Blind faith: Those who say “we see,” and don’t.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 October

When faith isn’t based on anything or anyone trustworthy.

Whenever pagans talk about faith, their usual definition of the word is “the magical ability to believe goofy nonsense.” You know, stuff people really shouldn’t believe.

In some cases stuff that’s dangerous to believe. Fr’instance antivaxxers. They believe vaccines cause autism, or contain poisonous chemicals, or believe they’re otherwise harmful. Hence they refuse to get their kids vaccinated. I’m not quite sure what it says about them, that they’d prefer to see their kids dead than autistic… but it’s nothing good. What I do know is, thanks to them, childhood diseases which should be a thing of the past, are back—and posing a grave danger not just to their children, but to other children with compromised immune systems, or for whatever reasons can’t be vaccinated. Their belief in goofy nonsense is deadly.

So yeah, if this what you think “faith” means, of course you’d think it wrong. Even evil.

But it’s not at all what Christians mean by faith. By faith we mean complete trust or confidence in something or someone. We Christians have (or are trying to have) complete trust in Jesus: We believe what he tells us about God. We’ve seen things which indicate he’s worth our trust.

Well, unless we haven’t. Then, what we have—and this is the proper term for it, even though most people think of it as a negative thing—is blind faith, the complete trust in something or someone despite an utter lack of evidence.

And everyone practices blind faith, to a degree.

Yep, even pagans. When they walk into an unfamiliar room, one they’ve never been in before, how do they know the floor’s solid? Well they don’t. They’ve assumed—and are kinda taking it for granted—that the folks who built the room didn’t make the floor out of balsa wood or cardboard. That the building inspectors actually made sure the floor is solid. That building inspectors even saw this floor. We take a lot of such things for granted every day. We kinda have to; we don’t have time to test every little thing, and we’re seen as needlessly paranoid if we do. Blind faith saves time.

Children especially. They trust their parents. Should they? Not always; I’ve seen some really awful parents. But they haven’t yet learned to confirm things, double-check things, test things, ask questions. (Some never do learn how.) They just believe what they’re told, ’cause they assume adults know what we’re talking about. Again, not always. But again, blind faith saves time.

And new Christians especially. They don’t know anything about God, and are trusting their churches to introduce them to him. Some churches do, and do a great job of it. Some churches do a sloppy, negligent job of it. Some churches are heretic, and get God horribly wrong; others are cults, and turn people into slaves instead of Christ-followers. But in the good churches, much of what they’re doing is replacing blind faith with informed faith. Like the Samaritans after they met Jesus.

John 4.42 KWL
The other Samaritans told the woman, “We no longer believe because of your say-so; we’ve heard him.
We realize this is truly the Christ, the one who saves the world.”

They first came to check out Jesus because she said, “Come see a person… it’s not Christ, is it?” Jn 4.29 Turns out it was. Once they spoke to him for themselves, they knew for sure. And that is what our churches need to do for us: Introduce us to Jesus, and let us see for ourselves. Not keep us in the dark, trusting our teachers instead of Jesus, hoping it’s true, but with nothing but blind faith.

Ditching the Old Testament?

by K.W. Leslie, 30 October

Yep, you should memorize certain verses.

NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIAN /'nu tɛs.tə.mənt 'krɪs.tʃən/ n. One who professes to live by the teachings of the New Testament [instead of the Old].
2. One who holds to the invalidity of the Old Testament, and the validity of the New.

Whenever I talk about what we Christians think, believe, and behave, I quote bible. I’m trying to show how these views are based on, or at least jibe with, the scriptures. ’Cause Evangelicals uphold the bible (or at least claim to), so they wanna know there’s a valid proof text for what I’m talking about.

And every so often, one of ’em will say, “I don’t think that’s what that verse means.” Which is fair; let’s take a closer look at it. I’ve been wrong before, so there’s nothing wrong with wanting to double-check a proof text. Really, Christians oughta do it more often, because you simply can’t trust popular Christian culture’s interpretations of the scriptures. Too much bias; not enough bible.

When the scriptures agree with me to their satisfaction, so will they. Sometimes grudgingly, but still. Frequently they’ll relapse to their old beliefs, because the Holy Spirit has to further convict them; I can’t give their consciences a squeeze like he can.

But every so often not even the bible works on ’em. Because they don’t respect the bible.

No, I’m not talking about hypocrites who pretend to respect the bible but don’t really. They’re a whole other problem. I’m talking about Christians who believe huge portions of the bible don’t apply to them. Some of ’em believe the entirety of the Old Testament no longer has any bearing on Christians. Some believe certain sections of the New Testament are only for Jews or Jewish Christians, and since they’re gentiles, these instructions don’t apply to them. Cessationists claim the teachings on miracles are no longer relevant ’cause God stopped doing miracles.

It gets scary when these folks include Jesus’s teachings among the parts of the bible they consider void. How do they claim such things? Simple: They figure since we’re saved by grace, we needn’t follow commands. Including Jesus’s. So they don’t. Which is really gonna bite ’em in the behind on Judgment Day, but try telling them that: Jesus’s Sheep and Goats story Mt 25.31-46 is one of the teachings they consider void, y’know.

It’s a little hard to consider them Christian when they can’t be bothered to follow Christ. It’s why those who nullify bible tend to be called heretics by the rest of us. Well, depending on how much we nullify bible.

Jesus and Peter walk on water.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 October

And how this got Jesus’s students to reconsider a few things.

Mark 6.46-52 • Matthew 14.23-33 • John 6.16-21.

Right after Jesus had his students feed 5,000-plus listeners, he sent ’em to the far side of Lake Tiberias (i.e. “the Galilean Sea,” although it’s not quite that big. The Great Lakes are way bigger.) So while Jesus dismissed the crowds and left to pray, the students rowed their way south.

And the rowing wasn’t easy, ’cause the weather didn’t cooperate.

Mark 6.46-48 KWL
46 Saying goodbye, Jesus went off to a hill to pray.
47 Much later, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land.
48A Seeing the students tortured by the rowing, for the wind was against them…
Matthew 14.23-24 KWL
23 Saying goodbye to the crowds, Jesus went up a hill by himself to pray.
Much later he was alone there. 24 The boat was already many stadia away from land,
tortured by the waves, for the wind was against it.
John 6.16-18 KWL
16 When it became later, Jesus’s students went down to the lake,
17 got into a boat, and went to the far side of the lake, to Kfar Nahum.
It had become dark, and Jesus hadn’t yet come to them.
18 The lake’s wind increased, blowing greatly.

Now, the title of this piece tipped you off what’s about to happen next: Jesus is gonna walk to them on the surface of Lake Tiberias. You’ve heard the story before. Heck, everybody’s heard of this story; walking on water is one of the most famous stunts Jesus ever pulled.

Though I should point not everyone who’s heard of this story, knows the details of this story. Pagans regularly assume Jesus is the only person who ever walked on water. Who ever could walk on water; there’s a widespread pagan interpretation that Jesus could do it because he’s so good, God would never let him sink! It surprises them when I tell ’em Simon Peter walked on water too—and then they leap to the conclusion Peter must’ve been a really good person too. Hardly. But I’m getting too far ahead of the story.

