Hyperbole. So I don’t have to explain it a billion times.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 September

You saw what I did there, right?

Hyperbole /haɪ'pər.bə.li/ n. Deliberate exaggeration: A claim not meant to be taken literally.
[Hyperbolic /haɪ.pər'bɑl.ək/ adj.]

You may not be so familiar with this word, but you’ve seen examples of it all your life. And that’s not hyperbole.

Humans use hyperbolic language to get attention. You might not think much of the statement, “I had to clean a lot of dishes.” You pay a little more attention to, “I had to clean a truckload of dishes.” The exaggerated image gets attention. May even inspire a mental image of a literal truckload of dishes. May even strike us as funny, horrifying, sad, irritating; like most acts of creativity, it runs the risk of pushing the wrong buttons.

Of course some hyperboles are so overused, they get no reaction anymore. They’ve become clichés. “I worked my fingers to the bone” probably horrified someone the first time they heard it—“No, really? Ewww”—but nobody bothers to flinch at it anymore. Not even if people claim, “I literally worked my fingers to the bone.” Usually no they didn’t.

Humans have always used hyperbolic language. Nope, that’s not a hyperbole either: We really have. We find it in every culture. We find it in the bible. Even God used it.

Amos 2.9 KWL
“I destroyed the Amorite before their very eyes,
whose height was like that of cedars, strong like oaks.
I destroyed their fruit above, and root below.”

So, do you imagine the Amorites were literally as tall as cedar trees? After all, God said so. And surely God doesn’t lie

See, that’s the problem with hyperbole and biblical interpretation. Too many people take the scriptures literally. They figure if God’s word is nothing but truth, Jn 17.17 the scriptures oughta be absolutely valid in every instance, and contain no exaggerations whatsoever. ’Cause liars exaggerate, but God’s no liar. Tt 1.2 And if these two ideas (“liars exaggerate” and “God’s no liar”) are equivalent, it logically follows God doesn’t exaggerate. Ever.

Neither does Jesus.

Luke 14.26 KWL
“If anyone comes to me yet won’t ‘hate’ their father, mother, woman, children, brothers, and sisters,
or even their own soul, they can’t be my student.”

See, I put “hate” in quotes, ’cause Jesus doesn’t literally mean hate; middle easterners used that word when they spoke about things which took lower priority. Top priority was “loved.” Lower priorities might’ve also been loved, but in comparison to that top priority, they weren’t loved as much; so “hated.”

This is one of those examples, like “working my fingers to the bone,” where the exaggeration is such a cliché, middle easterners thought nothing of it. Problem is, our culture doesn’t. To literalists—particularly members of cults—this means they’re to cut themselves off from their families entirely. Divorce spouses, abandon children, have nothing more to do with anyone from their past. Don’t honor parents; Ex 20.12 hate them. In so doing, the cult can gain greater control over their followers.

This is why I had to add quotes. The NLT went with, “You must hate everyone else by comparison.” Lk 14.26 NLT That works too.

Submission. It’s not domination.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 September

It has two definitions, and evil people are promoting the wrong one.

Submit /səb'mɪt/ v. Yield to or accept a superior force, authority, or will. Consent to their conditions.
2. Present one’s will to another for their consideration or judgment.
[Submission /səb'mɪs.ʃən/ n.]

Notice there are two popular definitions of submit in use. The more popular of the two has to do with acceptance, obedience, and blind capitulation. To turn off our brains, do as we’re told. And most sermons instruct Christians to do precisely that. Submit to one another, as Paul ordered.

Ephesians 5.21 NIV
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

’Cause we kinda have to. If we can’t submit to God—if we insist on our own way, our own standards, our own values, our own lifestyles—it’s a pretty good bet we’re outside his kingdom.

Romans 8.5-8 KWL
5 Carnal people think carnal things. Spirit-led people, Spirit-led things.
6 A flesh-led mind produces death. A Spirit-led mind, life and peace.
7 For a flesh-led mind is God’s enemy. It doesn’t submit to God’s law. It can’t.
8 Those who live by flesh can’t please God.

