Give to the truly needy. Not the greedy.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 December

I read a number of blogs. Some because I like the writers; some because I like the subjects the writers bring up.

In one of those blogs, for the past two weeks, the authors temporarily quit writing articles about Christ Jesus and how to argue with others about how to view him follow him better. Instead they’ve been writing ’bout why their ministry is so meaningful.

They do this every December. That’s because they’ve set up a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, and can take donations. Since it’s the end of the year, and maybe you’ve not given as much tax-deductible charity as you might’ve liked, perhaps you could donate to them. Plus someone’s offered them a matching grant: For every dollar you donate, the grant throws in another. They’d love to get their mitts on as big a pile of cash as they can. So they’re a-begging.

Plus—I kid you not—they’d love to install an espresso machine in their coffee bar. It’d be so valuable! ’Cause whenever people stop by their offices, and wanna talk theology with them, they can now make ’em an espresso. So now their loud debates can be fueled by even more caffeine.

Out of curiosity I took a peek at their offices through Google Street View. They’re not in any visible location. They’ve got an office in a strip-mall church. (Not knocking such churches; I’ve been a member of a few. Worship wherever you can.) No doubt the church is subsidizing their activities—hopefully not instead of evangelism or community good works. In any event it doesn’t look like they’d get any foot traffic. Looks like their espresso machine is gonna be far more valuable to staffers and buddies who hang out at their offices. Got my doubts about the visitors.

But still.

Is their ministry meaningful? Sure; it’s why I read their blog. But aren’t there thousands of Christian blogs and ministries on the internet which do precisely the same thing? And don’t spend half December begging for matching-fund espresso machine money? And if their new espresso machine accidentally blew up and killed them, wouldn’t those thousands of blogs and ministries make up for their absence just fine?

Now on the other hand: Which ministries don’t have anyone to immediately step in if they were to disappear? Which ministries serve a real, dire need in God’s kingdom?

You see where I’m going with this. There are charities out there which support the truly needy. Their blog ain’t one of them. My blog ain’t one of them. Arguably no blog is one of them. Don’t give to us!

St. Thomas, and healthy skepticism.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 December

Thomas wanted his doubts addressed. So Jesus addressed them.

21 December is the feast day of the apostle Thomas. His name Tomás is produced by taking the Aramaic word taóm/“twin” and adding the Greek noun-suffix -as to it. John pointed out he was also called Dídymos/“twice,” so likely he was an identical twin. There’s an old tradition he looked just like Jesus, and that’s why they called him a twin, but since Jesus was likely old enough to be his dad, I think they’d have nicknamed him “junior” instead of “twin.” No doubt Thomas had a twin brother, though we know nothing about him.

What we do know is Thomas was one of the Twelve, namely the one who wouldn’t believe Jesus was alive till he saw him for himself.

John 20.24-25 KWL
24 Thomas, one of the Twelve, called Twin, wasn’t with the others when Jesus came.
25 The other students told Thomas, “We saw the Master!”
He told them, “Unless I see the nail-marks on his hands and put my finger on the nail-scars
and put my hand on the scar on his side, I can’t believe it.”

And we give him crap for this.

We call him “Doubting Thomas.” Forgetting none of the Twelve believed the women whom Jesus first appeared to. Lk 24.11 Simon Peter did bother to check out the sepulcher for himself, and John informs us he followed behind, but all of them thought the women were nuts. And when Jesus did show up to talk to them, at first they thought he was a ghost. Lk 24.37

Thomas just happened to be the only guy not in the room when Jesus first appeared, and like the others, couldn’t believe until he saw Jesus with his own eyes.

So Jesus accommodated him.

John 20.26-29 KWL
26 Eight days later the students, Thomas included, were indoors again.
Though the door was closed, Jesus came, stood in the middle of them, and said, “Peace to you.”
27 Then he told Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.
Put your hand on my side. Don‘t be an unbeliever. Believe!“
28 In reply, Thomas said, “My Master and my God!”
29 Jesus told him, “This you believe because you saw me?
How awesome for those who don‘t see me, yet believe.”

Jesus wants us to trust him wholeheartedly. Sometimes that’s hard for us to do. I get that. So does he. But he’s willing to work with us if we’re willing to make the effort, and not just close our minds to what he’s trying to teach us. Thomas, y’notice, didn’t abandon his fellow students just because they were sure Jesus was alive, and Thomas wasn’t so sure. Eight days later, there he was, the only doubter in a roomful of believers, holding out because you don’t just psyche yourself into believing things; that’s how people get led astray. You take your doubts to God—who might be the one making you doubt! You investigate. You look for evidence. You patiently wait. Thomas did all that, and his wait was rewarded.

So don’t give Thomas crap. Commend his patience. Jesus gave him the truth he sought. He’ll do that for you too, y’know.

Rachel weeping for her children.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Jeremiah 31.15-17.

A pet peeve of mine is by Noël Regney and Shayne Baker’s historically inaccurate Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” In it, when Jesus gets born, a night wind tells a little lamb of the nativity. The lamb tells a shepherd boy, who then tells a mighty king, who then tells the people everywhere. In real life, the mighty king responded a bit more like this:

Said the king to the soldiers at his gate:
“Massacre the toddlers!
Everyone below two years old:
Massacre the toddlers!
Slay all, slay all, leave my rivals dead
Put your spears through this child's head
Put your spears through this child's head

Not at all heartwarming, but that’s Herod bar Antipater for ya.

Matthew 2.16-18 KWL
16 Then Herod, seeing he was made a fool of by the Zoroastrians, was enraged.
Sending agents, he destroyed all the children in Bethlehem and the whole area around it,
from two years old and under, according to the time he exacted from the Zoroastrians.
17 Thus was the word of the prophet Jeremiah fulfilled, saying,
18 “A voice was heard in Ramáh: Weeping and great lament.
‘Rachel’ weeps for her children and doesn’t want comfort: They’re gone.” Jr 31.15

We don‘t find this massacre recorded anywhere but in Matthew, but Herod committed much greater atrocities, so the other histories focus more on those. In any event the bit I wish to zero in on today would be how Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s word about “Rachel’ weeping for her children.

Christians incorrectly presume Jeremiah was prophesying about Jesus. Nope; not even close. It’s not what fulfillment means either: Matthew didn’t mean Jeremiah’s prophecy had come to pass by Herod slaughtering the children. Only that Jeremiah’s words describing a previous historical event, likewise describe this historical event. Arguably describe it better than they did the previous event. History repeated itself.

To the ancients, history repeating itself was a sign of order instead of chaos. A hint God is in control of history. Which is why Matthew and the other apostles fished through the Old Testament for examples of how Jesus’s situation was just like other situations in the bible. Coincidence? They thought not.

I know: Certain Christians are really fond of the idea Jeremiah foretold Jesus. And he did! But not with this passage. This passage is about Nabú-kudúrri-usúr 2 (KJV “Nebuchadnezzar”) demolishing Ramáh, a town in a whole other tribe.

Two types of worship music.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 December

And no, I don’t mean gospel and contemporary Christian music. Yeesh.

There are two types of worship songs we tend to see in churches.

And yeah, some Evangelicals are gonna assume I mean traditional worship (i.e. hymns and old-timey gospel songs) and contemporary worship (i.e. spanning from the worship choruses of the 1970s, to the Christian pop songs of today). I don’t. I consider those styles of songs; the only real difference is in presentation. You could put a backbeat on a hymn and turn it into a pop song; you can put a pop song in a hymnal and sing it with that very same cadence.

Type refers to the purpose and content of the song, and generally there are two of ’em.

INSTRUCTIVE describes the songs written to deliberately teach an idea—to put it to music, and get it into Christians’ heads. They teach us about amazing grace, about what a friend we have in Jesus, about how great God art, and that he’s holy holy holy. They tend to have a lot of verses, various complicated words… and no I’m not only talking about hymns, though a lot of ’em totally fit the description. And a lot fit the other:

MEDITATIVE describes the deliberately simple songs. They have few verses, or lots of repetition; their ideas are basic Christianity, like how there’s wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb, or on Christ the solid rock we stand, or God’s a good good Father. Their purpose is to give us something we already know by rote, and we can sing ’em and not ponder the words… and instead meditate on God and his greatness, and pray to him while our lips go on autopilot. Yep, exactly like when we pray in tongues.

Humans are creatures of extremes. Christians included. Some of us love one type and hate the other. But we don’t always know why we have this preference, and think it has something to do with the style.

