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God reveals himself through prayer.

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Why does God listen to our prayers? For the same reason he reveals himself to us. Prayer is of course talking with God. We talk to him and he talks back. It’s not a complicated idea, though we might, and do, complicate it.Prayer is therefore the most common, most usual way God communicates with his people. Yeah, we can…Experience a personal appearance by Jesus.Hear prophets share what he told them.Read about his will in the bible.See, or be empowered to perform, miracles.Have warm fuzzy feelings in church and assume that’s a God-encounter. Have warm fuzzy feelings about nature and try to deduce what he’s like from that.Christians list all these things as forms of revelation, though I would object to the last two. But nearly all of us pray, and nearly all of us hear God when we pray, so that’s how nearly all of us get revelation.Now yes, there are those Christians who insist they don’t hear anything. To their minds, prayer is unidirectional: We talk, God hears, but God says nothing, ’c…

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

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When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, one of the most common platitudes we hear thereafter is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”In the past several years the expression has seen a bit of backlash. Mainly because the people who say it have turned it into an empty, hypocritical saying. By their actions, they demonstrate they’re not really thinking of the disaster victims. And either they’re also not praying, or they’re praying in some manner that doesn’t change ’em whatsoever—contrary to how we all know prayer is supposed to work.To be fair, some of the backlash comes from nontheists who are pretty sure prayer is bunk: Nobody’s listening, so we Christians are only talking to the sky; nobody’s interacting with us, so we Christians aren’t gonna change. Prayers are therefore just as useless as when some pagans attempt to send positive thoughts, vibes, and energy towards the needy: All they actually do is psyche themselves into feeling really happy things, then feel a li…

“Train up a child…”

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It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted.Proverbs 22.6This particular proverb, best known in the King James version—Proverbs 22.6 KJVTrain up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.—has brought a lot of comfort to a lot of Christians whose kids don’t appear to be going anywhere close to the way they should go.After high school, a lot of the kids from my church youth group didn’t stay in church. Some of us did, and some of us went away to school… and the rest decided since they were adults now, they could choose to go to church or not. So they chose not. To the great consternation of their parents, who thought they raised their kids better than that. They really didn’t.In despair, the parents turned to this proverb. The way they chose to interpret it: Yeah, the kids had quit Jesus, but the parents had trained ’em up in the way they should go. They’d raised ’em Christian. Took ’em to church. Made ’em pray before meals. Sent …

Faith is not blind optimism.

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Hoping for the best needs something substantial to hope in.As I wrote in my first piece on faith, it’s not the magical power to believe in goofy rubbish. Like believing in Santa Claus, fairies, unicorns, and non-western medicine.Related to that, and actually a big part of what people assume faith to be, is the power to believe everything’s gonna be all right. Everything’s gonna work out. Times may be tough right now, but we’ll persevere, we’ll be successful, we’ll be vindicated, we’ll come out on top. Life will be good. Love will conquer all. How do we know any of this stuff? Why, we have “faith.”No, you have blind optimism. It’s not faith.No, I’m not knocking optimism. We Christians are called to be optimistic. To reject nihilism because even though our world is in fact meaningless, it’s being overthrown by God’s kingdom. To reject cynicism because even though humans are totally self-centered, some of us are actually seeking God’s kingdom. To reject pessimism because we’re meant to e…

Potential, fixable followers.

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These aren’t people who didn’t make the cut. They, like all of us, need work.Matthew 8.18-22 • Luke 9.57-62In Mark and Luke, after Jesus taught his parables he crossed the lake, and had to stop the weather. In Matthew, Jesus made these comments just before boarding the boat. Whereas in Luke, Jesus made ’em enroute to Jerusalem to die.If you’re the sort who goes absolutely nuts because gospel passages won’t sync up as perfectly as you’d like, tough: The gospels’ authors had entirely different priorities than you do. They weren’t trying to follow a timeline; they were trying to bunch themes together. It’s entirely likely none of these sayings took place at the same time; if only life could be so neat. More likely they were three different guys on three different occasions. All of them prospective followers, and all of them not entirely ready for God’s kingdom. All of ’em object lessons in case we’re not ready: Get ready!Matthew only brings up two of them, but don’t fret. I’ll cover all …

Throwing out “treasures” new and old.

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Because the Spirit’s correcting us—assuming we let him.Mark 4.33-34, Matthew 13.34-35, 13.51-53After Jesus taught a string of parables in Mark 4,Matthew 13, and Luke 8,Matthew had him wrap it up with one final parable:Matthew 13.51-53 KWL51“Did you understand all this?”They told Jesus, “Yes.”52Jesus told them, “This is why every scribe who’s studied heaven’s kingdom is like a person—a householder who throws out new and old things from his treasury.”53 Once Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.I realize most translations prefer to describe the householder as “bringeth forth out of his treasure,” Mt 13.52 KJV as if he’s showing off his riches, like King Hezekiah ben Elah. 2Ki 20.12-19 (Which, if you know that story, should give you an idea of where I’m headed with this.)On this basis they wanna claim this is a teacher to whom Jesus has granted lots of wisdom, both new and old. But Jesus didn’t describe him as bringing out things, but ekvállei/“throwing out” things. He’…

Prayer walks.

