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30 September 2015

The comic book End Times. (Part 3.)

If you’ve ever wondered why European Christians are so antisemitic, but American Christians love Jews so much, read on.

More on the fearful future within the Christian comic book There’s a New World Coming, by Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley.
Other parts: 1245

As I’ve said previously about those who believe John Nelson Darby’s beliefs about dispensationalism and the End Times, not all Darbyists think alike. Hal Lindsey’s beliefs in There’s a New World Coming (illustrated by Al Hartley) don’t precisely line up with those of Tim LaHaye, John Hagee, or any of the other folks who claim Jesus’s second coming comes in two parts—a secret rapture, Jesus’s actual return seven years later, and in between those events we suffer tribulation: Death, evil, natural disasters, war, mayhem, dogs and cats living together.

Y’see, a small but significant subgroup of Darbyists claim the secret rapture doesn’t take place before tribulation starts, like Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye or the makers of numerous Christian movies do. Christians get to experience three years, six months, of the seven-year suffering, same as the pagans. But at halftime Jesus takes us out of the game, and the final 42 months consists of great tribulation. As opposed to the bad-but-not-as-bad, first-half tribulation. “Mid-tribs,” they tend to be called.

What little there is of the fifth seal in the comic book. TNWC 13

Why do they believe this? You may recall in my previous article where, in the middle of the Lamb opening the big seven-sealed scroll of history (which Darbyists insist is the scroll of just the tribulation), the fifth seal reveals a bunch of martyred Christians asking God to avenge them. Rv 6.9-10 Mid-tribs agree this proves the rapture hadn’t happened by this point of the scroll-opening procedure. But like the rest of the Darbyists, they still buy the secret rapture idea, still insist the scroll only represents End Times history, and therefore figure the rapture happens after the next seal gets opened.

And y’know what? Mid-tribs are actually mid-right. I’ll get to that today. Promise.

29 September 2015

The comic book End Times. (Part 2.)

More about Hal Lindsey’s violent supernatural funhouse of revenge fantasies.

We continue my commentary on the messed-up Christian comic book There’s a New World Coming, by Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley.
Other parts: 1345

Because I don’t accept the premillennial dispensationalist view of the End Times (which here I call Darbyism, after the guy who invented it), people occasionally accuse me of not believing Jesus will return at all. Or that I’m a universalist, who thinks Jesus is gonna save everybody and no one goes to hell. Basically they embrace the usual fallacy: “If you don’t believe as I do, you must be heretic”—and then I get accused of every heresy, ’cause all heresies are alike.

I believe as the creed teaches: From heaven, Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. Judge means he’s sorting us out, sheep-and-goats style, Mt 25.31-46 and like the old Cake song goes, “Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell.”

But I’m not a dispensationalist: I don’t believe God saves us in different ways in different eras. He’s always saved people by grace, through faith. Ep 2.8 I don’t believe in this dispensation, God does grace, but in that dispensation, he stops. There’s wrath for the unrepentant, the stubborn, the obstinate, those who want nothing to do with him, and only want to exploit or destroy the weak. But God’s kingdom runs on grace. Always has. And when a lot of pagans finally see his kingdom for what it is—instead of the way we Christians have imperfectly mangled his message and portrayed him—they’re gonna respond, “This is who Christ is? If you’d only told me, I’d have followed him in a heartbeat!” They’re not gonna be the ones tearing their hair out at his coming. To them, he’ll be the best surprise ever.

Messiah taking his kingdom, throughout the scriptures, is a happy occasion. Good news. Not good for those who love and embrace evil. But from my own experiences I don’t see a lot of people who’d prefer evil to Jesus. (To Christians maybe, but that’s hardly the same thing.)

And sadly, at the same time, a lot of Christians-in-name-only who flinch in outrage, “Why’s he doing that?” They’ll be the ones gnashing their teeth at the End. Darbyism is more their speed.

28 September 2015

The comic book End Times. (Part 1.)

Presenting a popular, but wack, version of the End. With illustrations!

A particular childhood trauma of mine.
Other parts: 2345

Like most Christians, when I was a kid I had questions about the End Times. My mom didn’t know the answers, but she found me a comic book which claimed to. And now I’m gonna inflict share this book with you: There’s a New World Coming, by Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley.

Y’see, all of us know human history will come to an end. Either we’ll kill ourselves with pollution or war… or we’ll sort all our problems out, like they did on Star Trek, but in a few billion years the sun will expand and fry the planet anyway. But Christians, based on stuff Christ Jesus said in the gospels, figure the end is coming much sooner. He’s gonna take over the world, y’see. Eventually he’ll put us on a better one.

The final book of the New Testament is called Apokálypsis, better known by its English name Revelations, or as educated Christians call it, Revelation, singular. It consists of messages and freakish visions given by Jesus to his apostle, St. John the Divine. (Whether this is the same John who first followed Jesus, who wrote the gospel and letters, is debatable. I think it is.) Just like his parables, Jesus’s revelations only represent various events. They aren’t literally those events. That’s on purpose. You know how people are: Give us enough details, and we’ll either try to force these events to happen prematurely, or fight to prevent them. Jesus wisely stuck to imagery which only hints the future. And the past, and the then-present.

