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The Golden Rule.

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Matthew 7.12, Luke 6.31. “Do as you’d be done by.” That’s C.S. Lewis’s wording. It’s probably the briefest form I’ve found of the “Golden Rule,” as it’s called. I grew up hearing it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—and it actually doesn’t come from the King James Version, which has it, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Lk 6.31 KJV I tried tracking down the other wording, and the earliest I’ve found it is 1790. My translation of the two different ways Jesus taught it: Matthew 7.12 KWL “So as much as you want people doing for you, you do that for them: That’s a summary of the Law and the Prophets.”   Luke 6.31 KWL “Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.” It’s “the Law and the Prophets,” as Jesus put it—meaning the bible of his day, the Old Testament. (Yes the OT consists of Law, Prophets, and Writings. But back then, when Sadducees and Samaritans insisted the bible only cons

The goodness of creation: Matter bad, spirit good?

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There’s a really popular, common idea in our culture: Spiritual things are good, and material things are bad. It comes from Greek philosophy, though the Greeks were hardly the first to believe it. It’s found pretty much everywhere. Plenty of pagans insist every spirit being must be an angel, and good. Therefore we must always, always take their advice, and never wonder whether any of them are evil. ’Cause why would there be any such thing as an evil spirit? They’re spirits . Duh. Regardless of its origins, Christians have totally bought into this idea. In part because we think we see it in the bible. Romans 8.5-8 NRSV 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not su

The whole point of creation.

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One of God’s bigger miracles is of course creation. Genesis 1.1-3 NRSV 1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light” ; and there was light.   John 1.1-5 NRSV 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Despite the claims of young-earth creationists, the scriptures aren’t meant to give a scientific description of how creation happened. The bible’s not made up of science books: It’s theology. It’s about why God created the universe. Genesis 1 may be structure

The two creation stories.

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I was raised to be a young-earth creationist, as are many conservative Evangelicals in the United States: We’re taught God created the universe only 6 millennia ago, precisely 4 millennia before Jesus was born, so 4004 BC . And if a scientist or historian tells us otherwise, it’s either because they’ve been duped by nontheists, or because they’re nontheist themselves. Young-earth creationists ( YEC for short) claim their views are based on a literal interpretation of Genesis . It says God created the cosmos in 6 days, and if we truly believe bible, we gotta likewise believe God created the cosmos in 6 days. There’s no room for any other interpretation. The universe… if we take Genesis literally. NIV Faithlife Study Bible Problem is, when we do take the creation stories of Genesis literally, we might notice it’s not describing the cosmos as we know it. It’s describing the cosmos as ancient middle easterners knew it, meaning a flat earth , with a solid-wall dome above

When Christians suffer… and those who make us suffer.

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1 Thessalonians 2.13-16. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were very pleased with the Thessalonian church, and say as much throughout this letter. These folks didn’t just embrace the message, the λόγον lógon of God’s kingdom they heard from the apostles; it sparked faith in them, and got ’em to act upon what they heard and believed. With consequences, ’cause they got persecuted for it almost immediately. While the apostles were still there preaching the gospel. Ac 17.5-9 Got people arrested for disturbing the peace, and if you know anything about Romans, you know they have the bad habit of crucifying everyone they can until they get peace again. It’s why they got the apostles out of town as quick as they could—and that concern for the apostles only goes to show what a compassionate relationship they had with one another. 1 Thessalonians 2.13-16 KWL 13 This relationship is also why we unceasingly praise God: You who received the message of God you heard from us— not a mess

Can we really ask God for anything we want?

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Matthew 7.7-11, Luke 11.9-13, John 14.13-14, 15.7, 16.24. These passages are found in the middle of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, in Jesus’s teaching on prayer requests in Luke , and as part of Jesus’s Last Supper lesson in John . Obviously the Matthew and Luke bits line up more neatly than the John bits, but the same idea is found in the John verses. I tend to summarize this idea as “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” If we want something from Jesus, ask! It’s okay for us to do that. He does take prayer requests. Matthew 7.7-11 KWL 7 “Ask!—it’ll be given you. Look!—you’ll find it. Knock!—it’ll be unlocked for you. 8 For all who ask receive, who seek find, who knock God ’ll unlock for. 9 Same as any of you people. Your child will ask you for bread; you won’t give them a cobblestone. 10 Or they ’ll ask you for fish; you won’t give them a snake. 11 So if you’re evil, yet knew to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good

The widow’s mite, and ancient money’s value.

