Friday, March 30, 2012

Lotteries and Lots

Protestant Christian tend to believe that participation in lotteries and other games of chance is wrong. One argument is that lotteries are an attempt to get something for nothing, which is morally wrong. The other argument is that lotteries and pokies take advantage of people who cannot afford to participate.

I take a different view. For a Christian, participation in a lottery is illogical, because we do not live in a world of chance.

A lottery is a form of gambling which involves the drawing of lots for a prize. Various processes are used to select random winners: throwing dice or drawing ball from a barrel. Modern lotteries use electronic processes to randomly select winners. These processes appear to be random, but they ignore the spiritual dimension to life. God can intervene in a random process to get the results he wants.

In Old Testament times, the high priest used the Urim and Thummim to make decisions.

Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the LORD. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD (Ex 28:30).
We do not know how they worked, but the Urim and the Thummim were a portable tool for drawing lots. In the Old Testament age, the Holy Spirit had not been given to all people, so they found it hard to hear God speak, so deciding what is right was difficult. To make quick decisions, they would draw lots in a process they could not control This allowed God to determine the outcome. This required a high level of faith. They believed that God would control the lot to ensure that they made the right decision.

Many Christians will not be familiar with the Urim and Thummim, but they know the story of Achan’s sin. He took gold, silver and a beautiful robe from Jericho and hid them in his tent. His sin was the cause of the Israelite defeat in the battle for Ai. Joshua used the Urim and Thummim to identify the culprit (Num 27:21).
In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the LORD chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the LORD chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the LORD chooses shall come forward man by man….Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen (Jos 8:14,16-18).
God controlled the outcome of the Urim and Thummim to point to Achan as the sinner. This was a fulfilment of Proverbs 16:33.
The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.
Drawing lots appears to be a random process, but the outcome is determined by the Lord.

Lots were used throughout the Old Testament to discover God’s will.
  • When Israel was going into the Promised Land, God told Moses to distribute the land by Lot.

    Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes (Num 33:54).
    This process led to the land being distributed according to God’s plan.

  • Gideon’s fleece was a type of lot (Jud 6:37-40).

  • Judah decided how to go into battle as the lot directed (Jud 20:9.

  • Saul drew lots to discover that his son Jonathon had broken his vow by eating honey (1 Sam 14:40-43). If a prophet walking in the Spirit had been present, they would not have had to use lots.

  • Officials were appointed by drawing lots (1 Chron 24:5).

After Jesus resurrection, his disciples drew lots to select Mattias as an apostle to replace Judas.
So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs. Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles (Acts 1 23-26).
This event seems odd to modern eyes. Some commentators believe that they got it wrong, but the disciple’s actions made perfect sense. They had not yet received the fullness of the Spirit, meaning they were not sure that they could hear God speak, so they used an Old Testament method to select the right person. They trusted God to determine the outcome of the lot (Prov 16:33).

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost changed everything. People who walk in the Spirit can make decisions by listening to his voice. Making decisions by lot or by Urim and Thummin has been made redundant. Now that we have the gift of the Spirit, Christians should have no need for lots. Listening to his voice is a better way, because it builds our relationship with him. However, the power of God has not been diminished. He can still determine the outcome of lot and other apparently random selections.

Nothing is random for God. He knows in advance the way the way that random numbers will fall. That means that he could tell me the winning number for a lotto draw, if he wanted to. He never has and he never will, because he knows that all that money would be bad for me. He has far better ways to bless me. I do not buy a lotto tickets, not because it is morally wrong, but because I know that God controls the process and he will not let me win. I have no need to test him, to see if he will change his mind.

We also need to understand that when ungodly people control a random process, they devil is able to achieve his purposes. The balls seem to fall out of the lotto barrel in a random way, but if God is shut out of the process, the forces of evil can intervene in the process to advance evil. That explains why people trying a lottery for the first time often seem to do well. The forces of evil make sure they do well to suck them in. We call this beginners luck, but it is really sucker’s curse.

I know that if I did win a lottery prize, it would be because the enemy has intervened to up my life. I do not want that, so I do not give him the chance.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Role of a Prophet

Mike Breen and Steve Cockram give the following definition of the role of a prophet. The first sentence is a bit clunky, but they  have summed it up very well.

