End Times prophecies 5: Out of the dark, and into the light.

I-found-my-therapist-to-be-condescending-and-way-tThe second Christian Rock band of my youth was called ‘Into the Light’ (in between ‘Heart & Soul’ and ‘Sword of Gideon’). We played the local club scene (the local church youth club scene!), as well as a few bigger venues, including a capacity Ulster Hall. We heard later on of another local band called ‘Out of the Dark’ and we considered doing a tour with them under the title as above. I’ve waited all these years to be able to use that phrase! It has been a long journey, and I feel like I’m emerging out of a long funk of negativity that has come from various sources. One of these has definitely been the effects of dispensationalism. Yes, I often get the ‘dis-pen-what!?’ response. This is the fifth (ETP5) of a mini-series of blogs, as well as a couple of others that touched on the topic, and it marks a moment of clarity for me that I’ve realised as certain facts, but not a full-blown epiphany.

This week my wife asked me “Could you not blog about something nice?” OK, love! Here’s a lovely picture of some kittens:

curious_kittens

I love cats! Now, back to the grumbling…

A good old friend came to see me, and using the experience of his psychology degree, told me that I had ‘anger issues’! I said categorically that I had not, flew into a rage, and told him to never darken my door again!

No, I didn’t. My friend qualified what he said to me by pointing out that we all have things that anger us; certain things that push our buttons, and we all do well to have something that is termed ‘catharsis’ i.e. a way of overcoming such anger or venting it safely, and he knew that my catharsis is writing, or specifically, blogging. I know that I did have genuine anger issues when I was a young man, which went back to a traumatic incident when I was accused of a crime I did not commit; a good therapist found that out for me and helped me simply realise it and let it go. Now in my life, there is actually only one thing (or one person) who can get my blood boiling and invoke images of destruction in my fallen mind, but my catharsis for that is to laugh at him.

victormeldrew0410_228x328To placate my wife, I checked: of the 116 blogs I have written so far, only 90 could be said to be negative rants. So there! I’m not always a grumpy old git!

Then last night I watched a film I had recorded: ‘Yes Man’ starring Jim Carrey. It’s an average gentle romcom, neither Carey’s finest nor funniest performance, but the premise was about a man stuck in a negative frame of mind who never said ‘yes’ to anything who went to see a modern guru who convinced him he needed to say ‘yes’ to everything… you can guess the comedic consequences. The premise was good, and it reminded me of some wonderful passages of scripture e.g.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. (Psalm 42:5)

Thoughts ran around my head all night until, unable to sleep, I just had to write this! Now I am not a disciple of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ of Norman Vincent Peale (though some of his thoughts are worthy), or any modern equivalent guru, nor do I give any credence to the ‘name it and claim it’ nonsense of the likes of Womack or Copeland; let me put that aside right away! However, there are plenty of scriptures that exhort us to remember the benefits of our Lord, to focus on what good we have in our lives, and this is why I enjoy being in the worship ministry, since it ministers back to God, and I can help others to do this, to be positive and thankful. As I already blogged about two years ago, worship is the only thing we give to God that was not a gift from him in the first place – it is completely ours to give!

Where this fits into positivity (or ‘saying yes to everything’) in our lives, for me, is in the links between:

A man reaps what he sows. (Gal. 6:7)

and:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

It dawned on me that were I to be a more positive person in sowing such fruit as liberally and as often as I could, would I not reap more back? This is not anything like karma as found in Eastern religions like Buddhism, since while it contains a spiritual principle (and it possibly can), it is basically ‘godless’: I am called by God to display the fruit of the Spirit of God who resides within me and directs me. I’d like to think that in the presence of others, I do share things like joy and peace (in between my bouts of grumpiness!), and display kindness and faithfulness, but the key here is motive. Karma does allow for that, though how it works without an arbitrating divinity escapes me. This comes across as similar to the appeal of NV Peale, who does include God, but actually higher than the prosperity preaching we hear in some megachurches and on our televisions so much, since the motive there is to get something back! Though it’s not just a sham, it’s also a scam!! No, my original question was never about ‘getting something back’ but a dawning that a life lived bearing such fruit will simply please God, and as a Jesus follower, this is exactly where my heart needs to be, and should be basically all that I pursue. The reward is not in receiving ‘blessings’ but in finding fulfilment. No? Compare someone who preaches from their bible without displaying any of this fruit, with someone who lives out what they have read from their Bible – which is more effective?

Here is how this fits in with me perfectly at this time in my life: my emergence from the darkness of dispensationalism, and how my own ‘worldview’ has changed! To save going over old ground again, let me just say that dispensationalism is just the prevalent interpretation of end times prophecies that can be found in a large number of evangelical churches in the world today. I have already spoken against making predictions about the Second Coming (ETP1), how I discovered for myself that ‘the Fig Tree’ is not Israel and then that I was not alone (ETP2), then a particularly angry blog where I ripped Hagee’s ‘Blood Moons’ garbage to shreds! (ETP3), how it was incorrect predictions that caused the Jews to miss the first appearance of the Messiah, then a brief warning (from Jesus’ own command) to stop saying ‘The time is near‘, and confirmation from an unexpected source that things are not really ‘getting worse’ (ETP4). If you’re up for a lot more reading, just look up dispensationalism on wikipedia and click away on all the links there for a day or five! If you want a quick dismissal of one of the favourite things of dispensationalism, the ‘secret rapture’, which has spawned films (the most recent starring Nicolas Cage!!), just read Luke’s account of where those who are ‘taken’ will be found (17:34-37).

