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14 February 2019

Valentine’s Day acrostics.

Like I’ve said before: If I grow tired of it, I start mocking it.

Probably the first time I saw one of those John 3.16 Valentine acrostics was back in 2012. It’s where somebody took all the letters in “Valentine,” found ’em within an English translation of the verse, and arranged it so we can “see” John 3.16 is God’s valentine to the world. Like so.
The gospel according to graphic designers. Pinterest

Aww. Now I don’t need syrup for my waffles.

13 February 2019

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

Paul’s not the only one who put together a list, y’know.

Mark 7.17-23 • Matthew 15.15-20.

Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit (like grace) or work of the flesh (like gracelessness) —and it’s one Paul didn't list in Galatians 5. And every so often I’ll get pushback from a Christian who’s got those Galatians lists memorized: “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits of the Spirit.” Yeah it is. Paul didn’t write a comprehensive list. ’Twasn’t his intent.

Sometimes it’s an honest mixup. More often it’s because they don’t want any more good or bad fruit added to the list. ’Cause it either means there’s more we have to do, or more we can’t do. Fewer fleshly behaviors we can get away with; more character traits we really oughta build. Limiting these lists to Galatians alone provides us Christians a handy Pharisee-style loophole for our spiritual growth only going that far—and no further.

But. In addressing the very problem of Pharisees and their loopholes, and how Pharisee customs let ’em get away with violating God’s Law, Jesus had to explain to both his students and the crowd how evil comes from within, not without. It’s not what goes into a person that makes ’em ritually unclean; it’s what comes out. Evil attitudes, intentions, and behaviors defile us. And all of ’em come from the inner person. From the flesh.

Pharisees believed and taught evil comes from the outside in. Entirely wrong. Humans are inherently selfish. But we wanna justify our selfishness so we can (selfishly) feel good about ourselves despite all the destruction we wreak by our self-serving behavior. The result is pretty much all the evil in the world. (The rest come from natural disasters—some of which human behavior has also produced.)

First problem Jesus ran into was his students telling him the lesson had offended the Pharisees. Well, Jesus explained, they’re blind guides. They think they understand God; they really don’t; there’s no telling them anything; forgive it as best you can. Pity the fools.

Second was the students not getting it. They thought this was a parable. It’s not, and Jesus had to spell out how this is one of those instances you gotta take him a little more literally than usual.

Mark 7.17-18 KWL
17 From the crowd, once Jesus entered the house, his students were asking him what “the parable” meant.
18A Jesus told them, “You also don’t understand this?”
Matthew 15.15-16 KWL
15 In reply Simon Peter told Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 Jesus said, “You also don’t understand yet?”

Hey, when it’s a wholly new idea to your culture, sometimes it’s slow to sink in.

12 February 2019

Can’t see; pretty sure they can.

What spiritual blindness looks like.

Matthew 15.12-14 • Luke 6.39-40 • John 9.39-41.

Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus.

But Jesus didn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriate comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man.

So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first.

Matthew 15.12-14 KWL
12 Coming to Jesus, his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outraged?”
13 In reply Jesus said, “Every plant will be uprooted which my heavenly Father didn’t plant.
14 Forgive them; they’re blind guides.
When blind people guide the blind, the both fall into a hole.”

Not every Jew in Jesus’s day was religious. Of the few who were, one sect was the Pharisees—and Jesus taught in their schools, or synagogues. Problem is, Pharisee teachers had created customs which permitted them to bend God’s commands, or even break them outright. And after one Pharisee objected when Jesus and his students skipped their handwashing custom. first Jesus brought up how their customs were frequently hypocrisy… then he went outside and told everyone that being ritually clean or unclean comes from within, not without.

You think this behavior might offend Pharisees? You’d be correct. That’s what Jesus’s kids came to tell him about. In response he called ’em blind guides. Well they were.

11 February 2019

Evil comes from within.

Don’t be so naïve as to think we don’t have any evil in us.

Mark 7.14-16 • Matthew 15.10-11.

So Jesus is lunching with some Pharisee, who has a snit about how he and his students don’t ritually wash when they enter a home, and Jesus turns round and complains how some Pharisee rituals violate the Law.

Now you do recognize it’s a common weaselly debate tactic to change the subject by attacking your opponent, but you should realize Jesus is no weasel: This wasn’t changing the subject, but getting to the very heart of why the Pharisee complained about hand-washing. He wasn’t insisting on it ’cause it offended his sensibilities, his religion, his devotion. He was doing it because it didn’t look good, which is hypocrisy of course. Too much of Pharisee custom was about appearing to follow the Law, but really following custom; the Law not so much.

And as for ritual cleanliness, Jesus wanted to make it obvious the ritual didn’t make anybody or anything clean. The ritual—like all rituals, including Christian rituals—only represents what it purports to do. Ritual cleanliness represents spiritual cleanliness. It’s not the same thing. As proven by any hypocrite—who might be so physically clean you could lick chocolate pudding off his hands, but so nasty inside you never would.

