Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Being Church Where We Live

Many Christians all over the world have become dissatisfied with existing forms of church. Some are so frustrated that they have stopped going to church at all. These people are not troublemakers or backsliders, but are some of the best people God has. They have become disillusioned with a church that absorbs all their time and energy, but seems to be going nowhere.

People who know in their heart that God has something better, and want to go "hard out" for it, need to read Being Church Where We Live. It offers a radical vision, based on the scriptures, that will stir their hearts and explain God's purposes for his people in these times.

If you have friends and acquaintances who would benefit from reading my book Being Church Where We Live and would like some free copies to give to them, send an email to getrad2@yahoo.co.nz with your name and postal address, and note whether you would like 5 or 10 copies. Unfortunately, this offer is limited to people living in New Zealand.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hell??

When I started preaching the gospel, I taught the people who rejected it would suffer in hell. I presume that was what I had been taught when I became a Christian.

A few years down the track, I undertook a systematic study of the New Testament on the afterlife. I presume I was prompted by someone’s questions. What I discovered gave me a real shock. Much of what I had been taught was wrong.

  • I discovered that most of what I believed about hell was not in the New Testament. Most of the common teaching about hell comes from the imaginations of mediaeval poets and artists.

  • The word “hell” does not occur in the Greek New Testament. It is actually a clumsy double-transliteration of the Aramaic name for a valley outside Jerusalem (Gehenna), which was being used as a rubbish dump. So when Jesus warned people against the dangers of “hell”, he was actually warning them to be careful not to end up in the rubbish dump of life.

  • I discovered that the word used most frequently in the New Testament to describe the fate of those who reject the gospel was “perish”. An example is John 3:16.

  • God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
    The alternative to eternal life is not “eternal torment” but “perishing”.

  • The common belief in an “immortal soul”, the body dies but the soul lives on, comes from ancient Greek philosophy. The New Testament teaches the death and resurrection of both body and soul.

The outcome of my detailed study of this topic can be read here. When speaking about the afterlife, we must be careful not to go beyond the clear claims of the New Testament.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Preaching Good News

Brian Zahnd on preaching the gospel of Jesus.

It’s very eye-opening to realize that in all the evangelistic sermons found in the book of Acts, none of them makes an appeal to afterlife issues. Not one. If preaching the gospel is telling people how to avoid an afterlife hell, the apostles in Acts did not preach the gospel! Peter and Paul were not preaching a gospel of “how to go to heaven and not hell when you die.” Their gospel was the audacious announcement that the world has a new Lord, a new King, a new emperor: the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth. Their invitation was to believe this joyful announcement, turn from the destructive ways of sin, and be baptised into the new world where Jesus is Lord. They preached that those who responded to this gospel by faith and baptism were forgiven of their sins and made citizens of Christ’s new kingdom… Their gospel was about the arrival of the kingdom of Christ here and now, and about the hope of resurrection in the age to come. The apostles preached a gospel that had no emphasis on the fate of departed souls.

The truth is the gospel is the joyful proclamation that the kingdom God has arrived with the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the audacious announcement that Jesus is Lord and that the world is to now be configured around his gracious rule. The gospel is the beautiful story of how God is bringing the world out of bondage to and death through the triumph of Jesus Christ. If you don’t know how to preach the gospel without making appeals to afterlife issues, you don’t know how to preach the gospel.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Attendance Model

The attendance model operated by the modern church has several serious flaws.

  • Christians tend to lead split lives. When at church, they are united with other believers, watched over by pastors, and surrounded by the presence of the Holy Spirit. For the rest of their time (most of their lives) they live in isolation, trying to do what their pastors have told them they must do. They usually fail, because it is hard being a Christian on your own (that’s why Jesus sent his people out in pairs). This failure means they need to attend church again each week to receive the forgiveness of God and experience his love.

  • The attendance model does not have any potential to take territory for Jesus. It hands control over most of the earth to the spiritual powers of evil, except for a few church buildings. Consequently, there is very little territory on earth where Jesus is truly Lord. A king without territory is an imposter, so this is a serious problem.

  • Everything happens at the church gathering, usually up the front. It is the only place where the presence of the Holy Spirit. The people of the world never see the body of Jesus functioning effectively. They never see the Holy Spirit moving in power. They do not see the followers of Jesus loving one another, so he is not lifted up for the world to see. They don’t even see Christians operating in pair like Jesus disciples. The only Christians they see are isolated and intimidated at their work and the various activities of the world.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Resurrection

The resurrection was a huge victory for Jesus.

