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

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. Because I make resolutions 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. (Though I may procrastinate all the same.)

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 an 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? Not enough fitness? 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. 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 on computers, tablets, phones, or televisions. 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 rave about. Time to watch classic movies instead of whatever Adam Sandler’s production company poops out. Sometimes it’s a clever attempt to avoid cutting back on screen time—’cause they already know they won’t. And sometimes they honestly never think about it; screens are 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. Perhaps read more bible—even 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 resolution stick. It’s why, by mid-March, all these resolutions are 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.

21 December 2016

Peace be unto you.

Too many Christians lack peace, ’cause they’re trusting anything but God to grant it.

God’s into peace. It’s an aspect of his character we really don’t spend enough time on. But it’s a fruit of the Spirit, and something he wishes upon us, his creations, his children—as articulated by his angels when Jesus was born.

Luke 2.13-14 KWL
13 Suddenly there was a large number of the heavenly army with the angel, praising God,
saying, 14 “Glory in the highest heaven to God!
Peace upon the earth to the people he’s pleased with!”

Problem is, we Christians aren’t known for being peaceful.

This may be a fair assessment, and it may be unfair. After all, when Christians aren’t peaceful, it makes the news. When we are peaceful, it might become one of those happy-news stories at the end of the video, or in the back of the newspaper; it might go viral if it’s heartwarming enough. But it doesn’t always. It may very well be we Christians are doing a good job of demonstrating peace, and since the agitated minority gets all the press, we don’t look so good.

Anecdotal experience isn’t proof, but I’ll just say the Christians I know certainly aren’t all that peaceful. They freak out over every little thing. Just last Sunday, one of ’em was telling me that even though every single politician she preferred got elected, she’s still convinced it’s only a matter of time before freedom of religion is banned in the United States, and we won’t even be able to preach Jesus in private. I think she’s been reading too much Hal Lindsey, and she’s hardly alone.

But it’s not even limited to wild End Times fears. When terrorists attack, Christians want ’em dead just as much as any pagan. Lots of us own guns, and not just hunting rifles: When thieves break into our houses, we expect to shoot ’em dead same as any other vengeful homeowner. We claim it’s for self-defense and we’re being realistic and practical, but (unless we’ve got an even more twisted longing to shoot a bad guy and enjoy the experience of justifiable homicide) it’s really because we believe peace will only come once we destroy the things we fear. Or at least build giant walls to keep ’em out.

So I have serious doubts that peaceful Christians are a vast but silent majority. More than likely, they’re a tiny minority. (And I say “they’re” because neither am I as peaceful as I oughta be.)

13 October 2016

The supernatural without the Spirit’s fruit.

Yeah, contrary to popular belief, bad Christians can work actual miracles.

1 Corinthians 13.1-3

If phony supernaturalism irritates you, you’re hardly alone. It annoys me too. Just because I believe in the supernatural, a lot of folks expect I’ll believe any stupid thing. Those who don’t believe in the supernatural at all, presume I believe in every single one of the outrageous behaviors we find in the loonier fringes of Pentecostalism. Those who do believe in the supernatural expect me to accept their appalling behavior as legitimate—and are very annoyed when I won’t.

But I can’t. Jesus warned us there’d be frauds out there. He told us to keep our eyes open, look out for them, and judge whether they’re legit or not. And some of these self-described apostles, prophets, healers, and ministers are simply frauds. People always try to make counterfeits of something valuable. It’s our duty as Christians to test these would-be miracle workers, see whether there’s anything to them—and call them out when there’s not.

How do we test them? Exactly the same way we test any Christian: By their fruits.

Nope, there’s not a special supernatural litmus test, requiring the gift of prophetic discernment—though it wouldn’t hurt. It’s precisely the same test we apply to every Christian. No fruit, no Holy Spirit. Doesn’t matter how impressive their miracles are. Doesn’t matter how much they look like the real thing.

In fact it doesn’t matter if they are the real thing. The Spirit may empower the miracles, but if they’re fruitless people with fruitless ministries, stay away.

Wait, the Spirit empowering fruitless people? Yep. The apostles even said so.

Right after that bit in 1 Corinthians about striving for greater supernatural gifts, the apostles mention an outstanding way to do it. Then they started talking about love. “The love chapter,” as 1 Corinthians 13 is called. But darn near every Christian takes it out of context and forgets it’s about supernatural gifts—and misses the point of this little passage at the start of the chapter.

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

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

But again: People fixate on the “I’m nobody” parts, and forget this hypothetical apostle is still doing the supernatural acts. ’Cause the Holy Spirit still let ’em do it.

06 October 2016

Get ahold of yourself!

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Now, notice that word “self” in there?

As I wrote recently, a lot of Christians assume the Spirit’s fruit just spontaneously grows in our lives. Comes from a combination of laziness and bad theology.

One of the indications the fruit isn’t spontaneous is the last fruit Paul listed in Galatians 5.22-23. In the KJV it’s called “temperance.” In most other bibles it’s “self-control.”