So they claim they “love hymns” because hymns are so detailed and deep. (Yeah, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” isn’t. Plenty of others likewise aren’t.) But you can swap the instruments used to perform it—instead of keyboards, electric guitar and drums—and they’ll still like the song… although that guitar solo was absolutely gratuitous. Pop song or not, they seek depth. They want the content of their songs to make ’em think. They wanna be “spiritually fed”—by which they mean learn something. If there’s nothing to learn in the music, they consider it time wasted.

Others, who “love contemporary worship,” might love hymns too… but y’notice they only sing the first verse, over and over and over, and ignore all the other verses. (Which drives the fans of instructional music bonkers.) Sometimes they only sing the chorus and ignore all the verses. Sometimes they make a pop version of the song which eliminates all but their favorite hooks. Again, they’re not singing to learn. They want something repetitive and familiar, which they can use to help ’em focus their prayers, and solely concentrate on Jesus. That, they consider worship; not so much the music, although they love music. Interrupt that meditative time, and they consider it time wasted.

Some of us do a little of one, and a little of the other. And some of us don’t like music at all. Or don’t get what we’re trying to do with it, and consider it dead religion and time wholly wasted. These would be the people who find various excuses to show up for church services in the middle of the very last song: They’re only here for the good parts. Like the sermon, holy communion, getting prayer, or interacting with fellow Christians after the service. Phooey on music.

Me, I’m one of those little-of-one, little-of-the-other types. But my church? Full-on going for meditative music.

Not allowed to rot.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 December

Psalm 16.10.

Previously I referred to King David ben Jesse as “the prophet David.” Somebody actually tried to correct me for saying so. I remind you a prophet is someone who hears God and shares what he hears: By that metric David’s obviously a prophet. Considering all the Spirit-inspired psalms he wrote, David’s got more actual prophecy in the bible than Elijah and Elisha combined.

Jesus recognized David as a prophet, Lk 20.41-44 and taught his students to do likewise. Ac 2.30 This is why the apostles had no problem using David for proof texts when they taught about Jesus. One verse they particularly liked to use was David’s line, lo-tittén khacídkha li-reót šakhát/“You don’t give [over] your beloved to see rottenness.” Or in better English, “You don’t allow your beloved to rot.” Ps 16.10 Both Simon Peter and Paul of Tarsus quoted it in Acts—Peter in chapter 2, Paul in 13.

Acts 2.22-28 KWL
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene is a man endorsed by God to you
by power, wondrous things, and miracles which God did through him in your midst,
just as you know personally.
23 This Jesus, by the decided counsel and foreknowledge of God,
was given into lawless Roman hands, crucified, and killed.
24 But God raised Jesus up, loosing death’s pains.
For it’s impossible for Jesus to be held by death.
25 For David spoke of him: ‘I foresee the Master before me, throughout all.
Because he’s at my right hand, lest I might be shaken.
26 For this reason my heart rejoices and my tongue exults. Again: My flesh will dwell in hope,
27 because you won’t abandon my soul to the afterlife, nor allow your Righteous One to rot.
28 You make the road of life known to me. You’ll fill me with joy with your face.’ ” Ps 16.8-11
Acts 13.34-37 KWL
34 “Because God raised Jesus from the dead, no longer to go back to rotting,
he said this: ‘I’ll give you the righteous, faithful David.’ Is 55.3
35 Because David also said in another place,
‘You won’t allow your Righteous One to rot.’ “ Ps 16.10

When Jesus died, he was only dead two days before the Father raised him the third day. His corpse wasn’t in the sepulcher long enough for decay to happen. So Jesus’s situation sounds exactly like this line from David’s psalm. To the apostles and their listeners, Jesus absolutely fulfilled it. Better than David himself.

Acts 2.29-30 KWL
29 “Men—brothers—if I may boldly speak to you about the patriarch David:
He died, was entombed, and his monument is among us to this day.
30 Thus, as a prophet, knowing God swore an oath to him—
one from the fruit of David’s loins is to sit on his throne—
31 he who foresaw, spoke about Messiah’s resurrection:
He’s neither left behind in the afterlife, nor did his body rot.
32 God raised this Jesus. All us apostles are his witnesses.”
Acts 13.36-37 KWL
36 “After serving God’s will to his own generation, David ‘slept,’ was gathered to his ancestors,
and rotted— 37 and Jesus, whom God raised, didn’t rot.”

Now. Because your average Christian nowadays doesn’t understand how fulfillment works in the bible, they immediately assume David’s psalm is a specific prophecy about Jesus. It’s actually not, as you can tell when you actually read the psalm.

The heir to David’s throne.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 December

2 Samuel 7.1-17.

In the 11th century BC the tribes of Israel grew tired of being led by head priests and judges. The previous head priest, Eli, had let his corrupt sons run amok; the current judge, Samuel, likewise had easily-bribed sons unfit to assume their father’s job. Clearly there are some serious problems with hereditary leadership, but the Hebrews stupidly didn’t recognize this (and therefore request democratically elected leaders with fixed terms—not that we elect our best people either). The descendants of Israel demanded Samuel procure them a king. Nevermind the LORD God being their king; Is 33.22, 43.15 they wanted a human king, like all the other nations had. 1Sa 8.5 So Israel got a king.

Kings suck, and Israel’s first two kings were typical rubbish. Like most politicians, Saul preferred pleasing the crowds to following God. His son Ishbaal was really just his uncle’s puppet. But the third king, the prophet David, was a standout: He was far from perfect, but he was bananas for the LORD, tried to follow him wholeheartedly, and the LORD figured this was a king he could work with. Not for nothing does the rest of the Old Testament compare every single king with David.

David conquered the Jebusite town of Jerusalem and made it his capital. He built himself a nice cedar palace in it. (Bit of a status symbol in a land where most houses were made of brick or stone.) Then one day he got to musing:

2 Samuel 7.1-3 KWL
1 This happened when King David sat in his house,
at a time the LORD gave him rest from all his enemies around.
2 King David told the prophet Nathan, “Please look: I sit in a cedar house.
And yet the God-box sits in the middle of sheets.”
3 Nathan told King David, “Whatever’s in your mind, go and do!—for the LORD’s with you.”

The arún ha-Elohím/“box of God,” which we more often call the Ark of the Covenant, was the gold box which contained the Ten Commandments, among other artifacts, representing the LORD’s formal relationship with Israel. He instructed Moses how to build the tent to keep it in, and the head priests had kept it in this tent ever since. And David felt it weird that he got a house, but the God-box got a tent. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? It’s just common sense.

But that night the LORD set Nathan straight: He never asked for a house.

2 Samuel 7.4-7 KWL
4 But this happened that night: The LORD’s word came to Nathan to say,
5 “Go tell my slave David the LORD says this:
You? You build a house for me to sit in?
6 From the day I brought Israel’s descendants from Egypt to this very day,
I’ve not sat in a house; I walk. In tent, in tabernacle.
7 In everywhere I walked with all Israel’s descendants, did I speak a word to one of Israel’s tribes?
When I instructed my people Israel’s pastor, did I say, ‘Why don’t you build me a cedar house?’ ”

See, that’s the downside of temples. Church buildings too. We too often think of them as our God-boxes. That’s where God is… and that’s where God stays. But I’m not discussing the validity of temples today; there’s a declaration the LORD makes in this prophecy which Christians love to apply to Jesus. It’s right here:

2 Samuel 7.8-17 KWL
8 “Now, tell my slave David the LORD of War says this:
I myself took you from the ranch, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel.
9 I’m with you everywhere you go. I cut off all your enemies before your face.
I make you a name as great as the greatest names who live in the land.
10 I set a place for my people Israel, and plant a tabernacle under them.
They aren’t disturbed further. Iniquity’s children humiliate them, as they did at first, no more.
11 Like the days I commissioned judges over my people Israel,
I give you rest from all your enemies.
Now the LORD tells you he, the LORD, makes you that house.
12 When your days are complete and you rest with your ancestors,
I raise your seed after you, one who comes forth from your innards.
I establish his kingdom.
13 He builds a house for my name.
I establish the throne of his kingdom for eons.
14 I become a father to him, and he becomes a son to me.
When he commits evil, I correct him with mortal canes, with Adam’s descendants’ whips.
15 My love isn’t taken from him,
like I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your face.
16 Your house and kingdom are guaranteed, before your face, for eons.
Your throne becomes established for eons.”
17 Nathan spoke all these words, all this vision, to David.

Now. This is obviously a prophecy about Solomon, the son of David who built the first temple of YHWH in Jerusalem, who hadn’t been born yet. It also applies to David and Solomon’s descendants: The rest of the house of David, which ruled Jerusalem till the Babylonians invaded—and briefly ruled Jerusalem again when the Persians made David’s direct descendant Zerubbabel governor of Jerusalem.

