TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

31 March 2017

Get hold, and get rid, of your anger.

’Cause “righteous anger” doesn’t actually come from God.

James 1.19-21

God is stable. Jm 1.16-18 He’s not prone to wild mood swings, nor does he have some secret evil plan where he tricks us into sin Jm 1.12-15 as an excuse to smite us—which he conceals beneath a veneer of goodness. God’s no hypocrite.

And, as is appropriate for God’s followers, we shouldn’t be that way either. Ordinarily humans are creatures of extremes. Our emotions tend to be wild, crazy, out of control… or totally repressed. If we’re the overemotional sort, we point to the emotionless sort as totally wrong, and vice-versa. The repressed person objects to emotions as wildly inappropriate, and emotional people as possible candidates for heavy medication. The out-of-control person objects to emotionless people as unhealthy and stunted, and at some point they’re gonna snap and need some of that heavy medication themselves.

But the fruit of the Spirit is prahýtis/“gentility,” or gentleness—the ability to keep control over our emotions. A Spirit-following Christian doesn’t fly off the handle at every little thing, in wrath and fury. Nor do we feel nothing… including love, joy, and compassion. The Spirit helps us keep a grip on our feelings.

But of course, Christians pretend our rage is righteous anger, or even that it’s all God’s idea. We even try to make it sound like fruit. James objected to the idea in this passage:

James 1.19-21 KWL
19 Know this, my beloved fellow Christians: Be quick to listen, everybody. Slow to speak, slow to anger.
20 Men’s anger doesn’t empower God’s rightness.
21 So gently get rid of every filthy thing, every evil advantage.
Pick up the message which is implanted with the power to save your souls.

30 March 2017

God’s existence. In case you don’t consider it a given.

When apologists try to make God appear in a puff of logic.

Properly speaking, God’s existence isn’t a theology subject. It’s an apologetics subject. Theology is the study of God, and it takes God’s existence for granted: Of course he exists. Duh. Otherwise we wouldn’t waste our time.

But for the sake of apologists, a lot of theology textbooks start with an obligatory chapter on God’s existence. The better-written books point out the scriptures take God’s existence for granted: Genesis starts with “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” Ge 1.1 KJV with no preliminary explanation: “See, a ‘god’ is an almighty cosmic being, and here’s how we know only one of ’em exists…” God’s just there, calling worlds into being.

The better-written books also point how we know there’s a God: Special revelation. God talks to people, and performs the occasional miracle, so we know from personal experience he’s around. He may be invisible, but his presence among believing Christians is so blatantly obvious, we don’t have to deduce him from nature or logic. In fact, if we have to resort to logical deduction to prove there’s such a being God, we need to seriously question our obedience, devotion, trust, and belief systems. ’Cause if God’s not living and active in our lives, ain’t his fault. We’re the ones who suck as Christians.

So why do apologists persist on using logical deduction to prove God’s existence? Well… they’ve been convinced they really oughta learn how to. By whom? By the sucky Christians I just described. Those folks lack personal God-experiences, or even believe we’re no longer meant to have such experiences, and have replaced obedient devotion with cheap grace and belief systems which justify an inactive, absent God. Really, logical deduction is all they have left.

I still find it bonkers when I meet someone who claims to hear from God, yet when they encounter skeptics, for some boneheaded reason they resort to apologetic arguments instead of, say, words of knowledge.

John 1.47-51 KWL
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said about him, “Look!
An Israeli who’s truly without trickery!” 48 Nathanael told him, “How do you know me?”
In reply Jesus told him, “Before Philip went to call you, I saw you standing under the fig tree.”
49 Nathanael told him, “Rabbi, you’re God’s son. You’re Israel’s king.”
50 In reply Jesus told him, “Since I told you I saw you beneath the fig tree, you believe me?
Oh, you’ll see greater than that.”
51 Jesus told him, “Amen amen! I promise you all, you’ll see the skies have opened,
and God’s angels are coming and going before the Son of Man.”

Didn’t take Jesus three hours in a coffeehouse to at least convince Nathanael he was somebody knowledgeable. Just took two statements which peered directly into Nathanael’s soul, and the lad believed. Beat that with a stick.

But I digress. Let’s discuss the usual arguments apologists pitch for the existence of God.

29 March 2017

General revelation: How to (wrongly) deduce God from nature.

Problem is, the details vary widely.

General revelation /'dʒɛn(.ə).rəl rɛv.ə'leɪ.ʃən/ n. The universal, natural knowledge about God and divine matters. (Also called universal revelation, or natural revelation.)
2. What the universe, nature, or the human psyche reveal to us about God.

A number of Christian apologists love, love, LOVE the idea of general revelation. And I always wind up on their bad side, because as a theologian I have to point out it’s a wholly unreliable form of revelation. It’s so useless it actually does pagans more good than Christians.

This, they really don’t wanna hear. Because they’ve pinned so many hopes on it.

Y’see, apologists deal with nontheists, people who don’t believe in God and are pretty sure he’s never interacted with them before. What apologists try to do is prove God has so interacted with them before. If the nontheist can’t remember any such events, the apologist will try to point to nature and claim, “See, that’s a way God interacted with you!” God made a really impressive sunset, or God not-all-that-supernaturally cured ’em of a disease, or God created one of their kids, or they had a warm fuzzy feeling which kinda felt divine.

Or, if we’ve got a more philosophically-minded apologist, they’ll try to argue that certain beliefs in a westerner’s brain can’t really work unless there’s a God-idea somewhere deep in that brain. Absolutes of right and wrong supposedly can’t exist unless there’s an absolute authority like God to define ’em. Or an unfulfilled desire for a higher power has to be based on an actual Higher Power out there somewhere.

