Trauma, Assault, the Darkest Road

If I were to write the story of my life – 41 years and counting – I’ve been advised that nobody would buy it to publish simply because nobody would believe a single person could encounter so much heartache and loss in such a short space of time.

A brief summary of the major stuff would be my favourite aunt dying in a house fire, my brother killed in a road accident before his 10th birthday, both my mum’s parents dying young (ish) of cancer, my dad beating one type of cancer, then dying of a totally unrelated cancer a few years later, both his parents dying of age-related heart issues in the form of ruptured vessels, assorted major injuries to myself including torn cartiliedge in my sternum, ribs and knees; back injuries and required surgery on my knees to keep walking. My wife is seriously ill with an incurable illness that will eventually probably be what kills her barring a miracle of healing, and my mum has just been diagnosed with cancer.

And in between times there have been more funerals than I can count and other more minor issues which have affected me profoundly. It’s been relentless. For 40 years.

The video I’m attaching here was sent to me by my mother-in-law this morning to encourage me, but I wanted to share it. I don’t know who the speaker is, but I’d love to, so please PLEASE comment and tell me. I’d love to add a link to him if all his stuff is this profound.

Please watch to the end, and whatever you’re going through remember you – like me – have a “But God” moment coming.

Conformed or Transformed?

There’s some debate going on about what the facts are about some major issues in the World today. Leaders from all sides have called for a more “realistic” view to be taken by church leaders, from the Pope to the independant church pastors, all church leaders need to address certain issues.

The big one over the last few months has been same-gender relationships, although the Catholic church has struggled with accusations of paedophilia which seems to finally be being addressed by Francis – albeit slowly.

It’s a hard truth that things are not what they once were. Many societies have changed drastically in the last 100 years. Two world wars, many acts of genocide and torture have rocked and changed the planet. Assassinations, coups, oustings and civil wars have shaped the last century in many ways. Israel was recreated. Palestine was oppressed. Wars and Cold War, “armed neutrality” and divided nations.

The world has changed.

God has not.

Society has changed.

God has not.

In terms of society, our Western morals have become alarmingly similar to the ones widespread in the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. The rich get richer at the expense of the poorest in society. Self-interest is more acceptable than group support. Policies and interests of individuals lead to increasingly corrupt behaviours by the “leaders” of our nations. Just like the Caesars.

The church is under pressure to get behind the social “improvements” made by liberty organisations.

In fairness, it probably should. The Church should welcome all comers to their places. It should insist they are met with Love as Jesus would have done.

But there’s something else the Church needs to do.

Not compromise.

I’ve mentioned “progressive christianity” in previous entries, so I’m not going charging down that road again. What I’m referring to is more insidious than an obvious “movement” like the progressives.

There’s a gradual erosion of core values in the Body of Christ in many Western societies. And it’s subtle. So subtle we didn’t notice it.

We were challenged by the immorality of the wealthy landowners and their greed through the first 1900 years after Jesus, and the Church – aside from some errors regarding pre-destination – fought the corrupt influences. But something happened around 100 years ago we didn’t notice.

The move towards the lower reaches of society having money began. Suddenly anyone could be a millionaire. Cattle-barons in America sprang out of nowhere. In Europe the sudden vacation to the former colonies and the tragic loss of a generation in the Great War from 1914-1918 meant the lower echelons of the upper classes lost their servant base. They essentially became the upper-middle class, and the lower classes who were left were able to begin to demand higher incomes. So poverty began to be reduced, but there was still a gap and probably always will be.

What has this got to do with God?

Wealth and prosperity became synonyms. Where before the poorest had understood there was a difference between money and prosperity, now it got lost. Ambition and desire were used as words to replace the previous concept of greed and covetousness. Coveting what your neighbour had became a way of life that was so subtle we as the Church missed it. A society of “keeping up with the neighbours” grew. “Surface” wealth appeared – 2 cars on the drive but nothing in the pantry to eat. The trappings of the enemy dug in their claws.and society drifted a little away from God’s way of doing things.

