TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

15 December 2017

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

Because even in the first century, people grew tired of waiting.

2 Peter 3.1-9

I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.

This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.

And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.

2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL
1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—
2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,
commands of our Master and Savior.
3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to mock,
following however their own desires are going, 4 saying,
“How’s the promise of his second coming meant to work?—since the church fathers died over it,
same as everyone continues to die from the beginning of creation.”

See, the expectation of the first Christians was—same as now—that Jesus could return at any time. During their lifetimes, they expected. They hoped. They waited. If anyone’d told them Jesus still wouldn’t return for more than 20 centuries, I doubt they’d believe it. (Of course, if you spoke to them now, from their vantage point in paradise I’m pretty sure they have a better idea of what Jesus is up to.)

But you know how impatient humans can get. Even in the first century, they were taking crap from those naysayers who were wondering just how much time Jesus needed to put together his heavenly invasion. After all, the first generation of Christians were dying off. And didn’t Jesus say they’d live to see his return? Mk 13.30, Mt 24.34, Lk 21.32 (Not really. But you know how people will take any hint and just go nuts with it. Jn 21.22-23)

So part of the reason Simon wrote 2 Peter was to remind his readers of their original conviction. 2Pe 3.1 Either you trust what the prophets and apostles taught you, or you don’t. And they did warn us about naysayers, who follow their own urges instead of God’s messengers, 2Pe 3.3 who spin the second coming till it suits them better. Sometimes by imagining Jesus never will come; that instead we all die and go to him. Sometimes by creating intricate seven-year tribulational scenarios. However they work.

14 December 2017

“Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”

Of course we have some iffy ideas about what “waiting on the Lord” entails.

Isaiah 40.31

Whenever I visit fellow Christians at their homes, a large number of ’em have a painting or sculpture of an eagle somewhere. Often it’s an American bald eagle, meant to express their patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores before it went bankrupt and shut down. Patriotic or not, if it was produced by Christians, it’s gonna be captioned with the following Isaiah verse:

Isaiah 40.31 KJV
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

The sentiment which really appeals to Christians, whether it’s blended with patriotism or not, is the idea the LORD, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even though the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 God can indefinitely renew our strength. Is 40.31

Well, if we trust in the LORD. Hopefully we do.

So it’s meant as encouragement for those of us whose batteries run low, thanks to working hard, playing hard, and otherwise doing a crappy job of resting. When we’re exhausted, God can recharge us. When our resources are taxed, God can replenish ’em. Many’s the time I’ve told my students, “I ran out of patience with you a long time ago; I’m tapping God’s patience now.” Tapping God’s dyamis power,” his dynamo of endless cosmic supply, is possible for every Christian.

Right? Well… now we get to the bit where Christians take this verse out of context.

13 December 2017

The prayer of Nehemiah.

And the need to seek God’s will in our prayer requests.

Back in the ’00s, the prayer of Jabez got a bit of attention with a popular book. Which was quickly followed up by other writers, covetous of The Prayer of Jabez’s success, whose books probably didn’t sell as well for that reason: Books on the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer and other tricks to successful prayer.

The only real trick is remembering God can’t be reduced to formulas, and that he has every right to say no. These books don’t necessarily teach this fact. Instead, the idea is if we pray like Jabez, God’ll expand our territory. Pray the Jesus Prayer and receive peace. Pray the St. Christopher prayer and kids get protection; pray the St. Jude prayer and get a yes to your hopeless cause; pray the rosary and get special protection; do X and now God owes us Y.

Doesn’t work like that. And to help that idea sink in a little, I remind you of the Prayer of Nehemiah, offered by Nekhémya bar Khakálya right after he heard what a mess Jerusalem still was.

Nehemiah 1.5-11 KWL
5 I said, “Please LORD, God of heaven, great God,
scary covenant-keeper, lover of those who love you and keep your commands:
6 May your ear now be attentive, your eyes open, to hear your slave’s prayer,
which I pray to your face daily and nightly over Israel’s descendants, your slaves:
I confess the sins Israel’s descendants sinned against you. I and my father’s house sinned.
7 We hurt, hurt you, and didn’t keep the commands, decrees, and rulings you sent your slave Moses.
8 Now remember the word you sent your slave Moses, saying,
When you trespass, I’ll scatter you among the nations.
9 Return to me, keep my commands, do them, and if you’re exiled to the heavens’ edge,
I’ll gather you from there, and return you to the place I chose where my name dwells.’
10 They’re your slaves, your people whom you rescued with your great strength and strong hand.
11 Please Master, have a listening ear for your slave’s prayer,
for your slaves’ prayer—we who wish to respect your name.
Please grant your slave success today. Give me compassion before this man’s face”
for I was the Persian king’s butler.

And though Nehemiah didn’t neatly sum it up as did the author of Chronicles, 1Co 4.10 God went along with his request, and Nehemiah himself got to go to Jerusalem and fix its problems.

12 December 2017

Why skipping church messes us up.

Treating it as an optional practice blinds us to the fact we’re going heretic.

Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian.

In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do ’em. They figure they believe in Jesus, and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right?

So by this metric, they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary—’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s in their heads at least—and somebody’s assured them it counts if it only exists in their head. Or “in their heart,” i.e. their feelings, i.e. still only in their heads.

So to them, Christianity’s how they feel about God. Not what they do for him. They don’t do for him. Well sometimes they do; they’ll pray every so often, and it won’t entirely be prayer requests, but some actual sucking up praise. They’ll drop a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle.

As for going to church… well they don’t go. Just on the holidays. Rest of the year, don’t go. ’Cause Sundays are their time. Their one day off; the one day of the week they get to sleep in, or have no obligations, or can get drunk during brunch. “Sunday funday,” their weekly holiday.

’Cause nobody’s ever explained to them that if “Christians” don’t go to church, it means they’re heretic.

No, seriously: Heretic. No, not meaning they’re going to hell; that’s not what “heretic” means. It means they got God so wrong, it can be argued they’re not properly Christian. See, contrary to what they imagine, there are actual standards for what makes a person Christian or not—they’re called orthodoxy—and among those things is that we deliberately interact with fellow Christians in worship. It’s called “the communion of saints,” or the church. It’s in our creeds.

If we avoid this communion of saints—and it might sound like we have perfectly legitimate reasons—the cold hard fact is we’re heretic. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to go it alone. He ordered us to love one another. He made it a full-on command. It identifies us as his followers. Jn 13.34-35 And when we don’t follow it—when we figure we can love one another just fine without ever bothering to come together to formally worship Jesus—we’re not following Jesus either. We can call ourselves Christians, but does Jesus recognize us as such? I’d say he doesn’t. Lk 6.46 And if he doesn’t identify us as his, Mt 7.21-23 we’re not.

Hey, somebody had to warn you. Better you hear this now than when you stand before Jesus.

11 December 2017

When Jesus got raptured.

He doesn’t say. Not that this stops us from guessing.

On 15 May, in the year 33 (if we take Luke’s count of 40 days Ac 1.3 literally, and not as an estimate) this happened.

Acts 1.6-11 KWL
6 So when they came together, the apostles questioned Jesus:
“Master, is it at this time you’re restoring the Kingdom of Israel?”
7 Jesus told them, “It’s not for you to know times or timing.
That, the Father sets by his own free will.
8 But you’ll all get power: The Holy Spirit is coming upon you.
You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world.”
9 Saying this as they watched him, Jesus was raptured.
A cloud concealed him from their eyes.
10 While they were watching him go up into the sky,
look!—two men in white clothing stood by them.
11 The men said, “Galileans, why’d you stand looking at the sky?
This Jesus, raptured from you into the sky like this,
will come back like you saw him go into the sky.”

Christians call this Jesus’s ascension, and celebrate it on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter (and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday). ’Cause it’s when Jesus went up, ascended, into heaven, to stand in service or sit in judgment, at the Father’s right. Ac 2.33, 7.55-56

But the reason I bring up Jesus’s ascension today isn’t to remind you he’s in a position of authority and intercession. It’s the bit the two men said after the students realized they weren’t alone in watching Jesus rise up into the sky. Yes, Jesus went up. But at some point he’s coming back down.

