TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

26 June 2017

Why friends and family don’t read my blog.

Or just plain won’t.

They don’t, y’know. I can tell.

My views aren’t mainstream. Though I think they’re fairly predictable, other people follow other trains of thought, so my viewpoint often catches them off guard: They’ve never thought of it that way. Or they’ve just plain never thought of it. Anyway, the surprised reaction makes it fairly obvious they never read it… back when I previously wrote on it.

No, I’m not offended by this. It’d be really arrogant of me to be offended. I can’t require people to keep up with what I write. I write a lot. Always have.

I’ve known people like that. Man are they a pain. I don’t wanna be the guy who’s regularly telling people, “Well you should’ve read my blog. Why aren’t you reading my blog? I’ll send you a link. You’ve never read my starfish poem? I’ll recite it: ‘A thousand starfish on the shore…’ ” I’d have no friends left. Deservedly so.

I used to expect people to read everything I wrote… back in first grade. See, I had a free weekend, so I finished my entire grammar workbook. Since Mrs. Stinson now didn’t know what to do with me, she had me sit in the back of the room and write stories. She made the mistake of putting one of ’em in the school newsletter (something about Martin Luther King Jr. where I added a few lines to the day’s lesson), and from that point onward, everything I wrote was annotated, “For the school newsletter!” I got the writing bug super early.

Did the school paper in high school. At first, my family’s response was, “Look, he’s got something in the paper!” In very little time it became, “Meh, he’s got something in the paper.” I’d write 15 articles a week; they’d print ten. I’m prolific. Their usual complaint is I don’t write a paragraph or two, like your typical blogger; I write “a book,” which gives you an idea of how little they read, but still. Fifty-one paragraphs on simony is way more than they care about the topic.

Doesn’t help when they’re not Christian. I write about Jesus a lot, y’notice. Any pagan and not-all-that-Christian friends ’n family don’t care: To them I’m just babbling about irrelevancies.

Doesn’t help when they’re Christian either. Some of ’em are in the Fundamentalist camp, so they’re pretty sure I’m a false teacher and steer clear. Others aren’t, but they have their own opinions about Christianity, and don’t care to hear anything which might challenge ’em too hard.

And some of ’em honestly don’t read: They have tiny attention spans and busy lives. There are a million things to do, and they can’t be expected to keep up with the thousand words a day I regularly spit up.

I do appreciate the regular TXAB readers who do, though. Thanks.

23 June 2017

False teachers and agitated students.

If you’ve got an ax to grind, it didn’t come from Jesus.

James 3.13-18

Before James went off on his tangent about the tongue, he was writing about teachers and spiritual maturity

James 3.1-2 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.

So, tangent over; we’re back to the sort of mature behavior we oughta see in a proper Christian teacher.

Christians love knowledge. Heck, humans love knowledge: Everyone wants to believe they’re not dumb, gullible, nor ignorant. But Christians especially like to imagine we’re in on the truth. ’Cause Jesus is the truth, right? Jn 14.6 And we have Jesus. So there y’go.

Trouble is, Jesus is right, but we aren’t. We took shortcuts or made presumptions. We don’t know him as well as we assume. And Christians get into serious denial about this fact: We insist we’re right because Jesus made us that way. Once the Holy Spirit got into us, he fixed our thinking, so now all our thoughts are godly ideas. All our impulses are divine urges. All our prejudices are holy “checks in our spirit.” And we’ll take on anyone who says otherwise. We’ll fight ’em.

Which betrays the problem. The aggressive attitude which wants to take on all comers, James wrote, does not come from God. Comes from instinct and selfish human nature. Comes from clever human ideas. Comes from devils. But not God, ’cause God’s wisdom produces good fruit. And if any would-be Christian teacher produces argumentativeness and picks fights—i.e. bad fruit—don’t let ’em teach!

James 3.13-18 KWL
13 You who are wise and understanding: Show it—
by a good lifestyle, their good works, in wise gentleness.
14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:
15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.
16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.
17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.
Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.
18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

If there’s no peace in your church, this’d be why. Your teachers aren’t teaching religion, the acts which further a true relationship with God. They have ulterior motives, and they’re teaching that. So of course the Christians are erratic.

22 June 2017

The uncontrollable tongue.

Nobody really has a bridle on it. Not even James.

James 3.3-12

In talking about the sort of mature Christian who’s got the self-control necessary to teach others, James went off on a tangent about how out-of-control the tongue can get. Which, if you think about it, is a little ironic. Wasn’t he talking about teachers?

Well, anyway. This just after he briefly wrote how mature Christians oughta be able to control ourselves. Under the Holy Spirit’s power, of course, ’cause it’s profoundly difficult to get such hold of ourselves without him, since self-control is one of the Spirit’s fruit. Ge 5.23 For Christians, it‘s totally doable.

It’s just we don’t do it. Cause we demand the “freedom in Christ” to do as we please, say what we wish, and unwittingly hurt one another and hinder God’s kingdom.

James 3.1-6 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.
3 If we put bridles in horses’ mouths so they heed us, we steer their whole body.
4 Look also at ships: They’re large, and driven by strong winds,
steered wherever the urge of the pilot wants—by the smallest rudder.
5 Likewise the tongue: It’s a little body part, but claims huge things.
Look how it lights a big fire on a big forest! 6 The tongue is fire.
The tongue places an unrighteous world in our body parts, staining the whole body,
setting the cycle of creation on fire, set on fire by ge-Henna.

Y’know, James was there when the tongues of fire fell upon the apostles at Pentecost in the year 33. He was among the brothers of Jesus who were praying for the Spirit to come. Ac 1.14 So it’s interesting he used the term “fire” to describe the tongue. At Pentecost, it was a positive sort of fire; it was the Spirit’s empowerment. In contrast, James described the human tongue, when not under the Holy Spirit’s direction, as fed by his culture’s favorite metaphor for hell, the landfill outside Jerusalem where trash fires burned day and night.

The popular saying may be “Talk is cheap,” but nobody really believes that. Talk is seldom cheap, and more destructive than ever we realize. That’s James’s point.

21 June 2017

Wanna teach? Get ready for criticism.

The position of teacher comes with a whole lot of opposition.

James 3.1-2

Historically, the way Christians have chosen to interpret the following passage has been, “If you become a teacher, God’s gonna hold you accountable for every single thing you ever taught. And judge you harshly. If you ever taught the wrong thing, ever led anyone astray, God’s putting it all on you.”

What about grace? Nah; forget about grace; doesn’t apply to teachers.

That’s how we know there’s something screwy with this interpretation. So let’s look at it again. The passage du jour:

James 3.1-2 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.

See, according to James, everybody stumbles. A mature Christian is gonna stumble way less than a newbie, but everybody stumbles. Including James, who wrote this book.

The perfect teacher—other than Jesus—who’s never ever gonna make mistakes? Doesn’t exist. At best we can have long stretches where we’re doing a great job of following Jesus, and make way fewer mistakes than average. We’ll get better and better at bridling the whole body, as James phrased it. But before we achieve perfection, we’re gonna need resurrection. Till our self-centered, sinful nature is finally deleted from our bodies, we’re gonna trip up.

If God actually judges his teachers as strictly as people claim—where every single mistake we make, means we’re in massive cosmic trouble—we are so screwed. And why should anyone bother to become one of the church’s teachers? Who’d dare to tackle the job of discipleship? We’d have even fewer instructors than we do now—and in a lot of churches there’s definitely scarcity.

I’ve seen plenty of churches where the pastor’s the church’s only teacher. In some cases that’s because the pastor wants to be the only teacher… ’cause whether he realizes it or not, he’s starting a cult. But a lot of pastors aren’t in that boat. They’d love to see teachers in their churches! It’s just they’re surrounded by unqualified people, who never bother to get qualified ’cause they know great knowledge means greater responsibility.

And if we continue to read this chapter with this idea in mind—that Jesus ordered us to teach new followers, Mt 28.20 and that though we should strive not to go wrong, if we do there’s still grace 1Jn 2.1 —we’ll start to realize this is actually a very different warning from James. That if you wanna be a teacher, go for it! But be prepared, not so much for the wrath of God, but the wrath of people.

20 June 2017

Can’t divorce works from faith.

