Yep, Christians have our own definition of “season.”

by K.W. Leslie, 30 December
SEASON 'si.zən noun. An indeterminate period of time during which something happens.

Properly a season is a well-defined period of time. But people like to play fast and loose with how well-defined it actually is.

As soon as the weather switches to cold, whether that’s in November as usual, or freakishly earlier like September, people (Game of Thrones nerds included) start talking about winter: Winter’s coming. Some will go so far as to say winter’s here.

Winter’s not here till the winter solstice, which in the northern hemisphere is 21 December. Winter is defined by the time between the day of the year with the least daylight, and the next time we have equal day and night. Ends at the vernal equinox, 20 March. But that’s considered the scientific definition of winter, the too-literal definition. Winter means “the cold season,” however long that season lasts.

This sort of fudgery also happens with Christmastime. Again, Christmastime has a defined time: Starts on Advent, which begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas; ends at Epiphany, 6 January. And again, people figure “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” as soon as the stores start selling Christmas things—right after Halloween. Half of them object in rage: The Christmas season starts on Black Friday! Period! The rest of us actually like Christmas, and don’t mind it stretching back a little further. But it ends, as we all know, at midnight 26 December, when it’s time to take down the tree… then start debating whether Kwanzaa is a real holiday.

But as you notice, the human tendency is to take something which has limits and boundaries… then sand away at those edges till they’re nice and soft. Or till they break, and the contents spill over into whatever form we’ve invented.

So, “season.” As defined as ordinary seasons actually are, whenever we Christians start to talk about seasons, we don’t always talk about their boundaries. We don’t usually know them. We might know when a season began—we know it after the fact. But we don’t know when theyll end. We don’t know when the next one is coming. We don’t even know what the next one will consist of. We know what we hope it’ll consist of: We want it to be a season of prosperity, of joy, of blessing, of hope, of grace, of miracles, of anything positive. We’d like the next season to be better than our current one. Especially when the current one sucks, ’cause it could be a season of depression, of sorrow, of suffering, of hardship, of poverty—and we want it to end, and be replaced by something much better.

The prophets who recognized Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 December

Why Joseph and Mary went to temple, and the people they encountered who had “words of knowledge” about Jesus.

Luke 2.21-40

Luke 2.21-24 KWL
21 Once eight days were fulfilled, Joseph circumcised him and declared his name Jesus,
which the angel called him before he was formed in the womb.
22 Once the days were fulfilled for Mary’s purification, according to Moses’s Law,
they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
23 just as it’s written in the Lord’s Law:
“Every male who opens a womb will be called holy to the Lord.” Ex 13.2, 12
24 And giving a sacrifice, according to the saying in the Lord’s Law:
“A pair of doves, or two young pigeons.” Lv 12.8

Jesus followed the Law. If he didn’t, he couldn’t be described as without sin, He 4.15 because sin is defined by the Law. Ro 3.20 And though, as an infant, he couldn’t yet do anything on his own to actively follow the Law, he had Law-abiding parents who took care of it for him. As instructed in the Law, eight days after birth Ge 17.12 (meaning he wasn’t born on Sabbath, contrary to some theories), Joseph circumcised his adoptive son, and as the angels instructed, named him Jesus. Mt 1.21, Lk 1.31

As for Mary, she was ritually unclean for 7 days, and unable to go to temple for 33 days. Lv 12.2, 4 But once her 33 days were up, she had to have a sheep sacrificed to represent her atonement, and a dove sacrificed for her sins. Lk 12.6-7 I know; Roman Catholics claim Mary never sinned. Well, she was ordered to sacrifice the dove anyway, and not sacrificing it would’ve been a sin. In fact, I guarantee you plenty of animals were sacrificed on Jesus’s behalf over his lifetime, even though he didn’t need a single one of them to die for any sins—but sacrificing them was part of the Law, so he offered ’em anyway. Really, not a one of them had ever taken away sin, He 10.4 for they were merely representative of Jesus’s later self-sacrifice. He 10.1 I’m getting way ahead of the story though.

Since Luke quotes the verse about how the poor can swap another dove for the sheep, Lv 12.8 it implies Joseph and Mary were poor. Which they likely were—by now, between baby expenses and the Romans’ taxes as part of their survey. Cash-poor meant doves or pigeons were a much more affordable option. You could catch birds for free, y’know.

On the way into the temple, Jesus’s parents were accosted by a prophet. Yes, there were still prophets back then. God never stopped having prophets, nor stopped speaking through them.

The sheep-herders’ vision of the angels.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

“Go tell it on the mountain!” isn’t actually part of the story. Sorry.

Luke 2.8-20

The same night Jesus was born, a bunch of angels appeared to some nearby herdsmen, scared the bejesus out of them, told them Christ had just been born, then let ’em watch the angels rejoice at what their Lord had done. Nice.

As usual I’m gonna pick apart that story in some detail, ’cause our average Christmas stories tend not to know the background (or care) and therefore miss significant things.

Luke 2.8 KWL
Sheep-herders were in that area, keeping watch over their flocks that night.

Starting with the poiménes/“pastors,” the shepherds, or sheep-herders. Most preachers like to point out these were rough, dirty, low-class people. These weren’t like your refined upper-class Pharisees, the sort of people who thought they should be the ones to receive God’s birth announcement when their foretold Christ (or Messiah, or anointed king) had come. Nope; God hadn’t sent angels to those jerks. He sent ’em to ordinary people. Commoners. Scum of the earth. Because God came to save regular joes, not know-it-alls.

Maybe I’m biased ’cause I tend to be one of the know-it-alls. But there’s just a bit of class warfare involved in that interpretation. Bashing snobbery is its own kind of snobbery, y’know; it’s not any better. And not appropriate when we’re talking about Jesus. He came to save everybody. Commoners and the upper class, tradesmen and herdsmen, laborers and scholars, Pharisees and pagans, Jews and gentiles, jerks and humble people. This good news, as the angel later said in verse 10, is for all people. Jerks included. Really, they need God’s forgiveness more.

Preachers also tend to describe these herdsmen as societal outcasts—for no good reason. Bethlehem was sheep-herding country for thousands of years, since the time of King David—himself a shepherd from that city. Most of the Bethlehemites were either in that business, or connected with it. Ain’t no shame in that business. It’s only our culture which tends to look down on ranchers or herdsmen or cowboys, and again for no good reason. It’s a class warfare thing; it’s the assumption that if you work with your hands, you don’t often work with your brain. President Harry Truman liked to point out how back when he was a farmer, he did a whole lot of thinking while he was behind the plow. Never underestimate laborers.

Once we look at the angel’s message to these herdsmen, we’ll see the angel obviously didn’t figure these guys to be dumb. Or second-class subjects. They’re some of the people Jesus came to save, who’d appreciate hearing their King was born. Plus it was late, and they were already awake, so why not them?

Christ the Savior is born.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

I know; I should’ve stalled this article till Christmas, right? Nah. Here y’go. Early present.

Luke 2.1-7

Luke 2.1-3 KWL
1 This happened in those days: A ruling, to survey the whole Empire,
went out from Augustus Caesar.
2 This first survey happened during Quirinius’s leadership of Syria,
3 and each and every one was traveling to their hometowns to be surveyed.

Some bibles refer to this apo-gráfesthai/“write-up,” as a census. But it wasn’t just a head count. The United States takes censuses every decade to figure out how many representatives each state should get, but the Romans and other empires took censuses to figure out exactly how much tax money they should expect from their territories.

Historians were a little confused because for a long time they couldn’t find records of a specific Roman survey round the time of Jesus’s birth (roughly 7BC or so). They assumed surveys were rare, something that’d have a lot of documentation around it. But surveys were regular. The Romans held one every few years. ’Cause they weren’t like the U.S. Census Bureau: They didn’t keep track of, or know how to estimate, population growth inbetween surveys. The Roman army might’ve just put down a rebellion, crucified a slew of people, and so much for their calculations. Best to just survey everybody all over again. Plus you could throw in a poll tax—everybody who shows up for survey has to pay a half-sheqel for their pains.

Now for the date. Luke tries to pin it down by mentioning the Roman emperor, Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus (Gaius Octavius’s official name by that point); and a certain Syrian leader, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius. Here’s the problem: In 7BC, the year we’re figuring for this survey, the praetores/“leaders” of Syria were Gaius Sentius Saturninus, whose term was up; and Publius Quinctilius Varus, whose term began. Quirinius didn’t became praetor till year 6 of the Christian Era. But Jesus was born before the death of Herod of Jerusalem in 4BC—’cause Herod ordered Jesus killed. Mt 2.16 So we have a continuity problem.

