Hating the opposition.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 August

Talking politics is a minefield. I’m gonna dance through it today anyway.

Half the folks I know are progressive, and the other half conservative. Half Democrat, half Republican. School and work friends lean progressive, family and church friends t’other.

(Yes, even my fellow seminarians lean progressive. Not because I went to a liberal seminary or anything; I certainly didn’t. But because when you wanna get into ministry and help people, you find the progressives tend to be more helpful, and the conservatives more Darwinian. But that’s a whole other discussion.)

I grew up conservative—conservative parents, conservative churches, conservative friends. So that’s what I used to be. I’m far more moderate now. I often refer to myself as a “recovering conservative,” as those in the 12-step programs tend to describe themselves: I used to hew to the party lines pretty tightly, ’cause I was raised to think all true Christians thought and voted that way. But now I follow Jesus, and let him determine my political views.

To the dismay of both my leftist and rightist friends, many of whom are entirely sure Jesus thinks like they do, and think I’m wrong to believe otherwise. Progressive friends insist a real Christian oughta be as progressive as they; conservative friends suspect I’ve gone completely wrong, abandoned Jesus, and forfeited my soul. They can’t fathom the idea they might be wrong. Whereas I know I’m wrong. If I ever adopt the delusion I have God all figured out, that’s when I’ve gone completely wrong.

Anyway. Part of the reason my various friends struggle with me is because they hate the opposition.

It’s not dislike. It’s not a respectful disagreement. It’s hatred. They’re entirely sure the other side is evil. And to be fair, the other side definitely has a lot of evil people mixed in there. There are self-centered, exploitative, irresponsible, destructive sinners on both sides. Hard to say which side has more of them.

I know; both sides will insist, “It’s obviously the other side.” Partly because they’re willing to extend a lot of grace to the sinners on their own side; just look at all the pastors who blindly support certain politicians, candidates, and office-holders solely because they share a party. Partly because they extend no such grace to the other side, and assume the worst of every last one of them. Or believe the worst rumors they’ve heard about them.

In the end they justify loving their political friends and hating their political enemies, and presume the following teaching of Jesus doesn’t apply to their situation:

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said:‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

And yeah, this instruction applies to politics too. Arguably it’s primarily about politics. Because whom did first-century Jews consider an enemy? The devil? The neighbor down the street who was awful to them? Or the occupying Roman forces, or the stifling Roman puppet governments like the Herods and the Judean senate? More often it was their political adversaries, whom they were hoping Messiah would come and overthrow. What they didn’t realize is Messiah wants us to overthrow our enemies by turning them into friends.

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

by K.W. Leslie, 29 August

Isaiah 54.17.

You hear people quote this one when they’re claiming God promised them invulnerability.

Against what? Well it depends on the Christian. Very few are gonna claim this verse is about bullets; when a gunman busts into a school and opens fire, the few who stand up and declare, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper!” are gonna quickly discover this verse doesn’t apply to their situation at all.

Most of the time we figure this has to do with spiritual warfare. Which is about resisting temptation, Ep 6.10-13 although a number of Christians think it’s about believing so hard that they’ll get what they ask for, that they do. So the “weapons,” they imagine, are unbelief, discouragement, and the usual inconveniences of life which might shake our determination. Not desires and fleshly impulses, the actual wiles of the devil. If we don’t know what we’re actually meant to resist, turns out every weapon formed against us shall prosper.

So when people desire to be #blessed (with or without the hashtag), they’re naming-and-claiming the idea, “No weapon formed against me will prosper! I will get my blessing!” And believing so hard, blessings will just materialize out of thin air like a genie’s granted wishes.

Of course that’s not what the original verse means. Duh.

The verse comes from Isaiah, and the first thing you’ll notice is people have personalized it when they quote it. They phrase it “No weapon formed against me,” whereas the King James Version went with thee, which is old-timey English for “you.” No weapon formed against the person the LORD is speaking to through this prophecy. Wanna bet he’s not speaking directly to you or me personally? I would; it’s a solid bet.

