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

11 July 2019

The fruit of holiness: Let’s get weird.

Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians 5 isn’t comprehensive, and isn’t really meant to be.

I gotta point that out every time I talk about a fruit which isn’t on Paul’s list, ’cause there’s always some numbnut who says, “That’s not in Galatians 5.” Usually someone who doesn’t like the fruit I’m talking about, so here’s their loophole. Yeah, well, there are other apostles who wrote bible, and some of ’em talked about other fruit. Like Simon Peter:

1 Peter 1.13-16 KWL
13 So, “girding the loins” of your thinking, being sober,
hope till the end for the grace which Christ Jesus’s revelation brought you.
14 Do it like obedient children, not conforming to the same old patterns of your ignorant desires,
15 but like the holy one who called you.
Become holy yourselves, in your whole lifestyle.
16 For it’s written, “You’ll be holy, because I’m holy.” Lv 19.2

God expects us to be holy, which we misinterpret as “good” or “clean,” but really means separate: God wants us to stand out from the rest of the world. Be unique. Be weird. Be better. Don’t conform to a culture that doesn’t know what it’s doing or where it’s going. Be like God.

But if we’re to be holy, we need God’s power. We can’t achieve holiness on our own. (Much as some of us might like to imagine we can.) Trying to stand out without God’s fruit, especially his love and goodness, is gonna wind up arrogant and proud… and not so good. We need help!—and the Holy Spirit provides it. ’Cause our relationship with God should produce goodness, rightness, fairness, love, joy, and other such fruit.

So yeah: God calls us to be unique. What’s that look like?

Well, looking at the ancient Hebrews, there were certain oddball things God expected of ’em. A few commands in the Law which instructed the Hebrews to be, well, weird. They had to wear certain fabrics, or decorate themselves and their buildings a certain way. They had to eat certain animals, and not others. They had to celebrate certain festivals, or worship God in certain ways. God gives no explanation for many of these behaviors except to say,

Leviticus 20.23-24 KWL
23 “Don’t walk in the grooves of the nations I sent away from you.
For they did all those things—and I loathe them.
24 I told you, ‘You possess their ground. I give it to you to inherit—land flowing with milk and honey.’
I’m your LORD God, who separates you from the peoples.”

That’s the very context of the statement Peter quoted:

Leviticus 20.26 KWL
“Be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy.
I separated you from the peoples for myself.”

So does the Hebrews’ odd behavior mean Christians are meant to have likewise odd behaviors? Well, if you ask your average pagan, mission accomplished! Some of us are downright weird. We have our own subculture, our own popular culture within the subculture (i.e. favorite Christian musicians, authors, artists, movies, etc.), our own lingo, our own political movements (which are just as willing as the other political movements to compromise everything we hold dear), and all sorts of uniquely Christian or Christianist traits which make us stand out from everyone else.

Does God want his people to be weirdos? Obviously yes. We’re not to conform to the patterns of this world; Ro 12.2 we’re to follow Jesus. If the rest of the world goes one way, and Jesus another, we follow Jesus. Sometimes because the world is wrong… and sometimes simply because the behavior may not be evil in itself, but conformity is thoughtless, brain-dead behavior, and Jesus wants his followers to think. Holiness means we don’t simply go along with every benign fad there is, just to fit in.

Because “fitting in” is one of the faster ways to derail our relationship with Jesus.

03 June 2019

Affection—versus love.

Affection is one of the eight things our culture defines as love. It—or more accurately a Greek word which gets translated that way, στοργή/storgí—took up a chapter of C.S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves, in which Lewis described it in some detail. Mainly to talk about what traits of storgí might be sorta-kinda godly. For even though affection isn’t at all what Jesus and his apostles meant by αγάπη/agápi, it’s got its positive qualities.

But no, it’s not a fruit of the Spirit. Anybody can be affectionate. Plenty of pagans are. It can be a good thing, and have positive effects: People tend to be accommodating to those for whom they have affection. But as you know, “accommodating” can be either a good or bad thing. Looking the other way as your kids commit crimes isn’t a good thing. People are way too affectionate towards our favorite vices.

Years ago I was curious to find all the instances of storgí in the New Testament, to see how various translators interpret it. To my surprise I found it’s not even in the NT. The authors never used it. It does appear four times in the apocrypha—in 3 and 4 Maccabees, books which only a few Orthodox churches include in the bible.

Er… why’d Lewis write a Christian book in which he spent an entire chapter examining a word not found in the bible? Mainly because Lewis wasn’t writing about bible. The Four Loves is about love—and as a scholar who studied and taught on the ancient Greek classics, he was really teaching on the classics. How the ancients perceived and practiced love. ’Cause the ancient Greeks had plenty to say about storgí, even though the bible doesn’t.

