Are you experienced?

by K.W. Leslie, 02 October 2023

Every so often someone’ll ask me, “How do you know there’s a God?”

This isn’t a rhetorical question. They aren’t looking for Christian apologists’ various proofs for God’s existence, and would in fact be very annoyed if that’s what I gave them: “Well we know there’s a God because the universe works on cause-and-effect, and if we trace all the causes back to a first cause…” Yeah yeah, they’ve heardd the “unmoved mover” idea before. They don’t care about deducing God’s existence through reason.

And if that’s the only basis I have for believing in God, they’ll move on. They’re not looking for a logical argument. They’re looking for God Himself. Have I, me, K.W. Leslie, the guy who talks about God as if he’s met him personally, encountered God Himself?

Yep. Met him personally.

No, really.

No, really. Three decades ago I was attending a largely cessationist church. There were some Christians in that church who were exceptions, who believed God still does stuff; but there weren’t many, and they weren’t in leadership. I had heard God still does stuff through some of their testimonies, and sometimes missionaries would visit, preach, and share their God-experiences; and sometimes people would leave copies of Guideposts Magazine—which is pretty much all about God-experiences. So I knew some Christians had ’em. I just figured I didn’t; not really.

So I told God to either reveal himself, or I was giving up on Christianity. I didn’t give him a deadline; I just figured I’d gradually fade out of church attendance, much like my high school friends had. Maybe I’d try Buddhism or something. Meanwhile I’d pay attention, ’cause you never know; maybe he’d show up!

And he did. And no, that wasn’t the only time. He’s revealed himself in many different ways, many times since, on a frequent basis. No way I’m ever quitting now. I might, and have, quit an individual church if they go bad. But never Jesus.

Whereas the folks in that cessationist church weren’t entirely sure “met him personally” is even a valid option when we’re talking with people who have questions and doubts. Most have been taught the usual God-damned rubbish that God stopped personally intervening in the universe, stopped interacting with his kids once the bible was completed or science was invented; that the only way to encounter God anymore is through a near-death experience. Miracles have ceased, and any “miracles” you hear of today aren’t God-things; they’re Beelzebub-things.

And of course these folks insist they’ve never seen a miracle, and since they presume (sorta arrogantly) they’re the standard for what’s “normal” in our universe: If miracles never happened for them, they never happen for anyone.

So when I tell these unbelieving Christians I met God—and continue to meet God—they figure I have a screw loose. Because deep down that’s really what they believe about God: Believing in him is screwy. He’s a figment. He’s imaginary. He doesn’t interact with the real world, and isn’t remotely “real” in that sense. He’s a platonic ideal or an anthropomorphized abstract. He’s myth.

The very idea God’s substantively real… kinda scares them a little. ’Cause that’d mean they should take God a lot more seriously than they currently do. Right now the idea of an impossibly distant, remote, otherworldly, outside-our-universe and doesn’t-intervene God kinda works for them. They’re comfortable with the arrangement: God expects nothing more of us than that we intellectually accept his existence and Jesus’s kingship, and in exchange he’ll graciously let us into heaven. Done deal. Easy-peasy.

Only problem: That’s not who God is, nor all he expects of us. We know better. He wants us to take much, much bigger steps. But before we ever do that—before we get radical about our Christianity (and hopefully not in crazy legalistic ways), we wanna know our religion isn’t based on wishful thinking. We wanna know there’s a real live God behind it all.

There is. If you’re Christian, he lives inside you. You wanna see him? You wanna silence your doubts about his existence for good and all? Then you gotta put aside that imaginary-God manure and start treating him like he’s real. And you’re gonna discover that all this time, while you weren’t paying attention ’cause you were too busy playing church, God’s been here all along.

Partisanship is a work of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September 2023

In Paul’s list of works of the flesh in Galatians, one of the words he used is ἐριθεῖαι/epitheíe. The King James Version translates it as “strife;” the ESV went with “rivalries,” and the NIV and NASB with “selfish ambition.” I translate it “partisanship.”