Isaiah 54.17 KJV
No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.

There are those folks who will insist the second sentence of this verse, “This [is] the heritage of the servants of the LORD,” means it totally does apply to them, ’cause they’re a servant of the LORD. And they might have a better case for themselves if they actually acted like God’s servants, instead of presuming he owes them #blessings even though they suck at obeying Jesus, and produce no more spiritual fruit than any pagan.

But even if we Christians are obedient and fruitful, is the LORD still speaking to us in this prophecy? Well, let’s take a good hard look at it.

Tradition: Customs which (should) help us follow Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 August
TRADITION /trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Beliefs and customs passed down from generation to generation.
[Traditional /trə'dɪ.ʃən.əl/ adj.]
CHRISTIAN TRADITION /'krɪs.ʃcən trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Someone other than the Holy Spirit, or something other than the bible, which taught you Christianity.

The first time we were introduced to Jesus, for most of us it wasn’t a personal introduction. He didn’t appear to us personally, like he did Stephen or Paul or Ananias.

Nope. We learned of him secondhand, through other Christians—parents, relatives, friends, evangelists, preachers, writers, and so on. We interacted with those other Christians, heard their stories, heard of their own God-experiences, put our faith in these people, and followed the Jesus they shared with us till we eventually had our own experiences of him. (You have had your own experiences, right? I would hope so.)

But despite those personal experiences we’ve had of Jesus, most of the things we still think, believe, and practice as Christians, aren’t based on those personal God-experiences. They’re based on what our fellow Christians did and do. We go to church, see how our fellow Christians worship Jesus, and do as they do. Or we read some book about ways to worship Jesus, and do as the book suggests. Or we hear about some Christian practice, think, “I wanna try that,” and try that.

We draw from the collective experience of the Christians we know. It’s called tradition.

Yeah, there are plenty of people who are anti-tradition. Many of them are irreligious, but a number of ’em aren’t happy with the traditions they grew up with, so they’re trying to figure out better ways to follow Jesus. Which is fine if they’re authentically following Jesus! It’s just a lot of times they’re not. And a lot of other times, they’re anti-tradition because they were taught tradition is dead religion. Which it can be, and can become.

But every Christian follows one tradition or another. Because tradition isn’t just the dead doctrines of formal churches. Tradition is Mom and Dad, who taught you to pray and read your bible. Tradition is Sunday school teachers, who tell you what the bible means. Tradition is Pastor, who encourages you to follow Jesus. Tradition is your favorite Christian authors and podcasters. Tradition is me.

Tradition is anything or anyone, other than the Holy Spirit or bible or Jesus himself, who shows you how to follow Jesus. Sometimes it takes the form of customs and rituals. More often it takes the form of “This is how we do it,” or “This is how it’s always been done.” Whether these customs were passed all the way down from the first apostles, or invented last week by a clever worship pastor, they’re still tradition. Still the teachings of fellow humans on how best to follow God.

And some of these teachings are really good stuff!

And some of ’em aren’t. That’s why we gotta use our heads and figure out which of them is valid, and which aren’t. Which of them will work for us, and which won’t. How some of them might be bent, or might be getting bent, into something which really doesn’t bring us closer to Jesus at all… and how some of them which aren’t so effective might be made effective.

Don’t just assume all traditions are all good. Or all evil. Test everything. Keep the beneficial stuff. Chuck the useless stuff. 1Th 5.21 Including all the practices you invented… which are turning into your own little traditions. Don’t be too tightly wedded to them, ’cause they might not help your relationship with Jesus as much as you imagine, and might need adjusting, adapting, refining… or rejecting.

Be excellent to each other.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 August

Ephesians 4.17-32.

In Romans Paul pointed out the reason pagans sin is because while they totally know better, they still don’t care to have anything to do with God, so he lets ’em live with their own self-deception. And lets ’em get worse and worse. Ro 1.21-32 But once a pagan becomes Christian, we should snap out of that behavior and follow God. Right?

