The Son of Man.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 December

Something Jesus calls himself… which reminds us he’s Messiah.

One of Jesus’s favorite ways to refer to himself is as the Son of Man. It was a way of saying, yet not overtly saying, he’s Messiah.

Y’see, people of Jesus’s day who knew their bible would immediately catch the meaning. And people who don’t know the bible—didn’t then, don’t now—would simply assume it’s an odd choice of words, and ignore it as irrelevant. Same as they do Jesus’s parables.

The meaning comes from Daniel. In his book, Daniel described various apocalyptic visions of the then-distant future. (Most of it is most definitely in our past, ’cause the angels explicitly stated it had to do with the Persian and Greek empires—though you’ll still get a few End Times loons who insist it has to do with the future of Iran and the European Union. Anyway.) Daniel was informed about Messiah’s first coming, as well as his second.

In one of his visions, where the Ancient of Days judged the world, Daniel saw what he identified as a Son of Man. And the reason the folks of Jesus’s day were quite familiar with this passage, was ’cause Daniel actually wrote it in their language, Aramaic. Not Hebrew, like most of the Old Testament.

Daniel 7.13-14 KWL
13 I dreamt a prophetic vision that night: Look, someone like a Son of Man!
Coming in the heavens’ clouds, approaching the Ancient of Days, coming near to him.
14 The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

This is a future kingdom, one God sets up, with his chosen king running the show. By the time Daniel wrote this, the kings of Israel were gone; had been for years. So clearly this vision is about Messiah—but a future Messiah, who’d not just rule Israel and the Jews, but the entire planet.

Yep, this is the very bible reference Jesus had in mind whenever he called himself the Son of Man. We know this ’cause he quoted it. During his trial before the Judean Senate, the head priest demanded to know whether Jesus considered himself Messiah, and Jesus broke his typical silence and gave a definitive answer.

Mark 14.61-62 KWL
61 For Jesus was silent, and answered no one.
Again, the head priest questioned Jesus, and said to him,
“You’re Messiah, the son of the blessed one?”
62 Jesus said, “I am.
And you’ll see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power,
coming with the heavenly clouds.”

True, the Senate were outraged by this answer and condemned him to death for it. Mk 14.64 But there should be no question what Jesus meant throughout the gospels by Son of Man.

The fear of phony peace.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

When “blessed are the peacemakers” gets ditched in favor of popular End Times theories.

So as I said yesterday, we Christians aren’t necessarily known for being peaceful. ’Cause we lack peace. ’Cause we’ve adopted one of the typical incorrect notions as to how to attain it, and haven’t correctly chosen to follow God and pursue his kingdom. Mt 6.25-34

And sometimes it’s ’cause we don’t trust peace. Especially societal and political forms of peace. When our secretary of state brokers a treaty between warring nations, or between the United States and some other nation we’re not really getting along with. Definitely when the United Nations tries to do likewise. We don’t believe any of that stuff is real peace—we suspect there’s something underhanded and devilish behind it.

Why’s that? Well, in Revelation there’s this vision John had of a Beast who’s gonna take over the world. Rv 13 And according to one of the more popular End Times theories, the Beast is gonna gain its power by pretending to be a good guy. Pretending to care about the little guy; pretending to care about our values and safety; pretending to know how to fix the economy and fight terrorism. No I’m not talking about Donald Trump, much as his opponents will scream the shoe fits. But that’s what certain Christians fear most: Someone portraying a prince of peace, who’s absolutely not.

Basically they figure the Beast is gonna be Bizarro Jesus: Anything Jesus does, the Beast’ll do the opposite. Jesus says love your neighbor; the Beast’ll try to make you hate ’em. Jesus says heal the sick; the Beast’ll try to make you poison the sick. Jesus says preach the gospel; the Beast’ll try to shut you up. Black is white, up is down.

So since Jesus says blessed are the peacemakers, the Beast’ll say blessed are the warmongers. But, before it can weasel its way into real power, it’ll make like a peacemaker. By stealthily, evilly getting nations to stop fighting and love one another. That’s just how crafty it is, using goodness and kindness to lull us into a sense of security. Then bam: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Bizarro!

Here’s the problem: What if we’ve got an actual peacemaker on our hands? Someone who actually wants nations to stop fighting and love one another? (Or at least benignly stop bombing one another?) Someone who’s trying to be a child of God like Jesus wants? Mt 5.9

…Nah, can’t risk it.

And this is how the devil regularly tricks paranoid Christians into fighting, of all things, peace.

Peace be unto you.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 December

Too many Christians lack peace, ’cause they’re trusting anything but God to grant it.

God’s into peace. It’s an aspect of his character we really don’t spend enough time on. But it’s a fruit of the Spirit, and something he wishes upon us, his creations, his children—as articulated by his angels when Jesus was born.

Luke 2.13-14 KWL
13 Suddenly there was a large number of the heavenly army with the angel, praising God,
saying, 14 “Glory in the highest heaven to God!
Peace upon the earth to the people he’s pleased with!”

Problem is, we Christians aren’t known for being peaceful.

This may be a fair assessment, and it may be unfair. After all, when Christians aren’t peaceful, it makes the news. When we are peaceful, it might become one of those happy-news stories at the end of the video, or in the back of the newspaper; it might go viral if it’s heartwarming enough. But it doesn’t always. It may very well be we Christians are doing a good job of demonstrating peace, and since the agitated minority gets all the press, we don’t look so good.

Anecdotal experience isn’t proof, but I’ll just say the Christians I know certainly aren’t all that peaceful. They freak out over every little thing. Just last Sunday, one of ’em was telling me that even though every single politician she preferred got elected, she’s still convinced it’s only a matter of time before freedom of religion is banned in the United States, and we won’t even be able to preach Jesus in private. I think she’s been reading too much Hal Lindsey, and she’s hardly alone.

But it’s not even limited to wild End Times fears. When terrorists attack, Christians want ’em dead just as much as any pagan. Lots of us own guns, and not just hunting rifles: When thieves break into our houses, we expect to shoot ’em dead same as any other vengeful homeowner. We claim it’s for self-defense and we’re being realistic and practical, but (unless we’ve got an even more twisted longing to shoot a bad guy and enjoy the experience of justifiable homicide) it’s really because we believe peace will only come once we destroy the things we fear. Or at least build giant walls to keep ’em out.

So I have serious doubts that peaceful Christians are a vast but silent majority. More than likely, they’re a tiny minority. (And I say “they’re” because neither am I as peaceful as I oughta be.)

Christ is born in Bethlehem.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Where Micah foretold Messiah’s birthplace.

Around 5 BC, a crowd of Zoroastrian astrologers came to Jerusalem looking for “the newborn king of Judea,” Mt 2.2 freaking out the province largely because its paranoid king, Herod bar Antipater. Mt 2.3 They knew it was only a matter of time before Herod starting killing people over it. As he later did.

Figuring he oughta learn where Messiah was expected to come from, Herod turned to Jerusalem’s head priests and scribes.

Matthew 2.4-9 KWL
4 Gathering all the head priests and scribes of the people,
Herod was asking them, “Where’s Messiah born?”
5 They told him, “In Bethlehem, Judea. This was written by the prophet:
6 ‘You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are in no way the least of Judah’s rulers:
A leader will come from you who will shepherd my people, Israel.’” Mc 5.2
7 Then Herod, secretly summoning the Zoroastrians, grilled them on the time the star appeared.
8 Sending them to Bethlehem, he said, “Go search carefully for the child.
Once you find him, send news to me so I might also go bow before him.”
9 On hearing the king, they went.

The scribes answered with a loose translation of Micah 5.2, which pinpointed Jerusalem’s suburb of Bethlehem, about 3 kilometers away. The Canaanites called it Efratá/“fruitful,” but by the time Genesis was written the Hebrews had renamed it Beit Lekhém/“bread house.” Ge 35.16, 19 Still, the Hebrews tended to refer to it as “Bethlehem-Efratá” to distinguish it from the other Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun. Js 19.15 Don’t mix up your Bethlehems. God didn’t.

Bethlehem was a small settlement; small enough to get skipped in various Old Testament censuses. But it wasn’t unknown. Israel’s judge Ivchán (the one with the 60 kids) was from there, Jg 12.8-10 and King David ben Jesse was from there. 1Sa 17.12 So the town had two great rulers come from it already.

