Posts

Showing posts from August, 2018

Hating the opposition.

Image
Talking politics is a minefield. I’m gonna dance through it today anyway. Half the folks I know are progressive, and the other half conservative. Half Democrat, half Republican. School and work friends lean progressive, family and church friends t’other. (Yes, even my fellow seminarians lean progressive. Not because I went to a liberal seminary or anything; I certainly didn’t. But because when you wanna get into ministry and help people, you find the progressives tend to be more helpful, and the conservatives more Darwinian. But that’s a whole other discussion.) I grew up conservative—conservative parents, conservative churches, conservative friends. So that’s what I used to be. I’m far more moderate now. I often refer to myself as a “recovering conservative,” as those in the 12-step programs tend to describe themselves: I used to hew to the party lines pretty tightly, ’cause I was raised to think all true Christians thought and voted that way. But now I follow Jesus, and let

“In Jesus name” and why it doesn’t always work.

Image
We don’t use his name to get whatever we want. We us it to seek what he wants. Jesus told us we can use his name whenever we ask the Father for things. John 14.12-15 KWL 12 “Amen amen! I promise you believers in me will do the same works I’ve done. And they’ll do greater things, because I’m going to the Father. 13 And whatever you might ask in my name, I’ll do it so it can glorify the Father by the Son. 14 Whatever you might ask me in my name, I’ll do! 15 When you love me, keep my commands!” He told us as much more than once. Jn 15.16, 16.23-24 And we want stuff from him. So that’s precisely what we do: We pray for stuff in Jesus’s name. Well, we pray for stuff “in Jesus name.” That’s usually the way Christians phrase it. Often it legitimately does mean “the name of Jesus.” But too often it means the magic name of Jesus. Because just like “please” and “thank you” are “magic words” we use to be polite and get our way, “Jesus name” is considered the magic word to

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

Image
In what situation should we expect this verse to apply? Isaiah 54.17 You hear people quote this one when they’re claiming God promised them invulnerability. Against what? Well it depends on the Christian. Very few are gonna claim this verse is about bullets; when a gunman busts into a school and opens fire, the few who stand up and declare, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper!” are gonna quickly discover this verse doesn’t apply to their situation at all. Most of the time we figure this has to do with spiritual warfare. Which is about resisting temptation, Ep 6.10-13 although a number of Christians think it’s about believing so hard that they’ll get what they ask for, that they do . So the “weapons,” they imagine, are unbelief, discouragement, and the usual inconveniences of life which might shake our determination. Not desires and fleshly impulses, the actual wiles of the devil. If we don’t know what we’re actually meant to resist, turns out every weapon formed aga

Tradition: Customs which (should) help us follow Jesus.

Image
TRADITION /trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Beliefs and customs passed down from generation to generation. [Traditional /trə'dɪ.ʃən.əl/ adj. ] CHRISTIAN TRADITION /'krɪs.ʃcən trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Someone other than the Holy Spirit, or something other than the bible, which taught you Christianity. The first time we were introduced to Jesus, for most of us it wasn’t a personal introduction. He didn’t appear to us personally, like he did Stephen or Paul or Ananias. Nope. We learned of him secondhand, through other Christians—parents, relatives, friends, evangelists, preachers, writers, and so on. We interacted with those other Christians, heard their stories, heard of their own God-experiences, put our faith in these people, and followed the Jesus they shared with us till we eventually had our own experiences of him. ( You have had your own experiences, right? I would hope so. ) But despite those personal experiences we’ve had of Jesus, most of the things we still think, bel

Be excellent to each other.

Image
Ephesians 4.17-32. In Romans Paul pointed out the reason pagans sin is because while they totally know better, they still don’t care to have anything to do with God, so he lets ’em live with their own self-deception. And lets ’em get worse and worse. Ro 1.21-32 But once a pagan becomes Christian, we should snap out of that behavior and follow God. Right? Right. But we don’t always. Because some of that self-deception is pretty strong. Loads of Christians imagine it’s the sinner’s prayer, not the Spirit’s fruit, which confirms our salvation and proves he’s in us. Loads of us imagine we needn’t do any good works, because since we’re not saved by them, so what’s the point? Or we imagine the good works solely consist of believing all the right things, and not so much doing the right things. Hogwash, but popular hogwash. And old hogwash; people were washing hogs with it back in ancient times too. Plenty of ancient Christians figured all they had to do was confess Jesus, b

Election: God did choose you, y’know.

Image
Because you didn’t just wander into Christianity. God wants you. ELECT ə'lɛkt verb Choose for a purpose or position, like a political contest or a job. 2. noun. A person (or people) chosen by God for a purpose or position. [Often “ the elect.”] [Elector ə'lɛk.tər noun , election ə'lɛk.ʃən noun. ] I grew up with a Christian mom, a Christian upbringing, and lots of relationships with people who happened to be Christian. Whole lot of opportunities to have God-experiences. It’s kinda like I was set up: Stuff was deliberately stuck in my path to influence me to become Christian. Other Christians didn’t grow up the same way, of course. Things were a lot less Christian, a lot more pagan —or they grew up with another religion altogether. But at one point in their lives they were obviously nudged in Christ Jesus’s direction. Maybe they had a rough patch and Christians showed up to point ’em to Jesus. Maybe a miracle happened and they realized, not just that God’s he

“Pre-Christians” and religious bigotry.

