Pursuing God’s ideas. Not our own.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 August

John 7.14-18.

After Jesus decided he was in fact going to Jerusalem for Shavuot, he went privately, (KJV “as it were in secret”) Jn 7.9 and at first people weren’t sure he was there. Till he started teaching in temple.

I need to remind you synagogues, at this point in history, weren’t Jewish churches: They were Pharisee schools. They were created and run by Pharisees, to ensure future generations knew the Law and followed it. Specifically, followed it the way Pharisees interpreted; Jesus has his own interpretations. Hence they butted heads.

There were also prejudices among Judean Pharisees about the quality of education you’d find among Galilean Pharisees. So when the Judeans listened to Jesus, they immediately realized here was a guy who knew as much as any of their scribes. (Knows way more, actually. But they wouldn’t always admit this.) Thing is, Jesus grew up in the Galilee. Went to Galilean synagogues, not Judean synagogues. Never attended their schools. Therefore he must surely be “uneducated”—a presumption they’d later make about Jesus’s students. Ac 4.13

John 7.14-15 KWL
14 During the middle the Shavuot festival, Jesus went up to temple and taught.
15 So the Judeans were in awe, saying, “How does this unstudied man know what scribes know?”

Unfortunately, various anti-intellectual Christians make the same presumption about Jesus and his students: “These were uneducated, illiterate men!” and use this to justify their lack of education. Illiterate men? These guys wrote the New Testament, and no they didn’t just hire secretaries to make up for their inability to read: Synagogue taught you to read. You had to read, if you were read the Law and follow it. Jesus can read; Lk 4.16 and what kind of sucky teacher would he be if his students couldn’t likewise read?

Rants about ignorance aside, Jesus was educated enough to engage Pharisees on their level. Even quote their own rabbis back at them. Mk 7.11 But the reason he teaches better stuff than they, more godly stuff than they, is because he knows his Father… and they didn’t. Claimed to, but didn’t.

John 7.16-18 KWL
16 So in reply Jesus said, “My teaching isn’t mine, but from God who sent me.
17 When anyone wants to do his will, they’ll know if the teaching’s from God, or from my own speaking.
18 Those who speak for themselves seek their own opinion.
Those who seek the opinion of God who sent them, are truthful. There’s no wrongness in them.”

See, Jesus teaches the scriptures and the Law correctly because he cares about what God thinks of it. (And yeah, since he’s God, it’s also what he thinks of it. But that wasn’t what the Judeans needed to hear at that time.) He seeks his Father’s opinion on the matter. The Pharisees only sought their own opinions.

Like many people, Christians included, they were self-promoting: They wanted to be recognized for their own wisdom and insight, and be lauded as great teachers. And if you wanna stand out, you gotta be different. Not necessarily in a good way. It’s always easier to be weird for weirdness’s sake, to pitch novel ideas for novelty’s sake, to claim “I’m just trying to be thought provoking” when really we’re just throwing intellectual grenades.

Many bibles translate δόξαν/dóxan, “opinion,” as “glory”—

John 7.18 ESV
“The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

—and yeah, there’s some overlap in the ideas. When you’re promoting your own opinions, it’s usually to get a little glory for yourself as a wise person. Problem is, we’re wrong. And when we teach our own ideas instead of God’s, we’re gonna teach wrongness. Not necessarily lies. Some of us, like politicians, lie to promote political allies or selfish agendas; the rest are unwittingly wrong, and spreading falsehoods because we never bother to fact-check ourselves. But in general we just promote wrong ideas, which is why I don’t care for the ESV’s “falsehood” as an interpretation of ἀδικία/adikía, “not right” (KJV “unrighteousness”). It’s not mere falseness. We’re wrong.

So why’s Jesus the best teacher ever? Because he seeks his Father. And, he points out, everyone else who truly and selflessly seeks our Father who sent us, gets it right.

Holiness… versus goodness.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 August
SANCTIFY 'sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ verb. Set apart as holy.
2. Have blessed, made legitimate through a religious sanction, or made to seem legitimate through custom and tradition.
3. Purify from sin.
[Sanctification sæŋ(k).tə.fə'keɪ.ʃən noun, sanctifier 'sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ(.ə)r noun.]

I bring up the popular definition of sanctify because I wanna point out what we English-speakers mean by sanctification, is not what the scriptures mean.

