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

21 May 2018

The Twelve and the miracles.

The hangups Christians have about how the apostles could somehow do miracles before Pentecost.

Mark 6.12-13 • Luke 9.6

Of Jesus’s students, he assigned 12 of them to be apostles, “one who’s been sent out,” and eventually he did send ’em out to preach the gospel, cure the sick, and exorcise unclean spirits.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Mark 6.12-13 KWL
12 Going out, the apostles preached that people should repent.
13 The apostles were throwing out many demons, anointing many sick people with olive oil—and they were curing them.
Luke 9.6 KWL
6 Coming out, the apostles passed through the villages,
evangelizing and curing the sick everywhere.

Yep, all of them. Even Judas Iscariot.

And here’s where we slam into a wall with a lot of Christians. Because they cannot fathom how these apostles went out and cured the sick and exorcised evil spirits.

They’ll grudgingly acknowledge that the apostles did it. The gospels totally say so, and who are they to doubt the gospels? But y’see, their hangups come from the fact they have a lot of theological baggage about how miracles work, how the Holy Spirit empowers people, when the Holy Spirit historically empowered people, and the fact miracles seem to have nothing to do with the apostles’ maturity level: Once they were done doing these mighty acts, they came back to follow Jesus, and seemed to be the same foolish kids they always were.

Oh, and we can’t leave out Judas Iscariot. Christians really don’t like the idea Judas was curing the sick and casting out devils. Since he was one of the Twelve, and since these verses imply he did as the others of the Twelve did, it means Judas did miracles. And this, many Christians cannot abide. I remember one movie in particular where Judas specifically did no miracles; he lacked faith, so Simon the Canaanite, whom Judas was paired up with, Mt 10.4 did ’em all. ’Cause later Judas turned traitor and appears to have gone apostate—so Christians don’t want him having power, and balk at the idea the Holy Spirit really entrusted him with any such thing. It violates their sense of karma.

First thing we gotta do is put down the baggage and accept the scriptures: Jesus sent out his apostles, young as they were, green as they were, to go do supernatural acts of power. Which they did. We can debate the how and the why, but none of this hashing out should violate the fact they did the stuff. If it does, we’re doing theology backwards, and wrong.

17 April 2018

Continuationism. Because the miracles never stopped.

Most Christians believe in miracles, though I’m gonna single out the Pentecostals and charismatics a little.

CONTINUATIONIST /kən.tɪn.jʊ'eɪ.ʃən.ɪst/ adj. Believes the Holy Spirit’s gifts (particularly tongues and prophecy) continued from bible times to the present day.

I’m not a big fan of the term continuationist. That’s because the default setting for Christianity is, and should be, that the Holy Spirit is living, active, and still doing as he did among the ancient Christians, as described by the prophet Joel and fulfilled on 24 May 33, the date of the first Christian Pentecost:

Acts 2.17-21 KWL
17 “ ‘God said this’ll happen in the last days: “I’ll pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
Your sons and daughters will give prophecies.
Your young ones will see visions. Your old ones will will dream dreams.
18 In those days I’ll pour out my Spirit even on my slaves, men and women.
And they’ll give prophecies!
19 I’ll show wonderful things in the skies above,
and signs on the earth below—blood and fire and smoke in the air.
20 The sun’ll be turned to darkness, the moon to blood before the great Lord’s Day comes,
21 and everybody who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved.” ’ ” Jl 2.28-32

The default setting is that the scriptures are valid, and they describe a Spirit who empowers Jesus’s church with supernatural gifts—miracles, signs, healing, exorcisms, and speaking in tongues—where necessary. And it’s often necessary in this hurting world, which needs to learn God is here, loves them, and wants to save them.

But “continuationist” was invented by people who don’t believe any such thing: By cessationists, who think God turned off the miracles. On what basis do they believe so? Their own doubts, plus out-of-context verses which defend those doubts.

To their minds, they’re right to believe God has left and forsaken his people, He 13.5 with nothing to keep us going but our beliefs and our bibles; that continuationists are delusional, deceived by devils which can trick us with mighty acts of power… yet God won’t perform similar acts of power. Does this make any sense to you? ’Cause it does to cessationists.

To their minds, they’re the norm, and continuationists are weirdos. Even though we continuationists outnumber ’em by more than four to one.

And even though cessationist churches are full of people who seriously, sincerely doubt God turned off the miracles. Because they’ve seen stuff. Miraculous stuff. Stuff which makes ’em describe themselves as “soft cessationists”—they’ll grudgingly admit God permits some miracles to take place once in a while. Not so often that they get uncomfortable; just here and there, or in extreme circumstances. And only within their churches, ’cause they’re pretty sure continuationist churches are too wayward for God to legitimately do stuff among us.

Basically there’s a lot of pride and denial going on among cessationists. But enough about them; their unbelief will just frustrate you. Let’s get to normal Christians, who know God interacts with his kids on a regular basis, ’cause we’ve seen him do it.

