Those who no longer think prayer works.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 June

There’s a blog I follow. A few years ago, its author wrote a post about how he no longer believes prayer works—at least not the way we imagine it does.

He no longer believes prayer involves asking God for stuff. Nor asking questions of him, and getting answers. Nor calling on him for help. Forget about God meeting our needs and granting our wishes. Forget about asking this mountain to move over there, and it will.

Prayer, he states, is only about empathy. We pray for others because we love and care about them. It brings us closer to them. It expresses our love for them. It expresses our love for God too. It’s kind.

But otherwise prayer doesn’t do jack. And y’know, he says he’s okay with that.

I’ll take his word for it that he’s okay with that. But man alive, I sure wouldn’t be.

Back in my early twenties, I told God he needed to either do something, or I was gonna quit being Christian. Because I was tired of following a God who, according to my bible, does stuff… yet going to a church where, according to them, he doesn’t do stuff. They were cessationist, and believed God no longer answers prayer. Not for miracles, anyway.

Now, fortunate coincidences: He’d do those, from time to time. If a friend of yours had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy and you prayed real hard and the tumor shrank, they felt it was wholly legitimate to give God the credit… for permitting the chemo to work, I suppose. Or say a different friend got into a road accident, and a dozen friends coincidentally happened to be on the scene, and helped rescue her, call an ambulance, call the auto insurance company, call a tow truck—why, such coincidences have to be a “God-incidence,” as Christians I know tend to call it. Such things don’t just happen.

But that’s as far as they’d permit God to act. Anything more than that—like actually getting cured of cancer only minutes before the chemotherapy—and they’d doubt the person even had cancer to begin with. Any incident where God told a person in advance, “Hey, be at this intersection; I need to you help somebody; you’ll see it when you get there,” and they’d claim, “Well that can’t be God, ’cause he doesn’t do such things. But Satan does.” According to their worldview, God’s powerless—and Satan’s not. Seriously.

I’m not claiming this blogger is this kind of cessationist. I’m pretty sure he’s not; I suspect if you asked him about Satan, he’d say the devil’s more of a malevolent human attitude than a literal being. But he has determined God doesn’t answer prayer, doesn’t cure the sick, doesn’t act. So, same as the cessationists I grew up with, he thinks prayer’s only about training us to pursue God’s will. Not teaching us to depend on him. We can’t. He’s sitting things out. He’s abandoned us to our fates. Bye kids; see you in heaven!

You can probably tell I disagree with him. A lot.

And no, not because I’d like to imagine God as caring and interactive. It’s because he answered my twentysomething prayer: He did something. Still does. He answers my prayers. Therefore I see no reason he can’t answer yours.

Deconstruction, and the Christians who do it.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 June
DECONSTRUCT 'di.kən'strəkt verb [with object]. Take apart; unbuild.
2. Analyze a concept, belief system, or text, by taking it apart—usually to expose its hidden workings and assumptions, often to undermine its apparent soundness, significance, truth, or unity.
3. Reduce to its constituent parts, in order to reinterpret it.
[Deconstruction 'di.kən'strək.ʃən noun, deconstructionism 'di.kən'strək.ʃən.ɪz.əm noun, deconstructionist 'di.k(ə)n'strək.ʃ(ə)n.əst noun.]

The term “deconstruction” came from 20th century philosopher Jacques Derrida—who usually gets credit for the whole idea. But the idea doesn’t come from Derrida; just the word. The idea goes all the way back—to the beginning of western philosophy. All the way back to Socrates of Athens. Yep, the founder of western philosophy himself.

When Derrida first wrote of deconstruction—in his 1967 book De la Grammatologie (English, On Grammatology)—he was writing about words and their meaning. How they only have meaning in context: Whenever we use a word, it might have a dozen definitions in the dictionary, but it only means the one thing the speaker or author intends it to mean, and we figure out that meaning through where and how it was said or written. Further, the word’s meaning is only significant because it’s the opposite of something else: We say “up” because we don’t mean “some direction other than up”; we say “yes” because we certainly don’t mean “no.” Deconstruction analyzes all these things about language, and helps us better understand what it really means.

Same as postmodernism, a term which was originally just about art, people jumped all over deconstructionism, and decided to apply it to everything. Everything. You can deconstruct a piece of literature… but you can also deconstruct the law, and try to understand why laws are really made. Or history, and try to understand why we really tell the stories we do, with the spins we put on ’em. Or politics, and what politicians and their sponsors are really after. Or belief systems, ethical systems, philosophies, worldviews, and religions.

Or Christianity. Which is why I bring up the subject on TXAB; I’m not just jabbering about it ’cause I think it’s a neat idea. There are people who grew up Christian, who realized at some point, “Do I actually believe this stuff?” and are deconstructing it. No, not tearing it down, like deconstruction’s critics often complain: Taking it apart to understand it better. I did that, back in my twenties. I still do it from time to time. I find it profoundly helpful.

But yeah, often people are trying to tear it down. Taking it apart so they can nitpick it to death. Much like you take apart a bomb so it won’t go off, these people either don’t like Christians or Christianity, or think Christianity is something harmful or dangerous. They’re hoping if they do a little deconstruction on it, they’ll prove it false, and it’ll stop working. Or collapse like a house of cards.

There are a lot of Christians who object to deconstruction—same as they object to postmodernism, same as they object to any idea they don’t wholly understand. (Critical race theory, for example.) In my experience, they object because they don’t really have faith in the institutions getting analyzed. They fear, deep down, these things won’t withstand scrutiny. Deconstructionists might actually find something that makes ’em fall apart—so they’re nervous. Even terrified.

Sometimes for good reason! Some of those things don’t hold up to scrutiny. Like racism, sexism, nationalism, militarism, partisanship, violence, fear-based reactionism, or any of the other Christianist practices and idols which people have swapped out for the living God and true religion. Deep down they know their “faith” is in fact hypocrisy, and deconstruction threatens to shed light upon the deep darkness in which they dwell, Jn 3.20 and call ’em out.

To my mind, Christianity at its very core is Christ Jesus, his teachings, and the gospel. All the other stuff we’ve piled on top of that? Meh; my faith’s in Jesus, not them. I trust him, not that. So feel free to take ’em apart. Jesus can always hold up to scrutiny.

The Pharisee and Taxman Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 June

Luke 18.9-14.

Immediately after the Persistent Widow Story, Jesus tells this one. It likewise touches upon prayer… but it’s more about people who consider themselves devout, yet are jerks.

Luke 18.9-14 KWL
9 Jesus also says to certain hearers
who trust in themselves that they’re righteous
—and despise everyone else—this parable:
10 “Two people go up to temple to pray.
One’s a Pharisee, and the other a taxman.
11 The Pharisee, standing off by himself, is praying this:
‘God, thank you that I’m not like every other person!
those greedy, unjust fornicators!
Or even like this taxman!
12 I fast twice a week.
I tithe whatever I get.’
13 The taxman, who’d been standing way back,
didn’t even want to raise his eyes to heaven,
but beat his chest, saying,
‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 I tell you this taxman comes down from temple,
made righteous in his house, along with the other man.
For everyone who raises themselves will be lowered.
And those who lower themselves will be raised.”

Sometimes this is called the Pharisee and Publican story, ’cause “publican” is how the KJV translates τελώνης/telónis, “collector of tolls, customs, or taxes.” But “publican” is an anachronism at this point in history. Yep, it’s history lesson time, kids. Gather round and I’ll tell a story.

Before the Caesars took over, Rome was a republic. Not a democracy; it had democratic parts to it, but it was mostly an oligarchy run by patricians, the Roman nobility. At some uncertain point in their past, the patricians overthrew their king and ran Rome collectively. Every year, patricians elected two consuls to run things; the consuls picked senators, and these senators ruled for life. But senators weren’t permitted to collect taxes, so they hired lower-rank patricians to do it for ’em. These tax-gatherers were from the publicani rank, and over time, publicani became synonymous with taxmen.