No, I didn’t translate it this way because I wanna rebuke partisanship, and needed a bible verse to back me up. I got it out of Greek dictionaries when I translated this Galatians passage years ago. I’ll quote ’em for you. My Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon has this:

ἘΡΙ̅ΘΕΊΑ epiθ'eɪ.ɑ noun. Labor for wages. Hesychius, “Lexicography”
2. Canvassing for public office. Intriguing. Aristotle, “Politics.”
3. Selfish or factious ambition. Jm 3.14, Pp 1.17 Intrigues, party squabbles. Ga 5.20

Joseph H. Thayer has this in his lexicon:

eritheias (eritheuō to spin wool, work in wool, Heliodorus 1.5 middle in the same sense; Tb 2.11 used of those who electioneer for office, courting popular applause by trickery and low arts; Aristotle, “Politics” 5.3 the verb is derived from erithos working for hire, a hireling; from the Maced. age down, a spinner or weaver, a worker in wool; Is 38.12 LXX a mean, sordid fellow), electioneering or intriguing for office; Aristotle 5.2-3 hence apparently in the New Testament a courting distinction, a desire to put oneself forward, a partisan and factious spirit which does not disdain low arts; partisanship, factiousness; Jm 3.14, 16, Pp 1.16, 2.3 Ignatius “Philadelphians” 8 equivalent to contending against God. Ro 2.8, 2Co 12.20, Ga 5.20

Lastly a contemporary Greek teacher, William D. Mounce:

the service of a party, party spirit; feud, faction; 2Co 12.20 contentious disposition, selfish ambition; Ga 5.20, Pp 1.17, 2.3, Jm 3.14 by impl. untowardness, disobedience. Ro 2.8, Jm 3.16

The word was originally used to describe weavers. At some point in the past, weavers began to use their guild to influence city politics—and were willing to do anything it took to gain political power. So the word evolved to mean that instead. It means partisanship.

Galatians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:
Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.
20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.
Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.
21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying.
And other people like these.
I warn you of them just like I warned you before:
Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

Of course partisans are gonna seriously be in denial about this. Which is why they tell me, “It only says partisanship because you made it say that,” and point to other translations they like much better. Translations which imply it’s totally okay for them to be partisan!

Okay… but in those other translations it says “strife,” “rivalries,” and “selfish ambition.” Don’t partisans regularly do that stuff too?

Wanna feel the Holy Spirit? Crank up the bass.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 September 2023
Wanna feel the Holy Spirit? Crank up the bass.

I joke all the time about this with the people in my church: If you want people to really feel like the Holy Spirit is in the building, get on the soundboard and make sure the bass guitar, the bass drum, and all the lower notes on the keyboard, are cranked all the way up to 11. Conversely if you want ’em to feel like he’s missing, you do the opposite and turn all of ’em off.

It’s one of those jokes which is funny because it’s true. If you actually did this, it’s actually how people would respond. The higher the bass, the more people “felt” the Spirit move. Turn it all the way down and you’ll get, “I don’t know what was wrong this morning, but I wasn’t really feeling the Spirit today.”

’Cause bass causes stuff in the building to vibrate. Including people. Most of us know this already… but we never really think about how else it affects us.

Go to any movie theater and you know they make darned sure there are subwoofers under the floor, and they’re cranked all the way up. They want you to feel every crash, bang, gunshot, and explosion in that movie. Low sound waves shake your innards, and turn a spectacle into an experience.

Same with dance clubs. Same with concerts. People weep at concerts. Same as they’ll weep at worship services. It doesn’t always register how this is the physical effect of soundwaves, and how our brains have connected the sensation to our emotions, so it triggers us. All we know is we feel.

So when people don’t know there’s a difference between spirit and emotion (or even when we’re totally aware of this fact, but we’ve never bothered to discern which is which), we’ll assume the feelings are the Spirit at work. Especially when it feels really good.

Conversely, when “my spirit is downcast,” we’re still talking about emotions and sensations. Not anything the Spirit is actually doing—and he’s usually doing quite a lot! But because we don’t feel something positive, we presume he must be absent.

This isn’t a uniquely Christian thing. Most people don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion. Most people don’t think there is any difference. Pagans in particular, but I’ve caught even mature Christians making this mistake as well. I know better, and even I slip up sometimes. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who hasn’t.

