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18 October 2018

Redefining joy “because happiness is fleeting.”

If it comes and goes, is it still fruit? Of course it is.

Ask anyone what joy means and they’ll tell you what the dictionary usually tells you: It’s happiness. It’s pleasure. You feel really, really good.

Ask a Christian and they’ll give you the very same answer. That is, till you bring up the fruit of the Spirit. Then suddenly the definition of joy changes to contentment. To being okay with whatever befalls us in life. To gritting our teeth and buggering on. All the happiness gets sucked right out of the meaning.

What’s wrong with these people? What, have they never experienced joy before?

No, they have! The problem isn’t that they don’t know what joy is, nor what it feels like. The problem is they don’t understand fruit of the Spirit. Christians have some really odd, wrong ideas about what it’s like. So these odd ideas worm their way backwards into the definitions of the individual fruits, and distort what we mean by love or any of the emotions encouraged by the Spirit.

Emotions, y’see, come and go. We all know this. Joy fades; love fades; compassion fades; patience wears off. We don’t want ’em to, but they do. That’s why we strive to get ’em back. Which is good! We should want to continually love, be patient, have compassion, and experience joy.

The fact these things fade, should inform our definition of the Spirit’s fruit: Fruit can fade. Because it absolutely can. In fact you’ve seen it happen in various Christians. (Likely seen it in yourself.) We don’t just acquire the Spirit’s fruit, then have it forever. Jesus told us we have to stay in him:

John 15.1-8 KWL
1 “I’m the true grapevine. My Father’s the gardener.
2 He lifts off the ground my every branch which doesn’t bear fruit.
He prunes every branch which does, so it can bear even more fruit.
3 You’ve already been trimmed by the message I gave you.
4 Stay in me and I in you, like a branch which can’t bear fruit all by itself
when it doesn’t stay in the grapevine—you never produce when you don’t stay in me.
5 I’m the grapevine. You’re the branches.
Those who stay in me and I in them, produce a lot of fruit.
You can’t do anything apart from me.
6 When anyone won’t stay in me, they’re thrown out like a stray branch:
They wither, are gathered up, tossed into fire, and burned.
7 When you stay in me and my words stay in you,
whenever you want something, ask! It’ll happen for you.
8 My Father is glorified by it when you produce a lot of fruit,
and become my students.”

The only way fruit’s gonna grow—or even continue to stay alive!—is when our branches are attached to the grapevine. We gotta stay plugged into Jesus, maintain our relationship with him, and work on this relationship religiously. If we take Jesus for granted or blow off the relationship, it stands to reason our fruit’s gonna wither.

But somehow popular Christian culture is under the delusion the Spirit’s fruit never fades. ’Cause if it’s from the Holy Spirit, it must be perfect, and last forever. Like wax fruit. But if you’ve ever accidentally taken a bite of wax fruit, it’s nasty. (Especially if people didn’t dust it. Yuck.) Wax fruit only looks good, and impresses people who aren’t paying real attention. Same as all the fake fruit Christians try to pass off as the real thing—which never spoils, never fades, never withers, but isn’t real.

You know, like the redefinitions of “joy” which generate fake plastic smiles instead of real happiness and pleasure.

17 October 2018

Nefilim: The mythology of fallen people.

An odd little story in Genesis, and the myths which sprang from it.

NAFAL /nɔ'fɔl/ v. (Hebrew ‏נָפַל , Strong’s 5307) To fall down, fall prostrate, fall into, be thrown down, be removed.
[Nefil /nɛ'fil/ n., nefilim /nɛ.fil'im/ n.pl.]

Every once in a while I get asked about the Nefilim (NIV “Nephilim,” KJV “giants”). And folks, it’s not “a Nefilim,” ’cause it’s a plural noun. One Nefil, many Nefilim. Understandable mistake though; most English speakers can’t get our own plurals right, much less Hebrew nouns.

I don’t pry into why people wanna know about Nefilim, although when they explain, it nearly always has to do with some mythological garbage about half-human half-angel beings. They hear about that, then hear, “And it’s in the bible!” so they check out their bible and find this weird little story. It comes right before the flood story in Genesis 6, so you’d think they’d have read it, but you know people don’t read their bibles. But even when people aren’t checking up on weird myths, they read this story, scratch their heads, and go, “Huh?”

Genesis 6.1-5 KWL
1 It happened that the Adamites began to be many over the face of the earth.
Daughters were fathered by them.
2 God’s children saw the Adamite daughters—that they were good.
They took them for wives—all whom they chose.
3 The LORD said, “My Spirit won’t remain with Adam forever.
Plus he’s flesh. His days are 120 years.”
4 Nefilim were in the land in those days, and also afterward:
God’s children mated with Adam’s daughters, and begat from them
the powerful men who, from antiquity, were men of name.
5 But the LORD saw the Adamites were a great evil in the land.
Every intention and thought in their minds was only evil, all day.