The publicans practiced tax farming: Different companies applied for the job of collecting taxes in a certain town or county, by offering the government an advance—say, 𐆖10,000. (The 𐆖 stands for denarii; it’s like our dollar sign.) If they outbid everyone they got the contract—and had to pay the government the 𐆖10,000 advance. Now they had to make it back: Collect rent, charge tolls, demand a percentage of merchants’ profits. They shook everybody down to make back that 𐆖10,000.

And everything they made beyond that 𐆖10,000, they got to keep. So the more unscrupulous the publican, the higher taxes would be, and the richer they got.

Richer, and corrupt. They’d bribe government officials to get their contracts, bribe their way out of trouble if they were charged with over-taxing, and bribe their way out of trouble for any other crimes. When Augustus Caesar took over the senate in 30BC, he tried to eliminate tax farming, figuring it’d lower taxes and reduce bribery. He took it away from the publicans, who switched careers and got into banking and money-lending. He put government officials in charge… but lazy officials who didn’t want this job, simply hired other tax farmers to collect for them.

Since you no longer had to be of publicani rank to be a taxman, any wealthy person could bid for the job, and get it. And that’s what happened in first-century Israel: Rich Jews became tax farmers, and did the Romans’ dirty work for them. Their fellow Jews saw them as traitors—as greedy, exploitative sellouts. Which, to be fair, they totally were.

Bad religion.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 June

As I’ve said before, a lot of Evangelicals have it in their heads “religion” is a bad thing. They scoff, “I don’t have a religion; I have a relationship.” But in my experience, if they aren’t religiously working on that relationship (and I do mean that in the sense of “consistent and conscientious regularity,” which is exactly what religion is about) it’s gonna be a really sucky relationship.

Y’see, to their minds “religion” means an absence of that relationship. It means they’re performing all the rituals and acts of devotion: They’re going to church, reading bible, saying rote prayers, doing sacraments, going on pilgrimages, hanging crosses on the wall, putting Jesus fish on their cars, and all their Spotify playlists are non-stop Christian music. But they don’t know Jesus. They never honestly talk with Jesus. They don’t read the Sermon on the Mount and follow it. As soon as they set foot outside the church building, they go back to being the same pagans as everyone else.

Properly, that’s called dead religion. Yes it’s a religion. But a proper religion has a living relationship at the center of it—and the living relationship is the whole point of our religious activities. We’re not just doing this stuff to fit in, or look good, or feel righteous, or win votes for Congress: We’re doing it to get better at following Jesus! And just as faith without works is dead faith, works without faith are dead works. Dead religion.

Dead religion is a common form of bad religion, but it’s not the most common form. That’d be irreligion, in which there’s no religion: No good works. No self-discipline, no habits nor practices, no priorities, no self-sacrifice, no fruit of the Spirit. Yet illogically, despite this utter lack of effort on our part, irreligious Christians still expect to spontaneously grow as Christians. Oh, we’ll grow all right—grow wrong. Grow less Christian.

Prayer books: Prayers for every occasion.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 June

If you’ve ever been to a church wedding (’cause pagans will do their weddings any which way), y’might’ve noticed whenever an actual member of the clergy officiating the ceremony, she or he held a little black book. Usually. Some clergy members have this stuff memorized; they’ve done so many. Others… well, they’re all over the place, same as pagans.

Most people assume this book is a bible. When I was a kid it’s what I assumed too. So I went poking around my bible for the wedding ceremony… and discovered it’s not in there. ’Cause there are no wedding ceremonies in the bible. Wedding parties, sure. But back in bible times, you hashed out the marriage and dowry details between the families, and that done, the bridegroom went and got the bride, took her home, and they were considered married. No ceremony. Didn’t need one.

I know; some of you are gonna say, “But there was a Jewish wedding ceremony; I saw a video.” Yes you did, and yes that’s a Jewish wedding ceremony. It dates from medeival times, not bible times. It’s got some customs which are uniquely Jewish, but medieval Jews simply copied the Christian wedding ceremony and Judaized it—just like when Christians swipe Jewish rituals and Christianize them. If you notice any parallels between the medieval Jewish ceremony and the second coming, it’s because we Christians put them there in our medieval ceremonies… and took ’em out in our modern ones.

But I digress. The western marriage ceremony ultimately originates with western pagans, not Jews. We Christianized it a bunch. So of course it’s not in the bible. So where do clergy members get the order and words of the wedding ceremony?—what’s this little black book then? Usually a prayer book.

Different denominations have official prayer books. Some don’t; mine doesn’t. So when it comes to baby dedications, baptisms, wedding ceremonies, funerals, and other rituals a pastor’s gonna be less familiar with, they get ahold of Minister’s Manuals, which tell ministers what to do and say and pray. Some are published by one’s denomination; the rest are nondenominational things which a denomination might officially recommend, but any Christian can buy and use ’em. You can find a copy on Amazon.

Back in college I picked up a Book of Common Prayer at a bookstore; that’d be the Episcopal Church’s prayer book, which is an American version of the Church of England’s prayer book. Most of the rote prayers I’d heard all my life are in there. A few weren’t; I’ve since found them in other prayer books. Some worship songs I knew, which had old-timey lyrics, or verses of the psalms which didn’t quite line up with the King James Version: Apparently they were extracted from the BCP’s prayers. Hey, if your music needs lyrics, why not?

The less formal a church, the less likely they’re gonna tap the prayer books. I grew up in churches where we didn’t even read the call-and-response prayers in our hymnals. So I’ve met many a Christian who’s totally unfamiliar with these books, and eye them with a little bit of suspicion: “What’re you trying to slip past me?” I wish they’d likewise apply some of that suspicion to the stuff their churches show ’em on the PowerPoint slides, but that’s another discussion.

For those of you who are familiar with them, or who wanna take a look at them, I’m gonna hook you up with a few. You don’t have to be clergy to read them. They’ll provide you some useful ideas which you can add to your prayer life.

“The least of these my brethren”—as we define brethren.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 June

Matthew 25.40.

There’s some debate as to where out-of-context interpretations of the bible come from. Goes from the extremes of “Every single last one of them comes from the devil,” to “They’re honest mistakes—perpetuated by laziness, ’cause people should bother to double-check the context, and don’t.”

I would say the reality, most of the time, is somewhere in between the two. I seldom think these mistaken interpretations are honest mistakes. Though certainly honest mistakes can happen: You’ll get someone who’s trying to talk about an old biblical concept in a new and different way—which is fine, if you really are teaching the old concept, and not trying to claim the scriptures are saying something which no other Christian has ever noticed. But sometimes a listener will misunderstand you, repeat it to others but get it wrong, and wind up spreading a new, wrong concept. That’s an honest mistake. I’ve done that. (Sorry.)

Thing is, there are people who want the scriptures to say something entirely new. Something which might make their teaching ministry stand out—“Hey, come and listen to this guy who teaches stuff you’ve never heard before!” Something which gets ’em a little notoriety. It’s not about spreading God’s kingdom, but spreading their brand.

And a lot of these new ideas are designed to appeal to people. Specifically, to our flesh. It’s an interpretation which supports their own ideas and prejudices about power, sexual activity, propriety, money, greed, envy, anger, partisanship, separatism, addiction, personal preferences, and self-justification. ’Cause more often not, they were looking for a proof text to help ’em rationalize any of these bad fruits, and this one oughta do the trick.

“Okay,” you might say, “but doesn’t that fleshliness kinda come from the devil?” Perhaps. I tend to say if you’ve flipped the meaning of a verse a full 180 degrees from what the Holy Spirit intends it to mean, that’s a pretty good sign Satan’s mixed up in it. But some of us are plenty evil ourselves. We can go 180 degrees in the wrong direction without any help or temptation from the devil at all. We’re just that depraved.

