Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

28 December 2018

Give to the truly needy. Not the greedy.

The comfortable don‘t need your charity. The hurting do.

I read a number of blogs. Some because I like the writers; some because I like the subjects the writers bring up.

In one of those blogs, for the past two weeks, the authors temporarily quit writing articles about Christ Jesus and how to argue with others about how to view him follow him better. Instead they’ve been writing ’bout why their ministry is so meaningful.

They do this every December. That’s because they’ve set up a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, and can take donations. Since it’s the end of the year, and maybe you’ve not given as much tax-deductible charity as you might’ve liked, perhaps you could donate to them. Plus someone’s offered them a matching grant: For every dollar you donate, the grant throws in another. They’d love to get their mitts on as big a pile of cash as they can. So they’re a-begging.

Plus—I kid you not—they’d love to install an espresso machine in their coffee bar. It’d be so valuable! ’Cause whenever people stop by their offices, and wanna talk theology with them, they can now make ’em an espresso. So now their loud debates can be fueled by even more caffeine.

Out of curiosity I took a peek at their offices through Google Street View. They’re not in any visible location. They’ve got an office in a strip-mall church. (Not knocking such churches; I’ve been a member of a few. Worship wherever you can.) No doubt the church is subsidizing their activities—hopefully not instead of evangelism or community good works. In any event it doesn’t look like they’d get any foot traffic. Looks like their espresso machine is gonna be far more valuable to staffers and buddies who hang out at their offices. Got my doubts about the visitors.

But still.

Is their ministry meaningful? Sure; it’s why I read their blog. But aren’t there thousands of Christian blogs and ministries on the internet which do precisely the same thing? And don’t spend half December begging for matching-fund espresso machine money? And if their new espresso machine accidentally blew up and killed them, wouldn’t those thousands of blogs and ministries make up for their absence just fine?

Now on the other hand: Which ministries don’t have anyone to immediately step in if they were to disappear? Which ministries serve a real, dire need in God’s kingdom?

You see where I’m going with this. There are charities out there which support the truly needy. Their blog ain’t one of them. My blog ain’t one of them. Arguably no blog is one of them. Don’t give to us!

27 December 2018

Resolutions: Our stabs at self-control.

Of course, making too many at once multiplies your difficulty level.

Speaking for myself, I’m not into new year’s resolutions. Because I make resolutions the year round: If I see changes I need to make in my life, I get to work on ’em. I don’t procrastinate till 1 January. (Though I may procrastinate all the same.)

Here’s the problem with stockpiling lifestyle changes till the new year: Come 1 January, you’re gonna have a vast pile of changes to make. It’s hard enough to make one change; now you have five. (Or 50, depending on how much of a trainwreck you are.) Multiplying your resolutions, multiplies your difficulty level.

But hey, it’s an American custom. So at the year’s end a lot of folks, Christians included, begin to think about what we’d like to change about our lives. What we really should change. Too many carbohydrates? Not enough fitness? Too much time frittered away on non-productive hobbies? Too much money wasted?

Since our culture doesn’t really do self-control, you might notice most Americans’ resolutions don’t have to do with breaking a bad habit so much as adding another one. Good or bad.

True, a lot of us will vow to diet and exercise. Just as many of us will choose to learn gourmet cooking, or resolve to eat at fancier restaurants more often. (Well, so long that the fancier restaurants provide American-size portions. If I only wanted a six-ounce piece of meat I’d go to In-N-Out Burger.)

True, a lot of us will vow to cut back on our screen time—whether on computers, tablets, phones, or televisions. Just as many will decide time isn’t the issue; quality is. They’ll vow to watch better movies and TV shows. Time to binge-watch the shows the critics rave about. Time to watch classic movies instead of whatever Adam Sandler’s production company poops out. Sometimes it’s a clever attempt to avoid cutting back on screen time—’cause they already know they won’t. And sometimes they honestly never think about it; screens are a fact of life.

As Christians, a lot of us will resolve to be better Christians. We’ll pray more. Meditate more. Go to church more consistently; maybe join one of the small groups. Perhaps read more bible—even all the way through. Put more into the collection plate. Share Jesus more often with strangers and acquaintances. Maybe do some missions work.

All good intentions. Yet here’s the problem: It takes self-control to make any resolution stick. It’s why, by mid-March, all these resolutions are likely abandoned. So if we’re ever gonna stick to them, we gotta begin by developing everybody’s least-favorite fruit of the Spirit.

26 December 2018

St. Stephen, and true martyrdom.

The second day of Christmas honors the first martyr.

St. Stephen’s Day falls on 26 December, the second day of Christmas. Not that we know Stephen died on this day; it’s just where western tradition happened to put it. In eastern churches it’s tomorrow, 27 December. (And if they’re still using the old Julian calendar, it’s 9 January to us.) In some countries it’s an official holiday.

You may remember Stéfanos/“Stephen” from Acts 6-7. Yep, he’s that St. Stephen.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, tithes weren’t money, but food. Every year you took 10 percent of your firstfruits and celebrated with it; Dt 14.22-27 every third year you gave it to the needy. Dt 14.28-29 Apparently the first church took on the duty of distributing tithes to the needy. But they were accused of favoring Aramaic-speaking Christians over Greek-speaking ones. Ac 6.1 So the Twelve had the church elect seven Greek-speakers to take over the job. Ac 6.2-3 Stephen was first in the list, and Luke (the author of Acts) pointedly called him full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Ac 6.5 full of God’s grace and power. Ac 6.8 In other words, a standout.

