Watch out for fake and fruitless prophets.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 February

Matthew 7.15-20, 12.33-35, Luke 6.43-45.

Right after Jesus’s teaching about the narrow gate, Jesus gives this warning about people who pretend be prophets, but aren’t. What, there are fake prophets? Of course there are. You’ve met a few.

Pagans tend to define a prophet as someone who foretells or forecasts the future. But properly a prophet simply hears from God, and shares what he said. It doesn’t have to be a message about the future. Most of the time people just wanna hear that God loves them and cares for them, and has their back. Most of the prophecies I’ve ever heard, have been simply that: Reminders that God’s here, knows us very well, and isn’t going anywhere.

And usually that’s all someone has to tell people in order to be a convincing fake prophet. Do a little mentalism trick which makes it look like they know things they can’t possibly have guessed, then encourage people with common Christian platitudes. “God has a great plan for your life,” or “God knows the plans he has for you,” or “Everything’s gonna work together for your good,” and so forth. Those aren’t risky things to say. Most Christians already believe ’em.

Predicting the future’s way harder. So fake prophets avoid that as much as they can, or leave their predictions deliberately vague. Which, if you’ve read your bible, you notice God does not do. Unless he doesn’t want us to know details, and shrouds them in apocalyptic imagery, God gives details. Because he wants us to know it’s him.

Fakes can’t do this with any accuracy, so of course they avoid accuracy. That’s your first red flag.

But I digress. In the Sermon on the Mount, the red flag Jesus pointed to is the fake prophet’s lifestyle. If they’re legit, they should already be following the Holy Spirit, and produce his fruit. If they’re not, they won’t.

Matthew 7.15-20 KWL
15 “Watch out for the fake prophets,
who come to all of you dressed as sheep, but underneath they’re greedy wolves.
16 You’ll recognize them by their fruits.
People don’t pluck grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles, do they?
17 So every good tree grows good fruits, and a rotten tree grows bad fruits.
18 A good tree doesn’t grow bad fruits, nor a rotten tree grow good fruits.
19 Every tree not growing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.
20 It’s precisely by their fruits that you’ll recognize them.”

When we follow the Spirit, his personality tends to create a serious impact on our personalities. We start to act like him. More love, joy, peace, patience, and all the godly traits Paul listed in Galatians, Ga 5.22-23 plus other traits we see mentioned in the New Testament, like grace.

If you’re a fake prophet, y’might be able to fake the prophecies convincingly. Maybe even the fruit… temporarily. People who observe you up-close, long-term, will know whether you’re producing the fruit or not. Which is why a lot of the fakes who aren’t, try to make sure people don’t observe ’em up-close, long-term. It’s why they prefer independent prophetic ministries, separate from any churches which might be able to catch ’em when they’re not performing. Why they travel, stay in town just for the weekend, and insist on separate hotel accommodations in their riders, instead of staying with any of the folks of the church, and spending significant time with anyone. Why the stuff they preach sounds so iffy when you know your bible, and the fruit they profess also sounds kinda fake.

Prima scriptura.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 February

There are a lot of ways God reveals himself to people. Obviously there’s the fact Jesus appears to people, either in the real world or in dreams, and talks to them. Obviously there’s prophecy; the Holy Spirit will speak to a person firsthand, or speak through a prophet secondhand.

And obviously these two situations aren’t good enough for most people. Because either they don’t want Jesus to appear to them—they claim they do, or think they do, but if he ever actually showed up, they’d freak the f--- out, same as the Hebrews when the LORD did it.

Exodus 20.19 KJV
And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.

Same with prophecy: They either refuse to believe the Spirit’s actually speaking to them, or refuse to believe those prophets are real prophets.

Hence there are a lot of skeptics—Christians included—who insist God doesn’t speak in such ways to people. Not anymore, anyway; maybe back in bible times. Fortunately for them, we have a record of how God spoke back in bible times: The bible.

What about those folks who recognize God still communicates with us the other ways? Well, the bible’s still mighty useful.

First of all, we humans aren’t always the best at actually listening to the Spirit. Usually we don’t know the difference between the Spirit and our own inner voice, and we’ve been following and sharing that all along. Just as often it’s like a kid who never calls her mom: Some of us don’t take the time to listen. Or to comprehensively listen: We grab the first thing we’re told, “hang up” and never bother to listen to anything else the Spirit says, and run wild with the little half-message we have. Or we skip everything the Spirit says which we don’t like, and ignore him till he tells us what we want to hear—and if we don’t care to hear anything good, we might be waiting a mighty long time for that message.

So when the Spirit “isn’t talking,” we have the bible. Read it!

Secondly, when he is talking, he’s not gonna say anything inconsistent with his own bible. (The rare times he is inconsistent, it’s only because he’s checking to make sure we’re paying attention.) He inspires us; he inspired that. Same inspiration. Often the bible’s gonna confirm what he says, and often it’ll also fill in a lot of the blanks.

So this is how we know whether a “prophecy” or “revelation” or any unfamiliar doctrine is actually a God thing, or whether it’s a clever idea some scholar came up with… or whether it’s wrong, or outright heresy. We double-check against the bible. It’s our primary reference about God.

Or as Paul reminded Timothy,

2 Timothy 3.16-17 KWL
16 Every God-inspired writing is profitable;
it’s for teaching, proof, restoration, and instruction in righteousness,
17 so God’s person might be completely qualified,
equipped for every good work.

“I don’t care what the bible says.”

by K.W. Leslie, 24 February

Lemme start by saying I do so care what the authors of the bible have written. Particularly about what Jesus teaches. But y’notice the title of this article is in quotes… because I’m referring to when other people don’t care about the bible. Because sometimes they don’t.

Back when I was 7 or 8 years old or so, my Sunday school class was doing some activity, and one of the other kids was interacting badly. Picking fights or swearing or some other less-than-Christian behavior, and our Sunday school teacher decided to correct him by quoting bible at him. “You know, Joonas, you ought not do that, because the bible says…”

“I don’t care what the bible says,” announced little Joonas.

And the rest of us backed away before the lightning struck him down. Except it didn’t, because we follow Jesus, not Zeus.

But the teacher was likewise taken aback: How, how could he not care what the bible says? Everybody cares. Or should.

Now yeah, when you’re a kid, especially when you’re sheltered kid, it’s entirely possible to grow up with no idea other people don’t respect bible. I was no such kid. I have an atheist dad, and obviously he doesn’t respect bible. I could tell him, “Because the bible says” till my tongue goes numb—I actually used to try this line of reasoning on him!—and it made no difference, because he thinks it’s poorly-written fiction which only children and retards believe. He preferred to believe Rush Limbaugh.

