The Wedding Party Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 November

Matthew 22.1-14.

This parable has a lot in common with Jesus’s Dinner Party Story in Luke. So much so, many Christians consider them the same story, and teach on them at the same time. They might primarily present it as the Wedding Party Story, and quote some bits of Luke to add some depth; or as the Dinner Party Story, and quote bits of Matthew. Or they’ll say, “Well in Matthew it’s a wedding and in Luke it’s a dinner party… but it’s all the same thing, right? A wedding is just a dinner party to celebrate a wedding. So the differences don’t matter.”

But they do. Because in the Wedding Party Story it’s not just any wedding. The person throwing the party isn’t the groom, as was the custom in first-century middle eastern weddings; in this case it was his father. Who’s the king. And not just a king like our democracies have, who’s really just a rich noble with an extra-fancy title who gets to be on the money and has a few ceremonial government duties. This guy actually rules his country, like a dictator. Like Salman ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud of Arabia. Imagine he threw a wedding party for his son Muhammad… and people behaved this way towards him. Heads would roll. As they do in this story.

Matthew 22.1-14 KWL
1 In reply Jesus again spoke to them parabolically, saying,
2 “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person, a king,
who makes a wedding feast for his son.
3 He sends his slaves to call the called to the wedding feast,
and they’re not willing to come.
4 The king sends other slaves again,
telling them, ‘Tell the called, “Look, my banquet was prepared!
My oxen, and well-fed sacrificial meats, and everything is ready!
Come to the wedding feast now!” ’
5 But the dismissive invitees go away.
One goes to his field, one to his business.
6 The rest seize the king’s slaves, abuse, and kill them.
7 The king is angry. Sending his army,
he destroys those murderers and fires their cities.
8 Then the king tells his slaves, ‘The wedding feast is ready.
The called weren’t worthy.
9 So go to the crossroads and call as many as you find to the wedding feast.
10 Going out, those slaves gather everyone they find on the roads, both evil and good,
and the wedding feast fills with people reclining at table.
11 The king, entering and seeing those reclining at table,
sees a person there not wearing wedding clothing.
12 The king tells him, ‘Fellow, how’d you get in here not wearing wedding clothing?’
The person was struck silent.
13 Then the king told his servants, ‘Bind him feet and hands.
Throw him into the darkness outside.
Weeping and teeth-grinding will be there.’
14 For many are called, and few chosen.”

Christians get confused by this story. In part because Christians who don’t live under monarchies, and especially those who don’t live in the ancient near east, really don’t understand the cultural context. Nor do they understand much of the capricious-sounding behavior of the king, ’cause they presume the king in this story is God. And the son is Jesus, and the wedding banquet is the end of time, and the dismissive invitees and the guy without the wedding clothes are sinners who deserve what they’re getting… and so forth.

Especially do they not understand Jesus’s moral of his story: “For many are called, but few [are] chosen.” Mt 22.14 KJV Wait, how does God call you, yet not choose you? Shouldn’t those be the same thing? Determinists are entirely sure they are, and other scriptures kinda make it sound like they’re one and the same:

Romans 8.29 LEB
29 Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers; 30 and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified.

They assume all these things are a package deal. If you’re elect, you’re

  • foreknown
  • called
  • justified
  • glorified

and you can’t be one without all the others. Called means chosen.

So what’s going on here? Glad you asked. Let’s get to it.

The king, the kingdom, and God.

Heaven’s kingdom (or God’s kingdom; same thing) is like this king. Jesus says so upfront. He doesn’t say the king represents God; we read that into the story because the king has a son, so we presume these are two persons of the trinity. We read of a wedding feast, and read all the Revelation imagery of the Lamb’s bride Rv 21-22 into it. Basically we add a lot to the text which isn’t actually in it. But the king represents the kingdom. Not God. “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person,” Jesus starts. Got that?

Further, Jesus is the king of God’s kingdom. So don’t go figuring, as many Christians will, “If the king isn’t God, I guess the king would be Jesus, right?” What son of Jesus’s would he be throwing a wedding feast for? Stop trying to find a one-to-one matchup between the fictional characters of the parable, and real-life people. Jesus is talking about an idea here. Let’s let him get to his idea.

