Monday, July 23, 2018

Sacrifice (1) Guilt

The fall created a third serious problem for humans. God was present in the Garden of Eden. Humans could see the spiritual as well as the physical world. They could receive the wisdom of God by listening to the Holy Spirit speaking. Life on earth was amazing.

When humans rejected God’s wisdom and aligned themselves with the deceiver, they created a huge problem. God is holy, so their guilt caused them to withdraw from his presence. They still needed his wisdom, but choosing the wrong side of the battle created a barrier between them and their creator. They could not come near God, because their sinfulness made them scared that his holiness would overwhelm and destroy them.

God was not the problem. The problem was with humans. We were created with a capacity to communicate with God. We could see spiritually and hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Once sin corrupted that ability, humans cannot bear to be near to God. Guilt shuts down our ability to communicate with him.

When the humans heard God coming into the garden they ran away and hid.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Gen 3:8).
They could not bear to be close God any more. God knew that they had obeyed the serpent, but he still came to spend time with them. He was still happy to relate to them, but they could not. Their guilt meant that they could not bear to be close to God.

God did not have a problem. He was happy to communicate with them.

But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you? (Gen 3:9).
There is no anger in this question. God was looking for his friends to share with them. He realised they were lost and wanted to find them.

Later, he explained the curse they had placed themselves under by submitting the spiritual powers of evil (Gen 3:14-19). Even then, there is no anger, only sadness at what his friends had lost and the pain they would experience. God knew better than they did what life would be like for his people once they rejected him.

Guilt separated humans from the God who had created them. This was a huge problem. Humans needed God’s wisdom to care for the world. They had submitted to the spiritual powers of evil, so they needed him to rescue them, but they could not come close to him. God had given them authority over the earth, so he could not intervene without their permission. But because of their guilt, they could not bear to let God into the earth. Guilt left humans isolated from God, when they needed him the most. Worse still it shut God out of his creation, at the moment when the powers of evil had gained control.

Once God was shut of his creation by the ugliness of human sin, the powers of evil went to work and expanded their evil empire. For more than a millennium, they wreaked havoc on earth, as humans rejected God’s call to return to him.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Political Hysteria

I am disturbed by the hysteria in the news media and political circles about the Trump-Putin summit in Helskinki.

I am old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I had just started high school. There was a heightened awareness of the dangers of nuclear war back then (families in the US were digging fallout shelters). I can still remember the fear that we felt, even far away in New Zealand.

The two nuclear powers, the United States and the Soviet Union were attempting to stare each other down, with the leader of each side threatening to launch their nuclear arsenal, if the other did not back down. No one knew who would blink and pull the trigger first. Confidential files that have been made public in the last few years show that the world was much closer to conflagration than we even realised at the time.

Fortunately, the two leaders, Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy were able to roll back the tension, and arrive at a solution, despite their political and military advisors wanting to amp the tension up. One reason they were able to do this was that they had met at a summit a year earlier in Vienna. I presume that they did not like each other, and they did not agree on much, but they did establish a working relationship that enabled them to resolve a crisis when this became necessary.

Therefore, I am amazed at the hysterical reaction of the western media and political leaders to the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki. I think it is good that leaders of nuclear powers sit down and talk with each other. They don’t have to like each other, or trust each other, but dealing with a crisis can be much easier if they have got to know each other a bit.

The greatest threat to the world is still nuclear annihilation. We seem to have got used to it, but the risk has not gone away. Big wars start when the news media get hysterical and stir up political and military leaders. Rash actions are more likely when tension is high. The anti-Russian frenzy of the news media is creating hatred and anger that increases the risk that conflict between nuclear powers could get out of control. This is far more dangerous than any chat between two not-very-nice men in Helsinki.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Salvation (4) Two Holds

Following the fall, humans had two big problems, because the spiritual powers of evil had two holds over us.

  • They had taken humans captive and demanded a ransom. They had gained control and demanded a ransom before setting them free.

  • They also use the law to demand the death penalty for anyone who sins.

Both problems had to be solved.
  • Dealing with the accusations of the accuser was not enough. If the ransom was not paid they could keep them captive.

  • Likewise, paying the ransom was not enough on its own, because they could still prosecute them and demand the death penalty.

Jesus dealt with both problems.
  • The blood he shed on the cross satisfied the demands of justice. The accuser prosecuting the case against humans lost his power, because the penalty that he demanded was already paid by Jesus. Those who trusted in Jesus were declared innocent.

  • Jesus death was the ransom that the spiritual powers of evil demanded. The death of the son of God was sufficient price earn the freedom of all humans. This was necessary, even once sin had been forgiven.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Salvation (3) Economic/Business

When humans sinned, they withdrew their submission to God’s authority and submitted to the authority of the tempter. By obeying his suggestion, they give him authority over their lives. They lost God’s protection and unwittingly placed themselves under the accuser’s authority.

The devil is a cheat, and once he gained a sliver of authority he used it to take humans captive. He refused to set humans free and demanded a ransom they could not afford before setting them free. The ransom that he demanded was blood.

Even when the prosecutor lost his court case because the judge declares the people accused to be righteous through faith in Jesus, the devil refuses to set them free. He does not care whether they are guilty or righteous, because he continues to keep them captive regardless. Even after they were declared righteous in God’s court, the spiritual powers of evil had a hold over humans. They had taken them captive and demanded a ransom before setting them free.

Jesus death paid the ransom that the spiritual powers of evil demanded (1 Tim 2:6). He went into Hades and set the captured free. He did not use physical or spiritual force. He simply went to the devil and said that the ransom was paid. The life of the Son of God was so valuable that it paid the price for all humans. This left the spiritual powers of evil powerless. They had set their price so high, they thought that it could not be paid, but Jesus paid it. They had to set the captives free, because their demands had been met.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Salvation (2) Judicial/Forensic

The judicial forensic language used in the New Testament is often misunderstood. God is seen as demanding a death penalty for sin, but this is wrong.

Paul uses the language of a courtroom, but we must understand who undertakes the various roles.

  • Humans are in the dock. We are on trial.

  • God is the judge. He is righteous and good, so he will do right.

  • The defence lawyer/attorney is the Holy Spirit. He is called the paraclete (John 15:26). He comes beside us to work for our defence.

  • God is not the prosecutor. He is not the one bringing the charge against us. He is willing to forgive us because he loves us.

  • The prosecutor is the one with the name. Satan is the accuser who bring the charge against us. He is the prosecutor who demands the death penalty for our sin.

  • God is the law giver. He gave the law to enable his people to live together in peace. The prosecutor uses God’s law against his people.

God is willing to forgive the failings of the people he created and loves. However, the prosecutor demands the full penalty for sin. He says that it would be unfair if God forgave humans and let them off free, but refused to let Satan and the fallen angels off free.

God’s solution was to send his son to die. Jesus paid the penalty that the law requires and the accuser demands. His payment covers everyone who is united with him by faith. Those who trust him, died with him.

Why did God set up the world in a way where humans had the ability sin and the spiritual powers of evil had the right to demand the death penalty for sinners. We have to trust that God knew what he was doing. Anyway, looking at the amazing ability of humans, to think, to love to create, it seems that God did a great job.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Salvation (1)

I hate the way that some theologians say that there are many metaphors that point to the meaning of the cross, but that we cannot fully understand what the cross accomplished. The expressions used are not just metaphors. Something actually happened. The cross dealt with a real human problem(s) and we must be able to say what they are. If we cannot explain what the cross has done then we cannot really proclaim the gospel. Sharing metaphors is not enough. We must be able to explain what the cross does. We must be able to explain why Jesus had to die.

When Paul describes the effect of the cross he uses both judicial/forensic language and economic/business language. These are not different metaphors describing the same thing. Both are real effects that are important for understanding what Jesus achieved on the cross.

I will explain what these achieved in the next few posts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Spiritual Warfare

When praying against the spiritual powers that control a nation, God’s people should be careful.

  • Followers of Jesus should make sure that they are led by the Holy Spirit. Human efforts will fail. We need discernment to understand what we are dealing with, and wisdom to understand how to deal with it.

  • Authority is really important. I explain why in Kingdom Authority. Christians should be careful about taking on governing spirits that they do not have authority over. If a spiritual power has been given authority in a town, city or nation by its political leaders, ordinary citizens will not be able to push them out. Many Christians have been beaten up when they took on spirits that they did not have authority to deal with.

  • Prophesying God’s word into a situation is a good way to deal with political spirits and government spirits. Prophecy releases the angels and helps them know what to do. It also wears down government spirits.