So that inoculated me from the idea everybody believes as I do. Other Christians don’t grow up that way at all. In the Bible Belt in particular, you can have absolutely everything in your culture suggest everybody, absolutely everybody, believes and respects and follows bible. Only ignorant heathens don’t; only depraved psychos won’t. And certainly there are none of those people in their communities… and if they can just ban immigration altogether, especially when it comes to Catholics and Muslims, they can guarantee there never will be. (Yep, that’s why they have those politics. It’s not racism so much as religious bigotry. Although often it’s also racism.)

I don’t live in the Bible Belt, but I do live in the United States, and even in non-Bible Belt states we have certain towns, certain communities, certain pods which share the very same Bible Belt mentality. Everyone they know, respects bible. (Or appears to; naturally there are hypocrites among ’em.) Nobody they know, doesn’t.

So when they find an exception, they freak out a little. Triggers the fight-or-flight instinct. Although for some of us it takes a few seconds to kick in… much like a deer surprised by an oncoming car, who hesitates, and dies. But freaking out is definitely the fight instinct.

And y’know, if we Christians are working on our self-control as we should, we shouldn’t run on instinct; we should be wise. Okay, we just discovered someone who doesn’t respect bible. So… do they know Jesus? If not, share! If so, find out why they don’t respect bible, and see whether you can steer them in a direction which does.

The guy who tried to delete the Old Testament.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 February

I’ve touched upon Marcion briefly before. Thought I’d discuss him in more detail today.

Marcion (Greek Μαρκίων/Markíon, though English-speakers keep pronouncing his name 'mɑr.ʃ(i.)ən) was born round the year 85 in Sinope, Pontus, a city south of the Black Sea which is today’s Sinop, Turkey. Back then Pontus was a Roman province, and Marcion’s dad was the bishop of its Christian church. Marcion himself was a shipbuilder and sailor, and we don’t know much about his Christian life till he got into his fifties.

At that point, in the late 130s, we hear of him trying to join the church of Rome, and offering them a big donation of 50,000 denarii. (Roughly $120,000 American.) And of course they take it; you can help a lot of needy people with that money! But within five years, they booted him from their church and gave him back his money, ’cause they concluded he was a dangerous heretic. He insisted Jesus only appeared to be human; he wasn’t really. Theologians call this docetism, and yep it’s heresy: Jesus isn’t faking his humanity. Really born, really died—and really rose again.

Rejected in Rome, Marcion went back to Sinope and taught his heretic ideas there. And managed to get a bit of a following. Some historians call him gnostic ’cause his whole “matter bad, spirit good” ideas are similar to what Greco-Roman pagans believed, and gnostics taught. But properly, gnostics are big on secret knowledge—and of course charging lots of money to give up the secrets they know. Marcion shared his wonky ideas with anyone and everyone.

The big one—the idea which wound up getting called Marcionism and still gets taught by various Christians from time to time—is that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who handed down the Law to Moses, the God of the Old Testament, the LORD… is not the same god as Jesus’s heavenly Father. Different god. Lesser god. A demiurge, meaning a god who creates stuff—but not, Marcion insisted, the highest God, the Almighty. The Father is the Almighty. The LORD is some other guy.

Marcion went through the entire Old Testament, listing all the ways he figured the LORD was unlike God, and published his findings in a book called Antitheses. We no longer have a copy of it, but Tertullian of Carthage wrote a critique of it, and Marcionism in general, in his five-book series Against Marcion. In general Marcion figured the LORD is an evil god, or at least not worthy of our worship.

Where’d he get such a cockamamie idea? From reading the Old Testament literally—or so Marcion claimed. In Genesis, you read of the LORD physically walking around Eden, calling to Adam and wondering where he’s wandered off too. Ge 4.8-9 Well that’s clearly a material god; not a powerful Spirit who’s unlimited by spacetime. How’s this LORD who can’t find Adam, the same as the Father who sees everything we do in private? Mt 6.6

Yeah, you might be throwing up your hands in exasperation: We’re not meant to read the creation stories with this level of literalism! (Although you try telling that to young-earth creationists. But I digress.) But bear in mind Marcion was deliberately looking for inconsistencies. He already had an axe to grind: He didn’t believe in a material Jesus, didn’t care to believe material creation is good, and didn’t want to think of the Almighty as its creator. The cosmos had some other creator; some agent of the Almighty who made it for him. Some demiurge.

Doesn’t John point-blank state Jesus is the creator? Jn 1.3 Well yes, but Marcion either didn’t have a copy of John, or didn’t consider it bible. And yeah, let’s finally get to what Marcion did consider bible.

Worries, faith, and confirmation.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 February

1 Thessalonians 3.1-5.

1 Thessalonians lists three authors: Paul, Silas, and Timothy. People presume Paul’s the one who really wrote it, and included those other guys as a courtesy, but that’s not how letters were composed back then. All three really did write it.

It was written by dictation. The reason you may not realize it’s dictation, is because we translators try our darnedest to make it sound like a coherent whole—and succeed. But in so doing, sometimes we lose a little bit of the sense of tag-team preaching.

The apostles spoke—sometimes Paul, sometimes Silas, sometimes Timothy. Maybe Paul spoke most often; then again maybe not. Sometimes they interrupted one another, which is why the original text is full of sentence fragments, and translators wind up tearing our hair out because we want complete sentences, dangit, with proper subjects and predicates. Other times we get big ol’ run-on sentences, with only one proper verb at the beginning of a 13-verse stretch.

So when the apostles begin chapter 3 with “We sent Timothy,” no it isn’t because Paul was the real author, and Timothy might not even have been in the room at the time. Timothy was there. He just didn’t speak this particular sentence though: “I, Timothy, was sent.” One of the other guys, Paul or Silas, said this.

1 Thessalonians 3.1-5 KWL
1 So we could no longer stand to stay in only Athens,
2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-laborer for God in Christ’s gospel,
for your support and assistance regarding your faith:
3 No one should be disturbed by these troubles,
for you yourselves know we’re meant to expect them.
4 When we were with you, we foretold you, “We’re about to suffer,”
and it happened just as we said, and you know it.
5 This is why I Paul could no longer stand it, and sent Timothy to know about your faith:
lest somehow the tempter tempt you, and our work might be wasted.

You remember Paul commented he couldn’t get to see the Thessalonians, no matter how much he wanted to. 1Th 2.18 Since the apostles used “we” to describe it, no doubt Silas was included. Timothy was not. He got to visit them, and return with the good news that they were holding steady. 1Th 3.6 The apostles hadn’t abandoned their fledgling church; they were just going through some suffering themselves.