But not every Christian understands this, nor believes it. They think the Revelation visions must be taken literally: The End Times are gonna be crazy. Or they believe Jesus means for us to decode his visions, so they have—and wrote a book series about it. Wanna buy it?

The noisiest bunch of End Times prognosticators follow a system, invented in the 1830s by John Nelson Darby, which they call premillennial dispensationalism. I just call this bunch Darbyists. (Much shorter.) I grew up in Darbyist churches; I brought ’em up in one of my rants. One of my church’s deacons taught a Revelation class, and explained Darbyism top-to-bottom. Today I’m passing that info forward.

26 September 2015

Why Amazon is my favorite Christian bookstore.

And probably yours too.

My hometown has one bookstore—only one—which specializes in new books. Although specialize isn’t the proper word. That’d be Family Christian Stores, which isn’t so much a bookstore as your one-stop shop for all things Christian. It sells tchotchkes about as much as books: CDs, shirts, toys, art for the walls… you know, “Jesus junk.”

’Twasn’t always thus. We used to have a Borders. It closed when Borders went bankrupt in 2001. In the ’90s we had a Crown Books, and that closed too. All that’s left are the used-book stores which sometimes carry a new book or two. And the book sections of Walmart, Costco, Target, and other department stores. And the local library’s monthly book sale. There’s the odd church bookshop, but they’re not open unless the church is, and not even then.

Why can’t a town of 90,000 sustain a new-books bookstore? Because those stores, for the most part, don’t know what they’re doing. They didn’t realize, till it was too late, their primary competition was Amazon—and that Amazon had ’em so beat, people would shop at Amazon while browsing their stores. I did it myself. Soon as I found a book I was interested in, I took down its ISBN and looked it up on Amazon. Guess who always had the better price.

No, Amazon hasn’t paid me to sing their praises. This is just fact. Even when a bookstore marks everything at 20 percent below the suggested retail price, Amazon undercuts ’em. Even when the books are on the clearance shelf at 60 percent off, or $2 bargains, Amazon has ’em beat. I’m not the only customer who noticed this. It’s why people were walking around the bookstores with their smartphones out, comparing prices, going with Amazon, and buying nothing from Borders but the coffee. Seattle’s Best Coffee did really well. Borders, not so much.

25 September 2015

Gospel, gospel music, and the gospels.

Sometimes we use a word so much, its meaning gets a little fuzzy.

GOSPEL /'ɡɑs.pəl/ n. Good news. Specifically, the good news of God’s kingdom, or the revelation, teaching, and saving work of Christ Jesus.
2. A record of a great person’s life, teachings, and works. (Specifically, one of Jesus, namely the four included in the New Testament.)
3. adj. Something meant to share good news, such as a book, tract, or song.
GOSPEL MUSIC /'ɡɑs.pəl 'mju.zɪk/ n. Black contemporary Christian music.

The gospel, the good news of Christ Jesus, you know already. Or at least I hope you do. If not, I wrote all about it. Give it a read.

Gospel music used to refer to Christian music performed by church choirs. Nowadays, in the United States, it just refers to Christian music performed by African Americans—whether Christian R&B, Christian hip-hop, or even Christian rock. That’s a controversial definition among white people, most of whom aren’t aware the Christian music business is still segregated, and never noticed just how white K-LOVE and their favorite radio stations are. Black Christian artists are simply lumped together under “gospel,” given a subsection on the Billboard charts and in the Christian bookstores, and go under-noticed, under-funded, and under-appreciated by whites. And this digression requires a much longer discussion. Today I’m mainly focused on the gospels.

In the New Testament we find four gospels, records of Jesus and his teachings. They were written anonymously—but we Christians weren’t having that, and gave credit to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John were members of the Twelve, and Mark and Luke were members of Paul’s ministry team.

Gospels have a lot in common with biographies, but they’re really not the same thing. They aren’t about the life of Jesus—’cause if you read ’em, you’ll notice the authors dropped a lot of biographical details. Like Jesus’s childhood, family and personal life, precise dates… We have nothing about Jesus from birth to age 30 (except Luke’s brief story about Jesus, the child prodigy, teaching in temple). That stuff historians care about, and go a little bonkers that we don’t have it. But the gospels’ authors had a wholly different priority: They were trying to prove to their readers Jesus is Messiah, the King of Israel. Jn 20.31

24 September 2015

Hypocrisy. (Actual hypocrisy.)

How do we know we’re saved? Fruit of the Spirit. Seriously.

Hypocrite /'hɪ.pə.krɪt/ n. One who claims moral standards, beliefs, or practices, to which their private behavior does not conform. Pretender.
[Hypocrisy /hə'pɑk.rə.si/ n., hypocritical /hɪp.ə'krɪd.ə.kəl/ adj.]

People tend to get hypocrisy wrong. They define it as inconsistency—a person says one thing yet does another. A tree-hugging celebrity drives a gas-guzzling Humvee. A politician who rants against outsourcing jobs nonetheless has his suits made in Mexico and China. “Hypocrisy!” pundits screech. But it’s not true hypocrisy unless there’s a coverup.

