A religion without works.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 June

It’s devilishly easy.

A friend recently expressed her great frustration about phony Christians. You know, the sort of people I call Christianists—they’re not necessarily unsaved, but they sure do act it, ’cause they’re immature, and have mixed up all sorts of other things with Christianity. They keep surprising this friend; I suppose she expects them to act like Jesus, and is regularly disappointed.

I know the feeling all too well. But it doesn’t surprise me, ’cause I grew up around so many of them. I was a hypocrite myself once, who got suckered into the fake stuff in lieu of the real thing. It’s a really easy trap, too.

If I were giving directions to a devil as to how to trick people into it… Yeah, like one of the Screwtape letters, except I don’t know devilish psychology; I just know how to be evil, which is likely close enough. It’d go a little something like this.

Oh hi devil.

So you’re familiar with how our evangelists like to present Christianity as if there are no strings attached?—that if you come to Jesus, he won’t just wash away all our sins, but he’ll make our lives all better, and fix all our problems?

You should find this material really useful. It sets people up for so many disappointments with God, ’cause he won’t do any of the things these evangelists promised he would. Deprive them of anything, and their faith will shrivel up like a seed that fell on pavement instead of soil. Mk 4.5-6 You get to watch their hearts break in despair. Awww.

This no-strings-attached crap is also a great way to get Christians to do nothing. All you gotta do is overemphasize how good deeds are no part of the salvation process. At all. Good deeds are “like filthy rags.” Is 64.6 NIV Tell them God doesn’t appreciate good deeds, doesn’t want ’em; they even piss him off.

If they object, “But didn’t God command them?” go sic one of our dispensationalists on them. Have the Dispy explain how God did away with all that good-deeds crap; that’s why he doesn’t do any good deeds, and he’s a good Christian. (He’s not, but you’re not gonna tell anyone.)

I know; you’re thinking, “Wouldn’t it more fun for us to make ’em spin their wheels and try really, really hard to earn salvation, and never feel like they’re getting anywhere?” Obviously some devils do this already. But it’s risky behavior: There’s a good chance these people will do actual good works. That, or observers won’t realize how defective their “good deeds” truly are, and it’ll inspire them to do good deeds, if not become Christians themselves. Pretty sure you don’t want that. So, better they do nothing.

Surrendering our authority to Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 June

When I was a kid I came across one of Bill Bright’s gospel tracts, in which he diagrammed the difference between a self-centered life and a Jesus-centered life. Looked like yea.


Or “self-directed” and “Christ-directed.” Either way. Discover God

If our lives are self-centered, supposedly they’ll be chaos. Whereas if they’re Jesus-centered, they appear to be neat and orderly and crisis-free. With none of the challenges, persecutions, temptations, suffering, or any of the things Jesus totally warned us were part of life. Yeah, certain gospel tracts tend to promise a little too much. Bright’s was one of them.

But lemme get back to my point: The idea of a Jesus-centered life, as opposed to a self-centered one. That is in fact the whole point of Christianity: Jesus is Lord. We’re meant to follow his steps in everything we do, 1Pe 2.21, 1Jn 2.6 always take him into consideration, obey his teachings, seek his will. He’s the king of God’s kingdom, and if you want in, he has to be in charge.

In practice he’s not Lord at all.

Well he’s not. Absolutely should be. But you know how humans are: We decide who we’re gonna follow and obey. Sometimes actively, ’cause we seek out authority figures and mentors and books to follow; sometimes passively, ’cause we do as our bosses or spouses or parents tell us, and don’t fight it, even when we really oughta. Sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly. Sometimes connivingly: We decide exactly how we’re gonna fulfill our orders, and some of us accomplish them in ways our bosses never dreamed of, or even wanted. Even if we like these bosses.

Connivingly was the Pharisees’ problem. Contrary to popular belief, the problem with the Pharisees in the New Testament wasn’t legalism. Jesus’s complaints to the Pharisees were about how they bent God’s commands, or outright nullfied ’em for the sake of their traditions. That’s why he called them hypocrites: They pretended to follow the Law, but broke it all the time. True legalists are no hypocrites; they’re trying to follow the rules as carefully as possible, but in their zeal they’re overdoing things. Pharisees overdid a few things, but only as a smokescreen for the many, many things they left undone.

We Christians tend to condemn Pharisees whenever we read about ’em in the bible. But because most of us have no idea what their real failing was, we condemn them soundly… then turn round and do the very same things they did. We pick and choose which of Jesus’s instructions we’re gonna follow, and let the others slide. We interpret Jesus’s teachings all loosey-goosey, reinterpret Jesus himself so he suits us best, project our motives upon him, and claim we loyally follow him… when we’re really following ourselves. Never stopped following ourselves. We simply dressed the id in a Christian T-shirt, redefined our fleshly behaviors as spiritual fruit, and presume our irreligion is “maturity” because now it comes so easily.

Basically we’re still in that left circle, with ourselves in charge and Jesus outside. But we imagine Jesus is in charge. We imagine it really hard. Doesn’t make it true, but people can psyche ourselves into all sorts of things when we want ’em bad enough.

Antipas Herod and John the baptist.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 June

The despot who ruled the Galilee, and the prophet who dared critique him.

Mark 6.14-20 • Matthew 14.1-5 • Luke 9.7-9.

After Jesus turned loose the Twelve to go round the Galilee, do miracles, and proclaim God’s kingdom, word of Jesus got back to the Galilee’s governor, King Antipas Herod.

