Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

Showing posts with label #Religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Religion. Show all posts

18 July 2018

“To follow thee more nearly.”

He doesn’t want us to live in ignorance. He wants us to follow Jesus.

Ephesians 1.15-23.

Humans are creatures of extremes. It’s why American churches are likewise creatures of extremes. Either we pursue God with all our might, and strive to make sure our teachings are accurate and solid… and ready to pound into the heads of newbies, skeptics, people of other church traditions which aren’t as up-to-speed as we. Or we pursue godly behavior with all our might, strive to behave ourselves and help the needy… and feel incredibly guilty when we don‘t.

I know; why can’t we get this stuff right? Why can’t we pursue accurate teaching without turning into insufferable know-it-alls? Why can’t we pursue good works without turning into legalists? Why can’t we do both bible study and charitable works—why do we have to pit these behaviors against one another? More than that, why must we insist on pretending to do one or the other, yet use compromise, loopholes, and excuses to do neither? What, are there just too many chainsaws to juggle?

Well. Paul, upon hearing of the Ephesians’ good behavior and faith, prayed God’d grant ’em more wisdom, revelation, knowledge, and power. Partly because knowledge is power; partly because God gives us access to supernatural power, and we oughta learn how to tap that, and minister more mightily.

Ephesians 1.15-19 KWL
15 For this reason I too—hearing the about your trust in Master Jesus and the acts of love towards all the saints—
16 I don’t stop giving thanks for you, working my memories of you into my prayers
17 so the God of our Master, Christ Jesus, the Father of glory,
might give you the spiritual wisdom and revelation to understand him—
18 flooding your hearts’ eyes with light, so you’d understand.
It’s the hope of your calling. It’s the saints’ glorious inherited riches.
19 It’s the over-and-above greatness of God’s power for us believers, through the energy of his powerful strength.

Ephesians is the rare letter where Paul doesn’t have to spend a lot of time correcting the church for its misbehavior. To be fair, this may be because Ephesians is a form letter (as I explained previously) so Paul couldn’t offer customized correction to any one particular church. Not that this hasn’t stopped commentators from leaping to the conclusion Ephesus was the one church in ancient Christendom which was following God properly. I expect they made the same mistakes as every Christian does. But I also expect they were getting a lot right—otherwise Paul would’ve felt the urgent need to write ’em something custom. But he didn’t. He wrote this.

And in it, he prayed the church and its Christians would grow. He made a regular practice of such prayers. He knew from experience they’d need the help. Ephesus especially: They lived in a city which manufactured new religions on a daily basis. (Some of which featured really bizarre versions of Jesus.) They needed to know the truth and hew to it, lest someone lead them astray with some strange but appealing novelty. You know… like nowadays. ’Cause Americans are so easily led astray by churches which claim God promises us a safe, comfortable, unchallenging, prosperous life.

04 July 2018

Grow your faith!

It’s not gonna grow when we won’t act on it.

As I’ve written multiple times, authentic faith is not the magic power to believe ridiculous things. It’s “the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” He 11.1 KWL stuff we believe even though we haven’t seen it for ourselves, because we trust those who told us this stuff. Because they’re trustworthy. (And they’d better be trustworthy.)

More than that: It’s when we act on this stuff. Fr’instance your friend told you a certain movie was good. You heard it wasn’t, but you have faith in your friend—specifically, his judgment about movies—so you ignore what everyone else told you, and go see the movie for yourself. And either your faith in your friend is proven, ’cause the movie was good… or it was broken, ’cause it sucked. Either way, you acted on faith.

Yes, that’s faith. I know; the way people commonly define faith, it sounds more like you go to see a movie regardless of what anyone tells you, because you want so badly for it to be good, and are hoping it’ll be good if you wished hard enough. Again, that’s not faith. That’s self-delusion, and those who try to swap self-delusion for faith have either been tricked by con artists, or are seriously trying to delude themselves. Faith is based on something or someone solid. Like Jesus.

So when you want to grow in faith, you don’t have to believe so hard something snaps in your brain. That’s how you lose your grip on reality; how you lose your mind. That’s not at all what Jesus calls us to do when he wants us to grow in faith. You know how you really grow in faith? You take leaps of faith: You trust God enough to actually do as he tells us.

See, Christians who lack faith, haven’t trusted God this far. They claim they believe, but they’ve never done anything. Never put themselves in situations where they had to; they deliberately avoided such things. They never tested their own faith. That’s why, the moment something shows up which does test their faith, they break.

