Jesus’s easy victory over the devil.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 February

Mark 1.12-13, Matthew 4.1-11, Luke 4.1-13.

Mark 1.12-13 KWL
12 Right afterward, the Spirit threw Jesus into the wilderness.
13 Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, getting tested by Satan.
He was with the beasts. Angels were serving him.

That’s the extra-short version of Jesus’s “temptations,” as they tend to be called: Peirádzo/“test” is often meant in a tempting sense, ’cause part of the test is how badly we want what’s offered. But is it in Jesus’s divine nature to go about getting these things the wrong way? Nah. He’s never gonna put himself above his Father’s will. So let’s not treat these tests like they really made Jesus doubt his commitment to the Father. Any devout Christian can easily resist such temptations.

The Mark version doesn’t have a lot of details: Just Jesus and the devil, out in the middle of nowhere. Didn’t have to be way out in the middle of nowhere; in fact it’d be a stronger test of will if Jesus was just within sight of civilization. (As was the case in the Judean desert. Lots of hermits, nomads, even a few communes.)

If all we had was the Mark version, we’d imagine all sorts of horrors and enticements. (Especially since Mark brought up Jesus “was with the beasts”—something End Times fanatics would have all sorts of fun speculating about.)

Y’know, since it was only Jesus and the devil out there in the wilderness, it leads us to a rather obvious deduction: The authors of Matthew and Luke could only have got the particulars from Jesus himself. He shared the stories of his testing, probably with his students. Probably to teach ’em the sort of stuff the devil tries to use on us. And teach ’em how to resist.

In the Matthew and Luke versions, they’re not in the same order.

  1. Rocks to bread. Mt 4.2-4
  2. Dive from temple. Mt 4.5-7
  3. Bow to Satan. Mt 4.8-10
  1. Rocks to bread. Lk 4.2-4
  2. Bow to Satan. Lk 4.5-8
  3. Dive from temple. Lk 4.9-12

Why? There’s some speculation about the meaning of Luke’s order, but I don’t buy ’em. Luke is more likely the original story’s order. Matthew, in comparison, is focused on the kingdom, so the tests escalate from Jesus’s personal needs, to Jesus impressing Jerusalem, to Jesus conquering the world. Makes sense.

Why leave your church?

by K.W. Leslie, 25 February

Sometimes for good reasons. Sometimes bad. Up to you to decide.

As I’ve said previously, at some point Christians have to switch churches. Sometimes for good reasons; sometimes not.

  • God instructs you to go elsewhere.
  • They kicked you out.
  • Church leaders are untrustworthy. Sinning, abusive, fruitless, jerk-like, and unrepentant; or just not doing their jobs.
  • Ditto church members—and the leaders do nothing about it.
  • They’re a cult, or have a cultic reputation. Too legalistic, demanding, judgmental. If you don’t obey/conform, they have penalties.
  • They’re dark Christians: Too much fear and worry, not enough love.
  • You, or they, are moving to a new city. Or you work for another church.
  • Your spouse goes elsewhere, and isn’t coming back. Period.
  • You consider church to be optional anyway. Sleep, sports, or recreation—even doing nothing—seem better options.
  • They’re not cool enough. Or anymore.
  • You don’t like anyone there. You have no friends there. You burned a lot of bridges, so you need a “fresh start.”
  • They won’t let you lead, or otherwise get your way.
  • They’re not political enough.
  • They want you to contribute time/resources/money.
  • They denounce sin, particularly sins you commit.
  • There’s a drastic change in mission, emphasis, focus, or denomination—and you can’t get behind it.
  • You visited another church, and they felt far more right for you.
  • You don’t like their liturgical style, preaching style, or music.
  • You’re “not getting fed” or “not feeling the Spirit” or are otherwise bored.
  • Your kids don’t wanna go.
  • You want a bigger/smaller church.
  • You want more/fewer programs or resources.

You can probably think of more reasons than these. I sure can.

You might take issue with the placement of some of these things on the chart. I’ve known more than one politically-minded Christian who’s insistent the church must swing their way politically, and if it doesn’t, it’s supporting “the kingdom of this world” over and against “the kingdom of God.” Supposedly Jesus will make their party an exception when he overthrows the governments of this world. But political Christians regularly, naïvely think so, and would place politics in the “good reasons” column. I don’t.

