Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dimensions (2) Flatland

When I shared my thoughts on linear algebra with a friend who is an engineer and knows more maths than I have forgotten, he lent me a copy of a book called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. This book was written by Edwin A Abbot, who lived from 1838 to 1926. As the subtitle indicates, the purpose book is to explain the way that dimensions function. Abbot describes a two-dimensional world, where everything is flat. This world has length and width, but no height. The characters in book are circles triangles, squares and various polygons. When I read this book, I was fascinated by the parallels with what I had learned in linear algebra. Three things stuck me.

The first was the issue of perception.

In a three-dimensional world, sight is our best sense. We use sight to recognise other people and objects. People generally believe what they can see. Touch is also useful, but it is limited, because we can only touch things that are close to use. On the other hand, Thomas thought that he could prove Jesus was real, if he could touch his hands and side.

In a two-dimensional world, sight still works, but it is much less useful. Although the characters in Flatland were different shapes, they all looked the same to an observer. In a two-dimensional world, a circle a square and triangle, all look like a straight line. Skilled people could recognise the size of a person, by assessing the way the length of that line changed as the person came closer, but it was not possible to distinguish the type of person, by looking at them. In Flatland, they mostly relied on touch to recognise the type of characters they were dealing with. When a person came up against another, they could recognise their shape by touch.

Touch is the most useful sense in a two-dimensional world, but it is less useful in a three-dimensional world. Sight is less useful in a two-dimensional world, but is the best sense in a three-dimensional world. It follows that sight will not do that well in a four-dimensional world. Although we live a three-dimensional world, there is an additional spiritual dimension that it is an important aspect of reality. Our sight does not handle that dimension very well.

We need spiritual insight to understand what is happening in the spiritual dimension. That is why Paul prayed that they “eyes our hearts may be enlightened’ (Eph 1:18).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dimensions (1) Linear Algebra

If you have a warped mind like mine, you might find the next couple of posts interesting. If you are left in the cold, come back in a few days time.

Many years ago when I was studying theoretical econometrics, I had to master linear algebra to make sense of the proofs. I do not remember much of what I learnt, but I was I was struck when we projected an n-dimensional subspace into an m-dimensional subspace, if n was greater than m, any object would be slightly different, but would carry its form through. For example, if a sphere is projected from a three-dimensional subspace into a two-dimensional subspace, it becomes a circle. It is not exactly the same, but it is still a perfect representation of a sphere.

I remembered this bit of maths, because it seemed to have theological application. We live in a three-dimensional world, where things have height, depth and width. If you include time, it is a 4-dimensional world.

God operates in a world with many more dimensions than ours. The spiritual aspect of life can be thought of as another dimension beyond the three core dimensions. The spiritual world is not another world in another place, but an additional dimension to the physical world we observe. We do not know how many dimensions the spiritual world has, so it is an n-dimensional subspace, where n is greater than 4.

Jesus is a perfect representation of God. He said that if we have seen him, we have seen the father. In a mathematical sense, Jesus is a projection from an n-dimensional subspace into a 4-dimensional subspace. He does not look exactly the same as God, because he was confined to the three dimensions of our physical world. However, he is the best representation we can have of a multi-dimensional God, given this necessary constraint.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

NZ Spirit

Christianity in New Zealand is a funny thing. For more than thirty years, leaders and international visitors have been prophesying that revival will start in New Zealand and spread throughout the world. Alongside, this the idea seems to have taken hold that revival will just fall from the sky, automatically, without Christians having to do anything. May be that is why revival has not come?.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kosher Killing (2)

More comments on Kosher killing of meat from a Christian perspective.

  1. When Paul met Peter in Antioch he opposed him face to face. He condemned Peter because he had stopped eating with Gentile Christians. Peter was submitting to a Jewish tradition which was not based on the scriptures.

    When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (Gals 2:14).
    Paul was clear that Christians should not allow themselves to be forced to follow Jewish customs that are not based on the Word of God. This is what we would be doing if we allowed Jewish Rabbis to set our standards of behaviour by adopting kosher killing methods.

  2. Excessive legalism produces spiritual blindness,

    Their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away (2 Cor 3:14).
    Christians should be careful about submitting to legalism, as it can lead to spiritual blindness.

  3. One reason that the Jews have not been able to see that Jesus is the Messiah is that they have been blinded by a legalistic spirit.

    They are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge (Rom 10:1).
    If we submit to the same legalistic traditions we will be encouraging them in the very thing that is preventing them from seeing the truth. If we submit to these traditions we are giving them an authority that they do not deserve. By validating their zeal for traditions that go beyond the requirements of scripture, Christians will make it harder for them to see the truth.

  4. Any trade with Israel or any gift of food to Israel should take place from a position of strength (Deut 15:4-6). We should decide the terms of the trade. We should decide what form the gift will take. We make an offer, and they are free to accept or refuse. It is wrong to let those receiving the gift determine the form that it should take.