Comes from the Greek word enkráteia. The krátia part means government, like in dimokratía/“people[-run] government,” democracy; plutokratía/“wealthy[-run] government,” plutocracy; or theokratía/“God[-run] government,” theocracy. The en part of the word means “inside”: Self-government. You govern yourself.

I know; you thought it’d be God-controlled or Spirit-controlled. Some Christians even try to stretch en to mean “the Holy Spirit inside,” so that it is ultimately Spirit-controlled. Nope. Paul could’ve made it explicit the Spirit is working us like a hand puppet, and didn’t. Self-controlled. God isn’t so incapable a creator he has to work us like puppets. Sovereignty doesn’t work like that. God told us what he wants of us. Fruitful Christians don’t look for excuses not to obey him. We get hold of ourselves, tap the power the Spirit grants us to do as he told us, and go and do.

Lazy Christians don’t believe in self-control. They think enkrátia doesn’t mean we do anything; they assume the Holy Spirit’s gonna reprogram us. He’s gonna replace our self-centered human nature with something godlike. We’re supernaturally gonna want to sin less. We’ll become good, without any further effort on our own part.

If that were the case, Paul’s inner war with his depraved human nature makes no sense. Why’s he in such turmoil when the Holy Spirit granted him the fruit of self-control?

Romans 7.14-20 KWL
14 We’ve known the Law is spiritual—and I am fleshly, sold into sin’s slavery.
15 I do things I don’t understand. I don’t want to do them. I hate what I do.
16 Since I don’t want to do them, I agree: The Law is good.
17 Now, it’s no longer I who do these things, but the sin which inhabits me.
18 I know nothing living in me, namely in my flesh, is good.
The will, but not the ability, exists in me to do good.
19 I don’t do the good I want. I do the evil I don’t want.
20 If I don’t want to do them, it’s not so much me doing them, as the sin which inhabits me.

If self-control were nothing more than the Spirit’s reprogramming, there’s no need whatsoever for all God’s commands to quit sinning and behave yourself. Right? We’d do it automatically. We’d see a quantifiable drop in the amount of sinning we commit. Christians should sin way less than pagans do.

But the reality is we sin just as much. Survey after survey (in the United States, anyway), shows in practice, we aren’t morally better. Our temperance sucks. And since the Holy Spirit isn’t broken, the responsibility lies with us. We’re not practicing self-control. Just the opposite.

Heck, how many times have you seen Christians beg God for temperance? “God, my life is so undisciplined. I’m making an utter mess of things. Please take it over. I surrender my life and my will to you.” We’ve even included this idea in most versions of the sinner’s prayer. It’s the correct attitude. It’s just it’s not how God works. He wants us to obey. To resist temptation. To choose his path. To seize control of our thoughts and emotions.

He wants a loving relationship with followers. If he wanted machines he’d have built some.

28 September 2016

Spontaneous fruit?

The Spirit’s fruit won’t grow in Christians who won’t cultivate it.

There are a lot of fruitless Christians out there.

Why is this? Laziness, mainly. People, especially when they’re from wealthy countries, just wanna sit on their rear ends and receive. That’s what they think Christianity consists of: Since Jesus took care of our sins for us, they presume he takes care of everything for us. We don’t need to do any heavy lifting whatsoever. It’s all monergism: God does all the work, and we do absolutely nothing.

  • Instead of resisting temptation and obeying God’s commands, we have cheap grace.
  • Instead of demonstrating we’re Christians by our love, Jn 13.35 we demonstrate it by rattling off our statements of faith.
  • Instead of pursing a continual relationship with God, we say the sinner’s prayer, and figure that’ll do us till kingdom come.
  • Instead of testimonies about what God’s currently doing in our lives, we tell the same old 30-year-old come-to-Jesus story, and figure that’s the only testimony we need.
  • Instead of going to church, and becoming an integral part of that support system, we find a church where we only need bother attend 60 to 90 minutes a week. Or not, ’cause now they stream their services on their website. No, we won’t be awake then, but we can watch it later, like from Starbucks. Isn’t technology wonderful?
  • Instead of sharing Jesus, we share Facebook memes.
  • Instead of tithing, we offer lots of moral support. And hey, there’s more where that came from.
  • Instead of reading our bibles… nah, we don’t offer any substitute. We just don’t read it. We did watch that The Bible miniseries when it was on Netflix, though.

When it comes to fruit of the Spirit, we figure it works the very same way as salvation. God does all the work; we do all the receiving. When we become Christians, we suddenly just… grow fruit! All on its own.

Yep, I’ve even heard testimonies about it. “So one day, after I became a Christian, I got into an argument with a co-worker, and he just made me so angry, I was gonna take him out back and punch his lights out. I did that sort of thing all the time before I became a Christian, y’know. Just curb-stomped people. But for some reason—I really can’t explain it!—I didn’t wanna beat the sauce out of him. I just felt this weird, peaceful feeling. I felt love for that guy. I can only think it came from God.”

