TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

30 June 2016

The “Wild at Heart” kind of guy.

How to turn Christ Jesus into William Wallace. (Not the real Wallace; the one depicted by Mel Gibson.)

Nine years ago a friend, who should’ve known better, gave me a copy of John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart as a Christmas gift. The book was all the rage among Christian men five years before. At the time (’cause I tried to get rid of it on Amazon) it was going for 20 cents. Betcha she found it on sale.

People buy books like Wild at Heart to inspire the men in their lives. That’d include men who don’t read. Consequently there are a lot of men who own a dusty copy of Wild at Heart, and mine’s pretty dusty too, ’cause I refuse to read it again.

I’d read it years before. It wasn’t my copy, which is the only reason I didn’t throw it across the room in disgust. Nope, I don’t care for it. Here’s why.

Eldredge’s profoundly misguided thesis is constructed around certain Happy Premises. (I stole this term from Bowfinger, which I watched again recently. Loony self-help ideas tend to gravitate together in my mind, whether fictional or not.)

  • Happy Premise #1. Man needs to be wild, free, and undomesticated; he needs to pick fights and conquer stuff.
  • Happy Premise #2. Man needs to pursue Woman, see her as his Beauty, and take her to be part of his grand adventure.
  • Happy Premise #3. This was how God made men to be, and even Jesus was like this.
  • Happy Premise #4. You must never, ever show it to the Laker Girls.

No wait; that last one’s from Bowfinger.

In Wild at Heart, Eldredge explains why humanity doesn’t know his Happy Premises, despite them being buried deep in every man’s heart (where Eldredge found them, though others hadn’t), despite them being buried deep in the scriptures (where Eldredge found them, though others can’t). Men aren’t proper, masculine males; their fathers never taught them to be one. Instead, their mothers teach boys to be girly, and domesticate and figuratively castrate them.

Hence women are wholly unfit to raise men. Seriously; that’s what Eldredge teaches. Something ladies better bear in mind, next time someone recommends this book for your husband.

If a mother will not allow her son to become dangerous, if she does not let the father take him away, she will emasculate him. I just read a story of a mother, divorced from her husband, who was furious that he wanted to take the boy hunting. She tried to get a restraining order to prevent him from teaching the boy about guns. That is emasculation. “My mom wouldn’t let me play with GI Joe,” a young man told me. Another said, “We lived back east, near an amusement park. It had a roller coaster—the old wooden kind. But my mom would never let me go.” That is emasculation, and the boy needs to be rescued from it by the active intervention of the father, or another man. Eldredge 64-65  

Another man? Any other man? Say you’re a single mom, and you’ve forbidden your son from playing with matches, ’cause you know your little firebug will wind up in the burn ward. Is Eldredge actually suggesting some unrelated stranger should be able to overrule you and supply your boy with a box of matches, because you don’t get it?

Yes. Yes he does. To make his case, Eldredge references the Clint Eastwood movie A Perfect World. Kevin Costner plays an escaped convict who kidnaps an 8-year-old boy. He lets the boy ride the roller coaster his mother wouldn’t. He compliments the boy on his penis. Yeah, there are other instances in the movie of bonding between the criminal and his victim, but Eldredge picked those two. Wild rides and genitalia. The two things in this book he upholds most.

29 June 2016

Is God gonna save everybody?

God definitely wants to. Therefore some Christians insist in the end, he will.

Universalist /ju.nə'vər.səl.əst/ n. One who believes all humanity will (eventually) be saved.
2. adj. Having to do with universalists.

I’ve mentioned before how pagans believe good people go to heaven, and bad people to hell. I should mention there’s a minority among them who believe there is no hell. Nope, not even for genocidal maniacs. Everybody goes to the same afterlife, and if you’re a westerner that’d be heaven. There might be some karmic consequences; you might find yourself in the suckier part of heaven. But considering it’s heaven, it’s not bad.

Y’see, these folks figure God is love. Don’t we Christians teach that? (Why yes we do. 1Jn 4.8) And God loves everyone—“for God so loved the world” Jn 3.16 and all that. So why would a loving God throw people in hell? Especially for something as minor as not believing in him?—which most of the time is really an honest mistake. Doesn’t sound very loving of God to toss someone into hell just because they were born in some part of the world where they were never taught about God properly—be it North Korea, Nepal, Mali, or Mississippi.

Now I agree God’s unlikely to smite people for honest mistakes. I just seriously doubt the bulk of humanity’s mistakes are honest ones. Lots of us embrace our God-beliefs purely out of convenience, pragmatism, or selfishness. That Iranian who’s never gonna hear the gospel, doesn’t wanna hear the gospel anyway. If he honestly did, he’d ask questions and track down Christians. Maybe Jesus would personally appear to him, just as he has throughout Christian history, beginning with Paul. (No, that wasn’t just a one-time deal.) That American whose parents raised her as a militant atheist, no matter how skeptical and free-thinking she claims to be, honestly doesn’t wanna challenge her parents’ claims, and see whether there’s anything to this God stuff. If she did, the first miracle she experienced would shatter her atheism like a cinderblock through safety glass.

Honest mistakes are like Calvinism: People try to defend God’s sovereignty, go overboard, and wind up teaching God’s secretly evil. But meanwhile they’re still pursuing God—and the Holy Spirit’s still producing love and patience and kindness in them, and still letting ’em into his kingdom. (Unless they’re only pursuing clever arguments, producing no fruit, and wind up some of those poor souls who are mighty shocked Jesus doesn’t know ’em. Mt 7.23) The whole “honest mistakes” cop-out is a convenient excuse to ignore God, avoid obeying him, and dodge religion, church, and Christians.

It’s a risky little game they’re playing, for Christ Jesus said not everyone’s getting saved.

Matthew 7.21-24 KWL
21 “Not everyone who calls me, ‘Master, master!’ will enter the heavenly kingdom.
Just the one who does my heavenly Father’s will.
22 At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master! Didn’t we prophesy in your name?
Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many powerful things in your name?’
23 And I’ll explain to them, ‘I never knew you.
Get away from me, all you Law-breakers.’”

And that’s the people who thought they were Christian. How much chance does the “honestly mistaken” atheist have? Well, God is gracious, so we’ll see.

Though God absolutely does wants everyone saved, 1Ti 2.4 he knows full well many people want nothing to do with him, nor his kingdom. They don’t want saving. Since God did create ’em with free will, he permits them to tell him no. He won’t force ’em into the kingdom. They don’t have to enter.

They’re really gonna hate the alternative, though.

28 June 2016

Seeker-sensitivity: Being all things to all people.

And why certain Christians confuse kindness with compromise.