Today’s article about context gives an example of that kind of depravity. It takes the point of Jesus’s Lambs and Kids Story, and flips it so we don’t have to do for “the least of these.” Well, certainly a lot fewer of them.

To recap: The Son of Man sends his holy angels to sort out humanity like a shepherd sorts lambs from kids (hence the story’s title) and addresses his lambs, “Enter the kingdom, because you did all this compassionate stuff to me.” They respond (because for some reason they’ve never heard this story before), “Wait, what? When’d we ever do for you?” Jesus continues—

Matthew 25.40 KJV
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Let’s pause the story, ’cause you might already know the rest; and if not, go ahead and read it. The point certain Christians wanna make is found in the three words τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου/ton adelfón mu, which the King James Version turns into two words, “my brethren.” We Christians talk about doing compassionate charity work for “the least of these,” but these other Christians point out, “It’s not just ‘the least of these,’ but ‘the least of these my brethren.’ Jesus is talking about charity for his brethren. Not just anyone.”

This is an attitude you’ll find in an awful lot of churches. Not just Jehovah’s Witnesses either; I’ve seen it in way too many Baptist churches, particularly the independent, culty kind. I’ve heard people preach this on the radio, on both Christian stations during preacher shows, and on conservative talk stations. It’s pretty much wherever people wanna justify non-compassionate conservatism. Maybe slip a little Objectivism into the mix. “Don’t give to them: They’re not worthy.”

The Persistent Widow Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 June

Luke 18.1-8.

Last time I wrote about parables, I brought up the Midnight Friend Story. Well… same gospel, same idea, but whole different story. Comes in chapter 18 instead of 11. It’s also called the Unjust Judge, the Importunate Widow, the Persistent Woman, and the Unjust Judge and the Widow. All depends on which of them you wanna emphasize, but since the widow is meant to be our role model, I think the story oughta be named for her.

Luke 18.1-8 KWL
1 Jesus is speaking parabolically to his students
on the necessity of them always praying
and not becoming discouraged,
2 saying, “There’s some judge in some city
with no respect for God, no regard for people.
3 There’s a widow in that city;
she’s coming to him, saying,
‘Prosecute my opponent for me!’
4 For a time, he doesn’t want to.
Afterward, he said to himself,
‘Though I don’t respect God, nor have regard for the people,
5 because this widow keeps bugging me,
I’ll prosecute her opponent for her.
In the end, she may come give me a black eye!’ ”
6 The Master says, “Listen to what this unjust judge says.
7 Might God not prosecute on behalf of his elect,
who cry out to him day and night,
and have patience with them?
8 I tell you he will prosecute for them, quickly.
But at the Son of Man’s coming,
will he then find any faith on the earth?”

Some notes about my translation. The term the widow is using is ἐκδίκησόν με/ekdíkisón me, which the KJV translates “Avenge me.” That’s perhaps too literal of a translation. Ekdikéo means to carry out a punishment, and the word isn’t particular about whether it’s a judge sentencing a criminal, a vigilante murdering a criminal, or someone with a grudge taking out petty revenge upon a neighbor. Since Jesus is talking about a judge, he is talking about some level of due process.

Problem is, Jesus isn’t talking about a righteous judge. In his culture there were two kinds of judges:

  • Jewish judges followed and interpreted the Law, the commands the LORD handed down in the 15th century BC.
  • Roman judges followed and interpreted the laws decreed by the senate and people of Rome.

So when Jesus describes this judge as caring neither about God nor people, he describes a person who ignores the standards for both Jewish and Roman judges. He doesn’t base his rulings on law and legal precedent; he follows his conscience. He’s what we’d call an “activist judge”—the kind of judge people love when he shares their politics, ’cause he’ll rule their way, no matter what the law says! But they soon discover a lawless judge creates a lot of instability in society, no matter how moral these judges might imagine they are.

Activating prophecy.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 June

Every Christian has the Holy Spirit within us, and we gotta learn to listen to him when we pray. And when he has something to tell not just us, but other people—whether other Christians or not—that’s prophecy. That’s all prophecy is. It’s not complicated.

But not every Christian has the patience to wait for God to tell us something. We want a message now. Right now. ’Cause we wanna share God with someone, and it’d really blow their minds if God himself told ’em something. Or we want to know something about the future, or need some encouragement, or need a reminder God’s here… or, let’s be honest, we wanna show off how we really do hear God.

That’s why various Christians will claim we can activate prophecy. That it’s not just the Holy Spirit’s supernatural gift, but a power we can switch on, once we learn to “move in the prophetic,” by which they mean we learn to tap that power, much like connecting your phone to the wifi at the coffeehouse.

So these folks teach us certain techniques we can use to help get us into the appropriate mindset for prophecy. The prophetic realm is all around us! All we gotta do is become aware of it, listen to what the Spirit’s trying to tell us—’cause we’re usually too dense to notice—and we’ll gain the ability to speak a word of prophecy wherever and whenever the need arises.

These techniques include paying attention to your surroundings. Or looking for clues in the person you’re trying to prophesy to: What they’re wearing, what they’re saying, what they react to when you talk to them. Or looking for clues in yourself: The very first word that comes to your mind, or the very first mental image you have, or the very first bible verse which pops into your head. Colors or fragrances might stand out, and evoke a memory or thought from you. Whatever cues might jump out at you and trigger a prophecy. Look for them!

Your job is to take these cues and extrapolate a positive message from them. Those who teach activation, make it very clear all prophecy must encourage and uplift. You know, like Paul said. 1Co 14.4 So if you come up with something negative, you’re doing it wrong; don’t do that; we’re trying to encourage not discourage. Keep it motivational and supportive. And where appropriate, quote bible.

I’ve been to a few of these activation classes and seminars. I agree—these techniques can produce really interesting, encouraging results.

But none of it is actual prophecy. It’s mentalism.

Prayer in the public schools.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 June

The United States has a separation of church and state.

Yeah, there are plenty of Christian nationalists who insist we don’t. Or they claim the idea isn’t constitutional, because the specific words “separation of church and state” aren’t found in our Constitution. (Ugh, literalists.) But just as the word trinity isn’t in the bible, yet it’s an entirely orthodox idea, separation of church and state is totally in our Constitution. In two places.

First, Article 6 bans religious qualifications for office. You don’t have to be Christian; you don’t have to not be atheist. Whatever your religion (or non-religion), hopefully you’re no hypocrite, but it’s explicitly not a prerequisite.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. Article 6, ¶3.

Other countries (i.e. the United Kingdom, from which the United States separated) do require a religious test for certain office. For obvious reasons: The UK’s parliament funds the Church of England, and appoints its bishops. So if Brits didn’t know the religious sentiments of their elected ministers, the worry is they might internally corrupt the Church of England. It’s not a worry now; the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is nominally Roman Catholic. But back during the English Reformation, when church loyalty might get you killed, this was a big, big deal.

Whereas the United States’ founders wanted a government where no religious faction was banned; Catholics could run for office, same as Anglicans, because we wanted it clear England’s old religious wars were not happening here. So the Constitution bans religious tests. We’re not gonna ban Catholics—even though there were a lot of years where anti-Catholics fought tooth and nail to make sure we never elected any. And today, even though there are anti-Muslims and anti-atheists in the electorate, Muslims and atheists too can hold office.

Next, obviously, is our First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Amendment 1

That first clause—“respecting an establishment of religion”—bans Congress from creating an official, or established, religion of the United States. Many American colonists came here to specifically get away from state religions (though, in the case of Massachusetts and many other colonies, it was so they could set up their own state religions). Religious differences were a regular point of friction whenever the colonies tried to unite. Or go to war; our pacifist Quakers refued to even countenance the idea, and it took a lot of maneuvering to get ’em to at least not vote against our Revolution. So the goal was to keep the national government altogether out of it.

The Constitution makes the United States officially non-sectarian. Arguably it’s even secular… although that’s hard to argue when our national motto is “In God We Trust.”