Storgí, and its verb-form στέργω/stérgo, refers to the mutual love parents and children have for one another. Or siblings. Or kings and subjects pretend to have for one another. Sophocles used it to refer to friends; Herodotus used it for spouses. It means you accept this other person. You’re fond of them. You show a preference for them. You’re content with them. You’re satisfied with them. You put up with them, or adjust to them.

It’s what we English-speakers mean by “like.” (But it doesn’t go as far as the popular phrase “like-like.” Just “like.” You don’t like-like your parents; ewww.)

As I said, not in the bible. Mostly ’cause in the Hebrew culture, they leapt straight to describing their affections as אָהַב/aháv, “love.” They didn’t really bother with degrees: You either love or hate something or someone. Jesus said if we follow him, we gotta hate everyone else. But only by way of comparison: We love him so much, comparatively we hate everything else. It’s extreme-sounding language because, much like French, Hebrew and Aramaic didn’t have different words for “like” or “like-like”: You loved something or you hated it.

For this reason a translator, or someone trying to describe Hebrew ideas in ancient Greek, wouldn’t have a lot of use for storgí: It wouldn’t sound strong enough. You only like your father and mother? Phooey to that. In the New Testament, the writers described people who loved their fathers and mothers, with the largely interchangeable words φίλος/fílos and agápi. They weren’t just affectionate towards these parents, or liked them, but loved them. Jesus described people who loved their parents, Mt 10.37 and his Father as someone who loves us. Jn 16.27 God isn’t merely affectionate towards us. He loves us. He is love, so it stands to reason.

We can talk, as Lewis did, about all the ways people are affectionate towards family members, and whether this behavior sounds anything like storgí. But if you wanna start quoting bible, or wanna grow closer to God, ditch storgí. God doesn’t want us to merely like him. (And none of this secular bushwa about how you can love someone but not really like them; that’s not love either.)

09 May 2019

The fruit of faithfulness, or the fruit of faith?

Where Paul lists the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians, a lot of bibles translate one of the words he used, πίστις/pístis, as “faithfulness.” But that’s not the usual way pístis gets translated in the bible. Typically it’s translated “faith.”

And that’s what I believe Paul meant: Faith. Not faithfulness. Not that faithfulness isn’t an admirable trait; not that good fruitful Christians aren’t faithful to God—and faithful to fellow Christians, even when we mess up or sin against one another. But then again, nontheists, pagans, and people of other religions, are frequently faithful to their beliefs and principles, and notoriously stick to them even tighter than Christians will to ours. Heck, dogs are faithful. Loyalty doesn’t take the Holy Spirit. Misbegotten loyalty proves that.

Whereas faith is obviously the product of the Spirit: When people don’t have the Spirit, we won’t trust the Spirit. We won’t believe the bible. We’ll invent all sorts of reasons why we needn’t believe it, shouldn’t believe it, ought never take it seriously, don’t gotta obey it. Our unbelief will overwhelm any chance for us to listen to him, step out in faith, and do the unlikely or impossible. And Christians who don’t trust the Spirit are seriously hindered in their Christian growth. Don’t practice much of the other fruit of the Spirit either.

I’ve written plenty on TXAB about faith, and expect to write plenty more. It’s a practice we always need to strive to do. It helps us grow like nothing else. Even small increments are profoundly powerful; like Jesus pointed out, mustard-grain faith can shove mountains over. Mt 17.20 But never be satisfied with that little faith! God always wants to grow our faith. So let’s follow him.

How does it grow? Simple: Practice. We step out in faith. When tells us something, we act on it. We don’t just leave it untested, in fear nothing will happen and we’ll look stupid. Those who lack faith, will never challenge their faith. This is why whenever they encounter real challenges to their faith—a loved one dies, or they suffer loss, or a cherished belief gets shattered like so much idolatrous pottery—their so-called “faith” bursts like a soap bubble. Untested faith, as James described it, is faith without works. And faith without works is dead. Jm 2.17 It’s fake faith, easily exploded.

So you wanna grow the fruit? Look for the faith-stretching opportunities the Spirit gives us. Step out. Watch him act. Watch your faith grow.

29 April 2019

Goodness, and lawless Christians.

If you know Jesus—really and truly know Jesus, not just know of him—you’re gonna want to follow him. You’re gonna want to do as he teaches, and actually try to obey his commands instead of shrugging them off with, “Well, they’re nice ideals, but they’re not gonna be practical.” You’re gonna want to be good.

Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit. A rather obvious one: God is good, so shouldn’t those who have the Holy Spirit in us be likewise good? Shouldn’t he encourage us to be good, empower us to do good deeds, be gracious to us when we drop the ball and help us return to goodness? Shouldn’t he point us in the direction of sanctification, of living holy lives where goodness is a huge component?

