TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

19 October 2017

Potential, fixable followers.

These aren’t people who didn’t make the cut. They, like all of us, need work.

Matthew 8.18-22 • Luke 9.57-62

In Mark and Luke, after Jesus taught his parables he crossed the lake, and had to stop the weather. In Matthew, Jesus made these comments just before boarding the boat. Whereas in Luke, Jesus made ’em enroute to Jerusalem to die.

If you’re the sort who goes absolutely nuts because gospel passages won’t sync up as perfectly as you’d like, tough: The gospels’ authors had entirely different priorities than you do. They weren’t trying to follow a timeline; they were trying to bunch themes together. It’s entirely likely none of these sayings took place at the same time; if only life could be so neat. More likely they were three different guys on three different occasions. All of them prospective followers, and all of them not entirely ready for God’s kingdom. All of ’em object lessons in case we’re not ready: Get ready!

Matthew only brings up two of them, but don’t fret. I’ll cover all three. Starting with Jesus’s teaching about foxes, birds, and the Son of Man.

Matthew 8.18-20 KWL
18 Jesus, seeing a crowd round him, ordered his students to go to the far side of the lake.
19 But one of the scribes, approaching Jesus, told him, “Teacher, I’ll follow you anyplace you may go.”
20 Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and wild birds nests.
The Son of Man hasn’t anyplace he can lay his head.”
Luke 9.57-58 KWL
57 While they went on the road, someone told Jesus, “I’ll follow you anyplace you may go.”
58 Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and wild birds nests.
The Son of Man hasn’t anyplace he can lay his head.”

Christians get confused by this statement, and produce confusing teachings about it. Because we self-centeredly try to identify with this guy, whom Matthew identifies as a scribe. We wanna follow Jesus wherever he may go. Thing is, we don’t mean it as literally as this scribe does.

See, Jesus is currently in heaven, and we‘re on earth. We’re only “following” him in the sense that we’re doing as he taught. Well, sorta doing as he taught. Well, doing a few things he taught. Yeah, we kinda suck. But we’re trying, right? Hope so. Anyway, we’re not literally walking behind Jesus as he walks the land.

Whereas this scribe was literally planning to follow Jesus. If Jesus got in a boat, the scribe’d get in the boat too. If Jesus climbed a hill, the scribe wanted to be right behind him. If Jesus took a dump, guess who’d be holding the wipes. “Wherever you may go” was an earnest promise: He’d follow Jesus anyplace.

Then Jesus informed him he wasn’t going anyplace.

18 October 2017

Throwing out “treasures” new and old.

Because the Spirit’s correcting us—assuming we let him.

Mark 4.33-34, Matthew 13.34-35, 13.51-53

After Jesus taught a string of parables in Mark 4, Matthew 13, and Luke 8, Matthew had him wrap it up with one final parable:

Matthew 13.51-53 KWL
51 Did you understand all this?”
They told Jesus, “Yes.”
52 Jesus told them, “This is why every scribe who’s studied heaven’s kingdom is like a person—
a householder who throws out new and old things from his treasury.”
53 Once Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.

I realize most translations prefer to describe the householder as “bringeth forth out of his treasure,” Mt 13.52 KJV as if he’s showing off his riches, like King Hezekiah ben Elah. 2Ki 20.12-19 (Which, if you know that story, should give you an idea of where I’m headed with this.)

On this basis they wanna claim this is a teacher to whom Jesus has granted lots of wisdom, both new and old. But Jesus didn’t describe him as bringing out things, but ekvállei/“throwing out” things. He’s not keeping them. Exposure to God’s kingdom has taught him these things are crap. They don’t deserve to be in his treasury.

’Cause let me tell you, that’s what practicing theologians find ourselves doing more often than not. Once we get a fuller understanding about how God really feels about things, we either have to shut our eyes and go into serious denial—and pretty much stop practicing—or we gotta reprioritize everything. Seriously, everything. Top to bottom. Our culture significantly misrepresents Jesus, same as the Sadducees and Pharisees were misrepresenting the LORD in Jesus’s day. Any scribe, or biblical scholar, who really studies God’s kingdom, who finds out what God really wants and expects of his people, is gonna have a lot of house-cleaning to do with their existing beliefs. I sure did. Most Christians do.

Problem is, a lot of these beliefs are in our treasuries. They’re beloved. Treasured. Precious.

Okay, I don’t own a treasury. Nor a safe. I don’t own valuables. But when my parents first moved into their home, there was one bedroom with a special deadbolt lock on the door, ’cause the previous owners designated that room their treasury, and kept valuables in it. (Or at least we really hope valuables, and not kidnap victims. But I digress.) Wealthy people in the first century, knowing it was entirely on them to keep their valuables safe, likewise had extra-secure rooms for their most valuable possessions. They wanted to hold onto them no matter what.

Some of us are that way with our most cherished beliefs. We’re not giving ’em up without a fight. Heck, some of us have preemptively started fighting for them already. Go to certain discussion boards on the internet, and you’ll find people fighting tooth and nail for these beliefs, even though nobody’s really threatening to take ’em away. They think it their duty as Christians to wage war for their doctrines. They believe what they believe, and nobody can tell ’em different.

Not even the Holy Spirit.

And that’s when things get scary. ’Cause it’s the Spirit’s job to make us doubt the things we shouldn’t believe. He’s trying to guide us to the truth, remember? Jn 16.13 There are things in our spiritual treasuries which have no business in there. Some of ’em are new; some of ’em are very, very old. All of them are getting in God’s way. They gotta go!

And if we cling to these bad beliefs too tightly, stands to reason we’re not gonna fully understand Jesus’s parables. Nor want to. They’ll never become our treasure. The other things already are.

17 October 2017

Prayer walks.

’Cause walking and praying is super easy. Well, for most of us.

One of the few activities we can do, yet pray at the same time, is walk.

For this reason certain Christians take prayer walks. More than just pacing back in forth in our rooms while we pray, we take some time out of our day to just go for a walk. Not to any specific destination; we’re gonna loop around and come back home. Not for exercise, although we might do that too. (Turn it into kind of a prayer jog.) Walking’s not the purpose. Prayer is.

Although sometimes we Christians turn the prayer-walk route into something significant. Fr’instance at the beginning of every year, Christians in my town wanna pray for the town. So they take a prayer walk which is specifically mapped so they’ll reach certain important places. Like city hall, the town square, the civic center, certain parks and schools and fire departments, maybe the run-down or more criminal parts of town, maybe certain businesses Christians do and don’t approve of. But while we call these things “prayer walks,” I remind you a proper prayer walk isn’t about the physical destination. It’s about the spiritual destination. We’re not trying to go someplace; we’re trying to grow closer to God.

Hence certain Christians (and our churches) put together prayer walks which deliberately go nowhere. On the church property, you’ll find a “prayer walk” trail which goes round in a circle, and takes you right back to where you started. Or there’ll be a sidewalk which goes all the way around the building… and if you were wondering why it goes round the back when there’s nothing back there, now you know.

Other churches have labyrinths, a diagram on the floor, or on the ground outside, where Christians can walk through the diagram and pray. A lot of pagans imagine labyrinths are cool and “mystical,” and have tried to co-opt the idea (and as a result have weirded out a lot of Christians about their use). But relax; labyrinths are a Christian thing. A prayer walk when your church doesn’t really have the space for something larger.


Walking the labyrinth at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. Wikimedia

And of course some churches have stations of the cross dioramas or paintings placed round the building for us to walk to and pray at.

16 October 2017

Women and covering up. Or, frequently, not.

On covering one’s hair, and why many Christians don’t bother.

1 Corinthians 11.3-16

I was asked to say a little something about this controversial passage, so what the heck.

I’ve gone to Protestant churches all my life. Visited Catholic and Orthodox churches too. In most of the churches I’ve visited, American Christians utterly ignore this passage. Our women don’t cover their heads.

