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Showing posts from October, 2018

Blind faith: Those who say “we see,” and don’t.

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When faith isn’t based on anything or anyone trustworthy. Whenever pagans talk about faith, their usual definition of the word is “the magical ability to believe goofy nonsense.” You know, stuff people really shouldn’t believe.In some cases stuff that’s dangerous to believe. Fr’instance antivaxxers. They believe vaccines cause autism, or contain poisonous chemicals, or believe they’re otherwise harmful. Hence they refuse to get their kids vaccinated. I’m not quite sure what it says about them, that they’d prefer to see their kids dead than autistic… but it’s nothing good. What I do know is, thanks to them, childhood diseases which should be a thing of the past, are back—and posing a grave danger not just to their children, but to other children with compromised immune systems, or for whatever reasons can’t be vaccinated. Their belief in goofy nonsense is deadly.So yeah, if this what you think “faith” means, of course you’d think it wrong. Even evil.But it’s not at all what Christians …

Ditching the Old Testament?

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Yep, you should memorize certain verses. NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIAN /'nu tɛs.tə.mənt 'krɪs.tʃən/ n. One who professes to live by the teachings of the New Testament [instead of the Old].2. One who holds to the invalidity of the Old Testament, and the validity of the New.Whenever I talk about what we Christians think, believe, and behave, I quote bible. I’m trying to show how these views are based on, or at least jibe with, the scriptures. ’Cause Evangelicals uphold the bible (or at least claim to), so they wanna know there’s a valid proof text for what I’m talking about.And every so often, one of ’em will say, “I don’t think that’s what that verse means.” Which is fair; let’s take a closer look at it. I’ve been wrong before, so there’s nothing wrong with wanting to double-check a proof text. Really, Christians oughta do it more often, because you simply can’t trust popular Christian culture’s interpretations of the scriptures. Too much bias; not enough bible.When the scriptures ag…

Jesus and Peter walk on water.

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And how this got Jesus’s students to reconsider a few things. Mark 6.46-52 • Matthew 14.23-33 • John 6.16-21.Right after Jesus had his students feed 5,000-plus listeners, he sent ’em to the far side of Lake Tiberias (i.e. “the Galilean Sea,” although it’s not quite that big. The Great Lakes are way bigger.) So while Jesus dismissed the crowds and left to pray, the students rowed their way south.And the rowing wasn’t easy, ’cause the weather didn’t cooperate.Mark 6.46-48 KWL46 Saying goodbye, Jesus went off to a hill to pray.47Much later, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land.48A Seeing the students tortured by the rowing, for the wind was against them…Matthew 14.23-24 KWL23 Saying goodbye to the crowds, Jesus went up a hill by himself to pray.Much later he was alone there. 24 The boat was already many stadia away from land,tortured by the waves, for the wind was against it.John 6.16-18 KWL16 When it became later, Jesus’s students went down to the lake,17 …

False witness and fake news.

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What makes certain Christians so immune to facts? It should go without saying that Christians shouldn’t bear false witness. It’s one of the Ten Commandments, after all: Don’t claim anything knowingly untrue about your neighbor. Don’t spread gossip, which is nearly always half-true, if not entirely untrue.And in this present day, we have to bear in mind a lot of “news” sites are really gossip sites. Their writers didn’t bother to go to journalism school, and their publishers don’t care about journalistic standards of truthfulness and accuracy; all that crap just gets in the way of being able to publish sensational clickbait. So when they hear of something, or even just assume something’s true, they don’t bother to confirm or fact-check it. Especially when it suits their biases. Fr’instance if they don‘t like the president, they’ll publish anything which makes him look like an idiot; if they love the president, they’ll publish anything which makes him look like a saint.So since the webs…

“But in these last days”… prophecy stopped?