This king has a son, who will probably be his successor, the next king. His marriage was a big deal, ’cause such unions were expected to produce children, ensuring the next king would have his own successor. So this marriage feast is about the king’s dynasty; it’s a celebration of the king’s power. It’s a big deal if you attend.

It’s equally a big deal if you don’t attend. It means you defy the king and don’t recognize his power. Maybe you have another king. Maybe you wanna be king. These invited guests who ignored the king, or who murdered the king’s slaves: They were making a political statement, much like this line from Jesus’s New King Story:

Luke 19.14 KJV
But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.

That new king’s response?

Luke 19.27 KJV
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

Don’t confuse that guy with Jesus either. Jesus was describing the sort of kings his audience was familiar with, not the sort of king he is. The kings of the earth are paranoid and murdery, same as Herod 1, who tried to kill baby Jesus. Our Lord isn’t like that, so don’t confound him with the bad behavior of the kings in his stories.

Like an easily-provoked dictator who freaks out at any hint of disrespect, this king was enraged at these invitees. Yeah, the open rebellion and the death of his slaves was an outrage, but he didn’t just kill the invitees; he fired their cities. He burned everyone in their hometowns to death over the insult. Does God kill the innocent along with the guilty? Abraham knew he absolutely doesn’t, Ge 18.23-25 and you’d think we Christians would know this too. Yet too many Christians nonetheless insist the king in this story represents God, and that he’s pretty darned wrathful… instead of love. Revealing, of course, they don’t know God as well as they claim. Nor Jesus, who reveals God as he truly is.

So if the king’s not God, but he is the kingdom, what’s the parallel here? Is it that God’s kingdom is angry and vengeful and only seeks power? Well… certainly the civic idolaters in Christendom do. But no, the point Jesus is trying to make is in his moral at the end. The rest of the stuff in his story is not gonna have an exact correlation between the activities of God’s kingdom, nor certainly God’s people.

But I will say those people who were invited to the wedding feast, who defied the king and his servants, do have some similarities to antichrists who want nothing to do with Jesus, his teachings, his kingdom, his followers, his God, anything. They still abuse and kill Jesus’s servants in nations where Christianity is a minority. They will receive judgment for it eventually. Meanwhile Jesus still offers ’em chances, much like the king sending his slaves to call ’em to the wedding feast yet again. Food’s ready! You’re still invited.

Open to all… but you gotta be prepared.

Most Christians don’t know how to deal with the underdressed guest at the end, who gets thrown out of the party and into darkness, weeping, and teeth-grinding. Those last three adjectives are commonly used by Christians to describe hell. So this is apparently someone who got into heaven, and shouldn’t have. But he’s been found out, so out he goes.

If you wanna take this parable literally… well, here’s the part where Christians put a pause on literalness and deliberately overlook the implications. Because somebody snuck past God. Somebody got around the heavenly security guards, got into the wedding feast, and was there getting his unbeliever stank all over the banqueting table. Y’know they ate with their hands back then; so here he is getting his dirty unwashed pagan fingers two knuckles deep into the hummus. Probably double-dipping too. So does this mean people could potentially get into heaven who need to get found out and tossed out? What if—yikes—you’re one of those people?

First, relax. Second let’s back up a few verses. In verse 8 the king points out his chosen guests weren’t worthy; in verse 9 he orders his slaves to go get anybody and bring ’em to the feast. Verse 10, they do so, and “gather everyone they find on the roads, both evil and good.” Jesus deliberately said πονηρούς τε καὶ ἀγαθούς/ponirús te ke agathús, “evil—and also good” to point out the slaves definitely brought evil people to this feast. Not necessarily deliberately, but to make the point they weren’t being particular. At all. Everybody was welcome. No prejudice, no discrimination, not even commonsense: Everybody.

Because everybody is welcome in God’s kingdom. Because we don’t get in on goodness. We don’t merit our way in, earn our way in, rack up enough points to get in; we don’t have to be born into the right tribe, caste, class, or country; we don’t have to first get ritually circumcised. Jesus died to save the world, so the world can come in. That’s the point of this, and the Dinner Party Story, opening up their respective celebrations to everybody who will come.

But.

