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14 May 2019

Unidirectional prayer: We talk. God doesn’t. No point.

No it’s not how prayer works. But you’d be surprised how many Christians believe otherwise.

Too many people firmly believe God doesn’t talk back when we pray. We talk to the sky, we form sentences in our head… and God doesn’t respond. At all. Not a word. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. May as well have spoken to a brick wall. Heck, a brick wall’d be more responsive, ’cause people have graffito’d on it.

Now I can totally understand when pagans adopt this mindset: They don’t talk to God. Or they talk to fake gods, which of course don’t speak back, ’cause they’re imaginary. So what would they know about what prayer is and how it works? Stands to reason they’d think prayer is nothing more than putting “good energy” out into the universe, and expecting to get some of it back, ’cause karma.

But a disturbing number of Christians think this way. Seriously.

Often ’cause they’re cessationist and think God switched off the miracles inbetween bible times and the End Times. This’d include prayer. So they’re entirely sure he listens. But in this present era, he never, ever talks.

Yeah it’s crap, but they firmly believe it: That whole “I’ll never leave nor forsake you” bit in the bible? He 13.5 Technically he didn’t leave… but in order to emphasize how he’s not gonna intervene in human history anymore, the only way he cares to reveal his will anymore is through the scriptures. If God communicates at all, it’ll only be through feelings—when we read the bible, it’ll bring out the feels, and that’ll tell us we’re on the right track. You’ll feel this powerful sense of self-righteous conviction. Your mind’ll snap shut like a bear trap. Or you’ll have understood it wrong, so you’ll feel anxious and unsatisfied, like an ex-smoker whose nicotine patch isn’t strong enough. And if you feel nothing… well, which one do you think you oughta feel? Concentrate really hard. Maybe you’ll start feeling it!

If you can’t detect the mockery in this description: Hi there. Welcome to TXAB, my blog where I talk about following Jesus. Sometimes I use sarcasm. Read enough and you’ll get the hang of it.

Anyway, the reason these Christians believe as they do is ’cause their fellow Christians taught ’em wrong. Not intentionally; it’s the garbage they were taught, in an unbroken line back to various faithless individuals who weren’t listening to God, didn’t try, guessed at how he works without looking to the scriptures for evidence, guessed horribly, woefully wrong, and now God’s a deadbeat Dad.

The Orthodox, Catholics, and early Protestants correctly taught God talks back, and suppressed those who taught otherwise. When the suppression ended, the idea God doesn’t talk spread. (Hey, sometimes freedom of religion is a double-edged sword.) So over the past five centuries there’s been a lot of teachings, theology, and practices centered on the idea God doesn’t talk. Instead—like a deafmute who thinks he’ll be cured soon, so he stubbornly never learns sign language—for TWENTY CENTURIES God’s supposedly been manipulating us through warm fuzzy feelings. Is it any wonder Christians come in a thousand denominations?

Obviously these folks never learned to listen to God. Or think he would only speak in an audible voice—and if he does, it’d be rarely, to only a very small number of prophets. That is, unless prophecy’s done till the End Times; till then we gotta make do with bible-based warm feelings.

I grew up cessationist, and man alive is it difficult to read anything they’ve written on prayer. It’s faithless, godless, and largely useless. Because if prayer isn’t two-way communication, that’s what it is: Useless.

13 May 2019

The Holy Spirit’s temple: Multiple Christians.

God only has the one temple: His church.

From time to time Christians talk about how you, singular, individually, are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

’Cause the Spirit is sealed to every individual Christian. Ep 1.13 He lives in the heart of every single believer. And whatever God lives in is, properly, his temple. If he lives in you, it makes you his temple. If he lives in another Christian, it makes that person a temple. Dozens of Christians are dozens of temples. Billions of Christians are billions of temples. Get it?

But it’s not accurate. God has one temple.

As was kinda emphasized in the bible. Moses built the portable temple at Sinai, which English-speaking Christians call the tabernacle, and that was the temple for 4 centuries till Solomon ben David built a permanent one of gold-plated cedar in Jerusalem. The Babylonians burnt that down; Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel built another of stone; Herod 1 and his successors renovated it; the Romans eventually destroyed it. It was the one and only place the LORD intended to meet people for worship and sacrifice; it was the one and only place they kept his ark, representing his relationship with Israel. It was the one and only his name dwelt Dt 12.11 —which was the LORD’s way of putting it, ’cause obviously the Almighty can’t be contained by a mere building.