Luke 9.7-9 KWL
7 The governor, Antipas Herod, heard all that was happening and was confused by it:
Some were saying John the baptist was raised from the dead.
8 Some said Elijah appeared; others said one of the ancient prophets had risen.
9 Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who’s this man about whom I hear such things?”
He sought to see Jesus.

Mark and Matthew give details about just how and why Herod beheaded John, but today I’m gonna focus on Herod himself. The gospels don’t provide a lot of details about him, which is why we have to turn to the history books to fill in the blanks.

The Herodus family was Roman. That’s why so many of them have the same names; that’s why the scriptures refer to all of them as either Herod or Herodia (the female form of Herod; KJV “Herodias”). To Romans the family, not the individual, was most important. And each member of the family represented the family; not so much themselves.

Because of this, Roman fathers tended to give all their children the same name: Their name. Gaius Plinius Secundus’s son would also be Gaius Plinius Secundus. (They might add “senior” or “junior” to indicate who was whom… but that’d get extra confusing when all the brothers had the same name.) Sometimes the kids were given a praenomen/“personal name” to differentiate between one another; sometimes a nickname; but most of the time all you knew was their cognomen/“family name.” Herod and Herodia.

Easy to mix them all up, but that was kinda the point in Roman culture.

So the Herods of the New Testament were actually one of these guys:

  • HEROD THE GREAT. Who wasn’t all that great. His Judean-style name was Herod bar Antipater; his Roman name was Herodus Antipatrus; he can also be called Herod 1. He’s the Idumean/Edomite who, with the help of the Romans, overthrew the Hasmonean royal family and took over Israel. He tried to have baby Jesus killed. I already wrote about him. His son Archelaus Herod tried to succeed him, but Augustus Caesar instead divided Israel into multiple provinces, and put three of them under Herod family members.
  • HEROD ANTIPAS. The Herod in this story, one of the sons of Herod 1, whose name was Herodus Antipatrus same as his father. (“Antipas” for short; I call him “Antipas Herod” western-style. I should mention he had a brother, also named Herodus Antipatrus, so technically he was Herodus Antipatrus Junior.) Caesar made him a tetra-árhos/“quarter-ruler” of Israel; the quarter he ruled was the Galilee. Technically he was still royalty, which is why the gospels still call him king. But he was a Roman governor, an employee serving only at the pleasure of the emperor.
  • HEROD AGRIPPA 1. Herodus Marcus Julius Agrippa, grandson of Herod 1, was a personal friend of Caligula Caesar, who made him king of Israel. He’s the Herod who had James bar Zebedee killed. Ac 12.2
  • HEROD AGRIPPA 2. Herodus Marcus Julius Agrippa, same as his father; Claudius Caesar put him in charge of various Israeli provinces. He’s the King Agrippa whom Paul testified in front of. Ac 26

We’ll just deal with Antipas Herod today.

Being a member of the jerk club.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 June

Which, as a follower of Jesus, I’m not allowed to do.

One of the neighbors, out on a power walk, decided to pause for a moment and strike up a conversation with me as I was doing some yardwork. Once he found out how old I am, he realized I was the same age as his son. “Do you know Cloelius?” he asked.

No, Cloelius isn’t his son’s actual name. I don’t care to give his name, and you’ll see why. It took me a few seconds to recall him. “Yes,” I told him, “I know of him. We weren’t in the same circles.”

There’s actually a bigger story behind this. One I didn’t care to tell Colelius’s dad, ’cause I don’t think he’d have been happy to hear it. But to be fair, we were kids then.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved into a new neighborhood. Across the street lived a boy whom I’ll call Azad. And for no reason I could figure, Azad decided I was his sworn enemy.

No, I still don’t know why. Knowing myself, it’s possibly for the very same reason I irritated frat boys in college: I was mouthy and opinionated. I probably said something which rubbed Azad the wrong way. It’s also possible Azad was just looking for someone to bully. Either way he declared eternal hostility against me.

There were about a dozen kids in the neighborhood who went to my high school at the time. Mostly boys. Azad knew them all, having lived in the neighborhood way longer than I had. As we waited for the school bus in the mornings, most of the boys waited in a garage across the street, Azad among them. Because I didn’t care to interact with Azad, I’d just stand at the bus stop. Azad would get bored every so often, so he’d try to provoke me, and try to get the other boys in his clique to join in. I wouldn’t take the bait, so I wasn’t much fun.

Cloelius was a year behind me in school. When he started high school, he joined Azad’s bus-stop clique. So that’s how we knew one another.

Repent!

by K.W. Leslie, 21 June
REPENT rə'pent verb. Turn away from one’s current, usually sinful, behavior.
2. Feel regret or express remorse about wrongdoing or sin.

Our culture has used the word repent to mean feeling bad. For centuries. For so long, you’re not gonna find the definition “turn away from one’s behavior” in most dictionaries. Even the Latin word repent is based on, re-paenitere, gets defined as “feel great penitence or sorrow.” When people repent, they feel bad for what they’ve done. Sometimes they bother to make amends, or try to. (Penitentiaries, annoyingly, have little about them anymore which involves making amends, community service, or good deeds in general.)

But the Christian definition comes from the Greek words we translate as “repent,” namely metanoéo the verb, and metánoia/“repentance,” the noun. The word’s literally a compound of the words metá/“after” and noéo/“think,” but combined they mean “turn round.” In other words, don’t go that way again. Don’t do that again. Walk it back.

