Jesus cures a demonized boy.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 February

Mark 9.14-29, Matthew 17.14-21, Luke 9.37-42.

First time I was ever taught this story, it was called “Jesus heals an epileptic.” At the time I didn’t know what epilepsy was; now I do. So I object to that description every time Christians bring it up. This isn’t epilepsy whatsoever. The boy was possessed by an evil spirit.

Matthew and Luke go so far as to identify it as a demon, a “guardian spirit” ancient pagans believed in, much like Christians believe in guardian angels. If you were sick, sometimes pagan “physicians” (really witch doctors) would try to put demons in you, hoping they’d root out the illness. Instead these critters would take you over and make your life miserable. That‘s why there were way more cases of demonization in Jesus’s day than in ours: Our physicians don’t do that. (I don’t know about your favorite “spiritual healers” though.)

Christians have misidentified this boy as epileptic for centuries… making life miserable for epileptics all that time, and even today. People have accused ’em of being demonized, and in some cases hurt them badly, on the grounds they were trying to hurt the demons within. In so doing, they never bothered to treat the very real medical condition. They simply treated ’em like sinners—much like that one blind guy Jesus cured.

Of course now that we know epilepsy isn’t demonization, we’ve often got it wrong in the other direction: Plenty of people now misdiagnose demonized people as mentally ill. There is an actual difference, y’know, and you can usually tell when you treat the patient: Treatment and meds work on the mentally ill. But they won’t work on a demon; only exorcism will.

Here’s the other big problem with the way Christians usually spin this story. Most Christians presume demonization is what happens when people dabble in evil, invite evil spirits into their lives, and the spirits take ’em over. So we tend to figure it’s their own fault for getting possessed; they dabbled in evil, and got what’s coming to them. But this is a story of a little boy. Did this little boy legitimately get what’s coming to him?—was his possession his fault?

Again, no. The boy could’ve been ill, so his dad and mom took him to the local witch doctor, who figured a demon might be helpful. And pagans today regularly make the same errors: They’ve learned some incantations to invite “angels” and “good spirits” to watch over their kids, but they’ve never been taught that some spirits aren’t good and benevolent. They’re kinda horrified to discover otherwise… unless of course the evil spirits can keep ’em deceived. But once found out, the evil spirits can turn mighty nasty—as we regularly see in Jesus’s exorcism stories.

The faith-deficient students.

After Jesus and his students had come down from the hill where he was transfigured, they got an eyeful of this mess:

Mark 9.14-18 KWL
14 Coming to his students, Jesus saw many crowds with them, and scribes arguing with them.
15 Next all the crowds, seeing Jesus, were startled. Running, they greeted him.
16 Jesus asked them, “Why are you arguing with them?”
17 One of the crowd answered Jesus, “Teacher, I bring my son, who has a speechless spirit, to you.
18 Whenever the spirit takes him, it tears at him, and he foams and grinds his teeth and shrivels.
I told your students so they’d throw it out, and they couldn’t.”
Matthew 17.14-16 KWL
14 Coming to the crowd, a person came to Jesus, kneeling before him,
15 saying, “Master, have mercy on my son!—he’s ‘moonstruck.’
He has an evil spirit: Often he falls into fire, often into water.
16 I brought him to your students, and they couldn’t cure him.”
Luke 9.37-40 KWL
37 This happened the next day, as they were coming down the hill:
Many crowds met Jesus and his students.
38 Look, a man from the crowd cried out, saying, “Teacher,
I beg you to look upon my son, for he’s my only-begotten,
39 and look: A spirit takes him over and cries out suddenly,
and tears him up with foaming, and hardly ever leaves him, crushing him.
40 I begged your students to throw it out, and they couldn’t.”

A man had a demonized boy, and brought him to Jesus to be cured. Not finding Jesus, he went to Jesus’s students, whom Jesus had taught to do exorcisms; he’d had them do it before. So you’d think they’d be up to the task… but it appears they actually weren’t. Mark describes the melée Jesus walked into as having “scribes arguing with them,” Mk 9.14 ’cause more than likely these bible scholars were telling Jesus’s kids, “You’re doing it wrong!” And they weren’t wrong, ’cause the demon didn’t come out.

Since Jesus’s students were so inept, how much faith do you think the boy’s father had in Jesus at this point? Pretty much the same level of faith as pagans have in Jesus whenever his current followers—us Christians—can’t seem to do anything either.

The boy’s father presented his problem to Jesus: He had a boy who was σεληνιάζεται/seliniádzete, literally “moonstruck,” although more often we go with the Latin-based synonym “lunatic,” like the KJV. No, ancient superstitions about the moon have nothing to do with it: The boy acted mad. But the father knew the cause: There was an evil spirit in him. A “speechless spirit,” Mk 9.17 which didn’t let the boy talk, though it did let him scream. Lk 9.39 It may have mimicked the symptoms of epilepsy—the better to be misdiagnosed as disease instead of possession—but the father knew better.

The crowds weren’t expecting Jesus to show up, so they were startled by his appearance. Mk 9.15 No doubt the students were relieved, ’cause now Jesus could sort this out—much as we Christians are hoping Jesus will sort out all our problems once he returns, and this way we won’t have to sort ’em out ourselves, like he wants.

Jesus’s response reveals he fully expected his students to be able to handle this situation without him:

Mark 9.19 KWL
In reply Jesus told them, “You untrustworthy kids!
How long will I be with you? How long will I support you? Bring him to me.”
Matthew 17.17 KWL
In reply Jesus said, “You untrustworthy, distorted kids!
How long will I be with you? How long will I support you? Bring him to me here.”
Luke 9.41 KWL
In reply Jesus said, “You untrustworthy, distorted kids!
How long will I be with you and support you? Bring your son here to me.”

Jesus’s complaint regularly gets misinterpreted, because Christians assume the “faithless and perverse generation” Lk 9.41 KJV refers to his generation—his Judean and Galilean contemporaries, all the Israelis of his day. It does not. Whenever Jesus refers to the γενεὰ/gheneá, KJV “generation,” he means the generation he taught, not the generation he is. Outside of Sabbath services, rabbis didn’t disciple students their own age; they taught children and teenagers. Jesus was 15 to 20 years older than his students, and in that culture, it made him old enough to be their dad. They were of another generation. They were kids; hence my translation “kids.”

As for being faithless and perverse: Jesus’s kids didn’t lack faith altogether. They did try to cure the boy! But you recall Jesus regularly described them as having little faith, deficient faith. Ἄπιστος/ápistos can mean either “no faith” or “not faithful,” and in this context it makes more sense to recognize Jesus is calling ’em untrustworthy. ’Cause they weren’t trustworthy: They should’ve easily been able to drive out that demon, as easily as Jesus did it.

So “How long will I be with you and support you?” Lk 9.41 is not a cry of frustration towards Israel: “You unbelievers are working my last nerve, and I’m not gonna put up with it much longer.” It’s a warning to his students: “You realize in a very short time, I’m no longer gonna be around to bail you out? I’m teaching you to do this yourselves. It’s the whole point of your discipleship!”

The faith-deficient father.

Mark includes this bit about the boy’s father further explaining the situation to Jesus.

Mark 9.20-24 KWL
20 They brought the son to Jesus, and seeing Jesus,
the spirit next tore at the son, and falling to the ground he rolled, foaming.
21 Jesus asked his father, “How long has it been like this with him?” He said, “From childhood.
22 Often it even throws him into fire and water, so it can destroy him.
But if you can, help us!—have compassion on us!”
23 Jesus told him, “If you can. For believers, everything’s doable!”
24 Crying out, the boy’s father next said, “I believe!—help my unbelief.”

Many a modern translation has Jesus’s discussion with the boy’s father sound more like this:

Mark 9.22-23 NLT
22B “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23A “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked.

They interpret Jesus throwing the man’s “If you can” right back at him. Some translations even make Jesus sound like he’s mocking the man, or responding with sarcasm. And yeah, Jesus isn’t beyond pushing our buttons when he’s trying to make a point. But that’s not what this is.

The father’s statement is ἀλλ᾿ εἴ τι δύνῃ/all’ ei ti dýni, “but if you might work any power,” and Jesus’s response is τὸ εἰ δύνῃ/to ei dýni, “The [issue is] if you might work any power.” This Greek word to makes a pretty big difference: Jesus didn’t say precisely the same thing back to him, but brought up a new issue. He wasn’t smacking the man down for not trusting him enough, but informing the man God offers him the power—really all believers the power—to kick out such demons ourselves.

Hence the Good News Translation’s much better rendering,

Mark 9.23 GNT
“Yes,” said Jesus, “if you yourself can! Everything is possible for the person who has faith.”

