Category Archives: Episodes

Episode 49: How’s It Going At Church?

DESCRIPTION: Jack reads an essay called How’s It Going At Church?. It tackles the question of whether the church member views his own church in some idealized way—as he thinks the church is supposed to be—or whether he sees it as it actually is. It raises lots of important issues and questions that you may have had call to consider yourself.

Joe surveys how things go at church and is dismayed at what seems to be a high percentage of members whose commitment to the cause is lacking.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

And this scares Joe, as he thinks it ought not be this way.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

He has noticed all this because he believes in the cause and is regularly trying to be involved in making things happen, and finds that it’s often difficult to find enthusiastic, hands-on support for the activities and programs. And even attendance—that most basic signal of involvement—seems to be considered optional for too many.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

But Joe rarely spends much time trying to solve this, other than simply by encouraging others to be more involved. He doesn’t spend very much time trying to understand why it is like it is, and is fairly content to sum it up conveniently as something like a “lack of commitment” or a “lack of faith”. And also, he’s a little wary of “judging” in the matter because of his view of Matthew 7:1 as he hears it explained at church.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

But Joe does have a brain, which he got from the same place everybody else got theirs. And his brain seems to be hard-wired like most other people’s brains—to try to make sense of things. And Joe finds that he wants to have some sort of easy-to-grasp, overall view of the church—some sort of convenient big-picture understanding of the institution and his involvement in it.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

And Joe doesn’t analyze his own thinking very often, but if he did, he would see that he’s generally torn between viewing his church in one of two ways:

  1. What he thinks it’s supposed to be, based on his understanding of the Bible, or
  2. What it’s actually like.

And if he would give it some thought, he’d see that he has developed a cognitive bias in this dilemma—that he leans more towards viewing his church in the ideal, rather than in the actual. And it’s not a very complex and detailed and analytical view, mind you, but just something of a quick sketch of an idea. And it’s useful to him to have a ready-made way to size things up.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

And this default view he has developed generally goes unchanged, even as he weekly faces the ups and downs of his church experience and the disappointing commitment deficit of so many of his fellow church members.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

And he just wants it to get better. And maybe he even nudges people here and there to that end from time to time. But if he were to stop and think through how it goes overall year by year, he’d see that there doesn’t seem to be much long-lasting improvement.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

But Joe doesn’t want to give up his ideal assessment of the church in order to view it as the disappointment that it regularly is. If you were to prod him about this in a discussion, it wouldn’t take long to see that he would consider an assessment like that to be unfaithful or negative in some way. So he keeps trying to steer his mind back over toward the positive and ideal view of things. And when disappointments occur, he shrugs his shoulders as if they are simply anomalies or aberrations, and not to be considered typical of the institution.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

And Joe does not want to see what he is doing as self-deception, even though, if you were to pin him down and press him on the matter, he would admit to you that his overall view of the church is certainly more positive than the track record warrants. He’s at least honest enough for that. But once you let him up, he’s going to be very likely to try to forget what he admitted, and go back to his old view, defaulting to that ideal vision of what goes on. “I don’t know,” he says. Even though he does.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

But if Joe were to sit down to try to figure it all out—to try to discover why the actual organization doesn’t fit his view of what it should be, based on how he understands the Bible—he would quickly discover that he is not well-equipped to handle such a detailed investigation. The church has not provided him the training for such, and he finds himself quickly overwhelmed and lost in the texts, and he needs a pen and a legal pad, or maybe even a computer spreadsheet, to keep up with all the questions and topics and relevant Bible passages and such. And that’s simply not the kind of Bible study he’s accustomed to. It doesn’t even feel like proper study to him. It’s not devotional in nature. It’s not about his own “relationship with God”, as is so much of his Bible work. And he is quickly distracted from it, and never seems to get anywhere. And his church experience has trained him to stay away from whatever feels awkward or unusual.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

And this is where things get really tricky—where the dilemma in how to view the church gets particularly crucial. If Joe keeps on viewing the church in some idealistic fashion—or near-idealistic fashion—he’s going to keep assuming, more or less, that he’ll get the answers he needs from church—and if he doesn’t get it right away, he’ll get it eventually. (And he may not figure out that he would have assumed the same thing 20 years ago, and still can’t explain the conflict between the ideal and the actual.) And he’ll be tempted to over-invest in the popular “mystery” idea, as in, “It’s a mystery, bro!“—which is normally accompanied by an over-investment in kicking the can of understanding down the road, as in “Farther along, we’ll know all about it!“. And if you had Joe as a captive audience on a long car ride, you could get him to think back about what a long track record there is at church with these two mindsets—the mystery thing and the farther along thing. And you could get him to see that there are many things he could have figured out by now if he had not taken these two ideas for an answer at church. That is to say, that Joe could have turned to the Bible long ago to see what answers it might yield on such questions.

