Something I need to repent from…

trump1I had a hunch,

so I looked through all four gospels.

I was right!

Which means that I was wrong originally,

and also that I have to go back to that part of my book to rewrite it!

Let me explain: I had a dilemma in reading through the Sermon on the Mount. Well, just one of the dilemmas Jesus throws at us when we seek to examine his words. This bit:

‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matt. 5:21,22)

Strong words indeed! Calling someone a fool will place us in danger of hell!!!? That’s what he said! This is a command to his followers, which we must heed. Why say we follow him but not do as he commands? Actually, we can’t, or we would be liars!

However, Jesus himself did get quite insulting at times, calling Pharisees and other religious people ‘vipers‘, ‘whitewashed tombs‘, said their father was the devil, for not accepting him, even violently ejecting those he called a ‘den of robbers‘ from the Temple! This is often excused as ‘righteous anger’, and so it’s easy to take what Jesus said about anger and place it in the context of his actions and come to a conclusion that if your anger is ‘righteous’ i.e. it comes from a sense of right and wrong, and is in response to something unjust, wicked or evil, then it is perfectly fine and excusable.

So I continued on my quest to oppose such things and allow myself to get angry with people who were unrighteous and particularly those who were inciting, encouraging or legislating for others to do unrighteous acts. This of course, meant mainly politicians. All along, though, the words of Jesus kept ringing in my head. Do they not ring in yours? Surely there are situations and times when you look at yourself and realise that your behaviour, your attitude, even your thoughts (which wsub-buzz-26075-1475600325-1as a major thrust throughout the Sermon on the Mount) are not in keeping with his commands… if you say you’re a follower, yes? Righteous living is about more than who you hang out with and what you eat or drink! In fact it isn’t even that at all! I was being told by a few people, my wife included, to stop getting angry at Trump, or Theresa May, or Jeremy Hunt (whose name is prone to abuse!), or… well, there’s a fairly long list!

[The great thing about Trump is that he can produce sheer bundles of mirth from me! I’ve found that laughing at all the things he says is much more edifying. Laughter is good for you. Try it.]

What I kept trying to do was an exercise I made myself do some time ago; try to look at everyone through the eyes of Jesus. Everyone is made in the image of God and is loved by that all-loving God. While it is sin and behaviour that God does not love, his love for the individual is unswayed and beyond our comprehension. Each of these people that annoy me are each a human creation, capable of receiving the love of God. So also should my attitude towards them be.

That’s when it hit me, and I searched Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Jesus never personally insulted anyone! Any individual who came to him might have felt rebuke or admonishment, and certainly received teaching from him, but there was never any name-calling or abuse. With one exception: when Peter took him aside to tell him that he would not let Jesus go up to Jerusalem to be killed, Jesus rebuked him sharply with the infamous “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter was very familiar and dear to Jesus, and had only just been praised for announcing that he believed Jesus to be the Son of the living God. While Peter would have felt the sting of that rebuke, he would have known the deep love Jesus had for him, like a parent has for a child they rebuke. He had overstepped a mark in trying to interfere with Jesus’ intentions. However, Jesus was never that way with anyone else, unless they were in a group! All the insults hurled as I listed above were in the plural! Jesus was getting angry with a group for good reasons, since they were meant to be religious people and users of the Temple, but they were ‘blind guides’ leading people in the wrong direction or lining their own pockets from the proceeds of religion. Any one of these individuals could come to Christ and be redeemed, as happened with Matthew the tax collector (an utterly despised group of social vermin in the Roman period), and Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee.

To go back to Jesus’ command, as I must do, we can set it in context: Jesus was talking about murder, and then likening it to anger, as if he’s labelling that as the root cause of murder. We can go right back to the first recorded murder, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, when Cain killed his brother Abel. Note what God said to Cain…

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’ (Gen. 4: 6,7)

Cain was not right in his heart, which God knew, with sin ‘crouching at his door’. In which way? We know he was angry towards Abel. This led to him murdering his brother. God knew Cain’s heart, and so his sacrifice meant nothing. Cain’s acceptance was based on him ‘doing what is right’. Anything we do for God means nothing to him if our heart is not right! It is repeated right throughout scripture, particularly from the prophets and in the Psalms. Cain was angry with Abel and that anger grew. He did not ‘master’ it as God warned him to do, and it grew into the act of murder. Thus why we have Jesus stating that anger towards an individual, even silently within our heart, is to be expunged from the true follower, or we will be judged for it.

