Brian Houston and Chrislam: my brief take on it.


I’m not going into a huge debate on this topic. I’m sure there’s already about ten million comments out there! What struck me when I listened to Houston was something I actually wonder has been picked up much. It comes down to my constant rant: be informed!

That applies to you too, Houston! You see, you said “way back in the Old Testament… we had Muslims…”

Point of information: Islam was founded by Muhammad in the 7th century, WAY past even the NEW Testament! A little bit of education hurts nobody, Brian!
Let me surmise that maybe, just maybe, you mean the Ishmaelites, known today as the Arabs. Yes, they were around then. They are also descendants of Abraham, but through his concubine Hagar, not his wife Sarah. Yes, they knew who Yahweh (the Great ‘I Am’) was (as did the captive Israelites in Egypt when Moses told them “‘I Am’ sent me!”). We even read in the account in Genesis 16 & 17 how it was Sarah who forced Hagar out of Abraham’s house through jealousy, but that God sought her out and commanded her to return to Abraham and made promises of blessing to her and then to Ishmael. Yahweh was known to all these peoples and their descendants, but of course, they all at various times turned away to other gods and served their own desires and agendas (including the Israelites many, many times!). So, IF you mean that, Brian, then we are in agreement; they have always really known who God is, now they all just need to come to an understanding of who exactly Jesus is.

What Muhammad did was to turn his people away from this one true God to worship yet another. We say “we worship God!” Muslims say “we worship God!” However, this does not mean the same god, as many on both sides would try to make us believe. Did this ‘same god’ who gave us his sinless Son to fulfil his whole law and redeem (and offer freely his forgiveness to) all who would come to him, then seven centuries later, decide to tell another bunch of people that they had to undergo all this religious law-keeping again in order to please him and maybe work for a chance of redemption? I think not!

Mr. Houston, we have a small problem here in Northern Ireland when we talk about you, since we have to ask if someone means “Hillsong Brian Houston, or local Brian Houston?” – we have a local Christian singer-songwriter here of the same name. Actually, I believe he’s emigrated to Nashville now but maintains links here! Point is; just because you have a namesake, this does not mean that you are him! Obviously! We need to disambiguate (distinguish which one we mean) before we talk about either you or the other Brian. So it is with ‘god’. Are you then still trying to say that both Christians and Muslims worship the same god?

IF that is what you mean, you’re talking rubbish! And you undermine everything that Jesus accomplished for me and you, since you suggest that there are other religious ways to obtain God’s mercy. Islam is a false religion! And shocker for some: so is Judaism!! As is also the attempts to take Christians back to law-keeping!

My God is nothing like this Muslim god, who demands ritual, works, religion, and a lifetime of blind devotion to a tiny hope that you might just do enough for him. My God gives generously of his grace to all who would only believe and trust him: He is generous and faithful, and loving and giving, and I am assured of his gift of eternal life. Now he simply asks such things from me as devotion, praise, prayer, seeking, working for him and his kingdom, and my regenerated heart responds to that positively. I give to God not because I fear I must, but because I know he loves me.

I shall choose to believe you were simply a bit confused about timelines and applied ‘Muslims’ anachronistically to the Ishmaelites, unless I hear you spouting heresy like this again, sir.

Grace be with you.

It’s political correctness gone mad, I tell you!

In my humble opinion, Stewart Lee is one of the funniest men on television right now. Yeah, his humour is highbrow, satirical, deadpan, left-wing [oh, the horror!]… but he still manages to have me in painful fits at times, even to the point that my wife is woken from her bed late at night to come in and ask me what’s so funny.

He did a piece recently on political correctness, which is actually not one of his funniest routines, to be honest, but he made a great satirical point. Here it is if you’re curious (note that the F-word appears once, and another swear word appears at the end, which I shall not allude to as it would spoil a great punchline):

I highlight this to make a point that is, sadly, very poignant and relevant this week. We have learned of an appalling situation that arose in Rotherham. It would appear that ‘political correctness’ has now actually led to a truly mad situation. I am in favour of being PC, since it serves a great purpose, as Lee pointed out in his comedy; in that there was a time that all niggers were viewed in the same way, just as all Jews were viewed in the same way in Germany in the 1930s, just as (dare I say it) all Muslims are viewed in the same way now in the 21st century?

