Born sinners?

by K.W. Leslie, 27 May

So I discussed original sin—the human self-preservation instinct, distorted into an innate self-centeredness which means we’re inevitably gonna sin. It’s just how we’re wired. Unlike Jesus, who has a built-in divine nature which way predates him becoming human, which makes his first instinct to never sin… our first instincts work the other way.

Thing is, many other Christians don’t describe original sin this way. At all.

Most Christians are of course Pelagian, and think there is no such thing as human depravity and original sin. They figure humans are born blank slates, and could choose to be good as well as evil. God created us good, Ge 1.31 so they figure our natural tendency is towards good… and society messes us up, so blame it.

And then there are dark Christians who go to another extreme: They think original sin means we’re born evil. Born sinners. They don’t figure we’re merely born with selfish and sinful tendencies; we’re born with all the sins of Adam and Eve and humanity already on us. We’re born cursed. We’re already guilty of sin, and every newborn baby fully deserves the death penalty.

Wait, what?

Psalm 51.5 KJV
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
 
Lamentations 5.7 KJV
Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.

Think of it this way: Say you were born to poor parents, not wealthy ones. They have no money, which means you gotta suffer the consequences of their lack of money. You gotta live with their inability to buy you comforts, or even basic necessities. They can’t afford nutritious foods; you gotta eat ramen every day, and grow shorter than average, with low bone density, and maybe scurvy. They can’t afford an orthodontist; you’re gonna have an overbite, and bad teeth, and grow up ugly. Meanwhile the rich kids down the street are going to nice prep schools, and someday expensive universities, which’ll get ’em well-paying jobs… so they can pass their family wealth down to their own children.

Is this fair? Well, wealthy people will claim it’s entirely fair: Your parents are poor because they aren’t clever enough. And if you’re not clever enough, you’ll remain poor too. Use those brains! Pull yourself out of the quicksand by your own bootstraps!

But enough about caste systems and social Darwinism. You see the general idea: The folks who insist we’re born sinners, think of “sinner” as our caste. It’s not what we do; it’s what we are. It’s the caste we’re born into. Nobody escapes it; nobody gets born into a non-sinner caste. Doesn’t matter if you manage to go a few years without ever violating any of God’s commands: If you’re born a sinner, you’re invariably gonna muck it up eventually. Because you’re a sinner.

Um… what about Jesus? Wasn’t he born into our caste?

And here’s where the idea of being born a sinner, collapses. Except those folks who believe it, refuse to admit its collapse: Jesus, they insist, is an exception. Somehow:

  • He’s a special creation of God, instead of the biological product of two people doin’ it.
  • He’s the genetic descendant of a woman, instead of a man and his toxic, defective, Adam-descended Y chromosome.
  • He has the Holy Spirit in him so strongly, the Spirit blocked any potential sin nature from being formed in him.
  • He has a divine nature and a human nature, but because the divine nature is way stronger than the human nature, every time the human nature felt like sinning, the divine nature slapped it around and said, “B---h we’re doing it my way,” and left it cowering in a corner of room, sobbing.

Yeah, that last one was a little dark. But I am talking about a dark Christian theory, y’know. It has dark ramifications. If we’re all dirty sinners since the instant we were created, it means there’s nothing worthy in us for Jesus to redeem. He has to make something good in us, from scratch. But until he does that, we deserve nothing but horror, fear, and death—which implies it’s okay to treat our fellow humans like that. It’s okay to let them suffer. It’s okay to abandon them to their doom. Don’t feel compassion, nor feel bad for people, because they’re doomed, or they’re on their way to ruin: They’re only getting what they deserve, ’cause they totally deserve to stoke the fires of hell.

It’s a very pessimistic and apathetic view of humanity, and doesn’t reflect at all what God feels for us. But that’s not surprising; dark Christians tend to be grace-deficient.

Original sin: We were born this way.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 May
ORIGINAL SIN ə'rɪd.ʒən.əl 'sɪn noun. Innate tendency of humans to sin, inherited from the first humans as a result of their first sin.

Initially God made the universe, including humans, and declared it very good. Ge 1.31 That goodness was undone by sin: Our first ancestors, our representatives in paradise, Adam and Eve, were ordered to not eat from this one particular tree… and did anyway. Humanity got banished from paradise, and now suffers from toil, painful childbirth, and death.

So instead of being born “very good,” like God originally made humanity, every human is now born with a significant birth defect: We’re not innately good. We’re innately selfish. We come out of our mothers’ wombs screaming for what we want: Milk, a clean diaper, to be held, or we’re otherwise uncomfortable and can’t express ourselves any other way. As soon as we gain the ability to say “No!” and slap other people, and lie and steal to get what we want, we do that too. Our worlds revolve around us now. And some of us never, ever grow out of that; ask anyone who works in customer service or government.

It’s called original sin because we humans originated with it: We were born this way. It was passed down from our ancestors; passed all the way down from Adam and Eve. Our slant towards sin is built-in.

The very idea offends a lot of people, who hate the idea we’re innately sinful. They think it’s kinda sick: “What, are you saying a little innocent baby, who never did anything good or bad, was born a depraved sinner?”

Well I’m not. I’m only saying every little innocent baby was born with a self-preservation instinct. We can agree on that one, can’t we? So of course they’re gonna be selfish: They’re trying to live! Problem is, in the pursuit of looking out for number one, everybody else becomes number two—and we’ll shove ’em aside, and not love our neighbors as ourselves. So, y’know, sin. We’re “born sinners” in the sense that sin’s just gonna come naturally go us humans.

Caring for others—like a “maternal instinct,” although way too many mothers have no such thing—is learned behavior. We have to be raised by parents who train us in that; we have to train our own kids in that, and man does that feel like an uphill battle with some kids. Those folks who think humans are inherently good: They learned it right away, and learned it so early and thoroughly they think it’s natural. Nah.

I do admit plenty of Christians claim original sin means we’re born with sins somehow already staining our souls. How’d we commit ’em? I dunno. They have a few theories, supposedly based on bible; I think they’re misquoting bible to promote a rubbish theory.

Sin.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 May
SIN sɪn noun. Immoral behavior—as defined by religious morality.
2. Violation of God’s law or known will.
3. A reprehensible action, or serious shortcoming.
4. A state of human nature in which one is alienated from God.
5. verb. To commit a sin, offense, or fault.
[Sinful 'sɪn.fəl adjective.]

I used to think it was a copout when Christians claimed they weren’t entirely sure what “sin” meant, or is. Sometimes yeah, they’re trying to weasel out of something: They’re sinning their brains in, and don’t care to define their behavior as sin, so they’re hoping to either plead ignorance, or get us to admit there’s some kind of gray area, and grant them some leeway.

But too often, I’ve found nobody ever spelled it out for them when they were new Christians. Nobody ever sat the newbies down and told ’em, “Here’s what sin is.” I grew up Christian, and they absolutely told us kids what sin is—and to not do it!—but churches tend to forget adults didn’t always have that upbringing, and there might be a big ol’ gap in their knowledge.

So the adult Christian converts presumed. And most of the time you can kinda figure it out, ’cause certain preachers love to rail against sin. You can easily deduce you sinned if you broke one of the Ten Commandments. Or if you commit one of the seven deadly sins.

But you might get the wrong idea nothing else is a sin. Pagans make that mistake all the time; it’s why, whenever some bishop lists a few sins, pagan reporters freak out as if this is a great big headline: “The church is adding new sins to the seven deadly sins!” No; these are old sins, and you clearly don’t know what sins are.

Anyway it’s because of this guesswork people keep right on committing the same fruitless behaviors we’ve always done, unaware of how this activity undermines our relationship with God, and any greater religious growth.

The apostles defined sin as when we know what God expects of us—we know the right or proper thing to do—yet we ignore it and selfishly do our own thing.

James 4.17 KJV
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
 
1 John 3.4 KJV
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

At its core sin is based on selfishness. If we aren’t so insistent on doing our own thing, and care more about doing what God wants, we’ll be far less likely to sin.

Here’s the problem: Sin is based on selfishness, but selfishness isn’t necessarily sin.

No seriously. It’s not always wrong to think of ourselves first! In fact we kinda have to: When we follow Jesus’s teaching to love others as we love ourselves, Mk 12.31 it’s expected we already do love ourselves. And it’s sometimes necessary to think of ourselves first. When you’re serving others, but you work yourself to death in the process, you’re not gonna serve others for very long. If you’ve ever been on a plane and remember the safety lecture, y’might recall when the oxygen masks drop we’re supposed to put on our mask before we help others with their masks, ’cause we’re no help to anyone once we pass out from oxygen deprivation. Often we need to think of ourselves first.