Now yeah, there are parts of the bible which the bulk of Christians figure no longer apply to us. Like the curses upon humanity, Ge 3.16-19 which we figure Jesus undid. Or the commands about ritual cleanliness and sacrifice, which we figure Jesus rendered redundant. Or all the commands in the Law, which we figure Jesus nullified—which is absolutely not what he said. Mt 5.17 In general, Christians tend to assume Old Testament commands (except maybe 10) are out, and New Testament instructions are in.

Yet this is totally New Testament. Comes right before the apostles’ instructions on how to do holy communion. Those instructions we totally follow. But not the head-covering bit. Why not?

I’ll jump to the punchline right now: Because it’s cultural.

In the ancient middle east, men had shoulder-length hair, and women had floor-length hair. Women didn’t cut their hair; they let it grow. If you remember the stories where women cleaned Jesus’s feet with their hair, they didn’t have to bow their heads all that much for their hair to reach his feet. Their hair was plenty long enough.

Custom was for them to cover it with headscarf of some sort. Not burkas, but the custom of covering up did originate from the apostles’ particular part of the middle east. Go further east and it evolved into burkas. Go west and it became hats.

Originally these veils had practical purposes: Kept one’s hair clean. Kept it from getting snagged or pulled. Over time it became a modesty thing: Women who uncovered their hair would get the same reaction as if they uncovered their breasts—then and now. You can see why the women who cleaned Jesus’s feet with their hair got such a startled response.

So that’s how things were in the first-century middle east. But in the rest of the Roman Empire, women didn’t bother to grow their hair as long, nor cover it. They’d walk around with their heads exposed—startling middle easterners. Much like it startles westerners when we encounter a tribe where people don’t bother with clothes, or otherwise have very different standards of modesty.

For Paul and Sosthenes, their attitude about veils reflects the middle eastern standard of modesty. But to their minds, this wasn’t just a middle eastern standard. It was a universal standard. God himself had meant for women to cover up.

Hence this passage, where they try to defend the idea.

1 Corinthians 11.3-16 KWL
3 I want you all to know Christ is the head of every man,
the man the head of his woman, and God the head of Christ.
4 Any man praying or prophesying against his head, disgraces his head.
5 Any woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled, disgraces her head.
One may as well shave her: 6 If a woman isn’t veiled, cut her hair short.
And if it’s disgraceful for a woman to cut her hair short or be shaved, then be veiled!
7 A man isn’t obligated to cover his head—being God’s image and glory.
But a woman is her man’s glory, 8 for man isn’t out of woman, but woman out of man—
9 for the first man wasn’t created through the woman, but woman through the man.
10 This is why the woman’s obligated to exercise power over her head—because of the angels.
11 Still, neither a woman with no man, nor a man with no woman, in the Master:
12 Just as woman came out of man, likewise the man comes from woman. And all out of God.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it appropriate for an unveiled woman to pray to God?
14 Doesn’t nature itself teach us when a man has long hair, it dishonors him?
15 —and when a woman has long hair, it’s to her glory? That hair gives her a covering?
16 If anyone wishes to debate this…
well we just don’t have such a custom. Not in God’s churches.

Why’s this a controversial passage? Simple. All those Christians who ignore it, no matter what they claim to believe about the bible and its authority, demonstrate in practice what they really think: They get to pick and choose which parts of the bible they consider universal standards, and they haven’t chosen this one. Because uncovered heads don’t offend them. Now, homosexuality might totally offend them, so they’ll preach against it on the regular. Veils? Despite the clear and obvious teaching of the apostles? Meh.

Some of ’em will come right out and say it, and some of ’em will avoid ever saying it for fear it undermines everything else they teach about scripture, inspiration, and literal interpretation. Yet their practices expose all: Contrary to Paul and Sosthenes, they figure head-covering isn’t a universal, eternal, God-decreed standard. It’s merely the apostles’ personal cultural hangup. So it can be dismissed in the present day. Otherwise they’d have serious qualms about flouting this instruction—and they totally don’t.

This isn’t the only situation where they treat the scriptures as if it’s all relative. It’s just the most obvious. Use it as a litmus test if you like. I do.

13 October 2017

Satan’s fall.

Satan used to have access to heaven. Now it doesn’t.

Revelation 12

One of the popular myths about the devil is it used to an angel. Not just that it fakes being one. 2Co 11.14 Christians will teach it straight-up was one.

Even more: It was Lucifer, the greatest angel ever. The best and brightest and mightiest angel in the heavens. Head of the heavenly choir. Ruled over earth as God’s number two. The Holy Spirit’s vice-president, more or less.

Anybody else think someone’s been padding its résumé a little?

Pause a moment, go some basic digging through the bible, and you’re gonna find out it says nowhere that Satan used to be an angel. It may have angels, working for it. At one time it came and went before God, just like God’s mightier angels. But Satan’s species is never once identified.

Given Satan’s reputation as a liar, Jn 8.44 I’m mighty suspicious about any stories about its origin which attempt to make it look like it used to be kind of a big deal.

Or still is. During Jesus’s temptations, Satan identified itself as being the master of the world’s kingdoms, then offered them to Jesus. Lk 4.6 Various Christians take this statement at face value, but Jesus’s response was, “Oh, get out of here, Satan.” Mt 4.10 If the devil is indeed the ruler of this world (and I’m pretty sure Jesus meant sin, not Satan) Jn 12.31, 14.30 it’s only because its true rulers dropped their reins and Satan is playing with ’em—like a little kid who tugs on the steering wheel in a parked car.

Y’see, Satan fell. Jesus watched it fall. Lk 10.18 And about 40 years later, he presented John of Patmos with a vision of the time Satan got tossed from heaven. Whatever it used to be, whatever power it was granted, is now irrelevant: It fell. It’s not a heavenly being anymore. It was banished. It’s an earthly being, same as us.

Or worse than us: Every human has the potential to tap into God’s graces and become one of his kids. Jn 1.12 But in another of Jesus’s revelations to John, he also clued us in to the fact Satan’s never gonna repent, and avail itself of God’s grace. It’s going into the fire. Rv 20.10

So if you imagine the devil’s a big deal, don’t. It’s a defeated foe. Even we have the power to get it to flee from us. Jm 4.7 Stop fearing it, and start resisting it.

12 October 2017

Pantheism: God is everything, and everything is God.

On those who believe God is the universe.

Pantheist /'pæn.θi.ɪst/ adj. Identifies God as the universe, or recognizes the universe as a manifestation of God.
2. Identifies all gods as forms, manifestations, avatars, or persons of the One God.
[Pantheism /'pæn.θi.ɪz.əm/ n.]

Popular culture believes Hinduism to consist of the worship of thousands of gods. That’s not quite accurate. Hindus themselves tell me that they tend to worship maybe one or two gods themselves… but the “thousands of gods,” as westerners call ’em, are really just different faces of the One God.

So they’re monotheist? Still not quite accurate. It’s not that there’s one God with thousands of faces. It’s that God consists of every face. Everything is God. God is the universe.

Whenever you meet a pagan who talks about “the universe,” and speaks of the universe as if it has an intelligence—“The universe wants me to do such-and-so,” or “The universe is sending me a message”—that’s the mindset we’re talking about. “The universe” is the sum total of everything and everyone, and collectively that’s God. And all of us are part of him.

Nope, not even close to monotheism. But when people don’t know any better, that’s what they assume Hindus or Hinduism-based spiritual teachers are talking about. When they say “God,” they mean the universe. Everything, collectively. Which may or may not be conscious, know what it’s doing, have a plan for us, or offer us guidance—it kinda depends on the teacher.

