Can we really ask God for anything we want?

by K.W. Leslie, 31 January

Matthew 7.7-11, Luke 11.9-13, John 14.13-14, 15.7, 16.24.

These passages are found in the middle of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, in Jesus’s teaching on prayer requests in Luke, and as part of Jesus’s Last Supper lesson in John. Obviously the Matthew and Luke bits line up more neatly than the John bits, but the same idea is found in the John verses.

I tend to summarize this idea as “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” If we want something from Jesus, ask! It’s okay for us to do that. He does take prayer requests.

Matthew 7.7-11 KWL
7 “Ask!—it’ll be given you. Look!—you’ll find it. Knock!—it’ll be unlocked for you.
8 For all who ask receive, who seek find, who knock God’ll unlock for.
9 Same as any of you people. Your child will ask you for bread; you won’t give them a cobblestone.
10 Or they’ll ask you for fish; you won’t give them a snake.
11 So if you’re evil, yet knew to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”
 
Luke 11.9-13 KWL
9 “And I tell you all: Ask!—it’ll be given you. Look!—you’ll find it. Knock!—it’ll be unlocked for you.
10 For all who ask receive, who seek find, who knock God’ll unlock for.
11 Any parent from among you: Your child will ask for fish,
and instead of fish do you give them a snake?
12 Or they’ll ask for an egg; do you give them a scorpion?
13 So if you evildoers knew to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
 
John 14.13-14 KWL
13 “You can ask whatever in my name. I’ll do it so, in the Son, the Father can be thought well of.
14 When what you ask me is in my name, I’ll do it.”
 
John 15.7 KWL
“When you stay in me and my words stay in you,
whenever you want, ask! It’ll happen for you.”
 
John 16.24 KWL
“Till now you’ve never asked anything in my name.
Ask!—and you’ll receive, so your joy can be fulfilled.”

This needs to be said, ’cause some folks don’t really believe it is okay to ask God for stuff.

When I was a kid, I’d ask my parents for stuff, sorta like the kids in Jesus’s examples. Except those kids asked for bread, fish, and eggs; and I’d ask for a Commodore 64. Sometimes my parents gave me what I asked for. Other times, not so much. Computers weren’t cheap.

When I got persistent—when I wouldn’t take no for an answer, and kept right on asking, seeking, knocking—they’d respond, “Would you stop asking?” Not just because they didn’t want me to have these things: Sometimes they did, but they wanted me to learn to do it myself, or earn money and buy ’em myself. Or otherwise learn to be independent, and grow up.

And sometimes they’d pull this sort of evil stunt: Say yes, just so I’d suffer the consequences.


Calvin and Hobbes, 25 May 1986. Calvin’s mom teaches him an unnecessary “little lesson.” GoComics

The punchline—“Trusting parents can be hazardous to your health”—is exactly right. Calvin’s mom thought she was teaching him a valuable lesson. She was, but she didn’t do it in a kind way. She did it in a cruel way: She didn’t warn him away from the consequences. She let him suffer them, and suffer ’em even more by surprise. And because humans do this, sometimes we wonder whether God’ll do likewise: God says yes, and we ironically find out we didn’t want this at all. Meanwhile, up in heaven, he chuckles at our hubris. Ps 2.4

No. God is not a dick. He’s not secretly evil, plotting our downfall for his amusement or entertainment. Read the Prophets: He warns his people away from the consequences. Why suffer when you don’t have to? Ek 33.11 Turn to God and live!

God wants to give good things to his children, Mt 7.11 and for us to experience the joy of getting what we ask for. Jn 16.24 He wants to give us his kingdom. Lk 12.32 Starting with answered prayer requests.

But seriously, anything we ask?

There are a number of “name it and claim it” Christians who take these and similar verses, and teach, “It’s how prayer works! Name everything you want, claim ’em in the name of Jesus, believe you will have them, and God’ll give ’em to you. If you don’t get ’em, it’s only because you didn’t have enough faith. You gotta believe. Believe harder.”