12 March 2018

Miracles: Actual acts of God.

As opposed to what insurance companies call “acts of God.”

Properly defined a miracle is anything God does or enables. If a human performs a miracle, it’s not legitimate—it’s trickery—if the Holy Spirit doesn’t empower it.

Improperly but popularly, a miracle is defined as a violation of the laws of nature. Blame 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume for that one. Hume didn’t believe in miracles, but he did believe in science, and decided to set the two of them at odds with one another: If you believe in one, what’re you doing believing in the other? As a result, today we have a lot of Christians who don’t believe in science—and don’t think we’re allowed to believe in it. Likewise a lot of people who do trust science, but are under the misbelief they’re fools if they also trust God—and as a result they hide their religious beliefs from their colleagues. All for no good reason; over a false rivalry between apples and oranges.

Also improperly but popularly, a miracle is defined as anything which looks awesome, or really works out in our favor. So a newborn baby is a “miracle.” Our sports team beating the odds to win is a “miracle.” Figuring out how to land on the moon was a “miracle.” A stretch where we manage to avoid red lights while driving, a pretty sunset, a really good Reuben sandwich—all these things are “miracles.” We use the word for everything. Kinda ruins its impact.

But back to the proper definition: If God does it, it’s a miracle. So, newborn babies and sunsets sorta count, since God did create all the conditions for nature to form sunsets and babies. Less so with sporting events, cooking, lunar landings, and meaningless coincidences. We might think God’s involved ’cause we’re not so sure about human effort or coincidence. But if he’s not, it’s not.

02 March 2018

Is faith a gift?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02 November 2017

Tongues trigger emotion. Don’t let that misdirect you.

It’s an emotional experience to pray with God’s power. But we’re called to more than that.

1 Corinthians 14.20-21.

Praying in tongues is an emotional thing.

Y’see, when we pray tongues, it’s usually because we aren’t sure what to say to God. We’re too overwrought to say anything. Or there are so many thoughts in our head, and we can’t sort out what to prioritize. Or we don’t even know what’s going on, so we can’t articulate anything, but we know we oughta pray. Or we have prayed, but it wasn’t enough. For these and many other reasons, the Holy Spirit has granted us the ability to let him say it for us. Ro 8.26 But y’notice in all the circumstances I listed (and the dozens I haven’t), emotion’s a big part of it.

Here’s the catch. It’s also possible to pray tongues when we don’t know what to pray—but initially, feel nothing. That’s right. We haven’t resorted to tongues because we wanna pray; we’ve resorted to tongues because we wanna feel. We’re seeking the emotion which comes along with prayer-tongues. Less so God.

And the symptom of that problem is when we’re not praying with our minds.

1 Corinthians 14.14 KWL
When I pray tongues, my spirit prays. My mind isn’t fruitful.

When we’re praying tongues (or rote prayers,) we should engage our minds. Prayer’s about communicating with God, not getting a heavenly buzz. So there should be some communication on our part, right? Some thought about what to tell God, how to praise him, our needs, others’ needs, even what scriptures we’ve been turning over in our minds. Never pray brain-dead. Turns too easily into dead religion.

Okay. The anti-tongues crowd don’t really care about any of this stuff. They’re just looking for an excuse to ban tongues. So whenever they get any hint we’re praying brain-dead, they pounce. Blow it up into something profoundly awful, some form of egregious sin. If we pray tongues, but in any way aren’t praying mentally (that is, enough for their satisfaction), they figure ’tis better we didn’t pray at all.

Which is completely wrong. Tongues are good! They build us up, 1Co 14.4 because they’re prayer. Since when is prayer bad? Okay, yes, when we have wrong motives. When we’re praying for the wrong things. Jm 4.3 But God doesn’t have to answer such prayers with yes. And if we’re listening to him as we should be, the Holy Spirit can always straighten out our defective motives.

Hence Paul and Sosthenes’ simple solution to the problem of mindless prayer:

1 Corinthians 14.15 KWL
Why is this? I’ll pray by my spirit; I’ll pray by my mind.
I’ll sing by my spirit; I’ll sing by my mind.

Anyway. I bring up mindless prayer ’cause I’m focusing on the emotional dimension of tongues. It gets to the core of why the apostles had to correct the ancient Corinthians about their prayer practices: They, too, were praying in tongues for all the wrong reasons.

04 August 2017

Tongues and unfruitful minds.

Plus the unfruitful cessationist interpretations of this passage.

1 Corinthians 14.13-19.

This is a passage Christians like to quote. For different reasons.

For Pentecostals it’s to quote the apostles—specifically Paul—when they wrote, “I speak tongues more than all of you.” Then argue, “See? Paul did it. Why can’t we?” And then, more often than not, proceed to do it contrary to everything else Paul taught about building up the church.

For anti-Pentecostals, it’s to point to the statement, “Pray that you can interpret,” then loudly object, “People ought never speak in tongues tongues at church unless they follow up with an interpretation.” Then they proceed to ban even the tongues which might be followed up with interpretation, just to be on the safe side. If they’re full-bore cessationist, they’re pretty sure tongues are devilish anyway.