Seeing an individual among a collective is what Jesus did all the time. The woman in the pushing crowd who touched him in faith, little Zacchaeus who climbed into the tree to see Jesus in the middle of the throng, the blind man who called out to him as those around him told him to shush… and it is what we all must do too.

I can ground this back into the 21st century by going back to Star Trek again! Yeah, Trekkies will line up to tell me I should be saying the 23rd century, but I’m going to talk about the Borg, so it’s actually the 24th century. Ha!

6c0aea8b77658dcb0aeab96940263d1a4281bf5ba026d0ee1b65e4e77c66475cI am reminded of Hugh. Hugh the Borg drone. For those unfamiliar with the genre, the Borg were the most merciless enemy the Federation or anyone could face; a collective ‘hive mind’ thinking rationally and unemotionally as one, with their effervescent greeting: “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated into our collective. Resistance is futile.” In the ST:NG episode ‘I, Borg’ (which is a great one to watch for the current debate the West is having with extremism), the Enterprise takes on board an injured one of their drones, a half machine cyborg, that behaved as a bee separated from its hive would: only seeking to get back to the collective. The crew were given orders by Captain Picard to implant a stealth computer ‘virus’ into its programming and release it back to be collected again, and so infect the entire species with the virus that would crash their system and bring an end to them. However, as the drone lived on, away from the hive mind, it developed a personality, and even said “I” instead of “we”. The crew realised he was becoming an individual again, and even named him ‘Hugh’. They managed to change their view of the collective, and did not infect him, but allowed him to go back, because this was what Hugh wanted; he was able to decide he belonged with his own kind. However, his sense of individuality was released into the collective mind. It took on a life of its own, grew in the programming, and created an underground ‘subculture’ within the hive, much like the concepts found in ‘The Matrix’.

Seeing the individual within any collective grouping is the way of Jesus, as I said. In doing this, following in those footsteps, I see the likes of Trump, Hunt, Bush, Blair, etc. (all my political ‘enemies’) as those people whom God loves and can reach out to, just as he did for me. This assuages my anger, and redirects it at the collective. I hate the Borg, but not Hugh. I hate the alt-right agenda, but not Trump. I hate the destroyers of our NHS, but not Hunt.

When we empathise with ‘freedom fighters’ and understand their cause, and their anger at the injustice they see, we feel that pain, but also that wrath. Too often, such anger leads to the destruction of human lives, which is when they become ‘terrorists’ – were they to grasp the concept of the unique rights of the individuals they are impacting, would they not stop short of violence? It is the same with governments leading us to war; they, like those who radicalise young idealists, attempt by propaganda to control our minds as a hive to hate that which they want us to kill. Stop! Be the individual who will say ‘NO!’ to hatred, and see the individual on the other side.

While I continue to attack injustice and unfair policies, and evil attitudes, and try to make others aware of such things, I will seek to stop short of hating the individual. In the current political climate, I know this will not be easy for me. I value your prayers.

Of this I repent, Lord.

Grace be with you.

love-your-enemies

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The Chilcot Report and the separation of church and state

Tony-BlairHere I go finding links again! What has Chilcot got to do with disestablishmentarianism, I hear you ask? You weren’t asking that specifically? Well, here goes…

Amidst all the conclusions, recriminations and finger-pointing going on right now, what stood out to me was a comment by Claire Short, who was a member of Blair’s cabinet and was opposed to the Iraq invasion. She said that Tony Blair was determined to stand with George W. Bush on the matter and was convinced that going to Iraq was the right thing to do, thus leading to a preference for the intelligence reports that favoured that decision and a dismissal of other voices.

Something I bang on about quite a bit is ‘confirmation bias’ since it affects a lot of things we say, do and believe. We have certain convictions within ourselves that we hold to firmly. These are the sort of things we hold ‘sacred’ and would need to undergo a huge change in ourselves to abandon, or even question. When these things are challenged, we immediately become defensive, and try our best to seek validation for our beliefs, to the point that we choose to ignore glaring truths that we are faced with, just because they undermine these sacred things we treasure. While I describe myself as a definite ‘questioning Thomas’ who is always posing the questions others dislike or avoid (the childlike ‘WHY?’), I too have a degree of confirmation bias. It exists in us all. Acquiescing to such unpalatable truths is never comfortable.