Likewise if you don’t wanna be good, not only do you lack the Spirit’s fruit: You’re probably not even Christian. And yes, bluntly saying so has a tendency to really offend people: “Goodness doesn’t make you Christian! That’s legalism. How could you say that?” Well I didn’t say that. I said you have to want to be good. You have to make the effort. You’re gonna suck at it in the beginning; everybody does; it gets easier with practice. And I didn’t say goodness makes you Christian; only the Holy Spirit does that. But the lack of goodness, or substituting it with hypocrisy and hoping no one will notice, indicates the Holy Spirit isn’t in your life—and if he’s not there, you’re not Christian. Period.

Let’s not be naïve. “Obey Jesus” is a hard lifestyle choice. The world is against us. Christianists have gone to a lot of trouble to swap real obedience with their cheap knockoff, and sometimes they’ll fight goodness just as hard as Satan itself. They’ll claim Jesus’s commands were nullified by a new dispensation, or they’re only meant to describe God’s kingdom after Jesus returnsnot before. They’ll claim our resistance to evil is really works righteousness and legalism; that trying to be better is another form of pride; that our commonsense interpretation of God’s commands is extremism, whereas the proper way to interpret them is to water ’em down till they’re nothing but water.

Plus our own selfish tendencies are gonna fight us. And yes, the devil might fight us too… but you’ll find the devil’s far easier to beat than your own flesh. We start off with a lot of ingrained bad habits, and conquering ourselves has to be done first. Which a lot of people never bother to do. Most of us simply relabel all our bad behaviors with Christianese names, and presto-changeo, we’re fixed now! But widespread popular hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.

Still, if we have the Holy Spirit in us, we’ll want to do better. And we’ve got to trust him to help us out with this. We absolutely can’t do it alone. God offers us power to live for him. Grab it with both hands. You accepted his salvation. Now accept his sanctification.

13 December 2018

Faking the fruit of the Spirit.

Way easier to pretend you have it, than actually grow it.

Y’might know we Christians need to be fruity: We Christians have to do good works and produce good fruit. Namely the Spirit’s fruit. You know Paul’s list in Galatians

Galatians 5.22-25 KWL
22 The Spirit’s fruit is love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faith.
23 Gentleness. Temperance. The Law isn’t against such things.
24 Those who follow Christ Jesus crucify the flesh with its pathology and desires:
25 If we live by the Spirit, we can walk by the Spirit!

Problem is, there are plenty of hypocrites who don’t live by the Spirit, don’t walk by the Spirit… but want everyone to think they do. So they fake the Spirit’s fruit.

There are three ways to do it; all of ’em rather easy. The most common method is to change all the definitions. The popular culture has its own definitions of all these things, so hypocrites simply borrow those definitions and claim they’ve got fruit.

Love is an obvious example: Pagans haven’t a clue what love is. They might realize it’s selfless and sacrificial, but largely they don’t. Take Paul and Sosthenes’s definition in 1 Corinthians 1Co 13.4-8 and flip it over entirely: Love is impatient, unkind, envious, self-promoting, self-important, rude, self-centered, provocative, scheming, breaks rules, lies… and easily falls apart, mistrusts, loses hope, fades away, dies. That’s how the ancient Corinthians thought about love, and too often that’s how today’s pagans also imagine it.

And if a Christian tries to pass off that so-called “love” as the stuff they got from the Holy Spirit… well, 99 times out of 100 people won’t realize there’s been any switcheroo. In many churches, when Christians teach on love, talk about love, encourage loving our neighbors and enemies, we don’t mean actual godly agápi/“love.” More often we’re thinking of a reciprocal love, where we only love the worthy—those who might eventually love us back, or otherwise reward us for our efforts. A love that’s karmic, not gracious.

As you can see, misdefining love in order to help hypocrites hide their fruitlessness, invariably poisons the rest of the church. People are gonna grow up with hypocrite definitions of the Spirit’s fruit, and wonder why their “fruitfulness” looks and feels so empty and selfish and so unlike Jesus. Yep, this’d be why.

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Fake it till you make it.

The second way—which isn’t easy at first, but gets easy with practice—is pretending to be what you’re not. It’s acting. You know, like the original definition of ypókrisis/“hypocrite.”

You might actually hear Christians claim this is how we develop the Spirit’s fruit in our lives. “So you don’t really love your enemies. That’s understandable; they’re awful. But you don’t have to feel it; you just have to act like you love them. Act like it until eventually you do love them.”

Yeah, this is terrible advice. I tried it when I was a kid. Doesn’t work at all. School bullies didn’t stop bullying me because I acted like I loved ’em. They just had more fun at my expense because I was “being weird.” Punching them in the testicles was way more effective. (No I don’t recommend you repeat my far-from-Christian solution. John Eldredge will, but that’s because he follows his own godless ideas of masculinity instead of Jesus. Stick to Jesus.)