What suffering? We’re not sure. The apostles weren’t specific. We can speculate, of course; many commentators have. Fr’instance Paul and Silas couldn’t visit them, but Timothy could; while all of them were Jews, Timothy was half Greek. Ac 16.1-3 So this mighta been a racist thing, where Jews were hindered from travel, but Timothy could pass for gentile and travel regardless. There was anti-Jewish persecution in the Roman Empire from time to time, and maybe that’s what was going on: People were on the lookout for Jews.

In any event, Timothy went to check on the Thessalonians, and strengthen their faith till it was tribulation-proof.

The narrow gate. Or door. Either way, tricky to get in.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 February

Matthew 7.13-14, Luke 13.23-24.

Most people are universalist, meaning in the end—if not at Judgment Day, at least way, way further down the road—God’s gonna relent, and let everybody into his kingdom.

Doesn’t matter how much they want nothing to do with God in this life. They might be full-on atheist. Might embrace another religion altogether. Might not even be good; they’re selfish, wicked, rebellious, downright evil. But people figure God loves everybody, so in the end he’ll just forgive all and let ’em in. Every last bloody one of ’em. Even traitors, child molesters, genocidal mass murderers; they might have to spend a few thousand years in hell first, but eventually they’ll get out and go to heaven. You get the kingdom, and you get the kingdom, and everybody gets the kingdom! (That last line works best if you can imagine it in Oprah Winfrey’s voice. But it’s not mandatory.)

The problem is Jesus said he’s not gonna let everybody in. More than once. Today’s verses are two of the instances.

Matthew 7.13-14 KWL
13 “Enter through the narrow gate: The broad gate, the wide road, leads to destruction.
Many are entering destruction by it.
14 The narrow gate, the tight road, leads people to life.
Few are finding it.”
Luke 13.23-24 KWL
23 Someone told Jesus, “Master, the saved are few.”
Jesus told them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door.
I tell you many will seek to enter, and not be able to.”

In a number of early copies of Matthew, Jesus only said, “The broad, wide road leads to destruction.” Possibly some copyist threw an extra πύλη/pýli, “gate,” in there before the fourth century; it kinda works, so most bibles go with it. As for Luke, it uses the word θύρας/thýras, “door” instead—but in the Textus Receptus Desiderus Erasmus swapped it for pýlis to make it match Matthew, which is why the KJV has “gate” in both places.

There’s a broad gate and a narrow one. A wide road and a tight one. An easy way in, and a somewhat difficult way in. You wanna take the difficult way; that’s the right one.

It’s not because Jesus wants to make it difficult. Not because God doesn’t wanna save everyone. He does. 1Ti 2.4 But entering God’s kingdom means we gotta do it on his terms. People would much rather define the terms ourselves, or take a “shortcut” which turns out to be no such thing. Even when Jesus warns us away from it!

There’s an open invitation, an open door, and plenty of room. But people would much rather go to their destruction. Partly ’cause it’s the path of least effort: They can be absolutely self-centered and awful to everybody, and Pascal’s Wager—the worry there are eternal consequences to these actions—doesn’t sway them in the slightest. Partly ’cause goodness, grace, love, kindness, and generosity make them sick: They prefer karma and reciprocity, and they’re gonna hate how the kingdom lets in all these freeloaders.

Partly ’cause they think their path is exclusive and smarter… but in reality it’s still the much, much larger crowd. Yeah, the folks on the road to destruction is the larger crowd. Wish they weren’t. But that’s humanity for ya.

Christians who don’t want you to fast.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 February

As I elsewhere said, if fasting weren’t in the bible, it’d nonetheless be a fad. One Christians still frequently use as a spiritual exercise, because it does strengthen our self-control. When seeking God in prayer takes priority over sustaining our very lives, it’s this kind of hardcore behavior which makes us less likely to give in to the many temptations which comfort offers us.

So what keeps Christians from fasting? Usually it’s those very same comforts.

Years ago I was in a prayer meeting where the leader challenged us to fast for a week. Really, diet. He wasn’t telling us to utterly go without food. Just go vegan for a week, and set aside sweets and coffee. Set aside a few comforts so we can focus better on God. And my knee-jerk reaction was, “I just went to the grocery store yesterday and bought a bunch of yogurt. I don’t want it to go bad…” as if we were gonna be dieting that long. Wasn’t really about the expiration date either. It’s ’cause I love yogurt.

So as we were praying, the Holy Spirit got on my case about this: “Really? You’re gonna put aside growing your relationship with me over yogurt?” Okay yeah, it does sound petty and stupid when you put it that way. But frequently our temptations are just that petty and stupid. Doesn’t take much at all to make us stumble sometimes.

Fasting is uncomfortable. That’s kinda the point. Having food in your stomach feels way better than hunger pangs. Eating something delicious is way more pleasurable than eating something just to keep your blood sugar levels stable. But, just like when you sit on the edge of a chair to keep yourself from falling asleep during a boring meeting, fasting is meant to keep us spiritually alert, meant to keep us more aware of our dependence on God. Meant to help us pay attention to what he’s telling us.

So yeah, we gotta fight the temptation to make ourselves more comfortable, and thereby compromise our fasts or diets. And the other thing we gotta watch out for—the main topic of this article, which I had to get to eventually—are the fellow Christians who are gonna try to make us stumble.

Yep. Because while you are trying to get more religious, they have no such interest. They’re not fasting. Or they’re pretending to, but they’ve swapped the fast for the most comfortable diet they can find. They’ll do a “Daniel fast,” yet fudge it so they can eat all the granola bars they want… because let’s be honest: Granola bars are cookies. Shaped like a bar, with a few healthy things thrown in, but they’re totally oatmeal cookies.

Because your activities are more hardcore than theirs, they feel convicted—“Maybe I should step up my game a little”—but they fight this feeling by telling themselves it’s wrong. That you’re too hardcore. That you’re engaging in works righteousness, as if fasting harder than them earns you special Skee-Ball tickets with God, which you can exchange for prizes. That you’re only doing this so you can feel better about yourself—“Look how Christian I am”—and look down on lazy Christians like them. To only look like a better Christian, even though you’re not really.

(Incidentally, don’t do any of those things.)

To some degree they’re projecting. That’s why they’d strive harder to follow God: To earn heavenly merit, or to look or feel superior. But it’s not that… right? You’re trying to grow. You’re pursuing God. You wanna get closer to Jesus. It’s about him, not you. And this pursuit of God can, sad to say, provoke jealousy in Christians who aren’t pursuing God, who imagine fruit grows spontaneously… or who wanna stay “ahead of you” when it comes to spiritual things, and don’t want you maturing faster than they.