Seeker /'sik.ər/ n. One who’s attempting to find religion: God, truth, peace, or self-justification.
Seeker-sensitive /'sik.ər 'sɛn.sə.dɪv/ adj. Caring about seekers’ feelings, hangups, offenses, needs, or lack of familiarity; adapting one’s message in consideration.
2. Compromising one’s message to make it more appealing.
[Seeker-sensitivity /'sik.ər sɛn.sə'dɪv.ə.di/ n.]

People are more apt to listen to you if you’re like them.

Yeah, I know there are exceptions to this rule. When I’ve been on missionary trips, the locals are kinda curious about the novelty of American foreigners, so they’ll listen to me for a bit. But only for a bit. One of the things American missionaries discovered in the 20th century (and it’s a little dumbfounding it took us so long to discover it, but it’s probably ’cause of racism) is that our missions either grow really slow, or don’t grow at all, when we don’t put the locals in charge. The fastest-growing churches and denominations are run by natives, not foreigners.

St. Paul understood this, and when he went round the Roman Empire founding churches, he recognized the importance of adjusting himself to whatever culture he worked in. Still obeying God, of course; yet living within the cultural expectations of the people he preached to. He didn’t want his obvious differences to get in the way of the gospel.

1 Corinthians 9.19-23 KWL
19 Having freedom in everything, I enslave myself. Because I could get many!
20 I become, to the Judeans, like a Judean. Because I could get Judeans!
I become, to Law-followers, like a Law-follower. Because I could get Law-followers!
21 I become, to Law-breakers, like a Law-breaker—
Not breaking God’s Law, but following Christ’s Law. Because I could get Law-breakers!
22 I become, to the weak, weak. Because I could get the weak!
I become, to whomever, whatever. Because however I could save some of them, I will.
23 I’ll do anything for the gospel, so I can be a part of it.

One of the other things American missionaries discovered in the 20th century… is that the United States is also a foreign culture. No, this isn’t still because of racism: If you grew up in popular Christian culture, you’ve got a mindset which pagans aren’t all that familiar with, don’t understand… and sometimes find wholly offensive.

Ever tried to take your pagan friends to church—only for that to be the week your pastor unexpectedly goes off on a rant about just the issues that’d totally alienate your pagan friends? Might be politics, might be social issues, might even be baseball teams. Whatever it takes for the pagans to have the knee-jerk response, “I’m never coming back here.”

Man alive, have I been there. Took months to coax ’em into the building; took all of three minutes to convince ’em they’d like hell much better.

So this is what seeker-sensitivity is about: Trying not to push people’s buttons. Trying not to alienate potential Christians. Trying to share the gospel, not our agendas. Trying to be kind to newcomers.

Thing is, look up “seeker-sensitive” on the internet, and just about all you’ll find are people who are totally against the practice. Why?

27 June 2016

The proof text.

If we’re gonna refer to the bible, let’s be sure we’re doing it right.

Proof text /'pruf tɛkst/ n. A scriptural verse or passage, used (or misused) as evidence to support the idea one wishes to teach.
2. v. Using (or misusing) the scriptures as a reference.

Y’know how sometimes I’ll mention a biblical idea, like God saving us by his grace, Ep 2.8 and do exactly what I just did there: Tack on a link to a bible verse which proves my point. It’s called proof-texting. If you weren’t sure whether that idea was backed by the bible, I pointed you to the bit of bible which confirms it.

I know; the word texting can confuse people. Especially if you’ve always thought of texting as sending a Short Message Service file from your phones. (Didn’t know that’s what SMS meant, didja?) I made the mistake of not clarifying that when I was instructing kids in how to proof-text properly. Some poor lad thought every time he referred to the scriptures, he had to send a text message—and wasn’t sure where to send it. To me? (No.)

And I also know: There are Christians who use the term “proof-texting” only when they mean wrongly referencing the bible. To them, “bible references” are proper quotes, always in context, and therefore good; “proof texts” are always misquoted, therefore bad. First time I ever heard of proof-texting, the term was introduced to me by a youth pastor who warned us kids to never proof-text. Which really alarmed me when a visiting speaker taught us we should always proof-text. For a while there I worried my church had invited the Antichrist over to mislead us all.

See, a lot of people proof-text wrong. Did it myself: When I was a kid, my youth pastors actually used to let me lead bible study groups, or even preach, from time to time. (I knew a lot of bible trivia, and they confused this with maturity.) To prepare, I’d bust out my handy Nave’s Topical Bible, which lists all the verses which touch upon almost any given Christian topic. Problem is, unless you’ve got a computer version (and sometimes even then), Nave’s verses are provided without context. And I didn’t care about context: I had my own opinion on the subject, and arrogantly assumed God felt the same way. I just wanted verses which proved me right. If they obviously didn’t, I might change my tune. But this wasn’t always obvious.

Since my youth pastors kept letting me preach, I assume I didn’t go too far afield with my out-of-context proof texts. Then again, most of the youth pastors likely did the very same thing with their own sermons. To this day I catch preachers doing it. They’ll download sermon outlines, won’t double-check the references, and misquote bible like crazy. The reason I catch ’em is because I was taught in seminary to always check references. And this bit of wisdom, I pass along to you: Always check references. Always always always.

Even when you think you already know that reference—’cause you might be wrong. As we usually are.

21 June 2016

The Jesus prayer.

The simplest prayer we can make.

In Psalm 123.3, the psalmist asked the LORD to show grace to his people. Quote it? Why sure.

Psalm 123.3 KWL
Show us grace, LORD. Show us grace, for we’re greatly despised.

The Septuagint translated it, Eléison imás, Kýrie, eléison imás/“Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us.” And in Jesus’s story of the Pharisee and the taxman, it comes up again.

Luke 18.13-14 KWL
13 Standing far away, the taxman didn’t even want to lift his eyes to heaven,
but beat his chest, saying, ‘God, be gracious to me, a sinner!’
14 I tell you: This man, not the other, went to his house right with God.
For all who lift themselves will be lowered. All who lower themselves will be lifted.”

So to this day, you’ll hear Christians pray a variation of the psalm, the taxman’s prayer, and throw Jesus in there for good measure. We call it “the Jesus prayer.” It’s a really simple, really popular rote prayer. Probably the simplest.

Kýrie Yisú Hristé, yié Théu (or yié Davíd/“son of David”) eléison me, to amartolón/“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Sometimes it gets shortened all the way down to Yisú eléison/“Jesus have mercy,” or Hristé eléison/“Christ have mercy,” or Kýrie eléison/“Lord have mercy.” But no matter the form it takes, it’s the “Jesus prayer.”

