Friday, July 31, 2015

Idolatry and Political Power

When spiritual principalities and powers get control of a political leader, they release a spirit of idolatry among the people to cement their authority in place.

The children of Israel had picked up this spirit in Egypt by watching the Pharaoh. Once God delivered them, they transferred this idolatry to Moses, so when he did not come down the mountain, they created an idol (golden calf) to worship (Exodus 32).

Nebuchadnezzar was Emperor of Babylon. He created an idol reflecting his empire for the people to worship (Dan 3). This was natural because the principalities and powers that controlled him, also released a spirit of idolatry.

We can see the same pattern throughout Europe. Whenever a powerful king, died the people built a statue of the king on a horse in the centre of their town. This reflects the link between principalities and powers that controlled the king and the spirit of idolatry at work amongst the people.

We can see the same thing in the United States. The idolatry manifests in an physical idol when a popular political leader dies. The best example are the Washington and Lincoln memorials, but the same thing exists in many state capitals. The monuments and statues reflect the link between principalities and powers and spirit of idolatry.

The link explains why crowds of people gather to see the British royal family and the US President. It explains why people feel honoured when they get to meet their senator or representative, usually for nothing in return. When the principalities and powers get control of a politicians life, they release a spirit of idolatry.

This phenomenon creates a problem for the church in nations where the political leaders are controlled by spiritual powers. They release a spirit of idolatry among the people to shore up support for the leader they control. This spirit of idolatry leaks into the church. People afflicted by it will not accept plurality of leadership, even if they have complementary giftings. They will demand a strong pastor as their leader, so they can unconsciously attach their idolatry to him.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Different Standards

Kingdom communities are broader than churches, because they encompass all the people in the neighbourhood, including those who are not Christians. Participation will be voluntary, but it will be hard to resist the benefits that flow from a kingdom community, so some who have rejected Jesus will join in from time to time.

Christian society will operate at two levels with different standards of behaviour.

  1. Christians will be spread through society. They are expected to live by gospel standards, because they have the gift of the Spirit.
    • Love one another
    • Turn the other cheek
    • Give to those who ask for help.
    This type of behaviour should be normal for Christians, but it will not be expected from those who have chosen not to follow Jesus.

  2. The same society will have many non-Christians spread through it. The standard for them is God’s law. Nothing more will be expected of them.
    • No stealing
    • No assault
    • No murder
    • No adultery
    These laws are the core of God’s law. They are the lowest common denominator that everyone will accept.
Non-Christians will often benefit from Christian love, but they will not be expected to live by Christian standards.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Law and Gospel

The Law was a wonderful gift. It only deals with external behaviour, but that is a huge benefit. We all knew that. When an evil occurs in society, everyone says “The government should pass a law against it” or “the law should do something”. We all understand the benefits of having laws, despite the fact they cannot change hearts.

The gospel can change human hearts. That makes it an even more wonderful gift. Christians to dislike the law, because they compare it with the gospel. That is unfair, because the law was never intended to do what the gospel does. Even with the gospel, societies need laws to function. We know this, so we settle for inferior man-made laws, because we think that God’s law is not as good as the gospel. That is twisted thinking. God’s law is superior to man’s law, not for changing hearts, but for organising society.

God standard of behaviour for society is contained in the law. This standard was fine for society at large (no adultery and no murder).

The Sermon on the Mount introduced a new higher standard of behaviour for those who have accepted the gospel. Jesus introduced a new standard for those who followed him (no lust and no anger). This standard can only be achieved through the gospel and the spirit (new heart).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Good Government?

Many Christians believe that,

Political power is designed by God to be good and just!
This statement does not make sense.
  1. If God is the source of goodness, how does political power get to be good without him.

  2. What is the standard of goodness for political government? Where is it found” Aristotle or Madison?

  3. Political power will always be worldly, not good

  4. Everything outside the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of darkness (the world). How can a government that is part of the kingdom of darkness be good. God can use evil for good, but that does not make it good.

  5. If the Kingdom of God is God’s perfect plan for goodness and justice, another system of government cannot also be good.

  6. We seem to want to have our cake and eat. We want to have this nice little kingdom on the side, where we can practice loving and caring in privacy our homes or churches, while having all the benefits of a good secular government.

  7. A kingdom cannot have two kings. A people cannot have two governments. We pretend that we can get round this by having both a king (Jesus) and a government. That is logically impossible.

  8. The prophets, gospels, Daniel and Revelation say that most human government is bad and will collapse and be swept away.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Surviving Persecution

Thinking about persecution got me wondering. What are the conditions under which persecution strengthens the church? Here is what I came up with.

  1. I presume that Church will survive better if they are prepared. Christians who just presume that persecution will make them stronger without taking actions to prepare will be caught out.

  2. The Holy Spirit must be free to move. The Church in Acts 5,6 grew stronger when facing persecution, because he was able to work signs and wonders in public places (not just at the front of a church meeting).

  3. Christians who have learned to walk in the Spirit will deal with persecution better. Peter and Paul got out of prison in quite different ways. Peter got up and followed the angel (Acts 11:6-11). Paul stayed in prison when the earthquake blew the doors opened and preached to the jailor (Acts 16:26-28). They took very different actions, but because they did what the Spirit had told them to do, they both got out of jail. Survival during persecution depends on hearing the Spirit speaking, and obeying, whatever the circumstances.

  4. Christians must be living close enough together that they can support each other. This was the situation in China. The population was so concentrated that Christians could still interact with each other, despite the persecution. It will be different for American Christians isolated in their suburbs with no gas in the tank.

  5. Christians with strong relationships with other Christians in their neighbourhood will cope with persecution much better, because they will know who they can trust. They will be willing to sacrifice for each other. Peter wrote to Christians who faced persecution and advised them how to prepare.

    Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:7-8)
    Those who have learned to love one another when times are good will be better equipped to love and support each other if times get tough. I hope that persecution does not come to the church in the West, but if it does, I expect that those who have prepared by building with strong relationships with one another to cope the best.

  6. Churches that depend on professional leaders and activities in church buildings will be vulnerable. If the pastors are arrested and the church doors locked, as happened in China, their flocks will be confused and not know what to do. Christians focussed on one leader and one building will struggle. To survive during persecution, the church will need to be organised as a network, which can continue to function, even if some parts of the network are taken out.

  7. Integrity will be critical during persecution. Daniel’s enemies struggled to find a fault with which to accuse him

    The administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent (Dan 6:4).
    Daniel had not been corrupt or negligent in his duties, so they decided the only way to get at him was to charge with something to do with this religion (Dan 6:5). So they trapped him with a law against praying.

    Looking at the recent history of church leaders in the United States, a persecuting government would not have much trouble coming up with charges of corruption or negligence against them. Dealing with persecution will be much easier, if all they can charge you with is praying.

