Standing Up

Being a Witness for Christ isn’t always easy.

In fact, in today’s climate it can be downright precarious.

The biggest issue right now is understanding the idea of “persecution”.

Huffington Post recently ran an article titled “8 Countries Where Religious Freedom Is Actually Under Attack”, the understanding being that persecution does not happen in the West, especially America, because nobody holds a gun/sword/knife to anyone’s throat/head and tries to force them to deny their faith or die.

And if that is all you understand persecution to be then they are right.

But 2 Timothy 3:12 says:

Indeed, all who delight in pursuing righteousness and are determined to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be hunted and persecuted [because of their faith]

(Amplified)

So we are faced with the need to redefine persecution. No, maybe decapitation and baking a cake are not physically the same. I’m not saying they are. But where is the line? What makes someone a sufferer of persecution?

Any action which forces someone to adhere to a rule that contravenes their belief in Christ can be deemed persecution. I admit, the clerk who refused to issue the marriage license was not my favourite person, but it was a valid stand she took. When she accepted the job, same-sex “marriage” was not an issue. The terms changed after she began working there. She was not the only person, surely, who could issue the license. So why was she forced to violate her beliefs for the sake of someone else’s or lose her job? Similarly, the couple who declined to provide a cake did so because of their beliefs. By standing by their faith over the hypocrisy of the World that tried to force them to provide their service to someone standing in opposition to their sincerely held beliefs, they have lost their business and reputation.

How is that different to the Romans forcing a sacrifice to Mars or Venus 2000 years ago? They lost their means of putting food on the table, paying for their homes, cars and any other obligations they may have had.

Because they stood up for what they believe in. They weighed the possible outcome – loss of their material goods – against what Christ said “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV). They chose to follow this command rather than compromise.

Western Persecution is insidious in nature. It convinces people that if there are actual demons they’re all in the Middle East or Africa. More often it presents itself as “reason”. “Logic” dictates that the resurrection couldn’t be true. And logically it’s crazy to think. But consider for a moment that at least 120 people saw Jesus after the crucifixion. The sightings were noted by non-Christian sources such as Pliny and Josephus. The disciples were prepared to die for the sake of not shutting up about it. In fact, of the Apostles (including Paul), 11 out of 12 were executed for talking about it. Only John died of old age, but wait: he lost everything financially that he had and died in exile. He was no longer a fisherman with a boat. Talking about Jesus and refusing to compromise cost him his business first.

Sound familiar?

Things never start at maximum throttle. Any movement trying to derail Christianity will first have to undermine the idea of Christianity. So a Just God becomes a “Loving God”, which He is, but then the idea gets warped. We end up with “How can a ‘loving God’ condemn people to Hell?” and rather than point out the system of Free Choice He set up in the Bible it gets capitulated into “He wouldn’t” and POW there goes the need for repentance. Everyone suddenly gets a “Get Out of Hell Free” card and so there’s no fear of the coming wrath and judgement. It’s been going on so long now that we can’t grasp the idea that there can be a coming Judgement. Next, trivialise the ideas. Armageddon and Judgement Day are suddenly movie titles with Bruce Willis and Arnie, and Satan looks a lot like Gabriel Byrne.

We are living in the situation where we see people expecting Salvation without sacrifice, Christianity without Christ, Forgiveness without repentance and heaven without hell, just like William Booth predicted. What began as a minor blip is now the substantive belief system of the majority. Alarmingly, many evangelicals are stuck in it as well. It may be what makes Trump’s cohorts so dangerous. They at least recognise there’s something wrong. (No clue how to fix it, but it’s a start!)

So what do we do?

Firstly, we must look at ourselves. Examine our own life and get any plank out of our eyes. It’s not easy, but if we are going to be Ambassadors of Christ it is absolutely essential.

Secondly, quit compromising. True, not everyone who disagrees with us is persecuting us, but equally true, it doesn’t mean none of them are. If standing for Christ will risk everything it might just be the right thing to do.

Finally, brace for impact. We need to anchor deep to weather the storm coming. So many Christians I’ve met have fallen silent at best and away from God completely in some cases because they have never built ready to weather a storm. The storm itself cannot kill us. It cannot take what is most precious, but we can surrender it. It is vital we don’t quit when things get tough. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesian 6:13)

Stand firm and be a Witness of Jesus Christ.

Ask, Seek, Knock…

Craving

Deep inside all of us there is a desire for God. Our souls cry out for Him, even when we try to deny it. Most people will end up filling this void with meaningless junk and false idols. Nobody is immune.

We crave God’s presence in our lives.

For once I stayed out of an online conversation between an atheist and a Christian recently, choosing this time to watch as the argument unfolded.

Sadly, atheists are blinded to their own situation.

 For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through His workmanship [all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made], so that they [who fail to believe and trust in Him] are without excuse and without defense. For even though they knew God [as the Creator], they did not honor Him as God or give thanks [for His wondrous creation]. On the contrary, they became worthless in their thinking [godless, with pointless reasonings, and silly speculations], and their foolish heart was darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.

Romans 1:20-23 [AMP]

9a93a-wrong2band2brightPaul doesn’t pull his punches when he writes to the Roman church. The city was in a very similar place spiritually to 21st Century Western society. There were so many false gods, Apollo, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and many more, that it was inevitable that the Christians would be exposed to them. The temples often had prostitutes working in them so sex was offered as a “sacrifice” of sorts to whichever deity it happened to be. Switch to 21st Century times and in place of the Roman gods we find actors, pop stars, politicians and even televangelists being “worshipped”. The prostitution of pornography on the internet and television & movies may be less exposed, but it’s no less real. Remember Christ told us that even looking lustfully at someone was as bad as adultery to God. Porn is designed to incite lust. Satan doesn’t need to have actual prostitutes any more, the images on the screen mean tens of thousands of men and women give themselves over to his influence on an hourly basis. North Korea, by blocking contact with the outside world may be isolated in terms of technology and society, but it’s about the only place relatively unaffected by the sewage flowing from the porn industry online.