’Cause yeah, there’s a but. One which Christians tend to skip, because we’re so fixated on the awesome message of grace, and how we’re saved by it. And Jesus does teach we’re saved by grace; absolutely everybody is invited to these banquets, remember?

But Jesus does expect that once we’re in—once we’ve become the recipients and beneficiaries of God’s grace, once we’ve been included in his inheritance and are granted God’s kingdom—we live holy lives befitting our new status. We don’t take God’s grace for granted and remain the same dirty sinners we were before. We get fruity. We obey our Lord’s instructions and put on his lifestyle… kinda like putting on your good clothes to attend a wedding.

Years ago some Christian interpreter found out an ancient middle eastern king gave clothes to his people so they could dress more appropriately for a celebration. Hence a number of commentaries claim this was what the king meant by “Fellow, how’d you get in here not wearing wedding clothing?”—as if all middle eastern kings did this. But we’ve no evidence any king but the one did this; it’s a fluke, not a common custom. More likely the guest knew, as everyone knew, you wear your best to a royal function—and he didn’t. He had better, cleaner clothing. As was proven by the fact he “was struck silent”: He didn’t speak up and say, “But master, I’m dirt poor and have no other clothes”—he did, and didn’t wear them. He had no excuse. So out he goes.

When we stand before Jesus at judgment, the Lambs and Kids Story makes it sound like he’s not gonna bother to ask us to explain ourselves, much as we might really want to at that time. (I’m particularly amused by the pathetic excuses Keith Green offered in his song “The Sheep and the Goats”—“Oh Lord, that wasn’t our ministry Lord; we just didn’t feel led, y’know?”) He’s already decided which group we’re in. And if we really accepted his offer of salvation, really trusted him to save us, really acknowledged him as Lord, we’re gonna have tried. Christians who don’t even try, and don’t see why they even should try, aren’t legitimately Christian.

They’re the people who are gonna want to complain to Jesus after he returns—they wanna know why they didn’t get raptured along the rest of the Christians. (Assuming they even acknowledge he’s really Jesus. ’Cause if they didn’t get raptured, they’re gonna presume it couldn’t really be the rapture.) They’re gonna make such a stink, he’ll kinda have to have them cuffed, feet and hands, and thrown outside—where it’s dark, and where they’ll rage at him because they think he owes them something. Based on what? Their own prideful egos. Nothing more.

Matthew regularly points out, in both the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’s parables, Jesus expects a lot of his followers. He’s saved us so that we needn’t worry about sin and death, and can solely concentrate on following him, without worrying we might slip up and lose our salvation. We’re not gonna lose it; apostasy means you deliberately quit, not unintentionally do something which cancels out God’s grace. But if we never even begin to follow Jesus, never develop any sort of relationship with him, never heed the Spirit… you’re not yet Christian. You never even got started putting together your wedding-appropriate clothes. It’s gonna make you stand out at the wedding like a man in a dog costume at a dog show.

So repent!

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The prayer of Manasseh.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November

Manasseh 1.1-15.

If you’re thinking, “Waitaminnit, there’s no book of Manasseh in the bible,” that’s true of most churches. It’s part of the apocrypha. Protestants and Catholics don’t include it in our scriptures, but since it’s in the Septuagint it is found in many Orthodox and Ethiopian bibles. There used to be a translation of it in English-language bibles, but when English Puritans started purging all the bibles of apocryphal books, Manasseh was taken out of the King James Version, along with all the other books.

Depending on the bible, sometimes it’s a separate prayer, and sometimes it’s made part of 2 Chronicles. No, we don’t know where the translators of the Septuagint got it.

It’s attributed to Manasseh ben Hezekiah, king of Israel. When he became king at 12 years old, 2Ch 33.1 he decided what we call “western religion” was not for him, and dabbled in pretty much everything else you could find.

2 Chronicles 33.3-7 KJV
3 For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. 4 Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever. 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. 6 And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. 7 And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God…

…and here the chronicler starts to rant about how he shouldn’t’ve done that. I’ll skip ahead.

2 Chronicles 33.11-13 KJV
11 Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. 12 And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13 and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.

Here’s where the Septuagint inserted Manasseh’s prayer.