Any of that true? Nope. Because it’s based on imaginary faith, not the real stuff. It’s based on wishing things into being. True, these folks don’t claim they’re doing it under their own power, but God’s. Because once you start claiming you have the power to wish things into being, you’ve crossed the line from wishful thinking to magic.

And no fooling, some Christians do believe in magic. They claim when God made humans in his image, he gave us the power to create like he does, and speak things into existence same as he does. The Christian Science church really took this idea and ran with it: They claim reality is a construct of the mind, and all you gotta do is believe really hard, and you can alter reality. Abracadabra!

In real life, experience has demonstrated we don’t always get what we request. Sometimes God tells us no. We’ll ask things for selfish reasons, fleshly reasons, fearful reasons, dark reasons. Not godly ones. Jm 4.3

We got lots of examples in the bible. The apostles James and John wanted to call down fire on a city full of innocent Samaritans. Lk 9.54 Paul wanted an ailment taken away—understandably, but God felt it was better he suffer from it. 1Co 12.7-9 Even Jesus asked to not be crucified. Mk 14.36 That’s right, Jesus asked for something, in his own name, and of all the people in the cosmos to get a “yes” answer, you’d think it’d be him! But he acknowledged that in his mission to earth, the Father’s will took priority over his own. Mk 14.36 And in our missions in his kingdom, God’s will must take priority over ours.

It sometimes appears God has granted a wrong-headed request. And wrong-headed Christians may claim it’s because God grants our requests no matter what. Really it’s because God wants to do these things for his own independent reasons; not because of our warped motives. A selfish evangelist may want a roomful of people saved so he can brag about how many he led to Jesus, but God wants ’em saved because he loves them. Jn 3.16

Hence getting what we ask is only guaranteed to those of us who truly follow Jesus. Jn 15.7 It’s only guaranteed to those who trust God with the results—not those who wanna second-guess him, or nitpick whatever we get, as James warned his readers when it comes to asking for wisdom. Jm 1.6-7 God’s looking for the right attitude in his petitioners: Obedience and repentance, not pride, stubbornness, rebellion, and greed. Not that he can’t be gracious and patient with people who are trying to overcome those bad attitudes, Ro 9.18 but remember, we don’t tend to get favors from people when we’re doing what we know annoys them.

Motive’s important. Attitude’s important. Humility’s important. Don’t pray without ’em.

God wants to give good gifts.

Matthew 7.11 KWL
“So if you’re evil, yet knew to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”

The Greek word in question is ἀγαθὰ/ayathá, “good.” (Nice to know bible translators are on their game, huh?)

In other words not bad gifts. Not gifts which, though we consider ’em the most awesome things ever, and solve our problems perfectly, turn out to backfire and wreck us like a Twilight Zone episode. God doesn’t fulfill our requests so, like Calvin’s mom, he can teach us an ironic lesson. He’s a good God, not a passive-aggressive one.

When I chide parents for pulling such stunts, it tends to rub ’em the wrong way. Some of ’em think aversion therapy is the very best way to teach kids. It’s the “school of hard knocks.” Toughens ’em up. Teaches ’em life’s lessons the hard way. Burn your hand, and you’ll never touch a hot stove again. Get scratched, and you’ll never pull the cat’s tail again. Puke heavily, then suffer a raging hangover, and you’ll never get drunk again. As if that ever stopped teenagers.

Frankly, that’s careless, reckless, evil parenting. Fr’instance, imagine Calvin asked his mom if he could play with Grandpa’s handgun, and she answered just as cavalierly: “Sure; just do it outside.” Crank up the volume on the circumstances, and now we can recognize the evil in it.