If I preach against smoking, yet I’m known to indulge a cigar from time to time, it’s certainly inconsistent. I might justify it by pointing out it’s an addiction: “Do as I say, not as I do, ’cause man is it hard to quit.” I’m still totally kicking the legs out from under my argument. But even so, it’s not hypocrisy. Still, people are gonna call it that because they don’t understand what hypocrisy truly means. It’s why we Christians get called hypocrites so often: “You preach we shouldn’t sin, yet you sin. Such a hypocrite.”

But it’s the deception, the lying, the cheating, the subterfuge, which makes it hypocrisy. If I’m vocally against drug use, but secretly snorting mountains of cocaine in secret; if I’m outspoken about the sanctity of marriage, yet I privately cheat on my wife; if I tell everyone I would never drink, and hide that I do, that’s hypocrisy. Lying makes it hypocrisy.

I’m not a hypocrite because I’m a sinner who preaches against sin. I’m pursuing an ideal. Sinlessness is something we oughta strive for. I surely don’t claim I’ve achieved it; Pp 3.12 I suck too. Only if I pretend I have, are we talking hypocrisy.

But to be fair, a lot of us Christians are hypocrites, hiding sins for various reasons. Usually out of pride. Sometimes to fool ourselves. 1Jn 1.8 But we’re not fooling anyone. Everybody knows nobody’s perfect but Jesus. If we’re hiding sins, people know something’s in there somewhere. And it’s the sin-hiding which makes one a hypocrite. Not inconsistency.

23 September 2015

How often ought we pray?

Most of us would probably answer, “More often.” But why?

Ask any Christian, and we’ll likely admit we don’t pray as often as we ought.

Well, nuns, monks, and people who staff prayer rooms, might be exceptions. Yet even some of them will claim they oughta pray more. Why is this? Well, some of it is because it’s true: We could pray more than we do.

For a lot of folks, other than saying grace, they don’t pray daily. Or they pray maybe two or three minutes a day… then beat themselves up for not praying 10 minutes. Or 30. Or an hour. Or even longer.

Okay, now let’s stop doing that for a moment and seriously think. How long does God reasonably expect us to talk with him? Why should every Christian prayer become as long as the longest phone conversations you have with your friends? (And considering how much of those conversations consist of really dumb stuff, should our prayers become that dumb?)

22 September 2015

Getting Christian capitalization right.

How to capitalize every last pronoun which refers to God. And while we’re at it, a bunch of other words.

Y’know, we Christians have invented a lot of little (and stupid) ways to gauge how devout our fellow Christians are—how closely we follow Jesus, how much we respect and honor God, how saved we are. How many Christianese words and terms can we slip into our conversation? How likely are we to pray at the slightest provocation? Are we willing to mar the bumpers of our cars with Jesus fish and pro-God stickers? Can we quote bible verses casually, and post ’em on Twitter?

One of those little litmus tests is how we do on Christian capitalization. Do we capitalize all the appropriate titles and names and holy things and their pronouns when we’re writing about God and Christianity?

Fr’instance when we’re writing about God, we’d better darned well have capitalized the title “God.” I know; some Christians call it the name of God, but YHWH’s his name; God’s his title. Technically his species. Still: Capitalize it! It’s not lowercase-G “god,” like we use for other religions’ gods, especially religions with multiple gods. Lowercasing God’s title, we feel, would disrespect him.

Just like it disrespects us when people don’t capitalize our names, right? …Wait, do people do that? I mean, other than when they’re getting creative with a list of names, who lowercases people’s names? And when it’s done, who among us is so sensitive, we identify this as a slight? Does it ever occur to anybody to consider this a big deal? Or an insult?

Yet you’ll actually find Christians do this to the devil. Seriously. “Devil” is its title, so it needn’t be capitalized either, but we’re in the habit of treating its title “Satan” as a proper name. And yet Christians will refer to it as lowercase-S “satan,” just to stick it to “satan” for convincing people to use lowercase-G’s on God. It’s quite petty of us.

It also freaks us out when people capitalize “God” to refer to another religion’s god. Like Aten or Wotan or Vishnu—we don’t refer to those beings as Gods, but gods. Zeus isn’t a God, but a god. Only YHWH is a God, and not just a God but the God. Mix this up, and people are gonna doubt our salvation. Even if it’s an honest mistake, or a pagan editor removing all our sacred capitalization.

It’s already kinda silly but it goes further. A lot further. Follow me down the rabbit hole, will you?

21 September 2015

Legalism versus grace.

They’re opposites.

LEGALISM /'li.gəl.iz.əm/ n. Excessive adherence to law or formula.
2. Dependence on law or merit, instead of grace and faith, for righteousness before God and salvation.
[Legalist /'li.gə n.]

Yeah, it’s a bit strange to talk about legalism under the category of grace. But that’s because legalism is grace’s opposite. It’s when people stop trusting God to save them, and figure they need to merit salvation with good karma.

Most Christians recognize legalism is the wrong route to God. We get the idea drummed into our heads pretty early by the evangelists: Salvation is through grace and nothing else. We can’t earn salvation; we shouldn’t try. If you try, you’re kinda trying to do an end-run around God and the system he set up, which is for Jesus to take care of our sins for us. And the only reason you’d wanna do an end-run around God is pride, sin, delusion, or some other evil or self-centered motive. Don’t be that way. Embrace his grace.

So we do. Well, most of us do.

