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Showing posts with the label #Faith

We don’t just “have faith.” We have faith in stuff.

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You learned what a transitive verb is back in school, but you might’ve forgotten, ’cause your teachers didn’t make the definition all that memorable. Transitive means you can’t use the verb without an object. Unless you’re a toddler, you can’t just say, “I wet”: You have to indicate what or whom you wet. You wet the whistle; you wet the bed. Got that? Faith works the same way. Because “faith” is a synonym for “trust,” and trust is also a transitive verb. You can’t just say, “I trust”: Gotta say what or whom you trust. Saying “I have faith” means nothing till we say whom or what we have faith in . But as you know, lots of people are walking around saying, “I have faith.” Without defining in whom or what they’ve placed their faith. So we’re left to guess whom or what they’re trusting. “I have faith” means “I have faith in [YOUR GUESS HERE] .” It’s like when your toddler tells you, “I wet,” and you know they speak English well enough to not mean “I’m wet”—so now you gotta s

“Name it and claim it”: Misplaced faith.

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Faith, as I wrote in my previous piece on the subject, is belief, trust, assurance, and moral conviction. If you have faith, you believe. Preferably in something or someone solid. For us Christians that’d be Jesus: We trust him . Everything else, less so. Although not much less; I trust the scriptures pretty strongly. Hopefully you do too. I also wrote a segment in that previous piece about how way too many people believe faith is the power to believe the unbelievable. Antichrists, who think Christianity is rubbish and we’re idiots for getting mixed up in it, love this definition. They figure we have no basis whatsoever for the beliefs we hold: We believe it only because we want to believe it so very badly. So we suppress all our doubts, suppress any doubters, and wish really, really hard. ’Cause if we wish hard enough, maybe it’ll become real, like the Velveteen Rabbit. Thing is, this wish-it-into-reality idea has been around for a mighty long time. So long, you get peo

Faith. (Which “faith” did you mean again?)

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We Christians like to talk about faith, and sometimes refer to ourselves as “faith-based” or “people of faith.” Thing is, we’re not so solid on what faith means —by which I’m talking ’bout the definition of the word “faith.” We use that word all the time, but same as a lot of Christianese words, we never bothered to learn its definition, guessed what it meant, guessed wrong, ran with the wrong definition anyway, and we’ve been stumbling in the dark ever since. I’ve met more than one Christian who’ve claimed faith has no definition: “Faith is a mystery,” they’ll insist. And again, they’re using that word “mystery” wrong: In the New Testament, a μυστήριον / mystírion is something we used to not know, but Jesus revealed its existence or its meaning, so now we know it. Christian mysteries are revelations , but according to these people God’s still holding out on us: These ideas are way too big for mere mortals. And faith is one of them: We can’t explain faith ’cause God worries

Pray like Elijah.

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When our pastors encourage us to pray, sometimes they do it by quoting this particular verse. Maybe not in the NKJV as I’m about to, but all the good translations have the same gist. James 5.16-18 NKJV 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. “See?” they conclude: “Elijah was a person just like us. Bible says so. And when he prayed, it stopped raining for three and a half years; 1Ki 17.1-7 and when he prayed again, it rained like crazy. 1Ki 18.41-46 Your prayers can have just as much effect as his. So pray!” Yeah, but… Elijah wasn’t a person just like us. I mean he’s human like us. James says that, anyway: He has

You say “faith,” but you mean religion.

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FAITH feɪθ noun. Complete trust or confidence in someone/something. 2. Religion: A system of beliefs and practices about God. 3. A strongly-held belief or theory, maintained despite a lack of proof. 4. A name Christians like to give their daughters. My niece, fr’instance. [Faithful 'feɪθ.fəl adjective. ] I bring up the definition of faith because today I’m addressing the second definition: A system of beliefs. A religion. A lot of Evangelicals in the United States have this idea that religion is a bad thing. It’s because they mixed up religion with dead religion, and they don’t practice that . They don’t go practice rituals they don’t believe in; they’re not just going through the motions. They have a real relationship with God. Which is why they’re so quick to tell everyone, “I have a relationship, not a religion.” Since they really don’t wanna use the word “religion” except to rebuke and mock it… how are they gonna describe their system of beliefs and p

“Believing for God” and viruses.

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As I write this, the United States is dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus; specifically COVID -19. It’s as communicable as flu, and a little more fatal, so people are encouraged to wash their hands, avoid touching their faces, and stay away from one another. And since humans are creatures of extremes, this also means they’re stockpiling supplies, “just in case.” This is why the grocery stores are running out of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and certain types of food. (The average American diet being as lousy as it is, y’notice the stores aren’t really running out of fresh fruits and vegetables though. Just saying.) Likewise a lot of major events, like sports and concerts—any venue where they’ll pack a lot of people in the audience—are getting canceled, just in case someone with coronavirus is there, and infects everyone else. Better safe than sorry. I live in California. Our governor encouraged everyone to cancel any large gatherings: Any events with 2

Time wasted on bad theology—and its temptations.

