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Showing posts from July, 2018

No one has ever seen God. Except 74 ancient Hebrews.

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Exodus 24.9-11 • John 1.18 • 1 John 4.12-13.Most of the reason we Christians are pretty sure John bar Zavdi wrote both the gospel with his name on it, and the letters with his name on them, is ’cause the same ideas and themes (and wording, and vocabulary) come up in them. Including today’s bible difficulty, the idea nobody’s ever seen God. John wrote it in both his gospel and his first letter.John 1.18 KWLNobody’s ever seen God.The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.1 John 4.12-13 KWL12 No one’s ever seen God, yet when we love one another, God’s with us.His love’s been expressed in us, 13 so this is how we get to know we’re with him and he’s with us.He’s given us his Spirit.The reason it’s a difficulty? Because people have seen God. In Exodus 24, we have this interesting little story:Exodus 24.9-11 KWL9 Moses, Aaron, Nadáv, Avíhu, and 70 of Israel’s elders,went up 10 and saw Israel’s God:Under his feet was something like a manufactured sapphire pavement,pure as …

No longer a mystery: Gentiles inherit God’s kingdom.

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Ephesians 3.1-12.Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians, either before the first or second time he stood before Nero Caesar. Paul optimistically thought of these circumstances as his opportunity to share Jesus with Roman officials, with himself as Jesus’s official ambassador. Ep 6.20But y’know, much of the reason he got in so much trouble, was because he insisted on sharing Jesus with gentiles—who were and always had been part of God’s plan, but Pharisees had blinders on about it, so this information was new to them. Because Paul was notorious for hanging out with gentiles, it’s arguably why he was arrested in the first place. Ac 22.21-29 Not that he didn’t totally take advantage of it to meet Agrippa Herod and Nero Ceasar.This, Paul recognized, was the real reason he was in chains:Ephesians 3.1-6 KWL1 Here’s the reason I, Paul, became Christ Jesus’s bondservant for you gentiles—2 unless you already heard God’s system of grace he gave me for you.3 He made the mystery know…

My pacifism. Sorta.

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In response to the responses about it. Since I wrote that piece about how Christ Jesus expects us, his followers, to be peacemakers and practice nonviolence, naturally I got some pushback from my conservative friends.Of course they pitched me all the usual objections. Some with compassion, some with scoffing; it all depends on whether these were knee-jerk reactions, or they were actually trying to understand where I’m coming from. If we reduce people to nothing more than their points of view, of course we’re more likely to fight ’em than love ’em. But that’s another discussion.You might have some of these objections yourself:What, d’you wanna open up all the jails and let the murderers and pedos run free?Are you suggesting we abolish the military, and let America’s enemies have at us? [I live in an Air Force town, and have a number of Air Force and Army relatives, so this is a big deal.]If some madman is about to harm your family and loved ones, would you just let him?It’s not like th…

Karma has a breaking point. Grace doesn’t.

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When our “grace” only goes so far, it means we’re not really practicing grace. Matthew 18.21-22 KWL21Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me,and I’ll have to forgive them? As much as sevenfold?”22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as much as sevenfold.’Instead as much as seven seventyfolds.”The point of this teaching, as many a preacher will remind us, is to keep forgiving till we lose count.True, there are those individuals who keep track of offenses to a ridiculous degree. They won’t lose count; they can enumerate every last offense. And if you get ’em angry enough, they will.But typically they have a breaking point, and it comes way before 490. Won’t even make it to 10. “Three strikes and you’re out” tends to be the common rule, as if baseball’s limits should apply to all humanity. Simon Peter’s seven strikes sounds far more patient and generous than most. (I’m betting he thought so too.)The reason I bring up forgiveness, and the idea…

Dropping a little Hebrew on the fellow Christians.

