Prophesying your own issues.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 August

Funny how a lot of prophecies particularly apply to the person sharing it.

From time to time—in bible studies, church, conferences, prayer groups, what have you—prophets get up and say a little something which “God laid on their heart,” which is Christianese for “God told ’em.”

Or at least they think God told ’em. They were listening to their consciences, which is probably the easiest way to hear God. When we become Christian, the Holy Spirit gets to work on our consciences, growing good fruit in them, fixing our attitudes, poking us there whenever we misbehave. For some of us, it’s our most regular form of communication with him; we’re used to it. Many prophets have learned to listen to our consciences, in case any tugs we might feel are messages from God.

So let’s say a prophet detects this idea in there: “Someone’s not so sure she believes in God. She has doubts.” Sounded to them like something the Holy Spirit would say. So they take it and run with it.

“I feel in my spirit,” they’ll say (this’d be Christianese for “I think”), “there’s someone in this room who’s not sure whether she even believes in God anymore. She has days when she can’t even feel God’s presence. She’s struggling. I just want everyone in this room to know God is real. He cares about you. And if you wanna come forward we’ll pray for you, and pray that God show up in your life. For you to feel his presence.”

Thereafter, five or six girls come forward to be prayed over. And sometimes one or two guys who don’t care which pronoun was used: They’re kinda feeling that way too, and also want prayer.

Okay, time for the analysis.

Everybody doubts. Those who don’t, either had such a profound God-experience they don’t doubt anymore, ’cause they used to doubt, ’cause everybody doubts. Or they’re in heavy denial, which ain’t good. In any event, skip a rock into a crowd of Christians and it’s a safe bet you’ll hit a doubter. So we don’t actually need the Holy Spirit to inform us, “Hey, there’s a doubter in the room.” Maybe we need him to remind us, but not inform us. But get up in any large meeting, prompted by the Spirit or not, and declare, “Anybody have doubts? Come forward for prayer,” and people’ll come forward for prayer. Because everybody doubts.

And because everybody doubts, why’s “Somebody has doubts” sitting in this prophet’s conscience, waiting to be heard? Because the prophet has doubts. That’s a message for them. Since we humans are far more alike than not, it’ll also work for many of the people in the room. But we humans tend to have some really serious blinders on when our consciences are talking to us about ourselves.

So nine times out of ten, you know who’s really going through the struggle with belief and doubt in the room? Duh: The prophet.

The next dozen times you hear prophets get up and declare something, ask yourself, “Say, does this message also apply—if not primarily apply—to the person giving the declaration?” And y’know what? It almost always will.

Same-gender marriage in the United States.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 August

Depending on your politics, same-gender marriage is either a done deal or a huge issue.

I think we can figure out which camp you’re in, based on what you call it. I’m gonna describe it as same-gender marriage, ’cause that’s what it is. Conservatives seem to prefer “same-sex marriage” and “gay marriage,” and of course cruder terms. Progressives frequently use the term “marriage equality,” ’cause they’re trying to emphasize how, as they see it, it’s no more nor less than marriage—so why add adjectives?

Me, I know a lot of conservatives. To their minds, same-gender marriage is gonna be the ruin of the United States.

Mostly that’s because their beliefs consist of a combination of replacement theology and civic idolatry. Replacement theology presumes Christianity has taken the place of ancient Israel, and all the LORD’s promises to Moses and the Hebrews in the wilderness, now apply to us present-day Christians and our nations. Civic idolatry presumes this is especially true of the United States; that because of our Christian forebears, and indicated by God’s blessings of abundant wealth and military supremacy, America is God’s primary Christian nation. Americans will grudgingly accept some other nations are sorta Christian… but nobody’s as Christian as we are. (Now cue the chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”)

The catch: If the United States has superseded Israel, and likewise has a special covenant with the LORD, when Americans violate his will, the cycle’s gonna kick in and God’ll let our enemies smite us. Or he’ll personally smite us himself with hurricanes. Either way.

