Battle-Scarred Warriors – Remember to Rest

In recent weeks I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of articles about the US election race and this has affected my writing and the direction of this blog.

I’m not apologising for the recent posts. I hope I would have written the same thing about any potential world-changing event that has the potential to change the face of perceived Christian values by a major power in the World. I make no claim to know the state of the soul of any of the candidates – that is simply a matter between them and our Lord as it is for all of us. We are not called to judge others, but we can look at the fruit of their words and consider the source.

Enough of politics. I’m not a politician and have no desire to be.

I’m a fighter. When you’re involved in ministry for any length of time you need to be. We are fighting a war that makes all human wars combined look like throwing stones on a playground by pre-school children.

I tried to take a break from the battle. I had moved not only towns, but continents and decided I wanted a break from church involvement to rest a while.

I made a mistake. A big one.

There’s a reason we’re told not to forsake the company of the believers. We provide support to one another in times of trial and hardship.

After too long away my brother-in-law and his wife invited me to join them at their church not far from my home last year. I’d visited other churches closer in the previous years – I note that of the many I had visited only one is still in existence – and found the majority teaching a twisted version of the “prosperity” gospel, “give for personal gain” was the basic message. The majority of the members were on subsistence incomes (if that) and yet their pastor arrived in a brand new BMW. It felt wrong so I didn’t return.

The church my family invited me to (and the one other that is still running) didn’t do that. Don’t do that. They seek to provide a refuge for the battle weary and scarred members who have been fighting Spiritual battles for many years.

I chose the church I now attend, not because my family go there, but because I felt God tell me “You’re safe here David. Take some time and heal”.

So that’s what I’m doing. A kind of sabbatical break from direct Spiritual Warfare, engaging in battle only when absolutely necessary.

Of course we face daily battles, and opposition to writing this blog alone is extreme. I tend to write and post in the small hours of the morning when normal people are asleep because it’s a time I can use to stop and sit with Jesus. The fruit of those meetings sometimes ends up as an entry here. Sometimes it’s too personal and it doesn’t.

I’m 43 now. I’ll be 44 in April. Christian for 30 years and on the battle lines for most of that. I made mistakes when I was a kid of 19 that prevented me from going to study to be an Anglican minister. The biggest was having a fight with the vicar who had been supportive until then when he learned that when I left home I would be sharing a home with the girl I was dating. With hindsight we both could have handled the conversation better. I was an angry teen and always looking for a reason to vent that anger but was afraid because of my physical size to do so physically in case I injured someone. I stuck to being alone and away from teams as a result.

Things changed when I left home. I moved to Devon and got involved with the Christian Union at my girlfriend’s university. We did some crazy things. All night prayer meetings then driving up into the middle of Dartmoor to watch the sunrise. We produced an audio version of several magazines for a member of the group born blind who had asked us not to pray for him to be given sight. The years went by and the group changed as some folk left and new ones joined. I was single again and not looking – but that’s another story – and after a short time I realised I was quickly going to be far older than the other members. I was involved in a local church that suffered a deep-felt loss when the parish church was destroyed by arsonists. It uncovered some deep felt anger in the town over “outsiders” like myself who despite being from a West-country family were not from the town itself and had been elected to the church council that had to make the hard decisions regarding how to proceed. It was eventually the “outsiders” who were forced to make the choices as we were the ones sitting in the majority at the time to build a new church and not rebuild the old one.

The vicar, a dear friend who has since passed on to be with Jesus, made the choice and set the wheels in motion. Then with resentment building towards him and his “allies” (of which I was one) he elected to resign and move to another parish. His last Sunday at the church was also mine.

I moved to a vibrant church in the next town with a group growing around my own age. We formed tight friendships, some of which have survived me moving hemispheres to marry, and which I know will endure as long as we live. We lived and worked and played together, not just on a Sunday but dinner at each others homes, crazy night-time drives to go and pray in the middle of nowhere on the spur of the moment and packing 7 or 8 people into my Peugeot 205 to do it. We Prayed and played together, sharing our lives in a real community I believe Peter and Paul would have been proud of. We knew what was going on in each others lives and we could provide rest for the battle-scarred among us as a result.

Time moved on and so did I to a new church in Torquay. And when I say “new” I mean about 30 regulars. We knew what was going on to an extent, but it was harder. I became hardened emotionally when my engagement ended and my dad died just before I moved church. I was told it was over a year at that church before anyone saw me smile, but despite that I was invited to help with the welcoming and the youth and children’s work – something that threw newcomers as I was going through an outwardly rebellious time: I bought a Harley-Davidson, grew my hair and beard so I looked like a refugee from ZZ Top and made a point of not caring what people thought of how I looked. Amazingly, after a few minutes chatting to me none of them seemed to care how I looked either. I lost track of how many babies tried to pull my beard out and how many little girls plaited my hair during that year. It was a time I was able to be ministered to by God through the children and my scars could close if not fully heal.

All the time I was itching for a good Spiritual fight, and I often got what I was looking for. I’d come away battered and bleeding but victorious. I didn’t realise how much I needed to rest though.

