Love one another.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 July
John 13.34-35 KJV
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Lest we miss the point, Jesus says “Love one another” thrice. It’s not unimportant to him. It is unimportant to Christians however. We’ve really pooched this one. On a global level.

We don’t love our fellow Christians in our churches. They’re family, and sometimes we acknowledge they’re family… but they’re kinda like the family we barely tolerate for family reunions. We don’t interact with them outside our church buildings. We don’t know what’s going on with their personal lives. We don’t care, either. We’re too busy.

We don’t love our fellow Christians in the other churches. In many cases we convinced ourselves half of them aren’t real Christians anyway. Their denominations teach weird, inappropriate things. They’re too legalistic to really love Jesus, or they’re too loosey-goosy with God’s righteous standards to really love Jesus. They’re not Spirit-filled enough… or they think they’re more Spirit-filled than we are, but really they’ve just confused their weird fleshly impulses with the Spirit.

We don’t love our fellow Christians in far-off lands. If the nearby Christians aren’t Christian enough for us, foreign Christians definitely aren’t. Their customs are too bizarre. Their people are dirt poor, and we wealthy Christians are so unconsciously used to social Darwinist and prosperity gospel thinking, we suspect they can’t have a proper relationship with God if he’s abandoned them to their poverty like that. We assume their so-called Christianity is really their country’s version of Christianism: It’s a cultural and ethnic thing which everybody does by rote. It’s not a living relationship, but dead religion. Shame they’re getting persecuted though… which can’t possibly be because they really do know Jesus, and would die for him.

We barely love our neighbors anyway. And besides, we’re busy! We have jobs. We have kids to raise, and drive to their afterschool activities. We have dates to keep, buddies to stay connected with, movies to watch, teams to support, video games to play… We “have lives.” Jesus understands; he knows all, and knows how busy we are. We haven’t time. We’ll do it once we finally have time, like when we retire, or after we’re resurrected.

Angels.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 July

I get asked about angels a lot. A lot. Probably too much. People have a great interest in ’em. Sometimes it’s unhealthy; namely when they’re far more interested in angelology than in Jesus.

But to a point it’s understandable. I mean, here are these spirit beings, and—from what we’ve been told about ’em—they’re around us all the time. People figure we have guardian angels, who are watching us constantly… and shaking their heads in disapproval every time we sin. Others imagine they have a shoulder angel, who’s constantly whispering correction in their ear (and no, that’s the Holy Spirit, and he’s not on your shoulder either).

Far too commonly, they think angels are dead people. Yep. Ghosts. Usually dead family members; usually beloved dead family members, ’cause they certainly don’t wanna imagine their creepy uncle has become an angel and can now watch ’em shower. Ghosts, but not ghosts; they’ve had an upgrade, and popular art imagines ’em with wings and halo and a bright nightgown, even though we usually figure yeah, they don’t really look like that. But we imagine they look down on us, approvingly or not; and come down to intervene from time to time.

Despite what the Mormons tell you, angels are not dead humans. They were never human. Whole different species. In fact, from the scriptures, there appear to be several species of angel. Medieval Catholics referred to these differences by the Latin word chorus, “character”—which evolved into their word choir, and left most westerners with the false idea angels are bunched into different singing groups. Kinda like the various a capella groups at an Ivy League school. But yeah, that’s why various music pastors insist angels are primarily interested in singing. No; that’s them projecting their favorite form of worship upon angels. Some angels sing. Some don’t.

Our word angel comes from the Greek >ἄγγελος/ánghelos, “agent” or “messenger.” It translates the Hebrew מַלְאָךְ/malákh, which also means “agent” or “messenger.” In the Old Testament, God uses both humans and spirits to share his messages. We tend to call the humans prophets, and we just assume all angels prophesy. ’Cause whenever they appear to us, that’s typically what they do.

There are angels in the bible, and because the bible’s about the LORD and his relationship with humans, it doesn’t go into any detail about what an angel is, how it works, how many eyes it has (for some of them, lots), how many wings it has (if any!), and what they do for fun. Because the bible’s not about angels. They exist, so they’re in there, but most of the “information” humanity has about angels comes from personal experience, if they’ve had any; or fiction. Arguably more Americans “know” about angels from the old TV shows Touched by an Angel or Supernatural than from scripture—and those shows, regardless of how much data they tried to pull from bible (and Supernatural didn’t even try), are fiction.

Getting Christian capitalization right.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 July

We Christians have invented a lot of petty and stupid ways to judge our fellow Christians for how devout they are. That’s what these Expectations articles are about, y’know. We don’t look for fruit of the Spirit. We look for this crap. So from time to time I get judged for not meeting my fellow Christians’ expectations. So do you. Isn’t it tiresome?

One of the little litmus tests is how we do on Christian capitalization. I get rebuked for this on a frequent basis: I don’t capitalize Christian things enough. I don’t capitalize “bible”—as if people aren’t gonna know I’m talking about the bible when I do so. I don’t capitalize God’s pronouns. I don’t capitalize “church” and “liturgy” and “sacrament.” I do capitalize Satan.

Because I follow the rules of 21st century grammar. I know; it’s a dying practice. I read a lot of news, and regularly catch reporters misusing apostrophes. People love to use ’em for plurals. Love love love. Even though they shouldn’t. When in doubt, don’t. But I digress.

Now under the rules of 16th century grammar, you capitalize everything you wanna emphasize, which is why the U.S. Constitution and our Declaration of Independence are full (or to do it 16th-century style, Full) of capitalizations. But we stopped doing that in the 19th century, and the only reason Christians kept it up is because we liked old books. We oughta still like old books… but that’s another digression.

Under 21st century grammar, we capitalize proper names, and titles when we address people by ’em. We capitalize Jesus, of course; we capitalize Lord when we address him as such, but when we refer to him as our lord, we needn’t. Christians will, ’cause they don’t realize there’s a difference, and figure you always capitalize lord. And yeah, when we’re referring to YHWH, the LORD, yeah we do. But “lord” is his title, not a proper name. “God” is his species, not a proper name; calling him “God” is like when he refers to Ezekiel as “Son of Man.” Ek 2.1

Like I said, Christians don’t realize there’s a difference, and get all bent out of shape when people refer to “god,” as in “The guru claims to be an expert on god.” (Y’realize if the guru is Hindu, of course you wouldn’t capitalize “god,” ’cause we could be talking about any of their gods.) To the Christian’s mind, it doesn’t matter if “god” is only God’s species: You capitalize it! Always. It’s not lowercase-G “god,” and lowercasing God’s title disrespects him, doesn’t it? Just like how it disrespects us when people won’t capitalize “human,” right?

Just like how disrespects us when other people won’t capitalize our names, right? …Wait, do people do this as a way to disrespect one another? I mean, unless they’re being a little creative with graphic design, like movie credits which put everything in lowercase: Who lowercases people’s names so as to insult them? And when we see it done to our own names, who among us is so sensitive we identify this as a slight? Does it ever occur to anybody to consider this a big deal? Or an insult?

Yet you’ll actually find Christians do this to the devil. Seriously.

Now the things we call it—“devil” and “Satan”—are actually both titles. We don’t know its proper name. (No, it’s not “Lucifer.” That’s a misinterpretation… and another title, while we’re at it.) As titles, we don’t actually need to capitalize ’em either, unless we’re addressing the devil by its title—“Listen, Devil,” or “Listen, Accuser”—but Christians traditionally treat “Satan” as this particular satan’s proper name. Yet Christians, just to stick it to Satan a little, like to lowercase it where inappropriate. Yeah, like this gets it back for convincing people to use lowercase-G’s on God. It’s petty of us.

It also freaks Christians out when people capitalize “God” to refer to another religion’s god. Like Aten or Wotan or Vishnu—we don’t refer to these beings as “Gods,” but “gods.” Zeus isn’t a God, but a god. Properly, YHWH is a god too, but to honor him we insist on making him always, always an uppercase-G God, ’cause he’s the God.

Mix any of these customary rules up, and people are gonna doubt your salvation. Even if it’s an honest mistake, or a pagan editor removing all our sacred capitalization.

Yeah, it’s already kinda silly. But it goes further. A lot further. Follow me down the rabbit hole, will you?

The Fruitless Fig Tree Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 July

Luke 13.1-9.

Two stories before Jesus presented the Mustard Seed Story in Luke, he told the Fruitless Fig Tree Story in response to then-current events. Let’s start with the events, since they’re relevant.

Luke 13.1 KWL
Some were present among Jesus’s listeners at that time, who brought news
of the Galileans whose blood Pontius Pilate mixed with the sacrifices.

