Put some bible in your brain!

by K.W. Leslie, 31 July

There are certain bits of bible which need to be embedded in a Christian’s brain. Need to be.

No, this isn’t a requirement before God can save you. But it’s extremely useful to be able to quote various verses and passages which remind us of God’s love and grace and goodness, of Jesus’s teachings and commands, of the thinking behind God’s acts and our beliefs, and of promises, encouragements, and expectations. We need to put some verses into our memories.

So here’s how we get started.

Lots of Christians insist there are particular verses every one of us ought have memorized, like the Lord’s Prayer, or “the Lord’s my shepherd,” John 3.16, or Romans 6.23, or Romans 10.9. (People tend to refer to verses by their addresses. That’s sorta annoying for those of us who mix addresses up. I’m one of them, by the way.)

No, I’m not going to go through the entire list of Christians’ favorite memory verses right now. I’ll bring one or another up from time to time. If you’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer, hopefully you’ve got it in your head by now anyway.

Me, I prefer this technique: It’s a little more natural.

1. Read your bible.

Because you are reading your bible, right? If not, don’t feel bad; just start.

So as you go through the bible, likely you’re gonna find a sentence or saying which really stands out to you. Something you think is especially profound. Something you’d want to quote later. Something you’d share with other people; you might even think right away of certain people to share it with. You might want to tweet it or otherwise put it on social media.

Well, there’s your memory verse. If it’s worth remembering, it’s worth memorizing.

And yeah, there’s a ton of bible worth memorizing. If you’re on the lookout for memory verses, you’ll find plenty. Dozens every day. Sometimes you’ll think, “Holy shnikes, I should memorize this entire chapter!

Okay, calm down little buckaroo. Don’t drive yourself crazy. If you’re on the lookout for memory verses, chances are you’re gonna overexaggerate the importance of every verse you find. Not that these verses aren’t important; they were important enough for the authors of the bible to write down, and for later believers to include in the bible. But maybe it’s better to not read the bible so you can specifically mine for memory verses. Just let ’em come to you naturally. If a statement strikes you as really significant, keep that one.

Don’t use a highlighter; that doesn’t help you memorize anything. (And somebody tell this to college students.) Write it down someplace. Write it a few times.

Yeah, you might only find one significant verse a day. Sometimes none. Sometimes ten, on a really good day. But you shouldn’t have to try very hard. So don’t try very hard.

Remember: If it’s something you’ll want to quote later, or share with others, that’s the one you keep.

Prayer… and morning people. (Groan.)

by K.W. Leslie, 30 July

Some of us are morning people: We bounce out of bed every morning ready to tackle the coming day. It’s the best time of the day!

Some of us are night owls: We don’t mind staying up late to have fun, to get work done, to do whatever. That’s the best time of the day.

I’m a night owl. And for one semester in seminary, I lived with a morning person. Thank God he wasn’t one of those annoying morning people—the sort who thinks everyone should love mornings just as much as they do, and all it’ll take to convert us is getting a good night’s sleep. I used to work for such a person. She was so chipper every morning, I wanted to stuff her into one. But I digress.

My morning-person roomie believed in starting every morning with God in prayer. Makes sense, right? But he had to take it one step further: Start every morning with sunrise prayer. He and some eager friends would wake at the crack of dawn, head to the chapel, and pray.

They chose to pray in the chapel’s prayer room. It was a little room in the basement of the building, open 24 hours a day for prayer. (Well supposedly for prayer. Various students found it was a great place to make out, unobserved. So I guess it kinda needed the prayer.) The prayer room had no windows… which meant they didn’t see the sunrise, which still makes no sense to me. Isn’t that the whole point of sunrise prayer?

More than once, he invited me to come along. I went once. That was enough. I had no problem going to Epsilon Delta Kappa’s all-night prayer vigils; I had no problem watching the sun rise that way. But rising at dawn? The only reasons I bother is when work requires it, when I go to bed really early, or insomnia. I’d make a lousy monk.

In contrast, King David was clearly a morning person. ’Cause he sang about early-morning prayer. Ps 5.3 And since his psalms are bible, many Christians are convinced everybody oughta practice early-morning prayer. My roommate was one of them. What kind of selfish Christian chooses his comfortable bed over our Lord?

“Look,” I tried to explain, “my prayers are gonna suck when I’m sleep-deprived.”

’Cause back in my Fundamentalist days I was involved in ministries where early-morning prayer wasn’t voluntary: Everybody was expected out of bed bright ’n early, and off we’d go to morning devotions. And my prayers really sucked. First 10 minutes consisted of my complaining to God about being up so God-damned early in the morning. Followed by many apologies for saying “God-damned” to God, of all people. And for my rotten attitude. And for not really being able to focus on anything, much less God.