So I can see how Blair fell into his own bias trap by making a gut decision before all the information was in and digested. Maybe he had Thatcher’s advice still ringing in his ears: “Great leaders lead by conviction, not consent!” That’s only true if you consider dictators and tyrants to be ‘great’! True democratic leaders recognise that they are not perfect, and are capable of making fallible decisions, so submit themselves to the rigours of democratic consent, and the voices of the dissenters. Only the bad ones surround themselves with ‘yes men’ (like George W. Bush). Admission of our fallibility is the starting point of the Christian journey, is it not? Blair counts himself as a religious man, so why did he ignore that basic belief at that crucial time of decision?

I see the results of this bias almost every day. My fellow evangelicals have a set of beliefs that spring from their faith, which they count as vital core parts of their faith. They believe a, b, and c, so then it follows that d, e, f,… right up to x, y and z must be true too. They post on social media about all these various things. I reply that they’ve latched onto a hoax or an exaggeration. 9 times out of 10, they react badly, and reject my claim, no matter how factual it is. Saddens me, since we all follow Jesus, who is The Truth. I cannot comprehend how holding on to something false has any positive effect for the holder, the hearer/ reader, or our faith (or society in general!)

And so this is why I maintain my core belief in the separation of church and state, as has been maintained in manywestminster-abbey branches of Christianity, not least the Baptist school of thought. If we allow any ‘church’ or any part of the Christian church in the world, to have political power, then certain convictions they hold will be subject to become state policy, and who is to say which convictions are right, and which are wrong? In a plural society, under the overarching belief… no! strike that… the overarching fact that not one of us is infallible (except The One), we all need to find common agreement on things.

My convictions of faith are mine, and I do seek to convince others that my faith is true, and convert them to following Jesus, but any decision I make in regards to politics or the society I share must recognise that many things I hold true are not so for others, and may even be unfounded! I know which things are certain in my heart, but even those are simply personal and not universal. Just surrounding myself with ‘yes men’ who concur with all my convictions will not change that fact.

Tony Blair failed as our PM right at the most important time we needed him to make a decision, simply because he had convinced himself of his motives. What does our scripture say about that?

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
    but delight in airing their own opinions. (Prov. 18:2)

Do not get me wrong; my values will always shape what I say, do, act, vote, lobby, campaign or petition for. However, I exist as one individual in a society of voices, and we will never agree on everything, so listening to those voices, and understanding them, is vital for righteous living, in my humble opinion.

Grace be with you.

Why I am voting to REMAIN in the EU.

I was undecided. Genuinely. There are pro- and anti-EU pundits on both sides of the right/left divide, so it was not straightforward, I knew. I wished to analyse all the arguments and make a decision based on what would be best for the majority of the British people. I knew this would be especially difficult for me, since the main protagonists are all from the Conservative party; it is an internal spat, after all! (And I had already dealt with Farage and UKIP a couple of years ago, here). While I find it very hard to trust any Tory, I have always had more respect for Boris Johnson than for David Cameron or George Osborne, so at first I thought I might be swayed by the ‘leave’ campaign.

What is obvious to everyone with even a few brain cells is that there has been lies and exaggerations on both sides. This has exasperated all of us who simply seek the truth, of course. When I sat down to read the leaflets, with access to sources that sought to impartially verify or debunk the various claims of both sides, I was stunned as soon as I read the ‘leave’ leaflet; I didn’t even need any help, since from my own knowledge, I could see the glaring lies peddled on those pages! While much of the ‘remain’ campaign’s lies were basically conjecture based on nothing, or sheer exaggerations, the lies of the ‘leave’ campaign were bare-faced deception! However, that was not the reason I decided, even though it was a blatant insult to the intelligence and integrity of its audience! Politicians are a peculiar breed, and they will do almost anything just to get you or me to vote in a particular way, so I had to dismiss these lies as nothing more than overeagerness to persuade us to vote ‘leave’. Though I wondered if there was actually some hidden agenda.

Then Jacob Rees-Mogg (a posh Tory who comes across as a really old school MP but is actually younger than me!) said “We need to leave the protectionist fortress of Europe!”

I am a protectionist! Basically, this is the belief that our own industries and businesses need to be protected from unfair competition. For instance, Chinese steel has been flooding into our market, which has been heavily subsidised by the Chinese government, and our own industry cannot compete with these artificial prices. If action is not taken, China could corner the entire market, and then start charging whatever they like. There’s a bit more information on protectionism here.

