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.

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.

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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.

Why I weep for Kim Davis

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis listens to a customer following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. Although her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied, Davis still refuses to issue marriage licenses. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Social media is alive with this, since it involves Christians and atheists, gay activists and anti-gay lobbyists, Socialists and Libertarians, and various political party groupings, all approaching from different angles. It is chiefly concerned with US law and government, but the issue also spreads across the Western world. As an evangelical Christian, I am expected to ‘side with’ the poor woman at the centre of the debacle, Kim Davis. However, I actually don’t support her right to refuse to do her job. I certainly do not believe she has a right to make her co-workers behave in the same way as she does; she has her own conscience, but she does not own theirs! In the hurry to condemn this, though, I judged the woman, and I overstepped a mark, for which I repent. I do not know her heart, nor have any idea what life she has lived. I am not God!

She does have a right to not do something against her own conscience, but if that makes her incapable of doing the job she has been employed to do, the ‘right thing’, as far as I’m concerned, is to resign and look for work elsewhere. She may well suffer through this, and find it difficult to get work, but did Jesus not tell us quite clearly that we would have to ‘take up our cross’ (Matt. 16:24), and that his followers would face trial and suffering in this world (e.g. 2Thess. 1:5), that we share in his sufferings (e.g. Rom. 8:17), for the purpose of producing perseverance and fruit in us (e.g. Rom. 5:3), but that also we may be able to share in the comfort when we rely on Jesus (e.g. 2Cor. 1:5)? Yet many are stating how she should ‘stand her ground!’ or ‘defend her faith!’ and intimate that her suffering is seen in her jail sentence.

My first problem with this is that I have always said that my God does not need defending; he’s far bigger than all of us put together! In the lyrics of Bono: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” Taking a ‘stand’ for God and his gospel just reeks to me of pride and arrogance on our part, as if God has been disempowered by the world and needs our help! Everything I have and cherish in my salvation has been done by him, and to even imply that I have to take action to defend him sounds ludicrous to my ears, and begins to actually undermine the gospel of grace! As John the Baptist said in heralding Christ; He must become greater; I must become less.  (John 3:30) I truly believe this focuses the issue on flawed individuals trying to express their beliefs (not very well in my opinion) and take it away from Christ, who is the one we should be showing and sharing with others.

My second problem is the more important one: what would Jesus do? This is an often-asked question offered to Christians facing a dilemma, and it is very apt here. More specifically: what is Jesus telling us to do? In his Sermon on the Mount, he launches into a very peculiar section that I am sure shocked his listeners as much then (if not more) than it does now, where he goes through a series of you have heard that it was said… but I tell you… statements, each taking us beyond what is ‘acceptable’ righteous behaviour and ‘lawkeeping’ to a place where such ‘standards’ are just not good enough for him; he wants a deeper commitment to righteousness that springs from the regenerated heart. The relevant one for this is:

‘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. (Matt. 5:38-42)

Do I like this command? Heavens no!! I’m human, I don’t want to give anything to an enemy of mine, I don’t want to ‘lose’ what I have and see the person who was trying to take from me walk away with even more!! This is a very hard command for anyone to follow, but it does not mean that we ignore it or excuse it away. If we are called to follow Jesus, that means we are called to obey him! Yet in all the calls I hear to be obedient to God, this is one of the most overlooked commands! It’s perfectly understandable, of course, since none of us like it, but hey, I never thought for one second when I answered the call to my spirit to follow this Son of God that it would be easy!!!

So it was that I saw a blog posted on Facebook by a friend, stating that Kim Davis was doing exactly the right thing. This fellow wordpress blogger would like a debate on this, I thought, and I posted a reply to him, calling him brother, but saying I was disagreeing with him. In my reply, I posited a question I have said to other believers; in the ‘gay cake’ rows (which we have had here in NI as well as in the US), what if, for the sake of argument, the baker who received the request from the ‘gay militant’ for a cake, simply decided to bypass their personal conscience, and say “yes, Lord, you want me to give to my enemy. You want me to go even further than their request. I may not understand this, but I rest in your will.” – the customer returns, and the baker gives him the cake as requested and charges him a fair price as agreed. What happens then? The ‘militant’ leaves with a cake and an attitude; of either: “****’S SAKE! WHAT HAPPENED THERE? THEY WERE MEANT TO REFUSE ME! I can’t make a court case out of this now!”

