Blaming the devil for our drama.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 March

Back in college I was one of the organizers for an evangelism project: We were gonna go to downtown Santa Cruz and hand out bibles to passersby.

Yes I know; The Gideons International already do this. Why weren’t we doing this with them? Several reasons:

  • They won’t let you hand out bibles with them, or hand out their bibles for them, unless you’re a member—“a Gideon.”
  • They won’t let you even be a Gideon unless you’re a man, and have a white-collar job. Seriously. The ministry was founded by businessmen for businessmen, and it’s still kind of a big deal to them that only businessmen be Gideons. (Emphasis on business men.) So, no college students.
  • At the time they only handed out KJV New Testaments, and we wanted to give out entire bibles—in an easier-to-understand translation.

I’m not knocking the Gideons; they do good work. Those bibles they put in hotel rooms have been immeasurably useful. But their exclusivity can be a problem. So we did our own thing.

This was a Christian school, so students had to be involved in one ministry a year, and I picked the bible-handout thingy because, honestly, it was gonna be a cakewalk. All you had to do was order bibles, hand them out one Saturday, and you were done. For the year. You could spend all your other Saturdays on intramural sports. Which I did.

My job on this team—my entire job—was ordering the bibles. I told them I could find bibles for cheaper than their usual sources. I did. It took a bit of work (Google wasn’t invented yet; yeah, I know, I’m old) but I found a place which sold NIV bibles for 50 cents each, and bought 200. They were thick, ’cause they were printed in tiny text on newsprint-quality paper, but they were bibles. They took several weeks to deliver, because two-day shipping wasn’t a thing yet, but they arrived when expected, and on time. My role went off without a hitch.

Everybody else’s role? Load the five boxes into a van, take ’em to Pacific Avenue, and hand ’em out. We set up an undecorated plastic table as our home base, carried a handful to different places on the street, and accosted people with, “Would you like a free bible?” Maybe one in five did. But we gave ’em all away. We figured we’d be there for 4 hours, or until all the bibles were gone; they were gone in about an hour, so we went out for coffee.

All in all this was a really easy ministry. Did it have any impact on the people who were given bibles? I hope so; I liked to think so back then. Unless the Holy Spirit tells me any impact it had, I really have no way of knowing.

Okay, now to the point of this story.

Right after we set up the table, our group leader asked to pray for us. So we gathered round the table, joined hands, and he prayed something along the lines of, “Thank you God for letting us do this ministry. Man did Satan come against us. Hard. But thank you for holding him back. Now let people be touched by your word. In Jesus name amen.” And off we went, bibles in hand.

Of course when he prayed this, none of this felt at all hard to me. Like I said, it was a cakewalk. The bibles arrived on schedule, the weather was nice, turnout was decent (slightly lower than expected, but that always happened), and my personal life was running smoothly. Satan came against us hard? When?

Later I found out the details. Satan wasn’t coming after our project all that hard at all, if at all. It’s just our group leader was going through some really intense stuff with his girlfriend. He personally felt like he was under attack by the devil. So he presumed everyone was likewise under some devilish attack; probably because of the massive effect our bible handout might have on the neighborhood, the city, the county, the state, the world.

Yep, projection.

Nation will rise up against nation.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 March
Mark 13.8 KWL
8 “For ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
Kingdom against kingdom.
Earthquakes will happen various places. Scarcity will happen.
These things are early birth-pains.”
 
Matthew 24.7-8 KWL
7 “For ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
Kingdom against kingdom.
Scarcity will happen, and earthquakes in various places.
8 All these things are early birth-pains.”
 
Luke 21.10-11 KWL
10 Then Jesus told them, “Ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
Kingdom against kingdom.
11 Great earthquakes will happen various places.
Scarcity and plague will happen.
Terrors and great signs from heaven will happen.”

(Previously:

  • “The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s coming down.” Mk 13.1-4, Mt 24.1-3, Lk 21.5-7
  • “Look out! Fake Messiahs!” Mk 13.3-6, Mt 24.3-5, Lk 21.7-8)
  • “Wars and rumors of war.” Mk 13.7-8, Mt 24.6-8, Lk 21.9-11

You notice the title of this piece is “Nation will rise up against nation,” yet when I translated the gospel passages which usually get interpreted that way, I rendered ἔθνος/éthnos as “ethnic group.”

Because that’s what an éthnos is. For that matter, it’s what a nation is. If you live in a multiethnic country like the United States, I can understand if you’re not aware of this, and think “nation” and “country” mean the very same thing. Not in this case.

