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Showing posts with the label #Grace

Does suicide send you straight to hell?

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Years ago I taught at a Christian junior high. We had the usual classes you’ll find at most schools, plus bible classes and a weekly chapel service. Principals led most chapels, but the last year of our junior high program (before the school phased it out and I went on to teach fourth grade), our principal handed off the duties to various guest preachers. Earnest guys… but let’s be blunt: Some of ’em didn’t know what they were talking about. Some churches have no educational standards, and’ll let anyone babysit pastor the youth.One of our regular chapel speakers was a youth pastor, the husband of one of our school’s daycare teachers. As far as theology is concerned, my eighth graders knew more. Not just ’cause I trained them; he really was that ignorant.One week this guy was talking about salvation, and he let slip that if you commit suicide, you go to hell. It wasn’t his main point, but one of our seventh-graders did catch it and question him about it: “You go to hell for suicide?”“Y…

Karma: How we imagine the universe seeks justice.

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Matthew 5.38-42, Luke 6.29-31.KARMA'kɑr.mənoun. The sum of one’s deeds in this life (and previous lives), used to decide one’s fate in future lives or the afterlife.2. The sum of one’s deeds in this life, used to decide one’s fate in this life.3. One’s destiny or fate, seen as the result of one’s deeds.[Karmic 'kɑr.mɪkadjective.]Karma is a Hindi word, from the Sanskrit karman, “fate.” Because Hindus and other eastern religions believe in reincarnation, karma has to do with why you’re born into your particular family, class, comfort level, or caste: You deserved it. Not from anything you did in this life; it’s the actions of your previous life, and when you got reborn, the universe assigned you to the place you deserved. If you were good in your previous life, now you’ve been rewarded with a blessed life; if your life sucks, it’s your own fault for being bad in your past lives. Be good now, and maybe next time you’ll be born into a better caste. ’Cause evil means the universe w…

Sins which send you to hell?

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Quoting from John’s first letter:1 John 5.15-17 KJV15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. 16 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. 17 All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.This passage has managed to confuse an awful lot of Christians. What’s John mean by ἁμαρτάνουσινπρὸςθάνατον / amartánusin pros thánaton, “sinning unto death”? Or sinning not unto death?Both Paul and James wrote that sin causes death. “The wages of sin is death” Ro 6.23 and “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” Jm 1.15 and all that. They weren’t just speaking of sins which obviously cause death, like murder and suicide and abortion; or sins which indirectly but still kinda obviously cause death, like gluttony or addictions or other lapses of self-c…

“Prevenient grace”: Already there, without limit.

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PREVENEpri'vinverb. Arrive first, come before, pre-exist.[Prevenient pri'vin.jəntadjective, prevenience pri'vin.jənsnoun.]Time for an old-timey word, prevenient. One you’ll really only find theologians use anymore. But I gotta inflict it on you—sorry—because so many Christians use it to describe how God’s grace works.Y’might already know humans are selfish, and this self-interest distorts everything we do. Including everything good we try to do: There’s gotta be something in it for us. Even if it looks and feels like there’s nothing in it for us—if it’s an absolute act of sacrifice, one which harms us instead of benefits us, one which makes us feel awful instead of noble—there’s still something way deep down, embedded in the core of our being, which gets some satisfaction from it. Otherwise we we’d never voluntarily do it. That’s just how messed up we are. “Totally depraved,” as the theologians put it.But people usually pretend this messed-up core doesn’t exist, and claim …

Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

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Mark 11.25, Matthew 6.14-15, 18.21-35.Jesus told us in the Lord’s Prayer we gotta pray,Matthew 6.12 BCPAnd forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive those who trespass against us.He elaborated on this in his Sermon on the Mount:Matthew 6.14-15 KWL14“When you forgive people their misdeeds, your heavenly Father will forgive you.15When you can’t forgive people, your Father won’t forgive your misdeeds either.”And in Mark’s variant of the same teaching:Mark 11.25 KWL“Whenever you stand up to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone.Thus your Father, who’s in heaven, can forgive you your misdeeds.”And he elaborated on it even more in his Unforgiving Slave story.Matthew 18.21-35 KWL21Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me,and I’ll have to forgive them? As many as seven times?”22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as many as seven times,’ but as many as seven by seventy times.23This is why heaven’s kingdom is like a king’s employee who wante…

We’re not the only ones who do grace, y’know.

