The Christian year.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 November

A Christian newbie once told me he found it strange how Jews and Muslims have their own calendars, but us Christians don’t.

We do, I pointed out. The western calendar, the one the entire world uses (Jews and Muslims included, as their secular calendar), is the Gregorian calendar, formalized by Gregorius 13, bishop of Rome, sovereign of the Papal States, and head of the Roman Catholic Church, from 1572 to 1585. It’s an update of the Julian calendar, proposed by Gaius Julius Caesar in 46BC (or to use the ancient Roman era, 708AUC) which is also a Christian calendar, in use by Orthodox churches who didn’t care to have Catholics update their calendar. (A number of ’em use the Revised Julian calendar, updated in 1923, which conveniently syncs up with the Greogian… till the year 2800.)

So yeah, the Christian calendar has become everybody’s default calendar. Which means it’s no longer a special religious calendar anymore, unlike the Jewish and Muslim ones.

Various people, Christians included, will insist it never was religious. The pre-Julian calendar was put together by ancient Roman pagans; the Julian calendar was simply that old pagan calendar, updated by Greek mathematicians. Note all the months named for pagan gods and dead Caesars. Even the weekdays are named for pagan gods; in Latin-speaking countries they’re named for Roman gods, in Greece for Greek gods, and for northern European countries all but Saturday are named for Norse gods. Pope Gregory adjusted the leap years a little so they’d sync up with the equinoxes, and moved New Year’s Day from 25 March to 1 January (’cause it was a little weird how 24 March 1570 was immediately followed by 25 March 1571; shouldn’t we switch months first?). Of course moving New Year’s Day means mensus September/“seventh month” became the ninth month, so that’s weird too. But the only thing overtly Christian about the Gregorian calendar is the anno Domini, the AD, marking the age: “the Lord’s year.” Which is gradually being replaced by the secular CE for “common era.”

Hence various Christians, particularly folks in liturgical churches, have created sort of a shadow calendar. It’s “the Christian year,” a variant of the Gregorian calendar which is meant to be more Christ-focused, which begins on Advent Sunday. Other churches call it the “church year,” the “liturgical year,” or the “kalendar” with a K; it’s basically their church calendar, but extra-special.

Immature prophets.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 November

Every Christian can hear God. This being the case, every Christian can share God’s messages with others: We can prophesy. We can become prophets. It’s why the Holy Spirit was given to us Christians in the first place: So we can hear and share God. Ac 2.17-18 Now, whether every Christian listens, hears God accurately, and prophesies accurately, is a whole other deal.

See, Christians are at all different levels of maturity. Some of us call it “spiritual maturity,” but there’s no functional difference between intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturity. If we‘re one, we’re automatically one of the others. Too many Christians presume our knowledge makes us mature, instead of puffing us up like a bratty child prodigy. Likewise too many Christians presume if we’re fruitful, we needn’t be knowledgeable—which means we’re not wise, which means we ain’t all that fruity.

No matter which kind of immaturity we’re talking about, immature people are gonna do dumb. They don’t know any better. And an immature human is always gonna be an immature Christian. We need to recognize this, and not move immature Christians of any sort into any positions of responsibility. 1Ti 3.6 Since I’m writing on prophecy today, obviously this includes letting people speak on God’s behalf. New prophets need supervision!

Y’see, to the person who’s brand-new at listening to God, they may not realize every voice in their head sounds exactly the same. We weed out which spirits are God’s (or the Holy Spirit himself) by learning what he sounds like by reading our bibles. Newbies are new to the bible: They might’ve read it, but they don’t yet get it. They can’t tell the difference between God’s voice, their own voice, some other spirit’s voice, or even a devil’s voice: They all sound alike!

You know the devil’s totally gonna take advantage of this.

Some of these wannabe prophets never do learn the difference. Fr’instance cessationists presume every voice in their head is their own, and every clever idea they get is their idea. Even if it comes from the Holy Spirit. Or Satan. And if they don’t like the idea—even if it’s totally a God-idea!—they assume it’s their own personal crazy idea, which they dismiss out of hand, never share it, never obey it, don’t grow, and don’t grow others.

Now to the other extreme: We got Christians who for the rest of their life presume their own voice is God’s. And whattaya know: He likes what they like! He thinks like they do! He shares every single one of their wants, desires, and opinions! How handy. Hence some of ’em proclaim their various wants, desires, and opinions as if they came from God, because they’re entirely sure they and God are on the same wavelength. They pass for authentic prophets ’cause they sound so certain… and they are certain. But they’re false prophets ’cause that’s their voice, not God’s.

