Forbidding tongues.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 September

Certain Christians are terrified of tongues. Afraid of other people speaking tongues, afraid of themselves speaking tongues, afraid of the very idea. For all sorts of reasons, but most of of the time it’s one of these four:

  • They think it’s devilish, and are afraid of evil spirits.
  • They think it’s madness, and are afraid of crazy people.
  • They think tongues-speakers are out of control, and don’t wanna surrender or lose control of themselves… nor of course be around out-of-control people.
  • They realize it’s empowered by the Holy Spirit… and of all people, they’re afraid of him.

All of them are wrong ideas and false views, and people need to be taught otherwise. But whenever someone starts speaking in tongues around them, their fight-or-flight instinct gets triggered, and at that point there’s no teaching them anything. They’re having a panic attack, or they’re getting out of the building as fast as they can, or they’re furious that someone’s put them in that uncomfortable situation.

So, reason the leaders of various churches, best to just hide or silence the tongues.

Now, those of us who do speak in tongues, tend to get our dander up at the idea. Hey, didn’t the apostles forbid this kind of behavior?

1 Corinthians 14.39 KJV
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

But what I’ve found are two types of churches: The cessationist sort which bans ’em outright, and the soft continuationist sort which believes miracles are still for today, but what they’re really banning are loud tongues. Speak in tongues all you please, but just as most prayers are better off done in private, so are tongues.

Because too often, when they get a tongues-speaker in their congregation, they get yet another immature Christian who can’t keep the volume down. Who insists they have every right to make noise. After all, Holy Spirit! And since God’s enabling their tongues, how dare anyone stifle them? How dare anyone declare how and when and where to show off exercise their particular gift of the Spirit? How dare these churches quench the Spirit. Betcha they blaspheme the Spirit too. Et cetera, ad nauseam.

I told a friend I was gonna write about Christians who forbid tongues, and this was largely his attitude too. He “got his angry up,” as they call it in the Bible Belt. Wants me to tear those Spirit-quenchers a new one. Nope. I’m with them. Did we forget the verse which immediately follows the “don’t-stop-tongues” one?

1 Corinthians 14.40 KJV
Let all things be done decently and in order.

Ah there it is.

You know how people are: We never give one another the benefit of the doubt. We just assume they’re sticking it to us. ’Cause human depravity and all that. But let’s not. Let’s practice a little basic discernment and find out why they “forbid tongues,” if that’s really what they’re doing. Have they absolutely forbidden prayer in tongues, both inside and outside the church building, in every single form? Or do they have no problem with tongues; they’re just exercising their prerogative to quiet noisy people? Unless they’re dark Christians who fear our tongues are calling down demons, you’ll find it’s typically the second reason.

Praying too loud—in tongues.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 September

Likely you know what Jesus taught about showing off when we pray. If you need a reminder, here ya go.

Matthew 6.5-6 KJV
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Betcha you’ve never heard this teaching applied to speaking in tongues.

Because when you’re in one of those churches which don’t stifle tongues, you’re gonna notice whenever there’s a prayer group, those who pray in tongues tend to do so at a very audible level. Sometimes at the volume of an ordinary speaking voice. Often even louder.

If they were praying in English, would this be appropriate behavior? Only if they were leading the group, or praying on behalf of the whole group. Is that what’s happening? Nah; they’re praying individually. And too loud. Jesus’s teaching about hypocrites showing off would immediately come to mind. We’d consider it disruptive. Someone would take that person aside and have a private little corrective chat with ’em. And if they kept it up regardless, they’d be asked to leave the room, if not the group.

So… why do tongues get a free pass to be noisy?

Because, Christians shrug, it’s tongues! It’s a powerful prayer, supernaturally enabled by the Holy Spirit. He’s making us able to pray in the Spirit’s power, for all the stuff the Spirit particularly wants. For that reason, shouldn’t it take priority over everything else in the room?

Maybe so, maybe not. It’s not the issue, actually.

The issue is volume. Are we meant to outshout everyone else when we pray? No. Are we meant to interrupt others when we pray? No. Are we meant to be noisy or disruptive when we pray? No. And if it’s true of prayer, it's just as true of prayer in tongues. We don’t get a free pass to be fleshly just because the Spirit gave us the power to pray tongues. In fact it’s all the more reason to not behave this way: Making noise means we’re kinda nullifying any of the building up 1Co 14.4 which the tongues are meant to do for us.

1 Corinthians 13.1 KJV
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Not a prayer warrior; a noisemaker.

And quit blaming the Holy Spirit for your bad behavior, wouldya?

Speaking in tongues.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 September
1 Corinthians 14.39 KJV
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

The technical term for tongues-speaking is glossolalia. (Greek γλωσσολαλία ɡloʊ.soʊ.la'li.a, which Americans re-pronounce ɡlɑ.sə'leɪ.li.ə and just means “tongues-speaking.”) Theologians, psychologists, historians, and anthropologists call it this. ’Cause Christians aren’t the only ones who do it. Lots of people do. Including—and this fact tends to startle certain Pentecostals—lots of other religions.

Yep. Christians tend to assume only we do tongues. But plenty of pagans do. Actual tongues, not just muttering in foreign languages, like when you’re watching a bad horror movie and magicians suddenly start incanting in Latin. (’Cause somehow Latin has become the devil’s favorite language; Satan’s existed for millions of years, yet none of the other human languages did it for him until Etruscan evolved into Latin, and then it said, “Oh wait guys, we gotta learn this one,” and now all the devils speak it. But stupid movie tropes aside, other religions definitely do glossolalia.) The difference between Christian tongues and pagan tongues is really simple: Ours are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Theirs aren’t.

And the reason the apostles had to sort out the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 14, is because the Corinthians were more familiar with the way Greco-Roman pagans spoke tongues, and were bringing too many of these pagan behaviors and motives into Jesus’s church.

How’d Greco-Romans do tongues? As part of their worship, they’d get sloppy drunk. Or eat hashish or opium, or stand over natural-gas vents and get partially asphyxiated. They’d go into trances or semi-conscious states… and start babbling. Then their “prophets” would interpret the tongues. Spiritualists and psychics still do this: They try to alter their consciousness, babble a bit, then interpret the babbling.

Christians do not do it this way. Watch out for those who do!

Nope, we don’t go into trances. We don’t “lose ourselves” in any other state of consciousness. Our bodies don’t get taken over by the Holy Spirit, nor any other being. We’re fully conscious. Fully awake. Fully aware of our surroundings. Fully in control of our faculties: At any point we can intentionally stop, and no it’s not “quenching the Spirit” to do so. Like when somebody asks a question—“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but where’s the bathroom?”—or if prayer time has to stop for whatever reason. We’re in full control of ourselves. And the volume of our voices.

