Posts

Showing posts from July, 2019

Put some bible in your brain!

Image
There are certain bits of bible which need to be embedded in a Christian’s brain. Need to be. No, this isn’t a requirement before God can save you. But it’s extremely useful to be able to quote various verses and passages which remind us of God’s love and grace and goodness, of Jesus’s teachings and commands, of the thinking behind God’s acts and our beliefs, and of promises, encouragements, and expectations. We need to put some verses into our memories. So here’s how we get started. Lots of Christians insist there are particular verses every one of us ought have memorized, like the Lord’s Prayer , or “the Lord’s my shepherd,” John 3.16 , or Romans 6.23 , or Romans 10.9 . (People tend to refer to verses by their addresses. That’s sorta annoying for those of us who mix addresses up. I’m one of them, by the way.) No, I’m not going to go through the entire list of Christians’ favorite memory verses right now. I’ll bring one or another up from time to time. If you’ve been

Prayer… and morning people. (Groan.)

Image
Some of us are morning people: We bounce out of bed every morning ready to tackle the coming day. It’s the best time of the day! Some of us are night owls: We don’t mind staying up late to have fun, to get work done, to do whatever. That’s the best time of the day. I’m a night owl. And for one semester in seminary, I lived with a morning person. Thank God he wasn’t one of those annoying morning people—the sort who thinks everyone should love mornings just as much as they do, and all it’ll take to convert us is getting a good night’s sleep. I used to work for such a person. She was so chipper every morning, I wanted to stuff her into one. But I digress. My morning-person roomie believed in starting every morning with God in prayer. Makes sense, right? But he had to take it one step further: Start every morning with sunrise prayer. He and some eager friends would wake at the crack of dawn, head to the chapel, and pray. They chose to pray in the chapel’s prayer room. It wa

Claiming to see, but won’t see Jesus.

Image
John 9.35-41. Picking up right after Pharisees ejected a formerly-blind man from their synagogue for believing in Jesus, our Lord re-enters the story and delivers the punchline, so to speak. John 9.34-41 KWL 35 Jesus, hearing the Pharisees threw the formerly-blind man out, upon finding him, said, “You believe in the Son of Man?” 36 In reply, that man said, “Who is he, sir?—so I can put my trust in him.” 37 Jesus told him, “You’ve seen him: This man is talking with you.” 38 The formerly-blind man said, “I trust you , sir,” and fell down before Jesus . 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for people’s judgment: Those who don’t see, can see; and those who see can become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees were listening to these things, and told Jesus , “We aren’t blind too.” 41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin. You now say ‘We do so see’—and your sin remains.” For some reason, a lot of preachers assume this guy shouldn

Those who wait on the Lord.

Image
Isaiah 40.31. Isaiah 40.31 NKJV But those who wait on the L ORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. When I visit fellow Christians’ homes, a lot of ’em have a painting or mass-produced sculpture of an eagle somewhere. Some of the art’s of an American bald eagle, and are meant to express the owner’s patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores, back when they were still around. Bald eagle or not, connection to God ’n country or not, they’re meant to express the owner’s trust in God. They’re universally captioned with this particular Isaiah verse, in various translations, always mounting up with wings as eagles. The eagle appeals to a lot of Christians because of the idea Isaiah expressed: The L ORD Almighty, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 but God

The first English-language bible: The Wycliffe Bible.

Image
English is the most widely spoken language in the world. Partly ’cause of the British Empire; partly because of American multimedia, including the internet. There are a lot of useful resources in English, and it’s otherwise generally useful, so most of the people in the world learn English as their second language. English is my native language, so that’s mighty handy for me; though if it weren’t I’d obviously have learned it instead of Spanish and French. Although a lot of my fellow Americans take this circumstance for granted, cretinously don’t bother to learn any other language, and get annoyed when multilingual people can’t speak English as well as they’d personally prefer. But let’s not talk about them. Obviously there was a time when English wasn’t everybody’s second language; it was French. And before that, Latin. And the reason it was Latin was ’cause the Vulgate. The Latin-language bible was “ the bible,” as far as western Christians were concerned, so if you wanted

Which bible translation’s the best?

