title + tabs

Resolutions.

The end of the year means many people, us included, begin to think of New Year’s resolutions: The stuff in our lives we’d like to change, and we’ll make these changes right after the holidays are over. We’ll cut back on sugar and carbohydrates. We’ll exercise more; maybe join a gym. We’ll spend fewer hours on video games or Facebook or other time-wasting hobbies. We’ll learn Spanish, or learn to cook, or learn to scuba dive. We’ll travel more, yet somehow spend less. We’ll learn French cooking, yet somehow eat healthier. We’ll watch less TV, yet start watching that one show we were most curious about. Hey, nobody said it was all logical.

As Christians, we’ll often resolve to be better Christians. We’ll resolve to pray more. Or go to church more regularly. Or read more bible—perhaps even all the way through. Or put more in the collection plate. Or join one of our church’s ministry groups.

Yet like all the other resolutions we make at the end of December, chances are it’ll be broken and abandoned by the middle of March. Why?

New Year’s Day.

When Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar in 45 BC—adding leap years so as to keep the solstices and equinoxes from sliding around from year to year—he changed New Year’s Day from 1 March to 1 January, and set that date at eight days after the winter solstice.

When the Romans became Christians, they kept the calendar. Though local customs sometimes altered the date of the new year: Some started the new year at Augustus Caesar’s birthday; some at Christmas; some at Advent; some at the first day of spring (or 25 March, as England did from 1155 to 1751). Today, most of the planet uses the Gregorian calendar, and accepts 1 January as the start of the new year.

But does 1 January have any religious significance? Nah. It’s a secular holiday.

It doesn’t stop Christians from trying to Christianize it.

Give to the needy. The truly needy.

For the past two weeks, one of the blogs I follow has temporarily stopped posting articles about Christ, and how to follow him better. Instead, they’re posting articles about why their ministry is so meaningful. And since it’s the end of the year, and you might not yet have donated so much money that you can now deduct it from your taxes, perhaps you could send some of it their way. Someone’s offered them a matching grant, and they’d love to get their mitts on that fat pile of cash as well.

Is their ministry meaningful? Well yeah; it’s why I read their blog. But aren’t there thousands of Christian blogs and ministries on the Internet, doing precisely the same thing, which don’t suspend their mission every December so they can beg for money? Yeah; in fact that’d be most of them. And if they couldn’t afford to continue their ministry any more, wouldn’t those thousands of blogs and ministries more than make up the slack? Sure; they could do so right now.

Which ministries, on the other hand, don’t have anyone to immediately step in if they were to disappear? Which ministries serve a dire need in the Kingdom of God? Fr’instance, which ministries feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Treat the sick? Visit the prisoners? Which ministries serve the least of Jesus’s sisters and brothers? Which of them, if underfunded, can’t serve these people, leaving them hungry, naked, sick, and abandoned?

Those, I would say, are the ministries we need to send our money to. Not us bloggers.

This January, read the bible. All of it.

Come January, people are gonna make a lot of New Year’s resolutions, and try to stick to them. Churches likewise are gonna try various beginning-of-the-year stunts. Some, like my church, declare a fast. Some spend 40 days trying to figure out their purpose, or their church’s purpose, or somebody’s purpose. Some start new programs, or wake up old ministries, so as to connect with all the people who made New Year’s resolutions. All good endeavors.

Some churches use January to restart their bible-reading programs for the year. Their plan is for their members to read the bible in a year. Or in six months; or if they’re being daring, four months.

Five years ago my response to one of those programs was, “It’ll take a whole year? Please. I could read it in a month.” So I did. I’ve done so every January since.

No it’s not impossible.

The bible-reading program.

If you’re not reading the bible on a regular basis, you need to start.

Why? Lots of reasons: You learn what God’s voice sounds like; you learn what he expects of his people; you learn about his love; you get encouragement; you get correction for your flawed beliefs about God; you get inspired to follow him closer, love him more, and do good deeds. The bible is such a useful help in Christian growth, it makes no sense for a Christian, who has access to a bible, to dismiss it.