Well, let’s look at the passage in question.

1 Corinthians 14.13-19 KWL
13 So tongues-speakers: Pray that you can interpret.
14 When I pray tongues, my spirit prays. My mind isn’t fruitful.
15 Why is this? I’ll pray by my spirit; I’ll pray by my mind.
I’ll sing by my spirit; I’ll sing by my mind.
16 For when you praise in your spirit, and the place is full of newbies,
how will they say amen to your thanksgiving, since they don’t know what you said?
17 You did give thanks properly, but others weren’t built up.
18 I thank God—and I speak tongues more than all of you.
19 But in church, I want five words in my mind to speak so I can also instruct others.
(That, or tens of thousands of words in tongues.)

Yes, my translation reads a little different than others you might’ve read. That’s because we have different biases. When others translate this passage, they imagine the apostles were contrasting. To them this passage is about speaking tongues versus speaking ancient Greek—or English, or Spanish, or whatever the locals speak.

That’s not at all my attitude, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the apostles’ attitude either. They spoke tongues; they never forbade it; they ordered the Corinthians to not forbid it either. 1Co 14.19 The issue wasn’t tongues versus no tongues; it was proper versus improper. It was using tongues for personal worship, not group worship, nor to create a “spiritual” atmosphere.

If you’re convinced the apostles were trying to contrast between tongues and no tongues, it’s really easy to make it sound that way by slanting your translation. First of all, the word de/“and.” Ancient Greek used it to connect sentences which had a common theme, much like today’s English uses paragraphs. When you translate, you can drop every de entirely; it shouldn’t change the meaning of the translation any. But when you translate de as “but,” like the KJV and many other translations, you’ve introduced a contrast which isn’t in the original text. And here’s what you get. (I highlighted every word in the passage which translates de.)

1 Corinthians 14.13-15 NIV
13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.

Plus if you translate i/“or” as “than,” you get:

1 Corinthians 14.19 NIV
But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Those four little words make four big differences, ’cause now people have the idea tongues are negative and undesirable—that in our churches, people should speak English only.

Bias, man. It’s a sneaky little critter.

11 July 2017

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit: The unforgiven sin.

Yep, it’s a big big deal.

Mark 3.28-30 • Matthew 12.31-32 • Luke 12.10

Fairly soon after we become Christians, we hear a rumor going round that there’s such a thing as an unpardonable sin: If we commit it, we’re doomed. God’s grace apparently has a limit, and this crosses it. Do it and you’re going to hell. Game over, man, game over.

Problem is, the rumor doesn’t always tell people what this unpardonable sin is. I’ve had newbies ask me whether it was murder. (Nope; Moses and David were murderers, y’know. Arguably so was Paul.) Others figure any of the seven deadly sins are unpardonable. (Nope; still not it.) When I was a kid, I thought cursing God would do it. (Still nope.) According to Jesus, it’s when we commit the sin of blasphemy—but not against the Father nor himself, but specifically against the Holy Spirit.

Turns up in the gospels, right after Jesus had to correct the Pharisee scribes for accusing him of using Satan to perform exorcisms.

Mark 3.28-30 KWL
28 “Amen! I promise you every sin will be forgiven humanity’s children,
and every blasphemy, however often people blaspheme.
29 But when anyone blasphemes the Holy Spirit they aren’t forgiven in the age to come:
In that age, they’ll be liable for a crime.”
30 For the scribes were saying, “Jesus has an unclean spirit.”
Matthew 12.31-32 KWL
31 “This is why I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.
But blaspheming the Spirit won’t be forgiven.
32 Whenever one says a word against the Son of Man, it’ll be forgiven them.
But whenever it’s said against the Holy Spirit, it won’t be forgiven them.
Neither in this age, nor in the next.”
Lk 12.10 KWL
“And anyone who’ll say a word about the Son of Man will be forgiven.
But speaking in blasphemy about the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven.”

So there y’go: Everyone can be forgiven anything and everything. But the single, massive exception is when people blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Do that, and you’re sitting out the age to come. No New Jerusalem for you. Just weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Scary, right? Hence people wanna make sure they never, ever commit this crime.

Problem is, instead of learning what blasphemy is and avoiding it, and particularly avoiding it when it comes the Spirit, many foolish Christians have invented some strange explanations and redefinitions of what blaspheming the Spirit means. Largely because what they and their friends are currently doing comes mighty close to it. If not actually goes there already. And they’re in deep denial about it.

Yikes.

17 May 2017

A few tongues to set the mood?

Tongues aren’t mood enhancers. They’re prayer and prophecy.

1 Corinthians 14.5-12.

One of the practices I see too often in Pentecostal churches is the very same one Paul and Sosthenes saw in the church at Corinth. It’s the use of praying in tongues as atmosphere. “Okay everybody, call out to God in your prayer language,” will be the instruction. (Sometimes with the caveat, “If you have a prayer language,” and hopefully they do.) Then everybody’s expected to pray, or sing, or make various joyful noises, in tongues.