So should a non-sectarian government, mandate prayer? Absolutely not. But that’s what school prayer is.

Christian nationalism: The civic idolater’s religion.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 June
NATIONALISM 'næʃ.(ə.)nəl.ɪz.əm Belief a nation—a particular group of people—should be congruent with the state, or be supreme within it; and the state’s native identity must share this nation’s characteristics.
2. Exalting one nation above all others; promoting its culture and interests above (or against) those of other nations or multinational groups.
[Nationalist 'næʃ.(ə.)nəl.ɪst noun.]

Most of us think of nation is just another synonym for state. It’s not. Usually not at all.

A nation is a people-group. When you see “nation” in the bible, that’s what it means: A people-group like the Israelites, Edomites, Moabites, Amorites, Philistines, or Egyptians. They’re people united by common ancestors, a common language, a common history and culture, and usually a common religion. Whereas a state is a political entity—the government which rules a particular land, regardless of how many different nations are within that land. (And sometimes nations have multiple states, like when Israel had separate kings in Samaria and Jerusalem.)

Quite a few states have many people-groups within ’em. Empires are an obvious example: The Persian Empire, Greek Empire, Roman Empire, British Empire—all of ’em conquered vast territories of many nations. These empires, by the way, allowed anyone from these nations to become citizens of their empire. Anyone. Citizenship wasn’t limited to the original nation which founded the empire; anyone could become Persian, Greek, Roman, or British. Many did. Paul of Tarsus was even born Roman—because anyone, even Cilician Jews like Paul’s ancestors, could be Roman.

Nationalism loudly objects to that idea, and stands against it. It’s the belief, as I defined above, that the nation and the state oughta be the same thing. Anybody who’s not part of their nation is an undesirable and needs to either conform so much to the nation that we can’t tell the difference (if that’s even possible), or go back to where they came from.

Yeah, nationalism is racism. It’s not just extreme patriotism, like some of the lousier dictionaries define it. It’s the belief the country oughta be all one race. Not just one culture (which is a nationalism-lite variant); one race. Indian nationalists want all the non-Indians and non-Hindus out. German nationalists demand their country be solely Aryan, and you might remember they got really murdery about it in the 1930s. French nationalists want any French citizen who isn’t of European descent (namely the Algerians) to go back to where they came from—even if their family has been in France for a century, and know nothing about where they originally emigrated from.

The United States has its nationalists too. Which is weird, ’cause we’re a diverse country of immigrants: Shouldn’t our nationalists be indigenous American Indians who want all the white people gone? (Such people totally exist, y’know.) But our nationalists are largely white people, descendants of immigrants with various definitions of “white” and “white culture,” who mainly have in common that they want fewer nonwhites, if not none; that America will only be “great again” once white supremacy rules the land once again. (If that’s not what you mean by “Make America Great Again”: Okay. But the guys who coined that phrase have very different ideas than you do.)

A big part of their “white culture” would be Christianity. That’s the part I wanna get to today: The Christian nationalism. Not so much the racism, but make no mistake: Nationalism is racism, so Christian nationalism has racism deeply embedded in it. Deeply.

The Midnight Friend Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 June

Luke 11.5-8.

Right after teaching his students the Lord’s prayer, Jesus told the Midnight Friend Story. Yeah, he meant it in context of prayer. Yeah, it’s an odd little story. Odd because the protagonist is so annoying—yet Jesus presents this as if it’s a good thing.

Luke 11.5-8 KWL
5 Jesus tells them, “Who among you has a friend like this?
He’ll go to another friend at midnight,
and might tell him, ‘Friend! Lend me three loaves!
6 Because a friend of mine comes off the road to visit me,
and I have nothing I’ll give him to eat.’
7 From within, this person may say in reply, ‘Don’t put your trouble on me!
The door was already shut, and my children are with me in bed.
I can’t get up to give you a thing.’
8 But I tell you, if he’ll not get up and give it
for the sake of being his friend,
he will indeed get up and give it
because of his rudeness,
and will give him as much as he needs.”

And this is why he tells us to ask, seek, and knock. That part comes immediately afterward.

This parable is phrased a little awkwardly, ’cause Jesus introduces it with “Who among you has a friend?”—and then proceeds to talk about two other guys. It’s not about you and your friend; it’s about two entirely different guys. It’s an awkward transition, and for this reason a number of translators try to insert “you” into the story. Like the NET starting, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight…” Lk 11.5 NET or the NIV’s ending, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” Lk 11.8 NIV But Jesus actually stops talking about “you” as soon as his one-liner introduction is over. This is why I inserted the words “like this”: He’s talking about the hypothetical friend. Not you. Don’t take it personally—the lesson is for you.

Jesus’s audience knew all about unexpected guests at night. Unlike our culture, it wasn’t at all easy to send word ahead: No phones, texts, emails, telegrams, nor postal service. Yep, no postal service: The way Paul sent letters all over the Roman Empire was to send someone with the letter, to deliver it personally. That person might be the one to unexpectedly show up at your house at 2AM… and need a place to sleep, and probably food.

Revival!

by K.W. Leslie, 10 June
REVIVAL ri'vaɪ.vəl noun. A new interest in something old. [In this case religion.]
2. An improvement in the condition or strength of something.
3. Reawakened religious excitement.
4. A worship service meant to reawaken religious excitement.
[Revivalist ri'vaɪ.vəl.ɪst noun.]

If you grew up in a church which holds a lot of revival services, y’might not be aware revivals are controversial among a lot of Christians. Usually because there are a lot of con men in the revivalist business, who’ve discovered it’s a really great way to make money. Whip people into a religious lather, ask ’em for money, and they’ll give it!

You don’t even have to believe in Jesus. Marjoe Gortner, a former child evangelist turned Hollywood actor, went on a final revivalist tour in the early 1970s and let documentarians watch him behind the scenes—and film how he really felt about what he was doing. It made for a disturbing but Oscar-winning documentary, Marjoe. More people are familiar with the fictional versions of such people, like Elmer Gantry—but Gantry was totally based on real people.

These folks—and too frequently, real evangelists—take full advantage of religious excitement. Too many people confuse spirit with emotion, and can’t tell the difference. This particularly happens at revival meetings. Yeah, we’re meant to experience the Holy Spirit, not mere religious excitement. But both evangelists and con men want us to get excited about God. Some evangelists don’t realize there’s a difference… and frankly, some don’t even care; whatever brings you to God. Others legitimately believe the excitement is the same thing. I’ve personally watched an evangelist tell a woman overcome with excitement, “That’s him! That’s the Spirit!”

That’s dopamine, not God.

So how do we tell the difference? Duh; fruit. If the Holy Spirit is legitimately involved, we’re gonna see his fruit. We’ll see better behavior. Better attitudes. Authentic miracles. A pursuit of truth, not clever sayings and happy thoughts which make us feel good. People following Jesus. Changed lives which stay changed.

And yeah, personal contact with God is exciting! People changed for the better is awesome! But excitement is a byproduct of the Spirit. Don’t confuse it for the real thing.

The reason many people do, is because God is good, and dopamine most definitely feels good. And people will do crazy things to chase dopamine. Like heroin.

Problem is, dopamine happens quickly and immediately… and the good fruit of the Spirit’s activity is a long-term thing. In the short term, we’re only gonna see the preachers, crowds, emotions, reactions. In the short term, the only way we’re gonna know God’s in any way involved with this revival is when God tells us so; when those people he’s gifted with supernatural discernment recognize this actually is a God thing.

Naysayers don’t think any of ’em are a God thing: It’s all fakery, and all fleshly.

The “clap offering.”

by K.W. Leslie, 08 June
CLAP OFFERING 'klæp 'ɔf(.ər).rɪŋ noun. Applause. (Meant for God.)

