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04 July 2018

Grow your faith!

It’s not gonna grow when we won’t act on it.

As I’ve written multiple times, authentic faith is not the magic power to believe ridiculous things. It’s “the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” He 11.1 KWL stuff we believe even though we haven’t seen it for ourselves, because we trust those who told us this stuff. Because they’re trustworthy. (And they’d better be trustworthy.)

More than that: It’s when we act on this stuff. Fr’instance your friend told you a certain movie was good. You heard it wasn’t, but you have faith in your friend—specifically, his judgment about movies—so you ignore what everyone else told you, and go see the movie for yourself. And either your faith in your friend is proven, ’cause the movie was good… or it was broken, ’cause it sucked. Either way, you acted on faith.

Yes, that’s faith. I know; the way people commonly define faith, it sounds more like you go to see a movie regardless of what anyone tells you, because you want so badly for it to be good, and are hoping it’ll be good if you wished hard enough. Again, that’s not faith. That’s self-delusion, and those who try to swap self-delusion for faith have either been tricked by con artists, or are seriously trying to delude themselves. Faith is based on something or someone solid. Like Jesus.

So when you want to grow in faith, you don’t have to believe so hard something snaps in your brain. That’s how you lose your grip on reality; how you lose your mind. That’s not at all what Jesus calls us to do when he wants us to grow in faith. You know how you really grow in faith? You take leaps of faith: You trust God enough to actually do as he tells us.

See, Christians who lack faith, haven’t trusted God this far. They claim they believe, but they’ve never done anything. Never put themselves in situations where they had to; they deliberately avoided such things. They never tested their own faith. That’s why, the moment something shows up which does test their faith, they break.

You wanna break at the first sign of stress? Be like them. But if you wanna grow as a Christian, and develop faith that doesn’t shake as easily as grass in the wind, start testing your own faith. Get off your duff and act on what you claim to believe. Find out, once and for all, whether you really do believe it.

03 July 2018

Pagans and theology.

When pagans wanna do theology, they’re gonna do it wrong.

People who aren’t Christian regularly critique Christianity: What we believe, what our churches teach, how we practice. I regularly lump ’em into three categories:

  1. Antichrists who offer no constructive criticism, and don’t care whether their complaints are valid or not: They just wanna bash Christians.
  2. The clueless, who overheard the antichrists’ complaints and think they’re valid. They honestly don’t know any better.
  3. Those with valid complaints, who take us to task when we truly are inconsistent or hypocritical.

There’s not a lot we can do with the antichrists, much as Christian apologists might foolishly try. (Pearls before pigs, guys. Mt 7.6) The clueless can be reasoned with, but when they’re not merely clueless but downright anti-Christianity, shake the dust off and leave them be.

But the valid critics must be taken seriously. Because they’re right. We Christians do teach one thing and do another. We preach forgiveness and grace and mercy when it comes to evangelism… then we turn round and preach eye-for-eye karma when it comes to our criminal justice system. We preach we’re to love everyone, including enemies, but as soon as a person in our churches commits a sin we consider beyond the pale (like vote for the opposition party) we ostracize them like they’re leprous. We preach against nonmarital sexual activity, but our stats on cohabitation, unwed pregnancy, and abortion are the same or greater than the national average. We’re all kinds of inconsistent—and I haven’t even touched on hypocrisy yet. Probably don’t need to; we know better.

When the valid critics are right, don’t defend our bad behavior. Agree with them. We’re sinners too. But please don’t use that rubbish line, “We’re not perfect; just forgiven.” We’re supposed to work on being perfect. We’re expected to stop sinning, stop being hypocrites, stop taking God’s grace for granted, and be good. We don’t; we aren’t; we suck. Admit it and repent.

However. Sometimes we’re gonna come across the complaint, “Y’know what your real problem is: Your religion needs to be updated. You need to get with the times and get rid of those out-of-date beliefs.” They suggest we stop believing certain things are sins, or quit believing in miracles, or stop believing in mysterious hard-to-fathom stuff. They want us to change our theology—and can’t understand why it’s not as easy as all that.

It’s a particular sort of cluelessness.

02 July 2018

John the baptist’s death.

Because despots care more about power than people’s lives.