  8. The response to persecution probably depends on where the culture has been and how familiar people are with the gospel. People in America turned back to God during the Great Depression, because there was a strong residual faith, so it was natural for them to turn to God in a crisis. The Global Financial Crisis produced a different response, although some people faced serious economic losses. A Christian culture can deteriorate to a point where turn back to God in a crisis stops being the natural thing to do.

    People did not turn back to God after the Christchurch earthquake. The churches are now weaker than they were before. I presume that the Christian culture had been declining for much longer, so it never occurred to people to call out to God. And because the church was already weak, and its buildings were damaged by the quake, they did not have the resilience to reach out to the world. Nothing in this life is automatic.

  9. Christians who are focussed on self-fulfilment will struggle during persecution. The book of Revelations speaks of those who overcame,

    because they did not love their lives to the death (Rev 12:11).
    These Christians did not love their own lives. Their love for Jesus was so great that they were willing to die for him. It will be too late to develop that love when persecution comes. It is hard to see how a therapeutic church living in narcissistic culture with a rescue gospel and a rapture hope would not love their lives unto death, if they faced that choice.

    Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know that God could rescue them from the fiery furnace, but they did not care whether he would do that or not. They just wanted to honor him, because they loved him (Dan 3:17-18).

  10. During persecution, Christians must know that God can be trusted. Jeremiah experienced years of hostility and rejection from his people, but he did not sink into self-pity and bitterness. Instead he turned his trials into love for God and compassion for his people. So when the king persecuted him by throwing him into a muddy well, he knew that he could trust God.

  11. Those who have learned to love their enemies will be better placed to deal with persecution. Peter explained the correct way to respond to persecution.

    Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Pet 3:9).
    This will be hard to learn when persecution strikes. Wise Christians should learn to do these things during the good times when it is easier. We can miss these opportunities, if we respond to insults with self-justification and indignation.

  12. Persecution usually comes from governments, but Peter explains that it is actually a spiritual attack.

    Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:8-9).
    These Christians were being persecuted, but Peter wanted them to understand that the attack came from the powers of evil. Christians round the world undergoing the same kind of attacks are also under attack from the enemy. They should respond by resisting him and standing firm in their faith.

    We need to learn how to stand strong in our faith and resist the devil and love those who hurt us. We resist the spiritual powers, not the political powers.

  13. Christians who follow a good-time prosperity gospel will be poorly equipped to cope with persecution. Paul prayed that he would share in the sufferings of Jesus (Phil 3:10). This prayer is out of fashion these days, but those who have suffered for the gospel will cope better with real persecution when it comes.

    Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Pet 4:13).
    I notice that American church leaders tend to yell back, when they are criticised by the modern news media. There is a lot of self-justification and not much rejoicing in the suffering of Jesus.

Having said all this, the church should not focus on preparing for persecution. That would probably lead to retreat from the world and create negative attitudes too people. Rather we should focus on serving Jesus and preparing for the victory of his kingdom. Fortunately, the Christians who obey Jesus and walk in the Spirit and seek the victory of the Kingdom, will also be prepared for persecution, if it should come. In my book called Being Church Where We Live, I describe a different way of being church. The aim is to develop a model that can support the victory of the gospel and coming of the Kingdom of God. A bonus with this approach is that it is also persecution proof should that happen.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Persecution and the Church

Last week in a post about Christian Culture in America, I commented that in such a violent country it could lead to nasty persecution once people realise that Christians are a weak minority. There might be a lot of revenge to implement.

One commenter responded that “Christianity spreads best while Christians are being persecuted”.

This is a nice thought, but it is not universally true. Assuming that persecution will strengthen the gospel is wishful thinking. I learned this from the Christchurch earthquake. Christchurch was a city a strong but declining Christian heritage. A severe earthquake was just the thing that you would expect to shake up the church and open people up to the gospel. Yet the opposite occurred. The shaking has weakened the church, because it was not prepared to deal with a crisis.

Christians can respond to persecution in four distinct ways.

  1. The church often responds to persecution by accommodating with the political powers. It survives, but it becomes irrelevant. It finds a place of safety by retreating from the public square and becomes a cultural ghetto isolated from the rest of society. When it is stops being a threat to the dominant cutlure, it can be ignored. The Coptic Church in Egypt is an example.

  2. In many situations the church has been wiped out been persecution. That has happened in many places at different times throughout history. The city of Carthage was a strong Christian centre in the early days of the church, but there is no church there now. Augustine was an important leader and theologian in Africa during the fifth century. The church in Algeria where he was based is long gone, destroyed by a hostile culture.

  3. The church often responds to persecution by taking up weapons and fighting back. This happened in many places during the Reformation. Persecution led to war between the political authorities and Christians leaders and their followers. Often Christians were on both sides of these destructive and violent wars. Unfortunately, when Christians engage in war, the gospel sufferer.

    If Christians in the United States are persecuted in the future, the violent, warring military spirit is so strong, that there is a high risk that they will respond to persecution by getting out their guns and starting to fight. A fight between Christian warlords and their followers would be disastrous for the gospel.

  4. The church can respond to persecution by becoming stronger and growing. The New Testament Church was strengthened by persecution.

The fourth option is the best option, but we cannot just take it for granted. We must not just assume that it will happen.

Persecution is not a trivial issue. Even if those who are prepared survive and are strengthened, and the gospel spreads rapid, there will be huge collateral damage for Christians who are not prepared.. The pain of those who are confused and do not understand what is happening will be terrible. We cannot be glib about their situation.

Thinking about persecution got me wondering. What are the conditions under which persecution strengthens the church? I will list some in my next post.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Unity

NT Wright on Unity

It is quite easy to do unity as long as you don’t care about holiness.

And it is quite easy to some sort of holiness, if you don’t care about unity,

but doing the two together is jolly difficulty.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Big Narrative

NT Wright on the Big Narrative

Almost everybody in today’s world is living on an implicit narrative that says that the modern world came of age in the enlightenment era. We can now make and do things. We are the super race, so we run the rest of the world, and if they do things we do not like, we tell them off, or go and drop bombs on them, or whatever. Even the people who are trying to subvert that narrative are subverting from within the narrative, so you get westerners going around saying “We in the West are so wicked, we should be doing this”, because there is no other narrative.

The ultimate post-modern thing is that you collapse the narrative, and then all you do is look inwards and you play with electronic toys.

As human beings we function best in the big narrative, and the bible gives us that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Writing Books

CS Lewis on Writing Books

First be sure that you know exactly what it is you want to say.

Second be sure that you say exactly that.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Government

Paul Green makes an interesting point about the validity of government.