I know; some Christians regularly claim “I can’t help myself!” And they’re wrong. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. He’s not gonna break character because he’s making us speak tongues. If we have to pause, or stop, and pick it up later, we can. So those Christians who claim, “When the Spirit takes over, I’m not responsible for my actions,” are lying. They chose to be boisterous, attention-seeking, inappropriate, and rude. Same as anybody who shows off their public prayers on the street corner. Lk 18.9-14

If any tongues-speaker truly can’t control themselves, that ain’t God. Get an exorcist.

Physically, speaking tongues only consists of opening our mouths and talking. But rather than speak articulate words in a known language, we let our mouths do as it will. We disconnect the language centers of our brains from what our mouths do. Scientists, who’ve done MRI scans of tongue-speakers’ brains, found the creative and language centers have nothing to do with the tongues: The mouth works automatically and unconsciously, and meanwhile our minds are occupied with other things. (Hopefully prayer, as Paul instructed. 1Co 14.14-15)

The sounds coming out, will typically be the sounds one most often makes. This is why an English-speaker’s tongues will sound like English babble, and a Hebrew-speaker’s tongues will sound like Hebrew babble. The lips, tongue, and teeth may move unconsciously, but they’re not trying to make sounds they don’t normally make.

The syllables which come out of a tongues-speaker’s mouth have no standardized meaning. No grammar. No syntax. They’re not code. This is not a translatable language. They mean what they mean only in the moment. They’re not meant to teach us the language angels speak in heaven, so don’t bother trying to create a Tongues/English Dictionary, or printing tongues-words on T-shirts. (No seriously: People have made T-shirts.) Yet every so often a naïve Christian will try it: “I cracked the code! Wanda means ‘well done,’ and botta means ‘good and faithful,’ and honda means ‘servant,’ so that’s what it means to say Wanda boughta honda.” No no; don’t do that. You look like an idiot.

The usual purpose of Christian tongues is prayer. The Holy Spirit knows their meaning. Unless he empowers us to interpret these tongues, and let the rest of us in on their meaning, we don’t know their meaning—and usually don’t need to know. Translating them means we’re trying to do an end-run round the Spirit. We don’t wanna do that.

The Two Sons Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September

Matthew 18.28-32.

In the context of this story, Jesus was teaching in temple, and some of the head priests and elders—in other words, people who sat on the Judean senate—came to challenge him.

Matthew 18.23 KJV
23B …and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?

“These things” being when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey like a Messiah, the miracles and healings and exorcisms he performed, and of course his teachings—like he was doing right then. Jesus countered them by asking where they thought John the baptist’s authority came from—and since they didn’t care to answer that one, Jesus saw no point in giving them a straight answer. Mt 18.24-27 Instead he resorted to parables.

As I’ve said many times before, parables are about God’s kingdom. That includes the parables Jesus had for the senators. When Jesus returns to inaugurate his kingdom, every other government is getting overthrown. Every other government. He’s not gonna tell Americans, “You did such a good job with your Constitution, I’m keeping it; only I’m gonna be president now.” Civic idolaters are pretty sure Jesus will do something like that, but you can see how ridiculous it sounds.

And the main reason they’re getting overthrown is expressed in parables like these. God had put them in power, or let them take power; and the purpose of their position was to be just but merciful, Mc 6.8 and defend the needy. Jm 1.27 Instead, same as people have always done, they’re unjust, unmerciful, defend their friends, and their only real goal is to cling to power like a barnacle to a ship.

Jesus began with the Two Sons Story.

Matthew 21.28-32 KWL
28 “What do you senators think of this?—A person has two children.
Going to the first, he says, ‘Child, go today; work in the vineyard.’
29 In reply the child says, ‘I don’t want to.’
Later, repenting, he goes.
30 Going to the other child, the father says the same thing.
In reply the child says, ‘I hear you, sir!’—and doesn’t go.
31 Which of the two does the father’s will?”
The senators say, “The first.”
Jesus told them, “Amen! I promise you the taxmen and whores are ahead of you in God’s kingdom:
32 John the baptist comes to you with the right way.
You don’t believe him. The taxmen and whores believe him.
You who saw him, never repented later into believing him.”

Notice Jesus brings up John the baptist twice: When he asked the senators where John’s authority came from, Mt 21.24 and when he critiqued them for not listening to him. Mt 21.32 See, Jesus did most of his preaching in his home province, the Galilee. Other than his thrice-a-year visits to Jerusalem for the festivals, that’s where he was, and where he ministered. But John was in Judea. Had been for years. (Admittedly we don’t know how many, but it’s not unreasonable to figure a decade.) The senators even sent people to check him out, Jn 1.19 but never heeded him, and he called them out for it. Jesus had plenty of complementary things to say about John, but most Sadducees and Pharisees never did accept those statements, nor John.

When supernatural gifts will no longer be needed.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 September

1 Corinthians 13.7-13.

I grew up among Christians who loved to use this passage of 1 Corinthians to make the claim God turned off the miracles. He never did, but a number of Christians claim he did, because they’re entirely sure they never saw a miracle, and consider their experiences the norm. Plus they subscribe to certain End Times theories which kinda require the miracles to be deactivated till the tribulation hits.

So when Paul and Sosthenes wrote the following, they put a cessationist spin on it. Here, I’ll quote it in their favorite translation (and, often, mine) the King James Version.

1 Corinthians 13.8-10 KJV
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

The passage is about love (Greek ἀγάπη/agápi, KJV “charity”) and how we oughta see it in supernatural gifts. That when it’s not there, the gifts are undermined. Pulling a verse from this passage and claiming there are no such gifts anymore, doesn’t just take the verse out of context, but flips its meaning 180 degrees. Just the sort of thing the devil might do, but I don’t blame Satan for cessationism; I blame Christianism. I blame people who claim to believe in God, and love the trappings of church and faith, but don’t know him at all, and think he’s far away instead of near.

When the apostles refer to “that which is perfect” in verse 10, these cessationists claim they mean the bible. Even though this passage is in no way talking about bible; it’s about love. It’s about how love exists forever, but certain supernatural gifts come to an end—at the End, when we interact with Jesus face to face, 1Co 13.12 and there’ll be no reason to receive these things supernaturally when Jesus can just tell us this stuff naturally.

But cessationists insist they came to an end already, once the bible was complete. In the 50s when Paul wrote his letters, the New Testament was still under construction, and wouldn’t be complete till John wrote Revelation decades later—so the apostles still needed prophecy and supernatural knowledge, ’cause they couldn’t write bible without it. But once the NT was complete, and God decided it was “that which is perfect,” the supernatural abilities would fail, cease, and vanish away. Gone till the End Times, ’cause Revelation describes a world where miracles happen (duh), so cessationists figure God’ll have to bring ’em back at that time. But not till then.

The love we oughta see in supernatural gifts.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 September

1 Corinthians 13.4-8.

When Christians write the about the bit from 1 Corinthians 13 which defines love, we almost universally take it out of context.