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How people’s doubts got added to our bible translations. Hebrews 1.2In the New International Version, the book of Hebrews begins like so.Hebrews 1.1-2 NIV1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.The English Standard Version translates it similarly.Hebrews 1.1-2 ESV1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.Other translations also present the similar idea: In the past God spoke through the prophets, but in the present he speaks through his Son.So the argument goes whenever cessationists wanna insist God doesn’t speak through prophets anymore. Prophets, they insist, are an Old Testament phenomenon. A bible-times office…

Prophetic dreams… and whether you had one.

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Of course God can speak to us in dreams. But he hasn’t spoken to us in every dream. When we sleep, we dream. Not all of us remember our dreams; I seldom do. Psychiatrists have all sorts of theories as to why, and a really popular one is that our brains are sorting out all the memories we haven’t yet processed… and because the brain is designed to recognize patterns and find meanings in the meaningless, it sorts the memories by turning them into a narrative. The narrative won’t always make sense. Doesn’t actually have to.I believe (though I won’t claim this is infallibly true) the reason some of us hear God speak to us in our dreams, is because God’s voice is one of the unprocessed or under-processed memories we had during the day. We weren’t really giving him our full attention at the time. But we did hear him. Our subconscious picked it up, at least. And once we’re asleep, as every subconscious memory is getting dredged up and looked at, of course God’s voice is gonna be in the mix. …

The sinner’s prayer isn’t proof of your salvation.

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Back in grad school I heard this ridiculous story from a preacher. Goes like so.There was this Christian who was feeling unsure of his salvation. He hoped he was saved, but was just full of doubts. A little voice inside his head kept telling him, “Oh you’re not saved. Not really.” The preacher figured this was Satan. [Considering how such baiting will simply drive Christians to find some way to be certain we’re saved, I’m pretty sure the devil isn’t that stupid. But whatever.]Anyway, this doubting Christian got an idea. First he said the sinner’s prayer. Yeah he’d probably said it ages ago, but bear with me: Next he made a sign with that day’s date on it, attached it to a stake, and pounded the stake into his backyard. Now every time the voice in his head told him, “You’re not saved,” he could look out the backyard window, point to the sign, and say, “I am so, devil. Get thee behind me.”Followed by a rash of students placing signs with various dates on ’em in the yard behind the dorms…

When the crowds realized Jesus is the Prophet.

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Wanna win a kingdom? Give ’em freebies. Mark 6.45-47 • Matthew 14.22-23 • John 6.14-17.Christians are far from decided about how the End Times are gonna play out. Well, most of us are undecided: We recognize God was deliberately vague about the details, and aren’t gonna presume to declare what his apocalyptic revelations mean. Sometimes because we’re too intimidated to try; sometimes because we know better than to try. Of course some of us aren’t so humble, and have even made intricate timelines.What did the Pharisees do when it came to End Times speculation? Oh, they totally made timelines. You probably guessed that about ’em.Not that their timelines lined up with one another. If you ever read the Mishna, you’ll notice Pharisees disagreed about everything. So of course there were dozens of theories about the order of events, and the various End Times figures whom the Pharisees expected would appear. There’s Messiah of course; that’d be Jesus the Nazarene. Some Pharisees couldn’t figu…

Redefining joy “because happiness is fleeting.”

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Ask anyone what joy means and they’ll tell you what the dictionary usually tells you: It’s happiness. It’s pleasure. You feel really, really good.Ask a Christian and they’ll give you the very same answer. That is, till you bring up the fruit of the Spirit. Then suddenly the definition of joy changes to contentment. To being okay with whatever befalls us in life. To gritting our teeth and buggering on. All the happiness gets sucked right out of the meaning.What’s wrong with these people? What, have they never experienced joy before?No, they have! The problem isn’t that they don’t know what joy is, nor what it feels like. The problem is they don’t understand fruit of the Spirit. Christians have some really odd, wrong ideas about what it’s like. So these odd ideas worm their way backwards into the definitions of the individual fruits, and distort what we mean by love or any of the emotions encouraged by the Spirit.Emotions, y’see, come and go. We all know this. Joy fades; love fades; com…

Nefilim: The mythology of fallen people.