Likewise I’ve known Christians who insist stylistic choices don’t matter in the slightest. Doesn’t matter if you hate the music, or think the sermons are useless and boring, or the kids can’t stand the youth group and would rather be pagans: That’s your church, and you stay there no matter what. For some Christians there are no debatable reasons. You don’t like your church? You don’t have to like it, you whiny muffin; you have to obey and conform. Suck it up and go to church.

Likewise I’ve known Christians who don’t want us making any such lists. Who are we to critique churches? We’re supposed to be humble, obedient, and stick with the churches God’s assigned us, rather than nitpicking their flaws, and seeking a church which suits our preferences instead of God’s. That’s just rebellion disguised as diversity.

Denominations: When churches network.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 February
DENOMINATION di.nɑm.ə'neɪ.ʃən noun. Organized network of affiliated churches.
2. Autonomous branch of a religion.
[Denominational də.nɑm.ə'neɪ.ʃən.əl adjective.]

When Jesus began his church, it had a really basic organization: The Twelve, the apostles whom he hand-picked to lead his followers… and his followers.

Over time this evolved. As it kinda had to, ’cause the church spread. The Twelve didn’t stay in Jerusalem: Simon Peter went to Rome, Andrew to Greece, John to Ephesus, Jude and Simon to Syria, Bartholemew to Armenia, Thomas to India, and so forth. The followers spread out to different cities in the Roman Empire, and to the barbarians outside the Empire. They founded new groups.

All sorts of questions began to crop up about how connected these groups were with one another. Of course since power is always a stumbling-block for us humans, there was also concern about what authority various apostles and bishops in other groups had over the new congregations and their leadership.

The short version: The church remained one universal group for roughly a thousand years. I say “roughly” because it got pretty rough there near the end. Too many power struggles between bishops. Too many cultural and theological differences between Greek- and Latin- and Coptic- and barbarian-speaking churches. Too many hurt feelings. It all culminated in 1054 in the Great Schism: The bishops of Rome and Constantinople declared each another heretic. From that point on there were two official denominations: The eastern Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.

Although the Orthodox and Catholics insist on calling themselves churches, not denominations. ’Cause their original attitude was they’re the real church, and any other “chuches” were heretic. (That’s largely still their attitude, though they’re a bit nicer towards the rest of us: They’re the real church, and the others are wayward, not necessarily heretic. ’Cause some of ’em are heretic.)

They’re not alone in shunning the word “denomination.” Two churches in my city insist on calling themselves “nondenominational”—yet both are heavily plugged into the “nondenominational” Bethel Church in Redding, Calif. Because Bethel hasn’t created a formal denomination, the many churches affiliated with it, and no other group, figure they’re nondenominational. But they’re far from independent of all other churches. (Which is good. Go-it-alone churches are like go-it-alone Christians: They tend to get all weird and cultlike and heretic.)

Sometimes churches prefer another word, like fellowship or alliance or assembly or network. My denomination, the Assemblies of God, is kinda partial to “movement.” And—as is the case with episcopal groups like the Orthodox and Catholics—some consider themselves the one same single church with many, many campuses, no matter how big they are.

But despite what they call themselves, whenever we got a network of churches—loose or tight, doesn’t matter—I’m gonna refer to them as denominations. Sometimes “denom” for short. (Not to be confused with “demon.” I’ll leave that for the anti-denominational folks.)

The baptism of Jesus. And adoption. And anointing.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 February

If Jesus didn’t need to repent, why’d he undergo John’s baptism?

Mark 1.9-11 • Matthew 3.13-17 • Luke 3.21-22 • John 1.29-34

Mark 1.9 KWL
It happened in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of the Galilee,
and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
Matthew 3.13-15 KWL
13 Then Jesus came from the Galilee to the Jordan, to John, to be baptized by him.
14 John was preventing him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you! And you come to me?”
15 In reply Jesus told him, “Just permit it. It’s appropriate for us to fulfill everything that’s right.”
So John permitted him.

Okay: Baptism, i.e. ritual washing, was usually for Jews who were ritually unclean: They’d touched an animal they weren’t allowed to eat, anything they found dead, an open wound; they’d expelled bodily fluids of one sort or another; in general they needed to wash themselves and their clothes before they went to temple. John the baptist co-opted the ritual and used it on sinners who wanted to repent and get morally clean. Same practice, new idea.

