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Jesus’s crucifixion.

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Ever bang your funny bone? That’s the ulnar nerve. The equivalent in the leg is the tibial nerve. About 26 to 24 centuries ago, humans in the middle east figured out the most painful way to kill someone: Take four nails. Put one through each of these nerves. Then hang a victim, by these nails, from whatever—a wall, a tree, a pole, a cross. If you stretch out their limbs, it’ll squeeze their lungs. They’ll find it extremely hard to breathe. Can’t inhale unless they actually push themselves up by their pierced ankles, and pull themselves up by their pierced wrists. And each pull feels like they’ve taken these nerves and crushed them with a hammer, all over again. Leave ’em like that, to die slowly, by asphyxiation. It might take all day. Multiple days, if the person has a strong enough will to live. But they’ll die eventually, in agony. There’s no real way to stop the constant pain. It’s so intense, Latin-speakers had invented a new word to describe it: Excruciare , from which

“Believing for God” and viruses.

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As I write this, the United States is dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus; specifically COVID -19. It’s as communicable as flu, and a little more fatal, so people are encouraged to wash their hands, avoid touching their faces, and stay away from one another. And since humans are creatures of extremes, this also means they’re stockpiling supplies, “just in case.” This is why the grocery stores are running out of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and certain types of food. (The average American diet being as lousy as it is, y’notice the stores aren’t really running out of fresh fruits and vegetables though. Just saying.) Likewise a lot of major events, like sports and concerts—any venue where they’ll pack a lot of people in the audience—are getting canceled, just in case someone with coronavirus is there, and infects everyone else. Better safe than sorry. I live in California. Our governor encouraged everyone to cancel any large gatherings: Any events with 2

The eight loves.

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One of my previous pastors likes to use Foreigner’s 1984 song, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” as an example of how our wider American culture really doesn’t know what love is. (Plus he likes the song itself.) He’s not wrong. When we hear English-speakers talk about love—whether in our movies, songs, talk shows, books, even academically—they’re using about eight different definitions of love. Only one of these definitions is the one Paul and Sosthenes used in 1 Corinthians . The rest comes from the culture. Other languages, other cultures, might have even more than eight. I mention eight different definitions to people, and they usually nod their heads: Yep, we define “love” at least that many different ways. But every once in a while some Christian wants to correct me, and tell me there are four loves, not eight. ’Cause they’ve read (or at least heard about) C.S. Lewis’s 1960 book The Four Loves , so there y’go: There are four loves. Where’d I come up with another four?

Looking for God. But not there.

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Some years ago I was listening to a radio host talk about his doubts. He used to be a pastor, but more recently he’d come to doubt God even exists. Mainly—and understandably!—because of his utter lack of God-experiences. If God exists, shouldn’t his kids have God-experiences? And he’s absolutely right. We should! But he hadn’t. More accurately, he’s entirely sure he hadn’t; whatever he’d seen thus far, hadn’t convinced him. He’d been Christian for years, yet was pretty sure he’d never heard God’s voice, never seen a legitimate miracle, never had any supernatural event in his life. And, he claimed, he wants these experiences, but thus far, nada. It was a call-in type of show, so a caller responded, “What about the Pentecostals? They claim they have God-experiences all the time. Why not go there and see what happens?” “ Oh no,” said the host. “I’m not going there . I don’t wanna get into that whole scene.” Lemme pause a moment and make clear: I’m Pentecostal, but no I’m n

When God tells us no.

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If you ever browse books on prayer , you’ll notice most of them are about being successful at prayer: Prayers that work . Prayers that get heard. Prayers which’ll definitely reach God’s ears. How to be persistent at it, and thereby get what we want. How to have the proper prayer attitude, so God’ll be pleased with us and give us what I want. How to pray as God would want, and therefore get us what we ask for. Yada yada yada. What makes prayer “successful”? Clearly, getting all our wishes granted. Of course we won’t always admit this. We’ll try to make our answers sound less greedy, more spiritual, less self-centered. “Um… A successful prayer gets us closer to God.” Yeah, nice try Bubba. Closer to God for why? So now that he knows us, he’ll grant all our wishes. Look, I already pointed out it’s okay to ask God for anything. The Lord’s Prayer entirely consists of prayer requests, and Jesus tells us to pray like that, so clearly God’s not gonna be offended when we tell him w

“Spiritual… but not religious.”

