Jesus wants us Christians to be fruity.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 January 2024

Yes, I know what “fruity” tends to mean in our culture. No, I don’t care. I’m taking the word back. Fruity fruity fruity.

Fruit is a metaphor we see all over the New Testament for behavior. The way Christ Jesus describes it, if you’re a good tree, you produce good fruit, and a rotten tree produces bad fruit. I’ll quote him:

Luke 6.43-45 NRSVue
43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

His apostle Paul didn’t care to even call bad behavior “fruit,” preferring to call ’em “works of the flesh.” Ga 5.19 But the scriptures’ general idea is there’s good fruit and bad. People are fruity in one way or the other.

And if we’re truly following Jesus, we should see the good stuff. Right?

John 15.1-8 NRSVue
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

In the quote above, it sounds like it’s possible to produce no fruit, good or bad. Which isn’t better. Jesus tells another story about a fruitless tree:

Luke 13.6-9 NRSVue
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the man working the vineyard, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Those who produce no fruit—nothing God can use, anyway—are getting disposed of. “Gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned,” is how Jesus put it. Jn 15.6 Being fruitless is functionally the same as producing bad fruit. God wants fruit!

So if we truly follow Jesus, we oughta be super fruity. Our lifestyles should be filled with christlike behavior. Filled with proof of God’s influence on our lives: We should share his character traits, which Paul called “fruit of the Spirit.” Ga 5.22

And yeah, to some degree we should also see some supernatural stuff. Like miracles, prophecy, healing, and so forth, ’cause God’s kingdom isn’t all about philosophy and talk, but God’s power. 1Co 4.19 Stuff happens when God’s among us. But when he’s not—’cause we won’t include him and never bother to follow him—stuff doesn’t happen, and fruit isn’t visible.

So when a person claims to be Christian, claims to follow Jesus, yet their lifestyle is no different than any pagan who has no relationship with God at all—worse, if they’re jerks, or downright evil, and try to justify their dark behavior and beliefs with Christian-sounding excuses—we’re dealing with hypocrites at best, antichrists at worst. Fakes either way.

Religious. Not “spiritual.”

by K.W. Leslie, 01 January 2024

Happy new year, happy 8th day of Christmas, and happy Feast of the Circumcision (’cause if Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, that’d be today, right?). At the beginning of each year I figure it’s a good idea to remind readers of the point of TXAB, i.e. the Christ Almighty Blog. And remind myself too: I’ve seen many a blog which began as one thing, evolved into another, and it wasn’t an improvement.

This blog is about following Jesus the Nazarene, our God-anointed king and Messiah, or Christ. The first of his followers became known as Χριστιανούς/Hristianús, “Christ-followers,” or Christians, because that’s what we’re meant to do: We follow Jesus. We teach what he taught, believe what he tells us, do as he says, and grow good fruit.

Except some Christians don’t follow Jesus. Yet claim the title anyway.

You see them everywhere in my homeland of the United States. We claim to be Christian, but we’re not Christ-followers; we’re fans. We really like him! We claim to love him—or at least love him as we’ve re-imagined him, usually to suit our prejudices, politics, and all the sins we’re hoping to get away with. We surround ourselves with other like-minded hypocrites who claim they know Jesus and really don’t, and thereby become Christianist. As revealed by the fact all their fruit is “fleshly.”

There are so many of these misbehaving “Christians,” it’s no wonder various Christians insist, “No, don’t call me Christian; I’m a Christ-follower. Call me that.” They want it very clear they’re legitimately, honestly trying to follow Jesus. They’re not just in it because “Jesus” hates what they hate, and justifies their various hatreds.

And the Christianists claim they’re totally following Jesus too! (Certainly they’ll claim it whenever somebody does something they consider sinful.) But y’know, whenever you drop an authentic God-encounter on ’em, either they immediately recognize their errors and repent… or they lose their minds in horror and offense, and insist this has to be some kind of devilish trick. Yep, given the opportunity they’ll commit straight-up blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is why God doesn’t drop that on them as often as he could; why push ’em into sin? But we needn’t even bring up their near-blasphemies. Fleshly works prove ’em as frauds quite effectively.

Well. Once we quit following the crowd and follow Jesus whithersoever he leads, we call this being religious.

Read the bible in a month. Yes, seriously. A month.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 December 2023

January’s coming; you’re making resolutions, and one of ’em is to read the bible. As you should! It’s gonna make you more familiar with God. Some people unrealistically expect a new, profound God-experience every day as the Holy Spirit shows ’em stuff, but hopefully you’re more realistic about it. Hopefully you’re realistic about all your resolutions. Not everyone is.

So you need to read through through the entire bible, Genesis to maps. (That’s an old Evangelical joke. ’Cause a lot of study bibles include maps in the back. Okay, it’s less amusing once I explain it.) Every year Christians get on some kind of bible-reading plan to make sure they methodically go through every book, chapter, and verse. ’Cause when we don’t, we wind up only reading the familiar bits, over and over and over again—and miss a lot of the parts we should read. The reason so many Christians misinterpret the New Testament is because they know so very little of its Old Testament context. Every time I quote just a little bit of the Law to explain Jesus’s teachings, way too many people respond, “I’ve never heard that before.” Sadly, I know exactly what they’re talking about.

But part of the reason they “never heard that before” is because they totally forgot they did hear it. Because their bible-in-a-year reading plan had ’em read the Law back in February… and when they finally got to the gospels in September, they’ve clean forgot what they read in February. And by next February when they’re reading the Law again, they’ve clean forgot what they read in September.

So why take a year to read the bible? ’Cause everybody else is doing the bible in a year.