I bring up how everyone’s heard this story, to point out how most folks don’t know this story in context. They don’t know what happened before it. They don’t realize what happened before it, should’ve had enough of an impact on the students, they’d behave far differently than they did. But like Mark points out at the end of the story, these kids were pretty dense.

So I remind you there were three experiences the students should’ve bore in mind as the events in this story were taking place:

  • They weren’t unfamiliar with Lake Tiberias’s rough weather. And they also weren’t familiar with the fact Jesus once stopped this weather.
  • Day before yesterday, the Twelve had just returned to Jesus after going round the Galilee preaching the gospel, curing the sick, and throwing out demons. They had personally done what Jesus did.
  • And yesterday, Jesus had ’em feed the 5,000.

You’d think they’d be used to the impossible by now. Apparently not.

False witness and fake news.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

What makes certain Christians so immune to facts?

It should go without saying that Christians shouldn’t bear false witness. It’s one of the Ten Commandments, after all: Don’t claim anything knowingly untrue about your neighbor. Don’t spread gossip, which is nearly always half-true, if not entirely untrue.

And in this present day, we have to bear in mind a lot of “news” sites are really gossip sites. Their writers didn’t bother to go to journalism school, and their publishers don’t care about journalistic standards of truthfulness and accuracy; all that crap just gets in the way of being able to publish sensational clickbait. So when they hear of something, or even just assume something’s true, they don’t bother to confirm or fact-check it. Especially when it suits their biases. Fr’instance if they don‘t like the president, they’ll publish anything which makes him look like an idiot; if they love the president, they’ll publish anything which makes him look like a saint.

So since the websites don’t practice any form of discernment, it’s kinda left up to the readers to judge whether it’s true or not. Trouble is, the readers didn’t go to journalism school either. And likewise are willing to believe anything which suits their biases.

This is why I have friends, progressives and conservatives alike, who post all sorts of stuff on social media which is objectively not true. Rumors, half-truths, gossip, lies. All of it false witness.

And they feel I’m the bad guy for saying so.

See, for some people, their worldview isn’t based on truth. It’s the other way round: The truth is based on their worldview. If a fact doesn’t suit their worldview, it can’t be a fact. If science doesn’t confirm their unsubstantiated conviction that God made the world 6,022 years ago (or even that the earth is flat!) they’re gonna refuse to believe in science. If the news reports the president did something evil, but they’re sure the president is the next best thing to the second coming, the news must be “fake news”—even when the president totally confesses to the evil he’s accused of, ’cause he doesn’t think it’s evil. Not even their favorite people can penetrate the thick wall they’ve built between their worldview and reality. Not even Jesus.

So yeah, I got no chance of getting through to them. I’ll try anyway, for a while. Some of them I gotta give up as lost causes. Pearls before swine and all that. Hopefully the Holy Spirit can crack that nut eventually.

The rest, who are receptive to correction, I gotta remind, and keep reminding: Stop bearing false witness! Check your facts.

“But in these last days”… prophecy stopped?

by K.W. Leslie, 25 October
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Hebrews 1.2.

In the New International Version, the book of Hebrews begins like so.

Hebrews 1.1-2 NIV
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

The English Standard Version translates it similarly.

Hebrews 1.1-2 ESV
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Other translations also present the similar idea: In the past God spoke through the prophets, but in the present he speaks through his Son.

So the argument goes whenever cessationists wanna insist God doesn’t speak through prophets anymore. Prophets, they insist, are an Old Testament phenomenon. A bible-times office. Not a present-day position; God doesn’t do that anymore. Like the Muslims deem Muhammad, Jesus is the last and greatest and final prophet. The title the NIV adds to this passage even says so: “God’s Final Word: His Son.”

I do agree Jesus has the last word on every controversy, disagreement, or discussion among his followers. He’s our Lord, so of course he has final say.

But what this title implies—and what cessationists totally mean—is prophecy stopped: There are no more prophets. We’re done with that. We don‘t even need them; we have a bible. That’s all the revelation we’re gonna get from God; he doesn’t see fit to add to it; and we’d better not claim we have further revelations from him. (And when they interpret what the bible means, and insist we gotta live by their doctrines, somehow them adding their 2 cents to the bible doesn’t count as further revelations.)

Doesn’t matter that there are New Testament prophets, particularly John of Patmos; doesn’t matter that Paul encouraged the Corinthians to prophesy; doesn’t matter that Christian history is dotted with prophets. Their proof text for why there aren’t prophets any more—one of many—is how the very book of Hebrews begins by saying God used to speak through prophets, but in the last days it’s just Jesus. And then Jesus got raptured to heaven and doesn’t talk to us anymore. And while the Holy Spirit might’ve permitted just a bit of prophecy in Peter and Paul‘s time, once those guys finished writing the New Testament, the Spirit stopped talking too.

Thing is, the whole basis of this argument hinges on one little word in their proof-text: “But.” In bible times God spoke through prophets, but now it’s just Jesus. Do we find this word in every bible translation? Nope.

WYCLIFFE: “…at the last in these days he hath spoken to us by the Son…”
GENEVA BIBLE (includes it in verse 1): “…in these last days he hath spoken unto us by his Son…”
KJV: “…hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…”
ASV: “…hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son…”
CSB: “In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son.”
DARBY: “…at the end of these days has spoken to us in the person of the Son…”
ISV: “…has in these last days spoken to us by a Son…”
MEV: “…has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…”
NASB: “…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…”
NET: “…in these last days he has spoken to us in a son…”
NKJV: “…has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…”
NLT: “And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.”

Obviously that’s not every translation. A number of translations include “but,” though you’ll also notice an equal number of ’em have not. Including the oldest English translations.

’Cause cessationists, and those who lean in that direction, added “but” to the bible. And in pinning their arguments to the word they’ve illegitimately inserted into the scriptures, are they riding that “but” hard.

Prophetic dreams… and whether you had one.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 October

Of course God can speak to us in dreams. But he hasn’t spoken to us in every dream.

When we sleep, we dream. Not all of us remember our dreams; I seldom do. Psychiatrists have all sorts of theories as to why, and a really popular one is that our brains are sorting out all the memories we haven’t yet processed… and because the brain is designed to recognize patterns and find meanings in the meaningless, it sorts the memories by turning them into a narrative. The narrative won’t always make sense. Doesn’t actually have to.

I believe (though I won’t claim this is infallibly true) the reason some of us hear God speak to us in our dreams, is because God’s voice is one of the unprocessed or under-processed memories we had during the day. We weren’t really giving him our full attention at the time. But we did hear him. Our subconscious picked it up, at least. And once we’re asleep, as every subconscious memory is getting dredged up and looked at, of course God’s voice is gonna be in the mix. If not take center stage, ’cause we know God should take center stage.

I’ve found many other Christians share this experience: “Prophetic dreams” are simply when God’s voice comes up in our usual dreams. That’s why whenever I have such a dream, I’m a little annoyed with myself: It implies I wasn’t paying enough attention to God during my waking hours. Gotta get better at that.

