Posts

The power of prayer.

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The power of prayer is God. If that sounds kinda self-evident to you, great! You’d be surprised how many people don’t get this. I’ve heard from way too many Christians who treat prayer as if the act of prayer itself—the effort we put into saying rosaries, or reciting certain “powerful” rote prayers, or regularly blocking off an hour for prayer time, taking the proper posture, repeating the right incantations, and praying as nonstop as possible; and of course the faith necessary to trust that God grants prayer requests—“activates” prayer’s power. Like we just found the cosmic cheat code, to borrow a video game term. Pray just right, and receive points or rewards from the heavens. But their teachings aren’t so much about the One who dispenses the rewards. Well, they might go on about how these prayer practices please God, and that’s why he rewards us with stuff. Pray just right, and it’s like God’s a happy dog and you gave him just the best tummy rub, and we know his

The Murderous Vineyard Workers Story.

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Mark 12.1-11, Matthew 21.33-46, Luke 20.9-19. Most Christians think of Pharisees as the bad guys in the gospels, ’cause of how often Pharisees objected to Jesus, Jesus objected to them right back, and how Pharisees conspired with others to get Jesus killed. Thing is, that’s only some Pharisees. Just like how the gospel of John showed Jesus getting opposed by “the Judeans” ( KJV “the Jews”) —it wasn’t all Judeans, but some Judeans. He got along just fine with Nicodemus, Lazarus and his sisters, the guy who lent him the room for Passover, and lots of other Judeans; and he got just as much pushback from his fellow Galileans! Likewise not all Pharisees objected to Jesus. Ever notice how Jesus frequently taught in synagogue? Synagogues were a Pharisee thing; nobody but Pharisees had synagogues. Those Pharisees accepted Jesus. Likewise all the Pharisees who followed him (though sometimes poorly) after he was raptured, and became the Christians of the early church. And the

God is very different from us.

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Humanity has many religions. Many views on God. Some figure there’s One, some figure there’s none, some figure there’s two (a good guy and a bad guy), some three or more, some figure the universe collectively is God, and some figure there may be gods out there but they’re not relevant to what we deal with as humans. Yeah, the Unitarians and Baha’is are gonna insist all these differences are irrelevant, so let’s just focus on what we have in common and worship that Higher Power. These two religions were developed in Christian and Muslim cultures respectively, so they’ve got a lot of bias in favor of Abrahamic monotheism, but they’re flexible… and from every other religion’s point of view, too flexible. Each religion has a lot of non-negotiables. (Even Unitarians; ask ’em sometime if they’re willing to let an unrepentant Nazi join their church.) Each religion is pretty sure they understand God best. You’re not gonna see the Unitarians and Baha’is consolidate into one church a

The spiritual gifts test.

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Most Christians never bother to ask, “What are spiritual gifts?” We just presume we know, and not our heads knowingly, as if we’re totally familiar with the concept. But ask your average Christian just what these spiritual gifts are, and they’ll stammer out a few odd answers. “Um… kindness? Friendliness? Encouragement?” No, that’s fruit. Try again. “Er… generosity? Helpfulness? Ooh, discernment!” Still fruit, but the “discernment” answer is on the right track, even though there’s a totally non-spiritual form of discernment which detectives regularly use. And clever people. And con artists, unfortunately. Well, I’ll stop leaving you in suspense. Spiritual gifts aren’t talents which make us more “spiritual” (which, to many Christians, means “churchy”). They’re special abilities the Holy Spirit gives us. Supernatural special abilities. Like these. 1 Corinthians 12.7-11 KJV 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is

“Unspoken.”

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High school youth group services can vary. My previous church’s youth services looked exactly like the adult services: There’d be worship music, then the youth pastor would deliver a sermon. When I was in high school, the service was way more informal: We’d play a game for a half hour, then sit down, sing a few worship choruses while the pastor led on acoustic guitar, then he’d present a short message, pray, and then we’d hang out till our parents picked us up—at which point the kids who could drive, drove home. Before the pastor prayed, he’d take prayer requests. Got anything to ask of God? Want a real live capital-P P ASTOR to pray about it?—’cause surely Jesus hears his prayers, if anyone’s. Here’s your chance kids. Pitch him anything. So we would. Big test coming up; we want God’s help, either in improving our memory, or compensating for our rotten study habits. Big game coming up; we want God’s help to do our best, and of course we’d like him to confound our opponen

The Watchful Slaves Story.

