Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

Showing posts with label #Fruit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Fruit. Show all posts

12 June 2018

Joy and the “happy Christian.”

Too many Christians are pursuing one instead of the other.

Joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. It’s a great feeling. It’s a fruit of the Spirit too, y’know: Anyone who follows Jesus, who listens to the Holy Spirit, oughta experience joy more often than not. We should have a positive, optimistic view of the world—not because it’s good, for holy shnikes it’s not; but because God’s fixing it and saving people. We should be friendly, engaging, helpful, and be fun to be around. Our joy oughta be contagious.

And yet.

Yeah, you know where I’m going with this: We’ve all met “joyful” Christians who just plain rubbed us the wrong way. A little too happy. A little too friendly, too cheerful, too pleased. They’re so chipper, you kinda want to feed them into one. They’re off-putting.

Whenever I express my discomfort about such people, most Christians will respond, “I know, right? What’s with them?” But every so often I’ll get rebuked by someone who wants to know why I have a problem with joy. I don’t. I have a problem with fake joy.

There are such people as Christians who lack joy. You might be thinking of dark Christians, who are as joyless as they come, but I’m generally thinking of people with emotional problems. Sometimes it’s purely biological: Their brains aren’t making the proper chemicals, so joy is physically impossible. Sometimes it’s psychological: They’ve had terrible or traumatic experiences in the past, and suppress emotion instead of trying to control it and deal with it in any healthy way. They don’t trust themselves to feel anything, much less joy. Or they were forced to suppress emotion. Or it’s present-tense: They live in a really unhealthy environment, so they still suppress emotion.

Such people have been taught, by similarly joyless people, that joy isn’t an emotion. It’s a mental state. You choose to feel content, regardless of circumstances. This, they claim, is what the scripture’s authors meant by “joy.”

Rubbish. As I pointed out in my article on joy, it’s not at all how joy was practiced in the bible. When people felt joy, they were happy. When people still feel joy, they’re happy. And when people aren’t happy, can’t feel happy, or won’t permit themselves happiness: They lack joy. Their substitutes for the real thing, whether they realize it or not, are fake. If they realize it, it’s hypocrisy. If they don’t, it’s because they’ve been deceived by people who are just fine with them having no joy in their lives.

Those people who give me pushback? They’re usually faking joy. They rarely experience great happiness. They tend instead to be angry, argumentative, divisive, pessimistic, faultfinding, hateful, humorless, bitter, unforgiving, envious, or any other such works of the flesh. Their problem with me isn’t really that they’re trying to defend joy: They’re trying to make sure I don‘t expose the fake stuff.

So when I complain about shiny happy Christians, their pushback is an attempt to shut me up through shock and awe: “You’ve got a problem. You’re a killjoy. You lack the Spirit. I’ve got joy.” Yeah, you got something, but ’tain’t joy.

Most people can identify true joy when we see it. It’s attractive and desirable. What the annoyingly happy Christian is doing, is trying to psyche themselves into happiness. “Fake it till you make it,” as motivational speakers put it. They might actually think they’re obeying James:

James 1.2 KWL
My fellow Christians, whenever you’re surrounded by the various things which challenge you,
command everything to be joy.

But fakery is hypocrisy, and “fake it till you make it” only means you get more practice at faking it. You don’t necessarily get better at it, though; you’re not fooling as many people as you think. Joy is winsome, but fake joy is weird and unsettling. Challenge it, and instead of turning into amusement at such a silly idea as faking happiness, it immediately turns into rage. That should tell us everything.

To a degree, sometimes a large degree, the reason we find it unsettling is because the Holy Spirit is warning us: “This joy isn’t real. This person’s a hypocrite. Heads up.” He wants us to know him and have true joy, not this hollow substitute which drives people away.

31 May 2018

Gossip, prayer, and trustworthiness.

Sometimes it’s not a prayer request; it’s gossip.

The gossipy prayer request. High school likely wasn’t the first place I encountered it, but certainly the first time I became aware of it. We were in a youth group meeting, the pastor was taking prayer requests, and one kid raised her hand and proceeded to give us way too much detail about a girl most of us knew.

Definitely gossip. But that’s how gossips have discovered a loophole: Gossip may be bad, but praying for one another is good! So now they can gossip freely, on the grounds it’s all stuff we need to know. Right?

Wrong; rubbish. We don’t need to know a thing. All we need to know is someone needs God’s help, and that God can help. If your friend (let’s call him Vasko) needs prayer, all you gotta tell the prayer leader is, “Please pray for my friend Vasko; he’s having a rough time, and that’s all I can tell you.” A gossipy prayer leader will pry, but a wise prayer leader will say “Okay,” and respect it as an unspoken prayer request.

Yeah, you could try to leave Vasko’s name off it, but too many prayer leaders kinda prefer a name. They find it a little awkward to pray for “Jamillah’s friend,” or whatever your name is. But if you wanna conceal the name too, that’s fine; God knows who you’re praying about; tell the prayer leader, “Let’s call him [made-up name],” and that tends to work.

And yeah, if you’re in a roomful of immature Christians (namely kids) you might get someone who blurts out, “I know who you’re talking about.” Shut them up quickly: “Maybe you do, but I didn’t say who it is because I’m trying to respect their privacy.” Most times that’s enough of a rebuke to keep people quiet. Most times.

02 March 2018

Is faith a gift?

Mixing up the types of faith, is why a lot of Christians don’t develop their faith.

Oh, I won’t bury the lead. Is faith a gift? Well, supernatural faith is a gift. The other types of faith? Nah.

