Messiah?

Have you ever wondered why the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law in Jesus’ time, who were avid students of the scriptures, did not see the fulfilment of prophecies in Jesus, who was right before them? Even if seeing his miracles wasn’t enough to convince them, surely they would have been able to recall the many things foretold about him?

Well, actually, even the disciples didn’t really ‘get it’ until after his resurrection. They truly believed he was the Messiah, the Son of God, but his arrest and execution struck a blow to them and sent them scattering in fear, even though he forewarned them of this on many occasions. Why? To put it simply, they weren’t expecting that sort of suffering Messiah, who would die for all our sins and take them upon himself (even though Isaiah clearly pointed this out – 53:5 et al.). They were looking for what all Israelites, under Roman oppression at that time, were taught to expect from prophecy:

I’ve said before; see the predicted signs once they happen. We are told to watch for them but never to predict. Predicting was the problem the Jews had when Jesus appeared – they all thought the Messiah would be a warrior king who’d run the Romans out of town and establish a new glory like David’s Kingdom again, so they couldn’t see God’s real plan when he sent his peace-preaching son. Even less could they grasp what he was saying when he said he must suffer and die – it didn’t fit into their worldview. Even John and James asked him to sit them on his right and left in his ‘Messianic Kingdom’ (Mark 10:37).

Let us not make the same mistake when looking for Jesus in our own lives, or for his coming again. Let him be what he wants to be for us, not what we expect, and to come when the Father sees fit. If our worldview hinders this, may we have the grace to change it.

Grace be with you.

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Immanuel

immanuel1

At Christmas time, we often hear  ‘Immanuel – God is with us’ in song (sometimes spelt ‘Emanuel’), but do we really grasp the ‘message’ that our nativity reenactment is meant to convey?

Only two of the gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, recount the birth of Jesus, so does that mean that John and Mark are not concerned with its message? On the contrary, John sets out in the very first chapter of his gospel what he wants to make known:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind….

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4, 14)

This ‘Word’, who was with God, and was God (huh!?), from the beginning of time… became flesh and lived among us! “We have seen him!” John declares. This is John, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved‘, who was closest to him (not Peter, the sanguine, brash extrovert, as many imagine), though John was no shrinking violet either – Jesus gave him and his brother James the name ‘sons of thunder‘! He wants to make it clear to his audience, from the start: the message of Isaiah 7:14, the sign fulfilled, actually does mean ‘God is with us’ – how the Israelites must have tried to interpret that prophecy; did they imagine it truly would mean a literal appearing of God among them?

John makes it even clearer in the opening to his first letter:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1John 1:1-4)

Can you sense the excitement, and the joy, as he writes this? As much as I can? He wants the world to know what he knows, what he has seen, and touched; the greatest story he could tell, and writing this will ‘make his joy complete’!

That baby in the manger we see year in, year out… John met the man, and John knew, and John tells us:

Immanuel happened!

Grace be with you, and have a Happy Christmas.

Stop it! Just stop it now!! (End Times prophecies 3)

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A friend posted this graphic to my timeline and invited my comments. Once I stopped laughing, I offered them. When I looked at the complexity of this, I then became sad; sad for the poor miserable soul who wasted half their life investigating and plotting it out. I’ve mentioned before that I spend a lot of time playing online games on my phone, but that is truly a better use of time than this nonsense!

These people need a life! Seriously!

This is ground I’ve gone over in my previous End Times prophecies 1 & 2. However, my journey is not complete yet… I’ve had some things I thought were set in concrete smashed to bits by my own investigations, and I’m entering a new era of discovery in my theology and my life.

Let me just get this clear, since I’ve only alluded to it before, stating sweepingly that Hagee’s ‘Blood Moons’ is ‘a load of old codswallop’ – here’s why, very briefly (since it doesn’t need to be elaborated on):

The premise is taken from one verse of scripture, Joel 2:31:

The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

This was repeated in Acts 2:20 when on the day of Pentecost the Apostle Peter spoke to the crowd and quoted this section of Joel’s prophecy.

The premise has now been proposed that it speaks of lunar eclipses when the moon turns a copper colour, sometimes a bit more red depending on the physics of it. These lunar eclipses occur in occasional tetrads of four spread over two years. That much is scientifically, astronomically true. Then it is stated that these tetrads have only occurred eight times since the time of Jesus, and they have all coincided with the Jewish feasts!