Now, a lot of fruitless Christians lie about what constitutes “fruit” in their lives, so I wouldn’t put it past ’em to lie in their testimonies. God’s fruit of love isn’t typified by the fact he keeps us from a rage-induced act of felony battery by spontaneously turning us gay. Yes, God can do such things if he wanted, but it’s far more likely our latté got roofied.

And there are red flags aplenty in the testimonies of fruitless Christians. Love doesn’t look like love, kindness ain’t all that kind, joy is just a bit evil, and I’ve met pagans with way more patience. Fact is, they’re describing the one moral victory they experienced, within a lifetime of capitulation and doing as comes naturally. This isn’t their habitual fruit of the Spirit. They have no such thing. That’s why they constructed whole stories about these rare exceptions.

Real fruit isn’t a rare exception. And it doesn’t come naturally. We don’t “just change.” We obey God. That’s the soil the Spirit’s fruit grows in. No soil? No fruit.

19 September 2016

When our anger gets us into trouble.

Because people respond to anger with reciprocity, or worse. Not grace.

Matthew 5.21-26 • Luke 12.57-59

In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, after explaining he’s not come to do away with the Law, he proceeded to give his commentary on the Law. These are the bits which follow the pattern of “You heard this said... and I tell you.”

Typically bibles translate Jesus’s followup as “But I tell you.” (KJV, NIV, ESV, NLT, etc.) It’s because the generic Greek conjunction de, which is meant to connect sentences to one another, can be translated…

  • “And” if it’s connecting similar ideas.
  • “But” if it’s contrasting dissimilar ideas.
  • “Or” if it’s comparing options.
  • “Then” if it’s showing a sequence of ideas.

Yep, it can be translated whatever way the interpreter thinks would make the clearest English. But really it’s got no more meaning than a semicolon. (I’d even translate it that way… if it didn’t wind up producing giant run-on sentences.)

Here’s the problem: Interpreter bias. When we correctly recognize Jesus isn’t throwing out Old Testament commands and replacing (or significantly updating) them with his; when we realize he’s explaining the LORD’s (i.e. his) original intent when he handed ’em down, we’re gonna translate de generically. Sometimes “and,” sometimes a semicolon, sometimes we’ll drop it ’cause it’s redundant.

But. If we incorrectly believe Jesus is inaugurating a new dispensation—or we at least think Jesus is trying to add to the Law, despite Moses telling the Hebrews they don’t get to do this Dt 4.2 —we’re gonna wind up with the usual “but.” True, interpreters may only mean Jesus is just expounding on the idea—“You oversimplified it this way, but here’s what this really means”—dispensationalists can still claim the “but” backs their bad theology. So I went with the simplest option, and dropped de as redundant.

On to Jesus’s lesson. In Matthew he began his commentary on the Law with the “Don’t murder” command from the Ten Commandments.

Matthew 5.21-24 KWL
21 “You heard this said to the ancients: ‘You will not murder.’ Ex 20.13, Dt 5.17
Whoever murders will be subject to judgment.
22 And I tell you this: Everybody angry with their sibling will be subject to judgment.
Whoever tells their sibling, ‘You dumbass,’ will be subject to the Senate.
Whoever says, ‘You moron,’ will be subject to a trash-heap of fire.
23 So when you bring your gift to God’s altar,
when you remember your sibling has anything against you,
24 leave your gift there, in front of God’s altar.
First go make up with your sibling. Then come back and bring your gift.”

Popularly, this passage is interpreted all kinds of wrong. Namely it’s explained, “Hating your fellow Christian” (or hating anyone) “is just as bad as murder. Because you’ve spiritually killed them.”

Yeah, it’s in that way where “spiritual” means “imaginary.” You were so angry with ’em, you killed them in your mind. You imagined them dead. Maybe even imagined you killed ’em. For extra fun, maybe imagined it was gruesome, painful, slow torture. In any event the usual Christian teaching is you were bad for doing that, and should feel bad.

Then we wonder why so many Christians feel incredibly guilty all the time. It’s because we’ve basically taught them that whenever they’re tempted, whenever we permit one of these fleeting violent or vengeful thoughts to pop into our heads, it’s sin.

No it’s not sin. It’s temptation. And everybody gets tempted.

01 August 2016

Gentleness: Take charge of your emotions!

“Gentle” doesn’t mean “nice.” It means, like a well-trained horse, you don’t spook easily.

When Christians go through Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians—love, joy, peace, etcetera Ga 5.22-23 —we tend to skip gentleness. ’Cause we figure it’s just a synonym of kindness. Gentle people are kind, right? Gentle Jesus is meek and mild, according to Charles Wesley’s hymn; we assume gentleness is therefore meekness and mildness. Nice, friendly people.

Or gentle people are patient. They handle others softly, not roughly. Like the washing machine on the gentle cycle: Treats your clothes softly and tenderly, kinda like the way Jesus is calling, “Oh sinner, come home” in Will Thompson’s hymn.

