Monday, 28 November 2011
Monday, 21 November 2011
I have witnessed the legacy of uniformity in the pre-eminence of Anglican religious influence on the political establishment, not only in the UK, but also several territories in the West Indies, where I and my forbears previously lived. Typically, you could not even hope for a job without a character reference from the Anglican priest. In spite of this requirement, the lives of many of the established clergy (who carefully restricted references to Anglicans in good standing) were far from exemplary.
Beyond this anecdotal evidence, many studies of other parts of the former British Empire attest to the sway held by Anglicanism over the colonies. Perhaps, the post-colonial experience in the USA differs from the West Indies. Factually, we do know that it was the political influence of key members of the Church of England that established several colonial authorities, such as Virginia and Georgia (e.g. cf. Virginians Reborn: Anglican Monopoly, Evangelical Dissent, and the Rise of the Baptists in the Late Eighteenth Century). These colonies were committed to the predominance of Anglican influence through a provincial cultural hegemony: a mix of compulsory catechism, conspicuous churchmanship and insistence on externalised form and ritual. It is the insidious legacy of this kind of provincial uniformity that I consider to be malign and ripe for dismantling. Human beings may be won to a cause by the tyranny of the majority. They will desert it with contempt, once the old regime of coercive tactics is exposed. Persuasion of the truth is a far better way for Church of England to secure a lasting posterity.
We may note the greater popularity of other denominations in the US, such as the Baptist movement. However, their later ascendancy was largely a result to the American Revolution that created a new environment in which evangelical Protestants of other denominations could flourish.
While, in each case cited, the legal framework of uniformity (upon which the moral case for colonialism was built) was repealed, the history of how provincial uniformity was imposed continues to influence how Western ideals are established in the world and elsewhere maintains the perception of Western liberal thought as another form of neo-colonialism.
The reaction of conservatives is ironic, given that the Covenant reduces their own autonomy, rather than maintaining the relative freedom of the status quo.
While provinciality may indeed be a worthy ideal for internal self-government, the historic role and influence of the Anglican church is far from ideal. Especially in former colonies, it is tarnished with the brute force of colonial rule and, rightly or wrongly, viewed with suspicion of surreptitiously imposing its values on the wider society.
If there is a demonstrable commitment to undo the entire legacy of uniformity, it may engender enough trust between provinces for us to settle or accept differences without recourse to a written covenant.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Paul declared this truth in delivering solemn orders to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:6), his young protégé in service of God’s great Moral Mercy Mission.
He explains why in verses 7 and 8, ‘For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.’ It is because this is an easily forgotten truism that we need to be reminded of it. All the comforts that we have around us, whether positive or positively harmful, must never be craved at the expense of lasting moral values, commitment and integrity.
Consider family, friends, recreation and resources. All of these can yield great benefits in our lives, but consider also the vast harm caused by those who crave them, or through them to be relieved of emotional deprivation, but at the cost of their morals. Once abdicated, the steady decline continues with the underlying assumption that the mutually agreed social norms of expected conduct (common decencies) do not impose a responsibility to reciprocate. What begins to matter most is cultivating an environment of social, material and emotional insulation: comfort that is geared towards one’s individual satisfaction above all else. Paul is saying, once the means of basic food and clothing are available, that should be enough to keep at bay the thought of compromising integrity to gain ‘creature comforts’.
None of the advancements accrued in this life are inherent to the human condition. We enter and leave life without them. Even so, most of us are hard pressed to understand why we shouldn’t exploit and accumulate them to our maximum personal advantage. As the passage indicates, Paul’s response is that maximum personal advantage involves greed. It’s one thing to advance yourself and quite another to do so in a manner that carelessly deprives others. Rightly, many people work hard to improve their professional and social prospects. Paul did NOT say that ‘godliness with destitution is great gain’. There is no virtue in deprivation per se. However, hardship experienced in furtherance of godliness is different from mere deprivation.
Achieving godliness involves the aim to be fashioned in the likeness of God, i.e. god-likeness: those traits that we can discern of God from our understanding of nature itself. His generosity, willingness to alleviate hardship and extend providence in spite of provocation are all discernible traits that we can imitate. In contrast, ungodliness is often manifested in propelling cruelty, slander and wrathful contempt towards those who might thwart our ambition to end our deprivations at all cost. Making other lives and emotions expendable in pursuit of our ambitions begins the dangerous process of acquiring a single-minded indifference, thereby replacing compassion and generosity with greed. We begin to lose the moral stamp of God: the defining traits of His character. We begin to justify and plan compromises with selfishness at the expense of others. In one phrase, describing the premeditated practice of withholding compassion and understanding in order to further our own ends: we become wicked.
Wickedness can also cause us to destroy lives and reputations in an attempt to absolve our greed. It becomes a means of silencing critics who challenge our efforts to plunder, dismiss and misappropriate the rights of others (including God) to ourselves. All of us have participated in this to some degree. Yet, it matters that we can eventually point the accusing finger at ourselves for once and admit the wrong we cause to others, pleading to God, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’ (Matt. 6:12)
As an alternative to greed, we can find a contentment that limits our desires to the sort of fair-minded choices that maintain our integrity. This may involve a measure of emotional restraint and physical discomfort, but the consistent commitment to integrity will yield a reward from God to our consciences and in the resurrection.
As Paul said, ‘To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.’ (Romans 2:7,8). It’s not that the former are better in themselves. they may make terrible mistakes, as King David did. Yet they allowed themselves to be persistently challenged to moral greatness as measured by God’s approval, whereas the self-seeking aim to clear nothing higher than the relatively moderate bar of mainstream social esteem, what the bible calls, ‘respect of persons’.
So, for this life alone, we may indeed enjoy short-sighted privileges that harm other lives, near and far, lives that we deem to have a lesser worth than our own. Alternatively, we can open the grasping hand to those who thwart our progress and share kindness, ending the mad grab for personal gain, whether material, social, or emotional.
Beyond death, God will reward both remorseless harm and repentant generosity, but in very different ways.
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Baby cried the day the circus came to town,
'cause she didn't want parades just passin' by her,
So she painted on a smile and took up with some clown,
While she danced without a net upon the wire,
I know a lot about 'er 'cause, you see,
Baby is an awful lot like me
Don't cry out loud
Just keep it inside,
Learn how to hide your feelings,
Fly high and proud,
And if you should fall, remember you almost had it all
Baby saw that when they pulled that big top down,
They left behind her dreams among the litter
The different kind of love she thought she'd found
There was nothin' left but sawdust and some glitter,
But baby can't be broken 'cause you see,
She had the finest teacher-that was me-I told 'er
Don't cry out loud
Just keep it inside and learn how to hide your feelings
Fly high and proud
And if you should fall, remember you almost had it all!
Thursday, 27 October 2011
Perhaps, the real reason is the extent to which we invest in trying to convert the status quo into what we want for the future. In most cases, we have no grasp of how the things we hold on to today might hinder another stage that is crucial to our progress for the future. We may even realise that the things that we crave are irreconcilably toxic: the unsparingly critical partner will not suddenly become tolerant; the dismissive employer might never consider your best efforts as meriting acknowledgement and promotion. Yet, we want the best of both worlds: retaining precious tokens of the past, as we strive for a future that may be completely incompatible with the restrictions imposed by obstacles we cannot currently recognise as preventing our advancement.
The book of Proverbs provides a vital insight into this type of emotional turmoil: ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when joy comes it is a tree of life’ (Prov. 13:12) God may allow us to face loss in this world, but it is only for us to find a way to insulate ourselves from further harm, for our roots to dig deeper and demonstrate that we can find a way to become invincible in His love. We can prosper without the need for those earthly promises that evaporate in the heat of adversity: ‘For his anger is but for a moment, and his favour is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.’ If we can hold out long enough, a new day of positive transformation will dawn. Time, patience and God's grace will revive us in the midst of our troubles!
This scripture also explains why so many wander about this world in debilitating aimlessness. The patient in anguish in a terminal ward having discovered that the vital treatment prescribed by the doctors has failed and the husband who is served with divorce papers after completing a last-ditch effort at relationship counselling have one thing in common. Both have seen their earthly hopes vanish with no prospect of restoration. There is nothing more depressing than a life-giving hope that is postponed, or repeatedly denied. In contrast, there is nothing that rouses us more to positive action than the prospect of realising our dreams.