It’s a good prayer, which is why the ancient Christians kept it and used it. Every once in a while an Evangelical will come across it, won’t realize it’s apocrypha, and think, “Well that’s a pretty good prayer.” Might even use it for worship.

Happened years ago at one of my previous churches. Our worship pastor liked to pick a prayer from the bible for our Sunday morning scripture reading, and my guess is she was looking up bible passages on the internet. I made the slides, so she’d send me the passage… and one week she sent me a really long prayer “from 2 Chronicles” which had way more verses than that particular chapter usually had. I looked it up on Google and found it was Manasseh, in the New Revised Standard.

She was a little embarrassed that she picked a prayer which “isn’t bible.” But like I said, it is a good prayer. Like all the apocrypha, as Martin Luther once put it, there’s no reason we can’t read it and profit from it.

The prayer of Nehemiah.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 November

Nehemiah 1.5-11.

In the ’00s the prayer of Jabez got some attention with a popular book. It was quickly followed by other authors who were covetous of The Prayer of Jabez’s success, whose books probably didn’t sell as well for that reason. People realized they were knock-offs, whose authors only wanted to nitpick the Prayer of Jabez, or tried to teach us the same tired old things about having great success if we pray the Lord’s Prayer or the Jesus Prayer. Or other such prayer tricks.

Of course God can’t be reduced to formulas. And not only might he tell us no, he has every right to. People who wanna sell a million books won’t necessarily teach this fact. Instead they’ll claim if we pray their favorite prayers, we’ll get stuff. Pray like Jabez and God’ll expand our territory. Pray the Jesus Prayer and receive peace. Pray the St. Christopher prayer and kids get protection. Pray the St. Jude prayer and get a yes to your hopeless cause. Pray the rosary and get special protection.

Basically do X, and now God owes us Y. And no, he doesn’t work like that.

To help this idea sink in a little, I remind you of the Prayer of Nehemiah, offered by Nekhémya bar Khakálya right after he heard what a mess Jerusalem still was.

Nehemiah 1.5-11 KWL
5 I said, “Please LORD, God of heaven, great God,
scary covenant-keeper, lover of those who love you and keep your commands:
6 May your ear now be attentive, your eyes open, to hear your slave’s prayer,
which I pray to your face daily and nightly over Israel’s descendants, your slaves:
I confess the sins Israel’s descendants sinned against you.
I and my father’s house sinned.
7 We hurt, hurt you,
and didn’t keep the commands, decrees, and rulings you sent your slave Moses.
8 Now remember the word you sent your slave Moses, saying,
When you trespass, I’ll scatter you among the nations.
9 Return to me, keep my commands, do them,
and even if you’re exiled to the heavens’ edge, I’ll gather you from there,
and return you to the place I chose where my name dwells.’
10 They’re your slaves, your people whom you rescued with your great strength and strong hand.
11 Please Master, have a listening ear for your slave’s prayer,
for your slaves’ prayer—we who wish to respect your name.
Please grant your slave success today.
Give me compassion before this man’s face”—
for I was the Persian king’s butler.

Though Nehemiah didn’t neatly sum it up as did the author of Chronicles, 1Co 4.10 God went along with his request, and Nehemiah got to go to Jerusalem and fix its problems himself.

The prayer of Jabez.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 November

1 Chronicles 4.9-10.

Back in 2000 Bruce Wilkinson wrote a tiny little book called The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. It sold like hotcakes ’cause it was a little tiny book you could find near the register, it was inexpensive and brief (and therefore perfect for Christians with ferret-like attention spans), and you could buy extras to give ’em to friends.

It contains a single sermon’s worth of material about an obscure ancient Hebrew by name of יַעְבֵּץ/Ya’ebéch, or as the King James Version calls him, Jabez. (The editions of the KJV which include pronunciation marks intend you to say dʒɑ'bɛz, but Americans nonetheless call him 'dʒeɪ.bɛz.) And here’s the short little passage the entire book is extrapolated from: Every last thing the bible has on Jabez. ’Tain’t much.

1 Chronicles 4.9-10 KWL
9 Jabez was heavier than his brothers.
His mother called his name pain/Jabez to declare, “I birthed him in pain.”
10 Jabez called on Israel’s god to say, “If you bless anyone, you bless me!
You made my borders lengthy. Your hand’s with me. You’ve kept me from evil, lest it pain me.”
God went along with whatever he asked.

