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

02 January 2024

Jesus wants us Christians to be fruity.

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 Christ Jesus describes it, if you’re a good tree, you produce good fruit, and a rotten tree produces bad fruit. I’ll quote him:

Luke 6.43-45 NRSVue
43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

His apostle Paul didn’t care to even call bad behavior “fruit,” preferring to call ’em “works of the flesh.” Ga 5.19 But the scriptures’ general idea is there’s good fruit and bad. People are fruity in one way or the other.

And if we’re truly following Jesus, we should see the good stuff. Right?

John 15.1-8 NRSVue
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

In the quote above, it sounds like it’s possible to produce no fruit, good or bad. Which isn’t better. Jesus tells another story about a fruitless tree:

Luke 13.6-9 NRSVue
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the man working the vineyard, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Those who produce no fruit—nothing God can use, anyway—are getting disposed of. “Gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned,” is how Jesus put it. Jn 15.6 Being fruitless is functionally the same as producing bad fruit. God wants fruit!

So if we truly follow Jesus, we oughta be super fruity. Our lifestyles should be filled with christlike behavior. Filled with proof of God’s influence on our lives: We should share his character traits, which Paul called “fruit of the Spirit.” Ga 5.22

And yeah, to some degree we should also see some supernatural stuff. Like miracles, prophecy, healing, and so forth, ’cause God’s kingdom isn’t all about philosophy and talk, but God’s power. 1Co 4.19 Stuff happens when God’s among us. But when he’s not—’cause we won’t include him and never bother to follow him—stuff doesn’t happen, and fruit isn’t visible.

So when a person claims to be Christian, claims to follow Jesus, yet their lifestyle is no different than any pagan who has no relationship with God at all—worse, if they’re jerks, or downright evil, and try to justify their dark behavior and beliefs with Christian-sounding excuses—we’re dealing with hypocrites at best, antichrists at worst. Fakes either way.

27 September 2023

Partisanship is a work of the flesh.

In Paul’s list of works of the flesh in Galatians, one of the words he used is ἐριθεῖαι/epitheíe. The King James Version translates it as “strife;” the ESV went with “rivalries,” and the NIV and NASB with “selfish ambition.” I translate it “partisanship.”

No, I didn’t translate it this way because I wanna rebuke partisanship, and needed a bible verse to back me up. I got it out of Greek dictionaries when I translated this Galatians passage years ago. I’ll quote ’em for you. My Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon has this:

ἘΡΙ̅ΘΕΊΑ epiθ'eɪ.ɑ noun. Labor for wages. Hesychius, “Lexicography”
2. Canvassing for public office. Intriguing. Aristotle, “Politics.”
3. Selfish or factious ambition. Jm 3.14, Pp 1.17 Intrigues, party squabbles. Ga 5.20

Joseph H. Thayer has this in his lexicon:

eritheias (eritheuō to spin wool, work in wool, Heliodorus 1.5 middle in the same sense; Tb 2.11 used of those who electioneer for office, courting popular applause by trickery and low arts; Aristotle, “Politics” 5.3 the verb is derived from erithos working for hire, a hireling; from the Maced. age down, a spinner or weaver, a worker in wool; Is 38.12 LXX a mean, sordid fellow), electioneering or intriguing for office; Aristotle 5.2-3 hence apparently in the New Testament a courting distinction, a desire to put oneself forward, a partisan and factious spirit which does not disdain low arts; partisanship, factiousness; Jm 3.14, 16, Pp 1.16, 2.3 Ignatius “Philadelphians” 8 equivalent to contending against God. Ro 2.8, 2Co 12.20, Ga 5.20

Lastly a contemporary Greek teacher, William D. Mounce:

the service of a party, party spirit; feud, faction; 2Co 12.20 contentious disposition, selfish ambition; Ga 5.20, Pp 1.17, 2.3, Jm 3.14 by impl. untowardness, disobedience. Ro 2.8, Jm 3.16

The word was originally used to describe weavers. At some point in the past, weavers began to use their guild to influence city politics—and were willing to do anything it took to gain political power. So the word evolved to mean that instead. It means partisanship.

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.

Of course partisans are gonna seriously be in denial about this. Which is why they tell me, “It only says partisanship because you made it say that,” and point to other translations they like much better. Translations which imply it’s totally okay for them to be partisan!

Okay… but in those other translations it says “strife,” “rivalries,” and “selfish ambition.” Don’t partisans regularly do that stuff too?

11 May 2023

A “servant heart.”

SERVANT HEART 'sərv.ənt hɑrt noun. Or servant’s heart: The humble attitude one expects to find in someone who is beneath them.

One of the complements we Christians pay one another is to describe someone as having a “servant heart” or “servant’s heart.” Meaning they’re happy to serve.

Ever been to a restaurant where the service was just fantastic? Your waiter was immediately available when you wanted her, and stepped away whenever you didn’t. She took your orders, and made useful suggestions to make your meal better. She brought you everything you wanted—sometimes before you even knew you wanted it!—and brought extra, just in case. She kept the drinks filled and plates cleared. And, believe it or not, wasn’t doing this for a tip (though you absolutely should tip such people), but because she wanted you to have a good time, and was happy to do whatever it took to create it.

Or perhaps you’ve been to a store where the clerks show you just what you’re looking for, offer you a discount you weren’t expecting, and accomodate all your needs and then some. Or hired a contractor and she finished the job early, under budget, using the best materials, expertly done. Or a housecleaner who does likewise.

And these people don’t undermine you, don’t say horrible things about you when your back is turned, don’t grumble the whole time about how they hate their jobs, don’t do shoddy work or try to slip you a defective product, and don’t demand extra pay or extra tips or five-star reviews regardless of how lousy a job they did. I’ve seen way too many people who expect praise for the least amount of effort, who are clearly not meant to be in the service industry… but unfortunately they lack the humility to do anything else, which is why there are way too many of ’em in the service industry. But enough about them.

Jesus taught his Twelve, and all the rest of us Christians, this:

Mark 10.42-45 NLT
42B “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If you wanna be great in God’s kingdom, it doesn’t work like the world’s kingdoms—with people jockeying for position, and making their subjects show them honor. That, Jesus says, is not for us. It’s not the leadership style he himself models. Our Lord came to serve humanity. Still does. And when he rules the world in person, he’s still gonna be that way; don’t get any weird ideas that everything Jesus teaches goes out the window once he’s in power. He’s still gonna be our example of the very best of servants.

So it’s a trait every Christian needs to develop, and it’s valid and high praise when someone in the church already has that trait.

02 May 2023

Fruitless theology.

If Christian theology doesn’t produce good fruit, it’s either worthless or wrong.

Felt I’d better not bury the lede. Because, sad to say, Christian theologians too often go the fruitless route. And that’s why so many Christians dismiss theology as irrelevant, as nothing but a bunch of philosophers trying to reduce the Christian life to a bunch of navel-gazing theories which have no practical use. In the hands of fleshly Christians, that’s precisely what it becomes.

I was reminded of this recently, ’cause I read a dialogue between two Christians debating politics. (If you really wanna suck all the Jesus out of Christianity, watch Christians debate politics sometime. Better yet, don’t.) These guys didn’t just condemn one another’s beliefs; they condemned one another. Full-on ad hominem attacks. Both accusing one another of being depraved, selfish individuals; the conservative claiming the liberal only wanted the freedom to sin, and the liberal accusing the conservative of lacking God’s love for humanity. As conservatives and liberals usually do.