It’s what we call pantheism. And under this idea, of course Jesus is God. Pantheists have no problem with that idea. The catch is, they figure everyone else is God too, and Jesus just happened to be more connected to his godhood than anyone else. And Jesus isn’t the only avatar, or incarnation, of God, either. There’ve been others, like Krishna. Some of them are alive today. (Some of these spiritual teachers wouldn’t much mind if we thought of them that way either. It’d sure help their book sales.)

So if you come across any of these eastern-style teachers who have some really interesting things to say about God, bear in mind this is how they imagine God to be. He’s not a being who fills the universe; he is the universe.

Why’s that a problematic idea? Well you do recall there’s a lot of evil in the universe. But if God is everything, that evil would also be a part of God. And God doesn’t do evil. 1Jn 1.5

11 October 2017

Apocrypha: The “extra books” your bible may lack.

Well, unless you’re Catholic, Orthodox, or Ethiopian.

Apocryphon /ə'pɑk.rə.fɔn/ n. (plural apocrypha /ə'pɑk.rə.fə/) Writing or book not considered part of the accepted canon of scripture.
2. Story of doubtful authenticity.
3. Story that’s obscure or little-known.
[Apocryphal /əˈpɑkrəfəl/ adj.]

One of my favorite stunts with new Christians used to be, “Turn in your bibles to the book of Wisdom, chapter 4.”

Well, they’d try. They’d flip around their bibles, then give up and look at the table of contents… then realize the book wasn’t in there. “Well it’s in my bible,” I’d tell ’em, and hold it up to show them, confusing them all the more. ’Cause my bible included apocrypha.

“Oh, you mean a Catholic bible,” you might be thinking. Nope; it’s a Protestant bible. Some Protestant bibles have apocrypha. I own two others.

I can’t pull this stunt anymore, ’cause nowadays people look up the bible on their phones or bible apps. Hence they can sometimes find Wisdom in there. Spoils my little joke. Oh well.

But I did this joke on purpose: I wanted to introduce newbies to the fact not every bible includes all the same books. Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican bibles are gonna have books in them which your average Evangelical bible will not. Evangelicals call these books apocrypha. Catholics call ’em deuterocanon, and Orthodox anagignoskómena.

Contrary to popular belief, they’re not merely “extra books.” For four centuries before Jesus, Greek-speaking Jews had these books in their bibles. For 17 centuries thereafter, Greek-speaking, Latin-speaking, and English-speaking Christians had ’em in their bibles. Got quoted in the New Testament. Got quoted by the early church fathers. Got translated and included in the Geneva Bible and King James Version. Seriously.

So when people ask me “Why do Catholics have extra books?” I gotta point out the proper question is why we Evangelicals don’t have these books. ’Cause a majority of Christians in the world do have ’em. And Evangelical Protestants had no problem with including ’em in our bibles… well, for about two centuries. Wasn’t till the Puritans began purging apocrypha from bibles that they even became an issue.

And now? Now we have some Protestants who insist not only should apocrypha not be in bibles, but that they’re devilish. Doesn’t matter that Martin Luther called ’em nützliche, aber nicht heilige Schriften/“useful, but not holy writings.” To these dark Christians, not only are apocrypha not useful, but they (and Roman Catholics) are part of Satan’s evil plan to corrupt the bible.


Here’s what conspiracy theorist Jack Chick had to say on the topic. The Attack, 8

So, according to these cranks, if you read apocrypha, they’ll corrupt you too. Flee the scary books!

Well, let’s put aside the loopy paranoia and get to what apocrypha actually are.

10 October 2017

Te Deum.

One of Christendom’s better-known rote prayers.

Te Deum /teɪ 'deɪ.əm/ is a rote prayer. Really it’s a hymn which dates back to the late 300s. It’s named for its first words, Te Deum laudamus/“To God we praise.” Traditions say it was written by St. Ambrose when he baptized St. Augustine. Or St. Hiliary or St. Nicetas of Remesiana wrote it. Meh; who cares how we got it. It’s been a popular prayer for the past 17 centuries, and has been set to music many times in many ways.

The Presbyterian Church’s Book of Common Worship translates it like so.

We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord,
all creation worships you,
Father everlasting.
To you, all angels, all the powers of heaven,
the cherubim and seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy church acclaims you;
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all praise,
the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you took our flesh to set us free
you humbly chose the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come, and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting. BCW 570-571

09 October 2017

Guns, and why we Americans don’t control them.

It’s a power thing.

I have friends outside the United States who look at our rampant gun violence, who notice how our mass shootings happen on a daily basis, and who wonder why on earth we do nothing about it.

Two reasons. The first is Americans consider gun ownership a right. Not an option, not a privilege, a right. We even put it into our Constitution.

Y’see, in the 1760s and ’70s, the British occupying forces tried to take Americans’ guns away lest we start a revolution. (A well-founded concern, but anyway.) Once we Americans got our independence, we became fearful lest the Brits, or any other government, try to take us over, or go too far to curtail our liberties. So we made gun ownership the fourth article of the Bill of Rights, which became our Constitution’s second amendment.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Guns aren’t an obvious and inherent right, which is why the Congress had to spell out their justification for guns: If we’re gonna remain secure in our freedoms, we need militia, armed civilians who can help our armed forces defend our homeland. Some folks assume our National Guard fulfills the role of a militia, but nope; guardsmen aren’t civilians. (As demonstrated whenever guardsmen are called in to stop civilian unrest.) The way we keep civilians at the ready, is we let ’em keep their guns, and make sure they know how to properly use ’em. So once people hear the British are coming—or the Soviets, the terrorists, or whoever’s the boogeyman today—they can grab their rifles and fall in.

Thing is, we Americans tend to describe our rights as sacred and God-given. In other words holy. With all the other baggage which comes with civic idolatry.

Proper religion involves self-control, but civic idolatry means when we Americans get it into our heads that something’s a right, we treat it as an unlimited right. Zero control. No limits. Absolute.

Fr’instance freedom of speech. We treat it like we can say absolutely anything, no matter how offensive, profane, or seditious, and do so without any repercussions from our neighbors or employers. That’s why we’re often stunned when we lose jobs or status over the things we say. But what’d people expect would happen? Freedom of speech only means government can’t censor or censure us. Everybody else can.

So, that’s the very same way many an American gun nut looks at guns: The right to bear arms means we can own any gun we like, decked out with any accessories or ammunition we like, take it anywhere, and shoot anyone we perceive a threat. ’Cause it’s a right. Constitution says so, which makes it sacred.

Now read the second amendment again. It describes this militia as well regulated. And folks, this is where the United States goes horribly wrong. If the amendment actually were holy, we’ve still been taking it out of context. Our militia is very, very badly regulated. Any attempt to try it, and the gun nuts scream tyranny; and they’ve bought so many Congressmen, nothing gets done.

06 October 2017

The gender-inclusive bible.

Because the scriptures weren’t only written to men.

Psalm 8.4 KJV
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalm 8.4 NLT
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?

If you grew up with a King James Version, as I did, you’ll notice lots of verses refer to “man,” “men,” “sons,” “fathers,” “husbands.” They address men. Talk about what men do and what men oughta do. Refer to the promises God made to men—curses upon evildoing men, blessings upon God-fearing men. Men men men.

With some exceptions (and I’ll get to them in a bit) most of us Christians are agreed these verses don’t only refer to men. They refer to anyone who follows or seeks God; anyone whom he interacts with. Or not.

Unless a verse refers to specific men, like Abraham or Moses or David or Simon Peter, or unless a verse refers to the specific male-only duties of husbands and fathers, it should rightly be interpreted as gender-inclusive: These commands, proverbs, promises, and instructions apply to both men and women.

So when the LORD commanded, as is phrased in the KJV

Leviticus 19.3 KJV
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

—this doesn’t mean, even though it clearly says ish/“man,” we gotta assume it only applies to men… and women are exempt from this command. And if a woman so chooses, she can dismiss her parents and skip Sabbath.

Properly, ish refers to any human being, whether ish/“man” or ishá/“woman.” God expects the same of women as he does men.