I’ve read loads of Christian books about sanctification. Been reading one in particular lately. The author goes on and on and on about sin, and how it taints humanity, and how Christians ought not do it. (And, well, duh.) But the more he writes on the subject, the more obvious it becomes he’s addressing his own particular hangups. Certain sins he finds really nasty, so he spends a lot of time really pounding away at those sins like a carpenter trying to put thin nails into thick wood: Stop doing those things! You’re making baby Jesus cry.

Thing is, he’s not actually talking about sanctification. He’s talking about goodness.

Christians mix the two ideas up all the time. Seriously, all the time. I challenge you to find a writing where the author recognizes there’s a difference between the two. And there is a difference. Holiness is about being set apart for God’s purposes. Holy means we’re not like anything else. It’s definition #1, and only definition #1. The other definitions are the product of Christian popular culture… which is perfectly happy to settle for mere goodness.

God tells his kids, “Be holy because I’m holy.” Lv 11.44-45, 1Pe 1.16 God’s different from everything else, and if we’re following him, the natural consequence is we should be different from everything else. But when the LORD said this in the scriptures, he wasn’t talking about goodness! Check out the context:

Leviticus 11.43-47 KWL
43 “Don’t pollute your lives with any swarming vermin.
Don’t be ritually unclean with them, or be made unclean by them.
44 For I’m your LORD God. So sanctify yourselves! Be holy because I’m holy.
Don’t make your lives ritually unclean with any vermin which swarms the earth.
45 For I’m the LORD who brought you out of Egypt’s land to be God to you:
Be holy because I’m holy.
46 This law is about animals and birds,
every living soul in the waters, every soul swarming the earth:
47 Separate between the ritually unclean and the clean,
between living things to eat, and living things you don’t eat.”

Yeah: He was talking about the kosher rules. About ritual cleanliness. Not goodness, not sins: Food animals versus vermin. Because people of other nations eat any animals they please, with no thought to anything but their taste buds. And God doesn’t want his people to be like any other nation. He wanted ’em unique. He still wants us unique. Holy.

Christians who teach on sanctification, zero in on being good. That’s not nothing. We oughta be good. God is good, so we should be good like he is, and when we’re not, we clearly aren’t following him. I’m certainly not saying God’s okay with evil! But goodness is only a fruit of sanctification. It’s not the same thing.

So if we’re gonna be holy, we have to be more than merely good. We gotta be different.

Pagans and prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 August

Back in my teenage years I attended a government meeting. Which, as is customary in the United States, they opened with prayer. Bible Belt residents presume people only do this in their states, but I live in California; we do it here too.

Thing is, the Constitution’s first amendment forbids our Congress from recognizing an official religion, and the 14th amendment extends this to state and local governments. So any prayers can’t exclusively be Christian prayers, made in Jesus's name. Something I regularly gotta remind my conservative friends about, ’cause they talk about bringing prayer back into public schools, but have never thought about what sort of praying is gonna happen when just anybody gets to lead prayer. I guarantee you they really don’t want pagan schoolteachers demonstrating prayer for their kids! But there’s no way to legally limit school prayers to the sort of Christians they approve of… which sadly means things are best left the way they are.

This prayer I heard before the government meeting, only proves this point. It most certainly wasn’t Christian. It was made by some member of the community, who was either pagan or his “Christianity” was so watered down it doesn’t look like Jesus anymore. Undoubtedly he considered himself “spiritual”; only such people care to pray. But his prayer wasn’t addressed to God. Didn’t even mention God. Didn’t make any requests—which stands to reason; it wasn't made to God! Instead he expressed wishes. “I wish to express my hope that this meeting will be productive. That it's done with no animosity, and good will. That all parties listen to one another. I wish the best for our community.” Stuff like that. All good sentiments; I can't object to any of ’em.

Does it count as a prayer? Nah. Prayer is talking with God. Dude wasn't talking with anyone. He was just wishing aloud, in front of everyone, for nice things. Unfortunately in the meeting which followed, he didn't get any of his wishes.

And maybe that's why he didn't make requests of these wishes. If you don't believe God is listening when we pray (either because he doesn’t intervene, or because his plans are fixed), prayers change nothing. Wishes are about the only thing you can express.

So what good is prayer, then? Well—same as Christians believe about unidirectional prayer—they figure it’s about embracing a positive mental attitude. It’s about spreading this positive mental attitude. It’s about other people hearing our spiritual statements, and maybe these statements will change their minds, change the mood in the room, transform the “spiritual atmosphere.” Which ain’t nothing: People need reminders, and a little encouragement, to be kind, positive, optimistic, selfless, and generous. Especially in a government meeting.

