27 May 2024

Praying for the dead.

Praying for the dead is a controversial subject among Evangelicals. Because just about everybody does it. Yet just about every Evangelical preacher I’ve heard, has insisted we absolutely shouldn’t.

Yeah, you might be thinking, “I’ve never done it.” You’d be rare. When a loved one dies, usually most Christians will pray, “God, grant them peace,” or “God, grant them eternal rest,” or otherwise ask God to make sure they’re nice ’n comfortable in paradise. (Or “heaven,” because your average Christian doesn’t know squat about the afterlife, and thinks they’re in heaven.) We want the best for our loved ones, and we know God wants the best for our loved ones, and isn’t asking God for their best a form of praying for God’s will to be done? What’d be wrong with that? It’s a prayer we can be sure he’ll answer “yes” to!

Other times when a loved one dies, we Christians might not be all that sure about their eternal destination. It’ll be someone whose relationship with Jesus… well, bluntly, sucked. There are an awful lot of those! They might’ve claimed to be Christian, but never went to church, didn’t know jack squat about the bible, and Jesus’s teachings, and grace. Never displayed any good fruit—in fact they displayed quite a lot of bad fruit, and you wouldn’t know ’em from pagans if you had to pick ’em out of a lineup with paper bags over their heads. We hope they’re in paradise, but we have a bad feeling there’s every chance they may not be. So we’re praying! The prayers vary. Some of us actually try to pray ’em into paradise, if that’s possible (and it’s likely not). Others are praying for their own peace of mind; they don’t like that their loved ones may not be in paradise, but either way, God’s will be done.

Often there are those people who want God to pass a message to their loved ones. Being dead, the loved ones clearly can’t hear us, but they oughta be able to hear God. And we want them to know we love them. Or that we’re okay; or we’ll be okay, eventually. Or that we miss ’em. Or something sentimental; so God, could you let ’em know? Please? Thanks.

And, since I’m posting this on Memorial Day in the United States, there are gonna be those people who pray that God honor our dead, bless their memory, and ask that good fruit will come from their sacrifices. While some Evangelicals might claim that’s not actually praying for the dead, let’s not be hypocrites; it absolutely is, yet y’all don’t seem to have any problem with that. Heck, some of the preachers who shout, “We don’t pray for the dead!” the loudest, will eagerly lead those prayers on Memorial Day.

So who’s right? Well obviously I’m not siding with the preachers. (Not completely.)

23 May 2024

The armor of God.

Ephesians 6.10-17.

Christians are fascinated by the armor-of-God metaphor which Paul used in Ephesians 6. Sometimes too fascinated.

Jesus teaches us to foster and encourage peace. Mt 5.9 Of course, our depraved human nature would much rather fight, and kick ass for Jesus if we can. So the idea we get to wear armor and play soldier really fires up certain Christians, who’d love to engage in a little testosterone-fueled warfare, and find this passage an excuse to indulge their blood-soaked he-man fantasies a little. If only metaphorically.

For such people, God’s armor is never for defense, Ep 6.11 but offense. Those who fancy themselves “prayer warriors” love to talk about how to attack with this armor. Christians even make plastic armor for children to play with—including a sword of the Spirit, Ep 6.17 which kids can use to smite one another. In so doing they learn—wrongly, even blasphemously—the word of God is about hurting people.

But just because God’s word is sharper than a sword He 4.12 doesn’t mean we’re to wield it like that! Using it surgically is the Holy Spirit’s job. When we use it, we’re not so precise. Without his guidance it’s a blunt instrument, used to maim our foes, not cure them.

But as part of Paul’s inventory of God’s armor, properly the sword is likewise used for defense. It’s used to parry our opponents’ swords, just as Jesus did with Satan. Our Lord quoted Deuteronomy in order to defeat the devil’s temptations. We gotta do likewise: Assuming we know what God’s told us (and assuming we’re not just projecting our own will upon him), we quote it at devils and naysayers and use it to resist.

Paul actually borrowed the idea of God’s armor from Isaiah 59.17, and expanded upon it a little.

Ephesians 6.10-17 KWL
10As for the rest, {my family}:
Be empowered by the Master,
and in the might of his strength.
11Put on all of God’s gear,
so you can enable yourself to stand against the devil’s tactics.
12Because the struggle isn’t us against blood and body,
but against types of rule,
against special privilege,
against the things which rule this dark world {in this age},
against supernatural evil in the high heavens.
13This is why, so receive all God’s gear,
so you might be able to stand against those things on the evil day,
and they’re enabling you to withstand everything.
14So stand: Belt your waist with truth.
Put on the body armor of justice.
15Lace up your shoes in preparation
to deliver the good news of peace.
16Carry at all times the shield of trust in God,
which you’ll use to put out every flaming arrow of evil.
17Accept the helmet of your salvation
and the machete of the Spirit—
which is God’s spoken word.