If you start with fake love, you don’t end up with actual love. You end up as someone who’s an expert at faking love. You look like you care, have compassion, have patience and kindness and all that. But a hypocrite doesn’t really have any of those things. While love never fails, 1Co 13.8 fake love will, pretty quickly, and the hypocrite will try to get out of any love-based obligations they put themselves into. Fr’instance marriage. Once the attraction and lust wear off, people can’t fake marital love any more than a few years, and as soon as they find a reason to separate, they do.

And if you start by faking it wrong, you’re gonna creep everyone out. The reason “happy Christians” are some of the most annoying Christians in the world, is because their fake enthusiasm isn’t contagious, isn’t fun to watch, isn’t kind and patient and gives others a chance to catch up. People aren’t gonna love to be around such positive, joyous people; they’re gonna avoid them like they avoid boisterous drunken uncles. God forbid they think all Christians are supposed to be that way.

I don’t have to remind you that when you’ve been faking the Spirit’s fruit, and people find out you’ve been faking, it’ll horrify them. Seriously. It won’t just disappoint them; it’ll horrify them. Because if a relationship with Jesus produces fruit, and it turns out you’ve been faking the fruit, it implies you have no relationship with Jesus. And if people thought you were Christian, and now think you’re not, just about all of them immediately go to a dark place and think you’re a devil.

And y’know, they might not be wrong. After all you have been lying to them all this time.

So I regularly remind newbie Christians: Fake nothing. Ever. Be yourself, flaws and all. Because that’s the only way we (us and you) can detect true spiritual growth in you. Plus learn what we still have to work on.

Faking it in church.

When I was a young hypocrite, the reason for my faking the Spirit’s fruit had nothing to do with trying to grow the real stuff. It was only about looking good. I wanted to look like one of the good Christian kids, not one of the bad Christian kids. And not just because it meant I could get away with more.

So I didn’t have to fake the Spirit’s fruit all the time. Just Sunday mornings, when I had to interact with church people. And Thursday nights, when I went to the church’s youth group. And when we had longer church functions, like weekend camping trips or missions trips. Though at the longer functions, I had to fake it longer… and sometimes the real me would slip out, ’cause I’m not that good a liar.

But many people live dual lives. A hypocrite named George, fr’instance: When he’s around people who know him to be Christian, he’ll adopt the persona of Church George, and be that guy around those people. The rest of the time he’ll be Actual George. Well… he might take on many other personas, like Home George, Work George, Visiting the Parents George, Visiting the In-Laws George. Once you construct one artificial persona, it’s not all that hard to invent many.

The downside? You have to make sure people who know you as Church George never ever encounter the people who know you as Strip Club George. Nor meet that persona. Once again, it’ll horrify them.

But in our well-connected society, it’s not at all easy to keep the different worlds of one’s personas from colliding. Everybody, both from work and church, wanna see your social media page… so if you’re one way at work and another at church, people are gonna see one of those two on your Twitter feed. (Unless you do as a certain pastor friend of mine does, and post nothing but cartoons and memes.)

Our hypocrite named George might invent the persona of Internet George, and make him anonymous, but even that world might someday collide with one of the others. I’m reminded of a certain well-known pastor who used to visit an internet forum and post really harsh, crude things. Once people discovered who “William Wallace II” really was, once again: Horror. Their pastor wrote these things? Some went into denial; some left the church; some left Jesus.

I sincerely hope my past hypocrisy hasn’t driven anyone away from Jesus, nor served as their excuse for quitting Christianity. But I have no idea. I just warn others: Never start. Fake nothing. Christianity has plenty enough hypocrites as it is. Be one of the real people.

The absence of actual love among hypocrites, produces people who don’t look at our fellow human beings as creatures to love. Just resources to tap. We might care about friends and family, and be very loyal to them (although not always), but only because they’re ours; they’re our possessions. But we don’t give a rip about strangers or neighbors. Depending on our politics, either the poor and needy are nothing but societal burdens, or the rich are nothing but societal parasites. Either way, other people are inconvenient… till we need something from them.

This is the sort of “love” which easily turns into hatred. When our possessions won’t do as we want anymore, we replace them. Works the same for humans. And if we can’t be rid of them, we grow angry that they’re around, dissatisfying us, irritating us. You know those Christian who have no patience for sinners, for people in the opposition party, for heretics, for gays? Not only do they not know how to love their neighbors (or “enemies,”) watch what happens when one of their relationships turns sour. Woe to their exes.

Happens all the time. People

So as you know, Christians need to produce fruit, specifically the fruit of the Spirit. And as you may know, if you’ve been around Christians long enough, a whole lot of us claim we’re producing this sort of fruit… yet there’s something just a bit off-putting about the sort of “fruit” we’re cranking out.

The “love”' isn’t all that loving. The “joy” has an awful lot of sadness and resignation mixed in. The “patience” feels like despair. The “kindness” is artificial, and just a bit deceptive. The “peace” seems to have come about only after an awful lot of strife. The “forgiveness” has a bunch of strings attached, and the “grace” is extended only to popular people (“the elect,” as Calvinists call ’em) —not everyone.