We don’t know the actual story behind this. We just have guesses. Most of ’em presume Pilate put down an uprising, and in so doing killed some Galileans in the temple area, either close enough to the ritual sacrifices to splatter blood on ’em… or at least close enough for the Israelis to object it was just as bad, and hyperbolically claim he may as well have splattered their blood on their sacrifices. You know how people can get.

But again: We don’t know this is what happened. The Romans are pretty good at keeping records about such things, and we have no record of such an uprising. It’s certainly staying in Roman character to indiscriminately kill people in order to keep the peace, and certainly staying in Roman character to kill people even in sacred spaces. The whole concept of claiming sanctuary is a Hebrew thing 1Ki 2.28-34 and later a Christian thing. Not a Roman thing.

Popular songwriter Ephrem the Syrian (306–73) told an interesting story. Remember when Antipas Herod had John the baptist executed? Ephrem claimed this outraged Pilate—’cause the execution was illegal. After all, John hadn’t done anything wrong; he only pointed out it was against the Law of Moses for Herod to marry his sister-in-law. Lv 18.16 Which is true after all. Anyway because Pilate couldn’t do anything to Herod, he decided the next best thing was to arrest and execute anybody else who was present. He found ’em in the temple, killed ’em as they were offering sacrifice, and that’s the backstory. Commentary on Tatian’s Diatesseron 14.25 But Ephrem lived three centuries after it happened, so again: We don’t know this is what happened.

What we do know is Luke kinda expected his readers—or his main reader, Theophilus Lk 1.3 —to know this backstory. And maybe Theophilus did. But we don’t.

Anyway, back to Jesus.

Disasters and karma.

Luke 13.2-5 KWL
2 In reply Jesus told them, “You think these Galileans were sinners.
Worse than all the Galileans, because they suffered such evil things.
3 No, I tell you.
But unless you repent, everyone will likewise be destroyed.
4 Or those 18 killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them:
You think they were worse debtors than all the people inhabiting Jerusalem?
5 No, I tell you.
But unless you repent, everyone will likewise be destroyed.

We know of a pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, Jn 9.7 but not a tower. Probably because it fell. Possibly while it was under construction; it fell, killed the workers, and was never rebuilt. Possibly it was poorly made—or well-made, but an earthquake took it down. Again, we don’t have the backstory. But it was likely another then-current event. One Jesus brought up for two reasons.

First, both Pilate killing the Galileans, and the tower falling on people, were disasters. One was the deliberate product of human will. The other was an accident. But if you’re planning to highlight this difference, don’t bother. Jesus treats ’em exactly the same. A disaster’s a disaster.

Second, Jesus didn’t want anyone in his audience getting the idea that Galileans needed to repent but Judeans didn’t. Disaster strikes Galileans and Judeans alike. Disaster strikes Jews and gentiles alike as well. Everybody needs to repent. Everybody’s a sinner.

The problem was the ancient Israelis—and present-day Christians, and really everybody—had and have the bad habit of leaping to the conclusion every disaster is a consequence. They don’t have any apparent, visible reason, but they happen because these people need to die. ’Cause karma. The universe needs to balance out good and bad karma, and destroy evildoers one way or another. Christians might credit God for balancing things out; determinists certainly do. But they act as if God is beholden to follow the laws of karma. He is not. He does grace. Always has.

So the Galileans were sinners, and the Jerusalemites were debtors (a popular synonym for sinner). So they deserved to die; and since everybody sins we kinda all deserve to die, as determinists love to uncharitably point out whenever disaster strikes. But as Jesus points out, everybody’s gonna die—unless they repent.

We Christians usually assume Jesus means we’re gonna die in our sins, and go to hell, unless we repent and follow him. And yeah, maybe Jesus means that too. But on a more historical level, in about four decades after Jesus taught this, the Romans came and destroyed Israel—and only the Christians among the Israelis were forewarned, fled, and survived. Unless these literal people repent, follow Jesus, and hear from his apostles to flee for the hills, they’re literally, in their present era and not the End Times, gonna die. Jesus might be talking about humanity’s need to repent, but he’s definitely talking about Roman-era Israel.

And karma really has nothing to do with it. We Christians need to ditch these karmic ideas. They’re not of God; they’re not his idea; they’re ours. They’re how humans imagine the world should work; how people explain things away when bad things happen to good people. But Jesus tells us no. Twice.

Not every disaster is God smiting the wicked, nor balancing out the cosmos. Some events don’t mean anything. Stop trying to find meanings in them, and connecting cosmic dots which aren’t there. Focus on what we properly oughta focus upon: Our lifestyle of repentance. On following Jesus, and pointing others to him. On loving God and our neighbors. On his kingdom come.

Now for the fig tree.

The Fruitless Fig Tree Story doesn’t follow the previous lesson for no reason. It’s definitely connected.

Luke 13.6-9 KWL
6 Jesus was speaking this parable: “Someone has a fig tree,
planted in his vineyard, and comes to check for fruit on it, and finds none.
7 He tells his vinedresser, ‘Look, it’s been three years;
I come checking for fruit on this fig tree; I find none.
Cut it down. Why should it waste the soil?’
8 In reply the vinedresser tells him, ‘Master, leave it be this year,
till the time I can dig round it and can throw manure on it.
9 If it produces fruit, it can stay.
If not, cut it down indeed.’ ”

Historically Christians have interpreted this story thisaway:

  • The vineyard represents the church, or the world.
  • The tree represents a Christian.
  • The vineyard owner is the Father, who’s lost patience with this fleshly Christian.
  • The vinedresser is Jesus, who talks the Father down.

The reason we know this is a problematic interpretation is ’cause Jesus somehow has more patience than his Father. “The Father” might insist, “Times up; we should see fruit by now; cut it down,” but “Jesus” sees our potential and talks his Father out of it.

Thing is, the Father shares Jesus’s attitude of wanting to save the world. Jn 3.16, 1Ti 2.3-4, 2Pe 3.9 Saving the world is their idea. Patience is a trait they have in common ’cause they’re God, and not in unequal amounts. Pitting them against one another presumes they aren’t One God.

So there are a few problems with the traditional interpretation. Something’s amiss.

What’s amiss is Christians interpret this story without looking at the previous passage. Jesus’s audience was talking about disasters, and Jesus brought the discussion round to disaster coming for ancient Israel. This story is likewise about disaster coming for Israel. The tree represents ancient Israel. Contrary to the Pharisees’ intentions, Israel wasn’t adequately producing fruit.

The people knew this already, and not just because John the baptist had said so.

Luke 3.7-9 KJV
7 Then said [John] to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Yep, Jesus is talking about the very same thing John did. Even used a tree, and cutting it down, to make his point.

Jesus brings up one tree, and John many. One can argue each tree represents an individual person, and I’m inclined to say it’s an individual nation. Either way we know God judges both individuals and nations—that sometimes unrighteous people like Jeconiah and Zedekiah get what’s coming to them, and righteous people like Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel get caught up in the disasters that befall their nation. It’s why we all need to be forewarned.

In his story Jesus’s landowner says he’s seen nothing for three years. No this isn’t a secret code for how many literal years Israel had gone wrong. Too many Christians are trying to crack a code which isn’t there. Don’t fall for that. The three years in this story doesn’t represent literal years, but a length of time where a farmer should reasonably expect fruit. It doesn’t secretly represent three “weeks” of years, i.e. 21 years; the LORD took a lot longer than that to smite Egypt for its sin of Hebrew slavery, and to smite the United States for its sin of African slavery.

The Father and the Son have the same mind about salvation, and if the vineyard owner and the vinedresser represent them, they represent a discussion the LORD has within himself about what to do with his fruitless people. It’s not one person debating another person; it’s an inner monologue within the godhead. It’s the LORD determining what he’s gonna do, same as he does elsewhere in the scriptures.

Genesis 18.17-18 KJV
17 And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?

Who’s he talking to? Himself. He does that. We now know God is a trinity, and while we don’t fully understand how he works, we know there are persons of the One God who have different wills, Lk 22.42 yet agree because he is One. The vineyard belongs to Jesus, the king of kings who conquered the world, Jn 16.33 who may decide, “Okay, this fruitless tree of mine oughta come down.” Yet the Holy Spirit says, “But I want some more time to work on it first. And if I don’t get results, then it’ll come down.”

So this is what God’s up to. Disaster was coming. (Disasters are always coming.) God sees his fruitless tree, wasting soil, and knows it oughta come down… and also knows if he pushes the tree just a bit more, he can wring fruit from it. He wants to save everybody he can. He’s still trying to.