Here are the popular solutions to the problem. Pick your favorite.

  • Skeptics: Doesn’t matter; it’s all mythology anyway.
  • Inerrantists who like to parse words: Okay, Quirinius wasn’t praetor till 6CE. But back in 7BC he was a legatus/“officer”—a military leader in charge of Syria’s defense and foreign policy, if not the proper governor. He held a position of igemonéfontos/“leadership,” Lk 2.2 right? He could’ve supervised the Roman survey, right? Close enough, right?
  • Inerrantists who really need to buy newer reference books: Maybe Quirinius served two terms, with a first term before Saturninus? [A theory pitched back when there were a few gaps in Roman Syrian history. They’ve been filled since.]
  • Inerrantists who like to double down: The Roman and Jewish historians, and every historian since, have the dates wrong. Luke doesn’t. Quirinius was totally governor at the time. The bible rules.
  • Inerrantists who only mean the originals: The original text of Luke must have “Saturninus,” or “before Quirinius’s leadership of Syria.” Either way, some copyist slipped up and wrote “Quirinius,” so now we have a boo-boo in the bible.
  • Non-inerrantists: Luke mixed up the governors.

Got one chosen? Goody. Now on with the commentary.

The Pharisees: Those in the first century who followed God.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 December

Nowadays it’s just another synonym for “hypocrite.” Just like, all too often, “Christian.”

Pharisee /'fɛr.ə.si/ n. Adherent of a first-century denomination of the Hebrew religion, which emphasized the widespread teaching of the Law.
2. A hypocrite. [Thanks to Jesus’s regular condemnation of hypocrites among the Pharisees.]
[Pharisaic /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪk/ adj., Pharisaism /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪz.əm/ n.]

People nowadays don’t really know much about the Pharisees—other than that they opposed Jesus an awful lot, and that he called ’em hypocrites right back. Mt 23.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29 So there’s a lot of false information floating around about ’em. Stuff like this:

  • “But they were hypocrites.” Yeah, some of ’em were. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have had to denounce that tendency in them. But be fair: A lot of us Christians are hypocrites. A lot of us humans are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is universal. Singling out the Pharisees just means we’re gonna ignore our own tendencies towards fake behavior.
  • “They were legalists.” Pharisees were all about teaching the Law, and as a result Christians assume they were legalist—that they thought God would save them because they perfectly followed the Law. Thing is, if that were true, John the Baptist wouldn’t have to shout at them to stop sinning, and taking their salvation for granted just because they were Abraham’s descendants. Mt 3.7-10 Because—just like us Christians—some were legalists… and some were libertines, who figured God forgives all, so do as you please.
  • “It’s not a denomination; it’s a political party.” Flavius Josephus called ’em that, and it’s easy to see why: There was no separation of church and state (make that temple and state) back then. When that’s the case, denominations seek power just like political parties do—whether it’s Calvinists and Anabaptists in medieval Geneva, Puritans and Traditionalists in early modern England, Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland, or Pharisees and Sadducees in ancient Israel. They were both.
  • “They universally hated Jesus.” We all know exceptions, like Nicodemus. We also forget: Every synagogue Jesus taught in was a Pharisee synagogue. His title, rabbí/“master,” was a Pharisee title. His apostle Paul, who wrote a big chunk of the New Testament, continued to call himself Pharisee. Ac 23.6 Many Pharisees didn’t care for him, but we certainly can’t say all.

As you know from your Old Testament, the Hebrews kept falling into the Cycle, a repeating bit of history where God’s followers fall away from him, then return to him. They sucked at passing the Law down to their children. Their next generation would grow up semi-pagan, the generation after that would be full-on pagan: Within 40 years Israel would be lawless, and the LORD would withdraw his protection, and their enemies would take a crack at ’em. Whereupon they’d repent, cry out to the LORD, he’d send them a savior, and they’d follow the LORD and his Law again. And the Cycle would repeat.

Pharisaism was meant to break the Cycle.

True compassion: Offer help, not just advice.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December
Hebrews 4.14-16 KWL
14 Since we have a great head priest who passed through the heavens—Jesus, God’s son—
we should hold sway by agreeing with him:
15 We don’t have a head priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses.
He was tested by everything just the same—and passed the test sinlessly.
16 So we should come to his gracious throne boldly:
We should receive mercy. We should find the grace to help us in time.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit reflects the thinking and attitude of the Spirit, those traits of his which oughta come pouring out of the people he lives within. And which are invisible, or nearly so, in the people he’s not within—or they’ve figured out a way to fake ’em.

Compassion, the ability to feel for other people, to sympathize with what they’re going through, to want to be gracious and helpful to them, is definitely a Christlike trait. Conversely its lack is definitely an antichristlike trait. Christians will care; antichrists won’t. Christians will reach out when people have need; antichrists will figure those people aren’t their problem… till they start affecting property values or taxes. Or if people who lack compassion wanna look good to the public, or get tax breaks, they figure maybe they should help those people; maybe not exactly the way those people want, but what do they know? If they knew better they wouldn’t be needy. Beggars shouldn’t be choosers anyway.

I’ve worked in a few different charities, and saw firsthand the differing attitudes of the religious and irreligious folks who worked there. In the Christians you’d see the other fruit of the Spirit come out: Patience, kindness, joy, love. In the irreligious Christians and the pagans, frustration, harshness, sarcasm, coldness. “These people. God. They’re so pathetic. Why should we have to help them? Why can’t they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Best thing for them. Makes ’em independent. Makes ’em tough and hard. Like me.”

Yeah, I’ve met a lot of not-so-compassionate people in the church, offering their frigid sort of “comfort” to the suffering. I’ve been the recipient of some of it.

Wanna feel the Holy Spirit? Crank up the bass.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December

’Cause people don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion.

That title—if you want people to feel the Spirit, crank up the bass—is a joke I regularly make to the folks in my church. ’Cause it’s true. If the sound guy were to take all the lower frequencies out of the sound mix during the worship music, I guarantee you we’d have people in the congregation mutter, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I really couldn’t feel the Spirit today.” Whereas if we turned that puppy all the way up to 11, those same folks would tell everyone, “Man the Spirit was moving this morning!”

Bass, as any sound expert will tell you, makes people feel the music. Literally.
Yeah, I put this on Twitter.
The sound waves hit a frequency which physically vibrates your innards. Most of us are aware we hear bass, but aren’t always aware we feel it too. All we know is we feel something—and because music sparks emotions, often the bass will spark ’em too.

So because people don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion, they’ll assume when it makes ’em happy, “my spirit is being uplifted.” When it makes ’em sad, “my spirit is downcast.” Just as often they’ll think it’s not their spirit, but the Holy Spirit making ’em feel happy or sad, content or anxious, excited or… well, not nothing. If they feel nothing it means he must’ve been absent.

I’ll repeat that statement in case you missed it: People don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion. And no, I’m not just talking about pagans, new Christians, or immature Christians. I’m talking about you. And me. And everyone. ’Cause I’ve caught very mature Christians making this mistake. I know better, and I still make this mistake sometimes. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who hasn’t slipped up on this one.

How Joseph became Jesus’s father.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

I know; people say Jesus’s foster father. Nope; adoptive father.

Matthew 1.18-25

Luke tells of Jesus’s birth from Mary’s point of view; Matthew from Joseph’s. In Luke she received a message from an angel. Now Joseph had to receive a message for himself. ’Cause obviously he didn’t believe Mary.

Matthew 1.18-19 KWL
18 The genesis of Christ Jesus was like this: His mother Mary was promised to Joseph.
Before she came to be together with him, she had a child in her womb from the Holy Spirit.
19 Her man Joseph was righteous.
Not wanting her to make a scene, he wished to secretly release her.

Greek myths abound of stories where Zeus disguised himself as traveling salesmen or geese or bulls golden rain, and impregnating all sorts of loose ’n freaky Greek women with his hybrid spawn. And now here it seemed Mary was trying to tell him a Jewish variation of that same myth: “The Holy Spirit did it. Seriously.”