Monday, July 09, 2018

Studying the Scriptures

I try to take a holistic approach to the scriptures. I attempt to avoid a proof-texting approach, as I believe it leads to distortions. I have been reading the entire bible over and over again for forty years. I did this to develop a biblical way of thinking. I now find it hard to think in any other way.

So when I come to a new issue, I do not just look for relevant proof texts, I bring the entire scriptures to it (that I have absorbed over many years). When I look at a particular scripture I often see things that others don’t, because I read it through the lens of the rest of the scriptures.

I also try to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying. He often points me to other scriptures that I had not considered relevant to the issue.

When I write an issue up, I do not list every relevant scripture because there are usually too many.

I realise that my approach has some risk, but on the whole, I think that it has worked fairly well.

I do not claim that everything I write is absolute truth. I do not care if people reject some or all of my teaching. They are accountable for their own lives.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Kindle

I enjoy reading on my Kindle. It is easy to carry around and gives me access to a wide range of books. Shipping a paperback book from Amazon to New Zealand usually costs about $20.00, which is more than the book costs. A book has to be really good to justify the expense. Using my Kindle eliminates the shipping costs.

The other great thing about a Kindle is the ability to download a free sample of a book I am thinking about buying. I can read the table of contents, the introduction/preface and the first chapter of the book, before deciding whether to buy it. This supports a good decision.

Recently something annoying has started to happen. Christian authors have started filling the front of their books with vanity recommendations from big-name Christians. I presume that this is a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” activity, so I don’t take them seriously. Negative reactions will never get published, so the process is obviously biased.

I presume that publishers expect their authors to collect these recommendations. The problem is that most of them are so vague that they could be placed on many books and not look out of place.

I will not read a book because a big-name Christian says that it is good. The book might be helpful for them, but they do not know if it will be useful to me. I prefer to look at the content and decide if it is relevant to me. Unfortunately, this is getting more difficult to do, because the free sample is almost entirely made up of celebrity recommendations.

There are a few good exceptions. I recently downloaded a sample of The Devil’s Redemption by Michael J McClymond, which is a survey of attitudes to “universalism” throughout the history of the church. In hardcover, this book is 1376 pages long, so the free sample is quite substantial and not cluttered with junk. It included most of the first part of the book, which outlines his thesis and summarises his approach. Reading this gave me a good understanding of the book. The book is too heavy for me to digest, so I will not be buying it, but good on Michael for giving readers a useful sample.

I have several books available on Kindle. I refuse to fill the front of the book with recommendations. I want people to purchase my books, because they understand what the book is about and are interested in the topic. I do not want buyers being disappointed because they acted on a recommendation from someone who does not know them.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

OT Prophets

The OT prophets were not turned in automatons by the Holy Spirit. They were human just like us. They had the same Holy Spirit, but in a more hostile spiritual environment. It was not easy for them to hear the Holy Spirit. When they were learning, I assume they would have got things wrong from time to time.

The Holy Spirit made sure that their mistakes did not get into the prophetic books of the Old Testament (Isaiah to Malachi), so there are not examples of mistakes in these books. These books were their best work, not their first work.

There are examples where I presume that they spoke without being led by the Holy Spirit. That often happened when they became too attached to their words or their ministries.

  • Elijah calling down a bear attack on the cheeky youths seems to be an example, as Jesus ruled that kind of behaviour out.

  • Samuel got attached to Saul and found it hard to let go when God moved on and was blessing David.

  • Elijah told the people he was the only prophet of God left in Israel (1 Kings 18:22) although Obadiah had just told him that he has saved 100 prophets of the Lord by hiding them in caves (1 Kings 18:13). I presume that Elijah’s false statement opened the way for the spiritual powers behind Jezebel to attack him and fill with fear, causing him to run and hide.

Only Jesus lived a perfect life. The prophets of the Old Testament were special people, but they were not perfect, so we should not put them up on a pedestal. They had to learn to hear the Holy Spirit speak just as we do, and it is not easy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Patriotism

Last night I read an article by a theologian comparing patriotism and nationalism. He said that patriotism is good, while nationalism is bad.

Patriotism can be loyalty to any or all of the following, but none are valid for the people of God.

  • Land
  • People
  • History
  • Government.
We need to think about each one separately.
  • All land belongs to God. He created all land and declared that it is all good. If we raise one piece of land above another, we are dishonouring God’s judgment about it.

  • God loves all the people of the world equally, so we must not raise one group of people above another. We cannot say that one group of people is better than another, because we do not them all, and we are not their judge.

    We are required to love the people in the part of the body of Jesus where we belong. We are also required to care for his body in other places. People who are not following Jesus belong to “the world”. They all need to hear the good news. We must not place one group of people of the world above another, because they are all in the same situation (vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil). We must not be more loyal to some of the people of the world than to others.

  • We can only honour the history of a nation, if we forget about all the bad stuff that the nation has done, and only remember the good stuff. The history of all nations is full of ugliness. God is the judge of nations. We do not know enough to judge the history of our nation. If we honour the history of our nation, then we are believing a lie.

  • Some Christians want to celebrate their form of government, but we are to be loyal to the Kingdom of God, which is the Government of God. Loyalty to any other government is hostility to God. Confusing a human government with the Kingdom of God is a serious lie.

We must remember what Paul wrote to Timothy.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Tim 1:17).
We must be loyal to the King of Kings and celebrate his glory. Giving glory to anything else is idolatry.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Seventy

Jesus told the seventy disciples sent out to share the good news that they should take no money with them. Instead, they should stay with a person of peace and eat the food given to them (Luke 10:7).

This seems odd.

However, the seventy disciples were healing the sick and casting out demons, so they gave far more than the received. This makes a big difference.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Racial Injustice

The beneficiaries of oppression and injustice have difficulty understanding its impact on its victims. These effects don’t just disappear when the injustice is removed.

In the 1980s, I was asked to attend a small conference at Moerewa about the links between the gospel and the Treaty of Waitangi. This was the covenant between the British governor and the Maori chiefs gathered at Waitangi that opened the way for the colonisation of New Zealand. Despite the promises made in the treaty, the Maori were quickly lost their land in a series of illegal political and military manoeuvres. My talk is here.

On the first morning of the conference, a young Maori Christian leader spent two hours recounting the history of Maori dealings with European colonists. For many of the Maori people listening, this was the first time they had heard a detailed account of the injustices that previous generations had experienced. As they listened, they all began to weep.

This experience was an eye-opener for me (When I talk about the experience I still feel like weeping). The reason that these people wept was that their hearts still carried the pain of the injustices their forefathers had experienced. They did not know what had happened, but they still carried the emotional scars from the injustices experienced by previous generations. As they listened, I saw the lights coming on for them. They got an understanding of the pain that they knew they still carried (despite their faith in Jesus).

When the injustices occurred, the people who lost their land felt terrible pain. Their children picked up that pain. Because their pain was real they passed the hurt on to their children. The history of the injustice was gradually lost, but the spiritual and emotional pain was passed on from generation to generation.

Hearing the history explained the pain, but it did not heal it. That would require repentance and restitution by the descendants of European colonists who benefited from the injustices. I hope that my talk contributed a little to making that happen.

When injustice and oppression occur, emotional and spiritual pain is passed on to subsequent generations. As time passes, the reason for the pain is forgotten, but it remains with the victims' descendants, crippling their lives. Those hurts need to be healed before they can live in true freedom.

I can see the same pattern in the United States. Many Christians assume that because slavery has been abolished and the Jim Crow laws have been repealed that blacks should just get on with becoming as prosperous as they are. They simply don’t understand the emotional and spiritual scars that slavery left behind, and how these are passed on from generation to generation. These need to be healed and the pattern broken. But that will not happen if the injustices are minimised and excused by its beneficiaries, because that just creates anger that deepens the scars.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Tom Skinner

In the early 1970s, a friend asked me to go and listen to the American evangelist Tom Skinner when he visited Christchurch. This was before I became a Christian. I was really impressed with the integrity of his message. I did not respond to his altar call, but this was probably the first time that I heard a clear statement of the gospel, so it was an important part of my coming to faith a few months later.

I recently came across a recording of the message he gave at Urbana 1970 called The U.S. Racial Crisis and World Evangelism. I gather that this message was not well received in some quarters, but he speaks boldly and shares the gospel clearly. It is a message that still needs to be heard.

Friday, June 22, 2018

No Staff

When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, he told them not to take any staff with them. He was not telling them to leave their personal assistants and media teams behind.