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Holiness versus solemnity.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 July

Years ago I taught at my church’s Christian junior high and elementary school. We had yearly “staff retreats,” which took an inservice day and required us to go do something together. Sometimes an actual retreat at a conference center; sometimes just a dinner. (I think most of us appreciated the dinners most.)

Anyway, one year our principal decided it’d be neat if we visited the Friday night service at Bethel Church in Redding. We’d check into a hotel, go out to dinner, go to the service, return to the hotel, and go home in the morning. The reason for the overnight stay was ’cause Bethel services might, “as the Spirit led,” go past midnight. She thought it was a great idea—and was really surprised at the backlash she got from the teachers.

Y’see, Bethel’s a New Apostolic charismatic church. Their beliefs and teachings aren’t mainstream—and are therefore controversial. I don’t know how aware she was of this; I think she wanted to go to Bethel because she loved their music. (They do have great music.) Whereas some of our Fundamentalist teachers were worried they’d be taught heresy, and were really bothered by the idea of a mandatory staff retreat which’d teach ’em heresy.

So one day in the staff room, I heard my fellow teachers express their worry our principal was trying to convert them. I figured I knew her well enough to explain no, she really wasn’t. It was a simple case of her being really earnest… and kinda tone-deaf.

“All right,” said one of our more conservative teachers. In this article I’ll call her Rachel. She attended an independent Baptist church; one of those churches which only do hymns. Bethel’s guitar-driven music, dancing in the aisles, hands waving, flags flapping, tambourines, wild enthusiams: This was way out of Rachel’s comfort zone. (Not mine; I’d been Pentecostal for years.) But Rachel figured she’d take a look, and if she didn’t like it, she’d just go back to the hotel. Fair enough. And the other teachers decided to follow her lead: See it for themselves, at least.

So off we went. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before. Heck, my church’s Friday night services were similar. (Probably ’cause our music pastors were already big fans of Bethel songs.) Rachel kept asking, “Does your church really do all this stuff?” and yeah, it did. I go to a much smaller church now, where don’t have so much space for dancers and flags, but we still have a lot of fans of Bethel music. To her credit, Rachel stayed for most of it, and left only because it was getting way past her bedtime.

“I dunno,” she told me afterwards. “It’s not what I’m used to. I like my worship to be holy. You understand? Holy.

At first no I didn’t. Exactly what’s unholy about it?

I grew up Fundamentalist, so I know exactly what kind of music Rachel’s church does. And as she described why she preferred that style of music to Bethel’s revivalist style, it dawned on me: By holy she means solemn. Serious. Sincere. Formal.

Because God, explained Rachel, is a holy God. Meaning he’s serious, sincere, and formal.

The fruit of holiness: Let’s get weird.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 July

Holiness is a fruit of the Spirit. And every time I point this out, there’s always some numbnut who says, “It is not. Holiness is good, and Christians oughta be holy, but it’s not in Galatians 5, so it’s not a fruit.”

Okay, three things. First, Galatians 5 isn’t a comprehensive list of the Spirit’s fruit, and was never meant to be. Jesus and his other apostles talk about fruit from time to time as well. Simon Peter’s the guy who brought up holiness, in his first letter.

1 Peter 1.13-16 KJV
13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. Lv 19.2

God expects his kids to be holy. It’s one of his traits that’s gonna inevitably flow into dedicated followers and make us holy.

Second, y’notice how tons of Christians regularly confuse holiness with goodness? So if you claim holiness isn’t a fruit of the Spirit but goodness is, and you think holiness and goodness are the same thing, what’re you doing claiming holiness isn’t a fruit of the Spirit? Although here’s where briefly I point out holiness is not goodness; it’s a different thing, and I’ll get into that, ’cause it’s the point of this article. But I won’t digress further.

Third and last: Fruit of the Spirit is empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Who is—duh!—holy. It’s in his name. It’s bizarre to imagine the Spirit won’t try to push us towards holiness.

But back to how holiness isn’t goodness. It’s not, y’know. Holy means we stand out separate from the rest of the world. We’re unique. We’re trying to act like Jesus. We’re trying to be better people than we were, and that includes not being jerks about it. We have higher and better standards for our lives.

We live in the world, in the wider culture around us, all the way into the world. We don’t isolate ourselves like hermits or cultists, because that’s what Christians do when they don’t get how holiness works. Jesus never isolated himself; even the bible’s “isolationists” like John the baptist didn’t isolate themselves. How’re we gonna reach the lost if we don’t go out and find ’em? But despite how immersed in the world we get, we don’t conform to the world, because we know the world doesn’t know what it’s doing or where it’s going. The Spirit does, and we follow him.

Yep, holiness means we’re different. Or as the world more often calls it, we’re weird.

Which is fine. I don’t mind being called weird, so long as we’re talking good weird. There’s good weird and bad weird. Dark Christians are bad weird. That’s fruitless and honestly meant to alienate people, because they figure offending people is the best way to purge the hypocrites from their ranks. Problem is, fleshly Christians make the best hypocrites, so what it really does is alienate Christians and recruit hypocrites. That’s why I try to keep people away from ’em; I’d much rather convert hypocrites and get ’em to follow Jesus.

Anyway we’re looking for good weird. God calls us to be unique. What’s that look like?

God’s holiness, our example.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 July

As I wrote yesterday, when Christians talk about holiness we usually mean goodness. We figure what makes God holy is his perfection: He’s good, he’s pure, he’s worthy of honor, he’s so… well, clean. Whereas we humans get awfully dirty.

And yeah, God is all these things. But these are symptoms of his holiness. They’re the fruit. Let’s not confuse ’em with holiness itself.

The Old Testament Hebrew word קֹדֶשׁ/qodéš, “holy,” means separate—set apart from everything else. The New Testament Greek word ἅγιος/ágios means the same thing. God’s separate and set apart from everything else. Not because he’s removed himself; he deliberately got himself right in the middle of our situation. ’Cause he’s here to help if we’d just let him. But God still stands apart from everything else, because he’s unlike everything else. He’s unique. He’s diffrent. He’s holy.

No surprise, people tend to confuse the symptoms with the underlying condition. We think how we get holy like God is we gotta be perfect. Gotta be good, pure, worthy of honor, and clean. That’s how holiness is achieved. God’s holiness, and the serious emphasis the scriptures put on his holiness, must be all about his moral perfection; when the angels call him “holy holy holy” Is 6.3, Rv 4.8 (’cause repeating a word in ancient Hebrew, like “holy holy place,” means it’s a most holy place, He 9.3 and three holies means God’s even holier) they’re really making a big to-do about his perfection.

Here’s the catch: If God’s all about holiness, and holiness means pefection, he must really hate it when we sin. It either drives him away or drives him to get all wrathful.

Really, this interpretation comes from people who really hate it when we sin. And really hate sinners. And project their attitude upon God, and claim he hates sin and sinners just as much, and push us to “be holy” and sin not. Be perfect like God is perfect. Don’t trigger him.

Okay yes: God hates sin. He’s mighty clear about that. He’s good; he created the universe and called it good (and we fouled that up); and the entirety of salvation history, the whole point of God’s kingdom, has to do with God cleaning up our mess.

But to listen to certain dark Christians, God isn’t cleaning up our mess with kindness and grace. He’s pissed. He’s quite happy to fling millions into hell, and if we get on his bad side by not meeting his standard of perfection, we’ll head for hell along with them.

To such Christians, any statements about God’s grace and mercy and kindness and goodness has to be followed up with “But God is just, and God is holy.” To them, God’s holiness is all about his impatience, rage, and destructiveness. Not his actual character; not the fruit he wants to bring out of us. To them, his perfection requires him to purge us with fire, and the way they describe him, he’s eager to rage on the wicked. It’s gonna be an orgy of death and destruction. Then afterward, for eternity, he’s gonna be friendly and benign, and that oughta neatly make up for seven years of widespread slaughter.

See what happens when we get our definitions wrong? Bad theology.

Holy and sanctified.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 July

Whenever Christians talk about holiness, we’re usually talking about goodness. When we talk about sanctification, the practice of being holy, again we’re usually talking about being good: Gotta resist temptation. Gotta stop sinning. Gotta get rid of anything in our lives which might tempt us to sin. Gotta get rid of anything “worldly,” because we’re striving for heavenly. Gotta shun evil… and in many cases gotta shun evildoers, i.e. everybody else, which is why in the past, those who sought holiness frequently became hermits, or cloistered with fellow holiness-seekers in a monastery.

Thing is, this isn’t what holiness means. Nor what sanctification means.

