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18 July 2019

“God will not be mocked.”

Galatians 6.7.

Here’s a verse I hear frequently misquoted. (So have you.)

Galatians 6.7 KJV
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Y’notice most of the time when Christians quote it, it’s not necessarily because somebody’s mocking God. Usually somebody’s mocking them, the Christians. Occasionally God’s getting mocked too, but he’s collateral damage. The mockers are mainly focused on the Christians: Once again, one of us did something dumb, so people are having a laugh at our expense.

Well when certain Christians get mocked—like when they’re new, and too immature to have the Spirit’s fruit; or when they’re longtime Christians, but never did develop patience, so they can’t take a joke; or they’re otherwise deficient in joy—they wanna rebuke their scoffers. Call down curses, ideally, but they’re happy just to have a clever comeback. “Have your fun now,” they menace their scoffers, “but your time will come. God will not be mocked.”

Sometimes the outraged Christian will continue with the rest of the verse they’re misquoting. Still out of context, of course. “You,” they’ll indicate, “will reap what you sow.” Not that karma will get ’em and they’ll get laughed at too; they’re thinking more about burning in hell, or some other disproportionate, but satisfying, punishment.

Anyway. Note how the King James Version of the verse is present tense, not future: It’s not “God will not be mocked” but “God is not mocked.” It’s present tense in Greek too: θεὸς οὐ μυκτηρίζεται/Theós u myktirídzete. It has to do with what was currently happening when Paul wrote it to the Galatians. Not with what’s currently happening when a pagan laughs at a Christian; not with nontheists getting their comeuppance on Judgment Day. Certainly not with our various unchristian revenge fantasies.

What were its circumstances when Paul originally wrote it to the Galatian church? Glad you asked.

17 July 2019

“Discerning” the news: Seeking “signs of the times.”

End Times prognosticator Hal Lindsey is fond of saying when we read the bible, particularly Revelation, we oughta do it with the scriptures in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Because the events of his End Times timeline are happening. Right this instant.

Even though every five years or so, he has to write another End Times book to update all the predictions of his previous End Times book. For some reason they keep not turning into the harbingers of the End he insists they are.

Y’see, what Lindsey does, and what many other End Times fixated Christians do, is what they call “discerning the news.” What they’re doing, they claim, is what Jesus tells us to: They’re looking at the signs of the day. Or as the KJV puts it, “the signs of the times.”

Matthew 16.1-4 KWL
1 Approaching Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a heavenly sign to show them.
2 In reply Jesus told them, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It’s red; clear sky.’
3 And in the morning, ‘Storms today, for the sky is red and gloomy.’
So you know to interpret the face of the sky—and can’t interpret the signs of the day?”

In context, Jesus said this phrase when Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus ’cause he wasn’t doing as they expected Messiah to do in their End Times timelines, so they asked him to perform one of those signs. Yeah, it’s ironic how these “signs of the times” seekers are doing the very same thing. Irony’s pretty common when people don’t know their bibles.

Jesus wasn’t telling these religious folks to study current events and so they could find fulfilled prophecy in them. He was pointing out how greatly they missed the obvious. They could interpret the weather, which is right there, above their heads; but when Jesus was likewise right in front of them, they wanted signs. Somehow they’d gone blind.

Likewise with End Times events. When they happen, they’re as obvious as a pimple on your nose. They don’t require you, or anyone, to go digging through news websites, looking for stories which sorta kinda resemble a comment in Isaiah or Psalms or Nahum. They don’t require any special powers of discernment, where you somehow are able to see the things no one else can. God wants them to be visible to everyone, Christian and pagan alike, with no question in our minds that these are God-events, so we’ll repent and turn to him and be saved. Not so Christians can be forewarned, and get our End Times bunkers ready, and buy guns.

These “prophecy scholars” who claim current events are pointing to how the future’s gonna turn out? In five years they’ll need to update their books and websites for the very same reason Lindsey does: Prophets they ain’t.

And yet. Because of these nuts, I know too many Christians who think “discerning the news” is an entirely legitimate practice. They scour the news for bible-like articles, then try to connect the dots between the article and the “prophecies.” Any match, no matter how iffy, no matter how far it stretches credibility, will do for them. They point to the article, point to the proof text, and declare, “This is fulfillment!” and share it with anyone who’ll listen. They call this discernment, but to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride out of context,


Giphy

If you want a scripture it fulfills, okay: Here ya go.

Mark 13.5-8 KWL
5 Jesus began to tell them, “Watch out, lest someone trick you.
6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m him!’ They’ll trick many.
7 Don’t freak out when you overhear conflicts, and hearsay about conflicts.
These things happen, but it’s not the End yet.
8 People will rise against people; kingdoms against kingdoms.
Earthquakes will happen in other lands. Recessions will happen.
They’re early labor pains.”

