“Prevenient grace”: Already there, without limit.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 November
PREVENE pri'vin verb. Arrive first, come before, pre-exist.
[Prevenient pri'vin.jənt adjective, prevenience pri'vin.jəns noun.]

Time for an old-timey word, prevenient. One you’ll really only find theologians use anymore. But I gotta inflict it on you—sorry—because so many Christians use it to describe how God’s grace works.

Y’might already know humans are selfish, and this self-interest distorts everything we do. Including everything good we try to do: There’s gotta be something in it for us. Even if it looks and feels like there’s nothing in it for us—if it’s an absolute act of sacrifice, one which harms us instead of benefits us, one which makes us feel awful instead of noble—there’s still something way deep down, embedded in the core of our being, which gets some satisfaction from it. Otherwise we we’d never voluntarily do it. That’s just how messed up we are. “Totally depraved,” as the theologians put it.

But people usually pretend this messed-up core doesn’t exist, and claim it was a truly selfless act; that it proves we humans aren’t all bad. But self-justification is also selfish.

This total depravity means we’re too messed up to save ourselves. We’re never gonna be good enough. Even if, by some mathematically impossible fluke, we follow all God’s commands to the letter, we’re still gonna have this hanging over us: It wasn’t done out of love for God. We did it so we could claim righteousness. We want to be “good people.” We want the good karma; we want to merit heaven. Don’t lie; it’s totally why we go to all the trouble. It’s a pride thing. And God never did care for pride. Jm 4.6, 1Pe 5.5

So how can we be saved? Well duh; only God can save us. We gotta trust God.

But aren’t we pretty far gone? Aren’t we too messed up to trust God? We’re so self-centered, so focused on ourselves, humanity is spiritually dead inside: We can’t hear the Holy Spirit poking us in the conscience. Before we can turn to God, doesn’t he first have to transform something within us?

Sure. And he did. When Jesus died for the world’s sins, 1Jn 2.2 he took out sins both past and future. Ro 3.25 His act of atonement worked its way backwards and forwards through time, so that everyone receives God’s grace—from Adam and Eve, to you. Thanks to Jesus, through Jesus, every human on the planet, no matter how messed up, has the ability to recognize we need God to save us. We had the ability before we even realized we needed it.

This grace was always around. Always available. Prevenient.

Yeah, there are other Christians who insist it’s not. It’s not prevenient; it’s particular. God doesn’t offer grace to just anyone. He only offers it to the repentant. Or to the elect. He doesn’t waste his grace on people who want nothing to do with him, on people who will never turn to him. Grace is only for certain people, a limited few.

This idea doesn’t come from bible. Not that people don’t try to twist certain verses really hard, and claim it totally does. It comes from graceless humans. We don’t consider the whole of humanity worth saving; we figure there are sinners who just aren’t worth it. Jesus can’t have wasted his precious life on them. So, in these Christians’ minds, he didn’t. It’s a ransom for many, Mt 10.45, 20.28 not all.

Our infinite God has infinite resources, infinite love, infinite grace, and the ability to save absolutely everyone who turns to him. And wants to! 2Pe 3.9 But not all the world is willing. Mk 13.34, Mt 23.37 To all who receive him, he makes them his children. Jn 1.12 To all who don’t… he tries again. And again. His mercies never come to an end. Lm 3.22 ’Cause he’s patient like that.

Humans, not so much. And we project many of these selfish, depraved qualities upon God, and limit his grace because we lack grace. They feel it depletes their karma to waste love on people who will never reciprocate. They can’t justify this irrational, unbiblical idea, so they reframe it this way: They don’t love everybody because God must not love everybody—because he’s so almighty, so sovereign, his love would overwhelm and transform everyone it touches. Since not everyone is overwhelmed and transformed, God must not have loved them; certainly not in the way he loves us. So if he doesn’t love the world (despite Jesus saying he totally does Jn 3.16), why should they waste their love on ingrates? Hence limited love. Limited atonement. Limited grace.

It’s totally inconsistent with how Jesus describes his Father:

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.”

Our heavenly Father loves both good and evil people—and grants his amazing grace to both. To all. Without limit. Preveniently.

Don’t be ashamed of Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 November

Mark 8.34 – 9.1, Matthew 16.24-28, Luke 9.23-27.

Christianity embarrasses a lot of people.