I know why various Christians claim faith, all faith, is a gift. It’s usually ’cause it says so in their church’s catechism. Fr’instance the Heidelberg Catechism:

65. It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: Where then does that faith come from?

A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

Various scriptures indicate that people have faith after hearing the gospel, Ro 10.17 and the writers of the catechisms kinda stretched these verses to imply it was the gospel, and God granting us the ability to understand the gospel, 1Co 2.10-14 which generated the faith in us. It wasn’t our ability to trust what we heard; it was God sorta flipping a switch in us so that now we had the ability to understand and believe.

Um… no. I can see how you’d get that by reading your own pre-existing deterministic philosophy into the bible. But I’m pretty sure if it all comes down to God dropping faith into us, and nothing else whatsoever, Jesus wouldn’t command people to believe or have faith. Mk 1.15, 11.22, Jn 10.38, 14.1, 20.27, 1Jn 3.23 If there’s any truth to the idea God grants us faith, he shouldn’t have to order us to use it: It should just be there, and we should just believe. But we don’t. Some of us struggle. Sometimes we cry out to God for extra help. Mk 9.24, Lk 17.5 And the reason we struggle is because it’s not just there. It’s a trait we have to develop. It’s fruit.

Why do the catechisms get it wrong? Mostly it’s ’cause their authors suck at grammar.

31 January 2018

Our holiness and God’s holiness.

Be holy. Which doesn’t mean “be good”—although be that too.

Your average person thinks holy is a synonym for awesome: Something’s holy because it’s significantly great, worthy of honor, pure, perfect, or good. They figure God’s holy because he’s so… well, clean. Whereas we humans get awfully dirty.

Nope, it’s not what holy means. The Hebrew word qodéš/“holy” means separate—set apart from anything else. The Greek word ágios/“holy” means set apart, specifically for the gods—which the translators of the Septuagint used instead of the similar Greek word agnós, which does mean clean and perfect.

It’s this misunderstanding which produces a lot of the vengeful-God ideas about holiness. Because we’ve confused holiness with perfection, God’s holiness (and the constant emphasis the scriptures put on his holiness) leads a lot of us to think God’s really fixated on moral perfection. To them, “God is holy” means “God is good,” and because God is “holy holy holy” Is 6.3, Rv 4.8 —super-duper holy, as the angels describe him—they conclude God must have a very low tolerance for imperfection. So much so, he’ll even turn away from us when we sin.

Okay yes: God hates sin. He makes no bones about that. He’s good; he created the universe to be good; we fouled that up. The entirety of salvation history, the whole point of God’s kingdom, has to do with God’s process of cleaning up our mess.

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

To such Christians, “God is good” must always be followed up with, “But God is holy.” Of course they’re using their flawed definition. Consequently they’re not describing God as he truly is. They’re describing God thinking the same way they do: Eager to set aside his goodness so he can rage on the wicked. But because God is infinitely good, it makes up for his temporary rage.

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

30 January 2018

Fake goodness. (Yes, it can be faked.)

We tend to call it “evil,” but it comes in various forms.

It’s been long taught the opposite of goodness is badness, or evil. That’s not precisely true. The proper opposite of goodness is non-goodness. Which can take the forms of active evil, apathy (i.e. standing around doing nothing when we could be doing good—or stopping evil), or hypocrisy (i.e. pretending to be good when we’re not really).

We humans don’t like to think of ourselves as evil. Even when we totally are: We seek out ways to justify our misbehavior. Good excuses, like “It wasn’t my responsibility,” or as Cain ben Adam put it, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Ge 4.9 KJV Semantic justifications, like “It’s not technically doing evil, and here’s why,” like you’ll find in theodicy whenever determinists try to explain how their view of God doesn’t really make him culpable for all the evil in the cosmos. Our self-preservation instinct means we’ll do our darnedest to defend ourselves… or get high so we don’t ever have to think about it.

The usual route I find Christians take when it comes to fake goodness, is misdirection. Misdirection’s what stage magicians use when they want you to stop paying attention to what they’re really doing, and focus instead on something interesting or distracting—like a pretty assistant, sharp knives, or a white tiger. We Christian misdirect by pointing away from our own lack of goodness… and point at someone else’s lack of goodness. You know, like when Adam was in trouble and pointed to Eve, or Eve passing the buck to the serpent. Ge 2.12-13 Little kids figure out this technique pretty early in their lives: “Well but he set the garage on fire, which is way worse than what I ever did.” Because hey, with some of the dumber parents, it works.

29 January 2018

Be good. It’s what God expects of his kids.

Goodness is good fruit.

Ephesians 2.4-10 KWL
4 God, being rich in mercy, loves us out of his great love.
5 Us, being dead in our missteps.
He makes us all alive in Christ: You’re saved by his grace.
6 He raises us and seats us together in the highest heavens, in Christ Jesus—
7 so he can show the overabundant riches of his grace in the coming ages,
in kindness to those of us who are in Christ Jesus.
8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith.
This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it.
10 We’re his poetry, creations in Christ Jesus,
for doing the good works which God pre-prepared. We should walk in them!

Too often Christians get the idea that once God saved us—once we said the sinner’s prayer, and gained free admission to God’s kingdom—there’s not a whole lot left for us Christians to do. We don’t have to earn heaven; we don’t have to do anything. We can just kick back, bask in the knowledge of our election, and wait for the sweet release of death—to be followed by the joy of resurrection and eternal life.

Yeah, no. God’s expectation has always been that now that he’s saved his people, we follow him.