The prophecies of Micah of Moreshét were largely about how the LORD was tired of the evil which went on in Israel, and he was coming down to Jerusalem and Samaria to sort things out. Mc 1.3 Micah figured the LORD was coming to judge—you know, that part of the cycle of history.

But in reading it, you’ll notice Micah wasn’t only talking about the LORD dealing with the issues and worries of the then-present day. The terms he used include a lot about final judgment, not just one judgment among many. Finally sorting out Israel, not just currently sorting things out. Stuff that happens in the last days, not just the usual near-future prophecies.

In other words, Micah includes some prophecies about Messiah and the End Times.

Growing up with Santa Claus.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 December

My personal experiences of what happens when you take the Christmas myths way too seriously.

Dad’s an atheist. This means for him, Christmas is Santa Claus. Not Jesus. Not any of our Christian junk. He doesn’t wanna hear it. He wants nothing to do with our church functions; not our live nativities, nor our church’s Christmas services. He’ll go to the city Christmas festival, but only because the churches hand out free treats. (Cookies and cider or cocoa, mainly; I keep trying to talk my own church into serving coffee. ’Cause nobody else serves coffee. We’d corner the market.) He won’t pass up a freebie, but it’s a hard pass on the free gift of eternal salvation.


Santa getting liquored up. Hammerstone Whiskey Disks

He loves Santa. Mainly the wonder on children’s faces once you get ’em to believe Santa, and Christmas magic, are real. This is the only supernatural he believes in: The fake stuff. Tricks.

Hence when I was growing up Santa Claus was a big, big deal.

Till 1978. One day I was poking round the garage looking for something. Don’t remember what. Probably paper. I wrote and drew a lot, and in order to keep me in paper, Dad stole lots. Yes, stole. He’d find a stack of flyers someplace, and whether the function had taken place or not, Dad would swipe the stack ’cause the back of the flyer was blank, so I could draw on it. So much of my childhood art is on the back of party announcements, Chinese restaurant promotions, and newsletters. And printer paper; he’d grab a bunch after the Air National Guard was done with it. I hope all the stuff on the front wasn’t classified.

Anyway Dad stashed all the paper in a cabinet in the garage, and while I was in there getting paper, I peeked in a corner of the garage and saw what I shouldn’t: Our Christmas presents. The stuff which later turned up among the presents “Santa” had brought us. The jig was up.

I played along till about 1980 or so, once my parents figured a 9-year-old was a little old to still believe in Santa. So they sat me down and, just as they’d explained how babies were made (yes, I was told that first), explained this particular fact of life to me. And they expected me to play along with their game, and not blab to my siblings.

Yes, I blabbed.

They were extra pissed about it when I told my youngest sister. She was three. She asked me a casual question about Santa, and I came right out and said, “You realize Santa’s just a story.” She hadn’t, and immediately told on me. My parents were upset. My aunts and uncles, who were there at the time, were horrified—I’d “ruined Christmas.” They were all pagans, y’see.

If Christmas is Santa, and you take away Santa, Christmas is dead.

Dad used to love Christmas, but now that his kids don’t believe in Santa—and have raised their own children to think of Santa as a fun story, not reality—he could care less. He used to preach Santa to us kids like Elmer Gantry on meth. Now that he has no grandkids to fool, Christmas is no fun anymore.

Nowadays Mom insists she had no part in Dad’s Santa madness: It was all him. It’s not the way I remember it. She made just as big a deal about how we needed to get to bed Christmas Eve, so Santa could arrive sight unseen. She’d purchased most of the “Santa” gifts. Part of me wonders if she’s not just editing her personal history a bit… but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. She did emphasize Jesus on the holidays. It’s just on Christmas night and morning, Santa got all the attention.

Jesus, our Immanuel.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

Why “fulfillment” isn’t about when predictions come true.

Isaiah 7.14

Matthew 1.22-23 KWL
22 All this happened so the Lord’s word through the prophet could be fulfilled,
saying, 23 “Look, the maiden will have a child in the womb,
and they will declare his name Immanúël, which is translated ‘God with us.’” Is 7.14

This one’s probably the most famous “Messianic prophecy”… which, it turns out, isn’t. Seriously, isn’t.

Back in 735BC, King Radyán of Damascus, Aram (KJV “Rezin the king of Syria”) joined forces with King Peqákh ben Remalyáhu of Samaria, Ephraim (KJV “Pekah the son of Remaliah”) to attack Jerusalem. 2Ki 16.5 Laid siege to it. Didn’t look good.

The prophets Isaiah ben Amóch and his son Sheüryahsúv had come to King Akház ben Yotám (KJV “Ahaz son of Jotham”) with good news from the LORD: Aram and Ephraim’s plans would come to nothing.

Isaiah 7.10-17 KWL
10 The LORD’s word to Akház, saying, 11 “Request a sign from your LORD God,
made deep as a grave, or made high as outer space.”
12 Akház said, “I won’t ask.
I won’t test the LORD.”
13 Isaiah said, “House of David, listen please.
It takes little for you to tire people, because you also tire God.
14 For this, my Master himself is giving you a sign.
Look, a pregnant maiden gave birth to a son.
She declared his name Immánuël/‘God with us.’
15 He’ll eat curds and honey,
and learn to reject evil and choose good.
16 But before the boy learns to reject evil and choose good,
the nations you fear will be laid waste before the face of two kings.
17 The LORD is bringing upon you, your people, and your father’s house days which haven’t been
since the days before Ephraim turned away from Judah to Assyria’s king.”

Meaning the days before Peqákh had allied Ephraim with the Assyrian Empire, back when there was relative peace in the region.

God had Akház’s back. Proof? Little Immánuël.

We don’t know the situation of the “pregnant maiden” whom Isaiah pointed out. Was she pregnant at the time? Dunno. Usually fathers would name their kids, but maybe he died in the siege. Regardless, she wasn’t killed by the invaders, and named her boy Immánuël. It doesn’t take toddlers long to learn right from wrong; the “terrible twos” are what happens when they test those boundaries. And in fact the siege would lift relatively soon: Aram and Ephraim would abandon Judah to fight for their lives against the Assyrians. And lose.

So what does this story have to do with Jesus? Nothing.

But it’s got a lot of significant similarities, which is why Matthew pointed to it.

The live nativity.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 December

Because nothing says Christmas like a sanitized reenactment of childbirth.

Evangelicals celebrate Christmas in all sorts of ways. Some of us decorate like crazy; some don’t. Some of us preach nothing but advent or birth-of-Jesus sermons; some preach as they’d usually do, and only preach a Christmas sermon on Christmas. Some of us have a special Christmas production; some don’t, or would if we could staff it (or afford it).

Two of the larger churches in my town do a “live nativity.” If you’re a newbie, or somehow never paid attention to Christendom all your life, this’d be a birth-of-Christ diorama with live humans instead of the typical lit plastic statues on the front lawn. (There’s an inflatable version now! But I digress.) Actors portray Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, and in many children’s productions the animals. Although these two churches prefer actual animals. And use the same animals; in the proper spirit of Christian cooperation, their productions are on different weekends, so they don’t overlap.


From last night’s live nativity. Nope, blurring all their faces wasn’t deliberate; my phone can only do so much.

To my knowledge these churches have always used a baby to portray Jesus. It’s not all that hard to get one: Round February, start nudging all the young families in the congregation. “Come on, people! Give us a baby Jesus!” But the baby doesn’t have to be a newborn, although it kinda spoils the effect if the “newborn King” doesn’t need “Mary” to support his head.

Sometimes a baby won’t work. Outdoor performances might get so cold, Child Protective Services might wish to intervene. Or the church isn’t large enough to come up with a baby every year. Or the baby doesn’t wanna. For any number of reasons you might wind up with a doll. Or, if you’re going the special-effects route, a lightbulb. Last year it was something hidden in a bundle of blankets, rocked throughout; could’ve been a canned ham for all we knew.

I went to both productions. One’s called “A Night in Bethlehem,” which is designed to represent first-century BC Bethlehem, with shops and “smiths” and “Roman soldiers” and “lepers” and, for some reason, dancers—a string of people who’d dance through “town.” People you could interact with, who might tell you something historical if they know it. (Though speaking as an historian… well, they were close enough.) Every half hour, Jesus got “born” in a stable conveniently placed near the entrance. Born again and again and again. With “prophets” placed nearby so they could tell you, in English and Spanish, why this birth is a big deal.