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’Cause walking and praying is super easy. Well, for most of us. One of the few activities we can do, yet pray at the same time, is walk.For this reason certain Christians take prayer walks. More than just pacing back in forth in our rooms while we pray, we take some time out of our day to just go for a walk. Not to any specific destination; we’re gonna loop around and come back home. Not for exercise, although we might do that too. (Turn it into kind of a prayer jog.) Walking’s not the purpose. Prayer is.Although sometimes we Christians turn the prayer-walk route into something significant. Fr’instance at the beginning of every year, Christians in my town wanna pray for the town. So they take a prayer walk which is specifically mapped so they’ll reach certain important places. Like city hall, the town square, the civic center, certain parks and schools and fire departments, maybe the run-down or more criminal parts of town, maybe certain businesses Christians do and don’t approve of. …

Women and covering up. Or, frequently, not.

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On covering one’s hair, and why many Christians don’t bother.1 Corinthians 11.3-16I was asked to say a little something about this controversial passage, so what the heck.I’ve gone to Protestant churches all my life. Visited Catholic and Orthodox churches too. In most of the churches I’ve visited, American Christians utterly ignore this passage. Our women don’t cover their heads.Now yeah, there are parts of the bible which the bulk of Christians figure no longer apply to us. Like the curses upon humanity, Ge 3.16-19 which we figure Jesus undid. Or the commands about ritual cleanliness and sacrifice, which we figure Jesus rendered redundant. Or all the commands in the Law, which we figure Jesus nullified—which is absolutely not what he said. Mt 5.17 In general, Christians tend to assume Old Testament commands (except maybe 10) are out, and New Testament instructions are in.Yet this is totally New Testament. Comes right before the apostles’ instructions on how to do holy communion. Thos…

Satan’s fall.

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Satan used to have access to heaven. Now it doesn’t.Revelation 12One of the popular myths about the devil is it used to an angel. Not just that it fakes being one. 2Co 11.14 Christians will teach it straight-up was one.Even more: It was Lucifer, the greatest angel ever. The best and brightest and mightiest angel in the heavens. Head of the heavenly choir. Ruled over earth as God’s number two. The Holy Spirit’s vice-president, more or less.Anybody else think someone’s been padding its résumé a little?Pause a moment, go some basic digging through the bible, and you’re gonna find out it says nowhere that Satan used to be an angel. It may have angels, working for it. At one time it came and went before God, just like God’s mightier angels. But Satan’s species is never once identified.Given Satan’s reputation as a liar, Jn 8.44 I’m mighty suspicious about any stories about its origin which attempt to make it look like it used to be kind of a big deal.Or still is. During Jesus’s temptations…

Pantheism: God is everything, and everything is God.

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On those who believe God is the universe.Pantheist /'pæn.θi.ɪst/ adj. Identifies God as the universe, or recognizes the universe as a manifestation of God. 2. Identifies all gods as forms, manifestations, avatars, or persons of the One God.[Pantheism /'pæn.θi.ɪz.əm/ n.]Popular culture believes Hinduism to consist of the worship of thousands of gods. That’s not quite accurate. Hindus themselves tell me that they tend to worship maybe one or two gods themselves… but the “thousands of gods,” as westerners call ’em, are really just different faces of the One God.So they’re monotheist?Still not quite accurate. It’s not that there’s one God with thousands of faces. It’s that God consists of every face. Everything is God. God is the universe.Whenever you meet a pagan who talks about “the universe,” and speaks of the universe as if it has an intelligence—“The universe wants me to do such-and-so,” or “The universe is sending me a message”—that’s the mindset we’re talking about. “The un…

Apocrypha: The “extra books” your bible may lack.

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APOCRYPHONə'pɑk.rə.fɔnnoun (pluralapocryphaə'pɑk.rə.fə). Writing or book not considered part of the accepted canon of scripture.2. Story of doubtful authenticity.3. Story that’s obscure or little-known.[Apocryphal əˈpɑkrəfəladjective.]One of my favorite stunts with new Christians used to be, “Turn in your bibles to the book of Wisdom, chapter 4.”Well, they’d try. They’d flip around their bibles, then give up and look at the table of contents… then realize the book wasn’t in there. “Well it’s in my bible,” I’d tell ’em, and hold it up to show them, confusing them all the more. ’Cause my bible included apocrypha.“Oh, you mean a Catholic bible,” you might be thinking. Nope; it’s a Protestant bible. Some Protestant bibles have apocrypha. I own two others.I can’t pull this stunt anymore, ’cause nowadays people look up the bible on their phones or bible apps. Hence they can sometimes find Wisdom in there. Spoils my little joke. Oh well.But I did this joke on purpose: I wanted to int…