So when Jesus first began to preach the gospel—

Mark 1.14-15 KWL
14 After John’s arrest, Jesus went into the Galilee preaching God’s gospel, 15 saying this:
“The time has been fulfilled. God’s kingdom has come near. Repent! Believe in the gospel!”

—he wasn’t telling the Galileans, “Feel really bad about what you’ve done, and believe in the gospel!” He was ordering them to stop what they were doing—good or bad—and come to God’s kingdom. It’s come near!

Problem is, when Christians don’t understand the proper definition of repentance, we try to obey Jesus’s command by psyching ourselves into feeling bad. We manufacture an emotion. We make ourselves feel sorry for our sins, and some of us even claim this sorrow is mandatory before God can forgive us. ’Cause if you’re not sorry, what kind of unfeeling jerk are you?


Well we do suck big time sometimes. Sinfest

But after we’ve whipped ourselves into a lather (not literally, although you know Christians throughout history actually have done so literally) and got all the self-pity and self-condemnation out of our system, are we following Jesus any better? Or at all? Not usually. Nope; we go right back to the same “Forgive me” prayer every time we pray, and never notice how we’re not growing spiritually whatsoever.

Because we gotta actually repent. We gotta quit doing as we’ve been doing, and follow Jesus into his kingdom.

Lies!

by K.W. Leslie, 20 June

And the difference between lies and falsehoods—and why certain people don’t care there’s a difference.

LIE laɪ noun. Intentional untruth: A false statement involving deception, or an impression designed to be misunderstood.
2. verb. To make an intentionally false statement, present a false impression, or deceive.
[Liar laɪ(.ə)r noun.]

By “lie,” most folks ordinarily mean an intentional untruth.

“I floss every day,” you tell your dentist, and you totally don’t. “I think I was going 45,” you tell the traffic cop, and you know you pushed it to 60 to beat the stoplight. “I exercise,” you tell your friends, but haven’t been to the gym since the first week of January. The truth is embarrassing, or may get you into trouble, or you’re sure it won’t get you out of trouble. But when you try to get people to believe otherwise, that’d be lying.

But there’s another definition of “lie” floating around. It’s grown in popularity, ’cause people use it to provoke one another. In short, a lie isn’t just an intentional untruth. It’s any untruth.

Fr’instance somebody asks how much you weigh. You don’t like the answer, but you wanna be honest, so you tell them: “I weigh 200 pounds.” They have you step on a scale, and it comes up 205. “Aha!” they exclaim, “you lied.” But you honestly thought you weighed 200 (and you probably do, once you’re not wearing five pounds of clothing). So no, you hadn’t lied: You weren’t trying to deceive. There’s a difference.

But some folks don’t care there’s a difference. They just wanna catch you doing the wrong thing, so they’re willing to fudge the definition of “lie” just a little. That’s why partisans love defining “lie” as any untruth.

A couple years ago I read some preacher’s Facebook rant about some popular book by a prosperity gospel pastor. He called her a liar nine times. Called her teachings “lies” six more times. Now, is she a liar?—using the ordinary definition of “liar.” Is she intentionally making statements she knows to be false? Is she trying to deceive? Is she trying to say one thing, but make you think she believes another? Is she deliberately, willfully trying to lead Christians astray?

Um… I’m gonna give her the benefit of the doubt and say no. She’s no liar. Oh, she’s wrong of course; the prosperity gospel is Mammonism and she’s definitely distorting the scriptures and misleading people. But she believes her rubbish. She’s leading herself astray, same as everyone else. She’s not lying in the proper sense of the word. Neither are heretics and nontheists, wrong though they are.

So why’d the Facebook preacher call her a liar? Well, in this guy’s case, it’s overzealousness. A lack of patience. Easily-stirred anger. Quick to argue. He’s kind of a fruitless guy, and the reason he has a lot of internet followers is because fruitless Christians eat up this behavior with a spoon.

And he’ll justify it by claiming the prosperity gospel teachings are lies. Though not necessarily the book-author’s lies. More like Satan’s lies. And to his mind, anyone who spreads lies, no matter if they think they aren’t lies, is a liar. Ergo she’s a liar.

No that’s not what “liar” means, but he doesn’t really care. “Liar” stirs people up, and that’s what he’s really going for. Which is a little bit deceptive—dare I say lying?—of him.

Dem bones.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 June

Ezekiel 37.1-10.

Your average Christian knows very little about the prophetic book of Ezekiel. Most of ’em know only three things about it:

  1. At the beginning of the book, Ezekiel gets this vision of God’s throne which includes four freaky creatures with four heads, and what sound like living gyroscopes beside each of them. Ek 1 And for some looney reason, people who are into UFOs insist that’s what Ezekiel saw; it strikes ’em as more mechanical than miraculous.
  2. Apparently there’s such a thing as “Ezekiel bread.” Ek 4.9 Every once in a while, some overzealous Christian will bake a loaf and inflict it upon the people of their church. Here’s the deal: Ezekiel bread was meant to be awful, to make a point about suffering. But Christians’ll try to fix it up somehow: Add lots of yeast, sugar, disproportionate amounts of flour, and even butter. Most of the time it’s still awful. People, the bible isn’t a recipe book!
  3. And the bit I’m getting to today: The Valley of Dry Bones story. In it, God demonstrates his power to Ezekiel by taking long-dead bones, turning ’em back into humans, and bringing them to life.