Seriously. It’s a big market. Publishers sell one-year bibles, which chop the scriptures into short daily readings. Sometimes really short daily readings, ’cause they’ll give you three readings: A chapter of the Old Testament, half a chapter of the New Testament, and half a psalm or some other poetry for dessert. If you don’t buy their specially sliced-up bible, there are websites which do it for you, or modules to add to your bible software, or you can just get a list of somebody’s bible-in-a-year plan and follow it yourself. Stick to it and in a year—a year!—you’ll have read the bible.

Yes the bible is a big thick book collection. But come on. It’s not so thick it takes a year to go through.

The year-long program makes the bible sound like this huge, insurmountable mountain to climb. It’s no such thing. Why, you can read it in a month. And no, I’m not kidding. A month. I’ve read it several Januarys in a row. Takes me three weeks.

Yes, there are bible-reading programs which read the bible in three months. That’s a little more reasonable. In fact if you wanna really get familiar with your bible, and quickly, it’s a great idea to do this three-month plan and read the bible four times in a year. (Ideally in four different translations.) Read it every time the seasons change—in December, March, June, and September. Get a bible-in-three-months plan and go with their schedule, or get a bible-in-a-year plan and read four times as much.

If you struggle with reading, or reading comprehension, fine; there are six-month bible-reading plans. But when we’re talking a whole year to read the bible, this pace has serious drawbacks. And not just ’cause it makes the bible sound impossibly massive.

Imagine reading any other book a page a day.

Bible chapters are short. ’Cause when the ancients wrote books, their chapters were short! A chapter is what we’d consider a section of a chapter nowadays. They’re like four or five paragraphs. If you’ve ever read Les Miserables the chapters are even shorter. The sections in these TXAB articles I write are just as long. And bible chapters are often longer than the average chapter in ancient literature.

So imagine reading a “big thick volume” of a book in only a chapter a day. Like Les Miserables, or War and Peace, or The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, over the course of a year. You’d never think to chop them up into 365 daily readings. But let’s say you did.

You’re gonna have the following troubles:

  • A narrative is gonna get sliced up. Several times. In several awkward places. Can you remember, day to day, where you are in the story? Hope so.
  • How well are you gonna remember a concept in one of the early chapters, when the concept comes up again three months later? And eight months later? And 11 months later?
  • When you can’t follow the storyline, you’re gonna get frustrated. Frustrated readers don’t usually go back and reread things in order to sort things out. They tend to stop reading altogether.

These are some of the many reasons why a year is much too slow. Three months is better. But if you want a serious overview of the bible with a fresh memory, read it in two months. And as I keep saying, you can read it in one. The entire bible, front to back, within the month of January. (Book order up to you, of course.)

Sixteen years ago I was listening to one of my audio bibles and noticed it was about 92 hours long. That’s listening to it at the relatively slow pace that a voice actor goes. I read much faster than that. I realized I could easily read it in half that time—which means it’s theoretically possible to read the bible in a week if motivated. You know, like zealous brand-new Christians tend to be. How often have you heard baby Christians claim they started reading their bibles and couldn’t put it down, and got through the whole volume in quicktime?

So in order to prove the bible-in-a-month deal was doable, I put the following limitations on myself. I think they’re reasonable and doable. I still follow ’em.

  • An hour (or so) per day. If I go over an hour, it’s only because I’m so close to finishing a book, it’d be nuts to stop with a chapter or two to go. Most days the reading takes less than an hour: Most of the bible’s books are short.
  • Only six days a week. I skip Saturdays—unless I miss some other day of the week; then I catch up Saturday. Still, only six days.
  • An unfamiliar bible translation, which oughta make me less likely to skim the verses I’m familiar with.

I read fast, which is why I’m usually done in three weeks. So you can totally do it in four.

Or listen to an entire audio bible.

Maybe you’re not much of a reader. Which is odd, considering you read TXAB and I write very few short pieces.

If that’s you, that’s fine. An audio bible might be more your speed. Get one. I have a page full of links. You can download one for free, or visit one of the many sites which stream the bible, like Bible Gateway. Or get an app (yes, Bible Gateway has one) and stick it on your phone. There are many available translations.

Like I said, one of my audio bibles takes 92 hours to listen to in its entirety. Divided into 24 days, I’d have to listen to about 3 hours 12 minutes a day. For some of us, the daily commute to work and back is longer than 3 hours (which is kinda nuts, but that’s life) and what d’you usually do in that time? Listen to other stuff? Curse at the other drivers? Load up on audio bible instead.

For those folks who live their lives with headphones on, you can listen to way more than three hours a day. Might finish the bible in two weeks, like one of those on-fire Christians who can’t put their bible down. Remember when you were like that? (Oh, you never were? Well, don’t worry. Statistically less than a third of us came to Jesus like that.)

Though the bible’s a big thick book collection, going through the whole of it in January is far from impossible.

“But I don’t wanna read it so fast.”

Ever since I first pitched this idea, a lot of people have been eager to tackle it for themselves. Bible in a month, baby! They drop everything else they’re reading, all the TV programs they’re usually watching, suspend their Netflix account, and cram bible for the month. And to their own great surprise, do it.

I get just as many people who really don’t wanna take the bible-in-the-month challenge. Which is fine. Nobody made this mandatory, y’know. I sure don’t. I just think it’s a good idea: Why take the snail’s-pace approach when you could be done already in January? Worse, lose track and drop the ball by mid-March, just like your gym membership?

