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Showing posts from May, 2017

Sheep-stealing: “Hey, those were our sheep!”

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Since all the sheep belong to Jesus, what’s the real problem?Sheep-stealing /'ʃip stil.ɪŋ/ vt. Getting a Christian to leave their church and join yours. [Sheep-stealer /'ʃip stil.ər/ n.]My sister and I live in the same town. I’m a member of a small church. She’s a member of another, larger church.When people hear this, sometimes they respond, “Aww. Why don’t you go to the same church? You should be worshiping together.”Well, sometimes we do. Sometimes I visit her church. Once, she and her family visited mine. Our churches aren’t in competition, y’know. Mine may be in a denomination and hers isn’t, but both churches belong to Jesus: They’re both outposts of God’s kingdom.Why don’t we go to the same church? Various reasons. Initially it was because I was giving the churches in my denomination a try before settling on one… and this one fit. (Once it wasn’t, so I hung with the Baptists a few years.) If I had to switch churches, I don’t think it’d be too big a stretch to switch to …

Jesus still appears to people, y’know.

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No, he didn’t stop doing it in bible times.Several years after Jesus ascended to heaven, Paul of Tarsus (also known by his Hebrew name Saul) met him enroute to Damascus. He later retold that story to his king:Acts 26.13-20 KWL13 “In midday on the road I saw, King, a light from heaven brighter than the sunshining round me and those going with me. 14 We all fell down to the ground.I heard a voice telling me in the Hebraic dialect, ‘Saul! Saul!Why are you pursuing me? Isn’t it harsh of you to jab your spurs?’15 I said, ‘Who are you, Master?’ and the Master said ‘I’m Jesus, whom you’re pursuing.16But get up and stand on your feet. You’re seeing me for this reason:I’m taking charge of you, as my assistant and witness, who saw and will see me.17I separate you to myself from the people, from the gentiles to whom I’m sending you,18to open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light, from Satan’s power to God.To take forgiveness from sin to them, a place among those made holy by trusting in m…

Is our faith living, or dead?

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If we don’t really have it, we’re never gonna act on it.James 2.14-17So now we’re at one of the more controversial passages in Christendom: The notorious “faith without works is dead” bit.Properly faith is a synonym for trust, and when Christianity talks about faith we mean trusting in God. We figure there’s something of substance holding up our beliefs: God himself. He’s real and reliable, and will do as he said he’d do. It’s not just “faith in faith”—that we imagine what we want, believe really hard, and stuff will happen. That’s how magic is supposed to work, and we all know magic isn’t real. But you’d be surprised how often people think faith works that way. (Or that magic is real.)Now if faith is based on something solid, it means we should be able to stand on that faith, right? Should be able to act on it. Should be able to do stuff based on our trust in God. If I trust in a stepladder I should have no trouble standing on it; seems kinda stupid if I never use it because I really…

When Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

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The words we never want to hear from our Lord. Matthew 7.21-23 • Luke 6.46, 13.23-27Evangelicals do actually quote the next teaching of Jesus a lot. But we tend to do this because we wanna nullify it.See, it’s scary. It implies there are people who want into God’s kingdom, who honestly think they’re headed there… but when they stand before Jesus at the End, they get the rug pulled out from under them. Turns out they have no relationship with Jesus. Never did. He never knew them. Psyche!It sounds like the dirtiest trick ever. How can a Christian go their whole life thinking they’re saved, only to find out no they’re not? And they’re not getting into the kingdom? And by process of elimination, they’re therefore going into the fire? Holy crap; shouldn’t this keep you awake nights?So like I said, Christians figure the solution to this quandary is to nullify it. “Chill out, people: This story isn’t about you. ’Cause you’re good! You said the sinner’s prayer and believe all the right things…

Watch out for the fake prophets.