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Mark 12.41-44, Luke 21.1-4. On the temple grounds there’s a room called the treasury; Greek γαζοφυλάκιον / yadzofylákion , a “guarded vault.” Thing is, the treasury’s in a place inaccessible to women. And since there’s a woman in this story, throwing an offering in, it simply can’t be what the writers of these gospels meant by “treasury.” It has to be in some other place. Hence most commentators are pretty sure yadzofylákion actually refers to the lockboxes which the priests set in the Women’s Court. Each of these boxes were at the end of a big metal funnel—which looked like a shofar , a ram’s-horn trumpet, and may very well have been what Jesus was thinking of when he talked about trumpeting your charitable giving. Mt 6.2 Because throwing metal into a big metal funnel made a loud noise. And throwing lots of metal—like a big pile of bronze coins, as opposed to, say, far fewer silver or gold coins—made a big ol’ noise. Probably too noisy to teach! Yet that’s what the gosp

No seriously. Start giving.

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Too many Christians falsely believe the Spirit’s fruit grows spontaneously. Since it’s the Spirit’s fruit, he grows it, just like in Jesus’s Independent Fruit Story where wheat grows without the planter realizing how. Mk 4.26-29 That parable, by the way, is about God’s kingdom, not the Spirit’s fruit —but hey, if it means we get freebies and don’t have to lift a finger, people are perfectly happy to receive freebies. So the assumption is if we’re truly following Jesus, fruit happens. Obviously we’ve not thought this idea through: Exactly how are we following Jesus when we’re not deliberately behaving in ways that’ll grow fruit? Passively? Is anyone meant to follow Jesus passively? (Spoiler: No.) If we’re gonna grow in love, we gotta love others, particularly unloveable people. If we’re gonna develop patience, we gotta be patient despite suffering in minor or major ways. (Which is why I hate developing patience.) And if we’re gonna develop generosity, we have to give.

Generosity.

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Generosity is a form of kindness. It’s about helping the needy, being an aid and comfort to them, being gracious regardless of whether they deserve our help, and fighting our fleshly urges to hoard and covet. Those fleshly urges definitely do get in the way of generosity. Sometimes we’ll only give because it’ll profit us. We’ll feel proud of ourselves for being wealthy enough to fund good deeds. Or we’ll feel this paid off our karmic debts —we may have done some evil before, but this totally makes up for it, and this means we’re good people. Or we’ll expect to be compensated: “I’m doing this for you now, but someday later I expect you to pay me back, or pay it forward to society.” Or we have an ulterior motive; we want to look like benevolent people while we’re hypocritically hiding our sins. This is why there are a lot of “generous” people out there, but they’re doing it for self-interest, not goodness. This is why a number of Christians will tell me, “Generosity is found i

How the apostles approached the Thessalonians.

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1 Thessalonians 2.1-12. When a salesman shows up to pitch something, how do they usually look? Most of the time—unless they’re trying out a clever new tactic—they try to look successful. They try to give off the vibe that what they’re selling made them a success, and if you buy it you’ll be a success. They figure successful-looking people are attractive… and they’re not wrong. So they dress nice. They try to appear classy and stylish. They bring in plenty of resources, plenty of helpers. They look like a big deal. Contrast that with how Paul and Silas first appeared in Thessaloniki, Macedon. It was right after they left Macedon’s biggest city, Philippi—right after having been been arrested, caned, jailed, then thrown out of town. Ac 16.12-40 They didn’t look successful; just the opposite. Even if they had a miraculous getting-out-of-jail story, they sure didn’t look like success stories. That’s the condition the Thessalonians found ’em in, and how they appeared when the Th

Deaf ears aren’t opportunities.

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Matthew 7.6, Luke 13.6-9. Back in college I was at my home-away-from-dorm, a popular Capitola coffeehouse called Mr. Toots. (Figured I’d throw ’em a free plug.) I got to talking to some UC Santa Cruz students, ’cause they quickly figured out I was a fellow student and wanted to know which school I went to. Once they realized I was a biblical studies major—a “God expert” (in training, anyway)—they wanted to talk God. A lot of pagans go through a phase when they head off to school where they question their faith—and rightly so, ’cause they need to question everything , and get rid of those things in their religions which aren’t growing their relationships with God any. But a lot of ’em ditch their faith altogether, assuming they ever had any. Some of ’em dabble in other religions; some of ’em even invent their own. And some of ’em flirt with nontheism —either because they really think there might be no God, or because they’re jerks and just wanna outrage theists. That’s what