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17 December 2018

Not allowed to rot.

The apostles were pretty sure this one line in a psalm was fulfilled by Jesus.

Psalm 16.10.

Previously I referred to King David ben Jesse as “the prophet David.” Somebody actually tried to correct me for saying so. I remind you a prophet is someone who hears God and shares what he hears: By that metric David’s obviously a prophet. Considering all the Spirit-inspired psalms he wrote, David’s got more actual prophecy in the bible than Elijah and Elisha combined.

Jesus recognized David as a prophet, Lk 20.41-44 and taught his students to do likewise. Ac 2.30 This is why the apostles had no problem using David for proof texts when they taught about Jesus. One verse they particularly liked to use was David’s line, lo-tittén khacídkha li-reót šakhát/“You don’t give [over] your beloved to see rottenness.” Or in better English, “You don’t allow your beloved to rot.” Ps 16.10 Both Simon Peter and Paul of Tarsus quoted it in Acts—Peter in chapter 2, Paul in 13.

Acts 2.22-28 KWL
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene is a man endorsed by God to you
by power, wondrous things, and miracles which God did through him in your midst,
just as you know personally.
23 This Jesus, by the decided counsel and foreknowledge of God,
was given into lawless Roman hands, crucified, and killed.
24 But God raised Jesus up, loosing death’s pains.
For it’s impossible for Jesus to be held by death.
25 For David spoke of him: ‘I foresee the Master before me, throughout all.
Because he’s at my right hand, lest I might be shaken.
26 For this reason my heart rejoices and my tongue exults. Again: My flesh will dwell in hope,
27 because you won’t abandon my soul to the afterlife, nor allow your Righteous One to rot.
28 You make the road of life known to me. You’ll fill me with joy with your face.’ ” Ps 16.8-11
Acts 13.34-37 KWL
34 “Because God raised Jesus from the dead, no longer to go back to rotting,
he said this: ‘I’ll give you the righteous, faithful David.’ Is 55.3
35 Because David also said in another place,
‘You won’t allow your Righteous One to rot.’ “ Ps 16.10

When Jesus died, he was only dead two days before the Father raised him the third day. His corpse wasn’t in the sepulcher long enough for decay to happen. So Jesus’s situation sounds exactly like this line from David’s psalm. To the apostles and their listeners, Jesus absolutely fulfilled it. Better than David himself.

Acts 2.29-30 KWL
29 “Men—brothers—if I may boldly speak to you about the patriarch David:
He died, was entombed, and his monument is among us to this day.
30 Thus, as a prophet, knowing God swore an oath to him—
one from the fruit of David’s loins is to sit on his throne—
31 he who foresaw, spoke about Messiah’s resurrection:
He’s neither left behind in the afterlife, nor did his body rot.
32 God raised this Jesus. All us apostles are his witnesses.”
Acts 13.36-37 KWL
36 “After serving God’s will to his own generation, David ‘slept,’ was gathered to his ancestors,
and rotted— 37 and Jesus, whom God raised, didn’t rot.”

Now. Because your average Christian nowadays doesn’t understand how fulfillment works in the bible, they immediately assume David’s psalm is a specific prophecy about Jesus. It’s actually not, as you can tell when you actually read the psalm.

14 December 2018

The heir to David’s throne.

Yeah, the prophecy’s about Solomon. But Jesus fulfills quite a lot of it.

2 Samuel 7.1-17.

In the 11th century BC the tribes of Israel grew tired of being led by head priests and judges. The previous head priest, Eli, had let his corrupt sons run amok; the current judge, Samuel, likewise had easily-bribed sons unfit to assume their father’s job. Clearly there are some serious problems with hereditary leadership, but the Hebrews stupidly didn’t recognize this (and therefore request democratically elected leaders with fixed terms—not that we elect our best people either). The descendants of Israel demanded Samuel procure them a king. Nevermind the LORD God being their king; Is 33.22, 43.15 they wanted a human king, like all the other nations had. 1Sa 8.5 So Israel got a king.

Kings suck, and Israel’s first two kings were typical rubbish. Like most politicians, Saul preferred pleasing the crowds to following God. His son Ishbaal was really just his uncle’s puppet. But the third king, the prophet David, was a standout: He was far from perfect, but he was bananas for the LORD, tried to follow him wholeheartedly, and the LORD figured this was a king he could work with. Not for nothing does the rest of the Old Testament compare every single king with David.