The problem is when we think of ourselves only: We don’t or won’t love others too. (Or we don’t love ourselves, and use that as an excuse to be awful to others.)

Sin is the product of corrupted selfishness. Like nearly every animal, selfishness is hard-wired into the human body and instinct. After all, when we don’t look out for ourselves, when we ignore that self-preservation instinct, we get physically hurt! But humans have taken this instinct to a level God didn’t intend when he built it into us. We don’t just preserve our lives and well-being. We preserve our comforts too. Whenever God’s will runs contrary to the things which entertain us, please us, or suit us, we’re all too willing to ignore him. We figure he’ll forgive us. Or we just don’t care what he thinks.

Hence sin. And it hasn’t merely corrupted humanity: It’s warped the whole planet. Nothing works as originally intended. Instead of living forever as we oughta, humans die. Instead of a harmonious, balanced ecosystem, we have famines, plagues, and natural disasters. Instead of working together in love, and naturally sharing a close personal relationship with God, humans fight one another, and try to manipulate and control and dominate one another. Even Christians fight over our ideas about Jesus: We may know about the sin problem, but we’re hardly immune to it. We’re just as infected as the rest of the world.

But God intends to remove sin from humanity. In four steps.

  1. God’s Law, in which he spelled out his will for the Hebrews and humanity.
  2. Jesus’s atonement, in which our sin was defeated and dealt with.
  3. Sanctification, in which we learn how to stop sinning and resist temptation.
  4. Resurrection, in which we receive new, sin-untainted bodies.

Quenching the Spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 May

1 Thessalonians 5.19-21.

More farewell stuff from the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians; general advice which can apply to Christians of any and every church. Each of these one-verse or one-line instructions have turned into entire sermons, lessons, and even doctrines. And in fact today I’m only gonna deal with three short verses, mainly because of what’s been taught about them… and of course what’s been mistaught.

1 Thessalonians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Don’t extinguish the Spirit: 20 Don’t void prophecies.
21 Examine everything: Hold onto what’s good.

In the King James Version this becomes “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” That’s the version I memorized as a child.

Back in the 11th century, Margaret Atheling of Wessex (later, St. Margaret) was an English princess who grew up in exile in Hungary. She went to Scotland to marry King Malcolm Canmore, third of his name. The story has it she nearly drowned while crossing a river. One of the Hungarians who accompanied her, named Bartolf, saved her life by fishing her out, or carrying her across. The story varies, but all of them have him tell her to “grip fast” to him, or a rope, or his horse; whichever. Bartolf was given some land in reward, including a town called Lesselyn… which evolved into Bartolf’s family name, Leslie, and Clan Leslie’s motto is “grip fast.” This is, more or less, the story we Leslies tell of its origin. Maybe it’s true. Doubt it, ’cause it’s far more likely Bartolf and Margaret spoke Magyar with one another.

I didn’t necessarily have this “grip fast” idea in mind when I first read verse 21 as a kid. It just so happens I’m a big fan of examining everything to see whether it’s so. But in context verse 21 isn’t about testing everything; it’s about testing prophecy. It’s just I happen to test everything else too. Just being careful.

So verse 21 has kinda become a “life verse” for me… even though I don’t always stick to the proper context of the verse when testing everything. The more important thing is to hold onto what’s good. Hold tight to it. Abide in Jesus and what he teaches; let everything else go. But like I said, the context of this verse is to hold onto valid prophecies. And if they’re not valid, stop clinging to them as if we can wish them into being if we believe hard enough. That’s not how prophecy works; that’s how magic works, and magic’s not real.

Okay, enough about me and misquoted life verses. Let’s step back to verse 19 and “Quench not the Spirit.”

What does quenching mean?

You might already know when the ancients first came up with the idea of elements—basic building blocks of the universe—they didn’t imagine ’em as atoms, nor as the 118 elements we currently have on our periodic table, from hydrogen to oganesson. They figured there were just the four: Air, earth, fire, and water.

Sometimes the ancients speculated a quinta essentia/“fifth element,” or quintessence; something we don’t have on earth and therefore can’t study. (That’s why scientists have adopted the term to describe dark energy.) Various Christian philosophers have speculated spirits are made of this quintessence, and that’s why we can’t study spirits with our sciences. But the ancients were pretty sure spirits were made of the four basic elements. Oddly, not air, even though πνεῦμα/néfma literally means “wind.” But because spirits are dynamic and moving and powerful and mighty, they can’t be made from merely still, unmoving air. So, they deduced, spirits are made of fire.

Yep. This is why we see so many fire metaphors for spirits in ancient literature. Especially ancient Christian and Muslim literature. And obviously there are fire metaphors for the Holy Spirit in our scriptures.

Acts 2.2-4 KJV
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

So when Christians talk about fire, we either mean God’s refining fire which purges evil out of us, Ml 3.2 or the fires of hell… or the fire of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we mix the metaphors, and talk about the Spirit’s fire as if it’s come to purge evil out of us. (And that’s not always a good thing!) But more often, especially among Pentecostals, we’re talking about the Spirit’s power. His fire’s gonna make us able to cure the sick and prophesy and otherwise perform miracles.

So when Pentecostals talk about quenching the Spirit—and especially about not quenching the Spirit—we usually mean the Spirit wants to do something mighty and supernatural through us Christians. But we won’t let him.

I know. This idea is dumbfounding to deterministic Christians. We won’t let God do something? How on earth can a clay pot tell the potter, “Nope, I’m not gonna hold oil like you intended; I wanna hold beer!” He made us, so we do as he wants. It’s ridiculous to imagine otherwise.

And yeah, they’d have a point if we were simply inert pottery. We’re not. Paul’s pottery metaphor Ro 9.20-21 doesn’t apply to everything in our lives; its point is to explain God’s the creator and we’re the creation, and he knows best what we’re made for. Nonetheless he imbues his creation with free will, and while it’s unwise for “the thing formed to say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” the fact remains “the thing formed” can still ask this question. And sometimes rebel against the creator’s intentions. Humans sin, y’know.

So yeah, if the Spirit wants to do something in his churches, but the people of his churches don’t wanna do that thing, we can resist him. We shouldn’t; it’s stupid. But we do.

And there are gonna be consequences.

Revelation 2.5 KJV
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

If a church is resisting the Spirit, it’s not following Jesus; and if it’s defying Jesus, it’s not his church anymore. It’s heretic. It’s its own thing. That’s a scary place to be—and if you’ve visited such churches, they can be scary places to visit.

But do not get the false idea that the ability to resist the Spirit and do our own thing, makes humanity sovereign, or in any way more mighty than God, or that the Spirit has in any way debased himself by letting us humans do our own thing. Insurgency doesn’t mean the insurgents are in charge now. It only means they think they’re in charge, for now. The hammer’s gonna come down later… when they don’t expect it.

Quenching the Spirit, or quenching immature Christians?

Whenever Christians talk about quenching the Spirit, we have a bad habit of presenting it as a worst-case scenario—a church that’s gone very, very wrong, and cut themselves off from God himself. We Pentecostals in particular have the bad habit of claiming any resistance to any spiritual thing whatsoever is “quenching.” Specifically, spiritual things we wanna do.

Fr’instance a prophet who stands up in the middle of a service, even right in the middle of the sermon, to declare, “Thus says the LORD,” and give out a prophecy. There’s a time and place for this, but they’ve taken it upon themselves to do it right now, and interrupt others. Don’t get me wrong; it might be a legitimate message from the Holy Spirit. But by picking the wrong time to give the prophecy, the prophet’s being a dick, and fruitless prophecy tends to nullify the prophecy. People aren’t gonna remember what we prophesied so much as the interruption, disruption, and rudeness.

If the Spirit gives us a message mid-sermon, the fact something else is going on which it’s rude to interrupt, should be our tipoff that we need to sit on this message for a bit. Meditate on it. Ask the Spirit questions: “What’d you mean by this?” And after the service, talk it over with a few other prophets for confirmation. Blurting it out in mid-sermon means you lack patience—or are more interested in getting attention than sharing God’s message, and prophets are supposed to be humble.

So when someone disrupts a church service, and is told to sit down and shut up: No, nobody’s quenching the Spirit. They’re quenching a jerk. Hopefully kindly. Because when the Spirit disrupts stuff, he does it kindly. He’s being helpful and constructive, or preventing evil. Unkind prophets are doing it wrong. They’re being selfish, unloving, out-of-control, and fleshly.