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

  • 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.

  • 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 authorities to destroy Jesus. The resurrection turned their best efforts into failure.

  • 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, then Caesar is not. When Jesus was raised from the dead, God established him as the true king of the 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.

  • 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

More at Resurrection.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Cross

Brian Zahnd says that before looking at the cross to work out what God has done; we must look at the cross to see who God is.

Where do we find God during the suffering of Christ? Do we find God in the high priest Caiaphas demanding a sacrificial scapegoat? Do we find God in Pontius Pilate requiring a punitive death to satisfy imperial justice? No! On Good Friday we find God in Christ absorbing the sin of the world and responding with forgiveness.

The cross is where God receives the most vicious blow of human sin, and turns the other cheek, and forgives. The apostle Paul tells us that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.” This should not be misunderstood as God reconciling himself to the world. It wasn’t God who was alienated towards the world; it was the world that was alienated towards God. Jesus didn't die on the cross to change God’s minds about us; Jesus dies on the cross to change our minds about God. It was not God who required the death of Jesus, it was humanity that cried, Crucify him! Crucify him! When the world says, “Crucify him”, God says, “forgive them”.

The sacrifice of Jesus was not necessary to convince God to forgive. To forgive sinners is the nature of God. When Jesus prayed on the cross for the forgiveness of his executioners, he was not acting contrary to the nature of God; he was revealing the nature of God as forgiving love. The Cross is not what God does. The cross is who God is.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Medium at Endor

Towards the end of his life, Saul faced a crisis when Israel was invaded by the Philistine army. Saul was terrified and uncertain about what to do. When he sought the Lord, he received no answer.

He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets (1 Sam 28:6).
Samuel was dead, so he could not ask him for guidance. In desperation, he entertained a foolish idea to communicate with Samuel through a spiritualist. This proved to be hard, because Saul had removed all spiritists and medums out of the land (1 Sam 28:9). However, Saul’s servants found a medium at Endor, and Saul went to consult with her. During the consultation, a man in a cloak appeared and rebuked Samuel.

And the woman said to Saul, “I see a spirit coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.” And Saul perceived it as Samuel (1 Sam 28:13-14).

Bible interpreters have disagreed about this passage. Many believe that it is not possible for a dead person to return to earth. Others believe that God allowed it in this situation. I agree with the first view. God does not usually allow people who have died to return and speak to those who are living. In experiences of this type, it is usually an evil spirit pretending to be the dead person. This was the situation with Saul and Samuel. An evil spirit appeared to Saul by pretending to be Samuel. There are several reasons why this is the case.

  • The woman was filled with fear when the spirit appeared (1 Sam 28:12-13). This is a sign that it was evil. The words that the spirit spoke filled Saul with fear (1 Sam 28:20). God’s words produce peace, not fear. Evil spirits create fear.

  • The spirit built up Samuel’s name.

    The LORD has done what he predicted through me (1 Sam 28:17).
    If Samuel had gone to paradise, he would not feel the need to say “I told you so”. He would have been honouring God.

  • The spirit said that God had taken the kingdom off Saul because he had refused to execute judgement against the Amalekites.

    The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD and carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today (1 Sam 28:17-18).
    This is not correct. God took the Kingdom out of Saul’s hands when he offered sacrifices to God at Gilgal (1 Sam 13:7-12). This was something that only a descendent of Levi should have done. Samuel warned Saul that this disobedience would cost him the kingdom.
    You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command” (1 Sam 13:13-14).
    Saul lost his Kingdom because he offered a sacrifice, when the prophet had told him to wait.

    I have explained in this article that Samuel was obsessed with the Amalekites and went beyond his prophetic role by killing this king. The evil spirit that had prompted him to do this was probably the same one that now appeared to Saul pretending to be Samuel. This spirit had spoken on behalf of Samuel before.

  • The spirit declared that Saul and his sons would die. A spirit expressing a death wish is usually not from God. If God intended Saul to be killed, he would most likely have sent a prophet to warn him. He did not, so the evil spirit took the opportunity to tell Saul that he would die.

    The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me (1 Sam 13:19).
    Saul accepted the evil spirit's word. When we agree with the word of an evil spirit, we give it permission to do what it has predicted. By accepting the word of the evil spirit, Saul allowed the spiritual powers of evil to fulfil it. The Israelites were defeated by the Philistines, his three sons were killed, and Saul was struck by enemy arrows (1 Sam 31:3). Saul’s time as king may not have been complete, but the powers of evil brought it to an end, because he accepted a word of evil against him.