In American culture, the custom after someone performs—particularly if they performed well, but sometimes just to be polite or kind—is to clap one’s hands. It’s either praise for a good job, or meant to cheer up a performer who’s, y’know, trying. Not clapping means you either missed your cue, or you’re offended but aren’t gonna boo, or (which is more commmon) you didn’t know you were supposed to clap, ’cause you’re at a solemn or formal occasion—a fancy restaurant, a funeral, or even a church service.

Yes, a church service. When someone gets up to sing, in theory they’re doing it for God. Not the audience, not the congregation; not to entertain us, but praise God. So hold the applause, ’cause it’s inappropriate. They want God’s praise, not ours.

Which sometimes feels just weird. We’ve been conditioned to applaud a performance ever since we were little children. Any performance; even sucky ones. So if someone gets up and belts out a really stirring song for God, and they did a fine job, it feels just wrong to leave it unacknowledged. Especially when we enjoyed it too.

So Christians invented the “clap offering.” We applaud. Supposedly we’re applauding God, not the performer. But… yeah, we’re applauding the performer.

And those who are offended by such an idea can pretend it’s really directed at God. “Yeah, give God a clap offering! Give him the praise!” And some of us actually will direct our applause at God, and the performer can redirect our praises towards him… and again yeah, we’re applauding the performer. Didn’t they do a good job? (Or hey, it’s our kids on the stage!—and they weren’t good at all, but let’s make ’em feel better. Way to defeat that stage fright! Or whatever.)

Needing a saint to pray for you.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 June

I know; the title might give you the idea I’m writing about praying to the saints in heaven. It’s an Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutheran, and Anglican practice—’cause they believe God resurrected the saints in heaven, so they’re alive. (So no, they’re not praying to dead people.) And same as prayer is talking with God, prayer to those saints is talking with those saints. So they figure, “Why not?” and bring their prayer needs to them—“Can you help me out with this?”

Jesus’s brother St. Jude, fr’instance. If you have a hopeless or desperate cause, popular belief is he’s the guy to go to; he specializes in prayers for hopeless causes.

This may be mighty Evangelical of me, but I still figure it makes way more sense to pray directly to Jesus. Nothing against his brother (or even his mom) but all Jude’s really gonna do is forward the prayer to his heavenly Father… and heck, I could talk to God. I already do.

Thing is, even good Evangelicals regularly go to saints with our prayer requests.

Yes we do. I’m talking about the saints here on earth. Living Christians. Like your pastor, or one of the elders in your church: “Can you pray for me about this?” We ask ’em to do the very same thing people ask of St. Jude. We have a really important request, feel it’s either a big ask or a hopeless cause, so we don’t trust our own prayers to work. So we figure we’d better go to someone who’s really good at prayer. Someone God is known to listen to.

Again, just like St. Jude. There is no difference between a Catholic praying to Jude, and a Baptist asking Pastor to keep her in his prayers. People who ask others to pray for them, on earth or in heaven, are attempting the very same thing: They want the prayers of a professional. An expert. Someone holier than them. You know, a saint.

God listens to saints, right? So their prayers oughta get better results than ours.

Not going to church is heresy.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 June

Yeah, this article’s title, “Not going to church is heresy,” is gonna be provocative. Mostly because most people don’t understand what heresy means. It means “not orthodox”—when people don’t believe what Christians have historically believed, and oughta believe, because to believe otherwise is gonna lead us away from Jesus. Most people presume heresy means “a belief that’ll send you to hell.” No; we’re saved by grace, remember? Not good works. And our belief system (our “faith,” if you wanna call it that) is a good work.

Going to church is one of those good works. Jesus created the church when he picked the apostles and told ’em to go make him more followers. Which they did; which we still do, I hope! And he expects us followers to fellowship. That means we talk about Jesus with one another, share what he’s done in our lives, encourage one another, confess shortcomings and sins if necessary, pray together, worship together, do sacraments together, listen to some teachings about Jesus together… in other words, do church. Go to church!

But people don’t wanna.

Which I get. There’s many times I didn’t wanna. I wanted to sleep in on Sunday mornings like a pagan. I wanted to listen to anything other than my pastor’s sermon series—either it was full of stuff I already know, or it’s full of stuff I don’t believe. I likewise wanted to listen to anything other than the worship music: Our worship pastor didn’t care to stay current with music, and was stuck in the 1980s… as you could tell by his wardrobe. And I wanted to avoid the jerks in my church who just frustrated me about how much partisanship has infiltrated American Evangelical Christianity, and made us less patient, generous, kind, and gracious.

Plus nowadays there are entire church services on YouTube! Didn’t have those 20 years ago; at most we had radio, and Christian radio shows are often just sermons, abridged to 25 minutes, or edited into two or three parts. But I could watch video church instead! I could even watch ’em from the bathroom, during my high-fiber-cereal-induced B.M. I love modern technology.

But. But but but.

All these things are convenient substitutes for the Sunday morning services. And while the coronavirus pandemic was raging in 2020, they were a godsend. But do I need to remind you Sunday morning services are not church? Guess I do: They’re not.

The church is people. Not the denomination, not the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, not the leadership, not the building. It’s people. It’s the collective Christians who make up the Holy Spirit’s temple, and when we got the temple, we got church. Yet usually, those who wanna ditch church don’t even think of the people when they think of church. They’re thinking of the Sunday morning services, the unimpressive pastors, and the uncomfortable building—which is never at the right temperature. Poorly ventilated, or someone went a little bonkers with the air conditioning. Why is the only pastor undergoing menopause in charge of the thermostat?

But I digress; back to the point. The church is people. If you’re avoiding the people, you’re not doing church!

And that’s why we’re instructed to not skip meeting with one another He 10.25 if we can help it. If we’re gonna have healthy and productive relationships with our fellow Christians, and encourage one another to follow Jesus, we gotta interact. The ancient Christians, who spent most of their lives under persecution, realized this support system is absolutely necessary—and intentionally put “the fellowship of saints” in their creeds. It’s not an afterthought; it’s not something they threw in there ’cause it sounds nice. People were ditching church even back then.

Thing is, going it alone leads people astray constantly. Constantly. CONSTANTLY. Do I have to emphasize this harder?

People go astray even when we do attend church services faithfully! But when we’re not attending at all, we’re guaranteed to go wrong. Not sometimes gonna go wrong; will. Without fellow Christians to correct one another, reinforce one another, confirm what the Spirit is telling us, it’s a given that we’re gonna develop wrong beliefs and heresies, and become less and less Christian over time. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count.

So no, it’s not just me saying skipping church is heresy. I don’t get to define orthodoxy and heresy, y’know. (Neither do you. Neither does your denomination.) Christianity determined it, centuries ago. They recognized it’s vitally important we interact—because Jesus made it important. It’s why he created the church to begin with.

Pentecost.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 June

Pentecost is the Christian name for the Feast of Weeks, or שָׁבֻעֹת֙/Šavuót: Seven weeks after Passover, at which time the Hebrews harvested their wheat. Ex 34.22 On 6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar, the 50th day after Passover, they were expected to come to temple and present a grain offerng to the LORD. Dt 16.9-12 Oh, and tithe a tenth of it to celebrate with—and every third year, put it in the community granary.

Our word comes from the Greek τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς πεντηκοστῆς/tin iméran tis pentikostís, “the 50th day” Ac 2.1 —the Greek term for Šavuót.

Why do Christians celebrate a Hebrew harvest festival? (And have separate “harvest parties” in October?) Well we don’t celebrate it Hebrew-style: We consider it the last day of Easter, and we celebrate it for a whole other reason. In the year 33—the year Jesus died, rose, and was raptured—the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’s new church on Pentecost. Happened like so:

Acts 2.1-4 KJV
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The speaking-in-tongues part is why the 20th century Christian movement which has a lot of tongues-speaking in it is called Pentecostalism. Weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never bother to keep track of when Pentecost rolls around. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little. Anyway, Luke goes on:

Acts 2.5-13 KJV
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? 13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.