Prophets are able to stand back from circumstances and get a clear picture of what is happening and therefore see creative solutions and develop a vision for situations that other do not see. Prophets understand the times and what people should do.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ascension Gifts

Much has been written and said about the restoration of the ascension ministries. Yet, most evangelists are still in para-church organisations and few churches have a functioning evangelist. Most prophets are still in the wilderness, while very few churches have an authentic prophetic ministry. Pastors are everywhere, but very few Christians are being effectively discipled (pastored). Most modern apostles look like traditional bishops, with more of the Spirit, and less of the regalia.

Being Church Where We Live explains that the ascension ministries are just roles undertaken by elders. By bring these giftings “down to earth”, they become relevant to all Christians, rather than being limited to a few superstars.

Monday, March 26, 2012


I have always believed that discipling is really important. That is why my book called Being Church Where We Live has a chapter on it. However, I was never discipled myself, so I am not very good at it. I have just read Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram. These guys are not just talking about it, they are doing it. They have some really good advice. Here is one gem.

If you set out to build the church, there is not guarantee that you will make disciples. It is far more likely that you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services provided by religious professionals.

If you make disciples, you will get the church.
The "shepherding movement" gave it a bad name during the 1970s by being heavyhanded. That is a pity, because discipling was what Jesus did, and it was effective for him, and those who followed him..

Saturday, March 24, 2012

One God (2)

Now to Rick Warren's question.  When Moslems worship Allah, what are they doing?

  1. If they are trying to worship God, because they have an innate awareness of him (Rom 1:20), they are trying to worship the one true God They are not worshipping a different God, because there is no another God to worship.

  2. Many may be deceived by the devil. Some may be controlled by him, but most are not worshipping the devil. Their intention is to worship God, not to worship the devil.

  3. When they bow down, they are worshipping God as they know him. The problem is that there understanding of God is very limited, and often wrong. They believe there is only one God, and they believe that he created the world. They also believe that he is sovereign over the world, but there is a whole lot of other important things that they have wrong. The common declaration that “God is Great” is true, but it is not the total truth about God. So when Moslems bow down and offer worship, they are trying to worship the true God, but their understanding of who they are worshipping is wrong. Therefore, they are not worshipping in truth.

  4. Moslems do not have faith in Jesus, so their offering of worship cannot get to God through him. They do not acknowledge the Holy Spirit is divine, so they cannot worship in the Spirit.

Most Moslems are trying to worship God, but it goes nowhere. Their efforts are wasted because they do not know the truth about God, they do not have faith in Jesus, and they are not let by the Spirit. To deny God is sad. To believe there is a God and try to worship, but fail, is really a dreadful waste.

The same applies to most Jewish worship. Adherents of Judaism do not acknowledge Jesus and have resisted the Spirit, so that cannot worship in spirit and truth. That did not matter in Old Testament times, because Jesus had not been revealed and the Holy Spirit had not been sent. Their worship was acceptable then. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus have changed the nature of acceptable worship. Abel’s offering of worship is no longer acceptable. Most Jewish worship is now wasted, because the Holy Spirit cannot carry it to heaven to bless the Father.

Christians should not be too smug, because they can waste their worship in the same way. Some Christian worship is wasted, because it is unacceptable. Before I knew Jesus, I believed in God, but I had decided what God could and could not do. I worshipped my conception of who I believed God was. I had constructed an intellectual idol and was worshipping that. For me, a large step in getting to know Jesus was repenting of creating an idol to worship. That meant agreeing that God could be who he is, not what I wanted him to be. Prior to repenting of this sin, I was offering worship, but my worship was wasted, because I was not worshipping in spirit and truth.

Having said all this, understanding who people are trying to worship does not really matter that much. A far more important question is who is working in their midst. Is the Holy Spirit or is it some other spirit?

Friday, March 23, 2012

One God (1)

Rick Warren got into a lot of trouble for saying that Moslems and Christians worship the same God. It turns out that he did not say that at all, but it raises an interesting question. We need to get some principles clear before we can answer it.