So on a regular basis, get a bible and read it. And to help you read the whole thing, and keep track, here’s the More Christ bible-reading program.

How is Messiah David’s son?

Some commentators interpret this story as Jesus poking back at the scribes for asking him that whole “Which one’s the best command?” question.

I don’t, for two reasons. One is Mark sets the story in a new location, “in temple,” implying the last couple stories weren’t in temple. Time had passed, and other things had been taught, between then and this.

The other is Jesus is kind. Yes, he pokes. But he doesn’t poke back. He tries to make us think, but not as punishment or revenge for anything we did. Yes, the scribes’ ideas of Messiah were wrong; too simplistic. But nobody at the time, not even Jesus’s students, understood Messiah correctly. Jesus wasn’t trying to “expose [the scribes] as false teachers,” as one commentator put it. Nor take them down a peg. He only meant to stretch his listeners.

Jesus once said in reply, while he taught in temple, “Why do the scribes say Messiah is David’s son? By the Holy Spirit, David himself said,

 

‘The Lord said to my master,

“Sit at my right

till I put your enemies beneath your feet.”’

 

David himself called him ‘master.’ How is Messiah his son?”

The large crowd enjoyed listening to Jesus.

Proof-texting.

Proof text [prūf tekst, noun] A verse from the scriptures used (or misused) as evidence, or a reference, to the idea one wishes to teach.
2. [verb] To use (or misuse) the scriptures as evidence or a reference.

There are two ways Christians proof-text from the bible.

The proper way is to start from a passage of scripture. Study it: See whether it’s been translated properly, learn the history behind it, read the context of its paragraph or chapter or book, come to a common-sense conclusion about what it means, then double-check whether our interpretation isn’t wildly different from the way every other Christian has interpreted it. In other words, practice good theology. Once done, teach your conclusions.

Then there’s the other, all-too-common way: Pick a subject you wish to speak upon. Come to a conclusion about that subject, based on what you’re pretty sure God thinks about it. Then go hunt down some bible verses to back you up. If you can’t find any, find some which are close enough. Or dig through a few different translations: Maybe they phrased it in a way which works better for you. What about the context? Context schmontext: As I said, you’re pretty sure what God thinks about the topic already, and he won’t mind if you stretch his words to suit your message. After all, God’s word is living and active, which means stretchy like Silly Putty: Able to lift the ink off the pages of the bible, and then you can bend them to your heart’s content.

Out of Context:
Be perfect.

God doesn’t want us to sin. We’re told so, over and over again, in the scriptures. Sin alienated Adam and Eve from the LORD, which is why he had to remove them from Paradise lest they eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in their sin. Sin caused the LORD to hand down his Law to Moses and the Hebrews, so they’d know what he expects of them, and what not to do. Sin was why the prophets warned Israel, time and again, that they were violating the LORD’s commands, and would suffer consequences for it. Sin was why Jesus died: He paid the penalty for our sins, and bailed us out. This doesn’t mean we should take advantage of his generosity, and throw a few extra sins on the pile just because Jesus will cover it: Stop sinning. Start acting like God’s children, instead of like devils who sin like they’re even trying to offend him. Be better. Be perfect, if possible—because the Holy Spirit can actually make it possible.

Christians preach this message from time to time. In so doing, we often trot out this scripture:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

—Jesus,

Can’t get any clearer than that. God wants us to be perfect. Jesus says so.

St. Stephen’s Day.

The second day of Christmas is also known as St. Stephen’s Day. It’s the day we remember (when we remember to remember) the first Christian to be martyred, murdered because of Jesus. Stephen’s story comes up in Acts 6-7.

In eastern churches, Stephen’s day is tomorrow, 27 December. (If they’re using the old Julian calendar, that becomes 9 January in the western calendar). In certain countries it’s an official holiday, celebrated alongside Boxing Day, which is also today.