Let me assure you: Racists are fully aware of this definition. So whenever they talk about “this nation,” their nation, they’re talking about their race. They wanna purge the country of other races, or at the very least make ’em second-class citizens. It’s not natural, they insist, for a country to be made up of, or led by, multiple races.

This kind of tribalism has been with humanity a very, very long time. Because tribes and races originally began with families. Supposedly you could trust your family; not so much other families. So you kept things within your group. Over time the groups got large, and turned into whole countries, but the prejudice persisted: Trust your countrymen. Not so much foreigners.

Even when the foreigners were the very same ethnicity as you. Ancient Israelites and Edomites were the very same ethnicity: They were descended, respectively, from Jacob and Esau. Twin brothers. But for the longest time they were two nations—two different ethnic groups—which didn’t trust one another.

Ancient Israelites, Moabites, and Ammonites were also the very same ethnicity: Jacob, and the brothers Moab and Benammi, were second cousins, all great-grandsons of Terah ben Nahor. Ancient Israelites and Midianites were also the same ethnicity: Midian was Abraham’s sixth son. Ge 25.1-2 Yep, all these ancient middle eastern nations in the bible were Hebrews. Yet they considered one another foreigners. And fought one another all the time.

Most westerners are fully aware Europeans have done this too. They’re ethnically, genetically, even culturally the same. Russia and Ukraine, obviously. Yet they fight.

Why? Human depravity, of course. People think it’s in their personal best interests to dominate one another, so they try. Sometimes succeed. Sometimes not.

Anyway. The reason Jesus said nations would fight nations, then kingdoms fight kingdoms, isn’t just because he’s practicing a little Hebrew poetry. These aren’t really synonyms. He’s talking about ethnic groups fighting one another—then political groups fighting one another.

And sometimes the ethnic groups are part of the same kingdom. The United States, obviously. Ancient empires especially, whether Roman, Greek, Persian, Neo-Babylonian, Assyrian, Mongol, Chinese, and so forth; simply by virtue of conquering lots of people. But also Jesus’s homeland, the Galilee—which had both Judean settlements in it, like Nazareth; and Syrian Greek cities in it, like Sepphoris, which was only 6km away from Nazareth and predated it by half a century.

Jesus does away with any discriminations between Jew and gentile, and likewise gentile and gentile. But racists ignore this, and wanna keep demarcating which nation—which ethnic group—they are. And wanna fight. And try to fight. Nope, this doesn’t mean it’s the End; it means humans are just being human, and not following Jesus.

Wars and rumors of war.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 March
Mark 13.7-8 KWL
7 “Whenever you might personally hear war,
and war news, don’t freak out.
These things happen, but the End is yet to come!
8 For ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
Kingdom against kingdom.
Earthquakes will happen various places. Scarcity will happen.
These things are early birth-pains.”
 
Matthew 24.6-8 KWL
6 “You will personally hear war
and war news. See that you don’t freak out!
These things happen, but it’s not the End yet!
7 For ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
Kingdom against kingdom.
Scarcity will happen, and earthquakes in various places.
8 All these things are early birth-pains.”
 
Luke 21.9-11 KWL
9 “You will personally hear war
and chaos. Don’t be terrified!
These things happen first, but the End doesn’t immediately follow!”
10 Then Jesus told them, “Ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
Kingdom against kingdom.
11 Great earthquakes will happen various places.
Scarcity and plague will happen.
Terrors and great signs from heaven will happen.”
Previously:
  • “The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s coming down.” Mk 13.1-4, Mt 24.1-3, Lk 21.5-7
  • “Look out! Fake Messiahs!” Mk 13.3-6, Mt 24.3-5, Lk 21.7-8
  • If you’ve read the Sermon on the Mount, as I hope you have (you are Christian, right? It’s kinda mandatory), you know Jesus orders us followers not to worry.

    Matthew 6.31-34 KJV
    31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

    But when we’ve not surrendered our lives, our entire lives, to Jesus, we’re gonna suck at obeying this teaching. We’re gonna worry.

    If we’re poor, we’re gonna worry about survival. Like food, drink, clothing, rent, crime, health, petty expenses, massive unexpected bills. Other things too, but these will take up the bulk of our worries.

    If we’re comfortable or wealthy, we’re gonna about keeping those comforts and wealth. And the things which influence or threaten them, like markets, politics, laws, agitators, possible revolutions. You know, oligarch stuff.

