No one has ever seen God. Except 74 ancient Hebrews.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 July

Exodus 24.9-11 • John 1.18 • 1 John 4.12-13.

Most of the reason we Christians are pretty sure John bar Zavdi wrote both the gospel with his name on it, and the letters with his name on them, is ’cause the same ideas and themes (and wording, and vocabulary) come up in them. Including today’s bible difficulty, the idea nobody’s ever seen God. John wrote it in both his gospel and his first letter.

John 1.18 KWL
Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.
1 John 4.12-13 KWL
12 No one’s ever seen God, yet when we love one another, God’s with us.
His love’s been expressed in us, 13 so this is how we get to know we’re with him and he’s with us.
He’s given us his Spirit.

The reason it’s a difficulty? Because people have seen God. In Exodus 24, we have this interesting little story:

Exodus 24.9-11 KWL
9 Moses, Aaron, Nadáv, Avíhu, and 70 of Israel’s elders,
went up 10 and saw Israel’s God:
Under his feet was something like a manufactured sapphire pavement,
pure as the skies themselves.
11 As for the Israeli nobles, God didn’t strike them down:
They saw God, and they ate and drank.

Wait, what?

Yeah, nobody bothers to read their Old Testament, so it stands to reason they’d utterly miss this one. Or any of the other God-appearances in the scriptures.

In the OT, on a regular basis, humans freak out when there’s a chance they might see God. Jg 13.22 ’Cause a rumor was going round that if they did see God, they’d die. God’s pure, holy awesomeness would consume them like a volcano taking out stupid tourists. Although you do get the occasional dark Christian claim that God would be unreasonably pissed about it, and destroy them for daring to approach his majesty. Pretty sure that second idea only reflects their twisted secret wishes about how they’d like subordinates to approach them. God’s cool with his kids approaching him. Ep 3.12, He 4.16 But I digress.

Yeah, it was a rumor. And sometimes rumors are true. The LORD himself warned Moses he’d only get to see God’s back, because his front was much too much for the prophet.

Exodus 33.20 KWL
God said, “You aren’t able to see my face.
For a human cannot see me and live.”

And yet we have this story in the middle of Exodus, where apparently 74 people saw God, had lunch with him, and lived to tell of it.

And it’s not the only instance! Abraham had lunch with God too. Ge 18.1-7 Well, more like served him lunch. Isaiah and Ezekiel saw God on his throne. Jeremiah even experienced God touching him. Jr 1.9

Whenever I point out this rather vast discrepancy, Christians flinch, then usually respond one of two ways. Either they dismiss the passages where people got to see God, or they dismiss the passages where seeing God would get you struck down. The authors of the bible must not really have meant what the text clearly says.

No longer a mystery: Gentiles inherit God’s kingdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 July

Ephesians 3.1-12.

Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians, either before the first or second time he stood before Nero Caesar. Paul optimistically thought of these circumstances as his opportunity to share Jesus with Roman officials, with himself as Jesus’s official ambassador. Ep 6.20

But y’know, much of the reason he got in so much trouble, was because he insisted on sharing Jesus with gentiles—who were and always had been part of God’s plan, but Pharisees had blinders on about it, so this information was new to them. Because Paul was notorious for hanging out with gentiles, it’s arguably why he was arrested in the first place. Ac 22.21-29 Not that he didn’t totally take advantage of it to meet Agrippa Herod and Nero Ceasar.

This, Paul recognized, was the real reason he was in chains:

Ephesians 3.1-6 KWL
1 Here’s the reason I, Paul, became Christ Jesus’s bondservant for you gentiles—
2 unless you already heard God’s system of grace he gave me for you.
3 He made the mystery known to me through special revelation—as I previously, briefly wrote you.
4 Its readers can see my meaning about “Christ’s mystery.”
5 It wasn’t made known to previous generations of the sons of men.
He now revealed this mystery to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
6 Through the gospel, the gentiles are to be
co-inheritors, co-body-parts, co-sharers in Christ Jesus’s promise.

This was outrageous news to bigoted Judeans who were certain God would wipe gentiles off the face of the earth, and populate his kingdom with only them.

Where’d they get such a genocidal idea? A rather sick interpretation of the bible. Taking the book of Joshua global. But it didn’t take into account the rest of the scriptures. Messiah isn’t gonna wipe out the world’s kings; they’re gonna kneel before him. Ps 2.10-12 “King of kings and lord of lords” means other kings and lords are gonna exist in his administration, under him. And not all these kings are gonna be Hebrew! Messiah—we gentiles call him Christ—was always gonna be gentiles’ king of kings. Everybody’s king.

The Pharisees kinda knew this, but like everyone who wears blinders when it comes to the bible, they didn’t wanna know this. They liked their wrath-filled idea way better. Had grudges against gentiles. Some of those grudges were centuries old; some of ’em were still pissed at the Egyptians for enslaving them 1,500 years (now 3,500 years) before. They didn’t care for the Romans at all, nor their Greek, Syrian, Nabatean, and Samaritan neighbors. So they indulged their prejudices, spun the scriptures to imply God’s gonna decimate the gentiles, and though they couldn’t build physical walls like the Israelis today, built all sorts of cultural and mental blocks.

The idea the gentiles would share their inheritance from God, share their Messiah? In synagogue after synagogue, Paul discovered this gospel pissed them off. It’s like telling an Arizonan, “The feds wanna give the Mexicans free healthcare.” If they had guns back then, they’d open fire on Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and any Christian who suggested such a thing. They did try to kill Paul in temple, y’know.

My pacifism. Sorta.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 July

In response to the responses about it.

Since I wrote that piece about how Christ Jesus expects us, his followers, to be peacemakers and practice nonviolence, naturally I got some pushback from my conservative friends.

Of course they pitched me all the usual objections. Some with compassion, some with scoffing; it all depends on whether these were knee-jerk reactions, or they were actually trying to understand where I’m coming from. If we reduce people to nothing more than their points of view, of course we’re more likely to fight ’em than love ’em. But that’s another discussion.

You might have some of these objections yourself:

  • What, d’you wanna open up all the jails and let the murderers and pedos run free?
  • Are you suggesting we abolish the military, and let America’s enemies have at us? [I live in an Air Force town, and have a number of Air Force and Army relatives, so this is a big deal.]
  • If some madman is about to harm your family and loved ones, would you just let him?

It’s not like these questions never crossed my mind. They certainly did when I was more political than Christian, and would argue against pacifism.

To be blunt, these arguments are meant to appeal to my, and everyone’s, fleshly nature. Our sense of outrage at wrongs being done to innocent people. Our tendency to demand vengeance. If someone threatens to grievously harm me and mine, shouldn’t I want them stopped by any means possible? And if I don’t—if I resist those natural impulses which every ordinary, “healthy” human being oughta have—what is wrong with me? There is, people worry, something sociopathic about anyone who swims against such a massive tide.

Especially since most folks would totally kill anyone who dared to harm them and theirs. Not only would they kill ’em, they’d sleep quite soundly about it afterwards. Or so they imagine. Perhaps they oughta have a chat with cops and soldiers who actually have killed people in the line of duty, and see how they dealt with it—assuming they have.