So what’s going on? Is it just that Christians are terrible at producing the Spirit’s fruit? Is the problem that we’re attempting to achieve these traits by our own efforts, instead of letting the Spirit grow ’em naturally, so because they’re human they came out wrong?

No and no. The problem is we’re not attemping to develop the Spirit’s fruit. We’re trying to substitute real fruit with quick ’n dirty substitutes. We’re faking it.

Why? ’Cause it’s easier. ’Cause it doesn’t require us change for real. ’Cause it means we look good enough for church, but outside the church building we can be the same [rhymes with “gas tolls”] we’ve always been. Hypocrisy is always the easier, more popular path. It’s why the Christianists take it. But the only time we encounter Jesus on it is when he’s trying to wave us off it.

Gotta hide the bad fruit.

Galatians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:
Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.
20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.
Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.
21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying. And other people like these.
I warn you of them just like I warned you before:
Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

Paul referred to bad fruit as ta erga tis sarkos/“works of the flesh,” and pointed out to the churches of Galatia how they’re obvious in people who do the things in the list above. Which is precisely why hypocrites know better than to act like that. Not in public, anyway. Not among fellow Christians. They hide that stuff.

So what happens when we’re caught indulging in fleshly works? Relax; thanks to the work of generations of hypocrites before us, every fleshly work can be explained away in Christianese.

  • Promiscuity and unethical sexual behavior are blamed on the spouse who won’t “humbly submit” to such things in their bedroom.
  • Idolatry and addiction become “hobbies.”
  • Hatred, rabble-rousing, anger, excessive zeal, and partisanship are the result of “concerned groups” who disguise their offense at moral failings or doctrinal impurity as God’s outrage and coming wrath.
  • Separatism and heresy are either “concern for doctrinal purity,” or “concern for proper biblical headship.”
  • Envy is “the pursuit of God’s promises” which others seem to be getting while you aren’t.
  • Hatred and hostility and rage are justified because you hate sin—you’re “hating the sin, loving the sinner,” although 99 percent of your effort is put into the hating.
  • Misbehavior of all sorts will often be turned around on the accusers, who are in turn accused of legalism, of unforgiveness, of gracelessness, of lovelessness.
  • Minor infractions will be relabeled “freedom in Christ.”

Fake Christians get expert at hiding their fleshly works. And get away with it for a good long time because they only real friends they make at church, are hypocrites just like them: They use the same explanations, let them slide, never take them to task for living a lifestyle that’s the antithesis of the Spirit’s fruit, and permit the fraud to continue.

Gotta pretend to love people.

As I said in the beginning, frauds have got pretty good at faking actual fruit of the Spirit. But no, it’s not a perfect simulation. Because they don’t have the real thing, there are plenty of cracks in the veneer.

Take a Christian who doesn’t have love. Paul (and his cowriter Sosthenes) described love like so.

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

Naturally, fake love—the sort of thing both ancient Corinth and our present-day culture confuses with love—lacks those characteristics. Fake love is impatient, unkind, wild, self-promoting, exaggerated, dismissive of anyone or anything else as lesser, provocative, scheming and conniving, willing and ready to shatter existing relationships and break every law… and over time, it fades away, and doesn’t persevere. Fake love rarely lasts without a strong helping of denial. Or liquor.

Among hypocrites, the absence of actual love produces people who don’t look at our fellow human beings as creatures to love. Just resources to tap. We’ll care about our friends and family, and be very loyal to them (although not always)—but we don’t give a crap about strangers or neighbors. Depending on our politics, either the poor are nothing but a societal burden, or the rich are nothing but societal parasites. Either way, other people are inconvenient—until we need something from them.

Works the same way in relationships. We don’t date or marry people because we wanna self-sacrificially care for them. Oh, we’ll do that to a point. But we have ulterior motives: We like how they make us feel, whether emotionally or physically. We like the comfort and security of knowing they’ll be there for us… even though we won’t guarantee we’ll be there in return. If our lives are a mess, a significant other with a good job can really bail us out. Or if we bail them out, they’ll owe us, and we can extract payment in all sorts of ways. And every time they object, we’ll claim, “But I love you”—and that makes everything all right. Right? Until we fall out of love, or find someone else to tap, and bail on them altogether.

Works the same way with parents or kids. If they do for us, we love ’em. If not—if the “but I’m your kid, and I love you” con doesn’t work anymore—we disown them. Maybe not in words, but we’ll just never be around.