16 July 2019

The person who just bursts into prayer.

You might’ve been in this scenario: You’re talking with a fellow Christian about something. Could be any subject; doesn’t entirely matter. But at some point, something you mention gets ’em riled up. They wanna stop your conversation, and pray about that. Immediately. This instant. Before any more time elapses.

…Okay. Nothing wrong with prayer, so you do.

But it’s not a simple, “Lord Jesus, you know best; sort this out; amen.” Nor one of its 30-second, slightly longer relatives. It’s a full-on loud, vigorous prayer. Goes on for a while; almost as if the petitioner is trying to filibuster God.

Then they finally stop, and you can go back to your conversation. Except you’re sorta thinking, “What was that all about?”

I mean, if it were anybody but God we’re talking about—if they suddenly interrupted your conversation because they needed to talk to their spouse, then spent ten minutes shouting into their phone—you’d think something was wrong with their relationship, right? Something unhealthy’s going on.

Same deal here. We’re talking about a variant of the street-corner show-off: Somebody who wants to show off what a good prayer intercessor they are, and doing so by breaking out in intercession at the drop of a hat. Maybe they don’t think it’s showing off ’cause they’ve been doing it for years, and it’s just what they do now. But I guarantee you it began with showing off.

If a person has so little patience (a fruit of the Spirit, you recall) they simply can’t wait to pray, as if their prayers are the only thing keeping God from springing into action… yep, we’re dealing with ego. Immaturity. Showing off. Hypocrisy.

So what do we do when people interrupt a conversation with, “I wanna pray about this right now?”

Well first of all, read the situation. If you don’t know that this person wants to play “prayer warrior” on you—if they’re an immature Christian who’s not a show-off, and legitimately wants prayer because they’re really emotional right now—you don’t have to worry about discouraging bad behavior. You really oughta pray for them. So do.

Otherwise simply say, “We can pray about it later.”

Because you can. God’s not limited by time. If you pray for something after it happens, your prayers can actually still influence what happens. It’s never too late to pray for things. The only time you ever need to pray right this moment, is when the Holy Spirit orders you to pray right this moment. The rest of the time, relax.

15 July 2019

Curing a blind man… on Sabbath.

John 9.1-14.

Previously I wrote about some blind guy Jesus cured with spit. Today I figured I’d jump to the other story of Jesus curing a blind guy with spit. That one is only found in Mark; this one comes from John. And this story is probably better-known because it created a huge controversy… ’cause Jesus cured the guy on Sabbath, ’cause he’s the Sabbath’s master.

The story begins with a lesson, ’cause Jesus’s students see the blind guy and make the typical human assumption: He’s blind because of karma. Either he did something, or his parents did something, and now he’s suffering the wrath of God for it. It’s a poisonous attitude too, ’cause people use it to justify not doing anything for the needy: Hey, they’re needy because they deserve it, and who are we to undo God’s righteous judgment? (Or the judgment of the universe, or the marketplace; whatever god you’re into.)

John 9.1-3 KWL
1 Passing by, Jesus saw a person, blind from birth.
2 His students questioned him, saying, “Rabbi, between this man or his parents,
who sinned so he’d be born blind?
3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents.
He was born blind so God’s works could be revealed through him.”

Determinists make the mistake of presuming Jesus’s answer applies to every situation. This, they say, proves every disability, every birth defect, every type of human suffering, is so God’s works can be revealed, and God can gain glory. God makes people suffer so God can cure their suffering, and show off his power. God makes us needy so he can take care of our needs, and show off his power. And then we’ll worship him.

Um… if you set fire to a building so you can rescue people from the burning building, you’re not a hero; you’re an arsonist. Likewise if God creates evil so he can save us from this evil, he’s not good; he’s evil. Don’t go there.

I’m sure determinists mean well, but their beliefs really mangle their theodicy. God’s not creating problems just so he can solve them, and look good in so doing. God’s solving the problems we created with our sins. Jesus died for our transgressions, not for our falling into the booby traps he sovereignly set in our paths. He’s not the trickster god the nontheists imagine. He’s rescuing us from the natural consequences of our sins: Suffering and death.

And yeah, sometimes blindness is the result of those natural consequences. Sometimes a man is born blind because his parents did sin. Sometimes a woman later goes blind because of her own sins. Jesus’s kids knew this, so it wasn’t totally invalid for them to presume sin was the root cause of this man’s circumstances. But neither is it the only possibility. Sometimes accidents happen; some meaningless thing which has nothing to do with sin or judgment or God or any conscious decision. Life sucks that way.