Myself included. ’Tain’t necessarily a bad thing: We quote it when we’re defining love. It states what love is, as opposed to what popular culture, and sometimes even popular Christian culture, claims it is. The apostles defined it properly, and we need to adjust our concept of ἀγάπη/agápi (KJV “charity”) accordingly.

But in context, the apostles defined it because they were correcting the Corinthians’ misperceptions about the supernatural. If you’re gonna strive for greater gifts, the only valid way to pursue them and do them is in love. If you’re not doing ’em in love, you’re doing ’em wrong.

And if you’re not entirely certain what the apostles meant by this “love” concept, permit ’em to straighten you out a bit.

1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL
4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly. It doesn’t act with uncontrolled emotion.
It doesn’t draw attention to how great it is. It doesn’t exaggerate.
5 It doesn’t ignore others’ considerations. It doesn’t look out for itself. It doesn’t provoke behavior.
It doesn’t plot evil. 6 It doesn’t delight in doing wrong: It delights in truth.
7 It puts up with everything, puts trust in everything,
puts hope in everything, survives everything. 8A Love never falls down.

This is the mindset we must have when we act in, or strive for, supernatural gifts. With love. Like this. Know any prophets, faith-healers, tongues-speakers, and teachers who act in love? I surely hope so. I do.

Now, d’you know any wonder-workers who act the opposite of all this? Likely you do. I sure do. Let’s play an irritating little game of “Spot the loveless”:

  • Impatient. If you aren’t healed immediately, or can’t accept their prophecy or teaching, you’re to blame. Not the (supposedly) spiritually mature miracle-worker.
  • Unkind. Rude, dismissive, condescending, needlessly harsh.
  • Do act with out-of-control emotion. In other words, not gentle.
  • Do draw attention to their greatness. They do love those titles.
  • Exaggerate all the time. They only tell the big success stories… even though not even the bible tells only the big success stories. Some of our failures are teachable moments; some of our little successes can be more profound than the big ones. But for them, everything’s gotta be huge.
  • Ignores others’ considerations. Are you offended by something they said? Tough.
  • Looks out for themselves. It’s about their convenience; they’re busy people.
  • Provokes behavior. And is actually quite proud of doing so. Sometimes teaches the Holy Spirit wants to be provocative… not restorative.
  • Plots evil; delights in wrongdoing. And we’re not just talking about extreme cases of hypocrisy. Some hypocrites never commit big sins, but their lives are full of little trespasses. White lies, petty thefts, small cheats, sins of omission. They do add up though.
  • Doesn’t delight in truth. If truth is embarrassing or inconvenient, phooey on truth.
  • Puts up with nothing. Trusts no one. Hopes for little. Falls apart easily.

Fleshly supernatural.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

1 Corinthians 13.1-3.

When Paul and Sosthenes wrote 1 Corinthians, specifically the parts about the supernatural, y’might notice they didn’t write about fake supernatural. They didn’t write about frauds, like people who pretend to be faith healers but actually do nothing, or “miracle workers” who are only doing impressive stage magic tricks, or “prophets” who are really practicing mentalism. Certainly they could’ve written about such people, because there have always been such people. Just about every religion in the Roman Empire had one—because their worshipers expected the supernatural, so the priests had to show ’em something. There are two particularly famous stories of frauds in the apocrypha’s extra chapters of Daniel, and you can read it here.

But the apostles didn’t write about the fake stuff. They only wrote about the real stuff. Their main concern was the Corinthians were doing ’em wrong. Because that’s what we Christians do: The real stuff, wrong.

And the main way we do ’em wrong is by being the sort of people who produce bad fruit—the works of the flesh. Yep, there are such creatures as fleshly Christians. Either they’re new to Jesus and still have a lot of growing up to do, or they’re longtime Christians who never did grow up, ’cause they think other things are more important. Or ’cause they learned how to make all their fleshly behavior sound like it’s really fruit.

Christians naïvely assume if God’s gonna empower us with gifts of the Spirit, he’s only gonna do it when we’re good. We imagine the supernatural gifts are like the hammer Mjölnir in the Thor movies, and if we’re not worthy like Thor, the gifts won’t come when summoned. But that’s not even how grace works. God grants us supernatural gifts because we need them, not because we’re worthy. If somebody needs to be cured of a dire illness, God empowers the miracle regardless of how good or evil the petitioner, and the recipient, might be. The supernatural is not God’s endorsement. It’s his grace.

But like I said, Christians naïvely assume otherwise. We think it’s all about karma. If we’ve racked up enough points in God’s great big MMORPG of life, we get a power upgrade! So if Christians can exhibit supernatural powers, it must mean God highly favors them, ’cause they’re good people… or when they’re clearly not good people, ’cause they’ve gained his favor in some other way. Learned a lot of bible trivia, maybe. Worked in ministry for 10 years with low pay, so God owes them one and gave ’em the power to prophesy. Something like that.

And it’s nothing like that. Sometimes the Holy Spirit empowers fleshly Christians.

Seriously? He trusts fleshly Christians with that kind of power? Well no he doesn’t, because he always controls the power, and always will. But yes, he’ll actually work with and through fleshly Christians. Like I said, that’s the whole point of Paul and Sosthenes writing these 1 Corinthians passages: Fleshly Christians were doing supernatural things, and doing ’em wrong, and the apostles had to set them straight!

So right after the bit about striving for greater supernatural gifts, 1Co 12.31 the apostles mention an outstanding way to do it, and then started talking about love. Because it’s the preeminent fruit of the Spirit. It’s the fruit which arguably generates all the other fruit. God is love, so it’s a character trait God’s kids absolutely should exhibit. And if we don’t, we gotta wonder whether these are even God’s kids at all; for anyone who doesn’t love, doesn’t know God. 1Jn 4.8

Many Christians, cessationists in particular, tend to pull “the love chapter” out of context and only focus on how it defines love. We forget it’s all about supernaturla gifts, and how love has to be part of their practice. Has to. It’s how the whole chapter begins.

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 KWL
1 When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging symbol.
2 When I have a prophecy—“I knew the whole mystery! I know everything!”—
when I have all the faith necessary to move mountains:
When I have no love, I’m nobody.
3 Might I give away everything I possess?
Perhaps submit my body so I could be praised for my sacrifice?
When I have no love, I benefit nobody.

When I have supernatural abilities—tongues, prophecy, enough wonder-working power to shove literal mountains around with a word—but there’s no love in it, there’s no love in me, I’m doing it for the power, authority, prestige, acclaim, and maybe donors will send a whole lot of cash my way. But really I’m a noise. I’m nobody. I benefit nobody.

And while Christians might pay particular attention to the “I’m nobody” parts—“See, you gotta minister in love!”—we too often forget this hypothetical loveless apostle… is still doing the supernatural acts. ’Cause the Holy Spirit still lets ’em do it.

The Unforgiving Debtor Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September

Matthew 18.23-35.

