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

God’s ways aren’t our ways. They’re holy.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 August 2023

Let’s begin with Isaiah 55. Yep, all of it.

Isaiah 55.1-13 MEV
1 Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good,
and let your soul delight itself in abundance.
3 Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Listen, so that your soul may live,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
even the sure mercies of David.
4 See, I have given him as a witness to the people,
a leader and commander to the people.
5 Surely you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and nations that did not know you shall run to you
because of the LORD your God,
even the Holy One of Israel;
for He has glorified you.
6 Seek the LORD while He may be found,
call you upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
and let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him,
and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways My ways,
says the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways,
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain comes down,
and the snow from heaven,
and do not return there
but water the earth
and make it bring forth and bud
that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
it shall not return to Me void,
but it shall accomplish that which I please,
and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For you shall go out with joy,
and be led out with peace;
the mountains and the hills
shall break forth into singing before you,
and all the trees of the field
shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree,
and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree;
and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign
that shall not be cut off.

This chapter is something the LORD told Isaiah to encourage southern Israel in the 700s BC, as they were facing down the Assyrian Empire, which was devastating all the countries round about—including northern Israel. It’s among the chapters which some scholars call “Second Isaiah,” because they’re so different from chapters 1–39; they’re about hope and future and God’s grace, whereas the first section was about God’s usual frustrations with the Israelis’ rampant sinning. So different, these scholars are pretty sure they were written by a whole different prophet—as if one guy isn’t capable of writing about multiple subjects.

Or, more appropriately, doesn’t radically change when he has God-encounters which convince God’s grace is way more consistent with his character than God’s wrath.

Y’see, God’s wrath is temporary. God doesn’t stay angry long. When he’s outraged, it’s for a few minutes—and mainly, I suspect, to remind us he does get angry, and he’s not ignoring injustice. He’s gonna set things right. He frequently does. But way, WAY more often, God’s about grace: If we stop sinning and turn to him, he hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s always willing to accept repentant people and love on us.

So why do we see so many prophecies in the Old Testament, and so many visions in Revelation, about God’s wrath? Two reasons: We humans suck, and God’s warning us there will be consequences, and they’re coming sooner than we think; and we humans are wrathful—which is why we kept and fixate on God’s statements about wrath.

I’ve no doubt whatsoever that young Isaiah prophesied wrath, because Isaiah himself was likewise outraged about the doings of his fellow citizens. Because he wanted them to cut it out. So did the LORD!—so it’s not that Isaiah was selectively tweaking God’s words to suit himself, like people so often do. But again: God doesn’t stay angry long. We do. We let our frustrations fester. God knows better than to do that… and in time, Isaiah learned better than to do that.

It’s why I’m zeroing in on verse 8 in this chapter: כִּ֣י לֹ֤א מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי֙ מַחְשְׁב֣וֹתֵיכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א דַרְכֵיכֶ֖ם דְּרָכָ֑י נְאֻ֖ם יְהוָֽה/Ki lo makhshevótay makhshevóteykhém, velo darkheykhém derkhém, nhum YHWH— “For my inventions aren’t your inventions, and your paths aren’t my paths, the LORD reveals.” We don’t think alike.

So we gotta learn to. We gotta find out how he thinks—it’s in your bibles, folks—and stop presuming since we have the Holy Spirit within, we automatically have the mind of God. Time and again we’ve demonstrated we so don’t. We don’t produce his fruit. Our knee-jerk reactions still aren’t consistent with his character. We imagine good fruit will happen spontaneously ’cause we belong to him now, but that’s not how it works. We gotta practice his fruit, and resist the ever-present temptation to remain fleshly Christians and just relabel all our sinful activity with Christianese words.

We gotta be like God, and unlike other people. Including other Christians, who are often lousy examples anyway. We gotta be unique. Different. Weird. Holy.

Holiness… versus goodness.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 June 2023
SANCTIFY 'sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ verb. Set apart as holy.
2. Have blessed, made legitimate through a religious sanction, or made to seem legitimate through custom and tradition.
3. Purify from sin.
[Sanctification sæŋ(k).tə.fə'keɪ.ʃən noun, sanctifier 'sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ(.ə)r noun.]

I bring up the popular definition of sanctify because I wanna point out what we English-speakers mean by sanctification, is not what the scriptures mean.