  5. If Christian farmers were to kill their meat by kosher methods, they would spoil their witness. Most people of the world, and some Christians would not be able to see the difference between kosher killing and Halal killing. They would not be able to understand why Christians are advocating the former while objecting to the latter.

  6. God's will is that Christians should support Israel with their spiritual and material blessings.

    ...indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings (Rom 15:27).
    Blessing the Jews is good, but God will enable us to do this without compromising on what we believe to be true. If the Lord wants us to bless Israel with our meat, then he will open up the way for us to do this without us having to become involved in Kosher killing.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Kosher Killing (1)

When I wrote my article about Halal slaughtering of meat, some farmers asked if Kosher killing would be a better approach. Some wanted to bless Israel, while others believed that Kosher meat could be sold into the Middle East. The next couple of posts will contain my response.

The main requirement of Kosher killing is that the animal must be killed instantly allowing all the blood to flow swiftly out of the body. This requires one clean cut of a knife with no pause, stabbing, tearing or slanting. A blow to the head is forbidden. Electric stunning has not generally been permitted.

Once the animal is dead, the meat must be "porged" by removing all blood vessels. For this reason it is often only the forequarters that are consumed. The hind quarters have a large number of blood vessels that are difficult to remove.

The meat must be certified as Kosher by a Rabbi.

Kosher killing is not as serious as Halal slaughtering. It does not involve any prayer, so it is not a form of direct idolatry. However, there are several problems with Christian farmers allowing their livestock to be slaughtered using Kosher methods in order to supply Israel with meat.

  1. The requirements of Kosher killing are rooted in the biblical commands that we should not eat any blood or any animal that is dead.

    You must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. (Genesis 9:4)
    Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth (Lev 17:13).
    God gave these commands to ensure good hygiene in the handling of meat. In a hot country, it would be risky to eat dead animals or meat that was not drained of its blood. Draining the blood once an animal has been slaughtered is sound practice for minimising the risk of disease.

  2. Unfortunately, the kosher requirements go beyond biblical requirements. Scripture only requires that meat be drained of blood (Leviticus 17:13). There is no command that the blood vessels themselves should be removed. This is another case of human tradition being added onto the Word of God. Jesus had strong words against those who use the traditions of men to nullify the word of God. The kosher requirements are a form of Jewish legalism. By submitting to these requirements we are nullifying the word of God and by submitting to a spirit of legalism.

    You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that (Mark 7:13).

  3. Jesus was critical of the Pharisees excessive zeal for the food laws.

    Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean" (Mark 7:19-20).
    Since Jesus declared all foods clean, we must be careful about complying with a different standard.

  4. All the meat that is slaughtered in New Zealand is allowed to bleed. We do not need a rabbi or priest to tell us what meat is clean and what is not.

    You have made them to be a kingdom and priests
    to serve our God,and they will reign on the earth (Rev 5:10).
    The Holy Spirit is able to teach us what is good and bad, because he is living within us. No human authority should be allowed to usurp his role.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Halal Food (6) Business

Christians cannot be harmed by eating halal food, unless their conscience is weak and it leads into other sin.

Businesses should be careful about getting their food halal certified. When going through this certification process, they have to submit to Moslem authorities. When people submit to any human authority, they give them open themselves up to the spiritual forces, behind that authority. Therefore, businesses getting their products halal certified, are opening themselves up to the spiritual forces behind Islam.

If the managers of the business are Christians, they might have sufficient protection in place to keep themselves safe from any spiritual attack, but they would need to be very careful. If they have any spiritual vulnerabilities in those areas, they could come under serious attack, and it could harm the business.

The Christian manager would also need to think carefully about why the are obtaining Halal certification. If they were doing it to provide food to people who need it, that would be okay. However, if they were getting certification just go get more sales, this might be an unwise compromise.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Halal Food (5) Thyratira

Jesus gave a similar warning to the Church at Thyatira.

You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and eating of food sacrificed to idols (Rev 2:20).
The key word in this passage is “misleads.” The NKJV has “seduces” and the NASB has “leads astray”. This woman was also seducing Christians and leading them into sin. In some way, which is not clear, she was getting them into a situation where they would face temptation that they were not strong enough to resist. Although, the Christians in Thyatira were strong in faith and service, some were falling into sin. Jezebel was encouraging them to do things which were not sinful, but which would be dangerous for Christians who had recently come out of them.

The issue of food and idolatry is well explained in 1 Corinthians 10. Paul describes the history of Israel as a warning from which we should learn. He then warns us to be careful about falling into temptation, because we will all face it.
If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (v.12)
No Christian is so mature or strong that they cannot fall into temptation.
The key verse in the chapter is v 23.
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me but not all things edify (NKJV).
There are some things that are not sinful, but they are dangerous, so a wise Christian will avoid them. A Christian can go into a pagan temple and pray against the spiritual forces without sinning. However, if the Christian is not fully free from those forces, it can be dangerous. The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons. A person who was previously in bondage to them, might be unwise to go back into their presence. They should follow Paul’s advice flee from idolatry.