We won’t care to know the other people in our churches. At best it’ll be on a superficial level, and at worst the same parasitic sort of relationship we have with our significant others. Always take, take, take. If someone in the church is too poor, too needy, has too many problems, we’ll unfriend ’em, and use the excuse, “He just can’t get his life together; it’s gotta be because of sin, and I can’t be around that.” That usually works. Successful people must be good Christians, right?—and they’re the only people worth knowing, so we’ll stick to those cliques.

Quite often you’ll see hatred. Hypocrites hate sin—so we claim. So we hate anything which has any whiff of sin to it—and that’s pretty much everything. Everything’s tainted. Anything other people enjoy, anything popular in the secular world? We’ll find something wrong with it. Anything popular in the Christian culture? We’ll find something wrong with that too. There’s nothing good under the sun, nothing. Especially if it outrages us personally. Depending on our politics, we’ll hate liberals and Democrats, or we’ll hate social Darwinists and Republicans. We’ll complain a little too much about homosexuals, or crack gay jokes. We’ll express way too much concern about Muslims and heretics. We’ll absolutely hate the devil. (What, you thought true Christians get to make an exception for the devil? No. Any hate corrodes the hater.)

Redefine every fruit.

Instead of joy—actual happiness and optimism and hope—fake Christians will be unhappy, pessimistic (or “just being realistic,” we’ll claim), and hopeless. We’ll claim it’s okay we’re joyless: Joy in the bible doesn’t really mean joy. It means being content despite our rotten circumstances. It means tolerance. I have joy because I put up with you and all your crap. Isn’t that magnanimous of me?

If the joyless have any sense of humor, it’s bent; it’s all about mocking and slamming others. Our so-called realism cynically dismisses any of the good in the world, as we only fixate on evil. We’re quick to find problems—in our families, churches, jobs, in the government, in society. We nitpick, not because we care, or are trying to improve things, but because that’s just what we do. We never expect anything, including our own lives, to get any better. Any Christians who do, we mock as naïve or idealistic—or of loving the world too much.

Instead of peace, we’re paranoid troublemakers. Paranoiacs constantly worry about what the devil is up to, not to mention its minions in the media, big business, the press, the government, other religions… We’re especially fond of conspiracy theories and End Times stuff. Any sign can mean the great tribulation is coming. So we’re fret about gun control, our constitutional rights, our personal data existing in any computer anywhere, or about other groups gaining on us. We’re scared.

And we make trouble: We like to create drama around us. Hey, life is boring when people aren’t fighting. So we’ll hang around fights, or pick one. We like to debate. We love apologetics and politics. If there’s an issue we can either fight over or forgive, we’ll never, ever pick forgiveness.

Instead of patience, impatience. We’ll complain whenever a worship chorus gets sung more than three times. We’ll give dirty looks to a parent who has a crying child in the service. We’ll get really angry when the pastor doesn’t get to the point, and the service cuts into lunchtime. We prefer quick fixes, easily summed-up theology, ideas easy to grasp, and people who don’t waste our time. We take it as a personal insult when people violate any of these things. We offer little grace. We don’t forgive or forget.

Instead of kindness, rudeness. There are two kinds of rude: Those who treat others like scum are obvious enough. Then there are those who are politely rude—the folks who don’t really care what people have to say, and just impose ourselves. These’d be the brainiacs in the bible studies, who never catch the leader’s hints to shut up and give someone else a turn. These’d be the people who drag people forward for prayer, without asking if they want or need prayer—or, just as bad, they ask, but never wait for an answer.

Instead of goodness, fake goodness. We take full advantage of the Christians who extend us grace. We do evil, and justify all of it—we undertip and blame the waiter, we steal office supplies and blame the boss for underpaying us. We’re undependable, untrustworthy, unsympathetic, uninterested, ungenerous… unchristian.

Instead of gentleness, out-of-control emotion. When we’re happy, upset, anxious, ecstatic, sad, whatever, you’re gonna know it. We don’t contain ourselves. We claim we can’t—“It’s just the way I am,” or “That’s just my personality,” or “That’s just my behavior quirk.” No, it’s not because we’re suffering from serious psychological problems and we’re wandering the streets instead of being institutionalized or heavily medicated: We’re trying to rework the emotional environment around us in order to suit our mood swings. And because people don’t understand psychology (or what “gentleness” even means) they let us get away with it.

Instead of self-control our lives are a mess and we won’t lift a finger to sort them out. We won’t grow as Christians because we refuse to give up sinful habits and minor idols. We figure one day we’ll magically wake up all better. Or since all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, Ro 3.23 it’s too late to seek improvement—so we’ll try not commit any of the bigger sins, like murder. But there’s grace, right?

…Or perhaps we oughta follow the Spirit.

Where’d I get these descriptions? Simple: My own misbehavior. I used to be an awful hypocrite. Now I’m concentrating on growing fruit. I still have a way to go. As do we all. Once we recognize these failings in ourselves, we can concentrate on letting the Holy Spirit get rid of them.

