The wicked, deceitful human heart.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 December
HEART hɑrt noun. Hollow muscular organ which pumps blood through the circulatory system.
2. [in popular culture] Center of a person’s thoughts and emotions; one’s mood, feeling, enthusiasm, mood, or courage.
3. [in popular Christian culture] Center of a person’s lifeforce; one’s innermost being; the true self, particularly one’s true thoughts and feelings.
4. A conventional heart shape, as found on a deck of cards.
[Hearted 'hɑrt.ɛd adjective.]
Jeremiah 17.9-10 KWL
9 “The heart is more twisted than everything.
It’s human. Who knows it?
10 I, the LORD, examine the heart and test the kidneys,
to give men according to their ways, the fruit of their deeds.”

The ancients didn’t know much about anatomy. So all the stuff we recognize are part of brain activity, the ancients believed were the function of other parts of the body. The heart, they imagined, did our thinking. The kidneys did the feeling.

Seriously. And why not? When we get excited, our hearts beat faster. When we’re sad or mournful, we feel it in the chest, and not so much the head. They saw a connection between mental activity and the heart. So they deduced it was the cardiac muscle behind our thoughts and feelings… not our thoughts and feelings behind our heart’s behavior. Yep, got it backwards.

What’d they imagine our brains did? Well, they didn’t. Seriously: The word “brain” isn’t in the bible. Y’might find it in various bible translations, but that’s because the translators know what the brain actually does, and decided to swap it for lev or kardía where appropriate. But in the scriptures, when we come across mental activity, the authors kept referring to one’s heart.

  • The thoughts Ge 6.5 or imagination Ge 8.21 of one’s heart: Of one’s mind, really.
  • Saying in one’s heart Ge 11.17, 24.45, Dt 9.4, 18.21 is saying to oneself, in one’s head, or at least privately.
  • One’s heart failed or fainted or was discouraged Ge 42.28, 45.26, Nu 32.7, Dt 1.28 means they lost their nerve.
  • One’s heart was hardened Ex 4.21, 7.13, Dt 2.30 means one’s mind is closed.
  • One’s heart was stirred Ex 35.21, 36.2 is what we’d call a brainstorm.

We still do this in our culture. When we remember, we “search our hearts.” When we rethink things, we “have a change of heart.” When we make up our minds, we “determine in our hearts.” And so forth.

Medical science didn’t realize the brain’s importance till Hippocrates in the fourth century BC, and Galen of Pergamon in our second century. For the longest time, more folks were familiar with Aristotle, who claimed the brain’s job is to cool down our blood. Considering all the bible’s talk about thinking and saying with our hearts, most people up until the Renaissance assumed the heart literally did as the bible describes.

But as I’ve said before, the bible’s not a science textbook. When its authors wrote about other subjects than God, they repeated what their culture had told them. They’d always been taught so, and God saw no reason to correct them: “No, guys, you think with your brains, not your hearts.” He had bigger fish to fry. He even used their terminology: He stated he thought in his heart. Ho 11.8 He was trying to relate to humanity, and it wasn’t the occasion for a biology lesson.

So if you’re worried about the scientific inaccuracy of the scriptures, don’t. Unlike young-earth creationists, we aren’t making anti-scientific claims about human biology based on our overly-literal interpretations of the scriptures. We’re simply reading the bible so we can understand God better. To a lesser degree, we’re also trying to understand the sin-damaged human mind better, and if the bible’s authors persisted in using “heart” to mean “mind”… well, let’s adapt.

Set your hearts for Jesus’s return.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

Different scholars have different ways they wanna interpret the Greek word παρουσία/parusía, “[second] coming.” Most of the time “appearance” or “coming” or “return.” When used to describe what Jesus is up to, it has more of a sense of “arrival,” or even “invasion.” Certain gutless commentators leave it untranslated, and just refer to Jesus’s parousia, as if it’s too difficult a concept to convert into English. Rubbish: The popular idea of “second coming” works just fine to describe it, 1Th 3.13 so that’s how I translate it.

Today I wanna point to Jesus’s brother James, and how he referred to it:

James 5.7-8 KWL
7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.
Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,
patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.
8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:
The Master’s second coming has come near.

So. Ever since Jesus’s rapture, Christians have expected him to return at any time. True, he’s taking a mighty long time, but as I regularly point out, he’s trying to save everyone he can, and may put it off a great deal longer. Regardless, he’s one day coming for you individually. And me. And everyone else on the planet. Everybody dies, and we don’t always know when. So be ready.

James used the analogy of a farmer who looked forward to his crops. And yeah, at the time James wrote this, a few things had to happen before Jesus returned. In the analogy, the farmer had to wait through early- and late-season rains. Most Christians accept the idea the “early-season rain” has already happened in some form. Not all of us are agreed the “late-season rain” has happened yet. I figure they have; others insist it’s part of a future End Times timeline.

But either way, Jesus is taking his time about returning. And either way, we need to be patient. Which is a serious struggle for those Christians who want him to return today, and wrest our governments away from the fools and opportunists who currently have the reins. Much easier to have Jesus fix everything, than clean up our own messes. (And some of us are hoping Jesus does so with a whole lot of bloodshed; and yes, that’s seriously f---ed up of them. They need to get saved.) The End takes place on Jesus’s timetable, and not our timelines. If we gotta wait, we gotta wait. Still, let’s be ready.

Apostasy before the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 December

Before Jesus returns, bad stuff was predicted to happen. Both by Jesus, who described some of the events 40 years hence when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem; and here by Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they reminded the people of Thessaloniki that there’d first be a time of apostasy.

2 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL
1 We should ask you, fellow Christians, about the second coming of our Master, Christ Jesus,
and how we’ll be gathered together with him.
2 It’s so your minds won’t be shaken up, nor go into a panic,
whenever some spirit, message, or letter (like those from us) claims the Lord’s Day has come.
3 Don’t let anyone trick you in any way: Nothing happens till the apostasy comes first,
till the lawbreaking person, the child of destruction, is revealed—
4 the antagonist, the one exalting himself over everything called “god” and “worshipful,”
so much so he sits in God’s temple and claims he’s a god himself.
5 Don’t you remember the things I told you when I was still with you?
6 Now, you know who holds him back so he can be revealed in his own time:
7 The secret of the lawbreaker is already working—
but only till the one holding him back can come out of the way.
8 Then the lawbreaker will be revealed—whom Master Jesus will take out with his mouth’s breath.
He’ll abolish the lawbreaker at the manifestation of his second coming:
9 This is the coming against Satan’s works in every power, “miracle,” and fake wonder;
10 in every unrighteous trick towards those destroying themselves.
For fake miracles don’t accept the love of truth in their salvation.
11 Through it, God sends them off with their belief in fakes, in powerful error.
12 Thus everyone can be judged who didn’t trust truth, but were pleased with wrongness.

Popular Christian culture tends to call this “lawbreaking person” the Antichrist (with a capital A, as opposed to any old antichrist who just doesn’t like Christ or Christianity), and figure he’s the same as the beast of Revelation 13. There are also a bunch of wacky myths about how evil he’ll be and what he’ll do, but I won’t go into them today. Suffice to say he’s basically Bizarro Jesus: Like Bizarro Superman, who’s like Superman on Opposite Day, Antichrist supposedly does everything Christ does, but for evil and twisted reasons.

But Christians are actually disagreed as to whether such an Antichrist still needs to show up first. After all, it’s been 20 centuries since the apostles wrote to the Thessalonians, and many antichrists, many lawbreakers, have come and gone… and fulfilled this prediction many, many times already. And if this is the case, nothing more needs to happen before Jesus returns.

Still, some Christians really have their hearts set on this Bizarro Jesus version of the beast, and are anxiously awaiting him far more than they’re hopefully awaiting Jesus.

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

by K.W. Leslie, 15 December

2 Peter 3.1-9.

I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.

This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.

And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.

2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL
1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—
2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,
commands of our Master and Savior.
3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to mock,
following however their own desires are going, 4 saying,
“How’s the promise of his second coming meant to work?—since the church fathers died over it,
same as everyone continues to die from the beginning of creation.”