Then the Second World War eliminated another generation of men and fathers and those children began growing up in a world where there was significantly less moral guidance from previous generations than ever in history. The result? the “Free Love” movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

“Love” and sex became synonyms. By the time Generation X (my people) came along, there was a social acceptance of pre-marital sex in the West. Divorce instead of reconciliation became the norm, and now that has become pre-nuptual contracts deciding who gets what when not if the divorce happens. I have even heard it suggested that a standard marriage contract be for a fixed period to reduce the divorce rate. The lunacy of the concept is that it didn’t seem odd to suggest it. “Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife until this time five years from now, at which point the contract can be renegotiated” just doesn’t have the same sound to it. Marriage became a concept outmoded and irrelevant to “modern” Westerners.

Until the last five years.

The erosion firmly in place on the concept of marriage being God’s creation and gift to Mankind allowed the claws to tighten their grip more. So now the recognition of “civil unions” between same-sex couples has become an issue. And the society has been so eroded and drawn away from God’s standards that it can’t see the downfall it has made for itself. The West believes it is “evolving” into a better society. Equality for all under the law of the land. “Unity” between races and genders. And all of it dragging the bewildered church with it.

The church makes an effort to become relevant now by cloning itself to the patterns of society. It fights for “social justice” and “equality”. That sounds like something Jesus would do, right?

Well, yes – to a point. Jesus would speak to them about where they were. He’d come and talk stocks and bonds to the bankers. He’d talk bricks to the builder and contractors. He’d extend Love to the prostitutes and forgiveness to all.

Just like last time.

But He’d also tell them to stop their life of Sin.

Just like last time.

He didn’t say to a single person “God will be ok if you carry on as you were”. He didn’t tell people to keep going. He invited them to stop. To be transformed into what He was.

Paul puts it “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2) We can only “prove” or discern or understand depending on the translation the will of God through a transformation of our mind away from the pattern of the World. 

We conform and we die.

We transform and we move into His Life.

Yes, social justice is important. A secular society should have equal rights for all its citizens.

But Church isn’t a secular society. It needs to acknowledge Sin as Sin. Otherwise there’s nothing to make it distinct from society. Jesus didn’t abolish the concept of Sin. He stood in our place and took the penalty for it. If we redefine behaviour and fail to recognise the sinful nature of it we remove any possibility of those people seeking redemption for those behaviours. The result is that those behaviours stay with us, and we die to them instead of to Christ.

All because we conformed instead of allowing Him to Transform us.

Dancing in the Rain

It rained here yesterday evening.

Only a few minutes, but a welcome relief after weeks of blistering heat. It took the heat out of the house and cooled the air inside, making it fresh and bearable – if not completely comfortable. Such is life in Cape Town this year.

I don’t do well in the heat. I used to wear short sleeves in the snow in England, so 30+ degrees in Africa isn’t pleasant for me.

It’s been raining here for some time spiritually. In a very negative way, there’s been a flood as damaging as the storms beating the Devon coastline in England for the last few days going on for several years.

For a guy who believes with his whole heart that the price Jesus paid at Calvary includes more than just life after death, much more in fact, it’s been difficult.

I believe that as Christians bought by Christ’s blood on the Cross that He gave us certain rights through that sacrifice – and I’m basing on witnessed experience as well as Scripture here.

1) Eternal Life: Eternal means “unending”, not “after this one”. It starts here. It starts now. Jesus says (John 17:3) that Eternal Life is to know the one True God, and Jesus Christ who was sent by Him. Ergo; Relationship with God restored is the first fruit of being Born-Again, and that can only come by Faith in Jesus.