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Look past their messages. What fruit do they produce?Matthew 7.15-20, 12.33-35 • Luke 6.43-45Right after Jesus’s teaching about the narrow gate, Jesus gives this warning about people who are pretending be prophets, but aren’t.What, there are fake prophets? Of course there are. You’ve met a few. A prophet hears from God and shares what God’s said. A fake prophet heard nothing, but acts as if God told ’em stuff, and fakes it as best they can.Sometimes they didn’t really hear God at all (and if they’re cessationist they’re entirely sure nobody can hear him). But they think they count as real prophets, ’cause they quote bible, which is stuff God told people. Just not recently, and to entirely different people, but still: They’re repeating God’s words, and doesn’t that count as prophecy? Well no. That’s teaching. It’s what I usually do; it’s what most preachers and scholars do. It can have a prophetic element when we’re actively listening to the Holy Spirit as we research. But prophecy is …

The narrow gate. Or door. Either way, tricky to get in.

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Not everybody’s making it into God’s kingdom. Don’t join them.Matthew 7.13-14 • Luke 13.23-24Most people are universalist: They believe in the end, in the very end, God’s gonna let everybody into his kingdom.Doesn’t matter how much they want nothing to do with God in this life. They might be full-on atheist. Might embrace another religion altogether. Might not even be good; they’re selfish, wicked, rebellious, downright evil. But people figure God loves everybody, so in the end he’ll just forgive all and let ’em in. Every last bloody one of ’em. Even traitors, child molesters, genocidal mass murderers: You get the kingdom, and you get the kingdom, and everybody gets the kingdom! (That last line works best if you can imagine it in Oprah Winfrey’s voice, but it’s not mandatory.)The problem is Jesus said he’s not gonna let everybody in. More than once. Today’s verses are two of the instances.It’s not because God doesn’t wanna save everyone. He does. 1Ti 2.4 It’s the fact not everyone wan…

“Who’s in charge of these bloggers?”

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Funny; nobody was really talking about blogging and accountability till women started doing it….Last year was probably the first time someone ever asked me, “Who told you you’re allowed to do that?” It was about me translating the bible, and it was based on a mistaken belief that people can’t do that unless they’ve been authorized by their denomination or something.And yeah, that might be true in a country which had no freedom of religion. Where the laws require we get clergy permission before we preach, teach, or otherwise minister. And sometimes not even the permission of our clergy, but the state clergy. Doesn’t matter if you’re Shia in Saudi Arabia; the nation is officially Salafi, so don’t upset their clergy ’cause blasphemy still gets you capital punishment. England had the same problem for centuries: In 1660, Bedford Free Church preacher John Bunyan got tossed in jail for 12 years because it was against the law for any church to meet off Church of England grounds. On the upside…

God’s mercy trumps his judgment.

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Some Christians fixate way too much on God punishing the wicked. As if God is wrath and justice—and not love.James 2.8-13.Primarily James wrote his letter to Jews. Jm 1.1 Secondarily to the rest of the church; now that gentiles have been adopted as God’s kids, it applies to all Christians. But regardless of whether Christians are Jewish or gentile, there’s a tendency to lapse into Pharisee thinking: To figure God chooses to save us because we act Christian: We stick to how popular Christian culture tells us we oughta live, or we follow Jesus’s teachings, or the Law. And in gratitude, or as a reward, or because we’ve racked up all that good karma, God grants us salvation. We’re saved because we worked for it.Nope, not even close. The rest of the New Testament makes it mighty clear: Humans are saved by God’s grace.Ep 2.5 We don’t merit it. We can’t.James brought up the Law in the previous passage, where he corrected his readers for sucking up to the wealthy. The Law instructs otherwise:…

The age of accountability?

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How old are we before God decides to withdraw grace? Yes, that’s what we’re talking about.How old do we have to be for God to hold us responsible for our sins?Wait, doesn’t he always hold us responsible? Well, not according to certain Christians.See, from time to time a child dies. Which sucks, but this is life, and sometimes life sucks. It’s always sad, and grieving parents frequently look to their religious friends for some kind of comfort. ’Cause we know something about heaven, so they wanna confirm with us that heaven is precisely where their kid went. Mommy and Daddy’s little angel, happy and pain-free, will forevermore be looking down upon them.Yeah, it’s never fun breaking the news to them that we don’t become angels when we die. ’Cause it’s such a deeply-held pagan belief. Some of us never have the guts to tell ’em otherwise. Hey, we figure, they’re grieving; let ’em believe their kid’s an angel. What’s it hurt? (Well, them. The belief will just become even more deeply-held, a…

A few tongues to set the mood?

