Great Expectations

jesus-christ-triumphal-entry-949744-wallpaperIt just dawned on me what it was that led to the people who called for Jesus to be crucified only a week after hailing him as the Messiah… their expectations!

We are often told from pulpits that the Pharisees and the religious ‘establishment’ in Jerusalem ‘turned the crowd against Jesus’. That has an element of truth in it, but it wasn’t in just one week that it was achieved. The people had been fed a diet of expectation all their lives. It was the received wisdom, from specific interpretations of their scriptures, that the Messiah was about to come, but he would be a warrior king who would supernaturally eject the Romans from Judaea and ‘restore the kingdom’ i.e. just as it was in King David’s time.

That was why they cried ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ (Matt. 21:9). They were expecting this revolution, this spiritual freeing of their nation from oppression. They had heard many things, and many rumours about this prophet from a far-off part.

Imagine their disappointment when he actually did not challenge the Romans, nor be drawn on any questions about how they should ‘deal’ with the Imperialists. Instead he continued in his teaching he had always maintained… that he wants his followers to be servants, to everyone, and to love all, even enemies! It wasn’t a battle cry, or a call to arms, or anything remotely like that. No, it was the opposite! This man they had been told was coming even arrived on a donkey! The donkey and colt were ready for him to use for his ‘triumphal’ entry, just as Zechariah had prophesied, so these people were not properly informed on scripture after all. The first thing Jesus did on arrival? He went to the Temple and drove out those who had commercialised his religion! His attacks were not on their conquerors, but their own religious leaders. He just could not have been their glorious Messiah! So when the call came for his death, they were only too eager to join in.

What are our expectations of Jesus? Do we decide in advance what we think he will do for us, or who or what he will be to us?

Or do we just accept who he iswhat he is, and most importantly, what he asks us to be, and to do? It’s all there in our gospel records, so why the false expectations?

Grace be with you.

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

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

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

curious_kittens

I love cats! Now, back to the grumbling…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A man reaps what he sows. (Gal. 6:7)

and:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace be with you.

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

Then they came for the Muslims…

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

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

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

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

– Pastor Martin Niemöller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace be with you.

All truth is God’s truth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace be with you.

Thank you, David Mitchell! (End Times prophecies 4)

FraserDon’t you just love it when things come together? It’s happened to me many times, and a few of these have provoked a blog from me. This is another one, and I am truly amazed at times just where things come from. Having finished my most recent Christian book on my Kindle app on my phone (a very good and deep one that I must review here soon), I decided to go for a bit of light relief; I had come across an eBook by David Mitchell, the very funny and erudite satirical comedian who writes for The Observer and frequents our television screens, and often has me bent over in tears of laughter. I’ve never bought any of his books, but since it was only 99 pence, I thought “now there is a book I do not need to ask Karen’s permission to buy!” You see, I often have to make sure I don’t indulge too much in my addiction: books! The advent of Kindle has at least one advantage in that I cannot hide actual books from my wife’s enquiries, like “how much did this cost?”, “haven’t you got enough books?”, “you’ve only just bought one and I’m sure you haven’t read that yet!” and at the door of the bookshop; “No! Walk on!!!”

This is an unfair picture I’m painting of my good wife. She only wishes to curb my problem, but she’s good to me. Any book I think I might need for my research into my own writing or even just for my own theological self-education is fine. Without her, I would buy too much. Four bulging bookcases so far, and I know I’ve only read about half of them! However, Mitchell’s book serves no other purpose except to make me laugh, or so I thought…

It certainly is a good laugh, very satirical and scathing, but in a typically Oxbridge/ BBC/ Radio 4 comedy sort of way, all puffing-out-big-words-to-confuse-the-plebs-while-still-making-real-fun-of-the-establishment humour. As one who thinks too much, the title really drew me: “Thinking about it only makes it worse” – how apt that is for me, I thought, though I can find any reason to convince myself I should buy the next book, if I’m honest!

