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Showing posts from July, 2021

Love one another.

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John 13.34-35 KJV 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Lest we miss the point, Jesus says “Love one another” thrice. It’s not unimportant to him. It is unimportant to Christians however. We’ve really pooched this one. On a global level. We don’t love our fellow Christians in our churches. They’re family, and sometimes we acknowledge they’re family… but they’re kinda like the family we barely tolerate for family reunions. We don’t interact with them outside our church buildings. We don’t know what’s going on with their personal lives. We don’t care, either. We’re too busy. We don’t love our fellow Christians in the other churches. In many cases we convinced ourselves half of them aren’t real Christians anyway. Their denominations teach weird, inappropriate things. They’re too legalistic to really love J

Angels.

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I get asked about angels a lot. A lot . Probably too much. People have a great interest in ’em. Sometimes it’s unhealthy; namely when they’re far more interested in angelology than in Jesus. But to a point it’s understandable. I mean, here are these spirit beings, and—from what we’ve been told about ’em—they’re around us all the time . People figure we have guardian angels, who are watching us constantly … and shaking their heads in disapproval every time we sin. Others imagine they have a shoulder angel, who’s constantly whispering correction in their ear (and no, that’s the Holy Spirit , and he’s not on your shoulder either ). Far too commonly, they think angels are dead people. Yep. Ghosts. Usually dead family members; usually beloved dead family members, ’cause they certainly don’t wanna imagine their creepy uncle has become an angel and can now watch ’em shower. Ghosts, but not ghosts; they’ve had an upgrade, and popular art imagines ’em with wings and halo and a bright

Getting Christian capitalization right.

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We Christians have invented a lot of petty and stupid ways to judge our fellow Christians for how devout they are. That’s what these Expectations articles are about, y’know. We don’t look for fruit of the Spirit. We look for this crap. So from time to time I get judged for not meeting my fellow Christians’ expectations. So do you. Isn’t it tiresome? One of the little litmus tests is how we do on Christian capitalization. I get rebuked for this on a frequent basis: I don’t capitalize Christian things enough. I don’t capitalize “bible”—as if people aren’t gonna know I’m talking about the bible when I do so. I don’t capitalize God’s pronouns. I don’t capitalize “church” and “liturgy” and “sacrament.” I do capitalize Satan. Because I follow the rules of 21st century grammar. I know; it’s a dying practice. I read a lot of news, and regularly catch reporters misusing apostrophes. People love to use ’em for plurals. Love love love. Even though they shouldn’t. When in doubt, don’

The Fruitless Fig Tree Story.

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Luke 13.1-9. Two stories before Jesus presented the Mustard Seed Story in Luke , he told the Fruitless Fig Tree Story in response to then-current events. Let’s start with the events, since they’re relevant. Luke 13.1 KWL Some were present among Jesus’s listeners at that time, who brought news of the Galileans whose blood Pontius Pilate mixed with the sacrifices. We don’t know the actual story behind this. We just have guesses. Most of ’em presume Pilate put down an uprising, and in so doing killed some Galileans in the temple area, either close enough to the ritual sacrifices to splatter blood on ’em… or at least close enough for the Israelis to object it was just as bad, and hyperbolically claim he may as well have splattered their blood on their sacrifices. You know how people can get. But again: We don’t know this is what happened. The Romans are pretty good at keeping records about such things, and we have no record of such an uprising. It’s certainly staying i

Holiness versus solemnity.

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Years ago I taught at my church’s Christian junior high and elementary school. We had yearly “staff retreats,” which took an inservice day and required us to go do something together. Sometimes an actual retreat at a conference center; sometimes just a dinner. (I think most of us appreciated the dinners most.) Anyway, one year our principal decided it’d be neat if we visited the Friday night service at Bethel Church in Redding. We’d check into a hotel, go out to dinner, go to the service, return to the hotel, and go home in the morning. The reason for the overnight stay was ’cause Bethel services might, “as the Spirit led,” go past midnight. She thought it was a great idea—and was really surprised at the backlash she got from the teachers. Y’see, Bethel’s a New Apostolic charismatic church. Their beliefs and teachings aren’t mainstream—and are therefore controversial. I don’t know how aware she was of this; I think she wanted to go to Bethel because she loved their music. (Th

The fruit of holiness: Let’s get weird.

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Holiness is a fruit of the Spirit. And every time I point this out, there’s always some numbnut who says, “It is not. Holiness is good, and Christians oughta be holy, but it’s not in Galatians 5, so it’s not a fruit.” Okay, three things. First, Galatians 5 isn’t a comprehensive list of the Spirit’s fruit, and was never meant to be. Jesus and his other apostles talk about fruit from time to time as well. Simon Peter’s the guy who brought up holiness, in his first letter. 1 Peter 1.13-16 KJV 13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. Lv 19.2 God expects his kids to be holy. It’s one of his traits that’s gonna inevit

God’s holiness, our example.