Really, all this grousing and apologizing was time wasted. I could’ve just prayed when I was awake.

“Besides,” I joked to my roommate, “you don’t need to be awake to talk to God. Ever heard of prophetic dreams?”

Claiming to see, but won’t see Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 July

John 9.35-41.

Picking up right after Pharisees ejected a formerly-blind man from their synagogue for believing in Jesus, our Lord re-enters the story and delivers the punchline, so to speak.

John 9.34-41 KWL
35 Jesus, hearing the Pharisees threw the formerly-blind man out,
upon finding him, said, “You believe in the Son of Man?”
36 In reply, that man said, “Who is he, sir?—so I can put my trust in him.”
37 Jesus told him, “You’ve seen him: This man is talking with you.”
38 The formerly-blind man said, “I trust you, sir,” and fell down before Jesus.
39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for people’s judgment:
Those who don’t see, can see; and those who see can become blind.”
40 Some of the Pharisees were listening to these things, and told Jesus, “We aren’t blind too.”
41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin.
You now say ‘We do so see’—and your sin remains.”

For some reason, a lot of preachers assume this guy shouldn’t have recognized Jesus when he encountered him: He was blind at the time y’know. But I’m pretty sure he’d have easily recognized Jesus’s voice. And after his trial, he knew plenty about Jesus… or at least what certain Pharisees claimed about him, though he himself was pretty sure Jesus is a prophet. Jn 9.17

Though it appears here, he didn’t know of Jesus’s common practice of calling himself “the Son of Man.” That was the prophet Daniel’s title for an End Times figure who’d conquer and rule the world—you know, like Jesus is gonna do someday. Pharisees expected the Son of Man to emerge directly from heaven, not get born like an ordinary human (well, more or less) and live among us for a few decades. If you didn’t connect Jesus with that Son of Man, you’d presume calling himself τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου/ton yión tu anthrópu all the time was just another way to say “human”—like the LORD meant whenever he called Ezekiel בֶּן־אָדָם/ben-Adám, “son of Adam” (KJV “son of man”) Ek 2.1 You’d be… well, blind.

Those who wait on the Lord.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 July

Isaiah 40.31.

Isaiah 40.31 NKJV
But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

When I visit fellow Christians’ homes, a lot of ’em have a painting or mass-produced sculpture of an eagle somewhere. Some of the art’s of an American bald eagle, and are meant to express the owner’s patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores, back when they were still around. Bald eagle or not, connection to God ’n country or not, they’re meant to express the owner’s trust in God. They’re universally captioned with this particular Isaiah verse, in various translations, always mounting up with wings as eagles.

The eagle appeals to a lot of Christians because of the idea Isaiah expressed: The LORD Almighty, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 but God can renew our strength. Indefinitely. Is 40.31

It’s great encouragement for those of us who have energy-draining jobs or lives. When our own batteries are depleted or dead, God can recharge ’em. When our resources are taxed, God always has more. Many’s the time I’ve told my students, “I ran out of patience with you. Ran out long ago. I’m drawing on God’s patience now.” Tapping what people like to call “God’s dýnamis power”—showing off one of the Greek words they think they know, by which they mean his explosive power, but more accurately is his dynamo of endless cosmic supply. Either way, his power’s available to every Christian. Right?

Actually… right. It is available to every Christian.

But it’s not promised, which is how we Christians wind up taking this verse out of context. We look on it as a promise of God, a prophecy of something he’s guaranteed to give us. And while it is a prophecy, it’s not a promise. It’s situational. And it takes wisdom to recognize whether we’re in that situation… or whether we’re foolishly burning ourselves out for no good reason.

The first English-language bible: The Wycliffe Bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 July

English is the most widely spoken language in the world. Partly ’cause of the British Empire; partly because of American multimedia, including the internet. There are a lot of useful resources in English, and it’s otherwise generally useful, so most of the people in the world learn English as their second language.

English is my native language, so that’s mighty handy for me; though if it weren’t I’d obviously have learned it instead of Spanish and French. Although a lot of my fellow Americans take this circumstance for granted, cretinously don’t bother to learn any other language, and get annoyed when multilingual people can’t speak English as well as they’d personally prefer. But let’s not talk about them.