What I find works best is confession. I admit my past misbehavior—like the things I listed above. I talk about my less-than-noble motives for doing such things. I tell people it was sinful. I condemn it. And I ask ’em to call me on it if I repeat these old habits.

What if they’re practicing these things, ’cause they’re trying to fake the fruit of the Spirit instead of legitimately producing it? Well, some of ’em get convicted, and repent. And some of ’em pretend they would never, and praise me for being so transparent, and strive all the harder to hide the same behaviors in their own lives.

…And if I’m speaking to them one-on-one, they’ll take me aside and warn me, “You really need to be careful who you confess this stuff to. You realize people might use it against you.” I fail to see how; it’s awfully hard to blackmail someone when they’ve confessed the crime to anyone and everyone. But its pure paranoid irrationality exposes it for what it really is: A fruitless Christian who’s afraid their own similar sins might someday be found out. I need to stop it before exposing my flaws exposes them too. Darkness hates light.

If other people are doing the same things, and happen to be personally convicted because of my confession, that’s fine. I don’t try to figure out what sins other people are committing, nor customize my confessions to convict them. I don’t do passive-aggressive manipulation. I just talk about what I was gonna talk about—myself—and call a spade a spade, and admit I was self-centered instead of Jesus-focused. If they repent, great. If not, oh well; it’s between them and the Spirit.

But as for me, I’m gonna grow the Spirit’s fruit. I’m not gonna swap it for vastly inferior knock-offs.

Fruit.

18 October 2018

Redefining joy “because happiness is fleeting.”

Ask anyone what joy means and they’ll tell you what the dictionary usually tells you: It’s happiness. It’s pleasure. You feel really, really good.

Ask a Christian and they’ll give you the very same answer. That is, till you bring up the fruit of the Spirit. Then suddenly the definition of joy changes to contentment. To being okay with whatever befalls us in life. To gritting our teeth and buggering on. All the happiness gets sucked right out of the meaning.

What’s wrong with these people? What, have they never experienced joy before?

No, they have! The problem isn’t that they don’t know what joy is, nor what it feels like. The problem is they don’t understand fruit of the Spirit. Christians have some really odd, wrong ideas about what it’s like. So these odd ideas worm their way backwards into the definitions of the individual fruits, and distort what we mean by love or any of the emotions encouraged by the Spirit.

Emotions, y’see, come and go. We all know this. Joy fades; love fades; compassion fades; patience wears off. We don’t want ’em to, but they do. That’s why we strive to get ’em back. Which is good! We should want to continually love, be patient, have compassion, and experience joy.

The fact these things fade, should inform our definition of the Spirit’s fruit: Fruit can fade. Because it absolutely can. In fact you’ve seen it happen in various Christians. (Likely seen it in yourself.) We don’t just acquire the Spirit’s fruit, then have it forever. Jesus told us we have to stay in him:

John 15.1-8 KWL
1 “I’m the true grapevine. My Father’s the gardener.
2 He lifts off the ground my every branch which doesn’t bear fruit.
He prunes every branch which does, so it can bear even more fruit.
3 You’ve already been trimmed by the message I gave you.
4 Stay in me and I in you, like a branch which can’t bear fruit all by itself
when it doesn’t stay in the grapevine—you never produce when you don’t stay in me.
5 I’m the grapevine. You’re the branches.
Those who stay in me and I in them, produce a lot of fruit.
You can’t do anything apart from me.
6 When anyone won’t stay in me, they’re thrown out like a stray branch:
They wither, are gathered up, tossed into fire, and burned.
7 When you stay in me and my words stay in you,
whenever you want something, ask! It’ll happen for you.
8 My Father is glorified by it when you produce a lot of fruit,
and become my students.”

The only way fruit’s gonna grow—or even continue to stay alive!—is when our branches are attached to the grapevine. We gotta stay plugged into Jesus, maintain our relationship with him, and work on this relationship religiously. If we take Jesus for granted or blow off the relationship, it stands to reason our fruit’s gonna wither.

But somehow popular Christian culture is under the delusion the Spirit’s fruit never fades. ’Cause if it’s from the Holy Spirit, it must be perfect, and last forever. Like wax fruit. But if you’ve ever accidentally taken a bite of wax fruit, it’s nasty. (Especially if people didn’t dust it. Yuck.) Wax fruit only looks good, and impresses people who aren’t paying real attention. Same as all the fake fruit Christians try to pass off as the real thing—which never spoils, never fades, never withers, but isn’t real.

You know, like the redefinitions of “joy” which generate fake plastic smiles instead of real happiness and pleasure.

11 October 2018

Fake joy, evil joy, and joyless Christians.

There are a lot of joyless people in the world. Sometimes it’s a clinical problem; I’m not talking about them today. If you need medication, get it. Same as if you have too much joy.