Holy means dedicated to God and his service, and not just for ordinary common use. If we’re gonna be holy, we’re not gonna be ordinary. We’re gonna be different. We’re gonna be weird, in most cases. People are gonna notice we’re different; we don’t live like or act like everybody else. Not even like fellow Christians—who, to be honest, are often following cultural trends of what “Christian” means rather than the Holy Spirit.

But since Jesus expects his followers to produce good fruit, we’re not gonna be bad weird, nor creepy weird, nor offputtingly weird. We’re not gonna alienate pagans. Nor should we; we’re trying to lead ’em to Jesus! They’re gonna notice we’re different, but they’re not gonna flinch because we’re antisocial or anti-them. They’re gonna be drawn to us because we love people like Jesus does. ’Cause we’re gracious and kind like God is. ’Cause we’re patient and even-tempered and peaceful like Jesus teaches. Good weird. Refreshingly weird.

We’re gonna develop reputations among the pagans as “good people,” not “holier-than-thou.” Safe people, not condemning people. Kind, not jerks.

It’s gonna strike ’em as weird because, sad to say, Christianity doesn’t have this reputation in our culture. Too many jerks. Too many articles on sanctification which only zero in on how God wants us to be good, but spend way too much time on not sinning, and way too little time on being like Jesus—who didn’t sin, but that’s not his defining characteristic. God is love. “Be holy, same as I am holy” Lv 11.44-45 is about love. Not so much goodness… although if we just focus on loving God and loving people, we’re gonna wind up following all the other commands. Mt 22.36-40

Sanctification is our process of seizing control of the corrupt parts of our human nature, and adopting a Jesus-style human nature. He never stopped being human, y’know. He simply showed us what it’s like when a human has God’s character traits instead of selfish ones. Goodness is a part of it, ’cause goodness is the Spirit’s fruit, but again: Holiness isn’t just goodness! It’s being different same as God is different: Unlike the rest of the world, we strive for love, joy, patience, kindness, and temperance. Unlike the rest of the world, we go after truth and beauty instead of provocation and self-justification. We’re not just being different ’cause it’s fun to be different: We’re being different because these qualities matter.

The Yeast in Dough Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 July

Matthew 13.33, Luke 13.20-21.

Jesus gave this short one-liner parable right after his Mustard Seed Story in both Matthew and Luke. It’s quick.

Matthew 13.33 KWL
Jesus told them another parable: “Heaven’s kingdom is like yeast.
A woman who had it, mixed it into 43 liters of dough till it leavened it all.”
 
Luke 13.20-21 KWL
20 Jesus said again, “What’s God’s kingdom like? 21 It’s like yeast.
A woman who had it, mixed it into 43 liters of dough till it leavened it all.”

It follows the Mustard Seed Story because it’s presenting a similar idea about the growth and spread of God’s kingdom. The kingdom’s like a tiny seed which grows into a vast tree. Or like yeast which a woman mixes into an industrial-sized amount of dough.

The original text of both gospels has σάτα τρία/sáta tría, “three sátons.” No, not Satan; sáton. It’s Greek for the Hebrew unit of measurement סְאָה/çeá (NIV “seah”) which is a third of an אֵיפָה/eyfá (KJV “ephah”). No, that doesn’t clear things up any. Sorry.

Medieval rabbis believed measurements in the bible were based on the בֵּיצָה/beychá, “egg.” Six beychím made a לֹג/log, (pronounced loʊg, not like a block of wood). Four logím, or 24 eggs, made a קַב/qav (KJV “cab”). Six qavím, or 144 eggs, made a çeá. Three çeaím, or 432 eggs, made an eyfá… and I could go on, but your eyes would glaze over even more than they already have.

Whose eggs? Ah, that’s a whole other debate the rabbis had. Not that it mattered; some of them insisted eggs were smaller today than they were in bible times. But if we’re using chicken or duck eggs as a rough estimate, we get about 14⅓ liters per seah. Jesus said three of ’em, so that’s 43 liters.

Westerners tend to measure dough by weight, and figuring 1.18 pounds per liter, you’re talking roughly 50 pounds of dough. Which is what the translators of the CSB calculated; the translators of the NIV figured 60 pounds.

But most translators skipped the math and followed the KJV’s cop-out of translating sáta as “measures.” What’s a measure? You don’t know. Most people presume it’s the volume of a measuring cup; a quart, maybe. Three quarts. Three loaves of bread. Which is not what Jesus was thinking. Think much bigger.

KJV “…three measures of meal…”
CEB “…three batches of flour…”
ESV, ISV, NET, NLT, NRSV “…three measures of flour…”
GNT “…a bushel of flour…”
GNV “…three pecks of flour…”
ICB “…a big bowl of flour…”
NASB “…three sata of flour…”
NCV “…a large tub of flour…”
NLV “…three pails of flour…”
VOICE “…a huge quantity of flour…”

I used to work in a kitchen which had an industrial-size mixer for when we’d make lots of baked goods. I think we could fit a çeá’s worth of dough into it; might be pushing it. Yet Jesus described a woman mixing three of these volumes. Back in his day, it’d obviously be done by hand. Maybe with a really large spoon. Whenever I’ve had to mix a barrel’s worth of stuff by hand, I used an oar. It’s not light work.

This kinda begs the question: Why would this hypothetical woman be mixing 50 pounds of dough? The way they made bread in the ancient middle east, that’d make maybe 250 flatbreads. Enough for 100 people.

But like I said, these two parables are about impossibly large amounts. And Jesus is right about how yeast works: Given enough time, even a very small amount of yeast will work its way into every last milliliter of that dough. His kingdom’s like that. Little bit of gospel spreads everywhere.

“You don’t know his heart.”

by K.W. Leslie, 15 July

I got a coworker who loves to talk about End Times stuff, ’cause he’s kinda obsessed with it. (No, this article’s not on the End Times.) He likes to bring up any little thing which might be an End Times harbinger, just to get my take on it. Most of the time I tell him he’s worried over nothing. Yeah, some of those things are evil. Racism’s evil, slavery’s evil, pandemics are evil, wars are evil. And they’re the same evils humanity’s had since the very first humans. Wars happen. Plagues happen. Evil people take power. ’Tis nothing new. It’s new to him; he doesn’t know enough history. Which is the usual reason people claim, “Oh it’s so the last days; things have never been this bad.” Yeah they have. And worse.

In 2020 he asked me if I thought then-President Donald Trump was the Beast. Of course I told him no. Because I checked. Just because Trump still acts mighty beastlike on a frequent basis, and just because he’s managed to sucker a lot of partisan Christians into supporting him, doesn’t make him any more the Beast than Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, James Buchanan, Andrew Jackson, or any of the other various immoral men we’ve elected to govern the United States. Plus, I pointed out, we should never really be surprised when someone who’s not Christian doesn’t act Christian.

At this another coworker, whom I’ll call Yanni, butted in: “Trump is so a Christian.”

Yeah, no he’s not.

We got into a minor back-and-forth, where Yanni offered the usual arguments for why Trump’s a Christian. Like how he says he’s Christian. As do lots of people who aren’t really. Which is why I responded it doesn’t matter what Trump calls himself; he could call himself a unicorn if he so chose; doesn’t make him one. Calling yourself Christian means you think you’re Christian, but it’s really what Jesus thinks that counts.

“Who are you to say?” Yanni insisted. “You don’t know his heart.”

If you didn’t grow up Christian, “You don’t know his heart” is an old bit of Christianese which means “You can’t read his mind.” The ancients believed humans think with our hearts, and that’s what “heart” means in the bible. The medievals believed humans feel with our hearts, and from the middle ages to today, Christians have mixed up the medieval definition with the ancient one. So when many Christians say “You don’t know his heart” some of ’em mean, “You don’t know how he feels, deep down, inside.”

Either way, Yanni claimed there’s no way for me to know Trump’s true relationship with Christ. An argument, I might point out, which works both ways: Yanni doesn’t know his heart either, so there’s no way Yanni could know he is Christian.

But “You don’t know his heart” is false. Jesus told us how we can identify his followers: Fruit. If you’re Christian, you got the Holy Sprit within you. If you follow the Spirit—as you should!—you produce fruit. And if you resist the Spirit, you produce bad fruit; you’re fleshly. And back before he was banned from Twitter, what did Donald Trump tweet all day long? Hatred. Anger. Partisanship. Rabble-rousing. Separatism. Envy. Divisiveness. Unethical behavior.

Luke 6.43-45 KJV
43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

You wanna know whether a person is Christian? Look at their character. Low character, no Christian.

Fleshly Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 July

Jesus wants his followers to produce good fruit. Fruit of the Spirit, typically. It’s proof of our salvation: If we really do have the Holy Spirit within, if we really do abide in Christ, if we really have a relationship with our Father, we’re gonna be fruity.