The other’s a musical performance. (“Night in Bethlehem” had no singing.) They knock out six of ’em over the weekend; I attended the fifth. We, the guests, watched from bleachers. They always have a sketch which introduces the nativity story and reminds people of “the reason for the season.” They have a choir, who included “angels” on the roof of the church, singing some forgettable songs to a CD of background music. The only song they don’t switch up is Robert Sterling and Chris Machen’s white gospel song “I Have Seen the Light,” sung by the magi every year, which never fails to remind me of karaoke. The pastor preached a brief evangelistic Christmas message. Then we were invited to sing a Christmas carol medley, and were outa there before the next performance.

Messiah and Melchizedek.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December

How some obscure Old Testament priest-king got so mixed up with Jesus.

Psalm 110 is a Messianic psalm, a psalm about God’s mešíakh/“anointed [ruler],” one of the kings of ancient Israel. Since Jesus is the last Messiah, it applies to him too. I’ll discuss the whole psalm another time, but today I’m gonna zoom in on just this one verse:

Psalm 110.4 KWL
The LORD swore, and isn’t turning back from it:
“You’re a priest, eternally, in the manner of Melchizédek.”

Melchizédek (Hebrew melkhí chédeq/“king [of] rightness”) is probably a title, not a name. He appeared once in the bible; he never appeared again, but he sure got everyone’s attention: David in this psalm, and the writer of Hebrews in her interpretation of the psalm.

The Canaanite king Khedorlaómer of Elam, and his allies, conquered Sodom and dragged its people into slavery. Among them was Lot ben Haran, the nephew of Avrám ben Terah, whom the LORD later renamed Abraham. Ge 17.5 So Avrám took his private army (yeah, he had a private army; dude was rich) and rescued Lot. Ge 14.1-17 And then Melchizédek suddenly, briefly, showed up.

Genesis 14.18-20 KWL
18 King Melchizédek of Salém brought out bread and wine.
He was a priest of the Highest God, 19 and blessed Avrám and said,
“Avrám is blessed by the Highest God, owner of the heavens and earth.
20 The Highest God is blessed: He handed your opponents to you.”
Avrám gave Melchizédek a tithe from everything.

“Highest God” (Hebrew El Elyón, Greek Theós Ýpsistos) is what pagans tend to call God. ’Cause they don’t know his name; they don’t know what he calls himself; they only know he’s God. And not just any god—’cause these pagans believed in all sorts of gods—but the highest God. The God beyond all the other gods. Higher than even their king-gods, like Odin or Zeus. Often the god who created the other gods—the one the gods considered God. Any time you encounter a polytheist (a worshiper of multiple gods) who really knows their religion, ask ’em about their highest God. Most will know exactly who you mean. Some will hem and haw, and try to make it sound like no, there are lots of gods—but in the end, they admit they know there’s a top God. This’d be the God. Our God.

I know; lots of Christians insist a pagan’s highest god can’t be our God, can’t be the Father of Christ Jesus. ’Cause these pagans are so wrong. I get their concerns. But look at it this way: If someone seriously misrepresented who George Washington was (say, Mason Weems, just so he could sell books), does this mean there’s not a real Washington at the back of all the made-up stories? Of course there is; and some pagan’s idea of the Highest God does have the LORD at its core. We just need to scrape off all the fictions, and get ’em to follow him.

Anyway, this was the God whom Melchizédek knew, and Avrám recognized they followed the very same God. Avrám called him El Shadda’í/“God Almighty,” Ex 6.3 and Melchizédek called him El Elyón. Same El—same God. Same as when Christians call him Jehovah and Jews call him haShem. (And then we gotta go and call him Jesus, and freak the Jews out. But anyway.) This recognition meant Melchizédek could bless Avrám, and Avrám could receive it. And bless Melchizédek right back with a tithe—a portion, usually a tenth—of the spoils of war.

Christians have analyzed this Genesis appearance like crazy. Sometimes a little too crazy, but I’ll get to that.

What’s a soul?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December
Soul soʊl noun. Lifeforce.
2. [in popular culture] The immaterial, spiritual essence of a human; considered immortal.
Soulish 'soʊl.ɪʃ adjective. Having to do with one’s lifeforce.
2. [in popular Christian culture] Fleshly.

One of the vexing problems of Christianity is we have certain words we use which nobody ever bothers to define. As a result, people guess—and guess wrong. Our word “soul” is probably the most obvious example.

Years ago, a newbie Christian asked his pastor what a “soul” was, to which the pastor replied, “Oh, you shouldn’t even try to define it.” The pastor figured a soul is a mystery, a concept way beyond human understanding. Best to leave mysteries alone, and not waste our time—or make ourselves nuts—trying to understand ’em.

I admit it’s kinda western of me, but I can’t agree: If you use a word and don’t know what it means, it’s foolish. If you don’t wanna know its meaning, you’re a fool. It might be a concept that’s too vast for our tiny little minds—but all the more reason we should tackle it. We learn a lot this way.

Christians don’t entirely understand the immaterial parts of ourselves. So we mix up the soul and spirit all the time. Popular culture is no help: It confounds spirit with emotion, and it confounds soul with sensitivity and creativity. If “you’ve got soul,” you’re either emotionally intense, or intellectually intense. Or you like Motown.

But some of the culture’s uses of “soul” give hints to its proper biblical meaning. The “soul” of a movement or endeavor is the person who inspires it, embodies it, gives it that spark of life. To “bare one’s soul” means to share every part of one’s life. A “soulmate” is someone you share your life with. And when a disaster happens and “souls were lost,” it means lives.

So what’s a soul then? It’s a lifeforce.

The bible’s words for soul are nefésh in Hebrew, psyhí in Greek. Both of them literally mean “breath.” ’Cause when we’re alive, we breathe, right? And when we no longer are, we don’t.

When God made the first human—

Genesis 2.7 KWL
The LORD God sculpted the human of dust from the ground.
God breathed into his nose the breath of life, giving the human a living soul.

The KJV says the human “became a living soul,” which is another valid way to translate it. Though most bibles nowadays simply translate nefésh and psyhí as “life.”

So yes, everything that’s alive has a soul. ’Cause it breathes. When it stops breathing, its soul has gone out. That’s right: Souls aren’t immortal. In humans they were meant to be; Adam and Eve were meant to live forever. But they lost access to the Tree of Life, so they died… ’cause now humans die.

The first prophecy of a savior.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

The first time a savior was foretold in the Old Testament.

We have no idea whether Genesis was the first written book of the bible. Some Christians speculate Job was (and they’d be totally wrong; Job was written in a later version of biblical Hebrew, and took place in Edom). Others figure Moses wrote his psalm before he wrote the bible. In any event the first hint we have in the scriptures that humanity might need a savior, is found in Genesis 3—the story of humanity’s fall.

As the story goes: Eve and Adam, the first humans, lived in paradise. God told ’em not to eat off a particular tree. A serpent tempted Eve to eat off it anyway, and Adam followed suit. The consequence: They couldn’t live in paradise any longer, ’cause the Tree of Life was there. They were driven out; Adam was cursed to fight nature in order to gain his sustenance, Eve was cursed with painful childbirth and male domination, and the serpent was cursed like so:

Genesis 3.14-15 KWL
14 The LORD God told the serpent, “Because you did this,
you’re cursed more than any animal, more than any living thing in the wild.
You’ll walk on your belly. You’ll eat dirt every day of your life.
15 I declare war between you and the woman, between your seed and hers.
He’ll crush your head. You’ll crush his heel.”

I’ve heard young-earth creationists claim snakes used to have legs when they were first created, but because of this curse they became the legless creatures they now are. I like to mess with ’em by pointing out this sounds like a special case of evolution—and if God did this with serpents, why not other creatures? (Really bugs ’em.)

Okay, most of us Christians leap forward to Revelation and notice this serpent was actually Satan:

Revelation 12.7-9 KWL
7 War came to the heavens: Michael and its angels battling the dragon;
the dragon and its angels battling back 8 and failing.
No place was found for them anymore in the heavens.
9 The great dragon was thrown out, the primeval serpent which is called devil and Satan.
The deceiver of all civilization was thrown to earth,
and its angels were thrown out with it.

