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29 September 2017

The Fish-Sorting story.

What kind of fish are you?

Matthew 13.47-50

But before the Fish-Sorting story, let’s have the Fish Slapping Dance.

You wanna watch the whole thing, do it here. Monty Python

’Cause this parable’s about the End, and about judging the wicked, so it’s a bit of a downer. So I thought I’d first cheer you up with some grown men hitting each other with dead fish.

Considering a few of Jesus’s students were fishermen, stands to reason he’d include a fishing parable. This one compares sorting fish to sorting the wicked. Bad fish get tossed; bad humans get burnt.

Matthew 13.47-50 KWL
47 “Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea, gathering every kind of fish.
48 Once filled it’s pulled up onto the beach and sorted.
People gather good fish into a vat, and rotten fish are thrown out.
49 It’s the same at the end of the age:
The angels will come out, and separate the evil from the middle of the righteous.
50 The angels will throw the evil into the fiery kiln.
It’ll be weeping and teeth-grinding there.”

O vrygmós ton odónton/“the grinding of teeth” refers to grinding ’em in anger, not suffering. These folks will be outraged they’re headed into the fire and not the kingdom: They expected the kingdom. They figured their public good deeds made ’em worthy, or the sinner’s prayer guaranteed them a slot. But, as Jesus elsewhere stated, they had no relationship with him, Mt 7.23 didn’t abide in him and produce fruit. Jn 15.4-5 Their “good deeds” were all tainted with self-promotion, instead of provoked by God’s love. Of course they get tossed out like stinky dead fish.

28 September 2017

The Hidden Treasure, and the Valuable Pearl stories.

God’s kingdom is worth everything we have.

Matthew 13.44-46

Two quick parables Jesus told in Matthew are sorta parallel with one another. Maybe Jesus told the same story two different ways, so Matthew bunched ’em together. In any case here they are.

Matthew 13.44-46 KWL
44 “Heaven’s kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field which a person found—and hid it again.
In his joy, he runs off and sells all he has, and buys that field.
45 Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a person—a trader seeking good pearls.
46 Leaving after finding one valuable pearl, he’s sold everything he has, and bought it.”

In both cases Jesus describes people who discover something so valuable, so worth it, they’re willing to give up absolutely everything they have for it. We’re not unfamiliar with the idea of Mammonists, gross materialists, who are willing to say and do anything for wealth. Including risk their existing wealth, if they figure the payoff is vast enough. Well, God’s kingdom is the very same way: It has just as vast a payoff.

But let me deal with the rather obvious bit of unethical behavior in that first story, the Hidden Treasure story: Dude finds treasure in a field, so he buys the field. But he doesn’t tell the owner what he found. He hid what he found. Either buried it back up again, or moved it elsewhere to hide it again; Jesus left it to our imaginations.

Didn’t this guy have an obligation to mention this to the owner?—who’s the rightful owner of this treasure? Didn’t this lack of disclosure mean he stole the treasure right out from under the previous owner? I mean, if someone bought your wallet for two bucks, and didn’t tell you you’d left 20 hundred-dollar bills in it, they just made $1,998 off your mistake. But it doesn’t matter if you overlooked the money; your deal was for the wallet, not the cash. That’s straight-up theft, innit?

Yes. Yes it is.

What, you expected the characters in Jesus’s parables to be as good as he is? They aren’t always, y’know. They include murderers, thieves, wastrels, and all sorts. Yet God’s kingdom is like them. Did you forget sinners are getting into the kingdom?

27 September 2017

The Yeast in Dough story.

How much dough do you imagine this was? Think bigger.

Matthew 13.33 • Luke 13.20-21

Jesus gave this parable right after the Mustard Seed story in both Matthew and Luke. It’s hardly a long story.

Matthew 13.33 KWL
Jesus told them another parable: “Heaven’s kingdom is like yeast.
A woman who had it, mixed it into three tubs of dough [80 pounds] till it leavened it all.”
Luke 13.20-21 KWL
20 Jesus said again, “What’s God’s kingdom like? 21 It’s like yeast.
A woman who had it, mixed it into three tubs of dough [80 pounds] till it leavened it all.”

But it greatly resembles the Mustard Seed story. That’s about how God’s kingdom is like a tiny seed which became an impossibly giant tree. In this story, the kingdom’s like yeast which a woman mixed into an impossibly large amount of dough. Three tubs’ worth.

I used our word tub to translate Matthew and Luke’s word sáta, because your typical bible translates it with the generic word “measures,” and who knows how big a measure is? The NASB went with “pecks,” which is a little more accurate, but still an archaic term of measurement.

All right: Sáta is Greek for seá (NIV “seah”), which is a third of an efá (KJV “ephah”). No, that doesn’t clear things up any, but this will: A seá holds about 12 liters. And since westerners tend to measure dough by weight, this means about 12 kilos or 26 pounds. The woman in this story is mixing three seás: About 36 kilos or 80 pounds. The NIV estimates 60 pounds, Mt 13.33 NIV but that’s based on the weight of flour, not dough. Dough’s heavier.

I used to work in a kitchen which had an industrial-size mixer for when we’d make lots of baked goods. I think we could fit a seá’s worth of dough into it; might be pushing it. Yet Jesus described a woman mixing three. Back in his day, that’d obviously be by hand. Maybe with a really large spoon; whenever I’ve had to mix a barrel’s worth of stuff by hand, I used an oar. It’s not light work.

This kinda begs the question: Why would this woman be mixing 80 pounds of dough? The way they made bread in the middle east, that’d make maybe 250 loaves. Enough for 100 people.

But like I said, these two parables are about impossibly large amounts. And Jesus is right about how yeast works: Given enough time, yeast will work its way into every last milliliter of that dough.

And again, the kingdom’s like that. Little bit of gospel spreads everywhere.

26 September 2017

Hyperbole. So I don’t have to explain it a billion times.

You saw what I did there, right?

Hyperbole /haɪ'pər.bə.li/ n. Deliberate exaggeration: A claim not meant to be taken literally.
[Hyperbolic /haɪ.pər'bɑl.ək/ adj.]

You may not be so familiar with this word, but you’ve seen examples of it all your life. And that’s not hyperbole.

Humans use hyperbolic language to get attention. You might not think much of the statement, “I had to clean a lot of dishes.” You pay a little more attention to, “I had to clean a truckload of dishes.” The exaggerated image gets attention. May even inspire a mental image of a literal truckload of dishes. May even strike us as funny, horrifying, sad, irritating; like most acts of creativity, it runs the risk of pushing the wrong buttons.

Of course some hyperboles are so overused, they get no reaction anymore. They’ve become clichés. “I worked my fingers to the bone” probably horrified someone the first time they heard it—“No, really? Ewww”—but nobody bothers to flinch at it anymore. Not even if people claim, “I literally worked my fingers to the bone.” Usually no they didn’t.