But—to continue to be blunt—these vengeance fantasies are as unlike Jesus as they come.

Yeah, it’s pragmatic to want to defend your family and friends and homeland. Actions oughta have consequences. Evil oughta be stopped. But you know Jesus—assuming you do know Jesus: He doesn’t want anybody to die. That’s why he came into the world, remember? Jn 3.16

Of course there are gonna be those who insist the “should not perish” part of John 3.16 has to do with eternal perishing in hell, not death. Usually these’d be the Christians who think the point of the gospel is heaven, not life; and who are trying to find a loophole which permits ’em a little death here and there.

And of course I may understand Jesus’s point of view, and totally agree with it… but when push comes to shove, and I’m faced with someone who’s threatening my family, I have a bad feeling I’m gonna fail Jesus and really mess the perpetrator up.

I’m not perfect, y’know. Working on it though.

Karma has a breaking point. Grace doesn’t.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 July
Matthew 18.21-22 KWL
21 Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me,
and I’ll have to forgive them? As much as sevenfold?”
22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as much as sevenfold.’
Instead as much as seven seventyfolds.”

The point of this teaching, as many a preacher will remind us, is to keep forgiving till we lose count.

True, there are those individuals who keep track of offenses to a ridiculous degree. They won’t lose count; they can enumerate every last offense. And if you get ’em angry enough, they will.

But typically they have a breaking point, and it comes way before 490. Won’t even make it to 10. “Three strikes and you’re out” tends to be the common rule, as if baseball’s limits should apply to all humanity. Simon Peter’s seven strikes sounds far more patient and generous than most. (I’m betting he thought so too.)

The reason I bring up forgiveness, and the idea of losing count of the times we forgive, is to reemphasize the Christian lifestyle is about grace. About radical forgiveness. About not keeping a record of wrongs. 1Co 13.5 About loving people like our Father does.

But human nature keeps imposing limits where God means for there to be unlimited grace.

Even “good Christians” will rebuke us for “letting people take advantage of your kindness.” Because to their minds, unlimited grace is wrong. Radical forgiveness is naïve. Not keeping track of how people are wronging you, means you’re getting exploited. You’re only to love them so far. Love them only when they fulfill certain conditions. Cut ’em loose when they stumble. Practice a little tough love; it’s what’s best for them.

It’s because our culture doesn’t do grace. It does karma. People have to earn our compassion, merit our help, be worthy of our time and efforts. Basically our aid isn’t charity; it’s an investment. And if the people we invest in, never ever produce any kind of return on our investments, we’re just wasting our resources. We’re not trying to help the needy; we’re trying to profit off them. It’s not Christianity; it’s capitalism.

This expectation of reciprocity is why a lot of the so-called “love” we see Christians exercise, doesn’t quite fit Paul’s definition of agapi. Our “love” has strings attached. While proper love never fails, 1Co 13.8 this “love” has a limit. Might be three strikes. Might be when the physical attraction wears off. Might be once someone’s borrowed just enough money. “Fool me twice, shame on me” indicates for a lot of people, everyone gets one, and only one, error.

Dropping a little Hebrew on the fellow Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 July

For some Christians, the only fellow Christians they ever encounter are a small, insulated bunch. Basically it’s just family members and their church, and the few books and podcasts they personally approve of. They’ve got narrow little boundaries and won’t travel outside. Often out of the dark Christian fear they might be led astray, but more often it’s just because they don’t care to stretch themselves. Either way it’s a shame. But I’m not gonna discuss that particular shame today. Me, I browse widely.

And from time to time I run into Christians who insist on referring to Christ Jesus as Yeshúa ha-Mešiakh. They’ll spell it lots of different ways; I spell it the way it’s meant to sound, so if it looks a little unfamiliar they might not be pronouncing it properly. Basically it’s Hebrew for “Jesus the Messiah.”

Because they learned some Hebrew. And they’re gonna use their Hebrew on everything.

  • God’s gonna get called Adonái/“my Master” or ha-Šém/“the [LORD’s] Name.” And if they wanna call him “Father,” they’ll stick with Abba.
  • The Holy Spirit’s gonna be Ruákh ha-Qodéš.
  • The Old Testament’s gonna be the Tanákh, the common Hebrew acronym for Toráh-Neveím-Khetuvím/“Law-Prophets-Writings.” The New Testament’s the Brit Khadašá.
  • Student, or disciple, is gonna be a talmíd. Plural talmidím.

And don’t be surprised if they generally drop Hebrew words and terms all over the place. And, every so often, Yiddish.

Why? Three reasons.

  1. They took a Hebrew class, so they’re showing off.
  2. They’re of Jewish descent and grew up knowing a little Hebrew, so they’re showing off.
  3. They think it’s important for us Christians to recognize our traditions stretch all the way back to the ancient, noble culture of Israel. So they’re showing off.

Yeah, I realize a number of them will be totally offended that I’ve accused them of showing off. The rest will shrug and say, “Well yeah. But who’s it hurting?” Well, nobody really. So relax.

“Just war”: Vengeance disguised as righteousness.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 July

Humans like to take revenge.

Watch two kids on the playground. One will smack the other, entirely by accident. (That’s what they claim, anyway.) The other kid will immediately want to retaliate. And not in some equitable blow-for-blow response, either. They’ll wanna beat the living tar out of the other kid.

That’s not a learned behavior. Just the opposite: It’s instinct. It’s our self-preservation instinct, but warped by human depravity till we defend ourselves from future harm by preemptively destroying anything or anyone who might harm us. Kids have to be trained to not retaliate like this.

A good parent is gonna teach their kids to forgive. (It was unintentional, after all.) Even selfish parents won’t necessarily demand a reciprocal response. Although the dumber ones might: “She hit you? Hit her back!” But this behavior will backfire: Kids’ll do as comes naturally, and hit back harder. And then the first kid hits back even harder. And things escalate from there.

I know; from time to time someone will insist revenge isn’t part of human nature; that left to their own devices children will be naturally peaceful and good. Clearly they don’t have children. Nor do they remember they were conditioned to forgive and let live, rather than respond in vengeance and wrath. True, some kids are passive, some are cowards, and some are much easier to train than others. But that doesn’t mean we don’t all need such training. We humans aren’t peaceful creatures.

Take these playground disagreements to an adult level, to a national level, and we wind up with war.

One nation harms or offends a second nation. The second nation will wanna retaliate. I was gonna say “understandably,” because we all understand they would; we would. And the wronged nation won’t wanna respond proportionally: They wanna respond punitively. They wanna hurt the nation which hurt them. Make ’em suffer—or at least fear to ever attack again. Karma goes right out the window.

But we’ll call it “justice.” That’s the Christianese term for vengeance. Actual justice is about doing what’s just—what’s equitable, what’s fair, what’s morally right. You know, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, limb for limb. Ex 21.24 What westerners mean by karma. But when American Christians say “justice” we are, once again, talking about a punitive response. It doesn’t match the crime; it exceeds it because we feel the perpetrator should suffer loss. Steal $100 and you should have to pay back $150, with the extra $50 teaching you to never do that again. Even if you accidentally, unintentionally took the $100: You should’ve been more conscientious.