Apologists like to regularly tap the idea of general revelation, and bounce from there to the idea of special revelation—that God actually does tell us stuff about himself, and particularly did so through Jesus.

Me, I figure all this general revelation stuff is quicksand. That’s why I like to leapfrog it and get straight to Jesus. Apologists waste way too much time trying to prove God exists by pointing to nature, reasoning, and the human conscience. But while they’re busy unsuccessfully trying to sway a skeptic, we could’ve just prophesied, proving there’s such a thing as special revelation… and now we’re talking about Jesus while the apologist is still trying to explain why intelligent design isn’t merely wishful thinking.

Why is general revelation quicksand? Because we’re looking at creation, trying to deduce God from it. We’ve began with the assumption creation sorta resembles its creator; that it has his fingerprints all over it, so when we know what it’s like, we can sorta figure out what God’s like.

So look at the people God created, and the way we think and reason. Look at the intelligence which had to go into some of the more complex things and beings in the universe. Look at the attention to detail, the intricacy, the mathematical and scientific precision, the way everything all neatly fits together. Tells you all sorts of profound things about the creator, doesn’t it?

Well, actually, no it doesn’t.

28 March 2017

Prayer books: Prayers for every occasion.

Namely the prayer books of certain denominations.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, or watched a wedding on television, y’might’ve noticed when it was an actual member of the clergy officiating the ceremony, she or he was holding a little black book. Assuming the minister wasn’t winging it, or hadn’t downloaded a little something from the internet… or hadn’t, more impressively, committed the ceremony to memory.

Most people assume the book is a bible. When I was a kid, that’s what I assumed too. So I went poking around for the wedding ceremony… and discovered it’s not in there. There are no wedding ceremonies in the bible. Wedding parties, sure; but in bible times you hashed out the marriage and dowry details between the families, and that done, the bridegroom went and got the bride, took her home, and they were considered married. No ceremony necessary. The western marriage ceremony is a pagan invention, which we Christianized, so of course it’s not in the bible.

So what’s this little black book then? Usually a prayer book.

Different denominations have official prayer books. Some don’t; mine doesn’t. So when it comes to baby dedications, baptisms, wedding ceremonies, funerals, and other rituals a pastor’s gonna be less familiar with, we have Minister’s Manuals. It tells ’em what to do and say and pray. Basically it is an official prayer book, ’cause it’s published, and officially recommended by, the denomination. But only pastors (and anybody else who can find a copy on Amazon) get to peek at it.

Back in college I picked up a Book of Common Prayer at a bookstore; that’d be the Episcopal Church’s prayer book, which is an American version of the Church of England’s prayer book. Most of the rote prayers I’d heard all my life were in there. A few weren’t; I’ve since found them in other prayer books. Some worship songs I knew, which had old-timey lyrics, or verses of the psalms which didn’t quite line up with the King James Version: Apparently they were extracted from these prayers. Hey, if your music needs lyrics, why not?

The less formal a church, the less likely they’re gonna tap the prayer books. I grew up in churches where we didn’t even read the call-and-response prayers in our hymnals. (Or, for that matter, the bible.) So I’ve met many a Christian who’s totally unfamiliar with these books, and eye them with a little bit of suspicion: “What’re you trying to slip past me?” I wish they’d likewise apply some of that suspicion to the stuff their churches show ’em on the PowerPoint slides, but that’s another discussion.

For those of you who are familiar with them, or who wanna take a look at them, I’m gonna hook you up with a few.

27 March 2017

Jesus sentenced to death by the Senate.

What Jesus was actually convicted of.

Mark 14.61-64 • Matthew 26.63-66 • Luke 22.67-71

I’m discussing the three synoptic gospels because if you read John, the way it’s worded makes it sorta look like Jesus didn’t even have a trial before the Judean Senate. First Jesus went to the former head priest Annas’s house, Jn 18.13, 19-23 then he went to the current head priest Caiaphas’s house, Jn 18.24, 28 then he went to Pilate’s headquarters Jn 18.28 with the death penalty already in mind. Now, it may have been that in between stops at Caiaphas’s house they went to trial, but John neither says nor suggests so. John was probably written to fill in some blanks in Jesus’s story, but every once in a while like this, it creates whole new blanks.

Anyway, back to the synoptics. My previous piece was about Jesus testifying about himself. Today it’s what Jesus was guilty of, and why they sentenced him to death.

Mark 14.61-64 KWL
61B Again, the head priest questioned him, telling him, “You’re Messiah, the ‘son of the Blessed’?”
62 Jesus said, “I am. You’ll see the Son of Man—
seating himself at the right of God’s power, coming with heaven’s clouds.”
63 Tearing his tunic, the head priest said, “Who still needs to have witnesses?
64 You heard the slander. How’s it look to you?”
Everyone sentenced Jesus guilty, and to be put to death.
Matthew 26.63-66 KWL
63B The head priest told him, “I put you under oath to the living God so you’d tell us:
Are you Messiah, the ‘son of God’?”
64 Jesus said, “As you say, but I tell you: From this moment you’ll see the Son of Man—
seating himself at the right of God’s power, coming with heaven’s clouds.”
65 Then the head priest ripped his robe, saying, “Jesus slandered God.”
Who still needs to have witnesses? Now look! You heard the slander. 66 What do you think?”
In reply they said, “Jesus is guilty and deserves death.”
Luke 22.67-71 KWL
67B They were saying, “If you’re Messiah, tell us.”
Jesus told them, “When I told you, you wouldn’t believe.
68 When I questioned you, you wouldn’t answer.
69 From now on, the Son of Man will be seating himself at the right of God’s power.”
70 Everyone said, “So you’re the ‘son of God’?” Jesus declared, “I’m as you say.”
71 They said, “Why do we still need to have witnesses?—
We heard it ourselves from Jesus’s lips.”