I should point out if replacement theology were in any way not rubbish, God would’ve started smiting Americans long before we declared our independence. ’Cause slavery. True, there’s slavery in the bible, and God even had commands about how the Hebrews were to make and treat slaves. But by those commands’ metric, American slavery was a ghastly abomination. It wasn’t a penitentiary system. It was kidnapping, dehumanization, and torture. If the Civil War was, as Abraham Lincoln believed, God’s judgment upon American slavery, we got off so lightly.

Need I mention all the other violations of God’s covenant with the Hebrews which Americans—including “good Christians”—violate hourly? We’d be here a while.

Same-gender marriage zeroes in on only one command of the 613: The command prohibiting male-on-male sexual activity. Lv 18.22 It’s not one of the 10 commandments, nor one of Jesus’s top two, but conservative Christians have elevated it to maybe number 13. To them, it offends God like no other.

The real problem? It offends them like no other. They personally find homosexuality distasteful. That’s why they can’t “live and let live,” like they do with all the other commands they ignore. Or even themselves commit, like coveting and Sabbath-breaking. This one captures their attention because it creeps ’em out. Hence their quickness to condemn it, and everything relating to it… as they look the other way at snobbery, lying, injustice, evil schemes, and all the stuff God’s truly outraged by. Pr 6.16-19 Their priorities take precedence.

Do you trust your church’s leadership?

by K.W. Leslie, 25 August

If not, you need to do something about it.

Either you trust your pastor and your church’s leadership structure, or you really don’t. Ain’t no third option.

You may claim there is so a third option; that I’ve made this sound like a black-and-white issue when there are plenty of shades of gray. Y’see, we trust everyone up to a point—because everyone but Jesus is fallible. So we trust the leadership of our church to a point. After all, the devil’s constantly on the prowl, 1Pe 5.8 tempting church leaders to fumble and fail, so we gotta be on our guard constantly, lest we crash and burn right along with ’em.

Okay, in principle I have no issue with this reason. Makes sense. Seems consistent with the Christian principle of testing everything. 1Th 5.21

But in practice, it becomes an excuse for holding a church at arm’s length. In practice, it’s not that Christians trust their leaders for the time being, yet stay vigilant lest they slip up: They stay disconnected. Uncommitted. Ready to bail at the first sign of trouble. Heck, at the first sign of discomfort.

Sometimes for good reason. If you’ve been burned by church before, I don’t blame you at all for being slow to trust your new church. But just as often it’s for entirely selfish reasons: We don’t wanna recognize any church leader’s authority in our lives. We don’t wanna be accountable to anyone. We don’t wanna submit to one another out of reverence for Christ Jesus. Ep 5.21 Easier to never recognize ’em as authorities in the first place, and disguise our fear of commitment as “discernment.” Well, I call rubbish.

How to annoy people. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 August

And how their bad attitutes infuse what I write.

When I first got into the newspaper business, I regularly wrote opinion pieces. Got my own column in a few different papers. I would, on occasion, deliberately try to bug people.

My justification for it was:

  • Really good writing pushes people’s buttons.
  • So they get angry. At least they’re reading.
  • I have every right to express my opinions.
  • Those who get outraged by this stuff? Cranks.
  • It’s all in good fun.

Yeah, I was a real jerk about it. I’d write really obnoxious stuff sometimes.

At the same time—more of my youthful and spiritual immaturity coming out—I was also under the misbelief that opinion pieces actually could change people’s minds over to my way of thinking. They don‘t work that way. Only fools read the op/ed pages to learn what to think. Most of ’em read to learn what others think, but for the most part they already have their minds made up. They’d either discover I agreed with them, and feel vindicated; or discover I believed otherwise, and feel annoyed. And if I annoyed them often enough, most would quit reading.

So when I tried to a rise out of people, I wasn’t as successful as I expected. I’d try to be super annoying, and my fans would cheer me on, and everyone else would dismiss me. (And rightly so.)

The outraged responses always came from the stuff I never expected.

Fr’instance, I once used the word “crap” in a newspaper column. As profanities go, that one’s really tame, so I used it and thought nothing more of it.

But we had this one regular nut-mail contributor. Some old guy who contributed to every local newspaper. Frequently he’d mix up his newspapers, and write to one paper to comment about something he read in another. And every time he found a word he considered inappropriate, he’d demand the paper fire the writer. That was his only solution to any problem: Fire people. He suggested I be fired many times. Naturally nobody took him seriously.