Pan-millennialists: “It’ll all pan out in the End.”

by K.W. Leslie, 25 September 2023

My seminary offered an End Times class in the school catalog, and I was really interested in taking it—for the obvious reason that I wanted to understand the End Times apocalypses better.

But in the three years I spent there, none of the professors ever bothered to teach it. Which I get: Years later I taught a Sunday school class on Revelation, and good Lord it was like herding cats. Nobody wanted to study the text! They just wanted to spout theories about the End—specifically their favorites, and most of ’em had grown up reading Hal Lindsey stuff, so they subscribed to his particular strand of Darbyism. I ended the class after we finally got through Jesus’s letters to the seven churches; I was so tired of listening to the small group’s members picking apart current events looking for omens.

Hey, End Times stuff provokes people! Especially fearful people, who are terrified the great tribulation is gonna be activated by their political opponents, and force ’em into hiding; they don’t all fully trust that Jesus will rapture them before tribulation starts. (Nor should they.) So they study End Times stuff so they can be prepared for every eventuality. Knowledge is power, right?

And then there are the people who don’t wanna study this stuff. Who roll their eyes every time End Times passages get quoted or referenced or alluded to. Who intentionally skip church services when they find out the preacher’s gonna talk about Revelation or the back half of Daniel. Who think Hal Lindsey’s a fearmongering charlatan, and not just because Hal Lindsey’s a fearmongering charlatan.

Ask these people whether the age is gonna end and Jesus is gonna return, and for the most part they’re gonna say yes. Because they’re not heretics; they do believe Jesus is returning for the living and the dead, exactly like the creeds say. It’s just… whenever we discuss the End Times, it just sucks. The fearful Christians take over the discussion, exactly like they took over my Revelation class, and suck all the joy and hope and grace out of it with their twisted revenge fantasies.

So what do these people believe about the End? That God’s in control. So it’ll all pan out. More than one of them have jokingly told me they’re “pan-millennialists” for this reason. It’ll happen however it happens. Till it does, they’re not gonna fret about it.

Some of ’em like to quote Jesus on the subject:

Acts 1.6-7 NASB
6 So, when they had come together, they began asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 But He said to them, “It is not for you to know periods of time or appointed times which the Father has set by His own authority

Jesus’s apostles figured Jesus had returned from the dead… so now it’s time for the End, right? Messiah would free Israel from the Romans and take over the world, and it’d be the millennium, right? And Jesus’s response was, “You don’t need to know when that’ll happen,” then get raptured. Ac 1.9 He’ll come back, Ac 1.11 but still: You don’t need to know when that’ll happen.

So these folks don’t worry about it. The End will come when God decides it’s time. The End will unfold however God decides it’ll unfold. We don’t need to panic, worry, agitate, or flinch at “signs of the times.” We just need to keep following Jesus.


by K.W. Leslie, 13 September 2023
HEAVEN 'hɛ.vən noun. The dwelling place of God, his angels, and debatably good humans after they die. Traditionally depicted as above the sky.
2. A euphemism for God himself. [“Sin displeases heaven.”]
3. The sky, perceived as a vault containing the sun, moon, planets, and stars.
4. A place of bliss. [“This is heaven!”]
5. Short for the kingdom of heaven, i.e. God’s kingdom.
6. The state of being in God’s presence, namely after death.
[Heavenly 'hɛv.ə adjective.]

As you can see, there are multiple definitions of our word “heaven.” But when Christians talk about heaven, we mean the dwelling place of God. Right?

Not really. In fact not usually.

In my experience, when Christians talk about heaven, we’re actually talking about the kingdom of heaven. In other words, God’s kingdom. Which is meant to happen here on earth. We Christians are supposed to be already living like it’s here—and when Jesus returns, he’ll fully set it up and run it. But too often Christians act like this kingdom does not happen on earth, and never will: It’ll happen in heaven. In the future. After we die. When we do stuff in heaven, “heaven” is always way later. Or we describe the stuff we’ll be doing in New Jerusalem… which is actually in New Heaven, which is not even the same heaven the scriptures typically mean.

