Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

22 June 2018

Being a member of the jerk club.

Which, as a follower of Jesus, I’m not allowed to do.

One of the neighbors, out on a power walk, decided to pause for a moment and strike up a conversation with me as I was doing some yardwork. Once he found out how old I am, he realized I was the same age as his son. “Do you know Cloelius?” he asked.

No, Cloelius isn’t his son’s actual name. I don’t care to give his name, and you’ll see why. It took me a few seconds to recall him. “Yes,” I told him, “I know of him. We weren’t in the same circles.”

There’s actually a bigger story behind this. One I didn’t care to tell Colelius’s dad, ’cause I don’t think he’d have been happy to hear it. But to be fair, we were kids then.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved into a new neighborhood. Across the street lived a boy whom I’ll call Azad. And for no reason I could figure, Azad decided I was his sworn enemy.

No, I still don’t know why. Knowing myself, it’s possibly for the very same reason I irritated frat boys in college: I was mouthy and opinionated. I probably said something which rubbed Azad the wrong way. It’s also possible Azad was just looking for someone to bully. Either way he declared eternal hostility against me.

There were about a dozen kids in the neighborhood who went to my high school at the time. Mostly boys. Azad knew them all, having lived in the neighborhood way longer than I had. As we waited for the school bus in the mornings, most of the boys waited in a garage across the street, Azad among them. Because I didn’t care to interact with Azad, I’d just stand at the bus stop. Azad would get bored every so often, so he’d try to provoke me, and try to get the other boys in his clique to join in. I wouldn’t take the bait, so I wasn’t much fun.

Cloelius was a year behind me in school. When he started high school, he joined Azad’s bus-stop clique. So that’s how we knew one another.

21 June 2018

Repent!

Doesn’t mean “Feel bad about your evil ways!” It means stop.

REPENT /rə'pent/ v. Turn away from one’s current, usually sinful, behavior.
2. Feel regret or express remorse about wrongdoing or sin.

Our culture has used the word repent to mean feeling bad. For centuries. For so long, you’re not gonna find the definition “turn away from one’s behavior” in most dictionaries. Even the Latin word repent is based on, re-paenitere, gets defined as “feel great penitence or sorrow.” When people repent, they feel bad for what they’ve done. Sometimes they bother to make amends, or try to. (Penitentiaries, annoyingly, have little about them anymore which involves making amends, community service, or good deeds in general.)

But the Christian definition comes from the Greek words we translate as “repent,” namely metanoéo the verb, and metánoia/“repentance,” the noun. The word’s literally a compound of the words metá/“after” and noéo/“think,” but combined they mean “turn round.” In other words, don’t go that way again. Don’t do that again. Walk it back.

So when Jesus first began to preach the gospel—

Mark 1.14-15 KWL
14 After John’s arrest, Jesus went into the Galilee preaching God’s gospel, 15 saying this:
“The time has been fulfilled. God’s kingdom has come near. Repent! Believe in the gospel!”

—he wasn’t telling the Galileans, “Feel really bad about what you’ve done, and believe in the gospel!” He was ordering them to stop what they were doing—good or bad—and come to God’s kingdom. It’s come near!

Problem is, when Christians don’t understand the proper definition of repentance, we try to obey Jesus’s command by psyching ourselves into feeling bad. We manufacture an emotion. We make ourselves feel sorry for our sins, and some of us even claim this sorrow is mandatory before God can forgive us. ’Cause if you’re not sorry, what kind of unfeeling jerk are you?


Well we do suck big time sometimes. Sinfest

But after we’ve whipped ourselves into a lather (not literally, although you know Christians throughout history actually have done so literally) and got all the self-pity and self-condemnation out of our system, are we following Jesus any better? Or at all? Not usually. Nope; we go right back to the same “Forgive me” prayer every time we pray, and never notice how we’re not growing spiritually whatsoever.

Because we gotta actually repent. We gotta quit doing as we’ve been doing, and follow Jesus into his kingdom.

20 June 2018

Lies!

And the difference between lies and falsehoods—and why certain people don’t care there’s a difference.

LIE /laɪ/ n. Intentional untruth: A false statement involving deception, or an impression designed to be misunderstood.
2. v. To make an intentionally false statement, present a false impression, or deceive.
[Liar /laɪ(.ə)r/ n.]

By “lie,” most folks ordinarily mean an intentional untruth.

“I floss every day,” you tell your dentist, and you totally don’t. “I think I was going 45,” you tell the traffic cop, and you know you pushed it to 60 to beat the stoplight. “I exercise,” you tell your friends, but haven’t been to the gym since the first week of January. The truth is embarrassing, or may get you into trouble, or you’re sure it won’t get you out of trouble. But when you try to get people to believe otherwise, that’d be lying.