Rubbish! The whole eight tetrad thing is deception from the start (yes, I will use the word deception with no apology) since there have been 64! Yes, 64!! The Jewish feasts only occur at full moons, and lunar eclipses can only occur at full moons. Do the maths and work out the probability (roughly one in 6 of the 64 should ‘coincide’ with the feasts) and the eight tetrads that happen to occur with the feasts are actually less than coincidence, they’re predicted! And not by prophets, by any astronomer with a slide rule! The moon orbits the Earth every 27.322 days, so like a clock it is precise, measurable, calculable; it meters out days and months inexorably and inevitably, so the ‘wonderful’ figures and sliding scales in the graphic above are nothing more than the waxing and waning of our single natural satellite, that has always maintained control of our tides (and the hearts of romantic poets and minstrels).

I could jumble and juggle the maths myself to get any sort of graph I like, but I’d have no desire to get into it; reminds me of that Jim Carrey film, ’23’, that I’ve only ever seen trailers for. He becomes obsessed with seeing 23 everywhere, then sees 2s and 3s, then finds a 6 and says ‘that’s 2 times 3″ or a 5: “that’s 2 plus 3!” and so on… it’s clear he’s going mad.

That’s just the scientific argument. What about the theology? I could start by saying that this is just poetic imagery and such grand and terrible things about darkened suns and moons are found all over apocalyptic literature, of which many passages do not talk about ‘the end’, but let’s leave that aside and just accept the interpretation that Joel 2:31 is describing a real time in history with accurate detail:

As I said, this is all based on just one verse… no, hold on, it’s actually a half verse! What about ‘the sun turned to darkness’? If we’re talking about lunar eclipses, then there must also be a solar eclipse, yet the two can never occur together – we’d need two moons for that! (In case you haven’t studied astronomy from a child like I did: lunar eclipses occur when the moon is behind the Earth, solar eclipses occur when it’s in front of us, between the Earth and Sun). Yet nowhere do these people even mention the sun!

Many heresies are borne from one verse (or more often actually half a verse) taken out of context.

And look at the end of the verse, which is what we’re meant to be looking to happen: if it’s a sign for the coming of ‘the day of the Lord’ then why would God give us that sign eight times over 2000 years? Is that not a bit deceptive? Those who saw the ‘first tetrad’ (whichever one of the 64 that was!) would have been deceived into thinking ‘he’s coming soon!’ and so would those who saw the second, and the third… how would anyone know which one was ‘IT’?
And if these ‘eight’ tetrads have been significant, why not nine or ten or… isn’t twelve a ‘perfect’ number in scripture? Yeah I’ll go for that: wait until the twelfth! I now notice in the graphic that there is allusion to further tetrads into 2019… what? So the ninth set is going to be right after this one? So we are looking at more? How many? Oh, and this one now is the most ‘perfect in symmetry’ since 3000 BC!? Now I start to smell a rat! Any of these things should show symmetry since, as I said, they align mathematically according to the fixed cycles of the moon. If previous tetrads did not have symmetry, then something went wrong with the moon’s orbit! That would be noteworthy, not the ‘symmetric’ one! Anyone remember these sort of things from before? Someone would post a meme on Facebook saying something like “hey look, this year is the most significant date in history since, like, about 2002 years before the year in which Jesus died!” and then they display their wonderful maths, and I’d reply a minute later with “actually, that also occurred in every century since then; here are the dates….”

If you read this and still wish to go after the ‘Blood Moon’ stuff, be my guest, you’re entitled to, but please don’t go around trying to tell others all about it; you’ll only drag them down with you into a useless pursuit after nothing and just make a fool of yourself (and much more importantly, my Lord Jesus!).

Just in case you think I’m being smug about this, let me say that I’ve been here before myself. I read ‘The Bible Code’ some years ago and was taken in by it, stunned at what was being shown. I should have known better: there is no hidden code in scripture, waiting for a computer age to find it out; that’s the age-old teaching of Gnosticism, the idea that there is a higher, ‘hidden knowledge’ that only an elite can tap into. It’s also a general problem when a small group of believers think they’ve found some ‘great truth’ in the Bible and end up sneering at those who ‘just can’t see it’ – it’s a common trap of conceitedness.

The Bible Code was later debunked when some hoax-slayers managed to get the same ‘results’ from the works of Jane Austen!

 No, my main worry now is that we have become far too obsessed with something that we’ve already been warned about. John Hagee worked at the start of this idea with a man called Mark Blitz, who has now been discredited and forgotten since he made a prediction that the tribulation would start about 2008 and Jesus would return on 28th Sept. 2015 (the ‘last’ blood moon). Glad to see that such predicting distinguishes these people as contradicting our own Lord Jesus who said that ‘only the Father knows the time’ (Matt. 24:36). However, when I read another statement Jesus made, in his ‘Olivet discourse’ I get more worried:

He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. (Luke 21:8)

Jesus actually warns us about anyone who says “the time is near”! Does this mean all the preachers who do the usual round of ‘end times’ sermons? Something to think about, surely. I believe in the Second Coming, absolutely, but I also believe the words and warnings of my Lord when it comes to trying to figure it all out. Like I said before, watch for the signs as they happen, but do not predict! So please, stop doing that, or following those who do, right now! Free yourself.