What’s this all about? Well, tongues are prayer. So we’re praying, and prayer is good. Right?

Except that’s not entirely why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to set the mood. “Change the atmosphere,” might be another way Christians put it. Create a vibe.

Ostensibly it’s to call upon the Holy Spirit, ’cause he’s the one who empowers tongues. 1Co 12.10 Makes it more obvious he’s in the room… ’cause he’s working the room, in order to get all these tongues unloosed. Secondarily, once people realize the Spirit’s in the room, that God’s really up to something, their attitudes might change.

Plus there’s this false idea found among too many Christians that when we pray, we gotta be in the right headspace. We gotta “incline our hearts towards prayer.” We gotta psyche ourselves into feeling holy, or receptive to anything God might say, or at least banish distracting (or naughty) thoughts from our minds.

For many Christians, when we find ourselves in a church building where a whole lot of Christians are audibly worshiping, it feels… well, different. Otherworldly. Holy. They love this feeling. It’s part of the reason one of my Orthodox friends loves going to church: He doesn’t speak a lick of Russian, but the incense and all these guys praying away in Russian… it just makes him feel transported to a mystic place. Pentecostals also don’t mind not understanding a word. And honestly, they wouldn’t mind (well, much) if it turns out a number of these “prayers” aren’t even prayer, but Christians making funny sounds to the best of their ability—with no Holy Spirit behind any of it. I’ve caught plenty of Christians praying in Spanish, figuring none of these monolingual Anglos sitting by them would know the difference anyway.

Like I said, it’s about setting the mood. Evoking a feeling of the Holy Spirit in the building, empowering people to pray. So… now that he’s empowered the tongues, what’s he gonna do next? ’Cause his presence is here! He’s making the place holy! The Holy Spirit’s gonna do something!

So what does he wind up doing? Well, it varies by church. In most of the churches I’ve been to: Not a lot.

I mean, the church service was nice. The music was good. People came away feeling positive and uplifted. But what’d we see in the way of miracles? Prophecies? People getting cured of illness? People having life-changing transformations, like coming to Jesus, dedicating themselves to follow him better, making major life decisions? Well… maybe there was four or five of those. But that happens at any church; even among cessationists, who are pretty sure the Holy Spirit’s only job is to magnify your bible. If that.

Oh, I won’t even touch what the cessationists think about this practice. They got their own issues anyway.

04 May 2017

Are you experienced?

You wanna know God’s real? Start seeking God-experiences.

Every so often someone’ll ask me, “How do you know there’s a God?”

They’re not asking me rhetorically, “How do we know God exists?” They don’t wanna go over the apologists’ various proofs for God’s existence. In fact that’d be the fastest way to annoy them: “Well y’see, I know there’s a God because the universe works on cause-and-effect, and if we trace all the causes back to a first cause…” Yeah yeah, they’ve heard the “unmoved mover” idea before. They don’t care about that. They wanna know how I, me, K.W. Leslie, the guy who talks about God as if he’s met him personally, knows God exists.

Well, that’d be how. Met him personally.

No, really.

No, really. See, that’s the problem with such Christians: They’re not sure “met him personally” is a valid option in this present age. Often they’ve been taught to believe in some form of cessationism where God stopped personally intervening in the universe, or interacting with his kids once science was invented. Or that in order to have any such encounters, you gotta have a near-death experience. In many cases they’ve never been taught any such thing by their fellow Christians… but they assumed it’s true because they’ve never encountered a miracle. Since they assume (sorta arrogantly) they meet the standard for what’s “normal” in our universe, if they never saw a miracle, must be that nobody experiences miracles.

So when I tell ’em I met God—and continue to meet God—they assume I must have a screw loose. Because deep down that’s actually what they believe about God: He’s a figment. He’s imaginary. He doesn’t interact with the real world; he’s not even remotely “real” in that sense. He’s a platonic ideal or an anthropomorphized abstract. He’s mythological.

The very idea God’s totally real, in every substantive sense of the word “real”… kinda scares them a little. ’Cause it means they oughta take God a lot more seriously than they currently do. Right now the idea of an impossibly distant, remote, otherworldly, outside-our-universe and doesn’t-intervene God kinda works for them. They’re comfortable with the arrangement: God expects nothing more of us than that we intellectually accept his existence and Jesus’s kingship, and in exchange he’ll graciously let us into heaven. Done deal. Easy-peasy.

Only problem: That’s not all God expects of us. We know better. He wants us to take much, much bigger steps. But before we ever do that—before we get radical about our Christianity (and hopefully not in those crazy legalistic ways), we wanna know our religion isn’t based on wishful thinking. We wanna know there’s a real live God behind it all.

There is. If you’re Christian, he lives inside you. You wanna see him? You wanna silence your doubts about his existence for good and all?