No, not automatically, despite what some Christians claim. I know; I’ve heard their testimonies. “All of a sudden I just stopped sinning! It’s amazing!” No; at most the Spirit broke some addictions, but you chose to listen to the Spirit instead of your flesh. You chose to resist temptation instead of getting deterministically reprogrammed to follow God instead of your id. Fruit doesn’t spontaneously happen. It’s the product of a relationship—the one we often claim we have instead of religion—in which the Spirit leads and we follow. Most of the time it’s way easier than we ever expected (’cause the Spirit empowers us), and the more we do it the easier it gets, but still: Both of us do it.

And then there are the Christians who aren’t fruity. They’re fleshly.

No doubt you’ve met a few. Are related to a few. They aren’t loving. They’re joyless. Quickly irritated, angered, outraged, offended. Impatient. Out-of-control emotions. They do all sorts of evil things, ranging from white lies to full-on criminal activity, and justify it all sorts of ways. They claim they trust God, but more often trust their wallets, friends, political parties, media, and some stranger they found on the internet who tells it just the way they like it. They know it all; you can’t tell ’em different. They have no self-control, as you can tell from their debts, waistline, constant tardiness, and inability to let others reply, or have the last word. They haven’t crucified the flesh; Ga 5.24 in many cases they’re even saying God wants them to indulge themselves, because didn’t he make this world for us to enjoy?

Fruit isn’t their litmus test for Christianity. They came up with substitutes. They’re looking for orthodoxy, conformity, niceness, zealousness, baptism, whether you said the sinner’s prayer, whether you’re in a bible-believing church, the right politics, the right vocabulary. And sometimes they’re looking for nothing, and accept you’re Christian entirely because you say you are.

They get outraged when I suggest certain self-described “Christians,” who nonetheless demonstrate none of the Spirit’s fruit soever, are not.

As I said, fruit isn’t their litmus test. I claim it is; they claim it can’t be. Because they’ve never remotely thought of fruit that way. Fruit’s just a nice idea; the Galatians verses are just a nice passage to memorize; and when Jesus talked about fruit he was only talking about false prophets, Mt 7.15-16 and not all of us are prophets. Their churches claim one of the other unscriptural litmus tests, like a sinner’s prayer, and denouncing Satan at one’s water baptism.

And hey, what about newbies? If a person’s just become Christian a month ago, or six months ago, should we expect a “baby Christian” to exhibit the Spirit’s fruit to the level of a mature Christian? That’s ridiculous. They’re too new! Besides, even the spiritually mature Christians they know are occasionally, if not frequently, deficient in love, joy, peace, patience, and grace.

And whenever they point to the “mature Christians” they know with frequent lapses of fruit, you begin to realize exactly why they never remotely thought of fruit as evidence of one’s Christianity.

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July

Mark 7.17-23, Matthew 15.15-20.

Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit like grace, or a work of the flesh like gracelessness. And no, these aren’t among the fruits and fleshly works Paul listed in Galatians 5. Because, in I said in my article on the topic, it’s not a comprehensive list. Wasn’t meant to be.

Because it’s not in Paul’s list, I’ll get pushback from time to time from a Christian who has the Galatians lists memorized, and has it in their head the lists are comprehensive. “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits.” And then I have to explain how this particular attitude and behavior has its clear origin in a Spirit-led lifestyle, or Spirit-defying human depravity. Grace should be one of the more obvious ones, ’cause grace is obviously a God thing. But you know how literalists can be. The scriptures gotta literally say it’s a fruit, and if they don’t it’s not.

Sometimes it’s not even about literalism: It’s because they want it to be a comprehensive list. Because they’re doing fleshly stuff, and wanna get away with it. Because there are good behaviors they really oughta develop in their lives, and they don’t wanna. Turning Galatians 5 into a comprehensive list is their loophole, and they’ll fight to the spiritual death to defend it.

Funny; the context of Galatians 5 is the Pharisees and their loopholes. Paul objected to how certain Christians figured grace means we can get away with stuff, ’cause no it doesn’t. And right after Jesus critiqued the Pharisees for the very same attitude, he explained to both his students and the crowd how evil comes from within, not without. It’s not what goes into us which makes us ritually unclean; it’s what comes out. Evil attitudes, intentions, and behaviors defile us. And all of ’em come from the id, from the selfish impulses, from the יֵצֶר הַרַע/yechér ha-ra, from the flesh.

’Cause the Pharisees of Jesus’s day claimed evil comes from the outside in. Entirely wrong. Humans are inherently selfish, but we wanna justify our selfishness so we can (selfishly) feel good about ourselves despite all the destruction we wreak by our self-serving behavior. The result is pretty much all the evil in the world. (The rest comes from natural disasters—some of which human behavior also produces.)

First problem Jesus ran into was his students telling him his lesson had offended the Pharisees. Well, Jesus explained, they’re blind guides. They think they understand God; they really don’t; there’s no telling them anything; forgive it as best you can. Pity the fools.

Second was the students not getting it.

Mark 7.17-18 KWL
17 From the crowd, once Jesus entered the house, his students were asking him what “the parable” meant.
18A Jesus told them, “Don’t you understand this either?”
 
Matthew 15.15-16 KWL
15 In reply Simon Peter told Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 Jesus said, “Don’t you yet understand either?”

Peter makes it clear they thought this is a parable. It’s not. Jesus’s parables are about his kingdom, and this teaching is about the stuff which keeps people away from his kingdom. So Jesus got blunt: He wants us to understand him, and not weasel out of it by claiming he’s being hyperbolic. He’s not.

Food goes in. Evil comes out.

The Pharisees objected that Jesus didn’t ritually wash his hands. Which is admittedly unsanitary, but they weren’t trying to be sanitary (and since they all dipped their forearms and feet in the same jars, it really wasn’t all that sanitary); it was all about being ritually clean.

The word Pharisees used to describe Jesus and his kids was κοινοῖ/kiní, “common,” which isn’t really an insult unless you have a caste system where Pharisees are nobles in the top rank, and non-Pharisees are commoners in the lowest rank. To them, Jesus was acting like a dirty peasant pagan.

Whereas to Jesus, their ritual washing was all for show anyway. Skipping it didn’t make you “common.” Thinking like a dirty pagan peasant, with a heart full of selfish and depraved ideas, is what did it to you. The show covers up the fact your heart might be full of that selfishness and depravity—but you look good, so nobody can call you on your evil.

Mark 7.18-20 KWL
18B “You know how everything from outside, which goes into the person, can’t make them ‘common’?
19 Because it doesn’t enter their heart, but into the bowels, and goes out into the latrine.
All the food gets cleaned out.”
20 Jesus said this: “What comes out of the person? That makes the person ‘common’.
 
Matthew 15.17-18 KWL
17 “You know how everything which goes in the mouth, enters the bowels and goes down the latrine?
18 What comes out of the mouth, comes out of the heart—and that makes the person ‘common.’ ”

Food passes through your alimentary canal. It doesn’t get to your heart… although if you eat too much of certain types of foods, you’re gonna clog your arteries with plaque. But Jesus isn’t speaking of one’s literal heart, but one’s mind. Your food isn’t gonna make you think and do evil. Your mind will. Your food’s just gonna come out in your poo.

Evil’s far more deeply embedded than that.

Mark 7.21-23 KWL
21 “For evil reasoning comes out from within the person’s heart:
Porn. Theft. Murder. 22 Adultery. Covetousness. Depravity.
Deception. Immorality. Stinginess. Slander. Conceit. Stupidity.
23 All these inner evils come out and make the person ‘common’.”
 
Matthew 15.19-20 KWL
17 “For evil reasoning comes out of the heart:
Murder. Adultery. Porn. Theft. False witness. Slander.
20 These make the person ‘common’. Not washing one’s hands to eat doesn’t make the person ‘common’.”

Like Paul’s list, Jesus’s isn’t comprehensive either. But these are traits we should never see among Christians. When we see the Spirit’s fruit in our lives, we’re clean, kosher, Christian. When we see no evidence of any influence of the Holy Spirit—unchanged, unregenerated, unrepentant, unfruitful people—we’re unclean, treyf, pagan.

Evil reasoning (διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί/dialoyismé poniré, KJV “evil thoughts”) tends to get listed with the others, but really all these things are evil thoughts. And notice how a number of ’em violate the Ten Commandments.

PORN (πορνεῖαι/porneíe, “sex-minded,” KJV “fornications”). Porn refers to any inappropriate sexual activity: People who regularly have sex on the brain, and won’t limit it to monogamy, fidelity, and the considerations of their partner.

