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Three typical forms of church services.

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Is church a struggle? Maybe you’re not at the church best suited to your personality.Not all churches are alike. Obviously. But when you ask Christians what they like best about their church, they’ll emphasize a few things which they particularly like. The preaching. The music. The solemnity—or the informality. The friendliness. The kids’ program. The decor. The way they do our rituals. The amiability of the preacher. The ministries and programs. The coffee—for once it’s not Folger’s! (’Cause Folger’s is rubbish. But it’s cheap, so it’s what people serve whenever the person in charge of the coffee, doesn’t personally drink coffee.)Practices vary from church to church. Even within the same denomination; you can have one church which focuses a whole lot on one area, and a sister church—even in the same town!—which focuses on another.But the main focus of your church’s Sunday morning service (or Sunday or Saturday evening service; what have you) sets the tone for the sort of church you a…

The Son of Man.

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Something Jesus calls himself… which reminds us he’s Messiah.One of Jesus’s favorite ways to refer to himself is as the Son of Man. It was a way of saying, yet not overtly saying, he’s Messiah.Y’see, people of Jesus’s day who knew their bible would immediately catch the meaning. And people who don’t know the bible—didn’t then, don’t now—would simply assume it’s an odd choice of words, and ignore it as irrelevant. Same as they do Jesus’s parables.The meaning comes from Daniel. In his book, Daniel described various apocalyptic visions of the then-distant future. (Most of it is most definitely in our past, ’cause the angels explicitly stated it had to do with the Persian and Greek empires—though you’ll still get a few End Times loons who insist it has to do with the future of Iran and the European Union. Anyway.) Daniel was informed about Messiah’s first coming, as well as his second.In one of his visions, where the Ancient of Days judged the world, Daniel saw what he identified as a Son…

The fear of phony peace.

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When “blessed are the peacemakers” gets ditched in favor of popular End Times theories.So as I said yesterday, we Christians aren’t necessarily known for being peaceful. ’Cause we lack peace. ’Cause we’ve adopted one of the typical incorrect notions as to how to attain it, and haven’t correctly chosen to follow God and pursue his kingdom. Mt 6.25-34And sometimes it’s ’cause we don’t trust peace. Especially societal and political forms of peace. When our secretary of state brokers a treaty between warring nations, or between the United States and some other nation we’re not really getting along with. Definitely when the United Nations tries to do likewise. We don’t believe any of that stuff is real peace—we suspect there’s something underhanded and devilish behind it.Why’s that? Well, in Revelation there’s this vision John had of a Beast who’s gonna take over the world. Rv 13 And according to one of the more popular End Times theories, the Beast is gonna gain its power by pretending to…

Peace be unto you.

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Too many Christians lack peace, ’cause they’re trusting anything but God to grant it.God’s into peace. It’s an aspect of his character we really don’t spend enough time on. But it’s a fruit of the Spirit, and something he wishes upon us, his creations, his children—as articulated by his angels when Jesus was born.Luke 2.13-14 KWL13 Suddenly there was a large number of the heavenly army with the angel, praising God,saying, 14 “Glory in the highest heaven to God!Peace upon the earth to the people he’s pleased with!”Problem is, we Christians aren’t known for being peaceful.This may be a fair assessment, and it may be unfair. After all, when Christians aren’t peaceful, it makes the news. When we are peaceful, it might become one of those happy-news stories at the end of the video, or in the back of the newspaper; it might go viral if it’s heartwarming enough. But it doesn’t always. It may very well be we Christians are doing a good job of demonstrating peace, and since the agitated minori…

Christ is born in Bethlehem.

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Where Micah foretold Messiah’s birthplace. Around 5 BC, a crowd of Zoroastrian astrologers came to Jerusalem looking for “the newborn king of Judea,” Mt 2.2 freaking out the province largely because its paranoid king, Herod bar Antipater. Mt 2.3They knew it was only a matter of time before Herod starting killing people over it. As he later did.Figuring he oughta learn where Messiah was expected to come from, Herod turned to Jerusalem’s head priests and scribes.Matthew 2.4-9 KWL4 Gathering all the head priests and scribes of the people,Herod was asking them, “Where’s Messiah born?”5 They told him, “In Bethlehem, Judea. This was written by the prophet:6 ‘You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are in no way the least of Judah’s rulers:A leader will come from you who will shepherd my people, Israel.’” Mc 5.27 Then Herod, secretly summoning the Zoroastrians, grilled them on the time the star appeared.8 Sending them to Bethlehem, he said, “Go search carefully for the child.Once you find him, send n…

Growing up with Santa Claus.

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My personal experiences of what happens when you take the Christmas myths way too seriously.Dad’s an atheist. This means for him, Christmas is Santa Claus. Not Jesus. Not any of our Christian junk. He doesn’t wanna hear it. He wants nothing to do with our church functions; not our live nativities, nor our church’s Christmas services. He’ll go to the city Christmas festival, but only because the churches hand out free treats. (Cookies and cider or cocoa, mainly; I keep trying to talk my own church into serving coffee. ’Cause nobody else serves coffee. We’d corner the market.) He won’t pass up a freebie, but it’s a hard pass on the free gift of eternal salvation.
Santa getting liquored up. Hammerstone Whiskey DisksHe loves Santa. Mainly the wonder on children’s faces once you get ’em to believe Santa, and Christmas magic, are real. This is the only supernatural he believes in: The fake stuff. Tricks.Hence when I was growing up Santa Claus was a big, big deal.Till 1978. One day I was poki…

Jesus, our Immanuel.