But that would just present some more dilemmas for Joe. For one thing, his church always says it’s a Bible-based church. If he starts finding answers in the Bible that he can’t find at church, then what does that say about the church?

Further, as I mentioned before, it makes for quite the emotionally-awkward shift to go from church-as-usual as his primary source of spiritual information to personal Bible study. Church is doled out in bite-size pieces, almost always designed to be easy on the mind and emotionally comforting. But with Bible study, Joe is frequently overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused. And it’s just so intellectual in nature, and it just doesn’t feel right. His church experience has conditioned him to dealing mostly with emotions and moods, and it’s uncomfortable to shift to facts and language. It feels “cold” to him. It’s just not the same religious experience, and he can’t help but to find it alarming.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

But here’s a thing that Joe has probably never considered. The churches have changed considerably in the past 2,000 years since New Testament times, whereas the Bible texts (barring the question of translation) are still the same texts. The churches seem to think it’s their job to explain the Bible to people, with very few of them pushing the people to become major students of the Bible themselves. And fewer still seem very interested in wrestling with the scriptures, and making changes to their teachings and practices accordingly, based on what they find in the Bible. And I have noticed this again and again even in churches that will tell you they are “Bible-based”.

So Joe is torn, and with good reason. He’s known it all along, that his church doesn’t match up very well to what he reads in the New Testament. It’s fairly obvious, actually. And if he were to sit down and think about it, he might start to realize just how often the church throws out thought-stoppers to get him to quit thinking (and talking) about those differences. He would even see that while they might not always be thought-stoppers, those two attitudes of mystery and farther-along are often used exactly that way at church. And so are other thought-stoppers like “You think too much” or “You’re over-analzing it”. And he can even think of some times when they’ve come after him with attacks on his character when he would mention some Bible fact that was uncomfortable or inconvenient for the church. He’s been accused, “You just like to argue”, and “You’re a perfectionist in an imperfect church”. And sometimes, they’ve even tried to shut down his looking into this or that with the complaint, “You’re causing the weaker members to struggle.”

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

But it’s the rare moment when Joe gets enough of this in his head all at once to form some new assessments of his church experience. Remember, most of the time, he keeps going back to that bias of idealism in his view of the church. And he owes a lot to the church. He loves the people, and the tradition. And he has considered it his “home” for some decades now. So he does not want to be at odds with the church at all.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

And he hasn’t yet figured out that there’s a fairly-consistent pattern here—that pretty much every time he steps outside the box of conventional church thinking, they try to stop those thoughts in some way, and rope him back in. And he’s never been one to push back very hard, and is generally convinced to let things like this go. And he’s not likely to remember much about the few peoples he’s met in his church years who did push back more often. He’s not going to be familiar with how, when they were frustrated and thinking about leaving the church, they were appealed to with something like, “You don’t need to leave; you need to stay and help fight for change.

He’s not going to see how this is often an appeal to a false hope. He won’t be inclined to suspect anything that tricky is going on. And he may well be likely to hear a phrase like “stay and help fight for change” without realizing that it assumes a fact not in evidence. That is, that it assumes that there is a “fight for change” underway. And Joe would not realize that this is exactly the thing he’s been uncomfortable with all these years in his disappointment with the church—that not only does it need to change, but that there’s nothing even close to a “fight” toward such an end! And if he were to realize and admit that, then he’d be faced with the very vexing question of whether it is then a lie or a gross error.

And this is where his conditioning is so useful in serving the status quo of the institution. When faced with this troubling question, he is very likely simply to snap back into the ideal view of it all, avoiding the question by whatever means are necessary.

Perhaps you are like Joe, too.

Today’s churches are, in almost every case, quite different from the gatherings in the First Century. And this is quite obvious, and would be hard to dispute in any honest, rational, and responsible way. And there seem to be two popular ways of dealing with this fact. One is what Joe’s church has taught him to do: to keep flipping back to the ideal view of his church, seeing it for what he thinks it should be, rather than for what it is. And the second is to view the changes in church from the First Century until now as the good and proper maturation/evolution/progress of The Church! This view tends to look down on the apostles and prophets of the First Century as being somewhat uninformed and ignorant compared to what “we” know today. And so, it would make perfect sense that such a congregation wouldn’t turn to the scriptures for its ultimate view on the state of things, but would turn rather to itself. And of course, it wouldn’t be comfortable putting it that way. Instead, it would claim that the Holy Spirit is behind its current convictions. That is, that they are what they are, because God himself as led them to be that way! And if that’s true, who can argue with that?

When I was about 19 years old, a friend and I challenged a traditional denominational preacher once on some differences between the teachings and practices of his church and what we found in the Bible. (He was not impressed.) He would write shortly thereafter in the church newsletter about an encounter with “two earnest young men, Bibles in-hand” who had come “presumably to convert me from the errors of my ways”. And he would say that we didn’t seem to understand any truth that we “couldn’t point to in the printed pages of the Bible”. And he said that we just didn’t seem to understand his references to the “witness of the Holy Spirit” in the here-and-now.

