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Showing posts with the label #Pray

God doesn’t owe us anything for fasting.

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I’ve pointed out fasting is a great way to focus our attention on God so we can pray better, hear him better, and develop our self-control.But no, I don’t guarantee you’ll grow in all these ways when you fast.All things being equal, you probably will. But as you know, there are lots of ways people can bollix our own growth. If we’re fasting, yet the rest of our lives are just as sinful as ever, why should we expect anything to change whatsoever? And yet Christians do: “I’m fasting! That should count for something.”The Hebrews did it too, y’know. They’d fast, then make prayer requests ’cause they believed fasting would show the LORD they were serious, and it’d move him a little faster. It’s why Jehoshaphat told Jerusalem to fast so God might rescue them from invaders, 2Ch 20.3 and why Esther asked the Persian Jews to fast before she petitioned the king. Es 4.16 Since God apparently acted on the petitioners’ behalf in these stories, Christians get the idea fasting makes God move. They’l…

Christians who don’t want you to fast.

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As I said, if fasting weren’t in the bible, it’d nonetheless be a fad. One Christians might even use as a spiritual exercise, because it does strengthen our self-control. When seeking God in prayer takes priority over sustaining our very lives, that’s the kind of hardcore behavior which makes us less likely to give in to the many temptations which comfort offers us.So what keeps Christians from fasting? Usually it’s those very same comforts.Years ago I was in a prayer meeting where the leader challenged us to fast for a week. Really, diet. He wasn’t telling us to utterly go without food. Just go vegan for a week, and set aside sweets and coffee. Set aside a few comforts so we can focus better on God. And my knee-jerk reaction was, “I just went to the grocery store yesterday and bought a bunch of yogurt. I don’t want it to go bad…” as if we were gonna be dieting that long. Wasn’t really about the expiration date either. It’s ’cause I love yogurt.So as we were praying, the Holy Spirit g…

Why do Christians fast?

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Y’know, if fasting weren’t in the bible, we’d have invented it as yet another health fad. Like juice cleanses, or probiotic foods, or making sure everything is gluten-free. (Although it’s ridiculous to see so many product labels now say “gluten-free” on them. Dude, we already know beef jerky is gluten-free… or do we? Have you been secretly adding wheat this whole time?) Anyway you know some lifestyle guru would make a YouTube video, “The food-free diet,” and there ya go. Surprised it hasn’t happened yet.Of course it is in the bible… which puts it at risk of becoming the opposite problem, where people straight-up refuse to fast because it’s “an Old Testament thing.” Because it’s part of God’s old covenant with the Hebrews which Jesus supposedly voided. Because Jesus even appears to have dismissed fasting as irrelevant:Mark 2.19-20 KWL19 Jesus told them, “Is the wedding party able to fast when the groom’s with them?So long that they have the groom with them, they’re not able to fast.20T…

Amen!

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AMENɑ.mɛn, eɪ.mɛnexclamation. Utterance of support or agreement.Amen probably comes from the Hebrew verb אָמַן/amán, “to support, assure, trust.” Sorta the Hebrews’ way of replying, “True.” For the most part, we Christians use amen as a way to end our prayers. Like when you say “goodbye” on a phone conversation, or “over and out” on a radio conversation. My childhood Sunday school teachers even described it as “hanging up.”Custom is, we gotta finish our prayers with amen. Or the popular incantation “In Jesus Name amen.” Or, if you want everyone else in the room to say amen along with you: “And all God’s people said…” (or “the church said,” or “we all said”) at which everyone was conditioned to reply, “Amen.” Sometimes the three-syllable “A-a-men.”As you know, some Christian customs are more than just traditions: We gotta do them. They’re virtually commands. If you don’t end a prayer with amen, it confuses people. Wanna really throw off your prayer group? Next time you lead prayer, don’…

Fasting on the feast days.