Yep, that’s it. Don’t know his parents’ names, even though this story’s in the middle of a bunch of genealogical charts. We think he’s from Judah, and think he existed round the time of the conquest of Canaan, ’cause of the charts in chapter 4. But he’s not in those charts. There’s a city named Jabez, 1Ch 2.55 and maybe it was named for him, but that information isn’t of any help.

Yeah, how I translated the passage isn’t how people popularly translate it. First of all, they tend to translate נִכְבָּ֖ד/nikhbód, “was heavier,” as “was more honorable” (KJV) —possibly to match the Septuagint’s translation ἔνδοξος/éndoxos, “glorious.” Preachers sometimes say he was more honorable because of his prayer; other times say he was honorable first, and God answered his prayer because he was so honorable. Me, I point out the context—what’s that verse about? Jabez is called nikhbód, and got named ya’ebéch, because his mother birthed him in pain. Why was she in such pain? Because he was heavy. Way heavier than his brothers. When a mother squeezes a 12-pound kid out her birth canal, she never stops talking about it. It totally explains his name.

Likewise other translations take Jabez’s statement אִם־בָּרֵ֨ךְ/im barékh, “if [you’re] blessing” (or “unless you bless,” Ge 32.26), and turn it into a wish, “If [only you’d] bless…” like the Septuagint’s Ἐὰν εὐλογῶν εὐλογήσῃς με/Eán evlogón evloghísis me, “When you bless, you should bless me.” The whole passage gets transformed into a prayer request, like the NIV puts it:

1 Chronicles 4.10 NIV
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

After all, if God granted his request, it’s gotta be a request.

It’s not. This is a prayer of thanksgiving. God had blessed this fat little baby, and grown him into a successful, influential person. His name meant pain, but God kept him from pain. He stretched out his mom; now God stretched out his territory. (Okay, I admit that last comparison’s a little gross. But you won’t soon forget it.)

So while the people snapping up The Prayer of Jabez read it and assume God granted all his wishes because he dared to pray big things, the rest of us can realistically understand this prayer ain’t a wealth formula. Jabez wasn’t asking for blessings; he was praising God after the fact, because God had blessed him. He was thanking God for his successes; he knew where his success really came from. Something many a wealthy Christian doesn’t always consider.

The power of prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 November

The power of prayer is God.

If that sounds kinda self-evident to you, great! You’d be surprised how many people don’t get this. I’ve heard from way too many Christians who treat prayer as if the act of prayer itself—the effort we put into saying rosaries, or reciting certain “powerful” rote prayers, or regularly blocking off an hour for prayer time, taking the proper posture, repeating the right incantations, and praying as nonstop as possible; and of course the faith necessary to trust that God grants prayer requests—“activates” prayer’s power. Like we just found the cosmic cheat code, to borrow a video game term. Pray just right, and receive points or rewards from the heavens.

But their teachings aren’t so much about the One who dispenses the rewards.

Well, they might go on about how these prayer practices please God, and that’s why he rewards us with stuff. Pray just right, and it’s like God’s a happy dog and you gave him just the best tummy rub, and we know his tail is wagging like crazy by all the blessings he showers down upon us. It’s so Pavlovian.

There’s not a lot of difference between this mindset, and “the Secret,” as pagans have recently repackaged the mind-science idea that we can create things with our words, same as God. Basically you proclaim your desires to the universe, regularly and earnestly, and believe with all your might you will someday have them. Lo and behold, they materialize. You’ve willed them into being. Your mind is just that powerful. Whether we call it “the Secret” or “the law of attraction” or “magic,” the only difference between them and their Christianist variant of naming and claiming, is we imagine God is part of this process.

But too often “the power of prayer” doesn’t acknowledge God as the power. Preachers keep talking about it as if we’re the catalyst, we’re the source, we’re the real power. We get God to move, ’cause of our faith and works. And we deserve these results, ’cause we earned the good karma and get to cash it in.

Slap all the Christian labels on it you please, it’s not Christianity. Power doesn’t come from human ritual, and never has. We should know by now if God isn’t the center and the point, our practices are dead religion not living religion. Dead faith instead of living faith. Meaningless instead of meaningful.