  1. There is only one God. There is not an array of different gods that worshippers can choose between. We cannot choose to worship a different God. If we refuse to worship the true God, we are worshipping a God that does not exist.

  2. The devil is a spiritual being, but he is not a god. He is just a fallen angel, so he is not worthy of worship. Some people in the world worship the devil, but they are relatively rare, because they he is not very attractive. Those who do worship the devil are not worshipping a god, because he is imposter.

    The devil quite likes to be honoured, but he hates God and loves to control people even more. He is happy if people do not worship him, provided he can control them and stop them serving God.

  3. There is acceptable worship and unacceptable worship. God decides what worship is acceptable. We cannot tell him what is acceptable, because we would be denying that he is God. We cannot decide to worship in our own way. Cain and Abel both intended to worship God, but Abel’s offering was accepted by God, whereas Cain’s was not (Gen 4:4). The same applies to worship. Acceptable worship is worship that satisfies and blesses him. The Bible gives some guidelines about acceptable worship.

    God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24).

    Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6).

    No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

  4. Worship has two sides. At our end, worship is thoughts, words and actions that honour God. When humans sing hymns and make declarations of praise to God, they are offering worship.

    The other side of worship takes place in heaven. Our offerings of worship arrive in his presence in the spiritual realms and bless him. They are carried there by the Holy Spirit and his angels. If our worship does not comply with his standards, they are unable to carry it there. The worship remains on earth and is wasted.

    “Offering worship to God” and “God being blessed by our worship” are two different things. The former takes place on earth the latter takes place in heaven.

  5. Trying to worship is a good thing, but good intentions do not make it acceptable to God. Trying hard to worship does not stop it from being wasted.

  6. Every person’s heart is created with an innate desire to worship God exists. That desire is marred by the fall, but it remains. In some people, it manifests in the creation of idols. In others, it manifests in an offering of worship to God, albeit worship that is wasted.

  7. Many people who attempt to worship God are deceived by the devil. Some may be controlled by him, but most are not worshipping him. They mostly intend to worship God. They are not intending to worship the devil. For example, when Paul and Silas were in Philippi, they met a women with a spirit of divination who called them “servants of the Most High God”. This statement was true and it honoured God. The evil spirit knew that this statement was true, but it was not trying to worship God. It was trying to stir up trouble. The slave girl probably believed what she said, or she would not have spoken it. She was offering worship to God, even though she was controlled by an evil spirit. However, because her declaration was not inspired by the Holy Spirit, her worship was fell to the ground wasted. However, her heart attitude may have made it easier for Paul and Silas to drive out the evil spirit.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Innovation and Technology

Mat Ridley on Innovation.

I used to believe that innovation starts with science, and technology feeds off it. Scientists discover a concept and the others apply it. When I looked at this closely, I found the reality is usually the other way round. Developing a technology enables scientists to understand the concepts behind it. The steam engine was developed without any knowledge of thermodynamics. Science is important. It can produce innovation, but we overestimate the degree to which innovation starts with science.

What raises living standards is mundane tinkering with technology to make it cheaper and more effective. Technological tinkerers do not get the recognition they deserve.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Too Much Specialisation and Exchange

Much of the prosperity that our world now enjoys comes from the productivity gains achieved by dividing work into smaller tasks that are performed by even more specialised workers.

The most valuable specialisation takes place within a local community through sharing by giving and receiving. The different gifts within the body of Christ are an example. The body is stronger and more effective when every member of the body fulfils their calling. Love and trust are important for allowing this to take place.

A free market allows greater specialisation and productivity by providing for exchange of goods and services with people we do not know. Trade can take place with people without needing to trust them.

Cheap transport by air, land and sea through containerisation has vastly increased the scope of specialisation.

There are limits to how far this specialisation should be pushed.

  • When our activities are is totally specialised, work loses its meaning. We are created in the image of God. We are created with a need to create and build things, so mindless tasks are not fulfilling.

  • As the specialisation increases, the cost of managing production processes increases. Extreme specialisation becomes very difficult to manage. Some businesses are find that supply chains that stretch to China are too hard to control.

