The prayer warrior.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 January
PRAYER WARRIOR 'prɛr wɔr.i.ər noun. A prayer intercessor who believes this form of prayer is spiritual warfare.
[Prayer warfare 'prɛr wɔr.fɛr noun.]

As I’ve written elsewhere, spiritual warfare consists of resisting temptation. We gotta reject our selfish nature, and in so doing, resist the devil. Jm 4.7 It’s not a complicated idea. It’s just not easy to do. We really enjoy the things which tempt us; they wouldn’t tempt us otherwise! But we gotta resist.

But because actual spiritual warfare isn’t easy, it’s way easier to pick something else, anything else, and claim that’s spiritual warfare. Preferably something easy, and kinda fun.

Hence one of the more common claims you’ll find among Christians across the board (it’s in no way just a Evangelical thing!) is prayer is spiritual warfare. Intercessory prayer is how we resist the devil. We pray for other people. We pray for our nation and its leaders; namely the leaders we like. We pray that they control themselves, that they repent of their sins, and they submit to God’s will. Really hard.

Not so much that we control ourselves, repent, and submit. Though we might. But most of us are pretty sure we’re already doing that. We’re good. It’s the sinners who are the problem.

Christians who pray this way a lot, love to imagine they’re engaging in “warfare.” After all, they’re asking God for stuff, and surely Satan doesn’t want this stuff done, right? Surely the devil’s fighting this stuff, trying its damnedest to repel God’s kingdom and Christianity’s growth and the salvation of more people.

Hence “prayer warriors” claim whenever they pray for other people, or for God to do things, they’re doing battle with the devil. ’Cause the devil doesn’t want them to pray. ’Cause then God’ll do things, and as far as Satan’s concerned, God intervenes far too much for its comfort.

I grew up in a church which was big on prayer-warrior teachings and beliefs. Very little of this theology was based on bible, though. Most of it came from a popular novel, This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. Published in 1986, it’s a horror novel about a New Age cult taking over a small college town, and the invisible demons which were really behind the cult. (In many ways it feels like Peretti read C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, but decided it needed less human free will, and more demons.) The good guys are of course praying Christians, and the angels feed off their prayer energies like solar panels feed off the sun. Better pray before the angels run out of juice!

Peretti didn’t invent these ideas. They’re found all over Christian mythology. The battle of Satan’s fall really fascinated such Christians, so they imagine battles like that are still going on in the heavens: Demons and evil spirits which wanna destroy humanity, angels which wanna defend us, and they’re going at it with swords and shields like the ancients. Or, depending on the whims of the artist, with medieval armor, Elvish armor, mecha armor and lightsabers… or even buck naked. (Some of these artists, you gotta wonder about.) And these battles have been waging non-stop ever since Satan was toppled. But every time we Christians pray, it provides support to the angels on God’s side.

Problem is, there are a lot of dark Christian teachings about how our “prayer warriors” affect this battle. Like how every time we pray, God grants his angels power and support. Thing is, this implies when we don’t pray, God doesn’t grant his angels support, and the devils get to win. And sometimes dark Christians don’t just imply this; they overtly teach this. When Christians don’t pray, God lets his loyal angels lose—and may even let his loyal humans lose the very same way. So don’t forget to pray for one another!

In this way, prayer warriors imagine themselves the most important Christians on earth. It’s because of them Christianity advances. The rest of Christendom? The missionaries and activists and ministry leaders and evangelists? Meh; they do some stuff; it’s not nothing. But the prayer warriors are on the front lines of the spiritual war. (Well, the angels are more like the front lines, but the prayer warriors are right behind them; they’re mighty close.) They’re keeping the front from receding, giving the rest of us a safe space to do our thing. Don’t forget to appreciate and thank them, same as you would for any soldier or veteran.

Okay. Any of these ideas based on bible? Loosely. Really loosely.

Go to church!

by K.W. Leslie, 20 January
Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God.
2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history.
3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings.
4. A Christian group’s building or campus.