I listed six definitions of heaven. No, I’m not gonna therefore say there are six heavens, like C.S. Lewis did when he wrote about four loves. There are likely more definitions of heaven than even that.

But there are Christians who claim there are multiple heavens. Not just the current heaven, and the New Heaven of Revelation 21. There’s the seven heavens of Dante Alighieri’s Paradisio, the 10 heavens of the Pharisees, and the three heavens which you’ll hear Evangelicals talk about ’cause they’ve neither read Paradisio nor 1 Enoch.

Confused yet? Maybe a little. Hope not. Let’s start with the bible’s descriptions of the heavens.

The Dives and Lazarus Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 September 2023

Luke 16.19-31.

This story is often called the Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, or Lazarus and the Rich Man, depending on who oughta come first. Since it’s actually not about Lazarus, stands to reason the rich man should come first. Traditionally this man’s been called Dives (usually pronounced 'daɪ.viz instead of like the verb) ’cause that’s what he’s called in verse 19 in the Vulgate; dives is Latin for “rich.” So I’m gonna call him Dives; it saves time.

Every once in a while some literalist insists this story is not a parable. This is the only story where Jesus refers to someone by name—so they figure this must mean something, and claim Jesus is straight-up talking about a real-life guy named Lazarus, who lived in first-century Israel. Some of ’em even claim the Lazarus of this story is Lazarus of Bethany, Jesus’s personal friend whom he later raised from the dead, Jn 11.1-44 and this is how Lazarus died. Which makes no sense, because Lazarus’s family asked Jesus to come cure him; they didn’t just dump Lazarus at Dives’s door, hoping this idle rich guy might uncharacteristically do something charitable.

On the other extreme, we have people who insist this story is pure fiction. Primarily because they have very different beliefs about afterlife. Jesus, they insist, is not accurately describing what happens when people die. We go to heaven. Or hell. Some insist we’re immediately resurrected and live in New Jerusalem from now on; others claim we live in some glorified spiritual form while we await the Resurrection. Hindus and Buddhists believe we get reincarnated, and of course pagans and Mormons believe we become angels.

In some cases, the Christians who insist Jesus isn’t accurately describing afterlife are dispensationalists who believe this used to be the way afterlife worked—maybe—but not anymore. There’s a popular Christian myth called “the harrowing of hell,” which says before Jesus died to atone for our sins, God saved nobody by his grace—therefore nobody but the most saintly people ever, like Job or Abraham (and here, Lazarus), could make it to paradise. Nobody had the karma! So they were forced to wait in hell till Jesus died. Once he died, Jesus went to hell, same as them… but with keys! He unlocked the gates, stepped on gatekeeper devil Belial’s neck, freed all the Old Testament saints, and took ’em with him to heaven. And now, nobody experiences anything like Jesus describes in this story. Christians go to heaven.

Considering that God isn’t limited by time whatsoever, it makes no sense that he can’t apply Jesus’s then-future atonement to the sins of the people who existed before Jesus. In fact there’s every indication he did: Their sins, which were many, never hindered him with instigating relationships with them!

Nah, both the literalists and the myth-believers have it wrong. This story is a parable. Lazarus isn’t a literal guy. But this is, loosely, what the afterlife looks like. Then, and now. And it’s meant as a warning to those of us who are wealthy, but don’t bother to use our wealth to further God’s kingdom. If all we care about is our own comfort, we may not experience any such comfort in the afterlife. Billionaires beware.