I’ve read loads of Christian books about sanctification. One in particular, which I read five years ago: The author went on and on and on about sin, how it taints humanity, and how Christians ought not do it. (And, well, duh.) But the more he wrote on the subject, the more obvious it became he was addressing his own particular hangups. Certain sins he found really nasty, so he spent a lot of time really pounding away at those sins like a carpenter trying to put thin nails into thick wood: Stop doing those things! You’re making baby Jesus cry.

Thing is, he wasn’t actually writing about sanctification. He was writing about goodness.

Christians mix the two ideas up all the time. Seriously, all the time. I challenge you to find a writing where the author recognizes there’s any difference between the two. And there is a difference. Holiness is about being set apart for God’s purposes. Holy means we’re not like anything else. That definition of sanctify I started this article with?—it’s definition #1, and only definition #1. The other definitions are the product of Christian popular culture. Christians are perfectly happy to settle for mere goodness.

But God tells us kids, “Be holy because I’m holy.” Lv 11.44-45, 1Pe 1.16 God’s different from everything else, and if we’re following him, the natural consequence is we would be different from everything else. And when the LORD said “be holy” in the scriptures, he wasn’t talking about goodness! Check out the context:

Leviticus 11.41-47 NASB
41 “Now every swarming thing that swarms on the earth is detestable, not to be eaten. 42 Whatever crawls on its belly, and whatever walks on all fours, whatever has many feet, in regard to every swarming thing that swarms on the earth, you shall not eat them, because they are detestable. 43 Do not make yourselves detestable through any of the swarming things that swarm; and you shall not make yourselves unclean with them so that you become unclean. 44 For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, because I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. 45 For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; so you shall be holy, because I am holy.”
46 This is the law regarding the animal and the bird, and every living thing that moves in the waters and everything that swarms on the earth, 47 to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten.

Yeah: God was talking about the kosher rules; about ritual cleanliness. Not goodness, not sins: Animals the Hebrews can eat, versus animals they can’t—because people of other nations eat any animals they please, with no thought to anything but their taste buds, and God didn’t want these particular Hebrews to be like any other nation. He wanted ’em unique.

He still wants us unique. Holy.

Christians who teach on sanctification, zero in on being good. That’s not nothing! We oughta be good. God is good, so we should be good like he is. When we’re not, we’re clearly not following him. I’m certainly not saying God’s okay with evil. But goodness is only a product of sanctification. It’s not the same thing.

So if we’re gonna be holy, we have to be more than merely good. We gotta be different.

Relevance versus holiness.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 May 2022

Relevance became a pretty big buzzword among young Christians in the late 1990s. I was one of those young Christians back then, so I’d hear it all the time: “If we wanna reach our culture for Jesus, we can’t be one of those old fuddy-duddy Christians who act like we were wrong to progress past the 1950s. We gotta be able to interact with people outside the popular Christian subculture—and not just to critique and condemn them. We gotta be relevant.”

And no, this wasn’t just some clever reasoning we could use on old people whenever we went out and got tattoos. Well, okay, some of us went that route; but most of us honestly did mean it. The cultural conservatism of American Evangelical Christianity was making it impossible for us to share the gospel with our pagan peers.

And by “impossible” I don’t just mean really, really hard. I mean impossible.

Maybe you read my piece, “The limitations of legalists.” Maybe not; I’ll summarize anyway. Back in college I was trying to share Jesus with some pagans, and there was this conservative Evangelical who tried to insert himself into our conversation. To make him go away, I invited the pagans to a pub. Conservative guy’s tradition not only forbade alcohol, but even setting foot in a pub; shunning the appearance of evil y’know. It did the job and got rid of him.

The reason I knew to pull this stunt with him, is because I used to be the very same kind of conservative Evangelical. I would never have set foot in a pub—and not just because I was underage. I would’ve presumed anybody who practiced pub evangelism was probably a rotten Christian. (Even though I was a big fan of C.S. Lewis, and he hung out in pubs all the time—which I justified to myself by saying, “Well he’s British,” and ignoring the fact Britain has a drinking problem. Not to pick on Britain; my own homeland definitely has a drinking problem too. But I digress.)