’Cause many Christians don’t fully trust God’s grace. It’s a faith deficiency. They might believe God lets them into his kingdom, but they also believe in order to stay in the kingdom, in order to keep their place in the kingdom, they gotta earn it. So back to karma they go.

Hey, karma’s a hard mindset to give up. It’s deeply ingrained in human culture. Some of us grew up with it, and were trained to live our lives by it. Because karma is fair: This for that, quid pro quo, equal rights, equal pay for equal work, I scratch your back if you scratch mine, and let the punishment fit the crime. It’s even in the bible: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Ex 21.24 People should get what they deserve.

And that’s why we still find it all over Christendom—with people insisting if we Christians don’t behave ourselves, we might lose our salvation. With Christians who figure in order to get right with God, we gotta do bonus good deeds, or various acts of penance. With churches who demand, in order that we be right with them, that we first do various things for them… things which tend to make them look legalistic and cultlike. Heck, some of ’em are cults.

The ancient Galatians did this too, which is why Paul, Timothy, and Silas had to tell ’em to cut it out.

Galatians 3.1-7 KWL
1 Oh unthinking Galatians, who put a hex on you?
Christ Jesus was clearly portrayed as crucified before your eyes.
2 I just want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit
by doing the Law, or by hearing and believing?
3 Here’s more unthinking: Having begun your Christian lives by the Spirit,
you’re now achieving perfection by the flesh?
4 You suffer so much in vain, if so. Really. In vain.
5 So, God grants you the Spirit and works power through you,
by you doing the Law, or by hearing and believing?
6 Like Abraham “believed God and God counted him as righteous,” Ge 15.6
7 you have to know those who believe are the real children of Abraham.

Because it’s so easy to regress into karma. It’s what we’re used to.

But it’s not how God’s kingdom works. The kingdom runs on grace. Always has. The LORD didn’t save the Hebrews from Egypt because they deserved it; he saved ’em because he made friends with their ancestors. The LORD doesn’t save humanity from sin because we earned it—we so haven’t—but because he loves us regardless. God’s grace runs completely contrary to karmic principles. So much so, it outrages people who value karma.

Which is why they subtly try to slip Christianity back into those karmic principles, where they feel safe and comfortable. But in so doing, they harm and distort Christianity. And since humans are creatures of extremes, of course we take the rules and reciprocity too far, and wind up with legalism.

19 September 2015

How I got mixed up with the Assemblies of God.

Gonna talk about my church background a little. (Assuming you care.)

The quick ’n dirty way to size up a Christian is to ask them their church. “What church do you go to?” Then you compare them with all the nutjobs in their church. Never the sane people who go to their church; never the sober-minded, thoughtful, kind, friendly types. (Assuming you know of any.) Just the crazies.

So when people ask my church, I know that’s what they’re up to. I’ll tell ’em anyway: I’m a member of an Assemblies of God church. And off they dig through their memories. If I’m lucky they know a nice person who happened to go to such a church; if I’m not they know some cranks. (Worse, some of our cranks.) Or of various televangelist scandals. Or they know some different kind of crank: The sort who’s anti-Assemblies, who tell anyone who’ll listen, “Do you know what those people teach?” and make us sound like raging heretics.

More often, people don’t know anything about Christian denominations. They know the one they’re in… sorta. They’ve heard of the bigger ones, like the Catholics and Baptists; or the older ones like the Lutherans and Episcopalians. The Assemblies is only a century old. So they don’t always know which prejudices they oughta have against me.

Not that all their prejudices fit. I didn’t grow up in this church. I started attending it only five years ago, less than a year after I moved to town.

18 September 2015

Historical Jesus. (Who ain’t all that historical.)

Probably should put “historical” in ironic quotation marks.

So here’s a little transcript of a discussion I once had with a skeptic. Slightly abridged.

He. “Jesus never said that.”
Me. “Sure he did. In Mark 16.52 he clearly stated….”
He. “No, that’s what the bible says he said. I’m talking about what he actually said. Not what some Roman Christian, centuries later, claims he said.”

Where’d he get this idea—the gospels aren’t historical, and the Jesus we Christians believe in is just ancient Christian fanfiction? This, true believers, is the Historical Jesus hypothesis.

It’s hardly a recent theory. It predates Thomas Jefferson, who spent his evenings in the White House (this’d be around 1804) taking scissors and paste to four versions of the gospels, to splice together what we nowadays call “the Jefferson Bible.” In Jefferson’s gospel, Jesus does no miracles. (Well, one or two. Jefferson left ’em in because he liked the lessons in those particular stories.) Jefferson believed neither God, nor real-life Jesus, did miracles: Jesus was only a teacher of morals, and miracles were added centuries later by supernaturalist Christians. So Jefferson dropped the miracles and kept most of the lessons… except the hard-to-fathom, hard-for-him-to-believe statements Jesus made in John.

You see how Historical Jesus works. Take the Jesus we know—the Jesus of the gospels, apostles’ letters, Christians’ visions, and kingdom come. Now trim away anything you can’t or won’t believe. And in case anyone criticizes you for it, make sure you have “historical” reasons why you’ve done so. Here, I’ll give you a few.