Image
HE. “So lemme ask: Which version of the bible do you use? Which one’s the best?” ME. “None of ’em. Learn Hebrew and Greek.” As soon as someone finds out I know the bible’s original languages, that’s nearly always the question they ask me. Sometimes because they earnestly wanna know, and figure I’m more an expert than they are. Sometimes because they already have a favorite, and want some affirmation; sometimes because they already think their favorite is best, so they’re testing me. Well, that question has a long answer. It’s the rest of this article! But I found when you being with the long answer, their eyes roll back in their heads; they don’t wanna deal with the complexities of bible translations. They only wanted a quick ’n dirty answer. Tell ’em the best bible version, so they can go get that version and use it forevermore. (Or judge you. Whatever.) So I start with my joke answer: “None. Learn original languages.” Sometimes, but rarely, they get that it’s a joke.

De profundis.

Image
The prayer known as de profundis deɪ proʊ'fun.dis, commonly deɪ prə'fən.dɪs is also known as Psalm 130 in Jewish and Protestant bibles, and 129 in Orthodox and Catholic bibles. The Latin name comes from verse 1 in the Vulgate : De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine , “From the deep I call to you, Lord.” My translation doesn’t rhyme this time, but it’s still in iambic septemeter. Psalm 130 KWL 0 Song for the climb.   1 I call you from the deep, oh L ORD . 2 My Master, hear my voice! Your ears must pay attention to my supplications’ voice! 3 If you kept track of moral faults, my Master, who could stand? 4 But with you there’s forgiveness. For this reason, you’re revered. 5 I wait—my life waits—for the L ORD ; my hope is in his word. 6 My life awaits my Master like a night guard waits for dawn. Like night guards wait for dawn… 7 so Israel: Wait for the L ORD ! For with the L ORD is love, and much redemption comes with him. 8 He will redeem you

The trial of the formerly-blind man.

Image
John 9.13-34. One Sabbath, Jesus cured a blind guy with spit-mud. His neighbors caught him seeing, and decided to bring him to the Pharisees, figuring these’d be the guys who could identify if this miracle was a God-thing or not. John 9.13-16 KWL 13 They brought the formerly-blind man to Pharisees: 14 The day Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes, was Sabbath. 15 So again, Pharisees were asking him how he received sight. He told them, “He smeared mud on me, on the eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Hence some of these Pharisees were saying, “This person isn’t from God: He doesn’t keep Sabbath.” Others were saying, “How can a ‘sinful person’ make such miracles?” They were divided. Yeah, they weren’t much good at it. Lemme start by pointing out the obvious: By definition, miracles are God-things. They’re anything the Holy Spirit does in our physical universe. Might look natural, or resemble natural phenomena. But because the Spirit personally does ’em, they d

“God will not be mocked.”

Image
Galatians 6.7. Here’s a verse I hear frequently misquoted. (So have you.) Galatians 6.7 KJV Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Y’notice most of the time when Christians quote it, it’s not necessarily because somebody’s mocking God. Usually somebody’s mocking them , the Christians. Occasionally God’s getting mocked too, but he’s collateral damage. The mockers are mainly focused on the Christians: Once again, one of us did something dumb, so people are having a laugh at our expense. Well when certain Christians get mocked—like when they’re new, and too immature to have the Spirit’s fruit; or when they’re longtime Christians, but never did develop patience, so they can’t take a joke; or they’re otherwise deficient in joy —they wanna rebuke their scoffers. Call down curses, ideally, but they’re happy just to have a clever comeback. “Have your fun now,” they menace their scoffers, “but your time will come. God will no

“Discerning” the news: Seeking “signs of the times.”