Moderns like to assume the ancients were stupid, and actually believed all those myths—they didn’t realize, deep down, that these tales were invented by Greeks trying to disguise their adulterous affairs by blaming their unexpected pregnancies on their false god, who obviously couldn’t defend himself. Of course, these skeptical moderns never bothered to read these myths: The Greeks didn’t believe their women when they claimed Zeus was the father. They took out their outrage upon their wives and daughters just the same. Banished ’em, imprisoned ’em, sealed ’em in a coffin and threw them into the sea. (Then Zeus had to smite them for their unbelief.) The ancients knew exactly how babies are made. The Zeus-did-it story never worked.

Joseph is more proof of that. He knew the LORD didn’t make babies that way. His god was no wandering rapist. So Joseph understandably decided to end their relationship.

In his culture, if your woman displeased you for any reason, the rabbis ruled it was okay to end things. God has another view, as Jesus declared: Infidelity is the only valid reason. Mt 19.9 And it sure looked like Mary was unfaithful.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 December

Deuteronomy 5.11.

Deuteronomy 5.11 KJV
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Christians often teach, and pagans often assume, “taking the Lord’s name in vain” refers to swearing with God’s name. Might be when we blurt out “God!” in surprise, or “Christ!” in pain, or “Oh Lord!” in exasperation, or “God damn it!” in anger.

Scandalized yet? Most Christians are. “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!” There’s a whole commandment against it. It’s one of the top ten. “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” forbids us from using “God” as any part, or as the whole, of a swear word.

Well, that’s partly correct. The command is about God’s name and swearing. But it’s not about swearing “God!” It’s not about profanities.

  • It’s about swearing to God, yet we’re totally lying.
  • It’s about promising, “as God is my witness,” but we’re not gonna.
  • It’s about declaring things in Christ’s name, yet we don’t really believe we’re gonna get what we’ve declared.
  • It’s about name-dropping God as our guide, aid, judge, support, and copilot… but we’re hypocrites.

Vain means useless, and taking the Lord’s name in vain means we’re using his name in a useless cause. And yeah, swearing with his name is pretty useless too, but that wasn’t what God was trying to crack down on with his command. He was ordering the Hebrews to stop using his name casually. Y’see, when we invoke God, he takes those statements seriously. He is not a God to be trifled with.

For the LORD won’t hold us guiltless—in today’s English, “won’t let you go unpunished” (NLT) —if we swear by his name, and don’t follow through.

How feedback works around here.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 December

As you might’ve noticed, I have an email link on TXAB, and each article has a comments section. So if you wanna send me a note, ask a question, or comment on a post, feel free.

However.

If you’ve ever bothered to read the comments on YouTube videos—and I really don’t recommend it—you’ll notice a lot of them are stupid and awful. Because as you already knew, people are awful. Let people post whatever they please with no moderation, with no accountability, and you’ll get the very worst of humanity.

Even among Christians. Christianity Today originated with a comments section, but finally got rid of it in 2014 because the commenters were consistently acting far, far less than Christian.

My previous blogs didn’t always allow me to moderate comments—nor moderate them easily. TXAB uses Disqus, so now I can easily moderate ’em, and do. When anyone comments in any way I consider less than Christian, I’ll edit or remove the comment. Do it twice and I’ll block the commenter.

You can repent and appeal, and I might relent. It’s happened in the past. Wish it happened in every case. But it doesn’t.

You can defend yourself by appealing to freedom of expression, which I of course believe in. Thing is, my deleting or blocking your expression doesn’t stop you from expressing yourself. You’re entirely free to do so. Just not here. TXAB is my blog about following Christ Jesus, and as such it’s gonna reflect my view—or Christ’s view, as best as I can figure him out. If I don’t feel your view contributes to that, I’m gonna tweak it or remove it.

That’s the primary rule about commenting here: Don’t be a dick! And there are other, more specific circumstances.

The birth of John the baptist.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 November

John’s birth both fulfilled and inspired prophecy.

Luke 1.57-80

When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and announced he’d have a son, the confirmation of its prophecy was Zechariah would be mute áhri is iméras géniti távta/“until the day this one is born.” Lk 1.19

Problem is, if you’re a biblical literalist—you insist the bible be interpreted as literally as possible—it’s not literally what happened. Zechariah was mute for more than a week after John’s birth, and didn’t speak till his circumcision. Doesn’t matter what logical gymnastics you use to prove Gabriel didn’t really mean John’s birthday, or that “the day this one is born” can be fudged to mean a week or so (an exactitude such people won’t apply to the six days of creation). Gabriel’s prophecy was fulfilled, but not with the precision any literalist demands. As is true of every prophecy—and all of scripture.

But let’s not poke that bear any further. On to the bible!

Luke 1.57-61 KWL
57 Time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she had a son.
58 Her neighbors and relatives heard God had shown her great mercy, and rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day it happened that the family came to circumcise the baby.
They were calling him by Zechariah, his father’s name.
60 In reply his mother said, “No; he’ll be called John.”
61 They told her, “None of your relatives are called by that name.”

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

In which both of them prophesy to one another.

Luke 1.39-56

When I teach from the gospels, it tends to throw people. Y’see, most of the interpretations we hear in American churches are based on cessationism, the belief prophecy and miracles only happened in bible times, and don’t anymore. As a result of this false, faithless belief, popular Christian culture isn’t familiar with how prophecy works. So when they read about prophets in the bible, they don’t understand what these people are doing. Either people don’t recognize what they’re saying is prophecy, so they miss it altogether; or people interpret everything based on how they imagine prophecy works—and they’ve got some pretty immature ideas.

Starting with why Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth. I kid you not: I’ve heard it preached Mary went to Elizabeth because she wanted to hide her pregnancy. ’Cause that’s what women did in the past when they got pregnant outside of marriage: They went to “visit relatives” for a while… then came back with a new “baby sister” or “cousin.” (Or, if they aborted or gave up the baby, nothing.) Supposedly this is what Mary did: Hid.

Baloney. When Gabriel told Mary she was gonna have a miraculous birth, she knew how babies re made; she naturally wanted to know how this was possible. Gabriel’s answer, as I pointed out, wasn’t all that satisfactory. But for proof, for confirmation—’cause prophecy requires confirmation—Gabriel pointed to Elizabeth. She was pregnant. Mary didn’t know this—nobody knew this—’cause Elizabeth was in seclusion. Lk 1.24 But here was the proof Mary’s pregnancy came from God: “Your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age… and she was called sterile.” Lk 1.36 KWL And if you think that’s impressive, wait till God’s next miracle.

I know; people claim Mary had no doubts whatsoever, and totally believed Gabriel. But that’s not consistent with the scriptures. Why would she then rush to see Elizabeth?

My irritating politics.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 November

My worldview must be built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness.

My politics annoy people.

I’m not as conservative as my friends assume I should be. To their minds, all Christians should be as conservative as they. If we’re not, they wonder just how Christian we really are. ’Cause in their minds, Christianity is conservatism; conservatism is Christianity; if you follow Jesus you’re naturally gonna think like they do. Thanks to the human self-preservation instinct, they assume because I don’t think like they do, I’m the one at fault. I’m wrong. (Doesn’t help that I’ll totally admit that.)

I’m not as progressive as my other friends assume I should be. To their minds, all Christians should buck the knee-jerk conservatism of popular Christian culture, ’cause it’s hypocrisy, corrupted by social Darwinists who’ve manipulated gullible social conservatives into adopting their worldview and voting their way. Because I still side with conservatives on many issues, they reckon I’m still stuck in my old knee-jerk ways; I’m not as “enlightened” as they. Not yet. I’ve come this far, so they’ve not given up hope. But they do wish I’d hurry up.

So whenever I express a view, I’m gonna annoy one camp or the other.

That’s the trouble with being a political moderate. Contrary to what Rush Limbaugh’s always taught, a moderate isn’t someone who wants to please everybody and can’t pick a side. Such people do exist, but they’re not moderates. They’re apolitical: They don’t have a side—and don’t care enough to choose one. A true moderate has totally chosen sides: We ally with conservatives on certain issues, progressives on others. Not for the same reasons—because our worldviews don’t match.

See, I’m trying to follow Jesus. No, I’m not saying my conservative and progressive friends aren’t trying to follow Jesus. Some of ’em are, and some not. Some of them think they are, and some aren’t even trying. It’s just that in my quest for Jesus, he points me in directions different Americans consider leftward or rightward. I’m trying to be consistent with his standard, not any one party’s.

