Posts

Showing posts from November, 2021

Scriptures for advent.

Image
Each advent season I focus on scriptures which are related to advent topics. Namely Jesus’s first coming, and his second. So expect to see some such articles… but if you can’t wait that long, here’s some stuff I’ve written already. Nativity stories. Word! Jn 1.1-5 Why identifying Jesus as “the word” was so profound to the first Christians. Recognizing and embracing the light of the world. Jn 1.1-13 The true light came into the world—and we get to see him. The word became human, and explains God. Jn 1.14-18 Getting a really good look at God through Jesus. One heck of a birth announcement. Lk 1.5-25 Gabriel’s announcement to the father of John the baptist. How Mary became Jesus’s mother. Lk 1.26-38 What sort of person God selected as his mother. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Lk 1.39-56 When Jesus’s mother and John’s mother both prophesied about his coming. The birth of John the baptist. Lk 1.57-80 And his father’s prophecy about just what sort of

Hanukkah.

Image
The Hebrew calendar doesn’t sync with the western calendar. That’s why its holidays tend to “move around”: They don’t really. Not like Easter, which is determined by the full moon, and therefore doesn’t sync with Passover like it oughta. In any event Hanukkah does fall on the same days every year: 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet. (And in 2021, this’d be sundown 28 November to sundown 6 December.) Christians sometimes ask me where Hanukkah is in the bible, so I point ’em to this verse: John 10.22 KJV And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. The “feast of the dedication” is Hanukkah. The word חֲנֻכָּה / khanukká (which gets transliterated all sorts of ways, and not just because of its extra-hard kh sound) means “dedication.” Other bible translations make it more obvious— John 10.22 NLT It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. —because their translators didn’t want you to miss it, where

Advent Sunday.

Image
Four Sundays before Christmas, the advent season begins with Advent Sunday. That’d be today, 28 November 2021. (Next year it’ll be 27 November. It moves.) The word advent comes from the Latin advenire /“come to [someplace].” Who’s coming to where? That’d be Jesus, formally coming to earth. We’re not talking about his frequent appearances here and there, but the formal appearances: Either the first time around, when he was born in the year 7 BC , which is what we celebrate with Christmas; or the second time around, in the future, to take possession of his kingdom. Historically this has been the time for Christians to get ready for his coming. Which we do for his first coming, by getting ready for Christmas. But Christians, Evangelicals in particular, forget it’s also about getting ready for his second coming. We might tell ourselves we oughta always be ready for that event—and we oughta!—but advent’s when we particularly pay attention to the idea. He’s coming back, y’kn

Thanksgiving Day.

Image
In the United States, we have a national day of thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday. Whom are we giving thanks to? Well, the act which establishes Thanksgiving Day as one of our national holidays, provides no instructions whatsoever on how we’re to observe it. Or whom we’re to thank. Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the last Thursday in November in each year after the year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22d day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays. —77th Congress, 6 October 1941 House Joint Resolution 41 The Senate amended it to read “fourth Thursday in November,” and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. So it’s a holiday

Read your bible!

Image
Just about every Christian teacher—myself included—tell Christians we gotta read our bibles. ’Cause we gotta. We live in a biblically-illiterate culture, folks. Heck, it’s darn near illiterate in general, because Americans simply don’t read. They read snippets; they read social media posts, or paragraphs, or really short articles, or devotionals whose daily reading intentionally takes up less than a page. Give them a long article to read, and about six paragraphs in, they’ll complain, “How long is this thing?” and quit. They’re not gonna read a novel, much less bible. So the bits they do know of bible are entirely out of context. They’re individual verses, quoted to prove a point in a sermon, or turned into a meme and posted on social media. They’re the memory verses we use to defend ourselves: “No I don’t give to beggars, because if you don’t work you shouldn’t eat. That’s biblical.” It is, but again, context. The bible references people know, are often a lot like tha

Thanksgiving. The prayer, not the day.

Image
In the United States, on November’s fourth Thursday, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. Today I’m not talking about the day itself though. I’m talking about the act. Americans don’t always remember there’s such a thing as an act of thanksgiving. Our fixation is usually on the food, football, maybe the parade, maybe the dog show. If you’re pagan, you seldom even think to thank God… or anyone. Instead you conjure up some feeling of gratitude. You have a nice life, a decent job, good health, some loved ones, and got some stuff you’ve always wanted. Or you don’t have these things, but you’re grateful for the few things you do have. Or you’re not grateful at all, and bitter… and in a few minutes, drunk. But this feeling of gratitude isn’t directed anywhere. Shouldn’t you be grateful to someone or something? Shouldn’t there be some being to thank? And that’s a question many a pagan never asks themselves. I know of one family who thanks one other. Civic idolaters m

The Lost Sheep and Lost Coin Story.