    Most of the professional End Times prognosticators especially want us to worry about comfort and stability. Not just because they wanna sell us food buckets for our End Times bunkers. Most of ’em are preaching out of their very own paranoia. They worry even more than you do about the stuff they agitate about. Their own End Times bunkers are very well-stocked.

    All of ’em ignore today’s passage. Or in some cases flip its meaning over entirely.

    Yes, I translated Mark 13.7 and Matthew 24.6 as “don’t freak out.” It’s a legitimate interpretation of μὴ θροεῖσθε/mi throeísthe, “don’t wail aloud in terror.” Then as now, people would hear about violence, earthquakes, signs from heaven, and immediately think, “What does it mean?” Then spend a whole lot of time speculating what it might mean. Is it a sign from the gods, like the superstitious Greeks insisted?

    Clearly they never read Ecclesiastes—or if they had, they ignore everything it teaches. Most of the time it doesn’t mean anything. But the human brain wants to make connections—and even in the absence of evidence, it’ll go haywire and make connections anyway. Everything’s a conspiracy to such people. Everything’s a “sign of the times.”

    But I just showed you three different Jesus-quotes in the bible which say no it’s not. And if you don’t trust my translation, fine; read others. They’re all gonna mean the same thing though. Stop prematurely freaking out about the End!

    Look out! Fake Messiahs!

    by K.W. Leslie, 09 March
    Mark 13.3-6 KWL
    3 As Jesus was sitting on Olivet Hill, opposite the temple,
    Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew were asking him privately,
    4 “Tell us when these things happen,”
    and “What sign appears when all these things are about to end?”
    5 [In reply] Jesus begins to tell them, “Watch out.
    Anyone ought not lead you astray:
    6 Many will come in my name, saying this: ‘I’m somebody.’
    And many will be led astray.”
     
    Matthew 24.3-5 KWL
    3 As Jesus was sitting upon Olivet Hill, the students came to him privately,
    saying, “Tell us when these things happen,”
    and “What sign appears of your coming, and of the end of the age?”
    4 In reply Jesus tells them, “Watch out.
    Anyone ought not lead you astray:
    5 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m Messiah.’
    And many will be led astray.”
     
    Luke 21.7-8 KWL
    7 His students asked Jesus, saying, “Teacher,
    so when do these things happen,
    and what sign appears when these things are about to happen?”
    8 Jesus said, “Watch out.
    You ought not be led astray:
    Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m somebody, and the time has come near.’
    You ought not go after them.”
    Previously:
  • “The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s coming down.” Mk 13.1-4, Mt 24.1-3, Lk 21.5-7
  • God reveals future events for three reasons:

    1. To warn us something’s coming, so get ready.
    2. To give us hope. Either with good news, or with the fact he’ll be right there with us despite some bad stuff.
    3. To confirm prophecy. This is when he gets specific about future events; otherwise he prefers to keep things vague, lest we try to influence, control, or fake these future events.

    The Olivet Discourse is definitely a “Get ready” prophecy, and those of us who know history will immediately recognize it’s about the Jewish War, when the Romans destroyed the temple in the year 70.

    Those of us who don’t know history, regularly presume it’s yet to come—probably as part of what “prophecy scholars” call “the great tribulation,” which takes place right before Jesus’s second coming. And if it hasn’t happened yet, it means the second coming isn’t happening yet… which means they’re not getting ready for Jesus’s return; they’re getting ready for tribulation. Build those bunkers and get those guns.

    Jesus presented the Olivet Discourse round the year 30. Hence the Jewish War would take place in these students’ lifetime; not long at all after the gospels were first written down in the 50s and 60s. Probably what helped these gospels spread widely was the fact all this was happening, right then, just as Jesus foretold.

    And it began with false Messiahs. Wannabe revolutionaries showed up, claimed they were Messiah, the true king of Israel, divinely empowered to overthrow the mighty Roman Empire and reestablish the nation to the heights it reached in Solomon ben David’s day. “Make Israel Great Again,” as it were. Hold conventions and rallies, whip the patriots into a frenzy, and get ’em to actually try to overthrow the occupying Roman army. ’Cause God was on their side, wasn’t he?

    Instead the Romans sent reinforcements. Then more. Then their best general, Titus Flavius Vespasianus (whom historians call Vespasian), who grew to believe Israel needed to be crushed entirely. The Judean people decided the End had come, and decided to go all in with the false Messiahs. The rest was a bloodbath, as the Romans slaughtered half the Jews on the planet. That’s not hyperbole: There were 4 million Jews in the world at the time, and the Romans killed 2 million.