But that’s only one sort of prophetic dream. For some, prophetic dreams are full-on prophetic visions. Same as God would show you during the daytime, but instead he decided to interrupt your dreams and do it then. Because that’s what he prefers with certain people.

God said he’d speak to his prophets in their dreams, Nu 12.6) especially once he poured out his Spirit upon all Christians. Ac 2.17 Hence lots of Christians have dreams where God shows up and has a talk with you. Same as he did with Abraham, Ge 15.12-16 Abimelech, Ge 20.3 Jacob, Ge 28.10-15 Laban, Ge 31.24 Solomon, 1Ki 3.5 and Paul. Ac 18.9 Other prophets, like Daniel or Jesus’s father Joseph, spoke with angels.

And others had prophetic visions. This’d be like when the Egyptian pharaoh in Joseph’s day dreamed of fat and skinny cows, Ge 41.1-4 when a Midianite raider dreamed of a loaf of bread knocking a tent over, Jg 7.13 when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dreamed of an oddly-made statue knocked over by a rock, Da 2.31-35 or when Daniel dreamed of the End Times. Da 7 These dreams needed to be separately interpreted, so sometimes the dreamers called upon a prophet who could get the key to the dream from the Holy Spirit. Other times the dreamers had the dream explained by angels. Either way they recognized the messages in these visions came from God.

Here’s the problem: A lot of Christians wanna be prophets. (As we should!) The usual way we do this is by listening to God, then sharing with others what he told us. This takes the ability to tell the difference between God‘s voice, and any of the other voices (usually our own) in our heads. This especially takes faith and boldness. Not every Christian has the wisdom to pick out God’s voice, nor the backbone to share it.

So what’s the way easier way to try becoming a prophet? Remember your dreams, pick ’em apart, then try to play connect-the-dots interpretation with them. “I had a dream, and I think it means this. So… isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it profound?”

No. Stop that. It’s annoying.

When the crowds realized Jesus is the Prophet.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 October

Wanna win a kingdom? Give ’em freebies.

Mark 6.45-47 • Matthew 14.22-23 • John 6.14-17.

Christians are far from decided about how the End Times are gonna play out. Well, most of us are undecided: We recognize God was deliberately vague about the details, and aren’t gonna presume to declare what his apocalyptic revelations mean. Sometimes because we’re too intimidated to try; sometimes because we know better than to try. Of course some of us aren’t so humble, and have even made intricate timelines.

What did the Pharisees do when it came to End Times speculation? Oh, they totally made timelines. You probably guessed that about ’em.

Not that their timelines lined up with one another. If you ever read the Mishna, you’ll notice Pharisees disagreed about everything. So of course there were dozens of theories about the order of events, and the various End Times figures whom the Pharisees expected would appear. There’s Messiah of course; that’d be Jesus the Nazarene. Some Pharisees couldn’t figure out how Messiah would both rule Israel and suffer and die, so they guessed there had to be two Messiahs—of course a first and second coming never occurred to them. There’s Elijah, who was raptured to heaven in a whirlwind 2Ki 2.11 and therefore hadn’t died; Pharisees figured God was gonna send him back before the End, Mk 9.11 and Jesus identified him as John the baptist. Mt 11.13-14 And there’s the Prophet, whom certain Pharisees insisted was what God meant here:

Deuteronomy 18.17-19 KWL
17 The LORD told me, “What they said is good.
18 So I raise them a prophet, like you, from among their family.
I put my words in his mouth, and he tells them everything I teach him.
19 If a person won’t listen to my words which the prophet speaks in my name, I examine them.”

Yeah, the LORD generally means any prophet he raises up—in any culture. But Pharisees imagined there’d be a quintessential prophet who especially fulfilled this word, whom the LORD would raise up special for the End Times. And Simon Peter indicated this guy also as Jesus the Nazarene.

Acts 3.17-24 KWL
17 “Now family, I know you’re acting in ignorance, just like your leaders.
18 This was how God fulfilled what he foretold through all his prophets’ mouths:
His Messiah was to suffer.
19 So turn around, turn back, so your sins can be patched up!
20 So a refreshing time can come from the Master’s face.
So he can send you his appointed Messiah, Jesus.
21 Heaven has to have Jesus till the time he restores all—
which God spoke of in the prophets’ age, through his saints’ mouths.
22 Moses said this: ‘Your Lord God will raise up a prophet for you,
from your own family, like me. Listen to him, to everything which he tells you.
23 It’ll be that every soul who doesn’t listen to this prophet
will be utterly destroyed from the people.’ Dt 18.18-19
24 All the prophets since Samuel, and those who followed him,
spoke of and proclaimed these days.”

I know; Peter didn’t quote Deuteronomy accurately. The LORD said it, not Moses; and the consequence of not listening to the prophet was “I examine them” (or as an Aramaic bible has it, “my Word examines them”—you know, Jesus). Turning that into utter destruction—well that escalated quickly. But utter destruction was kinda the mindset Pharisees had about ignoring God’s prophets. If God’s speaking, and we won’t listen, we’re kinda doomed. It’s happened before.

Hence the Prophet wasn’t a minor End Times figure. He was a big deal. The Pharisees wanted to know whether John was this Prophet, and John was pretty sure he wasn’t; he didn’t even think he was Elijah. Jn 1.19-24 Pharisees were on the lookout for the guy.

Well. Once Jesus’s students fed ’em bread in the middle of nowhere—just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna in the middle of nowhere!—guess what conclusion the crowd immediately jumped to?

John 6.14 KWL
So, seeing this miracle Jesus did, the people said this:
“This is truly the Prophet who’s meant to come to the world!”

But here’s the problem: Rather than listen to anything the Prophet might have to say about what his role really consists of—you know, like the LORD told ’em they oughta do—they immediately fell back on their culture’s expectations about the Prophet. They wanted to defy the Romans, defy Herod, and make Jesus their king. Right there. Right then. Right away.

Uh-oh.

Redefining joy “because happiness is fleeting.”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 October

Ask anyone what joy means and they’ll tell you what the dictionary usually tells you: It’s happiness. It’s pleasure. You feel really, really good.

Ask a Christian and they’ll give you the very same answer. That is, till you bring up the fruit of the Spirit. Then suddenly the definition of joy changes to contentment. To being okay with whatever befalls us in life. To gritting our teeth and buggering on. All the happiness gets sucked right out of the meaning.

What’s wrong with these people? What, have they never experienced joy before?

No, they have! The problem isn’t that they don’t know what joy is, nor what it feels like. The problem is they don’t understand fruit of the Spirit. Christians have some really odd, wrong ideas about what it’s like. So these odd ideas worm their way backwards into the definitions of the individual fruits, and distort what we mean by love or any of the emotions encouraged by the Spirit.

Emotions, y’see, come and go. We all know this. Joy fades; love fades; compassion fades; patience wears off. We don’t want ’em to, but they do. That’s why we strive to get ’em back. Which is good! We should want to continually love, be patient, have compassion, and experience joy.

