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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Why I do NOT ‘support Israel’!

I blogged on this before, almost two years ago, simply asking why I should show support for Israel, as so many of my fellow evangelicals claim I should:

https://thealternativeulsterman.com/2012/11/13/support-israel-why/

My reasons

I’ve taken a break from other blogs I’m drafting, and my book, to address this again. I do not ‘support Israel’. Note how I placed that in parenthesis; the reason is simple: I am being asked to show a support for the state of Israel, or rather the government of that nation. I fully support the people, who have a right to enjoy life and freedom without the attacks on their liberty by Hamas or any other terrorist organisation. I also support the rights of the Palestinian people to those very same rights without the attacks on them launched by the Israeli state. Do they support Hamas? Many of them did vote for Hamas, yes (yet many have never voted for Hamas). Does that make them culpable in crimes performed by Hamas? No! Politics are complex, and voting is done for many reasons. Palestinians are subjected to propaganda by Hamas and convinced that their interests are best served by a group that ‘stands up to the aggressors’ (for them, Israel) than by a more moderate group who would just ‘give in’ to the Israelis. Israeli voters are subjected to the very same things, and one of the downsides of democracy is that in conflict situations, the peacemakers (the ‘doves’) often find they lose votes as anger leads people to vote the other way. I live in Northern Ireland and I still see it going on i.e. the peace ‘process’ is perpetuated, not resolved, since this leads to more votes for the extremist parties; I see a DUP-Sinn Fein alliance, not forged in secret meetings, but via a strangely unilateral understanding on both sides that ongoing spats serve them well democratically. Such is the scourge of political analysts and ‘spin doctors’ who run political negotiations in the 21st century. The same exists in the Middle East; if Hamas truly are firing their weapons from, or hiding them in, civilian places like schools and hospitals (which I actually believe is perfectly possible since it serves their purposes), then Israel only need to provide this evidence and show that they cannot fire on these places. Why don’t they do that? Is it not possible that it serves their purposes too? Hamas do not have the interests of their people as their first priority, and I believe the Israeli government do not have the interests of their people top priority either! In terms of actual casualties, Israel have the Palestinians well outgunned. With their wealth from the support of the US, they have constructed their ‘dome of steel’ that is practically impenetrable. I hear about the ’60 missiles a day’ (or is it 90?) fired from Gaza – how many have actually landed? Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe the civilian casualty rate is about one in Israel. What is it in Gaza? Please stop perpetuating the Israeli propaganda that they are suffering; the game has changed radically from the 70s and 80s. Yes, they have a right to defend themselves, of course, but sob stories are very sparse on that side.

Major problem is that if I highlight anything Israel are doing wrong, I get labelled as a ‘Hamas sympathiser’ or a ‘terrorist supporter’ – this is childish!

[Just as I was about to publish this, my BBC news app alerted that the death toll is now over 1,000 – 985 Palestinians, 29 Israelis]

Other people’s reasons

The main thing I hear among evangelicals is that Israelis are somehow our ‘brothers’ (or at least our cousins – I heard this many years ago at an event in Church House in Belfast that turned out to be ecumenical). Somehow we are to stop persecuting the Jews and being anti-Semitic because of this ‘closeness of faith’ reason. You see, we as Europeans are guilty of centuries of pogroms and the holocaust, so we need to repent of this. Fine, a collective purge of conscience is fine. Let’s also do it over the crusades against all the Muslims! “Ah, but that’s different!” Why?

I oppose anti-Semitism for a very simple reason: I will support and defend anyone who is persecuted for anything other than an actual crime against others, be it race, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, mental capacity, mental health…. To do any other is wrong, unchristian and sinful! James exhorts us to action:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17)

For this same reason, I am against hatred and condemnation of Muslims (like the Palestinians) for the actions of moronic extremists (like Hamas). Stop being partisan and one-sided! Such hatred is too easily stirred, believe me please (see my last blog!).

The idea that somehow Israel is included in the salvation of God has been perpetuated by unbiblical people like John Hagee (who even stated that Jesus never said he was the Messiah!!!). His dual covenant theology (which he denies in name but preaches in all but name) is pure heresy and utter nonsense. So Israel are our friends? Well, Western evangelicals have been their friends, but is this reciprocated? Here’s an article to read; fairly lengthy, but if you’re a Christian with an interest in Israel, you will find it fascinating:

http://davidduke.com/evangelicals-who-serve-the-anti-christ-2/

Did you read it? All of it? Or was it too unpalatable? Duke really does come across as a Jew-hater, I admit. His whole site is a rabid anti-Semitic rant, but his points deserve investigation and/or debate. I analysed his claims, being the mythbuster that I am. His ‘sources’ turn out to be only about 3 in total, and the Talmud is so complex and so altered over centuries (unlike our scripture!) that it is very difficult to validate these ‘translations’ or versions – any corroborating sources I found were not exactly non-partisan, some were downright “burn the Jews!” There’s a good wiki on ‘Jesus in the Talmud’, but I didn’t read it all (beyond my interest, if I’m honest):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_the_Talmud. Plenty there if you want to look into it, but not for me.

