Posts

Immature prophets.

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Every Christian can hear God. This being the case, every Christian can share God’s messages with others: We can prophesy. We can become prophets. It’s why the Holy Spirit was given to us Christians in the first place: So we can hear and share God. Ac 2.17-18 Now, whether every Christian listens, hears God accurately , and prophesies accurately , is a whole other deal. See, Christians are at all different levels of maturity. Some of us call it “spiritual maturity,” but there’s no functional difference between intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturity. If we‘re one, we’re automatically one of the others. Too many Christians presume our knowledge makes us mature, instead of puffing us up like a bratty child prodigy. Likewise too many Christians presume if we’re fruitful, we needn’t be knowledgeable—which means we’re not wise, which means we ain’t all that fruity. No matter which kind of immaturity we’re talking about, immature people are gonna do dumb. They don’t know

The 10 commandments.

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No doubt you’ve heard of the 10 commandments, or as they tend to be stylized, “The Ten Commandments,” as if they’re a movie title. (Which they were, repeatedly; the one with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner is the best-known.) In Hebrew they’re called the עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִֽים / aserét ha-devarím , “10 words,” or “10 lessons.” Specifically they’re the 10 commands the L ORD spoke aloud to the Hebrew people from Sinai (or Horeb), a mountain somewhere on the west coast of the Arabian peninsula. No, the 10 commandments aren’t the only commands God gave the Hebrews. Nor the first. Nor even the greatest: When Jesus was asked about the most important commands, he listed none of the 10 commandments. He listed two other ones: Love God and love your neighbor. Mk 12.29-31 Those Christians who have no idea the L ORD gave about 613 commands in the Law —and that’s not even counting Jesus’s commands in the gospels—sometimes take Jesus’s top two commands, add ’em to the 10 commandments, a

Kingdom economics: How’s your eye?

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Matthew 6.22-23, Luke 11.34-36. Some of Jesus’s teachings tend to get skipped entirely. Let’s be honest: It’s because we don’t like them. Plenty of us hate the idea the Law still counts, and God judges us by it; we prefer dispensationalism. Plenty of us hate Jesus’s teachings on money, ’cause we still kinda worship it. So we borrow his parables about forgiveness, where money wasn’t even the point, and try to claim they’re about capitalism. Or socialism. Or they’re Jesus’s secret critique of socialism. Whichever suits us best. Today’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount is in fact about money. Not opthamology. But because people nowadays are unfamiliar with the Hebrew idioms “good eye” and “evil eye”—and will even mix ’em up with the European idioms, and think they have to do with all-purpose blessings and curses—we’ll interpret this passage all kinds of wrong. Or claim, “Well it’s obscure,” and skip it. Usually skip it, and focus on the verses we can understand. Verses

Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

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CONFESS kən'fɛs verb . Admit or state one’s failings or sins to another [trustworthy] person. 2. Admit or state what one believes. [Confession kən'fɛs.ʃən noun , confessor kən'fɛs.sər noun .] The way to defeat hypocrisy, plain and simple, is authenticity. We’re not perfect—none but Jesus is—and we need to say so. And in many cases need to say more than just the generic “I’m a sinner,” with no further details: We need to give some of those details. We need to tell on ourselves. We need to confess. The practice of confession—heck, the very idea of confession—is controversial to a lot of Christians. ’Cause we don’t wanna! And I’m not even talking about people with deep dark secrets. Plenty of folks have little bitty secrets—stuff everybody kinda knows already, or can figure out easily—but the very idea of publicly admitting to such things, they find far too humiliating. Fr’instance. Back in college, in one of our men’s bible studies, our group leader was t

Hypocrisy in leadership: It can get really bad, really fast.

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Most Christian leaders know better than to let hypocrisy grow among their leadership structure. It’s poison. It’s how scandals start, ruin churches, drive people to quit Jesus (or at least give ’em an excuse ), and give all of Christianity a lousy reputation. So they take great care to keep hypocrites from ever being put in charge. Others take no such care, and are full of hypocrites. I used to single out particular churches, with particular leadership structures, for being particularly hypocritical. And yeah, it’s much easier for phonies to hide in churches with few to no accountability structures. (Or even with tremendous accountability structures, like the Roman Catholic Church… but the catch is their structure only offers forgiveness, not consequence , and that’s why so many evil leaders can get away with what they do.) It’s almost a given you’re gonna find hypocrites in anti- denominational churches : They want no oversight, no one to tell them to behave. But it’s hard

Loopholes.

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Popular culture, especially popular Christian culture, uses the word Pharisee as a synonym for legalist. That’s what we presume the Pharisees’ problem was: They overdid it on God’s commands. They were so careful to follow every single one of them perfectly (and in so doing, earn salvation ), they created all these extra doctrines and traditions as kind of a hedge around the Law. Supposedly they spent so much time fretting about the extra stuff, they’d never get around to breaking the Law. Yeah, that’s not why Pharisees had the doctrines and customs. Wasn’t what they were doing at all. If you want to know what the Pharisees were about, you gotta read the Mishna , a compilaton of what Pharisees were teaching as of the early second century. (Which of course includes what they taught in the early first century, i.e. Jesus’s day.) The Mishna is the core of the Talmud, one of the two main books of present-day Judaism. (The other’s the Tanakh, which we call the Old Testament

Hypocrites. They’re everywhere.

