TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

03 July 2017

Civic idolatry: The “Christian nation.”

When people convince themselves their homeland is an outpost of God’s kingdom.

Civic idolatry /'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tri/ n. Worship of one’s homeland, its constitution, its government, or its leaders.
[Civically idolatrous /'sɪv.ɪk.(ə.)li aɪ'dɑl.ə.trəs/ adj., civic idolater /'sɪv.ɪk aɪ'dɑl.ə.tər/ n.]

Tomorrow’s Independence Day in the United States.

In 1776, the British Parliament, insisting they had the right to tax their North American colonies, had violated their colonial charters. The king had sided with Parliament and declared them outside his protection. Congress, representing 13 of the colonies, interpreted this to mean they were independent states, and officially declared themselves so on 4 July. (Or 2 July, depending on which founder you talk to.)

So this week, Americans are gonna express a whole lot of patriotism. American Christians included. As we should.

However, many American Christians regularly cross a line between the love of one’s homeland, and descend into outright worship of the United States. It’s idolatry, and when it’s directed towards a nation we call it civic idolatry. It’s when love for our country stops being reasonable and fair-minded; when we treat it, its symbols, its values, and its institutions as holy. And when we treat criticism or contempt for it as blasphemy.

Heck, for those people, my even talking about the subject is blasphemy. Although they’ll call it unpatriotic, subversive, traitorous: How dare I say love of country is a bad thing?

Again: Not saying that. But when love of “God and country” get blended together as if they’re the same thing, we got idolatry. When we attribute things to the United States that are only legitimately true of God, we got idolatry. When our nation takes precedence over the growth of God’s kingdom, we got idolatry. Sometimes in our dual citizenship with the kingdom and the world, we gotta pick a side… and when we pick the world, it’s idolatry.

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.