Mammonists are fond of saying Jesus teaches about money more often than a surprising number of subjects. More often than heaven and hell combined!

And that part’s true, ’cause Jesus teaches very little about heaven and hell. (Unless you think “the kingdom of heaven” actually means heaven. You’d be wrong.) His lessons are primarily about following God now, not the afterlife, nor after the world ends. Jesus teaches most subjects more than heaven and hell combined.

Though Jesus brings up money a lot, not all his lessons are actually about money. Money’s in them. Much like wheat and vineyards are in a number of his parables: They’re not about wheat and winegrapes, but about his kingdom. He uses them to make a point. They’re MacGuffins—a movie term for the valuable object which motivates the characters and drives the story. What the MacGuffin is, doesn’t matter; you can often swap it out for something else. In fact Jesus does just that when he speaks of a treasure in a field or a valuable pearl: Heaven’s kingdom is like any valuable thing which makes a betting person go all-in.

And in this parable, money’s the MacGuffin, but it could be anything people might owe. Like “You promised me a car; where’s the car?” or “You promised to take us to Disneyland; when’re we going?” or “You said you’d spend Saturday with the family instead of at work; are you gonna break your promise?” Or we’re in their karmic debt because we wronged them, or at their mercy because they can have us prosecuted. Money’s a simple concept though—although the amount of money Jesus refers to is kinda huge.

Two slaves. (I remind you slavery in ancient Israel usually had to do with indebtedness.) One owes 10,000 talents; the other 100 denarii. I also remind you ancient money’s value fluctuated wildly, but figuring silver at 75 cents a gram, the 10,000 talents (330,000 kilos or 750,000 pounds silver) is worth $247,500,000; and the 100 denarii only comes out to $342.75. So one’s an impossible debt, and the other really isn’t.

Now that you have these values in your head, check out Jesus’s parable.

Matthew 18.23-35 KWL
23 “This is why heaven’s kingdom is like a person,
a king who wants to review his instructions to his slaves.
24 Beginning his first review, he’s brought a debtor owing 10,000 talents.
25 The debtor doesn’t have anything to pay him back.
The master orders him to be sold—
and his wife, and his children, and all he has—to pay him back.
26 So the slave, falling down to worship the king, says,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything!’
27 Moved by this slave, the master frees him and forgives his debt.
28 On the way out, this slave finds one of his fellow slaves, who owes him 100 denarii.
Seizing him, he chokes him, saying, ‘Pay me back what you owe!’
29 So, falling down to worship, his fellow slave begs him, saying,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’
30 The slave doesn’t want to hear it,
but throws him away into debtors’ prison till he can pay back the debt.
31 Seeing this happen, the other fellow slaves are greatly upset.
and go to tell the master himself everything that happened.
32 Then summoning the slave, his master told him, ‘You evil slave!
I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.
33 Do you not also have to be merciful to your fellow slave, like I showed you mercy?’
34 His enraged master turned him over to the torturers,
till he could pay back all the debt.
35 This is also how your heavenly Father will do for you,
unless you forgive each of your family members with all your heart.”

Strive for greater supernatural gifts!

by K.W. Leslie, 17 September

1 Corinthians 12.28-31.

Part of the reason Paul and Sosthenes raised the subject of supernatural gifts was so we Christians wouldn’t be ignorant of ’em. 1Co 12.1 Too many are—both those who recognize God still empowers them, and those who insist he doesn’t. I, like the apostles, am only addressing that first group. That second group can just ignore me, same as they do the apostles.

There are all sorts of gifts, empowered by one and the same Holy Spirit, 1Co 12.4 distributed among Christians so they can contribute to Christianity’s unity. But do we see all Christians using these gifts to energize their various ministries? Do we see all Christians seeking and practicing these supernatural gifts? Miracles breaking out everywhere, mighty acts of power convincing the world God is really among us, the weak and sick flocking to churches because they know God has the cure, the lost and confused seeking out Christians because they know God has answers?

I wish. And I’m pretty sure Jesus, and plenty of my fellow Christians, wish so too.

What we see instead, for the most part, are people who are far more interested in using the power of politics than the power of the Holy Spirit. Who look to what money can do, rather than what the Spirit can do. Whose vision is based on developing and capitalizing on their own natural talents, rather than trusting the Spirit to do the heavy lifting. And yeah, there are cessationists who think God turned off the miracles, but they aren’t the real problem; they’re just a loud but tiny minority. It’s Christians who do believe in miracles, but don’t act on this belief any.

Same as the cessationists, they read this passage and reduce it to job titles. And sometimes adopt these titles, and remind everyone within earshot they hold these titles, so give respect where respect is due. Meanwhile they’re not growing God’s kingdom much. Mostly it’s just their own little fiefdoms. It’s a far cry from the Spirit’s intent.

1 Corinthians 12.28-31 KWL
28 This is who God put in the church:
First apostles. Second prophets. Third teachers. Then powers.
Then supernatural healing. Support. Leadership. Different kinds of tongues.
29 Not everyone’s an apostle. Not everyone’s a prophet.
Not everyone’s a teacher. Not everyone works acts of power.
30 Not everyone has supernatural healing. Not everyone speaks in tongues.
Not everyone interprets tongues. Right?
31 Strive for greater supernatural gifts!
And I’ll show you how—by an outstanding way.

This is what we oughta see in our churches: Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, the sick getting cured, the needy getting helped, the lost getting led, and loads of prayer. And if we don’t, we need to strive to see more: They need to become a greater part of our churches and Christian life.

One Spirit for the one body of Christ.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September

1 Corinthians 12.4-27.

The way first-century pagans understood the supernatural, there were many supernatural abilities… but each of ’em was produced by a different spirit.

  • If you wanted healing power, you prayed to Apollo.
  • For wisdom, Athena.
  • For speaking in tongues, Dionysius.
  • For mighty acts of power, Zeus.

The Greek pantheon included a lot of gods, so if Apollo got ’em nowhere, they could also pray to Asklipiós, Panákia, and Ygihía. And frequently Greeks didn’t limit themselves to only Greek gods: If they got word the Egyptian or Persian or Arabian or Norse gods actually got stuff done, they’d try ’em out. Or if they figured the big gods were too busy, they’d try out lesser gods, personal gods, helper gods, known as δαιμόνια/demónia, from which we get our word demon. But nope, they’re not capital-G gods. Just unclean spirits.

Today’s pagans still think this way. If sick, they might try western medicine: They’ll grab some painkillers at the pharmacy, and maybe visit the doctor (unless they live in the United States and can’t afford it, so they Google their symptoms and try to diagnose themselves). If the doctor’s no help, they seek a second opinion. If no doctor can help, they look up researchers who are testing experimental cures—some legitimate, some very much not. Or they check out non-western medicine, like traditional Chinese or American Indian methods. Or psychic healers, medicine men, witch doctors. Whatever it takes to get well!

But Christians properly understand regardless of the method, there’s only one source of our life and well-being: God.