2) Salvation from Hell: Along with Eternal Life comes Salvation. The term has been so badly abused in just my adult life (20-23 years depending on if you take 18 or 21 as “adult”) that it almost makes me want to cringe. Almost. When I’m talking to myself or people who think the way I do, I still use the word as there’s a common understanding of the use. Outside that circle, I try to avoid it. But I struggle to find a more accurate word in modern parlance that fits the concept. Mike Yaconelli at Greenbelt in 1991 suggested “Captured” – a concept I liked, but it has a connotation of something against one’s own will. Whatever the word we use, not going to spend eternal existence seperate from God (Truly Hell) is a big plus.

3) Physical & Emotional Health: Whoa there, David… You mean healed after we die, surely? NOPE! In this life. Of any illness. I don’t care what the doctors say (bearing in mind I’m married to one!). In Christ there’s no such thing as “incurable” illness. OK, maybe that should be “unheal-able” illness. Illness is part of the curse. The Law insisted on it. The Law has been fulfilled. Our command was to lay hands on the sick and see them recover. Heal the sick. Not pray for them. Heal them. Cancer? AIDS? Diabetes? Yep. All of them and more. But it’s harder to live this than Eternal Life and Salvation. There’s no physical manifestation of those in this life. But people can see if you don’t get better.

4) Prosperity: OK, too far now… That just means Spiritually, surely?. Not from the context Jesus teaches. He talks about trusting for the least when He talks about money. If we can’t even trust for our daily bread – or the cash to buy it – how can we possible trust for Health or miracles? Yes, financial wealth can be a manifestation of the Spiritual state. Not the only one, but the most straighforward to see.

5) Persecution: Hang on… that’s a blessing? Yep. It keeps you honest. If you don’t ever come under fire from the enemy, maybe you’re movong in his direction.

Point 5 makes sense of the other 4. It keeps us in perspective.

I hate it. But it’s real.

In the last few weeks most of my life has turned upside down. But not on me directly.

I really don’t care about my physical being. Live or die is easy for me. But I get bugged when things happen to the ones I care about.

For a long time I kept people at arm’s length. It cost me my engagement in 1999 – but that was a good thing for both of us. I’ve lost much because of that. Now I hold the ones I love close, but that means getting hurt when my Faith takes a pounding as they suffer.

My wife has been unwell. Seriously unwell for some time now. We lost our business in December and moved in with my mum so we could get our house repaired enough to put it up for sale for as much as we owe on it. We still will probably be short now, but a lot closer than we were then. The stress has been very hard on her and exacerbated her condition. Financially, we’re broke. Spiritually we’re prosperous. The two terms are not synonyms. But “broke” is a state of bank balance. “Poor” is a state of mind.

Yesterday my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. My wife took the news hard – she seems to almost be closer to mum than I am right now. The stress of it meant we didn’t sleep last night. I’m currently running on one hour’s sleep in the last 38. I expect to pass out before I finish writing.

My mum, however, has no fear. Not showing any anxiety. Got up today and did her normal stuff. The only mention of the diagnosis is her irritation that in this heat, because of the wound where they took the biopsy not fully closed yet, she can’t cool off in the pool! Well, that and her maltese dog, Scallywag (a name that fits him) keeps jumping onto her lap and bouncing off the bruising around the wound.

I always thought of my dad as the “spiritual” one of the two. He died of cancer in 1999, but we shared many conversations and revelations of our walk as Brothers, as well as father and son, over the years. Getting mum to talk about anything meaningful to me has always been difficult. I think my wife actually knows her better than I do – not because we haven’t tried to communicate but because we don’t speak the same language. Not even remotely.

So I’m encouraged by my mum. It’s an odd feeling.

But she’s reminded me of something.

When persecution causes rain to fall in our lives, whether it’s persecution in the form of discrimination, illness, financial ruin, death threats or anything else that by withdrawing from Christ could alleviate the issue through unethical or corrupt behaviour, the key to survival isn’t staying dry.

It’s dancing in the Rain.

The Simplicity of Christ

In my last few entries I’ve mentioned the “Progressive Christianity” movement. My intent is that this will be the last entry – at least for now – on this subject.