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Scott Hoezee told this story in his 1996 book The Riddle of Grace.The story is told that, many years ago, a conference was convened to discuss the study of comparative religions. Theologians and experts from various fields of religious studies gathered from all over the world to tackle certain knotty questions relating to Christianity and its similarities or dissimilarities to other faiths. One particularly interesting seminary was held to determine whether there was anything unique about the Christian faith. A number of Christianity’s features were put on the table for discussion. Was it the incarnation? No; other religions also had various versions of the gods coming down in human form. Might it be the resurrection? No, various versions of the dead rising again were found in other faiths as well.On and on the discussion went without any resolution in sight. At some point, after the debate had been underway for a time, C.S. Lewis wandered in late. Taking his seat, he asked a colleagu…

The storehouse of merit?

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“Treasure in heaven” does not mean your accumulated good karma.Jesus tells us to stash our wealth in heaven. Actually he said it this way:Matthew 6.19-21 KWL19“Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth,where moths and corrosion ruin it, where thieves dig it up and steal it.20Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven,where neither moth nor corrosion ruins, where thieves don’t dig, nor steal:21Where’s your wealth? Your mind will be there too.”If our wealth consists of material possessions—like homes, cars, electronics, jewelry, cash—we waste way too much time stressing about its upkeep and safety. We hoard more, “just in case.” We encourage laws and business practices which let us keep our wealth… and, all too frequently, aren’t charitable with others. The love of money becomes the underlying cause of all sorts of evil. 1Ti 6.10Thing is, people skip this whole idea of de-prioritizing material wealth, and focus on the idea of treasures in heaven. Which, because humanity believes in karma, i…

Legalism versus grace.

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LEGALISM'li.gəl.iz.əmnoun. Excessive adherence to law or formula.2. Dependence on law or merit, instead of grace and faith, for righteousness before God and salvation.[Legalist 'li.gəl.istnoun.]The absence of grace is legalism: Subtract the optimistic attitude, the forgiveness which should immediately follow when we slip up, the trust that God can take care of the details and manage our biggest messes. It’s when people figure yeah, God saves, but he only cares to save those who merit it with our good karma.Most Christians are aware legalism is the wrong route to God. The evangelists drummed the idea into our heads pretty early: Salvation is through grace and nothing else. We can’t earn salvation; we shouldn’t try. If we try, we’re kinda trying to do an end-run around God and the system he set up, which is for Jesus to take out our sins. And the only reason we’d wanna do an end-run around God is pride, sin, delusion, or some other evil or self-centered motive. Don’t be that way…

The alternative gospel of good karma.

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Galatians 1.1-10.Probably the first epistle Paul of Tarsus ever wrote was Galatians, his letter to the churches of central Asia Minor (now Turkey), called “Galatia” because it was settled by Celts (whom Romans called “Gauls”). The Celts invaded Bulgaria in 279BC, moved into the Turkish highlands later that century, and took that over too. Yep, there were a whole bunch of white people living in the ancient middle east. History’s full of odd stuff like that.The New Testament epistles aren’t in order of date, but length: Paul wrote the most of them, and Romans is his longest letter; the sermon of Hebrews is the next-longest writing, James the longest after that, 1 Peter the longest (well, not all that long) after that, then 1 John, then Jude. All were written in the years 40 to 70, so the ancient Christians didn’t think their date of authorship was all that relevant. Present-day historians care way more about that sort of thing, and a number think 1 Thessalonians was written first, ’caus…

Grace. (It really is amazing.)

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If you don’t understand what grace is—and many don’t—you likely aren’t practicing it.GRACEgreɪsnoun. God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.2. A prayer of thanksgiving.[Gracious 'greɪ.ʃəsadjective.]Years ago I was in a kids’ Sunday school class when the head pastor visited and the kids were encouraged to ask him anything. Bad idea. We spent way too much time discussing the existence of space aliens. The pastor’s view: They’re not real, and all UFO sightings are probably devils messing with people. He was one of those dark Christians who think devils are just everywhere.Dark Christianity is likely why this pastor punted this question: One of the kids asked him what “grace” is.Someone had previously told her we Christians are saved by grace. Ep 2.8 So she understandably wanted to know what this “grace” substance was. She wanted to get it and be saved. Her assumption—same as that of way too many Christians—is it’s some sort of heavenly pixie dust.Pasto…

“Faith-righteousness”: Saved by what you believe.