The fact these things fade, should inform our definition of the Spirit’s fruit: Fruit can fade. Because it absolutely can. In fact you’ve seen it happen in various Christians. (Likely seen it in yourself.) We don’t just acquire the Spirit’s fruit, then have it forever. Jesus told us we have to stay in him:

John 15.1-8 KWL
1 “I’m the true grapevine. My Father’s the gardener.
2 He lifts off the ground my every branch which doesn’t bear fruit.
He prunes every branch which does, so it can bear even more fruit.
3 You’ve already been trimmed by the message I gave you.
4 Stay in me and I in you, like a branch which can’t bear fruit all by itself
when it doesn’t stay in the grapevine—you never produce when you don’t stay in me.
5 I’m the grapevine. You’re the branches.
Those who stay in me and I in them, produce a lot of fruit.
You can’t do anything apart from me.
6 When anyone won’t stay in me, they’re thrown out like a stray branch:
They wither, are gathered up, tossed into fire, and burned.
7 When you stay in me and my words stay in you,
whenever you want something, ask! It’ll happen for you.
8 My Father is glorified by it when you produce a lot of fruit,
and become my students.”

The only way fruit’s gonna grow—or even continue to stay alive!—is when our branches are attached to the grapevine. We gotta stay plugged into Jesus, maintain our relationship with him, and work on this relationship religiously. If we take Jesus for granted or blow off the relationship, it stands to reason our fruit’s gonna wither.

But somehow popular Christian culture is under the delusion the Spirit’s fruit never fades. ’Cause if it’s from the Holy Spirit, it must be perfect, and last forever. Like wax fruit. But if you’ve ever accidentally taken a bite of wax fruit, it’s nasty. (Especially if people didn’t dust it. Yuck.) Wax fruit only looks good, and impresses people who aren’t paying real attention. Same as all the fake fruit Christians try to pass off as the real thing—which never spoils, never fades, never withers, but isn’t real.

You know, like the redefinitions of “joy” which generate fake plastic smiles instead of real happiness and pleasure.

Nefilim: The mythology of fallen people.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 October

An odd little story in Genesis, and the myths which sprang from it.

NAFAL nɔ'fɔl verb (Hebrew ‏נָפַל, Strong’s 5307) To fall down, fall prostrate, fall into, be thrown down, be removed.
[Nefil nɛ'fil noun, nefilim nɛ.fil'im n.pl.]

Every once in a while I get asked about the Nefilim (NIV “Nephilim,” KJV “giants”). And folks, it’s not “a Nefilim,” ’cause it’s a plural noun. One Nefil, many Nefilim. Understandable mistake though; most English speakers can’t get our own plurals right, much less Hebrew nouns.

I don’t pry into why people wanna know about Nefilim, although when they explain, it nearly always has to do with some mythological garbage about half-human half-angel beings. They hear about that, then hear, “And it’s in the bible!” so they check out their bible and find this weird little story. It comes right before the flood story in Genesis 6, so you’d think they’d have read it, but you know people don’t read their bibles. But even when people aren’t checking up on weird myths, they read this story, scratch their heads, and go, “Huh?”

Genesis 6.1-5 KWL
1 It happened that the Adamites began to be many over the face of the earth.
Daughters were fathered by them.
2 God’s children saw the Adamite daughters—that they were good.
They took them for wives—all whom they chose.
3 The LORD said, “My Spirit won’t remain with Adam forever.
Plus he’s flesh. His days are 120 years.”
4 Nefilim were in the land in those days, and also afterward:
God’s children mated with Adam’s daughters, and begat from them
the powerful men who, from antiquity, were men of name.
5 But the LORD saw the Adamites were a great evil in the land.
Every intention and thought in their minds was only evil, all day.

Okay. Lemme start by bluntily saying nobody knows what this passage means. I need to make this crystal clear from the very beginning. NOBODY.

I know; you may think you do, ’cause the myths told you what went down. Or you heard some interpretation which makes sense to you. Or you actually heard or read some bible scholar’s theory, and figure bible scholars are smart people who must know what they’re talking about. But unless they’re really arrogant people, scholars are the first to tell you our theories are nothing but good guesses. ’Cause nobody knows what this passage means. Like I said.

Yeah, this fact bugs people. Since the scriptures are God-inspired, and meant for our instruction and correction and growth, 2Ti 3.16 how can there be such things as scriptures which no one understands? And since we Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit who inspired the writer of Genesis to drop this story in the book—shouldn’t he have clued us in on what it means?

Fair questions. And there are people who claim the Spirit has told ’em what this passage means. I might even believe ’em… if they weren’t so arrogant about it, and if their interpretations lined up. But they don’t. So I don’t.

True, we can always ask the Spirit what a bible passage means. Sometimes he tells us. And sometimes he doesn’t. It’s up to him how much he cares to divulge, and (as is the case with apocalypses) sometimes he doesn’t care to divulge stuff at all. If he doesn’t see any good coming out of it, he’s not sharing. And we have to learn to be okay with that. We answer to him, remember?

If you don’t like not knowing, join the club. And work on your humility: The Holy Spirit’s under no obligation to tell us all. He’s the LORD. We’re not.

Vain repetition?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 October

And the ridiculous idea that repetition and prayer in worship might lead to something devilish.

When I wrote on God-mindfulness last week, I mentioned one of the techniques people use to remind themselves God’s always here, is by praying the Jesus Prayer. It’s a really short rote prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—which we can use to help focus when we meditate on God, or remind ourselves he’s right here with us.

But of course someone (and we’ll call her Fenella) read the article on God-mindfulness, read the article on the Jesus Prayer, and despite my warnings, immediately leapt in her mind to a dark place. “That,” Fenella insisted, “is not biblical prayer.”

Um… in the Jesus Prayer article I pointed out the three bible passages the Jesus Prayer is based on. One of which was prayed to Jesus, personally and directly, by Bar Timaeus. And Jesus answered it—despite the naysayers who tried to shush Bar Timaeus. You know, like Fenella’s kinda doing. (I really don’t think this ever occurred to her.)

But Fenella’s beef isn’t with asking Jesus for mercy; it’s with what she calls “vain repetition.” Because when Christians say the Jesus Prayer, we tend not to say it just the one time. We say it dozens of times. Over ’n over ’n over ’n over ’n over. And to Fenella’s mind, that’s what pagans do, like the Hindus and Hare Krishnas and Christian cultists. They fervently repeat things over and over again because it’s how people psyche themselves into a euphoric mental state. Various dark Christians claim that once we enter this mental state, it’s like we’ve opened up the door to our spirit. And now devils can step right in.

No, seriously. They believe repetition, because it’s what pagans do, invokes pagan gods. Fenella’s not the first person who’s told me this, either. I’ve heard it too often. And sorry in advance if this sounds unkind, but it’s still how I feel: The Christians who teach this have gotta be the stupidest creatures in God’s universe. Because Satan successfully tricked ’em into believing and teaching, “Oh no, better not talk to God too much or I’m gonna get possessed!