But by Jesus’s day, David’s house wasn’t in charge anymore. The Maccabees, a family of head priests, stepped into the power vacuum after they overthrew the Seleucids; they evolved into the Hasmoneans; then Herod overthrew them; then the Caesars overthrew the Herods. The Davids hadn’t been in charge for centuries. But according to Nathan’s prophecy, the Davids would be in charge ad-olám/“for time,” which most folks interpret as “for all time,” i.e. forever. So… if God promised David the throne forever, at some point one of the house of David had to retake the throne, right?

And as both Jesus’s genealogies clearly state, Jesus is from the house of David. The gospel of Matthew even begins,

Matthew 1.1 KJV
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

God made sure his Son had a biological claim to the throne. And since Jesus literally rules forever, in so doing, David’s house also literally rules forever. Looks like the LORD wasn’t just being hyperbolic.

Is there a prophecy of Jesus’s hometown?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 December

Matthew 2.23.

From the third century BC onward, Judeans began to move to the land where northern Israel’s tribes used to live before the Assyrians deported them. Namely in the galíl/“circle” of northern gentile cities—or as 1 Maccabees called it, “the Galilee of the gentiles.” 1Mc 5.15 They wanted to reclaim that land for Israel.

Nazareth was one of the towns they founded. So are all the other towns whose names you don’t find in the Old Testament. Likely Joseph and Mary’s grandparents were among the first settlers of that village. It wasn’t that old a settlement. Didn’t exist in Old Testament times. Wasn’t a town any prophet could point to, and say “That’s where Messiah is gonna grow up.” Though Micah did identify Messiah’s birthplace.

However, Christians are pretty sure one of the prophets did identify Jesus’s hometown, ’cause it says so in the bible!

Matthew 2.22-23 KWL
22 Hearing Archelaus Herod was made Judea’s king after his father Antipater Herod, Joseph feared to go there.
After negotiating in a dream, he went back to a part of the Galilee.
23 Joseph came to settle in a city called Nazareth.
This may fulfill the saying through the prophet: “He’ll be called ‘Nazarene.’ ”

And that is how Jesus became Jesus the Nazarene: His parents moved back to Nazareth and raised him there, far away from the murderous Herods. (Well, till Antipas Herod got made king of the Galilee, but that’s not for another year or so.)

Okay, so the prophet declared Jesus “will be called ‘Nazarene’ ” Great! Which prophet?

Here’s where Christians get stymied. This is not a quote of any bible verse we know about. Certain bibles like to put the addresses of Old Testament quotes in the footnotes, but you’ll notice many bibles don’t even bother. ’Cause it’s not found in the scriptures. At all. Not even in the books the Orthodox and Catholics include in their Old Testaments. It’s nowhere.

Some Christians are gonna insist it is so in the bible—it’s gotta be!—and stretch various Old Testament verses like crazy in order to make them fit. Probably the most popular stretch is to point to when the prophets talked about Messiah being an offshoot (KJV “branch”). This, they claim, really meant Nazareth—because nechér/“offshoot” sounds a little like Nadzarét/“Nazareth.” Some of ’em claim “offshoot” is what the town’s name means in the first place: As a Judean settlement, it’s meant to be an offshoot of that province.

The verse they like to point to most is in Isaiah, where it speaks of Messiah, the offshoot/descendant of Jesse ben Ovéd, father of the great King David.

Isaiah 11.1-5 KWL
1 A sprout goes out from Jesse’s stem; an offshoot of his roots produces fruit.
2 The LORD’s Spirit rests on him, a Spirit of wisdom and knowledge,
a Spirit of firmness and strength, a Spirit of cleverness and respect for the LORD.
3 He enlarges people’s respect for the LORD.
He doesn’t judge by how his eyes see them, or correct by how his ears hear them.
4 He righteously judges the poor. He plainly corrects the land’s meek.
He smites the land with his mouth’s scepter. He kills the wicked with his lips’ breath.
5 Rightness belts his waist. Steadiness belts his loins.

This prophecy can of course describe David himself… but seeing as Isaiah lived four centuries later, it’s not David. Nor the king of Jerusalem at the time, Hezekiah ben Ahaz. It’s a future king, a future messiah; it’s Jesus of course.

But as I said, it takes a really big stretch of vocabulary to claim this reference to a nechér means Messiah is gonna be called a Nazarene. Not that Christians don’t try to stretch it just that far.

“Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

by K.W. Leslie, 10 December

Hosea 11.1.

When we fulfill scripture, we’re doing as it says. When Jesus says “Love one another,” Jn 13.34 and we do it, we’re fulfilling it.

I know: When people usually talk about fulfillment, we assume it means someone’s doing as predicted. When Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, we assume this means the scriptures prophesied specifically about Jesus, and Jesus did as the prophesies foretold. Sometimes that’s absolutely true. But sometimes it’s really not, and this confuses Christians all the time.

Confused me too, when I was a kid and first learned about taking the scriptures in context. Because I actually read the Old Testament, and read those passages in context… and wondered, “How on earth is that a prophecy about Jesus?” Well, turns out it wasn’t. The author wasn’t writing about Jesus at all. Nor was the Holy Spirit secretly dropping clues about stuff Jesus would eventually do.

Yet Jesus did fulfill these scriptures. Because he did as the scriptures say. True, the scriptures weren’t saying it about him. Yet Jesus did those things too—and in a greater way than the original situation. A fully-filled way, if you wanna be corny about it: A fulfilled way.

Or in some cases a less full way. Take this passage from Hosea, which is about the LORD’s difficult relationship with rebellious Israel.

Hosea 11.1-8 KWL
1 “For I love Israel. I called my son from Egypt.
2 But the Baals called to them, so they turned their faces from me.
They sacrificed to Baals and burned incense to idols.
3 I taught Efraim to walk—and he took hold of the Baals’ arms.
The Ephraimites don’t even know I cured them!
4 I dragged them from their slave chains with ropes of love.
To them I became like those who take the bit from their mouths, loose them, and feed them.
5 Israel won’t return to Egypt’s territory: Assyria is the king of those who refuse to repent.
6 Assyria’s sword wounds Israel’s cities, destroys his limbs, and eats up his plans.
7 My people insist on quitting me. They call upon the One God, but I can’t exalt them.
8 How can I give to you, Efraim? Can I reward you, Israel?
Must I give you what I did Admah? Must I place you where I placed the Chevohites?
My heart is overthrown within me: My compassion is all hot.”

The LORD freed Israel, whom here he calls “my son,” Ho 11.1 and freed him from Egypt and raised him… and Israel/Ephraim instead worshiped the nasty Baals and shattered their relationship with God into pieces. Much of Hosea is about this very topic, although sometimes it compares Israel to an adulterous wife, and here to a rebellious son.

And yet Matthew decided to quote Hosea in speaking of the LORD’s absolutely-not-rebellious-at-all Son:

Matthew 2.13-15 KWL
13 As the Zoroastrians returned, look: The Lord’s angel appeared to Joseph in a dream,
saying, “Get up. Take the child and his mother. Go to Egypt. Be there as long as I tell you.
Herod is about to look for the child, to destroy him.“
14 Getting up, Joseph took the child and his mother that night,
and escaped to Egypt, 15 and was there till Herod’s death.
Thus might the Lord’s word through his prophet be fulfilled,
saying, “I called my son out of Egypt.” Ho 11.1

Um… when the LORD said that bit in Hosea, he wasn’t talking about Jesus. It says right there in verse 1, “When Israel was a child…” Not Jesus; Israel. Not the good son who never, ever rebelled against his Father; the nation which arguably did nothing but rebel.

So is Matthew quoting Hosea out of context? Nah. Because Jesus didn’t accomplish the prophecy; he only fulfilled it. He did the same thing. He was in Egypt, same as Israel was once in Egypt, though as a political refugee not a slave. And at the right time, Jesus’s heavenly Father had Jesus’s adoptive father take their Son back to the promised land.

The star coming out of Jacob.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Numbers 24.17.

The Hebrews of the Exodus weren’t the only Hebrews in the middle east. There were other Hebrew nations, who probably spoke Hebrew same as the descendants of Israel whom Moses led. Namely:

  • The ISHMAELITES, descended from Abraham’s oldest son Ishmael.
  • The MIDIANITES, descended from Abraham’s sixth son Midian. (What, you didn’t know Abraham had more sons than just Isaac and Ishmael? Ge 25.1-2 Lots of people don’t. See what happens when you skip parts of the bible?)
  • The MOABITES and AMMONITES, descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot.
  • The EDOMITES, descended from Israel’s brother Esau.
  • Plus Abraham’s son fourth son Yoqšan is the grandfather of “Ašurím and Letuším and Lehummím,” Ge 25.3 names which have a plural -im ending, which therefore means they’re not individuals but tribes.