Luke 16.19-31 KWL
19 “Somebody is wealthy.
He’s wearing purple and white linen, partying daily, in luxury.
20 Some pauper named Lazarus was thrown out by the plutocrat’s gate,
covered in open sores,
21 desiring to be fed with whatever fell from the plutocrat’s table,
but the dogs which came are licking his sores.
22 The pauper comes to die,
to be carried off by the angels to Abraham’s fold.
The plutocrat also dies and is entombed.
23 In the afterlife, the plutocrat lifts up his eyes—
he’s getting tortured in the pit—
and sees Abraham far away,
and Lazarus in his folds.
24 Calling out, the plutocrat says, ‘Father Abraham!
Have mercy on me and send Lazarus,
so he might dip his fingertip in water, and might cool my tongue,
because I suffer great pain in these flames!’
25 Abraham says, ‘Child, remember:
You received your good things in your life,
and Lazarus likewise received evil.
Now, here, he is assisted—
and you suffer.
26 In all this space between us and you, a large gap was fixed
so those who want to come to you from here, can’t.
Nor can they pass from there to us.’
27 The plutocrat says, ‘Then I ask you, father,
might you send Lazarus to my father’s house?
28 For I have five siblings—so Lazarus might urge them,
lest they also come to this place in the pit.’
29 Abraham says, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. Heed them.’
30 The plutocrat says, ‘No, father Abraham!
But if anyone comes back from the dead to them, they’ll repent!’
31 Abraham tells him, ‘If they don’t heed Moses and the Prophets,
neither will they be convinced when someone rises from the dead.’ ”

Jesus forgives, then cures, a paraplegic.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 September 2023

Mark 2.1-12, Matthew 9.1-8, Luke 5.17-26.

The story of Jesus curing the paraplegic lowered down through the roof, is one of the more famous stories in the gospels. Partly because the paraplegic’s companions were so eager to get him cured, so believed Jesus could cure him, they committed serious property damage. And partly because Jesus’s first act wasn’t to cure him—it was to forgive him.

That second thing is why bible scholars call this story a controversy pericope, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a story which provokes debate about who Jesus really is. Not among us Christians; we already know he’s God. Jn 1.14 But among Pharisees, Jesus’s fellow Galileans, and his new followers—who didn’t know this yet, and it’s because of these stories they figured it out. Jesus isn’t just a guru, just a prophet, just our king; he’s God-become-human.

But because people couldn’t fathom God becoming human (and a lot of people still can’t!), Jesus steps on a lot of toes. Pagans and heretics still try to explain his divinity away by claiming we Christians misunderstand him, and claim he’s God when he’s only a really enlightened human… or saying we’re all kinda God and Jesus is just better at it than average; or saying he’s a lesser god but not the God. Closed-minded folks firmly embrace any interpretation of Jesus which doesn’t offend them any, and we outrage them by showing them where the bible pokes holes in these wrong ideas. (Welcome to my world.)

Well. This story takes place in Mark and Luke right after Jesus cures a “leper,” and in Matthew after Jesus visits the Dekapolis and kicks 2,000 demons out of some guy. Various gospel synopses like to link this story up with a different paraplegic Jesus cured at a pool. But that happens in Jerusalem; this happens in Jesus’s home base of Capharnaum.

The gospels don’t say whose house it is, and a lot of Christians like to speculate it’s Simon Peter’s—for no good reason. Most likely it’s Jesus’s house. Yes, Jesus’s. People assume he had no house, ’cause he elsewhere says the Son of Man “had no place to lay his head,” Lk 9.58 but that’s because he traveled. When he wasn’t traveling, when he stayed in Capharnaum, he lived somewhere. Likely with family. James and John were Jesus’s first cousins, so likely he lived in their family home.

Who, I’m sure, were initially startled to find their home overrun with Jesus’s followers. Then horrified when a bunch of guys decided to bust through the roof and drop a paraplegic on ’em.

The “leper” whom Jesus cured, then drove away.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 August 2023

Mark 1.40-45, Matthew 8.1-4, Luke 5.12-16.

There’s are two words in the bible usually translated “leprosy.” They’re the Hebrew word צָרָ֑עַת/chara’át and the Greek word λέπρα/lépra. In Leviticus it’s described like yea:

Leviticus 13.1-3 NASB
1 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,
2 “When someone has on the skin of his body a swelling, or a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body, athen he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. 3 The priest shall look at the infected area on the skin of the body, and if the hair in the infection has turned white and the infection appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is an infection of leprosy; when the priest has looked at him, he shall pronounce him unclean.”

The chapter goes into further detail about whether it’s a temporary or chronic case of “leprosy,” and whether “lepers” need to be temporarily isolated, or permanently—which includes walking around in torn clothing and shouting, “Unclean!” to anyone who approaches. Also whether clothes have “leprosy,” and what should be done with them; and chapter 14 tells of buildings which have “leprosy,” and whether they should be washed or torn down.

