Verses I’ve never seen before (8)

When Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is going to be the father of John the Baptist, he says:

Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.  You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. (Lk 1)

This does nasty things to the ‘you can only become a Christian when you understand what you are doing’ line of theology that most of us are bought up on. What are we to make of the phrase ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’? Luke’s use through in the rest of Luke and Acts is as a prelude to God inspired action – a prophecy, rejoicing, or a miracle; for example in Acts 13 it precedes Paul’s blinding of Elymas, whilst later He fills the disciples and they rejoice. Certainly He SHOULD have a demonstrable impact on our lives…

Overall we are left with an unresolved issue; however it is one that we need to respect as a boundary on our simplifications of the faith; we want to have it neat and tidy, but at times God doesn’t work like that. Let’s not construct a theology that puts God in a box, because He is greater than any box we can construct!


Islam is demonic – so what?

It can be argued that Islam is demonic. The problem with that statement is that it is seen as ‘offensive’ by many both within the church and outside, and therefore tends not to be said. The result is a meal mouthed confusion in the minds of many Christians about what Islam is, and is not, and space for deceptions about what God’s truth is, to grow.

What is surprising is that Christians get upset by the allegation that Islam is demonic; the point is that so are a lot of other ideas according to the New Testament:

Jesus describes the devil as the father of his opponents. (Jn 8:44).

He says that it is the devil who sows the weeds in the world (Mt 13:39)

Peter is rebuked as ‘Satan’ for tempting Jesus with avoiding the cross (Mk 8:33)

Jesus describes some Jews as a ‘synagogue of Satan’ (Rev 2:9 and 3:9)

Paul states that pagans sacrifice to demons (1 Cor 10:20,21)

He warns against the ideas of demons that will lead some from the faith (1 Tim 4:1)

Ultimately the devil is ‘the father of lies’ (Jn 8:44) and wrong ideas are ‘earthly, unspiritual, devilish’. This means that all wrong ideas, deceptions – whether ‘spiritual’ or not – and lies are ultimately of Satan. In that context we can realise that whilst the lies of Islam (e.g. God has no Son, Jesus didn’t die on the cross) are demonic, they are not especially so; so are the deceptions of racists, Stalinists, proponents of sexual promiscuity or anyone else who in effect offers ‘salvation’ without God.

So what about Islam? It’s easy to see how the deception occurred: a demon passed itself off as Gabriel and the prophet of Islam fell for it. The fact that it is so blatant and ‘spiritual’, unlike most of the deceptions that fool us every day, isn’t significant; all deceptions have their origin in the demonic realm, and seem to have power way beyond any rational explanation whilst they are ‘in fashion’, until the bubble bursts and we look back and are amazed how we were deceived at the time. We need therefore to recognise that Muslims – along with believers in many other lies – are spiritually blind and will only respond to the truth when the Holy Spirit is at work. As ever we therefore must be sensitive to whether our words are getting through, or whether they are merely bouncing off; if the latter we must walk away from further debate as it will achieve nothing. ‘For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ Eph 6.

However ultimately as Christians, we need to recognise that all lies are demonic in origin. However the fact that Islam or racism is demonic doesn’t make any difference to our approach, and certainly making a big deal of the fact, as in this attack on a mosque or as Michael Curry, preacher at Harry and Meghan’s wedding believes (about racism!) doesn’t actually move the conversation forward. I suspect the only case where it might be of help is that the description of some of Mohammed’s encounters with ‘Gabriel’ may help some Christians to see how much of a deception Islam is – a very minority area.

Islam is a lie. Atheism is a lie. Racism is a lie. They, and many other ways of rejecting God, are all lies from the devil that we must clearly, openly and unambiguously reject. May God give us the wisdom to do so in ways that will release many from these deceptions.

Deception at Windsor; Michael Curry’s sermon

There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can.

There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will….

Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history.

A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world – and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.

I’m talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world.” Full text

So – what’s he saying here? If we love one another enough, the world will change. It’s all down to us. We don’t need God. We don’t need God’s grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Eph 2

It gets worse: if people are suffering it’s because they haven’t loved enough. The torturers of the dictators continued to work because their victims didn’t love enough. The victims of the death squads were victims because they didn’t love their murderers enough. It’s YOUR fault that the Manchester Arena bomber chose to murder those kids. It’s the victims of the shootings in American schools that they are being killed – because they didn’t love their murderer enough. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley weren’t shown enough love by their child victims, so they went ahead and murdered them.

This isn’t just anti-Christian rubbish, it’s a dangerous deception, it blames the victims and offers us no hope when it all goes wrong.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

We need to look for and enable God’s power in this world by His Spirit – not proclaim to the world that it doesn’t need Him. And remember that one day He will welcome us home and wipe away every tear.

Gaza – a hostage situation

Gaza is a tragedy – yet the question of how to respond is complex.

One of the hardest questions in morality is how to respond to the criminal who is holding hostages. Do you just give in to their demands? Don’t be deceived here: that’s what happening in Gaza; rather than use the opportunity of de facto independence to work towards a viable country – and there are a LOT of countries with a lower population than Gaza’s – Hamas choose to put its efforts into terrorism. The result: several wars, massive destruction and an ecological crisis. Hamas has controlled the area for 12 years – it is responsible for the mess; in effect it is weaponizing the civilian population – as the Arabs have been with the refugees from 1948. If the resources that have been expended by Hamas in building tunnels, rockets, fire kites etc had been put into the creation of desalination plants, then the present ecological crisis could have been avoided.