Obviously there was a time when English wasn’t everybody’s second language; it was French. And before that, Latin. And the reason it was Latin was ’cause the Vulgate. The Latin-language bible was “the bible,” as far as western Christians were concerned, so if you wanted to read the bible, or understand any of the bible quotes or prayers your preachers used, you oughta learn Latin. And people did. It wasn’t as widespread as English is today—for that matter, neither was education and literacy—but everybody knew some Latin, ’cause church.

Which is why few people bothered to translate the bible into local languages: What’s the point? Everybody who could read in those countries, already knew some Latin; they could read the Vulgate. Or they could go to church, where the priests knew Latin and could interpret the Vulgate for the locals. You don’t need local translations.

But every once in a while somebody didn’t wanna go to church. Or they felt Roman Catholicism was the wrong church, and people shouldn’t have to go to its priests to get the bible interpreted. So they’d take a stab at translating the bible themselves. Problem is, before the United States, no nation had freedom of religion: You were automatically a member of the nation’s official church, and you weren’t allowed to quit the church. If you did, you were an illegal. They’d prosecute. (Which meant you wound up with a nation full of hypocrites—which explains why they’d get downright savage in their prosecutions.)

And that’s exactly what happened with the first guys to translate the bible into English. That’d be John Wycliffe (1324–84) and Nicholas of Hereford (?–1420). Nicholas did the Old Testament; Wycliffe did the New; and both their translations are bundled together as the Wycliffe Bible, WB for short.

De profundis.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 July

The prayer known as de profundis deɪ proʊ'fun.dis, commonly deɪ prə'fən.dɪs is also known as Psalm 130 in Jewish and Protestant bibles, and 129 in Orthodox and Catholic bibles. The Latin name comes from verse 1 in the Vulgate: De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine, “From the deep I call to you, Lord.”

My translation doesn’t rhyme this time, but it’s still in iambic septemeter.

Psalm 130 KWL
0 Song for the climb.
 
1 I call you from the deep, oh LORD. 2 My Master, hear my voice!
Your ears must pay attention to my supplications’ voice!
3 If you kept track of moral faults, my Master, who could stand?
4 But with you there’s forgiveness. For this reason, you’re revered.
5 I wait—my life waits—for the LORD; my hope is in his word.
6 My life awaits my Master like a night guard waits for dawn.
Like night guards wait for dawn… 7 so Israel: Wait for the LORD!
For with the LORD is love, and much redemption comes with him.
8 He will redeem you, Israel, from all your moral faults.

Connected to the Hebrew idea of waiting is the idea of hope. You’re waiting for God ’cause you expect him to do something. Like answer your prayer in some way.

In Christian tradition, De profundis is a common rote prayer. A lot of Christians pray the psalms, but this one’s frequently found in the prayer books of many denominations. Mainly because it shows a certain amount of repentance, and its hope in God’s grace and dependable love.

The trial of the formerly-blind man.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 July

John 9.13-34.

One Sabbath, Jesus cured a blind guy with spit-mud. His neighbors caught him seeing, and decided to bring him to the Pharisees, figuring these’d be the guys who could identify if this miracle was a God-thing or not.

John 9.13-16 KWL
13 They brought the formerly-blind man to Pharisees:
14 The day Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes, was Sabbath.
15 So again, Pharisees were asking him how he received sight.
He told them, “He smeared mud on me, on the eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
16 Hence some of these Pharisees were saying, “This person isn’t from God: He doesn’t keep Sabbath.”
Others were saying, “How can a ‘sinful person’ make such miracles?” They were divided.

Yeah, they weren’t much good at it.

Lemme start by pointing out the obvious: By definition, miracles are God-things. They’re anything the Holy Spirit does in our physical universe. Might look natural, or resemble natural phenomena. But because the Spirit personally does ’em, they didn’t happen naturally; they don’t have a natural origin; they are always more-than-natural, or supernatural. The sick might naturally get better; or they might have the sort of disease which never gets better, but the Spirit intervened, so they get better anyway. And skeptics object, “Well, there was a chance…” because they don’t wanna acknowledge the Spirit. For two usual reasons:

  • They doubt miracles happen anymore, or ever happened.
  • They doubt the particular miracle-worker.

In these Pharisees’ case, they doubted Jesus the Nazarene. After all, he was notorious for interpreting “Remember the Sabbath day” his own way… and in so doing, violating their Sabbath customs. They didn’t wanna work in any way that inconvenienced them; he feels helping others is an entirely valid exception. Christians should agree with Jesus… and don’t always. (Heck, often we don’t help others the other six days of the week either.)

