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Judas Iscariot sells Jesus out to the authorities.

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Mark 14.41-46, Matthew 26.45-50, Luke 22.47-48, John 18.1-3. In St. John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, the second station combines Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and Jesus of Nazareth’s arrest. ’Cause they happened simultaneously—they, and Simon Peter slashing one of the head priest’s slaves. There’s a lot to unpack there, which is why I want to look at them separately. Getting betrayed and getting arrested, fr’instance: That’s two different kinds of suffering. Psychological and physical. So right after Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (the first station), this happened: Mark 14.41-46 KWL 41 Jesus came back a third time and told his students , “Now you’re sleeping, and resting— and that’s enough. The hour’s come. Look, the Son of Man is getting handed over to sinful hands. 42 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.” 43 Next, while Jesus was yet speaking, Judas Iscariot approached the Twelve. With him was a crowd carrying machetes and sticks,

Encouragement to a persecuted church.

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1 Thessalonians 4.9-12. Though the Thessalonians appeared to be doing just fine, behaving themselves and living a holy lifestyle, Paul, Silas, and Timothy just wanted to reiterate a few things for their encouragement. It needed repeating. Likewise we need to be reminded of such things, from time to time. Even though we may not suffering to any persecution remotely like that of the Thessalonians—and therefore have even less of a justification for not loving one another, loving our neighbors, and not living uprightly towards outsiders. (Not that suffering is any justification anyway.) 1 Thessalonians 4.9-12 KWL 9 As for loving one’s Christian family, we needn’t write you: You yourselves are taught by God himself to love one another, 10 and you do it throughout the Christian family, throughout the whole of Macedon. We wish to help you, fellow Christians , so you can abound more— 11 to love the value of rest, to do your own work with your own hands, just as w

Stations of the cross: Remembering Christ’s suffering.

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In Jerusalem, Israel, Christians remember Jesus’s death by actually going down the route he traveled the day he died. It’s called the Way of Jesus, the Way of Sorrows (Latin, Via Dolorosa ), or the Way of the Cross ( Via Cručis ). When I visited Jerusalem, it’s part of the tour package: Loads of us Christians go this route every single day, observing all the places Jesus is said to have suffered. Really solemn, moving stuff. But most of us Christians don’t live in or near Jerusalem, and some of us can’t possibly go there. For this reason St. Francis of Assisi invented “the stations of the cross.” In his church building, he set up seven different dioramas. Each represented an event which happened as Jesus was led to his death. The people of his church would go to each diorama—each station— and meditate on what Jesus did for us all. Yeah, this is a Catholic thing, ’cause Francis was Roman Catholic. But it’s not exclusively Catholic: Many Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists use

“The spirit of…”

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SPIRIT OF… 'spɪ.rɪt əv noun, genitive . A quality considered the defining or typical element in the character of a person, people, or institution. 2. A supernatural being creating or facilitating that element. Pagans don’t know what spirit is, and their best guess is emotion: Spirit is the feeling you get when a speaker talks about stuff you care about—or stuff that terrifies you. Spirit is the emotions stirred up by a great piece of music or a great work of art. Spirit is the mood in the room when you enter it, and it’ll either make you want to stick around or flee. Spirit is the vibes you feel from a really positive or really negative person. Spirit is the feels. No surprise, this false definition is all over Christianity. So much so, people think the way you detect the Holy Spirit, or some other evil spirit, is by our feelings . If the spirit of a room is all dark and creepy, it means there’s an evil spirit in there, trying to tempt or mislead you; your feelings

Can God’s word “return void”?

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Isaiah 55.11. So one night I and my friend Jason ( not his real name, and you’ll soon see why) were walking from the car to the coffeehouse. Enroute some vagrant asked us for spare change. Jason got it into his head this was a “divine opportunity”: It’s time to proclaim the gospel to this person! It’s time to get him saved. That’s how we wasted the next 15 minutes. Yep, wasted . Because the vagrant was. Either he was drunk, or off his meds, or had recently suffered a head injury, or otherwise had some condition which made him incoherent. Jason asked him questions to determine whether he understood the gospel… and the guy would start rambling about how he believed men and women should be together. In which context I don’t know. (Hey, this article is about context, so I had to bring it up at some point.) Jason kinda had this poor guy cornered in a doorway, pressuring him for some sorta confession of faith. Finally, after he extracted something he considered satisfactory, we

Redeemer: Somebody like Jesus who bails us out. Or not.