David conquered the Jebusite town of Jerusalem and made it his capital. He built himself a nice cedar palace in it. (Bit of a status symbol in a land where most houses were made of brick or stone.) Then one day he got to musing:

2 Samuel 7.1-3 KWL
1 This happened when King David sat in his house,
at a time the LORD gave him rest from all his enemies around.
2 King David told the prophet Nathan, “Please look: I sit in a cedar house.
And yet the God-box sits in the middle of sheets.”
3 Nathan told King David, “Whatever’s in your mind, go and do!—for the LORD’s with you.”

The arún ha-Elohím/“box of God,” which we more often call the Ark of the Covenant, was the gold box which contained the Ten Commandments, among other artifacts, representing the LORD’s formal relationship with Israel. He instructed Moses how to build the tent to keep it in, and the head priests had kept it in this tent ever since. And David felt it weird that he got a house, but the God-box got a tent. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? It’s just common sense.

But that night the LORD set Nathan straight: He never asked for a house.

2 Samuel 7.4-7 KWL
4 But this happened that night: The LORD’s word came to Nathan to say,
5 “Go tell my slave David the LORD says this:
You? You build a house for me to sit in?
6 From the day I brought Israel’s descendants from Egypt to this very day,
I’ve not sat in a house; I walk. In tent, in tabernacle.
7 In everywhere I walked with all Israel’s descendants, did I speak a word to one of Israel’s tribes?
When I instructed my people Israel’s pastor, did I say, ‘Why don’t you build me a cedar house?’ ”

See, that’s the downside of temples. Church buildings too. We too often think of them as our God-boxes. That’s where God is… and that’s where God stays. But I’m not discussing the validity of temples today; there’s a declaration the LORD makes in this prophecy which Christians love to apply to Jesus. It’s right here:

2 Samuel 7.8-17 KWL
8 “Now, tell my slave David the LORD of War says this:
I myself took you from the ranch, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel.
9 I’m with you everywhere you go. I cut off all your enemies before your face.
I make you a name as great as the greatest names who live in the land.
10 I set a place for my people Israel, and plant a tabernacle under them.
They aren’t disturbed further. Iniquity’s children humiliate them, as they did at first, no more.
11 Like the days I commissioned judges over my people Israel,
I give you rest from all your enemies.
Now the LORD tells you he, the LORD, makes you that house.
12 When your days are complete and you rest with your ancestors,
I raise your seed after you, one who comes forth from your innards.
I establish his kingdom.
13 He builds a house for my name.
I establish the throne of his kingdom for eons.
14 I become a father to him, and he becomes a son to me.
When he commits evil, I correct him with mortal canes, with Adam’s descendants’ whips.
15 My love isn’t taken from him,
like I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your face.
16 Your house and kingdom are guaranteed, before your face, for eons.
Your throne becomes established for eons.”
17 Nathan spoke all these words, all this vision, to David.

Now. This is obviously a prophecy about Solomon, the son of David who built the first temple of YHWH in Jerusalem, who hadn’t been born yet. It also applies to David and Solomon’s descendants: The rest of the house of David, which ruled Jerusalem till the Babylonians invaded—and briefly ruled Jerusalem again when the Persians made David’s direct descendant Zerubbabel governor of Jerusalem.

But by Jesus’s day, David’s house wasn’t in charge anymore. The Maccabees, a family of head priests, stepped into the power vacuum after they overthrew the Seleucids; they evolved into the Hasmoneans; then Herod overthrew them; then the Caesars overthrew the Herods. The Davids hadn’t been in charge for centuries. But according to Nathan’s prophecy, the Davids would be in charge ad-olám/“for time,” which most folks interpret as “for all time,” i.e. forever. So… if God promised David the throne forever, at some point one of the house of David had to retake the throne, right?

And as both Jesus’s genealogies clearly state, Jesus is from the house of David. The gospel of Matthew even begins,

Matthew 1.1 KJV
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

God made sure his Son had a biological claim to the throne. And since Jesus literally rules forever, in so doing, David’s house also literally rules forever. Looks like the LORD wasn’t just being hyperbolic.

13 December 2018

Millennium: When Jesus rules the world.

And those who think it’s coming… and those who don’t.