His whole view came down to a logical implication that he did not perceive. Whereas the scriptures say things like:

He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.

1 Samuel 15:29. NIV


Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8. NIV

such churches are going to ignore that and assume that “The Church” has matured or progressed since the First Century, by the very design of God and Jesus!

And some churches are comfortable saying this outright, while others are not. And I should point out that even the ones that do, have a hard time resisting the occasional adamant appeal to the scriptures about how this or that should be! They’ll fight for one tradition from the texts, even while ignoring the texts to protect some other tradition that is contradicted by them! (And is this not the same behavior we see in American politics, where we have a written Constitution, and where there is much violation of it—and where there is always a voice somewhere insisting that it is outdated and obsolete in this or that way?)

Well, Joe’s church is one to be uncomfortable casting off the Bible completely in some sort of formal policy statement like that. Instead, they’re the sort to keep emphasizing that they are a “Bible-based church”. But taking that label on themselves does not answer the question, Just how Bible-Based are you?

And that’s a messy question. Anybody with half a brain can see that in order to answer that question (honestly, rationally, and responsibly), one would have to study the whole Bible with an analytical mindset. And we’ve already discussed how Joe’s congregation is not accustomed to doing that sort of work—and not even Joe himself, really, although he’s one of the members who is most apt to be troubled by the differences in what he sees in the Bible and what he sees at church. And so we can see the great allure of the strategy of just ignoring it altogether. Just keep going and trust that “God is in control”. And they won’t realize that this statement, too, while there is some truth to it, is also used as a thought-stopper sometimes. My point is that while God is certainly the ruler of all things on the grand scale, he has chosen not to be in control of what humans choose most of the time.

And this leads back to how we view the church. Is it a bunch of humans who are making their own choices, good or bad? Or is it some institution that’s being run spiritually by God, with everything that happens being somehow part of his highly-orchestrated and ideal plan—which is not to be questioned?

Well, in the First Century, they were constantly being taught to question themselves and their thoughts and actions. Here are just three examples, by way of showing that I’m not just making this up:

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.

Haggai 1:5. NIV

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?

2 Corinthians 13:5. NIV

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. …

Galatians 6:3-4a. NIV

But most of the modern churches, it seems to me, have fairly abandoned this self-examination as a way of life, and rely instead on some assumption that they are beyond the need for all that. Either that, or they simply don’t pay enough attention to the scriptures that they’d even notice such directives and count them as important!

So this is a huge question: Do Christians still need to examine themselves today? Do they still need to compare themselves to the standards taught in the scriptures, or is that old school? Is that obsolete?

Funny, but I find this message of self-examination deeply embedded in the Old Covenant and in the New Covenant. And so if it has gotten lost since then, is that because there is some NEW New Covenant that’s been instituted by God since?

Well, I submit that there is a new new covenant, but that it was not instituted by God at all. Rather, it is a make-believe covenant, designed to look enough like the New Covenant of God to fool those who aren’t paying attention. And this is why the churches are so active in keeping people not paying attention. They’ve drifted away from God’s New Covenant, and they just don’t want to be troubled with that fact. So they don’t want you paying attention to that fact, except to whatever extent it seems to serve their purposes.

And this is typical, worldly behavior. Again, it’s the same sort we see in Government, where there has been a massive shift away from the Rule of Law under the Constitution (which is not perfect, by the way), and yet where both sides in this two-party system frequently point an accusatory finger at the other while claiming that they’re violating the Constitution. It’s a big gaslighting party, like narcissists would do.

And I submit that the same thing goes on in an overwhelming number of churches today. And Joe goes to such a church, though he doesn’t really want to admit it. He’s troubled by what goes on, but he doesn’t want to admit that it’s that bad.

And perhaps you are like Joe, too.

Let me point out that if you make all the scriptures obsolete, then you have no basis for Jesus being born in Bethlehem, nor for there being a “church” at all, nor even for there having been some sort of atoning sacrifice made by Jesus. It is a text-based religion. And yet today, so many in the churches view Bible study as obsolete, or even “legalistic”. And even though Joe’s church wont’ go that far in its official statements, it’s still quite obvious to anyone who will care to see it that their Bible study is superficial and highly repetitive and selective—going over some passages again and again, while seeming to blacklist others.

So what’s Joe supposed to do? The church itself creates this dualism—this double-mindedness —by insisting that it’s a “Bible-based church”, while also making it plain to Joe by their actions that they want him on a very short leash in his own study and application of the scriptures, and that they will try to shut him down if he “stays and fights for change” in this regard.