So we especially submit to God. Jm 4.7 And to Christian leaders; 1Pe 5.5 we follow the doctrines they proclaim from the pulpit. And wives, submit to your husbands. Ep 5.22 When he says “Jump,” you ask “How high?”

Then there’s the other definition of submit: The one where it’s not typical of a relationship between a benevolent (or not-so-benevolent) despot and their subjects, but between partners, friends, or coworkers. One where we instead bounce ideas off one another. Find out whether they help or inconvenience one another—and of course try to help as best we can.

One which sounds appropriate for a paráklitos/“helper” Jn 14.16, 14.26, 15.26, 16.7 and the people he’s trying to help. For a teacher and his pupils. For a loving God and his kids.

So… which definition d’you think fits what the authors of the scriptures were talking about?

Oh, the benevolent despot thingy? Well it does work for cult leaders and wannabe patriarchs. But in God’s kingdom, where the king calls us his friends, Jn 15.15 where love doesn’t demand its own way, 1Co 13.5 it’s pretty obvious that definition is entirely incorrect. In many ways it’s kinda the opposite of God’s intent. Almost as if the devil got Christians to flip it 180 degrees, n’est-ce pas?

Praying when we suck at prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 September

Hey, we’re not all experts.

Years ago I was reading Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, a useful book on prayer. In it he described the most basic, elementary form of prayer he could think of, which he calls Simple Prayer. Basically it’s just talking with God, which is all prayer really is.

But I believe there’s a form of prayer even more elementary than Simple Prayer: It’s what I call the I-Suck-At-Prayer prayer. It’s the prayer every new Christian prays. The prayer every pagan prays when they’re first giving prayer a test drive. The prayer even longtime Christians stammer when we’re asked to pray aloud, and suddenly we feel we’ve gotta perform… but not overtly. Christians might pray every day and rather often, yet we’ll still pray the I-Suck-At-Prayer Prayer from time to time.

It’s based on discomfort. It’s when we realize we need to pray in a manner we’re not used to. Maybe somebody else has been leading our prayers. Maybe we’ve been praying too many rote prayers—it’s easier to use the prayer book, or the pre-written prayers in our favorite devotional, and just got out of the habit of extemporaneous prayer—praying without a script, talking to God just like we’d talk to anyone. Some of us feel incapable of it, so we never do pray like that.

So we stammer. Stumble. Suffer stage fright. And our prayers become big ol’ apologies to God for how poorly we’re doing. “Forgive my hesitation; I need to pray more often.”

Foster described Simple Prayer as the starting point of prayer. But plenty of people don’t even make it to the starting block. We get too hung up on “I suck at prayer,” too busy apologizing for our inability to express ourselves, too busy flogging ourselves for not praying “properly.”

I put “properly” in quotes ’cause we Christians often have a screwy idea of what’s proper in prayer, and get way too hard on ourselves because we don’t meet our own unrealistic expectations. Usually we’ve picked up these ideas from “prayer warriors” who make their showy public prayers sound impressive—and people assume their prayers oughta sound like that.

Hence we wind up with Christians who…

  • feel we should only pray in King James Version English.
  • replace every “um” and “uh” in our speech with “Father God” and “Lord Jesus,” and other names of God.
  • pad our prayers because we’re not sure short prayers are effective.
  • try to psyche ourselves into a prayer mood because we don’t know the difference between emotional and spiritual.

As I’ve said, prayer is talking with God. Nothing more than that. If we can talk with our family members, we can definitely talk with God. (If you struggle to talk with them, or they’re distant instead of gracious, I get why God might be a problem.) We don’t have to sound formal. We don’t have to speak in bible language. We don’t even have to be articulate—though we should make an effort, ’cause we are trying to communicate after all. We just gotta go find some privacy, open our mouths, and talk with God.

The wealthy, their crimes, and their coming judgment.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 September

James 5.1-8.

This next bit of James was directed to the specific people of James’s day.

Problem is, not every Christian has understood this. You know how we humans are; we wanna make everything about us. So we’ve looked at this passage and tried to figure out how it applies to us and the people of our day. Especially the people of our day, since rebuke and judgment are involved: We definitely want those bits to apply to other people.