The title of this article comes from the gospel song, “Dem Bones,” which most people don’t know is a spiritual, ’cause all they know is, “Ankle bone connected to the shin bone, shin bone connected to the knee bone…” They think it’s about anatomy. Or skeletons. Well anyway.

Ezekiel wrote his visions from Tel Aviv, Iraq. Not Tel Aviv, Israel; Iraq. (The city in Israel is named after Ezekiel’s village.) He lived in Iraq because Israel didn’t exist anymore. The Babylonians invaded and destroyed it, then scattered him and all his loved ones to the four winds. Now he lived in Iraq, figuring he’d never see Israel again.

So, in both straight-up messages, weird demonstrations, and apocalyptic visions, the LORD was trying to tell Ezekiel and his neighbors how Israel wasn’t permanently destroyed. Its restoration might be impossible for them to imagine, like dry bones turned into living bones. But God was gonna bring his nation back.

But you know how humans are: We always gotta make everything about us. And generations of Christians have misappropriated this story, claiming it’s about them, about restoring their lives—or their career, their church, their broken family, their nation, what they’ll see in the End Times, you name it. I still hear sermons where preachers swipe the idea and claim it for themselves.

Still just as invalid.

What Jesus had to say about John the baptist.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 June

But for the best of reasons.

Matthew 11.7-15 • Luke 7.24-30.

After John sent two of his students to ask Jesus who he was, Jesus turned to his crowd of listeners and began to say complimentary things about John. (Which is further evidence John wasn’t going through some crisis of faith about who Jesus was, contrary to popular belief.)

Various “historical Jesus” scholars like to pit John and Jesus against one another ’cause their ministry styles were so different, and like to exaggerate their different emphases into full-on contradictions of one another. John was supposedly about wrath and perfectionism; Jesus about grace and peace. Ignoring of course all Jesus’s instructions to behave ourselves, and warnings about wrath; ignoring John’s declaration that Jesus came to take away the world’s sin. Jn 1.29 For “historians,” they sure do skip a lot of history in order to push their theories, but I already ranted about that.

First thing Jesus brought up is what people expected to see when they first heard about John and wanted to check him out. Starting with two things they clearly didn’t expect to see, because John’s reputation was that of an Elijah-style hairy thunderer. Mk 1.6

Matthew 11.7-8 KWL
7 As these students were going, Jesus began to tell the crowd about John the baptist.
“What did you go to the wilds to see? A wind-shaken reed?
8 What did you see instead? A person dressed in finery?
Look, those who wear finery are in kings’ houses.”
Luke 7.24-25 KWL
24 As John’s messengers went away, Jesus began to talk with the crowd about John the baptist.
“What did you go to the wilds to see? A wind-shaken reed?
25 What did you see instead? A person dressed in fancy clothes?
Look at the glorious clothes and luxury which is in the king’s palace.”

Certain commentators wanna claim these statements were kind of a knock on the Galilee’s governor, King Antipas Herod, who had imprisoned John at this time. Lk 3.19-20, Mt 11.2 The idea is Herod, as a politician, was the sort of guy who would sway like a papyrus reed in the breeze, and say or do anything to convince the Caesars to leave him in power. And of course he wore fancy clothing, as nobles do.

I don’t know that these statements were necessarily made about Herod. I suspect they’re more about wannabe prophets.

Because it’s precisely the sort of behavior we see in wannabe prophets nowadays. And human nature hasn’t changed any in the past 20 centuries: If somebody was a self-described prophet, they wanted acknowledgement. Respect. Maybe a little bit of fear. After all, they heard from God. They lacked the humility we oughta see in a real prophet, who recognizes they’re just the servant of the Almighty and nothing more; whom God doesn’t always grant the sort of messages that’d make ’em popular. Fake prophets, on the other hand, don’t have enough experience with God to realize their proper place way under him. And they’ve no trouble adjusting their messages to suck up to their audiences, because God didn’t really give them anyway. That whole wind-shaken reed thing? Applies to phony prophets just as much as it does to phony leaders.

Essentially Jesus’s message was, “When you went to check out John, did you expect to find a fake? And that’s not what you found at all.”

On tipping and overtipping.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 June

On those who are constantly wary of unseen dangers.

One of my hobbies is restaurants. I like to go to places I’ve never been to before, and eat their food. It’s obviously not an inexpensive hobby, which is why I do it maybe twice a month. But now I know a lot of great places to eat.

And when I go to restaurants, I prefer to overtip. And by overtip, I mean go above the customary 15 percent gratuity. I want my waiters to be glad they served me, not think, “Next time he visits I’m definitely sneezing in his food.” And if that idea horrifies you, maybe you’ll think twice about undertipping.

Because whenever I go to restaurants with other people, most of them don’t share my views about tipping. Usually the opposite. A lot of people hate the American custom of tipping.

Part of it is because people look at the menu, order their food, get the bill, find it’s slightly higher than they expected to pay (what’s with all the restaurants that won’t put on the menu how much the beverages cost?—and it’s always more than you’d expect), and are a little annoyed. Then they see the line on the bill for the waiter’s gratuity, and frequently get a little more annoyed. “Pay the waiter for doing the job she’s supposed to do anyway? Her boss is supposed to do that. Why do I have to do that?”

