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When supernatural gifts will no longer be needed.

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1 Corinthians 13.7-13. I grew up among Christians who loved to use this passage of 1 Corinthians to make the claim God turned off the miracles. He never did, but a number of Christians claim he did, because they’re entirely sure they never saw a miracle, and consider their experiences the norm. Plus they subscribe to certain End Times theories which kinda require the miracles to be deactivated till the tribulation hits. So when Paul and Sosthenes wrote the following, they put a cessationist spin on it. Here, I’ll quote it in their favorite translation (and, often, mine) the King James Version. 1 Corinthians 13.8-10 KJV 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. The passage is about love (Greek ἀγάπ

The love we oughta see in supernatural gifts.

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1 Corinthians 13.4-8. When Christians write the about the bit from 1 Corinthians 13 which defines love, we almost universally take it out of context. Myself included. ’Tain’t necessarily a bad thing: We quote it when we’re defining love. It states what love is, as opposed to what popular culture, and sometimes even popular Christian culture, claims it is. The apostles defined it properly, and we need to adjust our concept of ἀγάπη / agápi ( KJV “charity”) accordingly. But in context, the apostles defined it because they were correcting the Corinthians’ misperceptions about the supernatural. If you’re gonna strive for greater gifts, the only valid way to pursue them and do them is in love. If you’re not doing ’em in love, you’re doing ’em wrong. And if you’re not entirely certain what the apostles meant by this “love” concept, permit ’em to straighten you out a bit. 1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL 4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly. It doesn’t act with uncontr

Fleshly supernatural.

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1 Corinthians 13.1-3. When Paul and Sosthenes wrote 1 Corinthians , specifically the parts about the supernatural, y’might notice they didn’t write about fake supernatural. They didn’t write about frauds, like people who pretend to be faith healers but actually do nothing, or “miracle workers” who are only doing impressive stage magic tricks, or “prophets” who are really practicing mentalism. Certainly they could’ve written about such people, because there have always been such people. Just about every religion in the Roman Empire had one—because their worshipers expected the supernatural, so the priests had to show ’em something. There are two particularly famous stories of frauds in the apocrypha’s extra chapters of Daniel , and you can read it here. But the apostles didn’t write about the fake stuff. They only wrote about the real stuff. Their main concern was the Corinthians were doing ’em wrong. Because that’s what we Christians do: The real stuff, wrong. And the ma

The Unforgiving Debtor Story.

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Matthew 18.23-35. Mammonists are fond of saying Jesus teaches about money more often than a surprising number of subjects. More often than heaven and hell combined! And that part’s true, ’cause Jesus teaches very little about heaven and hell. (Unless you think “the kingdom of heaven” actually means heaven. You’d be wrong.) His lessons are primarily about following God now , not the afterlife, nor after the world ends. Jesus teaches most subjects more than heaven and hell combined. Though Jesus brings up money a lot, not all his lessons are actually about money. Money’s in them. Much like wheat and vineyards are in a number of his parables: They’re not about wheat and winegrapes, but about his kingdom. He uses them to make a point. They’re MacGuffins—a movie term for the valuable object which motivates the characters and drives the story. What the MacGuffin is, doesn’t matter; you can often swap it out for something else. In fact Jesus does just that when he speaks of

Strive for greater supernatural gifts!

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1 Corinthians 12.28-31. Part of the reason Paul and Sosthenes raised the subject of supernatural gifts was so we Christians wouldn’t be ignorant of ’em. 1Co 12.1 Too many are—both those who recognize God still empowers them, and those who insist he doesn’t. I, like the apostles, am only addressing that first group. That second group can just ignore me, same as they do the apostles. There are all sorts of gifts, empowered by one and the same Holy Spirit, 1Co 12.4 distributed among Christians so they can contribute to Christianity’s unity. But do we see all Christians using these gifts to energize their various ministries? Do we see all Christians seeking and practicing these supernatural gifts? Miracles breaking out everywhere, mighty acts of power convincing the world God is really among us, the weak and sick flocking to churches because they know God has the cure, the lost and confused seeking out Christians because they know God has answers? I wish . And I’m pretty

One Spirit for the one body of Christ.

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1 Corinthians 12.4-27. The way first-century pagans understood the supernatural, there were many supernatural abilities… but each of ’em was produced by a different spirit. If you wanted healing power, you prayed to Apollo. For wisdom, Athena. For speaking in tongues, Dionysius. For mighty acts of power, Zeus. The Greek pantheon included a lot of gods, so if Apollo got ’em nowhere, they could also pray to Asklipiós, Panákia, and Ygihía. And frequently Greeks didn’t limit themselves to only Greek gods: If they got word the Egyptian or Persian or Arabian or Norse gods actually got stuff done, they’d try ’em out. Or if they figured the big gods were too busy, they’d try out lesser gods, personal gods, helper gods, known as δαιμόνια / demónia , from which we get our word demon . But nope, they’re not capital-G gods. Just unclean spirits. Today’s pagans still think this way. If sick, they might try western medicine: They’ll grab some painkillers at the pharmacy, and

Some of the Spirit’s supernatural gifts.