The Murderous Vineyard Workers Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 November

Mark 12.1-11, Matthew 21.33-46, Luke 20.9-19.

Most Christians think of Pharisees as the bad guys in the gospels, ’cause of how often Pharisees objected to Jesus, Jesus objected to them right back, and how Pharisees conspired with others to get Jesus killed.

Thing is, that’s only some Pharisees. Just like how the gospel of John showed Jesus getting opposed by “the Judeans” (KJV “the Jews”) —it wasn’t all Judeans, but some Judeans. He got along just fine with Nicodemus, Lazarus and his sisters, the guy who lent him the room for Passover, and lots of other Judeans; and he got just as much pushback from his fellow Galileans! Likewise not all Pharisees objected to Jesus. Ever notice how Jesus frequently taught in synagogue? Synagogues were a Pharisee thing; nobody but Pharisees had synagogues. Those Pharisees accepted Jesus. Likewise all the Pharisees who followed him (though sometimes poorly) after he was raptured, and became the Christians of the early church.

And the Pharisees weren’t the only bad guys. There were the Sadducees, Judea’s ruling class. In the Galilee there were the Herodians, the people who were perfectly happy to keep the Herod family in power, usually because it benefited them personally. And of course there were the Romans, who eventually killed Jesus.

When Jesus tells this story, it’s not just to Pharisees. It’s to members of the Judean senate: “The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders” Mk 11.27 who ran Jerusalem and Judea under the Romans’ occupation, whose job was to keep the peace lest the Romans kill them all. They considered Jesus a disruption, and Jesus considered them… well, what he calls them in this story.

He compares ’em to vineyard farmers who are utterly rebelling against their boss. Because the vineyard, they figured, was theirs. And the fruit was theirs. And the boss was never gonna return to deal with them, so they were free to run things however they liked, with no consequences. You know, pretty much like our elected officials run things now, despite the people who elect ’em.

Mark 12.1-11 KWL
1 Jesus began to tell the Pharisees parabolically,
“A person plants a vineyard, puts a wall round it,
digs out a winepress trough, builds a watchtower,
gives it to farmers, and goes abroad.
2 In time he sends a slave to the farmers,
so he might get fruit from the vineyard from the farmers.
3 Taking the slave, the farmers beat him,
and send him away with nothing.
4 Again, the master sends another slave to them;
they punch that slave in the head and insult him.
5 The master sends another; that one they kill.
He sends many others; some they beat, some they kill.
6 The master has one beloved son, and sends him to them last,
saying this: ‘The farmers will respect my son.’
7 These farmers tell themselves this: ‘This is the heir!
Come! If we kill him, we’ll be the heirs!’
8 Taking the son, they kill him
and throw him out of the vineyard.
9 So what will the master do with the vineyard?
He’ll come and wipe out the farmers, and give the vineyard to others.
10 Didn’t you read this writing?—
‘A stone which the housebuilders reject:
This is made into the cornerstone.
11 This is made by the Lord,
and to our eyes, this is amazing.’ ” Ps 118.22-23
12 The senators were looking to have Jesus stopped,
yet were afraid of the crowd.
For they knew the parable he told is about them.
Abandoning him, they left.

In all three synoptic gospels, the story comes right after the senators challenge Jesus in temple by asking him who sent him, and Jesus challenges ’em right back by asking them whether John the baptist came from God. Mk 11.27-33, Mk 21.23-27, Lk 20.1-8 They pretend to not know the answer; Jesus knows they totally do, ’cause they’re dirty hypocrites. They’re the same sort of hypocrites who killed the prophets, and in five days they were gonna sentence Jesus to death too, and have the Romans crucify him—thus fulfilling that part of the parable. The rest, where the boss wiped out the farmers, would be fulfilled in 37 years.

God is very different from us.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 November

Humanity has many religions. Many views on God. Some figure there’s One, some figure there’s none, some figure there’s two (a good guy and a bad guy), some three or more, some figure the universe collectively is God, and some figure there may be gods out there but they’re not relevant to what we deal with as humans.