Most Christians, including those who genuinely want to uphold family life, are convinced that government as an institution was placed on earth by God. They include the well known “family values” campaigner, Dr. James Dobson who recently said publicly:
“The institution of the family is one of the Creator’s most marvelous and enduring gifts to humankind …before He established the two other great human institutions, the church and the government.”
There are, of course, chapters of the Bible dedicated to or explaining the creation of Adam and Eve. And there are many chapters, even the whole book of Acts, dedicated to the establishing of the church. So if Dr. Dobson is correct, then surely there must be at least some verses establishing that other “marvellous and enduring” gift to mankind?
Unfortunately, this great announcement simply does not exist.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Cultural Change

There is a massive cultural change taking place in US at the moment, and it is going against Christians. The gay marriage issue is just one little symptom. It is true that Christians in the US have massive privilege, but it is a legacy from the past, and it will disappear. It is true that 70 percent of Americans call themselves Christian, but that is just identification with the dominant culture. Once they realise that Christianity is no longer dominant, they will quickly change their allegiance.

The US is about twenty-years behind NZ. In the 1960s, the church here had a place of privilege here too. Now it is considered a joke by the media. Back then, most politician would say they went to church, even if they rarely did. Now if you say you are a Christian you will not get elected. All my school friends knew what denomination they were. Now no one cares.

Americans Christian will soon find themselves in the same situation. Looking at Christians or churches on American television programs, you will see where the future is going. So Christians in America should be worried. In such a violent country it could lead to nasty persecution once it is realised that they are a minority.

On the other hand, I have no sympathy with Christian grumbling, because the situation is where it is because they have failed to preach the gospel. They are the cause of the problem they are grumbling about, because it is evidence that they have failed to the job.

The situation is made messy, because American Christianity has taken on a lot of junk from US nationalism, which has nothing to with the gospel. Not only has this contributed to the failure of the gospel, but it make American Christianity look rather ugly. Hopefully, losing the culture war will expose the junk, and strip it away. The American church will have to get back to the Christian core to recover a message that will influence in their culture again.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pointless Destruction

I live in a city where much of the CBD was destroyed by an earthquake four years ago. It is now being rebuilt and repaired with insurance money, but the pain of people who lost homes and business is still very raw. Having seen the consequence of mindless destruction, I hate seeing cities and towns being deliberately destroyed for no real benefit. It imposes an enormous cost on the people who lose their homes and businesses. Treating it as "collateral damage" belittles the real pain.

Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in an airwar against the nation of Yemen, purportedly to return a President that no one wants. Matthieu Aikins recently sneaked into Yemen and filmed the destruction of homes and businesses. You can see his video at this link. No insurance companies will come and rebuild these towns and cities. Saudi Arabia does not want them rebuilt, because they want an empty buffer zone in the north of Yemen.

Why does no one care about this pointless destruction?

Saudi Arabia is an American ally. You can see his video at this link. The US provides the Saudis with refuelling and reconnaissance support. Most of the weapons used to destroy these homes and businesses were made in the United States. To wage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is using F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s F-16 to bomb Yemen and Syria. Saudi Arabia is currently negotiating with the US weapons industry to buy thousands of missiles, bombs and other weapons to replenish its depleted arsenal.

Why is no one screaming to US members of congress who support support this war and sales of weapons to Saudia Arabia?

New Zealand is no better. It is currently a rotating member of the UN Security Council, but it has remained silent, because it wants a free trade deal with Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Politics Trumps Economics

As I expected, the politicians have done a deal on Greece. I understand why it happened, but it does not make much economic sense for anyone.

Everyone knows that the Greek debt will never be repaid, so it would be logical to cancel some of it now. A rational banker would write some of it off as a bad debt to get it off his books, but this debt is controlled by governments, so that cannot happen. Greek politicians would never accept any forgiveness of debt, so Angela Merkel has had to veto all proposals that involve debt reduction. Instead, she is advocating debt deferral, because it maintains the illusion that the debt has to be paid. Politicians often prefer a politically-acceptable illusion to an uncomfortable reality, but they will not get their money back.

The Greek Prime Minister knows that his government cannot continue to spend more than it earns forever. I presume that he knows that Greece would be better off in the long-term if it was out of the Euro system. He must also understand that the short-term pain could be terrible. Politicians always think about the short-term, because in the long-term they are retired or have a highly-paid job in an NGO. Therefore, he is never going to choose a policy that will bring short-term pain, even if it will bring economic benefits in the long term.

So the Greek Prime Minister has chosen to accept an austerity deal imposed by the Germans. Not only will this deal cause short-term pain, it will limit the Greek future. The difference is that the Prime Minister does not have to take responsibility for the pain. He can blame in on the German bullies. A deal that makes no economic sense, makes political sense, because the politicians can pass the blame.

Spring?

Our first daffodil has flowered. Maybe spring is getting close?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tak Bhana (2)

Yesterday I began a response to Tak Bhana's message called Every Christian is a Full-time Minister. There is a solution to the problem.

Jesus understood the spiritual risks of going into the world, so he always sent people out in pairs, so they could provide spiritual protection for each other. Sending people into intense battle on their own is naïve. Jesus disciples were a bit safer, because they did not need to submit to a non-Christian person when the moved to a village (if they had to submit to the headman, that could cause spiritual problems.

If Tak wants people to go into the world, it is much easier to send a few people to live close together in the place he are targeting. They do not need to submit to anyone who is not a Christian. If they submit to Jesus and to each other, they can establish a demon-free zone, which can be a base for reaching out to others. (This is what Jesus told us to Luke 10). It is why Jesus told his disciples to look for a Person of Peace to stay with. A Person of Peace would be less unlikely to be controlled by demons, so submitting to them (as you would need to do if you lived in their house) would be less spiritually risky. (I explain how this works in Being Church Where We Live).

The Biblical examples Tak gave are a bit irrelevant. God was with Joseph in his work place, but his authority was limited, so he had very limited influence in his work place. He actually impoverished and enslaved the entire Egyptian nation (and they have never been free since), because he was still Pharaoh’s slave. Not a good example.

Daniel is the same. God used his position in his work place to develop his ministry as a prophet, but most his people will not be prophets in their work place. There is no evidence that Daniel had much impact on the people he worked with (except Drach, Shack and Neg). All the other people continued to hate him and tried to bring him down. However, he did not warn his people what would happen to them if they tried to prophetic in their work place. Someone working for and employment agency in a factory would most likely be fired, if they challenged the management.

I am concerned that Tak Bhana is sending his people into the firing line, totally unprepared for what they will encounter. It is much harder than going into a spiritually neutral place like a café and having coffee with a couple of school friends.

Here is my challenge to Tak.

You are dropping another impossible and dangerous burden on his people. If it is so easy, why don’t you go and do it, seeing, as you are the one who is gifted in the Spirit. Jesus went ahead of his disciples and showed them how to do things. He never expected them to do what he had not done himself. Why should his people take you seriously, if you are unwilling to do it yourself?

I can see what you are trying to do, but you want make it happen by yelling from the pulpit, because you are out of touch with what work is really like. If it is really important, you should do what Jesus did, and go out and show how it is done.