See, if you don’t live in the Bible Belt, you gotta interact with (gasp!) liberals. Your neighbors and coworkers are often gonna be progressives who don’t bother to read the Moral Majority’s voter guides, and vote for the wrong party. How on earth are you gonna share Jesus with them? Many Bible-Belt Christians have told me they don’t even try anymore, and have abandoned them to the devil. But where I live, we don’t have that luxury… and some of them are so close to God’s kingdom, and all they need are a few nudges in the right direction.

Easier to just sin.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 February 2022

It’s way easier to just give in to temptation, and beg forgiveness afterward, than it is to resist.

That’s the attitude most Christians have. That most people have: “Instead of asking permission, ask forgiveness.” You wanna do something, you know people are gonna be outraged if you do it, but rather than seek their approval (only to offend them even more when you defy them) it’s easier if you just do as you please, and deal with things after the fact. Assuming they ever find out!—and you’re kinda hoping they won’t.

Yeah, it’s thoroughly selfish. And it shouldn’t surprise us when selfish humans behave this way. Pagans or Christians.

But if we’re gonna grow as Christians, we have to resist this temptation too.

Still, it’s a commonplace attitude. Even among “good Christians”: Plenty of ’em figure “God’s in the forgiving business; he forgives all, so he’ll forgive this.” Not with major sins or mortal sins, however they define ’em; but it’s okay to fight temptation when we’re dealing with small sins. Stuff which has few to no consequences. Like indulging the stray evil thought. Like telling a white lie. Don’t stress yourself over such minor piffle. Don’t worry about following God in every little thing. What, are you trying to earn salvation or something? You legalist.

Yep, the line of thought in someone who’s trying to justify a sin, even a minor sin, is to immediately lunge towards, “Well it’d be a greater sin to resist temptation.” Which is stupid and irrational, but since when is it rational to dismiss and defy God in favor of our desires and convenience? Never has been. But if you wanna sin badly enough, any excuse will do.

Still, I have heard it preached, in actual pulpits, that it’s okay to go ahead and commit that sin. That it’s better to sin and be forgiven, than burn with unfulfilled desire. That it’ll get that sin out of your system, and then you can go back to following Jesus with post-nut clarity. Go ahead and sin. “Be a sinner and sin boldly,” as Martin Luther once put it; “but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

Yeah, the Luther quote is taken out of context. He was writing Philip Melchanthon about how Christ can forgive any sinner; he wasn’t advocating sin. But y’know, people much prefer the idea Luther was telling Germans to sin their brains out ’cause grace. Again: It’s easier to just give in!

But it’s evil. Let’s not pretend it’s not, nor pretend small sins aren’t that evil. Evil is evil. Jesus expects better of us than that.

Holiness versus solemnity.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 July 2021

Years ago I taught at my church’s Christian junior high and elementary school. We had yearly “staff retreats,” which took an inservice day and required us to go do something together. Sometimes an actual retreat at a conference center; sometimes just a dinner. (I think most of us appreciated the dinners most.)

Anyway, one year our principal decided it’d be neat if we visited the Friday night service at Bethel Church in Redding. We’d check into a hotel, go out to dinner, go to the service, return to the hotel, and go home in the morning. The reason for the overnight stay was ’cause Bethel services might, “as the Spirit led,” go past midnight. She thought it was a great idea—and was really surprised at the backlash she got from the teachers.

Y’see, Bethel’s a New Apostolic charismatic church. Their beliefs and teachings aren’t mainstream—and are therefore controversial. I don’t know how aware she was of this; I think she wanted to go to Bethel because she loved their music. (They do have great music.) Whereas some of our Fundamentalist teachers were worried they’d be taught heresy, and were really bothered by the idea of a mandatory staff retreat which’d teach ’em heresy.

So one day in the staff room, I heard my fellow teachers express their worry our principal was trying to convert them. I figured I knew her well enough to explain no, she really wasn’t. It was a simple case of her being really earnest… and kinda tone-deaf.

“All right,” said one of our more conservative teachers. In this article I’ll call her Rachel. She attended an independent Baptist church; one of those churches which only do hymns. Bethel’s guitar-driven music, dancing in the aisles, hands waving, flags flapping, tambourines, wild enthusiams: This was way out of Rachel’s comfort zone. (Not mine; I’d been Pentecostal for years.) But Rachel figured she’d take a look, and if she didn’t like it, she’d just go back to the hotel. Fair enough. And the other teachers decided to follow her lead: See it for themselves, at least.