Yeah, the Unitarians and Baha’is are gonna insist all these differences are irrelevant, so let’s just focus on what we have in common and worship that Higher Power. These two religions were developed in Christian and Muslim cultures respectively, so they’ve got a lot of bias in favor of Abrahamic monotheism, but they’re flexible… and from every other religion’s point of view, too flexible. Each religion has a lot of non-negotiables. (Even Unitarians; ask ’em sometime if they’re willing to let an unrepentant Nazi join their church.) Each religion is pretty sure they understand God best. You’re not gonna see the Unitarians and Baha’is consolidate into one church anytime soon.

Why are all these religions so different? Dark Christians are gonna insist it’s because every other religion is an invention of the devil, or wannabe prophets whom the devil has managed to lead astray. All these religions are therefore the product of power-mad humans. And yeah, that’s partly true: A lot of religious founders were only trying to get themselves worshiped, or gain power, money, and sex. Any good intentions got corrupted by human depravity. Heck, that’s true of too many Christian churches as well.

But I would insist it’s because God is awfully hard to figure out.

I know; Christian claim God is really easy to get to know. All we gotta do is crack open a bible! Or have a conversation or two with him. Or something simple like that.

But if God really was just that easy to get to know, he wouldn’t need to reveal himself in so many different ways, at so many different times. And we wouldn’t have to work at getting to know him, at listening to him, at growing his fruit, at obeying Jesus. For that matter, Jesus wouldn’t’ve had to come to earth to explain him better.

God is hard to figure out, ’cause God is significantly different from us humans. Significantly. In ways which make getting to know him, not so easy. In ways which means we’re often not gonna figure him out. And we need to be okay with that and trust him. Problem is, people aren’t okay with that, because people don’t trust him… so they come up with their own explanations, and these evolve into new religions.

God has made efforts to bridge the gap between these significant differences, and us. If we make a little effort on our part (with his help; we can’t really do it unless he empowers us), we can bridge it wholly, and can get to know him. But not enough of us care to. Much easier to presume we have him figured out already—and never realize we’re wrong.

So let’s work at bridging that gap.

The spiritual gifts test.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 November

Most Christians never bother to ask, “What are spiritual gifts?” We just presume we know, and not our heads knowingly, as if we’re totally familiar with the concept. But ask your average Christian just what these spiritual gifts are, and they’ll stammer out a few odd answers. “Um… kindness? Friendliness? Encouragement?”

No, that’s fruit. Try again.

“Er… generosity? Helpfulness? Ooh, discernment!”

Still fruit, but the “discernment” answer is on the right track, even though there’s a totally non-spiritual form of discernment which detectives regularly use. And clever people. And con artists, unfortunately.

Well, I’ll stop leaving you in suspense. Spiritual gifts aren’t talents which make us more “spiritual” (which, to many Christians, means “churchy”). They’re special abilities the Holy Spirit gives us. Supernatural special abilities. Like these.

1 Corinthians 12.7-11 KJV
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

How do we know we have these special abilities? Duh; we do them. The Spirit gives us the power to do ’em. If the Spirit has empowered me with gifts of healing, I heal. There’s no question as to where my gift lies; it’s kinda obvious. I’m not sitting around wondering, “What’s my spiritual gift?”—the previously-unwell people all around me, who were cured when I prayed for them, will universally respond, “Duh, it’s healing. What, you think it’s musical theater?”

So why are there so many Christians who aren’t sure what their spiritual gifts are? Bluntly it’s because they’re not doing anything. They don’t minister. They receive and don’t give back. Sometimes because they’re immature, and can’t imagine they’re ready to give back. Too often it’s because they’re holding out for one particular spiritual gift, and until they get that one, they’re not doing anything; they’re like the bratty child on Christmas morning who didn’t the pony she asked for, so she’s throwing out all her other presents, no matter how good or valuable or generous they are.

But for all those Christians who don’t do anything, and would really like to know what they should be doing, Christians have created written aptitude tests.

No I’m not kidding. And you probably know I’m not kidding, because you’ve seen one of these tests. Sometimes your pastors or ministry leaders hand ’em out, and everybody takes one, and finds out where their gifts are. Because why find out by doing?—take a test!

