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The fear of what meditation might “open you up to.”

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Years ago in a prayer group, our prayer leader asked us to sit a moment and meditate on the lesson we’d just heard. “And I know,” she said; “some of you are worried about this whole ‘meditation’ thing. You’re worried it’ll open you up to evil spirits or something. Well, you’re Christians. It won’t.” She didn’t go into any further detail; she wanted to get to the exercise, and didn’t want to spend the rest of prayer time explaining why it won’t happen. I’ve got time, so I will explain. There are a lot of Christians who are big on what they call “spiritual warfare.” Which isn’t at all what the scriptures call spiritual warfare, i.e. resisting temptation: They think spiritual warfare means we fight evil spirits. Mostly by praying against them, but often by constantly, carefully watching out for boogeymen. Because they believe evil spirits are everywhere. Everywhere. Behind every corner. Even in the corners of our prayer closets. Waiting to pounce. This dark Christian mi

Meditate.

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MEDITATE 'mɛd.ə.teɪt verb. Think deeply or carefully about something. 2. Focus one’s mind for a period of time, for religious, spiritual, or relaxation purposes. [Meditation mɛd.ə'teɪ.ʃən noun .] Mention meditation to the average person, and images immediately come to mind of sitting cross-legged on the floor, hands out, eyes closed, humming “Om” or something mindless. ’Cause you’re trying to blank your mind. And that’d be eastern meditation. It’s the sort we find among Hindus, Buddhists, and Californians. It’s grown in popularity because it’s a useful way to get rid of stress and relax. But it’s not middle eastern meditation, the sort we find among Christians. Well, assuming we even meditate. Many don’t. Those who do, stumbled into the habit and don’t realize we’re actually meditating. Or we were given other names for it, like “contemplation” or “practicing God’s presence” or “Christian mysticism”—a term which tends to weird dark Christians out just as much

What do people think Jesus is?

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Mark 8.27-30, Matthew 16.13-20, Luke 9.18-21. Provincial leaders in the Roman Empire liked to suck up to their emperors, which is why there were cities named Καισάρεια / Kesáreia , “Cæsarea,” dotting the empire. Ancient Israel had two. The usual city referred to in the New Testament as Cæsarea is also called Cæsarea Maritima; it’s on the Mediterranean coast of northern Israel. The other is in Philip Herod’s province, so it got called Cæsarea Philippi. Today it’s called Banias. Banias is actually an Arabic distortion of its original name, Πανειάς / Paneiás . It was named for the pagan god Pan. Likely Pan was originally Baal-Gad, one of the many Baals in the middle east, and when Alexander and the Greeks attached Greek names to everything, they referred to this Baal as Pan. The Greeks depicted Pan as a goat-man with a flute, but Pan comes from πάντως / pántos , “everything”: It’s a nature god, and therefore the god of everything . It’s considered a minor god because it didn’t ha

Christians who lack faith.

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Nope, didn’t title this piece “Christians who doubt.” Because everybody doubts. Which isn’t a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gullible simpletons who can’t discern the difference between truth and rubbish. Mt 10.16 If we just put our faith in people indiscriminately—believe everything our friends say, believe everything the politicians tweet, believe everything the anti-vaxxer websites claim, never fact-check our preachers to make sure what they’re telling us is valid—we’re gonna be such fools. Doubt away. But there’s a very particular form of doubt Jesus objects to most: Doubting him . So when we talk about “Christians who lack faith,” it’s not about Christians who question all the doctrines and teachings which we presume are settled, like good postmoderns will do. It’s about Christians who lack faith in Jesus . Yep him —not fellow Christians. And sometimes these Christians will try to mix these categories together: They’ll insist if you doubt them,

Jesus is the good pastor: The sheep come first.

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John 10.11-21. Roman Catholics tend to call their clergymen “father,” but Protestants prefer “pastor,” which means “shepherd.” Some Protestants are okay with “father” too, but some of ’em really aren’t. Usually they’re anti-Catholics, who like to argue we’re not to call one another “father” because Jesus said so; because we only have one Father, in heaven. Mt 23.9 Fine. But in today’s bible passage, Jesus points out we only have one pastor, namely him, Jn 10.16 so if they wanna be so literal about the one passage, it’s kinda hypocritical for them to ignore the other. But I digress. If we’re using Jesus as our example (’cause duh) we need to look at the ways in which he’s our pastor, and should expect the same of our various church leaders—whether we formally gave ’em the title “pastor” or not. And when Jesus speaks about being the good pastor, he defined it in pretty much one sentence, the one right after “I’m the good pastor.” John 10.11-18 KWL 11 “I’m the good

Relativism. (’Cause we aren’t all that absolute.)