I presume that you are still grabbing the best people to work in the church. When the best people like you, stay at the centre in the four walls of the church, you becomes part of the problem, because it gives the message that ministry in the church is more important. Actions speak louder than words.

In his sermon for the following week, Tak talked about giving to the church and overseas mission. The work place reverts to a place to earn money to give to the church.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Response to Tak Bhana (1)

Tak Bhana is the leader of Church Unlimited in Auckland and has a television program called Running with Fire. Last week-end, I listened to a message he gave called Every Christian is a Full-time Minister. At the end he said he would love to hear from me. I know that is probably not true, but here is my response anyway.

Tak spoke the idea that the church should be out in the world, and that all Christians should see themselves as God’s ministers in the world, and especially where they work. He debunked three myths.

  1. Clergy are superior to the laity.
  2. Going to church is enough
  3. Market place ministries are not as spiritual as church-based ministries.
This is really important message.

The challenge was brilliant, but the application was flawed. Tak talked about Christians being ministers in their workplace and how they should perform better, because God is with them. This is true, but many of his comments reflected the naivety of someone who has not worked in the world for a long time. Much of his advice was unhelpful, and some of what he said is just plain wrong.

He told his people they should go into their work place as ministers of the gospel, carrying the gits of the Spirit. That sounds good, but he do not realise how hard it is for a Christian to operate in a modern factory or workplace. It is much harder to pray in a factory, surrounded by demonic powers, than it is to pray in a church lounge surrounded by Christians.

He urged his people to operate in the gifts of the Spirit, but does not seem to realise that it is much harder to operate the gifts in a factory with dozens of demons dancing around, than in his church office, or at the front of the church meeting with dozens of people praying.

More seriously, he told his people that God can change a work place. That does happen, but it is not automatically true. He can change it if the conditions are right, but if most of the managers and staff are hostile to the gospel and resist the working of the Spirit, God cannot change them. They are free people, and God will not force them to change, if they do not want to. Sometimes people will respond to the Spirit and change their behaviour, but there is no guarantee of that happening, so Tak gave his people a false hope of cultural change.

He also told his people they kings in their work place, and got them to chant that out loud. Again, this is not exactly true. We are only kings in places where we have authority, and that depends on the existing authority lines in the work place. Ordinary workers have very little authority. They only have authority over how they do thing, and other people who may have submitted to them. They can make a difference, but the bosses and owners are the overall kings of the work place. Failure to recognise that will lead to frustration and mistakes.

I suspect that many of the pastoral problems he have to deal result from people, being in the workplace without understanding the working of spiritual authority, and getting smacked about spiritually without knowing why. (I explain the working of spiritual authority in my book Kingdom Authority).

Even if a Christian in a position of authority, they are under authority of someone else, who will limit what they can do. A manager or supervisor has more authority over their work place, so they have greater influence, especially in prayer. However, it is not that easy for them, because they are paid to represent the company, not Jesus. It is fine if the interests of Jesus and the company coincide, but if they don’t, the manager or supervisor must represent the company. Unless the action required is so diametrically opposed to Jesus will, that they might need to resign.

If Christians go alone into a work place without understanding the nature of submission an authority, they could be spiritually massacred. When we go into a work place, we have to submit to people with authority there, who are often not Christians (an implicitly to the demons that control them). This leaves us very vulnerable spiritually, if we are on our own.
Some will say that we are protected by the blood of Jesus, but that is naïve. When I submit to someone, I give them permission to control some aspects of my life. So if I am not careful at work, I am opening myself up to the spirits that control them by submitting to people who are not Christians (This is why we are not to be unequally yoked).

Christians are required to go into the world, but we must know what we are dealing with. More tomorrow

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chinese Howevers (2)

The Chinese economy faces a lack of internal demand. When the current growth phase began, everyone in China was poor. For many years, it relied on growing demand for its exports, but since the GFC that growth has faltered.

The Chinese government is now encouraging its middle classes to get into the share market, so the regular income and wealth effects will encourage consumption increasing the demand for production.

However, the share market fall will shake confidence and act as a break on consumer demand.
Government Action
President Xi and his technocrats believed that high stock values would allow highly indebted companies to sell shares at a high price and use the proceeds to pay off debt at a low cast.

The government is taking actions to prop up the market. The People’s Daily claimed, "We have the conditions, the ability and the confidence to preserve stockmarket stability”. Interest rates have been cut. Central-bank funded share-buying schemes have been implemented. Initial Public Offerings have been cancelled. Short selling has been limited. Rules for pension funds and the social security funds have been changed to allow more investment in stocks.

State-owned companies and controlling shareholders have been ordered not to sell their shares. Rules changed so investors can use their houses as collateral to borrow money to buy stocks. A state-owned securities financing company has lent $42 billion brokerages so they could purchase blue-chip shares.

Trading in 90% of share has been suspended, either at the request of the companies themselves, or compulsorily because prices fell more than 10% in a day.

The actions have had an effect, as share prices have rallied.

However, government attempts to stand against the tide of the market usually fail in the long term.
Economic Growth
The growth of the Chinese economy has been slowing over the last couple of years.
However, China still has enormous potential further growth.
The government channelled production in to infrastructure but that is no longer so effective. China does not need anymore “ghost cities”. A “One Belt, One Road” initiative is encouraging infrastructure to connect China with the Middle East, and hence to Africa and Europe.
However, whereas companies in the US and Europe rely on equity funding, Chinese companies have expanded using bank debt rather than equity. This means that the share market is far less important than in the West. This means that the impact on the real economy will be much less. The share market crash is unlikely to trigger a major depression in China.
However, the Chinese economy is a state controlled economy. History shows that governments are not clever enough to fully control their economy. The Soviet Union collapsed when the economic contradictions got to great. China has the same contradictions, so it will eventually fall apart too.
China has a debt-based economy. Total debt is $30 trillion. Government debt is equivalent to 300% of annual GDP. It make take a long time, but this will eventually catch up on it.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Chinese Howevers (1)

The financial media have now switched their attention to the Chinese economy. Here is some background information. There are a lot of “howevers” that are usually missed.

Between 2005 and 2007, Chinese stocks rose nearly 500%. In 2008, the market crashed, losing 73% of its value.

However, long-term investors in the share market have experienced ups and downs are still will ahead.

In the 12 months leading up to the peak of the recent rally stocks gained about 150%. Now, they are down by about one-third.

However, shares are still 80% up on a year ago.

Chinese investors have lost more about $3.4 trillion in equity value from the markets mid-June peak.

However, they gained about $6 trillion earlier in the year. Insiders with good information have done really well.

The losers are those who got into the market in the last few months. More than 40 million accounts were opened between June 2014 and May 2015. Those who were late to the party will be feeling pain.

Chinese regulators have relaxed strict limits on buying stocks with borrowed money. As a result, the volume of "margin trading," By the time the stock market reached its peak in June, people had bought 2.2 trillion yuan ($350 billion) of mainland stocks with borrowed money.