I should know, I’m Irish. Well, I’m a protestant from Northern Ireland, but what does that matter to many English people! When my father went to an army training camp in England, they all just called him Paddy. Fine, it was (for most of them at least) just friendly ‘banter’ but a misunderstanding of the complexities of Irish politics and culture was certainly present. Many of us faced such misapprehension and even hostility during those bad times. I had a police officer at a Welsh port look at the address on my driving licence and ask, without any smile or hint of jocularity, “do you know any terrorists?” yet that was mild in comparison to some stories I heard! Was it mild since the officer was Welsh (a fellow Celt) and not a dirty Sassenach? Would that attitude from me be called for, even though I can truly say that my experience of the Welsh and Scots to be better on the whole than of the English? Of course not! Does my experience make me hate or dislike all English people? Of course not!

The same propaganda that was waged against the Jews in Germany by the Nazis can be repeated anywhere by anyone against anyone else. And it is, believe me! I know whom I blame for the recent credit crunch – the bankers! We all know they’re to blame, so all bankers are greedy pigs who are not to be trusted, right? Right!? Right away, I realise that while their profession has been given too free a leash by our recent politicians and they have allowed greed to take them (and us!) down a slippery slope, they are not all evil, or selfish, or psychopathic (even though their profession contains more psychopaths than any other – fact). It’s the same principle for a simple thing like car insurance – for decades, we men were subjected to higher premiums due to our gender, since we were a ‘higher risk’ according to the stats. Women joined in the chorus of ‘that’s right!’ while I witnessed slow, careful men with no worrying driving issues being forced to pay higher insurance than women who scared the life out of me with their demonic driving! Now that has changed, for fairness’ sake. Were an insurer to say “stats show us that blacks are more likely to cause accidents than whites…” we would be boycotting them in a flash! Thank you, political correctness!

Tarring an entire race, or gender, or nationality, or even sexual orientation, with the same wide brush is the reason for ‘political correctness’ – it’s not just a trendy, liberal thingy that effeminates like to wave about when they’re criticised! It’s addressing the need in us to pigeonhole people just because it helps us decide who we like and don’t like without the worry of having to make the effort to get to know them and their background a bit better i.e. we need to get informed!

However, this case in Rotherham is mad, in the highest degree possible. The fact that most of the perpetrators (not all!) were of a Pakistani background, highlighting and addressing this crime was feared by some to be seen as racist. That in itself is politically incorrect, since it presupposes that the entire Pakistani community in Rotherham would be offended by such an investigation; as if they’d cry something similar to “it’s ’cause I’s black, innit?” when the truth is that the majority of that community would be as appalled at the crimes as much as any of us – they should be given the chance to condemn it and deal with it and not have it swept under the rug for their ‘benefit’. The fact that some of the white guys in authority treated some of the girls reporting the crimes as ‘sluts’ who sort of ‘asked for it’ tells me a lot about their attitude. The crimes and the politically incorrect attitudes that allowed the abuse to go on both need to be addressed and dealt with, and if there is a fear that you’ll be viewed as racist for addressing crime, then that is ‘political correctness gone mad’!

Members of the English Defence League cornered a LibDem councillor and asked him if he would not condemn ‘the Pakistani gangs abusing these girls’ – he answered “No! I will condemn all abuse perpetrated by anyone!” Correct answer, since the dismissal of these crimes also allowed non-Pakistani child abusers to get away with it!

Grace be with you.

P.S. If that was a bit too heavy for you after the good laugh Lee gave us, here he is making fun of Islam! (YAY!):

Richard Dawkins is an obnoxious git!