Whereas God’s parenting style is not to teach us the hard way. It may appear that way to people who superficially read the Old Testament. They read Judges and assume every time the Hebrews sinned, the LORD sicced their enemies on them. Nuh-uh. Read those passages again. These people sinned for years, even decades—with plenty of warnings from angels, prophets, priests, judges, and the bible, to repent and turn back to God. They didn’t listen, so God let the next step in the cycle happen. He’s patient, y’know. We’re not, and claiming God’s as impatient as we are, is simply projecting our evil values upon our loving Father.

God’s a good Father. He doesn’t parent us by tossing us into the woods, Spartan-style, with nothing but a pointed stick and a compass, demanding we claw our way into his kingdom despite the horrors of the forest. He warns us away from such things. Explicitly. Read your bible.

So if your 5-year-old daughter is hungry, you don’t figure, “Time to teach her to fend for herself,” and make her hunt pigeons in the backyard. You might tell her to go get some breakfast cereal from the pantry, but you stocked the pantry. Nor will you surprise her with poisonous food: Bread full of grit, Mt 7.9 or scorpion eggs. Lk 11.12 Unless you’re a sick, abusive parent, you’re gonna feed your kids. Why not give ’em bread or eggs, if you have ’em?

Pride and prayer requests.

From time to time, I come across Christians who look at prayer requests as a major hurdle. Y’see, they were raised to be independent. They’re quite proud of their independence and resourcefulness. To them, asking God for stuff—begging God for stuff—bugs them greatly. They don’t like the idea of being dependent on anyone. Not even their heavenly Father.

I know a lot of libertarians who hate the very idea of dependence. It offends them. They’re outraged when people get something without working for it. (You know, grace.) They don’t want charity or aid or freebies; if they fail, they’re okay with suffering the deprivation, and if others fail, they’re okay with them starving to death or dying. Survival of the fittest is nature’s way, after all.

Yep, it’s a pride thing. Precisely the sort of pride God opposes. Jm 4.6 The reason God tends to answer few of their prayers, is because they don’t ask for stuff when they pray. They only praise him, or acknowledge him, but they never ask for stuff. Some of ’em were even raised to think it’s wrong to; that “God helps those who help themselves.” They put their trust their own ability. Not God. And once they’re unable to do for themselves, strangely enough, they begin to lose faith in God—as if the only way he provides is through their own ability. But the sad thing is he never did provide for them; they never called on him!

It’s not a new attitude. Jesus instructed his own students:

John 16.24 KWL
“Till now you’ve never asked anything in my name.
Ask!—and you’ll receive, so your joy can be fulfilled.”

The kids didn’t really know they could ask and receive. They’d seen Jesus ask and receive, but they assumed he was successful ’cause he was extra-special, ’cause he’s Jesus. A lot of us Christians think the very same way: Jesus could do it, but we can’t. Well, Jesus wanted it made clear we can so. Ask in Jesus’s name, and you’ll get as Jesus got. You’ll get answered like Jesus was answered. Because you know Jesus—and because you’re asking for stuff with the very same attitude, motive, and faith.

God wants to help. It’s “so your joy can be fulfilled,” Jn 16.24 —so God can make us happy! So our prayer requests produce prayer results, and we can rejoice in our generous God, and share those stories with people who wonder whether God’s even out there. It’s so “the Father can be thought well of.” Jn 14.13 People definitely aren’t gonna be impressed by a Father who blesses selfish jerks, so we’d better correct our attitudes before we ask him for stuff.

So let’s work on that. Get rid of that pride. Remember he only wants our best. And ask.

The widow’s mite, and ancient money’s value.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 January

Mark 12.41-44, Luke 21.1-4.

On the temple grounds there’s a room called the treasury; Greek γαζοφυλάκιον/yadzofylákion, a “guarded vault.” Thing is, the treasury’s in a place inaccessible to women. And since there’s a woman in this story, throwing an offering in, it simply can’t be what the writers of these gospels meant by “treasury.” It has to be in some other place.

