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The Fish-Sorting story.

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What kind of fish are you? Matthew 13.47-50 But before the Fish-Sorting story, let’s have the Fish Slapping Dance. You wanna watch the whole thing, do it here. Monty Python ’Cause this parable’s about the End, and about judging the wicked, so it’s a bit of a downer. So I thought I’d first cheer you up with some grown men hitting each other with dead fish. Considering a few of Jesus’s students were fishermen, stands to reason he’d include a fishing parable. This one compares sorting fish to sorting the wicked. Bad fish get tossed; bad humans get burnt. Matthew 13.47-50 KWL 47 “Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea, gathering every kind of fish. 48 Once filled it ’s pulled up onto the beach and sorted. People gather good fish into a vat, and rotten fish are thrown out. 49 It’s the same at the end of the age: The angels will come out, and separate the evil from the middle of the righteous. 50 The angels will throw the evil into the fie

The Hidden Treasure, and the Valuable Pearl stories.

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God’s kingdom is worth everything we have. Matthew 13.44-46 Two quick parables Jesus told in Matthew are sorta parallel with one another. Maybe Jesus told the same story two different ways, so Matthew bunched ’em together. In any case here they are. Matthew 13.44-46 KWL 44 “Heaven’s kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field which a person found— and hid it again . In his joy, he runs off and sells all he has, and buys that field. 45 Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a person—a trader seeking good pearls. 46 Leaving after finding one valuable pearl, he’s sold everything he has, and bought it.” In both cases Jesus describes people who discover something so valuable, so worth it, they’re willing to give up absolutely everything they have for it. We’re not unfamiliar with the idea of Mammonists, gross materialists, who are willing to say and do anything for wealth. Including risk their existing wealth, if they figure the payoff is vast enough. Well, God’s kingdom is t

The Yeast in Dough story.

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How much dough do you imagine this was? Think bigger. Matthew 13.33 • Luke 13.20-21 Jesus gave this parable right after the Mustard Seed story in both Matthew and Luke . It’s hardly a long story. Matthew 13.33 KWL Jesus told them another parable: “Heaven’s kingdom is like yeast. A woman who had it, mixed it into three tubs of dough [80 pounds] till it leavened it all.” Luke 13.20-21 KWL 20 Jesus said again, “What’s God’s kingdom like? 21 It’s like yeast. A woman who had it, mixed it into three tubs of dough [80 pounds] till it leavened it all.” But it greatly resembles the Mustard Seed story. That’s about how God’s kingdom is like a tiny seed which became an impossibly giant tree. In this story, the kingdom’s like yeast which a woman mixed into an impossibly large amount of dough. Three tubs’ worth. I used our word tub to translate Matthew and Luke’s word sáta , because your typical bible translates it with the generic word “measures,” and who knows h

Hyperbole. So I don’t have to explain it a billion times.

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You saw what I did there, right? Hyperbole /haɪ'pər.bə.li/ n. Deliberate exaggeration: A claim not meant to be taken literally. [Hyperbolic /haɪ.pər'bɑl.ək/ adj. ] You may not be so familiar with this word, but you’ve seen examples of it all your life. And that’s not hyperbole. Humans use hyperbolic language to get attention. You might not think much of the statement, “I had to clean a lot of dishes.” You pay a little more attention to, “I had to clean a truckload of dishes.” The exaggerated image gets attention. May even inspire a mental image of a literal truckload of dishes. May even strike us as funny, horrifying, sad, irritating; like most acts of creativity, it runs the risk of pushing the wrong buttons. Of course some hyperboles are so overused, they get no reaction anymore. They’ve become clichés. “I worked my fingers to the bone” probably horrified someone the first time they heard it—“No, really? Ewww”—but nobody bothers to flinch at it anymore. Not even i

The Mustard Seed story.

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Lots of weird botany involved in this story. Mark 4.30-32 • Matthew 13.31-32 • Luke 13.18-19 Another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. In Mark he told this one right the Independent Fruit. In Matthew it’s in between the Wheat and Weeds and its interpretation, Mt 13.24-30, 36-43 and in Luke it’s after Jesus cured a bent-over woman. Lk 13.10-17 Uniquely (in two gospels, anyway) he starts it by especially pointing out it’s a hypothetical comparison to God’s kingdom. Mark 4.30 KWL Jesus said, “How might we compare God’s kingdom? Or with what parable might we set it?” Luke 13.18 KWL So Jesus said, “What’s like God’s kingdom? What can it be compared with?” Just in case you weren't yet clear he’s being parabolic. After all, there are certain literalists who struggle with the concept. Particularly in this story. I’ll get to them. So, what’ll we compare the kingdom with today? How about a mustard seed? Various preachers, and maybe a Jesus movie or two,

Modalism: The illusion of three persons in one God.