  • Local communities are vulnerable, if trade is disrupted by war or an increase in transport costs. If no one wants to buy the things we have specialised in producing and we have forgotten how to grow food, then we might starve.

  • Some people will end up doing all the dirty work. For many electronic goods, the interesting design work is done in the United State and the dull manufacturing task are done in Chinese sweatshop. That’s okay for people living in the west, but in the future the design work may be done in China and the dull manufacturing could be done in sweatshops in Detroit.

  • The western world now has more than enough wealth, so there is no need to keep on pushing for greater specialisation. We should perhaps settle for less specialisation, less wealth and stronger communities. We can make that change by changing our purchases.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Specialisation and Exchange

I recently heard a radio interview with Matt Ridley, who wrote the book called The Rational Optimist. His comments about the nature of human progress are apt. After describing some of the great advances made over the last few centuries, he said,

That kind of progress has come about through the exchange of goods and services. That is what does it. Specialisation and exchange means that when we work for each other, we raise each other’s living standards, by doing what we are good at and swapping if for what other people are good at. That is the big theme of human history. When we do more of that, peoples living standards go up, when we do less of that, by cutting people off from trade and not letting them exchange, and not le them specialise, living standards go down.

This is clear. Prosperity is cutting the amount of time you have to take to fulfil your needs, and you do that by getting other people to do things for you and doing things for them in exchange. This is what happens in the commercial world.
God has created the world in a way that forces us to cooperate to improve our lives. Markets provide a way for us to do that without the need to know or trust the people we are cooperating with.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mid-sized Clusters

Mike Breen has some interesting stuff about mid-sized clusters. I must admit that I am uneasy about mid-sized clusters, if they morph into mid-sized meetings. I do not want to go there, because that was what we had before the mega churches came along, and it was not great.

Nevertheless, I think the number fifty is important. In Being Church Where We Live, I described five Christian leaders with strong relationships with each other. If each of the five is discipling three or four others, and some have families and a couple are discipling someone else, that is ten people connected with each one (the number Jesus discipled). If each of the five leaders are doing the same, that would be fifty people making up this relationship set, to borrow a neutral term from mathematics.

Each of these fifty people are connected to the rest of the set by relationships. They would not all know each other well, but they would each know a few of the others really well. This is not a group in the usual sense of the word, but they are each connected together through their leaders to every other person in the set (by two degrees of separation, to use the jargon).

If the five leaders are balanced in their giftings, all spiritual resources needed should be available to any person within the set wherever they need it. The leaders will influence all of the fifty people in the set sufficiently to develop a common culture, (or way of doing things).

This set of Christians can function effectively, without the entire set ever meeting together. Meeting together for worship might be encouraging, but meeting to receive teaching would be pointless, because everyone would be at a different stage in their Christian walk. The Holy Spirit would be speaking to the leaders and to everyone in the set, so they would not need to get together for a common teaching.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Last Judgement

Many Christians have a very clear view of who will get in and who will be shut out. I am not so certain. I think we will be surprised at who gets and who is not there. We will be surprised at who only just squeaks in.

Deciding this fairly will be really hard, so I glad Jesus is the one doing the judging. He is the right man for the job.

More at Last Judgement.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rob Bell’s Other Problem – Hell

Rob Bell raised another important issue in Love Wins. The idea of eternal conscious torment for people who reject Jesus does not seem consistent with God’s love. I am with him on this one, although for slightly different reasons.

When I became a Christian, I just accepted the usual teaching that Hell was a place of eternal conscious torment. A few years later, when I decided to study the scriptures for myself I was totally surprised by what I found. Thirty years later, I can still remember the shock (and let down) that I felt when I discovered the disconnect between the scriptures and what I had taught about hell.

I discovered four facts that I had not been told:

  1. The New Testament has very little teaching about hell. There are almost no references to hell in the epistles. Most are in the gospels.

  2. The word Hell is a transliteration of the Greek word Gehenna, which is the name of a valley outside Jerusalem. This word needs careful interpretation to understand its meaning.

  3. Most of the descriptions use images like a fire or a furnace. We should be careful about basing a doctrine on an image, because images can take different meaning. Fire can symbolise purification or destruction, which are very different meanings.