What’re the chances I’m gonna tell you both those definitions are incorrect? Better than average.

The word Paul used for gentleness is prahýtis. It describes someone who’s prahýs/“gentle.” In classical Greek literature, it’s used to describe people or animals who were angry, sad, or fearful… but they got control of themselves.

  • In Homer’s Hymn to Hermes, Apollo was enraged, but let music make him gentle. 417
  • In Hesiod’s Works and Days, stubborn mules were made tame, or gentle. 797
  • In Aeschylus’s Persians, Xerxes tried to gentle a team of horses, 190 and Darius advised Atossa to use gentle words to soothe her grieving son. 837
  • In Pindar’s Pythian Odes, Hero was “gentle to his citizens.” 3.71
  • And in the Septuagint, Moses was more gentle than anyone, Nu 12.3 in contrast to his angry brother and sister. Nu 12.1-2

The term refers to someone who’s emotionally stable. You know, like a wild horse that’s been broken, who doesn’t buck every unfamiliar rider, or freak out at every odd thing it encounters. Like a tame animal who’s not passive and quiet one moment, then tearing through your throat the next.

Unlike some humans. And some Christians.

The ancient Greeks highly praised gentility. Gentle rulers weren’t emotion-driven despots, who’d freak out whenever you tweeted something they don’t like. They weren’t easily outraged—which, I remind you, is a work of the flesh. They weren’t thrown into panic, frenzy, depression, or euphoria, at the smallest things. They weren’t quick to sorrow, despair, rejoice, or ecstasy. Like I said, stable.

God’s that way too: Gracious, merciful, slow to anger, quick to forgive. Jl 2.13 Stands to reason it’s a fruit of the Spirit: All those fruits are God’s traits. If we follow his Spirit, we’re gonna take on his attitudes, behaviors, and emotional stability. We’re gonna be gentle like God is. We might feel excitement, rage, sadness, zeal, all sorts of emotions—but we’re never gonna let ’em take over our lives, and lead us to do something sinful. We are in control. Never our emotions.

26 May 2016

Joy.

Are you truly happy? ’Cause the Holy Spirit wants you to be.

Joy /dʒɔɪ/ n. Feeling of great happiness and pleasure.
[Joyful /'dʒɔɪ.fəl/ adj.; joyous /'dʒɔɪ.əs/ adj.]

You’d think I wouldn’t need to include a definition of joy before writing on the subject. You’d be wrong. Not everyone agrees with, or even approves of, this definition.

Joy’s a feeling. An emotion. A positive emotion, one which God wants us to feel. He wants us to experience joy on a regular basis. He wants us to be filled with pleasure and happiness. It’s how his kingdom’s meant to be. No more tears; Rv 7.17 nothing but joy.

But there are a large number of joyless Christians who claim it’s not a feeling of happiness; it’s not an emotion whatsoever. Instead it’s a “state of well-being.” Once you decide, regardless of your circumstances, you’re gonna be okay with things—despite suffering, chaos, or general suckitude, you’re gonna tamp down those feelings of despair and just tough it out—that’s joy. God gives us the power to slog out any circumstances, and psyche ourselves into feeling hope instead of despair. Jm 1.2

Yeah… that’s not joy they’re describing. It’s patience.

And patience—or if you wanna call it by its King James Version word, “longsuffering” Ga 5.22 KJV —isn’t a bad thing. It’s likewise a fruit of the Spirit. It’s an attribute of love. 1Co 13.4 But it’s not joy.

This redefintion has even slipped into dictionaries. One of my Greek dictionaries defines hará/“joy” as “gladness, cheerfulness”—which is correct; or “a state of being calmly happy or well-off”—and no it’s not.

Bust out your concordance and look up all the instances of hará/“joy,” number 5479 in Strong’s dictionary, and you’re gonna find joy hardly sounds like being content no matter the circumstances. Sounds more like being tremendously happy because of circumstances. Here’s a bunch of examples from the New Testament.

Luke 1.13-15 KWL
13B “Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son, and you’ll name him John.
14 He’ll be happiness and joy to you,
and many will rejoice at his birth, 15A for he’ll be great before the Lord.”
John 3.29 KWL
“The groom’s the one with the bride.
The groom’s friend, joyfully standing and listening, rejoices at the groom’s voice.
So this joy of mine is full.”
Luke 10.17 KWL
The 72 students returned with joy, saying, “Master, even demons submitted to us in your name!”
Luke 15.7 KWL
“I tell you, because of it there’s joy in heaven—over one repenting sinner.
More so than over 99 moral people who don’t need to repent.”

26 April 2016

Bad fruit: The “works of the flesh.”

St. Paul didn’t even wanna call them “fruit.” That’s how bad they are.

In his letter to Galatia, before he even got to the Spirit’s fruit, Paul made another list of the érga tis sarkós/“works of the flesh.” Ga 5.19 It’s not the Spirit’s fruit; it’s our fruit. Fruit gone wrong. Rotten fruit. He didn’t even wanna call it 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.