Lots of Christians figure sex isn’t an issue once you’re married: Have all the sex you want with your spouse! But you can still be inordinately interested in sex. Some years ago a few famous pastors raised eyebrows by declaring Christian couples need to have sex daily… despite what either partner, usually the under-appreciated wife who now has to submit to her husband’s objectifying lusts, is comfortable with. Look, if the wife doesn’t wanna have sex every day, usually there’s good reason! Her husband probably sucks at ministering to her needs. (And not just her sexual needs; get your mind out of there.) The demand for daily sex is still selfish. Still lacks self-control. Still porn.

Bad Christians dismiss their promiscuity by claiming it’s a form of love. I once met a guy who called himself a “love addict”—by which he meant he couldn’t keep himself from bedding women, despite his marital vows. What he was really addicted to was the thrill of adulterous fornication.

THEFT (κλοπαί/klopé, KJV “thefts”). Refers to whether you’re outright stealing things, or secretly trying to get away with stuff. Getting an unfair advantage over everyone else, getting ahead by misusing other people’s trust. To them, life is war and competition and profit, and if you’re not playing the game you’re a fool.

This looks nothing like the humility, transparency, love, and service Christians oughta see in one another. Yet I’ve been in a few Christian organizations where theft is everywhere: People brought their “business sense” from the “real world” into the environment and corrupted it. But then again they didn’t really bring it in from outside. They justified it on the outside. It was already within them.

MURDER (φόνοι/fónë, KJV “murders”). Thankfully we don’t see a lot of murder among Christians. (Well, not after they turned to Jesus.) There are exceptions, but by and large Christians know better.

Where we don’t know better is when we wish others were dead. We Christians do this all the time. I know from experience: I still know a lot of people who are really interested in politics, and really, really hate the opposition party. And anyone who supports it. And enemies of the United States, both real and imaginary. And so forth.

Jesus equates this hatred with murder. Mt 5.22 If you hate a person enough to wish they were dead, you murder them in your heart, and people with this level of hatred in ’em are unfit for God’s kingdom. Supposed to love our neighbors and enemies, remember?

ADULTERY (μοιχεῖαι/mikheíë, KJV “adulteries”). Our culture’s definition of adultery, and the bible’s, are very different. It was a patriarchal culture, where men were culturally permitted to have sex with anyone they were personally responsible for. God forbade ’em to have sex with relatives and slaves, but they still had polygamy and “concubines”—an old-timey word for “girlfriend.” (I don’t care if your favorite bible dictionary claims it means “secondary wife.” It did not. It meant an unmarried woman with whom a man had sex.)

Adultery in that culture meant having sex with someone who wasn’t yours to have sex with. Someone else’s spouse. Someone else’s significant other. A minor. A relative. A stranger in the pornography you consume (and they’re all strangers, aren’t they?). Rape would also fall into this category. Sexual harassment as well.

There’s a fair amount of overlap between porn and adultery, but Jesus was covering the bases.

COVETOUSNESS (πλεονεξίαι/pleonexíë, KJV “covetousness”). Coveting is simply wanting stuff. Which isn’t in itself a sin, but when you want what you can’t or ought not have, that’s sin. But notice Jesus doesn’t specifically single out the sinful stuff: He lists coveting in general. Simply wanting stuff.

’Cause there are a lot of people who aren’t at all satisfied with what they have. They gotta have more. Could be money, position, authority, honor, special treatment, perqs, benefits, and so forth. Unlike the humble, who are fine with where and who they are, these folks demand whatever they can get. And y’know, certain churches teach we should demand whatever we can get, ’cause we’re God’s kids Mt 7.11, Lk 6.38 and deserve the best of everything.

But in so doing we violate Jesus’s example. Part of the devil’s temptations to Jesus included goading him to demand all the stuff Jesus was due by being God’s son. And Jesus wouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with asking for daily bread, Mt 6.11 but the self-entitled ask not for a day’s worth, but a pantry’s worth. They justify their greed by pointing out how God has more than enough. He does—but the kingdom’s resources are meant to further the kingdom, not line our pockets.

DEPRAVITY (πονηρίαι/poniríë, KJV “wickedness”). Habitual evil behavior. You know the sort who can’t or won’t quit their vices? They’re not addicted; they just don’t wanna quit. Won’t stop drinking, gambling, red meat, sarcasm, holding grudges, or other bad behavior. They’d rather be destroyed than give it up. It’s freedom! It’s who they are! But it’s wrecking ’em and their relationships—including the relationship with God.

DECEPTION (δόλος/thólos, KJV “deceit”). You know, liars and hypocrites.

IMMORALITY (ἀσέλγεια/asélyeia, KJV “lasciviousness”). People who do as they wish and don’t care who it offends, what biblical commands it violates, who gets offended, whether it’s false or evil: Their heart wants what it wants, so they’ll do as they please.

Sometimes it takes the form of “the greater good” argument, or the ends justifying the means—and in this form it regularly works on Christians. “Yeah, we gotta hide our ministers’ sins—but only so the name of Jesus isn’t dragged through the mud.” It’s never really his name they’re concerned about.

STINGINESS (ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός/ofthalmós ponirós, KJV “an evil eye”). Yeah, literally it says “evil eye.” A “good eye” and “evil eye” are Hebrew idioms which refer to generosity and stinginess. Hopefully we have good eyes: We give when we can.

The stingy don’t give when they can. Or they give the minimum amount necessary to appear benevolent, like when a billionaire gives a thousand dollars to a charity—a millionth of their money, which they’ll never miss, and can deduct from taxes. They don’t think of money as something God gave them to bless others; if they’re not already worshiping it, they figure money’s something God gave them to bless themselves.

SLANDER (βλασφημία/vlasfimía, KJV “blasphemies”). Slander’s when you falsely accuse anyone. It applies to everyone, not just God. And Christians commit it all the time… usually in the form of gossip.

FALSE WITNESS (ψευδομαρτυρίαι/sevtho-martyríë, KJV “false witness”). Claiming you know something when you don’t. Not necessarily slander, although slander is definitely a form of false witness. Like I said, Jesus was covering his bases.

A pretty common way Christians bear false witness is by spreading internet rumors. We’re really lazy about checking facts, and wind up spreading fake news instead of stopping it in its tracks. But there are people who live for this sort of thing, and will never tell an honest story when a juicy one will do. So this’d be them.

CONCEIT (ὑπερηφανία/yper-ifanía, KJV “pride”). Taking pleasure in our achievements, i.e. pride, isn’t necessarily evil. It’s only when we make too much of ourselves that we’ve crossed the line into conceit: Pride gone too far.

Naturally conceit’s the opposite of humility—of recognizing our true value, which is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus is humble, Mt 11.29 for he knows precisely who he is. We must remember who we are in his kingdom, and never claim otherwise.

STUPIDITY (ἀφροσύνη/afrosýni, KJV “foolishness”). People who don’t think things through—or don’t think at all. They react. Their lives are reduced to knee-jerk reactions: Either “I like that” or “I don’t like that,” yet they can’t always tell you why they like or dislike things. Or, when they do, it’s usually their favorite talk-radio host’s explanation instead of their own thinking.

God gave us brains, and God grants us wisdom when we ask him for it. Jm 1.5 He expects us to think and reason, and get ourselves out of trouble preventatively, not after the fact. He doesn’t want us to react on instinct; certainly not the selfish instincts we were born with. He wants us to think on what’s good and right and God-pleasing, and thoughtfully respond to the world around us. There are far too many irrational Christians among us, whose first response is based on instinct, and whose second response is to cover up the misbehavior by giving it Christianese names: “That just grieved my spirit, so that’s why I said what I did.” Hogwash: You didn’t think. Confess. Repent. And next time, think.

These things make us unclean.

A Christian is defined by our relationship with God through Christ Jesus. If we have such a relationship, we’re Christians. How do we know, how do we prove, we have such a relationship? We’re fruity. We have the Holy Spirit within us; we follow his guidance and leading; we produce his fruit. Fleshliness suggests, at best, we’re sucky Christians; at worst we’re not Christian at all.

So. If we have any fleshly works in our lives—and every Christian, to some degree, has some—we gotta be rid of them. We gotta make the effort. Which God recognizes, and honors: We’re saved by his grace, and God’s grace is for those who make this effort. But for those who make no effort—who figure baptism, the sinner’s prayer, or good karma is getting them into heaven—they’re betting on the wrong horse. Work the relationship. Fight the works of the flesh. God will help you win.

The Wheat and Weeds Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 July

Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43.

Presenting another of Jesus’s parables about agriculture. It appears nowhere but Matthew, and it happens right after the Four Seeds Story. Mt 13.18-23 Historically Christians have considered it a parable of the End Times.