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you. (Prov. 25:21-22)

Or…. he might leave thinking that he received good service from them and think that they are nice sincere Christians and aren’t actually going out of their way to frustrate homosexuals, like he had always believed. He might be won over to listen the next time he hears a Christian share their faith with him! While I believe that forcing a baker, or any other private individual to do something against their conscience is wrong, my question is that were we to follow a simple command, to the letter, would this not be better?

His response to me? He deleted my comment within minutes!! Later on, someone else posted a comment saying that Davis should resign (though from a different angle than mine) – deleted too! If you find a social media post or page, or a blog, where all the comments are supportive, with no (coherent) dissenting voice, ask yourself: across the whole of the internet, why are there not any other opinions? I’ve had comments deleted many times, and been blocked, and even dirtier tricks played on me by Christian sites (blogged on before). Being one who loves debate, and often finding myself dissenting on (mainly minor) points, I have been blocked on a number of Christian sites, but the vast majority of them have been evangelical/ conservative. In fact, I can only recall one progressive/ liberal site doing it to me! Those who control the conservative agenda have a plan in mind to make it look like we all sing from the same hymn sheet (pun intended!). Anyone who does raise a hand and say ‘excuse me!’ is quickly silenced, and an implication is made (sometimes bluntly) that such a person is ‘doubting their faith’/ ‘a troublemaker’/ ‘not a real Christian!’ And this is all for political gain!

Just look at the tactics of the religious right; were you to agree with their theology but not their politics, they’ll delete and/or block you, but those who do not share their theology but agree on their politics are welcomed into the fold! I see it again and again. This is why Billy Graham went to see the Pope, to answer a question a friend asked me a while ago. Graham was one of the greatest evangelists of the 20th century, until he got involved with political stuff – the world tainted him. I went back to look at that blogger who deleted me, and then noticed he was more than ‘just’ a lowly blogger like me! No, he is a Christian preacher who has pictures of huge crowds listening to him! In the tags on his blog (which are designed to draw traffic) I saw ‘Benghazi coverup’!!! WHAT HAS THAT GOT TO DO WITH THIS ISSUE? In my explanation to him that the religious right are political, I didn’t realise he was one of them! This is someone who is incapable of responding to the words of our Lord that I posited towards him, yet many, many people will listen to him… as he spouts more politics than theology, but makes it sound ‘spiritual’!

To add to this, all the cries of “persecution is coming!… No, it’s here right now!” are just ridiculous: some are even trying to say that Davis “will be held in jail until she denies Jesus”! COME ON, GET REAL! Stop twisting truths – it’s deception!!!!… and while there are other believers facing torture and execution for their faith in the world, this sounds so utterly pathetic. Those people suffering under ISIS or fleeing across the ocean to escape would cut off their right arm for the warm cell and hot meals of a Western prison! And many of them are not even Christians!!! Thank God we don’t face that!

And so we now look at this poor woman, standing on her convictions, but while she languishes in jail, many of those leaders who encouraged her to ‘do the right thing’ return to their mansions to sleep soundly in their beds. Some suited men behind closed doors right now are plotting how they can milk this situation for their political ends, and if you don’t believe that, you are the one being deceived.

She is nought but a pawn on the chessboard of their bigger games, and that is why I weep and pray for her. I hope she can see through this sooner rather than later, for many of those ‘supporters’ will drop her as soon as she leaves the headlines, of that I am sure.

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:

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.

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.

Reality!