But the Jerusalem temple wasn’t the only temple of the LORD on earth. Jeroboam ben Nabat, king of Samaria, feared losing subjects to the king of Jerusalem, so he built two more temples. They didn’t have arks, but Jeroboam put gold calf idols in them, figuring that’d do; and since there’s a whole command against idolatry in the Ten Commandments, God and his prophets condemned Jeroboam’s temples ever after. After the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, Egyptian Jews in exile constructed a temple to the LORD in Alexandria, and Samaritans constructed a temple to the LORD at Mt. Gerazim. But neither of these temples were commanded nor authorized by God. He had his own plans. Always had.

And once his temple’s veil ripped open, Mt 27.51 it signifies God wasn’t interested in being worshiped from Herod’s stone building any longer. He was gonna build a temple from entirely different stones: Living people. Christians. Every Christian.

I’m not the Spirit’s temple; I’m one of the stones of its temple.

As are you. As is every Christian. We’re parts of his temple. Because the temple us us—collectively. The Spirit doesn’t have billions of temples; he only has the one. Same as always.

10 May 2019

Guard your heart.

Which properly means guard your mind.

Proverbs 4.23.

Proverbs 4.23 NIV
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

As a teenager I heard many a youth pastor quote this verse. Except they’d use the 1984 edition of the NIV, which goes, “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Which I like much better than the update; it’s more poetic. Although the way I initially memorized it was the KJV’s “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life.”

They quoted it ’cause they were encouraging us kids to be very, very careful about who or what we loved. ’Cause you know teenagers: Either you are one, or used to be one. And I’ll be blunt: Teens are so horny. The flood of new hormones in our systems, combined with how we’ve not yet learned to control our emotions, don’t help at all. I had all sorts of crushes on all sorts of girls and women, and stifled them as best I could. Of course, once two teenagers find they’re mutually attracted to one another, they seldom stifle anything, which is why so many of the kids in my youth group—good Christians or not—were fornicating like monkeys in the zoo. Precisely what parents and pastors fear. Hence all the sermons.

Of course “guard your heart” has other applications. Because teens are immature, they fall for anything. Not just for sexual temptations; they get sucked up into any ridiculous fad. Fr’instance my nephew is into vaping. It’s dumb, but so’s cigarettes, and I knew plenty of kids who got into cigarettes for the very same reason: They figured it was cool, all their friends did it, and they were so susceptible to peer pressure. At his age I liked to think I stood apart from the crowd, but even so, I got into all sorts of fads. And trouble. I was young and naïve, didn’t know any better, didn’t listen to the adults who did: I followed my heart every which way.

Hence adults kept returning to this verse, time and again. Or at least these three words: “Guard your heart.”

Don’t follow the crowd’s taste in music, clothes, cars, and especially misbehavior. Don’t fall in love with the wrong people, especially half-hearted Christians who might lead you away from Jesus—or worse, pagans. Don’t have sex, lest the girl get pregnant and wind up having an abortion (and since this was a conservative church, everyone pretended this never happened, even though I personally know five girls in my youth group whose pregnancies way-too-conveniently disappeared). Marry, but not yet—not till you’ve finished college, secured a good career, and made other caveats to Mammonism which Christians like to disguise as “good stewardship.” Basically anything which might derail your parents’ plans for your life: Just don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. Telling teenagers to get hold of their emotions is very good advice. Hard to follow, but still good advice. ’Cause teenagers—and for that matter most adults—don’t know how. They’ve never developed because kids suck the Spirit’s fruit of self-control, of gentleness, of learning the difference between love and desire. Hormones fuddle teenage minds way beyond reason. Even if the poor kids do learn some level of self-control in childhood, they’re going through an entirely new obstacle course. Adults who never learned self-control either, imagine the solution is to give kids lots of rules… as if that tactic ever worked on them. What teens, and really all of us, need is patience, kindness, guidance, and grace.