1 Corinthians 12.4-6 KWL
4 There are a diversity of supernatural things, and the same Holy Spirit.
5 A diversity of ministries, and the same Lord.
6 A diversity of activities, and the same God activating all in all.

The doctors at the hospital, the faith healers, the herbalists: They can only cure you if God grants ’em the knowledge to diagnose your ailment, the scientific technique to treat you, or the supernatural power to heal you. If they don’t depend on any of those things, you’re not getting cured. At best, you’ll heal up naturally and think your quack cured you. At worst, you’ll get tricked into thinking you were cured, and die anyway.

Same with any other supernatural thing you encounter. It was all done by God. Otherwise it was a trick. Devilish trick or human trick; doesn’t matter. ’Cause there’s only one Holy Spirit who dispenses the power. There are no others.

Some of the Spirit’s supernatural gifts.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 September

1 Corinthians 12.4-11.

When the apostles Paul and Sosthenes corrected the church of Corinth regarding the supernatural—in particular about the gifts the Holy Spirit distributes to his church—the apostles listed a few of these gifts. Didn’t define ’em; just listed ’em.

Nothing wrong with that. But the problem is cessationists, those Christians who believe God turned off the miracles once the New Testament was complete. So what do they do with Paul and Sosthenes’s list of supernatural gifts? They redefined every last one of them: They’re no longer supernatural, but natural. They’re the same sort of gifts any “gifted person,” any talented individual, any genius, might happen to have. Like perfect pitch, or instant recall, or the ability to do rapid math in your head, or amazing physical coordination. Hey, it’s not like the Creator doesn’t grant natural gifts!

So in a cessationist’s mind, the 1 Corinthians passages aren’t at all about supernatural gifts empowered by the Holy Spirit, but how God’s blessed his church with really talented people. Great preachers, musicians, artists, handymen. You know, like when the LORD instructed Moses to build a tabernacle, and “gifted” this one particular craftsman to do it just the way the LORD wanted it.

Exodus 31.1-5 KJV
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3 and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, 5 and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

Even gave Betsalél (KJV “Bezaleel”) a Spirit-empowered assistant, Oholiáv ben Akhisamákh. Ex 31.6 and together they could make anything. And did. Ex 38.22

But no, 1 Corinthians isn’t about getting way-better-than-average earthly abilities from God. It’s about getting unearthly abilities. Stuff nobody can naturally do. Stuff which proves the Holy Spirit is living and active among us, ’cause skeptical pagans can’t just brush these things off as the talented acts of clever people. They’re forced into a dilemma: Either God’s really among us, or it’s deception or self-delusion. Either he’s real or fake.

So here’s the list the apostles gave in 1 Corinthians—and the rubbish redefinitions which cessationists made up for ’em.

1 Corinthians 12.4-11 KWL
4 There are a diversity of supernatural things, and the same Holy Spirit.
5 A diversity of ministries, and the same Lord.
6 A diversity of activities, and the same God activating all in all.
7 Each individual is given a different revelation of the Spirit—to bring us together.
8 For by the Spirit, while a word of wisdom is given to one,
by the same Spirit, a word of knowledge is given to another.
9 By the same Spirit, to someone else, faith.
By the one Spirit, to another, healing gifts.
10 To another, powerful activity.
To another, prophecy.
To another, judgment of spiritual things.
To someone else, families of tongues.
To another, interpretation of tongues.
11 One and the same Spirit acts in all these things,
dividing them to each of his own people however he wants.

It’s not a comprehensive list. It’s not meant to be; there are plenty of precedents for other supernatural behaviors elsewhere in the bible. But this’ll get us started.

The Holy Spirit and the supernatural.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 September

1 Corinthians 12.1-7.

SUPERNATURAL su.pər'nætʃ(.ə).rəl noun. Event caused by (or credited to) some force beyond scientific understanding, beyond natural laws.

If you wanna get technical, whenever anyone interferes with the natural course of events, it’s more-than-natural. It’s supernatural.

Fr’instance if I install plastic pink flamingos in my front yard. Clearly they aren’t the product of Mommy plastic flamingo and Daddy plastic flamingo loving one another very much, and giving one another a special kind of “hug.” Nor did they sprout up from the ground like mutant orchids. Somebody—really a whole bunch of somebodies—drilled for petroleum, extracted the plastic, colored it pink, molded it into a flamingo shape, and painted it to resemble a living flamingo. Somebody else—i.e. me—lost all sense of what’s appropriate for lawn ornaments, bought them, put ’em in the lawn, and got all the neighbors to seriously consider banding together in a homeowner’s association just to ban ’em. Other than the outrage, none of this happened naturally.

But we tend to call this behavior unnatural, not supernatural. We save the term “supernatural” for stuff which, we suspect, wasn’t done by humans, nor done by our robots. If a sasquatch started leaving pink flamingos around town, or space aliens, or spirits, vampires, inexplicably hyper-intelligent raccoons… well we’d be weirded out by the very idea of non-human intelligences, and call ’em supernatural. ’Cause they’re not natural!

But y’notice all these “supernatural” beings are creatures most people don’t believe in, or won’t admit to believing in, or insist no reasonable person would believe in. So “supernatural” tends to have a sense of ridiculousness attached to it. No sane person should believe in the supernatural, right? Those things aren’t real. Con artists claim to believe in them, but they’re just trying to dupe people into giving them money.

And I get that; I don’t believe in sasquatches either. But just because frauds and the defrauded use a word, doesn’t mean it’s not a valid word. There’s real supernatural in the universe.

Namely God.

When God creates something from scratch, fixes what’s broken, cures the sick, shares unknowable things through his prophets, or otherwise does stuff we can’t adequately explain through science and physics, “supernatural” is the proper term for it. Miracles are supernatural.

Now certainly God can, and does, use physics to do as he does. When he parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Hebrews, he didn’t do it as shown in The Ten Commandments; a wind blew all night and blew back the water. Ex 14.21 Skeptics like to point to this natural-sounding description in Exodus, and claim it suggests maybe God wasn’t involved, and like to “debunk” the bible’s miracles by trying to explain the physics behind ’em. But some miracles just plain defy explanation. Like when God made an axehead float, 2Ki 6.1-7 when Jesus and Peter walked on water, and certainly every time someone got raptured. Natural explanations or not, these events don’t have a natural cause. They’re supernatural.

The Dinner Party Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 September

Luke 14.15-24.

Jesus has two very similar parables in the gospels: The Wedding Party Story in Matthew, and the Dinner Party Story in Luke. Christians tend to lump ’em together, iron out the differences, and claim they’re about precisely the same thing. They’re actually not. The differences are big enough to where we gotta look at the variant parables individually, not together.