Israel’s family went to Egypt to dodge a famine, but Ishmael, Lot, Esau, Midian, and Yoqšan’s families had stayed in the area and become their own nations. Over time some of those nations assimilated with Israel and became today’s Jews; the rest became today’s Arabs.

I bring them up ’cause Moab’s king, Baláq ben Chippór, was terrified the Israelis might ruin his nation. So he hired a mercenary prophet named Balám ben Beór to curse them, because word had it Balám’s blessings and curses stuck. But Balám wouldn’t curse Israel, ’cause the LORD got to him first and ordered him not to. Instead all Balám prophesied were blessings. Like this one.

Numbers 24.15-19 KWL
15 Balám lifted up this declaration and said, “The whisper of Balám, Beor’s son.
The whisper of the noble whose eyes are open.
16 The whisper of the hearer of God’s words, who knows the Highest’s plans,
sees the Almighty’s vision, falling in a trance with eyes uncovered.
17 I’m not seeing him just now; I’m not beholding him near just now:
A star proceeds from Jacob. A scepter rises from Israel.
It shatters Moab’s sides. It tears down all Šet’s children.
18 Edom becomes occupied. Seir is occupied by its enemies. Israel does mightily well.
19 One from Jacob reigns, and destroys the city’s survivors.”

Sounds more like a curse on Moab/Šet and Edom/Seir. (Those are different names for the same nations, just like Jacob/Israel.)

Through Balám, the LORD was clearly telling Baláq his nightmare would come true: Israel would eventually smite them. And smite Edom.

The star and scepter Balám spoke of are the ancient symbols (and still the present-day symbols) of a king. But bear in mind Israel had no king. The closest thing they had to a king was a head priest—and a thousand years later the head priests did become kings, but that’s leapfrogging a few centuries of the first monarchy—namely Saul, David and his descendants, and Jeroboam and the various Ephraimite dynasties. Saul’s kingdom was three centuries away, and till then Israel was randomly led by prophets, priests, and libertarian anarchy. No sign of any star and scepter for a long time.

So yeah, it’s a prophecy of a future king of Israel. Which, to be honest, isn’t that miraculous a thing to foretell. Nations need leadership, and in those pre-democracy days it meant one guy would find a reason to declare himself king, eliminate his competition, rule, and leave his throne to a competent son… or an incompetent one who’d quickly be overthrown. Predicting a king was sorta commonsense.

The miraculous part was stating this king would smite Edom and Moab, and win. Which David eventually did, 300 years later. Hence this is considered a messianic prophecy, ’cause David was God’s mašiakh/“messiah,” his anointed king.

And if it’s about one messiah, Christians tend to figure it’s also a prophecy about our Messiah, Jesus the Nazarene.

You must be born again.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

What “born again” means to pagans and Christians.

BORN AGAIN bɔrn ə'ɡɛn verb. Become Christian.
2. Convert to a stronger faith in, and a more personal relationship with, Christ Jesus.
3. Become a zealous [or overzealous] Christian.
4. noun: A Christian who underwent one of the above experiences.

Certain Christians insist you’re not a real Christian unless you’ve been “born again.”

These same Christians look at me funny whenever I talk about Christians who weren’t born again: “There’s no such thing,” they say. Actually there are: Some of us grew up Christian. From as far back as we can remember, we were raised to believe in Jesus and follow him, so we did. We went straight from childhood faith (where you trust Jesus because you’re told to) to personal faith (where you individually choose to trust Jesus) without any abrupt born-again experience at all. It was seamless… well, if there is a seam, Jesus knows where it is, but we don’t.

For me there was a born-again experience; I was a little kid, but I nonetheless chose to trust and follow Jesus. I’m aware there was a time before that when I didn’t. (I’m also aware there were times after that when I didn’t, but that’s because I’m a sinner, not because I’m not Christian.) But my experience, believe it or don’t, is actually atypical. Most Christians have never had a come-to-Jesus moment where they abruptly switched from paganism to Christendom. More often they phase into Christianity. They gradually believe. Or, like those who grew up Christian, they always believed.

So why do these born-again Christians make such a big deal about becoming born again?

Bluntly, bad theology. These folks were taught if we lack a born-again experience, we aren’t actually Christian. They were taught the way we know we’re Christian isn’t by the fact we produce good fruit, like Jesus taught; it’s by the fact we said the sinner’s prayer and were born again. They point to praying the sinner’s prayer as proof of salvation. It’s not. Not even close. Anybody can pray a version of the sinner’s prayer, and be pretty sure we it at the time, but if we’ve no relationship with Jesus thereafter, we didn’t mean it. Sad to say, there are a lot of fruitless Christianists who think they’re born again, but their works show they’re not.

If you’re fruitless, whether you’ve said a sinner’s prayer or not, you do need to be born again, and I recommend you get right on that. Repent, turn to Jesus, get forgiven, receive the Holy Spirit, start following him, and produce good fruit. Till then, it doesn’t matter what you imagine you remember of a born-again experience. If it didn’t turn you into a Christ-follower, it didn’t take. Do it again.

And if you are a Christ-follower already, you don’t need another born-again experience. You’re good.

Everybody got that?

The prophet like Moses.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 December

Deuteronomy 18.15-19.

In the 15th century BC, God saved the Hebrews.

Their ancestors had moved to Egypt to ride out a famine, and settled in a land called Goshen. (Which we nowadays call the Sinai Peninsula, even though Sinai’s actually on the other side of the Dead Sea, in Arabia. Ga 4.25 If the maps in your bible say otherwise, the mapmakers oughta actually read their bibles.) But some years later the Egyptians decided to press the Hebrews into slavery, and that was their situation when Moses was born… and 80 years later when the LORD sent Moses to lead ’em out of slavery. Ten plagues later, Moses led the Hebrews across the Dead Sea into Arabia, and the LORD drowned the Egyptian army behind them. And that is what Jews today celebrate every Passover.

Moses tried to lead the Hebrews to a land the LORD originally promised to Abraham; they called it Canaan, Israelis call it Israel, Palestinians call it Palestine, and we call it whatever the folks we side with most call it. The Hebrews balked, so the LORD had that generation die off in Arabia. Forty years later, a dying 120-year-old Moses addressed the next generation who was now ready to invade Canaan, and reminded them what the LORD had taught their people in the Arabian desert. We call that address Deuteronomy, from the Greek for “second Law.”

In Deuteronomy Moses told the Hebrews to follow the LORD—who, contrary to popular pagan belief, does not speak through “signs” or fortune-telling or astrology. He speaks through prophets. Like Moses.

Deuteronomy 18.9-22 KWL
9 “When you enter the land which your LORD God gives you,
don’t even try to learn to do the revolting things these nations do.
10 Like one who passes their son or daughter through fire:
Such a person mustn’t be found among you!
Nor anyone ‘reading the cards,’ anyone ‘reading the stars,’ augury, spells,
11 good-luck charms, consulting the spirits, talking to the dead.
12 For anyone doing these things is revolting to the LORD.
These revulsions are why your LORD God is driving them away from your faces.
13 You must become flawless with your LORD God.
14 For these nations you drive out: They listen to those ‘reading the stars’ and ‘reading the cards.’
As for you, your LORD God doesn’t allow you to do so.
15 Your LORD God raises up for you, from within you, from your family, a prophet.
You must listen to them!
16 It’s like you asked of your LORD God at Khorév, on the assembly day,
saying, ‘I don’t want to hear my LORD God’s voice any more!
I don’t want to see this great fire any further! I don’t want to die!’
17 The LORD told me, ‘What they say is fine.
18 I’m raising up prophets for them, from among their family, like you.
I put my words in their mouth. They speak to the people everything I command them.
19 When anyone won’t listen to my words, which my prophet speaks in my name,
I myself demand accountability from them.
20 However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name
what I’ve not ordered them to speak, or what was spoken in the name of other gods:
This prophet dies.
21 When you say in your heart, “How do we identify a word not spoken by the LORD?”:
22 When the prophet speaks in the LORD’s name, and it’s not my word:
It’s not something the LORD’s spoken; it won’t come to anything.
The prophet spoke it in pride. Don’t fear them.’ ”

Yeah, you probably know Jews and Christians who dabble in astrology, fortune-telling, good-luck charms, spiritualists, spells, and all that crap anyway. They shouldn’t be. God doesn’t talk through any of that. He uses prophets. Prophets wrote bible, so he uses bible. And that’s it. He doesn’t need to communicate any other way.

