Posts

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

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Not the chorus; the rote prayer. (And a bit about proper pronunciation of “excelsis.” Before I discuss the rote prayer itself, lemme rant a bit about how everybody mispronounces excelsis . When I was a kid, most folks I knew mispronounced it |ɪk'sɛl.sɪs|, ’cause it’s spelled like our English word “excel,” so people assumed of course that’s how you say it. Around high school one of the music pastors decided to correct everyone: “It’s pronounced |ɛks'tʃɛl.sɪs|; the C makes a |tʃ| sound like the word ‘cello,’ not |s| like ‘cellar.’ ” And everyone responded, “Ah of course,” and learned to say it that way. Both are wrong. The |tʃ| sound comes from Italian, which worked its way backwards into present-day Latin. (Which you thought was a dead language, didn’tcha? Nope. It’s still the official language of Vatican City, which means people there actually do speak it… when they’re not speaking Italian or English, or the pope’s native Spanish.) As for Roman Empire and early medi

Jesus came from heaven? And you gotta eat him?

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The level of commitment Jesus expects of his followers: You gotta eat the bread of life. John 6.41-60. Jesus pointed out he, not the stuff he and his students fed the 5,000, not the manna the L ORD fed the Hebrews, is bread from heaven. Living bread. Stuff you eat and live forever. Don’t seek temporal, earthly bread. Seek him . It’s a metaphor, of course, for a relationship with Jesus. One the Galileans and Judeans, steeped in a culture (and a bible) full of metaphors, shoulda understood. One we should understand too… but of course not all of us do, and I’m gonna get into that a bit today. But at this point in the story, the Galieans appeared to be tracking with Jesus so far. Their objection—the reason they eghóngyzon /“grumbled” ( KJV “murmured”) about Jesus teaching this—wasn’t because they misunderstood what he meant; they totally understood what he meant. Their problem was he was talking about himself. Who, they were agreed, was probably a big deal; probably the End

Purgatory: When our works are tested with fire.

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Some Christians believe there’s no such thing. Here’s why the others believe it exists—in whatever form they imagine it. Many Christians figure they’re C.S. Lewis fans ’cause they read his Narnia books, as I did in fifth grade. In high school I read his Mere Christianity , and in college I took advantage of its much-larger Lewis collection to read everything I could find. Including, it turned out, his academic stuff… which leads to another story I’ll tell another time. One of his books was The Great Divorce , Lewis’s attempt to tell a Divine Comedy -style tour of purgatory, with George MacDonald as his guide instead of Virgil. It’s interesting because it gives examples of the sort of people who aren’t ready for heaven. But the book is a big hurdle for various Christians— in particular Fundamentalists —because they don’t believe in purgatory. Depending on how gracious they are (or aren’t), they’d assign Lewis’s case studies to either heaven or hell, and that’s that. I’ve since

Praying the scriptures.

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Why Christians put a lot of bible in their prayers. It’s a popular Christian practice to drop little bits of bible into our prayers. Kinda like so. Father, we come to you because you tell us “if my people, who are called by my name, seek my face, I will hear from heaven,” and we recognize “your word won’t return void,” so we call upon you today, Lord. Hear our prayers, meet our needs, heed our cries. “Give us today our daily bread.” Amen. Yeah, we can pray full passages. We pray the Lord’s Prayer of course; sometimes we pray the psalms. Many of the more famous rote prayers consist of lines lifted straight from the bible and arranged to sound like a prayer. We do this for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes not-so-legitimate ones: We want our prayers to sound more bible-y. That’s why we’ll trot out the King James Version English with its “thee” and “thou” and old-timey verbs. If it’s old-fashioned we figure it’s more solemn and serious and holy. It’s not really—but people t

The living bread wants to save us.

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Come to Jesus and never go “hungry” again. John 6.30-42. To recap: Jesus is the living bread, and wants people to pursue him instead of ordinary bread—or any other ordinary material possession which gets used up, goes moldy or stale, or otherwise perishes. He wants an eternal relationship with us. Whereas sometimes all we seem to want of him too often are the fringe benefits of heaven. So went the discussion Jesus had with the Galileans who sought him after he and his students fed 5,000. ( John refers to them as Yudaíoi /“Judeans,” people from Judea who settled the Galilee centuries after the Assyrians drove the northern Israeli tribes out. I stuck with “Galileans” because obviously they’re Galilean Jews—same as Jesus.) The Galileans figured he was the Prophet from the End Times because he fed ’em bread like Moses fed their ancestors manna. Like they say here. John 6.30-31 KWL 30 So they told Jesus , “So what miracle are you doing so we can see it and trust you? What

Elections and God’s will.