  • Saul took his own life, after he was injured critically be enemy arrows (1 Sam 31:3).

    Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised men will come and run me through and abuse me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it (1 Sam 31:4).
    I doubt that God wanted Saul to die this way. Taking one's own life is contrary to his will. The nature of his death confirms that he was spoken to by an evil spirit.

Christians should not contact the dead by consulting mediums or spiritism. Some people have used the incident with Saul and Samuel to justify these activities. If we understand that this was an evil spirit pretending to be Samuel, then the dangers of this activity are confirmed.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Samuel and Saul

The relationship between Saul and Samuel was a difficult one. Samuel knew the people of Israel were making a mistake when they demanded a king. Their failure to trust God was an insult to his ministry. However, God had used Samuel to anoint Saul, so he felt a bond with him. On one hand, he wanted the kingship to fail, so that his warnings would be vindicated. On the other hand, he had chosen Saul, so he would like to see him succeed.

This ambiguity explains Samuels strange behaviour towards Saul. When Saul was preparing for battle, Samuel made him wait for a week, become coming to make an offering to God on behalf of the army. Even when he came, he was later than he had promised. Because his men were fleeing, Saul made the offering to God instead of waiting for Samuel. This is the first step of disobedience that caused God to withdraw his blessing.

I have always felt a bit sorry for Saul. It was almost like Samuel set him up to fail. So, Samuel was partly responsible for Saul’s failure. The prophet of the nation had the responsibility to keep him on the right track. I suspect that Samuel had deliberately put Saul in a place where he would fail, because he unconsciously wanted the kingship to be a failure.

Prophets must be careful that loyalty to their word does not cause them to slip into perverse behaviour.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Demas

One of the most unfairly-treated characters in the New Testament is a companion of Paul called Demas. Preachers use him as an example of a person in a blessed situation who feel away from the gospel because they loved the things of the world too much. However, that is only one possible interpretation of the one verse where he is mentioned.

Towards the end of his life, Paul was alone and under pressure. He wrote to Timothy and asked him to come to him, along with Mark. Here is what he wrote about Demas.

Demas forsook me, having loved the present age, and went on to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke only is with me (1 Tim 4:10-11).
It is plausible that Demas fell from grace because he loved the world and escaped to Thessalonica for a sinful life. But it is just as plausible that Demas loved the people Thessalonica who were trapped in the worldly Roman culture and went to them to preach the gospel. This the sort of thing that a person who had hung out with Paul would do. If there was an opportunity for the gospel in Thessalonica, Paul would have encouraged Demas to go.

Paul lumps Demas together with Crescens and Titus together in one sentence, without any explanation, as those who have gone out to share the gospel. I doubt that he would not have done that if Demas had deserted the faith.

The Greek word translated “forsake” is egkataleipo. It can mean deserted, but it can simply means departed. I think that we should give Demas the benefit of the doubt, and not be to quick to condemn him.

Paul would have supported Demas, because was always looking for opportunities for the advance of the gospel. Paul wanted Timothy and Mark to come, not because he wanted them to care for him, but because there were opportunities for sharing the gospel that they could take up (2 Time 4:11).

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Being Prepared

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting dream.

A group of people are sitting in the lounge of the house having a deep discussion. They were in comfortable chairs and the conversation was pleasant.
After some time, one got up to go through the door that opened to the other rooms of the house. When the door was opened, we saw that a sheet of plywood had been nailed to the door. When we removed the plywood, we saw that the rest of the house had been stripped of everything in it, including furniture and fittings.
I wrote down the following interpretation.
Church leaders look at their own situation and assume that everything is fine. If they looked around, they would realise that everything that belongs to God is being stripped out of our culture.
Yesterday, I found an article by Rod Dreher that confirmed the importance of this message.

What Christians who live in parts of the US where the faith hasn’t declined as steeply as it has in New England don’t understand is that the virus is coming for us too. There is no effective quarantine. Of course, it’s frightening to face all this, but the failure to face it and figure out what we in the churches can and must do to deal with the crisis is going to result in the total collapse of the faith within our own families and communities. Waiting for a miracle is not a plan.

I’m not going to rehash here the facts about the state of the church and the Christian faith in the US. You’ve heard them all from me here before, and anyway, they’re in my book. If you go to a church that has a lot of people in it, and everybody is engaged with their faith, well, that’s great! But look beyond the walls of your congregation. Look beyond the bounds of your Christian community. Things are not okay. Things are not remotely okay. There are no relatively minor adjustments we can make that will enable the churches to manage this without radical change.