The opposite opinion to protectionism is ‘free trade’ or the ‘free market’, and as I was listening to debates on the television, I noticed how often these terms were used by proponents of the ‘leave’ campaign. This is the hidden agenda! They do not like the policies that are prevalent within the EU to protect European industry and support it, but seek a ‘free market’ across the world. Alarm bells rung in my head! I have already exposed how this belief springs from an early Christian church heresy, three years ago, here. The real problem with this belief, even if it is worthy and true, is that all nations need to subscribe to it. The Chinese government, by subsidising their steel, are not competing within a ‘free market’ but are interfering with the prices. Free marketeers would complain that they’re ‘not playing fair’ but the Chinese government are perfectly entitled to behave with regard to their own industries as they see fit! They are protectionists, so we need to be too!

I was watching a documentary on BBC4, by the inimitable Bettany Hughes, on Karl Marx. I was surprised to find that in his Communist Manifesto, he actually praised the bourgeoisie and their capitalism! He saw the value of it for producing profits and gain from industrialisation, but his gripe was that they kept all the profits for themselves when the actual labour that produced the profits was not given its proper value. He developed some philosophy on a phrase ‘surplus profit’ (or surplus value) – more information here. His argument was not against capitalism, but unfettered capitalism, where there is no means for the labourer(s) to bargain for their worth, and receive a fair share of the profits of the industry. His revolution was a ‘bottom-up’ one, where the working class majority fight for their rights to decent wages and working conditions, with little recourse to governments to instigate change, but rather to legislate as the people demand. It was designed for industrialised capitalist economies, but unfortunately the resulting communist revolutions that occurred were in Russia and China, both very undeveloped agrarian societies, and both ended up becoming a ‘top-down’ revolution, with the likes of Stalin and Mao, who imposed an ideology upon the people. What has been achieved over decades, by working people in the UK and across Europe, demanding more rights and higher wages, largely by unionisation, is actually what Marx dreamt of, not Stalinism.

One of the things that Marx pointed out was that capitalists will find themselves slaves to an abstract concept of ‘the market’ with the example of trading hours: with no restriction on the hours businesses can trade, one factory owner will be totally unwilling to reduce his workers’ hours since his competitors will most likely not reduce their hours and so he would end up becoming uncompetitive. Over 150years later, this has been seen recently in the UK with the debate over Sunday trading hours. A concession years ago to allow stores to open from 1pm to 6pm was, in the eyes of the ‘free market’ lobby, simply a stepping stone to allowing full 24/7 trading, with no respect to any day as special, sacred or set aside. The argument against this is that small family-run businesses cannot remain open all these hours, whereas the big companies like Tesco can. I heard one of these MPs state boldly: “If uncompetitive small businesses fall by the wayside, so be it!” They literally do not care for the small guy!

Communism has been described as a ‘religion’ or a ‘cult’ since it demands allegiance to ‘the state’ and will not allow any dissent to that worship. I agree! What we saw in the USSR and China, and other nations, is so akin to religion that it fits the definition. North Korea has a clear cult of worship of the Kims! Likewise, what Marx warned about is true of the worship of ‘the market’. Unfettered capitalism pays homage to the omniscient and omnipotent power of allowing this ‘market’ to decide our lives and our means, and we must devote ourselves to it without question. Any protectionist policies go against the received wisdom of the high priests of the market. We have seen many of our industries and state services sold off to foreign investors, and this has been the result of the pursuit of this religion by our British governments (both Tory and New Labour), not by any policy coming from the EU.

This is why I am deciding to vote ‘remain’! I do not wish to allow this false religion to take any further hold of our nation and our economy, since it has already eroded many rights of the hard-working majority, and it will do more harm, if unchecked. If the Brexit does produce more profit for British industry, it will continue to rise upwards to the rich, since we the people will not have any power to take our fair share of it! All the talk about the ‘ridiculous regulations’ of the EU include such terrible things like how employers have to ensure their workers’ safety and cannot treat them like possessions! So if you wish to allow our own politicians to ‘take back control’ of our economy from the EU (even though most decisions are made locally!), go ahead, but I look at their track record and conclude that they do not speak for the common man. We need something to curb them before they make the ultra-rich the hyper-rich!

And just in case you’re a fellow Christian who still thinks of the EU as ‘Babylon’ or some other terrible apocalyptic demon, see my recent blog on that, here.