I know; some of you totally understand Jesus transcends politics, so you can respect that. But plenty of people don’t believe any such thing: If Jesus could vote, he’d absolutely be in their party. No question. Have you seen the pagans in the opposition party? Great googly moogly.

“Lay down your life” means what now?

by K.W. Leslie, 20 November

John 15.13.

John 15.13 NIV
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I know; George Benson’s popular 1977 song “Greatest Love of All” (which Whitney Houston remade in 1985) said learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. Obviously the lyricist didn’t read her bible, and figured the way to feel best about herself was to value herself way above her friends. (Didn’t I just write about how people are inherently selfish?) No surprise, popular culture gets it wrong again.

Translators are awfully fond of phrasing this verse Yoda-style: Object-verb-subject “Greater love has no one,” rather than the usual subject-verb-object “No one has greater love” of today’s English. (The NRSV phrases it normally.) It’s ’cause the King James Version is the most familiar form of the verse, and if translators make it too different for no good reason, people balk. I think clear, readable English is a darned good reason. But that’s me.

Anyway. Right after the average preacher quotes this verse, it’s immediately pointed out, “Jesus demonstrated this very truth himself: He laid down his life for his friends. He died for their sins on the cross. He died for all of us, because he considers all of us his friends. There’s no greater love than Jesus’s love.”

There is no greater love than Jesus’s, but when Jesus made this statement, he wasn’t talking about his soon-coming death on the cross. He was talking about submitting to one another, Ep 5.21 instead of looking out for ourselves. It’s about living for one another. Not dying for one another.

How Mary became Jesus’s mother.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 November

Some of the story behind Mary of Nazareth.

Luke 1.26-38

Last week John’s birth was foretold; this week Jesus’s. Goes like so.

Luke 1.26-38 KWL
26 In Elizabeth’s sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a Galilean town called Nazareth,
27 to a young woman affianced to a man of David’s house, named Joseph;
a young woman named Mary.
28 Entering, the angel said, “Hail, your honor! The Lord’s with you.
You’re blessed above all women.
29 She was alarmed by this message, and was speculating about what this greeting meant.
30 The angel told her, “Don’t fear, Mary: You’ve found grace with God.
31 Look, you’ll conceive in your womb. You’ll give birth to a son. You’ll name him Jesus.
32 He’ll be great. He’ll be called the Most High’s son.
The Lord will give him his ancestor David’s throne.
33 He’ll be king over Jacob’s house in the age to come. His kingdom will never end.”
34 Mary told the angel, “How will this happen?—since I’ve not been with a man.”
35 In reply the angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.
The Most High’s power will envelop you
and the holy one produced will be called God’s son.
36 And look: Your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age.
This is actually her sixth month—and she was called sterile.
37 No word of God is impossible.”
38 Mary said, “Look: I’m the Lord’s slave.
I hope it happens according to your word.” The angel left her.

In Orthodox tradition, Mary was at the Nazareth well, so most Christian art depicts her there, with Gabriel either greeting her, or saying something profound as she looks downward in humility. Something pious, and posed—you know, like artist’s models will do.

Today, the well, and the cave it’s in, is underneath St. Gabriel’s Church in Nazareth. As our tour guide rightly pointed out, if it wasn’t the very place Gabriel appeared to Mary, it doesn’t entirely matter; Mary did go to this well to get water, since it’s Nazareth’s only natural water source. (As a city of 74,000 today, it has to tap a few additional water sources.)

When the art doesn’t depict Mary at a well, it’s often of her at home. Sounds reasonable, ’cause Luke says Gabriel entered, and we usually figure that’d be a building. The Roman Catholics built a chapel, the Basilica of the Annunciation, over the cave where they think Mary’s family lived. Yep, another cave. Caves are all over Israel, and I remind you Jesus was both born in, and buried in, caves. Once again, western art got it wrong: Mary’s family could hardly have afforded the Roman villas they often depict her in. Nazareth was just not that sort of town.

How CCLI shakes down your church.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 November

Thanks to CCLI, copyright-exempt churches across the United States are paying a lot of unnecessary royalties.

One of my responsibilities at my church is multimedia. Yep, I’m the guy who makes sure the words to the worship songs are on the screen, so you can sing along to them.

When I was a kid we still had hymnals. Then we upgraded to overhead projectors; then PowerPoint; then specialized multimedia presentation software which was pretty much PowerPoint with a huge database of songs. Currently I’m using this app called ProPresenter. It’s not bad.

Whether you’re using one app or another, it pretty much works the same way: Our worship leader tells me which songs she intends to inflict on us Sunday morning. If I don’t already have slides for that song, I hop onto the CCLI database and get the lyrics. Then make slides for the verses, the chorus, the bridge, the “extemporaneous riffs” which are really just imitations of what the original musicians did on their YouTube video, and there y’go. Ready for Sunday.

What’s CCLI? It’s Christian Copyright Licensing International, a royalty collection agency. They charge each church an annual fee (anywhere from $49 to $4,260, depending on size), which grants permission to collect sheet music from their site. Chord, lead, or vocal sheets, and their site can transpose it into other keys for you. (That feature’s actually quite handy.) Once you inform them which songs you’ve used, they’ll send royalties to the artists.

And, they claim, you need them. If you do all sorts of things in your church—display or photocopy lyrics, distribute chord sheets, sing popular songs—you need CCLI. What’s implied is you need them lest you violate copyright laws. Point of fact, what you only get from them are sheet music and lyrics.

That’s not nothing. Other lyric websites might misspell words, mix up lyrics, forget to capitalize God’s pronouns, and get the chords wrong. Although years ago I heard Phil Keaggy complain CCLI didn’t get his chords right either, which is why his fans were having such trouble duplicating one of his songs. (To be fair, CCLI probably got the bad info from Keaggy’s publisher, who transcribed the song without any input from Keaggy.)

But copyright protection? Actually, CCLI doesn’t give you that. ’Cause your church doesn’t need it.

You read me right. Your church doesn’t need copyright protection. American copyright laws specifically exempt churches. I’ll quote you the law ’n everything.

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106 [the copyright holder’s rights], the following are not infringements of copyright: […]

(3) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly[.] 17 USC §110

Meaning, in other words, singing a song in church, whether as worship, or as “special music.” Meaning when you play a song over the loudspeakers.

If you do this in church, you’re fine. You’re legal. The music publishing companies won’t send a jackbooted tach team to interrupt your services and haul the pastors off to music jail. No matter how much the more paranoid folks in your church would love to see that scenario, as proof the world is out to get ’em.

Back to the Book Pile.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 November

I know; books aren’t everyone’s thing. That’s why, according to Christ Almighty’s stats, last month’s Book Pile article was the least-read thing last month. The public has spoken, and it’s a resounding, “Good Lord, Leslie, you write 1,000-word essays and you expect me to throw books on that? What’re you trying to do, kill me?” Followed by a quick Netflix binge, just to get the foul taste out of their system. (Shudder.) Reading. Ugh.

But for the tiny minority who wants to know what literature I’m plowing through, ’cause they figure it’ll give them some insight into my odd little mind, here y’go. Glean what you can from it. This month:

Next month, more books. ’Cause I’m gonna keep reading… and gonna keep ranting about the stuff I read, whether it’s the obligatory book-review stuff, or the things I read for fun. Yeah, I read theology books for fun. It’s how I roll.

Sealed—not yet baptized—with the Holy Spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November

’Cause there’s a difference between the two, despite what non-charismatics claim.

Ephesians 1.13-14 KWL
13 In Christ you heard the truthful word—the good news of your salvation!
In Christ you believed; you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit!
14 He’s the down payment of our inheritance—
releasing our trust fund—praising God’s glory.

’Member when you got saved? Maybe not; maybe it was a gradual process. Doesn’t matter. At some point in that process God decided to take up residence in your life. We call it indwelling. You got “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” as Paul put it. He’s in you. Right now. Whispering God’s will into you. Hope you’re listening.

Now, non-charismatics claim when the Spirit gets into us like that, yeah it’s called indwelling, but it’s also called “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Lk 3.16, Ac 1.4-5 Those two events, they insist, are one and the same. ’Cause the Holy Spirit gets in you and on you, kinda like the water does in the baptismal when you don’t hold your nose.