Since the people of the United States predominantly claim to be Christian, this mindset of “justice” is immediately gonna slam into a little something Jesus taught about war:

Matthew 5.9 KWL
“Those making peace: How awesome!—they’ll be called God’s children.”

Wait, Jesus expects God’s kids to make peace?

Well of course. Because that’s how you actually stop a war. Not by destroying your opponent, but by befriending your opponent. Not with vengeance but forgiveness. It’s how God acts towards his kids. He could easily flatten us. But he’d rather adopt us.

The problem with Jesus’s teaching? It violates our sense of vengeance. It interferes with our desire to destroy our enemies. It strikes us as impractical: “But how’s that gonna stop them from still doing evil?” We don’t like it, so we find excuses to never do it—same as every other teaching of Jesus.

Racism has no place in God’s kingdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 July

Ephesians 2.11-22.

To remind you: Paul didn’t write Ephesians to his fellow Jews. He wrote it to éthnoi/“ethnics,” goyím/“nations”—words we usually translate with the Latin-derived word gentile, meaning “people of another nation.” Jews use the word to describe non-Jews. (And Mormons use it to describe non-Mormons.)

Ancient Jews tended to highlight the primary physical difference between Jews and gentiles. Wasn’t skin color, ’cause Jews, then and now, came in every color. It was whether or not you had a foreskin. Following God’s instructions, Jews cut the foreskin off every 8-day-old male. Lv 12.3 Jews were therefore “the circumcised,” and gentiles obviously weren’t. In fact the popular Jewish term for a gentile, which we even find in the New Testament, was akrovystía/“foreskin.” Most bibles tend to be more polite, and translate this word as “the uncircumcised.” They really shouldn’t. The crudeness of referring to people as “foreskins” gives us a better idea of just how ancient Jews thought of gentiles.

’Cause to their minds, gentiles were unclean. Ritually unclean, ’cause when would they ever get the chance to hear God’s expectations for ritual cleanliness? But literally unclean too, ’cause for the most part, gentiles didn’t wash. Didn’t always bathe regularly. They’d eat anything. (The Romans even prided themselves on the weirdness of what they’d eat.) Touch anything, wear anything (or nothing), have sex with anything or anyone, worship a lot of icky gods whose priests demanded icky forms of worship. And they still had their dirty foreskins.

Hence Pharisee custom was to never, ever touch a gentile. After all, you don’t know where they’ve been.

We gentile Christians would like to imagine we’re not that offensive. But that’s because we weren’t raised with Pharisee prejudices. Instead we were raised with our own—and if we were raised by racists, some of our prejudices are pretty similar. People have it drummed into their heads from an early age: Foreigners are gross and dirty. Touch not the unclean thing.

And then Christ Jesus goes and turns these filthy pagans into family.

Ephesians 2.11-15 KWL
11 Therefore remember: Previously you, gentiles in the flesh,
called “foreskins” by those called circumcised (which was done in the flesh by hand);
12 you, at that time, were Christless. Alienated from Israeli citizenship.
Foreigners to covenants of promise. Having no hope. Godless in the world.
13 Now, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far away, became near through Christ’s blood,
14 for Christ is our peace, making both sides one,
destroying the barrier fence—our fleshly racism. 15 Clearing the field of doctrinal commands.
Thus he can build the two into one new person in him, making peace.

This wasn’t a radical new idea to the ancient world. The Persians, Greeks, Romans, Huns, Rashiduns, and Ummayyads didn’t consider ethnicity to be a barrier to citizenship. But the Jews did—which is why Israel never became an empire, and Pharisaism struggled to spread. Thing is, since God created everyone, loves everyone, and wants to save everyone, racism is unnatural and has to go.

“He had some good bits.”

by K.W. Leslie, 20 July

Sometimes that’s the best you can expect from certain preachers.

She came up to me after the sermon.

SHE. [referring to the speaker] “Wasn’t he great?
ME. “Yeah, he had some good bits.”
SHE. “Good bits? That was like good solid food!”
ME. “Meh.”

She left to go find someone who was as excited about the sermon as she was.

This didn’t take place at my church; I was visiting another church in town. And “she” is someone who used to go to my church. She stopped after we wouldn’t let her into leadership. For good reason; she’s spiritually immature. Regularly tossed to and fro by every charismatic fad, exactly like St. James described the unwise. Jm 1.5 So she went to find another church whose standards weren’t so high. Which is probably why she was visiting this other church.

I was visiting because of a special guest speaker. I won’t give his name, to protect the totally guilty. Many Pentecostals in northern California know who he is. Quite a few Pentecostals outside the area have heard of him. I hadn’t heard him preach before, so that’s why I was visiting.

Good public speaker. Entertaining, winsome, enthusiastic, clever. Had some really positive, uplifting, encouraging things to say. Quoted the bible out of context like the devil itself, though.

No I’m not calling him a devil. Nor an antichrist. Nor uninspired, nor a false teacher, false prophet, false anything. Just saying he’s really sloppy when it comes to interpreting bible. Lots of preachers are, because they don’t do their homework. They repeat what popular Christian culture claims the bible means, rather than double-check anything for themselves. They figure if their conclusion sounds all right, it doesn’t matter what route they took to get there. And obviously they didn’t pay attention in science class… or math, forensics, logic, hermeneutics… Let’s just say they spent their college years, if they had any, having fun instead of studying.

From what I know, this preacher earnestly tries to follow Jesus. Loves him, loves his church, wants to do right by God. But for every time he interpreted bible properly, he likewise interpreted the bible questionably, or downright wrong. And because it was stuff the audience had never, ever heard before—which stands to reason; he was making it up—they were gasping and oohing and declaring “Amen” like he was reading golden plates fresh from heaven.

So they were impressed. The flighty woman from my church was impressed. Me, I know more bible than that. I make absolutely no claims of infallibility, but the preacher kept quoting verses that I’ve either researched, or at least know fairly well. And spun ’em in all sorts of directions with no respect at all for literary or historical context. I don’t know where this guy went to school, but wherever it was, he had a lot of fun.

From the lowest place to the highest heavens.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 July

Ephesians 2.1-10.

Gotta confess: I grew up Christian. I said the sinner’s prayer at age 4. I have no real memories of being pre-Christian. So when the scriptures, particularly Ephesians, brings up one’s wayward pre-Christian life before God got hold of us, it’s not so easy to relate. I didn’t live that way.

Oh yeah, I had my hypocrisy phase in high school and college. But it wasn’t an apostasy phase; I didn’t quit Christianity and go pagan in rebellion, doubt, or apathy. I was just a sucky Christian. More Christianist than Christ-following; I held to religiosity when it suited me, and clung to cheap grace when that suited me. Like I said, hypocrisy.

So when Paul wrote about the Ephesians’ pre-Christian lifestyle, I understand what he’s talking about; I know plenty of pagans who live this way. My trouble is I don’t have a shared experience with them, so I don’t relate as well as someone who did have those experiences.