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SPIRITUAL 'spɪ.rɪtʃ(.əw).əl adjective. Dealing with immaterial things in the human spirit or soul. 2. Dealing with religion. [Spirituality 'spɪr.ɪt.ʃəw.æl.ə.di noun. ] Many pagans like to describe themselves as spiritual. ’Cause they are: They believe in immaterial things, like the soul. Might even believe in other spirits; or God, whom they correctly recognize is spirit; Jn 4.24 or a spiritual afterlife. Or not: They only believe in spiritual forces, like good vibes or positivity, bad vibes or negativity, which can affect not just ourselves, but everyone around us. Christians call ourselves spiritual too, ’cause we are. We have the Holy Spirit, who’s hopefully working on us—if we let him. We’re taught to pursue spirit, not flesh. Ro 8.5-6 We believe in God and angels and unclean spirits (like the devil) and that we’re part spirit. For the most part, we believe in the supernatural too. Now, you can tell a pagan all this: “You’re spiritual? So’m I.” But

Memorize Galatians 5.22-23.

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Whenever Christians talk about the Holy Spirit’s fruit, we typically quote Paul’s list of ’em in Galatians 5.22-23. And it’s not a bad idea to memorize this particular verse. Pick your favorite translation and put it in your brain; I’ll quote the original. Galatians 5.22-23 THGNT 22 ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη, χαρά, εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία, χρηστότης, ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις, 23 πραΰτης, ἐγκράτεια· κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος. Oh okay; the King James Version. Galatians 5.22-23 KJV 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Anyway, this way we have a small inventory of fruit memorized. Comes in handy if there’s ever any question whether these things are fruit. Defining the words. Obviously whenever people quote this verse, it’s to list the fruits, and to define ’em. And for that, they bust out the dictionary—and if they have any sense, they bust

Seeker-sensitivity: Being all things to all people.

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SEEKER 'sik.ər noun. One who’s attempting to find religion: God, truth, peace, or self-justification.   SEEKER-SENSITIVE 'sik.ər 'sɛn.sə.dɪv adjective. Caring about seekers’ feelings, hangups, offenses, needs, or lack of familiarity; adapting one’s message in consideration. 2. Compromising one’s message to make it more appealing. [Seeker-sensitivity 'sik.ər sɛn.sə'dɪv.ə.di noun. ] People are more apt to listen to you if you’re like them. Yeah, I know there are exceptions to this rule. When I’ve been on missions trips, the locals are kinda curious about the novelty of American foreigners, and that’s why they’re more apt to listen to me a bit. But only till the novelty wears off. One of the things American missionaries discovered in the 20th century (and it’s a little dumbfounding it took us so long to discover it, but it’s probably ’cause racism ) is our missions either grow really slow, or don’t grow at all, whenever we don’t put locals in

The bargain with God.

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Probably the most common form of prayer is the bargain with God. It takes the form of, “God, if you do this for me, I’ll [something I may do; no guarantees though] .” We fill in the blank with all sorts of things. We promise we’ll reform our behavior: We’ll stop sinning, start some religious practice—or do one of ’em more regularly, be more charitable, perform some act of penance, or pathetically that we’ll even believe in God. ’Cause we don’t really, and this bargain with God is, to completely confound metaphors, our Hail Mary pass. I’ve heard a lot of Christians dismiss, mock, or discourage the bargain with God. They believe it encourages the wrong attitude about prayer: Prayer’s about putting God’s will before ours. Not about working out an exchange of goods and services. True. But the whole putting-God’s-will-first idea? That’s something devout believers know and practice. The bargain-with-God idea? We find it more among pagans, unbelievers, not-yet-believers, and