08 December 2017

When is Jesus returning?

He doesn’t say. Not that this stops us from guessing.

Jesus is returning. But when?

That’s the question every Christian asks, whether it’s in the front of the back of our minds. When’s Jesus coming back? Sooner rather than later, we hope—though considering the past 20 centuries, he’s taking an awfully long time to get round to it.

What did Jesus himself have to say about it? Well, this. You’re not gonna like it.

Mark 13.32-37 KWL
32 Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.
Neither the heavenly angels, nor the Son. Just the Father.
33 Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.
34 It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.
He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.
35 So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.
Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.
37 What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”

In short: “I dunno. And even if I knew, I’m not telling. You just need to be continually ready for it. On your toes. No slacking. Alert. Stay awake!”

Well, some of us can handle that command. Others really can’t. It’s why they’re running round like Chicken Little: “The sky’s falling! The End is near!” Everything they see in the news—contrary to Jesus’s instructions that these sorts of things will happen, but it doesn’t make it the End yet Mk 13.7-8 —is nonetheless treated as if it fulfills End Times prophecy. “Prophecy scholars” have us all wound up fearing all sorts of boogeymen which, no fooling, aren’t even in the bible. Aren’t even hinted about in the bible—they have way more to do with the prophecy scholars’ loopy politics than scripture. It’s all dark Christianity and irrational panic. Stuff that’s far more devilish than godly.

On the other extreme, there are the Christians who are pretty sure Jesus is never coming back. ’Cause it’s been 1,984 years since he ascended to heaven, and assuming a conservative 30 years per generation, that’s 66 generations ago. (And don’t go reading anything into that number, wouldya? Yeesh.) Since Jesus doesn’t appear to be in any rush to return, patiently waiting for as many to be saved as possible, 2Pe 3.9 he might take another 66 generations to finish the job. If ever.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s wise to adopt either extreme. Jesus fully intends to come back. If he’s not returning for the world for another generation or two, bear in mind he’s totally coming for you personally. You’re gonna die someday. So will I. So will everyone. We don’t know when that will be. “Stay awake” is as good advice for our personal day of reckoning, as it is for the world’s.

07 December 2017

Liturgy: A formula for worship.

Some Christians do better in a church with more structure.

Liturgy /'lɪd.ər.dʒi/ n. Detailed order of service for (Christian) worship.
2. [capitalized] The eucharistic service in an Orthodox church.
[Liturgical /lə'tər.dʒə.kəl/ adj., liturgist /'lɪd.ər.dʒəst/ n.]

Some churches—namely the older ones—are liturgical: They have a very particular order of service, and all the churches do it the same way. Go to nearly any Catholic church anywhere on the planet, and you’ll instantly find it familiar, because all of them use the very same prayer book, the Roman Missal. True, it’s been translated into all the local languages, but whether the service is in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, or Italian, it’ll be the very same order. Same bible readings. Same prayers. Same songs. Same everything. Everywhere.

Some Christians are bothered by this level of conformity. They don’t get it: The point isn’t conformity, but unity. All these Christians are worshiping God together, as one massive body of Christ, and that’s why they’re all saying the same things and praying the same prayers. When you’re off by yourself, having left the worship service, you’re entirely free to worship God as an individual: Sing what you like, pray what you pray, on your own. But once you’re together, you really are together. You, and every other Catholic on the planet. (Or every other Orthodox, or every other Anglican, or every other Lutheran.) It’s a powerful idea.

And it’s a comforting idea. For some Christians, churches which don’t do this are way too undisciplined.

Sure, the nonliturgical churches have a bit of a liturgy: Nearly every church follows an order of service of some kind, whether they print it in their bulletins or not. At my church, it’s three songs, announcements, offering, greeting one another, sermon, altar call, dismissal. But y’know, another church in my denomination might follow a whole other order. And sing different songs. Certainly pray different prayers. One congregation worships together, but not together on the level of a church where every congregation syncs up like Catholics.

But liturgical Christians feel there’s a little too much freedom in such churches. The music may not be theological enough for them. The extemporaneous prayers don’t do as good a job as rote prayers in teaching Christians how to pray. The preacher’s freedom to discuss any bible passage, means there’s a whole lot of bible which is never touched. (Fr’instance, when’s the last time you heard a message about one of the minor prophets?—and quoting one of their Messanic prophecies doesn’t count.)

Hence liturgical Christians prefer liturgical churches. There, they feel they’re particularly worshiping God together—with other Christians round the world, with other Christians throughout history, and growing with them rather than growing on our own.

06 December 2017

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it.

It’s gonna be really obvious he’s come back.

When Jesus returns, it’s not gonna be a secret second coming. It’s not gonna be an event which only takes place metaphorically, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim; where they believe God’s kingdom began in 1914 but Jesus isn’t coming to earth till the final battle.

It’s not gonna be a secret gnostic event, which only the chosen few know about. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, where the Christians vanish and go to be with Jesus, and the rest of the planet has to wait seven years. It’s not secret. It’s nice and visible and obvious. As Jesus himself describes.

Matthew 24.23-28 KWL
23 “Then when anyone might tell you, ‘Look! Here’s Messiah!’ or ‘He’s here!’ don’t believe it:
24 Fake messiahs and fake prophets will arise, and will give great signs and wonders to deceive you.
If possible, to deceive God’s chosen people too.
25 Look, I’m forewarning you 26 so when people tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the wilderness!’ you don’t go out;
‘Look, he’s in the inner room!’ you don’t believe it.
27 For just as lightning comes from the east and appears in the west,
so will be the Son of Man’s second coming.
28 Wherever a corpse may be, there one will find eagles.”

That last line tends to confuse people—“Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” is how the NIV puts it. Certain dark Christians like to claim it implies judgment—that when Jesus returns, he’ll kill all the sinners, and carrion birds will feast on their flesh. Rv 19.8 ’Cause they take Revelation literally, but that’s not how to appropriately interpret it.

It’s not a judgment. It’s an epigram. “Where there’s a corpse, there’s eagles” is like saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” or “If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” If it obviously looks like Jesus has returned, that’s what happened. But if there’s anything iffy, or secretive, or “spiritual” about it—if it looks like nothing, but only “the chosen few” know about it—it’s a con. It is nothing.

When you read the Left Behind novels, or watch any of the movies where all the world’s Christians mysteriously vanish, you notice there are always pagans who argue, “We don’t know what that was,” and deny the disappearances had anything to do with Jesus. After all, Jesus didn’t appear! And if all the Christians in a given town vanish overnight, shouldn’t you suspect foul play? Doesn’t this secret-rapture idea make it disturbingly easy for anti-Christians to wipe us out and blame it on Jesus?

Thing is, it’s not at all how the scriptures describe the actual second coming of the Son of Man. Not Jesus, nor his apostles. It’ll be so obvious, everyone will see it, and know precisely what’s happening. Whether they believe their own eyes or not.

05 December 2017

Humility, and the “cage-stage” Christian.

When we’re willing to toss fruit aside, and fight for our beliefs.

The first principle of theology is humility—knowing who and what you are, and not claiming you’re anything more. Or, as we so often see in false humility, less.

That means we’re fully aware we’re wrong, and Jesus is right. The purpose of theology isn’t to believe we’ve “arrived,” and defend our newly-acquired high ground. It’s to correct our beliefs, poor character, and bad attitudes. Because they’re misbegotten and wayward. We may be redeemed, but they’re not. Bearing this in mind, with the Holy Spirit’s help and power, the goal is to get those traits to match Jesus’s.

The problem? A lot of Christians have utterly skipped that first theology lesson. Or weren’t paying attention, ’cause they were too busy staring at the syllabus. Or promptly forgot all about it, ’cause all their new knowledge puffed ’em up. However it happened.

