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Showing posts from 2019

St. Stephen, and true martyrdom.

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St. Stephen’s Day falls on 26 December, the second day of Christmas. Not that we know Stephen died on this day; it’s just where western tradition happened to put it. In eastern churches it’s tomorrow, 27 December. (And if they’re still using the old Julian calendar, it’s 9 January to us.) In some countries it’s an official holiday. You may remember Στέφανος / Stéfanos “Stephen” from Acts 6-7 . Yep, he’s that St. Stephen. In the ancient Hebrew culture, tithes weren’t money, but food. Every year you took 10 percent of your firstfruits and celebrated with it; Dt 14.22-27 every third year you gave it to the needy. Dt 14.28-29 Apparently the first Christians took on the duty of distributing tithes to the needy. But they were accused of favoring Aramaic-speaking Christians over Greek-speaking ones. Ac 6.1 So the Twelve had the church elect seven Greek-speakers to take over the job. Ac 6.2-3 Stephen was first in this list, and Acts’ author Luke pointedly called him full of

Amen!

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AMEN ɑ.mɛn, eɪ.mɛn exclamation. Utterance of support or agreement. Amen probably comes from the Hebrew verb אָמַן / amán , “to support, assure, trust.” Sorta the Hebrews’ way of replying, “True.” For the most part, we Christians use amen as a way to end our prayers. Like when you say “goodbye” on a phone conversation, or “over and out” on a radio conversation. My childhood Sunday school teachers even described it as “hanging up.” Custom is, we gotta finish our prayers with amen. Or the popular incantation “ In Jesus Name amen.” Or, if you want everyone else in the room to say amen along with you: “And all God’s people said…” (or “the church said,” or “we all said”) at which everyone was conditioned to reply, “Amen.” Sometimes the three-syllable “A-a-men.” As you know, some Christian customs are more than just traditions: We gotta do them. They’re virtually commands. If you don’t end a prayer with amen, it confuses people. Wanna really throw off your prayer group? Next

One who brings justice to the gentiles.

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Isaiah 42.1-4, Matthew 12.14-20. After Jesus cured the man with the paralyzed hand, this happened. Matthew 12.14-20 KWL 14 Going out, the Pharisees took a meeting about this—so they could have Jesus destroyed. 15 Jesus, who knew this , left there, and a great crowd followed him; he had cured them all. 16 Jesus had rebuked them, lest they reveal what he might do 17 so that he might fulfill the word from the prophet Isaiah, saying, 18 “Look at my servant whom I chose, my beloved. My soul approves of him. I put my Spirit in him, and he’ll bring justice to the gentiles. 19 He won’t struggle or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. 20 He won’t split a broken reed, won’t extinguish smoking linen, till he can issue justice in victory. 21 Gentiles will put their hope in his name.” Is 42.1-4 Since Matthew quotes Isaiah and says Jesus fulfilled it, Christians presume this particular part of Isaiah is a messianic prophecy; that it’s specific

Before you go book shopping…

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This Christmas, some of you are getting gift cards or gift certificates. I regularly get Starbucks cards—which is great, ’cause that’s exactly what I want. I’ll definitely use ’em. Yes, I’m at Starbucks as I write this. Anyway, some of these gift cards will be for bookstores. Maybe Amazon, maybe not. And as Christians who wanna get religious about our relationships with Jesus, some of us are likely thinking of buying Christian books and resources, and stuff that’ll help us get better at Christianity. I know I do. And, when I was newly devout, I wasted a bunch of money on stuff that really didn’t do any of those things. Likely so will you. We all do. Our zealousness overtakes our wallets. But hold on there, little buckaroo: Don’t get all fired up to ride off an’ lasso some steer, ’cause you might just wind up with some bull. If you go to a brick ’n mortar Christian bookstore, first thing you’re gonna notice is they sell an awful lot of “Jesus junk.” And bibles; most of their

The Holy Spirit and the supernatural.

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1 Corinthians 12.1-7. SUPERNATURAL su.pər'nætʃ(.ə).rəl noun. Event caused by (or credited to) some force beyond scientific understanding, beyond natural laws. If you wanna get technical, whenever anyone interferes with the natural course of events, it’s more-than-natural; it’s super -natural. Fr’instance if I put plastic pink flamingos in the front yard. They aren’t the product of Mommy plastic flamingo and Daddy plastic flamingo loving one another very much, and giving one another a special kind of “hug.” Nor did they sprout up from the ground like mutant orchids. Somebody —really a whole bunch of somebodies—drilled for petroleum, extracted the plastic, colored it pink, molded it into a flamingo shape, lost all sense of what’s appropriate for lawn ornaments, bought them, and placed them there. Didn’t happen naturally. But we tend to call this behavior unnatural , not supernatural. Typically we save the term “supernatural” for stuff which apparently wasn’t done by

The seven deadly sins.