It’s similar to what Bar Timaeus shouted at Jesus to get his attention. We pray it for the same reason. We want mercy.

Mark 10.45-46 KWL
45 Hearing it was Jesus the Nazarene, Bar Timaeus began to call out,
saying, “Son of David! Jesus! Show me mercy!”
46 Many criticized him, so he’d be silent.
He called out all the more: “Son of David! Show me mercy!”

Good for him. ’Cause when we pray the Jesus prayer, sometimes we get naysayers who object to our praying this prayer. “Stop the vain repetitions. Mt 6.7 KJV That’s not how Jesus taught us to pray!”

Actually it is how he taught us to pray. In his story of the unjust judge, he taught us to be persistent, to cry out to God day and night, and not lose heart. Lk 18.1-8 This is that. It’s the prayer equivalent of a knock on the LORD’s door. It’s not a vain repetition; we’re not praying it for no reason. (Better not be, anyway.) We’re knocking so the door might be opened to us. Lk 11.9 Sometimes we gotta knock more than once. Sometimes we gotta get loud. But when we mean it, we’ll get his attention. He’ll hear. And respond.

20 June 2016

Betting on God.

Why using Pascal’s wager in apologetics is a bad bet.

Pascal’s wager /pə'skølz 'weɪ.dʒər, 'pøs.kəlz 'weɪ.dʒər/ n. Argument that it’s best to presume God exists: The possibility of hell outweighs any advantage of believing otherwise.

My first exposure to Pascal was actually PASCAL. (I lived in San Jose in the late 1970s, so as you can guess, my middle school had the best computers.) I knew PASCAL was named after Blaise Pascal (1623–62), a French mathematician and statistician. I didn’t know he was also a Catholic philosopher who came up with a popular apologetic argument. Goes like yea:

Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or he is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that he is. Pensées, 4.233

In shorter English: Either God exists or he doesn’t; you gotta pick a side. And since you’re the most likely to win big if God exists, the best bet is God exists.

’Cause here’s all its logical outcomes:

PAGAN LIFESTYLECHRISTIAN LIFESTYLE
IF NO GODDo as you will.
Natural consequences.
Ends with death.
Have a good, moral life.
Natural consequences.
Ends with death.
IF GODDo as you will.
Divinely mitigated consequences.
Eternal hellfire afterward.
Have a good, moral life.
Divinely mitigated consequences.
Eternal bliss afterward.

Best outcome   Meh outcome   Not-great outcome   Crappy outcome

If there’s no God, there are no eternal consequences. So you could live your life however you like, and see just how much you can get away with. Since it’ll be an immoral life, there’s always the risk society will find us inconvenient, destructive, or offensive, and we’ll get caught and punished. Or do something stupid or intoxicated, and wind up with a Darwin award. But if there is a God, and he’s just, consequences are guaranteed. Some of these consequences may befall us in this life; definitely they will in the next.

Whereas if we live like Christians—real Christians, not Christianists—we’ll have been loving, kind, peaceful, virtuous, Christlike people. We’d be blessings to the world—which may not appreciate us, but still. Our lives would be good and exemplary, and worth living. If there’s no God, that’s not bad. But if there is a God, we also get the infinite reward of eternal life.

19 June 2016

An unclean spirit in Jesus’s synagogue.

We’ve got ’em in our churches too, you know.

Mark 1.21-28 • Luke 4.31-37

The first time we see Jesus teach in Mark (and Matthew too, for that matter) it’s in synagogue. As was appropriate. Even walking-around rabbis like Jesus would teach in synagogue: They’d teach their kids on weekdays, and the general population on Sabbath—meaning Friday night after sundown. (Jewish days go from sundown to sundown, not midnight to midnight.)

Pharisee custom was for the synagogue president to let anyone have the floor, provided he recognized ’em as valid teachers. Visiting rabbis and scribes, new guys, or young teachers spoke first. This wasn’t necessarily to honor them. If any of ’em turned out to be wrong, as sometimes they did, the last teacher—usually the synagogue’s senior scribe—would correct them, and get the last word. Synagogues were schools, and Pharisees liked to debate, so sometimes they’d spend all night debating. Good thing it was Sabbath; in the morning they could sleep in.

Anyway, debates kept synagogue really interesting. But if the synagogue president (and later the Christian episkopós/“supervisor”) couldn’t keep order, or when people lack the Spirit’s fruit, it could also become chaos. Some people don’t know how to be civil, and deliberately pick fights, or make personal attacks. Some will nitpick stupid things, defend loopholes, and spread misinformation. The evening could become an unprofitable waste. Happened among the early Christians too. Tt 3.9-11 And that’s just discouraging.

Into the belly of this beast, Jesus went to teach about the kingdom. Mark says this happened after he gathered his students from their boats; Luke puts this story before he collected ’em. Either way.

Mark 1.21-22 KWL
21 Jesus and his students entered Kfar Nahum, and next, he joined the synagogue.
He was teaching on Sabbath 22 and they were amazed at his teaching:
His teaching wasn’t like that of the scribes, but like one with authority.
Luke 4.31-32 KWL
31 Jesus came to Kfar Nahum, a Galilean city.
He was teaching on Sabbath, 32 and they were amazed at his teaching,
because his lesson was given with power.

“Authority” in Mark and “power” in Luke are the same word, exusía(n)—the ability or authorization to do something. I translated ’em a little differently ’cause the verbal context is a little different. In Mark Jesus spoke like a boss, like someone who had every authority to declare what he declared. And maybe Luke meant the very same thing, but the wording suggests the lesson, the lógos/“word,” had the power. Either way, it amazed the synagogue audience, just as it’d later amaze people after the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 7.28-29 KWL
28 It happened when Jesus finished these lessons, the masses were amazed at his teaching:
29 His teaching wasn’t like their scribes, but like one having authority.

They weren’t used to this.

17 June 2016

Preaching, relocating, gathering students.

When Jesus started preaching the gospel in the Galilee.

Mark 1.14-20 • Matthew 4.12-22 • Luke 4.14-15, 5.1-11

I’ll admit right now: Whenever bible scholars try to sync up the gospels, we’re guessing. They’re educated guesses, but still guesses. The authors didn’t expect we’d ever try to line ’em up; some might’ve assumed there weren’t other gospels, or that theirs superseded all others. But we wanna tell Jesus’s story comprehensively, so sometimes we do. I don’t know whether the events I’m writing about here, come right after Jesus healing the prince’s son. But it kinda works, so it’s the order I’ll go in.

At some point, John the baptist got hauled off to prison, ’cause he pissed off the Galilee’s ruler, Antipas Herod.