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Luke 12.35-40, Matthew 24.42-44. This is another parable about Jesus’s second coming, sometimes called the parable of the watchful servants. Frequently it gets mixed up with Jesus’s Wise and Stupid Slaves Story in Matthew , or the Watchful Doorman Story (found in all the synoptic gospels , and actually comes next in Luke ), because some of the ideas and verses overlap. Other times people chop off verses 39-40 because they’d rather make a separate story of them. Unlike the other gospels, this one includes the idea—consistent with Jesus’s character, as demonstrated when he washed his students’ feet—that in God’s kingdom, the master serves the students. Jesus tells his students this right after he tells ’em to save up treasure in heaven. Luke 12.35-40 KWL 35 “Be people dressed for work, with your lanterns burning. 36 Like you ’re people waiting for your master once he leaves the wedding feast , so when he arrives and knocks, they can immediately open the door for

Africanus and Eusebius on Jesus’s two genealogies.

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Eusebius Pamphili was the bishop of Caesarea, Judea, from 314 to 339. He wrote the first full-length Christian history of the church, Historia Ecclesiae / Church History , sometimes called Ecclesiastical History , in part to defend the church as well as give its background. Today’s excerpt is from Church History 1.7, in which he explains why Jesus has two genealogies. Popularly, Christians claim one belongs to his mom, and the other to his adoptive dad. Sometimes they vary about which belongs to whom; frequently Matthew is considered Mary’s, because it appears to have the more legitimate royal claim. (Though I remind you God can anoint anyone king he pleases, as he did Saul, David, Jeroboam, and Jehu; Jesus’s only ancestral “requirement” was he be David’s descendant, and he is in both genealogies.) To help, Eusebius borrows a big long excerpt from fellow Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus, from his letter to Aristides of Athens, now lost. (Some Christians have tri

Heavens!

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HEAVEN 'hɛ.vən noun . The dwelling place of God, his angels, and debatably good humans after they die. Traditionally depicted as above the sky. 2. A euphemism for God himself. [“Sin displeases heaven.”] 3. The sky, perceived as a vault containing the sun, moon, planets, and stars. 4. A place of bliss. [“This is heaven!”] 5. Short for the kingdom of heaven, i.e. God’s kingdom. 6. The state of being in God’s presence, namely after death. [Heavenly 'hɛv.ən.li adjective .] As you can see, there are multiple definitions of our word “heaven.” But when Christians talk about heaven, we mean the dwelling place of God. Right? Not really. In fact not usually . In my experience, when Christians talk about heaven, we’re actually talking about the kingdom of heaven. In other words, God’s kingdom. Which is meant to happen here on earth . We Christians are supposed to be already living like it’s here—and when Jesus returns, he’ll fully set it up and run it. But too of

God can’t abide sin?

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“God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.” It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular. It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure. Well… okay, self-righteous. You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God. Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Or liberalism. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have these prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice

The rosary: Meditation… oh, and prayers to Mary.

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Some years ago a reader asked me about rosaries. I gotta admit I don’t have a lot of experience with ’em. Rosaries are a Roman Catholic tradition, and I grew up Fundamentalist —and Fundies are hugely anti-Catholic, so any Catholic traditions are looked at with suspicion and fear. Many Evangelical Protestants are likewise wary of Catholic practices. Very few do rosaries. Evangelicals assume a rosary is a string of prayer beads. Actually it’s not. The rosary is the super-long string of rote prayers you recite, and how you keep track of which prayer you’re on, and how many you have left, is with the beads. Each bead represents one prayer. And most of these prayers are the Ave Maria /“Hail Mary.” It’s prayed from 50 to 150 times. Goes like so. Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Lk 1.28 Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Lk 1.42 Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Five Stupid Teenagers Story.

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Matthew 25.1-13. The Five Stupid Teenagers Story is also called the parable of the virgins, of the maidens, of the bridesmaids; of the wise and foolish virgins, or of the 10 virgins. Usually they’re called virgins ’cause that’s traditionally how people have translated παρθένοις / parthénis : A girl, or unmarried woman, and women back then used to marry mighty young. Like as soon as they attained legal adulthood, so 13 years old. Since they were unmarried, the usual assumption is in that culture they’d be virgins, which is a reasonable assumption. But parthénos was sometimes used in Greek literature to describe young women who weren’t virgins, like in the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes. Maiden is alternately used to describe them, but maiden historically means the same thing as virgin . And in either case I’m not sure Jesus’s point had anything to do with their virginity nor marital status. More like with their youth. You know how some kids can be wise and clever, and