Image
End Times prognosticator Hal Lindsey is fond of saying when we read the bible, particularly Revelation , we oughta do it with the scriptures in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Because the events of his End Times timeline are happening. Right this instant. Even though every five years or so, he has to write another End Times book to update all the predictions of his previous End Times book. For some reason they keep not turning into the harbingers of the End he insists they are. Y’see, what Lindsey does, and what many other End Times fixated Christians do, is what they call “discerning the news.” What they’re doing, they claim, is what Jesus tells us to: They’re looking at the signs of the day. Or as the KJV puts it, “the signs of the times.” Matthew 16.1-4 KWL 1 Approaching Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a heavenly sign to show them. 2 In reply Jesus told them, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It’s red; clear sky.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘Storms toda

The person who just bursts into prayer.

Image
You might’ve been in this scenario: You’re talking with a fellow Christian about something. Could be any subject; doesn’t entirely matter. But at some point, something you mention gets ’em riled up. They wanna stop your conversation, and pray about that. Immediately. This instant. Before any more time elapses. …Okay. Nothing wrong with prayer, so you do. But it’s not a simple, “Lord Jesus, you know best; sort this out; amen.” Nor one of its 30-second, slightly longer relatives. It’s a full-on loud, vigorous prayer. Goes on for a while; almost as if the petitioner is trying to filibuster God. Then they finally stop, and you can go back to your conversation. Except you’re sorta thinking, “What was that all about?” I mean, if it were anybody but God we’re talking about—if they suddenly interrupted your conversation because they needed to talk to their spouse, then spent ten minutes shouting into their phone—you’d think something was wrong with their relationship, right? Som

Curing a blind man… on Sabbath.

Image
John 9.1-14. Previously I wrote about some blind guy Jesus cured with spit. Today I figured I’d jump to the other story of Jesus curing a blind guy with spit. That one is only found in Mark ; this one comes from John . And this story is probably better-known because it created a huge controversy… ’cause Jesus cured the guy on Sabbath, ’cause he’s the Sabbath’s master. The story begins with a lesson, ’cause Jesus’s students see the blind guy and make the typical human assumption: He’s blind because of karma. Either he did something, or his parents did something, and now he’s suffering the wrath of God for it. It’s a poisonous attitude too, ’cause people use it to justify not doing anything for the needy: Hey, they’re needy because they deserve it, and who are we to undo God’s righteous judgment? (Or the judgment of the universe, or the marketplace; whatever god you’re into.) John 9.1-3 KWL 1 Passing by, Jesus saw a person, blind from birth. 2 His students questioned

The Graham rule.

Image
Here’s a big excerpt from one of evangelist Billy Graham’s autobiographies (yep, he wrote more than one), Just As I Am . It’s a good read. From time to time Cliff [Barrows] , Bev [George Beverly Shea] , Grady [Wilson] , and I talked among ourselves about the recurring problems many evangelists seemed to have, and about the poor image so-called mass evangelism had in the eyes of many people. Sinclair Lewis’s fictional character Elmer Gantry unquestionably had given traveling evangelists a bad name. To our sorrow, we knew that some evangelists were not much better than Lewis’s scornful caricature. One afternoon during the Modesto meetings, I called the Team together to discuss the problem. Then I asked them to go to their rooms for an hour and list all the problems they could think of that evangelists and evangelism encountered. When they returned, the lists were remarkably similar, and in a short amount of time, we made a series of resolutions or commitments among ourselves

The fruit of holiness: Let’s get weird.