True of the Hebrews after the Exodus. Remember when he rescued them from Egyptian slavery? (If not, read Exodus, or at least watch The Prince of Egypt.) The LORD saved the Hebrews—and as a saved people, he granted them his Law. If they were gonna be known as the LORD’s people, they’d better act like the LORD’s people should, and “be holy because I’m holy.” Lv 11.44 After all, how are they “the LORD’s people” if they’re no different than any other people? How are we Jesus’s people if we don’t actually follow Jesus?

So in a word, God expects us to be good. To walk in the good works which God pre-prepared. Ep 2.10 To be the creations he always intended.

Goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we truly belong to Jesus, we’re gonna make an effort to be good. We’re gonna try to obey God. We’re gonna want to be good. In fact, we’re gonna get frustrated because we’re not as good as we’d wish. We’re not gonna like our sins any more than God does.

05 December 2017

Humility, and the “cage-stage” Christian.

When we’re willing to toss fruit aside, and fight for our beliefs.

The first principle of theology is humility—knowing who and what you are, and not claiming you’re anything more. Or, as we so often see in false humility, less.

That means we’re fully aware we’re wrong, and Jesus is right. The purpose of theology isn’t to believe we’ve “arrived,” and defend our newly-acquired high ground. It’s to correct our beliefs, poor character, and bad attitudes. Because they’re misbegotten and wayward. We may be redeemed, but they’re not. Bearing this in mind, with the Holy Spirit’s help and power, the goal is to get those traits to match Jesus’s.

The problem? A lot of Christians have utterly skipped that first theology lesson. Or weren’t paying attention, ’cause they were too busy staring at the syllabus. Or promptly forgot all about it, ’cause all their new knowledge puffed ’em up. However it happened.

Hence they imagine theology’s first principle is, “I was wrong—but now I’m not. Jesus fixed me.” When he gave us new life, supposedly he gave us a new nature—his nature—so now we have the mind of Christ. 1Co 2.16 We think like Jesus does… or he thinks like we do; it’s all the same. We have arrived.


As Calvinist cartoonist Adam Ford depicts it. They don’t always foam at the mouth though. Adam 4d

I run into Christians with this mindset all the time. They’d be the folks who email me to explain, patiently or not, why I’m completely wrong. Or who show up on discussion boards to loudly, angrily correct everybody who varies ever so slightly with their infallible doctrines. Back when they were pagan, they’d get this way about plenty of other subjects, like politics and Star Wars. Now they do it with doctrine. Or apologetics.

There’s a term the Calvinists use when their young, overzealous theologians get like this—when they’re so enthusiastic about “the doctrines of grace,” they forget to be gracious altogether. Calvinists call it “the cage stage.”

The cage-stager is as eager to defend their theological territory as a junkyard dog. They’ll fight anyone. Even friends: You might believe precisely the same as they, but if (God forbid) you misstate the slightest idea, the cage-stager will tear your throat out. Best to lock ’em in a cage till they calm the heck down. Hence “cage stage”: Lots of knowledge, very little love.

Calvinists may have coined the term, and may be notorious for the behavior. But lemme tell ya, by no means do they have a monopoly on it. I’ve met cage-stage Fundamentalists, Catholics, people in my own denomination, people in heretic denominations. I’ve encountered cage-stage Jews and Muslims too. The phenomenon’s all over Christendom.

It’s a pitfall many Christians (myself included) fall right into during our early days of following Jesus. The devil’d love every Christian to fall into it, ’cause it nullifies much of the work we do for God’s kingdom. We’re too busy denouncing ideas, sins, and people we hate, to ever get round to loving people, and winning them to Jesus through our kindness and love. ’Cause screw kindness and love; there are doctrines to defend!

20 November 2017

Patience. Or longsuffering. Either.

How angry Christians lack it, and how to work on it.

Years ago I casually mentioned to someone I was praying for greater patience.

He. “Aw, why would you do that to yourself?”
Me. “Why, what’s the problem?”
He. “You realize how God teaches you patience, right?”
Me. “Of course. He’s gonna make me practice.”
He. “And life’s gonna suck. You’re gonna wind up in more situations where you gotta be patient. You’ll have to wait for everything.”
Me. “So everybody’s been telling me. They’ve been about as encouraging as Satan itself. You sure it didn’t send you? Get thee behind me.”

Yeah, don’t tell the dude who’s struggling with patience that his life’s about to suck. He’ll turn on you.

But it’s something we Christians need to strive for. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, one of the ways love behaves, and impatient Christians wind up exhibiting works of the flesh like anger, unforgiveness, argumentativeness, and unkindness. Much of the reason Christians get a bad reputation with pagans is because of how we get when we’re impatient—and how we justify the impatient behavior with cheap grace. Not cool, folks.

However. Strive to actually attain patience, and we’re gonna come across Christians who thick-headedly joke, “Oh, you’re praying for patience? Good luck with all that. Man are you gonna get reamed with it.” Again: Not cool.

True, there’s a faction of Christians who imagine once we become Christian, the Holy Spirit downloads fruit into our character like a scene from The Matrix. Doesn’t work that way. Wish it did. But these Christians, imagining they somehow have patience even though their behavior proves they don’t, try to interpret all sorts of other things as patience. Most commonly despair: Just give up. Quit striving. Stop hoping. (And quit feeling.)

The rest of us recognize God wants his kids to be patient like he is. So we gotta bite the bullet and pray for patience. And yes we’re gonna slam into a lot of situations where we simply gotta wait things out.