I have always maintained this. It’s just so refreshing to see non-believers suddenly come to the realisation that Dawkins is evangelical in his desire to convert humanity to atheism like the most rabid hellfire preacher you could think of. He has constantly belittled and derided anyone who has the audacity to state that they believe that even in some tiny way, that there might be something divine behind the universe. He criticises anyone of religious authority who tries to make a statement on morals and behaviour as if they have zero right to do so since they come from a false base in the first place. He ends up just becoming obnoxious in the way he argues, as if only atheists are worthy of his intellect, and everybody else is beneath him. He decries religious bigotry, which does exist, in spades, and religious people can be very in-your-face about their beliefs sometimes. I’ve maybe even been guilty at times myself, if I’m honest. Dawkins is no different; he’s just an atheist bigot! People who are not religious in any way maybe don’t see this. Then again, some have. Here was a very funny gaffe he made:

However, this week, we have had comedians on a live Channel 4 show calling him ‘a dick’ for what he said on Twitter. The same comedians who called the Westboro Baptist Church ‘dicks’ last week (and rightly so!). Dawkins had got into a live debate on his twitter feed with a woman asking about the moral choices facing her should she discover the baby she is carrying has Down’s Syndrome. In the end, he tweeted:

“Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

This provoked outrage, and rightly so. Here is someone who has made it his crusade to disarm the religious ‘moral police’, yet has the nerve to start dictating morals of his own! He has apologised for his comments, to be fair. Yes, he’s not perfect and it would be nice if he realises that himself, the condescending twit! Thankfully people can see now just how annoying and opinionated he really is. I can engage in debate with anyone, but I am sure this man would be the closest I would come to turning an argument into a punch in the face.

He is a tempter to my testimony. Now that he has exposed himself to also be a self-righteous dictator of morals, hopefully he shall fade away like a worn-out celebrity who has been ejected from the Big Brother house, since nobody wishes to hear his intellectual wise-cracking anymore!

Grace be with you.

Maturity in the church

Over the years, I became weary of spats and arguments. No church is exempt from them, and no single person within those spats is perfect. However, I have grown to accept this, and try my best to get along with everyone to the best of my ability. I have not achieved this, simply because I am human. Some people just know how to rock your boat or twist your melon, some make an art out of it.

I have beside me here on my desk a DVD that I’m about to lend to a good friend who has become disillusioned with church. It’s a great preacher whose closing address at the Elim Bible Week was about the church and how it is just the only way we are ordained to have fellowship and worship together. One great illustration he made was from Noah’s Ark, which is a good ‘type’ of the church and of Jesus. We can be sure, with all those animals on the ark for 40 days (more than that since it took time for the waters to subside), that it was a stink! Well, at the time, it was ‘stink or sink’, and you know what, the church is the same; it stinks! Because it’s made up of you and me! And we are not perfect. Voilà!

I’ve said this before: we have a condition in this country which has arisen out of the success of the Christian church, in that we are able to decide to move to another church as and when we see fit, and for some this is an ongoing “I don’t agree with that, I’m off!” attitude. Now sometimes such moves are necessary, if there is something particularly rank (biblically or in church conduct) that you find impossible to reconcile, or if you are sure of a ‘call’ from God to move to a different church.

[Discerning the ‘call’ of God is another topic entirely, which I shall avoid for now (and maybe forever!)]

Someone who has constantly moved around churches like a vagabond has issues they need to deal with! I shall venture that their underlying problem is one of maturity, and this is what I have seen so often, and it is this that frustrates the hell out of me! Faults, differing opinions, disagreements, etc. are a part of life, both in and outside the church: dealing with them requires a mature attitude. Regardless of whatever happens, how each one of us deal with or react to such things is down to each one of us!

One of the prime causes of disagreements is change in a church, and it’s all to do with ‘comfort zones’ since none of us like to change from what is comfortable to us (or even just familiar, whether good or bad – a well-documented psychological phenomenon). Comfort zones are for babies! Once we get out of our cot, leave our mother’s breast milk behind and start trying to walk, we may fall down occasionally and bruise our knees and our heads, but we quickly learn that this is the way forward. It’s life.

A friend of mine knows a church historian who reassures him that when our predecessors were trying to introduce church organs, they were met with resistance and hostility! Try now to remove the organ from some churches, just for a laugh!

The person who is unwilling to accept change is being immature. Likewise, the person who thinks that change should just happen and nobody should raise concerns is being immature. There may well be genuine points to an argument against a change, but without a mature discussion of it, and a mature acceptance of other points of view – we all need a little bit of Romans 14 – we get nowhere. Acceptance is a key issue I am discovering for my book on contentment, too.