Image
Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians 5 isn’t comprehensive, and isn’t really meant to be. I gotta point that out every time I talk about a fruit which isn’t on Paul’s list, ’cause there’s always some numbnut who says, “That’s not in Galatians 5.” Usually someone who doesn’t like the fruit I’m talking about, so here’s their loophole. Yeah, well, there are other apostles who wrote bible, and some of ’em talked about other fruit. Like Simon Peter: 1 Peter 1.13-16 KWL 13 So, “girding the loins” of your thinking, being sober, hope till the end for the grace which Christ Jesus’s revelation brought you. 14 Do it like obedient children, not conforming to the same old patterns of your ignorant desires, 15 but like the holy one who called you. Become holy yourselves, in your whole lifestyle. 16 For it’s written, “You’ll be holy, because I ’m holy.” Lv 19.2 God expects us to be holy , which we misinterpret as “good” or “clean,” but really means separate :

Cults: When churches go very, very wrong.

Image
CULT kəlt noun. A religion centered on one particular individual or figurehead. 2. A group (usually small) whose religious beliefs and practices are outside the norm: Too controlling, too strange, too devilish. 3. A misplaced devotion to a particular person or thing. 4. A heretic Christian church. [Cultic 'kəl.tɪk adjective , cultish 'kəl.tɪʃ adjective , cultism 'kəl.tiz.əm noun .] I throw this word “cult” around a lot, so I’d better define it. First, what other folks mean by “cult,” all of which are included in the above definition: Sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists whose job descriptions end in -ist, tend to use definition #1: A cult is any religion with a guru in charge. And technically Christianity falls under this definition, ’cause we got Jesus. Popular culture leans towards definition #2: A cult is a creepy religion. If it weirds them out in any way, they call it a cult. Even if it’s Christianity. If we trust Jesus a l

The “prayer warrior.”

Image
PRAYER WARRIOR 'prɛr wɔr.i.ər noun. A prayer intercessor who believes this form of prayer is spiritual warfare. [Prayer warfare 'prɛr wɔr.fɛr noun. ] As I’ve written before, spiritual warfare is resisting temptation. It’s not just that our own urges and habits get in the way of a growing relationship with God: Devils use these things to trip us up. So we resist temptation, resist our selfish nature, and in so doing, resist the devil. Jm 4.7 It’s not a complicated idea. It’s just not easy to do. We enjoy the things which tempt us; they wouldn’t tempt us otherwise! But we gotta resist. But because actual spiritual warfare isn’t easy, it’s way easier to pick something else—something we like to do, something way easier to do—and claim that’s spiritual warfare. And one of the more common claims you’ll find among Christians across the board—it’s not just a Evangelical thing —is prayer is spiritual warfare. Prayer, intercession in particular, is how we resist the d

Jesus cures a man… in stages.

Image
Mark 8.22-26. People are fascinated by healing stories where Jesus cures people with spit. ’Cause he didn’t just do it the one time. Twice he cured blind men with it; here, and in John 9 . Previously in Mark he cured a deafmute, and spat in the course of doing it—and while I don‘t believe he spat on the guy, or touched the guy with his saliva, plenty of Christians believe otherwise. What mainly gets us is the ick factor. Our culture doesn’t think of saliva as sanitary. Even though people spit-shine things all the time—glasses, phones, jewelry, shoes, their children—a number of people cringe at such behavior, because spit has germs in it. And yeah, human saliva has bacteria in it. But it also has a lot of digestive enzymes and white blood cells in it. Saliva protects us from a lot more than we realize. Whenever Jesus cured people with spit, it was reflective of the ancients’ attitudes about spit. Like us, they cleaned with spit. And when Jesus cured people with spit, it r

Politics, Christians, and our democracy.

Image
POLITICS 'pɑl.ə.tɪks plural noun. Activities associated with the achievement of power, position, and status. Especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to gain it; often considered to be divisive or devious. [Politic 'pɑl.ə.tɪk adjective , political pə'lɪd.ə.kəl adjective , politician pɑl.ə'tɪ.ʃən noun , politico pə'lɪd.ɪ.koʊ noun. ] God’s kingdom is entirely about surrendering our power, authority, will, even our identity, to God. We kinda have to do this. Humans, y’see, are selfish to our core. Total depravity, theologians call it: Everything we do, even everything good we do, has a self-centered ulterior motive. Makes us feel good about ourselves. Makes us feel self-justified. Yeah, some good deeds might feel self-sacrificial and miserable, but somewhere in our psyche is some “greater principle” which feels really good to make great sacrifices for. We’re just that carnal. It’s why God needs to save us, ’c

Dual citizenship… and picking a side.