Hence most commentators are pretty sure yadzofylákion actually refers to the lockboxes which the priests set in the Women’s Court. Each of these boxes were at the end of a big metal funnel—which looked like a shofar, a ram’s-horn trumpet, and may very well have been what Jesus was thinking of when he talked about trumpeting your charitable giving. Mt 6.2 Because throwing metal into a big metal funnel made a loud noise. And throwing lots of metal—like a big pile of bronze coins, as opposed to, say, far fewer silver or gold coins—made a big ol’ noise.

Probably too noisy to teach! Yet that’s what the gospels describe Jesus trying to do by these funnels.

Mark 12.41-44 KWL
41 As he was seated facing the offering boxes,
Jesus watched how the crowds threw bronze coins into the boxes.
Many plutocrats threw many coins,
42 and one poor widow who came, threw two lepta, i.e. a quadrans. [8¢]
43 Calling his students, Jesus told them, “Amen, I promise you:
This poor widow threw more into the box than all who threw in.
44 For all the others threw out of their abundance, and she her need:
Everything she threw in, was all her life.”
 
Luke 21.1-4 KWL
1 Looking up, Jesus saw plutocrats throwing their gifts into the offering boxes.
2 Jesus also saw a certain poor widow throwing in two lepta. [8¢]
3 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you: This poor widow threw in more than everyone.
4 For all these people threw in their gifts out of their abundance,
and she from her poverty threw in everything she had in her life.”

The widow donated two λεπτὰ/leptá, which the KJV calls a “mite,” meaning the lowest-denomination coin there is. A penny would be the United States’ cheapest coin; that’s our mite. It might not have been familiar with everyone in the Roman Empire, so Mark states it’s worth a quadrans, the Roman quarter. Worth about 8 cents back then, though money went much further. She could probably buy lunch with it. A small lunch.

No seriously. Start giving.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 January

Too many Christians falsely believe the Spirit’s fruit grows spontaneously. Since it’s the Spirit’s fruit, he grows it, just like in Jesus’s Independent Fruit Story where wheat grows without the planter realizing how. Mk 4.26-29 That parable, by the way, is about God’s kingdom, not the Spirit’s fruit—but hey, if it means we get freebies and don’t have to lift a finger, people are perfectly happy to receive freebies.

So the assumption is if we’re truly following Jesus, fruit happens. Obviously we’ve not thought this idea through: Exactly how are we following Jesus when we’re not deliberately behaving in ways that’ll grow fruit? Passively? Is anyone meant to follow Jesus passively? (Spoiler: No.)

If we’re gonna grow in love, we gotta love others, particularly unloveable people. If we’re gonna develop patience, we gotta be patient despite suffering in minor or major ways. (Which is why I hate developing patience.) And if we’re gonna develop generosity, we have to give.

And since Americans are so very very Mammonist, generosity is probably the hardest fruit to develop. We’ve made so many concessions to greed. We consider ourselves clever, not stingy, when we find ways to avoid giving. We’ve justified so many practices because we want wealth, not poverty. And I get not wanting poverty. I’ve been poor; it sucks! But even when I was poor I could give. That woman throwing small copper coins into the treasury Mk 12.41-44, Lk 21.1-4 could give; so can we. So can anyone.

But stinginess is a work of the flesh, a sign we’re not fit for God’s kingdom. Like Paul wrote:

Ephesians 5.5-7 KJV
5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. 7 Be not ye therefore partakers with them.

Coveting wealth means you’ve made an idol of it, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. God’s gonna judge those who were covetous instead of generous; don’t lump yourself in with them. The stakes really are that high.

So like I said, the way we develop generosity is to give. Let’s get started.

Generosity.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 January

Generosity is a form of kindness. It’s about helping the needy, being an aid and comfort to them, being gracious regardless of whether they deserve our help, and fighting our fleshly urges to hoard and covet.