Ἐκκλησία/ekklisía, the Greek word we translate “church,” properly means “group.”

Yeah, you might’ve heard some preacher claim it means “a specially-called-out people.” It’s ’cause ekklisía’s word-root καλέω/kaléo means “call.” So those who like to dabble in language assume “call” must be part of ekklisía’s meaning. But words evolve, y’know. Our word congress used to mean “group” too… and nowadays it means “our do-nothing national legislature.” Ancient Greeks also used ekklisía to refer to their legislatures. But regardless of what it used to mean, hundreds of years before Jesus used it to refer to his group, it’s only a generic term for any group.

Yeah, Jesus used the term. Thrice in Matthew; 19 times in Revelation.

Matthew 18.17 KJV
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Nowadays people use “church” to mean a church building: “I’ll meet you at the church” seldom means “I’ll meet you in the group.” But church means group. That’s what it means in the bible, every time it’s used. Never the building; the church met in all sorts of different buildings. The church is a group of Jesus-followers, who get together to worship him, learn from him, and encourage one another to follow him better. Sometimes “church” meant only the local group; sometimes, as in Revelation, it meant all the groups in a given city; and sometimes all Christendom. Every Christian, everywhere, whether they regularly met together in groups or not.

But regardless of what the word means, a lot of people want nothing to do with it.

I know a lot of people, and have met a lot of people, who tell me they have no intention of going to church. They don’t believe in “organized religion”—by which they mean church.

  • They don’t wanna get up early on Sunday morning—their one day off—to go hang out with a bunch of strangers and hypocrites.
  • They don’t wanna sing a bunch of cheesy Christian worship songs, no matter how good the musicians might be (and sometimes they’re not, ’cause sometimes small churches have too few musicians to choose from… or the pastor picked a family member to do music, and yikes). And why must music pastors insist on repeating the chorus so many times?
  • They don’t wanna then listen to the pastor’s wife sing karaoke one of the songs, mediocrely, for all to applaud her, ’cause wasn’t she earnest? (Though not good. And not always earnest.)
  • They don’t wanna tithe to an organization whose pastors clearly have enough money to afford fancy suits, silk Hawaiian shirts, or whatever Urban Outfitters currently puts in their shop windows. (Depending on how old or young your pastors—and congregation—are.)
  • They don’t wanna sit through an hour-long lecture. They had quite enough of lectures in childhood. Now they’ve gotta again be told what to do, what to think, and that if they don’t, they’re going to hell. (Which, if they even believe in hell, they’re entirely sure God isn’t that wrathful, ’cause grace.)
  • Alternatively, they don’t wanna sit through a homily which does none of those things… which, instead, tells them nothing. It’s just some feel-good stuff devoid of substance, and as boring as all get-out (-of-the-building-now).
  • They don’t wanna force the kids to go to church. It’s hard enough getting ’em to go to school.

Look, I get it. I’ve been going to church all my life. I have all the same complaints as you. Probably more, ’cause I have a theology degree, so I can write a dissertation about every single one of my problems with church. You think I’m kidding? In seminary I was given an assignment to write about my problems with church, and my biggest problem with that paper was I was only permitted to write about one of my peeves. Not all thousand. So… much… bile…

You know you can write out your prayers, right?

by K.W. Leslie, 19 January

Y’ever meet someone who’s articulate on the internet, but when you meet ’em in person they stumble all over their words? Very same thing happens when talking with God. It’s not because God’s intimidating; he’s actually not. It’s because verbal communication isn’t their thing! It’d be better if they had a script.

For such people, rote prayers kinda appeal to them. But they’d prefer it be their words, not just those of some well-meaning God-seekng saint. And they’d like to be specific, whereas rote prayers tend to be more generic. But they struggle to get the words out. Sometimes we all have those moments.

If you’re one of those people, relax. Load up your word-processing app, or grab a pen and paper, and start writing your prayers. Stop thinking of prayer as a phone conversation, and start thinking of it as texting. You can text, right? Then you can pray.

