Holding space

Me at my desk!

Sometimes things occur in such a sequence or a timing that I’m almost converted to hyper-Calvinism! ALMOST, but not quite!

One early morning recently I was flicking through my Facebook feed. I came across three posts from entirely different sources, in this sequence;

First, one of the many posts I have read from my friend Patrick. We were friends before Facebook, even though I’ve never met him. He lives in the US, and we were members of a Yahoo writing group, spread across the UK, Ireland, Norway, Brazil, Canada and the US. Now most of us have become Facebook friends and the group on Yahoo is hardly used. Many like to belittle ‘Facebook friendship’ and while I agree it is no substitute for ‘real friends’ whom we meet in person, I know that I have been able to experience empathic emotions of joy and sorrow for many through social media that I have not physically met. The people at the other keyboard thousands of miles away are still people!

Patrick shared a beautiful piece about love. I thought it was his own words since he is a great wordsmith, but he assured me the bulk of it was a well-known and oft-quoted piece. His addition were his words to his late husband, Thom. You see, they were together for about 13 years, but took up the chance to marry when it was legalised. Shortly after that, Thom died from a heart attack, in Patrick’s arms. His grief was tangible. I shed tears for him, real tears – they’re even returning right now; damn empathy! I know he loved Thom, and counted him as his soulmate. He is still grieving over him, after many months. Who knows how long his healing will take?

The second post I read was this truly beautiful blog. It’s short, give it a read:

PEOPLE WHO HOLD SPACE WILL HEAL THE CHURCH

The third one, which must have been posted by one of my atheist friends (yes, I do have friends of many persuasions!), was a humanist blog having a go at a Christian Facebook page (it’s short too):

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2017/06/christian-facebook-page-fights-rainbow-flag-emojis-loses/

Here was my original thought which I planned to posit as an answer to the ‘Warriors for Christ’:

Yeah, if you’re preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, you need to point out all the ramifications of it. That includes listing sins as Jesus himself warned us about, so start proclaiming warnings to the very rich; the millionaires who might wish to come and join the church. You might not be thinking about what I mean since it’s not something that is prevalent (or even counts as extant) in our peculiar wee subculture, but it was the clear warning that Jesus gave to his disciples after the ‘rich young man’ left him, unable to give up his wealth;

Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:23,24)

I’ve said this a lot in previous blogs, simply because I read it in scripture. Jesus said it. Greedy people are condemned right alongside the ‘sexually immoral’ and Paul even commands the Corinthian church to not have anything to do with them, and not even eat with them! (1Cor. 5:11). Yeah, I can hear all your excuses now before you even comment, so please don’t bother. If you’re adamant about following the Bible and doing what Jesus did, you’d simply want to warn rich people, because ‘in love’ you’d want to make sure they would know if they continue in their sin, Jesus has given them the sternest warning!

So before I posted this, I had to ask myself if I wanted ‘The Warriors’ to start shouting to the world about the sin of greed and excess wealth? Actually, no!

I’ve known people who have faced the gauntlet of the screaming faces as they approach an abortion clinic/ advice centre, all telling them they’re murderers. I’ve known people who have entered churches to be told by a red-faced preacher what awful sin their sexual orientation causes them to do. However, I do not know of anybody who has wealth to be challenged so openly by any church! I’m always calling for preachers to list all of the sins they can find in our holy book, cause I’m sure there are a few we all need to be told about ourselves; nobody’s perfect. In light of of all this, I have no desire for anyone, rich or poor, straight or gay, Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist, to face a blanket condemnation as they visit any church, or encounter a Christian organisation on the internet. While I often place blame for the world’s woes on the super-rich, the real blame lies not in those people, but in the sin of greed that is prevalent in them.

So I decided not to reply to the Warriors.

One of our church leaders came across a homeless man outside the building, who was thrown out of his parents’ house when he ‘came out’ – I’ve often heard of ‘come out and get thrown out’ but here was a real example! He was gay before he came out, now he’s gay and homeless! Kudos to the parents and a high five!

Whatever problem there is in my life, Jesus is working on it, through his Spirit in me. He can do the same with every other follower who goes after him. I just want to be the one who heals the church from this abject hatred of certain people/ things (that is what it is, face it!), by holding space, as Kaitlin so succinctly blogged it.

Grace be with you.

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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.

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.

They barred ME?!!!!

Verses Cartoon

Just had to blog on this one! This morning I found myself barred from a Facebook page called ‘The Christian Left’ for expressing an opinion. This is a page I follow due to its desire to challenge mainstream theology and ‘Christian’ political opinion. I found there contributors with whom I generally agreed and concurred, but the odd occasion I would find a post that went against certain biblical truths I hold dear. I often engaged in these debates, as ever being reserved and polite, and accepted that I would not be in complete agreement with everyone who appeared on the page.

This is the impetus behind this very blog. I always like to challenge fellow believers to think carefully about what they believe, search scripture, ask themselves if what they believe is from their own convictions or their own reading of scripture, or from a denominational bias or the singular rantings of one preacher (or blogger, let’s not forget!).