I rarely take offence at something; I’m hard to offend as I generally allow people to have whatever opinion they want to have, but ONE thing will get me angry; if someone calls me ‘good living’! I have on many occasions found myself saying avidly “I’m NOT good living, I’m a CHRISTIAN!” (For those who may not know this common term, it refers to someone who lives a ‘clean’ life and does not ‘indulge’ in the pleasures of the world).

Jesus once posed a question to his critics: “Which is easier to say…” (Matt. 9:5). In a moment, I shall pose a similar question, but first let me relate an incident which happened: A couple travelled from Northern Ireland to England to collect a caravan they had purchased on eBay. On arriving, it was discovered that the car electrics had been wired incorrectly. They had to stay in the caravan overnight in the sellers’ garden and get the car rewired the following day, rebooking a different ferry home. The woman selling the caravan remarked to them how amazed she was at their calm nature in how they dealt with the situation, which gave the buyers the chance to ‘witness’ to her about how they had faith in Jesus Christ and could face any situation with confidence that it was all in God’s hands and part of his plan, and they were thankful that they could glorify God by their testimony.

Now when I hear about a believer’s ‘testimony’ in any evangelical church in this country, what do I hear? Over and over and over… “I don’t smoke or drink or go to the pubs”…. I genuinely think I can hear God saying “BIG DEAL!” (Now I KNOW my God is far above such petty rebuke, but this is what I hear in MY mind). We claim to have the Holy Spirit of the God of the Universe living in us and the pinnacle of what he has done in our lives is “well, I stopped drinking.”???

There are many ‘good living’ people in this world who have no faith in God at all, so how exactly does THAT witness to anyone? I can tell you of many, many, many examples of people who have said things like “oh, yeah, THAT guy! He’s one of those holy rollers, looks down his nose at you if you invite him for a drink, thinks he’s holier than the rest of us, but I don’t see anything about him that looks like he’s capable of caring about anyone else or that he lives by the faith he professes!”

If people want to look for proof of a religious lifestyle, like they seek from ANY religious person of ANY faith, then such things will convince them of your devotion to a code. People who look at you as a Christian for something REAL, though, aren’t bothered by petty little ways that you choose to spend your hours, or all the ‘shalt nots’ that you religiously keep (any religion can boast such trivia), they look for faith, integrity, honesty, tolerance, forgiveness, avoidance of hypocrisy or vanity, and above all, LOVE; if that’s what we say we believe in! “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) Need I even quote 1 Corinthians chapter 13?

So here’s my poser: “Which is easier to say: ‘I don’t smoke or drink or go to the pubs’ or ‘I make every effort to live according to my beliefs and seek to persevere in my faith despite all the natural hardships life throws at me, and try my best, with God’s help, to be a light and a strength and a loving and listening ear to everyone around me’?

Better still, which is easier to DO? (I don’t, for one second, think that I achieve this every day of my life, but by God’s grace, I shall pursue it!) Get REAL, people!

Grace be with you.

Is it REALLY that difficult?

Last August I posted a blog about the parades, quoting one of our Lord’s most difficult commands:

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.

(Matthew 5:39-41)

As the silly season approaches again, I return to this point, but only due to my experience today. In Limerick in the Republic for a weekend, I have heard so many different languages in the hotel breakfast room and at a tourist attraction. This is always a revelation when we visit from the north. The tourism industry here is and always has been booming. My wife and I got talking with a couple from Boston today about the north, trying to persuade them to visit it, but we have always been fighting a losing battle doing this. Why? Well, the flag protests recently highlighted how business owners (of restaurants, hotels and shops) in Belfast and other northern towns saw a real downturn in their takings during that trouble. Stop listening to the partisan politicians who STILL try to get us to vote on a “them or us?” basis (and thus avoid having to debate real politics, which so few of them are capable of), and listen to the real people ‘on the ground’ – if we want to help our local economy, we need to stop bickering and joining in the trouble at the slightest slight.

Do I think people will change in our province? Well, if the true believers who feel that they should set an example and stand for what they believe in would actually take up our Lord’s commands over and above any political or personal feelings they have (ALL his commands), would that not be a good start?

Grace be with you.