How does our faith get us to act any differently than pagans?

James 2.20-26

To demonstrate how works are part of faith, James pulled two examples out of the bible: Abraham and Rahab. Both are good examples of faith. So much so they got listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11… for the very same two acts of faith James brought up. He 11.17-19, 31

Now, how do we know these two people had faith? Because they acted on that faith. Abraham trusted God so much, he was willing to sacrifice his son to him. Ge 22.1-14 Rahab believed so strongly God was giving Jericho to the Hebrews, she risked her life to hide two Hebrew spies from the king’s messengers, then sent the messengers on some wild-goose chase while she snuck the spies out of there. Js 2

Which I didn’t really need to recap; here’s what James wrote about it.

James 2.20-26 KWL
20 Do you want to know, you silly people, how faith without works is useless?
21 Our ancestor Abraham. Wasn’t he justified by works
when he brought his son Isaac up to the altar?
22 You see, since Abraham’s faith cooperated with his works,
the faith was achieved through the works,
23 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham trusted God,
and God calculated it as righteous,” Ge 15.6 and he was called God’s friend.
24 You also see, since a person is justified by works, it’s not only by “faith.”
25 Likewise Rahab the whore: Wasn’t she justified by works
when she received the king’s agents and sent them out on another road?
26 For just as the body without a spirit is dead,
so too the faith without works is dead.

If faith is reduced solely to what we believe to be true, even then they’re empty beliefs if they don’t provoke us to act on ’em. Abraham could’ve claimed to entirely trust God. But had his response been, “Wait; I can’t sacrifice Isaac, ’cause you promised he’d be my heir, and produce nations, and… no, this command makes no sense; I’m ignoring it,” so much for that faith.

Likewise Rahab could’ve claimed she trusted God, but had she played it safe and handed the spies over, Joshua would’ve simply sent in more spies, and she and her family would’ve been wiped out along with the rest of Jericho.

And neither of these people would become the ancestors of Jesus. Mt 1.1-5 And for that matter, his brother James, the very author of this letter.

19 June 2017

Unproven, uncomfortable, devilish faith.

Some Christians believe in God exactly like the demons do.

James 2.18-19.

More than once in these James articles, I’ve mentioned Christians who don’t realize sola fide means justification by faith alone; who think it means salvation by faith alone. And because they know we’re not saved by works, Ep 2.9 they therefore insist faith isn’t a work. Can’t be. ’Cause we’re not saved by works.

I don’t know that James suffered from Christians who believed the same way for the same reason. More likely he was just dealing with people who don’t understand what faith is. Lotta Christians have that problem. Some of us still think it’s the magic ability to wish so hard, stuff comes true. Which is what’ll happen when you base your theology on Disney princess movies instead of your bible.

It’s why James had to demonstrate, from the bible, why this sort of thinking was all wet. But first his comment about how even demons, the lesser gods of Greek mythology and the fake gods behind idolatry, also have faith—for all the good it does ’em.

James 2.17-19 KWL
17 This “faith,” when it’s all by itself and takes no action, is dead.
18 But someone’ll say you have faith—and I have works.
Show me your workless “faith.” I’ll show you, from my works, faith.
19 You have faith that God is One. Good job!
The demons also have this faith—and it grates on them.

I should first point out my translation differs from the usual way bibles render verse 18:

James 2.18 NIV
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

Historically su pístin ékheis kagó érga ékho/“you have faith and I have works” has been translated as a quote, as stated by this hypothetical tis/“someone” James brought up.

The reason I don’t translate it as a quote, is because if you believed faith and works were two different things, would you argue, “You have faith and I have works”? Aren’t you trying to argue you’re the one with the faith? “You have faith” is a concession; you’d lose your argument immediately. You wouldn’t say, “You have faith”; you’d say “I have faith,” the exact opposite. Taking the quotes off means you did say you have faith.

The reason other translators do translate it as a quote, is because it’s better Greek. James should’ve phrased it aftós pístin ékhei—“But someone’ll say he has faith—and I have works.” Writing su pístin ékheis/“you have faith” makes it feel like the pronoun su/“you” has no connection with the pronoun tis/“someone.”

Because we translators have to know and follow the rules of Greek grammar, we forget sometimes the writers of the New Testament didn’t follow them. (Like us, Greek wasn’t necessarily their first language.) If they suddenly look like they’ve contradicted themselves, it might be a grammar problem. Translators need to remember the meaning of the text is infallible, but the grammar of the text is flexible. Grammar’s rules are a human invention, not a divine one. If the NT writers break those rules, it’s okay. Adjust for that, and make sure they get their point across.

All right, back to the demons.

16 June 2017

Favor, grace, same thing.

There are many words for “grace” in the scriptures.

Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards us. And favor means a generous, forgiving, kind, gracious attitude. In other words, they mean the very same thing.

This is some of the reason people don’t see grace in the bible as often as they oughta. They don’t realize grace and favor are synonyms.

When God grants people favor—when he picks favorites, be they individuals or entire nations—he’s showing ’em grace. They don’t merit his favor; they don’t earn it. You don’t earn it. That’s the usual complaint about favor: It’s not fair. “Why do you keep playing favorites?” Because they’re favorites. It’s not deserved; it’s inherently unfair. Just like grace—which is kinda what makes it awesome.

But I realize a lot of people use the term incorrectly. Such as when they insist, “You owe me a favor”—supposedly they’ve racked up enough karma points, and are hoping to draw from them.

Or “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” Ge 6.8 NIV Too many sermons claim that’s because Noah earned God’s favor, by being the one good guy on a planet covered in sinners. Ge 6.9 Which’d mean Noah earned salvation—which is entirely antithetical to the bible’s main message. Nobody earns salvation. God is generous to people who are making an effort, but the idea that anyone merits forgiveness is one we need to watch out for; it undermines our message.

Noah, as the KJV puts it, “found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Ge 6.8 KJV Because the ideas are interchangeable. Both the Hebrew khen and the Greek háris get translated both ways. Note the KJV.

 GRACE, GRACIOUSFAVOUROTHER
HEBREW:
KHEN
(69×)
Ge 6.8, 19.19, 32.5, 33.8, 33.10, 33.15, 34.11, 39.4, 47.25, 47.29, 50.4, Ex 33.12-13, 33.16-17, 34.9, Nu 32.5, Jg 6.17, Ru 2.2, 2.10, 1Sa 1.18, 20.3, 27.5, 2Sa 14.22, 16.4, Es 2.17, Ps 45.2, 84.11, Pr 1.9, 3.22, 3.34, 4.9, 11.16, 22.11, Ec 10.12, Jr 31.2, Zc 4.7, 12.10 Ge 18.3, 30.27, 39.21, Ex 3.21, 11.3, 12.36, Nu 11.11, 11.15, Dt 24.1, Ru 2.13, 1Sa 16.22, 20.29, 25.8, 2Sa 15.25, 1Ki 11.19, Es 2.15, 5.2, 5.8, 7.3, 8.5, Pr 3.4, 13.15, 22.1, 28.23, 31.30, Ec 9.11 Pr 5.19, 17.8, Na 3.4
GREEK:
HÁRIS
(156×)
Lk 2.40, 4.22, Jn 1.14, 1.16-17, Ac 4.33, 13.43, 14.3, 14.26, 15.11, 15.40, 18.27, 20.24, 20.32, Ro 1.5, 1.7, 3.24, 4.4, 4.16, 5.2, 5.15, 15.17, 5.20-21, 6.1, 6.14-15, 11.5-6, 12.3, 12.6, 15.15, 16.20, 16.24, 1Co 1.3-4, 3.10, 10.30, 15.10, 16.23, 2Co 1.2, 1.12, 4.15, 6.1, 8.1, 8.6-7, 8.9, 8.19, 9.8, 9.14, 12.9, 13.14, Ga 1.3, 1.6, 1.15, 2.9, 2.21, 5.4, 6.18, Ep 1.2, 1.6-7, 2.5, 2.7-8, 3.2, 3.7-8, 4.7, 4.29, 6.24, Pp 1.2, 1.7, 4.23, Cl 1.2, 1.6, 3.16, 4.6, 4.18, 1Th 1.1, 5.28, 2Th 1.2, 1.12, 2.16, 3.18, 1Ti 1.2, 1.14, 6.21, 2Ti 1.2, 1.9, 2.1, 4.22, Tt 1.4, 2.11, 3.7, 3.15, Pm 1.3, 1.25, He 2.9, 4.16, 10.29, 12.15, 12.28, 13,9, 13.25, Jm 4.6, 1Pe 1.2, 1.10, 1.13, 3.7, 4.10, 5.5, 5.10, 5.12, 2Pe 1.2, 3.18, 2Jn 1.3-4, Rv 1.4, 22.21 Lk 1.30, Ac 2.47, 7.10, 7.46, 11.23, 25.3 Lk 6.32-34, 17.9, 24.27, 25.9, Ro 6.17, 1Co 15.57, 16.3, 2Co 1.15, 2.14, 8.4, 8.16, 9.15, 1Ti 1.12, 2Ti 1.3, Pm 1.7, 1Pe 2.19-20

Other translations have just as much a tendency to render these words as either grace or favor, depending on translator’s preference. Obviously the KJV’s New Testament translators greatly preferred grace, whereas their Old Testament translators could go either way.