Since James dropped a reference or two to Jesus’s second coming—an event which’ll take place at any time, a belief Christians have held since the beginning, and even Jesus’s first apostles watched out for it, as Jesus instructed—historically we’ve interpreted this bit as an End Times reference. It’s not really. In the New Testament, “the last days” doesn’t refer to the End Times, but the Christian Era. Ac 2.17, He 1.2 The “first days” were before Christ; the “last days” are after God’s kingdom has come near. As historians call ’em, BC and CE. And in these last days, we’re to live like the kingdom’s arrived—not like it hasn’t, and never will.

So when James rebuked the people of his church for living the same old lifestyle during “the last days,” he meant they weren’t acting as King Jesus’s followers should. Whether today or during the End Times. That should be our takeaway as well: If you’re wealthy, do try not to behave like these people.

And do try not to read this passage through your End Times filter. Read it for what it says.

James 5.1-8 KWL
1 Come now, wealthy Christians: Lament loudly about the sufferings which you’re going through.
2 Your wealth has decayed. Your clothes became moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver have tarnished. Their poison will be your testimony:
It’ll eat your flesh like fire. You stockpiled for the last days.
4 Look at the wages of the workers who reap your fields—withheld by you, so they cry out.
The reapers’ roar has entered the ear of the Lord of War.
5 You all lived comfortably, luxuriously, on the earth. You fed your hearts on the day of slaughter.
6 You all condemned, murdered the Righteous One, who doesn’t resist you.
7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.
Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,
patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.
8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:
The Master’s second coming has come near.

Okay. In James’s day, the wealthy Christians in his community were suffering. In part because their wealth had come to nothing. And more suffering was coming—because they’d ethisavrísate/“accumulated wealth” (KJV “laid up treasure”) instead of doing what they were supposed to be doing with it: They weren’t paying their employees.

Some people use this verse to knock the rich in general; to promote a little class welfare. This isn’t about all the wealthy; it’s not James knocking the rich for being rich. James got on their case because their workers were suffering, and crying out to God. So this is a prophecy from James, who’d been told by the Holy Spirit why the wealthy in his church were losing their money: God was judging them for their evil.

Yes, evil. It’s against God’s Law to not pay your employees. In fact the Law stipulates we have to pay ’em the same day they worked. None of this saving up till payday, like we do nowadays.

Deuteronomy 24.14-15 KWL
14 Don’t tyrannize needy and poor employees,
whether relatives, or foreigners who live in your land or within your gates.
15 Give their wages that day. Don’t let the sun come down on them first.
For they’re poor. They carry their soul in their hands.
Don’t let them call the LORD about you, and let it be sin upon you.

The unpaid reapers Jm 5.4 had told God on their bosses. This triggered Kyríu Savaóth—which is a half-translation, half-transliteration of YHWH Chevaót/“the LORD of Armies” (KJV “LORD of hosts”), our God when he’s about to do battle. These people’s ruin was God’s judgment on their misdeeds.

In that day. Not in the End Times. God isn’t always gonna wait till the End to open up a can of whup-ass. The cycle of history happens over and over again for this very reason.

Hence if the wealthy exploit the poor in this generation, there’s every chance God may take away their wealth again. It may not be the End Times… but it’ll definitely feel like the End Times for these people.

Free will. And God’s free will.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 September

He’s given us choices. Choose wisely.

A will is the ability to make choices and decisions. Might be limited in what we can choose. Fr’instance when I’m at In-N-Out Burger, I can either order a hamburger or cheeseburger; I can’t order a tuna sandwich. But the fact I have a choice, any choice, even a really small one, means I get to exercise my will. If they give me no choices—i.e. they’re out of cheese—I still have the choice to get a burger, or not.

Yeah, various people are gonna argue a limited free will isn’t truly free. Which reminds me so much of little kids who throw tantrums ’cause they don’t like any of their options. “But I don’t want cherry or pistachio ice cream! I want chocolate. If I can’t have chocolate I’ll have nothing!” And as the patient parent will usually respond, “Well, that’s your choice.” Limited choices are still choices. Even if you’re not given any options whatsoever, you still get to choose how you’re gonna accept that fact: Cheerfully, or bitterly.

Now if you wanna talk someone whose free will is pretty much unlimited, let’s talk God.