Right. But we don’t always. Because some of that self-deception is pretty strong. Loads of Christians imagine it’s the sinner’s prayer, not the Spirit’s fruit, which confirms our salvation and proves he’s in us. Loads of us imagine we needn’t do any good works, because since we’re not saved by them, so what’s the point? Or we imagine the good works solely consist of believing all the right things, and not so much doing the right things.

Hogwash, but popular hogwash. And old hogwash; people were washing hogs with it back in ancient times too. Plenty of ancient Christians figured all they had to do was confess Jesus, believe what the apostles taught, and they were ready for heaven. It’s why the apostles regularly included a bit in their letters where they instructed Christians to behave themselves. Like this bit here.

Ephesians 4.17-30 KWL
17 So I say this, and testify in the Master:
You’re no longer to live like the other gentiles.
They walk in the meaninglessness of their minds, 18 being darkened in their thinking.
Alienated from God’s life by their ignorant existence, by their hardened minds,
19 they don’t care any more, and give themselves up to immorality,
into the practice of every dirty thing, of pure greed.
20 So you don’t do likewise, you learn Christ!
21 Truth is in Jesus!—if you listen to him, and are taught goodness by him.
22 Learn for yourselves to be rid of following the previous lifestyle,
the old humanity, corrupted by lusts and lies.
23 Have your mind made new by the Spirit,
24 putting on the new humanity, like God created—righteous and truly holy.
25 So, putting aside fraud, speak truth—each one to their neighbor:
We’re body parts of one another.
26 Be angry and sinless: The sun mustn’t set on your anger,
27 nor should anger give space for the devil.
28 Thieves: Stop stealing. Get a job instead, using your hands for good work
so you can give generously to those who have needs.
29 Don’t let any corrupt word come from your mouth,
but speak only if it’s good to build up the needy, so it can give grace to its hearers.
30 Don’t make God’s Holy Spirit sad—
you’re marked for the day of redemption by him!
31 Every kind of bitterness, outrage, rage, whining, slander:
Get it, with every kind of evil, away from you.
32 Become kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving one another same as God forgave you in Christ.

In a nutshell: Stop acting like the pagans you used to be. Be good. And be good to each other. Because if you truly are following Jesus, you’re gonna do better than you currently are!

Election: God did choose you, y’know.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 August

Because you didn’t just wander into Christianity. God wants you.

ELECT ə'lɛkt verb Choose for a purpose or position, like a political contest or a job.
2. noun. A person (or people) chosen by God for a purpose or position. [Often “the elect.”]
[Elector ə'lɛk.tər noun, election ə'lɛk.ʃən noun.]

I grew up with a Christian mom, a Christian upbringing, and lots of relationships with people who happened to be Christian. Whole lot of opportunities to have God-experiences. It’s kinda like I was set up: Stuff was deliberately stuck in my path to influence me to become Christian.

Other Christians didn’t grow up the same way, of course. Things were a lot less Christian, a lot more pagan—or they grew up with another religion altogether. But at one point in their lives they were obviously nudged in Christ Jesus’s direction. Maybe they had a rough patch and Christians showed up to point ’em to Jesus. Maybe a miracle happened and they realized, not just that God’s here, but that Jesus defines him best. In some cases Jesus even personally showed up and told them to follow him—’cause he does that.

The fact is, God wants to save everybody. Jesus died to make it possible, and everybody’s been given the invitation to come to Jesus, be adopted by God, and enter his kingdom. Everybody, without exception, is invited. He’s not turning anyone away. (Unless they clearly don’t want him, or don’t mean it; but those are other discussions.)

But. Even though God’s invitation is for anyone and everyone, there are lots of individuals whom he makes a particular effort to save. Like me, ’cause he set me up to become Christian. Like you, more than likely: When you look back on your life, chances are you can think of many situations where God was getting your attention, moving you into place, coming after you. Some of them were really obvious moves on his part. Some were more subtle. Hey, whatever got you into the kingdom. But God definitely, specifically, wanted you.