15 June 2017

The first 12 apostles.

Despite the kingdom’s unlimited resources, let’s not be stupid with them.

Mark 3.13-19 • Matthew 10.1-4 • Luke 6.12-16, 9.1-2

The word apostle means “one who’s been sent out.” We Christians use it to refer to anyone whom Jesus has sent out. If your pastor sends you somewhere, you’re just a representative; maybe a missionary. But if Jesus sends you, you’re an apostle.

I know; some churches insist the only apostles are the 12 guys Jesus designated when he was walking the earth—with a special exception made for Paul, ’cause Jesus appeared to him special. I’d point out Jesus still appears to people special, and can therefore send any one of us to do anything he chooses. So yeah, he still makes apostles. But the first 12 guys are special, ’cause they’re the guys Jesus used to start his church.

As for why he picked ’em, we have to read the bit which comes before the list of apostles. It makes it kinda obvious.

Mark 3.7-12 KWL
7 Jesus went back over the lake, with his students and many groups:
People from the Galilee, Judea, 8 Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond-Jordan, Tyre, and Sidon.
Hearing about whatever Jesus was doing, many groups came to him.
9 Jesus spoke to his students so they’d have a boat nearby, because of the crowds.
Thus they wouldn’t crush him. 10 Jesus had cured many.
So the many plague-sufferers could touch him, they resorted to jumping him.
11 Whenever unclean spirits saw Jesus, they fell down before him,
shouting out, “You’re the son of God!”— 12 and Jesus silenced them, lest they expose him.

This was the massive job Jesus’s ministry was fast becoming. I already wrote about the intensity of the crowds coming to Jesus—it’s no wonder he decided it was time to pick apprentices. So Jesus selected 12 of his best students, took ’em someplace private, and designated them apostles.

Mark 3.13-15 KWL
13 Jesus went up the hill, summoned those he wanted, and they came to him.
14 Jesus made 12 whom he named apostles, who’d be with him
and he could send them to preach 15 and have authority to throw out demons.
Matthew 10.1 KWL
1 Summoning 12 of his students, Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits,
so as to throw them out and cure every disease, every illness.
Luke 6.12-13 KWL
12 It happened in those days Jesus himself came out to the hill to pray,
and he was spending the night in prayer with God.
13 When day came, Jesus called his students and chose 12 of them, whom he named apostles.
Luke 9.1-2 KWL
1 Calling together the 12 apostles, Jesus gave them power to cure; authority over all demons and disease.
2 Jesus sent them to preach God’s kingdom and to heal the unwell.

Lots of folks assume these 12 were Jesus’s only students. Obviously this isn’t true; after Jesus ascended there were about 120 students praying for the Holy Spirit, and two of ’em were nominated to fill Judas Iscariot’s slot. Ac 1.15-26 The apostles were simply the standouts among Jesus’s students. They were still students, but what made the apostles significant was what Jesus designated and sent ’em to do.

Namely the very same things Jesus did.

14 June 2017

An irreligious religion.

When Christians reject “religion,” it has a bad habit of undermining our relationship with God.

Religion /ri'lɪ.dʒən/ n. Worship of a superhuman controlling power, usually a personal God or impersonal universe.
2. Particular system of belief and worship, as demonstrated through actions and declarations.
3. A supremely important pursuit or interest, followed as if worship.
[Religious /ri'lɪ.dʒəs/ adj.]

A significant part of authentic Christianity is religion: We worship God, and we do it through actions. For any belief system which doesn’t take any action, which doesn’t result in any changed lives or good deeds (or even bad deeds), isn’t real. Or, as James puts it, it’s dead. Jm 2.26

But for a lot of Evangelicals in the United States, religion’s become a bad word. “Religious” has become mixed up with traditional. More specifically with the more empty, meaningless traditions which attempt to express worship through action, but don’t appear to bring us any closer to God.

Fr’instance. When we were kids, and somebody taught us a rote prayer, they didn’t always explain why we pray rote prayers, or what good they can do, or what use they are. Sometimes they assumed we already knew. Sometimes they gave us a brief but inadequate explanation. Usually they gave me a wrong explanation. Just as often, I’d get no explanation: “Just do it. It’s what we do.” Consequently we did it, but never saw the point. Didn’t feel like it was doing anything for us. Kinda boring, actually.

The proper term for this is dead religion: Actions we don’t really believe in. Works without faith.

If it were explained properly, would it be living religion? Sometimes. My church, I think, did a really good and thorough job of explaining water baptism to me. It’s why I still tell new believers to get baptized as soon as they can, and stop putting it off till it’s “convenient.” But despite their explanations I still don’t think it absolutely vital to dunk people, or especially to tip them backwards into the water so they can get it up their noses. But I digress.

The problem is, Evangelicals drop that adjective “dead” and simply call these works religion. To them, dead religion is what “religion” means. For Christianity isn’t about practices and rituals: It’s about faith in the living God, as defined by Christ Jesus. It’s about grace, where God grants us his kingdom despite our really obvious inadequacies. The rituals, the practices, the charity, the obedience? All that stuff’s optional, they insist, since we’re saved by grace, not works. Ep 2.8-9 And really, since the works so easily turn into works without faith, best to avoid it altogether.

That’s what Evangelicals mean when they sing Darrell Evans’ 2002 song “Fields of Grace.” Third verse:

There’s a place where religion finally dies
There’s a place where I lose my selfish pride
Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace
Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace

My previous church used to sing this, and a number of ’em would give a big whoop when we sang, “religion finally dies.” Not because they’re disobedient, uncharitable Christians; not at all. Again it’s because they considered religion and dead religion to be one and the same, and they’re so happy to be done with the wasteful hypocrisy. As, I expect, does Evans when he sings this.

But here’s the problem. In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the government officially deleted words from the language. Supposedly to make it more efficient; why have the word “bad” when “ungood” can do the job? But really it was because they astutely figured if we don’t have a word for something, it’s harder to express that idea without it. So if we drop the word “religion” from Christianese… how do we discuss the idea of faith lived out in good works? which words take its place? Do any?

In my experience, no.

13 June 2017

God’s will in heaven and on earth.

Praying God’s will be done in heaven.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs us to pray,

Matthew 6.10 KWL
“Make your kingdom come. Make your will happen both in heaven and on earth.”

Often this gets translated “On earth as it is in heaven,” following the Book of Common Prayer; the KJV has “in earth, as [it is] in heaven.” Christians tend to interpret this concept, “As in heaven, so on earth,” because we assume heaven already follows God’s will, and so we’re praying earth would do likewise. (That is, unless we’re Calvinist and assume God sovereignly makes his earth already follow his plan… evil notwithstanding.)

Thing is, we’re reading a whole lot into that word os/“as.” Hence we never bother to ask the fairly obvious, hidden-in-plain-sight question: Does God absolutely, sovereignly rule over heaven?