Luke 3.19-20 KWL
19 Quarter-king Antipas Herod, embarrassed by John
about his brother’s wife Herodia, and everything evil Herod did,
20 shut up John in prison, adding this to everything.

The gospels eventually get into what became of John; it’s not pretty. But as soon as John went into the clink, Jesus took up John’s charge and began proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom.

Mark 1.14-15 KWL
14 After John’s arrest, Jesus went into the Galilee preaching God’s gospel, 15 saying this:
“The time has been fulfilled. God’s kingdom has come near.
Repent! Believe in the gospel!”
Matthew 4.12-17 KWL
12 Hearing John was arrested, Jesus went back to the Galilee.
13 Leaving Nazareth, coming to Kfar Nahum, he settled by the sea.
On the border of Zebulún and Naftalí, 14 so he could fulfill the prophet Isaiah’s word, saying,
15 “Land of Zebulún, land of Naftalí,
on the sea road, beyond Jordan, the Galilee of gentiles:
16 The people sitting in the dark see a great light.
To those sitting in the place of death’s shadow, light rises to them.” Is 9.1-2
17 From then on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent: Heaven’s kingdom has come near!”
Luke 4.14-15 KWL
14 Jesus went back into the Galilee with the Spirit’s power.
Rumor went out across the whole region about him.
15 Revered by all, Jesus taught in their synagogues.

The gospel of Christ Jesus is summed up in Mark 1.15: “The time has been fulfilled. God’s kingdom has come near.” With Messiah—who’d be Jesus—as its king.

Yet you might notice a whole lot of folks who supposedly preach “the gospel” don’t preach that. Instead they quote John 3.16: God loved the world, sent us his son, and those who believe in him get eternal life. They claim that’s the gospel. It’s not. Getting saved is how we get into the kingdom. But the full gospel is what we have now that we’re in God’s kingdom. We get access to our inheritance.

And that’s why so many evangelists only proclaim a partial gospel. Some of ’em don’t believe we have access to our inheritance. Some of ’em are mighty uncomfortable with everything God’s kingdom entails.

16 June 2016

Ritually clean and unclean: Ready for worship!

It’s not literal cleanliness. It just happens to look like it.

From time to time the scriptures talk about tahór/“clean” and tamé/“unclean.” Sometimes it’s meant literally, like when the bible refers to pure gold or silver, or refer to a dirty person or animal.

But most of the time the scriptures use these terms not literally, but ritually—what the LORD defined as “clean” or “unclean” for the purposes of worship. “Clean” things could be used for worship; “clean” people were free to worship. “Unclean” things and people couldn’t. If you were clean, you could go to temple—and the Pharisees would let you go to synagogue. If not, not.

And if unclean things were used for worship anyway, or unclean people worshiped without first purifying themselves, there were dire consequences.

Leviticus 10.1-11 KWL
1 Aaron’s sons Nadáv and Avihú: Each man took his incense-burner, lit it, placed incense in it,
and brought it into the LORD’s presence—weird fire, which God didn’t permit them.
2 So fire came out of the LORD’s presence and consumed them.
They died before the LORD’s presence.
3 Moses told Aaron, “Here’s what the LORD says to those who come near him: ‘I’m holy.
I must be glorified in the presence of all people.’” Aaron said nothing.
4 Moses called Mišahél and Elchafán, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziél, and told them, “Come in.
Carry your family out of the sanctuary. Take them outside the camp.”
5 They came in, and carried them outside the camp in their tunics, as Moses said.
6 Moses told Aaron and his sons Eleazár and Itamár, “Don’t uncover your heads.
Don’t tear your clothes. Don’t die: Anger will come on the congregation!
Your brothers, and Israel’s house, will weep over the burning the LORD burned.
7 Don’t go out the Meeting Tent door, or you’ll die: The LORD’s anointing oil is on you.”
They followed Moses’s word. 8 The LORD told Aaron, 9 “You and your sons with you:
Drink no wine nor liquor when you come to the Meeting Tent. Don’t die.
This is a rule for every generation. 10 Distinguish between holy and secular, between clean and unclean.
11 Show Israel’s sons all the rules the LORD told them by Moses’s hand.”

The reason the LORD brought up being drunk on the job, is likely ’cause Nadáv and Avihú were drunk on the job. The LORD wanted it crystal clear this behavior wasn’t acceptable. Pagan gods regularly had drunk priests—getting farshnickert was often part of their worship. But the LORD God doesn’t just accept any behavior we categorize as “worship” just because we’re earnest, or we took all the right steps, or followed the right rituals, or said the right words, or feel really good about it. Think about the last time you got a really inappropriate Christmas gift. “A jar of back-pimple cream?” “A rhinestone collar and a leash? But I don’t have a dog.” “A gift card to a steakhouse? But I’m vegan.” And the gifter tried to shrug it off with, “Well, it’s the thought that counts”—when clearly no thought went into it, and they’re either trying to unload something by regifting it, or trying to passive-aggressively give you what they feel is best.

Well, that’s what jerks we’ve become when we try to foist our preferences upon the LORD, but have never bothered to find out—or don’t really care—what he wants. Eating ham on Easter would be an obvious example. Y’ever read God’s views on pork?

The LORD has standards. Expectations. If we really love him, meet them. Otherwise don’t waste his time, or insult him with rotten substitutes. He’s holy.

Some of us Christians get this, try to find out what God legitimately wants, and strive to bring him that. Other Christians… well, they do whatever popular Christian culture figures is holy. And since those folks don’t know the difference between holiness and solemnity, they figure what God wants is old-timey music, old-timey prayers, old-timey bibles, and Christians who wear fine-looking clothes to church. They never stop and think about whether these are clean clothes—literally or ritually. It’s about looking good for others, not what God wants. You know, the hypocrites’ old problem.

Well, here’s a pointer in the correct direction: What does God consider ritually clean?

15 June 2016

What’s the difference between a seer and a prophet?

Short answer: No difference. Long answer… well, read on.

In case you’re the sort of person who skips titles (a phenomenon I’ve seen a bunch of times, and still don’t get), I remind you this essay is called “What’s the difference between a seer and a prophet?”

Short answer: No difference. Same thing.

1 Samuel 9.9 KWL
In the past, in Israel, a man said this when he went to seek God: “Walk, walk to the seer.”
For “the prophet” today was “the seer” in the past.

The Hebrew ro’éh/“one who sees” referred to people who saw stuff the rest of us don’t, ’cause like all legitimate prophets, seers had the Holy Spirit, who’d show ’em stuff. It’s a term which didn’t entirely die out in ancient Hebrew, because we find it in the late-biblical-Hebrew book Chronicles. “Khanani the seer” was sent to correct King Asa ben Abijah, who jailed him for it. 2Ch 16.7-10

So since there are prophets today, there are seers today. Every prophet is a seer.