Still like that ‘Blood Moons’ stuff? Worried about admitting that you wasted so much time reading it and believing it? The time I ‘wasted’ reading rubbish like ‘The Bible Code’ I treat as lessons for me that stopped me listening again to things like this.

Turns out I was right when I smelt a rat! Click here – it’s all a pack of lies! [Note, though, that the debunker in this video, right at the end, makes the same mistake of making his own prediction!]

Grace be with you.

Biblical literalists don’t exist!

Let me start with a shocking statement: the Bible actually does support slavery! Or maybe I should qualify that with this: the Bible can be used, and has been used, to support slavery!

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) worked tirelessly to abolish the slave trade, driven by his own Christian convictions. In April 1791, he gave a four-hour speech to parliament where he had served as MP for Kingston-upon-Hull since 1780, before delivering his first abolition bill. After the vote was cast, church bells rang out in victory across the country: he had been defeated 163 votes to 88! It was only three days before his death in July 1833 that he received news that the groundswell of opinion he raised had changed public opinion, church theology and parliament and he had finally succeeded. We 21st century Christians shake our heads in disbelief that the majority of believers in that day could be so pro-slavery, but there you are; they were! Wilberforce has become so revered now, that both liberals and conservatives are scrabbling to claim him for their own, yet he was an independent! He was certainly not alone in his quest for abolition, but he was part of a new way of looking at the world and he certainly was challenging the ‘accepted norm’ within Christian viewpoints; a minority viewpoint at first, most definitely. Modern theologians who try to draw differences between slavery in the Bible and the slavery that Wilberforce was against, miss this whole point (as well as fumbling over semantics on just parts of scripture, not the whole topic!); slavery was taken for granted to simply be something that was allowed and sanctioned by scripture!

Here’s a brief account of his campaign and work, and his faith.

So we’ve moved on from that and no longer see it as an issue to be debated. I have never come across anyone in my lifetime who has made any argument for slavery from the Bible. What has this got to do with us now?

Well, I blogged recently on the irony (which I found quite humorous!) that a known Creationist who argues for a literal understanding of the six days’ creation is languishing in jail for actually disobeying one of our Lord Jesus Christ’s clearest commands!

So often I have heard it said from pulpits, from the day I first entered church right to maybe just a month ago that “unlike many churches that have gone before us, we keep to the truths of scripture, and keep it all, every word!” Investigation and a small bit of analysis left me long ago realising the abject irony in these statements since I came to the conclusion that absolutely nobody does this, and indeed, nobody truly can!

I laughed (inwardly) at men who told me that tattoos were forbidden in scripture yet the vast majority of them shaved all their facial hair off every day! – Lev. 19:27. I would also hazard a guess that their shirts are of mixed cloth! – Lev. 19:19. Both these laws come right before the one about tattoos!

I argued with those who ‘kept 1 Corinthians 11’ about making women put on hats in church that Paul was talking about Middle Eastern veils, like many Muslim women wear, and not fancy Ascot-style hats or little headscarves, but never got any recognition that women should then actually go and get some ‘proper’ veils! Their cultural understanding had excluded them from seeing any further than the hats they were used to seeing for years, and somehow my words literally fell on ‘deaf ears’. The standard response was truly silence, changing the subject, or “I have to go now. Nice talking with you.”

Don’t worry, I won’t even mention what sleeping arrangements are prescribed for married couples once every month!

You see, Christians don’t like being told that their reading or interpretation of scripture is shaped by the culture they occupy; whether that is allowing the greater culture of ‘the world’ to reshape their thinking, or tacitly accepting that the micro culture of their denominational bent dictates just what they can and cannot question, the simple truth is that we all do it!

These examples may be dismissed by anyone as of minor importance, which is very true, but the original issue I raised here about slavery, an extremely important issue, falls into the same category of ‘your interpretation, not mine!’ Secondly, I am talking of experiences of those who make such boastful claims that they do keep every word of scripture, yet there they are ignoring little bits.