“Of course he does,” is the knee-jerk reaction. If God gets his way anywhere, certainly it’s in heaven. Because God’s the absolute ruler of heaven. Either it’s where his throne is, Ps 11.4, Rv 4.2 or heaven itself is his throne, Is 66.1, Mt 5.34 with all the armies of heaven ready to carry out God’s commands. 1Ki 22.19 We imagine God’s kingdom already exists there. The issue for us Christians is bringing this kingdom to earth. That’s why we pray, “As in heaven, so on earth.”

Thing is, if heaven’s where God absolutely, sovereignly always gets his way, why’d a war break out there?

Revelation 12.7-9 KWL
7 War came to the heavens: Michael and its angels battling the dragon;
the dragon and its angels battling back 8 and failing.
No place was found for them anymore in the heavens.
9 The great dragon was thrown out, the primeval serpent which is called devil and Satan.
The deceiver of all civilization was thrown to the earth,
and its angels were thrown out with it.

We assume God always gets his way in heaven, but at some point in heavenly history he clearly didn’t. ’Cause Satan defied him. Just as Adam and Eve disobeyed him on earth, Satan challenged God’s will in heaven. Just as Adam and Eve had to be banned from paradise, Michael had to chuck the devil, and a whole lot of its confederate angels, out of heaven.

Y’see, since God is love, 1Jn 4.8 he wants to love his creation, and wants his creation to love him back. If it lacks free will, it can’t do that. Involuntary love isn’t love; it’s just programming. So God had to take the massive risk of imbuing all his creatures with free will. That’s not just his creatures here on earth. It includes all his creatures in heaven.

Satan’s very existence indicates not just earth has a sin problem. Heaven has one too. And heaven needs to be fixed same as earth.

12 June 2017

Christians, Islamophobia, and “Who Is Allah?”

Yep, I’m taking apart a Chick tract again.

Recently an interesting yet annoying discussion came up in a discussion group about the difference between devout Muslims, and the nutjobs who call themselves Muslim, then murder people and blow stuff up. Watch certain news channels and you’ll never hear there’s any difference. As a result many Americans think there is no difference. They assume the fakes are actual Muslims and call ’em “radical Islam.”

I’ve pointed out this is like saying a white supremacist is a “radical Christian.” Scary thing is, there are some people who actually respond, “Yeah, that’s exactly what it’s like.” To their minds if you call yourself Christian or Muslim, even if you’re not at all like Jesus or Muhammad taught, it’s still what you are. Funny; transgendered people have been trying to get them to believe that about them… but I’m gonna get in hot water over that comparison, so I’ll stop now.

If you wanna know how Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals think, I find it really convenient to turn to fearmongering tract-maker Jack T. Chick.

Chick’s deal wasn’t to introduce people to Christ Jesus, so much as try to convert ’em to his particular narrow brand of Fundamentalism. First he scared his readers by showing them their existing belief system is devilish, and that God intends to toss everyone connected with it into fiery hell. In between the lines, you’re expected to figure out God nonetheless loves you and wants you to turn to Jesus. What’s far more likely is you’re gonna respond, “What is wrong with this guy?” and assume all of us Christians—not merely the Fundamentalists—hate your pagan soul, and think you’re wicked and evil.


No, this guy isn’t pointing to himself to imply he’s Allah. Pretty sure that’s blasphemy. Allah 1 (Reference numbers to this tract refer to images on the website; the cover is 1, the next page is 2, etc.)

And, as I pointed out with my bit on his tract “The Attack,” Chick was totally willing to make up history and misquote bible to get his points across. He’ll likewise do that in today’s tract, “Who is Allah?” You can read it in its entirety on his website, along with a version for white people called “Allah Has No Son.” Both tracts aren’t just inaccurate: They include blatant lies.

I’m gonna quote the Quran in this article, and since I don’t know Arabic I’m gonna go with the well-known Yusuf Ali translation, which is likely the same one Chick used. Unlike the bible, the Quran is one book, with 114 suwar/“chapters.” So I refer to ’em as Quran, chapter and verse. (Chick’s footnotes go like “Sura 5:33,” which just means “chapter 5.33.”)

The white-person tract title “Allah Has No Son” actually comes from Quranic teachings:

111 Say, “Praise be to God, who begets no son, and has no partner in (his) dominion: Nor (needs) he any to protect him from humiliation: Yea, magnify him for his greatness and glory!” Quran 17.111

Muslims are really big on saying that, ’cause they want to make it crystal clear that while they believe in Jesus, they don’t believe he’s God’s son. Nor that God has any sons.

As one of God’s adopted sons, I could explain the whole adoption idea… but this piece isn’t about rebutting Islam, but Islamophobes.

09 June 2017

Demons.

The evil spirits who get us to follow and worship ’em.

One fairly common pagan belief is animism, the idea everything has a anima/“soul,” or lifeforce. No, not just things that are actually alive, like plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. Inanimate objects could have a lifeforce too. Like weather, water, or fire, which certainly act alive. Like the sun, moon, planets, and stars, which pagans actually worshiped as if they were alive.

And lest you think that’s just an ancient pagan practice, look how often people still do it. People talk about the “vibe” of a place—a workplace, nightclub, school, restaurant, home, whatever. Or the luck attached to a charm or item of clothing. Or the “feels” attached to a favorite chair, blanket, toy, car. Or the “spirit” of a good idea, like charity, patriotism, wisdom, and prosperity.

The ancient Greeks believed these lifeforces were intelligent beings. Like little gods. Everything important had one. They weren’t necessarily important enough to be full-on theoí/“gods” (although they were pretty quick to promote the lifeforce of Athens to godhood; you might know her as Athena). But the rest were lesser gods, which the Greeks called daímones or daimónia.

Yeah, I know; Christians have a wholly different definition. To us, a demon is a fallen angel, an evil or unclean spirit. ’Cause the writers of the New Testament obviously saw them that way.

Mark 5.1-3 KWL
1 They came to the far side of the lake, to the Gerasene district, 2 and as Jesus got out of the boat,
a man with an unclean spirit instantly came down from the monuments to meet him.
3 He’d been living among the monuments. Nobody was able to restrain him, not even with chains.
Luke 8.26-27 KWL
26 They arrived in the Gerasene district, which is opposite the Galilee, 27 and as they got out onto the land,
they met some man who had demons, who came from the city.
He hadn’t worn clothes for some time, and he didn’t live in a house but among the monuments.

Note how Mark calls it an unclean spirit, and Luke calls it demons. It’s not a false definition. Demons are unclean spirits. If there’s any spirit attached to a creature or thing, which wants you to respect or worship it lest it get angry and throw a tantrum, it’s certainly not a clean spirit.

But I’m trying to fill you in on the mindset ancient pagans had when they talked about daimónia. They believed some of these spirits were benevolent, some malevolent. Some were helpful, some harmful. They’d actually ask the help of daimónia whenever they were in a jam.

And today’s pagans aren’t all that different. They won’t necessarily call these spirits daimónia, although neo-Pagan religions don’t mind borrowing the old Greek term, or the Latin dæmon, to describe nature spirits. But your typical irreligious pagan is gonna figure they’re just spirits, familiar spirits, friendly spirits, or even angels.

And unlike the ancient Greeks, pagans don’t always realize there are good spirits and bad. They naïvely tend to assume all spirits are good. All angels are good. ’Cause why, they figure, would these spirits be bad?—they’re “higher beings” than we are. They don’t have physical needs and desires; they’re better than that. Go ahead and seek their counsel and take their advice.

But we Christians know angels and spirits aren’t higher beings. They’re on the same level as we. Some of ’em serve God like humans do; Rv 22.9 and some of ’em defy God like humans do. They’re not better than that; a number of ’em crave power just like any human. Sometimes that takes the form of power over humans. A human to manipulate for its own gain or amusement. Or enter, and work like a meat puppet.

08 June 2017

Jesus doesn’t teach like scribes.

A new authority. One that really bugged ’em.

Mark 1.21-22 • Matthew 7.28-29 • Luke 4.31-32

As Jesus wrapped up his Sermon on the Mount, Matthew includes a comment about the way he taught his lessons, and the way his listeners reacted to it:

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 who has authority.

It’s much the same way Mark and Luke described it when Jesus first began teaching in synagogue.

Mark 1.21-22 KWL
21 Jesus and his students entered Kfar Nahum, and next, Jesus joined the synagogue.
He was teaching on Sabbath 22 and they were amazed at Jesus’s 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.