And then there’s the modern “golden calf” brigade. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Harley-Davidson, Daimler-Benz and so on. Every brand has its devotees and fans, but few conjure up an image like Harley does – and I can’t think of another company that is so worshipped that its acolytes actually have the company logo permanently tattooed onto their body!

The difference is that the “educated” atheists don’t realise they are worshipping a false god when they religiously polish the chrome or wax the paint of their chosen steed for three hours on a Sunday while the neighbour goes to Church. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.” Today I’m sure Paul would add television and movie stars and most of the brands we “have” to own.

Now I’m not knocking the brands – don’t get me wrong. I have owned a Harley a few years ago, and I would buy another if I had the resources for it, but my reason has changed over the years. When I was a kid I liked the idea after watching “Any Which Way You Can” and “Every Which Way But Loose” with Clint Eastwood as the bare-knuckle fighter “Philo Beddoe”. I was very young, and didn’t notice the surname was spelt differently to my own – but even now I’m in my 40s I love the movies! Since then I learned to ride and ended up getting my first Harley based on a test-ride and finding it was simply the best put together machine I’d ridden. In terms of the “look” I was more drawn to the Yamaha Virago!

We look for something to fill the hole in our lives. As Christians, we know that hole is God-shaped and nothing else but Jesus will fill it. The World, however, can’t see it. It runs around trying to put a square peg into this round hole and no matter how close it seems for a while, it never quite fills the void.

Everyone worships something. At our core it’s what God designed us to do: build relationship with Him through worship. Satan corrupted this and now we look in all the wrong places. Sex, money, drugs, science, titles, “success” in the eyes of the World. All this and more are used to try to fill the gaping void.

Atheists are so blinded that they can’t even recognise the infirmity of 03382-atheismtheir own standpoint. They decry the teaching of Christianity in schools because it disagrees fundamentally with their belief that there is no God. They are so blinded by this that they then insist that evolution be taught as scientific fact. In truth, evolution is a theory. Maybe it’s a good one, but it’s still a theory with no conclusive evidence to confirm it beyond a scientific doubt: which is why it’s a theory. It’s technically a philosophy.

From a non-Christian perspective, this makes some sense. But then it begs the question “where is another theory to compare evolution with?”

Christians can point to Intelligent Design at this point. But the millisecond the concept of a creator higher than mankind on their evolutionary scale is mentioned the poor, persecuted atheist announces it can’t be because scientific proof can’t establish evidence of God’s existence. But from their perspective, Christianity is also a philosophy.

And so the argument goes on. Carbon dating to show age in millions of years, then the hard-core fundamentalists jump in and declare the planet is only 6000 years old because of Genesis.

Personally I think the Truth is lost in the argument. It doesn’t matter if the world is 6000 years old or 600 million or older than that. What matters is that God Loved us so much that He took on the form of His creation to win back the authority Man had surrendered to Satan rather than destroy everything and start again.

We devote our lives to a search for meaning. We ask what we think are deep, meaningful questions and debate them endlessly. We argue among ourselves and become divided about minutia that are irrelevant.

So what should we do?

Jesus had the answer.

Three steps that we see illustrated perfectly in Paul’s life.

  1. Ask. Ask God who He is. Trust me, He can take the question. When He knocked Paul off his donkey on the road to Damascus the first thing he says is “who are you?”
  2. Seek. Search out intimate knowledge of God through Jesus. Sit under teachers with a solid foundation and learn from them. Paul knew the Old Testament, but he went after he met the Risen Christ and learned from Ananias and the disciples in Damascus, then joined the Apostles in Jerusalem for a time before he went on his journey.
  3. Knock. Paul took every chance he had to knock on the doors of people’s hearts. It’s impossible to read Acts without seeing this in his every action. The nickname “Christians” was given by the church in Antioch. It literally meant “little Christs” or “little anointed ones”. The only way they would be given that title would be if they acted like anointed ones who had the same Spirit they spoke of in Jesus.

Ask. Seek. Knock.

It’s so simple when you think about it. And oddly, everyone does it.

Everyone asks. The nature of mankind is inquisitive. We invent new and varied ways of doing everything from hunting for food to moving around to finding shelter to heating our homes. It’s said Edison tried 10,000 combinations before he made a light bulb. He kept asking “what if”. We all do.

What if I apply for this job?

What if I ask her out?

What if we live in this town?

And we all get answers. All who ask, receive. What the real trick is, however, is asking the right questions.

Paul asked two: “Who are You?” and “What do You want me to do?”

Seek. We all seek something. What we eventually (hopefully) realise is that we are seeking Jesus. But the reason is the issue. Why do we seek Jesus?

We seek Jesus so we can find God. So Satan puts up counterfeits everywhere. The tin-pot idols of today that satisfy for a moment or two but then leave us thirsting, craving, more. Like drinking salt water, it cannot meet our need. Our being was created to run on God’s intimacy and input in our lives. I worked at a filling station for a while and one day this beautiful sports car pulled in and the attendant somehow filled the tank with diesel instead of petrol. A petrol engine can produce power from combusting diesel, but it’s not going to give the performance it was designed to. The car pulled away, coughing and spluttering with billows of smoke behind it as it burned the wrong fuel. It still moved, but it was not happy. We drained the diesel, flushed the tank and filled it with petrol. The result was immediate. With the right fuel, the engine purred as it ticked over, and screamed as the car drove away.