For certain people, it’s not enough to say, “No thank you; not for me.” They gotta defend themselves. (Again, they really don’t.) And how do immature people defend themselves? By not just opting out: By slamming the practice, and condemning the person who promotes the practice. It’s not just “not for me,” but somehow evil. Reading the bible so quickly isn’t just a road not chosen; it’s a sin. Or so they tell me.

Here are the usual objections I get.

“IT’S DISRESPECTFUL TO MAKE A MARATHON OF READING THE BIBLE.” Disrespectful to whom? God? Did God decree we should only read his word in a slow, solemn pace, so that it takes a year? Or is he much more pleased when people are hungry for his word, and wanna read lots of it?

Slowness is neither respect nor reverence. It’s just slowness. True, some people are slow because they wanna be careful and methodical, and that’s good. But people are also slow because they’re lazy: If they’re slow about it, they don’t have to work too hard. Or they’re procrastinating: Put off the parts of the bible they don’t like, then whip through those passages quickly. When slowness is just an excuse to avoid reading the bible, it’s pure hypocrisy to claim speed is disrespect.

True, if we read the bible so fast we comprehend little to nothing, all so we can brag “I read it in one week; top that!”—yeah, it’s stupid. Too many people run marathons just so they can brag they ran marathons. So there are definitely people who speed-read bible so they can brag they sped-read bible. Don’t be one of those. If you’re struggling with reading comprehension ’cause a month is just too quick for you, take two or three, or however long it truly takes you. But 12 months, I still maintain, is impractically long. And foolish.

“THIS IS JUST A STUNT.” And so what if it is?

Most of the things our churches do in January are stunts. My church used to do a yearly 21-day diet fast. My neighbor’s church does a back-to-church deal so they can collect all the folks who resolved to do more church in the new year. Exactly what’s wrong with these stunts? Just because it’s wild and out of the ordinary, doesn’t mean you can’t profit by it.

If the bible-in-January stunt gets people to read their bibles for once, you should be all for it.

“HOW MUCH CAN YOU RETAIN FROM READING SO FAST?” Me? Quite a lot. I have a better-than-average ability at reading comprehension. You? I dunno. But it’ll be way more than you retain from reading so slow.

This is probably the most regular excuse I’ve heard for reading through the bible slowly: “We need the time to chew our spiritual food, and meditate on it better.” It’d be nice if that’s actually what people do with their daily bible readings, but let’s get real: They do no such thing. They only read ’em, maybe post a few bible memes on Instagram, then move on with their day. The whole “I need time to meditate” excuse? Yep, more hypocrisy.

The point of reading the entire bible isn’t actually retention, although some retention will happen. It’s to remind us what’s in the scriptures. Retention’s more likely when we read it more often, so when you do this bible-in-a-month thing every year, you’re really likely to retain stuff. But even if you just do it this once: There are parts we haven’t read in the longest time, and we need to be reminded they’re there. We need a refresher. Familiarity is something a lot of us Christians lack with the bible.

How much are we gonna retain? More than someone who never reads it. And while everyone on the three-month plan is a third of the way through, we even have time to go through the bible again. Twice.

“IT DOESN’T MAKE YOU A BETTER OR SUPERIOR CHRISTIAN.” Yeah it does. In a month I’ve read 12 times as much bible as those Christians on the yearly installment plan. That’s clearly superior.

Oh you mean morally superior? Well no; of course not. Not unless I actually follow God’s instructions in what I’ve read.

But like I said, I’ll have read 12 times as much bible. I got all God’s instructions down by the end of January, whereas the folks on the yearly plan won’t be half done till July. I have it fresh in my memory, and know where I need to go back and review; they don’t. Depending on how their plan is structured, they can go most of the year making the same mistakes, committing the same sins, because they haven’t yet been corrected—or because it’s been far too long since they read those corrections, and they forgot ’em already. I have a serious advantage over them.

No, I haven’t earned special heavenly Brownie points from God by reading the bible in a month. No, I’m not more righteous, more saved, more mature, more anything, unless I put what I read into practice. But I did get that bible read, and have a several-month jump on other Christians. That ain’t nothing.

“I CAN’T SPARE AN HOUR A DAY.” Fair enough. Many can’t. Some of us have crazy busy lives, and simply can’t take a free hour for ourselves and our spiritual lives. That’s a much bigger issue than reading the bible in a month. If you can only snatch a few minutes for yourself at a time, please spend it on prayer. When you get more time, then concentrate on bible study and mediation. If you want to plow through a bible within a month, you may have to resort to audio bibles.

But lots of people absolutely do have a spare hour. That is, after we part with some other leisure activity, like TV, video games, Facebook, or something they really don’t wanna put on hold.

“I’M NOT SURE I COULD BE THAT DISCIPLINED.” Also fair enough. But God’s calling you to be. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. When we lack self-control, it’s not because God hasn’t granted us the ability; it’s because we’ve not bothered to put this Spirit-granted ability into practice, and don’t exercise it. Compared to other forms of self-control—diets, quitting tobacco, going to the gym regularly, cutting back on luxuries—reading the bible in a month is rather easy. Unless we’re suffering from an addiction or medical condition, our lack of discipline isn’t a valid excuse.

Maybe you need an incentive: Once you finish the bible, reward yourself. Or read the bible with a partner, and if you finish the bible your partner can reward you, and vice-versa. Do it in a group and egg one another on. Ban all other reading material, all other forms of entertainment, from your life till you get that bible completely read. If you’re not disciplined, use this opportunity to grow your self-control.

One possible schedule.

Here’s one possible schedule you can follow. Gets you through the Old Testament (I listed it in roughly the order it was composed), then the New (generally bunching authors together).