Why do they claim this? ’Cause they’re non-charismatics. A charismatic believes God absolutely does miracles in the present day. A non-charismatic really doesn’t think so. Some of ’em will be full-on cessationist and claim the miracles stopped back in bible times. Others know better—why even pray, why even ask God for stuff, if he’s tied his own hands and won’t intervene? But they either insist miracles are rare, ’cause for some reason God doesn’t want to overplay his hand; or they insist God only works through natural means, not supernatural.

And if God doesn’t do supernatural stuff, the Holy Spirit’s baptism doesn’t look like it does in Acts 2. Instead it’s invisible. Unnoticeable. Can’t tell the difference between Spirit baptism and when your phone starts to vibrate in your pants pocket. Plus it happens when you got saved: When you were sealed to the Spirit, you were simultaneously baptized by him. Didn’t you feel great when you came to Jesus? Well that’s Spirit baptism. You’re welcome.

Charismatics, by comparison, believe Spirit baptism is gonna resemble its description in the bible. Maybe not with rushing wind and tongues of fire. Then again, maybe so. But if that doesn’t happen, there will at least be speaking in tongues—a topic I’ll discuss elsewhere.

But not today. Today I just wanna make clear: Getting sealed with the Spirit is not the same as getting baptized in the Spirit. One happens when you come to Jesus. The other happens when the Spirit decides you’re ready to use his power.

Taking God’s amazing grace for granted.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 November

Legalism is the opposite of grace. But we’re quick to cry legalism if it gets us out of stuff.

CHEAP GRACE /tʃip greɪs/ n. Treatment of God’s forgiveness, generosity, and loving attitude, as if it’s nothing special; as if it cost him little.

Whenever I bring up the subject of cheap grace, some Christian invariably objects: “Grace is not cheap.” Even if I’ve explained in advance what I mean by cheap grace; even if I’ve written an entire essay defining the idea.

Every. Single. Time.

’Cause some Christians don’t read. The title’s about cheap grace, so they skip to the comments and object: “Grace isn’t cheap!” They see a link to an article about cheap grace, so they respond to the link or the Tweet or the post, “Grace isn’t cheap!” While speaking, I use the words “cheap grace” in a sentence, and they wait for the first chance to interrupt: “Grace isn’t cheap!”

YES. I KNOW. I’M TRYING TO MAKE THAT POINT. I WOULD IF YOUD LISTEN. So can you please keep your knee from jerking just this once, and give me a minute? Okay? (Betcha I’m still gonna get those comments regardless. You just watch. Ugh.)

Adam Clayton Powell Sr. gets credited with coining this term, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer with popularizing the heck out of it in his The Cost of Discipleship. It’s used to describe “grace”—whenever this grace is misdefined and malpracticed by irreligious Christians. As Bonhoeffer put it,

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. “All for sin could not atone.” The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners “even in the best life” as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. […] Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Bonhoeffer 44-45

That’s cheap grace: Taking expensive, valuable, amazing grace, and demeaning it by using it as a free pass to sin. Taking God’s safety net, and bouncing on it for fun like a trampoline.

Part of the reason people object to the term “cheap grace” is they don’t like to see God’s generosity taken so casually like that. Well, me neither.

Part of it’s ’cause they don’t think God’s grace actually can be cheapened.

One heck of a birth announcement.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 November

In the other gospels John just shows up. In Luke he’s miraculous.

Luke 1.5-25

Most Christians vastly underestimate the importance and significance of the prophet John bar Zechariah, whom we more commonly know as St. John the baptist.

Largely it’s because we see John as a minor figure, and kinda weird. He showed up, made a lot of noise, preached obedience and repentance… and once Jesus showed up, he faded away. (Or got arrested and beheaded. Same difference.) His only purpose was to point to, and baptize, Jesus, and that done, he died.

Others figure John’s a much bigger deal than that. But only because they believe—incorrectly—that John was the first prophet to appear in 400 years. Supposedly after Malachi finished the Old Testament, God went dark. For four centuries he said nothing and did nothing. Then John shows up, and wham: Prophecy’s back! Revelation is back! The miracles turned back on! God is up to something.

Yeah, that’s entirely wrong. ’Cause

  1. The apocrypha, the “extra books” in non-Protestant bibles, tell of historical events which God was obviously involved in.
  2. Josephus, the first-century Pharisee historian, also told of miracles in those 400 years.
  3. Two, count ’em two, prophets show up to proclaim baby Jesus: Simeon and Anna. Lk 2.25-38 Both of ’em are described as old (Anna was 84) and had likely been prophesying for decades before Jesus was born.

Not to mention the obvious prophetic abilities of Jesus’s parents Joseph and Mary, or John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth. In fact everybody with a speaking role in the nativity story (save Herod, of course) was a prophet! But, as usual, cessationist dogma trumps basic reading comprehension.

God has always been talking. There have always been prophets. John didn’t stand out because he was the first prophet of the New Testament era. He stood out because he was an extremely significant prophet: He was Messiah’s herald. And his story begins with an angel, who stands before God’s presence, actually heralding him. Even Messiah’s herald gets the royal treatment. But that’s just a hint as to how important John was, and is.

Jesus’s two genealogies.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 November

Which happens to be a big fat bible discrepancy many Christians skim over.

Matthew 1.1-17 • Luke 3.23-38.

Most Christians are aware Jesus has two genealogies.

These aren’t genealogies the way we do ’em. We do family trees: We include ancestors from all sides of the family, fathers and mothers both. Often we include aunts, uncles, and cousins; if we’re not particular about blood relations we’ll even include step-parents. Our family trees can get big and complicated.

Hebrew genealogies don’t. They turn into trees downward, when they’re listing one person’s descendants, as you can see from the first chapters of 1 Chronicles. But when they’re listing ancestors, they’re straight lines: You, your father, your father’s father, that grandfather’s father, that great-grandfather’s father, and so on back.

Thing is, Jesus has two of these lists. In Matthew 1, it’s a list of ancestors from Abraham to Joseph. And in Luke 4, it’s a list of male ancestors backwards, from Joseph to Adam to God. And they don’t match.

Parts do. But a whole lot of it doesn’t. I’ll let you read it. My translation. In Matthew I dropped the repetitive, superfluous instances of “begat”; in Luke all the “son of” (Aramaic bar) statements. You know their relationships.

Matthew 1.1-17
1 The book of the genesis of Messiah Jesus,
bar David, bar Abraham.
2 Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.
Jacob: Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah: Pérech and Zérakh by Tamar.
Pérech, Hechrón, 4 Ram,
Amminadáv, Nakhshón, Salmón.
5 Salmón: Boaz by Rahab.
Boaz: Obed by Ruth.
Obed, 6 Jesse, King David.
David: Solomon through Uriah’s woman.
7 Solomon, Rekhavám, Aviyáh,
8 Asáf, Yehošafát, Yorám,
9 Uzíyahu, Yotám, Akház,
10 Hezekiah, Manashéh, Amón, Josiah.
11 Josiah: Yekhonyáhu and his brothers during the Babylonian exile.
12 After the Babylonian exile: Yekhonyáhu.
Yekhonyáhu, Shaltiél, 13 Zerubbabel,
Avihúd, Elyakím, 14 Azúr,
Chadók, Yakhín, 15 Elikhúd,
Eleázar, Matdan, Jacob.
16 Jacob: Joseph, Mary’s man.
From her was born Jesus, who’s called Messiah.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David: 14 generations.
From David to the Babylonian exile: 14 generations.
From the Babylonian exile to Messiah: 14 generations.
Luke 3.23-38 KWL
23 Jesus himself was starting round his 30th year.
He was presumed the son of Joseph bar Ili—
24 bar Maddát, Leví, Malkhí, Yannaí, Joseph,
25 Mattityáhu, Amos, Nahum, Heslí, Naggaí,
26 Mákhat, Mattityáhu, Shimí, Yoshí, Yodáh,
27 Yochanán, Reishá, Zerubbabel, Shaltiél, Nerí,
28 Malkhí, Adí, Kosám, Elmadán, Er,
29 Yeshúa, Eleázar, Yorím, Mattát, Leví,
30 Shimón, Judah, Joseph, Jonám, Elyakím,
31 Maláh, Manáh, Mattatáh, Nathan, David,
32 Jesse, Obed, Boaz, Sheláh, Nakhshón,
33 Amminadáv, Admín, Arní, Hechrón, Pérech, Judah,
34 Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Térakh, Nakhór,
35 Serúg, Reú, Péleg, Éver, Sheláh,
36 Keïnán, Arfakhšád, Shem, Noah, Lémekh,
37 Metušelákh, Enoch, Yéred, Mahalalél, Keïnán,
38 Enósh, Šet, Adam, God.

