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04 July 2019

Dual citizenship… and picking a side.

Many Christians are fond of saying, “This world isn’t my home. Heaven is.”

To a degree that’s true. We’re part of God’s kingdom, with Christ Jesus as king. We recognize his reign, or try to; and follow him, more or less. Or at least we expect—despite our unloving, unkind,> impatient, fruitless behavior, he’ll nonetheless graciously recognize us as his followers when he takes over the world. Maybe he will.

In the meanwhile we’re also citizens of our nations. I’m a citizen of the United States. As are many of TXAB’s readers, which is why I so often get U.S.-centric. Of course I realize the site gets readers from all over: You might be a citizen of Canada, China, France, Israel, Germany, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom… and that’s the top 10, so if I didn’t mention your nation you’re just gonna have to enlist more of your friends to read, and bump up your stats. Anywho as Christians we’re all fellow citizens of God’s kingdom. Yet at the same time we have allegiances to our respective homelands.

In the U.S., if you’re both a citizen of this country and another one, we call you a “dual citizen.” We have lots of ’em. Officially the U.S. only recognizes one citizenship: Ours. (So pay your taxes. It’s why Americans who don’t even live in the States are still required to pay American taxes.) When people become Americans, our citizenship oath requires ’em to renounce their previous citizenship. But if their original homeland doesn’t care about that, and still counts them a citizen, they’re dual citizens. Most of the dual citizens I know are also Mexican citizens, and take full advantage of their Mexican citizenship whenever they’re in Mexico. One friend’s from the U.K.—and when he visits family in the U.K., he’ll even switch his accent from Californian to Londoner.

But here’s the catch with dual citizenship: The time might come when you gotta pick one nation over the other.

Say you were a citizen of both the U.S. and Russia. And say we went to war. (Hope we never, ever do, but let’s just say.) Well, you have to pick a side. Especially if you work for the government—of either nation. Neither country will let you stay neutral. You’ve gotta be wholly American, or wholly Russian. (Or you’ve gotta flee to Argentina.)

Well, that’s how Christians are when it comes to our national citizenships. I’m a dual citizen of God’s kingdom, and the United States. So what happens when the States does something hostile to the kingdom? Right you are: I gotta pick a side. And I’ll just bluntly tell you now I’m picking Jesus. Like any immigrant, I may have been born American, but I choose citizenship in his kingdom. So Jesus takes priority. Don’t even have to think about it.

Much as I love the United States, I’m fully aware when Jesus returns, he’s overthrowing it. When he raptures his followers to join his invasion, we’re gonna help him overthrow it. I’m gonna help him overthrow it. Willingly. Gladly.

If that sounds like treason against the United States, it totally is. And if it makes you as an American feel uncomfortable, it should. Because as a Christian you need to pick sides. This isn’t a hypothetical situation, y’know. Jesus is returning. Not “could return”: Is returning. Not in some “spiritual sense,” by which most folks think imaginary. He’s literally, physically coming to earth to take it over. Maybe not in our lifetimes… but maybe he will; we don’t know.

So where’s your allegiance? ’Cause when he returns, you’re gonna be on one side or the other. Better not be the wrong one.

03 July 2019

Civic idolatry: The “Christian nation.”

When people convince themselves their homeland is an outpost of God’s kingdom.

CIVIC IDOLATRY 'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tri noun. Worship of one’s homeland, its constitution, its government, or its leaders.
[Civically idolatrous 'sɪv.ɪk.(ə.)li aɪ'dɑl.ə.trəs adjective, civic idolater 'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tər noun.]

Tomorrow’s Independence Day in the United States.

In 1776, the British Parliament, insisting they had the right to tax their North American colonies, had violated their colonial charters. The king had sided with Parliament and declared them outside his protection. Congress, representing 13 of the colonies, interpreted this to mean they were independent states, and officially declared themselves so on 4 July. (Or 2 July, depending on which founder you talk to.)

So this week, Americans are gonna express a whole lot of patriotism. American Christians included. As we should.

However, many American Christians regularly cross a line between the love of one’s homeland, and descend into outright worship of the United States. It’s idolatry, and when it’s directed towards a nation we call it nationalism or civic idolatry. It’s when love for our country stops being reasonable and fair-minded; when we treat it, its symbols, its values, and its institutions as holy. And when we treat criticism or contempt for it as blasphemy.