Image
Luke 15.1-10. Jesus loves sinners. Not just because he loves everybody without discrimination, because God is love, but because he knows the most effective way of getting a sinner to repent is by loving ’em. Show them grace, and they respond with gratitude. Unless of course they’re entitled jerks who think of course they deserve God’s kingdom… like we see in a lot of Christians nowadays, and like we see in the scriptures whenever Pharisees have a problem with Jesus being too liberal with people who deserve hate, scorn, and explusion. In the gospels, two groups tend to be singled out for Pharisee ire: The publicans , natives of the Galilee and Judea who worked for and with the occupying Romans, and were considered sellouts and traitors and unclean apostates ; and “sinners,” by which Pharisees meant irreligious people. For some reason people tend to naïvely assume everybody in ancient or medieval times was religious. Every Egyptian believed in the Egyptian gods, or eve

The gospel of Peter.

Image
It’s not really the gospel according to Simon Peter. There were rumors among ancient Christians that Peter wrote a gospel. Serapion of Antioch (191–211) mentioned when he visited a church in Rhossus, they were reading a Gospel of Peter —which he read, and didn’t find legitimate. Nope, it wasn’t actually by Peter; it’s Christian fanfiction which claimed to be from Peter. Probably composed in Serapion’s day, in the mid to late 100s. Eusebius Pamphili (260–339) said he heard of a Gospel of Peter , and that it was heretic and no real Christian saint taught from it. Origen of Alexandria (184–253) and Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393–457) mention and dismiss it. Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, 342–420) condemned it, but probably secondhand, ’cause he read Eusebius, not the gospel itself. That’s about it. Yeah, Evangelicals popularly teach the Gospel of Mark is really the gospel of Peter,’cause tradition has it John Mark was Peter’s disciple. Or, in some traditions, his son. S

Earthly sovereignty, and God’s sovereignty.

Image
As I wrote in my article on God’s sovereignty, humans have some messed-up ideas about how it, and God, works. Largely because we confuse human sovereignty with divine sovereignty, and think God acts like we would act, were we sovereign. Jean Calvin (1509–64), who came up with various beliefs about how salvation works which we nowadays call Calvinism, was a medieval theologian from France. If you know European history, you know France for the longest time was an absolute monarchy , in which the French king ran his nation like a dictatorship. His rule was absolute. He wasn’t bound by law, because he made the laws and could unmake them at will. He wasn’t held in check by any parliament or court. He answered to no emperor. He didn’t answer to the pope either; if he didn’t like the pope he’d just get rid of the current one and appoint a new one. I’m not kidding; French kings actually did this more than once. “ L’état, c’est moi” /“The state; it’s me” was how Louis 14 (1643–1715) p

God is sovereign. (So, our king. Not our puppet master.)

Image
SOVEREIGN 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n noun. A supreme ruler. 2. adjective. Possess supreme or final power. [Sovereignty 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n.ti noun. ] Typically when people talk sovereignty, they’re speaking of the adjective. They’re talking about supreme or final power, and who has it. Like a nation. Our country claims the right to do as it pleases, despite what other countries are doing, or trying to get us to do. If other countries want to cut pollution, and want us to sign a treaty which agrees to do so, but our president doesn’t believe in climate change and sees no reason to make our businesses stop dumping their garbage into our air and drinking water: Hey, we’re a sovereign nation, and those other nations can go pound sand. More carbon for everyone! More often lately, people talk about individual sovereignty: They claim they’re sovereign citizens, who can do as they please and no government can tell them otherwise. If they want to refuse vaccines or get an abortion,

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

Image
DOCTRINES OF GRACE 'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪs noun. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny. A number of Calvinists are uncomfortable with the title “Calvinist.” For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer: They claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who was comfortable with determinism. ) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was. Others concede not everything Jean Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character.

The Wedding Party Story.

Image
Matthew 22.1-14. This parable has a lot in common with Jesus’s Dinner Party Story in Luke . So much so, many Christians consider them the same story, and teach on them at the same time. They might primarily present it as the Wedding Party Story, and quote some bits of Luke to add some depth; or as the Dinner Party Story, and quote bits of Matthew . Or they’ll say, “Well in Matthew it’s a wedding and in Luke it’s a dinner party… but it’s all the same thing, right? A wedding is just a dinner party to celebrate a wedding. So the differences don’t matter.” But they do . Because in the Wedding Party Story it’s not just any wedding. The person throwing the party isn’t the groom, as was the custom in first-century middle eastern weddings; in this case it was his father. Who’s the king . And not just a king like our democracies have, who’s really just a rich noble with an extra-fancy title who gets to be on the money and has a few ceremonial government duties. This guy actually

The prayer of Manasseh.