I wrote on this same subject years ago for another blog; at the time it was a debate between a Calvinist and a Catholic. Again, personal attacks instead of substance. Both of them felt they were right, and it justified them punching away at one another.

It’s typical depraved human nature. But it drags Christianity, and Christian theology, through the mud.

24 April 2023

Peace be unto you.

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

Luke 2.13-14 NRSVue
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Problem is, we Christians aren’t known for being peaceful. The far-from-peaceful dark Christians regularly make the news, and give everybody the sense we’re all just as angry and agitated. That might not be a fair assessment… but then again it might be; the rest of us aren’t really doing much to compensate for all the angry ones.

But sometimes, sometimes, when Christians are peaceful, or do good deeds in a peaceful way, it becomes one of those happy-news stories at the end of the program. Or found in the back of the newspaper. Some of them even go viral when they’re heartwarming enough. But there aren’t as many of them as there oughta be. It may very well be we Christians do a good job of demonstrating peace… but the agitated minority gets all the press.

But based on my own personal experience (and yeah, I know, anecdotes aren’t real proof), the Christians I know certainly aren’t all that peaceful. They freak out over every little thing. I remember a few years back, when a whole slew of Christian nationalists got elected, thrilling one of my right-leaning fellow church members. But even as she was rejoicing, she told me she was still convinced it’s only a matter of time before freedom of religion gets banned in the United States, and we won’t even be able to preach Jesus in private. Pretty sure she’s been reading way too much Hal Lindsey. And she’s hardly alone.

It’s not even limited to wild End Times fears. When terrorists attack, Christians want ’em dead just as much as any irreligious, vengeful 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 enraged homeowner. We claim it’s for self-defense and we’re being realistic and practical, but (unless we’re gun nuts who really just want to commit a 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 I myself am not as peaceful as I should be.)

07 March 2023

Humility, and the “cage-stage” Christian.

The starting point of theology may be revelation, but the first principle of theology is humility: Recognizing we’re wrong about God, and Jesus is right, and following Jesus so we can know God better.

The purpose of theology isn’t to learn so much that we become God-experts, then correct everyone else around us. It’s to correct ourselves. Our beliefs. Our poor character. Our bad attitudes. Jesus may have redeemed us, and granted us access to God’s kingdom, but we still suffer from a depraved sense of selfishness, and need the Holy Spirit’s help and power to overcome that, and become like Jesus—the only human who ever did it right.

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

Hence too many of us imagine theology’s first principle is, “I was wrong. But now I’m not! Jesus fixed me.” Supposedly when he gave us new life, he also gave us a new nature. His nature. And now we have a Jesus nature, and fruit of the Spirit now grows in us spontaneously on its own, and we have the mind of Christ. 1Co 2.16 Whatever we think… it’s miraculously just as Jesus thinks. All our motives are good and pure and noble and godly. We have arrived.

And if you claim we haven’t… well, [UNNATURAL ACT] you. I have the mind of Christ, and you’re just some dirty heathen who thinks he’s Christian, but you probably voted for the other guy, didn’tcha? Who are you to claim I’m just as corrupt as before I came to Christ? You don’t know Christ. I do. [Cue Genesis’s “Jesus He Knows Me.”]

I run into Christians with this mindset all the time. They’d be the folks who email me to explain, patiently or in full fiery wrath, why I’m wrong and heretic and going to hell. 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 a little too enthusiastic about “the doctrines of grace,” and forget to be gracious altogether. Calvinists call it “the cage stage.”

02 February 2023

God’s character.

No doubt you’ve heard of the fruit of the Spirit. Unfortunately, for way too many Christians, they’ve only memorized Paul’s list Ga 5.22-23 and whether they actually strive to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. is a whole other deal. They know these are virtues, but too many of us are kinda just expecting them to appear spontaneously, rather than really work with the Holy Spirit on our character.

Okay. What are these virtues in relation to God himself? Does he exhibit them? Is he loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, etc.? Or have we never made any such connection? Maybe doubt we even should make such a connection, ’cause we’d rather imagine God as offended at humanity’s sins, mournful over humanity’s sins, ready to smite people over their sins, absolutely fed up over people’s sins, eager to offend and outrage people back (after all, they offended him first!) and so forth? Do we figure these traits aren’t in any way practical, considering God needs to be super-duper vengeful right about now?

In other words, do we figure humanity’s sins have flipped God over 180 degrees, and made him fleshly?

I’ll leave you to ponder that idea, and whether our ideas about the wrath of God haven’t somehow turned him into Zeus. But as you hopefully know already, if you wanna know what God is like; if you wanna identify God’s attitude and character traits, the best thing to do is look at Jesus the Nazarene. Does he exhibit the Spirit’s fruit? Or when you read the gospels, do you figure Jesus likewise is triggered and enraged and ready to call down fire because he has HAD IT with these maggot-farming Judeans?

If so, I don’t know what bible you have, or what sort of demented “Christian” movie you’ve been watching. Every bible translation I know of, reveals the Spirit’s fruit describes Jesus’s character. And since Jesus is God, the Spirit’s fruit describes God’s character. Christians think and act fruitful because the Spirit within us thinks and acts like that.

So this being the case… whenever we look at the LORD’s behavior in the scriptures, what attitudes should we attribute to him? Fruitful ones? Or fruitless and fleshly ones? Which traits sound like Jesus, and are therefore God’s?

…Unless of course you don’t believe Jesus is God. Not really. Plenty of Christians flub the concept of trinity, and imagine Jesus is only a segment of God, or a mode of God, or even isn’t really God; he’s just a really important creation—he’s the Son of God!—but not God himself.

And if Jesus isn’t fully God, then it’s understandable—even okay—if Jesus and God are entirely different individuals. Not one in purpose, will, intent, attributes, and character; two distinct deities, like Zeus and Hades. Who are playing a cosmic game of “good cop bad cop” with humanity: God’s the bad cop, eager to roast us in hell, and Jesus is the good cop, trying to get us forgiven and saved—not from sin and death, but from God himself. ’Cause God’s super murdery, but Jesus is more about peace and love than Ringo Starr.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow Christians express this demented idea. All sorts of Christians. Even people who went to seminary and studied way more theology than I have, and should know better! Christians who should know the apostles wholly meant it when they wrote in the scriptures how Jesus as the image of God, Cl 1.15 someone whose very nature is that of God, Pp 2.6 the only-begotten God who accurately reveals who the Father is like, Jn 1.18 and if you’ve seen him you’ve seen the Father. Jn 14.9 Who identified God himself as love, 1Jn 4.8, 16 and defined love by God’s gracious attitude towards us. 1Co 13.4-8 Yet despite knowing these scriptures, they still think God is wrath, and Jesus opposes him. God is the angry Old Testament tribal deity, and Jesus is the loving New Testament global deity… and of course they like Jesus way better.

But this twisted view of God is unbiblical and heretic. Again: Jesus is God. If you think God’s character is all bile and rage, you’re wrong. Get rid of that idea. God’s character is Jesus’s character. Jesus is all about peace and love; so is God.

16 November 2022

Grace is a fruit of the Spirit.

Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians 5 is not a comprehensive list. Wasn’t meant to be. Plenty of other fruit, like generosity, forgiveness, and humility, oughta be overt and obvious in Christians who follow the Spirit. But Christians who suck at fruit in general, who struggle enough with faking the few items Paul enumerated, immediately squawk when I make mention of other fruit: Stop adding to the list! But if they were truly trying to follow the Spirit, they shouldn’t have to protest; we’d already see this fruit in ’em.

And if they already exhibit love, they should already exhibit grace.