Inbetween we got prophets who do actually hear God. But they can likewise bollix their own prophecies for one rather obvious reason: They think their prophetic ability is fruit. Yep, they confused supernatural gifts with fruit. They think the power to do stuff takes priority, or even takes the place, of love, kindness, patience, grace, and gentleness. And since they’ve not grown that fruit, they’re not yet ready to speak for God. Because—

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 KWL
1 When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging cymbal.
2 When I have a prophecy—“I knew the whole mystery! I know everything!”—
when I have all the faith necessary to move mountains:
When I have no love, I’m nobody.
3 Might I give away everything I possess?
Perhaps submit my body so I could be praised for my sacrifice?
When I have no love, I benefit nobody.

—they’re noise. They’re nobody. They benefit nobody. They will someday. Just not just yet.

But lemme remind you these immature Christians aren’t ready to speak for God… but do actually hear him. I’m not at all saying they don’t. Nor am I saying they’re frauds, nor malicious, nor bad Christians. They might not be! But because they lack fruit, they’re functionally just as error-plagued and destructive as any false prophet.

So I warn you about ’em now. Watch out for them. Don’t become one of them.

The 10 commandments.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

No doubt you’ve heard of the 10 commandments, or as they tend to be stylized, “The Ten Commandments,” as if they’re a movie title. (Which they were, repeatedly; the one with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner is the best-known.) In Hebrew they’re called the עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִֽים/aserét ha-devarím, “10 words,” or “10 lessons.” Specifically they’re the 10 commands the LORD spoke aloud to the Hebrew people from Sinai (or Horeb), a mountain somewhere on the west coast of the Arabian peninsula.

No, the 10 commandments aren’t the only commands God gave the Hebrews. Nor the first. Nor even the greatest: When Jesus was asked about the most important commands, he listed none of the 10 commandments. He listed two other ones: Love God and love your neighbor. Mk 12.29-31 Those Christians who have no idea the LORD gave about 613 commands in the Law—and that’s not even counting Jesus’s commands in the gospels—sometimes take Jesus’s top two commands, add ’em to the 10 commandments, and actually talk about “the 12 commandments.” Again, as if God only gave us the 12.

The 10 commandments are significant because they’re the ones God considers important enough to tell everyone audibly. And we get ’em twice in the bible: In Exodus 20 when the LORD declares them himself, and Deuteronomy 5 when Moses reminded the Hebrews of them.

Today I’ll give you Everett Fox’s translation. (He didn’t put the LORD’s words in red though; I do that.

Exodus 20.1-13 Schocken Bible
1 God spoke all these words,
saying:
2 I am YHWH your God,
who brought you out
from the land of Egypt, from a house of serfs.
 
You are not to have
any other gods
before my presence.
 
3 You are not to make yourself a carved-image
or any figure
that is in the heavens above,
that is on the earth beneath,
that is in the waters beneath the earth;
4 you are not to bow down to them
and you are not to serve them,
for I, YHWH your God,
am a zealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons,
to the third and the fourth [generation]
of those hating me,
5 but showing loyalty to the thousandth
of those loving me,
of those keeping my commandments.
 
6 You are not to take up
the name of YHWH your God for emptiness,
for YHWH will not clear anyone
who takes up his name for emptiness.
 
7 Be mindful
of the Sabbath day, to hallow it.
8 For six days, you are to serve, and are to make all your work,
9 but the seventh day
is Sabbath for YHWH your God:
you are not to make any work,
you, and your son, and your daughter,
your servant, and your maid, and your beast,
and your sojourner who is within your gates.
10 For in six days
YHWH made
the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in it,
and he rested on the seventh day;
therefore YHWH gave the Sabbath day his blessing, and he hallowed it.
 
11 Honor
your father and your mother,
in order that your days may be prolonged
on the land that YHWH your God is giving you.
 
12 You are not to murder!
You are not to adulter!
You are not to steal!
You are not to testify
against your neighbor as a false witness!
 
13 You are not to desire
the house of your neighbor,
you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor,
or his servant, or his maid, or his ox, or his donkey,
or anything that is your neighbor’s!