These folks claim devils can go into the place the Holy Spirit occupies as his temple without getting devastated by the light. 1Jn 1.5 But dark Christians regularly make the mistake of vastly overestimating dark powers. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as evil, temptation, and spirits which wanna trip us up; of course there are. I’m saying the idea our prayers to the Almighty—in which we’re asking for grace, in which we’re trying to be mindful of God’s presence, in which we’re trying to meditate on his scriptures—because we say them too often for these people’s comfort, the imagine these prayers let in devils? Even if we’re talking to God earnestly but wrong, does it sound anything at all like our gracious heavenly Father to even let such a thing happen? It isn’t just contradictory; it’s downright dumb. Christians, please don’t follow stupid people.

Rant over. Let’s get into what a “vain repetition” is, and what Jesus meant by it.

Jesus’s students feed thousands of people.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

God’s kingdom doesn’t suffer from shortages.

Mark 6.35-44 • Matthew 14.15-21 • Luke 9.12-17 • John 6.5-13.

This story is basically Jesus’s riff on a similar situation with Elisha ben Šafat:

2 Kings 4.1-7 KWL
1 A woman, one of the women of “the sons of prophets,” cried out to Elisha
to say, “Your slave, my man, died. You know your slave respected the LORD.
He was a debtor, and a collector is coming to take two of my children as slaves.”
2 Elisha told her, “What can I do for you? Tell me. What do you have in your house?”
She said, “Your slave has nothing in her house but a pot of oil.”
3 Elisha said, “Go ask all your neighbors outside for pots for yourself.
Empty pots. Not just a few!
4 Come in the house and shut the door behind you and your children.
Pour oil into all these pots. Set aside the full pots.”
5 She went with this, and shut the door behind her and her children.
They came to her with pots, and she poured.
6 When the pots were filled, she told her children, “Bring me another!”
They told her, “There are no more pots.” The oil held out.
7 She came to tell the God’s-man of this. He said, “Go sell the oil.
Be freed of your debt. You and your children can live on what’s left over.”

God multiplied oil to bail out this prophet; God can likewise multiply food to feed the big crowd who’d accumulated to listen to Jesus’s teaching.

Usually this story’s titled, “How Jesus fed 5,000 people.” Obviously ’cause people don’t bother to pay close attention to the text. Or they remember it from Jesus movies: Jesus puts the bread and fish in a basket, lifts it to the sky, prays, lowers the basket… and now it’s magically overflowing with food. They think of that instead of reading the bible.

Jesus came up with the idea to feed the crowd from what food his students had on them. Jn 6.6 In part to show his kids Elisha-style miracles are still doable; in part to show them God’s kingdom doesn’t suffer from the limitations of this world; in part to show them they could do this. ’Cause he told his students—read it again!—“You give them something to eat.” Then Jesus made them give the people something to eat. And that’s where the miracle took place.

Seriously. Read the story. Double-check it in other translations.

What Pelagius did or didn’t teach.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 October

Not that people aren’t gonna try to debate the idea.

Last week I wrote about Pelagianism, the belief humans are inherently good. It’s a common and popular idea, but it’s heresy. The ancient Christians condemned it at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431.

For good reason. If humans are fundamentally good—not profoundly corrupted by selfishness and sin—in theory it’s possible for one of us to live an uncorrupted life. Without sin. And in so doing, merit heaven all on one’s own. Without Jesus. After all, what might Jesus add to one’s inherent goodness? Nothing but a rubber stamp.

Well. Once the article went live, it annoyed various Pelagians. Some of whom had no idea they were actually Pelagian! They always presumed humans are basically good, and hate the idea we’re not. Likewise they hate the idea they’re heretic, ’cause too many Christians wrongly think “heretic” means “going to hell.” So them’s fighting words.

I didn’t write the article to pick a fight with Pelagians. I wrote it to inform. Most TXAB readers aren’t wholly up to speed on theological ideas like Pelagianism, so I figured I’d write about what it is and why it’s a problem. If any of you were leaning that direction, my hope was you’d pause and say, “Oh so that’s why Christians teach what we do,” and correct yourselves. We’re all wrong in one way or another, and could always stand to make mid-course corrections like that.

But what do people usually do? Exclaim, “No you’re wrong,” then take potshots at the messenger. If we bother to do any homework on the issue, it’s only to marshal arguments so we can take better potshots. I confess; I’ve done this too. It’s jerk-like behavior so I try not to. After all, I might be wrong! But old habits die hard, y’know.

Anyway. The Pelagians mustered the usual arguments, the ones I brought up in the article: They don’t believe humanity is totally broken. All have sinned, Ro 3.23 and they’re willing to admit they’ve sinned too: They’re hardly worthy of heaven on their own merits. But they can’t stomach the idea of humanity gone totally wrong. After all, they know good pagans! Nobody but the most hardcore pessimists and cynics are gonna say good pagans don’t exist.

True. But have any of these pagans achieved heaven-level goodness? Well no; nobody can imagine ’em being that good. Because nobody but Jesus is that good. Because total depravity: Not one human but Jesus, in our every last action, has acted wholly selflessly and sinlessly. Sin is like the sand on a beach: It gets everywhere, and you’re still finding it in your stuff and your cracks weeks after you visited the beach. Sin’s totally corrupted everything. It’s total.

Pelagians’ other hangup is that word depravity. It’s the right word; it means “moral corruption.” But I think most of ’em have it in their heads it means something dirtier, more perverted, more nasty. It doesn’t really. If they wanna quibble about vocabulary and use different words, that’s fine; depravity has synonyms. Still, we’re talking about moral corruption: Every single human but Jesus compromises what “goodness” means in order to defend ourselves, feel better about ourselves, and justify ourselves. But we’ve all fallen short of God’s glory. Ro 3.23 We’re all morally corrupt. Or depraved.

All that aside, one odd argument I heard in defense of Pelagianism is that Pelagius of Britain never actually taught what we call “Pelagianism.” It’s all slander. Against a perfectly good and upstanding Christian.

My big ol’ introduction aside, that’s actually what I’m gonna rant about today.

Fake joy, evil joy, and joyless Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 October

There are a lot of joyless people in the world. Sometimes it’s a clinical problem; I’m not talking about them today. If you need medication, get it. Same as if you have too much joy.

Nope; today I mean the fruitless Christian who rarely experiences great happiness, the proper definition of joy, because their fleshly attitudes simply don’t reflect the attitudes the Holy Spirit brings out in us. Instead of joy, they’re angry, argumentative, bitter, divisive, envious, faultfinding, hateful, humorless, pessimistic, and unforgiving. When they encounter joy, they’ll actually try to stamp it out.

What do they do instead of joy? As is typical of fruitless Christians, they’ll find something else in their character which they’ll try to pass off as “joy.” If they lack fruit, fake fruit will do them.

The most common false definition of joy is “a state of well-being.” It’s not happiness; it’s being content, comfortable, okay with the way things are. Happiness is fleeting, they explain. Contentment isn’t.