Knock. We don’t do this very well. It involves being around other people much of the time. Knock to have the door opened for us. Not “push”. Knock. It allows us to be dependant on God working for us through someone else. Paul was good at it. We, generally, are not so good. Modern society praises the “self-made man”. Frankly I like it when someone describes themself as “self-made”. It means they accept responsibility for the screw-ups they’ve made. Of course, they just sit with a blank expression and wonder why I’m laughing…

I don’t like relying on other people. Growing up I played individual sports. Tennis, Squash, Badminton, Fencing. I hated team sports like rugby, soccer and cricket. I had trust issues from being “different” from everyone else. I didn’t mind being different, but it meant I walked to the beat of a different drummer, and as a result I am still not very good at the “knocking” part of the Christian life. Yet it’s vital to our maturity. Salvation is a solo path, but Church is a team sport. We don’t all have the same gifts, but to mature we need to be exposed to Pastors, Teachers, Evangelists, Apostles and Prophets. Miss any of them and we don’t get the whole picture.

And our craving grows bigger.

But if we do get the right mix it grows better. We crave more of the right things. I did the Atkins Plan for a while to get healthy in my late 20s. It worked brilliantly. My body ran smoothly eating fats and protein instead of carbohydrates. My muscles were stronger and more defined and I had less brain-fog. But I went back and began eating starch again. The weight came back and the muscle tone vanished. Now in my 40s I’m trying to move back to the higher protein & fat diet I had so my body will grow right again.

Spiritually it’s the same. I’ve been in churches that were like McDonald’s. All starch and no substance and ultimately highly toxic on a Spiritual level. I’ve been in churches that were the opposite as well. Lean and fiery. And I crave that in my walk again. But when you’ve been toxic long enough it’s hard to break the habits even though you know they’re killing you. Like an alcoholic keeps drinking or a lung cancer victim keeps smoking, we sit in toxic spiritual environments because we are addicted to the junk.

But all it takes to satisfy our true craving is to Ask, Seek and Knock.

The "Microwave" Ministry

Slowly

The word has little relevance any more. We live in a fast-food society in the Western and pseudo-Western cultures of the world. Everything needs to be instant.

I lamented in a post several years ago (I can’t find the item now, but will link in comments if I do) about an experience I had at a drive-thru McDonalds where in complete earnest the young cashier apologised that I would have to wait “about a minute” for my food.

A minute. For this I got an apology. More recently I was offered a free drink because my order would be five minutes – and that was in a sit-in branch.

We are a people obsessed with instant gratification.

And it’s hit the Church as well. No sooner has someone converted than they are made a leader. And we wonder why so many churches are in crisis.

There is a brandy I read of where a whole pear in contained inside the botpomme_prisonniere_800x600no_boxtle. “Pomme Prisonniere” is expensive, last I saw it was about £100 a bottle so too rich for my pocket, but what struck me was the time and patience it takes to make.

The pear is selected just after the fruit sets. A bottle placed over the new fruit and secured in place. Then the fruit is nurtured carefully and allowed to grow to ripeness inside the bottle. At the time the fruit is ripe it is carefully cut from the tree, the bottle filled with good quality brandy, corked and prepared for distribution.

Aside from the time it takes to distil a fine brandy, the producers add months to the process by waiting for a pear to mature. Producers can lose 30% or more of their crop because the fruit may drop before it ripens or a contaminating agent manages to get into the bottle. Most places that produce this fine liqueur don’t produce much as a result, so the final product is justifiably high-priced.

Imagine the producer wants to make it for sale next week. It’s not possible.

I am privileged to live in a country that, while it seeks to be “Western” in its style, is still very much a developing country. South Africa’s neighbour to the North West, Namibia, is even more left in the past in many ways.

This, in many ways, is a good thing. Age is respected for the wisdom it brings. Character in the small communities is more important than personality. Sadly this isn’t reflected in the political scene in South Africa as the population 25 years after Apartheid is still stuck with a minority elite who hold the money and power, except now they are ethnically black instead of white, and the poverty the majority live in is in stark contrast to the opulence of the fat-cats at the top who feed off them.

I knew a man who worked for a company in Namibia that sold microwave ovens. He was sent to find out why in the smaller towns their stores hardly sold any. His quest returned with the simple answer in the form of a question: “Why do I need a microwave? I have my fire!”

Much cooking in this part of the world is done slowly in a black iron pot over a fire. Not much use for a microwave. I’ve come to appreciate this, and when I go on holiday I look for self-catering places that have a fireplace and iron pots available. The richness of a stew that has been allowed to cook for hours over a slow fire is something I’d never experienced in England, and something should I ever go back that I will continue to do myself.

Mutton has a deeper, richer flavour than lamb. But it takes longer to cook or it is tough. But it’s worth the wait because the meal is richer for the maturity.

So we look at the Church.

Jesus didn’t call the disciples on Monday and send them out on Tuesday. They walked and Jesus Israellived with Him for at least 3 years before the Crucifixion. I looked at a map of the Holy Land recently and realised just how much time they must have spent walking. Jesus’s ministry took Him from the far North to the far South of Israel.

We know He spoke of Tyre and Sidon in the far North of the country, and ministered around Galilee and South to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

That’s a long way to walk. The disciples weren’t marathon runners. A journey on foot of a hundred miles would take days at best, and the group travelled extensively.

Time consuming.

But Jesus probably didn’t walk in silence. He would have been talking and teaching the disciples the entire time. So much that the Gospels don’t directly record in detail because there would be so much to write down.

