Fair judgment.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 August

John 7.19-24.

The people of Jerusalem found Jesus teaching in temple, and wondered where he got his education; Jesus pointed out if we really pursued God instead of our own bright ideas, we’d know where he got his education.

Then he took a bit of left turn:

John 7.19-20 KWL
19 “Moses didn’t give you the Law, and none of you does the Law: Why do you seek to kill me?”
20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill you?”

Where’d that come from? Well, largely the fact, two chapters ago, they totally sought to kill him.

John 5.17-18 KWL
17 Jesus answered them, “My Father works today, just like I work.”
18 So the Judeans all the more wanted him dead for this reason:
Not only was he dismissing Sabbath custom,
but he said God was his own Father, making himself equal to God.

And they still wanted him dead. Oh, they might’ve pretended otherwise, but Jesus knew better. So he bluntly called them on it: “Why do you seek to kill me?” And they flagrantly pretended otherwise: “You have a demon”—that culture’s way of saying, “You’re nuts.”

Yeah, certain Christians claim the Judeans meant “You have a demon” literally. Y’might recall the other gospels, in which the Jerusalem scribes decreed Jesus’s exorcisms were done by devilish power. John’s gospel doesn’t include that story; in fact Jesus never performs an exorcism in John. But this wasn’t an accusation of Jesus working via Satan’s power; it was the culture’s presumption about how madness works. Nowadays we’d leap to the conclusion you’re off your medication (or need some); back then they’d leap to the conclusion you had some critters in you. So we can dismiss the Judeans’ comment as mere hyperbole… for now.

But Jesus wasn’t nuts. He knew they intended to destroy them; he’d known it since they first started plotting. He knew they’d ultimately succeed. He was gonna use it as part of his grand plan to save the world. But he didn’t want them to think they were cleverly slipping anything past him, or getting away with anything. He knew what they were up to.

The self-anointed prophet.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 August

When God makes one of his kids a prophet, he doesn’t anoint us.

Anointing, i.e. pouring oil over someone’s head to indicate leadership, is done in the bible to leaders. Not prophets. True, the LORD instructed his prophet Elijah to anoint Elisha ben Šafát, 1Ki 19.16 but that’s as his successor as leader of the בְנֵֽי־הַנְּבִיאִ֥ים/vnéi haneviím, “the sons of the prophets,” 2Ki 2.15 a prophecy guild. Elisha was already a prophet.

’Cause how God makes prophets is to simply start talking to us. Like he did with Samuel ben Elqaná when he was a kid.

1 Samuel 3.3-10 KWL
3 Samuel laid down in the LORD’s sanctuary, where God’s ark was, before God’s lamp was put out.
4 The LORD called Samuel, saying, “Look at me.”
5 Samuel ran to Eli, saying, “Look at me; you called me.”
Eli said, “I didn’t call. Go back. Lie down.” Samuel walked back and laid down.
6 The LORD called yet again: “Samuel.”
Samuel stood and walked to Eli, saying, “Look at me; you called me.”
Eli said, “I didn’t call, my son. Go back. Lie down.”
7 Samuel hadn’t yet met the LORD,
who hadn’t yet revealed the LORD’s word to him.
8 The LORD called Samuel again a third time.
Samuel stood and walked to Eli, saying, “Look at me; you called me.”
Eli realized the LORD called the boy, 9 and Eli told Samuel, “Go lie down.
If he happens to call you, say, ‘Speak, LORD: Your slave hears you.’ ”
Samuel walked back and laid down in the LORD’s room.
10 The LORD came, stood there, and did as he did before: “Samuel. Samuel.”
Samuel said, “Speak: Your slave hears you.”

There are dramatic stories in the bible of a prophet’s first God-experience—or what sounds like a prophet’s first God-experience. People like to point to when Isaiah saw the LORD in his temple, with the serafs and the burning coal and “Holy holy holy!” and all that. But that vision is recorded in Isaiah’s sixth chapter. He had five chapters of prophecy before that! And likely so did all the other prophets whose books start with profound God-experiences. I’m not knocking experiences; they’re awesome. But God doesn’t need to start with that, and usually doesn’t. More often it’s like when he first talked to Samuel.

So when someone starts referring to themselves as an anointed prophet, what we’ve got here is someone who doesn’t know how God selects prophets. Who thinks being able to hear God, automatically makes ’em some sort of leader. Following their logic, Eli should’ve just made Samuel a co-head priest, little boy or not. Jeremiah ben Hilqiyahu should’ve been made a co-regent with King Josiah ben Amon. The ability to hear God catapults you into a position of power, so back up, everyone!

“Church is SO BORING.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 August

So it’s summer vacation, your kid wanders into the room, and complains, “I’m bored.”

And if you’re anything like my parents, you’d throw up your hands in frustration: “Whatd’you mean, you’re bored? You got a room full of toys! A computer full of video games! A shelf full of books! How can you be bored?… You’re so spoiled rotten.”