He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt” (Luke 9:3).
In Jesus time, people often carried a wooden staff as a defensive in case they were attacked while on a journey. Jesus told them to go into the world without any means of defence. Instead they were to trust in God for their safety and everything that they needed.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Gospel of Kingdom

Jesus went around announcing the good news of the Kingdom of God.

After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1).
I am sure that many followers of Jesus can explain in a few sentences why Jesus death on the cross is good news. How many can explain in a few sentences how the Kingdom of God is good news?

Yet this is what Jesus did. Huge numbers of people followed him, so they obviously understood what he meant. And it brought change. In the subsequent verses, Luke explains that rich women were giving away some of their wealth to support poor disciples (Luke 8:2-3).

How can a new kingdom with a new king be good news? A kingdom is the people in a place ruled by a king? Even if the king is top class, the place and the people must be pretty special for the people to be attracted to the Kingdom.

Could you give a description of the Kingdom in a few sentences that would get people so excited that rich women would start giving away their wealth?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Body Love

Followers of Jesus were baptised into one body.

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many (1 Cor 12:14).
The members of the body of Jesus are dependent on each other.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body (1 Cor 12:15).
The hand cannot say to the foot, your pain does not affect me, so I do not care about it.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it (1 Cor 12:26).
If the foot is suffering, every member of the body should be feeling its pain.

The eye who has a professional salary, cannot say to the hand that has lost its income, your suffering does not affect me.

This is why John said,

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person (1 John 3:17)?
In one member of a body of believers has worldly wealth, and another is suffering in poverty, the love that Jesus requires is missing.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16)?
If love is working, there will be caring and sharing with one another. People will not be able to stay in poverty for long.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Luxury Prophets

Jesus said that prophets who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are in the houses of kings and political leaders (Luke 7:25). Leaders like to have these prophets around because they build up their power and authority.

Most are not in the king's house physically, but to many are there spiritually.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Liberated

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he describes what Jesus has done for us. Those who have been buried with him in baptism and raised with him, have been given full life in him. While we were dead in our sin and controlled by our sinful nature, he did the following for us.

  • He forgave all our sins.
  • The ordinances that held us captive were cancelled by the cross.
  • The spiritual rulers and powers that controlled us were stripped of their power.
(Colossians 2:13-15).

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Community and Culture

In an article called Will Loss of Religious Liberty Doom Evangelicalism? George Yancy has some interesting comments.

Evangelicals have gotten used to being the most powerful religious group in our society. That is not going to be the case for the foreseeable future, if ever again...

So beyond politics, it is also important that we think about protecting ourselves by building up our community. If there are fewer of us, but those of us who are left are more committed, then we can make demands on each other that will strengthen our larger community. Groups that do not have majority group power do well to have a strong notion of community so that their subculture can thrive.

What are some of the implications of building up our vision of being a Christian community inside a larger secular society? We can develop a powerful in-group loyalty that allows us to help each other. We can develop supportive economic structures that serve our subculture. We can focus on socializing our children to be ready for the struggles of a post-Christian world. These are only some of the important ways having a community mindset can provide us with the social means to persist in a society that wants to remove us from the public square.

It can be as a community that we can renew a focus on reaching out to the marginalized. A powerful group tends to ignore those who struggle in our society. In a society where we no longer have majority group power, we can humbly use our in-group loyalty to work together so that we can better minister to those society left behind. Such efforts not only enlarge our community by bringing some of the marginalized into our community but also provides a powerful witness of love for the least of these.

Ultimately, it is going to be these acts of love and a true demonstration of the values we say we hold to help us deal with the threat to our religious liberty. Since the threat comes from a change of cultural values, we can begin to neutralize it by impacting the culture. And the best way to impact the culture is to have a Christian community where we are encouraged to live with integrity, transparency and to love those around us. Building the right type of Christian community is vital for what we need today.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Misleading Models

In Debunking Economics, Steve Keen gives two reasons why mainstream economists did not see the global financial crisis coming.

  • The economic models of these economists assume that economies always move towards equilibrium. External shocks may push an economy away from equilibrium for a short time, but it will quickly adjust back towards equilibrium. A long-term economic depression cannot exist in these models, because they are always trending back to equilibrium.

    Keen quotes Robert Solow.

    I start from the presumption that we want macroeconomics to account for the occasional aggregative pathologies that beset modern capitalist economies, like recession, intervals of stagnation, inflation, ‘stagflation’... A model that rules out pathologies by definition is unlikely to help (p. 259).
    Keen also quotes Minsky
    Can ‘It’—a great Depression—happen again: And if ‘It’ can happen, why didn’t it occur in the years since World War II? These are questions that naturally follow from both the historical record and the comparative success of the past thirty-five years. To answer these question, it is necessary to have an economic theory, which makes a great depression one of the possible states in which our type of capitalist economy can find itself (p. 381).
    Mainstream economists could not foresee the global financial crisis because their models could not forecast a crisis.

  • The models of the mainstream economists did not include debt. They assume that money is neutral and does not affect the real economy. Likewise, debt is left out of their models, because they assume that it just shifts purchasing power from one person to another. They assume that debt does not affect the real economy.

    Keen quotes Paul Krugman as confirmation.
    Given both the prominence of debt in popular discussion of economic difficulties and the long tradition of invoking debt as a key factor in major economic contractions, one might have expected debt to be at the heart of most mainstream macroeconomic models—especially the analysis at the hear of monetary and fiscal policy. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, however it is quite common to abstract altogether from this feature of the economy (p.321).
    Unfortunately, by leaving debt out of their models, they could not explain or foresee the effects of debt deflation.


Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Cross and Power

Brian Zahnd writes that we need to understand how the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount ends up condemned by the Sanhedrin and executed by the Roman Empire.

Jesus was not preaching his sermons and working his miracles as “random acts of kindness” but as announcements and enactments of the arrival of the kingdom of God. By the kingdom of God we mean the government of God, the politics of God, the alternative arrangement of the world that comes from God. In his practice of radical hospitality Jesus was announcing the arrival of a new way of arranging human society. Jesus was proclaiming to the principalities and powers (the very rich, the very powerful, the very religious, the institutions they represent, and the malevolent spirits that energize it all) that their time was up because the alternative from heaven was now within reach.

Jesus called upon all who heard him to rethink everything (repent) and believe that a radical rearrangement of the world was good news. But...
The empire always strikes back.

The principalities and powers had a vested interest in keeping the world as it had always been arranged — an arrangement that benefits the elite. So Caiaphas (the very religious), Herod (the very rich), and Pilate (the very powerful) colluded together to execute this Galilean disrupter who threatened their preferred social order. A mere five days after arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, condemned, spit upon, beaten, scourged, and crucified.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Prophets and Power

When prophets become puppets of political power and war,
lies justify murder and violence.

If a ruler listens to lies,
all his officials become wicked (Prov 29:12).
When the prophets of a nation believe a lie,
evil is at the door.

A prophet can be a trumpet that sounds a clear call to a nation (1 Cor 14:8).
A prophet who is a trump-pet leads the people astray.

Bullies rarely generate peace.

Too many prophets trust the power of a gun more than the power of the Holy Spirit.

A prophet carrying a gun will corrupt God's word with violence and war.

Ministry of the Prophet.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Debunking Economics

I have just read Debunking Economics by Steve Keen, an Australian economist. He is no slug, because he is one of the few economists who warned of the GFC before it happened.

In this book, he goes through the development of economics and exposes all the false assumptions and illogical foundations that plague neoclassical economics.

It is many years since I formally studied economics, so I had forgotten how bad the experience was. Reading this book reminded of how frustrating it is working with assumptions about economic and personal behaviour that are totally unrealistic. No wonder economic predictions are usually wrong and that policy recommendations fail to achieve the results they promised.

Everyone studying economics formally should read this book.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Future

When we get a vision of our future, we must be careful. God can show his plans for the future, but we must not just assume that it is from him. The enemy sometimes shows us his plan for our future. If we agree with it, then he has permission to fulfil it. So the evil plan becomes self-fulling. Therefore, we need to discern whether what we have seen laid out is from God or the enemy, before we agree to it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Spiritual Realms

Both good and evil are present in the spiritual realms. If we are open to those realms, then we will almost certainly experience both. We should ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of discernment so that you can discern which experiences are good and which are evil.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Chao is worse than Tyranny???

A well-known theologian recently gave this justification for the power of the state.

God wants the world to be ordered not chaotic. There is a role for civil authorities, and sooner or later, faced with wicked angry, violent bullying people, they have to do restrain them, and restraint involves violence.