The ‘tree of life’ metaphor is used elsewhere in scripture: ‘But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’ (Jer. 17:8) The underlying theme is to be constantly replenished in adversity. What a striking paradox: green leaves and fruit-laden in the midst of drought!
Why? Because those whose roots are forceful enough will push past short-term fixes to find the lasting providence needed to sustain them through life's harshest troubles. They don’t simply give up, instead they eventually discover new paths to achieve their goals by an approach that maintains integrity. It takes divinely-inspired unyielding resolve to draw upon this eternal reserve of perseverance, rather than to abandon hope while complaining endlessly.
So instead of fainting, we should push downward through all the layers of conditional, pretended assurance that 'fair-weather' friends and short-lived compromises offer us in order to reach that distant underground stream of eternal promises that keep faith with Christ. Like Jacob, we should wrestle tirelessly with God through hardship (who often descends into our experience as an inspired message of insight) asking incessantly for His help until He blesses us with a ladder of hope. So, don’t curse those who abandon you for their own social and material advancement. JUST DIG DEEP AND WAIT FOR THE INEVITABLE DROUGHT. If you hold on , your leaves will stay green, their rootless lives will shrivel!
Jeremiah’s prophecy provided lasting reassurance to the minority who decided to remain loyal to their worship relationship with Jehovah, rather than follow the rest of the nation in defecting to serve short-term aspirations. This means that to become that tree of life, we need to re-commit to our integrity: our sense of being completely the person that God intended us to be in all circumstances. That is so much more preferable than resorting to a poor, uninspiring compromising betrayal of whatever worthy ideals we once pursued. ‘For what should it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul.’ (Mark 8:36) Often, we just don’t realise how much we’ve compromised, the values that we've abandoned to reach that state of psychological dependence on another person, cultural bias or creature comfort. Nothing, materially or socially, can restore a failure to maintain complete integrity. Nothing, I repeat, except repentance, restoring our values and embracing the forgiveness that we find in Christ.
'When joy comes, it is a tree of life'. Joy comes from the assurance of anticipating fulfilment. It's delighting in something that we rightfully expect to happen. Paul describes the renewing activity of the Holy Spirit as ‘the powers of the world to come’ (Heb. 6:5). As we surrender to God, the experiences of extraordinary intervention and deliverance in our emotional and physical lives should lead us to rejoice in the assurance that our march towards the new heaven and new earth continues unabated.
Nevertheless, there is one thing we must not do. We must not look back. It was the downfall of the Israelites who died in the desert. They considered any hardship that they experienced in pursuit of the Promised Land as a proof that God didn't truly love them: ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?’ (Ex. 14:10) ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?’ (Ex. 17:3) ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!" (Num. 20:5) Is this how you view transitional hardship, that your life will amount to nothing more than a celestial snuff flick? Used, abused and then left for dead? Be assured that God takes no pleasure in needless human suffering.
Lot’s wife also turned back towards Sodom, rejecting the divine effort to help her escape. She clearly hoped to retrieve elements of her former life there: one that was now under the unyielding curse of God. She was consumed by that curse, secretly hoping to continue her old life. Could there be a similar hidden motive in our efforts to hold on to the past? A faint glimmer of compromise with those who have discarded us as ‘dead weight’? The message must be clear that THERE IS NO COMPROMISE WITH BLATANT, UNVARNISHED CONTEMPT.
We must therefore assume that there is no further benefit in perpetually mourning anything we have lost that hinders our progress with Christ. Paul asks rhetorically, ‘What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.’ (Romans 6:21, 22)
He says of his former public standing as a pillar of virtue in the Jewish community: ‘But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Philipp. 3:7 – 11)
As much as it was his heart’s desire for Israel to discover Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah, Paul’s own journey of ever-increasing devotion to God was not to be overthrown by his Jewish opponents. He loved his nation and its place in God’s plan of restoration for mankind, but he accepted that many of his countrymen would not tolerate the idea of Jesus as their promised Messiah. He had found a new family of faith in Christ with new values on his new journey of discovering everything he could about Christ. It assuages our grief to know that, in spite of wholesale ostracism, we are assured that the relationships we lose will be replenished from elsewhere: ‘I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:29 –30)
Should the loves of your life be lost to disease, tragedy or selfishly withdrawn, don’t let your mourning extinguish your own capacity to love and help others. Allow that vacuum of aimlessness to be filled with commitment to work as a channel of God’s love elsewhere. The poor, the disabled, the underprivileged will crave a compassion that others may discard in their efforts to find acceptance and advancement among their peers. Dig deep into God’s love for you and share that love and your possessions generously with those deprived in this life, those who are, in fact, God’s candidates for prosperity in the next. Thereby, you will win the greatest prize of all, Christ Himself!
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Paul directs the above admonition to fathers in the Ephesian congregation (Eph. 6:4) He contrast this with a more supportive approach: ‘but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’. He repeats a similar command to the Colossian congregation (Colossians 3:21). The Greek word used there, erethizete means to stir up anger, or exasperate. The consequence, if his warning is not heeded, is athumōsin. This word that is better rendered as complete despair, rather than anger.
Paul is saying don’t overwhelm your children with criticism. They can only take so much negativity. This is easily my biggest failing as a parent. Perhaps, the lack of positive reinforcement is the greatest cause of generational alienation. As parents, we are too harsh, demanding and critical, hoping that children will redress our own shortcomings and capitalise on every opportunity that we squandered. Equally, we compete with them for supremacy and are sparing in our praise of their achievements.
After the chastisement of a particular member of the Corinthian congregation produced the repentance that he demanded, Paul exhorted fellow church members to encourage him. Paul reminded them that the devil can use hopeless moral despair as a weapon:
‘Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.’ (2 Cor. 2:7 – 11)
Once the error was addressed, we see Paul is now in a restorative mood: almost hurrying to set aside his sense of being personally wronged. Anger must also not be so conclusive as to discard the restraint of a fair amount of probation.
In the Ephesian admonition, the word used is parorgizó. It’s formed from two root words: para meaning alongside, or near, and orgizó meaning to become angry. Literally, it means anger at close-quarters. This is the hostile indignation that is aroused when parents, and by implication, those in authority react to what they perceive as contempt from their more junior charges.
Yet he also says, ‘Be ye angry (orgizesthe) and sin not’. How do we resolve this apparent contradiction?
In the next verse, Paul says, ‘Do not let the sun go down upon your anger’ (parorgismō). So, there are times when we will be aroused to confrontational anger. Paul expressed outrage in several recorded instances in the book of Acts and even in his letters. In most cases, it was directed towards those who showed contempt for God’s generous redemption in Jesus, or wanted to hinder the cause of the gospel. Yet, this was not his normal mode of interaction. With even wayward churches, his opening salutation is typically, ‘Grace, peace and mercy from our Lord Jesus Christ’, not ‘what’s this bad news that I've heard’. In all of these cases, he maintained a cogent, articulate impassioned defence of his position. What Paul is against is the use of anger that only seeks reprisal for past indignation, is self-excusing and lacks the generosity and restraint to encourage and restore.
Anger becomes a form of intimidation when others feel immediate relentless hostility.
A reaction that attempts to intimidate, rather than reason carefully and threatens swift sanctions is inconsistent with the justice that God metes out, justice that saved ME by preferring forbearance to intolerant censure: ‘the wrath (orge) of man worketh not the righteousness of God’ (James 1:20)
To my daughters: please forgive a silly, old man!
To Christ, thank you for completing John the Baptist’s mission: ‘And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children’ (Luke 1:17)
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Gay marriage advocates have challenged the necessity that marriage has pro-creative intent that excludes homosexual couples. In this post, I challenge that notion of marriage that lacks an intent to form the physical affinity upon which consanguine ties are developed.
The fact that the State permits non-procreative sexual acts between consenting adults does not mean its policies on marriage, ipso facto, encourage, or discourage those actions. Mere permission is a liberty right, or privilege provided by the State to accommodate a range of outcomes, including exceptions, just as free speech permits a variety of views that might include radical dissent from mainstream opinion. It does not trigger an automatic claim right, the duty of the State to promote any non-procreative relationship to the status of marriage, not any more than the State has a duty to promote a particular opinion because it permits its unfettered expression.