But there’s another definition of “lie” floating around. It’s grown in popularity, ’cause people use it to provoke one another. In short, a lie isn’t just an intentional untruth. It’s any untruth.

Fr’instance somebody asks how much you weigh. You don’t like the answer, but you wanna be honest, so you tell them: “I weigh 200 pounds.” They have you step on a scale, and it comes up 205. “Aha!” they exclaim, “you lied.” But you honestly thought you weighed 200 (and you probably do, once you’re not wearing five pounds of clothing). So no, you hadn’t lied: You weren’t trying to deceive. There’s a difference.

But some folks don’t care there’s a difference. They just wanna catch you doing the wrong thing, so they’re willing to fudge the definition of “lie” just a little. That’s why partisans love defining “lie” as any untruth.

A couple years ago I read some preacher’s Facebook rant about some popular book by a prosperity gospel pastor. He called her a liar nine times. Called her teachings “lies” six more times. Now, is she a liar?—using the ordinary definition of “liar.” Is she intentionally making statements she knows to be false? Is she trying to deceive? Is she trying to say one thing, but make you think she believes another? Is she deliberately, willfully trying to lead Christians astray?

Um… I’m gonna give her the benefit of the doubt and say no. She’s no liar. Oh, she’s wrong of course; the prosperity gospel is Mammonism and she’s definitely distorting the scriptures and misleading people. But she believes her rubbish. She’s leading herself astray, same as everyone else. She’s not lying in the proper sense of the word. Neither are heretics and nontheists, wrong though they are.

So why’d the Facebook preacher call her a liar? Well, in this guy’s case, it’s overzealousness. A lack of patience. Easily-stirred anger. Quick to argue. He’s kind of a fruitless guy, and the reason he has a lot of internet followers is because fruitless Christians eat up this behavior with a spoon.

And he’ll justify it by claiming the prosperity gospel teachings are lies. Though not necessarily the book-author’s lies. More like Satan’s lies. And to his mind, anyone who spreads lies, no matter if they think they aren’t lies, is a liar. Ergo she’s a liar.

No that’s not what “liar” means, but he doesn’t really care. “Liar” stirs people up, and that’s what he’s really going for. Which is a little bit deceptive—dare I say lying?—of him.

19 June 2018

Dem bones.

It’s not about God bringing your dreams back to life.

Ezekiel 37.1-10.

Your average Christian knows very little about the prophetic book of Ezekiel. Most of ’em know only three things about it:

  1. At the beginning of the book, Ezekiel gets this vision of God’s throne which includes four freaky creatures with four heads, and what sound like living gyroscopes beside each of them. Ek 1 And for some looney reason, people who are into UFOs insist that’s what Ezekiel saw; it strikes ’em as more mechanical than miraculous.
  2. Apparently there’s such a thing as “Ezekiel bread.” Ek 4.9 Every once in a while, some overzealous Christian will bake a loaf and inflict it upon the people of their church. Here’s the deal: Ezekiel bread was meant to be awful, to make a point about suffering. But Christians’ll try to fix it up somehow: Add lots of yeast, sugar, disproportionate amounts of flour, and even butter. Most of the time it’s still awful. People, the bible isn’t a recipe book!
  3. And the bit I’m getting to today: The Valley of Dry Bones story. In it, God demonstrates his power to Ezekiel by taking long-dead bones, turning ’em back into humans, and bringing them to life.

The title of this article comes from the gospel song, “Dem Bones,” which most people don’t know is a spiritual, ’cause all they know is, “Ankle bone connected to the shin bone, shin bone connected to the knee bone…” They think it’s about anatomy. Or skeletons. Well anyway.

Ezekiel wrote his visions from Tel Aviv, Iraq. Not Tel Aviv, Israel; Iraq. (The city in Israel is named after Ezekiel’s village.) He lived in Iraq because Israel didn’t exist anymore. The Babylonians invaded and destroyed it, then scattered him and all his loved ones to the four winds. Now he lived in Iraq, figuring he’d never see Israel again.

So, in both straight-up messages, weird demonstrations, and apocalyptic visions, the LORD was trying to tell Ezekiel and his neighbors how Israel wasn’t permanently destroyed. Its restoration might be impossible for them to imagine, like dry bones turned into living bones. But God was gonna bring his nation back.

But you know how humans are: We always gotta make everything about us. And generations of Christians have misappropriated this story, claiming it’s about them, about restoring their lives—or their career, their church, their broken family, their nation, what they’ll see in the End Times, you name it. I still hear sermons where preachers swipe the idea and claim it for themselves.

Still just as invalid.

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.”