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When I was a teenager I wanted an audio bible. At the time I couldn’t afford one. This was back when they were on cassette tapes, and cost about $150. No foolin’. So I decided the only alternative was to do it myself. I cracked open a six-pack of blank cassettes, cracked open my bible, and started recording. Started with the New Testament. Got as far as Acts . Definitely took more than six cassettes! Then I came across an audio New Testament for $20. ( Narrated by James Earl Jones, too.) For a brief moment there I thought about not buying it. After all, I’d spent a lot of time making one on my own. I didn’t wanna consider it time (and cassettes) wasted. But what made more sense?—buy the superior product, or persist in doing it myself? Yep, I bought the audio bible. Years later I finally got the Old Testament too, ’cause someone put Alexander Scourby’s narration on the internet, and even though I only had a dial-up modem, I patiently downloaded every single tinny file. I’ve

Christians who lack faith.

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Nope, didn’t title this piece “Christians who doubt.” Because everybody doubts. Which isn’t a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gullible simpletons who can’t discern the difference between truth and rubbish. Mt 10.16 If we just put our faith in people indiscriminately—believe everything our friends say, believe everything the politicians tweet, believe everything the anti-vaxxer websites claim, never fact-check our preachers to make sure what they’re telling us is valid—we’re gonna be such fools. Doubt away. But there’s a very particular form of doubt Jesus objects to most: Doubting him . So when we talk about “Christians who lack faith,” it’s not about Christians who question all the doctrines and teachings which we presume are settled, like good postmoderns will do. It’s about Christians who lack faith in Jesus . Yep him —not fellow Christians. And sometimes these Christians will try to mix these categories together: They’ll insist if you doubt them,

When faith gets shaken. (Not if. When.)

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Part of normal, healthy Christian growth is discovering we’re wrong. ’Cause we are. I’m wrong, you’re wrong; every Christian is wrong. We all have incorrect beliefs about the universe, God, Christ, the bible, salvation, how Christians oughta behave, everything. We learned them from other messed-up Christians. Or we learned them from our messed-up world, but assume they’re still correct, ’cause our fellow Christians believe ’em too. Or even despite what our fellow Christians insist. Fr’instance when a pagan comes to Jesus, she figures now she’s gotta give up all her porn. (Or any other frowned-upon activity.) She’s heard good Christians don’t get mixed up in porn, so she shouldn’t either. But of course she discovers all her Christian friends are super into porn, so she’s so relieved—hey, it’s no problem!—and that’s what she’ll believe from now on. If her pastor rails against porn, won’t matter; she’ll keep her own opinion. And keep it to herself, same as all the other inconsi

The fake fruit of fidelity.

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So as I wrote previously, the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians is πίστις / pístis , “faith.” Not, as too various bible translations render it, “faithfulness.” Like the ESV . Galatians 5.22-23 ESV 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Faith is also a supernatural gift of the Spirit, and various Christians wanna make a distinction between gifts and fruit. (Usually ’cause they have some problematic beliefs about the gifts.) So they prefer the interpretation “faithfulness.” By which they mean fidelity —you can be depended upon to do as you say, to stand up for those you love. And hey, fidelity can be an admirable trait. But that all depends on whom we show fidelity to. As humanity has demonstrated lots of times, we can show fidelity to some really godless people, ideas, and institutions. We can do profoundly stupid or evil things in their support—because

The prayer of faith. Or not.

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James 5.13-18. There’s a blog I follow. A few weeks ago the author wrote about how he no longer believes in prayer: He no longer believes it heals people. ’Cause he’s tried to heal people. He’s a pastor; he’s been in thousands of situations where he’s prayed for the sick and dying, or been asked to pray for them. He’s led prayer vigils and prayer chains, and begged God over and over and over again to cure people or let ’em live. He hasn’t got the results he wanted: Either God didn’t cure them (or didn’t cure them enough), or didn’t let them live. So he’s figuring prayer must not work that way: It’s not about making our petitions known to God, on the grounds God might intervene in human history and do us a miracle. It’s only about being God-mindful, and letting that personally transform us and our attitudes. He’s not the first Christian to claim this. I grew up in cessationist churches, and heard it all the time from Christians who don’t believe God intervenes; that pray

The fruit of faithfulness, or the fruit of faith?

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Where Paul lists the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians , a lot of bibles translate one of the words he used, πίστις / pístis , as “faithfulness.” But that’s not the usual way pístis gets translated in the bible. Typically it’s translated “faith.” And that’s what I believe Paul meant: Faith. Not faithfulness. Not that faithfulness isn’t an admirable trait; not that good fruitful Christians aren’t faithful to God—and faithful to fellow Christians, even when we mess up or sin against one another. But then again, nontheists, pagans, and people of other religions, are frequently faithful to their beliefs and principles, and notoriously stick to them even tighter than Christians will to ours. Heck, dogs are faithful. Loyalty doesn’t take the Holy Spirit. Misbegotten loyalty proves that. Whereas faith is obviously the product of the Spirit: When people don’t have the Spirit, we won’t trust the Spirit. We won’t believe the bible. We’ll invent all sorts of reasons why we needn’t believe i

Discernment: Using your noggin.