Revelation sets this event right after the birth of Jesus. Rv 12.1-6 But Christian mythology tends to put Satan’s fall at the beginning of history, at some point between creation itself and the fall of humanity. According to the myths, after Satan was bounced, it decided to ruin humanity in revenge, snuck into paradise, became (or pretended to be, or possessed) a serpent, and led Eve and Adam astray.

But I should point out: The first versions of this myth date from our third century. They’re based on a first-century apocalypse, which got mixed up with the 15th-century-BC creation story. Which, I remind you, is at a whole different point in the timeline. Satan got booted after the birth of Jesus, remember? Lk 10.18 Did I not make that obvious?

So what did happen here? Well, yeah the serpent is Satan. But this wasn’t Satan getting revenge for a fall which hadn’t happened yet. This was Satan testing Eve. ’Cause that was its job, whether assigned (which I doubt) or self-appointed: Testing creation to see whether it’d hold up. Testing Eve to see whether she’d violate God’s will. Pushing the test too far, and slandering God in the process, which is why God was rightly pissed at it. The humans shoulda passed this test. Instead they unraveled creation.

And after Eve and Adam violated God’s will… well, God had to resort to plan B. ’Cause plan A, where they’d be his people and he’d be their God, Ex 6.7, Lv 26.12, Jr 30.22, 2Co 6.16 was shot to hell. Now God had to fix his broken creation so he could return to plan A. Which he’d do through the woman’s seed, who’d crush the serpent’s head. And we Christians figure Christ Jesus is the woman’s seed. Ga 4.4

Easy to shop for.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 December

At least I think I am.

Some years ago my mother told me, “You’re hard to shop for.” Which is baloney: I’m easy to shop for. Just get me coffee. Everybody who knows me, knows I love coffee.


“Forget Jesus; think about the economy!” Pierre Bourgeault

They don’t always know I also love tea. Nor that I drink about as much tea as coffee. They assume the big giant travel mugs I carry around always contain coffee—even when there’s an obvious teabag string dangling from the lid. Even when it rattles ’cause I’ve got ice and water in it; they just assume it’s iced coffee.

The big giant mugs? Yeah. I’m an American. I like big mugs and I cannot lie. My largest holds 54 ounces—and yes, that’s about 1.5 liters of coffee. And I used to have a 96-ounce mug—yep, it held nearly three liters, a carafe and a half. But the most I ever filled it was halfway, if that. Not because I’d never drink 96 ounces of coffee, but because, despite the insulation, the coffee would be cold by the time I drank a quarter of it. I may drink a lot, but I don’t drink it that quickly. Best to go with 30 ounces at a time.

Of course, the 96-ouncer put fear into the souls of everyone who saw it. “You can’t possibly drink that much coffee,” was the usual reaction.

Sure I can. So could they. The typical coffeemaker carafe holds 64 ounces. My last office job, I’d drink two carafes a day. (One regular, one decaf.) So, nearly four liters of coffee. And I’ve known serious caffeine addicts who’d drink five carafes a day: 320 ounces, or 9.5 liters. I agree that’s a bothersome amount. Yet people think me nuts if I get two refills of black coffee at Starbucks.

Depending on who did the study, the average American coffee drinker downs 2.6 or 3.4 cups a day. The studies don’t say how big these cups are. I don’t believe they’re talking about the measuring-cup size of 8 ounces, but the average American coffee mug size of 12 to 20 ounces. (The 12-ounce size is what restaurants call a “medium” and Starbucks a “tall.” Starbucks does have an 8-ounce size—a “small”—but doesn’t bother to put it on the menu, ’cause come on, we’re Americans.) So my two refills likely fall within the average American’s coffee consumption.

But if you want nuts, people regularly buy, and drink, a 64-ounce Double Gulp from 7-Eleven. That’s two liters of soda, y’know. That’s a whole lot of corn syrup and—if you’re buying cola or Mountain Dew—a lot of caffeine. But swap the cola for coffee, and people leap to the conclusion the tremendous intake is gonna cause every blood vessel in my head to burst simultaneously, in a Scanners-level explosion which’ll shower everyone in the vicinity with blood and brain matter. Whenever they see my 54-ounce mug, they instinctively back away.

I do have to down the stuff in my 54-ounce mug quickly, though. Y’see, it’s not dishwasher-safe, but I tend to ignore those warnings and wash ’em in the dishwasher anyway. Well, the insulation swelled and began to burst out of the seam on the side, and give the cup a bit of a tilt. When it was finally about 20 degrees off, I had enough and took the mug apart, removed most of the insulation from the bottom, and put it back together. So it gets cold quicker than it used to. Works great otherwise.

Anyway, you get the idea.

Vengeful God, loving God.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 December

Sometimes we want God to kick some ass.

When I translate the psalms, I make ’em rhyme because I can. Iambic octometer, anyone?

Psalm 3 KWL
0 David’s psalm, while fleeing the presence of his son Absalom.
1 My enemies—ten thousand, LORD!—have multiplied and charge at me!
2 The myriads say of my life, “God’s rescue? Not for he.” Selah.
3 But you, LORD, are my shield and honor, granting my authority.
4 I call the LORD, who from his holy mountain answers me. Selah.
5 I lay my head to sleep, and wake because the LORD has strengthened me.
6 Do I fear opposition from ten thousand circling people? Nah.
7 You rose and saved me, LORD my God. Face-punched my every enemy.
Broke evildoers’ teeth. 8 You bless your own with rescue, LORD. Selah.

Psalm 3 is Adonái me-rabu (Latin, Domine, quid multiplicati), “LORD, how are they increased,” written by King David ben Jesse in the 10th century BC, and as verse 0 points out, it was when his son Absalom attempted to overthrow him.

It’s a vengeance psalm. One of many. David liked to write ’em, and he’s not the only one; a lot of the prophets wrote vengeance poetry too. Because the psalms are some of the better-known passages of the bible, it creates a lot of problems for Christians: We read this stuff, and have the darnedest time reconciling it with the way Jesus and his apostles describe his Father in the New Testament. In the NT, God is love. In the OT—if you’re selectively reading it, and most Christians do—God appears to be all outrage and wrath.


From The Simpsons episode 14.10, “Pray Anything.”

The title of this article comes from an episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets ahold one of those lenticular photos—a 3D image, some of which will change when you tilt ’em. One image is of God (or at least the old guy from the Sistine Chapel ceiling) looking wrathful. The other is of God giving a thumbs up. “Vengeful God… loving God,” Homer comments.

Bipolar God, apparently.

But is he? Nah.

So where do we get this idea? Simple: We’re overlaying our own bad attitudes onto God. We’re vengeful, so when we read the Old Testament and see God righteously judging the nations, we presume he’s vengeful. We confuse God’s righteous anger with our own far-from-righteous anger. We even use it to justify doing likewise. But we’re too corrupt to act in anger without sliding into evil. God has self-control. We don’t.

Apocalypses: Those freaky visions in the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 December

Short answer: No.

Apocalypse /ə'pɑk.ə.lɪps/ n. Vision meant to reveal heavenly secrets through representative or parabolic images.
2. Any supernatural revelation.
3. [uppercase] Destruction or damage on a tremendous scale, particularly the end of the world.
[apocalyptic /ə.pɑk.ə'lɪp.tɪk/ adj.]

When people talk about “the apocalypse,” they typically mean the end of the world. “It’s the apocalypse!” means “It’s the End”—and we’re f---ed.

Not even close to the original meaning of the Greek apokalýpto/“to uncover.” It’s just our last book of the New Testament, Apokálypsis Yisú Hristú—or Apokálypsis for short, Apocalypse in Latin and many other languages, Revelation in English—is about the End. So people have come to mix up apocalypse and the End. Stands to reason.

Our word Revelation defines it best. It has to do with revealing. Uncovering. Telling us what’s gonna happen in future. Except… well… not literally.

See, an apocalypse is a type of prophetic vision. Y’know how Jesus tells parables, and explains his kingdom with weird things which represent the kingdom, but aren’t literally the kingdom? Like mustard seeds which grew into huge trees? Lk 13.19 Like yeast which infuses flour? Mt 13.33 Like seed which grows on its own? Mk 4.26-29 Now imagine actually seeing these parables. Not just as a mental picture, like we do when we picture Jesus’s parables. You look in front of you… and there’s one of those images, clear as day.