Which I get. I have a coworker who’s one of those dark Christians who’s all about judging sinners, ’cause she thinks their sins are gonna trigger the End Times. She thinks she’s just keeping things real and telling the truth, but my other coworkers think she’s a loon. I think she’s a loon. I don’t wanna be associated with that.

Thankfully I know the difference between that particular brand of angry, blame-everybody-but-ourselves doctrine, and Christ Jesus and his gospel. So when people ask what I think, I can tell ’em I don’t believe as she does; I believe in grace. My Lord isn’t coming to earth to judge it—not for a mighty long time—but to save it. I proclaim good news, not bad.

Other Christians… well they don’t know there’s a difference between dark Christianity and Christ Jesus. Or they do, but don’t know how to articulate it. So they mute the fact they’re Christian, and hope they can pass by unnoticed.

And sometimes, just to make sure nobody guesses they’re Christian, they don’t act Christian. They’re as profane as any pagan, and get drunk or stoned and fornicate just as often. They don’t bother to produce fruit. And when Easter or Christmas rolls around, and they slip up and mention they’re going to church for the holidays, their friends and coworkers are startled: “Wait, are you a f--king Christian?” They had no idea, ’cause these folks are neither religious nor holy.

What’s Jesus think of these people? Well they embarrass him.

’Cause if we’re truly following him, if we want to follow him, we’re not gonna be like everyone else; we’re gonna stand out and be weird. Our lifestyle isn’t gonna be about what pleases us or gets us off; it’ll be about self-control and emotions under check and taking other people into consideration. It’s not gonna be about judging our neighbors, but loving them (and not in that angry way which dark Christians claim they’re actually doing). We’re gonna act like his followers, not pretend we don’t really know the guy.

And when he says stuff which rattles us, kinda like he did in the previous passage, we’re gonna deal with it, instead of pretending he never said any such thing. Everything he teaches, everything, is part of the package. Take it or leave it.

Mark 8.34-37 KWL
34 Summoning the crowd with his students, Jesus told them, “If anyone wants to follow me,
renounce yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.
35 For whoever would only want to save their soul, will wreck it.
Whoever would wreck their soul for my and the gospel’s sake: They’ll save it.
36 For what good is a person who wins the whole world and damages their soul?
37 For what might a person give in exchange for their soul?”
 
Matthew 16.24-26 KWL
24 Then Jesus told his students, “If anyone wants to come after me,
renounce yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.
25 For whoever would only want to save their soul, will wreck it.
Whoever would wreck their soul for my sake: They’ll find it.
26 For what will benefit a person when they win the whole world and destroy their soul?”
 
Luke 9.23-25 KWL
23 Jesus told everyone, “If anyone wants to come after me,
renounce yourself, pick up your cross each day, and follow me.
24 For whoever would only want to save their soul, will wreck it.
Whoever would wreck their soul for me: This person will save it.
25 For what good is a person who wins the whole world, and damages or ruins themselves?”

If the only thing you care about is your soul, by which I and Jesus mean your lifeforce, your public life, or your eternal life—if all you care about is how other people think of you, or the comforts of living an unchallenging daily existence—you’ve chosen a life without Jesus. You’re gonna get wrecked.

How not to rebuke someone over the internet.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November
Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. Maybe even make fun of it.

Y’might notice on some of the older TXAB articles, the Disqus comments have closed. I put an expiration date on posting comments on the article itself. It’s just weird when someone comments on something years later. It’s weird when they do it on YouTube (and super annoying when it’s something inane, like “Hey, who else is watching this video in 2019?”); it’s weird when they do it anywhere. So I prevented it on this site.

But nothing can stop you from throwing me an email, so people will do that.

So I got feedback on my article, “The fear of phony peace.” Wasn’t positive. A lot of Christians believe the great tribulation is definitely gonna follow the rapture, and somehow my saying otherwise is doing people a disservice: Christians need to be prepared for… utterly escaping all the bad stuff?

Seems if we did need to be more prepared for anything, it’d be in case the rapture doesn’t precede tribulation, and we do have to live through 3½ to 7 years of suffering. In which case one of Jim Bakker’s buckets of End Times pizza would be looking pretty good pretty fast. But this person’s pretty sure my rejection of getting skyhooked out of suffering is “false doctrine.” I’ll let him say it.

So you’re saying that the antichrist wont make a peace treaty with Israel and break it after 3.5 years?

I had tremendous respect for your teaching until the fear article. You are the one deceived. I am gifted to discern right and wrong doctrine. And boy! You are wrong! No other way to say it.