At the same time, I’ve been going through a phase. I’ve being going through a lot of phases, I suppose. Maybe that’s just middle-age, but I truly feel it is more than just a mid-life crisis. Many things I took for granted, or accepted as read and accepted, have been up for grabs, not least particular beliefs revolving around my faith. I have always been the outsider, looking in on a tradition I was not born into, and asking just what we believe, and where it comes from: God, our Bible, or our tradition? However, I also fall into the trap of hearing something repeated so often that I just come to see it as true. It’s human nature, and I’m not an alien, despite the many accusations I have had fired at me by those who don’t understand why I always challenge, question, enquire. Anyone who has been following my blogs will know I’ve had a new topic recently that heretofore was always off my radar. Anyone new to my blog will see in the title here the number 4, and I’m afraid that’s a giveaway, so regular followers are not in any Gnostic-like ‘secret knowledge club’. Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever known… no, hold on, that’s an old Whitesnake classic! I was really into them in my headbanging days, so their lyrics were bound to have bounced around my skull a lot and caused a bit of damage. “A bit!” you say?

What’s happening to my writing??? I’ve been reading David Mitchell all morning while in a doctor’s waiting room, and it’s rubbing off on me. Now there is a topic I could discuss; our NHS! It’s getting harder to see a doctor about anything, isn’t it?

Aaaaand… such ranting is what satirists like Mitchell are all about. He admits that he makes a living off things that are going bad: “utopia is a living hell for a satirical columnist!” In his amusing writings, which make good points about the world we inhabit, I discovered a kindred spirit; a man who is very given to ranting about things that annoy him, but who always looks for balance, and wishes to be careful that he rants about the things that deserve to be ranted about, and not to go down the road of our right-wing tabloid press and the social media postings of Faragists, who just want to declare that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. What exactly a handbasket is, and why we are all in it on this road to hell, is something that Meatloaf expressed when he wished to know why he repeated this favourite phrase of his father, but I digress again!

My point is… I hear this sort of rhetoric all the time from my fellow evangelicals, so much so that it used to go past my ears and out the door, but since I’ve come to see the many, many failings of dispensationalism, the words have begun to grate on me. The only way I can deal with them is to picture Private Frazer [pictured above] from Dad’s Army crying “Doooomed! We’re all doomed, ah tell ye!” every time I hear that the world is getting worse each day. In case you weren’t sure, dispensationalism (big word, eh?) is just the current predominant interpretation of end times prophecies that you’ll hear across most evangelical churches that states we are in the ‘last’ Laodicean age of the church (despite the fact that the church in China and the Middle East is anything but Laodicean, and I can point to many ‘Ephesian’ churches not far from me!), and includes stuff like ‘the restoration of Israel’ marking the last generation, and ‘the rapture’ preceding ‘the tribulation’ when ‘the beast’ will come to power and make everyone get a mark tattooed on their head or hands… so that stuff you hear isn’t ‘what the Bible says’, it’s what some preacher years ago said that he thinks the Bible says, and many have just followed his lead blindly.

You see, I have to do what I do, and that means that I sit and think, and analyse everything I hear in our churches (when I’m listening, which is nowhere near as much as I used to). And then what I do is think to myself: “Is it really getting worse?” and I think back to all we learnt in history. Yes, we have the rise of barbarians like ISIS today; truly gruesome and beyond explanation, but there were times in the past when entire cities were sacked by marauding armies and all its citizens wiped out. They all did it: Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Genghis Khan, even Israel! There were stories of cities in China who refused entry to Khan and were left, once sacked, with the heads of all the former inhabitants piled up at the gate, as a lesson to others. It was an accepted fate to happen in such times. There’s even a Chinese blessing: “May you live in uninteresting times.” Jerusalem suffered that fate in AD70, which was the main thing Jesus was warning them of. Might it be safe to say that ISIS and other extremists are the exception rather than the rule these days? Looking at things like the convening of the UN and the Geneva convention that dictates international law now, we’ve come a long way from even the 17th century, when the likes of Oliver Cromwell was credited as burning the innocent citizens of Drogheda to death, so I offer that extremists are exceptional today. More so than in the past. Those who would argue with me are listening to certain news outlets and reading certain newspapers that have an agenda to drive us into more fear and apprehension; many of them would be those who call for greater powers for governments to ‘snoop’ on us, and clearly would like us to be more scared; it even helps the sale of their papers and the price they charge advertisers. Think about it. There are also many who would like us to be distracted from where all the money is really going, so the continuing scares over extremists and how that means all immigrants and all those of a different cultural background to ours are the real enemy just serve their ends to make us turn on each other. Of course, the money all vanished in that awful credit crunch, as if that never happened before! Remember Wall Street saw a similar crash in our grandparents’ time.