Okay. Lemme start by bluntily saying nobody knows what this passage means. I need to make this crystal clear from the very beginning. NOBODY.

I know; you may think you do, ’cause the myths told you what went down. Or you heard some interpretation which makes sense to you. Or you actually heard or read some bible scholar’s theory, and figure bible scholars are smart people who must know what they’re talking about. But unless they’re really arrogant people, scholars are the first to tell you our theories are nothing but good guesses. ’Cause nobody knows what this passage means. Like I said.

Yeah, this fact bugs people. Since the scriptures are God-inspired, and meant for our instruction and correction and growth, 2Ti 3.16 how can there be such things as scriptures which no one understands? And since we Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit who inspired the writer of Genesis to drop this story in the book—shouldn’t he have clued us in on what it means?

Fair questions. And there are people who claim the Spirit has told ’em what this passage means. I might even believe ’em… if they weren’t so arrogant about it, and if their interpretations lined up. But they don’t. So I don’t.

True, we can always ask the Spirit what a bible passage means. Sometimes he tells us. And sometimes he doesn’t. It’s up to him how much he cares to divulge, and (as is the case with apocalypses) sometimes he doesn’t care to divulge stuff at all. If he doesn’t see any good coming out of it, he’s not sharing. And we have to learn to be okay with that. We answer to him, remember?

If you don’t like not knowing, join the club. And work on your humility: The Holy Spirit’s under no obligation to tell us all. He’s the LORD. We’re not.

16 October 2018

Vain repetition?

And the ridiculous idea that repetition and prayer in worship might lead to something devilish.

When I wrote on God-mindfulness last week, I mentioned one of the techniques people use to remind themselves God’s always here, is by praying the Jesus Prayer. It’s a really short rote prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—which we can use to help focus when we meditate on God, or remind ourselves he’s right here with us.

But of course someone (and we’ll call her Fenella) read the article on God-mindfulness, read the article on the Jesus Prayer, and despite my warnings, immediately leapt in her mind to a dark place. “That,” Fenella insisted, “is not biblical prayer.”

Um… in the Jesus Prayer article I pointed out the three bible passages the Jesus Prayer is based on. One of which was prayed to Jesus, personally and directly, by Bar Timaeus. And Jesus answered it—despite the naysayers who tried to shush Bar Timaeus. You know, like Fenella’s kinda doing. (I really don’t think this ever occurred to her.)

But Fenella’s beef isn’t with asking Jesus for mercy; it’s with what she calls “vain repetition.” Because when Christians say the Jesus Prayer, we tend not to say it just the one time. We say it dozens of times. Over ’n over ’n over ’n over ’n over. And to Fenella’s mind, that’s what pagans do, like the Hindus and Hare Krishnas and Christian cultists. They fervently repeat things over and over again because it’s how people psyche themselves into a euphoric mental state. Various dark Christians claim that once we enter this mental state, it’s like we’ve opened up the door to our spirit. And now devils can step right in.

No, seriously. They believe repetition, because it’s what pagans do, invokes pagan gods. Fenella’s not the first person who’s told me this, either. I’ve heard it too often. And sorry in advance if this sounds unkind, but it’s still how I feel: The Christians who teach this have gotta be the stupidest creatures in God’s universe. Because Satan successfully tricked ’em into believing and teaching, “Oh no, better not talk to God too much or I’m gonna get possessed!

These folks claim devils can go into the place the Holy Spirit occupies as his temple without getting devastated by the light. 1Jn 1.5 But dark Christians regularly make the mistake of vastly overestimating dark powers. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as evil, temptation, and spirits which wanna trip us up; of course there are. I’m saying the idea our prayers to the Almighty—in which we’re asking for grace, in which we’re trying to be mindful of God’s presence, in which we’re trying to meditate on his scriptures—because we say them too often for these people’s comfort, the imagine these prayers let in devils? Even if we’re talking to God earnestly but wrong, does it sound anything at all like our gracious heavenly Father to even let such a thing happen? It isn’t just contradictory; it’s downright dumb. Christians, please don’t follow stupid people.

Rant over. Let’s get into what a “vain repetition” is, and what Jesus meant by it.

15 October 2018

Jesus’s students feed thousands of people.

God’s kingdom doesn’t suffer from shortages.