Humans have always used hyperbolic language. Nope, that’s not a hyperbole either: We really have. We find it in every culture. We find it in the bible. Even God used it.

Amos 2.9 KWL
“I destroyed the Amorite before their very eyes,
whose height was like that of cedars, strong like oaks.
I destroyed their fruit above, and root below.”

So, do you imagine the Amorites were literally as tall as cedar trees? After all, God said so. And surely God doesn’t lie

See, that’s the problem with hyperbole and biblical interpretation. Too many people take the scriptures literally. They figure if God’s word is nothing but truth, Jn 17.17 the scriptures oughta be absolutely valid in every instance, and contain no exaggerations whatsoever. ’Cause liars exaggerate, but God’s no liar. Tt 1.2 And if these two ideas (“liars exaggerate” and “God’s no liar”) are equivalent, it logically follows God doesn’t exaggerate. Ever.

Neither does Jesus.

Luke 14.26 KWL
“If anyone comes to me yet won’t ‘hate’ their father, mother, woman, children, brothers, and sisters,
or even their own soul, they can’t be my student.”

See, I put “hate” in quotes, ’cause Jesus doesn’t literally mean hate; middle easterners used that word when they spoke about things which took lower priority. Top priority was “loved.” Lower priorities might’ve also been loved, but in comparison to that top priority, they weren’t loved as much; so “hated.”

This is one of those examples, like “working my fingers to the bone,” where the exaggeration is such a cliché, middle easterners thought nothing of it. Problem is, our culture doesn’t. To literalists—particularly members of cults—this means they’re to cut themselves off from their families entirely. Divorce spouses, abandon children, have nothing more to do with anyone from their past. Don’t honor parents; Ex 20.12 hate them. In so doing, the cult can gain greater control over their followers.

This is why I had to add quotes. The NLT went with, “You must hate everyone else by comparison.” Lk 14.26 NLT That works too.

25 September 2017

The Mustard Seed story.

Lots of weird botany involved in this story.

Mark 4.30-32 • Matthew 13.31-32 • Luke 13.18-19

Another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. In Mark he told this one right the Independent Fruit. In Matthew it’s in between the Wheat and Weeds and its interpretation, Mt 13.24-30, 36-43 and in Luke it’s after Jesus cured a bent-over woman. Lk 13.10-17

Uniquely (in two gospels, anyway) he starts it by especially pointing out it’s a hypothetical comparison to God’s kingdom.

Mark 4.30 KWL
Jesus said, “How might we compare God’s kingdom?
Or with what parable might we set it?”
Luke 13.18 KWL
So Jesus said, “What’s like God’s kingdom? What can it be compared with?”

Just in case you weren't yet clear he’s being parabolic. After all, there are certain literalists who struggle with the concept. Particularly in this story. I’ll get to them.

So, what’ll we compare the kingdom with today? How about a mustard seed? Various preachers, and maybe a Jesus movie or two, like to imagine Jesus holding up one such seed—as if any of his students could actually see the tiny thing between his fingers. This, Jesus said, is like the kingdom:

Mark 4.31-32 KWL
31 “Like a mustard seed?—which, when sown in the earth,
is smaller than all the seeds in the earth.
32 When it’s sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all the greens.
It makes great branches, so wild birds could live under its shadow.”
Matthew 13.31-32 KWL
31 Jesus set another parable before them, telling them, “Heaven’s kingdom is like a mustard seed,
which a person takes, sows in their field—
32 which is smaller than all seeds, yet can grow to be largest of the greens.
It becomes a tree, so wild birds are coming and living in its shadow.”
Luke 13.19 KWL
“It’s like a mustard seed, which a person takes and throws in their garden.
It grew and became a tree, and wild birds settled in its branches.”

Memorable story, right? Tiny little seed becomes a great big tree. God’s kingdom is like that. Didn’t start from much, and now a third of the world claim allegiance to Jesus. Still doesn’t start from much—when an evangelist comes into a community and starts sharing Jesus, it begins with one or two people or families, and before we know it there’s a huge church, and everyone’s flocking to it like wild birds.

That’s the rather obvious interpretation of this parable. That’s the consensus of what Christians have been teaching for millennia. Small beginning, big finish.

So what’s the problem? Well, Jesus wasn’t giving a botany lesson; he was using a parable to teach on the kingdom. But Christians, particularly literalists, keep getting hung up on the botany.

21 September 2017

Modalism: The illusion of three persons in one God.

On those who believe God is sometimes Holy Spirit, and sometimes Jesus.

Modalist /'mod.əl.ɪst/ adj. Believes God has multiple personas, approaches, functions, or aspects of his nature—which other Christians confuse with trinity.
[Modalism /'mod.əl.ɪz.əm/ n.]

When Christians don’t believe God’s a trinity, either they fully embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus isn’t God, or they kinda embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus is God… but God still isn’t three. He’s one. But he looks three, from our limited human point of view.

Why’s he look three? Time travel.

No, seriously. Time travel. I know; time travel hasn’t been scientifically documented. It’s still just theory. But we’re all familiar with science fiction, so we have a general idea of how it works.

If you don’t: Imagine a man, whom we’ll call Doc Brown. (I know; real original of me.) Brown has a time machine. He hops into it and travels 30 years into the past. There, he encounters himself from 30 years ago—the younger version of Doc Brown. If you were to stand there and observe this, it looks like there are two Doc Browns, interacting with one another. In fact they’re both the same guy: Brown got his personal timeline to loop around, and one segment of it overlaps another segment of it.

Well, says the modalist, this is kinda what God does. God exists outside of spacetime, which they’ll call “eternity.” This was a theory St. Augustine of Hippo originally pitched—and it’s bogus, ’cause it violates the idea God’s omnipresent. But a lot of Christians buy the whole outside-spacetime idea, ’cause they grew up hearing it, and it sounds clever and intelligent, and repeating it makes them sound clever and intelligent. Anyway, bear with me, ’cause modalists kinda need it to be true. It’s the basis of their theory.

Okay. So in this “eternity,” time’s a zero-dimensional point. There’s no past nor present nor future. It’s all now—all an eternal present instant to whoever’s in there. God lives in there; it’s where heaven’s located. (Somehow there’s music, which is entirely based on time, in heaven regardless. Sorry; had to digress to point out the logical inconsistency. Back to it.)

God decided to step outside this zero-dimensional point, enter our one-dimensional timeline, and become human. This’d be Jesus. But when Jesus (and we) look back at “eternity”… it’s not vacant. Because God’s still in there. He’s always in there. There’s no timeline, and no stretch in this timeline where God stepped out of it. It’s a zero-dimensional point, remember?