Of course this assumes the people in the meeting are even listening to these prayers. Most pagans blow ’em off as dismissible dead religion. But some of ’em think prayer is a good way to practice the law of attraction, the popular belief that when we want stuff really bad, we gotta declare our desires to the universe, and gradually we’ll get what we want. Pagans aren’t necessarily agreed as to why this works, but most of them are mighty jazzed about the idea. After all, Oprah Winfrey believes in it, and she’s a billionaire, so it worked for her, didn’t it?

So if we declare our desires, our words change the spiritual atmosphere—whether anyone hears these words or not. Because our words continue to exist, floating round the universe, seeding it with all the elements we wished into being. (In the government meeting, that’d be kindness, positivity, optimism, etc.) Spiritual words have spiritual power, right?

Um… no they don’t. Not unless the Holy Spirit empowers them.

When Jesus said he wouldn’t go… and did.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 August

John 7.1-13.

If you read the synoptic gospels (meaning Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the three which sync up a lot), you might get the idea Jesus only went to Jerusalem once—to get arrested and crucified. That’d be historically inaccurate. Jesus obeyed the Law, and the Law decreed every adult male should go to temple three times a year for the festivals. Dt 16.16 Meaning Jesus went to Jerusalem a lot, and John—which largely takes place there—fills in the blanks of what happened during those many Jerusalem trips.

Including when Jesus cured that one blind guy. The context of that story was when he went to Jerusalem one year for Sukkót. That trip began a few chapters back; since I skipped that part I figure I’d better backtrack. Here y’go.

John 7.1-13 KWL
1 After these things, Jesus traveled the Galilee.
He didn’t want to travel in Judea, because the Judeans sought to kill him.
2 Sukkót/Tents, a Judean festival, was near, 3 so Jesus’s brothers told him,
“Leave here and go to Judea, so your students will also see you and the works you do.
4 Nobody who seeks publicity, works in private: If you do things, reveal yourself to the world!”
For Jesus’s brothers didn’t yet believe in him either.
6 So Jesus told them, “My moment hasn’t arrived yet.
Your moment is always ready. 7 The world can’t hate you.
It hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.
8 You go up to the festival. I’m not going up to this festival: My moment isn’t fulfilled.”
9 This said, Jesus stayed in the Galilee.
10 As Jesus’s brothers went up to the festival, Jesus then also went up—not publicly, but privately.
11 So the Judeans were seeking Jesus at the festival, and said, “Where is that person?
12 There was much grumbling about him in the crowds.
On the one hand, some said he’s good; others said, “No, but he misleads the crowd.”
13 Even so, nobody spoke openly about Jesus, for fear of the Judeans.

I’ll admit right now: This story has always kinda bothered me. ’Cause y’notice Jesus initially told his brothers, “I’m not going up to the festival; you go.” Then, one verse later, he did go. But “as it were in secret,” as the King James Version puts it. On face value, it totally looks like Jesus lied to his brothers and snuck to the festival.

I know, I know: Christ Jesus never sinned. He 4.15 I’m not claiming otherwise. I don’t think the passage is claiming otherwise either. Certainly no Christian is gonna interpret it that way. But anybody who honestly looks at this passage—including skeptics who have no qualms about accusing Jesus of all sorts of things—are gonna come right out and say, “Looks like Jesus deceived his brothers.” (That is, once pagans get over their initial surprise: “Wait, Jesus has brothers? I thought he was an only child!”)

So instead of letting little doubts poke at the back of our minds for no good reason, let’s deal with this bible difficulty today.

We’re not the only ones who do grace, y’know.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 August

Scott Hoezee told this story in his 1996 book The Riddle of Grace.

The story is told that, many years ago, a conference was convened to discuss the study of comparative religions. Theologians and experts from various fields of religious studies gathered from all over the world to tackle certain knotty questions relating to Christianity and its similarities or dissimilarities to other faiths. One particularly interesting seminary was held to determine whether there was anything unique about the Christian faith. A number of Christianity’s features were put on the table for discussion. Was it the incarnation? No; other religions also had various versions of the gods coming down in human form. Might it be the resurrection? No, various versions of the dead rising again were found in other faiths as well.