I never expect to agree with everyone on all the finer points of my faith. There are good friends in my own church who believe in British Israelism – I think it’s one of the most laughable ideas I’ve ever heard, and I tell them so. If they believe it, they’re entitled to. There are many other things upon which debate will always rage, like whether we remain in the grave (soul sleep) or go straight to heaven on death – I’m totally unbothered, to be honest, I’ll get there eventually, whichever way it is. Yet some churches split over this!!

I have little time for ‘statements of faith’ since they invariably end up very lengthy and stray into fairly minor points that seem to state: “unless you subscribe to all our points here, we shall not fellowship with you”. I outlined what I think is important in a previous blog here.

My incredulity comes from an idea within myself that I am probably the most agreeable of theologians, taking points I believe are good and worthy of attention from all sides of opinion, from the Pope to the Puritans, even though I despise many doctrines within those various groups. I’m so glad that I’ve come to a considered opinion that many who claim the tag ‘Christian’ may well be my fellow brothers and sisters – in the end, only God knows [the Calvinist principle of the invisible church] – I have debated with many and found a kindred love for Jesus in people who belong to denominations I consider to be very dodgy; their personal experience is what counts. For me, theological points sit on a scale from very important, through ‘interesting’ to ‘meh!’ and I know myself which I give more weight to, and on that I rest.

I know that pages like The Christian Left have to do some barring. We all know trolls out there, and I’ve seen the usual abusive comments made by some (who very seldom can string together a coherent sentence, yet know how to spell all the swear words one could imagine), but for just saying “excuse me, but that article is doing the very same thing you accuse others of, in being selective and not addressing the whole issue, so making wildly false claims” I get barred from further comments and see mine removed!?

Considering such pages are meant to encourage alternative thinking, surely it is off the scale of irony? So I have to sing from exactly the same hymn sheet? (That pun was unintended, but so apt. Thank you!). Just more denominalisation, causing more division!

“Stop parroting their mantras! Just parrot our mantras and you’ll be fine.”

Grace be with you.

Don’t be the elder brother!

I recall a story I heard many years ago. It was related that it happened, but it may very well be an apocryphal urban myth sprung from a joke:

A man was known to a church to be very inconsistent in his ‘walk’ with Christ, and was often backsliding or falling away, only to come back every now and then and repent all over again. Then he turned up at a gospel rally and heard an altar call to come forward for a fresh ‘filling’ of the Holy Spirit.

He walked forward, hands raised, in tears, saying “Fill me, Lord! Fill me!!”

Then a voice was heard from the back: “Don’t Lord! He leaks!”

While we can laugh at it, a serious message is there.

As far as stories go, the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is one of the best ever told. It is many layered, and has rich characters and wonderful applications. I can only imagine how our Lord Jesus delivered it to his audience. Stephen King, eat your heart out! One of the characters given fairly little attention is the elder brother. He was the one who stayed on the farm and worked diligently and loyally for his father all those years the younger Prodigal was away. When he came in from the field after a typical hard day’s work, he asked what all the noise was. When told it was a celebration for the return of his brother, he just took a big huff and decided he wouldn’t join in.

You can understand his attitude, it was only human: “all these years I’ve been faithful and hard-working while he’s been off wasting his entire inheritance on a pathetic life and useless no-good friends, and he is the one to get the fatted calf, a robe, a ring, and a huge welcoming party!”

The father (that great and magnificent father who allowed his son to find his own way in the world, but still stood looking at the horizon regularly, praying for his son’s safe return) went out to entreat the elder brother [ask earnestly or anxiously] to come in and rejoice with them. His reply to his elder son was that he still had his inheritance – “all I have is yours”, but that the return of the brother who was once lost, once presumed long dead, was indeed a time for celebration. The elder brother’s problem was self-righteousness; he saw himself as ‘better’ than the younger, more loyal and faithful, and yes, he was! However, in the father’s eyes, they were both his sons. He could not disown or turn his back on the younger one, especially since he had returned in contrition and humility.

Jesus reinforces this principle of the kingdom (as all parables relate to spiritual principles) with the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16). The workers hired at the eleventh hour were paid the same wage as those hired earlier in the day, so those who worked longer grumbled about it. The vineyard owner asked them why they should grumble when they were paid the wage he agreed with them at the start; “Or are you envious because I am generous?” he asks them at the close.

This envy at God’s generosity is unbecoming of those of us forgiven of our sins and solely dependent on that same generosity of grace from him. If God decides to be gracious and generous (as we well know he is!) to another, who looks to us as if they are deserving of no understanding or allowance, who are we to question that grace poured out? Are we any more deserving of that grace just because we have been more faithful to God like the elder brother, or more religious?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

You see, I believe that Mohammad was a typical ‘elder brother’ – he heard the gospel of Christ but rejected it. For him, vicarious atonement was just wrong; he didn’t like it. It’s the mainstay of the Christian faith, dependent upon the grace of God to allow Christ’s death on the cross to atone for all who believe in him. Mohammad was a pious and holy man, and he wanted piety and religious observance to be the means of salvation, so he created his complex religion with its five pillars and all the trappings that go with them. You must observe them all faithfully to be in with a chance of God’s favour. This proves that they do not worship the same God that I worship: my God is gracious and generous, and if he deems anyone that I may look down upon, in my pious pride, to be worthy of the same grace he gave me, so be it.

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.