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Showing posts from November, 2016

God can’t abide sin?

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If true, it means God has a boogeyman.“God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.”It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular.It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure.Well, self-righteous.You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God.Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have those prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice grace? T…

Sacraments: Our Christian rituals. Gotta do ’em.

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Though there’s more than a little debate as to what they mean.Sacrament /'søk.rə.mənt/ n. 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/ adj., sacramentalist /søk.rə'mɛn(t).əl.ist/ n.]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 experie…

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

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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)…

Sucking up to God.

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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.”CH…

Questioning authority.

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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 the…

Why I went to an all-white church.

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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…

The mentalist… disguised as a prophet.

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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…

When supernatural gifts will no longer be needed.

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Contrary to common myth, not gonna happen for a while yet.1 Corinthians 13.7-13I grew up among Christians who loved to use this passage of 1 Corinthians to justify their belief God turned off the miracles. He didn’t, but miracles weirded them out and messed with their End Times theories, so they decided it’d be easiest if he just did. So when Paul and Sosthenes wrote the following, they had their own spin on it. (Here it is, in what they figured was the authoritative King James Version.)1 Corinthians 13.8-10 KJV8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.“That which is perfect,” they insisted, meant the bible. The New Testament wasn’t complete in Paul’s day; John wouldn’t write Revelation for a few more decades. So while the ca…

Bummed your candidate lost? Bad sign.

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I wrote this piece in 2012, after Mitt Romney lost the presidential race to Barack Obama. I had to tweak it very, very little in order to apply it to this year, after Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race to Donald Trump.Four years ago my Republican friends were moping about the election results. This year it’s my Democratic friends. They’ve been putting on a brave face, saying the usual platitudes about how God’s still in control, even though their candidate won’t be. And how very bummed they are. And how they’re gonna put their trust in Jesus.Hopefully some of them recognize these are the things you say after you’ve been putting your faith in an idol… and God just smashed that idol.But probably not. It took me quite a few years before I got to that point myself.The first presidential election where I didn’t get my way, back when I was a Republican, was the 1992 election, when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton. I’d voted for Bush. As had most of my fellow Republicans. A sign…

Kingdom economics: How’s your eye?

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Matthew 6.22-23, Luke 11.34-36.Some of Jesus’s teachings tend to get skipped entirely.Let’s be honest: It’s because we don’t like them. Plenty of us hate the idea the Law still counts, and God judges us by it; we prefer dispensationalism. Plenty of us hate Jesus’s teachings on money, ’cause we still kinda worship it. So we borrow his parables about forgiveness, where money wasn’t even the point, and try to claim they’re about capitalism. Or socialism. Or they’re Jesus’s secret critique of socialism. Whichever suits us best.Today’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount is in fact about money. Not opthamology.But because people nowadays are unfamiliar with the Hebrew idioms “good eye” and “evil eye”—and will even mix ’em up with the European idioms, and think they have to do with all-purpose blessings and curses—we’ll interpret this passage all kinds of wrong. Or claim, “Well it’s obscure,” and skip it. Usually skip it, and focus on the verses we can understand. Verses we figure we’re alr…

Audio bibles!

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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…

The prayer mood.

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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 picke…

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

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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…