Salta to Alta: the breadth of Christianity


Cathedral of the Northern Lights

On Sunday, I visited the town of Alta, the capital of the northernmost Norwegian county of Finnmark. This was where the Northern Lights was first studied scientifically, so the Evangelical Lutheran church (formerly the state church until a separation from the state last year) built a modern ‘Cathedral of the Northern Lights’, with a basement display of the history of the folklore and scientific understanding of the polar phenomenon.

My wife and I were on a cruise in lieu of our previous 30th anniversary to see Norway, and being winter, hoping to see the Northern Lights for the first time. We were not disappointed! A young member of this church told us we had witnessed one of the most ‘dynamic’ displays they had seen, as I remarked to him that I found the lights to be changing more rapidly than I had first believed: I was right to be surprised! Bucket list ticked, but I wish to see them again in even greater splendour.

What was also most memorable, for me, was the brief conversation I had with Philip, the tall young blonde Nordic lad. He revealed that he had come from a pentecostal background and had spent three years at Bethel, the source of much of our modern worship songs which we use in church. That surprised me since I found the Lutheran service in the cathedral very liturgical and ‘high church’: the priest (though female) was in robes, knelt behind the table while praying, recited a liturgy with interspersed singing from the congregation prompted by the choreographed pipe organ… although it was all performed in the Nordic language unknown to me, I was able to recognise the Lord’s Prayer by the rhythmic chanting they all engaged in together. Since my wife did not pick it up, it may well be my linguist’s brain deciphering that, but I felt a resonance, amidst the ignorance of the wording of the service, that here was yet another expression of faith from fellow followers.

I had a very similar experience in 1989, on my Bible College field term in Salta, Argentina, with the Anglican church: the archbishop of the northern diocese in his robes, reciting in Argentinian Spanish at a time I was only learning the rudimentaries of standard Spanish. These two places could maybe not be more strikingly different in many ways. Salta was a town in one of the southernmost countries of the world, bathed in 35C heat, in a culture of heated passion (the birthplace of the tango, one of the hottest ballroom dances you will witness). Alta was in one of the northernmost countries of the world, frozen in -14C cold, in a culture of pragmatic survival and ‘coolness’ in the face of potentially fatal winters. Norway have just confirmed their dominance on the Winter Olympics medal table, and noticing the practice of placing lights in all the windows and not closing curtains tells me they have a culture that thinks of the stranger in the snow who might need that beacon of hope to find safety on an unfortunate night.

But the commonality of faith pervades. In Argentina, I discovered a pentecostal church more enamoured with healing and ‘signs’ to be performed, than with simply reaching the lost, healing the soul and feeding the poor. The Anglican church had taken up that mantle, being more ‘evangelical’ in its outreach to the community. Philip represented a young generation in Norway that appeared to me to have experienced pentecostalism but had decided to join an ‘old’ church and seemed to be happy, balanced and outgoing. He also assured an old disestablishmentarian that their separation of church and state had been received very well on both sides. I cannot make a decision on all Norwegian youth in churches based on one brief encounter, but I sensed that this church, despite the service being undecipherable, with some ceremonial parts quite alien to me, was open and friendly, and felt like a welcoming place.

The congregants in Alta belonged to that community,


Inside the Alta Cathedral

and whatever ‘ceremony’ gave them a sense of unity as they participated in it, is the same as the ‘ceremony’ we perform in our church in Belfast; even though we like to think that we are non-liturgical, we do have a choreographed service – just in a different way… in the worship team I receive the order of service email every week.

When we travelled further north on the ship around the North Cape to Honningsvåg, we discovered another little church, much older, that was truly a centre of the community: after the retreating Nazis evacuated the town and burnt it to the ground before the Soviets arrived, the only building they left was the church. Maybe they still had some sense of reverence for ‘holy’ things! The townspeople elected to allow able men to occupy the church and live there until they managed to rebuild it and they all could return. Today it is a warm and welcoming community in the far reaches of the snowbound land.


My participation in these places, so far apart yet so closely linked by the congruence of communal experience, has helped to cement in me that feeling that we do share a common faith in Jesus. Whatever doctrinal, liturgical or musical differences we may have (I didn’t recognise a single hymnal tune in Alta), what we do have are the uniting and binding hands of love and grace that were nailed to that cross.

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

– John 17: 20-23

Grace be with you.



