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Showing posts with the label #Context

“You have not because you ask not.”

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James 4.2. Here’s a phenomenon I come across a little too often: Someone’s in need. They bring up their need to fellow Christians. And the fellow Christians respond, “Have you asked God to help you with that? ’Cause if you ask, he’ll help. You’re in need because you haven’t asked God about it. ‘You have not because you ask not.’ ” Me, I’m pretty sure the needy person has asked God for help. Whenever I’m in need, he’s my go-to. I go to other people second. And no, not because other people suck: I wanna see if I can achieve it myself first, or I can achieve it with God’s help first. I guess it comes from the American ideal of self-sufficiency… although I admit it’s not always the wisest ideal. Some burdens ought to be shared. And likewise some people try to avoid burdens whenever they can. That, more often than not, is the real motivation behind Christians telling the needy, “So have you asked God about it?” They don’t wanna help. But let’s set them aside for a moment, an

“Money is the root of all evil.”

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1 Timothy 6.10. This is rather well-known out-of-context scripture. So well known in fact, your average Christian already knows it’s taken out of context, and many a pagan likewise knows better. It’s the common proverb “Money is the root of all evil,” and it’s a misquote of something Paul wrote to Timothy: 1 Timothy 6.10 KJV For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. It’s the love of money. Not money itself. Money is morally neutral. But loving money—especially when people love it more than God, their neighbors, their own lives and health and reputation and integrity—certainly produces evil. Now yeah, many a Christian (especially when they’re really kinda Mammonist ) read the King James Version and balk: “ All evil? I don’t think every evil in the world is based on the love of money. I can think of a few evils which had nothing to do with money. Li

“But Jesus was a jerk sometimes.”

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Probably the Christian jerk’s favorite excuse for their awful behavior is Jesus himself: He’s a bit of a jerk sometimes, they’ll argue. Therefore sometimes (although it’s way more often than sometimes) it’s all right if they get a little bit jerkish. Since when is Jesus ever a jerk? Well, they got proof texts. Let me preemptively say they really don’t. They’ve got Jesus stories where yes, he can be accused of rude, harsh, thoughtless, dickish behavior. But this interpretation is entirely based on the presumption Jesus had a bad attitude: People pissed him off, so he was clapping back at them. Despite having God’s very nature, he decided to act entirely unlike himself, and be fruitless instead of fruity. Why do they presume Jesus had a bad attitude? ’Cause they have a bad attitude. ’Cause they’re projecting their own bad attitudes upon Jesus. The gospels don’t remind us of his motives and character in every single story; the authors figured we oughta know Jesus already

Needing not that any man teach you.

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1 John 2.26-29. Ever heard of a “life verse”? It’s an idea y’find in some Evangelical circles; it means there’s a bible verse which isn’t just a Christian’s favorite verse, but one they kinda consider their personal mission statement. They base their life on it. Heck, a number of these “life verses” are all found in the very same chapter of 1 Thessalonians : “Always rejoice” 1Th 5.16 for people who are big on joy. “Pray without ceasing” 1Th 5.17 for people who are big on prayer. “Give thanks for everything” 1Th 5.18 for those who definitely do. “Don’t quench the Spirit” 1Th 5.19 for those who love to listen to the Spirit. “Don’t dismiss prophecy” 1Th 5.20 for prophecy (or prophecy scholar ) fans. “Test everything” 1Th 5.21 for big skeptics. “Abstain from every form of evil” 1Th 5.22 for big legalists. Anyway. I once worked with this woman whom I’m gonna call Eustacia. Her “life verse” was clearly this one: 1 John 2.27 KJV But the anointing which ye hav

Christian perfectionism and “Be perfect.”

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Matthew 5.48. God doesn’t want us to sin. You knew that already. We’re meant to be good, to do the good works the Father spelled out for us, plus anything else which comes to mind. The scriptures constantly warn people against sin. It alienated the first humans from the L ORD , which is why he had to boot ’em from paradise lest they live forever in their sin. It obligated the L ORD to inform Moses and the Hebrews what he expected of them. It’s why the prophets warned Israel time and again: There are consequences for all this evil. It’s why Jesus died: Sinful humans killed him, and he let ’em because he knew his innocent death could plaster over humanity’s sins and restore our relationships with God. So we’re told by parents and pastors: Stop sinning! Start acting like God’s children, instead of devils who sin like they’re trying to piss him off. Be better. Be perfect , if possible—and it is possible, ’cause the Holy Spirit can make it so. In preaching against sin, C

The Mizpah covenant.

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Genesis 31.48-49. When I was a kid, and people hadn’t yet figured out how to use the internet for shopping, my family got the Sears catalog. Basically it was a 500-page, full-color, softcover book . It’d contain every single thing Sears sold—particularly stuff you couldn’t find in its stores, but thanks to the catalog you could order it by phone. Then wait 4 weeks for it to be delivered. Yep, a month . Sometimes longer. (Anyone who’s nostalgic for “the good old days” is a moron.) A typical mizpah coin. When bored I’d browse the things. Usually the toys. But next to the toy section was the jewelry section, and among the baubles Sears offered were mizpah coins. Maybe you’ve seen them too… or maybe half of one. They’re meant for couples. The coin is split in two, and one partner gets one half, the other t’other. You have to put them together to read the entire verse: Genesis 31.48-49 KJV 48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was

When two or three gather in Jesus’s name.

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Matthew 18.20. Matthew 18.20 KJV For 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 KWL 15 “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 Chri

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 KWL 1 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 Chr

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 KWL 9 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

Tithing: Enjoying one’s firstfruits with God.

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TITHE taɪð noun 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 t

Those who wait on the Lord.

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Isaiah 40.31. Isaiah 40.31 NKJV But those who wait on the L ORD Shall 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 L ORD 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

“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 KJV Be 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 no

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 NLT 13 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 ab

Guard your heart.

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Proverbs 4.23. Proverbs 4.23 NIV Above 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, th

“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 NLT Only 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 , “

No, Jesus didn’t declare all foods clean.

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Mark 7.19. Mark 7.17-19 NIV 17 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 καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα / 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 / NRS

The cloud of witnesses.

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Hebrews 12.1. Hebrews 12.1 NIV Therefore, 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

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