I know you will try to persuade me further but don’t. I have done all the research and you are just wrong. Now you are accountable for spreading false doctrine. I admonish you to remove this garbage and get right with the Father once again. You can’t go doing that. You can’t.

Peace to you.

My response to him was, “Okay, you persuade me. Give me the scriptures.” But he didn’t respond. Likely he figured it’d be a frustrating waste of his time. Maybe so. When people are convinced we’re right (whether it’s him or me), someone who won’t accept this can get really aggravating. When he’s absolutely certain his reasoning is sound, yet I keep poking holes in it (as I was trained to)… well you can quickly see why ancient Athens decided to be rid of Socrates.

So this fellow rebuked me. Productively? Not unless you count this article, which I’m gonna use to show you how not to rebuke someone over the internet.

Preaching the dictionary.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 November

Nine years ago I visited a family member’s church. The pastor had just started a series about home-based small groups. His primary proof text came from Acts 2, namely the part where Luke described the brand-new Christians in Jerusalem, and how they got religious.

Acts 2.42-47 KWL
42 They were hewing close to the apostles’ teaching, to community, to breaking bread, and to prayers.
43 Reverence came to every soul, and many wonders and signs happened through the apostles.
44 Every believer looked out for one another, and put everything in common use:
45 They sold possessions and property, and divided proceeds among all,
just because some were needy.
46 Those who hewed close unanimously were in temple daily,
breaking bread at home, happily, generously, wholeheartedly sharing food,
47 praising God, showing grace to all people.
The Master added saved people to them daily.

He used the NLT, I believe. Its verse 46 goes like so:

Acts 2.46 NLT
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity…

“They met in homes,” he pointed out. “The Greek word for ‘home’ is oikos.” (Yep, just like Dannon’s brand of Greek yogurt. See?—knowing Greek comes in handy. Although οἶκος is properly pronounced íkos.) “And according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, that means ‘a dwelling; by implication, a family.’ So what that verse really means is that they met as families.”

Um… no it doesn’t.

Íkos means house or home. It’s why the NLT rendered it as “homes.” It’s why most bibles render it that way. It’s what anybody who took Greek 101 understands it to mean; íkos is one of the first words we learn, appears in the Greek New Testament 112 times (114 in the Textus Receptus), and it’s a really easy concept. Hence bible translators aren’t being inexact when they render it “house” or “home.” They know what they’re doing. It’s why bible publishers, and bible translation committees, hire ’em.

If “They met as families” were a better translation, you’d see it translated that way in most bibles. If it was a valid alternate translation, you’d see it translated that way in at least one bible. But check out all the different English translations on Bible Gateway, and you’ll find not one translator decided, “Y’know, íkos really means ‘family,’ so let’s go with that.”

So why’d this pastor make this claim? ’Cause he wants the Christians of his church to meet together in one another’s homes, and be family together. Which is a great idea! It’s precisely what church is meant to be. It’s just he was trying to prove it by misusing a Greek dictionary, and wow his congregation by dropping on them a secret, cryptic meaning of íkos which they’d never heard before. Wow, “home” really means “family”!

And yeah, in certain contexts it can mean that. Like Joseph being of David’s house, Lk 1.27, 2.4 or when Paul told his Corinthian guard he and his “whole house” would be saved. Ac 16.31 In these instances it meant family. But all translation depends on context. If it didn’t—if every instance of íkos means family—then let’s talk about Solomon building the LORD a house, Ac 7.47 and do try to not sound ridiculous.

Expository preaching… if that’s what’s even happening.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 November
EXPOUND ɪk'spaʊnd verb. Present and explain (a theory or idea) systematically and in detail.
2. Explain the meaning of (a literary or doctrinal work).
[Exposition ɛk.spə'zɪʃ.(ə)n noun, expository ɪk'spɑ.zɪ.tɔ.ri adjective, expositor ɪk'spɑ.zə.dər noun.]

I regularly run into this situation: People like to compliment their favorite preachers by calling them “great expositors.” Apparently they’ve learned exposition is the very best way to preach, so when they like certain preachers, that’s what they call ’em.

And once again, this is one of those situations where I gotta quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride.

Giphy

’Cause I listen to these preachers for myself, and find they’re not great expositors. Or even expositors.

Oh, they can preach. They have outstanding abilities as public speakers. They know how to keep their listeners’ attention. Some of ’em have even done their homework, and teach the scriptures admirably. But expositors? Nope.