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Tongues aren’t mood enhancers. They’re prayer and prophecy. 1 Corinthians 14.5-12.One of the practices I see too often in Pentecostal churches is the very same one Paul and Sosthenes saw in the church at Corinth. It’s the use of praying in tongues as atmosphere. “Okay everybody, call out to God in your prayer language,” will be the instruction. (Sometimes with the caveat, “If you have a prayer language,” and hopefully they do.) Then everybody’s expected to pray, or sing, or make various joyful noises, in tongues.What’s this all about? Well, tongues are prayer. So we’re praying, and prayer is good. Right?Except that’s not entirely why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to set the mood. “Change the atmosphere,” might be another way Christians put it. Create a vibe.Ostensibly it’s to call upon the Holy Spirit, ’cause he’s the one who empowers tongues. 1Co 12.10 Makes it more obvious he’s in the room… ’cause he’s working the room, in order to get all these tongues unloosed. Secondarily, o…

Coming to God with empty hands. Much as you don’t wanna.

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What do we really have to give him, anyway?God is gracious.Yeah, you knew this already. (Hope so, anyway.) Problem is, we Christians tend to compartmentalize grace. We imagine it applies to some parts of God; not so much others. It applies to some facets of our Christian life; it really hasn’t sunk in how grace applies to all of it. God’s kingdom runs on grace.We remember God is gracious when it comes to salvation. He’s gonna save us whether we deserve saving or not. Isn’t this the good news we share with others? But when it comes to prayer, we totally drop the grace idea. We imagine we somehow have to deserve God’s favor before he’ll grant our prayer requests.Why does this happen? Well, bad examples from fellow Christians. ’Cause for the most part, we’re not living lives of grace. We’re living the way the rest of the world does, and the world runs on reciprocity: If I want something from you, I gotta do something for you first. Quid pro quo, this for that.So if we wanna get anything …

Humor, sarcasm, irony, mockery, me.

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On using my sense of humor for good, and not evil.Too many people are convinced a person can’t learn to be funny: Either we have the built-in ability to make people laugh, or we lack it and are never gonna get it.Which means these folks obviously don’t understand how humor works. Anyone can learn to do anything. Maybe not well, but better than previously. Anyone can learn to be funny. They just gotta learn how humor works, and practice at it.No, I’m not trying to sell you a class. I’ll even explain how humor works—for free.Laughter is an automatic nervous reaction. People laugh when you expose them to the unexpected. Surprise ’em, shock ’em, play around with words a little, push things to a ridiculous extreme—or even frighten them, which is why some people laugh when they’re scared. The unexpected makes us laugh, and laughter floods the brain with feel-good endorphins. It’s actually a defense mechanism. But since it feels really good, people pursue laughter.Unless of course their brai…

Stop sucking up to the wealthy.

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Christians are ordered to be above social distinctions.James 2.1-9.A lot of Americans aren’t Christians anywhere near as much as they’re Mammonists: They covet wealth. They don’t necessarily have it, but the American Dream tells ’em if they work hard enough, they will. So, anticipating the day they become wealthy, they wanna rig things so they get to keep as much of their wealth as possible… even if such a system totally works against them today, or even if it actually makes wealth creation impossible. Single-minded covetousness blinds people to a whole lot of things.And to their minds, critiquing the wealthy kinda means you’re critiquing them. ’Cause they aspire to wealth. One day they expect to be wealthy. Since they already envision themselves in the role… well, those criticisms aren’t justified. They aren’t greedy. They aren’t exploiting anyone. They’re honest, hardworking Americans. The critics are just trying to shake them down and get something for nothing. Greedy opportunists.…

Church-shopping. ’Cause sometimes you need a new church.