As Mark and Matthew make obvious, Caiaphas was absolutely sure the whole room just heard Jesus commit slander. Mk 14.64, Mt 26.65 Luke only indicates the stuff Jesus said was illegal in some way. Lk 22.71

Problem is, whenever I tell this story to Christians, the idea of what Jesus might’ve done wrong goes right over their heads. They figure, as we do, that Jesus never did anything wrong. Never sinned. 2Co 5.21, He 4.15, 1Pe 2.22, 1Jn 3.5 Therefore any verdict which convicted Jesus of sin was wrong. Which is absolutely right. But they think the wrong verdict wasn’t because the Judeans had misinterpreted the Law, or misunderstood who Jesus was: They think this was a kangaroo court, trying to get Jesus by hook or by crook—by legal trickery, or by breaking the Law themselves. And many a preacher claims exactly that: The priests broke all the Talmud’s rules about how courts were to be held… and never mind the fact the Talmud wouldn’t yet be written for centuries. Really, they’ll accept any evidence this was a sham trial.

But other times it’s because Christians believe the Judean Senate was the old dispensation, and Jesus is the new dispensation, so they were trying him by an out-of-date Law. As dispensationalists they believe Jesus broke the Law all the time. On Sabbath, fr’instance. But thanks to the new dispensation, these acts of willful defiance towards God’s Law no longer counted. Freedom in Christ, baby!—Jesus could’ve straight-up murdered and robbed people had he chose (although they’ve got various explanations why the Ten Commandments, despite being the very heart of the old covenant, still apply somehow). The Senate weren’t aware God was no longer saving them under the old rules anymore, and executed Jesus anyway.

Fact is, Jesus’s trial was perfectly legal under existing law. They got him on slander. Had it been any other person in the universe who said what Jesus did, it totally would be slander. Had the Senate believed Jesus is as he says, they’d have correctly set him free. They didn’t, so they didn’t. So it was a miscarriage of justice. Wrong verdict.

24 March 2017

Jesus testifies about (or against) himself.

The head priest got to the meat of it: Did Jesus consider himself their king?

Mark 14.60-64 • Matthew 26.62-66 • Luke 22.67-71

Messiah means king.

Christians forget this, because to us, Messiah means Jesus. So when the ancient Judeans wanted to know if Jesus was Messiah, to our minds their question was, “Are you the guy the Prophets said was coming to save the world and take us to heaven?” and there are so many things wrong with that statement. One of ’em being that’s not what anybody in the first century meant.

If you know your American (or British) history, you’ll remember a tory is someone who prefers the status quo, and a whig is someone who really doesn’t. (I’m not gonna use “liberal” and “conservative,” ’cause the United States is such a mess, everybody’s a whig.) Regardless of how you like or hate the status quo, “Messiah” means one of two things:

Tory: You’re a traitor. ’Cause the Romans and Judean senate are in charge, and you’re here to overthrow ’em, and we can’t have that.
Whig: You’re a revolutionary. (So… whom do you want us to kill? Lk 22.49)

This is why Jesus, though he totally admitted he’s Messiah, didn’t just stupidly walk around Israel telling everybody he was their king. Instead he told ’em what his kingdom looks like. Tories may still hate and fear it, and whigs may (and do) entirely disagree with Jesus about the sort of fixes to make on society. But if they really listen to Jesus’s teachings about the kingdom, they’ll know what Jesus means by “Messiah”—as opposed to what popular culture, including Christian popular culture, claims.

To Joseph Caiaphas, the tory head priest who ran the Judean senate in the year 33, it didn’t matter what Jesus taught about his kingdom. Caiaphas’s whole deal was if Jesus in any way claimed to be king, that was treason. Only the Romans could appoint a king—and in the absence of a king, the title functionally fell to Rome’s emperor, Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti filius Augustus. Jn 19.15 Appointing yourself king without Caesar’s authorization: Big big trouble. Jn 19.12 Which is precisely what Caiaphas wanted Jesus to get himself into. The Romans would kill him for it, and no more Jesus problem.

So after a couple hours of a shambles of a prosecution, Caiaphas put a stop to all that and got to brass tacks.

17 March 2017

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Popularly known as a day for fans of the Irish to get sloppy drunk, it honors Ireland’s patron saint.

Pádraig of Ireland, whom we know as St. Patrick or St. Paddy, is celebrated on the date of his death in 17 March 493.

In the United States, Irish Americans—and pretty much everyone else, ’cause the more the merrier—tend to treat the day as a celebration of Irish culture. Thing is, Americans know little to nothing about actual Irish culture. (We barely know the accents.) What we do know is Guinness, though we’ll settle for anything alcoholic, including beer filled with green food coloring. Me, I used to love McDonald’s vanilla/mint “shamrock shakes,” although I’ve since discovered you can add vanilla and mint to a Starbucks Frappuccino and it’s way better.

But a lot of American customs only consist of drinking, eating stereotypical Irish food, parades in which the religious participants express varying degrees of outrage at all the irreligious participants, wearing green (yet not orange; go figure), and all sorts of Irish distortions, some of ’em unknowingly offensive. Americans of British descent used to treat Americans of Irish descent like crap, bringing over their prejudices from the old country; and some of it is still around. I have a few Irish ancestors myself, although way more of ’em are German, so I’ve not experienced that prejudice firsthand. But I have witnessed it.

And if you’re Catholic, it regularly consists of begging your local bishop for a day off from Lent, because you’re not supposed to party on a fast day. And hoping the bishop hasn’t had it up to here with all the Catholics-in-name-only who’re gonna do it anyway, and otherwise misbehave.

In any event, for Americans our holidays aren’t really about serious remembrance, but having a good time. Which really annoys our veterans every Veterans Day. Now imagine how Patrick feels, with people celebrating his day by puking into moonroofs.