Food offered to idols fits into this category. In the ancient world eating meat that had been sacrificed in a pagan temple was an integral part of the religion of the day. The New Testament was addressed to people who had come out of these religions. Eating the meat that came from these temples was not sinful. However, for some Christians going back to one of these temples and eating meat (perhaps for a social function) could be the start of their falling away from new life in Christ. They would be better to stay away from these places.

Similarly, eating meat that has been halal killed is not sinful for most Christians, as it would not entice them into further sin. This is especially true if it cannot be distinguished from other meat in the butcher’s window. However, for Christians who have been converted from Islam, it might be the first step back into the legalism (and the spiritual forces) of their old religion. Eating meat that has been halal killed is not sinful, but it may not always be helpful or edifying.

If the Book of Revelation were being written today, it would make the same point about watching television. Watching television is not sinful, but it is one of the forces at the heart of the modern sinful world. For some Christians it can be very harmful, as it entices and seduces them into sin. In our world, halal killed meat is not harmful, whereas television leads many astray and some have fallen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Halal Food (4) Pergamum

Jesus words to the Church at Pergamum were not a warning about being enticed into sin, not a warning about eating meat.

You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating meat sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality (Rev 2:14).
The problem was that Balaam was able to entice the Israelites to sin. Numbers 25:1-3 describes how this happened. The Moabite women invited the men of Israel to join them in their sacrifices. There was nothing wrong in talking and eating with the Moabites. Talking is not a sin. The problem was that while talking, the people “bowed down before these idols” and worshipped Baal Peor. This caused the anger of the Lord to burn against them.

The key word in the passage is “entice” (the NASB translates this as “stumbling block”). The passage is not saying that talking and eating meat is sinful. The problem was that the Israelites led themselves into a place of temptation, where they were not strong enough to resist going further and worshiping idols.

Pergamum was a strong church. However, even strong Christians must be careful, about entering into a place of temptation, where they could be enticed into and sin. This is the meaning of Jesus warning. Christians must avoid situations of compromise, where they can be tempted into sin.

Consider a modern example. Having a massage is probably not sinful, but having a massage in a Massage Parlour would be foolish, because it could lead into sin. Similarly, television is not evil; it is just a communication system. However, some television programs can produce sinful thoughts that eventually lead to sin.

Pergamum was said to be close to “Satan’s throne”. The passage does not say what the Christians in the city were doing, but they must have been doing going somewhere involving food and idols that was very tempting and placing them in danger of falling into sin. Jesus warned against stumbling blocks that could cause strong Christians to fall.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Halal Food (3)

On of the requirements imposed on the Gentile Christians by the so-called Jerusalem Council was that they should:

Abstain from food sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:29).
I have discussed this passage under a different context in First Church Shambles. The truth is that James and his mates made this decision without consulting the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, the churches in Asia Minor had the sense to ignore it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Halal Food (2)

Meat that is halal killed meat has been offered to idols. The Bible teaches that, while offering meat to false gods is wrong, it is not wrong for Christians to eat this meat if it is available for sale in supermarkets. The clearest statement is in 1 Corinthians 10:25:

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience,
for the earth is the Lord’s, and everything it.
This statement is very clear. Christians can eat any meat that it available in their supermarket, regardless of where it comes from. Christianity is not an external religion, where we get closer to God by doing or not doing things. We are saved by faith and get close to God by having a pure heart. (Islam is an external religion, which places an emphasis on external actions like going to Mecca). The only reason for not eating meat would be to avoid offending the conscience of another Christian and causing them to stumble. We must have the right heart-attitude to our brethren.

The same message is repeated in 1Corinthians 8. There is one God and one Lord in whom we live. We cannot be contaminated just by eating meat.
Food does not bring us near to God.We are no worse if we do not eat,
and no better if we do (v.8).
Food cannot separate us from God, if our heart is right.

Paul warns believers to be careful about how they exercise this freedom.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge (1Cor 8:9-11).
They should not eat meat in an idol’s temple, if this will be a stumbling block to someone with a weaker conscience. Building up another Christian is more important than exercising our freedom.

These clear statements that eating meat offered to idols is not wrong raise the issue of the meaning of scriptures that appear to contradict them. I will discuss these in the next few posts.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Halal Food (1)

Thirty years ago, halal slaughtering became a divisive issue in our nation’s sheep and beef slaughter houses. The meat companies had lost their markets in Europe and wanted to expand their sales in the Middle East, so they decided to have all livestock slaughtered using halal practices (the word halal means lawful). I wrote and article called Dangerous Compromise in Meat Industry opposing their actions.

This was an issue of freedom and liberation. Moslems are free to pray to whoever they wish. They are free to kill their meat in any way they choose, provided it is humane. What they are not entitled to is to force Christian farmers to pay to have a Moslem slaughterman to pray a Moslem prayer over their livestock. Meat companies mostly owned by farmers were forcing their clients to submit to Moslem religious practices. I was very encouraged to read recently that many Southland farmers are still resisting the meat companies that have given in on this issue.