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Why “fulfillment” isn’t about when predictions come true.Isaiah 7.14Matthew 1.22-23 KWL22 All this happened so the Lord’s word through the prophet could be fulfilled,saying, 23 “Look, the maiden will have a child in the womb,and they will declare his name Immanúël, which is translated ‘God with us.’” Is 7.14This one’s probably the most famous “Messianic prophecy”… which, it turns out, isn’t. Seriously, isn’t.Back in 735BC, King Radyán of Damascus, Aram (KJV “Rezin the king of Syria”) joined forces with King Peqákh ben Remalyáhu of Samaria, Ephraim (KJV “Pekah the son of Remaliah”) to attack Jerusalem. 2Ki 16.5 Laid siege to it. Didn’t look good.The prophets Isaiah ben Amóch and his son Sheüryahsúv had come to King Akház ben Yotám (KJV “Ahaz son of Jotham”) with good news from the LORD: Aram and Ephraim’s plans would come to nothing.Isaiah 7.10-17 KWL10 The LORD’s word to Akház, saying, 11“Request a sign from your LORD God,made deep as a grave, or made high as outer space.”12 Akház sai…

The live nativity.

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Because nothing says Christmas like a sanitized reenactment of childbirth.Evangelicals celebrate Christmas in all sorts of ways. Some of us decorate like crazy; some don’t. Some of us preach nothing but advent or birth-of-Jesus sermons; some preach as they’d usually do, and only preach a Christmas sermon on Christmas. Some of us have a special Christmas production; some don’t, or would if we could staff it (or afford it).Two of the larger churches in my town do a “live nativity.” If you’re a newbie, or somehow never paid attention to Christendom all your life, this’d be a birth-of-Christ diorama with live humans instead of the typical lit plastic statues on the front lawn. (There’s an inflatable version now! But I digress.) Actors portray Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, and in many children’s productions the animals. Although these two churches prefer actual animals. And use the same animals; in the proper spirit of Christian cooperation, their productions are on different week…

Messiah and Melchizedek.

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How some obscure Old Testament priest-king got so mixed up with Jesus.Psalm 110 is a Messianic psalm, a psalm about God’s mešíakh/“anointed [ruler],” one of the kings of ancient Israel. Since Jesus is the last Messiah, it applies to him too. I’ll discuss the whole psalm another time, but today I’m gonna zoom in on just this one verse:Psalm 110.4 KWLThe LORD swore, and isn’t turning back from it:“You’re a priest, eternally, in the manner of Melchizédek.”Melchizédek (Hebrew melkhí chédeq/“king [of] rightness”) is probably a title, not a name. He appeared once in the bible; he never appeared again, but he sure got everyone’s attention: David in this psalm, and the writer of Hebrews in her interpretation of the psalm.The Canaanite king Khedorlaómer of Elam, and his allies, conquered Sodom and dragged its people into slavery. Among them was Lot ben Haran, the nephew of Avrám ben Terah, whom the LORD later renamed Abraham. Ge 17.5 So Avrám took his private army (yeah, he had a private army;…

What’s a soul?

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Soulsoʊlnoun. Lifeforce.2. [in popular culture] The immaterial, spiritual essence of a human; considered immortal.Soulish'soʊl.ɪʃadjective. Having to do with one’s lifeforce.2. [in popular Christian culture] Fleshly.One of the vexing problems of Christianity is we have certain words we use which nobody ever bothers to define. As a result, people guess—and guess wrong. Our word “soul” is probably the most obvious example.Years ago, a newbie Christian asked his pastor what a “soul” was, to which the pastor replied, “Oh, you shouldn’t even try to define it.” The pastor figured a soul is a mystery, a concept way beyond human understanding. Best to leave mysteries alone, and not waste our time—or make ourselves nuts—trying to understand ’em.I admit it’s kinda western of me, but I can’t agree: If you use a word and don’t know what it means, it’s foolish. If you don’t wanna know its meaning, you’re a fool. It might be a concept that’s too vast for our tiny little minds—but all the more r…

The first prophecy of a savior.

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The first time a savior was foretold in the Old Testament.We have no idea whether Genesis was the first written book of the bible. Some Christians speculate Job was (and they’d be totally wrong; Job was written in a later version of biblical Hebrew, and took place in Edom). Others figure Moses wrote his psalm before he wrote the bible. In any event the first hint we have in the scriptures that humanity might need a savior, is found in Genesis 3—the story of humanity’s fall.As the story goes: Eve and Adam, the first humans, lived in paradise. God told ’em not to eat off a particular tree. A serpent tempted Eve to eat off it anyway, and Adam followed suit. The consequence: They couldn’t live in paradise any longer, ’cause the Tree of Life was there. They were driven out; Adam was cursed to fight nature in order to gain his sustenance, Eve was cursed with painful childbirth and male domination, and the serpent was cursed like so:Genesis 3.14-15 KWL14 The LORD God told the serpent, “Becau…