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An odd little story in Genesis, and the myths which sprang from it. NAFALnɔ'fɔlverb (Hebrew ‏נָפַל, Strong’s 5307) To fall down, fall prostrate, fall into, be thrown down, be removed.[Nefil nɛ'filnoun, nefilim nɛ.fil'imn.pl.]Every once in a while I get asked about the Nefilim (NIV “Nephilim,” KJV “giants”). And folks, it’s not “a Nefilim,” ’cause it’s a plural noun. One Nefil, many Nefilim. Understandable mistake though; most English speakers can’t get our own plurals right, much less Hebrew nouns.I don’t pry into why people wanna know about Nefilim, although when they explain, it nearly always has to do with some mythological garbage about half-human half-angel beings. They hear about that, then hear, “And it’s in the bible!” so they check out their bible and find this weird little story. It comes right before the flood story in Genesis 6, so you’d think they’d have read it, but you know people don’t read their bibles. But even when people aren’t checking up on weird myt…

Vain repetition?

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And the ridiculous idea that repetition and prayer in worship might lead to something devilish. When I wrote on God-mindfulness last week, I mentioned one of the techniques people use to remind themselves God’s always here, is by praying the Jesus Prayer. It’s a really short rote prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—which we can use to help focus when we meditate on God, or remind ourselves he’s right here with us.But of course someone (and we’ll call her Fenella) read the article on God-mindfulness, read the article on the Jesus Prayer, and despite my warnings, immediately leapt in her mind to a dark place. “That,” Fenella insisted, “is not biblical prayer.”Um… in the Jesus Prayer article I pointed out the three bible passages the Jesus Prayer is based on. One of which was prayed to Jesus, personally and directly, by Bar Timaeus. And Jesus answered it—despite the naysayers who tried to shush Bar Timaeus. You know, like Fenella’s kinda doing. (I really do…

Jesus’s students feed thousands of people.

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God’s kingdom doesn’t suffer from shortages. Mark 6.35-44 • Matthew 14.15-21 • Luke 9.12-17 • John 6.5-13.This story is basically Jesus’s riff on a similar situation with Elisha ben Šafat:2 Kings 4.1-7 KWL1 A woman, one of the women of “the sons of prophets,” cried out to Elishato say, “Your slave, my man, died. You know your slave respected the LORD.He was a debtor, and a collector is coming to take two of my children as slaves.”2 Elisha told her, “What can I do for you? Tell me. What do you have in your house?”She said, “Your slave has nothing in her house but a pot of oil.”3Elisha said, “Go ask all your neighbors outside for pots for yourself.Empty pots. Not just a few!4 Come in the house and shut the door behind you and your children.Pour oil into all these pots. Set aside the full pots.”5 She went with this, and shut the door behind her and her children.They came to her with pots, and she poured.6 When the pots were filled, she told her children, “Bring me another!”They told her,…

What Pelagius did or didn’t teach.

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Not that people aren’t gonna try to debate the idea. Last week I wrote about Pelagianism, the belief humans are inherently good. It’s a common and popular idea, but it’s heresy. The ancient Christians condemned it at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431.For good reason. If humans are fundamentally good—not profoundly corrupted by selfishness and sin—in theory it’s possible for one of us to live an uncorrupted life. Without sin. And in so doing, merit heaven all on one’s own. Without Jesus. After all, what might Jesus add to one’s inherent goodness? Nothing but a rubber stamp.Well. Once the article went live, it annoyed various Pelagians. Some of whom had no idea they were actually Pelagian! They always presumed humans are basically good, and hate the idea we’re not. Likewise they hate the idea they’re heretic, ’cause too many Christians wrongly think “heretic” means “going to hell.” So them’s fighting words.I didn’t write the article to pick a fight with Pelagians. I wrote it to inf…

Fake joy, evil joy, and joyless Christians.