God’s love is what generates his grace. Love, like Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1Co 13.7 NKJV Love forgives all, takes the optimistic view, and grants unmerited favor to people because we simply love ’em as God loves them. Because the Spirit within us wants to use us to spread more grace.

Those who don’t do grace, are always looking for ways to merit the favor. Fr’instance, “Everybody has potential.” They love the unloveable because they’re hoping their love will change these people, just like it does in their favorite romantic comedies. They figure their love will break these people, show ’em the error of their ways, get ’em to repent, make ’em want to be a good person from now on. You know, like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, or Darth Vader in Star Wars. Yea, happy endings!

But offering favor because of someone’s potential, isn’t grace. It’s a karmic bet. One which often won’t pay off in real life; some people are far too set in their ways to ever make them pay off the time and attention we show them. But worthiness isn’t the point; never was. The point is to follow the Spirit. Do as Jesus does. Love everyone. Love enemies. Lk 6.27 Love the people who mock and crucify you. Lk 23.34

Luke 6.35-36 NLT
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”

The reason people get called “children of the Most High” is because we exhibit his traits—or in other words, his fruit. Grace is one of the Spirit’s most obvious fruit; so obvious it really doesn’t need to be listed. Christians are meant to be known for our love, and grace means our love doesn’t come with strings attached. It’s not about trying to profit off new relationships, not about the satisfaction we feel when our love affects people in positive ways; it’s not even about winning them to Jesus, although that’ll happen. It’s about the fact every human being is a child of God, and if God loves them, so should we.

12 October 2022

Be kind. For once.

We Christians don’t have a reputation for being kind.

I wish it weren’t so, but I know a lot of pagans, and kindness is definitely not the first thing which comes to mind when they think of Christians. More like easily outraged, quick to judge, quick to condemn, holier than thou, just as bad as any pagan but such utter hypocrites about it, impatient, shunning, unforgiving buttholes. And if you were immediately offended by my using that word “buttholes,” you kinda proved my point.

Every so often I’ll read a discussion on Reddit which brings up Christianity, and the immediate response of the commenters—even when an atheist didn’t start the discussion!—is how thoroughly awful Christians are to everybody. Some of the critics will even be fellow Christians!—“Yeah, we suck.”

Then someone will point out Jesus. And the inevitable response of everyone, pagans and Christians alike—atheists included!—is he doesn’t suck. He’s a good guy; he taught peace and love, hung out with sinners and whores and lepers, railed against hypocrites… and unlike his followers, actually forgave sins. Jesus always gets a thumbs-up. Christians, of course, not.

It annoys me to no end. What’s with all the Christian jerks? Don’t we know better? Shouldn’t we?

I’m not gonna perpetuate the myth our fleshly attitudes are the leading cause of unbelief. They certainly don’t help, but people who don’t believe in Jesus are simply looking for any excuse not to. Otherwise they’d be Christian: “Well Christians suck, but despite them, Jesus is legit. So I’m gonna follow him on my own.” They’d be one of those Christians who shun all the other Christians and won’t go to church. But no matter how much they claim to respect Jesus, they still won’t follow him… because hypocrisy isn’t solely a Christian practice, y’know.

Anyway. The reason there are awful Christians is ’cause we’re deficient in love—and love is kind. 1Co 13.4 Christians who don’t love, who swap out the charitable, unconditional love of God for the vastly inferior substitute of reciprocity: A “love” which expects to receive “love” in return, and if it doesn’t, nevermind; it’s withdrawn. A “love” which demands payback, which is only offered to “worthy” and “good” people. A “love” that’s largely based on karma.

Which is a massive problem. Χρηστότης/hristótis, the word we translate “kindness,” Ga 5.22 more accurately means “graciousness.” It’s the grace of God, in action. It’s one of God’s character traits—which is precisely what the Spirit’s fruit is. When we’re fruity, we exhibit God’s grace: We’re kind, like he is.

Whereas when we’re not kind, not gracious, we’re still gonna be fuming about my dropping the B-word seven paragraphs ago. And plan to write an angry email, then never, ever read this blog again. And feel totally justified in such behavior. Grace and kindness is for people who don’t use rude words, even if they’re TV-safe words.

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 people will frequently lie, deceive, stifle their opinions, compromise their standards, or choose other evils, just to get along with others. They’ll be nice hypocrites.

But I would object we don’t have to lie and deceive in order to be nice to others. We can be gracious! We can forgive. We can agree to disagree. We can be patient. And hey, if all it takes to get a better reputation with others is to simply be pleasant to them, why are we objecting to this? Why is being a thorn in everyone’s side so fundamental to our integrity?

08 September 2022

On critiquing other churches.

There are Christians who believe we should never, ever criticize one another. Nor other churches. What they do is their own business; it’s between them and God; it’s not for us to say they’re right or wrong. If you need a proof text, they point to this one:

Romans 14.4-5 KJV
4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Okay, here’s a fun paradox: Isn’t this passage of scripture… a form of correction? Isn’t Paul right here telling the Roman Christians they’re wrong, and oughta do better?

Yeah, I’m clearly not one of those “live and let live” Christians. I tend to be mighty libertarian about a lot of things, but whenever it comes to immorality and irreligion, I’m gonna say something. And I believe I have biblical precedent for this. In the scriptures, Jesus and the apostles most definitely rebuked people. Paul, who wrote the above verses, did too—in every letter he wrote. Even to really good churches like that of Ephesus.

But I believe in loving, constructive criticism. Hopefully we’re all trying to get better at following Jesus. Well, you can’t do that without other people, the Holy Spirit included, prodding us to do better. And sometimes pointing out blind spots which we’re too dense to notice. But we gotta do it as the Spirit does it—with kindness, patience, love, and all his other fruit.

I appreciate the Spirit’s criticism, ’cause he does it so encouragingly we sometimes don’t even realize it’s criticism. Other times he’s completely blunt and matter-of-fact with me… because he knows me, and knows that’s what it’s gonna take to get through my thick skull. It always depends on the person he’s working on. He knows what works. Us, not no much; we need to follow his example much better than we do.

I suspect a lot of the reason certain Christians frown on critiquing other churches, is because they don’t see the encouraging, fruitful forms of constructive criticism. They only see angry, outraged Christians ranting against some church’s practices, calling them heretics and cultists and condemning them to fiery hell. That, not gentle guidance, is what Paul was rebuking when he wrote Romans 14.

As for Jesus telling us “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” Mt 7.1 —a passage taken out of context constantly—he was critiquing our tendency to practice double standards. If you judge, expect to be judged by the very same yardstick. It’s only fair. You are not an exception.

And again, we tend to see a lot of that same inconsistency and hypocrisy when Christians critique fellow Christians and our churches. We rebuke ’em for doing stuff, but we do similar stuff. We might complain their worship music lacks spiritual depth, but I’ve heard contemporary Christian songs, ’80s-style worship choruses, and hymns, all of which were mighty shallow. We might complain about their overt sexism, but what about our subtle sexism—where we claim we recognize women can be in Christian leadership, but our churches have no women on the church board, and our few women pastors only minister to the women and children?

Like I said, I have no trouble with constructive criticism—but we gotta be prepared to stand up to the very same criticism. If we’re holding Christianity up to Jesus’s standards, we don’t get to be exceptions to those standards. No loopholes.

22 September 2021

The love we oughta see in supernatural gifts.

1 Corinthians 13.4-8.

When Christians write the about the bit from 1 Corinthians 13 which defines love, we almost universally take it out of context.