The end, surely? (but NOT for the EU!)

tower-of-babel-600I have blogged a few times on ‘End Times Prophecies’ and thought I might have posted my last. Recently, with the EU debate looming, old interpretations about Rome/ Babylon/ Europe/ whatever have surfaced again. Yes! Old ones, since I’d heard it all before many years ago! A very good short blog was shared on social media, from premierchristianity.com., entitled ‘I believe in prophecy. But the EU is not Babylon the Great.’ (here)

The author of the blog, Martyn Whittock, is qualified in theology and history, and specialised in the interpretation of prophecy in the 17th century. I have always wondered what previous generations (pre-dispensationalism) made of these difficult parts of scripture. He responded to a comment of mine on the blog, about how I heard about the ten-horned beast when the EU (then the EEC) became 10 members. I’ve included his reply here in full:

I remember that coin. I also remember how, in 1976, I took an assembly at school and said that the EEC was the ten-horned beast of Daniel 7. Some friends of mine thought that Henry Kissinger (US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State) might be the antichrist. I never could quite see what poor Henry had done to deserve this suspicion.

Then I went to university and studied the history of End Time prophecies over 2000 years, on my way to becoming a Medieval and Early Modern historian. It was then that I realised that we had been here before…again and again…and always got it wrong. I read ‘The Little Horn’s Doom and Downfall’ (1651) by Mary Cary, who was convinced it was Charles I, then Oliver Cromwell. That made me think. Then the EEC grew way beyond 10 nations and I knew we were the latest in the terrible track record of wrong predictions.

What is disturbing is that, in 2016, I see the same erroneous claims being recycled that I knew in 1976; only with the latest twists (eg the claim that seat 666 is left vacant in the EU Parliament). How to explain this? I think one of two explanations: 
(a) People of the 1970s generation who have never admitted their mistakes. There is a track record of failed-End-Time-predictors refusing to admit their error and, instead, recycling it in a revised form: after Jan Mathias’ failure in 1534 his successor claimed that he was the returned messiah, until the revolt was crushed in 1535; the Fifth Monarchy Men, having failed in the 1650s, then seized on the year 1666 (and failed again); the Millerites (later Seventh Day Adventists) after the ‘Great Disappointment’ of 1844 claimed that a ‘change’ had occurred in heaven (others claimed Christ had returned invisibly); Jehovah’s Witnesses reverted to similar beliefs about the failed prediction of 1914, although some seized on the events of that year to reinvent it as signalling ‘the end of the time of the Gentiles’; Hal Lindsey’s implicit assumption that the Second Coming would occur within a generation (ie 40 years) of 1948 (ie 1988) being revised to ‘encoded symbols’ that would only be understood in the 21st century by Christians with correct ‘insight’; Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson’s identification of the USSR as Gog, Magog, and Rosh being revised by Robertson (after the fall of communism in 1989) to a focus on the ‘Illuminati’; the 10-nation-EEC (now it is 28) being revised to some inexplicable future political transformation that will reduce it to 10 again.
(b) People with an antagonism to the EU (and it’s a free country so that’s ok) spiritualising their prejudices (that’s not ok) so they don’t have to worry about difficult matters such as economics, politics, etc, since if it’s antichrist you don’t need to worry about these complications, as obviously it is just wrong. So, that website which said that the 28 states will get reduced to 10(!) added that it will have a political centre in Germany and a religious centre in Rome (so, anti-EU prejudice combined with two other English historic prejudices!). Clearly a desperate attempt to force reality into a preconceived framework. Worrying, to put it mildly.
Since I believe in prophecy I think it is crucial to admit when our interpretation of it is wrong.

Surely, once you have read this, you cannot simply cling to this ongoing error! For 2000 yeblood-moonars, various individuals and groups within the church have made attempt after attempt to decipher the apocalyptic texts, and each one to no avail! I have already found out for myself that my prediction that Wormwood is a meteorite was wrong, debunked the restoration of Israel and the secret rapture as completely unbiblical, demolished the whole premise of the ‘Blood Moons’, as well as already showing the dangers of making predictions. Add to that the fact that when the last Lord Mayor of London procession was televised, they had statues of Gog and Magog… clearly ancient Roman soldiers, not Russia as I had been told was unarguably factual so many times! Having read the above comments about how this continual guessing and suggesting has happened numerous times over centuries, is it not clear that the whole ‘end times’ preaching we hear in so many churches is utter nonsense? And dangerous nonsense at that! As I have consistently pointed out, much of what we believe as evangelicals is political, not religious, and this apocalyptic preaching is clearly in that camp since it is attempting to explain world events and history; preconceptions and prejudices are bound to surface in all the postulating! All that is expressed above in that comment confirms this.1415471839210_wps_13_Gog_and_Magog_are_paraded