God’s almighty. He can do whatever he wishes. Including stuff we’d consider impossible: If he wants to change the direction of time, and move it backward instead of forward, he can do that. (Has done that. Is 38.8) I really don’t have the power to enforce my will, most of the time. It’d be handy if I could manipulate time like that. Whereas God has infinite power to enforce his will: If he wants to do it, he can.

So why’d I say his will is “pretty much” unlimited? ’Cause there are certain things God won’t do. Being almighty, he can. Being God, he won’t.

Like sin. It goes entirely against God’s character, which he’s never gonna violate, so he’s never gonna sin. He’s okay with bending “natural laws” whenever he wishes, but he’s not when it comes to certain moral principles. He’s willing to forgive sin, but not willing to no longer call it sin, and pretend it’s not a problem. He’s willing to change his mind, but not willing to renege on his promises. He’s willing to accept and save anyone, but not willing to force people to love him.

Now there are various Christians who confound being almighty with being God: Their definition of “God” is based on power, not character. Ability, not love. They figure since God has infinite, unlimited power, he has to be able to exert it… and if he can’t, it means whatever’s limiting him, not God himself, becomes almighty. If God will never break a principle, it means the principle is functionally God instead of the LORD.

Kind of a bogus idea. Who decided God would never break certain principles? God did. He put his own limitations upon himself. There are no external forces controlling him; he’s entirely self-controlled. (It’s why self-control is a fruit of the Spirit—these character traits are God’s character traits.) If God’s obligated to do anything, it’s only because he obligated himself to do it. Ain’t no strings on him.

Not that various immature Christians don’t think we’ve found strings we can tug on. Christians regularly claim they discovered one of God’s promises which applies to them, and they’re trying to hold him to it. “Lord, you promised no weapon formed against me shall prosper. Is 54.17 So I hold you to that.” Okay, first of all that statement was made to Jerusalem, not any generic Christian who wants God to magically make ’em bulletproof. Second it’s a statement about Jerusalem’s future: God said he’d rebuild it with precious stones and a God-fearing government, and under these conditions he’s gonna defend it. These conditions haven’t yet been met, which is why the present-day nation of Israel sometimes gets bombed. As for Christians, we’ve been promised persecution, Mt 10.21-22 and God is in no way obligated to fulfill out-of-context prophecies just because we really wish he would.

I’ve noticed the same Christians who doubt we humans have free will, are of two minds about God’s free will. Either they figure God has no free will either—he’s limited himself so much, he can’t move any further than we, which is why there’s so much evil in the world; he’s powerless to prevent it. Or they figure God has unfettered, unlimited free will… and because he could easily stop evil, all the evil in the world must exist ’cause God wants it there. (If not put it there.)

Both ideas are horribly wrong. But then again these folks are wrong about human free will too. So at least they’re consistently wrong.

Sometimes you shouldn’t say amen.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 September

It’s important to agree in prayer. It’s also important to know when not to.

Ever been in this situation?— You’re in a prayer meeting, church small group, or some other Christian function. And whoever’s praying at the moment is saying something you totally don’t agree with. Something you kinda can’t agree with.

Fr’instance someone who uses prayer time to go on long rants about stuff they don’t like, and disguise them as prayers. Sometimes it’s political stuff: “Oh holy Lord, knowest thou those liberals in Washington? Gettest thou them out of the White House!” Sometimes it’s social issues, or pet peeves, or whatever those radio talk show hosts have got ’em riled up about today.

Or it’s bad theology. “Lord, I know you’ll give us what we ask because your word won’t return void,” even though none of what they prayed was his word (and it doesn’t even mean that). Or assumptions about how some evil we’re praying against was part of God’s plan all along, or name-it-and-claim-it demands, or statements about God’s character which actually go against his character.

Or it’s bad fruit. Anger, hatred, separatism, envy, justification for evil behavior, self-righteousness. Sometimes they think an authentic God-experience needs to be an emotional one, so they’re unnecessarily whipping up their emotions into a lather. Sometimes they’re babbling like pagans. Stuff the prayer leader should clamp down on… except sometimes this is the prayer leader.