Matthew 13.24-30 KWL
24 Jesus presents another parable to them, telling them,
“Heaven’s kingdom compares to a person planting a good seed in his field.
25 As the person sleeps his enemy comes,
plants weeds in the middle of the grain, and goes away.
26 When the stalks sprout and produce fruit, the weeds also appear.
27 The householder’s slaves, approaching, tell him, ‘Master, you plant good seed in your field, right?
So where have these weeds come from?’
28 The master tells them, ‘A person—an enemy—did this.’
The slaves tell him, ‘So do you want us to go out and pluck them?’
29 The master says, ‘No, lest plucking the weeds uproots the grain with them.
30 Leave them all to grow together till the harvest.
At harvest time, I’ll tell the harvesters, “Pluck the weeds first, and tie them in bundles to burn them.
Gather the grain into my barn.” ’ ”

I’m gonna point out something they tend to skip: Notice whenever the apostles describe the End in the scriptures, it looks like Jesus first raptures his Christians and gathers us into his kingdom, and then the rest of the world gets dealt with. But in the Wheat and Weeds Story, the master orders his harvesters to first pluck the weeds. So this story’s timeline, and the typical End Times timelines… don’t sync up.

Hmmm. Well, I’ll leave you to fret about that, and talk botany.


Left, vetch. Right, darnel.

This story’s also called the Wheat and Tares story. Wheat is how σῖτος/sítos traditionally gets translated, though the word really means “grain,” and the KJV sometimes even translates it “corn.” Mk 4.28, Ac 7.12 (No, they don’t mean maize; that’s what “corn” means in the United States. Elsewhere “corn” is just a synonym for grain.) Sítos could refer to wheat, barley, or oats. But likely wheat, ’cause of what takes place in this story.

Tares is the old-timey word for vetch (Vicia sativa), a type of weed which grows all over the planet. Looks like wheat till it starts growing leaves and flowers. It’s also kinda toxic to humans, although bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia) is edible, and sometimes the poor ate it in medieval Europe. And fava beans (Vicia faba) are used in all sorts of dishes.

However, vetch is what John Wycliffe imagined ζιζάνιον/zizánion meant, ’cause of what he knew about English agriculture. Later English translations, like the Geneva Bible and King James Version, followed Wycliffe’s lead. But Jesus isn’t English: Which plant might middle easterners have called zizánia? And most historians figure it’s darnel ryegrass (Lolium temulentum, “false wheat,” which ancient Jews called זוֹנִין/zonín). It’s another weed which grows everywhere, and likewise looks just like wheat… till the seeds appear. Wheat turns brown, and darnel turns black.

If it’s harmless, why did the ancients make a big deal about darnel? Because darnel is very susceptible to Neotyphodium funguses. If you eat any infected darnel, the symptoms are nausea and intoxication. (The temulentum in darnel’s scientific name means “drunk.”) And of course it might kill you. Hence people sometimes refer to darnel as poison.

So Jesus’s audience realized the serious problem these specific weeds posed. The rest of us, who only read “tares” or “weeds” in our bibles, not so much. Weeds are inconvenient, and use the water meant for our crops, but otherwise they sound kinda harmless, and it should be easy to sort them out, right? Um… not so much with darnel. And not so harmless.

Typically farmers waited till harvest time to sort out which was which. Most of ’em did as Jesus described his householder advising: Wait till harvest, then pluck and burn the darnel, lest their seeds infest a future crop. Which the seeds did anyway, ’cause seeds get loose.

The kingdom, Jesus said, is like this. I leave it to the now-worried “prophecy scholars” as to how close a match it is.

The Mustard Seed Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 July

Mark 4.30-32, Matthew 13.31-32, Luke 13.18-19.

Another of Jesus’s agricultural parables. In Mark he told this one right the Independent Fruit Story, in Matthew it’s in between the Wheat and Weeds Story and its interpretation, Mt 13.24-30, 36-43 and in Luke it’s after Jesus cured a bent-over woman. Lk 13.10-17

Uniquely (in two gospels, anyway) Jesus starts it by especially pointing out it’s a hypothetical comparison to God’s kingdom. Just in case his listeners weren't yet clear he’s being parabolic; after all there are certain literalists who struggle with the concept. I’ll get to them.

Mark 4.30 KWL
Jesus said, “How might we compare God’s kingdom?
Or with what parable might we set it?”
 
Luke 13.18 KWL
So Jesus said, “What’s like God’s kingdom? What can it be compared with?”

So what’ll we compare God’s kingdom with today? How ’bout a mustard seed? Various preachers, and maybe a Jesus movie or two, like to imagine Jesus holding up one such seed, as if he was carrying around this prop just so he could whip it out during the lesson… as if anybody in the audience could even see the tiny thing between his fingers. This, Jesus said, is like the kingdom.

Mark 4.31-32 KWL
31 “Like a mustard seed?—which, when sown in the earth,
is smaller than all the seeds in the earth.
32 When it’s sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all the greens.
It makes great branches, so wild birds could live under its shadow.”
 
Matthew 13.31-32 KWL
31 Jesus set another parable before them, telling them, “Heaven’s kingdom is like a mustard seed,
which a person takes, sows in their field—
32 which is smaller than all seeds, and can grow to be the largest of the greens.
It becomes a tree, so wild birds are coming and living in its shadow.”
 
Luke 13.19 KWL
“It’s like a mustard seed, which a person takes and throws in their garden.
It grew and became a tree, and wild birds settled in its branches.”

Memorable story, right? Tiny little seed becomes a great big tree. God’s kingdom is just like that. Didn’t start from much, and now a third of the world claims allegiance to Jesus. Likewise when one of our evangelists comes into a community and starts sharing Jesus, it may begin with one or two people or families, and before we know it there’s a huge church, and everyone’s flocking to it like wild birds.

That’s the rather obvious interpretation of this parable. That’s the consensus of what Christians have been teaching for millennia. Small beginning, big finish.

So what’s the problem? Well, Jesus wasn’t giving a botany lesson; he was using a parable to teach on the kingdom. But Christians, particularly literalists, keep getting hung up on the botany.

The Independent Fruit Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 July

Mark 4.26-29.

Here’s another of Jesus’s agricultural parables. It only appears in Mark, and because it comes right after the Four Seeds Story, some of the folks in the connect-the-dots school of bible interpretation presume the seed in this story is the same as the seed in that story: It’s God’s word. Mk 4.14

Thing is, Jesus says what the seed represents in his very introduction of the parable: “This is God’s kingdom.” Mk 4.26 It’s not merely a message, a teaching, a prophecy, a doctrine; it’s God’s kingdom itself. All Jesus’s parables are about his kingdom. Miss this fact and you’ll always miss the point.

There’s no secret code in which every “seed” in every parable represents God’s word. Every parable is interpreted independently of the others. Clear your mind about the other parables and come to this story fresh. Got it? Good. Now read.

Mark 4.26-29 KWL
26 Jesus was saying, “This is God’s kingdom:
Like a person throwing seed onto the ground.
27 He might sleep, and he might rise up, night and day,
and the seed might sprout, and might grow, while he’s unaware.
28 The ground automatically produces fruit.
First a sprout, then a head, then a head full of grain.
29 Once the fruit is ready, he quickly swings the sickle:
It’s harvest time.”

Jesus used a lot of subjunctive verbs in this story—talking about what might happen, what could happen; the KJV translates ’em as what “should” happen, but in the 1500s “should” meant it was likely, not mandatory. But typical translations delete all this possibility stuff, and make it sound all fixed and definite.

ME: “…and the seed might sprout, and might grow.”
KJV: “…and the seed should spring and grow up…”
NKJV: “…and the seed should sprout and grow…”
CSB, NIV, NLT: “…the seed sprouts and grows…”
ESV, NASB: “…and the seed sprouts and grows…”

Hence people with those translations get the idea the seed will sprout, will grow, will produce fruit, will be ready to harvest. But that’s not how Jesus describes it. These things might happen. And might not.

The Four Seeds Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 July

Mark 4.1-9, 4.13-20; Matthew 13.1-9, 13.18-23; Luke 5.1-3, 8.4-8, 8.11-15.

Jesus’s first parable is often called “the Parable of the Sower,” which seems odd to me because the story’s not about the person sowing seed. It’s about the seeds and what happens to them. The planter just flung ’em around, as planters did back then. So I call it the Four Seeds Story.

As I said in my parables article, all of Jesus’s parables are about God’s kingdom. So you’d think the Four Seeds Story would be super easy to interpret—especially since Jesus privately gave his students a key to his analogies, and they put it in the bible. But never underestimate the ability of Christians who wanna weasel out of the implications of Jesus’s lessons.