Praying the psalms.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 December

Psalms is one of the oldest prayer books in the world, y’know.

The psalms—yep, the very same psalms we find in the book of Psalms, as well as various random psalms we find elsewhere in the bible—are sacred songs to and about God, used to worship him. A lot of ’em are addressed directly to God. As such, they’re prayers.

Hence Jews, Christians, and Muslims have used ’em as rote prayers for millennia. In fact, Christians who’d ordinarily never pray a rote prayer (for fear they’re praying something God didn’t inspire) have few qualms about praying the psalms. ’Cause they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, so they’re solid. Memorizing a psalm is as good as memorizing any other passage in the bible. And useful, ’cause now you can recite that psalm to God, praise him with it, and pray it to him.

Likewise, because they’re bible, they’ll help us understand God better, and show us we can pray the very same things we find in the psalms. Including all the stuff Christians balk at: “Are you sure you can pray such things?” Yes you can. If it’s in the psalms, you can pray it. You can ask God anything. You can tell God anything. Seriously, anything.

Really, those people who feel they’re limited in what they can pray, get that idea because they haven’t read the psalms, or don’t think of psalms as praise and prayer. They imagine ’em as nice poetry (or odd poetry, since they don’t rhyme), but don’t realize they have any practical purpose beyond the occasional proof text. If you’re one of those people, and feel you don’t appreciate psalms to that degree, break yourself of that. Read the psalms. Memorize a few. And if you’re gonna pray the scriptures, start with Psalms.

(And once you memorize some of the shorter psalms, you can brag how you’ve “memorized entire chapters of the bible.” ’Cause technically you have.)

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 November

Not the chorus; the rote prayer. (And a bit about proper pronunciation of “excelsis.”

Before I discuss the rote prayer itself, lemme rant a bit about how everybody mispronounces excelsis.

When I was a kid, most folks I knew mispronounced it |ɪk'sɛl.sɪs|, ’cause it’s spelled like our English word “excel,” so people assumed of course that’s how you say it. Around high school one of the music pastors decided to correct everyone: “It’s pronounced |ɛks'tʃɛl.sɪs|; the C makes a |tʃ| sound like the word ‘cello,’ not |s| like ‘cellar.’ ” And everyone responded, “Ah of course,” and learned to say it that way.

Both are wrong.

The |tʃ| sound comes from Italian, which worked its way backwards into present-day Latin. (Which you thought was a dead language, didn’tcha? Nope. It’s still the official language of Vatican City, which means people there actually do speak it… when they’re not speaking Italian or English, or the pope’s native Spanish.) As for Roman Empire and early medieval Latin—in other words proper Latin—the C made a |k| sound, like “cardinal.” When an X came before it, that sound turned into an |s|. (Oh, and the vowels in Latin sound like the vowels in Spanish and French.) Hence the proper pronunciation of excelsis is |eɪs'kɛl.sis|.

Gloria in excelsis Deo |'ɡloʊ.ri.ɑ 'in eɪs'kɛl.sis 'deɪ.oʊ|, whether we mean the prayer, or the line we use for various Christmas-song choruses, is Latin for “glory in the highest to God.” It’s what angels said (not sang; read your bible again) when they appeared to the Bethlehem sheep-herders, and comes from the original dóxa en ypsístois Theó. Lk 2.14 But it comes from a more ancient Latin translation, ’cause St. Jerome rendered it gloria in altissimis Deo for the Vulgate.

When we’re speaking of the rote prayer—“the Gloria,” for short—we mean what Orthodox churches call “the Great Doxology.” There are eastern and western versions of it. The eastern version was written first, so let’s go with it first.

PRIEST. “Glory to you who has shown us the light.”
CONGREGATION. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to all people.
We praise you, we bless you, we worship you,
we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory.
Lord, King, heavenly God, Father, almighty;
Lord, the only‑begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit.
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father who take away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us, you who take away the sins of the world.
Receive our prayer, you who sit at the right hand of the Father,
and have mercy on us.
For you only are holy, only you are Lord,
Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Each day we bless you,
and we praise your name forever and to the ages of ages.
Lord, grant that we may be kept this day without sin.
Blessed are you, Lord, God of our fathers.
Your name is praised and glorified throughout all ages. Amen.

Jesus came from heaven? And you gotta eat him?

by K.W. Leslie, 26 November

John 6.41-60.

Jesus pointed out he, not the stuff he and his students fed the 5,000, not the manna the LORD fed the Hebrews, is bread from heaven. Living bread. Stuff you eat and live forever. Don’t seek temporal, earthly bread. Seek him.

It’s a metaphor, of course, for a relationship with Jesus. One the Galileans and Judeans, steeped in a culture (and a bible) full of metaphors, shoulda understood. One we should understand too… but of course not all of us do, and I’m gonna get into that a bit today.

But at this point in the story, the Galieans appeared to be tracking with Jesus so far. Their objection—the reason they eghóngyzon/“grumbled” (KJV “murmured”) about Jesus teaching this—wasn’t because they misunderstood what he meant; they totally understood what he meant. Their problem was he was talking about himself. Who, they were agreed, was probably a big deal; probably the End Times prophet. But “comes from heaven”? Waitaminnit.

John 6.41-42 KWL
41 So the Galileans grumbled at Jesus because he said “I’m the bread who comes from heaven,”
42 and said, “Isn’t this Jesus bar Joseph? Don’t we know his father and mother?
So how does he say he’s come from heaven?”

If somebody claims, “I came from heaven,” our knee-jerk reaction is naturally, “No you didn’t.” Doesn’t matter how much you know them, how much you like them, how much anything—the only people in the highest heaven are God, the angelic beings round his throne, and those few people he raptured before the resurrection, like Elijah. (We presume a few people because only three get a mention in the bible. For all we know God might’ve raptured way more. But that’s pure speculation.) Nobody can come from heaven but those beings—and we’re quite sure our claimant isn’t among them. Likewise the Galileans and Jesus: Of course he didn’t come from heaven. He was born. He has parents! They knew his parents.

Yeah, Christians are fully aware Jesus existed before his conception, ’cause he’s God. We get how he came from heaven, yet was born. We tend to take that belief for granted. But that was a wholly foreign idea to the Galileans, who presumed God would never do such a thing. He’s almighty, he’s sovereign, he’s dignified… he’s not a man, like Moses said, Nu 23.19 and they figured he’d never stoop so low as to become one.

So the Galileans had to wrap their brains around that one. But Jesus doubled down.

John 6.43-46 KWL
43 In reply Jesus also told them, “Don’t grumble among yourselves:
44 Nobody can come to me unless the Father, my Sender, draws them,
and I will resurrect them on the Last Day.
45 In the Prophets it’s written, ‘And they’ll all be taught by God’: Is 54.13
All who hear and learn from the Father, come to me.
46 Not that they saw the Father—
except the one from God; this man has seen the Father.”

So not only is Jesus claiming he’s from heaven, but he’s gonna resurrect everybody. Which wasn’t at all what the Pharisees taught about the End Times prophet, nor Messiah, nor anyone. Jesus is making some mighty cosmic claims for himself.

And this, folks, is why they couldn’t believe in Jesus. Not because they mixed up his bread metaphors.

Purgatory: When our works are tested with fire.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 November

Some Christians believe there’s no such thing. Here’s why the others believe it exists—in whatever form they imagine it.

Many Christians figure they’re C.S. Lewis fans ’cause they read his Narnia books, as I did in fifth grade. In high school I read his Mere Christianity, and in college I took advantage of its much-larger Lewis collection to read everything I could find. Including, it turned out, his academic stuff… which leads to another story I’ll tell another time.

One of his books was The Great Divorce, Lewis’s attempt to tell a Divine Comedy-style tour of purgatory, with George MacDonald as his guide instead of Virgil. It’s interesting because it gives examples of the sort of people who aren’t ready for heaven. But the book is a big hurdle for various Christians—in particular Fundamentalists—because they don’t believe in purgatory. Depending on how gracious they are (or aren’t), they’d assign Lewis’s case studies to either heaven or hell, and that’s that.

I’ve since found a number of self-described “Lewis fans” have never read The Great Divorce, and those who have, don’t entirely know what to do with it. Lewis was an Anglican, and since the Church of England believes in purgatory, so did he. My acquaintances were largely Assemblies, Baptists, or unaffiliated Fundies, and really didn’t like how their favorite author believed in something they consider “too Catholic” for their tastes. I get that, ’cause I used to be in the same boat: I dismissed purgatory as a ridiculous, non-biblical Catholic invention, invented as a loophole for good pagans who didn’t embrace Jesus, but might if they had one more chance in the afterlife.