In so doing, sometimes they pick really lousy excuses for why you shouldn’t fast. Not valid ones, like it being a feast day. Poisonous ones, like the idea fasting’s an Old Testament practice and we shouldn’t do it anymore. Or the ridiculous claim that fasting in the bible was dieting, not doing without food… contrary to what the scriptures themselves state.

Luke 4.2 KJV
Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.

“Nothing” as in οὐδὲν/udén, nothing. Really nothing. No food. Not even quails and manna.

Religious people bug irreligious people.

Years ago I heard a sermon on fasting where the preacher noted how often things are gonna tempt us to violate the fast. Suddenly every business meeting is gonna have pastries and coffee. Suddenly old friends will visit town for a few days and wanna meet for lunch. You’ll get invited to birthday parties. You’ll drive past your favorite restaurant and find it’s their 20th anniversary, so for one day they knocked all their prices down to what they charged in 2001. (Yes, 2001 is 20 years ago. You’re old.) Man alive are you gonna drool.

Now yeah, some of that stuff isn’t really the entire fallen universe conspiring to knock you off your fast. It’s simply the fact there’s a lot of functions in our lives with food involved. Functions we never really think about… till we’re on a diet, or a fast. Food addicts know exactly what I’m talking about. In the United States, food’s everywhere. It’s one of our favorite comforts.

So for jealous Christians who wanna throw us off our fasts, it’s not at all hard for them to point to these temptations and say, “You can take a break from your fast for just this once. Hey, you don’t wanna be legalistic about it.”

Yeah, that’s the way they think: Self-control is legalism.

Actual legalism is when your church is gonna penalize you, threaten you with hell, or simply threaten you with a lack of prosperity in the coming year, if you dare to skip a fast. Is that what’s happening here? (If so, you’re probably in a cult.) What should be happening is you’ve voluntarily chosen to fast, you’re requiring no one else to fast along with you, and it’s not gonna irreparably damage your body to do it. If that’s the case, it’s far from legalism.

But to an irreligious Christian, any spiritual exercise which they don’t wanna do, which threatens their comfort, is “legalism.” Those of ’em who like to bash religion will correctly call it religion, but in their minds this means dead religion—it’s an unnecessary practice which doesn’t bring us any closer to God.

In that, they’re wrong. Fasting, if we do it right, rejects the idols we can make of our palate, our stomach, and one’s reputation as a discriminating foodie. Fasting rejects a material need in favor of spiritual things.

Because irreligious people reject nothing, this is gonna bug them. A lot. So they need to drag you back down to their level, and then they won’t feel so bad about themselves: “You quit your religious nonsense, proving I was right.” Nah, it only proves you’re susceptible to peer pressure. And if that’s the case, maybe stay away from such people, and work on your self-control. (Conveniently, fasting helps!)

Part of the reason Jesus told us not to play up the fact we’re fasting, Lk 6.16-18 is because we don’t need the public acclaim… and neither do we need the hassle of irreligious people mocking our devotion and trying to make us stumble. And, if we promised God or others we’d fast, trying to make us sin. But you realize if they have no idea we’re fasting, they’re not gonna try to sabotage us: They shouldn’t know any different. If we cancel lunch, they’re not gonna assume, “It’s ’cause you’re fasting, isn’t it?” Don’t promote your practices, and you shouldn’t encounter any intentional backlash from anyone.

Nope, the only temptations you’ll have to fight are the usual temptations in life: The coworker who puts doughnuts in the break room, the neighbors who leave the windows open when they’re frying bacon, the husband forgets you’re fasting and brings home a pizza… You know, life. It happens. Exercise that self-control!

“Fasting” from one thing at a time.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 February

When it comes to fasting, many Christians wanna know what’s the very least we can fast for it to “count.”

Two thoughts.

First of all I gotta ask them whether they’re fasting for the right reasons. We’re not obligated to fast: God never commanded it, and we’re not disobeying him when we skip a fast, break a fast, “cheat” on a fast, or diet instead of fasting. True, our churches might want us to fast, and legalistic churches will even require it. But unless you swore to God you’d fast along with ’em, you’re not sinning if you don’t fast. (And of course lying about it, or pretending you’re fasting when you’re not, is always wrong.)

Likewise I don’t want people to think we fast so we can earn karmic points with God. Again, he never obligates us to fast. It’s a practice we do. It helps us focus on him in prayer, and helps us develop self-control. (And even if God did order us to fast, he doesn’t “owe us” once we obey; obedience is our duty. Lk 17.10 What, did you not get enough participation trophies in youth soccer?)

Second I don’t assume Christians are lazy when they want a bare-minimum “fast.” Yeah, sometimes it’s totally that; we just wanna claim we’re fasting, even though our “fast” makes a minimal interruption in our lives. But more often it’s because fasting is hardcore. And admittedly, we’re weak. Going without food for a whole day? We’ll crack by 10AM! We’ll walk into the break room, someone will have brought doughnuts, and we’ll hold out maybe an hour. But knowing ourselves, less—a warm Krispy Kreme doughnut is a powerful thing.

I don’t say this to condemn weak Christians. Every last one of us was a weak Christian at one point. (Me, many points. Probably you too.) So if you’re still weak, I’m here to help, not judge or mock. You gotta build self-control. Fasting is the best way to do it, but it’s wise to start small and work your way up. Y’don’t just tackle the very hardest practices, and presume you’ll be a natural ’cause now you have Holy Spirit power. Fast small before you fast big.

So, the very least we can fast is one thing.

And this is a very common Christian practice. Some Christians do it every year, for Lent. Traditional Lenten custom is to give up meat and alcohol—at least on Friday and Saturday—plus one extra thing, which they do without every day till Easter. But the usual American custom is to skip the dietary restrictions, and just focus on giving up that one thing.

I’m not saying you have to observe Lent. Start even smaller. Abstain for a week. See how you do. If you fail—and you may—try again.

Abstaining from the wrong thing.

Every time Lent comes round, Christians like to ask one another what we’re giving up this year. And if I’ve not yet chosen anything—or if I don’t feel like sharing—I tend to joke about it. Fr’instance I’ll say, “I’m giving up fruits and vegetables.” That tends to throw ’em. Or “I’m giving up cocaine and meth”—and if people don’t know me very well, but they’ve already noticed I’m kinda hyperactive, they’ll assume that’s why, and respond, “Um… well that’s good!” Um… yes it is. That’s not why. But whatever.

Whenever I talked about Lent with my students, some of ’em would pick things they really shouldn’t give up, or kinda couldn’t give up. One kid declared, “I’m gonna give up bathing!” And the rest of the class immediately objected: He already smelled much too much like foot cheese. In fact this is the one example Jesus used when he taught us to not be obvious we’re fasting: Clean your hair and wash your face. Mt 6.16-18 For the love of God, bathe!