So at the end of this rant prayer, they’ll say “Amen.” Custom in most churches for everybody else to repeat the amen, ’cause their prayer is our prayer. Or we agree with what they prayed for. Amen, you might recall, means “true; we agree; let it be so; so say we all; let their prayer be ours.” We’re at least okay with them praying that.

But you’re not okay with it.

And y’know, that’s fine. If you object to the prayer, you don’t have to say amen. Say nothing.

And if you object strongly enough—if, start to finish, it was awful, and the exact opposite oughta’ve been prayed—you can even go with the word anathema. It’s an ancient Greek word which means dammit—and yes it’s in the bible six times, and tends to be translated “accursed.” 1Co 12.3, 16.22, Ga 1.9 Not every Christian knows it, so they may have no idea what you mean by it. Those who do, may be shocked by it, ’cause Christians aren’t (and shouldn’t be) in the habit of anathematizing prayers. I will say they’ll be a lot more shocked if you actually say “dammit,” but if the prayer was a particularly vile one, they’ll probably understand.

But then again you might be in a room full of particularly vile Christians, so they definitely won’t understand. Your call.

Just saying if amen isn’t the appropriate thing to say, don’t say it.

Hurricanes and bad theodicy.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 September

The Atlantic hurricane season begins in June and ends in November: Weather agencies keep track of all the warm-weather tropical cyclones which crop up in summer and fall. (They give ’em names, in alphabetical order, and mix up the names every year.) The heat lets ’em grow in speed, size, and moisture, and warmer-than-usual weather means they grow extra large; often into full-on hurricanes. And if they make it to land, they create extra mess.

The United States is was hit with two hurricanes in 20 days. Hurricane Harvey flooded southern Texas on 26 August. Hurricane Irma is currently working on the west coast of Florida. At its largest, Irma was a category 5, with 185 mph (295 kph) winds; this prompted widespread evacuations in Florida, and rightly so.

Of course these aren’t the only natural disasters we get in the States. We get wildfires: I live in California, which has fires every year. Has ’em in drought; has ’em in flood years. Fire is how brush naturally clears, but humans built houses in all those places, so we can’t just let the fires burn anymore. (We also get earthquakes, but most of them are small, and most of our buildings are earthquake-proof.)

Still, between the burning and the flooding, we wind up hearing the very same stupid thing from Christians as we do every year: “All these disasters are part of God’s plan.”

Really? Tell me, oh diviner of the divine will, why God decided to ruin the homes of all the good Christians in Texas and Florida. Or burn down the homes of all the good Christians in Montana and Oregon. Or kill good Christians in Chiapas, Mexico, with an 8.1 earthquake. Or any of the other ways nature wrecks stuff and takes lives.

Most of the time they’re pretty sure God’s smiting sinners. And even if you didn’t ask, they’ll tell you exactly which sins God’s busily smiting. No surprise, and no coincidence: They’re the very same sins they especially don’t approve of. Seems God thinks like they do. And rather than patiently deal with these sins on a case-by-case basis, and lead these folks to repentance and restoration, God’s again taken a page from their book, and decided to just punish the state entire.

Interestingly, in such a way that any sinners who happen to be wealthy, can usually get most of their wealth back with a little hassle, and go back to their sinful lifestyles with nothing more than a few interesting stories about how they braved a disaster. While in the meanwhile, the devout, obedient Christians who happen to be poor, who happened to suffer the collateral damage from God’s wrath-fest? Still destitute. Still ruined.

Doesn’t sound at all just of God. Which should kinda be our tip-off God has nothing to do with it.

How we treat enemies—and how we oughta.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 September

The “Matthew 18” principle—for when people sin against us.

Luke 6.27-36 KWL
27 “But I tell you listeners: Love your enemies. Do good to your haters.
28 Bless your cursers. Pray for your mistreaters.
29 To one who hits you on the jaw, submit all the more.
To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them.
30 Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.
31 Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.
32 If you love your lovers, how’s this an act of grace from you?—sinners love their lovers.
33 When you benefact your benefactors, how’s this grace from you?—sinners do so themselves.
34 When you lend from one from whom you hope to receive back, how’s this grace from you?
Sinners lend to sinners so they can receive an equal payback.
35 In contrast: Love your enemies. Do good. Lend, never expecting payback.
Your reward will be great, and you’ll be the Most High’s children:
He’s kind to the ungrateful and evil.
36 Be compassionate like your Father is compassionate.”