While I was never a devotee of dispensationalism, nor a student of end times stuff (until recently), I was certainly caught up in the prevalent worldview, which was that it’s all just about to fall apart, any day now, and the more ‘bad news’ that we hear, the closer that great day is to us, and we should practically be rejoicing in our anticipation, while we shore ourselves up in our church buildings like arks in the troubled sea of the world, but implore drowning people to get on board and join us in our mutual hugging that we’re now saved from the devil’s domain, and cower in the belief that we cannot swim, and the fear of getting wet again. Yet while there are people dying in the world without knowing Jesus, there are also good things happening in the midst of the ever-present sin and evil, and there is so much more good that we can do towards our fellow humans. While we continually think about tomorrow, which could be the day Jesus does come back (and I believe it, just that it will certainly not be silent!), we forget about today, and thus we lose sight of how we can live, and what we can achieve today!

I want to get wet!!!! Jesus himself admonished us:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6:34)

As I sat down to start this blog on an insomniac early morning, just before sunrise, I played some favourite tunes on my headphones to save disturbing my family. This is one of the songs that came up; one I have been forcing myself to sing along with when I get down….

Cool-Dark-Clouds-HD-Wallpaper-7-For-Desktop-Background“If rain clouds come
Or the cold winds blow
You’re the one who goes before me
And in my heart I know

That this good day, it is a gift from You
The world is turning in its place
Because You made it to
I lift my voice to sing a song of praise
On this good day”

Read more:  Fernando Ortega – This Good Day Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Grace be with you.

P.S. While I personally wish this to be my last ETP blog, I somehow doubt it!

Then they came for the Muslims…

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Martin_Niemöller_(1952)
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

– Pastor Martin Niemöller

You may have heard or read a different version of this poem, because it exists in a number of forms. It certainly was given in speeches by Niemöller (1892-1984), who was a German Lutheran Pastor, contemporary and colleague of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (see last post). The version above is the one found on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, but in various guises it can be discovered, with mention of Communists, the ‘incurable’, the Social Democrats, etc. The point being made is basically that by not standing up for those who are ‘not like us’ or ‘not of our race/ religion/ creed/ political allegiance’, we do ourselves a disservice and thus fail to serve all of humanity.

The problem that confronted Niemöller was that, unlike some contemporaries at the time of the rise of Nazism, he did not speak out against Hitler, at least not at first, and this poem that we read is testimony to the anguish he felt over his initial inaction. He was anti-Communist, so welcomed the new Chancellor who was going to deal with the problems caused by what he saw as the prevalent social evil of his time, and deal firmly with those who were stirring things up and were enemies of the church. It was only as time went on, and each successive group of scapegoats were ‘dealt with’ that he started to realise where things were going. The Jews would appear to have been the group that suffered the most under Hitler, but they shared the concentration camps with political dissidents like communists as well as gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

What Niemöller intended with his words was to convey how it started with those that ‘everyone disliked’ i.e. the political troublemakers, then it moved to a group marked by nothing except their religion or race (the Jews). It is often debated how a modern European ‘civilised’ nation like 20th century Germany could so easily have allowed these things to happen, but it was at the end of a centuries-long process of the dehumanisation of the Jews. Anti-Semitism may have complex roots but to simplify it as best as one can; the first step was when many Jews in Europe became bankers by trade. This was a niche for them to fill since the church, pre-reformation, banned the practice of usury (charging interest on loans), since this is actually forbidden in the laws of the Old Testament. Actually it was forbidden for Israelites to charge interest to fellow countrymen (brothers in the faith), but not those of other races or faiths, and so since Christians could not lend to each other professionally, Jews were able to exploit that market. Various Kings and Emperors across Europe employed their services to bankroll their armies as they tried to take more territory and defeat neighbours; because many of them resented paying the money back, they would concoct stories against Jews, like saying that they ate Christian babies – horrible stuff like that – or blame them on devilry and casting bad omens and spells when disasters occurred, and then allow mobs to ‘take matters into their own hands’ or just proclaim a law that all Jews be deported, and thus their debts went away with the exiles! Where Jews found they could stay, they tended to remain together for their own safety and so their ‘ghettoisation’ began; they often did not integrate well with Christians.

