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Showing posts from September, 2020

Is it “debts” or “trespasses”?

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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 Prayer Our Father, who

Daily bread.

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Matthew 6.11, Luke 11.3. Whenever we read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, or any of his other teachings, they make way more sense when we remember his audience at the time consisted of poor people. In the United States, “poor” usually means you don’t have a lot of money, and live within limited means. In ancient Israel, “poor” meant you had no money. Maybe you had stuff to barter; usually not. You lived from job to job, from harvest to harvest, doing the best you could with what few resources you had. Any time you did have money, taxmen would take it away, priests and Pharisees would demand you give it to temple, or rich people would con you out of it. So when Jesus speaks on money, possessions, or economics: His audience seldom had those things. We do have these things. Even our “poor” have these things. We’re very blessed. So. We recognize when Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray for daily bread, he doesn’t literally mean bread; he means food in general. That

Thy kingdom come.

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Matthew 6.10, Luke 11.2. Matthew 6.10 KWL “Make your kingdom come. Make your will happen both in heaven and on earth.”   Luke 11.2 KWL Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father! Sanctify your name. Bring your kingdom.’ ” In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου / elthéto i vasileía su, “must come, the kingdom of yours.” The literal translation is a bit Yoda-like, which is why “Your kingdom come” is how the ESV put it, and of course we all know the Book of Common Prayer and KJV translation. The arrival of God’s kingdom is the gospel. It’s not John 3.16 , no matter how much we love that verse. Eternal life is part of it, but the more important thing is where we spend this eternal life, and John 3.16 says nothing about that. You know the verse; you know this already. It’s why when Christians interpret the verse for other people, we tend to explain “will have everlasting life in heaven , with Jesus.” But Jesus never s

Hallowed be thy name.

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Matthew 6.9, Luke 11.2. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father to ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου / aghiasthíto to ónoma su , “sanctify” or “make holy” or “hallowify” (to coin a word) “the name of yours.” The Book of Common Prayer and KJV went with “Hallowed be thy name,” which means the same thing, but Christians commonly misinterpret it to mean “ I sanctify your name,” or “ I praise your name.” We think this is praise and worship on our part. It’s not. It’s a request for our Father to make his own name holy. For him to act. Part of our presumption comes from a way-too-common Christian misbelief that our prayers aren’t really about asking God to do anything. Because, the attitude is, God doesn’t actually answer prayer . He sits on his heavenly arse, watches us humans stumble around, reminds us to read our bibles, but isn’t gonna intervene in human affairs till the End Times—if they even ever happen. Besides, he’s already planned out everything he’s gonna do

Nontheism: When pagans don’t believe in God.

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NONTHEIST 'nɑn.θi.ɪst adjective . Believes no such thing as God, gods, a universal spirit, a universal intelligence, nor a supernatural higher power, exists. (A catchall term for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and others who are skeptical of God and religion.) [Nontheism 'nɑn.θi.ɪz.əm noun .] Y’know, for the first couple centuries of Christianity, we Christians were called atheist. See, Greco-Roman pagans believed in gods. Lots of gods. Not just their own gods—and the titans, demigods, and daemons in the Greco-Roman pantheon. They also accepted the existence of the gods of other pantheons. They didn’t presume they knew them all. So whenever they encountered an unfamiliar god, they accepted it. Even added it to their pantheon, which is why they had multiple gods of the sun (Apollo, Helios, Hyperion) and war (Ares, Athena, Enyo, Polemos). Sometimes they figured it was just one of their gods with a different name: The Latins worshiped a Deo Pater /“Father God” (

Our Father who art in heaven.

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Matthew 6.9-10. The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew begins with πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς / páter imón o en toís uranoís , “our Father who’s [located] in the heavens,” Mt 6.9 ’cause we’re addressing—duh—our heavenly Father. Matthew 6.9 KWL “So pray like this: Our Father who ’s in the heavens! Sanctify your name.” Some Christians wanna make it particularly clear which god we’re praying to. Partly because some of ’em actually think they might accidentally invoke the wrong god (and y’know, if they’re Mammonists or some other type of idolater, they might). Sometimes because they’re showing off to pagans that they worship the Father of Jesus, or some other form of hypocrisy. But Jesus would have us keep it simple: Just address our heavenly Father. There’s no special formula for addressing him; no secret password we’ve gotta say; even “in Jesus’s name” isn’t a magic spell —and you notice “in Jesus’s name” isn’t in the Lord’s Prayer either. You know who he is; he know

Short, potent, authentic prayer.

