Posts

Showing posts from February, 2021

Watch out for fake and fruitless prophets.

Image
Matthew 7.15-20, 12.33-35, Luke 6.43-45. Right after Jesus’s teaching about the narrow gate, Jesus gives this warning about people who pretend be prophets, but aren’t. What, there are fake prophets? Of course there are. You’ve met a few. Pagans tend to define a prophet as someone who foretells or forecasts the future. But properly a prophet simply hears from God, and shares what he said. It doesn’t have to be a message about the future. Most of the time people just wanna hear that God loves them and cares for them, and has their back. Most of the prophecies I’ve ever heard, have been simply that: Reminders that God’s here, knows us very well, and isn’t going anywhere. And usually that’s all someone has to tell people in order to be a convincing fake prophet. Do a little mentalism trick which makes it look like they know things they can’t possibly have guessed, then encourage people with common Christian platitudes. “God has a great plan for your life,” or “God knows the

Prima scriptura.

Image
There are a lot of ways God reveals himself to people. Obviously there’s the fact Jesus appears to people, either in the real world or in dreams, and talks to them. Obviously there’s prophecy; the Holy Spirit will speak to a person firsthand, or speak through a prophet secondhand. And obviously these two situations aren’t good enough for most people. Because either they don’t want Jesus to appear to them—they claim they do, or think they do, but if he ever actually showed up, they’d freak the f--- out, same as the Hebrews when the L ORD did it. Exodus 20.19 KJV And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. Same with prophecy: They either refuse to believe the Spirit’s actually speaking to them, or refuse to believe those prophets are real prophets. Hence there are a lot of skeptics—Christians included—who insist God doesn’t speak in such ways to people. Not anymore, anyway; maybe back in bible times.

“I don’t care what the bible says.”

Image
Lemme start by saying I do so care what the authors of the bible have written. Particularly about what Jesus teaches. But y’notice the title of this article is in quotes… because I’m referring to when other people don’t care about the bible. Because sometimes they don’t. Back when I was 7 or 8 years old or so, my Sunday school class was doing some activity, and one of the other kids was interacting badly. Picking fights or swearing or some other less-than-Christian behavior, and our Sunday school teacher decided to correct him by quoting bible at him. “You know, Joonas, you ought not do that, because the bible says…” “I don’t care what the bible says,” announced little Joonas. And the rest of us backed away before the lightning struck him down. Except it didn’t, because we follow Jesus, not Zeus. But the teacher was likewise taken aback: How, how could he not care what the bible says? Everybody cares. Or should. Now yeah, when you’re a kid, especially when you’re sh

The guy who tried to delete the Old Testament.

Image
I’ve touched upon Marcion briefly before. Thought I’d discuss him in more detail today. Marcion (Greek Μαρκίων / Markíon , though English-speakers keep pronouncing his name 'mɑr.ʃ(i.)ən ) was born round the year 85 in Sinope, Pontus, a city south of the Black Sea which is today’s Sinop, Turkey. Back then Pontus was a Roman province, and Marcion’s dad was the bishop of its Christian church. Marcion himself was a shipbuilder and sailor, and we don’t know much about his Christian life till he got into his fifties. At that point, in the late 130s, we hear of him trying to join the church of Rome, and offering them a big donation of 50,000 denarii. (Roughly $120,000 American.) And of course they take it; you can help a lot of needy people with that money! But within five years, they booted him from their church and gave him back his money, ’cause they concluded he was a dangerous heretic. He insisted Jesus only appeared to be human; he wasn’t really. Theologians call this doc

Worries, faith, and confirmation.

Image
1 Thessalonians 3.1-5. 1 Thessalonians lists three authors: Paul, Silas, and Timothy. People presume Paul’s the one who really wrote it, and included those other guys as a courtesy, but that’s not how letters were composed back then. All three really did write it. It was written by dictation. The reason you may not realize it’s dictation, is because we translators try our darnedest to make it sound like a coherent whole—and succeed. But in so doing, sometimes we lose a little bit of the sense of tag-team preaching. The apostles spoke—sometimes Paul, sometimes Silas, sometimes Timothy. Maybe Paul spoke most often; then again maybe not. Sometimes they interrupted one another, which is why the original text is full of sentence fragments, and translators wind up tearing our hair out because we want complete sentences , dangit, with proper subjects and predicates. Other times we get big ol’ run-on sentences, with only one proper verb at the beginning of a 13-verse stretch. S

The narrow gate. Or door. Either way, tricky to get in.