Zechariah 1.7-11 KWL
7 On 24 Šebát of Darius’s second year [15 February 519 BC]
God’s word came to the prophet Zechariah ben Barukhyahu ben Iddo, to make him say,
8 “I saw this at night. Look, a man preparing to ride a red horse!
He stood between the myrtles in the valley. Behind him, red, speckled, and white horses.
9 I said, ‘My master, what are these horses?’
Giving me the word, the messenger said, ‘I’m letting you see what these horses are.’
10 The man standing between the myrtles answered, ‘These are the horses
which the LORD sent to walk round the land.’
11 The horses answered the LORD’s messenger standing between the myrtles:
The horses said, ‘We walked round the land. Look, all the land sits, and is quiet.’”

The horses answered? Sure. Most translations simply go with “they answered,” and leave it to us to deduce who “they” are. They don’t wanna look dumb by making the very simple logical leap. Ain’t no other group of people there to answer.

Talking horses, man. But that’s the sort of thing we see in apocalyptic visions: All manner of weirdness. Deliberately weird, ’cause God’s trying to grab our attention. You know how you’ll have some freaky dream, and the images in your dream bug you for a good long time after you’ve awakened? (Happened in the bible a bunch of times too.) It’s for the same reason God shows his prophets bizarre apocalyptic visions: He wants this imagery to stay with us, and burrow into our minds. Mere words, even God’s words, won’t stick with us like these visions do.

That’s why so many Christians are fascinated, even obsessed, with Revelation’s imagery. Weird chimeric creatures with multiple heads. Women with strange names. Angels and bowls and trumpets and declarations. Prophets being obligated to eat books which, while tasty, upset their stomachs.

Now. Jesus says the reason he uses parables is to inform those who are really listening, and go over the heads of those who really aren’t. Mk 4.11-12 This is just as true of apocalypses. Those who are truly seeking God will recognize their meaning and importance: What God wants to reveal through them—and just as importantly, what he doesn’t want to reveal through them. Not yet.

In contrast, there’s those who truly aren’t seeking God. Really, they figure knowledge is power, and covet some degree of control over an uncertain future. But their interpretations of these apocalypses don’t produce good fruit. Oh, they sell books, and definitely help Jim Bakker sell loads of overpriced supplies for your End Times bunker. But they don’t spread love, peace, gentleness, patience, and hope. Just more panic and worry, and God knows there’s far too much of that in the world already.

Sacraments: Our Christian rituals. Gotta do ’em.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 November
SACRAMENT 'søk.rə.mənt noun. Religious ritual which represents a spiritual reality, or represents an act of God’s grace.
2. [“the sacrament”] Holy communion.
[Sacramental søk.rə'mɛn(t).əl adjective, sacramentalist søk.rə'mɛn(t).əl.ist noun.]

God does many things in our lives. Some we see. Some we don’t.

When God cures me of an illness, it’s nice and obvious: Everybody, even skeptics, can see I’m well. They’ll totally disagree about how I got well. If they don’t believe in God (or don’t believe he still does miracles) they’ll doubt God was involved in the cure. Might even doubt I was truly ill to begin with. But they otherwise agree I’m well. That part’s visible enough.

Now, when God forgives me of sin… what’s visible?

I mean I know I’m forgiven; Jesus told us we’re given most everything. Mk 3.28 I put my faith in Jesus, so I trust when he says I’m forgiven, I am. But was there anything visible? Anything we could’ve experienced? Did I hear God’s audible voice: “Behold thou art made whole: Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee”? Jn 5.14 KJV Did I experience happy feelings which I’ve come to associate with forgiveness? Was God cursing me in some way, and now he’s not? Do (as the prosperity gospel folks insist is true) I suddenly find myself flush with cash?

In fact no: Most of the time we don’t see anything. Don’t see most of the things God does “behind the scenes,” as we put it—which is inaccurate, ’cause God’s not hiding a thing. He told us what he’s up to, He 1.1 and still tells us when we bother to ask. Am 3.7 It’s just we don’t bother to ask. Or we assume it’s part of some secret evil plan he’s up to.

But God understands how we humans tick: We want experiences. We wanna have something we’ve lived through, which we can point back to and say, “That’s when God did [something profound]. There’s the date and time.” Something to jog our memory, to remind us how and when God did something for us. Like a holiday which reminds us Jesus died for our sins at around 2:30 PM, 3 April 33. Or a handy, easy-to-repeat ritual.

And that’s why God ordained such rituals for us Christians to perform. Things we can do which represent what he did, what he’s doing, what he’ll do later. We call ’em sacraments, which literally means “sacred acts.” Or (if we think “sacrament” is too Catholic a word) ordinances—’cause God did ordain ’em.

The reason God ordained sacraments is to make his grace visible. ’Cause it’s not always. Miracles are visible, obvious forms of grace. Forgiveness… well, what’s obvious is the way we respond to God forgiving us. (If we respond to him; some of us are ingrates.) Some of us think we oughta feel something when that happens, so we psyche ourselves into imagining God’s presence, into feeling stuff, even into seeing stuff. You know, contorting our brains in all sorts of unhealthy ways. Things that’ll just get in the way once real visions happen.

In comparison God keeps it simple. Get dunked in water. Eat bread and drink wine. Set up a rock pile. Wash feet. Celebrate a holiday. Make promises. Say certain words. These rituals represent the reality. Do them and remember the reality. 1Co 11.24-25 Remember God’s grace.

Don’t just raise your kids Christian. Share Jesus with them.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.

Some years ago I was telling a friend about some church ministry I was involved with. He then told me, with a little bit of embarrassment, he wasn’t involved in such thing in his church. Didn’t feel he could possibly find the time.

“Well that’s understandable,” I told him: “You have four kids under the age of 10. They’re your ministry. You’ve gotta make sure they know Jesus, and have a growing relationship with them. Get them solid; then worry about all the other stuff your church is doing. Then your kids will wanna do all those church things with you.”

He was a little relieved to hear me say that, ’cause he’d been kicking himself a little for not doing enough church stuff. You know how some churches can get: If you’re not giving ’em 10 hours a week, they doubt your salvation. But when Paul instructed Timothy on what sort of people oughta serve the church (or deacons, as we tend to call ’em), he pointed out, assuming they have children, the children oughta be well-behaved. 1Ti 3.12 If deacons become elders, same deal. If they can’t even raise their own kids, what good are they to raise a mature church?

So first things first. All that stuff you were hoping to do for your church?—lead music, teach Sunday school and bible classes, participate in the prayer group, contributing to charity, going on a missions trip? Do all that stuff, with your kids, first. Live out your Christianity with them, in front of them, as an example to them, long before you start doing that stuff for your church. ’Cause your first duty is to train your kids to follow your God. Dt 4.9-10 Not to just have ’em say the sinner’s prayer, then hope they pick up the rest on their own.

Sad to say, a lot of Christians prefer to do the sinners’ prayer, and little more. I know from experience. When I was in youth group, a lot of the kids knew nothing about Jesus outside of what our youth pastors told us. And that’s assuming they listened to the pastor’s lessons. They were woefully ignorant of God—but their parents figured they said the prayer, got baptized, went to church, and participated in all the same cultural Christian things they did. Doesn’t that count as raising ’em Christian?

As a result you’ve got a lot of Christians who aren’t really raising their kids Christian. At best, the kids come to Jesus in spite of their parents’ lack of attention. At worst, the kids decide their parents are hypocrites, Christianity is bogus, and turn antichrist.

And their parents, in horror and outrage, can’t imagine they’re in any way to blame for their kids’ seeming apostasy. So they look for other scapegoats: Their pagan friends. Secular schools. Youth pastors who didn’t adequately diagnose the coming problem. Evil rock music and TV programs. Satan. Anybody but themselves. Because they provided their kids a good Christian environment; how on earth could this have happened on their watch?

Easy. They didn’t watch. They assumed the environment would make their kids Christian. Environment does nothing. Discipleship does. Train your kids in the way they should go. Don’t just quote bible verses at ’em, but fail to lead by example.

Sucking up to God.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November

Matthew 6.9-10, Luke 11.2.