In the Wedding Party Story, Jesus compares his kingdom to a king holding a wedding for his son. That’s not a mere social function; it’s political. People’s response to that wedding was a political statement; it wasn’t merely some friends revealing how they’re not really friends. Whereas what we see in the Dinner Party Story is an act of hospitality, generosity, and love on the homeowner’s part… and the invitees blow him off because they’d rather do anything than spend time with him. The rebellion and sedition we detect in the Wedding Party Story isn’t in this story. These are just people being dicks to a guy who just wants their company.

God just wants to love his people, and give us his kingdom. And his people would honestly rather do anything else.

Luke 14.15-24 KWL
15 Someone who was reclining at dinner with Jesus, hearing this,
told him, “How awesome for whoever will eat bread in God’s kingdom!”
16 Jesus told him, “Some person was having a large dinner party, and invited many.
17 He sent his slave to tell the invited at the dinner hour, ‘Come! It’s ready now!’
18 And every one of them began to excuse himself.
The first told him, ‘I bought a field.
I seriously need to go out and see it. I pray you, have me excused.’
19 Another said, ‘I bought five teams of oxen.
I have to try them out. I pray you, have me excused.’
20 Another said, ‘I married a woman, and this is why I can’t come.’
21 Coming back, the slave reported these things to his master.
Then the enraged homeowner told his slave, ‘Go out quickly to the city’s squares and alleys,
and the poor, maimed, blind, and disabled: Bring them here!’
22 The slave said, ‘Master, I did as you ordered, and there’s still room.’
23 The master told the slave, ‘Go out of the city to the roads and property lines,
and make people come, so my house can be full!
24 For I tell you none of those invited men will taste my dinner.’ ”

Now y’notice the consequences of rejecting the dinner party are way less extreme than we see in the Wedding Party Story. In Matthew the king who throws the wedding party burns down a few cities, then has an underdressed guest hogtied and thrown out. Whereas in Luke the homeowner who throws the dinner party simply says, “None of those invited men will taste my dinner.” They’re not gonna be dead, nor cast into outer darkness where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Mt 22.13 They’re only gonna miss out on a really nice meal.

Crummy friends with crummy excuses.

The dinner party host invites his guests to dinner, and it’s a μέγα/méga dinner. Yep, it’s the same word in both Greek and English: It’s big. It’s important. It’s the sort of dinner where he’d’ve been an idiot had he not confirmed they were coming, because he prepared a lot of food, and there were no refrigerators back then, so it had to be eaten that day. He fully expected they’d come—and they begged off with some really lame excuses.

There are no cultural reasons why they can’t make it to dinner. I’ve heard people actually try to defend these guests—“Well if an ancient Israeli bought land, he was legally obligated to go inspect it.” No he wasn’t. Not in the Law, not in Pharisee tradition; he could’ve purchased it sight unseen, and never visited it, if he so chose. True, some purchases were contingent on the buyer seeing the property, same as now, but there’s no reason to presume this was that. The way Jesus tells the story, everybody’s backing out for weak reasons, and this is meant to be interpreted as one of those weak reasons.

Likewise the guy who just bought five teams of oxen: Yes, 10 oxen is a major purchase. Yes he should try them out to make sure they’ll plow his fields properly. But this being case, why’d he inconveniently schedule his purchase so he can’t make it to the dinner party? This wasn’t a surprise purchase—“Wait, I gotta harvest my crops next week? I had no idea! Well I’d better buy some oxen right now!” Plus there’s no way he could drive five teams by himself: He had to have at least four other guys in his employ who could drive the other teams while he did. And shouldn’t any of those other guys be fully capable of testing out his oxen for him?

Lastly the guy who just got married. Okay, verse 24 refers to “none of those invited men,” which suggests the host only invited men. So some folks have claimed this was a men’s-only dinner, and the newlywed might’ve wanted to bring his wife, which seems like a valid enough reason to beg off the dinner. But I doubt it. In patriarchal cultures, if you wanted to formally invite a woman to a social function, you invited her patriarch, and implied to him that he oughta bring her. If he didn’t care to personally attend, he’d send her with a chaperone. But in any event men didn’t formally invite women to dinner parties. Informally maybe, but this wasn’t meant to be mistaken for an informal dinner. There were invitations.

Really, it was because the newlywed didn’t want to take a break from romping with the new wife, and go have dinner. No self-control on his part. Most of us can understand that, but still.

So everybody bailed on the host, and he was understandably enraged: He spent a lot of money on food and food prep, and now it would go uneaten, and go to waste. But no it wouldn’t: “Go out quickly to the city’s squares and alleys,” he instructed his slave, “and the poor, maimed, blind, and disabled: Bring them here!” Lk 14.21 Go get people whom the host knew would be hungry, and appreciate his hospitality.

The Dinner Party Story comes right after Jesus gave this teaching:

Luke 14.12.14 KWL
12 Jesus also said to those who invited him, “Whenever you have a lunch or dinner,
don’t invite your friends, siblings, relatives, or rich neighbors,
lest they invite you in return, to repay you.
13 Instead whenever you have a feast, invite the poor, maimed, disabled, blind,
14 and you’ll be awesome, because they have no way to repay you,
for you’ll be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus lists the very same disadvantaged folks in both his lesson and this story: The poor, maimed, blind, and disabled. Not in the same order, but they’re the same words. People who can’t possibly practice reciprocity, because they can’t throw a dinner party. But that’s okay. You’re not doing it for payback. You’re doing it to be awesome.

Apparently this dinner was so mega, they ran out of poor people in the city! Or at least poor people who would accept a free meal. You probably know people who absolutely refuse to accept anything for free—including grace—because they feel they should earn everything they have, and owe no one anything, nor be in any kind of karmic debt whatsoever. It’s a pride thing. But in my experience, the reason God lets some people be poor and stay poor is because he’s trying to break that pride off them… ’cause if he ever gives such people money, they’re gonna be so insufferably stingy.

Anyway the host had to order his slave “to the roads and property lines” (KJV “the highways and hedges”) —to places which’d be outside the city gates, where he might find people on their way to town, who might be tired and hungry and in need of a good meal, and here was a really good meal! The invitation was now extended, not just to the poor and needy who might know who the host was, but to strangers who might not. But that’s okay; there was plenty of food.

Spite and God’s kingdom.

Okay, time to address the elephant in the room. That last comment the host makes, “For I tell you none of those invited men will taste my dinner,” Lk 14.24 sounds just a bit spiteful. Or at least many a preacher has phrased it that way. Those guys who passed on dinner are totally gonna miss out.

And historically, spiteful preachers have interpreted it that very way. They claim the dinner is God’s kingdom, and the invited people who passed on dinner were God’s chosen people, the Jews. But because the Jews rejected Jesus, none of them are gonna inherit God’s kingdom. Because doesn’t the host in this story say so? “None of those invited men” means none of the Jews, right?

But it’s a ridiculous assumption, because all the first Christians were Jews. All the authors of the New Testament were either Jews by ancestry or (in Luke’s case) conversion. There are still tons of Christians of Jewish descent. Jesus is no antisemite; he’s the king of the Jews! It’s all kinds of stupid to apply antisemitic ideas to his teachings.