But since this article is part of my series on bible verses in context, you know I’m gonna point out that Solomon wasn’t writing about emotions.

09 May 2019

The fruit of faithfulness, or the fruit of faith?

Everybody knows by now Christians should be good. Pity Christians don’t always know this. Nor try to be.

Where Paul lists the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians, a lot of bibles translate one of the words he used, πίστις/pístis, as “faithfulness.” But that’s not the usual way pístis gets translated in the bible. Typically it’s translated “faith.”

And that’s what I believe Paul meant: Faith. Not faithfulness. Not that faithfulness isn’t an admirable trait; not that good fruitful Christians aren’t faithful to God—and faithful to fellow Christians, even when we mess up or sin against one another. But then again, nontheists, pagans, and people of other religions, are frequently faithful to their beliefs and principles, and notoriously stick to them even tighter than Christians will to ours. Heck, dogs are faithful. Loyalty doesn’t take the Holy Spirit. Misbegotten loyalty proves that.

Whereas faith is obviously the product of the Spirit: When people don’t have the Spirit, we won’t trust the Spirit. We won’t believe the bible. We’ll invent all sorts of reasons why we needn’t believe it, shouldn’t believe it, ought never take it seriously, don’t gotta obey it. Our unbelief will overwhelm any chance for us to listen to him, step out in faith, and do the unlikely or impossible. And Christians who don’t trust the Spirit are seriously hindered in their Christian growth. Don’t practice much of the other fruit of the Spirit either.

I’ve written plenty on TXAB about faith, and expect to write plenty more. It’s a practice we always need to strive to do. It helps us grow like nothing else. Even small increments are profoundly powerful; like Jesus pointed out, mustard-grain faith can shove mountains over. Mt 17.20 But never be satisfied with that little faith! God always wants to grow our faith. So let’s follow him.

How does it grow? Simple: Practice. We step out in faith. When tells us something, we act on it. We don’t just leave it untested, in fear nothing will happen and we’ll look stupid. Those who lack faith, will never challenge their faith. This is why whenever they encounter real challenges to their faith—a loved one dies, or they suffer loss, or a cherished belief gets shattered like so much idolatrous pottery—their so-called “faith” bursts like a soap bubble. Untested faith, as James described it, is faith without works. And faith without works is dead. Jm 2.17 It’s fake faith, easily exploded.

So you wanna grow the fruit? Look for the faith-stretching opportunities the Spirit gives us. Step out. Watch him act. Watch your faith grow.

08 May 2019

Praying for shrubbery.

Or as it’s more commonly known, the “hedge of protection.”

In Job, right after the LORD commended Job for being such a good and faithful servant, the devil countered with this.

Job 1.9-11 KWL
9 Satan told the LORD in reply, “Job fears God for no reason.
10 Don’t you wall around him, his house, all he has, round about?
You bless his handiwork, and his possessions fill the land. 11 Now please:
Stretch out your hand and touch all he has. He won’t publicly bless you then.”

Y’know, 99 times out of 100, here in the United States, I’d say the devil hit the nail right on the head. Mess with our stuff and we’ll think God either abandoned us, or was never really here. Job was as good as the LORD said—and really, why would the LORD’ve thought incorrectly about Job? ’Cause omniscience. But I digress.

In the King James Version שַׂ֣כְתָּ/sakhtá is translated “made an hedge.” In 1611 this meant a wall of any sort; could be stones, could be thornbushes. In present-day English we only use “hedge” to describe shrubbery. One that looks nice, and not too expensive.

Well, we also use “hedge” in our prayers. Go to enough prayer meetings and one of these days you’ll hear someone use this particular Christianese saying: “And Lord, we just wanna ask for a hedge of protection around our team as they minister…” Sometimes they make it “a hedge of thorns,” just to make it extra hard to get through.

They don’t always know where they got the saying from, but it’s from that Job passage. (And if you wanna freak people out, point out it’s a direct quote from Satan, of all people. That’ll get ’em to read their bibles.)

There’s nothing wrong with asking for such hedges round yourself. Part of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Deliver us from evil”—or from the Evil One, as some translations have it. Mt 6.13 Whenever possible we’d like God’s hedge round us. But note, as we see in Job’s case, God can put it up or take it down as he wishes.