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There are a lot of joyless people in the world. Sometimes it’s a clinical problem; I’m not talking about them today. If you need medication, get it. Same as if you have too much joy.Nope; today I mean the fruitless Christian who rarely experiences great happiness, the proper definition of joy, because their fleshly attitudes simply don’t reflect the attitudes the Holy Spirit brings out in us. Instead of joy, they’re angry, argumentative, bitter, divisive, envious, faultfinding, hateful, humorless, pessimistic, and unforgiving. When they encounter joy, they’ll actually try to stamp it out.What do they do instead of joy? As is typical of fruitless Christians, they’ll find something else in their character which they’ll try to pass off as “joy.” If they lack fruit, fake fruit will do them.The most common false definition of joy is “a state of well-being.” It’s not happiness; it’s being content, comfortable, okay with the way things are. Happiness is fleeting, they explain. Contentment is…

Are Mormons Christian?

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I’ve written more than once that we’re saved by God’s grace—which means we’re not saved by our orthodoxy. There are a lot of Evangelical Christians who’ve got it into our heads that we’re saved only once we have all the correct beliefs; a situation I call faith righteousness.Faith righteousness is easily disproven by the fact God saves new Christians. Does any newbie hold all the correct beliefs about God? Of course not; they don’t know anything yet! None of us did. (Some of us still don’t.) But we’re pursuing a relationship with God, and as we screw up time and again, God graciously forgives our deficiencies. Might be moral deficiencies; might be doctrinal deficiencies. Makes no difference. Grace covers all.Of course, when I teach this, people occasionally wanna know just how far they can push God’s grace. They wanna know just how egregiously they can sin before God finally says, “Nope; you’ve gone too far; you’re going to hell.” Not necessarily because they wanna sin (although let’s…

God-mindfulness. ’Cause he’s always here.

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’Cause it might help to constantly remind yourself God is here. SHE. [only just noticing me] “When’d you get back?”ME. [confused] “I didn’t go anywhere.”SHE. “I thought you left for work.”ME. “Nope. It’s my day off.”SHE. “Well good; I have some chores for you to get done.”Yep, that’s how my days off tend to go.And y’know, that’s how our relationships with God tend to go. At some point we learned he’s omnipresent—he’s everywhere at once, in all of space and time—but that’s a bit of data we filed in the back of our minds, and the rest of the time it’s more like “Out of sight, out of mind.” If we don’t see God, or don’t feel God, we presume he’s not around—even though we still have that omnipresence idea rattling around our brains somewhere.When we talk about God’s “presence,” we usually mean when we notice he’s here. Again, God hasn’t gone anywhere. But something made us aware—more aware than usual—he’s in the room. He did something, like empowered a miracle or gave a prophecy. We felt

Pray for everyone—and pray for Paul.

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Ephesians 6.18-24.As I said in the piece on God’s armor, we’re wearing God’s gear to fight the devil and its temptations. And while we’re at it, we’re praying prayers and requests at every moment in the Spirit. You know, like Paul wrote in the next verse:Ephesians 6.18-20 KWL18 Through it all, as you’re praying prayers and requests at every moment in the Spirit,as you’re staying alert about it, always staying on it and making requests for all saints—19 and pray for me, so a word would be given to open my mouth,to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel.20 Because of the gospel I’m “the elder in chains,”but it’s so I can boldly speak of it, like I have to talk.’Cause in this fight, we gotta stay in contact with our commander. We gotta stay alert, ask for support, ask for aid for our fellow Christians in the battle… and ask help for Paul too, while we’re at it.Yeah, I know Paul‘s been dead for nearly 20 centuries now. But Paul wrote this letter in part so all the churches this lette…

How does one answer a fool?

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Proverbs 26.4-5.Whenever someone claims the bible never, ever contradicts itself, I like to take ’em to this pair of proverbs.Proverbs 26.4-5 KWL4 Don’t respond to a fool’s foolishness, lest you be compared to them.5 Respond to a fool’s foolishness, lest they become wise in their own eyes.Thing is, whenever I do this, the person immediately attempts to explain how they don’t contradict one another. Oh, they’ll do a terrible job of it. It’ll get ridiculous and illogical. But they do try.Because at some point in their past, they heard the bible never contradicts itself. They liked the idea. So they made it a core belief: One of the things which defines their Christianity, which defines their trust in the bible, is this ground-floor idea it never contradicts itself. Shake that belief and now they gotta rethink their belief system from the ground up.But there’s something in human nature where it’s just easier to go into full-on denial: “No it doesn’t contradict itself, and here’s why…” In…

Pelagianism: “Humanity’s not all that bad.”