So am I saying that all the pastors who spout this tripe have been lying to us? Not at all, I think they’ve just followed along in an error from previous mentors, and become indoctrinated into the whole debacle (and just repeated and recycled what are obvious lies, like the seat no. 666 described – because it fits into their worldview). Though there are maybe some who have made good money from the books they write who should know, if they have researched properly, that their ideas are pure conjecture. I’d hazard a guess that they are simply self-deluded.

do know how difficult it is to let go of things we have always held onto, especially as we have thought of them as biblical truths linked to our faith, but as I have said before, the release from this worldview changes so much in you, and for me it’s all for the better. Let me assure you: It has not shaken my belief in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, not one bit! I just choose to leave the timescale in the Father’s hands, and not sweat about it. I shall see signs after they unfold, like Wormwood, but predicting is modern-day divination!!

Do not practice divination or seek omens. (Lev. 19:26)

Maybe I could make one prediction for 2016? It is the end… for ‘End Times’ predictions! Let go of it all now; it’s 2000 years overdue! And then live your life for Jesus.

Grace be with you.

Money to burn? (very brief thought!)

_77539301_86531200Some countries (like the USA) have a law banning the burning of money. One wonders why this might be an offence, which might lead to a fine or jail, especially if you subscribe to the philosophy that ‘my money is my own, to do with as I wish’ and so burning it would be entirely within your rights.

Might it be that a government does not wish for money to go ‘out of circulation’? In order for any economy to work and thrive, money must be exchanged between buyers and sellers, from employer to employee, between consumers and the providers of goods and services. Yes? It needs to flow through the pockets of society like a river flows through a city, giving life and power to everything. That makes sense to me.

So… why then would it not be an offence to take money and place it ‘offshore’? Is that not placing it ‘out of circulation’ from the society in which it was created? May as well just burn it, if you ask me!

Grace be with you.

Gift or Reward?

ParentingSupport-1600x600So often I see links across things that seem to others to be totally unrelated. Maybe it’s the sort-of-skewed way my (unofficially autistic) brain works, like an internal synesthesia. The main way this occurs is in lessons I find myself applying from theology to politics, (or sometimes vice versa), or in seeing patterns in scientific phenomena that reflect the mind of God; the problems within quantum mechanics portray the paradoxes in scripture. Stuff like that.

What I do not see so easily is how certain politicians try to apply a verse or two of scripture to justify a political position that is at direct odds with biblical teaching. So many of the things that are held up as ‘Christian values’ are at best only selective to the detriment of ignored ones, or just plain false! Knowing full well the difficulty of trying to apply theological concepts into the complex society we occupy, not least being that the majority around us are not followers of Jesus, let me suspend that skepticism for once and offer what surely must be the most basic and fundamental principle of our Christian gospel: grace!

The gift

Pocket_Money1I was sitting watching a daytime phone-in show with my mother, who has to stay with us for a period to recover from her latest stroke. The question being asked was “should your children work for their pocket money?” The usual reasons given were that children must learn not to expect ‘something for nothing’ and be taught that work brings reward. Fine. Fair point. Then I remarked to my mother; “we didn’t have to work for our pocket money, Mum! You and Dad just gave it to us without a condition, but I remember doing a reasonable share of the chores around the house. I recall Dad throwing me a duster and saying that we should tidy the house for you coming home. I was to dust and he hoovered. I didn’t object.”

So in my childhood, I wasn’t made to work for my pocket money, but that never made me lazy or caused me to grumble about chores (well, I was a child, so I’m sure I grumbled a bit, but I never refused to do work around the house). Why was that? Did my parents not spoil me by giving me unconditional pocket money? Some friends thought I was spoilt, since I got gifts from my parents even right between my birthday and Christmas! However, they did not just give me anything I demanded; they had limits and boundaries. They were great parents, very giving and generous, but not spoiling. I learnt the value of money and of my good parents. I strive to reassure Mum now that looking after her in her old age is just repaying all the faithful years she gave me.