Because waiters aren’t paid squat. Most of ’em make minimum wage. Ever tried to live on minimum wage? You might… if you work full time and have no dependents. That’s not true of most people, waiters included.

In a really busy restaurant waiters can make really good tip money. But not every restaurant gets that kind of business. In order to pay their waiters a decent living wage, most restaurants would probably have to raise their prices… oh, about 15 percent or more, I should think. In the long run it might be cheaper for customers to just tip them.

But instead, for no good reason, a lot of annoyed customers take it out on their undeserving waiters, and shaft ’em when it comes to tips.

So part of the reason I overtip, is to make up for all the Christian jerks who undertip. Don’t think the waiters don’t know you’re Christian; they heard you praying. If you came in after church, they see the church clothes and hairstyles. And inside, their hearts died just a little, ’cause they know y’all undertip.

The interlinear bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 June

For those who want the illusion of being able to read the original.

INTERLINEAR BIBLE in.ter'lin.e.er 'bi.bel n. Bible which presents the same text in different languages printed on alternate lines.

First time I stumbled across an interlinear bible was back in high school. I was killing time in a Christian bookstore. (Remember those?) This one happened to have an interlinear Old Testament mixed in among the bibles. Never knew such a thing even existed, but I wanted it immediately: It had “the original Hebrew”—the Masoretic text of the scriptures, in a language I couldn’t read at all, ’cause I hadn’t even learned the alphabet yet. But its secrets were unlocked with a word-by-word translation, displayed beneath every Hebrew word. Looked like yea:


Acts 2.42-44 presented interlinear-style. Oak Tree Software

Wanted to buy it immediately, but the sucker was expensive. (A lot of interlinear bibles are. Low demand, y’see.) Something like $80 in 1980s money.

Ten years later I bought the NIV interlinear Old Testament, which was still a bit expensive: I paid $50 in ’90s money, plus shipping. Also got the NIV interlinear New Testament to go along with it.

Then I went to university, minored in biblical languages, and my Hebrew professor told me I had to get rid of my interlinears.

What? Why?

Because, he explained, it’s a “cheater bible.” Every time I pick it up to read Hebrew, I’m not really gonna read the Hebrew. My eyes are gonna drift down one line to the English translation. It’s like having an answer key: I wouldn’t have to practice my vocabulary. Wouldn’t have to remember any word-prefixes or word-endings. Wouldn’t have to remember a thing. The interlinear would be my crutch, and as my memory of Hebrew decayed—as it will, when you don’t practice—it’d become more and more of a crutch. I’d go right back to reading English instead of Hebrew. Yet I’d imagine to myself, “But I know Hebrew.”

Yeah, I had to admit he was absolutely right. Whenever I open up an interlinear text, that’s always what I catch myself doing. That’s why I’ve gotta turn off that software or close that book, and go back to a Hebrew-only text.

But that’s me, and anyone else who can read biblical languages. If you can’t—if you know a few original-language words, but certainly can’t read Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, and wish you had more access to those languages—that’s what an interlinear bible will do for you. It erases some of the barrier between you and the original languages.

But there is still a language barrier. So don’t get overconfident.

Joy and the “happy Christian.”

by K.W. Leslie, 12 June

Joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. It’s a great feeling. It’s a fruit of the Spirit too, y’know: Anyone who follows Jesus, who listens to the Holy Spirit, oughta experience joy more often than not. We should have a positive, optimistic view of the world—not because it’s good, for holy shnikes it’s not; but because God’s fixing it and saving people. We should be friendly, engaging, helpful, and be fun to be around. Our joy oughta be contagious.

And yet.

Yeah, you know where I’m going with this: We’ve all met “joyful” Christians who just plain rubbed us the wrong way. A little too happy. A little too friendly, too cheerful, too pleased. They’re so chipper, you kinda want to feed them into one. They’re off-putting.

Whenever I express my discomfort about such people, most Christians will respond, “I know, right? What’s with them?” But every so often I’ll get rebuked by someone who wants to know why I have a problem with joy. I don’t. I have a problem with fake joy.

There are such people as Christians who lack joy. You might be thinking of dark Christians, who are as joyless as they come, but I’m generally thinking of people with emotional problems. Sometimes it’s purely biological: Their brains aren’t making the proper chemicals, so joy is physically impossible. Sometimes it’s psychological: They’ve had terrible or traumatic experiences in the past, and suppress emotion instead of trying to control it and deal with it in any healthy way. They don’t trust themselves to feel anything, much less joy. Or they were forced to suppress emotion. Or it’s present-tense: They live in a really unhealthy environment, so they still suppress emotion.

Such people have been taught, by similarly joyless people, that joy isn’t an emotion. It’s a mental state. You choose to feel content, regardless of circumstances. This, they claim, is what the scripture’s authors meant by “joy.”

Rubbish. As I pointed out in my article on joy, it’s not at all how joy was practiced in the bible. When people felt joy, they were happy. When people still feel joy, they’re happy. And when people aren’t happy, can’t feel happy, or won’t permit themselves happiness: They lack joy. Their substitutes for the real thing, whether they realize it or not, are fake. If they realize it, it’s hypocrisy. If they don’t, it’s because they’ve been deceived by people who are just fine with them having no joy in their lives.