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Know what to look for when you’re considering a move.Church-shop /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp/ v. Look for the best available church.[Church-shopper, /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp.pər/ vt., church-shopping /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp.pɪŋ/ vt.]If you haven’t been going to church, or never did go to church, it’s time to start.And at certain times in a Christian’s life, we’re gonna have to go to another church. Sometimes for good reason; sometimes not. In my case it’s usually because I moved to a new city, although twice it’s been because the church went wrong.In any event, Christians decide to begin a process we Americans call “church-shopping.” We visit a new church and try it on for size. If we like it, we stick around. If not, we move along and try another.It’s not a complicated idea. It only gets complicated because certain Christians are extremely choosy about their churches. And there are other Christians who are convinced church-shopping is fundamentally wrong. Even devilish.Devilish? Yeah; it’s because they read C…

Justification: How God considers us right with him.

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The part of our salvation that kinda falls on us.JUSTIFY'dʒəs.tə.faɪverb. Show or prove to be correct.2. Make morally right [with God].[Justification dʒəs.tə.fə'keɪ.ʃənnoun.]In our culture we tend to use the word “justify” to mean we have a good excuse for what we did. Say I took someone behind the church building and beat the daylights out of them. Ordinarily, and rightly, that’d get me tossed into jail for battery. When I stand before the judge I’d better have a really solid reason for my actions.“He started it; I just finished it” might work for most people, ’cause it sounds badass. But it’s not legally gonna work. Outside of movies, the law doesn’t give free passes to badasses. Juries might, but there are a whole lot of those guys in prison. Nope; justification means I need a legal reason for why I shouldn’t be jailed or institutionalized for my behavior. Like I reasonably feared for my life otherwise. Only then might my act be justified, and I’d be declared not guilty, an…

Needlessly long and wild prayers.

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Don’t let people pressure you into hypocritical prayer practices. As I’ve written previously, ain’t nothing wrong with praying short prayers.You might remember the Lord’s Prayer is a really short prayer. I mention this to Christians and they respond, “Oh! Yeah, that’s true.” Somehow it hadn’t occurred to them. Obviously Jesus has no problem with us keeping it brief: His example showed is it’s fine with him.Problem is, we’re not following that example. We’re following a different one—where Jesus went off places and prayed for hours. Seriously, hours. One evening he sent his students off ahead of him and climbed a hill to pray; Mt 14.22-23 by the time he caught up with them (walking across the water, but still), it was “the fourth watch of the night,” Mt 14.25 KJV meaning between 3 and 6 a.m. Even if we generously figure Jesus stopped praying and started walking two hours before the fourth watch began (so, about 1-ish), that meant he was praying from sundown till then. Easily six or sev…

When I became a theologian.

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Relax. “Why” is part of the story.My pastor recently asked me what led me to go to a bible college and study theology.It strikes a lot of people as odd that I majored in biblical and theological studies… and yet never had any plans to become a pastor nor college professor. ’Cause that’s usually why people major in that area. Or it’s not, but it’s what they naturally gravitate towards next. Whereas I went right back into journalism.Well, journalism and theology are both searches for truth, y’know.But generally how it happened was like this: I originally majored in journalism. Then I got sidetracked by newspaper jobs. And since the whole point of journalism school was to get newspaper jobs—and I already had newspaper jobs—I ditched school for work. Till I got downsized out of a job. Then I decided to knock out that bachelor’s degree once and for all.By this point, I realized I didn’t need a journalism degree to get a journalism job. Half my fellow employees had no such degree: They majo…

Don’t be all talk.

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It’s time to get religious about God.James 1.26-27Both the Religious Left and Religious Right suck at following the following verses:James 1.26-27 KWL26 If anyone who doesn’t rein in their tongue thinks they’re religious,they’ve deluded their own mind instead. This “religion” is meaningless.27 Genuine, untainted religion before our God and Father is this:Supervise single mothers and their children when they’re suffering.Keep yourself spotless in this world.The Left focuses on caring for the needy. Rightly so. But when it comes to spotlessness, they regularly make the mistake of confusing grace with compromise, and make too many compromises. (The Right likewise confuses grace with compromise; their error is out of their fear of compromise, they practice too little grace.)The Right focuses on spotlessness—as they define it. As they should. But when it comes to the needy, they only take care of the deserving needy, not the poor in general. Like I said, too little grace. Jesus came to pre…

Are you experienced?