And when that’s the case we Christians call it election.

“Pre-Christians” and religious bigotry.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 August

About 25 years ago, my pastor talked about how he was no longer gonna refer to pagans as “non-Christians.” (He never did refer to them as pagans. That’s a practice which varies from church to church. Anyway.) From now on he was gonna call them “pre-Christians.” Because, he explained, he was gonna hope in favor of them becoming Christian eventually. It’s based on optimism.

It also addresses a rather common problem we find in Christendom, particularly in the Bible Belt. It’s a certain degree of negativity Christians can have towards pagans. Bluntly, it’s religious bigotry: The attitude that if you’ve not chosen Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must be sinful, stupid, or otherwise morally or mentally deficient.

My pastor explained none of this thinking is proper, nor even correct. Pagans are simply people who’ve not chosen Jesus yet. He hopes they yet will.

And Christians have no leg to stand on when it comes to religious bigotry. God loves the world, Jn 3.16 which includes all the pagans in it. Jesus died for them, same as he did for us. 1Jn 2.1 God wants pagans to be saved and learn truth, same as Christians. 1Ti 2.4 God forbid our rotten attitudes get in the way of them coming to truth, and to this relationship with God.

Religious bigotry is a very old problem. Jesus had to address it more than once. Like when the Pharisees objected to him taking his meals with taxmen and sinners. By “sinners” Pharisees meant non-Pharisees. Didn’t matter if these non-Pharisees did try to follow God; if they weren’t doing it the way Pharisees did, didn’t participate in Pharisee synagogues, didn’t hew to Pharisee customs, or otherwise weren’t religious enough for Pharisee tastes, they got called “sinners.” Same as certain Christians will get about someone whose sins are more obvious than usual. Nevermind the sin of gossip.

The Pharisees wanted to know why on earth the rabbi ate with sinners. Jesus’s response was he didn’t come to cure the well, but the sick. MK 2.17 An entirely reasonable answer, and one which should be duplicated in our own attitudes towards pagans: We’re here to help! But too often we duplicate the Pharisee attitudes, and worry, “If we interact with pagans too much, they’ll rub off on us. They’ll corrupt us.” So we shun them.

It’s a valid concern if we suck at resisting temptation. But more often that’s a copout. It’s not the real problem. Either their sins offend us, and we can’t get over our hangups and love them anyway; or we wanna look like their sins offend us, ’cause we’re hypocrites.

Fact is, pagans are gonna sin. ’Cause they don’t know any better. And even when they do know better, it’s all the same sins we Christians commit. But they’re never gonna learn better—nor how to resist temptation—till they meet Jesus. And they’re never gonna meet Jesus till we Christians properly introduce them to him. And we’re never gonna do that if we shun them!

Stick together.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 August

Ephesians 4.1-16.

Now that God’s provided his adoptive kids with his superabundant riches, it’s time for us to live like his kids. So here’s the part of Ephesians where Paul moves away from the salvation theology, and gets into how we Christians are supposed to behave towards one another. We’ve been predestined for God’s kingdom; now let’s walk like inheritors of his kingdom.

Paul especially emphasized the unity we oughta see among Christians, who are after all sharing the same Master.

Ephesians 4.1-6 KWL
1 So I, the captive in the Master, encourage you to walk the calling you were called to,
appropriately: 2 With all humility and gentleness.
With patience, putting up with one another in love.
3 Eager to defend the Spirit’s unity, in peace’s joint captivity: 4 One body. One Spirit.
Just as you were also called in one hope of your calling.
5 One Master. One faith. One baptism. 6 One God,
and Father of everyone, over everyone, and in everyone.

Most of the time preachers apply this to Christians who are members, or regulars, of the same church. We’re supposed to love our fellow church members, be patient with them, live in unity with them. Which is true; we should. But that’s not at all the idea Paul had in mind.