Hence they imagine theology’s first principle is, “I was wrong—but now I’m not. Jesus fixed me.” When he gave us new life, supposedly he gave us a new nature—his nature—so now we have the mind of Christ. 1Co 2.16 We think like Jesus does… or he thinks like we do; it’s all the same. We have arrived.


As Calvinist cartoonist Adam Ford depicts it. They don’t always foam at the mouth though. Adam 4d

I run into Christians with this mindset all the time. They’d be the folks who email me to explain, patiently or not, why I’m completely wrong. Or who show up on discussion boards to loudly, angrily correct everybody who varies ever so slightly with their infallible doctrines. Back when they were pagan, they’d get this way about plenty of other subjects, like politics and Star Wars. Now they do it with doctrine. Or apologetics.

There’s a term the Calvinists use when their young, overzealous theologians get like this—when they’re so enthusiastic about “the doctrines of grace,” they forget to be gracious altogether. Calvinists call it “the cage stage.”

The cage-stager is as eager to defend their theological territory as a junkyard dog. They’ll fight anyone. Even friends: You might believe precisely the same as they, but if (God forbid) you misstate the slightest idea, the cage-stager will tear your throat out. Best to lock ’em in a cage till they calm the heck down. Hence “cage stage”: Lots of knowledge, very little love.

Calvinists may have coined the term, and may be notorious for the behavior. But lemme tell ya, by no means do they have a monopoly on it. I’ve met cage-stage Fundamentalists, Catholics, people in my own denomination, people in heretic denominations. I’ve encountered cage-stage Jews and Muslims too. The phenomenon’s all over Christendom.

It’s a pitfall many Christians (myself included) fall right into during our early days of following Jesus. The devil’d love every Christian to fall into it, ’cause it nullifies much of the work we do for God’s kingdom. We’re too busy denouncing ideas, sins, and people we hate, to ever get round to loving people, and winning them to Jesus through our kindness and love. ’Cause screw kindness and love; there are doctrines to defend!

04 December 2017

Jesus describes his second coming.

The first hint we get that he’s bodily coming to earth more than once.

The first hint we have that Jesus is arranging a second coming—that he’s not taking possession of his kingdom during his first coming—appears in the Olivet Discourse, the bit in Mark 13, Matthew 24-25, and Luke 21, where Jesus answered his students’ question about a future disaster he’d just casually referred to. Mk 13.1-2, Mt 24.1-2, Lk 21.5-6

In each gospel’s version of the discourse, Jesus brought up the persecution of his followers, a particular time of great suffering which’d take place in Jerusalem, and fake Messiahs and prophets who’d try to lead them astray. But afterwards, this:

Mark 13.24-27 KWL
24 “But in those days after that suffering:
‘The sun will be darkened and the moon won’t give its light.’ Ek 32.7
25 The stars will be falling from the skies; the heavenly powers will be shaken.
26 Then people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ Da 7.13 with great power and glory.
27 Then he’ll send angels, and gather together his chosen ones from the four winds,
from the earth’s edge to heaven’s edge.”

Where’s Jesus during this suffering and persecution? Apparently not here. Which meant he was gonna leave. Which is not what his students were expecting. Even though he repeatedly told ’em they were going to Jerusalem where he’d be killed, Mk 8.31-32, 9.31, 10.33 they expected they were going to Jerusalem for him to conquer it. Even after he was raised, they expected him to take it over at that time! Ac 1.6 Fond beliefs are awfully hard to give up.

I don’t blame ’em for wanting Jesus to take over Jerusalem immediately. I want him to do that too. But first things first. First the period of suffering, like the bit where Jerusalem fell to the Romans, who performed horrible atrocities on its inhabitants in the year 70. Then the persecution of Jesus’s followers, which—despite large breaks, and powerful sanctuary nations like the United States—continue to this very day, in the millions, far more than there have ever been. And of course fake Messiahs and prophets, which we have in the States as well, ’cause comfortable Christians are way easier to lead astray than those who depend on God minute by minute.

The conditions are right for Jesus to return at any instant. The sooner the better. Come Lord Jesus!

01 December 2017

The TXAB Advent Calendar.

When the Christmas season well and truly begins.

The word advent comes from the Latin advenire/“come to [someplace].” Who’s coming to someplace? Jesus. Coming to earth. Either the first time around, around the year 7 BC, which is what we celebrate with Christmas; or the second time around, in the future, to take possession of his kingdom.

Four Sundays before Christmas is Advent Sunday, the start of the advent season, the Christmas season, and the Christian year. And if you’re counting down from today, the text below will update automatically through the power of Javascript. Here are the number of days till (or of) Christmas:

Javascript isn’t working this Christmas!

Many Evangelicals only know about advent from commercial advent calendars, which count down to Christmas from 1 December instead of the ever-changing date of Advent Sunday. Each “day” on these calendars usually contain a surprise; preferably chocolate. And manufacturers don’t want to keep changing the product every single year. So you’re kinda stuck with 25 chocolates, even though some years you oughta get as many as 28. But that’s what happens when Mammonists get to decide when the Christmas season begins.

Of course, commercializing the tradition is an irritating way to remember it, ’cause the point of advent is to be the antidote to rampant materialism. We’re to focus on Jesus. Not social custom. Not gift-giving. Not all the stuff we’re expected to do every single year. Jesus. We claim he’s the reason for the season; now it’s time to take that saying seriously, instead of using it as an excuse to browbeat clerks into telling us “Merry Christmas” like we prefer.

Part of getting ready for Jesus’s second advent is to stop being this sort of argumentative, frenzied, self-focused consumers, and start behaving like he’s coming back. ’Cause he is. Maybe not for the whole world just yet; he’s still trying to save everybody. But at some point you’re gonna die. (As will I. As will everyone.) So he’s coming for you personally. Are you ready?

Luke 12.35-48 KWL
35 “Be people whose toolbelts are on, whose lamps are burning.
36 You should be like people waiting for their own master when he returns from weddings:
He arrives, knocks, and they can quickly unlock the door for him.
37 These slaves are awesome. The returning master will find them alert.
Amen, I promise you the master will put on a towel and have them recline to eat,
and he’ll come in to serve them.
38 Even at the second hour after sunrise, even at the third, he can come and find them ready.
These slaves are awesome.
39 (You should know: If the homeowner knew what time the burglar came,
he’d never permit him to break into his house.)
40 You be ready: The Son of Man comes at the time you don’t expect.”
41 Simon Peter said, “Master, are you saying this parable for us or for everyone?”
42 Master Jesus said, It’s to whoever’s a faithful, wise butler.
The master puts the butler over his waiters, giving them their trays at the right times.
43 This slave is awesome when the master, coming to the butler, will find them doing this job.
44 I tell you the truth: The master will put the butler in charge of everything.
45 But when this slave says in their mind, ‘My master delays in coming,’
and might start beating the boys and girls, or eating, drinking, and getting drunk,
46 that slave’s master will come on a day they don’t expect, at a time they don’t know,
and will cut them down to size, and assign them a position with the unreliable slaves.
47 That slave who knew their master’s will, and didn’t prepare, nor do his will: They’ll get skinned.
48 The one who didn’t know, who did what deserved a smack: They’ll get skinned a little.
To everyone who’s given much, much is sought from them.
To those with much set before them, more will be asked back.”

Do you know what our master expects of you? ’Cause he’s coming when we won’t expect.

28 November 2017

Why do pagans celebrate a Christian holiday?

’Cause it’s fun.

Every year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, my city has a Christmas festival. The local newspaper started it and sponsors it.

I like to joke it begins with the pagan stuff. Once the sun is mostly down (and this time of year it sets around 4:45 PM) the community gathers round the 60-foot tree, the local Air Force band plays a few songs, the mayor says a few things, the people are led in a few secular carols about jingle bells and silver bells and reindeer, “Santa Claus” makes an appearance, and the tree gets lit.

That done, the city’s Christians take over. Downtown is full of booths, most of ’em set up by local churches, giving out cookies, cocoa, cider, and other treats. Church choirs sing. Open-air Christmas pageants are performed. The churches handle cleanup too. It is our holiday, after all.