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Christian holidays are also known as feast days. The term comes from the bible, ’cause that’s how the LORD described the holidays he instituted for the Hebrews: “Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year,” Ex 23.14 KJV namely Passover, Pentecost, and Tents. Christians turned Passover into Easter, added Christmas, usually downplay Pentecost, and usually skip Tents… but otherwise yeah, on Christian holidays we tend to do a bit of feasting. (And on St. Patrick’s Day, drinking.)Thing is, Evangelicals regularly forget Christmas is 12 days long. Our secular culture thinks it’s one day—beginning and ending on 25 December. If the decorations stay up till New Year’s Day, it’s only because you personally struggle to let go of things. Give it up; take ’em down. Hey, the stores are already getting ready for Valentine’s Day.In reality Christmas continues till Epiphany. But because Evangelicals follow the culture, and tend to dismiss ancient custom as “Catholic,” they figure Christmas…

Hallelujah!

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Hallelujah is actually two Hebrew words. הַ֥לְלוּ/hallelú, the command “All of you, praise!” (KJV “praise ye”), and יָ֨הּ/Yah (KJV “Jah”), short for יְ֭הוָה/YHWH, “Jehovah, the LORD.” When we say hallelujah, or its Greek variant ἀλληλούϊα/allilúia (Latin and KJV “Alleluia”), we’re literally saying, “Praise the LORD,” which is why many bibles translate it that way.There are certain Jews who insist the -jah ending of the word absolutely does not refer to YHWH. That’s because they consider God’s name far too holy to say aloud. (Certainly too holy to abbreviate with some nickname like Yah!) But they wanna say hallelujah, and don’t wanna replace it with “hallelu-Adonai” or “hallelu-haShem” or one of their other euphemisms they use, like the Christian substitution “the LORD.” So they claim Jah means something else, like “yea!” Which is kinda ridiculous, considering all the Hebrew personal names which deliberately end in -iah or -jah, such as Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Nehemiah. These names…

Maranatha: Come Lord Jesus!

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There’s an Aramaic word in the New Testament which only appears once, in 1 Corinthians 16.22, and is probably better known as the name of a music label or a brand of peanut butter: Maranatha. Some bibles don’t bother to translate it…1 Corinthians 16.22 NASBIf anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.…and some bibles do.1 Corinthians 16.22 ESVIf anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!Properly maranatha is two words, which in Greek are μαρὰνἀθά, and in Aramaic are ܡܪܢܐܬܐ (still transliterated marán athá). And properly it’s not a command for our Master to come; it means “our Master came.” But Christians prefer to interpret it with the same idea we see in Revelation 22.20: Revelation 22.20 ESVHe who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!Yeah, the Lord came to earth in his first coming. But that’s not the end of the story. He’s coming back.Hence the ancient Christians prayed maranatha, by which…

Thanksgiving. The prayer, not the day.

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In the United States, on November’s fourth Thursday, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving.Who’re we thanking? If you’re Christian, that’d be God. If you’re pagan, you don’t specifically thank anyone. You realize you’re expected to conjure up some feeling of thankfulness—you have a nice life, a decent job, good health, some loved ones, and got that [insert coveted bling] you’ve always wanted, so you’re thankful. Thankful to whom? There’s the question pagans don’t ask themselves. I know of one family who thanks one other. But pagans generally suppress this question by drowning it with food: After watching parades and football, we eat the equivalent of three dinners in one sitting. (That, or you’re the one who prepared and cooked 10 different entrées, and ironically nobody remembered to thank you. Been there; do that.)But even among the Christians who remember, “Oh yeah, we’re thanking God,” a lot of the thanking is limited to saying grace before the meal. “Good bread, good meat, …

Nontheists and prayer.

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Whenever you talk prayer with a nontheist or antichrist, they’re gonna scoff at you because they’re entirely sure you’re praying to no one.You only imagine you’re praying to someone, they insist. You only think God answered your prayers, but it’s just coincidence; or you’re selectively reinterpreting “signs” from nature and claiming they’re God-things. You’re only pretending that’s God’s voice in your head talking back to you; it’s really your own. You want so bad for God to be real, for prayer to be valid, for Christianity to be true, you’ve psyched yourself into everything. But it’s pure self-delusion.Yeah, sometimes I talk with some people, so I’ve heard their condescending explanations before. They’d probably work on me… if there was no such thing as confirmation. Test the bloody spirits! 1Jn 4.1See, when I think God’s told me something, I don’t just run with it. I’m patient. I double-check. ’Cause we’re supposed to double-check. Not double-checking is how Christians wind up doing…

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/

Using your imagination to meditate.