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The “seven deadly sins” confuse a lot of people. Back in 2008, a rumor spread that the Vatican declared more deadly sins. It came from an interview with Gianfranco Girotti, the head bishop of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary. (I know; this sounds like the Vatican prison. It’s actually the theologians who handle questions about sin, repentance, and forgiveness.) Anyway, in Girotti’s interview with L’Osservatore Romano on 7 March 2008, he listed certain present-day practices which he believed have a harmful global impact: Pollution, drug trafficking, embryo-destroying research, other unethical human experiments, abortion, pedophilia, and economic injustice. Somehow the press converted this into “The Vatican announced there are new sins!” And since your average reporter (lapsed Catholics included) know bupkis about the seven deadly sins, they just assumed there are now 14 deadly sins. Now littering is gonna send you to hell. Like I said, they confuse people. Most people

Fasting on the feast days.

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Christian holidays are also known as feast days . The term comes from the bible, ’cause that’s how the L ORD described the holidays he instituted for the Hebrews: “Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year,” Ex 23.14 KJV namely Passover, Pentecost, and Tents. Christians turned Passover into Easter, added Christmas, usually downplay Pentecost, and usually skip Tents… but otherwise yeah, on Christian holidays we tend to do a bit of feasting. (And on St. Patrick’s Day, drinking.) Thing is, Evangelicals regularly forget Christmas is 12 days long. Our secular culture thinks it’s one day—beginning and ending on 25 December. If the decorations stay up till New Year’s Day, it’s only because you personally struggle to let go of things. Give it up; take ’em down. Hey, the stores are already getting ready for Valentine’s Day. In reality Christmas continues till Epiphany. But because Evangelicals follow the culture, and tend to dismiss ancient custom as “Catholic,” the

Our suffering servant.

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Isaiah 53. Mixed in with all the Messianic prophecies about a king who’d restore Israel, conquer the world, and set aright everything gone wrong, there are also prophecies about a suffering servant who’d get crushed. We Christians likewise recognize these prophecies to be about Jesus. But people only realized it after the fact. Before Jesus went through his suffering, Pharisees believed these prophecies can’t be about Messiah. He’s gonna conquer the world! It’s gonna be an easy victory, achieved through the Almighty’s power. Suffering and death? Has to be some other guy. Y’might recall as soon as Jesus brought up the very idea this suffering servant was him , his best student Simon Peter recoiled. “This will never happen to you,” was his rebuke. Mt 16.22 Human nature being what it is, we pick and choose the bible passages we like, skip the rest… and consequently miss most of the story. ’Cause the parts we avoid are frequently the really important parts. Jesus’s death s

The Son who was given us.

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Isaiah 9.6-7. Isaiah ben Amoch ( KJV “Amoz”) was a prophet all his life. His book contains prophecies spanning the 60-plus years of his ministry in the second half of the 700s BC . And it was during this time, in 722, that the Assyrian Empire conquered and scattered northern Israel. Isaiah lived in southern Israel, also called Judah or Judea. The Judeans worried greatly about the threat of Assyrian invasion. A number of Judeans were convinced the L ORD would never let any dirty foreigners conquer their great land; after all, God’s temple was there, and he’d never let ’em destroy his temple. And a number recognized, same as Isaiah, their covenant with God dictated he’d totally let the land get taken if his people defied him. If you didn’t believe this, just look at what happened to northern Israel. But even when we think the End has come, that everything’s been destroyed and is over and done with, God knows better. He had Isaiah say this to all Israelis—both the defeate

Hallelujah!

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Hallelujah is actually two Hebrew words. הַ֥לְלוּ / hallelú , the command “All of you, praise!” ( KJV “praise ye”), and יָ֨הּ / Yah ( KJV “Jah”), short for יְ֭הוָה / Y HWH , “Jehovah, the L ORD .” When we say hallelujah, or its Greek variant ἀλληλούϊα / allilúia (Latin and KJV “Alleluia”), we’re literally saying, “Praise the L ORD ,” which is why many bibles translate it that way. There are certain Jews who insist the -jah ending of the word absolutely does not refer to Y HWH . That’s because they consider God’s name far too holy to say aloud. ( Certainly too holy to abbreviate with some nickname like Yah!) But they wanna say hallelujah, and don’t wanna replace it with “hallelu-Adonai” or “hallelu-haShem” or one of their other euphemisms they use, like the Christian substitution “the L ORD .” So they claim Jah means something else , like “yea!” Which is kinda ridiculous, considering all the Hebrew personal names which deliberately end in -iah or -jah, such as Elijah, Isaia

Plucking Jesus’s beard. Or not.