It’s like Doc Brown and his overlapping timelines. Looks like God’s in two places at once, but that’s an illusion, based on our lack of understanding about “eternity.” That is, unless we’re clever enough to figure it out—and modalists figure they’re just that clever.

Anyway, that’s why Jesus always had a Father to pray to: The Father was still, and is always still, back in “eternity.” But there never were two persons; just one person with a bendy timeline.

Same deal with the Holy Spirit: Whenever God steps out of “eternity” in the present day to do stuff—and doesn’t do it in Jesus’s human body—that’d be the Holy Spirit. And sometimes the Spirit overlapped Jesus’s timeline. But God wasn’t really in three places at once; it only looks it.

So this time-travel explanation is the most common way I’ve heard modalists explain the trinity. I don’t know who invented it, but it’s pretty clever. It’s rubbish, but it’s clever rubbish.

20 September 2017

The immature prophet.

The dangers of someone who can hear the Holy Spirit, but lacks his fruit.

Every Christian can hear God. This being the case, every Christian can share God’s messages with others: They can prophesy. They can be prophets. That’s why the Holy Spirit was given to us Christians in the first place: So we can hear God, and so we can share God. Ac 2.17-18 Now, whether every Christian hears God accurately, and prophesies accurately, is a whole other deal.

See, Christians are at all different levels of maturity. Some of us call it “spiritual maturity,” but there’s no practical difference between intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturity: No matter what kind of immaturity we’re talking about, immature people are gonna do something dumb, because they don’t know any better. An immature human is always gonna be an immature Christian. We need to recognize this, and not move ’em into any positions of responsibility before they’re ready. 1Ti 3.6 And since I’m writing on prophecy today, obviously this includes letting people speak on God’s behalf. New prophets need supervision!

To the new believer, every voice in their head sounds exactly the same. Unless they’ve been supernaturally gifted (and don’t just take their word for it; what do they know?) they don’t yet know how to discern spirits. They can’t tell the difference between God’s voice, some other spirit’s voice, and their own. They all sound alike to them. You know the devil’s gonna take advantage of this.

Some of ’em never do learn the difference. Cessationists, fr’instance, assume every voice in their head is their own. Any clever idea which is actually a God-idea: They’re just gonna assume it’s their clever idea. Or assume it’s so out-of-character, it must be their crazy idea—and never share it, never obey it, don’t grow, and don’t grow others.

On the other extreme, we’ve got those Christians who for the rest of their life presume their own voice is God’s. And whattaya know: He shares all their wants, desires, and opinions! Some of ’em even proclaim these things as if they’re from God; they’re totally convinced they do speak for God… and it turns out they’ve been false prophets all along. You might remember Ahab’s prophet Chidqiyyá ben Khenana in the bible; I suspect he’s one of those guys who convinced himself he heard God, and of course he totally didn’t. 1Ki 22.24 Such people pass as authentic prophets ’cause they sound so certain—and know their bible well enough to be right more often than not. But they’re fake ’cause they’re sharing their voice. Not God’s.

The rest—the actual prophets, who actually hear God—tend to bollix their own prophecies for one rather obvious reason: They don’t yet have good fruit. They’re new, remember? They’ll grow fruit eventually. But because they’re still deficient in love, kindness, patience, grace, and gentleness, they’re not yet ready to speak for God. Because—

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 KWL
1 When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging cymbal.
2 When I have a prophecy—“I knew the whole mystery! I know everything!”—
when I have all the faith necessary to move mountains:
When I have no love, I’m nobody.
3 Might I give away everything I possess?
Perhaps submit my body so I could be praised for my sacrifice?
When I have no love, I benefit nobody.

—they’re noise. They’re nobody. They benefit nobody. They will, someday. Just not just yet.

Let me reiterate these immature Christians do actually hear God. I’m not at all saying they don’t. Nor am I saying they’re frauds, nor malicious, nor bad Christians. But because they’re fruitless, they’re functionally just as error-plagued and destructive as any false prophet. So I warn you about ’em now. Watch out for them. Don’t become one of them.

19 September 2017

Submission. It’s not domination.

It has two definitions, and evil people are promoting the wrong one.

Submit /səb'mɪt/ v. Yield to or accept a superior force, authority, or will. Consent to their conditions.
2. Present one’s will to another for their consideration or judgment.
[Submission /səb'mɪs.ʃən/ n.]

Notice there are two popular definitions of submit in use. The more popular of the two has to do with acceptance, obedience, and blind capitulation. To turn off our brains, do as we’re told. And most sermons instruct Christians to do precisely that. Submit to one another, as Paul ordered.

Ephesians 5.21 NIV
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

’Cause we kinda have to. If we can’t submit to God—if we insist on our own way, our own standards, our own values, our own lifestyles—it’s a pretty good bet we’re outside his kingdom.

Romans 8.5-8 KWL
5 Carnal people think carnal things. Spirit-led people, Spirit-led things.
6 A flesh-led mind produces death. A Spirit-led mind, life and peace.
7 For a flesh-led mind is God’s enemy. It doesn’t submit to God’s law. It can’t.
8 Those who live by flesh can’t please God.

So we especially submit to God. Jm 4.7 And to Christian leaders; 1Pe 5.5 we follow the doctrines they proclaim from the pulpit. And wives, submit to your husbands. Ep 5.22 When he says “Jump,” you ask “How high?”

Then there’s the other definition of submit: The one where it’s not typical of a relationship between a benevolent (or not-so-benevolent) despot and their subjects, but between partners, friends, or coworkers. One where we instead bounce ideas off one another. Find out whether they help or inconvenience one another—and of course try to help as best we can.

One which sounds appropriate for a paráklitos/“helper” Jn 14.16, 14.26, 15.26, 16.7 and the people he’s trying to help. For a teacher and his pupils. For a loving God and his kids.

So… which definition d’you think fits what the authors of the scriptures were talking about?

Oh, the benevolent despot thingy? Well it does work for cult leaders and wannabe patriarchs. But in God’s kingdom, where the king calls us his friends, Jn 15.15 where love doesn’t demand its own way, 1Co 13.5 it’s pretty obvious that definition is entirely incorrect. In many ways it’s kinda the opposite of God’s intent. Almost as if the devil got Christians to flip it 180 degrees, n’est-ce pas?

18 September 2017

Praying when we suck at prayer.

Hey, we’re not all experts.

Years ago I was reading Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, a useful book on prayer. In it he described the most basic, elementary form of prayer he could think of, which he calls Simple Prayer. Basically it’s just talking with God, which is all prayer really is.