Well if that’s what it properly means, why not just translate it “person,” and clear up any doubt? And in fact this is what most bible translations do.

Amplified: “Each of you shall respect his mother and his father, and you shall keep My Sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
CSB: “Each of you is to respect his mother and father. You are to keep my Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.”
ESB: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
ISV: “Each of you is to fear his mother and father. “Observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
MEV: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you will keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
NASB: “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
NET: “Each of you must respect his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NIV: “Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NLT: “Each of you must show great respect for your mother and father, and you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest. I am the LORD your God.”
NRSV: “You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”

Believe it or don’t, a lot of these translations do not consider themselves gender-inclusive. You can tell: They still insist on using the masculine pronoun “his” to describe “every one of you,” figuring it’s more accurate than “their”—and generic enough. Yet even so, y’notice all of ’em translated ish as “everyone,” instead of the literal “man”—because the verse does apply to everyone. Not just men.

The gender-inclusive translations want to make this crystal clear, so they drop the pronoun “his” in favor of gender-neutral ones. They swapped singular for plural: “They” instead of “he.”

Psalm 1.1 KJV
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psalm 1.1 NLT
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

Or “you” instead of “he.”

Leviticus 5.5 KJV
And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing:
Psalm 1.1 NLT
When you become aware of your guilt in any of these ways, you must confess your sin.

Whatever makes it most obvious that the scriptures are addressed to all.

05 October 2017

“I stand at the door and knock.”

It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted.

Revelation 3.20

Revelation 3.20 KJV
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

This’d be Jesus speaking.

When I was a little kid, I was told Jesus lives in my heart.

I didn’t then understand the difference between one’s physical heart, the blood-pumping muscle/organ in one’s chest; and the spiritual heart, the center of one’s soul. That “Jesus lives in my heart” means Jesus takes priority over all. Arguably the spiritual heart is a metaphor, and Jesus living in it is definitely a metaphor. You wanna talk persons of the trinity who live in you, look to the Holy Spirit.

But you know how literal-minded a kid can be. Tell ’em “Jesus lives in your heart,” and they’ll wonder whether there’s a little tiny Jesus, physically inside their chests. And of course that’s not what they meant. Or at least I surely hope that’s not what they meant; you never know about some adults.

I was told Jesus lives in my heart because I let him in there. ’Cause for those who don’t have Jesus in their hearts, he’s standing at the door of these hearts, knocking. (Unless you’re Calvinist, in which case you believe Jesus already has the key, and comes in whenever he darn well feels like it. Yet some of ’em still talk about Jesus knocking on our hearts’ doors.) Anyway, won’t you let him in?

And of course kids would let him in. Who’s gonna leave Jesus outside, all alone, forced to live in our pancreas instead? Why, he might get attacked by our antibodies. Or get digested; won’t that be embarrassing.

Silliness aside, anyone who’s read Revelation 3 knows this passage isn’t about evangelism. It’s not an invitation to pagans, but Christians.

04 October 2017

Sadducees: The secular power of religion.

How an ancient Hebrew harvest celebration got turned into giving a tenth of our income to our churches.

Sadducee /'sæd.ʒə.si/ n. An ancient denomination of the Hebrew religion which upheld the written Law alone, and denied the supernatural and the afterlife.
[Sadducean /.sæd.ʒə'si.ən/ adj.]

Protestants seldom know this history, so let me fill you in.

John bar Simon was the head priest and king of Judea from 134BC to 104BC. He was a member of the Hasmonean family; his dad was Simon Maccabee, one of the Maccabees who freed Judea from the Syrian Greeks (the “Seleucid Empire”) in 167BC. His dad had become the first head priest after the temple was restored, and since he was functionally the head of state, he was also recognized as Judea’s king. The Hasmoneans ruled Judea till the Romans deposed them in 41BC and gave the throne to Herod bar Antipater.

John’s also known as John Hyrcanus. He got his nickname Hurqanós/“from Hyrkania” after defeating the Syrian general Cendebeus, and since it’s probably an inside joke which was never recorded, we don’t know why he was called that. He’s known as a great general who doubled the size of Judea to include Samaria and Idumea. He’s also known as the king who forced the Idumeans (i.e. Edomites) to become Jews and be circumcised. And Pharisees remember him ’cause he quit the Pharisees and become Sadducee.

Y’see, when there’s no such thing as a separation of church and state, religion and politics are the same thing. Most Judeans were Pharisee. So were the priests. So was their senate. Sadducees, in comparison, were just this little tiny sect of Jews with some rather faithless beliefs:

Acts 22.8 KWL
For Sadducees say there’s no resurrection, nor angels, nor Holy Spirit,
and Pharisees profess them all.

We don’t know how much, or even whether, Hyrcanus believed as Sadducees did. He didn’t join them for religious reasons. He joined ’em because Pharisees had pissed him off.

Two prominent Pharisees, Eleazar bar Pokhera and Judah bar Gedidim, had publicly declared (right in front of him, according to one story), “If Hyrcanus is really a righteous man, he oughta resign the head priesthood, because we heard his mother had been a captive in Modin under the Syrians”—implying one of those Syrians had fathered him instead of Simon Maccabee, thus making Hyrcanus unqualified to be hereditary head priest. Hyrcanus ordered the claim to be investigated. Once proven untrue, he demanded his false witnesses be thrown out of the senate, just as they wanted him thrown out of office. Dt 19.18-19 But Pharisees in the senate ignored the Law and only had them whipped. So in his ire, Hyrcanus quit the Pharisees.

And to really stick it to ’em, he joined the group Pharisees considered their mortal enemies, the Sadducees. And ever since, he and the head priests who succeeded him—all the way up to Annas and Joseph Caiaphas in Jesus’s day, all the way to the last head priest, Fannias bar Samuel, in 70CE—were Sadduccee. Ac 5.17

03 October 2017

These godless kids these days.

Little bit of griping about the younger generation… and now it’s in the bible.

Psalm 14

Amár navál belibó/“The fool said at heart” (Latin Dixit insipiens) is by David, and we number it at 14.

Commentators figure it’s a lament: David, or Wisdom (i.e. the Holy Spirit) mourns the fact kids these days don’t follow God anymore. Not like “our righteous group,” Ps 14.5 the dor/“age group” (KJV “generation”) David’s in, which he deems more devout than the younger set. Back in his day people followed God, took his side, knew where their help came from, and expected God to rescue ’em yet again. In comparison, this generation is hopeless, nihilistic, cynical, faithless, and godless.

Basically, the same lament every generation has about the next one. Well, with one exception: The people from this generation, who gang up with the previous generation about their peers and successors. That’s a phenomena I’ve seen quite often lately. My parents are “baby boomers,” I’m in what marketers call “generation X,” and those coming of age right now are called “millennials”—and way too many of the preachers my age are wringing their hands over the younger generation. They’ve believed the myth that things used to be better when they were kids. Used to be better in their parents’ day.

Nope, they haven’t read Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 7.10 KWL
Don’t say, “Why were the old days better than these days?”
You don’t ask this question out of wisdom.

It’s a really good book for deflating know-it-alls.

Anyway, Psalm 14 kinda wanders in the direction of this false nostalgia. I remind you the psalms don’t actually rhyme. Just the same, let’s put a little iambic tetrameter on it.

Psalm 14 KWL
0 To the director. By David.
1 The foolish think God isn’t here.
They wreck. They do no good. They sneer.
2 From heaven, the LORD looks to see
if any child of Adam be
astute enough to seek God out.
3 But all of them are turned about.
They’re twisted. They do nothing good.
Not one of them 4 knows what they should.
Their every act is sin; when all
eat bread, it’s not the LORD they call.
5 There’s no respect; no holy dread.
God’s with our righteous group instead.
6 Ashamed to help the poor, are you?
Because the LORD’s their refuge, true?
7 Was rescue sent from Zion’s hill?
Who got this aid for Israel?
The LORD will set his people free.
May Jacob—Israel—have glee.

