TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

30 June 2017

Jesus is Yahweh. Yahweh is Jesus.

If you know Jesus, you know God.

That’s gonna be a startling title for a lot of people. Needs to be said, just as bluntly: Jesus is YHWH, the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.

Yeah he’s the son of God. Jn 8.54 Not saying he isn’t. But we also recognize Jesus is God incarnate, the word of God who’s with and is God, Jn 1.1 who didn’t figure his divinity meant he couldn’t also take on humanity.

Philippians 2.6-8 KWL
6 Existing in God’s form,
he figured being the same as God wasn’t something to clutch,
7 but poured himself into a slave’s form:
He took on a human likeness.
8 He was born; he was found human in every way.
Being obedient, he humbled himself to death: Death by crucifixion.

John continues:

John 1.14-18 KWL
14 The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.
We got a good look at his significance—
the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.
15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first.”
16 All of us received things out of his fullness. Grace after grace:
17 The Law which Moses gave; the grace and truth which Christ Jesus became.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.

(Yes, the KJV has for verse 18 “the only begotten Son.” That’s not what we find in the earliest copies of John; some later copier must’ve been weirded out by the idea of an only-begotten God, and changed it ’cause it sounds like God got created. But begotten doesn’t mean created. Anyway, I digress.)

Hence Jesus, who is God, knows precisely what God’s like. He was sent from God to explain God to us, as God’s revelation of himself. What we know about God must be filtered through Jesus. Like John said, only Jesus explains God. ’Cause he’s God.

29 June 2017

Christian jerks.

We’re meant to be kind, but these folks aren’t striving for that.

She. “Ugh, religious people are the worst.”
Me. “Hey. I’m a religious person. How am I ‘the worst’?”
She. “Oh, you’re not that religous.”
Me. “I beg to differ. I’m extremely religious. If I weren’t, I’d be even more of a jerk. Now explain how I’m ‘the worst’.”

The gist of my pagan friend’s complaint was how Christians are bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental—although she tried to make it very clear she didn’t include me.

Which is a fair comment. Plenty of us Christians are totally bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental. I certainly used to be. I try not to be; I’m trying to overcome all that fleshly behavior. I’d like to think I’m succeeding more often than not, which is why I could object to my friend: “How am I ‘the worst’?” The fact she agreed I’m an exception means I must be succeeding, sorta. Yea me.

And plenty of my fellow Christians also try to overcome such fleshly behavior. Like I said, it’s ’cause we’re religious. We’re trying to do the good works God laid out for us. Ep 2.10 Trying to love our neighbors. Lv 19.18 Trying to be kind.

So it’s not “religious people” who are the problem. It’s irreligious people, who are using Christianity as an excuse to be jerks. It’s unkind people, practicing Christianism.

“So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” she half-seriously said.

Kinda. Some of ’em do have an actual saving relationship with Christ Jesus, so they are Christians too. Some of ’em don’t: Their utter lack of fruit means their Christianity is dead faith.

In both cases—unlike our Lord, who came to save the world instead of condemn it Jn 3.17 —they figure their first duty is to angrily denounce everything in the world which rubs ’em the wrong way. Loudly, just in case anyone didn’t hear ’em, or doubts their authority and sincerity. Since God is anti-sin, they figure they must be just as anti-sin. Problem is, God is kind. They’re most definitely not.

And when we’re trying to share Jesus with people, they’re the ones making our job all the harder.

And when I call ’em out on their bad behavior, they turn on me. ’Cause they’re convinced I should be on their side, joining their campaign, taking up the anti-sin banner… and hammer. If I don’t, “he who’s not for us is against us,” Lk 11.23 so I must’ve compromised the faith, and joined the devil’s side.

Besides, I preach a Christ they’re wholly unfamiliar with. He’s too kind, forgiving, gracious, and compassionate. Probably doesn’t want anybody to go to hell. 2Pe 3.9 Way too compromising for them.

…Yeah, there’s a really good case to be made for the idea they’re not real Christians. But then again, Christ Jesus is forgiving and gracious. Even to them.

28 June 2017

The prayer of Jabez.

Why it’s not quite how popular Christianity imagines it.

Back in 2000 Bruce Wilkinson wrote a tiny little book called The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. It sold like hotcakes ’cause it was inexpensive and brief—perfect for Christians with ferret-like attention spans. It contained a single sermon’s worth of material about an obscure ancient Hebrew by name of Yahebéch/“Jabez.”

Here ya go: Every last thing the bible has on Jabez. It’s not much.

1 Chronicles 4.9-10 KWL
9 Jabez was heavier than his brothers.
His mother called his name pain/Jabez to declare, “I birthed him in pain.”
10 Jabez called on Israel’s god to say, “If you bless anyone, you bless me!
You made my borders lengthy. Your hand’s with me. You’ve kept me from evil, lest it pain me.”
God went along with whatever he asked.

True, that’s not how people popularly translate it. First of all, they tend to translate nikhbód/“was heavier” as “was more honorable” (KJV) —possibly to match the Septuagint’s translation éndoxos/“glorious.” I’ve heard so many preachers say, “His mother birthed him in so much pain, she even named him after the pain. But we don’t know any more of the backstory than that.” Y’know, Jabez being a 12-pound infant would totally explain everything.