After Paul’s conversion he goes to be taught of Jesus for several years before he began his missionary journeys. If you’re determined, you can read all four Gospels in a day. But to truly know them takes a lifetime.

By the time I was 11 I knew the basic highlights of Jesus’s life, David and Goliath, Jericho’s walls, Daniel in the lions’ den etc, but I was no way ready to lead a church. In my 20s I sat as a member of the parish council in the church I attended. More prepared, but really I think looking back I was too young and headstrong. I offended many people, and was offended by them during my time in leadership there.

As I got older, my fire was tempered and became controlled. The result was the ability to preach effectively and not alienate people. Now I’m in my 40s and my fire is more explosive again, but with a different outlet – this one – for the words I’ve spent the last 30 years learning and fully expect to still be learning for decades to come.

My ministry of words has taken three decades to reach this point. I have much respect for those who have been able to learn the original languages of the Bible as it’s something I’ve never been able to do. Languages in my own alphabet are not something I’ve been able to master. Ancient Greek and Hebrew alphabets and their associated sounds have thus far been beyond me. But thankfully I have access to dozens of translations that I use to reference my learning. But it’s taken 30 years to appreciate that it takes 30 years.

There is a need for “relevance” in society that is a red herring in Christianity. Jesus talked of fishing and tax collectors and shepherds because his audience was made up of fishermen, tax collectors and shepherds as well as the Pharisees and Sadducees who looked down on them. But His stories are still relevant today.

I lost R100 (about $8) a few weeks ago. It doesn’t sound like much, but in a country where many earn less than R5000 ($400) in a month, and some even less than half that, it’s a lot of money. I turned out every pocket of every item of clothing I’d worn that week. I looked in every bag and under every chair at home and in the office. Eventually I found it fallen under the seat in the car, crumpled up and looking like a till receipt ready to be thrown away. Nobody can tell me the story of the lost coin has no relevance today.

A few years ago my dogs escaped when someone broke open the gate to my home. I spent hours going through the local township opposite my house looking for them. One came home on her own, one was hit by a van and spent time recovering – several weeks. His father sat guard over his broken body in the road and refused to leave him. Finally I found his sister far away from home, put her in the car and took her home. Don’t tell me the lost sheep isn’t relevant.

This country is paranoid about immigrants. At times it makes Donald Trump look tolerant (not often, but sometimes). Xenophobia, racism, sexism are part of daily life here. As an immigrant I regularly encounter it. I live daily as a member of a racial minority where the law is stacked in favour of the majority – at least theoretically.

The leaders need maturity, especially the Church. The necessary wisdom to be a moral compass can only come with time spent in the trenches of the Church. It’s impossible to be a good leader until you know how to follow.

This is obvious to most. But it gets overlooked because an individual is popular and they are promoted to positions of power they are simply not equipped to handle. bc346-sheepThe result is disastrous for followers. They produce borderline heretical teachings (both sides of the border) and like sheep the people follow, assuming that their “leader” knows what he’s talking about because they know the face.

It’s impossible for someone who hasn’t yet matured to impart maturity to others. Look at the secular dictators and pseudo-dictators “elected” in the last century, as well as the “popular” choices being offered come November in America. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Peron, Mussolini, Mugabe and so many others were swept into power on a surge of popular opinion and given positions no sane people would offer such tyrants if they understood the facts. But their nations were so indoctrinated by fear that they let themselves be led into wars by these men because they were blinded by the rhetoric they spouted. They could all have been truly great leaders if they had been able to follow before they were handed power. Instead they had power get them drunk and paranoid.

6d3b6-shepherd-leading-sheepWhat we need in the Church now are real shepherds. Men and women who have sat and learned from experienced leaders from the past and have a sound foundation and understanding to build on. So many “mega-church” congregations have recently hit trouble because they were built on the personality of their founder instead of the teaching of Christ. The need is perhaps greater now than ever before for maturity in leadership. The strength to stand against popular secular opinion unflinchingly, teaching the Truth of the Gospel rather than pandering to popular opinion.

There’s a reason the Bible says God is unchanging.

It’s because man’s opinion isn’t.

Anyone who’s ever led a group in business knows the danger of “Group-think”. It’s the phenomenon where the group simply accepts without question what everyone in that group says simply because they are in that group. Cults are born when that happens in Church. Heretical teaching leads people away from God by simply not challenging one another. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. It seems impossible to stop and inevitable that it will happen.

The church I was a member of in Torquay a few years ago had wisdom over it. The individual home-groups were regularly shaken up, members moved around and the result was a solid foundation in a young church. In 3 years I was a member of about 7 cell groups. The shake-up was initially an irritation for me. I wanted stability as my dad had recently died and my world was a mess. It’s only looking back that I realise the changing was what kept me stable and gave me the strength to walk out of depression that almost killed me. Different people at different times in those 3 years spoke words into my life that guided my recovery, something I didn’t see at the time.

But everything hinges on maturity.

My wife tells me to not “druk die vrugte ryp“, or try to force the fruit to ripen. You can’t make the pear in the bottle ripen faster by poking it to make it soft. All you do is end up with rotten fruit.

Spiritually we try to microwave our ministry too often. Granted sometimes we miss the season by waiting, but seasons change and the chance comes round again because God’s promises are without repentance. It took me 20 years to do more than think about Eagle’s Wing Ministries, despite having the chance in the late 90s to step out and create an organisation. I was too afraid, partly, that I lacked the maturity needed to do what I’m doing now. I was nervous that I didn’t know enough about following to be able to lead.

Looking back, I think in some ways I was more equipped then than now to do this. I had a larger support system, more friends – real friends, not acquaintances – who were prepared to call me out if I was wrong, and financially in a significantly stronger place. Today I can count my real friends on one hand, and I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like to. I rely on email and phone calls to keep me strong and on-track.

