31 August 2015

“Can I pray for you?”

When you don’t know what to do, talk to God. Hopefully not after you’ve exhausted all options: You’ve spoken to him before you tried something fruitless. But yeah, if you don’t know what else to do, talk to God.

Now, not only is this always good advice to follow, but it’s good advice when dealing with other people. When we talk to others, and they share their difficulties with us, sometimes we don’t know how to respond. We feel we ought to say something comforting to them, or give some helpful advice. (We don’t always recognize when they don’t want advice, and aren’t asking for any: They’re just unburdening themselves.) When you don’t know what to say, your best response is, “Can I pray for you?”

28 August 2015

“Taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

The phrase “taking the Lord’s name in vain” usually refers to when someone uses God’s name to swear with. In surprise you exclaim, “God!” In pain you exclaim, “Jesus Christ!” In exasperation you exclaim, “Oh, Lord!” In anger you exclaim, “God damn it!”

The Christianese part isn’t that. It’s when Christians object to swearing with God’s name. “Don’t do that! You’re taking the Lord’s name in vain. There’s a whole commandment about that.” It’s one of the Ten, y’know.

“Don’t swear by the name of your god, the Lord, for no good reason.
For the Lord won’t free your obligation when you’ve used his name for no good reason.

—The Lord, Exodus 20.7 KWL

This, they say, forbids us from using “God” as a swear word.

Well, that’s partly correct. The command is about God’s name and swearing. But it’s about swearing by God. Not about profanities.

27 August 2015

“The silent years.”

From time to time—usually round Christmas, when preachers are talking about the annunciations of John and Jesus’s birth—there’s a lot of talk about “the silent years,” and how these annunciations mark the end of it.

The silent years are a time-period of about 400 years between Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet to write a book, and between Gabriel’s appearance to John’s father. In all that time, supposedly God was silent: He said nothing through his prophets, and did no miracles. ’Cause we don’t know of any; if there were any, there’d be more books of the bible telling of them.

(Okay, there’s the Apocrypha. But preachers who refer to “the silent years” have either never read those books, nor believe them.)

Of course this concept has huge theological problems. The main one being of a God who claimed he’d never leave nor forsake his people, Dt 31.6 yet if he turned off prophecy and miracles for four centuries, that’s precisely what he did. And don’t give me that crap about “but he left them his word”—the Old Testament. If a mother abandons her child in the dead of night, yet leaves a note with detailed instructions and expressions of love, she abandoned her child nonetheless. If “silent years” exist, whether between the Testaments or between Bible Times and the End Times, it means God lied about never leaving nor forsaking.

26 August 2015

Out of Context:
If you don’t work, you don’t eat.

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you,
that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

—Paul, Silas, and Timothy, 2 Thessalonians 3.10 KJV

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this verse quoted by people who don’t want to give to the needy.

Go to most of the grocery stores in my town, and you’ll find a beggar, sitting on the sidewalk at the edge of the parking lot, right where the customers turn into the street, holding a sign which reads something like, “Help me out.” The stores won’t let them beg in front of the stores of course, but they won’t drive them away from the sidewalks. I don’t know how much money people give them.

Their existence really irritates some people. Not because they’re outraged by the plight of the poor in this country: It’s because they’re begging. As far as the irritated folks are concerned, nobody should beg. Especially when they appear able-bodied. They’d certainly never beg. People should work for their money. After all, Paul taught, “If any would not work, neither should he eat”—and if you’re one of those bleeding-hearts who give to the beggars, you’re violating this scripture. You think you’re being kind and generous, but you’re teaching them to be dependent. Bad Christian.

25 August 2015

Why I don’t want to go to church:
I don’t trust the leaders.

Either you trust your pastor and your church’s leadership structure, or you really don’t. Ain’t no third option.

You may claim there is so a third option, and I’ve made this sound black-and-white when there are plenty of shades of gray. Y’see, we trust everyone up to a point—because everyone is fallible. (Everyone but Jesus.) So we trust the leadership of our church that far, and no further. The devil is constantly on the prowl, 1Pe 5.8 tempting church leaders to fumble and fail, and if we’re not constantly on our guard we’ll crash and burn right along with ‘em.

Okay: In principle I have no issue with this reasoning. Makes perfect sense; seems consistent with the Christian principle of testing everything. 1Th 5.21 In practice however, it becomes an excuse for holding a church at arm’s length because we expect them to ruin us—so the safest thing to do is stay disconnected, uncommitted, ready to bail at the first sign of failure. Heck, at the first sign of discomfort.