It’s an offence!

not-religiousOne of the most influential books I read as a young Christian trying to find the path that Jesus asked us to follow was “How to be a Christian without being Religious” by Fritz Ridenour. It was a fairly simple book that expounded Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Well, it was as simple as any exposition of that letter can be! Needless to say, the main point the author was trying to get across was that religion is not what following Jesus is about, and that, in essence, is one of the main themes Paul stresses in his epistles, which was exactly why the book had that title. So it has shaped me ever since, to be someone who wishes to express my love for Jesus and my desire to follow him without falling into the same trap that all other religion (including ‘Christian religion’) falls into. That is the trap of sameness, ritual and blind devotion to a code and to a way that others have followed without much thought.

One of the ways we see this expressed is when an offence is caused against a religion. The murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris is an extreme example; that magazine made the offence of religions across the world its mission, and they did create a long string of articles and cartoons that enraged religious adherents of many faiths. However, they did not deserve to die for such transgressions. When I do see and hear fellow believers become almost1489207_10205194809768149_7591136757420390852_n as ‘offended’ at such publications as those Muslim extremists, I fear that it might be possible they could descend into the same madness (some Christians have been so offended by abortions being performed that they have resorted to murder!). On a more standard level, though, short of taking someone’s life, I do wonder if we are only having the same attitude as those jihadists, and becoming ‘religious’ about it. Should we be any different in our demeanour? Can we?

When questions like this arise in my head, I turn to other things I know I can apply. Linguistically, an ‘offence’ (in English at least) can be taken, but never given! I cannot give you offence, but I can cause you offence. ‘Cause’ is one of those words that carries specific semantic properties – in layman’s terms, it means it is fairly easy to grasp what it means. Were you to hit someone with your car while driving and they died, you would have caused their death. You would not be performing the active verb ‘to kill’, unless you drove at them with the intention of killing them. So ’cause’ has a limited usage: it is indicative of an action that created a situation not intended or beyond the control of the performer. Note that you can use the active verb form: “You offended me!”, whether the person who offended you intended to or not; it can be used in both cases.

So if you have a case where someone says or does something with the intent to offend you, that is very deliberate. However, for someone to cause you offence, you have to take it. If I were to attempt to give you a gift, but you did not take it, then I did not give it, I only intended to. The transaction did not take place. Similarly, in order for an offence to occur, it has to be taken by the intended recipient. Otherwise, no offence passed from intender to intendee! Put it another way; if the offender has the intention, and wishes to offend you, they will be thwarted if you don’t take it. Yes? Their fiery dart will have missed its intended target. If, however, they had no intention of causing offence, and did so in ignorance or innocence, then why should you take the offence anyway? In both cases, choosing not to take offence is the best option! No?

So while this might all sound fine and dandy as my own philosophising, does it ‘square up with scripture’?

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Matt. 5:39

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’[Deut. 32:35] says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’[Prov. 25:21,22]

Rom. 12: 18-20

In other words, the person who intends to cause offence against us as believers must be offered ‘the other cheek’ i.e. we show that they did not smite us or knock us down, but we are willing to let them continue to try to insult us. The person who intends to offend God is in God’s hands, and it is not for us to jump to his defence. As I have quoted the lyrics of Bono before: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” We are to stand up for the little guy who needs defending, but not the creator of the universe! We not only insult him in his majesty, we also disobey his direct commands!

Also, imagine having burning coals heaped on your head! Would you not be dancing in pain, howling and swiping your head to get the coals off? Pretty funny for others to watch who had that sort of sense of humour, but almost certainly you’d be looking like a fool. So in order to disarm these intentional offenders, our reaction should be not to react! If we take no offence, they will be seen as base, boorish or just plain annoying. The unintentional offenders who might do so just for the sake of comedy would not fulfil this maxim if they had no intent i.e. they are not our enemy. We might just be able to laugh along with them, if they were really being funny.


for whoever is not against us is for us.

Mark 9:40

Yeah, maybe I’ve taken that verse well out of context, but let us not make more enemies for ourselves! Just because Jesus told us “Everyone will hate you because of me” (Mark 13:13 – which could also be said to be out of context since Jesus was talking about the persecution by the first-century Jews) does not mean we must go around giving people reason to hate us! Such attitude and/or behaviour flies in the face of all the commands to love and do good to others!

Grace be with you.

We need to unite with Muslims.