But I know more about following now than I did then.

I hope age is giving me maturity.

A People Afraid

Fear plays a huge part in life today. It always has in some way or another.

But there’s a new wave now, more alarming than at any time in my life.

Instead of selecting leaders based on their strength of character and courage, we have begun to select them based on their fear-based rhetoric.

Cowardice has become the order of the day. Men and women elected because they personally are terrified of everything.

Oh, they won’t admit it. They claim their position on immigration or terrorism or gun control is coming from their place of strength, but the truth is they are afraid, and they reach out to others who they can build that same fear in.

Fearful leaders are inevitably tyrannical in their rule. Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Saddam Hussain in Iraq, Idi Amin, Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Putin, and the most obvious one of all, Adolf Hitler:

Martin Niemoller documents an extreme example of this. He was a German pastor who took a heroic stand against Adolf Hitler. When he first met the dictator in 1933, Niemoller stood at the back of the room and listened. Later, when his wife asked him what he’d learned, he said, “I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man.” Fear releases the tyrant within.

Fearless Chapter 1: “Why Are We Afraid” by Max Lucado

It takes a special kind of person to be so consumed with fear that they can infect an entire nation with it. But it takes special circumstances for that country to be so gullible that they fall for it.

Someone posted on Facebook a few months ago, just after Donald Trump had made his first comments about watching Mosques, registering Muslims and stopping Mexican illegal immigrants, a picture of a bowl of M&Ms. The bowl was huge, the caption read “There are 100,000 chocolates in this bowl. 10 of them will kill you if you eat them. How many will you eat?”

Fearmongering at it’s basest level.Ten out of 100,000. The storyline below went on to say how the refugees were being infiltrated by ISIS terrorists and how as a result none of them could be trusted etc, etc.

And people bought into it.

Christians bought into it.

A Spirit of Fear has gripped the world in a way not seen in 80 years. And it’s tearing the world apart.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

9/11 set in motion a chain of events that has caused the creation of enemies far more deadly than Saddam ever was. George W and Tony Blair flat out lied about the reasons for going into the Gulf War. Thousands of young soldiers on both sides were killed or mutilated as a result. Both men had no military experience personally, something the leaders in the Second World War all had. Perhaps as a result fear was a factor in the decision to go to war. The need to appear strong and decisive in the face of the attack has haunted the globe since.

This week saw a horrific event in Nice, France. Another mass murder by a man it is said was a “radical Islamist”. The events in Europe are increasing, as is the level of fear reported. The Brexit victory was driven by scaremongers who after they won vanished so quickly it was more scary than their win. Apparently they had not considered the possibility of victory, and what to do with it. They just spouted fear-filled rhetoric.

Donald Trump talks of building a wall on the border with Mexico and banning all Muslims from entering the USA. Pure fear talking, but the terrified people respond to it. Recently there have been reports of African-American men being told to “go back to Africa” by whites, who apparently have no clue about why the Black population went to America in the first place – they are simply afraid.

I live in South Africa, a country well known for violence. Prison of FearI’m white, my wife isn’t. After the end of Apartheid legalised interracial marriage – a fear-based ban by a terrified minority – it looked like things would be ok. Fast forward from 1994 to 2016 and I get strange looks from people when I walk with my wife. I generally ignore them.

But Government in South Africa since Mandela has become corrupted by fearful men. Policies have become law that prevent non-Blacks from getting top jobs, or sometimes any job. Instead of investing in the education of the masses the terrified politicians have lined their own pockets and tried to protect their fortunes. The result is increasing crime, unemployment and poverty.

All because of fear.

But the Bible says:

 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”” (Romans 8:15)

The phrase “Do not be afraid” appears in some form or other hundreds of times in Scripture. I was once told the count is 365 – once for each day of the year – but I have never counted myself. It does seem to come up a lot though.

The early Church feared the Freedom they had been given Spiritually. Some of them made a return to old sacrificial offerings, others began to insist new converts be circumcised – something that might drive men away from the faith! Paul writes in several of his letters reminding his readers that the Law of the Old Covenant has now been replaced by the Law of Faith in Jesus, and lived his life with no fear of man.

Through the centuries there have been thousands of Christians martyred for their faith. They lived with no fear of men or Man’s laws because they are free in their Spirit. It’s the 21st Century now, and still Christians are persecuted across the world. It takes many forms, from beheadings in the Middle-East to ridicule in the West. Anything that seeks to silence our voice for Christ is persecution.

But the truly fearful people are the ones who seek to silence us, and the ones who allow their voice to be silenced. When Paul was told he would be imprisoned if he refused to stop talking about Jesus, he kept talking. The result was that he then ended up teaching the prison guards about Jesus. Everywhere he went, in every circumstance, Paul talked about his friend, Jesus, who knocked him off his donkey and forgave him for everything.

We need to be the same. Especially in a climate of fear such as we have today.

We are called to be Peacemakers.

Not cowards.

Paradise Lost

At once as far as angel’s ken he views
The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed:
Such place eternal justice had prepared
For those rebellious, here their prison ordained
In utter darkness, and their portion set
As far removed from God and light of heaven
As from the center thrice to th’utmost pole.

Paradise Lost: Book 1 [John Milton]

What a description. Milton’s vision of Hell, a realm of Darkness

This place, forged by God before time itself began in preparation for any rebellion.

Adam and Eve were sent from the Garden of Eden, but Satan was sent to Hell. Milton’s imagery is stark and unrelenting. There is power in the words, but as vivid as the description is it does not begin to describe the war we are fighting.

 In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was [continually existing] in the beginning [co-eternally] with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being. In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].

