Posts

The Christian year.

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A Christian newbie once told me he found it strange how Jews and Muslims have their own calendars, but us Christians don’t. We do, I pointed out. The western calendar, the one the entire world uses (Jews and Muslims included, as their secular calendar), is the Gregorian calendar, formalized by Gregorius 13, bishop of Rome, sovereign of the Papal States, and head of the Roman Catholic Church, from 1572 to 1585. It’s an update of the Julian calendar, proposed by Gaius Julius Caesar in 46 BC (or to use the ancient Roman era, 708 AUC ) which is also a Christian calendar, in use by Orthodox churches who didn’t care to have Catholics update their calendar. (A number of ’em use the Revised Julian calendar, updated in 1923, which conveniently syncs up with the Greogian… till the year 2800.) So yeah, the Christian calendar has become everybody’s default calendar. Which means it’s no longer a special religious calendar anymore, unlike the Jewish and Muslim ones. Various people, Chris

Advent Sunday.

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Four Sundays before Christmas, the advent season begins with Advent Sunday. That’d be today, 29 November 2020. (Next year it’ll be 28 November. It moves.) The word advent comes from the Latin advenire /“come to [someplace].” Who’s coming to where? That’d be Jesus, formally coming to earth; we’re not talking about his frequent appearances here and there. Either we mean the first time around, when he was born in the year 7 BC , which is what we celebrate with Christmas; or the second time around, in the future, to take possession of his kingdom. Historically this has been the time for Christians to get ready for his coming. Which we do by getting ready for Christmas. But Christians, Evangelicals in particular, forget it’s also about getting ready for his second coming. We might tell ourselves we oughta always be ready for that event—and we oughta!—but advent’s when we particularly pay attention to the idea. He’s coming back, y’know. Could happen at any time. Since Evang

Thanksgiving Day.

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In the United States, we have a national day of thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday. Whom are we giving thanks to? Well, the act which establishes Thanksgiving Day as one of our national holidays, provides no instructions whatsoever on how we’re to observe it. Or whom we’re to thank. Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the last Thursday in November in each year after the year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22d day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays. —77th Congress, 6 October 1941 House Joint Resolution 41 The Senate amended it to read “fourth Thursday in November,” and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. So it’s a holiday

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

Thanksgiving. The prayer, not the day.

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In the United States, on November’s fourth Thursday, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. Today I’m not talking about the day itself though. I’m talking about the act. Americans don’t always remember there’s such a thing as an act of thanksgiving. Our fixation is usually on the food, football, maybe the parade, maybe the dog show. If you’re pagan, you seldom even think to thank God… or anyone. Instead you conjure up some feeling of thankfulness. You have a nice life, a decent job, good health, some loved ones, and got that [insert coveted bling] you’ve always wanted. Or you might not, but you’re thankful for the few things you do have. Or you’re not thankful at all, and bitter… and in a few minutes, drunk. But this feeling of thankfulness isn’t directed anywhere. Shouldn’t you be thankful to someone or something? Shouldn’t there be some being to thank? And that’s a question many a pagan never asks themselves. I know of one family who thanks one other. But paga

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