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As I wrote yesterday, when Christians talk about holiness we usually mean goodness. We figure what makes God holy is his perfection: He’s good, he’s pure, he’s worthy of honor, he’s so… well, clean . Whereas we humans get awfully dirty. And yeah, God is all these things. But these are symptoms of his holiness. They’re the fruit. Let’s not confuse ’em with holiness itself. The Old Testament Hebrew word קֹדֶשׁ / qodéš , “holy,” means separate —set apart from everything else. The New Testament Greek word ἅγιος / ágios means the same thing. God’s separate and set apart from everything else. Not because he’s removed himself; he deliberately got himself right in the middle of our situation. ’Cause he’s here to help if we’d just let him. But God still stands apart from everything else, because he’s unlike everything else. He’s unique. He’s diffrent. He’s holy. No surprise, people tend to confuse the symptoms with the underlying condition. We think how we get holy like God is w

Holy and sanctified.

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Whenever Christians talk about holiness, we’re usually talking about goodness. When we talk about sanctification , the practice of being holy, again we’re usually talking about being good: Gotta resist temptation. Gotta stop sinning. Gotta get rid of anything in our lives which might tempt us to sin. Gotta get rid of anything “worldly,” because we’re striving for heavenly. Gotta shun evil… and in many cases gotta shun evildoers, i.e. everybody else , which is why in the past, those who sought holiness frequently became hermits, or cloistered with fellow holiness-seekers in a monastery. Thing is, this isn’t what holiness means. Nor what sanctification means. Holy means dedicated to God and his service, and not just for ordinary common use. If we’re gonna be holy, we’re not gonna be ordinary. We’re gonna be different. We’re gonna be weird, in most cases. People are gonna notice we’re different; we don’t live like or act like everybody else. Not even like fellow Christians—wh

The Yeast in Dough Story.

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Matthew 13.33, Luke 13.20-21. Jesus gave this short one-liner parable right after his Mustard Seed Story in both Matthew and Luke . It’s quick. Matthew 13.33 KWL Jesus told them another parable: “Heaven’s kingdom is like yeast. A woman who had it, mixed it into 43 liters of dough till it leavened it all.”   Luke 13.20-21 KWL 20 Jesus said again, “What’s God’s kingdom like? 21 It’s like yeast. A woman who had it, mixed it into 43 liters of dough till it leavened it all.” It follows the Mustard Seed Story because it’s presenting a similar idea about the growth and spread of God’s kingdom. The kingdom’s like a tiny seed which grows into a vast tree. Or like yeast which a woman mixes into an industrial-sized amount of dough. The original text of both gospels has σάτα τρία / sáta tría , “three sátons.” No, not Satan; sáton . It’s Greek for the Hebrew unit of measurement סְאָה / çeá ( NIV “seah”) which is a third of an אֵיפָה / eyfá ( KJV “ephah”). No, t

“You don’t know his heart.”

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I got a coworker who loves to talk about End Times stuff, ’cause he’s kinda obsessed with it. (No, this article’s not on the End Times. ) He likes to bring up any little thing which might be an End Times harbinger, just to get my take on it. Most of the time I tell him he’s worried over nothing. Yeah, some of those things are evil. Racism’s evil, slavery’s evil, pandemics are evil, wars are evil. And they’re the same evils humanity’s had since the very first humans. Wars happen. Plagues happen. Evil people take power. ’Tis nothing new. It’s new to him; he doesn’t know enough history. Which is the usual reason people claim, “Oh it’s so the last days; things have never been this bad.” Yeah they have. And worse. In 2020 he asked me if I thought then-President Donald Trump was the Beast. Of course I told him no. Because I checked. Just because Trump still acts mighty beastlike on a frequent basis, and just because he’s managed to sucker a lot of partisan Christians into suppor

Fleshly Christians.

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Jesus wants his followers to produce good fruit. Fruit of the Spirit, typically. It’s proof of our salvation: If we really do have the Holy Spirit within, if we really do abide in Christ, if we really have a relationship with our Father, we’re gonna be fruity. No, not automatically, despite what some Christians claim. I know; I’ve heard their testimonies. “All of a sudden I just stopped sinning ! It’s amazing!” No; at most the Spirit broke some addictions, but you chose to listen to the Spirit instead of your flesh. You chose to resist temptation instead of getting deterministically reprogrammed to follow God instead of your id. Fruit doesn’t spontaneously happen. It’s the product of a relationship—the one we often claim we have instead of religion —in which the Spirit leads and we follow. Most of the time it’s way easier than we ever expected (’cause the Spirit empowers us), and the more we do it the easier it gets, but still: Both of us do it. And then there are

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

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Mark 7.17-23, Matthew 15.15-20. Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit like grace , or a work of the flesh like gracelessness. And no, these aren’t among the fruits and fleshly works Paul listed in Galatians 5 . Because, in I said in my article on the topic, it’s not a comprehensive list. Wasn’t meant to be. Because it’s not in Paul’s list, I’ll get pushback from time to time from a Christian who has the Galatians lists memorized, and has it in their head the lists are comprehensive. “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits.” And then I have to explain how this particular attitude and behavior has its clear origin in a Spirit-led lifestyle, or Spirit-defying human depravity. Grace should be one of the more obvious ones, ’cause grace is obviously a God thing. But you know how literalists can be. The scriptures gotta literally say it’s a fruit, and if they don’t it’s not. Sometimes it’s not even about literalism: It’s because they want it to be a comprehen

The Wheat and Weeds Story.

