Don’t just raise your kids Christian. Share Jesus with them.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.

Some years ago I was telling a friend about some church ministry I was involved with. He then told me, with a little bit of embarrassment, he wasn’t involved in such thing in his church. Didn’t feel he could possibly find the time.

“Well that’s understandable,” I told him: “You have four kids under the age of 10. They’re your ministry. You’ve gotta make sure they know Jesus, and have a growing relationship with them. Get them solid; then worry about all the other stuff your church is doing. Then your kids will wanna do all those church things with you.”

He was a little relieved to hear me say that, ’cause he’d been kicking himself a little for not doing enough church stuff. You know how some churches can get: If you’re not giving ’em 10 hours a week, they doubt your salvation. But when Paul instructed Timothy on what sort of people oughta serve the church (or deacons, as we tend to call ’em), he pointed out, assuming they have children, the children oughta be well-behaved. 1Ti 3.12 If deacons become elders, same deal. If they can’t even raise their own kids, what good are they to raise a mature church?

So first things first. All that stuff you were hoping to do for your church?—lead music, teach Sunday school and bible classes, participate in the prayer group, contributing to charity, going on a missions trip? Do all that stuff, with your kids, first. Live out your Christianity with them, in front of them, as an example to them, long before you start doing that stuff for your church. ’Cause your first duty is to train your kids to follow your God. Dt 4.9-10 Not to just have ’em say the sinner’s prayer, then hope they pick up the rest on their own.

Sad to say, a lot of Christians prefer to do the sinners’ prayer, and little more. I know from experience. When I was in youth group, a lot of the kids knew nothing about Jesus outside of what our youth pastors told us. And that’s assuming they listened to the pastor’s lessons. They were woefully ignorant of God—but their parents figured they said the prayer, got baptized, went to church, and participated in all the same cultural Christian things they did. Doesn’t that count as raising ’em Christian?

As a result you’ve got a lot of Christians who aren’t really raising their kids Christian. At best, the kids come to Jesus in spite of their parents’ lack of attention. At worst, the kids decide their parents are hypocrites, Christianity is bogus, and turn antichrist.

And their parents, in horror and outrage, can’t imagine they’re in any way to blame for their kids’ seeming apostasy. So they look for other scapegoats: Their pagan friends. Secular schools. Youth pastors who didn’t adequately diagnose the coming problem. Evil rock music and TV programs. Satan. Anybody but themselves. Because they provided their kids a good Christian environment; how on earth could this have happened on their watch?

Easy. They didn’t watch. They assumed the environment would make their kids Christian. Environment does nothing. Discipleship does. Train your kids in the way they should go. Don’t just quote bible verses at ’em, but fail to lead by example.

Sucking up to God.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November

Matthew 6.9-10, Luke 11.2.

All my life I’ve heard Christian prayer leaders instruct me that before we start asking God for things, it’s only proper to begin with praise. Tell God how great he is. How mighty. How awesome. Supposedly that’s how Jesus demonstrated we’re to start in the Lord’s Prayer, with “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” Because we wanna make his name holy and embrace his will.

This attitude reminds me way too much of the sycophantic prayer we find in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life:

CHAPLAIN. “Let us praise God. Oh Lord…”
CONGREGATION. [ritually repeating] “Oh Lord…”
CHAPLAIN. “Oooh you are so big!
CONGREGATION. “Oooh you are so big.”
CHAPLAIN. “So absolutely huge!”
CONGREGATION. “So absolutely huge.”
CHAPLAIN. “Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you!”
CONGREGATION. “Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell you.”
CHAPLAIN. “Forgive us, O Lord, for this dreadful toadying.”
CONGREGATION. “And bare-faced flattery.”
CHAPLAIN. “But you are so strong and, well, just so super!”
CONGREGATION. “Fantastic.”