Here’s the disturbing thing: You know Christians who are totally doing such things. The weed-smoking Christian who’s never not high. The partisan Christian who’s pretty sure if you’re in the opposition party, you can’t be Christian. The Christian who doesn’t mind lying, cheating, and stealing, so long that “the bad guys” get theirs. The Christian who hates how that other church in town has all the members and all the resources, and never misses an opportunity to knock ’em down a few pegs. The Christians who can’t stop going to concerts, conferences, celebrations—all of ’em Christian, but all of ’em distracting these folks from real life. And of course the angry Christian.

I could give you loads more examples. You could probably give me a few too. Heck, we might even be doing ’em ourselves.

Yet we figure, “We’re saved by God’s grace, right? Not good works. Agreed, these ‘works of the flesh’ aren’t good—but if I indulge in them, I’m still covered by the blood of Jesus. Still going to heaven. Still saved.”

No, not really. ’Cause that’s not how God’s grace works. His grace is for people who are trying to follow him. Christians who indulge in works of the flesh? Ain’t trying. Often trying to hide how they ain’t trying. They have plenty of interest in Christianism, but little to none in the actual kingdom, or our king. They won’t inherit it because they don’t actually want it. If they did, they’d try—and then God would embrace and save ’em.

So those Christians who indulge in fleshly works? They’re in the same boat as the pagans who indulge in fleshly works. Doesn’t matter how many times they’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer. They’re not transforming, not repenting, have no new nature, have no relationship. No evidence of the Spirit in their lives. Ergo no saving grace.

Big problem, but simple solution: Repent! Seek God while he may be found. Go get saved.

Okay, while those people are off saying the sinner’s prayer again (or they’re still in heavy denial, or trying to drown their consciences with another glass of wine) let’s analyze the works of the flesh in a bit more detail.

11 April 2016

The seven deadly sins.

They are actually condemned in the bible. It’s just there isn’t a handy list of ’em in there.

The “seven deadly sins” confuse a lot of people.

Back in 2008, a rumor started making its rounds through the press that the Vatican just declared there were seven more deadly sins. It call came from an interview with Gianfranco Girotti, the head bishop of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary. (I know; it sounds like the Vatican prison, but it’s really not. It’s actually the group of Catholic theologians who handle questions about sin, repentance, and forgiveness.) Anyway, in the interview with L’Osservatore Romano on 7 March 2008, he listed certain present-day practices which he believes have a harmful global impact:

  • Pollution
  • Drug trafficking
  • Research which destroys embryos
  • Other morally unethical human experiments
  • Abortion
  • Pedophilia
  • Economic injustice

Somehow this got converted into “The Vatican announced there are new sins!” And since your average reporter (lapsed Catholics included) know bupkis about the seven deadly sins, they just assumed now there were 14. Littering, a form of pollution, was now gonna send you to hell.

Like I said, they confuse people.

Most people figure they’re a Roman Catholic thing. And they kinda are; even though they predate Protestantism, for the most part only Catholics teach on ’em. For as we all know, Protestants, especially Fundamentalists, consider way more things to be deadly sins than just the seven. Like capitalizing “Satan” or voting for the wrong political party.

Loads of people think the seven deadly sins are in the bible. I’ve heard Protestants claim they’re in Catholic bibles. The list isn’t, but of course the sins are: You’re gonna find passages—in all bibles, not just special Catholic editions—which rebuke these attitudes and the behaviors they cause.

And whether you’re Catholic or not, you might wanna know about them. So here’s the list, in convenient chart form.

DEADLY SINLATINOUT-OF-CONTROL DESIREOPPOSITE VIRTUE
1.Lecheryluxuria/“sexual lust”For sex. Cl 3.5Purity
2.GluttonygulaFor food, drink, intoxicants. Ek 16.49Moderation
3.Greedavaritia/“avarice”For money, wealth, possessions. Ep 5.3Generosity
4.Lazinessacedia/“sloth, discouragement”To evade responsibility, avoid work, stay uninvolved. Mt 25.26Integrity
5.Wrathira/“anger”To fight, take revenge, act out of rage or bitterness. Ep 4.32Meekness
6.Envyinvidia/“begrudge”To covet, be jealous. Mk 7.22Kindness
7.Pridesuperbia/“magnificence”To exalt oneself: Self-praise, self-promotion. Mt 7.22Humility

What makes ’em deadly? Well, they’re works of the flesh. And those who choose a lifestyle of works of the flesh will not inherit God’s kingdom. Ga 5.21 Their lifestyle implies they’re not saved: They don’t have the Holy Spirit indwelling them, making ’em fruitful, making ’em not want to sin, getting them to reject the sort of lifestyle which burps up deadly sins.

06 March 2016

Be kind. For once.

Christians know better than to pass off certain things as love… but we often overlook this thing.