    And conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and left Israel without a homeland for 19 centuries.

    If you know nothing about this history, it’s because the “prophecy scholars” downplay it as much as possible. “Oh, that wasn’t the great tribulation; what’s coming in our timeline is far worse.” “Oh, the Holocaust during World War 2 was even worse.” (Yeah, as far as numbers of people murdered; of course. But Romans tried to eliminate Jews just as vigorously as Nazis did.) They don’t want the Olivet Discourse to be about the Jewish War; it’s gotta describe a future event.

    Why? Because the coming great tribulation has to be near, right around the corner when you least expect it; and it has to be terrifying. The better to convince pagans to become Christian—“you don’t want to be left behind, and undergo tribulation!” The better to keep Christians in line. If hell doesn’t scare people, tribulation might. It’s become an extremely valuable tool for dark Christians. Fear is a powerful motivator.

    When such people read history books and realize Jesus is really speaking of the Jewish War, their knee-jerk response is denial. “No, Jesus was speaking of the End Times. I always heard it was about the End Times. The Jewish War can’t have been the great tribulation! Everything I believe—all my favorite End Times prophecy scholars—would be wrong!”

    Well it is. They are. But all the time and money they’ve invested in their rubbish needs to be justified in their minds. Our mental self-defense mechanisms demand it. So these folks dismiss reality and history, embrace their dark Christian fantasies… and never notice all the really bad fruit it produces in them, their churches, their converts, and our nation.

    The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s coming down.

    by K.W. Leslie, 08 March
    Mark 13.1-4 KWL
    1 As Jesus was coming out of temple, one of his students told him,
    “Teacher, look at the stones; look at the buildings!”
    2 Jesus told him, “You see these great buildings?
    You might never find a single stone here left in its ruin.”
    3 As Jesus was sitting on Olivet Hill, opposite the temple,
    Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew were asking him privately,
    4 “Tell us when these things happen,”
    and “What sign appears when all these things are about to end?”
     
    Matthew 24.1-3 KWL
    1 Jesus was coming out of temple,
    and his students came to him to show him the temple buildings.
    2 Jesus told them in reply, “Don’t you see everything?
    Amen, I promise you:
    You might never find a single stone here left in its ruin.”
    3 As Jesus was sitting upon Olivet Hill, the students came to him privately,
    saying, “Tell us when these things happen,”
    and “What sign appears of your coming, and of the end of the age?”
     
    Luke 21.5-7 KWL
    5 Someone was saying in temple how beautiful the stones and gifts on display were.
    Jesus said, 6 “These things you see:
    The days will come when not a single stone will be left in its ruin.”
    7 His students asked Jesus, saying, “Teacher,
    so when do these things happen,
    and what sign appears when these things are about to happen?”

    These are the passages which introduce what Christians now call “the Olivet Discourse,” Jesus’s explanation to four of his students about the near future and the second coming. It took place on Olivet Hill (KJV “the mount of Olives”), hence the name.

    It begins with people praising the temple. Mark says it’s a student; Matthew says multiple students; Luke keeps it vaguely “someone.” Jesus’s response was it was all coming down. And four of his kids later privately came to him and said, “When?” Understandably so. You’d wanna know when such a thing might happen—same as Christians today always wanna know when Jesus is returning, or when the End will come.

    Jesus’s answer in Acts doesn’t satisfy such people whatsoever:

    Acts 1.6-7 KJV
    6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

    To them, “It’s not for you to know” is unacceptable. They insist on knowing. They’ve even created timelines. Really complicated timelines.

    Jesus told his students some stuff, and today I’m gonna start digging through this stuff. Bear in mind I’m gonna interpret it in its historical context, so it might sound a little different than what you’re used to. That’s because the “prophecy scholars” who usually quote the Olivet Discourse, don’t care about historical context, don’t care how Peter, James, John, and Andrew would understand this passage, and especially don’t care that parts of it were fulfilled about 40 years after Jesus said it. Because they insist every bit of it happens in the future. They got it in their timelines. Tribulation is coming!

    Yeah, I’m no fan of fear-based Christianity. It’s all a scam to get you to stop thinking, buy their books, vote for their candidates, and grant them power over you. Let’s submit to Jesus instead, shall we?

    Aren’t we living in the last days?

    by K.W. Leslie, 07 March

    Yes.