  4. When I looked at all the actual descriptions of the future of those who reject Jesus, I was surprised to find that the most common word was destruction (Matt 7:13, John 17:12, Gal 6:8, Phil 3:19,2 Pet 3:7, Matt 10:28). The clearest is in the letter to the Thessalonians.

    He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (2 Thes 1:8-9).

  5. Hades is a different place, where people wait for the last judgment.

All this has three important implications.
  1. Christians should be careful in what they say about life after death and judgment. We should not go beyond what is clear in the scriptures.

  2. We do not need to scare people into faith in Jesus. The Gospel is good news, not escape from bad news. Jesus wants people to follow him because they love him, not because they cannot sleep at night.

  3. The scripture are clear that the future for those who reject Jesus is not very nice. That is that we need to know. We do not need to exaggerate to make a point.

My view on the fate of those who reject Jesus is consistent with 2 Thes 1:8-9. Earth is a strange place because God keeps his holiness separate from it in such a way that that people who hate him can continue to live on in safety. When heaven and earth come together after the last judgment, God’s presence will be everywhere. There will be no place for those who have not been born again to hide. They cannot continue to live without God giving them life, yet they will not be able to bear his presence, because his holiness is to awful. They will choose to escape to nothingness to avoid the pain of his presence. For people who know they were created for eternity, this will be a terrible experience.

For more detail see Hell

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rob Bell’s Problem: The Holy Spirit Can't Win??

Rob Bell caused quite a stir last year with his book Love Wins. The book is provoked by a dilemma that many Christians feel. How could a loving God create billions of humans knowing that most of them will end up in hell. He says,

Millions of Christians have struggled with how to reconcile God's love and God's judgment: Has God created billions of people over thousands of years only to select a few to go to heaven and everyone else to suffer forever in hell? Is this acceptable to God? How is this "good news?" (Love Wins).
This is a valid concern. Christian trot out various solutions, but most fall short. Rob came up with a different solution. He suggested that God would give people a second charge after death. When people see their lives from an eternal perspective, they will change their attitude and accept God’s love.

Rob’s gets his solution wrong because he begins with a wrong assumption that has been missed by critics and defenders. He makes the same assumption as many Christians.
Most of the people who will live on earth will not be saved.
Once this assumption is accepted, God’s love problem becomes a problem, because it is not consistent with this outcome. However, the problem is not with God’s love. The real problem is a basic assumption that denies the ability of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God's purpose.

This wrong assumption comes from assuming that the future will be the same as the past. Because only a minority of people living on earth have come to Jesus up till now, Rob Bell, and most other Christians, assume that the future will be the same. They assume that we have seen the best that the Holy Spirit can do. This belief is wrong.

The Bible teaches that the future will not be the same as the past. The time will come when the glory of the Kingdom of God comes to fulfilment on earth. During that season, most of the people living on earth will choose to be followers of Jesus. Many more people will live on earth during the Kingdom age, so over the whole of history, the vast majority of people who live on earth will find salvation through Jesus. The number lost will be quite small. I explain how this works in Times and Seasons.
Since the time of Jesus, several billion people have come to faith in him, far short of the multitude that John was promised. History will have to go on for much longer for this countless multitude to be brought in.

If the world were to end now, the number of people lost would far exceed those who are saved. This score makes God seem quite mean, as the vast majority of people who have lived on earth would go to eternal destruction. This impression is wrong, because it judges God’s performance on the first half of the game, when half the team is missing and the coach is seriously constrained.

By the time the game is complete, the score will have changed dramatically. During the second half, most of those who live on earth will be saved and only a minority lost. The second half could be five times longer than the first half, so the total saved will be enormous. The few billion people lost during the Times of the Gentiles will be minute compared to the thousands of billions that will come to Jesus in the future. The final score will be far more respectable, and better reflect God’s character. God is gracious and generous, so he will not be stingy with salvation. He will allow history to continue for long enough to ensure that the number saved will vastly exceed the number who are lost (Times and Seasons p. 108).
Once this truth is understood, Rob Bell’s problem disappears. The huge number of people sharing God’s heavenly glory will be proof of his love. God’s love wins, because the Holy Spirit is a winner, not by lowering the bar.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Foreclosing on Churches

According to Reuters, Banks are foreclosing on churches in record numbers.

