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

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. 😦

#ThisBlogWantsToStopTalkingAboutCaitlynJenner

Since a good friend said it so well, I have nothing more to add, and in adding nothing more, I’ve already stopped talking about it… now, I’m moving on to more important things! Grace be with you.

Everyone Has A Story...

556cd6644ae56e586e4588d8_caitlyn-jenner-bruce-jenner-july-2015-vfSometimes, it is just plain depressing to watch the news. With the exception of the Bandido thing (appalling, but relevant), and the surprising twist of fate for my cyber stalker (not appalling, still relevant) , I find the direction of the news stream just weird.

What the hell is going on with this stupid Caitlyn Jenner story?!

Let’s put aside the fact that this is all so very twisted when it comes to nature and God. Simple logic dictates that nothing that mimics the real thing will ever be better than the original. Men can get all the surgery they want to look like women, or women can do the same to look like men, but the genetic material will remain the same as when they were born. People have been trading genders for decades now. Why is this news? I understand Jenner is famous, but seriously. This is getting…

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The sin of Sodom will destroy this nation!

This is something I’ve blogged about before, specifically. The overall issue is one I repeat quite a lot since it’s one of my ‘hobby-horses’ i.e. something that people who know me might say I bang on about quite a lot. Guilty! I keep saying it because it seems that nobody wants to hear it these days. Now I feel even more sympathy for the Old Testament prophets, the weird bunch of misfits!

It should be safe for me to say that in God’s eyes, all sin is sin, and all that we might think are ‘righteous acts’ are to him, relatively, no more than ‘filthy rags’ – thank you, Isaiah! (64:6). God cannot bear sin in his presence, and so crafted the master plan of the atoning blood of Christ for all our sins to be covered so that he can no longer see them… A MASTER PLAN INDEED! Praise his holy name.

However, might it also be possible that certain sins or vices anger God more than others? He really did get very irate at that idolatry thing in the Old Testament, for instance, so might there be some things that we should avoid in order to placate his wrath against us? The way many preachers rant about certain things, you’d think there’s something in that! If it is true that God will judge now as he has done before (but in an age of grace that’s a HUGE debate!), then we would be wise to take note. Take just one example: Sodom (and Gomorrah – it’s often forgotten, poor city). Sodom is a byword right through the Bible for God’s judgment; prophets of the Old and writers of the New refer to it as an example of how God can expunge an entire city (sorry, two cities) in one act of divine retribution for their acts of disobedience – he reigned down fire from heaven upon them! In these references, there are differing approaches or contexts; idolatry is mentioned (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos & Deuteronomy 29), as is ‘sexual immorality and perversion’ (Jude). However, Ezekiel is particularly specific – as with most prophetic utterances, he is actually addressing Jerusalem, and comparing ‘her’ with her ‘sisters’, the other cities:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done. Bear your disgrace, for you have furnished some justification for your sisters. Because your sins were more vile than theirs, they appear more righteous than you. So then, be ashamed and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.

(Ezek. 16:49-52)

So in order to be careful we do not suffer the same fate (if we truly fear it may happen), then let us enact laws and campaign for such vices to be legislated against and hinder their development. Since one of the clearest ones is greed; Ezekiel said “this was the sin…”, we need to ensure our government provides for the poor and needy, and restrains the greed of individuals. If we let them become too arrogant and unconcerned (and let’s not forget overfed i.e. gluttony), we might incur such unquenchable wrath from God.

I find it incredible that greed (and gluttony) are hardly mentioned in evangelical pulpits. Well, no, I’m not surprised – the religious right mind control police have their agendas, and they are as clear as crystal to me. There are many Biblical references to the consequences of greed, or of not looking after the poor and needy – loads, in fact, and they are very scary (look them up)! Greed is even called idolatry in the New Testament (Eph. 5:5 & Col. 3:5)! We may think that idolatry is an ‘old thing’ but it actually still pervades everything today – it is when I see people making themselves very rich from “the preaching of the gospel” that I get irate myself and think of ‘the moneychangers at the Temple’, which is the only time we read in the gospels that our Lord Jesus let his anger get physical! Divine wrath indeed!!

But take heart, Ezekiel goes on to tell us in the rest of that chapter that God will restore the fortunes of Sodom (and Samaria), once the sin of his own people has been exposed and they are contrite and repentant for the worse things that they have done (and they – sorry, we – shall be restored too), and he foretells of the new covenant he will make for us. Praise him for his grace!

Let us repent of such things, and help ‘restore Sodom’s fortunes’ by showing the way of that new covenant.

Grace be with you.

50 shades of greed

greed1024x768I have always called for an even approach to sin. We need to define just what sin is (well, it’s the chapter I’m working through on my book right now, so maybe it’s just me!). Then once we have established that, we need an even-handed approach by not suggesting that any one sin is any worse in God’s eyes than another. I truly believe the 21st century church is guilty of such unevenness, and maybe the most prevalent example is the zero attention to greed.

I’ll not take the time here to outline all the Bible verses where it is condemned alongside the other ones we always hear decried from pulpits, like drunkenness, adultery, deceit, lust, nor do we hear the greedy person condemned alongside the sexually immoral or the slanderer, yet this is exactly what I read in my Bible! Here’s just one example:

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Eph. 5:5)

Did you notice that little hidden word there? Greedy! Just that it’s not exactly hidden, is it? Some preachers, who may be millionaires themselves, and are telling their congregations that they too can become millionaires just by faith in God, seem to miss it when they read from their Bibles to proclaim their truth. And I have never come across it as a sermon topic!