John 1:1-5 Amplified

“The darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].” How much more of a description of the situation in the World today do we need than these words, penned by John, the Beloved Disciple around 2000 years ago?

Prophetic? Maybe. Accurate? Certainly.

We walk as figures of Light in a dark world, just as Jesus did. Soldiers of Christ in a war that makes the Normandy Invasion look like a kindergarten outing.

The World – especially in the West – stands against everything the Gospel stands for. We must live in the World, without being corrupted by it. And that’s not easy.

We start out as children of darkness, then we are born into the Kingdom of Light when we accept Christ. But this transformation is an ongoing process. It only truly ends when we pass from this fallen World into the World to come, where Christ makes all things new, wipes away every tear and Death itself is vanquished.

Some of my wording in this entry is deliberately reminiscent of the older hymns I grew up singing as a child and young Christian.

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to War”L_Middle_Ages_-_Crusader, “Soldiers of Christ! Arise and put your armour on”. Calls to battle. Powerful words from an age when Christ and Christianity was taken seriously, when Christians shaped all walks of life by building schools, prisons, hospitals and a welfare system to support the poor – which in the majority of places have been taken over by Government and the Christian beginnings eradicated until we are left with schools where God is eliminated from the curriculum in favour of the religion of Atheism; prison systems where if you weren’t a hardened criminal when you went in, you are by the time you come out; hospitals where religious influence is minimised at best and usually restricted to prayers over the dead; and a welfare system that encourages the poor to stay poor rather than seeking to help them find a way out of their poverty – it encourages the disabling of the most vulnerable.

Where did I lose youHow can we not see the darkness in this change? As Christians, how can we live with the bastardisation of what was created by our forefathers to uplift and help all people, beaten into a tool to keep the weakest weak and protect the most powerful and rich?

I think Jesus would look at the Church today, or rather what passes itself off as it, and wonder what happened. There were so many things in the first hundred or so years of Christianity that were done by Christians without hesitation. They gave up possessions, land, houses, family and ultimately their lives rather than see another person in need or deny the presence of Christ in their life.

Today, things are somewhat different. Too often church has become a social club we go to on a Sunday – sometimes – rather than a description of the people who make up the group.

I had the experience of living in the lives of about 30 or so young Christians when I was in my 20s, from the area around Totnes in Devon, England. We lived in each others lives, ate at each others homes. If one person had a car and another needed transport there was no question of demanding petrol money – it was practically forced on the car owner! We would go over to see someone for coffee and end up staying three days. We met together as a group, yes, but the group didn’t define us. Our presence in each other’s lives did that. It was the most amazing time of my life, Spiritually, and although it somehow evaporated those people remain fast in my heart. I would not, no: I could not be the man I am today without the input from those young men and women of God. At 25/26 I was one of the oldest in the group. I was regularly admonished and corrected by younger members, some of them still under 17, who held wisdom and insight far beyond many adults – and I deeply miss their presence in my life on a daily basis.

There was Light in that group. A Light that the darkness of the World couldn’t grasp and couldn’t overpower. We shared everything and thought nothing of it.

But the driving force wasn’t from us, the members. It wasn’t from the church eldership either. The power behind it was we were drawn together by something much bigger than ourselves. Bound together by love, respect and a desire to grow ever closer to Christ as one body. Young men and women sharing space with no question of impropriety even occurring to anyone. We’d crash on the floor together at the end of an evening, sleep on sofas and beds in spare rooms without any question of “motive”. It was simply we were drawn by a desire to grow together.

Darkness never entered the group.

It couldn’t. We looked out for each other too much for it to have a chance to.

It was a reflection of Paradise for me. Heaven on a smaller scale (with less gold on the floor).

It’s not too late. If it could happen in a small group of youth, it can happen on a larger scale.

We can build a vision of a reflection of God’s World in this Fallen state simply by returning to the principles of the Church as led by Peter, Paul and the Apostles.

Paradise does not have to be lost.

Hiding the City on a Hill

City On a Hill

I live in Cape Town at the moment. It’s a beautiful city, nestled in the shadow of Table Mountain in South Africa. If you go up the mountain it’s impossible not to see the city as it sprawls out below you.

My favourite city I’ve visited is Rome. Built on seven hills it’s imposing as you drive towards it. You can’t miss this combination of modern and ancient architecture from a distance. In the city itself is the Vatican City, an independent city state within the city of Rome. Despite its size and fame, the first time I went to Rome I walked right past it twice before I found the entrance.

You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” says Jesus in Matthew 5:14, yet somehow we try to hide this city. We are supposed to be salt and light to the World, yet we’ve missed that as well.

The very notion of Christians having something relevant to say has been usurped by bigoted stereotypes wandering around with an attitude of “You’re all going to Hell, directly to Hell, Do not pass ‘Go’, Do not collect $200” towards everyone. So little Grace is expressed, so little offer of welcome and forgiveness. Small wonder people think the KKK represent Christianity today. True Christians are virtually silent!

Why are we trying so hard not to make waves today? Where is the outrage at unjust and bigoted speech from the so-called “evangelical” political groups? Where is the commentary on the bigoted speech of the candidates themselves?

We’re hiding our cities way too effectively. So effectively in fact that nobody realises they’re there!

It’s not acceptable for the voice of the “Christians” to be a representative from a xenophobic, racist, sexist group. That is not our city!

Christ calls us to be a group where everyone is welcome, equal before Him. No one sin is to be called out as worse than another. If He is coming from a place with many mansions (John 14) then that sounds like a city to me. Is it so terrible to think that someone is worse than we are because their sin is different than our own?