Why do we Christians keep misinterpreting Jesus with such a bad, faultfinding attitude? Projection. We have a bad attitude, and presume Jesus thinks like we do. We figure this poor guy is part of a “faithless generation” Jesus was ranting against. At the same time we’re kinda irritated about our own faithless generation, with its apathetic Christians and unbelieving pagans. We’re tired of them, and assume Jesus was just as frustrated and angry with everyone—and taking it out on this poor suffering father.

We must never interpret Jesus apart from kindness. If God ever looks unkind, he’s deliberately trying to startle people into paying attention to him or their circumstances. But in this story, Jesus isn’t being unkind! He only looks unkind when we make him unkind, and force him into a mould of our own making. But that isn’t his motive at all. He wanted to encourage this father towards greater faith. Which worked, ’cause the guy‘s response was, “I believe!—help my unbelief.”

The Holy Spirit helps us grow faith. We don’t automatically believe the impossible. We might try to psyche ourselves into believing impossible things, but that’s foolishness, and the result is Christians who believe in stuff Jesus never taught, never promised, and won’t do. We must only believe what Jesus legitimately teaches, and try it, and see whether it’s so, and see what he’ll empower us to do. And when we pray for greater faith, our prayer should be precisely what this father prayed: “Help my unbelief.” The Spirit does!

Keep praying and fasting.

Of course Jesus cured the boy. You think he wouldn’t?

Mark 9.25-27 KWL
25 Jesus, seeing the crowd running to him, rebuked the speechless spirit,
telling it, “Speechless, deaf spirit, I order you: Get out of him. You may never enter him again.”
26 Crying out and tearing him some more, it came out.
The boy became like the dead; hence many were saying that he died.
27 Jesus, grasping his hand, lifted him up and raised him.
Matthew 17.18 KWL
Jesus rebuked the demon, and threw the demon out of him,
and the child was cured from that hour onward.
Luke 9.42 KWL
As the boy was still coming to Jesus, the demon broke him, and he convulsed.
Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and cured the boy, and gave him back to his father.

Later, privately, Jesus’s students came to him to ask him about why they couldn’t cure the boy. Rightly so, it bothered them. Bothered ’em in a way it doesn’t bother a lot of Christians nowadays, because too many of us figure, “Well of course Jesus could cure the boy and the disciples couldn’t; he’s God and they’re not.” True… but the Holy Spirit is God too, and since we have the Holy Spirit in us, shouldn’t he be able to defeat any and every evil spirit? Why on earth should any Spirit-empowered believer be unable to perform an exorcism? Especially since Jesus himself taught his apostles how to do it—and already had them do it.

Jesus’s explanation differs between Mark and Matthew.

Mark 9.28-29 KWL
28 Entering the house, Jesus’s students privately asked him this: “Why couldn’t we throw it out?”
29 Jesus told them, “This kind can’t be thrown out unless you’re praying and fasting.”
Matthew 17.19-20 KWL
19 Then the students, coming to Jesus privately, said, “How come we couldn’t throw it out?”
20 Jesus told them, “Because of your insufficient trust in God:
Amen! I promise you when you have faith like a mustard seed, you’ll tell this hill, ‘Move from here to there!
And it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

In Mark it’s because the students should’ve been praying and fasting, and in Matthew it’s because they didn’t trust God enough.

To a number of Christians this looks like a bible difficulty: Two different gospels, two different answers. Which makes ’em nuts, because they don’t want there to be two different answers; either Jesus’s students lacked faith or they lacked discipline. At some point in the third or fourth century, Christians simply started adding Mark 9.29 to the end of Matthew’s version of the story, like the Textus Receptus has it:

Matthew 17.21 KWL
[But this kind doesn’t come out unless you’re praying and fasting.”]

Which alters the meaning of Matthew: The students shoulda had more faith… but even if they had more faith, this is a tricky sort of demon, so faith itself wouldn’ta been enough.

Which is the right answer? Well, both. (Without altering either gospel to eliminate any “difficulty,” thank you very much.) Jesus’s students regularly had deficient faith, so of course that topic needed to come up: They needed to stop thinking, “This is way too big for me; let’s have Jesus do it instead.” They needed to step up and fight this devil themselves. Like Jesus said, he wasn’t always gonna be around; and now that he’s currently with his Father, we need to fight such beings—and win!—without him doing the exorcisms for us. We can do it. So let’s do it.

And at the same time, fighting evil spirits isn’t a task for irreligious Christians. Yeah, there are plenty of irreligious Christians who suddenly get all “Not today, Satan!” whenever they encounter any difficulty… but you’ve seen how utterly sloppy they are at following Jesus in the rest of their daily lives. If you never resist temptation, you’re no spiritual warrior! If you seldom pray, never fast, and have no self-control to speak of, you’re not gonna throw out a thing. The devils own you. Who are you to tell ’em where to go?

The holistic Christian lifestyle has to include both practices: A deep trust in God, and the regular spiritual discipline of good religion. We shouldn’t just be practicing both things simply so we can defeat evil spirits; we should do it out of love for God. But y’know, if we practice these things… we totally can defeat evil spirits. It’s a nice side effect.

TXAB’s 2020 Presidential Antichrist Watch.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 February

As usual for every presidential election (and for that matter, many a congressional election), we get doomsayers claiming this or that candidate is likely the Beast of Revelation 13, or as popular Christian culture calls it, the Antichrist. Certainly they act mighty Beast-like.

And I guess this is now my usual thing: I’m here to tell you there’s a way we might confirm someone’s the Beast, in case you’re seriously worried. (I’m not.) It comes from Revelation, in which John told us how to identify the Beast in case we’re wondering.

Revelation 13.18 KWL
Here’s some wisdom: Count the Beast’s number, those who have a brain.
It’s a person’s number, and its number is 666.

Only problem is, your average person doesn’t know how to count the Beast’s number, and do it through various illegitimate methods. Just the other day I saw someone assign numbers to our Latin alphabet (i.e. A is one, B is two, C is three) and try to figure out some names thataway. Nope, not how it works. Latin letters don’t have any numerical values… unless you count the letters we use for Roman numerals, and good luck finding someone with the letters DCLXVI mixed into their name somewhere.

Nope, what John was talking about in Revelation was gematria, the Hebrew practice of converting their letters into numbers to get the numerical value. ’Cause before there were Arabic numerals (or even Roman numerals), people used their alphabets as numbers. I explain the details of gematria in my 2016 Presidential Antichrist Watch article, so I needn’t repeat ’em here. The gist is we gotta transliterate someone’s name into Hebrew (which is really easy to do, thanks to Google Translate), then add up the values of the letters.

Which I did, below, with all the candidates on the primary ballots. Some of them have dropped out already, but I included ’em anyway. Hey, they might run again, or get picked as vice-president; you never know.

Yeah, you get different results if you change people’s names around a little: Include their middle names, or not. Use birth names, nicknames, maiden names, etc. Sometimes a transliterated name, like ג'ון for John, is not the same as a translated name, like יוחנן/Yochanan, the original form of the name from the bible. What I did was choose the form of the name which got us closest to 666. So here y’go.

Michael Bennet מייקל פארנד בנט (Michael Farrand Bennet)586
Joe Biden יוסף רובינט ביידן (Joseph Robinette Biden)509
Michael Bloomberg מיכאל רובנס בלומברג (Michael Rubens Bloomberg)702
Pete Buttigieg פיטר פול מונטגומרי באטיגיג (Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg)817
John Delaney יוחנן קווין דלייני (Jochanan [John] Kevin Delaney)410
Tulsi Gabbard טולסי גברד 324
Amy Klobuchar איימי ז'אן קלוחאר (Amy Jean Klobuchar)474
Deval Patrick דוויל פטריק 455
Bernie Sanders ברני סנדרס 636
Tom Steyer טום שטייר 584
Elizabeth Warren אליזבת וורן 712
Andrew Yang אנדרו מ יאנג (Andrew M. Yang)365


Rocky De La Fuente רוק דה לה פואנטה (Roque De La Fuente)501
Donald Trump דונלד יוחנן טראמפ (Donald Yochanan [John] Trump)548
Joe Walsh ויליאם ג'וזף וולש (William Joseph Walsh)535
Bill Weld ויליאם פלויד וולד (William Floyd Weld)273

Now yeah, if you’re dead certain one of these candidates is definitely the Beast, of course you’re gonna utterly disregard gematria, and grab hold of some alternative method for coming up with a number. One which gets you the results you want, of course. And I’m sure you can convince all your partisan friends you’ve really found evidence of devilry in the United States’ election—well, outside of gerrymandering, state legislators trying to discourage voter turnout in the opposition party, political action committees which illegally accept foreign contributions, foreign hackers manipulating Facebook algorithms; and a president who withholds foreign military aid to get that government will do opposition research for his campaign, yet somehow he’s not convicted when impeached. But nope; gematria is precisely what John and his readers had in mind. Not your “new math.”

If you’re still worried some of these characters definitely look like Beast material, I get that. But their numbers say they’re not. If they’re evil, it’s their own personal depravity you need to worry about, not end-of-the-world stuff. So chill out.