Then you gotta put aside that imaginary-God bulls--t and start acting like he’s real. And you’re gonna discover that all this time, when you weren’t paying attention ’cause you were too busy playing church, God’s been there all along.

20 April 2017

The explosive power of God?

Humans covet power. It’s why we regularly misinterpret what the scriptures have to say about it.

Dynamis power /'di.na.mis, usually 'du'nə.mɪs 'paʊ(.ə)r/ n. The extra-mighty sort of power God possesses.
[Dynamite power /'daɪ.nə.maɪt 'paʊ(.ə)r/]

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.” So wrote poet Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism, and a lot of people stop there. They figure what Pope meant was be careful with knowledge. Knowledge is power, and knowledge is dangerous.

Read the whole poem and you learn different.

A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

The Pierian Spring was a fountain in Macedonia dedicated to the Greek goddesses of wisdom and talent, the Muses. Drink from it, and you’re supposed to gain knowledge. Sip from it and you get half-truths. That’s what’s dangerous: A little learning, partial knowledge. Don’t be satisfied with tricks or trivia. Dig further.

One obvious example is popular Christianity’s teaching on “dynamis power.” I first heard it before I went to seminary, and learned Greek. I’ve heard it countless times since.

Pastors are impressed by how similar the word dynamis (or dunamis, depending on who’s converting ΔΥΝΑΜΙΣ from Greek to Latin letters) is to our English words dynamic or dynamite. They’ll spend a lot of time on the dynamis power of God. Or as one of them regularly put it, “the dynamite power of God!” ’Cause once the Holy Spirit gets in there and does something, BOOM!”

It’s an exciting image. It’s that excitement which indicates someone’s been sipping from the spring of knowledge again. Not drinking deep.

But when I first heard this idea, what did I know? I hadn’t learned any Greek yet. And even for quite a few years after my Greek classes, I perpetuated the error: God’s power is ’splodey like dynamite.

Anyway. One Sunday 10 years ago, after yet another sermon in which God’s explosive power came up, I decided to finally double-check the idea against a Greek dictionary.

14 March 2017

Tongues. And how they develop prophecy.

It’s definitely not one or the other.

1 Corinthians 14.1-5

Tongues are a controversial practice.

Not just because far too many Christians believe God turned off the miracles and therefore has nothing to do with tongues, bible to the contrary. To be honest and blunt, tongues are easy to fake, and easy to abuse. Christians who pray in tongues have a bad habit, and therefore a reputation, of being undisciplined about it.

Which was entirely the point of Paul and Sosthenes writing 1 Corinthians 14: They didn’t wanna forbid nor ban tongues, like certain overzealous Christians do, and in so doing squelch everything the Holy Spirit wants to achieve through ’em. They simply wanted the Christians of Corinth to police themselves. Stop letting your tongues-speakers run amok. Stop prioritizing tongues above unity, harmony, and especially prophecy.

Best I stop summarizing and get to that chapter.

1 Corinthians 14.1-5 KWL
1 Pursue love. Be zealous for the supernatural.
Most of all so you can prophesy:
2 Tongues-speakers speak to God, not people.
Nobody else understands them, and they speak secrets in the Spirit.
3 Prophecy-speakers speak to people: They build up, help out, and advise.
4 Tongues-speakers build up themselves. Prophecy-speakers build up a church.
5 I want all of you to speak in tongues; most of all so you can prophesy.
Prophesy-speakers are more valuable than tongues-speakers—
unless tongues-speakers interpret themselves so the church can be built up.

The issue here is worshiping together. Not alone, like we do during prayer time: The Corinthians met together to worship together. Problem is, they were worshiping like they did at home: They prayed. But not in Greek. They prayed in tongues. Which is fine when we’re alone, but when we’re together, and nobody can understand one another, we’re not gonna be blessed by what we’re praying for one another. ’Cause we don’t know what we’re praying for one another.

The core problem? Selfishness. Nobody was willing to step up and audibly, publicly pray for one another. But they were willing to speak in tongues super loud: “Check me out! God granted me the ability to pray in tongues! I’m performing a miracle! It’s so spiritual of me! Mamase mamasa mamkusa!

Useful rule of thumb: When you’re worshiping, don’t be a dick.

’Cause here’s what’s gonna happen when we’re praying for one another correctly: We’re gonna pay attention to the Holy Spirit ’cause we expect him to respond to our prayers. And he will. He’ll tell us stuff. He’ll inform us what to say. He’ll have specific messages for the people we’re praying over. Prophecy is gonna happen. The whole church is gonna get blessed.

In comparison, what’s gonna happen in a roomful of Christians praying in tongues? In my experience, we just get unnecessarily louder.

19 January 2017

Shekhinah: Everybody’s favorite non-biblical Hebrew word.

It’s about how Christians wanna experience God’s glory.

Shekhinah /sɛ.xi'nɑ, usually ʃɛ'kaɪ.nə/ n. The glory of God’s presence.
2. God’s presence.
3. God’s dwelling place.
[Shekhinic /ʃɛ'kaɪ.nɪk/ adj.]

