Jesus repeats a miracle: Feeding 4,000.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 May

Mark 8.1-9 • Matthew 15.32-39.

So you know the bible’s full of miracles. They’re there not just so we have feel-good Sunday school stories, nor so we can read about what God did in the past and think, “Bible times were cool; how come God doesn’t do such things anymore?” He does do such things. Still! If you’ve never seen it, it means your church has done a lousy job of putting you in the path of miracles. Or it’s full of unbelievers. Either way, not good.

The miracles aren’t just there to give us happy thoughts. They show us what God has done—and therefore can still do. He hasn’t lost power; he hasn’t abandoned us like cessationists insist. He’s ready when we’re willing.

And when a certain miracle happens more than once in the bible, it means God’s particularly willing to repeat that one. Because he already has repeated that one. Like when Jesus repeated feeding a huge crowd with a small amount of food.

Mark 8.1-9 KWL
1 In those days, with again many people who had nothing to eat,
Jesus, summoning his students, told them,
2 “I feel bad for the crowd; they’ve been with me three days and have nothing to eat.
3 When I send home those who’ve been fasting, they’ll collapse on the road:
Some of them have come from far away.”
4 Jesus’s students replied, “How will we get buns to feed them here, in the wilderness?”
5 Jesus asked them, “How many buns do you have?” They said, “Seven.”
6 Jesus commanded the crowd to sit on the ground, and took the seven buns.
Giving thanks, he broke and gave the buns to his students so they could distribute them.
They distributed them to the crowd. 7 They also had a few sardines;
blessing them, Jesus said to distribute them too.
8 They ate and were full, and they picked up abundant fragments—seven baskets.
9 There were maybe 4,000 people. Jesus released them.
Matthew 15.32-39 KWL
32 Summoning his students, Jesus said, “I feel bad for the crowd;
they’ve been with me three days and have nothing to eat.
I don’t want to send home those who’ve been fasting, lest they collapse on the road.”
33 Jesus’s students told him, “How will we, in the wilderness, get so many buns to feed so great a crowd?”
34 Jesus told them, “How many buns do you have?” They said, “Seven and a few sardines.”
35 Commanding the crowd to sit on the ground, 36 Jesus took the buns and sardines;
blessing them, he broke and gave them to his students, and the students to the crowd.
37 They all ate and were full, and they picked up abundant fragments—seven full baskets.
38 Those who ate were 4,000 men, not counting women and children.
39 Jesus released the crowd, entered the boat, and went to the Magadan border.

Certain scholars speculate this isn’t really a second miracle of feeding thousands: It’s just another telling of feeding the 5,000, but some of the details got mixed up. The reason they guess this is because Jesus’s students somehow seem to have forgot the previous miracle. Didja notice?—Jesus talks about how he’s got a huge crowd here and wants to feed them, and the students ask him how they’re gonna do that. Did they forget they already did that? Did they forget how the bread and fish multiplied in their very own hands?

But let’s be fair: Every Christian seems to have forgotten Jesus can empower his followers to miraculously feed large masses of people. ’Cause we don’t do this anymore either.

Jesus makes some funny hand motions.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 May

Mark 7.31-37 • Matthew 15.29-31.

After Jesus cured the Syrian Greek woman’s daughter, Matthew mentions he impressively cured a bunch of physical disabilities.

Matthew 15.29-31 KWL
29 Leaving there, Jesus went along the Galilean lake, went up a hill, and sat there.
30 A crowd of many came to Jesus, having among them
the maimed, the mute, the blind, the disabled, and many other unwell people.
They deposited them at Jesus’s feet, and he treated them—
31 so the crowd was amazed to see the mute speaking,
the maimed made whole, the disabled walking, the blind seeing.
They glorified Israel’s God.

Y’see, quacks and witch doctors tend to claim their expertise is in curing people of the things we can’t visibly see. If you have an illness, any type of cancer but skin cancer, stomach upset, pain, or anything where they could claim to cure you—and nobody can actually see they cured nothing—they’d claim this was their area of expertise, treat you, and charge you. But if you go to them with your hand mangled in a cart accident… well, they got nothing. They barely knew how to set broken bones.