Sealing the deal. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 February

Most of the evangelism seminars, classes, and books I’ve read, insist our every conversation with people about the gospel, has to end with a decision. They’ve heard the gospel, and either they believe it or they don’t; either they wanna follow Jesus or they don’t; so get an answer. Have ’em make a decision now. Right now! DO IT!

Which is why that’s what I’ve experienced whenever I’ve been on evangelism teams: The high-pressure tactics of proselytizers.

And a whole lot of cringing pagans, who don’t wanna make a decision right now. They gotta think about it! They need time to process. Really, they need time for the Holy Spirit to work on ’em—which is exactly what he’s gonna do. Heck, some of them might have already decided, “No thank you,” but of course the Spirit doesn’t like that answer, so he’s gonna get ’em to realize it was the wrong one, and convince ’em to change their minds. And that takes time. And patience.

Patience which the Spirit has in abundance. Evangelists, not so much.

Hence all our demands for an immediate decision: Let today be the day of your salvation! Don’t put it off till tomorrow; you never know what might happen in the meanwhile; you could die later this afternoon, and wind up in hell! You know, deep down, the gospel is true, and Jesus is the right choice, so quit waffling and choose Jesus! Don’t leave him hanging! Don’t be an ingrate; he died for you! Et cetera, ad nauseam.

Because the evangelists tell us it’s not a successful conversation unless it ends in conversion. And we as evangelists aren’t doing our job unless we seal the deal—to borrow a term from sales. They gotta decide right now: Jesus or hell. There’s no “Can I think about it and decide later?”—that’s just a decision for hell disguised as procrastination. It’s really Jesus or hell.

And if they choose Jesus, the angels will rejoice. Lk 15.10 And if hell, they’re doomed.

But because evangelists expect immediate decisions, whenever they actually bother to take statistics, they find their success rate is extremely low. Even anecdotally, they’ll figure maybe one in 20 will choose Jesus. The actual rate is much lower—and of those people who choose Jesus, about 90 percent of ’em don’t bother to start praying regularly, start reading bible, start going to church, start anything. They’ve not changed at all. Really, they have to be led to Jesus all over again.

So what are we doing wrong? Lots of things.

“The deal” doesn’t make anyone Christian.

This focus on getting people make a definite initial decision for Christ Jesus: Way too many of our efforts are placed on this. In some evangelism ministries, all of it is placed on this. They only want decisions for Jesus; they wanna rack up those numbers, and (according to popular Christian culture, ’cause people are thinking of medieval European crowns, not the leafy ones given at sporting events in New Testament times) get more jewels for the crowns Jesus is eventually gonna give us. Rv 2.10

The rate of recidivism—the vast number of “decisions” which decay into nothing—indicates people don’t really believe the sinner’s prayer when they say it. So why’re they saying it?

  • Heat of emotion. But once the emotions pass, so does their interest in Jesus.
  • False gospel: The evangelist, so desperate to seal the deal, promised ’em outrageous things about Jesus which aren’t so. The would-be convert either comes to realize all these false promises are bunk; or tries them out (“I asked Jesus for a million dollars, but I haven’t seen a dime yet!”), finds them false, and figures the whole of Christianity must be false too.
  • Peer pressure: Their family and friends are pushing them to convert, or have all come forward and said the sinner’s prayer, and they don’t wanna be the only one who hasn’t.
  • Evangelist pressure: “Hey buddy, I’ll say whatever you want; just leave me alone.”

So obviously the sinner’s prayer isn’t enough. Neither is simply saying “Jesus is Lord” Ro 10.9 when he’s never really gonna become our Lord. Neither is raising a hand or nodding one’s head when the pastor calls for it after a sermon. Momentary affirmations, followed up by nothing, mean nothing.

Conversion is a lifestyle. Really, it’s the Christian lifestyle. We live an entire lifestyle of repentance, of realizing we’re wrong and Jesus is right, of adapting our lives to his teachings. That’s what people have to realize they’re getting into, and if our gospel message doesn’t tell them this, we’re doing it wrong. Because if all they think it takes to become Christian is to say the magic words and hocus pocus we’re Christian, it certainly explains all the pagans who believe they’re Christian.

Evangelism isn’t a quick-’n-dirty 15-minute process. We start by finding people who are actually curious about and interested in the gospel. We share the good news about Jesus and his kingdom, and we see whether people are interested in investigating further. Then we help ’em investigate. We help ’em find a church, get ’em into a newbies class or bible study or anything where they can ask questions and get useful answers. This is, after all, what Jesus instructs us to do: Make disciples. Mt 28.19-20 Not converts. He wants more students. A convert only wants to be Christian—for now—but isn’t Christian yet. A student of Jesus is Christian.

Yep, evangelism’s a longer job than you thought.

Clearly, bringing people to Jesus takes time and work. Not that pressuring people into a decision isn’t work, but this is a whole different kind of work: We’re looking for people who show definite interest in Jesus, instead of finding a bunch of randoms who show no interest and we make ’em interested.

Yeah, it takes time to find such people. We gotta share the gospel with a whole lot of people before the truly curious come out. But in my experience, when we share the actual gospel—not the “you’re going to hell lest you repent” story which dark Christians love so much, nor the “Jesus will make you rich” prosperity gospel, nor the “free salvation, no strings attached” rubbish so popular with fly-by-night evangelists—we’re gonna find a lot of interest. People really haven’t heard the actual gospel; they’re more familiar with the bent versions, and rightly find ’em alienating. The good news actually sounds kinda good!

In sales-pitch evangelism, once the deal is sealed, we’re pretty much done; follow-up is for other suckers, and it’s their fault, not ours, if they drop the ball. In proper evangelism, evangelism and follow-up are not two different things. Our job isn’t done till the newbies are in church, getting their questions answered, developing relationships with fellow Christians, getting committed enough to Jesus to want baptism and to become church members. Sometimes not even then.

And I admit, sometimes the results are disappointing. I’ve had people go to church for a month or two, then lose interest and quit. Life got in the way, they claim; things got “too busy.” Which are just lame excuses. When we’re serious enough about something, we’ll make the time for it. In all honesty, they tried Christianity out a little, and decided it wasn’t for them. Sad. But it happens.

Look, when you came to Jesus, was it the result of a quick and near-instant conversion? Or was it a long process which took months, even years? Surveys tell us three in 10 Christians had those sudden conversions to Jesus—followed of course by several months of follow-up. But four of those 10 gradually came to the conclusion Jesus is Lord and they oughta follow him. And the rest grew up Christian. So that means most of us took the long way to get to Jesus. Yeah, the dramatic conversion story makes for exciting testimonies. But it’s not the typical Christian testimony.

Look, if someone wants Jesus right now, says the sinner’s prayer and means it, and from that point onward is the most enthusiastic new believer ever, don’t stop it from happening! It’s always fun to watch. Just make sure they’re with fellow Christians who steer ’em right. But our usual expectation should be the long process, which begins with curiosity and ends with salvation.

And during this process—not necessarily at the beginning, nor the end—the Holy Spirit seals the deal. Not us; it’s never our deal to seal. It’s his.

So get away from this mindset of sealing a deal, making a sale, forcing results, cornering people who are trying to escape; just don’t. Share Jesus, and if people are interested, bring ’em to church. If they’re not, don’t sweat it; shake off their dust and move along.

It’s just that simple… and complicated. Real life is messy, you know. So is real evangelism.

Self-control: Get ahold of yourself!

by K.W. Leslie, 19 February

As I’ve said, many Christians assume the Spirit’s fruit just happens. Automatically, spontaneously, without any effort on our part. So just sit back and let the Spirit do his thing, and fruit’ll come naturally.

Wrong. And lazy.

One of the obvious proofs fruit doesn’t work that way, is the last thing Paul listed in Galatians 5.22-23—the fruit of ἐγκράτεια/enkráteia, which the KJV renders “temperance,” and most other bibles “self-control.”

Yeah, lazy Christians will claim it doesn’t mean that. Suddenly they bust out their knowledge of ancient Greek… although really they’re just trying to manipulate Greek-English dictionaries to the best of their ability. The word enkráteia comes from κράτος/krátos, “strength,” which the Greeks used to describe various forms of governance—and we still do; our words democracy (“people reign”) and plutocracy (“wealthy reign”) and theocracy (“God reigns”) and idiocracy (“idiots reign”) come from it. The en- prefix comes from ἐν/en, “inside.” Your strength comes from inside.

And no, this isn’t a roundabout reference to the Holy Spirit living within us. It’s applies to what Jesus taught about how evil and good don’t come from without, but within. Either we’re willfully following the Spirit, or we’re apathetically ignoring him and doing as we please, same as ever. Either we’re governing ourselves, or we’re not really, and letting every little external thing appeal to our selfishness.