And, because they’re important enough to be in the bible twice:

Deuteronomy 20.6-17 Schocken Bible
6 I am YHWH your God
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a house of serfs.
 
You are not to have other gods beside my presence.
7 You are not to make yourself a carved-image of any form
that is in the heavens above,
that is on the earth beneath,
that is in the waters beneath the earth.
8 You are not to bow down to them, you are not to serve them,
for I, YHWH your God, am a zealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons
to the third and to the fourth [generation] of those that hate me,
9 but showing loyalty to thousands
of those that love me, of those that keep my commandments.
 
10 You are not to take up the name of YHWH your God for emptiness,
for YHWH will not clear him that takes up his name for emptiness!
11 Keep the day of Sabbath, by hallowing it,
as YHWH your God has commanded you.
12 For six days you are to serve and to make all your work;
13 but the seventh day
is Sabbath for YHWH your God—
you are not to make any work:
you, and your son, and your daughter,
and your servant, and your maid,
and your ox, and your donkey, and any of your beasts,
and your sojourner who is in your gates—
in order that your servant and your maid may rest as one-like-yourself.
14 You are to bear-in-mind that serf were you in the land of Egypt,
but YHWH your God took you out from there
with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm;
therefore YHWH your God commands you to observe the day of the Sabbath.
 
15 Honor your father and your mother,
as YHWH your God has commanded you,
in order that your days may be prolonged,
and in order that it may go-well with you
on the land that YHWH your God is giving you.
 
16 You are not to murder!
And you are not to adulter!
And you are not to steal!
And you are not to testify against your neighbor as a lying witness!
17 And you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor;
you are not to crave the house of your neighbor,
his field, or his servant, or his maid, his ox or his donkey,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor!

Kingdom economics: How’s your eye?

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November

Matthew 6.22-23, Luke 11.34-36.

Some of Jesus’s teachings tend to get skipped entirely.

Let’s be honest: It’s because we don’t like them. Plenty of us hate the idea the Law still counts, and God judges us by it; we prefer dispensationalism. Plenty of us hate Jesus’s teachings on money, ’cause we still kinda worship it. So we borrow his parables about forgiveness, where money wasn’t even the point, and try to claim they’re about capitalism. Or socialism. Or they’re Jesus’s secret critique of socialism. Whichever suits us best.

Today’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount is in fact about money. Not opthamology.

But because people nowadays are unfamiliar with the Hebrew idioms “good eye” and “evil eye”—and will even mix ’em up with the European idioms, and think they have to do with all-purpose blessings and curses—we’ll interpret this passage all kinds of wrong. Or claim, “Well it’s obscure,” and skip it. Usually skip it, and focus on the verses we can understand. Verses we figure we’re already following.

So in Matthew, right after saying we oughta keep our treasures in heaven, Jesus taught this:

Matthew 6.22-23 KWL
22 “The body’s light is the eye. So when your eye is healthy, your whole body will be bright.
23 When your eye is ill, your whole body is dark.
So if the light in you is dark, how dark are you?”
 
Luke 11.34-36 KWL
34 “The body’s light is your eye. Whenever your eye is healthy, your whole body is bright too.
Once it’s ill, your body is dark too. 35 So watch out so the light in you isn’t dark.
36 So if your whole body is bright, without having any parts dark,
the whole will be bright—as if a lamp could shine lightning for you.”

In the King James Version, in both gospels, the words to describe the eye are thus:

  • Ἁπλοῦς/aplús, “healthy,” is translated “single.”
  • Πονηρὸς/ponirós, “ill,” is translated “evil.”

Why? Well… ’cause that’s what the words literally mean. That’s the problem with idioms. Literal translations, and likewise literal interpretations, give you the wrong idea. If I described you as “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” then had that phrase translated into Chinese, my poor Chinese friend would find it inaccurate if you actually have brown eyes… and be stunned to hear you have a tail at all, much less a bushy one.

By aplús and ponirós Jesus meant a healthy eye, or a sick one. If your eyes aren’t well, vision’s gonna be a problem, and you’re gonna be in the dark. But if your eyes are healthy, you’ll see just fine: Light could enter your body “as if a lamp could shine lightning for you,” Lk 11.36 which interestingly is just how 19th-century arc lamps worked.

Well, light could more or less get into us. Remember, Jesus is teaching religion, not anatomy. Only the truly dumbest of literalists are gonna insist since our eyes work, our doctors won’t need to use the lights on the laryngoscope. Or colonoscope.

Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 November
CONFESS kən'fɛs verb. Admit or state one’s failings or sins to another [trustworthy] person.
2. Admit or state what one believes.
[Confession kən'fɛs.ʃən noun, confessor kən'fɛs.sər noun.]

The way to defeat hypocrisy, plain and simple, is authenticity. We’re not perfect—none but Jesus is—and we need to say so. And in many cases need to say more than just the generic “I’m a sinner,” with no further details: We need to give some of those details. We need to tell on ourselves. We need to confess.

The practice of confession—heck, the very idea of confession—is controversial to a lot of Christians. ’Cause we don’t wanna! And I’m not even talking about people with deep dark secrets. Plenty of folks have little bitty secrets—stuff everybody kinda knows already, or can figure out easily—but the very idea of publicly admitting to such things, they find far too humiliating.

Fr’instance. Back in college, in one of our men’s bible studies, our group leader was talking about things every man does, and used masturbation as an example. And one guy in our group immediately objected: He never did such a thing. Never once. Not ever. Wouldn’t even countenance the notion he did such a thing.

“Oh come on,” was every other guy’s response.

He persisted. His face was turning mighty red, and his arguments were getting less and less plausible, but he persisted. He would never, he claimed. Never ever ever.

But he wasn’t fooling anyone, and lots of hypocrites are the very same way when it comes to our “secret” sins: They’re not as secret as we imagine. We’re fooling no one but ourselves.

These are the folks who insist confession isn’t in the bible. That the only person we’re to confess sin to, is God. Certainly not to a priest-confessor; certainly not to fellow Christians; never to air our dirty laundry, whether it be in public or private.

And of course it’s in the bible. What, do I have to quote it for you? Ugh, fine.

James 5.16 NKJV
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

I quoted the New King James ’cause it uses the word from the Textus Receptus, παραπτώματα/paraptómata, “missteps” or “trespasses.” Kinda like the Lord’s Prayer, it deals with everything we might’ve done wrong, and not just sins. Though the original Greek of James is more likely just ἁμαρτίας/amartías, “sins,” an authentic, transparent life means we oughta confess far more than just sins. We oughta be open books.

Hypocrites don’t wanna be open books, so they insist the folks in the bible never publicly did any such thing—

Acts 19.17-18 NKJV
17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.

—that confession is just a Catholic thing, and even that it’s wrong to share such things with people. Besides, what business do we have telling people they’re forgiven, or telling ’em to go in peace?

John 20.22-23 KWL
22 And when [Jesus] had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But in fact whenever we publicly or semi-publicly confess, God forgives us. 1Jn 1.9 When Christians say, “Go in peace; you’re forgiven,” all we’re really doing is telling them God forgave ’em already. But if you wanna argue, “No, I can forgive anybody’s sins,” well… Jesus kinda backs you up in this scripture.

The reality is, people refuse to confess, and reject the very idea of confession, because we really don’t care to stop sinning. But we wanna look like we have. We’re not fooling God, but we are trying to fool our fellow Christians, and look devout and righteous when we’re no better than they. Yep, it’s total hypocrisy: We’re dirty liars. And since God calls us sinners, but we’re pretending to not be, we’re making it look like God’s the dirty liar. 1Jn 1.8 That ain’t good.

Now that we belong to Jesus, we’re meant to quit sin. Ro 6.11-12 When we hide our sins, disguise the chains sin still has on us, and pretend we’re living like Christians… we remain the same old slaves to sin we always were. It’s as if we never had turned to Jesus. It’s like an alcoholic who never quit drinking because he’s not going to any bloody A.A. meeting. Or the addict who pretends she went to rehab, and hopes nobody notices she’s still hooked. Same fraud; different vice.

So we rail against confession. If nobody knows about our sins, and how often we commit ’em—if the only person we tell these things to is the Holy Spirit, and we assume he’d never tell on us (biblical evidence to the contrary Ac 5.1-11), we can go right on committing ’em. Secretly. Privately. Hypocritically.

Hypocrisy in leadership: It can get really bad, really fast.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 November

Most Christian leaders know better than to let hypocrisy grow among their leadership structure. It’s poison. It’s how scandals start, ruin churches, drive people to quit Jesus (or at least give ’em an excuse), and give all of Christianity a lousy reputation. So they take great care to keep hypocrites from ever being put in charge.