Myself included. ’Tain’t necessarily a bad thing: We quote it when we’re defining love. It states what love is, as opposed to what popular culture, and sometimes even popular Christian culture, claims it is. The apostles defined it properly, and we need to adjust our concept of ἀγάπη/agápi (KJV “charity”) accordingly.

But in context, the apostles defined it because they were correcting the Corinthians’ misperceptions about the supernatural. If you’re gonna strive for greater gifts, the only valid way to pursue them and do them is in love. If you’re not doing ’em in love, you’re doing ’em wrong.

And if you’re not entirely certain what the apostles meant by this “love” concept, permit ’em to straighten you out a bit.

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. 8A Love never falls down.

This is the mindset we must have when we act in, or strive for, supernatural gifts. With love. Like this. Know any prophets, faith-healers, tongues-speakers, and teachers who act in love? I surely hope so. I do.

Now, d’you know any wonder-workers who act the opposite of all this? Likely you do. I sure do. Let’s play an irritating little game of “Spot the loveless”:

  • Impatient. If you aren’t healed immediately, or can’t accept their prophecy or teaching, you’re to blame. Not the (supposedly) spiritually mature miracle-worker.
  • Unkind. Rude, dismissive, condescending, needlessly harsh.
  • Do act with out-of-control emotion. In other words, not gentle.
  • Do draw attention to their greatness. They do love those titles.
  • Exaggerate all the time. They only tell the big success stories… even though not even the bible tells only the big success stories. Some of our failures are teachable moments; some of our little successes can be more profound than the big ones. But for them, everything’s gotta be huge.
  • Ignores others’ considerations. Are you offended by something they said? Tough.
  • Looks out for themselves. It’s about their convenience; they’re busy people.
  • Provokes behavior. And is actually quite proud of doing so. Sometimes teaches the Holy Spirit wants to be provocative… not restorative.
  • Plots evil; delights in wrongdoing. And we’re not just talking about extreme cases of hypocrisy. Some hypocrites never commit big sins, but their lives are full of little trespasses. White lies, petty thefts, small cheats, sins of omission. They do add up though.
  • Doesn’t delight in truth. If truth is embarrassing or inconvenient, phooey on truth.
  • Puts up with nothing. Trusts no one. Hopes for little. Falls apart easily.

21 September 2021

Fleshly supernatural.

1 Corinthians 13.1-3.

When Paul and Sosthenes wrote 1 Corinthians, specifically the parts about the supernatural, y’might notice they didn’t write about fake supernatural. They didn’t write about frauds, like people who pretend to be faith healers but actually do nothing, or “miracle workers” who are only doing impressive stage magic tricks, or “prophets” who are really practicing mentalism. Certainly they could’ve written about such people, because there have always been such people. Just about every religion in the Roman Empire had one—because their worshipers expected the supernatural, so the priests had to show ’em something. There are two particularly famous stories of frauds in the apocrypha’s extra chapters of Daniel, and you can read it here.

But the apostles didn’t write about the fake stuff. They only wrote about the real stuff. Their main concern was the Corinthians were doing ’em wrong. Because that’s what we Christians do: The real stuff, wrong.

And the main way we do ’em wrong is by being the sort of people who produce bad fruit—the works of the flesh. Yep, there are such creatures as fleshly Christians. Either they’re new to Jesus and still have a lot of growing up to do, or they’re longtime Christians who never did grow up, ’cause they think other things are more important. Or ’cause they learned how to make all their fleshly behavior sound like it’s really fruit.

Christians naïvely assume if God’s gonna empower us with gifts of the Spirit, he’s only gonna do it when we’re good. We imagine the supernatural gifts are like the hammer Mjölnir in the Thor movies, and if we’re not worthy like Thor, the gifts won’t come when summoned. But that’s not even how grace works. God grants us supernatural gifts because we need them, not because we’re worthy. If somebody needs to be cured of a dire illness, God empowers the miracle regardless of how good or evil the petitioner, and the recipient, might be. The supernatural is not God’s endorsement. It’s his grace.

But like I said, Christians naïvely assume otherwise. We think it’s all about karma. If we’ve racked up enough points in God’s great big MMORPG of life, we get a power upgrade! So if Christians can exhibit supernatural powers, it must mean God highly favors them, ’cause they’re good people… or when they’re clearly not good people, ’cause they’ve gained his favor in some other way. Learned a lot of bible trivia, maybe. Worked in ministry for 10 years with low pay, so God owes them one and gave ’em the power to prophesy. Something like that.

And it’s nothing like that. Sometimes the Holy Spirit empowers fleshly Christians.

Seriously? He trusts fleshly Christians with that kind of power? Well no he doesn’t, because he always controls the power, and always will. But yes, he’ll actually work with and through fleshly Christians. Like I said, that’s the whole point of Paul and Sosthenes writing these 1 Corinthians passages: Fleshly Christians were doing supernatural things, and doing ’em wrong, and the apostles had to set them straight!

So right after the bit about striving for greater supernatural gifts, 1Co 12.31 the apostles mention an outstanding way to do it, and then started talking about love. Because it’s the preeminent fruit of the Spirit. It’s the fruit which arguably generates all the other fruit. God is love, so it’s a character trait God’s kids absolutely should exhibit. And if we don’t, we gotta wonder whether these are even God’s kids at all; for anyone who doesn’t love, doesn’t know God. 1Jn 4.8

Many Christians, cessationists in particular, tend to pull “the love chapter” out of context and only focus on how it defines love. We forget it’s all about supernaturla gifts, and how love has to be part of their practice. Has to. It’s how the whole chapter begins.

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. But really I’m a noise. I’m nobody. I benefit nobody.

And while Christians might pay particular attention to the “I’m nobody” parts—“See, you gotta minister in love!”—we too often forget this hypothetical loveless apostle… is still doing the supernatural acts. ’Cause the Holy Spirit still lets ’em do it.

07 September 2021

Hatred’s a work of the flesh.

Galatians 5.19-21 KJV
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Hatred gets listed in verse 20 as one of the works of the flesh. The original-language word is ἔχθραι/ékhthre, “hostility” or “opposition” or “enmity”: Someone who’s decided in advance they’re not gonna be friendly. In fact, they’re looking for enemies.

In his first letter, John pointed out how those who hate their sisters or brothers are murderers. In their hearts, such people are dead to them. And those who “murder” in this way have nothing to do with eternal life. 1Jn 3.15 They won’t inherit God’s kingdom—same as those who exhibit the fleshly works which Paul listed.

Yeah, you know we’ve got a lot of such people all over Christianity. I follow a few of their blogs. They claim they’re all about Christian holiness and sanctification; about Christians following Jesus instead of the rest of the world, and becoming a pure, sinless, spotless church, ready and eager to greet Jesus at his second coming. But the way they go about doing it is to bring up the latest popular sin (typically one committed by members of the opposition party), then pound away at it like a carpenter trying to put thin nails into thick wood.

Yes, Christians oughta resist temptation and stop sinning. Of course. Duh. But these guys’ fixation on dirty, dirty sins? It’s not healthy. Much as these guys love to quote this memory verse—

Philippians 4.8 KJV
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

—the amount of time they spend digging through the news to find new things to be horrified by, the length of time they spend denouncing these travesties, and the angst and tears and hand-wringing and stress they suffer just thinking about how these evils damage our good Christian nation…

Yep, these guys aren’t actually avoiding sin. They may not be committing it, nor even be tempted to try it, but their minds are nonetheless stewing in it like shrimp in a gumbo. Because what they’re doing instead is hating it. Hating it with every fiber of their being. In so doing their minds are wholly fixated on whatsoever things are false, dishonest, unfair, impure, ugly, disturbing, useless, and wrong.