Image
Matthew 7.13-14, Luke 13.23-24. Most people are universalist , meaning in the end—if not at Judgment Day, at least way, way further down the road—God’s gonna relent, and let everybody into his kingdom. Doesn’t matter how much they want nothing to do with God in this life. They might be full-on atheist. Might embrace another religion altogether. Might not even be good; they’re selfish, wicked, rebellious, downright evil. But people figure God loves everybody, so in the end he’ll just forgive all and let ’em in. Every last bloody one of ’em. Even traitors, child molesters, genocidal mass murderers; they might have to spend a few thousand years in hell first, but eventually they’ll get out and go to heaven. You get the kingdom, and you get the kingdom, and everybody gets the kingdom! (That last line works best if you can imagine it in Oprah Winfrey’s voice. But it’s not mandatory.) The problem is Jesus said he’s not gonna let everybody in. More than once. Today’s verses ar

Christians who don’t want you to fast.

Image
As I elsewhere said, if fasting weren’t in the bible, it’d nonetheless be a fad. One Christians still frequently use as a spiritual exercise, because it does strengthen our self-control. When seeking God in prayer takes priority over sustaining our very lives, it’s this kind of hardcore behavior which makes us less likely to give in to the many temptations which comfort offers us. So what keeps Christians from fasting? Usually it’s those very same comforts. Years ago I was in a prayer meeting where the leader challenged us to fast for a week. Really, diet. He wasn’t telling us to utterly go without food. Just go vegan for a week, and set aside sweets and coffee. Set aside a few comforts so we can focus better on God. And my knee-jerk reaction was, “I just went to the grocery store yesterday and bought a bunch of yogurt. I don’t want it to go bad …” as if we were gonna be dieting that long. Wasn’t really about the expiration date either. It’s ’cause I love yogurt. So as

Ash Wednesday: Lent begins.

Image
Many of the Christians I grew up with consider this “a Catholic thing,” but the Easter-season Lenten fast predates Roman Catholics by centuries. In the year 325, the first council of Nicea made reference to a 40-day fast before Easter. They didn’t spell out the details of how they observed it, but the τεσσαρκοστή / tessarkostí , “fortieth” fast day before Easter, is when it starts—and that’d be Ash Wednesday. Ancient custom was to go without food till sundown for each of the fast days. (Skipping one day a week, ’cause you don’t fast on Sabbath. ) Among eastern Christians this evolved into a 40-day fast till Holy Week, which started on Clean Monday a week before. Among western Christians it’s Ash Wednesday to Easter. Ash Wednesday gets its name from the western custom of putting ashes on our heads. Sometimes they’re sprinkled on one’s head as part of a ritual, but in English-speaking countries the custom is to use ashes to draw a cross on Christians’ foreheads. A new custom

Lenten fasting. (It’s optional, you know.)

Image
Lent is the English term for the 40-day period before Easter in which Christians fast, abstain, and otherwise practice self-control. (Assuming we practice such things at all.) In Latin it’s called quadragesima and in Greek it’s σαρακοστή / sarakostí , short for τεσσαρκοστή / tessarkostí —both of which mean “fortieth,” ’cause 40 days. It starts Ash Wednesday, which isn’t 40 precise days before Easter; it’s 46. That’s because the six Sundays before Easter aren’t included. You don’t fast on feast days, and Sabbath is a feast day; it’s when we take a weekly break from our Lenten fasts. Many Christians don’t realize this, and wind up fasting Sundays too—since they’ve got that abstention momentum going anyway. And for eastern Christians, Lent begins the week before Ash Wednesday, on Clean Monday. Partly because they don’t skip Sundays, and fast that day too; and partly ’cause their Lenten fast consists of the 40 days before Holy Week. Then they have a whole different fast for t

“Fasting” from one thing at a time.