I could sum all this up by saying that “They need to decide whether they’re going to be based in the scriptures, or based on their own views”. But isn’t it fairly obvious that they’ve already made that decision? Doesn’t the track record speak for itself? Or does it only count when they’ve made an official announcement in the assembly, and posted it on their What We Believe page?

Deep down, Joe knows. But he’s in denial about it. And there’s more and more in the scriptures to push him over the edge of decision, but he stays away from passages like that because he’s scared of what they might convince him to do. And there’s a one-liner in the scriptures that he just can’t seem to shake. It goes like this:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

Matthew 6:24 NIV

And they tell him at church to be sure to check the context of this passage, where he’ll see that Jesus was just talking about money. But Joe is not so sure anymore. And perhaps you are like Joe, too.

Episode 48: Have the Miracles Really Ceased?—And Why Many Don’t Really Want to Know

DESCRIPTION: Jack explores the question of whether any or all of the Bible-times miracles still exist on Earth today—and more importantly, why it is that so many Christians today don’t seem to really want the question to be settled. He looks into why many would want more of a mystical religion than a straight-forward, fact-based one.

[The following are the notes from which I recorded this episode, but surely, the actual episode will contain material that I extemporized during recording, and that is not reflected herein.]

I have friends who believe that the miracles of Bible times have ceased, and I have friends who believe they’re still going on as before. I also have friends who believe that miracles still happen, but that they don’t happen with the same degree of regularity with which happened in Bible times. And I also have friends who don’t seem to want to look into the matter—as if it were better to have it unsettled than settled. Some will consider this their laziness, and some will think it a matter of wisdom to leave the matter open to further information.

As if this weren’t enough disagreement on how to look at the matter, the waters are further muddied by the common construing of certain events as miracles, although they fall outside the normal definition of miracle. One common example is childbirth, which, amazing as it is, is not normally considered to be a special working of divine power outside the normal rules of the physical world. Indeed, childbirth is one of the most common events of our species. Another example of non-miraculous things being labeled as miracles is when someone gets over a particularly bad disease. Oftentimes, the natural will be overlooked—that the person’s body does have an immune system, after all, and that interventions were being made by way of medicine, nutritional supplementation, and other therapeutic treatments—and there’s a palpable motivation to describe the healing as miraculous, even though we know, or should know, that it doesn’t meat the standard definition of the term.

So, all together, this is the cultural backdrop against which any discussion of miracles is to be had. And there’s a great amount of inconsistency going on. For instance, even in cessationist camps who will flat-out tell you that prophecy and healing and tongues and such have ceased, it’s very common to hear someone pray before a sermon, “Father, we ask that you give Brother Thomas the words we need to hear this morning.” Well, that’s pretty much how biblical prophecy worked—that God himself somehow managed to have a human prophet say the words that God himself wanted said in a particular time and place. But when we pray for such today, many would be surprised to learn that they are praying for prophecy to happen, since they generally believe that the gift of prophecy has passed. And this kind of wishy-washy use of language is problematic.

Another example of inconsistency that bears mentioning also involves the definition of Bible terms; it’s that of speaking in tongues, which for many today means something different from what it seems to have meant in that First-Century period in the Mediterranean Sea region where the Bible events were taking place. In that time period, speaking in tongues seems to have been an exercise of a divinely-granted super-human power—to speak fluently in real-world language one has not yet learned himself. Today, however, it is often reported to be speaking in such fashion as is not recognizable as any real-world language at all, such that if it were to be understood by anybody, it would have to be by way of further miraculous (divine) empowerment. This definitionally-messy practice, then, muddies the waters a great deal, as many will tell you they believe in “speaking in tongues” who would think this follow-up question is nonsensical: “Oh? What language was he speaking in?” They’ve simply redefined terms, it seems, just as I have already discussed about how the definition of miracle itself has been altered by some.

It’s messy business.

So, why don’t we clean this up? Why don’t we appoint some commission to look into the matter? Why don’t we set out to study it anew and to settle some of these questions once and for all?

Well, slow down there, Jack! What makes you think that people want to have matters of religion cleared up? What makes you think that they want the culture of mystery and wonder settled any more than it is? After all, this is a society that seems to value highly certain ideals such as “the magic and wonder of Christmas” And this society would get a little upset if someone were to go about telling the actual truth about certain Christmas traditions too loudly, for they have a great deal invested in keeping the lore as it currently is, more or less. Sure, they might be open for an occasional whispered conversation about it all, out of the earshot of their children, but you’re not going to find much in the way of any consensus of concern over the state of our religious traditions when it comes to how we celebrate Christmas—not even on cold matters of fact, such as whether 25 December is the actual day of Jesus’ birth.