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It’s not because they get any closer to God. It’s because they can. For some Christians, the only fellow Christians they ever encounter are a small, insulated bunch. Basically it’s just family members and their church, and the few books and podcasts they personally approve of. They’ve got narrow little boundaries and won’t travel outside. Often out of the dark Christian fear they might be led astray, but more often it’s just because they don’t care to stretch themselves. Either way it’s a shame. But I’m not gonna discuss that particular shame today. Me, I browse widely.And from time to time I run into Christians who insist on referring to Christ Jesus as Yeshúa ha-Mešiakh. They’ll spell it lots of different ways; I spell it the way it’s meant to sound, so if it looks a little unfamiliar they might not be pronouncing it properly. Basically it’s Hebrew for “Jesus the Messiah.”Because they learned some Hebrew. And they’re gonna use their Hebrew on everything.God’s gonna get called Adonái

“Just war”: Vengeance disguised as righteousness.

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Humans like to take revenge.Watch two kids on the playground. One will smack the other, entirely by accident. (That’s what they claim, anyway.) The other kid will immediately want to retaliate. And not in some equitable blow-for-blow response, either. They’ll wanna beat the living tar out of the other kid.That’s not a learned behavior. Just the opposite: It’s instinct. It’s our self-preservation instinct, but warped by human depravity till we defend ourselves from future harm by preemptively destroying anything or anyone who might harm us. Kids have to be trained to not retaliate like this.A good parent is gonna teach their kids to forgive. (It was unintentional, after all.) Even selfish parents won’t necessarily demand a reciprocal response. Although the dumber ones might: “She hit you? Hit her back!” But this behavior will backfire: Kids’ll do as comes naturally, and hit back harder. And then the first kid hits back even harder. And things escalate from there.I know; from time to ti…

Racism has no place in God’s kingdom.

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Ephesians 2.11-22.To remind you: Paul didn’t write Ephesians to his fellow Jews. He wrote it to éthnoi/“ethnics,” goyím/“nations”—words we usually translate with the Latin-derived word gentile, meaning “people of another nation.” Jews use the word to describe non-Jews. (And Mormons use it to describe non-Mormons.)Ancient Jews tended to highlight the primary physical difference between Jews and gentiles. Wasn’t skin color, ’cause Jews, then and now, came in every color. It was whether or not you had a foreskin. Following God’s instructions, Jews cut the foreskin off every 8-day-old male. Lv 12.3 Jews were therefore “the circumcised,” and gentiles obviously weren’t. In fact the popular Jewish term for a gentile, which we even find in the New Testament, was akrovystía/“foreskin.” Most bibles tend to be more polite, and translate this word as “the uncircumcised.” They really shouldn’t. The crudeness of referring to people as “foreskins” gives us a better idea of just how ancient Jews thou…

“He had some good bits.”

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Sometimes that’s the best you can expect from certain preachers. She came up to me after the sermon.SHE. [referring to the speaker] “Wasn’t he great?ME. “Yeah, he had some good bits.”SHE. “Good bits? That was like good solid food!”ME. “Meh.”She left to go find someone who was as excited about the sermon as she was.This didn’t take place at my church; I was visiting another church in town. And “she” is someone who used to go to my church. She stopped after we wouldn’t let her into leadership. For good reason; she’s spiritually immature. Regularly tossed to and fro by every charismatic fad, exactly like St. James described the unwise. Jm 1.5 So she went to find another church whose standards weren’t so high. Which is probably why she was visiting this other church.I was visiting because of a special guest speaker. I won’t give his name, to protect the totally guilty. Many Pentecostals in northern California know who he is. Quite a few Pentecostals outside the area have heard of him. I …

From the lowest place to the highest heavens.

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Ephesians 2.1-10.Gotta confess: I grew up Christian. I said the sinner’s prayer at age 4. I have no real memories of being pre-Christian. So when the scriptures, particularly Ephesians, brings up one’s wayward pre-Christian life before God got hold of us, it’s not so easy to relate. I didn’t live that way.Oh yeah, I had my hypocrisy phase in high school and college. But it wasn’t an apostasy phase; I didn’t quit Christianity and go pagan in rebellion, doubt, or apathy. I was just a sucky Christian. More Christianist than Christ-following; I held to religiosity when it suited me, and clung to cheap grace when that suited me. Like I said, hypocrisy.So when Paul wrote about the Ephesians’ pre-Christian lifestyle, I understand what he’s talking about; I know plenty of pagans who live this way. My trouble is I don’t have a shared experience with them, so I don’t relate as well as someone who did have those experiences.But y’know, that’s one of the great things about Christian diversity: Pl…

“To follow thee more nearly.”