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Matthew 6.7-8. In his Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus taught his followers to keep their prayers private, he added, Matthew 6.7-8 KWL 7 “Petitioners shouldn’t be repetitive like the pagans: They think they’ll be worth hearing because of their wordiness. 8 You shouldn’t compare yourselves with them: Your Father has known what you have need of, before you asked him.” The Pharisee view, one we Christians share, is our God is the living God. Whereas other religions’ gods aren’t. They’re blocks of wood, stone, and metal; they’re abstract ideas without any intelligence behind them; they’re devils tricking people into worshiping them. When we speak to our God, he speaks back. When they speak to their gods, they don’t. They can’t. Yet instead of realizing, “Y’know, since our god never, ever responds to us, I wonder whether she’s real to begin with?” pagans just shove that idea right out of their minds as if it’s doubt or blasphemy, double down on their beliefs,

Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley.

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Since I’m writing about the comic book version of Hal Lindsey’s There’s a New World Coming , I should introduce you to the authors. Starting with Hal Lindsey. Hal Lindsey. IMDB Harold Lee Lindsey, born 23 November 1929, is a former Coast Guard tugboat captain turned evangelist. He and his second wife Jan began working with Cru (then called Campus Crusade for Christ) in the 1960s, and he got his master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. I’m not sure whether Lindsey got his theological outlook from DTS or brought it with him; not that it matters. The school was founded in 1924 by Lewis Sperry Chafer, a Darbyist who authored an eight-volume Systematic Theology which taught God from a thoroughly dispensationalist point of view: God, he taught, used multiple systems of salvation throughout human history, and the system he uses in the Christian Era is grace. But the systems of previous era were largely based on karma —on obeying your conscience, obeying your patri

The Holy Spirit reminds us what Jesus taught… assuming we know what Jesus taught.

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John 14.25-26. Most Christians figure Jesus’s students followed him three years. It might actually have been longer than that. The idea of three years comes from the fact three Passovers get mentioned in John , Jn 2.13, 6.4, 11.55 the last one being the Passover for which he died. But just because John mentioned three particular Passovers doesn’t mean these were the only Passovers which took place during Jesus’s teaching time. Coulda been nine for all we know. No I’m not kidding: 7 BC : Jesus was born. 24 CE : Jesus’s 30th birthday. Luke states he was ὡσεὶ / oseí , “like,” 30 when he started teaching. Lk 3.23 Didn’t say exactly 30, but let’s start from there. 33 CE : Jesus died. And woulda been about 39. Time for some basic arithmetic. If Jesus started teaching in the year 24, and “like” just means he was a few months shy of 30, by the year 33 he’d’ve been teaching nine years. If “like” instead means he was already in his thirties; say 33… he’d’ve been teac

The Holy Spirit of truth… and dense Christians.

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John 14.15-17. Christians take for granted that we receive the Holy Spirit by virtue of being Christian: When we say the sinner’s prayer and claim Jesus as our individual savior, we individually, automatically get the Holy Spirit to indwell us and guarantee us an eternal place in God’s kingdom. Right? Right. But the assumption Jesus makes when he says as much to his students in John , is his students don’t just passively believe in him. Don’t just passively believe all the correct things about him, and have the proper “faith”, and that’s what saves us. And once we die after a lifetime of taking God’s grace for granted, we get to use the Holy Spirit as our entry fee to heaven. The Holy Spirit’s been granted to us to help us continue to follow Jesus. John 14.15-17 KWL 15 “When you love me you’ll keep my commands, 16 and I’ll make a request of the Father, and he’ll give you another Assistant, because he’ll be with you in this age: 17 The truthful Holy Spir

He lives within your heart.

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INDWELL ɪn'dwɛl verb . Be permanently present in someone [namely their soul or mind]. Possess spiritually. [Indweller ɪn'dwɛl'ər noun. ] There’s a hymn we sang in my church growing up; “He Lives” by Alfred Henry Ackley. Chorus goes like yea: He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart ’Cause that’s the common Evangelical belief about where Jesus currently is: He’s in our hearts. As a boy I was taught Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts, asking to come in. (Much later, I read that particular bit of Revelation and found out it doesn’t mean that. But anyway.) Once we permit Jesus entry, he takes up residence in our hearts. As kids a lot of us took this literally: We imagined a tiny Jesus taking over one of the chambers of our cardiac muscles, and even moving a bed and furniture into it. Bit cram

The street-corner show-off.

