

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And the difference between lies and falsehoods—and why certain people don’t care there’s a difference. LIE laɪ noun. Intentional untruth: A false statement involving deception, or an impression designed to be misunderstood. 2. verb. To make an intentionally false statement, present a false impression, or deceive. [Liar laɪ(.ə)r noun. ] By “lie,” most folks ordinarily mean an intentional untruth. “I floss every day,” you tell your dentist, and you totally don’t. “I think I was going 45,” you tell the traffic cop, and you know you pushed it to 60 to beat the stoplight. “I exercise,” you tell your friends, but haven’t been to the gym since the first week of January. The truth is embarrassing, or may get you into trouble, or you’re sure it won’t get you out of trouble. But when you try to get people to believe otherwise, that’d be lying. But there’s another definition of “lie” floating around. It’s grown in popularity, ’cause people use it to provoke one another. In short,

Dem bones.

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It’s not about God bringing your dreams back to life. Ezekiel 37.1-10. Your average Christian knows very little about the prophetic book of Ezekiel . Most of ’em know only three things about it: At the beginning of the book, Ezekiel gets this vision of God’s throne which includes four freaky creatures with four heads, and what sound like living gyroscopes beside each of them. Ek 1 And for some looney reason, people who are into UFO s insist that’s what Ezekiel saw; it strikes ’em as more mechanical than miraculous. Apparently there’s such a thing as “Ezekiel bread.” Ek 4.9 Every once in a while, some overzealous Christian will bake a loaf and inflict it upon the people of their church. Here’s the deal: Ezekiel bread was meant to be awful , to make a point about suffering. But Christians’ll try to fix it up somehow: Add lots of yeast, sugar, disproportionate amounts of flour, and even butter. Most of the time it’s still awful. People, the bible isn’t a recipe book! And the

What Jesus had to say about John the baptist.

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But for the best of reasons. Matthew 11.7-15 • Luke 7.24-30. After John sent two of his students to ask Jesus who he was, Jesus turned to his crowd of listeners and began to say complimentary things about John. (Which is further evidence John wasn’t going through some crisis of faith about who Jesus was, contrary to popular belief.) Various “historical Jesus” scholars like to pit John and Jesus against one another ’cause their ministry styles were so different, and like to exaggerate their different emphases into full-on contradictions of one another. John was supposedly about wrath and perfectionism; Jesus about grace and peace. Ignoring of course all Jesus’s instructions to behave ourselves, and warnings about wrath; ignoring John’s declaration that Jesus came to take away the world’s sin. Jn 1.29 For “historians,” they sure do skip a lot of history in order to push their theories, but I already ranted about that. First thing Jesus brought up is what people expected to s

On tipping and overtipping.

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On those who are constantly wary of unseen dangers. One of my hobbies is restaurants. I like to go to places I’ve never been to before, and eat their food. It’s obviously not an inexpensive hobby, which is why I do it maybe twice a month. But now I know a lot of great places to eat. And when I go to restaurants, I prefer to overtip. And by overtip, I mean go above the customary 15 percent gratuity. I want my waiters to be glad they served me, not think, “Next time he visits I’m definitely sneezing in his food.” And if that idea horrifies you, maybe you’ll think twice about undertipping. Because whenever I go to restaurants with other people, most of them don’t share my views about tipping. Usually the opposite. A lot of people hate the American custom of tipping. Part of it is because people look at the menu, order their food, get the bill, find it’s slightly higher than they expected to pay (what’s with all the restaurants that won’t put on the menu how much the beverages co

The interlinear bible.

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For those who want the illusion of being able to read the original. INTERLINEAR BIBLE in.ter'lin.e.er 'bi.bel n. Bible which presents the same text in different languages printed on alternate lines. First time I stumbled across an interlinear bible was back in high school. I was killing time in a Christian bookstore. (Remember those?) This one happened to have an interlinear Old Testament mixed in among the bibles. Never knew such a thing even existed, but I wanted it immediately: It had “the original Hebrew”—the Masoretic text of the scriptures, in a language I couldn’t read at all, ’cause I hadn’t even learned the alphabet yet. But its secrets were unlocked with a word-by-word translation, displayed beneath every Hebrew word. Looked like yea: Acts 2.42-44 presented interlinear-style. Oak Tree Software Wanted to buy it immediately, but the sucker was expensive . (A lot of interlinear bibles are. Low demand, y’see.) Something like $80 in 1980s money. Ten years la

Joy and the “happy Christian.”

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Joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. It’s a great feeling. It’s a fruit of the Spirit too, y’know: Anyone who follows Jesus, who listens to the Holy Spirit, oughta experience joy more often than not. We should have a positive, optimistic view of the world—not because it’s good, for holy shnikes it’s not; but because God’s fixing it and saving people. We should be friendly, engaging, helpful, and be fun to be around. Our joy oughta be contagious. And yet. Yeah, you know where I’m going with this: We’ve all met “joyful” Christians who just plain rubbed us the wrong way. A little too happy. A little too friendly, too cheerful, too pleased. They’re so chipper, you kinda want to feed them into one. They’re off-putting. Whenever I express my discomfort about such people, most Christians will respond, “I know, right? What’s with them?” But every so often I’ll get rebuked by someone who wants to know why I have a problem with joy. I don’t. I have a problem with fake

John the baptist checks in on Jesus.