    But you may not realize what that answer means. Usually because most people don’t realize what the question means.

    In the scriptures, “the last days” does not mean the End Times, the world right before Jesus returns, the reign of Jesus which follows, and the end of the world which comes right after that. But that’s what most people think it means; pagans and Christians alike. So when they ask, “Aren’t we living in the last days?” what they really mean is “Aren’t we living in the End Times?” Do the current events we see on the news, correspond with John’s end-time visions in Revelation?

    The answer to that question is no. We’re not living in the End Times. Because the End Times actually don’t start till Jesus returns. It doesn’t consist of any pretrib rapture and one-world government and great tribulation. It starts and ends with Christ Jesus.

    When we’re living in the End Times, you’ll know it. Everybody’s gonna see that second coming. Whether they believe it, or insist it’s fake news ’cause they have an entirely different-looking second coming in mind—one which better aligns with their terrifying, vengeful views—is another thing.

    So if the last days aren’t the End Times, what are they?

    Well y’know how the western calendar divides human history into BCE and CE? (Or the older terms, BC and AD?) The Common Era, or Christian Era, is the division we live in; the Before-Christian Era is the division which came before. In the BCE humanity looked forward to Messiah’s first coming; in the CE we look forward to his second. And before these eras were formally made part of the calendar, Christians thought of these periods as the “first days” and the “last days”—and in these last days, God sent us his son. He 1.2

    The guys who put the western calendar together got the year of Messiah’s birth wrong; it’s six years off. The last days actually began 2,028 years ago.

    And yeah, when you tell people this, they freak out a little. Because they thought the last days are the End Times. And the longer people believe something that’s not true—especially when we’ve made it a core belief!—the bigger the upheaval when someone finally corrects us. In fact, as you might’ve seen, some people refuse the correction, and insist they were right all along. You’re the one who’s wrong. You’ve been misled by evildoers. Maybe you’re an evildoer. And so on, right down the paranoid rabbit hole.

    Usually when someone asks me “Are we living in the last days?” they want or expect me to answer “Oh obviously we are,” and confirm all their fearful beliefs about how all the current events have perfectly lined up with their End Times Timeline. In fact they’re kinda hoping I know some other connections between current events and the Timeline. Anything which supports their views.

    They don’t want me to correct ’em with, “Actually the last days began when Jesus was born.” In fact I’ve found some of them already know this—“Yeah, yeah, I know the ‘last days’ began when Jesus was born; I mean End Times.” They don’t care that they’re using the wrong term; they’re just using the same term everyone else does. It doesn’t even matter to them. The only thing which matters is there’s evil out there. The Beast is putting together his evil, evil schemes. But they’re on the righteous side—and ready and eager to fight everyone who’s not.

    Yeah, they wanna fight. Are we fighting alongside them? Or are they gonna fight us too? ’Cause honestly, they could go either way. We’re either a source of ammunition, or conflict.

    Sundays in Lent.

    by K.W. Leslie, 04 March

    If you’re observing Lent, and fasting in some form during that time, you actually get Sundays off.

    Really. I know; most people aren’t aware of this, and think we have to fast every day of Lent; all 40 days. But Ash Wednesday is actually 46 days before Easter Sunday—which means there are six extra days. Days which aren’t part of the 40 days. Those are the Sundays. We don’t fast on feast days. For most Christians Sunday is our Sabbath, and Sabbath is always a feast day.

    So you get little holidays from your Lenten fast. Gave up cocaine? This Sunday, do a few rails.

    Kidding. But if you’ve given up something which hasn’t enslaved you (and be honest with yourself and others about this!), go ahead and partake this Sunday. If you’ve given up desserts, feel free to have a little something with your dinner. Try not to overcompensate though!

    Since all these Sundays are little breaks from fasting, they can feel a little extra special during Lent. Over the centuries Christians have treated ’em as extra-special days. Even given them special names. And when I, or other Christians, refer to these names, sometimes curious Christians wanna know what that’s all about. Is there anything important we’re meant to do or remember about these Sundays? Nah, not really.

    The names come from the first words of the prayer book or missal, used in liturgical churches as part of their services. They’re the first word of the first prayer in the order of service. The traditional names of the Sundays in Lent come from the first words of the German Lutheran prayer book read on that day. Generally it comes from the Latin translation of the psalms they’re reading.