And why is that? In a religion dedicated to a man who called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, why wouldn’t there be much concern over verifying which date is his actual birthday? And why wouldn’t we really want to know whether Jesus is actually giving Brother Thomas the words he is speaking in the sermon this morning—or whether Jesus is the actual person behind Granny Bess getting over her pneumonia? Why would we rather assume such things than to actually know them? What is it about us that prefers to live this way?

Do you see the general attitude of “fuzzy math” that I’m getting at here? Do you see this disposition of not wanting matters settled, but of just letting the lore and tradition ride as-is? Well, I think that such a way of looking at things is novel to the spirit of that special generation that happened in the First Century. I think that when Jesus, and his apostles after him, were teaching on the Earth, they were investing a lot of energy and time into clearing things up and setting the record straight. And since then, many have worked hard actually to reverse the clarity—to blur the lines again—to change the religion back from one in which many mysteries were being revealed and explained into one that is filled with mystery—a religion that is more often mystical, as opposed to:

  • intelligible
  • understandable
  • obvious
  • unmistakable
  • fathomable
  • apparent
  • clear
  • plain
  • unequivocal
  • perspicuous
  • transparent
  • manifest
  • straightforward
  • unambiguous
  • palpable
  • evident
  • patent
  • open-and-shut

I think that modern Christianity has gotten so far down the road of mysticism that many of us would be shocked if we were to conduct a survey of statements from the New Testament writers regarding just how much they were in the business of revealing mysteries and setting forth things plainly. Here are a few one-liner excerpts from New Testament writings that I put forth as examples of what I’m talking about. You’ll need to study the contexts of these to be diligent, but for now, just ask yourself whether these sound like the writings of people who consider their own religion to be one that is heavy on the mysterious:

  1. ESV Romans 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery,
  2. ESV Romans 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—
  3. CEV 1 Corinthians 15:51 I will explain a mystery to you. Not every one of us will die, but we will all be changed.
  4. ESV Ephesians 1:In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
  5. ESV Ephesians 3:3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.
  6. ESV Ephesians 3:4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ
  7. ESV Ephesians 3:6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
  8. ESV Ephesians 3:9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things,
  9. ESV Ephesians 5:32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
  10. Colossians 1:26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
  11. ESV Colossians 1:27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
  12. ESV Colossians 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
  13. CEV Colossians 4:3 Be sure to pray that God will make a way for us to spread his message and the mystery about Christ, even though I am in jail for doing this.
  14. ESV Revelation 1:20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Now, if you’ve read the 14 excerpts above, you’ve just done a lot more work than most will ever do to take a fair stab at surveying that New Testament culture to see how they talked about various things. Based on what you have just studied here, which sounds like the fairer statement?:

A. The New Testament culture was deeply enshrouded in mystery.
B. The New Testament culture seems to have been considerably about the business of explaining at least some mysteries.

To me, the obviously-better answer is B. The First-Century apostles and prophets of Jesus were busy explaining mysteries that had long puzzled the world—things that even angels had longed to look into!

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

NIV 1 Peter 1:12

Great labors were undertaken, and much blood was spilled in order to explain these mysteries to the world, and I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I complain that there is a palpable pushback today, in so many of the churches not wanting things to be quite so clear. For whatever the reasons might be, there’s a lot of “Don’t ask that!” going on. And I’m going to submit that “Don’t ask that!” is not an intellectually-healthy paradigm for any church to have.

The late Michael Heiser was fairly famous for saying that he saw no need to “protect people from their Bibles”! He would talk about how, when it comes to Bible passages, “If it’s weird, it’s important.” That is, if it raises questions—if it’s surprising—if it’s confusing—if it seems to contradict something we think we already know or understand—if it seems to be new information to us—if it uses words other than what we would use to explain the thing in question—then it’s worth looking into.

But those are scary words for many, because looking into things generally means discovering things. And discovering things generally means shedding new light on the status quo of what we already think we know—and of what we believe and teach and do. And the next thing you know, we’re talking about making changes in the church! And change in the church—Ooh, boy! For many, that’s about as troubling a notion as they come! Many simply do not want a religion of finding out and knowing and studying and researching and making sound judgments on matters of fact and doctrine and such. No, that’s just not the kind of religion they have in mind as ideal, and they want something else—probably something less intellectually challenging and rigorous. And I do believe that if the First-Century apostles and prophets themselves were to visit our modern churches, preaching boldly about the very things they were so busy revealing in the First Century, they would be asked in many of today’s churches to sit down—or even to leave!

It seems to me that modern-day Christianity has taken on quite a lot of mysticism, where a vague-but-strong belief in fuzzy concepts that cannot be clearly defined has become the standard—and where asking questions about the particulars has become anathema to the tenuous “peace” that the churches try to maintain. But it’s a house of cards, isn’t it? Trying to keep the various “mysteries” stacked up just so, and unmolested by either questions or new information, or any insistence that things ought to be looked into?

Is this not a fair description of what’s going on in thousands upon thousands of congregations this very day?