  • “When the Christians finally gained political power in the 300s, they rewrote their history so they sounded more supernatural and divine. ’Cause that’s just what victors do. But none of it’s true.”
  • “These stories were passed down orally—from person to person, like an ancient game of ‘telephone.’ Stands to reason they’d get some facts wrong.”
  • “In one gospel it says Jesus did this; in another it says he did that. I say it’s more likely both of them are wrong.”
  • “There are a lot of similarities between Jesus’s actions in the gospels, and various pagan gods. Betcha the Christians swiped those ideas from the pagans.”
  • “People back then believed the gods walked among them. Just look at the Greeks and Romans. So the gentile Christians borrowed that idea, and claimed Jesus was one such god.”
  • “Back then, in those pre-scientific days, people were more likely to accept miracle stories.”
  • “The early Christians needed a Messiah who wasn’t just a great moral teacher; he needed to be divine. So they rewrote him that way.”
  • “According to the bible this event took place, but archaeology doesn’t confirm it, and other ancient historians don’t either. Probably never happened.”
  • “The gospels claim this one person did this thing—but come on. Why would a person do such a thing? I would never. Makes no sense.”

And there y’go. You’re an amateur Historical Jesus scholar.

The professionals are slightly more responsible than this.

17 September 2015

Jesus prefers his Christians fruity.

How do we know we’re saved? Fruit of the Spirit. Seriously.

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.
When you don’t stay in me, you never produce.
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 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, ask! It’ll happen for you.
8 My Father is glorified by it when you produce a lot of fruit,
and become my students.”

Yes, I know what “fruity” tends to mean in our culture. No, I don’t care. I’m taking the word back. Fruity fruity fruity.

Fruit is a metaphor we see all over the New Testament for behavior. The way Jesus described it, if you’re a “good tree,” you produce “good fruit,” and a “rotten tree” produces “bad fruit.” Mt 7.17 Paul didn’t care to even call bad behavior “fruit,” preferring “works of the flesh.” Ga 5.19 But the scriptures’ general idea is there’s good fruit and bad. Either we’re fruity in one way or the other.

What about no fruit? Well, as you just read in the quote above, those who “won’t stay in me,” who produce no fruit—nothing God can use, anyway—are getting tossed into fire. Jesus has another story about a tree which produced no fruit, which was given one more year before getting chopped down. Lk 13.6-8 Being fruitless is functionally the same as producing bad fruit. God wants fruit.

If we really follow Jesus, our lifestyle should be super-fruity. Filled with godly things and christlike behavior. Filled with proof of God’s activity in our lives: We should have God’s character traits, which Paul called “fruit of the Spirit.” Ga 5.22 We should also see some supernatural stuff—prophecies and miracles and healings and so forth. ’Cause God’s kingdom isn’t all talk and philosophy. It’s God’s power. 1Co 4.19 Stuff happens when God’s among us. But if he’s not, it doesn’t.

16 September 2015


Meditation isn’t a complicated idea either. But our unfamiliarity with it creates problems.

Meditate /'mɛd.ə.teɪt/ v. Think deeply or carefully about something.
[Meditation /mɛd.ə'teɪ.ʃən/]

Mention meditation to the average person, and images immediately come to mind of sitting cross-legged on the floor, hands out, eyes closed, humming “Om” or something mindless—’cause you’re trying to blank your mind.

That’s eastern meditation. It’s the sort we find among Hindus, Buddhists, and Californians. It’s not the sort we find among Christians.

Mostly ’cause many of us Christians don't meditate. Well, we might; we stumbled into the habit, but we don’t realize we’re actually meditating. We avoid anything which resembles meditation, for fear of stumbling into the eastern variety. Dark Christians in particular are afraid if we even accidentally practice the eastern sort, we’ll open ourselves up to demons, and they’ll flood us like shoppers invade Walmart on a Black Friday sale.

Okay. First of all, if you have the Holy Spirit in you—and you oughta—he keeps demons out. Yes they’ll tempt you, but they can’t possess you, ’cause God possesses you. So don’t worry about demons. Anyone who believes Christians can accidentally get demonized, obviously doesn’t know squat about God’s power and grace, and probably lives a life of terror and worry. But don’t let their fears infect you. Ignore them.

Secondly, Christian meditation isn’t about blanking the mind, hoping insight will somehow fill the vacuum. Just the opposite. It’s about filling the mind. Namely with God. We sit there (or stand there, lay there, hang there—whatever position works for you), shove any other distractions out of the way, and think. Hard. Turn an idea over in our minds. Analyze it. Play with it. Repeat it till it’s memorized, or till we understand it better. And ask God questions about it: What can he reveal to us about this?

Yep, it’s a form of prayer. Which makes it all the crazier when people tell us, “Don’t do that! It’s demonic.”

15 September 2015

Must we read the bible every day?

’Cause some of us just aren’t into reading.

Just about every Christian teacher—myself included—tell Christians they gotta read the bible. ’Cause they gotta. We all do.

We live in a biblically-illiterate culture, folks. Bible references are like that old children’s game of “telephone”: One kid whispers a message to another kid, who whispers it to a second, who whispers it to a third, and so on round the room… till it gets back to the first kid, who discovers the message changed an awful lot in transmission. Our culture has done the very same thing with bible quotes.

