Posts

Resolutions: Our little stabs at self-control.

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Speaking for myself, I’m not into new year’s resolutions. Because I make resolutions the year round. When I see changes I need to make in my life, I get to work on ’em right away. I don’t procrastinate till 1 January. (Though I may procrastinate just the same.) Here’s the problem with stockpiling all our lifestyle changes till the new year: Come 1 January, we wind up with a vast pile of changes to make. It’s hard enough to make one change; now you have five. Or 50, depending on how much of a trainwreck you are. Multiplying your resolutions, multiplies your difficulty level. But hey, it’s an American custom. So at the year’s end a lot of folks, Christians included, begin to think about what we’d like to change about our lives. Not that we want to change. Some of us don’t! But it’s New Year’s resolution time, and everyone’s asking what our resolutions are, and some of us might grudgingly try to come up with something. What should we change? Too many carbohydrates? Not eno

TXAB’s bible-reading plan.

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Whenever the new year approaches, Christians resolve to read the bible. The entire bible, not just the parts we like best: Genesis to maps, as the old joke goes. (See, when you buy a bible in print, most of them have maps of Israel and the Roman Empire in the back. Yes, explaining the joke makes it less funny. Yes, deliberately making the joke less funny is ironically funny. Yes, this is metahumor. I’ll stop now.) Christians tend to pick up a bible-reading plan of some sort, and most of the time it goes through the scriptures in a year. Which, I insist, is far too long. I prefer you do it in a month. Yes it’s totally possible; the bible’s a big fat inspired book anthology, but it doesn’t take an entire year to read. What book do you take an entire year to read?—unless you chop it into bite-size bits so small you’re spiritually starving. No wonder so many Christians lose track and lose interest. Now if a month seems too extreme for you (especially if you don’t read), y’

The books of a Christian’s library.

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Birthdays and Christmas frequently mean gift cards, and if you got one you might be thinking, “Hmm, what books ought I buy?” But probably not. People don’t read. Okay you clearly do, if you read TXAB . But most don’t. Christians might read the bible, though many of us consider it a massive struggle; a New Year’s resolution we never get round to completing, and peter out in March along with our gym memberships. We’ll read little else. We don’t want any more books, and figure most Christian books are either poorly-written fiction, repackaged sermons, or light devotional stuff which are no deeper than the stuff we hear Sunday morning. (Which largely ain’t wrong.) So I rarely get asked, “What books should I own?” Most Christians figure if their Christian library contains a bible alone, they’re good. Sometimes more than one bible. Maybe a study bible; maybe a concordance, exhaustive or not; maybe an inexpensive one-volume bible commentary, like Matthew Henry’s. Maybe a prayer

The 12 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 me A partridge in a pear tree. On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me Two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree. On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me Three french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree. On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me Four calling birds, three french hens, two

When God became human.

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INCARNATE 'ɪn.kɑrn.eɪt verb . Put an immaterial thing (i.e. an abstract concept or idea) into a concrete form. 2. Put a deity or spirit into a human form, i.e. Hindu gods. 3. ɪn'kɑr.nət adjective . Embodied in flesh, or concrete form. [Incarnation ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃən noun , reincarnation 're.ɪn.kɑr.neɪ.ʃən noun .] Most of our Christian theology lingo tends to come from Greek and Latin. This one too. Why? Because they sound much more formal and sanctimonious than plain English. When you literally translate ’em from Greek and Latin, they make people flinch. Incarnate is one of those words: In-carnátio is Latin for “put into meat.” Yep, put into meat. Nope, it’s not a mistranslation. It’s an accurate description of what happened to Jesus. The word of God —meaning God—became flesh. Meat. John 1.14 KWL The word was made flesh. He encamped with us. We got a good look at his significance— the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.

Why do pagans celebrate a Christian holiday?

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Every year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, my city has a Christmas festival. (Well, not in 2020, ’cause pandemic. ) The local newspaper started it and sponsors it. I like to joke the festival begins with the pagan stuff. Once the sun is mostly down (and this time of year, this latitude, it sets around 4:45 PM ) about 2,000 people gather round the 60-foot tree. The local Air Force band plays a few songs, the mayor says a few things, the people are led in a few secular carols about silver jingle bells, snowmen (even though we’re well below the snowline), reindeer (even though we’re on the wrong continent), and Santa Claus. Who makes an appearance, and the tree gets lit. That done, the city’s Christians take over. Downtown fills with tent-canopied booths, nearly all of ’em set up by local churches. We give out cookies, cocoa, cider, and other treats. Our choirs sing. Open-air Christmas pageants are performed. One megachurch in particular handles crowd control and cleanup.