Mark 6.21-29 • Matthew 14.6-12

As I mentioned previously “Herodias,” as she’s called in the King James Version, is Herodia Salome (or as I’ve westernized it, Salome Herod), granddaughter of Antipater Herod, the first “King Herod.” She’s the daughter of Aristobulus Herod, the wife of Aristobulus’s half-brother Philip, and later the wife of Aristobulus and Philip’s half-brother Antipater, or “Antipas,” as he’s usually called. Yeah, that’s how it was in the Herod family.

You might recall Salome held a grudge against John the baptist, who at this point in the gospels was in Antipas’s prison. She wanted John dead for publicly criticizing her marriage. In those days before anyone thought to protect free speech, criticizing the Roman governor was considered sedition, and treason, and got the death penalty. So as the Roman governor of the Galilee, Antipas could’ve executed John whenever he pleased. But he didn’t, either because he feared the crowds Mt 14.5 or because he liked to talk religion with John. Mk 6.20 Pick your favorite explanation; the bible’ll back you up.

Salome’s chance came on Antipas’s birthday, when Antipas—who held the hereditary title of king, though not really the job—was feeling particularly royal. Probably fortified by drink. He decided to offer a royal grant to Salome’s daughter, his stepdaughter—who, following Roman custom, was also named Herodia Salome. I’ll just refer to the mom as Senior and the daughter as Junior.

Mark 6.21-23 KWL
21 An critical day came, because Antipas Herod threw a dinner party for his birthday
for his magistrates and generals, and the princes of the Galilee.
22 His daughter, Salome Herod, came in and danced.
She pleased Antipas Herod and his guests.
The king told the girl, “Ask me whatever you want and I’ll give it to you.”
23 Antipas promised Salome, “Whatever you ask me. I’ll give you up to half my kingdom!”
Matthew 14.6-7 KWL
6 When Antipas Herod’s birthday came, Salome Herod’s daughter danced in the middle.
It pleased Herod, 7 so with an oath he promised to give her whatever she wanted.

Salome Jr. was born in the year 14. Jesus’s ministry started round the time he turned 30, Lk 3.23 which would probably be the year 22, when Salome Jr. was eight. Both gospels call her a korásion/“girl,” which means younger than the age of adulthood, 13 years old. So that helps pin down the date for this story: Between the years 22 and 27.

But a lot of Christians imagine Jesus’s ministry was only three years long. Based on what? Well they imagine Jesus died at age 33 (mixing up the year 33 with his age), and if he started at 30, that gave him only three years for all the events of the gospels to take place. Plus the gospel of John only mentions three Passovers Jesus attended, which jibes with their theory. So if Salome Jr. did her birthday dance in, say, the year 32, that’d make her an 18-year-old woman.

And then people start to leap to all sorts of unsavory speculations about what sort of dance this was—as if a Judean princess is gonna cavort in front of every civic leader of a very religious region. (And their wives, y’know.) Or they imagine what sort of relationship Antipas had with his grandniece/stepdaughter—which considering how the Herods had that reputation for inbreeding, ain’t that far of a stretch for the imagination to go. So they like to imagine a lustful Antipas leering at the girl, offering her absolutely anything she wanted, with naughty thoughts about what he wanted running through his mind.

Not that unsavory speculations don’t run through their minds even if they realize Salome Jr. was still a little girl. Me, I figure this says way more about the speculators than Antipas. And they’ve been speculating for centuries. With all sorts of inappropriate art to go along with it.

29 June 2018

A religion without works.

It’s devilishly easy.

A friend recently expressed her great frustration about phony Christians. You know, the sort of people I call Christianists—they’re not necessarily unsaved, but they sure do act it, ’cause they’re immature, and have mixed up all sorts of other things with Christianity. They keep surprising this friend; I suppose she expects them to act like Jesus, and is regularly disappointed.

I know the feeling all too well. But it doesn’t surprise me, ’cause I grew up around so many of them. I was a hypocrite myself once, who got suckered into the fake stuff in lieu of the real thing. It’s a really easy trap, too.

If I were giving directions to a devil as to how to trick people into it… Yeah, like one of the Screwtape letters, except I don’t know devilish psychology; I just know how to be evil, which is likely close enough. It’d go a little something like this.

Oh hi devil.

So you’re familiar with how our evangelists like to present Christianity as if there are no strings attached?—that if you come to Jesus, he won’t just wash away all our sins, but he’ll make our lives all better, and fix all our problems?

You should find this material really useful. It sets people up for so many disappointments with God, ’cause he won’t do any of the things these evangelists promised he would. Deprive them of anything, and their faith will shrivel up like a seed that fell on pavement instead of soil. Mk 4.5-6 You get to watch their hearts break in despair. Awww.