So when I moved to Cape Town to get married I saw it as a time to rest from the fight.

Of course, kicking away the ladder that put you where you are while you’re still standing on it is not a smart thing to do. It is, however, exactly what I did. It would be almost a decade before I became a regular attendee of a local church again – and that’s still a work in progress as there’s a difference between “attendee” and “member”. I realised I’ve become distrustful and wary of people because I’ve spent too much time away from the family that is the Church.

I’ve been fighting life-or-death battles for over five years and have felt completely alone for much of that time. There have been bright moments when God has put just the right person into my life to help me focus on what I should be looking at, reminding me of who I am. Those people have been God’s instruments to save my life (you know who you are!).

In all that time I didn’t rest. I forgot to.

Then it hit me. Jesus needed to rest.

Jesus needed rest

I realised I needed to rest in Him before I could fight effectively the way I need to to battle for my family and the growing number of men and women who have written to me voicing support for this blog. I feel your prayers an
d support Spiritually and I hope you are aware of mine for you in return.

Rest. It’s such a simple concept in theory. But we resist it in this busy world.

We resist it because the World says it’s a sign of weakness.

But God needed it.

We listen to the media.

Jesus didn’t.

Remember to rest. To all my fellow warriors – everyone reading this – take time each day to rest and recharge your Spirit. I didn’t for a long time and it nearly cost me everything.

Now I’m scarred, but I’m rested and I’m ready for battle again.

Make sure you are too. 

Religious Extremists – In the Pews…

It’s been interesting, or should I say disturbing, reading about the US election candidates vying for their respective party’s nomination for POTUS.

Ted Cruz may have killed any chance of gaining his party’s nomination by stating on the record that he places his Christianity above his nationality. I’ve read too many shredding articles to count here, but just do a google search for “Christian first American second” and your page will explode.

I’ll be honest (some call me “tactless” or “insensitive” for this). I don’t know much about Ted Cruz. I know what I’ve been able to glean from the internet – not much other than the fallout from this statement recently and calling on comparisons with other religions and how it would have been received had a Muslim or Jewish candidate made that same declaration.

Frankly I don’t believe there would have been as much of a ruckus about it. He would have simply been sidelined quietly and sent back to whichever state would take him. The issue is that he said his Christianity was more important to him than his country.

Strangely, Jesus delivered the same message. He never said “I’m an Israelite first and Son of God second”. His disciples and the writers of the New Testament recognised in very short order that Jesus was not restricted by human boundaries. He raised the daughter of Jairus, a pious Jew when He was asked to, and he healed a Roman Centurion’s servant with no less willingness because of one thing: Faith.

The problem is we are faced globally with religious fundamentalism in it’s most extreme form. I’m not talking about Daesh here. I’m talking about pseudo-christian organisations purporting to be God’s mouthpiece be they conservative or liberal in their theology many are willing to use violence to demonstrate their supposed worship of the Prince of Peace.

The hypocrisy is astounding.

Since I’ve mentioned Mr Cruz I’ll mention The Donald as well. Donald Trump’s representatives have touted him as a man of deep faith and moral conviction, a man whose christian beliefs are important to him. Yet what he spouts from the podium would actually get him arrested in many countries for hate-speech and inciting violence. This religious extremist with a bad haircut seeks to blame immigrants for all America’s problems, especially if they are Muslim immigrants. There was a short, dark-haired chap in the 1930’s who said a lot of very similar rhetoric about Germany and blamed minorities, immigrants, homosexuals, and anyone else who didn’t agree with his way of viewing the world. He appealed to the masses of a broken society the same way Trump does.

The result was World War 2 and the Holocaust.

Religious extremism in the church led to the Inquisition, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the Crusades and countless atrocities committed in the name of Jesus.

How far our faith has come from the first century when as Christians were fed to the animals in the Coliseum and Circus Maximus in Rome people converted in their hundreds and leapt into the pit to join the condemned martyrs.

How weak we have become that we have to twist the words of Christ into a hammer to beat down our fellow man and subjugate him into slavery and submission.

The official polls show Christianity in the decline in the West, mainly because they look at attendance of mainstream churches like the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics. They don’t take into account the growth of the number of small churches worldwide who meet in secret in North Korea, China, Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan and other places where Christianity is regulated at best and mostly outlawed. They don’t see the growing number of “house-churches” in the West where Christians not rejected by the Westboro Baptist Church for being too liberal meet and worship in Spirit and in Truth.

I notice the front-runners have all declared themselves to be members or attached to mainstream denominations.

These days I have to introduce myself as “I’m a Christian, but not like XXXX is” (fill in your candidate of choice).

Jesus was not politically correct, but He did it to forward God’s agenda, not to win votes. In fact by not being PC in His time He ended up nailed to a Roman Cross.

We need to guard our mouths when we speak. We are told that we speak out what our heart is full of. So much of what is reported in these speeches and debates is fear, anger and hate. Where is the Holy Spirit in these men and women? If they are what they claim, why do we not hear Peace, Forgiveness and Love from the candidates and their supporters?

Christian Extremists are more likely to destroy Western life as we know it than any number of terrorist attacks Daesh are able to unleash.