The problem with it? It’s not what the Lord’s Prayer means… and to a large degree it’s hypocrisy. When we come to God with legitimate prayer requests, small or serious, and begin with the fawning adulation, how is this significantly different from a teenager telling her dad “I love you so much” before she asks him for money? I kiss God’s boots; I earn his favor. Now he owes me. Right?

Of course it’s wrong. Yet it’s what we see: Christians figuring the more they praise God, the better he thinks of them. Or as pagans would put it, the more karma they’re generating. The more apt he is to give us what we ask, even when we really shouldn’t ask for such things ’cause our ulterior motives are bad. Jm 4.3 But we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking this is how prayer should be done. It’s not honest praise; it’s a quid pro quo.

In reality prayer requests are about grace. They’re about God giving us what he wants to give us, only because he loves us, and not because we merit or earned it.

Likewise praise is about appreciating God, about reminding ourselves of his greatness. If you wanna do a lot of that, I direct you to Psalms. But the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t actually include praise—unless you’re using the Didache version which includes, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.”

And in that case it follows the examples shown in Psalms: The psalmists tended to pour out their heart to God first. Express their woes, state their problem, ask for help. Then—after God talked ’em down, or told them he’d take care of it—then they ended their prayers with praise and gratitude. Honest gratitude.

Questioning authority.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 November

I’m a trained skeptic.

Seriously. I have degrees in both journalism and theology. In both fields, we’re taught to ask the question, “Is that really true?” Don’t swallow whole what anyone tells you. Anyone. Fact-check it.

In journalism, that’s done by finding a valid authority on the subject, and a second source to corroborate the first one. (I know; internet “journalists” seldom bother to find that second source, but they never went to journalism school, and it shows.) In theology, find a proof text, and make sure you quote it in context. One will do; more is better.

Problem is, people are very, very used to having their every statement accepted without question. So when I ask “Is that really true?”—just doing my duty as both a journalist and theologian—they take offense. What, don’t I trust them? Why not? What’s my problem?

Since I give most people the benefit of the doubt, no I actually don’t think they’re lying. (Usually.) But I know how human nature works. I know how gossip spreads. People spread stories because they’re interesting, not because they’re true. People believe stories when they confirm what they already believe, and reject ’em when they don’t. Good people can unintentionally be very, very wrong. Happens all the time. Happens to me.

Hey, humans aren’t all-knowing; they aren’t God. And some of us actually are evil. Like politicos who deliberately spread lies about their opponents. Like kids who bully their enemies. Some Christians have a political axe to grind, so their teachings are always skewed to suit their views. If I just met someone, I don’t automatically assume this is why they’re wrong: Give me time, and I’ll recognize the pattern of partisanship, overzealousness, anger, and other fleshly motives. But most folks are just honestly mistaken.

Still, that self-preservation instinct kicks in, and people are quick to attack my simple doubts as if they’re frontal assaults: “What, d’you think I’m lying to you?”

Why I went to an all-white church.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 November

Wasn’t intentional. On the contrary: Lack of thought did it. And perpetuates it.

When I was 11 years old, my family moved to a city in California which was about 60 percent white, 40 percent Latino, 10 percent everything else. Same as much of California south of Sacramento.

I’m the oldest of four, and Mom went looking for churches which’d be a good fit for young children. We tried a few, and ended at a Evangelical Free Church, which I have elsewhere called Maypole Church. The church had an excellent Christian education program. I don’t agree with good deal of their brand of Fundamentalism any longer, but they did make sure we kids got to know our bibles, which is the important thing.

This particular church happened to be 100 percent white.

Every so often they’d be 99 percent white. A black, Latino, or Asian family would visit. There’s an Air Force base nearby, and airmen would get invited to Maypole by their white friends. But within a few months they’d stop attending; they’d go elsewhere. I never knew why. Never thought to ask why. Never assumed it was about race… ’cause I wasn’t bigoted.

