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Showing posts from August, 2021

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

Fear-based evangelism: Carrot and stick. Mostly stick.

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Four years ago I got to talking with a regular at my church about evangelism. She wanted to know how I shared Jesus. Not to pick up any pointers or anything; this was an orthodoxy test. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t steering people wrong. Some people love to appoint themselves as heresy hunters, and she’s one of ’em. (She’s also not entirely sure anyone’s doing Christianity right but her.) So I talked about how I usually tell people about Jesus: First I find out what they believe, if anything. Most of the time I find out they’re already Christian, or believe themselves to be. If they’re not churchgoers, I encourage ’em to go: I try to plug them into a church. Doesn’t need to be mine, but it does need to be a fruitful church. ’Cause they’re more likely to experience Jesus for themselves when the people of their church know him personally. SHE. “And what do you tell them about hell?” ME. “Not much. They don’t usually ask.” SHE. “You don’t warn them about hell? ”

Fearful churches.

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We Christians are meant to be holy, and consider ourselves separate from the rest of the world. No, this isn’t because we’re better than them. We’re so not. No, this doesn’t mean we’re to move into little gated communities where nobody but Christians live, isolate ourselves from everybody else, and drive out anyone we might consider sinners. This is how cults start —assuming the cult hasn’t already started, and the compound is just another creepy symptom of how we’ve gone astray. We’re distinct from the rest of the world because God calls us to follow Jesus. Not other people. Not one another. Not even popular Christian culture —especially its political or Mammonist variants. As the rest of the world does its thing, we’re to ask ourselves, “What would the Father rather I do?” or “What does Jesus do?” Then do that. Believe it or don’t, sometimes this means we do as the rest of the world does. If the culture suddenly realizes society is institutionally unjust—that violence

The fear of God.

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Humanity discovered pretty quickly that if you want to rule over others, you either have to get ’em to love you so much they’ll trust you and do as you say… or be worried about what you might do to ’em if they don’t obey you. Love takes time and patience on the ruler’s part… and even then, the people might be too stupid to obey the ruler anyway, much like a two-year-old ignoring the warning, “Don’t touch the stove!” Or of course projecting their own corrupt impulses onto the ruler’s motives, and presuming the ruler’s selfish instead of benevolent. (Much like every president’s opposition party typically does.) Love ain’t easy. But speaking from experience, it works really well. Most rulers don’t have that kind of time or patience, so they just go with fear. Still do. Politicians warn of all the terrors that’ll take place if the people vote for the other guy; that you have to vote for them, and if you don’t it’ll probably trigger the great tribulation. Dictators take their e

The Major Finds Story. (Treasure in a Field, Pearl of Great Price.)

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Matthew 13.44-46. Jesus has two quick one-liner parables in Matthew which are about the very same thing. I don’t know whether he told these stories separately, and Matthew bunched ’em together, or whether he told them together so the repeated idea might sink in all the better. Regardless, Christians have historically called ’em by separate names. One’s the Hidden Treasure, or Treasure in the Field, or Secret Treasure, or Clever Treasure Hunter, or whatever you wanna emphasize most in the story. The other’s the Hidden Pearl, Valuable Pearl, Pearl of Great Price, or Clever Pearl Merchant—again, whatever you wanna emphasize most. Me, I bunch ’em together. Like I said, they’re about the very same thing, and they repeat the idea of finding something major, and selling all you have to get it. So I call them collectively the Major Finds Story. Heaven’s kingdom is like a major find. Really, heaven’s kingdom is a major find. Take it away, Jesus: Matthew 13.44-46 KWL 44 “

Evil spirits.

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It’s odd: Lots of people believe in spirits. Christians do too, ’cause God’s a spirit, Jn 4.24 and angels are spirits. He 1.14 We also figure the spirits of dead loved ones exist in the afterlife —or heaven, as many people imagine. Yet many of these very same people refuse to believe in evil spirits. I used to say this mindset comes from Platonism. Plato of Athens taught if we could only escape this world of matter and decay, and just become pure spirit, all our self-centered impulses, greed, materialism, lusts, and so forth would simply cease to exist. We wouldn’t have ’em anymore; they were embedded in our flesh, but without that flesh we’d be nothing but good. Plato’s not the first to believe this junk; plenty of other cultures teach the same thing. Present-day folks who believe it, don’t necessarily believe it ’cause of Plato’s reasoning—heck, they don’t have any reasoning behind it. They simply believe all spirits are good… because it never occurred to them spirits

Spirits.

