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Why skipping church messes us up.

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Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian. In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do. People figure they believe in Jesus and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right? So by this metric they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary —’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity wholly exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s in their heads at least—and somebody’s assured them it c

Three focal points of church services.

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Obviously not all churches are alike. Practices vary. Even within the same denomination: Y’might have one church which is known for its Christian education, bible studies, Sunday school program, and teaching pastors… with a sister church known for its musicians. Talk to any Christian about what they like best in their church, and they’ll usually emphasize a few things they particularly like: The friendliness. The informality. The kids’ program. The decor. The amiability of the head pastor. The many outreach programs. The coffee—for once it’s not Folger’s! (’Cause Folger’s is crap. But when the person in charge of the church’s coffee doesn’t even drink coffee, guess what they always buy? Right—the cheapest stuff on the shelf. Kirkland or Folger’s, or some other awful blend which tastes like Juan Valdez’s burro rolled around in it. Churches, don’t do that to your people. But I digress.) These things aside, y’might notice churches structure their entire Sunday morning service (

When and where the church meets.

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Years ago I got an email asking about what day of the week we oughta attend our church services. My church has a Saturday night service, and I started going to that instead of Sunday mornings. My sister says Saturday nights don’t count; we’re supposed to go to church on Sundays. I told her God doesn’t care when we go to church, so long that we do. Which of us is right? Which of you is right? The weaker believer. Always. Romans 14.5-6 NLT 5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 A Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him.   Romans 15.1-2 NLT 1 We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. If our Christian sister or brother has a hangup, we might

The church is people.

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Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God. 2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history. 3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings. 4. A Christian group’s building or campus. If you compare the definition of church I gave, with that of an average English-language dictionary, you’ll notice a few differences. The average dictionary tends to first refer to buildings—because that’s what your average English-speaker means when they say church. “I’m going to church” means “I’m going to a church building.” Or “We’re gonna be late for church” means “We’re gonna be late for the services at the building.” But when Jesus used the word ἐκκλησία / ekklisía he didn’t mean a building. He meant a group of people. That’s what Jesus’s church is to him: His people. Mt 18.17 The church is to Christianity

Go to church!

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Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God. 2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history. 3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings. 4. A Christian group’s building or campus. Ἐκκλησία / ekklisía , the Greek word we translate “church,” properly means “group.” Yeah, you might’ve heard some preacher claim it means “a specially-called-out people.” It’s ’cause ekklisía ’s word-root καλέω / kaléo means “call.” So those who like to dabble in language assume “call” must be part of ekklisía ’s meaning. But words evolve, y’know. Our word congress used to mean “group” too… and nowadays it means “our do-nothing national legislature.” Ancient Greeks also used ekklisía to refer to their legislatures. But regardless of what it used to mean, hundreds of years before Jesus used it to refer to his grou

The limitations of legalists.

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Back in college I had some classmates who had honest questions about Christianity. They were pagans who were raised by totally irreligious parents, so all they knew about Christians were stereotypes. Yet here I was, a real live Christian, who didn’t fit those stereotypes, who knew enough to give ’em facts and background, and not be a jerk about it. So they picked my brain. What do you guys do in church? What’s the program? What’s the bible about? What’s in it? What’s the dress code? (They heard rumors about sacred undergarments, so I had to inform ’em that’s only a Mormon thing. ) What political views must Christians have? And so forth. But as I was trying to answer the questions, another classmate decided he just had to get in on this, and pitch his two cents. He was a fellow Christian, who went to another church than I did—a much more legalistic one. He continually felt he had to “correct” my answers whenever they got too gracious for his taste. It got annoying

Burdens which were put on one’s heart.

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HEART hɑrt noun. Hollow muscular organ which pumps blood through the circulatory system. 2. [ in popular culture ] Center of a person’s thoughts and emotions; one’s mood, feeling, enthusiasm, mood, or courage. 3. [ in popular Christian culture ] Center of a person’s lifeforce; one’s innermost being; the true self, particularly one’s true thoughts and feelings. 4. A conventional heart shape, as found on a deck of cards. [Hearted 'hɑrt.ɛd adjective. ] I’ve already written on the heart —the blood-pumping muscle in our chests, how popular culture uses it as a metaphor for emotion, and how the ancients believed it did what we now know the brain does. And of course how Christians mix up the biblical idea with the pop culture idea, and therefore misinterpret the bible like crazy: To the ancients, you didn’t feel with your heart; you felt with your guts . You thought with your heart. Or, when your “heart was hard,” you didn’t: Your mind was made up. Today I’m gonna di

Jesus’s resurrection: If he wasn’t raised, we’re boned.