Didn’t give the racial issue any thought till I started to invite my high school friends to Maypole’s youth group. My high school was right next to the Air Force base, and was as integrated as the U.S. military is. I was raised in multiethnic neighborhoods, so I didn’t solely make friends with white kids. But most were fellow Christians, and if they didn’t have a youth group, I invited them to mine. They came. For a few weeks. Then stopped. Found excuses not to come along.

I’d ask ’em why they didn’t wanna come to my church anymore.

“That group ain’t right,” they’d tell me.

I wanted to know what was wrong with them.

They didn’t wanna get specific. “It just ain’t right.”

I assumed it had to do with doctrines: My church was more Fundamentalist than they were. My church wouldn’t compromise; theirs would. You know, Fundie thinking.

Then I finally invited a white high school friend to church. He wasn’t Christian; he was a pagan who was open to the idea. He didn’t stop after two weeks: He stuck around. Largely ’cause he wanted to hook up with one of the youth group girls. And though I never saw him make a decision for Jesus, he turned round and invited some of his friends to the group. First a white friend, who stuck around a month (till he realized Christian girls weren’t as loose as he’d like). Then a Latino friend, who only stayed three weeks, but left ’cause “That group ain’t right.”

Every Spring Break the youth group took a “mission trip” to Baja California and help out at a Mexican church’s Vacation Bible School. There, I saw for myself how many of the kids were super racist towards Mexicans. Our youth pastor cracked down on it as much as he could (given how certain parents would have his job if he kicked their kids out of the group). Still, this was finally when I realized what my nonwhite friends meant by “That group ain’t right.” No they weren’t.

And as we know, kids don’t become racist in a vacuum. They get it from their parents.

Nope, not accusing Maypole Church of racism. Not the pastors; probably not the deacons. But obviously there were just enough racists in my youth group to block any outreach I did—or anyone did—to nonwhites in my high school, in our city, anywhere. I assumed my church was a safe place, as all churches should be. They weren’t.

I stopped going to Maypole in 1991. Last I checked, they’re still 100 percent white.

The mentalist… disguised as a prophet.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November

When “prophets” depend a great deal on their own intuition, it’s not really the Holy Spirit.

MENTALIST /'mɛn.(t)əl.əst/ adj. One who performs highly intuitive, mnemonic, telepathic, or hypnotic abilities. (Usually as a stage performance.)
[Mentalism /'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪz.əm/ n.]

“Is there anyone in this room who was born on April 6th?”

It’s the sort of question you oughta hear when a psychic or magician is standing in front of an audience. Thing is, Christians who are into supernatural gifts tend to avoid psychics like the plague. (We have been taught to stay away from them, y’know. God forbade ’em to the Hebrews, Dt 18.8-14 and we figure that applies to us too.) Likewise we’re not as familiar with magicians who claim to be mind-readers. Or mentalists, as they’re properly called. (Maybe you remember the TV show where one of ’em solved crimes.)

Requests for anyone who was born on a certain birthdate, or anyone who has a certain letter in their name, or anyone who recognizes a certain word, name, phrase, whatever: It’s called “fishing.” The person who does it, has no idea whether there’s any such person in the crowd. But statistically it’s likely. Chances are good there is a person with a J in their name, or whose father’s name was Stephen, or who recognizes the word “Bureau,” or who considers certain dates meaningful. The first person to stand and say, “That’s me!” is gonna get a brief demonstration of how mentalism works.

What they get next are often Barnum statements, “prophecies” which seem like they apply just to that individual, but it’s rare you’ll find someone whom they don’t apply to. They’re the sort of general, that-could-mean-anything stuff we read in horoscopes or fortune cookies.

  • “There’s a significant event which recently took place in your life, isn’t there?” Of course there is.
  • “You’ve been feeling uncertain lately. You have some doubts.” Who doesn’t?
  • “You’re having problems with a friend or relative.” Of course.
  • “Is the number 10 significant to you in some way?” It’s significant to everyone in some way. Me, I happen to have that many toes. Sometimes a $10 in my wallet.
  • “There’s somebody important in your life—I’m seeing a B, maybe a C…” Just about everyone knows someone with those letters as initials.