Paul could’ve made it explicit the Spirit is working us like a hand puppet. He didn’t. He didn’t create a deterministic universe. He isn’t so incapable a creator, he has to micromanage every little thing—like a clockmaker whose clocks suck, so he’s gotta manually move their hands, and the clockwork is only there for show. His sovereignty doesn’t work like that. Instead God told us what he wants of us, and expects us to carry it out. And fruity Christians don’t look for excuses to dismiss him!

If self-control spontaneously arose, as a result of some kind of supernatural reprogramming, why on earth did Paul have some inner war with his self-centered human nature?

Romans 7.14-20 KWL
14 We’ve known the Law is spiritual—and I am fleshly, sold into sin’s slavery.
15 I do things I don’t understand. I don’t want to do them. I hate what I do.
16 Since I don’t want to do them, I agree: The Law is good.
17 Now, it’s no longer I who do these things, but the sin which inhabits me.
18 I know nothing living in me, namely in my flesh, is good.
The will, but not the ability, exists in me to do good.
19 I don’t do the good I want. I do the evil I don’t want.
20 If I don’t want to do them, it’s not so much me doing them, as the sin which inhabits me.

If self-control is nothing more than the Spirit taking us over, there’d be no need whatseover for all God’s commands to quit sinning and behave ourselves. Right? We’d be sinless, automatically. We’d see an easily quantifiable drop in the number of sins we commit. Christians should sin way less than pagans do… instead of just as much, if not more, same as many surveys in the United States reveal. Something’s broken in our system, and it definitely ain’t the Holy Spirit. It’s us. We’re not practicing self-control.

Heck, how many times have you seen Christians beg God for temperance? “God, my life is such a mess! I’m so undisciplined. Please take it over. I surrender my life and my will to you.” We even include this idea in most versions of the sinner’s prayer. It’s the correct attitude; it’s just it’s not how God works. He wants us to take action. To obey. To resist temptation. To choose his path. To seize control of our thoughts and emotions.

God wants a loving relationship with his willing followers. If all he wanted was machines, he’d have stopped creating after he made the single-celled organisms.

Well, enough ranting about how we need to practice self-control. Let’s talk application.

The qualities of self-governance.

Simon Peter wrote a few things about how to develop self-control in his second letter. It bears reading.

2 Peter 1.2-11 KWL
2B I hope you multiply in knowledge of God and our Master Jesus.
3 Like everything granted us by his godly power, we were given it for a religious life,
through knowing the one who called us to his glorious, excellent self.
4 Through this, he gave us precious, great promises.
Through them, you have a relationship with his godly nature:
You escape the corruption of the world, caused by our desire run wild.
5 This being the case, contribute as much as you can to applying the promises.
Start with faith. Add quality. Knowledge. 6 Self-control. Endurance. Godliness.
7 A sense of family. Love.
8 This is how you develop growth. Not by laziness nor fruitlessness.
It makes you knowledgeable about our master, Christ Jesus.
9 Those who don’t participate in this are blind, short-sighted;
they’ve forgotten how they were cleansed of their past sins.
10 Fellow Christians, you therefore have a definite calling: You were chosen to do these things.
Stick to it! You don’t stumble when you do them.
11 You’ll be richly given entry to the age
of the kingdom of our master and savior, Christ Jesus.

The Spirit’s fruit is both a byproduct of our relationship with him, and something we need to work on. Our love for God, our empowerment by God, makes us want to become religious about our relationship with him. And so we do. Best way to do it is like Peter said:

  • START WITH FAITH. We trust God, right? Okay. Take him seriously. Do as he told us. Obey his commands.
  • ADD QUALITY. Get better at obeying his commands. You’re gonna suck at first; we all do, ’cause we’re not used to this lifestyle. Sometimes we’re gonna slide into the temptations of legalism, doing ’em because we think they make us righteous, and they don’t; or hypocrisy, pretending to do ’em, or using tons of loopholes so we can claim we do them without really. Resist those temptations: Stick to doing ’em for noble, excellent, virtuous, godly reasons.
  • ADD KNOWLEDGE. Loads of people insist they need to know why we oughta practice something before we do it. And that’s not faith; that’s judgment. We’re basically saying we won’t do something if we think it’s unnecessary or stupid. Well, nobody died and made us God; we need to obey him first, then learn why. And a lot of the reason why will occur to us as we obey… and the rest will come by studying the scriptures, hearing the insights our fellow Christians have learned, and of course revelation from the Holy Spirit himself.
  • ADD SELF-CONTROL. Wait, isn’t all of this self-control? Yes it is. But this is our tip this isn’t a step-by-step list on how to grow self-control: It’s a holistic lifestyle. We continually look back and add these things where we lack ’em. Once you got quality, make it a knowledgeable quality. Once you got knowledge, make it a self-controlled knowledge. And the next one: If you got self-control, make it an enduring self-control.
  • ADD ENDURANCE. Patience, or longsuffering, is a big part of self-control. ’Cause we never reach a point where we can now quit self-control, and run amok, and sin like we used to… and maybe still want to. This is a major lifestyle change, and we gotta grow used to it. We gotta endure. Self-control without endurance is simply delayed gratification: “I may not be allowed to murder him now, but I will totally murder him later.” No; don’t murder him ever.
  • ADD GODLINESS. Godliness is likewise a big part of self-control. We’re not controlling ourselves for carnal reasons, like a pickpocket practicing so she can get better at lifting wallets. Our self-control must reflect God’s character, and have all the characteristics of his other fruit: Love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, and grace.
  • ADD A SENSE OF FAMILY. The KJV went with “brotherly kindness,” but literally it’s φιλαδελφίαν/filadelfían, “familial love,” often translated “brotherly love.” See, a common temptation of self-control is selfishness: Aren’t we trying to improve ourselves, to make us better people? But we mustn’t forget we’re doing it for God, not ourselves. Love, particularly loving others, is part of the equation. The Pharisees frequently made the mistake of pitting love of God against loving their neighbors. Fr’instance they’d observe Sabbath so strictly, they didn’t help the needy on that day, and forbade it to others. Not cool. Godly self-control will help the needy, not alienate them. It’ll love everybody, and treat ’em like family. Same as God does.
  • ADD LOVE. ’Cause every fruit of the Spirit must have love at its core. Self-control included.

Sound hard? Well it is. Good thing we have grace, ’cause we’re gonna fail. But God forgives us, so we can pick ourselves back up and try again. And again and again and again.

Self-control, maturity, and responsiblity.

Likely part of the reason Paul listed self-control last, is self-control governs all the other fruit. We choose when and where to love, to embrace joy, to make peace, to exhibit patience, to behave kindly, to do good, to have faith, and to exercise gentleness.

Once we take control of our own choices and behaviors, and take responsibility for the consequences, it’s called maturity. Some Christians call it “spiritual maturity,” but there’s no difference between maturity and spiritual maturity. Christians who try to divorce the two, are trying to get away with being immature.

Too often Christians don’t know what makes us spiritually mature. They think it’s age, or knowledge, or ability: We speak impressively, pray really well, or can do miracles. It’s how I was able to get away with being a giant hypocrite for so long: I knew so much about the bible, people assumed my knowledge was wisdom, and assume wisdom is maturity. But I lacked love, patience, kindness, peace, goodness, and self-control. Still immature.

Likewise Christians will claim someone’s not mature because they lack all these superficial things. They’re too young, too new, lack talents and gifts, get awkward. Even if they’ve got loads of love, joy, generosity—you know, fruit. So they don’t know as much as a seminary graduate: If they’re fruity, they’re mature. (And usually wise enough to consult us seminary grads about the gaps in their knowledge.) I’ve known many pastors who know less than I do—but they’re more qualified to lead, ’cause they’re more fruitful than I am.

As a result of this mixup, Christendom has a lot of know-it-alls who don’t know why no one in their churches trusts them enough to put ’em in charge. Or worse: Churches who do put ’em in leadership, and now everyone in their church is suffering. (Bad enough kids are already plotting to leave Christianity as soon as they’re old enough.) But enough about them; they’re depressing.

Lastly, part of self-control is accountability, the Christianese word for responsibility. To help us better control our own behavior, we gotta submit ourselves to fellow Christians for review and comment. They have every right to tell us we’re doing great… and every right to tell us we’re blowing it.

Problem is, most Christians—especially Americans—wanna answer to no one. Not even God. We claim we do, but our “submission” tends to consist almost entirely of telling God “I surrender all” in our worship songs, copping a sorrowful attitude ’cause we’re dirty sinners, then not changing our lives a whit. Besides, submitting to others sounds too legalistic and cultish, and interferes too much with our “freedom in Christ” to follow our hearts’ desire. Jr 17.9 Hence Christians join churches which don’t hold their members accountable at all. At all. They dare not; they’ll lose ’em otherwise. Leaders may ask, “How’re you doing?” but if we don’t care to confess a thing, and just say “Fine” or something just as vague, we can stay off the hook. And that’s what we do.