Those fleshly urges definitely do get in the way of generosity. Sometimes we’ll only give because it’ll profit us. We’ll feel proud of ourselves for being wealthy enough to fund good deeds. Or we’ll feel this paid off our karmic debts—we may have done some evil before, but this totally makes up for it, and this means we’re good people. Or we’ll expect to be compensated: “I’m doing this for you now, but someday later I expect you to pay me back, or pay it forward to society.” Or we have an ulterior motive; we want to look like benevolent people while we’re hypocritically hiding our sins.

This is why there are a lot of “generous” people out there, but they’re doing it for self-interest, not goodness. This is why a number of Christians will tell me, “Generosity is found in Paul’s list in Galatians, so it’s not really a fruit of the Spirit; besides, look at all the ‘generous people’ in this world who are actually evil.” Yeah, I hear you. It’s why we gotta make the distinction between true generosity and just throwing money around.

And it’s also why we gotta bring up the fact we Christians aren’t always so generous, and use worldly “generosity” as our cop-out. Too many Christians get mighty stingy, and justify this behavior by calling it “good stewardship.” I challenge you to look at all the instances of stewardship in the bible and show me where “good stewardship” means we never take risks, never give to the needy, and lay up reserves “just in case.” Reserves are always stockpiled with a goal in mind, like building a temple… or providing a large sum for the needy. When there’s no purpose for our savings accounts other than to feel comfortable about our financial cushion, we’re not depending on God anymore for our comfort. We’re depending on Mammon.

Wealthy Christians are nowhere near as kind as we oughta be, and this includes generosity: We’re nowhere near as generous as we oughta be. We begrudge every nickel taken from us, begged of us, or taxed from us and given to welfare programs. When we give to fund our churches, our checks are calculated to be precisely 10 percent of our paychecks, down to the cent—’cause it’s our obligation, not our donation.

And when it’s time to tip the waiter, we likewise calculate the gratuity down to the cent. When we’re asked to give to charity, we limit ourselves to a small obligatory amount, like a dollar, which we’ll contribute, but no more. When we find it’s time to tighten the budget, the first thing to go are the charities—not the cable TV, even though it’s a far bigger bill and the least necessary of all of them.

As C.S. Lewis put it,

If our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. […] For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognised as a temptation.

Mere Christianity, “Social Morality.”

Or as St. Paul put it,

Ephesians 5.5 KJV
For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Greed destroys. Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit.

How the apostles approached the Thessalonians.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 January

1 Thessalonians 2.1-12.

When a salesman shows up to pitch something, how do they usually look? Most of the time—unless they’re trying out a clever new tactic—they try to look successful. They try to give off the vibe that what they’re selling made them a success, and if you buy it you’ll be a success. They figure successful-looking people are attractive… and they’re not wrong. So they dress nice. They try to appear classy and stylish. They bring in plenty of resources, plenty of helpers. They look like a big deal.

Contrast that with how Paul and Silas first appeared in Thessaloniki, Macedon. It was right after they left Macedon’s biggest city, Philippi—right after having been been arrested, caned, jailed, then thrown out of town. Ac 16.12-40 They didn’t look successful; just the opposite. Even if they had a miraculous getting-out-of-jail story, they sure didn’t look like success stories.

That’s the condition the Thessalonians found ’em in, and how they appeared when the Thessalonians first heard the gospel. If you assume, as many Americans do, that one God’s on your side it’s Easy Street from now on, these guys were not poster children for that theology. They looked beaten and broken.

So the apostles chose a different tack: They played the sympathy card. They didn’t come to butter up the Thessalonians, or sell them a gospel of “Come to Jesus and he’ll erase all your worries.” Nor did they play the victim, and beg to be cared for, instead of doing for themselves. They were honest and frank with the Thessalonians—and won ’em over with thoughtfulness and truth.