Okay then, so you decide that you are really gonna do it! You’ll make sure you stick to it all. Go ahead – good luck! Unfortunately there are actually some laws that seem to just contradict each other; one example being that monthly womanly thing (that I said I wouldn’t mention, yes!) – does a man who is ‘with’ his wife at that time just accept that he’s ‘unclean’ for seven days (Lev. 15:24), or has he done a heinous thing and deserve to be cut off from his people (Lev. 20:18)? That’s not important? Well, slavery is, yeah? So can fellow Israelites be enslaved (Ex. 21:2-11) or not (Lev. 25:39-43)?

Such difficulties are what led to the rabbinical tradition, where scholars debated these seeming contradictions and tried to find practical ways through it. This is why various people came to Jesus and asked him probing questions: did he side with this school, or that dogma, or the teachings of that old rabbi? The fact that often Jesus would not answer them as they wished to hear, and left them maybe even more confused, leads me to a place where my own confusion is just something I embrace as a fascinating facet of my faith. I’m actually allowed to be unsure about some things. If they remain unresolved until that day, so be it!

You see, if you do decide to go the whole hog and start obeying every jot and tittle, you’ll end up like the Amish. Or then again, you won’t, actually, since they haven’t moored themselves in the culture of the first century, they’ve stuck themselves clearly in the way of life of 18th century colonial North America! You’d need to give up your car and iPhone just for starters! The Amish are so far removed from our century that they will burn a barn to the ground if it has woodworm, in accordance with Mosaic law, rather than get a handy treatment that any of us would buy from the shop.

And right away, their law keeping has set them on a wrong path. How many of you realised this all along, I wonder? If we choose to obey the whole law as laid down in the Torah, then we incur the wrath, yes, the abject anger, of Paul the Apostle. Galatians alone would make that clear to you, but here’s just one easy example: the fourth commandment tells us to keep the Sabbath holy, yet Paul lays out his view to the Romans:

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.

And to the Colossians:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

So by choosing to return to law keeping, you actually contradict what is laid down in the Pauline epistles! Confused? I actually believe you should be! For this drives you to ‘work out’ your own faith ‘with fear and trembling‘. Just don’t keep pursuing the way of the literalist, for it’s not doable, not possible, nor do I believe it is healthy at all to allow any pulpit preacher (even the very good ones!!) to dictate your life for you. Find your own path with Christ, who should be your Lord, Saviour, Foundation, Truth, Way. And your very life.

Grace be with you.

Sympathy for the Devil

Yeah, I know! The Rolling Stones beat me to that title by a lifetime! I was originally going to title this “I think Satan gets a bum deal!” but something about that didn’t feel right.

Why do I think that? Well, he gets blamed for many things that have nothing or very little to do with him!

My son came to me with a video he came across about Satanic symbolism recently found… on an energy drink can! YES! I could not help but laugh, but not at him… I’ve been ‘around the block’ and seen it all… Proctor & Gamble… The Care Bears… Cabbage Patch Dolls… SpongeBob… Harry Potter… and that’s just off the top of my head! And who of our generation could ever forget backward masking? Though I did know a guy who turned his vinyl record player backwards by hand, and he did hear a message: “You are ruining your stylus!!

[For the younger generation: vinyl records were flat disks that rotated slowly and the stylus was the needle that ‘read’ the ‘memory’ on them.]

Ozzy Osbourne: The Prince of Darkness!! Huh? Have you seen his reality show? These promotions of the ‘dark side’ and the rebellious spirit that goes with it, flipping two fingers to the ‘establishment’ is just that – promotions! Marketing promotions aimed at a demographic, usually the younger generation. And such subtle (or not so subtle) images and ideas do work in advertising or else they’d be dropped.

Satan is showing forth his power over the world by getting his wee symbols on marketed products, yeah! And real witchcraft looks exactly like JK Rowling portrayed it in Hogwarts!

If you wish to go looking for symbols, it ain’t that hard. Only today I noticed one; if you have the new Candy Crush Soda game on your phone, look down at the lower left corner on the home screen – if you’re heavily into ‘Zionist conspiracy’ you’ll latch onto that one! No, I don’t see evil in these markings any more than I could hear ‘Hail Satan’ in “tsud eht siteb eno rehtona” or any other ‘wop woo ebb wah nyek’ sounding recording that those guys kept playing until I was supposed to say “Oh, I hear it now!” just to make them go on to the next church youth group!

Where do I see evil then? Where might the influence of the Devil be found? I see it in individuals and corporations who have ludicrous amounts of money yet spend half their life trying to avoid paying tax on their fortunes (which Jesus unequivocally commanded us!). I see it in politicians who care not one jot for the poor. I hear it when Bob Geldof swears, but not in those expletives: in the incredulity he has at how little major nations are giving to help beat the scourge of ebola! I see it in the relative apathy shown by our press at atrocities in our world when there’s a better headline about The X Factor or Big Brother – it’s only when there’s little to report on celebrities or wannabes that real news takes centre stage. And I also see the evil in wanting to promote bad news above even the slightest good thing that might be happening out there. No wonder Christians today think “it’s all getting worse!”