But.

Nowadays, there are prophets who like to sort different types of prophets, different categories of prophecy, with different labels. Some of ’em are teach there is so a difference between a prophet and a seer. A seer is a prophet, but while an ordinary prophet does such-and-so, a seer does this-’n-that. A regular prophet gets revelation thisaway, but a seer gets revelation thataway. It all depends on the prophecy teacher, and what clever-sounding “details” they’ve discovered about how God messages his people.

The most common redefinition of “seer” I’ve come across, sorta makes sense. These prophecy teachers consistently claim a seer sees stuff. God gives them revelation by letting ’em see certain things. If you see things, you are of course a seer. The differences, naturally, comes from what you see.

14 June 2016

“Woman, be silent!”

One of the verses sexists misquote so they can keep women down.

Years ago I taught the bible classes at a Christian junior high. It was overseen by an Assemblies of God church, and if you know the denomination, you’ll know we have women pastors. Haven’t always, but have way longer than most denominations.

I should also mention the school accepted students, and hired teachers, from just about any denomination. Frequently half my students were Catholic, which used to weird out the Protestant parents whenever I taught on purgatory.

Anyway, one morning one of my kids informed me, “Mrs. Gopinatha” (name randomly picked; actual name withheld to protect the guilty) “says women can’t be pastors.”

This came as no surprise to me. Mrs. Gopinatha was a member of one of those independent Baptist churches. You know the sort. Most of the reason they’re independent is ’cause they figure everybody else is wrong.

“Oh does she,” I said.

“Because she says the bible says women can’t be pastors.”

Well, I was raised Fundamentalist too, and knew my King James better’n she did.

“She’s got that part wrong,” I said; “it says women can’t be teachers. Show her 1 Timothy 2.12 the next time she tries to teach you anything biblical.” Here’s that verse, by the way:

1 Timothy 2.12 KJV
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

Sexists love this verse. Love love love. Quote it every time a woman dares try to correct ’em—whether it’s an unrelated woman in their church, up to and including the pastor’s wife; whether it’s a relative, like a mother, aunt, or sister; but especially when it’s a relative they think they’re in charge of, like a wife or daughter. Absolutely no woman is qualified to teach, rebuke, or correct them. And if they dare try, it’s usurping his divinely-granted patriarchal authority as a man.

What’re the chances they’re quoting it out of context? Hundred percent.

What’re the chances they don’t care, so long that their misquotation keeps them in power? Hundred percent.

13 June 2016

In putting us together, Christ Jesus eradicates racism.

Good to know—for those of us Christians who are gentile.

Ephesians 2.11-22

In the previous verses, Paul pointed out the Ephesians were saved by God’s grace. A statement which applies to all Christians, everywhere; but in the narrative of Ephesians, to Paul’s readers in particular. (I bring this up lest we lose track of the context.)

Ephesians 2.8-10 KWL
8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith.
This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it.
10 We’re God’s poetry, creations in Christ Jesus,
for doing the good works which God pre-prepared. We should walk in them!

To remind you, Paul didn’t write Ephesians to his fellow Jews. He wrote to éthnoi/“ethnics,” or goyím/“nations”—words we usually translate with the Latin word gentilis/“nation,” or our English “gentile.” Meaning a non-Jew, although Mormons like to use the term to mean non-Mormons.

Ancient Jews (and many modern ones) tended to refer to the distinction between themselves and gentiles by a physical trait which had nothing to do with ethnicity: Circumcision. Following God’s instructions, Jews cut the foreskin off every eight-day-old male. Lv 12.3 They were “the circumcised,” and gentiles obviously weren’t. The popular but crude Jewish term for them was akrovystía/“foreskin.” Most bibles prefer to translate this the more polite “uncircumcised” (KJV “uncircumcision”), but the crude term gives you a better idea of how your average Jew thought of gentiles.

’Cause gentiles were unclean. Nobody taught ’em God’s expectations for ritual cleanliness. But literally unclean too: They didn’t wash. Didn’t always bathe regularly. They’d eat anything. Touch anything. Wear anything—or nothing. Have sex with anything or anyone. Worshiped a lot of icky gods, whose priests demanded icky, even sexual, things of them. And they still had their dirty foreskins attached. Pharisees were raised to believe you never touched a gentile; you don’t know where they’ve been and what they did! Ugh.

Yeah, we gentile Christians would like to imagine we’re not that repulsive. But that’s the sort of prejudices instilled in Pharisee kids: Gentiles are gross. Touch not the unclean thing.

And then Christ Jesus goes and makes these filthy pagans into family.

Ephesians 2.11-14 KWL
11 Therefore remember: Previously you, gentiles in the flesh,
called “foreskins” by those called circumcised (which was done in the flesh by hand);
12 you, at that time, were Christless. Alienated from Israeli citizenship.
Foreigners to covenants of promise. Having no hope. Godless in the world.
13 Now, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far away, became near through Christ’s blood,
14A for Christ is our peace, making both sides one.

10 June 2016

The first time Jesus cured anyone.

Somebody figured if he can turn water to wine, he can cure sick boys.

John 4.43-54

Jesus spent two days with the Samaritans of Sykhár, proclaiming God’s kingdom. Now he needed a break, so he went back to his homeland, the western side of the Roman province of the Galilee. More precisely Cana (today’s Kfar Kanna), 4 kilometers north of Nazareth, where he’d done the water-to-wine thingy.

Or I could just quote the gospel…

John 4.43-46 KWL
43 After the two days, Jesus left Samaria for the Galilee,
44 for Jesus himself testified that in their own homeland, prophets have no value.
45 So when Jesus came to the Galilee, the Galileans received him.
They’d seen all he did in Jerusalem at the festival, for they also went to the festival.
46A He went to Cana, Galilee, where he made the water wine, again.

Now the part which tends to throw Christians is Jesus’s comment “that in their own homeland, prophets have no value.” Because in the other gospels, Jesus says it like it’s a bad thing:

Mark 6.4 KWL
Jesus told them this: “A prophet isn’t worthless—
unless he’s in his homeland, among his relatives, and in his house.”
Matthew 13.57 KWL
They were offended by him, and Jesus told them, “A prophet isn’t worthless—
unless he’s in his homeland, and in his house.”
Luke 4.24 KWL
Jesus said, “Amen! I promise you: No prophet is tolerated in his homeland.”