January has 31 days, so there are plenty of extra days available.

And no, you don’t have to start on 1 January! Start anywhere. Start in mid-January and finish in mid-February. Start in February. Start on Wedesday instead of Sunday, and take your breaks on Sundays instead of Saturdays. Who says you have to sync up with any calendar?

I’ve seen other reading programs which divide the bible up into roughly equal amounts of reading each day. It means you gotta quit reading partway through a book. Ideally I like to read a book (any book, not just bible books) all the way through. So you’ll notice I didn’t bisect the books if I could help it. Psalms is an exception, ’cause Psalms is huge—and technically Psalms consists of five books of psalms, and I didn’t divide those five books.

If you wanna rearrange things for your own convenience—maybe you wanna read an Old Testament book, then a New Testament book, then the Old Testament again, and so on—go right ahead. Whatever gets you through the bible.

And if you wanna read equal amounts of bible each day, here’s the easiest way to do it: Go get one of those yearly bible-reading programs, and read 13 days’ worth of material each day. That’ll get you finished in 28 days.

Ready to take the challenge? Let’s start reading.

Resolutions: Our little stabs at self-control.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 December 2023

Speaking for myself, I’m not into new year’s resolutions.

Because I make resolutions the year round. Whenever I recognize changes I need to make in my life, I get to work on ’em right away. I don’t procrastinate till 1 January. (Though I admit I may procrastinate just the same. But not ’cause I’m saving up these changes for the new year.)

Here’s the problem with stockpiling all our lifestyle changes till the new year: Come 1 January, we wind up with a vast pile of changes to make. It’s hard enough to make one change; now you have five. Or 50, depending on how great of a trainwreck you are. Multiplying your resolutions, multiplies your difficulty level.

But hey, it’s an American custom. So at the year’s end a lot of folks, Christians included, begin to think about what we’d like to change about our lives.

Not that we want to change. Some of us don’t! But it’s New Year’s resolution time, and everyone’s asking what our resolutions are, and some of us might grudgingly try to come up with something. What should we change? Too many carbohydrates? Not enough exercise? Sloppy finances? Non-productive hobbies? Too many bucket list items not checked off?

Since our culture doesn’t really do self-control, you might notice a lot of Americans’ resolutions aren’t really about breaking bad habits, but adding new habits—good or bad. We’re not gonna eat less, but we are gonna work out more often. We’re not gonna cut back on video games at all, yet somehow we’re gonna find the time to pray more often. You know—unrealistic expectations.

True, a lot of us vow to diet and exercise. Just as many of us will choose to learn gourmet cooking, or resolve to eat at fancier restaurants more often. (Well, so long that the fancier restaurants provide American-size portions. If I only wanted a six-ounce piece of meat I’d go to In-N-Out Burger.)

True, a lot of us will vow to cut back on our screen time—whether on computers, tablets, phones, or televisions. Just as many will decide time isn’t the issue; quality is. They’ll vow to watch better movies and TV shows. Time to binge-watch the shows the critics rave about. Time to watch classic movies instead of whatever Adam Sandler’s production company farts out. (I used to say “poops out,” but that implies they’re making an effort.) Sometimes it’s a clever attempt to avoid cutting back on screen time—’cause they already know they won’t. And sometimes they honestly never think about it; screens are a fact of life.

As Christians, a lot of us will resolve to be better Christians. We’ll pray more. Meditate more. Go to church more consistently; maybe join one of the small groups. Perhaps read more bible—even all the way through. Put more into the collection plate. Share Jesus more often with strangers and acquaintances. Maybe do some missions work.

All good intentions. Yet here’s the problem: It takes self-control to make any resolution stick. It’s why, by mid-March, all these resolutions are likely abandoned. So if we’re ever gonna stick to them, we gotta begin by developing everybody’s least-favorite fruit of the Spirit: Self-control.

St. Stephen, and true martyrdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 December 2023

You may remember Στέφανος/Stéfanos “Stephen” from Acts 6-7. He’s not in the bible for very long, but he makes a big impact, ’cause he’s the first Christian to get killed for Jesus. Or martyred, as we put it, although properly martyrdom really only means giving one’s testimony. And hopefully not getting lynched for it.

Stephen’s feast day is actually today—26 December, the second day of Christmas. It’s the day good king Wenceslas looked down, if you know the Christmas carol; maybe you do. We have no idea whether Stephen literally died in December, much less whether it’s the 26th (or 27th, in eastern churches); it’s just where tradition happened to stick it. In some countries it’s an official holiday.

If you’ve read Acts, you know how he comes up. If not, I’ll recap.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, tithes weren’t money, but food. Every year you took 10 percent of your firstfruits and celebrated with it, Dt 14.22-27 and every third year you gave it to the needy. Dt 14.28-29 Apparently the first Christians took on this duty of distributing tithes to the needy. But they were accused of favoring Aramaic-speaking Christians over Greek-speaking ones, Ac 6.1 so the Twelve had the church elect seven Greek-speakers to make sure the Greek-speakers were served properly. Ac 6.2-3 Stephen was first in this list, and Acts’ author Luke pointedly called him full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Ac 6.5 full of God’s grace and power. Ac 6.8 Definitely a standout.

The first church still only consisted of Jews. Christianity was a Judean religion—the obvious difference between Christians and Pharisees being we believe Jesus is Messiah, and they believed Messiah hadn’t yet come. Otherwise the first Christians still went to temple and synagogue. It was in synagogue where Stephen got into trouble: The people of his synagogue dragged him before the Judean senate to accuse him of slandering Moses, temple, and the LORD. Custom made slandering Moses and the temple serious, but slandering the LORD coulda got you the death penalty… if the Romans hadn’t forbidden the Judeans from enacting it. But as you know from Jesus’s case, they could certainly get the Romans to execute you for them. So Stephen was hauled before the senate to defend himself.