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On those who believe God is sometimes Holy Spirit, and sometimes Jesus. Modalist /'mod.əl.ɪst/ adj. Believes God has multiple personas, approaches, functions, or aspects of his nature—which other Christians confuse with trinity. [Modalism /'mod.əl.ɪz.əm/ n. ] When Christians don’t believe God’s a trinity, either they fully embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus isn’t God, or they kinda embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus is God… but God still isn’t three. He’s one. But he looks three, from our limited human point of view. Why’s he look three? Time travel. No, seriously. Time travel. I know; time travel hasn’t been scientifically documented. It’s still just theory. But we’re all familiar with science fiction, so we have a general idea of how it works. If you don’t: Imagine a man, whom we’ll call Doc Brown. (I know; real original of me. ) Brown has a time machine. He hops into it and travels 30 years into the past. There, he encounters himself from 30 years ag

Submission. It’s not domination.

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It has two definitions, and evil people are promoting the wrong one. Submit /səb'mɪt/ v. Yield to or accept a superior force, authority, or will. Consent to their conditions. 2. Present one’s will to another for their consideration or judgment. [Submission /səb'mɪs.ʃən/ n. ] Notice there are two popular definitions of submit in use. The more popular of the two has to do with acceptance, obedience, and blind capitulation. To turn off our brains, do as we’re told. And most sermons instruct Christians to do precisely that. Submit to one another, as Paul ordered. Ephesians 5.21 NIV Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. ’Cause we kinda have to. If we can’t submit to God—if we insist on our own way, our own standards, our own values, our own lifestyles—it’s a pretty good bet we’re outside his kingdom. Romans 8.5-8 KWL 5 Carnal people think carnal things. Spirit-led people, Spirit-led things. 6 A flesh-led mind produces death. A Spirit-led mind,

Praying when we suck at prayer.

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Hey, we’re not all experts. Years ago I was reading Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home , a useful book on prayer. In it he described the most basic, elementary form of prayer he could think of, which he calls Simple Prayer. Basically it’s just talking with God, which is all prayer really is. But I believe there’s a form of prayer even more elementary than Simple Prayer: It’s what I call the I-Suck-At-Prayer prayer. It’s the prayer every new Christian prays. The prayer every pagan prays when they’re first giving prayer a test drive. The prayer even longtime Christians stammer when we’re asked to pray aloud, and suddenly we feel we’ve gotta perform … but not overtly. Christians might pray every day and rather often, yet we’ll still pray the I-Suck-At-Prayer Prayer from time to time. It’s based on discomfort . It’s when we realize we need to pray in a manner we’re not used to. Maybe somebody else has been leading our prayers. Maybe we’ve been praying too man

The wealthy, their crimes, and their coming judgment.

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James 5.1-8. This next bit of James was directed to the specific people of James’s day. Problem is, not every Christian has understood this. You know how we humans are; we wanna make everything about us . So we’ve looked at this passage and tried to figure out how it applies to us and the people of our day. Especially the people of our day, since rebuke and judgment are involved: We definitely want those bits to apply to other people. Since James dropped a reference or two to Jesus’s second coming —an event which’ll take place at any time, a belief Christians have held since the beginning, and even Jesus’s first apostles watched out for it, as Jesus instructed—historically we’ve interpreted this bit as an End Times reference. It’s not really. In the New Testament, “the last days” doesn’t refer to the End Times, but the Christian Era. Ac 2.17, He 1.2 The “first days” were before Christ; the “last days” are after God’s kingdom has come near. As historians call ’em, BC and

Arianism: One God—and Jesus isn’t quite him.

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On Christians who think Jesus is a lesser god. Arian /'ɛr.i.ən/ adj. Believes God is one being, one person, not three; and that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are created beings and lesser gods. [Arianism /'ɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm/ n. ] So I’ve been writing on unitarian beliefs —namely that there’s one God, but contrary to how he’s been revealed in the New Testament, these folks insist God’s not a trinity. Now, pagans and other monotheists don’t bother with the New Testament, so of course they don’t believe in trinity. But Christians do have the NT —yet some of us still don’t believe in trinity. We’d call these folks heretics, and of course they’d call us heretics, and round and round we go. The first major anti-trinity heresy Christians came across is Arianism —a word pronounced the same, but not the same, as the white-supremacist view Aryanism. It’s named for Áreios of Alexandria (c. 250-336), a Christian elder—or in Roman Catholic thinking, a priest. In Latin he’d b

Free will. And God’s free will.

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He’s given us choices. Choose wisely. A will is the ability to make choices and decisions. Might be limited in what we can choose. Fr’instance when I’m at In-N-Out Burger, I can either order a hamburger or cheeseburger; I can’t order a tuna sandwich. But the fact I have a choice, any choice, even a really small one, means I get to exercise my will. If they give me no choices—i.e. they’re out of cheese—I still have the choice to get a burger, or not. Yeah, various people are gonna argue a limited free will isn’t truly free. Which reminds me so much of little kids who throw tantrums ’cause they don’t like any of their options. “But I don’t want cherry or pistachio ice cream! I want chocolate . If I can’t have chocolate I’ll have nothing!” And as the patient parent will usually respond, “Well, that’s your choice.” Limited choices are still choices. Even if you’re not given any options whatsoever, you still get to choose how you’re gonna accept that fact: Cheerfully, or bitterly