However, this financing is not a systemic risk; it is just about 1.5% of total assets in the banking system.

Poor Alternatives

Bank deposits in Chinese banks of $2 trillion, which is twice GDP. About 15,000 per person. People need savings to pay for health care and their retirement. These are not funded by the state in China.

The Chinese government has always kept interest rates low to make it easy for businesses to expand. They are being subsidised by people with money in the bank, who get a poor return on their savings.

Some Chinese have shifted their money to the share market to get a better return than they can get from the bank. This switch is understandable, as up till now it has looked like easy money.
The Government has encouraged the share market boom. Some investors call it a “state bull market” or the “Uncle Xi Bull Market”. Some believed that the government was guaranteeing the shares would go up. A People’s Daily editorial in May, shortly before the market peaked, predicted that the good times were just beginning. This is why the government is working so hard to keep the bubble from popping.

Property has been the main source of wealth for the Chinese middle and upper classes. Selling land to property developers has also been a primary source of funding for most city and village governments, as they do not have authority to levy their own taxes. China's property market has been in a slump due to a slowing economy and excess inventory for a while now, so many people are now seeing the share market a better investment.

Small Investors
In total, there are now more than 90 million stock traders in China, which is more members of the Communist Party.

However, this is only 5 percent of the population, so it is relatively small.
China has a workforce that is rapidly becoming more educated and urbanized. Ordinary people discovered the idea of trading stocks with borrowed money.

31% of university students have invested in the share market, with three quarter are using money borrowed from their parents. Two-thirds of Chinese investors haven’t completed high school. Even Chinese farmers are buying stocks.

However, the stockmarket still plays a surprisingly small role in China. Most business activity is financed by debt, not equity. The value of shares available for trading is only a third of GDP, compared with more than 100% in developed economies. Less than 15% of household financial assets are invested in the stockmarket.
Foreign hedge fund investors have made some huge sales on the Chinese share market.
This leads some Chinese investors to see the falling prices as a Western attack on China.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Visions of Disaster (3)

The situation on earth has changed since Old Testament times. The Holy Spirit was not released then, because Jesus had not come, so God had to work in less effective ways against evil. He drove out evil nations living close to his people. He destroyed evil empires that were becoming too powerful.

Since the cross, God has a much better weapon in his arsenal: The good news and the Holy Spirit. He prefers to use them to bring down evil nations and empires. The Western church does not understand that and still wants to use the redundant methods. If the US had paid 100,000 people, equipped to share the gospel of the kingdom in the power of the Spirit, to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, they would have had far better results than their military achieved.

Although God does not want to destroy peoples and cultures, he will destroy alternative power centres. The institutional church was an alternative power centre distracting attention from the Holy Spirit. God is allowing it to collapse.

Human governments are the strongest alternative power centre in our age. God will eventually destroy government power, so the Holy Spirit power is welcomed and released

Sometime a culture will becomes so evil that God is shut out of it. When that happens, the power of evil will have a free hand, and the culture will destroy itself. God will warn of what is happening, but he can’t stop it. But New Zealand, and the US, is a long way from that.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Visions of Disaster (2)

Actually, the powers of evil are not strong enough to create a big earthquake or tsunami. The devil is a boaster, and often exaggerates what he is able to do. All his powers can do is trigger a situation where there is a build up of tension in the rocks. They can change the timing and the direction, but that is about all. (The ones who smashed up the fountains of the deep in Noah’s time are locked up, so they can no longer destroy the earth, as God promised Noah).

God’s prophecy is nearly always redemptive. He warns what will happen and tells his people how to prepare, so they can of restore the people the world when they are shaken. He does not prophesy mindless destruction for the sake of destruction (that is the devil’s game.

A tsunami would just destroy everything. It does not help the gospel. Just as the Christchurch earthquake didn’t advance the gospel, because the church was not prepared. (This is the point of the Commando army. God really needs it in place before he can fully shake the nation.)

I listened to Graeme Cooke’s message to New Zealand again at the weekend. Every time I listen, it feels like fire burning in my heart. He does not speak destruction for New Zealand. He speaks of a storm, but a storm that would sort through churches. Those built on the rock of Jesus will stand, but those that do not own Jesus and do not pursue his Spirit will be swept away. The storm is for the purification and transformation of the church, not for the destruction of society.

I have pondered what the storm could be. It could not be a Tsunami and earthquake, because that would just destroy everything: It would not sort churches. Persecution would do it, but that does not seek likely this year. It could happen, but it would take the church to oppose the world on a popular issue. That seems unlikely, so I assume that it is more like to be economic, because that would challenge churches that are not built on Jesus foundation. However, I do not have a word from God on that. What I do get is a picture of confusion in Wellington. Politicians and bureaucrats making mistake after mistake that makes troubles worse.

Years ago, a pastor in Invercargill shared a dream of vision of a massive wave, sweeping onto the South Island from the east. It struck Southland first and then moved north. He believed that God was showing him a massive move of the Spirit that will sweep the South Island. That is the sort of vision that stirs my heart.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Visions of Disaster (1)

A friend asked me about visions of earthquakes/tsunamis coming to different parts of country that have been shared Christians in different parts of New Zealand. Several people confirmed in their own personal words or visions as well. May answer is as follows.

Talk of Tsunamis and earthquakes have circulated for years. Thirty years ago, the talk was of Wellington. And an Australian saw a vision of a volcano blowing out of Lake Taupo. A few years ago, several Christians saw a vision of a tsunami destroying Christchurch. (One American couple moved to Dunedin to avoid it). I have not heard the latest accounts, but I find it hard to take them seriously, because they do not stir my heart.

I believe that spiritually-sensitive Christians sometimes hear the devil saying what he would like to do. Before the Christchurch earthquake, a friend heard an audible voice while he was walking through Christchurch at lunchtime say, “I am going to destroy this city”. After the earthquake, he assumed that God had been warning him. I do not doubt what he heard, but I do not accept his interpretation. God does not want to destroy Christchurch, because he has good plans for it. It is the devil who wants to destroy Christchurch.

The devil is the one who loves to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He wants to destroy the Christchurch, because he knows that God has plans for it, even though he does not know what they are. I believe my friend heard the devil speaking out what he wanted to do (but was not actually capable of doing). Or perhaps, God let my friend hear what the devil was saying, so he could stand against it in prayer.

I assume that most of the talk about tsunamis comes from spiritually–sensitive people who have picked up what the devil wants to do. Fear is his one of his best weapons. Or more likely, God is letting them hear what the devil wants to do, so they will intercede against it.

It is dangerous, if Christians agree with these words, because they give the powers of evil authority to do what they want to do. It is possible that the Christian who delighted in the vision of tsunamis destroying Christchurch, were actually giving the powers of evil permission to trigger the earthquake that did such immense damage in the city.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

No! Whats Next?