Write out your end of your conversation with God. Or write a monologue: A whole prayer of your own thoughts and feelings and requests and praise. Write what you’d like to pray. Then pray it. Aloud or silent; up to you.

Didn’t realize this was an option, didja? Lots of Christians haven’t. And lots of Christians have; where’d you think all our prayer books came from? People have been writing out their prayers since the bible. It’s why we have prayers in the bible. And it’s something you can do too: If you struggle to pray aloud, start writing to God.


by K.W. Leslie, 18 January

A number of Christians do not know how to do grace.

Yeah, for the most part they’d be legalists. These’d be the folks who don’t realize we’re saved by grace, or it hasn’t sunk in enough. So they still kinda think we stay in God’s good graces by behaving ourselves. We gotta do good works. Have good karma, as non-Christians tend to put it: Don’t break God’s rules and piss him off, or he’ll smite America just like he smote ancient Egypt, ancient Israel, the Babylonian and Persian and Roman Empires, and so forth. There’s a lot of fear in their thinking. Hence very little grace.

But there are non-legalists who don’t do grace either. These’d be the people who don’t realize we’re saved by grace, and think we’re instead saved by faith. And rather than define faith as trust in God, they define it as “the Christian faith,” meaning our orthodox beliefs. So they don’t police people’s works, but our beliefs. If we don’t believe all the right things, we’re going to hell.

And lastly, there’d be the Christians who do realize we’re saved by grace. And they take advantage of it all the time. God forgives all… so they sin, figuring it’s okay because God forgives all. Or they imagine Jesus did away with the Law, and therefore there’s nothing to forgive! Thus they do as they please.

But while they’re happy to apply grace to themselves, do they apply it to others? Nah; not so much. They’re like the dude in Jesus’s Unforgiving Debtor Story—God’s amazing grace applies to them, and maybe to you. But they feel no obligation to pay it forward. If you offend them, you’re dead to them. Or they give you two or three chances. Simon Peter probably considered himself generous for suggesting seven. Mt 18.21 Jesus told him—and us—to think bigger. Way bigger.

Matthew 18.22 KJV
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Unless you’re a really bitter, vengeful person, with very little love in you, 1Co 13.5 NASB you’re gonna lose count. And that’s the point.

Too few Christians recognize grace is a fruit of the Spirit, because God’s grace should affect us so greatly it overflows into the rest of our lives, and we share it with everyone. (This was the point of the Unforgiving Debtor Story, y’know.) We forgive because we were forgiven. We show compassion because God has been compassionate towards us. We love those whom God loves, and he loves everyone. We don’t make exceptions, because neither does he.

But people love to make exceptions, and find loopholes which allow us to limit the grace we show towards people who annoy us. And allow us to loudly denounce Christians who show what we imagine is too much grace. Stop forgiving sinners!—they should suffer the consequences of their actions, like the laws of karma demand. Stop letting people get away with stuff! Why, God doesn’t let people get away with stuff; he’s gonna judge the world and crush the wicked like winegrapes. And they really wanna contribute to all that crushing. They’ve already started.

They’re projecting all their own personal vengefulness upon God, of course. Hey, if following Jesus is too hard, rejigger him till he’s super easy, and stop listening to the Spirit lest he correct you!

The King James Version: Its history and worshipers.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 January

Most of the verses I’ve memorized were in the King James Version.

Hey, it’s my upbringing. The hundred English translations of the bible that exist nowadays? Weren’t around back when I was a kid. (’Cause I’m old.) There were maybe a dozen in the Christian bookstores.

But my church used the KJV, so that’s largely what’s in my brain. I later got a Good News Bible, then a first-edition New International Version, but when it came to memory verses my Sunday school teachers drilled us in KJV.