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One of the myths American Christians like to tell ourselves, is that democracy reflects God’s will. Vox populi, vox Dei /“the people’s voice [is] God’s voice,” is the old slogan. A slogan which doesn’t come from the bible, of course. It’s a very old Roman slogan… which is actually derived from the old Roman pagan religion. The Romans believed one of the ways they could deduce the gods’ will was to observe the masses. If suddenly everyone in the city wanted something, they figured it was a sure bet the gods wanted it, and were influencing humans to express their desires. It gave them a religious justification for democracy… and at the same time, gave the priests a religious justification to ditch their traditions when they were no longer popular. But it’s not Christian thinking whatsoever. You might recall it was the crowds (riled up by the head priests, but still) who called for Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus. Mk 15.9-15 You might recall because the crowds regularly defied

How non-supernatural Christians define prophecy.

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How non-supernaturalist Christians confuse the gift of exhortation with the gift of prophecy. In the scriptures, a prophet is a person who hears God and shares his messages with others. Anyone can hear God, so anyone can become a prophet, and since every Christian has the Holy Spirit within them, Christians especially can become prophets. It’s kind of our birthright. Ac 2.17-18 However. In popular Christian culture, particularly among Christians who have their doubts or fears about miracles and the supernatural, “prophecy” has been redefined. To these folks, prophecy still totally refers to sharing God’s messages with others. But as for hearing that message directly from God… well that’s not part of their understanding. Either ’cause they insist God doesn’t do that anymore, or ’cause they seriously downplay anything supernatural about the way Christians get God’s messages. So to them, a “prophet” is anyone who shares God’s truths. They read ’em in the bible, preach the bible,

When faith won’t fit in the pagan pigeonhole.

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’Cause skeptics hate it when you inform ’em you don’t believe in wishful thinking either. When Christians define the word faith , we go with the definition found in Hebrews . “The solid basis of hope, the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” is how I usually put it. He 11.1 We haven’t seen something, but we believe it anyway—for solid reasons. Usually ’cause we’re taking someone’s word for it, like Jesus’s. When pagans define it, they either go with wishful thinking, blind optimism, or the ability to believe imaginary things without evidence. You know, stuff we shouldn’t believe. And to be fair, some Christians do think of faith that way, ’cause they haven’t read Hebrews , or their leaders did a sucky job teaching ’em about faith. It’s not like they got their false definition from nowhere. Yep, I read Hebrews , and my church leaders were pretty good about defining faith accurately. So when skeptical pagans start to mock faith—“Oh, you Christians only believe that rubbish because

The “Your will be done” prayer.

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Not just praying it for others, but ourselves. And meaning it! The “Your will be done” prayer is part of the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously it’s the “Thy will be done” bit. Mt 6.10 I’ve already discussed where we’re praying for his will to be done. Today it’s more about how we fulfill that particular prayer of his. Yep, it’s about doing God’s will. Typically when Christians pray “Your will be done,” we’re not talking about ourselves. We’re talking about everyone . “Thy will be done on earth ,” is how the full clause goes, so we’re thinking about how God’s will gets done on earth as a whole, and by all humanity instead of us as individuals. When we pray it, we’re praying humanity collectively does God’s will. We’re not always remembering that we—you and I and everyone else—have to do God’s will too . Usually we’re thinking about how everybody else really oughta follow God’s will, ’cause they don’t, the earth sucks, and it’s their fault. So when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re

Seek the living bread! Accept no substitutes.

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Because some of our visions of New Jerusalem are awfully materialistic… and aren’t so much about being with Jesus. John 6.25-29. At the beginning John’s chapter 6, Jesus had his students feed 5,000 people with five rolls and fish spread. The people’s conclusion? Jesus was the Prophet, the End Times figure, the “prophet like Moses,” Dt 18.15 whom the Pharisees wondered whether John the baptist was. Jn 1.21 Because Jesus fed ’em bread, just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna. So he’s a prophet like Moses! The next day they sought Jesus and couldn’t find him. So they returned to Jesus’s home base of Kfar Nahum… and there he was. John 6.25-27 KWL 25 Finding Jesus on the far side of the lake, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 In reply Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you seek me not because you saw miracles: Instead it’s because you ate the rolls and were filled. 27 Don’t toil for perishable food! Instead seek food which lasts for eternal life. The

Should you lead a small group?

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Basically, get over yourself. If your church doesn’t have a small group to join—or does, but not the sort of small group you’d really like to join—you do realize you can start one, right? They’re not at all hard to start. I’ve started many. Pick some people whom you’d like to involved in your group, pick a time and place, and start meeting. Since you’re doing this above board (right?) let your church leadership know you’re meeting, but otherwise that’s all it really takes. There are only three things that’d prevent you from starting such a group: YOU. You don’t wanna run one, don’t have the time, or don’t feel you’re qualified. YOUR PEOPLE. They don’t wanna come. Or they’re awful. YOUR CHURCH LEADERS. They don’t want one. I’ll deal with each of these issues in turn. First, let’s talk about you . A lot of Christians would love certain ministries to exist in their churches… but they don’t. ’Cause reasons. They might cost money, or the church lacks proper facilities,