I fully understand that young people, or people young in the faith, have yet to learn these things and grow. I pray that their path to maturity is level and unstrewn with hazards. Then again, getting around the hazards is all part of the process! If you want to grow, deal with them!

Those with more years to their lives, physical and/or spiritual, really should be more mature. Some are so stuck in their ways, it might be a miracle for them to grow up now!

Praise God, I believe in miracles!

Grace be with you.

End Times prophecies 2: have we ALL got it so wrong? [Conclusion spoiler: we HAVE!]

 

end-times-500pix1

[This blog will shock and annoy most of my evangelical friends. I know this since my discovery even shocked me! I set out to make a minor point from my own opinion, which is standard for my blogs, and ended up with something utterly controversial, but based on fact, not my opinion.]

In my previous post on the end times, I laboured well on the point that I am absolutely exasperated at the people who spend their lives trying to figure out these enigmatic prophecies, and in fact, I tired of it many years ago. It is similar to the debates on the nature of the Godhead (or ‘The Trinity’ to give it it’s manmade term) – mysteries that will be revealed at the end.

Saturday was a milestone for me: I was a Christian 35 years! And you know what? I’m still learning, I’m still seeing things that I never thought I’d see, I’m still made aware often of my own sin and folly and mistakes, and I’m still trying to improve myself. Is that not what our journey is about? Rather than wasting time reading all those books about the end times (and believe me, I think that playing games on my phone is more constructive than that pursuit!), why not seek out those authors who can inspire and enlighten us on the jewels and the joys of scripture that give us advice and encouragement for that journey? Books that explain love, grace and forgiveness, that instruct us how to live a better Christian life [please note that I do not mean self-help books like those of Joel Osteen et al. I talk of great treatises on the fundamentals of our faith, not ’10 steps to be a better you’ nonsense]. Here’s a modern classic for starters: ‘Future Grace’ by John Piper. Maybe I should post some book reviews occasionally?

Though here’s my main point today: in the past week I have read probably more on these prophecies than in the past 28 years. I am so glad that we did not cover much of it in Bible College. In fact, it was practically zero. Just look up ‘dispensationalism’ or ‘preterism’ on Wikipedia for starters: enough there to take up most of your week!

Now I recently had a query with a fellow believer over things he said. He is a well-educated man, and was able to discuss matters very intelligently, and he reassured me over concerns I had. When I tried to explain some finer points of theology he was unaware of, his answer was that he doesn’t read theology but simply asks the Holy Spirit to guide him as he reads scripture. This is perfectly fine, since the Holy Spirit performs that function for us (John 14:26) and it is the right way to approach the Bible (prayerfully) but I can see a problem. Not that he needs to “leave the pondering over these things to those of us better schooled in theological matters” – by no means – no! We should all be aware of scripture and able to discuss it. This was one of the tenets of the Great Reformation; that everyone should read and know scripture in their own language and dialect. No, the question that springs to mind is: how can we know when our own reading of scripture (our individual ‘spiritual glasses’) is influenced by God and not men?

My ‘whittling down’ of the verses I heed for my ‘end times watching’ has left me with just a few I pay attention to. One of these is the oft-quoted “Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree:….” of Matthew 24, or the Olivet Discourse, also found in Mark 13 and Luke 21 (where it also adds “and all the other trees”). I have listened to this being the budding of the fig-tree that is clearly the symbol for Israel and that therefore the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 ushered in the ‘last days’; this has been preached to me from pulpits for 34 years now (yeah, I didn’t attend a church for my first whole year!), and I have accepted it as such. The point I was planning to make is that there are many different interpretations of the Olivet Discourse, some being that it prophecies of the sacking of Jerusalem in AD70, while others say that you can divide the discourse into two separate answers to the questions about the destruction of the temple (in AD70) and Christ’s return. Based on this knowledge that we may be shaping our worldview on a human interpretation of mysterious verses that we may or may not be right about, what exactly do we think we are doing? Is it not better for us to focus on the important things about our faith in Jesus and our certainty that he is who he said he is, and that his atoning sacrifice is there for all to avail of? Then can we not let go of other trivial stuff (like end times prophecies), maybe leave it to private conversations amongst ourselves, but not make it shape how we speak to the world or act towards it?