You wanna break at the first sign of stress? Be like them. But if you wanna grow as a Christian, and develop faith that doesn’t shake as easily as grass in the wind, start testing your own faith. Get off your duff and act on what you claim to believe. Find out, once and for all, whether you really do believe it.

26 June 2018

Surrendering our authority to Jesus.

When I was a kid I came across one of Bill Bright’s gospel tracts, in which he diagrammed the difference between a self-centered life and a Jesus-centered life. Looked like yea.


Or “self-directed” and “Christ-directed.” Either way. Discover God

If our lives are self-centered, supposedly they’ll be chaos. Whereas if they’re Jesus-centered, they appear to be neat and orderly and crisis-free. With none of the challenges, persecutions, temptations, suffering, or any of the things Jesus totally warned us were part of life. Yeah, certain gospel tracts tend to promise a little too much. Bright’s was one of them.

But lemme get back to my point: The idea of a Jesus-centered life, as opposed to a self-centered one. That is in fact the whole point of Christianity: Jesus is Lord. We’re meant to follow his steps in everything we do, 1Pe 2.21, 1Jn 2.6 always take him into consideration, obey his teachings, seek his will. He’s the king of God’s kingdom, and if you want in, he has to be in charge.

In practice he’s not Lord at all.

Well he’s not. Absolutely should be. But you know how humans are: We decide who we’re gonna follow and obey. Sometimes actively, ’cause we seek out authority figures and mentors and books to follow; sometimes passively, ’cause we do as our bosses or spouses or parents tell us, and don’t fight it, even when we really oughta. Sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly. Sometimes connivingly: We decide exactly how we’re gonna fulfill our orders, and some of us accomplish them in ways our bosses never dreamed of, or even wanted. Even if we like these bosses.

Connivingly was the Pharisees’ problem. Contrary to popular belief, the problem with the Pharisees in the New Testament wasn’t legalism. Jesus’s complaints to the Pharisees were about how they bent God’s commands, or outright nullfied ’em for the sake of their traditions. That’s why he called them hypocrites: They pretended to follow the Law, but broke it all the time. True legalists are no hypocrites; they’re trying to follow the rules as carefully as possible, but in their zeal they’re overdoing things. Pharisees overdid a few things, but only as a smokescreen for the many, many things they left undone.

We Christians tend to condemn Pharisees whenever we read about ’em in the bible. But because most of us have no idea what their real failing was, we condemn them soundly… then turn round and do the very same things they did. We pick and choose which of Jesus’s instructions we’re gonna follow, and let the others slide. We interpret Jesus’s teachings all loosey-goosey, reinterpret Jesus himself so he suits us best, project our motives upon him, and claim we loyally follow him… when we’re really following ourselves. Never stopped following ourselves. We simply dressed the id in a Christian T-shirt, redefined our fleshly behaviors as spiritual fruit, and presume our irreligion is “maturity” because now it comes so easily.

Basically we’re still in that left circle, with ourselves in charge and Jesus outside. But we imagine Jesus is in charge. We imagine it really hard. Doesn’t make it true, but people can psyche ourselves into all sorts of things when we want ’em bad enough.

21 June 2018

Repent!

REPENT rə'pent verb. Turn away from one’s current, usually sinful, behavior.
2. Feel regret or express remorse about wrongdoing or sin.

Our culture has used the word repent to mean feeling bad. For centuries. For so long, you’re not gonna find the definition “turn away from one’s behavior” in most dictionaries. Even the Latin word repent is based on, re-paenitere, gets defined as “feel great penitence or sorrow.” When people repent, they feel bad for what they’ve done. Sometimes they bother to make amends, or try to. (Penitentiaries, annoyingly, have little about them anymore which involves making amends, community service, or good deeds in general.)

But the Christian definition comes from the Greek words we translate as “repent,” namely metanoéo the verb, and metánoia/“repentance,” the noun. The word’s literally a compound of the words metá/“after” and noéo/“think,” but combined they mean “turn round.” In other words, don’t go that way again. Don’t do that again. Walk it back.

So when Jesus first began to preach the gospel—

Mark 1.14-15 KWL
14 After John’s arrest, Jesus went into the Galilee preaching God’s gospel, 15 saying this:
“The time has been fulfilled. God’s kingdom has come near. Repent! Believe in the gospel!”

—he wasn’t telling the Galileans, “Feel really bad about what you’ve done, and believe in the gospel!” He was ordering them to stop what they were doing—good or bad—and come to God’s kingdom. It’s come near!

Problem is, when Christians don’t understand the proper definition of repentance, we try to obey Jesus’s command by psyching ourselves into feeling bad. We manufacture an emotion. We make ourselves feel sorry for our sins, and some of us even claim this sorrow is mandatory before God can forgive us. ’Cause if you’re not sorry, what kind of unfeeling jerk are you?