But I believe there’s a form of prayer even more elementary than Simple Prayer: It’s what I call the I-Suck-At-Prayer prayer. It’s the prayer every new Christian prays. The prayer every pagan prays when they’re first giving prayer a test drive. The prayer even longtime Christians stammer when we’re asked to pray aloud, and suddenly we feel we’ve gotta perform… but not overtly. Christians might pray every day and rather often, yet we’ll still pray the I-Suck-At-Prayer Prayer from time to time.

It’s based on discomfort. It’s when we realize we need to pray in a manner we’re not used to. Maybe somebody else has been leading our prayers. Maybe we’ve been praying too many rote prayers—it’s easier to use the prayer book, or the pre-written prayers in our favorite devotional, and just got out of the habit of extemporaneous prayer—praying without a script, talking to God just like we’d talk to anyone. Some of us feel incapable of it, so we never do pray like that.

So we stammer. Stumble. Suffer stage fright. And our prayers become big ol’ apologies to God for how poorly we’re doing. “Forgive my hesitation; I need to pray more often.”

Foster described Simple Prayer as the starting point of prayer. But plenty of people don’t even make it to the starting block. We get too hung up on “I suck at prayer,” too busy apologizing for our inability to express ourselves, too busy flogging ourselves for not praying “properly.”

I put “properly” in quotes ’cause we Christians often have a screwy idea of what’s proper in prayer, and get way too hard on ourselves because we don’t meet our own unrealistic expectations. Usually we’ve picked up these ideas from “prayer warriors” who make their showy public prayers sound impressive—and people assume their prayers oughta sound like that.

Hence we wind up with Christians who…

As I’ve said, prayer is talking with God. Nothing more than that. If we can talk with our family members, we can definitely talk with God. (If you struggle to talk with them, or they’re distant instead of gracious, I get why God might be a problem.) We don’t have to sound formal. We don’t have to speak in bible language. We don’t even have to be articulate—though we should make an effort, ’cause we are trying to communicate after all. We just gotta go find some privacy, open our mouths, and talk with God.

15 September 2017

The wealthy, their crimes, and their coming judgment.

On the misdeeds of the wealthy in James’s day.

James 5.1-8.

This next bit of James was directed to the specific people of James’s day.

Problem is, not every Christian has understood this. You know how we humans are; we wanna make everything about us. So we’ve looked at this passage and tried to figure out how it applies to us and the people of our day. Especially the people of our day, since rebuke and judgment are involved: We definitely want those bits to apply to other people.

Since James dropped a reference or two to Jesus’s second coming—an event which’ll take place at any time, a belief Christians have held since the beginning, and even Jesus’s first apostles watched out for it, as Jesus instructed—historically we’ve interpreted this bit as an End Times reference. It’s not really. In the New Testament, “the last days” doesn’t refer to the End Times, but the Christian Era. Ac 2.17, He 1.2 The “first days” were before Christ; the “last days” are after God’s kingdom has come near. As historians call ’em, BC and CE. And in these last days, we’re to live like the kingdom’s arrived—not like it hasn’t, and never will.

So when James rebuked the people of his church for living the same old lifestyle during “the last days,” he meant they weren’t acting as King Jesus’s followers should. Whether today or during the End Times. That should be our takeaway as well: If you’re wealthy, do try not to behave like these people.

And do try not to read this passage through your End Times filter. Read it for what it says.

James 5.1-8 KWL
1 Come now, wealthy Christians: Lament loudly about the sufferings which you’re going through.
2 Your wealth has decayed. Your clothes became moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver have tarnished. Their poison will be your testimony:
It’ll eat your flesh like fire. You stockpiled for the last days.
4 Look at the wages of the workers who reap your fields—withheld by you, so they cry out.
The reapers’ roar has entered the ear of the Lord of War.
5 You all lived comfortably, luxuriously, on the earth. You fed your hearts on the day of slaughter.
6 You all condemned, murdered the Righteous One, who doesn’t resist you.
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.

Okay. In James’s day, the wealthy Christians in his community were suffering. In part because their wealth had come to nothing. And more suffering was coming—because they’d ethisavrísate/“accumulated wealth” (KJV “laid up treasure”) instead of doing what they were supposed to be doing with it: They weren’t paying their employees.

Some people use this verse to knock the rich in general; to promote a little class welfare. This isn’t about all the wealthy; it’s not James knocking the rich for being rich. James got on their case because their workers were suffering, and crying out to God. So this is a prophecy from James, who’d been told by the Holy Spirit why the wealthy in his church were losing their money: God was judging them for their evil.

Yes, evil. It’s against God’s Law to not pay your employees. In fact the Law stipulates we have to pay ’em the same day they worked. None of this saving up till payday, like we do nowadays.

Deuteronomy 24.14-15 KWL
14 Don’t tyrannize needy and poor employees,
whether relatives, or foreigners who live in your land or within your gates.
15 Give their wages that day. Don’t let the sun come down on them first.
For they’re poor. They carry their soul in their hands.
Don’t let them call the LORD about you, and let it be sin upon you.

The unpaid reapers Jm 5.4 had told God on their bosses. This triggered Kyríu Savaóth—which is a half-translation, half-transliteration of YHWH Chevaót/“the LORD of Armies” (KJV “LORD of hosts”), our God when he’s about to do battle. These people’s ruin was God’s judgment on their misdeeds.

In that day. Not in the End Times. God isn’t always gonna wait till the End to open up a can of whup-ass. The cycle of history happens over and over again for this very reason.

Hence if the wealthy exploit the poor in this generation, there’s every chance God may take away their wealth again. It may not be the End Times… but it’ll definitely feel like the End Times for these people.

14 September 2017

Arianism: One God—and Jesus isn’t quite him.

On Christians who think Jesus is a lesser god.

Arian /'ɛr.i.ən/ adj. Believes God is one being, one person, not three; and that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are created beings and lesser gods.
[Arianism /'ɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm/ n.]

So I’ve been writing on unitarian beliefs—namely that there’s one God, but contrary to how he’s been revealed in the New Testament, these folks insist God’s not a trinity. Now, pagans and other monotheists don’t bother with the New Testament, so of course they don’t believe in trinity. But Christians do have the NT—yet some of us still don’t believe in trinity. We’d call these folks heretics, and of course they’d call us heretics, and round and round we go.

The first major anti-trinity heresy Christians came across is Arianism—a word pronounced the same, but not the same, as the white-supremacist view Aryanism. It’s named for Áreios of Alexandria (c. 250-336), a Christian elder—or in Roman Catholic thinking, a priest. In Latin he’d be Arius. It’s based on Áreios’s insistence Jesus isn’t God, but a lesser god. Therefore God’s not a trinity.

You gotta understand where Áreios was coming from. When you read the gospels, Jesus is clearly a different person than his Father. His Father is God, Jn 8.54 and if you don’t believe, or can’t or won’t believe, God consists of more than one person, you’re gonna come to the conclusion Jesus isn’t the Father, ergo Jesus isn’t God.