A lot of the things churches and Christian leaders are accused of “quenching,” are precisely this sort of behavior. Christians who wanna sing for the entire service, even though a preacher has spent all week listening to the Spirit and studying the scriptures to prepare a message: They don’t wanna hear a sermon. They wanna sing! They love that hook in their favorite worship song, and wanna sing it 50 times in a row. It makes ’em feel stuff, and since they don’t know the difference between emotion and the Spirit, they’re convinced it’s totally the Spirit—therefore stopping the music is “quenching the Spirit.” But no it’s not. Your euphoria isn’t producing fruit. Don’t kid yourself.

Likewise Christians who wanna pray in loud tongues during a prayer service, and won’t hear it when people tell ’em to not be so noisy. Or Christians who wanna have a special time of prophecy, not because they wanna share God, but because they want people to listen to them for once, as they prophesy. Really, anybody who wants to hijack a church service and turn it into their thing—and claim it’s really the Spirit’s thing.

Is it the Spirit’s thing? Look at the fruit. No fruit? Quench away.

What if you’re not sure? Well first of all, relax: The Holy Spirit is gracious. If we ever mistakenly stop him from doing his thing, but we are still trying to follow and pursue him, he’s gonna inform us we were mistaken. “I really do want you to hold a healing service for the sick. Do it next Sunday.” And we’ll apologize to him for putting the brakes on him, and apologize to everybody else, and do as the Spirit wants. It’s never too late to repent and try again; don’t let any immature, impatient Christians tell you different. (Because they’ll definitely tell you different: “You’re quenching the Spirit! You’re ruining an opportunity! It has to be done right now!” Hogslop. If it really had to be done right now, the Spirit would’ve forewarned a lot more of the people in charge.)

But pretty much every time we tell an angry, impatient person, “No no, we’re not doing that right now,” it’s not quenching the Spirit. If they produced better fruit, they might have a case to make. But they aren’t, so they don’t.

Quenching the Spirit is not stopping a noisy Christian. Properly it’s intentionally, deliberately, consciously defying the Spirit. It’s deciding, “We don’t do prophecy.” It’s making our official church position a cessationist one: The Holy Spirit stopped talking in bible times, and we don’t recognize anything he has to say unless he only speaks in bible quotes. It’s putting him on mute, because now we get to interpret bible on our own, and promote our doctrines instead of God’s kingdom.

Don’t void prophecies!

The primary way God reveals himself to people, and speaks to us, is through prophecy.

Yeah, even though we have a bible. The bible is prophecy too, y’know: Old prophecies, breathed by God for our benefit, 1Ti 3.16 which are still relevant ’cause it’s the same God, and humanity hasn’t changed any. Anything the Spirit tells us today, isn’t gonna contradict and nullify what he has in the bible, ’cause again: Same God.

When we cut off God’s voice by claiming he doesn’t speak to anyone anymore, we’ve cut off the Holy Spirit. We’ve cut off the one Jesus sent us to make sure we stay true to him. Jn 16.13 We’ve cut off the one who builds up, directs, and explains things to the church, his followers. 1Co 14.3 We might claim, “Yeah, but we have bible”—but we’ve cut off the person who makes sure we interpret his bible correctly!

When Christians claim prophecy’s not for the church anymore, y’notice they now have to rule their churches with an iron fist. Because if the Spirit doesn’t provide them direction and purpose, somebody’s gotta do it. Without the Spirit they’re gonna be fruitless, and get into dozens of disagreements about little, stupid, nitpicky stuff. The whole group is gonna be led astray—not by evil practices nor false doctrines, but simply by the fact nobody knows where they’re going. And nobody’s gonna admit it. And certainly not accept correction about it.

This is what we see all the time in cessationist churches: They don’t follow God, and despise the Spirit’s prophecies. So they become little cults which follow a pastor who’s treated as inerrant. Or, on the other extreme, they turn into benign, powerless groups which squabble over trivia and get nothing done.

Test everything.

If we’re gonna embrace a lifestyle of prophecy, we have to test prophecies and prophets. There are a lot of fakes 1Jn 4.1 —either frauds who want to exploit us, or fools who don’t know what they’re doing; both of whom will lead us astray. We can’t accept just any self-anointed prophet who sounds inspiring, who appeals to our greed, our prejudices, our patriotism, our sense of propriety, or whatever floats our boat.

Jesus warned us to watch out for phonies, so we gotta test prophets. Much as the con artists insist we test nothing, and just trust ’em, because shouldn’t we have faith? And yes we should—but faith in Jesus, not them, and Jesus tells us to test prophets! If their message legitimately comes from the Holy Spirit, it can stand the scrutiny, and if it’s not, it won’t. So test everything. EVERYTHING. Including all the stuff you’ve been taking for granted so far. You’ll be surprised how much of it turns out to be crap. I regularly am.

And once it stands up to testing, you grip fast to it. It’s from God.

Pentecost.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 May

I’m a Pentecostal… and weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never notice when Pentecost comes round. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little.

Anyway, Pentecost is the last day of Eastertime, the day we Christians remember the start of the Christian church—the day the Holy Spirit gave power to Jesus’s followers. Like so.

Acts 2.1-4 KWL
1 When the 50th day after Passover drew near, all were together in one place.
2 Suddenly a roar came from heaven, like a mighty wind sounds,
and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3 Tongues, like fire, were seen distributed to them,
and sat on each one of them, 4 and all were filled with the Holy Spirit.
They began to speak in other tongues,
in whatever way the Spirit gave them the ability.
4 The Jews who inhabited Jerusalem at the time
were devout men from every nation under heaven.
5 When this sound came forth, the masses gathered, and were confused:
Each one of them was hearing their own dialect spoken to them.
6 They were astounded, and wondered aloud, “Look, aren’t all these speakers Galileans?
8 How is each of us hearing our own native dialect?
9 People from Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Israel, eastern Turkey,
10 western Turkey, Egypt, the Cyrenian part of Libya, visitors from Rome,
11 Jews and Jewish converts, Cretans and Arabs
—we hear them speaking of God’s might in our own languages!”
12 All were astounded and stunned. Some asked one another, “What caused this?”
13 Others said, joking, “They’ve been drinking port.”

Lots of Christians call this story the “first Pentecost.” It wasn’t. Pentecost comes from the Greek τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς πεντηκοστῆς/tin iméran tis pentikostís, “the 50th day” Ac 2.1 —the Greek term for the Hebrew festival of שָׁבֻעֹת֙/Šavuót, “Weeks,” the first crop of the wheat harvest. Ex 34.22 From the first day the Hebrews began to harvest wheat, the LORD ordered Moses to have ’em count off seven weeks, or 49 days. Dt 16.9-12 On the last day they were to sacrifice some of the grain to God, and take a day off in celebration. Nu 28.26 Somehow, the first day of the wheat harvest became formally shifted to the first day after Passover, making Weeks the 50th day after Passover—6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar.

All male Jews were instructed to go to temple for Weeks. Dt 16.16 Meaning Jerusalem, on 25 May 33, was full of devout Jews bringing the LORD their grain offerings. Suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew, spoken as if to them personally. That got everyone’s attention.

Peter’s sermon.

Simon Peter followed up with an explanation: The Holy Spirit’s outpouring was a prophetic last-days event which God had always intended.

Acts 2.14-24 KWL
14 Simon Peter, standing with the Eleven, raised his voice and shouted to them,
“Jewish men! Residents of Jerusalem! You have to know this! Listen to my words!
15 These people aren’t drunk. You assume so, for it’s the third hour of the day,
16 but this is what the prophet Joel had said:
17 ‘God said this’ll happen in the last days: “I’ll pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
Your sons and daughters will give prophecies.
Your young ones will see visions. Your old ones will will dream dreams.
18 In those days I’ll pour out my Spirit even on my slaves,
men and women alike, and they’ll give prophecies!
19 I’ll show wonderful things in the skies above,
and signs on the earth below—blood and fire and smoke in the air.
20 The sun’ll be turned to darkness,
the moon to blood before the great Lord’s Day comes,
21 and everybody who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved.”Jl 2.28-32
22 Men of Israel, listen to these teachings about Jesus the Nazarene!
A man who’d been endorsed to you by God with power,
wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst—as you know personally.
23 By the Judean senate’s plan, as foreknown by God, you killed Jesus:
Handed over, crucified by the hands of lawless Romans.
24 God raised Jesus, released him from the pains of death:
It’s impossible for Jesus to be held by death.
25 For King David said about him,
‘I always see the Lord before me:
He’s at my right, so I wouldn’t be shaken.
26 For this reason, my heart cheers and my tongue rejoices.
My flesh will still pitch its tent in hope:
27 You won’t leave my life behind in the afterlife,
nor give up your holy one to see decay.
28 You taught me the road of life.
You will fill me with joy with your face.’ Ps 16.8-11
29 Men, brothers, I must tell you about the patriarch David:
Bluntly, he’s gone. Buried. His tomb’s with us to this day.
30 So he was being a prophet—he knew God swore an oath to him:
From the fruit of his loins, a descendant was to sit on his throne.
31 Foreseeing it, David spoke of Messiah’s resurrection:
He won’t leave Messiah behind in the afterlife; his flesh didn’t decay.
32 God raised up this Jesus. All us Eleven are witnesses of it.
33 So, lifted up to God’s right, receiving the promised Holy Spirit from the Father,
Jesus poured him out. This is what you saw and heard.
34 It wasn’t David who went up to heaven. He said, ‘The Lord told my Lord,
“Sit at my right 35 till I can put your enemies under your feet.”Ps 110.1
36 So the whole house of Israel has to infallibly know:
God made his Lord and Messiah this Jesus—whom you crucified.”