MILLENNIUM mə'lɛ.ni.əm noun. Thousand years.
2. One of the thousand-year periods after Christ’s birth: The first millennium, the third millennium, etc.
3. Where one thousand-year period ends and another begins.
4. [theology] Christ Jesus’s reign on earth, represented in an apocalypse as a thousand-year age.
[Millennial mɪ'lɛ.ni.əl adjective.]

Whenever Christians talk about being “premillennial” or “amillenial,” no we’re not criticizing millennials, the kids born after the year 2000. We’re talking End Times theories. (We’ll use other terms to criticize millennials.)

The idea comes from Revelation. In one of its visions of Jesus’s second coming (oh, you didn’t know there are multiple visions of the second coming in Revelation? Y’oughta read it sometime), Jesus returns, brings us Christians back from the dead, throws Satan into the abyss for 10 centuries, and rules the world. At the end of that time, Satan gets out, starts a fight, Jesus ends it, judges the world, and ends the world—to be replaced by New Heaven/Earth.

Shall I quote the vision? Why not.

Revelation 20.1-10 KWL
1 I see an angel coming down from heaven, holding the abyss’s key and a large chain in its hand.
2 It seized the dragon—the ancient serpent, which is the devil and Satan—and bound it a millennium.
3 It threw Satan into the abyss, and shut and sealed it in so it couldn’t deceive the nations again
—until the millennium is finished, after which it has to release Satan a short time.
 
4 I see thrones. People sit on them. Judgment is given them.
They’re the souls of those beheaded for testifying of Jesus, for God’s word.
Whoever hadn’t worshiped the Beast nor its ikon, nor took its forehead- nor hand-stamp:
They live! They reign with Christ a millennium.
5 The rest of the dead won’t live till the millennium is complete.
This is the first resurrection.
6 Those who take part in the first resurrection are awesome and holy.
The second death has no power over them.
Instead they’ll be God’s and Christ’s priests, and reign with him a millennium.
 
7 Once the millennium is complete, Satan will be released from its prison.
8 Satan will come out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth,
to gather Gog and Magóg into a war. Their number is like the sand of the sea.
9 The nations rose up over the edge of the earth. They surrounded the saints’ encampment, the beloved city.
Fire from heaven came down and ate them up.
10 The devil, their deceiver, was thrown into the pool of fire and sulfur, where the Beast and fake prophet are.
They’ll be tortured there, day and night, age to ages.

At face value, it looks like Jesus is literally gonna reign over earth, as the human king of a political kingdom, for a literal thousand years. If Jesus returned in 1988 (he didn’t; I'm just picking a not-all-that-random example) it means the world will end in the year 2988. Mighty long time from now. But as resurrected Christians, who’ll no longer die, we’ll be alive to see it.

But bear in mind: This millennium is part of an apocalyptic vision. It’s not a literal millennium; apocalypses aren’t a literal anything. We honestly don’t know whether it represents a thousand-year stretch of time, a significantly long time-period, or just a significant time period of any length whatsoever.

Faking the fruit of the Spirit.

Way easier to pretend you have it, than actually grow it.

Y’might know we Christians need to be fruity: We Christians have to do good works and produce good fruit. Namely the Spirit’s fruit. You know Paul’s list in Galatians

Galatians 5.22-25 KWL
22 The Spirit’s fruit is love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faith.
23 Gentleness. Temperance. The Law isn’t against such things.
24 Those who follow Christ Jesus crucify the flesh with its pathology and desires:
25 If we live by the Spirit, we can walk by the Spirit!

Problem is, there are plenty of hypocrites who don’t live by the Spirit, don’t walk by the Spirit… but want everyone to think they do. So they fake the Spirit’s fruit.

There are three ways to do it; all of ’em rather easy. The most common method is to change all the definitions. The popular culture has its own definitions of all these things, so hypocrites simply borrow those definitions and claim they’ve got fruit.

Love is an obvious example: Pagans haven’t a clue what love is. They might realize it’s selfless and sacrificial, but largely they don’t. Take Paul and Sosthenes’s definition in 1 Corinthians 1Co 13.4-8 and flip it over entirely: Love is impatient, unkind, envious, self-promoting, self-important, rude, self-centered, provocative, scheming, breaks rules, lies… and easily falls apart, mistrusts, loses hope, fades away, dies. That’s how the ancient Corinthians thought about love, and too often that’s how today’s pagans also imagine it.

