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Showing posts with the label #Context

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 …

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

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Tell that to Moses sometime. 1 Corinthians 10.13.This verse gets misused often. And just as often, underused and ignored.1 Corinthians 10.13 KJVThere hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.Since this is part of a series on context, let’s first deal with the out-of-context way Christians quote it: They use it to proof-text the old platitude, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”You can kinda see how it devolved into that. “God… will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” somehow lost the word “tempted,” which is the entire point of this verse. It’s about temptation. God doesn’t allow us to be overcome by temptation. God always provides a way out of temptation. Anybody who claims, “I had no choice but to give in”—that’s rubbish, because God always provides a way out, and t…

“Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”

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Of course we have some iffy ideas about what “waiting on the Lord” entails.Isaiah 40.31Whenever I visit fellow Christians at their homes, a large number of ’em have a painting or sculpture of an eagle somewhere. Often it’s an American bald eagle, meant to express their patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores before it went bankrupt and shut down. Patriotic or not, if it was produced by Christians, it’s gonna be captioned with the following Isaiah verse:Isaiah 40.31 KJVBut they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.The sentiment which really appeals to Christians, whether it’s blended with patriotism or not, is the idea the LORD, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even though the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 God can indefinitely renew our strength. Is 40.31Well, if we trust in the…

“Be still and know that I am God.”

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It’s not about being quiet. Psalm 46.10Most people shorten this verse to simply, “Be still and know that I am God.” But sometimes they actually do know the entire verse:Psalm 46.10 KJVBe still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.When people do remember the rest of this verse, they tend to recall (and prefer) a translation without that bothersome word “heathen” in it. The word goyím properly means “foreigners,” which we also translate “foreigners” or “nations”—the Amplified Bible, ESV, NASB, and NIV went with “I will be exalted among the nations,” which works better for them. Be still, know God is God, and if everybody can just chill out and meditate for a bit, God can be exalted by all the nations, round the world.Yeah, this tends to be considered a meditation verse. I’ve been in prayer groups where Christians have talked about meditation, and they misquote Psalm 46.10 all the time. “Remember, we’re just trying to be still and k…

“Train up a child…”

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It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted.Proverbs 22.6This particular proverb, best known in the King James version—Proverbs 22.6 KJVTrain up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.—has brought a lot of comfort to a lot of Christians whose kids don’t appear to be going anywhere close to the way they should go.After high school, a lot of the kids from my church youth group didn’t stay in church. Some of us did, and some of us went away to school… and the rest decided since they were adults now, they could choose to go to church or not. So they chose not. To the great consternation of their parents, who thought they raised their kids better than that. They really didn’t.In despair, the parents turned to this proverb. The way they chose to interpret it: Yeah, the kids had quit Jesus, but the parents had trained ’em up in the way they should go. They’d raised ’em Christian. Took ’em to church. Made ’em pray before meals. Sent …

“I stand at the door and knock.”

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It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted.Revelation 3.20Revelation 3.20 KJVBehold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.This’d be Jesus speaking.When I was a little kid, I was told Jesus lives in my heart.I didn’t then understand the difference between one’s physical heart, the blood-pumping muscle/organ in one’s chest; and the spiritual heart, the center of one’s soul. That “Jesus lives in my heart” means Jesus takes priority over all. Arguably the spiritual heart is a metaphor, and Jesus living in it is definitely a metaphor. You wanna talk persons of the trinity who live in you, look to the Holy Spirit.But you know how literal-minded a kid can be. Tell ’em “Jesus lives in your heart,” and they’ll wonder whether there’s a little tiny Jesus, physically inside their chests. And of course that’s not what they meant. Or at least I surely hope that’s not what they me…

These godless kids these days.

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Little bit of griping about the younger generation… and now it’s in the bible.Psalm 14Amárnavál belibó/“The fool said at heart” (Latin Dixit insipiens) is by David, and we number it at 14.Commentators figure it’s a lament: David, or Wisdom (i.e. the Holy Spirit) mourns the fact kids these days don’t follow God anymore. Not like “our righteous group,” Ps 14.5 the dor/“age group” (KJV “generation”) David’s in, which he deems more devout than the younger set. Back in his day people followed God, took his side, knew where their help came from, and expected God to rescue ’em yet again. In comparison, this generation is hopeless, nihilistic, cynical, faithless, and godless.Basically, the same lament every generation has about the next one. Well, with one exception: The people from this generation, who gang up with the previous generation about their peers and successors. That’s a phenomena I’ve seen quite often lately. My parents are “baby boomers,” I’m in what marketers call “generation X,…

Submission. It’s not domination.