If any Christian leader dares pin us down and say, “No, really: How’re you doing? How’s your Christian life? Are you praying? Reading your bible? Trying to follow Jesus?” often they’re accused of being too controlling, manipulative, or interfering where they’re neither welcome nor allowed. I expect some TXAB readers are outraged at the very idea; honestly my knee-jerk reaction to such a thing is to back away. Even though I’m deliberately trying to be transparent!—and feel I should have no trouble nor struggle in giving an honest answer.

But accountability definitely helps us work on the self-control. As any recovering addict in a 12-step program, who speaks with their sponsor on a regular basis, will tell you. If you know about these programs, you’ll know: A sponsor isn’t a boss. They’re an equal. An accountability partner. They’re given the right to hear what the addict’s going through, to tell ’em whether they approve of the addict’s behavior, and to offer advice. Works precisely the same with any accountable Christian.

I’m accountable to my fellow Christians. That includes you. And obviously you’re not my boss: You’re a fellow Christian. You have the right, under Christ, to tell me whether you approve of my behavior. I can either listen to you, or not—and if you’re right, I should listen to you. Doesn’t matter whether you’re my pastor, whether you attend my church, or even how good a Christian you are. Heck, you could be a heretic or nontheist, and know so little about God I’d be stupid to take religious advice from you—but if the Holy Spirit for some reason chooses to use you to point me the right way, and I hear him through all your noise, I’d be just as stupid to say, “Well, consider the source,” and ignore you ’cause I’d rather sin.

There are abusive, control-freak Christians who try to turn accountability into a master/slave relationship. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to avoid that. We’re slaves to no one but Jesus, 1Co 7.22 and he chooses to treat us like equals and friends. Jn 15.15 He’s freed us from every form of slavery. Let’s not enslave ourselves again to some misbegotten Christian drill sergeant. By all means submit to and serve one another. But when anyone sets themselves above you, they’re wrong to.

So if you aren’t responsible to anyone—if you won’t confess everything, including sin, Jm 5.16 to trusted and trustworthy fellow Christians on a regular basis—start. Find someone. Get their permission to share with ’em. Let them encourage you to grow, to work on that self-control.

Be willing to accept constructive criticism. Yeah, that’s gonna be hard for some of us. Especially when we lack humility: We don’t wanna hear we’re wrong. But we are, and shutting our ears isn’t gonna help us grow any. If we can’t listen to fellow Christians, we’re less likely to listen to the Holy Spirit. Don’t fool yourself: It’s not easier to only heed the Spirit, yet ignore fellow Christians. Nor is it healthier, nor mature.

We all have blind spots. All the more reason we need fellow Christians to point ’em out. We all have room for improvement. We all need help. So listen to one another. Submit to one another.

People who love angry prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 February

Θυμοί/thymí, “anger,” is a work of the flesh. Ga 5.19 Period.

I know: For a lot of Christians there is no such period; anger is okay in various circumstances. ’Cause the LORD gets angry, Dt 4.21, 1Ki 11.9, 2Ch 25.15, Ps 60,1, Jr 10.10 and Jesus got angry that one time, Mk 3.5 and if God can get angry, we presume we can indulge our anger.

Forgetting, of course, God is absolutely in control of his emotions. Whereas we suck at it. We get angry, then forget all about loving people, take our revenge, get our satisfaction. We get murdery.

There are a lot of angry people in the world, and as a result there are a lot of angry Christians. And rather than get hold of their anger, fight it, and eliminate it by the time the sun goes down, Ep 4.26 angry Christians wanna embrace that anger, make it part of their character and lifestyle, and justify it as “righteous anger.” Even though there’s nothing at all righteous about how they wanna express their anger. They’re not seeking anyone’s good, nor God’s glory. They just want death and destruction.

So of course they wanna pray angry prayers. Again, they justify it by pointing out angry prayers are in the bible—and they’re right. The imprecatory psalms are a bunch of angry songs and prayers about God smiting David and Israel’s enemies. A lot of prophets prayed some really violent things about their neighbors. So, these angry Christians argue, we oughta be able to do likewise. These angry petitioners wrote Spirit-inspired bible, after all. While angry.

As I said in the angry prayers article, the reason the imprecatory psalms are in the bible is because God wants us to be honest with him. When we’re angry, he wants us to feel entirely free to tell him so, to tell him exactly what we’re feeling, and to hold nothing back. To do otherwise is hypocrisy, and he hates that. The last thing we should get is the idea there are off-topic subjects for God; that he’s too holy to discuss our issues, hangups, sins, problems, anything. So when our family and neighbors, even friends, certainly opponents and rivals, piss us off: Tell God so.

But of course angry Christians don’t really care about sharing themselves with God. Their angry prayers are about indulging the flesh: They wanna rage out, and now they can do it and call it good religion. It’s carnal, it’s harmful… and it’s popular.

Excuses, excuses.

I came across an article by one angry Christian who gave a big ol’ list of all the reasons we should pray imprecatory things against our enemies. Which he made a big point of insisting are God’s enemies, y’know; there’s Satan and its imps, there are antichrists and heretics and liberals, and he wants God to strike ’em all down. By jingo you’d better pray angry things:

  • Christians pray the psalms all the time, and how dare we skip the imprecatory psalms? What, are you nullifying scripture or something?
  • It’s not just an Old Testament thing either, ’cause Paul cursed people, 1Co 16.22, Ga 1.9 and the saints in Revelation called out for vengeance. Rv 6.10 So if you lean dispensationalist, it should make no difference.
  • God is just, and he’s gonna stamp out evil, as the bible says on multiple occasions. So let’s get on board with the bible, and encourage God to stamp ’em out right away!
  • In praying for the weak and needy, part of what makes ’em not weak and needy anymore is their oppressors get what’s coming to them. [Not flip ’em, like Jesus did with Paul; not forgive ’em, like he does with us.] So we kinda have to pray for God’s wrath upon those oppressors.
  • It’s not really vengefulness, ’cause we’re praying for God to take revenge on our behalf. So that makes everything all good.
  • It is being honest about how we feel, after all.

He had way more bullet points than I do, ’cause he got mighty redundant. I like to condense things, so I did. So he had excuse after excuse for why he should be able to pray angry prayers, and why any Christian should be able to pray angry prayers.

And lemme remind you: I don’t have an issue with praying angry prayers. We can pray such prayers. Often we should pray such prayers—’cause we’re angry, and we need God’s help with that!

Likewise we should pray against evil. God’s gonna vanquish evil, and we should totally be in favor of him doing that. The sooner the better.

But ultimately it doesn’t matter how valid the bullet points are, how true the excuses might be. The underlying issue is the motives of an angry Christian. Does he wanna pray an angry prayer to support Jesus and his kingdom, and glorify what God’s doing and going to do? Or does he just wanna rage against his frustrations, and feel self-righteous and justified for doing so?

Does he want to live a carnal lifestyle, and claim it’s really devout Christianity, full of prayer, conforming to God’s will? Does he even believe it’s not really Christianism, wherein he stays the same angry, bitter person he’s always been, but with a veneer of Christian jargon making it seem like something’s changed about him? Where he doesn’t love and forgive his enemies like Jesus taught; he figures his “tough love” is a valid substitute?

It always comes down to motives. What’s inside him? What’s inside us? A person motivated to follow the Holy Spirit wherever he might lead? Or someone who’s still as self-focused and self-pleasing as ever?

Let’s not fool ourselves. We’re certainly not fooling God.

Jesus explains Elijah’s second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 February

Mark 9.9-13, Matthew 17.9-13, Luke 9.36.

In the previous passage, Jesus took his students up a hill, where they saw him transform into a glowing being, and Moses and Elijah appeared to have a chat with him. Various Christians love to interpret this as Jesus showing off his divinity; I prefer the alternative idea that this is a ὅραμα/órama, “vision,” Mt 17.9 of the glory of God’s kingdom, as indicated by Jesus in the verse right before the transfiguration story.

Probably because this vision is so open to utter misinterpretation, Jesus decided to have his kids keep it to themselves for a while, just till the context of his own resurrection helped make it make sense.

Mark 9.9-10 KWL
9 As they were going down the hill, Jesus commanded the students
so no one who saw these visions would describe them till the Son of Man might rise from the dead.
10 The students kept this word to themselves—
though arguing, “What’s ‘to rise from the dead’ mean?”
Matthew 17.9 KWL
As they were going down the hill, Jesus commanded the students, saying,
“Nobody may speak of the vision till the Son of Man might rise from the dead.”
Luke 9.36 KWL
As the voice came, the students found Jesus alone.
They were silent, and in those days, reported nothing they saw to anyone.

Obviously they told everybody afterwards, ’cause now the story’s in the synoptic gospels. Though you notice in Mark they were still wondering about this “rise from the dead” business—because in the Pharisee timeline of the End Times, nobody gets resurrected till the very end. This is why Jesus getting resurrected only three days after he died, was completely unexpected.