Mark 6.35-44 • Matthew 14.15-21 • Luke 9.12-17 • John 6.5-13

This story is basically Jesus’s riff on a similar situation with Elisha ben Šafat:

2 Kings 4.1-7 KWL
1 A woman, one of the women of “the sons of prophets,” cried out to Elisha
to say, “Your slave, my man, died. You know your slave respected the LORD.
He was a debtor, and a collector is coming to take two of my children as slaves.”
2 Elisha told her, “What can I do for you? Tell me. What do you have in your house?”
She said, “Your slave has nothing in her house but a pot of oil.”
3 Elisha said, “Go ask all your neighbors outside for pots for yourself.
Empty pots. Not just a few!
4 Come in the house and shut the door behind you and your children.
Pour oil into all these pots. Set aside the full pots.”
5 She went with this, and shut the door behind her and her children.
They came to her with pots, and she poured.
6 When the pots were filled, she told her children, “Bring me another!”
They told her, “There are no more pots.” The oil held out.
7 She came to tell the God’s-man of this. He said, “Go sell the oil.
Be freed of your debt. You and your children can live on what’s left over.”

God multiplied oil to bail out this prophet; God can likewise multiply food to feed the big crowd who’d accumulated to listen to Jesus’s teaching.

Usually this story’s titled, “How Jesus fed 5,000 people.” Obviously ’cause people don’t bother to pay close attention to the text. Or they remember it from Jesus movies: Jesus puts the bread and fish in a basket, lifts it to the sky, prays, lowers the basket… and now it’s magically overflowing with food. They think of that instead of reading the bible.

Jesus came up with the idea to feed the crowd from what food his students had on them. Jn 6.6 In part to show his kids Elisha-style miracles are still doable; in part to show them God’s kingdom doesn’t suffer from the limitations of this world; in part to show them they could do this. ’Cause he told his students—read it again!—“You give them something to eat.” Then Jesus made them give the people something to eat. And that’s where the miracle took place.

Seriously. Read the story. Double-check it in other translations.

12 October 2018

What Pelagius did or didn’t teach.

Not that people aren’t gonna try to debate the idea.

Last week I wrote about Pelagianism, the belief humans are inherently good. It’s a common and popular idea, but it’s heresy. The ancient Christians condemned it at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431.

For good reason. If humans are fundamentally good—not profoundly corrupted by selfishness and sin—in theory it’s possible for one of us to live an uncorrupted life. Without sin. And in so doing, merit heaven all on one’s own. Without Jesus. After all, what might Jesus add to one’s inherent goodness? Nothing but a rubber stamp.

Well. Once the article went live, it annoyed various Pelagians. Some of whom had no idea they were actually Pelagian! They always presumed humans are basically good, and hate the idea we’re not. Likewise they hate the idea they’re heretic, ’cause too many Christians wrongly think “heretic” means “going to hell.” So them’s fighting words.

I didn’t write the article to pick a fight with Pelagians. I wrote it to inform. Most TXAB readers aren’t wholly up to speed on theological ideas like Pelagianism, so I figured I’d write about what it is and why it’s a problem. If any of you were leaning that direction, my hope was you’d pause and say, “Oh so that’s why Christians teach what we do,” and correct yourselves. We’re all wrong in one way or another, and could always stand to make mid-course corrections like that.

But what do people usually do? Exclaim, “No you’re wrong,” then take potshots at the messenger. If we bother to do any homework on the issue, it’s only to marshal arguments so we can take better potshots. I confess; I’ve done this too. It’s jerk-like behavior so I try not to. After all, I might be wrong! But old habits die hard, y’know.

Anyway. The Pelagians mustered the usual arguments, the ones I brought up in the article: They don’t believe humanity is totally broken. All have sinned, Ro 3.23 and they’re willing to admit they’ve sinned too: They’re hardly worthy of heaven on their own merits. But they can’t stomach the idea of humanity gone totally wrong. After all, they know good pagans! Nobody but the most hardcore pessimists and cynics are gonna say good pagans don’t exist.

True. But have any of these pagans achieved heaven-level goodness? Well no; nobody can imagine ’em being that good. Because nobody but Jesus is that good. Because total depravity: Not one human but Jesus, in our every last action, has acted wholly selflessly and sinlessly. Sin is like the sand on a beach: It gets everywhere, and you’re still finding it in your stuff and your cracks weeks after you visited the beach. Sin’s totally corrupted everything. It’s total.

Pelagians’ other hangup is that word depravity. It’s the right word; it means “moral corruption.” But I think most of ’em have it in their heads it means something dirtier, more perverted, more nasty. It doesn’t really. If they wanna quibble about vocabulary and use different words, that’s fine; depravity has synonyms. Still, we’re talking about moral corruption: Every single human but Jesus compromises what “goodness” means in order to defend ourselves, feel better about ourselves, and justify ourselves. But we’ve all fallen short of God’s glory. Ro 3.23 We’re all morally corrupt. Or depraved.

All that aside, one odd argument I heard in defense of Pelagianism is that Pelagius of Britain never actually taught what we call “Pelagianism.” It’s all slander. Against a perfectly good and upstanding Christian.

My big ol’ introduction aside, that’s actually what I’m gonna rant about today.