Likewise sleep. Many people really don’t get enough sleep as it is. Yet I’ve heard of Christians deciding they’re gonna limit themselves to six or four hours of sleep a night, with no naps to make up for it. And that’s nuts. People go crazy, or die, from sleep deprivation. I’ve seen a guy lose his mind from it, firsthand. Don’t do that! If you’re sleeping too much, check with a doctor to see whether you’re suffering from sleep disorders or clinical depression, but otherwise get proper sleep. You need it.

Certain Christians get the warped idea fasting is a form of suffering—that our times of fasting are best used in punishing ourselves for sin, or to get God’s sympathy, or so we can better relate to other people who are suffering. So they pick things that’ll make ’em suffer: They give up warmth, and sleep outside in the cold. They give up water, so they can experience true thirst. They add discomforts, and deliberately hurt themselves. Christian history is full of such examples, and none of this is God’s idea: Yes, suffering is part of the world we live in, Jn 16.33 but Jesus came to end suffering, not inspire people to make ourselves suffer all the more. Don’t hurt yourself!

Lastly, people who pick something they should’ve given up anyway. I already mentioned cocaine and methamphetamine: If you’re doing that, stop! Don’t just fast from cigarettes for a week; quit altogether. If you’re alcoholic or an addict of any sort, join a recovery or 12-step group; go to rehab. If it’s a habitual sin, repent and resist the temptation to ever go back to it. Don’t just give it up for a week, then fall right back in: Give it up forever.

Working on the one thing.

Okay. When we pick the one thing we’re gonna give up, whether for a day, a week, or for Lent, I usually advise people to look for the one habit we’re pretty sure we can’t give up. Something we really don’t wanna give up. Something that’s a real challenge. Like coffee, beer, watching sports (especially during playoffs, and Major League Baseball’s opening day, which almost always lands during Lent), bread, meat, social media, television, betting, video games… anything you habitually do, but can do without.

Instead of that thing you’ve given up, pray. Any time you’re tempted to slip up on your fast, pray. Yep, it means you’re gonna pray more often. That’s the point.

Start abstaining for a day. Get to a point when a day isn’t really a challenge anymore; then escalate things to three days. Then a week. Then tackle a month, or 40 days, or Lent.

If you slip up, don’t start over, as if to punish yourself with more fasting. Fasting isn’t punishment! And stretching it out really isn’t gonna develop your self-control any more than usual. Give yourself some grace, same as God gives you, and just go back to fasting. Do better next time.

And if it gets too easy, pick a different thing to give up. For four years I gave up coffee for Lent, and by the fourth year I discovered coffee wasn’t a challenge any more: I had grown too used to the idea, “It’s Lent, so no coffee.” I switched it to bagels the next year… and suddenly doing without got way harder. Hey, some areas in our life are far more under our control than others.

But everything we choose to do, should be wholly under our control—and we should be under Jesus’s control. So work on that self-control.

We don’t just “have faith.” We have faith in stuff.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 February

You learned what a transitive verb is back in school, but you might’ve forgotten, ’cause your teachers didn’t make the definition all that memorable. Transitive means you can’t use the verb without an object. Unless you’re a toddler, you can’t just say, “I wet”: You have to indicate what or whom you wet. You wet the whistle; you wet the bed. Got that?

Faith works the same way. Because “faith” is a synonym for “trust,” and trust is also a transitive verb. You can’t just say, “I trust”: Gotta say what or whom you trust. Saying “I have faith” means nothing till we say whom or what we have faith in.

But as you know, lots of people are walking around saying, “I have faith.” Without defining in whom or what they’ve placed their faith. So we’re left to guess whom or what they’re trusting. “I have faith” means “I have faith in [YOUR GUESS HERE].” It’s like when your toddler tells you, “I wet,” and you know they speak English well enough to not mean “I’m wet”—so now you gotta search the house for the puddle.

“I have faith” based on what? Dependent on whom?

Next time one of your friends or acquaintances claims, “Well I have faith,” pin ’em down. What’s that faith in? Most of the time they’ve never even thought about it, and aren’t even sure they need to think about it: “I just have faith.” But I’ve found a lot of those people who “just have faith” actually have faith in karma. They believe the universe is good and just, and that in the end things’ll work out for the best, justice will prevail, and evildoers will be punished. If they’re deist or Christian they’ll give God the credit for a universe which works this way, but that’s what their faith is in: A benevolent universe which rewards goodness and punishes evil—and of course they figure they’re good.

And yeah, “I have faith” can mean other things. They have faith in human decency and goodness. They have faith in our civic institutions and criminal justice system. They have faith that “all things work together for my good.” They have faith in Jesus, or more precisely faith in the things they believe about Jesus, which may or may not be so.

But as you can see, it’s not enough to just say “I have faith.” Ten people can say “I have faith” and mean 10 different things by it. But sorting out the difference is really easy: Figure out whom or what their faith is in.

And for us Christians, we gotta put our faith in Jesus.

“Name it and claim it”: Misplaced faith.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 February

Faith, as I wrote in my previous piece on the subject, is belief, trust, assurance, and moral conviction. If you have faith, you believe. Preferably in something or someone solid. For us Christians that’d be Jesus: We trust him. Everything else, less so. Although not much less; I trust the scriptures pretty strongly. Hopefully you do too.

I also wrote a segment in that previous piece about how way too many people believe faith is the power to believe the unbelievable. Antichrists, who think Christianity is rubbish and we’re idiots for getting mixed up in it, love this definition. They figure we have no basis whatsoever for the beliefs we hold: We believe it only because we want to believe it so very badly. So we suppress all our doubts, suppress any doubters, and wish really, really hard. ’Cause if we wish hard enough, maybe it’ll become real, like the Velveteen Rabbit.

Thing is, this wish-it-into-reality idea has been around for a mighty long time. So long, you get people claiming it’s “the Secret,” a mysterious ancient truth about how the universe works—that all you have to do is declare to the universe your deepest wishes, “put it all out there” so to speak, and the cosmos will magnetically pull your desires towards you. Apparently this “law of attraction” has been found in literature going all the way back into history… and of course it has. Ain’t nothing new under the sun. Ec 1.9

Pagan religions have always seriously taught if you want something to be so, your earnestness, righteousness, or worthiness would get the gods to create it for you. (Or if you don’t have any of that, find a lamp with a djinn in it.) But the storyline woven into just about every single human culture is that if we want something bad enough, and if we’re motivated and deserving, we can get it; we can have it. You want knowledge of good and evil? There’s the fruit; go eat it.

