Posts

Showing posts from December, 2019

St. Stephen, and true martyrdom.

Image
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!

Image
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.

Image
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…

Image
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 seven deadly sins.

Image
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.

Image
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.

Image
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.

Image
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!

Image
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.

Image
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!

Image
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