The first church still consisted only of Jews: Christianity was still considered a Judean religion—with the obvious difference being Christians believed Jesus is Messiah, and other Judeans believed Messiah hadn’t yet come. Otherwise Christians still went to temple and synagogue. It was in synagogue where Stephen got into trouble: The people of his synagogue dragged him before the Judean senate, accusing him of slandering Moses, the temple, and God. Custom made slandering Moses and the temple serious, but slandering God could get you the death penalty. So Stephen was brought before the senate to defend himself.

Unlike Jesus, who totally admitted he’s Messiah, Stephen defended himself. His defense was a bible lesson: He retold the history of Israel, up to the construction of the temple. Ac 7.2-47 Then he pointed out God doesn’t live in a building, of all things. Ac 7.48-50 And by the way: The senate was a bunch of Law-breakers who killed Christ. Ac 7.51-53

More than one person has pointed out it’s almost like Stephen was trying to get himself killed. Me, I figure he was young and overzealous and naïve, and had adopted the American myth (centuries before we Americans adopted it) that if you’re on God’s side, no harm will ever befall you. You can bad-mouth your foes, and God’s hedge of protection will magically defend you when they turn round and punch you in the head. You can leap from tall buildings, and angels will catch you. You know, like Satan tried to tempt Jesus with. Mt 4.5-7

Well, that’s not at all how things turned out.

25 December 2018

Twelve days of Christmas.

How we do Christmas… and how we oughta do Christmas.

Today’s the first day of Christmas. Happy Christmas!

And there are 11 more days of it. Tomorrow, which is also Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day, tends to get called “the day after Christmas,” but it’s not. It’s the second day of Christmas.

The Sunday after Christmas (and in many years, two Sundays after Christmas) is still Christmas. So I go to church and wish people a happy Christmas. And they look at me funny, till I remind them, “Christmas is 12 days, y’know. Like the song.”

Ah, the song.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two turtledoves
And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Three french hens
Two turtledoves
And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four calling birds
Three french hens
Two turtledoves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Thus far into the song, that’s 20 birds. There will be plenty more, what with the swans a-swimming and geese a-laying. Dude was weird for birds. But I digress.

There are 12 days of Christmas, but our culture focuses on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and we’re done. Two days of Christmas. And some of us cannot abide any more than that. When I remind people there are 12 days of Christmas, their look is not that of surprise, recognition, or pleasure. It’s tightly controlled rage. Who the [expletive noun] added 11 more days to this [expletive adjective] holiday? They want it done already.

I understand that. Whenever the focus gets off Christ, and gets onto all the traditions we’re obligated or forced to practice this time of year, Christmas sucks. You know the routine: Irritating customs, fake sentimentality, forced interaction with awful people, reciprocal gift-giving, bad music, bad pageantry, tasteless ornaments, and of course the new political custom of being a dick to people who only wish us “Happy Holidays” instead of the mandatory “Merry Christmas.” I don’t blame people for hating that stuff. Really, Christians should hate it. It’s works of the flesh, y’know.

Christmas, the feast of Christ Jesus’s nativity (from whence we get foreign names for Christmas like Navidad and Noël and Natale) begins 25 December and ends 5 January. What are we to do those other 11 days? Same as we were supposed to do Christmas Day: Remember Jesus. Meditate on his first coming; look forward to his second coming. And rejoice; these are feast days, so the idea is to actually enjoy yourself, and have a good time with loved ones. Eat good food. Hang out. Relax. Or, if you actually like to shop, go right ahead; but if you don’t, by all means don’t.

It’s a holiday. Take a holiday.

24 December 2018

When God became human.

This is an idea people still have a hard time wrapping their brains around.

INCARNATE /'ɪn.kɑrn.eɪt/ verb To put (an idea or abstract concept) into a concrete form.
2. Put a deity or spirit into a human form.
3. /ɪn'kɑr.nət/ adjective Embodied in flesh, or concrete form.
[Incarnation /ɪn.kɑr;neɪ.ʃən/ n.]

Our Christian theology terms tend to come from Greek or Latin. This one too. Why? Because they sound much more formal and sanctimonious than plain English. In-carnátio is Latin for “put into meat.” Seriously. And though “put into meat” tends to make people flinch, it’s not wrong:

John 1.14 KWL
The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.
We got a good look at his significance—
the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.

Yep, it’s orthodox Christian theology. The word of God, meaning God, Jn 1.1 became flesh. Meat. Not temporarily; not for a few decades while he walked around on earth, but when he ascended to heaven he took humanity off. God is meat. Flesh, bone, blood, spit, mucus, cartilage, hair, teeth, bile, tears. MEAT.

Not just look human. Not take over an existing human, scoop out the spirit, and replace it with his Holy Spirit. These are some of the many weird theories people have coined about how Jesus isn’t really or entirely human. Mainly they were invented by people who are outraged by the idea of God demeaning himself by becoming meat.

Yeah, demeaning. To them it makes God less-than-God. It undoes his divinity: He’d have to be limited instead of unlimited. They don’t define God by his character, but what they really covet in God: His power. His raw, unlimited abilities and attributes. Jesus was that, they insist: Beneath a millimeter of skin, Jesus was divinity incognito, only pretending to be limited for the sake of the masses. But really omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omni-everything.

Incarnation soils God. It dirties him. Meat is icky. Humanity, mortality, the realness of our everyday existence, is too nasty for God to submit to. Sweating. Aching. Pains and sickness. Peeing and pooping. Suffering from acne and bug bites and rashes. Belching and farting. Sometimes the trots from bad shawarma the night before. Waking up with a morning erection… Have I outraged you yet? You’re hardly the first.

But this, as we can all attest, is humanity. Not even sinful humanity; I haven’t touched upon that at all. Just regular, natural, physical humanity. If God became human, he became that. And people can’t even abide that.

But it’s true. And God did it intentionally. He wanted us to be with him. So he made the first move, and became one of us.