So when Jesus comes south from the Galilee, goes to the Jordan, and wants to get baptized, John rightly objected. I’ll write it again: Rightly objected. His baptism was for sinners. Was Jesus a sinner? Nope. Did Jesus need to repent? Nope. So what’d he think he was doing? If a man goes through a baptism of repentance, yet he isn’t repentant at all and feels there’s nothing for him to repent of… wouldn’t we ordinarily call this hypocrisy?

Yeah, but it’s Jesus. So we give him a free pass.

Should we? If it were any other guy getting baptized for show, we’d point out the playacting and call it deceptive. Aren’t we letting the doctrines we cling to—that Jesus never sinned He 4.15 —blind us to the very real fact that Jesus didn’t need John’s baptism at all, yet went through it because it looks good?

Okay, now that I’ve dug myself into this big rhetorical hole, how’m I getting myself out of it?

Wanna become a prophet?

by K.W. Leslie, 18 February

Like prayer, prophecy isn’t complicated. It’s just our doubts—and our own voices—get in the way.

There are two misconceptions about the word “prophet.” One’s a minor problem; the other’s huge. Small problem first: What a prophet actually is.

Loads of people assume prophets are the same thing as prognosticators: People who know the future, or who can predict it really well. Pagans think this, which is why they treat prophecy like psychic phenomena. And cessationists think this: “Prophecy,” to them, is all about being able to interpret the End Times. It’s why all their “prophecy conferences” consist of End Times goofiness instead of actual prophets talking shop.

True, God talks about the future quite a lot. Be fair; so do we all. “That’s on my schedule for tomorrow,” or “I’ll do that in the morning,” or “Can’t wait till Saturday.” Like us, God either talks about what he’s gonna do in the near future, or the soon-coming consequences of poor choices: “Stop doing that; you’ll go blind.” Since the future comes up so often, people, including Christians, assume prophecy is mostly about foretelling the future.

In fact one of the ways we test a prophet is by making sure any statements about the future do come true. Dt 18.22 And by that metric, we should probably stone to death most of the people who hold those “prophecy conferences.” But I digress.

A prophet is not a prognosticator. A prophet is simply God’s mouthpiece: Someone who heard God, and is sharing with others what God told ’em. That’s all.

When you pray—you do pray, right?—and God speaks back to you, usually it’s information for you. Sometimes it’s information for others. “Remind your husband I love him.” Or “Warn your daughter her so-called friend is gossiping about her.” Or “See that guy at the bus stop? Wave hi.” Or “I have just one word for your father-in-law: Plastics.” Whatever messages God wants us to pass along to others, that’s a prophecy. When you pass ’em, you’re a prophet.

Thought you needed some Isaiah-style vision, with seraphs and thrones and God calling you to the job? Nah. It’s been known to happen. But it’s far more common God’ll just tell you something, and see how you do with it. And if you do well, he’ll do it more often. And if you don’t, he won’t.

Patriarchy: When fathers ruled the earth.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 February

The system of government we find in Genesis—which some try inflicting on their own families.

Patriarchy. /'peɪ.tri.ɑrk.i/ n. System of government where the father, or eldest male, is ruler.
2. System wherein women are largely excluded from positions of authority.
[Patriarchal /'peɪ.tri.ɑr.kəl/ adj.]

When people talk about patriarchy nowadays, they tend to mean the second definition above: Women can’t seem to find their way into any official or significant positions of leadership. They can have unofficial power, like a First Lady; they can have insignificant power, like being in charge of cleaning the break room. (Gee, what an honor.) But never any serious authority; the “old boys’ network” keeps shutting them out.

Because the “old boys” don’t wanna work with women. Especially don’t wanna work for women. Doesn’t matter the reasons; they’re all different forms of sexism. It’s a way-too-common problem in the present day. But actually sexism isn’t what this article is about. (Not primarily. Sexism doesn’t have to be part of patriarchy. Problem is… it nearly always is.)

What I’m writing about is the first definition: The system of government we see among the ancient Hebrews, in the families of Noah, Abraham, and Jacob before the Law was handed down; and to a lesser degree the system we see in families thereafter. Before there were judges and kings, before there were cities and nations and empires, before there was anything, there were families. The families were led and ruled by the father or eldest male: The patriarch.

Now, we Americans grew up under democracy. When we’re in a situation where there’s no leadership, we figure, “Okay, we’ll take a vote”—all of us are equal, so the majority should rule, right? If one of us tries to seize power, we object, ’cause that’s not fair. But that’s because we were raised to be democratic. The ancients weren’t. Popular vote didn’t rule the day; the strongest or loudest or most dangerous did. This is Darwinism at its simplest.