Except that’s not what Catholics teach about purgatory. It’s what they teach about limbo. By which I don’t mean the game where you lean backwards under a bar without touching it; I mean the belief there’s a place in the afterlife which isn’t paradise, but isn’t torment either (well, unless the fact you’re never going to heaven is torment), where good pagans and unbaptized Christians go. (Although nowadays most of ’em teach unbaptized Christians go to purgatory.)

What is purgatory then? Purgatory is where you go before you go to paradise or heaven. Because when we die, we still have some sins on our souls, and these sins need to be removed before we can go onward and upward. Purgatory’s where we get those sins removed. That done, we’re clean, and can now enter God’s presence unhindered.

Is purgatory in the bible? Well, kinda. But the very little which suggests the existence of purgatory, has been pulled and stretched like taffy. Those who don’t believe in purgatory rightly point out far too much has been extrapolated from far too little. You know, like the Left Behind novels.

Praying the scriptures.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 November

Why Christians put a lot of bible in their prayers.

It’s a popular Christian practice to drop little bits of bible into our prayers. Kinda like so.

Father, we come to you because you tell us “if my people, who are called by my name, seek my face, I will hear from heaven,” and we recognize “your word won’t return void,” so we call upon you today, Lord. Hear our prayers, meet our needs, heed our cries. “Give us today our daily bread.” Amen.

Yeah, we can pray full passages. We pray the Lord’s Prayer of course; sometimes we pray the psalms. Many of the more famous rote prayers consist of lines lifted straight from the bible and arranged to sound like a prayer.

We do this for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes not-so-legitimate ones: We want our prayers to sound more bible-y. That’s why we’ll trot out the King James Version English with its “thee” and “thou” and old-timey verbs. If it’s old-fashioned we figure it’s more solemn and serious and holy. It’s not really—but people think so, which is why they do it.

Or we covet the bible’s power. We quote bible because the bible is God’s word… and since God’s word is mighty and powerful, maybe quoting it is also mighty and powerful. Maybe those words can make our prayers mighty and powerful… and we can get what we want because we’ve tapped that power.

Or we’re padding the prayers. Short prayers are fine, but too many Christians think long prayers are, again, more solemn and serious and holy. So if our prayers are too short, maybe we can make ’em longer by throwing in a few dozen bible verses. Plus they’ll sound more bible-y, plus tap a little of the bible’s power. Yep, we can do this for all three inappropriate reasons.

But don’t get me wrong; there are appropriate reasons to include bible verses in our prayers. Really good reasons too.

The living bread wants to save us.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 November

John 6.30-42.

To recap: Jesus is the living bread, and wants people to pursue him instead of ordinary bread—or any other ordinary material possession which gets used up, goes moldy or stale, or otherwise perishes. He wants an eternal relationship with us. Whereas sometimes all we seem to want of him too often are the fringe benefits of heaven.

So went the discussion Jesus had with the Galileans who sought him after he and his students fed 5,000. (John refers to them as Yudaíoi/“Judeans,” people from Judea who settled the Galilee centuries after the Assyrians drove the northern Israeli tribes out. I stuck with “Galileans” because obviously they’re Galilean Jews—same as Jesus.) The Galileans figured he was the Prophet from the End Times because he fed ’em bread like Moses fed their ancestors manna. Like they say here.

John 6.30-31 KWL
30 So they told Jesus, “So what miracle are you doing so we can see it and trust you?
What’d you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert.
Like it’s written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Ps 78.24

As I said previously, it wasn’t because they wanted a handout of free manna. It’s because being able to do such a miracle proved to them the End Times had come, and they oughta follow Jesus ’cause he was about to overthrow the Romans. Of course their timeline—and motives!—looked nothing like Jesus’s.

So he threw ’em for a loop by stating something which they’d immediately think was incorrect.

John 6.32-34 KWL
32 Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven.
Instead my Father gives you actual bread from heaven.”
33 For God’s bread is the one coming from heaven, giving life to the world.”
34 So they told Jesus, “Master, give us this bread, always.”

Whenever Jesus says “Amen amen” (KJV “verily, verily,” NIV “Very truly,” NJB “In all truth”) he’s not kidding. Not lying, not exaggerating; you can take this statement to the bank. It might be a metaphor though. But it’s still entirely truthful, which is why I interpret légo ymín/“I tell you” as “I promise you.” And what he promised ’em was manna isn’t bread from heaven. He is.

Thing is, biblical literalists are gonna insist manna totally is bread from heaven. ’Cause the LORD Ex 16.4 and Nehemiah Ne 9.15 said so! Asaph wrote this in Psalms!

Psalm 78.23-25 KWL
23 God commanded the clouds from above. He opened the heavens’ doors.
24 God made manna to rain down upon them, to eat. He gave them the heavens’ grain.
25 People ate potent bread. God sent them abundant food.

(The word “potent” in verse 25 translates abirím, which means “stallions” or “bulls”—basically any uncastrated animal, who’s mighty strong, but sometimes hard to control. You know, like Hebrews. Pharisees were a little weirded out by that idea, so in the Septuagint they changed it to árton angélon/“angels’ bread” in the Septuagint, even though abirím isn’t translated “angels” anywhere else in the bible. But that’s why we find “bread of angels” in most English translations. Turns out our translators are just as squeamish about testicles. But I digress.)

Obviously Asaph wrote poetry, and was being hyperbolic, as poets will. But literalists don’t know and don’t care what hyperbole is, and only wanna fixate on their favorite literal interpretation: God gave the Hebrews angel food! As if spirits eat. Wasn’t the whole point of Jesus eating after his resurrection to prove he’s not just a spirit, ’cause spirits don’t eat? Lk 24.38-43 Why would any angel need to eat manna?

Manna comes from heaven in that God, who’s in heaven, provides it. But it doesn’t literally come from heaven, as Jesus correctly points out. Get off the manna. ’Cause he’s offering us actual heavenly bread—and again, that’s a metaphor, but one we shouldn’t struggle to understand like the Galileans did.

Elections and God’s will.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 November

One of the myths American Christians like to tell ourselves, is that democracy reflects God’s will. Vox populi, vox Dei/“the people’s voice [is] God’s voice,” is the old slogan.

A slogan which doesn’t come from the bible, of course. It’s a very old Roman slogan… which is actually derived from the old Roman pagan religion. The Romans believed one of the ways they could deduce the gods’ will was to observe the masses. If suddenly everyone in the city wanted something, they figured it was a sure bet the gods wanted it, and were influencing humans to express their desires. It gave them a religious justification for democracy… and at the same time, gave the priests a religious justification to ditch their traditions when they were no longer popular.

But it’s not Christian thinking whatsoever. You might recall it was the crowds (riled up by the head priests, but still) who called for Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus. Mk 15.9-15 You might recall because the crowds regularly defied God, he had to flood the world, scramble Babel’s languages, burn down Sodom, have the Hebrews slaughter the God-resistant Amorites and Philistines, then have the Assyrians and Babylonians slaughter the God-resistant Hebrews. The cycle of history is full of people who not only didn’t reflect God’s voice, but blatantly defied him.

It’s why Alcuin of York, who did know his bible, commented to King Charles of Lombardy (whom historians call Charlemagne) in a letter in 798, “Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.” For those who don’t remember their Latin classes: “Don’t listen to those who keep saying, ‘The people’s voice is God’s voice’: The commoners’ rowdiness is always just on the edge of insanity.”

As we’ve seen demonstrated in just about every American election. If you deny it happens in your party, you gotta admit it absolutely does happen in the opposition party.

The reality is that humans are totally messed up. Christians included. We’re selfish. Human nature is not “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Lv 19.18 which is why God had to command it; it’s to think of ourselves first, others second—if at all. Some of us even claim it’s a virtue to think of ourselves first, others second. Sometimes individually, like those who claim charity demoralizes those who receive it, so don’t be charitable. (They certainly aren’t.) Sometimes collectively, hence those “America first” slogans, which too often really mean “America only.”

And because of this human depravity, what does this make our democracy and our elections? Collective depravity. We’re not voting God’s will into power, much as we’d like to imagine we are. We’re voting for our will. We vote to lower taxes, not because don’t care about our government’s crushing debt, not because we don’t care about infrastructure and security, but because we individually want that money more than economic stability and the general welfare. We vote to legalize the things we want, and criminalize the things we don’t want.