In adulthood, for a lot of years I memorized verses in NIV. (Which they’ve updated three times since, so sometimes my memory verses won’t match the current NIV. Thanks guys.) After I learned biblical languages I translated the verses myself, and memorized ’em that way—which makes it particularly tricky to look up memory verses in my bible software. Google isn’t so picky.

Still, I quote KJV a lot, which surprises a lot of people. They assume I’m more postmodern than that (whatever they mean by that term; I know what I mean by it) and supposedly a with-it guy like me should think the KJV is old-timey, or out of date, or not reliable. That once I left my Fundamentalism behind, I also abandoned the KJV.

Nope. I still like the King James Version. It’s a good translation.

Not infallible, of course. None are; there’s no such thing as an infallible translation. Yeah, there are people who insist the KJV is the only God-inspired infallible bible; not just the only reliable English bible, but the only reliable bible, period. I’ll deal with them in a bit.

But y’notice whenever I write about the scriptures and use my own translation, I usually compare my translation to the KJV. For four main reasons:

  1. I am not declaring my translation superior to every other translation. We’re supposed to compare multiple translations when we study the bible. So since I gotta use some translation, why not the KJV?
  2. For better or worse, the KJV is still the English-language standard for bibles. Including for pagans—if you don’t use proper KJV “bible English,” they’re gonna think you’re paraphrasing.
  3. Loads of Christians, especially Evangelicals, still consider it the authoritative translation of the bible. Even when they like other translations better; even when they think it’s out of date.
  4. Nearly every translation has, when in doubt or whenever possible, deferred to the way the KJV originally put it. They’re not gonna stray too far from that version.

“The bible says…”

by K.W. Leslie, 13 January

I grew up hearing preachers, pastors, and Sunday school teachers use this phrase: “The bible says…” before directly quoting a verse, loosely quoting an idea, or claiming to refer to an extapolated “biblical principle” as found in the scriptures.

It’s a common phrase among American Christians. I don’t know who coined it. I know evangelist Billy Graham used it constantly; whenever he’d visit the San Francisco Bay Area, local TV stations would broadcast his services, and his sermons would include more “The bible says” in ’em than Raisin Bran has raisins. “Your friends might tell you such-and-so, but the bible says…” and again, sometimes a direct quote, sometimes a general idea, sometimes what he considered a principle.

And sometimes, sometimes, an address. “John 3.16 says for God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son….” But it was rare.

In my experience the reason preachers say “The bible says” is because they don’t know those addresses. Or maybe they do, but it’d take ’em a minute to recall them, and they don’t wanna spend a minute on stage, or at the lectern or podium, trying to remember precisely where in the scriptures Jesus or Paul or Isaiah or David said that pull quote.

Or even whether it was Jesus or Paul or Isaiah or David. Plenty of statements of “The bible says” would be, more accurately, “Jesus says.” In fact wouldn’t it be better to state it’s what Jesus says? You realize there are people out there who don’t care what the bible says, but they do generally approve of Jesus, and if you told ’em Jesus said it, they’d perk up and listen.

And that’s most of the reason I’m writing this piece. Using “the bible says” instead of referring to the author, or to the specific scripture address, is generating a lot of missed opportunities. We now live in a world where most people don’t care what the bible says. (Or at least are willing to confess they don’t care; in previous generations they hypocritically pretended to care, but didn’t really.) But they may care about Jesus. Or the apostles and prophets. What they say holds more weight with people… even though the apostles and prophets did write the bible.

Disciples: Students of Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 January

The word disciple gets flung around Christianity all the time. Usually we mean by it “an acolyte of Jesus.” Someone who’s interested in him, fascinated by him, hangs around him, name-drops him. Not so much someone who actually does as he teaches; just someone in Jesus’s vicinity. A fan.

Yeah, some of you are going, “Waitaminnit, “disciple” does not mean a fan. It means someone who personally follows him. A devotee. A student.”