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REDEEM rə'dim verb . Compensate for the flaws, deficiencies, or evil of something or someone. 2. Save someone from sin, error, or evil. 3. Gain or regain something, in exchange for payment; repay, or clear a debt. 4. Fulfill a promise. [Redemption rə'dɛm(p).ʃən noun , redeemer rə'dim.ər noun , redeemable rə'di.mə.bəl adjective .] When people talk about redeeming or redemption, if they’re not Christian they’re usually talking about recycling cans and bottles. In California when you buy something in a recyclable container, you’re charged an extra fee (the California redemption value, or CRV ) which we’re meant to get back when we take the container to a recycling center. Although not everybody bothers to get their CRV back; they toss it in a recycling bin. Or even the trash—and then someone else will go digging through the trash looking for recyclables, hoping for that sweet, sweet CRV money. Christian redemption isn’t quite like that… although I h

Now called to a holy lifestyle.

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1 Thessalonians 4.1-8. Since Paul, Silas, and Timothy now know the Thessalonians haven’t fallen away from Christ Jesus, they wanted to encourage them: Good job. Keep it up. And do more . Remember, God’s called us Christians to be uniquely holy. That’s more than just being good, ’cause just about anybody can be good, with effort… plus a fear of bad karma. God isn’t interested in that. He doesn’t just want us to be pagans saved by grace who happen to hold better beliefs than average. He wants us to stand out from the rest of the world. Like Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4.1-8 KWL 1 So from now on fellow Christians , we ask you— we wish to help, in Master Jesus ’s name so, same as you received from us information on how one has to walk and please God, same as you already do walk—so you can abound more : 2 You know which mandates we gave you through Master Jesus: 3 This is God’s will: Your holiness. To keep you rselves away from porn. 4 For each of you to know your o

Can’t see; pretty sure they can.

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Matthew 15.12-14, Luke 6.39-40, John 9.39-41. Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus. Jesus actually doesn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriately comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man. So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first. Matthew 15.12-14 KWL 12 Coming to Jesus , his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outrage

Humility.

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Humility is an obvious fruit of the Spirit, ’cause it’s a form of self-control. It’s when we resist the temptation to claim status, prerogatives, or power over other people. Before we say or do anything, we think about how our actions and words affect others. We unselfishly take them into consideration. We submit. Humility isn’t about claiming we’re all on the same level. Because we’re not. I am smarter, more handsome, and wealthier than other people. I have connections others don’t; I have a better job than others do; I’m white, which means I’m gonna suffer from racism way, way less than nonwhites. Claiming or pretending I don’t have these advantages isn’t humility; it’s hypocrisy. Especially when it’s in my power to use these advantages to help others. Maybe not to the level Esther did, Es 4.13-14 but it is why God has people in positions of privilege: So we can help. Popular culture defines humility as demeaning, embarrassing, or dishonoring ourselves. And yeah, someti

I am not the baseline. (Neither are you.)

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Whenever I have a God-experience —i.e. when he tells me stuff during prayer time, when he confirms stuff through one of his prophets, when he cures the sick right in front of me—my usual response is humility. ’Cause it’s God , y’know. As much as I interact with him, I can’t imagine growing indifferent or jaded to the fact God’s doing stuff . He’s still awesome, and it’s incredibly gracious of him to let me be around, or even get involved in, anything he does. Of course, I say stuff like this and various other Christians respond, “Excuse me, God does what around you?” Um… well, yeah. I’m Pentecostal, which means we aren’t just continuationist , i.e. recognize God still talks to people and does miracles. We don’t treat God-experiences like something that might potentially or theoretically happen; we treat ’em as part and parcel of the active Christian life. It’s much like the difference between saying, “Y’know we could go visit Grandma in the retirement home” and never doing

The truth.

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TRUE tru adjective . In accordance with fact or reality. Genuine, real, actual, correct. 2. Precisely correct; exact. 3. Loyal, faithful, honest. [Truer 'tru.ər adjective , truth truθ noun , truly 'tru.li adverb , truthful 'truθ.fəl adjective ] True and false are such basic, foundational concepts, most people never bother to define them; we’re just expected to know what they mean. We’ve known what true and false are ever since we were first exposed to true-or-false quizzes. True is the way things legitimately are in the universe, and false is the way things aren’t; i.e. not true . Trying to pass off a false thing as true, is lying. You might remember (and if you don’t, your memory will be jogged when your own young children start taking these true-or-false quizzes) “truth” and “falseness” are sometimes harder to figure out than people suppose. There’s a whole branch of philosophy, called epistemology because why not give it a hard-to-remember name,