The very little popular culture knows about Patrick is he drove snakes out of Ireland (no he didn’t), liked to use shamrocks to explain the trinity (badly), and once turned his walking stick into a tree (actually, that one people don’t know so well). They also know he’s “a Catholic saint,” but they’re less aware Roman Catholicism didn’t really exist for another 250 years, which is why Patrick’s also a saint in the Orthodox Church, same as St. Nicholas. Some of Patrick’s history was also mixed up with that of Bishop Palladius, whom the bishop of Rome, Celestine 1, sent to evangelize Ireland a few decades before Patrick came to Ireland.

When in doubt, go to the historical sources.

16 March 2017

Preaching the dictionary.

How to keep from misusing the original languages in your bible study.

Six years ago I was visiting a family member’s church, and the pastor had just started a series about home-based small groups. His proof-text came from Acts 2, where Luke described the actions of all the brand-new Christians in Jerusalem:

Acts 2.42-47 KWL
42 They were hewing close to the apostles’ teaching,
to community, to breaking bread, and to prayers.
43 Reverence came to every soul,
and many wonders and signs happened through the apostles.
44 Every believer looked out for one another, and put everything in common use:
45 They sold possessions and property, and divided proceeds among all,
just because some were needy.
46 Those who hewed close unanimously were in temple daily,
breaking bread at home, happily, generously, wholeheartedly sharing food,
47 praising God, showing grace to all people.
The Master added saved people to them daily.

He was using the NLT, I believe. Its verse 46 goes like so:

Acts 2.46 NLT
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity…

“They met in homes,” he pointed out. “The Greek word for ‘home’ is oíkos.” (Yep, just like Dannon’s brand of Greek yogurt. See?—knowing Greek comes in handy.) “And according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, that means ‘a dwelling; by implication, a family.’ So what that verse really means is that they met as families.”

Um… no. It means what the NLT rendered it as: “They met in homes.” If “They met as families” would’ve been a better translation, that’s how they would’ve translated it. It’s how I would’ve translated it. It’s how any translation would’ve translated it, but check out all the different English translations on Bible Gateway, and you’ll find not one of these translations decided, “Y’know, oíkos really means ‘family,’ so we’re going with that.”

But the pastor had a point he wanted to make: That the Christians of his church oughta meet together in one another’s homes, and be family together. Which isn’t a bad idea. In fact it’s precisely what church oughta be. It’s just he was trying to prove it from Acts 2.46, the misuse of a Greek dictionary… and the wow factor of a secret, cryptic meaning which you never really knew before, didja? “Home” really means “family.” Wow!

Okay yes, in certain contexts, oíkos can mean family. As when Paul told the Corinthian guard that he and his whole house/family would be saved. Ac 16.31 But all translation depends on context. If it doesn’t—if every instance of oíkos means family—then explain to me Jesus’s story about a wise man who built his house on rock and a foolish man who built his house on stand, Mt 7.24-27 and do try not to sound ridiculous.

15 March 2017

The four hells.

By which I mean the various words translated “hell,” and how only one of ’em is really hell.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote a book called The Four Loves. Not that there are four loves; actually there are more like eight. But there are five words in ancient Greek which tend to be translated “love.” (Two of ’em in the New Testament: Agápi and fílos. The others are found in the Septuagint: Éros in its verb-form eráo, and the nouns storgí and xénios.) Lewis wanted to highlight four of ’em and talk about how people love in these four different ways.

People read, or hear of, The Four Loves and assume, “Wow, Greek is so precise and exact. It’s got four different words for love!” No; it’s the fact translators aren’t precise and exact. Those words can just as easily be translated affection (storgí), friendship (filós), romance (éros), and charity (agápi). Check out any thesaurus and you’ll find we have way more than four words for “love.” English can be just as precise as Greek when English-speakers wanna be.

Today I’m pointing out there are three words in ancient Greek which tend to be translated “hell.” The problem, same as with love, is translators didn’t bother to distinguish between ’em. Some bibles do, and good on them. But whether bible translations do or don’t, it’s important that Christians know there’s a difference, lest we continue to misinform people about what hell is, and who goes there.

I said three words, right? Why’d I title this piece “The four hells”? Well, there’s a Hebrew word in there too. But since it’s equivalent to one of the Greek words, really the fourth hell is popular culture’s idea of hell. We often need to explain pop culture hell, with its caves of fire, devils with pointed sticks, and ironic forms of torture, is not hell. That’s Christian mythology. Comes from Inferno and Paradise Lost, which in turn borrowed a boatload of ideas from Norse and Greco-Roman mythology. Often it’s mixed together with images from novels, movies, or TV—or from the worst, most demented fears of dark Christians. Doesn’t come from the scriptures, nor Jewish history. (And Jewish history you gotta take with a grain of salt.)

If ancient pagan religions didn’t believe in reincarnation, they usually believed in an underworld. This wasn’t necessarily underground; that’s a Greek idea. Could be on another world, like the Norse believed. Could be on the far side of our world, like the Egyptians believed. When you died, that’s where you went as an afterlife. For good people it was usually a pleasant afterlife; for bad people it was either a lousy afterlife, or the gods would simply snuff you out. And if you particularly pissed off the gods, maybe they’d torture you a few thousand years. Or forever. (Or until Herakles rescued you.)

The Norse afterlife was called Hel, which was either its own world, or a kingdom on the world Niflheim, ruled by Loki’s daughter Hel. It’s where the Norse believed people went after they died of old age or disease. It wasn’t torment… but those who died in battle got to go hang out in the good afterlife, with Odin in Valhalla or Freyja in Folkvangr. Hel, in comparison, was gloomy and creepy.

Hel became our word for the afterlife. English-speaking Christians began to use it to describe the afterlife… and over time, the bad afterlife alone.