In this specific person’s situation, he was blind because God was gonna do stuff through his blindness. Talk to certain blind people, and they’ll tell you their blindness was an unexpected blessing. Because they can’t see, they have to depend on their other senses. (Usually this is described as “all your other senses get sharper,” but they don’t just do this on their own; they get sharper because you pay more attention to them.) As a result they feel things others don’t notice, hear things we overlook, smell and taste what we take for granted, and are much better at discerning their environment than people who solely depend on their eyes. Disabled people tend to hear God better than able-bodied people. (That is, when they’re not bitter at him for not curing them on their timetable.)

And that’s what you’ll see later: This blind guy realized who Jesus is. Much better than the other folks in this chapter. His mind was sharper than theirs. Which of course it would be; without his eyes, he had to use his mind to observe his world. His blindness was preparation for God’s revelation.

12 July 2019

The Graham rule.

Here’s a big excerpt from one of evangelist Billy Graham’s autobiographies (yep, he wrote more than one), Just As I Am. It’s a good read.

From time to time Cliff [Barrows], Bev [George Beverly Shea], Grady [Wilson], and I talked among ourselves about the recurring problems many evangelists seemed to have, and about the poor image so-called mass evangelism had in the eyes of many people. Sinclair Lewis’s fictional character Elmer Gantry unquestionably had given traveling evangelists a bad name. To our sorrow, we knew that some evangelists were not much better than Lewis’s scornful caricature.

One afternoon during the Modesto meetings, I called the Team together to discuss the problem. Then I asked them to go to their rooms for an hour and list all the problems they could think of that evangelists and evangelism encountered.

When they returned, the lists were remarkably similar, and in a short amount of time, we made a series of resolutions or commitments among ourselves that would guide us in our future evangelistic work. In reality, it was more of an informal understanding among ourselves—a shared commitment to do all we could to uphold the Bible’s standard of absolute integrity and purity for evangelists.

The first point on our combined list was money. […]

The second item on the list was the danger of sexual immorality. We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet, or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: “Flee… youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22, KJV).

Our third concern was the tendency of many evangelists to carry on their work apart from the local church, even to criticize local pastors and churches openly and scathingly. […]

The fourth and final issue was publicity. The tendency among some evangelists was to exaggerate their successes or claim higher attendance numbers than they really had. […]

So much for the Modesto Manifesto, as Cliff called it in later years. In reality it did not mark a radical departure for us; we had always held these principles. It did, however, settle in our hearts and minds, once and for all, the determination that integrity would be the hallmark of both our lives and our ministry. Graham 127–129

Graham’s music director Cliff Barrows called all of these resolutions, made in 1948, “the Modesto Manifesto.” It was their way of avoiding the scandalous reputation of con-artist evangelists, like we see in the documentary Marjoe, or the novel Elmer Gantry (another good read, by the way). The goal was to be far, far better than that—and get those concerns out of the way so they could focus on sharing the gospel.

But more recently certain politicians, including our current vice president, have made the national news because they observe one resolution of the four. The second one. The sexual-immorality one. Where they’re not gonna be alone in a room with any woman other than their wives, for fear of the appearance of evil. Not the actual evil themselves; they’re pretty sure they can keep their zipper up. (Not that Bill Gothard ever needed to undo clothing.)

They call it “the Billy Graham rule.” And to the world outside the Bible Belt, it strikes ’em as ridiculous. You can’t be alone in a room with a woman? How in the world are you gonna have private meetings with women constituents? With women staffers? Are you this paranoid about women? Or have you this little self-control?—that every time you’re alone with a woman you’re gonna assault her? You gotta always have a chaperone around? Is that feasable? Are taxpayer dollars gonna pay for this full-time chaperone?

Now inside the Bible Belt, and the conservative Christian subculture, the Graham rule makes perfect sense. And it’s everywhere. And it’s mandatory, in some churches. I’ve worked for ministries where they absolutely forbade one man and one woman to be alone in a room, or a car, together. Because like Graham and his team, we all knew people who slipped up in this area. Not about people who did this; personally knew people who did this. In my life thus far, I’ve had five pastors whose ministry-related sexual activity became public scandal. And that’s just the people who got caught.

So yeah, there’s a need for accountability guidelines like the Graham rule. Question is, should it specifically be the Graham rule? Because the pagans who think it weird and wrong, have a valid point: How can you provide equal access to your constituents if you need a chaperone for half of them? How does that not perpetuate a sexist power structure?

Stuff to think about. So I did.