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Showing posts with the label #Context

When two or three gather in Jesus’s name.

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Matthew 18.20.Matthew 18.20 KJVFor where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.We Christians quote this verse for all sorts of reasons.To point out the importance of group prayer: When two or three of us pray together, Jesus is there, so he must therefore hear our prayers. (Though getting him to answer “Yes” is another thing.)To point out the importance of small groups. Same reason: Two or three of us are together, so Jesus is there, and supposedly his presence blesses our meeting.To avoid church. “You don’t have to go to Sunday morning worship; you just have to gather with two or three fellow Christians and talk Jesus for a few minutes. That counts.” It doesn’t, but I’ll get to that.But in context it refers to church discipline.Matthew 18.15-20 KWL15“When your fellow Christian sins against you,take them aside and reprove them—just you and them alone.When they hear you, you’ve helped your fellow Christian.16When they don’t hear you: Take one or…

Sock-puppet theology: Meditation gone bad.

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Let’s begin with a frequently-misunderstood passage, which I’ve elsewhere discussed in more detail.Hebrews 12.1-2 KWL1 Consequently we, being greatly encircled by a cloud of witnesses,throwing away every training weight and easily-distracting sin,can enduringly run the race lying before us,2 looking at the start and finish of our faith, Jesus. Instead of the joy lying before him, Jesus endured a cross, dismissing the shame.Now he sits at the right of God’s throne!This is a sports metaphor. Since we do track and field events a little differently than the ancient Romans did, stands to reason Christians will mix up some of the ideas. The “cloud of witnesses” among them: It refers to the runners. It’s our fellow Christian witnesses, running through dirt, kicking up dust. Since today’s stadiums use polyurethane and rubber tracks—so we can actually see the runners, not a massive dust cloud—we don’t recognize the historical context of this verse anymore. Hence Christians guess at what νέφος/

Money the root of all evil?

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1 Timothy 6.10.Most Christians, and a fair number of pagans, already know “Money is the root of all evil” is a misquote. Properly the verse goes,1 Timothy 6.9-10 KWL9 Those who want to be wealthy fall into temptations, traps, many stupid desires, and injuries—whatever sinks people into destruction and ruin:10 The root of all this evil is money-love, which leads those who desire it away from faith.They poked themselves with many sorrows.It’s the love of money, not money in and of itself. Money’s a tool, useful for getting and supporting things. The problem becomes when people pursue that tool instead of God, who can get and support things even better than money can—and who isn’t morally neutral like money, which can get and support evil just as well as good. The problem is when people’s allegiance shifts from God to money and Mammon, and it has their worship instead of him. Or, just as bad, they only worship God because they think he’ll give ’em money.Here’s the ironic bit. A lot of th…

Tithing: Enjoying one’s firstfruits with God.

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TITHEtaɪðnoun One-tenth.2.verb. Set aside a tenth of something, either as savings or as a charitable donation.3.verb. Give [either a tenth, or any variable amount] to our church.Most Christians define tithe as a donation to one’s church. But what we donate is pretty variable. Might be $20 a week, or $100 a month, or two hours of volunteer work (i.e. cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the carpets, sterilizing the toys in the nursery… you do sterilize the toys regularly, right? Babies put ’em in their mouths). It’s whatever we regularly donate, although some of us aren’t all that regular about it.But for small churches, what we collectively donate isn’t always enough to cover our church’s expenses. Nor does it allow us to give pastors a stipend, or do much charity work… or pay the utilities or rent. Which is why Christian preachers so often feel they should remind us the word “tithe” comes from the Saxon teóða, “tenth”: It means a tenth of something. And that something would be your inco…

Those who wait on the Lord.

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Isaiah 40.31.Isaiah 40.31 NKJVBut those who wait on the LORDShall renew their strength;They shall mount up with wings like eagles,They shall run and not be weary,They shall walk and not faint.When I visit fellow Christians’ homes, a lot of ’em have a painting or mass-produced sculpture of an eagle somewhere. Some of the art’s of an American bald eagle, and are meant to express the owner’s patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores, back when they were still around. Bald eagle or not, connection to God ’n country or not, they’re meant to express the owner’s trust in God. They’re universally captioned with this particular Isaiah verse, in various translations, always mounting up with wings as eagles.The eagle appeals to a lot of Christians because of the idea Isaiah expressed: The LORD Almighty, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 but God can renew our strength. Indefini…

“God will not be mocked.”