So, “crap” drew his ire. But none of my deliberate attempts at outrage got people to respond. It’s like I was waving red flags to the color-blind.

Eventually the Holy Spirit convinced me this was rotten Christian behavior. If I found it fun, it was evil fun. There’s no good excuse for it; it doesn’t promote God’s kingdom whatsoever; it had to go. So I repented and cut it out.

Still occasionally, unintentionally, offended people, though. Still do.

Again, it’s all for the stuff I never expect. I get misunderstood. Or somebody’s looking for offenses, and take me out of context. Or a story’s going round that bends my words till they’re unrecognizable; gossip’s evil like that.

Paradise: The nicer part of the afterlife.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 August

Where Christians go when we die… and why we prefer other ideas to that of paradise.

Paradise /'pɛr.ə.daɪs/ n. In the afterlife, the place of the blessed. [Usually equated with heaven.]
2. The garden of Eden.
3. An ideal, happy, peaceful, or picturesque place or state.
[Paradisal /pɛr.ə'daɪz.əl/ adj.]

Perdís was an ancient Persian word for “a park.” Persian parks were particularly known for their decorative, ornamental gardens.

Both Hebrew and Greek borrowed the word. Late Biblical Hebrew turned it into pardés, which is found in the bible thrice. Sg 4.13, Ec 2.5, Ne 2.8 Ancient Greek turned it into parádeisos, also found thrice. Lk 23.43, 2Co 12.4, Rv 2.7 It’s where we get our English word paradise.

Of course in English a paradise refers to any nice place. I tend to hear it describe tropical beaches, which are hardly garden-like. But the Pharisees grew to use it primarily to describe Eden, the place of the first humans. And the afterlife.

Like Ecclesiastes commented, nobody really knew what happened to a human’s spirit after death. Ec 3.21 But they speculated. To them, once the body was in sh’ól/“the grave,” once the neféš/“soul, lifeforce” was extinguished, the spirit would go elsewhere and await resurrection. In the Old Testament, “elsewhere” was the same for both the righteous and the wicked. Ec 9.10 They didn’t imagine it as a place of reward nor punishment. It was simply where the dead went.

No, that’s not a pleasant idea. That’s why over time the Pharisees came to believe God sorted people in the “elsewhere” for reward and punishment, before resurrection. Different parts of the afterlife. A restful part, and a hellish part.

Y’know that story Jesus told of Lazarus and the rich man? Lk 16.19-31 Like that. The rich man’s torment, the Pharisees designated ge-Henna, after the burning landfill outside Jerusalem. Lazarus’s comfort, in contrast, was designated paradise, as if the LORD had teleported Eden into the afterlife, and let the ghosts of the deceased wander around there. (Not sure what they’d do with the fruit trees, though.) Yeah, both these terms are metaphors. Torment wasn’t literally a burning garbage fire, although it was mighty bad. Comfort wasn’t literally Eden.

Now, here’s the problem: Is this what our afterlife is gonna consist of? ’Cause for most Christians, this simply won’t be good enough. Our preachers promised us mansions in heaven. We want that. We don’t wanna lounge around with Abraham and await Jesus’s return; we wanna see our dead relatives and friends, then find Jesus and give him a big ol’ hug (and maybe weep on his toga for a bit), then run into the fields and play with our childhood pets which died years ago. We don’t just want comfort; we want our eternal reward. Right away.

So we wanna hear Jesus has significantly changed things since bible times. Here’s the problem: Bible doesn’t say he’s changed a thing. But Christian mythology sure does, and that’s the story Christians prefer.

Works righteousness: Salvation through good karma.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 August
WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS /'wərks raɪ.tʃəs.nəs/ n. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through good deeds.

Works righteousness is how the world works. We tend to call it karma: If we want people to think of us as good, upstanding, and deserving, we’ve gotta publicly do good deeds. Like doing charity work, making big donations, rescuing needy people, doing stuff for the public good. Not just the stuff ordinary citizens do, and should do, like follow the laws and not be jerks. It’s gotta be actions which go above and beyond.