The Greeks have said “No” to the European austerity package. The outcome of this decision will take a while to emerge.

The European governments hold €300 billion of Greek government debt. However, they hold no security over this debt. The main way they can pressure Greece is for the European Central Bank to withhold emergency liquidity funding from the Greek banking system. The ECB cut these funds off this last week, which shut the banks. The ECB could destroy the Greek banking by refusing to restore liquidity support. This would look odd, because it would be refusing to do what central banks are mandated to do: be a lender of last resort.

If the ECB fails to support the Greek Banks they will quickly collapse. This would create serious problems for the economy, as businesses would find it very difficult to operate with no facility for buying inputs or paying wages and salaries. The Greeks would have to find some another way of getting payments working.

The Greek government is suggesting it could establish a parallel currency by issuing electronic IOUs. Some businesses are already creating notes that their staff can give supermarkets to get food, then supplying good to the supermarkets to compensate. I have explained how local communities can create an alternative banking system in Community Banks.

The other way the Europeans can pressure Greece is to withhold further loans. The Greek government cannot operate through a serious recession without further borrowing. If it does not get more loan funding, the government will be out of money. It would not be able to afford to pay pensions and salaries of the public service. This would leave many people without income and unable to pay rent or buy food. It might make it very difficult for hospitals and police services to keep operating. The Greeks would have to find ways to new ways to support each other through this crisis with giving and sharing. If things got really bad, international aid agencies might need to provide food aid. Russia, China and US Hedge Funds are possible sources of loans, if there were a complete default.

These problems are unlikely to happen. I suspect that European and Greek politicians will arrive at a negotiated solution and the situation in Greece will grind on for a long time.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Referendum and Default

No one is asking me, but I would vote “No” in the referendum, if I were Greek. The conditions being imposed by the European government are unreasonable. The latest IMF report confirms this. The European government requirements are driven more by their fears of their own voters than concern for the Greek people.

The Greeks would be better to default completely, than to surrender to the Europeans once more. There might be some short term pain, but the long term future would be much better without the albatross of debt hanging round their necks.

A full default would bring the collapse of the Greek banks. Fortunately, most depositors have already got their money out of their banks. As much as €50 billion in Euro notes and coins could be hidden under Greek mattresses and much more may be off-shore banks. Many businesses have borrowed Euros from Greek banks and moved the money to European banks, or into US dollars or sterling. They intend to make a profit when a new devalued drachma is introduced.

If the banks fail, and are liquidated by the state, the remaining domestic depositors would become senior creditors of the banks with first claim over their remaining assets. They European creditors would be left with nothing.

If Greece defaulted on all its debts, lenders would soon return. Greece would be seen as a good credit risk, because debt levels would be very low. Loan money would soon be flowing again, but it would be possible to keep it under control.

Greece should probably withdraw from the EU and get free of its shackles. Greek companies would still be able to export to the west, but it would be much easier to trade with the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where the demand for their products is likely to be much greater.

Greece and Debt

According to the Bible,

The borrower is slave to the lender (Prov 22:7).
Two corollaries of this verse are being lived out in Greece.
  • The government that borrows excessively turns its people into slaves.
    The Greek people are experiencing this at the current time.

  • When the borrower owes the lender €300 billion, the lender is also the slave of the borrower. The governments of Europe are discovering this in Greece.

Greek Government Foolishness

1. Betrayed by Politicians
The Greek people have been betrayed by successive governments that have taken on excessive debt in order to buy votes.

2. Greek Oligarchy
Bad government protects the rich and powerful. The Greek banks are vehicles through which the Oligarchs controlled the economy. They serve the economic elite, while smaller businesses are starved of funding.

3. Banks Broke
The Greek banks are broke. The three largest banks—–Alpha Bank, National Bank of Greece and Eurobank Ergasias—–have upwards of €60 billion of non-performing loans, which represent nearly one-third of their total book of €180 billion. In addition, they also have €50 billion of bonds and other investments—much of which was issued or guaranteed by the Greek state. Against the massive imbedded losses, the three banks have only €9 billion of tangible book equity. In short, neither the stock or the long-term debt of these banks have any recoverable value at all (David Stockman)

European Control

1. NATO Outpost
During the cold war, Greece was an outpost of NATO on the edge of the Eastern Bloc. The US encouraged Greek military spending and supported the military junta that ruled Greece, because they feared a socialist government would link the nation with the Soviet Union. Being orthodox Christians, the Greeks have a natural affinity with the Russian orthodox people.

2. Entry to the Euro
When Greece entered the Euro, Goldman Sachs helped the government fudge the books to make it look better than it was. Greece used to be on the boundary between of the Eastern Bloc during the cold war, so European leaders were keen to get it into the Euro. They turned a blind eye the accounting fudges to get Greece locked into Western Europe.

3. Bank Stupidity
After Greece joined the Euro, European banks made huge loans to the Greece government at low interest rates. Their governments encouraged them. Minimal due diligence would have shown that these loan could never be repaid. Without government rescues these banks would have collapsed in 2011 and 2012. The European government took responsibility for these debts. Not a wise move.

4. Bank of Last Resort
The Greek banks are insolvent, but all banks everywhere are technically insolvent. In the modern system, the central bank acts as the bank of last resort, to prevent bank runs. The bank of last resort for Greece is the European Central Bank (ECB). By cutting off emergency funding to Greek banks, it has precipitated a run on the banks. This is a bizarre action for a central bank to take: the opposite of what it is mandated to do. The ECB action has really disrupted economic activity in Greece, a pointless punishment of the Greek people.

5. Euro Debt
The EU got involved in Greece in 2011, because European banks had mass bad debts in Greece. French, German, Dutch and Italian banks and other private lenders had outstanding loans to the Greek government of €100 billion in 2009. Because they considered their banks were too big to fail, the European central banks took over most of the debt. The debts held by the private banks have been reduced to about €15 billion. Now €250 billion or nearly 80% of Greece’s €320 billion of fiscal debt is directly owed to the EU central banks and the IMF; and upwards of half of the balance is indirectly owed to European taxpayers because €45 billion of Greece’s T-bills and bonds are either owned or funded by the ECB.

6. European Share of Debt
The Germans are liable for €92 billion of Greek debt. The French share is €70 billion, although its own debt is approaching 100 percent of GDP. The Italians who already have a 130% debt-to-GDP ratio have a €60 billion exposure to Greece. Struggling Spain is responsible for 42 billion of Greek debt. The political leaders would face a hostile reaction from voters if they had to write off these debts. This is why they are so strident against the Greek government.

7. ECB Capital
A Greek default could wipe out the capital of the European Central Bank. The Greeks owe the ECB about €90 billion and it guarantees another €100 billion owed to other European central banks. ECB equity and reserves are about €95 billion. Writing of Greek debt would wipe out this capital. It would have to be recapitalised by member banks at a time when debt is already a major problem for members of the EU.