And if a Christian tries to pass off that so-called “love” as the stuff they got from the Holy Spirit… well, 99 times out of 100 people won’t realize there’s been any switcheroo. In many churches, when Christians teach on love, talk about love, encourage loving our neighbors and enemies, we don’t mean actual godly agápi/“love.” More often we’re thinking of a reciprocal love, where we only love the worthy—those who might eventually love us back, or otherwise reward us for our efforts. A love that’s karmic, not gracious.

As you can see, misdefining love in order to help hypocrites hide their fruitlessness, invariably poisons the rest of the church. People are gonna grow up with hypocrite definitions of the Spirit’s fruit, and wonder why their “fruitfulness” looks and feels so empty and selfish and so unlike Jesus. Yep, this’d be why.

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Fake it till you make it.

The second way—which isn’t easy at first, but gets easy with practice—is pretending to be what you’re not. It’s acting. You know, like the original definition of ypókrisis/“hypocrite.”

You might actually hear Christians claim this is how we develop the Spirit’s fruit in our lives. “So you don’t really love your enemies. That’s understandable; they’re awful. But you don’t have to feel it; you just have to act like you love them. Act like it until eventually you do love them.”

Yeah, this is terrible advice. I tried it when I was a kid. Doesn’t work at all. School bullies didn’t stop bullying me because I acted like I loved ’em. They just had more fun at my expense because I was “being weird.” Punching them in the testicles was way more effective. (No I don’t recommend you repeat my far-from-Christian solution. John Eldredge will, but that’s because he follows his own godless ideas of masculinity instead of Jesus. Stick to Jesus.)

If you start with fake love, you don’t end up with actual love. You end up as someone who’s an expert at faking love. You look like you care, have compassion, have patience and kindness and all that. But a hypocrite doesn’t really have any of those things. While love never fails, 1Co 13.8 fake love will, pretty quickly, and the hypocrite will try to get out of any love-based obligations they put themselves into. Fr’instance marriage. Once the attraction and lust wear off, people can’t fake marital love any more than a few years, and as soon as they find a reason to separate, they do.

And if you start by faking it wrong, you’re gonna creep everyone out. The reason “happy Christians” are some of the most annoying Christians in the world, is because their fake enthusiasm isn’t contagious, isn’t fun to watch, isn’t kind and patient and gives others a chance to catch up. People aren’t gonna love to be around such positive, joyous people; they’re gonna avoid them like they avoid boisterous drunken uncles. God forbid they think all Christians are supposed to be that way.

I don’t have to remind you that when you’ve been faking the Spirit’s fruit, and people find out you’ve been faking, it’ll horrify them. Seriously. It won’t just disappoint them; it’ll horrify them. Because if a relationship with Jesus produces fruit, and it turns out you’ve been faking the fruit, it implies you have no relationship with Jesus. And if people thought you were Christian, and now think you’re not, just about all of them immediately go to a dark place and think you’re a devil.

And y’know, they might not be wrong. After all you have been lying to them all this time.

So I regularly remind newbie Christians: Fake nothing. Ever. Be yourself, flaws and all. Because that’s the only way we (us and you) can detect true spiritual growth in you. Plus learn what we still have to work on.

Faking it in church.

When I was a young hypocrite, the reason for my faking the Spirit’s fruit had nothing to do with trying to grow the real stuff. It was only about looking good. I wanted to look like one of the good Christian kids, not one of the bad Christian kids. And not just because it meant I could get away with more.

So I didn’t have to fake the Spirit’s fruit all the time. Just Sunday mornings, when I had to interact with church people. And Thursday nights, when I went to the church’s youth group. And when we had longer church functions, like weekend camping trips or missions trips. Though at the longer functions, I had to fake it longer… and sometimes the real me would slip out, ’cause I’m not that good a liar.

But many people live dual lives. A hypocrite named George, fr’instance: When he’s around people who know him to be Christian, he’ll adopt the persona of Church George, and be that guy around those people. The rest of the time he’ll be Actual George. Well… he might take on many other personas, like Home George, Work George, Visiting the Parents George, Visiting the In-Laws George. Once you construct one artificial persona, it’s not all that hard to invent many.

The downside? You have to make sure people who know you as Church George never ever encounter the people who know you as Strip Club George. Nor meet that persona. Once again, it’ll horrify them.