So Jesus took a little break from dinner and went to bring this up with the public:

Mark 7.14-16 KWL
14 Calling the crowd again, Jesus told them, “Everyone listen to me, and put this together.
15 There’s nothing outside a person going in, which can make them ‘common.’
But what comes out of a person is what defiles the person.
[16 If anyone has hearing ears, hear me.”]
Matthew 15.10-11 KWL
10 Calling the crowd, Jesus told them, “Listen and put this together.
11 It’s not what goes into the mouth which makes a person ‘common.’
But what comes out of the mouth—this makes a person ‘common.’ ”

Mark 7.16 isn’t in the oldest copies of Mark; it first showed up in bibles in the 300s, and Jesus did say those words a number of other times. Mk 4.9, 4.23, Lk 8.8, 14.35

I remind you this idea that we’re corrupted from the outside-in: Wasn’t just a popular Pharisee belief. Humans have always taught it. Christians frequently still teach it. Every time we warn our kids about corrupting outside influences—“Be careful, little eyes, what you see”—it’s based on the idea evil comes from without. Not within.

It’s based on Pelagianism, the idea humans are basically good. Pelagians figure God created us and called us good, Ge 1.31 and it’s only pessimistic Christians like St. Augustine, corrupted by Plato’s ideas about how matter is bad, who overlaid his ideas into Christendom and invented total depravity—humans are too selfish and messed up to turn to God without his help. Humans may do evil, but that’s way different from claiming we inherently are evil, been that way since birth; they can’t accept that idea at all.

Well of course they can’t. ’Cause the human self-preservation instinct won’t allow us to believe anything negative about ourselves. No matter what evidence we’ve been shown to the contrary. No matter what Jesus, his apostles, and the scriptures teach us. We choose to believe what makes us feel good about ourselves—and reject history, commonsense, and all the sins we ourselves commit. That’s just how total our depravity is: It inherently makes us not wanna believe in it. It’s no wonder people don’t cry out to Jesus for help: Humanity is in serious denial about how badly we need a savior.

And even when Christians claim we believe in human depravity, some of us think the instant Jesus saved us, and the Holy Spirit entered us, we were cured of our depravity. We used to be self-centered and corrupt, but once we became Christian we’re good. We don’t need to unlearn bad behaviors and grow the Spirit’s fruit; we already have his fruit and are doing just fine. We don’t have to put on God’s new nature Cl 3.10, Ep 4.24 —it’s already on! And so we’re in the very same boat as Pelagians… but hey, at least we’re orthodox.

Yep, that’s also a product of our total depravity. There’s good reason theologians describe it as total: It’s everywhere.

07 February 2019

Jesus gave every Christian a mission.

And missionaries are the only ones who follow through.

MISSIONARY 'mɪ.ʃə.nɛ.ri noun. Person sent on a religious assignment, namely to spread Christianity in another place.

Jesus ordered his students to tell the whole world about his kingdom, and go make him more students. Mt 28.19-20 By πάντα τὰ ἔθνη/pánta ta éthni, every ethnicity (KJV “all the nations”), our Lord really did mean everyone. So Christians obediently have.

Well, some of us. Most of us don’t bother.

Because we tell ourselves that’s a specialized job. One for people who’ve to have a God-experience: Jesus personally spoke to them, or appeared to them, and made us one of his apostles. Only then can we go to other lands and tell the locals about Jesus.

Meanwhile we pray the Moses Prayer…

Exodus 4.13 NLT
But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”

…and avoid anything where Jesus might show up, where we can no longer avoid him or explain him away, where he might actually tell us to obey him already. ’Cause the commission to tell the world about his kingdom isn’t just for apostles. It’s for every Christian. EVERY. CHRISTIAN. And if we’re not doing it, we’ve no business calling ourselves Christian.

But because the bulk of Christians aren’t doing it, we have a designation for Christians who actually obey Jesus: Missionary. This is the tiny minority who obey Jesus.

Most of us do it a little here, a little there. We go on a missions trip for a week or two, pitch in at another church, and use that church as a base from which we can go into the nearby communities and share Jesus. You know, like Barnabas and Paul and their teams did in Acts. It doesn‘t have to be in a foreign country; y’notice Paul doesn’t appear to have ever left the Roman Empire. But there’s something about foreign visitors which really gets the locals’ attention. So by all means take advantage of this interesting trait in human nature, and go share Jesus in some foreign countries.

Some Christians do these mission trips as a career. They travel the world, visiting country after country, connecting with local churches everywhere—or if there isn’t one, helping to get one off the ground. Again, like Barnabas and Paul in Acts.

Some travel to only one country, and plant a church there. Weirdly, we tend to call them “missionaries,” and the folks who do the Barnabas/Paul type stuff “traveling evangelists.” Not that the church planters aren’t just as much missionaries! And not that Jesus doesn’t frequently send people to do exactly as they’re doing. He gives Christians all sorts of specific missions.

But the general mission he gave to every Christian, the one we call the Great Commission, is this one:

Matthew 28.18-20 KWL
18 Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “Every power in heaven and earth is given to me!
19 So go disciple every people-group:
Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
20 and teach them to stick to everything I’ve commanded you.
And look, I’m with you every day—till this age is over.”

Have we got to every people-group yet? No? Then let’s get cracking.