Those people who give me pushback? They’re usually faking joy. They rarely experience great happiness. They tend instead to be angry, argumentative, divisive, pessimistic, faultfinding, hateful, humorless, bitter, unforgiving, envious, or any other such works of the flesh. Their problem with me isn’t really that they’re trying to defend joy: They’re trying to make sure I don‘t expose the fake stuff.

So when I complain about shiny happy Christians, their pushback is an attempt to shut me up through shock and awe: “You’ve got a problem. You’re a killjoy. You lack the Spirit. I’ve got joy.” Yeah, you got something, but ’tain’t joy.

Most people can identify true joy when we see it. It’s attractive and desirable. What the annoyingly happy Christian is doing, is trying to psyche themselves into happiness. “Fake it till you make it,” as motivational speakers put it. They might actually think they’re obeying James:

James 1.2 KWL
My fellow Christians, whenever you’re surrounded by the various things which challenge you,
command everything to be joy.

But fakery is hypocrisy, and “fake it till you make it” only means you get more practice at faking it. You don’t necessarily get better at it, though; you’re not fooling as many people as you think. Joy is winsome, but fake joy is weird and unsettling. Challenge it, and instead of turning into amusement at such a silly idea as faking happiness, it immediately turns into rage. That should tell us everything.

To a degree, sometimes a large degree, the reason we find it unsettling is because the Holy Spirit is warning us: “This joy isn’t real. This person’s a hypocrite. Heads up.” He wants us to know him and have true joy, not this hollow substitute which drives people away.

John the baptist checks in on Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 June

But for the best of reasons.

Matthew 11.2-6 • Luke 7.18-23.

In Jesus’s day there was no such thing as freedom of speech or religion. Your religion was either what the king said it was, or what the king permitted within his borders. Your speech was whatever the powerful couldn’t take offense at, ’cause if they did, they would kill or persecute you. That’s why Jesus taught in metaphors and parables on a frequent basis. It wasn’t just to make people think.

His relative John bar Zechariah, also known as John the baptist, was not so vague. John flat-out said the governor of the Galilee, Antipas Herod (frequently called “king” because he was the son of King Herod 1, but properly a Roman tetrárhis/“ruler of a quarter-province”) was in violation of the Law, ’cause he had married his brother’s ex. Lv 18.16 Plus she was his niece, which generally violates the command against having sex with close relatives. Lv 18.6 Since John wouldn’t shut up about it, Mk 6.17-18 Antipas threw him into prison, and so much for his ministry. John never got out alive.

In both Matthew and Luke, John heard what Jesus was up to, and sent some of his own students to ask Jesus a question. In Matthew we find out why John couldn’t do this personally: It was by this point John was in prison.

Matthew 11.2-3 KWL
2 John the baptist, hearing in prison of Messiah’s works,
sending some of his students, 3 told Jesus,
“Are you the one to come, or do we look for another?”
Luke 7.18-19 KWL
18 John the baptist’s students informed him about all these things.
Calling two particular students of his, John 19 sent them to the Master,
saying, “Are you the one to come, or do we look for another?”

And this question really confuses Christians. Because we’ve read the other parts of the gospels, in which John was entirely sure Jesus is the one to come. So it’s a little confusing when John suddenly sends Jesus some students with the question, “So are you the one to come?”

Most of the time, Christians assume John had a massive crisis of faith. After all, he’d been tossed into prison, he was gonna die, and when you ponder your mortality like this, you start to rethink everything. Maybe John didn’t believe anymore. So, to make himself feel better, he send students to Jesus with the unspoken request, “Please tell me my life hasn’t been in vain. Please tell me you’re Messiah.”

I don’t care for this interpretation. Mostly because I think the interpreters are projecting their own doubts upon John. He had no such doubts.

Paranoia will destroy ya.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 June

On those who are constantly wary of unseen dangers.

Today I put Equal in my coffee. As I usually do.

I know: Equal consists of aspartame, plus inert additives to bulk it up. And if some of my friends’ favorite websites are to believed, aspartame will give me cancer. Or (contrary to popular expectation) cause obesity, ’cause my taste buds led my body to expect sugar, and now I’m gonna crave sugar all the more. Or something’ll happen and it’ll shut down my liver or kidneys, or monkey with my metabolism somehow.

Next to the Equal packets, the coffeehouse posts an acrylamide warning—’cause it’s in just about every cooked food, including the stuff you make at home; ’cause businesses are supposed to warn about toxic chemicals thanks to California’s Proposition 65 in 1986; and ’cause lawsuit-happy individuals are going after the restaurants who don’t. So acrylamide is gonna give me cancer too.

As will everything else I eat. Meat and dairy products are filled with hormones, so those are killing me. Vegetables and grains are genetically modified, so that’s killing me. Fats are clogging my arteries; sugars are wrecking my pancreas; artificial fats and sugars are unnatural and therefore toxic. The coffee, despite how much decaf I drink: Killing me. Tap water is full of chemicals; bottled water is full of phthalates. I could try to only eat food from my victory garden and drink rainwater… except pollutants have got into both, and are gonna kill me too. Can’t win.

So I decided years ago I’m no longer playing.

No, this doesn’t mean I’m gonna spend the rest of my days with a cheeseburger in either fist. I’m still gonna practice moderation and all that. But this constant nagging worry that everything I eat is slowly killing me? Everybody dies; life is slowly killing me. And I’m not convinced the worry isn’t gonna speed the process considerably. All those ailments my health-nut friends are blaming on toxins, real and imagined: I wonder how many of ’em are really caused by their immoderate obsessions with wellness.

