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16 January 2019

When Jesus loses students.

When people can’t commit to Jesus, they’re not Christian. No matter how much they still do.

John 6.59-71

So Jesus gave this big ol’ lesson on being the living bread who wants to save us—and expects our response to be a deep commitment. You gotta eat the living bread. And no, this doesn’t mean holy communion; this means really being one with Jesus. Really following him.

Tough teaching for a classroom of people who only wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans for them, then give ’em free bread. Tough teaching for Christians nowadays, who only wanna live worry-free lives, then go to heaven and live in mansions. God did all the work of saving us, so they figure he can do all the work of everything else in Christendom. These folks don’t wanna actually do anything for God; they want cheap grace and passive Christianism. There’s not much difference between our motives.

But there is a big difference in our responses: The Galileans left.

Whereas Christians nowadays will say yes and amen, and pretend we’re all for the idea… then go out and demonstrate by our lifestyles we don’t believe a word of it… but be back in church every Sunday morning acting as if we do. Lemme keep being blunt: Both these behaviors are forms of apostasy. The only difference between the Galileans who left Jesus, and the Christians who pretend we’re still on board, is our rank hypocrisy. The Galileans at least had the balls to admit they were outa there.

Anyway back to the text, where the Galileans are on the fence about Jesus… so Jesus gives the fence a shake.

John 6.59-66 KWL
59 Jesus said this while teaching in the Kfar Nahum synagogue.
60 So, many of his students who heard him said, “This word is hard. Who can listen to it?”
61 Innately knowing his students kvetched about this, Jesus told them, “This upsets you?
62 So what about when you see the Son of Man rise to where he previously was?
63 It’s spirit which makes you alive; flesh gets you nowhere.
The sayings I tell you are spirit—are life 64 but some of you don’t believe me.”
For Jesus knew from the beginning some didn’t believe—and one was his betrayer.
65 Jesus said, “This is why I told you nobody can come to me
unless they were given me by the Father.”
66 As a result of this lesson, many of his students went home and no longer followed him.

See, Jesus doesn’t want lukewarm followers. He wants us to be fruity. He wants people who connect with him, abide in him, pick up their crosses and follow him. Anybody who doesn’t wanna: It’d be best if they went home.

15 January 2019

Tongues, and how to pray in them.

Yeah, I know not all my readers pray in tongues. Ask God for help.

The most controversial of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural gifts is speaking in tongues.

That’s because some Christians don’t merely think (as cessationists will) that it’s something Christians don‘t do anymore; that the Spirit doesn’t need us to do it anymore. Certain churches straight-up forbid it. Doesn’t matter what the scriptures say—

1 Corinthians 14.5 KWL
I want all of you to speak tongues—so that you can prophesy more!
Prophesying is greater than speaking tongues.
The exception is if one interprets so the church could be built up.
1 Corinthians 14.39-40 KWL
39 Therefore, my family, be zealous to prophesy. And as for speaking, don’t stop tongues!
40 Practice everything appropriately and in order.

—they figure if the Spirit doesn’t do it anymore, every single instance we see of tongues nowadays is devilish. And if they banned tongues, and we dare interrupt their “appropriate order” by speaking in weird sounds, our disruption is a sure sign we’re devilish. So they’ve banned tongues outright.

What about the possibility they’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit? They’re willing to risk it. Problem is, they totally are blaspheming the Spirit, and must answer to him for it.

To be fair, some of their concerns about “appropriate order” are totally valid. Many a tongues-speaker does act inappropriately. Humans are creatures of extremes, and it feels like Christians either take the attitude of “No tongues ever” or “Anything goes.” The whole point of 1 Corinthians 14 was to deal with the fact the Corinthians were speaking in tongues—as every Christian should, and the apostles encouraged them to keep it up!—but were doing ’em wrong.

The reason I bring tongues up in the Prayer & Praise category is because the primary purpose of tongues is prayer. That’s what they are: Prayer. Prayer is talking with God, and when we speak tongues that’s precisely what we’re doing: Talking with God. We’re saying stuff, God understands that stuff, and we’re getting built up as better people, better Christians, by praying in this manner. 1Co 14.4

Well… assuming we’re not praying in tongues willy-nilly, in a childish, undisciplined, fruitless way. 1Co 14.20 If we’re gonna speak tongues, let’s do them right!

14 January 2019

What are spirits?

And of course some of the mythology about ’em.

SPIRIT 'spɪ.rɪt noun. A non-physical being; a supernatural being.
2. A person’s non-physical parts (such as emotions or character), which are considered a person’s true self, survives physical death, and possibly manifests as a ghost.
3. [capitalized] The Holy Spirit.
4. Qualities, characteristics, or emotions of a person or thing, which are considered their defining attributes: the spirit of the plan.
5. Emotion or mood, usually positive: I hope this lifts your spirits.
6. True intentions or attitude: It’s the spirit of the rule, not the letter.
7. Liquor or another volatile liquid.
8. [verb] Taken quickly and secretly.