Chaos is worse than tyranny.

Anarchy does not solve anything.

This is a common view, but there are two problems with his statement.
  • Throughout history, most of the violence and bullying has been done by civil authorities. If they are given authority to use violence, who will restrain them. This model does not protect people from wicked and bullying governments. Tyranny is often terrible.

  • More importantly, this statement cannot be justified from the scriptures. God did not establish governments and kings to establish order in the world. Kings were an ideal stolen from the surrounding nations.

God gave his law to provide order amongst his people. His law applied by local judges is the best protection against violence, bullying and wickedness.
Law is good if it is used in the right way. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful (1 Tim 1:8-9).
Law is good when used for the right purpose. God gave his law to restrain law-breakers and rebels. Yet his people ignore his law, and choose to live under civil authorities, who claim a monopoly on violence and yet fail to protect their people.

My book Government of God explains how God's law applied by local judges in a community of love brings the order to society that people want.

Monday, May 14, 2018

One Another Stuff

The New Testament does not teach us to worship with one other.

Instead, it tells us to do all these "One Anothers".

  • Love one another (1 John 3:11,23; 4:7,11;).
  • Love one another (2 John 1:5;).
  • Love one another (1 Thes 3:12;).
  • Love one another (1 Pet 1:22; 4:8;).
  • Love one another (Rom 13:8).
  • Be devoted to one another (Rom 12:10).
  • Honour one another above yourselves (Rom 12:10).
  • Live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16).
  • Stop passing judgement on one another (Rom 14:13).
  • Build up and edify each other (Rom 14:19).
  • Instruct (admonish) one another (Rom 15:14).
  • Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you (Rom 15:7).
  • Greet one another (Rom 16:16; 1 Peter 5:14).
  • Agree with one another so that may be perfectly united (1 Cor 1:10).
  • Have concern for each other (1 Cor 12:25).
  • Serve one another in love (Gals 5:13).
  • Carry each other's burdens (Gal 6:2).
  • Bearing with one another in love (Eph 4:2).
  • Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph 4:32).
  • Forgive one another (Eph 4:32).
  • Speak to one another (Eph 5:19).
  • Submit to one another (Eph 5:21).
  • Agree with each other (Phil 4:2).
  • Forgive one another (Col 3:13).
  • Teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16).
  • Encourage one another (1 Thes 4:18; 5:11).
  • Build each other up (1 Thes 5:11).
  • Live in peace with each other (1 Thes 5:13).
  • Be kind to each other (1 Thes 5:15).
  • Encourage one another daily (Heb 3:13).
  • Spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Heb 10:24).
  • Encourage one another (Heb 10:25).
  • Keep on loving each other as brothers (Heb 13:1).
  • Confess your sins to each other (James 5:16).
  • Pray for each other (James 5:16).
  • Love one another deeply, from the heart (1 Pet 1:22).
  • Live in harmony with one another (1 Pet 3:8).
  • Offer hospitality to one another (1 Pet 4:9).
  • Serve each other (1 Pet 4:10).
  • Show humility toward one another (1 Pet 5:5).
  • Greet one another with a kiss of love (1 Pet 5:14).
  • Have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7).
If we only come together for worship and listening to sermons, which the New Testament does not require, we will not have time to do the "One Another Stuff" that the New Testament does require. For these, we have to be together.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Torah

The Books of Moses (Torah) were not a set of rules for earning salvation. God had already rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by grace when he gave them. He had given them a new land by grace, too.

The Torah was not a system of salvation by works. It was a way to preserve the deliverance and salvation that they had already received by grace. They needed protection from three things.

  • The tabernacle sacrifices provide them with protection from the spiritual powers of evil.
  • The justice laws provided protection from internal conflict that could tear them apart.
  • The laws of separation and defence provided protection against attacks from the surrounding nations.

Works of Law

Theologians argue about what Paul meant by “works of the law” (Rom 3:20,28; Gal 2:16;3:2,5,10). They argue about which laws the expression describes, but this misses the point. Work of law are "works of law", not "responses to grace". When any law stops being grace for protection, and becomes a work to earn salvation or blessing, it is a work of law. Any law can stop being grace for protection and become an effort to earn blessing by works.

Paul was responding to Jews living under the domination of the Roman empire. This made it impossible to apply the justice laws and the Instructions for Economic Life. In this environment, it was easy to focus on the laws about food and the Sabbath that distinguished them from the Romans.

While living under Roman rule, they did not feel like that had been delivered by race, so it was easy to slip into trying to earn God’s blessing. Without a sense of God grace, it was easy to fall into the trap of turning Sabbath and food laws into works of law.

Messiah

Paul has been criticised for claiming that the Judaism was faulty. The issue is not that the Torah was faulty, but that it was incomplete and needed to be fulfilled.
  • The tabernacle sacrifices were effective for dealing with the spiritual powers of evil, but they pointed to Jesus. It was because they foreshadowed Jesus perfect sacrifice that they spiritual powers of evil had to accept them. Once Jesus died and rose again the temple sacrifices became redundant, because Jesus sacrifice did every that they tried to do, but more completely. That is why God shut them down in AD 70. When the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus, the temple sacrifices lost their efficaciousness, and the spiritual protection of the people and the temple was lifted.

    If the leaders of modern Israel rebuild the temple and start the sacrifices, they will not be effective for dealing with the spiritual powers of evil, because they would not point to Jesus.

  • The Torah also needed the Holy Spirit to be fulfilled. Without the fruit of the Spirit, loving your neighbour as yourself was almost impossible. Jesus death, resurrection and ascension opened the way for the Holy Spirit to be poured out. The Spirit was able to the Torah on the hearts of those who choose to serve Jesus.

If Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, it was natural that he would change Torah observance.
  • Jesus made the temple sacrifices and priesthood redundant. He expected people to trust his perfect sacrifice and redemption.
  • Jesus modified the Sabbath for an urban culture and re-focussed it on meeting human needs.
  • The feasts were fulfilled by Jesus and replaced with the Lord’s Supper.
  • Food laws were modified to allow his followers to take the gospel into alien cultures.
God’s system of justice and protection remained. Jesus declares that the laws of justice continued to be authoritative.

Jesus confirmed the Instructions for Economic Life and used them to restore village life. When he sent his disciples out on a mission, he told them to go to a village and stay with a person of peace. Their aim was not just to get converts, but to invigorate the Instructions for Economic Life to restore village communities to God’s model for economic life. The disciples took no money with them, so they would be dependent on giving and sharing for their survival. They would give healing and deliverance from evil spirits. The people of the village would give them food and shelter. The experience would jolt them into implementing the Instructions for Economic Life.

Jesus tightened the law for his followers by changing “love your neighbour” into “love one another”.

Big Box

The Torah is a big box. It contains the following.

  • Creation
  • History
  • Patriarchs
  • Genealogies
  • Land distribution
  • Covenant
  • Sacrifices
  • Tabernacle design
  • Priesthood
  • Feasts
  • Vows
  • Blesses and curses
  • Infection control
  • Food rules
  • Instructions for Economic Life
  • Judicial Laws
The judicial laws and the Instructions for Economic Life were really important protecting the peace and welfare of their society.

The Torah was not intended to make people righteous. That could only happen after the cross and the Spirit. The tabernacle sacrifices were given so that unrighteous people could have spiritual protection and be at peace with God.

Judaism

Although the Torah is grace, not works, Judaism at the time of Jesus and Paul was not really Torah-observant. Being controlled by the Romans, they could not apply the system of justice and defence that God gave in the Torah. They were also neglecting the Instructions for Economic Life. As Jesus pointed out, they were ignoring the weighty parts of the law like justice and economics. Instead, they were obsessed with the less important parts of the law, that distinguished them from the surrounding culture:

  • Food laws
  • Sabbath
  • Circumcision.
Perhaps these were the easiest to practice when living in a strange culture and wanting to be separate from it.

Note: Circumcision was not part of the law. It had been given to Abraham as a way of distinguishing his physical descendants.

Judaism had given up some important parts of the Torah as it accommodated with Roman and Greek culture. The point of the laws of separation was to provide spiritual protection from the evil spirits that surrounding nations carried. Once Jews had moved to living amongst the Romans and Greeks, refusing to eat with them was pointless, because they had already given up the spiritual protection that the Torah provided.