Unlike Jesus, who totally admitted he’s Messiah, Stephen defended himself. His defense was a bible lesson: He retold the history of Israel, up to the construction of the temple. Ac 7.2-47 Then he pointed out God doesn’t live in a building, of all the silly things. Ac 7.48-50 Oh, by the way, the senate was a bunch of Law-breakers who killed Christ. Ac 7.51-53

More than one person has pointed out it’s almost like Stephen was trying to get himself killed. Me, I figure he was young and overzealous and naïve, and had adopted the American myth (centuries before we Americans adopted it) that if you’re on God’s side, no harm will ever befall you. You can bad-mouth your foes, and God’s hedge of protection will magically defend you when they turn round and try to punch you in the head. You can leap from tall buildings, and angels will catch you. You know, like Satan tried to tempt Jesus with. Mt 4.5-7

And that’s not at all how things turned out.

Stephen’s martyrdom.

Seeing a vision of Jesus at God’s side, and utterly tone-deaf to how he’d enraged the senate, Stephen shared this vision. Ac 7.54-56 But shouting and plugging their ears (yep, exactly like a little kid who does this and yells, “Nah nah nah can’t hear you!”) the senators rushed him, dragged him out of the chamber, dragged him out of the city, and illegally stoned him to death. Ac 7.57-58

The Romans had made it illegal for anyone but Romans to enact the death penalty, remember? That’s why the senate had to go to Pontius Pilate to get Jesus executed. Jn 18.28-32 But lynch mobs don’t care about law. Likely there was later hell to pay with the Romans, but Luke never got into that.

In a stoning, the practice was to drop the victim off a cliff—which would kill you—then drop heavy stones down on the body. If falling didn’t kill you, the stones would finish the job. It’s not like movies depict it, where people just throw fist-size rocks at you till one of ’em finally cracks your skull.

Seems the fall didn’t kill Stephen, because Luke recorded his last words: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Ac 7.60 KJV Christians tend to self-righteously figure Stephen was in the right, so this was an act of grand forgiveness on his part. Me, I figure Stephen realized some of his own culpability in getting himself killed.

Either way he died, and Stephen’s death triggered the first serious persecution of Christians. It drove most of them out of Jerusalem, where the first church was headquartered. They began to spread Jesus wherever they went—throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Plus it brought Saul of Tarsus into the story as a persecutor—though after Jesus got hold of him and repurposed him into an apostle, we better know him by his Greek name Παῦλος/Pávlos, “Paul.”

To persecutors’ annoyance, they began to discover how killing Christians didn’t stop us from spreading. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” was a famous statement of second-century church father Tertullian of Carthage. Getting killed for Jesus makes heroes of us. People admire heroes.

Stephen’s death was a big deal because Stephen was a big deal. He “did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Ac 6.8 KJV People knew him as a strong, dedicated Christian. His death made an impact because people knew his character.

Contrast this to how people presume martyrdom works. They figure the big deal, the huge impact, comes from making that dying confession; of claiming to trust Jesus right before some gun nut shoots you, or bravely defying the antichrists who threaten to torture the skin off you. Stephen wasn’t any such person. He laid down his life for Christ Jesus a long time before his martyrdom.

’Cause dying for Jesus requires us to live for Jesus. The life makes the witness. The death only draws attention to it.

Bad martyrdoms.

A dying or defiant declaration is the easy way out. You can actually go your whole life long without following Jesus whatsoever… but because you confess him on your deathbed, you imagine this’ll gain you sainthood.

And Christians with this kind of rotten, cheap-grace attitude are largely the reason we have rubbish martyrs throughout Christian history. There are loads of irreligious, may-as-well-be-pagan, lousy Christians who didn’t live for Jesus whatsoever, who assumed (as Christians still do) when we “die for him” it’s like a billion karmic points, and makes up for all our evil. Hey, since we gave our lives for the cause, it should count towards heaven, right?

True, getting killed for any cause—even a wrongheaded or evil cause, as we see with suicide bombers—means certain people are gonna see you as heroes. But don’t assume martyrdom automatically makes a Christian righteous. It doesn’t in the least. Loads of Christian martyrs didn’t die for Jesus so much as die due to their own ignorance, stubbornness, arrogance, and stupidity. Some of ’em were even mentally ill.

We actually see some of this in certain church fathers. Some of ’em pursued death for Jesus’s sake. Sought out persecutors. Did nothing to stop pagans from killing them. Sometimes ’cause they decided a quick death was far better than being sold into slavery, which was the more common punishment. Or—when they were old and gonna die anyway—they figured it was best to go out in a blaze of glory for Jesus. In some cases the Holy Spirit legitimately forewarned ’em they weren’t gonna survive their arrest, so they made peace with the idea and stepped into it. But ordinarily? Those who desire martyrdom have a screw loose.

The words μαρτυρέω/martyréo and μάρτυς/mártys are Greek for “witness.” Your martyrdom isn’t significant because you died for Jesus. It’s because before your death you lived for him.

Look at Stephen: He testified he knew Jesus, saw Jesus, and recognized Jesus as an important influence in his life. What made Stephen’s death relevant was how his short life reflected this relationship. Now if you aren’t known in life for having anything to do with Jesus—if in fact you’re a rotten bastard, and were hoping a glorious death in his name redeems you—it doesn’t; it won’t. People may not recognize hypocritical martyrs for their hypocrisy, but God certainly does. Means nothing to him.