Whereas Jesus can cure everything. And charges nothing.

So that’s Matthew. But Mark zooms in on one specific case of curing a deafmute, and here’s that story.

Mark 7.31-37 KWL
31 Jesus left the Tyrian border again, traveled through Sidon,
then to the Galilean lake on the Dekapolitan border.
32 The people brought Jesus a deafmute—well, with a speech impediment—
and asked him for help, so he might put his hand on him.
33 Taking him away from the crowd by himself, Jesus put his fingers in his own ears,
spat, touched his own tongue, 34 and groaned while looking into the heavens.
Jesus told him, “הפתח!” (happatákh, i.e. “Open up!”)
35 His hearing opened up, and the bond on his mouth quickly broke; he spoke clearly.
36 Jesus commanded him to tell no one—and many similar commands.
But he proclaimed Jesus all the more.
37 People were completely astounded, saying, “He does everything well!
He makes deafmutes hear, and the speechless speak!”

I’ll briefly mention the geography in verse 31: Sidon is north of Tyre, and the Dekapolis is south; Jesus wasn’t traveling in a straight line. It’s like saying he went from San Francisco to San Jose through Portland. He was traveling all over, preaching his gospel in gentile provinces.

He ended up in the Dekapolis, a province of 10 Syrian Greek communities in northern Israel, east of the lake. You remember he’d been there before: He took his students there for a break, and wound up throwing a legion of demons out of a guy. At the time, he freaked out the locals so bad they wanted him gone. Now they actively sought him out, ’cause word was out about what he could do.

When Jesus acted racist.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 May

Mark 7.24-30 • Matthew 15.21-28.

Title get your attention? Well this story gets a lot of people’s attention—when they’re not skipping it, or trying to explain away what Jesus did, ’cause it makes ’em uncomfortable. ’Cause he absolutely acted racist.

Lemme state this first, so you catch its full impact when you read the text: Dogs are pets in our culture, but not at all in Jesus’s. They were considered vermin. Scavenger animals, like raccoons, opossums, wolves, wildcats, rats. Wild, untrustworthy, sometimes dangerous. Pack animals which hassled livestock and endangered children. And would eat anything—dead things, feces, their own vomit. Pr 26.11 This activity isn’t just ritually unclean; it’s downright nasty. So Jews considered dogs untouchable. Pharisees shunned ’em like we’d shun rats and cockroaches.

This is why whenever we see the words for “dog” in the bible—every single time!—they’re a synonym for the filthiest of animals. It’s why John wrote this in Revelation:

Revelation 22.15 KWL
Outside New Jerusalem: Dogs. Drug fiends. Sex fiends. Murderers. Idolaters.
And everyone who loves and spreads fakery.

Like all apocalypses it’s not meant to be literal, but to make the point there’s nothing unclean in New Jerusalem. Period. Dogs were considered nasty, so they wouldn’t get in. (Some claim “dogs” is a euphemism for gays, but that’s a serious misinterpretation.)

This mindset about dogs is what makes Jesus’s first statement in this story, really offensive.

Mark 7.24-27 KWL
24 From there, Jesus got up to leave for the Tyrian/Sidonian border.
When he entered a house there, no one should know him. But he couldn’t hide.
25 Instead a woman, quickly hearing of Jesus, fell at his feet as she came to him:
Her daughter had an unclean spirit.
26 The woman was Greek; her race was Syrian and Phoenician.
She begged Jesus so he might throw out the demon from her daughter.
27 Jesus told her, “First, allow the children to eat!
It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Matthew 15.21-26 KWL
21 Jesus came out of there. He went to a part of Tyre and Sidon.
22 Look, a Canaanite woman from that coast, coming to him, called out,
saying “Have mercy on me sir—son of David! My daughter is badly demonized.”
23 Jesus didn’t say a word to her. His students were asking him questions.
They began to say, “Make her go away; she’s making noise in the back.”
24 In reply Jesus said, “I’m not sent to any but the lost sheep of Israel’s house.”
25 She fell at his feet as she came to him, saying, “Sir, help me!”
26 In reply Jesus said, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Forgetting the past.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 May

Philippians 3.13-14.