Others take no such care, and are full of hypocrites.

I used to single out particular churches, with particular leadership structures, for being particularly hypocritical. And yeah, it’s much easier for phonies to hide in churches with few to no accountability structures. (Or even with tremendous accountability structures, like the Roman Catholic Church… but the catch is their structure only offers forgiveness, not consequence, and that’s why so many evil leaders can get away with what they do.) It’s almost a given you’re gonna find hypocrites in anti-denominational churches: They want no oversight, no one to tell them to behave. But it’s hardly just the antidenominational folks. Any church can undermine or ignore all their safeguards.

So we gotta keep our eyes open! Watch for fruit. Mt 7.15-20 Good fruit and bad.

And it’s hardly just the leadership’s duty to watch out for hypocrisy. Every Christian needs to watch out for hypocrisy among our leaders. If they’re acting fake, take ’em aside privately, and call them on it! “You said such-and-so happened, but I know it actually didn’t,” or “You say you’ve never committed such a sin, but I know different,” or anything else which feels fraudulent. Yeah they’re gonna balk at the correction. Too many people think of accountability as judgment, and they don’t wanna be judged! But Christian leaders know (or should know) that judgment is part of the job. As is accountability.

Loopholes.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November

Popular culture, especially popular Christian culture, uses the word Pharisee as a synonym for legalist.

That’s what we presume the Pharisees’ problem was: They overdid it on God’s commands. They were so careful to follow every single one of them perfectly (and in so doing, earn salvation), they created all these extra doctrines and traditions as kind of a hedge around the Law. Supposedly they spent so much time fretting about the extra stuff, they’d never get around to breaking the Law.

Yeah, that’s not why Pharisees had the doctrines and customs. Wasn’t what they were doing at all.

If you want to know what the Pharisees were about, you gotta read the Mishna, a compilaton of what Pharisees were teaching as of the early second century. (Which of course includes what they taught in the early first century, i.e. Jesus’s day.) The Mishna is the core of the Talmud, one of the two main books of present-day Judaism. (The other’s the Tanakh, which we call the Old Testament.) And in it, you’ll discover a lot of these customs and rules… are actually loopholes.

No foolin’. The rabbis of the Mishna were of two minds: One group wanted to follow the Law and teachings of the bible, namely the spirit of the bible—exactly like Jesus wants us to study the bible. And the other group wanted to figure out how to technically follow the LORD’s commands… but not really. They wanted to follow them to the barest minimum. Or, if possible, not follow ’em at all.

When Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, that’s the group he meant. They’ll sit in the teachers’ seats in synagogue and read the bible to the audience, and tell ’em to follow it, and meanwhile they themselves don’t. At all.

Matthew 23.1-7 NLT
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.‘ “

In the gospels, the problem with Pharisees wasn’t legalism. In Acts and Paul’s writings it was: The Pharisees insisted to the ancient Christians one has to follow the Law before one could be saved. (As if the Hebrews of the Exodus met that standard when the LORD saved ’em from Egypt!)

Legalism’s a valid problem, and there was a legalist faction among the Pharisees. Same as we Christians likewise have our legalists and libertines. Every religion has ’em!

But the bigger, more pervasive problem with Pharisees was their loopholes. They had tons.

Take this Mishnaic ruling. The topic is ritual sacrifices. Jesus’s death rendered them moot, so we Christians no longer sacrifice animals and grain to anything but our stomachs; we’re not familiar with biblical procedure. Well, some you burned entirely on the altar, and some you ate with the priest and your family. The question came up whether a worshiper could just burn part of an animal, and have that count, then eat the rest. It’s like the half-caff version of a sin offering.

The useful thing about the Mishna is it regularly gives both sides: The strict tulings and the loose ones. In this case it starts with the strict ruling… then what Rabbi Yoseh let his synagogue get away with.

Temurah 1.3 KWL
Don’t substitute a leg for a fetus, nor fetuses for limbs.
Don’t substitute a leg nor fetus for a whole animal, nor whole animals for them.
Yet R. Yoseh says a leg can be substituted for a whole animal—but not whole animals for legs.
R. Yoseh says, “Isn’t it the rule for sacred animals
that when one says, ‘This leg is for burnt offering,’ the whole animal is a burnt offering?
Likewise if one says, ‘This leg instead of that leg,’ all of it is a substitution in its place.”