Really, it’s a ludicrous idea, but it’s so commonplace Christians don’t find it ludicrous anymore. That’s a whole other problem, which I won’t go into today.

“Unspoken.”

by K.W. Leslie, 02 November

High school youth group services can vary. My previous church’s youth services looked exactly like the adult services: There’d be worship music, then the youth pastor would deliver a sermon. When I was in high school, the service was way more informal: We’d play a game for a half hour, then sit down, sing a few worship choruses while the pastor led on acoustic guitar, then he’d present a short message, pray, and then we’d hang out till our parents picked us up—at which point the kids who could drive, drove home.

Before the pastor prayed, he’d take prayer requests. Got anything to ask of God? Want a real live capital-P PASTOR to pray about it?—’cause surely Jesus hears his prayers, if anyone’s. Here’s your chance kids. Pitch him anything.

So we would.

  • Big test coming up; we want God’s help, either in improving our memory, or compensating for our rotten study habits.
  • Big game coming up; we want God’s help to do our best, and of course we’d like him to confound our opponents.
  • God help this kid I know whose dating life is a wreck (followed by some gossip about the juicy details, which the gossiper assumed is totally permissible because it’s a “prayer request”—yeah right).
  • God help this kid I know whose family life is a shambles.
  • God help me, ’cause I have stress for one of the myriad reasons kids stress.
  • “Unspoken.”

Wasn’t always the same kid every week who said “Unspoken.” Sometimes it was more than one kid. What’s it mean? It’s short for “unspoken prayer request.” We wanted to ask God for something, and wanted our pastor to include it—“God, please take care of all the unspoken needs tonight”—but we wanted it it remain solely between ourselves and God. Everybody else didn’t need to know what it was. God knows. That’s enough.

I was not the best Christian in high school. More of a giant hypocrite. But I’d invite friends from school to my church’s youth group, ’cause it was fun. Some were Christian and knew all about unspoken requests. And some wouldn’t, so I was called upon to be their tour guide to the Evangelical subculture.

One particular week, some kid—let’s call him Mervyn—had been the only one to ask for an “unspoken,” and I got the expected question from my high school friend.

HE. “What’s ‘unspoken’ mean?”
ME. “He needs God’s help for something embarrassing. My guess is he’s trying to give up porn.”
A DOZEN OTHER KIDS. [overhearing] Tremendous laughter.

’Cause Mervyn really did need to give up all the porn. But for about a year thereafter, this became the regular youth group joke about what “unspoken” really means. Whenever someone said “Unspoken,” whether it was Mervyn or not, someone in the group would say under their breath, “Porn.” Followed by giggles, and an irritated look from the youth pastor. He didn’t know what just happened, but he didn’t trust it was anything wholesome. Eventually he did find out, and read us the riot act.

But I admit to this day, whenever someone contributes “Unspoken” as a prayer request, a little voice in the back of my head pipes up, “Porn.” It amuses me. Bad Christian.

The Watchful Slaves Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 November

Luke 12.35-40, Matthew 24.42-44.

This is another parable about Jesus’s second coming, sometimes called the parable of the watchful servants. Frequently it gets mixed up with Jesus’s Wise and Stupid Slaves Story in Matthew, or the Watchful Doorman Story (found in all the synoptic gospels, and actually comes next in Luke), because some of the ideas and verses overlap. Other times people chop off verses 39-40 because they’d rather make a separate story of them.

Unlike the other gospels, this one includes the idea—consistent with Jesus’s character, as demonstrated when he washed his students’ feet—that in God’s kingdom, the master serves the students.

Jesus tells his students this right after he tells ’em to save up treasure in heaven.

Luke 12.35-40 KWL
35 “Be people dressed for work, with your lanterns burning.
36 Like you’re people waiting for your master once he leaves the wedding feast,
so when he arrives and knocks, they can immediately open the door for him.
37 Those slaves are awesome: The master will find them staying up for him.
Amen, I promise you the master will dress himself for work,
and he’ll sit them down, and help serve them.
38 If he comes in the second or third watch [9PM-3AM]
and finds them up, they’re awesome.
39 Realize this: If the homeowner knew what hour the thief shows up,
he’d never be able to break into his house.
40 Be ready!
For the Son of Man comes at the hour you don’t expect.”