The Gospel is not complicated at it’s core. Accept the sacrifice of Jesus, allow Him to bridge the gap between us and God, and be reconciled with our Heavenly Father through Him. And only Him.

Straightforward.

Paul mentions things leading us away in 2 Corinthians 11. He talks about us needing to be cautious if someone comes teaching something other than the Gospel we first received. That thought is my basis for my concerns over the “Progressive” movement. It dilutes the Gospel I first received and mixes it with other religious systems. It denies things the Bible calls Sin and deems that we “enlightened” people of the 21st Century know better than the Apostles and Prophets.

At it’s core, Christianity is a very simple Faith. Living a Christian life is harder when bombarded by the constant list of rules and regulations men have added to Jesus’ teachings. The trick is to go beneath the 2000 years of rubble and dogma that have been piled on the core message of the Gospel.

Firstly, the Gospel is Good News. Literally. The word has been transliterated to English, but actually means “Good News”. Jesus spoke simple truths to the people of His day. He didn’t come in Judgement – that will only come on the Last Day according to the Bible. He came for a mission. He told us what it was in Luke 4:18-21

  ““The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”<sup class="footnote" value="[f]”>
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.””
 In this one moment, Jesus declared Himself to be the Messiah. He would restore relationship with God. That was His purpose.

But He did leave out one line. Isaiah continues to say He will also bring the “day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2b). Vengeance will come later, with Judgement. This world will be destroyed, and a New Heaven and a New Earth, uncorrupted by Sin will be left. CS Lewis called this world the “shadowlands”. He refers to it in passing in The Last Battle where the children enter Narnia for the last time and the old world is destroyed as they enter into Aslan’s kingdom.

Comfort, Joy and Peace are promised. Freedom to prisoners and sight to blind eyes. freedom to the oppressed.

Good news to the poor. Perhaps that would be “you don’t have to have nothing”. He lived what He spoke. Walked the talk. All who asked for Healing were healed according to their Faith, not His. In His home town He was unable to do many works because of the people’s lack of faith.

Next, the Mission of Jesus was not to do away with the Law. What was sin in the Old Testament is still sinful in the new. It’s just paid for. 

Your $20,000 car or $100,000 house doesn’t become worth nothing once you’ve made the last payment. It’s still worth $20,000 if you pay cash on the day. A Stradivarius Violin isn’t worthless because it was paid for. Sin’s price has been paid, but it’s still sin. Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery (notice it doesn’t specify the gender of the other person), but rather “Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.””

“Leave your life of sin”. The phrase speaks through the ages. She’s not condemed, but forgiven. Yet Jesus tells her to stop living a sinful life. Whether the  co-adulterer not brought out was a man or another woman, Jesus doesn’t ask because it doesn’t matter. The fact is that sin is sin, irrespective of who you sin with. He says stop.

He doesn’t say “I forgive you, go and continue as you were.”

He says “Leave your life of sin”

No ambiguity. No details asked or offered. What He effectively is saying is “You know what you’re doing is wrong. I know what you’re doing is wrong. Stop doing it!”

We mustn’t reclassify behaviour as no longer a sin because of modern “wisdom”, specifically because God’s wisdom is foolishness to men. If God is the same yesterday, today and for ever, then surely His definition of sin is as well. And we don’t have the right to try to change that.

And I’m not only talking about sex here.

Greed, selfishness, idolatry and all the others in Genesis to Revelation are more rampant today than ever in history. But we ignore most of them. “Greed” gets relabelled as “Success”, “Selfishness” as “ambition”, “Idolatry” as “Respect” and then ignored.

Be not deceived, God is not to be mocked. Or taken lightly.

But we do. We recreate God in the sanitised version we’d like. Remove all hints of true Justice and as Dorothy L Sayers put it “Pare the claws of the Lion of Judah”. Pull His teeth. Make Him less so He fits in the box we want for Him. Then tell everyone He’s not in a box (unless it’s ours, then it’s ok).