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Matthew 6.5-6. Throughout history people have prayed publicly for various reasons. Some noble, some not. And a regular problem throughout history has been the person who gets up and prays publicly, not because they legitimately wanna talk with God, or call to him for help. It’s because they wanna be seen praying. They wanna look religious. Usually so they can look more religious than they actually are. In other words hypocrisy. Nothing annoys Jesus like hypocrisy, which is why he tries to discourage his followers from doing this. Although you know some of us do this anyway. Matthew 6.5-6 KWL 5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who enjoy standing in synagogues and major intersections, praying so they might be seen by the people. Amen! I promise you all, they got their credit. 6 When you pray, go into your most private room with the door closed. Pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what’s private, will credit you.” Standing was how the an

Charity for God, versus charity for public approval.

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Matthew 6.1-4. Starting the second chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with this teaching, only found in Matthew : Matthew 6.1 KWL “Watch out to not do your righteous acts before the people to be seen by them. Otherwise you won’t get credit from your heavenly Father.” The term Jesus used is μισθὸν / misthón , “compensation.” It’s a synonym for wages . But it gets translated “reward” by various bibles ( KJV , ESV , NIV , NLT , NRSV ), which gives people the wrong idea. When the King James Version was published in 1611, “reward” meant something you earned through your efforts. Today it means a prize you get for stumbling across a missing person or thing. But a misthón is earned, like Paul said. Ro 4.4 Laborers don’t win their wages; they deserve ’em. Lk 10.7, 1Ti 5.18 Various stingy Christians claim God owes us nothing when we do good deeds. ’Cause we should be doing ’em anyway, right? True. But they’ve got the wrong mindset. We’re not just God’s kids, who

Spirituality. Which leads to religion.

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SPIRITUALITY spɪ.rɪ.tʃu'æl.ə.di noun . Being concerned with the human spirit, as opposed to material things or the material world. 2. [ Christianity ] Following the Holy Spirit. [Spiritual 'spɪ.rɪ.tʃ(.u)əl adjective ] I regularly meet pagans who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” I sometimes like to poke back at ’em by describing myself as religious, not spiritual. Of course pagans and Christians have very different definitions for these words. By spiritual they mean they’re trying to be mindful of their spirit. And they have some idea what a spirit is. They know it’s the immaterial part of themselves. Frequently they mix it up with the soul, and use those words interchangeably—and to be fair, so do many Christians who likewise don’t know the difference. If they believe in afterlife, they figure their spirit lives on when they die. Otherwise… they kinda associate everything in their heads, which they think is immaterial, with their spirits.

Christians who don’t know the Holy Spirit.

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A few years ago I was checking out a local Baptist church’s faith statement on their website. These faith statements come in handy when you wanna know what an individual church emphasizes. Not all Baptists are alike, y’know. Pretty much the only thing they have in common is they’re Protestant, and they insist you gotta believe in Jesus before you’re baptized; they won’t baptize babies. Beyond that, they could be liturgical or loose, be run by elders or by popular vote, be Calvinist or Pelagian; be egalitarian or sexist or racist —any stripe of Christian you can imagine. In this specific Baptist church, turns out they don’t know the Holy Spirit. I know; you’re thinking, “What Christian doesn’t know who the Holy Spirit is?” Well, heretic Christians. Thing is, you’re gonna find this particular heresy is startlingly common. Too many Christians don’t understand who the Spirit is and what he does in their lives—that he’s probably the only person of God’s trinity they’ve ever

Do you know the Holy Spirit?

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Years ago a pagan relative of mine asked me, “You keep saying ‘Holy Spirit’ this, ‘Holy Spirit’ that. What do you mean by that? What’s the Holy Spirit?” “Oh,” I said—half surprised, half not-all- that -surprised, she didn’t know. And since she’s pagan, the simplest answer was best: “Holy Spirit is another name for God.” “Oh,” she said. And our conversation moved on. Yeah, I could’ve given her the full-on theological explanation of what spirit is, how Jesus revealed him, who he is in the trinity, what he does, how he lives in Christians, and how he’s a he instead of an it . But that’s the introduction we really oughta save for new Christians. Mostly because they’ll want to know all this stuff. Pagans don’t always care. But basically the Holy Spirit ( KJV “Holy Ghost”) is God. “Holy Spirit is another name for God” is a quick-’n-dirty explanation which points people in the right direction. As opposed to the wrong direction, which is all too common: Too many people thi

Multiple levels of truth.