02 October 2017

Relevance, and blogging on current events.

Why Christ Almighty! doesn’t dogpile on current events.

Earlier this year something happened in the Christian blogosphere. I won’t say what; you’ll see why in a moment. I’ll simply say I have a few readers who were looking forward to me writing one of these Rants about it, but instead I didn’t write any Rants for three weeks. (Had other things I wanted to cover.) When I finally returned to Ranting, the issue had passed, the Christian blogosphere had moved on, and for the most part so had they.

Well, until recently. At church yesterday—

She. “I remember when [that issue] happened. I waited to see what you were gonna write about it.”
Me. “I wrote nothing.”
She. “You have no opinion?”
Me. “I have an opinion, but it didn’t provoke me enough to write a whole blog post about it. I don’t think I even Tweeted about it.”
She. “You gotta feel it before you post it.”
Me. “I don’t gotta feel anything. It’s not about whether it makes me happy or mad. It’s about whether it draws people to Jesus, or drives people away.”
She. “Well, but you gotta comment on current events in order to stay relevant.”

Yeah, that last comment provoked this Rant.

A few years back, on one of my previous blogs, I started to post some of my old newspaper columns. Didn’t take me long before I stopped doing it. The main reason was these columns aren’t relevant. They were, back when I originally wrote ’em. But time passed, and their relevance faded, then vanished.

News is relevant because it’s new. It’s stuff we haven’t heard yet, or stuff we only just heard about and are processing. But once we’ve processed it, it’s not news anymore. Doesn’t matter if the story’s continuing; doesn’t matter if there’s new data coming in: Once the news audience has collectively decided it’s done with the story, it’s old news. It’s time for the news media to move on.

This is a fact which really irritates reporters. Particularly when they’re trying to tell the story—and they’re not done yet! Like reporters who covered the Afghanistan War, who couldn’t get their stories aired or published because the news media was too busy with the Iraq War. Or even when they weren’t busy with the Iraq War, but to them the Afghanistan War was old news, even though it’s still going on.

Wait, did you forget the Afghanistan War is still going on? That’s right, it’s still going on. But you don’t care about that; you want me to get back to my point. So I’ll move on. Even though it’s still going on.

See, the short attention span of the news-watching public means that nothing in the news is gonna remain relevant for long. It’s gonna be really, really relevant when it first happens. It’ll remain relevant for maybe a week or two; often a month at the most. And then the public will move on. The media will follow. ’Cause contrary to conspiracy-theorist belief, the media goes where the audience wants ’em to. Not the other way round.

So if I decided the way to make TXAB relevant was to keep up with, and blog on, current events, it’d certainly work. Plenty of Christian bloggers do it.

But it’d also mean that everything I write is quickly disposable. It’ll be relevant, but only for a week or two. That’s its lifespan. Then it’ll sit in the archive, where nobody’ll read it, ’cause nobody’ll need to.

29 September 2017

The Fish-Sorting story.

What kind of fish are you?

Matthew 13.47-50

But before the Fish-Sorting story, let’s have the Fish Slapping Dance.


You wanna watch the whole thing, do it here. Monty Python

’Cause this parable’s about the End, and about judging the wicked, so it’s a bit of a downer. So I thought I’d first cheer you up with some grown men hitting each other with dead fish.

Considering a few of Jesus’s students were fishermen, stands to reason he’d include a fishing parable. This one compares sorting fish to sorting the wicked. Bad fish get tossed; bad humans get burnt.

Matthew 13.47-50 KWL
47 “Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea, gathering every kind of fish.
48 Once filled it’s pulled up onto the beach and sorted.
People gather good fish into a vat, and rotten fish are thrown out.
49 It’s the same at the end of the age:
The angels will come out, and separate the evil from the middle of the righteous.
50 The angels will throw the evil into the fiery kiln.
It’ll be weeping and teeth-grinding there.”

O vrygmós ton odónton/“the grinding of teeth” refers to grinding ’em in anger, not suffering. These folks will be outraged they’re headed into the fire and not the kingdom: They expected the kingdom. They figured their public good deeds made ’em worthy, or the sinner’s prayer guaranteed them a slot. But, as Jesus elsewhere stated, they had no relationship with him, Mt 7.23 didn’t abide in him and produce fruit. Jn 15.4-5 Their “good deeds” were all tainted with self-promotion, instead of provoked by God’s love. Of course they get tossed out like stinky dead fish.

28 September 2017

The Hidden Treasure, and the Valuable Pearl stories.

God’s kingdom is worth everything we have.

Matthew 13.44-46

Two quick parables Jesus told in Matthew are sorta parallel with one another. Maybe Jesus told the same story two different ways, so Matthew bunched ’em together. In any case here they are.

Matthew 13.44-46 KWL
44 “Heaven’s kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field which a person found—and hid it again.
In his joy, he runs off and sells all he has, and buys that field.
45 Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a person—a trader seeking good pearls.
46 Leaving after finding one valuable pearl, he’s sold everything he has, and bought it.”

In both cases Jesus describes people who discover something so valuable, so worth it, they’re willing to give up absolutely everything they have for it. We’re not unfamiliar with the idea of Mammonists, gross materialists, who are willing to say and do anything for wealth. Including risk their existing wealth, if they figure the payoff is vast enough. Well, God’s kingdom is the very same way: It has just as vast a payoff.

But let me deal with the rather obvious bit of unethical behavior in that first story, the Hidden Treasure story: Dude finds treasure in a field, so he buys the field. But he doesn’t tell the owner what he found. He hid what he found. Either buried it back up again, or moved it elsewhere to hide it again; Jesus left it to our imaginations.

Didn’t this guy have an obligation to mention this to the owner?—who’s the rightful owner of this treasure? Didn’t this lack of disclosure mean he stole the treasure right out from under the previous owner? I mean, if someone bought your wallet for two bucks, and didn’t tell you you’d left 20 hundred-dollar bills in it, they just made $1,998 off your mistake. But it doesn’t matter if you overlooked the money; your deal was for the wallet, not the cash. That’s straight-up theft, innit?

Yes. Yes it is.

What, you expected the characters in Jesus’s parables to be as good as he is? They aren’t always, y’know. They include murderers, thieves, wastrels, and all sorts. Yet God’s kingdom is like them. Did you forget sinners are getting into the kingdom?

27 September 2017

The Yeast in Dough story.

How much dough do you imagine this was? Think bigger.

Matthew 13.33 • Luke 13.20-21

Jesus gave this parable right after the Mustard Seed story in both Matthew and Luke. It’s hardly a long story.

Matthew 13.33 KWL
Jesus told them another parable: “Heaven’s kingdom is like yeast.
A woman who had it, mixed it into three tubs of dough [80 pounds] till it leavened it all.”
Luke 13.20-21 KWL
20 Jesus said again, “What’s God’s kingdom like? 21 It’s like yeast.
A woman who had it, mixed it into three tubs of dough [80 pounds] till it leavened it all.”

But it greatly resembles the Mustard Seed story. That’s about how God’s kingdom is like a tiny seed which became an impossibly giant tree. In this story, the kingdom’s like yeast which a woman mixed into an impossibly large amount of dough. Three tubs’ worth.

I used our word tub to translate Matthew and Luke’s word sáta, because your typical bible translates it with the generic word “measures,” and who knows how big a measure is? The NASB went with “pecks,” which is a little more accurate, but still an archaic term of measurement.

All right: Sáta is Greek for seá (NIV “seah”), which is a third of an efá (KJV “ephah”). No, that doesn’t clear things up any, but this will: A seá holds about 12 liters. And since westerners tend to measure dough by weight, this means about 12 kilos or 26 pounds. The woman in this story is mixing three seás: About 36 kilos or 80 pounds. The NIV estimates 60 pounds, Mt 13.33 NIV but that’s based on the weight of flour, not dough. Dough’s heavier.