Yep, it’s a mockery of martyrdom, just like the suicide bombers who think blowing themselves up in God’s name will make up for a lifetime of sin, and get them into heaven.

And we don’t even earn heaven! Even Islam, which those ignorant suicide bombers think they’re dying for, teaches this: We’re only saved because God is gracious. You want heaven? He’ll give you heaven, free. You don’t have to die for it; Jesus already did that!

Too many Christians figure we can be jerks and our powerful testimony makes up for it. Really, it doesn’t work that way at all. Anybody remember Samson ben Manoah as a great man of God? Nope; we only remember him for having long hair, for being strong and violent, and for being horny and stupid. You want history to remember you as dumbass who died because your girlfriend nagged you into exposing your biggest weakness? ’Cause that’s Samson’s testimony now; not his trust in God. He had it, but we seldom to never talk about it.

Another phenomenon I’ve seen is when Christians unexpectedly lose a loved one—a kid, a parent, a good friend, whatever—and try to convert the loved one’s death into a martyrdom. The kid got murdered, so the parents begin to claim (sometimes with evidence, sometimes with none whatsoever) the murderer was only out to kill Christians, and their kid died “standing up for Jesus.” Or a Christian’s on vacation, dies in a traffic accident, and because she’s a Christian in a foreign land somehow this gets bent into “she was on the mission field” somehow, and died “in the field.” As happens every time someone dies, all good deeds get eulogized, all sins get forgotten, and they’re made to sound as saintly as possible. True, deaths can be tragic, but swapping real people for fake versions and mourning that? People grieve and seek comfort all sorts of ways, but lies and delusion is hardly a healthy method.

Well. You don’t have to be killed for Jesus in order to be a martyr. Remember, the word means “witness.” Live for Jesus. Share your testimonies. Demonstrate his work and teachings in your life. And if our lives for Jesus happen to irritate others for no good reason, and get us killed, that’s a proper martyrdom.

Working people up till they kill you in a fit of rage? Arguably Stephen wasn’t a proper martyr either. But he’s our first, and he was otherwise a good guy, so he at least merits a day on the calendar.

The 12 days of Christmas.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 December 2023

Today’s the first day of Christmas. Happy Christmas!

After which there are 11 more days of it. 26 December—which is also Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day—tends to get called “the day after Christmas,” but it’s not. It’s the second day of Christmas.

The Sunday after Christmas (and in many years, including 2021, two Sundays after Christmas) is still Christmas. So I go to church and wish people a happy Christmas. And they look at me funny, till I remind them, “Christmas is 12 days, y’know. Like the song.”

Ah, the song. They sing it, but it never clicks what they’re singing about.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Three french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four calling birds, three french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

We’re on the fourth day and that’s 20 frickin’ birds. There will be plenty more, what with the swans a-swimming and geese a-laying. Dude was weird for birds. But I digress.

There are 12 days of Christmas. But our culture focuses on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day… and we’re done. Department store policy is to remove the Christmas merchandise on 26 December, and start putting up New Year’s and St. Valentine’s Day stuff. (If the Christmas stuff is already sold out, fill ’em with New Year’s stuff now.) So the stores grant us two days of Christmas; no more.

Really, many people can’t abide any more days of Christmas than that. When I remind people it’s 12 days, the response is seldom surprise, recognition, or pleasure. It’s tightly controlled rage. Who the [expletive noun] added 11 more days to this [expletive adjective] holiday? They want it done already.

I understand this. If the focus of Christmas isn’t Christ, but instead all the Christian-adjacent cultural traditions we’re forced to practice this time of year, Christmas sucks. Hard. Especially since Mammonists don’t bother to be like Jesus, and practice kindness and generosity. For them Christmas is about being a dick to any clerk who wishes ’em a “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I don’t blame people for hating that behavior. Really, Christians should hate it. It’s works of the flesh, y’know.

Christmas, the feast of Christ Jesus’s nativity (from whence non-English speakers get their names for Christmas, like Navidad and Noël and Natale) begins 25 December and ends 5 January. What are we to do these other 11 days? Same as we were supposed to do Christmas Day: Remember Jesus. Meditate on his first coming; look forward to his second coming. And rejoice; these are feast days, so the idea is to actually enjoy yourself, and have a good time with loved ones. Eat good food. Hang out. Relax. Or, if you actually like to shop, go right ahead; but if you don’t, by all means don’t.

It’s a holiday. Take a holiday.

John the baptist, the second coming of Elijah.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 December 2023

John 1.19-28.

In the Gospel of Luke, he started the Jesus story with the time an angel appears to Zechariah the Levite to tell him he’ll have a son named John; and this John grows up to be John the baptist. As a result a lot of Christmas stories likewise start with Zechariah.

More of these stories leapfrog Zechariah though. Instead they start with Jesus’s mom, Mary, or Jesus’s dad, Joseph. Or they leapfrog that too, and describe his parents just getting into Bethlehem as Mary’s water breaks, and because nobody would take them in, Mary had to climb into a manger and squeeze out Jesus into it. What’d you think “born in a manger” literally means? And no, that’s not in the bible anywhere. Luke said he was laid in a manger, Lk 2.7 after Mary gave birth. Read a bible, people. But I digress.