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1 Corinthians 12.4-11. When the apostles Paul and Sosthenes corrected the church of Corinth regarding the supernatural —in particular about the gifts the Holy Spirit distributes to his church—the apostles listed a few of these gifts. Didn’t define ’em; just listed ’em. Nothing wrong with that. But the problem is cessationists , those Christians who believe God turned off the miracles once the New Testament was complete. So what do they do with Paul and Sosthenes’s list of supernatural gifts? They redefined every last one of them: They’re no longer supernatural, but natural. They’re the same sort of gifts any “gifted person,” any talented individual, any genius, might happen to have. Like perfect pitch, or instant recall, or the ability to do rapid math in your head, or amazing physical coordination. Hey, it’s not like the Creator doesn’t grant natural gifts! So in a cessationist’s mind, the 1 Corinthians passages aren’t at all about supernatural gifts empowered by the Holy

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 supernatural . Fr’instance if I install plastic pink flamingos in my front yard. Clearly 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, and painted it to resemble a living flamingo. Somebody else—i.e. me—lost all sense of what’s appropriate for lawn ornaments, bought them, put ’em in the lawn, and got all the neighbors to seriously consider banding together in a homeowner’s association just

The Dinner Party Story.

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Luke 14.15-24. Jesus has two very similar parables in the gospels: The Wedding Party Story in Matthew , and the Dinner Party Story in Luke . Christians tend to lump ’em together, iron out the differences, and claim they’re about precisely the same thing. They’re actually not. The differences are big enough to where we gotta look at the variant parables individually, not together. In the Wedding Party Story, Jesus compares his kingdom to a king holding a wedding for his son. That’s not a mere social function; it’s political. People’s response to that wedding was a political statement; it wasn’t merely some friends revealing how they’re not really friends. Whereas what we see in the Dinner Party Story is an act of hospitality, generosity, and love on the homeowner’s part… and the invitees blow him off because they’d rather do anything than spend time with him. The rebellion and sedition we detect in the Wedding Party Story isn’t in this story. These are just people being dick

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

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Years ago my mom was taking a college course in bible, and one of her texts was The Expositor’s Bible Commentary . Full 13-volume set; they didn’t want people getting the two-volume abridged edition. I don’t remember how much it was at the time, but it was way more than she was willing to spend. So she figured, “Well my son’s a big bible nerd,” and asked me, “Wanna go halves on a commentary set?” It was easy to talk her into the Accordance version, which was a lot cheaper, a lot easier to search… and I could stash it on a laptop instead of having it hog a whole shelf. I’ve known pastors who had the whole 13-volume set in their offices. I don’t know how regularly they flipped through it for their sermon prep. From the many out-of-context scriptures they used, sounds like they really didn’t. But displaying full commentary sets in your office, preferably without a thick layer of dust on top, certainly makes you look like you study the bible in depth. The EBC began as The E

Timekeeping in ancient Israel.

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The calendar most of the planet uses, called either the western calendar or the Gregorian calendar, originated in 1582 when Pope Gregory 13 introduced it as an update of the Roman calendar adopted by Julius Caesar in 45 BC . Since Gregory introduced it right after the Protestant split, it took a while before all Protestant countries adopted it. Various Orthodox churches still haven’t adopted it, preferring to stick with Caesar’s calendar, ’cause it’s not Catholic. Meanwhile nations which aren’t even predominantly Christian—’cause of western influences or trade— do use it. As well as their own local calendars. Japan, fr’instance. Israel likewise uses the western calendar. And its local calendar, the one which predates the western calendar by centuries: The Hebrew calendar. That’s the calendar we find in the bible. It’s what we call a lunisolar calendar : It’s lunar, in that months start on the new moon. But it’s adjusted to sync up with solar years, so that the year always

Keep (most of) your prayers private.

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Matthew 6.5-6. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, Matthew 6.5-6 KJV 5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are : for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Which is why we don’t see the streets of our nation lined with Christians, their arms raised and heads to the sky, praying as loud as possible so as to let everyone know we’re devout, and that we’re praying for our land. Well… we don’t usually see this. Although I remember this one trip I made to Washington D.C. where we saw it all the time . I was chaperoning some kids on a civics tour, where we went to the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian,

Hatred’s a work of the flesh.

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Galatians 5.19-21 KJV 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these ; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Hatred gets listed in verse 20 as one of the works of the flesh. The original-language word is ἔχθραι / ékhthre , “hostility” or “opposition” or “enmity”: Someone who’s decided in advance they’re not gonna be friendly. In fact, they’re looking for enemies. In his first letter, John pointed out how those who hate their sisters or brothers are murderers . In their hearts, such people are dead to them. And those who “murder” in this way have nothing to do with eternal life. 1Jn 3.15 They won’t inherit God’s kingdom —same as those who exhibit the fle

The Equal-Pay Vineyard Story.