“Stabbed in the heart” (κατενύγησαν τὴν καρδίαν/katenýghisan tin kardían—and no, not literally), Peter’s audience wanted to know what to do next, Ac 2.38 and Peter had ’em turn to Jesus. That day, Jesus’s new church grew from about 120 people Ac 1.15 to 3,000. Ac 2.41 And over the past 20 centuries, we’ve grown to roughly 2 billion. About a third of the planet. With plenty of room for more.

How the Jews have done Weeks.

After the Romans destroyed the temple in the year 70, there was nowhere for the Jews to gather every year for Weeks; no place to offer their grain. Hence the rabbis invented alternate customs for the day.

Over the centuries, Weeks has gone from a harvest festival to honoring the day God gave the Law to the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai. ’Cause the Hebrews arrived at Sinai on the first day of Sivan Ex 19.1 and a few days later, God handed down the Ten Commandments. So the dates coincide. The idea was developed in the Sefer ha-Khinúkh, “Book of Education,” a 13th-century Spanish commentary on the 613 commands of the Law. As a result, certain devout Jews observe Weeks by going through the commands on an overnight binge. Some clever folks try to tie harvest and Law together, by pointing out the bible is our daily bread.

Various Christians assume medieval Judaism and Pharisaism are the same thing. Nope; one descended from the other. But these folks claim the Jews of Jesus’s day also celebrated the Law during Weeks. And maybe a few did… but there’s no real evidence of it. Yeah, there’s what medieval rabbis wrote, but because they had the annoying habit of rewriting history to match their beliefs, it makes their histories really unreliable.

Regardless, the primary purpose of Weeks was honoring God for the harvest. And check out the fun parallel: Jesus was “planted,” so to speak (and pardon the crudity), for Passover… and look at the harvest of 3,000 people whom the Holy Spirit produced for Pentecost.

The reason the Spirit empowers us is because the fields are ripe for harvest. Jn 4.35 More than just pray for workers to harvest it, Lk 10.2 we need to be the answers to those prayers. That’s why he empowers us after all. To prophecy, to produce signs and wonders, and to harvest.

How the Christians do Pentecost.

Christians began to put a different spin on Pentecost, as is implied by Paul’s special observance of it. Ac 20.16, 1Co 16.8 Some Christians observe it as the beginning of the church. Others look on it as the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the church. Either way, it’s a relevant day.

Churches celebrate Pentecost in all sorts of ways. Lots of us do prayer vigils, to remember how the apostles prayed for the Holy Spirit to come. Lots of symbols are used to represent the Spirit: Birds, red to represent his fire, flags or trumpets to represent his rushing wind. Sometimes the scriptures are read in multiple languages, reminding us of the many languages the Spirit enabled the apostles to speak. Pentecost is also a great day for baptisms.

And, like I griped at the beginning of this piece, some churches give it a miss altogether. Too traditional, too liturgical, too old-school for their taste. In the United States, since it often falls near other holidays (like Mother’s Day or Memorial Day) the other holiday tends to take precedence.

Some churches make Pentecost Monday into a holiday. But beyond that, Eastertime is over, and we go back to “ordinary time”—the days between Easter and Christmas, when there are no big Christian holidays. But we should still strive to make these days more than ordinary—by making good use of the Spirit’s empowerment at Pentecost.

Sleep-deprived Sunday morning services.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 May

When I was a kid, I liked church. My friends were there, the pastor was a decent preacher, and the Sunday school classes were interesting. (The music wasn’t so great; as an adult I went to churches with way better music.) But even so, some Sunday mornings I really didn’t care to go.

’Cause sleep. I wanted to sleep.

I stayed up way too late the night before. Usually because I watched Saturday Night Live, or Doctor Who reruns on public television, or some other late-night movie or show. I’d be up till 1 a.m.; usually 2. Yeah, television is a lousy excuse for being exhausted the next morning. But in college, I hung out with friends till very late Saturday night—and that’s no better of an excuse.

So come Sunday morning, when Mom trying to get us out the door so we could be at church by 9, church was the very last thing I wanted to do that morning. I wanted sleep. Needed sleep. What good was church gonna do me if I dozed off during the sermon? You know, like my other friends. And half the adults.

I discovered this handy trick: Open your bible on your lap. If you felt yourself drifting, just bow your head so it looks like you’re reading your bible. And no, this technique fools no one. Especially if you drool in your sleep, and the onionskin paper they use on thin bibles does not handle liquids well.

In seminary, same problem. Saturday nights were spent with friends; Sunday mornings I was dead tired, tempted to sleep in. But lo and behold, I found a solution: Evening services! There was a church in Santa Cruz whose worship service began at 6 p.m. Sundays. So that’s where I went.

Sunday mornings I slept in like a pagan. Woke around 10, dragged my bones to brunch, did homework, had dinner, then went to church. And for the first time in the longest time, I was fully awake for Sunday church, and better able to appreciate it.

And then I graduated, and moved to where there was nothing but Sunday morning services. Ugh.

In any event I totally understand why so many people, Christians and pagans alike, are loath to give up their Sunday mornings for church. I’ve been there. Some mornings I’m still there: I rarely do anything Sunday nights, but sometimes I’ll have an uncomfortable night’s sleep, and be in no mood for Sunday morning church.

I’m not a morning person anyway. King David was, so it’s his fault we have this in our bibles:

Psalm 5.3 KJV
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Gee thanks David. That, plus Jesus rising from the dead before dawn, Jn 20.1-2 has most of us Christians insisting upon morning services. Sometimes sunrise services. It’s like a test to see whether we appreciate God more than sleep. Whether we do or not, it still feels way too much like punishment.

Messianic prophecies.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 May

Messianic prophecies are the scriptures in the Old Testament which are about messiah.

And by messiah (Hebrew מָשׁיִחַ/mešíyakh, “anointed [one]”) the scriptures mean somebody who’s put in a high authoritative position. Like head priests Ex 40.15 or the king. 1Sa 9.16 But over time messiah simply came to mean king—the guy the LORD chose to lead Israel, or at least Jerusalem and Judea. And when he became king, there’d be a ritual ceremony where someone dumped a hornful of oil (maybe about a liter) all over the new king, representing the LORD pouring out his Spirit upon the king… assuming the king bothered to listen to the LORD any. Most didn’t.

So since messiah means king, every king of ancient Samaria and Jerusalem—yes, even the rotten ones like Ahab ben Omri, Jeroboam ben Nabat, and Saul ben Kish—was a messiah. Seriously. In fact every time David ben Jesse was given the chance to kill Saul, or have him killed, he’d refuse—because Saul was messiah.

1 Samuel 26.9-11 KJV
9 And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the LORD’s anointed, and be guiltless? 10 David said furthermore, As the LORD liveth, the LORD shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the LORD’s anointed: but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go.

“The LORD’s anointed” translates בִּמְשִׁ֣יחַ יְהוָ֑ה/be-mešíyakh YHWH, “the LORD’s messiah.” Love or hate him, Saul was selected as Israel’s king by God himself, and David knew better than to overthrow God’s will. Besides, David himself was anointed king, 1Sa 16.12-13 and knew it wouldn’t set the best precedent.

So that’s the Old Testament understanding of messiah, but of course Christians have a different one. By messiah we mean the Messiah, the final and best of all messiahs: Jesus the Nazarene. Our word Christ (Greek χριστός/hristós) likewise means “anointed [one],” same as messiah; it’s Jesus’s proper title as the rightful king of Israel, and conquering king of the world.