Incarnation.

The Christianese term for God becoming human is incarnation, from the Latin word incarnátio, which literally means “in meat” or “in flesh.” The infinite God, a non-physical spirit, decided for practical purposes to be a human.

Not just look like a human. Not temporarily assume a human shape. Not take over an existing human, scoop out the spirit, and replace it with the Holy Spirit. These are some of the many weird theories people have invented about how Jesus isn’t really or entirely God. (There are just as many theories about how Jesus isn’t really or entirely human.) And mainly they were invented by people who are outraged by the idea, and just can’t embrace it, of God becoming meat.

To them, it makes God less-than-God. It undoes his divinity. It dirties him. It ruins him. Meat is icky. Humanity, mortality, the realness of our everyday existence, is too gross for God to experience. Sweating, sickness, having to use the toilet, suffering from acne, scratching bug bites, belching and farting, waking up with a morning erection… Have I outraged you? If so, it’s because you need to let it sink in: God is meat. Meat meat meat meat meat. MEAT.

Christmas.

The second most important Christian holiday (after Easter) is of course Christmas. That’s what English-speakers call the Feast of the Nativity, the 12-day celebration of Christ Jesus’s birth. It begins 25 December, and ends 5 January.

Most people are surprised when I tell them Christmas is a 12-day thing. Though they’ve heard the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” all their lives, for most of them Christmas is two at the most: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Most Christians don’t recognize, much less observe and celebrate, the other 11 days. For that matter, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day usually consist of some rather un-Christmas-like behavior.

What do you do those other 11 days?

The second coming, Revelation style.

The problem with using Revelation to talk about Jesus’s second coming is it’s all apocalypses: It’s nothing but freaky images which represent events from John’s future (and, for the most part, our past). Likewise it represents a lot of things from the point of view of heaven—and we have no frame of reference whatsoever so we can say, “Oh, he’s talking about this angel,” or “He’s means this event.” We don’t know the history of heaven: God hasn’t shared it. All we have is an apocalyptic images of what might have happened in heaven—and our fertile imaginations, which have invented all sorts of freaky interpretations of Revelation.

So whenever we look at Revelation, we have to bear this fact in mind: We don’t know what it means. We will know, after Jesus returns, if he sees fit to explain any of it—and if we even care, because we’ll be way too jazzed about Jesus’s return. Meanwhile, we don’t know. Anyone who claims to know for certain, is either a fool or a fraud.

The existence of God.

The existence of God isn’t really a theology subject. It’d be like starting a literature class with the question, “Is there such a thing as literature?” or “Does literature exist?” Well duh—if it didn’t exist, you wouldn’t bother with the class. You might need to define exactly what you mean by “literature” (are you talking about classics of literature, or just anything people have written?) just like theology has to define exactly what we mean by God. But if you’re struggling with whether God exists, you don’t study theology: You go find God. Come back once you’ve found him. Otherwise you’re gonna suck as a theologian.

(I know; agnostic theologians insist they have every right to study theology, and make theology statements, same as believers. But it’s just as stupid as making scientific statements when you don’t really believe in science, as demonstrated by “creation scientists” regularly.)

So where do we discuss the existence of God? Right here: As part of Christian apologetics. We look at reasonable evidence for Christianity—answers which make sense to both us and others—mostly to confirm our beliefs for ourselves, and partly so we can explain ourselves to others.

The coming of the Son of Man.

After Christians worldwide go through a great deal of suffering, Jesus will return. Since Christians worldwide are currently going through a great deal of suffering, I see no reason he can’t return at any time. In the gospels, Jesus described his second coming this way.

But in those days, after that tribulation:

The sun will go into shadow.

The moon won’t give its reflection.

The stars will fall down from the sky.

The heavenly powers will be shaken.

Then they’ll see the Son of Man coming

in the clouds, with great power and glory.