  • “Loving money is the root of all sorts of evil” 1Ti 6.10 became “Money is the root of all evil.”
  • “Don’t judge lest you be judged with the measure you measure others” Mt 7.1-3 got shortened to “Don’t judge,” and drops the real lesson, about inconsistency.
  • “The lion will lie down with the lamb” is the over-shortened version of Isaiah 11.6, where a wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, and lion and calf respectively live together in sin. Wait, not in sin. It’s a metaphor for peace, although vegans have their own ideas.
  • “Pride goes before a fall” is the short version of “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Pr 16.18 Parallel ideas, so at least it wasn’t bent into the wrong idea.
  • “The eyes are the windows to the soul” resembles Jesus’s teaching that the eye is the lamp of the body, Mt 6.22, Lk 11.34 but likely come from someone other than Jesus, and got mixed up with his teaching.
  • “Spare the rod, spoil the child” isn’t even in there, although disciplining your kids and giving them a paddling when necessary is. Pr 13.24, 22.15, 23.13-14, 29.15 As is the instruction to be merciful like our Father, Lk 6.36 so it would appear we should spare the rod, lest we frustrate our kids with our lack of compassion. Cl 3.21

Then there are “bible quotes” which aren’t from the bible at all.

14 September 2015

Grace. (It really is amazing.)

If you don’t understand what grace is—and many don’t—you likely aren’t practicing it.

GRACE /greɪs/ n. God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.
2. A prayer of thanksgiving.
[Gracious /'greɪ.ʃəs/ adj.]

Years ago I was in a kids’ Sunday school class when the head pastor visited and the kids were encouraged to ask him anything. Bad idea. We spent way too much time discussing the existence of space aliens. The pastor’s view: They’re not real, and all UFO sightings are probably devils messing with people. ’Cause he’s one of those guys who thinks devils are just everywhere.

Come to think of it, that’s likely why this pastor punted this question: One of the kids asked him what “grace” is. Somebody had brought up how we Christians are saved by grace, so she understandably wanted to know what this substance was. She wanted to get it, and be saved. Her assumption—same as that of way too many Christians—is it’s some sort of heavenly pixie dust. Pastor’s response: “We can’t define grace. It’s a mystery. It just is.”

So he didn’t know what grace is. I did, so I filled the kids in after Pastor’d left the room. I figured since he didn’t know what grace was, he wasn’t likely to show any to some visitor who showed him up.

Most other Christians define grace as “God’s unmerited favor.” Even so, we still talk about it as if it’s a substance. ’Cause God “pours it out” on us, or “gives” or “extends” it, or “covers us” with it. It’s a liquid, a blanket, a trinket—an object, not an attitude.

But that’s what grace is: God’s attitude. He loves us, despite our bad behavior, despite our rebelliousness, despite our apathy, despite our outright hostility towards him sometimes. Grace is the way God thinks of us, which overwhelms and overcomes everything we totally deserve. He ought to give up on us and sweep us away. But he forgives all, loves us regardless, and makes us his kids anyway.

It’s why we call it amazing.

12 September 2015

Son of God and cheesy Jesus movies.

Why is it the label “Christian” on movies, music, and fiction is so often synonymous with “junk”?

When Son of God hit the theaters February 2014, various people at my church were talking about it like it was the Second Coming of Christ. (In fact, I got in some minor trouble ’cause I joked about this when I was presenting our church’s weekly announcements. Humor-deprived Christians merit a whole other rant. But not today.)

From their website. Sorta.

A Jesus movie! In the theaters! In wide release!—not just playing in the hard-to-find specialty theaters in major cities and college towns. Produced by Hollywood producers! (Well, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, anyway; she got to play Jesus’s mom.) Public vindication of everything we Christians hold dear!

Meh. I’m not one of those Christians who are just thrilled to pieces every time Hollywood decides to pander to my demographic with a bible movie. Largely because they get so much wrong. And y’know, they do it even when they’re fellow Christians. Because—for the very same reason they so often get their theology wrong—they assume they know more than they do, never consult with experts, hire overeager over-actors instead of good actors, try to “improve” the story by padding it with stuff which is guaranteed to annoy the many, many purists among us… and the result is junk.

Burnett and Downey produced the awful History Channel miniseries The Bible, which had already done all this and more. (And they did it again, back round Easter 2015, with their awful miniseries A.D.: The Bible Continues.) I saw just enough of it to know Son of God was gonna be just as awful. So I didn’t bother to watch it myself till Netflix got it. There’s two hours, 18 minutes (less; I skipped the credits) I’m not getting back.

11 September 2015

So… what does Jesus really teach?

Makes no sense to “follow” Jesus, yet know neither what he said nor meant.

Ask anybody what Christ Jesus did for a living, and nearly all of us will say, “He was a carpenter.”

Yeah, he did do that for a living. Mk 6.3 Family business, apparently. Mt 13.55 More accurately Jesus was a tékton/“artisan”—what nowadays we’d call a contractor. Just to digress into history just a tad: Téktons didn’t just work with wood. Nowadays Israel has a lot of trees, but that’s because of a serious reforestation campaign the nation started decades ago. Thousands of years before that, the trees had been cleared to turn most of the land into farmland. By Jesus’s day, not a lot of wood. Lots of stones, though. (Good thing for archaeologists.) So Jesus worked with wood, stone, whatever—he made stuff, period. Makes sense; he’s the Creator y’know.