Remember the Gospel you first accepted. That fragile ray of hope piercing the dark and cold place we were in when we encountered Jesus. Remember how it grew in us from a spark to an ember to a candle to a furnace burning for the Whole Truth, not one extremist version of it.

Before we can take on the extremists in the Middle East of Daesh effectively we need to clean our own house and tackle the religious extremism present in the right-wing especially so we can go in armed not with guns and bombs, but with the Gospel that went there 2000 years ago when the original disciples and their immediate followers planted Christianity through what is now Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. A real message of Peace and Hope for the people lost in the darkness.

But extremism extinguishes the light of hope. Milton in “Paradise Lost” describes the fires of hell as providing not light but rather “darkness visible” and displaying places where hope never comes but unending torture endures. Satan’s extremism led to his fall from God’s presence and he passed it on to mankind.

Clean house Church. Let’s get the plank out of our own eyes before we launch more death in the name of protecting “christian” society.

Root out the extremists. Silence them and their message of fear and hate.

Remember Paul’s words to Timothy:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].” 2 Timothy 1:7 (Amplified)

Remember it and stop letting the fear a few men have twist the Love of Jesus into something ugly.

Personal Choice – Accept the Consequences

A house divided against itself will fall. So Jesus said of Satan’s attempts to overthrow God through this World.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been debating internally whether to write this post for some time as it may cause offense to some, but it’s something that needs to be said and has been burning a hole in my Spirit for some time.

Here goes…

I’m sort of following the impending apocalypse the Americans are referring to as the Party Debates and National Primary Elections. The elections in 2016 effectively make the choice of who is going to be arguably the most powerful individual in the world for the following 5 years.

Inevitably what America does affects the rest of the world and what American “Christians” say tends to colour how Christianity is portrayed in the media.

We are faced with the horrific choices of very few men or women of good moral judgement running for the office. From what I’ve been able to glean each potential candidate has a personal agenda as to why they want to be President – and realistically none of them really have the interests of anyone other than themselves at heart. Listen or read what they say – not just Trump or Clinton, but all of them.

They all at some point have been quoted as stating they are active Christians in various churches.

We are not allowed to judge the person, but we can be inspectors of their fruit, the words of their mouth are the overflow of their hearts.

Every reported speech has been rooted in fear and designed to incite fear. Even the poll results seem to be designed to terrorise the electorate.

And the majority of the World gets no say in who will be the de-facto leader of the West.

The elected dictators in Africa have no real power outside the continent. Mugabe may not live to see another election because of his advanced age or the possibility that eventually someone will get so worked up at his human rights abuses that he’ll be killed – probably by his personal bodyguard. The same could be said for Jacob Zuma and many other “elected” leaders. Their rule is one of fear. They keep education at a minimum because an educated electorate will see through the lies. They limit access to basic health services to the poor majority and drive the best and brightest to leave for countries overseas. I’ve lost track of how many of my classmates from university left South Africa within a year of graduation. I probably would have myself had God not closed that door repeatedly.

Blame is placed on old regimes (in South Africa’s case Apartheid, colonialism in Zimbabwe) yet these regimes fell decades ago. Change has not happened and the countries have simply exchanged poverty driven by the greed of the descendants of immigrant settlers for the greed of indigenous elitists. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Nepotism and corruption are rife and unchecked in many of these countries.

Recently I took a drive from Cape Town to Johannesburg with my wife for a job interview. I was running behind schedule so I put my foot down on a clear, straight stretch of road with no traffic visible for over a mile in front or behind me. I broke the law. Suddenly in my rear view mirror I saw a police car   pull out from behind a bridge support. The inevitable lights flashing and pulled over in the Free State near Bloemfontein. The speed limit is 120kph and I’d been recorded doing 161kph (just over 100mph – 80kph = 50mph). The cop asked me to step out of the car and accompany him to his vehicle where he showed me the readings. Concrete evidence.

Then he gave me a choice: accompany him in handcuffs back to Bloemfontein and wait for a fine of several thousand Rand to be imposed or give him R300 to “take care of the problem”. So I bribed him. I’m not proud of it, but I remembered the parable of the unjust steward and hoped the principle applied in this case!

I have a friend who often misses work because gangs control the streets round her house and she can’t leave because her road is on the border between two territories so there are often shootings. The police won’t enter the area until the shooting stops. I’ve seen them sitting in their vehicles waiting for things to calm down just up the road from her home but out of gang territory. They do nothing.

All it takes for evil to triumph is for men and women of good conscience to do nothing.

Which is where the American issue becomes relevant.

There is one particular front runner in the Republican party who claims he is a christian, yet what comes from his mouth is pure hate. Women, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, basically everyone who isn’t a stereotypical redneck is responsible for the problems in America. He’s been endorsed this week by a woman who says the reason her son is a deadbeat woman-beater is the Obama administration. I’m sure she’d be Trump’s running mate, but she has ovaries so it’s unlikely based on his misogynistic and sexist statements.

Truly terrifying.