The story starts with Jesus feeling the need to get a little distance from the crowds who swarmed him. Since a number of his students were fishermen, he figured hey, why not use this connection to his advantage?

Mark 4.1 KWL
Again Jesus went out to teach by the Galilee’s sea.
A large crowd gathered round him, so he entered a boat to sit in the sea.
The whole crowd at the sea were on the beach.
 
Matthew 13.1-2 KWL
1 That day, Jesus left the house and was sitting by the Galilee’s sea.
2 Large crowds gathered round him, so he entered a boat to sit in it.
The whole crowd was standing on the beach.
 
Luke 5.1-3 KWL
1 This happened when the crowds pressed on Jesus to listen to God’s word:
He was standing by Lake Kinneret, 2 and saw two boats run aground by the lake.
The fishermen had left them and were cleaning the nets.
3 Jesus entered one of the boats, which was Simon’s.
He asked Simon to put the boat out a little ways from the land.
Sitting in the boat, he taught the crowds.

The sea, or θάλασσα/thálassa, is what Greek-speakers called any large body of water, so those who object, “It’s a lake, not a sea,” is confusing our present-day definition with the ancient one. Lake Kinneret, nowadays called Lake Tiberias, is a fairly large lake. The waves crashing on shore, even on a calm day, make a whole lot of noise. Jesus would’ve had to shout to be heard over them. Still, he must’ve figured going hoarse was preferable to getting crowded.

Between the surf noises and the fact Jesus didn’t explain his analogy, a number of ’em likely didn’t catch what Jesus meant by this parable. Namely that it’s about them.

Mark 4.2-9 KWL
2 Jesus taught them many things in parables.
He told them in this lesson, 3 “Listen. Look, a planter came forth planting.
4 While planting, this happened: One seed fell by the road,
and birds came and devoured it.
5 Another seed fell by rocks where it hadn’t much earth,
quickly sprang up because it had no depth of earth,
6 and once the sun rose it was scorched,
and because it had no root it was dried up.
7 Another seed fell in the thorns,
and the thorns rose up and choked it. It produced no fruit.
8 Another seed fell on good earth and was producing fruit—
rising, growing, bearing 30, 60, and 100 fruits.”
9 Jesus said, “Who has listening ears? Listen!”
 
Matthew 13.3-9 KWL
3 Jesus told them many things in parables, saying,
“Look, a planter came forth for the planting,
4 and during this planting one seed fell by the road,
and the coming birds devoured it.
5 Another seed fell by rocks where it hadn’t much earth
and quickly sprang up because it had no depth of earth.
6 It was scorched by the rising sun,
and because it had no root it was dried up.
7 Another seed fell in the thorns,
and the thorns rose up and choked it.
8 Another seed fell on good earth and was producing fruit—
one 100 fruits, one 60, one 30.
9 Listen, you who have ears!”
 
Luke 8.4-8 KWL
4 With the great crowds with him, traveling to him from the city,
Jesus said by a parable, 5 “At the planting, a planter came out with his seed.
During his planting, one seed fell by the road and was trampled,
and birds of the air devoured it.
6 Another seed fell down in the rocks,
and as it grew it was dried up because it had no moisture.
7 Another seed fell in the middle of thorns,
and the thorns, growing up with it, choked it.
8 Another seed fell on good earth,
and as it grew it produced 100 times the fruit.”
Saying this, Jesus shouted, “Listen, you who have listening ears!”

If you too have listening ears, you’ll realize it’s just as much about you.

Parables: For those with ears to hear.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 July

Mark 4.10-13; Matthew 13.10-17; Luke 8.9-10, 10.23-24; John 12.37-40.

The verb παραβάλλω/paravállo literally means “to throw to,” like the arc—the parabola—a ball makes when you throw it to a teammate. Often over the heads of your opponents. And in much the same way, a παραβολή/paravolí, “parable,” is meant to go to your teammate… and usually, deliberately, over the heads of your opponents.

When Jesus told stories, he used analogies. He wasn’t the only ancient teacher to use ’em; every ancient culture uses analogies. Aesop of Samos is an obvious one. His collection of stories is called the Μύθοι/Mýthi, “Stories,” which in English has been customarily translated “Fables,” ’cause fable is Middle English for “story.” But by our day, fable means “story about animals which has a moral”—in other words exactly like Aesop told.

As a dog crossed a river with a piece of good meat in his mouth, he believed he saw another dog under the water, with the very same meat. He never imagined the one was only the reflection of the other, and out of greediness to get both, he snapped at the reflection—and lost what he had. All who covet, lose.

Jesus’s stories weren’t told to teach morals. They’re meant to teach his followers, both ancient and current, about God’s kingdom. Thing is, Jesus seldom gave a key to his analogies: Who’s that person meant to represent? What’s that animal a symbol of? What does that action compare to? Is that character meant to be God, Messiah, the Christian, a pagan, what? But Jesus’s response to such queries was typically, “Listen, if you have ears!” Mt 13.9

See, when people pursue God’s kingdom, and realize Jesus’s stories are all about this kingdom, Jesus presumes we’ll easily figure out what he means. Really anybody can figure out what he means. I’ve heard pagans listen to Jesus’s parables and then be asked, “What do you think it means?” When they understand the context of God’s kingdom, their interpretations are usually dead on. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a biblical scholar to figure out what Jesus means; it’s hiding in plain sight.

But when people aren’t pursuing God’s kingdom at all—as, sad to say, a lot of Christians really aren’t—the analogies go right over their heads. As we see every time preachers claim Jesus’s stories aren’t really about his kingdom, but some other thing. Usually the preacher’s pet cause.

But the parables are always about the kingdom. Always. Period. Jesus said so.

Mark 4.10-11 KWL
10 When Jesus was with his students alone,
those around him with the 12 apostles asked him about the parables.
11 Jesus told them, “God’s kingdom’s mysteries were given to you.
To those outside, everything comes in parables.”
 
Matthew 13.10-12 KWL
10 Coming to Jesus, the students told him, “Why do you tell them parables?
11 In reply Jesus told them, “Because you were given knowledge of the heavenly kingdom’s mysteries.
They weren’t given that.
12 Whoever has, it’ll be given them; it’ll overflow.
Whoever doesn’t have, what they do have will also be taken from them.”
 
Luke 8.9-10 KWL
9 Jesus’s students were asking him why this ought to be a parable.
10 Jesus said, You were given knowledge of God’s kingdom’s mysteries.
The rest is in parables, so ‘seers might not see’
and ‘hearers not comprehend.’ ” Is 6.9

I’ve frequently heard this claim: Jesus supposedly told parables instead of blunt facts because he wanted plausible deniability. He was speaking in a politically charged environment, y’know. Though he’s Messiah, the king of Israel, two other guys held that title at the time: Tiberius Caesar personally held lordship over the province of Judea, so he was technically its king; and Caesar had appointed Antipas Herod as ruler of the Gailee, who was only tetrarch but still considered its king. So if Jesus spoke in any way about being king, it’d be sedition, and gave his critics and opponents the ammo they needed to have him arrested. Much like science fiction TV shows in the 1950s and ’60s, Jesus couched his radical ideas in parables so he could always claim he wasn’t literally speaking of a kingdom, and conquering the world.

This theory gets disproven pretty quickly by Jesus’s Vineyard Story. The head priests knew exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke of a “master” destroying his tenant farmers.

Luke 20.15-19 KWL
15 “Throwing him out of the vineyard, they killed him.
So what will the vineyard’s master do to them?
16 He’ll come, and he’ll destroy these farmers, and he’ll give the vineyard to others.”
Hearing this, the priests said, “It ought never!”
17 Staring straight at them, Jesus said, “So why is this written?—
‘A stone which the builders reject: This becomes the chief keystone.’ Ps 118.22
18 Everyone falling over that stone will break their legs,
and whoever it might fall on, it’ll crush them.”
19 The scribes and head priests sought to lay hands on Jesus at that very hour
(and were afraid of the people and didn’t)
for they knew Jesus spoke this parable about them.

I mean, the priests would have to be profoundly stupid to not recognize this. But not only did they get it, they’d’ve totally arrested Jesus had not the crowds been around. (Which is why they later arrested him once the crowds were gone.)

Nope, Jesus’s parables have nothing to do with dodging the authorities. They’d come for him regardless. It was about dodging the crowds. The parables are for people who are seeking Jesus. They’re not for lookie-loos. He wasn’t trying to dodge consequences. He was trying to dodge those who don’t seek him.