No, I’m not burying my head in the sand either. Years ago I found out how trans fats clog arteries, so I cut ’em out of my diet. More recently my doctor warned me I was overdoing it on the sugar, so I cut it way back. I do take advice from health professionals. Health amateurs, especially people who wanna sell me unregulated supplements, are another thing altogether. I learned how to do proper research in journalism school; I have zero respect for what they’ve “researched” and “discovered.”

I also point you to people much older than me, who eat far worse than I do. They haven’t been dying, or coming down with debilitating illnesses, any more than usual. If there were suddenly a plague of people dying in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, I might be inclined to pay attention. Instead people are living into their 90s, 100s, and 110s. On a diet of fried foods, salted meats, tap water, way bigger portions than I would think to eat, and way less exercise.

And conversely, people younger than me die of cancer. Because you can eat right, exercise, and die anyway. It sucks, but the world is meaningless like that. And Jesus instructs us to not worry about such things.

Matthew 7.25-30 KWL
25 “This is why I tell you: Stop worrying!
Stop worrying about what your soul would eat or drink, or what your body would wear.
Isn’t your soul more than food? your body more than clothes?
26 Look at the birds of heaven: They neither sow, reap, nor gather into barns.
Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you far better than they?
27 Who among you worriers can add one cubit to their height?
28 Why worry about clothing? Study lilies in the field: How do they grow?
They don’t work, nor spin thread, 29 and I tell you what:
Even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t clothed like them.
30 If God clothes grass of the field—here today, thrown in the oven tomorrow—
won’t he much more you, despite your little faith?”

Well, these worriers aren’t so sure. So rather than prioritize God’s kingdom and the good news of its arrival, they choose to prioritize their problems, their “solutions,” and their fears.

Certainty isn’t faith.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 June

Certainty may come later. Till then, we have faith.

“I know this to be true, because I have faith.” I’ve heard more than one Christian say such a thing. It’s ’cause they don’t realize that’s a self-contradictory statement.

Hebrews 11.1 KWL
Faith is the solid basis of hope,
the proof of actions we’ve not seen.

Faith isn’t the solid basis of knowledge, but the solid basis of hope. Properly we hope certain things are true because we have faith. We don’t know yet. Gonna know eventually. But not yet.

So when I read in the scriptures God’s gonna resurrect me someday, I gotta admit: I don’t know he will. Because the basis of knowledge is experience, and I haven’t had the experience of being resurrected. Yet.

Now, Jesus did have the experience of being resurrected. He taught on, and believed in, the resurrection. Mt 22.29-32 He stated he’s the resurrection, and when we trust him, we’ll experience it. Jn 20.25-26 That’s why it’s an orthodox Christian belief. That’s why I have no problem with the belief, and believe it myself. But do I know I’ll be resurrected? Not till it happens. Till then, I just have to trust Jesus that it’ll happen. And I do. So I’m good.

To some Christians, that’s not good enough. Hope isn’t sufficient. Uncertainty isn’t acceptable. They wanna know. And they claim they do know. How? Well, they trust Jesus. That’s how they know.

Well wait: I trust Jesus too. Yet I recognize trusting Jesus doesn’t grant me knowledge; only hope. How’d they get knowledge?

They actually didn’t. But they think they have knowledge. They think they have certainty. They think a lot of things which have no basis in the scriptures. Namely that if they believe really hard, that’s the same as knowledge. Faith, they imagine, is the solid basis of knowledge. They know they’re getting resurrected.

Yeah, you realize what they’re doing: They wanna demonstrate their zealousness for God, their absolute trust in him, and in order to do this they’re gonna leapfrog hope and claim they know. That way the rest of us look like unbelievers in comparison. (In fact some of ’em even claim we are unbelievers. ’Cause we only hope. Whereas they know.)

Nah, they don’t really know. But boy, they sure think they do. So much so, they’ll even be self-righteous a--holes about it.

The “Proverbs 31 woman.”

by K.W. Leslie, 05 June
PROVERBS 31 WOMAN 'prɑ.vərbz 'θɜr.di 'wʌn 'wʊ.mən noun. A productive woman, like the ideal wife described in Proverbs 31.
2. A complement offered to a valued wife, whether or not she matches the woman of Proverbs 31.

Among many Christians, the ultimate compliment you can pay your wife is to call her a “Proverbs 31 woman.” Properly, it means she meets the bible’s standard (more precisely, Lemuel’s mother’s standard) for an ideal wife. But since people don’t bother to read their bibles, Christians included, they really just mean she’s a good Christian. Whether she’s actually productive is a whole other deal.

Yeah, I’ll quote the relative part. It’s not the whole of the chapter; just this bit.