So off we went. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before. Heck, my church’s Friday night services were similar. (Probably ’cause our music pastors were already big fans of Bethel songs.) Rachel kept asking, “Does your church really do all this stuff?” and yeah, it did. I go to a much smaller church now, where don’t have so much space for dancers and flags, but we still have a lot of fans of Bethel music. To her credit, Rachel stayed for most of it, and left only because it was getting way past her bedtime.

“I dunno,” she told me afterwards. “It’s not what I’m used to. I like my worship to be holy. You understand? Holy.

At first no I didn’t. Exactly what’s unholy about it?

I grew up Fundamentalist, so I know exactly what kind of music Rachel’s church does. And as she described why she preferred that style of music to Bethel’s revivalist style, it dawned on me: By holy she means solemn. Serious. Sincere. Formal.

Because God, explained Rachel, is a holy God. Meaning he’s serious, sincere, and formal.

The fruit of holiness: Let’s get weird.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 July 2021

Holiness is a fruit of the Spirit. And every time I point this out, there’s always some numbnut who says, “It is not. Holiness is good, and Christians oughta be holy, but it’s not in Galatians 5, so it’s not a fruit.”

Okay, three things. First, Galatians 5 isn’t a comprehensive list of the Spirit’s fruit, and was never meant to be. Jesus and his other apostles talk about fruit from time to time as well. Simon Peter’s the guy who brought up holiness, in his first letter.

1 Peter 1.13-16 KJV
13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. Lv 19.2

God expects his kids to be holy. It’s one of his traits that’s gonna inevitably flow into dedicated followers and make us holy.

Second, y’notice how tons of Christians regularly confuse holiness with goodness? So if you claim holiness isn’t a fruit of the Spirit but goodness is, and you think holiness and goodness are the same thing, what’re you doing claiming holiness isn’t a fruit of the Spirit? Although here’s where briefly I point out holiness is not goodness; it’s a different thing, and I’ll get into that, ’cause it’s the point of this article. But I won’t digress further.

Third and last: Fruit of the Spirit is empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Who is—duh!—holy. It’s in his name. It’s bizarre to imagine the Spirit won’t try to push us towards holiness.

But back to how holiness isn’t goodness. It’s not, y’know. Holy means we stand out separate from the rest of the world. We’re unique. We’re trying to act like Jesus. We’re trying to be better people than we were, and that includes not being jerks about it. We have higher and better standards for our lives.

We live in the world, in the wider culture around us, all the way into the world. We don’t isolate ourselves like hermits or cultists, because that’s what Christians do when they don’t get how holiness works. Jesus never isolated himself; even the bible’s “isolationists” like John the baptist didn’t isolate themselves. How’re we gonna reach the lost if we don’t go out and find ’em? But despite how immersed in the world we get, we don’t conform to the world, because we know the world doesn’t know what it’s doing or where it’s going. The Spirit does, and we follow him.

Yep, holiness means we’re different. Or as the world more often calls it, we’re weird.

Which is fine. I don’t mind being called weird, so long as we’re talking good weird. There’s good weird and bad weird. Dark Christians are bad weird. That’s fruitless and honestly meant to alienate people, because they figure offending people is the best way to purge the hypocrites from their ranks. Problem is, fleshly Christians make the best hypocrites, so what it really does is alienate Christians and recruit hypocrites. That’s why I try to keep people away from ’em; I’d much rather convert hypocrites and get ’em to follow Jesus.

Anyway we’re looking for good weird. God calls us to be unique. What’s that look like?

God’s holiness, our example.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 July 2021

As I wrote yesterday, when Christians talk about holiness we usually mean goodness. We figure what makes God holy is his perfection: He’s good, he’s pure, he’s worthy of honor, he’s so… well, clean. Whereas we humans get awfully dirty.

And yeah, God is all these things. But these are symptoms of his holiness. They’re the fruit. Let’s not confuse ’em with holiness itself.

The Old Testament Hebrew word קֹדֶשׁ/qodéš, “holy,” means separate—set apart from everything else. The New Testament Greek word ἅγιος/ágios means the same thing. God’s separate and set apart from everything else. Not because he’s removed himself; he deliberately got himself right in the middle of our situation. ’Cause he’s here to help if we’d just let him. But God still stands apart from everything else, because he’s unlike everything else. He’s unique. He’s diffrent. He’s holy.