These are not words your typical Christian follows. Much less any typical human: We believe in payback. Reciprocity. Karma. And that’s on our good days: More often we’re okay with a wholly overboard response. A life for an eye, a life for a tooth, a life for an insult. Kill their whole family for good measure, just to terrorize people into respecting us. Shock and awe.

We get this way towards fellow Christians too. First thing we do is justify not treating them as sisters and brothers in Christ: “Somebody who does that can’t be a real Christian. True Christians don’t act that way. They’re Christians in name only; they’re pagans who only think they’re saved.” Then we justify not forgiving them: “They’re just gonna do the evil again. They won’t learn their lesson. They have to suffer consequences. I have to make them suffer consequences.” Emphasis on the “suffer” part.

The average American usually picks one of six responses to enemies:

  1. Get them arrested, if possible.
  2. Sue them, if possible.
  3. Ruin their career, ruin their business, get them fired.
  4. Ruin their relationships: Turn their friends against them.
  5. Harass them and exact petty revenge.
  6. Shun them and stay away.

And of course there’s the criminal stuff… assuming they don’t find criminal ways to do the previous six things.

Obviously none of this behavior is Christian. By “Christian,” I mean Jesus actually came up with a procedure for his followers to go through when we get offended, insulted, or wronged. That’s what he expects us to follow. Always applies to fellow Christians.

Evangelicals like to call it “the Matthew 18 principle,” as if it’s the only thing Jesus teaches in that chapter. He also taught a lot about forgiveness, so maybe that should be what we mean by a “Matthew 18 principle.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

People correctly point out Jesus’s procedure applies to fellow Christians. So, they argue, we needn’t follow it when we’re dealing with pagans. When a non-Christian offends us, we can feel free to leave a burning bag of dog doo on their front porch: Jesus’s procedure doesn’t count.

Here’s the flaw in that reasoning: In the United States, four out of five of us consider ourselves Christian. Even if they’re really kinda pagan. Statistically we are dealing with a fellow Christian. Yeah, we might’ve tried the tack of rationalizing they’re not really, ’cause they don’t act Christian enough for us. (And we might not be acting Christian enough for them either.) But our duty is to answer evil with good. Love your enemies.

Any excuse for not doing so, is simply an attempt to get away with evil.

“Devotions”: Times we especially focus on God.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 September

And hopefully pray. Don’t forget to pray!

DEVOTIONS /di'voʊ.ʃənz/ n. Prayers, religious observances, or worship.
[Devotional /di'voʊ.ʃən.əl/ adj.]

It’s a really good idea for Christians to block off several minutes of time, every single day, solely for the purpose of connecting with God. A little bible, a little prayer, a little meditation or contemplation. Something which helps us focus our lives on God.

’Cause life is busy. Or it’s not really, but we just suck at time management, so we never make the time for God. You know how there are certain friends and family members you just never hear from?—they’re either way too busy, or time with you frankly isn’t one of their priorities? Well, for a lot of Christians, we’re in danger of having that kind of relationship with God. One where we sorta take him for granted in our lives, but when’s the last time we really sat down with him and talked?

So, devotional time.

Part of your average Christian’s struggle with devotions, comes from the fact they really don’t know what to do with themselves during this time. What should we pray? What should we read, and meditate on?

That was my struggle as a teenager and young adult: Nobody had properly taught me how to have my own devotional time. They talked about having one. “I sit down with my coffee and my bible, and read, and pray, and have my quiet time.” Okay; what d’you read? How many chapters?—or do you read a paragraph and spend the rest of the time meditating on it? What d’you pray?—and how do you pray for 15-minute stretches when you only have two minutes’ worth of material?

Whenever I was at youth functions, the youth pastors would lead the devotional times. But I’m gonna be blunt: Those weren’t proper devotional times. Those were mini-lectures disguised as worship. Pastor’d discuss the dumb things we kids did, or might do, and how we oughta think about such things, and lead us to pray, “Lord Jesus, help me behave like the pastor was talking about,” even if deep down we didn’t really care.