Well we do suck big time sometimes. Sinfest

But after we’ve whipped ourselves into a lather (not literally, although you know Christians throughout history actually have done so literally) and got all the self-pity and self-condemnation out of our system, are we following Jesus any better? Or at all? Not usually. Nope; we go right back to the same “Forgive me” prayer every time we pray, and never notice how we’re not growing spiritually whatsoever.

Because we gotta actually repent. We gotta quit doing as we’ve been doing, and follow Jesus into his kingdom.

28 February 2018

“…But God knows my heart.”

The way I share Jesus is pretty basic: I talk with people. They ask what I’m doing. My answer is nearly always Christianity-related… ’cause that is what I’m doing. Sometimes they have hangups about religion, in which case I change the subject. But far more often they’ll talk about it. Frequently it turns out they’re Christian.

But there are Christians, and there are Christians. Some of ’em are devout. Some of ’em only think they’re Christian. Most often they’re just irreligious: They don’t pray. Don’t go to church. Never read their bibles; wouldn’t know were to begin. (Somehow they found out the bible doesn’t have to be started at the beginning—and ever since, they’ve used this as an excuse for why they never started. Sounds like the options simply stymie them. Maybe we’d better stop telling people they don’t have to start at Genesis, and tell ’em they totally do. But I digress.)

One of my shortcuts for finding out how religious they are, or aren’t: I ask where they go to church. And even though they should totally go, and know they should totally go, a lot of ’em just don’t. “Oh, I went to [big local church] all the time. I admit I don’t now; not as often as I ought to.” Seldom do they ever try to give the rubbish argument Christians don’t need to go. They kinda know that’s heresy.

But recently I bumped into someone who gave this excuse for skipping church.

ME. “So you’ve not gone recently?”
SHE. “No, I admit it’s been a while. But it’s okay; it’s a relationship, not a religion. And God knows my heart.”

It’s far from the first time I’ve heard the “But God knows my heart” argument. It’s really popular in the Bible Belt. “Yeah, I fully admit I [insert heinous sin] on the regular. But God knows my heart.”

Yes, God knows we have good intentions! Buried in us somewhere, deep down… ’cause they’re clearly not visible for anybody to see, or even deduce. But they’re in there, and that counts for something, right?

Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that. It’s how people eventually find themselves in this predicament:

Matthew 7.21-23 KWL
21 “Not everyone who calls me, ‘Master, master!’ will enter the heavenly kingdom.
Just the one who does my heavenly Father’s will.
22 At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master! Didn’t we prophesy in your name?
Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many powerful things in your name?’
23 And I’ll explain to them, ‘I never knew you.
Get away from me, all you Law-breakers.’

Except it’s even worse than Jesus describes it.

Yeah, worse. Read it again. Jesus is chiding people who prophesy in his name, throw out demons, do miracles. In other words, they do stuff. They minister to others—or try to. Problem is they’re “Law-breakers”—they don’t do what Jesus tells us to when it comes to loving God and our neighbors. They presume they have a relationship ’cause they’re ministers. They don’t, ’cause they’re not at all religious about their relationship.

Now these folks who figure God knows their hearts? Not even ministers. They don’t do miracles. Might not even believe miracles happen any more, or imagine God only grants such power to the super-devout, which they’re not. They got any evidence of any relationship with Jesus at all? Super nope.

God knows your heart? Yes indeed he does. And he knows it’s full of crap. Same as most of the Christians around you. You’re not really fooling anyone.

01 February 2018

Spiritual disciplines: Gotta develop the Christian lifestyle.

If we’re gonna become better Christians, we have to get religious.

I know; it’s really popular in Christian circles to insist, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.” We do it for the very same reasons pagans insist they’re spiritual, not religious: They don’t wanna follow anyone. They wanna do as they please, take advantage of God’s grace, and get into God’s kingdom despite being wholly unfit for it.

But true Christians follow Jesus. We don’t just sit back on our salvation: We do stuff. We act saved. We stop behaving like we can’t help our sinful behavior; we know the Holy Spirit’s empowered us so we totally can. We stop acting like pagans do, as if we’re not a holy people, and behave as if we really are filled with the Holy Spirit. We stop being jerks and start producing fruit.

I know; it’s way easier said than done. But acting Christian doesn’t happen overnight; doesn’t happen as if by magic. Wouldn’t that be nice.