    1. INVOCABIT SUNDAY is the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday. The name comes from the Psalm 91.15: Invocabit ad me, et ego exaudiam eum, “He will call upon me, and I will answer him.” (The Nova Vulgata, Roman Catholics’ official bible, uses the synonym clamabit, but the prayer books quote one of the previous Vulgate editions.)
    2. REMINISCERE SUNDAY is the second. Comes from Psalm 24.6: Reminiscere miserationum tuarum, Domine, “Remember your mercy, LORD.”
    3. OCULI SUNDAY comes from Psalm 24.15: Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, “My eyes are always on the LORD.”
    4. LAETARE SUNDAY is also called Rose Sunday or Mothering Sunday, and is a day for Christians to remember their moms—both the women who raised them, and the elders in their churches who encourage them. Comes from Isaiah 66.10, Laetare cum Jerusalem, “Rejoice with Jerusalem.”
    5. There’s some controversy about what to do on the fifth Sunday of Lent. Historically it’s been PASSION SUNDAY, as Christians used to spend two weeks, not just Holy Week, in remembering Jesus’s suffering. So there’d be Passion Sunday one week, Palm Sunday the next. But more recently churches combine the two into Palm Sunday, and the fifth Sunday is simply another Sunday, sometimes called JUDICA SUNDAY from Psalm 42:1, Judica me, Deus, “Judge me, God.”
    6. PALM SUNDAY begins Holy Week or Passion Week; it’s the week Jesus died, so there are special memorial days throughout.
    7. EASTER SUNDAY isn’t really the last Sunday of Lent; it’s the day after. Lent ended on Holy Saturday. Now it’s Easter for 49 days till Pentecost.

    As you can see, there’s not a lot of uniquely Eastery things about the Sundays in Lent; just unique names. Churches vary about how they’re gonna observe them. Some liturgial churches don’t even bring up the particular names for them; they’re just another of the Sundays in Lent. And of course if you don’t go to a liturgical church, it’s just another Sunday… till Palm Sunday.

    Read the bible over Lent.

    by K.W. Leslie, 03 March

    So it’s Lent. And during this time, some of us Christians either

    • do a little fasting or other forms of self-deprivation, and spend some time meditate about what Jesus suffered on our behalf;
    • contemplate nothing, but fast anyway ’cause it’s tradition; or
    • contemplate nothing, fast nothing, feel smug because our religious customs don’t obligate us to do a thing, and mock those who do.

    Hopefully you’ve chosen the first thing. And if you’re gonna meditate on something, why not read the bible? The whole bible? ’Cause you can. You can actually read it, in its entirety, within a month. So there’s certainly no reason it can’t be done with 10 extra days. You can easily take the time you’d ordinarily spend watching reality TV shows, and read the scriptures. And have time left over. Easy-peasy.

    Even if you don’t plan to give up anything for Lent, (’cause you’re American and self-deprivation isn’t your thing), you can still carve out a bit of time each day to read some bible, and make up for the fact you didn’t read the whole thing back in January. Or maybe you did start, but dropped the ball. Or that you’re doing the six-month or year-long bible track, and dropped the ball on that. Either way, it’s catchup time.

    So there’s your Lenten challenge: Read your bible. You know you oughta.

    One possible schedule.

    If you’re gonna tackle the bible this Lent, here’s one possible schedule you can follow. Gets you through the Old Testament (in roughly the order it was composed), then the New (generally bunching authors together).

    Lent has five Sundays, so if you skip a day… you have an entire extra week to catch up.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, other reading programs carve the bible into equal portions for the day. If you wanna do that, you can: Get one of those yearly bible-reading programs, and read nine to 10 days’ worth of material each day. That’ll get you finished in 40 days. But ideally I like to read a book all the way through, so I didn’t slice and dice the books when I could avoid it. (Psalms technically consists of five individual books of psalms, so I actually didn’t divide those books when I spread ’em out on the schedule.)

    Of course, you don’t have to follow this program. You can use TXAB’s bible-reading plan and read it in whatever order, at whatever speed, and get ’er done in 30 or even 20 days. (Or if you’re just crazy enough, 10 days.) Whatever works for you.

    Ready to take the challenge? Let’s get to it.

    Ash Wednesday: Lent begins.

    by K.W. Leslie, 02 March

    Ash Wednesday gets its name from the western custom of putting ashes on our heads to mark the first day of the Easter-season Lenten fast. What’s with the ashes? It comes from bible: When ancient middle easterners grieved, they put ashes on their heads. 2Sa 13.19, Jb 2.8 Ashes were also used to ritually purify sinners. Nu 19.9 So it’s to repeat that custom.