Supernatural discernment: Knowing what you can’t know.

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Yesterday a coworker was trying to explain some scripture to me. It’s an interpretation I was entirely unfamiliar with, so I found it interesting. Had my doubts, but kept an open mind. It sounds a little bit plausible, so I spent some of this morning investigating it. Turns out it’s something the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, and nobody else. So, nah. But yesterday, while he was still talking to me, before I ever looked it up and knew it was something JWs teach, I had deduced, “Y’know, I think this guy’s Jehovah’s Witness.” No, the Holy Spirit didn’t supernaturally reveal this to me. I deduced it. From the clues: It’s the Christmas season, and I had heard him mock Christmas a number of times. Admittedly I do this too with the materialism around the holiday, but JWs are particularly notorious for not observing Christmas. Big obvious red flag there. He dismissed any comments I had to make, or any corrections I offered to his proof texts. He was entirely sure he knew what he

Happy holidays!

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In the United States it’s the holiday season. As soon as Halloween is over, out come the Christmas sales, and people start putting mint in everything. You know what we’re ramping up towards. Javascript isn’t working this Christmas! Some elf overdid it on the sugar. I get why the holidays bug people. It’s the commercialism. The merchandising. The obligatory traditions which hold no more meaning for you. The mandatory functions which aren’t any fun, like the Christmas pageants where you gotta watch kids and earnest church members, who have no business singing in public, charitably permitted to nonetheless sing in public. Or the naked, unadulterated greed which sucks the soul out of this time of year. It’s why I advise Christians to redirect our attention to Advent , the four weeks before Jesus’s nativity. Eastern churches start it even earlier, 40 days before Christmas, and make a fast of it, like Lent. Which you could do, if you’re into fasting; I’m not. But Adve

The Wheat and Darnel Story.

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Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43 Elsewhere in Matthew Jesus tells a story often called the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, from the word tares used in the King James Version to translate ζιζάνια / zidzánia , “darnel.” It’s a specific weed, Lolium temulentum , frequently called “false wheat.” In ancient times darnel was constantly found in wheat fields. Some darnel always got mixed up with the wheat during the harvest, and it wasn’t until we invented separating machines that people finally got the darnel problem under control. Darnel looks just like wheat when it’s growing… but once the ears appear, any farmer will realize it’s not wheat at all. When they ripen, wheat turns brown and darnel turns black. If it’s harmless, why did the ancients make a big deal about darnel? Because darnel is very susceptible to Neotyphodium funguses, and if you ate any infected darnel, the symptoms were nausea and a little drunkenness. (The temulentum in darnel’s scientific name means “drunk.”)

Sock-puppet false prophecy.

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Last year I wrote about sock-puppet theology. It’s when people develop their beliefs about God all wrong because of how they came about those beliefs. Instead of doing as we’re meant to— read the scriptures, study their textual and historical context, compare them with Jesus’s character, compare them with the conclusions of other Spirit-led Christians, and of course use our commonsense —these people take much easier, non -study-based tack. They meditate on certain scriptures, use their imagination to “make the scriptures come alive,” then draw conclusions from these self-induced visions. Sometimes they’ll even talk to the people in their meditations: They’ll have a full-on conversation with, say, David ben Jesse. They’ll ask him what it was like to trust the L ORD while he was hiding out from King Saul ben Kish, whether in caves or Philistine territory. David will have a whole bunch of interesting insights. They’ll actually base their relationship with God on “David

…Don’t we all have some fundamental beliefs?

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FUNDAMENTALIST fən.də'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪst adjective. Adheres to certain beliefs as necessary and foundational. 2. Theologically (and politically) conservative in their religion. 3. [ capitalized ] Has to do with the 20th-century movement which considers certain Christian beliefs mandatory. [Fundamentalism fən.də'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪz.əm noun , Fundie 'fən.di adjective .] I grew up Fundamentalist, and refer to Fundies from time to time. But I need to explain what I mean by the term. Too many people use it, and use it wrong. For most folks fundamentalist is just another word for conservative . Not just sorta conservative; super conservative. If you’re a fundamentalist Christian—or fundamentalist Muslim, fundamentalist Jew, fundamentalist Mormon, fundamentalist Republican—they assume you’re extremely conservative, or at least more conservative than they are. “I may be conservative, but you’re fundamentalist.” It picked up this definition for good reason: Fundies freq