Now, this is where my blog was meant to end, but…. as I was investigating this, I formed a question in my mind: ‘we’ all believe that the fig-tree is the symbol for Israel – where does that come from? For example, it’s clear from history that the cedar is the symbol of Lebanon (it’s even on Lebanon’s flag!), but biblically, where does God refer to his ‘chosen people’ as a fig-tree? So I searched my Bible, thinking it would appear somewhere in the prophets, maybe Isaiah or Jeremiah. ‘Fig’ or ‘figs’ are found in 49 separate chapters across the Old and New Testaments. Not one of them has any symbology directly with Israel or Judah! Go and look for yourself! None! There is plenty of other symbology in scripture but nothing on this, I’m afraid. Any references to it being such a symbol are on web pages referring to… the Olivet Discourse! This is purely an interpretation by someone (maybe Darby?) and passed down from pulpit to pulpit. I even looked up ‘national trees’ on wikipedia: Israel’s national tree is the olive tree! The only actual old reference to it being Israel is found in the Apocalypse of Peter, a book written in the 2nd century, and rejected from our canon and not even found in the apocrypha! If you wish to refer to that, go ahead, but leave me out of that, please. I refer to that which I believe to be the word of God, and I find nothing. Do you get this? In order for us to be able to make the claim that Jesus was referring to Israel in the Olivet Discourse, there has to be a biblical precedent for that, a verse akin to “now Israel is likened unto a fig-tree…” The defenders of this view of prophecy try to point to various verses about figs but these same verses make no mention of any direct attribution to Israel, or more often, talk of figs along with vines and olives; therefore they refer to ‘fruitfulness/ barrenness’ and not just figs, let alone the nation of Israel!!

Why did I never find this out before? Well, because I never looked! As I stated, I gave up on end times prophecies a long time ago. How has this interpretation come about? Are there Zionists who adapted this interpretation to push for their ‘return to their homeland’ (maybe even as early as the second century, once they had been exiled by the Romans)? I must apologise, that surely must sound to some as ‘anti-semitic’! Sorry but I’m only pointing out a truth I have found that has even left me reeling.

“Well, you stand alone, Tim!” I hear many say already. No, we are actually in a minority across the full board of eschatological narrative! Here are just two I found that concurred with me:

http://www.bibleserralta.com/TheFigtreeIsNotIsrael.html

http://thepre-wrathtribune.blogspot.co.uk/2007/09/is-israel-fig-tree.html [bit sarky, this one]

I also used to form the opinion that holding to such ideas was fairly harmless, but if, as I said earlier, it shapes your worldview, it can become dangerous, even politically dangerous! Here’s a blog that tries to make that point:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/end-times-believers/

So my point (to myself too), which is a point I’ve always been making: verify everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21), read your Bible, know what you believe and why, and don’t just take everything you hear from pulpits to be ‘gospel’. Not that I’m accusing any preachers of misleading people, just that they have taken their lead from previous ‘mentors’ and older preachers, and never thought to question it, and in this case, neither did I!

Let the Holy Spirit ‘lead you into all truth’, but engage the brain God gave you first. Part of that means allowing yourself to listen to things that you might not really want to accept.

Grace be with you.

We need to unite with Muslims.

[14th August, 2014 – this blog was written before the most recent news came out of Iraq (in the Islamic State) of the fleeing Yazidis and Christians on Mount Sinjar. I still stand by my blog since there will still be victims of different religions in the IS, including innocent Muslims, and I am noticing a lot of Christian media seemingly ignoring the Yazidis and reporting this as ‘persecution of Christians’]…

 

I’ve noticed two things occurring a lot on the internet recently: First, different sites and sources stating that Christians are being persecuted, tortured and executed in places like the ISIS-controlled parts of Syria. Second, different sites and sources pinning blame on all Muslims, or just Islam, for all this trouble. Some even making claims like ‘99% of religious persecution is perpetrated by Muslims’. For me, it’s just ‘the new anti-Semitism’ and is almost ‘in vogue’ in some quarters.

At the outset, let me state where I stand; as a Christian, I see salvation only in one name; no other name has the power or is the medium by which we shall see God. Unlike deceivers like John Hagee, who could deceive ‘even the elect’ into a sort of syncretistic ‘super-religion’ of what I call Judaeo-Christianity, I stand by the very clear words of my own Lord:

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6)

NO EXCEPTIONS!