As for me, I’m just not going to be satisfied with a mystery pageant when I’ve got a Bible that reveals a great amount of what so many churches try to keep mystical today. I’ve studied enough math and science not to be easily mystified by things in nature, but to expect that there’s a real and sensible explanation to be found somewhere. I’ve studied enough music to know that high achievement in artistry is not the result of some mystical process, but of the effective study of certain skills that almost anybody can attain with practice. I’ve had enough experience (in my younger years) doing table and stage “magic” that I’m not mystified by a great “magician”, even if I’m intrigued by the cleverness of the illusions he has managed to perform excellently. And I’ve invested enough hours in studying how Jesus and his prophets have revealed and explained mysteries that ran from “the beginning” (and in some cases, even before!) that I’m hardly impressed with lightweight preachers who have no idea what a long and rich discussion there is in the record of the scriptures about such matters—and who tackle every passage of scripture that intrigues them personally as if it were a new mystery, never before discovered or studied by any other human.

I think that’s what’s going on today—that sort of ignorant and clueless outlook on the scriptures and the questions they raise. And I think that the answer that most of the churches adopt for this situation goes something like this:

“Sit down, hush the questions, and just embrace the mystery, while we go on with the business of whatever we do here at First Mystical. Learn to still your soul and to be at peace; don’t let your heart be troubled with such things, for it’s beyond your reach, and not for you to know. Farther along, we’ll know all about it, but for now, just keep yourself busy with the authorized church activities, and God will be happy with you. And learn to embrace the mystery. It makes sense if you don’t think about it!”

What if it had been God’s plan to bring the miracles to an end at some point? Well, I can certainly see how some wouldn’t want it to end. And we do indeed have at least one slam-dunk prophecy that they were going to come to an end. Here it is:

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

This passage does not directly describe every kind of miracle that was going on in the New Testament period in the First Century, but it sure does describe a lot of it. And people will debate all day long about the particulars—just as they’ll debate pretty much everything. And I’ve certainly brought some of this up before, such as in Episode 21: What All Has Changed in the Experience of Believers from the First Century Until Now?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a cessationist. I believe that all the miracles have ceased, and that it simply wasn’t God’s plan that they should continue until now. And I’m either going to be right about that, or wrong about that—or possibly, right or wrong about parts of that. But it does raise a very interesting question about our motivations and desires and dispositions. And I cover that pretty thoroughly in Episode 35: Would You Approve of How Jesus Would Run His Kingdom?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately—and you can read a lot of material about this in my recent blog posts at if you like—I’ve been thinking a lot about the human will—about what we are like deep down—about what we like and love and dislike and hate—about what we are willing to merely do, vs. what we are actually willing to fall in love with. And I’ll certainly be addressing this in future episodes here. But about this question of the miracles, I think that there are a lot of Christians who simply wouldn’t be interested in Jesus’ religion if it didn’t include the mystery and the mysticism and the miracles, or any chance of miracles. I think they love it as much as they love the idea of a Santa Claus, and they’ve got themselves so far out on a limb that they simply would not put up with a Christianity without miracles—if that’s the way Jesus wanted to run it.

So there’s a question for your consideration—whether you think I’m right about the miracles or not. And if you think I’m wrong—and you press me on it, it’s not going to be long until I ask you where I can see one of these miracles. And if you’re like everyone else who assures me they exist, you’re not going to be able to give me the name and address of some church where I can regularly see them in action. Most like to blame this on a supposed “lack of faith” here in the United States, and many will point me to Africa, where they assure me that I should surely see it if I were to visit. But this raises an amazingly good question about why it would seem impossible for American Christians to have a viable faith.

And I’m going to submit, of course, that it’s not legitimate faith if you believe that God is going to do something he has not promised to do! And I discuss this, in part, at least—or so say the show notes—under the heading “When Faith Was Rational” in Episode 19: Hebrews 11, Faith, and What In The World Is Going On In America–Part B.

Episode 47: The Christmas Truce of 1914

DESCRIPTION: This unusual episode consists of nothing more than a recording of Jack reading a piece he wrote on the Christmas Truce of 1914—a most peculiar event in World War I that raises the question of just what Jesus had in mind for his true followers. Jack debuted the piece at the Montana Christmas! concert on Saturday, 17 December 2022 at the Lincoln Center in Billings, MT. It is accompanied by a digitally-produced version of a rare variation of the tune of Away in a Manger. At this point, Jack is not sure whether this is his own version of the melody, as it has congealed in his mind for over a decade before he wrote it down, or whether it’s close to some other rare version he has actually heard before.

Continue reading Episode 47: The Christmas Truce of 1914

Episode 46: Who Can Explain the Fear?