Gentiles

The civil laws in the Torah dealt with the following:
  • Assault
  • Murder
  • Theft
  • False Witness
  • Adultery/sexual immorality
  • Judicial process
  • War
  • Parents
  • Sabbath
  • Mixture
  • God
  • Blasphemy
Some theologians argue that Paul did not tell Jews to stop observing the Torah. They say that he only told the Gentiles to stop being Torah-observant. Once the full scope of the Torah laws is understood, it becomes clear that this is wrong.

Paul taught the Gentiles to obey the weightier parts of the Torah.

  • Paul taught gentile Christians to apply the Instructions for Economic Life. He supported giving and sharing within communities and between communities (2 Cor 8,9; Phil 4:10-19).)

  • Paul taught gentile Christians how to implement the justice and protection laws in their communities (1 Cor 5, 6:1-8; Rom 13:1).

  • He encouraged the application of laws about adultery and sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:9-19).

  • Paul encouraged children to honour their parents (Eph 6:1-3).

  • Paul encouraged a day of rest on the Lord’s day.

  • With regard to food, Paul focussed on meat that had been offered to idols. He explained that this was fine if Christians gave thanks to the Lord. Interestingly, the Torah did not forbid eating meat that had been offered to idols.


Monday, April 30, 2018

Nationalism and Religion

Nationalism substituted the nation for the deity, the citizen body for the church and the political kingdom for the Kingdom of God, but in every other respect replicated the forms and qualities of traditional religions.
AD Smith in Nationalism and Modernism.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Deceit and Lies

Daniel prophesied a terrible political power (beast) that would trample the earth. Its demise will bring a great victory for the Kingdom of God (Dan 7:27). (If this prophecy is to be fulfilled in our time, then there is only one nation powerful enough to fit).

Daniel says that when it rises to power.

It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground (Dan 8:12).
He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior (Dan 8:25).
Lies and deceit seem to be thriving in the current season.

More at Times and Seasons

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Love not Rules

The Instructions for Economic Life provide guidance to God’s people for living together in a new land. His main goal was that they learn to love their neighbours (Love 19:18).

God is not a control freak. He wants his people to be free, so he did not give detailed regulations spelt out in black and white, but gave general principles and left the people to work out how to apply them by thinking about how they could love their neighbour.

The Pharisees wanted detailed rules, down to the level of which herbs to tithe on (Matt 23:23). But God is not interested in rules-based behaviour, he wants love motivated behaviour. Following detailed rules is often easier because it does not require thinking, but that was not what God wanted. He gave general instructions for economic behaviour and left his people to work out want they meant while loving their neighbours.

The principle applies even more in the age of the Spirit. The Instructions for Economic Life are not detailed rules. They provide general boundaries, but our daily actions must be shaped by loving one another within their guidance (Rom 13:10). Likewise, the Holy Spirit does not give us detailed minute-by-minute instructions on what to do each day. He teaches us how to apply God’s general Instructions for Economic Life while living one another by prompting and questioning.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sports Nationalism

I find it rather bizarre when a competition between individual athletes is turned into a competition between nations. I suppose that it is better than fighting wars to decide who is best, but why do nations need to prove that they are better than other nations.

I also feel sorry for the athletes. They do all the hard training, but their nation takes much of the credit.

The concept of an individual athlete representing their country is quite odd. An elected politician cannot represent me, so how can an unelected athlete be my representative.

I am sure that many Christian are really stirred up about their nation's sports performance. I just wish they would be as stirred up about the Kingdom of God.

I am very wary of cheering for a national team. It is odd to say "We won" when all we did was sit on a couch, and perhaps cheer.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games are nearly over. Here in NZ we have had wall-to-wall television coverage, but I presume the people in the United States and Europe hardly knew they were on.

The so-called commonwealth is a purposeless group of nations connected to Britain as a residue of the British Empire. Originally, the games were called the Empire Games. The games were a way for the British to bring their colonies together and show their prowess off to the world.
The British Empire was renamed to the British Commonwealth when it colonies were given political freedom, while economic domination by Britain continued out of sight. Following the demise of British power post-World War 2, it is no longer called the British Commonwealth, but simply the Commonwealth. Although there is not much common wealth.

The wealthy nations of the commonwealth like Australia, Canada, and England like these games because their elite sports people can go for gold medals with some of the best competitors in their sport excluded and minor competition provided from some of the poorer or smaller countries of the world.

I am not sure what is the point of an international competition where three-quarters of the nations of the world are excluded. It is not really an international competition.

Gathering in one place for a big competition might have made sense back in the 1950s, when international travel was limited. Air travel has changed that. Now most sports have regular frequent international competitions, and most top athletes compete regularly with the best in the world, so getting a group of nations together for a pretend international competition does not make sense.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

International Hypocrisy

International hypocrisy has struck again in Syria.

Donald Trump (a man of great moral wisdom 😊) with support from the leaders of the UK and France have decided that Bashar al-Assad is evil and must be punished, without waiting for the official OPCW investigation to be completed. (The same intelligence agencies who were sure about WMD in Iraq are sure that they know what happened).

Meanwhile, Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia is continuing his unprovoked war in Yemen without restraint. With US logistical support, the Saudi air force has bombed schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. Save the Children estimate that 5000 children have been killed. A Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports is shutting out imports of food, with the result that 400,000 of children are on the verge of starvation.

Yet Prince Salman is rewarded for his evil with a visit to the US Whitehouse. The leaders of the UK and France are falling over themselves to sell billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Saudi.

Evil seems to look better when it is accompanied by oil wealth.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Blood of Jesus

Some Christians seem to be embarrassed by the blood of Jesus. This is sad because the blood is at the heart of the gospel.

We need to distinguish three things with regard to the blood.

  1. What the blood actually does in situ.
  2. How it is offered
  3. What it does when offered.
1. When it is in the body, of person or animal, it is life. We cannot live without it. It also carries antibodies to kill viruses. Once blood is outside the body, it quickly dries up and dies.

2. The only way it can be offered is by a death (of the animal or Jesus) if you exclude the other possibilities of the bloodletting by physicians in the 19th century, cannulation at a blood bank, or self-harming. I presume that the Bible has none of the latter in mind, so death is necessary for blood to be shared.

3. What blood achieves can only be discovered through revelation. 1) can only partially inform 3).

The translation of Hebrews 9:22 is misleading. Saying that blood produces “forgiveness”, makes it sound like the blood changes God’s attitude to us, ie God is changed. The word translated as forgiveness is “aphesis” which also means freedom. “Without blood there is no freedom”. This makes it clear that it is our situation that is changed by the blood, not God.

We are redeemed by the blood, ie bought back (Eph 1:7). If blood changes our situation and sets us free, the big question is who we are set free from. God does not enslave, so it must be the spiritual powers of evil that we are set free from.

More at Propititation and Redemption.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Free Book

The Kindle version of my book Being Church Where We Live is available free for two days beginning Saturday 7 April 2018 at 12:00 AM PDT.
Key Themes for Radical Christians

  • Building Relationships
  • Power Pairs
  • Making Disciples
  • Spiritual Protection
  • Balanced Ministry
  • Role of the Apostle
  • Prophets in the Church
  • Real Pastor/Teachers
  • Healing Evangelism
  • Dynamic Deacons

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Ressurection

The resurrection was a huge victory for Jesus.

  1. The resurrection took nothing away from the crucifixion. The pains and suffering of Jesus was not reversed. The penalty for sin was still paid. Redemption was available for all who would trust in Jesus.

  2. The resurrection was a huge defeat for the devil, who thought that he had killed the only real threat to his power. By rising from the dead, Jesus exposed the Devil’s weakness. He could not get Jesus to sin and he could not kill him, so he now was powerless against him. Jesus could go on and complete his mission and the devil was powerless against him. He could ascend into heaven beyond the reach of evil.

  3. The resurrection was a massive defeat for the principalities and powers that carry out the devil’s purposes. God used the resurrection to destroy their power.

    He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion (Eph 1:20.21).
    The principalities and powers had worked through the Roman empire and the Jewish religious to destroy Jesus. The resurrection turned their best efforts into failure.

  4. The resurrection proved that Jesus is the Messiah foretold by the Jewish prophets. David had prophesied that body of the Messiah would decay or be buried in a tomb.

    Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay (Acts 2:31).
    The world has had many would-be messiahs. Jesus is the only one who has risen from the dead. The resurrection confirmed that he is the saviour of the world.

  5. The resurrection was writing on the wall for human political powers. The resurrection proved that Jesus was Lord of all the earth.

    God has made this Jesus… both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:26).
    If Jesus is Lord, the Caesar is not. If Jesus is Lord, Obama is not. When Jesus was raised from the dead, God established him as the true king of earth. Human empires and powers that do not surrender to him will be swept eventually be swept away.