Image
Many Christians are fond of saying, “This world isn’t my home. Heaven is.” To a degree that’s true. We’re part of God’s kingdom, with Christ Jesus as king. We recognize his reign, or try to; and follow him, more or less. Or at least we expect—despite our unloving, unkind,> impatient, fruitless behavior, he’ll nonetheless graciously recognize us as his followers when he takes over the world. Maybe he will. In the meanwhile we’re also citizens of our nations. I’m a citizen of the United States. As are many of TXAB ’s readers, which is why I so often get U.S.-centric. Of course I realize the site gets readers from all over: You might be a citizen of Canada, China, France, Israel, Germany, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom… and that’s the top 10, so if I didn’t mention your nation you’re just gonna have to enlist more of your friends to read, and bump up your stats. Anywho as Christians we’re all fellow citizens of God’s kingdom. Yet at the same time we ha

Civic idolatry: The “Christian nation.”

Image
CIVIC IDOLATRY 'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tri noun. Worship of one’s homeland, its constitution, its government, or its leaders. [Civically idolatrous 'sɪv.ɪk.(ə.)li aɪ'dɑl.ə.trəs adjective , civic idolater 'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tər noun. ] Tomorrow’s Independence Day in the United States. In 1776, the British Parliament, insisting they had the right to tax their North American colonies, had violated their colonial charters. The king had sided with Parliament and declared them outside his protection. Congress, representing 13 of the colonies, interpreted this to mean they were independent states, and officially declared themselves so on 4 July. (Or 2 July, depending on which founder you talk to.) So this week, Americans are gonna express a whole lot of patriotism. American Christians included. As we should. However, many American Christians regularly cross a line between the love of one’s homeland, and descend into outright worship of the United States. It’s

Get in the closet.

Image
Matthew 6.5-6. The proper way to pray is aloud. You’re talking to God, right? Which means you’re talking to God. Not praying silently—in other words thinking at God. You’re speaking to him out loud. I know; a lot of Christians pray silently, and it’s the only way they pray, ’cause most of the time it’s not appropriate to pray aloud. If everybody in church simultaneously prayed aloud, it’d get loud. If you prayed aloud at work, people’d think you’re weird. If you prayed in public school, some idiot would complain about it. In general, we’re encouraged to pray silently, and that’s understandable in a lot of places. But Christians get the wrong idea and think we’re always to pray silently. No we’re not. Lookit how Jesus demonstrates prayer in the scriptures. When he went off to pray, even by himself, privately between him and the Father, other people could overhear him. Like in Gethsemane. Mt 26.39, Lk 22.41-42 The reason we even have records in the bible of people’s pray

The yeast of hypocrisy.

Image
Mark 8.14-21 • Matthew 16.5-12 • Luke 12.1. After the most recent encounter Jesus had with Pharisees —namely where they wanted an End Times sign from him, not because they wanted proof Jesus is Messiah, but so they could shred his “sign” as bogus—Jesus decided to remind his students what sort of people they were dealing with. Not that all Pharisees were this way… hence his choice of metaphor. Mark 8.14-15 KWL 14 The students forgot to take bread, and they hadn’t one roll with them in the boat. 15 Jesus instructed them, saying “Listen. Watch out for the Pharisees’ yeast and Herod’s yeast.” Matthew 16.5-6 KWL 5 Jesus’s students, coming to the far side of the lake , forgot to bring bread. 6 Jesus told them, “Listen and pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.” Luke 12.1 KWL When the crowds of 10,000 gathered together such that they were trampling one another, Jesus first began to tell his students, “Watch out for yourselves about the Pharis