Because the transfiguration is a vision of the End, naturally the students had the End Times on the brain. Especially since they’d just seen a major End Times figure, the eighth-century BC northern Israeli prophet Elijah of Tishbe. Elijah had been raptured instead of dying, so he went straight to heaven instead of paradise. And Pharisees believed he was coming back from heaven, right before the End, to spark a major revival. ’Cause Malachi said so.

Malachi 4.5-6 KWL
5 “Look: I send the prophet Elijah to you when the great, fearful LORD’s Day comes.
6 He’ll restore the parents’ hearts to their children, and the children’s hearts to their parents,
—or I’ll come and smite the land with my Ban.”

—Well, y’notice if people don’t respond to the revival they’ll be cursed, which is how ancient Christians interpreted when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. But in Jesus’s day, Pharisees figured Elijah would return to warm up the crowd for Messiah. And since Elijah had just appeared to Jesus’s students, part of their terrified excitement was the idea, This is happening! The End has come! The kingdom has arrived! RIGHT NOW!

Only to have the Father order them, “Listen to my Son,” the vision blink out, and Jesus back to normal. It’s not the End yet. Bit of a disappointment.

But since the topic comes up, what is Elijah’s role in the End Times?

The second coming of Elijah.

Darbyists, the followers of John Nelson Darby’s general view of the End, still have Elijah in their timeline. They think he’s one of the two prophets in Revelation who show up and prophesy for about 3½ years. An angel described ’em to the apostle John:

Revelation 11.3-12 KWL
3 I’ll give them two of my witnesses, and they’ll prophesy 1,260 days, clothed in sack.
4 These are the two olive trees, the two lampstands standing on the earth before the Master.
5 If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths and devours their enemies.
If anyone might want to harm them, this is how they have to kill them.
6 During the days of their prophecy, they have the power to shut heaven so it might not rain,
and the power over the waters, to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with whatever plagues they might want.
7 Once they finish their witness, the beast coming out of the Abyss will make war with them.
It’ll conquer and kill them, 8 and their corpses
—in the square of the great city, which is spiritually called ‘Sodom’ and ‘Egypt,’ where our Master was also crucified—
9 all the people, tribes, tongues, and nations see their corpses 3½ days,
and their corpses aren’t allowed to be put in a tomb.
10 The land’s inhabitants rejoice over them, and party, and will send gifts to one another,
for these two prophets were a real pain to the land’s inhabitants.
11 After 3½ days a living spirit from God entered into the prophets, and they stood on their feet.
Great fear fell upon their observers.
12 The prophets heard a great voice from heaven saying this: ‘Come here!’
They went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.”

Elijah’s known for praying for the rain to stop, and Moses (well, Aaron too) is known for smiting Egypt with lots of plagues, including the water-to-blood plague. So various Christians note the similarity to Moses and Elijah… and some Christians are pretty sure these guys are literally Moses and Elijah, even though Moses is dead. Dt 34.5-7 Not that God can’t resurrect Moses before the End, same as Jesus, but since Revelation says these two prophets get killed, Rv 11.7 it’s likely not Moses. Resurrection appears to be permanent.

So again, prophets who are like Moses and Elijah. Although why these men have to be Old Testament saints, and not present-day Christians, makes no sense to me… and in any case I don’t believe these prophets are meant to represent literal men at all. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Same with Malachi. He wasn’t speaking literally of Elijah’s second coming, as Jesus quickly makes clear. This is a prophet like Elijah, of Elijah’s spirit and power, whom Jesus had already singled out as fulfilling that prophecy.

Matthew 11.14-15 KWL
14 “If you want to receive this, John is ‘the Elijah to come.’ 15 Those with ears: Hear.”

Gabriel had told John’s father Zechariah the same thing, even going so far as to quote Malachi.

Luke 1.17 KWL
17 He’ll precede him in Elijah’s spirit and power, ‘to turn back fathers’ hearts to their children,’ Ml 4.6
and rebels back to orthodox thinking—to get the people ready for the Lord.”

John the baptist was pretty sure he wasn’t Elijah, and publicly said so. Jn 1.21 But Jesus knows better. So when the students asked him about Elijah, that’s what he told ’em.

Mark 9.11-13 KWL
11 The students asked Jesus, saying this: “Why do the scribes say Elijah must come first?”
12 Jesus told them, “Indeed Elijah’s coming is first; he restores everything.
How is it written about the Son of Man?—he might suffer much; he might be despised.
13 But I tell you Elijah also came, and people did to him whatever they wanted, just as was written of him.”
Matthew 17.10-13 KWL
10 The students asked Jesus, saying, “So why do the scribes say Elijah must come first?”
11 In reply Jesus said, “Indeed Elijah comes, and will restore everything.
12 And I tell you Elijah came now, and people didn’t know him, but did to him whatever they wanted.
The Son of Man is also about to experience the same things.”
13 Then the students understood Jesus spoke to them of John the baptist.

Of course Darbyists are more attached to their timelines than the bible, so they wanna explain Jesus away by pointing to how he said, “Elijah also came” Mk 9.13 and “Elijah comes [and] Elijah came now,” Mt 17.11-12 and insist Jesus is speaking of multiple comings of Elijah. There’s the first coming in the eighth century; the second coming, i.e. John the baptist; and a third coming during the End Times, in the person of one of the prophets of Revelation 11.

But Malachi’s Elijah prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in John the baptist. It needn’t be fulfilled again. Not in our End Times prophecies, nor elsewhere.

There are always gonna be prophets who do Elijah-like things. Which stands to reason: They’re filled with the same Holy Spirit who empowered both Elijah and John. And some of them, like Elijah and John, are gonna be into long hair and leather. But the Second Coming of Elijah isn’t a literal second coming; it’s John.

And the restoration of everything doesn’t start with the End Times. It started with the birth of John the baptist. It began when John was born, grew up, proclaimed God’s kingdom, and pointed to Jesus. It continued when Jesus started teaching about his kingdom, died to free us from sin so we could enter his kingdom, and left so we could get to work spreading his kingdom. It ends when Jesus returns to reign over it personally.

To listen to some of the End Times watchers, they sound like the restoration of everything doesn’t start till the rapture. So what’re they doing in the meanwhile? Well they might be spreading the kingdom, but not intentionally! They spend far more of their time worrying about it.

Don’t you worry about it. Jesus wins. Meanwhile, seek his kingdom. John the baptist is the sign the last days have begun, and God is making all things new. Join him.

Valentine’s Day acrostics.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 February

Probably the first time I saw one of those John 3.16 Valentine acrostics was back in 2012. It’s where somebody took all the letters in “Valentine,” found ’em within an English translation of the verse, and arranged it so we can “see” John 3.16 is God’s valentine to the world. Like so.
The gospel according to graphic designers. Pinterest

Aww. Now I don’t need syrup for my waffles.

I see internet posters like this all the time. I even make some of ’em. Some of these things are inspiring or clever or well-designed. I also appreciate it when Christians quote the bible properly.

But some designers aren’t so conscientious, and some Christians are mighty gullible. They don’t read their bibles, y’see. They’re not gonna read their bibles, either; they’re never gonna fact-check an internet poster, find out the scripture’s been misquoted, or that the sentiment or inspirational saying actually isn’t biblical. They leave that to killjoys like me.

I don’t have an issue with laying out John 3.16 so it looks like a happy Valentine’s acrostic, but if you’re trying to claim there’s something profound or insightful in layout, of all things, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Any scripture can be rearranged this way. Did it myself.

Unlike John 3.16, it’s even broken up into full clauses. TXAB

Nope, Isaiah 1.2-3 isn’t about love whatsoever. On the contrary: It’s about ancient Israel’s utter lack of love towards God. It’s about depending on cheap grace, figuring big displays of worship will make up for institutional injustice and sin against the needy and powerless. That making a big fuss makes up for taking God for granted.

In other words, it’s kinda perfect for the way most people celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Pretty sure it won’t go viral though. John 3.16 will always get all the love.

Happy St. V’s day. Love one another.

Tracts: How to share Jesus with handouts.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 February
TRACT trækt noun. Short written work in pamphlet form, typically on a religious subject.

By “tract” I mean any booklet, broadside, brochure, card, handout, invitation, flyer, pamphlet, or poster, which introduces the gospel to people. And there’s nothing wrong with using ’em to share Jesus.

Certain Christians object to tracts. Commonly because of the contents of the tracts themselves. I’ve seen plenty which are ridiculous, inaccurate, or even offensive. I certainly don’t wanna hand out those types of tracts; I don’t wanna be associated with foolishness, error, and slander, or make people think Christ Jesus has anything to do with such things. Plenty enough of that in Christendom as it is.