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Galatians 6.7.Here’s a verse I hear frequently misquoted. (So have you.)Galatians 6.7 KJVBe not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.Y’notice most of the time when Christians quote it, it’s not necessarily because somebody’s mocking God. Usually somebody’s mocking them, the Christians. Occasionally God’s getting mocked too, but he’s collateral damage. The mockers are mainly focused on the Christians: Once again, one of us did something dumb, so people are having a laugh at our expense.Well when certain Christians get mocked—like when they’re new, and too immature to have the Spirit’s fruit; or when they’re longtime Christians, but never did develop patience, so they can’t take a joke; or they’re otherwise deficient in joy—they wanna rebuke their scoffers. Call down curses, ideally, but they’re happy just to have a clever comeback. “Have your fun now,” they menace their scoffers, “but your time will come. God will not be mocked.”Sometimes th…

Forgetting the past.

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Philippians 3.13-14.Here’s a verse that’s really popular with motivational speakers:Philippians 3.13-14 NLT13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.They especially wanna zero in on the “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” bit in verse 13. Then they add, “This is precisely what we need to do: Forget the past! Don’t dwell on it. Put it behind you. Those things don’t matter anymore. Look only at the things which are right in front of you. They’re the only things which matter.”Okay. It’s true a lot of people spend way too much time living in the past. People obsess about it. Speculate about all the “what ifs” which might’ve taken place had they done things differently. Regret mistakes. Grow more and more bitter about those mistakes as t…

Guard your heart.

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Proverbs 4.23.Proverbs 4.23 NIVAbove all else, guard your heart,for everything you do flows from it.As a teenager I heard many a youth pastor quote this verse. Except they’d use the 1984 edition of the NIV, which goes, “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Which I like much better than the update; it’s more poetic. Although the way I initially memorized it was the KJV’s “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life.”They quoted it ’cause they were encouraging us kids to be very, very careful about who or what we loved. ’Cause you know teenagers: Either you are one, or used to be one. And I’ll be blunt: Teens are so horny. The flood of new hormones in our systems, combined with how we’ve not yet learned to control our emotions, don’t help at all. I had all sorts of crushes on all sorts of girls and women, and stifled them as best I could. Of course, once two teenagers find they’re mutually attracted to one another, they seldom stifle anythin…

“The fool says there’s no God around.”

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Psalm 14.1, 53.1.The New Living Translation renders Psalm 14.1 and 53.1 exactly the same:Psalm 14.1, 53.1 NLTOnly fools say in their hearts,“There is no God.”They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;not one of them does good!It’s because Psalms 14 and 53 are actually the same psalm. David ben Jesse wrote it five centuries before Psalms got put together—and Psalms is actually made of five different psalters. The first book Ps 1-41 had it, and so did the second Ps 42-72 —so yep, it’s in there twice. For fun, you can compare the two psalms for the differences which slipped into the psalm over time. It’s kinda like different hymnals which have alternate verses to your favorite hymns. (“Amazing Grace,” fr’instance, is a bit different from the way John Newton originally wrote it.)Differences the NLT actually muted. ’Cause it translated two different words as “actions.” Psalm 14.1 has עֲלִילָ֗ה/alilá, “a doing,” and Psalm 53.1 has עָ֝֗וֶל/avél, “an immoral deed.” The NLT’s translators w…

No, Jesus didn’t declare all foods clean.

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Mark 7.19.Mark 7.17-19 NIV17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18“Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)Jesus has an actual point to make with this passage, but a number of Christians skip it altogether because of how they choose to interpret it. Namely they take the clause καθαρίζωνπάντατὰβρώματα/katharídzon pánta ta vrómata, “cleansing [out] all the food,” chop it off the sentence Jesus was speaking, and turn it into the declaration, “All the food [is] cleansed.”This spin isn’t just found in the NIV either:ASV.This he said, making all meats clean.”AMPLIFIED. “(By this, He declared all foods ceremonially clean.)”CSB.(thus he declared all foods clean).”ESV/NRSV. “(Thus he declared all foods clean.)”GNT. “(In sayin…

The cloud of witnesses.