Now yeah, since we’re talking about something clothing and buildings can get, we’re not talking about a particular disease. More like a condition. Anything which makes your skin white and scaly, or red and raw; anything which turns your clothing or walls red or green. In the case of clothing and walls, it sounds like mold; in the case of skin ailments, it could be an infection, or even skin cancer.

Nowadays when we say “leprosy” we mean Hansen’s disease, a bacteriological infection which damages nerves and extremities. And it’s curable! Early treatment can prevent any permanent injury, but after six to 12 months of meds and therapy, you’re fine. Don’t need to wear torn clothing; don’t need to shout “Unclean!” For that matter, we’re not entirely sure Hansen’s disease is even what the LORD was talking about in Leviticus: Biblical “leprosy” sounds like skin rashes or skin cancers, and Hansen’s disease doesn’t present as skin lesions till you’ve lost feeling in your extremities—at which point, because you can’t feel pain, you injure yourself more easily.

Regardless of what the bible means by chara’át or leprós, that was the disease to avoid—and the disease ancient Israelis most feared. It made you ritually unclean, which means you couldn’t go to temple or synagogue, ’cause you were self-quarantined. Couldn’t go into town. Nobody but other “lepers” could touch you. And, thanks to Pharisee attitudes of the day, people presumed you were cursed—because why else would God let such a horrible thing happen to you?

People still develop this attitude about chronically unwell people. If you’re regularly suffering from maladies; if you’re deaf, blind, can’t walk, or are mentally ill, Christians regularly develop the attitude of “That’s your fault. ’Cause if you only trusted God enough, he’d cure you.” Which is pure a--holery on their part, ’cause it’s not like they did anything to particularly deserve health and wellness. They’re sinners too. In fact, being able-bodied, they’re quite able to sin way more than someone who’s not.

Anywho, here’s the part of the gospels where someone with “leprosy” first approaches Jesus. Dude cured everyone in Capharnaum, but what about the “lepers” who were quarantining outside Capharnaum and all the other cities? Might Jesus be able to cure them too?

This one “leper” decided to give it a shot.

Ready to take on the whole of the Galilee.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 August 2023

Mark 1.35-39, Matthew 4.23-25, Luke 4.42-44.

Whenever preachers talk about Jesus curing everyone in Capharnaum, they tend to describe it as Jesus spending all day curing people and throwing out demons. But read the text: The people came to him at sundown, Mk 1.32, Mt 8.16, Lk 4.40 so he actually spent all night curing people. Hope he got his Sabbath rest, ’cause he sure needed it.

By the end, preachers tend to describe Jesus as exhausted. And he might’ve been really tired, ’cause he was up all night. But exhausted? That’s only because they don’t know what it’s like to supernaturally cure the sick. Faith-healers will tell you it’s just the opposite. It’s not like a medical doctor, repairing patient after patient with treatment after treatment, taxing your mind and body with thought and work. You aren’t doing the work; the Holy Spirit is. You watch him do his thing; you rejoice once he’s done it. It’s not tiring. It’s invigorating. It’s a rush.

More likely, Jesus was wired after curing person after person after person. Too jazzed to ever get to sleep.

Since translators don’t realize this, they tend to make it sound like Jesus woke up crazy-early in the morning, after maybe two or three hours of sleep. But ἀναστὰς ἐξῆλθεν/anastás exílthen doesn’t mean, as the KJV puts it, “rising up… he went out,” but “the one who is up [already], goes out.” Jesus didn’t wake up and figure it’s prayer time; he was still up, and didn’t wanna sleep. He wanted more.

What kind of mood did you imagine Jesus was in?