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The kids, and their robot in the red galero, have a not-at-all-awkward conversation with a buck-naked pre-genitalia Adam and Eve. Aníme Óyako Gekíjo episode 1, “Adamu to Eba Monogatari”When I was a kid there was a Japanese TV cartoon called Aníme Óyako Gekíjo/“Anime Parent-Child Theater,” which Americans know better as Superbook. Christian TV stations used to air it every weekday. Your own kids are more likely to have seen the 2009 American remake.In the 1981 original, two kids named Sho and Azusa discovered a magic bible which transported them, and their toy robot Zenmaijikake, back to Old Testament times. (Yeah, they all had different names in the English redub: Chris, Joy, and Gizmo.) The kids would interact with the bible folks, who somehow spoke Japanese instead of ancient Hebrew, and were surprisingly white for ancient middle easterners.Well in the first series they did. In the second series—also called Superbook in the States—Pasókon Toráberu Tántei-dan/“Computer Travel Detecti…

The fear of what meditation might “open you up to.”

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Years ago in a prayer group, our prayer leader asked us to sit a moment and meditate on the lesson we’d just heard.“And I know,” she said; “some of you are worried about this whole ‘meditation’ thing. You’re worried it’ll open you up to evil spirits or something. Well, you’re Christians. It won’t.”She didn’t go into any further detail; she wanted to get to the exercise, and didn’t want to spend the rest of prayer time explaining why it won’t happen. I’ve got time, so I will explain.There are a lot of Christians who are big on what they call “spiritual warfare.” Which isn’t at all what the scriptures call spiritual warfare, i.e. resisting temptation: They think spiritual warfare means we fight evil spirits. Mostly by praying against them, but often by constantly, carefully watching out for boogeymen. Because they believe evil spirits are everywhere. Everywhere. Behind every corner. Even in the corners of our prayer closets. Waiting to pounce.This dark Christian mindset makes ’em super

Meditate.

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MEDITATE'mɛd.ə.teɪtverb. Think deeply or carefully about something.2. Focus one’s mind for a period of time, for religious, spiritual, or relaxation purposes.[Meditation mɛd.ə'teɪ.ʃənnoun.]Mention meditation to the average person, and images immediately come to mind of sitting cross-legged on the floor, hands out, eyes closed, humming “Om” or something mindless. ’Cause you’re trying to blank your mind.And that’d be eastern meditation. It’s the sort we find among Hindus, Buddhists, and Californians. It’s grown in popularity because it’s a useful way to get rid of stress and relax. But it’s not middle eastern meditation, the sort we find among Christians.Well, assuming we even meditate. Many don’t. Those who do, stumbled into the habit and don’t realize we’re actually meditating. Or we were given other names for it, like “contemplation” or “practicing God’s presence” or “Christian mysticism”—a term which tends to weird dark Christians out just as much as “meditation.” Many such …

Is it “debts” or “trespasses”?

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MATTHEW 6.12.I used to be in a small group which consisted of Christians from various churches in town. So, different denominations and traditions. Most were Baptist, partly ’cause there are a lot of Baptists in town, partly ’cause we met at a nondenominational Baptist church, so their members came out to represent. And many weren’t Baptist; I’m not. But we all have the same Lord Jesus, so we tried to avoid the churches’ doctrinal hangups and focus on what unifies us in him.Anyway one of the unifying things we did was, at the end of each meeting, we’d say the Lord’s Prayer together. We have that in common, right?Except… well, translations. Most of us have it memorized in either the Book of Common Prayer version or the King James Version. A few know it best in the NIV or ESV, or whatever’s their favorite translation. (Or their pastor’s favorite.) But the majority know it in either the BCP or KJV.Spot the differences.Book of Common PrayerOur Father, who art in heaven,hallowed be thy nam…

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…

Daily bread.