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Matthew 5.33-37, 23.16-22. Thus far the Sermon on the Mount stuff has had parallels in the other gospels. This teaching doesn’t. It’s only found in Matthew . Matthew 5.33-37 KWL 33 “Again, you heard this said to the ancients: You will not perjure. Lv 19.12 You’ll make restitution to the Lord for your oaths. Dt 23.23 34 And I tell you: Don’t swear at all. Not ‘By heaven!’—it’s God’s throne. Ps 11.4 Not ‘By the land!’—it’s the footstool of his feet. Is 66.1 Not ‘By Jerusalem!’—it’s the city of the great King. Ps 48.2 36 Nor should you swear by your head; you aren’t able to make one hair white or black. 37 Make your word, ‘Yes yes; no no.’ Going beyond this is from evil motive .” True, Jesus used to punctuate certain sayings with “Amen amen,” Jn 1.51, 3.3, 5.19, 6.26, 8.34, etc. ( KJV “Verily verily”) and the L ORD used to punctuate certain commands with, “I’m the L ORD .” Ex 6.2, Lv 18.5, 19.3, 21.12, 22.2, etc. Arguably these too are oaths; stuff our Lo

Getting hold of our lusts… before we end up in the trash.

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Matthew 5.27-32, 18.8-9, Mark 9.43-49, Luke 16.18. In case you didn’t read that last lesson, I should remind you: Christians too often read these teachings, and assume Jesus condemns people for being tempted . Tempted to get angry and act on it is treated as sin. Tempted, in today’s passage, to indulge one’s lusts is likewise treated as sin. But temptation is not sin. Everybody gets tempted. Jesus got tempted. His teachings are warnings not to act on these temptations. Same thing with his next lesson on adultery—and how it’s connected to lust. (’Cause duh.) Matthew 5.27-28 KWL 27 “You heard this said: ‘You shall not adulter.’ Ex 20.14, Dt 5.18 28 And I tell you this: Everybody who looks at a woman to covet her, has now adultered with her in their heart.” The Textus Receptus has “You heard this said to the ancients.” It borrowed “the ancients” bit from Jesus’s previous instruction, Mt 5.21 to make it line up better. First of all I need to remind you of the histor

The Word-for-Word Bible Comic: The Gospel of Matthew.

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When I was a kid our Sunday school classes had a take-home comic book called Bible-in-Life Pix . ( Now it’s just called Pix . ) As I recall it’d usually contain three stories each week: Something about some missionary or preacher or saint who did something of interest. “Tullus,” a fictional series about the adventures of an ancient Roman Christian who’d share Jesus with pagans. I found it so boring , so I’d skip it. Excerpts from The Picture Bible , which is the only part I really cared about—and collected. ’Cause it’s bible. But a comic book! My only beef with The Picture Bible was it wasn’t the whole bible. Stories were abbreviated. Some stories were skipped altogether. Sometimes for very good reason; most of Judges really isn’t for children! But you know how literalist children can be: If you present ’em a comic-book bible, they want the whole bible. All of it. Genesis to maps. My other beef with The Picture Bible came much later, once I majored in biblical his

Witnesses and testimony. And us.

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1 John 1.1-4 KJV 1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2 (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it , and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3 that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. John and the other apostles knew Jesus. Knew him personally; saw him with their eyes, touched him with their hands. He taught ’em bible. More importantly he taught ’em what he meant when he got the prophets to write it. These experiences with Jesus became their testimony . And yeah, Christians tend to treat this word like it has a special religious Christianese meaning. No it doesn’t. It mea

Christian apologetics: Kicking ass for Jesus. (Don’t!)

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APOLOGY e'pa.le.dzi noun . Justification for one’s behavior, theory, or religious belief; usually in form of a logical argument. [Apologetic e.pa.le'dzet.ik adjective , apologist e'pa.le.dzist noun .]   APOLOGETICS e.pa.le'dzet.iks noun . The study and use of logical arguments to defend [usually religious] beliefs. Years ago a pastor introduced me to a visitor to our church thisaway: “He knows a lot about apologetics.” “Well, theology,” I corrected him. ’Cause at the time this pastor didn’t really recognize much of a difference between theology and apologetics. In fact a lot of Christians don’t. Theology is what we know about God. Apologetics tends to be based on those beliefs, and regularly argues in favor of them. But ’tain’t the same thing. Yeah I actually do know a lot about Christian apologetics. Before I studied theology, it’s what my church taught me. Started in high school. My youth pastor (same as a lot of undereducated youth pastors wh