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18 June 2018

What Jesus had to say about John the baptist.

But for the best of reasons.

Matthew 11.7-15 • Luke 7.24-30

After John sent two of his students to ask Jesus who he was, Jesus turned to his crowd of listeners and began to say complimentary things about John. (Which is further evidence John wasn’t going through some crisis of faith about who Jesus was, contrary to popular belief.)

Various “historical Jesus” scholars like to pit John and Jesus against one another ’cause their ministry styles were so different, and like to exaggerate their different emphases into full-on contradictions of one another. John was supposedly about wrath and perfectionism; Jesus about grace and peace. Ignoring of course all Jesus’s instructions to behave ourselves, and warnings about wrath; ignoring John’s declaration that Jesus came to take away the world’s sin. Jn 1.29 For “historians,” they sure do skip a lot of history in order to push their theories, but I already ranted about that.

First thing Jesus brought up is what people expected to see when they first heard about John and wanted to check him out. Starting with two things they clearly didn’t expect to see, because John’s reputation was that of an Elijah-style hairy thunderer. Mk 1.6

Matthew 11.7-8 KWL
7 As these students were going, Jesus began to tell the crowd about John the baptist.
“What did you go to the wilds to see? A wind-shaken reed?
8 What did you see instead? A person dressed in finery?
Look, those who wear finery are in kings’ houses.”
Luke 7.24-25 KWL
24 As John’s messengers went away, Jesus began to talk with the crowd about John the baptist.
“What did you go to the wilds to see? A wind-shaken reed?
25 What did you see instead? A person dressed in fancy clothes?
Look at the glorious clothes and luxury which is in the king’s palace.”

Certain commentators wanna claim these statements were kind of a knock on the Galilee’s governor, King Antipas Herod, who had imprisoned John at this time. Lk 3.19-20, Mt 11.2 The idea is Herod, as a politician, was the sort of guy who would sway like a papyrus reed in the breeze, and say or do anything to convince the Caesars to leave him in power. And of course he wore fancy clothing, as nobles do.

I don’t know that these statements were necessarily made about Herod. I suspect they’re more about wannabe prophets.

Because it’s precisely the sort of behavior we see in wannabe prophets nowadays. And human nature hasn’t changed any in the past 20 centuries: If somebody was a self-described prophet, they wanted acknowledgement. Respect. Maybe a little bit of fear. After all, they heard from God. They lacked the humility we oughta see in a real prophet, who recognizes they’re just the servant of the Almighty and nothing more; whom God doesn’t always grant the sort of messages that’d make ’em popular. Fake prophets, on the other hand, don’t have enough experience with God to realize their proper place way under him. And they’ve no trouble adjusting their messages to suck up to their audiences, because God didn’t really give them anyway. That whole wind-shaken reed thing? Applies to phony prophets just as much as it does to phony leaders.

Essentially Jesus’s message was, “When you went to check out John, did you expect to find a fake? And that’s not what you found at all.”

15 June 2018

On tipping and overtipping.

On those who are constantly wary of unseen dangers.

One of my hobbies is restaurants. I like to go to places I’ve never been to before, and eat their food. It’s obviously not an inexpensive hobby, which is why I do it maybe twice a month. But now I know a lot of great places to eat.

And when I go to restaurants, I prefer to overtip. And by overtip, I mean go above the customary 15 percent gratuity. I want my waiters to be glad they served me, not think, “Next time he visits I’m definitely sneezing in his food.” And if that idea horrifies you, maybe you’ll think twice about undertipping.

Because whenever I go to restaurants with other people, most of them don’t share my views about tipping. Usually the opposite. A lot of people hate the American custom of tipping.

Part of it is because people look at the menu, order their food, get the bill, find it’s slightly higher than they expected to pay (what’s with all the restaurants that won’t put on the menu how much the beverages cost?—and it’s always more than you’d expect), and are a little annoyed. Then they see the line on the bill for the waiter’s gratuity, and frequently get a little more annoyed. “Pay the waiter for doing the job she’s supposed to do anyway? Her boss is supposed to do that. Why do I have to do that?”

Because waiters aren’t paid squat. Most of ’em make minimum wage. Ever tried to live on minimum wage? You might… if you work full time and have no dependents. That’s not true of most people, waiters included.

In a really busy restaurant waiters can make really good tip money. But not every restaurant gets that kind of business. In order to pay their waiters a decent living wage, most restaurants would probably have to raise their prices… oh, about 15 percent or more, I should think. In the long run it might be cheaper for customers to just tip them.

But instead, for no good reason, a lot of annoyed customers take it out on their undeserving waiters, and shaft ’em when it comes to tips.