Yeah, there are verses which bluntly state Jesus is God. Jn 1.1 What’d Áreios do with them? Simple: He allowed that Jesus must be a god. But not the God.

You gotta also understand where Áreios came from. Third-century Egypt was predominantly pagan and polytheist. They believed in Egyptian gods, Greek gods, Roman gods, and any other gods which sounded worth their time. Christianity, in contrast, is monotheistic: One God, and all the other gods are demons. The idea of trinity, or of Jesus being God like the Father is God, rubbed Áreios the wrong way. To him it sounded way too much like weird gnostic polytheism. But two gods?—he could live with two gods.

Áreios was hardly the first to believe this. But he was the first to successfully spread the idea around. Largely through the use of catchy worship songs which taught his theology. Here’s a bit from his song “Thalia,” quoted by then-deacon (and Áreios’s chief critic) Athanásios of Alexandria. De Synodis 15. My translation:

The First One made the Son—the first thing he created.
He made the Son himself, giving birth to him.
Who doesn’t have any of God’s being nor uniqueness,
For he’s not the same. He’s not the same stuff as him.

The lyrics don’t sound all that catchy to me, but the music must’ve been way better.

Hence for a while there in the early 300s, Arianism was rapidly becoming the main form of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Even the emperor, Flavius Constantinus, had become Arian.

And if you think Arianism died out in the 300s, are you dead wrong.

13 September 2017

Free will. And God’s free will.

He’s given us choices. Choose wisely.

A will is the ability to make choices and decisions. Might be limited in what we can choose. Fr’instance when I’m at In-N-Out Burger, I can either order a hamburger or cheeseburger; I can’t order a tuna sandwich. But the fact I have a choice, any choice, even a really small one, means I get to exercise my will. If they give me no choices—i.e. they’re out of cheese—I still have the choice to get a burger, or not.

Yeah, various people are gonna argue a limited free will isn’t truly free. Which reminds me so much of little kids who throw tantrums ’cause they don’t like any of their options. “But I don’t want cherry or pistachio ice cream! I want chocolate. If I can’t have chocolate I’ll have nothing!” And as the patient parent will usually respond, “Well, that’s your choice.” Limited choices are still choices. Even if you’re not given any options whatsoever, you still get to choose how you’re gonna accept that fact: Cheerfully, or bitterly.

Now if you wanna talk someone whose free will is pretty much unlimited, let’s talk God.

God’s almighty. He can do whatever he wishes. Including stuff we’d consider impossible: If he wants to change the direction of time, and move it backward instead of forward, he can do that. (Has done that. Is 38.8) I really don’t have the power to enforce my will, most of the time. It’d be handy if I could manipulate time like that. Whereas God has infinite power to enforce his will: If he wants to do it, he can.

So why’d I say his will is “pretty much” unlimited? ’Cause there are certain things God won’t do. Being almighty, he can. Being God, he won’t.

Like sin. It goes entirely against God’s character, which he’s never gonna violate, so he’s never gonna sin. He’s okay with bending “natural laws” whenever he wishes, but he’s not when it comes to certain moral principles. He’s willing to forgive sin, but not willing to no longer call it sin, and pretend it’s not a problem. He’s willing to change his mind, but not willing to renege on his promises. He’s willing to accept and save anyone, but not willing to force people to love him.

Now there are various Christians who confound being almighty with being God: Their definition of “God” is based on power, not character. Ability, not love. They figure since God has infinite, unlimited power, he has to be able to exert it… and if he can’t, it means whatever’s limiting him, not God himself, becomes almighty. If God will never break a principle, it means the principle is functionally God instead of the LORD.

Kind of a bogus idea. Who decided God would never break certain principles? God did. He put his own limitations upon himself. There are no external forces controlling him; he’s entirely self-controlled. (It’s why self-control is a fruit of the Spirit—these character traits are God’s character traits.) If God’s obligated to do anything, it’s only because he obligated himself to do it. Ain’t no strings on him.

Not that various immature Christians don’t think we’ve found strings we can tug on. Christians regularly claim they discovered one of God’s promises which applies to them, and they’re trying to hold him to it. “Lord, you promised no weapon formed against me shall prosper. Is 54.17 So I hold you to that.” Okay, first of all that statement was made to Jerusalem, not any generic Christian who wants God to magically make ’em bulletproof. Second it’s a statement about Jerusalem’s future: God said he’d rebuild it with precious stones and a God-fearing government, and under these conditions he’s gonna defend it. These conditions haven’t yet been met, which is why the present-day nation of Israel sometimes gets bombed. As for Christians, we’ve been promised persecution, Mt 10.21-22 and God is in no way obligated to fulfill out-of-context prophecies just because we really wish he would.

I’ve noticed the same Christians who doubt we humans have free will, are of two minds about God’s free will. Either they figure God has no free will either—he’s limited himself so much, he can’t move any further than we, which is why there’s so much evil in the world; he’s powerless to prevent it. Or they figure God has unfettered, unlimited free will… and because he could easily stop evil, all the evil in the world must exist ’cause God wants it there. (If not put it there.)

Both ideas are horribly wrong. But then again these folks are wrong about human free will too. So at least they’re consistently wrong.

12 September 2017

Sometimes you shouldn’t say amen.

It’s important to agree in prayer. It’s also important to know when not to.

Ever been in this situation?— You’re in a prayer meeting, church small group, or some other Christian function. And whoever’s praying at the moment is saying something you totally don’t agree with. Something you kinda can’t agree with.

Fr’instance someone who uses prayer time to go on long rants about stuff they don’t like, and disguise them as prayers. Sometimes it’s political stuff: “Oh holy Lord, knowest thou those liberals in Washington? Gettest thou them out of the White House!” Sometimes it’s social issues, or pet peeves, or whatever those radio talk show hosts have got ’em riled up about today.

Or it’s bad theology. “Lord, I know you’ll give us what we ask because your word won’t return void,” even though none of what they prayed was his word (and it doesn’t even mean that). Or assumptions about how some evil we’re praying against was part of God’s plan all along, or name-it-and-claim-it demands, or statements about God’s character which actually go against his character.

Or it’s bad fruit. Anger, hatred, separatism, envy, justification for evil behavior, self-righteousness. Sometimes they think an authentic God-experience needs to be an emotional one, so they’re unnecessarily whipping up their emotions into a lather. Sometimes they’re babbling like pagans. Stuff the prayer leader should clamp down on… except sometimes this is the prayer leader.

So at the end of this rant prayer, they’ll say “Amen.” Custom in most churches for everybody else to repeat the amen, ’cause their prayer is our prayer. Or we agree with what they prayed for. Amen, you might recall, means “true; we agree; let it be so; so say we all; let their prayer be ours.” We’re at least okay with them praying that.