I used to work in a kitchen which had an industrial-size mixer for when we’d make lots of baked goods. I think we could fit a seá’s worth of dough into it; might be pushing it. Yet Jesus described a woman mixing three. Back in his day, that’d obviously be by hand. Maybe with a really large spoon; whenever I’ve had to mix a barrel’s worth of stuff by hand, I used an oar. It’s not light work.

This kinda begs the question: Why would this woman be mixing 80 pounds of dough? The way they made bread in the middle east, that’d make maybe 250 loaves. Enough for 100 people.

But like I said, these two parables are about impossibly large amounts. And Jesus is right about how yeast works: Given enough time, yeast will work its way into every last milliliter of that dough.

And again, the kingdom’s like that. Little bit of gospel spreads everywhere.

26 September 2017

Hyperbole. So I don’t have to explain it a billion times.

You saw what I did there, right?

Hyperbole /haɪ'pər.bə.li/ n. Deliberate exaggeration: A claim not meant to be taken literally.
[Hyperbolic /haɪ.pər'bɑl.ək/ adj.]

You may not be so familiar with this word, but you’ve seen examples of it all your life. And that’s not hyperbole.

Humans use hyperbolic language to get attention. You might not think much of the statement, “I had to clean a lot of dishes.” You pay a little more attention to, “I had to clean a truckload of dishes.” The exaggerated image gets attention. May even inspire a mental image of a literal truckload of dishes. May even strike us as funny, horrifying, sad, irritating; like most acts of creativity, it runs the risk of pushing the wrong buttons.

Of course some hyperboles are so overused, they get no reaction anymore. They’ve become clichés. “I worked my fingers to the bone” probably horrified someone the first time they heard it—“No, really? Ewww”—but nobody bothers to flinch at it anymore. Not even if people claim, “I literally worked my fingers to the bone.” Usually no they didn’t.

Humans have always used hyperbolic language. Nope, that’s not a hyperbole either: We really have. We find it in every culture. We find it in the bible. Even God used it.

Amos 2.9 KWL
“I destroyed the Amorite before their very eyes,
whose height was like that of cedars, strong like oaks.
I destroyed their fruit above, and root below.”

So, do you imagine the Amorites were literally as tall as cedar trees? After all, God said so. And surely God doesn’t lie

See, that’s the problem with hyperbole and biblical interpretation. Too many people take the scriptures literally. They figure if God’s word is nothing but truth, Jn 17.17 the scriptures oughta be absolutely valid in every instance, and contain no exaggerations whatsoever. ’Cause liars exaggerate, but God’s no liar. Tt 1.2 And if these two ideas (“liars exaggerate” and “God’s no liar”) are equivalent, it logically follows God doesn’t exaggerate. Ever.

Neither does Jesus.

Luke 14.26 KWL
“If anyone comes to me yet won’t ‘hate’ their father, mother, woman, children, brothers, and sisters,
or even their own soul, they can’t be my student.”

See, I put “hate” in quotes, ’cause Jesus doesn’t literally mean hate; middle easterners used that word when they spoke about things which took lower priority. Top priority was “loved.” Lower priorities might’ve also been loved, but in comparison to that top priority, they weren’t loved as much; so “hated.”

This is one of those examples, like “working my fingers to the bone,” where the exaggeration is such a cliché, middle easterners thought nothing of it. Problem is, our culture doesn’t. To literalists—particularly members of cults—this means they’re to cut themselves off from their families entirely. Divorce spouses, abandon children, have nothing more to do with anyone from their past. Don’t honor parents; Ex 20.12 hate them. In so doing, the cult can gain greater control over their followers.

This is why I had to add quotes. The NLT went with, “You must hate everyone else by comparison.” Lk 14.26 NLT That works too.

25 September 2017

The Mustard Seed story.

Lots of weird botany involved in this story.

Mark 4.30-32 • Matthew 13.31-32 • Luke 13.18-19

Another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. In Mark he told this one right the Independent Fruit. In Matthew it’s in between the Wheat and Weeds and its interpretation, Mt 13.24-30, 36-43 and in Luke it’s after Jesus cured a bent-over woman. Lk 13.10-17

Uniquely (in two gospels, anyway) he starts it by especially pointing out it’s a hypothetical comparison to God’s kingdom.

Mark 4.30 KWL
Jesus said, “How might we compare God’s kingdom?
Or with what parable might we set it?”
Luke 13.18 KWL
So Jesus said, “What’s like God’s kingdom? What can it be compared with?”

Just in case you weren't yet clear he’s being parabolic. After all, there are certain literalists who struggle with the concept. Particularly in this story. I’ll get to them.

So, what’ll we compare the kingdom with today? How about a mustard seed? Various preachers, and maybe a Jesus movie or two, like to imagine Jesus holding up one such seed—as if any of his students could actually see the tiny thing between his fingers. This, Jesus said, is like the kingdom:

Mark 4.31-32 KWL
31 “Like a mustard seed?—which, when sown in the earth,
is smaller than all the seeds in the earth.
32 When it’s sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all the greens.
It makes great branches, so wild birds could live under its shadow.”
Matthew 13.31-32 KWL
31 Jesus set another parable before them, telling them, “Heaven’s kingdom is like a mustard seed,
which a person takes, sows in their field—
32 which is smaller than all seeds, yet can grow to be largest of the greens.
It becomes a tree, so wild birds are coming and living in its shadow.”
Luke 13.19 KWL
“It’s like a mustard seed, which a person takes and throws in their garden.
It grew and became a tree, and wild birds settled in its branches.”

Memorable story, right? Tiny little seed becomes a great big tree. God’s kingdom is like that. Didn’t start from much, and now a third of the world claim allegiance to Jesus. Still doesn’t start from much—when an evangelist comes into a community and starts sharing Jesus, it begins with one or two people or families, and before we know it there’s a huge church, and everyone’s flocking to it like wild birds.

That’s the rather obvious interpretation of this parable. That’s the consensus of what Christians have been teaching for millennia. Small beginning, big finish.

So what’s the problem? Well, Jesus wasn’t giving a botany lesson; he was using a parable to teach on the kingdom. But Christians, particularly literalists, keep getting hung up on the botany.

21 September 2017

Modalism: The illusion of three persons in one God.

On those who believe God is sometimes Holy Spirit, and sometimes Jesus.

Modalist /'mod.əl.ɪst/ adj. Believes God has multiple personas, approaches, functions, or aspects of his nature—which other Christians confuse with trinity.
[Modalism /'mod.əl.ɪz.əm/ n.]

When Christians don’t believe God’s a trinity, either they fully embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus isn’t God, or they kinda embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus is God… but God still isn’t three. He’s one. But he looks three, from our limited human point of view.

Why’s he look three? Time travel.

No, seriously. Time travel. I know; time travel hasn’t been scientifically documented. It’s still just theory. But we’re all familiar with science fiction, so we have a general idea of how it works.

If you don’t: Imagine a man, whom we’ll call Doc Brown. (I know; real original of me.) Brown has a time machine. He hops into it and travels 30 years into the past. There, he encounters himself from 30 years ago—the younger version of Doc Brown. If you were to stand there and observe this, it looks like there are two Doc Browns, interacting with one another. In fact they’re both the same guy: Brown got his personal timeline to loop around, and one segment of it overlaps another segment of it.

Well, says the modalist, this is kinda what God does. God exists outside of spacetime, which they’ll call “eternity.” This was a theory St. Augustine of Hippo originally pitched—and it’s bogus, ’cause it violates the idea God’s omnipresent. But a lot of Christians buy the whole outside-spacetime idea, ’cause they grew up hearing it, and it sounds clever and intelligent, and repeating it makes them sound clever and intelligent. Anyway, bear with me, ’cause modalists kinda need it to be true. It’s the basis of their theory.