DESCRIPTION: Jack asks why there is so much fear that typifies the Christians and their fellowships today, when Romans 8 paints a picture of the Christians being delivered from slavery to fear. It’s a hard-hitting episode, positing a question many will be tempted to ignore.

In this episode, I’ll be reading from a recent blog post of mine at, and then expounding on it. We’ll get into a large portion of Romans 8, which is frequently quoted, but poorly understood and poorly executed.

So here’s the blog post:

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Why do so many Christians today live in fear? Who can explain that? Popular belief says that every Christian, upon coming to Jesus, receives the indwelling Holy Spirit. And the verse above seems adamant that the Holy Spirit used to have some sort of transforming effect on those in whom he lived. It seems that it transformed people from their former slavery to a life of fear into the freedom of a life of confidence, as the to-be-adopted children of God.

Continue reading Episode 46: Who Can Explain the Fear?

Episode 45: Is Divorce the ONLY Thing that God Hates?

DESCRIPTION: Jack discusses Malachi 2:16, where some translations say that God hates divorce. He asks whether divorce is the only thing God hates, and whether there might not be some very serious issues that concern God at least as much as divorce does—and whether those other issues are being given the same weight in the churches as divorce is.

Let’s talk about divorce.

First of all, I need to point out that our culture tends to be pretty sloppy in our understandings of Bible doctrines. While the Bible has over 1,100 pages of information, we tend to draw on tiny segments of it when developing our beliefs, ignoring the full body of information and deferring to a one-liner passage here and there. And to be even more specific, it’s not the one-liner so much as our interpretation of that one-liner that’s the problem. That is to say, there are many Bible passages that could reasonably taken in more than one way. But when do we ever roll up our sleeves to consider all the reasonable interpretations of a verse before deciding that we know what the author or speaker meant to convey?

Continue reading Episode 45: Is Divorce the ONLY Thing that God Hates?

Episode 44: The Golden Rule and Who Is Responsible for Filling Up the Emotional Void You Naturally Have Inside

DESCRIPTION: Jack discusses the common problem of people hoping to fill up their internal emotional voids, and how Jesus’ “Golden Rule” may just provide a lot of the answer to this problem.

Continue reading Episode 44: The Golden Rule and Who Is Responsible for Filling Up the Emotional Void You Naturally Have Inside

Episode 42: Why There is Suffering In This World, and Why Getting Mad at God About it is Foolish.

DESCRIPTION: In this episode, we deal with questions that frequently arise, and that are rarely answered well. Why doesn’t God answer our prayers as we might think he should? Why are we in this world in the first place? Why is there so much suffering here?

Continue reading Episode 42: Why There is Suffering In This World, and Why Getting Mad at God About it is Foolish.

Episode 41: Eight Possible Ways Jesus Could Save The United States of America

DESCRIPTION: Jack discusses eight possible ways Jesus could fix the mess that is ailing America. It raises the question of just what we’re expecting when we pray for God’s help.

Continue reading Episode 41: Eight Possible Ways Jesus Could Save The United States of America

Episode 39: You Are Not An Apostle.

DESCRIPTION: A great deal of confusion exists in the churches today because of the careless attention that is given to the various roles that people played in the First Century ekklesia (“church” to most). Without careful attention, it’s easy to assume upon ourselves roles and promises that were given to someone other than us. This episode takes a detailed look at the role of the apostles, and shows how it was a crucial and special role, and how we ourselves are not apostles.


This episode entails a reading (and expounding upon) of a September 2, 2013 article that Jack posted at his newly-restored website, The article has been copied and pasted below for your convenience.

You are not an apostle.

You know this already, of course.  So why am I writing an article to prove it?

Well, interestingly, an awful lot of believers who already know they are not apostles routinely assume upon themselves various promises and duties that Jesus gave to his apostles, and not to anyone else.  So I thought it would be good to set the record straight on a few matters about which there seems to be widespread confusion.

First, some basic facts about the apostles:

1. The word “Apostle” means “one who is sent out”.  From apo–out or away, stellein–to send.  Read more here if you like.  As we shall see below, the apostles were sent out by Jesus.  They were expected to deliver his message impeccably to the entire “world” (whatever amount of the surface of Planet Earth that was supposed to cover), calling people everywhere to follow Jesus.  Here’s the scripture that says so:

Mark 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

Interestingly, the word for “church” is ekklesia, which means those who are called out.  So perhaps it’s no mere coincidence that the apostles are the ones out doing the calling on Jesus’ behalf, and that those who responded were the “called-out ones” (ekklesia).

2. Apostles were personally appointed by Jesus.  Even in the case of Paul, who came considerably after the appointment of Peter and the others, Jesus had a personal meeting with him.  Here’s a start on some passages in support of what I’m saying, with an occasional note inserted:

Luke 6:12 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; 15 Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.

Acts 9:3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”  Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

NOTE: This is the conversion of Saul/Paul, who is well established as having been one of Jesus’ authorized apostles.