But don’t forget: God is kind. When we get into those situations, we who seek God’s patience are gonna find we’re somehow, somehow, actually able to bear them. Before, we’d lose our cool in minutes. Now we don’t. (True, some of us now take a few more minutes. It’s still more.) We acted in faith, and the Spirit’s reply was to grant us his patience.

See, all those nimrods who tell us, “Ooh, you prayed for patience; now life’s gonna suck” have forgot God is kind. He’s not interested in developing our characters through suffering. That’s how humans behave. That’s how parents and drill sergeants work. God’s not a jerk. He develops our character through our obedience. Not through our disobedience, so now we gotta pay some sort of karmic debt. That’s not grace, and God does grace.

So when we seek God and strive to obey him, when we put our faith in his ability to equip us for every good work, he gives us opportunities to practice that obedience, and he empowers us with those very traits we’re looking for.

God’s a relational being. So—no surprise—he wants us to develop fruit through the relationships which we have with other people. Think of it as hands-on experience. ’Cause once we have the hang of it, we’ll have to apply that patience towards every future relationship we develop with new people. Including some people whom we’ll need to be very patient with. But in the meanwhile, we gotta work on being patient with friends, family… and enemies.

Yeah, that’s no fun sometimes. Do it anyway.

19 September 2017

Submission. It’s not domination.

It has two definitions, and evil people are promoting the wrong one.

Submit /səb'mɪt/ v. Yield to or accept a superior force, authority, or will. Consent to their conditions.
2. Present one’s will to another for their consideration or judgment.
[Submission /səb'mɪs.ʃən/ n.]

Notice there are two popular definitions of submit in use. The more popular of the two has to do with acceptance, obedience, and blind capitulation. To turn off our brains, do as we’re told. And most sermons instruct Christians to do precisely that. Submit to one another, as Paul ordered.

Ephesians 5.21 NIV
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

’Cause we kinda have to. If we can’t submit to God—if we insist on our own way, our own standards, our own values, our own lifestyles—it’s a pretty good bet we’re outside his kingdom.

Romans 8.5-8 KWL
5 Carnal people think carnal things. Spirit-led people, Spirit-led things.
6 A flesh-led mind produces death. A Spirit-led mind, life and peace.
7 For a flesh-led mind is God’s enemy. It doesn’t submit to God’s law. It can’t.
8 Those who live by flesh can’t please God.

So we especially submit to God. Jm 4.7 And to Christian leaders; 1Pe 5.5 we follow the doctrines they proclaim from the pulpit. And wives, submit to your husbands. Ep 5.22 When he says “Jump,” you ask “How high?”

Then there’s the other definition of submit: The one where it’s not typical of a relationship between a benevolent (or not-so-benevolent) despot and their subjects, but between partners, friends, or coworkers. One where we instead bounce ideas off one another. Find out whether they help or inconvenience one another—and of course try to help as best we can.

One which sounds appropriate for a paráklitos/“helper” Jn 14.16, 14.26, 15.26, 16.7 and the people he’s trying to help. For a teacher and his pupils. For a loving God and his kids.

So… which definition d’you think fits what the authors of the scriptures were talking about?

Oh, the benevolent despot thingy? Well it does work for cult leaders and wannabe patriarchs. But in God’s kingdom, where the king calls us his friends, Jn 15.15 where love doesn’t demand its own way, 1Co 13.5 it’s pretty obvious that definition is entirely incorrect. In many ways it’s kinda the opposite of God’s intent. Almost as if the devil got Christians to flip it 180 degrees, n’est-ce pas?

01 September 2017

“Tough love”: Anger disguised as love.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s as unlike love as we can get.

Tough love /təf ləv/ n. Promotion of a person’s welfare by enforcing certain constraints on them, or demanding they take responsibility for their actions.
2. Restrictions on government benefits, designed to encourage self-help.

When I wrote about love, I mentioned there are plenty more things our culture calls “love.” C.S. Lewis listed four, though he was looking at classical antiquity. Your dictionary’s gonna have way more than four; I bunched ’em into eight categories.

I also pointed out it’s important for us Christians, whenever we’re talking about love, to stick with Paul and Sosthenes’s definition as closely as possible:

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

Because from time to time people, including Christians, are gonna try to slip another thing our culture calls “love” past us, and claim we’ve gotta practice that. Usually it’ll be hospitality, which looks like love but is totally conditional. Whereas charitable love, the stuff the apostles described in 1 Corinthians, doesn’t keep track.

Another way we know we’re talking authentic charitable love, and not one of the other varieties of love, is by the way charitable love never contradicts the other fruit of the Spirit. Love isn’t joyless, impatient, unkind, evil, unfaithful, emotionally wild, or out-of-control.

Hence “tough love,” a popular form of “love” our culture tries to pass off as the real thing, would be a really good example of fruitless, inauthentic love. Because tough love is unkind.

The justification for tough love is that there’s love behind it: We want what’s best for ’em, and that’s love, isn’t it? And in the long run, that’s what they’ll have. But in the short term, in order to get us to the goal, we’ve gotta be unloving to these people. Contrary to the 1 Corinthians 13 passage, we gotta be impatient and unkind. Gotta get angry. Gotta emphasize, “This is because I love you, and it’s for your own good.” Gotta ignore their pleas for help, compassion, generosity, or grace—those things aren’t doing ’em any good! Gotta worry about yourself, and notice how their awful behavior is affecting you. Gotta stop putting up with them, stop trusting them, stop hoping they’ll get better, stop. Quit enabling. Just quit.