See, the expectation of the first Christians was—same as now—that Jesus could return at any time. During their lifetimes, they expected. They hoped. They waited. If anyone’d told them Jesus still wouldn’t return for more than 20 centuries, I doubt they’d believe it. (Of course, if you spoke to them now, from their vantage point in paradise I’m pretty sure they have a better idea of what Jesus is up to.)

But you know how impatient humans can get. Even in the first century, they were taking crap from those naysayers who were wondering just how much time Jesus needed to put together his heavenly invasion. After all, the first generation of Christians were dying off. And didn’t Jesus say they’d live to see his return? Mk 13.30, Mt 24.34, Lk 21.32 (Not really. But you know how people will take any hint and just go nuts with it. Jn 21.22-23)

So part of the reason Simon wrote 2 Peter was to remind his readers of their original conviction. 2Pe 3.1 Either you trust what the prophets and apostles taught you, or you don’t. And they did warn us about naysayers, who follow their own urges instead of God’s messengers, 2Pe 3.3 who spin the second coming till it suits them better. Sometimes by imagining Jesus never will come; that instead we all die and go to him. Sometimes by creating intricate seven-year tribulational scenarios. However they work.

“Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 December

Isaiah 40.31.

Whenever I visit fellow Christians at their homes, a large number of ’em have a painting or sculpture of an eagle somewhere. Often it’s an American bald eagle, meant to express their patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores before it went bankrupt and shut down. Patriotic or not, if it was produced by Christians, it’s gonna be captioned with the following Isaiah verse:

Isaiah 40.31 KJV
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

The sentiment which really appeals to Christians, whether it’s blended with patriotism or not, is the idea the LORD, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even though the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 God can indefinitely renew our strength. Is 40.31

Well, if we trust in the LORD. Hopefully we do.

So it’s meant as encouragement for those of us whose batteries run low, thanks to working hard, playing hard, and otherwise doing a crappy job of resting. When we’re exhausted, God can recharge us. When our resources are taxed, God can replenish ’em. Many’s the time I’ve told my students, “I ran out of patience with you a long time ago; I’m tapping God’s patience now.” Tapping God’s dyamis power,” his dynamo of endless cosmic supply, is possible for every Christian.

Right? Well… now we get to the bit where Christians take this verse out of context.

When is Jesus returning?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December

Jesus is returning. But when?

That’s the question every Christian asks, whether it’s in the front of the back of our minds. When’s Jesus coming back? Sooner rather than later, we hope—though considering the past 20 centuries, he’s taking an awfully long time to get round to it.

What did Jesus himself have to say about it? Well, this. You’re not gonna like it.

Mark 13.32-37 KWL
32 Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.
Neither the heavenly angels, nor the Son. Just the Father.
33 Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.
34 It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.
He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.
35 So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.
Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.
37 What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”

In short: “I dunno. And even if I knew, I’m not telling. You just need to be continually ready for it. On your toes. No slacking. Alert. Stay awake!”

Well, some of us can handle that command. Others really can’t. It’s why they’re running round like Chicken Little: “The sky’s falling! The End is near!” Everything they see in the news—contrary to Jesus’s instructions that these sorts of things will happen, but it doesn’t make it the End yet Mk 13.7-8 —is nonetheless treated as if it fulfills End Times prophecy. “Prophecy scholars” have us all wound up fearing all sorts of boogeymen which, no fooling, aren’t even in the bible. Aren’t even hinted about in the bible—they have way more to do with the prophecy scholars’ loopy politics than scripture. It’s all dark Christianity and irrational panic. Stuff that’s far more devilish than godly.

On the other extreme, there are the Christians who are pretty sure Jesus is never coming back. ’Cause it’s been 1,984 years since he ascended to heaven, and assuming a conservative 30 years per generation, that’s 66 generations ago. (And don’t go reading anything into that number, wouldya? Yeesh.) Since Jesus doesn’t appear to be in any rush to return, patiently waiting for as many to be saved as possible, 2Pe 3.9 he might take another 66 generations to finish the job. If ever.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s wise to adopt either extreme. Jesus fully intends to come back. If he’s not returning for the world for another generation or two, bear in mind he’s totally coming for you personally. You’re gonna die someday. So will I. So will everyone. We don’t know when that will be. “Stay awake” is as good advice for our personal day of reckoning, as it is for the world’s.

Liturgy: A formula for worship.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Some Christians do better in a church with more structure.

LITURGY /'lɪd.ər.dʒi/ n. Detailed order of service for (Christian) worship.
2. [capitalized] The eucharistic service in an Orthodox church.
[Liturgical /lə'tər.dʒə.kəl/ adj., liturgist /'lɪd.ər.dʒəst/ n.]

Some churches—namely the older ones—are liturgical: They have a very particular order of service, and all the churches do it the same way. Go to nearly any Catholic church anywhere on the planet, and you’ll instantly find it familiar, because all of them use the very same prayer book, the Roman Missal. True, it’s been translated into all the local languages, but whether the service is in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, or Italian, it’ll be the very same order. Same bible readings. Same prayers. Same songs. Same everything. Everywhere.

Some Christians are bothered by this level of conformity. They don’t get it: The point isn’t conformity, but unity. All these Christians are worshiping God together, as one massive body of Christ, and that’s why they’re all saying the same things and praying the same prayers. When you’re off by yourself, having left the worship service, you’re entirely free to worship God as an individual: Sing what you like, pray what you pray, on your own. But once you’re together, you really are together. You, and every other Catholic on the planet. (Or every other Orthodox, or every other Anglican, or every other Lutheran.) It’s a powerful idea.

And it’s a comforting idea. For some Christians, churches which don’t do this are way too undisciplined.

Sure, the nonliturgical churches have a bit of a liturgy: Nearly every church follows an order of service of some kind, whether they print it in their bulletins or not. At my church, it’s three songs, announcements, offering, greeting one another, sermon, altar call, dismissal. But y’know, another church in my denomination might follow a whole other order. And sing different songs. Certainly pray different prayers. One congregation worships together, but not together on the level of a church where every congregation syncs up like Catholics.

But liturgical Christians feel there’s a little too much freedom in such churches. The music may not be theological enough for them. The extemporaneous prayers don’t do as good a job as rote prayers in teaching Christians how to pray. The preacher’s freedom to discuss any bible passage, means there’s a whole lot of bible which is never touched. (Fr’instance, when’s the last time you heard a message about one of the minor prophets?—and quoting one of their Messanic prophecies doesn’t count.)

Hence liturgical Christians prefer liturgical churches. There, they feel they’re particularly worshiping God together—with other Christians round the world, with other Christians throughout history, and growing with them rather than growing on our own.

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

When Jesus returns, it’s not gonna be a secret second coming. It’s not gonna be an event which only takes place metaphorically, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim; where they believe God’s kingdom began in 1914 but Jesus isn’t coming to earth till the final battle.

It’s not gonna be a secret gnostic event, which only the chosen few know about. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, where the Christians vanish and go to be with Jesus, and the rest of the planet has to wait seven years. It’s not secret. It’s nice and visible and obvious. As Jesus himself describes.

Matthew 24.23-28 KWL
23 “Then when anyone might tell you, ‘Look! Here’s Messiah!’ or ‘He’s here!’ don’t believe it:
24 Fake messiahs and fake prophets will arise, and will give great signs and wonders to deceive you.
If possible, to deceive God’s chosen people too.
25 Look, I’m forewarning you 26 so when people tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the wilderness!’ you don’t go out;
‘Look, he’s in the inner room!’ you don’t believe it.
27 For just as lightning comes from the east and appears in the west,
so will be the Son of Man’s second coming.
28 Wherever a corpse may be, there one will find eagles.”

That last line tends to confuse people—“Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” is how the NIV puts it. Certain dark Christians like to claim it implies judgment—that when Jesus returns, he’ll kill all the sinners, and carrion birds will feast on their flesh. Rv 19.8 ’Cause they take Revelation literally, but that’s not how to appropriately interpret it.