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Isaiah 50.6. Jesus fulfills a lot of Old Testament scriptures, and this advent I wanna look at the ones he particularly fulfilled from Isaiah . Some of them explicitly refer to Jesus, ’cause a future Messiah, a savior, a suffering servant, a King of kings, is precisely who Isaiah was writing about. But some of ’em actually aren’t about Jesus. They’re either about humanity in general, Israelis in general, or even Isaiah himself. But because the same or similar events happened to Jesus, he fulfilled them. His experiences fleshes out these verses. That’s what fulfillment in the bible actually means: Not that Jesus did as predicted, but that Jesus reflects these ideas better, sometimes, than the original ideas. So today’s passage is one of those reflections. It’s not about Jesus; it’s explicitly about Isaiah himself. About how, as a prophet, he gets crapped on. Isaiah 50.4-9 KWL 4 The L ORD my Master gave me an educated tongue so I might know to say a timely word to

Maranatha: Come Lord Jesus!

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There’s an Aramaic word in the New Testament which only appears once, in 1 Corinthians 16.22, and is probably better known as the name of a music label or a brand of peanut butter: Maranatha . Some bibles don’t bother to translate it… 1 Corinthians 16.22 NASB If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. …and some bibles do. 1 Corinthians 16.22 ESV If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! Properly maranatha is two words, which in Greek are μαρὰν ἀθά , and in Aramaic are ܡܪܢ ܐܬܐ (still transliterated marán athá ). And properly it’s not a command for our Master to come; it means “our Master came.” But Christians prefer to interpret it with the same idea we see in Revelation 22.20: Revelation 22.20 ESV He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! Yeah, the Lord came to earth in his first coming. But that’s not the end of the story. He’s coming back. Hence the

“Prevenient grace”: Already there, without limit.

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PREVENE pri'vin verb . Arrive first, come before, pre-exist. [Prevenient pri'vin.jənt adjective , prevenience pri'vin.jəns noun .] Time for an old-timey word, prevenient . One you’ll really only find theologians use anymore. But I gotta inflict it on you—sorry—because so many Christians use it to describe how God’s grace works. Y’might already know humans are selfish, and this self-interest distorts everything we do. Including everything good we try to do: There’s gotta be something in it for us . Even if it looks and feels like there’s nothing in it for us—if it’s an absolute act of sacrifice, one which harms us instead of benefits us, one which makes us feel awful instead of noble—there’s still something way deep down, embedded in the core of our being, which gets some satisfaction from it. Otherwise we we’d never voluntarily do it. That’s just how messed up we are. “Totally depraved,” as the theologians put it. But people usually pretend this messed-up

Don’t be ashamed of Jesus.

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Mark 8.34 – 9.1, Matthew 16.24-28, Luke 9.23-27. Christianity embarrasses a lot of people. Which I get. I have a coworker who’s one of those dark Christians who’s all about judging sinners, ’cause she thinks their sins are gonna trigger the End Times. She thinks she’s just keeping things real and telling the truth, but my other coworkers think she’s a loon. I think she’s a loon. I don’t wanna be associated with that. Thankfully I know the difference between that particular brand of angry, blame-everybody-but-ourselves doctrine, and Christ Jesus and his gospel. So when people ask what I think, I can tell ’em I don’t believe as she does; I believe in grace. My Lord isn’t coming to earth to judge it—not for a mighty long time —but to save it. I proclaim good news, not bad. Other Christians… well they don’t know there’s a difference between dark Christianity and Christ Jesus. Or they do, but don’t know how to articulate it. So they mute the fact they’re Christian, and hop

How not to rebuke someone over the internet.

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Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. Maybe even make fun of it. Y’might notice on some of the older TXAB articles, the Disqus comments have closed. I put an expiration date on posting comments on the article itself. It’s just weird when someone comments on something years later. It’s weird when they do it on YouTube (and super annoying when it’s something inane, like “Hey, who else is watching this video in 2019?”); it’s weird when they do it anywhere . So I prevented it on this site. But nothing can stop you from throwing me an email, so people will do that. So I got feedback on my article, “The fear of phony peace.” Wasn’t positive. A lot of Christians believe the great tribulation is definitely gonna follow the rapture, and somehow my saying otherwise is doing people a disservice: Christians need to be prepared for… utterly escaping all the bad stuff? Seems if we did need to be more prepared for anything, it’d be in

Preaching the dictionary.

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Nine years ago I visited a family member’s church. The pastor had just started a series about home-based small groups. His primary proof text came from Acts 2, namely the part where Luke described the brand-new Christians in Jerusalem, and how they got religious. Acts 2.42-47 KWL 42 They were hewing close to the apostles’ teaching, to community, to breaking bread, and to prayers. 43 Reverence came to every soul, and many wonders and signs happened through the apostles. 44 Every believer looked out for one another, and put everything in common use : 45 They sold possessions and property, and divided proceeds among all, just because some were needy. 46 Those who hewed close unanimously were in temple daily , breaking bread at home, happily, generously, whole heartedly sharing food, 47 praising God, showing grace to all people. The Master added saved people to them daily. He used the NLT , I believe. Its verse 46 goes like so: Acts 2.46 NLT They worshiped

Expository preaching… if that’s what’s even happening.