But y’know, that’s one of the great things about Christian diversity: Plenty of us have. And it’s those former pagans who can speak best to current pagans, and point ’em to Jesus. (Although I should point out I strive to be kind to them, so that tends to take me pretty far with them as well.)

And I do have the experience of being a lousy Christian, yet God didn’t give up on me and straightened me out. So there’s that.

But for ex-pagan Christians, this is more what they experienced:

Ephesians 2.1-3 KWL
1 You who were dead in your missteps and the sins 2 you previously walked in,
following this world’s age, following the head air-power—the spirit now working on apathy’s children.
3 We all used to walk backwards like that in our bodily desires, doing the will of our body and minds.
We were natural, raging children, same as everyone else.
4 God, being rich in mercy, loves us out of his great love. 5 Us, being dead in our missteps.
God makes us all alive in Christ: You’re saved by his grace.

Previously following our desires, our culture (“the world’s age”), and various idols (“the head air-power”), we were as good as dead, ’cause sin kills. Ro 6.23 But God loves us despite that, rescues us from all that, and grants us eternal life for no other reason than pure grace. He’s entirely justified in leaving us to our own destruction, but he’s predestined far better for us.

“To follow thee more nearly.”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 July

Ephesians 1.15-23.

Humans are creatures of extremes. It’s why American churches are likewise creatures of extremes. Either we pursue God with all our might, and strive to make sure our teachings are accurate and solid… and ready to pound into the heads of newbies, skeptics, people of other church traditions which aren’t as up-to-speed as we. Or we pursue godly behavior with all our might, strive to behave ourselves and help the needy… and feel incredibly guilty when we don‘t.

I know; why can’t we get this stuff right? Why can’t we pursue accurate teaching without turning into insufferable know-it-alls? Why can’t we pursue good works without turning into legalists? Why can’t we do both bible study and charitable works—why do we have to pit these behaviors against one another? More than that, why must we insist on pretending to do one or the other, yet use compromise, loopholes, and excuses to do neither? What, are there just too many chainsaws to juggle?

Well. Paul, upon hearing of the Ephesians’ good behavior and faith, prayed God’d grant ’em more wisdom, revelation, knowledge, and power. Partly because knowledge is power; partly because God gives us access to supernatural power, and we oughta learn how to tap that, and minister more mightily.

Ephesians 1.15-19 KWL
15 For this reason I too—hearing the about your trust in Master Jesus and the acts of love towards all the saints—
16 I don’t stop giving thanks for you, working my memories of you into my prayers
17 so the God of our Master, Christ Jesus, the Father of glory,
might give you the spiritual wisdom and revelation to understand him—
18 flooding your hearts’ eyes with light, so you’d understand.
It’s the hope of your calling. It’s the saints’ glorious inherited riches.
19 It’s the over-and-above greatness of God’s power for us believers, through the energy of his powerful strength.

Ephesians is the rare letter where Paul doesn’t have to spend a lot of time correcting the church for its misbehavior. To be fair, this may be because Ephesians is a form letter (as I explained previously) so Paul couldn’t offer customized correction to any one particular church. Not that this hasn’t stopped commentators from leaping to the conclusion Ephesus was the one church in ancient Christendom which was following God properly. I expect they made the same mistakes as every Christian does. But I also expect they were getting a lot right—otherwise Paul would’ve felt the urgent need to write ’em something custom. But he didn’t. He wrote this.

And in it, he prayed the church and its Christians would grow. He made a regular practice of such prayers. He knew from experience they’d need the help. Ephesus especially: They lived in a city which manufactured new religions on a daily basis. (Some of which featured really bizarre versions of Jesus.) They needed to know the truth and hew to it, lest someone lead them astray with some strange but appealing novelty. You know… like nowadays. ’Cause Americans are so easily led astray by churches which claim God promises us a safe, comfortable, unchallenging, prosperous life.

Adoption in the Roman Empire—and God’s kingdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 July

Ephesians 1.11-14.

Last time I focused on predestination, God’s great plan to save the world, which Paul spelled out for everyone who read his letter to the Ephesians. We get redemption, forgiveness, goodwill, God’s riches, etc. Ep 1.7-10

We get this through adoption. The plan was for God to adopt us as his kids.

Ephesians 1.4-6 KWL
4 Namely how God chose us in Christ to be holy—
spotless before his presence—before the world’s foundation!
In love, 5 through Christ Jesus, God predestined us for adoption to himself—
according to the goodwill of his will,
6 in glorious praise of God’s grace, which he poured out on us in love.

The problem is adoption nowadays, doesn’t look all that much like adoption back in the first-century Roman Empire. So this passage makes less of an impact than it should. Lemme fix that.

In every culture there are kids without parents. They had biological parents, but those parents are unable, unfit, or unwilling to raise children. So their children are on their own… unless someone else steps in to care for them. (Someone other than the state.) And adoption means these people wanna be parents, not just mere guardians: They wanna take these children into their family, take legal responsibility for them, and have the very same rights biological parents have over their biological children. The kids become their children.

True, some folks in our culture have hangups about adoption. They figure these kids aren’t the adoptive parents’ real children. As you can tell by how they constantly describe that relationship: “Their adopted son,” or “Her adoptive mother”—just to make it clear biology isn’t involved, so there’s not a full parent/child relationship here.

’Cause for some folks there’s a stigma connected with adoption. They’re bothered by the idea people haven’t passed down their own genes, and are raising “strangers,” or someone whose ancestry or background might be deficient, unsavory, or unwell. In some cases they seriously believe if the adoptive parents can’t produce their own biological children, it’s because God doesn’t want them to have children, so adoption is an end-run around God’s will. And sometimes it’s because others have a hangup—so rather than deal with that, they pretend their adoptive kids are their biological kids, and the secretiveness creates the stigma.

The stigma isn’t a recent thing. It’s a very old thing. But it’s a very European thing. Medieval Europeans were the ones who were all hung up on bloodlines: Men, especially men with wealth, wanted to be certain their kids were legitimately their kids, their parentage made absolutely certain. (Well, as certain as you could in those days before genetic testing.) If there was anything irregular about a birth, the kid was “illegitimate” or a “bastard,” and anyone with “legitimate” parentage would try to make sure the illegitimate inherited nothing. Some of these graceless customs are still embedded in European law, and greedy heirs still try to take advantage of them.

But the ancient Romans had no such hangup. They regularly adopted children. A Roman paterfamilias/patriarch could, and did, adopt anyone he wished. Family members, non-family members, close friends, employees, slaves; didn’t matter. A patriarch could choose absolutely anyone and declare them his daughters or sons. And so they were—with full legal rights and responsibilities as a daughter or son.

Nope, ancestry made no difference to the Romans. Because back then, ancestry wasn’t really provable. All you really had was the mother’s word—and as anyone who’s watched The Maury Povich Show knows, some mothers don’t have the most reliable word. So the Roman culture adjusted to this reality: A man was a child’s father because he formally got up in front of family, friends, and priests, and declared, “This child is mine.” It wasn’t a claim; it was a declaration. Any blood relation can weasel out of their parental duties. But if you stood up and claimed that child as your own, that meant something. Still does. And should.