We might claim Jesus likewise wants or doesn’t want them, but he’s an excuse. We use him to justify our own behavior, or project our ideals upon him to salve our consciences. The votes of any nation might be influenced by how Christian the people are, or aren’t. More often—as proven by how people tend to tell surveys and polls one thing, but vote very differently in secret—they’re a barometer of how hypocritical we really are.

So when an election doesn’t go our way—and we’re naïve enough to imagine it therefore didn’t go God’s way—let’s not foolishly ask, “Where was God in this election?” He was, as usual, sitting it out. Because the United States is not his country. His kingdom is. He rules us that way. Not through our system of government.

How non-supernatural Christians define prophecy.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 November

How non-supernaturalist Christians confuse the gift of exhortation with the gift of prophecy.

In the scriptures, a prophet is a person who hears God and shares his messages with others. Anyone can hear God, so anyone can become a prophet, and since every Christian has the Holy Spirit within them, Christians especially can become prophets. It’s kind of our birthright. Ac 2.17-18

However. In popular Christian culture, particularly among Christians who have their doubts or fears about miracles and the supernatural, “prophecy” has been redefined. To these folks, prophecy still totally refers to sharing God’s messages with others. But as for hearing that message directly from God… well that’s not part of their understanding. Either ’cause they insist God doesn’t do that anymore, or ’cause they seriously downplay anything supernatural about the way Christians get God’s messages.

So to them, a “prophet” is anyone who shares God’s truths. They read ’em in the bible, preach the bible, and voilà they’re a prophet. Or they heard these truths from another preacher, shared ’em with others, and that makes ’em a prophet too. Basically every Christian preacher and teacher is a prophet.

To some, what especially makes ’em a prophet is the message. If they radically stand up for God, over and against a culture which doesn’t care about him, or wants to water him down into something inoffensive and powerless, that’s what makes ’em prophets: They’re hardcore. Prophets aren’t just any teachers, but teachers of revolution. Of revival. Of profound, God-seeking change.

To others, the active ingredient is their effectiveness. ’Cause loads of Christians preach radical change. But if these preachers’ messages actually get people to radically change, they must have a gift!—and, they presume, it’s the gift of prophecy. God granted them the power for their words to make a difference. God made ’em really good public speakers, like Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. Isn’t that all prophecy is?

What these alternate definitions have in common is that exhortation makes the prophet. If you preach God’s message—maybe radically, maybe effectively—you’re a prophet.

Why I have a problem with these alternate definitions: Prophets don’t act that way in the bible. They heard God. Samuel’s first prophecy wasn’t radical change but judgment, and it clearly didn’t convict Eli to change his behavior.

1 Samuel 3.10-18 KWL
10 The LORD came, stood, and called, same as usual: “Samuel. Samuel.”
Samuel said, “Speak. Your slave hears you.”
11 The LORD told Samuel, “Look, I’m doing a work in Israel which everyone will hear of.
Their two ears will turn red with shame.
12 On that day, I do to Eli everything I said about his house, start to finish:
13 I told Eli when I judged his house for always, for its corruption.
He already knows: His sons made themselves unholy, and he didn’t stop them.
14 So I promised Eli’s house: Can it make atonement for always,
with a mere sacrifice and offering for Eli’s house’s sin?”
15 Samuel lay down till morning. He opened the door of the LORD’s house.
Samuel was afraid to present the vision to Eli.
16 Eli called Samuel, and said, “Samuel my son.” Samuel said, “Look at me.”
17 Eli said, “What was the word to you? Please don’t hide from me.
God do it to you, and do it again, if you hide the word from me—
all the word he told you.”
18 Samuel told Eli the whole message, and hid from him nothing.
Eli said, “He’s the LORD. He does what’s good in his eyes.”

Yeah, I know; various Christians will insist all the meanings and definitions of miracles and prophecy and revelation got changed between bible times and today, or between Old Testament times and New. It’s rubbish, but popular rubbish. Samuel was identified a prophet because Samuel heard God. Not because of what he said and how he said it. Solely because of how he got what he said.

If your “prophecy” isn’t the product of hearing God, ’tain’t prophecy.

When faith won’t fit in the pagan pigeonhole.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 November

’Cause skeptics hate it when you inform ’em you don’t believe in wishful thinking either.

When Christians define the word faith, we go with the definition found in Hebrews. “The solid basis of hope, the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” is how I usually put it. He 11.1 We haven’t seen something, but we believe it anyway—for solid reasons. Usually ’cause we’re taking someone’s word for it, like Jesus’s.

When pagans define it, they either go with wishful thinking, blind optimism, or the ability to believe imaginary things without evidence. You know, stuff we shouldn’t believe. And to be fair, some Christians do think of faith that way, ’cause they haven’t read Hebrews, or their leaders did a sucky job teaching ’em about faith. It’s not like they got their false definition from nowhere.

Yep, I read Hebrews, and my church leaders were pretty good about defining faith accurately. So when skeptical pagans start to mock faith—“Oh, you Christians only believe that rubbish because you want so bad for it to be true”—I correct ’em. Christian faith is based on evidence, not wishes. Based on the testimony of those who’ve seen stuff and shared it. 1Jn 1.1-4 Based on trustworthy, knowledgeable people, like Jesus. Based on the scriptures, which were written by such people. Wishing doesn’t make it so; wishing makes nothing so.

In Christianity, faith ultimately takes Jesus’s word for it. In the rest of life, we tend to take other people’s word for it. When reporters present the news, we take their word for it. When a dictionary, encyclopedia, or other reference work says something’s so, we take their authors’ word for it. When a scientific journal makes a claim, we take the researcher’s word for it—or we do the research ourselves and debunk ’em, but more often it’s easier to just presume they did the research properly and do take their word for it. In every last one of these areas, we’re practicing faith. ’Cause like Hebrews describes it, these are actions we’ve not seen. But we have a solid basis for believing ’em anyway.

Now. When I explain it to pagans that way, you’d think they’d respond, “Oh! That’s surprising. I didn’t realize you guys thought about faith that way. I’m still not sure I’d reach the same conclusions about God as you, but it’s good to know you put some intellectual rigor into your belief system.”

Instead it’s more like, “…No that’s not what you people mean by faith. It’s the ability to believe imaginary stuff as if it’s real. You’re trying to pull a fast one.”

And sometimes it’s outrage. “How dare you compare my trusting a scientist in any way with your religious belief in God. What I’m doing isn’t faith. Faith is a religious thing. It has nothing at all to do with what I practice.”

Either way, pagan skeptics absolutely hate our definition. They imagine they have religion all sorted out. When they’re told otherwise, they lose their cool: Their worldview is based on the idea faith is purely a religious practice—and a dumb one—which has nothing whatsoever to do with the real, material world of facts, evidence, logic, science, and reason. Faith is for the religious; they’re not religious; ergo they don’t do faith. Period. Don’t you dare use the F-word on them.

Why does it freak ’em out so much? Well they‘re gonna hate this explanation too: They’re really fond of the idea religion is intellectually pathetic. Makes ’em feel good about themselves for being irreligious. Finding out they’re wrong—that they never made the effort to find out what religion actually has in it; that their dismissive attitudes are actually based on prejudice and presumption—shakes their faith in their skepticism. Getting your faith shaken tends to freak anyone out, Christian or not.

Yep, I used the F-word to describe ’em again. Hey, if the word fits.

The “Your will be done” prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 November

Not just praying it for others, but ourselves. And meaning it!

The “Your will be done” prayer is part of the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously it’s the “Thy will be done” bit. Mt 6.10 I’ve already discussed where we’re praying for his will to be done. Today it’s more about how we fulfill that particular prayer of his. Yep, it’s about doing God’s will.

Typically when Christians pray “Your will be done,” we’re not talking about ourselves. We’re talking about everyone. “Thy will be done on earth,” is how the full clause goes, so we’re thinking about how God’s will gets done on earth as a whole, and by all humanity instead of us as individuals. When we pray it, we’re praying humanity collectively does God’s will. We’re not always remembering that we—you and I and everyone else—have to do God’s will too. Usually we’re thinking about how everybody else really oughta follow God’s will, ’cause they don’t, the earth sucks, and it’s their fault.

So when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re not always praying that we do God’s will. We make it a prayer for everyone else. Everyone not us.

But we are part of collective humanity, and today let’s get away from how everybody else isn’t pulling their weight. When you pray “Your will be done,” trying praying it this way: “Your will be done by me.”

’Cause we do wanna do God’s will, right?