Eventually, halal slaughtered meat arrived in our supermarkets. Some Christians asked if they should eat this meat that is labelled has halal. My response was as follows.

For a Christian, halal slaughtered meat falls into the category of ‘meat offered to idols’. The Bible teaches that, while it is wrong to offer meat to false gods, it is not wrong for Christians to eat this meat if it comes onto the market.

Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4,5)
Provided Christians give thanks for what they eat, they should have no fear of such meat. Even though it has been offered to a false god, it has been consecrated by their prayers. The only situation where eating halal killed meat would be wrong is where it may cause a brother to stumble. No food is unclean in itself. But if your brother is distressed by what you eat, it is better not to eat it (Romans 14:14-21).

This issue has come again. Many imported food stuffs now have halal labels on them. In my next couple of posts, I will provide some more scriptures that support this view and discuss some scriptures that seem to advocate a stricter standard.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ascension Gifts

The ascension gifts are not spiritual things that are given to people, like the gifts in 1 Cor 12. They are people that God gives to each church. Each church needs all each of these types of people.

Apostles like to start new things and go new places. They are not so good at dealing with people problems. If people change quickly and get going, that is fine. However, apostles get frustrated with people who need a lot of time to get back on track, because they are already wanting to move on to the next new thing. That is why they need to be working with pastors, who love doing this people stuff.

These principles work in business too. A business will often be started by one person, but to keep going long term they need four different types of leadership. The business founder (apostle) will be keen to more on to breaking into new markets and launching new products. “Don’t worry about the details, we will sort that out later”. They need an accountant/legal type (prophet) to sort out the details and keep them from crossing boundaries. To grow rapidly, they will need someone to do the marketing/sales(evangelist). They also need someone to do the HR/people management stuff that the business founder cannot be bothered about.

Some workplaces have used the DISC profile for personal development stuff. It puts people into four categories. There are other versions using dog breeds, etc, that are similar. I have always been intrigued by they way these categories parallel the ascension gifts.

  • Dominance/lion/ apostle loves making decisions and wants to get things done.
  • Influence/otter/evangelist makes lots of noise and loves working with other.
  • Steadiness/Labrador/pastor works with people and keeps the ship steady.
  • Conscientious/beaver/prophet wants stuff to be right. They get the details sorted out.
These are categories are not a perfect match, but they do show how a leadership team needs to be balanced.

I have noticed that secular organisations are often better than Churches at harnessing the creative energies that emerge when these very different personalities work together in a team. Churches usually put one person in charge, and everyone has to dance to his tune. Real growth comes when very different leaders can work together, because they have committed to love each other.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


An antichrist is here. Actually several.

Before you get too stirred up about this, remember that antichrists were around in John’s time too (1 John 4:3). John also explained how antichrists can be recognised. Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is an antichrist.

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22).
The person who denies that Jesus is the Christ is the antichrist. The Greek word “Christos” means “anointed one”. It is the word used in the Greek version of the Old Testament for the Messiah, who was to come. Put bluntly, John is saying,
Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is an anti-Messiah.
The great irony is that the people who are preaching about a coming antichrist, are actually denying that Jesus was a full blown Messiah. They admit that his death paid the penalty for our sins, but they deny that he rules the world now. They deny that he completed defeated the devil. They believe that Jesus was confused, when he taught that the Holy Spirit would bring in the Kingdom of God. The implication of their teaching is Jesus was just half a Messiah, and will not be a full Messiah until he comes and sorts things out again. Jesus might become a Messiah in the future, but currently he is only half a messiah.

Many end-times teachers believe in the antichrist, but this means that Jesus is not yet the Messiah. This makes them antichrists, because they are denying that Jesus is the Messiah now.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Euro

Many economic commentators are already writing the obituary of the Euro. Some suggest that a currency union cannot survive without political union. This is not correct. What happens in a currency union is that individual governments lose the power to deflate their currency. They can no longer borrow and spend, and then inflate away the debt (California cannot do this either).

Politicians hate losing this power, because they can no longer buy votes without having to pay the price. Most citizens should be glad that their politicians have lost this power. Image the damage that Arnie could terminate, if California could inflate away its debt.

The real problem in Europe is that credit rating agencies and banks foolishly assessed the risk of default as being the same for all members of the European Union. German and Greek bonds were priced the same. This allowed the poorer countries of Europe to borrow at very low interest rates and spend like there is no tomorrow. It is now clear that the risk of lending to Greece and Spain is far greater than lending to Germany, so bond yields have adjusted to reflect the difference.

This coming home of the chickens leaves the so-called PIIGS in a difficult situation. They can no longer inflate their way out of trouble and they can no longer borrow freely at low cost. However, leaving the Euro is not really an option. They would face the costs of establishing a new currency, and will not be able borrow at all. The populations of parts of Europe will face a few hard years and the politicians will not be able to buy their votes.