Greed is sinful. Can anyone honestly tell me either of the two US frontrunners don’t exhibit greed in their lifestyles? Trump has his private jets with gold fixtures, Hillary hasn’t driven herself in years. Yet they both claim to be in touch with the “average” American.

Right. Sure they are. And I bet they wash their hands as son as possible afterwards.

Folks, why are we hiding our city? Why is the Salt and Light to the World putting itself in a cupboard or under a table instead of shining out for God’s Righteousness?

We are called to be in the World, but we behave of the World too much. All of us.

I watch too much TV. I don’t watch when broadcast, but I like to find a good series and I’ll watch the whole thing as fast as possible. “Boston Legal” – all 5 seasons in 2 weeks. “Stargate:SG1” 10 seasons in 8 weeks. You get the idea. I watched “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” in short order as well. The morality of the characters is borderline, the behaviour is so far from Christian values as to be not worth considering. On TV, almost without exception, Christians are portrayed as out of touch do-gooders, moralistic and holier-than-thou, interfering busybodies. Ministers are shown as weak and boring. I have yet to see a series where Christians are accurately depicted. Why? Because non-Christians can’t write Christians and non-Christians (generally) can’t play them convincingly. The Christian TV movies that get made generally go straight to video, and often make me cringe. The message is almost always too judgemental.

Oh yes, I’m judgemental too. Add that to my list of sins.

We are a flawed city, a city made of broken and damaged stones that Christ has rearranged into something beautiful. We need to acknowledge our flaws – all of them – and step away from them. My late Grandad died at the age of 80 having been a Christian since his mid teens. He was in the Salvation Army as a minister during the War from 1939-1945 and was a good man. Not a perfect one. Even after 60+ years he was still learning new things about his Saviour. A few days before he died he phoned me, very excited, because he had a sense that God was calling him on to new things. He had been to a service the previous day where he had felt moved to go to the “Mercy Seat”, kneel down and cling to it. Now Grandad was many things, but good at getting on his knees physically was not one of them, yet this octogenarian minister felt Christ lift a burden from him and could do nothing but fall to his knees – literally – in worship. He never hid his faith, but he never forced it on anyone either. People would stop him in the street and ask him what was so “different” about him.

When was the last time that happened to you? It’s been years since it happened to me.

We hide our light too much. We collectively hide the City of God and hope to blend in with everyone around us far too much.

In “Boston Legal”, James Spader’s character, Alan Shore, says to a clown “You’re a clown. Be funny.” It’s obvious that this guy in funny clothes and make-up is supposed to make children laugh, but he talks about unfunny things.

You’re a Christian. Be Salt and Light to the World.

Be a City, Built on a hill.

1984

The Church in Crisis
We live in a time where the Truth of the Gospel is challenged more fiercely than at any time in history.
Televangelists spout their message across the airwaves in such a way the Truth often gets missed in the message. No ministry can run indefinitely without funding, and there comes a time when funds need to be raised, but the World hears this and screams “All these preachers want is your money!”
Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes the ministry in question is questionable.
More often they’re wrong. A minister of the Gospel spends hours each day researching, learning, reading, praying, counselling, writing and teaching the Gospel of Jesus. It’s a full time job.
You never hear “All that doctor wants is your money!” when you go to the office with a stomach bug and he charges you for his time, his knowledge, his research, his counsel and the writing of a prescription.
The World ignores them because they don’t conflict with the World’s values.
Jesus dropped into 1st Century Palestine at a time when there was universal deceit. He spoke only Truth, and they killed Him for it.
Today you can be charged with inciting violence by hate speech in many countries, but these laws are never enforced on the people who use it the most: politicians. Rather they are pushed on simple and ordinary people. Bakers who don’t want their store associated with homosexuality because their understanding is that it’s sinful and they want to take a stand for their Faith, the Truth as they understand it. Clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples for the same reason. Preachers who have the audacity to say that a collection of writings from two millennia ago is still applicable in full in modern society, that God doesn’t change and His decrees are absolute.
In some countries they get fired or put out of business. In others they get decapitated. Both are persecuted.
Now I’m not saying I agree with everything here in terms of action. We are called to allow ourselves to be subject to the law of the land, sometimes that means doing what it says, and sometimes it means not doing it and accepting the consequences. Should the clerk issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple? The law of the land says yes. But what is marriage in the eyes of the law and what is marriage in the eyes of God can be very different things. In law, marriage is primarily a financial institution. In Faith it is much deeper than that and goes to the core of humanity’s sexuality.
Be subject to the laws of men. Eventually God will have the last laugh anyway. Two men may enter a non-sexual “marriage” in law so that they have a person they can turn to to make hard choices in the event of failing health. In modern terms, it could be argued that King David and Jonathon may have had a union of this kind as they are described as being of one spirit – yet there is no hint that they were sexually involved. I have lived with men as a younger man. One of my closest friends was my house-mate and confidante for over a year. I introduced him to his wife. At that time he knew me better than anyone else alive, but there was no hint of sexual intent on our part towards each other. We jammed music, ate, shopped, prayed and travelled together regularly. When his fiancee came to visit we found space. I wasn’t dating at the time, but if I had been there would have been the same consideration there as well.
Then came the “Politically Correct” crowd.
It started as a good thing. A moral compass led by men and women of value and principle who wanted to take a stand against the decay of society. But it got taken over by “equal” rights groups.
Language changed. Simple terms like “chairman” were designated as sexist. Describing an individual of African origin as “black” was racist. So we moved into a world where individuals were not short, they were “vertically challenged”, paraplegics were “differently-abled”, those considered not to fit into society’s image of attractive were “aesthetically challenged”. Schools could no longer stream pupils in terms of A and B because “B” would feel inferior. No matter that group “A” was working on quantum mechanics and group “B” was still learning the basic times tables.
And then the PC crowd turned it’s head to God.
Suddenly real Truth is offensive. Christmas has to be called “Winter Festival”, Easter “Spring Festival”. The Bible was removed from schools in America because it was not politically correct to “brainwash” children into believing in God, whilst the doctrines of atheism were planted firmly in place. It reached the point where public schools can’t put on a Nativity play in case it offends someone. This in a society that glorifies sex, violence, drug use, vampires and all kinds of nonsense.