Hopefully they’re not doing this 24 hours a day, like pundits who are desperately looking for new content with which they can outrage their TV audience. But y’know, some of them are. You can tell whenever you talk with them: The first thing they want to talk about is the latest outrage. And they’re hoping it’ll outrage you too. Bad fruit likes to spread its seeds widely.

29 July 2021

Love one another.

John 13.34-35 KJV
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Lest we miss the point, Jesus says “Love one another” thrice. It’s not unimportant to him. It is unimportant to Christians however. We’ve really pooched this one. On a global level.

We don’t love our fellow Christians in our churches. They’re family, and sometimes we acknowledge they’re family… but they’re kinda like the family we barely tolerate for family reunions. We don’t interact with them outside our church buildings. We don’t know what’s going on with their personal lives. We don’t care, either. We’re too busy.

We don’t love our fellow Christians in the other churches. In many cases we convinced ourselves half of them aren’t real Christians anyway. Their denominations teach weird, inappropriate things. They’re too legalistic to really love Jesus, or they’re too loosey-goosy with God’s righteous standards to really love Jesus. They’re not Spirit-filled enough… or they think they’re more Spirit-filled than we are, but really they’ve just confused their weird fleshly impulses with the Spirit.

We don’t love our fellow Christians in far-off lands. If the nearby Christians aren’t Christian enough for us, foreign Christians definitely aren’t. Their customs are too bizarre. Their people are dirt poor, and we wealthy Christians are so unconsciously used to social Darwinist and prosperity gospel thinking, we suspect they can’t have a proper relationship with God if he’s abandoned them to their poverty like that. We assume their so-called Christianity is really their country’s version of Christianism: It’s a cultural and ethnic thing which everybody does by rote. It’s not a living relationship, but dead religion. Shame they’re getting persecuted though… which can’t possibly be because they really do know Jesus, and would die for him.

We barely love our neighbors anyway. And besides, we’re busy! We have jobs. We have kids to raise, and drive to their afterschool activities. We have dates to keep, buddies to stay connected with, movies to watch, teams to support, video games to play… We “have lives.” Jesus understands; he knows all, and knows how busy we are. We haven’t time. We’ll do it once we finally have time, like when we retire, or after we’re resurrected.

15 July 2021

“You don’t know his heart.”

I got a coworker who loves to talk about End Times stuff, ’cause he’s kinda obsessed with it. (No, this article’s not on the End Times.) He likes to bring up any little thing which might be an End Times harbinger, just to get my take on it. Most of the time I tell him he’s worried over nothing. Yeah, some of those things are evil. Racism’s evil, slavery’s evil, pandemics are evil, wars are evil. And they’re the same evils humanity’s had since the very first humans. Wars happen. Plagues happen. Evil people take power. ’Tis nothing new. It’s new to him; he doesn’t know enough history. Which is the usual reason people claim, “Oh it’s so the last days; things have never been this bad.” Yeah they have. And worse.

In 2020 he asked me if I thought then-President Donald Trump was the Beast. Of course I told him no. Because I checked. Just because Trump still acts mighty beastlike on a frequent basis, and just because he’s managed to sucker a lot of partisan Christians into supporting him, doesn’t make him any more the Beast than Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, James Buchanan, Andrew Jackson, or any of the other various immoral men we’ve elected to govern the United States. Plus, I pointed out, we should never really be surprised when someone who’s not Christian doesn’t act Christian.

At this another coworker, whom I’ll call Yanni, butted in: “Trump is so a Christian.”

Yeah, no he’s not.

We got into a minor back-and-forth, where Yanni offered the usual arguments for why Trump’s a Christian. Like how he says he’s Christian. As do lots of people who aren’t really. Which is why I responded it doesn’t matter what Trump calls himself; he could call himself a unicorn if he so chose; doesn’t make him one. Calling yourself Christian means you think you’re Christian, but it’s really what Jesus thinks that counts.

“Who are you to say?” Yanni insisted. “You don’t know his heart.”

If you didn’t grow up Christian, “You don’t know his heart” is an old bit of Christianese which means “You can’t read his mind.” The ancients believed humans think with our hearts, and that’s what “heart” means in the bible. The medievals believed humans feel with our hearts, and from the middle ages to today, Christians have mixed up the medieval definition with the ancient one. So when many Christians say “You don’t know his heart” some of ’em mean, “You don’t know how he feels, deep down, inside.”

Either way, Yanni claimed there’s no way for me to know Trump’s true relationship with Christ. An argument, I might point out, which works both ways: Yanni doesn’t know his heart either, so there’s no way Yanni could know he is Christian.

But “You don’t know his heart” is false. Jesus told us how we can identify his followers: Fruit. If you’re Christian, you got the Holy Sprit within you. If you follow the Spirit—as you should!—you produce fruit. And if you resist the Spirit, you produce bad fruit; you’re fleshly. And back before he was banned from Twitter, what did Donald Trump tweet all day long? Hatred. Anger. Partisanship. Rabble-rousing. Separatism. Envy. Divisiveness. Unethical behavior.

Luke 6.43-45 KJV
43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

You wanna know whether a person is Christian? Look at their character. Low character, no Christian.

14 July 2021

Fleshly Christians.

Jesus wants his followers to produce good fruit. Fruit of the Spirit, typically. It’s proof of our salvation: If we really do have the Holy Spirit within, if we really do abide in Christ, if we really have a relationship with our Father, we’re gonna be fruity.

No, not automatically, despite what some Christians claim. I know; I’ve heard their testimonies. “All of a sudden I just stopped sinning! It’s amazing!” No; at most the Spirit broke some addictions, but you chose to listen to the Spirit instead of your flesh. You chose to resist temptation instead of getting deterministically reprogrammed to follow God instead of your id. Fruit doesn’t spontaneously happen. It’s the product of a relationship—the one we often claim we have instead of religion—in which the Spirit leads and we follow. Most of the time it’s way easier than we ever expected (’cause the Spirit empowers us), and the more we do it the easier it gets, but still: Both of us do it.

And then there are the Christians who aren’t fruity. They’re fleshly.

No doubt you’ve met a few. Are related to a few. They aren’t loving. They’re joyless. Quickly irritated, angered, outraged, offended. Impatient. Out-of-control emotions. They do all sorts of evil things, ranging from white lies to full-on criminal activity, and justify it all sorts of ways. They claim they trust God, but more often trust their wallets, friends, political parties, media, and some stranger they found on the internet who tells it just the way they like it. They know it all; you can’t tell ’em different. They have no self-control, as you can tell from their debts, waistline, constant tardiness, and inability to let others reply, or have the last word. They haven’t crucified the flesh; Ga 5.24 in many cases they’re even saying God wants them to indulge themselves, because didn’t he make this world for us to enjoy?

Fruit isn’t their litmus test for Christianity. They came up with substitutes. They’re looking for orthodoxy, conformity, niceness, zealousness, baptism, whether you said the sinner’s prayer, whether you’re in a bible-believing church, the right politics, the right vocabulary. And sometimes they’re looking for nothing, and accept you’re Christian entirely because you say you are.

They get outraged when I suggest certain self-described “Christians,” who nonetheless demonstrate none of the Spirit’s fruit soever, are not.