But in our well-connected society, it’s not at all easy to keep the different worlds of one’s personas from colliding. Everybody, both from work and church, wanna see your social media page… so if you’re one way at work and another at church, people are gonna see one of those two on your Twitter feed. (Unless you do as a certain pastor friend of mine does, and post nothing but cartoons and memes.)

Our hypocrite named George might invent the persona of Internet George, and make him anonymous, but even that world might someday collide with one of the others. I’m reminded of a certain well-known pastor who used to visit an internet forum and post really harsh, crude things. Once people discovered who “William Wallace II” really was, once again: Horror. Their pastor wrote these things? Some went into denial; some left the church; some left Jesus.

I sincerely hope my past hypocrisy hasn’t driven anyone away from Jesus, nor served as their excuse for quitting Christianity. But I have no idea. I just warn others: Never start. Fake nothing. Christianity has plenty enough hypocrites as it is. Be one of the real people.

The absence of actual love among hypocrites, produces people who don’t look at our fellow human beings as creatures to love. Just resources to tap. We might care about friends and family, and be very loyal to them (although not always), but only because they’re ours; they’re our possessions. But we don’t give a rip about strangers or neighbors. Depending on our politics, either the poor and needy are nothing but societal burdens, or the rich are nothing but societal parasites. Either way, other people are inconvenient… till we need something from them.

This is the sort of “love” which easily turns into hatred. When our possessions won’t do as we want anymore, we replace them. Works the same for humans. And if we can’t be rid of them, we grow angry that they’re around, dissatisfying us, irritating us. You know those Christian who have no patience for sinners, for people in the opposition party, for heretics, for gays? Not only do they not know how to love their neighbors (or “enemies,”) watch what happens when one of their relationships turns sour. Woe to their exes.

Happens all the time. People

So as you know, Christians need to produce fruit, specifically the fruit of the Spirit. And as you may know, if you’ve been around Christians long enough, a whole lot of us claim we’re producing this sort of fruit… yet there’s something just a bit off-putting about the sort of “fruit” we’re cranking out.

The “love”' isn’t all that loving. The “joy” has an awful lot of sadness and resignation mixed in. The “patience” feels like despair. The “kindness” is artificial, and just a bit deceptive. The “peace” seems to have come about only after an awful lot of strife. The “forgiveness” has a bunch of strings attached, and the “grace” is extended only to popular people (“the elect,” as Calvinists call ’em) —not everyone.

So what’s going on? Is it just that Christians are terrible at producing the Spirit’s fruit? Is the problem that we’re attempting to achieve these traits by our own efforts, instead of letting the Spirit grow ’em naturally, so because they’re human they came out wrong?

No and no. The problem is we’re not attemping to develop the Spirit’s fruit. We’re trying to substitute real fruit with quick ’n dirty substitutes. We’re faking it.

Why? ’Cause it’s easier. ’Cause it doesn’t require us change for real. ’Cause it means we look good enough for church, but outside the church building we can be the same [rhymes with “gas tolls”] we’ve always been. Hypocrisy is always the easier, more popular path. It’s why the Christianists take it. But the only time we encounter Jesus on it is when he’s trying to wave us off it.

Gotta hide the bad fruit.

Galatians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:
Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.
20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.
Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.
21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying. And other people like these.
I warn you of them just like I warned you before:
Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

Paul referred to bad fruit as ta erga tis sarkos/“works of the flesh,” and pointed out to the churches of Galatia how they’re obvious in people who do the things in the list above. Which is precisely why hypocrites know better than to act like that. Not in public, anyway. Not among fellow Christians. They hide that stuff.

So what happens when we’re caught indulging in fleshly works? Relax; thanks to the work of generations of hypocrites before us, every fleshly work can be explained away in Christianese.

  • Promiscuity and unethical sexual behavior are blamed on the spouse who won’t “humbly submit” to such things in their bedroom.
  • Idolatry and addiction become “hobbies.”
  • Hatred, rabble-rousing, anger, excessive zeal, and partisanship are the result of “concerned groups” who disguise their offense at moral failings or doctrinal impurity as God’s outrage and coming wrath.
  • Separatism and heresy are either “concern for doctrinal purity,” or “concern for proper biblical headship.”
  • Envy is “the pursuit of God’s promises” which others seem to be getting while you aren’t.
  • Hatred and hostility and rage are justified because you hate sin—you’re “hating the sin, loving the sinner,” although 99 percent of your effort is put into the hating.
  • Misbehavior of all sorts will often be turned around on the accusers, who are in turn accused of legalism, of unforgiveness, of gracelessness, of lovelessness.
  • Minor infractions will be relabeled “freedom in Christ.”