Actually what is truly scary is that the opposition for his candidacy can’t see that he could easily be ousted. Recent polls show Trump has 30% or thereabouts of the popular vote in the party. That means 70% don’t want him to be leader.

The Democrats are no better. Hillary Clinton’s use of unsecure email channels to send classified reports and documents is beyond irresponsible yet she’s a viable candidate – and she also goes to church.

Look at the fruit of the candidates. Look at the substance not the rhetoric.

Look at it how Jesus would have looked at it.

These men and women basically say you’re not a christian if you vote for someone else. They can’t both be right. In fact they can both be wrong – very wrong.

This isn’t a political blog. And despite it’s content to this point it’s not even a political post.

God designed man to have free will and choice. Adam chose the path of Sin and we suffer the consequences of that thousands of years later. Jesus took the path of Righteousness and we become co-heirs with Him as a result of accepting His sacrifice in our place. It’s a choice.

Note: it’s our choice.

Guns, abortion, crime rates, foreign wars. All used to distract a confused electorate into a state of fear. But we don’t have fear as an inheritance, we have Love. And Faith. And Hope.

Fear is a cancer in society. The “leaders” of society use it to keep hold of their power and money. The vast majority worship mammon not Jesus. They’ll sell out the most vulnerable members of their own society to protect their own fortunes.

There’s still time for men of conscience to make a difference. For men of God (and women of God!) to rise up and say “Enough is Enough” and take a stand for Peace, Hope Faith and Love in the place of fear.

This world gets darker by the day, not just America but the whole world. I have had contact with readers in Burkina Faso before the recent attacks. I pray, and ask you to join me as you read this, that their churches and leaders in those churches are safe and have the strength and courage to stand fast holding the Gospel as a beacon as the darkness closes in. I read of attacks in Kenya – a country I hope to be visiting later this year when God provides the funding for travel – aimed specifically at churches. I’m not afraid to go to these places. None of us should be.

I’ll be straight now: I’m more concerned at the thought of going to parts of America than I am Syria, Myanmar (Burma), Kenya, Pakistan or many other countries where the Gospel has been asking for EWM to visit from the local churches. America is different. Yes, there are parts where the Gospel flourishes in fullness, but the reported statements of those claiming christianity bear so little resemblance to the Gospel of Jesus that they are unrecognisable – yet many of these people genuinely think their belief is right and all the demons are over h
ere in Africa!

Come election day, whoever the candidates are and whatever the result, hold the winner of the election accountable for their actions. Make them live up to their promises that line up with God’s Word.

And not only in America – anywhere where there is a choice to make. Your country, your workplace, your church.

Make your choice.

You have to live with the consequences.

Church and State

Any democratic country seems to have the concept of the separation of Church and State. But it seems that this is being slowly and subtly eroded in Western and pseudo-Western societies.

First there was the cherry-picking of scripture to support the slave trade – and God Bless William Wilberforce for having the audacity to stand against the diabolical practice in what was then the mightiest super-power of it’s day. Then there was segregation, deeming the amount of melanin in a person’s skin or the straightness of their hair as a reason to ban them from certain areas and deny them civil liberties including education and the right to marry the person of their choice. Martin Luther King in the USA and Nelson Mandela in South Africa were incredible activists to right this wrong, but it’s a work in progress in both countries. There is still institutionalised racism active in most Western nations. Some have laws to prevent it. Others have laws to instill it.

I struggle with “issues” being made a headline story in the news. Recently it’s same-sex marriage. In the 1970’s it was socialism vs capitalism – something the UK is in danger of revisiting over the course of the next few years. In the 60’s it was Christianity being taught in American schools funded by federal government. I’m told Lincoln said the philosophy in the classroom of one generation will be the philosophy of Government in the next. I look at the various “democracies” in the world where no religious teaching is permitted and there is a distinct decline in the morality of those countries. Talking in class and chewing gum has been replaced with metal detectors to spot concealed guns and knives in schools as a problem. An entire generation in Africa will be lost to HIV and instead of turning to teaching morality and the sanctity of marriage the message is “use a condom”. It’s russian roulette not only with HIV but in terms of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies to those least equipped to cope with a child because they are children themselves.

And yet the Governments insist on separation of Church and State. Where are the Christian activists like Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King of Generation X and Y? Where is the moral outrage at unjust wars and ever increasing denial and flat out lies by elected leaders in what is supposed to be the “free” world?

I heard an argument recently that we should obey the laws of the government at all times because of Romans 13:1-7:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God [granted by His permission and sanction], and those which exist have been put in place by God. Therefore whoever resists [governmental] authority resists the ordinance of God. And those who have resisted it will bring judgment (civil penalty) on themselves. For [civil] authorities are not a source of fear for [people of] good behavior, but for [those who do] evil. Do you want to be unafraid of authority? Do what is good and you will receive approval and commendation. For he is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, [you should] be afraid; for he does not carry the [executioner’s] sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an avenger who brings punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject [to civil authorities], not only to escape the punishment [that comes with wrongdoing], but also as a matter of principle [knowing what is right before God]. For this same reason you pay taxes, for civil authorities are God’s servants, devoting themselves to governance. Pay to all what is due: tax to whom tax is due, customs to whom customs, respect to whom respect, honor to whom honor.”