The justification is that the ends justify the means. It’s okay to be awful if it’ll all work out in the end. As William Shakespeare put it in Hamlet’s mouth, “I must be cruel only to be kind.” 3.4.178

But despite our good intentions, we’re justifying cruelty. We’re plotting evil. Which ain’t love, 1Co 13.7 no matter how thin you slice the bologna.

29 June 2017

Christian jerks.

We’re meant to be kind, but these folks aren’t striving for that.

She. “Ugh, religious people are the worst.”
Me. “Hey. I’m a religious person. How am I ‘the worst’?”
She. “Oh, you’re not that religous.”
Me. “I beg to differ. I’m extremely religious. If I weren’t, I’d be even more of a jerk. Now explain how I’m ‘the worst’.”

The gist of my pagan friend’s complaint was how Christians are bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental—although she tried to make it very clear she didn’t include me.

Which is a fair comment. Plenty of us Christians are totally bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental. I certainly used to be. I try not to be; I’m trying to overcome all that fleshly behavior. I’d like to think I’m succeeding more often than not, which is why I could object to my friend: “How am I ‘the worst’?” The fact she agreed I’m an exception means I must be succeeding, sorta. Yea me.

And plenty of my fellow Christians also try to overcome such fleshly behavior. Like I said, it’s ’cause we’re religious. We’re trying to do the good works God laid out for us. Ep 2.10 Trying to love our neighbors. Lv 19.18 Trying to be kind.

So it’s not “religious people” who are the problem. It’s irreligious people, who are using Christianity as an excuse to be jerks. It’s unkind people, practicing Christianism.

“So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” she half-seriously said.

Kinda. Some of ’em do have an actual saving relationship with Christ Jesus, so they are Christians too. Some of ’em don’t: Their utter lack of fruit means their Christianity is dead faith.

In both cases—unlike our Lord, who came to save the world instead of condemn it Jn 3.17 —they figure their first duty is to angrily denounce everything in the world which rubs ’em the wrong way. Loudly, just in case anyone didn’t hear ’em, or doubts their authority and sincerity. Since God is anti-sin, they figure they must be just as anti-sin. Problem is, God is kind. They’re most definitely not.

And when we’re trying to share Jesus with people, they’re the ones making our job all the harder.

And when I call ’em out on their bad behavior, they turn on me. ’Cause they’re convinced I should be on their side, joining their campaign, taking up the anti-sin banner… and hammer. If I don’t, “he who’s not for us is against us,” Lk 11.23 so I must’ve compromised the faith, and joined the devil’s side.

Besides, I preach a Christ they’re wholly unfamiliar with. He’s too kind, forgiving, gracious, and compassionate. Probably doesn’t want anybody to go to hell. 2Pe 3.9 Way too compromising for them.

…Yeah, there’s a really good case to be made for the idea they’re not real Christians. But then again, Christ Jesus is forgiving and gracious. Even to them.

23 June 2017

False teachers and agitated students.

If you’ve got an ax to grind, it didn’t come from Jesus.

James 3.13-18

Before James went off on his tangent about the tongue, he was writing about teachers and spiritual maturity

James 3.1-2 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.

So, tangent over; we’re back to the sort of mature behavior we oughta see in a proper Christian teacher.

Christians love knowledge. Heck, humans love knowledge: Everyone wants to believe they’re not dumb, gullible, nor ignorant. But Christians especially like to imagine we’re in on the truth. ’Cause Jesus is the truth, right? Jn 14.6 And we have Jesus. So there y’go.

Trouble is, Jesus is right, but we aren’t. We took shortcuts or made presumptions. We don’t know him as well as we assume. And Christians get into serious denial about this fact: We insist we’re right because Jesus made us that way. Once the Holy Spirit got into us, he fixed our thinking, so now all our thoughts are godly ideas. All our impulses are divine urges. All our prejudices are holy “checks in our spirit.” And we’ll take on anyone who says otherwise. We’ll fight ’em.

Which betrays the problem. The aggressive attitude which wants to take on all comers, James wrote, does not come from God. Comes from instinct and selfish human nature. Comes from clever human ideas. Comes from devils. But not God, ’cause God’s wisdom produces good fruit. And if any would-be Christian teacher produces argumentativeness and picks fights—i.e. bad fruit—don’t let ’em teach!

James 3.13-18 KWL
13 You who are wise and understanding: Show it—
by a good lifestyle, their good works, in wise gentleness.
14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:
15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.
16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.
17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.
Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.
18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

If there’s no peace in your church, this’d be why. Your teachers aren’t teaching religion, the acts which further a true relationship with God. They have ulterior motives, and they’re teaching that. So of course the Christians are erratic.

22 June 2017

The uncontrollable tongue.

Nobody really has a bridle on it. Not even James.

James 3.3-12

In talking about the sort of mature Christian who’s got the self-control necessary to teach others, James went off on a tangent about how out-of-control the tongue can get. Which, if you think about it, is a little ironic. Wasn’t he talking about teachers?

Well, anyway. This just after he briefly wrote how mature Christians oughta be able to control ourselves. Under the Holy Spirit’s power, of course, ’cause it’s profoundly difficult to get such hold of ourselves without him, since self-control is one of the Spirit’s fruit. Ge 5.23 For Christians, it‘s totally doable.

It’s just we don’t do it. Cause we demand the “freedom in Christ” to do as we please, say what we wish, and unwittingly hurt one another and hinder God’s kingdom.

James 3.1-6 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.
3 If we put bridles in horses’ mouths so they heed us, we steer their whole body.
4 Look also at ships: They’re large, and driven by strong winds,
steered wherever the urge of the pilot wants—by the smallest rudder.
5 Likewise the tongue: It’s a little body part, but claims huge things.
Look how it lights a big fire on a big forest! 6 The tongue is fire.
The tongue places an unrighteous world in our body parts, staining the whole body,
setting the cycle of creation on fire, set on fire by ge-Henna.