We Christians don’t have a reputation for being kind. More like a reputation for being easily outraged, quick to judge, holier than thou, shunning, condemning, impatient, unforgiving buttholes. And if you were immediately offended by my using that word, you just proved my point: Our bad reputation is totally deserved.

What’s with all the Christian jerks? Largely it’s our lack of love. Love is kind, 1Co 13.4 but we Christians largely substitute the charitable, unconditional love of God, for the vastly inferior substitute: The sort of love which expects payback or reciprocity. We only love the worthy, not the undeserving; we only love good people, not sinners. Our so-called “love” has no real connection to grace.

And that’s a huge problem. Hristótis, the Greek word we translate “kindness,” Ga 5.22 actually means “graciousness.” True, kindness involves being friendly, generous, and considerate, like our culture defines kindness. But it’s much more: It’s the grace of God, in action. It’s one of God’s character traits, i.e. a fruit of the Spirit. When we’re kind, we’re practicing God’s grace.

When we’re unkind, we’re still fuming over my unexpectedly dropping the B-word, and plan to write an angry email… and then never, ever read this blog again. And feel totally justified in such behavior. Grace and kindness is for people who don’t deliberately use TV-safe profanities. Fr’instance people who accidentally use ’em… ’cause they don’t know any better, or they were stressed out or something. But they need to clean up their act, and stop doing it. Three strikes and they’re out. (Which is less than half of Simon Peter’s seven strikes, and way less than Jesus’s 490. Mt 18.21-22)

When we’re kind, we’re gonna be gracious, friendly, generous, humble, courteous—and nice. Yeah, I know plenty of Christians who are quick to point out kind and nice aren’t the same thing: Niceness is entirely about getting along with other people. And frequently people will lie, deceive, stifle their opinions, compromise their standards, or choose other evils, just to get along with others. They’ll be nice hypocrites.

I say we don’t have to deceive people to be nice to them: Why can’t we just be good for a change? Be better, more agreeable, more forgiving, more patient?

Besides, pagans are looking for niceness. They may not have any organized religious belief system, but most of ’em firmly do believe nice people are closer to God than mean people. So when they finally do start looking at religion, they try the nice ones first. The nice cults. The nice heretics. The nice con artists, who’ll lead them away, fleece the very clothes off ’em, and abandon them to hell.

Seems to me, if all it takes to win people over is to be nice to them, why are we objecting to niceness? Why is being a thorn in everyone’s side, so fundamental to our integrity?

14 February 2016

Love and romance.

Is romance appropriate for Christians? Within the appropriate context, absolutely.

I’m posting this article on Valentine’s Day, the day named for several ancient martyrs named Valentine: Bishop Valentinus of Terni, Presbyter Valentinus of Rome, Valentinus of Raetia, Valentinus of Genoa, Valentinus the hermit, and Valentinus of North Africa. All their stories and myths got frapped together… and nobody cares about ’em anyway, ’cause Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday. It’s meant to get people to buy stuff, or make various other expensive materialistic declarations of love, for the person they’re currently boning.

By “love” I mean one of the eight definitions of love. On Valentine’s Day, among Christians who know charity is the ideal sort of love the scriptures point to, there might be some expressions of that: They love their partners with godly love. They want the best for their loved ones, even if that means sacrificing themselves. They expect nothing in return; it’s not a love which expects, even demands, reciprocity. They really do love like God does. Or strive to.

But Valentine’s Day isn’t at all about that sort of love. It’s about the romantic sort. It’s what the ancient Greeks meant by éros, the desire one has for the objects of their affection or infatuation, the desire lovers have for one another. (Éros is where we get our English word erotic.)

C.S. Lewis spent a quarter of his 1960 book The Four Loves on éros, and when Christians speak on love, a lot of times we likewise spend a chunk of time discussing éros. Although what we tend to do is bash it.

  1. First we define it as romantic love, erotic love, or lust.
  2. Then we point out éros isn’t in the bible. (’Cause it’s not. Neither in the New Testament, nor the Septuagint.) It’s just a different Greek word for a concept we translate as “love”—which is all Lewis was writing about anyway. He was a classics scholar, after all; not a bible scholar.
  3. Then spend the rest of our sermon railing against éros for not being godly love, the agápi Paul defined in 1 Corinthians 13.

Expect all that to be part of nearly every Valentine’s Day sermon. Oh wait; let me throw in an extra bonus point:

  1. Some preachers will insist éros and romance aren’t any sort of “love.” Therefore we should only use the word “love” to mean agápi, to mean having patience and kindness and self-control and gentleness and all that other stuff Paul wrote. Romance isn’t love. Lust certainly isn’t love. So when people incorrectly use the word “love” to describe such things, correct ’em. “That’s romance. That’s lust. Not love. Real love is agápi.”

Sound about right?

But if you actually read The Four Loves you’ll notice Lewis didn’t define éros as romance or lust.

14 January 2016

What passes for love among Christians.

Christians know better than to pass off certain things as love… but we often overlook this thing.