Jesus is the fulfillment of everything the title messiah carries. He was anointed by God, and has the Holy Spirit without measure. Jn 3.34 He has no successor; doesn’t need one, for he lives forever. He’s been Messiah way longer than any of the previous kings of Israel. And while David is considered the best of the Israeli messiahs, Jesus is even better. He rules righteously and infallibly.

Because of Jesus’s preeminence above all other messiahs, we Christians really can’t help but read him into every single messianic prophecy in the bible. Even though many of them are clearly about the other messiahs—about Messiah David, Messiah Josiah, Messiah Hezekiah, or even the filthy idolatrous Messiah Ahab. But Christians presume every last one of these messianic prophecies gets fulfilled by, or has its original meaning entirely overwhelmed by the similar actions of, Messiah Jesus.

Building up our fellow Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 May

1 Thessalonians 5.12-18.

This is the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians, and we’re getting to the part where the apostles wrapped up the letter: They moved away from the specific concerns of this particular church, and gave the same general advice they’d give any Christians of any church. So of course these things apply to us as well.

1 Thessalonians 5.12-18 KWL
12 Fellow Christians, we ask you to get to know those who labor hardest among you,
who stand up for you in the Master, and correct you.
13 We ask you to be led by them, more in love than anything,
because of the work they do. Keep the peace with one another.
14 Fellow Christians, we urge you to correct the irreligious.
Share your story with those who keep messing up. Help the weak. Be patient with all.
15 Watch out lest anyone might pay back evil for evil;
instead always pursue good for one another, and everyone.
16 Always rejoice.
17 Pray without slacking.
18 Give thanks for everything,
for this is God’s will, in Christ Jesus, for you all.

In it, we see advice on how to treat Christian leaders, and how to treat the ἀτάκτους/atáktus (KJV “unruly”) and ὀλιγοψύχους/oliyopsýhus (KJV “feebleminded”) —two terms which Christians treat with a lot less charity than the apostles meant to express.

So, how to treat the good… and how to treat the sucky.

Don’t be surprised if they hate you. They hated Jesus too.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 May

Matthew 10.24-25, Luke 6.40, John 13.16, 15.18-25.

Today’s passages get frequently taken out of context by Christian jerks. So let’s deal with them up front.

Jerks either deliberately try to offend, or don’t care that they do offend. And there are a lot of Christians, religious or not, who behave this way. They want people to be outraged. They want division and strife. They don’t care that these are works of the flesh; they’re not that fruitful anyway, and are way more interested in doctrinal purity than goodness and kindness and grace. So when people get angry, they perversely assume they’re doing something right. After all, didn’t Jesus say we’re blessed when people condemn and rage against us like the ancients did the prophets? Lk 6.22-23 Everybody hates you! Rejoice!

Of course they’re going about it the wrong way. If we have God’s mysteries and share them, yet we don’t do so in love (and no, tough love doesn’t count), we’re an annoying noise; we’re nothing, and gain nothing. 1Co 13.1-3 You might play the best music on your new 150-decibel sound system, but people are gonna hate it because it’s too loud, and it’s 2 a.m. In the same way, people don’t hate Christian jerks because they’re Christian, so much as because they’re jerks. So let’s not be. Let’s be kind.

Jesus’s statements here are not for jerks. But man alive are jerks quick to quote them. “Oh, oh! I’m being persecuted. Well, Jesus said it’s to be expected. They hated him; they’ll hate us.”

Yeah, but they hated Jesus for entirely different reasons. They hated Jesus because he called BS on ’em. Exposed their fake piety. Loved people they didn’t consider worth loving. Objected to their loopholes. And worst of all: There was supernatural evidence he was right, because you can’t just cure people on Sabbath unless God endorses such behavior. Their doctrine was undermined by YHWH himself… which is why they insisted Jesus’s cures couldn’t be God things, and had to somehow be devilish.

So when Jesus brought up persecution in his Olivet Discourse, he reminded them this shouldn’t catch them by surprise. The ancients persecuted the prophets; their contemporaries hassled Jesus himself. Stands to reason people were eventually gonna come after them too. Again, not because they’re being dicks about the gospel: Because God’s kingdom runs contrary to their comfortable status quo.

So since they went after Jesus, don’t think we’re exempt. He’s the teacher; he’s the master; we’re just his apostles and students and slaves. Like he says.

Matthew 10.24-25 KWL
24 “A student isn’t above the teacher, nor a slave above their master.
25 It’s fine for the student to become like their teacher, and the slave like their master.
But if people call the homeowner ‘Baal Zevúl,’
how much more those of his house?”
 
Luke 6.40 KWL
“A student isn’t above the teacher,
and everyone so repaired will be like their teacher.”
 
John 13.16 KWL
“Amen amen! I promise you a slave isn’t greater than their master,
nor an apostle greater than their sender.”

Out of context, this passage is also occasionally used by false teachers to make the claim they’ve studied Jesus so much, so extensively, they’re just as authoritative as he. Which everyone should instantly recognize as rubbish, but you’d be surprised how many Christians are total suckers for a winsome cult leader. Everybody co-works with Jesus, but nobody co-leads with him. He’s Messiah; he’s king; he’s above every other name. No matter how wise his followers might get… and the smart ones are wise enough to stay humble and not pull rank.

Lying so we can win the debate.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 May

Christians lie.

No we’re not supposed to. There’s a whole teaching about this. It’s actually not the “don’t bear false witness” command, Ex 20.16 which has to do with perjury. It’s the one about how Christians need to be rid of lying, and tell the truth to one another. Ep 4.25 But we lie just the same. Usually to get out of trouble. Sometimes to defraud.

And sometimes when we debate with antichrists, and wanna score points, we borrow a rather common tactic we see in politics: We ignore whether our “facts” are all that factual.

Oh, we wish they were factual, ’cause they really help our case. We’ll psyche ourselves into believing they’re factual. We’re willing to dismiss any evidence which says it’s false knowledge. We’re totally willing to perpetuate fraud.

Yeah, it’s fraud. There’s a command against that too. Mk 10.19

But Christians dismiss this particular sin, ’cause we figure it’s so important to win these arguments, score victories for Jesus… and really stick it to those skeptics. Ends justify means. Doesn’t matter that we’re we’re not 100 percent sure about the “facts” we point to, or straight-up that we’re wrong and lying and fraudulent and evil. The goal was to win.

Yeah, this rationale doesn’t fly with God. He’s light, and doesn’t do darkness. 1Jn 1.5 If we adopt darkness, and claim we’re doing it on God’s behalf, we’re really not; it’s done for our victories, not his. We stopped following him. 1Jn 1.6

Whenever we sway non-Christians with non-facts, we’ve not really led them to Jesus. We’ve led them to Christianism. It’s built on lies, remember?—and God’s kingdom is built on truth. We’ve led them into some dark variant of Christianity we’ve invented instead, which we like better—and hopefully God will be merciful to these poor souls and pull them out of our darkness. But there’s no guarantee that’ll happen; ask any cult member.

False knowledge, and how it’s confused with faith.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 May

There are plenty of people who “just know” things.

And man alive, are they frustrating. Y’see, they can’t tell you why they know what they do. They don’t know where they got their knowledge, nor what it’s based on. Not that it matters where they got it: They believe it. You can’t tell them any different.

But they’re wrong. It’s false knowledge.

I’ll tell people something they’ve not heard before, and they’ll respond—whether in Sunday school, my classrooms, or the workplace—

THEY. “Why, what you’re saying can’t be true, for I know different.”
ME. [patiently] “Well your knowledge is wrong. Relax; we’re all wrong sometimes.”
THEY. “Nope; can’t be. I know this.”
ME. “Okay, maybe I’m wrong. So prove your case. Show me why you’re right.”
THEY. “Don’t need to. I know I’m right.”

Every once in a while they’ll really try to prove their case. Turns out there’s a thousand holes in their reasoning. Easy to see, easy to chip away at. But they can’t see the holes. And don’t really care there are holes; it doesn’t matter if they prove their point; they know they’re right.

It’s not that they actually believe what they do for logical reasons. Humans aren’t logical. We believe what we do because we find it convenient to believe it. Helps when it’s actually true. But even when it’s not, people will push aside all evidence to the contrary, grasp at any evidence they can find in their favor, and believe what they please anyway.

Certain Christian apologists call this behavior “postmodernism.” It’s not. (If anything, postmoderns are frequently the ones demanding, “Prove it.”) Not that postmoderns aren’t just as guilty of this behavior: Everybody does it. Moderns, postmoderns, everyone. It’s not a worldview thing, not a cultural thing, not a political thing, not even a sin thing. It’s a human thing. We’re comfortable with our beliefs, and don’t wanna change ’em, even if there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. Change is too inconvenient.