Positive. Encouraging. White. K-LOVE.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 October

My least favorite radio network.


’Cause without that space, they’ve simply misspelled “clove.”

I stopped listening to radio in the early ’00s, ’cause I got an MP3 player. It wasn’t the iPod I wanted; I finally got one of those in ’04. It was a pocket computer, a Windows PocketPC; imagine a smartphone which wasn’t a phone, or a tablet which was more phone-sized. Among other things, it included a mobile version of Windows Media Player. I also discovered podcasts around that time, and even though I still had dial-up internet at home, I set up my good ol’ Gateway to download a bunch of shows overnight, and I started ripping every CD I owned into Media Player files. Loaded up the SD card and never looked back.

(The pocket computer still works, by the way. I used it till I finally bought an Android tablet. I like to use my technology till it completely dies, or is so obsolete I can’t really use it anymore. Still got my clamshell iBook too. But I digress.)

The last radio stations I regularly listened to was a “nineties and now” station at home, and a Christian pop station at work. ’Cause I was teaching at a Christian school, and some of the bluenoses frowned on the secular stuff. I could only get away with jazz, ’cause they had no clue Louis Armstrong was sky-high on “gage,” as he called it, whenever he sang; or that Miles Davis was half out of his mind on heroin. For that matter, we have no idea how many tabs of Vicodin our favorite Christian artists might’ve been prescribed when they recorded… but again, I digress. Point is, don’t judge.

On my way to work, if I ran out of podcasts, I’d sometimes tune in to preacher radio. And get annoyed when the station was full of cessationists, all of whom preach the impotent gospel of “Christianity isn’t what we do; it’s what we believe. So get your theology straight.” ’Cause when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, Mt 25.31-46 he’s gonna quiz us on the catechism, right? Feh.

Christian pop stations were annoying too. All happy, peppy, but not-at-all-challenging music. Plus that particular station kept promoting itself with the slogan, “Safe for the whole family.” I grew up on Narnia books, so my attitude about Christ is more like that of the Beavers on Aslan in the first one: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

No, the station wasn’t K-LOVE. Which did exist at the time: It broadcast out of Santa Rosa since 1982, changed its name to K-LOVE in ’88, moved to Sacramento in ’93, then to Rocklin in ’02. All this time it was buying translators and piping its signal to other cities, building its network. Northern California, where I live, is its home turf.

The more MP3s I accumulated, the more my interest in broadcast radio shrunk to nothing. By 2006 I didn’t even have a radio. Mom had my boombox—still does, and is welcome to it—and maybe there’s an old FM radio or two in a bin in the garage somewhere. The rare times I bother with radio, it’s an internet station. That’s it. If someone needs to broadcast something over the Emergency Alert System, I’m not gonna hear it. Oh well, so much for the tornado warnings.

But sometimes radio is inflicted upon me. Not just in stores which pipe it over the public address. Way too many of my fellow Christians are listening to K-LOVE. So when I’m at their houses, in their cars, or it’s a church work day and someone other than me is in charge of the music (and thank God, that’s not always the case), guess which radio network we’re tuned into? It’s that, or K-LOVE’s “edgier” sister network Air 1.

Context? Who needs context?

by K.W. Leslie, 27 October
CONTEXT 'kɑn.tɛkst noun. Setting of an idea or event: The larger story they’re part of, the circumstances or history behind them, the people to whom they’re said. Without them, the idea is neither fully understood nor clear.
[Contextual kən'tɛks.tʃ(əw).əl adjective.]

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” It’s not from the bible, although from time to time someone will claim it totally is, and therefore it’s a divine command. It’s actually from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act 1, scene 3. Might not be bible, but Shakespeare’s no slouch either.

Why do people quote it? ’Cause they literally mean it. Don’t borrow; don’t lend. If you don’t borrow money, you won’t go into debt. If you don’t lend money, you don’t have to fret when your friends never repay you. Simple, prudent advice. Words they think we oughta live by.

Okay, so why’d Shakespeare write it?

Well, we don’t give a rip. We know what we mean by it. Don’t borrow; don’t lend. We assume Shakespeare meant the very same thing. It’s straightforward enough, isn’t it?

But a Shakespeare scholar, or anyone who’s stayed awake through Hamlet, will recall where it came from: The wily King Claudius’s adviser, Polonius. He says it to his son Laertes, just before he sends the boy off to university. And if they recall anything about Polonius, they’ll realize… it’s actually not good advice. Polonius thought it was, but Polonius was a dunce. Every other thing he advises in the play turns out to be wrong, bad, foolish advice.

“Okay, Shakespeare put it in the mouth of an idiot. But it’s still sound advice.” Is it? Considering the source, it comes across as way more self-serving and stingy than when people assume it comes from God.

You see the problem. Context is important. We should care where our quotes come from. We might be giving bad advice. Or, when quoting the bible, we might make a divine command out of something which was never meant to be one.

The word became human, and explains God.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

This is the reason he came to us. Not atonement; he could’ve done that invisibly. But to reveal God.

John 1.14-18

John 1.14-18 KWL
14 The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.
We got a good look at his significance—
the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.
15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first.”
16 All of us received things out of his fullness. Grace after grace:
17 The Law which Moses gave; the grace and truth which Christ Jesus became.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.

We Christians have had the darnedest time translating and explaining this passage, because while it’s in really simple Greek, it’s deep. It’s profound. It tells us the word of the LORD, the Son of the Father, God of God, God from the Father’s womb (usually translated “bosom” because human fathers don’t have wombs, and any language which might give God feminine qualities tend to give certain macho guys the heebie-jeebies), the one-who-comes-after-me who’s really the one-who-came-before-me, grace and truth personified, the visible image of the invisible God Cl 1.15became flesh. Flesh. Meat. Blood and bone and muscle and tissue and nerves and fluids. An animal. Yet God.

People still find the idea blasphemous. It’s why heresies keep cropping up to claim Jesus isn’t really flesh: He only looked flesh. Peel off his human mask (eww) and there’s God under it. He only looked physical, but he was a spirit with a physical appearance. He only looked real, but he was a mass hallucination which confused the real world. He only looked like a man, but was a superman, a demigod, a new species, a hybrid, an alien.

But he wasn’t. He was human. Yet God.

TXAB’s 2016 Presidential Antichrist Watch.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 October

Every presidential election year in the United States, we get doomsayers who claim this or that candidate is probably the Beast of Revelation 13, or as popular Christian culture calls it, the Antichrist. Or wannabe prophets claim one of the candidates is Jesus’s personal choice; if he held American citizenship (and I’m surprised one of the parties hasn’t voted him an honorary one by now) he’d totally pick that guy.

Of course none of these folks have any insight, supernatural or not. They’re proclaiming their own personal politics. Some of ’em do it every election. In the process, any such “prophets” unwittingly expose themselves as false ones, even when their favored candidates win. Because God’s will is for Jesus to reign, not some party, nor some politician. Lucky for them, we no longer stone false prophets to death. Man would that be satisfying.

I will point out it’s totally possible to determine which of these contenders might actually be the Beast. Seriously. Because at the end of chapter 13, John stated the Beast’s number is that of a human, and it’s 666. Rv 13.18 Meaning if we know what John meant by “its number”—and we do—we can calculate it.

Ready to find out which of the candidates are devil-spawn? Wait, lemme rephrase that: Ready to find out which of these folks are the ultimate devil-spawn? Well then you’re ready for TXAB’s 2016 Presidential Antichrist Watch.

The 2016 list.

The tricky part was trying all the variants of each candidate’s names. ’Cause Revelation doesn’t offer instructions: It’s not necessarily one’s full name, first ’n last ’n middle ’n maiden. It’s one’s name… which, I figure, could mean any reasonable configuration which adds up to 666. So I tried all the possibilities: Full names, nicknames, Hebrew-equivalent names, initials. Whatever jiggery-pokery got us closest to 666. Because if I didn’t, some conspiracy-theorist would, so I figured I’d beat ’em to the punch. Hey, if any reasonable-enough variant hits 666, maybe we do have something. And maybe not. I’m just the messenger.