We do this at our peril. If we try to change God to fit our wants, we shatter who and what He truly is. Present tense. We are not qualified to judge God’s opinion of what is and is not sinful. He is a Righteous God, and any unrighteousness is abhorrent to Him now, just as it was 2000BC. Just as it will be in 2000 years if He waits that long.

The fact that one known “Progressive Christian” describes the movement as taking “the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding; emphasizes orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy (right actions over right beliefs); embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery — instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas; does not consider homosexuality to be sinful; and does not claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable way to connect to God (is non-exclusive)” (Kissing Fish: Roger Wolsey) demonstrates a clear deviation from what Paul wrote and Jesus taught in the New Testament. It also deviates from what the Law taught in the Old Testament. If Christianity through Judaism were not the only valid or viable way to connect with God, why then was the slaughter of anyone who worshipped Baal necessary? Why eliminate the entire population of what became the territories of Israel? Why not just move in and coexist?

Why destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? I’m sure a “progressive” response would indicate this was a metaphor or a myth or a moralistic fiction, but then why mention it at all if their behaviour was not sinful and didn’t block relationship or right standing with God? 

The “Progressive Christianity” concept of (as Wolsey puts it) leaning towards panentheism and inclusiveness with an emphasis more on right actions than right beliefs is dangerous ground. It promotes salvation by works rather than Grace, universalism not Christ as the one way to God and condemns people who call a sin a sin, especially if that sin is homosexual behaviour. Right actions come from a place of right beliefs, they don’t lead to it.

True Christianity by comparison teaches Salvation by Grace through Jesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) The social justice, environmentalism and non-violence these “progressive” beliefs claim as their own should flow naturally from True Christianity. John 14:15 says “If you [really] love me you will keep (obey) my commands” (Amplified). The inferrence is that keeping Jesus’ commands flows out of loving Him. The concept of signs and wonders following the believer confirms this. First comes the relationship, and the works are borne out from there. Faith produces action. Without works, Faith is dead as James puts it. But Faith will produce action – action will not produce Faith.

So finally I’ll try to leave the concept of “Progressive” changes to Christianity alone. Anything other than the Gospel we received when we first were saved should be discounted and rejected. So says St Paul. The social stance may be admirable, but the “evolution” of what this sect teaches moves away from the Jesus of the Gospels and the God of the Bible. They are welcome to the term “progressive” while it means “conforming to the pattern of the world”, which every explanation of their beliefs indicates.

Personally, I’ll look to the renewing of my mind, and the Godly Transformation the Bible promises with it.

Is Progression actually Regression?

I wrote recently about my concept of Regressive Christianity as my most recent attempt to find a description that fits with my beliefs.

It’s not easy. The good ones are taken.

But I keep finding myself pondering the term “Progressive Christianity”.

The more I dwell on it, the more I find myself coming back to Paul’s letters. I love the way the Amplified Bible puts Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].”

“Conformed to this world” is an interesting thought.

Much of what we consider to be normal today was considered exceptional in the 1st Century. Wealth as we know it – such as affording three meals a day and only working a five-day week – was reserved for the incredibly wealthy. Slaves and their owners worked seven days a week. The “weekend” as we know it is a contrived concept of the last hundred years. A six day week was normal for decades before that because of the “sabbath” concept of Sunday being a “holy” day. Before that beyond Israel there was no weekend. People just worked every day and didn’t think about it.

Greed fills our society and pervades others. Communism fell because – amongst other things – it couldn’t compete with the materialistic affluence of the West. I acknowledge that it wasn’t the only reason, and anyone suggesting it was would clearly be nuts, but it was a contributing factor as the wealth was perceived as freedom.