Fake Christians get expert at hiding their fleshly works. And get away with it for a good long time because they only real friends they make at church, are hypocrites just like them: They use the same explanations, let them slide, never take them to task for living a lifestyle that’s the antithesis of the Spirit’s fruit, and permit the fraud to continue.

Gotta pretend to love people.

As I said in the beginning, frauds have got pretty good at faking actual fruit of the Spirit. But no, it’s not a perfect simulation. Because they don’t have the real thing, there are plenty of cracks in the veneer.

Take a Christian who doesn’t have love. Paul (and his cowriter Sosthenes) described love like so.

1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL
4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly.
It’s not emotion out of control. It doesn’t draw attention to how great it is. It doesn’t exaggerate.
5 It doesn’t ignore others’ considerations. It doesn’t look out for itself. It doesn’t provoke behavior.
It doesn’t plot evil. 6 It doesn’t delight in doing wrong: It delights in truth.
7 It puts up with everything, puts trust in everything, puts hope in everything,
survives everything. 8a Love never falls down.

Naturally, fake love—the sort of thing both ancient Corinth and our present-day culture confuses with love—lacks those characteristics. Fake love is impatient, unkind, wild, self-promoting, exaggerated, dismissive of anyone or anything else as lesser, provocative, scheming and conniving, willing and ready to shatter existing relationships and break every law… and over time, it fades away, and doesn’t persevere. Fake love rarely lasts without a strong helping of denial. Or liquor.

Among hypocrites, the absence of actual love produces people who don’t look at our fellow human beings as creatures to love. Just resources to tap. We’ll care about our friends and family, and be very loyal to them (although not always)—but we don’t give a crap about strangers or neighbors. Depending on our politics, either the poor are nothing but a societal burden, or the rich are nothing but societal parasites. Either way, other people are inconvenient—until we need something from them.

Works the same way in relationships. We don’t date or marry people because we wanna self-sacrificially care for them. Oh, we’ll do that to a point. But we have ulterior motives: We like how they make us feel, whether emotionally or physically. We like the comfort and security of knowing they’ll be there for us… even though we won’t guarantee we’ll be there in return. If our lives are a mess, a significant other with a good job can really bail us out. Or if we bail them out, they’ll owe us, and we can extract payment in all sorts of ways. And every time they object, we’ll claim, “But I love you”—and that makes everything all right. Right? Until we fall out of love, or find someone else to tap, and bail on them altogether.

Works the same way with parents or kids. If they do for us, we love ’em. If not—if the “but I’m your kid, and I love you” con doesn’t work anymore—we disown them. Maybe not in words, but we’ll just never be around.

We won’t care to know the other people in our churches. At best it’ll be on a superficial level, and at worst the same parasitic sort of relationship we have with our significant others. Always take, take, take. If someone in the church is too poor, too needy, has too many problems, we’ll unfriend ’em, and use the excuse, “He just can’t get his life together; it’s gotta be because of sin, and I can’t be around that.” That usually works. Successful people must be good Christians, right?—and they’re the only people worth knowing, so we’ll stick to those cliques.

Quite often you’ll see hatred. Hypocrites hate sin—so we claim. So we hate anything which has any whiff of sin to it—and that’s pretty much everything. Everything’s tainted. Anything other people enjoy, anything popular in the secular world? We’ll find something wrong with it. Anything popular in the Christian culture? We’ll find something wrong with that too. There’s nothing good under the sun, nothing. Especially if it outrages us personally. Depending on our politics, we’ll hate liberals and Democrats, or we’ll hate social Darwinists and Republicans. We’ll complain a little too much about homosexuals, or crack gay jokes. We’ll express way too much concern about Muslims and heretics. We’ll absolutely hate the devil. (What, you thought true Christians get to make an exception for the devil? No. Any hate corrodes the hater.)

Redefine every fruit.