I had to be trained to not think this way. First journalism school, then seminary: We were taught to question everything. Everything. My first journalism professor was fond of saying, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out!” Which sounds ridiculous at first… but you do realize there are a lot of dysfunctional mothers out there, who have very distorted definitions of love. Turns out she might not love you; whatever she’s feeling is neither khecéd nor fílos and agápi. Shouldn’t have presumed; now you see why your relationship is so f----d up.

There are naturally skeptical people who automatically question everything. Or so it appears; there are certain beliefs they take for granted, and you’ll find ’em once you drill down far enough. They might be nihilistic about a lot of things, but at their core they’re pretty sure they’re right about a number of things. Cogito ergo sum, at least.

But more often people are comfortable with the knowledge they believe they have, and are willing to trust it. Their minds are made up. Doesn’t matter which way the evidence points: There’s no higher authority than their minds.

It’s why people refuse to believe in climate change, or in an ancient earth, or insist humans are inherently good (regardless of our obvious depravity). Conversely it’s also why people believe in connect-the-dots theories and conspiracies. And it doesn’t matter how much evidence we have of a screw loose in their reasoning: They’re right. They know so. Can’t tell ’em otherwise.

In 2005 Stephen Colbert famously identified this as truthiness—that people believe what they do because they feel it’s true, rather than know it’s true. (And to a large degree it’s also because they feel it’s true; these “facts” are possessions or creations of theirs, so there’s a lot of selfishness bundled with ’em.)

True, false knowledge has a lot of similarities to truthiness. But unlike truthiness, it’s usually borne from apathy. People believe as they do because change and repentance take more effort than they care to spend.

It’s like fact-checking a headstone. My grandfather’s headstone actually has his first and middle names reversed. But nobody bothered to spend the money to fix it. And nobody’s gonna. Cemetery records, and eventually genealogies, are gonna have his names flipped for ages to come, all because nobody cares enough to fix the error. False knowledge has just this kind of effect on real knowledge… and often a much bigger impact.

So yeah: Truthiness has a lot of feelings involved in its practice and propagation. False knowledge has no such feelings. Gets propagated all the same.

Postmodernism: Don’t take “truths” for granted.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 May
POSTMODERN poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn adjective. Coming later than modern.
2. A 20th century concept and style in arts and criticism, representing a departure from modernism, typified by a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies.
3. Anti-modern.
[Pomo 'poʊ.moʊ abbreviation, postmodernism poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn.iz.əm noun, postmodernist poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn.ist adjective, postmodernity poʊs(t).moʊd'ər.nə.di noun.]

I grew up postmodern. I just didn’t know it had a name. I also didn’t realize, at the time, how badly it scared the heebie-jeebies out of Christian apologists.

The label’s not new. It first cropped up in the 1950s. Artists and architects started using it to describe the hip, exciting things they were doing. The current scene was “modern,” so they claimed they were beyond modern, post modern; whatever modern was, they weren’t. Pomo is a common abbreviation, although some pomos really hate it. I don’t, and use it.

Gradually people began to claim postmodernism is more than just their artistic style; it’s their worldview, the way they interpret the world around them, particularly the society we live in. Like the artists, they didn’t begin with any precise definition: Other people were modern, but they were beyond that.

But postmodern grew to become defined as “very, very skeptical of modern.”

If you’ve not heard this definition before, I don’t blame you. When I first heard of the term “postmodernism” in seminary, I heard it defined by Christian apologists, and they defined it as “rejects reality, in favor of their own invented reality.” Which is hardly a new philosophy; everybody does that. Little kids do it. “No! I don’t believe you! It’s not true!” [covers ears with hands] “La la la I can’t hear you.” And no doubt you’ve noticed lots of people in politics do it too. Always have.

But believing in your own fictions instead of the real world, isn’t postmodernism. You want a definition of it, you have to set aside your own knee-jerk prejudices and ask a postmodern. Or read some of their books. I was trained in journalism long before I was trained in theology, so I tracked down and read a bunch of original sources… and realized that’s me. That’s totally me. I’m postmodern. Surprise.

Postmodernism is in many ways a backlash to the philosophy of modernism… which is the way people have been looking at the world since the French Enlightenment in the 1700s. It’s this presumption humanity’s destiny is to achieve greatness by mastering (or conquering) our environment through the use of reason, logic, math, and science. With effort we can learn the universal truths behind everything, harness the great natural forces, and solve every problem. We can figure out the best way for everyone to live, and achieve peace and harmony and prosperity. (You know, like Star Trek. Which was, of course, created and written in the 1960s by moderns.)

Whereas we postmoderns are entirely sure that’s just a pipe dream.

Stay on the lookout for the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11.

In the original text of 1 Thessalonians it was all one continuous stream. No punctuation, no sentences, no paragraphs. We had to figure these things out by their context. The sentences are easy enough to figure out, but naturally Christians are gonna disagree on the rest. Hence different Greek New Testaments disagree on where the paragraph breaks should go… and since I’ve been writing about this book a paragraph at a time, y’might notice I’m not precisely following any one GNT.

  • Textus Receptus and United Bible Societies’ edition: One big paragraph from 1-11.
  • Nestle-Aland: One big paragraph, but they capitalize the first word in the sentences which they think might be the start of a new subject, and therefore are debatably new paragraphs.
  • Tyndale House: Four paragraphs. 1-3, 4-5, 6-10, and 11 by itself.
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Emphatic Diaglott has 1-4, and 5 all the way to the end of the chapter. But I don’t think its focus was on proper paragraph breaks. (Or on accuracy of translation either, but that’s another discussion.)

Anywho, today’s passage continues along the same theme as the previous: Be prepared for the second coming. ’Cause ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. Mt 24.44 KJV Anytime now.

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11 KWL
6 So then we shouldn’t be asleep like the others,
Instead we should be awake, and we should be sober:
7 Sleepers sleep at night, and drinkers get drunk at night.
8 We, being in the day, should be sober,
wearing a chestplate of faith and love, and a helmet of salvation hope,
9 so God doesn’t assign us to wrath, but get us saved
through our Master, Christ Jesus, 10 who died for us
so that whether we’re awake or sleeping, we might live together with him.
11 So help one another and build one another
into the one body—just like you’re doing.

The pagans of this world will do their thing. Pagans gonna pagan. They’ll ignore what Jesus is doing; they’ll get stoned and wasted, or distract themselves some other way. But we’re meant to be holy. We don’t do like they do. We aren’t to let the world pass us by. We’re to engage with it, be active in it, point others towards God’s kingdom—and practice a little self-control for once. Love our neighbors. Don’t be dicks.

Because supposedly, we’re living lives which follow the Holy Spirit. We’re choosing to love and trust God. We’re altering our mindsets to embrace the idea God wants to save us, not destroy us; wants to reform the wicked, not be forced to smite them. For it’s true. God loves humanity.

And whether we actively live godly lives, or suck as hard as dark Christians who only flinch at everything with fear and rage, God loves us, and intends to live forever with us. Let’s get ready for that—so it’s not so drastic of a culture shock when Jesus returns.

Completing the cities of Israel before the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 May

Matthew 10.23.

In the middle of Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, there’s this verse, only found in Matthew, which goes like yea.

Matthew 10.23 KWL
“When they persecute you in this city, flee to another!
Amen amen! I promise you, you might not finish the cities of Israel
before whenever the Son of Man might come.”

Because translators tend to automatically convert any sentence with οὐ μὴ/u mi, “never,” into absolute statements (like Luke Skywalker’s “I’ll never join you; you killed my father!”) they dismiss all the subjunctive verbs Jesus uses in such statements. He said might never, but they translate it as if he said never.

Because people find comfort in absolutes. Especially when the absolutes promise ’em something they want. We want Jesus to return! (Well, most of us.) So here, Jesus promises, with “amen amen,” that his students might not have to be chased through every city in Israel before he returns for them. And Christians nowadays, who want Jesus to return already, are happy to grab this paragraph and claim, “See? All we gotta do is be chased from town to town in Israel, and before we’re done, Jesus’ll come!”

This passage, paired with others, has evolved into a couple different popular End Times claims:

  • Once every Israeli city has been properly evangelized, Jesus will return.
  • Once every last Jew on earth has heard the gospel at least once, Jesus will return.
  • Once every city on the planet has been evangelized, Jesus will return.
  • Once every human on earth has heard the gospel at least once, Jesus will return.