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“This is my truth, tell me yours.”

 – Aneurin Bevan.

 

Problem is that we all have a truth that is ours alone, and we all like to find the scripture that fits that personal ‘truth’ and ignore the others. I have yet to meet anyone who genuinely does not do this – it is a human trait and is practically impossible to throw off and be 100% subjective. However, when faced with an overwhelming amount of scripture that repeats the same thing, we must allow it to shape our truth, must we not?

Recently much of our media attention has been directed at a book & film that just should not have amassed an overnight fortune for its author, since it is so badly written (from practically every review that has been written about it). I am not fuming jealousy at the idea of a bad writer getting all the money… no, maybe I am, if I’m honest enough; if this book of mine only makes one percent of what that book/film made, I could retire a very contented man! Nor am I accusing the author of greed – she could not have known just how much she would make from a piece of sleazy chick lit, and I am sure she must have some idea that she is no Shakespeare! It wasn’t her fault that our media moguls fawned all over it, and Holywood came calling! Reports are that it has outstripped even Harry Potter in book sales and film revenues!! Whatever you may think of the Harry Potter stories, very few would try to say that JK Rowling is a bad writer!

50ShadesofGreyCoverArtIf you’re still not sure which book I am referring to, it’s ’50 Shades of Grey’. Did you not even see my title? Now this is a book I have never set eyes upon, nor do I wish to, and I have no desire to see any more of the film than has been shown in trailers. Fortunately, a brave female fellow Christian blogger has read and watched it, just to be able to critique it properly, so I’ll take her word for it. She’s a good blogger and writer and I have no reason to challenge her opinion (and it is refreshing for once to not find a Christian voice condemning something without actually having looked themselves!).

 

JamieBlogHeader

Here it is if you wish to read it:

A Missionary’s Position on 50 Shades of Grey.

The basic conclusion is interesting; this is a book about a stalker! Had anybody else acted as creepily obsessive over the woman in the story as Mr. Grey, they would have had an exclusion order slapped on them! It is just bad, for our 21st century emancipated women – the poor woman in the book is the pawn of a control freak! Just why and how does the male protagonist get away with his behaviour? Because he’s a handsome billionaire!! He’s such a great man, so successful, so wealthy, so revered by society, he just couldn’t really be a nasty criminal type, or any sort of mentally ill wacko! Surely not! However, that is the problem: with everyone falling over themselves to promote this work of crass sordidness, and throw their investment money at it, is it any real wonder when it is billionaires who are the ones who like what the book is stating?

Can I be allowed to cast a stone? While I am trying to promote a ‘condemn the sin, not the sinner’ attitude, there are times when it becomes pretty clear that a stone or five could be chucked. For instance, were I to meet a man who had cheated on his wife about half a dozen times, I would be justified to say “you’re an adulterer!” No? Really? I would try to understand just why they would come to behave in such a way, if I could, and offer counsel if asked, but I should be safe to say; they are an adulterer! Likewise, I think I should be entitled to say to a billionaire “you’re a greedy person!” The aforementioned JK Rowling was a billionaire, but she has now given most of it away! If such wealth is such a burden, as some of them try to make us believe, then let us relieve them of some of that burden… please!

We have got to stop revering greedy people, as a church of followers of Jesus: He, as our example, had “no place to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20). We are called to “not conform to the pattern of the world” (Rom. 12:2), so let us renew our minds and recognise sin where it lies and be the example of ‘betterness’ – just as we should not be sexually immoral, so we should not be greedy.

“But,” you may object, “this is just a work of fiction, that’s not true in the real world! Billionaires are not given any more respect than the rest of us. They don’t have any real higher ‘status’!”

Really? My reply to that is that you’re living in cloud cuckoo land! A judge once said “the rich get justice, the poor get the law” since they can always afford the best lawyers. If you have enough money, you can get one of them to go through your arrest report for drunk-driving and search for the smallest mistake that can see you avoid court! Still not convinced that there is a culture of reverence for the rich and famous? Why was it that many called for Paris Hilton to not be sent to prison for a crime she committed? Is that just stupid uneducated people? No, it occurs in the well-educated judiciary too: Read this news report and then come back to me and try to say we don’t have a major cultural problem that the church is failing to address!

1396212401000-wildc5-6ehdlb201ybix4mc8ky-originalI am not saying in any way that all super-rich people are like this lowlife, but I am saying that we have allowed ourselves to disassociate greed from any taint of sin or wrongdoing and have in fact allowed people who suffer from this sin to not only go unchecked but to be exonerated in churches as much as they are in society.

Grace be with you.

Sympathy for the Devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace be with you.

 

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

DARKNESS

When the darkness falls

The moon has gone

And the stars behind the clouds are hid,

The angel calls

My spirit on

And my anxious fears to death are bid

But will I stand

Against the tide?

Will courage fail me at the test?

Or fate demand

That flight will bide

And put my skittish soul to rest?

 

How can I know

If I’ll be strong

Before the day of judgement dawns.

Time will show

If I am wrong

To think I’m king among the pawns.

Through trying times

I’ll have to learn

To learn from every trial I face

And face my crimes,

Those crimes that churn

Within my darkest, hidden place.

 

The greatest voyage,

It is said,

Has to start with the first step.

But this wise adage

Has conveyed

A truth which in our minds has slept.

To beat the rise

Of evil

In everything I see

I must surprise

The Devil

By seeing the sin in me.

 

Shanky’s Hollow, Mourne Mountains

25/8/95

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

Dear Victoria,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lean not on your own understanding.

Grace be with you.