[14th August, 2014 – this blog was written before the most recent news came out of Iraq (in the Islamic State) of the fleeing Yazidis and Christians on Mount Sinjar. I still stand by my blog since there will still be victims of different religions in the IS, including innocent Muslims, and I am noticing a lot of Christian media seemingly ignoring the Yazidis and reporting this as ‘persecution of Christians’]…


I’ve noticed two things occurring a lot on the internet recently: First, different sites and sources stating that Christians are being persecuted, tortured and executed in places like the ISIS-controlled parts of Syria. Second, different sites and sources pinning blame on all Muslims, or just Islam, for all this trouble. Some even making claims like ‘99% of religious persecution is perpetrated by Muslims’. For me, it’s just ‘the new anti-Semitism’ and is almost ‘in vogue’ in some quarters.

At the outset, let me state where I stand; as a Christian, I see salvation only in one name; no other name has the power or is the medium by which we shall see God. Unlike deceivers like John Hagee, who could deceive ‘even the elect’ into a sort of syncretistic ‘super-religion’ of what I call Judaeo-Christianity, I stand by the very clear words of my own Lord:

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6)


However, this does not mean that I can find no ground on which I can live with anyone of any other faith, or no faith. In fact, I am commanded to not only live peaceably with everyone (Romans 12:18), but to even love my enemies, and pray for my persecutors (Matthew 5:44). Jesus also gave us a caveat to warn us against stupidity:

‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’ (Matt. 10:16)

With this in mind, I must then seek to establish truth about any claims that I hear, to enable myself and others to discern just who are really perpetrators of wrong, and who are not, whom I can trust, and whom not, and to know how to deal with them. However, this in no way overthrows or supersedes his command to love.

I am also commanded to not let the world shape or infect my mind (Romans 12:2). In our modern world, we can fall into two opposing traps with politics and apply modern attitudes to Biblical truths: At one extreme, we must never let a blind devotion to any ideology to allow us to end up dismissing these truths if they don’t fit into that ideology. At the other end of the scale, indifference or cynicism with politics can lead us to treat anything we hear with a dismissive wave of the hand. Let us get this clear: Jesus did not say ‘love your enemies’ just for a quotable soundbite.

Now dealing with persecution of Christians; yes, there is a lot of it, and it is largely going unreported. For a very good explanation of possible reasons for this, here’s an excellent article. The problem I have with much of what is coming out of Iraq/Syria is that it is largely unverifiable, and much is subject to sensationalism and twisting for various political purposes. In one case I have discussed at length in many places, some have reported that Christians were crucified, yet all news sources that could be found reported that they were Muslims accused of apostasy i.e. they did not hold to the narrow interpretation of Islam that ISIS and their leader, Al Baghdadi, maintain is the only true Islam. More importantly, they were not crucified, but executed, then their bodies hung up on public display – WHY does this even need any misreporting to make it more brutally sensational than it already is?

Misreporting this does various things:

1. We set ourselves up to be knocked down. Once anyone can point out that we have misrepresented something, they become entitled to accuse us of doing it deliberately (whether their accusation is correct or not); deliberate misrepresentation is a fancy term for lying.

2. We distract attention from the real persecution of fellow believers that is going on, and possibly make others think we are crying ‘wolf’ when it needs to be highlighted.

3. We may be seen as partisan in that we only wish to highlight wrongs done ‘to us’ when we should really be defending all victims of persecution. We must learn that most politicians see politics as a game, and they play the ‘them and us’ card all the time. Those of us in Northern Ireland in particular should be wise to this! Let us rise above such pettiness. On the idea (or the prevalent trend) that it’s all coming from Islam, here’s just a few examples to bust that myth:




Christians –

Even ‘pacifist’ Buddhists!

This was just a few short Googles worth! Now just think that right away, you could say “those so-called Christians don’t act or speak for me!” then surely you must allow Muslims the same chance to say that about ISIS, Hamas and Al-Qaeda!

Happily, though, it’s not all bad:

And even some Muslims are already standing up to ISIS:

These last examples serve to show the good people on all sides of religious and political divides, who will stand up for truth, peace and justice, for anyone. Shame on us if we do not do the same!

We need to defend those Muslims who are also suffering at the hands of extremists like ISIS, along with Christians and other religious groups, for ‘apostasy’ from the narrow ideology they adhere to. There are many other jihadists, like ISIS, who actually believe that their tiny group are the only true Muslims on Earth (sounds like some Christian denominations I know!), and even fight with other jihad groups within their own country! Adopting this way of acknowledgement and solidarity, we recruit many more to assist in the true fight against terrorism and jihadism, not the political ‘War on Terror’ that our leaders keep banging on about! And by following the command of our Lord Jesus to love them, we reach them with the true gospel in ways far beyond anything we could expect.