    The resurrection enthroned Jesus as King of Kings. All human principalities and powers will eventually have to surrender their authority to him. That should really have happened sooner.

  6. When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, he made this declaration.

    All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matt 28:18).
    This was after the resurrection, but before the ascension. All authority in heaven and earth had been given to Jesus. This was the consequence of the resurrection. Jesus had promised that the Kingdom of God was close. He had called for people to get ready for its coming. The resurrection marked the coming of the Kingdom of God, because the reward for his life and death struggle with the devil was authority over all the earth. The resurrection enthroned Jesus as King of Kings and brought in the Kingdom of God.

  7. The resurrection made it possible for Jesus to ascend into heaven and sit down at the right hand of God. His ascension was the final working out of his resurrection in fulfilment of Daniel's vision.

    In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Dan 7:13-14).
    The dominion that had been given to Adam and Eve, but was lost by them was restored to Jesus. Because he is at the right hand of the father, it can never be taken away, so his kingdom can never be destroyed. The kingdom established on the day of the resurrection can never pass away.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ransom

Redeem seems to be used in two senses in the scriptures. One where the redeemer pays a ransom to the kidnapper to set the enslaved person free. The second where the redeemer uses superior force to set the captive free. The Exodus was the second type. No ransom was paid to Pharaoh (except the deaths of firstborn and his army, but he paid that not the redeemer).

If Jesus death was a ransom, then the redemption must be the second type, where a ransom was paid to the kidnapper. God was the redeemer not the kidnapper/enslaver.

Christus Victor and ransom are not the same. Christus Victor would be a rescue like the exodus, where the enslaved people are rescued by superior force and no ransom is based.

Mark says that Jesus was a ransom, so the atonement is more like the second type of rescue where a ransom was paid. God paid the ransom by offering Jesus. The ransom was paid to the spiritual powers of evil who had enslaved humans at the fall. They used to the requirements of the law to demand death for sin. Paying the ransom robbed them of their power, so by being a ransom Christ ended up being victorious (Christus Victor).

Jesus was death was a punishment, but not one demanded by God. God had given Israel his law to enable them to live in peace in a new land. His approach to the penalties of the law was gracious. However, the spiritual powers of evil used the law against God to demand that the penalties specified by the law be paid in full. They said it would not be just, if humans were let off scot-free, and they were not. The accuser was able to indict humans for breaking the law, so he demanded the penalty specified by the law, which was death. So Jesus died in our place, as punishment demanded by the accuser, not one demanded by God.

God was happy to forgive, because he is gracious. But the spiritual powers of evil who love death and destruction demand that the full penalty be paid.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Caring for the Poor

The New Testament teaches Christians to care for the poor. People who understand this requirement have been drawn to support governments that introduce welfare programs. This approach to poverty has been a huge mistake.

Government welfare programs have to be operated by a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies have to be rule-driven organisations to ensure that funding is controlled. The bureaucrats who administer welfare programs have to apply the rules in an even-handed way. These rules leave no room for love, and very little scope for flexibility to deal with individual circumstances.

When it is your job to care for the poor, it is almost impossible not to become hard and harsh with people who have continually messed up. What love the bureaucrat had when they started tends to get overwhelmed and numbed by the hardship and suffering they deal with.

Without love, welfare is demeaning. Recipients lose their faith and self-respect. The consequence is that many recipients of government welfare get locked into poverty.

Handing responsibility for caring for the poor to the state has been a huge mistake by the Church. The justification was that the problem was too big for the church, so they wanted to marshal the greater resources of the state to the task. This is an illusion, because the state has made the problem worse, so even more resources are needed.

Christians should be more effective in dealing with poor than governments. Love is essential for the task, and we should be experts on love. The Holy Spirit gives Christians the strength to keep on loving in the face of persistent hardship and despair.

Escape from poverty often needs a change of heart and mind. The Holy Spirit is an expert on changes of heart, so people who can bring him to the task have a huge advantage.

Taking care of the problem of poverty would be a huge responsibility, but a great opportunity for the gospel. It would need massive resources, but Christians own a huge amount of unrighteous wealth that could be used for this challenge.

This article is not a justification for voting against welfare programs. You can’t replace something with nothing. Taking state welfare away before we have established something better would be cruel.

Rather if Christians got serous about caring for their neighbours who are poor (1 John 3:16-17) and once that was done, moving into poor neighbourhoods where there are no Christians, poverty would gradually disappear.

The need for state welfare programs would shrink and they would gradually disappear. Welfare budgets could be cut, because they would not be needed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Trade Wars

Donald Trump is angry about the US trade deficit. He blames manufacturing nations like China and Japan for ripping off America, so he is imposing tariffs on Chinese imports into the US to punish them.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump does not understand the economics of international trade, so he is attacking a symptom, rather than dealing with problem.

There are several reasons why the US has been running a trade deficit for many years.

  • The United States is a high-income country, (although many Americans are not feeling it.). High-income countries find it hard to compete with manufacturing from low-income countries. Multi-national countries tend to move their production to places in the world where educated labour is cheap. High-income countries have to concentrate on the highly-technical and capital-intensive manufacturing where they have an advantage. The United States has done well in this area, but it needs to do better because many blue-collar workers in the US are still directly competing with cheap labour in Asia.

  • Low oil prices and container have made the shipping of manufactured goods from Asia to the United States economic an economic activity.

  • The trade balance is only one part of the Balance of Payments, and they all interact with each other. The United States trade balance is the natural corollary to a surplus on the capital account.

  • The US dollar is the strongest currency in the world. Since the demise of the Bretton Woods system, many nations in the world hold their international reserves in US dollars. They do this by purchasing US dollar assets, mostly treasury bonds. This inflow of funds has given the US a surplus on its capital account, which has to be balanced by a deficit on its current account. The trade deficit is the direct consequence of the US dollar role as a reserve currency.

    The big benefit of this role is that the US has been able to import cheap manufactured goods without paying for them. The US has been able to engage in numerous overseas wars without paying the full cost. (Wars affect the Balance of Payments in the same way as imports because stuff needs to be purchased overseas. The difference is that they are blown up, rather than carried into the US). Wars and imports have been paid for with bits of paper (mostly US treasury bonds).

    Buying things with bits of paper is good if you can get away with it. Donald Trump does not like the Chinese buying US treasury bonds, however if he wants to stop that practice, the US will have to start paying for all its imports and wars.

  • One reason why the US dollar is popular as a reserve currency is that oil is mostly traded in US dollars. Following a spike in oil prices in 1974 the United States persuaded Saudi Arabia to only sell oil for dollars. The U.S. agreed to buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plough billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending. This dollar hegemony worked well for the US, so it has attacked countries like Libya that tried to sell oil for currencies other than the US Dollar. The petrodollar is becoming less important as US dependence on Middle East oil. However, if the US lets it go, the need for US dollar reserves would decline and the trade balance would improve, but US economic hegemony would weaken. I am not sure that this is what Donald Trump wants.

  • The United States congress has consistently approved budgets that do not balance for many years. The ongoing budget deficits have to be paid for by issuing treasury bonds. If these were only sold within the United States, interest rates would have to rise significantly. No one wants that, so many of the treasury bonds are sold outside the United States with the Chinese being the main buyer. If the US balanced its budgets, the supply of treasury bonds would shrink dramatically, and the US surplus on its capital account would shrink too. This would have a positive effect on the trade deficit, but no US politician is interested in that solution.

The US trade deficit is mostly the result of decisions made within the US that have produced a surplus on the capital account. Without getting rid of that surplus, the trade deficit is likely to remain, whether or not Donald Trump engages in a trade war.

The Chinese may have manipulated their currency to make sure that they get their share of the US trade deficit. This does not harm the US. They benefit from the cheap televisions and refrigerators. Rather it harms other manufacturing/exporting countries (especially in Asia) that get squeezed out of the US market.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sabbath

After God rescued his people from Egypt, he told them what he expected of them.

The main thing that he told them to do so was to do nothing for a day.

Not just a day. He told them to take a day off every week for the rest of their lives.

That is grace.

Yet many Christians manage to turn this into hard work.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

House Church

I sense that the house church movement in New Zealand has peaked. My experience is that most house churches were started by people frustrated with existing churches. They knew what they did not like, but they did not have a clear vision of what God wanted to establish. Many brought baggage with them.