Legal permission is merely a right of conduct; permissible doesn’t prove it’s reasonable, or moral. Marriage involves more than legal permission, it claims a moral duty of the State to provide a supportive framework in relation to all of marriage’s morally worthwhile outcomes: stable families that are conducive to good society. In order to achieve this status, a non-procreative relationship must also pass the reasonableness test: are non-procreative relationships sufficiently representative of the goods of marriage to impose a reasonable moral duty on the State to support them as marriage, or should they be accommodated in another way as exceptions?
The added reasonableness test justifies moral rights over and above legal rights of conduct. For the legal rights, there is only a need to demonstrate that there is no conclusive legal reason (duty) not to do something. It is not necessary to prove the moral case: that it is actually reasonable to do it. Compare Leif Wenar on epistemic vs. legal rights http://wenar.info/Epistemic-LegalRightsFinal.pdf
The State may consider that its policies in support of marital pro-creation and child-rearing offer sufficient incentive to couples, without making them compulsory. Other rights, such as privacy, (as in Griswold v Connecticut) may trump State regulation of marital pro-creation issues, such as birth control, not because pro-creation is a non-essential good of marriage, but that to do so would violate privacy. The absence of legally enforced measures relating to pro-creation is due to a reluctance of the State to legislate in matters of marital privacy. So what if there’s no legal compulsion for couples to pro-create? The State’s moral duty to support marriage requires that couples enter it with an understanding of its possible pro-creative outcome. Why? That’s because marriage law has been developed to meet that possibility.
It is reasonable (i.e. there is a preponderance of evidence, rather than the lack of any legal exceptions) to expect that marriages will involve pro-creation. Does the State support my right to void a marriage because it leads to pro-creation? No. In fact, the legal system assigns special claims and privileges to couples in order to support their on-going involvement in mutual loving support, pro-creation and child-rearing. The discovery of fertility or failure of a contraceptive is not a reasonable ground for divorce. Yes, you are free from state coercion to pro-create. However, that only means that there is no conclusive *legal* reason not to pro-create. Pro-creation may still be an entirely reasonable outcome that is supported by society’s moral expectations of those who marry.
The claims and privileges of marriage may be legitimately limited to a particular class of couples, heterosexual ones, in order to support their peculiar and singular contribution to a State goal: supporting the cohesive mutual private welfare arrangement that those couples provide for offspring as a reasonable outcome of procreative sex. There should be alternative equitable privileges for the homosexual partnerships and their dependents.
Monday, 3 October 2011
The converse accident is a logical inductive fallacy. It’s where an exception to a generalization is applied to cases where the generalization should apply.
In the debate over gay marriage, exceptions, such as infertility and the use of birth control, are used to demonstrate that the pro-creative component of marriage is a non-essential good. Apparently, as with mathematics, all it takes is one exception and the generalization collapses like a house of cards. Fortunately, life is not a mathematic problem. Our legal system governs choices for which there is an opportunity cost that, to some extent, we all have to bear. There is no mathematical certainty in the social sciences. There are always exceptions that a general rule can accommodate, as another example of a converse accident shows:
If terminally-ill patients are permitted to use heroin, it proves there is an exception to the notion that there is a general rule that society has forbidden and will always forbid heroin use. Historically, in many stable societies, the psychedelic forms part of an important religious experience that responsible citizens participate in, e.g. the Delphic oracle, peyote use in Native American rituals. These exceptions prove that the use of narcotic drugs has not only been permitted, but also endorsed in the interest of society.
Consequently, there is no general rule that heroin use is either generally forbidden, nor is it proven to be a consistent detriment to society. In fact, its use by terminally-ill patients proves that it can be permitted in a controlled manner without detriment to society. It therefore follows that all adults should be permitted to use heroin in controlled quantities without the threat of legal sanctions.
Of course, when you highlight the distinction between terminally-ill patients and the rest of society, the proponents of this view claim that you are begging the question: reasserting that heroin use is normatively prohibited outside of the cases that they cite, when the prohibition on the use of heroin is the very premise in question. In fact, you are not referring to the general rule to prove the premise, you are merely showing that the terminally-ill are still exceptions to the majority.
Nevertheless, as one writer put it: ‘The truth of a general rule, on the other hand, leaves plenty of room for exceptional cases, and applying it to any of them is fallacious.’
The real question is whether any of these exceptions are valid counter-arguments that justify dismissing the limitations of general rule and incorporating the converse accident as part of the principle instead. Do the exceptions prove that legalising heroin is a good idea? Is society decidedly better off by making heroin legal?
Ultimately, humans are not laboratory rats. The law may decide that the potential consequences of permitting controlled adult experimentation with heroin are too costly. Society can accept the preponderance of evidence based on the numerous cases of harmful heroin addiction; cases that prove that generally legalising heroin would be a bad idea.
Sunday, 2 October 2011
‘Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.’ (Ezekiel 16:49)
To some extent, liberal writers are correct to challenge the reductive conservative view that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God for homosexuality. It’s far too easy to brand same-sex relations as the focus of God’s vengeance, while conniving at heterosexual adultery, casual sex, gluttony, overconsumption of alcohol, spousal mistreatment and the callous indifference towards those deprived of rights and means. This mistakenly assumes that the latter are substantially less culpable and more excusable sins. It’s clear that the sexual proclivities described in the Genesis account were the culmination of a nexus of immoral activity that incurred divine wrath. However, we need to identify the key factors which led to Sodom’s downfall. As the quoted scripture attests, the fatal trait was their pride that gave rise to impunity, a false sense of invulnerability and an inertia born of wilful ignorance. I shall touch on these themes in later posts.
St.Peter views the biblical record as a reminder that the pain of God’s wrath is only stayed by his time-limited offer of mercy: ‘The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some count slackness’ he says (2 Pet. 3:9). God is decisive. He does not dither. As history shows, He sends swift calamity, once probation is closed. The amnesty that is offered to the hitherto impenitent is under the fixed terms of His own generous prerogative of mercy. In the parable of the vine, Christ says: ‘If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ (Luke 13:9) So much for ‘love wins’!
God is not fooled by our empty self-promoting moral gestures, nor our pious-sounding religious affiliations. He will not endure the perpetual humiliation of those who wish to banish Him either subtly or brazenly from their mind-set. So, once His attempts at reconciliation have been fully spurned and His overtures of providence have been completely exhausted, judgement falls without hesitation upon the remorseless like the hail of scorching, toxic destruction that ended His display of forbearance towards the cities of the plain.
‘He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.’ (2 Pet. 2:10) Their abrupt exposure to fatal harm is a pattern of the annihilation that will end the current era of rebellious, impenitent and godless humanity.
St. Paul also attests to this: ‘For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power’ (2 Thess. 1:6 – 9)
Note that there is no hint of peaceful co-existence between the godly and the rebellious: ‘What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?’ (2 Cor. 6:15) Part of human defiance towards God is expressed as a mortal hostility towards those who remind the proud of an inescapable final date with their retributive destiny. Consider Paul who, awaiting his cohorts in Athens, is described by Luke as being: ‘greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.’ (Acts 17:16). Peter also described the allegiance of righteous Lot to God in this way: ‘distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard’ (2 Pet. 2:7,8)
If you are on God’s side, the lawlessness of this era will greatly trouble your soul. As with Lot, those, who side with God and justly refuse to compromise with society’s defiant escalating mass defection from Him, are promised the respite of divine intervention: ‘At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.’ (Mark 13:27)
St. Paul concurs with this, in a later direct prophecy from Christ: ‘According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.’ (1 Thess. 4:15 – 18)
There is an end to this war against Satan and human defiance. The power of God is invincible. Resistance, as they say, is futile.
Sunday, 18 September 2011
For all the exceptions and variations to faithful heterosexual monogamy that theologians may have discovered, the form that Christian marriage takes (whether an estate, ordinance, or sacrament) harks back to Christ's own reference to the Genesis narrative of human sexual differentiation and union. The starting point for His recorded position on the sexual ethics of His day is the Creation, not Jewish divorce laws, nor the authoritative oral law codified by the great rabbis who preceded Him.
Jesus is forthright about establishing the ancient account as the primary context for the understanding of marriage as normatively forming a kinship relation that supersedes all others in permanence to protect, support and guide the next generation that it creates. He roots his answers to the queries of His contemporaries in the fact that our God-given sexual differentiation imparts a strength of attraction that must override even filial ties in order to forge a new bond of permanent kinship that extends the human family. In essence, He’s saying ‘you can’t reverse kinship!’