It got mixed into Christianity by the gnostics, particularly those of them who claim reality is just an invention of the human mind, and doesn’t exist outside the mind. And if the mind creates reality, the mind can change reality… so if we actually do wish really hard, we actually can make things happen. Various gnostics have taught this for centuries under various names, and in the 1800s they were calling it “mind science.” One of its practitioners, Mary Baker Eddy, combined it with Christianity to create “Christian Science,” and her church still exists today. (They own a pretty good newspaper.) Problem is, if reality is just a mental construct, Jesus didn’t die in reality… so yeah, they’re heretic.

Other Christians won’t go so far as to claim reality isn’t real: It is, but they still claim if we wish really hard, we can make things happen. They claim God granted us the very same power to “calleth those things which be not as though they were.” Ro 4.7 They insist it’s because the passage where I got that pull quote, says Abraham ben Terah totally did it.

Romans 4.18-25 KJV
[Abraham,] 18 who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. Ge 15.5 19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: 20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

If you follow their reasoning, this passage isn’t at all about being justified by faith. It’s about how Abraham’s faith made stuff happen. Really.

God promised Abraham a son, and millions of descendants. So Abraham believed. Really hard. Regardless of his circumstances: He was really old, as was his wife. But he dismissed unbelief, kept his eyes on God, and God rewarded this faith with a son. And if we believe in God just as much, he’ll reward our faith with anything we ask of him.

So they do. Unfortunately a lot of the churches which tell Christians to “name it and claim it” this way, tend to be a little too fixated on Mammon, and tend to equate riches and wealth with God’s favor. They covet. A lot. And y’notice a lot of them fall for get-rich-quick schemes (’cause much like Abraham losing patience and fathering Ishmael, they figure they’ve gotta be proactive if they wanna seize those blessings!) and regularly get fleeced by their church leaders. The love of Mammon is the root of all sorts of evil.

Faith. (Which “faith” did you mean again?)

by K.W. Leslie, 09 February

We Christians like to talk about faith, and sometimes refer to ourselves as “faith-based” or “people of faith.” Thing is, we’re not so solid on what faith means—by which I’m talking ’bout the definition of the word “faith.” We use that word all the time, but same as a lot of Christianese words, we never bothered to learn its definition, guessed what it meant, guessed wrong, ran with the wrong definition anyway, and we’ve been stumbling in the dark ever since.

I’ve met more than one Christian who’ve claimed faith has no definition: “Faith is a mystery,” they’ll insist. And again, they’re using that word “mystery” wrong: In the New Testament, a μυστήριον/mystírion is something we used to not know, but Jesus revealed its existence or its meaning, so now we know it. Christian mysteries are revelations, but according to these people God’s still holding out on us: These ideas are way too big for mere mortals. And faith is one of them: We can’t explain faith ’cause God worries the very idea will break our brains. Me, I figure these Christians’ brains are already broken.

The more common guess—and I admit it’s a reasonable one—is that faith is anti-doubt. ’Cause it looks like Jesus kinda said as much.

Matthew 21.21 KJV
21A Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not

If you have faith, you don’t doubt: It appears to imply faith and doubt are opposites. And since the opposite of doubt, non-doubt, is certainty, that’s how many a Christian defines faith. Even those who insist faith is undefinable, loosely define faith this way: Faith is certainty. Absolute, know-it-in-your-bones certainty. Faith is when you know that you know that you know something’s so. You have no doubts in your mind whatsoever.

Sorry to go on a sidetrack here, but I gotta: Is faith a gift from God, or is it something we develop on our own? Christians are of two minds about this. Some of us claim it’s all God, and never us. Others claim there’s more synergy involved, where God grants us faith, but we clearly gotta work with what he’s given us, which is why Jesus has to command us to “Have faith in God.” Mk 11.22 So if faith is certainty, be certain.

But of course how Christians choose to exercise certainty, is not by analyzing the facts or learning the truth; it’s by pure stubborn denial. So when people want faith really really bad, we reckon if we have any doubts in our minds whatsoever, it suggests we don’t actually have faith… so we gotta blot these doubts out. Shove ’em into the darkest recesses of our psyches and bury ’em under other things, and hope they never crawl their way out like a zombie. (Even when they’re wholly legitimate, reasonable doubts which the Holy Spirit himself put in us. Seems we never considered that possibility.) Have you eliminated your doubts by dealing with them or denying them? Too many Christians don’t care there’s a real difference… and that denial’s just gonna come back and bite us.

False accusations, false beliefs; you know, as the devil does.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 February

1 Thessalonians 2.17-20.

Added to the Thessalonians’ hardships was the fact the apostles couldn’t get to them. We don’t know the specifics; we only know Paul really wanted to, and tried, but couldn’t. Maybe it was logistics; they tried to find a boat headed for Thessaloniki and just couldn’t. Maybe they were officially banned from Thessaloniki. Or maybe they were unofficially banned, and warned that if they set foot in town they’d be murdered. I point out that a lot of foolhardy Christian missionaries nowadays will ignore death threats and go to such towns anyway; I’m not claiming they had more guts than Paul (which is why I call ’em foolhardy), but I am pointing out that Paul darn near got murdered, more than once, which tends to make you take death threats more seriously. The criminal justice system in the Roman Empire was a joke, so death threats weren’t always just talk.

And Paul did eventually get to see them—sorta. After Paul and Silas were rushed out of town, Ac 17.5-10 Paul and Timothy returned to Macedon some five years later, Ac 20.1-2 and if they couldn’t make it to Thessaloniki, they at least ran into two Thessalonians: Arístarhos and Sekúndos. Ac 20.4

Anywho here’s where they express that desire to return.

1 Thessalonians 2.17-20 KWL
17 Fellow Christians, being separated from you for a length of time—
out of sight, not out of mind—we all the more tried our best to see you in person.
It was our great desire 18 because I, Paul, wanted to come to you
and once or twice Satan hindered us.
19 For what is our hope, joy, or crown—our boast, if not you?
which we make before our Master Jesus at his second coming,
20 for you are our glory and joy.

The Golden Rule.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 February

Matthew 7.12, Luke 6.31.

“Do as you’d be done by.”

That’s C.S. Lewis’s wording. It’s probably the briefest form I’ve found of the “Golden Rule,” as it’s called. I grew up hearing it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—and it actually doesn’t come from the King James Version, which has it, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Lk 6.31 KJV I tried tracking down the other wording, and the earliest I’ve found it is 1790.

My translation of the two different ways Jesus taught it:

Matthew 7.12 KWL
“So as much as you want people doing for you, you do that for them:
That’s a summary of the Law and the Prophets.”
Luke 6.31 KWL
“Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.”