It’s not a judgment. It’s an epigram. “Where there’s a corpse, there’s eagles” is like saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” or “If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” If it obviously looks like Jesus has returned, that’s what happened. But if there’s anything iffy, or secretive, or “spiritual” about it—if it looks like nothing, but only “the chosen few” know about it—it’s a con. It is nothing.

When you read the Left Behind novels, or watch any of the movies where all the world’s Christians mysteriously vanish, you notice there are always pagans who argue, “We don’t know what that was,” and deny the disappearances had anything to do with Jesus. After all, Jesus didn’t appear! And if all the Christians in a given town vanish overnight, shouldn’t you suspect foul play? Doesn’t this secret-rapture idea make it disturbingly easy for anti-Christians to wipe us out and blame it on Jesus?

Thing is, it’s not at all how the scriptures describe the actual second coming of the Son of Man. Not Jesus, nor his apostles. It’ll be so obvious, everyone will see it, and know precisely what’s happening. Whether they believe their own eyes or not.

Humility, and the “cage-stage” Christian.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 December

The first principle of theology is humility—knowing who and what you are, and not claiming you’re anything more. Or, as we so often see in false humility, less.

That means we’re fully aware we’re wrong, and Jesus is right. The purpose of theology isn’t to believe we’ve “arrived,” and defend our newly-acquired high ground. It’s to correct our beliefs, poor character, and bad attitudes. Because they’re misbegotten and wayward. We may be redeemed, but they’re not. Bearing this in mind, with the Holy Spirit’s help and power, the goal is to get those traits to match Jesus’s.

The problem? A lot of Christians have utterly skipped that first theology lesson. Or weren’t paying attention, ’cause they were too busy staring at the syllabus. Or promptly forgot all about it, ’cause all their new knowledge puffed ’em up. However it happened.

Hence they imagine theology’s first principle is, “I was wrong—but now I’m not. Jesus fixed me.” When he gave us new life, supposedly he gave us a new nature—his nature—so now we have the mind of Christ. 1Co 2.16 We think like Jesus does… or he thinks like we do; it’s all the same. We have arrived.


As Calvinist cartoonist Adam Ford depicts it. They don’t always foam at the mouth though. Adam 4d

I run into Christians with this mindset all the time. They’d be the folks who email me to explain, patiently or not, why I’m completely wrong. Or who show up on discussion boards to loudly, angrily correct everybody who varies ever so slightly with their infallible doctrines. Back when they were pagan, they’d get this way about plenty of other subjects, like politics and Star Wars. Now they do it with doctrine. Or apologetics.

There’s a term the Calvinists use when their young, overzealous theologians get like this—when they’re so enthusiastic about “the doctrines of grace,” they forget to be gracious altogether. Calvinists call it “the cage stage.”

The cage-stager is as eager to defend their theological territory as a junkyard dog. They’ll fight anyone. Even friends: You might believe precisely the same as they, but if (God forbid) you misstate the slightest idea, the cage-stager will tear your throat out. Best to lock ’em in a cage till they calm the heck down. Hence “cage stage”: Lots of knowledge, very little love.

Calvinists may have coined the term, and may be notorious for the behavior. But lemme tell ya, by no means do they have a monopoly on it. I’ve met cage-stage Fundamentalists, Catholics, people in my own denomination, people in heretic denominations. I’ve encountered cage-stage Jews and Muslims too. The phenomenon’s all over Christendom.

It’s a pitfall many Christians (myself included) fall right into during our early days of following Jesus. The devil’d love every Christian to fall into it, ’cause it nullifies much of the work we do for God’s kingdom. We’re too busy denouncing ideas, sins, and people we hate, to ever get round to loving people, and winning them to Jesus through our kindness and love. ’Cause screw kindness and love; there are doctrines to defend!

Jesus describes his second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 December

The first hint we have that Jesus is arranging a second coming—that he’s not taking possession of his kingdom during his first coming—appears in the Olivet Discourse, the bit in Mark 13, Matthew 24-25, and Luke 21, where Jesus answered his students’ question about a future disaster he’d just casually referred to. Mk 13.1-2, Mt 24.1-2, Lk 21.5-6

In each gospel’s version of the discourse, Jesus brought up the persecution of his followers, a particular time of great suffering which’d take place in Jerusalem, and fake Messiahs and prophets who’d try to lead them astray. But afterwards, this:

Mark 13.24-27 KWL
24 “But in those days after that suffering:
‘The sun will be darkened and the moon won’t give its light.’ Ek 32.7
25 The stars will be falling from the skies; the heavenly powers will be shaken.
26 Then people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ Da 7.13 with great power and glory.
27 Then he’ll send angels, and gather together his chosen ones from the four winds,
from the earth’s edge to heaven’s edge.”

Where’s Jesus during this suffering and persecution? Apparently not here. Which meant he was gonna leave. Which is not what his students were expecting. Even though he repeatedly told ’em they were going to Jerusalem where he’d be killed, Mk 8.31-32, 9.31, 10.33 they expected they were going to Jerusalem for him to conquer it. Even after he was raised, they expected him to take it over at that time! Ac 1.6 Fond beliefs are awfully hard to give up.

I don’t blame ’em for wanting Jesus to take over Jerusalem immediately. I want him to do that too. But first things first. First the period of suffering, like the bit where Jerusalem fell to the Romans, who performed horrible atrocities on its inhabitants in the year 70. Then the persecution of Jesus’s followers, which—despite large breaks, and powerful sanctuary nations like the United States—continue to this very day, in the millions, far more than there have ever been. And of course fake Messiahs and prophets, which we have in the States as well, ’cause comfortable Christians are way easier to lead astray than those who depend on God minute by minute.

The conditions are right for Jesus to return at any instant. The sooner the better. Come Lord Jesus!

The bible: An inspired anthology.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November

God got people to write ’em. And God gets people to understand ’em.

Inspire /ɪn.spaɪ(.ə)r/ v. Breathe in (air); inhale.
2. Fill with a positive, creative feeling; encourage.
3. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something; provoke.
[Inspiration /ɪn.spə'reɪ.ʃən/ n.]

Whenever we Christians talk about inspiration—inspired prophets, teachings, and writings—it’s assumed God did the inspiring. He’s the one who breathed into us. One word we regularly translate “inspired” is theó-pnefstos/“God-breathed,” which is how the NIV prefers to treat “God-inspired” in this verse:

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every God-inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

It’s more than just “I was so excited about my thoughts of God, I decided to create this for him.” It’s God involved with, and behind, this creation process. The Holy Spirit, living within the teacher, prophet, or author, pointed ’em God-ward. Got ’em to describe God with infallible accuracy.

This is what Christians tend to believe about the books and letters which make up the bible: It’s inspired. The Holy Spirit got its authors to describe God with infallible accuracy.

Some of us believe it’s not true of anything else: God inspired the bible, but he’s not inspired anything or anyone since. Which is bunk; of course he has. But Christians aren’t universally agreed about anything other than the bible. (And not all that universally on the bible.) God inspired the bible… but whether he inspired anyone since, is kinda left up to our best judgment… which ain’t all that consistent.

In any event, those who think the bible is inspired, but nothing and no one else is, tend to wander into bibliolatry, which is a whole ’nother problem. And it’s downright weird to hear continuationists, Christians who believe God still speaks to his people directly or through prophets, unthinkingly repeat the claim nothing but the bible is inspired. It stuns ’em when I point out how their beliefs contradict one another. (People aren’t always aware of how much bad theology they have floating around in ’em.)

Fact is, if human beings can’t or couldn’t be inspired, we wouldn’t even have a bible. ’Cause inspired people wrote it, inspired Christians compiled it, and inspired Christians uphold it. True, these inspired people were and are fallible humans. But as people follow the Holy Spirit, he guides us to truth, Jn 16.13 and steers us clear of sin and error. In the moment, we can (and do) write and prophesy infallible stuff. Once done, we might (heck, do) slip up, sin, and make mistakes, and fall right back into fallibility. But the stuff done by the Spirit’s power is still good. The writings in the bible are still authoritative. So we kept ’em.