All my life I’ve heard Christian prayer leaders instruct me that before we start asking God for things, it’s only proper to begin with praise. Tell God how great he is. How mighty. How awesome. Supposedly that’s how Jesus demonstrated we’re to start in the Lord’s Prayer, with “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” Because we wanna make his name holy and embrace his will.

This attitude reminds me way too much of the sycophantic prayer we find in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life:

CHAPLAIN. “Let us praise God. Oh Lord…”
CONGREGATION. [ritually repeating] “Oh Lord…”
CHAPLAIN. “Oooh you are so big!
CONGREGATION. “Oooh you are so big.”
CHAPLAIN. “So absolutely huge!”
CONGREGATION. “So absolutely huge.”
CHAPLAIN. “Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you!”
CONGREGATION. “Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell you.”
CHAPLAIN. “Forgive us, O Lord, for this dreadful toadying.”
CONGREGATION. “And bare-faced flattery.”
CHAPLAIN. “But you are so strong and, well, just so super!”
CONGREGATION. “Fantastic.”

The problem with it? It’s not what the Lord’s Prayer means… and to a large degree it’s hypocrisy. When we come to God with legitimate prayer requests, small or serious, and begin with the fawning adulation, how is this significantly different from a teenager telling her dad “I love you so much” before she asks him for money? I kiss God’s boots; I earn his favor. Now he owes me. Right?

Of course it’s wrong. Yet it’s what we see: Christians figuring the more they praise God, the better he thinks of them. Or as pagans would put it, the more karma they’re generating. The more apt he is to give us what we ask, even when we really shouldn’t ask for such things ’cause our ulterior motives are bad. Jm 4.3 But we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking this is how prayer should be done. It’s not honest praise; it’s a quid pro quo.

In reality prayer requests are about grace. They’re about God giving us what he wants to give us, only because he loves us, and not because we merit or earned it.

Likewise praise is about appreciating God, about reminding ourselves of his greatness. If you wanna do a lot of that, I direct you to Psalms. But the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t actually include praise—unless you’re using the Didache version which includes, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.”

And in that case it follows the examples shown in Psalms: The psalmists tended to pour out their heart to God first. Express their woes, state their problem, ask for help. Then—after God talked ’em down, or told them he’d take care of it—then they ended their prayers with praise and gratitude. Honest gratitude.

Questioning authority.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 November

Which I do. Which we all should do. Regardless of how much it irritates the authority.

I’m a trained skeptic.

Seriously. I have degrees in both journalism and theology. In both fields, we’re taught to ask the question, “Is that really true?” Don’t swallow whole what anyone tells you. Anyone. Fact-check it.

In journalism, that’s done by finding a valid authority on the subject, and a second source to corroborate the first one. (I know; internet “journalists” seldom bother to find that second source, but they never went to journalism school, and it shows.) In theology, find a proof text, and make sure you quote it in context. One will do; more is better.

Problem is, people are very, very used to having their every statement accepted without question. So when I ask “Is that really true?”—just doing my duty as both a journalist and theologian—they take offense. What, don’t I trust them? Why not? What’s my problem?

Since I give most people the benefit of the doubt, no I actually don’t think they’re lying. (Usually.) But I know how human nature works. I know how gossip spreads. People spread stories because they’re interesting, not because they’re true. People believe stories when they confirm what they already believe, and reject ’em when they don’t. Good people can unintentionally be very, very wrong. Happens all the time. Happens to me.

Hey, humans aren’t all-knowing; they aren’t God. And some of us actually are evil. Like politicos who deliberately spread lies about their opponents. Like kids who bully their enemies. Some Christians have a political axe to grind, so their teachings are always skewed to suit their views. If I just met someone, I don’t automatically assume this is why they’re wrong: Give me time, and I’ll recognize the pattern of partisanship, overzealousness, anger, and other fleshly motives. But most folks are just honestly mistaken.

Still, that self-preservation instinct kicks in, and people are quick to attack my simple doubts as if they’re frontal assaults: “What, d’you think I’m lying to you?”

Why I went to an all-white church.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 November

Wasn’t intentional. On the contrary: Lack of thought did it. And perpetuates it.

When I was 11 years old, my family moved to a city in California which was about 60 percent white, 40 percent Latino, 10 percent everything else. Same as much of California south of Sacramento.

I’m the oldest of four, and Mom went looking for churches which’d be a good fit for young children. We tried a few, and ended at a Evangelical Free Church, which I have elsewhere called Maypole Church. The church had an excellent Christian education program. I don’t agree with good deal of their brand of Fundamentalism any longer, but they did make sure we kids got to know our bibles, which is the important thing.

This particular church happened to be 100 percent white.

Every so often they’d be 99 percent white. A black, Latino, or Asian family would visit. There’s an Air Force base nearby, and airmen would get invited to Maypole by their white friends. But within a few months they’d stop attending; they’d go elsewhere. I never knew why. Never thought to ask why. Never assumed it was about race… ’cause I wasn’t bigoted.

Didn’t give the racial issue any thought till I started to invite my high school friends to Maypole’s youth group. My high school was right next to the Air Force base, and was as integrated as the U.S. military is. I was raised in multiethnic neighborhoods, so I didn’t solely make friends with white kids. But most were fellow Christians, and if they didn’t have a youth group, I invited them to mine. They came. For a few weeks. Then stopped. Found excuses not to come along.

I’d ask ’em why they didn’t wanna come to my church anymore.

“That group ain’t right,” they’d tell me.

I wanted to know what was wrong with them.

They didn’t wanna get specific. “It just ain’t right.”

I assumed it had to do with doctrines: My church was more Fundamentalist than they were. My church wouldn’t compromise; theirs would. You know, Fundie thinking.

Then I finally invited a white high school friend to church. He wasn’t Christian; he was a pagan who was open to the idea. He didn’t stop after two weeks: He stuck around. Largely ’cause he wanted to hook up with one of the youth group girls. And though I never saw him make a decision for Jesus, he turned round and invited some of his friends to the group. First a white friend, who stuck around a month (till he realized Christian girls weren’t as loose as he’d like). Then a Latino friend, who only stayed three weeks, but left ’cause “That group ain’t right.”

Every Spring Break the youth group took a “mission trip” to Baja California and help out at a Mexican church’s Vacation Bible School. There, I saw for myself how many of the kids were super racist towards Mexicans. Our youth pastor cracked down on it as much as he could (given how certain parents would have his job if he kicked their kids out of the group). Still, this was finally when I realized what my nonwhite friends meant by “That group ain’t right.” No they weren’t.

And as we know, kids don’t become racist in a vacuum. They get it from their parents.

Nope, not accusing Maypole Church of racism. Not the pastors; probably not the deacons. But obviously there were just enough racists in my youth group to block any outreach I did—or anyone did—to nonwhites in my high school, in our city, anywhere. I assumed my church was a safe place, as all churches should be. They weren’t.

I stopped going to Maypole in 1991. Last I checked, they’re still 100 percent white.

The mentalist… disguised as a prophet.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November

When “prophets” depend a great deal on their own intuition, it’s not really the Holy Spirit.

MENTALIST /'mɛn.(t)əl.əst/ adj. One who performs highly intuitive, mnemonic, telepathic, or hypnotic abilities. (Usually as a stage performance.)
[Mentalism /'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪz.əm/ n.]

“Is there anyone in this room who was born on April 6th?”

It’s the sort of question you oughta hear when a psychic or magician is standing in front of an audience. Thing is, Christians who are into supernatural gifts tend to avoid psychics like the plague. (We have been taught to stay away from them, y’know. God forbade ’em to the Hebrews, Dt 18.8-14 and we figure that applies to us too.) Likewise we’re not as familiar with magicians who claim to be mind-readers. Or mentalists, as they’re properly called. (Maybe you remember the TV show where one of ’em solved crimes.)

Requests for anyone who was born on a certain birthdate, or anyone who has a certain letter in their name, or anyone who recognizes a certain word, name, phrase, whatever: It’s called “fishing.” The person who does it, has no idea whether there’s any such person in the crowd. But statistically it’s likely. Chances are good there is a person with a J in their name, or whose father’s name was Stephen, or who recognizes the word “Bureau,” or who considers certain dates meaningful. The first person to stand and say, “That’s me!” is gonna get a brief demonstration of how mentalism works.