The bad risk assessments have left the European banks with a serious problem. They have only just swallowed the American subprime debt and now they have to deal with the falling value of European sovereign debt. However, the ECB is coming to the party, and is buying up some to the poorer quality debt. They will not allow the European banks to follow. Part of Europe may experience hard times, but the Euro will not fail.

The other consequence of the economic crisis is that political union is finally off the agenda. The chances of the Germans and Greeks, or the Dutch and the Spanish giving their political independence to each other has dropped to zero.

This creates a problem for the end-times prophets who have backed an eschatology based round a United States of Europe. They will have to go back to the scriptures and re-write their charts. Anyway, who needs a United States of Europe when we have a United States of America trying to manage the world.

Household Deleveraging

American households have shut up shop and stopped spending. After a couple of decades of borrow and spend, they need to get their balance sheets in order. This creates a problem for business that produce consumption goods. This falling demand is a serious issue for the businesses produce consumer goods, but fortunately many of them in a China.

In a free economy, this falling demand would not be a problem. When households stop spending, interest rates usually fall. If households are saving more, banks can offer lower interest rates and still get the funding they need. If households stop borrowing, banks have to lower interest rates to attract borrowers. Increasing supply and falling demand both push interest rates down.

When interest rates fall, numerous investments projects, which previously could not make a reasonable return, suddenly become viable. The result is increasing demand for investment goods. Some businesses will respond to that demand by shifting resources from the production of consumer goods to the production of investment goods. This adjustment may take a couple of quarters, but by shifting the mix of production away from consumption to investment, the slack in the economy is quickly taken up. More important, the resulting build up of capital goods tends to make the economy even more productive in the future.

In a free economy, if demand for consumption falls, production shifts to investment goods. When household start consuming again, the extra capital makes the economy more productive, so the demand for extra goods is easily met. There is no need to have a demand driven recession.

Unfortunately, America is not a free economy and interest rates are fixed by the Fed. Although households are saving more, the Fed has left interest rates unchanged, so the signal that declining interest rates should give to businesses has not gone through. Worse still, the Fed held interest too low during much of the decade. This sent the wrong signal to businesses, and may investment projects were undertaken that would not have been viable, if interest rates had been at an appropriate level.

Artificially low interest rates cause households to borrow too much and business to produce too many investment goods. Households are reducing demand for consumer goods to get out of debt. Businesses should be able to switch to producing investment goods, but there is already a glut of capital goods, due to past overproduction in response to artificially low interest rates.

The leaves the productive sector in a bind. Demand for investment goods and demand for consumer goods, which should balance each other, are both declining. This leaves the government to fill the gap by increasing its purchases of investment goods.

Unfortunately, the government does not have any money, so it has to borrow to spend. This works in the short term, if a nation is willing to mortgage its future, but in the long-term, this increase in government debt adds to huge debt hanging over the country.

This debt and demand imbalance will prevent the economy from launching into economic growth, but it will not cause it to fall off the cliff, for quite a while. A double dip does not seem very likely, but nor is it likely to be a vee. The American economy could trundle along at a bit above mediocrity for quite some time.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

American Economic Situation

Many economists are suggesting that the American economy will experience a double dip depression. Quite a few Christian prophets have jumped on the same bandwagon, but I am not sure if this is wise. The American economy seems to be in a much better state than these pundits are suggesting.

The banking system seems to have come through the crisis quite well. Goldman Sachs and friends are getting a lot of stick, but they did America a favour by flogging off a large share of American subprime debt to European banks, without buying back any of the sovereign debt from Greece and Spain that the European banks are now choking on. Having written off their subprime debt, or better still flogged it off to the Fed, the larger banks are now reasonably sound.

Federal debt is a very serious long-term problem, but as long as the Fed is willing to engage in quantitative easing (printing money) the chickens will not come home to roost. In normal circumstance, printing money would cause the value of the dollar to collapse, but given that most countries are engaging in similar policies, there is no currency to devalue against. This pumping could trundle on for a several decades before the day of reckoning comes.

The households who poured their savings into houses they could not afford have lost their house and their savings, but the strength of the economy does not depend on them. There is a huge surplus of housing in many parts of the country, so the house building industry is not going to take off any time soon, but house building is not the heart of the economy.

The heart of the American economy is its ability to innovate and that is still very strong. As long as America can continue to develop new products like the iPhone and the iPad, which are wanted by people all over the world, it should not be written off. An economy that can produce robots that can saw through pipes a mile under the sea is not gong to go under any time soon.

Unemployment will continue to be a problem. However, provided the American people continue to be willing to send their young people to fight and die in futile foreign wars, surplus labour will not be a serious problem.

The stock market has run well ahead of the recovery and is due for a correction, but there is no fundamental reason for stock prices to collapse.

I am not expecting a double dip. Nor do I expect a rapid recovery. I expect that the American economy will trundle on at current levels. I will explain why in my next post.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Healing and Evangelism

Healing and evangelism are usually treated as separate issues for the church. Putting them back together is critical to our future success.

Everyone is called to be a witness. So teaching Christians how to share the gospel with their friends and neighbours is really important. However it will not bring the big breakthrough that is needed.