But you’re not okay with it.

And y’know, that’s fine. If you object to the prayer, you don’t have to say amen. Say nothing.

And if you object strongly enough—if, start to finish, it was awful, and the exact opposite oughta’ve been prayed—you can even go with the word anathema. It’s an ancient Greek word which means dammit—and yes it’s in the bible six times, and tends to be translated “accursed.” 1Co 12.3, 16.22, Ga 1.9 Not every Christian knows it, so they may have no idea what you mean by it. Those who do, may be shocked by it, ’cause Christians aren’t (and shouldn’t be) in the habit of anathematizing prayers. I will say they’ll be a lot more shocked if you actually say “dammit,” but if the prayer was a particularly vile one, they’ll probably understand.

But then again you might be in a room full of particularly vile Christians, so they definitely won’t understand. Your call.

Just saying if amen isn’t the appropriate thing to say, don’t say it.

11 September 2017

Hurricanes and bad theodicy.

When people don’t understand “acts of God” really aren’t.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins in June and ends in November: Weather agencies keep track of all the warm-weather tropical cyclones which crop up in summer and fall. (They give ’em names, in alphabetical order, and mix up the names every year.) The heat lets ’em grow in speed, size, and moisture, and warmer-than-usual weather means they grow extra large; often into full-on hurricanes. And if they make it to land, they create extra mess.

The United States is was hit with two hurricanes in 20 days. Hurricane Harvey flooded southern Texas on 26 August. Hurricane Irma is currently working on the west coast of Florida. At its largest, Irma was a category 5, with 185 mph (295 kph) winds; this prompted widespread evacuations in Florida, and rightly so.

Of course these aren’t the only natural disasters we get in the States. We get wildfires: I live in California, which has fires every year. Has ’em in drought; has ’em in flood years. Fire is how brush naturally clears, but humans built houses in all those places, so we can’t just let the fires burn anymore. (We also get earthquakes, but most of them are small, and most of our buildings are earthquake-proof.)

Still, between the burning and the flooding, we wind up hearing the very same stupid thing from Christians as we do every year: “All these disasters are part of God’s plan.”

Really? Tell me, oh diviner of the divine will, why God decided to ruin the homes of all the good Christians in Texas and Florida. Or burn down the homes of all the good Christians in Montana and Oregon. Or kill good Christians in Chiapas, Mexico, with an 8.1 earthquake. Or any of the other ways nature wrecks stuff and takes lives.

Most of the time they’re pretty sure God’s smiting sinners. And even if you didn’t ask, they’ll tell you exactly which sins God’s busily smiting. No surprise, and no coincidence: They’re the very same sins they especially don’t approve of. Seems God thinks like they do. And rather than patiently deal with these sins on a case-by-case basis, and lead these folks to repentance and restoration, God’s again taken a page from their book, and decided to just punish the state entire.

Interestingly, in such a way that any sinners who happen to be wealthy, can usually get most of their wealth back with a little hassle, and go back to their sinful lifestyles with nothing more than a few interesting stories about how they braved a disaster. While in the meanwhile, the devout, obedient Christians who happen to be poor, who happened to suffer the collateral damage from God’s wrath-fest? Still destitute. Still ruined.

Doesn’t sound at all just of God. Which should kinda be our tip-off God has nothing to do with it.

08 September 2017

How we treat enemies—and how we oughta.

The “Matthew 18” principle—for when people sin against us.

Luke 6.27-36 KWL
27 “But I tell you listeners: Love your enemies. Do good to your haters.
28 Bless your cursers. Pray for your mistreaters.
29 To one who hits you on the jaw, submit all the more.
To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them.
30 Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.
31 Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.
32 If you love your lovers, how’s this an act of grace from you?—sinners love their lovers.
33 When you benefact your benefactors, how’s this grace from you?—sinners do so themselves.
34 When you lend from one from whom you hope to receive back, how’s this grace from you?
Sinners lend to sinners so they can receive an equal payback.
35 In contrast: Love your enemies. Do good. Lend, never expecting payback.
Your reward will be great, and you’ll be the Most High’s children:
He’s kind to the ungrateful and evil.
36 Be compassionate like your Father is compassionate.”

These are not words your typical Christian follows. Much less any typical human: We believe in payback. Reciprocity. Karma. And that’s on our good days: More often we’re okay with a wholly overboard response. A life for an eye, a life for a tooth, a life for an insult. Kill their whole family for good measure, just to terrorize people into respecting us. Shock and awe.

We get this way towards fellow Christians too. First thing we do is justify not treating them as sisters and brothers in Christ: “Somebody who does that can’t be a real Christian. True Christians don’t act that way. They’re Christians in name only; they’re pagans who only think they’re saved.” Then we justify not forgiving them: “They’re just gonna do the evil again. They won’t learn their lesson. They have to suffer consequences. I have to make them suffer consequences.” Emphasis on the “suffer” part.

The average American usually picks one of six responses to enemies:

  1. Get them arrested, if possible.
  2. Sue them, if possible.
  3. Ruin their career, ruin their business, get them fired.
  4. Ruin their relationships: Turn their friends against them.
  5. Harass them and exact petty revenge.
  6. Shun them and stay away.

And of course there’s the criminal stuff… assuming they don’t find criminal ways to do the previous six things.

Obviously none of this behavior is Christian. By “Christian,” I mean Jesus actually came up with a procedure for his followers to go through when we get offended, insulted, or wronged. That’s what he expects us to follow. Always applies to fellow Christians.

Evangelicals like to call it “the Matthew 18 principle,” as if it’s the only thing Jesus teaches in that chapter. He also taught a lot about forgiveness, so maybe that should be what we mean by a “Matthew 18 principle.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

People correctly point out Jesus’s procedure applies to fellow Christians. So, they argue, we needn’t follow it when we’re dealing with pagans. When a non-Christian offends us, we can feel free to leave a burning bag of dog doo on their front porch: Jesus’s procedure doesn’t count.

Here’s the flaw in that reasoning: In the United States, four out of five of us consider ourselves Christian. Even if they’re really kinda pagan. Statistically we are dealing with a fellow Christian. Yeah, we might’ve tried the tack of rationalizing they’re not really, ’cause they don’t act Christian enough for us. (And we might not be acting Christian enough for them either.) But our duty is to answer evil with good. Love your enemies.

Any excuse for not doing so, is simply an attempt to get away with evil.

07 September 2017

One God—but not interpreted through Jesus.

Not every monotheist is Christian, y’know.

Monotheist /'mɑn.ə'θi.ɪst/ adj. Believes there’s only one god.
2. Believes there are various beings known as “gods,” but only one mighty enough, or worthy enough, of the designation and worship.
[Monotheism /'mɑn.ə'θi.ən.ɪz.əm/ n., monotheistic /'mɑn.ə'θi.ən.ɪst.ɪk/ adj.]