I find it a pretty drastic contrast. My family does too: Most years they skip the newspaper’s opening festivities, ’cause all they care about are the church booths. I only show up early when I’m working at one of the booths; otherwise I agree with them, and either go with them, or meet ’em there after hanging out at Starbucks drinking egg-nog-flavored coffee. Many in the crowd who love the Santa and reindeer songs clear out early, ’cause it gets way too Christian for them. And many of the Christians are fine with Santa songs, but the opening festivities are too crowded and impersonal, and they’d rather wander the booths and say hi to their fellow Christians.

I’ve lived elsewhere, and visited their local Christmas celebrations. Those celebrations weren’t adoped by the local churches. As a result, I found ’em pretty dreary and empty.

Some years ago I bought an edition of C.S. Lewis’s letters, and among them is a bit about the oddness of pagans who celebrate Christmas. Imagine, Lewis wrote his brother, if some non-Buddhists decided to enthusiastically celebrate a Buddhist holiday—but since they weren’t big on the Buddhia, they removed any elements of him from their celebration, and celebrated anyway.

Lewis later developed this idea into a satire, “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus.” In it, the people of Niatirb vigorously celebrate a holiday called Exmas, while religious folks celebrate an alternate holiday called Crissmas.

I agree with Lewis: It’s super weird to celebrate some other religion’s holiday, yet push the religion out of it. It’s like taking over Hanukkah but instead of remembering the Maccabees, we invented some guy named Hanukkah Harry who flies round the world and delivers socks.

But weird or not, I don’t wonder why people do it. They do it for the same reason they have sex though they’re not in love, the same reason they take heroin instead of seek true joy: It’s fun. Christmas is fun, whether Christ is in it or not.

True, it’s meaningless without Christ. But it’s still fun, and fun’s all people care about.

27 November 2017

Happy holidays!

’Cause there’s more than just your favorite one.

In the United States it’s the holiday season.

Don’t plug your ears and shout at the top of your lungs in angry denial like that. It is so the holiday season. As soon as Halloween is over, out come the Christmas sales, and people start putting mint in everything. You know what we’re ramping up towards.


This is a rerun which links to the original article, so expect this image to change when you click for more.

I get why the holidays bug people. It’s the commercialism. The merchandising. The obligatory traditions which hold no more meaning for you. The mandatory functions which aren’t any fun, like the Christmas pageants where you gotta watch kids and earnest church members, who have no business singing in public, charitably permitted to nonetheless sing in public. Or the naked, unadulterated greed which sucks the soul out of this time of year.

That’s why I advise Christians to redirect their attention to Advent, the 40 days before Jesus’s nativity, which started Tuesday, 14 November 2017. Catholics shorten it to the 25 days before, just like the candy calendars have it: Starts 1 December, ends on Christmas. Eastern churches start it even earlier, on 1 September, and make a fast of it, like Lent. But Advent’s purpose isn’t to deprive ourselves so that Christmas seems way better by comparison. Nor is it to ramp up the pressure to make ready for a Christmas Day super blowout. Properly, it’s the time to set our eyes on Jesus. He came once before; he’s coming back again.

24 November 2017

Worshiping Mammon instead of Jesus.

How religion works in wealthy countries.

Matthew 6.24 • Luke 16.13

In the United States today is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and the second-biggest shopping day of the year. Used to be the biggest, but that’s now Monday. In order to get customers to shop on their day off, stores offer outrageous sale prices, and many shoppers are so greedy and impatient they’ll do horrible things to one another.

I’ve been reading a bit lately about how American merchants have exported the shopping day to other countries, in the hope of kick-starting their Christmas shopping as well. Strikes the United Kingdom’s pundits as odd; why are they suddenly participating in an American phenomenon? And if so, why don’t they get our Thanksgiving too? Although as American merchants have proven, they really don’t care so much about Thanksgiving: They’d have us interrupt our holiday and start shopping Thursday if they can. And they do try.

The myth is it’s called black because merchants do so well, their ledgers are now “in the black” instead of “in the red”—they’re finally turning profits in the fiscal year, instead of losses. This is a lie. The police, who have to break up fights, work crowd control, and deal with trampled or beaten victims, began calling it Black Friday, and the name stuck.

Black Friday is one of our culture’s more obvious examples of Mammonism, the worship of wealth, money, material possessions, and the joy of pursuing all that stuff. Our word Mammon comes from something Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, repeated in Luke.

Matthew 6.24 KWL
“Nobody’s able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”
Luke 16.13 KWL
“No slave is able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”

A few of the more recent translations drop the reference to Mammon and translate this verse, “You cannot serve both God and money” (GNB, NIV, NLT), or “You cannot serve God and wealth” (NASB, NRSV). Thing is, mamonás/“Mammon” isn’t the Greek word for wealth; that’d be hríma. It’s an Aramaic word with a Greek ending tacked on, as if it’s an Aramaic name. Hence people extrapolated the idea that Mammon is a person, and since Jesus says you can’t serve this person as well as God, it must therefore be another god.

A false god of course. But some god which competes with the LORD for our devotion. And since the Aramaic mamón is a cognate of the Hebrew matmón/“secret riches,” Mammon must therefore be a god of riches or wealth or money.

In Luke when this statement comes up, Jesus had just told the Undercharging Bookkeeper story: A shifty bookkeeper made friends by undercharging his master’s creditors. Lk 16.1-9 Jesus concludes, “Make friends for yourselves out of the embezzling Mammon.” Lk 16.9 And in the following Luke passage, the Pharisees rejected this teaching of Jesus because they were filiárgyri/“silver-lovers.” Lk 16.14

So is Mammon a money god? Or simply Jesus’s personification of money? Or a mistranslation?

23 November 2017

Thanksgiving Day.

If your country doesn’t have a national day of thanksgiving, that’s a bummer. But you can still give thanks any time.

In the United States, we have a national day of thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday.

Who are we giving thanks to? Well, the act which establishes Thanksgiving Day as one of our national holidays, provides no instructions whatsoever on how we’re to observe it. Or whom we’re to thank.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the last Thursday in November in each year after the year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22d day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays.

—77th Congress, 6 October 1941
House Joint Resolution 41

The Senate amended it to read “fourth Thursday in November,” and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. So it’s a holiday. But left undefined, ’cause our Constitution won’t permit Congress to pick a national religion, nor define religious practice. Article 6; Amendment 1 Not that Congress doesn’t bend that rule on occasion. Making “In God We Trust” our national motto, fr’instance.

Though our government is secular, the nation sure isn’t. Four out of five of us Americans call ourselves Christian. I know; we sure don’t act it. (Look at our crime rate. Look at the people we elect.) Regardless, a supermajority of us claim allegiance to Jesus, which is why we can bend the Constitution so often and get away with it. Our presidents do as well; our first president was the guy who first implemented a national Thanksgiving Day.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

—President George Washington, 3 October 1789

Yeah, Americans point to other functions as our “first Thanksgiving.” Usually a harvest celebration by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. Although technically the first Christian thanksgiving day on the continent was held by the Spanish in Florida in 1565—followed by another in Texas in 1598, and another by the Virginia colonists as early as 1607.

Over time, colonial custom created a regular Thanksgiving Day, held in the fall. Sometimes governments declared a Thanksgiving Day, like the Continental Congress declaring one for 18 December 1777 after the Battle of Saratoga. But Washington’s declaration in 1789 didn’t fix the day nationally (and he didn’t declare another till 1795). States set their own days: In 1816, New Hampshire picked 14 November, and Massachusetts picked 28 November.

It wasn’t till 1863 when it did become regular:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

—President Abraham Lincoln, 3 October 1863

Lincoln and his successors declared Thanksgiving every year thereafter.

22 November 2017

The bible: An inspired anthology.

God got people to write ’em. And God gets people to understand ’em.

Inspire /ɪn.spaɪ(.ə)r/ v. Breathe in (air); inhale.
2. Fill with a positive, creative feeling; encourage.
3. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something; provoke.
[Inspiration /ɪn.spə'reɪ.ʃən/ n.]