It’s “the Law and the Prophets,” as Jesus put it—meaning the bible of his day, the Old Testament. (Yes the OT consists of Law, Prophets, and Writings. But back then, when Sadducees and Samaritans insisted the bible only consisted of the Law, you only had to suggest there were more books in it than just those of Moses, and people understood you meant Prophets and Writings were included.) The entire moral teaching of the scriptures could be distilled into this one concept.

As seen in other religions.

The Golden Rule is a simple idea, one found in pretty much every religion. But the way Jesus put it is a little different than the ways other religions have it. In Christianity it’s an active command: Do as you’d be done by. Other religions make it passive: Do not, as you’d not be done by. Or as Kong Qiu (Latin “Confucius”) put it in the 500s BC, “Never impose on others what you wouldn’t choose for yourself.” Analects 15.24

The Pharisees of Jesus’s day had also figured it out. Yeah, Christians nowadays assume the Pharisees were just a bunch of hypocrites who spent all their time debating the finer points of the Law instead of actually obeying it… and y’know, they did do that. So do we. But the guys who founded the Pharisaic tradition actually did want to follow God. Some of ’em wanted to make God’s commands easier to follow, not by using every loophole they could invent, but by summarizing them.

This is the mindset of the story of Hillel the Elder in the Talmud. Goes like so.

On another occasion, a certain pagan came to Shammai and told him, “Make me a convert, but on one condition: Teach me the entire Law while I stand on one foot.” Shammai smacked him away with the measuring stick in his hand.

Next he went to Hillel, who told him, “What’s hateful to you, don’t do to your neighbor. That’s the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Go learn it.” Gemara on Shabbat 2.5

I don’t know whether Jesus knew this story at all, or whether the Hillel story was plagiarized a bit from Jesus. Doesn’t matter. Hillel’s version is still a passive-form Golden Rule, and Jesus’s is active-form: Do.

And Jesus actually isn’t the only guy to teach an active-form Golden Rule. There were others! They’re rare though.

  • The Chinese philosopher Mozi (ca. 470–391BC), who put it, “One would do for others as one would do for oneself.”
  • Muhammad ibn Abdullah, founder of Islam (570–632) who, according to Shiite tradition, put it, “As you would have people do to you, do to them.”

Everybody else seems to have simply found it easier to forbid evil than encourage good.

Active good, not passive.

So, same as Jesus taught, we gotta have other people in mind when we act. Think about their wishes. Think about what’s good for them. Think about them.

Don’t think of other people as obstacles, roadblocks to move aside, or pawns to manipulate when they get in our way. They’re not that. They’re God’s children. They’re people with hopes, dreams, desires… some good, some bad, some we consider silly. But again: It’s not what we want. It’s about them.

“Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you,” George Bernard Shaw cynically wrote in his 1903 play Man and Superman. “Their tastes may not be the same.” Shaw wasn’t entirely kidding: We have a bad habit of projecting our motives, wants, and attitudes upon others. “I like this,” we figure, “therefore she must like this.” But that’s not truly thinking about them. That’s projected selfishness. Let’s not commit that. Let’s find out what they really want before we do for them.

“Do as you’d be done by” forces us to emerge from our self-centered universe and think about others for once. And since the starting-point of sin is the exact opposite—looking out for number one, regardless of all others, including God—that suppression of our self-interest in favor of someone else’s point of view is indeed the starting-point of rightness.

It likewise reflects God’s behavior. He does stuff for us, and you’ll notice all the stuff he does, he’d kinda like us to do back to him. (And, for that matter, do for everyone else.) He loves us. He’s infinitely forgiving. He’s patient, kind, puts up with all things, believes and hopes and endures all things, demonstrates joy, peace, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He wants our best. We should want his best.

When we spend some time meditating on just exactly what the end-result would be of really following Jesus’s Golden Rule, we’re gonna find ourselves coming to conclusion after conclusion that mirrors what we find throughout God’s commands: His profound concern for others, his order to the universe, his ideal way of life. We’re gonna see God’s love, and we’re gonna grow in our love for God. ’Cause it’s all there, hiding in plain sight. So think on it.

The goodness of creation: Matter bad, spirit good?

by K.W. Leslie, 04 February

There’s a really popular, common idea in our culture: Spiritual things are good, and material things are bad.

It comes from Greek philosophy, though the Greeks were hardly the first to believe it. It’s found pretty much everywhere. Plenty of pagans insist every spirit being must be an angel, and good. Therefore we must always, always take their advice, and never wonder whether any of them are evil. ’Cause why would there be any such thing as an evil spirit? They’re spirits. Duh.

Regardless of its origins, Christians have totally bought into this idea. In part because we think we see it in the bible.

Romans 8.5-8 NRSV
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Galatians 5.16-17 NRSV
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

Flesh is material, right? Made of atoms. And in these passages flesh isn’t just shorthand for fallen human nature; it’s a reminder that matter is bad, but spirit—especially the Holy Spirit—is good. Hence Christians have overlaid this Greek idea upon Christianity since the very beginning. It’s all over gnostic literature. It’s why there was a giant fight in the early church about whether Jesus really became human, because why on earth would God demean his pure spiritual nature by becoming human? But he did. Pp 2.6-7

And he really did die, and when he was resurrected he was put back into a real human body.
1 John 4.2-3 NRSV
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.

Yep, anyone who says Jesus isn’t really human, or that his resurrection put him in some weird kind of “spiritual body” 1Co 15.44 which is only the illusion of matter but actually pure spirit: They’re not just heretic, but antichrist. Jesus has a body, and I don’t just mean the metaphor of the “body of Christ.” He has a physical body. He didn’t temporarily become human; that change is permanent. He’s one of us now.

’Cause neither matter nor spirit are inherently good. Nor bad. They can be either. It all depends on whether they are as God originally made ’em. ’Cause when he originally made the cosmos, when he first created matter, he declared it, and everything he made of it, good.

Genesis 1.31 NRSV
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

(If you wanna argue Genesis 1.31 only refers to sixth-day stuff, fine. On all the other days, God declared those creations good… so it’s all good.)

When humanity was created, God declared us good. We humans are part matter and part spirit; we’re not purely one or the other. (In fact if you split us into one and the other, you wind up with a corpse and a ghost: A dead human. It’s not an upgrade!) But when humanity went wrong, it wasn’t part of us which went wrong; ’twasn’t the material parts which got all corrupt and depraved while the spiritual parts remained intact and pure. The immaterial, spiritual parts of Adam and Eve were corrupted before they ate the wrong fruit and got materially corrupted. Their spirits did evil. ’Cause spirit can definitely be evil.