14 March 2017

Tongues. And how they develop prophecy.

It’s definitely not one or the other.

1 Corinthians 14.1-5

Tongues are a controversial practice.

Not just because far too many Christians believe God turned off the miracles and therefore has nothing to do with tongues, bible to the contrary. To be honest and blunt, tongues are easy to fake, and easy to abuse. Christians who pray in tongues have a bad habit, and therefore a reputation, of being undisciplined about it.

Which was entirely the point of Paul and Sosthenes writing 1 Corinthians 14: They didn’t wanna forbid nor ban tongues, like certain overzealous Christians do, and in so doing squelch everything the Holy Spirit wants to achieve through ’em. They simply wanted the Christians of Corinth to police themselves. Stop letting your tongues-speakers run amok. Stop prioritizing tongues above unity, harmony, and especially prophecy.

Best I stop summarizing and get to that chapter.

1 Corinthians 14.1-5 KWL
1 Pursue love. Be zealous for the supernatural.
Most of all so you can prophesy:
2 Tongues-speakers speak to God, not people.
Nobody else understands them, and they speak secrets in the Spirit.
3 Prophecy-speakers speak to people: They build up, help out, and advise.
4 Tongues-speakers build up themselves. Prophecy-speakers build up a church.
5 I want all of you to speak in tongues; most of all so you can prophesy.
Prophesy-speakers are more valuable than tongues-speakers—
unless tongues-speakers interpret themselves so the church can be built up.

The issue here is worshiping together. Not alone, like we do during prayer time: The Corinthians met together to worship together. Problem is, they were worshiping like they did at home: They prayed. But not in Greek. They prayed in tongues. Which is fine when we’re alone, but when we’re together, and nobody can understand one another, we’re not gonna be blessed by what we’re praying for one another. ’Cause we don’t know what we’re praying for one another.

The core problem? Selfishness. Nobody was willing to step up and audibly, publicly pray for one another. But they were willing to speak in tongues super loud: “Check me out! God granted me the ability to pray in tongues! I’m performing a miracle! It’s so spiritual of me! Mamase mamasa mamkusa!

Useful rule of thumb: When you’re worshiping, don’t be a dick.

’Cause here’s what’s gonna happen when we’re praying for one another correctly: We’re gonna pay attention to the Holy Spirit ’cause we expect him to respond to our prayers. And he will. He’ll tell us stuff. He’ll inform us what to say. He’ll have specific messages for the people we’re praying over. Prophecy is gonna happen. The whole church is gonna get blessed.

In comparison, what’s gonna happen in a roomful of Christians praying in tongues? In my experience, we just get unnecessarily louder.

13 March 2017

The poor you will always have with you. So screw ’em.

The materialist’s favorite verse for justifying their lack of generosity.

Matthew 26.11

It’s kinda obvious when people quote the following verse out of context: They always drop the second part of the sentence. ’Cause the context is found in that part.

Matthew 26.11 KJV
For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.

Although I have often heard plenty of Christianists quote this verse in its entirety, just to make it look like they’re quoting it in context… then quickly say, “And the part I wanna focus on are those words ‘Ye have the poor always with you,’ and never mention the other clause again. It’ll only get in their way.

The point they wanna make with it? They wanna justify doing nothing for the poor.

Because there are poor people in the world. Somebody wants to help them. Give to them. Create jobs for them. Create charities to help them. Create social programs to take care of them. Enlist their aid, whether through private donations or tax dollars… and they don’t wanna help.

Now how does a Christian, the recipient of God’s infinite grace, who’s been warned by Jesus to not be stingy towards others because of how much grace we’ve been given, Mt 18.21-35 justify refusing the needy? Simple: This out-of-context verse. “Jesus said, ‘Ye have the poor always with you.’ This means we’re never gonna successfully get rid of poverty. There are always gonna be needy people. It’s a fool’s errand to fight it. Do you believe Jesus or don’t you?”

Oho, so it’s a matter of whether we believe Jesus, is it?

As if Jesus’s words were meant to condemn the poor to stay in their caste and never leave it. Because wealth must be some kind of signifier as to whether God deems them worthy, deserving, or righteous. Some lazy people sorta need to stuffer from poverty. Hence they’ve been perpetually condemned with it. And don’t you do anything for ’em. They gotta learn to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; you’ll teach ’em to be dependent on you and they’ll never stop begging you for help; they’ll interpret your generosity as weakness and take you for granted; they’ll drain the fruits of your labor and give nothing back, like parasites. “If you give a mouse a cookie” and all that.

I don’t need to go on. You can get more of that hateful thinking from any Ayn Rand novel. Certainly not from Christ Jesus.

10 March 2017

Jesus accused with false testimonies.

The best his accusers could bring against him were perjurers.

Mark 14.55-59 • Matthew 26.59-61 • Luke 22.66 • John 2.18-22

All my life I’ve heard preachers claim Jesus’s trial wasn’t just irregular, but downright illegal. What basis do they have for saying so? Next to none.

It’s because they interpret history wrong. They point to rulings in the second-century Mishna and the fifth-century Talmud. They assume the first-century Jewish senate actually followed those rulings. That’d be entirely wrong. The Mishna consists of Pharisee rulings and traditions. The Talmud is a Pharisee commentary on the Mishna. Now, who ran the senate in Jesus’s day? The head priests. Who were Sadduccees. And the Sadducees believed Pharisee teachings were extrabiblical, and therefore irrelevant.

So when the Mishna declares trials shouldn’t take place at night (although Luke actually says it took place during daytime Lk 22.66), and declares there shouldn’t be same-day rulings, preachers nowadays declare, “Aha! This proves Jesus’s trial was illegal!” Just the opposite: It proves Sadducees did such things. The Pharisee rulings were their objections to what they considered Sadducee injustice.