Incorrectly, preachers tend to claim this whole “not like scribes, but someone with authority” has to do with Jesus’s attitude when he taught. You know, like John Calvin described it: Jesus wasn’t some cold dead expounder of the scriptures, but a spellbinding public speaker who taught with charisma and enthusiasm.

The meaning of the Evangelists is, that the power of the Spirit shone in the preaching of Christ with such brightness, as to extort admiration even from irreligious and cold hearers. Luke says that “his discourse was accompanied with power,” that is, full of majesty. Mark expresses it more fully, by adding a contrast, that it was unlike the manner of teaching “of the Scribes.” As they were false expounders of Scripture, their doctrine was literal and dead, breathed nothing of the power of the Spirit, and was utterly destitute of majesty. The same kind of coldness may be now observed in the speculative theology of popery. Those masters do indeed thunder out whatever they think proper in a sufficiently magisterial style; but as their manner of discoursing about divine things is so profane, that their controversies exhibit no traces of religion, what they bring forward is all affectation and mere driveling; for the declaration of the Apostle Paul holds true, that “the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” 1Co 4.20 In short, the Evangelists mean that, while the manner of teaching, which then prevailed, was so greatly degenerated and so extremely corrupted, that it did not impress the minds of men with any reverence for God, the preaching of Christ was eminently distinguished by the divine power of the Spirit, which procured for him the respect of his hearers. This is the “power,” or rather the majesty and “authority,” at which the people were astonished. Commentary at Mk 1.22, Lk 4.32

You might already realize the massive problem with this point of view: If Jesus has just gotta be authoritative because his teaching sounds so inspiring, it follows that anybody whose teaching sounds clever and intriguing must therefore be from God. And plenty of winsome con men are kinda counting on us to think like that. Makes their job easier.

Calvin got it wrong ’cause he was more interested in doing a little Catholic-bashing than boning up on his Pharisee history. (If you didn’t zone out in the middle of his big ol’ paragraph, that’s what he meant by “the speculative theology of popery.” He must’ve got really sick of it at the University of Bourges.)

07 June 2017

Adultery, concubines, and marriage, in the Old Testament.

Adultery has a whole different definition in the Old Testament.

Years ago one of my eighth-grade students asked me what a concubine was. ’Cause he wasn’t familiar with the word, and it was in his bible. It’s in everybody’s bibles: Pylegéš/“concubine,” which Strong’s dictionary defines as “concubine; paramour.” I just went with the 21st-century term for paramour: “It’s a girlfriend,” I told him.

Later that day his mother called me to complain. She heard the story, spoke with her pastor, and he assured her a concubine is a wife. Not a girlfriend. What sort of morality was I attempting to teach her son?

Um… it wasn’t a morality lesson. It’s a definition. The morality lesson comes from whether you think the bible’s references to concubines is prescriptive or descriptive: Whether because the patriarchs did it, we can; or whether the patriarchs simply did it, but Jesus calls us to be better than they. (I’ll save you the guessing game: It’s nearly always the second one.)

The patriarchs had concubines. These were, as my Oxford dictionary defines ’em, “a regular female companion with whom a person has a romantic or sexual relationship.” Our English word comes from the Latin con cubaré/“to lie down with.” A patriarch would lie down with one of the women in his household, making her his concubine. Not necessarily have sex with her, as was the case with King David and his concubine Abishag. 1Ki 1.1-4 (And if you wanna argue Abishag wasn’t a concubine, then it doesn’t make sense why Solomon freaked out when his brother Adonijah asked to marry her. 1Ki 2.13-25 Claiming your father’s women meant you claimed your father’s kingdom. 2Sa 16.20-22)

Why do some Christians insist a concubine isn’t a girlfriend, but a wife? Simple: It’s a culture clash.

When we read the Old Testament, we’re looking into an entirely different culture with an entirely different worldview about sex and marriage. We don’t realize this: We figure since they followed God, and we follow God, we share worldviews. And in our culture, a married man with a girlfriend on the side is an adulterer. Well, all these God-fearing OT saints with concubines, like Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, or King David: We’ll can kinda, grudgingly accept they had multiple wives. But multiple wives plus girlfriends? Beyond the pale. That’d make them, to our minds, adulterers.

So to clear them of the charge of adultery, “concubine” can’t merely mean “girlfriend.” It has to be some ancient kind of wife.

06 June 2017

Punishing ourselves. (Don’t!)

Stop it!

Crack open a dictionary and the first definition you’ll find for penance is often “voluntary self-punishment as an expression of repentance.”

Actually that’s not what penance is supposed to mean. Our word penance comes from the Latin verb pænitere/“be sorry.” That’s all penance means: We regret what we did, we apologize, we ask forgiveness, and we resolve to do better in future. Period. When Christians confess our sins to one another, that’s all penance, penitence, repentance, or whatever word we wanna use for it, ought to consist of.

Problem is, the way Christians have historically demonstrated how sorry we are, is to prove it by making ourselves suffer. By undergoing punishment. Sometimes voluntarily. Sometimes not.

So let me make this absolutely clear: God’s kingdom is about God’s grace. Christians punishing themselves, or punishing one another, is contrary to grace. It’s not a fruit of the Spirit.

I won’t go so far as to call it a work of the flesh. That’s because there’s a time and place for penalties and consequences. But that time and place is only in the context of restitution, and the unrepentant.

When Christians hurt one another, we need to make it right as best we can. If we can’t, grace is gonna have to make up the difference. If the neighbor boy burns your house down, of course he can’t afford you a new house; forgive! But if he swiped your bike, of course he oughta return the bike—and even if he doesn’t, forgive! Mt 5.38-42 Any additional penalties need to be tacked on by parents or the state. Not the Christian; not the church. Christians are only to forgive.

Now sometimes Christians don’t regret their sins. They’d willingly do ’em again if the circumstances repeated themselves—and will even proudly say so. “Of course I hit him for insulting my wife; anyone who goes after me and mine should expect it.” When people are more interested in their rights, their lusts, their vengeance, their will, their flesh, than in following Jesus, these people need to be removed from your church before they harm you. ’Cause they will.

Applying penalties and consequences to Christians who wanna get right with God, means you’re teaching them this is how we get right with God. Not by trusting God to save us, but by striving to save ourselves. Not by grace; by good works. Not by receiving, but by effort. Not by love; by merit.

Nope, it has nothing to do with God. He does not want us to hurt ourselves. If you think God told you to do it, that wasn’t God. Period. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it, stop it.

There’s enough pain and suffering in the world as it is. God wants to fix it, not create more of it. He doesn’t do abuse. He doesn’t approve of self-abuse. Even though plenty of Christians claim, “God wants us to suffer so we truly understand and share Christ’s suffering,” Pp 3.10 or “God gave me this thorn in the flesh, same as he did Paul,” 2Co 12.7 or “I need to beat my body so I can develop self-discipline.” 1Co 9.27 WEB Obviously they’re pulling those verses out of context. They’re wrong.

Yes, in our messed-up world, Christians suffer. Everybody suffers. Life is suffering. Jn 16.33 But to manufacture our own suffering? To produce more suffering? It’s contrary to the kingdom. It’s devilish.

05 June 2017

Evangelicals, climate change, and creation care.

Why American Evangelicals don’t believe in, nor care about, climate change.

Gotta admit: For the longest time I was skeptical about climate change.

Back then it was called “global warming”—the idea of pollution changing our planet’s atmosphere, creating a “greenhouse effect” which trapped heat and gradually upped the world’s average temperature. And even if it did exist, big deal. So the world’s temperature went up a degree or two. What kind of impact would that make? Hardly any, I expected.

’Cause naïvely I’d imagined “average temperature” meant everywhere only got warmer by a degree. The north and south poles, however, got warmer by more than that. Warm enough for a lot of ice to melt.


Between 1980 and 2003, the north polar ice cover shrunk 1.6 million square kilometers. It’s getting so ships can now travel the Arctic Ocean. NASA

The reason I hadn’t believed in climate change was because, at the time, it was speculation. Based on evidence, but still speculation. I’m old enough to remember when scientists were predicting global cooling: Back in the 1970s, some scientists claimed another ice age was on the way, and the United States would be covered in snow like that lousy 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow. Global cooling, global warming; make up your mind, science guys.