Y’know, James was there when the tongues of fire fell upon the apostles at Pentecost in the year 33. He was among the brothers of Jesus who were praying for the Spirit to come. Ac 1.14 So it’s interesting he used the term “fire” to describe the tongue. At Pentecost, it was a positive sort of fire; it was the Spirit’s empowerment. In contrast, James described the human tongue, when not under the Holy Spirit’s direction, as fed by his culture’s favorite metaphor for hell, the landfill outside Jerusalem where trash fires burned day and night.

The popular saying may be “Talk is cheap,” but nobody really believes that. Talk is seldom cheap, and more destructive than ever we realize. That’s James’s point.

05 May 2017

Don’t be all talk.

It’s time to get religious about God.

James 1.26-27

Both the Religious Left and Religious Right suck at following the following verses:

James 1.26-27 KWL
26 If anyone who doesn’t rein in their tongue thinks they’re religious,
they’ve deluded their own mind instead. This “religion” is meaningless.
27 Genuine, untainted religion before our God and Father is this:
Supervise single mothers and their children when they’re suffering.
Keep yourself spotless in this world.

The Left focuses on caring for the needy. Rightly so. But when it comes to spotlessness, they regularly make the mistake of confusing grace with compromise, and make too many compromises. (The Right likewise confuses grace with compromise; their error is out of their fear of compromise, they practice too little grace.)

The Right focuses on spotlessness—as they define it. As they should. But when it comes to the needy, they only take care of the deserving needy, not the poor in general. Like I said, too little grace. Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, Lk 4.18 but today’s poor don’t always see oncoming Christians as good news, and the lack of grace is precisely why.

Both wings need improvement. But instead of repenting and working on it, they talk. They rip apart their political opponents, ’cause they figure it’s appropriate: Those guys are doing it wrong, and need rebuking. Meanwhile, verse 27 goes half-followed. Or unfollowed.

Politics aside, this bit connects with the previous bit about behaving instead of merely believing. Of living out Jesus’s teachings, and not just listening to them, believing in them, but not changing our lives in the slightest.

Here, James described those of us who listen but never act, as all talk. Not just all talk: Too much talk. Serious diarrhea of the mouth. But in fact it’s a smokescreen for the fact we’re not really following Jesus. We’re Christianists, not Christians.

And yeah, I gotta include myself in there. I have a bad habit of ranting more than I act. I try to do it the other way round, and try to be constructive and proactive instead of griping. But I’m under no delusion—or as James put it, apatón kardían aftú/“deluded [the] heart of them,” or as I translated it, “deluded their own mind.” I’m not lying to myself about it. Jesus doesn’t want me to merely talk, but to do the good deeds the Father originally created me to do. Ep 2.10 Talking ain’t necessarily a good deed.

No it’s not. Don’t delude yourself either.

21 April 2017

Don’t just believe. Behave.

We’re not saved by good works. But no works is no better.

James 1.22-25

I grew up among Christians who believe they’re saved by faith. Not, as the scripture teaches, God’s grace. It’s weird, too; they read the very same letter of Ephesians as the rest of us (“by grace ye are saved” Ep 2.5 KJV), yet they somehow bungle their interpretation of 2.8 (“for by grace are ye saved through faith” Ep 2.8 KJV) and assume through takes precedence over by.

This isn’t a unique phenomenon either. To this day I run into Christians who think they’re saved by faith. All they gotta do is believe in Jesus—which is correct; it really is all we gotta do—and they’re saved. But they’re not saved by believing in Jesus. Nobody is. We’re saved by grace.

If we were saved by faith, it’d mean in order to be saved, I have to believe certain things. Believe ’em really hard. Reject every other belief, no matter how likely I might be to believe them instead. Sort out my beliefs so I’m believing all the correct things. Get my theological ducks in a row. And then I’m saved.

Um… doesn’t that sound like work to you? We’re not saved by works. Ep 2.9

“Well yes,” these folks reply: “We’re not saved by works. We’re saved by faith. Faith’s not a work! It can’t be, otherwise we wouldn’t be saved by it.” And then they proceed to demonstrate how they’re not saved by works… by not doing any.

What kind of [synonym for “messed”]-up Christians did I grow up among? Well, like I said, it’s not a unique phenomenon. Loads of Christians figure the only thing they need do, as Christians, is straighten out their theology. Good deeds are for those people who don’t really believe they’re saved by faith—who probably don’t have any faith anyway. So they practice “works righteousness,” and try to earn salvation. Unlike them, whose strenuous efforts to get every last obscure doctrine correct… somehow isn’t an attempt to earn salvation.

Anyway, these folks don’t know at all what to do with the letter of James. ’Cause not only did he equate faith with works in the next chapter (a lesson they’d love to call heresy, except it’s in the bible), he had lots to say about people who figured their beliefs matter, but their deeds don’t. Like so:

James 1.22-25 KWL
22 Become doers of the word, and not merely self-deceiving hearers,
23 because if you’re a hearer of the word, yet do nothing,
you’re like a man studying the face he was born with in a mirror:
24 He studies himself… and goes away, and quickly sets aside what sort of person he is.
25 You who look down into the perfect, freedom-giving Law, and remain there,
aren’t becoming forgetful hearers, but doers of good work.
What you’re doing is awesome.