Okay. So in this “eternity,” time’s a zero-dimensional point. There’s no past nor present nor future. It’s all now—all an eternal present instant to whoever’s in there. God lives in there; it’s where heaven’s located. (Somehow there’s music, which is entirely based on time, in heaven regardless. Sorry; had to digress to point out the logical inconsistency. Back to it.)

God decided to step outside this zero-dimensional point, enter our one-dimensional timeline, and become human. This’d be Jesus. But when Jesus (and we) look back at “eternity”… it’s not vacant. Because God’s still in there. He’s always in there. There’s no timeline, and no stretch in this timeline where God stepped out of it. It’s a zero-dimensional point, remember?

It’s like Doc Brown and his overlapping timelines. Looks like God’s in two places at once, but that’s an illusion, based on our lack of understanding about “eternity.” That is, unless we’re clever enough to figure it out—and modalists figure they’re just that clever.

Anyway, that’s why Jesus always had a Father to pray to: The Father was still, and is always still, back in “eternity.” But there never were two persons; just one person with a bendy timeline.

Same deal with the Holy Spirit: Whenever God steps out of “eternity” in the present day to do stuff—and doesn’t do it in Jesus’s human body—that’d be the Holy Spirit. And sometimes the Spirit overlapped Jesus’s timeline. But God wasn’t really in three places at once; it only looks it.

So this time-travel explanation is the most common way I’ve heard modalists explain the trinity. I don’t know who invented it, but it’s pretty clever. It’s rubbish, but it’s clever rubbish.

20 September 2017

The immature prophet.

The dangers of someone who can hear the Holy Spirit, but lacks his fruit.

Every Christian can hear God. This being the case, every Christian can share God’s messages with others: They can prophesy. They can be prophets. That’s why the Holy Spirit was given to us Christians in the first place: So we can hear God, and so we can share God. Ac 2.17-18 Now, whether every Christian hears God accurately, and prophesies accurately, is a whole other deal.

See, Christians are at all different levels of maturity. Some of us call it “spiritual maturity,” but there’s no practical difference between intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturity: No matter what kind of immaturity we’re talking about, immature people are gonna do something dumb, because they don’t know any better. An immature human is always gonna be an immature Christian. We need to recognize this, and not move ’em into any positions of responsibility before they’re ready. 1Ti 3.6 And since I’m writing on prophecy today, obviously this includes letting people speak on God’s behalf. New prophets need supervision!

To the new believer, every voice in their head sounds exactly the same. Unless they’ve been supernaturally gifted (and don’t just take their word for it; what do they know?) they don’t yet know how to discern spirits. They can’t tell the difference between God’s voice, some other spirit’s voice, and their own. They all sound alike to them. You know the devil’s gonna take advantage of this.

Some of ’em never do learn the difference. Cessationists, fr’instance, assume every voice in their head is their own. Any clever idea which is actually a God-idea: They’re just gonna assume it’s their clever idea. Or assume it’s so out-of-character, it must be their crazy idea—and never share it, never obey it, don’t grow, and don’t grow others.

On the other extreme, we’ve got those Christians who for the rest of their life presume their own voice is God’s. And whattaya know: He shares all their wants, desires, and opinions! Some of ’em even proclaim these things as if they’re from God; they’re totally convinced they do speak for God… and it turns out they’ve been false prophets all along. You might remember Ahab’s prophet Chidqiyyá ben Khenana in the bible; I suspect he’s one of those guys who convinced himself he heard God, and of course he totally didn’t. 1Ki 22.24 Such people pass as authentic prophets ’cause they sound so certain—and know their bible well enough to be right more often than not. But they’re fake ’cause they’re sharing their voice. Not God’s.

The rest—the actual prophets, who actually hear God—tend to bollix their own prophecies for one rather obvious reason: They don’t yet have good fruit. They’re new, remember? They’ll grow fruit eventually. But because they’re still deficient in love, kindness, patience, grace, and gentleness, they’re not yet ready to speak for God. Because—

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 KWL
1 When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging cymbal.
2 When I have a prophecy—“I knew the whole mystery! I know everything!”—
when I have all the faith necessary to move mountains:
When I have no love, I’m nobody.
3 Might I give away everything I possess?
Perhaps submit my body so I could be praised for my sacrifice?
When I have no love, I benefit nobody.

—they’re noise. They’re nobody. They benefit nobody. They will, someday. Just not just yet.

Let me reiterate these immature Christians do actually hear God. I’m not at all saying they don’t. Nor am I saying they’re frauds, nor malicious, nor bad Christians. But because they’re fruitless, they’re functionally just as error-plagued and destructive as any false prophet. So I warn you about ’em now. Watch out for them. Don’t become one of them.

19 September 2017

Submission. It’s not domination.

It has two definitions, and evil people are promoting the wrong one.

Submit /səb'mɪt/ v. Yield to or accept a superior force, authority, or will. Consent to their conditions.
2. Present one’s will to another for their consideration or judgment.
[Submission /səb'mɪs.ʃən/ n.]

Notice there are two popular definitions of submit in use. The more popular of the two has to do with acceptance, obedience, and blind capitulation. To turn off our brains, do as we’re told. And most sermons instruct Christians to do precisely that. Submit to one another, as Paul ordered.

Ephesians 5.21 NIV
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

’Cause we kinda have to. If we can’t submit to God—if we insist on our own way, our own standards, our own values, our own lifestyles—it’s a pretty good bet we’re outside his kingdom.

Romans 8.5-8 KWL
5 Carnal people think carnal things. Spirit-led people, Spirit-led things.
6 A flesh-led mind produces death. A Spirit-led mind, life and peace.
7 For a flesh-led mind is God’s enemy. It doesn’t submit to God’s law. It can’t.
8 Those who live by flesh can’t please God.

So we especially submit to God. Jm 4.7 And to Christian leaders; 1Pe 5.5 we follow the doctrines they proclaim from the pulpit. And wives, submit to your husbands. Ep 5.22 When he says “Jump,” you ask “How high?”

Then there’s the other definition of submit: The one where it’s not typical of a relationship between a benevolent (or not-so-benevolent) despot and their subjects, but between partners, friends, or coworkers. One where we instead bounce ideas off one another. Find out whether they help or inconvenience one another—and of course try to help as best we can.

One which sounds appropriate for a paráklitos/“helper” Jn 14.16, 14.26, 15.26, 16.7 and the people he’s trying to help. For a teacher and his pupils. For a loving God and his kids.

So… which definition d’you think fits what the authors of the scriptures were talking about?

Oh, the benevolent despot thingy? Well it does work for cult leaders and wannabe patriarchs. But in God’s kingdom, where the king calls us his friends, Jn 15.15 where love doesn’t demand its own way, 1Co 13.5 it’s pretty obvious that definition is entirely incorrect. In many ways it’s kinda the opposite of God’s intent. Almost as if the devil got Christians to flip it 180 degrees, n’est-ce pas?

18 September 2017

Praying when we suck at prayer.

Hey, we’re not all experts.

Years ago I was reading Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, a useful book on prayer. In it he described the most basic, elementary form of prayer he could think of, which he calls Simple Prayer. Basically it’s just talking with God, which is all prayer really is.

But I believe there’s a form of prayer even more elementary than Simple Prayer: It’s what I call the I-Suck-At-Prayer prayer. It’s the prayer every new Christian prays. The prayer every pagan prays when they’re first giving prayer a test drive. The prayer even longtime Christians stammer when we’re asked to pray aloud, and suddenly we feel we’ve gotta perform… but not overtly. Christians might pray every day and rather often, yet we’ll still pray the I-Suck-At-Prayer Prayer from time to time.