And Ebola! Oh my goodness, it’s going to spread into every country and kill us all! No, in fact, it’s being controlled and being reduced in many places, but once the ‘sensational’ news is no longer that sensational, our media are onto the next scare. What on Earth did Europeans in the 14th century think when the Black Death crossed over their nations, killing thousands? The only time in history that the population of Europe actually decreased!

My problem is that the circles I move in largely listen to all this stuff and just don’t agree with my assessment, since it flies in the face of all those TV screens and pictures on the news stands. Of course I’m talking nonsense, they reassure each other, I am sure… If only I could find someone from a different background to my own to say the same thing! Then I came across David Mitchell saying he was talking about all this ‘bad news’ and trying to put it into perspective, and receiving a lot of flak from others who also saw all the ‘bad news’ and accused him of being complacent. His reply?

“Saying that things could be worse, and that they have been worse for the overwhelming majority of humans throughout the overwhelming majority of history, is not the same as being complacent. It is stating an undeniable fact. It is retaining a sane sense of proportion. It should be reassuring, but at the moment many people hate to hear it.”

Thank you, David Mitchell! I could never have expected you to be the one to concur with me. You’ve no interest in any of the theology that I debate (as far as I can tell – who knows, you might read books on the Five Points of Calvinism before you turn off your bedside lamp!), and you’re in a job that you admit seeks each day for things to rant about – you could do well from the ongoing fear and paranoia, but instead, you adopt a sane head and take a balanced look at the world around you. And you recall your history lessons too!

“History repeats itself.

Has to.

No one ever listens.”

– Steve Turner

Yes, many things are bad, but there are many good things too. Are we, as Christians, not called to find these things and enhance them, spread love and peace, and not get sucked up into the calls for retaliation and finger-pointing, or even worse, switching off since all we can see is that blinkin’ handbasket!

I love how you sum up our current fears, David: “Our disdain for the bathwater is making the baby give us anxious looks.”

Grace be with you.

Judaeo-Christianity?

There is a new heresy going around the evangelical community these days! I do not use that word lightly, since I do not like branding people as heretics. However, some people well deserve it since they are clearly deceivers – even when presented with the truth, and shown that what they are saying is clearly false or misguided, they continue to say it. Such people deserve to be ignored completely, if you ask me. Some people may inadvertently promote something they believed was true, but are able to realise their mistake and recant it; thankfully they are in the majority of those who promote untruths (myself included, to be humbly honest). Many more simply have a belief in something that I personally may find untrue, but they are entitled to believe it and we shall agree to differ. The vast majority of these cases are doctrines and opinions that are secondary to salvation. The one I wish to address now is not secondary – it undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Where does it come from? The Religious Right in the USA! How can we discern it? Watch out for the term ‘Judaeo-Christian values’! Yes!

The term Judaeo-Christian is actually a fairly new construct. It only appeared first in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1899. By today’s standards of ‘new words of the year’ and the speed of the spread of new coinages via television and the internet, it seems old, but relative to the history of the English language and what it purports to represent i.e. ‘Judaeo-Christianity’, it’s a pretty young word!

Well, it is me asking the question “where did it come from?”, since nobody else I know seems to be curious! It hinges on another question a friend posed to me recently, which was “why did Billy Graham, a great preacher of the gospel, seek an audience with the Pope?” At first I could not answer it, and it is puzzling to those of us who call ourselves true protestants, since we stand against the false doctrines of Rome. We have no respect for that constructed religion and have stood against it for many centuries (and yes, I know we all fall into the trap of a constructed religion! – another debate!). However, I now see the answer is quite simple. In order to maintain support for their political cause, the Religious Right in the USA have sought conservative bedfellows to bolster their position, and found it in the Roman Catholic church, which has always been ultra-conservative on issues like abortion, homosexuality and ‘family values’ [ha! – from a priesthood that has not one child between them (officially)] – this to the detriment of their religious cause. Therefore they can easily be branded as a political movement and not a religious one, despite their label! They have marked out their priorities in clear signs. What they are to do with the new Pope, Francis, clearly a political radical, remains to be seen in entirety.

They also found support in conservative Judaism, which has led to this heresy I am addressing. The foremost proponent in this vanguard that I can see is John Hagee, a man who has sought an audience with every Israeli Prime Minister in his lifetime, supported Israel against all critics, and gone so far as to say things like “Jesus never claimed he was the Messiah, so the Jews cannot be blamed for killing him!” and “we don’t need to evangelise the Jews, since they have their own way to God.” This is the point at which he crosses over from being a gospel preacher to becoming a quasi-politico campaigner, bent on appeasing his allies at the cost of his stance on gospel truth!

