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Read the bible in a month. Yes, seriously. A month.

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January’s coming. With it, a lot of people make new-year resolutions. “This year’s gonna be different, ’cause this year I’m gonna do [bucket-list item].” Some of these goals are realistic. Some not.One of the more common goals Christians have is to read through the entire bible, Genesis to maps. (That’s an old Evangelical joke. ’Cause a lot of study bibles include maps in the back. Okay, it’s less amusing once I explain it.) We should read the whole bible. So Christians get on some kind of bible-reading plan to make sure we methodically go through every book, chapter, and verse. ’Cause when we don’t, we wind up reading only the familiar bits, over and over and over again—and miss a lot of the parts we should read. The reason so many Christians misinterpret the New Testament is because they know so very little of its Old Testament context. Every time I quote just a little bit of the Law to explain Jesus’s teachings, way too many people respond, “I’ve never heard that before.” Sadly, I …

St. Stephen, and true martyrdom.

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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 Στέφανος/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 Christians 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 this list, and Acts’ author Luke pointedly called him full of faith and the Holy Spir…

Twelve days of Christmas.

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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, including 2020, 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. They sing it, but it never clicks what they’re singing about.On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to meA partridge in a pear tree.On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to meTwo turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to meThree french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to meFour calling birds, three french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge i…

Amen!

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AMENɑ.mɛn, eɪ.mɛnexclamation. Utterance of support or agreement.Amen probably comes from the Hebrew verb אָמַן/amán, “to support, assure, trust.” Sorta the Hebrews’ way of replying, “True.” For the most part, we Christians use amen as a way to end our prayers. Like when you say “goodbye” on a phone conversation, or “over and out” on a radio conversation. My childhood Sunday school teachers even described it as “hanging up.”Custom is, we gotta finish our prayers with amen. Or the popular incantation “In Jesus Name amen.” Or, if you want everyone else in the room to say amen along with you: “And all God’s people said…” (or “the church said,” or “we all said”) at which everyone was conditioned to reply, “Amen.” Sometimes the three-syllable “A-a-men.”As you know, some Christian customs are more than just traditions: We gotta do them. They’re virtually commands. If you don’t end a prayer with amen, it confuses people. Wanna really throw off your prayer group? Next time you lead prayer, don’…

One who brings justice to the gentiles.

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Isaiah 42.1-4, Matthew 12.14-20.After Jesus cured the man with the paralyzed hand, this happened.Matthew 12.14-20 KWL14 Going out, the Pharisees took a meeting about this—so they could have Jesus destroyed.15 Jesus, who knew this, left there, and a great crowd followed him; he had cured them all.16Jesus had rebuked them, lest they reveal what he might do17 so that he might fulfill the word from the prophet Isaiah, saying,18“Look at my servant whom I chose, my beloved. My soul approves of him.I put my Spirit in him, and he’ll bring justice to the gentiles.19He won’t struggle or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.20He won’t split a broken reed, won’t extinguish smoking linen, till he can issue justice in victory.21Gentiles will put their hope in his name.”Is 42.1-4Since Matthew quotes Isaiah and says Jesus fulfilled it, Christians presume this particular part of Isaiah is a messianic prophecy; that it’s specifically about Jesus. I may as well translate it too, instea…

Before you go book shopping…

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This Christmas, some of you are getting gift cards or gift certificates. I regularly get Starbucks cards—which is great, ’cause that’s exactly what I want. I’ll definitely use ’em. Yes, I’m at Starbucks as I write this.Anyway, some of these gift cards will be for bookstores. Maybe Amazon, maybe not. And as Christians who wanna get religious about our relationships with Jesus, some of us are likely thinking of buying Christian books and resources, and stuff that’ll help us get better at Christianity. I know I do.And, when I was newly devout, I wasted a bunch of money on stuff that really didn’t do any of those things. Likely so will you. We all do. Our zealousness overtakes our wallets. But hold on there, little buckaroo: Don’t get all fired up to ride off an’ lasso some steer, ’cause you might just wind up with some bull.If you go to a brick ’n mortar Christian bookstore, first thing you’re gonna notice is they sell an awful lot of “Jesus junk.” And bibles; most of their money comes f…

The Holy Spirit and the supernatural.