Heavenly parenting

That is how it is also with my heavenly Father. Mum and Dad did not raise me ‘in a faith’ in God; I discovered Jesus for myself. I knew very quickly, I recognised this ‘Good Good Father’ since he was my good parents times a million! How generous is he? The gift of eternal life, freely given, with no preconditions, for someone undeserving as me. Those of us who have experienced grace must surely grasp it! Our Father is not a pushover, he does not spoil us, he has his limits (it’s called sin!), so I know I cannot just do as I like and not displease him. Just as I felt shame when I displeased my earthly parents, so I also feel shame at sinning. No shame, no relationship, I say. But on top of that, there is the most incredible, all-encompassing, belief-busting, incredible truth of grace that all sins in my life are forgiven, without condition! My salvation is secure. What is insecure is my closeness to God: that is down to me completely since there is only one flawed member of this relationship. He desires nothing else but my fellowship with him and his presence in my life: obedience to his commands is the best way for me to maintain that.

Not by works

The single most repeated phrase within evangelicalism regarding the preaching of the gospel of Christ is that salvation is not by works:

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….

Ephesians 2:8,9…

I realised that my willingness to help out around the house (not gleefully, I’ll admit, and seldom without direction from Mum or Dad) came from a sense of responsibility, not a desire for reward. It was because I belonged to this family, where I was loved and nurtured, and provided for. It was simply borne from gratitude. My works were not to gain something as low as money, nor even my parents’ approval or love. I already had that in bucketloads! They were a response to the love…

… For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

… Ephesians 2:10

The works I do as a Christian must come from a sincere heart that simply wants to please my Father, and not even to ‘repay’ God for the gift of the Son crucified for me, since we know we can never repay that. Just as my mother does not expect any sort of ‘repayment’ for her parenting, so our Father God knows in his infinite wisdom that we mere mortals can never repay Calvary!  That is the Debtor’s Dilemma i.e. why should I think I must repay it? [which John Piper covers very well in his book Future Grace].

‘Remuneration theology’

As I pondered the debate on the TV, I realised that if I had been taught to earn my pocket money, then when Dad threw that duster my way, I would have replied “what are you paying me?” In other words; “what’s in it for me?”, and right away I saw the flaw in this ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ mentality. A society built on the sole principle of reward is not one of love, giving, volunteering, sacrifice, common cause, or altruism, but a collection of individuals all grasping for their share, asking one another “what’s in it for me?”Milton-Friedman

Seeing an old interview of Milton Friedman, one of the chief architects of the recent outing of the old heresy masquerading as ‘free enterprise’ and a ‘pure’ form of capitalism, I clearly heard this attitude in his words, as he vaunted self-interest and the desire for personal gain as the paragon of human endeavour and mocked ‘virtue’ as never having achieved anything! I truly could not think of anything less Christian than that! Not in the light of the gift of grace!

People often talk of sin being disobedience towards God. That is it in a nutshell, so when I realise that I am not forgiving and loving everyone I meet, even my enemies, I am disobeying Jesus’ direct commands. That is sin! Imperfect me fails this test over and over,… but I’m getting there. In all my dealings with those around me, whom I encounter every day in my life (and on t’internet), I have to be a living example of obedience to those amazing and compelling, yet devastatingly difficult, words Jesus spoke on that mountainside in Judaea almost 2000 years ago. If  we are to apply ‘Christian values’ to our nation, our society, to the world around us, is this not the archetype? We are to love unconditionally, as we have been. We are to forgive any wrong done to us, unlike the unforgiving servant, who was cleared of an almighty debt, yet failed the test. Believe me, I don’t want to write these words! Life would be actually easier were I to just follow the herd and agree that there are people I am perfectly entitled to hate, and join in the chorus of disapproval, and reject and dispossess them of what they have to claim for myself. But that is a false gospel; it is a direct contradiction of those awkward commands in favour of an agreed accommodation with the world that we can behave just like those who have never known the grace of God.

We cannot!

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In accepting that Jesus has my best interests at the forefront of his thoughts and intentions as he gives me these commands, then giving up those ingrained cultural principles, and maybe some cherished feelings of animosity towards others means that I can exchange my tiny box for his huge one, and trust it is worth it when he asks me ‘deal or no deal’!

The Christian message is not one of rewarding good behaviour, it is one of creating right behaviour in response to the gift of love.

Grace be with you.