Whenever we Christians talk about inspiration—inspired prophets, teachings, and writings—it’s assumed God did the inspiring. He’s the one who breathed into us. One word we regularly translate “inspired” is theó-pnefstos/“God-breathed,” which is how the NIV prefers to treat “God-inspired” in this verse:

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every God-inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

It’s more than just “I was so excited about my thoughts of God, I decided to create this for him.” It’s God involved with, and behind, this creation process. The Holy Spirit, living within the teacher, prophet, or author, pointed ’em God-ward. Got ’em to describe God with infallible accuracy.

This is what Christians tend to believe about the books and letters which make up the bible: It’s inspired. The Holy Spirit got its authors to describe God with infallible accuracy.

Some of us believe it’s not true of anything else: God inspired the bible, but he’s not inspired anything or anyone since. Which is bunk; of course he has. But Christians aren’t universally agreed about anything other than the bible. (And not all that universally on the bible.) God inspired the bible… but whether he inspired anyone since, is kinda left up to our best judgment… which ain’t all that consistent.

In any event, those who think the bible is inspired, but nothing and no one else is, tend to wander into bibliolatry, which is a whole ’nother problem. And it’s downright weird to hear continuationists, Christians who believe God still speaks to his people directly or through prophets, unthinkingly repeat the claim nothing but the bible is inspired. It stuns ’em when I point out how their beliefs contradict one another. (People aren’t always aware of how much bad theology they have floating around in ’em.)

Fact is, if human beings can’t or couldn’t be inspired, we wouldn’t even have a bible. ’Cause inspired people wrote it, inspired Christians compiled it, and inspired Christians uphold it. True, these inspired people were and are fallible humans. But as people follow the Holy Spirit, he guides us to truth, Jn 16.13 and steers us clear of sin and error. In the moment, we can (and do) write and prophesy infallible stuff. Once done, we might (heck, do) slip up, sin, and make mistakes, and fall right back into fallibility. But the stuff done by the Spirit’s power is still good. The writings in the bible are still authoritative. So we kept ’em.

21 November 2017

God’s unmerited favor.

No, seriously: We don’t earn it. We can’t.

When the LORD chose Avram ben Terah, renamed him Abraham, Ge 17.5 promised him the land of Kenahan/“Canaan” and had him relocate there, Ge 12.1-3 and promised him an uncountable number of descendants, Ge 13.16 it wasn't because Abraham was a good man.

You might’ve known this, but in case you didn’t, go read Genesis again sometime. Most of the Abraham stories involve him screwing up one way or another. Abraham had loads of faith, but that was the product of his God-experiences; it came after God made all his promises. Abraham wasn't a particularly outstanding specimen of humanity.

So why'd the LORD establish a relationship with him and his descendants? Grace. Pure grace.

When the LORD sent Moses to rescue some of Abraham’s descendants from Egypt, patiently dealt with all these Hebrews’ misbehavior thereafter, and finally got their descendants to Canaan and helped them take the land, it again wasn’t because the Hebrews were good people. Read Exodus and Numbers: Without constant supervision, they’d go idolatrous within a month! Miraculously supply ’em with daily bread, and they’d still grumble they had it better in Egypt… despite all the slavery and infanticide. The Hebrews were just awful to their God. So why’d the LORD even bother with them? ’Cause he promised Abraham he would. Dt 7.7-8 ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

When Jesus decided to save me, what had I done to merit saving? Not a thing. I was a little kid. Not a good little kid either. I could be a tantrum-throwing brat when I didn’t get my way. (I still can be, which is why I gotta keep that misbehavior in check. God help my poor nurses if ever I go senile.) Plenty of Christians will easily confess they were just as rotten when they first encountered Jesus. Why’d he save us anyway? ’Cause he loves us. ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

Christians love to describe grace as “unmerited favor.” It’s more than that—it’s God’s entire attitude towards us, which includes unmerited favor. And often we forget the unmerited part: It really isn’t deserved at all. Totally unfair. Often inappropriate. It breaks all the rules of karma. We shouldn’t get it!

Hence there are a lot of people, Christians included, who still strive to achieve good karma. Who try their darnedest to be good people, try to balance out any bad in their lives, and make it so they do merit God’s good favor. Who think the whole purpose of good deeds is to make ourselves worthy of heaven. They forget God doesn’t work like that. At all. He forgave us already. He makes us worthy of heaven. Ep 1.15-23

Why? Nah; I’m not gonna repeat it just now. Go back and read it again.

20 November 2017

Patience. Or longsuffering. Either.

How angry Christians lack it, and how to work on it.

Years ago I casually mentioned to someone I was praying for greater patience.

He. “Aw, why would you do that to yourself?”
Me. “Why, what’s the problem?”
He. “You realize how God teaches you patience, right?”
Me. “Of course. He’s gonna make me practice.”
He. “And life’s gonna suck. You’re gonna wind up in more situations where you gotta be patient. You’ll have to wait for everything.”
Me. “So everybody’s been telling me. They’ve been about as encouraging as Satan itself. You sure it didn’t send you? Get thee behind me.”

Yeah, don’t tell the dude who’s struggling with patience that his life’s about to suck. He’ll turn on you.

But it’s something we Christians need to strive for. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, one of the ways love behaves, and impatient Christians wind up exhibiting works of the flesh like anger, unforgiveness, argumentativeness, and unkindness. Much of the reason Christians get a bad reputation with pagans is because of how we get when we’re impatient—and how we justify the impatient behavior with cheap grace. Not cool, folks.

However. Strive to actually attain patience, and we’re gonna come across Christians who thick-headedly joke, “Oh, you’re praying for patience? Good luck with all that. Man are you gonna get reamed with it.” Again: Not cool.

True, there’s a faction of Christians who imagine once we become Christian, the Holy Spirit downloads fruit into our character like a scene from The Matrix. Doesn’t work that way. Wish it did. But these Christians, imagining they somehow have patience even though their behavior proves they don’t, try to interpret all sorts of other things as patience. Most commonly despair: Just give up. Quit striving. Stop hoping. (And quit feeling.)

The rest of us recognize God wants his kids to be patient like he is. So we gotta bite the bullet and pray for patience. And yes we’re gonna slam into a lot of situations where we simply gotta wait things out.

But don’t forget: God is kind. When we get into those situations, we who seek God’s patience are gonna find we’re somehow, somehow, actually able to bear them. Before, we’d lose our cool in minutes. Now we don’t. (True, some of us now take a few more minutes. It’s still more.) We acted in faith, and the Spirit’s reply was to grant us his patience.

See, all those nimrods who tell us, “Ooh, you prayed for patience; now life’s gonna suck” have forgot God is kind. He’s not interested in developing our characters through suffering. That’s how humans behave. That’s how parents and drill sergeants work. God’s not a jerk. He develops our character through our obedience. Not through our disobedience, so now we gotta pay some sort of karmic debt. That’s not grace, and God does grace.

So when we seek God and strive to obey him, when we put our faith in his ability to equip us for every good work, he gives us opportunities to practice that obedience, and he empowers us with those very traits we’re looking for.

God’s a relational being. So—no surprise—he wants us to develop fruit through the relationships which we have with other people. Think of it as hands-on experience. ’Cause once we have the hang of it, we’ll have to apply that patience towards every future relationship we develop with new people. Including some people whom we’ll need to be very patient with. But in the meanwhile, we gotta work on being patient with friends, family… and enemies.

Yeah, that’s no fun sometimes. Do it anyway.

17 November 2017

“…But what if that message is from the devil?”

On psyching ourselves out of sharing.

In my early days of learning what God’s voice sounds like, from time to time an idea’d pop into my head, and I’d wonder—as one should—whether the idea was mine, God’s… or Satan’s.

I kinda blame my Fundamentalist upbringing. Y’see, there were a number of people in that church who insisted God doesn’t talk to people anymore, and anybody who claimed to hear from God was really hearing Satan. The effect is it makes a lot of Christians really wary of prophets. And, because the Holy Spirit actually does speak, really wary of listening to God for themselves.