No surprise, people tend to confuse the symptoms with the underlying condition. We think how we get holy like God is we gotta be perfect. Gotta be good, pure, worthy of honor, and clean. That’s how holiness is achieved. God’s holiness, and the serious emphasis the scriptures put on his holiness, must be all about his moral perfection; when the angels call him “holy holy holy” Is 6.3, Rv 4.8 (’cause repeating a word in ancient Hebrew, like “holy holy place,” means it’s a most holy place, He 9.3 and three holies means God’s even holier) they’re really making a big to-do about his perfection.

Here’s the catch: If God’s all about holiness, and holiness means pefection, he must really hate it when we sin. It either drives him away or drives him to get all wrathful.

Really, this interpretation comes from people who really hate it when we sin. And really hate sinners. And project their attitude upon God, and claim he hates sin and sinners just as much, and push us to “be holy” and sin not. Be perfect like God is perfect. Don’t trigger him.

Okay yes: God hates sin. He’s mighty clear about that. He’s good; he created the universe and called it good (and we fouled that up); and the entirety of salvation history, the whole point of God’s kingdom, has to do with God cleaning up our mess.

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

To such Christians, any statements about God’s grace and mercy and kindness and goodness has to be followed up with “But God is just, and God is holy.” To them, God’s holiness is all about his impatience, rage, and destructiveness. Not his actual character; not the fruit he wants to bring out of us. To them, his perfection requires him to purge us with fire, and the way they describe him, he’s eager to rage on the wicked. It’s gonna be an orgy of death and destruction. Then afterward, for eternity, he’s gonna be friendly and benign, and that oughta neatly make up for seven years of widespread slaughter.

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

Holy and sanctified.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 July 2021

Whenever Christians talk about holiness, we’re usually talking about goodness. When we talk about sanctification, the practice of being holy, again we’re usually talking about being good: Gotta resist temptation. Gotta stop sinning. Gotta get rid of anything in our lives which might tempt us to sin. Gotta get rid of anything “worldly,” because we’re striving for heavenly. Gotta shun evil… and in many cases gotta shun evildoers, i.e. everybody else, which is why in the past, those who sought holiness frequently became hermits, or cloistered with fellow holiness-seekers in a monastery.

Thing is, this isn’t what holiness means. Nor what sanctification means.

Holy means dedicated to God and his service, and not just for ordinary common use. If we’re gonna be holy, we’re not gonna be ordinary. We’re gonna be different. We’re gonna be weird, in most cases. People are gonna notice we’re different; we don’t live like or act like everybody else. Not even like fellow Christians—who, to be honest, are often following cultural trends of what “Christian” means rather than the Holy Spirit.

But since Jesus expects his followers to produce good fruit, we’re not gonna be bad weird, nor creepy weird, nor offputtingly weird. We’re not gonna alienate pagans. Nor should we; we’re trying to lead ’em to Jesus! They’re gonna notice we’re different, but they’re not gonna flinch because we’re antisocial or anti-them. They’re gonna be drawn to us because we love people like Jesus does. ’Cause we’re gracious and kind like God is. ’Cause we’re patient and even-tempered and peaceful like Jesus teaches. Good weird. Refreshingly weird.

We’re gonna develop reputations among the pagans as “good people,” not “holier-than-thou.” Safe people, not condemning people. Kind, not jerks.

It’s gonna strike ’em as weird because, sad to say, Christianity doesn’t have this reputation in our culture. Too many jerks. Too many articles on sanctification which only zero in on how God wants us to be good, but spend way too much time on not sinning, and way too little time on being like Jesus—who didn’t sin, but that’s not his defining characteristic. God is love. “Be holy, same as I am holy” Lv 11.44-45 is about love. Not so much goodness… although if we just focus on loving God and loving people, we’re gonna wind up following all the other commands. Mt 22.36-40

Sanctification is our process of seizing control of the corrupt parts of our human nature, and adopting a Jesus-style human nature. He never stopped being human, y’know. He simply showed us what it’s like when a human has God’s character traits instead of selfish ones. Goodness is a part of it, ’cause goodness is the Spirit’s fruit, but again: Holiness isn’t just goodness! It’s being different same as God is different: Unlike the rest of the world, we strive for love, joy, patience, kindness, and temperance. Unlike the rest of the world, we go after truth and beauty instead of provocation and self-justification. We’re not just being different ’cause it’s fun to be different: We’re being different because these qualities matter.