But this instruction is then offset by what Paul writes immediately afterwards vv8-14:

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love and seek the best for one another; for he who [unselfishly] loves his neighbor has fulfilled the [essence of the] law [relating to one’s fellowman]. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet” and any other commandment are summed up in this statement: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Love does no wrong to a neighbor [it never hurts anyone]. Therefore [unselfish] love is the fulfillment of the Law.

Do this, knowing that this is a critical time. It is already the hour for you to awaken from your sleep [of spiritual complacency]; for our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed [in Christ].

The night [this present evil age] is almost gone and the day [of Christ’s return] is almost here. So let us fling away the works of darkness and put on the [full] armor of light. Let us conduct ourselves properly and honorably as in the [light of] day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility, not in quarreling and jealousy. But clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for [nor even think about gratifying] the flesh in regard to its improper desires.”

The two passages in the same chapter at a glance seem to contradict each other. In the first, and extremist view is to obey all laws no matter what, but as the Amplified translation above points out, we are to obey civil laws or suffer the civil punishment. Blind obedience to the first part of the chapter leads to events like the holocaust.

The higher law, God’s Law, is exalted in part 2 of the chapter. Unselfishly loving one’s neighbour as we love ourselves fulfills God’s Law. It requires us to seek to live as Christ lived. He allowed Himself to be subject to Roman law, resulting in His crucifixion and our Salvation. He didn’t blindly follow the laws man had written. If He had we would be doomed.

We live in a world obsessed with sex and promiscuity. In a local store I counted the magazines on sale. Of 50 titles on sale only 3 did not have what the World says is the “ideal” image of a woman on the cover. And the other three had pictures of the “ideal” physique of a man. I can’t switch on my computer without being bombarded with adverts for dating sites and singles or swingers clubs, and it seems the more I try to remove myself from these mailing lists the more other sites begin to send their filth to me.

Sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility are seen as normal behaviour in modern society. I read statistics that a majority of teens from the ages of 13 to 19 surveyed in schools across America saw nothing wrong with oral or anal penetration – it’s not considered to be “sex” in their culture. I find that truly terrifying. Even more terrifying was that so many who shared this view also consider themselves to be Christians.

What is happening to us? Where is our outrage of Godly Anger at the perversion of our children and our society?

Maybe I’m just getting old. A friend of mine in her 20’s confided in me that her mum is just too old to understand her. She said it was refreshing to have an older friend who she could talk to. Her mum is the same age as me within a matter of days. It scared me, and I don’t scare easily. What truly scared me was not that her mum and I are the same age – although that did alarm me a bit – but that her mum sees nothing wrong with the general lifestyle of the younger generation.

It’s not politically correct to tell people to compare the modern world with Sodom and Gomorrah. All they see when they do is that God hates sex. But the true moral in the destruction of the cities was not simply the sexual sin. That was a part of it, not the whole of it. A big part of Lot’s realisation of what was coming and Abraham’s pleading for the sparing of the cities was their realisation that sexual sin was accepted as normal and not considered to be sinful any more. God destroyed the cities in part for that reason. The Roman and Greek empires both normalised promiscuity. Both fell. Now we have
Western civilisation slowly imploding under the same issue. Sometime it feels like it’s not so slow.

The real issue about the Ashley Madison scandal was that church leaders got caught. We are held to a higher standard than other people but forced to live in the same society exposed to the same filth. So many are conned by the enemy into believing they have to get down in the filth to bring people out, but the reality is that if we do, all that happens is we get covered in the same mess.

But still a corrupt and immoral government insists there is no place for religion – especially Christianity – in publicly funded schools. But then with the other hand this same government seeks to force these religious institutions – especially the Christian ones – to carry out civil laws they feel violate their religious principles. In South Africa some schools provide meals for the children. This is a good thing, but the food is all Halal in nature. An Orthodox Jew or an incredibly Orthodox Christian could not eat this food as it is sacrificed to a false god, Allah.

Don’t get me wrong. In certain circumstances, rape being paramount, I believe the harm to the woman carrying the foetus may be greater than her having the choice not to have her rapist’s baby, but to use abortion as a form of birth-control in general is offensive. Similarly I have no objection to a secular society legalising same gender marriage under civil laws, but don’t force anyone to violate their religious beliefs to conduct those ceremonies.

There does need to be separation of Church and State. The Church needs to be separate from the State to provide a moral compass as it has done for 2000 years.

It’s a pity the State doesn’t want to listen any more.

We are about to enter into a time when what just 20 years ago would have been unimaginable. A Bigoted, racist, self-important, sexist, misogynistic hypocrite is the front runner for the Republican Party Presidential Candidacy. He claims Christianity as his beliefs, but what he speaks is nothing but fear and hate, not compassion and love.

We are supposed to be a light to the World as Christians. I don’t know if Mr Trump has spiritual advisors or if he is just doing what so many dictators in the past have done and feeding off the emotions of the masses. The white majority in America – especially the ones classed as “unskilled” – see their jobs threatened not by the proposed employment policies of the candidates, but by the  skin colour or religion of the other applicants.