Image
Manasseh 1.1-15. If you’re thinking, “Waitaminnit, there’s no book of Manasseh in the bible,” that’s true of most churches. It’s part of the apocrypha. Protestants and Catholics don’t include it in our scriptures, but since it’s in the Septuagint it is found in many Orthodox and Ethiopian bibles. There used to be a translation of it in English-language bibles, but when English Puritans started purging all the bibles of apocryphal books, Manasseh was taken out of the King James Version, along with all the other books. Depending on the bible, sometimes it’s a separate prayer, and sometimes it’s made part of 2 Chronicles . No, we don’t know where the translators of the Septuagint got it. It’s attributed to Manasseh ben Hezekiah, king of Israel. When he became king at 12 years old, 2Ch 33.1 he decided what we call “western religion” was not for him, and dabbled in pretty much everything else you could find. 2 Chronicles 33.3-7 KJV 3 For he built again the high place

The prayer of Nehemiah.

Image
Nehemiah 1.5-11. In the ’00s the prayer of Jabez got some attention with a popular book. It was quickly followed by other authors who were covetous of The Prayer of Jabez ’s success, whose books probably didn’t sell as well for that reason. People realized they were knock-offs, whose authors only wanted to nitpick the Prayer of Jabez , or tried to teach us the same tired old things about having great success if we pray the Lord’s Prayer or the Jesus Prayer. Or other such prayer tricks. Of course God can’t be reduced to formulas. And not only might he tell us no, he has every right to. People who wanna sell a million books won’t necessarily teach this fact. Instead they’ll claim if we pray their favorite prayers, we’ll get stuff. Pray like Jabez and God’ll expand our territory. Pray the Jesus Prayer and receive peace. Pray the St. Christopher prayer and kids get protection. Pray the St. Jude prayer and get a yes to your hopeless cause. Pray the rosary and get special prote

The prayer of Jabez.

Image
1 Chronicles 4.9-10. Back in 2000 Bruce Wilkinson wrote a tiny little book called The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life . It sold like hotcakes ’cause it was a little tiny book you could find near the register, it was inexpensive and brief (and therefore perfect for Christians with ferret-like attention spans), and you could buy extras to give ’em to friends. It contains a single sermon’s worth of material about an obscure ancient Hebrew by name of יַעְבֵּץ / Ya’ebéch , or as the King James Version calls him, Jabez. (The editions of the KJV which include pronunciation marks intend you to say dʒɑ'bɛz , but Americans nonetheless call him 'dʒeɪ.bɛz .) And here’s the short little passage the entire book is extrapolated from: Every last thing the bible has on Jabez. ’Tain’t much. 1 Chronicles 4.9-10 KWL 9 Jabez was heavier than his brothers. His mother called his name pain/ Jabez to declare, “I birthed him in pain.” 10 Jabez called on Israel’s

The power of prayer.

Image
The power of prayer is God. If that sounds kinda self-evident to you, great! You’d be surprised how many people don’t get this. I’ve heard from way too many Christians who treat prayer as if the act of prayer itself—the effort we put into saying rosaries, or reciting certain “powerful” rote prayers, or regularly blocking off an hour for prayer time, taking the proper posture, repeating the right incantations, and praying as nonstop as possible; and of course the faith necessary to trust that God grants prayer requests—“activates” prayer’s power. Like we just found the cosmic cheat code, to borrow a video game term. Pray just right, and receive points or rewards from the heavens. But their teachings aren’t so much about the One who dispenses the rewards. Well, they might go on about how these prayer practices please God, and that’s why he rewards us with stuff. Pray just right, and it’s like God’s a happy dog and you gave him just the best tummy rub, and we know his

The Murderous Vineyard Workers Story.

Image
Mark 12.1-11, Matthew 21.33-46, Luke 20.9-19. Most Christians think of Pharisees as the bad guys in the gospels, ’cause of how often Pharisees objected to Jesus, Jesus objected to them right back, and how Pharisees conspired with others to get Jesus killed. Thing is, that’s only some Pharisees. Just like how the gospel of John showed Jesus getting opposed by “the Judeans” ( KJV “the Jews”) —it wasn’t all Judeans, but some Judeans. He got along just fine with Nicodemus, Lazarus and his sisters, the guy who lent him the room for Passover, and lots of other Judeans; and he got just as much pushback from his fellow Galileans! Likewise not all Pharisees objected to Jesus. Ever notice how Jesus frequently taught in synagogue? Synagogues were a Pharisee thing; nobody but Pharisees had synagogues. Those Pharisees accepted Jesus. Likewise all the Pharisees who followed him (though sometimes poorly) after he was raptured, and became the Christians of the early church. And the