And pray at all times in the Spirit Ep 6.18 —but I’ll discuss that another time.

22 May 2024

Spiritual warfare: Resist temptation!

Spiritual warfare is resisting evil. Plain and simple.

Now yeah, some Christians describe it as fighting evil. And when they think of fighting evil, they’re thinking of fighting some evil spirit, if not Satan itself. The devil and its imps are trying to destroy the world. So they’re fighting back! They’re praying really, really hard for the devil to get defeated. Bound in unbreakable chains. In some cases they’ll pray directly to the devil: “I bind you, Satan; I order you into the pit.” I’m not sure they understand only Jesus puts Satan in the pit; I’m not sure they understand spiritual warfare in general.

Y’see, back in the 1980s, author Frank Peretti wrote some novels about an unseen cosmic battle taking place between spirits, which used humans as their proxies. (Much like the Greek gods manipulated humans in Homer’s Iliad.) From the humans’ point of view, there was a culture war going on between good Christians and evil pagans. From the spirits’ view, they were fighting in the skies with swords and scimitars. And somehow prayer made the angels’ swords mightier. And that’s why we gotta pray. Our prayers are like the charging cable for our angels’ lightsabers!

In real life? No. Dumb. But it really struck a nerve with the fleshly, fightin’ part of culture warriors, and to this day you’re gonna find some the language from Peretti’s novels mixed in with the speech of “prayer warriors.” Doesn’t matter that none of it is biblical. They’ve heard this myth so long, they’re convinced it’s totally biblical.

But again: Spiritual warfare is resisting evil. And to do that effectively, we gotta be humble before God. We gotta recognize there’s no way we can defeat evil without him. He’s gotta empower us to resist. He, not our prayers, does it.

James 4.7-10 KWL
7So be submitted to God;
stand against the devil, and it’ll run away from you.
8Come near to God
and he’ll come near to you.
Sinners, cleanse your hands!
Those on the fence, sanctify your minds.
9Recognize your misery, mourn, and weep.
Change your laughter into sorrow
and joy into shame:
10Be humble before the Master
and he’ll lift you up.

But of course the Frank Peretti novels insist it’s the prayers of the saints, so “spiritual warriors” are gonna insist it’s all the weepy, loud praying they’ve been doing which knocks down strongholds and takes ground for God. Nope; it’s all God. Who defeats evil in the End with or without us. But of course he’d much rather have us join him, and not get destroyed along with all the evil. So I recommend doing as James said: Come near to God, clean your hands and minds, stop laughing off these things as if they’re nothing to worry about, and acknowledge Jesus is right and we are not.

Stop assuming prayer is warfare, worship is warfare, going through the motions of devout religiosity is warfare. None of those things are. Jesus and his apostles never describe ’em as such. Because they’re not.

Submitting to Jesus and resisting temptation: That’s warfare.

21 May 2024

To whom are the scriptures written? It’s kinda important.

Some months ago I visited another church. (So if my pastors are worried this article’s about them: Relax! I figure you know better than to do this.)

The passage was from the New Testament; Paul of Tarsus was, as usual, correcting Christians. I won’t say which of Paul’s letters was quoted; I don’t actually need to. In his sermon, Pastor Berwyn (not his name, but it’s what I’m calling him) expounded on what Paul had to say to all the sinners in our wicked world.

Except… was Paul writing to all the sinners of our wicked world? Or all the sinners of his wicked world?—namely the Roman Empire and its pagan practices. And maybe I should use the word “Pagan” with a capital P, because we’re not talking about today’s pagans, who lean monotheist thanks to the influence of Abrahamic religions: I’m talking old-school pagans, who believed in many gods, few of whom were good or moral or cared about humanity.

If you’ve read your bible, you’re fully aware every single one of Paul’s letters, whether written solo or with co-writers, was addressed to the Christians of various Roman Empire cities. And you’re fully aware every letter—the ones by James, Peter, John, Jude, and Luke—and all the gospels, were likewise written to Christians. The recipients and audience of the entire New Testament? Ancient Christians. And their posterity, which includes today’s Christians.

Not pagans. Not pagans then; not pagans now. Yep, even though we’ll give free bibles and gospels of John to pagans, in the hopes they’ll find Jesus in there: It wasn’t written to them.