The ministry of the evangelist is really important. Most Christians assume evangelism means preaching, but preaching at crowds does not work in many places, because people feel intimidated and badgered. The evangelist often hammers people into repentance by focussing on sin, which leaves people feeling condemned. Most people do not like it.

The New Testament describes a different approach. That healing/evangelism model is different (and used throughout the gospels and Acts).

  1. Heal someone sick in a public place.

  2. A crowd gathers and people ask, how did this happen.

  3. The evangelist preaches the gospel by explaining what Jesus is done.

There are different couple of differences about this approach.
  • The crowd gathers because they are curious about what they have seen. They want to be there. They are free to sneak away, if it gets uncomfortable. This produces a much more conducive atmosphere.

  • The preacher does not have to prove God’s existence, because the proof is standing at the front of the crowd.

  • The preacher does not have to badger the people, because they will often be asking what they need to do.

  • The preacher does not have to prove Gods grace and love, because that is evident too.

  • The focus of the preaching is different too. It does not need to browbeat people into repenting, but explains what Jesus has done, and explains to the crowd how they can get it.

This model of evangelism has not been seriously used by the church for about 1800 years. This explains why such a great gospel has been far less successful than it should have been.

I believe that if we are to see the big turn around for the gospel, then we will have to get back to that healing/evangelism model. We already know that nothing else works. We have this healing/evangelism model, but we have not tried it. The solution seems obvious.

The other side of this issue is that the ministry of healing has been totally distorted and abused. Most prayer for healing take place at the front of the church and is for Christians. It has become a form of entertainment for Christians and a tool for building up big name ministries.

The gift of healing is actually a gift for the lost. They are currently being robbed of gift that God wants to give to them. We will not see a real manifestation of the gift of healing until we take it out in the markets and villages where it belongs and give it to unbelievers in the way that Jesus and the apostles did.

Unless we can bring healing and evangelism together, we will not see the real explosion in evangelism that many Christians are dreaming about.

For more detail on this topic see Healing and Evangelism.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


An alert reader of my book, Being Church Where We Live, asked the following question.

It seems to me that the number of Christians you say should be in one Church is rather high. You talk about 40 people in one Church. I don't know about your house, but most houses here in Europe are simple too small to fit so many.
My initial answer was rather unthoughtful.
This is a good question. In Asia where people live closer together, a number of forty would be okay. People are much more used to jamming into a room. Here in New Zealand, people seem to need a lot more personal space and each one needs a chair. We find that once a group gets up to twenty the dynamic changes, some of the quieter people stop participating and a few do all the talking. So the number would have to vary according the size of houses and the cultural dynamic.
After further thought I realised this answer is a bit misleading.

The really important point is that the size of a church should be governed by the quality of the relationships and not the by the size of meeting place.

The groups that we have been involved in have not really got much beyond being groups that meet on a Sunday. Part of the reason is that the people still have to drive to get together. The other reason is that people are not yet ready for committing to a deeper community. Because the focus is on meetings, the size of the meetings has been critical to the functioning of the groups.

I arrived at the number forty by coming at this from a different angle, by looking at the relationships a church needs to be mature. First to have a balanced leadership, you need four leaders, and ideally you would have at least one more learning to be a leader. If the church is in a growth situation, each elder should be discipling six newer Christians (half of what Jesus managed). That is at least twenty-eight people. By the time you add in spouses you have about forty.

In my view, a church that is functioning really well could have that number. If they live in the same locality and are committed to the one another stuff, the real growth will be taking part in a whole variety of relationships and activities. The weekly meeting will be of much less importance in the ongoing life of the church. If the people are committed to each other, they will found a place to all meet together, even if it has to be outside in a public place.

If the size of the meeting place is the determinant of church size, the church will not reach its full development. This has been our experience. For example most of our groups have just had a couple of leaders, which means we do not have a full balanced leadership. One result is that some of fourfold giftings have been missing. In the last couple of groups, there has been no leader with an evangelistic calling. The consequence has been that most of the growth has come from existing Christians, and almost no new conversions.

We must not allow the size of living rooms constrain the development of the church. A mature church will need more than twenty people. Getting back into houses is good, but it is not a total panacea. We must not let it prevent our churches from reaching full maturity.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Was He There?

Last week, Israeli commandos killed nine people, while seizing a ship carrying supplies to the people for the people of Gaza. The news media do not seem to have released a full list of all the people on the ship, but I wonder if Jesus was there. He likes hanging out with people who are imprisoned and he enjoys feeding the hungry.

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me (Matt 25:42-43).
On second thoughts, he could not have been there. The Syrophoenicians are only allowed the crumbs that fall from the Israelis table (Mark 7:28).

Monday, June 07, 2010

Prayer and Authority (20) Disappointment and Offence

Persisting in prayer to change God’s mind is pointless. Expecting the forces of evil to surrender without a fight is foolish. If we pray in the wrong way, our prayers will not be answered. This is not a problem, if it occurs occasionally, but is dangerous if it happens too often. Frequent failure in prayer leads to disappointment and disappointment corrodes the human spirit. If we do not deal with it, we can develop a bad attitude that destroys our faith in God.