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Ephesians 1.15-23.Humans are creatures of extremes. It’s why American churches are likewise creatures of extremes. Either we pursue God with all our might, and strive to make sure our teachings are accurate and solid… and ready to pound into the heads of newbies, skeptics, people of other church traditions which aren’t as up-to-speed as we. Or we pursue godly behavior with all our might, strive to behave ourselves and help the needy… and feel incredibly guilty when we don‘t.I know; why can’t we get this stuff right? Why can’t we pursue accurate teaching without turning into insufferable know-it-alls? Why can’t we pursue good works without turning into legalists? Why can’t we do both bible study and charitable works—why do we have to pit these behaviors against one another? More than that, why must we insist on pretending to do one or the other, yet use compromise, loopholes, and excuses to do neither? What, are there just too many chainsaws to juggle?Well. Paul, upon hearing of the Ep…

Adoption in the Roman Empire—and God’s kingdom.

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Ephesians 1.11-14.Last time I focused on predestination, God’s great plan to save the world, which Paul spelled out for everyone who read his letter to the Ephesians. We get redemption, forgiveness, goodwill, God’s riches, etc. Ep 1.7-10We get this through adoption. The plan was for God to adopt us as his kids.Ephesians 1.4-6 KWL4 Namely how God chose us in Christ to be holy—spotless before his presence—before the world’s foundation!In love, 5 through Christ Jesus, God predestined us for adoption to himself—according to the goodwill of his will,6 in glorious praise of God’s grace, which he poured out on us in love.The problem is adoption nowadays, doesn’t look all that much like adoption back in the first-century Roman Empire. So this passage makes less of an impact than it should. Lemme fix that.In every culture there are kids without parents. They had biological parents, but those parents are unable, unfit, or unwilling to raise children. So their children are on their own… unless s…

Predestination and the Ephesians.

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Ephesians 1.1-10.Eleven years ago I led a year-long bible study on Ephesians.Seriously, a year. Every Sunday I took about two or three verses and analyzed the pants off ’em. Some of the participants in our group loved it, ’cause they’d never dug into the scriptures to such depth. Others figured I could’ve whipped through that letter in four weeks, ’cause every other bible study they’d been to had done so. Taking 50 weeks (’cause you gotta take a week or two off, y’know) felt to them like overkill.Meh; maybe. I will say I’ll take considerably less than a year in this go-around. So let’s start.Ephesians 1.1-3 KWL1 Paul, by God’s will an apostle of Christ Jesus, to those in Ephesus who are holy and trusting Christ Jesus.2 Grace to you. Peace from God our Father, and master Christ Jesus—3 blessed God, and Father of our master Christ Jesus!God’s the one who blesses us,in every supernatural blessing in the high heavens, in Christ!The “to Ephesus” in verse 1 was blank in the original. That’s…

Problematic worship music.

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The stuff I listen to. And don’t. We sang a song in my church last Sunday, “Set a Fire” by Will Reagan & United Pursuit. It’s hardly the first time; we’ve worshiped with it dozens of times before. It was a popular song on the radio for a while, ’cause it’s catchy. We like the “I want more of you God” bit, and how there’s no place we’d rather be than in God’s love and presence.But, to paraphrase Jesus, Rv 2.4 I have this against it. Here’s the relevant portion:(So) set a fire down in my soulThat I can’t contain and I can’t controlI want more of you GodI want more of you GodWhat’s wrong with it? Well, that fire we can’t contain and can’t control.The idea runs contrary to the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control. There should be nothing in our lives which we can’t take hold of. Yes, even things of the Spirit. For1 Corinthians 14.32-33 KWL32 Prophets’ spirits are in submission to the prophets,33A for God doesn’t do disorder, but peace.The prayer, “God, would you please just take me ove…