Now there is something to address: how much of this ‘evil’ is within our churches too? How many preachers promote forms of politics or certain politicians whose record may not be squeaky clean? Right away, I find myself reflective, and is that not how we are meant to be? Recognising the sin within ourselves? If I’m brutally honest, that greed that is so apparent in the billionaire is present in me too. Who would turn their nose up at inheriting a good amount of cash? The apathy that I decry is also right there when I find myself switching the TV channel over from pictures of suffering to see that comedy show.

What exactly is Satan’s role in the universe? What is his ‘job’? His aim? Is it not to ‘deceive the elect’? How did he tempt Eve in Eden? Was it not by saying that she could become greater than what God planned for her? He tempted her to take pride in herself, in her ability to decide between good and evil, and to find pleasure in being able to judge others. It is actually in that recognition of his intentions, that his aim is to get us to look at others’ sins and failings and not our own faults, that we can defeat him. If he wants us to be blind to our own limitations and our need for Jesus and his forgiveness, then surely each of us seeking to change ourselves first and foremost is the most efficient way to defeat him? I shall repeat myself again: Revival is never about them, it’s always about you!

On second thoughts… all those things that Christians love to find and point out, out in the world that show the extent of Satanic influence, all those symbols and children’s shows and pop songs, maybe they are actually his ploys! Carry on as you were…

Grace be with you.

 

P.S. Here’s a wee poem what I wrote as a younger me, many moons ago (forgive the limited blog formatting, please):

DARKNESS

When the darkness falls

The moon has gone

And the stars behind the clouds are hid,

The angel calls

My spirit on

And my anxious fears to death are bid

But will I stand

Against the tide?

Will courage fail me at the test?

Or fate demand

That flight will bide

And put my skittish soul to rest?

 

How can I know

If I’ll be strong

Before the day of judgement dawns.

Time will show

If I am wrong

To think I’m king among the pawns.

Through trying times

I’ll have to learn

To learn from every trial I face

And face my crimes,

Those crimes that churn

Within my darkest, hidden place.

 

The greatest voyage,

It is said,

Has to start with the first step.

But this wise adage

Has conveyed

A truth which in our minds has slept.

To beat the rise

Of evil

In everything I see

I must surprise

The Devil

By seeing the sin in me.

 

Shanky’s Hollow, Mourne Mountains

25/8/95

Whose voice are you listening to, Victoria? (An open letter to Victoria Osteen)

Dear Victoria,

Please accept this in the spirit of love and concern it was written, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are reports that you are unrepentant over your original comments: “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy…”

The statement that you and your husband were standing by what you said came about two months ago, but I only just came across the news myself. The original comments had left me pondering just how to respond; I can know something is so wrong, but I feel that I am up against a mindset that is convinced it is hearing the voice of God telling them to pursue their own happiness and feel good about all that they do to achieve that. An easy response is to say “atheists often say that our desire to be charitable Christians and help others is not truly altruistic since it makes us feel happy and therefore it is inherently just us finding pleasure in giving, and you’ve just played into their hands” but we as a church should not be concerned with criticism from cynics like that.

No, I’ve come to realise that you actually may well be hearing a voice, and it speaks softly into your life that all you’re doing is just so right, but the question is: whose voice is it?

I shall presume you know of the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan. Satan tried in three ways to tempt Jesus. Tempt him to do what? Obviously, he was attempting to get him to disobey the will of God and so sin against God. What were these sins he tempted him to do? Knowing Jesus was hungry, he said that Jesus should make the stones into bread, then that he should test God by trying to harm himself in order to avail of God’s protection, then he offered him power and dominion over other peoples on the Earth. Jesus rebuked him by simply answering from his knowledge of the scriptures each time.

Let me offer a paraphrase of what Satan said to him (since I believe the actual discourse was longer than we have recorded in Matthew): “God wouldn’t want you to suffer like other humans who have no faith in him! He won’t wish to see you go hungry, so he gave you the power to command stones into bread to feed yourself. Go ahead! It’s what he would want you to do. He’d also allow you to enter into many dangers but with a surety that he will protect you at all times. You’ll come to no harm. He’s almost wanting to be tested by you, just ask him for your heart’s desire while you pursue your dreams and he’ll do it, no quibble. And hey, what if you could have untold wealth and power? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? You could have so much influence in the world, do so much good for others, if only you’d take advantage of that power you have within you and inherit all he intends for you, right here and now.”