The bible regularly refers to non-physical beings. We call ’em spirits. Our English word comes from the Latin spirare/“breathe,” and the Hebrew and Greek words for spirit ( ‏רוּחַ/ruákh, πνεῦμα/pnéfma) likewise literally mean “breath” or “wind.” The bible’s authors didn’t call it that because they literally believed spirit is the same thing as air molecules pushed by an outside force: Their thinking was spirit is invisible, yet we can see how things are affected by it—exactly like wind.

Of course if we wanna get scientific, the simile falls apart. Wind is made of air, which is made of atoms, and therefore material. Spirit is not material. Not that we know what spirit’s made of; we just know it’s not matter. Nor energy. Because we can’t measure spirit with machinery, no matter what certain paranormalists might claim. If there’s any truth to their claims at all (and I have my doubts), all they can measure are, again, the effects of spirits. Not the spirits themselves.

If you want answers to that question from the bible, you won’t find any. The bible’s about God’s relationship with us, not biology.

Thing is, we live in a scientific age. (Or we’d like to imagine we do.) If we can’t study it with science, we often figure it doesn’t exist. So if spirits can’t be measured, quantified, examined, dissected… well, they’re out.

A lot of Christians think this way too: They don’t believe in spirits. Well, except for God. And maybe the human spirit, ’cause they’re hoping to survive death. And maybe angels and devils. But they won’t go any further than that—and often won’t even go that far. They figure spirits are superstition, or the fakery of false religions.

But the bible refers to all sorts of spirits. Some appear to be good. Some benign, or they have duties which have nothing to do with us. Some are unclean, the sort Jesus threw out of people. Some are evil, like the devil.

So if spirits exist in the bible, stands to reason they still exist. We may not be aware of them, nor be able to detect them scientifically. We may find it irritating when other religions emphasize them so much: We’re pretty sure those religions are wrong. But we need to understand what Christianity teaches about spirits, and get it right.

11 January 2019

Transliteration: Because in some languages, you’re illiterate.

No offense, but if you can’t read their alphabet, you are illiterate. So here’s a quick fix.

By now you’ve likely learned the bible wasn’t originally written in English. (Although good luck informing certain King James Only folks of this. Most of ’em know better, but there are some holdouts who still think God speaks in King James English.)

The bible was written in three dead languages, languages nobody speaks anymore. The present-day versions of these languages are not the same. Languages evolve. Modern Hebrew uses western word order (subject-verb-object, “I go home”), and ancient Hebrew uses middle eastern word order (verb-subject-object “Go I home”). Plus the vocabulary’s way bigger, what with all the loanwords from Yiddish, English, German, Russian, and Arabic. Plus the pronunciation’s different, much like the differences between American English and British English. Modern Greek follows new grammatical rules. Neo-Aramaic speakers love to point out Jesus spoke Aramaic like them, but the Babylonian Aramaic of the bible (and the first-century Syrian Aramaic which Jesus spoke) is like saying Geoffrey Chaucer spoke English like us. He did… and kinda didn’t.

The Old Testament was written in what we call Biblical Hebrew—the older parts in Early Biblical Hebrew, and the Aramaic-influenced later parts in Later Biblical Hebrew. A few chapters were written in Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian Empire—the language Daniel put some of his visions into. After the Jews returned from Babylon, that’s what they spoke, and that’s what Jesus spoke, as demonstrated by the few direct quotes we have of him in the New Testament. As for the NT, it’s in a form of Alexandrian Greek we call Koine Greek, a term which comes from the word κοινή/kiní, “common.”

And I know; most of my readers don’t know these languages. I learned them in seminary, ’cause I wanted to know how to read the original texts of the bible. I wanted to read it unfiltered by a translator. Not that most translators don’t know what they’re doing; not that most English translations aren’t well done. They are. But if I’m gonna seriously study bible, I still wanna read the original, and go through the process of translation myself. That’s why I translate it for TXAB.

In so doing, I often need to talk about the original-language words. So I convert ’em into our alphabet so you can kinda read them. It’s called transliteration. People have always done it. Mark did it in the bible, converting some of Jesus’s Aramaic sayings into Greek characters, like so—

Mark 5.41-42 KWL
41 He gripped the child’s hand and told her, “Talítha kum” (which is translated, “Get up, I say”)
42 and the girl instantly got up, and was walking around—she was 12 years old.
They were amazed and ecstatic.

—turning the original טליתא קומי into ταλιθα κουμ for Greek-speakers who couldn’t read the Aramaic alphabet.