Christians like to call this “the first Pentecost.” Obviously it wasn’t. It’s the Feast of Weeks, which meant every devout Jew on earth was bringing their grain offerings to temple on that very day, 25 May 33. And suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew—spoken to as if to them personally.

Got their attention.

Monotheists.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 June
MONOTHEIST mɑ.nə'θi.ɪst adjective. Believes there’s only one god.
2. Believes there are various beings called “gods,” but one of them is mightier than the rest, and only that one is worthy of worship (or to be recognized as the capital-G “God”).
[Monotheism mɑ.nə'θi.ɪz.əm noun, monotheistic mɑ.nə.θi'ɪst.ɪk] adjective.

Most of the pagans I encounter believe in God, in one form or another; very few are nontheist. Oh, they may not be religious at all… towards God, anyway. They’ll get fully religious when it comes to sports, politics, music, or whatever their favorite recreational activities might be; they simply worship weed, fr’instance. God, not so much.

But when you talk to ’em about God at all, by and large they figure there’s only one God.

Most of that is because of western culture. There’s a lot of Christianity and Judaism in European history, and both these religions insist upon one God… so yeah, the idea works for them too: One God. Or they have a middle eastern background, and Muslims are most definitely monotheist, so they are too. Or they’ve dabbled in eastern cultures, and picked up a few Hindu and Buddhist ideas, and even though there are thousands of gods in Hinduism, the branches of Hinduism which have really caught on in the United States have been the ones which emphasize pantheism, the idea the universe is God. Well there’s only one universe (although they might recognize there’s a multiverse), so in their minds there’s also only one God.

I have found it extremely rare to find a pagan who believes in multiple gods. Oh, there are some—like the capital-P Pagans who are trying to bring back pre-Christian European religions, and deliberately have multiple gods. Or the Yoruba gods, or the Chinese folk religion’s ancestors, or old-school Hindus of Indian descent who don’t care what Oprah Winfrey’s favorite Hindus teach about pantheism; they have straight-up multiple gods, and worship a few favorites.

But my experience is not the baseline for humanity. For that, you need proper stats taken by proper scientists… so I found a report by the Pew Research Center in 2017. They figured as of 2015, Christians are the largest religious group, at 31.2 percent of the earth’s 7.3 billion people; followed by Muslims, unaffiliated, Hindus, Buddhists, folk religion, and other religions. (Jews made up 0.01 percent of the world’s population.) Put the Christians and Muslims together, and this means 55.3 percent of humanity—more than half—is definitely monotheist.

Can’t hear God? Read your bible!

by K.W. Leslie, 31 May

Prayer is talking with God, and the emphasis is on with God: Yeah we talk to him, but it’s not a one way-monologue where he doesn’t speak back. We don’t presume, like pagans do, that God’ll tell us stuff like “the universe” does—with omens, signs, coincidences, and other superstitions which can easily be misinterpreted, same as all natural revelations. We talk, and God definitely talks back.

That is… till he doesn’t.

’Cause sometimes we can’t seem to hear him. Much as we try, we can’t detect what he’s telling us. Sometimes because we’re too stubborn or impatient to listen. Sometimes because haven’t listened to the last thing he told us to do, so he’s waiting for us to act on that before he tells us anything more. (Oho, didn’t think of that one, did you?) And sometimes because we’re listening to him instead of reading our bibles.

Y’see, too many of us Christians get into the bad habit of not reading the scriptures. And once we’ve learned to hear God, we figure, “Why bother?” God already tells us what we need to know! Why dig around some 2,000-year-old book for answers when we can just ask our Father, “Hey, what do I need to know rght now?” I mean, if it really is a need-to-know deal, God’ll come through, right?

Yeah, it’s immature behavior. It’s like a history student skipping the textbook, and asking Siri or Google for the answers to every line on the take-home exam.

God’s training us to be better than that. You think Jesus, just because he is God, has godly wisdom and character in abundance, figured it was okay to give the scriptures a pass? Nuh-uh. He made darned sure he knew ’em better than everyone. Jesus read his bible. We’re to be like Jesus, remember?

So from time to time, when he feels we need to crack our bibles and get back into ’em, God puts his side of the conversation on pause. Or he straight-up tells us (as he has me, many times), “I already answered that in the scriptures; read your bible.”

Hence that’s become my go-to response whenever somebody tells me, “I haven’t heard from God lately,” or otherwise complains God feels so distant, or the heavens feel like brass when they pray. Dt 28.23 My usual advice: “Read your bible.”

Okay, maybe you already do read your bible. Good. Keep it up.

The Geneva Bible: The first really good English bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 May

The English-language bible of William Shakespeare, of John Bunyan, of John Donne, of the first colonists who founded the future American states—namely the pilgrim fathers who traveled aboard the Mayflower and founded Plymouth and Massachusetts—was not the King James Version. And no, this isn’t a knock on the KJV; it didn’t exist yet. It was first published in 1611, and this stuff predates it.

And some of it doesn’t. Despite the publication of the KJV, many people held onto that previous English translation and used it instead. Like Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan parliamentarian who overthrew King Charles Stuart in 1649, who published an assortment of 150 bible verses, called The Souldiers Pocket Bible, for his troops: The verses didn’t come from the KJV.

It’s called the Geneva Bible because it was translated in Geneva, Switzerland, by a team of Protestant scholars who fled England during the reign of Mary Tudor (as Queen Mary 1, 1553–58).

Geneva Bible title page
A Geneva Bible title page, published in London by John Barker in “1599.” That’s the date Barker put on all Geneva Bibles published after King James banned their production in 1611. Houston Baptist University

Tudor was a Roman Catholic. In part for political reasons, since her legitimacy as queen was based on it; in part for personal reasons, as she had been convinced by her Catholic family members she had to save England from the “heresy” of Protestantism. So Tudor started persecuting Protestants, particularly Protestants who had dared to translate the bible into English without Catholic permission. The persecution began with John Rogers, who had dared to revise the Tyndale Bible; he was burned to death in 1555. Protestant scholars decided it was safest to go into exile in a good Protestant country.

Since most educated Englishmen spoke French, where better than a French-speaking country? And since many of ’em were Calvinist, where better than the city Jean Calvin himself governed, Geneva? Several hundred Protestants thus became refugees in Geneva.

There were English-language bibles at the time, but not good ones. John Wycliffe's bible was only partially complete, and many Protestants still considered him heretic. William Tyndale made a pretty good translation of the New Testament, but he was also considered heretic, and executed for it in 1535. Myles Coverdale, who was neither a Greek nor Hebrew scholar, borrowed Tyndale’s NT, cobbled together an Old Testament from German bibles and the Vulgate, and published the Coverdale Bible in 1535; parts of it are still used in the Book of Common Prayer. And there’s that unfortunate John Rogers I just mentioned: He’d borrowed Tyndale’s NT, parts of Tyndale’s and Coverdale’s OTs, published it under the name “Thomas Matthew” in 1537, and it came to be called the Matthew Bible.

So since these refugees had time—and the resources of a whole lot of Protestant scholars who’d moved to Geneva under persecution—they decided to tackle a new bible.

Jesus’s great commission.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 May
Matthew 28.16-20 KWL
16 The 11 students go to the Galilee,
to the hill where Jesus first appointed them.
17 Seeing Jesus, they worship him—
but they hesitate.
18 Coming forward, Jesus speaks to them:
“All power in heaven and earth is given to me.
19 So go make students of every nation!
Baptize them in the name of the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
20 Teach them to retain everything I commanded you.
Look, I’m with you every day
till the end of this age.”
Previously:
  • “The resurrection in Matthew.” Mt 28.1-10
  • After Jesus was resurrected in Matthew, the angel told Mary and Mary to tell the other students that he’d meet them in the Galilee. In other gospels they didn’t believe the women, but Matthew skips all that: The students went right home to the Galilee.