Since Jesus’s trial convicted an innocent man, of course we’re gonna agree with the Pharisees’ rulings. But they’re from the wrong time, and the wrong people. They don’t apply, much as we’d like ’em to. The Sadducees followed their own procedure properly. Hey, procedure is no guarantee there won’t still be miscarriages of justice.

Well anyway. On to Jesus’s trial.

Luke 22.66 KWL
When it became day, the people’s elders gathered with the head priests and scribes.
They led Jesus into their senate.

In the temple structure on the western side, the Judean synédrion/“senate” (KJV “council,” CSB “Sanhedrin”) met in a stone hall arranged much like the Roman senate: Stone bleachers were arranged in a half-circle so they could all face the emperor’s throne—though here, there was a head priest instead.

For a trial, the Pharisees dictated two scribes should write everything down, though there’s no evidence the Sadducees did any such thing. Scribes and students sat on the floor. Plaintiffs and defendants stood. The Pharisees declared the defendant oughta go first, but in all the trials in Acts, it looks like the reverse happened. Ac 4.5-12, 5.27-32, etc. Either way Jesus didn’t care to say anything, so his accusers went first. And they committed perjury. Yeah, perjury was banned in the Ten Commandments. Dt 5.20 Well, perjurers still show up in court anyway.

09 March 2017

Christianism’s usual idols.

What keeps it from being true Christianity is the fact it’s riddled with idolatry.

Christianism is a socially-acceptable outward form of Christianity. Whether there’s any actual Christianity underneath it, isn’t for me to say. Sometimes there’s a real live relationship with Jesus, an actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit, resulting in some of his fruit, mixed in there somewhere. But the reason I still call it Christianism is ’cause there are glaring errors in the religion. Way too much fake fruit. Way too many compromises with the gospel.

Compromises, I should add, made for the sake of accommodating other gods. Christianism creates a façade of Christianity, but underneath it there are a lot of other religious practices which don’t follow Jesus much. They support other ideas. They seek other powers. They promote other movements. And if Jesus teaches otherwise, they mute him, reinterpret him, or ignore him, in favor of those less-than-Christian goals.

In a word, it’s idolatry. And since it’s everywhere, and plenty of other “good Christians” believe and practice the very same thing, Christianists assume it’s part of Christianity, and never ask themselves what the Spirit really wants ’em to do. Even when he’s given them serious doubts about popular Christian culture: They suppress those doubts and embrace the culture. They feel very pleased with themselves for turning off their brains, figuring that’s what God expects us to do when we “love the Lord your God with all your mind.” Mk 12.30 Makes ’em righteous Christians.

This resistance kinda exacerbates the problem. Because the Spirit is shouting so loud, in order to quench him Christianists try to keep themselves too busy to listen. They focus on public displays of piety. They pray and meditate less often, and when they pray in public, it’s always at God or towards God, never with God. (Lots of ’em aren’t sure he talks back anyway.) They claim the Spirit illuminates what the scriptures mean when they read their bibles, but in reality they look for meaning in their study bible notes, or in their favorite preachers and books.

If you don’t listen to God, of course there’s gonna be way less fruit. Less repentance, change of heart, internal struggle against sin, or pursuit of holiness. Less worship.

And more idolatry.

08 March 2017

Idols: Prioritize nothing ahead of God.

What happens when worship goes anywhere but towards the Almighty.

Idol /'aɪ.dl/ n. Image or representation of a [false] god, used to worship it.
2. Person or thing that’s greatly loved, revered, or worshiped.
[Idolatry /aɪ'dɑl.ə.tri/ n., idolater /aɪ'dɑl.ə.dər/ n.]

It’s often said humans were created to worship. It’s something humans do instinctively; so much so, most people on the planet believe in a god of some form. Thus if we’re not worshiping YHWH/“Jehovah”/“the LORD,” the one true God, we’re just gonna latch ourselves to some other god, or something else, and worship that.

Might be a spouse, parent, child, friend, or some other loved one. Might be a pop star. Or a position in business or government. Or power. Wealth. The pursuit of the perfect high, whether from drugs or sex or adrenaline. The pursuit of a comfortable existence. Some possession or hobby or philosophy you intend to devote all your time and life to. You name it, you can make an idol of it.

Anything we prioritize above God, or pursue instead of God, is an idol.

Now yeah, this is a relatively recent definition of “idol.” It’s not the definition we see in the bible. The authors of the scriptures definitely meant the statues of pagan gods. The LORD banned them, you recall. (Arguably he banned people from making them of himself too, which is why throughout Christian history, different movements keep trying to get rid of Jesus statues and paintings.)

Exodus 20.3-6 = Deuteronomy 5.7-10 KWL
3=7 “For you, there mustn’t be any other gods in my presence.
4=8 Don’t manufacture any idol for yourself;
any form from the skies above, from the land below, from the water below the land.”
5=9 Don’t bow down to them. Don’t serve them.
For I’m your LORD God: I’m El-Qanná/‘Possessive God.’
I have children suffer consequences for their parents’ evil
—and the grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—when they hate me.
6=10 But I show love to a thousand generations
when they love me and observe my commands.”

The problem with limiting the definition of “idol” to paintings and statues, are kinda obvious:

Not every god has a statue. Ancient middle easterners made loads of statues of their gods. Most cultures do. But some cultures don’t: They recognize their gods as too holy to be depicted by inadequate human art. Pharaoh Akhenaten, fr’instance, ordered the Egyptians to only depict his god Aten as a circle. So not every organized religion is gonna have a god-statue. And if all we do is get rid of statues, yet do nothing about the problematic underlying beliefs, we’ve really done nothing.

