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No one has ever seen God. Except 74 ancient Hebrews.

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Exodus 24.9-11 • John 1.18 • 1 John 4.12-13. Most of the reason we Christians are pretty sure John bar Zavdi wrote both the gospel with his name on it, and the letters with his name on them, is ’cause the same ideas and themes (and wording, and vocabulary) come up in them. Including today’s bible difficulty, the idea nobody’s ever seen God. John wrote it in both his gospel and his first letter. John 1.18 KWL Nobody’s ever seen God. The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God. 1 John 4.12-13 KWL 12 No one’s ever seen God, yet when we love one another, God’s with us. His love’s been expressed in us, 13 so this is how we get to know we’re with him and he’s with us. He’s given us his Spirit. The reason it’s a difficulty? Because people have seen God. In Exodus 24, we have this interesting little story: Exodus 24.9-11 KWL 9 Moses, Aaron, Nadáv, Avíhu, and 70 of Israel’s elders, went up 10 and saw Israel’s God: Under his feet was somethin

No longer a mystery: Gentiles inherit God’s kingdom.

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Ephesians 3.1-12. Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians , either before the first or second time he stood before Nero Caesar. Paul optimistically thought of these circumstances as his opportunity to share Jesus with Roman officials, with himself as Jesus’s official ambassador. Ep 6.20 But y’know, much of the reason he got in so much trouble, was because he insisted on sharing Jesus with gentiles—who were and always had been part of God’s plan, but Pharisees had blinders on about it, so this information was new to them. Because Paul was notorious for hanging out with gentiles, it’s arguably why he was arrested in the first place. Ac 22.21-29 Not that he didn’t totally take advantage of it to meet Agrippa Herod and Nero Ceasar. This, Paul recognized, was the real reason he was in chains: Ephesians 3.1-6 KWL 1 Here ’s the reason I, Paul, became Christ Jesus ’s bondservant for you gentiles— 2 unless you already heard God’s system of grace he gave me f

My pacifism. Sorta.

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In response to the responses about it. Since I wrote that piece about how Christ Jesus expects us, his followers, to be peacemakers and practice nonviolence, naturally I got some pushback from my conservative friends. Of course they pitched me all the usual objections. Some with compassion, some with scoffing; it all depends on whether these were knee-jerk reactions, or they were actually trying to understand where I’m coming from. If we reduce people to nothing more than their points of view, of course we’re more likely to fight ’em than love ’em. But that’s another discussion. You might have some of these objections yourself: What, d’you wanna open up all the jails and let the murderers and pedos run free? Are you suggesting we abolish the military, and let America’s enemies have at us? [I live in an Air Force town, and have a number of Air Force and Army relatives, so this is a big deal.] If some madman is about to harm your family and loved ones, would you just let him?

Karma has a breaking point. Grace doesn’t.

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Matthew 18.21-22 KWL 21 Simon Peter came and told Jesus , “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me, and I’ll have to forgive them? As much as sevenfold?” 22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as much as sevenfold.’ Instead as much as seven seventyfolds .” The point of this teaching, as many a preacher will remind us, is to keep forgiving till we lose count. True, there are those individuals who keep track of offenses to a ridiculous degree. They won’t lose count; they can enumerate every last offense. And if you get ’em angry enough, they will. But typically they have a breaking point, and it comes way before 490. Won’t even make it to 10. “Three strikes and you’re out” tends to be the common rule, as if baseball’s limits should apply to all humanity. Simon Peter’s seven strikes sounds far more patient and generous than most. (I’m betting he thought so too.) The reason I bring up forgiveness, and the idea of losing count of the times we forgive, is

Dropping a little Hebrew on the fellow Christians.

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For some Christians, the only fellow Christians they ever encounter are a small, insulated bunch. Basically it’s just family members and their church, and the few books and podcasts they personally approve of. They’ve got narrow little boundaries and won’t travel outside. Often out of the dark Christian fear they might be led astray, but more often it’s just because they don’t care to stretch themselves. Either way it’s a shame. But I’m not gonna discuss that particular shame today. Me, I browse widely. And from time to time I run into Christians who insist on referring to Christ Jesus as Yeshúa ha- Mešiakh . They’ll spell it lots of different ways; I spell it the way it’s meant to sound, so if it looks a little unfamiliar they might not be pronouncing it properly. Basically it’s Hebrew for “Jesus the Messiah.” Because they learned some Hebrew. And they’re gonna use their Hebrew on everything . God’s gonna get called Adonái /“my Master” or ha- Šém /“the [L ORD ’s] Name.”

“Just war”: Vengeance disguised as righteousness.