Now, since the New Testament was written to ancient Christians, it stands to reason there are gonna be some things in it which dealt specifically with ancient Christian issues and problems. And for that, we gotta do a little historical research, and make sure we’re not borrowing the instructions about an ancient problem, and wrongly turning ’em into a current problem. (Like telling women they can’t speak in church.) Historical context is just as important.

Otherwise, the New Testament was written to Christians. Not pagans. And Paul’s instructions—and rebukes—are to Christians. Not the cold cruel world of the Roman Empire, nor the cold cruel world of the United States. He’s doing housekeeping. He’s trying to clean up the people who claim to follow Jesus. The people who make no such claims: They’re on their own. Ro 1.28-32 Till they repent.

If you ever hear a preacher angrily condemning the world… well, that’s gonna happen. Shouldn’t be done in anger, ’cause sinners aren’t gonna listen to an angry person; such preachers are speaking without love. (And don’t give me any rubbish about “tough love.” That’s just more anger.) But they’re gonna figure, “The Old Testament prophets did it; why can’t I?” and rant about it as much as they please, and maybe there’ll be some truth in it.

But if you’re claiming or implying the apostles did the same thing in the New Testament, you’d be wrong. You’re pulling the scriptures out of their context, and teaching your own bile instead of godly wisdom.

19 May 2024


Pentecost is the Christian name for the Feast of Weeks, or שָׁבֻעֹת֙/Šavuót: Seven weeks after Passover, at which time the ancient Hebrews harvested their wheat. Ex 34.22 On 6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar, the 50th day after Passover, they were expected to come to temple and present a grain offerng to the LORD. Dt 16.9-12 Oh, and tithe a tenth of it to celebrate with—and every third year, put that tithe in the community granary.

Our word comes from the Greek τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς πεντηκοστῆς/tin iméran tis pentikostís, “the 50th day” Ac 2.1 —the Greek term for Šavuót.

Why do Christians celebrate a Hebrew harvest festival? (And have separate “harvest parties” in October?) Well we don’t celebrate it Hebrew-style: We consider it the last day of Easter, and we celebrate it for a whole other reason. In the year 33—the year Jesus died, rose, and was raptured—the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’s new church on Pentecost. Happened like so:

Acts 2.1-4 NRSVue
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

The speaking-in-tongues part is why the 20th century Christian movement which has a lot of tongues-speaking in it, is called Pentecostalism. Weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never bother to keep track of when Pentecost rolls around. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little. Anyway, Luke goes on:

Acts 2.5-13 NRSVue
5Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Christians like to call this “the first Pentecost.” Obviously it wasn’t; the first Pentecost, or Šavuót, or Feast of Weeks, was after the Exodus. It’s when every devout Jew on earth was bringing their grain offerings to temple on that very day, 25 May 33. And suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew—spoken to as if to them personally.

Got their attention.

16 May 2024

Praying exact prayers.

I haven’t heard this teaching in a mighty long time, but I heard it again recently: The preacher was informing her audience (and reminding her regular listeners) that whenever we pray for stuff, we gotta get really, precisely specific. We gotta tell God exactly what we want from him. Otherwise we might not get it. God might give us something which generally resembles what we want, but not exactly what we want. We weren’t clear.

Fr’instance let’s say you’re looking for a job. What you’d love to do is work at a bank, approving loans. But you ask God, “Please Lord, I’d like to work at a bank; any job will do.” And God answers that prayer! But your job at the bank is looking at the dark and blurry photos people send of checks through the bank’s app, and confirming they’re something the bank can actually cash. Hardly your dream job. But hey, God answered your prayer!—you just didn’t specify you didn’t wanna look at bad phone-camera photography eight hours a day.

Ergo we have to specify what we want. You know, kinda like you’re programming ChatGPT. You want the bot to output exactly what you want, without any surprises or errors? You gotta spell it out for it. It’s not that intelligent.

Now. If you’re in any way familiar with the Almighty, you know he’s not a moron like these “artificially intelligent” programs. If you know your bible, you can probably quote this verse from memory, or close enough:

Matthew 6.8 NRSVue
“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

That’s Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, explaining to his listeners, and to us Christians centuries later, that we don’t need to use many words and empty phrases with God. Mt 6.7 In context he was really talking about pagans who feel they need to call upon their gods with big, complicated incantations—and if they get the incantations wrong, maybe their gods won’t listen!

And y’know, it’s kinda what this preacher is suggesting God is like. That if we get our prayer wording wrong, maybe the LORD won’t listen, and we won’t get exactly what we ask for.