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RELATIVISM 'rɛl.ə.də.vɪ.zəm noun. Belief that truth, knowledge, and morals are based on context, not absolutes. [Relative 'rɛl.ə.dɪv adjective , relativist 'rɛl.ə.də.vɪst noun .] Relativism is a big, big deal to Christian apologists. I’ll get to why in a minute; bear with me as I introduce the concept. Some of us were raised by religious people, and were taught to believe in religious absolutes: God is real, Jesus is alive, sin causes death, love your neighbor. Others weren’t raised religious, but they grew up in a society which accepts and respects absolutes. Like scientific principles, logic, mathematics, or a rigid code of ethics. The rest— probably the majority— claim they believe in absolutes, but they’re willing to get all loosey-goosey whenever the absolutes get in their way. They might agree theft is bad… but it’s okay if they shoplift every once in a while. Murder is bad… but dropping bombs on civilians during wartime is acceptable. Lying is bad

Jesus is the gate: Don’t go around him!

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John 10.1-10. Right after Jesus cured a blind guy on Sabbath, for which the guy’s synagogue threw him out, Jesus commented some folks only think they can see, but they’re blind as well. Then he segued straight into talking about sheep. Like so. John 9.40 – 10.10 KWL 40 Some of the Pharisees were listening to these things, and told Jesus , “We aren’t blind too.” 41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin. You now say ‘We do so see’—and your sin remains. 1 Amen amen! I promise you one who wo n’t enter through the sheepfold gate, but gets in some other way: This person is a thief, a looter. 2 One who enters through the gate is the sheep’s pastor. 3 The gatekeeper opens up for this pastor , and the sheep hears the pastor’s voice. The pastor calls their own sheep, and leads them out. 4 Whenever the pastor drives out their own sheep , they go on ahead of the pastor , and their pastor follows, for they know their pastor’s voice. 5

When a well-known Christian quits Jesus.

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Back in July, Christian popular author Joshua Harris announced he’s no longer Christian. Which was a bit of a shock to people who hadn’t kept up with him—who only knew him from his books, particularly his best-known book I Kissed Dating Goodbye . Which no doubt has prompted a lot of headlines and comments about Harris kissing Jesus goodbye. I had to resist the temptation to use that for this article’s title. I was obligated to read I Kissed Dating Goodbye at the Christian school where I taught. Some of my students’ youth pastors were inflicting it on them. It’s basically his promotion of “courtship,” as certain conservative Evangelicals call sexless, heavily chaperoned dating. In the book it’s how he claimed God wants people to find their mates. In my article on courtship, I pointed out the bible depicts no such thing; courtship is entirely a western cultural construct. Nothing wrong with it when it’s voluntary; everything wrong with it if your parents or church force it upo

Altar calls: Come on down!

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ALTAR 'ɔl.tər noun . A table or block used as the focus for a religious ritual, particularly offerings or ritual sacrifices to a deity. 2. In Christianity, the table used to hold the elements for holy communion. 3. In some churches, the stage, the steps to the stage, or the space in front of the stage, where people go as a sign of commitment. During our worship services, sometimes Christians are invited to leave our seats and come forward to the stage. It’s called an altar call . Thing is, we’re not sure how the term originated. ’Cause the stage, or the front of the stage, wasn’t called an altar back then. The altar was the communion table. My guess is people were originally instructed to gather by the communion table. In a lot of churches, that altar is front and center; in the church I went to as a child, it was right in front of the preacher’s podium. But when evangelists held rallies, whether at a concert hall, sports arena, outdoor stadium, theater, high scho

Take notes.

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It’s Wednesday. So, assuming you went to church Sunday morning… do you remember what the sermon or homily was about? Some of you do, ’cause your memory is just that good. (Mine is.) You were paying attention. The preacher said something memorable, or entertaining, or particularly profound. Or perfectly relevant to your situation, or taught you something you’d like to try. Others of you can’t remember for the life of you. Nope, this isn’t a criticism. Hey, some people who stand up to preach simply aren’t preachers. They might be nice people, good musicians, great prayer leaders; they’re friendly people, and exactly the sort of person you want in your life when you’re going through tough times. Or they might have a lot of personal charisma—they’re people you naturally like, even though they might not have done anything to win people’s affection. (Some of them, like certain celebrities and politicians, might’ve done plenty to make you dislike them—but when you see ’em in perso

Jesus’s discussion falls apart.

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John 8.45-59. So Jesus was trying to explain how if we stay in his word, we’re truly his students, and this truth’ll set us free. Jn 8.31-32 True to the Socratic-style way Pharisee instruction worked back then, Jesus’s listeners tried to pick apart his statements, and resisted the idea they weren’t free—that they were still slaves to sin. Jesus pointed out this was because they were still following their spiritual father, Satan… and you don’t need to be omniscient to predict they didn’t take this well. So why’d Jesus say something so provocative? Well I used to think it’s because he was kinda done with them; they weren’t listening to a thing he said anyway. But we have to remember Jesus is patient and kind—’cause God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and those are the ways love acts. 1Co 13.4 So he did mean to provoke, but not to antagonize. Some in his audience heard what he was saying (like John, who recorded it) and repented and followed him. And others decided these were fighting wo