Here’s a verse that’s really popular with motivational speakers:

Philippians 3.13-14 NLT
13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

They especially wanna zero in on the “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” bit in verse 13. Then they add, “This is precisely what we need to do: Forget the past! Don’t dwell on it. Put it behind you. Those things don’t matter anymore. Look only at the things which are right in front of you. They’re the only things which matter.”

Okay. It’s true a lot of people spend way too much time living in the past. People obsess about it. Speculate about all the “what ifs” which might’ve taken place had they done things differently. Regret mistakes. Grow more and more bitter about those mistakes as time go on.

That unhealthy fixation on the past is a real problem, and needs to be discussed and dealt with. But the healthy way we deal with it is not to forget the past; not to blot it out of our minds, suppress it, or otherwise no longer think about it. Our pasts, like ’em or not, are part of who we are and how we came to be.

Meanwhile it isn’t even what this verse is about.

Unidirectional prayer: We talk. God doesn’t. No point.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 May

Too many people firmly believe God doesn’t talk back when we pray. We talk to the sky, we form sentences in our head… and God doesn’t respond. At all. Not a word. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. May as well have spoken to a brick wall. Heck, a brick wall’d be more responsive, ’cause people have graffito’d on it.

Now I can totally understand when pagans adopt this mindset: They don’t talk to God. Or they talk to fake gods, which of course don’t speak back, ’cause they’re imaginary. So what would they know about what prayer is and how it works? Stands to reason they’d think prayer is nothing more than putting “good energy” out into the universe, and expecting to get some of it back, ’cause karma.

But a disturbing number of Christians think this way. Seriously.

Often ’cause they’re cessationist and think God switched off the miracles inbetween bible times and the End Times. This’d include prayer. So they’re entirely sure he listens. But in this present era, he never, ever talks.

Yeah it’s crap, but they firmly believe it: That whole “I’ll never leave nor forsake you” bit in the bible? He 13.5 Technically he didn’t leave… but in order to emphasize how he’s not gonna intervene in human history anymore, the only way he cares to reveal his will anymore is through the scriptures. If God communicates at all, it’ll only be through feelings—when we read the bible, it’ll bring out the feels, and that’ll tell us we’re on the right track. You’ll feel this powerful sense of self-righteous conviction. Your mind’ll snap shut like a bear trap. Or you’ll have understood it wrong, so you’ll feel anxious and unsatisfied, like an ex-smoker whose nicotine patch isn’t strong enough. And if you feel nothing… well, which one do you think you oughta feel? Concentrate really hard. Maybe you’ll start feeling it!

If you can’t detect the mockery in this description: Hi there. Welcome to TXAB, my blog where I talk about following Jesus. Sometimes I use sarcasm. Read enough and you’ll get the hang of it.

Anyway, the reason these Christians believe as they do is ’cause their fellow Christians taught ’em wrong. Not intentionally; it’s the garbage they were taught, in an unbroken line back to various faithless individuals who weren’t listening to God, didn’t try, guessed at how he works without looking to the scriptures for evidence, guessed horribly, woefully wrong, and now God’s a deadbeat Dad.

The Orthodox, Catholics, and early Protestants correctly taught God talks back, and suppressed those who taught otherwise. When the suppression ended, the idea God doesn’t talk spread. (Hey, sometimes freedom of religion is a double-edged sword.) So over the past five centuries there’s been a lot of teachings, theology, and practices centered on the idea God doesn’t talk. Instead—like a deafmute who thinks he’ll be cured soon, so he stubbornly never learns sign language—for TWENTY CENTURIES God’s supposedly been manipulating us through warm fuzzy feelings. Is it any wonder Christians come in a thousand denominations?

Obviously these folks never learned to listen to God. Or think he would only speak in an audible voice—and if he does, it’d be rarely, to only a very small number of prophets. That is, unless prophecy’s done till the End Times; till then we gotta make do with bible-based warm feelings.