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1 Corinthians 12.1-7.SUPERNATURALsu.pər'nætʃ(.ə).rəlnoun. Event caused by (or credited to) some force beyond scientific understanding, beyond natural laws.If you wanna get technical, whenever anyone interferes with the natural course of events, it’s more-than-natural; it’s super-natural.Fr’instance if I put plastic pink flamingos in the front yard. They aren’t the product of Mommy plastic flamingo and Daddy plastic flamingo loving one another very much, and giving one another a special kind of “hug.” Nor did they sprout up from the ground like mutant orchids. Somebody—really a whole bunch of somebodies—drilled for petroleum, extracted the plastic, colored it pink, molded it into a flamingo shape, lost all sense of what’s appropriate for lawn ornaments, bought them, and placed them there. Didn’t happen naturally. But we tend to call this behavior unnatural, not supernatural.Typically we save the term “supernatural” for stuff which apparently wasn’t done by humans. If a flying sauce…

The seven deadly sins.

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The “seven deadly sins” confuse a lot of people.Back in 2008, a rumor spread that the Vatican declared more deadly sins. It came from an interview with Gianfranco Girotti, the head bishop of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary. (I know; this sounds like the Vatican prison. It’s actually the theologians who handle questions about sin, repentance, and forgiveness.) Anyway, in Girotti’s interview with L’Osservatore Romano on 7 March 2008, he listed certain present-day practices which he believed have a harmful global impact: Pollution, drug trafficking, embryo-destroying research, other unethical human experiments, abortion, pedophilia, and economic injustice.Somehow the press converted this into “The Vatican announced there are new sins!” And since your average reporter (lapsed Catholics included) know bupkis about the seven deadly sins, they just assumed there are now 14 deadly sins. Now littering is gonna send you to hell.Like I said, they confuse people.Most people figure they’re a …

Fasting on the feast days.

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Christian holidays are also known as feast days. The term comes from the bible, ’cause that’s how the LORD described the holidays he instituted for the Hebrews: “Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year,” Ex 23.14 KJV namely Passover, Pentecost, and Tents. Christians turned Passover into Easter, added Christmas, usually downplay Pentecost, and usually skip Tents… but otherwise yeah, on Christian holidays we tend to do a bit of feasting. (And on St. Patrick’s Day, drinking.)Thing is, Evangelicals regularly forget Christmas is 12 days long. Our secular culture thinks it’s one day—beginning and ending on 25 December. If the decorations stay up till New Year’s Day, it’s only because you personally struggle to let go of things. Give it up; take ’em down. Hey, the stores are already getting ready for Valentine’s Day.In reality Christmas continues till Epiphany. But because Evangelicals follow the culture, and tend to dismiss ancient custom as “Catholic,” they figure Christmas…

Our suffering servant.

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Isaiah 53.Mixed in with all the Messianic prophecies about a king who’d restore Israel, conquer the world, and set aright everything gone wrong, there are also prophecies about a suffering servant who’d get crushed.We Christians likewise recognize these prophecies to be about Jesus. But people only realized it after the fact. Before Jesus went through his suffering, Pharisees believed these prophecies can’t be about Messiah. He’s gonna conquer the world! It’s gonna be an easy victory, achieved through the Almighty’s power. Suffering and death? Has to be some other guy.Y’might recall as soon as Jesus brought up the very idea this suffering servant was him, his best student Simon Peter recoiled. “This will never happen to you,” was his rebuke. Mt 16.22 Human nature being what it is, we pick and choose the bible passages we like, skip the rest… and consequently miss most of the story. ’Cause the parts we avoid are frequently the really important parts. Jesus’s death saves the world just …