From there, the “prophet” will fish for more information. Meanwhile they’re looking these folks over, and trying to deduce other things about them. The goal is to keep rooting around till they find something really meaningful. Then cheer you up about it, give you hope, make you know everything’s okay. ’Cause prophecy’s all about encouragement, right? 1Co 14.3 Deduce your problem, small or large; then encourage you God already knows all about it, and has your back.

But let’s hit pause on this process and think a moment. These prophets claim to hear from God, right? Yet instead of calling out a name, they’ve gotta play guessing games? They can’t tell whether the issue’s with a friend or relative? They can’t tell whether God’s saying B or C? Those letters don’t look that similar. Nor sound similar.

If they can’t identify what God’s telling them on such basic things, how can we trust any of the prophecies which’re gonna come afterward?

Well, we can’t. Because the Holy Spirit isn’t talking to these traveling-circus-style “prophets.” With God there’s no guesswork about what he’s saying. Oh, there’s plenty of guesswork about what he means; Christians still debate over some of Jesus’s parables. But his messages are crystal clear. There’s no guesswork to it. God doesn’t do vague.

Audio bibles!

by K.W. Leslie, 10 November

Don’t yet have an audio bible? Here’s the hookup.

No doubt you know about audiobooks. Well, the audio bible is simply an audiobook of the bible. A really big audiobook, ’cause the bible’s not a little book.

Just as many book publishers try to produce an audiobook version, many bible publishers do likewise with their bible translations. Sometimes it’s a straight reading. Sometimes they play soft music in the background. Sometimes they dramatize it: They hire actors to play different people in the bible, and add sound effects and music. Sometimes they overdramatize it, and hire really bad actors who put zero thought into the motivations or meaning of the folks in the bible. The first dramatized audio bible I ever heard, it was so over-the-top I gave up on dramatized bibles for a decade. They’ve improved since. Well, some have.

Anyway, I’d recommend you get an audio bible. I’ve provided links to some inexpensive and free ones.

They have their pros and cons. Obviously I think their positives outweigh the negatives. If you’re struggling with the discipline to read through the whole bible, an audio bible will help. If you have a reading disability, they solve that problem. If you have a short attention span, they can help—you won’t get distracted by study bible notes and cross references. However you may still be distracted by birds chirping outside. Some folks can’t focus on any kind of book. But hey, it’s worth a shot.

The main drawback is an audio bible goes at its own pace. Not yours. Unless you’re quick at the stop and rewind buttons, it’s not like a written bible, where you can go back and reread a sentence: It just plows ahead. It sometimes makes it tricky to meditate on what you just listened to.

And of course if you get it on disc or tape, it’s not a small book. That’s a lot of discs to lug around… and scratch, and lose. Me, I switched to the MP3 format as soon as I could.

The prayer mood.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 November

Some of us feel we need to psyche ourselves into feeling like prayer. No we don’t.

As we know, prayer is talking with God. You have something to tell him? Start talking. You want him to talk to you? Ask him stuff. It’s not complicated; it is just that simple.

It’s just we overcomplicate things. We learned a bunch of prayer rituals, which we figure gotta happen every time we pray. Gotta get in the prayer closet. Gotta assume the right posture: Head to the ground, facing Jerusalem; or eyes closed and hands folded; or facing the sky, arms lifted high. Whatever your tradition dictates.

And just as we put our bodies in a posture, we put our mindset in a posture too. We figure the best way to get ready to receive God, the best way to submit to his will, is to assume a prayer mood, an emotional state which is best for prayer.

You might not even be aware you’re psyching yourself into that state. It’s just you always have. It’s what you’ve always seen other Christians do, and that’s how you picked it up. You feel you oughta be humble when you approach God, so you mentally lower, or even degrade yourself. You feel you oughta be open to stuff he wants to teach you, so you imagine your mind wide open, ready to accept anything. You feel if God’s gonna be present, it’s time to put on a display of loving him with all our mind, so you conjure up that feeling as best you can. And so on.