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It has two definitions, and evil people are promoting the wrong one.Submit /səb'mɪt/ v. Yield to or accept a superior force, authority, or will. Consent to their conditions.2. Present one’s will to another for their consideration or judgment.[Submission /səb'mɪs.ʃən/ n.]Notice there are two popular definitions of submit in use. The more popular of the two has to do with acceptance, obedience, and blind capitulation. To turn off our brains, do as we’re told. And most sermons instruct Christians to do precisely that. Submit to one another, as Paul ordered.Ephesians 5.21 NIVSubmit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’Cause we kinda have to. If we can’t submit to God—if we insist on our own way, our own standards, our own values, our own lifestyles—it’s a pretty good bet we’re outside his kingdom.Romans 8.5-8 KWL5 Carnal people think carnal things. Spirit-led people, Spirit-led things.6 A flesh-led mind produces death. A Spirit-led mind, life and peace.7 For a flesh-led min…

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

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When leaders try to evade accountability by the very verse which makes ’em accountable.1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15Today’s out-of-context scripture is found in two places in the bible, ’cause either Chronicles is quoting Psalms or vice-versa. (Hard to tell, since they were written round the same time.) To get the full effect, you gotta quote it in the King James Version.1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15 KJVTouch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.The way it’s typically quoted is in the third-person form of “Touch not the LORD’s anointed!” But it doesn’t take that form in the bible.I’ve seldom heard preachers quote it. More often I’ve heard it from people in church leadership, or people who are defending church leadership. Usually it’s to discourage us from questioning, critiquing, condemning, or otherwise interfering with those leaders. ’Cause they were anointed by the LORD—and look, it says right there in the bible you’re not to touch the LORD’s anointed.It was written …

The bible’s genres.

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It’s not all written in just one style of literature.Genre /'ʒɑ(n).rə/ n. Type or category of literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, and subject matter.Our word genre originates from the Old French word gendre/“gender.” ’Cause while men and women are both human, we’ve still got some important, distinctive differences. (Not as many as our culture dictates, but still.)There are many types of literature. Stop by the local public library, and you’ll notice how the books tend to be lumped into categories so we can find them easier. Whether your library uses the Dewey system or the Library of Congress system, you’ll notice the gardening books are on one shelf, the photography books on another, the legal books on another, the biographies on another.Now when the average person picks up a bible, they assume they’re picking up one category of literature: Non-fiction religious instruction. After all, that’s where we’ll find bibles in the library.Thing is, the bible’s an an…

“The gates of hell”: Just how won’t they prevail?

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Lots of weird pop culture interpretations of this one. Typically they’re wrong.Matthew 16.18Jesus once asked his students who they thought he was. Simon Peter, his best student, correctly identified Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. Mt 16.16(Since we Christians recognize Jesus is the Father’s only-begotten son, Jn 1.18 we tend to read that into it, rather than recognize “Son of God” as one of Messiah’s titles. In historical context it’s not what Peter meant. But I digress.)In response Jesus pointed out how awesome this was (KJV “blessed”) because Peter hadn't just deduced it; this was a case of supernatural discernment, or special revelation. The Father had personally revealed this to Peter. Mt 16.17 Which is kinda awesome.Then Jesus said this:Matthew 16.18 KJVAnd I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.The words Jesus used were pýlaiádu/“hades’s gates.” Latin turned this into portae in…

The poor you will always have with you. So screw ’em.

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Matthew 26.11.It’s kinda obvious when people quote the following verse out of context: They always drop the second part of the sentence. ’Cause the context is found in that part.Matthew 26.11 KJVFor ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.Although I have often heard plenty of Christianists quote this verse in its entirety, just to make it look like they’re quoting it in context… then quickly say, “And the part I wanna focus on are those words ‘Ye have the poor always with you,’ and never mention the other clause again. It’ll only get in their way.The point they wanna make with it? They wanna justify doing nothing for the poor.Because there are poor people in the world. Somebody wants to help them. Give to them. Create jobs for them. Create charities to help them. Create social programs to take care of them. Enlist their aid, whether through private donations or tax dollars… and they don’t wanna help.Now how does a Christian, the recipient of God’s infinite grace, w…

God’s grace is sufficient: What we mean, what Paul meant.

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We use “sufficient” to mean God’s salvation or provision. Paul meant neither of those things.2 Corinthians 12.9One really good example of an out-of-context bible phrase is the idea God’s grace is sufficient. Sometimes phrased, “Your grace is enough for me,” or “His grace is sufficient” or if you wanna put the words in God’s mouth, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” People don’t even quote the entire verse; just the “grace is sufficient” bit.And when we quote it, we mean one of two things.Most of the time it’s used to state God’s grace is sufficient for salvation. It’s a reminder we humans can’t save ourselves from sin and death, no matter how many good deeds we do; and that’s fine ’cause God does all the saving. He applies Jesus’s atonement to our sins, takes care of it, forgives us utterly; all we need is God’s grace. It’s sufficient. It does the job.Great is your faithfulness oh GodYou wrestle with the sinner’s heartYou lead us by still waters into mercyAnd nothing can keep us apart…

Prophetic interpretation: “God told me it means this!”

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Sometimes the Spirit explains his scriptures. Other times prophets just don’t wanna do their homework.I’m writing this article under the Prophecy category, but I should warn you: It’s not just prophets, wannabe prophets, and fake prophets who try to pull this stunt. Y’know where I first encountered it? Among cessationists, of all people.Yep. All of ’em figure they have the very same Holy Spirit as the authors of scripture. Which they should, if they’re Christians. Since the Spirit inspired the scriptures, the Spirit should also be able to clue us in on what the scriptures mean.Cessationists claim God doesn’t prophetically talk to people anymore. So what’s the point of ’em having the Holy Spirit? Well, they think he’s here for only two reasons:Confirm we’re going to heaven. Ep 1.13-14Illuminate the scriptures.Illuminate means “light up,” and depending on how much the cessationist will permit the Holy Spirit to do, they figure either he lights them up so they can understand the scriptur…