My point is construction was Jesus’s previous job. By the time we read of him in the gospels, he left that job and took up a new one: Jesus was a rabbi. A teacher. Jn 1.38 You already knew that—even those of you who thought, “He’s a carpenter.”

So why is everyone’s first response, “Ooh! Ooh! Carpenter!” Because it’s what we were told. It’s the common cliché. And it actually comes from a statement the folks of Jesus’s hometown made to demean him: “Hey, why’re we even listening to this guy? Isn’t he nothing more than a handyman?” Not that being a handyman isn’t an honorable job, but snobs throughout history have assumed handymen lack an education, so why listen to them? And subtly, a lot of people develop the very same idea of Jesus: He was “just” a carpenter. Makes it much more impressive how wise he was, considering.

Hence “teacher” is maybe the second thing we list on his résumé. Sometimes we remember “king.” (When we’ve not assumed that’s only his future job, and doesn’t apply yet.)

I use this example to point out how often we get Jesus wrong. Even on as simple a level as a job description. We think we know him. But we slip up on lots of little things like this. ’Cause we were raised hearing otherwise. We trusted what we heard, and never bothered to double-check any of this stuff: “Wait, where does it say that in the bible?” Or “Is that what that verse means?”

Ironically, this is exactly what a rabbi does for a living: Train students to ask such questions. And we, Jesus’s present-day students, need to ask these questions.

10 September 2015

We’re wrong about God, y’know.

The quest for knowledge always begins by knowing we don’t know—and wrong about what we think we know.

One of my favorite Peanuts strips goes a little something like this. I like it so much I included it in the banner. (We’ll see how long it takes before I get yet another cease-and-desist letter.)

Peanuts, 9 August 1976. Peanuts Worldwide

Theology is the study of God. ’Cause if we’re gonna follow God we gotta study him. Gotta find out what he wants, what he expects of us—heck, if he’s even a “he,” and we’re not using the wrong pronoun. (Fastest way to yank the chain of certain Christians: Use a different one. But let up after you’ve freaked them out a few minutes. Be nice.)

Square One of theology is humility, the recognition of who we truly are. And who are we? Well, the usual Christian response to that question is “Um… nobody really.”

Which isn’t entirely true. That’s the answer we give ’cause our fellow Christians are expecting it of us. But it’s false humility—the all-too-common human practice of pretending we’re not all that (or we know we’re not) when deep down we don’t have that low an opinion of ourselves. ’Cause if we’re gonna study God, we can’t think ourselves totally unworthy of him. Otherwise we’d never bother. (In fact for some Christians, it’s their excuse for why they never bother.) So let’s put aside the hypocrisy and the runaround, and get honest: We think we can know God. Or at least know him better.

And that’s good! God wants us to know him better. It’s why he sent us Jesus.

09 September 2015


Prayer isn’t a complicated idea. It’s just we overcomplicate it.

Prayer is talking with God. No more; no less; that’s all.

Yeah, you’d be surprised how many people, including us Christians, think I’m oversimplifying and it’s way more complicated than that. Prayer, they claim, is a profound mystical and spiritual undertaking which must only be done thoughtfully, seriously, soberly, and ritually. Only then will it work.

Their claim is all crap, but it’s awfully popular crap.

First, they insist, we must adopt the right mindset. (No, you might not actually feel it, but do try.) Psyche yourself into it. It’s what I call the “prayer mood.” It’s kind of an attitude of “Have mercy on me, oh Lord; I suffer.” But mix in there a few other sanctimonious things. Like gratitude and expectation, ’cause we’re s’posed to have faith that God’ll actually answer our requests. Like awe, ’cause God is awesome. Like remorse, ’cause we’re dirty sinners—yet at the very same time, confidence, ’cause we’re daughters and sons of God and must come boldly before his throne. He 4.16 There’s all sorts of contradictory information about how to feel when we approach God, and good luck regurgitating all of it at once. It’ll get messy.

Next, posture. They have three pre-approved positions we can get ourselves into for prayer. The most common, especially in church services, is “head bowed and eyes closed.” Then there’s facedown on the ground—appropriate for praying in private, but not so much when you’re saying grace before supper at a Taco Bell. (Dare you to try it though.) And lastly there’s hands outstretched, facing the sky, sorta like we’re welcoming God—but for some reason our eyes should be closed, which is probably a good idea if the sun is really bright, but makes us a bit less welcoming.

Then there are the incantations. No, seriously. An incantation is a series of words one has to say as part of a religious ritual, so when Christians teach us we gotta say ’em, they’re teaching incantations. And here you thought they were just for witches. (I can’t help it that they’re in denial about this fact simply because they’re Christian incantations.) There’s “Dear Lord” or “Precious Heavenly Father” or “Father God” or whatever initial words we use to “dial” God. And there’s nearly always “Amen” we use to “hang up.” Oh: Don’t forget to include we’ve prayed for all this stuff “in Jesus name,” which means whatever we think “in Jesus name” means. (Usually it means “I said ‘in Jesus name,’ so now I get what I asked for. Right?”)

Okay, are we done? No?—apparently there are beads and prayer cloths and prayer mats and prayer closets and other tchotchkes? Well, I’m done, ’cause I wanna get back to what prayer really is: Talking with God.

08 September 2015

So… do you know Jesus?

If you haven’t heard the gospel, let me fill you in.