The one best able to strike down his foes was usually the physically strongest; the man. And in order to maintain power, patriarchy was the system these men put into place. The man, the father of the family, the paterfamilias, ruled. They taught their kids this was the way things worked. So whereas our culture falls back on democracy to decide things, theirs fell back on patriarchy.

Not egalitarian, where spouses get an equal say. Not democratic, where the kids get a vote too. It was a dictatorship. What the patriarch decided was how things were. No one to overrule him, no constitution to say he violated civil rights, no legislature to control his behavior, no police to stop him. If he decided he was taking a second or third or hundredth wife, he did. If he forbade his daughter from marrying a certain man, she had to obey. If he ordered his son put to death for disobedience, off with his head. Seriously.

And there are a number of Christians who read about these “good old days” in the bible, and wouldn’t mind returning to them. Oh, I’ll get to them.

Love and romance.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound about right?

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

John the baptist’s message for everyone else.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 February

Someone greater than John was coming, and he was just paving the way.

Mark 1.7-8 • Matthew 3.11-12 • Luke 3.10-20 • John 1.24-28

Last time I dealt with what John the baptist had to say to religious folks—people who already followed God, or at least were active in temple and synagogue. John didn’t come to preach to them; they already had prophets, and shouldn’t need to come to John and repent. He came to reach the people who had no relationship with God, who needed to get ready for their coming Messiah.

But you might notice Luke describes John’s message to the religious folks as being directed towards everyone. Religious and irreligious alike.

Luke 3.7-14 KWL
7 John said this to the crowds coming to be baptized by him:
“You viper-spawn! Who warned you to escape the wrath of God?
8 Fine then: Produce worthy fruits, from repentant people.
Don’t start to tell yourselves, ‘We have a father in Abraham’:
From these rocks, I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham.
9 Plus, the axe lays at the root of the tree right now.
So every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.”
10 The crowds were questioning John, saying, “So what can we do?”
11 In reply John told them, “You who have two tunics: Share with those who don’t.
You who have food: Do likewise.”
12 Taxmen came to be baptized and told John, “Teacher, what can we do?”
13 John told them, “Do nothing more than you were ordered.”
14 Soldiers were questioning John, saying, “And we, what can we do?”
John told them, “You could stop shaking people down, or stop accusing them falsely.
Be content with your paychecks.”

I explained the whole worthy fruits, making Abraham’s children from rocks, and axe at the foot of the tree stuff in the previous article. Here Luke included John’s corrections to the people who came to him for baptism.

In general the problem was stinginess. The crowds needed to share their food and clothing with the needy. Yes, the Law had a sort of welfare system built in so farmers would leave gleanings for the needy, Lv 19.9-10 and so every third-year’s tithes would go to the needy. Dt 14.28 But then, same as now, people don’t bother to do any more than their obligations, and share food and clothing only with people we consider worthy—not so much needy. Loving our neighbor Lv 19.18 gets limited to thinking pleasant thoughts about them, not doing for them. It’s an attitude which always needs breaking.

John the baptist’s message for the religious.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 February

Didn’t sound too pleased with them.

Matthew 3.7-10 • Luke 3.7-9 • John 1.19-23

In Matthew and Luke’s parallel stories, John the baptist comes across a bit hostile towards the religious folks who come to check him out.

Matthew 3.7-10 KWL
7 Seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, John told them,
“You viper-spawn! Who warned you to escape the wrath of God?
8 Fine then: Produce worthy fruit, from repentant people.
9 Don’t presume to tell yourselves, ‘We have a father in Abraham’:
From these rocks, I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham.
10 The axe lays at the root of the tree right now.
So every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.”
Luke 3.7-9 KWL
7 John said this to the crowds coming to be baptized by him:
“You viper-spawn! Who warned you to escape the wrath of God?
8 Fine then: Produce worthy fruits, from repentant people.
Don’t start to tell yourselves, ‘We have a father in Abraham’:
From these rocks, I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham.
9 Plus, the axe lays at the root of the tree right now.
So every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.”

In John, not so much, but then again they’re not there to prejudge him, but find out just who he claims to be.