Oh I’m fully aware of how the popular dictionaries define the word. But let’s be honest: What Christians actually mean by the word, is demonstrated in how we live it out. Some of us “students” of Jesus are exactly like those kids who sit in the back of the room, sometimes asleep, perfectly happy to get D’s, and absolutely outraged when they find out they’re not just failing but getting held back. Somehow they never saw it coming. They figured attendance should count!

Yes, disciple means a follower, but we’re talking literal followers: They were in the crowds surrounding Jesus wherever he taught. God forbid he actually challenge them; they’d balk, and leave.

John 6.60-66 NRSVue
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who were the ones who did not believe and who was the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

Or they take the more usual way out: Christianism. They follow popular Christian culture. Jesus, not so much. They imagine what they’d like Jesus to be like, project their dreams and wishes all over him… and sometimes even quit following that image when he doesn’t come through with those wishes precisely the way they want ’em.

Does this sound extremely cynical? Honestly it’s not. I’m describing all disciples; not just Christian.

Disciples should be close followers of the person they consider their master. Fans of self-help experts, fans of radical economists, fans of this or that philosophy, fans of this or that theologian. Whether a martial arts master, a philosophy or religion teacher, or any sort of authority; we should expect a “disciple of Ayn Rand” to do exactly as she’d have them do. And they don’t.

Too many of them are trying to make a name for themselves, and sometimes the way they do it is to say, “Well my master says this, but I think…” yet they insist they still follow their master. Christians are hardly the only ones with loopholes. Rand fans seldom do exactly as she’d have them do. (Like quit their jobs and go hide in the mountains till the economy collapses.) Plenty of Rand fans claim to be Christian, but Rand’s philosophy is largely based on her devout atheism, her full-on Mammonism, and her pure contempt for Christian teaching. She’s in no way compatible with Christianity… and yet many of her disciples insist they’re totally Christian. In reality, they compromise either Rand or Jesus. Or both.

There are self-described disciples of all sorts of gurus. And every time these gurus push their disciples farther than they’re comfortable, they step back, reassess, and frequently go their own way. Yet they still claim to be a disciple, ’cause they’ve invested a lot of money, time, and pride in calling themselves disciples. Yeah, it’s hypocrisy. But hypocrites are everywhere.

Happens to Jesus; happens to everyone. We really shouldn’t be surprised it happens to Jesus so often. He’s got exponentially more fans than any other guru. And no, it’s not a failing with Christians; it’s a failing with humans. It’s life.

The real Esther.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 January

The story of Hadassah bat Abihail, or as she’s better known אֶסְתֵּר֙/Ester (KJV “Esther”), is told in the book Purim, written in Late Biblical Hebrew in the late 300s. When it was translated into Greek for the Septuagint, the translators rightly renamed it Esther. It’s actually a secular book: It never mentions God in the Hebrew version, although the Greek translation inserted God and a few prayers in several places, and those additions are either titled Additions to Esther and made a separate book in the apocrypha, or simply left in Esther as part of the text—like you’ll find in Roman Catholic bibles.

Esther takes place in Iran, which back then was called Persia. It’s about a Persian vizier named Haman bar Hammedatha, who attempted to destroy all Persian Jews, but was unexpectedly stopped by the shah’s Jewish wife. Thus it explains how the Jews celebrate the day of Purim in memory of that event.

Thing is, popular fiction of the last 30 years tries to reinterpret Esther as a romance. It’s the story of a young Jewish girl who wins a beauty contest, falls in love with a handsome king, and courageously stops the vizier from killing her uncle. Oh yeah, and all the other Jews. It’s a love story. A romance novel. Disney will make an animated movie of it yet.

It’s no such thing, but that hasn’t stopped various Christians from spinning it that way big-time.

The Jesus prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 January

In Psalm 123.3, the psalmist asked the LORD to show grace to his people. Quote it? Why sure.

Psalm 123.3 NRSVue
Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.

The Septuagint translated it ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς, Κύριε, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς/eléison imás, Kýrie, eléison imás, “Mercy on us, Lord, mercy on us.” And in Jesus’s Pharisee and Taxman Story, it comes up again.