God’s unmerited favor.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 November

When the LORD chose Avram ben Terah, renamed him Abraham, Ge 17.5 promised him the land of Kenahan/“Canaan” and had him relocate there, Ge 12.1-3 and promised him an uncountable number of descendants, Ge 13.16 it wasn't because Abraham was a good man.

You might’ve known this, but in case you didn’t, go read Genesis again sometime. Most of the Abraham stories involve him screwing up one way or another. Abraham had loads of faith, but that was the product of his God-experiences; it came after God made all his promises. Abraham wasn't a particularly outstanding specimen of humanity.

So why'd the LORD establish a relationship with him and his descendants? Grace. Pure grace.

When the LORD sent Moses to rescue some of Abraham’s descendants from Egypt, patiently dealt with all these Hebrews’ misbehavior thereafter, and finally got their descendants to Canaan and helped them take the land, it again wasn’t because the Hebrews were good people. Read Exodus and Numbers: Without constant supervision, they’d go idolatrous within a month! Miraculously supply ’em with daily bread, and they’d still grumble they had it better in Egypt… despite all the slavery and infanticide. The Hebrews were just awful to their God. So why’d the LORD even bother with them? ’Cause he promised Abraham he would. Dt 7.7-8 ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

When Jesus decided to save me, what had I done to merit saving? Not a thing. I was a little kid. Not a good little kid either. I could be a tantrum-throwing brat when I didn’t get my way. (I still can be, which is why I gotta keep that misbehavior in check. God help my poor nurses if ever I go senile.) Plenty of Christians will easily confess they were just as rotten when they first encountered Jesus. Why’d he save us anyway? ’Cause he loves us. ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

Christians love to describe grace as “unmerited favor.” It’s more than that—it’s God’s entire attitude towards us, which includes unmerited favor. And often we forget the unmerited part: It really isn’t deserved at all. Totally unfair. Often inappropriate. It breaks all the rules of karma. We shouldn’t get it!

Hence there are a lot of people, Christians included, who still strive to achieve good karma. Who try their darnedest to be good people, try to balance out any bad in their lives, and make it so they do merit God’s good favor. Who think the whole purpose of good deeds is to make ourselves worthy of heaven. They forget God doesn’t work like that. At all. He forgave us already. He makes us worthy of heaven. Ep 1.15-23

Why? Nah; I’m not gonna repeat it just now. Go back and read it again.

Patience. Or longsuffering. Either.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 November

How angry Christians lack it, and how to work on it.

Years ago I casually mentioned to someone I was praying for greater patience.

He. “Aw, why would you do that to yourself?”
Me. “Why, what’s the problem?”
He. “You realize how God teaches you patience, right?”
Me. “Of course. He’s gonna make me practice.”
He. “And life’s gonna suck. You’re gonna wind up in more situations where you gotta be patient. You’ll have to wait for everything.”
Me. “So everybody’s been telling me. They’ve been about as encouraging as Satan itself. You sure it didn’t send you? Get thee behind me.”

Yeah, don’t tell the dude who’s struggling with patience that his life’s about to suck. He’ll turn on you.

But it’s something we Christians need to strive for. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, one of the ways love behaves, and impatient Christians wind up exhibiting works of the flesh like anger, unforgiveness, argumentativeness, and unkindness. Much of the reason Christians get a bad reputation with pagans is because of how we get when we’re impatient—and how we justify the impatient behavior with cheap grace. Not cool, folks.

However. Strive to actually attain patience, and we’re gonna come across Christians who thick-headedly joke, “Oh, you’re praying for patience? Good luck with all that. Man are you gonna get reamed with it.” Again: Not cool.

True, there’s a faction of Christians who imagine once we become Christian, the Holy Spirit downloads fruit into our character like a scene from The Matrix. Doesn’t work that way. Wish it did. But these Christians, imagining they somehow have patience even though their behavior proves they don’t, try to interpret all sorts of other things as patience. Most commonly despair: Just give up. Quit striving. Stop hoping. (And quit feeling.)

The rest of us recognize God wants his kids to be patient like he is. So we gotta bite the bullet and pray for patience. And yes we’re gonna slam into a lot of situations where we simply gotta wait things out.

But don’t forget: God is kind. When we get into those situations, we who seek God’s patience are gonna find we’re somehow, somehow, actually able to bear them. Before, we’d lose our cool in minutes. Now we don’t. (True, some of us now take a few more minutes. It’s still more.) We acted in faith, and the Spirit’s reply was to grant us his patience.

See, all those nimrods who tell us, “Ooh, you prayed for patience; now life’s gonna suck” have forgot God is kind. He’s not interested in developing our characters through suffering. That’s how humans behave. That’s how parents and drill sergeants work. God’s not a jerk. He develops our character through our obedience. Not through our disobedience, so now we gotta pay some sort of karmic debt. That’s not grace, and God does grace.

So when we seek God and strive to obey him, when we put our faith in his ability to equip us for every good work, he gives us opportunities to practice that obedience, and he empowers us with those very traits we’re looking for.

God’s a relational being. So—no surprise—he wants us to develop fruit through the relationships which we have with other people. Think of it as hands-on experience. ’Cause once we have the hang of it, we’ll have to apply that patience towards every future relationship we develop with new people. Including some people whom we’ll need to be very patient with. But in the meanwhile, we gotta work on being patient with friends, family… and enemies.

Yeah, that’s no fun sometimes. Do it anyway.

“…But what if that message is from the devil?”

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November

On psyching ourselves out of sharing.

In my early days of learning what God’s voice sounds like, from time to time an idea’d pop into my head, and I’d wonder—as one should—whether the idea was mine, God’s… or Satan’s.

I kinda blame my Fundamentalist upbringing. Y’see, there were a number of people in that church who insisted God doesn’t talk to people anymore, and anybody who claimed to hear from God was really hearing Satan. The effect is it makes a lot of Christians really wary of prophets. And, because the Holy Spirit actually does speak, really wary of listening to God for themselves.

So I’d be at a bus stop, and the idea’d pop into my head, “Go tell that person ‘God bless you.’ ”

And my knee-jerk reaction would be, “Is that God’s voice, mine, or Satan’s? After all, what if that person’s really anti-God right now, and my ‘God bless you’ prompts some sort of angry tirade? What if that person’s a cult member who sees this as an opportunity to try to convert me? What if…? What if…?” and so forth.

Okay. Back away from the Fear for a moment, and consider this rationally: Why on earth would Satan want anyone to be blessed? And thanks to my paranoid knee-jerk reaction, this obviously ain’t my idea.

Simple process of elimination: God wants this person to hear, “God bless you.” Not necessarily because it’ll have a profound impact on them (although in my experience, sometimes it does). Or an impact on ’em yet. But more positivity in the world? More grace? More love? What’s the problem?

Well, other than me. Most of the time my long lists of “What if?…” meant I’d talk myself out of doing anything. Humanity’s usual practice is to avoid risks, to listen to that self-preservation instinct, even when it’s cranked too high, and the devil’s poking at us to crank it even higher by inserting ridiculous worst-case scenarios into our minds.

But y’see, our unwillingness to act, our willingness to listen to the Fear, is what kills growth in our ability to hear God. Because if we’re not gonna listen and follow, the Holy Spirit’s not gonna bother to give us instructions. And that’s most of what he tells us. Not little feel-good nuggets of wisdom, suitable for sermon topics and happy thoughts. He wants obedience. Same as always.

So how do we break this cycle of hearing, but holding back?

It’s best we get prepared. Figure out the appropriate reaction to when the Spirit drops something into us. Then follow that—instead of our knee-jerk worries which lead us to do nothing.

Changing God’s mind.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 November

And those who say God never changes his mind.

If you know your bible—heck, if you’ve seen The Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston—you know the Hebrews had a major lapse when they were at Sinai. The previous month, the LORD handed down his 10 commandments, then Moses went up the mountain to get more instructions, and while he was gone the people decided they wanted an idol. Whether this idol was meant to represent the LORD or some other god, we don’t know. What we do know is the idol violated the very command the LORD handed down last month. Ex 20.4-6

Understandably, the LORD was pissed.