Or (and this is the much harder way, although a number of people prefer it ’cause you can do it passively) we’ve gotta suffer some kind of catastrophic loss. One which totally doesn’t seem to fit our circumstances. You know, like Job being a really good guy, yet losing all his kids and stuff in a single day. Jb 1 Getting a deadly disease, getting your house flooded, getting your dad murdered—stuff that’ll make people sympathetic, or even cry.

See, people assume the universe oughta balance things out. Good things should happen to good people, and bad things to bad. But in reality the universe is random and meaningless. When circumstances expose this truth, people feel it’s just wrong—and often take it upon themselves to balance things out. (And then claim, “See? The universe balanced things out.” Well, it needed help.) People pour out support to the needy—but y’notice it’s sometimes entirely out of proportion. More than once I’ve seen a story in the news about people in need, and people donated so much support, 100 times the people could’ve been helped by it. (Hopefully the needy people passed some of that generosity along.)

But yeah, the world runs on works righteousness. On karma.

The kingdom of God, on the other hand, runs on grace. People don’t get what we deserve, much less what people think we merit. Instead we get what God wants to give us, and he wants to do for us way more than we can ever ask or think. Ep 3.20 He wants to give us his kingdom.

Problem is, for a whole lot of Christians this idea hasn’t entirely sunk in. When we come to Jesus, we bring our existing ideas, including our existing wrong ideas, with us. One of ’em is the idea we owe God big-time. After all, look how much he’s done for us! But we conclude we therefore have to pay him back. You’ll even hear Christians claim this is why we’ve gotta do good deeds: We owe God. We’ll never ever be able to make it up to him; not even after a trillion years of good deeds. Still, they insist, we should try.

Which is simply nuts. And goes against everything God’s trying to teach us about grace. We’re supposed to give without expecting anything back, Lk 6.35 because that’s how our Father gives.

But karma is so pervasive in every human culture, even those of us who know God does grace instead of karma, try to make it up to him in big or small ways. We don’t always do stuff for God out of pure gratitude. We’re still trying to balance out our karmic debt… to an infinite God. Good luck with all that.

Nah. The reason Christians are to be good, is because God instructs us to be good. Not to earn anything, not to pay anything back, not for any other reason than love. If you love God, do as he says. Jn 14.15 If you don’t really, you won’t really. But forget about earning his love; you already have it. Forget about earning his favor; you already have it. That karma stuff only works on humans. Not God.

Losing your faith when you go to school.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 August

More accurately, being the pagans you always secretly were.

In my town, today’s the first day of school. I have friends in other parts of the United States who say, “You start school in August? You’re nuts.” I look at it from an educator’s point of view: The shorter the summer vacation, the less chance there is for the kids to forget everything before we get ’em back in the classrooms. Plus most of the parents do not mind at all.

Colleges and universities are also starting up this time of year. Along with that comes a common worry Christians have: They worry their good Christian kids will go away to school, and gradually ditch their Christianity.

It’s hardly a new worry. It’s been around since the very first Christians sent their kids to the ancient version of university, the academy. It’s been around since the first universities slid away from the goals of their Christian founders, and became secular.

Since I grew up Fundamentalist, I got to hear their version of that worry. Fundies suspect their salvation depends on clinging to all the correct beliefs, and since any good school challenges us to question everything, that’s the very last thing they want their kids doing. It’s why they created Fundamentalist colleges, where they question everything but their fundamentals. (Though frequently these schools have way too many fundamentals, but that’s another debate for another day.)

Hence in high school my youth pastors told me, time and again, the only schools worthy of consideration are the Christian ones. Their goal was to shelter us from the cold cruel world out there, lest it corrupt us and turn us pagan.

A lot of us Christians bought into this mentality. It’s why, as soon as possible, Christians put their kids in Christian preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools; then transition ’em to four-year Christian universities. Others don’t trust any Christian schools—somehow they’re all corrupt—so they educate their kids at home as long as possible. Heck, instead of going away to university, some of ’em take long-distance classes from home, lest the shelter the schools are meant to be, just isn’t strong enough.