But there’s spite, and there’s spite. The word spite actually has two definitions.

SPITE spaɪt noun. A desire to hurt, offend, or annoy someone else.
2. Without regard for the wishes of someone else.

The first definition means we wanna poke someone in the feelings. The second doesn’t necessarily. It might poke them; it might enrage them. It might not. But either way, we’re doing as we’re doing, despite them, or in spite of them. It’s not the harmful sort of spite; it’s the passive sort.

God does the passive sort all the time. Plenty of people don’t want him to do as he’s doing. They don’t want him to love and bless the people they hate. They don’t want him to overthrow their favorite institutions. They don’t want him to intervene in their affairs. They don’t want him! And a lot of times, he’ll give them what they want, and give ’em space. But when their selfish desires start to harm others, especially the needy, he’s gonna intervene; he won’t stand by forever. He’s our savior, y’know. He’ll save people in spite of their haters. Not to deliberately enrage them, even though God knows they’ll be enraged. (And even though God’s people, who are way less kind than God is, will kinda enjoy their rage.)

Is the host being spiteful to his invited guests? Yes, but I would argue it’s the passive sort of spite. They bailed on his dinner because they don’t really care about him, and offered lame excuses because they wanted him to know they don’t really care about him. But rather than dwell on their offensive behavior, he threw his dinner party all the same. Rather than be frustrated he didn’t have enough guests, he went out and got plenty of guests. Rather than be miserable and not enjoy himself, I’m pretty sure he enjoyed himself a great deal. Generosity is fun!

None of this was to make the invited people miserable; I doubt the host cared whether his invitees were miserable. He had other things to focus on. Like making sure he had enough wine for all his new guests. Making sure they weren’t hesitant about eating as much as they liked. Being a good host in general.

God’s kingdom is like this host’s generosity. Everybody’s invited. Not everybody’s gonna accept the invitation. But if they think God’s gonna wallow in misery about their rejection, he really won’t; he’s gonna grant his kingdom to all sorts of people who don’t deserve it, including strangers and gentiles who never initially expected to be included. It’ll be awesome.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 September

Years ago my mom was taking a college course in bible, and one of her texts was The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Full 13-volume set; they didn’t want people getting the two-volume abridged edition. I don’t remember how much it was at the time, but it was way more than she was willing to spend. So she figured, “Well my son’s a big bible nerd,” and asked me, “Wanna go halves on a commentary set?” It was easy to talk her into the Accordance version, which was a lot cheaper, a lot easier to search… and I could stash it on a laptop instead of having it hog a whole shelf.

I’ve known pastors who had the whole 13-volume set in their offices. I don’t know how regularly they flipped through it for their sermon prep. From the many out-of-context scriptures they used, sounds like they really didn’t. But displaying full commentary sets in your office, preferably without a thick layer of dust on top, certainly makes you look like you study the bible in depth.

The EBC began as The Expositor’s Bible, produced in 1903 in Scotland by Sir William Robertson Nicoll of the Scottish Free Church. Many Scottish churches at the time were big on expository sermons and writing—in which you go through a passage and analyze each individual verse, one at a time. (And hopefully don’t go on wild tangents, or use them as jumping-off points for your own rants, like some “expositors” I could mention.) Bible commentaries usually do this very same thing, but not always; Nicholl’s commentary certainly did. Many of the volume authors are the same guys who helped produce the Scottish volumes of the Early Church Fathers.

Did you want a copy? hosts the entire thing on their site. And here are links to every volume on Project Gutenberg. Yeah, they lack the past century of archaeological discoveries, and redevelopments in Christian thought, but they still have plenty to chew on. So here you go.

Timekeeping in ancient Israel.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 September

The calendar most of the planet uses, called either the western calendar or the Gregorian calendar, originated in 1582 when Pope Gregory 13 introduced it as an update of the Roman calendar adopted by Julius Caesar in 45BC. Since Gregory introduced it right after the Protestant split, it took a while before all Protestant countries adopted it. Various Orthodox churches still haven’t adopted it, preferring to stick with Caesar’s calendar, ’cause it’s not Catholic. Meanwhile nations which aren’t even predominantly Christian—’cause of western influences or trade—do use it. As well as their own local calendars. Japan, fr’instance.

Israel likewise uses the western calendar. And its local calendar, the one which predates the western calendar by centuries: The Hebrew calendar.

That’s the calendar we find in the bible. It’s what we call a lunisolar calendar: It’s lunar, in that months start on the new moon. But it’s adjusted to sync up with solar years, so that the year always begins in spring, round the time of the vernal equinox, and doesn’t drift too far away from it.

The Hebrew calendar actually predates the Hebrews. It was used all over the ancient middle east, including by the Assyrians and Babylonians who conquered Israel. The Hebrew calendar’s months all have Assyrian names—although a few of the original Canaanite names slipped into the bible:

  1. אָבִיב/Avív (“green”), the first month. Ex 12.2, 13.4 Tel Aviv (KJV “Telabib”) in Babylon Ek 3.15 was named for it; Tel Aviv in Israel is named for that.
  2. זִֽו/Ziv (“bright”), the second month. 1Ki 6.1
  3. אֵיתָניִם/Eytaním (“strong ones”), the seventh month. 1Ki 8.2
  4. בּוּל/Bul (“produce”), the eighth month. 1Ki 6.38

Otherwise the scriptures simply called the months “third month,” “fifth month,” and so forth. (Like September/seventh month, October/eighth month, and so on… and yeah they aren’t the seventh and eighth month, but blame Gregory for that.) We don’t know what the ancient Canaanite names were. No doubt many months were named for pagan gods, just like the Roman calendar, so the Hebrews didn’t care to use or record them.

In any event here are the current names.

Mid-March to mid-April
Mid-April to mid-May
30Late spring:
Mid-May to mid-June
Shavuót (Pentecost)
Mid-June to mid-July
Mid-July to mid-August
29Late summer:
Mid-August to mid-September
Mid-September to mid-October
Yom Kippur, Sukkot
Mid-October to mid-November
29/30Late fall:
Mid-November to mid-December
Mid-December to mid-January
Mid-January to mid-February
29/30Late winter:
Mid-February to mid-March

Keep (most of) your prayers private.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 September

Matthew 6.5-6.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught,

Matthew 6.5-6 KJV
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Which is why we don’t see the streets of our nation lined with Christians, their arms raised and heads to the sky, praying as loud as possible so as to let everyone know we’re devout, and that we’re praying for our land.

Well… we don’t usually see this. Although I remember this one trip I made to Washington D.C. where we saw it all the time. I was chaperoning some kids on a civics tour, where we went to the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, and all sorts of public buildings. And wouldn’t you know it: In every last one of these places, there were Christian groups, praying good ’n loud for the United States. If you didn’t know they were Christian by their behavior, you’d definitely know it by their very public prayers.