Exodus 32.9-14 KWL
9 The LORD told Moses, “I see this people. Look, the people are stiff-necked.
10 Now leave me: My rage is hot towards them. I’ll end them. I’ll make you a great nation.”
11 Moses begged his LORD God’s face, saying, “Why this hot anger towards your people, LORD?
You brought them of Egypt’s land with great strength and a steady hand.
12 What will the Egyptians say?
‘He brought them out for evil, to kill them in the mountains, to end them from the face of the earth.’
Repent of your hot anger! Relent of the evil you plan for your people!
13 Remember your slaves Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
You swore by yourself to them when you spoke to them:
‘I’ll increase your seed like stars of the sky.
I give your seed all this land, like I said. They’ll have it forever.’ ”
14 And the LORD relented of the evil he said he’d do to his people.

That’s right. The Almighty backed down. A lowly human got him to do it.

And it’s not the only passage in the bible where God changed his mind. There are dozens. Here’s a few notable instances:

  • God regretted making humans. Ge 6.5-7
  • God regretted making Saul king. 1Sa 15.11
  • God relented from destroying Jerusalem with plague. 2Sa 24.16, 1Ch 21.15
  • God showed Amos two visions that he immediately took back after Amos protested. Am 7.3, 6
  • If a nation repents, God takes back the disaster he had planned for it. Jr 18.8, 26.3, 26.13, Jl 2.13-14, Ps 106.45 Like Judah Jr 26.19 and like Nineveh. Jh 3.10
  • If a nation goes rogue, God takes back the good he had planned for it. Jr 18.8, 10 And gets really tired of doing this. Jr 15.6
  • We used to be God's enemies, but now we're his friends. Ro 5.6-11

Problem is, this flies in the face of the beliefs of many Christians. Because they don’t believe God changes his mind. Ever. At all.

Graceless advice.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 November
Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. Sometimes to share the advice with everyone… sometimes for yuks.

I don’t really have to remind people that TXAB has an email link. I get questions on a fairly regular basis about all sorts of stuff. Usually asking my opinion about various Christian practices and movements, which I often wind up turning into TXAB articles on the subject.

And sometimes people ask for personal advice, which I’m much less likely to turn into TXAB articles. ’Cause they’re dealing with particular specific things. If I just posted these emails for the whole of the internet to read, it feels like a huge invasion of privacy. Even if I heavily censored them. The rare times I’ve done it, I tend to rewrite them entirely, which is why they kinda sound like me.

Not that this stops the various advice ladies from doing this on a daily or weekly basis. But then again, the people who send them questions know precisely what they’re getting into. If you send “Dear Abby” a letter, it’s gonna get published. So, best you hide certain details, because you don’t want the neighbors to deduce who you are, or who your spouse is. Sometimes people hide too many details for fear of getting outed, which means “Abby” can’t give an accurate diagnosis, which is why professional therapists aren’t always happy with the advice ladies.

Whereas the people who send me stuff obviously don’t expect me to blab this stuff all over the internet. ’Cause they do share confidences, hoping I’ll keep them. Which I will, with some caveats.

But there are limits to my expertise. I get a lot of questions about depression. Not because I suffer from it myself, but because a lot of people just plain do suffer from it. And when they go to their fellow Christians, they’re often given the lousy advice to try and pray it away. I regularly remind these people they need to see a doctor. Depression is a legitimate medical condition, and I’m not a psychiatrist. (My graduate psych classes dealt with education, not mental illness.) Go talk with a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t just send an email to some blogger: Go get actual help.

And if you read the advice ladies, they’ll often advise the very same thing. There’s still a lot of stigma in our culture against seeing a psychiatrist. Too many people think a mental disorder isn’t an illness, but a moral failure, caused by sin, exacerbated by devils. Exactly like the people of Jesus’s day thought of physical disorders:

John 9.1-2 KWL
1 Passing by, Jesus saw a person who was blind since birth.
2 Questioning him, Jesus’s students said, “Rabbi, who sinned? He or his parents?”
because he was blind since birth.

Jesus had to state, “Neither,” then cure the guy. But to this day people still act as if a birth defect is an “act of God,” and still act as if depression is because of some unconfessed sin or something. We’re so quick to judge, and slow to help.

Judging—which we Christians are allowed to do with one another, 1Co 5.12 provided we don’t use double standards—is a fairly simple process when we have an easy-to-understand scripture. If you’re asking me about bible, most of the time the scriptures are cut-and-dried, and I can easily tell you about ’em. I can give as quick a decision as any small-claims court show, like Judge Judy, who wraps up those cases really fast when the law is clear. I’ll just quote the appropriate proof text, bang the gavel (metaphorically; I don’t actually own one, and I’m not using my hammer on my wooden desk), and we’re done.

But most of the questions I get aren’t black and white. If they were, most people woulda figured ’em out themselves. They’re about debatable interpretations of the bible, and people figure they need an expert to help ’em navigate, figure I sound like I know what I’m talking about, so they come to me. But unlike a know-it-all apologist or “bible answer man,” I’m slow to judge. I’ll tell you what I think it looks like. I’m not gonna condemn you if you honestly come to another conclusion. You gotta stay true to your conscience, Ro 14.1-4 as do I. I’ve no business declaring you wrong; what do I know?

So I’d likely make a really unentertaining advice lady. What people want are snap decisions, and I don’t always have one of those.

“Prophecy scholars”: Neither prophets nor scholars.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 November

I’m Pentecostal. So whenever I see an notice or ad for an upcoming “prophecy conference,” they tend to refer to prophets. Actual prophets. Meaning people who’ve learned to listen to the Holy Spirit—and thereafter share with others what he’s told them. True, some of ’em practice some really iffy methods of identifying his voice. But when Penecostals, charismatics, and most continuationists refer to prophecy, we literally mean the same thing we see done in the bible by Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Simon Peter, and Paul of Tarsus. They heard God; they shared what they figured he told ’em; that’s prophecy.

Outside Pentecostal circles—though not far outside Pentecostal circles, ’cause from time to time it gets in here—is a whole other type of “prophecy conference.” There, they aren’t at all talking about hearing God. They mean predictions about the End Times. They’re throwing a conference ’cause they wanna tell you what they think the apocalypses mean.

Um… didn’t God deliberately make those visions difficult to interpret, their details near-impossible to pin down, lest people try to make their own plans for the future which do an end-run around him? Well, insist these “prophecy scholars,” not really. ’Cause they were able to figure ’em out. They got a system!

Yep, figured out how to connect the dots. They were more discerning, more clever, more devout, more studied, more fervent, than all the other Christians before them. All the supposedly level-headed folks who insist we’re not to bounce to conclusions based on coincidence and fear-based illogic: They’re wearing blinders. Wake up, sheeple!

So come to their conferences. Pay the admission. Buy their books. Donate to their ministries. Subscribe to their websites. Hire them to preach at your churches. ’Cause they’re not giving away their teachings for free, y’know. They gotta pay the bills.

Anyway if you ever make the mistake of going to the conferences, led by “noted prophecy scholars” (many of whom you’ve never even heard of, unless you or your church have already blown hundreds of dollars a year on their stuff), you’ll notice their definition of “prophecy” is precisely the same as that of pagans. In other words, prophecy isn’t hearing from God; it’s about predicting the future. It’s only about the future. And, warn these guys, it’s likely the near future!

Well okay, they’ve been claiming that for the past two centuries. But unlike their prophecy-scholar forebears, their interpretations are gonna be correct. ’Cause discernment, cleverness, devotion, study, yada yada yada.

The legion of evil spirits.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 November

Jesus meets a man filled with thousands of demons.

Mark 5.1-10 • Matthew 8.28-29 • Luke 8.26-31

Let’s begin with ancient northern Israel’s geography. First there’s Kinneret, the lake.


The Galilean sea.

On its northeast was the province of the Galilee, named for the word galýl/“circle,” referring to its circle of towns. Jesus lived there. On its west was the Dekápolis/“10 cities,” a region of Syrian Greek city-provinces created by the Romans after they conquered Syria in 65BC. Jesus visited this territory often, and it’s where today’s story takes place.