1 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL
1 For you fellow Christians have known when we came to you, it wasn’t for nothing.
2 Instead we had suffered and were treated badly, as you know.
In Philippi we bluntly spoke of our God, speaking of God’s gospel with you in every meeting.
3 For our encouragement wasn’t delusional, nor unclean, nor deceptive,
4 but we speak as those who were disciplined by God to believe the gospel.
Not to please people, but to please God, who disciplines our thinking.
5 For we never once came to you with a flattering message, as you know.
Nor ever with a greedy motive, as God is our witness.
6 Nor seeking glory from people, neither from you nor from anyone.
7 We apostles of Christ are able to be such a burden,
but we became like innocent babies in your midst,
like when a nursing mother cuddles her own child.
8 Thus we were happy to long for you, to share with you, not just God’s gospel
but our own souls as well, because we fell in love with you.
9 For you remember, fellow Christians, our pains and toil:
Night and day, working at not being an expense to any of you,
we proclaimed God’s gospel to you.
10 You and God are witness to how sacredly, fairly,
and faultlessly we behaved towards you believers.
11 As you know, like every one of you, like a father to his own child,
12 we were urging you, encouraging, and testifying
for you to walk rightly with God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

Deaf ears aren’t opportunities.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 January

Matthew 7.6, Luke 13.6-9.

Back in college I was at my home-away-from-dorm, a popular Capitola coffeehouse called Mr. Toots. (Figured I’d throw ’em a free plug.) I got to talking to some UC Santa Cruz students, ’cause they quickly figured out I was a fellow student and wanted to know which school I went to. Once they realized I was a biblical studies major—a “God expert” (in training, anyway)—they wanted to talk God.

A lot of pagans go through a phase when they head off to school where they question their faith—and rightly so, ’cause they need to question everything, and get rid of those things in their religions which aren’t growing their relationships with God any. But a lot of ’em ditch their faith altogether, assuming they ever had any. Some of ’em dabble in other religions; some of ’em even invent their own. And some of ’em flirt with nontheism—either because they really think there might be no God, or because they’re jerks and just wanna outrage theists.

That’s what our conversation quickly turned into. These guys wanted to try out their newly-learned anti-God arguments on the religious guy. Kinda like a kid who just learned a new judo hold, wants to fight everybody with it, and foolishly picks a fight with the taekwondo black belt. Not that I was any black belt; more like red. I did have a decade of Christian apologetics on these guys. So it wasn’t at all hard to slap their commonplace arguments down.

But the arguing grew tiresome after a while. I realized the debate was never gonna go anywhere: These guys weren’t at all curious about God: They didn’t wanna learn anything new about him, listen, repent, and become Christian. This was purely an intellectual exercise for them. They were just killing time at the coffeehouse.

Pearls to pigs, I realized. Yep, just like in the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 7.6 KWL
“Don’t give holy things to the dogs, nor throw your pearls before the pigs.
Otherwise they’ll trample them under their feet, and they might turn and attack you.”

So I called truce. “Wanna talk about something different?” I said. “I mean, to you this is just light conversation. But to me this is something I take very seriously and personally. I’m having trouble not taking all your God-bashing personally. Wouldn’t you rather talk politics?”

“Yeah, okay.” So we talked politics. And after a bit, they left.

Which bible translation’s the best?

by K.W. Leslie, 21 January
HE. “So lemme ask: Which version of the bible do you use? Which one’s the best?”
ME. “None of ’em. Learn Hebrew and Greek.”

As soon as someone finds out I know the bible’s original languages, that’s nearly always the question they ask me. Sometimes because they earnestly wanna know, and figure I’m more an expert than they are. Sometimes because they already have a favorite, and want some affirmation. Sometimes because they already think their favorite is best, so they’re testing me.

Well, this question has a long answer. It’s the rest of this article! But I found when you being with the long answer, their eyes roll back in their heads; they don’t wanna deal with the complexities of bible translations. They only wanted a quick ’n dirty answer. Tell ’em the best bible version, so they can go get that version and use it forevermore. Or judge you. Whatever.