In that context, it was. In each of these gospels, Jesus was teaching in the Nazareth synagogue, Lk 4.16 but his neighbors couldn’t handle the things coming out of his mouth, ’cause they presumed they knew all about him—and who was he? What’s the handyman Mk 6.1 (or handyman’s son Mt 13.55) doing claiming to be a rabbi, a miracle-worker, a prophet? In Luke, they even tried to push him off a cliff. Lk 4.29

I don’t know whether that event took place before this John passage. It might have. I don’t think so, ’cause one of the Nazarenes’ objections was they wanted Jesus to repeat some of the miracles he’d done in Kfar Nahum (D-R Capharnaum) Lk 4.23 and in John he’d done no such miracles yet. Jn 4.54 But it seems he had already made the quip that prophets are worthless in their homeland.

Christians, who aren’t always aware of how a saying can change meaning depending on its context, assume since the saying is negative in the other gospels, it must also be negative here. So their interpretations of this passage get all loopy. Since John says they went to the Galilee gar/“for indeed” Jesus said prophets have no value, some folks preach Jesus went there because they were hostile to him. Because Jesus wanted to start something. Maybe pick a fight.

09 June 2016

Nobody knows what “selah” means.

Not that it stops Christians from using it.

Selah /si'lɑ, 'seɪ.lɔ, 'si.lɔ/ v. Term occurring 71 times in Psalms and thrice in Habakkuk. Probably a musical direction, but meaning unknown.
2. [excl. in popular Christian culture] Amen; or some form of blessing, greeting, or praise.

There’s a friend of mine who loves to end her emails with “Selah.” Just for fun, I started ending my emails to her with “Callay”—a word from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” apparently said in celebration, but like selah we don’t precisely know its meaning, ’cause Carroll was deliberately being silly.

Last month she finally asked about it: “What’s ‘callay’ mean?”

“Same as ‘selah,’” I replied.

She didn’t inquire further. I’m guessing she thinks she knows what selah means, so she just accepted my explanation. A lot of folks who use selah think they know its meaning. It means amen, right? It’s a declaration of support, agreement, truth, joy… something positive. It’s why they put it in all the reggae songs.

Well, it may mean something positive. We don’t know.

No, seriously. We don’t know. Whatever it means, we lost its definition before the bible was translated into Greek in the second century BC. The Septuagint translates it diá-psalma/“having to do with a psalm.” Yep. Even they didn’t know what it meant—and they knew ancient Hebrew.

Oh, there are theories. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon and Theological Wordbook of the OT (which is based on that lexicon, so don’t think of it as an independent authority) deduce it means “lift up” or “exalt.” They figure this based on the ways Jews and Christians have used it through history. The similar word salá means to make light, toss aside, or balance; so it could mean something we pick up.

But when we come across it in Psalms and Habakkuk, it’s just a musical instruction. Since it’s regularly found in psalms specifically written for a menache’ákh/“choirmaster,” Ps 4, 9, 20, 21, 39, 44, 46, 47, 49, 52, 54, 55, 57, 59-62, 66-68, 75-77, 81, 84, 85, 88, 140, Ha 3 it might be a vocal instruction.

But which instruction? For all we know, “selah” was the cue to blast the trumpets.

If it means “hang,” must we hold the note? If it means “weigh,” does that mean sing it louder, or lower? If it means “reject,” is this a stop, or a pause? If it means “value,” does this mean it’s an extra-important line—so therefore we’re to sing it louder, or more solemn, or with more instruments, or even that we’re to repeat it like a chorus? Or might it have an entirely different meaning, one we’re not aware of, like “chorus” or “refrain” or “forte” or “pause” or any of the other notes we include on sheet music?

You see the problem: We’re guessing.

Fortunately we’re not trying to duplicate the psalms’ musical performances. If we set the psalms to music, we write our own musical pieces, our own choral works; we stick our own pauses and choruses and fortes in there. Not knowing what selah means won’t affect us any. It’s not like the whole theology of a psalm can flip over, depending on how Christians translate selah. It’s a direction for the choirmaster. Not for us.

08 June 2016

God’s unlimited grace.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Our love: Not so steadfast.

Ordinarily Christians bring up this particular teaching of Jesus so they can point out the lesson, “Love your enemies.” Which is a good lesson; I’ll discuss it sometime. But today I’m pointing out the other lesson found in this teaching: Our heavenly Father loves both good and evil people—and grants his amazing grace to both.

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

Usually this verse gets translated “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Mt 5.48 KJV ’Cause the word Jesus used is téleios/“perfect.” So a lot of Christians pull this verse out of its context and insist the way Jesus wants us to be perfect is to not sin. I’ve ignorantly done it myself, in the past.

In context, Jesus is speaking about loving people in perfect consistency. Not loving some and hating others, but loving all. Showing grace to all. Being egalitarian. Like our Father.

But that’s really hard to do, so people would much rather not interpret it that way. Way easier to just follow God’s commandments than love the unloveable. Way easier, and more fun, to be evil to evil people. Let ’em get what’s coming to them, what they deserve. If karma doesn’t smite ’em for their evil deeds, let’s help karma along.

Way easier to bend the scriptures so God hates evildoers too. To insist God doesn’t grant grace to the wicked. To insist in fact his grace and atonement and forgiveness are limited, and only granted to good people, true believers, or chosen people. And since God limits his grace, and gets to be a rotten bastard towards the lost, so do we!

See, the reason many Christians claim God’s grace is limited, has nothing to do with the scriptures, and everything to do with our own limited grace. People are vengeful, so they want a vengeful God, choose to interpret him that way, and remake him in their own image. Because we won’t love our enemies, neither will our God.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” tends to get preached, but in practice we just skip the love part, and hate the sin so much it scorches the sinners. And these preachers claim it’s precisely like God hates the sin: He hates it with a “perfect hatred,” Ps 139.22 —just like King David described hating his enemies, and some of ’em will even claim this “perfect hatred” idea is God’s, not David’s. Since God judges the wicked, and regularly lets ’em suffer the consequences of their evil behavior, they’ll claim, “See? It proves there’s a limit to God’s grace. ’Cause someday it’s gonna run out, and they’ll get theirs, and go to hell.”

Whole lotta hatred in these people. Which they go out of their way to disguise as justice. But their lack of grace, and abundance of anger, gives them away.

07 June 2016

When the Spirit touches you… and you fall down.

Yeah, God’s involved. No, it’s not from the bible. So?

Slain in the Spirit /sleɪn ɪn ðə 'spɪr.ɪt/ vt. Fall down as a result (primary or secondary) of the Holy Spirit’s activity.
[Slay in the Spirit /sleɪ ɪn ðə 'spɪr.ɪt/ vt.]

A lot of Christians believe if a practice isn’t found in the bible, we shouldn’t do it.