The answer is simple – a powerful voice rising up and declaring “I have a dream” all over again, except the formerly credible voices who could have stood up to the likes of Trump and his counterparts are being crucified – in some cases rightly so – for actions they themselves committed in the past that should have been dealt with then.

So it’s time, Church, for US to be that credible voice once again. Not the right-wing extremists or left-wing liberals, but the genuine Followers of Jesus to refuse to be bound by Man’s laws. Stephen was murdered for doing that. And the bloodshed of true Believers has continued when they – we – have challenged the status quo be it in Africa, Asia, Europe or any other continent.

We have a message that is insane to the World. A secular State cannot comprehend it, but for it to become a moral and compassionate state it needs men of conscience within the Church to rise up and do what needs to be done.

I am confident that there is a Wilberforce in this generation. A Wesley, a Dr King who will put their own sense of self preservation and reputation aside long enough to change the world.

And save the State.

Bully Tactics or Love your Enemy…

I like to look for ways to incorporate testimony – usually my own – into my articles here. The way I do this is to look around at what articles have been gripping me recently and how they have impacted my interpretation of my life and how Jesus has influenced it.

In the last few days I’ve been flooded by emails about bullying. My personal Facebook page and private email address (not just the one connected to this site) have gone nuts and not a single repeat link among them on the subject of bullies.

Bullying has played a big part of my life. It was the subject of the very first article I ever had published over 20 years ago, parts of which are – at least in sentiment – included in this entry.

I have been both victim and bully in my life. This is something that I’ve found rings true in most of the people I’ve spoken to about the subject.

In my experience, bullies tend to be victims of bullying looking for self-esteem to be restored for the most part. Then there are the “silver-spoon” bullies who can’t see that they are bullies. Their actions are prejudiced against groups rather than individuals whom they see as a threat to their sense of entitlement. The most obvious example in the last century is Adolf Hitler. Silver-spoon bullies don’t have to come from wealthy backgrounds, they just need to feel something is their “right” and a particular group will take that away.

This will be a touchy subject as it upset me the first time I wrote about it and realised I was as guilty as I was a victim of the behaviours of bullying. I’m a lot older now, and I can take any comments – in fact I would welcome them publicly on this thread – it’s a subject we need to bring into the light so it can be destroyed in the Church.

Satan is a bully. Perhaps the ultimate bully. Any time he’s mentioned in scripture he’s trying to usurp God’s place in the life of the people he’s afflicting – including God Himself. But he’s (usually) subtle in person. He bullied Eve in the garden by questioning God’s intentions when He had told Adam not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. An important point in this story is that she has not been told what Adam was told. Either she exaggerated or Adam did – in either case it gave an inroad for the tactic. God said “don’t eat it”. Eve says the command was not even to touch the fruit as that will cause death. The serpent easily demonstrates the lie in the exaggeration by touching the fruit and not dying on the spot. The exaggeration allows doubt in and then he’s got her. She’s deceived and essentially bullied into eating the fruit. She then has the leverage to persuade Adam to eat it as well, bullying him into disobeying God.

Bullies have one thing in common, irrespective of the type. Incidentally, there are other backgrounds but I’m going to focus primarily on the two I’ve touched on for causes of bullying in this article.

Bullies are driven to bullying by one single thing.

Fear.

I never met a bully of any background who wasn’t afraid to the very centre of their being about whatever the reason they bullied someone was.

Testimony time:

I was a dancer at school from the age of 3 until the age of 19 I danced at a school that taught Ballet, Modern Dance and Tap Dance to it’s students. There were maybe 1500 students on the role, and five of us were boys. For a while I was not alone in some of my classes as there was another boy, Joseph, in my class. He stopped coming when we were about 14 after we’d been friends for a couple of years. I don’t remember ever seeing him outside of class as we went to different schools for academic education, but it was nice to have the company.

My academic education from the age of 11 was at a boys school, and even before I went into this testosterone-driven environment I was ridiculed for being a dancer. I was accused of being gay – ironically by a boy who later turned out to be gay himself – and he would assault me physically from time to time, until he realised I never lost one of these altercations.

When that ceased to be a source of primary amusement for the bullies they found something else that made me stand out. My brother had been killed in a road accident. I blamed myself for not being with him at the time to protect him which led to guilt on my part as he died doing something he’d learned from me, he was just too young to realise the danger on that particular road.

Adolescent males can be cruel. I was bullied because I didn’t have a girlfriend, then I was bullied because of who my girlfriend was.

I was accused of trying to behave in a less than gentlemanly manner with a girl when I was 15ish, something that drove me to the edge of depression and suicide. I was told at one point that she had started the rumour, something I can’t corroborate, but made the pain much worse at the time – particularly since I’d held a candle for this girl since primary school at the age of 6…

My pain drove me to try to build myself in my own eyes. I was young in my faith, only 13 when I became a Christian and very under-discipled in the way I grew in my early years. It wasn’t until I left home and away from the pain that I found older Christians who could help me heal in those areas.