And that is the cultural idea the Romans, Ephesians, and Jews had in the first century. And what the authors of the New Testament meant when they wrote about adoption—particularly about God adopting us Christians as his children.

Predestination and the Ephesians.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 July

Ephesians 1.1-10.

Eleven years ago I led a year-long bible study on Ephesians.

Seriously, a year. Every Sunday I took about two or three verses and analyzed the pants off ’em. Some of the participants in our group loved it, ’cause they’d never dug into the scriptures to such depth. Others figured I could’ve whipped through that letter in four weeks, ’cause every other bible study they’d been to had done so. Taking 50 weeks (’cause you gotta take a week or two off, y’know) felt to them like overkill.

Meh; maybe. I will say I’ll take considerably less than a year in this go-around. So let’s start.

Ephesians 1.1-3 KWL
1 Paul, by God’s will an apostle of Christ Jesus,
to those in Ephesus who are holy and trusting Christ Jesus.
2 Grace to you. Peace from God our Father, and master Christ Jesus—
3 blessed God, and Father of our master Christ Jesus!
God’s the one who blesses us,
in every supernatural blessing in the high heavens, in Christ!

The “to Ephesus” in verse 1 was blank in the original. That’s because Paul’s letters were form letters: His secretaries copied them and sent them to multiple churches. Paul sent this copy with Týhikos, Ep 6.21 who was from Asia Minor, Ac 20.4 and since Ephesus was Asia’s capital, stands to reason it’d go there.

Paul wrote Ephesians late in his life, as indicated by his being a prisoner Ep 3.1 in chains, Ep 6.20 possibly awaiting trial before Nero Caesar, who ultimately had Paul beheaded. It’s considered a later letter also because its theology appears to be way more thought through than Paul’s other letters—yep, even Romans. In fact some scholars kinda wonder whether Paul wrote it, and whether some other clever student or fan of Paul wrote it instead, pretending to be Paul so the letter would get read.

Me, I figure those scholars are trying to make a name for themselves by pitching controversies. (And some of them did succeed, y’know.) The idea Paul never grew more mature in his beliefs, or that he only wrote them down once-and-for-all (or twice, considering the same subjects in Galatians and Romans) is naïve. How many Christian authors do you know who only discuss a subject once-and-for-all? Some of ’em rehash their favorite ideas in every single book. And unless they’re intellectually lazy (and let’s be blunt, a number of ’em are) you’re gonna see those ideas evolve. Not necessarily change, but get deeper. Show greater insight and complexity. Get a little more patient with people who think differently than they. They also grow as writers, too.

Those who assume Paul never grew in maturity, as a Christian and as a writer, tend to be two sorts of people. The ones I bump into most often are the cessationists, who don‘t understand how revelation and prophecy work, and therefore have no idea how it worked when the Holy Spirit inspired Paul. They assume Paul got all his revelation once-and-for-all… then wrote letters. They’ve no clue—because they won’t listen to the Spirit!—that he doesn’t work like that. Some revelations we’re simply not yet ready for. Jn 16.12 We’re not mature enough; we’re not patient enough; we haven’t learned enough. We’ll trip over ourselves like Jesus’s teenage students. Not for nothing did Jesus wait till John was in his 70s before giving him his Revelation.

The other sort consists of lazy writers. They don’t try to grow as writers; they figure they know what they’re doing, or they’ve achieved enough success at it, and don’t make any efforts to get any better. And they assume everybody gets that way. Everybody peaks in their thirties, and as they age, they take their younger, unrefined selves, turn that into their persona, and milk it for what they can get out of it. You’ve seen actors and musicians do this. Writers do it too. Christians do it too. More immaturity.

Spirit-led Christians grow. Which is why I like Ephesians: We get to take a look at how Paul grew. Hope we’re growing too.

Problematic worship music.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July

The stuff I listen to. And don’t.

We sang a song in my church last Sunday, “Set a Fire” by Will Reagan & United Pursuit. It’s hardly the first time; we’ve worshiped with it dozens of times before. It was a popular song on the radio for a while, ’cause it’s catchy. We like the “I want more of you God” bit, and how there’s no place we’d rather be than in God’s love and presence.

But, to paraphrase Jesus, Rv 2.4 I have this against it. Here’s the relevant portion:

(So) set a fire down in my soul
That I can’t contain and I can’t control
I want more of you God
I want more of you God

What’s wrong with it? Well, that fire we can’t contain and can’t control.

The idea runs contrary to the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control. There should be nothing in our lives which we can’t take hold of. Yes, even things of the Spirit. For

1 Corinthians 14.32-33 KWL
32 Prophets’ spirits are in submission to the prophets,
33A for God doesn’t do disorder, but peace.

The prayer, “God, would you please just take me over and make me do [thing we lack the self-control to do],” is a really popular one. But it’s not one God wants to say yes to. He’s trying to develop self-control in us; he shouldn’t have to take such matters into his hands. (And y’might notice whenever he does, people really don’t like it as much as we imagined we would.)

So Christians might like the idea of more zeal. More “fire down in my soul” which we claim is beyond our ability to contain. Problem is, zealous Christians have consistently used that zeal as an excuse for unkind, unchristian, fruitless, godless behavior. An out-of-control Christian is always a harmful Christian. When have you ever seen someone who loves others (following the proper definition of love, of course) out of control? Well you don’t, ’cause love behaves itself.

Problem is, in many a church Christians are more familiar with the worship song than the bible. True of most worship songs. We quote them. We follow them. Less so Jesus.

I guarantee you this song’s fans, as soon as they hear this critique, will immediately swoop in to defend the song. “Oh that’s not what the songwriter meant to say.” Fair enough; it may not be what he meant. But it is what he said, and is how Christians are gonna interpret it. Good intentions don’t redeem a song. Better lyrics, better aligned with the scriptures, do.

But people don’t determine our favorite songs by the lyrics. We like the music.

“Before I formed you in the womb…”

by K.W. Leslie, 12 July

Jeremiah 1.5.

May as well state my biases up front: I’m prolife.

In the United States we use this term to describe a person who doesn’t approve of aborting a pregnancy. Depending on the person, we either want the practice discouraged, banned outright, made a crime, or even made a capital crime with death penalties all around. Which goes way too far for me, because I’m prolife in the proper sense of the word: I don’t want anybody to die. Not just fetuses.

The real problem with abortion is a society which claims they care about women and motherhood, but they only care about self-supporting women and mothers. When women get pregnant, hadn’t planned on it, and don‘t know how they’re gonna have the time or money to raise a child, society’s response isn’t, “How can I help? Whatever you need, just ask; I’m there.” It’s usually condemnation: “You should’ve expected this.”

No moral support, no financial support, no personal support; God forbid we suggest government support. So the pregnancy is turned into a massive burden… and the easiest way out of the burden appears to be abortion. Social Darwinism turns into actual Darwinism.