Authority and Submision

Too much time is spent worrying about authority over people. Christians get into endless discussion about who has authority and who must submit. Leaders always want authority. Elders and pastors want authority over Christians. Political leaders want authority over everyone.

We are focussing on the wrong issue. Christians should be giving more attention to authority over the forces of darkness. They were defeated by the cross Christians should be taking authority over them and putting them in their place.

We also need to get submission right. Submission is not an issue of control. We do not submit to elders, so they can control our lives. We submit to them to give them the right to stand against evil with us. The members of a Christian community submit to each other, so they can shut evil out of their community.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Ugly Kingdom

The kingdom that many Christians want is an ugly Kingdom. Jesus will return to Jerusalem and beat the world into shape with an iron rod. His followers will control the world using political power and military force. Those who hate Jesus will be cowed into silence and forced to obey his word. Those who rebel will be destroyed by violent power. This is an ugly kingdom, not the beautiful Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Not by Might

Christians love to sing the following chorus, because it is based on the scripture (Zech 4:6)

Not by might,
Not by power,
but by my Spirit says the Lord.
Strangely enough, many who sing this song believe that Jesus will establish the Kingdom by might and power.

Jesus refused to use force, even though he could have called on his Father to send a whole host of angels to his aid (Matt 26:52,53). His Kingdom is not to be established by the sword. Jesus knew that true converts cannot be won by force. God’s better way is to win the hearts of men through the inner work of the Holy Spirit, as the church proclaims the gospel.

The Kingdom of God will be established by the Spirit, not by might and not by force. In Times and Seasons, I explain how this will happen.

Singing what you do not believe is a dangerous game.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Heavenly Army - A Bit More

Many Christians assume that Revelations 19:11-15 is a description of the second coming, but this is incorrect. The passage cannot be interpreted literally, as it would not make sense. Jesus will not be riding on a horse when he returns. There are no horses in heaven. Jesus does not have a sword real coming out of his mouth. If he did, he might whack anyone that came close, or if he turned his head suddenly. He would find it hard to eat and drink. The passage only makes sense if interpreted figuratively.

Jesus is wearing a white robe dipped in blood. This shows that his authority comes from his suffering and death on the cross. He does not fight with physical weapons; “he judges and fights with righteousness.” This is the opposite of the popular Bazooka Jesus.

This passage is actually a picture of the Kingdom coming in the way through Christian suffering. The riders are wearing white robes. In a previous post, I showed that white robes represent suffering for the sake righteousness . The kingdom of God comes when Jesus has enough followers who are willing to suffer for righteousness. Jesus is wearing a white robe too. He suffered on the cross though he was innocent. He actually died, which is signified by his robe being dipped in blood.

The sword out of Jesus’ mouth represents the proclamation of his word and gospel. The influence of his followers advances, as they speak his word and preach his gospel.

God will respond to the suffering of his disciples by sending judgment against the nations that oppose him and bring their kings down from their thrones. Christians will respond to evil with suffering. Kings and politicians will use military and political power to oppose God’s purpose, but they will fail and flee from the troubles they bring. Human political power will be so totally destroyed that it can never rise again.

The whole world will be convicted by the Spirit to acknowledge that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The rod of iron is often misunderstood. A shepherd uses his rod to protect his sheep from attack, not to whack the sheep, if they step out of line. More at iron rod.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Heavenly Army

The main purposes of the book of Revelation is to help Christians see their situation from the spiritual purpose. We often become so absorbed by what we see, we forget that situation is quite different when seen from the spiritual perspective.

All Christians are seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms. We are not just sitting there passively, but doing the stuff that God wants done to bring in the Kingdom. In Rev-elation 19:11-18, John describes an army of people dressed in white robes riding to victory on white horses.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 19:11-16).
This was not a description of the second coming. John was describing a spiritual reality, outside the scope of human seeing. He was explaining to the church how it appears during times of trial and trouble.

