TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

31 October 2017

God reveals himself through prayer.

Why does God listen to our prayers? For the same reason he reveals himself to us.

Prayer is of course talking with God. We talk to him and he talks back. It’s not a complicated idea, though we might, and do, complicate it.

Prayer is therefore the most common, most usual way God communicates with his people. Yeah, we can…

Christians list all these things as forms of revelation, though I would object to the last two. But nearly all of us pray, and nearly all of us hear God when we pray, so that’s how nearly all of us get revelation.

Now yes, there are those Christians who insist they don’t hear anything. To their minds, prayer is unidirectional: We talk, God hears, but God says nothing, ’cause he doesn’t need to say anything, ’cause he said everything he cares to say in the scriptures. This belief is largely based on cessationism, the belief God turned off the miracles—and in so doing, functionally abandoned his people—till the End Times. If you’re surrounded by cessationists, you’re gonna get the idea most Christians think like that. You’d be entirely wrong. Most of us hear God. (Not necessarily well, but I’ll discuss that in the next several prayer articles.)

Hearing God is demonstrated all over the scriptures. ’Cause the scriptures were written by prophets, and how’d they get their information? Yes, some Christians imagine they opened their mouths and God’s words came out of them like they were meat puppets. But in more cases they went to God with questions—with prayers—and during those prayers God responded, and that became their prophecies.

This is why prayer and prophecy are so closely connected. That’s usually how God gives prophets his messages for other people: He’ll say, “Tell them this.” You wanna see more prophecy in our church? Then y’all need to pray more often. You don’t get one without the other. (And if you do, those “prophecies” are usually messed up.)

30 October 2017

Happy Halloween. Bought your candy yet?

It’s Happy Halloween, not “Happy holidays.” Wait… wrong holiday.


A perfect opportunity to show Christlike generosity—and give the best candy ever. But too many of us make a serious point of being grouchy, fear-addled spoilsports.
(Image swiped from a mommy blog.)

For more than a decade I’ve ranted about the ridiculous Evangelical practice of shunning Halloween. I call it ridiculous ’cause it really is: It’s a fear-based, irrational, misinformed, slander-filled rejection of a holiday… which turns out to actually be a legitimate part of the Christian calendar.

No I’m not kidding. It’s our holiday. We invented Halloween. No it sure doesn’t look like Christians’ original intent, but that’s ’cause we let the pagans take it over and transform it from a fun time for children, to an inappropriate adult bacchanal, or a celebration of creepy horror movie themes.

Then there are the Pagans with a capital P—religious Pagans, as opposed to irreligious pagans. I call ’em neo-Pagans because their religions date from the 1960s. Yeah, that recently. They revived ancient religions, which is why that “neo-” bit goes before Pagan; but they greatly adapted those religions for present-day sensibilities. Ancient Pagans often had a lot of racial and sexual boundaries as part of their identity; modern Pagans decidedly got rid of the racism and sexism.

Anyway, neo-Pagans claim Halloween was originally Pagan, and Christians stole it from ’em in a futile attempt to Christianize it. This is utter rubbish. Yet because some of them call themselves “witches,” and because kids dress as totally unrelated witches on Halloween (whether the Harry Potter sort or the Macbeth sort), they insist it’s their holiday, not ours. And despite the total lack of historical evidence, a lot of gullible reporters swallow these claims whole, and repeat them every year. They’ve been doing it for so long, people actually try to debunk me, by quoting 10-year-old newsblog articles. Which were poorly researched and incorrect then, and just as wrong now.

Nature religions don’t even celebrate Halloween anyway. They celebrate autumn. The vernal equinox, the end of summer, the beginning of winter, the turn of the seasons—which took place a full month ago, back on 22 September. They celebrate the equinox-related harvest festivals, which in Irish would be Samhain /'saʊ.ən/, a contraction of sam fuin/“summer’s end.” Totally unrelated to Halloween. They just happen to exist within the same 45-day period.

27 October 2017

Reformation Day.

When the western church split between Catholics and Protestants.

31 October isn’t just Halloween. For Protestants, some of us observe the day as a regular holiday. Others just remember it when it’s a big deal. Namely the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day, the day in 1517 when bible professor Dr. Martin Luther of the University of Wittenberg in the Holy Roman Empire (now Germany) posted 95 propositions, or theses, which he wanted to discuss with his students—specifically about certain practices in the Catholic church to which he objected.

Technically not quite the 500th anniversary. Y’see, they were still using the Julian calendar in 1517, and the calendar was out of sync with the vernal equinox by 11 days, so once we correct for that, it was really 10 November. But whatever. Reformation Day!