Now my knowledge of Jesus’ own words throughout his ministry were that he wished for us to take up our cross, deny ourselves, count our family and our lives as nothing in comparison to our devotion to him, love others for no other reason than he commanded us and for us to show him within us, that others would know we were his disciples. Satan’s words to Jesus sounded fine and dandy, but Jesus had a higher calling, a path to follow where he would be a servant and not think of his own happiness and comfort, and that he would beckon us all to follow his example.

So again, Victoria, in all honesty and by the love of Jesus, ask yourself whose voice you are hearing when you hear that you should pursue your own ends in this life and just be happy? Better still, read through the gospels and highlight all of Jesus’ commands. ALL of them, not just the tiny snippets that fit your worldview, since this is a travesty that all of us are unfortunately capable of doing. Weigh up all that he said to his disciples and then decide which way he would have us live. My genuine concern is that in saying you follow him, you actually may be blindly following a different path, while leading others who listen to you. Is it your way, my way, or someone else’s way? No, it should just be his way!

Lean not on your own understanding.

Grace be with you.

Why I hate testimonies!

This will conclude with what I have come to believe is one of the greatest faults within evangelical churches, which serves to actually undermine discipleship with Christ! In a recent discussion around two songs, both entitled ‘Take me to church’ I stated that just as I, as an imperfect individual, need to accept fair criticism, so also an imperfect church needs to do the same.

I am fairly certain I have mentioned this before in bits and pieces across all my previous blogs, but I’m just wanting to lay down something a bit more concrete. Yes, I do hate testimonies!

34 years listening to them and seldom not just wanting to fall asleep! Also getting to the point of missing our New Year’s ‘watchnight’ services because they’d be a total of four hours (with a welcome tea break, mind you) mainly full of… testimonies!

Not that I doubt the individual testimonies of my brothers and sisters! Nor that their own stories are unique and do testify to the saving grace of God. I just got tired of the same old, same old… [for those who maybe do not practice this cultural phenomenon, you are asked to speak before the church and relate what God has done in your life, how he saved you from the consequences of your sins, changed your life, provided for you, answered prayers].

Yes, they certainly can be valuable. I was even asked myself to testify for a Father’s Day service, and asked specifically to tell of how I was miraculously healed from a brain haemorrhage and stroke, and it is a story of how I faced death, spoke with God, received assurance that I’d not die in intensive care, and yes, I would see my grandchildren (first granddaughter born only two years later!).

So why and how do I find myself just hating them and dreading the next round of them? As with many religious things we participate in, they’re more cultural than scriptural  – just for example, where do our two services on Sunday come from? Testimonies that I hear tend to take on a pattern, human nature being what it is, and follow an unspoken, unwritten code and definition that people tend to fall into in order to fulfil the ‘criteria’ that make it what it is. I often hear preambles like “I’m honoured to be able to stand here and testify for my Lord Jesus” or clichés like “he died in my room instead” (which I somehow always hear as ‘room and staid’ since it might almost make as much sense to an unchurched person as the ‘proper’ one that rolls off our tongues!), or worse: “he’s now my own and personal saviour” since both ‘own’ and ‘personal’ mean the same thing, and create a redundancy, and I believe it to be a corruption of ‘my Lord and personal saviour’ and leaving out ‘Lord’ (whether intentionally or not) leads to a belief I shall come to later.

No, I end up purely anticipating a formula that sounds roughly like this:

“I’m honoured… [see above]. I was a terrible sinner. I was

a) raised in a Christian home,

or b) not raised in a Christian home but was made to go to Sunday school,

but I turned my back on all that when I grew up.

I lived a life of [insert various vices here. Common ones like smoking, drinking and going to pubs are fair enough, but feel free to add in ‘greater’ sins if applicable e.g. cheating on (or better, beating) your spouse].

I carried on in this miserable life until one day, I gave in to this guy at work/ friend from schooldays/ uncle or aunt who had been asking me incessantly about going to church with them, and I attended the gospel service. I was so moved by the message and felt God calling me. I raised my hand, said the sinner’s prayer, and now I no longer [smoke, drink, go to pubs… as applicable from above] and I’ve never looked back, even though that was x years ago. [END].”