Image
When it comes to fasting, many Christians wanna know what’s the very least we can fast for it to “count.” Two thoughts. First of all I gotta ask them whether they’re fasting for the right reasons. We’re not obligated to fast: God never commanded it, and we’re not disobeying him when we skip a fast, break a fast, “cheat” on a fast, or diet instead of fasting. True, our churches might want us to fast, and legalistic churches will even require it. But unless you swore to God you’d fast along with ’em, you’re not sinning if you don’t fast. (And of course lying about it, or pretending you’re fasting when you’re not, is always wrong.) Likewise I don’t want people to think we fast so we can earn karmic points with God. Again, he never obligates us to fast. It’s a practice we do. It helps us focus on him in prayer, and helps us develop self-control. (And even if God did order us to fast, he doesn’t “owe us” once we obey; obedience is our duty . Lk 17.10 What, did you no

Shrovetide: Getting ready for Lent.

Image
Christmas definitely gets all the secular attention, but Easter is most definitely Christianity’s biggest holiday. ’Cause Christ is risen. Jesus is alive. His being alive confirms everything he teaches. So we Christians put a lot into it… …and kinda go overboard. That’s what shrovetide is about. You may already know before Easter we have a fasting period which English-speakers call Lent. Well, before Lent there’s a whole other season called shrovetide in which Christians prepare for Lent. Shrovetide actually starts the ninth Sunday before Easter—two weeks ago. That’s 63 days before, but western Christian custom is to round it up to 70 and call it Septuagesima Sunday (from the Latin for 70, of course). The Sunday after that is 56 days before, so round it up again and it’s Sexagesima Sunday (for 60); and this Sunday is 48 days before, so Quinquagesima Sunday (for 50). Although more Christians simply call this day Shrove Sunday , the Sunday before Lent starts. And the

We don’t just “have faith.” We have faith in stuff.

Image
You learned what a transitive verb is back in school, but you might’ve forgotten, ’cause your teachers didn’t make the definition all that memorable. Transitive means you can’t use the verb without an object. Unless you’re a toddler, you can’t just say, “I wet”: You have to indicate what or whom you wet. You wet the whistle; you wet the bed. Got that? Faith works the same way. Because “faith” is a synonym for “trust,” and trust is also a transitive verb. You can’t just say, “I trust”: Gotta say what or whom you trust. Saying “I have faith” means nothing till we say whom or what we have faith in . But as you know, lots of people are walking around saying, “I have faith.” Without defining in whom or what they’ve placed their faith. So we’re left to guess whom or what they’re trusting. “I have faith” means “I have faith in [YOUR GUESS HERE] .” It’s like when your toddler tells you, “I wet,” and you know they speak English well enough to not mean “I’m wet”—so now you gotta s

“Name it and claim it”: Misplaced faith.

Image
Faith, as I wrote in my previous piece on the subject, is belief, trust, assurance, and moral conviction. If you have faith, you believe. Preferably in something or someone solid. For us Christians that’d be Jesus: We trust him . Everything else, less so. Although not much less; I trust the scriptures pretty strongly. Hopefully you do too. I also wrote a segment in that previous piece about how way too many people believe faith is the power to believe the unbelievable. Antichrists, who think Christianity is rubbish and we’re idiots for getting mixed up in it, love this definition. They figure we have no basis whatsoever for the beliefs we hold: We believe it only because we want to believe it so very badly. So we suppress all our doubts, suppress any doubters, and wish really, really hard. ’Cause if we wish hard enough, maybe it’ll become real, like the Velveteen Rabbit. Thing is, this wish-it-into-reality idea has been around for a mighty long time. So long, you get peo

Faith. (Which “faith” did you mean again?)

Image
We Christians like to talk about faith, and sometimes refer to ourselves as “faith-based” or “people of faith.” Thing is, we’re not so solid on what faith means —by which I’m talking ’bout the definition of the word “faith.” We use that word all the time, but same as a lot of Christianese words, we never bothered to learn its definition, guessed what it meant, guessed wrong, ran with the wrong definition anyway, and we’ve been stumbling in the dark ever since. I’ve met more than one Christian who’ve claimed faith has no definition: “Faith is a mystery,” they’ll insist. And again, they’re using that word “mystery” wrong: In the New Testament, a μυστήριον / mystírion is something we used to not know, but Jesus revealed its existence or its meaning, so now we know it. Christian mysteries are revelations , but according to these people God’s still holding out on us: These ideas are way too big for mere mortals. And faith is one of them: We can’t explain faith ’cause God worries

False accusations, false beliefs; you know, as the devil does.