In Old Testament days the Dekápolis belonged to the Hebrews. Today part of it is called the Golan Heights. In Jesus’s day, even though it was full of Greek-speaking Syrians, it was still considered part of Israel, and still part of the territory Antipas Herod supervised. But it was full of gentile, Greek-enculturated pagans. They weren’t even Hebrew like the Palestinians are.

By Greek-enculturated I mean they lived like Greeks. Alexander of Macedon had pushed his own culture everywhere he went, and in fourth-century BC Syria it seriously took hold. Greek language, Greek dress, Greek food, Greek religion. The Syrians worshiped a mixture of Syrian, Canaanite, and Greek gods. I’ve been to their ruins; these people weren’t Jews by any stretch of the imagination. They were so Greek, whenever Jews thought of gentiles, they thought of these guys… and thought of Greeks.

The ruins include lots of monuments to Greek deities. The major deities were called theoí/“gods,” and the lesser deities were called daimónia/“demons.” Or as the KJV calls them, devils. To the Christian mind, all these deities are devils. 1Co 10.19-20 And they were everywhere. Anything and everything was dedicated to a god or demon. Every monument was set up to honor something or someone. If a noble human, there was a caveat that the monument also honored whatever guardian demon protected that person, so when you remembered the person, you were meant to also worship their demon. The hillside was full of these monuments. You could see them from the beach.

And that’s where our story begins: Jesus and his students, after crossing the lake, landed on the beach, in full view of a cluster of monuments. And in full view of some wild man who was living among the monuments, who eagerly—and in utter terror—rushed down to meet him.

Was he of two minds about meeting Jesus? More like of 2,001 minds. Dude was full of devils.

Jesus stops the weather.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 November

Mark 4.35-41, Matthew 8.18, 23-27, Luke 8.22-25.

Right before this story, Jesus had a really long day. He’d been teaching the crowds, likely healing the sick, and he needed some sack time. So he got the idea to cross the Galilee’s lake.

Mark 4.35-36 KWL
35 Jesus told them when that day became evening, “Can we cross to the far side?”
36 Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus as-is into the boat. Other boats came with him.
Matthew 8.18 KWL
Jesus, seeing a crowd round him, ordered his students to go to the far side of the lake.
Luke 8.22 KWL
This happened one day: Jesus entered a boat with his students
and told them, “Can we cross to the far side of the lake?”
Matthew 8.23 KWL
Entering the boat, Jesus’s students followed him.

Luke called this particular body of water a λίμνης/límnis, “lake,” although the New Testament frequently refer to it as a θάλασσα/thálassa, “sea.” Homer used it to refer to the Mediterranean, but ancient Greeks really just meant any large body of water. Properly, our English word “sea” is saltwater, and connected to the ocean. (It’s why the way-bigger Great Lakes aren’t seas: Connected to the ocean, but they’re freshwater.) This lake is freshwater, 166 square kilometers (64 square miles), and 212 meters below sea level. Mark Twain liked to compare it to Lake Tahoe, which is in my part of the world—but Tahoe is a mile high and 490 square kilometers, so I’m figuring Twain just eyeballed it.


The Galilee’s lake/“sea.”

Today, and originally, it was called Kinneret. Nu 34.11 In Greek this became Γεννησαρέτ/Ghennisarét (KJV “Gennesaret,” Mt 14.34, Mk 6.53, Lk 5.1) but the Galilee’s ruler Antipas Herod had renamed it “Tiberias” Jn 6.1 to suck up to the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus. The locals weren’t fans of the emperor, nor the new name. Obviously some of ’em still used the original. But if you were in earshot of some Herodian who wanted to demand you only call it “Tiberias,” you could get away with calling it “the Galilee’s lake.”

I crossed it on a speedboat, which took about an hour. By way of comparison, Jesus’s students were sailing, which takes longer, unless you’re rowing, which takes even longer.

So Jesus, who had a nice comfortable cushion to rest on, expected to catch a few hours’ shuteye. But Kinneret is notorious for its unpredictable weather.

Mark 4.37-38 KWL
37 A great windstorm began. Waves were throwing water into the boat, so the boat was already filled.
38 Jesus was in the stern on a cushion, sleeping.
The students roused him and told him, “Teacher, don’t you care we’re dying?”
Matthew 8.24-25 KWL
24 Look, a great shaking happened on the lake, causing the boat to be covered in waves.
Jesus was asleep, 25 and coming to rouse Jesus, they said, “Master! Save us! We’re dying!”
Luke 8.23-24 KWL
23 Jesus fell asleep while they sailed.
A windstorm came down on the lake, and they were swamped and in danger.
24A Coming to awaken Jesus, they said, “Chief, chief, we’re dying!”

Matthew describes it as a great σεισμὸς/seismós, “shaking,” a word we tend to use for earthquakes, and maybe an earthquake triggered the storm. Regardless this windstorm was big; anywhere between a strong wind and hurricane. It meant they had to reef the sail and row, but the winds were enough to swamp the boat. They were in danger of capsizing.

Yet none of this woke Jesus. Which Christians have historically interpreted as a likely-supernatural confidence in his Father to keep him alive to complete his mission, but y’know, Jesus might have been just that tired.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

by K.W. Leslie, 06 November

Psalm 46.10.

Most people shorten this verse to simply, “Be still and know that I am God.” But sometimes they actually do know the entire verse:

Psalm 46.10 KJV
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

When people do remember the rest of this verse, they tend to recall (and prefer) a translation without that bothersome word “heathen” in it. The word goyím properly means “foreigners,” which we also translate “foreigners” or “nations”—the Amplified Bible, ESV, NASB, and NIV went with “I will be exalted among the nations,” which works better for them. Be still, know God is God, and if everybody can just chill out and meditate for a bit, God can be exalted by all the nations, round the world.

Yeah, this tends to be considered a meditation verse. I’ve been in prayer groups where Christians have talked about meditation, and they misquote Psalm 46.10 all the time. “Remember, we’re just trying to be still and know God is God.”

Other times Christians wanna encourage one another to relax. People get agitated, emotional, panicky, flustered, and once again Psalm 46.10 pops up: “You need to just be still and know God is God. God’s on the throne. He can solve every problem.” Or less patiently, “Can you be still for a minute, and know God is God?”

Actually, this less-than-patient last example, though still wrong, is closest to what Korah’s sons were talking about in this particular psalm.

Tongues trigger emotion. Don’t let that misdirect you.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 November

It’s an emotional experience to pray with God’s power. But we’re called to more than that.

1 Corinthians 14.20-21.

Praying in tongues is an emotional thing.

Y’see, when we pray tongues, it’s usually because we aren’t sure what to say to God. We’re too overwrought to say anything. Or there are so many thoughts in our head, and we can’t sort out what to prioritize. Or we don’t even know what’s going on, so we can’t articulate anything, but we know we oughta pray. Or we have prayed, but it wasn’t enough. For these and many other reasons, the Holy Spirit has granted us the ability to let him say it for us. Ro 8.26 But y’notice in all the circumstances I listed (and the dozens I haven’t), emotion’s a big part of it.

Here’s the catch. It’s also possible to pray tongues when we don’t know what to pray—but initially, feel nothing. That’s right. We haven’t resorted to tongues because we wanna pray; we’ve resorted to tongues because we wanna feel. We’re seeking the emotion which comes along with prayer-tongues. Less so God.

And the symptom of that problem is when we’re not praying with our minds.

1 Corinthians 14.14 KWL
When I pray tongues, my spirit prays. My mind isn’t fruitful.

When we’re praying tongues (or rote prayers,) we should engage our minds. Prayer’s about communicating with God, not getting a heavenly buzz. So there should be some communication on our part, right? Some thought about what to tell God, how to praise him, our needs, others’ needs, even what scriptures we’ve been turning over in our minds. Never pray brain-dead. Turns too easily into dead religion.

Okay. The anti-tongues crowd don’t really care about any of this stuff. They’re just looking for an excuse to ban tongues. So whenever they get any hint we’re praying brain-dead, they pounce. Blow it up into something profoundly awful, some form of egregious sin. If we pray tongues, but in any way aren’t praying mentally (that is, enough for their satisfaction), they figure ’tis better we didn’t pray at all.