What they get next are often Barnum statements, “prophecies” which seem like they apply just to that individual, but it’s rare you’ll find someone whom they don’t apply to. They’re the sort of general, that-could-mean-anything stuff we read in horoscopes or fortune cookies.

  • “There’s a significant event which recently took place in your life, isn’t there?” Of course there is.
  • “You’ve been feeling uncertain lately. You have some doubts.” Who doesn’t?
  • “You’re having problems with a friend or relative.” Of course.
  • “Is the number 10 significant to you in some way?” It’s significant to everyone in some way. Me, I happen to have that many toes. Sometimes a $10 in my wallet.
  • “There’s somebody important in your life—I’m seeing a B, maybe a C…” Just about everyone knows someone with those letters as initials.

From there, the “prophet” will fish for more information. Meanwhile they’re looking these folks over, and trying to deduce other things about them. The goal is to keep rooting around till they find something really meaningful. Then cheer you up about it, give you hope, make you know everything’s okay. ’Cause prophecy’s all about encouragement, right? 1Co 14.3 Deduce your problem, small or large; then encourage you God already knows all about it, and has your back.

But let’s hit pause on this process and think a moment. These prophets claim to hear from God, right? Yet instead of calling out a name, they’ve gotta play guessing games? They can’t tell whether the issue’s with a friend or relative? They can’t tell whether God’s saying B or C? Those letters don’t look that similar. Nor sound similar.

If they can’t identify what God’s telling them on such basic things, how can we trust any of the prophecies which’re gonna come afterward?

Well, we can’t. Because the Holy Spirit isn’t talking to these traveling-circus-style “prophets.” With God there’s no guesswork about what he’s saying. Oh, there’s plenty of guesswork about what he means; Christians still debate over some of Jesus’s parables. But his messages are crystal clear. There’s no guesswork to it. God doesn’t do vague.

Audio bibles!

by K.W. Leslie, 10 November

Don’t yet have an audio bible? Here’s the hookup.

No doubt you know about audiobooks. Well, the audio bible is simply an audiobook of the bible. A really big audiobook, ’cause the bible’s not a little book.

Just as many book publishers try to produce an audiobook version, many bible publishers do likewise with their bible translations. Sometimes it’s a straight reading. Sometimes they play soft music in the background. Sometimes they dramatize it: They hire actors to play different people in the bible, and add sound effects and music. Sometimes they overdramatize it, and hire really bad actors who put zero thought into the motivations or meaning of the folks in the bible. The first dramatized audio bible I ever heard, it was so over-the-top I gave up on dramatized bibles for a decade. They’ve improved since. Well, some have.

Anyway, I’d recommend you get an audio bible. I’ve provided links to some inexpensive and free ones.

They have their pros and cons. Obviously I think their positives outweigh the negatives. If you’re struggling with the discipline to read through the whole bible, an audio bible will help. If you have a reading disability, they solve that problem. If you have a short attention span, they can help—you won’t get distracted by study bible notes and cross references. However you may still be distracted by birds chirping outside. Some folks can’t focus on any kind of book. But hey, it’s worth a shot.

The main drawback is an audio bible goes at its own pace. Not yours. Unless you’re quick at the stop and rewind buttons, it’s not like a written bible, where you can go back and reread a sentence: It just plows ahead. It sometimes makes it tricky to meditate on what you just listened to.

And of course if you get it on disc or tape, it’s not a small book. That’s a lot of discs to lug around… and scratch, and lose. Me, I switched to the MP3 format as soon as I could.

The prayer mood.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 November

Some of us feel we need to psyche ourselves into feeling like prayer. No we don’t.

As we know, prayer is talking with God. You have something to tell him? Start talking. You want him to talk to you? Ask him stuff. It’s not complicated; it is just that simple.

It’s just we overcomplicate things. We learned a bunch of prayer rituals, which we figure gotta happen every time we pray. Gotta get in the prayer closet. Gotta assume the right posture: Head to the ground, facing Jerusalem; or eyes closed and hands folded; or facing the sky, arms lifted high. Whatever your tradition dictates.

And just as we put our bodies in a posture, we put our mindset in a posture too. We figure the best way to get ready to receive God, the best way to submit to his will, is to assume a prayer mood, an emotional state which is best for prayer.

You might not even be aware you’re psyching yourself into that state. It’s just you always have. It’s what you’ve always seen other Christians do, and that’s how you picked it up. You feel you oughta be humble when you approach God, so you mentally lower, or even degrade yourself. You feel you oughta be open to stuff he wants to teach you, so you imagine your mind wide open, ready to accept anything. You feel if God’s gonna be present, it’s time to put on a display of loving him with all our mind, so you conjure up that feeling as best you can. And so on.

Yeah, we know it’s not mandatory. If we felt we had to attain this mood before prayer, the devil could easily keep us from praying by keeping us in a foul mood. So we don’t think of it as, “God’s gonna be displeased if I don’t feel this way when I pray.” But we wanna feel this way. It helps prayer feel good.

So, positive attitude. Clear mind. Loving, humble, focused thoughts. Emotions on the surface, yet more or less under control. Any stray thoughts, any unpleasant emotions—any pessimism, pride, or evil—is gonna be shoved aside. If we can’t, it does still count as prayer, but we won’t consider it a good prayer. It’ll feel ineffective.

Yeah, of course all of this is hogwash.

Prayer’s not about how we feel when we pray. As the psalms demonstrate, we can feel any which way. Sometimes the psalmists were focused; sometimes scattered, distracted by all their enemies. Sometimes they were loving, and sometimes they wanted God to curb-stomp their enemies. Sometimes their emotions were in check; sometimes they so weren’t.

It’d be nice if prayer felt good. But it isn’t necessary that it has to. And since we can’t trust our emotions, who says it always has to?

Translating it myself. (And why that’s okay.)

by K.W. Leslie, 07 November

During my church’s services, in between worship songs and sermon notes, sometimes I’ve put bible verses on our video screens. Not as part of the service; just as something to have on the screen in between the other stuff. Something other than a blank screen.

A few weeks ago I got asked,

SHE. “Which translation is ‘KWL’? What’s that stand for?”
ME. “Me. K.W. Leslie. I translated it.”
SHE. “Why’d you use your own translation instead of an official translation?”
ME. “What do you mean, official translations?”
SHE. “Well, like the Authorized Version. The NIV, the New King James…”
ME. “Those aren’t official translations. They were produced by publishers. The bible’s the most popular book in the world; there’s good money to be made by owning your own translation. So publishers hired scholars, and now they have their own translations. But none of them are official.”

(I should clarify: Some churches have made the KJV their official translation, and Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced their own officially-approved translations. But neither our church nor denomination has an official translation.)

SHE. “Well, they were done by churches.”
ME. “They were not. They were done by publishers. Who did hire actual scholars to do the translating, so they’re not bad translations. But they weren’t done by any one church; they wanna sell bibles to every church, y’know.”
SHE. “But why do you do your own translation?”
ME. “As part of my bible study. When I’m studying a verse, I wanna really understand it, so I read it in the original, and translate it. I’m not trying to produce ‘the KWL version of the bible’; I’m just trying to understand it better. Sometimes I’ll use different words than other translations. But I’m not too far different than any of the other translations. In fact if I were too far different, it’d mean I’m doing it wrong.”
SHE. “But why use your translation instead of one of the official translations?”
ME. [letting go the fact she still insists there are official translations] “Certain words I used, which I like better than the words other translations used.”
SHE. “Well I would be nervous about that. Aren’t you changing the words of the bible to suit yourself?”
ME. “I’m trying not to do that. I’m trying to stay true to the original language, the original authors’ intent.”
SHE. “But why do you think you’ve done a better job than the official translations?”
ME. “Because sometimes I did do a better job. Certain translations bend the meaning to fit how popular Christian culture interprets the bible. The new edition of the Amplified Bible does it all the time. The New Living Translation does it a few times. The New International Version tries to hide all the bible difficulties. I tend to compare my translation with the King James Version because I’ve found that translation bends it least. But translators aren’t infallible. Everybody makes mistakes. Myself included.”
SHE. “So how can you put your translation up there like it’s authoritative?”
ME. “’Cause it’s just as ‘authoritative’ as those other translations. Which is to say, don’t take any one translation’s word for it. Compare it with other ones, just in case one of us made a mistake.”