Various Christian organizations also put together days of prayer, or prayer breakfasts, or get high schoolers to gather at the flagpole to pray, or get concerned citizens to show up at all the city halls to pray. Sometimes they’re protesting something; sometimes they’re in favor of something; either way they pray. Publicly. Loudly. For all to see and hear.

There’s the occasional athlete who takes a knee every time he scores a goal. And there are the folks who pitch a fit because public schoolteachers can’t lead the kids in prayer. As someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, I should point out this is more of a blessing than you realize: I’d’ve been exposed to all sorts of weird pagan prayers had my teachers been required to lead prayer time. It’s not at all like the Bible Belt, where the pagans have way more practice at pretending to be Christian.

Back in 2008, during a major economic recession, Texas prophet Cindy Jacobs led a prayer team to New York City to lead a Day of Prayer for the World’s Economies. They were gonna pray for the financial institutions who caused suffered from the recession, and pray for God to take ’em over. Which is fine, but here’s what happened.

I recall the Hebrews got in big trouble for doing something like this. Wonkette

On Wall Street there’s a statue of a bull, meant to represent an active, “bullish” economy. The prayer team chose to lay their hands upon it and pray. My very first thought upon seeing this photo: “Good Lord, they’re praying over a golden calf. Um… didn’t the LORD smite the Hebrews for that?” Ex 32.35

Okay, they meant well. But the prayer team didn’t bother to think about how their actions looked—or didn’t care, figuring their good intentions outweighed how foolish they looked. ’Cause pagans have seen The Ten Commandments, and know that golden calf story. And sure had a lot of fun with it.

Hatred’s a work of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 September
Galatians 5.19-21 KJV
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Hatred gets listed in verse 20 as one of the works of the flesh. The original-language word is ἔχθραι/ékhthre, “hostility” or “opposition” or “enmity”: Someone who’s decided in advance they’re not gonna be friendly. In fact, they’re looking for enemies.

In his first letter, John pointed out how those who hate their sisters or brothers are murderers. In their hearts, such people are dead to them. And those who “murder” in this way have nothing to do with eternal life. 1Jn 3.15 They won’t inherit God’s kingdom—same as those who exhibit the fleshly works which Paul listed.

Yeah, you know we’ve got a lot of such people all over Christianity. I follow a few of their blogs. They claim they’re all about Christian holiness and sanctification; about Christians following Jesus instead of the rest of the world, and becoming a pure, sinless, spotless church, ready and eager to greet Jesus at his second coming. But the way they go about doing it is to bring up the latest popular sin (typically one committed by members of the opposition party), then pound away at it like a carpenter trying to put thin nails into thick wood.

Yes, Christians oughta resist temptation and stop sinning. Of course. Duh. But these guys’ fixation on dirty, dirty sins? It’s not healthy. Much as these guys love to quote this memory verse—

Philippians 4.8 KJV
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

—the amount of time they spend digging through the news to find new things to be horrified by, the length of time they spend denouncing these travesties, and the angst and tears and hand-wringing and stress they suffer just thinking about how these evils damage our good Christian nation…

Yep, these guys aren’t actually avoiding sin. They may not be committing it, nor even be tempted to try it, but their minds are nonetheless stewing in it like shrimp in a gumbo. Because what they’re doing instead is hating it. Hating it with every fiber of their being. In so doing their minds are wholly fixated on whatsoever things are false, dishonest, unfair, impure, ugly, disturbing, useless, and wrong.

Hopefully they’re not doing this 24 hours a day, like pundits who are desperately looking for new content with which they can outrage their TV audience. But y’know, some of them are. You can tell whenever you talk with them: The first thing they want to talk about is the latest outrage. And they’re hoping it’ll outrage you too. Bad fruit likes to spread its seeds widely.

The Equal-Pay Vineyard Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 September

Matthew 20.1-16.

Jesus tells more than one parable about vineyards, and sometimes Christians mix ’em up. Whenever I refer to “the parable of the vineyard,” people sometimes assume I mean the two sons sent to work in the vineyard, or the tenant farmers who murder the vineyard owner’s son. I’ve tried to call this the Generous Employer Story, but if you don’t put “vineyard” in the title people don’t know what you mean—“Wait, is this a new parable?” No it’s not.

So I call it the Equal-Pay Vineyard Story. Because everybody gets paid a denarius at the end of the story, even though some of ’em didn’t work all that hard. The punchline is about how the landowner does this because he’s generous, so maybe it oughta be called the Generous Equal-Pay Vineyard Story. But instead of making the title longer and longer, till it winds up telling the story for us, Jesus may as well tell the story, right?

Matthew 20.1-16 KWL
1 “For heaven’s kingdom is like a person, a landowner,
who comes out first thing in the morning [6AM] to hire workers for his vineyard.
2 Once the workers agree to a denarius for the day,
he sends them to his vineyard.
3 Going out the third hour, [9AM] he sees others loitering in the square
4 and tells them, ‘You can also go to the vineyard,
and I’ll give you whatever might be fair.’
5 He goes away again, and comes back out at the sixth [12PM] and ninth hour, [3PM]
and does the same thing.
6 Around the 11th hour, [5PM] he comes out to find others standing around,
and tells them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’
7 They tell him this: ‘Nobody has hired us.’
He tells them, ‘You can also go to the vineyard.’
8 When evening comes, [6PM] the vineyard’s master tells his vineyard manager,
‘Call the workers, to give them their pay—
starting with the last, till you get to the first.’
9 Each of those who came at the 11th hour gets a denarius.
10 So the first to come, thought they would get more—
and each of them also gets a denarius.
11 Those who got paid last grumble against the landowner,
12 saying, ‘These last-hired worked one hour, and were paid as much as we?
Those who bore the weight of the day, and the heat?’
13 In reply, the landowner says to one of them,
‘Friend, I’ve not wronged you. Didn’t you agree with me to work for a denarius?
14 Take your denarius and go.
I want to give this last-hired what I also gave you.
15 Or is this not allowed me?—to do as I want with what’s mine?
Or is your eye evil, because I am good?’
16 In this way the last will be first,
and the first, last.”

I translated “is your eye evil” Mt 20.15 literally. But just to remind you, the “evil eye” has nothing to do with cursing anyone, like our culture has it. To ancient Hebrews it was an idiom meaning “greedy person.” And there are a lot of greedy people, both back then and now, whose Mammonism gets triggered every time they see generosity. They rage whenever someone gets a massive paycheck, whether it be a CEO who gets an outrageous bonus, or an entry-level employee who makes way more than minimum wage: “He doesn’t deserve that,” or “Why are you paying your people so much?” or “Any moron could do that job; how dare you overpay morons?” They’re as enraged as if it personally harms them for others to prosper. It’s karmic thinking, and wholly inappropriate behavior for Christians. And Jews. But it’s everywhere, so Jesus includes it in his story.