As I said, fruit isn’t their litmus test. I claim it is; they claim it can’t be. Because they’ve never remotely thought of fruit that way. Fruit’s just a nice idea; the Galatians verses are just a nice passage to memorize; and when Jesus talked about fruit he was only talking about false prophets, Mt 7.15-16 and not all of us are prophets. Their churches claim one of the other unscriptural litmus tests, like a sinner’s prayer, and denouncing Satan at one’s water baptism.

And hey, what about newbies? If a person’s just become Christian a month ago, or six months ago, should we expect a “baby Christian” to exhibit the Spirit’s fruit to the level of a mature Christian? That’s ridiculous. They’re too new! Besides, even the spiritually mature Christians they know are occasionally, if not frequently, deficient in love, joy, peace, patience, and grace.

And whenever they point to the “mature Christians” they know with frequent lapses of fruit, you begin to realize exactly why they never remotely thought of fruit as evidence of one’s Christianity.

13 July 2021

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

Mark 7.17-23, Matthew 15.15-20.

Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit like grace, or a work of the flesh like gracelessness. And no, these aren’t among the fruits and fleshly works Paul listed in Galatians 5. Because, in I said in my article on the topic, it’s not a comprehensive list. Wasn’t meant to be.

Because it’s not in Paul’s list, I’ll get pushback from time to time from a Christian who has the Galatians lists memorized, and has it in their head the lists are comprehensive. “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits.” And then I have to explain how this particular attitude and behavior has its clear origin in a Spirit-led lifestyle, or Spirit-defying human depravity. Grace should be one of the more obvious ones, ’cause grace is obviously a God thing. But you know how literalists can be. The scriptures gotta literally say it’s a fruit, and if they don’t it’s not.

Sometimes it’s not even about literalism: It’s because they want it to be a comprehensive list. Because they’re doing fleshly stuff, and wanna get away with it. Because there are good behaviors they really oughta develop in their lives, and they don’t wanna. Turning Galatians 5 into a comprehensive list is their loophole, and they’ll fight to the spiritual death to defend it.

Funny; the context of Galatians 5 is the Pharisees and their loopholes. Paul objected to how certain Christians figured grace means we can get away with stuff, ’cause no it doesn’t. And right after Jesus critiqued the Pharisees for the very same attitude, he explained to both his students and the crowd how evil comes from within, not without. It’s not what goes into us which makes us ritually unclean; it’s what comes out. Evil attitudes, intentions, and behaviors defile us. And all of ’em come from the id, from the selfish impulses, from the יֵצֶר הַרַע/yechér ha-ra, from the flesh.

’Cause the Pharisees of Jesus’s day claimed evil comes from the outside in. Entirely wrong. Humans are inherently selfish, but we wanna justify our selfishness so we can (selfishly) feel good about ourselves despite all the destruction we wreak by our self-serving behavior. The result is pretty much all the evil in the world. (The rest comes from natural disasters—some of which human behavior also produces.)

First problem Jesus ran into was his students telling him his lesson had offended the Pharisees. Well, Jesus explained, they’re blind guides. They think they understand God; they really don’t; there’s no telling them anything; forgive it as best you can. Pity the fools.

Second was the students not getting it.

Mark 7.17-18 KWL
17 From the crowd, once Jesus entered the house, his students were asking him what “the parable” meant.
18A Jesus told them, “Don’t you understand this either?”
Matthew 15.15-16 KWL
15 In reply Simon Peter told Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 Jesus said, “Don’t you yet understand either?”

Peter makes it clear they thought this is a parable. It’s not. Jesus’s parables are about his kingdom, and this teaching is about the stuff which keeps people away from his kingdom. So Jesus got blunt: He wants us to understand him, and not weasel out of it by claiming he’s being hyperbolic. He’s not.

Food goes in. Evil comes out.

The Pharisees objected that Jesus didn’t ritually wash his hands. Which is admittedly unsanitary, but they weren’t trying to be sanitary (and since they all dipped their forearms and feet in the same jars, it really wasn’t all that sanitary); it was all about being ritually clean.

The word Pharisees used to describe Jesus and his kids was κοινοῖ/kiní, “common,” which isn’t really an insult unless you have a caste system where Pharisees are nobles in the top rank, and non-Pharisees are commoners in the lowest rank. To them, Jesus was acting like a dirty peasant pagan.

Whereas to Jesus, their ritual washing was all for show anyway. Skipping it didn’t make you “common.” Thinking like a dirty pagan peasant, with a heart full of selfish and depraved ideas, is what did it to you. The show covers up the fact your heart might be full of that selfishness and depravity—but you look good, so nobody can call you on your evil.

Mark 7.18-20 KWL
18B “You know how everything from outside, which goes into the person, can’t make them ‘common’?
19 Because it doesn’t enter their heart, but into the bowels, and goes out into the latrine.
All the food gets cleaned out.”
20 Jesus said this: “What comes out of the person? That makes the person ‘common’.
Matthew 15.17-18 KWL
17 “You know how everything which goes in the mouth, enters the bowels and goes down the latrine?
18 What comes out of the mouth, comes out of the heart—and that makes the person ‘common.’ ”

Food passes through your alimentary canal. It doesn’t get to your heart… although if you eat too much of certain types of foods, you’re gonna clog your arteries with plaque. But Jesus isn’t speaking of one’s literal heart, but one’s mind. Your food isn’t gonna make you think and do evil. Your mind will. Your food’s just gonna come out in your poo.

Evil’s far more deeply embedded than that.

Mark 7.21-23 KWL
21 “For evil reasoning comes out from within the person’s heart:
Porn. Theft. Murder. 22 Adultery. Covetousness. Depravity.
Deception. Immorality. Stinginess. Slander. Conceit. Stupidity.
23 All these inner evils come out and make the person ‘common’.”
Matthew 15.19-20 KWL
17 “For evil reasoning comes out of the heart:
Murder. Adultery. Porn. Theft. False witness. Slander.
20 These make the person ‘common’. Not washing one’s hands to eat doesn’t make the person ‘common’.”

Like Paul’s list, Jesus’s isn’t comprehensive either. But these are traits we should never see among Christians. When we see the Spirit’s fruit in our lives, we’re clean, kosher, Christian. When we see no evidence of any influence of the Holy Spirit—unchanged, unregenerated, unrepentant, unfruitful people—we’re unclean, treyf, pagan.

Evil reasoning (διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί/dialoyismé poniré, KJV “evil thoughts”) tends to get listed with the others, but really all these things are evil thoughts. And notice how a number of ’em violate the Ten Commandments.

PORN (πορνεῖαι/porneíe, “sex-minded,” KJV “fornications”). Porn refers to any inappropriate sexual activity: People who regularly have sex on the brain, and won’t limit it to monogamy, fidelity, and the considerations of their partner.

Lots of Christians figure sex isn’t an issue once you’re married: Have all the sex you want with your spouse! But you can still be inordinately interested in sex. Some years ago a few famous pastors raised eyebrows by declaring Christian couples need to have sex daily… despite what either partner, usually the under-appreciated wife who now has to submit to her husband’s objectifying lusts, is comfortable with. Look, if the wife doesn’t wanna have sex every day, usually there’s good reason! Her husband probably sucks at ministering to her needs. (And not just her sexual needs; get your mind out of there.) The demand for daily sex is still selfish. Still lacks self-control. Still porn.

Bad Christians dismiss their promiscuity by claiming it’s a form of love. I once met a guy who called himself a “love addict”—by which he meant he couldn’t keep himself from bedding women, despite his marital vows. What he was really addicted to was the thrill of adulterous fornication.