Yeah, we know it’s not mandatory. If we felt we had to attain this mood before prayer, the devil could easily keep us from praying by keeping us in a foul mood. So we don’t think of it as, “God’s gonna be displeased if I don’t feel this way when I pray.” But we wanna feel this way. It helps prayer feel good.

So, positive attitude. Clear mind. Loving, humble, focused thoughts. Emotions on the surface, yet more or less under control. Any stray thoughts, any unpleasant emotions—any pessimism, pride, or evil—is gonna be shoved aside. If we can’t, it does still count as prayer, but we won’t consider it a good prayer. It’ll feel ineffective.

Yeah, of course all of this is hogwash.

Prayer’s not about how we feel when we pray. As the psalms demonstrate, we can feel any which way. Sometimes the psalmists were focused; sometimes scattered, distracted by all their enemies. Sometimes they were loving, and sometimes they wanted God to curb-stomp their enemies. Sometimes their emotions were in check; sometimes they so weren’t.

It’d be nice if prayer felt good. But it isn’t necessary that it has to. And since we can’t trust our emotions, who says it always has to?

Translating it myself. (And why that’s okay.)

by K.W. Leslie, 07 November

During my church’s services, in between worship songs and sermon notes, sometimes I’ve put bible verses on our video screens. Not as part of the service; just as something to have on the screen in between the other stuff. Something other than a blank screen.

A few weeks ago I got asked,

SHE. “Which translation is ‘KWL’? What’s that stand for?”
ME. “Me. K.W. Leslie. I translated it.”
SHE. “Why’d you use your own translation instead of an official translation?”
ME. “What do you mean, official translations?”
SHE. “Well, like the Authorized Version. The NIV, the New King James…”
ME. “Those aren’t official translations. They were produced by publishers. The bible’s the most popular book in the world; there’s good money to be made by owning your own translation. So publishers hired scholars, and now they have their own translations. But none of them are official.”

(I should clarify: Some churches have made the KJV their official translation, and Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced their own officially-approved translations. But neither our church nor denomination has an official translation.)

SHE. “Well, they were done by churches.”
ME. “They were not. They were done by publishers. Who did hire actual scholars to do the translating, so they’re not bad translations. But they weren’t done by any one church; they wanna sell bibles to every church, y’know.”
SHE. “But why do you do your own translation?”
ME. “As part of my bible study. When I’m studying a verse, I wanna really understand it, so I read it in the original, and translate it. I’m not trying to produce ‘the KWL version of the bible’; I’m just trying to understand it better. Sometimes I’ll use different words than other translations. But I’m not too far different than any of the other translations. In fact if I were too far different, it’d mean I’m doing it wrong.”
SHE. “But why use your translation instead of one of the official translations?”
ME. [letting go the fact she still insists there are official translations] “Certain words I used, which I like better than the words other translations used.”
SHE. “Well I would be nervous about that. Aren’t you changing the words of the bible to suit yourself?”
ME. “I’m trying not to do that. I’m trying to stay true to the original language, the original authors’ intent.”
SHE. “But why do you think you’ve done a better job than the official translations?”
ME. “Because sometimes I did do a better job. Certain translations bend the meaning to fit how popular Christian culture interprets the bible. The new edition of the Amplified Bible does it all the time. The New Living Translation does it a few times. The New International Version tries to hide all the bible difficulties. I tend to compare my translation with the King James Version because I’ve found that translation bends it least. But translators aren’t infallible. Everybody makes mistakes. Myself included.”
SHE. “So how can you put your translation up there like it’s authoritative?”
ME. “’Cause it’s just as ‘authoritative’ as those other translations. Which is to say, don’t take any one translation’s word for it. Compare it with other ones, just in case one of us made a mistake.”