It’s based on discomfort. It’s when we realize we need to pray in a manner we’re not used to. Maybe somebody else has been leading our prayers. Maybe we’ve been praying too many rote prayers—it’s easier to use the prayer book, or the pre-written prayers in our favorite devotional, and just got out of the habit of extemporaneous prayer—praying without a script, talking to God just like we’d talk to anyone. Some of us feel incapable of it, so we never do pray like that.

So we stammer. Stumble. Suffer stage fright. And our prayers become big ol’ apologies to God for how poorly we’re doing. “Forgive my hesitation; I need to pray more often.”

Foster described Simple Prayer as the starting point of prayer. But plenty of people don’t even make it to the starting block. We get too hung up on “I suck at prayer,” too busy apologizing for our inability to express ourselves, too busy flogging ourselves for not praying “properly.”

I put “properly” in quotes ’cause we Christians often have a screwy idea of what’s proper in prayer, and get way too hard on ourselves because we don’t meet our own unrealistic expectations. Usually we’ve picked up these ideas from “prayer warriors” who make their showy public prayers sound impressive—and people assume their prayers oughta sound like that.

Hence we wind up with Christians who…

As I’ve said, prayer is talking with God. Nothing more than that. If we can talk with our family members, we can definitely talk with God. (If you struggle to talk with them, or they’re distant instead of gracious, I get why God might be a problem.) We don’t have to sound formal. We don’t have to speak in bible language. We don’t even have to be articulate—though we should make an effort, ’cause we are trying to communicate after all. We just gotta go find some privacy, open our mouths, and talk with God.

15 September 2017

The wealthy, their crimes, and their coming judgment.

On the misdeeds of the wealthy in James’s day.

James 5.1-8.

This next bit of James was directed to the specific people of James’s day.

Problem is, not every Christian has understood this. You know how we humans are; we wanna make everything about us. So we’ve looked at this passage and tried to figure out how it applies to us and the people of our day. Especially the people of our day, since rebuke and judgment are involved: We definitely want those bits to apply to other people.

Since James dropped a reference or two to Jesus’s second coming—an event which’ll take place at any time, a belief Christians have held since the beginning, and even Jesus’s first apostles watched out for it, as Jesus instructed—historically we’ve interpreted this bit as an End Times reference. It’s not really. In the New Testament, “the last days” doesn’t refer to the End Times, but the Christian Era. Ac 2.17, He 1.2 The “first days” were before Christ; the “last days” are after God’s kingdom has come near. As historians call ’em, BC and CE. And in these last days, we’re to live like the kingdom’s arrived—not like it hasn’t, and never will.

So when James rebuked the people of his church for living the same old lifestyle during “the last days,” he meant they weren’t acting as King Jesus’s followers should. Whether today or during the End Times. That should be our takeaway as well: If you’re wealthy, do try not to behave like these people.

And do try not to read this passage through your End Times filter. Read it for what it says.

James 5.1-8 KWL
1 Come now, wealthy Christians: Lament loudly about the sufferings which you’re going through.
2 Your wealth has decayed. Your clothes became moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver have tarnished. Their poison will be your testimony:
It’ll eat your flesh like fire. You stockpiled for the last days.
4 Look at the wages of the workers who reap your fields—withheld by you, so they cry out.
The reapers’ roar has entered the ear of the Lord of War.
5 You all lived comfortably, luxuriously, on the earth. You fed your hearts on the day of slaughter.
6 You all condemned, murdered the Righteous One, who doesn’t resist you.
7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.
Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,
patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.
8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:
The Master’s second coming has come near.

Okay. In James’s day, the wealthy Christians in his community were suffering. In part because their wealth had come to nothing. And more suffering was coming—because they’d ethisavrísate/“accumulated wealth” (KJV “laid up treasure”) instead of doing what they were supposed to be doing with it: They weren’t paying their employees.

Some people use this verse to knock the rich in general; to promote a little class welfare. This isn’t about all the wealthy; it’s not James knocking the rich for being rich. James got on their case because their workers were suffering, and crying out to God. So this is a prophecy from James, who’d been told by the Holy Spirit why the wealthy in his church were losing their money: God was judging them for their evil.

Yes, evil. It’s against God’s Law to not pay your employees. In fact the Law stipulates we have to pay ’em the same day they worked. None of this saving up till payday, like we do nowadays.

Deuteronomy 24.14-15 KWL
14 Don’t tyrannize needy and poor employees,
whether relatives, or foreigners who live in your land or within your gates.
15 Give their wages that day. Don’t let the sun come down on them first.
For they’re poor. They carry their soul in their hands.
Don’t let them call the LORD about you, and let it be sin upon you.

The unpaid reapers Jm 5.4 had told God on their bosses. This triggered Kyríu Savaóth—which is a half-translation, half-transliteration of YHWH Chevaót/“the LORD of Armies” (KJV “LORD of hosts”), our God when he’s about to do battle. These people’s ruin was God’s judgment on their misdeeds.

In that day. Not in the End Times. God isn’t always gonna wait till the End to open up a can of whup-ass. The cycle of history happens over and over again for this very reason.

Hence if the wealthy exploit the poor in this generation, there’s every chance God may take away their wealth again. It may not be the End Times… but it’ll definitely feel like the End Times for these people.

14 September 2017

Arianism: One God—and Jesus isn’t quite him.

On Christians who think Jesus is a lesser god.

Arian /'ɛr.i.ən/ adj. Believes God is one being, one person, not three; and that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are created beings and lesser gods.
[Arianism /'ɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm/ n.]

So I’ve been writing on unitarian beliefs—namely that there’s one God, but contrary to how he’s been revealed in the New Testament, these folks insist God’s not a trinity. Now, pagans and other monotheists don’t bother with the New Testament, so of course they don’t believe in trinity. But Christians do have the NT—yet some of us still don’t believe in trinity. We’d call these folks heretics, and of course they’d call us heretics, and round and round we go.

The first major anti-trinity heresy Christians came across is Arianism—a word pronounced the same, but not the same, as the white-supremacist view Aryanism. It’s named for Áreios of Alexandria (c. 250-336), a Christian elder—or in Roman Catholic thinking, a priest. In Latin he’d be Arius. It’s based on Áreios’s insistence Jesus isn’t God, but a lesser god. Therefore God’s not a trinity.

You gotta understand where Áreios was coming from. When you read the gospels, Jesus is clearly a different person than his Father. His Father is God, Jn 8.54 and if you don’t believe, or can’t or won’t believe, God consists of more than one person, you’re gonna come to the conclusion Jesus isn’t the Father, ergo Jesus isn’t God.

Yeah, there are verses which bluntly state Jesus is God. Jn 1.1 What’d Áreios do with them? Simple: He allowed that Jesus must be a god. But not the God.

You gotta also understand where Áreios came from. Third-century Egypt was predominantly pagan and polytheist. They believed in Egyptian gods, Greek gods, Roman gods, and any other gods which sounded worth their time. Christianity, in contrast, is monotheistic: One God, and all the other gods are demons. The idea of trinity, or of Jesus being God like the Father is God, rubbed Áreios the wrong way. To him it sounded way too much like weird gnostic polytheism. But two gods?—he could live with two gods.

Áreios was hardly the first to believe this. But he was the first to successfully spread the idea around. Largely through the use of catchy worship songs which taught his theology. Here’s a bit from his song “Thalia,” quoted by then-deacon (and Áreios’s chief critic) Athanásios of Alexandria. De Synodis 15. My translation:

The First One made the Son—the first thing he created.
He made the Son himself, giving birth to him.
Who doesn’t have any of God’s being nor uniqueness,
For he’s not the same. He’s not the same stuff as him.

The lyrics don’t sound all that catchy to me, but the music must’ve been way better.

Hence for a while there in the early 300s, Arianism was rapidly becoming the main form of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Even the emperor, Flavius Constantinus, had become Arian.

And if you think Arianism died out in the 300s, are you dead wrong.