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Hebrews 12.1.Hebrews 12.1 NIVTherefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…Growing up, my pastor liked to start his sermons by referring to a recent football or baseball game. He was a big sports nerd, as were other people in our church.Many of whom hate the label “sports nerd,” ’cause they’re from a generation where “nerd” wasn’t recognized—as it is today—as a good thing. Part of how they figured they could dodge the “nerd” label was by getting into sports: Supposedly sports is the opposite of nerdery. But it’s not at all. Nerdery is about obsessive interest, and sports nerds are frequently way bigger nerds than those who are into video games and comic books. Anyway I digress.Mom wasn’t a fan, knew nothing about any of the teams or athletes Pastor would go on and on about, and wanted him to hurry up and get to Jesus. The s…

The star coming out of Jacob.

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Christians list it among the verses predicting Jesus. It really doesn’t. Numbers 24.17.The Hebrews of the Exodus weren’t the only Hebrews in the middle east. There were other Hebrew nations, who probably spoke Hebrew same as the descendants of Israel whom Moses led. Namely:The ISHMAELITES, descended from Abraham’s oldest son Ishmael.The MIDIANITES, descended from Abraham’s sixth son Midian. (What, you didn’t know Abraham had more sons than just Isaac and Ishmael? Ge 25.1-2 Lots of people don’t. See what happens when you skip parts of the bible?)The MOABITES and AMMONITES, descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot.The EDOMITES, descended from Israel’s brother Esau.Plus Abraham’s son fourth son Yoqšan is the grandfather of “Ašurím and Letuším and Lehummím,” Ge 25.3 names which have a plural -im ending, which therefore means they’re not individuals but tribes.Israel’s family went to Egypt to dodge a famine, but Ishmael, Lot, Esau, Midian, and Yoqšan’s families had stayed in the area and become…

“But in these last days”… prophecy stopped?

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How people’s doubts got added to our bible translations. Hebrews 1.2In the New International Version, the book of Hebrews begins like so.Hebrews 1.1-2 NIV1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.The English Standard Version translates it similarly.Hebrews 1.1-2 ESV1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.Other translations also present the similar idea: In the past God spoke through the prophets, but in the present he speaks through his Son.So the argument goes whenever cessationists wanna insist God doesn’t speak through prophets anymore. Prophets, they insist, are an Old Testament phenomenon. A bible-times office…

Vain repetition?

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And the ridiculous idea that repetition and prayer in worship might lead to something devilish. When I wrote on God-mindfulness last week, I mentioned one of the techniques people use to remind themselves God’s always here, is by praying the Jesus Prayer. It’s a really short rote prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—which we can use to help focus when we meditate on God, or remind ourselves he’s right here with us.But of course someone (and we’ll call her Fenella) read the article on God-mindfulness, read the article on the Jesus Prayer, and despite my warnings, immediately leapt in her mind to a dark place. “That,” Fenella insisted, “is not biblical prayer.”Um… in the Jesus Prayer article I pointed out the three bible passages the Jesus Prayer is based on. One of which was prayed to Jesus, personally and directly, by Bar Timaeus. And Jesus answered it—despite the naysayers who tried to shush Bar Timaeus. You know, like Fenella’s kinda doing. (I really do…

Being strong and courageous.

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Sometimes people wanna fight. And think they have a verse which permits fighting. Joshua 1.9.One of my biggest peeves about the way Christianity is practiced in the United States has to do with the way certain Christianist men’s groups regularly twist the scriptures in order to justify culturally-defined “masculinity.” Not masculinity as Jesus demonstrated it, nor even as the fallible men in the bible practiced it: Masculinity as defined by popular American culture. With, frequently, a lot of chauvinism and sexism mixed in.A lot of these men have taken their cues from the 1990s’ mythopoetic men’s movement, which author John Eldredge repackaged for Christians so we can do the same thing. They scoured myths, legends, and fairy tales for clues as to what’s really true about masculinity. Took a lot of those old stories out of context, in so doing. Eldredge prefers pulling his ideas from the bible and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, but he makes the same mistake of overlaying his prejudices on th…