The whole point of creation.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 February

One of God’s bigger miracles is of course creation.

Genesis 1.1-3 NRSV
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
John 1.1-5 NRSV
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Despite the claims of young-earth creationists, the scriptures aren’t meant to give a scientific description of how creation happened. The bible’s not made up of science books: It’s theology. It’s about why God created the universe. Genesis 1 may be structured like a timeline of events, but it’s meant to tell ancient middle easterners

  • The universe didn’t exist on its own; God made it.
  • God didn’t war against other gods, or Titans, or Lucifer, so that he could conquer the world; he has no foes of equal might. And the universe is his, for he made it.
  • What God made was good. (He only makes good stuff.)
  • What God made didn’t stay good, but that’s on us, not him.
  • Humans weren’t an afterthought, or created as God’s slaves, but as his kids, meant to rule the world.
  • He did it in seven days and rested the seventh; that’s where Sabbath comes from.

There are various Christians who haven’t actually learned this. I’m mostly thinking about those Christians who insert the massive cosmic battle between Satan and Michael Rv 12.7-8 right before God made Eden. But some Christians claim not everything God made is good, or suggest humanity is still good instead of messed up by sin. Or that humans are God’s slaves, or that Sabbath is no longer relevant in this dispensation.

Lotta times we miss these points because we don’t like these points. And I suspect a lot of the reason Christians hew to young-earth creationism so strongly, is because turning Genesis 1 into a scientific text is the easiest way to avoid anything moral we’re meant to conclude from it. Instead of learning who God is and how we’re respond to him, we can instead pick fights with evolutionists; if you’re the argumentative sort, this sounds way more fun.

But the purpose of looking at creation, as the bible depicts it, is so we can learn more about our Creator.

The two creation stories.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 February

I was raised to be a young-earth creationist, as are many conservative Evangelicals in the United States: We’re taught God created the universe only 6 millennia ago, precisely 4 millennia before Jesus was born, so 4004BC. And if a scientist or historian tells us otherwise, it’s either because they’ve been duped by nontheists, or because they’re nontheist themselves.

Young-earth creationists (YEC for short) claim their views are based on a literal interpretation of Genesis. It says God created the cosmos in 6 days, and if we truly believe bible, we gotta likewise believe God created the cosmos in 6 days. There’s no room for any other interpretation.

The universe… if we take Genesis literally. NIV Faithlife Study Bible

Problem is, when we do take the creation stories of Genesis literally, we might notice it’s not describing the cosmos as we know it. It’s describing the cosmos as ancient middle easterners knew it, meaning a flat earth, with a solid-wall dome above it, and the sky in between; Ge 1.6-8 and the sun and moon and stars and planets inside this dome. Ge 1.16-19 If you truly wanna be literal, you’re gonna be a flat-earther. (And no surprise, some YEC adherents are flat-earthers.)

Of course if you’re truly trying to be literal, you’re gonna notice Genesis doesn’t just have one creation story in it. It has two.

Yeah, a lot of you knew this already, ’cause you’ve read Genesis dozens of times, and duh, of course there are two creation stories in it. But you’d be surprised how many conservative Evangelicals, no matter how many times they’ve read Genesis, have been totally oblivious to the fact it starts with two creation stories. It’s simply never occurred to them. They’ve been taught, since they first became Christian, that the bible only tells one unified consistent story throughout, and any “bible difficulties” are easily explained away. These beliefs function as some mighty effective blinders.

When Christians suffer… and those who make us suffer.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 February

1 Thessalonians 2.13-16.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy were very pleased with the Thessalonian church, and say as much throughout this letter. These folks didn’t just embrace the message, the λόγονlógon of God’s kingdom they heard from the apostles; it sparked faith in them, and got ’em to act upon what they heard and believed.

With consequences, ’cause they got persecuted for it almost immediately. While the apostles were still there preaching the gospel. Ac 17.5-9 Got people arrested for disturbing the peace, and if you know anything about Romans, you know they have the bad habit of crucifying everyone they can until they get peace again. It’s why they got the apostles out of town as quick as they could—and that concern for the apostles only goes to show what a compassionate relationship they had with one another.

1 Thessalonians 2.13-16 KWL
13 This relationship is also why we unceasingly praise God:
You who received the message of God you heard from us—
not a message of people, but just as it truly is,
a message of God which also activates your faith.
14 For, fellow Christians, you became imitators of God’s churches
of Christ Jesus in Judea, because you suffered their sufferings
you from your own countrymen, same as they by the Judeans.
15 They had also killed Master Jesus and the prophets, and attacked us,
displeasing God and opposing every person,
16 preventing us from speaking to gentiles so they might be saved.
Thus their sins are always full. The wrath takes them out in the end.

The message the apostles brought to Thessaloniki wasn’t just a human message, manufactured by humans by our own will. Not that human messages can’t have a mighty big impact. Popular conspiracy theories definitely do, and have devastating consequences. But those messages don’t produce fruit of the Spirit. They produce no evidence God’s at work in anyone’s life; just the opposite. Faith in God isn’t activated; fear is.

And that’s how the apostles knew God’s message had got through to the Thessalonians. They now had an Empire-wide reputation of great faith.

Thing is, you’re gonna get people who read this passage without looking at the context of the Thessalonians’ great faith, 1Th 1.6-10 and leap to the conclusion the evidence of God’s work in the Thessalonians was made evident by their suffering. Supposedly this is how you know the apostles’ message was a divine word instead of a human one: The Thessalonians suffered. Just like the prophets, just like the churches, just like Jesus himself. Pain gives weight.

Wrong. ’Cause plenty of heretics and false religions get persecuted. The government has to go after cults all the time—and rightly so, ’cause their cultish behavior is full of slavery and abuse. Even pagans can suffer. Doesn’t make ’em right; it makes them human. Everybody suffers; anybody who claims otherwise is trying to sell you the “cure” to suffering. And the only true cure is resurrection.

Plenty of Christians, same as plenty of humans, have a sob story about how we suffered. Maybe we overcame the suffering; maybe not and we’re still complaining about it. But pain doesn’t make our message mighty. God does. When we follow Jesus and produce the Spirit’s fruit regardless of our suffering, then we have a testimony worth sharing. Although I (and likely you) have heard plenty of testimonies where people haven’t grown any more fruitful at all; they simply overcame suffering, give God the credit, and figure that’s enough. I say those testimonies suck. Have we grown? Do we simply feel closer to God, or has his character actually rubbed off on us any? If you’re not more like Jesus as a result of your experiences, do shut up and sit down. First work on being a better example. Imitate better Christians. Imitate Christ.