Pornography is more accessible than at any time in history now. On my computer I have had many problems doing research for my blog and a book concept I’m working on when I search for simple terms and the first page that opens has boobs and other assorted body-parts wiggling in my face before I know what’s happened. (I have consequently stopped using the “I Feel Lucky” button on Google and the incidence has dropped drastically). My wife and I are preparing to move, and I am preparing to embark on a new career. Having become a little jaded by the cutthroat mentality of business I am intending to retrain as a primary school teacher. Doing a search for “Classroom discipline and punishment” some weeks ago scared the life out of me. If my female teachers at school had looked and behaved like that I’d probably have struggled academically more than I did due to inability to concentrate – and a large percentage of my classmates would probably have actively tried to fail!

Immorality has flooded our homes and ethical behaviour – Character – has been replaced with the concept of “situational ethics”. I believe ethics are how you behave when nobody’s looking. Right and wrong used to be absolutes, now they’re conditional.

And yet we condemn some behaviours that were applauded a hundred years ago and applaud others that were condemned. We have conformed to the pattern of the world.

The Bible is a book of absolutes. Jesus said “I am the Way”, not “I could be the way if you feel like it”. God is described “Jesus Christ (the Messiah) is [always] the same, yesterday, today, [yes] and forever (to the ages).” (Hebrews 13:8 Amplified). He said “Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”” His role was to fulfil the Law, not abolish it. He chose to take our place and accept Death on our behalf to restore relationship in the long term.

Yet the group describing themselves as “Progressive Christians” actually state in their own doctrinal views that “the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey”. (progressivechristianity.org/the-8-points). That’s a direct opposite position from the one Paul took while writing the Letters that form the bulk of the New Testament. It’s the opposite of what Jesus is recorded as teaching in the Gospels.

So I’ve ruled out “Progressive” as a description of my beliefs.

The problem mainly is that much of the energy expended in recent years by the church has been directed at specific behaviours and the groups associated with it. Most recently these sincere, devout and highly intolerant people have targeted homosexuality. Now I’m not of the persuasion that will declare homosexuality to not be a sin. There’s too much in both Old and New Testaments declaring sexual immorality of any nature to be sinful for that. But if a secular government wants to endorse same-gender unions and afford them the same civil liberties as heterosexual marriages within that secular environment, they should be allowed to.

After all, idolatry in the form of the fanatical pursuit of famous individuals fits the general description of worshipping an image, profane use of Jesus’ name, not keeping the sabbath/Sunday clear to rest, disregarding and disrespecting of parents, adultery and coveting are all standard parts of a secular society. The richest in the land taxing the food the poorest buy and putting the money in their own pockets by huge pay increases and bonuses is theft from the poorest, but has been so entrenched in our minds that we usually fail to recognise it. Western society has worshipped itself instead of God for decades. That just leaves murder and bearing false witness as staples in the secular courts that are considered “crimes”. Of course, a smaller-scale theft is prosecuted, and so the society is appeased.

Hmm… Did I step on some toes there?

I hope so.

As Christians we need to break some eggs for this omlette we call Faith to have any meaning. We calmly sit back as people who are meant to be guiding us towards God slowly turn us away from Him. Judaism and Christianity have for over 2000 years (thanks to Judaism) resisted the nature of the “secular” constructs of this world. Paul stood against the Roman and Greek gods. Elijah took on the prophets of false gods. Every major revival of the last two millenia has been led by men and women not afraid to be uncompromising in their adherence to the Gospel.

Call a sin a sin. Practicing greed, idolatry, homosexuality, covetousness or anything else referred to as abhorrent to God in scripture is sin.

Progression isn’t just movement. It’s movement forwards.

It’s movement towards the final goal as defined before the journey begins.

If we change the target after we’ve set off by moving the goal to something more “socially acceptable” then we are, by definition, placing current society’s thinking ahead of God’s revealed Will.

The result?

We regress. We regress as far as Sodom adn Gomorrah. The cities weren’t destroyed for homosexuality. They were destroyed for not acknowledging God. Abraham asked God to spare the cities for the sake of any Righteous inhabitants. On looking, God found only Lot and his family. He told them to leave, and the rest is history.

This “Progressive” movement is not forward moving. It does not advance the Kingdom. It fails to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only way to God.

This progression is regression.