They get called “expositors” because they’ll go verse-by-verse through a bible passage. They start with verse 1, and talk about it a bit. (Or a lot.) Then verse 2. Then verse 3. And so on. They’re a series of talks, each of ’em prefaced by a verse. Because the preacher does quote every single verse in a passage, people think this is what makes a sermon expository.

Nope. What makes it expository is they expound on the verses. They have to actually analyze and explain what every verse means. Preferably in detail. And their message has to be about explaining what it means.

Whereas most of these “expository” sermons are really just preachers quoting bible, then using the bible verses to riff about the topics they wanna talk about. Whether these topics have anything to do with the verses they just quoted. Sometimes they do. Sometimes not so much.

Nontheists and prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 November

Whenever you talk prayer with a nontheist or antichrist, they’re gonna scoff at you because they’re entirely sure you’re praying to no one.

You only imagine you’re praying to someone, they insist. You only think God answered your prayers, but it’s just coincidence; or you’re selectively reinterpreting “signs” from nature and claiming they’re God-things. You’re only pretending that’s God’s voice in your head talking back to you; it’s really your own. You want so bad for God to be real, for prayer to be valid, for Christianity to be true, you’ve psyched yourself into everything. But it’s pure self-delusion.

Yeah, sometimes I talk with some people, so I’ve heard their condescending explanations before. They’d probably work on me… if there was no such thing as confirmation. Test the bloody spirits! 1Jn 4.1

See, when I think God’s told me something, I don’t just run with it. I’m patient. I double-check. ’Cause we’re supposed to double-check. Not double-checking is how Christians wind up doing some dumb stuff, insisting God’s behind it, and wondering why on earth none of the things they think God told them actually come to anything. Duh; it wasn’t actually God! Remember all that stuff our hypothetical nontheists said about about prayer? Totally true in these presumptuous Christians’ cases: They psyched themselves into thinking God spoke to them, but they never confirmed it’s really him. Turns out it’s really not.

It’s why there are a lot of Christians stumbling around, claiming God told ’em this or that, and no he didn’t. It’s also why the nontheists and antichrists mock them: It totally confirms them, and their godless beliefs.

So we Christians gotta wise up. God does talk to us, and regularly answers prayer, but if you wanna know it’s truly him, you gotta prove it.

And once you can prove it, you can answer these nontheists: “I know it’s God ’cause I spoke with a fellow Christian, and God told him the very same thing he told me, and there’s no way we could coincidentally guess the same thing.” Or “I know it’s God ’cause I asked him for something ridiculously specific, and he came through; there’s no way I coincidentally got what I wished for.”

Oh, I’m not saying it’ll convince them they’re wrong. It won’t. Their minds are closed. But it’ll make ’em fumble a bit, ’cause they never ever expected you to point to objective, concrete evidence. They weren’t taught to expect such things when they learned atheist apologetics. (Yes, there’s totally such a thing as atheist apologetics. Why do you think they all use the same uninspired arguments? For the very same reason we wind up using all the same uninspired arguments.) Nontheists presume, since most Christians don’t do objective evidence, none of us do. Show ’em otherwise.

That time Jesus called Simon Peter “Satan.”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 November

Mark 8.31-33, Matthew 16.21-23, Luke 9.21-22.

Most people are aware Simon Peter was Jesus’s best student. That’s why he’s always first in the lists of the Twelve—even ahead of Jesus’s cousins!—and why there’s all the stories about him in the gospels and Acts. Thing is, because there are so many stories about him, we regularly get to see how he screwed up.

And certain Christians wind up with the wrong idea about him—that he was nothing but a screwup till the Holy Spirit empowered him. Nope; sometimes he got it right. When Jesus asked what the students thought he was, Peter correctly answered, “You’re Messiah,” and Jesus blessed him for it. Blessed him so good, Peter’s fans still venerate him. Maybe a little too much, but that’s a whole other article.

Today’s story is about one of the times Peter screwed up, and it comes right after the story where Peter identified Jesus as Messiah and got blessed. But bear in mind the stories come after one another. The time these two stories occurred might’ve been weeks apart. ’Cause once it was clear Jesus’s students recognized him as Messiah, Jesus had to set them straight about what Messiah had to undergo. Contrary to popular expectation, contrary to everything Pharisees claimed about how the End Times timeline went, Messiah wasn’t about to violently overthrow the Roman Empire and take over the world. He was going to be rejected by the Judeans, and die.