Multiple denominations of Christians wouldn’t exist for another two centuries or so, and it’s likely Paul never expected them to ever exist. Even though multiple denominations in the Hebrew religion existed—Pharisees and Sadducees and Samaritans—the early Christians didn’t expect the body of Christ to be likewise fragmented. It’s a violation of Jesus’s will, y’know. Jn 17.20-23

So when Paul wrote this, it applied not just to Christians who shared a church body, but every Christian everywhere: We’re to put up with any and every fellow Christian, no matter what their stripe, whether we fellowship in the same congregation or not. Every denomination and theology. We’re to encourage unity with all of them, because that’s what Jesus wants. Because all of us do have one body, one Spirit, one Master, one faith, one baptism, and one God.

True, you get certain Christians who insist we can’t interact with certain churches. Because they insist they get to define orthodoxy, and if you’re not orthodox enough for them you’re not a true Christian. I would say otherwise: Only Jesus gets to define who’s his and who’s not, and when Jesus told us how to identify true followers, true teachers, and true prophets, he didn’t tell us to look for orthodoxy; he told us to look for fruit. Fruity Christians have the Holy Spirit in them, so they belong to Jesus. Fruitless Christians, no matter how orthodox their beliefs, aren’t obeying Jesus, and aren’t really his.

And y’notice Paul mentioned a few of the Spirit’s fruits in the above passage: Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Love. Peace. If you can’t be bothered to try these things, of course your church isn’t gonna hold together. Or interact with other churches. Or interact with anybody; you’ll turn into one of those isolationist cults who only come out in public to wave “God Hates Fags” signs. You’ll think you’re the only ones going to heaven, ’cause the rest of “Christendom” can’t possibly. And it’s gonna suck to be you when you finally stand before Jesus.

On sexists. Sorry, “complementarians.”

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August

But really sexists with a nicer-sounding label.

COMPLEMENTARIAN /kɑmp.lə.mən'tɛ.rɪ.ən/ adj. Sexist: Believes men and women are inherently unequal in authority (to lead, teach, or parent) and rights.
2. Believes men and women should adhere to [culturally defined] gender roles, and complement one another by fulfilling the unique duties of those roles.
EGALITARIAN /ɪ.ɡæl.ə'tɛ.ri.ən/ adj. Believes all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunity.

I really dislike the term “complementarian.” It’s what logicians call a weasel word: It’s one of those words people use instead of the proper word, ’cause they don’t care to tell you what they really mean. Or they’re in serious self-denial about what they really mean.

Bluntly, “complementarian” is Christianese for “sexist.” Because that’s exactly what they mean: Women and men aren’t equal; there are things men can do which women mustn’t; if women dare do them, they’re violating the social order which has kept men in power all this time God’s will. Because God supposedly wants his daughters to perpetually have a second-class status. That’s why he didn’t give ’em penises.

The foundation of this misbegotten belief largely comes from the story where God curses Eve, and women in general, for her sin. Because she violated his command, childbirth is gonna hurt, and her man is gonna boss her around. Ge 3.16 As for Adam, he was cursed with having to fight the ground to get food from it, and of course death. Ge 3.17-19 But Jesus came to undo these curses!

Whereas modern technology has made it a lot less wearisome to grow crops, and childbirth doesn’t have to hurt (or kill the mother) as often as it used to, and we usually fight off death for as long as possible, complementarians are still pretty darned insistent that men get to boss their women around. It’s one of the few curses in the bible which people demand be carried out.

What about Jesus’s stated intention that women are co-heirs of his kingdom? Oh, complementarians will accept the idea women can be saved; and how kind of them. But as far as ministry and responsibility in the kingdom is concerned, they get all the plum spots, cushy jobs, and positions of authority. ’Cause conveniently for them, that’s their place. And women have to joyfully submit to this truth.

Y’know, any belief which puts people down instead of raises them up, promotes dominance instead of humility, destroys instead of heals, is graceless instead of gracious, is entirely antithetical to what Jesus teaches. Doesn’t matter how fond dark Christians are of it; they don’t know Jesus as well as they imagine.