    Did the Holy Spirit tell ’em where to meet Jesus? No idea. It’s entirely possible they guessed: “Well, where should we expect to see him? Um… how about where he first made us apostles? In Matthew that’s actually the hill where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. Kind of a profound place, so sure, it stands to reason that’s where they should see him.

    Me, I figure Jesus would’ve shown up at any place they picked. Maybe at the beach where he first called Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Maybe his house in Capharnaum, or the synagogue. Maybe his mom’s house in Nazareth. After Jesus rose, the way the gospels describe him, he now appears to have the ability to appear and disappear—so he could reappear anywhere, right?

    But I admit there’s every chance we Christians have wholly misinterpreted this “new power” of Jesus’s. When Jesus became human he limited himself. He’s wholly divine, but gave up the power we typically associate with divinity. A number of us would really like to imagine the newly resurrected Jesus got some of his power back. But maybe he didn’t; maybe his “appearing” and “disappearing” isn’t some superpower that resurrected humans now have, but some supernatural ability any Christian can exhibit as the Holy Spirit allows. Remember, the evangelist Philip disappeared too. Ac 8.39

    Anyway, Jesus appeared to them on the very hill they chose, and that’s where he gave ’em what Christians tend to call “the great commission.” Frequently we capitalize it. I don’t; you know which great commission I’m talking about.

    Ascension: When Jesus took his throne.

    by K.W. Leslie, 26 May

    If we figure Luke’s count of 40 days Ac 1.3 wasn’t an estimate, but a literal 40 days, on Thursday, 15 May 33, this happened.

    Acts 1.6-9 KJV
    6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

    I usually translate ἐπήρθη/epírthi, which the KJV renders “he was taken up,” as “he was raptured.” ’Cause that’s what happened. He got raptured into heaven.

    From there Jesus ascended (from the Latin ascendere, “to climb”) to the Father’s throne—to sit at his right hand, Ac 2.33, 7.55-56 both in service and in judgment. We figure Jesus’s ascension took place the very same day he was raptured, so that’s when Christians have historically celebrated it: 40 days after Easter, and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday.

    Some of us figure ascension celebrates Jesus’s rapture. And yeah, we can celebrate that too… but the way more important thing is Jesus taking his throne. When we say our Lord reigns, you realize his reign began at some point. Wasn’t when he died, and defeated sin and death; wasn’t when he rose from the dead, and proved he defeated sin and death. It’s when he took his throne. It’s his ascension day. Which we observe today.

    Why the United States doesn’t control our guns.

    by K.W. Leslie, 25 May

    I have friends outside the United States who look at our rampant gun violence, notice how our mass shootings even happen on a daily basis, and wonder why in God’s name we do nothing about it.

    Two reasons. The first is Americans consider gun ownership a right. Not an option, not a privilege, a right. We even put it into our Constitution.

    Y’see in the 1760s and ’70s, the British occupying forces tried to take Americans’ guns away lest we start a revolution. (’Cause we were gonna.) Once we Americans got our independence, we became fearful lest the Brits, or any other government, try to take us over, or go too far to curtail our liberties. So we made gun ownership the fourth article of the Bill of Rights, which became our Constitution’s second amendment.

    A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

    Guns aren’t an obvious and inherent right. This is why the Congress had to spell out their justification for guns: If we’re gonna remain a free state, we need militia, armed civilians who can help our police and armed forces defend our homeland. Some folks assume our National Guard fulfills the role of a militia, but nope; guardsmen are part of the Army and Air Force, and not civilians. (As demonstrated whenever guardsmen are called in to stop civilian unrest.) The way we keep civilians at the ready, is we let ’em keep their guns. And make sure they know how to properly use ’em. So once people hear the British are coming—or the Soviets, the North Koreans, the Iranians, the terrorists, or whoever’s the boogeyman today—they can grab their rifles and fall in.

    Thing is, we Americans tend to describe our rights as sacred and God-given. In other words holy. With all the other baggage which comes with civic idolatry.

    Proper religion involves self-control, but civic idolatry means when we Americans get it into our heads that something’s a right, we treat it as an unlimited right. Zero control. No limits. Absolute.

    Fr’instance freedom of speech. We treat it like we can say absolutely anything, no matter how offensive, profane, or seditious. And should be able to say anything, without any repercussions from our neighbors or employers. That’s why we’re often stunned when there are totally repercussions: We lose jobs, money, status, or relationships over the dumber things we say. But what’d people expect would happen? Freedom of speech only means government can’t censor or censure us. Everybody else can.

    So that’s the very same way many an American gun nut looks at guns: The right to bear arms means we can own any gun we like, decked out with any accessories or ammunition we like, take it anywhere, and shoot anyone we perceive a threat. ’Cause it’s a right. Constitution says so, which makes it sacred.

    Now read the second amendment again. It describes our American militia as well regulated. Is it? Not in the slightest. Largely it’s not regulated at all.

    This is where the United States goes horribly wrong. If the amendment were scripture, we’d be guilty of taking it out of context. Our militia is unregulated, and whenever any politician tries to regulate it, the gun nuts scream tyranny. And the gun lobby has bought so many senators, nothing gets regulated. Nothing changes for the better. Hence the daily shootings.

    Doubt is our friend.

    by K.W. Leslie, 24 May

    You might’ve heard the following verse before.

    Matthew 21.21 NIV
    Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.”

    Jesus says ἐὰν ἔχητε πίστιν καὶ μὴ διακριθῆτε/e’án éhite pístin ke mi diakrithíte, “when you have faith and don’t hesitate,” though most translations follow the KJV’s lead and go with “doubt not.” Either way, people assume he’s contrasting opposites: Hesitation, or doubt, is the opposite of faith.

    So either we have faith or we have doubt—so have faith, and never doubt. Doubt is bad. Doubt is evil. Doubt is how the devil convinces us to never do as the Spirit wants.

    But in college I studied logic. (Hey, it’s a math class, and I wasn’t a fan of math, but logic sounded like something I could get into. Boy did I.) In logic I learned a lot of supposed “opposites” aren’t really. What’s the opposite of big? It’s actually not small. Big and small are contrasts, not opposites. A big coffee is not the opposite of a small coffee. Big faith isn’t the opposite of small faith either.

    Same with hot and cold, black and white, young and old, male and female. Especially male and female. They’re not opposites; they’re complements!

    The proper opposite of anything is its absence. The opposite of big is not big. Which could be medium, small, tiny, or even 3XL; what makes it opposite is it’s not what we want. Not what we’re looking for. And that’s not just something relatively smaller; it’s everything else. When it’s not as big as we want, it’s the opposite of big. “That’s not a ‘big.’ Get me a ‘big’!”

    Likewise the opposite of black is not-black. The opposite of young is not-young. The opposite of love is not-love. And the opposite of faith is not-faith.

    Now, if the definition of a word is precisely the same as that opposite, it’s a true opposite. The opposite of true is not-true, i.e. false. The opposite of patient is not-patient, i.e. impatient. Does doubt mean precisely the same as not-faith? Actually no: It means not enough faith. There’s still a little faith in there! There oughta be more, and sometimes there’s not enough faith for no good reason, ’cause we really oughta trust God more than we do.

    But sometimes we don’t have enough faith for a totally valid, very good reason: This isn’t a God thing.

    ’Cause sometimes it’s not. There are a lot of things which Christians claim are God things, claim are holy, claim are Christ Jesus’s expectations for his followers, claim are mandatory doctrines or mandatory practices. Are they? Well… we doubt. And it turns out we’re right to.

    I’ll go so far as to say the reason we doubt is because the Holy Spirit is making is hesitant. The Christianese term for this is, “I have a check in my spirit,” which usually means “I don’t think we should”—and because we can sometimes be giant hypocrites, we phrase it so it sounds like the Holy Spirit is making us hesitant. But sometimes it’s actually not hypocrisy! Sometimes it really is the Holy Spirit telling us, “Whoa there little buckaroo. That’s a cliff you’re heading towards.”