Then he’ll send out his angels

They’ll gather his chosen people from the four winds,

from the edge of the world

to the edge of heaven.

—Jesus,

God is Jesus.

If Jesus is God, the inverse is automatically true: God is Jesus.

Here’s where even Christians are gonna balk. A lot of us are used to thinking of Jesus as only part of God. That’s how many Christians choose to interpret the Trinity: “Three persons, one God” to them means the three persons make up one God, just like the lions make up Voltron. (For you millennials: Like the zords make up Megazord on Power Rangers. For you baby boomers… nah, none of your childhood TV shows had cool fighting mechas like ours. Sorry. You were deprived. Just imagine five small robots that combine into one big super-robot. Okay, pop-culture digression over.) Jesus, to their minds, is only a part of God, not the whole.

However, these very same Christians don’t struggle at all with the idea God is the Father of Jesus. Tell them, “God is the Father,” and they’ll respond, “Of course God’s our Father.” They won’t reply, as they will with Jesus, “Well no; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together are God. The Father’s only one person of the Trinity, and by himself he’s not God.” They immediately recognize if they were to say any such thing—that God isn’t Father—it’s heresy. And to a smaller degree, many of these same folks recognize the very same thing about the Holy Spirit: God, especially when he interacts with his people, is the Holy Spirit.

But when it comes to Jesus, the most common reaction I see from people is, “Well, no… Jesus is part of God. You’ve left out the other parts.”

Jesus is God.

Nobody has seen God, ever.

The only-begotten God,

the one from the Father’s womb:

This one explains him.

—John,

An unfamiliar, but accurate, translation of what the evangelist John said at the beginning of his gospel.

Jesus, who is God, knows precisely what God is like. He was sent from God, to reveal God, as God’s revelation. What we know about God must be filtered through Jesus. As John says, only Jesus explains God—because Jesus is God.

(Yes, the King James Version has “only-begotten Son.” And it’s wrong. The Textus Receptus, the Greek New Testament the KJV is based on, went with “only-begotten Son,” which is not what we find in the earliest copies of John. Some early copier was a little weirded out by the idea of a begotten God: It makes it sound like God was created. But that’s not what begotten means.)

The idea that Jesus is God, bugs a lot of people.

Messianic prophecies.

Messianic prophecies are the scriptures in the Old Testament which predict the eventual coming of Messiah—whom we Christians recognize, and proclaim, to be Jesus of Nazareth.

It really impresses Christians how Jesus fulfills ancient prophecies predicting his coming. Maybe too much. I’ve heard it taught there are more than 800 such prophecies, and Jesus fulfills every last one of them. What are the odds? Actually, some offer calculations of those odds, and came up with all kinds of astronomical numbers, which Christians seem to find really impressive… and people who know anything about statistics seem to find really dumb. It’s in fact impossible to scientifically calculate those odds. Human relationships have far too many variables. You can do it with junk science, but that won’t make our case any.

And here’s some more bad math: There actually aren’t 800 Messianic prophecies. The true number is closer to 200.

The second coming.

Instantly after Jesus ascended to heaven, two men appeared to his followers and said this:

Men, Galileans: Why have you been standing here staring into the sky? This Jesus, this one who was taken from you into the sky: He will come back this way, in the same way you saw him go into the sky.

—The men,

We Christians expect, once God decides the time is right, Jesus will return to the earth in person as the head of an invading army of angels and Christians, to take possession of the earth he created, and rule it himself as King. We call this the second coming of Christ. The first, of course, being when he was born.

Born again.

Born again [bôrn ə•GEN, adj.] Converted to a stronger faith in, and a more personal relationship with, Christ Jesus.

Certain Christians don’t believe you’re a legitimate Christian unless you’ve been born again.

This is a Christianese term which basically points to a specific time when you or I surrendered our lives to Jesus. In that very instant, the Holy Spirit entered our lives, and we became “born again.” If you’ve never had that experience, or if there’s no date you can point to where you “made Jesus your personal savior,” many Christians figure, bluntly, you were never saved; you’re no Christian at all.