So I start with my joke answer: “None. Learn original languages.”

Sometimes, but rarely, they realize I’m kidding. The rest of the time, a look of horror and despair comes upon their faces: “What, learn ancient languages? That’ll take years!

Yes it will. It took me years. But that’s the scary alternative. Now for my much nicer—though admittedly long—response.

As for which version of the bible I use, it depends on why I need it.

  • BIBLE STUDY. I go with the original languages. Always. I have Accordance on all my devices, ’cause it’s inconvenient to carry around a print copy of the original-language bibles. I got the Biblia Hebraica for the Old Testament, the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (and the United Bible Societies’ GNT, the Tyndale House GNT, the Textus Receptus, and the Codex Sinaiticus for comparison).
  • TEACHING. When I work with new believers and kids, New Living Translation; it’s easy to understand. When adults—as y’might notice from reading this blog—my own translation, frequently with the King James Version for comparison, although if they have a favorite translation, I don’t mind switching over for their convenience. Having a bible app makes this easy.
  • AUDIO BIBLES. I have several. Including original-language audio bibles. (Yes they exist.) On my iPhone is my fave, The Bible Experience in the now-defunct Today’s NIV.
  • CASUAL READING. English is my first language after all, and Accordance comes with English translations, like the ESV and KJV. Either I read one of them, or another translation from Bible Gateway, or I have an ESV pocket-sized bible which I bought about 20 years ago at a now-defunct Christian bookstore. (The cover’s thrashed, so I re-covered it in black duct tape. Hey, it works.)

And of course my bookshelf has lots of other “analog bibles” (y’know, books which don’t require charging). Some are what I call big-ass bibles; others were the result of the years before I went digital, when I collected bible translations. Yeah, they get dusty: I read my phone, Kindle, tablet, and computer.

But lemme go back to the NLT: I encourage people to read that one because it’s easy to understand. That’s the most valuable asset of any bible translation. When any bible is hard to understand, it means the translators did a poor job, and their number one job is to remove the language barrier. Too many translators forget to do that.

  • They’re trying too hard to follow the original text “literally” and word-by-word.
  • Or it’s not even about translation; they were commissioned to update another popular translation, like when the NIV comes out with another edition. They’re expected to fix it, but not change it too much.
  • Or (as with many a bible paraphrase) they’re trying too hard to be clever, and make it sound different from all the other versions… and there’s nothing wrong with the way the other versions translated it.

Basically if your interpretation needs an interpretation, you suck as an interpreter.

Now, which one’s the best translation? Um… whichever one gets you to read your bible.

Do you know your bible quotes?

by K.W. Leslie, 20 January

Generally if you’re gonna call yourself biblically literate, you oughta at least know these quotes from the bible. Probably already do; you just didn’t realize they were from the bible.

ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Or “come short” in the KJV. Comes from Romans 3.23; means nobody measures up to God’s standard of perfection, but God graciously forgives us and grants eternal life. Ro 6.23

ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE. Or “all men” (KJV): Paul’s claim he adapted his circumstances so he can find common ground with everyone, and share Christ with them. 1Co 9.22 Y’know, “when in Rome.” Certain Christians are quick to point out Paul didn’t compromise his beliefs or behavior in so doing.

ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD. In context, “to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Ro 8.28 Various Christians pull it out of context and claim everything always turns out for the best. I remind ’em to read Ecclesiastes sometime.

ALL WE, LIKE SHEEP, HAVE GONE ASTRAY. Isaiah’s warning to his people: They turned away from God, like sheep who disregard their shepherd. Is 53.6

AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER? Cain’s excuse to God for not knowing where Abel was, Ge 4.9 though in fact he just murdered him. The phrase gets used to claim we’re not responsible for one other. In reality we often are.