The Hebrew word šekhiná, which English-speakers tend to spell “shekhinah” or “shekinah,” isn’t found in the bible.

No, really. It comes from the Mishna. Sanhedrin 6.5, Avot 3.2, 6 It refers to God’s presence. More specifically the glory of God’s presence—provided we can feel or sense or see any kind of presence. God’s invisible, y’know. But sometimes he makes his presence more visible than usual. Like when he allowed Moses to see his glory Ex 33.18 —from the back, anyway. Or when the Hebrews saw God’s glory in his temple, 2Ch 7.3 or when Stephen had a vision of it. Ac 7.55

None of these folks were talking about seeing God himself. The apostle John is entirely sure they didn’t see God himself. Jn 1.18 But they saw something, and what they saw was what God šakhán/“dwells” in. That’s a verb which we do find in the bible, and there are noun-forms which go right along with it: Šekhén/“dwelling place,” and šakhén/“dweller.”

Wait, so where’d šekhiná come from? Well, the rabbis wanted a unique word which refers to God’s particular glorious habitation, so they coined one. Hebrew words have masculine and feminine genders, like Spanish and French, so basically they took the masculine word šekhén and turned it into the feminine word šekhiná. Still means “dwelling,” but now it specifically means God’s dwelling.

Thing is, because šekhiná is a feminine noun, a lot of rabbis use it as a jumping-off point to talk about God’s feminine aspects and qualities. When you talk about God’s šekhiná with Jews, don’t be surprised when they start talking about “the female divine presence.” Often all they wanna talk about is God’s motherly side (which is fine; he has one), but every once in a while they get weird. And no, I’m not saying this ’cause of any chauvinist hangups. Some really do get super weird.

Of course that’s not at all what we Christians mean by shekhinah. We mean revelation, the brightest light, clouds of glory, and the tremendous power of the Almighty. We mean awesome God-experiences so overwhelming, we lose control of our bodily functions and now they’ll have to steam-clean the church building. We mean seeing God’s glory. Ideally seeing God.

Well again, not really seeing God, ’cause “nobody’s ever seen God,” Jn 1.18 and “no one can see me and live.” Ex 33.20 But close enough.

11 January 2017

Generational curses and fearful Christians.

Christians are curse-proof. But some of us are convinced family curses still affect us.

In the middle of the Ten Commandments, as he warned the Hebrews away from idolatry, the LORD mentioned a little something about how children suffer consequences for their parents.

Exodus 20.5-6 KWL
5 “Don’t bow down to them. Don’t serve them.
For I’m YHWH your God: I’m El-Qanná/‘Possessive God.’
I have children suffer consequences for their parents’ evil
—and the grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—when they hate me.
6 But I show love to a thousand generations
when they love me and observe my commands.”

Elsewhere in Exodus, when the LORD revealed his glory to Moses, he repeated this idea of forgiving a thousand generations, yet afflicting three or four generations.

Exodus 34.6-7 KWL
6 The LORD passed over Moses’s face and said, “YHWH. YHWH. God.
Compassionate. Gracious. Slow to anger. Great in love and truth.
7 Lovingly guarding thousands, putting up with evil, rebellion, and sin.
Not cleansing, cleansing those counted as evil—
from parents to children to grandchildren,
to the third generation, to the fourth generation.”

And in Deuteronomy Moses also forbade certain people from joining the qehal YHWH/“the LORD’s assembly.” That’d include

  • a mamzér/“mongrel,” the child of a Hebrew and a gentile, “till the 10th generation.” Dt 23.2
  • Ammonites and Moabites; 10th generation. Dt 23.3
  • Edomites; third generation. Dt 23.7

And of course there’s total depravity, the idea that humanity is innately messed up because Adam and Eve’s original sin was passed down to the rest of us, spoiling us from the moment of our birth.

In general, these ideas are the basis of the popular Christian idea there are generational curses, a problem that’s passed down from parent to child in a family for centuries. Like alcoholism, or the tendency to have heart attacks in one’s forties. Like bad genes. Only this time it’s a particular form of sin problem.

Fr’instance say your grandfather was involved in conjuring up the spirits of the dead. And whattaya know; mine was. According to generational-curse theory, that’s gonna affect me. Even though I’m Christian; even though I was Christian before Grandpa got involved in necromancy; even though Grandpa later repented and became Christian. Simply by virtue of his being my grandfather, evil spirits have been called upon to plague my grandmother’s life, my parents’ lives, my aunts’ and uncles’ lives, my siblings and their kids, my cousins and their kids. And of course me.

Gee, thanks Grandpa.

16 November 2016

When supernatural gifts will no longer be needed.

Contrary to common myth, not gonna happen for a while yet.

1 Corinthians 13.7-13

I grew up among Christians who loved to use this passage of 1 Corinthians to justify their belief God turned off the miracles. He didn’t, but miracles weirded them out and messed with their End Times theories, so they decided it’d be easiest if he just did. So when Paul and Sosthenes wrote the following, they had their own spin on it. (Here it is, in what they figured was the authoritative King James Version.)