The fivefold ministry. Fourfold? Sevenfold?

Fivefold ministry. [FĪV•fōld MIN•əs•trē, noun] The belief that five gifts listed in Ephesians 4.11—namely an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher—are in fact offices which ought to be filled in contemporary churches, and made part of church leadership.

The leadership model we see in the scriptures, namely in 1-2 Timothy and Titus, is that of an epískopos (usually translated “overseer,” “bishop,” or “pastor”) assisted by presbýteroi (“elders,” or among Roman Catholics, “priests”) and diákonoi (“deacons” or “servants”). But in the early days of the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900s, prophets began to insist their particular ministry merited some sort of leadership position in the church. Their basis for this claim comes from this list Paul gave of Christ’s ministry gifts.

Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. They’re for the purpose of setting up holy people for good works; for building up Christ’s body till we’ve all arrived at a unified faith and knowledge of God’s Son; for producing a mature, measured-up, complete Christian.

—Paul,

The way this passage has been historically interpreted, is that these were gifts given to help start the church.

The apostasy before the second coming.

Fellow Christians, we now discuss the second coming of our Master, Christ Jesus, and our gathering together with him. It’s so your minds won’t be shaken up, nor go into a panic, every time some spirit, or message, or letter (like those from us) claims the Lord’s Day had already come. Don’t let anyone trick you in any way.

The apostasy has to come first. The lawless person, the child of destruction, has to be revealed: The antagonist, exalting himself over everything called “god” and “worshipful,” even so far as to sit in God’s temple and claim he’s God himself. Don’t you remember I told you this when I was with you?

Now, you know what holds his revealing back, till his time comes. This lawlessness stays a mystery till the one who holds it back for now, gets out of the way. Then the lawlessness will be revealed—which the Master Jesus will burn up with the breath of his mouth, and destroy by the glory of his second coming.

This coming is to oppose Satan’s work—every fake power, sign, and miracle; every twisted deception towards those who are damned because they won’t love truth and wouldn’t allow Jesus to save them. This is why God lets them be strongly deluded: So they’ll believe the fakes, and may all be condemned. They won’t believe truth, but take pleasure in wrongdoing.

—Paul, Silas, and Timothy,

Before Jesus returns, bad stuff has to happen.

Now, where Christians disagree is whether all this bad stuff is happening or has happened already, or whether this stuff has yet to happen.

White Jesus, and those who insist on him that way.

On Wednesday, 11 December, Fox News host Megyn Kelly insisted both Jesus and Santa Claus are white. Appropriately enough to the time of year, the Internet lit up like a Christmas tree: Just about everyone pointed out both Jesus and St. Nicholas were Middle Easterners in the Roman Empire, and as such were so not white. They were brown. They’re only depicted as white in western and American art. Artists wanted to identify with them, or make them more familiar to local audiences, or portray them in church pageants without wearing brownface. We see this in art of the two men throughout Europe and the Middle East: Wherever they’re painted, they tend to look like the locals.

Kelly and I (we’re the same age) grew up in a time in America when just about every picture of Jesus to be found in Protestant and Catholic churches, depicted him as white. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most diverse parts of the country, and even so: White Jesus was everywhere. Most popular was Werner Sallman’s Head of Christ [at left], which you’d see all over the Christian subculture: Black churches, white churches, Hispanic churches, Chinese churches, everywhere. Churches even frame and display it the same way government offices display the President’s portrait. Sallman also produced a popular picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. And of course all our Sunday school materials illustrated Jesus as white; all our Nativity crèches made him white; all our stained-glass windows were of White Jesus. Stands to reason you’d get that idea fixed in your mind.

Plus, all the Jews I knew where white. (I don’t know about Kelly’s experience.)

Yes, this is an excuse for being ignorant. You see, we were never taught otherwise. No pastor ever gestured at the portraits of White Jesus and pointed out, “Of course, you know he’s not really white.” This was the image of Jesus we were expected to unthinkingly accept. So we did.