Mark 8.31 KWL
Jesus began to teach his students it was necessary for the Son of Man to greatly suffer;
to be rejected by the elders, head priests, and scholars; to be killed; and to be resurrected after three days.
Matthew 16.21 KWL
From then on, Jesus began to teach his students it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem,
to greatly suffer under the elders, head priests, and scribes; to be killed; and to be raised on the third day.
Luke 9.21-22 KWL
21 Jesus rebuked them, ordering them to never say this,
22 saying it was necessary for the Son of Man to greatly suffer,
to be rejected by the elders, head priests, and scholars;
to be killed; and to be raised on the third day.

And be resurrected on the third day. Or “after three days” in Mark, which probably got tweaked by the other gospels’ authors since literalists might nitpick. But considering how Jesus’s students reacted on the first Easter, they seem to have forgotten all about that part. Hey, sometimes kids just don’t pay attention.

Now, if you grow up only hearing one interpretation of the End Times, and someone you respect suddenly introduces you to another interpretation (or in Jesus’s case, the fact it’s actually not the End yet, and won’t be for millennia) your first response, your basic instinctive self-defense mechanism, is to not believe it. Because you’ve never heard that before. Because you prefer your old ideas: Y’might not even like them, but you’re used to them; you’re comfortable in them. And frankly the idea of Messiah overthrowing the Romans, is way more satisfying than Messiah being killed by the Romans. Who doesn’t wanna see Jesus kick some ass? Heck, certain Christians are still hoping to see him do that at his second coming. Deep down, they don’t really like the idea of a kind, gentle, humble, loving Lord; they want his wrath to look exactly like their wrath.

So some of the students didn’t like this new teaching of Jesus’s. Peter in particular.

Sock-puppet theology: Meditation gone bad.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 November

Let’s begin with a frequently-misunderstood passage, which I’ve elsewhere discussed in more detail.

Hebrews 12.1-2 KWL
1 Consequently we, being greatly encircled by a cloud of witnesses,
throwing away every training weight and easily-distracting sin,
can enduringly run the race lying before us,
2 looking at the start and finish of our faith, Jesus.
Instead of the joy lying before him, Jesus endured a cross, dismissing the shame.
Now he sits at the right of God’s throne!

This is a sports metaphor. Since we do track and field events a little differently than the ancient Romans did, stands to reason Christians will mix up some of the ideas. The “cloud of witnesses” among them: It refers to the runners. It’s our fellow Christian witnesses, running through dirt, kicking up dust. Since today’s stadiums use polyurethane and rubber tracks—so we can actually see the runners, not a massive dust cloud—we don’t recognize the historical context of this verse anymore. Hence Christians guess at what νέφος/néfos, “cloud,” means… and guess wrong. Usually it’s heavenly spectators.

So now lemme bring up John C. Maxwell’s book Running with the Giants. I worked at a church camp a decade ago, and this book was inflicted upon me as a devotional. Leadership principles are Maxwell’s shtick, and he had 10 leadership principles to share. Like many a Christian, he wanted to put ’em into the mouths of bible characters, so it’d look like these principles come from bible. And since he knows little about historical context—and certainly doesn’t care, ’cause it’d make book-writing so much harder… well you can quickly see why I dislike this book.

The book begins with Maxwell envisioning a stadium with Christian track ’n field going on. From time to time, a great figure from the bible comes down from the “cloud of witnesses” in the stands, to encourage us runners. They’re not running with us, in Maxwell’s imagination; they’re all done. Now they have stories and life lessons to share; which is the point of the book.

After getting these life lessons from Abraham, Esther, Joseph, Moses, and Noah, by the sixth chapter Maxwell was so jazzed about all their good advice, he “can’t wait to act on the empowerment I have received” from them, “to put it to good use.” Maxwell 79

Except none of it came from them. Maxwell put all the words in their mouths. As anybody who knows historical context can tell, ’cause very little of what he imagined his “bible characters” said, are what they’d actually say. Far more what a present-day motivational speaker says.

Using your imagination to meditate.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 November

The kids, and their robot in the red galero, have a not-at-all-awkward conversation with a buck-naked pre-genitalia Adam and Eve. Aníme Óyako Gekíjo episode 1, “Adamu to Eba Monogatari”

When I was a kid there was a Japanese TV cartoon called Aníme Óyako Gekíjo/“Anime Parent-Child Theater,” which Americans know better as Superbook. Christian TV stations used to air it every weekday. Your own kids are more likely to have seen the 2009 American remake.