By the time of Nazism, even ‘scientific’ studies were used to offer proof that Jews were genetically inferior, or ‘subhuman’ to the ‘better races’ like the White European tribes. On top of this, laissez-faire capitalism, in its first recent outing, had collapsed the world markets in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 (just like it did again in 2008). People then realised, as many are realising this time around, that it was the fault of the banks and the unhindered greed of the bankers who could not stop the ‘boom’ of the 20s and went too far. For the reasons listed above, many of these bankers were Jewish! In finding who to blame for the woes of the First Great Depression, much was apportioned to the Jews, and so the rounding up of these people was easier to achieve. Problem was that not all bankers were Jews, and not all Jews were bankers, but who would be concerned with such petty truths when people have a good old-fashioned lynch mob ready to take the trash out to the bins!

Anti-Semitism is on the rise again, and some are using the recent crash and New Depression in their finger-pointing efforts, but in the complexities of world politics, we have a situation where nobody really wants a return to persecuting the Jews like ’twas done a generation ago (fortunately), and Israel has become a powerful world nation with ties and links to major political powers. These days you only have to say that you’re not a fan of Woody Allen’s films to have the Anti-Defamation League accuse you of being anti-Semitic!

Enter the new scapegoats! The ‘Jews of the 21st century’! The Muslims!! Sure we all see the barbarity of those extremists who post their own videos online to boast to the world just how barbaric they can be as they do it all in the name of Allah, to cries of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ – sure we can see with our own eyes on our TV screens just how murderous and utterly detestable these people are! I’ll make no argument against that. I have already stated how the likes of ISIS are immoral human beings. However, just as not all Jews were or are bankers, and I believe we should apportion blame on those bankers who messed up (in 1929 and 2008) for our financial problems, so I also see that not all Muslims are extremists, and we should apportion the blame for the genocidal activities we are seeing on the extremists, and the extremists alone!

The dehumanising process has begun already. A large proportion of immigrants coming here are Muslims (actually escaping persecution by the extremists!); how often do we read in our media of ‘the death of an immigrant’ under a truck or of ‘a boatload of immigrants’ in the Mediterranean instead of the death of a boatload of people? They are fleeing the same groups that are our enemies, they are victims too. In the huge complexities that we need to wade through to find any sort of answer to this crisis (which I believe could be reduced from the megacrisis it is portrayed to be by parties interested in scapegoating again), we will have many questions difficult to answer. Let us relish the challenge instead of jerking our knees to the goose-step of hatred!

You don’t think they’re being dehumanised? Nobody is calling for their extermination, like the Nazis with the Jews? Think again! Almost a year ago, Charisma magazine online published an article from the website of the CADC (Christian Anti-Defamation Commission) that called for the extermination of all Muslims in the Western world! Actually it called for Muslims to ‘convert, leave, or die!’ – how and where does that sound familiar? While the CADC may be a fringe group, Charisma is a magazine of some note and a reasonable readership – its founder, Stephen Strang, was listed by TIME in 2005 in the ’25 most influential evangelicals in America’. I am very pleased to say that due to a flood of protests, Charisma removed the article and link, but never offered a reason for retraction nor an apology! To  think that they would even consider printing such an article is beyond my comprehension! I do not pass judgment on the salvation of other believers, but this attitude has zero to do with my faith, or my Jesus!!! The original article is still available here at defendchristians.org.

muslim-family-cropped-shutterstock_185552456-400x400Unlike Niemöller, who waited too long to be effective, I will start speaking out now, to halt the process that turns humans into cattle for slaughter, before we reach the day when we add a new line to that poem: “Then they came for the Muslims…”. I shall leave you with the very words of Pastor Niemöller [apologies for the imperfect translation], so you can sense his regret and angst:

When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers.
Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians – “should I be my brother’s keeper?”
Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. – I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it’s right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn’t it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? — Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren’t guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers
I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out…. We preferred to keep silent. We are certainly not without guilt/fault, and I ask myself again and again, what would have happened, if in the year 1933 or 1934 – there must have been a possibility – 14,000 Protestant pastors and all Protestant communities in Germany had defended the truth until their deaths? If we had said back then, it is not right when Hermann Göring simply puts 100,000 Communists in the concentration camps, in order to let them die. I can imagine that perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 Protestant Christians would have had their heads cut off, but I can also imagine that we would have rescued 30-40,000 million [sic] people, because that is what it is costing us now.

Grace be with you.

Child beheaded for striking parents!

isis-flagA few weeks ago, I did something I truly wish I had not! I warn you now not to do the same. I was merrily googling about something political, for information; in my search bar I had included the word ‘atrocities’ and then, for some reason, within the search results, I clicked on ‘images’! Despite not typing in anything to do with ISIS, the first images that appeared were ISIS atrocities! I looked, for too long, far too long, I was mesmerised. It was almost certainly less than a minute, but that was all it took to burn those pictures into my brain. I have some failing memory in my advancing years; how I wish it would fail me now – the pictures will haunt my nightmares until I leave this Earth.

In no shape or form will I ever join in the politically-motivated rhetoric of branding all Muslims as barbaric or savage, but those people in ISIS must be the most debased and disgusting humans on this planet right now. I cannot think of anyone worse. In the past we’ve had the Nazis (white Europeans) and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (Asian atheists), amongst other savages, so ISIS are not wholly unique, but they are making the effort to top the list with fervour. The most recent report that I read was how they executed 19 young women who refused to take part in ‘sexual jihad’ – I’ll spare you the details.