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EXPOUND ɪk'spaʊnd verb . Present and explain (a theory or idea) systematically and in detail. 2. Explain the meaning of (a literary or doctrinal work). [Exposition ɛk.spə'zɪʃ.(ə)n noun , expository ɪk'spɑ.zɪ.tɔ.ri adjective , expositor ɪk'spɑ.zə.dər noun .] I regularly run into this situation: People like to compliment their favorite preachers by calling them “great expositors.” Apparently they’ve learned exposition is the very best way to preach, so when they like certain preachers, that’s what they call ’em. And once again, this is one of those situations where I gotta quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride . Giphy ’Cause I listen to these preachers for myself, and find they’re not great expositors. Or even expositors. Oh, they can preach . They have outstanding abilities as public speakers. They know how to keep their listeners’ attention. Some of ’em have even done their homework, and teach the scriptures admirably. But expositors? N

Nontheists and prayer.

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Whenever you talk prayer with a nontheist or antichrist, they’re gonna scoff at you because they’re entirely sure you’re praying to no one. You only imagine you’re praying to someone, they insist. You only think God answered your prayers, but it’s just coincidence; or you’re selectively reinterpreting “signs” from nature and claiming they’re God-things. You’re only pretending that’s God’s voice in your head talking back to you; it’s really your own. You want so bad for God to be real, for prayer to be valid, for Christianity to be true, you’ve psyched yourself into everything. But it’s pure self-delusion. Yeah, sometimes I talk with some people, so I’ve heard their condescending explanations before. They’d probably work on me… if there was no such thing as confirmation. Test the bloody spirits! 1Jn 4.1 See, when I think God’s told me something, I don’t just run with it. I’m patient. I double-check. ’Cause we’re supposed to double-check. Not double-checking is how Ch

That time Jesus called Simon Peter “Satan.”

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Mark 8.31-33, Matthew 16.21-23, Luke 9.21-22. Most people are aware Simon Peter was Jesus’s best student. That’s why he’s always first in the lists of the Twelve —even ahead of Jesus’s cousins!—and why there’s all the stories about him in the gospels and Acts . Thing is, because there are so many stories about him, we regularly get to see how he screwed up. And certain Christians wind up with the wrong idea about him—that he was nothing but a screwup till the Holy Spirit empowered him. Nope; sometimes he got it right. When Jesus asked what the students thought he was, Peter correctly answered, “You’re Messiah,” and Jesus blessed him for it. Blessed him so good, Peter’s fans still venerate him. Maybe a little too much, but that’s a whole other article. Today’s story is about one of the times Peter screwed up, and it comes right after the story where Peter identified Jesus as Messiah and got blessed. But bear in mind the stories come after one another. The time these tw

Sock-puppet theology: Meditation gone bad.

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Let’s begin with a frequently-misunderstood passage, which I’ve elsewhere discussed in more detail. Hebrews 12.1-2 KWL 1 Consequently we, being greatly encircled by a cloud of witnesses, throwing away every training weight and easily-distracting sin, can enduringly run the race lying before us, 2 looking at the start and finish of our faith, Jesus. Instead of the joy lying before him, Jesus endured a cross, dismissing the shame. Now he sits at the right of God’s throne! This is a sports metaphor. Since we do track and field events a little differently than the ancient Romans did, stands to reason Christians will mix up some of the ideas. The “cloud of witnesses” among them: It refers to the runners. It’s our fellow Christian witnesses, running through dirt, kicking up dust. Since today’s stadiums use polyurethane and rubber tracks—so we can actually see the runners, not a massive dust cloud—we don’t recognize the historical context of this verse anymore. Hence Chr

Using your imagination to meditate.

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The kids, and their robot in the red galero, have a not-at-all-awkward conversation with a buck-naked pre-genitalia Adam and Eve. Aníme Óyako Gekíjo episode 1, “Adamu to Eba Monogatari” When I was a kid there was a Japanese TV cartoon called Aníme Óyako Gekíjo /“Anime Parent-Child Theater,” which Americans know better as Superbook . Christian TV stations used to air it every weekday. Your own kids are more likely to have seen the 2009 American remake. In the 1981 original, two kids named Sho and Azusa discovered a magic bible which transported them, and their toy robot Zenmaijikake, back to Old Testament times. (Yeah, they all had different names in the English redub: Chris, Joy, and Gizmo.) The kids would interact with the bible folks, who somehow spoke Japanese instead of ancient Hebrew, and were surprisingly white for ancient middle easterners. Well in the first series they did. In the second series—also called Superbook in the States— Pasókon Toráberu Tántei-dan /“Co