The golden crown and the white horses remind us that Jesus is a king above all other kings. He does not fight with physical weapons, but bring justice through the proclamation of the gospel. His robe is dipped in blood to remind us of his suffering. The armies following are dressed in white robes to indicate their suffering for the sake of righteousness.

A church that is being severely persecuted and is being decimated by political powers looks very different in the spiritual dimension. To Christians involved in the struggle, the suffering feels intolerable and the gospel seems to be going backwards. In the spiritual realm, these Christians are a mighty army following Jesus to build his Kingdom. Pushing this marvellous passage to the end of the age robs those who suffer for Jesus and his Kingdom of a great promise of hope.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Free Review Copy

I have a free review copy of my book Times and Seasons to give a way to someone willing to write a review.

If you are interested in writing a review, add a comment to this post with your email address and an indication of where you will publish the review. I will intervene in the moderation process to ensure your details do not go public.

If you do not get a reply do not feel bad, as you have been squeezed out by the reviewer at the New York Times or the London Review of Books. :-)

Friday, March 02, 2012

Rotten Banks

Andrew Haldane is Executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England. In article in the London Review of Books, he describes banking in the nineteenth century.

In the first half of the 19th century, the business of banking was simple. The UK had around five hundred banks and seven hundred building societies. Most of the former operated as unlimited liability partnerships: the owners-cum-managers backed the banks’ losses with every last penny of their own personal wealth. The building societies operated as mutually owned co-operatives, with ownership, control and liability all pooled. Financial sector assets amounted to less than 50 per cent of annual UK GDP.

Banks’ balance sheets were heavily cushioned. Shareholder funds – so-called equity capital – protected depositors from loss and often accounted for as much as half of the balance sheet. Cash, and liquid securities such as government bonds, enabled banks to meet their payment obligations to depositors. They accounted for about a third of banks’ assets. Banking systems maintained broadly similar arrangements across the US and Europe. This relationship between governance and balance sheet was mutually compatible. Owing to unlimited liability, control was exercised by investors whose personal wealth was on the line – a potent incentive to be prudent with depositors’ money. Bank directors – the major shareholders responsible for day to day management – excluded investors who didn’t have sufficiently deep pockets to bear the risk. Shareholders were firmly on the hook, and had a strong incentive, in turn, to make sure that managers didn’t step out of line. Managers monitored shareholders and shareholders managers. In this way, the 19th-century banking model kept risk-taking in check.
He then explains how the introduction of limited liability laws in 1855 led to a massive increase in leverage and appetite for risk.
As unlimited liability was phased out, leverage among banks rose from about three or four in the middle of the 19th century to about five or six at its close. Leverage continued its upward march when extended liability was removed, and by the end of the 20th century it was higher than twenty. In 2007, at its high-water mark, bank leverage hit thirty or more.

This strategy translated, by the arithmetical magic of leverage, into higher shareholder returns. Having begun the 20th century in modest single figures, equity returns to banks were, on average, close to 20 per cent by its end. At the height of the boom, bank equity returns touched 30 per cent. Higher leverage accounted for almost all of this. Bank managers no longer had to sweat their assets: they simply had to borrow against them.

The downside of this strategy is now only too clear. With leverage of two (UK banks in 1850), 50 per cent of your assets must go bad before your equity is wiped out and you go bust. But with leverage of twenty (UK banks in 2000), you will go bust if you lose only 5 per cent of your assets.
A related problem was the separation of management from shareholder discipline.
By the end of the 1930s, only six British banks still maintained reserve liability. The governance and balance sheets of banks were, by this time, unrecognisable from those a century earlier. Banks were now controlled by arms-length managers, no longer major shareholders, while ownership was held by a widely dispersed set of shareholders, unvetted and anonymous, their upside pay-offs unlimited but their downside risks now capped by limited liability.
This article by Andrew Haldane is worth a read, for those who want to understand the causes of the rottenness in the modern banking system. He is not so strong on solutions.
See Limited Liability for more.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Holy Spirit

Most Christians believe that God’s will only be done seriously on earth when Jesus returns and rules from Jerusalem. This common belief is preposterous. It is an insult to the Holy Spirit, because he is the one responsible for getting God’s will done on earth.