I’m not leapfrogging Zechariah, but I am starting with John the baptist… and starting with a conversation John had with the Judeans some decades later, when these people wanted to know exactly who John thought he was. For that, we switch gospels to John, and look at this part here:

John 1.19-28 KWL
19 And this is John’s testimony,
when the Judeans of Jerusalem send priests and Levites out to him
so they could ask him, “Who are you?”
20 John is in agreement with them,
and does not resist them,
and agrees with them: “I’m not Messiah.”
21 They ask John, “So… what, are you Elijah?”
He says, “I’m not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 So they say, “Who are you?—
so we can give an answer to those who sent us.
What do you say about yourself?”
23 John is saying, “I’m
‘a voice crying out in the wilderness:
Straighten the Master’s path!’ Is 40.3
like the prophet Isaiah said.”
 
24 Those who’d been sent were Pharisees,
25 and questioned John, and told him,
“So why do you baptize,
if you’re not Messiah nor Elijah nor the Prophet?”
26 John answers them, saying, “I baptize in water.
In your midst, one has stood among you.
You’ve not known him.
27 [He is] the one coming after me,
[who has got in front of me].
I’m not worthy to loose his sandal strap.”
28 These events happen in Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan,
where John is baptizing.

Now y’might notice the three people John said he’s not:

  • Messiah.
  • Elijah.
  • The Prophet.

These three are major figures in the Pharisee End Times Timeline.

Back then, same as now, people figured the End was coming, and might actually be upon us. And since John was getting a lot of attention, the Pharisees wanted to know whether John considered himself one of these End Times guys. They might’ve had their doubts. But John immediately silenced those doubts by saying nope, he’s none of those guys. He’s just a voice in the wilderness, like Isaiah described, telling people to get ready ’cause the Master is coming.

And no, this “voice in the wilderness” is not a specific prophecy about John the baptist. It’s just a verse John borrowed to describe what he was up to. Because anybody who speaks up for God in a lawless, fruitless, godless culture is a voice in the wilderness. Any Christian can be such a voice. Many Christians have been.

Likewise anyone who tells people to get ready for Jesus’s second coming—especially to a culture who’s more interested in looking like they follow God instead of bearing actual good fruit—is a similar voice in a wild, undeveloped, untended land. Wouldn’t hurt to have more of them.

Hanukkah.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December 2023

The Hebrew lunisolar calendar doesn’t sync with the western solar calendar. That’s why its holidays tend to “move around”: They don’t really. Passover is always on the same day, 15 Nisan, but in our calendar it wobbles back and forth between March and April. Likewise Hanukkah is always on the same days, 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet. But in the western calendar, in 2023, this’d be sundown 7 December to sundown 15 December.

Christians sometimes ask me where Hanukkah is in the bible, so I point ’em to this verse:

John 10.22 KJV
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

The “feast of the dedication” is Hanukkah. The word חֲנֻכָּה/khanukká (which gets transliterated all sorts of ways, and not just because of its extra-phlegmy kh sound) means “dedication.” Other bible translations make it more obvious—

John 10.22 NLT
It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.

—because their translators didn’t want you to miss it, whereas other translators figure that’s on you.

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday which celebrates the Hasmoneans’ rededication of the temple in 165BC.

St. Nicholas’s Day. (Yep, it’s this early in the month.)

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December 2023

Whenever kids ask me whether Santa Claus is real, I’ll point out he is based on an actual guy. That’d be Nikólaos of Myra, whose feast day is today, 6 December, in honor of his death on this date in the year 343.

Here’s the problem: There are a whole lot of myths mixed up with Nicholas’s life. And I’m not just talking about the Santa Claus stories, whether they come from Clement Moore’s poem, L. Frank Baum’s children’s books, the Rankin-Bass animated specials, or the various movies which play with the Santa story. Christians have been making up stories about Nicholas forever.

That’s why it gets a little frustrating when people ask about the facts behind St. Nicholas: We’re not sure we have any facts behind St. Nicholas. There are way too many myths! We honestly have no idea which stories are true, partly true, or full-on fabrications. It could all be fiction.

But I’ll share what little we’ve got, and you can take it from there.

Round the year 270, Nikólaos was born in Patara, in the Roman province of Lykia. That’s just outside present-day Gelemis, Turkey. No, he wasn’t Turkish; the Turks didn’t move in till the middle ages. He was Anatolean Greek. Hence the Greek name, which means “people’s victory,” same as Nicodemus.

Nicholas’s parents were Christian. When they died, he was raised by his uncle, the town bishop, who had the same name as he, Nikólaos. Seems his uncle expected him to go into the family business, so Nicholas was trained to be a reader, the person who reads the bible during worship services. Later he became a presbyter—or, as they were considered in the Orthodox tradition, a priest.

Tradition has it Nicholas’s parents were wealthy, and he was very generous with his inheritance, regularly giving it to the needy. Probably the most popular St. Nicholas story tells of a man who couldn’t afford to marry off his daughters. Apparently they needed a large dowry in order to attract decent husbands. (Though you gotta wonder just how decent such husbands would be… but I digress.) Mysteriously, three bags of gold appeared just in time to pay for each daughter’s dowry. Of course their anonymous benefactor was Nicholas.

Depending on who’s telling the story, these weren’t bags of gold, but gold balls—and here’s where the three-ball symbol on pawnshops supposedly comes from. Or the gold appeared in the daughter’s stockings as they dried over the fireplace (even though stockings weren’t invented yet) and here’s where the custom of gifts in Christmas stockings supposedly comes from. Or Nicholas threw the gold down the chimney, and here’s where that story comes from.

Of course, people are gonna try their darnedest to link Nicholas myths to Santa Claus myths, so as to explain how on earth a fat white magical Dutch-American is the same person as an ancient brown devout Anatolean Greek. There’s the strong likelihood none of these stories are true. Nicholas had a reputation as a gift-giver… and maybe he was. We don’t know! Hope so. But the rest is probably rubbish.