This is why Jesus called ’em hypocrites. They claimed to be following the Law as best they could, to be the most righteous people on earth. They claimed they were looking for ways to follow God better, more devoutly, in order to grow closer to him. Like Nicodemus; like Paul, who overzealously went the wrong way till Jesus redirected him the right way. But the reality is they were looking for ways to make the Law convenient. Less duty. Less charity. Less obedience… but they could point to their bare-minimum efforts and claim, “But I am obedient. I’m doing as my rabbis taught.”

Looks like religion; actually is irreligion. So it’s hypocrisy.

And of course we Christians do the very same thing. We likewise look for loopholes in the bible, in God’s laws, in Jesus’s instructions, in the apostles’ teachings. We’re pretty sure we found plenty: Huge swaths of the bible, we claim, don’t apply to us. The Old Testament doesn’t count ’cause we’re under the New Testament. Or we’re in a different dispensation; we’re under grace not Law. We have freedom in Christ and following any guidelines is legalism and slavery. Whatever excuse helps us get out of our obligation to be good and faithful servants of our Master, and be good as God defines goodness.

Hypocrites. They’re everywhere.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 November
HYPOCRISY hə'pɑk.rə.si noun Pretense: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards which one doesn’t truly have.
2. Inconsistency: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards, but one’s own behavior demonstrates otherwise.
[Hypocrite 'hɪp.ə.krɪt noun, hypocritical hɪp.ə'krɪd.ə.kəl adjective.]

The Greek word ὑπόκρισις/ypókrisis literally means “over [the] face.” In the ancient Greek religion, whenever someone claimed they spoke for the gods, they’d put on a bit of a show. When a man claimed Zeus spoke through him, he’d assume a deep voice, exaggerated gestures, and perform a sorta impersonation of Zeus. (Since we’re talking about fake gods, it was totally an act.)


Comic and tragic masks. Wikimedia

This “prophetic” acting evolved into Greek drama. Certain “gifted” poets, whom the Greeks believed had some divinely-inspired prophetic ability, would have actors memorize their “revelations” and present them to audiences. So the audience would know who was playing whom, actors wore masks. Masks might have exaggerated features, ’cause the actors weren’t always good at their jobs. You know those happy and sad masks, associated with drama and the theater? (Don’t worry; I included a picture.) Anyway, ypókrisis turned into the Greek word for “actor.”

There’s nothing wrong with acting… so long that people know it’s all an act. When they don’t, it’s fraud.

So when Jesus borrowed the word ypókrisis to describe Pharisees,, he meant they were acting, but hiding it; therefore fraud. And Jesus isn’t happy about the fraud. Pisses him off more than anything.

Matthew 23.1-7 NLT
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ ”

It’s a good idea for us Christians to occasionally swap the word “Pharisee” with “Christian” and see whether it still fits. Annoyingly, it often does.

Treasures in heaven.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 November

Matthew 6.19-21, Luke 12.33-34.

In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, after he finished objecting to hypocrisy in giving to charity, in types of prayer, and in public fasting, he moved on to talk about wealth and money.

You’ll notice the three verses in Matthew I’m gonna point to today, don’t by themselves nail down precisely how we’re to stash our treasures in heaven. That, we actually have to pull from the parallel teaching in Luke: Give to charity. And if you know your Old Testament, you might remember this proverb:

Proverbs 19.17 KWL
Put the LORD in your debt: Be gracious to the poor.
He compensates you and gives peace to you.

Jesus’s first-century audience would’ve known that one… and Jesus’s 21st-century audience had better learn that one.

Matthew 6.19-21 KWL
19 “Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth, where moths and corrosion ruin it,
where thieves dig for it and steal it.
20 Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor corrosion ruins,
where thieves don’t dig for it nor steal it:
21 Where’s your wealth? Your mind will be there too.
 
Luke 12.33-34 KWL
33 “Sell your possessions and give to charity:
Make yourselves a wallet which never wears out.
Infallible wealth in the heavens, which a thief can’t come near, nor moth destroy.
34 “Where’s your wealth? Your minds will be there too.”

This passage has been greatly nullified by our culture. Y’see, we have banks and insurance. Nowadays, if our minds are on our money, it’s only because we worry we don’t have enough. Back then, it was based on the constant fear, Is my money secure? Because the ancients were responsible to secure their own wealth. Neither financial institutions, nor the government, would do it for ’em. Wasn’t their job. Wasn’t anyone’s job.