Likewise other translations take im-barékh/“if [you’re] blessing” (or “unless you bless,” Ge 32.26), and turn it into a wish, “If [only you’d] bless…” like the Septuagint’s Eán evlogón evloghísis me/“When you bless, you should bless me.” The whole passage becomes a prayer request, like the NIV puts it:

1 Chronicles 4.10 NIV
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

After all, if God granted his request, it’s gotta be a request.

It’s not. It’s thanksgiving. God had blessed this little fat kid and grown him into a successful, influential person. His name meant pain, but God kept him from pain. He stretched out his mom; now God stretched out his territory. (Okay, I admit that last comparison’s a little icky. But you won’t soon forget it.)

So while the people snapping up The Prayer of Jabez read it and assume God granted him all this stuff because he dared to pray big things, the rest of us can realistically understand this prayer ain’t a formula. Jabez praised God after the fact, not before. He remembered where his success really came from. Something many a materially successful Christian doesn’t always consider.

27 June 2017

Jesus’s family: No, he didn’t disown them.

You seriously think Jesus would disown his mom?

Mark 3.20-21, 31-35 • Matthew 12.46-50 • Luke 8.19-21

Today’s story refers to Jesus, his mom, and his adelfoí/“siblings” (KJV “brethren”). And we start talking about Jesus’s sibs, we wander into a bit of controversy.

Y’see Jesus’s mom, Mary, was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus. Lk 1.34-37, Mt 1.18-25 Hard to believe for some, but impossible things are no problem for God. But certain Christians consider virginity so vital to Mary’s identity, they insist she remained a virgin her whole life. Never mind the fact that in her culture, she and her husband Joseph wouldn’t be considered married unless they “knew” one another physically—and the scripture implies they did. Mt 1.25 Never mind sex was God’s idea, and good, ’cause God wants humans to be fruitful and multiply. Ge 1.28 They’re pretty sure it’s not all that good; that if you wanna remain spiritually pure you gotta abstain; so Mary perpetually abstained.

Even though Jesus had siblings. Mk 6.3

But they explain away the siblings pretty simply. Either these are step-siblings, ’cause Jesus’s adoptive dad Joseph had a previous wife, and these are his kids from that marriage; or cousins, ’cause they insist adelfoí can also mean “cousins.”

(Well, now Greek dictionaries say adelfoí can mean cousins. But in the first century, before Christians came up with the “actually they were cousins” theory, Greek-speakers used other words, like synghenís/“relative,” anepsiós/“[parent’s] nephew.” The redefinition became popular in the second century and thereafter.)

Okay. I grew up Protestant, and we have no problem with the idea Mary gave birth to children after Jesus. It seems to be the simplest interpretation of the text. But I’m also aware loads of Christians believe otherwise… and I don’t see any pressing reason to demand they believe as I do. If they wanna insist Mary had no biological kids besides Jesus, fine; she adopted them.

’Cause where we should agree is these “siblings” are Jesus’s legal siblings. Just as Joseph isn’t Jesus’s biological dad, but absolutely his legal dad. Adoption counts. Regardless of how these kids were begotten, they were Jesus’s legal siblings. Period.

This is the first we see of Jesus’s family in Mark, and what we see is they worry Jesus lost his mind.

Mark 3.20-21 KWL
20 Jesus went into a house, and the crowd came together again,
thus hindering him and stopping him from eating bread.
21 Hearing of this, his own family came to take control of him,
for they said he was overwhelmed.
Matthew 12.46 KWL
While speaking to the crowds again, look:
Jesus’s mother and siblings stood outside, seeking to speak to him.
Luke 8.19 KWL
Jesus’s mother and siblings came to him, and couldn’t reach him because of the crowd.

This is the first half of the story; Mark splits it here and inserts a story in the middle about “Beelzebub,” as it’s called. Get to that later. Today I’m putting the parts together and discussing ’em.

26 June 2017

Why friends and family don’t read my blog.

Or just plain won’t.

They don’t, y’know. I can tell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 June 2017

False teachers and agitated students.

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

James 3.13-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 June 2017

The uncontrollable tongue.

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

James 3.3-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 June 2017

Wanna teach? Get ready for criticism.

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

James 3.1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 June 2017

Can’t divorce works from faith.

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

James 2.20-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 June 2017

Unproven, uncomfortable, devilish faith.

Some Christians believe in God exactly like the demons do.

James 2.18-19.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All right, back to the demons.

16 June 2017

Favor, grace, same thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 June 2017

The first 12 apostles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namely the very same things Jesus did.

14 June 2017

An irreligious religion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my experience, no.

13 June 2017

God’s will in heaven and on earth.

Praying God’s will be done in heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 June 2017

Christians, Islamophobia, and “Who Is Allah?”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09 June 2017

Demons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08 June 2017

Jesus doesn’t teach like scribes.

A new authority. One that really bugged ’em.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07 June 2017

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

Adultery has a whole different definition in the Old Testament.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06 June 2017

Punishing ourselves. (Don’t!)

Stop it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 June 2017

Evangelicals, climate change, and creation care.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02 June 2017

Pentecost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 June 2017

When pagans die.

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

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

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

But it’s not pagans’ hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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