However, my headline ‘shocker’ has nothing to do with ISIS or Muslims whatsoever. It would have been a tabloid headline in 16th century Geneva (had they been reading tabloids then)! Church history scholars will realise that this is referring to post-reformation Geneva, a city state founded on and run by the principles of Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ and his interpretation of the Bible. One reliable source records that it was a teenage boy, called Phillipe DeVille and that he was tied to a stake and then beheaded. Another source claims it was a girl, but there is no argument against the fact that it did happen, as punishment for lashing out at both parents. Many other unruly children were subjected to harsh punishments, and many adults were beheaded or burnt at the stake for disagreeing with Calvin, or the council who made his ‘Institutes’ as authoritative as the holy scriptures. You can read of the executions of Servetus and Gruet elsewhere, if you can stomach it, and the various debates over how much Calvin himself was involved. His followers tend to try their best to defend him and downplay that he really wanted these men killed, or wished for a swift execution, etc., and that is understandable if you’ve based a whole load of your theology on his writings. The evidence against him, however, is pretty damning. We can say things like “it was a different time he lived in” and I’m glad if we can agree that in the 21st century Western world, we have moved on from ‘that time’.

Calvinism is not the debate I’m entering into, though. I can label myself a Calvinist for the side I drop onto from the fence on the ever-present debate on election and the visibility of the church, but I’m not an ardent disciple of his theology at all. No, the real problem for me is that this utterly heinous act comes directly from our Bible, from the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament:

Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death. (Ex. 21:15)

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. (Deut. 21: 18-21)

Had it been a Calvinistic interpretation of some obscure verse, I could dismiss it, but it’s not. It’s as clear as it reads in my own Bible that I cherish. And here lies the problem with those who wish to ‘return to the Law’: The real problem.

The ‘divisions’ of the Lawmosaiclaw

Many who call for a return to observance of the Mosaic Law understand that there are many things in it that seem petty and unnecessary for us e.g. men should not shave the sides of their head, and clothing should not be made with mixed fabrics. Some are outdated; a man who left the Amish community after his personal conversion from their heavily-ritualised living had an infestation of woodworm in his barn. He read the appropriate law and burned the barn down! They didn’t have effective pesticides in those days but we do now.

So in order to be able to dismiss some laws and not others, some try to distinguish them into categories, like ‘moral’, ‘ritual/ ceremonial’, ‘dietary’, ‘clean and unclean things’, etc., but the problem here is that such a division was never in the original. There’s no ‘book of ceremonial law’ or ‘chapter x: the moral code’ there. They’re written in a continuous though quite diverse manner. All the laws as written were to be adhered to uniformly and consistently. As with all legal codes, moral dilemmas ensued with interpretations of just how they could be applied, like just how far could one walk on the Sabbath, for instance, and so interpretations were added. I have often heard things like “when Jesus criticised the Pharisees, he wasn’t attacking the law, but all the ‘ordinances’ that were added on to the law, ‘by man'”

However, even if we were to remove all such additional commentary, and then divide up the Mosaic Law and assign them all into various categories, and then say that we should only keep the ‘moral’ ones, we are still left with the ones quoted above; they’re clearly to do with morals – they even tie into the fifth commandment, ‘honour your father and your mother’ (though that was addressed to adults who were not to forget their elderly parents). Note that it even extends beyond physical violence – Ex. 21:17 states: Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. [emphasis added]

If you truly advocate a return to law-keeping, then note that Paul made it clear that we cannot keep just part – we must adhere to it all, and to not do so would invoke a curse! He even talks of the law as slavery!!

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ (Gal.3:10)

And so we find ourselves faced with a command, a moral one, that must be adhered to. Are we to take our unruly and rebellious teenage children to the legal authorities for execution? As I recall the images I saw on my google page, some of them of children… I must ask: would there be much difference between that and what we must set up were we to go back to the days those laws were written for? If you can comprehend what this means, you have begun to be mindful of the difficulty we face. There are some theologians who believe the Mosaic Law to have been written by man – it is truly a very difficult thing for fundamentalists to argue against!

Paul & the Galatians

You see, there’s a lot of talk about the gospel offending people these days, and it’s worn as a badge of honour by many: “I don’t care if my faith or my Bible offends people, I’m saying it anyway!” – and they refer to Paul talking about the offence and the ‘scandal’ of the gospel. Today it’s usually to do with a ‘laxness’ in morals in modern society, as well as in some churches, or a disregard for ‘the law’, or not calling sin, sin. However, this was not what Paul meant by ‘the offence of the cross’!