So part of the reason I overtip, is to make up for all the Christian jerks who undertip. Don’t think the waiters don’t know you’re Christian; they heard you praying. If you came in after church, they see the church clothes and hairstyles. And inside, their hearts died just a little, ’cause they know y’all undertip.

14 June 2018

Tribulation, great tribulation, and not-so-great tribulation.

Life is suffering. But sometimes there’s a little extra suffering going on.

TRIBULATION /tri.bu.la.tion/ n. Great suffering.
2. The cause of great suffering.
3. An End Times period of suffering around the time of Jesus’s second coming.
[Tribulational /tri.bu.la.tion.al/ adj.]

Tribulation is an old-timey word which, to many people and Evangelicals in particular, has to do with the End Times. That’s why writers find it useful. You wanna talk about suffering, and wanna make it sound as bad as suffering can be? You call it tribulation.

Thing is, when the word tribulation came up in the King James Version, it meant any and every kind of suffering. Not just the worst-case-ever kind of suffering. I mean, it was used to describe that, Mt 24.21 but it was used for all the other kinds. ’Cause suffering is part of the world we live in. Life is suffering.

But Jesus has conquered the world.

John 16.33 KJV
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

So when we read of tribulation in the scriptures, it’s interchangeable with suffering. Don’t go reading great suffering into it… unless the context shows you oughta. ’Cause sometimes you oughta. And other times it’s just life.

Likewise, Christians shouldn’t be so surprised and outraged when life happens to have some suffering in it. Problem is, we do. American Christians especially are under the delusion that once we come to Jesus, our sufferings should be over. That any discomfort has one of the following causes:

  • The devil trying to rip us a new one like it did Job.
  • We sinned, or we’ve otherwise stepped outside of God’s perfect will, so God himself out to smite us.
  • We didn’t sin, but to preemptively keep us from sinning, God’s smiting us anyway, like he did Paul. 2Co 12.7
  • Somebody cursed us. So we need some form of supernatural deliverance; something to get the evil spirits to bug off.
  • The End has come. Or at least it’s a sign of the End, a warning of the End, a glimpse of End Times style judgment, or something related to all that.

Generally we go for one of many worst-case scenarios. We never consider the very real likelihood our suffering doesn’t mean anything. It has to mean something; everything means something; we’re just that important. (More like narcissistic.)

Nope. Reality doesn’t work like that. Christianity doesn’t either. Jesus never guaranteed a trouble-free existence in this age. On the contrary; read that John verse again. “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” There will be tribulation. Particularly for Jesus’s followers, who are gonna get pushback for following him properly. Pushback everywhere. Not even our homes are safe.

Matthew 10.34-36 KWL
34 “Don’t imagine I come to bring peace to the world.
I don’t come to bring peace but a machete:
35 I come to divide a person from his father,
a daughter from her mother, a bride from her mother-in-law:
36 A person’s enemies will be in their house.”

Face it: The road to God’s kingdom has a certain amount of tribulation to it. Ac 14.22 Every antichrist is gonna want to pick a fight with us. Every hardship is gonna be waved around as if it’s proof God’s not around or doesn’t care. Even fellow Christians are gonna test our commitment to Jesus when times get rough—because they insist times should never get rough.

At least not till just before the great tribulation.

13 June 2018

The interlinear bible.

For those who want the illusion of being able to read the original.

INTERLINEAR BIBLE /in.ter.lin.e.er bi.bel/ n. Bible which presents the same text in different languages printed on alternate lines.

First time I stumbled across an interlinear bible was back in high school. I was killing time in a Christian bookstore. (Remember those?) This one happened to have an interlinear Old Testament mixed in among the bibles. Never knew such a thing even existed, but I wanted it immediately: It had “the original Hebrew”—the Masoretic text of the scriptures, in a language I couldn’t read at all, ’cause I hadn’t even learned the alphabet yet. But its secrets were unlocked with a word-by-word translation, displayed beneath every Hebrew word. Looked like yea:


Acts 2.42-44 presented interlinear-style. Oak Tree Software

Wanted to buy it immediately, but the sucker was expensive. (A lot of interlinear bibles are. Low demand, y’see.) Something like $80 in 1980s money.

Ten years later I bought the NIV interlinear Old Testament, which was still a bit expensive: I paid $50 in ’90s money, plus shipping. Also got the NIV interlinear New Testament to go along with it.

Then I went to university, minored in biblical languages, and my Hebrew professor told me I had to get rid of my interlinears.

What? Why?

