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Gossip, prayer, and trustworthiness.

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Sometimes it’s not a prayer request; it’s gossip. The gossipy prayer request. High school likely wasn’t the first place I encountered it, but certainly the first time I became aware of it. We were in a youth group meeting, the pastor was taking prayer requests, and one kid raised her hand and proceeded to give us way too much detail about a girl most of us knew. Definitely gossip. But that’s how gossips have discovered a loophole: Gossip may be bad, but praying for one another is good! So now they can gossip freely, on the grounds it’s all stuff we need to know. Right? Wrong; rubbish. We don’t need to know a thing. All we need to know is someone needs God’s help, and that God can help. If your friend ( let’s call him Vasko ) needs prayer, all you gotta tell the prayer leader is, “Please pray for my friend Vasko; he’s having a rough time, and that’s all I can tell you.” A gossipy prayer leader will pry, but a wise prayer leader will say “Okay,” and respect it as an unspoken pray

Praying for ordinary stuff.

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Seriously. You can pray for anything . There’s this mindset people get into: Spiritual things take up one segment of our lives, and secular things the rest. Going to church and reading bible: Spiritual. Going to the coffehouse and reading the news: Secular. Going to a restaurant: Secular. Except for the bit at the beginning where we say grace. But once that bit of diligence is over, we needn’t think about God any longer. Problem is, that’s entirely wrong. Everything is spiritual. Not just ’cause we carry the Holy Spirit with us , and we need to stay mindful of his presence and instruction. But because we’re meant to be light in a dark world, and bless everyone around us. (Not just our food!) And one of the ways we get over that artificial secular/spiritual divide is by praying for ordinary stuff. What do I mean by “ordinary”? Glad you asked: Anything and everything. There’s no subject off-limits to God. Anything you can talk about with your friends, you can talk about wit

When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.

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SUPERSTITION su.pɜr'stɪ.ʃən noun. Belief or practice based on a false idea of cause and effect. Usually faith in magic, luck, karmic consequences, junk science, or ignorance. Sometimes irrational fear of the unknown. 2. Belief or practice held despite reasonable contrary evidence. [Superstitious su.pɜr'stɪ.ʃəs adjective. ] Obviously the title comes from the Stevie Wonder song. (And if you don’t know it then you’ve been deprived. That bassline alone makes it a classic.) Christians might claim we’re not superstitious: We trust Jesus, not circumstances! But spend any time at all among us, and you’ll find that to be utter rubbish. I would argue Christians are generally more superstitious than pagans. Some of it comes from dark Christians who are entirely sure devils are lurking under everything they don’t like. I grew up among such Christians. Some of ’em actually tried to teach me that because the rock ’n roll backbeat runs contrary to the human heartbeat (and

The centurion’s servant—and his surprising faith.

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A gentile whose level of faith surprised even Jesus. Matthew 8.5-13 • Luke 7.1-10. Luke tells this story after Jesus’s sermon on the plain, and Matthew after his Sermon on the Mount —but curing an infectious man first. Mark doesn’t tell it. And John … tells a whole other story, although certain Christians try to sync it together with this one. But not well. The story begins with Jesus again returning to his home base of Kfar Nahum, and in Matthew encountering the local centurion; in Luke hearing from local elders about this centurion. Y’might know a centurion was what the Romans called the captain in charge of a century , 100 soldiers. I don’t know whether all 100 were stationed in Kfar Nahum, or spread out over multiple cities in the province; it all depended on how far the Romans felt they needed to clamp down on the people. What we do know is this particular centurion had a home in town, and an employee who was either suffering greatly, or dying. Luke calls him a s

Near-death experiences, and the afterlife.

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Funny how everybody sees the afterlife they expect. In yesterday’s article, “How long does hell last?” I brought up the subject of near-death experiences , those cases where people died and came back, and have a tale to tell about what they saw in the afterlife. And they have all sorts of tales. Like of an out-of-body experience, where their ghost watched the doctors or EMTs trying to bring ’em back to life. Like a spirit-realm experience, where they met angels, dead loved ones, Jesus, or the Father. Like an afterlife experience, where they travel through a tunnel of light and get to poke around heaven for a bit. In some cases it’s the bad afterlife, and they’re in hell. These stories are really popular, and people share them and cling to them for hope. Books about them sell. Movies too. Since we have big questions about the afterlife, we figure near-death experiences help answer these questions. This is also true for Christians. The scriptures don’t tell us a whole lot abou

How long does hell last?