Image
1 Thessalonians 2.17-20. Added to the Thessalonians’ hardships was the fact the apostles couldn’t get to them. We don’t know the specifics; we only know Paul really wanted to, and tried, but couldn’t. Maybe it was logistics; they tried to find a boat headed for Thessaloniki and just couldn’t. Maybe they were officially banned from Thessaloniki. Or maybe they were unofficially banned, and warned that if they set foot in town they’d be murdered. I point out that a lot of foolhardy Christian missionaries nowadays will ignore death threats and go to such towns anyway; I’m not claiming they had more guts than Paul (which is why I call ’em foolhardy), but I am pointing out that Paul darn near got murdered, more than once, which tends to make you take death threats more seriously. The criminal justice system in the Roman Empire was a joke, so death threats weren’t always just talk. And Paul did eventually get to see them—sorta. After Paul and Silas were rushed out of town, Ac 17.5-

The Golden Rule.

Image
Matthew 7.12, Luke 6.31. “Do as you’d be done by.” That’s C.S. Lewis’s wording. It’s probably the briefest form I’ve found of the “Golden Rule,” as it’s called. I grew up hearing it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—and it actually doesn’t come from the King James Version, which has it, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Lk 6.31 KJV I tried tracking down the other wording, and the earliest I’ve found it is 1790. My translation of the two different ways Jesus taught it: Matthew 7.12 KWL “So as much as you want people doing for you, you do that for them: That’s a summary of the Law and the Prophets.”   Luke 6.31 KWL “Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.” It’s “the Law and the Prophets,” as Jesus put it—meaning the bible of his day, the Old Testament. (Yes the OT consists of Law, Prophets, and Writings. But back then, when Sadducees and Samaritans insisted the bible only cons

The goodness of creation: Matter bad, spirit good?

Image
There’s a really popular, common idea in our culture: Spiritual things are good, and material things are bad. It comes from Greek philosophy, though the Greeks were hardly the first to believe it. It’s found pretty much everywhere. Plenty of pagans insist every spirit being must be an angel, and good. Therefore we must always, always take their advice, and never wonder whether any of them are evil. ’Cause why would there be any such thing as an evil spirit? They’re spirits . Duh. Regardless of its origins, Christians have totally bought into this idea. In part because we think we see it in the bible. Romans 8.5-8 NRSV 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not su

The whole point of creation.

Image
One of God’s bigger miracles is of course creation. Genesis 1.1-3 NRSV 1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light” ; and there was light.   John 1.1-5 NRSV 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Despite the claims of young-earth creationists, the scriptures aren’t meant to give a scientific description of how creation happened. The bible’s not made up of science books: It’s theology. It’s about why God created the universe. Genesis 1 may be structure

The two creation stories.

Image
I was raised to be a young-earth creationist, as are many conservative Evangelicals in the United States: We’re taught God created the universe only 6 millennia ago, precisely 4 millennia before Jesus was born, so 4004 BC . And if a scientist or historian tells us otherwise, it’s either because they’ve been duped by nontheists, or because they’re nontheist themselves. Young-earth creationists ( YEC for short) claim their views are based on a literal interpretation of Genesis . It says God created the cosmos in 6 days, and if we truly believe bible, we gotta likewise believe God created the cosmos in 6 days. There’s no room for any other interpretation. The universe… if we take Genesis literally. NIV Faithlife Study Bible Problem is, when we do take the creation stories of Genesis literally, we might notice it’s not describing the cosmos as we know it. It’s describing the cosmos as ancient middle easterners knew it, meaning a flat earth , with a solid-wall dome above

When Christians suffer… and those who make us suffer.

Image
1 Thessalonians 2.13-16. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were very pleased with the Thessalonian church, and say as much throughout this letter. These folks didn’t just embrace the message, the λόγον lógon of God’s kingdom they heard from the apostles; it sparked faith in them, and got ’em to act upon what they heard and believed. With consequences, ’cause they got persecuted for it almost immediately. While the apostles were still there preaching the gospel. Ac 17.5-9 Got people arrested for disturbing the peace, and if you know anything about Romans, you know they have the bad habit of crucifying everyone they can until they get peace again. It’s why they got the apostles out of town as quick as they could—and that concern for the apostles only goes to show what a compassionate relationship they had with one another. 1 Thessalonians 2.13-16 KWL 13 This relationship is also why we unceasingly praise God: You who received the message of God you heard from us— not a mess