So yesterday I mentioned a fifth Greek word for love which C.S. Lewis overlooked for his 1960 book The Four Loves. I only discovered it ’cause I was poking through my bible software’s Greek dictionary. It tends to be translated as other things, which is why most people, Lewis included, might not translate it as “love.”

ξενία (xenía) /zɛ'ni.ɑ/ fem. n. Welcoming attitude towards a guest; receptiveness, hospitality, love for strangers.
2. A guestroom. Ac 28.23, Pm 1.22

Ever heard the myth of Philemon and Baucis? (You oughta; it explains exactly why the Lystrans started worshiping Barnabas and Paul. Ac 14.8-18) They were a old married couple, and one day two strangers visited their farm; they showed them such hospitality, the strangers rewarded them for it by rescuing them from a flood. Turned out the strangers were the gods Zeus and Hermes. The Greeks loved to tell this story as an example of how we need to be hospitable to everyone—for you might be entertaining gods unawares. Or as the author of Hebrews reworded it, angels. He 13.2 KJV

The reason why xenía/“hospitality” isn’t straight-up agápi/“charity,” the sort of love we oughta be practicing, Ga 5.22 is because of the motive for hospitality: Reciprocity. (Or karma, as people call it.) Be hospitable, and people will be hospitable back. Maybe out of gratitude they’ll even give us some extra reward. Maybe not, but at least they should say thank you. Regardless we should expect something in return, otherwise those people we were loving to, were jerks who didn’t deserve anything from us.

Y’see, hospitality isn’t unconditional love. It’s entirely conditional.

13 January 2016

Love.

I had to resist the temptation to title this after one of many, many musical clichés.

My pastor likes to sing Foreigner’s 1984 song, “I Want to Know What Love Is.” He thinks it’s a good example of how the wider American culture really doesn’t know what love is. He’s not wrong. When we hear people speaking of love—in movies, in songs, on talk shows, analyzed in books—it usually falls under one of eight categories.

Seriously, eight. A lot of Christians know about C.S. Lewis’s 1960 book The Four Loves. Haven’t read it, but they sure do know about it, which is why a lot of them are mighty surprised when I bring up eight loves. “Thought there were only four.” Nope. In The Four Loves Lewis went through four ancient Greek words—storgí, fílos, éros, and agápi— which we translate “love,” then analyzed those concepts from the point of view of—I’m gonna be blunt now—a rather bookish introvert who’s read more poetry than gone on dates. I expect this book would’ve been way different after Lewis’s marriage.

There’s actually a fifth ancient Greek word, xenía, which Lewis overlooked. It’s kind of an important concept, and I included it in the list below, as #5. But Lewis’s four first.

  1. Affection (storgí), the “natural love” we feel towards familiar people—how parents feel towards their kids, childhood friends feel towards one another, people feel towards friendly neighbors, owners feel towards pets.
  2. Friendship (fílos), the “love” we feel for people who share our interests—we like doing certain things with them, and like them because of it.
  3. Romance (éros), “being in love”—the intense pleasure taken in another person. Ranges from harmless crushes, to the extreme cases of lust and obsession—which see #8.
  4. Charity (agápi), unconditional, benevolent, self-sacrificing, gracious love. The sort of love God is, 1Jn 4.8, 16 the sort of love the Spirit grows in us, Ga 5.22 the love Paul describes. 1Co 13.4-8 “Biblical love.”
  5. Hospitality (xenía), conditional love, or as I like to call it, fake love. Looks exactly like charity. But it expects to be compensated—with gratitude at the least, profit at the most.
  6. Favoritism, the love we have for favorite things: Beloved foods, clothes, TV shows, cities we visit, sports, songs, musicians, politicians, etc.
  7. Narcissism, the love we have for ourselves, which comes from our self-preservation instinct. Can be used as a gauge of how we oughta love others, Lv 19.18 but more often than not turns into pure selfishness.
  8. Infatuation, lust or obsessive love. Whenever any of the above escalates into the jealous desire to possess the one they love. By this point outsiders, disturbed by how it looks, try to call this anything but love, but the infatuated person still calls it love.

Your own dictionary and thesaurus will likely list more than eight definitions. You may even look at my categories and figure I could’ve lumped them together even more. (Or less.) That’s fair. Some do overlap. Debate it all you like. My point is to show you the many things we English-speakers mean by “love.”

09 December 2015

True compassion: Offer help, not just advice.

There’s a good reason we call advice “my two cents.” It’s often as worthless.

Hebrews 4.14-16 KWL
14 Since we have a great head priest who passed through the heavens—Jesus, God’s son—
we should hold sway by agreeing with him:
15 We don’t have a head priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses.
He was tested by everything just the same—and passed the test sinlessly.
16 So we should come to his gracious throne boldly:
We should receive mercy. We should find the grace to help us in time.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit reflects the thinking and attitude of the Spirit, those traits of his which oughta come pouring out of the people he lives within. And which are invisible, or nearly so, in the people he’s not within—or they’ve figured out a way to fake ’em.