I did what others had done to me. I found people I perceived as weaker than me and attacked them – usually mentally – to make myself feel better. I thought my own fear would be assuaged by this sense of strength. When it wasn’t I became more angry and more hostile. Had it not been for a few well placed Godly men getting around me in my early 20’s I might have been a very different man today.

I look about and I see much bullying in the world. Some is obvious. Anyone who can make a statement that they understand hardship because they had to start out with a loan of $1m from their father as Donald Trump has been reported as saying clearly has no clue what real hardship is. His fear is obvious – he’s afraid of anyone who might be put in a position where they can take away his idol – money. So he bullies for any reason he can find, and I have yet to see a report of a good reason. A muslim woman standing silently in a hijab. Hilary Clinton needing to use the bathroom. The concept that a man who didn’t find a way to dodge the draft in Vietnam and spent time as a POW because after being shot down he couldn’t run away with broken legs is somehow a “loser”. His statements are horribly reminiscent of the rhetoric of Hitler in the 1930s. They play on fear and the concept of national entitlement endangered by a specific group of people. Guaranteed if he gets his way, that group will expand to include anyone not a member of his own “master-race” just as the Nazis expanded from Jews to gypsies to Catholics to Protestants and anyone who dissented.

Stalin was no different. And the McCarthy era witch-hunts seeking out communists were diabolical.

Bullies leading the way in every case.

Herod was a bully. He slaughtered children because he was afraid of losing power. His successors were no better. They may not have committed genocide the way he did, but the Herod who murdered John the Baptist and demanded Jesus perform a miracle for him had the same mindset.

Pilate was afraid of the crowd and became a bully by allowing Jesus’s execution instead of releasing Him.

Fear drives bullies. Personal, political, religious or whatever perceived threat, bullies are driven by their own fear and cowardice. And they use persuasion and sometimes force to puff themselves up. But under the rhetoric is pure fear. And as Yoda says, fear is a path to the dark side. In the real world, not to the dark side of the “Force”, but to a dark place of the heart. It’s a place where Love and Compassion have no position.

That’s the power of Jesus. He actually did have power. He could have called down fire to consume Herod. He could have used the power to elim
inate the entire Roman Empire.

He chose to give it to us instead so we could fight against the real enemy. An enemy who attacks with ideas not fists. The hardest thing to overcome in this world when we look at reaching the unsaved is their ideology. The thought processes and paradigms that form their beliefs are entrenched deeply whether they are Daesh murderers in the Middle-East or Presidential hopefuls in the USA who honestly believe being American makes them Christian (look up Donald Trump’s statements about Christianity, women, international relations with Muslim countries – actually I don’t want this to be such a long article so just consider his strategies as he’s the best bad example in the media. But the others are just as bad from what we see here in South Africa from their silence in response to his rhetoric. That silence is essentially condoning his hate and fear-mongering.

These words and actions are those of a bully. A coward who talks big but has no clue what a struggle really is, but is constantly demonstrating in his speeches and behaviour how terrified he actually is of being in a position where he may face those struggles.

Bully tactics.

I’ve used my physical size (although now in South Africa I’m not such an imposing figure) to coerce people. I’ve used the strength of my personality to subdue those I perceived as weak.

I’ve also been on the receiving end.

I look to the Grace of God manifest in Jesus to forgive my past actions and strengthen my future.

We must not become an inquisition or a tenth-century style crusade for Christ. Those are bullying in it’s most evil form, crushing people into submission, and never produce true Faith leading to Salvation.

We must flee from such tactics and Love our enemy whether he has a sword or a microphone, demonstrating the Love Christ extends to us.

We can control only one thing in this battle: whether we will fight as Jesus fought in His power and see the enemy destroyed before us as we go, or whether we will fight to force our faith (and democracy for that matter) onto a culture that actually was where Christianity originally began.

The choice is in our hands.

New Year's Resolution: Loving Your Neighbour…

It’s not an easy thing to do, loving your neighbour.

Comedians and Musicians Richard Stilgoe and Peter Skellern back in 1999 sang a song called “Mrs Beamish” about a Church of England stereotype who at one point says “Ken tells us ‘Love Your Neighbour’, but Mrs Beamish sneers; ‘I only love my neighbour if I’ve known them thirty years'”. It’s an unfortunate, but often accurate stereotype in rigid religion.

For the most part I find it’s easier to love my neighbour when they stay away from me. I’m decidedly human in this respect, and it’s a part of me that God has been working on (when I let Him) for as long as I can remember.

The main reason for my struggle is I’m a bit short-tempered. Use of the word “volatile” would not be out of line. Mercifully I’m rarely in a position where I need to control myself physically these days and I’ve got the whole “walking away” part of an argument sorted – it’s the internal bit that shatters me.

Christ actively sought out conflict with Satan. Anywhere that this accuser could try to manipulate His family, Jesus took him on. Right through the Cross and the Tomb to the Resurrection. But He could do it from a position of Love, which no matter how much I want to is something I often struggle to do.