Whenever Christian teachers talked about unitarians—people who don’t believe God’s a trinity—they assumed they were dealing with Christianity-based heresies of one kind or another. Like Arians or modalists.

In the United States, that might’ve been true in the past, back when the population was predominantly European, and somewhat biblically literate. Ain’t the case anymore. Hasn’t been for decades. Christian teachers need to get with the times.

Most of the pagans I encounter are unitarian. They do believe in God, in one form or another. They might’ve had contact with Christians (but don’t count on it), and some of our religious beliefs might’ve rubbed off on them. Nonetheless pick and choose their own beliefs based on whether they sound cool, practical, or reasonable. For them, the trinity’s too much of a paradox, so they dismiss it. They might like Jesus, but won’t believe he’s God, and they don’t know what the Holy Spirit is, much less that he’s a person. They’re not entirely sure the Father’s a person for that matter (or “the Mother,” for those pagans with gender hangups). They might believe God’s a semi-conscious universe; they’re not quite pantheists yet.

And pagans, who don’t do organized religion, aren’t the only non-Christians out there. Don’t forget the folks who do organized religion: The Jews, the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Bahai, and certain Hindu sects who aren’t pantheist. Their teachers and gurus have taught them various things about God. But trinitarianism isn’t one of ’em.

Because these religions aren’t Christian, we can’t technically call them heretic. A heretic is someone who violates the orthodox beliefs of their own religion, and theyn’t of our religions. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Islam are mighty similar to ours, so sometimes Christians’ll incorrectly call them heretic: Right God, completely wrong ideas. But they’re depicting their own religion accurately. (That is, unless they’re not; unless they’re Jewish or Muslim heretics. But that’s a whole other discussion.)

So within these other monotheistic religions, they’ll object to trinity because they feel it’s hardly proper monotheism to say God is three. That, they insist, is polytheism. Tritheism. Like the Latter-day Saints, who straight-up worship three gods. That’s why they don’t call themselves unitarian, though they are: To them of course a monotheist is unitarian. And we’re not monotheist, because even though we insist God is One, we keep also insisting he’s three. Our paradox keeps getting in their way.

06 September 2017

The Wheat and Weeds story.

How things’re gonna be n this world till the End.

Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43

Another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. Doesn’t appear anywhere else but Matthew, and it happened right after Jesus explained the Four Seeds story. Mt 13.18-23 Historically Christians have used it as a parable of the End Times.

Matthew 13.24-30 KWL
24 Jesus set another parable before them, telling them, “Heaven’s kingdom
compares to a person planting good seeds in his field.
25 During the person’s sleep, his enemy came and planted weeds in the middle of the wheat.
He went away. 26 When the stalks sprouted and grew fruit, the weeds also appeared.
27 Approaching, the householder’s slaves told him, ‘Sir, didn’t you plant good seed in your field?
So where have weeds come from?’
28 The master told them, ‘An enemy—a person did this.’
The slaves told him, ‘So do you want us to go off and pluck them?’
29 The master said, ‘No, never. Plucking the weeds can uproot the wheat with them.
30 Leave them both to grow together till the harvest.
At harvest time, tell the harvesters, “First pluck the weeds. Tie them in bundles for burning them up.
Gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”

Although I’m gonna point out something they tend to skip: When the apostles described the End, Jesus first plucks his Christians and gathers us into his kingdom. Then the rest of the world gets dealt with. But in the Wheat and Weeds story, the master orders the weeds plucked first. So, the story’s timeline and the typical End Times timelines don’t sync up. Hmmm.

Well, I’ll leave you to worry about that, and talk botany.

Left, vetch. Right, darnel.

The story’s also called the Wheat and Tares story. Wheat is how sítos tends to be translated, though the word can also mean barley. Tares is the old-timey word for vetch (Vicia sativa), a type of weed which grows all over the planet. Looks like grain till it starts growing leaves and flowers. It’s also kinda toxic to humans, although bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia) is edible, and sometimes the poor ate it in medieval Europe. And fava beans (Vicia faba) are used in all sorts of dishes.

However, vetch is what John Wycliffe imagined zizánion meant, ’cause of what he knew about English agriculture. Later English translations, like the Geneva Bible and King James Version, followed his lead. But Jesus isn’t English: Which plant might middle easterners have figured zizánia consists of? And most historians figure it’s darnel ryegrass (Lolium temulentum, which the Jews called zonín), another weed which grows everywhere, which looks just like wheat… till the seeds appear.

Just like Jesus described, darnel was an irritant to farmers, who had to wait till harvest time to sort out which was which. Most of ’em did as Jesus described his householder advising: Wait till harvest, then pluck and burn the darnel, lest their seeds infest a future crop. Which they did anyway, ’cause seeds get loose.

The kingdom, Jesus said, is like this. I leave it to the now-worried “prophecy scholars” as to how close a match it is.

05 September 2017

“Devotions”: Times we especially focus on God.

And hopefully pray. Don’t forget to pray!

Devotions /di'voʊ.ʃənz/ n. Prayers, religious observances, or worship.
[Devotional /di'voʊ.ʃən.əl/ adj.]

It’s a really good idea for Christians to block off several minutes of time, every single day, solely for the purpose of connecting with God. A little bible, a little prayer, a little meditation or contemplation. Something which helps us focus our lives on God.

’Cause life is busy. Or it’s not really, but we just suck at time management, so we never make the time for God. You know how there are certain friends and family members you just never hear from?—they’re either way too busy, or time with you frankly isn’t one of their priorities? Well, for a lot of Christians, we’re in danger of having that kind of relationship with God. One where we sorta take him for granted in our lives, but when’s the last time we really sat down with him and talked?

So, devotional time.

Part of your average Christian’s struggle with devotions, comes from the fact they really don’t know what to do with themselves during this time. What should we pray? What should we read, and meditate on?

That was my struggle as a teenager and young adult: Nobody had properly taught me how to have my own devotional time. They talked about having one. “I sit down with my coffee and my bible, and read, and pray, and have my quiet time.” Okay; what d’you read? How many chapters?—or do you read a paragraph and spend the rest of the time meditating on it? What d’you pray?—and how do you pray for 15-minute stretches when you only have two minutes’ worth of material?

Whenever I was at youth functions, the youth pastors would lead the devotional times. But I’m gonna be blunt: Those weren’t proper devotional times. Those were mini-lectures disguised as worship. Pastor’d discuss the dumb things we kids did, or might do, and how we oughta think about such things, and lead us to pray, “Lord Jesus, help me behave like the pastor was talking about,” even if deep down we didn’t really care.