As usual, when John or the other authors of scripture refer to “the Pharisees” or “the Judeans,” they don’t necessarily mean all the Pharisees or Judeans. Some of these Pharisees correctly recognized a legitimate miracle happened, and therefore it was incorrect to presume Jesus wasn’t from God. Since their judgment didn’t hold sway in this case, it’s clear these believing Pharisees weren’t in charge. (It’s not clear whether they were a majority or not; ancient Israel wasn’t a democracy, so even if they were a majority, ’twouldn’t matter. Synagogue leadership could overrule the majority, same as a judge can overturn a jury’s verdict.)

The rest simply tried to get the formerly-blind man to distance himself from Jesus. That didn’t work, so they turned on the man himself.

John 9.17-34 KWL
17 So they told the formerly-blind man again, “Because Jesus opened your eyes, what do you say about him?
The man said this: “He’s a prophet.”
18 So these Judeans didn’t believe him—
nor even that he used to be blind and received sight.
Not till the point they called the parents of the one who received sight 19 and questioned them,
saying, “Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? So how can he now see?”
20 So in reply the man’s parents said, “We know this is our son, and he was born blind.
21 We don’t know how he now sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him! He’s an adult. He’ll tell you about himself.”
22 His parents said this because they feared the Judeans:
When anyone recognized Jesus as Messiah, the Judeans had previously agreed they’d be out of the synagogue.
23 This is why the man’s parents said this: “He’s an adult. Ask him.”
24 So the Pharisees called the formerly-blind man a second time,
and told him, “Swear to God you’re telling the truth. We know this person’s a sinner.”
25 So this man replied, “I don’t know if he’s a sinner. I know one thing: Having been blind, now I see.”
26 So they told him, “What did he do to you? How were your eyes opened?”
27 So the man told them, “I already told you, and you don’t listen.
Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to be his students. Do you?
28 They raged at him, and said, “You’re that man’s student. We’re Moses’s students.
29 We know God spoke to Moses; we don’t know where this man’s coming from.
30 In reply the formerly-blind person told them, “This statement you made is confusing:
You don’t know where he’s coming from—and he opened my eyes!
31 We know God doesn’t listen to sinners.
But when one’s a God-fearer and does his will, God listens to this person.
32 Someone opening the eyes of a person born blind is unheard of in this age.
33 If this man weren’t from God, he’d be unable to do anything!”
34 In reply the Judeans told the man, “You were entirely born in sin.
And you try to teach us?”—and they threw him out.

“God will not be mocked.”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 July

Galatians 6.7.

Here’s a verse I hear frequently misquoted. (So have you.)

Galatians 6.7 KJV
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Y’notice most of the time when Christians quote it, it’s not necessarily because somebody’s mocking God. Usually somebody’s mocking them, the Christians. Occasionally God’s getting mocked too, but he’s collateral damage. The mockers are mainly focused on the Christians: Once again, one of us did something dumb, so people are having a laugh at our expense.

Well when certain Christians get mocked—like when they’re new, and too immature to have the Spirit’s fruit; or when they’re longtime Christians, but never did develop patience, so they can’t take a joke; or they’re otherwise deficient in joy—they wanna rebuke their scoffers. Call down curses, ideally, but they’re happy just to have a clever comeback. “Have your fun now,” they menace their scoffers, “but your time will come. God will not be mocked.”

Sometimes the outraged Christian will continue with the rest of the verse they’re misquoting. Still out of context, of course. “You,” they’ll indicate, “will reap what you sow.” Not that karma will get ’em and they’ll get laughed at too; they’re thinking more about burning in hell, or some other disproportionate, but satisfying, punishment.

Anyway. Note how the King James Version of the verse is present tense, not future: It’s not “God will not be mocked” but “God is not mocked.” It’s present tense in Greek too: θεὸς οὐ μυκτηρίζεται/Theós u myktirídzete. It has to do with what was currently happening when Paul wrote it to the Galatians. Not with what’s currently happening when a pagan laughs at a Christian; not with nontheists getting their comeuppance on Judgment Day. Certainly not with our various unchristian revenge fantasies.

What were its circumstances when Paul originally wrote it to the Galatian church? Glad you asked.

“Discerning” the news: Seeking “signs of the times.”

by K.W. Leslie, 17 July

End Times prognosticator Hal Lindsey is fond of saying when we read the bible, particularly Revelation, we oughta do it with the scriptures in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Because the events of his End Times timeline are happening. Right this instant.

Even though every five years or so, he has to write another End Times book to update all the predictions of his previous End Times book. For some reason they keep not turning into the harbingers of the End he insists they are.

Y’see, what Lindsey does, and what many other End Times fixated Christians do, is what they call “discerning the news.” What they’re doing, they claim, is what Jesus tells us to: They’re looking at the signs of the day. Or as the KJV puts it, “the signs of the times.”