Until recently I’ve transliterated everything on this blog, and left the original Hebrew and Greek out. ’Cause foreign languages intimidate certain people. Throw some Hebrew-alphabet words on a page, and people flinch: “Oh no, he’s writing in Hebrew! I can’t possibly read that. I can’t possibly read anything he’s written; he’ll get too technical for me.” I know; to many of you this sounds ridiculous. But I assure you people really do get that way. And I didn’t wanna alienate readers.

I’ve lately come to realize in so doing, I’m accommodating people’s irrational fears. And shouldn’t. Such fears are wholly inappropriate for Christians. If foreign languages freak you out, you need to get over it. Need to. It ruins your ability to share Jesus with foreigners—and with anybody who has compassion for foreigners. You know, like Jesus, who includes us foreigners in his kingdom. So here on out, I’m gonna include the original text in TXAB—and relax, I’ll still transliterate it for you.

But I’ve received comments from people who aren’t sure I’m transliterating properly. Fr’instance when I write on love, I render the Greek word ἀγάπη as agápi. And they’re pretty sure I’ve done it wrong. Everybody they know spells it “agape,” with an E… and pronounces it ə'gɑ.peɪ, not ɑ'gɑ.pi.

Well, everybody they know is doing it wrong. Modern Greek speakers pronounce it ɑ'gɑ.pi, so I’m going with them.

True, ancient Hebrew and Greek is not modern Hebrew and Greek. Doesn’t matter. Today’s native speakers have the pronunciation way closer than Americans do. And for the most part Americans aren’t even trying to get the pronunciation right. They’re just repeating the way they heard other Christians and scholars say it. They’re following the crowd. Even if they learned how to pronounce these languages properly in seminary; even if they grew up in Israel or Greece! That’s just how corrupting peer pressure can be.

I strive for accuracy. So should we all. So I’ll include my transliteration scheme here, for transparency’s sake. And of course you can compare it with your favorite Greek or Hebrew dictionaries… including the mangled way they sometimes pronounce these words, which likewise bear no relation to how native speakers properly do it.

10 January 2019

Grace. (It really is amazing.)

If you don’t understand what grace is—and many don’t—you likely aren’t practicing it.

GRACE greɪs noun. God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.
2. A prayer of thanksgiving.
[Gracious 'greɪ.ʃəs adjective.]

Years ago I was in a kids’ Sunday school class when the head pastor visited and the kids were encouraged to ask him anything. Bad idea. We spent way too much time discussing the existence of space aliens. The pastor’s view: They’re not real, and all UFO sightings are probably devils messing with people. He was one of those dark Christians who think devils are just everywhere.

Dark Christianity is likely why this pastor punted this question: One of the kids asked him what “grace” is.

Someone had previously told her we Christians are saved by grace. Ep 2.8 So she understandably wanted to know what this “grace” substance was. She wanted to get it and be saved. Her assumption—same as that of way too many Christians—is it’s some sort of heavenly pixie dust.

Pastor’s response: “We can’t define grace. It’s a mystery. It just is.”

I know: Shouldn’t a pastor, of all people, know what grace is? Shouldn’t any Christian in church leadership? Heck, shouldn’t every Christian know what grace is?

Problem is, many Christians don’t know… because they think we’re saved by other things.

  • Saved by good karma: Be a “good person” and God’ll let you into heaven. (This is commonly called “works righteousness.”)
  • Saved by saying the sinner’s prayer.
  • Saved by getting baptized. Or taking regular holy communion. Or going to church, or by otherwise being religious. (It’s just another form of works righteousness.)
  • Saved by faith—by which they mean if they believe really, really hard they’re saved (or “have faith“ they’re saved), they are.
  • Saved by their religious faith, their belief system. If they believe all the correct things, it saves ’em. (I call it “faith righteousness.” It’s probably the most common belief among dark Christians.)
  • Saved by our relationship to some other saint, who can “get us in.”

If you imagine you’re saved by anything other than grace, stands to reason you won’t understand grace very well. You won’t care about it. You won’t practice it much; maybe with family members and certain friends, but it won’t extend to many others. Or, like Christ Jesus wants, everyone.

So since Pastor didn’t know what grace was, and I did, I explained it once he left the room. (I figured since he wasn’t clear on the concept, he wouldn’t appreciate me correcting him.)

Most of the time, I hear Christians define grace as “God’s unmerited favor.” It’s that too. But we still tend to talk about grace as if it’s a material substance. ’Cause God “pours it out” on us, or “gives” or “extends” it, or “covers us” with it. It’s a liquid, a powder, a mist, a blanket, a trinket. An object, not an attitude.

But grace is God’s attitude. He loves us despite our bad behavior, despite our rebelliousness, despite our apathy, despite our outright hostility towards him sometimes. Grace is the way God thinks of us. His attitude overwhelms and overcomes everything we totally deserve. He oughta give up on us and sweep us away with raging fire. But he forgives all, loves us regardless—even adopts us as his kids and gives us his kingdom.

That’s why we call it amazing.