I’m interested in the present day, not what some Pharisaical scholars may have believed. On that point, the persecution of Christians in Israel is well corroborated (while not reported by our media; they’re all ‘anti-Israel’ you say? Huh?). The ‘Voice of the Martyrs’ website lists Israel as a ‘hostile nation’ – just try sharing your Christian faith there and you might well face problems. Many will say they have had no problem and felt welcomed when they visited Israel. Firstly, not all Israelis are hostile to you! Yet again, we cannot condemn all the Jews for the actions of a few. A pastor in Israel was sent a letter bomb which injured his son, but he called for no retaliation against Jews for the actions of extremists. Good for him! Secondly, many Christians visit Israel with the same attitude that pervades thinking from the likes of Hagee. He claims he has met with every Israeli Prime Minister in the last 30 years or so, and they all love him. Of course, since he brings plenty of cash with him, and he doesn’t preach to them! He accepts them as ‘brothers’ in the same ‘Judaeo-Christian’ faith (you’ve read about the ludicrousness of that tag in Duke’s article, so I’ll not elaborate). And the experience of residents is never the same as visitors, anywhere.

The theology

Just sit down and read through Paul’s epistles to the Romans and the Galatians (or even all of them), and the epistle to the Hebrews too (author unknown – I don’t believe it’s Pauline). Paul lays out clearly (as a former Pharisee himself, and a zealous one who actually persecuted Christians) how the new covenant is available to all who believe in Christ. He is the fulfilment of the law and the one foretold throughout the history of Israel. The true Israel of God were the ones who saw and heard him, and believed. The ones who crucified him weren’t “the Jews” but those in Israel who were unable to see his status as the Son of David, the Son of God, the Messiah. They were blind to the truth that he satisfies all the requirements of the law, yet the law was never the means of salvation – Abraham, who was before the law, was justified by faith! (Romans 4). Jesus stated that Abraham saw the day of his coming, and rejoiced (John 8:56). We who also believe in Christ achieve that justification. We are all sons of Abraham by adoption, by our faith. Stop believing this utter crap that the Jews have their own way to God! The ‘remnant’ foretold who in the end will turn back to God are in his hands, and they need to turn to Christ just like every other person on Earth. Interpretations of such end times prophecies can just tie you in knots, so don’t sweat it. We only need to remain true to the simple message of the gospel, and not allow any other issues to cloud it, in any way.

I shall unreservedly support any individuals suffering in the world (I am commanded to love even my own enemy!), but I will not unreservedly support their government, or any government, since they are all capable of being corrupted by power and of transgressing natural law and rights.

Grace be with you.

The plank in my eye

‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’

– Matthew 7:3-5

We often like to quote these words of Jesus, as long as it applies to someone else, eh? A very strange thing has happened to me this week. Yesterday, I unfollowed a fellow blogger, telling him he was biased and hateful. I had come across his blog as it was highlighting atrocities committed by ISIS that world media seems to be oblivious to. I had a good debate with him, but in the end I realised he was not going to answer points I made about my faith that I thought he got wrong, nor was he going to post a link I had sent him (that he had asked for from someone else!) because it challenged his own bias. I got a bit of abuse for telling him plainly that I was the fool for believing he was committed to truth and not just one side of a story. He had allowed his righteous hatred of the acts of extremist jihadists to become a foil for condemning Islam and everyone who followed it. I may see it as a false religion, but that doesn’t make almost 2 billion people on Earth all evil!

While I was dealing with this hater, I was facing my own jury, unaware of the links and the similarities. My hatred of political doctrines had seared my conscience to become a hater of persons, one person in particular, whose face I cannot see without feeling anger. I had posted a meme of my own on social media, thinking I was just expressing my opinion, which I was entitled to do. Entitlement comes from many sources, but maybe the worst is when it arises from a sense of superiority or pride. That is something very prevalent among Christians, since they know that they do have the truth. I cannot comment for other religions, I only know what I know. Paul addressed the Ephesian church with an admonition:

‘In your anger do not sin’: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

– Ephesians 4:26

Now the Ephesian church is the one in Revelation that was praised for its correct doctrine; they “hated the practices of the Nicolaitans” but our Lord had one thing against them – they had “left their first love.” I can think of many evangelical churches in this country that fit that description. Why was Paul addressing this to them? Did he know how they had become? So full of their own self-righteousness that they had become little more than a people who knew who to hate, and how and why?

It took many… many fellow believers to rebuke me before I saw clearly (my wife was the first, but I tend not to listen to her enough – ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ – true!). My post was offensive and unchristian, and unthinking (which is the very thing I pride myself on). And there it was… my pride, in my ‘superior’ intellect. Our Lord does not address others with his words, he addresses US!

I look back on the past few days and see a self-righteous man, unaware of the huge plank in his own eye, not even thinking for one second that self-righteousness was a trait he had. Yet in this instance, this area, he was! Now that the plank has been removed, I can see it clearly, and should it present itself to enter my eye again, I should be better equipped to recognise it.

The oft-quoted mantra “hate the sin, not the sinner” is something we need to remind ourselves regularly, while not allowing it to become no more than a twee sentiment, or a mask for genuine hatred.

Forgive me, everyone. My imperfection was laid bare and I was the last to see. This does not feel good right now, but it will in the end. I am grateful for those who can and do address things they see as wrong, and all your comments got through in the end. I always welcome dialogue. Keep addressing sin as you see it, but please beware of your own anger, as Paul admonishes us. Don’t go where I have been; I am a more wary believer now (and more aware!).

Grace be with you.