But sexism is everywhere in Christendom. And to be fair, it’s not necessarily because sexists hate women, or are anti-women, or wanna exclude them from ministry and leadership roles. Roman Catholics are kind of an obvious example of this: Most of ’em, including the pope, cardinals, and bishops, try to put women in leadership and ministry roles wherever they can. But according to their official church teachings, women can’t be priests, and that’s that. It’s not a glass ceiling; it’s made of solid stone. With Michelangelo’s pretty frescoes all over it, but still. And Evangelical sexists believe much the same thing: They’d love to include women, and do so wherever they can get away with it, but the bible only lets them go so far, and no further.

In my article on sexism I point out the bible does so let ’em go further, and accept women as equals in ministry, the church, and God’s kingdom. And if sexists honestly aren’t anti-women, they don’t take much convincing at all: They look at the scriptures, look at the historical context, realize they were wrong, repent of their sexism, and frequently do what they can to correct others.

The rest of them? They don’t wanna be wrong. They don’t really want women to be their equals. And frequently they double down on their sexism, just to make it clear they’re following their interpretation of the bible, zealously. Which has the unfortunate, but telling, side effect of being fruitless and graceless. And worse on their women.

When people can see God.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 August

Or to use the theologians’ term for it, theophanies.

THEOPHANY /θi'ɑ.fə.ni/ n. An experience where God is visible; often hearable and touchable.

Recently a member of a discussion group I’m in was talking about apostles: One of his definitions of apostle is someone who’s seen Jesus. You know, like the Twelve—and Paul of Tarsus, whom he figures was a special case, because Jesus doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore.

There I entirely disagree. Jesus appears to people all the time. Poll the people of your church sometime. Assuming they’re not afraid to admit it (either because your church doesn’t believe in miracles, and in so doing has kinda banned them; or they’re afraid you’ll think them nuts) you might be startled to discover at least one of them has seen Jesus. And no, not a painting of him, nor a Jesus movie: Seen Jesus.

I went into more detail about this in my article on the subject. Jesus can and does appear to people, still. This is the usual form a God-sighting will take place nowadays. God doesn’t have to appear in pillars of cloud and flame, or burning bushes, or thunder on a mountain, or any such thing. The form he took when he became human will do him just fine from now on.

But before he became human, God appeared in all sorts of odd ways to his people. ’Cause sometimes he felt he had to make a personal appearance… so he did.

Remember, God is spirit. Jn 4.24 So most of the time he’s gonna interact with us humans in spiritual ways. In other words, non-physical ways: Won]t see him, won’t hear him, won’t feel him, won’t smell or taste him, won’t detect him through some poorly defined sixth sense. Various Christians claim to sense him, but 99 times out of 100 they’ve confused their emotions (or the really good subwoofers in their church) with “feeling the Spirit.” Or they’ve psyched themselves into an experience.

But in that one time in 100, God chooses to become detectable to our senses. He appears to people. We theologians call this a theophany. It’s one of the five forms of revelation (which’d be prayer, prophecy, bible, conscience, and theophany). When we’re too dense for one of those other forms to do the job, sometimes God resorts to making an appearance.

The bible begins with God-appearances. (’Cause the other forms of revelation weren’t around yet.) God made a habit of hanging around Eden with Adam and Eve. They could even hear him coming. Ge 3.8 True, he didn’t have to physically do this. He could’ve walked with the first humans the same way Jesus “walks” with most of us, answering our prayers and guiding us through life. But he didn’t wanna. Most of the reason he became human is because he still doesn’t wanna. We’re the ones who freak out over God-appearances.

Exodus 20.18-19 KWL
18 All the people saw the sound, the bright light, the trumpet’s call, the smoking mountain—
the people saw, trembled, and stood far away.
19 They told Moses, “You speak with us so we can hear.
Don’t have God speak with us, lest we die.”