This redefinition has even wormed its way into dictionaries. Most of my Greek dictionaries correctly define hará/“joy” as gladness, great happiness, delight, gladness, merriment, cheerfulness, and the opposite of sorrow; which it is. But one of ’em also defines it as “a state of being calmly happy or well-off.” Which it really wasn’t. As Ceslas Spicq put it,

The proclamation of salvation is one of great joy, which contrasts with the pessimism and despair of first-century paganism. This explains why a large proportion of the occurrences of hará in the papyri are of Christian origin, why pagan occurrences of the word are so rare, and especially why pagan joy is never that of the soul. Rather, it is the pleasure felt by a traveler returning to his homeland, fervor in spreading false news, rejoicing at a welcome, especially at the good Nile floods, or popular jubilation; hence there is no religious parallel to the NT.

Theological Lexicon of the New Testament at hará

You wanna know why Christians misdefine joy? ’Cause they’re still kinda pagan.

(I have heard people attempt to defend the misdefinition by claiming the root-word of hará is heíro/“be well,” commonly used as a greeting. Of course words evolve, so to say they both kept the very same meaning after centuries of common use (kinda like our English words “hello” and “hail”) is naïve. Watch out whenever somebody tries to claim such things about ancient Greek: They don’t understand how languages work, and aren’t always coming to that conclusion for the noblest of reasons.)

Are Mormons Christian?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 October

I’ve written more than once that we’re saved by God’s grace—which means we’re not saved by our orthodoxy. There are a lot of Evangelical Christians who’ve got it into our heads that we’re saved only once we have all the correct beliefs; a situation I call faith righteousness.

Faith righteousness is easily disproven by the fact God saves new Christians. Does any newbie hold all the correct beliefs about God? Of course not; they don’t know anything yet! None of us did. (Some of us still don’t.) But we’re pursuing a relationship with God, and as we screw up time and again, God graciously forgives our deficiencies. Might be moral deficiencies; might be doctrinal deficiencies. Makes no difference. Grace covers all.

Of course, when I teach this, people occasionally wanna know just how far they can push God’s grace. They wanna know just how egregiously they can sin before God finally says, “Nope; you’ve gone too far; you’re going to hell.” Not necessarily because they wanna sin (although let’s be honest; sometimes they totally wanna). The idea of unlimited grace sounds too good to be true. Nobody else offers unlimited grace. Even when commercials claim a company gives you unlimited stuff, there’s always fine print. Always.

Same deal with Christians who are fond of, or fixated upon, doctrines. They wanna know how heretic is too heretic. How far can we go outside the boundaries of historic Christianity before we’re simply not Christian anymore? So they wanna know about groups which call themselves Christian, but embrace heretic beliefs. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are Arian; like the Oneness Pentecostals, who are unitarian; like the Christian Scientists, who believe reality is a mental construct.

So let’s talk about the Mormons.

A small number of ’em aren’t okay with the term “Mormon”; they prefer “Latter-day Saint,” or LDS for short. These tend to be the older Mormons, ’cause back in the 1970s, when I first encountered them, one of their leaders apparently had a hangup about it. (It’s sorta like referring to Christians as “New Testaments.”) Nowaday’s Mormons are used to it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the biggest of the heretic churches. For this reason I interact with plenty of Mormons; we have four of their churches in my city. I first learned what they supposedly believe when I went to Fundamentalist churches, who taught me to shun and fear them. A lot of that was hearsay from ex-Mormons with axes to grind. Since then I went to journalism school, and learned to always go to the source. So I did. Whenever the Mormons wanna evangelize me, I seize the opportunity and ask a ton of questions.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Mormons were kinda secretive about any of their beliefs which were outside the Christian mainstream. (No doubt they were made gunshy by all the hostile Fundies.) I guess somebody in their leadership realized how that came across, and got ’em to cut it out. So now they’ll tell you just about anything you wanna know. Including the weird stuff, which makes ’em a little uncomfortable, but they’re good kids and try to be honest. So if you wanna know about Mormons, don’t be afraid to ask Mormons.

God-mindfulness. ’Cause he’s always here.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 October

’Cause it might help to constantly remind yourself God is here.

SHE. [only just noticing me] “When’d you get back?”
ME. [confused] “I didn’t go anywhere.”
SHE. “I thought you left for work.”
ME. “Nope. It’s my day off.”
SHE. “Well good; I have some chores for you to get done.”

Yep, that’s how my days off tend to go.

And y’know, that’s how our relationships with God tend to go. At some point we learned he’s omnipresent—he’s everywhere at once, in all of space and time—but that’s a bit of data we filed in the back of our minds, and the rest of the time it’s more like “Out of sight, out of mind.” If we don’t see God, or don’t feel God, we presume he’s not around—even though we still have that omnipresence idea rattling around our brains somewhere.

When we talk about God’s “presence,” we usually mean when we notice he’s here. Again, God hasn’t gone anywhere. But something made us aware—more aware than usual—he’s in the room. He did something, like empowered a miracle or gave a prophecy. We felt something, like joy, or like feel peace, and realize God’s behind it. Or the church’s sound guy finally turned on the subwoofers.

More commonly, we pay attention to God’s presence because somebody simply reminded us he’s here. Like me, right now, with this article. Now you’re remembering God’s here, and paying a little more attention to his presence, aren’t ya? We’re imagining his presence—we know he’s here somehow, but we don’t know how, so our brains are filling in the blanks.

I bring this up because typical Christian behavior is to not notice God’s presence till something triggers us. We’re reacting to the knowledge of God’s presence: “Oh yeah, God’s around.” We briefly stop taking his ubiquity for granted.

But it passes, and we go right back to forgetting he’s here.

Well what if we didn’t go back to that?

Seriously. Because a lot of Christians try, and succeed, in constantly reminding themselves God is here. In constantly acting like God is here. In pretty much talking with him all the time, ’cause he is here all the time; it feels kinda rude to ignore him. (No, it’s not how we pray without ceasing, though some Christians done this for this reason.) Historically it’s been called “the practice of the presence of God,” after Brother Lawrence’s book, but I swiped one of my pagan friends’ words and call it God-mindfulness.

Pray for everyone—and pray for Paul.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October

Ephesians 6.18-24.

As I said in the piece on God’s armor, we’re wearing God’s gear to fight the devil and its temptations. And while we’re at it, we’re praying prayers and requests at every moment in the Spirit. You know, like Paul wrote in the next verse:

Ephesians 6.18-20 KWL
18 Through it all, as you’re praying prayers and requests at every moment in the Spirit,
as you’re staying alert about it, always staying on it and making requests for all saints—
19 and pray for me, so a word would be given to open my mouth,
to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel.
20 Because of the gospel I’m “the elder in chains,”
but it’s so I can boldly speak of it, like I have to talk.

’Cause in this fight, we gotta stay in contact with our commander. We gotta stay alert, ask for support, ask for aid for our fellow Christians in the battle… and ask help for Paul too, while we’re at it.