Let me iterate clearly right now, before the Anti-Defamation League calls me an anti-semite; the holocaust against the Jews was undeniable and despicable, we had to stop the Nazis in their anti-Semitic campaign of destruction of a race, and we must help defend the Israeli people against terror. I have the utmost sympathy for the people in Israel who are suffering from the ongoing turmoil between the two states of Israel and Palestine, and I also sympathise with the people of Palestine; unreservedly on both counts.

BUT: there is a heresy going around, and it is that Judaism and Christianity are the same religion! That we worship the same God! This is ludicrous! It shows me just how far we have allowed the Religious Right to take us down their path of falsehood. No more! Stand for the truth, brothers and sisters:

Jesus came to fulfil the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17).

He stated, as clearly as he possibly could: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6)

The Jews of his time divided into two camps; those who saw who he was, like all those before them who believed and looked forward to his coming (Luke 2:38), and those who did not see who he was. These same people claimed to be believers and that God was their Father. Jesus told them clearly in a long dialogue in John chapter 8: “If God were your Father, you would love me…” and told them they were not children of God, but of the devil!

Who are you going to listen to? Hagee? or Jesus? If this argument that “they worship the same God as us” is continued, then why not include Muslims? They worship the God of Abraham and Moses!

When I hear of believers attending synagogues, I cringe! What next? Partake of the Mass?

When I hear them quote from the Talmud, the written expression of the faith of the Pharisees that Jesus condemned, that also describes my Lord as a traitor to the faith and wishes a thousand deaths upon him, I start to become judgmental! Please help me to not be.

If you wish to declare support for Israel in your politics, by all means follow your conscience, but don’t let your political belief dilute your faith in the one and only saviour, Jesus Christ. Judaism cannot save anyone!

Grace be with you.

End Times prophecies 2: have we ALL got it so wrong? [Conclusion spoiler: we HAVE!]

 

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[This blog will shock and annoy most of my evangelical friends. I know this since my discovery even shocked me! I set out to make a minor point from my own opinion, which is standard for my blogs, and ended up with something utterly controversial, but based on fact, not my opinion.]

In my previous post on the end times, I laboured well on the point that I am absolutely exasperated at the people who spend their lives trying to figure out these enigmatic prophecies, and in fact, I tired of it many years ago. It is similar to the debates on the nature of the Godhead (or ‘The Trinity’ to give it it’s manmade term) – mysteries that will be revealed at the end.

Saturday was a milestone for me: I was a Christian 35 years! And you know what? I’m still learning, I’m still seeing things that I never thought I’d see, I’m still made aware often of my own sin and folly and mistakes, and I’m still trying to improve myself. Is that not what our journey is about? Rather than wasting time reading all those books about the end times (and believe me, I think that playing games on my phone is more constructive than that pursuit!), why not seek out those authors who can inspire and enlighten us on the jewels and the joys of scripture that give us advice and encouragement for that journey? Books that explain love, grace and forgiveness, that instruct us how to live a better Christian life [please note that I do not mean self-help books like those of Joel Osteen et al. I talk of great treatises on the fundamentals of our faith, not ’10 steps to be a better you’ nonsense]. Here’s a modern classic for starters: ‘Future Grace’ by John Piper. Maybe I should post some book reviews occasionally?

Though here’s my main point today: in the past week I have read probably more on these prophecies than in the past 28 years. I am so glad that we did not cover much of it in Bible College. In fact, it was practically zero. Just look up ‘dispensationalism’ or ‘preterism’ on Wikipedia for starters: enough there to take up most of your week!

Now I recently had a query with a fellow believer over things he said. He is a well-educated man, and was able to discuss matters very intelligently, and he reassured me over concerns I had. When I tried to explain some finer points of theology he was unaware of, his answer was that he doesn’t read theology but simply asks the Holy Spirit to guide him as he reads scripture. This is perfectly fine, since the Holy Spirit performs that function for us (John 14:26) and it is the right way to approach the Bible (prayerfully) but I can see a problem. Not that he needs to “leave the pondering over these things to those of us better schooled in theological matters” – by no means – no! We should all be aware of scripture and able to discuss it. This was one of the tenets of the Great Reformation; that everyone should read and know scripture in their own language and dialect. No, the question that springs to mind is: how can we know when our own reading of scripture (our individual ‘spiritual glasses’) is influenced by God and not men?