‘Rights’ can only exist when there is a body who is responsible for their provision. In the case of Gaza no such body exists, and there are many other parts of the world where things are worse. Yemen is similarly approaching unlivability; the difference of course is that it’s so dangerous there that it is not being reported on.

The blockade consists of two elements:

1) The people can’t leave. Given that noone wants them, that’s inevitable. They have no where to go peramanently. But note substantial numbers enter Israel every day for work; there’s a large crossing that does that.

2) Cargo. Clearly given the propensity of Hamas to use any and every opportunity to attack Israel, it is not reasonable to expect free access to the territory for whatever the terrorists want to import. People who demand this are clearly aiding and abetting terrorism.

Gaza is merely one of many humanitarian disasters across the globe, many involving vastly larger numbers of people. It is to the credit of the Israelis that the environment is safe enough that Western journalists to report freely on the situation. By contrast:

Central African Republic
Boko Haram’s Nigeria
Eastern Congo
South Sudan

are all territories where western journalist are excluded, and any amount of suffering, as criminals fight for control, persists. Buying into the Arab gameplan and focusing on this situation to the de facto exclusion of the others is deeply flawed. Supporting terrorist organisations should always be a no-no. God command submission to the lawful authorities; to do otherwise is to rebel against Him. As Christians we are called to obey what God has commanded; endorsing the behaviour of other rebels is to endanger both them and even ourselves spiritually.

Meanwhile Hamas has rejected medical supplies from Israel: ‘The Supreme Committee of the Great Return March said Wednesday the Palestinians would not accept medicine “from the murderers of our people.”‘ If that’s not sinful abuse of power, I don’t know what is.

Yes, millions are being held hostage in Gaza. Yes, Israel is not perfect. However overall the suffering of the hostages is result of the choices of Hamas. That people made desperate by those evil actions are being recruited by their abusers to make their plight worse goes to show the depth of the evil.

Verses I’ve never seen before (7)

Tucked away at the end of the parable of the labourers in the vineyard is the phrase:

“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20)

Jesus directly challenges people who react with envy when others benefit. Yet our society seems to endorse this attitude: Money ‘only makes you happy if you have more than neighbours’. Our more socialist brethren assert that their concern at others’ greater wealth lies in the rich’s ability to distort society to their benefit – and there is, no doubt, some truth in that. However for ourselves we need to confront this tendency in ourselves; whilst we are on this earth, God will give us what we need and look after us overall – how He looks after others is between them and Him. To alter Jesus’ words elsewhere: ‘If it is my will that he is rich, what is that to you? Follow me!’

Fun note for the believers in ‘literal translation’. The phrase in the Greek comes out as something like: ‘is thine eye evil because I am good?’, which makes zero sense to the modern, Western reader.

A challenge to the claims of free trade

This Economist blog does a good job of presenting the arguments for free trade. However the repeated mantra ‘remember the pie is bigger’ begs the question of whether the measurement of the pie is actually accurate. GDP does capture some elements of economic well being; however its failure to adequately reflect:

the damage to well being of the lack of secure jobs;
the destruction of community, including mom and pop enterprises destroyed economic change;
the costs of additional infrastructure from shifts of population caused by free trade;
the decay of redundant infrastructure in abandoned places;
increased housing costs in the areas of economic expansion;

means that the assumption that the pie is really bigger is questionable. Add in the extra taxes needed to pay to ease the pain of the transition…

Trump and Brexit voters are on the receiving end of these effects, and have articulated their response by their votes. The economics establishment – fixated on GDP and failing to measure the costs of these other effects – is in denial that they have any reason for their complaints.

To explore one example in more detail:

If I am born and grow up in a town with an established, prosperous industry which will offer all comers a reasonable wage in exchange for a reasonable amount of work, then that has a capital value to me. I also have the value of the network of relationships that I have built up when growing up: ‘friends and family’ – so that when I have personal crises, have children etc., I have these people easily available to provide meaningful support (think people cooking for my family when a new baby arrives, babysitters, company in the pub).

However if the industry is destroyed by free trade, I immediately lose the security its job guarantee offers. I progressively lose the network of friends as they are forced to move to new areas where they know noone. If I move away, my children will seldom see their grandparents or other members of their extended family. The direct cost is that I have to pay for babysitters; the indirect cost in terms of additional mental health expenditure is less easy to see…

Of course the people at the top of the economics profession have no experience of these things, as they undoubtedly moved to go to university, and probably did again to do their further studies and then for their tenured posts. With no experience of the benefits of that sort of community, they inevitably ignore those costs when applying their calculations of the size of the pie – and then call those who oppose free trade on the basis of these sorts of losses of ignorant.

Verses I’ve never seen before (6)

Continuing through Matthew, in Chapter 16, we hit:

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.'”

Somewhere people have got the idea that the New Testament God doesn’t do judgement. They’ve simply not read it, have they? And of course this is Jesus speaking. We need to engage with the fact that the gospel has this element – and that merely repeating ‘God loves you’ is a failed strategy. Which is no excuse for using hell fire sermons to bully people into saying the right thing – but equally we need to preach ALL the gospel.