Yeah, I know Paul‘s been dead for nearly 20 centuries now. But Paul wrote this letter in part so all the churches this letter went out to (Ephesus among them) would pray for him. He was wearing God’s armor too, and resisting the temptation to keep his mouth shut. He needed to boldly preach the gospel; he needed to not keep his mouth shut. It was for the sake of the gospel Paul was in house arrest, awaiting a hearing before the emperor: It was so Paul could share Jesus with Nero Caesar, plus everyone else in that court, and win some of ’em into the kingdom.

Though Paul has since passed on, there are plenty of other Christians in dire circumstances, who also need our prayers as they resist the temptation to keep their mouths shut. Not so they can be bold Christian jerks; hopefully they’re way more fruitful than that. No; it’s so they can share Jesus like he deserves to be shared—with conviction, with faith, without hesitation, without fear, with love.

And to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel—but Paul already gave away that mystery in Ephesians 3: Gentiles inherit the kingdom too. It’s not just for Israel anymore. It’s for Romans, for Europeans, for Africans, for Asians and Australians and Pacific Islanders, for North and South Americans, for everyone. God wants to save the world, and that’s good news.

“I’m ‘the elder in chains’ ” is how I translated presvéfo en alýsei, which the KJV renders “I am an ambassador in bonds.” The verb presvéfo/“I’m old” can be interpreted “I’m an elder” or “I’m your elder”—implying you gotta listen to such a person, ’cause he’s seen some stuff, and presumably gained some wisdom. Herodotus wrote of the ancient Greeks using elders as ambassadors and peace negotiators, so the KJV’s translators went with that. But I went with a more literal translation mainly because I expect Paul, having been in and out of house arrest so often, had a reputation—which he used to his advantage. Who’s the old guy in chains? Well, let him share his testimony; it’ll blow your mind.

How does one answer a fool?

by K.W. Leslie, 05 October

Proverbs 26.4-5.

Whenever someone claims the bible never, ever contradicts itself, I like to take ’em to this pair of proverbs.

Proverbs 26.4-5 KWL
4 Don’t respond to a fool’s foolishness, lest you be compared to them.
5 Respond to a fool’s foolishness, lest they become wise in their own eyes.

Thing is, whenever I do this, the person immediately attempts to explain how they don’t contradict one another. Oh, they’ll do a terrible job of it. It’ll get ridiculous and illogical. But they do try.

Because at some point in their past, they heard the bible never contradicts itself. They liked the idea. So they made it a core belief: One of the things which defines their Christianity, which defines their trust in the bible, is this ground-floor idea it never contradicts itself. Shake that belief and now they gotta rethink their belief system from the ground up.

But there’s something in human nature where it’s just easier to go into full-on denial: “No it doesn’t contradict itself, and here’s why…” Instead of deal with the problem, they’d rather pretend it isn’t there.

Except it is. And it’s gonna bug them. And it’s either gonna unravel their Christianity, and even their trust in God; or it’s gonna kill their faith altogether, and they’re gonna pretend they trust God, but they no longer do.

Or, which is wisest, they’re gonna deal with the contradiction. ’Cause the editor of Proverbs put these two proverbs of Solomon right next to one another for a reason. And the reason is really simple: Depending on the circumstances, sometimes we follow verse 4, and sometimes verse 5.

Yep. The editor was trying to teach us situational ethics. Something a number of Christians insist isn’t a biblical idea; insist it’s even antithetical to the sort of absolute truth in the bible. Well, it’s not. And it’s probably a good idea to start doubting those absolutists, ’cause not everything they claim to be absolute, is. They’re way too quick to build their houses on sand.

Pelagianism: “Humanity’s not all that bad.”

by K.W. Leslie, 04 October

When Christians imagine we’re good enough for heaven.

PELAGIAN pə'leɪ.dʒi.ən adjective. Denies the Christian doctrines of original sin and total depravity: Believes humans are inherently good, able to make unselfish choices, and can be worthy of heaven on our own merits.
SEMI-PELAGIAN sɛm.aɪ.pə'leɪ.dʒi.ən adjective. A Pelagian whom we kinda like.

Every once in a while somebody, usually a theology nerd like me, is gonna fling around the terms Pelagian and semi-Pelagian. Hopefully they know what they’re talking about. Many don’t, and are just using those words to mean heretic. ’Cause in the year 431, the Council of Ephesus declared Pelagianism to be heresy—so whether critics understand Pelagianism, councils, or heresy, what they’re really trying to say is the person’s wrong, and any label will do.

So let’s back up a bunch. A Pelagian, like I said in the definition, believes humans are inherently good. Children are born innocent, and if nothing upends that natural innocence, stay good and wholesome and benevolent. They grow up to be good people. Good enough for heaven.

It’s what pagans believe. Optimistic pagans, anyway; there are a lot of cynics who think humanity totally deserves hellfire. But a lot of us like to think the best of people, and give ’em the benefit of the doubt. Myself included. I’m not unrealistic: I know evil people, and I know even good people screw up, or have times when they act selfishly or deceptively. When they do so, it doesn’t blindside me. But just about everyone believes in karma, the idea our actions have repercussions in the universe and on our afterlife. So many people—unless they’ve quit trying in despair—are usually trying to be good. Or good enough. Or settling for explanations why they’re kinda good enough.

But the scriptures teach otherwise. The first humans were created good, but sinned. They passed down that sinful, self-centered nature to their descendants, us:

Romans 5.12 KWL
This is why it’s like sin enters the world through one man; and through sin, death;
and therefore death comes to every human—hence everyone sins.

Therefore humanity is inherently selfish and sinful. It’s why we need Jesus! We can’t save ourselves, can’t earn salvation, can’t accept God’s love, can’t follow God’s laws, without his help. We gotta depend on grace. Which God provides in abundance, so no sweat.

But if you grew up believing people are inherently good, the idea we’re inherently not is gonna bug you. Humans don’t like to think we’re corrupt or flawed; we like to imagine we’re good! And if it helps to imagine everybody else is good deep down too… well then we will. Even though we’ve tons of evidence of human depravity. We’ll just keep insisting evil is the exception. Something humanity can evolve past.

Hence Pelagianism. Pelagius (390ish–418) was a Rome-educated British monk. He was hardly the first guy to float the idea, but it nonetheless gets named for him: A Pelagian believes humans aren’t inherently sinful. We’re good. So be good!

Bear in mind Pelagius was dealing with a lot of slacker Christians. Fellow Christians and fellow monks would blame our sins on our sinful nature. (Still do.) They’d insist we can’t be good; we’re just too corrupt. We can’t help but sin. And if this is the case… why try? Why make the effort to do better, to be better, to be like Jesus, when our very nature rebels against the idea? Best to just give up, stay the same ol’ sinner, and depend on cheap grace.

Pelagius hated this idea. I hate this idea. Any reasonable Christian should. It’s not biblical!

Romans 6.1-2 KWL
1 So what are we saying?—“Continue to sin, for there’s plenty of grace”?
2 Never gonna happen. We died to sin. How could we live in it?

But Pelagius’s correction went too far: He rejected the ideas of human depravity, and of Adam and Eve’s original sin affecting humanity. He insisted anyone can stop sinning if we just make the effort. That’s what he taught his monks, and that’s what his monks taught Christendom. Particularly Celestius of Rome, Pelagius’s disciple.