On that basis, He declares the divorce laws to be a provisional (pastoral) accommodation: a recognition of the inability of any law by itself to effect fundamental changes in matters of the heart. Especially, in those whose resolve (marred as we are by the propensities of our fallen human nature) He had come to restore: ‘For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man.’ (Rom. 8:3). Note, He didn’t exonerate sin, but released the penitent from its guilt by punishing it, as He relinquished the human body of Jesus, His sinless healing Prince of eternal life, to the unthinkable humiliation and torture of a brutal execution.
St. Paul had a similar dilemma, as he provided marriage guidance to the Corinthian church. He couldn’t stray from the only additional divine revelation he had received from the Lord: 'Let not the wife depart from the husband’. It re-affirmed the teaching that Christ had shared with His disciples during His earthly ministry. Yet, the message was now addressed, for the most part, to Gentile civil marriages, where the wife had converted to Christ. A thoroughly novel situation. Pastorally, he extends a *limited* concession: 'But if she does (depart), she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.' (1 Cor. 7:11).
For all of his pastoral accommodations, the concession that he offers the wife, or husband with an unco-operative spouse is chaste separation, but not divorce. As the initiator of the marriage, a man must maintain the marriage to his unconverted wife, as long as she is pleased to remain united to him. I can’t imagine Paul, uncompromising as this text shows, would have affirmed same-sex marriage.
So, let the worldly and godless go their way and pursue homosexual civil marriage, ignoring Christ at their own peril. Let the true church refuse to allow their own rites of Holy Matrimony to follow this headlong rush towards the destruction of marriage as rooted in God’s purposes, the symptoms of which we see all around in our broken society.
Monday, 12 September 2011
How is it that our society can set such a high bar of having to suffer a recognised psychological disorder in order to claim civil damages for mental health injury (cf. Rorrison vs. West Lothian)? Yet, in the case of the Abortion Act, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists claim, ‘… to meet the terms of the Act, a woman need not have a psychiatric illness when she makes her abortion request, but there must be factors that would involve risk to her mental health if the pregnancy were to continue. Thus, the abortion is not carried out for social reasons, although a woman’s social circumstances may be taken into account in assessing the risks to her health.’
The World Health Organisation sets a similarly low standard of risk: ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’
So, to get an abortion, doctors only have to identify an increased risk to mental well-being, but not of a pathological mental illness. This is in spite of the British Journal of Psychiatry report that shows abortion increases the likelihood of mental injury.
How can a civilised society lower the standard of risk avoidance when a human life is at stake, but raise it when money enters the equation?
Thursday, 8 September 2011
The British Journal of Psychiatry has published a report of a recent study that investigated the link between abortion and mental health.
I refer to Peter Ould’s summary of the key findings:
‘The broad picture reveals that women who have an abortion have an 81% increased risk of mental health problems when compared with women who don’t. This constitutes “a moderate to highly increased risk of mental health problems after abortion“.
The 1967 Abortion Act provides two mental health grounds for doctors to authorise a termination of pregnancy:
(a)that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or
(b)that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman;
One might concede that doctors may identify specific cases in which the mental health risk is actually reduced by abortion. In the UK, it is even probable that it will take some time to establish that mental deterioration is caused by abortion, rather than just a concomitant. (Although, that is still very worrying).
What amazes me, in the light of this study, is the staggering 97.7% of abortions in 2010 that doctors authorised in the UK to prevent the risk of mental health injury as defined in the 1967 Abortion Act.
Does merely the prospect of increased stress constitute an increased risk to mental health? Where is that defined? How is the type of injury described in section 1(a) distinguished medically from the grave and permanent injury described in section 1(b)?
I read the following about mental injury: ‘To amount in law to “nervous shock” (a.k.a. mental injury), the psychiatric damage suffered by the claimant must extend beyond grief or emotional distress to a recognised mental illness’ (parenthesis mine).
In Rorrison v West Lothian, the Lord Ordinary, in dismissing the plaintiff’s claim for mental injury damages, said this:
‘"Many, if not all, employees are liable to suffer those emotions [frustration and embarrassment], and others mentioned in the present case such as stress, anxiety, loss of confidence and low mood. To suffer such emotions from time to time, not least because of problems at work, is a normal part of human existence. It is only if they are liable to be suffered to such a pathological degree as to constitute a psychiatric disorder that a duty of care to protect against them can arise…"
What this paper should prompt is a thorough review of the process for assessing mental health risk in the case of abortion. Recent calls for an anti-depressant prescription review were prompted by a much smaller sample size and a less comprehensive study.
97.7% of the abortions last year were approved in order to avert recognised pathological mental illnesses, rather than just emotional distress.
Are doctors required to identify the actual illness that might otherwise result? If they are not and merely authorise the abortion on demand, I’m sorry, but that fact alone beggars belief in the current system!
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Let us realise that the approach of the New Testament writers is primarily forensic (as it relates to the true origin of that word, forum), rather than strictly scientific. The forum was the ancient courtroom that primarily collected and tested oral testimony in order to arrive at a decision. There was no luxury of experimenting in the laboratory. The character and oral statement of a witness were even more crucial to establishing the truth than it is today. Arguments would need to be skilfully and logically presented. The motives of each side would need to be examined. ‘By the mouths of two or three witnesses shall every word be established’ (2 Cor. 13:1) was the corollary. The court could even inflict harm to see whether it might cause someone to recant their testimony.
An unrepeatable historic event occurs and over 500 people claim to have witnessed the reality of it over a period of several weeks. Unlike a laboratory experiment, history cannot be verified by repetition. Yet, we accept a world that already consigns those convicted by credible testimony to long terms of imprisonment and, in some countries, death.
So, why do we hesitate on account of faith decisions? Is it not because we are hopelessly prejudiced against the outcome and find the personal implications of acceptance unbearable? Our guilt is fixed by this double standard, as John said, ‘If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.’ (1John 5:9)
The first-century movement claimed a growing following of those who were convinced that the continuation of miraculous events corroborated the testimony that Jesus had returned to life forever. Hardened, but thoughtful critics were eventually won over by the positive impact on the lives of that following who saw virtue in eschewing personal gain for others. The calm, sane leaders of the movement were also willing to sacrifice their own safety, yet maintained their testimony without a hint of retaliation. Moreover, they extended compassion towards their persecutors.
We can question the likelihood, motives, relative resourcefulness and credibility of the witnesses to the resurrection and their detractors. We may be swayed by rhetoric, the resonance of the testimony with our own first-hand experiences of personal guilt and what we know of human nature. This is as it should be in a courtroom.
However, there is one caveat. Ultimately, we, the jury, are also on trial. The motives and prejudices of our own lives face as much scrutiny as the biblical witness itself. We sit in judgement and still desperately need a cure for own own selfish nature, a cure that the early church and those who, through the ages, were touched by its faith and practice appear to have found.
It would be criminally negligent to ignore such a cure, if it exists. So, we can no more postpone our judgement indefinitely after careful deliberation than we do in a court of law. There is an awful responsibility for continuing in error, if all the evidence points to a conclusive remedy.
Friday, 2 September 2011
ONE DAY YOU MAY FIND TRUE LOVE THAT WILL LAST FOREVER AND EVER
TILL THEN YOU'LL SPEND A LIFETIME WISHING ONE TOGETHER
YOU NEVER THOUGHT SHE'D SAY GOODBYE
AND YOU'LL NEVER UNDERSTAND THE REASONS WHY
HEART OF MINE
HOW WILL YOU KEEP FROM DYING
STOP REMINISCING WHO IS SHE KISSING?
HEART OF MINE
OH WHAT'S THE USE IN TRYING
NO ONE CAN MEND YOU NOW
LOVE PLAYS CRUEL GAMES
YOU CAN'T BELIEVE SHE'S FOUND ANOTHER LOVER
"DOES SHE MISS ME?"
SOMETIMES YOU JUST CAN'T HELP BUT WONDER
NO, YOU CAN'T HOLD THE HANDS OF TIME
AND YOU'LL ALWAYS BE THE ONE SHE LEFT BEHIND
HEART OF MINE...