Certainly not every disorganized religion has a god-statue. Wealth-worshipers don’t set up a shrine to Mammon in their homes; nor even their summer homes. But they’re as devout a worshiper as any adherent of any other religion. It’s just when they’re Christian, they don’t always realize all the compromises they’ve made to the gospel in favor of their stuff. Or they may totally recognize their devotion, but would never call it “worship.” (Even if it is; too crass.)

Um… we have statues. Every so often some Christian will read Deuteronomy 5.8 and say, “Wait, I have images of Jesus round the house.” There’s the crucifix on the wall. Ikons in the office. In the rec room there’s a kitschy figurine of Jesus playing soccer with neighborhood kids. Christian art is everywhere; doesn’t it violate God’s command?

07 March 2017

Sanctus.

A really old, really popular rote prayer.

The name Sanctus comes from the first word of the Latin translation of this prayer.
Musical bonus: A song by a friend of mine, James Thomas La Brie. Big instrumental first part; and of course his version of the Sanctus in the “Hosanna in the Highest” part. YouTube
The first three lines come from Isaiah 6.3, where the serafs are shouting in praise of the LORD; the last three come from Matthew 21.9, where the people shout in praise as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey.

Holy holy holy Lord
God of power and might
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest

The form comes from St. John Chrysostom. Earlier English translations, as are found in the Book of Common Prayer, have for the second line, “God of Sabaoth.” The Roman Missal has “God of hosts.” These are all translations of the Hebrew YHWH Chavaót/“LORD of vast numbers,” and Christians have variously translated chavaót as hosts, armies, “power and might,” troops, “angel armies” if you’re gonna make assumptions about what his armies consist of (and why can’t God mobilize his billions of human followers?), or “Sabaoth” if you don’t care to translate it. Me, I tend to go with “LORD of War,” because whenever YHWH Chavaót appears in the bible, the author usually expects God to kick some ass.

Many of these ancient prayers have of course been set to music. That’s the way most Protestants know of them: When I first wrote about the Sanctus years ago, one of the more common responses I got was, “I thought this was a worship song.” Well it is. But first it was a rote prayer. Musicians rediscover rote prayers all the time, and set ’em to music. If they don’t rhyme, chances are they began their existence as a prayer.

And like many a rote prayer, we can use this prayer to help us meditate. You wanna get your mind off the things around you, and concentrate on God? You tap those rote prayers. Repeat them to yourself, focus on the words, focus on the Lord, and praise him.

06 March 2017

Jesus getting abused by his guards.

And how this should provoke us to get rid of prisoner abuse… and why it doesn’t.

Mark 14.65 • Matthew 26.67-68 • Luke 22.63-65 • John 18.22-23

I’d already mentioned Jesus getting slapped by one of his guards:

John 18.22-23 KWL
22 Once he said these things, one of the bystanding underlings gave Jesus a slap,
saying, “You answer the head priest this way?”
23 Jesus answered him, “If I speak evil, testify about the evil. If I speak good, why rough me up?”

The other gospels likewise tell of how the people in charge of him began to abuse him. In Mark it was after he’d been found guilty. But in both Matthew and Luke, it was before his actual trial before the Judean senate. They didn’t care to wait for a trial; they’d already judged him guilty themselves.

Mark 14.65 KWL
Certain people began to spit on Jesus; to cover his face and punch him,
to tell him, “Prophesy! Which underling gave that punch?”
Matthew 26.67-68 KWL
67 Then they spat in Jesus’s face and punched him.
Those who hit him 68 were saying, “Prophesy to us, Messiah: Which of us hit you?”
Luke 22.63-65 KWL
63 The men surrounding Jesus mocked him,
roughing him up 64 and covering Jesus’s face, saying, “Prophesy: Which of us hit you?”
65 Many other slanderers said such things to Jesus.

This sort of behavior offends many people nowadays. Irritatingly, not all.

Our laws have declared prisoner abuse illegal. Rightly so. Even when a person is guilty, we’re not to punish ’em in ways they’ve not been properly sentenced to. The judge sentences a person to five years, and that person should determine community service or prison, hard labor or solitary confinement. Not the sheriff, nor the warden. Separation of powers, y’know.

Of course there are a number of people who take a lot of perverse glee in the idea of convicts experiencing worse in prison. Jokes about prison rape are a little too commonplace, considering this is a crime that needs to be exterminated. But some people love the idea of murderers and rapists experiencing especially rough treatment in prison. Serves ’em right, they figure. Thing is, violence doesn’t discriminate. Someone incarcerated for fraud or theft can be attacked, same as someone in prison for lesser crimes. People won’t make rape jokes when it’s a beloved family member serving time. And definitely won’t find it amusing if it were them who, thanks to some mixup, found themselves in a holding cell with some angry, rapey thugs.

To hear such people talk, if it were up to them, we’d go right back to the bad old days of beating confessions out of suspects. Some of these folks even claim to be Christian. So how come Jesus’s experience at the hands of his accusers, never convinced ’em otherwise? Never made ’em realize “innocent till proven guilty” is always the way to treat suspects?

03 March 2017

Jesus’s pre-trial trial.

Before his trial, Jesus had an audience with the previous head priest.

John 18.12-14, 19-24

In the synoptic gospels, right after Jesus’s arrest, the crowd took him to the head priest’s house. But John stated they actually took him to the former head priest’s house; that of Khánan bar Seth, whom historical records call Ananus, and whom the KJV calls Annas.

There, the Gospel of John relates, the courtyard was where Simon Peter denied Jesus, and inside the house there was also a bit of a pre-trial trial. Annas wanted to check out this reported Messiah for himself. After all, what if he actually was Messiah? What if he suddenly called down 12 legions of angels Mt 26.53 and took his kingdom by force? Annas may have already made up his mind about Jesus, but he wasn’t stupid; he still needed to meet the man.