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Matthew 20.1-16. Jesus tells more than one parable about vineyards, and sometimes Christians mix ’em up. Whenever I refer to “the parable of the vineyard,” people sometimes assume I mean the two sons sent to work in the vineyard, or the tenant farmers who murder the vineyard owner’s son. I’ve tried to call this the Generous Employer Story, but if you don’t put “vineyard” in the title people don’t know what you mean—“Wait, is this a new parable?” No it’s not. So I call it the Equal-Pay Vineyard Story. Because everybody gets paid a denarius at the end of the story, even though some of ’em didn’t work all that hard. The punchline is about how the landowner does this because he’s generous, so maybe it oughta be called the Generous Equal-Pay Vineyard Story. But instead of making the title longer and longer, till it winds up telling the story for us, Jesus may as well tell the story, right? Matthew 20.1-16 KWL 1 “For heaven’s kingdom is like a person, a landowner, who come

The explosive power of God?

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DYNAMIS 'daɪ.nə.mɪs, 'di.na.mis or DUNAMIS 'du'nə.mɪs noun. The extra-mighty sort of power God possesses. [Dynamite power 'daɪ.nə.maɪt 'paʊ(.ə)r noun. ] Alexander Pope wrote the saying, “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” in his Essay on Criticism in 1711. It’s frequently misquoted “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” and constantly taken out of context: People assume Pope meant it’s better to have no knowledge at all. Knowledge is power, but power in the wrong hands is dangerous. Read his whole poem, and you learn what Pope actually meant: A little learning is a dang’rous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again. Yeah, for those who lack a little learning about what a Pierian Spring is, that’d be a fountain in ancient Macedonia (which is not the current country of Macedonia) dedicated to the Muses, the Greek goddesses o

Defining God by his might, instead of his love.

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People have all sorts of ideas about what a god is. To the ancients, a god was simply a non-human being who was mightier than they, who had power over nature, and if you worshiped them they might control some nature for you. To present-day westerners, whose ideas of God have largely been influenced by Christianity, God is properly defined as the mightiest being the universe. The Almighty. Nothing and no one comes close. Which he is, but people tend to fixate on that definition instead of God’s own description of himself— as love. Exodus 34.6-7 KJV 6 And the L ORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The L ORD , The L ORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty ; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation . It’s kinda o

God is love.

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No doubt you’ve heard “God is love” before. If we wanna understand it better, it helps to read St John’s context, from his first letter. 1 John 4.7-16 KJV 7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15 Whosoever shall c

God’s names. (And a bunch of his adjectives.)

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New Christians—and a bunch of us older ones too—tend to be fascinated by the fact God has a lot of different names. No, I’m not talking about the different words for “God” in other languages: Theos, Deus, Dios, Diyos, Dieu, Dia, Dio, Zeu, Gott, Gud, Hudaý, Bog, Buh, Elohim, Allah, Ulah, Dev, Ram, Atua, Kami, Haneunim, and so forth. Those are neat too, as are the different ways humanity has rendered “Jesus.” But people who are into that, are more into languages. Your average Christian is more into the many different things God is called in the bible. James Nesbit is selling this poster of God’s names. Without the watermark, I expect. jnesbit.com There’s “God,” of course. There’s “the Lord” or “the L ORD ,” depending on the original-language words we’re translating. There’s his personal name “I Am” or “Y HWH ” (or “Yahwéh”) or “Jehovah.” There’s “the Most High” and “the Almighty”… And I haven’t even got to the titles yet. Like Mighty God, Ancient of Days, Alpha and Omega,

The Dragnet Story.

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Matthew 13.47-50. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know what a dragnet is, and think it has to do with cop shows, or police putting up roadblocks in order to catch a suspect. Police have certainly borrowed the term, but properly a dragnet is a fishing net. There are many kinds of dragnets. The type most commonly used today is a seine (a word descended from the ancient Greek word for dragnet, σαγήνη / sayíni ), a fishing net with floats on the top and weights on the bottom, pulled behind a boat, which catches everything swimming in the top part of a body of water. Another is the kind which sinks to the bottom of the lake or sea, and pulls up everything from the floor. And since it catches everything , it might catch garbage… or endangered fish or marine mammals, like dolphins. It’s an efficient way to catch fish, but it’s not popular with environmentalists. Jesus’s base of operations was Kfar Nahum (Greek Καφαρναοὺμ / Kafarnaúm , KJV Capernaum), a fishing village

The Fear.

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You likely know the main reason Christians don’t act in faith. It’s why we won’t share Jesus with our neighbors and coworkers. Why we don’t pray for people to be cured of illnesses, freed from addictions, or rescued from troubles. Why we never even think to ask God for miracles. Why we won’t prophesy, even though we’re sure God is speaking to us right this instant. Why we won’t start ministries, won’t offer help, won’t encourage, won’t anything. It’s the Fear. I capitalize it because it’s not just any ol’ fear, like overcaution in case anything goes wrong, or concerns we might be doing too much, or hard experiences which inform our hesitancy. It’s the Fear. I’ll explain. You’ve likely met Christians who’re the most friendly, outgoing, outspoken, extroverted people you’ve ever seen. Got no trouble with public speaking. No trouble sharing their opinions. (Even when you’d rather they didn’t.) No trouble talking about their favorite movies, teams, products, politics. Maybe