So I’d be at a bus stop, and the idea’d pop into my head, “Go tell that person ‘God bless you.’ ”

And my knee-jerk reaction would be, “Is that God’s voice, mine, or Satan’s? After all, what if that person’s really anti-God right now, and my ‘God bless you’ prompts some sort of angry tirade? What if that person’s a cult member who sees this as an opportunity to try to convert me? What if…? What if…?” and so forth.

Okay. Back away from the Fear for a moment, and consider this rationally: Why on earth would Satan want anyone to be blessed? And thanks to my paranoid knee-jerk reaction, this obviously ain’t my idea.

Simple process of elimination: God wants this person to hear, “God bless you.” Not necessarily because it’ll have a profound impact on them (although in my experience, sometimes it does). Or an impact on ’em yet. But more positivity in the world? More grace? More love? What’s the problem?

Well, other than me. Most of the time my long lists of “What if?…” meant I’d talk myself out of doing anything. Humanity’s usual practice is to avoid risks, to listen to that self-preservation instinct, even when it’s cranked too high, and the devil’s poking at us to crank it even higher by inserting ridiculous worst-case scenarios into our minds.

But y’see, our unwillingness to act, our willingness to listen to the Fear, is what kills growth in our ability to hear God. Because if we’re not gonna listen and follow, the Holy Spirit’s not gonna bother to give us instructions. And that’s most of what he tells us. Not little feel-good nuggets of wisdom, suitable for sermon topics and happy thoughts. He wants obedience. Same as always.

So how do we break this cycle of hearing, but holding back?

It’s best we get prepared. Figure out the appropriate reaction to when the Spirit drops something into us. Then follow that—instead of our knee-jerk worries which lead us to do nothing.

16 November 2017

Christians who lack faith.

Who don’t get much done.

Nope, didn’t title this piece “Christians who doubt.” Because everybody doubts. Which isn’t a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t want us to be gullible followers who can’t discern the difference between truth and rubbish. Mt 10.16 If we just put our faith in people indiscriminately—believe everything our friends tell us, believe everything our political parties tell us, never fact-check our preachers to make sure what they’re telling us is valid—we’re gonna be such fools. Doubt away.

But there’s a very particular form of doubt Jesus objects to most, and that’s doubting him.

So when we talk about “Christians who lack faith,” it’s about Christians who lack faith in Jesus. Not Christians who doubt their preachers and church leaders and churches. Sometimes those folks will try to mix ’em all together, and insist if you doubt them you doubt Jesus. Nope; ’tain’t the same thing, and don’t let ’em tell you otherwise. People will fail you, and Jesus is the only exception. Trust him; trust them as long as they remain trustworthy. (And forgive them when they screw up, ’cause they will. We all do.)

Still, there are a lot of Christians with the opposite problem: They trust their churches and church institutions. Less so Jesus. They trust people they can see, but they haven’t yet seen Jesus, so a lot of times they treat him as imaginary.

Often Christians’ll passively trust Jesus. By which I mean we figure he’ll be there for us eventually. Like when we die and need to get into heaven. Or at the End, when we need to escape the End Times. Or otherwise somewhere in the future. We figure Jesus’ll sort everything out later. While this certainly resembles faith, it’s often just procrastination: We’re putting off our problems because we figure Jesus’ll sort them all out in the end. It’s a half-step up from figuring the universe will sort everything out. It’s just as naïve. But more on that idea another time. I’m talking about not trusting Jesus now.

Now? Yep. We don’t trust him enough to do as he says. Go where he goes. Take the risks he tells us to. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s instructions or corrections. Where we are is more comfortable than where he wants us. We trust circumstances, not Jesus. That’s what I mean by unfaith.

Christians find all sorts of “Christian”-sounding excuses to dodge acts of faith. There are entire theological systems based on evading Jesus. Really popular ones too.

There’s the bunch who claim all the bible’s instructions are only for other dispensations. That Jesus’s lessons on his kingdom don’t apply till the End Times, or some other far-off idealistic future. They act as if it’s coming, but according to their timeline it won’t be around for another seven years. But that seven-year endpoint keeps sliding away. They keep putting it off, putting it off. They’ll follow Jesus then. Meanwhile, procrastination. (Which explains the fruitlessness—they’re procrastinating that too.)

There’s the bunch who claim the Holy Spirit stopped doing stuff in the present day. Often the same bunch, but there are a number who claim no, the Spirit does act; just nowhere near as often as bible times, and not as invasively as the Pentecostals claim. It becomes their excuse for treating him like he’s seldom there… or not there at all. Don’t let him guide them, empower them, help them. Imagine he’s far, not near. Imagine he’s imaginary, not real.

There’s the bunch who don’t trust the Spirit to instruct, guide, and convict fellow Christians. Instead they imagine that’s our job, so they spend a lot of time correcting everyone. Well, convicting everyone. Both Christians and pagan. ’Cause since the Holy Spirit’s not around—and they aren’t listening to him any—the fruitlessness stands to reason. When we don’t leave judgment and conviction in the hands of the only righteous judge in the universe, and imagine we’re all alone out here, we get weird and paranoid and heavy-handed and cultish. We certainly won’t even trust fellow Christians.

Then there’s the bunch on the other extreme: They don’t trust anything. Not apostles, not Jesus, not the bible, anything. But they will trust TV talk show hosts and clever teachers. And never double-check ’em against anything.

15 November 2017

Changing God’s mind.

And those who say God never changes his mind.

If you know your bible—heck, if you’ve seen The Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston—you know the Hebrews had a major lapse when they were at Sinai. The previous month, the LORD handed down his 10 commandments, then Moses went up the mountain to get more instructions, and while he was gone the people decided they wanted an idol. Whether this idol was meant to represent the LORD or some other god, we don’t know. What we do know is the idol violated the very command the LORD handed down last month. Ex 20.4-6

Understandably, the LORD was pissed.

Exodus 32.9-14 KWL
9 The LORD told Moses, “I see this people. Look, the people are stiff-necked.
10 Now leave me: My rage is hot towards them. I’ll end them. I’ll make you a great nation.”
11 Moses begged his LORD God’s face, saying, “Why this hot anger towards your people, LORD?
You brought them of Egypt’s land with great strength and a steady hand.
12 What will the Egyptians say?
‘He brought them out for evil, to kill them in the mountains, to end them from the face of the earth.’
Repent of your hot anger! Relent of the evil you plan for your people!
13 Remember your slaves Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
You swore by yourself to them when you spoke to them:
‘I’ll increase your seed like stars of the sky.
I give your seed all this land, like I said. They’ll have it forever.’ ”
14 And the LORD relented of the evil he said he’d do to his people.

That’s right. The Almighty backed down. A lowly human got him to do it.

And it’s not the only passage in the bible where God changed his mind. There are dozens. Here’s a few notable instances:

  • God regretted making humans. Ge 6.5-7
  • God regretted making Saul king. 1Sa 15.11
  • God relented from destroying Jerusalem with plague. 2Sa 24.16, 1Ch 21.15
  • God showed Amos two visions that he immediately took back after Amos protested. Am 7.3, 6
  • If a nation repents, God takes back the disaster he had planned for it. Jr 18.8, 26.3, 26.13, Jl 2.13-14, Ps 106.45 Like Judah Jr 26.19 and like Nineveh. Jh 3.10
  • If a nation goes rogue, God takes back the good he had planned for it. Jr 18.8, 10 And gets really tired of doing this. Jr 15.6
  • We used to be God's enemies, but now we're his friends. Ro 5.6-11

Problem is, this flies in the face of the beliefs of many Christians. Because they don’t believe God changes his mind. Ever. At all.

14 November 2017

Some people don’t wanna argue. And they’re right not to.

Apologetics isn’t about picking fights. Don’t use it that way.

An acquaintance of mine just started an “apologetics ministry.” Currently it consists of his blog, his Twitter account, and a whole bunch of his spare time. You know, exactly like TXAB, except I don’t do apologetics.