At the time, Luther didn’t realize it was as big a deal as all that. He’s dramatically described as nailing the theses to the school’s Castle Church door, as if an act of defiance. Really, the door was the school’s bulletin board, and Luther may not have personally thumbtacked ’em to the door at all; he might’ve had his teaching assistant do it.


Joseph Fiennes playing Martin Luther, tacking up the theses. From the 2004 film Luther—not to be confused with the Idris Elba cop show Luther, which is… actually much better. I’m gonna watch that now.

But he did send a copy to his bishop and archbishop, ’cause he answered to them; and from there they spread all over Europe. In January 1518, Luther’s friends translated the theses from Latin to German, printed them for the general public, and made ’em controversial not only to church leaders, but everyone.

26 October 2017

Miracles: The obvious God-stuff.

Don’t just fling that word around for anything neat.

Miracle /'mɪr.ɪ.kəl/ n. Surprising event (usually welcome) not explainable by natural nor scientific law, therefore considered to be a divine or supernatural work.
2. Highly unlikely, improbably, extraordinary event or accomplishment. (Again, usually welcome.)
3. An outstanding achievement, product, or example.
[Miraculous /mə'ræk.jə.ləs/ adj.]

Those are the dictionary definitions. They’re fine when we’re trying to describe what our culture means by a “miracle.”

Most folks figure the miracle is the impossible made possible. But then they turn round and describe some really possible things as miracles: A perfect day. A beautiful view. A newborn baby. Dodging a road accident. None of those things are impossibilities; they’re kinda commonplace. Nice, but still.

So yeah, the dictionary definition kinda sucks when Christians are trying to explain what a miracle really is.

We’ll start with the fact God’s behind them. A miracle is anything God does, or his power makes possible. If I pray, and a person is immediately cured of an illness without any further medicine or treatment, obviously somebody did something, and it wasn’t me. The Holy Spirit cured ’em. That’s a miracle.

Curing illness is probably the best-known example of miracles, ’cause they’re the miracles people pray for most. They’re the stuff where God’s activity is really obvious.

Other acts of God aren’t so obvious. I call ’em hidden miracles: He does them behind the scenes, and people seldom point them out, and he doesn’t trumpet ’em much either. Like Jesus holding the universe together by his power. Cl 1.17 He’s doing this all the time, and it totally counts as an act of God, ergo a miracle. But it’s not a unique, out-of-the-ordinary event. It’s happening all the time. And to most people’s minds, a miracle is by definition a special event. (Which is why they treat every special event like it’s a miracle.) But miracles aren’t special events; they’re acts of God. Any act of God. Even mundane ones.

So when God listens to prayers, that’s a miracle. When God talks back, that’s a miracle. When God answers prayer, of course that’s a miracle. When God changes the weather, cures the sick, stops an accident, stretches our provisions, conveniently gets us the right resources at the right time: All miracles.

It’s just we tend to only notice the cool miracles. And no, that’s not because we’re self-centered, or love spectacle so much. Mainly it’s because we’ve had the definition of “miracle” wrong all this time.

25 October 2017

Sharing Jesus… with the next town.

Considering how unsuccessful Jesus was in reaching his own hometown, it’s odd how we assume he wants us to nonetheless begin with our own.

Evangelists sure do like to quote this scripture:

Acts 1.8 KWL
But you’ll all get power: The Holy Spirit is coming upon you.
You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world.”

Why so? Because they quickly follow it up with, “That’s Jesus’s game plan for evangelism.”

Presumably we’re to share him in…

  • Jerusalem, meant to represent our hometowns.
  • Judea, meant to represent our state, county, district, or otherwise surrounding area.
  • Samaria, standing in for the next state or nation over.
  • The end of the world, the rest of the planet.

Hence, evangelists claim, we need to quit sending people on short-term and long-term mission trips to other countries, unless they can first prove themselves with their neighbors. If they suck at sharing Jesus with their own community, why on earth would they do any better with strangers in a strange land?

I have two main problems with this claim. One from experience; the other from bible.

First of all. When I was a kid I had the darnedest time sharing Jesus with people. Mainly because I was a hypocrite: I was a rotten example of Christianity, knew it, and didn’t care to share Jesus with my friends and have ’em respond, “Since when are you Christian?” I settled for inviting them to church; I could do that much. Or that little. (It still totally counts though: If that’s all you figure you can do, that’s pretty good.)

Second of all, Jerusalem was not the apostles’ hometown.

Yeah, you forgot that for a moment, didn’tcha? Only one of Jesus’s 12 apostles came from Judea, Judas Iscariot, who died the same weekend Jesus did, a month before. The rest of them were from a whole ’nother province, the Galilee, which Jesus didn’t even mention in that verse. Even Jesus was from the Galilee; from Nazareth, remember? After Jesus got raptured a few verses down, and angels appeared to the apostles to tell them to get on with it, how’d the angels address the apostles? As “Galileans.” Ac 1.11 ’Cause that’s what they were.