Proverbs 31.10-31 KWL
10 A capable woman: Who’s found one? She’s worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband’s heart trusts her, and he has no shortage of loot.
12 She pays him back with good, not evil, all her life’s days.
13 She asks for wool and flax. She’s happy to work with her hands.
14 She’s like a merchant ship: She imports food.
15 She rises when it’s still night. She provides meat for her house and her employees.
16 She organizes a field. She plants a vineyard with the fruit of her hands.
17 She belts herself with strength. She makes her arms strong.
18 She tastes her merchandise to make sure it’s good. Her lamp isn’t put out at night.
19 She puts her hands on the spindle. Her palms hold the distaff.
20 Her palms spread for the humble. Her hands reach out to the needy.
21 She doesn’t fear snow for her household: All her house are warmly clothed in red.
22 She knits herself tapestries. Her clothing is purple.
23 Her husband is recognized at the city gates. He sits with the land’s elders.
24 She makes and sells tunics. She gives belts to Canaanites.
25 Her clothing is strength and honor. She will relax in days to come.
26 Her mouth is opened in wisdom. The Law of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She watches the goings-on of her house. She doesn’t eat bread idly.
28 Her children rise and call her happy. Her husband praises her:
29 “Many daughters do well, but you surpass all of them!”
30 Grace can be false. Loveliness is useless. A woman who respects the LORD will be praised.
31 Give her back the fruit of her hands, and her deeds will praise her in the city gates.

Check it out. Only once does her devotion to God come up; in verse 30. And no doubt her good deeds are the result of loving God and wanting to excel for his sake. But the bulk of this passage is about the fact this woman works. Works hard. Gets stuff done, and does it well.

Jesus interrupts a funeral.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 June

But for the best of reasons.

Luke 7.11-17.

Whereas Jesus mighta raised the dead before—though he insisted she was only asleep—here it looks like he definitely raised the dead. Only Luke tells this story, and sets it the day after Jesus cured the centurion’s servant.

The location is Nein, which is not pronounced as the Germans do. (The KJV has “Nain.”) It was a tiny village 14km south of Nazareth—and 40km southwest of Kfar Nahum, which is quite a day’s walk; and Jesus must’ve got to this place before sundown, as we’ll see from historical context. As you might recall about Nazareth, people in the region didn’t expect much of Jesus, and certainly never expected him to do anything like this.

Luke 7.11-17 KWL
11 This happened the next day: Jesus went to a village called Nein.
His students, and a large crowd, were traveling with him.
12 As Jesus approached the village gate, look: One who died was being carried out.
He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd was with her.
13 Seeing her, the Master felt compassion for her and told her, “Don’t cry.”
14 Walking over, Jesus touched the coffin and its carriers stopped.
He said, “Young man, I tell you get up.”
15 And the dead boy got up, and began to talk. Jesus gave him to his mother.
16 In fear, everyone praised God, saying this:
“A great prophet rose among us!” and “God visited his people!”
17 This word about Jesus spread in all Judea and all the region.

Skeptics like to point out this story is similar to pagan stories. Which stands to reason: Back then, people used to bury or cremate you when they thought you were dead. Or at least pretty sure you were dead… and yeah, sometimes if they really wanted you to be dead, and weren’t particular about how you weren’t quite dead yet. But more than once they buried or cremated someone alive. Every once in a while they dramatically discovered they were wrong—someone’d wake up from their coma on the funeral pyre, or after they were stuck in a sepulcher. Standard worst-nightmare stuff. And that’s where our urban legends come from… and of course our old myths.

Anyway the hero of more than one myth would check out the “corpse,” find out they were only mostly dead, and there’s your happy ending. Well, unless they died soon thereafter of whatever made ’em look dead.

For Pharisees it was a little more likely they’d inter someone prematurely: Their custom required them to put a body in the ground before sundown. It was based on God’s command to bury a hanging victim the same day, Dt 21.23 and if you gotta do it for a criminal, you should do it all the more for anyone else. So if it looked like someone had died, you didn’t always have a lot of time before you had to dispose of the body. Plenty of chance people would be mistaken.

But Luke said this boy was dead, so there was no mistake here. Jesus didn’t come across a boy who wasn’t really dead, so it only looked like a miracle. Jesus raised the dead. First time we know of that he did that.

The “recovering atheist”?

by K.W. Leslie, 01 June

Kirk Cameron, not keeping his eyes on the road in his new movie Connect.

A friend invited me to watch Kirk Cameron’s documentary Connect, which is about how he was naïvely gonna get his kids smartphones until he found out there are predators on the internet. Duh; but I guess Cameron had no idea this was going on. So he made a film about it.

This sort of documentary is basically what a lot of Christians watch instead of horror movies. It’s a bit like true-crime documentaries, except they get the thrill of being afraid of boogeymen. (Real boogeymen. Or at least they’re told they’re real boogeymen.) And unlike horror movies, the fear never, ever goes away. Isn’t meant to.

I passed. ’Cause these documentaries invariably annoy me. And ’cause I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan.

I’m not talking about his acting. I think it’s okay. Not award-winning good… but bear in mind he tends to take what he can get, or what he himself has produced. Which means he’s been hobbled by mediocre-to-terrible writers and directors. You realize Leonardo DiCaprio was his costar on his ’80s sitcom Growing Pains? Thanks to that steaming turd of a show, nobody could tell DiCaprio had better-than-average talent. For all we know Cameron could be an amazing talent. But he’s never gonna work with Martin Scorsese or Stephen Spielberg; best he can hope for is the one Christian assistant director on Sharknado. So we’re never gonna see his true potential.

What I object to is how Cameron leveraged his celebrity to promote lousy evangelism tactics, and now culture-war movies and documentaries. Dude seems to have wandered into the most mindless circles of Evangelicalism, and that’s where he’ll stay until the Holy Spirit pries him loose. Which is hard to do when you won’t engage your mind.

No, that “won’t engage your mind” comment isn’t just an idle insult. Cameron actually promoted turning off your brain when he works with Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” apologetics ministry.