James drilled directly down into their lifestyle. It’s not enough to listen to sermons. It’s not enough to shout “Amen!” when the preacher says clever things. It’s not enough to memorize bible verses and church doctrines. We gotta act on the word, the message, the prophecies, as given. We gotta behave like Christians. Not just believe like Christians.

31 March 2017

Get hold, and get rid, of your anger.

’Cause “righteous anger” doesn’t actually come from God.

James 1.19-21

God is stable. Jm 1.16-18 He’s not prone to wild mood swings, nor does he have some secret evil plan where he tricks us into sin Jm 1.12-15 as an excuse to smite us—which he conceals beneath a veneer of goodness. God’s no hypocrite.

And, as is appropriate for God’s followers, we shouldn’t be that way either. Ordinarily humans are creatures of extremes. Our emotions tend to be wild, crazy, out of control… or totally repressed. If we’re the overemotional sort, we point to the emotionless sort as totally wrong, and vice-versa. The repressed person objects to emotions as wildly inappropriate, and emotional people as possible candidates for heavy medication. The out-of-control person objects to emotionless people as unhealthy and stunted, and at some point they’re gonna snap and need some of that heavy medication themselves.

But the fruit of the Spirit is prahýtis/“gentility,” or gentleness—the ability to keep control over our emotions. A Spirit-following Christian doesn’t fly off the handle at every little thing, in wrath and fury. Nor do we feel nothing… including love, joy, and compassion. The Spirit helps us keep a grip on our feelings.

But of course, Christians pretend our rage is righteous anger, or even that it’s all God’s idea. We even try to make it sound like fruit. James objected to the idea in this passage:

James 1.19-21 KWL
19 Know this, my beloved fellow Christians: Be quick to listen, everybody. Slow to speak, slow to anger.
20 Men’s anger doesn’t empower God’s rightness.
21 So gently get rid of every filthy thing, every evil advantage.
Pick up the message which is implanted with the power to save your souls.

12 January 2017

Love—as described in the Old Testament.

It’s not just agápi.

When Christians talk about love, most of the time we’re referring to agápi/“love,” which Paul and Sosthenes defined in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s the love which God is. 1Jn 4.16

Now agápi is a Greek word, ’cause the New Testament was written in Greek; duh. But way more of the bible consists of Old Testament, which was largely written in Hebrew. Hence when we Christians preach on love, we’re taking our ideas and teachings from the NT… and for the most part skipping the OT.

Which is problematic. See, there’s this persistent myth that God is love in the NT, but wasn’t love in the OT; he was more wrath and anger and vengeance and flaring nostrils. 2Sa 22.9 Apparently Jesus calmed him down a bunch, and through his self-sacrifice, got the Father to love us instead of want to crush us like cockroaches.

Of course some preachers will attempt to preach love from the OT. Not always well. They’ll crack open their Nave’s Topical Bible and look up every verse which contains the word “love.” They’ll attempt to read the 1 Corinthians definition into it. Won’t always work though. Y’see, rapists felt “love”: Shechem claimed he loved Dinah, Ge 34.3 and Amnon used to love Tamar till he had his way with her. 2Sa 13.15 Sorta impossible to claim this is the patient, kind, not-demanding-its-own-way sort of agápi/“love” the apostles had in mind.

See, not every word for “love” in the bible means agápi. Often it means one of the other eight meanings our culture has attached to the word “love.”

But it brings up an interesting question: Where’d the apostles’ definition of love come from?

Yes, of course, it came from the Holy Spirit. But how’d it come from the Spirit? Did the proper definition just pop into the apostles’ heads as they were trying to correct the Greeks about their culture’s misconceptions about love? Or is it that the Hebrew culture did have this concept of love already in there, which is why Jesus, John, and Paul could independently talk about agápi and all mean the very same thing by it—and not mean what the Greeks meant by agápi?

Lemme make that question much shorter: Is the NT concept of love anywhere in the OT?

I say yes.

Because God is love. Always has been. Even in the OT, God acts patiently, kindly, not enviously, nor boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, irritable, grudge-holding, faithless, hopeless, and unjust. (No matter how certain Calvinists might describe him.) That’s how God was actually described all over the Hebrew scriptures. That’s the God the apostles knew, the God whom Jesus reveals to us.

Now, how ’bout the OT words we’ve translated “love”? How close are the to agápi?

04 January 2017

It’s 4 January. It’s still Christmas. And this fact annoys you.

The idea of 12 days of Christmas annoys some people just as much as the song.

All the way back in 2016, my church decided it was time to begin our 21-day Daniel fast on the first Sunday of the month. Specifically this was Sunday, 3 January 2016. Welcome back from the holidays, folks; no doughnut for you.

“Really not appropriate to schedule a fast for a feast day,” I pointed out to one of my fellow church attendees.

She. “Feast day? This is a feast day?”
Me. “It’s still Christmas.”
She. “Christmas was two Fridays ago.”
Me. “Christmas began two Fridays ago. And ends tomorrow. It lasts 12 days, remember?
She.What lasts 12 days?”
Me. “Christmas. Remember the song? ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…’ and each day the singer just kept getting more and more birds? ’Cause Christmas has 12 days.”
She. “Who celebrates it for 12 days?”
Me.I celebrate it for 12 days. I’m still eating cookies.”
She. “Well, you can do that if you like. I took the tree down the day after Christmas.”
Me. “You mean the second day of Christmas.”
She. [irritated scoff]

Tell many a Christian that today’s the 11th day of Christmas, and that’s the response you’ll get from them. The irritated scoff. Christmas ended last month. And good riddance. They were so done with the holiday once Christmas dinner was over. And if they weren’t, the hassle of returning Christmas gifts did it for ’em.