Okay, maybe you’re not middle class and can’t afford to give your kids any that stuff. Or maybe you’re like my dad and responds, “Bored, eh? Well I have some projects you could work on…” by which he meant chores, none of which were fun. But both kids and adults in our culture, on every economic level, have no shortage of options. “Spoiled rotten” is right. Boredom just means we don’t care about any of these options; at the moment we don’t care about, or can’t relate to, any of ’em. A “bored” kid with a roomful of toys simply isn’t interested in any of them right now. (Quick ’n dirty way to change that: Offer to get rid of any of them.)

And sometimes we Christians are the very same way with our churches.

  • The songs? Heard ’em a thousand times. And I’m not just talking about how the worship pastor loves to repeat them: They’re on the radio; they come up all the time on Spotify; we own the CDs; we grew annoyed with ’em months ago.
  • The sermons? Heard those lessons a thousand times. Heard ’em in children’s church when we grew up. Heard ’em again in youth groups, young-adult classes, on church TV shows and from radio preachers; in Sunday sermon after Wednesday night sermon after Saturday night sermon.
  • The people? Same old people. There’s nothing new in their lives… or at least nothing new we care about. They only talk small talk, or they only complain, or they won’t stop bragging about their kids, or they only bring up sports and weather. Or worse—the opposite of your politics.

Eventually we Christians all reach a saturation point with our churches: We’ve heard it all. Seen it all. Done it all. And we’re bored.

So we don’t wanna go.

What about those Christians who pray to saints?

by K.W. Leslie, 13 August

When we talk about prayer, we usually mean speaking with God. But technically pray means “to ask.” Still meant that, back in the olden days. In one of Jesus’s stories, one man tells another, “I pray thee have me excused,” Lk 14.19 KJV ’cause people can make requests of one another. We can ask God for things, God can ask things of us, and Christians can ask things of one another.

Now, here’s where it slides away from your average Evangelical’s comfort zone: When Christians ask things of fellow Christians… who are dead.

“Praying to saints,” we call it. It’s found in older churches: Orthodox, Roman Catholics, or Anglicans and Episcopalians. And it’s commonly practiced by Christians whose loved ones have died: To comfort ourselves, figuring our loved ones are in heaven and in God’s presence, sometimes we talk to those loved ones. Some of us hope they heard us… and others are downright certain they heard us, ’cause they can’t see why God can’t empower that kind of thing. Why can’t he pass a message to our dead relatives and friends?

For that matter, why not to anyone? Including people whom we know God saved: Jesus’s parents Joseph and Mary; Jesus’s brothers James and Jude; Jesus’s apostles Peter, John, Mary of Magdala, and the rest. And maybe Christian who aren’t in the bible. Like the founders of great Christian movements, like St. Francis of Assisi, or Martin Luther, or Billy Graham.

Like all humans, Evangelicals are creatures of extremes, and take one of two attitudes about praying to saints:

  1. Won’t do any harm. Maybe God will pass our messages along.
  2. It’s heresy. And praying to anyone but God is idolatry. Plus praying to the dead violates the scriptures:
Deuteronomy 18.10-12 KWL
10 Don’t have among you anyone who passes their son or daughter through fire.
Nor augurs practicing augury, nephelomancy, scrying, incanting, 11 enchanting,
asking a psychic or spiritist, nor questioning the dead.
12 For all these acts offend the LORD.
Because of these offenses, your LORD God takes them out of your presence.

So if praying to saints is the same as questioning the dead, isn’t that a serious no-no?

Well, if it were the same. Those whose churches teach ’em to pray to saints, insist it’s actually not: The saints in heaven aren’t dead.

Seriously. Jesus once said the way the Father perceives Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—saints who are really long-dead, and were long-dead even in Jesus’s day—is that “to him they’re all alive.” Lk 20.38 When a saint dies, we perceive ’em as dead. But they’re alive in heaven. More alive than ever they were here on earth.

Remember in the bible when Moses died? Dt 34.5 Yet when Jesus was transfigured, Moses showed up, and they had a chat. Mk 9.4 Now, was Jesus, of all people, questioning the dead?—and therefore breaking his own Law, and sinning? Or is Moses in fact alive—in heaven?

You can likely guess those who pray to saints claim it’s they’re not really dead. Once they got to heaven, God made them alive again. They got resurrected. So whether we’re talking to a saint on earth, or a saint in heaven, it’s all the same—all part of “the communion of saints,” as the creeds put it. The body of Christ happens to have a few members in a really useful place. Namely heaven.

And if they’re alive in heaven, why can’t we make requests of them, same as we would to any other living Christian? There are certain Christians I know, and if I need prophecy, healing, or any other miracle, I could ask them. As the Holy Spirit permits, they can actually answer those requests and perform such miracles. Well, how much more so might St. Mary, St. Jude, St. Francis, or St. Martin Luther King Jr.?

That’s the general idea: When you pray to saints, you’re requesting help, same as you would from any other Christian… but unlike earthly Christians, who might look like they have a solid relationship with Jesus, but secretly be major screw-ups, the heavenly saints are definitely in God’s presence. Pray to them, and your chances of answered prayer shoot way up.

(Especially, most figure, when you pray to Mary. ’Member how effectively she got her resistant son to take care of the wine situation at Cana? Jn 2.3-11 So if you’re not so sure you can get a yes out of Jesus, talk to his mom. She’ll twist his arm.)

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.