Pretty sure I didn’t convince her, though. When you grow up thinking of certain bible translations as absolute authorities… it kinda bothers you to discover they’re not the work of extra-special anointed creatures, but ordinary women and men. Especially once you personally know any of those ordinary women and men.

“Be careful, little eyes…”

by K.W. Leslie, 31 October

Some years ago when I finally got round to reading the unabridged edition of The Stand (which, I remind you, is my favorite End Times novel, and not just ’cause it’s way better written than those stupid, stupid Left Behind novels), I casually mentioned to a fellow Christian (let’s call her Asha) I was doing so.

Wrong Christian to mention such things to. Asha was horrified. I think she was afraid I’d lose my salvation over it. You think I’m being facetious, but some Christians actually do believe there are such things as mortal, unpardonable sins. To Asha, Stephen King novels are apparently one of ’em.

Y’see, King is known as a horror writer. So he’ll write about evil spirits, vampires, werewolves, devilish magic creatures, and so forth. He’ll also write about non-supernatural things, like sex and violence. He’ll use the F-word, and take the Lord’s name in vain. Pagan stuff like that.

Therefore Asha insisted I was a bad Christian for exposing myself, even opening myself, to such evil influences. Why, the indwelling Holy Spirit might be so offended he’d flee my body, and devils would rush in, and I’d wind up committing all sorts of sinful atrocities. Blah blah blah, the usual clichés from people who don’t understand how temptation works.

If you’re human, you get tempted. We all do. You know how temptation works. But if you forgot, I’ll remind you.

Let’s say Stephen King wrote a novel where the main character liked to huff paint. Now, if we read the novel, we might identify with this guy in many ways: He’s good to his kids, he loves barbecue, he likes monster trucks, he likes to watch police procedurals. We might even think, “Wow, he’s a lot like me.” But that paint-huffing thing: That’s just nuts. We’d never do that. Never want to; never think to. Aren’t tempted in that direction in any way. Right?

Of course I assume you’re a typical sane human being. Maybe you are that susceptible to suggestion. And if that’s the case, why don’t you sign on to PayPal, and send $500 to my email address? Thanks a bunch.

“If my people pray, I’ll heal their land.”

by K.W. Leslie, 27 October

2 Chronicles 7.14.

Today’s out-of-context verse is really popular with civic idolaters, those folks who assume when Jesus returns, he won’t overthrow the United States: It’s the one exception to the kingdoms of this world which must become part of Christ’s one-world government. To them, it already is his kingdom, and Americans already are God’s chosen people. It’s just we’re heavily mismanaging things. But once we call upon God… well, lemme quote their beloved bible verse.

2 Chronicles 7.14 KJV
…if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Right. If our Christian nation returns to God, and returns to proper Christian values (as defined by popular Christian culture), and makes big shows of repentance like public prayer and voting for the prolife political party (and never mind what the party’s candidates think about the needy, the stranger, the widows and orphans—heck, women in general): God will heal our land. Turn it into his kingdom on earth. Make it paradise. Maybe even hold back on the End Times for a few more years, so we can finally accomplish all our personal goals for wealth, romance, and material success, without that pesky rapture messing up our schedule. Yet at the same time, in our church services, claiming we’re getting the church ready to meet her groom. Rv 21.2

Yeah, it’s a wholly inconsistent theology. But fear’ll do that to people.

Anyway, whenever I object to them ripping 2 Chronicles 7.14 out of its historical context, I regularly get accused of not loving the United States like they do. And they’re right: It definitely ain’t like they do. I love the United States like God loves the world—and wants to save it. Jn 3.16 I want as many Americans as possible to turn to God. I don’t assume they already have. Polls prove we think we have, but crime and abortion rates prove we haven’t. So I remain mindful my citizenship is in God’s kingdom. And every time the Holy Spirit wakes me up to the fact the United States and the kingdom are opposed, I’m siding with the kingdom. Every time. As should every Christian—instead of bending the truth till we can play both sides.