Heck, for those people, my even talking about the subject is blasphemy. Although they’ll call it unpatriotic, subversive, traitorous: How dare I say love of country is a bad thing?

Again: Not saying that. But when love of “God and country” get blended together as if they’re the same thing, we got idolatry. When we attribute things to the United States that are only legitimately true of God, we got idolatry. When our nation takes precedence over the growth of God’s kingdom, we got idolatry. Sometimes in our dual citizenship with the kingdom and the world, we gotta pick a side… and when we pick the world, it’s idolatry.

02 July 2019

Get in the closet.

Matthew 6.5-6.

The proper way to pray is aloud.

You’re talking to God, right? Which means you’re talking to God. Not praying silently—in other words thinking at God. You’re speaking to him out loud.

I know; a lot of Christians pray silently, and it’s the only way they pray, ’cause most of the time it’s not appropriate to pray aloud. If everybody in church simultaneously prayed aloud, it’d get loud. If you prayed aloud at work, people’d think you’re weird. If you prayed in public school, some idiot would complain about it. In general, we’re encouraged to pray silently, and that’s understandable in a lot of places. But Christians get the wrong idea and think we’re always to pray silently. No we’re not.

Lookit how Jesus demonstrates prayer in the scriptures. When he went off to pray, even by himself, privately between him and the Father, other people could overhear him. Like in Gethsemane. Mt 26.39, Lk 22.41-42 The reason we even have records in the bible of people’s prayers, is ’cause these folks weren’t silent. They spoke.

I should add: Praying in your mind is much harder than praying aloud. Because the mind wanders. (As it’s supposed to. That’s how the creative process works.) In the middle of our mental conversations with God, stray thoughts pop into our heads. In a verbal conversation, we can choose whether we’ll say such things aloud, but in a mental conversation, we can’t do that: There they are. We just thought ’em. They interrupted our prayers, like a rude friend who thinks he’s being funny, but isn’t. Ordinarily we ignore those thoughts. Now we can’t.

Even the most well-trained minds struggle with that. And a lot of Christians get frustrated with it, so they give up and pray seldom, if at all. Don’t do that. If you lose your train of thought all the time during prayer, stop praying silently. Pray aloud. It helps a lot.

“But what,” Christians object, “about privacy?” Discussions between us and God are often sensitive. We don’t want people listening in on our conversations, like they do when we answer our mobile phones at the coffeehouse. We want privacy. That’s why we go with mental prayers in the first place.

Well, that’s where the prayer closet comes in. Do you have one? If not, get one.

01 July 2019

The yeast of hypocrisy.

Mark 8.14-21 • Matthew 16.5-12 • Luke 12.1.

After the most recent encounter Jesus had with Pharisees—namely where they wanted an End Times sign from him, not because they wanted proof Jesus is Messiah, but so they could shred his “sign” as bogus—Jesus decided to remind his students what sort of people they were dealing with. Not that all Pharisees were this way… hence his choice of metaphor.

Mark 8.14-15 KWL
14 The students forgot to take bread,
and they hadn’t one roll with them in the boat.
15 Jesus instructed them, saying “Listen. Watch out for the Pharisees’ yeast and Herod’s yeast.”
Matthew 16.5-6 KWL
5 Jesus’s students, coming to the far side of the lake,
forgot to bring bread.
6 Jesus told them, “Listen and pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
Luke 12.1 KWL
When the crowds of 10,000 gathered together such that they were trampling one another,
Jesus first began to tell his students,
“Watch out for yourselves about the Pharisees’ yeast—which is hypocrisy.”

Luke, which has this story take place after Jesus had just critiqued several Pharisee behaviors he identified as hypocrisy, straight-up interprets his own metaphor. He wants no confusion. Because in Mark and Matthew there was a lot of confusion: Jesus’s students were fixated on the fact they didn’t bring any bread with them.

As if Jesus was concerned in the slightest about a bread shortage. As he immediately pointed out.