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

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In what situation should we expect this verse to apply? Isaiah 54.17You hear people quote this one when they’re claiming God promised them invulnerability.Against what? Well it depends on the Christian. Very few are gonna claim this verse is about bullets; when a gunman busts into a school and opens fire, the few who stand up and declare, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper!” are gonna quickly discover this verse doesn’t apply to their situation at all.Most of the time we figure this has to do with spiritual warfare. Which is about resisting temptation, Ep 6.10-13 although a number of Christians think it’s about believing so hard that they’ll get what they ask for, that they do. So the “weapons,” they imagine, are unbelief, discouragement, and the usual inconveniences of life which might shake our determination. Not desires and fleshly impulses, the actual wiles of the devil. If we don’t know what we’re actually meant to resist, turns out every weapon formed against us shall pr…

Where there’s no vision. (It’s not your vision.)

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It’s not your motivational-speech verse either. Years ago I taught at a Christian junior high. We had a chapel service, and one of my fellow teachers was gonna preach a nice motivational mini-sermon, and came to me for help: He was trying to find this verse in his bible, and couldn’t:Proverbs 29.18 KJVWhere there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.It’s because the school’s official translation was the New International Version, but he had the verse memorized in the King James Version, and the NIV had updated the vocabulary so much, he couldn’t recognize it anymore. The 1984 edition of the NIV put it thisaway:Proverbs 29.18 NIV (1984)Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;but blessed is he who keeps the law.The current edition updated it even further. Plus made it gender-inclusive.Proverbs 29.18 NIV (2011)Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint;but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.“Wisdom’s ins…

“Before I formed you in the womb…”

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So you’re prolife. Doesn’t mean you get a free pass to misappropriate bible. Jeremiah 1.5May as well state my biases up front: I’m prolife.In the United States we use this term to describe a person who doesn’t approve of aborting a pregnancy. Depending on the person, we either want the practice discouraged, banned outright, made a crime, or even made a capital crime with death penalties all around. Which goes way too far for me, because I’m prolife in the proper sense of the word: I don’t want anybody to die. Not just fetuses.The real problem with abortion is a society which claims they care about women and motherhood, but they only care about self-supporting women and mothers. When women get pregnant, hadn’t planned on it, and don‘t know how they’re gonna have the time or money to raise a child, society’s response isn’t, “How can I help? Whatever you need, just ask; I’m there.” It’s usually condemnation: “You should’ve expected this.”No moral support, no financial support, no persona…

Dem bones.

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It’s not about God bringing your dreams back to life. Ezekiel 37.1-10.Your average Christian knows very little about the prophetic book of Ezekiel. Most of ’em know only three things about it:At the beginning of the book, Ezekiel gets this vision of God’s throne which includes four freaky creatures with four heads, and what sound like living gyroscopes beside each of them. Ek 1 And for some looney reason, people who are into UFOs insist that’s what Ezekiel saw; it strikes ’em as more mechanical than miraculous.Apparently there’s such a thing as “Ezekiel bread.” Ek 4.9 Every once in a while, some overzealous Christian will bake a loaf and inflict it upon the people of their church. Here’s the deal: Ezekiel bread was meant to be awful, to make a point about suffering. But Christians’ll try to fix it up somehow: Add lots of yeast, sugar, disproportionate amounts of flour, and even butter. Most of the time it’s still awful. People, the bible isn’t a recipe book!And the bit I’m getting to …

The appearance of evil.

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Don’t worry about how things look. Worry about obeying God. 1 Thessalonians 5.22.1 Thessalonians 5.22 KJVAbstain from all appearance of evil.I’ve said many times before: The King James Version is a very good bible translation. Problem is, it’s a 407-year-old bible translation. Therefore it uses the English of William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson… and arguably William Tyndale, who translated the first popular English bible translation 482 years ago, and whose version was still fairly well-known.Four-century-old English is not the American English we use today. ’Cause language evolves. If you have kids of your own, you’ve heard it happen with your very ears: People redefine words to suit themselves, and if their redefinition catches on, that’s the new definition. Oh, you might hate it, like when literally grew to mean “well, not literally.” But that’s a recent one. Plenty of other transformations happened long before you had any say about it.Hence many of the words in the KJV …