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
I don't want to...make up, read, listen to, re-tell, or harass others with crude or clever jokes and comments that suggest others are inferior or useless.
I want to...follow my conscience;
I want to...extend respect, reach out and help those whose path I come across, but are outside of my race, neighbourhood or familiar social circle.
I want to...be a skilled worker and gainfully employed, rather than depending mostly on a partner or any benefits;
I don't want...the pretence that I love my family more, when I'm really into the sham of self-centred, self-made personal success.
I want to...reduce the amount that I spend on or borrow for non-essentials like designer clothing, bling, prestige holidays, outings and vehicles, endless home enhancements and fake cosmetic accessories, while my extended family, the sick and frail need financial help.
I want to...be authentic, caring and generous, not selfish.
I want to...stop my food and drink binges for good.
I want to...end my fear of giving up the material gain that boosts my acceptance and pride, as well as the admiration and popularity of friends and acquaintances.
I want to...feel loved for who I am, not what I have or can provide.
I want to...pay off my debts and save funds to help the hospitalised and terminally ill with their medical/family/financial hardships.
I want to...practice personal giving of resources and time to the hospitalised, the very young, the sick, the injured and suffering;
I don't want to...treat the mother/father of my children as an obstacle to my freedom.
I want to...stop carrying grudges over past hurts.
I want to...desire forgiveness for those who hurt me, and from those whom I've hurt, just like God desires to forgive me for hurting Him;
I don't want to...compete for my partner's attention and try so hard to keep my partner's eyes away from anyone else;
I don't want to...maintain my life partner's loyalty by constantly trying to attract his/her attention. My life partner should just love me for me.
I don't want to...be a secret domestic bully.
I want to...fight for a single lifelong loving intimacy with one person and not give in to explicit, or implicit irresponsible sexual behaviour;
I want...a permanent life partner as my friend and confidante, not someone who will either mostly ignore me when I grow old, or just wants me for sex fixes and domestic convenience.
I want to...avoid any TV and internet media that present desperate, misguided or exploited people as objects of lust, ridicule or comedy;
I don't want to...read or relay scandal and gossip about the famous.
I want to...be able to share my Internet surfing history without the shame of greed before God, or my peers and co-workers.
I don't want...my kids playing or acting out violent, or sexually explicit video content;
I want to...fight the indifference towards any programme that praises explicit violence, racism, sexist comedy, contempt for doing right and immediately change the channels.
I don't want to...let celebs, TV personalities, leisure pursuits, fan web-sites and magazines twist my views about my relationship with others, material things and the roles of men and women.
Monday, 1 August 2011
I worry about Marcus Borg's representation of God and it's not particularly because he suggests that the Bible is sometimes wrong. He appears to have built a perfectly sealed box that contains his neatly dovetailed theology of God's responsibilities and human rights. Where the biblical record stands outside of that box, he declares that it's wrong.
In the case of Saul, (1 Sam. 14) Borg suggests that since God, by reason of love, is incapable of wholesale extermination Himself, He could not have commanded Saul to slay the Amalekites, especially as it involved the slaughter of innocent babies. Yet, most of the Old Testament presents the God who exterminates individuals, whole societies and civilisations by various means, including war, famine and natural disasters. Even the reasons seem weak, e.g. punishing by death an attempt to steady a cart carrying the emblems of His presence among His people. Soldiers are burned to death for merely carrying out their orders to capture Elijah. The treacherous schemers who conspired to have Daniel executed, are not punished alone, but with their whole families. The prophets regularly make these events instructive by declaring that what is suffered is not a mere coincidence, but an act of retribution commanded by God.
Should we believe that major disasters involving the indiscriminate loss of life are beyond the purview of an omniscient God? Is it not within His power to devise an ingenious form of suffering (if the theology box allows for it) that magically spares innocent, promising young lives? Oh, and old, frail ones too? Certainly, if I had everything that God has at His disposal, I would...In fact, God should...and if not, He, or those who present Him otherwise are wrong.
The Old Testament writers grapple with uncomfortable ideas about God, including the fact that suffering is not just permitted, but ultimately executed by exclusive divine prerogative. God doesn't give us easy answers to His exercise of prerogative. Theology can't successfully merge God's declaration that He runs the entire universe with the reality that, in many cases, severe suffering, brutality and ruin affects innocent lives. Yet, the OT prophets do move us away from the capriciousness of heathen gods.
My mind can't be privy to most of God's reasoning. If I was, I'd be God and I would magically make everyone good and drop a really big book from the sky called 'God made simple' instead!
Monday, 4 July 2011
Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
‘But He turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me Satan thou art an offence (σκάνδαλον) unto me for thou savourest not the things that be of God but those that be of men’ (Matt. 16:22,23)
Of course, this probably wasn’t what Anglican Mainstream had in mind when they used the word ‘scandal’ in the context of their quoted response to the 2005 pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships. Nevertheless, the meaning of the word, scandal has changed considerably from its Greek root. A far cry from the idea of public disgrace is a word originally describing the small twig covered with bait that collapses under pressure to close a trap, thereby restraining or killing the unwitting prey. Peter’s misleading advice would be a collapsing twig, if relied upon during the onslaught of Christ’s necessary suffering as the rejected Messiah, the Lamb of God. It would thwart His prophetic role in delivering our salvation and the conclusive indictment on the guilt of that, or all other societies that superficially embrace the rule of God. The church should remember that even to this day.
The cross itself was to Jews a σκάνδαλον (1 Cor. 1:23), repulsive to those who superficially could not see God’s salvation behind its indelible mark of divinely imposed shame. The σκάνδαλον is merely the inadvertent trigger of a moral calamity, but it is connected to the trap of discouraging adherence to God’s scripturally revealed purpose. By this means, it causes actual harm to the mission of the church. In spite of Peter’s best intentions, Jesus knew that paying attention to ‘the things of men’ was a diversion from His priorities which, if it continued, would jeopardise the primary mission of the Messiah as revealed in scripture. What things divert us from our scripturally revealed priorities in life?
Christ indicated that these triggers of moral calamity are impossible to prevent, but those causing them reap divine rejection: ‘Woe unto the world because of offences (σκανδάλων)! for it is necessary that offences (σκανδάλα) come; but woe to that man by whom the offence (σκανδάλων) comes.’ (Matt. 18:7)
For Christ, even in the twilight of the widespread defection from God, His commitment to His scriptural purpose remained ‘black and white’. He was following the ‘Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow’ (Jas 1:17)
Yes, Isaiah predicted the era of grace and yet he declared, ‘To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn’ (Is. 8:20)
So, morality, sexual or otherwise, is not as grey as it seems.
Monday, 13 June 2011
Christ asked, ‘Who do men say that I the Son of Man am?’ (Matt. 16:15) There were numerous opinions doing the rounds about Jesus’ origin. The answers ranged from a prophet to a genuine descendant of King David. When Simon was challenged his answer was inspired, ‘You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God.’ He discovered Jesus to be (as we do) the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, the King of the eternal heaven and earth restored under God; the Messiah: uniquely endorsed by every true prophet, by signs, wonders and His ultimate resurrection through the Holy Spirit.
In spite of teachings that contemporaries found unpalatable and incompatible with their world view, Peter held on. He declared ‘Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.’ (John 6:68)
‘If you hold to my teaching, then are you my disciples’ (John 8:31)
Christ’s Great Commission of discipleship (Matt. 28:19) is undergirded by holding to Christ’s teachings in the face of modern distortions and hostile traditions and cultural norms from all quarters. We need to maintain a consistent thoughtful challenge to a spiritually reckless society in church, at work and at home. For instance, Christ opposed form and ritual when it became repetitive, obstructive and unhelpful to ordinary outsiders and externalised. He challenged self-promoting civic-mindedness. He challenged the cultural distractions that drew inordinate time and attention away from thoughtful reflection upon God. The scripture was His defence against error.
An angry exchange with the Pharisees followed his display of God’s amnesty towards the publicly shamed adulteress.