[N.B. Add in a few clichés as noted above when describing your moment of salvation]

Many seem to almost revel in just how bad a person the testifier was before their encounter with Jesus, to the point that it can sound like a glorification of sin to me! I thought this was peculiar maybe to just my Northern Ireland culture but a bestselling book years ago was ‘Hell’s Angel’ by Brian Greenaway, an English believer who went around testifying to the violent life he lived in a chapter of bikers before becoming a Christian. He related in an interview how an old lady came to him after a service and said “oh I wish I had a testimony like yours!” Greenaway said that he felt like punching her in the face (yes, God’s grace takes time to work on some of us!). He could not believe that she’d been listening to how awful things were for him and still wish that she had experienced a similar life. There it was, a clear desire to have something terrible from which to have been ‘saved’ in order to lend kudos to one’s testimony! Heaven forbid we should have a boring one!

Yet no testimony should be boring! If we only were to recount to ourselves all the great things in which we have seen God’s work and hand in our lives, and what we have learnt along the way, it should never be mundane to listen to; that is, if we have a walk to recount…

1. I AM a sinner!

First point I wish to make about these ‘off the shelf’ testimonies is that they seem to talk about being a sinner until that day we changed and never went back to the ‘life of sin’ yet nowhere do I read of us achieving perfection this side of heaven! The righteousness we have is imputed to us through Christ’s perfection, once we accept him. We are just deemed righteous by God through Jesus. If you’re not sure what this means, look up those two words in a dictionary. It should be clear. We are all sinners and continue to be so. I have thought of my life as being suddenly changed in a flash, yes, that moment I accepted Christ as Lord and saviour, but I saw no instant change in myself. That has taken time and is still ongoing, every day, every year. Like that day 27 years ago that I made vows to my wife in love, and I became a married man, my life changed, but it has been a journey of ups and downs, good and bad, ‘for better, for worse’ with Karen that is still ongoing, and my marriage was not set down in concrete form on that wedding day. I’ve made mistakes in how I’ve treated my wife, as has she with me, as has any married person. The same applies to the Christian life, and by focussing purely on that one day and stopping your testimony there, you imply that you have been a good saint ever since. This was not my experience; I was a well-behaved boy of 14. I’d done no more than a few detentions for not doing homework, looking curiously at certain magazines we found on a disused railway, and trying to light cigarettes with my best friend without puffing on them, and thinking it was just our luck to purchase a pack that were all duds! I can safely say I have been more of a sinner since my conversion than before. Hence why I can also not sing certain songs that talk of “sinking deep in sin, sinking to rise no more” or that “my life was full of sin and confusion” – that certainly is the experience of some, but not all of us, and so these ‘expected’ testimonies become the preserve of those who can declare such a life, leaving others feeling somehow short-changed. No, I am thankful that I have no real bad past to haunt my dreams and disturb my sleep. I got enough of that conviction when I experienced Holy Spirit revival (blogged here) – again; after my conversion!

2. We cannot keep ourselves

I saw a graph for usage of gym membership over the months of a year, put up on Facebook for a laugh. Of course, January has the highest peak, decreasing over the year to maybe a short peak before the summer months (must get back into that swimsuit!). We all know why. How many New Year’s resolutions last into February, really? I decided some time ago to stop making resolutions just once in the year because our nature will always disappoint us, and not just at the expected time (we do expect to break those resolutions sometime, don’t we?). I make resolutions when needed and if I don’t keep them, I just try again. Finding that it has been a mistake to put trust in our own nature to keep to it just makes the devil on our shoulder laugh while the angel on the other shoulder commits hara-kiri in dishonour! So it is with many new converts. Too many, I fear. When doing door-to-door work in my native East Belfast, which has a church on every street corner, I lost count of the people I encountered who said “oh, I tried all that church stuff and became a Christian x years ago, but I couldn’t maintain it.” This probably outnumbered those who said their reason for turning their back on churches was ‘other Christians’ which were numerous too! It is a wonderfully simple concept that I grasped early on; that it was nothing to do with my efforts but all rested on the finished work of Calvary and it was Jesus that kept me forever, forgiving me of all my sin repented of (in fact, I memorised 1John 1:9 before my salvation!), and not up to me to keep myself; I cannot do it, but he can, praise his name. This misconception has led to many making that ‘resolution’ to follow Jesus, only to fall at some natural hurdle, and say to themselves “well, I tried it, but I couldn’t do it. It’s not for me!” In other words, it’s for ‘religious’ people, for those of us who have the resolve to live like monks in a perpetual state of piety and self-denial. This is where I take a second issue with these ‘standard’ testimonies, since they only add to this confusion and misunderstanding, by inadvertently implying that once the sinner’s prayer is said, everything is rosy and we ‘live happily ever after’ – saying “I’ve never looked back” says that to me, that the testifier has had no problems following Jesus, and so a new convert who encounters issues in their walk is likely to feel themselves inferior and unworthy of Jesus; yet we are all unworthy (Romans 5:8). Were a testifier to say that they have encountered problems and doubts in their life since following Christ, and discuss it openly, my ears would most certainly prick up! But, no, testimonies are meant to be just all positive and gushing!