You honestly want abortion to be gone, or at least rare? Start supporting women. Start caring for the needy. Love your neighbor. Don’t be one of those hypocrites who only care about fetuses, but not about women struggling to raise kids. Rant over.

So. In conservative Evangelical churches, it’s kinda taken for granted we’re prolife. Most of us are. But not all; you can kinda tell who’s not, by how much they squirm in their seats whenever the speaker starts to condemn abortion.

Me, I start to squirm whenever they misquote bible in support of their cause. I’m pretty sure “Thou shalt not kill” Ex 20.13, Dt 5.17, Mt 5.21 does the job just fine. But prolifers feel we gotta quote other verses to defend our worldview. Any verses which suggest “a person’s a person, no matter how small” Horton Hears a Who! and actually references a fetus, is trotted out as “proof” God considers them people.

This bit from the first chapter of Jeremiah in particular. For some reason, I hear people quote it in the NIV more so than the KJV. I suspect it’s because the KJV uses the word “belly,” which isn’t clinical enough for ’em.

Jeremiah 1.5 NIV
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“See?” prolifers will point out, “God knew us before we were born.”

Um yes, but y’all need to read that verse again. It says Beterem echorkha vebeten/“At [a time] before I formed you in [the] womb.” Not when God formed Jeremiah in the womb; before.

The verse is about foreknowledge, not fetuses. God knew Jeremiah before God created Jeremiah.

“The bible says…” and people who have their doubts about the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 July

The written word is not authoritative.

I realize that’s an ironic thing to write. S’true though. People don’t believe everything they read. There’s this myth they did once; centuries ago, when the only stuff committed to print was important stuff, and therefore everybody figured people should believe everything they read. But of course it’s not true, because writers back then felt entirely free to challenge, critique, or refute the written word. Always have.

For the most part it’s non-readers, or people who only read their bibles, who think the written word has some sort of special value. The rest of us read the internet, and know full well there’s a lot of rubbish out there.

And when it comes to sharing Jesus, Christian apologists will regularly make the mistake of forgetting: We consider the bible authoritative. Pagans do not. To them it’s another religious book among thousands. To them it’s another centuries-old book written by dead white men. (Certain liberals are slightly more impressed when I inform ’em it was written by dead brown men… but not by much. They don’t respect the Bhagavad-Gita either.)

This is why apologists feel it’s very important to establish the bible’s credentials as an authoritative book. This way when anybody responds, “Oh ‘the bible says’—well who cares what the bible says?” we have an arsenal of arguments as to why the naysayer has to take the scriptures seriously.

Personally I’ve found I don’t need an arsenal. Whenever a former pastor of mine was challenged with “What’s the big deal with the bible?” he’d respond with, “Have you ever read the bible?” Few to none have. “Well perhaps you oughta read it before you dismiss it.” So either they’d read it, and the Holy Spirit would work on ’em thataway; or they were never gonna read it, but rather than say so, they just quit trying to put down the bible.

I just presume pagans have their doubts about the bible, and how valid it is. So I don’t bother to point to it. I point to Jesus.

Wait, but where’d I get all my Jesus stuff from? Oh I fully admit for the most part it comes from the bible. But pagans never really ask where I got my Jesus stuff from. They assume I learned it in church. (I kinda did.) If they want to know where in the bible I got this stuff from, I can point ’em to the book and chapter, and sometimes the specific verse. They don‘t ask, though. They just take my word for it… until they don‘t wanna take my word for it anymore. Same as they would with the bible.

Referring to the book and chapter only impresses Christians, anyway. Doesn’t impress a single pagan. In fact, peppering my conversation with bible addresses leads them to believe I’m not really speaking from the heart; I’m quoting a script, ’cause only somebody who wrote all this stuff out as a lecture would include footnotes. And they don’t wanna hear a canned spiel. They want something “more real” than that. Or what feels more real.

So ditch the bible references.

I know; it outrages certain Christians when I recommend this. And not just the bibliolaters. They assume I’m telling people to ditch bible. I am not. By all means, base every declaration you make on the scriptures. But do you need to regularly interrupt your speech with “John 3.16” and “Romans 3.23” and “Ephesians 2.8” and all the addresses which they’re never gonna remember to look up later anyway? Like I said, this only impresses Christians, and they’re the only people we do this for. But they don’t need to hear the gospel; pagans do. So quit pandering to them and consider your audience. The references aren’t actually helping. Ditch ’em.

Convincing people they’re not all that good.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 July

Ray Comfort likes this particular evangelism trick apologetics argument. He didn’t invent it though; I’ve heard it from lots of people. Whenever he’s talking Christianity with someone, he’ll ask them, “Do you consider yourself a good person?”

In my experience, a number of people will actually answer no. Sometimes because they actually don’t consider themselves good people; their karmic balance leans way too far on the bad side of the scale. Sometimes because they’re just being contrary; they don’t know what’s coming next, but they anticipate you want ’em to say yes, so they’re preemptively throwing a monkey wrench into things. And sometimes they do know what‘s coming next, and definitely wanna sabotage it. But in order to keep this article moving, let’s say they answered yes.

PAGAN. “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person.”
APOLOGIST. [stifling that grin you get when they take the bait] “So if you stand before God on Judgment Day, he’ll be okay with you and let you in?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “You don’t have anything he still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Like what?”
APOLOGIST. “Like sins. Have you ever sinned?”
PAGAN. “Well I haven’t murdered anyone.”
APOLOGIST. “That’s the only sin you can think of?”
PAGAN. “Well okay, there’s lying, cheating, stealing, stuff like that.”
APOLOGIST. “Right. God lists commandments about that in the bible, like the Ten Commandments. The bible says when you break one, it’s like you broke all of them. Jm 2.10-11 So have you ever lied?”
PAGAN. “Yeah.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever cheated on your taxes?”
PAGAN. “No.”
APOLOGIST. “So you paid your taxes when you bought something out-of-state over the internet?”
PAGAN. “Okay maybe I cheated on my taxes.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever stolen anything, like downloading a movie off the internet, or a paperclip from work?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever lusted for somebody? The bible says that’s the same as adultery. Mt 5.27 That’s a sin.”
PAGAN. “Seriously? The bible’s strict.”
APOLOGIST. “Yes it is. It says if you hate someone that’s the same as murder. Mt 5.21-22 So, ever fantasized about murdering anyone?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, but that’s not really murder.”
APOLOGIST. “The bible says it’s just as bad, and still a sin. Like you said, the bible’s really strict. Ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?—that actually doesn’t mean cursing, but you swore to God you’d do something, and didn’t?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, I did.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever been envious of your neighbor’s house or car or wife? That‘s coveting; that’s a sin too.”
PAGAN.That’s a sin?”
APOLOGIST. “That’s a sin. God considers all these things sins, all of them violations of commands where he told people to never do them. So, do you have anything God still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Guess so.”
APOLOGIST. “Well he wants to forgive you. But you have to ask for forgiveness.”