I realize certain Christians’ testimonies make it sound like that’s precisely what happened to them: They didn’t wanna sin anymore, and didn’t. Bluntly, they’re exaggerating. I’m sure they tried really hard not to sin, but it took ’em way longer than that to get the hang of it. Some habits take a while to break, and happen as the result of practice. Effort. Disciplined behavior. Patient consistency. Sticking to it religiously—yep, there’s that word again.

Some Christians insist there are no shortcuts to sanctification: You just gotta give it time, and slowly you’ll bear fruit. Well, I beg to differ, and I’m pretty sure the scriptures back me up. There are many shortcuts. Christians discovered ’em throughout the centuries. They’re called spiritual disciplines. They’re techniques we use to become like Jesus—faster.

But of course, irreligious Christians look at the disciplines and balk. They don’t wanna do any of that. They’re still hoping growth will happen by magic. Or wanna know if there are any shortcuts to the shortcuts! You know how our culture is with instant gratification. Spiritual disciplines take a bit of work, and people would prefer no work at all.

Or they falsely believe since God does the entire work of saving us, he’ll also do the entire work of making us become like Jesus. So what’s the point of self-discipline? All they gotta do is wish really hard, and God’ll transform them. And after this doesn’t happen, they’ll pretend it did happen, so as not to look like fools. They’ll reinterpret all their bad behavior as if they’re redeemed behaviors, and claim their actions are fruitful when they’re totally not. They’ll turn into hypocrites.

Let’s not follow them. Let’s follow Jesus.

14 June 2017

An irreligious religion.

When Christians reject “religion,” it has a bad habit of undermining our relationship with God.

RELIGION ri'lɪ.dʒən noun. Worship of a superhuman controlling power, usually a personal God or impersonal universe.
2. Particular system of belief and worship, as demonstrated through actions and declarations.
3. A supremely important pursuit or interest, followed as if worship.
[Religious ri'lɪ.dʒəs adjective.]

A significant part of authentic Christianity is religion: We worship God, and we do it through actions. For any belief system which doesn’t take any action, which doesn’t result in any changed lives or good deeds (or even bad deeds), isn’t real. Or, as James puts it, it’s dead. Jm 2.26

But for a lot of Evangelicals in the United States, religion’s become a bad word. “Religious” has become mixed up with traditional. More specifically with the more empty, meaningless traditions which attempt to express worship through action, but don’t appear to bring us any closer to God.

Fr’instance. When we were kids, and somebody taught us a rote prayer, they didn’t always explain why we pray rote prayers, or what good they can do, or what use they are. Sometimes they assumed we already knew. Sometimes they gave us a brief but inadequate explanation. Usually they gave me a wrong explanation. Just as often, I’d get no explanation: “Just do it. It’s what we do.” Consequently we did it, but never saw the point. Didn’t feel like it was doing anything for us. Kinda boring, actually.

The proper term for this is dead religion: Actions we don’t really believe in. Works without faith.

If it were explained properly, would it be living religion? Sometimes. My church, I think, did a really good and thorough job of explaining water baptism to me. It’s why I still tell new believers to get baptized as soon as they can, and stop putting it off till it’s “convenient.” But despite their explanations I still don’t think it absolutely vital to dunk people, or especially to tip them backwards into the water so they can get it up their noses. But I digress.

The problem is, Evangelicals drop that adjective “dead” and simply call these works religion. To them, dead religion is what “religion” means. For Christianity isn’t about practices and rituals: It’s about faith in the living God, as defined by Christ Jesus. It’s about grace, where God grants us his kingdom despite our really obvious inadequacies. The rituals, the practices, the charity, the obedience? All that stuff’s optional, they insist, since we’re saved by grace, not works. Ep 2.8-9 And really, since the works so easily turn into works without faith, best to avoid it altogether.

That’s what Evangelicals mean when they sing Darrell Evans’ 2002 song “Fields of Grace.” Third verse:

There’s a place where religion finally dies
There’s a place where I lose my selfish pride
Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace
Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace

My previous church used to sing this, and a number of ’em would give a big whoop when we sang, “religion finally dies.” Not because they’re disobedient, uncharitable Christians; not at all. Again it’s because they considered religion and dead religion to be one and the same, and they’re so happy to be done with the wasteful hypocrisy. As, I expect, does Evans when he sings this.

But here’s the problem. In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the government officially deleted words from the language. Supposedly to make it more efficient; why have the word “bad” when “ungood” can do the job? But really it was because they astutely figured if we don’t have a word for something, it’s harder to express that idea without it. So if we drop the word “religion” from Christianese… how do we discuss the idea of faith lived out in good works? which words take its place? Do any?

In my experience, no.