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    What Is the Church—Really?

    In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Think about what the righteous will inherit: the earth. Literally. And the earth would make for a pretty pitiful inheritance if God planned to obliterate it. But he doesn’t. Instead, he has big plans to restore it. God has a good plan for this planet that does not involve its total annihilation.  In Ephesians 1, Paul seems to have in mind the same future that Jesus promised to the meek (v. 3). The heirs of God are said to possess the current spiritual blessings as a mere down payment or deposit (v. 14); in the future,…

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    The Devil Made Me Do It

    In 1985, Richard Ramirez, a Satanist, killed fourteen Californians. Ramirez claimed evil spirits made him mutilate the elderly, women, and children. His savagery even terrified his trial judge. What do we make of this monstrosity? Or of racially motivated violence, where even Christians misappropriate Scripture to deny the basic human dignity of those they deem inferior to them? The testimonies of Christ and the apostles give evidence that demons work by seducing us with pride, greed, and lust. But can we hold demonized humans responsible for the sins committed under demonic influence? Who bears ultimate responsibility for 9/11 or the Nazi genocide of Jews? Satan, or those who commited the…

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    Feelings: A Lousy Idol

    It’s so easy to look down our 21st-century noses at the “primitive” peoples of biblical times, especially Israel’s problems with idolatry in the Old Testament. “WE don’t bow down before idols and false gods,” we think. “That was when people were less evolved intellectually and spiritually, but we modern people are so much better than that.” I’m wondering if God agrees. I don’t think so. I think that idolatry is at least as rampant in our society, but it’s more pervasive because it’s so subtle; the idols we worship aren’t physical, tangible items. We could create a long list of the abstractions we worship, but today I just want to…

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    When We Forget What Is True

    Sunday morning as I was getting ready for church, the phone rang. It was one of the women from the online support group I help moderate for those struggling with same-sex attraction. “Hi, Em.” “Sue, can you talk?” “I have two minutes.” “OK, then in two minutes tell me again why homosexuality is wrong? I’m at an AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] retreat and there are so many women here I could really connect with and they keep turning out to be gay. And the leader is wonderful, but she’s a former nun who is just so happy and content with her lesbian partner. I can’t remember why I’m supposed to be…

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    Christmas: So Much More Than Celebrating a Birthday

    Because I’m gearing up to co-teach a grad course in Medieval Spirituality and Art, I have spent a total of about four weeks in Italy in the past year. And something I discovered as I worked to increase my visual literacy by “reading” cathedral art was that artistic depictions of “Madonna and child” are not just mother-child manger-ish scenes intended to remind us of Jesus’s birth, or even over-elevations of Mary. Rather, for mostly-illiterate audiences such art was originally designed to depict the incarnation of Christ: God came in the flesh! I overheard someone talking today about how the point of Christmas is to mark the beginning of the best…

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    Dis*trac*tion – Good, Bad and Staying On Task

    Distraction = American English defines as “something that gets your attention and prevents you from concentrating on something else OR an activity that you can do for fun or entertainment ” Our 11 yr. old granddaughter rattled off her list: technology, people, sound, noise and hunger.We all know about distractions. Most of us can name our most persistent ones. I was bombarded by distractions while trying to write this blog about "distractions"! Often not inherently bad, they become a bothersome interference if they take you off focus and prevent you from staying on task…social media, busyness, too much sugar, criticism, daydreaming, volunteering, unsolicited emails, global crises news and even reading,…

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    Black Friday and Dark Hearts

    “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., is called that because it usually allows retailers to go into the black. But this year, the early morning shopping frenzy turned deadly. A Walmart employee was trampled to death by New York shoppers who broke down the door before dawn, anxious to get into the store and get their hands on the sale merchandise. The next day, the Dallas Morning News carried a short story providing analysis of why shoppers turned into killers. Fear of being unable to afford gifts drives shoppers to shop competitively The urge to snap up discounts can cause people to abandon their normal behavior When…