My ‘whittling down’ of the verses I heed for my ‘end times watching’ has left me with just a few I pay attention to. One of these is the oft-quoted “Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree:….” of Matthew 24, or the Olivet Discourse, also found in Mark 13 and Luke 21 (where it also adds “and all the other trees”). I have listened to this being the budding of the fig-tree that is clearly the symbol for Israel and that therefore the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 ushered in the ‘last days’; this has been preached to me from pulpits for 34 years now (yeah, I didn’t attend a church for my first whole year!), and I have accepted it as such. The point I was planning to make is that there are many different interpretations of the Olivet Discourse, some being that it prophecies of the sacking of Jerusalem in AD70, while others say that you can divide the discourse into two separate answers to the questions about the destruction of the temple (in AD70) and Christ’s return. Based on this knowledge that we may be shaping our worldview on a human interpretation of mysterious verses that we may or may not be right about, what exactly do we think we are doing? Is it not better for us to focus on the important things about our faith in Jesus and our certainty that he is who he said he is, and that his atoning sacrifice is there for all to avail of? Then can we not let go of other trivial stuff (like end times prophecies), maybe leave it to private conversations amongst ourselves, but not make it shape how we speak to the world or act towards it?

Now, this is where my blog was meant to end, but…. as I was investigating this, I formed a question in my mind: ‘we’ all believe that the fig-tree is the symbol for Israel – where does that come from? For example, it’s clear from history that the cedar is the symbol of Lebanon (it’s even on Lebanon’s flag!), but biblically, where does God refer to his ‘chosen people’ as a fig-tree? So I searched my Bible, thinking it would appear somewhere in the prophets, maybe Isaiah or Jeremiah. ‘Fig’ or ‘figs’ are found in 49 separate chapters across the Old and New Testaments. Not one of them has any symbology directly with Israel or Judah! Go and look for yourself! None! There is plenty of other symbology in scripture but nothing on this, I’m afraid. Any references to it being such a symbol are on web pages referring to… the Olivet Discourse! This is purely an interpretation by someone (maybe Darby?) and passed down from pulpit to pulpit. I even looked up ‘national trees’ on wikipedia: Israel’s national tree is the olive tree! The only actual old reference to it being Israel is found in the Apocalypse of Peter, a book written in the 2nd century, and rejected from our canon and not even found in the apocrypha! If you wish to refer to that, go ahead, but leave me out of that, please. I refer to that which I believe to be the word of God, and I find nothing. Do you get this? In order for us to be able to make the claim that Jesus was referring to Israel in the Olivet Discourse, there has to be a biblical precedent for that, a verse akin to “now Israel is likened unto a fig-tree…” The defenders of this view of prophecy try to point to various verses about figs but these same verses make no mention of any direct attribution to Israel, or more often, talk of figs along with vines and olives; therefore they refer to ‘fruitfulness/ barrenness’ and not just figs, let alone the nation of Israel!!

Why did I never find this out before? Well, because I never looked! As I stated, I gave up on end times prophecies a long time ago. How has this interpretation come about? Are there Zionists who adapted this interpretation to push for their ‘return to their homeland’ (maybe even as early as the second century, once they had been exiled by the Romans)? I must apologise, that surely must sound to some as ‘anti-semitic’! Sorry but I’m only pointing out a truth I have found that has even left me reeling.

“Well, you stand alone, Tim!” I hear many say already. No, we are actually in a minority across the full board of eschatological narrative! Here are just two I found that concurred with me:

http://www.bibleserralta.com/TheFigtreeIsNotIsrael.html

http://thepre-wrathtribune.blogspot.co.uk/2007/09/is-israel-fig-tree.html [bit sarky, this one]

I also used to form the opinion that holding to such ideas was fairly harmless, but if, as I said earlier, it shapes your worldview, it can become dangerous, even politically dangerous! Here’s a blog that tries to make that point:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/end-times-believers/

So my point (to myself too), which is a point I’ve always been making: verify everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21), read your Bible, know what you believe and why, and don’t just take everything you hear from pulpits to be ‘gospel’. Not that I’m accusing any preachers of misleading people, just that they have taken their lead from previous ‘mentors’ and older preachers, and never thought to question it, and in this case, neither did I!

Let the Holy Spirit ‘lead you into all truth’, but engage the brain God gave you first. Part of that means allowing yourself to listen to things that you might not really want to accept.

Grace be with you.