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But for the best of reasons. Matthew 11.2-6 • Luke 7.18-23. In Jesus’s day there was no such thing as freedom of speech or religion. Your religion was either what the king said it was, or what the king permitted within his borders. Your speech was whatever the powerful couldn’t take offense at, ’cause if they did, they would kill or persecute you. That’s why Jesus taught in metaphors and parables on a frequent basis. It wasn’t just to make people think. His relative John bar Zechariah, also known as John the baptist, was not so vague. John flat-out said the governor of the Galilee, Antipas Herod (frequently called “king” because he was the son of King Herod 1, but properly a Roman tetrárhis /“ruler of a quarter-province”) was in violation of the Law, ’cause he had married his brother’s ex. Lv 18.16 Plus she was his niece, which generally violates the command against having sex with close relatives. Lv 18.6 Since John wouldn’t shut up about it, Mk 6.17-18 Antipas threw him into

Paranoia will destroy ya.

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On those who are constantly wary of unseen dangers. Today I put Equal in my coffee. As I usually do. I know: Equal consists of aspartame, plus inert additives to bulk it up. And if some of my friends’ favorite websites are to believed, aspartame will give me cancer. Or (contrary to popular expectation) cause obesity, ’cause my taste buds led my body to expect sugar, and now I’m gonna crave sugar all the more. Or something’ll happen and it’ll shut down my liver or kidneys, or monkey with my metabolism somehow. Next to the Equal packets, the coffeehouse posts an acrylamide warning—’cause it’s in just about every cooked food, including the stuff you make at home; ’cause businesses are supposed to warn about toxic chemicals thanks to California’s Proposition 65 in 1986; and ’cause lawsuit-happy individuals are going after the restaurants who don’t. So acrylamide is gonna give me cancer too. As will everything else I eat. Meat and dairy products are filled with hormones, so those a

Certainty isn’t faith.

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Certainty may come later. Till then, we have faith. “I know this to be true, because I have faith.” I’ve heard more than one Christian say such a thing. It’s ’cause they don’t realize that’s a self-contradictory statement. Hebrews 11.1 KWL Faith is the solid basis of hope, the proof of actions we’ve not seen. Faith isn’t the solid basis of knowledge , but the solid basis of hope . Properly we hope certain things are true because we have faith. We don’t know yet. Gonna know eventually. But not yet. So when I read in the scriptures God’s gonna resurrect me someday, I gotta admit: I don’t know he will. Because the basis of knowledge is experience, and I haven’t had the experience of being resurrected. Yet. Now, Jesus did have the experience of being resurrected. He taught on, and believed in, the resurrection. Mt 22.29-32 He stated he’s the resurrection, and when we trust him, we’ll experience it. Jn 20.25-26 That’s why it’s an orthodox Christian belief. That’s why

The “Proverbs 31 woman.”

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PROVERBS 31 WOMAN 'prɑ.vərbz 'θɜr.di 'wʌn 'wʊ.mən noun. A productive woman, like the ideal wife described in Proverbs 31 . 2. A complement offered to a valued wife, whether or not she matches the woman of Proverbs 31. Among many Christians, the ultimate compliment you can pay your wife is to call her a “Proverbs 31 woman.” Properly, it means she meets the bible’s standard (more precisely, Lemuel’s mother’s standard) for an ideal wife. But since people don’t bother to read their bibles, Christians included, they really just mean she’s a good Christian. Whether she’s actually productive is a whole other deal. Yeah, I’ll quote the relative part. It’s not the whole of the chapter; just this bit. Proverbs 31.10-31 KWL 10 A capable woman: Who’s found one? She’s worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband’s heart trusts her, and he has no shortage of loot. 12 She pays him back with good, not evil, all her life’s days. 13 She asks for wool and flax.

Jesus interrupts a funeral.

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But for the best of reasons. Luke 7.11-17. Whereas Jesus mighta raised the dead before—though he insisted she was only asleep —here it looks like he definitely raised the dead. Only Luke tells this story, and sets it the day after Jesus cured the centurion’s servant. The location is Nein, which is not pronounced as the Germans do. (The KJV has “Nain.”) It was a tiny village 14km south of Nazareth—and 40km southwest of Kfar Nahum, which is quite a day’s walk; and Jesus must’ve got to this place before sundown, as we’ll see from historical context. As you might recall about Nazareth, people in the region didn’t expect much of Jesus, and certainly never expected him to do anything like this . Luke 7.11-17 KWL 11 This happened the next day: Jesus went to a village called Nein. His students, and a large crowd, were traveling with him. 12 As Jesus approached the village gate, look: One who died was being carried out. He was the only son of his mother, and she was a w

The “recovering atheist”?

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Kirk Cameron, not keeping his eyes on the road in his new movie Connect . A friend invited me to watch Kirk Cameron’s documentary Connect , which is about how he was naïvely gonna get his kids smartphones until he found out there are predators on the internet. Duh; but I guess Cameron had no idea this was going on. So he made a film about it. This sort of documentary is basically what a lot of Christians watch instead of horror movies. It’s a bit like true-crime documentaries, except they get the thrill of being afraid of boogeymen. ( Real boogeymen. Or at least they’re told they’re real boogeymen.) And unlike horror movies, the fear never, ever goes away. Isn’t meant to. I passed. ’Cause these documentaries invariably annoy me. And ’cause I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan. I’m not talking about his acting. I think it’s okay. Not award-winning good… but bear in mind he tends to take what he can get, or what he himself has produced. Which means he’s been hobbled by mediocre-to-t