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SPIRIT 'spɪ.rɪt noun . A non-physical being; a supernatural being. 2. A person’s non-physical parts (such as emotions or character), which are considered a person’s true self, survives physical death, and possibly manifests as a ghost. 3. [ capitalized ] The Holy Spirit. 4. Qualities, characteristics, or emotions of a person or thing, which are considered their defining attributes, like “the spirit of the plan.” 5. Emotion or mood, usually positive, as in “This’ll lift your spirits.” 6. True intentions or attitude, as in “the spirit of the law, not the letter.” 7. Liquor or another volatile liquid. 8. [ verb ] Taken quickly and secretly. The bible regularly refers to non-physical beings. We call ’em spirits. Our English word comes from the Latin spirare /“breathe,” and the Hebrew and Greek words for spirit ( ‏רוּחַ / ruákh , πνεῦμα / pnéfma ) likewise literally mean “breath” or “wind”—in general, air molecules pushed by an outside force. No, the bible’s auth

Pagan and proud.

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Whenever I share Jesus with pagans —same as when I talk to anybody about any topic—I run into two types: The open-minded and the closed-minded. The open-minded are fun. They’re curious. They have tons of questions. I may not get ’em to believe, or convince ’em to set foot in church, but that’s okay. There’s still lots of room for the Holy Spirit to work on them, because they’re open. The closed-minded wanna tell me about Jesus, ’cause they’re entirely sure they already know it all. (They usually share some version of Historical Jesus, who sounds either like a nice guy but horribly misunderstood, or no fun at all. And either way, dead. ) They suck all the fun out of the conversation, dismiss or mock anything we consider important, treat all our God-experiences as irrelevant or delusional, and don’t care how insulting and condescending they come across. Jesus compares them to swine, and you can see why this analogy is so popular. Yeah, they’re depressing. Why do they get l

The Good Samaritan Story.

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Luke 10.25-37. This is probably Jesus’s best-known story, almost universally called the Good Samaritan. Which… is a problematic name, ’cause I’m not sure how many people realize the reason he’s called the good Samaritan, is because the usual Jewish and gentile presumption is he wouldn’t be good; he’d either be apathetic or outright evil. The story begins with a νομικός / nomikós , a person who specialized in the Law of Moses and its many, many Pharisee loopholes. The KJV translates nomikós as “lawyer,” and yeah, today’s lawyers are often just as expert at manipulating our laws so their clients come out on top. So I’ll go with that translation. Luke 10.25-29 KWL 25 Look, a certain lawyer stood up to examine Jesus , and said, “Teacher, if I’m to inherit life in the age to come , what am I doing? 26 Jesus told him, “What’s written in the Law? How do you read it? 27 In reply the lawyer said, “You’ll love your Lord God, with all your mind , all your soul, all

“Jesus sightings” in the Old Testament.

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From time to time I hear Christians claim Jesus makes appearances in the Old Testament. And he does. All the time, really—because Jesus is Y HWH . When God created the universe, when the L ORD singled out Abram ben Terah and renamed him Abraham and relocated him to Canaan, when the L ORD had Moses lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and give ’em the Law and covenanted to be their God and they his people: This is Jesus. This isn’t just the God the Father person of the trinity doing stuff, while the Son and Holy Spirit hid in the background, and peeked out once or twice, and made minor appearances. This is the triune God. And Jesus is this God. John spelled it out in his gospel: It wasn’t the Father, and the Father alone, who created the universe; it’s God. And Jesus is God. John 1.1-3 KJV 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any t

Why must Christian apologists argue?

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To argue means to give reasons or cite evidence in support of one’s ideas, actions, or planned actions. Like when you argue your case in court: You’re trying to convince the jury, judge, or justices to take your side, and giving good reasons why they oughta. Sometimes they’re gonna challenge those reasons with reasonable questions, and we oughta be able to reasonably answer those questions. If we can’t, we lose. Then there’s the other definition of “argue”: To fight. With words, although in these types of argument, what they’re really going for is a win. By any means necessary. Reason has little to do with it; in fact they’d much rather hurt your feelings than offer a reasonable response. The biggest problem in Christian apologetics is the temptation to stray from reasonable arguments, and start fighting. ’Cause once we do that, we lose. Fighting turns the person we’re just talking with, just having a discussion with, into the enemy . Now we’re no longer trying to win them

Eventually everyone will understand Jesus’s parables.

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Mark 4.21-25. When Jesus explained to his students how parables work and why he uses them, he told them this. Mark 4.21-23 KWL 21 Jesus told them, “Does the light come in so it can be put under a basket or under the couch? Not so it can be put on the lampstand? 22 It’s not secret except that it may later be revealed. It doesn’t become hidden unless it may later be known. 23 If anyone has hearing ears, hear this.” Too often Christians quote this passage as if it applies to every secret: Everything we say in secret is gonna eventually come out in public. And y’know, Jesus did say something like that, in Matthew and Luke . But he did so in a different context. There, it was part of his Olivet Discourse, his last talk to his students before his arrest and death. At the time he spoke about when people persecute Christians for proclaiming the gospel, and how their evil would become public, in time. And all Jesus’s other, private teachings would also become publ