I grew up cessationist, and man alive is it difficult to read anything they’ve written on prayer. It’s faithless, godless, and largely useless. Because if prayer isn’t two-way communication, that’s what it is: Useless.

The Holy Spirit’s temple: Multiple Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 May

From time to time Christians talk about how you, singular, individually, are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

’Cause the Spirit is sealed to every individual Christian. Ep 1.13 He lives in the heart of every single believer. And whatever God lives in is, properly, his temple. If he lives in you, it makes you his temple. If he lives in another Christian, it makes that person a temple. Dozens of Christians are dozens of temples. Billions of Christians are billions of temples. Get it?

But it’s not accurate. God has one temple.

As was kinda emphasized in the bible. Moses built the portable temple at Sinai, which English-speaking Christians call the tabernacle, and that was the temple for 4 centuries till Solomon ben David built a permanent one of gold-plated cedar in Jerusalem. The Babylonians burnt that down; Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel built another of stone; Herod 1 and his successors renovated it; the Romans eventually destroyed it. It was the one and only place the LORD intended to meet people for worship and sacrifice; it was the one and only place they kept his ark, representing his relationship with Israel. It was the one and only his name dwelt Dt 12.11 —which was the LORD’s way of putting it, ’cause obviously the Almighty can’t be contained by a mere building.

But the Jerusalem temple wasn’t the only temple of the LORD on earth. Jeroboam ben Nabat, king of Samaria, feared losing subjects to the king of Jerusalem, so he built two more temples. They didn’t have arks, but Jeroboam put gold calf idols in them, figuring that’d do; and since there’s a whole command against idolatry in the Ten Commandments, God and his prophets condemned Jeroboam’s temples ever after. After the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, Egyptian Jews in exile constructed a temple to the LORD in Alexandria, and Samaritans constructed a temple to the LORD at Mt. Gerazim. But neither of these temples were commanded nor authorized by God. He had his own plans. Always had.

And once his temple’s veil ripped open, Mt 27.51 it signifies God wasn’t interested in being worshiped from Herod’s stone building any longer. He was gonna build a temple from entirely different stones: Living people. Christians. Every Christian.

I’m not the Spirit’s temple; I’m one of the stones of its temple.

As are you. As is every Christian. We’re parts of his temple. Because the temple us us—collectively. The Spirit doesn’t have billions of temples; he only has the one. Same as always.

Guard your heart.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

Proverbs 4.23.

Proverbs 4.23 NIV
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

As a teenager I heard many a youth pastor quote this verse. Except they’d use the 1984 edition of the NIV, which goes, “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Which I like much better than the update; it’s more poetic. Although the way I initially memorized it was the KJV’s “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life.”

They quoted it ’cause they were encouraging us kids to be very, very careful about who or what we loved. ’Cause you know teenagers: Either you are one, or used to be one. And I’ll be blunt: Teens are so horny. The flood of new hormones in our systems, combined with how we’ve not yet learned to control our emotions, don’t help at all. I had all sorts of crushes on all sorts of girls and women, and stifled them as best I could. Of course, once two teenagers find they’re mutually attracted to one another, they seldom stifle anything, which is why so many of the kids in my youth group—good Christians or not—were fornicating like monkeys in the zoo. Precisely what parents and pastors fear. Hence all the sermons.

Of course “guard your heart” has other applications. Because teens are immature, they fall for anything. Not just for sexual temptations; they get sucked up into any ridiculous fad. Fr’instance my nephew is into vaping. It’s dumb, but so’s cigarettes, and I knew plenty of kids who got into cigarettes for the very same reason: They figured it was cool, all their friends did it, and they were so susceptible to peer pressure. At his age I liked to think I stood apart from the crowd, but even so, I got into all sorts of fads. And trouble. I was young and naïve, didn’t know any better, didn’t listen to the adults who did: I followed my heart every which way.

Hence adults kept returning to this verse, time and again. Or at least these three words: “Guard your heart.”