3. The story isn’t over!

A major problem that is present in most Protestant churches derives from where they came from. The first protestants opposed some of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church, and the general feeling, borne from Luther’s assertion that “the just shall live by faith alone” (Galatians 3:10-12) was that Rome had imposed an ongoing dependence upon the priesthood and their administration of sacraments deemed vital to a believer’s life. This was rejected since we are believed now to all be saints, as Paul addresses all believers in his letters, and each of us capable of coming to Christ on our own, serving him in our individual lives without meeting the requirements of any church or denomination (or church leader). I can safely say that you’d be hard pressed to find a protestant church that would deny this: whatever rituals or ordinances they may require of a member would be qualified as not vital to one’s salvation or relationship with Christ. However, from this stance comes a mindset that tends to reject any attempt to state how we need to serve Christ by good works (which our salvation is not dependent upon):

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8,9)

even though in the following verse God fully expects them from us:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10)

Here is the problem I alluded to at the outset:

While salvation is dependent solely on Christ’s work on the cross, this does not mean that we have absolutely nothing to do for him! We can find the extreme doctrine that we need not worry about any acts of service after that initial decision, not even praying or reading our Bible (yes!). Thankfully, most evangelical churches will reject this nonsense, and preach that we must repent from sin and live righteously, but the call to ‘live right’ simply falls into trap #2 mentioned above. It implies, yet again, that one must make an effort to avoid certain things or behaviours, or the company of ‘sinners’ (even though Jesus sought to sit, eat and drink with them!).

No, new converts must be taught that our decision to follow Jesus is exactly that: we start following him! It is that simple, even though it brings many problems and dilemmas into our lives. Note that ‘the sinner’s prayer’ is found nowhere in scripture! Just saying it does not make you a follower of Jesus; your salvation may hinge upon the decision, but your earthly life does not just come to an end as you take up your selected pew and sit out the rest, waiting for death or his return! To me, many believers look like they’ve done just this, even with their personal pew cushions to comfort their long-suffering butt! Your salvation decision is a glorious moment, never to be repeated, but it is only the start of a long and wondrous journey, with just so much to learn. And like that one leper out of the ten, should we not go back to our saviour, fall at his feet and offer thanks, and seek to know just how we can thank and serve him? We need to make him our ‘Lord and personal saviour’! Did Paul not admonish us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”? (Phil. 2:12)

Yes, I approach my life with such fear and trembling, since many times I have found myself challenged and made to feel uncomfortable. Remember when your parents scolded you for bad behaviour or a wrong attitude? A good child will feel remorse, and want to do better, and please their parents. So are we with God: let us take up our cross as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, listening intently to his words and trying to emulate him. You have problems with sin in your life? Welcome to the club! If you want a good lament on that read about Paul’s ongoing struggle in Romans 7. In that brain wrestle, he goes through the tensions that exist in churches and individual believers… surely we cannot just live an entire life of reliance upon Christ based on one event outside of our control? We must have something to live by, and this is what the law was given for, so… we must turn back to it for instruction on ‘right living’… but, that in itself held us captive to nothing but the knowledge of sin, and I find myself at war within my own spirit over this… how do I get out of it? He reaches his answer in the following chapter: we who have his Spirit within us, who experienced the change of heart at that moment and didn’t just mouth some words in a ritual, have this ‘law of Christ’ working in us, and indeed, his own work imputed to us, not just his achievement for our salvation, means that our striving is not required (not by works) but our acceptance of his perfection grants us victory:

Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4)

We can reject the idea that we need to religiously strive after our salvation and gain it on merit. Surely we can also refute the notion that it’s all about just one raising of a hand? Here’s my favourite word again: balance. The truth of our walk, The Way, which is actually him (John 14:6), is that beautiful middle choice of simple surrender to his will. My journey started not with a raising of a hand or a formulaic prayer, but it was a prayer, to a God I was not certain was there. His reply has never left my ears. As I complete this, I’m listening to ‘What a Friend I’ve Found’ by Delirious: “Jesus… friend forever.”

Grace be with you.

[As an aside, when I think about all the testimonies I’ve heard, another implication is that the only way to ‘win’ someone to Christ is to invite them to a gospel service. I cannot recall even one that said they found Jesus outside of this formula, yet there I was, praying for God to accept me, long before I set foot across a church door! Was I, like Paul, just one ‘abnormally born’ (1 Cor. 15:8)? Can we not witness in all areas of our life? The three people I have led to Jesus in my own life were not in such a gospel service.]