Now called to a holy lifestyle.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 March 2021

1 Thessalonians 4.1-8.

Since Paul, Silas, and Timothy now know the Thessalonians haven’t fallen away from Christ Jesus, they wanted to encourage them: Good job. Keep it up.

And do more. Remember, God’s called us Christians to be uniquely holy. That’s more than just being good, ’cause just about anybody can be good, with effort… plus a fear of bad karma. God isn’t interested in that. He doesn’t just want us to be pagans saved by grace who happen to hold better beliefs than average. He wants us to stand out from the rest of the world. Like Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4.1-8 KWL
1 So from now on fellow Christians, we ask you—
we wish to help, in Master Jesus’s name so,
same as you received from us information on how one has to walk and please God,
same as you already do walk—so you can abound more:
2 You know which mandates we gave you through Master Jesus:
3 This is God’s will: Your holiness.
To keep yourselves away from porn.
4 For each of you to know your own baggage.
To acquire that baggage through holiness and honor—
5 not through a desire to suffer, like a people who doesn’t know God.
6 Not through violating and exploiting the acts of your fellow Christians,
because the Master avenges everything, just as we foretold and witnessed to you.
7 For God doesn’t call us to uncleanness, but to holiness.
8 Consequently one who ignores this isn’t ignoring a mere human,
but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you all.

God’s goal for his followers, is for us to be holy like him. Lv 28.7 To be unlike everybody else. The other verses get specific about ways the Thessalonians in particular could be holier, and naturally there’s a lot of overlap between their culture and ours. Christians oughta have certain distinctives which indicate we’re following God’s expectations, not the world’s; not popular culture’s. Sadly we don’t always live up to what God wants for us.

Hallowed be thy name.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September 2020

Matthew 6.9, Luke 11.2.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father to ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου/aghiasthíto to ónoma su, “sanctify” or “make holy” or “hallowify” (to coin a word) “the name of yours.” The Book of Common Prayer and KJV went with “Hallowed be thy name,” which means the same thing, but Christians commonly misinterpret it to mean “I sanctify your name,” or “I praise your name.” We think this is praise and worship on our part. It’s not. It’s a request for our Father to make his own name holy. For him to act.

Part of our presumption comes from a way-too-common Christian misbelief that our prayers aren’t really about asking God to do anything. Because, the attitude is, God doesn’t actually answer prayer. He sits on his heavenly arse, watches us humans stumble around, reminds us to read our bibles, but isn’t gonna intervene in human affairs till the End Times—if they even ever happen. Besides, he’s already planned out everything he’s gonna do, so all our after-the-fact prayers won’t change a whiff of it. So what’s the point of prayer then? Changing us—changing our attitudes about God by reciting various truths about him, like we do with our worship music, until these ideas finally sink in and transform us.

(As if this even works with worship music. Just look at all the Christian jerks whose favorite songs, so they claim, are hymns. But lemme stop here before I rant futher.)

Thanks to this mindset, Christians imagine “Hallowed be thy name” is just another reminder to think of God’s name as holy. To not take it in vain. To glorify and worship him, and tell other people how awesome and mighty he is. To remember God is holy—and because we so often misdefine holy as good, to also remember God is good. Or because we so often misdefine holy as solemn, to remember to treat God as formal.

We really do botch the meaning of what Jesus is trying to teach us in this prayer, don’t we? It’s why Christians can recite the Lord’s Prayer the world over, sometimes every single day, and still not behave any more like Jesus than before.

So to remind you: Holiness means something’s not like anyone or anything else, because it’s distinctly used for divine purposes. It’s weird. Good-weird, not weird for weirdness’ sake, not twisted, not evil-weird. When we pray for God to make his name holy, we want him to not be like any other higher power, any other mighty thing, any other force in the cosmos, any other god. We want him to stand out. He’s not like anything or anyone else. He’s infinitely better.