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Christians who think having the right beliefs saves them—and don’t realize orthodoxy is simply a good work. FAITH RIGHTEOUSNESS /'feɪθ raɪ.tʃəs.nəs/ n. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through orthodox beliefs.I coined the term “faith righteousness” some years ago. It’s a common American belief, based on several false ideas.First of all misdefined faith. Properly faith means trust; and Christian faith means trust in God. When we Christians talk about “justification by faith,” what this properly means is we trust God, and God considers us all right with him based on that trust. Y’know, like when Abraham trusted God, Ge 15.6 which was the foundation of their relationship. (And the foundation for Paul’s teachings on justification. Ro 4.3)But in popular American culture, faith means one’s belief system. It’s a definition we find all over Christianity too, especially among Christians who don’t care for the word “religion,” and like to use the word “faith” instead: “I don’…

Karma has a breaking point. Grace doesn’t.

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When our “grace” only goes so far, it means we’re not really practicing grace. Matthew 18.21-22 KWL21Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me,and I’ll have to forgive them? As much as sevenfold?”22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as much as sevenfold.’Instead as much as seven seventyfolds.”The point of this teaching, as many a preacher will remind us, is to keep forgiving till we lose count.True, there are those individuals who keep track of offenses to a ridiculous degree. They won’t lose count; they can enumerate every last offense. And if you get ’em angry enough, they will.But typically they have a breaking point, and it comes way before 490. Won’t even make it to 10. “Three strikes and you’re out” tends to be the common rule, as if baseball’s limits should apply to all humanity. Simon Peter’s seven strikes sounds far more patient and generous than most. (I’m betting he thought so too.)The reason I bring up forgiveness, and the idea…

From the lowest place to the highest heavens.

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Ephesians 2.1-10.Gotta confess: I grew up Christian. I said the sinner’s prayer at age 4. I have no real memories of being pre-Christian. So when the scriptures, particularly Ephesians, brings up one’s wayward pre-Christian life before God got hold of us, it’s not so easy to relate. I didn’t live that way.Oh yeah, I had my hypocrisy phase in high school and college. But it wasn’t an apostasy phase; I didn’t quit Christianity and go pagan in rebellion, doubt, or apathy. I was just a sucky Christian. More Christianist than Christ-following; I held to religiosity when it suited me, and clung to cheap grace when that suited me. Like I said, hypocrisy.So when Paul wrote about the Ephesians’ pre-Christian lifestyle, I understand what he’s talking about; I know plenty of pagans who live this way. My trouble is I don’t have a shared experience with them, so I don’t relate as well as someone who did have those experiences.But y’know, that’s one of the great things about Christian diversity: Pl…

Merited favor.

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What people do instead of grace. Christians included. One of the more popular definitions of grace is “unmerited favor.” Which is one of grace’s definitions; I tend to go with “God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.” The unmerited-favor idea isn’t bad though.Problem is, we humans very, very seldom practice unmerited favor. We always demand some form of merit.I used to watch a home-makeover TV show. The producers probably got thousands of applications from people who’d love a free home makeover. But it’s clear they always preferred to grant ’em to needy families. And not just any needy families; not just any family who couldn’t possibly afford home improvements. They singled out deserving needy families.What made them “deserving”? The family had gone through some exceptional hardship, like dead relatives, disease, a disabled kid, a tornado, something that made ’em suffer. Or the family had done something heroic or honorable, like parents who seriously c…

Evil’s existence, and God’s existence.

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The belief God and evil can’t coexist in the same universe is based on some bad logic.Every so often I bump into a nontheist who complains God can’t be real, can’t exist… because there’s such a thing as evil in the universe.Here’s how they’re figuring: If God’s real, God’s almighty, and God’s good like we Christians claim, he should’ve done something to get rid of evil, right? After all they would, if they were God. They’d have wiped out evil long ago, like with a great purging flood or something.They can’t fathom a God who’d be gracious enough to grant his wayward kids any leeway, any second chances to repent and return to the fold. He’d shut that s--- down on sight. So since God isn’t their kind of God, he must not exist.This is hardly a new idea. It’s been around since Epicurus of Athens first pitched it in the 300s BC. Or at least we think Epicurus pitched it. That’s what Christian author Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius claimed in his anti-Epicurean book De ira Dei/“On God’s…