8. EU Bullying
The leaders of the EU claim to believe in democracy, but that want to control the nation of Greece. Martin Shulz, the President of the European Parliament says that the Greek government should resign and let a technocratic government take work out a deal acceptable to the Europeans. Like all the European leaders, he does not respect the right of the Greek people to vote on their destiny.

9. Austerity
European leaders have imposed austerity on the Greek economy. Doing this during an economic crisis is stupid, as it just makes the situation worse. The time for reducing debt is during good times. Cutting expenditure during bad times weakens the economy. It increases unemployment and social welfare benefits and reduces taxation, so the deficit gets worse, which increases debt levels. The austerity measures imposed on Greece have weakened the economy, and increased its debts. The time for encouraging austerity was before the GFC, but no one worried about debt back then.

10. Privatisation
European leaders have imposed a privatisation program on Greece. Even if privatisation is good in principle, it is a foolish thing to do during an economic crisis, because valuable assets get sold at fire-sale prices to wealthy oligarchs. The economic elite obtains cheap assets, and the government loses income. The privatisation of Greek assets has produced very little revenue so far. The banks that are scheduled for sale are now worthless, so there is little to be gained from further privatisation.

11. Gunboats and Debt
European domination of Greece has a long history. In 1850, the British sent gunboats to Greece size ships and their cargoes to cover unpaid debts. This time the governments of Europe hold no security covering their Greek debts. If the Greek government defaults there are no assets to claim, so their money will be lost.

Greek Economy

I were the King of Greece,
I'd push things off the mantelpiece (AA Milne).
Tomorrow the people of Greece vote in a referendum on the tough terms of European rescue package. After doing a bit of study, I found that things are not quite as they are portrayed in the media. Here is some background information about the Greek economy.

1. GDP
The Greek economy is not just tourism and olive oil. 15 percent of the world merchant shipping is owned by Greek shipping magnates. Greece exports cement, ships, petroleum, electronic goods, pharmaceuticals and agricultural products.

2. Decline
The Greek economy has been hit hard by the GFC. Between 2010 and 2013, the GDP declined by an average of 6 percent. This has exacerbated the debt problem.

3. Exports
Exports have continued to increase from 2010 to the present.

4. Unemployment
The unemployment rate in Greece is 26 percent. More than fifty percent of youth under 25 are unemployed.

5. Pensions
Greece has been criticised for its generous pensions, but they have been significantly reduced in the last few years. The main problem is the inefficient system for managing pension funds and payments.

6. Aging Population
The cost of pensions is high because the aging problem has hit Greece earlier than other countries reflects and the aging population. 20 percent of the population is over 65.

7. Taxation
Greece has a problem with collecting taxations, but that is not the full story. The GST rate is 26 percent. The rate on food is 6 percent. The highest income tax rate is 42 percent. The problem is that the oligarch families that control most of the economy are able to evade taxation. For example, income from shipping is tax free. The bosses of energy and construction companies and football clubs avoid tax.

8. Budget Deficit
The Greek government have always spent more than they earned in taxes. Between 1995 and 2015, the average budget shortfall was 7.1 percent of GDP.

9. Military spending
Greece has always had high levels of military spending. Although it is now down to 3 percent of GDP, it got as high as 7 percent of GDP. I presume this is partly the legacy of Greece the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. I presume the military elite dominate of part of the economy.

10. Normal People
The people of Greece are no different from people all over the world. Some are wise, some are foolish. Most work hard, and only a few are lazy. Many would just like a decent job. The Greeks are not an evil people that need to be punished.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

A War We Can Win

Christians lost the cultural battle years ago. This is confirmed by the latest decision of the US Supreme Court. We need a new strategy, one that targets a battle that we are better placed to win.

In his editorial, the cultural war. David Brooks suggests a different battle for Christians to fight.

Consider a different culture war, one just as central to your faith and far more powerful in its persuasive witness.

We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed. Millions of kids live in stressed and fluid living arrangements. Many communities have suffered a loss of social capital. Many young people grow up in a sexual and social environment rendered barbaric because there are no common norms. Many adults hunger for meaning and goodness, but lack a spiritual vocabulary to think things through.

Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely...

I don’t expect social conservatives to change their positions on sex, and of course fights about the definition of marriage are meant as efforts to reweave society. But the sexual revolution will not be undone anytime soon. The more practical struggle is to repair a society rendered atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable. Social conservatives are well equipped to repair this fabric, and to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.

This is exactly right. Loving one another in the power of the Spirit is the place were Christians have a competitive advantage.

In Old Testament times, God used a prophetic approach. It was not that successful, because God knew it was not his best shot. He sent Jesus to live and die and rise again to open up a new and better way. With the ministry of Jesus, he shifted from prophetic confrontation to loving involvement. He shifted from pushing evil away, to drawing evil in and overcoming it with crushing love. That is why Jesus said that people would recognise his followers by their love (John 13:34-35). Loving one another is the power of the gospel.

God is saying, you will not win the war by persisting with a battle that was lost long ago. Confronting a strong enemy in a conventional warfare is pointless. A weaker force can amplify its strength by engaging guerrilla warfare (4GW), by attacking the strong force in it soft underbelly.

Instead of railing against the culture, we should start building Christian community within the culture, and draw in the lost and broken people who have been wreaked and discarded by modern culture. The people on television look happy and connected with the rest of the cast. But modern culture is not so rosy on the ground. In real life, people are isolated lonely, frightened and often hurt. They would be open to the gospel, and Christian community, if they were targeted by love. This is where modern culture is hugely vulnerable.

Brooks is wrong about one thing. He said that the defining face of social conservatism could be this.

Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.
He is wrong about this. Social conservatives are not capable of doing what he suggests, because the prefer to stand on the side-lines in the conform of their mansions and yell at the encroaching evil. They claim the name of Jesus, but they are not willing to get their hands dirty and engage with the world and love and love and love as Jesus did. It will take a more radical type of Christian to do fulfil Jesus calling to love one another as he loved us.

More at http://kingwatch.co.nz/Church_Ministry/future_church_strategy.htm

Friday, July 03, 2015

Lost Cultural Battle

I do not expect to find wisdom in the New York Times, but David Brooks’ editorial on the Supreme Court decision summed up the situation really well.

Here is my take on the situation. A wise general knows:

  • Persisting with a battle that is lost does not help win the war.
  • Letting the enemy choose the battleground unnecessarily gives him a huge advantage.
  • Fight battles at places where you are strong and the enemy is weak is the best way to win the war.
The battle for the culture was lost a long time ago. Continuing to fight that battle, as if we could still win it is pointless. We need to step back, and find a new way to challenge the culture, on a ground where we are strong.

David Brooks was right when he wrote,

Christianity is in decline in the United States. The share of Americans who describe themselves as Christians and attend church is dropping. Evangelical voters make up a smaller share of the electorate. Members of the millennial generation are detaching themselves from religious institutions in droves.