Now. Does recognizing the Lord’s Prayer is about actually asking God for stuff, and that it’s not merely about changing our own attitudes, mean our attitudes don’t need to change? Of course not. If we want God to make his name holy, part of that means we need to make his name holy too. Stop treating God as if he’s just anyone else. He’s not.

And no, I absolutely do not mean we should treat him more formally, more solemnly, with more ritual and ceremony and gravitas and all that crap we do to suck up to people in authority. God’s uniqueness is reflected by two things about him: He’s almighty, of course. And, more importantly, more relevantly to us, his character: He’s infinitely good. Infinitely gracious. He infinitely loves us. Has infinite patience with us. He’s infinitely kind. Infinitely faithful. He’s not like anyone else because, unlike everyone else, he’ll never, ever fail us.

So don’t put him on the same level!

Backsliding. We all do it.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 January 2020
BACKSLIDE 'bæk.slaɪd verb. Relapse into bad ways or error.
[Backslider 'bæk.slaɪ.dər noun]

The idea behind backsliding is the road to sanctification isn’t level; it’s uphill. A bit of a climb, too. Paved with gravel instead of asphalt, so on the particularly steep parts, the ground’s gonna slip under your feet a little, especially if you’re standing still. It’s the natural consequence of gravity, so you can’t just stand still. You have to keep moving!

So yeah, in this metaphor the gravitational pull represents our natural tendency towards self-centeredness and sin. If we drop the effort to climb towards Christ—even for a second—we’re gonna backslide.

Now. If the pursuit of Christ is really like this, we Christians oughta be way more gracious and sympathetic to backsliders than we are. I used to hike several times a week, and on every hill there’s always backsliding. On wet days, even with the best shoes, you can always make a misstep and fall on your face. I’ve come back from casual hikes covered in mud, simply because I tackled a hill which looked deceptively easy to scale.

And the Christian walk, if we’re doing it right, is gonna have way bigger challenges than wet hills. We’re gonna fumble. A lot. But we get back up again. We have to; the road home leads up that hill.

Problem is, a lot of American Christians don’t struggle all that hard in our Christianity… and haven’t gone hiking either. So we haven’t thought the metaphor all the way through, and don’t have hiking in mind when we refer to a “backslider.” Or really even know what we’re talking about.

Fr’instance. Back in my high school youth group, a girl became pregnant, and the church gossips were mighty quick to comment how she’d so obviously “backslidden.” Thing is, I knew the girl’s boyfriend. She hadn’t backslidden at all. She had no relationship with Jesus. She was in the youth group because her friends were there. She was in the church’s choir because she was a good singer, and the music pastor liked her talent and let her join. The gossips assumed her attendance, and public on-stage praise of Jesus, meant she was Christian. Nope. Outside youth group and Sunday morning services, she was as pagan as anyone. She was no backslider: She wasn’t even climbing.

The same is true of most “backsliders.” Their Christian walk isn’t uphill: It’s a casual stroll through a shopping mall, as they pick and choose which accessories please them most. If you slide on a level surface, it’s because you never bothered to put on shoes with any traction, or you’re choosing to slide—towards something fun. Might be destructive fun, but it sure looks fun.

These so-called “backsliders” aren’t truly pursuing Christ Jesus. They’re trying Christianity out for a while, trying to see whether it looks good on them. They aren’t moving forward, or uphill. Neither are they sliding back when they put Christianity down and try on something else.

Now I was a backslider. In high school I was a giant hypocrite. But I was pursuing Jesus, however poorly. I’d make a little bit of effort… then stand still and let gravity drag me backward. But I really did want more Christ in my life, and only those of us who make the effort can be truly said to backslide.

And all of us are gonna backslide. It happens. It’s life. So when that happens, we need to encourage one another to get back up and try again. We need to sympathize, because next time it’ll be us. As careful as we may be, we never know when we might be blindsided by a temptation we never prepared for. Or how a small oversight or lapse in judgment can have spectacular consequences. Our churches should be our support systems for every time we make these mistakes, and minister God’s forgiveness.

Sad to say, too often they aren’t. Too many are full of hypocrites who hide our daily failures, and gossip about those who don’t hide so well. We’ll tear into one another like sharks who smell blood. Our response to backsliding must always be, “If it weren’t for God’s grace, that’d be me. Let me help.”


by K.W. Leslie, 03 October 2019
WORSHIP 'wər.ʃəp noun. Expression of love, respect, and honor, particularly in formal acts or rituals. (Usually expressed to a deity, but frequently to people or principles at a level comparable to religious homage.)
2. Feelings of love, respect, and honor for a deity.
3. [verb] Showing love, respect, or honor.