Most still wanted to receive the “services” that they thought traditional churches were not providing adequately.: good teaching, good worship, etc. The list is quite long. Church leaders were soon exhausted trying to provide these services. Members remained frustrated because the level of service did not match their expectations.

The people who joined House Churches had not been reaching out to the lost people of the world from their traditional churches, so they did not do any different when they got into a house church. Consequentially, house churches had very little success in sharing the gospel.
A house church that does not have new believers coming in gets very self-centred. New believers are often disruptive in a good way. Existing members grow by putting their energies into discipling and teaching them. Without this challenge, they get bored and grumpy. Their house church becomes quite inward looking.

I don’t think many people in New Zealand caught the vision I shared in Being Church Where We Live. It has been more popular overseas.
I am not despondent. I still think that the vision I shared is the best way for followers of Jesus to support each other through a season of persecution or economic shaking. I still think it is the only way the Church as a whole could absorb a massive number of people coming to faith in Jesus, if we had revival in New Zealand.

I am not sure which of these two possibilities is most likely.

Friday, March 23, 2018

North Korea

Prophetic Christians are declaring the people of North Korea are going to come to faith in Jesus in massive numbers. Many other are praying that this will happen.

This seems a bit naïve. Why would the people of North Korea turn to Christianity when a Christian nation is threatening to destroy them? When a Christian leader is threatening to nuke them if they don’t submit to him.

Many Koreans remember how the American bombers wrecked their cities and land, killing thousands of civilians in 1952. They fear it will happen again.

In this context, military threats are not the best method of pre-evangelism.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Words Change

Words are strange. Over time their meaning can change. Sometimes a good word can have stopped being used. The word “household” is an example. It is still used by statisticians, but in a very narrow way, as all the people living a dwelling (sharing meals together). They conduct household surveys and publish so-called household statistics. Most users would prefer family statistics, but family are a fluid concept and hard to measure, especially if members of a family live in different dwellings.

Despite this technical usage, the word household has gone out of normal usage, probably because we no longer have households with servants or extended family members in them. People talk about family, ie Mum (Dad) and children. In New Zealand, we have the Maori word “whanau” for the wider extended family. People speak of their “whanau”, but never talk about their household. Marketers used to address junk mail to “The Householder”, but they have stopped doing that because they realised the word is no longer has any meaning here.

I am not sure what Christians think when they read about the Household of God in the Ephesians, if they have not had teaching about the nature of ancient households.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:17).
At least with the word “kingdom”, people have a residual idea from nursery stories and television shows like “Game of Thrones”.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tithing (8) Religious Leaders

Malachi does not advocate tithing to support religious leaders. He actually condemned the actions and teaching of the priests before he spoke to the rest of the people.

And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honour my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honour me (Malachi 2:1-2).
God was unhappy with the religious leaders. They were not honouring him, so they lost his blessing. He did not want more wealth going to them.

Preachers who use Malachi to advocate tithing should read all his message. Malachi is blunt about those who twist God’s word.

For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble (Malachi 2:7-8).
The tithing teaching twists God’s way from faith and grace into doing good works to earn his favour. The tithing teachers claim that they have been blessed with prosperity because they have tithed. They say that those who are struggling financially are suffering because they have not tithed. This turns prosperity into a reward for doing good works.

God is gracious. His way is always:

Receive Do
He blesses us and expects us to serve him as an expression of his gratitude. Jesus died for us, while we were his enemies. In response to the gift of salvation, we serve him. This was the message of the gospel. It was also true in the Old Testament. He rescued his people from Egypt and blessed them with freedom before he gave the law describing how they should live as redeemed people.

Religions are always the other way around:

Do Receive
People who do what the religion requires might receive a blessing.

The Old Testament teaching on tithing was:

Receive Do
When you have received God’s blessing, take some of it and enjoy a celebration. Bless others by sharing with them.

The modern teaching on tithing is the other way around.

Do Receive
Do something first. Give a tithe to the church, and then you will receive the blessing of prosperity. If you don’t do, you will not receive.

Malachi would say that those who teach this way have failed to “preserve knowledge” for those “seeking instruction” and “caused many to stumble” (Malachi 2:7-8).

This full series is available on Kingdom Watcher at Tithing

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tithing (7) Robbing God

Malachi is the favourite prophet of preachers advocating tithing. They claim that those who fail to tithe are robbing God and have placed themselves under a curse.

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:8-10).
This is a strong word, but it must not be taken out of context. Malachi begins his message by challenging the economic injustice that is prevalent in Israel.
I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:5).
The people were practising sorcery and adultery. They were committing perjury and oppressing widows, orphans and aliens. They were not paying employees fair wages for their work. They seemed to be ignoring most of God’s Instructions for Economic Life. God did not seem to be worried about lack of resources at the temple. He was worried about tithing, because his people were not caring for the poor and needy, as required by the Instructions for Economic Life.

The prophet declared the people of Israel were ignoring all God’s commands, not just those about tithing. This is why they had lost his blessing.

Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:6-7).
Malachi was challenging general disobedience of God’s commands. Failure to tithe in support of the poor was just one sin amongst many, but God wanted that sorted out first, because he cares for the poor.

When Malachi said that they were robbing God (Mal 3:8), he was referring back to the Law of Moses.

Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and... your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:22-23).
When people take advantage of widows and orphans, God is offended. He will come to their aid (Ex 22:24).
Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge… for I will not acquit the guilty (Exodus 23:6-7).
People who treat the poor badly are offending God. He will remove their blessing. Malachi challenged the people for withholding tithes because the poor were suffering and God was upset.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Tithing (6) New Testament

The truth that tithing is redundant is confirmed by the fact that it is rarely mentioned in the New Testament. Tithing is mentioned or three occasions.

  • The letter to the Hebrews links Jesus to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7). The passage describes Abrahams tithe to Melchizedek, but it does not link tithing forward to followers of Jesus. It just describes a situation that existed before the law had been given, without any application of tithing to the present. This passage cannot be used to justify tithing under the new covenant.

  • Jesus criticised the scribes and Pharisees for forcing people to tithe on herbs.

    Woe to you Pharisees, because you take a tenth of mint, rue and other garden herbs, but you are passing by justice and the love of God. Now these it was binding for you to do, and not let go those (Luke 11:42).
    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are taking tithes of spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you are leaving the heavier matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. Now, these it was binding for you to do, and not leave those (Matt 23:23).
    The scribes and Pharisees were placing a burden on the people that was too heavy to bear. This was an unfair use of the law.
    When Jesus was speaking, the temple was still functioning, and the Levites were still undertaking their service, so the two roles for tithing specified in the law were still practical, although they were mostly being neglected. However, Jesus never stated that he expected his followers continue tithing after his death and resurrection. This is a massive gap for those who expect Christians to tithe.

  • The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) is part of a series of parables about unrighteous wealth. Jesus explained in this parable that tithing on unrighteous wealth does not make it righteous. The righteousness of wealth depends on how it is acquired, not on how much is tithed. Acquisition of wealth must be consistent with God’s Instructions for Economic Life. The Pharisee failed to meet that standard, so he was benefiting from unrighteous wealth. His wealth looked fine on the outside, but it was actually no better than the tax collector’s. The tax collector knew he was living unrighteous wealth, whereas the Pharisee did not.

These are the only references to tithing in the New Testament, and none of them state that followers of Jesus are expected to tithe. Because the temple sacrifices would come to an end and the temple would be destroyed, and the Levites would be scattered around the world, the role of tithing would need to change if it was to continue into the New Testament age. Jesus, or one of the New Testament writers, would have explained that change and described the new role for tithing, but that was not done. Therefore we can assume that tithing does not carry through to people living in the new covenant.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tithing (5) New Covenant

The tithe had two purposes.

  • Food for a celebration feast at Jerusalem three times a year.
  • Material support for the Levites and other poor people living in their towns.
These purposes for tithing do not carry forward into the New Testament. Jesus made the perfect sacrifice on the cross, so the tabernacle/temple sacrifices became redundant. Jesus fulfilled the feasts. There is no temple for us to visit, so it is not possible to take produce and have a celebration meal at the temple. Once the gospel went to the world, returning to Jerusalem for feast became impossible.

We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. He lives within us, so we can celebrate in his presence every day. A shared meal with the body of believers that we belong to fulfils the role of the feasts. Followers of Jesus, are expected to share food with other believers when the body of Jesus meets to celebrate the Lord’s supper.

Similarly, there are no Levites serving at the temple needing the tithe for their income. Giving to the Levites was rural to urban giving. This may be needed in the body of Jesus, but it will be prompted by the Holy Spirit, not by a rule to be obeyed.

