Posts

Showing posts from November, 2019

Worshiping Mammon instead of Jesus.

Image
Matthew 6.24, Luke 16.13.In the United States today is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and the second-biggest shopping day of the year. Used to be the biggest, but that’s now Monday. In order to get customers to shop on their day off, stores offer outrageous sale prices, and many shoppers are so greedy and impatient they’ll do horrible things to one another.I’ve read how American merchants have exported the shopping day to other countries, in the hope of kick-starting their Christmas shopping as well. Strikes the United Kingdom’s pundits as odd; why are they suddenly participating in an American phenomenon? And if so, why don’t they get our Thanksgiving too? Although as American merchants have proven, they really don’t care so much about Thanksgiving: They’d have us interrupt our holiday and start shopping Thursday if they can. And they do try.The myth is it’s called black because merchants do so well, their ledgers are now “in the black” instead of “in the red”—they’re fina…

Thanksgiving Day.

Image
In the United States, we have a national day of thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday.Whom are we giving thanks to? Well, the act which establishes Thanksgiving Day as one of our national holidays, provides no instructions whatsoever on how we’re to observe it. Or whom we’re to thank.Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the last Thursday in November in each year after the year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22d day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays.—77th Congress, 6 October 1941
House Joint Resolution 41The Senate amended it to read “fourth Thursday in November,” and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. So it’s a holiday. But left undefine…

“Prevenient grace”: Already there, without limit.

Image
PREVENEpri'vinverb. Arrive first, come before, pre-exist.[Prevenient pri'vin.jəntadjective, prevenience pri'vin.jənsnoun.]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 core doesn’t exist, and claim …

Thanksgiving. The prayer, not the day.

Image
In the United States, on November’s fourth Thursday, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving.Who’re we thanking? If you’re Christian, that’d be God. If you’re pagan, you don’t specifically thank anyone. You realize you’re expected to conjure up some feeling of thankfulness—you have a nice life, a decent job, good health, some loved ones, and got that [insert coveted bling] you’ve always wanted, so you’re thankful. Thankful to whom? There’s the question pagans don’t ask themselves. I know of one family who thanks one other. But pagans generally suppress this question by drowning it with food: After watching parades and football, we eat the equivalent of three dinners in one sitting. (That, or you’re the one who prepared and cooked 10 different entrées, and ironically nobody remembered to thank you. Been there; do that.)But even among the Christians who remember, “Oh yeah, we’re thanking God,” a lot of the thanking is limited to saying grace before the meal. “Good bread, good meat, …

Don’t be ashamed of Jesus.

Image
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 hope they can pass by unn…

How not to rebuke someone over the internet.

Image
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 case the rapture doesn’t p…

Preaching the dictionary.

Image
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 KWL42 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, wholeheartedly 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 NLTThey worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for…

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

Image
EXPOUNDɪk'spaʊndverb. 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)nnoun, expository ɪk'spɑ.zɪ.tɔ.riadjective, expositor ɪk'spɑ.zə.dərnoun.]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? Nope.They get called “expositors” because they…

Nontheists and prayer.

Image
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 4.1See, 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 Christians wind up doing…

That time Jesus called Simon Peter “Satan.”

Image
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 two stories occurred mig…

Sock-puppet theology: Meditation gone bad.

Image
Let’s begin with a frequently-misunderstood passage, which I’ve elsewhere discussed in more detail.Hebrews 12.1-2 KWL1 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 Christians guess at what νέφος/

Using your imagination to meditate.

Image
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/“Computer Travel Detecti…

The fear of what meditation might “open you up to.”

Image
Years ago in a prayer group, our prayer leader asked us to sit a moment and meditate on the lesson we’d just heard.“And I know,” she said; “some of you are worried about this whole ‘meditation’ thing. You’re worried it’ll open you up to evil spirits or something. Well, you’re Christians. It won’t.”She didn’t go into any further detail; she wanted to get to the exercise, and didn’t want to spend the rest of prayer time explaining why it won’t happen. I’ve got time, so I will explain.There are a lot of Christians who are big on what they call “spiritual warfare.” Which isn’t at all what the scriptures call spiritual warfare, i.e. resisting temptation: They think spiritual warfare means we fight evil spirits. Mostly by praying against them, but often by constantly, carefully watching out for boogeymen. Because they believe evil spirits are everywhere. Everywhere. Behind every corner. Even in the corners of our prayer closets. Waiting to pounce.This dark Christian mindset makes ’em super

Meditate.

Image
MEDITATE'mɛd.ə.teɪtverb. Think deeply or carefully about something.2. Focus one’s mind for a period of time, for religious, spiritual, or relaxation purposes.[Meditation mɛd.ə'teɪ.ʃənnoun.]Mention meditation to the average person, and images immediately come to mind of sitting cross-legged on the floor, hands out, eyes closed, humming “Om” or something mindless. ’Cause you’re trying to blank your mind.And that’d be eastern meditation. It’s the sort we find among Hindus, Buddhists, and Californians. It’s grown in popularity because it’s a useful way to get rid of stress and relax. But it’s not middle eastern meditation, the sort we find among Christians.Well, assuming we even meditate. Many don’t. Those who do, stumbled into the habit and don’t realize we’re actually meditating. Or we were given other names for it, like “contemplation” or “practicing God’s presence” or “Christian mysticism”—a term which tends to weird dark Christians out just as much as “meditation.” Many such …

What do people think Jesus is?