Below are the closest results: It’s no coincidence they’re in the 500-700 range, ’cause that’s the range I was aiming for. I included candidates, potential candidates, and drop-outs, just in case. Nope, didn’t include third parties; they don’t win.

REPUBLICANIN HEBREW ALPHABETNUMBER
Jeb Bush יוחנן אליס בוש (Yochanan [John] Ellis Bush)533
Ben Carson בנימין ס קרסון (Benjamin S. Carson)638
Chris Christie כריס כריסטי 599
Ted Cruz רפאל א קרוז (Rafael E. Cruz)625
Mark Everson מארק אוורסון 670
Jack Fellure לואל ג'קסון פאללור (Lowell Jackson Fellure)633
Carly Fiorina קארלי פיורינה 702
Jim Gilmore ג'יימס סטיוארט גילמור (James Stewart Gilmore)707
Lindsey Graham לינדסי אולין גרהם (Lindsey Olin Graham)509
Mike Huckabee מיכאל דייל האקבי (Michael Dale Huckabee)273
Bobby Jindal פיוש "בובי" ג'ינדאל (Piyush “Bobby” Jindal)514
John Kasich יוחנן ר קייסיק (Yochanan [John] R. Kasich)614
George Pataki ג'ורג' אלמר פטאקי (George Elmer Pataki)683
Rand Paul רנדל הווארד פול (Randal Howard Paul)622
Rick Perry יעקב ר פרי (Yaqov [James] R. Perry)672
Marco Rubio מרקו רוביו 570
Rick Santorum ריק סנטורום 681
Donald Trump דונלד יוחנן טראמפ (Donald Yochanan [John] Trump)548
Scott Walker סקוט קווין ווקר (Scott Kevin Walker)659

 

DEMOCRATIN HEBREW ALPHABETNUMBER
Joe Biden יוסף רובינט ביידן (Joseph Robinette Biden)509
Jeff Boss ג'ף בוס 151
Lincoln Chafee לינקולן ד צאפי (Lincoln D. Chafee)461
Hillary Clinton הילארי ר קלינטון (Hillary R. Clinton)711
Lawrence Lessig לורנס לסיג 449
Martin O’Malley מרטין יוסף אומאלי (Martin Joseph O’Malley)553
Bernie Sanders ברני סנדרס 636
Jim Webb יעקב הנרי ווב (Yaqov [James] Henry Webb)461
Robby Wells רוברט ולס (Robert Wells)513
Willie Wilson וילי וילסון 218

So there we are: None of the candidates appear to hit the relevant number. Now, whether their behavior or policies are Beast-like is a whole other ball of wax.

Back in 2012…

Some years ago I got into a political discussion (seldom a wise idea) with a fan of Pat Robertson. So for fun—hey, maybe I’d hit the magic number and horrify him!—I calculated Robertson’s name. No dice. Oh well.

Out of curiosity I tried a few of the front-runners’ names. Then I plugged in Mitt Romney’s name… and stuff got serious. Well, semi-serious. ’Cause Romney’s full name (Willard Mitt Romney, וילארד מיט רומני in Hebrew) came up 616. And I just so happen to know that in a few ancient copies of Revelation, the Beast’s number isn’t 666. It’s that number: 616.

Now, 616 is a textual variant, which means it’s not what the best ancient copies of Revelation have. And since Romney didn’t win the 2012 election, any worries people might’ve had, have (thus far) gone unfounded. Still…

Really, that’s the whole point behind calculating people’s numbers. It’s so Christians can watch out for them. That’s all. It’s not divine determinism: Anyone whose name adds up to 666 is foreordained to be the Beast. Just because your parents didn’t stop by the local Kabbalist to make sure they named you something benign, doesn’t make you the Beast. Being the Beast makes you the Beast.

In other words: Pursuing power instead of surrendering it, lying instead of seeking the truth, being a hypocrite instead of being transparent… basically if you’re in politics at all, you’re a much better match for the Beast than the average citizen who covets none of those things. (Or, better, who follows Jesus.)

I was a little surprised some news outlet didn’t pick up on Romney’s number and have a little fun with it. Then again, maybe they knew all along and squelched it… or maybe that’s just paranoia talking. ’Cause paranoia will come out with all this Beast-talk. Gotta keep our heads, folks.

Recognizing and embracing the light of the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October

Light is a metaphor for a lot of different things in the bible. Here, it’s life.

John 1.1-13

John 1.1-5 KWL
1 The word’s in the beginning. The word’s with God. The word is God.
2 He’s in the beginning with God. 3 Everything came to be through him.
Nothing that exists came to be without him. 4 What came to be through him, was life.
Life’s the light of humanity. 5 Light shines in darkness, and darkness can’t get hold of it.

In his first chapter, the author of John (probably John bar Zebedee, “the student Jesus loved”) pins a few metaphors on Jesus. We got word. We got light. And later John the baptist uses lamb. (Or ram; it depends on how meek or badass you wanna make Jesus sound.)

The word created life, and the author quickly started calling life “light” Jn 1.4 then said Jesus is the actual light coming into the world. Jn 1.9 In fact later in this gospel, Jesus made this claim about himself twice: "I'm the light of the world." Jn 8.12, 9.5 He comes to give us life. Abundant life in this age; eternal life in the next.

Even though the bible’s not a series of codes for clever Christians to crack, various Christians insist “light” means the same thing everywhere, and manage to mix up “Life’s the light of humanity” in verse 4, with “God is light.” 1Jn 1.5 You know, just like they mix up Jesus-God’s-word with the-bible-God’s-word. They’ll try to mash the “truth” they find in 1 John together with “life” (and let’s not forget way, Jn 14.6) and hit frappé. Any excuse to make the Light as clear as mud.

Synchrobloggery.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 October

Sometimes you just wanna know what other people think about the same topic.

Really, this is a story, not a non-sequitur: Back in 2007 my mother took a college course on Christian apologetics.

Since I’m the seminarian in the family, Mom kept picking my brain. And I’m really not the brain you wanna pick. Thanks to my Fundamentalist upbringing, I spent years studying apologetics… and trying it out on Dad, who’s atheist. Then I spent a few more years inflicting it on various other pagan skeptics. After some years working with real evangelists, who share the gospel instead of arguing it, I came to a rather heterodox view of apologetics.

Bluntly, apologetics are cessationists’ thoroughly inadequate substitute for testimonies. You don’t tell people about what God’s done in your life, ’cause as far as you believe, all his acts are theological, spiritual, invisible, and largely hypothetical. You don’t talk about what he’s shown you through your faithful obedience, ’cause you’ve not done a lot of that either. Don’t bother to develop any fruits of the Spirit. Instead, indulge one of the more self-gratifying works of the flesh: Argue. Verbally tear those pagans a new one.

You give ’em logical arguments for the existence of God. Explanations why the bible is historical and believable. Reasons the resurrection has to have happened. Ideas to believe, rather than a Person worth believing in. And most useless of all, reasons why evolution isn’t true—which tells pagans faster than any T-shirt slogan, “I don’t believe in science, and am therefore an idiot. Trust nothing else which comes out of my mouth.”

If you object to that characterization, I’ll deal with you later.

Obviously I don’t have a lot of use for apologetics. From the sound of it, neither did Mom’s professor: He was only teaching the class because somebody had to; it was a required course if you sought ordination. When Mom started sharing some of my conclusions in class, and revealed where she got ’em from, he decided maybe he and I oughta become “friends,” as they call ’em, on Facebook. His name’s John. Blame him for getting me into synchroblogging.

Why we gotta have freedom of expression.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 October

And in this age, we have Blog Action Days.


I’m participating in the Blog Action Day thingy, an attempt to get bloggers and their readers to focus on a particular worthy issue. This year it’s #RaiseYourVoice, an attempt to speak up on behalf of journalists, photographers, bloggers, writers, and pretty much everyone who’s not allowed to speak up for themselves.

In the United States, freedom of expression is pretty much the content of our Constitution’s first amendment: A guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, the press, and to petition government.

Among us Christians, freedom of expression is a tricky thing. Because not every Christian is agreed we have freedom of expression. Or should have.

I know many a Christian who’s outraged, outraged, by some of the stuff on television. It’s just filthy. So, they tell anyone who’ll listen, they got rid of their TV. They threw it right out. They don’t watch it anymore.