So if we really want Jesus to return—if we’re really serious about it, and aren’t just claiming we want the second coming, when really we just want temporal religious power over our neighbors—we’ll get to work on evangelizing all the Jews. Or evangelizing everybody. We’ll make him return.

And if any other Christians aren’t contributing to the effort, we’ll make ’em feel super guilty. “Yeah you say you want Jesus to return, but what’re you doing to evangelize the planet? I don’t see anything.”

But I remind you: Jesus used a subjunctive verb, τελέσητε/telésite, “you all might finish.” Might finish, not shall finish. This might happen. Or not.

If it’s a hypothetical statement, why does Jesus make a promise of it by beginning it with “Amen amen” (KJV “Verily”)? Because what he’s properly promising is the Son of Man will come. And he might do it before his apostles finish traveling the entirety of Israel… and he might do it after. Might do it long after. But regardless the second coming will happen.

As for when it happens, or what prefaces it… well we always gotta remember Jesus said this about his second coming:

Mark 13.32 KWL
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Jesus didn’t know when he’d return. He had an idea of what might have to happen first, which is why he expressed what might have to happen first. Thing is, Christians want something more concrete than that: We wanna know what has to happen first. We want the timeline of events. We want to feel some sense of control over these events, and knowledge is power. But not even Jesus has that power. It happens when it happens; it’s not for us to know when. Ac 1.7 It’s for us to share Jesus. Ac 1.8 Including with all the cities of Israel. And the world.

How the mistranslation confuses people.

Let’s check out how the KJV translated it:

Matthew 10.23 KJV
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

Thanks to this rendering, this passage “is among the most difficult in the NT canon,” as stated by D.A. Carson in the 1984 edition of the Expositors Bible Commentary. Well duh: It’s profoundly likely Christians have thoroughly, thoroughly proclaimed Jesus to all the then-residents of Israel, achieved at multiple times throughout Christian history. Did it after the Roman Empire became Christian; did it during the Crusades (even though our methods of evangelism at the time were pretty psycho); did it during the French occupation, and the British occupation, and during the newly-recreated state of Israel.

Israel has been overrun by Christian evangelists multiple times. Hence Christians have realized “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come” can’t be interpreted the way we presume. Something’s off here.

Carson pitched a few theories, which I’ll summarize for your convenience:

  • Remember how Jesus sent out the Twelve, Lk 9.1 then the 72, Lk 10.1 to go preach the gospel? This is another case of that. He had them go round Israel again, but he said he’d catch up with them before they were done. This is about that, not the second coming.
  • “The Son of Man be come” doesn’t refer to the second coming, but of some other major revelation of Jesus as Messiah. Like his triumphal entry of Jerusalem, or his resurrection.
  • “The cities of Israel” aren’t literally Israel. It’s a metaphor for the whole world. We’ve gotta track down everybody on earth, figure out their language, and make sure they understand the gospel.
  • Jesus doesn’t know the date of his return, Mk 13.32 and he incorrectly assumed it’d take place in a few years. Whoops. His bad. (Or alternatively, it was gonna take place in a few years, but we did something to delay him, and thus nullified this prophecy. Our bad.)
  • This prophecy isn’t activated till the End Times. First the seven-year tribulation has to start, and then we gotta proclaim Jesus to all of Israel… who is, because of the Beast’s persecution of them, a lot more open to the idea of Jesus’s return. But we’ll barely finish going the rounds before the second coming.
  • “The Son of Man be come” isn’t the second coming, but the Lord’s judgment upon Jerusalem, which the Romans destroyed in the year 70.

Carson, and preterists like myself, tend to lean towards the last theory. After all, the Olivet Discourse was triggered by Jesus’s statement the temple would eventually come down, and how was that gonna happen? What events came first? So even though Jesus brought up his second coming, he was still primarily talking about Jerusalem’s destruction, and in the 17 years between his rapture and Jerusalem’s fall, there’d barely be enough time to evangelize Israel.

But I still remind you this is not Jesus’s declaration of what will happen, because Jesus lacked full knowledge. He didn’t know when he would return! Still doesn’t know. When he became human—and he’s still human, y’know; he didn’t shed some human suit when he took his seat at the right hand of the Father—he surrendered his power, and limited himself to the power of the Holy Spirit. Which ain’t nothing! But it means he only knows of the future what the Spirit shows him, and apparently the Spirit doesn’t want any human, Jesus included, to have a comprehensive knowledge of the future. For some of these events, he doesn’t want us to intervene. ’Cause we totally would—’cause we have our own ideas about how the End should play out. And they’re nowhere near as benevolent as God’s ideas. They’re a lot more petty and vengeful.

So yeah, Jesus was making an educated guess about what might happen before his return. Hence all the subjunctive verbs. Which our translations don’t show… because again, we have our own ideas about how the End should play out. And when Jesus spoke about the End, we don’t want to imagine him guessing. We want him knowing. We wanna tap his foreknowledge, so it can become our foreknowledge. We want it to be definite, so we can be masters of our destiny.

But that’s not for us to have. We’re to trust God. Ac 1.7 He knows what’s coming, and what he’s doing. Our job is to simply share Jesus with Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the planet. Ac 1.8 Be okay with the fact Jesus isn’t telling us everything. He’s Lord; he doesn’t have to.

Does God listen to pagans when they pray?

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May

I’ll answer the question in the title right away: Yes. God listens to pagans when they pray.

And, well, duh. Of course he listens to them! He listens to everyone. He knows what everyone’s saying, what everyone’s thinking, and whether what we’re saying and what we’re thinking line up. (And when they aren’t, he knows we’re being hypocrites.)

He knows what our needs are; he hears us express ’em to him; he knows whether we’re sincere. True of everybody. Not just Christians.

Why’s this even a question? Because of course there are Christians who claim he doesn’t. Only we get access to the Almighty; only true believers.

(And maybe Jews… depending on whether they like Jews. If they like Jews, they always manage to find an exception to the “no pagans” rule; they’re God’s chosen people so he has to listen to them, doesn’t he? And if they’re antisemites, either Jews are simply another type of pagan he dismisses; or God’s rejected the Jews ’cause of the sins antisemites claim are unique to Jews, so he can’t abide them. Nope, these views aren’t based on reasoned-out theology. They’re always, always based on personal biases. Notice how often antisemites also figure God won’t listen to Roman Catholics, Muslims, or anybody they hate.)

Okay. Where do the Christians who claim God ignores pagans and sinners, get their ideas? Well, bible.

Isaiah 1.15 KJV
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
 
Micah 3.4 KJV
Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.

Okay. When you read these verses in proper context, both Isaiah and Micah were referring to people who should already be in conversation with God, but for whatever reason—they don’t believe in him, they don’t care to follow his commands, hot pagan sex—they’ve chosen sin. And when they suffer the consequences of those sins, God’s gonna let ’em. He warned them; he just had his prophets warn them; they’re not listening, so when they ultimately need his help, he won’t be listening.

No, it doesn’t sound very gracious of God, which is why a number of Christians who like to preach grace, like to skip these verses altogether. Or pretend they don’t exist; or pretend they can’t possibly mean what they mean; or straight-up say the prophets were wrong. I don’t care to go there: I believe the prophets are accurately relaying what God told ’em. God has infinite grace, and offers us infinite chances. But he also sets deadlines, and if we resist his grace all the way up to the deadline and beyond, he’s gotta follow through with his entirely fair judgments. And when they beg him to not follow through… what’s he gonna do, cave in like the parents of a spoiled child, and let people go right back to doing evil? Nope. He’s gotta ignore their shrieks of indignation, and stop the evil.

That’s what the verses mean when they state God sometimes won’t hear people.

The rest of the time, of course he will.

Psalm 145.18-19 KWL
18 The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. 19 He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them.
 
Romans 10.12-13 KWL
12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Jl 2.32

If God didn’t heed the prayers of pagans, it’d be impossible for pagans to call upon him to save them! Even the most hardcore cases of people who claim “God doesn’t hear pagans” have to admit this is so. And they do. It’s just they claim every other prayer these pagans make, every other thing they request, God ignores… ’cause he’s waiting for the sinner’s prayer, and only after he hears that will he move his hand.

But nope, God hears pagans when they pray. Even if their prayers are weird, ridiculous, warped, selfish, or evil. Same as our prayers, when we get weird, ridiculous, warped, selfish, and evil. God hears everyone.

Hearing versus answering.