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MATTHEW 6.11, LUKE 11.3.Whenever we read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, or any of his other teachings, they make way more sense when we remember his audience at the time consisted of poor people.In the United States, “poor” usually means you don’t have a lot of money, and live within limited means. In ancient Israel, “poor” meant you had no money. Maybe you had stuff to barter; usually not. You lived from job to job, from harvest to harvest, doing the best you could with what few resources you had. Any time you did have money, taxmen would take it away, priests and Pharisees would demand you give it to temple, or rich people would con you out of it.So when Jesus speaks on money, possessions, or economics: His audience seldom had those things. We do have these things. Even our “poor” have these things. We’re very blessed.So. We recognize when Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray for daily bread, he doesn’t literally mean bread; he means food in general. That interpretation is fin…

Thy kingdom come.

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MATTHEW 6.10, LUKE 11.2.In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father ἐλθέτωἡβασιλείασου/elthéto i vasileía su, “must come, the kingdom of yours.” The literal translation is a bit Yoda-like, which is why “Your kingdom come” is how the ESV put it, and of course we all know the Book of Common Prayer and KJV translation.The arrival of God’s kingdomisthe gospel. It’s not John 3.16, no matter how much we love that verse. Eternal life is part of it, but the more important thing is where we spend this eternal life, and John 3.16 says nothing about that. You know the verse; you know this already. It’s why when Christians interpret the verse for other people, we tend to explain “will have everlasting life in heaven, with Jesus.” But Jesus never said that: In his second coming, he’s coming to earth to take over. God’s kingdom’s gonna be here. We Christians have been laying the groundwork for it.And doing a rotten job of it, but that stands to reason: Too many of us think the kingdom’s n…

Hallowed be thy name.

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MATTHEW 6.9, LUKE 11.2.In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father to ἁγιασθήτωτὸὄνομάσου/aghiasthíto to ónoma su, “sanctify” or “make holy” or “hallowify” (to coin a word) “the name of yours.” The Book of Common Prayer and KJV went with “Hallowed be thy name,” which means the same thing, but Christians commonly misinterpret it to mean “I sanctify your name,” or “I praise your name.” We think this is praise and worship on our part. It’s not. It’s a request for our Father to make his own name holy. For him to act.Part of our presumption comes from a way-too-common Christian misbelief that our prayers aren’t really about asking God to do anything. Because, the attitude is, God doesn’t actually answer prayer. He sits on his heavenly arse, watches us humans stumble around, reminds us to read our bibles, but isn’t gonna intervene in human affairs till the End Times—if they even ever happen. Besides, he’s already planned out everything he’s gonna do, so all our after-the-fact pray…

Our Father who art in heaven.

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MATTHEW 6.9-10.The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew begins with πάτερἡμῶνὁἐντοῖςοὐρανοῖς/páter imón o en toís uranoís, “our Father who’s [located] in the heavens,” Mt 6.9 ’cause we’re addressing—duh—our heavenly Father.Matthew 6.9 KWL“So pray like this: Our Father who’s in the heavens! Sanctify your name.”Some Christians wanna make it particularly clear which god we’re praying to. Partly because some of ’em actually think they might accidentally invoke the wrong god (and y’know, if they’re Mammonists or some other type of idolater, they might). Sometimes because they’re showing off to pagans that they worship the Father of Jesus, or some other form of hypocrisy. But Jesus would have us keep it simple: Just address our heavenly Father. There’s no special formula for addressing him; no secret password we’ve gotta say; even “in Jesus’s name” isn’t a magic spell—and you notice “in Jesus’s name” isn’t in the Lord’s Prayer either. You know who he is; he knows who he is; he knows what our relationsh…

The Lord’s Prayer. Make it your prayer.

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When it comes to talking with God, Christians get tongue-tied. We don’t know what to say to him! And if we follow the examples of our fellow Christians, we’re gonna get weird about him. We’ll only address him formally, or think we’re only allowed to ask for certain things—or imagine God already predetermined everything, so there’s no point in asking for anything at all.The people of Jesus’s day had all these same hangups, which is why his students asked him how to pray, Lk 11.1 and he responded with what we Christians call the Paternoster or Our Father (after its first two words—whether Latin or English), or the Lord’s Prayer. The gospels have two versions of it, in Matthew 6.9-13 and Luke 11.2-4. But the version most English-speaking Christians are most familiar with, actually comes from neither gospel. Comes from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which is based on an ancient new-Christian instruction manual called the Didache. Goes like so.Our Father, who art in heaven,…