One argument I’ve heard against tracts, is they’re impersonal. These folks claim the way to share Jesus is to make personal connections with fellow human beings, then introduce them to the person of Jesus. But a tract does no such thing. It kinda reduces a living relationship with our awesome Lord… to an advertisement.

These are valid concerns, so I’ll deal with ’em.

Ridiculous tracts.

There are a lot of stupid tracts out there. No, seriously, a lot of them. Certain Christians think that’s the way to get people to read ’em: Be funny, be silly, or be shocking.

But not every tract-writer has a good sense of humor, and the end result is a groan-worthy tract which isn’t funny, or full of stale and overworked jokes, or makes light of all the parts we probably shouldn’t trivialize. Or they try to use wordplay and sarcasm, but they do it in a way where only they seem to get the joke, and everybody else who reads it is simply confused.

And not every tract-writer knows how to make a good-looking tract. They can’t spell, or have poor grammar. They can’t design, so the text is too small or too large, or they put it on top of an image… but it’s nearly the same color, so you can barely read it. They can’t draw, so the images are childish. Or they pulled their images off the internet… and didn’t pay for them, so you can still see the watermark in all the photos. And of course they don’t know how to resize the images, so they’re all stretched and squashed.

Sometimes it’s much worse. Dark Christians love to make tracts, and of course they don’t present the good news; it’s all bad news. It’s all about how we’re dirty sinners, going to hell, and nothing can save us but the sinner’s prayer. It’s not about speaking the truth in love; Ep 4.15 they really don’t have love to give.

Many a dark Christian tract begins by bashing something. Certain sins which offend ’em, Hollywood and the media, politics, other religions, even fellow Christians who worship too differently. While this sort of tract definitely appeals to dark Christians, it’s wholly inappropriate for sharing Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin. Jn 16.8 Not ours. He convicts ’em in the right way—in a kind way. Whereas dark Christians don’t do kindness either.

Trendy tracts—cards with a pop star or images from a movie or TV show on the front, and the gospel on the back—become out-of-date awfully fast. (Especially since the tract-makers are usually behind the times anyway.) Unless you evangelize teenagers, or parents of teenagers, the percentage of people who are actually up on the latest trends is quite small. I don’t bother with trendy tracts either.

And let’s not forget the deceptive tracts. There’s a tract I came across which, no foolin’, looks like a folded $100 bill. People grab it because they think it’s money, and surprise!—not only isn’t it, but it rebukes you for desiring something as fleeting as money, when you can have eternal life with Jesus. You do realize there are evil people out there who will try to give these tracts instead of tips, and think they’re being righteous. Don’t encourage such behavior.

Don’t use bad tracts. Pick ’em carefully. I prefer any tract which presents the gospel in a straightforward way. I don’t wanna waste people’s time with provocative tracts—with something which appears to be about one thing, and surprise!—it’s religious material. I’ve seen pagans straight-up flinch at such things, and throw them away in disgust. I don’t want that reaction. I want it nice and obvious, on the cover, what this is—because many people will throw out handouts unread, and if I’ve wasted the cover on a hook instead of the gospel, more fool me.

An impersonal handout?

When someone on the street hands me a flyer, I glance at it. I keep it if it seems interesting, and put it in the trash if it doesn’t. Most of the time that’s exactly what people do with a tract. Most of the tracts you hand out will do nothing. Same as any advertising.

In a Christian-majority country, you’re gonna give a lot of tracts to people who already consider themselves Christian. They’ll throw ’em out because they figure they’re good. The rest of the folks: Most don’t care about religion at all, and don’t care to be converted. A small percentage will actually bother to read your tract. A much smaller percentage might allow themselves to be affected by them.

So lots of folks justify tract-passing for this very reason: If they hand out a thousand tracts, and one person comes to Jesus, it’s worth it. And okay, I can’t disagree with that. One person’s eternal life is worth a billion tracts.

But still: Isn’t there anything we can do to improve these statistics any?

And of course there is: Make it personal. When you stand on the street handing out flyers, engage people. If they’re not trying to rush past you, see if you can stop ’em briefly and say, “Do you have a minute?—can I share something with you?” Then share the tract with them. Read it to them. Or, if you have it memorized, tell them the story as they read the flyer. Give them some actual human contact to associate with your tract. Give ’em an experience they can connect with, rather than just a handout which they may or may not read.

If you find out they’re already Christian, see if you can get ’em to pass the tract forward to someone else. If they’re not interested, then okay they’re not interested; you did your job and shared.

But that’s how you improve a tract’s effectiveness. And improve your effectiveness as an evangelist, for that matter.

Free tract!

If you’re wondering, “What’s an example of a good tract?” here’s one I’ve used quite a lot—and not just ’cause I used to work at the ministry which makes ’em. It’s a pamphlet produced by Barnabas Missions Unlimited called “Our Spiritual Journey Together.”

It’s set up so that you can print it on both sides of a sheet of paper, cut it in half, and fold it. You can download the PDF free, in English or Spanish, put your church’s name on the back, and distribute as many as you like. There are directions on their site on how to present it in greater detail at Barnabas Missions’ website.

Likely you’ve seen other good tracts. Most “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts or “Romans Road” tracts are good; and of course there’s no reason you can’t create your own. In fact, if you have created your own, let me know so I can put it on a resource page.

Angry prayers.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 February
IMPRECATE 'ɪm.prə.keɪt verb. Call down evil upon.
[Imprecation ɪm.prə'keɪ.ʃən noun, imprecatory ɪm'prək.ə.tɔ.ri adjective]

Yep, there’s a whole category of prayer which is all about people letting loose their rage as they pray. Not because they’re angry with God—although sometimes they might be! But commonly they’re furious at other people, at human behavior, or at Satan itself. So they call down God’s wrath, or put curses on people and things, or otherwise condemn ’em.

I started with a definition of the old-timey word Christians use to describe such things: Imprecatory prayer. (Not everyone knows how to pronounce it properly.) It’s a nicer way of saying “angry prayer.”

And lest you think God doesn’t allow, or listen to, angry prayer: Nope, he permits it. Angry prayers are in the bible. There’s a bunch of ’em in Psalms. ’Cause sometimes King David’s enemies would piss him off, so he’d declare God was gonna do all sorts of savage things to ’em. God didn’t necessarily, because God’s under no obligation to answer our prayers like a leprechaun grants wishes; he can easily tell us no, and often will. So any Christian who panics, “Don’t declare such things into the universe!—it might come to pass!” clearly hasn’t read their scriptures.

But yeah, angry prayers are in the bible. Including the New Testament, lest you get the idea it’s solely an Old Testament thing. Paul damned anyone who preaches another gospel than his, Ge 1.8-9 and damned anyone who didn’t love the Lord. 1Co 16.22 Jesus himself damned a fig tree, Mt 21.19 and warned several cities at the rate they were going, they were on the road to hell. Lk 10.13-15

Among those who have read their scriptures, one favorite imprecatory prayer is good ol’ Psalm 109. Many a partisan has joked about how it’s their favorite prayer for certain politicians. “Oh, I pray for the president every day; I pray directly from the scriptures—”

Psalm 109.6-13 KWL
6 Place a wicked person over him, with Satan standing at his right.
7 May those judging him return an evil verdict, and his prayers be offensive.
8 May his days be few, and another ruler supervise him.
9 May his children become fatherless, and his woman a widow.
10 May his children wander, wander, begging, digging through people’s trash.
11 May debt seize everything he owns, and strangers steal his labor.
12 May he never find love; his fatherless children never be given grace.
13 May his generation be the last one, and his family name be wiped out.

And so on. You get the idea. David wrote this because he wanted this guy thoroughly crapped upon, because this enemy and his friends had done likewise to David. David wanted karmic justice—for the evildoer to get what David felt was coming to him.

Now as I said, there are certain Christians who think imprecatory prayers are awful and wrong; that because anger is a work of the flesh, we ought never pray angry. And obviously there are Christians who think otherwise. Generally we’re of three minds:

  • All for it. Evildoers need and deserve our condemnation.
  • Wholly inappropriate for Christians: We’re ordered to forgive. Mk 11.25 Forgive friends, forgive enemies, forgive everyone, or God won’t bother to forgive our own sins. Mk 11.26 What’re we, of all people, doing calling down curses upon others?
  • Only appropriate towards the devil and devilish things, bad behaviors, evil ideas, false thinking, corrupt institutions. We draw the line at fellow human beings. Never ask God to destroy women and men, no matter how bad they get. ’Cause God made them in his image, Jm 3.9 and wants to save everyone, 2Pe 3.9 not destroy ’em. Everybody’s redeemable.

Me, I lean towards the third category. And a fourth: If we’re angry, and we need to calm down and get ahold of ourselves, go ahead and pray while angry—and ask God to help you regain control; to help “gentle” you, as a horse-trainer might say. We need a healthy outlet for anger, and sometimes that outlet is to tell God you’re pissed off. Tell God what you’d really like him to do to all those people who’re frustrating you—and let him take that rage away.