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Some say forever, some say temporarily, and some say no time at all. As I explained in my article “The four hells,” there are four words translated hell in the scriptures, and the one I mean by “hell” is ge-Henna , the trash fire outside Jerusalem, reimagined in Revelation as a pool of fire and sulfur outside New Jerusalem. Rv 20.10-15 Into it go Satan and its angels, the Beast, the fake prophet who promotes the Beast, the personifications of Death and Hades (i.e. the afterlife), and everyone whose name isn’t listed in the life scroll—everyone who refused to turn to God for salvation, and therefore don’t get to enter his kingdom. The Beast and prophet are explicitly described as being “tortured there, day and night, age to ages.” Rv 20.10 Though this lake is known as the second death, Rv 20.14 it doesn’t have a sense of finality like death seems to. Death feels like an absolute stopping point—when you’re dead, you’re not alive, you’re not moving, you’re not breathing, you’r

Introducing death.

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Humans die. Here’s why. The first time we read about death in the bible, it’s in the Adam and Eve story. God tasks the first adám /“human” with taking care of a garden. Which is described as edén /“delightful,” but we tend to treat that adjective as a proper name, Eden , same as we do the word for human, Adam . Unlike fast-food jobs, Adam was given free rein to eat anything he found growing there. Well, almost anything. One particular tree, you remember, was off limits. Genesis 2.15-17 KWL 15 The L ORD God took the human and set him in a delightful garden to work it and watch over it. 16 The L ORD God commanded the human, saying, “Eat, eat , from every tree of the garden. 17 From the knowing-good-and-evil tree: Don’t eat from it. For on the day you eat from it, you ’ll die, die .” Ancient Hebrew repeated itself for emphasis. “Eat, eat ” meant God was serious about Adam eating whatever he wished; “Die, die ” meant God was serious about the knowing-good-and-evil tr

Saved exclusively through Jesus.

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It’s the exclusivity that bugs people. One of the things about Christianity that offends people most is how we claim we can only be saved through Christ Jesus. We do have bible to back up the idea, y’know. Acts 4.8-12 KWL 8 Then Simon Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, told them, “Leaders of the people and elders: 9 If we’re investigated today about a good deed to a disabled man—how was he cured?— 10 it must be made known to you all, and all Israel’s people: In the name of Messiah Jesus the Nazarene—whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead— by this Jesus , this disabled man stands before you, cured. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone dismissed by you builders, who became the head corner stone .’ Ps 118.22 12 Salvation isn’t found in anyone else, nor is there given to people another name under heaven by whom it’s necessary for us to be saved.” Jesus is the only way by which people have access to God: John 14.5-7 KWL 5 Thomas told Jesus , “Master, we don’

The Twelve and the miracles.

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The hangups Christians have about how the apostles could somehow do miracles before Pentecost. Mark 6.12-13 • Luke 9.6. Of Jesus’s students, he assigned 12 of them to be apostles , “one who’s been sent out,” and eventually he did send ’em out to preach the gospel, cure the sick, and exorcise unclean spirits. And that’s exactly what they did. Mark 6.12-13 KWL 12 Going out, the apostles preached that people should repent. 13 The apostles were throwing out many demons, anointing many sick people with olive oil—and they were curing them. Luke 9.6 KWL 6 Coming out, the apostles passed through the villages, evangelizing and curing the sick everywhere. Yep, all of them. Even Judas Iscariot. And here’s where we slam into a wall with a lot of Christians. Because they cannot fathom how these apostles went out and cured the sick and exorcised evil spirits. They’ll grudgingly acknowledge that the apostles did it. The gospels totally say so, and who are they to

Discernment isn’t prophecy.

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If it looks like the science of deduction, or carnival mentalism, ’tain’t prophecy. Here’s a bit from “The Red-Headed League,” a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle. “Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labor, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.” Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion. “How, in the name of good fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labor? It’s as true as gospel, for I began as a ship’s carpenter.” “Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.” “Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?” “I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as,

What’s America’s role in the End Times?

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Same as the rest of the world. The bible, in entirety, was written before the middle east, Europe, Asia, and Africa knew the western hemisphere existed. True, God knew it was there. But his apostles and prophets had no idea. And God didn’t see any point in informing them. It’s not like the Americas, nor any other yet-to-be-discovered islands in the world, were excluded from the scriptures’ blanket statements about humanity. The L ORD is God, and Jesus is King, of the whole earth. Known and unknown lands alike. So North and South America—the Indian nations then, and the current nations now—aren’t in the bible. At all. Neither suggested nor alluded to in it. So even if you’re citizen of the United States, loyal and patriotic, or even just a big fan of all things American like so many of our resident aliens, I gotta break it to you: Other than the bits about “all the world,” we don’t figure into End Times predictions whatsoever. But you’d be surprised how many American prognost