Except dude went out and created a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Got board members. Accepts donations. He’s seriously hoping to turn it into a full-time job. He got really irritated with me for calling it “getting paid to argue with strangers on the internet in his pajamas.”

But that is what he’s up to. He’s doing it “for Jesus,” but still. He considers it a vital, necessary ministry—that there simply aren’t enough Christians out there, arguing with strangers on the internet, whether in their jammies or not. I’d beg to differ, but he claims they’re not good apologists—not as informed as he is.

If you’re picking up the idea I’m not as jazzed as he is about his burgeoning “ministry,” you’d be so right. Yet he’s hardly the only Christian apologist I’ve met who covets a career in it. And some of ’em actually have made it a career. Because other Christians are convinced there needs to be an army of pajama-clad Christian warriors, armed with the “sword of the Spirit”… and stabbing away at flesh and blood. Ep 6.12-17

Every so often these “ministries” beg me for money. I don’t sign up for their mailing lists; I get put on them ’cause they figure a Christian blogger would be sympathetic to their plights for regular salaries and to keep the lights on. One group, I kid you not, wanted donations ’cause they wanted to open a coffee bar in their office, complete with a commercial espresso machine. Since Google Maps reveals their office is in an out-of-the-way office park, I deduced the only ones partaking of donor-supported coffee would be them, and unsubscribed from their mailing list with extreme prejudice. Entitled first-worlders; I tell ya.

But back to my apologist acquaintance. Exactly who’s his “ministry” ministering to? The people he wants to pick fights with in the YouTube comments? Or him?—’cause if he can get enough financing, he can spend all the live-long day debating strangers on the internet. (Yes, yes, “for Jesus”!) It can become his day job, instead of his nighttime hobby. As is the case of most of the apologists I know, who never bother to set up a whole nonprofit corporation around themselves.

Why am I so dismissive of the idea? ’Cause argumentativeness is a work of the flesh. Ep 5.20 That’s what he’s really about. Not leading people to Jesus, like an evangelist. Shoving people towards Jesus, like a bully.

And in such people’s hands, the gospel is no longer good news. It’s bad. The fruit of such tactics are people who flinch at the gospel—and if they’re actually successful, more argumentative Christians. More people who think it’s okay to be a dick to all people, that they might by all means save some. Because they’re doing it “for Jesus.” And hey, if they can gather enough donors, it must mean Jesus has blessed their undertaking right? Surely money must mean divine approval.

I’m gonna take a break to throw things, then be right back to rebuke this idea further.

13 November 2017

Graceless advice.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I don’t really have to remind people that TXAB has an email link. I get questions on a fairly regular basis about all sorts of stuff. Usually asking my opinion about various Christian practices and movements, which I often wind up turning into TXAB articles on the subject.

And sometimes people ask for personal advice, which I’m much less likely to turn into TXAB articles. ’Cause they’re dealing with particular specific things. If I just posted these emails for the whole of the internet to read, it feels like a huge invasion of privacy. Even if I heavily censored them. The rare times I’ve done it, I tend to rewrite them entirely, which is why they kinda sound like me.

Not that this stops the various advice ladies from doing this on a daily or weekly basis. But then again, the people who send them questions know precisely what they’re getting into. If you send “Dear Abby” a letter, it’s gonna get published. So, best you hide certain details, because you don’t want the neighbors to deduce who you are, or who your spouse is. Sometimes people hide too many details for fear of getting outed, which means “Abby” can’t give an accurate diagnosis, which is why professional therapists aren’t always happy with the advice ladies.

Whereas the people who send me stuff obviously don’t expect me to blab this stuff all over the internet. ’Cause they do share confidences, hoping I’ll keep them. Which I will, with some caveats.

But there are limits to my expertise. I get a lot of questions about depression. Not because I suffer from it myself, but because a lot of people just plain do suffer from it. And when they go to their fellow Christians, they’re often given the lousy advice to try and pray it away. I regularly remind these people they need to see a doctor. Depression is a legitimate medical condition, and I’m not a psychiatrist. (My graduate psych classes dealt with education, not mental illness.) Go talk with a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t just send an email to some blogger: Go get actual help.

And if you read the advice ladies, they’ll often advise the very same thing. There’s still a lot of stigma in our culture against seeing a psychiatrist. Too many people think a mental disorder isn’t an illness, but a moral failure, caused by sin, exacerbated by devils. Exactly like the people of Jesus’s day thought of physical disorders:

John 9.1-2 KWL
1 Passing by, Jesus saw a person who was blind since birth.
2 Questioning him, Jesus’s students said, “Rabbi, who sinned? He or his parents?”
because he was blind since birth.

Jesus had to state, “Neither,” then cure the guy. But to this day people still act as if a birth defect is an “act of God,” and still act as if depression is because of some unconfessed sin or something. We’re so quick to judge, and slow to help.

Judging—which we Christians are allowed to do with one another, 1Co 5.12 provided we don’t use double standards—is a fairly simple process when we have an easy-to-understand scripture. If you’re asking me about bible, most of the time the scriptures are cut-and-dried, and I can easily tell you about ’em. I can give as quick a decision as any small-claims court show, like Judge Judy, who wraps up those cases really fast when the law is clear. I’ll just quote the appropriate proof text, bang the gavel (metaphorically; I don’t actually own one, and I’m not using my hammer on my wooden desk), and we’re done.

But most of the questions I get aren’t black and white. If they were, most people woulda figured ’em out themselves. They’re about debatable interpretations of the bible, and people figure they need an expert to help ’em navigate, figure I sound like I know what I’m talking about, so they come to me. But unlike a know-it-all apologist or “bible answer man,” I’m slow to judge. I’ll tell you what I think it looks like. I’m not gonna condemn you if you honestly come to another conclusion. You gotta stay true to your conscience, Ro 14.1-4 as do I. I’ve no business declaring you wrong; what do I know?

So I’d likely make a really unentertaining advice lady. What people want are snap decisions, and I don’t always have one of those.

10 November 2017

“Prophecy scholars”: Neither prophets nor scholars.

These are the folks who write all the End Times books.

I’m Pentecostal. So whenever I see an notice or ad for an upcoming “prophecy conference,” they tend to refer to prophets. Actual prophets. Meaning people who’ve learned to listen to the Holy Spirit—and thereafter share with others what he’s told them. True, some of ’em practice some really iffy methods of identifying his voice. But when Penecostals, charismatics, and most continuationists refer to prophecy, we literally mean the same thing we see done in the bible by Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Simon Peter, and Paul of Tarsus. They heard God; they shared what they he told ’em; that’s prophecy.

Outside Pentecostal circles—though not far outside Pentecostal circles, ’cause from time to time it gets in here—is a whole other type of “prophecy conference.” There, they aren’t at all talking about hearing God. They mean predictions about the End Times. They’re throwing a conference ’cause they wanna tell you what they think the apocalypses mean.

Um… didn’t God deliberately make those visions difficult to interpret, their details near-impossible to pin down, lest people try to make their own plans for the future which do an end-run around him? Well, insist these “prophecy scholars,” not really. ’Cause they were able to figure ’em out. They got a system!

Yep, figured out how to connect the dots. They were more discerning, more clever, more devout, more studied, more fervent, than all the other Christians before them. All the supposedly level-headed folks who insist we’re not to bounce to conclusions based on coincidence and fear-based illogic: They’re wearing blinders. Wake up, sheeple!

So come to their conferences. Pay the admission. Buy their books. Donate to their ministries. Subscribe to their websites. Hire them to preach at your churches. ’Cause they’re not giving away their teachings for free, y’know. They gotta pay the bills.

Anyway if you ever make the mistake of going to the conferences, led by “noted prophecy scholars” (many of whom you’ve never even heard of, unless you or your church have already blown hundreds of dollars a year on their stuff), you’ll notice their definition of “prophecy” is precisely the same as that of pagans. In other words, prophecy isn’t hearing from God; it’s about predicting the future. It’s only about the future. And, warn these guys, it’s likely the near future!