1 Corinthians 13.8-10 KJV
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

“That which is perfect,” they insisted, meant the bible. The New Testament wasn’t complete in Paul’s day; John wouldn’t write Revelation for a few more decades. So while the canon was still open, God had to grant his apostles prophecy and supernatural knowledge, ’cause they couldn’t write bible without it. But once the bible was done, God decided it was perfect, and the supernatural abilities vanished away. No more prophecy, no more supernatural knowledge, and definitely no more tongues.

Funny thing is… a lot of ’em did accept a limited degree of prophecy and supernatural knowledge. Every once in a while, somebody would get it in their head that “God” was leading or directing them to do something or other. And certainly End Times prophecies were getting fulfilled every day by world events, or so their favorite End Times “scholars” insisted. But tongues? Absolutely not. No tongues. No exceptions.

Well, that was their theory about what “that which is perfect” meant. Any other theories out there?

Sure. The predominant interpretation throughout Christendom—one even taught among cessationists!—is the apostles weren’t referring to the bible. They meant the End. ’Cause the single word translated “that which is perfect” is téleion/“finished” or “perfect.” (Or consistent, kinda like when Jesus taught us to treat everyone with grace and without discrimination.)

See, when Jesus is standing on the earth, able to speak to Christians face-to-face, are we gonna need supernatural forms of communication? Gonna need tongues and interpretation? Gonna need words of knowledge? Gonna need prophecy? Gonna need one Christian to confirm to another Christian they really did hear from God? Nah; no point. Just get Jesus on the phone.

But till Jesus returns and selects a wireless carrier, the usual way to hear from him is through tongues, supernatural knowledge, and prophecy. And bible; his supernatural messages aren’t gonna contradict his written word. (Well, unless it’s to get our attention. Ek 4.9-15, Ac 10.9-16 So know your bible!) You’ll notice just about every single Christian who cuts off God’s living messages, who insists we can only be guided by God through the bible: Not only are they getting this passage wrong, but they misinterpret just about every other passage they quote. They take everything out of context. Hey, who’s gonna stop them if God himself went dark?

Except he didn’t. And never will. He 13.5 The supernatural will remain until the End finally arrives—until the point it’ll be redundant and unnecessary. God’s limited revelation will be superseded by full revelation. Our immaturity will be set aside in favor of full maturity. The perfect will take the place of the partial.

19 October 2016

The love we oughta see in supernatural gifts.

We do untold damage when love’s not part of this ministry.

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. What love is, as opposed to what it’s not—as opposed to what popular culture, and sometimes even Christian culture, claims it is. The apostles defined it properly, so we’re adjusting our concept of agápi/“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.

That’s the mindset we need to have when we’re striving for, or acting in, 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 are acting 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.

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.

05 October 2016

Strive for greater supernatural gifts!

’Cause the Holy Spirit wants us to be a wonder-working church.

1 Corinthians 12.28-31

Part of the reason the apostles brought up the subject of supernatural gifts was so Christians wouldn’t be ignorant of ’em. 1Co 12.1 There are all sorts of gifts, empowered by one and the same Holy Spirit, 1Co 12.4 distributed among Christians so they can contribute to Christianity’s unity.

This being the case: Do we see all Christians stepping up to the different ministries these gifts can energize? Do we see all Christians practicing these supernatural gifts? Miracles breaking out everywhere, mighty acts of power convincing the world God is really among us, the weak and sick flocking to churches because they know God has the cure, the lost and confused seeking out Christians because they know God has answers?

I wish.

And I’m sure plenty of Christians also wish it were so. Not to mention Christ himself. But we don’t see it. What we see are naysayers and cessationists. People who reduce these ministries to job titles, and remind everybody within earshot they hold these titles, so give respect where respect is due. Meanwhile they’re not growing God’s kingdom much. What little growth they have is anemic.

It’s a far cry from the Spirit’s intent: Ministers in Christ’s body, tasked with doing the supernatural, expected to grow the kingdom—and okay, not everybody is mature enough to wield these duties just yet. But they’ll get there. We all will.

1 Corinthians 12.28 KWL
This is who God put in the church:
First apostles. Second prophets. Third teachers. Then powers.
Then supernatural healing. Helpers. Leadership. Different kinds of tongues.

22 September 2016

One Spirit for the one body of Christ.

So stop dividing the body for the sake of your particular gift!

1 Corinthians 12.4-27

The way pagans in the first century understood the supernatural, there were many different supernatural abilities—and each ability was produced by a different spirit.

  • If you wanted healing power, you prayed to Apollo.
  • For wisdom, Athena.
  • For speaking in tongues, Dionysius.
  • For mighty acts of power, Zeus.

You get the idea. Different abilities require the intercession of different gods. Or lesser gods, little helper gods, personal gods, known as daimónia, from which we get our word “demon.” Nope, not real gods. Unclean spirits.