John 18.12-14 KWL
12 So the 200 men, the general, and the Judean servants arrested Jesus and tied him up.
13 They brought Jesus to Annas first:
Annas was the father-in-law of Joseph Caiaphas, who was head priest that term.
14 Caiaphas had advised the Judeans, “Best that one person die for the people.” Jn 11.50

Backstory time: After Herod 1 had overthrown the king/head priest Antigonus Mattathias in 37BC, he took the title of king—but couldn’t take the title of head priest, ’cause he was Idumean. Only descendants of Aaron could be head priest, y’know. Lv 6.22 But Herod claimed the right to appoint the head priest, and did. In fact he appointed a bunch of head priests; he kept firing them if they didn’t do as he wished.

Annas became the 11th appointed head priest (the ninth guy to hold the job) since Herod became king. He was appointed by the Syrian legate Publius Sulpicius Quirinius in the year 6, and held the office till the year 15. Commentators aren’t always aware of this, and assume Annas was the hereditary head priest. Then they express amazement that Annas “managed to get” four sons and a son-in-law appointed head priest after him: Eleazar (16-17), Caiaphas (18–36), Jonathan (36–37, 44), Theophilus (37–41), Matthias (43), and Annas (63). Plus his grandson Mattathias (65–66).

It sounds impressive that so many of Annas’s family members succeeded him… but remember, head priests could only be descendants of Aaron. The Romans couldn’t just appoint anyone to the job, or the Jews wouldn’t consider ’em legit. Hence all the sons of Annas in the job… and for that matter, five sons of Boethus, another descendant of Aaron.

Still, both Luke and John referred to both Annas and Caiaphas as head priests. Lk 3.2, Jn 18.19, 24 Whether that’s because Judeans still thought of Annas that way, or whether he got to keep the title much as our presidents do, he was still an influential Judean. And his house was a handy place to stash Jesus till Caiaphas could gather the Judean senate for trial.

02 March 2017

So… how do churches pay for stuff?

Some of ’em accept donations… and some get government funding.

Back in high school I invited a schoolmate to my church. After the service he confessed he was really bothered by the offering plates.

See, right after the worship songs, but before the karaoke (i.e. where someone gets on stage and sings along to music-only tracks; Christians call it “special music” but the talent ain’t all that special), we passed around offering plates. People’d put money on them. Sometimes in envelopes, so you couldn’t see how much they gave; sometimes not, so you could.

This bugged him. In the church where he grew up, there was an offering box in the back of the hall. If people wanted to put money in it, they could. (And if they wanted to put pocket lint in it, they could. Always the problem with anonymous offering boxes.) The box, he felt, was more appropriate. Not our ostentatious “Look what I gave” display, which reminded him of when first-century Jews loudly threw coins into the temple treasury’s offering horns. Mk 12.41

That, and he didn’t like the fact we “interrupted” our service to beg for money. People, he said, should just give.

Me, I’d grown up hearing you funded your church through tithes: Ten percent of every paycheck goes onto the offering plate, and if you don’t cough up the dough, you were cursed. No, nobody’d proclaim over you, “Till you start tithing, may your finances shrivel!” Nut that’s how we were taught to think about this bit in Malachi

Malachi 3.8-10 KWL
8 “Does any human cheat God like all of you cheat me?
You say, ‘How do we cheat you?’ In tithes. In offerings.
9 You’ve cursed yourselves. The whole nation is cheating me.
10 Bring your whole tithe to my treasury: There’s unclean food in my house!
Please test me in this,” says the LORD of War.
See if I don’t open heaven’s floodgates and pour down blessing till you overflow.”

Of course the pastors thought this was the biblical context of tithing, and didn’t discover there was another one. Neither did I, for years. I recently wrote about it.

What I also discovered was how tithing-as-financing is actually a recent doctrine. It only cropped up in the past… oh, 240 years or so. That precise number should give you a hint as to why. Can you guess it?

Right you are: Because churches used to state-sponsored. Funded by our tax dollars. (Well, considering the United States used to be British, tax pounds.)

01 March 2017

Stations of the cross: Remembering how Jesus suffered for us.

One of the ways we remember, and appreciate, Jesus’s death.

In Jerusalem, Israel, Christians remember Jesus’s death by actually going down the route he traveled the day he died. It’s called the Way of Jesus, the Way of Sorrows (Latin, Via Dolorosa), or the Way of the Cross (Via Cručis). When I visited Jerusalem, it’s part of the tour package: Loads of us Christians go this route every single day, observing all the places Jesus is said to have suffered. Really solemn, moving stuff.

For Christians who don’t live in or near Jerusalem, or can’t possibly get there, St. Francis of Assisi invented “the stations of the cross.” In his church building, he set up seven different dioramas. Each represented an event which happened as Jesus was led to his death. The people of his church would go to each diorama—each station—and remember what Jesus did for us all. And pray.

Yeah, this is a Catholic thing, ’cause St. Francis was Roman Catholic. But not exclusively. Many Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists use stations of the cross too. Be fair: If a Protestant invented it, you’d find Protestants doing it everywhere. ’Cause it’s not a bad idea.

So it’s why I bring it up here. The stations of the cross are a clever way to meditate upon Jesus’s death in a more visual, tangible way. And lots of Catholic churches (and a growing number of Protestant churches) keep the stations up year-round. Could be paintings, carvings, or stained-glass windows. Christians can “travel the Way of Jesus” any time we wanna contemplate his death, and what he did for us.

If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, he made sure to include all of ’em in his movie. As do Catholic passion plays, reenactments of Jesus’s death. Protestant passion plays too, though we tend to skip the events we don’t find in the gospels. ’Cause as you’ll notice, some of Francis’s stations came from the then-popular culture. Not the scriptures.