1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?

NOTE: Not all were apostles, but only a few. And note also that they were the first in the order, having a special place.

3. Apostles had miraculous abilities. Here are six brief passages about this, with some notes.

Acts 1:8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 

NOTE: This was more than the power to cast out demons and to heal diseases, for they had already been given this in Matthew 10:1.

John 14:12“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. 

NOTE: I know of no believer in this generation who does greater works than Jesus, although this could have been true of the apostles with their “signs and wonders”.  If the Bible were a complete record of what happened, I get the feeling we’d have lots of accounts of the apostles doing mighty works.

 Acts 2:43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles

NOTE: Why only through the apostles? Why were not all believers given such powers?

 Acts 4:33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 

NOTE: This is probably literal language concerning miracles, and not figurative as in “What a powerful message today, Pastor!”

 Acts 5:12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. 

NOTE: We don’t know just HOW many. It could have been an exceedingly large number, for all we are told.

2 Corinthians 12:12  Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds

NOTE: This seems to have been a standard feature of apostleship.  There is no promise of such powers for all believers, and there is certainly no evidence that all believers have such gifts–or that it ever was so.

4. The apostleship was only for a limited time. In no place does scripture lay out any plan for an apostolic succession; once the apostles were gone, there would be no replacement for them.

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

There were two ages in view:  “this age”, said Jesus, and “the age to come”:   

Matthew 12:32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

Paul would write that they were at the common terminus of two ages—that is, the end of one and the beginning of the next:

1 Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

With this, Hebrews agrees:  

Hebrews 9:26 … but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Jesus therefore, was promising to continue guiding the apostles’ work only up until the end of that age in which they were when he gave the promise.  It was not a perpetual state, but a temporary one.  Hence, there are no more apostles today, and this is as it was planned.

5. The apostles were the chief authority for the ekklesia (“church” to most) on the Earth.  Yes, Jesus was in charge of the whole thing, but he had appointed them to lead the ekklesia:

Matthew 16:18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

1 Corinthians 12:28  And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 

NOTE: Not only are the apostles first on the list, but Paul makes it certain that they are to be first inasmuch as he uses the word “first”.

Ephesians 2:19  Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,… 

NOTE: Without the apostles, there could have been no “foundation” to the ekklesia. Whatever someone today wants to make of it all, this is the way that JESUS decided to build his ekklesia.

Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 

NOTE: Apostles start the list again.

Revelation 20:14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 

NOTE: Their role in the ekklesia on the Earth was so profound that they even have special honor in heaven!

7. The revealing of Christ to the world and to the ekklesia would happen through the ministry of the apostles. I have already mentioned that the “calling” to those who were to be “called out” seems to have been done through the work of Jesus’ apostles.  Here are some passages that support this idea.

John 12:18  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world….20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;

Acts 1:8  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Ephesians 3:4  By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel

2 Peter 3:1  This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.

So those are the basics.  And surely, you don’t think you are an apostle.  But what follows below is a list of bad assumptions made by many believers today, in which they presume upon themselves either promises or duties that were only ever made to the apostles.

Promises and Commissions That Were Only For the Apostles

“Christ’s Ambassadors”  Paul wrote to the Corinthians the following: 

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  

“Whatever you ask…” 

John 14:13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

“Nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Matthew 17:18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.  19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”  20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

“I can do all things.” 

Philippians 4:12  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

“Teach you all things” 

John 14:25  “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

“Guide you into all truth” 

John 16:12 I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

The Great Commission. 

Matthew 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

So cut it out!

Do you have any idea, Christian, how much strife and cognitive dissonance is caused by the careless application of these promises and commissions to those for whom they were never meant?  How many believers feel bad about themselves because they have been taught to believe that if only they had enough faith, they’d be able to do whatever they want or get whatever they ask for?  And how many people’s faith has been wrecked by believers who are still too ignorant and immature to be good representatives, taking upon themselves the role of an apostle in some way or another?

The Craziest Part

The craziest part of all this is that we can prove, by way of direct observation, that these promises are not true for us today. Even so, so very many continue to tell themselves lies with regard to these things, telling themselves what they know, or should know, does not apply to us.  This habit, therefore, is dishonest, irrational, and irresponsible.  For an apostle to have claimed these promises and commissions faithfully would have been wholly rational (reality-based), for the apostles had indeed been so promised and commissioned.  But for any non apostle to assume these promises and commissions is an exercise in unreality, for they were simply not given to us.  If if we’re going to be honest and responsible, this simply has to be OK with us.  We didn’t get to live in the Garden of Eden, to ride on Noah’s Ark, to worship in the Temple, to sit at Jesus’ feet, nor to be one of his apostles.  Those things were only for a time, and that time has gone.  Let us be content, therefore, to live in the time and circumstances into which our lives were created.