Americans tend to take property rights for granted. The ancients weren’t so naïve. If the king wanted your stuff, he’d have your stuff. Land, cattle, wives. You remember Abraham was regularly worried different kings would swipe his wife from him—’cause they did. Ge 12.12-13, 20.2 Even though Abraham was powerful enough to assemble his very own army and rescue his nephew.

God mitigated this by having, “Don’t steal” Dt 5.19 apply to kings and commoners alike. True, it’s way harder to get justice when the king’s doing the thievery, like when David ben Jesse stole his general’s wife, or Ahab ben Omri stole his neighbor’s vineyard. The LORD had to punish these kings personally. And in Jesus’s day, Israel wasn’t ruled by a proper king; it was ruled by Roman puppets. You could appeal to the Romans, but good luck getting justice if you didn’t have citizenship; the Romans would treat you just like Americans treat illegal aliens. (Well okay, crucifixion is worse than how we treat foreigners. But still.)

So if you had wealth, you had to secure it. Just like paranoid people do today. Better build a strongroom in your house, or find a clever way to disguise or hide it. Lots of people simply buried it in a hole in the ground, just like the worthless steward in Jesus’s story of the talents. Mt 25.25 Or that buried treasure in Jesus’s other story. Mt 13.44 Hey, if nobody knows where your hole is, thieves can’t dig it up. (The KJV decided to translate διορύσσουσιν/diorýssusin, “dig through” as “break through”—a common enough way to get into a flimsy wooden house in the 17th century, but much harder to do with the solid stone houses of the first century.)

And even so, after all the precautions they took to make sure nobody could find or get at their wealth, the wealthy would worry. ’Cause any disaster could destroy it. Invading armies, or some covetous noble, could grab your land. Earthquakes could flatten your buildings. Determined looters, or even just a fire, could gut your house. Any possession could be lost. Easily.

It’s the very reason we invented insurance. Pay a little each month or year, and your possessions are protected and guaranteed? Brilliant. Now the only thing we need worry about is whether we have enough money.

So we need to climb into the first-century mindset about money before we can really understand Jesus. Imagine you’re in a really bad neighborhood, you’re not carrying a gun or taser or pepper spray, and for some crazy reason you’ve got $5,000 cash in your wallet. How secure are you gonna feel about that money?

Got that mental picture? Good. Now imagine having that worry all the time.

God’s will isn’t complicated. But we sure make it sound so.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November

When I was a kid, parents and pastors encouraged us to learn and follow God’s will. Wasn’t just a kid thing either. Churches encourage everybody to learn and follow God’s will. It’s what churches do.

How do we do this? “Read your bible!” we were told. So we did. And… we found it had a lot of interesting stories, good advice, confusing visions, super boring genealogies, clever advice, inspiring poems, commands which were sometimes startling (“Wow, look at all the weird stuff God made the Hebrews do. Wait, does he still want us to do this?”) and sometimes made total sense (“Don’t eat bats. Well duh.”).

But… we were still generally confused about where to find what God’s will is.

Ah, said our youth pastors: It’s in the biblical principles. Apparently once we read enough bible, we’ll notice certain common themes throughout, and realize, “This seems like something God cares about.” To hear our youth pastors explain it: Turns out this—the connecting the dots between verses to find the underlying philosophy—is how we deduce God’s will.

And we can totally do this on your own, but lucky for us young people, the youth pastors already knew a bunch of the principles. So that’s what they taught us: Things like tithing to your church, and obeying your parents no matter what, and courtship instead of dating, and only voting for prolife candidates. And various other things which oughta make us into good conservative churchgoing citizens.

If you wanna learn a bunch of these principles, we were told, Bill Gothard has seminars! So, in my early 20s, I attended one. Gothard has books full of biblical principles: Stuff he extrapolated from bible. Well, more accurately, already believed… but then Gothard went digging through his bible for proof texts, found ’em, and insists his principles are bible-based, not merely bible-compatible. (Okay, you gotta massage some of those verses to make ’em fit, but still!)

I already explained how these “principles” too often get deduced improperly, or get read into the bible instead of read from it. This article’s not really about them anyway. Lemme set ’em aside.

’Cause whenever newbies and kids come to me, or pastors, or any other mature Christian, with questions about God’s will, they’re not asking about biblical principles.