Grace be with you.

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:

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:

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): 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.

Same-Sex Marriage /or/ Fence-Sitting (my most controversial blog so far!)

This is a blog that has been in my head for some time, and maybe in my heart for longer. It has taken time to weed out the irrelevant bits (just via my brain filter) and get it down to the point. This truly is going to be controversial, simply because I do not believe anyone else will concur with me; it is my thoughts and feelings alone. I am going to annoy everyone, in both camps, I am sure, friends and foes alike.

Sitting on a fence can be done, but only for short periods. I am getting very sore indeed by now, being just so unable to decide on which side of this fence I can dismount.

I am an evangelical Christian (formerly atheist) who decided to follow Jesus Christ as a teenager. I have a disdain for liberal churches that too easily water down the message of the gospel of Christ, but I cannot ally myself with the all-too-prevalent policies and political wranglings of conservatives, often labelled as the ‘religious right’. I am both conservative and liberal* on differing topics, and seldom find any political party or grouping to whom I wholly subscribe.

*[ I later tried to outline just how I differentiate conservative and liberal in another blog here.]

Today is the day my own local assembly votes on the issue of same-sex marriage, so maybe it is about time I addressed this: ‘Liberal’ churches have been seeking to re-draw the borders on their relationship with homosexuality and find a way to accommodate everyone into one big happy agreement so we can all get along so easily. ‘Conservative’ churches are seeking to voice their opinion that such a thing is sinful and wrong, and make their stance known to the world that they shall oppose it at every turn and at any cost.

However, my own holistic reading of the scriptures, which tries to take on board all that I read, and marry together the seeming ‘contradictions’ that exist there, leads me to believe that both camps have got it wrong.

To the liberals:

I must point out how I read my Bible: it is the mind of God! I do not and cannot decide to ignore any part of it (unless it happens to be a later addition to the manuscripts that has no original authenticity in it), nor do I choose to read some verses and pay no (or less) attention to other verses. It has often been said that one must read a Bible verse in its context; this is very true, and for me the context is the whole thing. Such is the mind of God that it is fantastically complex beyond our comprehension, but my Bible reveals to me what I believe he wants me to discover about him as I read it.

There are plenty of scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments, that highlight that homosexuality is a sin in God’s eyes. I wish it weren’t, truly, for the friends I have had and still do have, who are homosexual; I know that they believe that they had no choice in the matter, and cannot help what they feel. To say it is purely a choice is far too glib and off-the-cuff for most homosexuals but there are clear cases of identical twins who become adults, with one clearly declaring their homosexuality, the other not, so it is also glib and off-the-cuff to say that homosexuals are just born that way: it is a complex thing, and needs to be addressed within churches in love, care and understanding, by true leaders with pastoral hearts. SO; to say that it is not sinful, and accept it as a lifestyle within a Christian church, flies in the face of our scriptural teachings. If you wish to do that, I would personally prefer you change your name to something else, not Christian, to be perfectly frank! [amendment: I have read some really good exegesis presented by these groups on the topic, and cannot fault their commitment to scripture, so my declaration was one of pride: I have always known I am not one to judge another’s salvation, so also I now realise I cannot demand they change any label they so wish – if they belong to my heavenly family, so be it].  I recognise I have to concede that so many various weird and wacky groups can claim that tag, I just have to live with it. I only try to live by the scriptures of his word. I struggle to negotiate between my soul and my spirit that is united with God’s Holy Spirit in this matter, but I accept his word. Though it is not a matter of salvation, in my humble opinion.

To the conservatives:

Yes, there are plenty of verses that highlight this sin, and that goes along with all other sin, as I have already tried to point out in previous blogs. Let’s take it in the context of the whole Bible again, as I stated earlier – I cannot help but read through it and recall to mind various admonitions and commands:

 ‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matt. 5:38-44)

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ (Rom.12:20 – quoting Prov. 25:21,22)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking… (1 Cor. 13:4-5)

He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 24:51)

That last verse, from the words of our Lord concerning the wicked servant, makes it clear to me that hypocrites do not belong in the kingdom; Jesus often hurled this insult at the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law for saying one thing and doing another, or condemning others for things that in reality they did too, or something similar.