It’s true! The gospel of Jesus is offensive! Paul states that clearly: Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been abolished. (Gal.5:11). But… Paul is not describing an offence against a ‘lawless faith’ that disregards sin and its consequences and punishments. No! He’s preaching to the Galatians against ‘the law’! And he is talking about the Law as written in the scriptures, not any ‘man-made additional ordinances’. Why is this man, who was a fervent Pharisee, zealous for the Hebrew scriptures and a persecutor of the traitorous Christians, now saying that he’s not for going back to the Law!? He is addressing the church in Galatia, which has been infiltrated by legalists who are trying to get them to be circumcised, and Paul, a circumcised Jew himself, screams “NO!” at them.

Let me explain: Some had entered the Galatian church after Paul, and taught that believers need to be circumcised according to the law, and then told the Galatians that Paul preached the same message. Paul denied this, and in his letter he reels on these usurpers in one of his most venomous writings. What Paul is talking about to the Galatians in the passage quoted above is the offence that the gospel causes to these people; the ones who wish to take the Galatian church back to following the Mosaic law. The case where ‘the offence of the cross [would have] been abolished’ in chapter 5 is made if what the Galatians have been told (that Paul preaches circumcision too) were true. Were Paul to be preaching this, then there would be no offence caused to these pious, religious, law-keeping perverters of the gospel. Hold on! He’s calling law-keepers ‘perverters’ of the gospel? Yes! He addresses this at the outset of the letter: Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (1:7)

Christ and Our Cross

Christ and Our Cross

The offence of the cross is what so many find hard to grasp; which is that grace is extended to whomever would believe and follow Christ, and is not dependent on works at allI exhort you to read the whole epistle, maybe even in The Message paraphrase, since it captures Paul’s anger that many other translations seem to dilute. Be aware, as you read it, that it most certainly is not a “hello, chums! Hope you’re all feeling well today!” sort of letter; far from it!

 Law v. Grace

It was this ‘offence’ of the gospel of grace that caused Mohammad to rebel against it since he could not accept the very idea of vicarious atonement. Vicarious what? It means that someone took the place of punishment for the sins of another; they paid the cost, and took the consequences. This is the very lynchpin of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He paid it all, for the sins of anyone who would accept that vicarious atonement and not rebel against it; it is the will of God that we should partake of it, since God knows our weakness and how we cannot achieve such atonement for ourselves. Paul labours on this throughout Galatians, and touches on it in other epistles, notably Romans.

Now a perfectly natural reaction to this news is to take an attitude of “so all my sins are forgiven!? That means it doesn’t matter if I sin or not!” Some even went to the extreme of saying that we should sin all the more, since this glorifies God by displaying the majesty of his grace that forgives those sins that we commit. As ‘The Teacher’ wrote in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9), and this attitude which we see in some modern churches that ‘sin is no longer an issue’ is as old as the gospel itself. It pervaded Gnostic thought and philosophy, and Paul dismissed it directly to the Roman believers:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Rom. 6:1,2)

[The ‘Last Days’ began with Jesus’ ascension to heaven!]

Paul’s theology outlines beautifully how we have died with Christ on the cross, to sin, and arose again to salvation and new life, and anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom. 6:6-8). Unfortunately, though, many who have been appalled at those who grant others a ‘license to sin’ (I call them ‘licensers’ in my book) then react in a human way and begin to reject the doctrine of grace, preferring a more ‘righteous’ way of living, and they gravitate back to a code that they can refer to for precise guidance. My problem right away is that we are called to be righteous, not self-righteous, and in this I see a problem arise, which leads to conceitedness, with fellow brothers and sisters thinking that they are ‘better’ than other believers, when in fact, the beginning of the following after Jesus is humility; we are to deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24). Jesus lays out just how much sin resides in us in his Sermon on the Mount, and Paul declares that he himself is the chief of sinners. (1Tim. 1:15) – he recognised that once he was aware of his own fallen heart, there could be nobody else he could judge as beneath him.

I have never met the man I could despair of after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God. – Oswald Chambers

I have come to believe that this was the very intention of Jesus in pointing to our hearts and saying “there lies sin!” Why else would he convict us so badly, rebuke us so sharply? Only to teach us that each of us has been forgiven, completely, totally, so we cannot wish to judge others or belittle them. We will then react to grace in a positive way, like the single leper from the ten healed, who returned to Jesus to give thanks.

How then do we deal with the licensers? Why can they not feel what that one leper felt and desire to serve Christ in a totally non-selfish way? (And why is it that so many who preach about personal wealth and health by faith then fall into this trap?). More importantly, why do we have this struggle between law and grace?

Cheap grace

dbonhoefferDietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) was a modern martyr for the gospel, executed by Hitler’s regime for maintaining his stance against the evil he saw around him. His most famous work was ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ and his death was a testimony to what he wrote. He saw much of this ‘license to sin’ in his day too (just as it was in the first century, and still is in the 21st century), and he coined the term ‘cheap grace’ to describe what he perceived these people were doing with the gospel of true grace (or ‘costly grace’). For Bonhoeffer, cheap grace was a perversion of the gospel where grace was used as an excuse for sin, since it was easier to view it that way and live a life without discipleship, without ‘following after’ Christ, which would cost much to any disciple, maybe even to the point of their own life; we are to take up our cross, and we would do well to grasp just what that phrase means. Bonhoeffer certainly did!