Well okay, they’ve been claiming that for the past two centuries. But unlike their prophecy-scholar forebears, their interpretations are gonna be correct. ’Cause discernment, cleverness, devotion, study, yada yada yada.

09 November 2017

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

Calvinist soteriology, which they call “grace”—which isn’t really.

Doctrines of grace /'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪs/ n. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny.

A number of Calvinists aren’t all that comfortable with the title “Calvinist.”

For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer, and claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who’s comfortable with determinism.) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was.

Others concede not everything John Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character. But obviously they’ve a problem with other ideas which undermine God’s character. Like double predestination, the belief God created people whom he never intends to save, whose only purpose is to burn forever in hell. Calvin figured it’s a logical conclusion of his system. But understandably a lot of Calvinists hate this idea, and have tried their darnedest to get out of it—with varying degrees of failure.

Regardless the reason, these Calvinists prefer to call themselves “reform Christians.” I first learned the term from my theology professors, who much preferred it. It reminds everyone they’re part of the Protestant reformation. As far as some of Calvinists are concerned, it’s the only truly reformed part of the reformation: The other movements capitulate to Roman Catholicism too much for their taste.

The problem with relabeling? Yep, not every reform Christian is Calvinist. Lutherans and Molinists aren’t necessarily. Arminians (like me) and Anabaptists sure aren’t. If you’re Protestant, reform means your movement and theology goes back to the 1500s reformers, and embraces the ideas of scriptural authority (prima/sola scriptura), salvation by grace (sola gratia), justification by faith (sola fide), and atonement by our sole mediator Christ Jesus (solus Christus). You know, stuff just about every Protestant believes—plus many a Catholic and Orthodox Christian, even though their church leadership might insist otherwise.

The other label both “reform Christians,” and Calvinists who don’t mind their title, like to use is “the doctrines of grace” to describe their central beliefs about how God saves people—or as we theologians call this branch of theology, soteriology. They’re called “doctrines of grace” because God saves us by his grace, right? What else might you call ’em?

But like I said, Calvin’s fixation on sovereignty undermines God’s character. And in so doing, they undermine much of the grace in this system. Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. But when Calvinism describes salvation, you’ll find not only is it not gracious: It’s coerced, involuntary, hollow, and sorta evil.

08 November 2017

The legion of evil spirits.

Jesus meets a man filled with thousands of demons.

Mark 5.1-10 • Matthew 8.28-29 • Luke 8.26-31

Let’s begin with northern Israel’s geography. First there’s Kinneret, the lake.


The Galilean sea.

On its east is the province of the Galilee, named for the word galýl/“circle,” referring to its circle of towns. Jesus lived there. On its west is the Dekápolis/“10 cities,” a region of Syrian Greek city-provinces created by the Romans after they conquered Syria in 65BC. Jesus visited this territory often, and it’s where today’s story takes place.

In Old Testament days the Dekápolis belonged to the Hebrews. Today part of it is called the Golan Heights. In Jesus’s day, even though it was full of Greek-speaking Syrians, it was still considered part of Israel, and still part of the territory Antipas Herod supervised. But it was full of gentile, Greek-enculturated pagans.

By Greek-enculturated I mean they lived like Greeks. Alexander of Macedon had pushed his own culture everywhere he went, and in fourth-century BC Syria it seriously took hold. Greek language, Greek dress, Greek food, Greek religion. The Syrians worshiped a mixture of Syrian, Canaanite, and Greek gods. I’ve been to their ruins; these people weren’t Jews by any stretch of the imagination. They were so Greek, whenever Jews thought of gentiles, they thought of these guys… and thought of Greeks.

The ruins include lots of monuments to Greek deities. The major deities were called theoí/“gods,” and the lesser deities were called daimónia/“demons.” Or as the KJV calls them, devils. To the Christian mind, all these deities are devils. 1Co 10.19-20 And they were everywhere. Anything and everything was dedicated to a god or demon. Every monument was set up to honor something or someone. If a noble human, there was a caveat that the monument also honored whatever guardian demon protected that person, so when you remembered the person, you were meant to also worship their demon. The hillside was full of these monuments. You could see them from the beach.

And that’s where our story begins: Jesus and his students, after crossing the lake, landed on the beach, in full view of a cluster of monuments. And in full view of some wild man who was living among the monuments, who eagerly—and in utter terror—rushed down to meet him.

Was he of two minds about meeting Jesus? More like of 2,001 minds. Dude was full of devils.

07 November 2017

Jesus stops the weather.

A miracle which wholly upended his students’ worldview.

Mark 4.35-41 • Matthew 8.18, 8.23-27 • Luke 8.22-25

Right before this story, Jesus had a really long day. He’d been teaching the crowds, likely healing the sick, and he needed some sack time. So he got the idea to cross the Galilee’s lake.

Mark 4.35-36 KWL
35 Jesus told them when that day became evening, “Can we cross to the far side?”
36 Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus as-is into the boat. Other boats came with him.
Matthew 8.18 KWL
Jesus, seeing a crowd round him, ordered his students to go to the far side of the lake.
Luke 8.22 KWL
This happened one day: Jesus entered a boat with his students
and told them, “Can we cross to the far side of the lake?”
Matthew 8.23 KWL
Entering the boat, Jesus’s students followed him.

The authors of the New Testament called this particular body of water a thálassa, a word which gets translated as “sea” because Homer used it for the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks really just meant any large body of water. Properly, our English word “sea” is saltwater, and connected to the ocean. (It’s why the way-bigger Great Lakes aren’t seas: Though connected to the ocean, they’re freshwater.) This lake is freshwater, 166 square kilometers (64 square miles), and 212 meters below sea level. Mark Twain liked to compare it to Lake Tahoe, which is in my part of the world—but Tahoe is a mile high and 490 square kilometers, so I’m figuring Twain just eyeballed it.


The Galilee’s lake/“sea.”

Today, and originally, it was called Kinneret. Nu 34.11 In Greek this became Ghennisarét (KJV “Gennesaret,” Mt 14.34, Mk 6.53, Lk 5.1) but the Galilee’s tetra-árhis/“quarter-ruler” Antipas Herod (only called “king” ’cause he was still descended from royalty) had renamed it “Tiberias” Jn 6.1 to suck up to the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus. The locals weren’t fans of the emperor, nor the new name. Obviously some of ’em still used the original. But if you were in earshot of someone who wanted to enforce “Tiberias,” you could get away with calling it “the Galilee’s lake.” ’Cause it is.

I crossed it on a speedboat, which took about an hour. By way of comparison, Jesus’s students were sailing, which takes longer, unless you’re rowing, which takes even longer.

So Jesus, who had a nice comfortable cushion to rest on, expected to catch a few hours’ shuteye. But Kinneret is notorious for its unpredictable weather.

Mark 4.37-38 KWL
37 A great windstorm began. Waves were throwing water into the boat, so the boat was already filled.
38 Jesus was in the stern on a cushion, sleeping.
The students roused him and told him, “Teacher, don’t you care we’re dying?”
Matthew 8.24-25 KWL
24 Look, a great shaking happened on the lake, causing the boat to be covered in waves.
Jesus was asleep, 25 and coming to rouse Jesus, they said, “Master! Save us! We’re dying!”
Luke 8.23-24 KWL
23 Jesus fell asleep while they sailed.
A windstorm came down on the lake, and they were swamped and in danger.
24A Coming to awaken Jesus, they said, “Chief, chief, we’re dying!”

Matthew describes it as a great seismós/“shaking,” a word we tend to use for earthquakes, and maybe an earthquake triggered the storm. Regardless this windstorm was big; anywhere between a strong wind and hurricane. It meant they had to reef the sail and row, but the winds were enough to swamp the boat. They were in danger of capsizing.

Yet none of this woke Jesus. Which Christians have historically interpreted as a likely-supernatural confidence in his Father to keep him alive to complete his mission, but y’know, Jesus might have been just that tired.