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I’ve written briefly on the supernatural kind of discernment—one of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us to minister to others, But today I get to the stuff we totally realize on our own. Good old-fashioned brain-powered discernment. The ability to judge stuff. There are two kinds of discernment. There’s the supernatural stuff, one of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us so we can minister to others, which enables us to realize stuff we’d never realize on our own. And there’s the natural stuff, the ability to figure stuff out on our own. Today I’m writing about the natural stuff. Unfortunately there are Christians who don’t realize there are two kinds. Either they think it’s all supernatural, and that every person with a knack for deductive reasoning must be some sort of prophet ( and no they’re not ); or they think none of it’s supernatural, including cases where the available evidence can’t possibly have shown you to your conclusions. I get why people might think all disc

The Fear.

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Seems appropriate for the day before Halloween to talk about the Fear. The main reason why Christians don’t act in faith? 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, rescued from troubles? Why we never even think to ask God for miracles? Why we don’t prophesy, even though we’re sure God is talking to us right this instant? Why we don’t start ministries, don’t offer help, don’t encourage, don’t anything ? The Fear. 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 a little initial stage fright, but they shake it off quickly. But when it comes to talking about Jesus or acting in faith, these very same Christians seize up and never snap out

When faith won’t fit in the pagan pigeonhole.

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’Cause skeptics hate it when you inform ’em you don’t believe in wishful thinking either. When Christians define the word faith , we go with the definition found in Hebrews . “The solid basis of hope, the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” is how I usually put it. He 11.1 We haven’t seen something, but we believe it anyway—for solid reasons. Usually ’cause we’re taking someone’s word for it, like Jesus’s. When pagans define it, they either go with wishful thinking, blind optimism, or the ability to believe imaginary things without evidence. You know, stuff we shouldn’t believe. And to be fair, some Christians do think of faith that way, ’cause they haven’t read Hebrews , or their leaders did a sucky job teaching ’em about faith. It’s not like they got their false definition from nowhere. Yep, I read Hebrews , and my church leaders were pretty good about defining faith accurately. So when skeptical pagans start to mock faith—“Oh, you Christians only believe that rubbish because

Blind faith: Those who say “we see,” and don’t.

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When faith isn’t based on anything or anyone trustworthy. Whenever pagans talk about faith, their usual definition of the word is “the magical ability to believe goofy nonsense.” You know, stuff people really shouldn’t believe. In some cases stuff that’s dangerous to believe. Fr’instance antivaxxers. They believe vaccines cause autism, or contain poisonous chemicals, or believe they’re otherwise harmful. Hence they refuse to get their kids vaccinated. I’m not quite sure what it says about them, that they’d prefer to see their kids dead than autistic… but it’s nothing good. What I do know is, thanks to them, childhood diseases which should be a thing of the past, are back—and posing a grave danger not just to their children, but to other children with compromised immune systems, or for whatever reasons can’t be vaccinated. Their belief in goofy nonsense is deadly . So yeah, if this what you think “faith” means, of course you’d think it wrong. Even evil. But it’s not at al

Reason. And how faith interacts with it.

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Faith and reason are only contradictions when you’re doing faith wrong. Faith is complete trust and confidence in something or someone. When Christians talk about faith, we usually mean our complete trust and confidence in Jesus. (That or we’re using “my faith” to mean “my religion”; that or we’re using the word wrong. Which happens.) We put our faith in Jesus; we believe what he tells us about God; we trust his teachings, obey his instructions, and otherwise follow him. Of course when I talk about faith with pagans, I don’t always remember to clear up their misunderstandings about what faith is. Darned near all of them think faith is the magical ability to believe nonsense. As Mark Twain put it, faith is “believing what you know ain’t so.” If I have faith, as they define faith, I have the power to believe in Santa Claus —even as an adult, who should know better! If I have faith, I have the ability to believe completely unreasonable things. Indeed they should expect I believe c

Faith, works, and faith righteousness.

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If you believe in faith righteousness, you’ve misdefined faith as orthodoxy. Which is a work. Yet faith isn’t a work… right? Yesterday I brought up faith righteousness , the idea we’re saved by having all the correct doctrines and beliefs. I’ve found it to be a pretty widespread belief among new believers, who haven’t yet learned better; and Fundamentalists, who should’ve learned better, but those Fundamentals are just so darned important to them. Anyway they’re wrong; God saves us by his grace. Orthodoxy is a good work, so by all means pursue the right beliefs about God. By all means do good works. But we’re not saved by works. We’re saved first , by grace, so that God can empower us to do such works. Doing the works first, and trying to achieve salvation by merit, doesn’t work either. Not that plenty of people, including plenty of confused Christians, don’t try. Karma is a mighty ingrained idea in humanity, and it’s hard to wean us off it. But one common and odd little s