    Lenten fasting. (It’s optional, you know.)

    by K.W. Leslie, 01 March

    Lent is the English term for the 40-day period before Easter in which Christians fast, abstain, and otherwise practice self-control. (Assuming we practice such things at all.) In Latin it’s called quadragesima and in Greek it’s σαρακοστή/sarakostí, short for τεσσαρκοστή/tessarkostí—both of which mean “fortieth,” ’cause 40 days.

    It starts Ash Wednesday, which isn’t 40 precise days before Easter; it’s 46. That’s because the six Sundays before Easter aren’t included. You don’t fast on feast days, and Sabbath is a feast day; it’s when we take a weekly break from our Lenten fasts. Many Christians don’t realize this, and wind up fasting Sundays too—since they’ve got that abstention momentum going anyway.

    And for eastern Christians, Lent begins the week before Ash Wednesday, on Clean Monday. Partly because they don’t skip Sundays, and fast that day too; and partly ’cause their Lenten fast consists of the 40 days before Holy Week. Then they have a whole different fast for that week.

    But no matter how you arrange it, all the fasting is finished by Easter.

    Just as Jesus went without food 40 days in the wilderness, we go without… well, something. The first Christians who practiced Lent likely went all hardcore, and went without food and water. And after this practice gravely injured or killed enough of ’em, the early Christians decided maybe it’s wiser to stick to bread and water, or a vegan diet. Or, as American Catholics practice it nowadays, go without meat on Friday and Saturday. (Though for various iffy reasons, fish is considered an exception.)

    Protestant custom is usually to cut back to two meals a day, then give up one extra something. Abstaining from the one thing has leaked back into popular culture and Catholicism, so now most pagans and many Christians think Lent only consists of giving up the one thing. Preferably something difficult: Giving up coffee or alcohol, chocolate or carbs, watching sports or playing video games, or anything we originally tried to give up for New Year and failed at.

    Whenever I’m asked what I’m doing without for Lent, I tend to joke, “I’m giving up fruits and vegetables. Nothing but coffee and Goldfish crackers till Easter.” The kids like to joke, “I’ll give up smoking,” since they already don’t smoke. (They might vape though.)

    But all joking aside, abstaining from one thing isn’t a bad custom. And we’re not giving it up for Lent; properly we’re giving it up for Jesus.

    So once we recognize this, we need to ask ourselves: Exactly how does this benefit Jesus? How will it grow our relationship with him? Does it grow our relationship with him?—are we abstaining because this is something we want, or he wants? Didja bother to ask him what he actually wants us to do without?

    That’s most of the reason Christians pick something difficult to abstain from. It’s a reminder Jesus is infinitely more important than our favorite things. Really he should be our favorite thing, and during Lent that’s what he oughta become, in a far more obvious way than usual. And after Lent, oughta remain.

    For this reason we shouldn’t just pick something we oughta give up anyway. If you figure, “I really oughta give up adultery for Lent”: Well duh. And you oughta give up adultery period. Don’t figure you’ll quit shoplifting, or verbally abusing people, or smacking your kids around… but only till Easter. Don’t save obeying God till Lent. Nor start sinning again once it’s Easter! Just stop.

    Put some wisdom into your choice. The first time I abstained for Lent, I picked coffee. I love coffee. Makes sense to pick something which might have enough of a hold on me to tempt me. Problem is, when I have my coffee first thing in the morning, the first words out of my mouth are, “Thank you Jesus for coffee”—I’m in a thanksgiving mood. From there, I can go on to prayer, devotions, and other ways of honoring him. But when I don’t have that coffee, it takes longer to get into that mood. No, I’m not saying I need coffee to worship Jesus; that’s stupid. But dropping coffee doesn’t help. (And lest you’re worried about my caffeine addiction, I usually drink decaf. Not just for Lent.)

    Don’t pick a Lenten fast which’ll irritate others, or cause them hardship. I unthinkingly did this myself one year: I went without meat. In itself it’s not a bad thing… but I attended a party, was given the duty of ordering pizza, and selfishly only thought of my fast: I ordered nothing but vegetable and cheese pizzas. The other folks in the party of course wanted meat. They didn’t appreciate how I’d convenienced myself but inconvenienced them: I was behaving exactly like one of those self-righteous vegans who impose their consciences on everyone else. Lots of fasting Christians do likewise: If the friends wanna go out to eat, they respond, “Not that restaurant; I’m fasting,” and demand all their friends accommodate their devotion. That’s actually selfishness disguised as devotion. Don’t do that.