Set your hearts for Jesus’s invasion.

Be patient for now, fellow Christians, till the Master’s invasion. Look, the farmer looks forward to the earth’s valuable fruit, being patient with it till it’s been through early and late rains. You be patient like that. Set your hearts in the right direction, for the Master’s invasion comes near.

I use the word “invasion” for parusía/“[second] coming.” That’s the proper sense of the word.

Ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, Christians have expected him to return at any time. True, it’s taking him a mighty long time. But as I point out from time to time, he may put off coming back for everyone for many more decades, but one day he’s definitely coming for you individually. And me. And everyone else on the planet. Everybody dies, and we don’t always know when. So be ready.

Everyone will see the Son of Man return.

So when they tell you, “Look, he’s in the desert,” don’t go. “Look in the inner rooms!”—don’t believe it. For just as lightning flashes in the east, and is visible in the west, it’ll be like that when the Son of Man comes. When there’s a corpse, there’s vultures, gathering round it.

—Jesus,

People struggle a bit with that last sentence—“When there’s a corpse, there’s vultures, gathering round it”—because it seems an abrupt change in tone for the text. They like to interpret it to mean judgment: When Jesus returns, sinners are gonna die, or sinful institutions are gonna be destroyed, and there’ll be vultures. But it’s not a judgment; it’s just a saying, like “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” or “If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” It’s mean to say if it obviously looks like Jesus has returned, he has; and if it looks like nothing, it’s because it’s nothing. Or a con.

Oh, there will be deceptions. There’ve been many. Even in Jesus’s day, people have claimed to be Messiah, and of course weren’t. And after Jesus, people have either claimed to be Messiah instead of Jesus, or that they’re some new reincarnation of Jesus, or otherwise are Jesus—or that Jesus actually has returned, but in some secret special way only they can see. Even today, Dispensationalists are claiming when Jesus returns, it’ll only be for the Christians, not the world… and later, he’ll come back to kill the world. Or judge it; same difference.

St. Nicholas’s Day.

Santa Claus is based on an actual guy. He’d be Nikólaos of Myra, whom we also know as St. Nicolas. His feast day is today, in honor of his death on 6 December 343.

While a lot of people know about the Santa Claus mythology—whether it comes from Clement Moore’s poem, the Rankin-Bass animated specials, or the various movies which play with the Santa story—they tend to know little to nothing about the person at the back of it all. So let me rectify that.

Trilemma.

Trilemma [trī•LEM•mə, noun] A difficult choice between three [unfavorable] options. In Christian apologetics, it almost always refers to C.S. Lewis’s three options as to who Christ Jesus is (as later articulated by Josh McDowell): “Liar, lunatic, or Lord.”

Years ago I made the mistake of trying to edit a Wikipedia article on C.S. Lewis. Trust me, you don’t want to do that. Certain Protestants consider Lewis as sacred as Mary is to Roman Catholics, and a few of them have taken possession of that particular page. Change anything, and they’ll quickly change it right back. Anyhow, the bit I wanted to tweak was on the trilemma, which has its own page now. Those who occupy the Lewis page are adamant the trilemma stay in there.

Trilemma is not Lewis’s word. It’s Josh McDowell’s. Lewis knew better than to coin such a word. But if you’re a fan of Christian apologetics, and C.S. Lewis, the trilemma is likely one of your favorites among his writings.

Jesus’s ascension.

Once the students and Jesus were together, they were questioning him, saying, “Master, is it time for you to set up Israel’s kingdom again?”

He told them, “The Father sets times and moments by his own power, and it’s not for you to know them. Instead, you’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. You’ll be my witnesses in both Jerusalem and all Judea, and Samaria, and the far side of the world.”

As they watched him say this, Jesus was lifted up. A cloud concealed him from their eyes. As they were intently staring into the sky where he went, look: Two men, in white robes, had been there with them.