ASK AND IT’LL BE GIVEN YOU. Jesus’s teaching that the Father wants to give good gifts to his kids. Mt 7.7

BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY. God’s directives to his animals after creating them. Ge 1.22 Including to the humans. Ge 1.28

BE SURE YOUR SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT. Moses’s warning to two tribes who promised they’d fight with the other ten; that if they broke their promise they’d get caught. Nu 32.23 Christians sometimes use this verse to claim every sin eventually gets found out. And many do… but some don’t.

BEAT THEIR SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES. A prophecy about future peace—or not—found in multiple books of the prophets. Is 2.4, Mc 4.3, Jl 3.10

The bible, in chronological order. (More or less.)

by K.W. Leslie, 19 January

Some of TXAB’s readers intend to read the bible in a month—or in four weeks, anyway—and have expressed curiosity about reading the bible in chronological order. It’s not enough that the creation of the cosmos comes first in Genesis, and the beginning of New Earth last in Revelation: They want everything sorted out by date.

Okay, fine.

But I will point out this order is debatable. ’Cause of course it is. Since when aren’t Christians gonna debate about who came first, Job or Abraham? (It’s Abraham. Job’s an Edomite; Edom/Esau is Abraham’s grandson.) Or which letter did Paul write first 1 Thessalonians or Galatians? (My money’s on Galatians.) Other chronological-order lists are gonna have a slightly different order, although Genesis is usually first and Revelation last.

Here, for your convenience, is the bible in chronological order. Not always the order it was written, but the order of the events which took place in the books. Print it out and check ’em off as you read ’em.

The Thessalonians’ reputation. And ours.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 January

1 Thessalonians 1.6-10.

In a few of the apostles’ other letters, the churches they were writing to had gone wrong, so they seriously needed to correct ’em. (I’m looking at you, 1 Corinthians and Revelation.) In the letters to Thessaloniki, Macedon, the locals needed a few pointers and minor corrections, but for the most part they were good. Better than good: They had a reputation for being amazing Christians. Not just in cranking out the good works, good fruit, and miracles: They were known for being a bunch of reformed pagans who eagerly pursued Jesus. And that’s a reputation you want. Certainly the reputation I want; certainly the reputation we all should have.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy continue to recap their experiences with the Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 1.6-10 KWL
6 You became imitators of both us and the Master,
accepting the message in great persecution, yet joy in the Holy Spirit.
7 Thus you became an example to all the believers in Macedon and Achaea:
8 The Master’s message echoed out from you.
Not only into Macedon and Achaea,
but your faith in God has gone out everywhere.
Hence we’ve no need to speak of it:
9 Other people proclaim to us what impact we had upon you:
How you turned away from the idols you were enslaved to,
back to the true and living God,
10 to await his Son from the skies, whom he raised from the dead,
Jesus, our rescuer from the coming wrath.

When revival breaks out in a church, you’re gonna see some responses. That’s a given. There’s definitely gonna be an outpouring of emotion—turning from darkness to light is a really emotional experience! Plus when the Holy Spirit really starts to do stuff, it tends to freak people out. Y’know how you might think you’re in a room by yourself, and it turns out someone else is in there, and they move or make a noise or otherwise make themselves known, and you jump? “Whoa!—I didn’t know you were there.” When God does this, multiply this minor freakout by a thousand. Because he’s always here. Always been here.

And yeah, we’re gonna see some negative stuff. We’ll see hypocrisy from Christians who think they oughta pretend to have the same level of zeal as the newbies. We’ll see profiteers trying to manipulate the newbies for their own gain. We’ll see naysayers, ’cause they’ll jealously insist the Spirit only behaves the way they claim he does, or that he only endorses their group. Y’know, like we saw in Acts when the Thessalonian synagogue leaders were outraged at how people were more interested in Jesus than in them. Ac 17.1-10

But let’s set aside the emotion, the fear, the noise, the distractions, the weirdos, the weepy, and the outraged. Look for the Spirit’s fruit. Can you find any? If it’s there, so’s the Holy Spirit.