But between the shrunken ice caps and sinking islands, I grew convinced. Obviously the poles are getting warmer; ergo the earth is getting warmer.

The “price of industrialization”—well, when Beijing can’t be bothered to filter their smokestacks. CNN

All right, if pollution is the problem, can we solve it? Of course we can. Some of you older folks remember when London, New York, and Los Angeles were covered in smog to the level Beijing currently is. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, and despite the nearby ocean making it legitimately overcast in the mornings, it used to remain “overcast,” in the wrong shade of gray, most days. It’s not anymore. California passed laws capping emissions. There was some uproar at the time, ’cause adjustment costs money, and those who have to spend the most on it really don’t wanna. But now we can breathe our own air… something China’s bigger cities can’t yet do.

So can we fight pollution and win? Of course; we’ve done it before. Humans, as the LORD once pointed out, can do whatever we set our minds to. Ge 11.6 At the time it wasn’t a compliment; we were up to no good. But we can do good. Not always for righteous reasons, but still.

Problem is, a significant number of politically conservative Evangelical Christians in the United States don’t believe in climate change. Even after they’re presented the very same evidence I was.

02 June 2017

Pentecost.

The eighth Sunday after Easter, when the Holy Spirit started the church.

I’m a Pentecostal… and weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never notice when Pentecost comes round. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little.

Anyway, Pentecost is the last day of Eastertime, the day we Christians remember the start of the Christian church—the day the Holy Spirit gave power to Jesus’s followers. Like so.

Acts 2.1-4 KWL
1 When the 50th day after Passover drew near, all were together in one place.
2 Suddenly a roar came from heaven, like a mighty wind sounds,
and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3 Tongues, like fire, were seen distributed to them,
and sat on each one of them, 4 and all were filled with the Holy Spirit.
They began to speak in other tongues,
in whatever way the Spirit gave them the ability.
4 The Jews who inhabited Jerusalem at the time
were devout men from every nation under heaven.
5 When this sound came forth, the masses gathered, and were confused:
Each one of them was hearing their own dialect spoken to them.
6 They were astounded, and wondered aloud, “Look, aren’t all these speakers Galileans?
8 How is each of us hearing our own native dialect?
9 People from Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Israel, eastern Turkey,
10 western Turkey, Egypt, the Cyrenian part of Libya, visitors from Rome,
11 Jews and Jewish converts, Cretans and Arabs
—we hear them speaking of God’s might in our own languages!”
12 All were astounded and stunned. Some asked one another, “What caused this?”
13 Others said, joking, “They’ve been drinking port.”

Lots of Christians call this story the “first Pentecost.” It wasn’t. Pentecost comes from the Greek pentikostí iméra/“50th day.” It’s the Greek term for the Hebrew festival of Shavuót/“Weeks,” the first crop of the wheat harvest. Ex 34.22 From the first day the Hebrews began to harvest wheat, the LORD ordered Moses to have ’em count off seven weeks, or 49 days. Dt 16.9-12 On the last day they were to sacrifice some of the grain to God, and take a day off in celebration. Nu 28.26 Somehow, the first day of the wheat harvest became formally shifted to the first day after Passover, meaning Weeks is the 50th day after Passover—6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar. (In ours, 4 June 2017.)

All male Jews were instructed to go to temple on Pentecost. Dt 16.16 Meaning Jerusalem was full of devout Jews at the time, bringing the LORD their grain offerings—and suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew, spoken as if to them personally. That got their attention.

01 June 2017

When pagans die.

Have they no hope? Well, let’s not rule that out.

Yeah, this is gonna be a bummer of an article. Sorry. It needs saying.

When Christians die, it’s sad. ’Cause we’re never gonna see those people again in this lifetime. We often say, “We’ll see ’em in heaven,” and that’s true—though not quite as pop-culture Christianity imagines it. We’ll see them in the kingdom of heaven. Once Jesus returns to establish that kingdom, we Christians are all getting resurrected, and they’ll be back, better than before. As will we. That’s our hope.

But it’s not pagans’ hope.

The Latin word paganus meant someone from the country, and therefore not from the city. Christians adopted it to refer to people who don’t live in the city of God, or civilians who aren’t in the Lord’s army. By definition a pagan isn’t in the kingdom. Not going to heaven. They’re outside—and outside isn’t good.

So when pagans die, it’s a profound loss. Not only are we not seeing them again, we’re likely not seeing them in the age to come. Because they resisted a relationship with Christ Jesus, they don’t inherit his kingdom. They don’t come back with us Christians. They don’t get resurrected till Judgment Day, Rv 20.5, 12-13 and things don’t turn out so well for them: They go into the fire. Rv 20.15

I know; it’s awful. I don’t wish it on anyone. But it’s the path they chose.

Pagans are fond of denouncing us Christians for “concocting” this story, as if we invented it as some sick ’n twisted revenge fantasy. Which stands to reason: If you don’t believe in Jesus, of course you’re gonna think Christians invented this scenario. And it’d say all sorts of things about our lack of compassion, graciousness, and love—especially as your typical pagan believes in universalism, where everybody goes to heaven, whether they want to or not. So how dare we deny them a pleasant afterlife.

But this is no mere story. And we Christians didn’t concoct it. If pop culture ideas about hell are any indication, our ideas would be way worse. Popular depictions of hell don’t involve dark fire; they involve torture. Devils with pitchforks, jabbing people as if being burnt weren’t torment enough. Or ironic psychological horrors. Stuff that increases the suffering. Sick stuff.

True, some of those warped ideas were invented by Christians who wish all manner of hateful, painful stuff on pagans. And these people have serious problems with unforgiveness, and need to repent. We’re supposed to love our enemies, Lk 6.27 not devise brave punishments for them.

But again: The fire wasn’t our idea. And no, it’s not God’s idea either. He wants everybody to be saved! 1Ti 2.4

Then why’s it there? Because if people don’t wanna be anywhere where God is—if they wanna get so far away from him, nothing he created will be around to remind them of his very existence—there’d be nothing left but chaos. Darkness. Fire. Plus all the other people who likewise wanna be apart from God, so they’ll be serious downers. Hence all the weeping and gnashing. It’ll be awful.

It’s why Jesus described it as fire, and warns us away from that. Nobody has to go there! Don’t go there! Save yourselves. Ac 2.40 Turn to God.

31 May 2017

Sheep-stealing: “Hey, those were our sheep!”

Since all the sheep belong to Jesus, what’s the real problem?

Sheep-stealing /'ʃip stil.ɪŋ/ vt. Getting a Christian to leave their church and join yours.
[Sheep-stealer /'ʃip stil.ər/ n.]

My sister and I live in the same town. I’m a member of a small church. She’s a member of another, larger church.

When people hear this, sometimes they respond, “Aww. Why don’t you go to the same church? You should be worshiping together.”

Well, sometimes we do. Sometimes I visit her church. Once, she and her family visited mine. Our churches aren’t in competition, y’know. Mine may be in a denomination and hers isn’t, but both churches belong to Jesus: They’re both outposts of God’s kingdom.

Why don’t we go to the same church? Various reasons. Initially it was because I was giving the churches in my denomination a try before settling on one… and this one fit. (Once it wasn’t, so I hung with the Baptists a few years.) If I had to switch churches, I don’t think it’d be too big a stretch to switch to hers, but I fit better here.

And my church lets me minister. Whereas her church already has plenty of ministers. They don’t need me. Don’t need her either. She and her husband used to help in their area of expertise, music. They were eventually told their help wasn’t wanted.

If I were told that, I’d go find someplace I was wanted; but that’s me. I told ’em my church was looking for musicians. Of course my church, being small, would definitely try to rope ’em into ministering every week, and they’d prefer once a month. (That’s what they’re currently doing: They help out at a friend’s church.)

Now, some Christians would definitely take offense at my inviting them to help at my church. They’d see it as “sheep-stealing.” Because my sister and brother-in-law already have a church, already have a shepherd, and how dare I try to swipe them out from underneath their shepherd?

Um… ’cause we all have the one shepherd.