Which is completely wrong. Tongues are good! They build us up, 1Co 14.4 because they’re prayer. Since when is prayer bad? Okay, yes, when we have wrong motives. When we’re praying for the wrong things. Jm 4.3 But God doesn’t have to answer such prayers with yes. And if we’re listening to him as we should be, the Holy Spirit can always straighten out our defective motives.

Hence Paul and Sosthenes’ simple solution to the problem of mindless prayer:

1 Corinthians 14.15 KWL
Why is this? I’ll pray by my spirit; I’ll pray by my mind.
I’ll sing by my spirit; I’ll sing by my mind.

Anyway. I bring up mindless prayer ’cause I’m focusing on the emotional dimension of tongues. It gets to the core of why the apostles had to correct the ancient Corinthians about their prayer practices: They, too, were praying in tongues for all the wrong reasons.

Bibliolatry: When Christians straight-up worship the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 November

Christianity is based on the person and work of Christ Jesus.

I hope you knew this already. Most of us do. But you’re gonna find a strain of Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, who consider Christianity to be based on the bible. As a result they’ve exalted the bible to a really high position in their belief system. Nearly as high as God. Sometimes even higher, and we call that bibliolatry. They call it all sorts of other things—a “high view of scripture,” or love and respect for God’s holy word, or Christian apologetics in which they argue for the bible’s centrality and preeminence. But Jesus is meant to be center and preeminent, and if you put anything else there, it’s idolatry. Even when it’s the bible.

In my experience, bible-worship tends to happen most often among cessationists. No, they’re hardly the only ones who do it. But once you insist God turned off the miracles, and won’t talk to us anymore, what’re you left with? Well, your bibles. And this is why they exalt their bibles: It’s the only thing they have left of God. It’s like if your mother abandoned you as a child, but left you a note saying she loves you: You’re gonna cling to that note, and make it the most precious thing you own. (Or you’re gonna bitterly throw it out, but I’m not discussing apostasy today.) It tends to become a substitute for your mother—and for cessationists, the bible’s become the substitute for their Father.

Or the Holy Spirit, ’cause they imagine his only job nowadays is to give ’em a warm fuzzy “inspired” feeling whenever they’ve correctly understood the scriptures. Or Jesus, ’cause they argue the only way to have a relationship with him is to read about him—as opposed to talking with him, obeying him, getting empowered by him, and all the stuff which constitute the actual Christian life. Nope, if they reject such experiences ’cause they imagine they don’t happen anymore, they won’t know him. Just about him.

So insult the bible, or show it what they consider a lack of respect, and they figure we’ve committed blasphemy. They’ll even call it that; as if we could slander a bible. It must be treated with nothing but the greatest reverence. Never set your bible on the floor. Never doodle in it. Never toss it onto a table. Protect it in the biggest, thickest bible covers. To treat it as an ordinary book, is as if we treated God with anything other than majesty.

Heck, some of ’em aren’t even hiding their idolatry. They’ll actually say God and the bible are equivalent.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

by K.W. Leslie, 24 October

When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, one of the most common platitudes we hear thereafter is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

In the past several years the expression has seen a bit of backlash. Mainly because the people who say it have turned it into an empty, hypocritical saying. By their actions, they demonstrate they’re not really thinking of the disaster victims. And either they’re also not praying, or they’re praying in some manner that doesn’t change ’em whatsoever—contrary to how we all know prayer is supposed to work.

To be fair, some of the backlash comes from nontheists who are pretty sure prayer is bunk: Nobody’s listening, so we Christians are only talking to the sky; nobody’s interacting with us, so we Christians aren’t gonna change. Prayers are therefore just as useless as when some pagans attempt to send positive thoughts, vibes, and energy towards the needy: All they actually do is psyche themselves into feeling really happy things, then feel a little burst of euphoria which they figure is them “releasing” those thoughts into the universe—and then they’re back to life as usual. Unless the happy thoughts get ’em to deliberately behave in more positive, productive ways towards those around them, the universe is no different. Nor better.

Give you an example. One of the United States’ recent mass shootings might take out more masses than usual. The news media covers it like crazy; the public is horrified; the usual senators tweet that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims and their families. And those who want gun restrictions object: These particular senators aren’t gonna change the gun laws whatsoever. If anything they’ll try all the harder to eliminate gun restrictions. Which means more mass shootings are inevitable. So what good are those senators’ thoughts and prayers?

I mean, functionally it’s the same as when James objected to “faith” which lacked works:

James 2.14-17 KWL
14 What’s the point, my fellow Christians, when anyone claims to have faith and takes no action?
This “faith” doesn’t save them.
15 When a Christian brother or sister becomes destitute, lacks daily food,
16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace! May you be warm and fed,”
and doesn’t give them anything useful for their body, what’s the point?
17 This “faith,” when it takes no action, is dead to the core.

Our “thoughts and prayers” frequently aren’t any different than wishing the needy well, but doing nothing to make ’em less needy. Sometimes out of our own laziness, sometimes our own ill will. And the needy aren’t dense. They see the irreligiousness of it. They’re calling us on it. Rightly so.

If our thoughts and prayers do nothing, our faith is dead.

“Train up a child…”

by K.W. Leslie, 23 October

Proverbs 22.6.

This particular proverb, best known in the King James version—

Proverbs 22.6 KJV
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

—has brought a lot of comfort to a lot of Christians whose kids don’t appear to be going anywhere close to the way they should go.

After high school, a lot of the kids from my church youth group didn’t stay in church. Some of us did, and some of us went away to school… and the rest decided since they were adults now, they could choose to go to church or not. So they chose not. To the great consternation of their parents, who thought they raised their kids better than that. They really didn’t.

In despair, the parents turned to this proverb. The way they chose to interpret it: Yeah, the kids had quit Jesus, but the parents had trained ’em up in the way they should go. They’d raised ’em Christian. Took ’em to church. Made ’em pray before meals. Sent ’em to church camps and youth groups and youth pastors who’d tell them about Jesus. Voiced their political opinions, and they’re pretty sure Jesus feels exactly the same way they do. It wasn’t disciplined, focused, intentional, or systematic, but they did kinda lay the groundwork for the kids to come back.

So if the proverb is a promise—and that’s precisely how they cling to it—the kids will one day see the error of their ways, repent, and return to the values they were raised with. The kids’ll go through a brief period of rebellion, their own personal rumspringa, but when they’re old—hopefully not that old—they’ll be back.

The “out of context” header might’ve tipped you off to the fact this view is entirely incorrect. Lot of blind optimism behind it. Lot of wishful thinking. But doesn’t usually happen. I still know quite a few of those youth group kids, now in their 40s, same as me. Still not Christian. Some of ’em think they are, but really they’re just Christianist. Others are “spiritual, not religious,” or joined another religion like Buddhism, or went nontheist.

There are a lot of non-practicing Christians who slide back into Christianity as soon as they have kids: They realize they’ve gotta pass down their morals to their children, and since they have none, they go with Jesus’s… and realize they don’t know his morals as well as they thought, so they go to church to rectify that. Which is great, ’cause it’s what gets young families into the church, and young families help keep a church stable. But my youth group’s former kids? If that was gonna gonna get ’em back into church, it’d’ve happened when they were in their 20s and 30s. It didn’t. They’re still out.

Their parents are likely clinging to the fact the proverb says, “When he is old,” but let’s get real: It’s not happening at this rate. Only way it would, is if the Holy Spirit intervenes with a major course correction. Which he can always do, so never rule out the possibility. It’s just a lot of these drastic actions still don’t convince people to return to Jesus. When a major life trauma (i.e. loss of a job, death of a relative, health crisis, natural or artificial disaster) impacts our lives, people either take a hard left towards God, or a hard right away from him. And since away is the path of least resistance, that’s usually the route they choose.

Does this mean the proverb isn’t true then? Nope, that’s not the problem. The real problem is people are using it completely wrong.

Faith is not blind optimism.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 October

Hoping for the best needs something substantial to hope in.