John 1.19-23 KWL
19 This is John’s testimony when the Judeans sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem
so they could ask him, “Who are you?”
20 He conferred with them, and didn’t refuse to answer: “I’m not Messiah.”
21 They questioned John: “Then what? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I’m not.”
“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”
22 So they told him, “Then what?—so we can give an answer to those who sent us.
What do you say about yourself?”
23 John said, “I’m the voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Straighten the Master’s road!’ Is 40.3
like the prophet Isaiah said.”

These folks would be:

  • Pharisees, whom I dealt with elsewhere. These are the religious Jews, as opposed to the irreligious, secular Jews. Many were actually trying to follow God. And same as us Christians, many were hypocrites, faking it for social and political acceptance. Jesus sparred with the hypocrites a lot, but don’t get the wrong idea all Pharisees were that way.
  • Sadducees. Our present-day equivalent would be those pagans who call themselves “spiritual but not religious”—they believe in God, but not religion. Freakishly, these are the folks who ran the religion: The head priest, his family, and the leading families of Jerusalem, were in this camp. They believed in God and the Law, but not the supernatural: No angels, miracles, afterlife, End Times, resurrection, or prophets beyond Moses. Just God.
  • Levites. You may have heard Israel had 12 tribes. They actually had 13, and Levi was the weird 13th tribe which had no land, lived in cities, and took turns serving in temple. Only Levites could be priests, and John was a Levite himself. Some were Pharisees, some Sadducees, some in other denominations. But all were involved in temple.
  • “The crowds.” In Luke John is hostile to everybody, not just religious folks. Everybody gets slammed with his preaching. No exceptions. But it’s fair to say most of them were Pharisees, which I’ll explain in a bit.

John’s reaction to them was essentially, “What’re you doing here? Aren’t you saved already?”

What, you thought there were only 10 commandments?

by K.W. Leslie, 03 February

God’s 613 commands, and how Christians treat them.

Most Christians are familiar with the fact there are 10 commandments. Ex 20.1-17 Not so familiar with the actual 10 commands, but we do tend to know there are 10 of them, and it wouldn’t hurt to live by them. In fact the politically-minded among us think it’d be a good idea for the whole of the United States to live by them… although it’s a bit of a puzzler how we might simultaneously enforce “You’ll have no other gods before me” Ex 20.3 and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Amendment 1

Some of us have also heard the idea there are 12 commandments. Where’d the extra two come from? Well, someone once asked Jesus his opinion on the greatest command.

Mark 12.28-31 KWL
28 One of the scribes was standing there listening to the discussion.
Recognizing how well Jesus answered the Sadducees, he asked him,
“Which command is first of all?” 29 Jesus gave this answer:
“First is, ‘Listen Israel: Our god is the Lord. The Lord is One.
30 You must love your Lord God with all your heart, life, purpose, and might.’ Dt 6.4-5
Second is, ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ Lv 19.18
No command is higher than these.”

Since these two commands aren’t among the 10, certain Christians tack ’em on at the end.

But there’s far from just 12 commands. There’s 613.

Technically there are even more than 613. But when you combine redundant commands—namely all the commands repeated in Deuteronomy, like the 10 commandments Dt 5.1-21 —you get 613 of them. Or at least that was the conclusion of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon of Spain (1135-1204, also called Maimonides by westerners, Rambam by Jews). Moshe listed them in his book Sefer Hamitzvot/“Book of Good Deeds.” He had slightly different priorities than Jesus, which is why he put loving God at 3 and 4 in his list, and loving neighbors at 13.

These commands are mostly for everyone. There are many priest-specific commands, which don’t apply to the general population. (Although Pharisees customarily practiced ’em anyway, figuring all Jews ought to be as ritually clean as priests.) There are also many gender-specific commands, which apply to men and not women, or women and not men.

And let’s be honest: There is a double standard in the Law. Women and men may be equal in Christ, Ga 3.28 but not under Law. Fr’instance there’s a test for a wife’s faithfulness, Nu 5.11-30 but no such thing for husbands. ’Cause under patriarchy, men could have sex with any woman in their household. The Law abolished many of patriarchy’s customs—no they couldn’t have sex with just anyone they wished. But though abolishing patriarchy was God’s goal—with men in leadership or service practicing monogamy 1Ti 3.2, 12 and loving their wives like Christ loves his church Ep 5.25 —he didn’t do it outright in his Law. Though certainly the test of a wife’s faithfulness under the Law is considerably better than the previous patriarchal custom: Kills her without any trial. Ge 38.24