John 10.14-16 KWL
14 “I’m the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me,
15 just as my Father knows me, and I know the Father. I prioritize my life for the sheep.
16 I have other sheep who aren’t from this pen. I have to bring them here too.
They’ll hear my voice and become one flock, with one shepherd.”

Churches have shepherds, or pastors; lots of ’em. But all these pastors work for the head of every church, Christ Jesus. And when they’re jealous of one another, or compete with one another, or try to hoard resources which are meant for the whole kingdom and world, it’s wholly inappropriate. So this idea of “sheep-stealing”? Doesn’t come from the bible.

Still, some pastors get downright territorial.

30 May 2017

Jesus still appears to people, y’know.

No, he didn’t stop doing it in bible times.

Several years after Jesus ascended to heaven, Paul of Tarsus (also known by his Hebrew name Saul) met him enroute to Damascus. He later retold that story to his king:

Acts 26.13-20 KWL
13 “In midday on the road I saw, King, a light from heaven brighter than the sun
shining round me and those going with me. 14 We all fell down to the ground.
I heard a voice telling me in the Hebraic dialect, ‘Saul! Saul!
Why are you pursuing me? Isn’t it harsh of you to jab your spurs?’
15 I said, ‘Who are you, Master?’ and the Master said ‘I’m Jesus, whom you’re pursuing.
16 But get up and stand on your feet. You’re seeing me for this reason:
I’m taking charge of you, as my assistant and witness, who saw and will see me.
17 I separate you to myself from the people, from the gentiles to whom I’m sending you,
18 to open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light, from Satan’s power to God.
To take forgiveness from sin to them, a place among those made holy by trusting in me.‘
19 Therefore, King Agrippa, I wasn’t about to become disobedient to a heavenly vision,
20 but to the Damascenes first, then Jerusalemites, the whole province of Judea, and the gentiles,
I declared repentance and return to God,
and doing good works consistent with repentance.”

Paul was dead set on destroying Christianity, but flipped hard. Preached Jesus with such fervor, his former backers wanted him dead. Went to his own death for Jesus. That’s not the behavior of a man who merely changed his mind. Paul saw something—and for the rest of his life, claimed it was Christ Jesus.

Nearly all Christians accept Paul’s story without question. Not just ’cause Paul produced fruit of the Spirit from then on, and performed various miracles. Usually it’s because Paul wrote 13 books of the New Testament, particularly Romans, which spells out how the revelation and self-sacrifice of Jesus brought grace into the world. But as far as further Jesus-sightings are concerned, they’re not entirely certain Paul’s experience wasn’t a special circumstance. That only Paul got to have a special Jesus-appearance, and nobody else. Nobody since.

There I’d have to disagree with them. And most of you already know about this second “special” Jesus-appearance:

Revelation 1.9-18 KWL
9 I’m John, your fellow Christian, experiencing the tribulation with you—
and the kingdom, and the patient endurance of Jesus.
I was put on the island called Patmos because of God’s word and my witness of Jesus.
10 In spirit, I saw the Day of the Lord.
I heard a great voice behind me, like a war trumpet, 11 saying,
“Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches—
to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
12 I turned round to see the voice speaking with me,
and in so doing I saw seven gold lampstands;
13 in the middle of the lampstands, one like the Son of Man,
clad in a full-length robe with a gold belt wrapped round his chest.
14 His head and hair: White, like white wool, like snow. His eyes like fiery flames.
15 His feet the same: White bronze, refined in a furnace. His voice: Like the sound of many waters.
16 He had seven stars in his right hand. From his mouth came a sharp, double-edged saber.
His face: Like the sun, shining in its power.
17 Once I saw the Son of Man, I fell to his feet like a dead man.
He placed his right hand on me, saying, “Don’t fear!
I’m the First and the Last 18 and the Living. I became a dead man and look: I’m living!
Forever and ever. I have the keys to death and the afterlife.”

“Okay,” naysayers will object, “but other than those two—”

Yeah, you already knew I got a third one.

Acts 7.55-56 KWL
55 Becoming full of the Holy Spirit, staring into the sky,
Stephen saw God’s glory, and Jesus standing at God’s right.
56 Stephen said, “Look! I see the skies opened, and the Son of Man standing at God’s right!”

“Okay, but other than those three—”

29 May 2017

Is our faith living, or dead?

If we don’t really have it, we’re never gonna act on it.

James 2.14-17

So now we’re at one of the more controversial passages in Christendom: The notorious “faith without works is dead” bit.

Properly faith is a synonym for trust, and when Christianity talks about faith we mean trusting in God. We figure there’s something of substance holding up our beliefs: God himself. He’s real and reliable, and will do as he said he’d do. It’s not just “faith in faith”—that we imagine what we want, believe really hard, and stuff will happen. That’s how magic is supposed to work, and we all know magic isn’t real. But you’d be surprised how often people think faith works that way. (Or that magic is real.)

Now if faith is based on something solid, it means we should be able to stand on that faith, right? Should be able to act on it. Should be able to do stuff based on our trust in God. If I trust in a stepladder I should have no trouble standing on it; seems kinda stupid if I never use it because I really don’t care to test it. What’s the point of owning a stepladder then?

Same argument James made here: What’s the point of “having faith” if it never comes to anything? If we never use it? Is that even faith?

James 2.14-17 KWL
14 What’s the point, my fellow Christians, when someone says they “have faith,”
yet doesn’t take action? Can “faith” save them?
15 When a Christian brother or sister starts to become needy and go without daily food,
16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace: I declare you to be warm and full!”
yet doesn’t give them anything useful for their body, what’s the point?
17 This “faith,” when it’s all by itself and takes no action, is dead.

Obviously he answered that question: Nope. Not faith. If it’s fruitless, it’s nekrá kath’ eaftín/“dead by itself.” (I moved the “by itself” to earlier in the sentence.) It’s not just faith without works that’s dead. Faith without anything is dead.

Note this situation James described in his example, where “one of you” tells a needy Christian, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled.” Jm 2.16 KJV It’s not a hypothetical situation. It still happens all the time. This is when Christians wish blessings upon one another. “Oh it’s so sad you don’t have a job, but y’know what? I’m gonna declare for you that you will get a job. That my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Pp 4.19 KJV You just trust in God now; he will take care of you.” And then, just like every sucky intercessor, that well-wisher does nothing to help God take care of them.

So, this kind of so-called “faith”? Dead.

Yep. Every compassionate-sounding Christian who says, “Aww,” at all the sob stories, yet lifts not a finger to do anything, and all they have are best wishes and warm prayers: Hypocrites with dead faith. Pretending it’s faith—pretending they believe God’ll take care of people—but y’know, we Christians are meant to be how God takes care of his needy. Remember when the first Christians had needy people in Acts? No you don’t, ’cause they didn’t:

Acts 4.32-35 KWL
32 The number of believers were one in thinking and lifestyle.
Not one of their possessions was said to be their own.
Instead, everything of theirs was commonly used.
33 The apostles gave their witness of Master Jesus’s resurrection in great power.
Great grace was upon them all, 34 for they had no needy:
Whoever among them owned land or houses were selling whatever was sellable
35 and placed them at the apostles’ feet. This was passed along to everyone—whoever had need.

When’s the last time someone in your church sold a house and gave the proceeds to the church to help out the needy? When’s the last time you ever heard of a church doing that on a regular basis? Face it: We suck.

26 May 2017

People who can’t see. (Yet think they can.)

Spiritual blindness, and what that looks like.

Matthew 15.13-14 • Luke 6.39-40 • John 9.39-41

Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount has a counterpart in Luke, usually called the Sermon on the Plain. They don’t entirely overlap. Matthew has more of Jesus’s teachings. But relax; I’m gonna go through both sermons’ content.

Here’s a bit which is part of the sermon in Luke but not Matthew, though Jesus does also teach it in Matthew: The bit about blind guides. It’s a memorable mental image, so it’s become a memorable lesson. Though sometimes Christians only remember the mental image… and don’t always remember what Jesus meant by it.

Matthew 15.13-14 KWL
13 In reply Jesus said, “Every plant my heavenly Father doesn’t plant will be rooted out.
14 Leave them be. They’re blind guides of the blind.
When a blind person directs a blind person, both will fall into a ditch.”
Luke 6.39-40 KWL
39 Jesus told them a parable: “Is it possible for a blind person to guide a blind person?
Won’t both fall into a ditch?
40 A student doesn’t exceed the teacher;
once fully trained, everyone is like their teacher.”