When fervent prayers go unanswered, we can get offended and start saying negative things about God.

God does not care about me.
God cannot heal everyone.
Miracles are not for today.
These statements are not true. They may express our pain and disappointment, but if we keep speaking in this way we are insulting God’s character. In the New Testament, this is described as taking offence with God.

When Jesus came to Nazareth, the people were amazed at him, but their amazement soon changed to expressions of doubt.
Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3).
Their statements were true, but they represented a distorted view of Jesus. They gave too much weight to their own experiences and too little to God’s promises. Jesus did not match their expectations, so they were disappointed in him.

The people were disappointed in God, but the scriptures say they had taken offence.
Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marvelled because of their unbelief (Mark 6:5,6).
Offence led to unbelief, which shut down the power of God.

Offence is a silent insidious sin that is mostly buried and hidden. When we are offended by someone, we often say nothing. The other person may not even know that we are offended. However, the offence infects our relationship by eating away in our hearts and tainting everything we say and do.

Most Christians who are offended by unanswered prayers have never said what they feel out loud. They just have this feeling of being let down by God. This wrong attitude is often buried so deep in our hearts that we do not know it is there. However, it taints our thoughts and words and spoils our relationship with God. Buried offence at God makes faith difficult.

We do not want to fall into offence, so leaning how to pray correctly is really important. Instead of pleading with God, we should learn about authority and how we can use it to set the power of the Holy Spirit free to accomplish God’s purposes on earth.

For more on this topic see Rock of Offence.

To read this full series of posts go to Prayer and Authority.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Prayer and Authority (19) Idle Words

The other side of submission is that we should be very careful when speaking to others about people who have submitted to them. If people with authority speak negative words, about a person who has submitted to, they give evil powers permission to attack the person.

By agreeing with the lies of the enemy, Christian leaders can give power. If the leader says to his wife, “Bill has always been rebellious against authority, and he always will be”, his words give a spirit of rebellion permission to attack the person. If an elder says to a friend, “John is liar”, this allows a gives a lying spirit to attack John.

Jesus warned that we will have to give account for our idle words.

I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Mat 12:36).
Careless words are serious, because they are permissions. Many Christian leaders, elders and parents will be embarrassed on that day, when they realise the effect of they casual words they spoke about those who were submitted to them. They will be shocked when they see how evil spirits used their words as permission to attack someone who trusted them.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Prayer and Authority (18) Submission

Submission is very important for Christians, but unfortunately it has become a tool for Christian leaders to control their people. The real purpose of submission is different. God has made us free, so another person can only have authority in our lives, if we give it to them. We give another person authority in our lives by submitting to them.

This is important for effective prayer. By submitting to each other, Christians are giving other Christians authority in their lives. When we submit to our elders, we give them authority in our lives. This enables them to pray to God on our behalf and release the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. It also allows them to resist evil on our behalf. The more I submit to Christian friends or elders, the greater spiritual authority they will have to resist any evil that is attacking me.

This relationship between spiritual authority and submission is not well understood. We often ask other Christians to pray for us, but it does not have much affect. The reason is that they lack authority in our lives, but they cannot have authority, if we will not give it to them. Modern Christians want to be independent, so they are ambivalent about the concept of submission. This leaves them vulnerable in spiritual warfare, because no one has authority to stand with them to resist the attacks of the enemy.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Prayer and Authority (17) Authority to Resist

Authority is essential for resisting evil. This leads to a fourth principle.

We can only resist the forces of evil effectively
in situations where we have authority
We should choose our targets carefully. We can only resist evil powers effectively in places where we have legitimate authority.

Praying against big spirits in places where we do not have authority can lead to a backlash. If these spirits strike back, they can do great harm to a vulnerable Christian. I read once about a college student who attempted to bind the spiritual powers that she had seen in a vision sitting on the college administrative building. Soon after engaging in spiritual warfare, she was attacked with depression and fatigue and had to leave the college.

The problem was that the student had very little authority in the college. The administrators of the college had much more authority. The principalities active in the college were there because the college authorities, probably unwittingly, had given them permission to be there. The Christian student did not have authority to eject these spirits, because they were there with the permission of the college authorities.

Worse still, by enrolling in the college, the student had submitted to the college authorities. This meant she was also submitting to the spiritual powers that controlled the college, making her vulnerable to their attacks. They were able to attack her depression and she was powerless to resist, because she was standing alone. We should be careful about prodding principalities in places where we do not have authority. We might just make things worse.

This student did not understand the limits on her authority. She had no authority in the college, but she did have authority over who own life. She should have looked for some other Christians, who understood what was going on. By submitting to each other, they would have given each other authority in their lives. This would enable them to stand together and resist the principalities active in their college. The students would not have sufficient authority to evict them, but they would be able to protect themselves by resisting their influence.