…Well okay, they watch stuff on the Blu-ray player. And off Netflix. And sometimes they’ll reconnect the cable for sports. And they’ve downloaded every episode of Little House on the Prarie from Amazon, but watching old TV doesn’t count as “watching TV,” does it?…

Anyway. Some things, many of us Christians insist, shouldn’t be so freely expressed. “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth” Ep 4.29 and “Touch not the unclean thing” 2Co 6.17 and all that. We practice self-control, or at least we fake it really well. So others should practice self-control. And if they can’t, maybe we oughta pass some laws. Or, if doing so bothers our sense of libertarianism, we can just do as we usually do: Boycott them, boycott their sponsors, boycott their business partners, shout ’em down, hack their websites, slander ’em widely, and otherwise try to ruin them. ’Cause it’s our duty as good citizens and devout Christians.

But when other people do all that stuff to us—why, we’re being persecuted.

It’s a blind spot. A big black hole of a blind spot, where the inconsistency falls in and gets squashed into a singularity: “Those are entirely different things. They’re promoting evil. We’re promoting Jesus. (And our politics, which are Jesus-approved, so they’re part of the package.) Evil needs to be fought. And it’s evil to fight us, ’cause we’re on God’s side.”

So when I talk to my fellow Christians about freedom of expression, they’re all for it—for us. Not so much for others.

“Call me Pastor.”

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

Three years ago I got into a conversation with some guy at a Starbucks. It’s usually in coffeehouses such conversations take place; I’m in them so often. (I’m in one now as I write this.) He asked my name. I gave it. He gave his name as “Pastor Todd”—although Todd isn’t actually his first name, ’cause I changed it for this story, ’cause he’s not gonna look good.

Todd struck up a conversation with me, quickly found out I’m Christian, and we got to talking about our common beliefs. Like most people, he assumed since I’m not clergy, I must know nothing about theology. Which is a really naïve assumption, ’cause there are a lot of dangerously overeducated laymen like me around. Something I learned back in my journalism days: Never underestimate people. But never overestimate ’em either. Find out who they really are.

There are a lot of dangerously undereducated clergy around too. It just so happened Todd is among them. He tried to instruct me in certain areas he clearly knew little about. I expressed doubt, ’cause scripture. Todd tried to correct me, ’cause earnestness. I didn’t fret about it, ’cause Todd wasn’t wandering into heresy. But Todd got more and more anxious, ’cause certain folks believe anyone who disagrees with them is heretic—and think it their duty to rescue us from hell, so he just had to get through to me. I think I kinda ruined his day.

To my point: At some point I addressed him by his given name, which as far as you know is “Todd.” He corrected me there, too.

HE. “It’s Pastor Todd.”
ME. “I’m sorry. Your first name is ‘Pastor’? Or it’s ‘Pastor-Todd’?”
HE. “Pastor’s my title.”
ME. “Oh. But you aren’t my pastor. No offense.”
HE. “Still I’m a pastor, ordained by God. I should be addressed by that title.”

Introducing the Book Pile.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 October

There’s this well-known pastor in my denomination. I’ve heard him preach, and found it impressive. When I found out he had a blog, I decided to subscribe to it. At the time it was mostly things he’d discovered in the process of writing his sermons, and the occasional rant about his politics. But two years ago it turned into nothing but book reviews.

Y’see, once your blog starts racking up the viewers, book publishers find out about it, and start offering you books for review. They hope your readers might wanna become their readers. And they’re not wrong; I’ve come across some really interesting books through some of my favorite blogs. So when they contacted me, I figured why not.

But lest you worry, Christ Almighty! is not gonna turn into a book blog, like that pastor’s site did. He began with books on Christian discipleship, branched into novels (and his novels aren’t my cup of tea), and doesn’t bother to write about Jesus anymore. I really need to unsubscribe from his blog sometime.

I’ll keep it to once a month. (Less often, if I haven’t found anything good.) No, not every book was sent to me for review, ’cause I’m gonna include the books I get on my own, and liked enough to let you know about. And no, not every book is gonna get a four-star review, ’cause if publishers send me something I don’t care for, I’ll say so. Too many bloggers seem to take the attitude of, “If you can’t say anything nice, be really vague or they’ll stop sending you books”—forgetting that if they send you nothing but crap, maybe you kinda want them to stop sending you books.

On hearing from God. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 October

Too many Christians use “God told me” as a way to tell people, “So the discussion’s over.”

In this story I’m gonna bounce around in time a bit. Bear with me.


So much easier to hear God in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Ten years ago. My pastor and I were discussing church stuff, as we did. We were chatting about the reasons why people join or leave a church. I casually mentioned that when there’s no obvious reason to quit a church (i.e. abusive people, leaders who won’t lead, heretic teachers, false prophets running wild, it’s a cult, etc.) people have no business leaving unless God tells them it’s okay.

“You know,” he blurted out, “in 20 years I’ve never heard a person say ‘God told me’ as much as you do.”

Yeah, it was a bad habit I was in. I’ve since got out of it.

No, not because God wasn’t really talking to me. Nor because he’s stopped. He still does. I just don’t point it out as often. Because people get the wrong idea, like my pastor did.

See, in his experience, Christians tend to use the line “God told me” for two reasons, both bad. The most obvious one is they’re showing off. “Look at me! God talks to me. Lemme tell you what he said.” They’re like name-droppers who wanna let everyone know they know celebrities, or important people, as if this makes them important too. As if God doesn’t talk to every Christian (though not all of us are listening). Now, I knew God talks to everyone, so I wasn’t saying “God told me” because I believed he was talking to me more than others. I wasn’t trying to show off. But if that’s what it looked like, best I stopped it. So I did.

The other, bigger problem are those Christians who say “God told me” in order to end a conversation. ’Cause God, they believe, gets the final word.

Introducing Jesus. Well, his gospels. Well, him too.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 October

The four different perspectives on Jesus.

Mark 1.1 • Matthew 1.1 • Luke 1.1-4 • John 1.1-18

Mark 1.1 KWL
1 The start of the gospel of Christ Jesus, son of God.
Luke 1.1-4 KWL
1 Because many attempted to compose a narrative
about the things which had been fulfilled in our religion,
2 just as the first eyewitnesses handed things down to us
and became servants of the word,
3 I also thought, having closely, accurately followed everything from the start;
I wrote you, honorable Theófilus, 4 so you could know about what you were taught.
An accurate word.
Matthew 1.1 KWL
1 The book of the genesis of Christ Jesus,
bar David, bar Abraham.

These are the introductions to the synoptic gospels, the three gospels in the New Testament which tend to sync up with one another. Obviously there are differences in their intros. Mark starts abruptly, and in the very next verse gets straight away to John the Baptist, who leads into the story of Jesus. Matthew refers to the genesis of Jesus: His ancestry and birth. From here we go to a big list of who begat whom, stretching all the way back to Abraham.

Unlike the others, the author of Luke (what the heck, we’ll assume it’s actually St. Luke, same as the other traditional authors) explained to his recipient exactly why he wrote his gospel. Others have done gospels, but Luke did an extra-thorough job to find the truth and present something accurate we can base our religion upon. So here’s the real history of Christ Jesus. Theófilus might be the recipient’s real name, but in those no-freedom-of-religion days there’s just as much a chance it’s an alias: Theófilus means “God-lover.”

John tends to go its own way, so its introduction is a bit longer and more theological.

John 1.1-18 KWL
1 The word’s in the beginning. The word’s with God. The word is God.
2 He’s in the beginning with God. 3 Everything came to be through him.
Nothing that exists came to be without him. 4 What came to be through him, was life.
Life’s the light of humanity. 5 Light shines in darkness, and darkness can’t get hold of it.
6 A person came who’d been sent by God, named John, 7 who came to testify.
When he testified about the light, everyone might believe because of him.
8 He wasn’t the light, but he’d testify about the light.
9 The actual light, who lights every person, was coming into the world.
10 He’s in the world, and the world came to be through him.
Yet the world doesn’t know him.
11 He came to his own people, and his own people don’t accept him;
12 of those who do accept him, those who put faith in his name,
he gives them power to become God’s children.
13 Not by blood, nor bodily will, nor a man’s will, but generated by God.
14 The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.
We got a good look at his significance—
the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.
15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first.”
16 All of us received things out of his fullness. Grace after grace:
17 The Law which Moses gave; the grace and truth which Christ Jesus became.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.

It’s deep, so I’ll analyze John’s intro in more detail another time.