In that exchange, Jesus also explained what freedom really is, ‘Every who sins is a slave to sin, Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ (John 8:34, 35). Sin is enslavement, dragging us back to the imprisonment of our senses and short-term satisfaction. Under the power of sin, we cannot choose, for it is not so much self-rule, as addiction and self-delusion. Freedom is to escape the slavery of sin, rather than accept deception. There’s no middle ground, we either surrender to God’s yearning for our exclusive devotion, or await dispossession after a life enslaved to the double-minded pursuit of worldly advancement (i.e. Mammon). Neither permits a rival. Since Christ is the eternal Son, He can share His permanent status in God’s household, ending the perpetual empty cycle of earthly accumulation and the distortions caused by godless policies, attractions and notions at every turn, however strongly-held.
So, our Great Commission is really to expose the deceits of our era with gospel truth before our society completely disintegrates. It’s a call to declare to the world, by judicious word and example, the completeness of Jesus as the cure for our futile man-made distractions: the credit-crazed retail madness, the domestic property shrine-building, the techno-latry, the constant binges on food and alcohol and the lure of irresponsible relationships. It is not simply to win converts at truth’s expense.
It is to follow Christ in climbing His mountain of progressive freedom from worldly accumulation, self-promotion and distraction. So, wherever we are now, however far from the summit, however fearful of that path, let’s promise to keep hold of each other’s hands and start that journey today.
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Imagine yourself to be a zealous Hebrew. You’ve memorized much of the Torah. It’s pronouncements against wrongdoing have stirred up a deep sense of outrage over constant injustices and the irreverence towards God in your society. You see the weak trampled upon and the poor exploited. Is nothing sacred anymore? You realise that even the tribal leaders are turning a blind eye to moral disintegration and brutality. As in today’s society, some are even worshipping worldly ideals (idols) and consulting thoroughly misguided spiritual leaders. Old habits, especially bad ones, die hard.
You’ve not been sleeping well: you have a recurring nightmare that the hostile border skirmishes with a neighbouring race will escalate into all-out war. In each vision, your people are ravaged by massacres, famine and disease. You see them colonised by that same heathen nation. It seems to be an omen of impending punishment for defection from God. So you decide to ask for an audience with the elders. You are going to warn them, speaking up for justice and speaking up for God.
In preparation for your meeting the council of elders, you spend time meditating upon the Torah and you come across these words:
‘But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death…If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.’ (Deut. 18:20,22).
No other religion in the world has held its spokesmen to a higher penalty for the mistaken predictions. That’s why Jesus’ total fulfilment of these true prophecies about the Messiah is so crucial.
The dilemma that you now face is one that every true prophet of Jehovah has faced. Are the visions and nightmares from yourself, or God? How do you speak forth that message when that transcendentally pure God, who has promised to demonstrate His power in the universe by predicting the fate of civilisations, has also pronounced the death penalty on those who misrepresent Him. One mistake and you’re toast.
The scriptures are a record of Israel’s history and the messages of those prophets who stood the test of time. It was not merely enough to produce a vague long-range forecast of how history would unfold. In the short-term, prophets predicted events that could be verified by their contemporaries and they had to do so with unerring accuracy. The biblical record that we now have is of those prophets whose words survived under that constant threat of the death penalty.
Micaiah was such a prophet. He declared God’s word to Ahab, the heretic king of Israel, who had forged an alliance with Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, to fight the Arameans in the battle of Ramoth-Gilead. (1 Kings 22)
Before the battle, Ahab consulted prophets loyal to him and they emphatically claimed that God would prosper his forces in battle. Even today, we find that our spiritual leaders infuse their speeches with political partisanship, sexually deviant ethics and misguided nationalist zeal, rather than divine insight. In spite of our society’s godless backdrop of irreverence and mindless overindulgence, they say, ‘we’re fine, we’ll do well and God will bless our exploits everywhere’. False prophets!
Quite sensibly, Jehoshaphat wanted to consult a genuine prophet beforehand, so reluctantly, Ahab summoned Micaiah. After being warned en route to predict victory, Micaiah sarcastically chimed in initially with the false prophets. He then declared the horrible truth of God’s judgment, Ahab’s inexorable deception by lying spirits:
Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’ The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?”
Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’
“One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ “‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.
“‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.
“‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’
“So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.” (1 Kings 22:17 – 23)
Given the dire consequences of false prophecy, Micaiah endorsed the prediction with his life:
Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!”
In the description of the ensuing battle, Ahab tried to escape his fate by disguising himself, while insisting that Jehoshaphat wore his regalia. The king of Aram’s chief strategy was to target Ahab for assassination. So, initially, the Aramean charioteers pursued Jehoshaphat in his regal attire, mistaking him for Ahab. Eventually, they gave up chase realising their mistake…
So, it might be nice to end this story now, asking you to discover for yourself whether Ahab escaped in disguise and then had Micaiah executed on his return.
Let’s just say that’s why Peter declared: ‘For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ (2 Peter 1:21) Remember that when you read your Bible.
‘But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armour. The king told his chariot driver, “Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.” All day long the battle raged, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that evening he died.’ (1 Kings 22:34,35)
Why fight God or His word, when He can bend any chain of innumerable random events, even altering the flight of a stray arrow, if necessary, to defeat the shrewdness of His enemies?
Saturday, 21 May 2011
In Romans 1, Paul emphasizes why he is not ashamed of the gospel. It contains the revealed path to righteousness from God’s standpoint. It’s the one and only means by which God can get us on the right side of His perfect justice and thereby bless us eternally.
Paul backs this up with a supportive quote from Habakkuk. The prophecy assured Jews, dispossessed for their defection from the Old Covenant, that there would be a complete amnesty for a remnant. Those that God would declare JUST, i.e. under amnesty, He would miraculously deliver from captivity. The remnant would be characterised by their response and submission to His prophetic direction at that time, not by trying to maintain careful temple observances dating back to Moses (since that would be impossible in Babylon).
So, they would survive captivity as a chastened, humbled minority without the observances of the Law, anticipating God’s eventual deliverance: ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Hab. 2:4). Paul is saying that we can no more rely upon a return to ritualized observances to survive beyond this coming retribution than Habakkuk's Jewish remnant could. We will survive (as they did) by depending upon and responding to the higher challenge of immediate and prophetic direction provided by the Holy Spirit. Outnumbered and at odds with the whole world, but it’s the only way out.
Therefore Paul sets about explaining the outworking of universal retribution upon an ungrateful human race. This is why both the Jew and Greek find themselves in the same position: guilty before God and in need of the gospel. This view also explains Paul’s later castigation in Romans 2 of anyone who tried to damn his Gentile converts by moralizing over rituals. While he may have had his own era in mind, the scale of his declaration regarding God’s retribution towards man’s unyielding contempt is universal: ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (Romans 1:18)
This outpouring of God’s indignation is a current, rather than future process of supreme, inescapable justice. It ‘is being revealed from heaven’: RIGHT NOW, current and inexorable. The scope of condemnation is universal, ‘against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men’.
THANK GOD WE NOW HAVE CHRIST, for without Him, we are marked men and women, aggravating our desperate guilt.
‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen’. (Romans 1:20 – 26)
Far from being overwhelmed with gratitude toward the transcendent eternal God who orchestrates all of His creation in congruous order for our providence, mankind wilfully degrades this naturally revealed truth with recklessly arrogant supposition. We have replaced sincere heartfelt devotion to God with a servile fear of the transient powers of nature as self-sustaining deities, even portraying them as supernaturally empowered humans and animals. Look at how steroid-loaded ‘comic-book’ super-nature dominates every aspect of popular culture. We even invest grotesque, feeble, unworthy and contradictory worldly ideals, values and pursuits with divine greatness. We re-direct supreme devotion towards them. The guilt is self-evident.
God is presented as delivering mankind over to this wilful rejection of natural revelation. He does not resist our distortions forever. Without saving grace, the retribution is that we eventually become helpless hostages to this distortion of His natural revealed purposes, even in our sexual desires.
This is important because it explains God’s justice in relinquishing the majority of mankind to the blind debasement of natural order. it was mankind’s prideful self-deception that began the whole descent into idolatry. Through the abandonment of our revealed purpose, man embraced sense-worship. God justly let them have their way, only to face the eventual penalty.