Scriptures for advent.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 December 2023

Each advent season I focus on scriptures which are related to advent topics. Namely Jesus’s first coming, and his second. So expect to see some such articles… but if you can’t wait that long, here’s some stuff I’ve written already.

Nativity stories.

Jesus’s genealogy, in Matthew. Mt 1.1-17 In which Jesus’s messianic credentials are established.
One heck of a birth announcement. Lk 1.5-25 Gabriel’s announcement to the father of John the baptist.
How Mary became Jesus’s mother. Lk 1.26-38 What sort of person God selected as his mother.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Lk 1.39-56 When Jesus’s mother and John’s mother both prophesied about his coming.
The birth of John the baptist. Lk 1.57-80 And his father’s prophecy about just what sort of man he’d be.
How Joseph became Jesus’s father. Mt 1.18-25 Not foster father; adoptive father. God commissioned Joseph to raise his Son.
Joseph, father of Jesus, prophet. Mt 1.18-21 God didn’t just choose anyone to raise his son; he chose someone who actively listened to him.
Christ the Savior is born. Lk 2.1-7 The political circumstances at the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
The sheep-herders’ vision of the angels. Lk 2.8-20 Jesus came to save everyone. Here, some of the everyone hear the good news.
The prophets who recognized Jesus. Lk 2.21-40 In temple, two prophets confirm who Jesus is to his parents.
The magi show up. Mt 2.1-3 How Zoroastrian priests used astrology to find Jesus. (And no, this doesn’t mean we‘re to do that.)
Pinpointing Messiah’s birthplace. Mt 2.3-6 Why on earth did the priests tell their murderous king where Messiah would be born?

Messianic prophecies. (Or not.)

The first prophecy of a savior. Ge 3.14-15 After humanity messed up the universe, God indicated he has a plan to fix it.
The star coming out of Jacob. Nu 24.17 Centuries before Israel had a king, Balám predicted one.
The prophet like Moses. Dt 18.15-19. Moses spoke of prophets in general, but this particularly applies to Jesus.
The heir to David’s throne. 2Sa 7.1-17 The LORD told David his throne would last forever. In Jesus, it does.
Not allowed to rot. Ps 16.10 Jesus wasn’t in the grave long enough to rot… which resembles a line in a psalm.
Messiah and Melchizedek. Ps 110.4 How God’s chosen king is like this obscure ancient gentile king.
Jesus, our Immanuel. Is 7.14 How Jesus is like a prophecy about an oddly-named little boy.
The Son who was given us. Is 9.6-7 As disaster drew near to 8th-century BC Israel, Isaiah foretold a Messiah who’d set everything right.
One who brings justice to the gentiles. Is 42.1-4, Mt 12.14-20 A passage Jesus fulfilled—which is about Israel, but Jesus actually does it.
Plucking Jesus’s beard. Or not. Is 50.6 In stories of Jesus’s passion, we regularly hear of people tearing out his beard. It’s not in the gospels; it’s in Isaiah—and he’s speaking of himself.
Our suffering servant. Is 53 ’Cause usually people try to conquer the world by defeating others, not by suffering.
Rachel weeping for her children. Jr 31.15-17 The destruction of Ramáh is a lot like when Herod massacred Bethlehem’s children.
The Son of Man. Da 7.13-14 Jesus’s favorite description of himself comes from a Danielic vision.
“Out of Egypt I called my Son.” Ho 11.1 How fulfillment isn’t the same as a prediction coming to pass.
Christ is born in Bethlehem. Mc 5.1-4 Why the scholars figured Messiah came from that little town.
Is there a prophecy of Jesus’s hometown? Mt 2.23 No; it’s wordplay. But wordplay can be a type of fulfillment.

On the first advent.

When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son. Ga 4.1-5 God had good reason for delaying the first coming till that time.
The Carmen Christi: When Jesus made himself nothing. Pp 2.5-11 An early hymn about how God became human.
The ikon of the invisible God. Cl 1.15-20 Y’know how the LORD forbade graven images? It’s because he reserved that for himself.
Foreknown before the world was founded. 1Pe 1.17-21 The coming of Christ Jesus was always the plan. Not the backup plan.
The living word. Whom the apostles have seen. 1Jn 1.1-4 These guys weren’t writing hypothetically about God; they knew Jesus personally.

On the second advent.

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it. Mt 24.23-28 It won’t be any secret rapture; it won’t happen quitely in some obscure corner of the world; it won’t be something only Christians can see.
Jesus describes his second coming. Mk 13.24-27 After Jesus describes the great tribulation, he talks about his return.
When is Jesus returning? Mk 13.32-37 Jesus didn’t say. So watch out for his return.
The Five Stupid Teenagers Story. Mt 25.1-15 Don’t get tricked into missing the second coming.
The Lambs and Kids Story. Mt 25.31-46 Those who are headed for the kingdom are already acting as if they’re in it.
The Talents Story. Mt 25.13-30 What’re we doing with our king’s investments in our lives?
The Wheat and Darnel Story. Mt 13.24-30, 13.36-43 Till the second coming, we gotta put up with the weeds.
When Jesus got raptured. Ac 1.6-11 What goes up must come down.
Apostasy before the second coming. 2Th 2.1-12 Before Jesus returns, there’ll be a lawbreaker running amok.
Set your hearts for Jesus’s return. Jm 5.7-8 The End takes place on Jesus’s timetable, not ours.
No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever! 2Pe 3.1-9 I know; it’s been 20 centuries. Don’t give up hope.

There’s a nice pile of reading material there. More to come.