On and on the discussion went without any resolution in sight. At some point, after the debate had been underway for a time, C.S. Lewis wandered in late. Taking his seat, he asked a colleague, “What’s the rumpus about?” and was told that they were seeking to find Christianity’s unique trait among the world religions. In the straightforward, no-nonsense, commonsense approach that was to make Lewis famous, he immediately said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” As the other scholars thought about that for a moment, they concluded that Lewis was right: It is grace. No other religion had ever made the ultimate acceptance by the Almighty so absolutely unconditional. In other faiths, there is usually some notion of earning points. Whether it was karma, Buddhist-like steps among the path to serenity, or some similar system, the idea was that to receive the favor of the gods one had to earn the favor of the gods.

Not in Christianity, at least not in true Christianity. Hoezee 41-42

Philip Yancey was so impressed by it, he retold the story in his 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace? which is where I first heard it. Hoezee says he heard it from Peter Kreeft, in a speech Kreeft gave at Calvin College. I’ve no doubt he did.

Too bad it’s gotta be bunk though.

Told to make C.S. Lewis sound clever. Smarter than those religion experts, who somehow never read anything G.K. Chesterton wrote about the uniqueness of Christian grace. But Lewis, and any religion scholar who’s not a chauvinistic ninny, would know full well grace is found in other religions.

Grace is in Judaism, ’cause grace is all over the Old Testament. The LORD rescued the Hebrews from Egypt, not because they were a great and deserving people who merited salvation, but purely out of his love. Dt 7.7-8 The LORD gave them Palestine, not because they deserved it, but because he promised it to Abraham and their ancestors. Dt 9.5 We make the same mistake Pharisees did, and confuse the Law with the foundation of their faith. But the foundation is Abraham—who trusted the LORD, and the LORD graciously considered his faith to be righteousness. Ge 15.6

Grace is in Islam. Those whose only experiences with Islam is with its legalists, assume it’s not. They assume Muslims struggle to follow Islam’s rules because it’s how they earn heaven. It’s not. Muslims are quick to remind people we can follow the rules perfectly, yet still not know whether you attain heaven, ’cause heaven has nothing to do with the rules. Only God decrees who’s going to heaven or not, and it’s entirely based on his grace. The Quran begins, Bismi Allahi alrrahmani alrraheemi, “In God’s name—most gracious, most merciful.” Muslim prayers regularly address him this way. They’re continual reminders of his grace.

Grace is even found in Hinduism. Karma only gets people so far, y’know. But Hinduism’s gods can be appealed to, intervene, and push people ahead a little further. Apparently they can be gracious.

That’s the thing: Scratch the surface of every religion, and you’ll find despite any legalism they might have, they also have grace to grease the wheels. Otherwise their wheels can’t turn.

Nope, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and grace. In fact many’s the time Christians don’t practice these things… and other religions do, and frustrated Christians see this, quit Jesus, and go try those other religions.

Yeah, I’ve heard many a Christian apologist claim we’re the only ones who do grace. We’d sure like to think so, wouldn’t we? But we make that claim only when we don’t know squat about other religions. (Or we hope our debate opponents don’t know squat—and lying to win such debates is evil, Dt 5.20 so don’t do that.)

The books in your bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 August

The bible’s an anthology, a collection of books and letters about God. (We tend to call ’em “books” either way.) There are two major divisions: The Old Testament, and the New Testament.

The Old Testament is the book collection assembled by the ancient Hebrews. For the most part they were written in two variants of ancient Hebrew: Early Biblical Hebrew, which is what the “books of Moses” and the Deuteronomistic history and the Prophets was written in; and Late Biblical Hebrew, which much of the rest was written in. Late Biblical Hebrew has some heavy influences from Aramaic, the language which had replaced Hebrew by 500BC, which was around the time the last of the OT was written.

The apocrypha isn’t actually one of those major divisions. They’re the books which were added to the OT when it was translated into Greek in the 400s BC. These Greek bibles, which get called the Septuagint, were considered the bible by the early Christians, so the additional books were part of their Old Testament till the 1400s. Still are, in Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican churches.

And the New Testament is the collection put together by the ancient Christians. They’re written in Koine ki'ni, commonly 'kɔɪ.neɪ, a first-century form of “common” Greek spoken outside Greece.

Christians should know the books of our bible. Partly so we don’t get confused when people bring ’em up; partly so we can find them in a print bible (or “analog bible,” as I like to call ’em). Unfortunately the book order is neither alphabetical nor chronological. The Old Testament was bunched in order of when they were written, and still is in Jewish bibles, but the Septuagint re-sorted them into genres (law, history, poetry, prophets) and that’s the order Christians still follow. The New Testament is likewise sorted into genres (gospels; apostles, sorted by book length; apocalypse). So you’re just gonna have to memorize the order. Sorry.

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.