Image
About 25 years ago, my pastor talked about how he was no longer gonna refer to pagans as “non-Christians.” (He never did refer to them as pagans. That’s a practice which varies from church to church. Anyway.) From now on he was gonna call them “pre-Christians.” Because, he explained, he was gonna hope in favor of them becoming Christian eventually. It’s based on optimism. It also addresses a rather common problem we find in Christendom, particularly in the Bible Belt. It’s a certain degree of negativity Christians can have towards pagans. Bluntly, it’s religious bigotry: The attitude that if you’ve not chosen Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must be sinful, stupid, or otherwise morally or mentally deficient. My pastor explained none of this thinking is proper, nor even correct. Pagans are simply people who’ve not chosen Jesus yet . He hopes they yet will. And Christians have no leg to stand on when it comes to religious bigotry. God loves the world, Jn 3.16 which includes a

Stick together.

Image
Ephesians 4.1-16. Now that God’s provided his adoptive kids with his superabundant riches, it’s time for us to live like his kids. So here’s the part of Ephesians where Paul moves away from the salvation theology, and gets into how we Christians are supposed to behave towards one another. We’ve been predestined for God’s kingdom; now let’s walk like inheritors of his kingdom. Paul especially emphasized the unity we oughta see among Christians, who are after all sharing the same Master. Ephesians 4.1-6 KWL 1 So I, the captive in the Master, encourage you to walk the calling you were called to, appropriately: 2 With all humility and gentleness. With patience, putting up with one another in love. 3 Eager to defend the Spirit’s unity, in peace’s joint captivity: 4 One body. One Spirit. Just as you were also called in one hope of your calling. 5 One Master. One faith. One baptism. 6 One God, and Father of everyone, over everyone, and in everyone. Most of th

On sexists. Sorry, “complementarians.”

Image
But really sexists with a nicer-sounding label. COMPLEMENTARIAN /kɑmp.lə.mən'tɛ.rɪ.ən/ adj. Sexist: Believes men and women are inherently unequal in authority (to lead, teach, or parent) and rights. 2. Believes men and women should adhere to [culturally defined] gender roles, and complement one another by fulfilling the unique duties of those roles. EGALITARIAN /ɪ.ɡæl.ə'tɛ.ri.ən/ adj. Believes all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunity. I really dislike the term “complementarian.” It’s what logicians call a weasel word: It’s one of those words people use instead of the proper word, ’cause they don’t care to tell you what they really mean. Or they’re in serious self-denial about what they really mean. Bluntly, “complementarian” is Christianese for “sexist.” Because that’s exactly what they mean: Women and men aren’t equal; there are things men can do which women mustn’t; if women dare do them, they’re violating the social order which has kept me

When people can see God.

Image
Or to use the theologians’ term for it, theophanies. THEOPHANY /θi'ɑ.fə.ni/ n. An experience where God is visible; often hearable and touchable. Recently a member of a discussion group I’m in was talking about apostles: One of his definitions of apostle is someone who’s seen Jesus. You know, like the Twelve—and Paul of Tarsus, whom he figures was a special case, because Jesus doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore. There I entirely disagree. Jesus appears to people all the time. Poll the people of your church sometime. Assuming they’re not afraid to admit it (either because your church doesn’t believe in miracles, and in so doing has kinda banned them; or they’re afraid you’ll think them nuts) you might be startled to discover at least one of them has seen Jesus. And no, not a painting of him, nor a Jesus movie : Seen Jesus. I went into more detail about this in my article on the subject. Jesus can and does appear to people, still. This is the usual form a God-sighting w

Where there’s no vision. (It’s not your vision.)

Image
It’s not your motivational-speech verse either. Years ago I taught at a Christian junior high. We had a chapel service, and one of my fellow teachers was gonna preach a nice motivational mini-sermon, and came to me for help: He was trying to find this verse in his bible, and couldn’t: Proverbs 29.18 KJV Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. It’s because the school’s official translation was the New International Version, but he had the verse memorized in the King James Version, and the NIV had updated the vocabulary so much, he couldn’t recognize it anymore. The 1984 edition of the NIV put it thisaway: Proverbs 29.18 NIV (1984) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. The current edition updated it even further. Plus made it gender-inclusive. Proverbs 29.18 NIV (2011) Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who h

God’s superabundant riches.

Image
Ephesians 3.13-21. God’s great mystery, now revealed to the world through Paul, was God’s kingdom now includes gentiles. Previous generations didn’t realize this, despite plenty of hints in the Old Testament; it’s why Pharisees were regularly so dismissive of gentiles. But God now wants his church to make it crystal clear: The good news is for everyone . No exceptions. Jesus is Lord of all. This was why he was in chains, Paul explained. Ep 3.1 In Acts he proclaimed Jesus had sent him to the gentiles—in temple, of all places. Ac 22.21 The resulting riot got the Romans to arrest him, Ac 22.22-24 originally to flog him and silence him, but Paul’s citizenship meant it quickly turned into protective custody, as the Judean leadership sought to get him killed. At the time he wrote Ephesians , we figure he was awaiting trial in Rome. His legal woes were entirely provoked by the very idea of including gentiles in God’s kingdom. But Paul wasn’t so petty as to blame gentiles for

Outside and inside of the Bible Belt.

Image
Americans know this already, but I have foreign readers, so I figured I should explain: There’s a section of the United States called “the Bible Belt.” Pagans named it that, but the people who live there are perfectly happy with the term. It’s the American South, in which the population is so overtly Christian—specifically a conservative Evangelical form of Christianity—it’s simply taken for granted you’re Christian. Those who live in the Bible Belt presume they’re Christian, even when they aren’t. Likewise they presume their neighbors are Christian, and are startled and even horrified to discover otherwise. To them of course the United States is a Christian nation. Certainly everyone they know is Christian. It’s hypocrisy, of course. The residents of the Bible Belt are about as Christian as the people of my state, California. Seriously; polls and surveys bear this out. The difference is that when Californians aren’t Christian, we don’t pretend we are, and don’t try to di