Being strong and courageous.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 October

Joshua 1.9.

One of my biggest peeves about the way Christianity is practiced in the United States has to do with the way certain Christianist men’s groups regularly twist the scriptures in order to justify culturally-defined “masculinity.” Not masculinity as Jesus demonstrated it, nor even as the fallible men in the bible practiced it: Masculinity as defined by popular American culture. With, frequently, a lot of chauvinism and sexism mixed in.

A lot of these men have taken their cues from the 1990s’ mythopoetic men’s movement, which author John Eldredge repackaged for Christians so we can do the same thing. They scoured myths, legends, and fairy tales for clues as to what’s really true about masculinity. Took a lot of those old stories out of context, in so doing. Eldredge prefers pulling his ideas from the bible and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, but he makes the same mistake of overlaying his prejudices on them, then claiming his prejudices came from them. Or are at least supported by them.

So men nowadays, claim Eldredge and the sexists, are too effeminate. Cowardly, wimpy girly-men. Our culture requires men to suppress our manly urges and behave ourselves. But, they insist, our urges are natural and good: Men were meant to be wild, free, and fighting. Not just fighting randomly in bars and sporting events, but fighting for noble causes—for truth and justice, to tame nature, in the defense of loved ones, in the cause of Christ, in certain political venues, to pretty much punch anyone who dares challenge our prejudices…

Really, any excuse will do. So long as we get to do some fighting.

For fighting, they insist, is the deep down—but suppressed!—desire of a man’s heart. Men fought throughout human history. Men needed to fight, ’cause noble causes. They claim God gave us this desire to fight, smite, scratch, and bite. And God wants to give us the desires of our hearts, right? Ps 37.4 Yet our culture keeps trying to “civilize” us. So fight that culture; it’s all pagan and secular anyway, and feminists took it over back in the ’70s or something, and now they’re turning us into wimps. Fight back. Be a man. Kick some ass.

This verse is their mantra:

Joshua 1.9 KWL
Don’t I command you? Be tough! Be strong! Not afraid, not shattered.
For your LORD God is with you everywhere you go.”

In the NIV it’s “Be strong and courageous,” and Michael W. Smith wrote a song about it, so that’s how we tend to hear it in the United States. And this verse is used to defend “masculine” behavior—legitimate and not.

I write all the time about how people bring our prejudices with us into Christianity, project them upon Jesus, and pretend he endorses all our beliefs—that we got ’em from him. Unfortunately, those who don’t really know Jesus, like pagans and newbies, fall for this. And either they recoil from this fraudulent Christianity in horror… or they fall for it, ’cause it fits so well with their own prejudices, and become twice the sons of hell as their forebears. Mt 23.15

So if men are competitive; if they enjoy rough, violent sports and video games; if they love the idea of standing their ground and shooting bad guys in the head, Jesus must approve, right? These violent urges must’ve been put into us by God, right?

Not in the slightest. They come from our selfish, violent, corrupt sin nature. God never put that in us; sin did.

The “Where are you?” prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 October

God’s always there. But when we don’t feel him, it helps to acknowledge this.

Ordinarily, God is invisible. Can’t see him.

So we compensate by trying to feel him. Sometimes by “practicing his presence,” of constantly reminding ourselves he’s here, including him in our actions, talking to him… and discovering he talks back. Other times, and less legitimately, by psyching ourselves into feeling him—and all the problems immediately caused when we confuse happy thoughts with the Holy Spirit.

But sometimes we can’t feel him. Either those feelings are drowned out by our other feelings, ’cause we’re going through a crisis, or mourning, or something else is creating a whole lot of emotional noise, making God (or “God”) harder to detect. Or we’re depressed: We feel nothing, lest of all God.

And sometimes God’s totally behind this. Because we’ve taken to trusting those feelings instead of him, and he wants us to follow him. He tolerates our immature methods of “hearing” him for only so long, and it’s time to grow up.

So the next step for us Christians is to read our bibles—and to start praying what Richard Foster, in his book on prayer, calls “Prayer of the Forsaken.” I’m not fond of that title, ’cause it makes it sound like we somehow are forsaken, and no we’re not. Instead I call it the “Where are you?” prayer. When we can’t detect God anymore, we need him to show us how to hear him. We’re kinda praying the equivalent of a lost cell phone connection: “Hello? Are you still there? I think we were cut off.”

Well, we were cut off from the warm fuzzy feelings. But relax: God figures we’re ready for next-level communication.

The armor of God.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 October

Ephesians 6.10-17.

Christians are fascinated by the armor-of-God metaphor which Paul used in Ephesians 6. Sometimes a little too fascinated.

Jesus teaches us to foster and encourage peace. Mt 5.9 Of course, our sinful human nature would much rather fight, and kick ass for Jesus if we can. So the idea we get to wear armor and play soldier really fires up certain Christians, who’d love to engage in a little testosterone-fueled warfare, and find this passage an excuse to indulge their blood-soaked he-man fantasies a little. If only metaphorically.

For such people, God’s armor is never for defense, Ep 6.11 only offense. Those who fancy themselves prayer warriors love to talk about how to attack with the armor. Christians even make plastic armor for children to play with—including a sword of the Spirit, Ep 6.17 which kids can use to smite one another. In so doing they learn—wrongly—the word of God is about hurting people.

But just because God’s word is sharper than a sword He 4.12 doesn’t mean we’re to wield it in any such way. Using it surgically is the Holy Spirit’s job. When we use it, we’re not so expert; without his guidance it’s a blunt instrument, used to maim our foes, not cure them.

But as part of Paul’s inventory of God’s armor, properly it’s used for defense—to parry our opponents’ swords, just as Jesus did with Satan. Our Lord quoted Deuteronomy in order to defeat the devil’s, not to sin, but to promote himself. And sometimes we gotta do likewise: We know what God’s told us—assuming we do, and aren’t just projecting our own will upon him. So it doesn’t matter what devils and nay-sayers suggest: God’s will and motives win.

Paul actually borrowed the idea of God’s armor from Isaiah 59.17, and expanded it a little:

Ephesians 6.10-17 KWL
10 Lastly: Get powerful in the Master, in the authority his strength gives you.
11 Wear all God’s gear, so you’ll be able to stand fast against the devil’s tactics,
12 because we aren’t in a battle against blood and muscle:
We’re against types of authority, power, things which govern the dark places in this world,
types of supernatural evil in the high heavens.
13 This is why you put on all God’s gear,
so you’ll have a fighting chance on the evil day. You’ll be entirely ready to stand fast.
14 Stand: Belt your waist with truth. Wear a vest of righteousness.
15 Lace your shoes in preparation for the good news of peace.
16 Carry at all times the shield of trust in God,
which you’ll use to put out every flaming arrow of evil.
17 Accept the helmet of your salvation
and the machete of the Spirit—which is God’s spoken word.

And pray at all times in the Spirit Ep 6.18 —but I’ll discuss that another time.