 

Most children are taught sex education at primary school these days unless the parents specify that they must be witheld from that. I was horrified in England about 15 years ago when I was taking part in a church school activity to find the seven and eight year olds were coming from sex education classes. These kids knew about erectile dysfunction before they knew how to spell it.
Like the Roman Empire, we are desensitised to violence from an early age. An estimate in the 1990s suggested by the time the average high school student graduates he (or she – must be correct) has witnessed 100,000 murders thanks to television and film makers. I pulled out an old movie I enjoyed a long time ago recently, “Malone” starring Burt Reynolds. It was given an 18 certificate for graphic violence when it was released. Compared to films that today get 12 and 15 certificates it was nothing. Even “Highlander” as a movie in 1986 got a 15 certificate in the UK, but the TV series was more graphic and broadcast at peak viewing time just six years later.
I read 1984 by Orwell as a teenager and thought it could never happen. “Animal Farm” and “Lord of the Flies” were also on my reading list. The concepts in them were so inconceivable that we had to suspend disbelief to follow the story and remind ourselves that in a civilised society this could never happen.
Fast forward to 2016 and we have Government bodies regulating what we can say and where we can say it. A Christian TV channel in England moved it’s base of operations away from the UK because it was not allowed under UK law to air any program that stated Jesus is the only way to God because it might offend those who didn’t believe. In my experience with television if I tune in to an Islamic program I expect it to try to convince me that Islam is the truth. So I switch it off. Not so any more, the thought police of “1984” are beginning to arrive.
“Free Speech Zones” are another PC thing. Very Orwellian in their construction. You can say what you like, but it will never be broadcast.
There are certain issues which rightly need to be addressed. Men and women doing the same jobs should be paid the same salary. If a man and a woman have the same qualification they should receive the same compensation for their work as long as it is of the same standard. There should be no place for saying a woman is simply there to make a man look good or vice-versa.
Consider the Gospel for a moment. Jesus is teaching and the woman caught in adultery is thrown at His feet. What does He do?
He writes in the sand.
Huh?
Immediately the crowd take their attention off the woman and her humiliation and focus on Jesus. “What’s He writing?” “Is He drawing something?”
He could have been writing out the theory of relativity or doodling a cat. It’s irrelevant. His action restores the woman’s dignity by allowing her time to cover herself. These Politically Correct accusers are seeking to trap the Teacher. So He hits them with Truth. Instead of calling for the stoning or asking where the other party involved is, as adultery generally requires more than one active participant (or it did before the internet), Jesus simply says “Ok, but the first to throw a stone must be sinless himself.” Then he goes back to doodling or calculating pi or whatever He was doing.
Thud, thud, thud. The stones fall to the ground beginning with the longest grey beards and finally the youngest walking away leaving only the woman and Jesus – the only one qualified to throw that first stone.
And Jesus restores her. He tells her to leave her sinful ways, but He refuses to condemn her. Read the story in John 8. I love the version in The Message, but they all say it. Jesus refuses to condemn her.
Once a year in Cape Town there is an event called the “Sexpo” for a few days, and predictably there are the “christians” outside waving banners and shouting “You’re all going to Hell, Directly to Hell, Do not pass ‘Go’, Do not collect $200” like some transcendental Monopoly card. How different to the act of writing in the sand.
Researching an article I was working on some time ago I was looking for accounts of life changes and how acceptance works out in the real world. I stumbled on a blog by a writer called Jennie Ketcham called “Becoming Jennie”. I’d never heard of her, but I read an entry or two and found myself cheering for her as she told her story through this blog of leaving the sex industry and trying to find a place in the real world again. Hopefully in the not too distant future nobody will know her for her past, but for her skills as a writer on the Huffington Post, a published author and a counselling psychologist. I don’t know where she stands from a Spiritual perspective, but her actions show a clear repentance – completely turning away from her past life.
That’s what we are called to do. Repent. Turn away from the past and set out in a new direction. Learn from it, yes. But not repeat it. It takes incredible strength to turn away from past addictions. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling or even things we don’t think of like washing the car. Anything that puts itself between us and God we need to turn away from.
I find personally that I’m a work in progress. Like Paul, I do what I do not want to do, and I do not do that which I want to do [paraphrase of Romans 7:19-20] and I find myself spinning in ever decreasing circles.
But thankfully, the thought police are there to remind me how despicable I am.
No, wait. That’s Orwell.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit witnesses inside me that I am the Righteousness of Christ. He convicts me of Righteousness and that gives me the strength to turn away from whatever the sin of the moment is. Currently the big one for me is coveting. Mainly because of things that I had in the past that the old me wants back. I covet the things from my past and trying to recapture them often gets in the way of doing what I know God has called me to do. Procrastination is another one.
The Truth of Jesus is becoming known as hate-speech. We need to guard our tongues and hearts and make sure what we say lines up with the Bible, not the twisting of specific verses to fit the current worldly morality, but the Truth that is constant through the entire Scripture. We need to remember that the Word of God is Jesus, not the book. The book is there as a way for us to find Him.
But if we’re going to follow a book, better the Bible than “1984”.