Some of the adults I knew were dependent on devotional books and magazines. (“Devotionals,” for short.) One of the more popular devotional magazines at my church was Our Daily Bread. I still know plenty of folks who make a point of reading through Oswald Chambers’ 365-day devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, every year. I own a few devotional books: Brief writings by clever Christian authors, arranged in 365 clips for my convenience, with a bible passage to read for edification, and a brief prayer in case I can’t think of anything to tell God.

I get why people use the canned material: They don’t know where to start. The problem? That’s not your relationship with God. That’s you reading about Oswald Chambers’s relationship with God; or about the relationship of whoever wrote the devotional you’re using this year. Praying their prayers instead of your own. Meditating on their ideas instead of the scriptures. Yeah, some of ’em have good ideas, but still: Ever call up a friend on the phone, then read somebody else’s letters to them? It’s kinda like that.

No, I’m not saying ditch the devotional books. Keep ’em if you like ’em. But don’t confuse them for proper devotions. It’s gotta consist of you and the Holy Spirit. Any facilitators have gotta be temporary, there till you get the hang of doing this on your own.

The Nashville Statement, and sexism.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 September

Or, how to disguise prejudice as orthodoxy.

Last Tuesday, 29 August, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a manifesto they titled the Nashville Statement. Likely they balked at calling it the Nashville Creed, ’cause even though the creeds predate Catholicism, there’s still a sizable number of anti-Catholic Protestants that figure everything which took place before 1510 is “Catholic” and therefore wrong. But I digress.

In short, the statement is a declaration against homosexuality and transsexuality. Supposedly it presents the “biblical” view on these subjects, although if you read it y’might notice it neither quotes, nor provides references to, the bible. Whatsoever.

Nor does it refer to the Holy Spirit. Whatsoever. Supposedly any repentance and transformation is gonna be achieved by “the grace of God in Christ,” i.e. the force of God’s loving attitude, as opposed to the person of the trinity who empowers change and applies grace. You’ll see in a bit why this significant lapse in trinitarian thinking oughta raise some eyebrows.

Obviously the Statement’s been getting pushback from pagans who wanna know where on earth these guys get off condemning them. And of course from theologically liberal Christians who feel it’s graceless to condemn people for an issue which they believe is not entirely settled. And of course from gay Christians.

I’m not theologically liberal. (Though people who consider me more liberal than they are, will certainly take issue with that statement.) Nor am I gay. Nonetheless I have two issues with the Statement which prevent me from signing off on it, much less signing it.

The most obvious, and the one that’s not gonna need a lot of commentary from me, is its divisive intent. Like I said, it’s an attempt at a creed: This is how they figure all true Christians should believe, and if you agree you’re orthodox, and if you don’t you’re heretic. The Statement draws a pretty obvious line in the sand, and expects people to choose a side. But divisiveness, need I remind you, is a work of the flesh. Ga 5.20 Instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves, this Statement is gonna make us bite and devour one another, Ga 5.14-15 and do nothing to further God’s kingdom.

Yeah, I know. Many a Christian will insist the kingdom’s gotta be pure. By which they mean as little sin in it as possible. I agree. How do we go about doing that? Discipleship. We encourage people to follow Jesus’s teachings and the Holy Spirit’s leading. It’s the Spirit’s job to sort all that stuff out. Jn 16.8 It’s not a manifesto’s job. It’s not our job either: Our job is to love our neighbors and lead them to Jesus.

The reason Christians swap the job of loving our neighbors, for the job of denouncing sin? Obviously they hate sin. Less obviously, they don’t so much care for their neighbors. The neighbors sin, and they hate sin. Their “good news,” which is no longer so good, becomes about how the neighbors are sinning, and the world is perishing. The only bright spot is how Jesus saves us from perishing, Jn 3.16 but the rest of the preaching? Death, hellfire, and damnation.

Well, enough about that. The other issue I have is how the Nashville Statement is a subtle declaration against egalitarianism, the belief that women are priests, teachers, and ministers in the church, same as men. And that’s the particular axe I’m gonna grind today.