They said, “Men, Galileans: Why have you been standing here staring into the sky? This Jesus, this one who was taken from you into the sky: He will come back this way, in the same way you saw him go into the sky.”

—Luke,

The Greek (and Hebrew) word for “sky” can also be translated “heaven.” Not that heaven, the plane of existence of God, is in the sky—or anywhere in our universe. They don’t become the same place until the End. But Jesus needed them to see him leave this plane, in a way they could relate to; in a way impossible, at the time, for them to follow.

The reason this is an Advent scripture is ’cause of the message the men in white gave the students: Jesus is coming back. He went up. And later, he’s coming back down.

“God’s perfect will.”

One of the more common ways Christians make ourselves insane is by worrying about whether we’re following God’s will.

No, I’m not talking about following God’s commands. Obeying God should be the only will of God we’re concerned about. Quite often the Christians who stress out over “God’s will” aren’t worried much at all about whether they’re following God’s commands any. What they mean by “God’s will” is something wholly different.

If you tried to get them to describe it, a lot of ’em will say it’s God’s perfect will: It’s the specific roadmap God has in mind for each individual Christian’s life. See, God knows your future, and mine. And God, because he knows all, also knows our potential futures. He can see every possible future timeline. Of those timelines, one of them—and, they’re pretty sure, only one of them—is “God’s best.” It’s the timeline where we’d only ever make the wisest and best and most moral and most discerning choices. It’s the timeline where we’re so in sync with God, our lives turn out precisely as God wants.

They’re nervous lest they miss “God’s best,” and wind up with another future. One which isn’t God’s best. “God’s second-best,” maybe, or at worst “God’s worst.” One which turns out precisely as God doesn’t want… and probably sucks for us too.

You see, a lot of the motivation for striving after “God’s best” is the assumption it won’t include persecution, deprivation, disappointment, heartache, loss, poverty, tribulation… like Jesus suffered. Now think about that for a moment: Jesus fully knew God’s will and never sinned. So if any human life reflected “God’s perfect will” completely, wasn’t it Jesus’s?

Mark 12.29-31.
The top two commands.

First is, “Listen, Israel: Our god is the Lord; the Lord is One; and you must love your god the Lord with all your heart, life, purpose, and might.” Second is, “Love your neighbor like yourself.” No command is higher than these.

—Jesus,

I just wrote on this recently, but it doesn’t matter how long ago it came up: If Jesus considers these commands to be the top two in the bible, they’re commands we ought to have memorized, and ought to be practicing.

They’re both bible quotes themselves: Loving God, the LORD, is from Deuteronomy 6.4-5, and loving neighbors is from Leviticus 19.18. Wouldn’t hurt to memorize those verses on their own. But the reason I suggest memorizing Jesus’s whole statement from Mark is to include Jesus’s endorsement, “No command is higher than these.”

Jesus first talks of his second coming.

The first suggestion of a second coming—the idea Jesus isn’t gonna take possession of his Kingdom during his first coming—appears in the Olivet Discourse, the bit in Mark 13, Matthew 24-25, and Luke 21, where Jesus answers his students’ question about the End. In each gospel’s version of the Discourse, Jesus brought up the tribulation, his followers’ great and terrible time of suffering. Christians would be persecuted and killed; a horrible outrage would take place which his people need to flee from; and fake Messiahs and prophets will try to lead them astray.

Where’s Jesus during this time of tribulation? Apparently not here. None of his statements about what’s to come, are phrased to indicate he’s gonna be physically among his followers when the tribulation hits them. Or should I say us? Well, that depends on when and where the tribulation takes place.

Scriptures for Advent.

Each December during Advent, I focus on scriptures which are related to the things we need focus on during Advent: Jesus’s first coming, and Jesus’s second coming. This year, I’ll look at verses about Jesus’s second coming. For your convenience, here are the links to the articles I’ve posted in previous years—namely about his first coming.