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When Christians imagine we’re good enough for heaven.PELAGIANpə'leɪ.dʒi.ənadjective. Denies the Christian doctrines of original sin and total depravity: Believes humans are inherently good, able to make unselfish choices, and can be worthy of heaven on our own merits.SEMI-PELAGIANsɛm.aɪ.pə'leɪ.dʒi.ənadjective. A Pelagian whom we kinda like.Every once in a while somebody, usually a theology nerd like me, is gonna fling around the terms Pelagian and semi-Pelagian. Hopefully they know what they’re talking about. Many don’t, and are just using those words to mean heretic. ’Cause in the year 431, the Council of Ephesus declared Pelagianism to be heresy—so whether critics understand Pelagianism, councils, or heresy, what they’re really trying to say is the person’s wrong, and any label will do.So let’s back up a bunch. A Pelagian, like I said in the definition, believes humans are inherently good. Children are born innocent, and if nothing upends that natural innocence, stay good an…

Being strong and courageous.

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Sometimes people wanna fight. And think they have a verse which permits fighting. Joshua 1.9.One of my biggest peeves about the way Christianity is practiced in the United States has to do with the way certain Christianist men’s groups regularly twist the scriptures in order to justify culturally-defined “masculinity.” Not masculinity as Jesus demonstrated it, nor even as the fallible men in the bible practiced it: Masculinity as defined by popular American culture. With, frequently, a lot of chauvinism and sexism mixed in.A lot of these men have taken their cues from the 1990s’ mythopoetic men’s movement, which author John Eldredge repackaged for Christians so we can do the same thing. They scoured myths, legends, and fairy tales for clues as to what’s really true about masculinity. Took a lot of those old stories out of context, in so doing. Eldredge prefers pulling his ideas from the bible and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, but he makes the same mistake of overlaying his prejudices on th…

The “Where are you?” prayer.

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God’s always there. But when we don’t feel him, it helps to acknowledge this. Ordinarily, God is invisible. Can’t see him.So we compensate by trying to feel him. Sometimes by “practicing his presence,” of constantly reminding ourselves he’s here, including him in our actions, talking to him… and discovering he talks back. Other times, and less legitimately, by psyching ourselves into feeling him—and all the problems immediately caused when we confuse happy thoughts with the Holy Spirit.But sometimes we can’t feel him. Either those feelings are drowned out by our other feelings, ’cause we’re going through a crisis, or mourning, or something else is creating a whole lot of emotional noise, making God (or “God”) harder to detect. Or we’re depressed: We feel nothing, lest of all God.And sometimes God’s totally behind this. Because we’ve taken to trusting those feelings instead of him, and he wants us to follow him. He tolerates our immature methods of “hearing” him for only so long, and i…

The armor of God.

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Ephesians 6.10-17.Christians are fascinated by the armor-of-God metaphor which Paul used in Ephesians 6. Sometimes a little too fascinated.Jesus teaches us to foster and encourage peace. Mt 5.9 Of course, our sinful human nature would much rather fight, and kick ass for Jesus if we can. So the idea we get to wear armor and play soldier really fires up certain Christians, who’d love to engage in a little testosterone-fueled warfare, and find this passage an excuse to indulge their blood-soaked he-man fantasies a little. If only metaphorically.For such people, God’s armor is never for defense, Ep 6.11 only offense. Those who fancy themselves prayer warriors love to talk about how to attack with the armor. Christians even make plastic armor for children to play with—including a sword of the Spirit, Ep 6.17 which kids can use to smite one another. In so doing they learn—wrongly—the word of God is about hurting people.But just because God’s word is sharper than a sword He 4.12 doesn’t mean…