I know better than to assume everyone who browses TXAB is Christian.

I learned better on other blogs I’ve done. ’Cause some non-Christians piped up. There’s a certain personality type—the class clown, the noisy guy in the theater, the guy in the nightclub who wears way too much musk, the Facebook friend who over-comments on everything (which, I gotta admit, is sometimes me) —who can’t go anywhere without making their presence known. If you prefer to go unnoticed, these are the people you never wanna befriend; they’ll always embarrass you. And on blogs, they’re the sort who wanna make sure the blogger (i.e. me) knew they visited. Sometimes with a polite note, and sometimes by flinging poo like a chimpanzee.

On blogs, sometimes they’re the troll who comments, in case any Christians are reading, “You suckers do realize all this religious stuff is [synonym for poo-poo]: Jesus is dead, the bible is science fiction, and churches are scams to separate the feeble-minded from their money.” Or the guy who emails me 10 pages of out-of-context or non-sequitur “corrections” to the article I posted. Or the pagan who instant-messages me that she’s struggling to reconcile my statements with the superficial Buddhism which she’s convinced she can practice alongside Christianity. I get all sorts.

If they’re truly interested in Jesus, I’m not gonna drive ’em away. On the contrary: I’m always gonna try to drive ’em towards. Namely towards Jesus.

Years ago I participated in a multifaith synchroblog. (A synchroblog is where a bunch of bloggers write on the same topic. Then most of us read each other’s pieces to see their take on the topic. Or not; some of us only want more people to read our blogs, and are using it to get clicks.) In my piece I stated upfront I was trying to introduce my pagan visitors to Jesus. I didn’t want any of ’em thinking I had a hidden, ulterior motive; there are enough Christian phonies out there already. My motives were gonna be nice and obvious.

Still are. If you don’t know Jesus, let me introduce you.

07 September 2015


There are Christians, and there are Christianists. Yep, there’s a difference.

CHRISTIANIST /'krɪs.tʃən.ɪst/ adj. Follows a socially approved, outward form of Christianity.
[Christianism /'krɪs.tʃən.ɪz.əm/ n.]

In Stephen Colbert’s first episode of his old show The Colbert Report (no, you don’t need to have watched it; no, if you wanna start, you’re too late), he defined “truthiness.” It’s a concept he intended to emphasize a lot on that particular show. Doesn’t matter what it means. ’Cause I wanna introduce you to this word, Christianism, a word I’m gonna use an awful lot on TXAB.

There are Christians who try to follow Christ Jesus. Don’t always succeed, but we try, which is the important thing. Then there are people who simply slap a Christian label on whatever it is they’re currently doing. Might think it’s legitimately Christian. More likely, never thought about it at all. Every other Christian they know does it. And if everybody’s doing it, must be Christian, right?

Y’know how there are two words, Muslim and Islamist? One means a person who actually practices Islam, and the other a person who uses Muslim trappings to promote their social or political ideas? Same deal. Christian denotes legitimate Christ-followers. Christianist those with other goals.

The header image is taken from Mormon artist Jon McNaughton’s painting “One Nation Under God.” It shows us one really common example of Christianism in the United States: Civic idolatry, where we confuse our nation and its ideals with God’s kingdom. Much as we’d like to imagine the United States is like the kingdom, it’s not, y’know. Jesus is gonna overthrow it, same as every other nation, when he returns. A lot of Americans have never even considered this idea. We’re a Christian nation, they insist. He’d never. But he totally will.

If you’re a civic idolater, you’re gonna be hugely offended that I used this image, or call it Christianist. Cease-and-desist order forthcoming.

But imagine McNaughton was from another country, like Mexico. Imagine he painted something with all Mexico’s founding leaders in the painting. reverently calling the nation to turn to Jesus, with Jesus holding up Mexico’s constitution, and separating the sheep from the goats by how good they were as Mexican citizens. Wouldn’t it bug you just a little? How about if NcNaughton were Saudi?

Civic idolaters take it for granted those other countries aren’t God’s chosen people in the same way Americans are. Jesus’ll definitely overthrow those countries when he returns. But not ours. Never America.

06 September 2015

Wait, a new blog? What’s it about?

Introducing Christ Almighty!, your new favorite blog. Well, maybe in the top 10. Top 1,000 at least.

Yep, it’s a new blog. In full, it’s called The Christ Almighty Blog. In short, Christ Almighty! In even shorter, TXAB, or “T-Xab,” as the kids might call it, if kids ever got around to reading it, and of course we all know kids don’t read. Really, neither do adults. Not even sure what you’re doing here. Oh right; curiosity.

The purpose of Christ Almighty! is to talk about Christ Jesus. Or as Americans call him, Jesus Christ. In medieval times Europeans put titles after names, which evolved into last names, like Tom Butcher and Dick Baker and Harry Candlestickmaker. It’s why too many folks still think Jesus is Mr. and Mrs. Christ’s boy. We forget Christ means “anointed one,” an ancient Hebrew euphemism for king. Jesus is our king. He’s almighty. “Christ Almighty!” isn’t just a clever name based on a popular exclamation. It’s this blog’s point.

Authentic Christ-following is what I’m going for here. Hopefully you are too, and it’s why you’ve visited. Welcome. Sit a spell.