This no-strings-attached crap is also a great way to get Christians to do nothing. All you gotta do is overemphasize how good deeds are no part of the salvation process. At all. Good deeds are “like filthy rags.” Is 64.6 NIV Tell them God doesn’t appreciate good deeds, doesn’t want ’em; they even piss him off.

If they object, “But didn’t God command them?” go sic one of our dispensationalists on them. Have the Dispy explain how God did away with all that good-deeds crap; that’s why he doesn’t do any good deeds, and he’s a good Christian. (He’s not, but you’re not gonna tell anyone.)

I know; you’re thinking, “Wouldn’t it more fun for us to make ’em spin their wheels and try really, really hard to earn salvation, and never feel like they’re getting anywhere?” Obviously some devils do this already. But it’s risky behavior: There’s a good chance these people will do actual good works. That, or observers won’t realize how defective their “good deeds” truly are, and it’ll inspire them to do good deeds, if not become Christians themselves. Pretty sure you don’t want that. So, better they do nothing.

28 June 2018

Legalism versus grace.

They’re opposites.

LEGALISM /'li.gəl.iz.əm/ n. Excessive adherence to law or formula.
2. Dependence on law or merit, instead of grace and faith, for righteousness before God and salvation.
[Legalist /'li.gəl.ist/ n.]

Yeah, it’s a bit strange to talk about legalism under the category of grace. But that’s because legalism is grace’s opposite. It’s when people stop trusting God to save them, and figure they need to merit salvation with good karma.

Most Christians recognize legalism is the wrong route to God. We get the idea drummed into our heads pretty early by the evangelists: Salvation is through grace and nothing else. We can’t earn salvation; we shouldn’t try. If you try, you’re kinda trying to do an end-run around God and the system he set up, which is for Jesus to take care of our sins for us. And the only reason you’d wanna do an end-run around God is pride, sin, delusion, or some other evil or self-centered motive. Don’t be that way. Embrace his grace.

So we do. Well, most of us do.

’Cause many Christians don’t fully trust God’s grace. It’s a faith deficiency. They might believe God lets them into his kingdom, but they also believe in order to stay in the kingdom, in order to keep their place in the kingdom, they gotta earn it. So back to karma they go.

Hey, karma’s a hard mindset to give up. It’s deeply ingrained in human culture. Some of us grew up with it, and were trained to live our lives by it. Because karma is fair: This for that, quid pro quo, equal rights, equal pay for equal work, I scratch your back if you scratch mine, and let the punishment fit the crime. It’s even in the bible: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Ex 21.24 People should get what they deserve.

And that’s why we still find it all over Christendom—with people insisting if we Christians don’t behave ourselves, we might lose our salvation. With Christians who figure in order to get right with God, we gotta do bonus good deeds, or various acts of penance. With churches who demand, in order that we be right with them, that we first do various things for them… things which tend to make them look legalistic and cultlike. Heck, some of ’em are cults.

The ancient Galatians did this too, which is why Paul, Timothy, and Silas had to tell ’em to cut it out.

Galatians 3.1-7 KWL
1 Oh unthinking Galatians, who put a hex on you?
Christ Jesus was clearly portrayed as crucified before your eyes.
2 I just want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit
by doing the Law, or by hearing and believing?
3 Here’s more unthinking: Having begun your Christian lives by the Spirit,
you’re now achieving perfection by the flesh?
4 You suffer so much in vain, if so. Really. In vain.
5 So, God grants you the Spirit and works power through you,
by you doing the Law, or by hearing and believing?
6 Like Abraham “believed God and God counted him as righteous,” Ge 15.6
7 you have to know those who believe are the real children of Abraham.

Because it’s so easy to regress into karma. It’s what we’re used to.

But it’s not how God’s kingdom works. The kingdom runs on grace. Always has. The LORD didn’t save the Hebrews from Egypt because they deserved it; he saved ’em because he made friends with their ancestors. The LORD doesn’t save humanity from sin because we earned it—we so haven’t—but because he loves us regardless. God’s grace runs completely contrary to karmic principles. So much so, it outrages people who value karma.

Which is why they subtly try to slip Christianity back into those karmic principles, where they feel safe and comfortable. But in so doing, they harm and distort Christianity. And since humans are creatures of extremes, of course we take the rules and reciprocity too far, and wind up with legalism.