Part of the problematic idea God doesn’t hear pagans, is the problematic way we talk about prayer. Too many Christians don’t describe it as talking with God, which is all it really is. They try to make it sound more Christian. Throw a lot of Christianese lingo on it. Make it sound extra-holy and sacred. Shout, and pray in tongues, and use a lot of bible quotes and metaphors and poetry, because we somehow got the idea it’s okay to get weird when we’re addressing God. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care for our melodrama; all he wants to do is talk. Maybe help out a bit.

So when Christians talk about God hearing our prayers, sometimes we don’t just mean to perceive the sounds we’re making as we talk to him about stuff. Usually we mean God answering our prayers—fulfilling our requests especially.

Hence when certain Christians claim, “God doesn’t listen to pagans,” what they more accurately mean is God doesn’t answer pagans’ prayers.

Which is an idea that’s also easily debunked.

Acts 10.1-4 KJV
1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.

Yeah, people will argue Cornelius wasn’t pagan, ’cause he was a devout worshiper of God. But he was. He didn’t worship the Greco-Roman gods, but the LORD, which is most definitely a step in the right direction. But he wasn’t a convert to Pharisaism; Jews still called him uncircumcised, Ac 11.3 which was one of their requirements for conversion. He’d follow the LORD only to a point, and otherwise do what he felt was best—which is exactly what makes any “Christian” actually pagan.

But God is gracious, and sent Cornelius an angel to set him straight by having him get and listen to Simon Peter. And as the angel pointed out, God was not unfamiliar with Cornelius’s prayers. True, some naysayers point out the angel didn’t say “God’s been hearing your prayers,” but αἱ προσευχαί σουἀνέβησαν εἰς μνημόσυνον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ/e prosevhé su… anévisan eis nimósynon émprosthen tu Theú, “Your prayers… go up to a memorial before God.” As if he’s noticed them, but not heard them. It’s ridiculous nitpicking, and creates an equally ridiculous scenario where God’s telling himself, “Y’know, because he’s pagan, I’m not gonna listen to him. But since he seems so earnest, I’ll send an angel his way.” It makes God sound petty; really it’s the fact the interpreters are petty, and projecting their bad attitudes upon God.

God rewards those who earnestly seek him, He 11.6 Christian or pagan. If they’re making an effort, same as any Christian who makes an effort, God meets ’em where they are, and tries to bring them along even further. He’s trying to save them too. Jesus died for their sins same as ours, 1Jn 2.2 and there’s nothing but their own resistance getting in God’s way. So if they’re making any small, pathetic efforts in his direction, of course he’s gonna try to encourage more of that. He’s gracious, not petty.

So yes, he hears pagan prayers. And yes, he even answers pagan prayers. Not just the sinner’s prayer; if a pagan asks to be cured of some illness, God’s definitely been known to cure pagans. Many a Christian chaplain can tell you of pagans who’ve asked them to pray for stuff, and many chaplains can tell you God’s granted stuff—and no, that’s not because God listens to the chaplain and not the pagan.

It’s because, as usual, sometimes our will syncs up with God’s, so he grants those requests. And of course sometimes it doesn’t sync at all, and even Christians get such requests refused.

James 4.3 KJV
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When pagans make selfless requests of God, same as we Christians should be making selfless requests of God, it stands to reason God is likely to respond positively to them. Hence sometimes pagans get what they ask for, and Christians don’t. God knows best.

And yeah, some of those pagan prayers definitely won’t work for us. Like when they’re throwing wishes out into the universe, hoping some cosmic law of attraction will give them what they want. We wouldn’t care to honor such poorly-expressed “prayers”; we’d want to straighten the pagans out first, and explain there’s a lot more humility involved. But y’know, when the LORD answers such requests anyway, we’ve got to remember he knows what he’s doing. He’s trying to bring them along, gently and kindly; certainly more kindly than we can be. No, pagans don’t rightly understand how God works. But isn’t this just as true of so many of us Christians?

So if pagans wanna pray, let’s encourage the practice. Let’s point them to way better prayer resources than the usual mumbo-jumbo they find in the spirituality section of the bookstores. Let’s encourage them to talk with God, and try to hear him, and confirm it really is him before acting upon what we think we’ve heard him say.

And don’t be surprised when God uses their newly-evolving prayer life to point ’em to Jesus.

Do we really get whatever we ask in Jesus’s name?

by K.W. Leslie, 05 May

While the idea of “God’ll give us whatever we ask in Jesus’s name” has been largely misunderstood, misinterpreted, and abused, by Christians who wanna depict God as if he’s a magic genie who grants way more than three wishes—or like Santa Claus, who will only give you presents if you’re good, so be good for goodness’ sake—the reality is Jesus does hear prayer requests. And isn’t just willing, but eager, to answer the good requests.

John 16.23-24 KJV
23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. 24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

Here’s the context of this scripture; it’s important, y’know. At the time Jesus was speaking with his students about leaving them; about returning to his Father. Once he’d done so, they’d be miserable. But once he comes back in victory, having conquered sin and death, they’ll be overjoyed. They’ll be so thrilled to see him, his mere presence would be enough for them; they couldn’t ask for anything more. But, Jesus says, this is the perfect time to ask for anything more.

See, Jesus didn’t return to them in the same condition as when he left. Certainly not; all crucified and gory and mangled. He’s resurrected. He’s a harbinger of the age to come, with God’s kingdom in clear, plain sight, and the power to bring it into our reality. When he returned to them it wasn’t just time to bask in the joy of the Lord, but to get started bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

Just as true for us Christians today. We’re gonna need God’s help to bring about his kingdom. We need to ask him for things!

“In Jesus name”—and why it doesn’t always work.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 May

Jesus told us, more than once, we can use his name whenever we ask the Father for things.

John 14.12-15 KJV
12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
 
John 15.16 KJV
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
 
John 16.23-24 KJV
23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. 24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

Usually Christians are fully aware of this fact. Which is why whenever we want our requests fulfilled, we do ask for stuff in Jesus’s name.

Well, more accurately we ask “in Jesus name.” No possessive. (It’s not like most people know how to use apostrophes properly anyway.) It’s kinda the traditional, rote, thoughtless way we’ve grown accustomed to praying: Before we say amen, we throw a “In Jesus name” in there just to make extra sure we get what we want. It’s not a reminder of who we follow and who’s our Lord; it’s an incantation. It’s what we say to unlock the power. It’s magic.

Yeah, no.

’Cause we have that one bible story where people try to use “in Jesus name” as the magic words, and fail miserably. You might’ve heard it.

Acts 19.13-17 KJV
13 Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. 14 And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? 16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

Many Christians claim Jesus’s name unlocks every door. Here it didn’t.

Usually it’s presumed it’s because Sceva’s boys weren’t Christian. Didn’t personally know Jesus; they were just using his name because they knew Christians use it, and heard it gets results. But no; Luke stated these kids were Jews, and their dad was a priest, which meant they were Levites; they’d be likewise trained as priests. Any priestly training, whether instructed by Sadducees or Pharisees, would’ve taught them the Law—so they knew you don’t call upon any other name but God’s.

Exodus 23.13 KJV
And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.

Jews didn’t do exorcisms in any other name but God’s. Still true: We Christians recognize Jesus is God, so that’s not an issue. So Sceva’s sons would’ve have known better than to invoke Jesus—unless they were Christian. Or thought themselves Christian. Where they got their Christianity we don’t know; as “vagabond Jews” they traveled from city to city, and picked up Jesus along the way.

But they didn’t know him as well as the thought they did. Certainly the evil spirit they tried to fight, didn’t detect anything of Jesus about them, which is why it could beat the clothes off them.

Sceva’s kids didn’t get what they sought “in Jesus name,” because the name is not a password, a spell, a magic word; it’s not just a name we drop because we wanna appear important. When we ask for something in another person’s name, like when Jesus’s students borrowed a donkey—

Mark 11.2-6 KJV
2 And [Jesus] saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. 3 And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. 4 And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. 5 And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? 6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.

—we’re properly asking for something they want, not something we want. If we only ask for something we want, yet never take the other person’s wishes into consideration—“I’d like a kilo of your finest cocaine, and here’s a blank check from my dad”—should we be surprised at all if that other person stops payment on the check?

The reason Jesus is cool with us using his name, is because we’re supposedly following him. We do as he teaches, try to develop his character, and want what he does. We abide in him, as he does in us. If this is the case, feel free to invoke Jesus’s name every time you pray.

And if it’s not, and our assumptions about what Jesus wants are based on projecting our own bad attitudes or desires upon him, I really don’t expect him to fulfill our requests. He might anyway—but it won’t have anything to do with us; we just happened to ask for something he wants to do for his own reasons, regardless of our reasons.