Nope, we’re not at all consistent about this belief. Loads of churches and Christians have outside-the-bible practices. In the bible, churches met daily, not primarily Sunday mornings. In the bible, the worship songs are the psalms; where’d all these new compositions come from? In the bible, Christians prayed in tongues, but you’ll notice a number of churches have banned that practice. In the bible, women prophesied, and you’ll notice a lot of these same churches banned that too. I frequently read my bible on my computer or phone, or listen to it on my iPod—and you do realize electronics aren’t in the bible, right?

Obviously if it’s banned in the bible—if Jesus or the apostles forbade it—we shouldn’t do it. But this isn’t that. This is the insistence only stuff with a biblical precedent oughta be done. And if we’re gonna hew to that guideline closely, time to turn off the electricity in our churches: No more microphones, no more video projectors. Heck, no more books with pages. All our bibles need to be scrolls. Written in the original languages.

Basically the “If it’s not in the bible, we shouldn’t do it” argument, is hypocrisy. It’s an excuse Christians use for getting rid of anything they don’t like, or anything which makes ’em uncomfortable. Whenever they get the heebie-jeebies, they try to enforce this “rule”; whenever they don’t care, they don’t bother. It has nothing to do with following the scriptures, and everything to do with maintaining their calm.

This inconsistent behavior applies to a whole lot of prayer practices, but I use it today ’cause I’m gonna bring up the prayer practice of getting “slain in the Spirit.” Yeah, it’s a prayer practice: It’s the result of God giving us a profound revelation through prayer, and as a result of its intensity, Christians fall over. And sometimes do other stuff, but usually we just fall over.

06 June 2016

Saved to do good.

He doesn’t want us to live in ignorance. He wants us to follow Jesus.

Ephesians 2.1-10

Some of us (like me) grew up Christian, and have no real memories of being pre-Christian. Not that we were necessarily good Christians. I had my hypocrite phase. Just about all of us have experienced a time where we weren’t following Jesus so much as our carnal impulses. And if you don’t think you ever did, odds are you’re only fooling yourself. Some Christians are still fooling themselves.

That, or we were following the crowd. Sometimes that crowd is popular culture, and sometimes it’s popular Christian culture, which only looks better. Either way we made a lot of missteps; or as the King James Version calls ’em, trespasses. We went too far in the wrong direction.

Ephesians 2.1-3 KWL
1 You—those dead in your missteps and sins 2 you previously walked in,
following this age of the world, following the leader of the air forces,
the spirit now at work in the “sons of apathy.”
3 We all used to walk backwards like that, in our bodily desires,
doing the will of our body and minds.
We were natural, emotional children, same as everyone else.

First time I read this passage in Greek, I was surprised by the word apeitheías, which sure sounded like apathy. The KJV translates it “disobedience,” and most Greek dictionaries go with that. Its root word, peítho/“persuade,” shows us what’s at the root of this sort of disobedience: These folks can’t be persuaded to obey. They’re not convinced. They have doubts. Or they just don’t care, which is how it evolved into our word apathy.

The trouble I regularly encounter whenever I try to share Jesus with pagans, or whenever I try to get people who think themselves Christian to go to church for once, is not that they’d rather sin and go to hell. Of course not. It’s that they don’t think they need Jesus, or don’t think they need to get religious about him. The stuff we devout Christians care about: They don’t see the point. They’re good enough, and God’ll let ’em into heaven anyway. They’re “too busy”—our culture’s ever-ready excuse for why people won’t do stuff, even though they’ll make time for everything else they desire.

So it’s disobedience, but it’s based on apathy. And since times change, but human nature doesn’t, it’s the same response Paul got whenever he proclaimed Jesus: Roman citizens who didn’t care, who could be easily tempted away towards other fun activities. Non-Romans who were too busy pitying themselves for their oppression to imagine Jesus would be any help. Slaves who really were too busy, and didn’t want to spare any of their rare free time learning about some obscure God of Israel who planned to take over the world. The whole world was, and is, too busy fussing, fooling around, fighting, and fornicating to pay attention to the good news.

03 June 2016

Jesus harvests the Samaritans.

See what can come out of a brief, but powerful, conversation with a stranger?

John 4.25-42

After meeting Jesus and realizing he’s a prophet, this Samaritan woman he met at Jacob’s Well tried to get him to settle a theological dispute—namely which temple was the correct one, the one at Shechem or the one at Jerusalem. Jn 4.20 Jesus pointed out it’s neither Jn 4.21 —God wants worshipers “in spirit and truth,” Jn 4.22-23 who can worship him anywhere. In temple, out of temple; in church, out of church.

But since Jesus appeared to side with the Judeans, Jn 4.22 the Samaritan did the intellectual equivalent of shrugging her shoulders:

John 4.25 KWL
The woman told Jesus, “I know Messiah comes, who’s called Christ.
Whenever he comes, he’ll explain everything to us.”

As I’ve said previously, Samaritans didn’t believe in a Judean-style Messiah. Their bible only went up to Deuteronomy, so no Messianic prophecies. They believed in the Tahéb/“coming one,” a prophet-like-Moses Dt 18.15 who’d come at the End Times and sort everything out. And since the Taheb was sorta anointed by God, the word “anointed”—mešíkha in Aramaic, hristós in Greek—would be a valid synonym for Tahéb. Maybe she said Mešíkha, which is why John rendered it Messías. Maybe she said Tahéb, and John translated it. Not sure; doesn’t really matter. After all, Jesus is the Tahéb. Ac 3.22-26 So we’re fine either way.

Her response was a bit apathetic. “Till Messiah/Taheb comes to explain God to us, meh: Who’s to say who’s right?”

Hence Jesus’s response.

John 4.26 KWL
Jesus told her, “I am the one speaking to you.”

Mic drop.

Yeah, various skeptics insist Jesus never called himself Messiah. That it was an idea added to Christianity decades later by overzealous Christians. Probably Paul; they like to blame Paul for all the parts of Christianity they don’t like. Ignoring the fact Paul’s letters were written first—if Paul hadn’t spread Christianity in the first place, they’d have nothing to nitpick, redefine, and reshape to suit themselves. Can’t have Christ without his Christians.

True, Jesus doesn’t flat-out say, “I’m Messiah.” You say that in that day and age, you get killed for treason. Instead Jesus makes it as clear as he can while having plausible deniability (not that he ever denied it Mk 14.61-62): “I am the one speaking to you.” It’s as close to a “I’m Messiah” as we can get from him, and the Samaritan clearly understood his meaning—and ran with it.

Literally.