Paul says that the result of this patent disregard for the conventional purpose of sex is disease and ruin:
‘Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.’ (vs. 27)
It would therefore distort the whole thrust of Romans 1 and 2 to limit the biblical description of how normative sexual expression was abandoned, as some liberal writers have done. Rather than relating to very specific types of violent, forced sexual activity, the resultant depravity plainly refers to homosexual acts, whether consensual or otherwise. Yet, as sinners, we have all participated in the terrible progression towards this result. We were all co-conspirators. In order to resonate with his audience, Paul describes the acts as unconventional: ‘para physis’ – beside nature, thereby reversing the familiar charge of his critics that his gospel ‘set forth customs (ethe) which it is not lawful for us to receive, or to observe, being Romans’ (Acts 16:21)
Paul is mapping out the guilt of all mankind and the consequences of this path that discards God: the complete degeneration of God’s purpose for humanity: ‘Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.’ (Romans 1:32) Mankind finally challenges God to all-out war by encouraging the final overthrow of conscience and divine government. This is why we all deserve death, both Jew and Gentile. It’s also why we all need Christ.
In our collective shame, we still cannot boast privilege and preference. As spiritual beggars before Christ, the only cure for us all (Jew, Greek, or otherwise) is to embrace the only amnesty of God by reliance upon the generous, eternal promises of His gospel.
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
If we are to believe the Sunday Times Rich List, the rich are getting richer. In spite of the recession in 2009, which wiped £155billion off of their assets, the UK's 1000 richest people are now worth £395.8billion, up by 18% from last year.
If you’re rich, you can employ an army of tax advisers to exploit fiscal loopholes and transfer wealth to offshore accounts. One estimate suggests that the rich probably only pay 9% tax on their income.
Micah declared God’s message to Judah and Israel in the time of King Hezekiah. In a time of growing trade and prosperity, small holding farmers were being dispossessed of their land as rich property developers bribed judges to rubber-stamp their illicit deals.
We should be under no illusion about the underhand tactics that the big brands and the wealthy employ to destroy every threat to their expansion and dominance. The oligopoly of market visibility, a fawning press corps, threats of legal action against rogue critics, illicit sources of supply (employing child labour, foreign ‘sweatshops’ and depleting local economies of resources), even distorting the current legal framework that regulates competition. Yet, for all these practices, the rich also try to build a contrasting image of philanthropy through their claimed ‘contribution’ to the economy, self-promoting ‘worthy cause’ sponsorship, honorary titles, charity events and high-value tax-deductible donations. As Christ said: ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.’ (Luke 22:25)
Micah described the sacrifices that the rich proposed to regain God’s favour and salve their guilty consciences: ‘With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ (Micah 6:7)
They had forgotten Samuel’s censure of Saul: ‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.’ (1 Sam 15:22)
Instead of proposing extravagant diversionary reparations out of their expanding wealth, Micah clarified that God specifically wanted them to follow the stifled voice of conscience:
‘He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ Micah 6:8.
James re-iterates this demand of practical devotion to God: ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’ (James 1:27)
The Old Testament delivers repeated and emphatic warnings to those who plunder, rather than do justice towards those whose rights are compromised by a lack of an advocate. The fatherless and widows are those who are helpless to defend their rights. Giving someone their due is not the same as being charitable towards them. To judge the fatherless is to fight for the recognition of their just claim against those who exercise undue influence. It is to break ranks with the system of favours that ensures the rich expand their empires at the expense of the less fortunate.
Consider Donald Trump’s vulgar, but successful bid for permission to build a £750million golf course in Aberdeenshire. Since the diggers were brought in, an 84 year old widow, Mrs. Forbes, has been threatened with a compulsory purchase order because she refuses to sell her home to him. Unsurprisingly, the council which gave full planning permission and the rich have shown no interest in advocacy on her behalf. Neither has any church made a public statement in her support. I suppose many would consider it suicide to take on Trump, so she becomes collateral damage. This is oppression plain and simple. The voice of the free press is far from stridently critical of Trump. Perhaps, he who pays the piper, really does call the tune!
James goes on to echo Isaiah in also condemning the mean-spirited companies who use deceit to cheat staff in lower pay-grades of fair pay in line with their employer’s financial performance. Today, that deceit might include extending a pay freeze unnecessarily, or unfair gender and race pay differentials: ‘Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, cries: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.’ (James 5:4)
The vast armies of heaven are arrayed in preparation to dispossess by sudden calamity those rich who steal, bribe and blackmail their way to greater wealth.
In contrast, Jesus calls His followers to service: ’But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.’ (Luke 22:26)
An attitude of service clarifies what others actually need by asking and listening. It then delivers personally where possible, leading others by example. Service does not just wield authority, telling others to execute our grand designs and aspirations for charity on command.
May the Lord help us to remember that difference!
As a footnote, although Mrs. Forbes lost the first case and is facing eviction, the Scottish Legal Aid Board is reviewing its decision to refuse her legal aid.
She is considering an appeal, so you never know…
Sunday, 8 May 2011
By this time, Christ's emphatic declarations on His rejection, suffering and gift of eternal life have finally resonated with Mary. She has had a foretaste of eternal life. Jesus has miraculously brought back her brother, Lazarus, from the grave. She has realised that the resurrection of all sinners, including herself, to eternal life will be procured at the tremendous cost of the sinless Saviour’s own death. He is the Lamb of God. She responds with a poignant tearful gesture, pouring expensive perfume on Him to honour the fatal ordeal that will befall her beloved Master.
Judas is openly critical of the presumed extravagance. The thief's flimsy pretext for treachery is formed. The hope of running the finances of Christ’s earthly empire has evaporated. In a few days, the chief priests and Pharisees will bribe him to help end Jesus’ escalating fame and authority. They are exasperated at their hitherto futile attempts to halt His popularity. Previously, even soldiers sent to arrest Him were transfixed by the charisma of His all-surpassing insight and power.
The Jewish leaders’ incensed rejection of Christ represents the culmination of rebellion against God by a people delivered, time and time again, by divine intervention from helpless oppression. Through Jesus, the Holy Spirit's unrestrained display of supernatural power over harm and evil is a clear, generous and final overture of reconciliation. The Messiah is clearly identified by divine acts intended to restore the Jewish nation to renewed harmony with their God.
Yet, Christ is completely spurned. The chief priests now know that Jesus has even imparted life to a dead man; yet they want both Jesus and Lazarus dead. Mankind, as represented by the response of these leaders, prefers darkness to light. Darkness accepts any plausible excuse to escape the rightful demand to surrender to Him on His terms and own our guilt over self-rule. Light, as insight into our true motives and duty to the Creator, banishes the hollow arguments against His absolute authority in our lives.
By expending all excuses, mankind stands condemned, yet hostile towards its Author. It won’t be long before lethal anger is unleashed against Him.
The mortal hatred is the final proof that, if we decline God's grace, human civilisation will always reject God with finality in favour of relatively short-lived semblance of self-rule under Satan, even with the highest, best and most obvious evidence of divine love, Jesus in supernatural life-giving restoration.
The rejection reaches its climax as God allows the Jews to carry out their murderous plot against His Son. The news that the Greeks are anxious to meet the Messiah is conclusive proof to Jesus that the grace of God is largely passing away from the Jews to those previously excluded from divine privilege. The parable of the two sons and that of the tenants are told to reinforce this idea.
So, now the guilt is overwhelming. The contempt and conspiracy to end His fame are beyond reversal. It only remains for the verdict to be handed down. Satan’s case for remaining in power over human civilisation has collapsed through our Messiah's embrace of unfaltering sinless obedience, even to death. The new Adam will endure a publicly humiliating execution without divine intervention, thereby aligning all of divine justice with God’s desire to bestow repentance, forgiveness and eternal life.
It is a decisive moment as the crucial events unfold that lead to His death on the cross:
‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.'
We should also take heart in His declaration about the immense power derived from His sacrifice to God:
"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself."
Friday, 6 May 2011
Christ, here, is intimating that divorce can often be avoided by mediation, defusing the build-up of resentment and giving up the stubborn insistence that staying together is intolerable. Divorce involves maintaining a stubborn emotional wall (hardness of heart) without a readiness to forgive in order destroy the bond of marriage.
Of course, Christ's censure targeted those who invoked divorce as an automatic personal entitlement to end a marriage for every type of major spousal dispute and disenchantment.
For instance, the Pharisees challenged Christ with the question: 'is it lawful to put away for any cause?' One religious sect of that time held that as long as it was properly registered in accordance with Moses Law, a man had the right to exercise personal (read, arbitrary) discretion in setting aside a failing marriage with its economic and emotional dependencies, and that he could then pursue a new relationship.