Some of the adults I knew were dependent on devotional books and magazines. (“Devotionals,” for short.) One of the more popular devotional magazines at my church was Our Daily Bread. I still know plenty of folks who make a point of reading through Oswald Chambers’ 365-day devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, every year. I own a few devotional books: Brief writings by clever Christian authors, arranged in 365 clips for my convenience, with a bible passage to read for edification, and a brief prayer in case I can’t think of anything to tell God.

I get why people use the canned material: They don’t know where to start. The problem? That’s not your relationship with God. That’s you reading about Oswald Chambers’s relationship with God; or about the relationship of whoever wrote the devotional you’re using this year. Praying their prayers instead of your own. Meditating on their ideas instead of the scriptures. Yeah, some of ’em have good ideas, but still: Ever call up a friend on the phone, then read somebody else’s letters to them? It’s kinda like that.

No, I’m not saying ditch the devotional books. Keep ’em if you like ’em. But don’t confuse them for proper devotions. It’s gotta consist of you and the Holy Spirit. Any facilitators have gotta be temporary, there till you get the hang of doing this on your own.

04 September 2017

The Nashville Statement, and sexism.

Or, how to disguise prejudice as orthodoxy.

Last Tuesday, 29 August, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a manifesto they titled the Nashville Statement. Likely they balked at calling it the Nashville Creed, ’cause even though the creeds predate Catholicism, there’s still a sizable number of anti-Catholic Protestants that figure everything which took place before 1510 is “Catholic” and therefore wrong. But I digress.

In short, the statement is a declaration against homosexuality and transsexuality. Supposedly it presents the “biblical” view on these subjects, although if you read it y’might notice it neither quotes, nor provides references to, the bible. Whatsoever.

Nor does it refer to the Holy Spirit. Whatsoever. Supposedly any repentance and transformation is gonna be achieved by “the grace of God in Christ,” i.e. the force of God’s loving attitude, as opposed to the person of the trinity who empowers change and applies grace. You’ll see in a bit why this significant lapse in trinitarian thinking oughta raise some eyebrows.

Obviously the Statement’s been getting pushback from pagans who wanna know where on earth these guys get off condemning them. And of course from theologically liberal Christians who feel it’s graceless to condemn people for an issue which they believe is not entirely settled. And of course from gay Christians.

I’m not theologically liberal. (Though people who consider me more liberal than they are, will certainly take issue with that statement.) Nor am I gay. Nonetheless I have two issues with the Statement which prevent me from signing off on it, much less signing it.

The most obvious, and the one that’s not gonna need a lot of commentary from me, is its divisive intent. Like I said, it’s an attempt at a creed: This is how they figure all true Christians should believe, and if you agree you’re orthodox, and if you don’t you’re heretic. The Statement draws a pretty obvious line in the sand, and expects people to choose a side. But divisiveness, need I remind you, is a work of the flesh. Ga 5.20 Instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves, this Statement is gonna make us bite and devour one another, Ga 5.14-15 and do nothing to further God’s kingdom.

Yeah, I know. Many a Christian will insist the kingdom’s gotta be pure. By which they mean as little sin in it as possible. I agree. How do we go about doing that? Discipleship. We encourage people to follow Jesus’s teachings and the Holy Spirit’s leading. It’s the Spirit’s job to sort all that stuff out. Jn 16.8 It’s not a manifesto’s job. It’s not our job either: Our job is to love our neighbors and lead them to Jesus.

The reason Christians swap the job of loving our neighbors, for the job of denouncing sin? Obviously they hate sin. Less obviously, they don’t so much care for their neighbors. The neighbors sin, and they hate sin. Their “good news,” which is no longer so good, becomes about how the neighbors are sinning, and the world is perishing. The only bright spot is how Jesus saves us from perishing, Jn 3.16 but the rest of the preaching? Death, hellfire, and damnation.

Well, enough about that. The other issue I have is how the Nashville Statement is a subtle declaration against egalitarianism, the belief that women are priests, teachers, and ministers in the church, same as men. And that’s the particular axe I’m gonna grind today.

01 September 2017

“Tough love”: Anger disguised as love.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s as unlike love as we can get.

Tough love /təf ləv/ n. Promotion of a person’s welfare by enforcing certain constraints on them, or demanding they take responsibility for their actions.
2. Restrictions on government benefits, designed to encourage self-help.

When I wrote about love, I mentioned there are plenty more things our culture calls “love.” C.S. Lewis listed four, though he was looking at classical antiquity. Your dictionary’s gonna have way more than four; I bunched ’em into eight categories.

I also pointed out it’s important for us Christians, whenever we’re talking about love, to stick with Paul and Sosthenes’s definition as closely as possible:

1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL
4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly. It doesn’t act with uncontrolled emotion.
It doesn’t draw attention to how great it is. It doesn’t exaggerate.
5 It doesn’t ignore others’ considerations. It doesn’t look out for itself. It doesn’t provoke behavior.
It doesn’t plot evil. 6 It doesn’t delight in doing wrong: It delights in truth.
7 It puts up with everything, puts trust in everything,
puts hope in everything, survives everything. 8 Love never falls down.

Because from time to time people, including Christians, are gonna try to slip another thing our culture calls “love” past us, and claim we’ve gotta practice that. Usually it’ll be hospitality, which looks like love but is totally conditional. Whereas charitable love, the stuff the apostles described in 1 Corinthians, doesn’t keep track.

Another way we know we’re talking authentic charitable love, and not one of the other varieties of love, is by the way charitable love never contradicts the other fruit of the Spirit. Love isn’t joyless, impatient, unkind, evil, unfaithful, emotionally wild, or out-of-control.

Hence “tough love,” a popular form of “love” our culture tries to pass off as the real thing, would be a really good example of fruitless, inauthentic love. Because tough love is unkind.

The justification for tough love is that there’s love behind it: We want what’s best for ’em, and that’s love, isn’t it? And in the long run, that’s what they’ll have. But in the short term, in order to get us to the goal, we’ve gotta be unloving to these people. Contrary to the 1 Corinthians 13 passage, we gotta be impatient and unkind. Gotta get angry. Gotta emphasize, “This is because I love you, and it’s for your own good.” Gotta ignore their pleas for help, compassion, generosity, or grace—those things aren’t doing ’em any good! Gotta worry about yourself, and notice how their awful behavior is affecting you. Gotta stop putting up with them, stop trusting them, stop hoping they’ll get better, stop. Quit enabling. Just quit.

The justification is that the ends justify the means. It’s okay to be awful if it’ll all work out in the end. As William Shakespeare put it in Hamlet’s mouth, “I must be cruel only to be kind.” 3.4.178

But despite our good intentions, we’re justifying cruelty. We’re plotting evil. Which ain’t love, 1Co 13.7 no matter how thin you slice the bologna.