As if God had any intention of destroying them. (Yet.) But that’s the problem: God’s grandeur, even in small doses, freaks us out beyond reason and understanding. Mk 9.2-6 The popular belief was, and still is, that if we actually see God as he literally is, our fragile selves can’t take it, Ex 33.20 and we’ll drop stone dead. Dt 18.16, Jn 13.22 And y’know, there’s likely something to that.

So when God appeared to people in the scriptures, he usually appeared as a man Ge 18.1-16 or angel. Jg 13.21-22 The “Angel of the LORD” may only have been a herald who represented God, but consistent with ancient practice, people addressed it as if it was God, and Christians wonder whether this angel wasn’t God in some angelic form. (Other Christians figure it was Jesus before Jesus became human… and since Jesus is God, it’s sorta the same idea.)

Where there’s no vision. (It’s not your vision.)

by K.W. Leslie, 07 August

Years ago I taught at a Christian junior high. We had a chapel service, and one of my fellow teachers was gonna preach a nice motivational mini-sermon, and came to me for help: He was trying to find this verse in his bible, and couldn’t:

Proverbs 29.18 KJV
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

It’s because the school’s official translation was the New International Version, but he had the verse memorized in the King James Version, and the NIV had updated the vocabulary so much, he couldn’t recognize it anymore. The 1984 edition of the NIV put it thisaway:

Proverbs 29.18 NIV (1984)
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;
but blessed is he who keeps the law.

The current edition updated it even further. Plus made it gender-inclusive.

Proverbs 29.18 NIV (2011)
Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint;
but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.

“Wisdom’s instruction” isn’t that precise a translation of torah/“Law,” but whatever.

My coworker was confused by the update. Because he already had a specific reason for wanting to use this verse as his proof text: He wanted to talk to the kids about why it’s important for each of us to have a vision for our future in mind.

It’s not about that, I explained to him. It’s about revelation. It’s about God’s vision for our future. Which is why he gave us his Law. It’s not about making our own plans.

He nodded, and I thought he had heard me. But when it came time to speak to the kids, first he quoted the NIV, then said, “But in the King James Version it says, ‘Where there’s no vision, the people perish.’ And that’s what I wanna talk to you about today. You gotta make plans for your future. You gotta have a vision. Otherwise you’ll perish.”

And so on. Context be damned; he had kids to motivate. Stupid translators and their insistence on accuracy were only getting in his way.

So that was disappointing, and I lost a lot of respect for him as a Christian and an educator. But it’s hardly the first time I’ve tried to correct a fellow Christian, only to have it fall on deaf ears. Still happens all the time. Hopefully you haven’t come to this blog, or this article, with this know-it-all mindset.

God’s superabundant riches.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 August

Ephesians 3.13-21.

God’s great mystery, now revealed to the world through Paul, was God’s kingdom now includes gentiles. Previous generations didn’t realize this, despite plenty of hints in the Old Testament; it’s why Pharisees were regularly so dismissive of gentiles. But God now wants his church to make it crystal clear: The good news is for everyone. No exceptions. Jesus is Lord of all.

This was why he was in chains, Paul explained. Ep 3.1 In Acts he proclaimed Jesus had sent him to the gentiles—in temple, of all places. Ac 22.21 The resulting riot got the Romans to arrest him, Ac 22.22-24 originally to flog him and silence him, but Paul’s citizenship meant it quickly turned into protective custody, as the Judean leadership sought to get him killed. At the time he wrote Ephesians, we figure he was awaiting trial in Rome. His legal woes were entirely provoked by the very idea of including gentiles in God’s kingdom. But Paul wasn’t so petty as to blame gentiles for his situation. Wasn’t their fault.

On the contrary: The gentiles drove him to rejoice.

Ephesians 3.13-17 KWL
13 So I request you don’t despair over my suffering for you—which is in your honor.
14 It’s why I bend my knees to the Father, 15 for whom every “fatherland” in heaven and on earth is named.
16 So he could give you power from his glorious riches, make you strong in his Spirit in the person within,
17 and settle Christ in your hearts, planted and established through faith in love.