“Before I formed you in the womb…”

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So you’re prolife. Doesn’t mean you get a free pass to misappropriate bible. Jeremiah 1.5May as well state my biases up front: I’m prolife.In the United States we use this term to describe a person who doesn’t approve of aborting a pregnancy. Depending on the person, we either want the practice discouraged, banned outright, made a crime, or even made a capital crime with death penalties all around. Which goes way too far for me, because I’m prolife in the proper sense of the word: I don’t want anybody to die. Not just fetuses.The real problem with abortion is a society which claims they care about women and motherhood, but they only care about self-supporting women and mothers. When women get pregnant, hadn’t planned on it, and don‘t know how they’re gonna have the time or money to raise a child, society’s response isn’t, “How can I help? Whatever you need, just ask; I’m there.” It’s usually condemnation: “You should’ve expected this.”No moral support, no financial support, no persona…

“The bible says…” and people who have their doubts about the bible.

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The written word is not authoritative.I realize that’s an ironic thing to write. S’true though. People don’t believe everything they read. There’s this myth they did once; centuries ago, when the only stuff committed to print was important stuff, and therefore everybody figured people should believe everything they read. But of course it’s not true, because writers back then felt entirely free to challenge, critique, or refute the written word. Always have.For the most part it’s non-readers, or people who only read their bibles, who think the written word has some sort of special value. The rest of us read the internet, and know full well there’s a lot of rubbish out there.And when it comes to sharing Jesus, Christian apologists will regularly make the mistake of forgetting: We consider the bible authoritative. Pagans do not. To them it’s another religious book among thousands. To them it’s another centuries-old book written by dead white men. (Certain liberals are slightly more impre…

Convincing people they’re not all that good.

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Ray Comfort likes this particular evangelism trickapologetics argument. He didn’t invent it though; I’ve heard it from lots of people. Whenever he’s talking Christianity with someone, he’ll ask them, “Do you consider yourself a good person?”In my experience, a number of people will actually answer no. Sometimes because they actually don’t consider themselves good people; their karmic balance leans way too far on the bad side of the scale. Sometimes because they’re just being contrary; they don’t know what’s coming next, but they anticipate you want ’em to say yes, so they’re preemptively throwing a monkey wrench into things. And sometimes they do know what‘s coming next, and definitely wanna sabotage it. But in order to keep this article moving, let’s say they answered yes.PAGAN. “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person.”APOLOGIST. [stifling that grin you get when they take the bait] “So if you stand before God on Judgment Day, he’ll be okay with you and let you in?”PAGAN. “Probably.”APOLOGIST…

Trying to get away from it all… and failing.

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Sometimes we need to take a break from ministry… if people will let us. Mark 6.30-34 • Matthew 14.12-14 • Luke 9.10-11 • John 6.1-4.The bit where Jesus sent out his students to proclaim God’s kingdom and cure the sick, and where Jesus had them feed an audience of 5,000, were placed right next to one another in two of the synoptic gospels. Namely Mark and Luke.Mark 6.30-31 KWL30Jesus’s students were gathered together to see him,and reported everything to him—whatever they did, whatever they taught.31Jesus told them, “Come, by yourselves, to a place in the wilds. Stop for a little bit.”For many people were coming and going, and they hadn’t time to even eat.Luke 9.10 KWLReturning, the apostles detailed for Jesus all they did.Taking them, he withdrew with them to a town called Beit Sayid.The reason they’re right next to one another? Because Jesus was training his students to be his apostles and minister on his behalf. With that came how to minister. And when he sends us to minister apostl…

Reusing the bottle.