Of course, when these gods did no good, as was usually the case, you do realize there were other gods. Apollo wasn’t the only Greco-Roman healing god. There was Asklipiós, Panákia, and Ygihía. And if the Greco-Roman gods didn’t work, there were always the Egyptian gods, the Persian gods, the Norse gods…

Today’s pagans still think this way. First they try western medicine. If the doctor’s no help, they go find a second opinion. If no doctor can help, often they keep trying: They look up researchers who are trying experimental cures. (Some are legitimate; some are cranks who try untested herbal remedies, vitamin therapies, or homeopathic cures.) They dabble in non-western medicine, like traditional Chinese or American Indian methods. They try psychic healers, medicine men, witch doctors. Whatever it takes to get well.

But Christians properly understand regardless of the method, there’s only one source of our life and well-being: God.

1 Corinthians 12.4-6 KWL
4 And there are a diversity of supernatural things—and the same Holy Spirit;
5 a diversity of ministries—and the same Lord;
6 a diversity of activities—and the same God activating all of them in all of us.

The doctors at the hospital, the faith healers, the herbalists: They can only cure you if God granted ’em the knowledge to diagnose your ailment, the scientific technique to treat you, or the supernatural power to heal you. If they don’t depend on any of those things, you’re not getting cured. At best, you’ll heal up naturally, and think your quack cured you. At worst, you’ll get tricked into thinking you were cured, and die anyway.

Same with any other supernatural thing you encounter. It was all done by God. Otherwise it was a trick. Devilish trick or human trick; doesn’t matter. ’Cause there’s only one Holy Spirit who dispenses the power. There are no others.

23 August 2016

When the miracles stopped. Oh wait; they didn’t.

God never stopped doing miracles. But you’d never know it to listen to some Christians.

Cessationist /sɛ'seɪ.ʃən.ist/ adj. Believing miracles happened in bible times, and may happen in future, but currently don’t.
2. Believing miracles happened at some point in the past, but don’t now.
3. Believing miracles never happened; that all biblical descriptions of them are exaggerations, fantasies, or misreports.
[Cessationism /sɛ'seɪ.ʃən.iz.əm/ n.]

When you read the bible, you’ll notice there are an awful lot of miracles in it.

Jesus performed many. So’d the prophets of the Old Testament. Since Jesus empowers his followers with the Holy Spirit, Ac 2.38-39 same as himself Ac 10.38 and the Old Testament prophets, Zc 7.12 he told his students they’d perform miracles just like his. Potentially even greater than his Jn 14.12 —which arguably his apostles did do, in Acts.

Certainly the world should be filled with more miracles, just on the basis of pure numbers. Instead of only one Jesus of Nazareth, limited to the Galilee or Jerusalem or wherever else he walked, every Christian everywhere should be able to prophesy, cure the sick, and perform wonders on a Jesus-level scale. And I could spend today ranting about why this isn’t the case (lack of faith; duh) but today I’m gonna touch upon only one part of the problem: Christians who believe this shouldn’t be the case.

Because, they insist, miracles don’t happen anymore. God no longer empowers them. Miracles ceased. It’s why we call ’em cessationists. We find ’em all over Christendom. They come in all sorts, but I’m gonna lump ’em into four primary categories.

15 June 2016

What’s the difference between a seer and a prophet?

Short answer: No difference. Long answer… well, read on.

In case you’re the sort of person who skips titles (a phenomenon I’ve seen a bunch of times, and still don’t get), I remind you this essay is called “What’s the difference between a seer and a prophet?”

Short answer: No difference. Same thing.

1 Samuel 9.9 KWL
In the past, in Israel, a man said this when he went to seek God: “Walk, walk to the seer.”
For “the prophet” today was “the seer” in the past.

The Hebrew ro’éh/“one who sees” referred to people who saw stuff the rest of us don’t, ’cause like all legitimate prophets, seers had the Holy Spirit, who’d show ’em stuff. It’s a term which didn’t entirely die out in ancient Hebrew, because we find it in the late-biblical-Hebrew book Chronicles. “Khanani the seer” was sent to correct King Asa ben Abijah, who jailed him for it. 2Ch 16.7-10

So since there are prophets today, there are seers today. Every prophet is a seer.

But.

Nowadays, there are prophets who like to sort different types of prophets, different categories of prophecy, with different labels. Some of ’em are teach there is so a difference between a prophet and a seer. A seer is a prophet, but while an ordinary prophet does such-and-so, a seer does this-’n-that. A regular prophet gets revelation thisaway, but a seer gets revelation thataway. It all depends on the prophecy teacher, and what clever-sounding “details” they’ve discovered about how God messages his people.

The most common redefinition of “seer” I’ve come across, sorta makes sense. These prophecy teachers consistently claim a seer sees stuff. God gives them revelation by letting ’em see certain things. If you see things, you are of course a seer. The differences, naturally, comes from what you see.