As I wrote in my first piece on faith, it’s not the magical power to believe in goofy rubbish. Like believing in Santa Claus, fairies, unicorns, and non-western medicine.

Related to that, and actually a big part of what people assume faith to be, is the power to believe everything’s gonna be all right. Everything’s gonna work out. Times may be tough right now, but we’ll persevere, we’ll be successful, we’ll be vindicated, we’ll come out on top. Life will be good. Love will conquer all. How do we know any of this stuff? Why, we have “faith.”

No, you have blind optimism. It’s not faith.

No, I’m not knocking optimism. We Christians are called to be optimistic. To reject nihilism because even though our world is in fact meaningless, it’s being overthrown by God’s kingdom. To reject cynicism because even though humans are totally self-centered, some of us are actually seeking God’s kingdom. To reject pessimism because we’re meant to embrace joy.

The problem is the blindness part. Blind optimism assumes stuff’s gonna get better, but can’t tell us how. And no, that’s not because God promised stuff would get better, but hasn’t clued us in on the details. If that were the case, it would be faith, proper faith. But faith in God, ’cause he’s the one making things better. Blind optimism doesn’t know who or what will make anything better. It just assumes things’ll be better. Can’t say why.

Might guess why, but some of those whys are wholly unrealistic. Take Star Trek. The show’s based on Gene Roddenberry’s blind optimism that humanity’s gonna evolve past our petty differences and prejudices, become better people, eliminate hunger and poverty, and turn our world into paradise. Why? Um… well, he didn’t know. He left that to other writers to figure out. So later writers posited we’d meet benevolent space aliens, and that’d galvanize us into sorting out our problems. But if you know anything about human nature, humans don’t do that, and never have. Some of us rise to face new challenges. The bulk of us retreat.

And those of us who rise to face new challenges have a plan. True, it’s not always a good one, but it at least spells out how we expect things to get better. It’s not a big blank gap between the chaos of today and the promise of tomorrow, which we fill with wishful thinking. It’s a foundation, hopefully solid, to build faith upon.

And a lot of people have based their hopes in the future upon various plans for the future. People hope to be financially stable someday, and they’re taking steps to get there. People hope to become spiritually mature, so they’re working on spiritual fruit. People hope to be successful in their career, and they’ve laid the groundwork. People hope to raise self-sufficient kids, so they’re teaching ’em self-discipline, and to think and do for themselves.

The rest… well, they’re doing none of those things. But they “have faith” everything’ll be all right. You see the problem.

Potential, fixable followers.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October

These aren’t people who didn’t make the cut. They, like all of us, need work.

Matthew 8.18-22 • Luke 9.57-62

In Mark and Luke, after Jesus taught his parables he crossed the lake, and had to stop the weather. In Matthew, Jesus made these comments just before boarding the boat. Whereas in Luke, Jesus made ’em enroute to Jerusalem to die.

If you’re the sort who goes absolutely nuts because gospel passages won’t sync up as perfectly as you’d like, tough: The gospels’ authors had entirely different priorities than you do. They weren’t trying to follow a timeline; they were trying to bunch themes together. It’s entirely likely none of these sayings took place at the same time; if only life could be so neat. More likely they were three different guys on three different occasions. All of them prospective followers, and all of them not entirely ready for God’s kingdom. All of ’em object lessons in case we’re not ready: Get ready!

Matthew only brings up two of them, but don’t fret. I’ll cover all three. Starting with Jesus’s teaching about foxes, birds, and the Son of Man.

Matthew 8.18-20 KWL
18 Jesus, seeing a crowd round him, ordered his students to go to the far side of the lake.
19 But one of the scribes, approaching Jesus, told him, “Teacher, I’ll follow you anyplace you may go.”
20 Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and wild birds nests.
The Son of Man hasn’t anyplace he can lay his head.”
Luke 9.57-58 KWL
57 While they went on the road, someone told Jesus, “I’ll follow you anyplace you may go.”
58 Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and wild birds nests.
The Son of Man hasn’t anyplace he can lay his head.”

Christians get confused by this statement, and produce confusing teachings about it. Because we self-centeredly try to identify with this guy, whom Matthew identifies as a scribe. We wanna follow Jesus wherever he may go. Thing is, we don’t mean it as literally as this scribe does.

See, Jesus is currently in heaven, and we‘re on earth. We’re only “following” him in the sense that we’re doing as he taught. Well, sorta doing as he taught. Well, doing a few things he taught. Yeah, we kinda suck. But we’re trying, right? Hope so. Anyway, we’re not literally walking behind Jesus as he walks the land.

Whereas this scribe was literally planning to follow Jesus. If Jesus got in a boat, the scribe’d get in the boat too. If Jesus climbed a hill, the scribe wanted to be right behind him. If Jesus took a dump, guess who’d be holding the wipes. “Wherever you may go” was an earnest promise: He’d follow Jesus anyplace.

Then Jesus informed him he wasn’t going anyplace.

Throwing out “treasures” new and old.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 October

Because the Spirit’s correcting us—assuming we let him.

Mark 4.33-34, Matthew 13.34-35, 13.51-53

After Jesus taught a string of parables in Mark 4, Matthew 13, and Luke 8, Matthew had him wrap it up with one final parable:

Matthew 13.51-53 KWL
51 Did you understand all this?”
They told Jesus, “Yes.”
52 Jesus told them, “This is why every scribe who’s studied heaven’s kingdom is like a person—
a householder who throws out new and old things from his treasury.”
53 Once Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.

I realize most translations prefer to describe the householder as “bringeth forth out of his treasure,” Mt 13.52 KJV as if he’s showing off his riches, like King Hezekiah ben Elah. 2Ki 20.12-19 (Which, if you know that story, should give you an idea of where I’m headed with this.)

On this basis they wanna claim this is a teacher to whom Jesus has granted lots of wisdom, both new and old. But Jesus didn’t describe him as bringing out things, but ekvállei/“throwing out” things. He’s not keeping them. Exposure to God’s kingdom has taught him these things are crap. They don’t deserve to be in his treasury.

’Cause let me tell you, that’s what practicing theologians find ourselves doing more often than not. Once we get a fuller understanding about how God really feels about things, we either have to shut our eyes and go into serious denial—and pretty much stop practicing—or we gotta reprioritize everything. Seriously, everything. Top to bottom. Our culture significantly misrepresents Jesus, same as the Sadducees and Pharisees were misrepresenting the LORD in Jesus’s day. Any scribe, or biblical scholar, who really studies God’s kingdom, who finds out what God really wants and expects of his people, is gonna have a lot of house-cleaning to do with their existing beliefs. I sure did. Most Christians do.

Problem is, a lot of these beliefs are in our treasuries. They’re beloved. Treasured. Precious.

Okay, I don’t own a treasury. Nor a safe. I don’t own valuables. But when my parents first moved into their home, there was one bedroom with a special deadbolt lock on the door, ’cause the previous owners designated that room their treasury, and kept valuables in it. (Or at least we really hope valuables, and not kidnap victims. But I digress.) Wealthy people in the first century, knowing it was entirely on them to keep their valuables safe, likewise had extra-secure rooms for their most valuable possessions. They wanted to hold onto them no matter what.

Some of us are that way with our most cherished beliefs. We’re not giving ’em up without a fight. Heck, some of us have preemptively started fighting for them already. Go to certain discussion boards on the internet, and you’ll find people fighting tooth and nail for these beliefs, even though nobody’s really threatening to take ’em away. They think it their duty as Christians to wage war for their doctrines. They believe what they believe, and nobody can tell ’em different.

Not even the Holy Spirit.

And that’s when things get scary. ’Cause it’s the Spirit’s job to make us doubt the things we shouldn’t believe. He’s trying to guide us to the truth, remember? Jn 16.13 There are things in our spiritual treasuries which have no business in there. Some of ’em are new; some of ’em are very, very old. All of them are getting in God’s way. They gotta go!

And if we cling to these bad beliefs too tightly, stands to reason we’re not gonna fully understand Jesus’s parables. Nor want to. They’ll never become our treasure. The other things already are.