Don’t follow the crowd’s taste in music, clothes, cars, and especially misbehavior. Don’t fall in love with the wrong people, especially half-hearted Christians who might lead you away from Jesus—or worse, pagans. Don’t have sex, lest the girl get pregnant and wind up having an abortion (and since this was a conservative church, everyone pretended this never happened, even though I personally know five girls in my youth group whose pregnancies way-too-conveniently disappeared). Marry, but not yet—not till you’ve finished college, secured a good career, and made other caveats to Mammonism which Christians like to disguise as “good stewardship.” Basically anything which might derail your parents’ plans for your life: Just don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. Telling teenagers to get hold of their emotions is very good advice. Hard to follow, but still good advice. ’Cause teenagers—and for that matter most adults—don’t know how. They’ve never developed because kids suck the Spirit’s fruit of self-control, of gentleness, of learning the difference between love and desire. Hormones fuddle teenage minds way beyond reason. Even if the poor kids do learn some level of self-control in childhood, they’re going through an entirely new obstacle course. Adults who never learned self-control either, imagine the solution is to give kids lots of rules… as if that tactic ever worked on them. What teens, and really all of us, need is patience, kindness, guidance, and grace.

But since this article is part of my series on bible verses in context, you know I’m gonna point out that Solomon wasn’t writing about emotions.

The fruit of faithfulness, or the fruit of faith?

by K.W. Leslie, 09 May

Where Paul lists the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians, a lot of bibles translate one of the words he used, πίστις/pístis, as “faithfulness.” But that’s not the usual way pístis gets translated in the bible. Typically it’s translated “faith.”

And that’s what I believe Paul meant: Faith. Not faithfulness. Not that faithfulness isn’t an admirable trait; not that good fruitful Christians aren’t faithful to God—and faithful to fellow Christians, even when we mess up or sin against one another. But then again, nontheists, pagans, and people of other religions, are frequently faithful to their beliefs and principles, and notoriously stick to them even tighter than Christians will to ours. Heck, dogs are faithful. Loyalty doesn’t take the Holy Spirit. Misbegotten loyalty proves that.

Whereas faith is obviously the product of the Spirit: When people don’t have the Spirit, we won’t trust the Spirit. We won’t believe the bible. We’ll invent all sorts of reasons why we needn’t believe it, shouldn’t believe it, ought never take it seriously, don’t gotta obey it. Our unbelief will overwhelm any chance for us to listen to him, step out in faith, and do the unlikely or impossible. And Christians who don’t trust the Spirit are seriously hindered in their Christian growth. Don’t practice much of the other fruit of the Spirit either.

I’ve written plenty on TXAB about faith, and expect to write plenty more. It’s a practice we always need to strive to do. It helps us grow like nothing else. Even small increments are profoundly powerful; like Jesus pointed out, mustard-grain faith can shove mountains over. Mt 17.20 But never be satisfied with that little faith! God always wants to grow our faith. So let’s follow him.

How does it grow? Simple: Practice. We step out in faith. When tells us something, we act on it. We don’t just leave it untested, in fear nothing will happen and we’ll look stupid. Those who lack faith, will never challenge their faith. This is why whenever they encounter real challenges to their faith—a loved one dies, or they suffer loss, or a cherished belief gets shattered like so much idolatrous pottery—their so-called “faith” bursts like a soap bubble. Untested faith, as James described it, is faith without works. And faith without works is dead. Jm 2.17 It’s fake faith, easily exploded.

So you wanna grow the fruit? Look for the faith-stretching opportunities the Spirit gives us. Step out. Watch him act. Watch your faith grow.

Praying for shrubbery.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 May

In Job, right after the LORD commended Job for being such a good and faithful servant, the devil countered with this.

Job 1.9-11 KWL
9 Satan told the LORD in reply, “Job fears God for no reason.
10 Don’t you wall around him, his house, all he has, round about?
You bless his handiwork, and his possessions fill the land. 11 Now please:
Stretch out your hand and touch all he has. He won’t publicly bless you then.”