In this way, parents figure the kids will never be drawn away from Jesus by the subtle, foundation-shattering perils of atheistic humanism in the classroom. Nor the drug-fueled hedonism in the dorms. Nor the distractions of popular culture everywhere else.

All the classroom subjects will be carefully based on a bible-centered worldview. And ideally so will all the extracurricular activities and dorm life. The kids’ll be totally immersed in Jesus. They’ll never fall away.

They never bother to consider: What kind of anemic, pathetic faith are we talking about, where we have to encase kids in a plastic Christian bubble lest any microbe from the outside destroy this faith?

See, that’s the real problem. These kids who abandon their faith? They don’t have faith. Their parents bungled the job of passing it down. The kids don’t love Jesus, if they even know him at all; they’ve been chafing under all the Christianity, and the instant they leave for school—even a Christian school!—there goes their religion. Cast off as fast as they can shed it.

Happened to me too: I didn’t ditch Christianity, but I totally ditched Fundamentalism. Plus various other annoying beliefs. Lemme tell you about it.

Telling your pastor you’re leaving.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 August

Are we obligated to give our church an exit interview before we leave?

Got a question from a reader: “Last year my pastor preached about the steps you need to take before you leave the church. One of them was you first have to go to your pastor and talk it over with him. But most of the reason I’m leaving my church is because of him. Do I really have to talk with him first?”

No. You don’t have to say a word. You can go to another church immediately.

This “You gotta talk to the pastor before you leave” idea doesn’t come from bible. It comes entirely from pastors. They wanna know why you’re leaving.

Ideally, it’s because pastors wanna help. People leave churches for all sorts of reasons. And the pastors are hoping maybe, just maybe, they can help you work out some of those reasons, and change your mind. (I think it’s naïve of them to hope so, but many of them will try it just the same.)

Often, and more realistically, they’re troubleshooting. They wanna know why you’re leaving in case it’s the church’s fault. What can they fix? What can they do to prevent people from leaving in future?—to “close the back door,” so to speak?

And yeah, sometimes it’s not at all for noble reasons. Sometimes pastors want the chance to defend themselves. “You’re leaving because the church does [a bothersome behavior]? Well, we’re meant to do that. God wants us to do that. We’d be compromising the gospel if we quit doing that. It’s wrong of you to object to that.” Really, the discussion’s not gonna do a whole lot to convince you to stick around. It’s just to make the pastors feel vindicated and self-righteous; to feel they did nothing wrong, and you’re in the wrong for leaving. If that’s the sort of meeting you suspect you’re gonna have (’cause that’s the way the pastors tend to defend themselves every other time a problem comes up), definitely skip it. It’ll be no help to anyone.

Worst case: The pastors wanna do nothing but browbeat you for leaving. Or threaten you with hell, because they’re convinced their church is the only outpost of God’s kingdom there is, and everyplace else belongs to Satan. Don’t go to those meetings either.

If you really do want them to know your reasons for leaving, write them an email or letter. You needn’t read what they send you in response—especially when you suspect it’ll be hurtful. That too is optional. You needn’t send them anything.

What if your church made you sign a contract, when you became members, which required you to have an “exit interview” before you leave? Simple: They can’t legally enforce it. At all. (Contrary to popular belief, employers can’t legally enforce exit interviews upon their employees either. So your church definitely hasn’t a leg to stand on.) If they persist, tell ’em to either get a subpoena or leave you alone. And of course no court will grant them any such thing, ’cause separation of church and state.

Such churches may insist, “You promised us before God,” and hope this argument convinces you to attend any meeting they deem necessary. And yeah, when we swear to God, we oughta abide by any such promises, because God holds us accountable to them. But let me remind you that marriage vows are also a promise before God—yet Jesus permits people to divorce those who cheat on them. Mt 5.32 There’s a significant difference between promising God, who never goes back on his word; and promising humans, who regularly do.

So if your church mistreats you—and in so doing, defies God—you’ve been cheated on. You can divorce your church. Insisting you can’t, or that you must only do it on your church’s terms, is just more mistreatment. All of it manmade. None of it biblical.