Instead of joy—actual happiness and optimism and hope—fake Christians will be unhappy, pessimistic (or “just being realistic,” we’ll claim), and hopeless. We’ll claim it’s okay we’re joyless: Joy in the bible doesn’t really mean joy. It means being content despite our rotten circumstances. It means tolerance. I have joy because I put up with you and all your crap. Isn’t that magnanimous of me?

If the joyless have any sense of humor, it’s bent; it’s all about mocking and slamming others. Our so-called realism cynically dismisses any of the good in the world, as we only fixate on evil. We’re quick to find problems—in our families, churches, jobs, in the government, in society. We nitpick, not because we care, or are trying to improve things, but because that’s just what we do. We never expect anything, including our own lives, to get any better. Any Christians who do, we mock as naïve or idealistic—or of loving the world too much.

Instead of peace, we’re paranoid troublemakers. Paranoiacs constantly worry about what the devil is up to, not to mention its minions in the media, big business, the press, the government, other religions… We’re especially fond of conspiracy theories and End Times stuff. Any sign can mean the great tribulation is coming. So we’re fret about gun control, our constitutional rights, our personal data existing in any computer anywhere, or about other groups gaining on us. We’re scared.

And we make trouble: We like to create drama around us. Hey, life is boring when people aren’t fighting. So we’ll hang around fights, or pick one. We like to debate. We love apologetics and politics. If there’s an issue we can either fight over or forgive, we’ll never, ever pick forgiveness.

Instead of patience, impatience. We’ll complain whenever a worship chorus gets sung more than three times. We’ll give dirty looks to a parent who has a crying child in the service. We’ll get really angry when the pastor doesn’t get to the point, and the service cuts into lunchtime. We prefer quick fixes, easily summed-up theology, ideas easy to grasp, and people who don’t waste our time. We take it as a personal insult when people violate any of these things. We offer little grace. We don’t forgive or forget.

Instead of kindness, rudeness. There are two kinds of rude: Those who treat others like scum are obvious enough. Then there are those who are politely rude—the folks who don’t really care what people have to say, and just impose ourselves. These’d be the brainiacs in the bible studies, who never catch the leader’s hints to shut up and give someone else a turn. These’d be the people who drag people forward for prayer, without asking if they want or need prayer—or, just as bad, they ask, but never wait for an answer.

Instead of goodness, fake goodness. We take full advantage of the Christians who extend us grace. We do evil, and justify all of it—we undertip and blame the waiter, we steal office supplies and blame the boss for underpaying us. We’re undependable, untrustworthy, unsympathetic, uninterested, ungenerous… unchristian.

Instead of gentleness, out-of-control emotion. When we’re happy, upset, anxious, ecstatic, sad, whatever, you’re gonna know it. We don’t contain ourselves. We claim we can’t—“It’s just the way I am,” or “That’s just my personality,” or “That’s just my behavior quirk.” No, it’s not because we’re suffering from serious psychological problems and we’re wandering the streets instead of being institutionalized or heavily medicated: We’re trying to rework the emotional environment around us in order to suit our mood swings. And because people don’t understand psychology (or what “gentleness” even means) they let us get away with it.

Instead of self-control our lives are a mess and we won’t lift a finger to sort them out. We won’t grow as Christians because we refuse to give up sinful habits and minor idols. We figure one day we’ll magically wake up all better. Or since all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, Ro 3.23 it’s too late to seek improvement—so we’ll try not commit any of the bigger sins, like murder. But there’s grace, right?

…Or perhaps we oughta follow the Spirit.

Where’d I get these descriptions? Simple: My own misbehavior. I used to be an awful hypocrite. Now I’m concentrating on growing fruit. I still have a way to go. As do we all. Once we recognize these failings in ourselves, we can concentrate on letting the Holy Spirit get rid of them.

What I find works best is confession. I admit my past misbehavior—like the things I listed above. I talk about my less-than-noble motives for doing such things. I tell people it was sinful. I condemn it. And I ask ’em to call me on it if I repeat these old habits.

What if they’re practicing these things, ’cause they’re trying to fake the fruit of the Spirit instead of legitimately producing it? Well, some of ’em get convicted, and repent. And some of ’em pretend they would never, and praise me for being so transparent, and strive all the harder to hide the same behaviors in their own lives.