In the 1981 original, two kids named Sho and Azusa discovered a magic bible which transported them, and their toy robot Zenmaijikake, back to Old Testament times. (Yeah, they all had different names in the English redub: Chris, Joy, and Gizmo.) The kids would interact with the bible folks, who somehow spoke Japanese instead of ancient Hebrew, and were surprisingly white for ancient middle easterners.

Well in the first series they did. In the second series—also called Superbook in the States—Pasókon Toráberu Tántei-dan/“Computer Travel Detective Team,” the kids totally ignored the bible characters ’cause they were trying to rescue a missing dog. Which is best, I suppose: Less chance they’d accidentally change history, and whoops!—now we’re all worshiping Zeus, and Biff Tannen is president. (Well…)

Obviously we haven’t yet invented time travel, and it’s not possible to have any Superbook-style adventures. But a whole lot of us would love to check out the events of bible times, and maybe interact with it. It’s why there are bible-times theme parks in the Bible Belt, like The Ark Encounter or The Holy Land Experience, which Christians flock to. (Or, for about the same price, actual real-life Israel, which I far more recommend.)

But when time travel or pilgrimage are out of the question right now, it is possible to meditate on a story from the scriptures, by imagining ourselves there as it happened, watching it as it took place.

Some Christians call this practice Ignatian meditation, after St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. In his 1524 book Exercitia Spiritualia/“Spiritual Exercises,” he taught his followers to not just contemplate certain passages in the bible, like Jesus preaching in synagogue or temple, or teaching students, performing miracles, getting born, getting crucified, paradise, hell…. Instead, really mentally put themselves there. Imagine breathing the air. Feeling the weather. Hearing the sounds, smelling the smells. Being in these places.

The idea is to stop thinking of these events as merely stories, but as real-life history. Stuff that truly happened. Stuff the prophets and apostles truly experienced. Stuff where God came near and interacted with humanity—same as he does now. Stop looking at them from the outside, and visualize yourself in the inside, in the bible, fully immersed in the story, just as you’re fully a part of God’s salvation history now.

Try this with the passages you’re reading now. Put yourself there, in your mind. See what new insights come out of it.

The fear of what meditation might “open you up to.”

by K.W. Leslie, 13 November

Years ago in a prayer group, our prayer leader asked us to sit a moment and meditate on the lesson we’d just heard.

“And I know,” she said; “some of you are worried about this whole ‘meditation’ thing. You’re worried it’ll open you up to evil spirits or something. Well, you’re Christians. It won’t.”

She didn’t go into any further detail; she wanted to get to the exercise, and didn’t want to spend the rest of prayer time explaining why it won’t happen. I’ve got time, so I will explain.

There are a lot of Christians who are big on what they call “spiritual warfare.” Which isn’t at all what the scriptures call spiritual warfare, i.e. resisting temptation: They think spiritual warfare means we fight evil spirits. Mostly by praying against them, but often by constantly, carefully watching out for boogeymen. Because they believe evil spirits are everywhere. Everywhere. Behind every corner. Even in the corners of our prayer closets. Waiting to pounce.

This dark Christian mindset makes ’em super paranoid. They call it being watchful or vigilant, but really it’s a lifestyle of fear. The sort of fear actual evil spirits can use to keep Christians far away from anything unfamiliar. Particularly new stuff the Holy Spirit himself is introducing into our lives to encourage growth and fruit. If it doesn’t look like the stuff their church does, or the popular Christian culture, or even just looks like something they don’t feel like doing, they presume that’ can’t be of God. Thus they follow their comforts instead of Jesus, and never doubt the two might not be the same thing at all.

So, meditation. As I said in the appropriate article, the middle eastern stuff is about filling our minds instead of blanking them, and the Christian stuff is about filling our minds with God. We think about him. We contemplate him. We go over what we read in the bible, what he’s shown or told us recently; anything God-related. Eliminate distractions as best you can, and do some deep thinking.

But if all you’ve known thus far are the pagan forms of meditation—if, really, you’re surrounded by it—you’re gonna think that’s the default. Maybe wrongly presume “Christian meditation” is an attempt to Christianize the pagan stuff. Except, as your paranoid dark Christian friends might warn you, some pagan practices can’t be Christianized. They’re just too inherently wrong.