Luke 18.9-14 NRSVue
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other, for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

To this day you’ll hear Christians pray a variation of Psalm 123.3, plus the taxman’s prayer, and Jesus’s name for good measure. We call it “the Jesus prayer.” It’s a really simple, really popular rote prayer. Probably the simplest.

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, υἱέ τοῦ Θεοῦ (or υἱέ Δαυὶδ/“son of David”) ἐλέησόν με, τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν/Kýrie Yisú Hristé, yié tu Theú, eléisón me, ton amartolón. “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Sometimes it gets shortened all the way down to Ἰησοῦ ἐλέησόν, “Jesus have mercy,” or Χριστέ ἐλέησόν, “Christ have mercy,” or Χριστέ ἐλέησόν, “Lord have mercy.” But no matter the form it takes, it’s the “Jesus prayer.”

It’s similar to what Bartimaeus shouted at Jesus to get his attention. We pray it for the same reason. We want mercy.

Mark 10.46-52 NRSVue
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Good for him. ’Cause when we pray the Jesus prayer, sometimes we get naysayers who object to our praying this prayer. “Stop the vain repetitions. Mt 6.7 KJV That’s not how Jesus taught us to pray!”

Actually it is how he taught us to pray. In his story of the unjust judge, he taught us to be persistent, to cry out to God day and night, and not lose heart. Lk 18.1-8 This is that. It’s the prayer equivalent of a knock on the LORD’s door. It’s not a vain repetition; we’re not praying it for no reason. (Better not be, anyway!) We’re knocking so the door might be opened to us. Lk 11.9 Sometimes we gotta knock more than once. Sometimes we gotta get loud. But when we mean it, we’ll get his attention. He’ll hear. And respond.

Epiphany: When Jesus was revealed to the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 January

6 January is Epiphany, the day which celebrates how Jesus was revealed to the world.

True, the Christmas stories depict that taking place with angels, sheep-herders, and frequently magi; and Jesus’s dad dressed as if he’s ready to travel, for some reason. But technically he was revealed at the beginning of his ministry—at his baptism, where John the baptist identified him as God’s son.

John 1.29-36 The Message
29 The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, 30 “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ 31 I knew nothing about who he was—only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize him as the God-Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.”
32 John clinched his witness with this: “I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. 33 I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 That’s exactly what I saw happen, and I’m telling you, there’s no question about it: This is the Son of God.”
35 The next day John was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. 36 He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”

In eastern churches which still follow the Julian calendar, Epiphany’s gonna wind up on 19 January, and sometimes it’ll be called Theophany.

The third-century Christians began to celebrate Jesus’s baptism in January. Why January? Two theories. One is Jesus’s baptism had to take place when the Jordan was in flood, otherwise there wouldn’t be enough water to immerse him. So January’s a good bet.

The other theory is the early churches divided up the gospels into a year’s worth of readings. If you start with Mark, you get to the baptism story in the second week of the year. So since that’s the week they always read the baptism story, stands to reason they’d celebrate Jesus’s baptism that week. This theory’s much less plausible, because why would they start with Mark when historically we start with Matthew? Plus the civic year back then began in March, not January.

Regardless, ancient Christians picked 6 January to celebrate Jesus’s baptism. And since Jesus was also sorta revealed as God incarnate at his annunciation, Epiphany celebrations began to include all his birth stories. Till the early Christians realized Jesus’s birth needed its own celebration. Thus the 12 days before Epiphany evolved into the separate celebration of Christmas.

Yep, that’s how it happened. I know; pagans like to claim we Christians took over all the pagan winter solstice festivals, and shoehorned Jesus’s birthday into that. Didn’t work like that. Any Christian can tell you: We don’t swipe pagan holidays. We swipe Jewish ones.

We still don’t know when Jesus was born, or baptized… and it doesn’t matter, right? We just need a day or two to celebrate. Or 12. And for the longest time Epiphany also lasted several days. Usually eight.