Now I believe that I have a right; the right to practice my beliefs and my faith unhindered. Surely it is clear that I would be hypocritical were I to say to any other believer, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, whatever, that they should not have that same right. I will defend anyone of any belief to maintain their right to believe it and live by it. I can still speak and preach against it, and state that I believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” as he claimed boldly himself (John 14:6) but not allow myself to fall into the trap of the hypocrite in denying my rights to others. I had a Muslim friend in school who debated hotly with me. We disagreed with each other, but remained harmonious friends throughout.

As for my rights, I am commanded to lay them down for others. I am to count them less. What? Seriously? Yes, indeed – Jesus even talks about the right to defend yourself and states ‘no! turn the other cheek!’ If someone wants to take what is mine (my shirt), I am to give them more (my coat as well). Stop and think about this, for just one minute; is our Lord Jesus serious about this? Too right he is! His way is radical and ground-breaking! To follow him is to go against all the ways of this world – we are to have a different mindset:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom. 12:2)

This way is against not just the world, but our own natural nature, and this is what we are to wrestle against, as Paul related so eloquently in Romans 7 – we all struggle with sin, and if sin is going against his commands, then if we are being ‘self-seeking’ over our rights, or ‘dishonouring’ to others, or ‘boastful’ or ‘proud’ about our own stance on anything, are we not disengaging ourselves from what Jesus wants in us? He clearly and truly wants us to be subject to others, even our enemies; that is his way, and it is certainly not ours, but we must strive for this.

Again, my soul that wants to fight back when I’m kicked or offended argues with my spirit over this, but again, I must accept his word (even though I might not always attain it). If others have a belief in something and ask for a ‘right’, regardless of what it is, I must acquiesce to that request. I do not wish to do so, but, as my dear beautiful Lord prayed in Gethsemane before he went to his fate for me, “not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Were I to be asked myself to vote on same-sex marriage, I could not, in all conscience, vote yes: for me it is wrong, against God’s word but at the very same time, I cannot see myself actually voting no. I feel I must abstain. And in any democracy, we can, no, we must accept the democratic will of the majority. If we decide that we like democracy only when it suits us, then are we not just plain hypocrites all over again? If you wish to block democracy, then just state that you don’t believe in it! Is there any politician who would do that?

That fence is still painful, but this is a cushion to my seat. Maybe I should see it not as a fence but as simply a narrow and lonely path that I follow. I shall get down now and follow my path. Here I walk; I can do no other.

Grace be with you.

Standing for our faith?

Probably my last blog until I finish my Masters. The birth of the royal baby last night has brought out the British republican in me! All my friends know my anti-royalist feelings, but I have to be careful to state ‘British republican’ since the very word ‘republican’ invokes loathing and fear among many Ulster Protestants. I’m NOT an Irish republican!

Or am I? Hmmmm, when I look around the world and see the church in countries where it is in a minority, or worse, facing genuine persecution (even to death!), I see a strong, vital core of true believers who put us to shame for their dedication and commitment. Contrast that with here, where evangelicals are a very large, vocal group, and the Protestants are a clear majority; are we not guilty of being a little too proud of who we are?

Surely ‘Christian pride’ is an oxymoron!? It’s the very ‘Protestant Pride’ thing that repels me from the 12th July. Ask yourself this: had the border never been drawn across Ireland, how would evangelical Protestants be faring now? What would we be like? Politically weaker? Spiritually stronger? Is our strength not to be found in our faith and his grace, rather than our representatives at Stormont?

Just something to mull over.

Grace be with you.

Nadarkhani re-arrested!

As I posted on my Facebook page (haven’t time to do any REAL blogging now with studies and house move – be posting again in February):

Much more serious issue, people: puts things in perspective, and makes me realise that no internet for a few days is not THAT big an issue. You may remember my calls some months ago to write to the Iranian embassy about Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was facing the death penalty for being a Christian in Iran. Well, with all the international pressure we all put on them, he was released, Praise God.

Now he has been rearrested. On Christmas Day. Get writing again, folks, as it looks like they’re thinking that now all the media attention has gone, he’s been forgotten. And his lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is STILL in jail! No point emailing the UK embassy in London as their inbox is full.

Here’s their address:

Iranian Embassy
16 Prince’s Gate

Despite my problems and woes, and pressures on my time right now, I’ll take a few minutes to do another letter. This man needs our support, seriously.

Grace be with you.