To get a better understanding of this, let us first go back to Martin Luther, since his reformation has been blamed for offering Christians licence by taking them away from the long-standing doctrines and sacraments of the established church. On the contrary, what was probably the spark that lit his fire of passion to call for a serious debate within the church was an event one Saturday evening; on his way home, he found a parishioner lying drunk in the gutter. Luther picked him up and brushed him down, and rebuked him for his drunkenness, telling him that he must go home and sober up for the morning to be able to get to the confessional for his sin. The man dismissed his priest, drawing out of his pocket a bill signed by the Pope which he had paid a good sum for, saying “see! The Pope himself has absolved all my sins! I can do as I like!” Licensing existed in the Roman Catholic church too! Luther was appalled at such an attitude: he was a true disciple – he was not intending to enter the priesthood, but did so after promising God he would if hemartin_luther survived a severe lightning storm in the Alps. His word was his bond. As he read his Bible more, and sought the Lord, his grasp of the doctrine of grace did not diminish his desire for ongoing costly discipleship. No, it was a comfort to him, that his place in heaven was assured, that he need not strive any more, but in the heart of a true disciple, it offered strength to the resolve to follow, not the excuse to carry on with life just as before and forget about following. Jesus always laid out difficult conditions for following him. Some of these are too difficult for some!

Bonhoeffer built on this foundation, and wrote some excellent stuff on the differences between cheap grace and costly grace. I prefer to call costly grace ‘true grace’ since this is what flowed from Jesus’ blood on the cross in the first place, and was what Paul and all the apostles, and good church founders throughout Christian history have known. But Bonhoeffer explains why he calls it ‘costly grace’:

It is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.

It is costly because it condemns the sinner, and grace because it justifies the sinner.

Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son.

The answer and the antidote to cheap grace is not to return to the law. Paul lays out just how twisted a logic that is, since we are leaving our means of salvation, by grace, through faith, and going back to that which never could save. Abraham was justified by faith, not law, long before the law came! No, the answer to cheap grace is not a return to the Law, but to preach, and live by, true costly grace.

I cringe when I see the likes of Joel Osteen look at the camera and say to viewers to recite his own version of the ‘sinner’s prayer’ (which is not in the Bible, by the way) and then say “congratulations, you are now in the family of God!”. Yes, my own salvation started at a moment with a prayer like that, but with little to no teaching on those TV screens about commitment and discipleship, is that single prayer not simply sewn on stony ground? When I first decided to follow Jesus, I knew from the outset that following him as a disciple was not just praying the prayer, or even believing the belief: it was living the life!

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. 

– Morpheus

The Law fulfilled

And now comes the objection which I am bound to hear. It is the clever objection that is always proposed, and it is taken from the very words of our Lord in his Sermon on the Mount, right before he talks about how much sin is within our hearts:

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17-20)

Putting this up against what we have discussed about grace just sounds like a contradiction, but it is due to misunderstanding on three points:

1. Fulfilment

No, the Law has not been abolished, say the legalists. Correct. However, Christ had not come to abolish them but to fulfil them! They miss that tiny little word but and then the word fulfil gets overlooked. I don’t even need to get into the nitty-gritty of the original words since the English suffices (save to point out that the Greek for fulfil, plero-o, is the root of our word completion). Once Jesus finished his work on Calvary, it was done, all the requirements of the Law were completed and fulfilled in a most perfect way that all of mankind striving, for all of eternity, could never accomplish. For me, any return to what went before, dishonours and insults my Lord’s finished work – it says that it wasn’t enough, and tries to circumvent that which is offensive about the gospel. It’s legalists who cannot shoulder that offence, and they may as well convert to Islam, since it’s much the same as what they advocate, in my humble opinion!

2. The Law AND the Prophets1375452838_prophet

In many of Jesus’ references to the Law, it is termed ‘the Law and the Prophets’ – this is one division that did exist in the Hebrew scriptures, though again done so by men; they had the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (the last one usually consists of Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, but the categorisation has changed at times). However, Jesus, when talking about what he has come to fulfil, includes the prophets. To analyse the messages of the prophets in a soundbite, it is that they were always standing on the fringe of society calling the people back to God. It usually consisted of “you keep God’s laws as precisely as if you were ‘straining out a gnat‘ yet your hearts are far from him!” Jesus sought to put these together; yes, there is the law, but don’t forsake what my prophets told you, that a heart turned towards me is more important. Through Isaiah, God said how he had tired of all the sacrifices of rams and bulls and lambs. He wanted them to just love and desire him, and Jesus’ call to his disciples hinged on their hearts. Without the prophets’ message, without heart change, law-keeping means nothing to God.

3. Surpassing the Pharisees

Right after this passage, Jesus launched into one of his most difficult passages about how we should live and follow him, how every little thing we do in our innermost thoughts can be sinful against God, and while we may hide it from others, we cannot hide it from the Father; he knows our hearts, every waking thought, and every sleep-filled dream. I analysed it in minute detail in my book; it’s very tricky to heed and live by, but it lays out what Jesus meant: the Pharisees keep the laws, perfectly, precisely, like clockwork, but that is just all show for others to see their righteousness. “I want you to be different,” says our Lord,”so that you can have an inner righteousness that is greater than theirs, and then shines forth from a heart that has changed.”