Well, we’re not appropriating the eastern practices. If you know your ancient middle eastern or Christian history, you’ll know people have been practicing Christian-style meditation for at least as long as easterners and Hindus have. Our practices developed and evolved very differently. ’Tain’t the same thing. No matter what physical traits we might share—like sitting down, closing one’s eyes, controlled breathing, concentration. No matter what external accouterments we might also have in common—maybe soothing music, candles, privacy, whatever. If you’re worried the tchotchkes might lead you astray, go ahead and leave them out. But don’t believe the rubbish of fearful Christians who don’t meditate, and clearly lack the fruit of peace.

Meditate.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November
MEDITATE 'mɛd.ə.teɪt verb. Think deeply or carefully about something.
2. Focus one’s mind for a period of time, for religious, spiritual, or relaxation purposes.
[Meditation mɛd.ə'teɪ.ʃən noun.]

Mention meditation to the average person, and images immediately come to mind of sitting cross-legged on the floor, hands out, eyes closed, humming “Om” or something mindless. ’Cause you’re trying to blank your mind.

And that’d be eastern meditation. It’s the sort we find among Hindus, Buddhists, and Californians. It’s grown in popularity because it’s a useful way to get rid of stress and relax. But it’s not middle eastern meditation, the sort we find among Christians.

Well, assuming we even meditate. Many don’t. Those who do, stumbled into the habit and don’t realize we’re actually meditating. Or we were given other names for it, like “contemplation” or “practicing God’s presence” or “Christian mysticism”—a term which tends to weird dark Christians out just as much as “meditation.” Many such Christians are terrified that if we practice any form of meditational exercise, we’re opening ourselves up to evil spirits, which’ll quickly rush in like shoppers on a Black Friday, and demonize us. (Assuming they even can demonize someone with the Holy Spirit in ’em. Dark Christians might officially teach it’s not possible… but always allow for the possibility. Yes it’s a paradox; they don’t care. Whatever keeps us fearful and cautious.)

I explain elsewhere why that sort of thinking is ridiculous. In proper Christian meditation, we open ourselves to nothing and no one but God. It’s not about blanking the mind, hoping insight will somehow fill the vacuum. Just the opposite. It’s about filling the mind. Namely with God.

We sit, stand, lie down, hang upside down—whatever position works for you—shove every other distraction out of the way, and think. Hard. Turn an idea over in our minds. Analyze it. Play with it. Repeat it till it’s memorized, or till we understand it better. And ask God questions about it: What can he reveal to us about this?

Yep, it’s a form of prayer. Which makes it all the crazier when dark Christians tell us, “Don’t do that! It’s demonic.”

Yep, this practice may sound mighty familiar, ’cause you’re already doing it. You just didn’t realize it was called meditation. People tend to call it “thinking really hard,” and when we talk to God about it, “lifting it up in prayer.” It may be a regular discipline; then again maybe not. But Christians stumble into meditation all the time, because it’s so useful. And it really oughta become a regular practice.

What do people think Jesus is?

by K.W. Leslie, 11 November

Mark 8.27-30, Matthew 16.13-20, Luke 9.18-21.

Provincial leaders in the Roman Empire liked to suck up to their emperors, which is why there were cities named Καισάρεια/Kesáreia, “Cæsarea,” dotting the empire. Ancient Israel had two. The usual city referred to in the New Testament as Cæsarea is also called Cæsarea Maritima; it’s on the Mediterranean coast of northern Israel. The other is in Philip Herod’s province, so it got called Cæsarea Philippi. Today it’s called Banias.

Banias is actually an Arabic distortion of its original name, Πανειάς/Paneiás. It was named for the pagan god Pan. Likely Pan was originally Baal-Gad, one of the many Baals in the middle east, and when Alexander and the Greeks attached Greek names to everything, they referred to this Baal as Pan. The Greeks depicted Pan as a goat-man with a flute, but Pan comes from πάντως/pántos, “everything”: It’s a nature god, and therefore the god of everything. It’s considered a minor god because it didn’t have a large following, but Pan-worshipers thought their god was a big, big deal. They built a big ol’ shrine to Pan there, and it’s still there for tourists to gawk at.