When Paul wrote of bending his knees to the Father, Ep 3.14 Christians miss the importance of this, ’cause it’s an old Christian custom to kneel to pray. But first-century Judeans (and Christians) didn’t pray like that. They prayed standing up, facing the sky, arms outstretched. Mk 11.25, Lk 18.13 You didn’t kneel unless you were begging God to answer your petition—like when Jesus begged not to suffer, Lk 22.41 or Simon Peter begged God to raise a dead woman. Ac 9.40 Paul was begging God for his prayer requests. Begging the Ephesians would get “power from his glorious riches,” would be “strong in his Spirit,” that God’d “settle Christ in [their] hearts.” He wanted the Ephesians to become solid Christians. (’Cause they were good Christians, Ep 1.15 but could always be better!)

Every “fatherland,” Paul pointed out, is named for the Father. This is a bit of Greek wordplay, so it’s a little tricky to translate. Paul compared patír/“father” and patriá/“homeland.” He correctly pointed out the word patriá comes from patír. Originally patriá meant “family,” and the KJV translated it that way: “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Ep 3.15 KJV But a patriá wasn’t just one small little family, but a national family—the ethnic identity of an entire nation. Back then, nations figured a significant part of their national identity was in being descendants of a common ancestor. You know, like Judeans all figured they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah: They were “the children of Israel.”

Nowadays we consider that idea racist… ’cause it is. Especially in empires like the Roman Empire, which were multinational; or nations like the United States, which are based on shared ideals and rights instead of culture and ancestry. And God’s kingdom is both of those things: It’s an empire where everyone’s adopted, Ep 1.5 where our common allegiance to Jesus and his teachings mean race should make no difference. And lest anyone forget this, Paul pointed out how every ethnic identity has its origin in God the Father. He put people-groups where he wants ’em, Ac 17.26 and now he wants ’em in his kingdom, the patriá of heaven. A one-world government, under God, indivisible.

Outside and inside of the Bible Belt.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 August

Americans know this already, but I have foreign readers, so I figured I should explain: There’s a section of the United States called “the Bible Belt.” Pagans named it that, but the people who live there are perfectly happy with the term. It’s the American South, in which the population is so overtly Christian—specifically a conservative Evangelical form of Christianity—it’s simply taken for granted you’re Christian.

Those who live in the Bible Belt presume they’re Christian, even when they aren’t. Likewise they presume their neighbors are Christian, and are startled and even horrified to discover otherwise. To them of course the United States is a Christian nation. Certainly everyone they know is Christian.

It’s hypocrisy, of course. The residents of the Bible Belt are about as Christian as the people of my state, California. Seriously; polls and surveys bear this out. The difference is that when Californians aren’t Christian, we don’t pretend we are, and don’t try to disappear into the larger Christian population. We’ll just be pagan. ’Cause it’s allowed. ’Cause freedom of religion.

Hence what we have in California is the opposite assumption: Those who live here presume just about everyone is pagan. (Especially the person doing the assuming originated from the Bible Belt.) I grew up with preachers who had a bit of a bunker mentality: Outside the church walls, everybody else was an unbeliever. They either had some weird hippy religion, or were some kind of cult member, or were atheist. Since I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, the preachers probably weren’t far wrong; a lot of non-Christians moved to the Bay Area specifically so they could be non-Christian, let their freak flags fly, and raise up a new generation of non-Christians who believed in everything, believed in nothing, or believed in weirdness, same as they.

But when I started sharing Jesus with people, I quickly discovered most of the strangers I meet are Christian. Roughly two out of three of them. They aren’t necessarily good Christians; most of us suck. They’re still Christian though: Pray, read their bibles a little, sometimes go to church, believe all the basics, and most importantly trust Jesus to save ’em.

Of course I tell my Bible Belt friends this, and they can’t believe it. Because they’re sure California consists of nothing but pagans.