Dark Christians, angry prayers.

In my experience the crowd who’s fondest of imprecatory prayer consists of dark Christians. Of course.

In life, humans get angry. Christians get angry. Yes, even Jesus got angry, Mk 3.5 and no doubt still gets that way. Anger’s a natural emotional reaction when we wanna see things happen a certain way and they don’t. It’s even appropriate when injustice takes place. In itself, anger isn’t necessarily evil. But we certainly use it as an excuse for every kind of evil. And a lifestyle of anger means we’re not following the Holy Spirit, who gives us peace. Angry Christians are fruitless Christians.

Their justification is the prophets prayed such prayers. And the apostles got a little outraged from time to time too. Even Jesus had his “woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” bits in the gospels. Mt 23.13-29 (They don’t realize “woe unto you” means “how sad for you,” not “damnation upon you.” They don’t really care either.) They figure they have a valid precedent for praying likewise.

But here’s the thing: When Jesus condemned cities, he didn’t do it maliciously. He doesn’t wanna destroy anyone! God wants everyone to be saved. 1Ti 2.3-4 Jesus is loving, patient, and kind, and that’s the attitude we have to read into everything he does. Even when he condemns.

We aren’t so loving, patient, and kind. We’re angry, spiteful, and cruel. We bring those attitudes into our prayers, and they’re the wrong ones. God doesn’t care to answer fruitless prayers. If our imprecatory prayers are borne out of anything but the Spirit’s fruit, we really have no business praying them.

Wait, so how do we kindly curse anything?

Really easy: When a loved one is sick, we have all kinds of compassion for the person, right? But none for the ailment. None for the virus. None for the bacteria making ’em puke. We want it out of them and gone. So we can easily condemn the illness: “I rebuke this illness, and demand it come out of you in Jesus’s name.” We never have to lose our heads in doing so.

Now if we can’t do that—if we always lose control of our emotions when we rebuke evil—we’d better hold off on the angry prayers. Maybe for a long time. Ask the Spirit for the self-control we’re clearly missing.

Dark Christians neither understand this, nor care. Like a gun nut who also has no self-control, they just keep indiscriminately firing away—unaware God swapped their ammo for blanks long ago, because he can’t trust them to pray right.

God doesn’t have to agree, y’know.

Now yeah, there’s the crowd who ban angry prayers of all sorts. Not just because Christians should forgive instead of cursing. Ro 12.14 A number of Christians are convinced curses stick; that when we call down evil, we actually have the power to make evil materialize out of thin air. Supposedly one of the ways God made us in his image, was to make us able to create ex nihilo/“out of nothing” like him.

No; God did no such thing. Everything we humans create is made of pre-existing material. Not even our ideas are created from nothing: Most are obviously based on something, and if its influence isn’t obvious to you, it is to the person who last had that idea. We can’t create anything out of thin air, much less evil. Humans need power to fuel our curses, and unless you’re colluding with devils, the power has to come from the Holy Spirit. But if the Spirit has no intention of empowering our angry demands (and he usually doesn’t), nothing’s gonna come of them. We have him under no obligation whatsoever.

Remember Saul of Tarsus? Violent persecutor, enemy of Christ? Ac 8.3, 9.1 Betcha plenty of Christians, at the time, damned Paul to the stinkiest parts of hell for what he was doing to Jesus’s church. Did God agree with any of these vengeful prayers? Absolutely not. Rather than destroy Saul, he flipped him. Jesus appeared to him, commissioned him as his apostle to the gentiles, and made him spend the rest of his life willingly undoing all the evil he originally. Ac 26.14-18 God knows better, and his plans are infinitely better than our curses.

We can curse a person up, down, and sideways, and add “In the name of Christ Jesus” as much as we wish. But if Jesus doesn’t approve, nothing’s gonna happen. Our imprecatory prayers come to nothing… for they don’t actually conform to God’s will. His will be done, remember? Lk 11.2

For there’s no fruit of the Spirit in angry prayer. There’s no love nor compassion; no kindness, forgiveness, grace, nor mercy. Take another look at Psalm 109: Regardless of the horrible things David’s enemy might’ve done to him, what business did David have in wishing horrible things upon his enemy’s children? What kind of twisted prayer demands that God make the innocent suffer? Obviously David’s prayer doesn’t reflect God’s mind at all.

Okay, so what’s it even doing in the bible? Well, it’s not to teach us it’s okay to wish evil upon the innocent. It’s to teach us it’s okay to vent to God. It’s okay to tell God how we honestly feel: We feel like being harsh, unforgiving, unyielding, loveless, and savage. None of this comes as any surprise to God, of course. He knows our hearts. (He’s heard way worse.) And it’s far better we express these sentiments to God, than ever act on them.

Learn from the angry psalms.

Seriously, some of the angry psalms are messed up. Some poet actually sat down, wrote these lines, set it to music, and for the past 25 centuries Christians and Jews have recited and sang these prayers. Sometimes several times a year.

Yes sang. Scottish Presbyterians, because they originally wouldn’t sing anything that didn’t come directly from the bible, translated the psalms and set ’em to music. And sometimes they’d sing this.

Psalm 137.7-9, Scottish metrical psalms
7 Remember Edom’s children, LORD, who in Jerus’lem’s day,
“E’en unto its foundation raze, raze it quite,” did say.
8 Oh daughter thou of Babylon, near to destructión:
Blessed shall be he that thee rewards, as thou to us hast done.
9 Yea, happy surely shall he be thy tender little ones,
Who shall lay hold upon, and them shall dash against the stones.

Pretty sick.

When we’re not frighteningly taking these passages out of context, Christians tend to treat ’em like we’d treat an embarrassing racist grandmother: We pretend she didn’t just say horribly offensive things. We blame it on her being old, out of touch, out of date. We don’t stand up to her. Not even sure we should, ’cause aren’t we supposed to respect our elders?

Same deal with the imprecatory psalms. We tend to skip ’em and pretend they’re not there. Or we admit they’re there… but just in this one case, we’re gonna borrow the Dispensationalist idea which figures they don’t count anymore: They’re from a past era, but God works all different nowadays. Even though we should know better than to nullify parts of the bible, solely because they make us uncomfortable.

Instead we need to take serious looks at these prayers. Understand where the author was coming from: Her homeland was just conquered by a horde of filthy, violent pagans. Her homeland was burnt to the ground. Possibly her kids and husband killed in front of her; possibly she was raped; now she was getting dragged to Babylon to become a slave. And the Edomites, their cousins who were supposed to be allies, supposed to be fellow worshipers of the LORD God: They rejoiced at Jerusalem’s destruction.

Along the way her captors, for sport, ordered her to sing a few Jerusalem worship songs for their entertainment. Ps 137.3 So how would you feel? More than likely, you’d want to compose a really sarcastic song in response—take advantage of their unfamiliarity with Hebrew—just to get back at them a little.

Well, here’s that song. “God, do vile things to the Edomites. Do nauseating things to the Babylonians.” The smashing-kids-on-rocks bit? Betcha the Babylonians had done it to her. And she wanted life for life, Dt 19.21 which seemed only fair.

Should she have forgiven the Babylonians? Well duh; of course she should have. The rage would eat her up inside if she didn’t. But here, we get to see how she, and the other survivors of Jerusalem, really felt. These were the emotions boiling in her, which she didn’t bother to hide from God. It’d be stupid to try.

That’s the point of these psalms. Total honesty with God. He wants this kind of integrity from us: What’s in our minds, oughta be in our prayers. He knows us inside and out, whether we admit this stuff or not. But if we can’t be honest with God, of all people, our relationship with him is simply gonna suck.

If we’re this kind of angry—if we want our enemies to burn in hell forever and ever—let’s just be honest and say so. Let God minister to our anger. Let him help us get beyond it.

Anger vented.

One thing you’re gonna notice in most of the angry psalms: By the end of it, the psalmist finishes by praising God. The anger’s gone. It was dealt with, and done with.

True of us too. Once we confess our anger to God, and put it in his hands, he tends to dissolve it. We give this emotion to God, and he casts it away. We vent, and he purges us.

But if we don’t do this—if we stamp our rage down, and pray only holy-sounding things which don’t truly reflect our state of mind—it damages us in two different ways. I already mentioned how our relationship with God’s gonna suck, ’cause we’re embracing hypocrisy instead of authenticity. But there’s also the fact that when we hold onto our anger it grows, and corrodes us. Turns into other evil things, like revenge, bitterness, joylessness, hatred, prejudice, argumentativeness, and violence.

We’ve all encountered angry Christians. They’re awful, aren’t they? They do such damage to everyone around them, and drive people away from Jesus. Let’s never unthinkingly become one ourselves. Give these emotions to God, and tell him, “God, I’m furious; help me.” Trust him with it. He can take it, and will. Submit to him, and let him free you.