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The perils of being a heavy drinker. Whenever I buy a bottled drink—water, Gatorade, Powerade, iced tea, fizzy water, etc.—I nearly always reuse the bottle. I refill it with water and use it as my regular drinking bottle for about a month. Or until I buy another bottled drink; then I reuse that bottle. The other bottle goes into the recycling bin.I’ve been warned by more than one person I shouldn’t do this. ’Cause bacteria. Supposedly it’ll build up somewhere within the bottle, infect me, and give me MRSA or something.“So I take it you don’t wash your bottles,” I respond.Wash a disposable plastic bottle? Sure. A little dish soap and water; sometimes I even run it through the sanitizer. ’Cause they’re right: If you don’t clean your bottle, you will get bacteria, mold, or some other icky thing growing in there. It’s just it never occurred to them to wash disposable bottles. After all, they’re disposable.There is the worry that if I expose the bottle to heat, plastic molecules will come …

Merited favor.

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What people do instead of grace. Christians included. One of the more popular definitions of grace is “unmerited favor.” Which is one of grace’s definitions; I tend to go with “God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.” The unmerited-favor idea isn’t bad though.Problem is, we humans very, very seldom practice unmerited favor. We always demand some form of merit.I used to watch a home-makeover TV show. The producers probably got thousands of applications from people who’d love a free home makeover. But it’s clear they always preferred to grant ’em to needy families. And not just any needy families; not just any family who couldn’t possibly afford home improvements. They singled out deserving needy families.What made them “deserving”? The family had gone through some exceptional hardship, like dead relatives, disease, a disabled kid, a tornado, something that made ’em suffer. Or the family had done something heroic or honorable, like parents who seriously c…

Grow your faith!

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It’s not gonna grow when we won’t act on it.As I’ve written multiple times, authentic faith is not the magic power to believe ridiculous things. It’s “the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” He 11.1 KWL stuff we believe even though we haven’t seen it for ourselves, because we trust those who told us this stuff. Because they’re trustworthy. (And they’d better be trustworthy.)More than that: It’s when we act on this stuff. Fr’instance your friend told you a certain movie was good. You heard it wasn’t, but you have faith in your friend—specifically, his judgment about movies—so you ignore what everyone else told you, and go see the movie for yourself. And either your faith in your friend is proven, ’cause the movie was good… or it was broken, ’cause it sucked. Either way, you acted on faith.Yes, that’s faith. I know; the way people commonly define faith, it sounds more like you go to see a movie regardless of what anyone tells you, because you want so badly for it to be good, and are hopin…

Pagans and theology.

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People who aren’t Christian regularly critique Christianity: What we believe, what our churches teach, how we practice. I regularly lump ’em into three categories:Antichrists who offer no constructive criticism, and don’t care whether their complaints are valid or not: They just wanna bash Christians.The clueless, who overheard the antichrists’ complaints and think they’re valid. They honestly don’t know any better.Those with valid complaints, who take us to task when we truly are inconsistent or hypocritical.There’s not a lot we can do with the antichrists, much as Christian apologists might foolishly try. (Pearls before pigs, guys. Mt 7.6) The clueless can be reasoned with, but when they’re not merely clueless but downright anti-Christianity, shake the dust off and leave them be.But the valid critics must be taken seriously. Because they’re right. We Christians do teach one thing and do another. We preach forgiveness and grace and mercy when it comes to evangelism… then we turn roun…

John the baptist’s death.

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Because despots care more about power than people’s lives. Mark 6.21-29 • Matthew 14.6-12.As I mentioned previously “Herodias,” as she’s called in the King James Version, is Herodia Salome (or as I’ve westernized it, Salome Herod), granddaughter of Antipater Herod, the first “King Herod.” She’s the daughter of Aristobulus Herod, the wife of Aristobulus’s half-brother Philip, and later the wife of Aristobulus and Philip’s half-brother Antipater, or “Antipas,” as he’s usually called. Yeah, that’s how it was in the Herod family.You might recall Salome held a grudge against John the baptist, who at this point in the gospels was in Antipas’s prison. She wanted John dead for publicly criticizing her marriage. In those days before anyone thought to protect free speech, criticizing the Roman governor was considered sedition, and treason, and got the death penalty. So as the Roman governor of the Galilee, Antipas could’ve executed John whenever he pleased. But he didn’t, either because he fear…