Matthew 16.1-4 KWL
1 Approaching Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a heavenly sign to show them.
2 In reply Jesus told them, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It’s red; clear sky.’
3 And in the morning, ‘Storms today, for the sky is red and gloomy.’
So you know to interpret the face of the sky—and can’t interpret the signs of the day?”

In context, Jesus said this phrase when Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus ’cause he wasn’t doing as they expected Messiah to do in their End Times timelines, so they asked him to perform one of those signs. Yeah, it’s ironic how these “signs of the times” seekers are doing the very same thing. Irony’s pretty common when people don’t know their bibles.

Jesus wasn’t telling these religious folks to study current events and so they could find fulfilled prophecy in them. He was pointing out how greatly they missed the obvious. They could interpret the weather, which is right there, above their heads; but when Jesus was likewise right in front of them, they wanted signs. Somehow they’d gone blind.

Likewise with End Times events. When they happen, they’re as obvious as a pimple on your nose. They don’t require you, or anyone, to go digging through news websites, looking for stories which sorta kinda resemble a comment in Isaiah or Psalms or Nahum. They don’t require any special powers of discernment, where you somehow are able to see the things no one else can. God wants them to be visible to everyone, Christian and pagan alike, with no question in our minds that these are God-events, so we’ll repent and turn to him and be saved. Not so Christians can be forewarned, and get our End Times bunkers ready, and buy guns.

These “prophecy scholars” who claim current events are pointing to how the future’s gonna turn out? In five years they’ll need to update their books and websites for the very same reason Lindsey does: Prophets they ain’t.

And yet. Because of these nuts, I know too many Christians who think “discerning the news” is an entirely legitimate practice. They scour the news for bible-like articles, then try to connect the dots between the article and the “prophecies.” Any match, no matter how iffy, no matter how far it stretches credibility, will do for them. They point to the article, point to the proof text, and declare, “This is fulfillment!” and share it with anyone who’ll listen. They call this discernment, but to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride out of context,


Giphy

If you want a scripture it fulfills, okay: Here ya go.

Mark 13.5-8 KWL
5 Jesus began to tell them, “Watch out, lest someone trick you.
6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m him!’ They’ll trick many.
7 Don’t freak out when you overhear conflicts, and hearsay about conflicts.
These things happen, but it’s not the End yet.
8 People will rise against people; kingdoms against kingdoms.
Earthquakes will happen in other lands. Recessions will happen.
They’re early labor pains.”

The person who just bursts into prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 July

You might’ve been in this scenario: You’re talking with a fellow Christian about something. Could be any subject; doesn’t entirely matter. But at some point, something you mention gets ’em riled up. They wanna stop your conversation, and pray about that. Immediately. This instant. Before any more time elapses.

…Okay. Nothing wrong with prayer, so you do.

But it’s not a simple, “Lord Jesus, you know best; sort this out; amen.” Nor one of its 30-second, slightly longer relatives. It’s a full-on loud, vigorous prayer. Goes on for a while; almost as if the petitioner is trying to filibuster God.

Then they finally stop, and you can go back to your conversation. Except you’re sorta thinking, “What was that all about?”

I mean, if it were anybody but God we’re talking about—if they suddenly interrupted your conversation because they needed to talk to their spouse, then spent ten minutes shouting into their phone—you’d think something was wrong with their relationship, right? Something unhealthy’s going on.

Same deal here. We’re talking about a variant of the street-corner show-off: Somebody who wants to show off what a good prayer intercessor they are, and doing so by breaking out in intercession at the drop of a hat. Maybe they don’t think it’s showing off ’cause they’ve been doing it for years, and it’s just what they do now. But I guarantee you it began with showing off.

If a person has so little patience (a fruit of the Spirit, you recall) they simply can’t wait to pray, as if their prayers are the only thing keeping God from springing into action… yep, we’re dealing with ego. Immaturity. Showing off. Hypocrisy.

So what do we do when people interrupt a conversation with, “I wanna pray about this right now?”

Well first of all, read the situation. If you don’t know that this person wants to play “prayer warrior” on you—if they’re an immature Christian who’s not a show-off, and legitimately wants prayer because they’re really emotional right now—you don’t have to worry about discouraging bad behavior. You really oughta pray for them. So do.

Otherwise simply say, “We can pray about it later.”

Because you can. God’s not limited by time. If you pray for something after it happens, your prayers can actually still influence what happens. It’s never too late to pray for things. The only time you ever need to pray right this moment, is when the Holy Spirit orders you to pray right this moment. The rest of the time, relax.