Like I said back in my advent article, a lot of people have adopted the mindset our popular culture foists upon ’em. To them, the Christmas season begins on Black Friday, ends 25 December, and the rest is just aftermath and cleanup. Put the decorations away as soon as possible, ’cause it’s time to concentrate on the new year. And the stores are already selling Valentine’s Day items. (“Already? Are you kidding me?”)

But if you’ve burnt out on Christmas, it’s because you’ve not really been celebrating Christmas. You’ve been celebrating the awful Mammonist substitute the stories peddle. Our churches unwittingly help ’em do it too. We perpetuate the idea of a one-day holiday, a frenzy of gifts and toys and events, and a slapped-on veneer of “Remember the reason for the season!”

In fact Christmas is primarily about how Christ the savior is born. If you’re doing Christmas correctly, and someone brings up the word “Christmas” after the 25th, that’s the mental image which should’ve immediately popped into your mind. Not decorations, toys, and obligations. Jesus has come. ’Cause if your first response is to scoff… you did it wrong.

30 December 2016

Resolutions: Our stabs at self-control.

Of course, making too many at once multiplies your difficulty level.

Speaking for myself, I’m not into new year’s resolutions. I make ’em the year round: If I see changes I need to make in my life, I get to work on ’em. I don’t procrastinate till 1 January. I may procrastinate just the same, but here’s the problem with stockpiling lifestyle changes till the new year: Come 1 January, you’re gonna have a vast pile of changes to make. It’s hard enough to make one change; now you have five. (Or 50, depending on how much of a trainwreck you are.) Multiplying your resolutions, multiplies your difficulty level.

But hey, it’s American custom. So at the year’s end a lot of folks, Christians included, begin to think about what we’d like to change about our lives. What we really should change. Too many carbohydrates? Too much time frittered away on non-productive hobbies? Too much money wasted?

Since our culture doesn’t really do self-control, you might notice most Americans’ resolutions don’t have to do with breaking a bad habit so much as adding another one—good or bad.

True, a lot of us will vow to diet and exercise. But just as many of us will choose to learn gourmet cooking, or resolve to eat at fancier restaurants more often. (Well, so long that the fancier restaurants provide American-size portions. If I only wanted a six-ounce piece of meat I’d go to In-N-Out Burger.)

True, a lot of us will vow to cut back on our screen time, whether it’s on computers, tablets, phones, or televisions. But just as many will decide time isn’t the issue; quality is. They’ll vow to watch better movies and TV shows. Time to binge-watch the shows the critics have been raving about. Time to watch classic movies instead of whatever Adam Sandler burps up. Sometimes it’s a clever attempt to avoid cutting back on screen time—’cause they know they won’t. And sometimes they honestly never think about it; screens are now just a fact of life.

As Christians, a lot of us will resolve to be better Christians. We’ll pray more. Meditate more. Go to church more consistently; maybe join one of the small groups. Read more bible—perhaps all the way through. Put more into the collection plate. Share Jesus more often with strangers and acquaintances. Maybe do some missions work.

All good intentions. Yet here’s the problem: It takes self-control to make any of these resolutions stick. It’s why, by mid-March, all these resolutions were likely abandoned. So if we’re ever gonna stick to them, we gotta begin by developing everybody’s least-favorite fruit of the Spirit.

22 December 2016

The fear of phony peace.

When “blessed are the peacemakers” gets ditched in favor of popular End Times theories.

So as I said yesterday, we Christians aren’t necessarily known for being peaceful. ’Cause we lack peace. ’Cause we’ve adopted one of the typical incorrect notions as to how to attain it, and haven’t correctly chosen to follow God and pursue his kingdom. Mt 6.25-34

And sometimes it’s ’cause we don’t trust peace. Especially societal and political forms of peace. When our secretary of state brokers a treaty between warring nations, or between the United States and some other nation we’re not really getting along with. Definitely when the United Nations tries to do likewise. We don’t believe any of that stuff is real peace—we suspect there’s something underhanded and devilish behind it.

Why’s that? Well, in Revelation there’s this vision John had of a Beast who’s gonna take over the world. Rv 13 And according to one of the more popular End Times theories, the Beast is gonna gain its power by pretending to be a good guy. Pretending to care about the little guy; pretending to care about our values and safety; pretending to know how to fix the economy and fight terrorism. No I’m not talking about Donald Trump, much as his opponents will scream the shoe fits. But that’s what certain Christians fear most: Someone portraying a prince of peace, who’s absolutely not.

Basically they figure the Beast is gonna be Bizarro Jesus: Anything Jesus does, the Beast’ll do the opposite. Jesus says love your neighbor; the Beast’ll try to make you hate ’em. Jesus says heal the sick; the Beast’ll try to make you poison the sick. Jesus says preach the gospel; the Beast’ll try to shut you up. Black is white, up is down.

So since Jesus says blessed are the peacemakers, the Beast’ll say blessed are the warmongers. But, before it can weasel its way into real power, it’ll make like a peacemaker. By stealthily, evilly getting nations to stop fighting and love one another. That’s just how crafty it is, using goodness and kindness to lull us into a sense of security. Then bam: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Bizarro!

Here’s the problem: What if we’ve got an actual peacemaker on our hands? Someone who actually wants nations to stop fighting and love one another? (Or at least benignly stop bombing one another?) Someone who’s trying to be a child of God like Jesus wants? Mt 5.9

…Nah, can’t risk it.

And this is how the devil regularly tricks paranoid Christians into fighting, of all things, peace.