Image
Mark 8.27-30, Matthew 16.13-20, Luke 9.18-21.Provincial leaders in the Roman Empire liked to suck up to their emperors, which is why there were cities named Καισάρεια/Kesáreia, “Cæsarea,” dotting the empire. Ancient Israel had two. The usual city referred to in the New Testament as Cæsarea is also called Cæsarea Maritima; it’s on the Mediterranean coast of northern Israel. The other is in Philip Herod’s province, so it got called Cæsarea Philippi. Today it’s called Banias.Banias is actually an Arabic distortion of its original name, Πανειάς/Paneiás. It was named for the pagan god Pan. Likely Pan was originally Baal-Gad, one of the many Baals in the middle east, and when Alexander and the Greeks attached Greek names to everything, they referred to this Baal as Pan. The Greeks depicted Pan as a goat-man with a flute, but Pan comes from πάντως/pántos, “everything”: It’s a nature god, and therefore the god of everything. It’s considered a minor god because it didn’t have a large following…

Christians who lack faith.

Image
Nope, didn’t title this piece “Christians who doubt.” Because everybody doubts.Which isn’t a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gullible simpletons who can’t discern the difference between truth and rubbish. Mt 10.16 If we just put our faith in people indiscriminately—believe everything our friends say, believe everything the politicians tweet, believe everything the anti-vaxxer websites claim, never fact-check our preachers to make sure what they’re telling us is valid—we’re gonna be such fools. Doubt away.But there’s a very particular form of doubt Jesus objects to most: Doubting him.So when we talk about “Christians who lack faith,” it’s not about Christians who question all the doctrines and teachings which we presume are settled, like good postmoderns will do. It’s about Christians who lack faith in Jesus.Yep him—not fellow Christians. And sometimes these Christians will try to mix these categories together: They’ll insist if you doubt them, you do doubt Jesus, ’ca…

When faith gets shaken. (Not if. When.)

Image
Part of normal, healthy Christian growth is discovering we’re wrong. ’Cause we are.I’m wrong, you’re wrong; every Christian is wrong. We all have incorrect beliefs about the universe, God, Christ, the bible, salvation, how Christians oughta behave, everything. We learned them from other messed-up Christians. Or we learned them from our messed-up world, but assume they’re still correct, ’cause our fellow Christians believe ’em too. Or even despite what our fellow Christians insist.Fr’instance when a pagan comes to Jesus, she figures now she’s gotta give up all her porn. (Or any other frowned-upon activity.) She’s heard good Christians don’t get mixed up in porn, so she shouldn’t either. But of course she discovers all her Christian friends are super into porn, so she’s so relieved—hey, it’s no problem!—and that’s what she’ll believe from now on. If her pastor rails against porn, won’t matter; she’ll keep her own opinion. And keep it to herself, same as all the other inconsistent Christ…

Is it “debts” or “trespasses”?

Image
MATTHEW 6.12.I used to be in a small group which consisted of Christians from various churches in town. So, different denominations and traditions. Most were Baptist, partly ’cause there are a lot of Baptists in town, partly ’cause we met at a nondenominational Baptist church, so their members came out to represent. And many weren’t Baptist; I’m not. But we all have the same Lord Jesus, so we tried to avoid the churches’ doctrinal hangups and focus on what unifies us in him.Anyway one of the unifying things we did was, at the end of each meeting, we’d say the Lord’s Prayer together. We have that in common, right?Except… well, translations. Most of us have it memorized in either the Book of Common Prayer version or the King James Version. A few know it best in the NIV or ESV, or whatever’s their favorite translation. (Or their pastor’s favorite.) But the majority know it in either the BCP or KJV.Spot the differences.Book of Common PrayerOur Father, who art in heaven,hallowed be thy nam…

Jesus is the good pastor: The sheep come first.

Image
John 10.11-21.Roman Catholics tend to call their clergymen “father,” but Protestants prefer “pastor,” which means “shepherd.” Some Protestants are okay with “father” too, but some of ’em really aren’t. Usually they’re anti-Catholics, who like to argue we’re not to call one another “father” because Jesus said so; because we only have one Father, in heaven. Mt 23.9 Fine. But in today’s bible passage, Jesus points out we only have one pastor, namely him, Jn 10.16 so if they wanna be so literal about the one passage, it’s kinda hypocritical for them to ignore the other. But I digress.If we’re using Jesus as our example (’cause duh) we need to look at the ways in which he’s our pastor, and should expect the same of our various church leaders—whether we formally gave ’em the title “pastor” or not. And when Jesus speaks about being the good pastor, he defined it in pretty much one sentence, the one right after “I’m the good pastor.”John 10.11-18 KWL11“I’m the good pastor. The good pastor put…