Criticism and self-promotion destroys. Humility restores.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 August

James 4.11-17.

Continuing on his whole theme of pride and its destructiveness, James went after those Christians who took it upon themselves to critique and condemn others, and those Christians who exaggerate their big plans which ultimately aren’t gonna come to anything.

Starting with the bit about badmouthing Christians. You know the type. Every church has ’em. Sometimes they’re even in leadership.

James 4.11-12 KWL
11 Don’t badmouth one another, fellow Christians.
One who badmouths or criticizes a fellow Christian, badmouths and criticizes the Law.
If you criticize the Law, you aren’t a doer of the Law, but a critic.
12 Only one is the Law-giver and critic, with power to save and destroy.
Who are you to be your neighbor’s critic?

This passage confuses people because of the different ways we interpret katalaleíte/“you all speak evil.” After all there’s many ways to speak negatively. Might be minor nitpicking (“Her pasta sauce is bland”) or gossip (“Her husband’s banging the nanny”) or full-on condemnation (“She’s a liar”). There are lots of ways to speak negatively.

Most of the time I hear this passage used to rebuke gossips. But considering the context—James went straight to talking about the Law—it clearly doesn’t mean minor badmouthing. It’s the full-on condemnation. The stuff where Christians are accusing one another of sin. And not following the process Jesus outlined, Mt 25.15-20 but trying to work the court of public opinion. Good old-fashioned backstabbing.

Part of the problem with how people interpret this passage has to do with dispensationalism: The belief the Law used to be how God saved people, but thanks to Jesus we’re saved by grace, and therefore the Law no longer counts. So much wrong with that idea: God always saved people by grace, and the Law didn’t save anyone, but was granted to a saved people to show ’em how now to live. Yes, Jesus fulfilled large parts of the Law, but as anyone who knows their 10 commandments can tell you, plenty of it still applies. The Law still defines right and wrong.

If you think the Law no longer counts, you won’t see the problem with badmouthing and criticizing the Law. Heck, you’re already doing it yourself. And James’s instruction will go right over your head. You will—as many a Christian has—skip the Law parts, and figure it’s only about saying mean things. Stop backbiting, Christians!

Pride and coveting destroys. Humility restores.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 August

James 4.1-10.

At the end of chapter 3 of his letter, James was making the point zeal and argumentativeness don’t come from God.

James 3.14-18 KWL
14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:
15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.
16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.
17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.
Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.
18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

Just because Christians split this teaching into separate chapters, doesn’t mean James was done with his idea. That’s the context for the next 10 verses. Righteous fruit is sown by peace… and wars and battles don’t come from the same place. They don’t come from above.

James 4.1-4 KWL
1 Where do the wars and battles all of you have, come from? Not there!
They come out of your hedonism, the “field experience” of your limbs.
2 You all covet, and don’t have. You murder, act in zeal, yet you’re powerless to achieve it.
You fight and wage war, yet don’t have—because you don’t ask.
3 You ask, yet don’t receive because you ask for evil!
—so you might spend it on your hedonism.
4 Adultresses! Haven’t you known friendship with the world is enmity with God?
So whoever wants to be a friend of the world, is rendered God’s foe.

As leader of the Jerusalem Christians, James naturally had to deal with all their fights and spats. No doubt some of ’em escalated into violent physical confrontations, ’cause “eye for eye” and all that. With his experience, James knew precisely what sparked the bulk of these fights: People wanted their own way. They hadn’t submitted to God. (They sure wouldn’t submit to one another.) They had their own ideas how things should be, who should answer to whom, and what God “owes” us.

Even Christians who should know better, try to get away with this. Years ago my pastor bought a luxury car, and spent the bulk of a sermon trying to explain God permitted him this extravagance. It was a pretty pathetic defense. It was little better than what we hear in Prosperity Gospel churches—how God wants his kids to have the best of everything, so what’s wrong with a little mammonism? Years later the pastor gave his car away; that defended his purchase far better than his sermon ever did.

But my point, and James’s, is that our idonón/“hedonism” (KJV “lusts”) are our real motives for our behavior. Not wisdom from above. Jm 3.15-17 ’Tain’t from above; more like below.