THEFT (κλοπαί/klopé, KJV “thefts”). Refers to whether you’re outright stealing things, or secretly trying to get away with stuff. Getting an unfair advantage over everyone else, getting ahead by misusing other people’s trust. To them, life is war and competition and profit, and if you’re not playing the game you’re a fool.

This looks nothing like the humility, transparency, love, and service Christians oughta see in one another. Yet I’ve been in a few Christian organizations where theft is everywhere: People brought their “business sense” from the “real world” into the environment and corrupted it. But then again they didn’t really bring it in from outside. They justified it on the outside. It was already within them.

MURDER (φόνοι/fónë, KJV “murders”). Thankfully we don’t see a lot of murder among Christians. (Well, not after they turned to Jesus.) There are exceptions, but by and large Christians know better.

Where we don’t know better is when we wish others were dead. We Christians do this all the time. I know from experience: I still know a lot of people who are really interested in politics, and really, really hate the opposition party. And anyone who supports it. And enemies of the United States, both real and imaginary. And so forth.

Jesus equates this hatred with murder. Mt 5.22 If you hate a person enough to wish they were dead, you murder them in your heart, and people with this level of hatred in ’em are unfit for God’s kingdom. Supposed to love our neighbors and enemies, remember?

ADULTERY (μοιχεῖαι/mikheíë, KJV “adulteries”). Our culture’s definition of adultery, and the bible’s, are very different. It was a patriarchal culture, where men were culturally permitted to have sex with anyone they were personally responsible for. God forbade ’em to have sex with relatives and slaves, but they still had polygamy and “concubines”—an old-timey word for “girlfriend.” (I don’t care if your favorite bible dictionary claims it means “secondary wife.” It did not. It meant an unmarried woman with whom a man had sex.)

Adultery in that culture meant having sex with someone who wasn’t yours to have sex with. Someone else’s spouse. Someone else’s significant other. A minor. A relative. A stranger in the pornography you consume (and they’re all strangers, aren’t they?). Rape would also fall into this category. Sexual harassment as well.

There’s a fair amount of overlap between porn and adultery, but Jesus was covering the bases.

COVETOUSNESS (πλεονεξίαι/pleonexíë, KJV “covetousness”). Coveting is simply wanting stuff. Which isn’t in itself a sin, but when you want what you can’t or ought not have, that’s sin. But notice Jesus doesn’t specifically single out the sinful stuff: He lists coveting in general. Simply wanting stuff.

’Cause there are a lot of people who aren’t at all satisfied with what they have. They gotta have more. Could be money, position, authority, honor, special treatment, perqs, benefits, and so forth. Unlike the humble, who are fine with where and who they are, these folks demand whatever they can get. And y’know, certain churches teach we should demand whatever we can get, ’cause we’re God’s kids Mt 7.11, Lk 6.38 and deserve the best of everything.

But in so doing we violate Jesus’s example. Part of the devil’s temptations to Jesus included goading him to demand all the stuff Jesus was due by being God’s son. And Jesus wouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with asking for daily bread, Mt 6.11 but the self-entitled ask not for a day’s worth, but a pantry’s worth. They justify their greed by pointing out how God has more than enough. He does—but the kingdom’s resources are meant to further the kingdom, not line our pockets.

DEPRAVITY (πονηρίαι/poniríë, KJV “wickedness”). Habitual evil behavior. You know the sort who can’t or won’t quit their vices? They’re not addicted; they just don’t wanna quit. Won’t stop drinking, gambling, red meat, sarcasm, holding grudges, or other bad behavior. They’d rather be destroyed than give it up. It’s freedom! It’s who they are! But it’s wrecking ’em and their relationships—including the relationship with God.

DECEPTION (δόλος/thólos, KJV “deceit”). You know, liars and hypocrites.

IMMORALITY (ἀσέλγεια/asélyeia, KJV “lasciviousness”). People who do as they wish and don’t care who it offends, what biblical commands it violates, who gets offended, whether it’s false or evil: Their heart wants what it wants, so they’ll do as they please.

Sometimes it takes the form of “the greater good” argument, or the ends justifying the means—and in this form it regularly works on Christians. “Yeah, we gotta hide our ministers’ sins—but only so the name of Jesus isn’t dragged through the mud.” It’s never really his name they’re concerned about.

STINGINESS (ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός/ofthalmós ponirós, KJV “an evil eye”). Yeah, literally it says “evil eye.” A “good eye” and “evil eye” are Hebrew idioms which refer to generosity and stinginess. Hopefully we have good eyes: We give when we can.

The stingy don’t give when they can. Or they give the minimum amount necessary to appear benevolent, like when a billionaire gives a thousand dollars to a charity—a millionth of their money, which they’ll never miss, and can deduct from taxes. They don’t think of money as something God gave them to bless others; if they’re not already worshiping it, they figure money’s something God gave them to bless themselves.

SLANDER (βλασφημία/vlasfimía, KJV “blasphemies”). Slander’s when you falsely accuse anyone. It applies to everyone, not just God. And Christians commit it all the time… usually in the form of gossip.

FALSE WITNESS (ψευδομαρτυρίαι/sevtho-martyríë, KJV “false witness”). Claiming you know something when you don’t. Not necessarily slander, although slander is definitely a form of false witness. Like I said, Jesus was covering his bases.

A pretty common way Christians bear false witness is by spreading internet rumors. We’re really lazy about checking facts, and wind up spreading fake news instead of stopping it in its tracks. But there are people who live for this sort of thing, and will never tell an honest story when a juicy one will do. So this’d be them.

CONCEIT (ὑπερηφανία/yper-ifanía, KJV “pride”). Taking pleasure in our achievements, i.e. pride, isn’t necessarily evil. It’s only when we make too much of ourselves that we’ve crossed the line into conceit: Pride gone too far.

Naturally conceit’s the opposite of humility—of recognizing our true value, which is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus is humble, Mt 11.29 for he knows precisely who he is. We must remember who we are in his kingdom, and never claim otherwise.

STUPIDITY (ἀφροσύνη/afrosýni, KJV “foolishness”). People who don’t think things through—or don’t think at all. They react. Their lives are reduced to knee-jerk reactions: Either “I like that” or “I don’t like that,” yet they can’t always tell you why they like or dislike things. Or, when they do, it’s usually their favorite talk-radio host’s explanation instead of their own thinking.

God gave us brains, and God grants us wisdom when we ask him for it. Jm 1.5 He expects us to think and reason, and get ourselves out of trouble preventatively, not after the fact. He doesn’t want us to react on instinct; certainly not the selfish instincts we were born with. He wants us to think on what’s good and right and God-pleasing, and thoughtfully respond to the world around us. There are far too many irrational Christians among us, whose first response is based on instinct, and whose second response is to cover up the misbehavior by giving it Christianese names: “That just grieved my spirit, so that’s why I said what I did.” Hogwash: You didn’t think. Confess. Repent. And next time, think.

These things make us unclean.

A Christian is defined by our relationship with God through Christ Jesus. If we have such a relationship, we’re Christians. How do we know, how do we prove, we have such a relationship? We’re fruity. We have the Holy Spirit within us; we follow his guidance and leading; we produce his fruit. Fleshliness suggests, at best, we’re sucky Christians; at worst we’re not Christian at all.

So. If we have any fleshly works in our lives—and every Christian, to some degree, has some—we gotta be rid of them. We gotta make the effort. Which God recognizes, and honors: We’re saved by his grace, and God’s grace is for those who make this effort. But for those who make no effort—who figure baptism, the sinner’s prayer, or good karma is getting them into heaven—they’re betting on the wrong horse. Work the relationship. Fight the works of the flesh. God will help you win.