Epiphany also marks the end of Christmastime. Bummer.

Really don’t wanna go to church.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 January

There’s a guy whose blog I’ve been following for years. In the past three years he’s been really amping up his message to everybody to quit their churches. Stop going, he says. Just stop; stay home. You’ll be a lot happier.

And I get it. There’ve been times in my life where I didn’t wanna go to church either. I didn’t try to drag people away from church along with me, like this guy; I figured if you like church, you do you, but for me, nah.

For the usual excuses.

I HAVE ANOTHER CHURCH. I moved about 100 miles away from home for college, and for a semester I used the excuse, “I already have a church.” I didn’t care for any of the local churches I had visited. And whenever I went home, I did go to church, with my family. But when I was at school I figured it was okay… if I missed 10 weeks of church services.

CHAPEL COUNTS. Plus my school had daily chapel services. So they became my other excuse that semester. Me and a lot of other students.

DON’T GOTTA GO EVERY WEEK. When I wasn’t in church leadership, I found it was really easy to skip a Sunday morning here and there. Sometimes skip a lot of mornings. There are some Christians who only attend a service once a month… and of course there are those twice-a-year Christians who only attend Easter and Christmas services. If that; nowadays they can watch services on YouTube.

“I have freedom in Christ, y’know,” was my usual excuse for inconsistent attendance. And I do… but in context that passage is about freedom of conscience, Ro 14 not the freedom to be irresponsible.

I CAN DO THIS ON MY OWN. Years before, when I wasn’t at school, this was my excuse for a few weeks while I was really annoyed with the people of my church. ’Cause I totally can do this stuff on my own.

  • Pray?—no problem.
  • Sing worship songs?—easily done.
  • Learn from fellow Christians?—I have their books; I have the internet; I got content.
  • Study the bible?—sure.
  • Tithing? Well yes, I could donate money to myself for “religious” expenses; or I could give that money to charity. Or I could spend all of it at a Peets one afternoon while I sat there reading some Christian book; wouldn’t that totally count?
  • Take holy communion? I could eat saltines and grape juice on my own, and call it communion. But the vital element in communion is, y’know, actual communion—with fellow Christians. So that makes it tricky.

As are all our other rituals which require the participation of other Christians. Plus evangelism: Once you lead someone to Jesus, where do you take ’em so they can be taught Christianity and mentored? Well I could do it myself… but that’d mean I’m starting a church, right?

There are plenty more excuses. Some of them get pretty complex, and as a result they kinda merit whole articles, because it takes a little time to take these excuses apart. But for many a Christian, any excuse will do.

Do you know what Christ Jesus really teaches?

by K.W. Leslie, 04 January

Ask anybody what Jesus of Nazareth did for a living, and nearly all of us will say, “Oh, he was a carpenter.”

More precisely Jesus was a τέκτων/tékton, a “craftsman, artisan”—someone who made stuff. Sometimes in wood… and sometimes in stone. Nowadays Israel has a lot of trees, but that’s because of a serious reforestation campaign the nation started decades ago. Thousands of years before that, the trees had been cleared to turn most of the land into farmland, so by Jesus’s day, not a lot of wood. Lots of stones though—good thing for archaeologists. So Jesus worked with wood, stone, whatever; in general he made stuff. Makes sense; he’s the Creator y’know. Jn 1.3

So he was what we’d nowadays call a contractor. Mk 6.3 Family business, apparently; he did it because his dad did it. Mt 13.55 But by the time we read his teachings in the gospels, that was Jesus’s previous job. He left that job and took up a new one: Jesus was a rabbi. A teacher. Jn 1.38

Yeah, most of you already knew Jesus was a rabbi. Even those of who who responded, “He’s a carpenter.”