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HYPOCRISY hə'pɑk.rə.si noun Pretense: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards which one doesn’t truly have. 2. Inconsistency: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards, but one’s own behavior demonstrates otherwise. [Hypocrite 'hɪp.ə.krɪt noun , hypocritical hɪp.ə'krɪd.ə.kəl adjective .] The Greek word ὑπόκρισις / ypókrisis literally means “over [the] face.” In the ancient Greek religion, whenever someone claimed they spoke for the gods, they’d put on a bit of a show. When a man claimed Zeus spoke through him, he’d assume a deep voice, exaggerated gestures, and perform a sorta impersonation of Zeus. (Since we’re talking about fake gods, it was totally an act.) Comic and tragic masks. Wikimedia This “prophetic” acting evolved into Greek drama. Certain “gifted” poets, whom the Greeks believed had some divinely-inspired prophetic ability, would have actors memorize their “revelations” and present them to audiences. So the audience would kno

Treasures in heaven.

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Matthew 6.19-21, Luke 12.33-34. In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, after he finished objecting to hypocrisy in giving to charity, in types of prayer, and in public fasting, he moved on to talk about wealth and money. You’ll notice the three verses in Matthew I’m gonna point to today, don’t by themselves nail down precisely how we’re to stash our treasures in heaven. That, we actually have to pull from the parallel teaching in Luke : Give to charity. And if you know your Old Testament, you might remember this proverb: Proverbs 19.17 KWL Put the L ORD in your debt: Be gracious to the poor. He compensates you and gives peace to you. Jesus’s first-century audience would’ve known that one… and Jesus’s 21st-century audience had better learn that one. Matthew 6.19-21 KWL 19 “Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth, where moths and corrosion ruin it , where thieves dig for it and steal it . 20 Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor corro

God’s will isn’t complicated. But we sure make it sound so.

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When I was a kid, parents and pastors encouraged us to learn and follow God’s will. Wasn’t just a kid thing either. Churches encourage everybody to learn and follow God’s will. It’s what churches do. How do we do this? “Read your bible!” we were told. So we did. And… we found it had a lot of interesting stories, good advice, confusing visions, super boring genealogies, clever advice, inspiring poems, commands which were sometimes startling (“Wow, look at all the weird stuff God made the Hebrews do. Wait, does he still want us to do this?”) and sometimes made total sense (“Don’t eat bats. Well duh .”). But… we were still generally confused about where to find what God’s will is. Ah, said our youth pastors: It’s in the biblical principles. Apparently once we read enough bible, we’ll notice certain common themes throughout, and realize, “This seems like something God cares about.” To hear our youth pastors explain it: Turns out this —the connecting the dots between verses t

“You have not because you ask not.”

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James 4.2. Here’s a phenomenon I come across a little too often: Someone’s in need. They bring up their need to fellow Christians. And the fellow Christians respond, “Have you asked God to help you with that? ’Cause if you ask, he’ll help. You’re in need because you haven’t asked God about it. ‘You have not because you ask not.’ ” Me, I’m pretty sure the needy person has asked God for help. Whenever I’m in need, he’s my go-to. I go to other people second. And no, not because other people suck: I wanna see if I can achieve it myself first, or I can achieve it with God’s help first. I guess it comes from the American ideal of self-sufficiency… although I admit it’s not always the wisest ideal. Some burdens ought to be shared. And likewise some people try to avoid burdens whenever they can. That, more often than not, is the real motivation behind Christians telling the needy, “So have you asked God about it?” They don’t wanna help. But let’s set them aside for a moment, an

Pseudepigrapha: Influential ancient Jewish fanfiction.

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PSEUDEPIGRAPHUM su.də'pɪ.ɡrə.fəm noun . A document definitely not written by the author it claims, nor in the time it claims. Sometimes fraud; sometimes fanfiction. 2. A Jewish writing ascribed to one of the patriarchs or prophets of bible times, but actually written after 200 BC . [Plural, pseudepigrapha su.də'pɪ.ɡrə.fə noun ; pseudepigraphic su.de.pɪ'ɡræ.fɪk adjective .] The bible isn’t the only ancient Israeli book in history. Same as today—though certainly not in the same volume as today—tons of books were written, distributed, and became popular. And same as today, many were about God. Were they as Spirit-inspired as the bible? Nah. That’s why they’re not included. For some, like the apocrypha, for a while they were included in the bible. Ancient Christians certainly thought they were bible, ’cause they were in the Septuagint and in the Vulgate, i.e. their bibles. In the article on the apocrypha, I went over why Protestants don’t include ’em in our