    My students used to joke, “I’ll give up bathing.” (Of course. They’re kids.) But they really, really needed to bathe. They smelled enough like foot cheese as it was. And lest you get any ideas, don’t you give up bathing. Fasting is supposed to be invisible. Mt 6.16-18 Plus it’s common courtesy to not outrage our neighbor’s noses for no good reason.

    Putting something down… and taking something up.

    Most people talk about giving something up for Lent. Not enough of us talk about practicing something new for Lent. ’Cause when we fast, we’re meant to pray instead of eat. So when you give up, say, caffeine for Lent, you’re meant to pray instead of drink. Do a little something extra for Jesus.

    Do what? Up to you. Y’might block off a little extra time for prayer or bible-reading. Might join a prayer or study group. Might volunteer for charity work, or some other kind of regular Christian activity. Sometimes Christians have the goal of making this a regular practice in their lives, even beyond Lent. More often it’s just till Easter: If you gave up reading novels to read the bible, you oughta be finished with the bible by Easter, so back to the novels. Nothing wrong with that. Well, depending on the novels.

    I’ve done special bible studies during Lent in previous years. Or extra prayer meetings, extra offerings and charitable donations, extra work directly with the needy; more so than usual. Some churches do something special during this time; get involved in it. If Lent is about extra focus on Jesus, we need to do more than passively focus on him by not doing something. We should act.

    Opting out.

    Yes, like all fasting, Lent is optional. God never mandated fasting in the scriptures: They’re human traditions and practices, invented by us Christians, like Christmas and Easter. We have plenty of freedom when it comes to how we observe ’em. That’s why customs vary from nation to nation, church to church, house to house.

    True, some churches won’t leave it up to you. They’re definitely doing Lent, and expect you to join in. Roman Catholics, fr’instance: They’re really big on worshiping God together, corporately, in unity, as a group. Local bishops can determine exceptions, but in general if you’re a member of their church, you’re gonna do as your church does. If not, why are you even Catholic?

    This is where Lent can turn into a sin: If anyone promises to do something, God holds us to our promises, especially when we swear to him we’ll do it. So if I join a church, I’ve obligated myself to participate in the life of that church. If I can’t do that, they need to be okay with it… or I need to find another church.

    So when Catholics claim they’re observing Lent, but insist on doing it their own way instead of in a way their church approves of, they’re harming their relationship with their church. They’re violating any promises they made to their church. They’re often hiding their non-participation from others, yet pretending they’re fasting right along with everyone else. Yep, it’s hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is fraud, and fraud is sin.

    You might have totally valid objections to the way your church does Lent. They might be too legalistic. Or you have health problems. Or your job gets in the way. Or, like every other Catholic-in-name-only on St. Patrick’s Day, you wanna get plowed on green Guinness. But you need to work these issues out with your church. Don’t just break their rules and your promises, and claim it’s freedom in Christ. Freedom in Christ isn’t freedom to sin. Ju 4

    Are they too legalistic? Maybe they don’t realize it. Someone got overzealous, and didn’t know they were creating hardship. Hey, it’s not always because someone’s on a power trip. But even if it is a tinhorn dictator of a pastor trying to make everyone confirm, work this out. ’Cause if that’s the case, you really shouldn’t be at that church. And if it’s you, that needs to be dealt with too.

    As for those Christians who don’t just skip Lent, but openly dismiss fasting in general, object to Christians who fast, and mock Lent in particular: This is exactly the sort of thing Paul wrote the Romans about.

    Romans 14.5-13 NLT
    5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.
    10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say,
    “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD,
    ‘every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” Is 45.23
    12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. 13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

    Lent, practiced correctly, helps us Christians grow closer to Jesus. Ridicule (unless it’s to point out a legitimate flaw in our thinking) doesn’t help. Either do it or don’t, but don’t slam the people who are making an honest effort. Yeah, there are people who are only going through the motions to look good, and that’s all the reward they’ll get, Mt 6.1-6 because that’s really all the reward they want. But a lot of us are trying to grow our relationships with God by putting aside irrelevant things like food, drink, and entertainment.

    And it just makes sense to do it before Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead and revealed to us he really has defeated sin and death. That’s why, when Easter comes and we stop fasting, we can celebrate his victory all the more.