God still cares for the poor. While under the law, the Holy Spirit had not been given in fullness, so people need a rule for giving to the poor. Specifying a tenth ensured that people were generous. Under the new covenant, the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all who believe. He can lead his people into generous giving. In the book of Acts, there was no tithe, but they gave to everyone who had need.

They shared everything they had. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them (Acts 4:32-34).
Generous caring and sharing led by the Holy Spirit is more effective than tithing.

God still expects his people to care for widows, orphans and disabled. In the New Testament that takes place through giving and sharing (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim 5:3-16). He also expects that churches will support each other when the need arises (2 Cor 8,9). These activities are led by the Holy Spirit, not by a rule of the tenth.

Under the new covenant, there is no temple, and no Levites caring for it, so the role of the tithe has disappeared. Tithing is replaced by generous giving and sharing led by the Holy Spirit. Deacons were appointed to direct giving to the poor.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Tithing (4) Caring for Levites

The Levites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are the descendants of Levi, who was Jacob’s third son. The Levites were called to serve God. They were responsible for carrying and maintaining the tabernacle while the children of Israel travelled through the wilderness into the promised land.

Aaron was a Levite. The priests serving in the temple were always selected from his descendants, ie one branch of the Levite tribe.
The Levites were not allocated agricultural land when they entered the promised land (Num 18:21-24). Instead, they were allocated forty cities spread throughout the land.

The towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were forty-eight in all, together with their pasturelands (Jos 21:41).
Once the temple was built in Jerusalem, the Levites were rostered times to serve there (1 Chron 24:20-31). Some Levite families were rostered to be singers and musicians in the temple (1 Chron 25). Other families were rostered to be gatekeepers and ushers, ensuring that people visiting the temple knew where to go (1Chon 26:1-19). Other Levite families maintained the storehouses in which offerings made to the temple were stored until they were needed (1Chon 26:1-19).

The Levites spent some of their time serving in the temple, and they had not been allocated agricultural land, so they might not be able to produce enough to support themselves. God provided for the Levites through the tithe (Deut 18:1-2).

Do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands (Deut 14:27-29).
When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied (Deut 26:12).
At the end of every third year, the tithe was to be taken to their own towns and stored to be available for the Levites, and others who are poor (Amos 4:4). Some commentators have argued that this is a second tithe, on top of the one to be taken to Jerusalem, but the text in Deuteronomy does not say that. (It makes God seem mean, whereas, the tithe represented his generosity). I think it is more consistent with his grace that every third year, the people did not need to take their tithe to the temple but were to take into their towns and give it to the Levites. The Levites were responsible for distributing some of this food to foreigners, widows, and orphans.

According to the census taken in the wilderness, the Levites were only a small tribe. The largest tribe Judah was four times as large. The Levites were less than a twentieth of the population, so they did not need a tenth of the food produced every year. They were able to engage in productive activities when they were not rostered to the temple, so they did not need to get all their upkeep from the tithe. They had pasturelands around their towns (Jos 21:41), so they would be able to keep some of the livestock for milk and wool.

Getting a tenth of the nation’s production every would be more than they needed. Getting the tithe every third year would be enough for them to live well. The law does not specify a national standard for the third year. People could choose which year they stayed at home, provided that it was every third year. This could mean that the Levites might get a third of the tithe every year.

This is more grace. The Levites received a gift to sustain their life. The Israelites got the gift of a year off from travel to the temple.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tithing (3) Eat with the Lord

Leviticus says that the tithe belongs to the Lord, but we have to go to Deuteronomy for teaching about how it should be given to the Lord. The tithe was to be eaten in the presence of the Lord as a celebration.

You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the LORD your God at the place the LORD your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you put your hand to (Deut 12:17-18).
This is surprising. The tithe is to be eaten by the people who gave it as a celebration. However, they are to not to eat in their own towns. The tithes were to be eaten near his tabernacle in Jerusalem, where the presence of the Lord dwelt. The tabernacle was eventually replaced by Solomon’s temple. The tithe was to be eaten in the presence of the Lord’s as a celebration of his goodness.
At first thought, it does not seem possible for the people to eat a tenth of their production during a celebration. However, the Israelites were expected to visit Jerusalem, three times a year
  • Passover — 1 week plus a sabbath
  • Feast of Weeks — 2 days
  • Feast of Tabernacles — 1 week plus a sabbath.
A trip to Jerusalem would take two or three days there and a similar time to get back. Thus, a family would spend the following times in Jerusalem or travelling their and back.
  • Passover — 2 weeks
  • Feast of Weeks — 1 week and a day
  • Feast of Tabernacles — 2 weeks.
An Israelite family would spend 5 weeks plus a day away from home each year. This is a tenth of their time (5.15 / 52 = 10). While they were away, they would need to eat. While travelling, the wastage of food would be greater. In addition, they usually made a contribution to priests for sacrifices at the temple (Lev 23:8,19,36)

Each family was expected to take their servants, the Levites, widows, orphans and foreigners living in their town with them to enjoy the celebration in the Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks (Deut 16:11) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut 16:14).

Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. (Deut 16:14-15).
The entire community was to be included in the celebration. The families with crops were expected to share their tithe with other people from their community.

Families would be away from home celebrating the feasts for a tenth of their time. They were expected to share with others during that time, so it is not surprising that they would consume a tenth of what they produce during their visits to Jerusalem.

The tithe demonstrates the graciousness of God. He says that the tithe belongs to him because he created the earth and gave its produce to the people. Then he tells them that they can consume his share in a magnificent celebration. He takes a portion of the what he had blessed his people with and gives it back to them as a blessing they can use for a celebration. What amazing generosity and kindness.

Travel Costs
If people had to travel a long way to Jerusalem and carrying the tithe was too difficult, they could sell it for silver, and buy what they needed when they got to Jerusalem.

If that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD our God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice (Deut 14:24-26).
This practice made life simpler, but it had a cost. The person tithing would be selling their produce at a place where many other people would be selling. When they got to Jerusalem, everyone would be buying. They would be selling in a weak market for low prices and buying in a tight market for high prices. Therefore, by swapping their tithe for silver, they would lose out. Only those with really good crops would be able to afford this economic loss.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Tithing (2) Law or Grace

Most biblical teaching on tithing is in the Law of Moses. Most Christians respond to this by saying that we live under grace, not law, so that we can ignore commands about tithing. This response is too simplistic.

God gave his laws to Moses to provide a system of government that would allow people to live in relative peace in a new land. These laws are still God's standard of justice. God also included Instructions for Economic Life to guide their economic interaction. The still stand. The law of Moses also provided a system of sacrifices to deal with sin until Jesus should come and deal with it completely. These sacrifices were fulfilled by Jesus, so they are no longer applicable to his followers.

The Law of Moses provide wisdom for dealing with numerous issues that still exist, so we cannot just say that the entire law of Moses is redundant, because it is replaced by grace. We must assess each group of commands and decide if they have been fulfilled by Jesus. We no longer need to obey those that he has fulfilled, such as the tabernacle sacrifices. However, there are other laws that are still relevant. We must decide which category the commands about tithing belong to, before choosing to ignore them.

The Hebrew word for tithing means “tenth”. Tithing is defined in Leviticus.

A tenth of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD (Lev 27:30).
A tenth of everything that grows on the land belongs to God. This includes grain and fruit from trees.
Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the LORD. No one may pick out the good from the bad (Lev 27:32-33).
A similar principle applies to domestic animals. The phrase “passes under the shepherd’s road” is not clear. I presume that this refers to all new animals that are born into the flock or herd. If God took a tenth of the entire flock each year, it would almost disappear after ten years. It makes more sense that a tenth of animals that are born belong to the Lord.

The animals that belong to the Lord must be selected randomly. The farmer cannot pick out which ones he will give because the might be tempted to keep the best ones for himself.

Redeeming the Tithe
If the farmer wants to keep some of the grain from the tithe, he can swap it for money, but he must pay an extra fifth.

Whoever would redeem any of their tithes must add a fifth of the value to it (Lev 27:31).
If the farmer wants to keep some of the grain or livestock for breeding, he might decide to redeem it. Similarly, if the tithe is too difficult to transport to the temple, he might decide to swap if for money that is easier to carry. The person redeeming some of their tithe must pay an extra fifth.

Leviticus allowed the farmer to swap a tithed animal for another if it is needed for breeding, but the animal that is swapped cannot be redeemed.

If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed (Lev 27:33).