Overt paganism tends to creep out certain religious Christians, who stay far away from any “wicked” city which practices such things. Of course Jesus knows all about the covert paganism going on in our supposedly “righteous” cities, which is why Caesarea didn’t bug him any more than Kfar Nahum… or Jerusalem. People are messed up no matter where you go, and our “righteous” avoidance of the appearance of evil doesn’t make us any more holy, or score us more karma points with God, like we imagine it does. On the contrary: We can’t minister to the lost when we’re “too good for them,” and we’re not all that good when we refuse to obey God and love our neighbors, pagan or not. Jesus doesn’t discriminate in that way, so of course he took his students to such cities.

In a city named for Caesar, you’d naturally see monuments dedicated to Caesar-worship. Herod 1 had deliberately built a temple there for the purpose. (Yeah, he also rebuilt the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, but don’t think for a minute he did it for anything other than political reasons.) Technically they weren’t worshiping him, but his genius (pronounced 'ɡɛ.ni.us, not as our English word 'dʒin.jəs), his guardian spirit. Our word genie comes from the Latin word… and the Greek word for it would be δαίμων/démon.

But over time, Romans stopped worshiping the guardian spirit and simply worshiped the Caesars directly. After each Caesar died, the Roman senate voted to declare them to be gods. They believed whenever you worshiped ancestors as gods, they actually became gods; the Olympians would actually have to include ’em in their pantheon. Some pagan Romans didn’t even wait for ’em to die, but worshiped the living emperor as a god. Same as the ancient Egyptians worshiped their pharaohs.

So that’s what people said the Caesars were… so naturally Jesus wanted to talk about what people said he was.

Mark 8.27 KWL
Jesus and his students went into the villages of Caesarea in Philip Herod’s province.
On the road he was questioning his students, telling them, “What do people say I am?”
Matthew 16.13 KWL
Jesus went into the Caesarea area in Philip Herod’s province,
and questioned his students, saying, “What do people say about the Son of Man?”
Luke 9.18 KWL
It happened while Jesus was praying alone, though with the students around him,
he asked them, saying, “What do the crowds say I am?”

As you know, plenty of pagans nowadays admit Jesus is a wise man and great moral teacher… and little more. Muslims, and some Jews, say he’s a prophet… and again, little more. People of other religions, plus nontheists and skeptics, say much the same as the pagans, although they’re more honest in their disregard: Wise or not, they have no interest at all in following him.

So what do we Christians think he is?

Christians who lack faith.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 November

Nope, didn’t title this piece “Christians who doubt.” Because everybody doubts.

Which isn’t a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gullible simpletons who can’t discern the difference between truth and rubbish. Mt 10.16 If we just put our faith in people indiscriminately—believe everything our friends say, believe everything the politicians tweet, believe everything the anti-vaxxer websites claim, never fact-check our preachers to make sure what they’re telling us is valid—we’re gonna be such fools. Doubt away.

But there’s a very particular form of doubt Jesus objects to most: Doubting him.

So when we talk about “Christians who lack faith,” it’s not about Christians who question all the doctrines and teachings which we presume are settled, like good postmoderns will do. It’s about Christians who lack faith in Jesus.

Yep him—not fellow Christians. And sometimes these Christians will try to mix these categories together: They’ll insist if you doubt them, you do doubt Jesus, ’cause they’re totally channeling Jesus. Nope. ’Tain’t the same thing. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. People will fail us, and Jesus is the only exception. Trust him without exception. Trust them as long as they remain trustworthy… and forgive ’em when they screw up, ’cause they will, ’cause we all do.

Now these not-as-trustworthy Christians have largely been successful at muddling who we’re to trust: A lot of Christians do trust their churches and preachers and Christian institutions. And trust ’em more than Jesus. That’s why they believe so much Christianist rubbish, and when we try to correct ’em with what Jesus actually teaches, they won’t believe us. Which is predictably typical human behavior: The more we’re around certain people, the more we grow to trust them, whether they deserve it or not. Spend all your time around Christianists, spend none with Jesus, and of course you’ll trust them more than him.

And too often Christians passively trust Jesus—by which I mean they believe things about him, and believe he’ll be there for us at the End, but following him now is a whole other deal. They’re more likely to follow the people they can see, and since they’ve not yet seen Jesus they treat him as hypothetical or imaginary.

This passive trust certainly resembles faith, but really it’s just procrastination: People who expect they’ll trust Jesus later. Not now. They don’t now. Not enough to do as he says, go where he goes, take the risks he tells us, nor heed the Holy Spirit’s course corrections. Where we are is more comfortable than where he wants us. We trust circumstances, not Jesus. That’s unfaith.