30 June 2021

The sinner’s prayer isn’t proof of your salvation.

Back in grad school I heard this ridiculous story from a preacher. I’ve shared it before; now again. Goes like so.

There once was this Christian who felt unsure of his salvation. He hoped he was saved, but he was just so full of doubts. A little voice inside his head kept telling him, “Oh you’re not saved. Not really.” Of course the preacher assumed this voice was Satan, but considering how such baiting will simply drive us Christians to make certain we’re saved, I’m pretty sure Satan abandoned this tactic long ago as stupid. But I digress.

This uncertain Christian came up with a clever plan: First he said the sinner’s prayer again. (He no doubt said it ages ago, but bear with me.) Next he made a sign with that day’s date on it, fixed it to a stake, and pounded the stake into his backyard. Now every time the voice in his head told him, “You’re not saved,” he could look out the back window at his sign, and say, “I am so saved, devil. Get thee behind me.”

Followed by a rash of my fellow students placing signs with various dates on ’em in the yard behind their dorms… Nah, just kidding. Nobody did that. Because this uncertain Christian posting signs in his backyard is, to put it kindly, dumb. “Yeah I know what’ll confirm my salvation: A sign in the yard!” Say the wind blows it away some day; then where will he be? Wouldn’t that surely look a sign from God suggesting no, he’s not saved?

Signs in your yard may indicate all sorts of things. Like whom you voted for, who installed your solar panels, who does your lawn, whom you voted for, whether the house is on the market, when the garage sale will be. Of course they mean nothing if they’re not true; if the sign says “Garage sale Saturday” but it was actually a Saturday in 2019. A sign can tell you the date of your sinner’s prayer, but did the sinner’s prayer even work?

Because sinner’s prayers don’t save people. Never did. God saves us, by his grace and through our faith. Does he automatically do this whenever a person says the sinner’s prayer? Well some evangelists claim he absolutely does, every single time.

Romans 10.13 KJV
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Jl 2.32

Of course they forget to quote the context of this verse—namely the verses following.

Romans 10.14-16 KJV
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! Is 52.7 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? Is 53.1

If a petitioner lacks faith in God—as proven when they don’t live the gospel after they prayed the sinner’s prayer—calling upon the Lord won’t save you. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?”

It’s like claiming, “I don’t know whether my checking account has any money in it. So I’m gonna send the bank a letter, then put the date I sent the letter on a sign. And every time I’m not sure there’s anything in that account, I’m gonna look at that sign and tell myself, ‘No you do have money. ’Cause you sent ’em a letter on this date!’ ”

Like I said, dumb.

20 April 2021

Spiritual maturity: It’s based on fruit, not knowledge.

Years ago I had a boss who was seriously immature. Same age as me; we were both in our thirties. But he was completely unreliable. Couldn’t be trusted with private matters. Lied to cover up even minor mistakes. Had serious lapses in judgment. Regularly did inappropriate things, or told inappropriate jokes, so he could impress the teenagers we worked with.

How’d this guy get put into any position of authority? He was a pastor’s kid.

A whole lot of nepotism takes place in churches. Our word nepotism even comes from the practice: Various popes regularly gave important jobs to their “nephews” (really, their illegitimate kids), and the Italian for “nephew” is nipote. But lemme first say I’m not saying we should never hire family members. Most of the time they’re just as talented, gifted, and qualified as their relatives, if not more so. Being a pastor’s kid is a plus, not a minus.

Of course sometimes the apple didn’t fall near the tree. Sometimes it fell into a whole other yard, rolled down a hill, fell off a cliff, landed in the pigpen, and is working its way through a pig’s large intestine. Some pastor’s kids are not at all qualified to take any position of leadership whatsoever. But they got the job anyway, ’cause Dad or Mom gave it to them, or pulled strings. That’d be my boss. He got his job because Dad knew some people. He had connections… so he didn’t need to be a person of good character.

And character is Paul’s one requirement for leadership: You only put mature Christians in charge. Do otherwise and you get disaster. Which is exactly what happened to this boss. I don’t know the details (and they’re none of my business anyway) but he pooched something so huge his dad couldn’t bail him out. So the board fired him, and I wound up with a much better boss. Happy ending.

But during that time I worked for that immature man, my coworkers and I had more than one discussion about maturity and leadership, ’cause our boss was such a poor example of Christian maturity. One of those talks went kinda like this.

SHE. “I mean he’s qualified and all that; the board wouldn’t’ve hired him if he weren’t qualified. But he’s so immature.”
ME. “Sure. And the spiritual immaturity is undermining the job…”
SHE. “Hold up. I didn’t say he was spiritually immature. He’s just immature.”
ME. “They’re the same thing.”
SHE. “No they’re not.”
ME. “Mature people exhibit self-control, emotional control, patience, kindness, gentleness, and peace, right? Those are all spiritual things.”
SHE. “Mature people know stuff.”
ME. “When the smartest person in the world sticks her tongue out at you, would you say she’s being mature?”
SHE. “No.”
ME. “Smartest person gets bad customer service, so she throws a massive hissy fit in the middle of the supermarket. Still being mature?”
SHE. “No.”
ME. “Because it’s not about knowledge or ability. Betcha the oldest, wisest people in your church don’t know squat about computers.”

(Like I said, this happened years ago. I’m old now. We old people grew up with computers. But our parents, not so much.)

ME. [continuing] “But here’s the thing. When an old person’s spiritually mature, and you tell them, ‘You need to go on the internet for that,’ they’re not gonna freak out—‘Oh I don’t know anything about computers, and I’m too old to learn. What do you need a computer for? You young people and your computers. In my day we didn’t use computers for anything.’ They’re not gonna have a mini-meltdown; they’re gonna be patient. ‘I don’t know how to do that. Can you show me?’ Because maturity isn’t about knowledge or ability. It’s all behavior.”

11 March 2021


Humility is an obvious fruit of the Spirit, ’cause it’s a form of self-control. It’s when we resist the temptation to claim status, prerogatives, or power over other people. Before we say or do anything, we think about how our actions and words affect others. We unselfishly take them into consideration. We submit.

Humility isn’t about claiming we’re all on the same level. Because we’re not. I am smarter, more handsome, and wealthier than other people. I have connections others don’t; I have a better job than others do; I’m white, which means I’m gonna suffer from racism way, way less than nonwhites. Claiming or pretending I don’t have these advantages isn’t humility; it’s hypocrisy. Especially when it’s in my power to use these advantages to help others. Maybe not to the level Esther did, Es 4.13-14 but it is why God has people in positions of privilege: So we can help.

Popular culture defines humility as demeaning, embarrassing, or dishonoring ourselves. And yeah, sometimes humility involves those things. It can be embarrassing to admit our failings. But once we start, we break that fear pretty quickly. Plus, notice all the stand-up comedians who make a really good living at it.

But properly, humility is when we don’t lord our advantages over others. Or lord over anyone. We Christians are meant to love and serve one another. We have no business closing ourselves off, or hiding behind gatekeepers, secretaries, “armor-bearers,” or other functionaries who keep everyone “unimportant” away. Way too many bishops and pastors get that way, and are obviously not humble. Contrast that with our Lord, who angrily told his students to stop keeping the kids away.

Matthew 19.13-15 KJV
13 Then were there brought unto [Jesus] little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15 And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.

“Suffer” as in “put up with,” not “make them suffer.” Y’all need to get up to speed on King James Version vocabulary.

Still: Jesus is an infinitely important guy, but he makes time to meet with people, and bless ’em with any resources he has. So should we.