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You wanna know God’s real? Start seeking God-experiences. Every so often someone’ll ask me, “How do you know there’s a God?”They’re not asking me rhetorically, “How do we know God exists?” They don’t wanna go over the apologists’ various proofs for God’s existence. In fact that’d be the fastest way to annoy them: “Well y’see, I know there’s a God because the universe works on cause-and-effect, and if we trace all the causes back to a first cause…” Yeah yeah, they’ve heard the “unmoved mover” idea before. They don’t care about that. They wanna know how I, me, K.W. Leslie, the guy who talks about God as if he’s met him personally, knows God exists.Well, that’d be how. Met him personally.No, really.No, really. See, that’s the problem with such Christians: They’re not sure “met him personally” is a valid option in this present age. Often they’ve been taught to believe in some form of cessationism where God stopped personally intervening in the universe, or interacting with his kids once s…

Don’t let foreknowledge weird you out about prayer!

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When people try to second-guess our God who knows the future, things get sticky.FOREKNOWfɔr'noʊverb. Be aware of an event before it happens.[Foreknowledge fɔr'nɑl.ədʒnoun.]God is omnipresent, meaning he exists everywhere in spacetime. There’s no place, nor time, where he’s not. Various Christians incorrectly describe God as outside time, looking down upon it all at once; they got the idea from St. Augustine, who probably got it from Plato of Athens describing his pagan gods. But that’d make God not omnipresent, because he’d be outside the universe, not everywhere within it. So that’d be wrong. Space and time are the same thing anyway: God’s inside time and fills time, same as he does space. He’s here, aware of what’s going on. And 20 years ago, still here, still aware. And 20 years from now, still here, still aware. Simultaneously.That’s a mind-bending idea to us Christians. Even us Christians who love to watch science fiction TV and movies where they monkey with time travel f…

Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

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Granting God’s forgiveness to those who need it.Confess /kən'fɛs/ v. Admit or state one’s sins or failings to another (trustworthy) Christian.2. Admit or state what one believes.[Confession /kən'fɛs.ʃən/ n., confessor /kən'fɛs.sər/ n.]The practice of confession—heck, the very idea of confession—is controversial to a lot of Christians. ’Cause we don’t wanna.Partly it’s because we don’t find it all that easy to find a trustworthy Christian with whom we can talk about these things. Partly because those trustworthy Christians we do know… we’re entirely ashamed to tell them such things. We worry they’ll lecture us, condemn us, shun us, try to punish us, or we imagine some other worst-case scenario.So we pretend the scriptures never instruct us to confess our sins to one another—James 5.16 KWLSo confess these sins to one another:Make requests for one another, so you can be cured.A moral, energetic petition is very mighty.—that it’s just a Catholic thing, and that Christians in t…

Simony: Christians who wanna make a buck off you.

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Shades of Elmer Gantry.Simony /'s(a)ɪ.mə.ni/ n. The buying or selling of religious things which are meant to be given freely, or given only to qualified individuals.[Simoniac /saɪ.mə'naɪ.ək/ adj., n.]One of my bigger pet peeves are churches who forget a significant part of our job as Christians is to preach good news to the poor. Mt 11.5, Lk 4.18, 7.22 They kinda forget they even have poor among ’em. Consequently the poor find church a surprisingly expensive place to go.Certain churches don’t want you in their Sunday services unless you’re in your “Sunday best.” I’ve actually heard a preacher justify this idea by pointing to Jesus’s story where a king throws out a guest for not wearing his wedding clothes. Mt 22.11-14 He figures Jesus is the king, and you better show up for his church in your Sunday best. Can’t afford the clothes? Try the thrift stores. Keep looking till someone finally donates a suit or dress in your size. ’Cause the people of the church won’t offer you any h…