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Humans like to take revenge. Watch two kids on the playground. One will smack the other, entirely by accident. (That’s what they claim, anyway.) The other kid will immediately want to retaliate. And not in some equitable blow-for-blow response, either. They’ll wanna beat the living tar out of the other kid. That’s not a learned behavior. Just the opposite: It’s instinct. It’s our self-preservation instinct, but warped by human depravity till we defend ourselves from future harm by preemptively destroying anything or anyone who might harm us. Kids have to be trained to not retaliate like this. A good parent is gonna teach their kids to forgive. (It was unintentional, after all.) Even selfish parents won’t necessarily demand a reciprocal response. Although the dumber ones might: “She hit you? Hit her back!” But this behavior will backfire: Kids’ll do as comes naturally, and hit back harder . And then the first kid hits back even harder. And things escalate from there. I kn

Racism has no place in God’s kingdom.

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Ephesians 2.11-22. To remind you: Paul didn’t write Ephesians to his fellow Jews. He wrote it to éthnoi /“ethnics,” goyím /“nations”—words we usually translate with the Latin-derived word gentile , meaning “people of another nation.” Jews use the word to describe non-Jews. (And Mormons use it to describe non-Mormons.) Ancient Jews tended to highlight the primary physical difference between Jews and gentiles. Wasn’t skin color, ’cause Jews, then and now, came in every color. It was whether or not you had a foreskin. Following God’s instructions, Jews cut the foreskin off every 8-day-old male. Lv 12.3 Jews were therefore “the circumcised,” and gentiles obviously weren’t. In fact the popular Jewish term for a gentile, which we even find in the New Testament, was akrovystía /“foreskin.” Most bibles tend to be more polite, and translate this word as “the uncircumcised.” They really shouldn’t. The crudeness of referring to people as “foreskins” gives us a better idea of just how an

“He had some good bits.”

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Sometimes that’s the best you can expect from certain preachers. She came up to me after the sermon. SHE. [ referring to the speaker ] “Wasn’t he great? ” ME. “Yeah, he had some good bits.” SHE. “Good bits? That was like good solid food!” ME. “Meh.” She left to go find someone who was as excited about the sermon as she was. This didn’t take place at my church; I was visiting another church in town. And “she” is someone who used to go to my church. She stopped after we wouldn’t let her into leadership. For good reason; she’s spiritually immature. Regularly tossed to and fro by every charismatic fad, exactly like St. James described the unwise. Jm 1.5 So she went to find another church whose standards weren’t so high. Which is probably why she was visiting this other church. I was visiting because of a special guest speaker. I won’t give his name, to protect the totally guilty. Many Pentecostals in northern California know who he is. Quite a few Pentecostals outside

From the lowest place to the highest heavens.

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Ephesians 2.1-10. Gotta confess: I grew up Christian. I said the sinner’s prayer at age 4. I have no real memories of being pre-Christian. So when the scriptures, particularly Ephesians , brings up one’s wayward pre-Christian life before God got hold of us, it’s not so easy to relate. I didn’t live that way. Oh yeah, I had my hypocrisy phase in high school and college. But it wasn’t an apostasy phase; I didn’t quit Christianity and go pagan in rebellion, doubt, or apathy. I was just a sucky Christian. More Christianist than Christ-following; I held to religiosity when it suited me, and clung to cheap grace when that suited me. Like I said, hypocrisy. So when Paul wrote about the Ephesians’ pre-Christian lifestyle, I understand what he’s talking about; I know plenty of pagans who live this way. My trouble is I don’t have a shared experience with them, so I don’t relate as well as someone who did have those experiences. But y’know, that’s one of the great things abo

“To follow thee more nearly.”

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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 h

Adoption in the Roman Empire—and God’s kingdom.

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Ephesians 1.11-14. Last time I focused on predestination , God’s great plan to save the world, which Paul spelled out for everyone who read his letter to the Ephesians. We get redemption, forgiveness, goodwill, God’s riches, etc. Ep 1.7-10 We get this through adoption . The plan was for God to adopt us as his kids. Ephesians 1.4-6 KWL 4 Namely how God chose us in Christ to be holy— spotless before his presence—before the world’s foundation! In love, 5 through Christ Jesus, God predestined us for adoption to himself— according to the goodwill of his will, 6 in glorious praise of God’s grace, which he poured out on us in love. The problem is adoption nowadays, doesn’t look all that much like adoption back in the first-century Roman Empire. So this passage makes less of an impact than it should. Lemme fix that. In every culture there are kids without parents. They had biological parents, but those parents are unable, unfit, or unwilling to raise children. So t