And from there, a brief explanation about how God made it so everyone can be forgiven and saved, a bit of the sinner’s prayer, and you’ve won another soul for God’s kingdom. And all the angels in heaven rejoiced. Lk 15.10

Trying to get away from it all… and failing.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 July

Sometimes we need to take a break from ministry… if people will let us.

Mark 6.30-34 • Matthew 14.12-14 • Luke 9.10-11 • John 6.1-4.

The bit where Jesus sent out his students to proclaim God’s kingdom and cure the sick, and where Jesus had them feed an audience of 5,000, were placed right next to one another in two of the synoptic gospels. Namely Mark and Luke.

Mark 6.30-31 KWL
30 Jesus’s students were gathered together to see him,
and reported everything to him—whatever they did, whatever they taught.
31 Jesus told them, “Come, by yourselves, to a place in the wilds. Stop for a little bit.”
For many people were coming and going, and they hadn’t time to even eat.
Luke 9.10 KWL
Returning, the apostles detailed for Jesus all they did.
Taking them, he withdrew with them to a town called Beit Sayid.

The reason they’re right next to one another? Because Jesus was training his students to be his apostles and minister on his behalf. With that came how to minister. And when he sends us to minister apostle-style, feeding the 5,000 is one of the ways in which he wants us to do so: Feed the hungry!

There are those Christians who figure our only job is to tell people about the kingdom—not demonstrate the kingdom by doing good deeds in Jesus’s name. Tell, not show. It’s a warped mindset, but I grew up among people of this mindset: They don’t actually love their neighbors, and this is how they weasel out of doing anything for ’em, contrary to Jesus’s teachings. Yeah, they need to get saved.

But after you’ve spent a bit of time intensively ministering to people, you do need to take a break. Get your Sabbath rest. Too many ministers work all week long: Saturday night services, Sunday morning services, and then it’s back to the usual workday ministries. They take no days off, then burn out. Jesus is the LORD who commanded Israel to take a break every week; he understands the value of rest. Don’t work yourself to death, even if your works are good works. Take a day!

Christians don’t always catch how Jesus sending his kids on a mission, is immediately followed by feeding 5,000. Because most of us aren’t in the habit of sitting down to read gospels all the way through. We break ’em up into daily readings, separate the stories from one another, read them without the previous story fresh in our minds, and don’t catch any of the context. Then people like me point out these fairly obvious facts, and Christians go, “Wow, I never realized that.” Yeah, well, stop reading it the way you’ve been reading it. You’re missing more than you realize.

Mini-rant aside: So, three gospels emphasize how Jesus took his students away for a brief rest. Problem is, they couldn’t catch a break. The crowds found out where Jesus had gone and went to see him. They had sick people and wanted ’em cured. Or they heard rumors Jesus might be Messiah, and wanted to see for themselves, and had a few days free ’cause they were getting ready to go to Jerusalem for Passover (no that’s not speculation; it’s bible Jn 6.4), so they took a detour to check him out.

So much for rest time.

Reusing the bottle.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 July

The perils of being a heavy drinker.

Whenever I buy a bottled drink—water, Gatorade, Powerade, iced tea, fizzy water, etc.—I nearly always reuse the bottle. I refill it with water and use it as my regular drinking bottle for about a month. Or until I buy another bottled drink; then I reuse that bottle. The other bottle goes into the recycling bin.

I’ve been warned by more than one person I shouldn’t do this. ’Cause bacteria. Supposedly it’ll build up somewhere within the bottle, infect me, and give me MRSA or something.

“So I take it you don’t wash your bottles,” I respond.

Wash a disposable plastic bottle? Sure. A little dish soap and water; sometimes I even run it through the sanitizer. ’Cause they’re right: If you don’t clean your bottle, you will get bacteria, mold, or some other icky thing growing in there. It’s just it never occurred to them to wash disposable bottles. After all, they’re disposable.

There is the worry that if I expose the bottle to heat, plastic molecules will come off, get into the drink, and who knows what that’ll do to me. Cancer, usually. This isn’t my worry; it’s more like paranoid friends who read some website somewhere and now they’re convinced all our plastic containers are killing us, so they’ve switched to glass. Until someone else figures out how glass will kill us. Then it’s back to waxed paper and earthenware, I guess. Or stainless steel. Or whatever the new fad will be.

Merited favor.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 July

One of the more popular definitions of grace is “unmerited favor.” Which is one of grace’s definitions; I tend to go with “God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.” The unmerited-favor idea isn’t bad though.

Problem is, we humans very, very seldom practice unmerited favor. We always demand some form of merit.

I used to watch a home-makeover TV show. The producers probably got thousands of applications from people who’d love a free home makeover. But it’s clear they always preferred to grant ’em to needy families. And not just any needy families; not just any family who couldn’t possibly afford home improvements. They singled out deserving needy families.

What made them “deserving”? The family had gone through some exceptional hardship, like dead relatives, disease, a disabled kid, a tornado, something that made ’em suffer. Or the family had done something heroic or honorable, like parents who seriously contributed to their community. Something that’d make viewers say, “The universe owes them something grand. Like maybe a home makeover.”

Because karma.

Karma is deeply ingrained in human nature. It’s what makes all the difference between the needy, and the deserving needy. The undeserving needy would be people who are needy, but kinda should be needy—they refuse to work for a living, or they’re dishonest or criminal and kinda deserve a little hardship in their lives. Or maybe they were deserving at one time, but after receiving 10 home makeovers it’s about time someone else got one.

That’s the mindset humans bring with us whenever we help the needy: We don’t wanna help just any needy person. The laws of karma should apply: Some people deserve to be needy, and we’re perfectly happy to leave them where they are, unhelped. They don’t just receive our favor, indiscriminately: They gotta deserve it. In other words, merited favor.

So, not grace.

In fact you’ll see a certain amount of outrage whenever somebody does practice grace. I’ve written about my tendency to overtip. I regularly get crap from certain people about it. To them, tipping is an obvious case of merited favor, and by showing my waiters unmerited favor, I’ve missed the point. Or so they claim; the real issue is how my generosity exposes their stinginess, and they rightly feel bad about it, and don’t wanna. Mammon forbid generosity catch on, and more people tip like I do; their tight-fisted behavior will be all the less justifiable.

When these same people contribute to charity—not really out of compassion, but because they’re trying to restore the karmic balance in their lives, and make sure they have more good deeds on the books than evil—again, their generosity has its limits. They only wanna give so much, and the way they justify their limits is by demanding those they help be deserving. If you work less than 40 hours a week, it’s your own fault you’re poor; get a second job! If you get government assistance, why do you need their assistance? And so on.

Whereas God, when he’s gracious to people, doesn’t differentiate between the “deserving” needy… or people who actually don’t have any needs whatsoever. He’s gracious to all.

Grow your faith!

by K.W. Leslie, 04 July

As I’ve written multiple times, authentic faith is not the magic power to believe ridiculous things. It’s “the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” He 11.1 KWL stuff we believe even though we haven’t seen it for ourselves, because we trust those who told us this stuff. Because they’re trustworthy. (And they’d better be trustworthy.)