Y’know, 99 times out of 100, here in the United States, I’d say the devil hit the nail right on the head. Mess with our stuff and we’ll think God either abandoned us, or was never really here. Job was as good as the LORD said—and really, why would the LORD’ve thought incorrectly about Job? ’Cause omniscience. But I digress.

In the King James Version שַׂ֣כְתָּ/sakhtá is translated “made an hedge.” In 1611 this meant a wall of any sort; could be stones, could be thornbushes. In present-day English we only use “hedge” to describe shrubbery. One that looks nice, and not too expensive.

Well, we also use “hedge” in our prayers. Go to enough prayer meetings and one of these days you’ll hear someone use this particular Christianese saying: “And Lord, we just wanna ask for a hedge of protection around our team as they minister…” Sometimes they make it “a hedge of thorns,” just to make it extra hard to get through.

They don’t always know where they got the saying from, but it’s from that Job passage. (And if you wanna freak people out, point out it’s a direct quote from Satan, of all people. That’ll get ’em to read their bibles.)

There’s nothing wrong with asking for such hedges round yourself. Part of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Deliver us from evil”—or from the Evil One, as some translations have it. Mt 6.13 Whenever possible we’d like God’s hedge round us. But note, as we see in Job’s case, God can put it up or take it down as he wishes.

Churches, “the Church,” and God’s kingdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

Whenever people say church they either mean a building where religious activity happens, or the hierarchy which runs the religion.

Which is way different than what I mean by it. Or what Jesus and the bible mean by it. When Jesus says ἐκκλησία/ekklisía he means a flock of Christians; a group, assembly, crowd, congregation, collection, bunch, congress, whatever term you wanna use for many of us. People like to take apart that Greek word, and note its word-root is καλέω/kaléo, “to call”—and then analyze the significance of Jesus calling Christians to meet together. Yeah, whatever: By the time people used the word in Jesus’s day, it just meant a gathering. And that’s still what it means.

Still, even Christians tend to use it to mean a church building, or the church leadership. Which is why we tend to forget we are the church. Church isn’t a separate thing from us; it is us. It’s us collectively; it’s why I can’t say “I am the church,” because I all by myself am definitely not the church: Other Christians have to be in it. At least two or three. Mt 18.20 The more the better.

Typically “church” refers to a local group. But sometimes we use the word to refer to every Christian, everywhere: The universal church. The catholic church (as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church, which is only one church within the universal church, although frequently they forget this). Every human who has a connection with Christ Jesus and is part of his body. It’s hardly limited to one sect or denomination; Orthodox Christians are not the only Christians on the planet. Neither are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, Calvinists, charismatics, Fundamentalists, Emergent Christians, nor Purpose-Driven™ Christians. (Though sometimes we certainly act like it.) We aren’t saved by our affiliations or theology; we’re saved by God through Christ Jesus, and we’re in his kingdom because God adopted us and recognizes a valid, living relationship with us.

Of course, since many Christians are under the delusion we determine who’s a “real Christian” and who isn’t, we tend to limit the universal church to our definitions. If we’re pretty sure real Christians only vote the way we do, every Christian in the opposition party isn’t a real Christian, so they don‘t count as part of Jesus’s universal church. If we’ve got certain doctrines we feel every real Christian holds to, we figure everyone who believes otherwise is heretic, and by definition heretics can’t be in the true church. And so forth. Various Christians like to refer to the visible church, the 2 billion people worldwide who publicly claim allegiance to Jesus, and the invisible church, the unknown number of people whom Jesus really recognizes as his. Depending on how optimistic or pessimistic they are, either the visible church is way bigger than the invisible, or vice-versa.

Meh. I’ve no idea how many people Jesus actually intends to let into his kingdom. I’m an optimist, so I figure God’s way more gracious than we are, and is gonna save way more people than we expect. Not everybody; not that he doesn’t want to; he warned us there are gonna be holdouts. But he doesn’t limit his kingdom like we do. So I expect there’s significant overlap between the visible and invisible churches; and when I say “kingdom” I typically mean his invisible church, which is represented by the 2 billion professing Christians.