Well no, we don’t always. Let’s be honest. We wanna do our will. We’re ready and eager to do God’s will when it coincides with our will. God wants us to go to church, and if we like church, this is no problem! And if we hate church, this is a huge problem, and suddenly we’re gonna be very receptive to any Christian who tells us we might not have to go; that “the communion of saints” is an option, that you can forsake gathering together, He 10.25 and that you won’t grow undisciplined, weird, heretic, and less loving because you’ve no one to sharpen your iron. Pr 27.17 Basically we’ll just do our own thing, cling to any excuse for why God might be okay with it, and even imagine it was all his idea, if we can mentally get away with it.

So, sometimes we wanna do God’s will. Which is why we need to keep praying this prayer. We need to learn to always wanna do his will. We need God to not let us get away with weaseling out of it.

Seek the living bread! Accept no substitutes.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November

John 6.25-29.

At the beginning John’s chapter 6, Jesus had his students feed 5,000 people with five rolls and fish spread. The people’s conclusion? Jesus was the Prophet, the End Times figure, the “prophet like Moses,” Dt 18.15 whom the Pharisees wondered whether John the baptist was. Jn 1.21 Because Jesus fed ’em bread, just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna. So he’s a prophet like Moses!

The next day they sought Jesus and couldn’t find him. So they returned to Jesus’s home base of Kfar Nahum… and there he was.

John 6.25-27 KWL
25 Finding Jesus on the far side of the lake, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 In reply Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you seek me not because you saw miracles:
Instead it’s because you ate the rolls and were filled.
27 Don’t toil for perishable food! Instead seek food which lasts for eternal life.
The Son of Man will give it to you, for Father God sealed this man.”

Various preachers love to claim this lesson is all about the people coming to Jesus for free bread, and Jesus responding he didn’t come to teach people to expect handouts. And whenever I hear this, it’s obvious they didn’t study the text, and instead they’re preaching their stingy politics instead of God’s kingdom. God doesn’t want us to be dependent on him for daily bread? Have they heard of the Lord’s Prayer? What bible are they reading?

Being dependent on God is precisely what God wants. You do realize he gave the Hebrews free manna for 40 years. The only work they had to do for it, was go pick it off the ground and stick to a liter a day. (Two liters on Friday; no liters on Saturday. Sabbath, y’know.) No planting, no watering, no waiting, no harvesting, no winnowing, no grinding; just free manna. As easy as when we buy flour at the grocery store; easier ’cause you pay nothing. You wanna agitate about handouts? You need to learn about God’s generosity, ’cause you’re deficient in it.

Free bread, free food in general, is one of the traits of Kingdom Come. Because of sin, humanity was cursed to toil for our food. Ge 3.17 Once God deals with our sin, the curse gets lifted and no more toil. That’s what we expect in heaven: Eternal rest! The Galileans expected it too. And suddenly after one of Jesus’s lessons, his students walk round handing out bread the Galileans didn’t have to work for. Then Jesus tells them about “food which lasts for eternal life,” and “the Son of Man will give it to you.” It doesn’t sound at all like Jesus was telling them, “I’m not here to give people handouts.” Just the opposite!

But.

Yeah, there’s a but. A big huge one. A but which also applies to us, because we’re guilty of precisely the same thing as the Galileans. Jesus told ’em to not seek perishable bread, but eternal-life bread. Because they were seeking perishable bread. They were seeking something material. Lots of it; enough so they’d regularly be filled; an abundance of it; so they were seeking a wealth of this material. Do I have to spell it out any more? Fine: Material wealth.

So… how many Christians are hoping to make it to Kingdom Come so they can have a crown filled with jewels, and a mansion on a street of gold?

And instead Jesus wants us to have living bread. Which—spoilers—is Jesus himself. Jn 6.35

Should you lead a small group?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 November

Basically, get over yourself.

If your church doesn’t have a small group to join—or does, but not the sort of small group you’d really like to join—you do realize you can start one, right?

They’re not at all hard to start. I’ve started many. Pick some people whom you’d like to involved in your group, pick a time and place, and start meeting. Since you’re doing this above board (right?) let your church leadership know you’re meeting, but otherwise that’s all it really takes.

There are only three things that’d prevent you from starting such a group:

  • YOU. You don’t wanna run one, don’t have the time, or don’t feel you’re qualified.
  • YOUR PEOPLE. They don’t wanna come. Or they’re awful.
  • YOUR CHURCH LEADERS. They don’t want one.

I’ll deal with each of these issues in turn. First, let’s talk about you.

A lot of Christians would love certain ministries to exist in their churches… but they don’t. ’Cause reasons. They might cost money, or the church lacks proper facilities, or Jesus hasn’t specifically appeared to them in a vision and ordered, “Go thou and start a ministry.” Whatever lame excuse works for them. The reality is just about any Christian could step up and start one, but nobody wants the job. We’re all looking at one another, waiting for somebody else to do something, and in so doing get us off the hook.

“I don’t have the time” is a pretty common excuse. Some ministries do require a time commitment. A bible study requires prep time, ’cause the study leader actually has to study! A book study requires that somebody reads the book, right? So that’s a chunk of time you’ve gotta carve out from the rest of your week… which you were planning to use to watch football, play a video game, binge-watch a TV series, read a novel, sleep in on Saturday, or some other recreational activity which doesn’t build relationships with your family members. Much less the people of your church.

“I don’t feel qualified” is likewise a common excuse: Christians feel they need some training or education before they can lead others. And yeah, it wouldn’t hurt to read a book, take a class, or listen to podcasts about leadership. But God’s only qualification for Christian leaders is maturity: We gotta be fruitful Christians who can encourage others to likewise produce the Spirit’s fruit. Most of us have no problem organizing parties, or coordinating friends to meet up at some event, and really that is the extent of the actual “leadership” necessary for small groups. Seriously. Just get ’em to show up!

Our personal excuses for not starting a small group are, bluntly, crap. Don’t kid yourself. If you wanna start a small group, ain’t nothing but your own immaturity stopping you.

The bible’s not a biology textbook!

by K.W. Leslie, 07 November

Leviticus 11.13-19 • Deuteronomy 14.11-18 • Jonah 1.17 • Matthew 12.40

During a talk with a fellow Christian, we went off on a bit of a tangent.

ME. “…Like when Jonah got swallowed by the whale…”
HE. “Sea creature.”
ME. “Whale. How’re you getting ‘sea creature’ from kítus?
HE. “From what?”
HE.Kítus. The Greek word for ‘whale.’ The word Jesus used when he talked about Jonah being in the whale’s belly three days and nights. Mt 12.40 It’s the word we get our adjective ‘cetacean’ from, which refers to whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other marine mammals.”
HE. [confused; betcha he didn’t expect me to know what I was talking about] “But Jonah said he was swallowed by a great fish.” Jh 1.17
ME. “Sure.”
HE. “Well a whale’s not a fish.”
ME. “Not anymore. It was a fish in Jesus’s day.”
HE. “Whales used to be fish…?”
HE. “Yep. No, they didn’t once have gills then evolve lungs. They used to be fish because the ancients classified them as fish: If it lives in the sea it’s a fish. Then somebody realized some of these fishes have lungs, and decided if you have lungs you’re not a fish, and humanity redefined ‘fish.’ Well, the bible’s still using the old definition. So whales, in the bible, are still big fish.”
HE. [still confused] “But whales aren’t fish.”
ME. “Aren’t fish now. Were fish back in Jesus and Jonah’s day.”
HE. “So are you saying the bible’s wrong, or we are?”
ME. “Neither. The bible doesn’t define fish; it explains God. We define fish. You remember Adam got to name the animals. Ge 2.19-20 We get to decide what’s called a fish and what’s not. And if we update the words, we gotta update our bible translations. Problem is, sometimes we update ’em wrong and make the bible look inconsistent. It’s not. It’s just a quirk of language.”

Turns out his confusion came from the fact his updated bible translation changed the wrong word. It took Jesus’s kítos—which still means “whale” in modern Greek!—and rendered it thisaway:

Matthew 12.40 NIV
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Which isn’t an entirely illegitimate translation. To Jesus’s mind (at the time) a whale was a huge fish. But if we wanna be precise, he said kítus/“whale.” Whenever there appears to be a bible difficulty, the NIV is notorious for changing the text till it’s not so difficult anymore.

Problem is, people aren’t always gonna read an NIV bible. Plenty of people still read the KJV. All those Gideon bibles in the hotel rooms still read “whale’s belly,” and people are still gonna read ’em. And maybe wonder why Jesus thought a marine mammal was a fish. If you don’t know your history, you won’t know why it was totally okay for Jesus to think that.