To a degree, the idea of one blind person guiding another is ridiculous. Like Jesus said, they’ll both fall into a ditch. Or worse; the NIV uses the word “pit,” although that’s not necessarily what a bóthynos/“hole” consisted of. Still, tripping over or into any hole might seriously injure people.

At the same time, blind people are frequently the best people to advise other blind people about how to get around, how to do things, despite impaired vision or sightlessness. They know from experience. No, they can’t always navigate others around ditches. But if they’re particularly good with their canes, they can. Commonsense will tell you whose guidance to trust. Much like commonsense makes it clear Jesus’s comment is generally true: Blind guides aren’t ideal when you’re trying to evade holes in the ground.

What’s the point of this parable? Jesus was critiquing teachers whom he considered blind guides.

In Matthew Jesus said this after the Pharisees were irritated by Jesus’s criticism. The Pharisees griped at Jesus that his students broke custom; Jesus responded they straight-up broke commands. Mt 15.1-11 Jesus’s students pointed out this offended the Pharisees; Jesus blew ’em off by making this statement that they’re blind guides.

In Luke it’s part of the Sermon on the Plain; it’s right in the middle of Jesus’s lesson about judging by double standards. Jesus taught that same lesson in Matthew but didn’t squeeze the “blind leading the blind” bit into it there. Why here? Well, if you judge by double standards, you’re a bit of blind guide, aren’t you? And blind teachers are gonna wind up creating blind students.

25 May 2017

When Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

The words we never want to hear from our Lord.

Matthew 7.21-23 • Luke 6.46, 13.23-27

Evangelicals do actually quote the next teaching of Jesus a lot. But we tend to do this because we wanna nullify it.

See, it’s scary. It implies there are people who want into God’s kingdom, who honestly think they’re headed there… but when they stand before Jesus at the End, they get the rug pulled out from under them. Turns out they have no relationship with Jesus. Never did. He never knew them. Psyche!

It sounds like the dirtiest trick ever. How can a Christian go their whole life thinking they’re saved, only to find out no they’re not? And they’re not getting into the kingdom? And by process of elimination, they’re therefore going into the fire? Holy crap; shouldn’t this keep you awake nights?

So like I said, Christians figure the solution to this quandary is to nullify it. “Chill out, people: This story isn’t about you. ’Cause you’re good! You said the sinner’s prayer and believe all the right things. This story applies to the people who didn’t say the sinner’s prayer, didn’t believe all the right things, and don’t realize they’re heretics or in a cult. You’re good. Relax.”

Or you can take the Dispensationalist route: “Remember, people, God saves us by grace not works. And notice what Jesus says in this story about “Law-breakers” Mt 7.23 and “unrighteous workers.” Lk 13.27 He’s clearly talking to people of the last dispensation, back when God didn’t save anybody by grace yet, and they had to earn salvation by following the Law. Still true in Jesus’s day, but doesn’t count anymore. So we can safely ignore these scriptures. They don’t count for our day. They’re null.”

Obviously I’m not gonna go with either of those explanations. Partly ’cause I’m no dispensationalist, and neither is Jesus; partly ’cause we don’t earn salvation by accumulating correct beliefs. Humans are saved by grace, and always have been.

So why doesn’t grace appear to apply to these poor schmucks, who tried the narrow door only to find it bolted shut?

Luke 13.23-27 KWL
23 Someone told Jesus, “Master, the saved are going to be few.”
Jesus told them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door.
I tell you many will seek to enter, and not be able to.
25 At some point the owner could be raised up, and could close the door.
You standing outside might begin to knock at the door, saying, ‘Master, unbolt it for us!’
and in reply he tells you, ‘I don’t know you. Where are you from?’
26 Then you’ll begin to say, ‘We ate with you! And drank! And you taught us in the streets!’
27 And the speaker will tell you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from!
Get away from me, unrighteous workers.’ ”

What’d’you mean the Master won’t recognize us? Isn’t he omniscient? Didn’t he at least remember all the times we hung out together? We had a meal with him! (Or at least holy communion—hundreds, if not thousands of times!) We studied what he taught! Why’s Jesus suffering from amnesia or dementia all of a sudden?

Like I said, scary idea. Lots of us like to imagine our salvation is a done deal, a fixed thing, something we can never lose unless we actively reject it. This story throws a bunch of uncertainty into the idea, and we hate uncertainty. We wanna know our relationship with Jesus is real, and that it’s gonna continue into Kingdom Come.

24 May 2017

Watch out for the fake prophets.

Look past their messages. What fruit do they produce?

Matthew 7.15-20, 12.33-35 • Luke 6.43-45

Right after Jesus’s teaching about the narrow gate, Jesus gives this warning about people who are pretending be prophets, but aren’t.

What, there are fake prophets? Of course there are. You’ve met a few. A prophet hears from God and shares what God’s said. A fake prophet heard nothing, but acts as if God told ’em stuff, and fakes it as best they can.

Sometimes they didn’t really hear God at all (and if they’re cessationist they’re entirely sure nobody can hear him). But they think they count as real prophets, ’cause they quote bible, which is stuff God told people. Just not recently, and to entirely different people, but still: They’re repeating God’s words, and doesn’t that count as prophecy? Well no. That’s teaching. It’s what I usually do; it’s what most preachers and scholars do. It can have a prophetic element when we’re actively listening to the Holy Spirit as we research. But prophecy is repeating what God’s individually told us; teaching is studying and explaining the scriptures. Even if teachers do just as Old Testament prophets did—denounce sin, correct a wayward culture, encourage holiness, and point to God—still not prophecy. And if self-exalting teachers wanna insist they’re prophets anyway, I would point out the Spirit’s not gonna misinterpret his own bible anywhere near as often as they. (There’s one free tip on one way to identify a fake prophet.)

Sometimes they don’t actually hear God. I occasionally run into mentalists who think they’re prophets. They’ve learned tricks, and think their tricks are how we hear God. They messages sound a lot like things God might say; bible-y language and Jesus-y statements. They encourage people, and isn’t encouragement the same as prophecy? They make people feel good, make ’em positive and happy, and isn’t that fruitful? Except their track record is about the same as any carnival mindreader, and encouragement becomes discouragement once the prophecies come to nothing.

Sometimes they totally know they’re frauds. But they’ve convinced themselves they’re doing it for a greater purpose—to spread Jesus’s kingdom, by hook or by crook. They’re pointing people on the narrow path Jesus wants us on. They’re invoking faith, ’cause now people believe God talks through them—and isn’t faith a good thing? So what if this “faith” is based on rubbish?

Or they’re frauds, know it, are totally in it for selfish reasons, and don’t care.

Doesn’t matter their motives. All of this is evil. It’s lies and hypocrisy; it’s tricking people into thinking God speaks through them. You do realize people regularly make major life changes based on prophecies, right? ’Cause supposedly God told them what to do. So they do it! But since God really didn’t… it’s never gonna go well.

Anyway, another of Jesus’s tips for identifying these guys is how their lifestyle doesn’t jibe with who they claim to be.

Matthew 7.15-20 KWL
15 “Watch out for the fake prophets, who come to all of you dressed as sheep,
but underneath they’re greedy wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruits.
People don’t pluck grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles, do they?
17 So every good tree grows good fruits, and a rotten tree grows bad fruits.
18 A good tree doesn’t grow bad fruits, nor a rotten tree grow good fruits.
19 Every tree not growing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.
20 It’s precisely by their fruits that you’ll recognize them.”

If you’re a prophet, it means you listen to the Holy Spirit. If you listen to the Spirit, you’re inevitably gonna produce fruit of the Spirit. His personality tends to create a serious impact on our personalities: We start to act like him. More love, joy, peace, blah blah blah… I mean patience. And the rest Paul listed in Galatians, Ga 5.22-23 and the various godly traits we see mentioned in the New Testament, like grace.

If you’re a fake prophet, y’might be able to fake the prophecies, but you’re not gonna succeed at faking the fruit. Much as you’ll try.