Mark 1.35-39 KWL
35 Still awake in the still-dark morning,
Jesus comes out and goes to a solitary place,
and is praying there.
36 Simon Peter and those with him
search for Jesus,
37 and find Jesus and tell him this:
“Everybody looks for you!”
38 Jesus tells them, “We should go elsewhere,
into the other towns there are,
so I can preach there also,
for this is why I’ve come!”
Luke 4.42-44 KWL
42 Once it became day,
Jesus comes out and goes to a solitary place,
and the crowds are looking for him,
and come to him.
They’re holding on to him
lest he leave them.
43 Jesus tells them this:
“In the other cities as well,
I have to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom.
For this is why I’m sent.”
44 And Jesus is preaching
in the Jewish synagogues.

“Capharnaum is cured. Who’s next? Give me more!”

See, one’s mindset makes a huge difference when it comes to interpreting bible. If we bring our own pessimism, skepticism, cynicism, negativity, and exhaustion to the text, we wind up with a negative-sounding Jesus who’s just plain done with these people. And that’s not Jesus. He loves people! He came to save people. Not ditch ’em at the first opportunity.

The idea of an exhausted Jesus, desperately trying to claw back some strength through prayer, is based on our own lack of experience, and bad attitudes. Y’ever notice how many preachers are introverts? To them, people are tiring. Ministry drains them. So they need to get away from people on a regular basis, and renew their strength in prayer… and project themselves upon Jesus, and it’s entirely wrong. He didn’t look at the Galilee and think, “Man, I have so much still to do.” He looked at it in the Holy Spirit’s might, and thought, “I’m gonna conquer the world!”

The passive-aggressive prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 August 2023

Years ago in a small group, it came time for people to take turns praying, so we did. I prayed for… something. Don’t recall what. It’s not relevant to this article.

What is relevant is I had prayed, regarding my request, that regardless of what I wanted, God’s will be done. Because, I stated in the prayer, sometimes it’s not, and I don’t want that. I want God to answer my prayers however he sees fit.

Well, this little statement of mine triggered one of the other guys in the group. Let’s call him Prakash. He believed God’s will is always done, because he believed God determines everything in the universe. (Evil too.) And he was still in the “cage-stage,” meaning he was ready, willing, and eager to argue theology with you. Especially since he was entirely sure he was right. I’m using past-tense verbs because I hope Prakash is better now. But sometimes cage-stagers never grow out of it, and turn into angry Fundamentalists whose list of mandatory fundamentals gets shorter, tighter, stricter, and less gracious with every passing year.

Anywho, Prakash had already taken a turn at praying, but he couldn’t help himself: He helped himself to another turn. And this prayer wasn’t about anything our prayer leader had asked us to pray about. Wasn’t about any personal requests he had for God. Wasn’t about any other people Prakash was interceding for.

Nope. He just wanted to remind God that he’s sovereign and therefore always gets his way. To appreciate the fact God’s will is always done, even though the rest of us human simpletons may not recognize this, and might imagine otherwise. To worship God for this particular trait of his.

To, y’know, passive-aggressively correct me by slipping a little theology lesson into prayer time.

Gotta admit, I was a little tempted to take another turn myself, and slip my own passive-aggressive prayer into the mix: “And God, we thank you for Prakash and his wisdom and humility, and pray that you water that mustard seed and make it grow into a mighty tree under which birds can perch. He’s got more than enough fertilizer; he’s ready; just make him grow, Lord. In Jesus’s name.

But not seriously tempted. I know better than to be a dick during prayer.

Thing is, if we’ve been to enough prayer groups—or simply if we grew up Christian and had to deal with annoying Christian siblings who pulled this kind of stunt (or, admittedly, pulled it ourselves) —we’ve all encountered the passive-aggressive prayer. The prayer which isn’t really a prayer; we’re talking to someone else instead of God, but for one reason or another we’ve chosen to disguise it as a prayer. Not that it’s fooling anyone.

It’s pure hypocrisy, and the proper way to deal with it is to call it out. But more often we Christians avoid our duty to rebuke bad behavior, and simply ignore it as if someone ripped a wet fart in the elevator: We all know it happened, but we’re not gonna say anything, and we’re gonna hope it dissipates as fast as possible.

Only problem is, when this behavior isn’t rebuked, the passive-aggressive petitioner is gonna think they cleverly got away with it. It wasn’t all that clever… but since nobody rebuked them, yeah they did get away with it.

So they’re totally gonna do this again.