So why is everyone’s first response typically, “Ooh! Ooh! Carpenter!” Because it’s kinda obvious he’s a teacher, but “carpenter” feels like more of a trivia question—“Okay, what was Jesus of Nazareth’s little-known vocation? What’d he do for a living? ’Cause the teaching didn’t pay.” Actually it did pay: Rabbis took donations. Usually of food; sometimes of money, sometimes free labor. Some of Jesus’s followers included the women who financially contributed to his teaching, Lk 8.2-3 and also did stuff for him… and got to stick around and listen to what he taught. They were functionally his students, same as his Twelve. (Or at least that’s how Jesus sees them. Lk 10.38-42 Sexists, not so much.)

But “Jesus was a carpenter” actually comes from the statement the folks of his hometown made to belittle him: “Hey, why’re we even listening to this guy? Isn’t he just the handyman?” It’s exactly the same as if the pastor of your church invites a guest speaker to preach, and instead of it being some famous bible scholar it’s the janitor… and the janitor presents you with a truth so challenging, so contrary to your beliefs (yet entirely biblical!), your knee-jerk response is to find any excuse at all to demean him, so you pick on his blue-collar job. “Who’s this guy? Who does he think he is?”

Subtly, a lot of antichrists still maintain this bad attitude about Jesus: He‘s “just” a carpenter. He wasn’t really Christ; that’s some hype his followers made up.

Regardless, “rabbi” is maybe the second thing we list on Jesus’s résumé. Sometimes we remember “king”—when we’ve not presumed that’s merely his future job, and doesn’t apply yet.

Well. I use this example of “Jesus was a carpenter” to point out how frequently we get Jesus wrong. Even on as something as simple as his job description. We think we know him. But we make lots of little slip-ups on very basic data, and repeat the common clichés instead of quoting bible. We trusted what other Christians told us, parrot it, and never bother to double-check it: “Wait, where does it say that in the bible?” Or “Is that what this verse means?”

Ironically this is exactly what a rabbi does for a living: Train students to ask such questions. And we, Jesus’s present-day students, need to ask these questions.

Religious. Not “spiritual.”

by K.W. Leslie, 03 January

Happy new year; or since it’s 3 January, happy 10th day of Christmas. At the beginning of each year I figure it’s a good idea to remind readers of the point of TXAB, i.e. the Christ Almighty Blog. And remind myself too: I’ve seen many a blog which began as one thing, evolved into another, and it wasn’t an improvement. God forbid TXAB warp into yet another blog where somebody’s ranting about immature Christian misbehavior.

This blog is about following Jesus the Nazarene, our God-anointed king and Messiah, or Christ. The first of his followers became known as Χριστιανούς/Hristianús, “Christ-followers,” or Christians, because that’s what we’re meant to do, or how we oughta be identified: We follow Jesus. We teach what he taught, believe what he tells us, do as he says, and grow good fruit.

Except some of us don’t follow Jesus… yet claim the title anyway. Because we’re fans. We really like Jesus, claim to love him (or at least love him as we’ve re-imagined him), and immerse ourselves in popular Christian culture. And thereby become Christianist. Such people presume they know Jesus—really well, they’ll insist—and don’t really. As we can see by the fact all their fruit is “fleshly.”

There are so many misbehaving Christians, it’s no wonder various Christians insist, “No, don’t call me Christian; I’m a Christ-follower. Call me that.” They want it very clear they’re honestly trying to follow Jesus; they’re not just in it because “Jesus” conveniently dislikes all their political foes, nor for the spiritual perqs.

And the Christianists might claim they’re totally following Jesus too! (Certainly they’ll claim it whenever somebody does something they consider sinful.) But y’know, whenever you drop an authentic God-encounter on ’em, either they immediately recognize their errors and repent… or they lose their minds in horror and offense, and insist this has to be some kind of devilish trick. Yep, given the opportunity they’ll commit straight-up blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is why God doesn’t drop that on them as often as he could; why push ’em into sin? But we needn’t even bring up their near-blasphemies. Fleshly works prove ’em as frauds quite effectively.

Well. Once we quit following the crowd and follow Jesus whithersoever he leads, we call this being religious.