A final point to make is that the anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven phrase is actually not saying that we must keep it all, every last bit. It means you cannot set aside one of them – just as Paul warned, if you wish to live by the Law, you cannot set even one aside; you must be enslaved again to keep them all (which includes the child-killing). When reading Galatians, I don’t see Paul saying “don’t keep this law” or “you can ignore that one.” No, he simply warns that they come as a package, and that package is fulfilled, and covered by grace, by Jesus’ blood, buried with his baptismal dip into the Jordan river. Trying to keep them is putting the chains back on that were removed when grace was preached to you.

Still not convinced? Still think that you can choose which laws you like and which you don’t? Which means that you’re ‘cherry-picking’ scripture – heaven forbid! Or that maybe stoning children to death for being rebels is a good idea after all!? I’ll let Paul have the final word – read them carefully:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is required to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal. 5:1-4)

Alienated from Christ!? Fallen… from grace!? Harsh words indeed!

Grace truly be with you.

[now that I realise this is my longest blog yet, I’m wondering were I not better to make a video where I just read out some ‘zany’ or ‘shocking’ bits of the Law, smile and point at the camera (maybe with an American accent) and say “you sure you wanna go back to the Law? ‘Cos that’s the laaawwww!”] Not me, though. 😦

All truth is God’s truth!

1280582410I came across a little video shared on Facebook by a couple of friends. It was about ‘supporting Israel’. I watched it, and behind the nice bright-eyed and bushy-tailed teenage ‘Merican youth presenters enthusiastically saying twee soundbites like “Gaad always keeps his promises!” [wondering now if that is how one pronounces ‘G-d’! (see last post)], I found little substance of biblical note: smiling white teeth doth not a doctrinal argument make, methinks.

So, being the thought-challenger/ mythbuster/ dissenting voice/ argumentative git [delete according to your worldview] that I am, I posted a comment, which was not lengthy (not by my usual standards!) outlining a biblical argument against their point of view and dual-covenant theology, quoting Paul from Romans and pointing out what Jesus said in John 8. I mentioned to a friend who had, like me, posted something on the same site but had no response, leaving us thinking that they had deleted our comments. This has been a common practice on some Christian sites, sorry to say. He then read my comment, ‘liked’ it and replied ‘Good points!’

48 hours later, I had received nothing else in response. I looked up the post, and right there at the top, was my comment. The post had over 600,000 views, more than 5000 ‘likes’ and over 400 comments, yet absolutely nobody else had reacted to mine! I was even expecting a flame like “you must just hate the Jews!” (typical reaction to a ‘dissenter’) but I was nonplussed – this was social media, and there were no reactions at all? I asked a friend who works in IT if it was possible that it was only me who could see what I wrote, and the reply was that it would certainly be possible for them to alter a comment’s status. I looked again via a friend’s page – it was there! Cogs whirred in my brain… then I created a false identity on a new Facebook account, looked again; it was nowhere to be seen! The site had changed my comment so that only my ‘friends’ could see it!

I thought it was bad enough when we had Christian sites deleting comments and blocking commenters (had that done to me!) since they were blatantly silencing someone with a differing theological view, but at least that was clear. This tactic is worse as far as I’m concerned, since one would be unaware that they had in effect been ‘silenced’ since all of their own friends would verify that their comment was active. It’s indicative of ‘thought control’ and an inability to deal with a simple theological debate; if you set yourself up to post articles and videos on social media promoting any religious point of view, you are making yourself a ‘teacher’ to the wider church, and if you will not take criticism head-on and be able to reply with a decent counter-argument, you are unworthy of that ministry. In my book of definitions, you’re a deceiver!

That I had to resort to underhand ‘lurking’ with a false name to uncover this is, quite frankly, ridiculous! And the fact that this particular issue is an important political one, betrays more about what motives may be behind such artful gagging practices!

My fellow believers need to be aware of such tactics. Keep listening to the same old stuff and you will never be aware that what you are being taught may be only one flawed interpretation, or that what is presented to you as ‘what all true Christians believe and accept’ is actually only held by a small number, and is based more on a cultural or traditional stance than on actual biblical study!

How on earth can we who state that we believe in the One, who is ‘the Truth’ (John 14:6) ever hope to convince anyone to follow Jesus, if what we say and do is lies, or tainted by deception, or by attempts to silence any dissent to our view without an ability to explain ourselves? A very good statement by a famous pastor that I was very glad to read recently has now been undermined by a revelation that he may be covering his tracks and has not been honest about what he knew or when he knew it! Any ‘good work’ you do can be undone by a moment’s false witness in any shape or form, so why do it?

And if someone, or some church, or come Christian organisation or website, continues to do this, wilfully and deliberately, what does that say about them?