Compassion, the ability to feel for other people, to sympathize with what they’re going through, to want to be gracious and helpful to them, is definitely a Christlike trait. Conversely its lack is definitely an antichristlike trait. Christians will care; antichrists won’t. Christians will reach out when people have need; antichrists will figure those people aren’t their problem… till they start affecting property values or taxes. Or if people who lack compassion wanna look good to the public, or get tax breaks, they figure maybe they should help those people; maybe not exactly the way those people want, but what do they know? If they knew better they wouldn’t be needy. Beggars shouldn’t be choosers anyway.

I’ve worked in a few different charities, and saw firsthand the differing attitudes of the religious and irreligious folks who worked there. In the Christians you’d see the other fruit of the Spirit come out: Patience, kindness, joy, love. In the irreligious Christians and the pagans, frustration, harshness, sarcasm, coldness. “These people. God. They’re so pathetic. Why should we have to help them? Why can’t they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Best thing for them. Makes ’em independent. Makes ’em tough and hard. Like me.”

Yeah, I’ve met a lot of not-so-compassionate people in the church, offering their frigid sort of “comfort” to the suffering. I’ve been the recipient of some of it.

29 October 2015

He lives within your heart.

Oh, you thought I was talking about Jesus, huh? Nope. Lots of Christians get that one wrong, too.

Indwell /ɪn'dwɛl/ v. Be permanently present in someone [namely their soul or mind]. Possess spiritually.
[Indweller /ɪn'dwɛl'ər/ n.]

Only Christians use the word “indwell” anymore, so it’s pretty much our word. You’re not gonna find anyone talking about how they indwell their apartment. Or how there are mice indwelling the walls. Nope, it’s pretty much a word we Christians use to describe a spirit living in someone. Either it’s a demon possessing a demoniac, or the Holy Spirit living in a Christian.

I know evangelists like to tell people, “If you invite him, Jesus will come live in your heart,” and I know popular hymns go, “He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today… you ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart.” I also know those folks are mixing up their persons of the trinity. It’s not Jesus who lives in my heart; he’s too busy at the right hand of the Father, advocating for his followers on our behalf. Ro 8.34

In fact it’s the Spirit who lives in my heart. And yours, and every Christian’s. From the instant we turned to Jesus, from the instant God identifies us as his children, the Holy Spirit enters our lives, and is sealed to us as collateral—proof we really will receive the kingdom Jesus promised. Ep 1.13-14 What better proof do we need? God himself lives within us.

Jesus told his students once he left, the Holy Spirit would come, and take Jesus’s place in their lives. Jn 14.15-21 He’d be their adviser. He’d remind them of everything Jesus taught, and educate them in new stuff. Jn 14.26 And after Jesus was resurrected, he baptized them in the Spirit Jn 20.21-22 —to lead them, empower them, and get ’em to build this kingdom God’s so interested in. To construct them, along with all Christians, into what we call “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” 1Co 3.16-17

So when the Spirit came, he came to indwell us. Live in us. Not just hang around us, and pitch in when we need his help. ’Cause we always need his help.

28 October 2015

How to fake the fruit of the Spirit.

Why bother to actually follow the Holy Spirit’s lead when it’s way easier to become an expert hypocrite?

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.

17 September 2015

Jesus prefers his Christians fruity.

How do we know we’re saved? Fruit of the Spirit. Seriously.

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.
When you don’t stay in me, you never produce.
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 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, ask! It’ll happen for you.
8 My Father is glorified by it when you produce a lot of fruit,
and become my students.”

Yes, I know what “fruity” tends to mean in our culture. No, I don’t care. I’m taking the word back. Fruity fruity fruity.

Fruit is a metaphor we see all over the New Testament for behavior. The way Jesus described it, if you’re a “good tree,” you produce “good fruit,” and a “rotten tree” produces “bad fruit.” Mt 7.17 Paul didn’t care to even call bad behavior “fruit,” preferring “works of the flesh.” Ga 5.19 But the scriptures’ general idea is there’s good fruit and bad. Either we’re fruity in one way or the other.

What about no fruit? Well, as you just read in the quote above, those who “won’t stay in me,” who produce no fruit—nothing God can use, anyway—are getting tossed into fire. Jesus has another story about a tree which produced no fruit, which was given one more year before getting chopped down. Lk 13.6-8 Being fruitless is functionally the same as producing bad fruit. God wants fruit.

If we really follow Jesus, our lifestyle should be super-fruity. Filled with godly things and christlike behavior. Filled with proof of God’s activity in our lives: We should have God’s character traits, which Paul called “fruit of the Spirit.” Ga 5.22 We should also see some supernatural stuff—prophecies and miracles and healings and so forth. ’Cause God’s kingdom isn’t all talk and philosophy. It’s God’s power. 1Co 4.19 Stuff happens when God’s among us. But if he’s not, it doesn’t.