Nope; today I mean the fruitless Christian who rarely experiences great happiness, the proper definition of joy, because their fleshly attitudes simply don’t reflect the attitudes the Holy Spirit brings out in us. Instead of joy, they’re angry, argumentative, bitter, divisive, envious, faultfinding, hateful, humorless, pessimistic, and unforgiving. When they encounter joy, they’ll actually try to stamp it out.

What do they do instead of joy? As is typical of fruitless Christians, they’ll find something else in their character which they’ll try to pass off as “joy.” If they lack fruit, fake fruit will do them.

The most common false definition of joy is “a state of well-being.” It’s not happiness; it’s being content, comfortable, okay with the way things are. Happiness is fleeting, they explain. Contentment isn’t.

This redefinition has even wormed its way into dictionaries. Most of my Greek dictionaries correctly define hará/“joy” as gladness, great happiness, delight, gladness, merriment, cheerfulness, and the opposite of sorrow; which it is. But one of ’em also defines it as “a state of being calmly happy or well-off.” Which it really wasn’t. As Ceslas Spicq put it,

The proclamation of salvation is one of great joy, which contrasts with the pessimism and despair of first-century paganism. This explains why a large proportion of the occurrences of hará in the papyri are of Christian origin, why pagan occurrences of the word are so rare, and especially why pagan joy is never that of the soul. Rather, it is the pleasure felt by a traveler returning to his homeland, fervor in spreading false news, rejoicing at a welcome, especially at the good Nile floods, or popular jubilation; hence there is no religious parallel to the NT.

Theological Lexicon of the New Testament at hará

You wanna know why Christians misdefine joy? ’Cause they’re still kinda pagan.

(I have heard people attempt to defend the misdefinition by claiming the root-word of hará is heíro/“be well,” commonly used as a greeting. Of course words evolve, so to say they both kept the very same meaning after centuries of common use (kinda like our English words “hello” and “hail”) is naïve. Watch out whenever somebody tries to claim such things about ancient Greek: They don’t understand how languages work, and aren’t always coming to that conclusion for the noblest of reasons.)

10 October 2018

Are Mormons Christian?

They’re pretty sure they are. And other Christians are pretty sure they’re not. Who’s right?

I’ve written more than once that we’re saved by God’s grace—which means we’re not saved by our orthodoxy. There are a lot of Evangelical Christians who’ve got it into our heads that we’re saved only once we have all the correct beliefs; a situation I call faith righteousness.

Faith righteousness is easily disproven by the fact God saves new Christians. Does any newbie hold all the correct beliefs about God? Of course not; they don’t know anything yet! None of us did. (Some of us still don’t.) But we’re pursuing a relationship with God, and as we screw up time and again, God graciously forgives our deficiencies. Might be moral deficiencies; might be doctrinal deficiencies. Makes no difference. Grace covers all.

Of course, when I teach this, people occasionally wanna know just how far they can push God’s grace. They wanna know just how egregiously they can sin before God finally says, “Nope; you’ve gone too far; you’re going to hell.” Not necessarily because they wanna sin (although let’s be honest; sometimes they totally wanna). The idea of unlimited grace sounds too good to be true. Nobody else offers unlimited grace. Even when commercials claim a company gives you unlimited stuff, there’s always fine print. Always.

Same deal with Christians who are fond of, or fixated upon, doctrines. They wanna know how heretic is too heretic. How far can we go outside the boundaries of historic Christianity before we’re simply not Christian anymore? So they wanna know about groups which call themselves Christian, but embrace heretic beliefs. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are Arian; like the Oneness Pentecostals, who are unitarian; like the Christian Scientists, who believe reality is a mental construct.

So let’s talk about the Mormons.

A small number of ’em aren’t okay with the term “Mormon”; they prefer “Latter-day Saint,” or LDS for short. These tend to be the older Mormons, ’cause back in the 1970s, when I first encountered them, one of their leaders apparently had a hangup about it. (It’s sorta like referring to Christians as “New Testaments.”) Nowaday’s Mormons are used to it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the biggest of the heretic churches. For this reason I interact with plenty of Mormons; we have four of their churches in my city. I first learned what they supposedly believe when I went to Fundamentalist churches, who taught me to shun and fear them. A lot of that was hearsay from ex-Mormons with axes to grind. Since then I went to journalism school, and learned to always go to the source. So I did. Whenever the Mormons wanna evangelize me, I seize the opportunity and ask a ton of questions.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Mormons were kinda secretive about any of their beliefs which were outside the Christian mainstream. (No doubt they were made gunshy by all the hostile Fundies.) I guess somebody in their leadership realized how that came across, and got ’em to cut it out. So now they’ll tell you just about anything you wanna know. Including the weird stuff, which makes ’em a little uncomfortable, but they’re good kids and try to be honest. So if you wanna know about Mormons, don’t be afraid to ask Mormons.

12 June 2018

Joy and the “happy Christian.”

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.