Jesus didn’t send his apostles to evangelize their hometowns. Actually he kinda evangelized their hometowns, during his earthly ministry. But the mission he sent them on was to evangelize another province’s capital. And then a whole different province—one full of Samaritans, a tribe they didn’t consider neighbors, but foreigners.

I’m not at all saying we shouldn’t try to share Jesus with our friends and neighbors. Of course we should. But you remember Jesus tried to preach to Nazareth, and got driven out. He’s famous for commenting how prophets get respect everywhere… but at home, among their relatives, no they don’t. Mk 6.4 He knew from experience. There’s just something in human psychology which makes people take strangers more seriously than the familiar. Familiarity can be ignored. So it often is.

What’s more, familiarity can be extremely intimidating to people who are new at sharing Jesus. Don’t just use my personal example: Let’s say your church tells you to go door-to-door to invite people to some church function. (Like a free movie, a Halloween party, an Easter message, or just outright sharing Jesus. Hey, it’s been known to happen.) Wanna tackle it with your neighbors? Or do you immediately squirm at the idea?

Now, how about doing the door-to-door thingy for another church, in a town 100 miles away, where nobody knows you?

Actually, most Christians have no trouble whatsoever with that idea.

What is that? Well, I suspect it’s again something in human psychology—something Jesus deliberately tapped when he told his apostles, not to go to the Galilee and evangelize their neighbors, but go to Jerusalem and evangelize strangers. Because it’s easier to share Jesus with new people… and easier for them to accept the gospel from strange people.

24 October 2017

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Don’t ever let this saying become a platitude.

When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, one of the most common platitudes we hear thereafter is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

In the past several years the expression has seen a bit of backlash. Mainly because the people who say it have turned it into an empty, hypocritical saying. By their actions, they demonstrate they’re not really thinking of the disaster victims. And either they’re also not praying, or they’re praying in some manner that doesn’t change ’em whatsoever—contrary to how we all know prayer is supposed to work.

To be fair, some of the backlash comes from nontheists who are pretty sure prayer is bunk: Nobody’s listening, so we Christians are only talking to the sky; nobody’s interacting with us, so we Christians aren’t gonna change. Prayers are therefore just as useless as when some pagans attempt to send positive thoughts, vibes, and energy towards the needy: All they actually do is psyche themselves into feeling really happy things, then feel a little burst of euphoria which they figure is them “releasing” those thoughts into the universe—and then they’re back to life as usual. Unless the happy thoughts get ’em to deliberately behave in more positive, productive ways towards those around them, the universe is no different. Nor better.

Give you an example. One of the United States’ recent mass shootings might take out more masses than usual. The news media covers it like crazy; the public is horrified; the usual senators tweet that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims and their families. And those who want gun restrictions object: These particular senators aren’t gonna change the gun laws whatsoever. If anything they’ll try all the harder to eliminate gun restrictions. Which means more mass shootings are inevitable. So what good are those senators’ thoughts and prayers?

I mean, functionally it’s the same as when James objected to “faith” which lacked works:

James 2.14-17 KWL
14 What’s the point, my fellow Christians, when anyone claims to have faith and takes no action?
This “faith” doesn’t save them.
15 When a Christian brother or sister becomes destitute, lacks daily food,
16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace! May you be warm and fed,”
and doesn’t give them anything useful for their body, what’s the point?
17 This “faith,” when it takes no action, is dead to the core.

Our “thoughts and prayers” frequently aren’t any different than wishing the needy well, but doing nothing to make ’em less needy. Sometimes out of our own laziness, sometimes our own ill will. And the needy aren’t dense. They see the irreligiousness of it. They’re calling us on it. Rightly so.

If our thoughts and prayers do nothing, our faith is dead.

23 October 2017

“Train up a child…”

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

Proverbs 22.6

This particular proverb, best known in the King James version—

Proverbs 22.6 KJV
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

—has brought a lot of comfort to a lot of Christians whose kids don’t appear to be going anywhere close to the way they should go.

After high school, a lot of the kids from my church youth group didn’t stay in church. Some of us did, and some of us went away to school… and the rest decided since they were adults now, they could choose to go to church or not. So they chose not. To the great consternation of their parents, who thought they raised their kids better than that. They really didn’t.

In despair, the parents turned to this proverb. The way they chose to interpret it: Yeah, the kids had quit Jesus, but the parents had trained ’em up in the way they should go. They’d raised ’em Christian. Took ’em to church. Made ’em pray before meals. Sent ’em to church camps and youth groups and youth pastors who’d tell them about Jesus. Voiced their political opinions, and they’re pretty sure Jesus feels exactly the same way they do. It wasn’t disciplined, focused, intentional, or systematic, but they did kinda lay the groundwork for the kids to come back.