Admittedly, the public record of divorce thwarted its serial abuse and was vastly more preferable to the disgrace of just 'putting away', the detestable wilful self-serving act of simply deserting a marriage without any notice or valid explanation.
In Christ, the concession of divorce is removed for all causes, except 'porneia': gross sexual neglect and misconduct. Beyond these cases, we are to seek reconciliation. It's unfair to hold longstanding grudges against a sexually committed spouse while God generously overlooks our many faults.
A Christian may indeed divorce when their partner has ended the sexual union. For instance, by deserting the marriage, by long-term sexual neglect or by gross infidelity.
According to Christ, this sole divorce concession does not completely exonerate either party, nor are they completely absolved of responsibility.
Divorce is not a licence to re-marry. However, the church leadership has a scriptural role in resolving escalated disputes between its members. According to Christ and the apostolic letters, it is an arbitrating authority that can prescribe ways to defuse and resolve disputes, including marital ones, peacefully. In some aggravated cases, leaders may even recommend separation, or divorce for sexual misconduct as a last resort. The church should also offer exceptional support akin to bereavement counselling to shore up those who are separated and grieving over their loss of a life partner.
The lack of significant levels of support and fellowship to counteract the ensuing loneliness of separation and divorce is one of the most glaring, ugly acts of negligence in the modern church.
Church leaders and members will explain either now or on Judgement Day why their mission lacked any stated high-profile concerted efforts to stave off the loneliness of Christian separation and divorce. The woman that Christ met at the well would have suffered terribly in today's church.
How does the verse, 'In as much as you did it to the least of these my brethren...' end?
Thursday, 5 May 2011
All citizens could be tagged and be expected to present their nationality credentials when challenged. Armed police could shoot on sight anyone who violated the curfew and any looters. Perhaps, under enforced rationing, the discovery of an extra loaf of bread in your cupboard would incur your arrest and summary conviction for hoarding.
It's not that these measures aren't lawful and necessary in extreme circumstances. Nevertheless, the level of suspicion and discouragement of individual discretion (even for desperately good reasons) reduces citizens to merely tolerated potential adversaries. This is called a state of martial law and this is not unlike the world of the Old Testament.
The nation of Israel was born in a state of hostility with Egypt. The arrangement that ensued after the Exodus required regulations that were tantamount to martial law. The Law of Moses demanded a multitude of observances, sabbath-keeping, national identification through universal male circumcision with a raft of harsh penalties for non-compliance. Although onerous, the regime was a necessary interim arrangement aimed at containing the threat of descent into idolatry, immorality, presumption and gross defection from God. Most of all, it prevented Israel's abdication of her central role in preparing the nation and world to receive the coming Messiah. As with martial law, it was provisional and never meant to be a permanent arrangement.
God slowly unveiled His promise, the New Covenant, through the prophets that He would eventually end the martial law of Moses and generously liberate us from a climate of fear by imparting the Holy Spirit of heavenly citizenship. As citizens, a spirit of inconspicuous generosity towards the destitute, love for enemies, and sacrificial brotherhood would ensue. Under the New Covenant, there is now no need to resort to the detailed regulations and externalised observances. These obligations were met in full by Christ's crucifixion in our place. In comparison to the complex Old Testament rites, Christian ceremonies should be simple, joyous and few. The focus is on practical love and the adoration of God through Christ.
Christ Himself outlined the full expectations of heavenly citizenship. He extended amnesty and citizenship to any who sensed their need for forgiveness and moral restoration: 'humbled offenders yearning and praying for a glimpse of and even full entry into the abode of God's perfection that they know their selfish choices have hitherto spurned.
Clearly, some who thrived by policing others under the Law of Moses found this change hard to accept. They lacked the will or power to extend acceptance towards converted outsiders under the new regime of liberty (as typified by the Good Samaritan). The scribes and Pharisees feared the New Covenant of citizenship, empowerment and trust. It made them redundant. They became ever more insistent that the threat of defection from God demanded strict adherence to the minutest details of their man-made protocols and of the Law of Moses, rather than looking at specific situations on merit. The criticism of Jesus healing on the Sabbath is a perfect example of this narrow and uncharitable outlook. Several Jewish sects of that time also considered non-Jews to be generally untrustworthy, defiling and inferior, even though the Jews themselves had failed God so miserably in their own history.
They wanted more surveillance, additional security measures, belittling the citizenship of the newly liberated Christians.
Paul insisted that Christians were not marginally tolerated slaves, but citizens of heaven under the overarching law of Christ: sacrificial love. He always challenged those who tried to make an industry of distrust and those who used badges of unwarranted seniority. How many of today's ministers exploit detailed self-serving protocols and procedures to advance their position of trust and status for selfish ends!
We would do well to challenge our modern-day Pharisees in the same way as Paul did. Let us never return to the enslavement of martial law.
Saturday, 30 April 2011
Paul was gratified by the ultimate outcome of his preaching at Thessalonica. The reports of gentile conversion had travelled far and wide. They had abandoned idolatry in spectacular fashion: ‘The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’ (1 Thess. 1:8 – 9)
He had spent the best part of a month explaining that, far from detracting from Jesus’s claims to be the Son of God, His rejection and crucifixion were predicted by reliable prophets many years before, as was His resurrection that the apostles and many others had witnessed (Acts. 17:1 – 4). Paul insisted that, as a prophetic fulfilment, the resurrection was unique to the Messiah. We maintain this distinction from all other religions. Resurrection distinguishes Jesus from all others to be uniquely both God and man, the Son of the only true God (Romans 1:4). The only man who perfectly radiates Almighty God’s perfection and He is uniquely supreme over the death and decomposition that typifies the end of our human condition.
Before the spread of the gospel, non-Jewish ‘god-fearers’ had joined the Jewish faith and way of life in varying degrees. They were not converts since they did not fully adopt the Law of Moses.
Cornelius was such a man (Acts 10). He prayed to the Jewish God and gave generously to those afflicted by hardship. However, for all his efforts, many Jews saw his foreign status as an insurmountable obstacle to full acceptance by God. He might have behaved like a model Jewish citizen, but, as far as Judaism was concerned, he was a spiritual asylum seeker; his passport to God’s complete mercy was clearly stamped ‘non-national’.
He and his household had heard reports of an extraordinarily gifted miracle-worker and spiritual reformer. Peter was sent by a miraculous chain of events to confirm that the reports of the Messiah were true and that non-Jews could also find eternal reconciliation with God, if they relied upon the Messiah from Nazareth as the eternal Ruler of all things.
The good news was that Gentiles no longer needed the old passport of Judaism to find full acceptance by God. Divine mercy in Jesus bypasses Old Testament exclusions in the same way that the EU citizenship supersedes the old UK nationality exclusions. The gross injustice and humiliation of a nude public state execution by acute penetrating trauma exacted upon the Transcendent One of Israel, was offered to God on behalf of all men, a prisoner exchange, the just for the unjust. Deliberate exsanguination (death from blood emptying) is an abattoir method reserved for animals, yet this is what Jesus, as God’s Passover lamb, endured. If this what it took to expunge, it shows how hideous sin really is. As God said through Jeremiah: ‘Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me," declares the Sovereign LORD.’ (Jer. 2:22)
As declared by the apostles, the Eternal King’s injustice and humiliation was overturned by His resurrection on the third day. His appeal to the Supreme Court of God in Heaven was upheld. We who follow Him are forgiven, by the very same mortal wounds that He bears on our behalf before God. All who remain on the side of His enemies are now living on borrowed time and patience.
Paul’s conversion of these ‘God-fearers’ to the new invincible relationship with God in Christ superseded all of the old rites handed down by Moses, including circumcision.
It’s clear, from the New Testament, that many who were born Jews (including Paul initially) considered the gospel to be an insult to their hereditary (yet oft abused) privileges under God. They were hardly exemplary, yet they envied Paul’s success in convincing those who attended the synagogue that Jews and Gentiles could, in Christ, enjoy a new identity as cherished and forgiven equals: joint owners of God’s greatest gift to mankind, eternity, that is, life as God owns it. Paul assured believers of His gospel that they were, in that sense of direct resemblance, the sons of God, guaranteed a future physical existence radiating with the genetic immortality of their Father who is Jesus’ Father, the Almighty Creator Himself.