More than that: It’s when we act on this stuff. Fr’instance your friend told you a certain movie was good. You heard it wasn’t, but you have faith in your friend—specifically, his judgment about movies—so you ignore what everyone else told you, and go see the movie for yourself. And either your faith in your friend is proven, ’cause the movie was good… or it was broken, ’cause it sucked. Either way, you acted on faith.

Yes, that’s faith. I know; the way people commonly define faith, it sounds more like you go to see a movie regardless of what anyone tells you, because you want so badly for it to be good, and are hoping it’ll be good if you wished hard enough. Again, that’s not faith. That’s self-delusion, and those who try to swap self-delusion for faith have either been tricked by con artists, or are seriously trying to delude themselves. Faith is based on something or someone solid. Like Jesus.

So when you want to grow in faith, you don’t have to believe so hard something snaps in your brain. That’s how you lose your grip on reality; how you lose your mind. That’s not at all what Jesus calls us to do when he wants us to grow in faith. You know how you really grow in faith? You take leaps of faith: You trust God enough to actually do as he tells us.

See, Christians who lack faith, haven’t trusted God this far. They claim they believe, but they’ve never done anything. Never put themselves in situations where they had to; they deliberately avoided such things. They never tested their own faith. That’s why, the moment something shows up which does test their faith, they break.

You wanna break at the first sign of stress? Be like them. But if you wanna grow as a Christian, and develop faith that doesn’t shake as easily as grass in the wind, start testing your own faith. Get off your duff and act on what you claim to believe. Find out, once and for all, whether you really do believe it.

Pagans and theology.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 July

People who aren’t Christian regularly critique Christianity: What we believe, what our churches teach, how we practice. I regularly lump ’em into three categories:

  1. Antichrists who offer no constructive criticism, and don’t care whether their complaints are valid or not: They just wanna bash Christians.
  2. The clueless, who overheard the antichrists’ complaints and think they’re valid. They honestly don’t know any better.
  3. Those with valid complaints, who take us to task when we truly are inconsistent or hypocritical.

There’s not a lot we can do with the antichrists, much as Christian apologists might foolishly try. (Pearls before pigs, guys. Mt 7.6) The clueless can be reasoned with, but when they’re not merely clueless but downright anti-Christianity, shake the dust off and leave them be.

But the valid critics must be taken seriously. Because they’re right. We Christians do teach one thing and do another. We preach forgiveness and grace and mercy when it comes to evangelism… then we turn round and preach eye-for-eye karma when it comes to our criminal justice system. We preach we’re to love everyone, including enemies, but as soon as a person in our churches commits a sin we consider beyond the pale (like vote for the opposition party) we ostracize them like they’re leprous. We preach against nonmarital sexual activity, but our stats on cohabitation, unwed pregnancy, and abortion are the same or greater than the national average. We’re all kinds of inconsistent—and I haven’t even touched on hypocrisy yet. Probably don’t need to; we know better.

When the valid critics are right, don’t defend our bad behavior. Agree with them. We’re sinners too. But please don’t use that rubbish line, “We’re not perfect; just forgiven.” We’re supposed to work on being perfect. We’re expected to stop sinning, stop being hypocrites, stop taking God’s grace for granted, and be good. We don’t; we aren’t; we suck. Admit it and repent.

However. Sometimes we’re gonna come across the complaint, “Y’know what your real problem is: Your religion needs to be updated. You need to get with the times and get rid of those out-of-date beliefs.” They suggest we stop believing certain things are sins, or quit believing in miracles, or stop believing in mysterious hard-to-fathom stuff. They want us to change our theology—and can’t understand why it’s not as easy as all that.

It’s a particular sort of cluelessness.

John the baptist’s death.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 July

Because despots care more about power than people’s lives.

Mark 6.21-29 • Matthew 14.6-12.

As I mentioned previously “Herodias,” as she’s called in the King James Version, is Herodia Salome (or as I’ve westernized it, Salome Herod), granddaughter of Antipater Herod, the first “King Herod.” She’s the daughter of Aristobulus Herod, the wife of Aristobulus’s half-brother Philip, and later the wife of Aristobulus and Philip’s half-brother Antipater, or “Antipas,” as he’s usually called. Yeah, that’s how it was in the Herod family.

You might recall Salome held a grudge against John the baptist, who at this point in the gospels was in Antipas’s prison. She wanted John dead for publicly criticizing her marriage. In those days before anyone thought to protect free speech, criticizing the Roman governor was considered sedition, and treason, and got the death penalty. So as the Roman governor of the Galilee, Antipas could’ve executed John whenever he pleased. But he didn’t, either because he feared the crowds Mt 14.5 or because he liked to talk religion with John. Mk 6.20 Pick your favorite explanation; the bible’ll back you up.

Salome’s chance came on Antipas’s birthday, when Antipas—who held the hereditary title of king, though not really the job—was feeling particularly royal. Probably fortified by drink. He decided to offer a royal grant to Salome’s daughter, his stepdaughter—who, following Roman custom, was also named Herodia Salome. I’ll just refer to the mom as Senior and the daughter as Junior.

Mark 6.21-23 KWL
21 An critical day came, because Antipas Herod threw a dinner party for his birthday
for his magistrates and generals, and the princes of the Galilee.
22 His daughter, Salome Herod, came in and danced.
She pleased Antipas Herod and his guests.
The king told the girl, “Ask me whatever you want and I’ll give it to you.”
23 Antipas promised Salome, “Whatever you ask me. I’ll give you up to half my kingdom!”
Matthew 14.6-7 KWL
6 When Antipas Herod’s birthday came, Salome Herod’s daughter danced in the middle.
It pleased Herod, 7 so with an oath he promised to give her whatever she wanted.

Salome Jr. was born in the year 14. Jesus’s ministry started round the time he turned 30, Lk 3.23 which would probably be the year 22, when Salome Jr. was eight. Both gospels call her a korásion/“girl,” which means younger than the age of adulthood, 13 years old. So that helps pin down the date for this story: Between the years 22 and 27.

But a lot of Christians imagine Jesus’s ministry was only three years long. Based on what? Well they imagine Jesus died at age 33 (mixing up the year 33 with his age), and if he started at 30, that gave him only three years for all the events of the gospels to take place. Plus the gospel of John only mentions three Passovers Jesus attended, which jibes with their theory. So if Salome Jr. did her birthday dance in, say, the year 32, that’d make her an 18-year-old woman.

And then people start to leap to all sorts of unsavory speculations about what sort of dance this was—as if a Judean princess is gonna cavort in front of every civic leader of a very religious region. (And their wives, y’know.) Or they imagine what sort of relationship Antipas had with his grandniece/stepdaughter—which considering how the Herods had that reputation for inbreeding, ain’t that far of a stretch for the imagination to go. So they like to imagine a lustful Antipas leering at the girl, offering her absolutely anything she wanted, with naughty thoughts about what he wanted running through his mind.

Not that unsavory speculations don’t run through their minds even if they realize Salome Jr. was still a little girl. Me, I figure this says way more about the speculators than Antipas. And they’ve been speculating for centuries. With all sorts of inappropriate art to go along with it.