Christianity’s gravest setbacks are in the realm of values. American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce and a range of other social issues. More and more Christians feel estranged from mainstream culture...

These conservatives are enmeshed in a decades-long culture war that has been fought over issues arising from the sexual revolution... a culture war that, at least over the near term, they are destined to lose.
For four or five centuries, culture was shaped by newspapers and pamphlets, but mostly the pulpit. The sermon was the main culture-forming event of the week, so Christian values had a huge influence.

In the modern world, culture is determined by television, movies and social media, not by ideas from a book that most people have never read.

At first it seemed like television was on our side, because it portrayed a pseudo-Christian reality. When I first started watching television in the 1960s, programs like the Donna Reed Show portrayed real two-parent familes. That was the norm. There were single-parent shows like the Andy Griffith show and My Three Sons, but they were interesting because they were clearly abnormal. In hindsight, I presume they were the thin end of the wedge, because they made a single-parent family look practical.

Of course, the two-parent family living in the suburbs and driving everywhere that was portrayed in these programs was a miserable imitation of the Christian family. That is why it was unable to withstand the pressure of cultural change. The cultural battle was already lost, because Christians believed this pathetic distortion was “the Christian family”.

The 1970s brought the Happy Days of the Cunningham family, but even in this program the counter-cultural Fonz gradually moved from lurking in the shadows and into the heart of the family.

Now the counter-culture has becomes the culture. On modern US Television, alternative relationships are the norm, and they have been for a long time. In contrast, Christian families are rare, or odd. Christians might be forty percent of the population, but they are missing from television, except in the irrelevant ghetto of Christian television.

The battle for the culture has been lost for nearly twenty years. Those who understand this were not surprised by the Supreme Court decision. The judges are old, so they are just catching up to where the rest of the culture arrived a decade ago.

Continuing to confront a hostile culture about the sexual revolution just makes us look ugly. Especially the news is full of stories of church leaders joining the sexual revolution.

Last night on our TV news, I saw two men with Bibles standing on a street in the US and yelling at a 9 year old girl waving a rainbow flag. It was probably a set up, but it made Christians look ugly, especially because these men are not shouting at pastors who commit adultery. For many viewers, the incident would have confirmed their view that Christians are angry, hateful and hypocritical. If Jesus is like that, they are not interested in him.

In my next post, I would look at better battle strategy, one that will enable us to win the war, by losing, like Jesus did.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Beach Massacre in Tunisia

The world has been shocked by the massacre on the beaches of Tunisia. The British have been stunned by television images of UK citizens lying dead on the beach. A UK reporter interviewed the gunman’s grandfather demanding an explanation for the people of the UK, and pressuring him to make an apology. However, a big part of the story has been missed.

In her book “Thieves of State”, Sarah Chayes describes the kleptocracy that controls the Tunisian economy. The friends and family of President Ali had used political power to gain control of large chunks of the Tunisian economy. Their favourite technique was to take out massive loans from a Tunisian bank. They would then default, and because of their political connections, the bank would have no choice but to write it off as a bad debt. Using this process, loan money from the IMF and the European Union flowed into the pockets of the economic elite in Tunisia.

The president’s families and cronies used their political privilege to gain control of much of the tourism industry in Tunisia. They bought the land beside the best beaches cheap and used borrowed money to build massive hotel complexes, often with generous help from government agencies. Most of the best public beaches were taken up in this way. Chayes described one complex on what had been one of the last good public beaches.

As is typical in the Tunisian tourist trade, this hotel functioned as a closed system. A partnership with Italian investors, it employed no Tunisians except for a few guards, and shipped in all its foodstuffs from Italy. Not even Tunisia’s luscious olive oil reached its tables. And like other seaside resorts, its beach access was off-limits to locals.
It was government policy to cordon of the tourist trade this way, to shield foreigners from Tunisian realities, and to reserve the sector from well-connected insiders. The isolation allowed for another dimension: the suctioned use of some resorts for sex tourism (p.95).
The whole set up is designed for the benefits of the economic elite and their European financers. It provides luxury and freedom for relatively wealthy tourists, while shutting out the local people.

The so-called Arab Spring got under way when a Tunisian fruit vendor who had been constantly been harassed by the local police set himself on fire in protest against the government disruption of his fruit business. President Ali was overthrown, but the economic elite that controls much of the economy and the tourism trade remained in place. The local people are still shut out of the industry, and shut of their own beaches.
The actions of the gunman in Tunisia were immoral, but it is not hard to understand his frustration. You do not have to be a member of ISIS to realise that something is rotten in the Tunisian economy.

Sarah Chayes records a warning to the politicians made by photojournalist Talel Macer,

If you keep ignoring the serious economic issues that matter. I mean social justice and punishment of the people who stole. If things go on in this way, the youth will flock to the Salafis (p.100).
Marwan Jedda a Salafi leader gave an even stronger warning.
People wanted to bring down corruption and repression in 2011, but neither has fallen yet. Corruption has increased in Tunisia. People demanded, work freedom and dignity. As an Islamist, I have a solution. The second revolution will be on Islamic revolution (p.99).
The pontifications of Western politicians ring hollow in this context. Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, said it was a “despicable act cruelty in a place of beauty, relaxation and happiness”. She is right about the cruelty. And the beach is a place of beauty and happiness for foreign tourists. But it is not a place of beauty, relaxation and happiness for the local people, because they are shut out of the beach, unless they can get employment at the hotel complex, but it will be very poorly paid and not a place of relaxation.

Prime Minister David Cameron rambles on about freedom. However, he mostly seems to be worried about the freedom of British and Italian businesses and banks to carry on colluding with the Tunisian economic elite in extracting profits from their unrighteous wealth. He also seem to be worried about the freedom of UK tourists to strut on Tunisian beaches in their brief bikinis and drink alcohol day and night, without having to think about whether their actions are offensive to the local people. David Cameron does not seem to be that worried about the freedom of the local people to swim on their own beaches.

John Kerry extols the benefits of secular government, but to local people, “secular” means “no morals”, so secular government is incapable of dealing with the corruption of the political and economic elite. And the evidence seems to confirm that. Many people are coming to the belief that only a return to an Islamic government will bring an end to theft and corruption.

Unfortunately, ideas and inaction have consequences.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Wellington

Wellington will be confused
People will buzz in and out of the beehive,
uncertain of what to do,
Filled with fear, perplexity and confusion (Is 22:5).

All treading on each other
to get to the top (out of habit),
but not knowing where the top is,
or what they will do if they get there.
Not knowing their right hand
from their left (Jonah 4:11).

Now ideals, except for
pride,
power,
position,
privilege.

Trouble to the left
Trouble to the right
All is confusion
All is confusion
Disaster behind us
Terror ahead of us
Confusion,
all is confusion.