Grace be with you.

I WORSHIP GOD! NOT G-d!!

Brief rant here! I’m getting sick and tired of seeing my Lord referred to all across social media as G-d! This must only come from the same superstition that led to the loss of the real pronunciation of YHWH! Yes, it was folk superstition, borne from the belief that God’s name was not to be taken in vain. Leaving aside all that that entails, it became a fear that if one were to mention the name of God out loud, one just might do something bad with it, so… let’s just ban anyone from actually saying it. Once the Hebrew language started dying, Masorete scribes began inserting vowel diacritics into the scriptures, but they deliberately put the wrong vowels into YHWH to prevent it being pronounced. Now, nobody really knows the exact pronunciation.

It’s nothing but fearful superstition, and now the modern marriage of our faith with just about everything Jewish, as if Judaism has wonderful holy insights into the gospel that we mere Gentiles are unworthy to really comprehend; it has led us to this nonsense! I understand my faith far better than anyone from the religion left behind by those who couldn’t see who he was, thank you!

How would we worship? “Oh Lord, our G-d…”??? Or pray? Stop it NOW! Before you lose out to common sense.

And his real name is Jesus. Wonderful, beautiful Jesus. Who calms my raging storm. Rant subsiding… thank you, Lord Jesus.

Grace be with you.

Spirituality v. Salvation

SP-043-Prabhupada-on-Vyasana-folded-handsI had a Saturday job briefly when I was at school. I was a vegetarian and had started buying from a wholefood shop in our town centre; I responded to their window ad for a worker. We had a fair number of Krishna devotees who shopped with us, but one was particularly evangelical in his fervour to spread the message of Krishna and hung around outside to accost customers and passers-by with his literature. One poor man had been cornered up against our window and could not escape, so my boss felt sorry for him and went outside, shouting “Hey Jim, someone on the phone for you!” The man, whose name we never knew, looked up in bewilderment before realising what was happening, then said “Oh, thanks!” and said to the proselytiser before him “sorry, I have to go and take this!”

Once inside, my boss reassured him that the offending man would go away in a minute and he could escape. He then thanked us for rescuing him and went on his way.

I myself was approached by this religious fanatic once as I left the shop, and it was then that I realised why he chose to stand there. He asked me if I was a vegetarian. Customers exiting a wholefood shop – what are the odds? When I said that I was, he then said “Oooohhhh! That means you must recognise one of the four spiritual laws!” When I told him that my reasons for my vegetarianism were to do with modern farming and land utilisation, etc. and that I ate fish, he lost interest. Even when I tried to bring Jesus into the conversation, he wasn’t having it. He never wanted a discussion with me, just to persuade me to ‘join his religion’! Sadly, too many Christian proselytisers have the same attitude.

He was trying to find something ‘spiritual’ within me that would maybe witness to him that I was on the same hymn sheet as him (or chant sheet!), and he could use this to springboard into drawing me further along the spiritual path (his one). However, ‘spirituality’ is another topic that is subjective: some think that doing no harm to any animal is spiritual and so meat-eating is very unspiritual, yet some find some ‘spirituality’ in hunting animals for sport!

Where we can find common ground with people of other faiths or of no faith on principles like ‘live and let live’ or ‘treat others how you’d like them to treat you’ may serve us well for sharing this Earth and for living in a pluralistic and mixed society, but many Christian denominations seem to wish to find this as grounds for ‘coming together’ and believing that we all share the same spiritual ‘path’ to salvation and eternal life. The opposite of this are denominations that find no value whatsoever in the thoughts and philosophies of anyone outside their narrow definition of what is ‘true religion’!

Both beliefs are wrong! Our path to eternal life is not found on any path of ‘spirituality’ or even law-keeping; it is found in a person. The true scandal of this is the basis for the rejection of the Christian gospel by many; both atheistic people, who cannot accept that salvation is not achieved by doing good, and religious people, like Mohammad, who created a whole new religion to counter the easiness of Jesus’ yoke (Matt. 11:30).

When I watch films like ‘Gandhi’ and see how great (though flawed) a man he was, I am brought to a sense of humility, that this man who actually does not share my faith in Jesus, is an example of selfless non-violent action that cost mahatma-gandhi-quote-nations-greatness-measured-by-how-it-treats-weakest-membershim freedom and prestige in this world. That does not convince me that he has found eternal life – that is only through Jesus – but it does show me that I am not such a great example of what a Jesus follower should be like. I should be better!

Just because I have been given the gift of salvation freely does not mean I am exempt from any efforts to follow in the steps of the greatest and most humble of all: God the Creator, the Word, who left his place to become a baby, a simple carpenter, then a bloody sacrifice on a shameful cross. In fact, if I make no such effort, I betray that I’m not a true Jesus follower (Luke 9:23). I just have this compulsion that I have to prove him in me, not my own ‘spirituality’. When I do find others who display knowledge of some ‘spiritual law’ then I’ll try to show them who is the most perfect example of spirituality, that they might see where salvation truly lies. There is a difference.

Grace be with you.