Because, he explained, it’s a “cheater bible.” Every time I pick it up to read Hebrew, I’m not really gonna read the Hebrew. My eyes are gonna drift down one line to the English translation. It’s like having an answer key: I wouldn’t have to practice my vocabulary. Wouldn’t have to remember any word-prefixes or word-endings. Wouldn’t have to remember a thing. The interlinear would be my crutch, and as my memory of Hebrew decayed—as it will, when you don’t practice—it’d become more and more of a crutch. I’d go right back to reading English instead of Hebrew. Yet I’d imagine to myself, “But I know Hebrew.”

Yeah, I had to admit he was absolutely right. Whenever I open up an interlinear text, that’s always what I catch myself doing. That’s why I’ve gotta turn off that software or close that book, and go back to a Hebrew-only text.

But that’s me, and anyone else who can read biblical languages. If you can’t—if you know a few original-language words, but certainly can’t read Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, and wish you had more access to those languages—that’s what an interlinear bible will do for you. It erases some of the barrier between you and the original languages.

But there is still a language barrier. So don’t get overconfident.

12 June 2018

Joy and the “happy Christian.”

Too many Christians are pursuing one instead of the other.

Joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. It’s a great feeling. It’s a fruit of the Spirit too, y’know: Anyone who follows Jesus, who listens to the Holy Spirit, oughta experience joy more often than not. We should have a positive, optimistic view of the world—not because it’s good, for holy shnikes it’s not; but because God’s fixing it and saving people. We should be friendly, engaging, helpful, and be fun to be around. Our joy oughta be contagious.

And yet.

Yeah, you know where I’m going with this: We’ve all met “joyful” Christians who just plain rubbed us the wrong way. A little too happy. A little too friendly, too cheerful, too pleased. They’re so chipper, you kinda want to feed them into one. They’re off-putting.

Whenever I express my discomfort about such people, most Christians will respond, “I know, right? What’s with them?” But every so often I’ll get rebuked by someone who wants to know why I have a problem with joy. I don’t. I have a problem with fake joy.

There are such people as Christians who lack joy. You might be thinking of dark Christians, who are as joyless as they come, but I’m generally thinking of people with emotional problems. Sometimes it’s purely biological: Their brains aren’t making the proper chemicals, so joy is physically impossible. Sometimes it’s psychological: They’ve had terrible or traumatic experiences in the past, and suppress emotion instead of trying to control it and deal with it in any healthy way. They don’t trust themselves to feel anything, much less joy. Or they were forced to suppress emotion. Or it’s present-tense: They live in a really unhealthy environment, so they still suppress emotion.

Such people have been taught, by similarly joyless people, that joy isn’t an emotion. It’s a mental state. You choose to feel content, regardless of circumstances. This, they claim, is what the scripture’s authors meant by “joy.”

Rubbish. As I pointed out in my article on joy, it’s not at all how joy was practiced in the bible. When people felt joy, they were happy. When people still feel joy, they’re happy. And when people aren’t happy, can’t feel happy, or won’t permit themselves happiness: They lack joy. Their substitutes for the real thing, whether they realize it or not, are fake. If they realize it, it’s hypocrisy. If they don’t, it’s because they’ve been deceived by people who are just fine with them having no joy in their lives.

Those people who give me pushback? They’re usually faking joy. They rarely experience great happiness. They tend instead to be angry, argumentative, divisive, pessimistic, faultfinding, hateful, humorless, bitter, unforgiving, envious, or any other such works of the flesh. Their problem with me isn’t really that they’re trying to defend joy: They’re trying to make sure I don‘t expose the fake stuff.

So when I complain about shiny happy Christians, their pushback is an attempt to shut me up through shock and awe: “You’ve got a problem. You’re a killjoy. You lack the Spirit. I’ve got joy.” Yeah, you got something, but ’tain’t joy.

Most people can identify true joy when we see it. It’s attractive and desirable. What the annoyingly happy Christian is doing, is trying to psyche themselves into happiness. “Fake it till you make it,” as motivational speakers put it. They might actually think they’re obeying James:

James 1.2 KWL
My fellow Christians, whenever you’re surrounded by the various things which challenge you,
command everything to be joy.

But fakery is hypocrisy, and “fake it till you make it” only means you get more practice at faking it. You don’t necessarily get better at it, though; you’re not fooling as many people as you think. Joy is winsome, but fake joy is weird and unsettling. Challenge it, and instead of turning into amusement at such a silly idea as faking happiness, it immediately turns into rage. That should tell us everything.

To a degree, sometimes a large degree, the reason we find it unsettling is because the Holy Spirit is warning us: “This joy isn’t real. This person’s a hypocrite. Heads up.” He wants us to know him and have true joy, not this hollow substitute which drives people away.