…And if I’m speaking to them one-on-one, they’ll take me aside and warn me, “You really need to be careful who you confess this stuff to. You realize people might use it against you.” I fail to see how; it’s awfully hard to blackmail someone when they’ve confessed the crime to anyone and everyone. But its pure paranoid irrationality exposes it for what it really is: A fruitless Christian who’s afraid their own similar sins might someday be found out. I need to stop it before exposing my flaws exposes them too. Darkness hates light.

If other people are doing the same things, and happen to be personally convicted because of my confession, that’s fine. I don’t try to figure out what sins other people are committing, nor customize my confessions to convict them. I don’t do passive-aggressive manipulation. I just talk about what I was gonna talk about—myself—and call a spade a spade, and admit I was self-centered instead of Jesus-focused. If they repent, great. If not, oh well; it’s between them and the Spirit.

But as for me, I’m gonna grow the Spirit’s fruit. I’m not gonna swap it for vastly inferior knock-offs.

Fruit.

12 December 2018

Is there a prophecy of Jesus’s hometown?

Not really.

Matthew 2.23.

From the third century BC onward, Judeans began to move to the land where northern Israel’s tribes used to live before the Assyrians deported them. Namely in the galíl/“circle” of northern gentile cities—or as 1 Maccabees called it, “the Galilee of the gentiles.” 1Mc 5.15 They wanted to reclaim that land for Israel.

Nazareth was one of the towns they founded. So are all the other towns whose names you don’t find in the Old Testament. Likely Joseph and Mary’s grandparents were among the first settlers of that village. It wasn’t that old a settlement. Didn’t exist in Old Testament times. Wasn’t a town any prophet could point to, and say “That’s where Messiah is gonna grow up.” Though Micah did identify Messiah’s birthplace.

However, Christians are pretty sure one of the prophets did identify Jesus’s hometown, ’cause it says so in the bible!

Matthew 2.22-23 KWL
22 Hearing Archelaus Herod was made Judea’s king after his father Antipater Herod, Joseph feared to go there.
After negotiating in a dream, he went back to a part of the Galilee.
23 Joseph came to settle in a city called Nazareth.
This may fulfill the saying through the prophet: “He’ll be called ‘Nazarene.’ ”

And that is how Jesus became Jesus the Nazarene: His parents moved back to Nazareth and raised him there, far away from the murderous Herods. (Well, till Antipas Herod got made king of the Galilee, but that’s not for another year or so.)

Okay, so the prophet declared Jesus “will be called ‘Nazarene’ ” Great! Which prophet?

Here’s where Christians get stymied. This is not a quote of any bible verse we know about. Certain bibles like to put the addresses of Old Testament quotes in the footnotes, but you’ll notice many bibles don’t even bother. ’Cause it’s not found in the scriptures. At all. Not even in the books the Orthodox and Catholics include in their Old Testaments. It’s nowhere.

Some Christians are gonna insist it is so in the bible—it’s gotta be!—and stretch various Old Testament verses like crazy in order to make them fit. Probably the most popular stretch is to point to when the prophets talked about Messiah being an offshoot (KJV “branch”). This, they claim, really meant Nazareth—because nechér/“offshoot” sounds a little like Nadzarét/“Nazareth.” Some of ’em claim “offshoot” is what the town’s name means in the first place: As a Judean settlement, it’s meant to be an offshoot of that province.

The verse they like to point to most is in Isaiah, where it speaks of Messiah, the offshoot/descendant of Jesse ben Ovéd, father of the great King David.

Isaiah 11.1-5 KWL
1 A sprout goes out from Jesse’s stem; an offshoot of his roots produces fruit.
2 The LORD’s Spirit rests on him, a Spirit of wisdom and knowledge,
a Spirit of firmness and strength, a Spirit of cleverness and respect for the LORD.
3 He enlarges people’s respect for the LORD.
He doesn’t judge by how his eyes see them, or correct by how his ears hear them.
4 He righteously judges the poor. He plainly corrects the land’s meek.
He smites the land with his mouth’s scepter. He kills the wicked with his lips’ breath.
5 Rightness belts his waist. Steadiness belts his loins.

This prophecy can of course describe David himself… but seeing as Isaiah lived four centuries later, it’s not David. Nor the king of Jerusalem at the time, Hezekiah ben Ahaz. It’s a future king, a future messiah; it’s Jesus of course.

But as I said, it takes a really big stretch of vocabulary to claim this reference to a nechér means Messiah is gonna be called a Nazarene. Not that Christians don’t try to stretch it just that far.