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Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43. Presenting another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. It appears nowhere but Matthew , and it happens right after the Four Seeds Story. Mt 13.18-23 Historically Christians have considered it a parable of the End Times. Matthew 13.24-30 KWL 24 Jesus presents another parable to them, telling them, “Heaven’s kingdom compares to a person planting a good seed in his field. 25 As the person sleeps his enemy comes, plants weeds in the middle of the grain, and goes away. 26 When the stalks sprout and produce fruit, the weeds also appear. 27 The householder’s slaves, approaching, tell him, ‘Master, you plant good seed in your field, right ? So where have these weeds come from?’ 28 The master tells them, ‘A person—an enemy —did this.’ The slaves tell him, ‘So do you want us to go out and pluck them?’ 29 The master says, ‘No, lest plucking the weeds uproots the grain with them. 30 Leave them all to grow together till the harvest.

The Mustard Seed Story.

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Mark 4.30-32, Matthew 13.31-32, Luke 13.18-19. Another of Jesus’s agricultural parables. In Mark he told this one right the Independent Fruit Story, in Matthew it’s in between the Wheat and Weeds Story and its interpretation, Mt 13.24-30, 36-43 and in Luke it’s after Jesus cured a bent-over woman. Lk 13.10-17 Uniquely (in two gospels, anyway) Jesus starts it by especially pointing out it’s a hypothetical comparison to God’s kingdom. Just in case his listeners weren't yet clear he’s being parabolic; after all there are certain literalists who struggle with the concept. I’ll get to them. Mark 4.30 KWL Jesus said, “How might we compare God’s kingdom? Or with what parable might we set it?”   Luke 13.18 KWL So Jesus said, “What’s like God’s kingdom? What can it be compared with?” So what’ll we compare God’s kingdom with today? How ’bout a mustard seed? Various preachers, and maybe a Jesus movie or two, like to imagine Jesus holding up one such seed, as

The Independent Fruit Story.

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Mark 4.26-29. Here’s another of Jesus’s agricultural parables. It only appears in Mark , and because it comes right after the Four Seeds Story, some of the folks in the connect-the-dots school of bible interpretation presume the seed in this story is the same as the seed in that story: It’s God’s word. Mk 4.14 Thing is, Jesus says what the seed represents in his very introduction of the parable: “This is God’s kingdom.” Mk 4.26 It’s not merely a message, a teaching, a prophecy, a doctrine; it’s God’s kingdom itself. All Jesus’s parables are about his kingdom. Miss this fact and you’ll always miss the point. There’s no secret code in which every “seed” in every parable represents God’s word. Every parable is interpreted independently of the others. Clear your mind about the other parables and come to this story fresh. Got it? Good. Now read. Mark 4.26-29 KWL 26 Jesus was saying, “This is God’s kingdom: Like a person throwing seed onto the ground. 27

The Four Seeds Story.

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Mark 4.1-9, 4.13-20; Matthew 13.1-9, 13.18-23; Luke 5.1-3, 8.4-8, 8.11-15. Jesus’s first parable is often called “the Parable of the Sower,” which seems odd to me because the story’s not about the person sowing seed. It’s about the seeds and what happens to them. The planter just flung ’em around, as planters did back then. So I call it the Four Seeds Story. As I said in my parables article, all of Jesus’s parables are about God’s kingdom. So you’d think the Four Seeds Story would be super easy to interpret—especially since Jesus privately gave his students a key to his analogies, and they put it in the bible. But never underestimate the ability of Christians who wanna weasel out of the implications of Jesus’s lessons. The story starts with Jesus feeling the need to get a little distance from the crowds who swarmed him. Since a number of his students were fishermen, he figured hey, why not use this connection to his advantage? Mark 4.1 KWL Again Jesus went out to

Parables: For those with ears to hear.

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Mark 4.10-13; Matthew 13.10-17; Luke 8.9-10, 10.23-24; John 12.37-40. The verb παραβάλλω / paravállo literally means “to throw to,” like the arc—the parabola—a ball makes when you throw it to a teammate. Often over the heads of your opponents. And in much the same way, a παραβολή / paravolí , “parable,” is meant to go to your teammate… and usually, deliberately, over the heads of your opponents. When Jesus told stories, he used analogies. He wasn’t the only ancient teacher to use ’em; every ancient culture uses analogies. Aesop of Samos is an obvious one. His collection of stories is called the Μύθοι / Mýthi , “Stories,” which in English has been customarily translated “Fables,” ’cause fable is Middle English for “story.” But by our day, fable means “story about animals which has a moral”—in other words exactly like Aesop told. As a dog crossed a river with a piece of good meat in his mouth, he believed he saw another dog under the water, with the very same meat. He