If you’ve heard this teaching before, I’m betting you heard it from the “name it and claim it” crowd. Every time I’ve heard it taught, it came from someone who’s been listening to their preachers, reading their books, and dabbling in their teachings. A number of ’em believe our words are so powerful, we can actually call things into existence. Same as God! Supposedly he’s granted us Christians the same power he has to create stuff. So we gotta be careful with those words, lest we create things we don’t actually want.

Because when we don’t get precise with our prayer requests, we might ask for the right thing, wrongly. And when we do this, God might grin, say, “Well you did ask for it,” and prankishly give us literally what we requested. And now we’re stuck with it.

Like the man in the joke who asked a genie for a million clams. By which he meant dollars—and somehow expected a genie, who shouldn’t even know English, to know American slang. But nope; the genie bestowed him with a million literal clams.

I don’t know what’s worse: Claiming God is as dumb as a chatbot, or God is some kind of prankster god like Cupid, Loki, or Coyote. I should hope you know he’s wiser, and has a far better character, than that. I should hope you know he’s generous, and is eager to bless us far more than we ask or think. Ep 3.20 I mean, they very idea God’s interested in playing dumb games with prayer, oughta offend us a little. It is blasphemy after all.

But if you're way more interested in getting your wishes granted, stands to reason you'll fall for this foolish advice.

15 May 2024

The implications of being the Son of Man.

John 5.24-29.

On occasion I’ll hear some Christian preacher claim that Jesus referring to God as “Father”—whether he’s talking about God as his Father, or God as our Father—was a wholly unique thing in history; that somehow the Jews had never before imagined God as their Father. It’s not true—

Deuteronomy 32.6 KJV
Do ye thus requite the LORD, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?
Psalm 89.26 KJV
He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
Isaiah 63.16 KJV
Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.
Isaiah 64.8 KJV
But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.
Malachi 1.6 KJV
A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?

—but man do preachers like to claim it.

Anyway, Jesus regularly refers to God as our Father, and specifically his Father… but whereas we humans are just creations and adoptive children of our heavenly Father, Jesus is something significantly different. He’s the Son of God. And no, not just “Son of God” in the sense we see in Psalm 2, where the king of Israel is especially adopted by God as his son, and therefore “Son of God” is just a royal title like Messiah. Nope; in the trinity there’s a Father and Son, and the Son became human, and that’s Jesus of Nazareth. He’s fully God same as his Father is fully God.

In John chapter 5, Jesus explains some of that idea. And it’s a doozy of an idea. Pretty sure it broke the brains of most of the Judeans he said it to. Because Jesus is making some pretty cosmic declarations about himself. He already said in the last bit the Father shows the Son everything he does, Jn 5.20 the Son’s gonna raise the dead, Jn 5.21 the Son’s gonna judge the world, Jn 5.22 and you’d better recognize the Son’s authority if you respect the Father. Jn 5.23

Oh, and at the End, the coming in the clouds of the Son of Man? Da 7.13 That’s Jesus. He’s the Son of Man. Did you not notice he constantly calls himself “the Son of Man”? He doesn’t do it to remind people he’s human; anybody who looked at him could tell he was human. He does it to remind people he’s that guy. The guy who does all this:

John 5.24-29 KWL
24 “Amen amen! I promise you the one who hears my word,
and trusts the One who sends me,
has life in the age to come
and doesn’t go into judgment.
Instead they passed from death into life.
25 Amen amen! I promise you the hour comes, and it’s now,
when the dead will hear God’s Son’s voice,
and those who will hear it, will live.
26 For just as the Father has life in himself,
likewise he gives life to the Son to have in himself.
27 The Father gives the Son power to make judgments,
because he’s the Son of Man.
28 Don’t be amazed by this, because the hour comes
in which everyone in the sepulchers
will hear the Son of Man’s voice
29 and come out—
those who do good, into resurrection life;
those who do little, into resurrection judgment.”

You realize this discussion started because some people got bent out of shape over Jesus curing the sick on sabbath. And people think I go off on tangents. Jesus went from, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” Jn 5.17 KJV to “Oh and just to remind you, I’m the Son of Man.”

It’s weird how various pagans will insist Jesus was only a great moral teacher and nothing more, when Jesus straight-up tells people he’s going to raise the dead, judge humanity, and rule the world. And people don’t dismiss him as a demonized madman and stone him to death, because he just cured a guy who was unable to walk for 38 years, and demonized guys can’t do that. The only ones who can do that, outside of hospitals, were empowered by God—and for all you know, might actually be the great End Times figure whose everlasting kingdom shall not be destroyed. Da 7.14