So if the proverb is a promise—and that’s precisely how they cling to it—the kids will one day see the error of their ways, repent, and return to the values they were raised with. The kids’ll go through a brief period of rebellion, their own personal rumspringa, but when they’re old—hopefully not that old—they’ll be back.

The “out of context” header might’ve tipped you off to the fact this view is entirely incorrect. Lot of blind optimism behind it. Lot of wishful thinking. But doesn’t usually happen. I still know quite a few of those youth group kids, now in their 40s, same as me. Still not Christian. Some of ’em think they are, but really they’re just Christianist. Others are “spiritual, not religious,” or joined another religion like Buddhism, or went nontheist.

There are a lot of non-practicing Christians who slide back into Christianity as soon as they have kids: They realize they’ve gotta pass down their morals to their children, and since they have none, they go with Jesus’s… and realize they don’t know his morals as well as they thought, so they go to church to rectify that. Which is great, ’cause it’s what gets young families into the church, and young families help keep a church stable. But my youth group’s former kids? If that was gonna gonna get ’em back into church, it’d’ve happened when they were in their 20s and 30s. It didn’t. They’re still out.

Their parents are likely clinging to the fact the proverb says, “When he is old,” but let’s get real: It’s not happening at this rate. Only way it would, is if the Holy Spirit intervenes with a major course correction. Which he can always do, so never rule out the possibility. It’s just a lot of these drastic actions still don’t convince people to return to Jesus. When a major life trauma (i.e. loss of a job, death of a relative, health crisis, natural or artificial disaster) impacts our lives, people either take a hard left towards God, or a hard right away from him. And since away is the path of least resistance, that’s usually the route they choose.

Does this mean the proverb isn’t true then? Nope, that’s not the problem. The real problem is people are using it completely wrong.

20 October 2017

Faith is not blind optimism.

Hoping for the best needs something substantial to hope in.

As I wrote in my first piece on faith, it’s not the magical power to believe in goofy rubbish. Like believing in Santa Claus, fairies, unicorns, and non-western medicine.

Related to that, and actually a big part of what people assume faith to be, is the power to believe everything’s gonna be all right. Everything’s gonna work out. Times may be tough right now, but we’ll persevere, we’ll be successful, we’ll be vindicated, we’ll come out on top. Life will be good. Love will conquer all. How do we know any of this stuff? Why, we have “faith.”

No, you have blind optimism. It’s not faith.

No, I’m not knocking optimism. We Christians are called to be optimistic. To reject nihilism because even though our world is in fact meaningless, it’s being overthrown by God’s kingdom. To reject cynicism because even though humans are totally self-centered, some of us are actually seeking God’s kingdom. To reject pessimism because we’re meant to embrace joy.

The problem is the blindness part. Blind optimism assumes stuff’s gonna get better, but can’t tell us how. And no, that’s not because God promised stuff would get better, but hasn’t clued us in on the details. If that were the case, it would be faith, proper faith. But faith in God, ’cause he’s the one making things better. Blind optimism doesn’t know who or what will make anything better. It just assumes things’ll be better. Can’t say why.

Might guess why, but some of those whys are wholly unrealistic. Take Star Trek. The show’s based on Gene Roddenberry’s blind optimism that humanity’s gonna evolve past our petty differences and prejudices, become better people, eliminate hunger and poverty, and turn our world into paradise. Why? Um… well, he didn’t know. He left that to other writers to figure out. So later writers posited we’d meet benevolent space aliens, and that’d galvanize us into sorting out our problems. But if you know anything about human nature, humans don’t do that, and never have. Some of us rise to face new challenges. The bulk of us retreat.

And those of us who rise to face new challenges have a plan. True, it’s not always a good one, but it at least spells out how we expect things to get better. It’s not a big blank gap between the chaos of today and the promise of tomorrow, which we fill with wishful thinking. It’s a foundation, hopefully solid, to build faith upon.

And a lot of people have based their hopes in the future upon various plans for the future. People hope to be financially stable someday, and they’re taking steps to get there. People hope to become spiritually mature, so they’re working on spiritual fruit. People hope to be successful in their career, and they’ve laid the groundwork. People hope to raise self-sufficient kids, so they’re teaching ’em self-discipline, and to think and do for themselves.

The rest… well, they’re doing none of those things. But they “have faith” everything’ll be all right. You see the problem.

19 October 2017

Potential, fixable followers.

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

Matthew 8.18-22 • Luke 9.57-62

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Jesus informed him he wasn’t going anyplace.

18 October 2017

Throwing out “treasures” new and old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not even the Holy Spirit.

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

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