Pretty sure I didn’t convince her, though. When you grow up thinking of certain bible translations as absolute authorities… it kinda bothers you to discover they’re not the work of extra-special anointed creatures, but ordinary women and men. Especially once you personally know any of those ordinary women and men.

“Be careful, little eyes…”

by K.W. Leslie, 31 October

Nobody’s temptation-proof. But not everyone’s tempted by the same stuff.

Some years ago when I finally got round to reading the unabridged edition of The Stand (which, I remind you, is my favorite End Times novel, and not just ’cause it’s way better written than those stupid, stupid Left Behind novels), I casually mentioned to a fellow Christian (let’s call her Asha) I was doing so.

Wrong Christian to mention such things to. Asha was horrified. I think she was afraid I’d lose my salvation over it. You think I’m being facetious, but some Christians actually do believe there are such things as mortal, unpardonable sins. To Asha, Stephen King novels are apparently one of ’em.

Y’see, King is known as a horror writer. So he’ll write about evil spirits, vampires, werewolves, devilish magic creatures, and so forth. He’ll also write about non-supernatural things, like sex and violence. He’ll use the F-word, and take the Lord’s name in vain. Pagan stuff like that.

Therefore Asha insisted I was a bad Christian for exposing myself, even opening myself, to such evil influences. Why, the indwelling Holy Spirit might be so offended he’d flee my body, and devils would rush in, and I’d wind up committing all sorts of sinful atrocities. Blah blah blah, the usual clichés from people who don’t understand how temptation works.

If you’re human, you get tempted. We all do. You know how temptation works. But if you forgot, I’ll remind you.

Let’s say Stephen King wrote a novel where the main character liked to huff paint. Now, if we read the novel, we might identify with this guy in many ways: He’s good to his kids, he loves barbecue, he likes monster trucks, he likes to watch police procedurals. We might even think, “Wow, he’s a lot like me.” But that paint-huffing thing: That’s just nuts. We’d never do that. Never want to; never think to. Aren’t tempted in that direction in any way. Right?

Of course I assume you’re a typical sane human being. Maybe you are that susceptible to suggestion. And if that’s the case, why don’t you sign on to PayPal, and send $500 to my email address? Thanks a bunch.

“If my people pray, I’ll heal their land.”

by K.W. Leslie, 27 October

2 Chronicles 7.14.

Today’s out-of-context verse is really popular with civic idolaters, those folks who assume when Jesus returns, he won’t overthrow the United States: It’s the one exception to the kingdoms of this world which must become part of Christ’s one-world government. To them, it already is his kingdom, and Americans already are God’s chosen people. It’s just we’re heavily mismanaging things. But once we call upon God… well, lemme quote their beloved bible verse.

2 Chronicles 7.14 KJV
…if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Right. If our Christian nation returns to God, and returns to proper Christian values (as defined by popular Christian culture), and makes big shows of repentance like public prayer and voting for the prolife political party (and never mind what the party’s candidates think about the needy, the stranger, the widows and orphans—heck, women in general): God will heal our land. Turn it into his kingdom on earth. Make it paradise. Maybe even hold back on the End Times for a few more years, so we can finally accomplish all our personal goals for wealth, romance, and material success, without that pesky rapture messing up our schedule. Yet at the same time, in our church services, claiming we’re getting the church ready to meet her groom. Rv 21.2

Yeah, it’s a wholly inconsistent theology. But fear’ll do that to people.

Anyway, whenever I object to them ripping 2 Chronicles 7.14 out of its historical context, I regularly get accused of not loving the United States like they do. And they’re right: It definitely ain’t like they do. I love the United States like God loves the world—and wants to save it. Jn 3.16 I want as many Americans as possible to turn to God. I don’t assume they already have. Polls prove we think we have, but crime and abortion rates prove we haven’t. So I remain mindful my citizenship is in God’s kingdom. And every time the Holy Spirit wakes me up to the fact the United States and the kingdom are opposed, I’m siding with the kingdom. Every time. As should every Christian—instead of bending the truth till we can play both sides.

Resisting God’s grace. (Don’t!)

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

It’s sad. But it’s possible, and it happens.

God dispenses his amazing grace to everybody, as Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

Our Father doesn’t skimp on the grace. He provides it, in unlimited amounts, to everybody. To those who love him, and those who don’t—which is why Jesus instructs us to be like our Father, and love those who hate us. To those he considers family, and those he doesn’t consider family—which is why Jesus instructs us to be like our Father, and love pagans. Be like our Father. Be egalitarian. Love and be gracious to everyone, without discrimination.

Yeah, Christians suck at following this command. It’s why we’ve come up with excuses why we needn’t follow it. Or invent theological beliefs which undermine it altogether, like limited grace, and irresistible grace.

Irresistible grace is a Calvinist invention. Basically it claims God is so almighty, so sovereign, so powerful, that if he pours grace upon us it’s impossible to resist. We’re gonna get it. We’re in no position to reject it. When God shines his sun on the good and evil, the evil are unable to duck into the house and turn on the air conditioner. When God showers his rain on the moral and immoral, the immoral find it impossible to book a trip to Las Vegas and dodge the rain in the desert.

Okay, obviously people can resist sunshine and rain. But Calvinists claim that’s because there are two kinds of grace:

  • Common grace. The resistible kind. Like sunshine and rain. Like free coffee, tax breaks, a good parking space, and all the other things God and our fellow humans generously offer us.
  • Saving grace. The irresistible kind. Infinitely powerful. There’s no defense against it. If God decides you’re getting saved, that’s that.

If irresistible grace sounds kinda rapey… well, it is kinda rapey.

That’s why it doesn’t accurately describe God in the slightest. God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and love behaves patiently and kindly and doesn’t demand its own way. 1Co 13.4-5 But when Calvinists picture what they’d do if they were God, love comes second to sovereignty. (You know, just like love comes a distant second to our own selfish will.) If they were almighty, and wanted you saved, you’d have no choice in the matter; no free will. You’d be saved, period, no discussion. ’Cause they love you. And you may not love them now, but give it time, and you’ll learn to love ’em back. Just stop fighting them, ’cause there’s no way you’re strong enough to resist the grace they’re sticking inside you.

…And I’d better stop this simile now, before it gets any more icky.

The prayer journal: Keeping track of prayer requests.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 October

It’s good to have a written record of God’s answers to prayer.

PRAYER JOURNAL /'pr(eɪ.)ər 'dʒər.nəl/ n. Daily (or regular) record of transactions with God.
[Prayer journaling /'dʒər.nəl.ɪŋ/ vt.]

A prayer journal is a sort of diary, but rather than listing everything you did during the day (and all your innermost secret feelings about them), your prayer journal is about what you prayed—for yourself, and for others.

I realize not everyone keeps a diary. It’s for the same reason not every Christian keeps a prayer journal. We don’t think our lives are interesting enough to record, or can’t remember to keep it up to date… or fear what’ll happen when the wrong person reads those innermost secret feelings. Well, a prayer journal isn’t necessarily about personal secrets. (Unless you requested things from God which you’d really rather other people not know: “God, please cure my butt pimples” and the like.) It’s how to keep track of what you’ve prayed—and how and when God answered these requests.

See, your average Christian doesn’t keep track of what they prayed. Consequently they don’t know how long they’ve been making certain requests of God. Or how regularly (or if) they kept up on these requests. Or when God answered them. Or how often God answered them. I mean, God answers our prayers all the time (and not just with “no!”), but when we never keep track, we can’t always tell you when, how, and how often. And when we’re feeling low, we’re gonna forget every good thing God has done for us. You know, like the Hebrews did in the wilderness, every single time they hit a rough patch: “Aw man, we’re gonna die. Egypt was better. Why’d we ever leave?” Ex 16.3, 17.3, Nu 11.18, etc. God forbid, but this kind of thing still happens. All the time.

That’s why the prophets and apostles put together a written record of what God did do for ’em. And you oughta have one too. Your prayer journal is what God’s done for you. Keep track!

Especially if you’re involved (or getting involved) with your church’s prayer ministry. Or if you regularly pray for others. Or if you’re not entirely sure prayer works: Keep a journal for three months and see for yourself.

There are dozens of different prayer journal techniques. I’ll share a few different techniques with you in future. Today I’ll just start you off with a really simple method, which works for me.