This is how a group of Christians can function in a hostile world. By submitting to a few Christians they trust and standing together to resist evil, they can create an island of safety in a dangerous world. As more people follow this example, the spheres of peace will expand, and the forces of evil will be gradually squeezed out because they have no place to stand.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Prayer and Authority (16) Persistent Widow

These principles for resisting evil are illustrated in parable of the Persistent Widow. Jesus told this parable to encourage people not to give up when they are praying (Luke 18:2-4). The woman kept coming to the judge with her plea. For some time, he refused her to hear her case. Eventually, he got tired of her nagging, so he agreed to give here justice.

This parable has been misunderstood. People assume that the judge represents God, and that if they keep coming to him, he will eventually give in. This is an abysmal view of God. The judge himself said that he did not “fear God or care about men” (v.7). This is not a good description of God, so we insult him, if we assume that it does. The description of the judge fits the devil perfectly. This is a better way to interpret the parable.

Jesus gave the interpretation of the parable.

Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly (Luke 18:6-9)
.Jesus promised that God will bring just to his people quickly. He is the very opposite of the unjust judge, so he does not need to be nagged. This proves that the parable is not advising people to persist in pleading and begging God to give them what they what they want.

The parable perfectly describes our dealings with the forces of evil. Justice is on our side, because the cross was a legal victory for us. The devil is a cheat, just like the unjust judge. He does not “fear God or care about people,” so he will hold out as long as he can, but in the end he has to surrender to a just case.
Persistence is the key to successful resistance.
Persistence will never persuade God to change his mind, but it will wear the enemy down and force him to surrender.

When we reject the enemy’s first attack, he will come back with another. If his first suggestion does not cause us to worry, he will try something different. He had three goes against Jesus, before he gave up, so we keep going for quite a while against us. We do not need persist to change God’s mind, but we will have to persist in the truth to wear down the enemy.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Prayer and Authority (15) Strongholds

Sometimes the enemy’s suggestions will be made by a person with authority in our lives, such as a parent or teacher.

He will never amount to anything.
If we accept these words, then we are giving the devil power to fulfil them. If we hear these words a number of times, without denying them, then they gain a spiritual stronghold in our lives. When these words gain a stronghold, Satan no longer has to make the suggestion, because we have agreed with the statement and start saying it to ourselves. We start to believe the lie.
I will not amount to anything.
When I buy into the devil’s lie and start declaring it myself, he has a stronghold in my life.

The good news is that we can prevent negative thoughts from becoming spiritual strongholds by speaking words of truth that nullify their power.
God loves me and created me for a unique purpose
The most powerful stronghold of the devil is the lie that he is still the “prince of this world”. This was true before the cross, but Jesus death and resurrection destroyed his power on earth.
Now the prince of this world will be driven out (John 12:31)
The prince of this world now stands condemned (John 16:11).
Although the Devil has been totally defeated by Jesus, many Christians still believe that the short-term destiny of the earth is in his hands. This lie is a terrible stronghold, because it has given him authority to continue working on earth, despite his defeat. The best way to defeat this stronghold is to declare the truth of Jesus victory.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work (1 John 3:8).

To read this full series of posts go to Prayer and Authority.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Prayer and Authority (14) Resist with Words

We resist the enemy by speaking words of truth. Jesus demonstrated the correct method when he was being tempted by Satan. He does not have authority to attack us physically. He has to persuade us to submit to him. He plants false ideas in our minds, and if he can get us to agree with his thoughts, he has power in our life to do what he proposed. The devil said to Jesus.

If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread (Luke 4:3).
The devils suggestions are usually half true. Jesus is the Son of God. He does have the power to turn stone into bread. Eating bread is not sinful. However, Jesus realised that the enemy was trying to get him to submit to him, so he countered with a true statement.
It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone” (Luke 4:4).
This was the truth that was really relevant in Jesus situation. When you are being tested, food is not that important. Obedience to the Father is far more important than short term comfort. The truth spoken by Jesus nullified the power of Satan’s lies. When Satan’s lies are exposed and challenged, they are stripped of their power and he cannot touch us.
We are often challenged in the same way.
You can do that once, it will not cause any harm.
If we agree with this suggestion or act upon it, we give him power in our lives. Many of his suggestions play on our fears by producing worry.
If you take that action,
something bad could happen.
This suggestion is partly true. Something can always go wrong. Unfortunately, if we agree with the suggestion by starting to worry about what could happen, we have given him authority in our lives, and more specifically, we have given him permission to do the thing we fear. Many of the things that people fear happen, because they have agreed with the suggestion from the enemy, by worrying about it, which has given him authority to do it.

The best response to a suggestion that causes us to worry is to counter with the truth.
That is not God’s plan.
I do not accept suggestion.
God has promised to protect me.
The best way to resist the enemy’s attack is to counter with a declaration of the truth. This is what Paul meant by the shield of faith (Eph 6:10). A declaration of faith based on God’s word extinguishes the flaming arrows of the enemy and they fall harmlessly to the ground.