However, this does not mean that I can find no ground on which I can live with anyone of any other faith, or no faith. In fact, I am commanded to not only live peaceably with everyone (Romans 12:18), but to even love my enemies, and pray for my persecutors (Matthew 5:44). Jesus also gave us a caveat to warn us against stupidity:

‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’ (Matt. 10:16)

With this in mind, I must then seek to establish truth about any claims that I hear, to enable myself and others to discern just who are really perpetrators of wrong, and who are not, whom I can trust, and whom not, and to know how to deal with them. However, this in no way overthrows or supersedes his command to love.

I am also commanded to not let the world shape or infect my mind (Romans 12:2). In our modern world, we can fall into two opposing traps with politics and apply modern attitudes to Biblical truths: At one extreme, we must never let a blind devotion to any ideology to allow us to end up dismissing these truths if they don’t fit into that ideology. At the other end of the scale, indifference or cynicism with politics can lead us to treat anything we hear with a dismissive wave of the hand. Let us get this clear: Jesus did not say ‘love your enemies’ just for a quotable soundbite.

Now dealing with persecution of Christians; yes, there is a lot of it, and it is largely going unreported. For a very good explanation of possible reasons for this, here’s an excellent article. The problem I have with much of what is coming out of Iraq/Syria is that it is largely unverifiable, and much is subject to sensationalism and twisting for various political purposes. In one case I have discussed at length in many places, some have reported that Christians were crucified, yet all news sources that could be found reported that they were Muslims accused of apostasy i.e. they did not hold to the narrow interpretation of Islam that ISIS and their leader, Al Baghdadi, maintain is the only true Islam. More importantly, they were not crucified, but executed, then their bodies hung up on public display – WHY does this even need any misreporting to make it more brutally sensational than it already is?

Misreporting this does various things:

1. We set ourselves up to be knocked down. Once anyone can point out that we have misrepresented something, they become entitled to accuse us of doing it deliberately (whether their accusation is correct or not); deliberate misrepresentation is a fancy term for lying.

2. We distract attention from the real persecution of fellow believers that is going on, and possibly make others think we are crying ‘wolf’ when it needs to be highlighted.

3. We may be seen as partisan in that we only wish to highlight wrongs done ‘to us’ when we should really be defending all victims of persecution. We must learn that most politicians see politics as a game, and they play the ‘them and us’ card all the time. Those of us in Northern Ireland in particular should be wise to this! Let us rise above such pettiness. On the idea (or the prevalent trend) that it’s all coming from Islam, here’s just a few examples to bust that myth:

Atheistshttp://tinyurl.com/NorthKoreaPersecution

Jewshttp://tinyurl.com/JewsPersecuteChristians

Hindushttp://tinyurl.com/HindusPersecuteChristians

Christians – http://tinyurl.com/ChristiansPersecuteMuslims

Even ‘pacifist’ Buddhists!http://tinyurl.com/BuddhistsPersecutingMuslims

This was just a few short Googles worth! Now just think that right away, you could say “those so-called Christians don’t act or speak for me!” then surely you must allow Muslims the same chance to say that about ISIS, Hamas and Al-Qaeda!

Happily, though, it’s not all bad:

http://tinyurl.com/JewRescuesChristians

And even some Muslims are already standing up to ISIS:

http://tinyurl.com/BraveMuslims

These last examples serve to show the good people on all sides of religious and political divides, who will stand up for truth, peace and justice, for anyone. Shame on us if we do not do the same!

We need to defend those Muslims who are also suffering at the hands of extremists like ISIS, along with Christians and other religious groups, for ‘apostasy’ from the narrow ideology they adhere to. There are many other jihadists, like ISIS, who actually believe that their tiny group are the only true Muslims on Earth (sounds like some Christian denominations I know!), and even fight with other jihad groups within their own country! Adopting this way of acknowledgement and solidarity, we recruit many more to assist in the true fight against terrorism and jihadism, not the political ‘War on Terror’ that our leaders keep banging on about! And by following the command of our Lord Jesus to love them, we reach them with the true gospel in ways far beyond anything we could expect.

Grace be with you.