Properly, worship is anything and everything we do as part of our religious devotion to God. Whether we do it out of active love or passive custom, it’s all still worship.

There’s a tendency in charismatic churches to equate worship with worship music. Prayer too, but mostly music. And no, I’m not saying music isn’t a valid form of worship, or a really good form of worship; it totally is. But you know the reason Christians sing a song’s chorus over and over and over again… has nothing to do with whether God loves the song. It’s entirely about how much the music pastor loves it. Or the people of the church.

And when it becomes much more about our preferences than God… well, then it’s not so good a form of worship anymore. This is not to say God wants us to sing songs we don’t like; he’s not a sadist! He wants us to enjoy worship. We should sing songs we enjoy. But maybe just remember who it’s all supposed to be about, okay?

But worship’s anything we do for God. Could be something which doesn’t look overtly religious or obviously holy. But the way we’re doing it, we’ve made it something we’re doing for him, and turned it into worship. And therefore it can be literally anything. Could be singing in church… and could also be raking the lawn, correcting the kids, cleaning the tub, eating your vegetables, doing your taxes. Anything.

Provided of course we’re actually doing it for God. Sinning isn’t for God; don’t do that and call it worship. If God forbade it, whether to everybody or just you personally, don’t just declare, “This is for Jesus” and figure it whitewashes the sin into worship. Don’t do Christian rituals and figure that makes up for sinning yourself sticky; God hates that. Is 1 Don’t do stuff with the attitudes of bad fruit, and figure if you’re doing it for Jesus it doesn’t matter what bad fruit it generates: Being angry “for Jesus,” or partisan “for Jesus,” or treating any human being as less than God’s image “for Jesus,” is never something God approves of, so don’t try. You’re not fooling anyone, least of all him.

“Christ-followers”: Rebranding for the wrong reasons.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 September 2019
CHRIST-FOLLOWER 'kraɪst fɑ.loʊ.ər noun. Adherent or devotee of Christ Jesus.
2. One who believes themself a real devotee of Christ, as opposed to other Christians.

To be fair, a lot of Christians aren’t doing the title “Christian” any favors.

There are irreligious Christians, who figure all they need do is believe, and figure obedience is for suckers people who don’t believe. There are fruitless Christians, whose character is no different than pagans, but who point to their beliefs or works and think that should count for something. There are Christianists, who don’t know there’s any difference between their culture or their politics, and what Jesus teaches—but they clearly aren’t doing as Jesus teaches.

And there are Christians who aren’t as bad as all that. They’re working on it. Some harder than others. But let’s give ’em some grace, shall we?

But other Christians have decided there are so many substandard Christians, the title “Christian” has simply been ruined. Same as the titles “Evangelical,” or “Fundamentalist,” or “born again,” or “disciple,” “apostle,” “believer,” “Christ-bearer,” or what have you. The usual titles have been so befouled by posers, they’re gonna rebrand.

So they call themselves Christ-followers. As in,

SHE. “Are you Christian?”
HE. [correcting her] “A Christ-follower.”

Not in the sense that “Christian” and “Christ-follower” are synonyms. To these people they’re not synonyms: A “Christian” is someone who claims allegiance to Jesus but doesn’t really follow him. Doesn’t really take him seriously. Not like they do.

Yep, that’s the underlying message they’re trying to give everybody: They follow Jesus, and the rest of us [sneer] “Christians,” not so much. They… well, lemme have our Lord Jesus more accurately express the way they feel.

Luke 18.11-12 KWL
11 “Standing by himself, the [Christ-follower] prayed this: ‘God, thank you that I’m not like the other people!
Those greedy, unrighteous cheaters—or even like this taxman.
13 I fast twice a week. I tithe everything I get.’ ”

Yeah, this bit comes from Jesus’s Pharisee and Taxman Story. Lk 18.9-14 You may recall Jesus didn’t care for this particular prayer. It wasn’t that of a humble follower, but a pretentious ass. Those who exalt themselves, Jesus concluded, get humbled. Those who think they’re better than other people have another think coming.