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Of Christianity’s two biggest holidays, Christmas is the easier one for pagans to swallow. ’Cause Jesus the Nazarene was born. That, they won’t debate. There are a few cranks who think Jesus’s life is entirely mythological, start to finish; but for the most part everyone agrees he was born. May not believe he was miraculously born, but certainly they agree he was born. Easter’s way harder. ’Cause Jesus the Nazarene rose from the dead. And no, he didn’t just wake up in a tomb after a two-day coma following a brutal flogging and crucifixion. Wasn’t a spectral event either, where his ghost went visiting his loved ones to tell them everything’s all right; he’s on a higher plane now; in time they’ll join him. Nor was it a “spiritual” event, where people had visions or mass hallucinations of him, or missed him so hard they psyched themselves into believing they saw him. Christians state Jesus is alive. In a body. A human body. An extraordinary body; apparently his new body can

Our dead won’t stay dead.

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1 Thessalonians 4.13-14. The Greeks claimed when you died, you went to the netherworld. Specifically, you went to the god of the netherworld, Ἅ́δης / Ádis (or as the Romans called him, Pluto; or as well call him, Hades; no, he’s not a bad guy like the movies make him out to be, although he did kidnap Persephone) and he determined where you went. Good people went to Ἠλύσιον / Ilýsion , a continent or island in the far west (you know, like where the Elves went in The Lord of the Rings ), full of green fields. Bad people went to Τάρταρος / Tártaros , a place as deep below Ádis as he was below earth, to be imprisoned with the Titans whom Zeus defeated when he took over the world. Special cases, like Dionýsios and Iraklís (whom the Romans called Hercules) were turned into gods, and lived with them on Ὀλυμπος / Ólympos —a literal mountain near Thessaloniki, where the Greeks imagined the gods lived when they weren’t busy on adventures. The rest stayed with Ádis as he deter

Easter.

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On 5 April 33, before the sun rose at 5:23 a.m. in Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Executed only two days before, he became the first human on earth to be resurrected. Jesus died the day before Passover. This was deliberate. This way his death would fulfill many of the Passover rituals. Because of this relationship to Passover, many Christians actually call this day some variation of the Hebrew פֶּסַח / Pesákh , “Passover.” In Greek and Latin (and Russian), it’s Pascha ; in Danish Påske , Dutch Pasen , French Pâques , Italian Pasqua , Spanish Pascua , Swedish Påsk . But in many Germanic-speaking countries, including English, we use the ancient pagan word for April, Eostur . In German this becomes Ostern ; in English Easter . Because of the pagan origins of the word, certain Christians avoid it and just call the day “Resurrection Sunday.” (Which is fine, but confuses non-Christians.) Easter is our most important holiday. Christmas tends to get the world’s

Simon Peter denounces Jesus.

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Mark 14.66-72, Matthew 26.69-75, Luke 22.54-62, John 18.15-18, 25-27. After dinner earlier that night, Jesus told his students they weren’t gonna follow him much longer; they’d scatter. At this point Jesus’s best student, Simon Peter, got up and foolhardily claimed this prediction didn’t apply to him. Mark 14.29-31 KWL 29 Simon Peter told him, “If everyone else will get tripped up, it wo n’t include me.” 30 Jesus told him, “Amen, I promise you today , this night, before the rooster crows twice, you’ll renounce me thrice.” 31 Peter said emphatically, “Even if I have to die for you, I will never renounce you.” Everyone else said likewise. And y’know, Peter wasn’t kidding. I’ve heard way too many sermons which mock Peter for this, who claim he was all talk. Thing is, he really wasn’t. When Jesus was arrested, Peter was packing a machete, and used it. Slashed a guy’s ear clean off. You don’t start swinging a work knife at a mob unless you’re willing to risk life