John 4.27-30 KWL
27 At this point, Jesus’s students came back.
They were wondering why he was speaking with a woman.
Yet nobody said, “What’re you asking?” or “Why are you speaking with her?”
28 So the Samaritan left her jar and went back into the town.
She told the people, “Come see a person who told me everything I’ve done!
It’s not Christ, is it?”
30 They came out of the town, and were coming to him.

Like I said, saying “Messiah” might get you killed for treason. So maybe the Samaritan used that word (which John translated “Christ”), and maybe she said Tahéb (which John likewise translated “Christ.”) Can’t say for certain. Again, doesn’t matter. It got the Samaritans’ attention, and they came to check him out for themselves.

02 June 2016

The fivefold ministry. Or is it fourfold? Sevenfold?

The ministries God puts in our churches… versus the people who covet leadership roles.

Fivefold ministry /'faɪv.foʊld 'mɪn.ɪs.tri/ n. The belief the five gifts Christ granted to build up his body Ep 4.11 are best held by individual church leaders.

There are several different ways we Christians have chosen to run our churches. Some of ’em are run by archbishops, some by pastors, some by elders, some by democratic vote, and some are anarchist: Supposedly no one leads but the Holy Spirit. (Of course in practice, some folks hear the Spirit more often—sometimes legitimately, sometimes not—and wind up leading by default.)

Some of these leadership models are based on the bible. Some not. Is there a particular way God wants Christians to run his churches? I think so. But I’m not hard-and-fast on it. ’Cause the most important factor in every church leadership structure, is whether your leaders and people follow Jesus. If they do, regardless of the leadership structure, the church is gonna work. If they don’t, again regardless of the leadership structure, the church is gonna go wrong.

At some other point I’ll list all the different models, but today I’m obviously gonna write about the fivefold ministry model.

It’s a relatively new leadership structure. Invented in the 1970s, a lot of churches in the charismatic “apostolic movement” have adopted it. It’s where the church is run either by five elders, or five teams of elders. (Since the teams tend to have a supervisor… functionally, five elders.) Each of these elders holds a different office, or has a different job title, which corresponds to one of Christ Jesus’s five ministry gifts, listed by Paul in Ephesians.

Ephesians 4.11-12 KWL
11 Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
12 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.

Historically, Christians haven’t taught these are five jobs, but five gifts: Different abilities to minister. Different aptitudes—one Christian will have a knack for prophecy, another for evangelism. But all these gifts, not one and only one, are granted to various church leaders on an ad hoc basis.

Jesus is an obvious example of someone who simultaneously had all five gifts.

  • Apostle: He was sent by God. He 3.1
  • Prophet: He shared God’s word. Mt 21.11
  • Evangelist: He shares the good news of the kingdom. Mk 1.14
  • Pastor: He’s our good shepherd, Jn 10.11 our leader.
  • Teacher: He’s a rabbi, Jn 13.13 and our only rabbi. Mt 23.10

“Well of course Jesus could do ’em all,” various Christians reply, ”because he’s Jesus.” That’s everybody’s favorite excuse for not doing as Jesus did: Jesus is exceptional. Fine, he’s exceptional. In a whole lot of ways. But not this one, ’cause loads of his apostles also simultaneously had all five gifts. Peter, John, Philip, Paul, James; and you’ll notice most churches expect their head pastor to have these abilities where necessary: Apostles in that God called ’em into ministry, prophets in that they can detect God’s will and proclaim it, evangelists ’cause they lead people to Jesus, pastors ’cause they shepherd their churches, and teachers ’cause they gotta teach us everything Jesus taught.

Fivefold ministry advocates point out this is a whole lot of work to put upon just one person. They’re quite right; it’s why the mature Christians of a church need to step up and aid their pastor. But the fivefold folks claim the list in Ephesians is a jobs list: The Holy Spirit divvied up these gifts, just like he scattered his supernatural gifts among different Christians. 1Co 12.7 Therefore each church shouldn’t only have a pastor leading it, but have five leaders in charge. A pastor of course. And also an apostle, prophet, evangelist, and teacher.

01 June 2016

Sharing Jesus… with liars.

’Cause not every irreligious Christian wants to admit that’s what they are.

Yeah, I admit “Sharing Jesus… with liars” is a harsh-sounding title. But it’s accurate. Sometimes when we share Jesus with people, they lie about how Christian they are.

Four out of five Americans consider themselves Christian. That’s not anecdotal; that’s based on surveys. The Pew Forum currently has us at 70.6 percent of Americans. Gallup has us at 75.2 percent. ABC and Beliefnet have us at 83 percent. And the Barna Group has us at 78 percent. Now anecdotally, it’s been my experience that two out of three people tell me they’re already Christian. But I live in California, not the Bible Belt. Stats vary by state.

Of these self-described Christians, there are obviously a number of ’em who aren’t Christian. Do a little prying, and you’ll discover they’re pagans who think they’re Christian. They’re not what I mean by liars. They’re not lying. They honestly do think they’re Christian. It’s just they’re not; they like Jesus, but don‘t believe he’s any more special than any other religious leader, and figure they’re going to heaven because they’re good. And can’t understand their beliefs make us look at ’em so strangely: Doesn’t every Christian talk to their angels?

Nah; by “liar” I mean people who deliberately aren’t telling the truth about their Christian life. They are Christians: They know who God is, what Christ did, how God saved ’em, and all the usual orthodox Christian beliefs. They’re not ignorant about the basics. They totally know what God expects of them. They also know what Christian society expects from them. It’s just they’re not living like that, and they know it. They feel bad about it. Or they don’t; but they don’t wanna get into that with you today. So they conceal. Distort. Misrepresent. Exaggerate. Lie.

They want us to shut up and go away, so they tell us whatever they think we wanna hear. You know, like a lot of us do with telemarketers: “Actually, I’m quite happy with my current cable provider.” Oh, you know that’s a lie. Nobody likes their cable provider.

They don’t pray. Don’t go to church. Don’t read bible. Don’t do good works; they just don’t harm anybody, and figure passive non-interference counts as a good work. Don’t figure they sin as much, swear as much, doubt as much, dabble in superstition as much, as their pagan friends. Figure the amount of religion they can be bothered to engage in, makes ’em WAY more religious than their pagan friends—maybe too religious. (Whereas we religious Christians: We’re beyond the pale. Go to church more than once a week? Yikes.)

But they like to imagine they’re good enough Christians. Good enough for saving. And hey, we’re not saved by being good anyway. We’re saved by grace. They’re not the best Christians, but even the worst Christians are getting into heaven; they’ll just be the least in the kingdom. Mt 6.19 They’re in; that’s all that matters, and it’s none of our business how good they are.