Mark 8.16-21 KWL
16 They talked among themselves about not having bread.
17 Knowing this, Jesus told them, “Why are you talking about not having bread?
You don’t yet think nor understand; you have hardened hearts.
18 You have unseeing eyes and have unlistening ears, and don’t remember:
19 When I broke the five rolls for 5,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Twelve.”
20 “And when I broke seven for 4,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Seven.”
21 Jesus told them, “How do you not yet understand?”
Matthew 16.7-12 KWL
7 They talked among themselves, saying this: “We didn’t take bread.”
8 Knowing this, Jesus said, “Why are you little-faiths talking among yourselves about not having bread?
9 You don’t think nor remember the five rolls for 5,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
10 Nor the seven rolls for 4,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
11 How do you not think?—because I’m not talking to you about bread!
Pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
12 Then the students realized Jesus wasn’t saying to pay attention to bread yeast,
but the teaching of Pharisees and Sadducees.

It’s an all-too-common human problem: We get so fixated on immediate concerns, we miss the bigger, eternal point.

And that’s still true of Christians who read this passage, get some really funny ideas about yeast, and again miss Jesus’s entire point. And wind up misinterpreting other parts of the bible too.

26 June 2019

What’s the difference between a seer and a prophet?

Short answer: No difference. Long answer… well, read on.

In case you’re the sort of person who skips titles (a phenomenon I’ve seen a bunch of times, and still don’t get), I remind you this article is called “What’s the difference between a seer and a prophet?”

Short answer: No difference. Same thing.

1 Samuel 9.9 KWL
In the past, in Israel, a man said this when he went to seek God: “Walk, walk to the seer.”
For “the prophet” today was “the seer” in the past.

The Hebrew רֹאֶה/rohéh, “seer,” is the noun-form of the verb רָאָה/raháh, “to see.” It means what we mean by “seer”: A person who can see. A person whose eyeballs work, so they can point ’em at stuff and identify what they’re looking at. It’s not a complicated word. When I see rainbows, I’m a seer of rainbows. Duh. But when they used this word in the bible they obviously had an attached idea that a seer saw something more than others could. ’Cause like all legitimate prophets, seers had the Holy Spirit, who’d show ’em stuff.

It’s a term which didn’t entirely die out “in the past,” because we find it in the late-biblical-Hebrew book Chronicles. “Khanani the seer” was sent to correct King Asa ben Abijah—who jailed him for it. 2Ch 16.7-10

So since there are prophets today, there are seers today. Every prophet is a seer.

But.

Nowadays, there are Christians who like to differentiate between kinds of prophets. Are there different kinds of prophets? Sure:

  • Mature prophets, who know how to listen to God, confirm his messages with others, submit to scrutiny, and share these messages in love.
  • Immature prophets, who do hear the Spirit, but their “ministry” is far more about self-promotion than sharing his word. So they exercise no patience, and little love: They hastily extrapolate the Spirit’s smallest words into something he doesn’t mean, more based on their wishes, attitudes, and biases.
  • Fake prophets, who come up with their “prophecies” on their own. Sometimes intentionally and fraudulently. Sometimes not, ’cause they’ve been tricked too.

But some prophecy teachers (not to be confused with “prophecy scholars”) claim there are different kinds of prophets, and there is so a difference between a prophet and a seer. Y’see, a seer is still a prophet. But whereas an ordinary prophet does such-and-so, a seer does this-’n-that. A regular prophet gets revelation thisaway, and a seer gets revelation thataway.

Yeah, I didn’t tell you just how they’re different. That’s because the definitions vary. One prophecy teacher claims one thing, and another prophecy teacher another. Because none of ’em are getting their definitions from bible. They’re making ’em up. These are the clever-sounding things they “discovered” about the different ways God messages his people.

The most common redefinition, which sorta makes sense, is that seers see: God gives them visions. Whereas other prophets just hear stuff or know stuff. Depending on your prophecy teacher, a seer has full-on wide-awake apocalyptic visions, or regularly has prophetic dreams, or tends to see certain things in the real world which others can’t—sorta like the augmented reality of a video game, like Pokémon Go, where you can see pokémon through your phone but others, who don‘t have the app, can’t. Apparently seers can see all the heavenly pokémon.

Other redefinitions are based on what these seers see. And since the scriptures make no distinction between one seer and another (same as there’s no distinction between one prophet and another—well, other than mature, immature, and fake) I ignore them. The bible defines what a seer is, not some prophecy teacher who’s trying to sell books and seminars. And the bible says seers are prophets. C’est tout.