    Sometimes we call this supernatural discernment: We know something’s not right, don’t know why, but trust God enough to put things on pause. Other times it takes no revelation from God whatsoever; any onlooker can see it’s all kinds of wrong. And we should practice the regular kind of discernment as well—though you’d be surprised and annoyed how often Christians don’t, and get suckered into all sorts of cons. We can be some of the most gullible people sometimes.

    Other times the Holy Spirit will obviously tell us, “No; don’t.” Ac 16.6-7 Won’t necessarily tell us why. Nor does he need to! (We gotta trust him, y’know.) But clearly those “doubts” we might sometimes have, aren’t always gonna the product of doubting God. Sometimes they’re just the opposite. We doubt circumstances. We doubt fellow Christians. We doubt everything but God.

    It’s a great thing to have the sort of mountain-moving faith Jesus speaks of. It’s just as great to pay attention to our doubts, lest we attempt to move the wrong mountains. ’Cause doubt isn’t always our opponent! Often doubt is our friend.

    And few Christians have been taught this. Or even understand this. They’ve been taught Christians should never, ever, EVER doubt. Shove all those doubts out of your mind. Turn ’em off like a lightswitch. Suppress them. Fight them. Psyche yourself into believing.

    In other words, embrace denial. And because denial’s a lie, it doesn’t legitimately get rid of our doubts. Instead, denial unravels our faith and turns us into hypocrites.

    Y’see, whenever we Christians have doubts, our next step is to investigate. Confirm whether those doubts are valid. Find out whether there’s anything rock solid behind them, or whether we’re getting scammed by some Christian who only wants our money or loyalty. If these things are of God, they can absolutely hold up to scrutiny. If they’re not, they don’t—and the people trying to pull us in those directions get really angry, and all sorts of other fleshly behavior starts coming out of ’em.

    Use those doubts to get solid about what you oughta believe and who you oughta follow—and get closer to God.

    Relevance versus holiness.

    by K.W. Leslie, 23 May

    Relevance became a pretty big buzzword among young Christians in the late 1990s. I was one of those young Christians back then, so I’d hear it all the time: “If we wanna reach our culture for Jesus, we can’t be one of those old fuddy-duddy Christians who act like we were wrong to progress past the 1950s. We gotta be able to interact with people outside the popular Christian subculture—and not just to critique and condemn them. We gotta be relevant.”

    And no, this wasn’t just some clever reasoning we could use on old people whenever we went out and got tattoos. Well, okay, some of us went that route; but most of us honestly did mean it. The cultural conservatism of American Evangelical Christianity was making it impossible for us to share the gospel with our pagan peers.

    And by “impossible” I don’t just mean really, really hard. I mean impossible.

    Maybe you read my piece, “The limitations of legalists.” Maybe not; I’ll summarize anyway. Back in college I was trying to share Jesus with some pagans, and there was this conservative Evangelical who tried to insert himself into our conversation. To make him go away, I invited the pagans to a pub. Conservative guy’s tradition not only forbade alcohol, but even setting foot in a pub; shunning the appearance of evil y’know. It did the job and got rid of him.

    The reason I knew to pull this stunt with him, is because I used to be the very same kind of conservative Evangelical. I would never have set foot in a pub—and not just because I was underage. I would’ve presumed anybody who practiced pub evangelism was probably a rotten Christian. (Even though I was a big fan of C.S. Lewis, and he hung out in pubs all the time—which I justified to myself by saying, “Well he’s British,” and ignoring the fact Britain has a drinking problem. Not to pick on Britain; my own homeland definitely has a drinking problem too. But I digress.)

    See, if you don’t live in the Bible Belt, you gotta interact with (gasp!) liberals. Your neighbors and coworkers are often gonna be progressives who don’t bother to read the Moral Majority’s voter guides, and vote for the wrong party. How on earth are you gonna share Jesus with them? Many Bible-Belt Christians have told me they don’t even try anymore, and have abandoned them to the devil. But where I live, we don’t have that luxury… and some of them are so close to God’s kingdom, and all they need are a few nudges in the right direction.

    The “Forgive me” prayer.

    by K.W. Leslie, 17 May

    Part of the Lord’s Prayer is the line, “Forgive us our sins.” Or “Forgive us our debts,” or “Forgive us our trespasses”; it all depends on the translation. Jesus goes on: “As we forgive those who sin against/trespass against/are indebted to us.” It’s one line in the whole of the prayer.

    But there’s a whole category of prayer which consists of begging God’s forgiveness for sins. Sometimes it’s a part of a bargain with God—we wanna ask him for stuff, and we wanna first make sure we have a clean slate with him before we start negotiating. But most of the time it’s because we’ve sinned, we know it, we feel bad or guilty about it, and we wanna repent and get right with God.

    Emotions vary. Some of us get mighty weepy. Lying on the floor, mascara running, blubbering, sobbing, snot pouring out of our noses, and so forth.

    I’m not one of those. I’m the type which is really annoyed with myself for repeating the same stupid sins. Far less weeping; far more angry self-recrimination. Still others are upset, frustrated, embarrassed, exasperated, resigned, furious, woebegone… There’s no one way people feel, and they won’t always feel the same way every single time. But the one thing we have in common isn’t emotion, but unhappiness. We fell short of God’s glory. So we repent.

    (Well… some of us don’t repent. We don’t like being on the wrong side of God, and wanna rectify that. But we don’t really have any plan to change our behavior any. I’ll discuss that rotten attitude another time.)

    There are two ways Christians approach the “Forgive me” prayer. Some of us are just crushed by it. Others of us are blasé: “Hey, sin’s a part of life, and God knows I’m not perfect.” There are attitudes in between, but these are the main two extremes I find in Christians: Those who worry we’re taxing the limits of God’s grace, and those who take this grace way too much for granted. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere. That’s what we should seek. Sin should bother us… but God has us covered! 1Jn 2.1 So repentance shouldn’t be a regular meltdown. Grace should take away all the extremes, and leave us feeling sorry, but not bothered.

    The sepulcher guards.

    by K.W. Leslie, 16 May
    Matthew 27.62-66 KWL
    62 In the morning,
    which is [the Saturday] after preparation,
    the head priests and Pharisees
    assembled with Pontius Pilate,
    63 saying, “Master, we remember this imposter said while alive,
    ‘After three days I rise.’
    64 So command the sepulcher to be secured for three days,
    lest his coming students might steal him,
    might tell the people, ‘He’s risen from the dead!’
    and the last imposture will be worse than the first.”
    65 Pilate tells them, “You have a guard.
    Go secure it as best you know.”
    66 Those who go, secure the sepulcher,
    sealing the stone with the guards.
     
    Matthew 28.2-4 KWL
    2 Look, a great quake happens,
    for the Lord’s angel, which comes down from heaven,
    upon coming, rolls away the stone
    and is sitting down upon it.
    3 Its appearance is bright as lightning,
    and its clothing white as snow.
    4 The sepulcher guards shake in terror of it,
    and become like the dead.
     
    Matthew 28.11-15 KWL
    11 As the women leave, look:
    Some of the guards, coming into the city,
    report to the head priests everything that happened.
    12 Getting together for a meeting with the elders,
    taking enough silver to give the soldiers,
    13 the priests were saying, “Say this:
    ‘His students, coming at night, stole him as we slept.’
    14 And when this is heard by the governor,
    we’ll convince him, and you needn’t worry.”
    15 Those who took the silver, did as the priests taught,
    and spread this word throughout the Judeans
    until this very day.

    There’s some debate among Christians as to who these soldiers are. Did Pontius Pilate send his own soldiers to secure the sepulcher? Or were these Senate police?—the same guys who secured the temple for the priests; the same guys who arrested Jesus; the same guys who handled Senate security? When Pontius said, “You have a guard,” did he mean “You can have my guards,” or “You already have guards, and don’t need any of my guys”?

    I lean towards temple guards. Here’s why.