We are – in the Flesh – a stubborn and selfish species. Putting another person you love before yourself is often hard for us. Extending that to people we don’t even like is impossible without God’s help, and extremely difficult for many even with it.

Don’t get me wrong – I love people. Meet me at church or in the street and I’ll give you my time and any help I can.

My problem comes with people who are impatient or intolerant towards me. It’s where my temper comes in. It’s my constant struggle.

For the last couple of years I’ve been having to learn to control myself after an altercation the day I moved in to the house I’m about to move out of. I’d had to move boxes and furniture until around 4am to be out in time for the new occupants, and I’d taken my dogs to the new place as part of the first load. They were unsure of what was happening as my canine vocabulary is limited and their English is as well. As a result of a strange environment they were noisy while I was away from the house – calming down when I arrived with the next load of boxes and then starting again after I left to get the next lot.

I can understand and sympathise with my then-new neighbour not wanting to be kept awake until that time of day by barking dogs. I have no doubt I would have been more than a little grumpy about it myself if the situation had been reversed. Two neighbours were involved, one next door and one opposite. They took very different approaches to the situation and the resulting behaviour over the last two years has been very different accordingly. One came over the following day and knocked on the door, confronting me directly and allowing me to extend an apology. I tend not to be particularly close friends with people living on the same road as me, which I’ve never worked out why, but respect was established and we have been able to work out issues in the same direct approach during my time here.

The other was simply hostile at every possible chance. If my TV was a bit loud for his taste I could expect a note in my letterbox. If one of the dogs barked for ten seconds he’ll be out shouting at them and hurling abuse at me when I go to calm the dog down. Any and all attempts I’ve made at reaching a friendly border – like North and South Korea share for example – have been met with hostility and passive-aggressive behaviour that make the Koreans look friendly.

My “Old Nature”, my carnality takes hold very quickly. I have to fight hard to keep it in check. The carnal part of me longs to confront directly. My temper flares and I feel myself becoming less Dr Jeckyll and more Mr Hyde by the second (or Bruce Banner and the Hulk if that’s easier!)

I’ve got invitations waiting for confirmations. But I’m scared of myself.

What if I can’t control my temper when I’m preaching?

Of course, it’s an accusation. But it goes to my heart every day. If I can’t find a way to make peace with a man next door, how can I go somewhere else and tell others to do what I struggle with?

The accuser gets under my skin and I struggle.

Who is my neighbour?

It doesn’t matter what else I do, the accusations regarding my feelings keep coming up.

This individual is not just a guy living next door, he is my neighbour.

Love your neighbour as you love yourself is tough. Trying to maintain peace has meant avoiding all contact. And the enemy has an open door to walk in and crush my hopes as a result.

Not because I don’t like this person or because he doesn’t like me, but because I don’t do more to change how things are. The enemy has a field-day in my head.

The battle we must fight in seeking to love our neighbour, whether they literally live next door or not, is fought between our ears. This is the enemy’s ground, the home of our old nature, and the place we must be most disciplined with ourselves.

You may guess from this post that it’s a fight I often struggle with. There are many times most days where I have to choke myself back instead of choke the person in front of me. I have to remind myself constantly that this battle has been won, just like every other battle I fight, at Calvary. All I must do is submit to God, resist the enemy and then he will flee from me.

The problem is that harbouring a grudge, even for a short time, feels good. It feels empowering to picture yourself standing victorious over their defeated form.

It’s a lie we live with because it’s comfortable.

And it’s a lie we live with because the part that’s comfortable in holding that against others is the same part that looks at ourselves and cringes at our past, the way our old nature behaves and speaks. It’s comforting because we can fool ourselves into the “I’m better than they are” way of thinking trap.

There’s a reason Jesus said we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

Most of us have a part of ourselves we despise yet can’t surrender to God.

Usually it’s a part God intended to be used for His Glory – which is why it’s hard to release it. Somewhere in there we recognise that.

For me it’s very much my temper. I get angry easily, usually on behalf of others, but often when it’s something contrived in my own head. Cutting me off in traffic always triggers it – and I do mean always. It’s not “road-rage” exactly (although I have had my share of get-out-of-the-car confrontations, but never thrown a punch). It’s more the wound to my self-entitlement. The idea that it was my parking spot gets me regularly. Cutting me up in traffic – especially fast moving traffic – makes me feel like I’ll explode. The satisfaction I felt after being rammed by another car many years ago when the driver got out ready to fight me and backed down as I climbed out was intense. I’m six feet tall and at the time was a biker, but was driving a Volvo – not something you’d expect a six foot tall 230 pound biker in full leathers to climb out of. The satisfaction of watching the would-be attacker wither in front of me that day is only overwhelmed today by the regret I feel now that I took such satisfaction in intimidating another man instead of walking away.

I regularly fail to demonstrate love to my neighbour because it’s inconvenient, or they irritate me or some other excuse to stay in a bubble of self-centred carnality.

How about for 2016 we – you and I – agree to do three things:

Let’s focus on just these three things:

1) Loving God with everything we are and have
2) Forgiving ourselves for the old nature within us that’s washed clean by Christ and stop listening to
it
3) Practise loving others as Christ loves us.