New Zealand is probably as far down this path as New England or California. It is a totally different world from the one that I grew up in during the 1950s, and God has been squeezed out of everything.

Aaron Renn notes that Christian leaders have been blind to what is happening.

I believe a big part of the reason why is that they simply reject Dreher’s premise that things are getting bad. Instead, if you listen to what they say and look at what they do, it’s pretty obvious that they think things are still going reasonably well. They still have big expansionist visions such converting significant percentages of people in their city, planting large numbers of new churches, etc. that at a minimum suggests that unlike Dreher, they believe Christianity is going to retain significant mainstream appeal. As a video put out by a Manhattan church plant put it, “We’re here because we refuse to believe that this city is hostile to church.”

The Evangelical world, essentially all of the people with powerful platforms to speak are either a) pastors of very successful megachurches b) leaders of important Evangelical institutions c) their acolytes or others who hope to curry favor with them.

This isn’t the result of a nefarious conspiracy but rather common sense. Who are you going to listen to, someone who is successful or someone who is a failure? Who is going to have a bigger audience, the pastor of a 50 person church or the pastor of a 5,000 person church?

Now ask, if you’ve built a 5,000 person megachurch in a major city, are you likely to think that Christianity is losing its appeal or that trends for the faith are poor in America? Probably not. If I were in the shoes of one of those pastors, I think I myself would probably say that things may be different today but they are still ok if we adjust our ministry strategy a bit – say to look more like mine.

Alan Jacobs summarises the problem.
The dominant media of our technological society are powerful forces for socializing people into modes of thought and action that are often inconsistent with, if not absolutely hostile to, Christian faith and practice.

In America today, churches and other Christian institutions (schools at all levels, parachurch organizations with various missions) are comparatively very weak at socializing people, if for no other reason than that they have access to comparatively little mindspace.

An example of how far things have gone “down under" occurred this weekend. The best Rugby player in Australia will be kicked out of rugby in a world cup year because he posted comments on Instagram about the eternal consequences of life choices. I don’t agree with his statement, but his claims have been standard doctrine in conservative and catholic churches for at least the last 500 years. Rugby has never had particularly high moral standards, with the main values being winning and money, but the response to his words has been vicious. People who suggested that he is allowed to say what he thinks, have been quickly silenced. I amazed that Australian Rugby will put its world cup chances at risk over a religious statement by one of its players.

At the same time, the main on-line news site in New Zealand has highlighted an article about a homeless person who has just converted to Islam and found a welcoming community. The same edition had a satire article mocking the Christian God. I don’t recall an article about a person whose life was changed around by the gospel of Jesus, for many years, although I presume that there have been plenty.

I am not worried about the rugby player, because he has already earned millions during a long career, and he has peace with Jesus, but I am concerned about the lack of preparedness in the church for what lies ahead.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Blocked Prayers

I sometimes hear Christians saying that witches and warlocks are blocking the prayers of Christians for a city. These statements are misleading, because they don’t take into account the authority situation in a city.

The Holy Spirit lives in my heart, so he can hear my prayers directly. Mostly, I hope that he initiates them. Witches and warlocks do not have the power to stop the Holy Spirit hearing my prayers. If my prayers are blocked it will be caused by people with authority, not power.

If prayers of Christians for a city are being blocked, it will usually be because spiritual principalities and powers (government-spirits) have gained a place of authority over the city. They will have been given that place, often unwittingly, by the political, and religious leaders who have authority in the city.

Political and religious have real authority in a city. When they all commit a common sin, these leaders surrender some of their authority to the spiritual powers of evil. This gives them an influence in the lives of everyone who is submitted to the authority of the religious and political powers in the city, including Christians. This will usually be the cause of the blockage of prayer.

Political leaders can give spiritual powers of evil authority to control what happens in a city. God has given authority over the earth to humans, so people with authority (and the spiritual powers they submit to) can block God from working on earth.

Witches and warlocks have very little authority in the city. It is unlikely that many people will be submitted to them. Therefore, their machinations will have little effect. They will not be able to block prayers.

Blocked prayers are usually the result of a spiritual stronghold given a place by the political and religious leaders of the city.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Real Love

Jesus told his followers that they should love their enemies. That was good advice. Love will triumph over evil and hate, but that is not that as easy it sounds. The basic standard for the treatment of enemies is the so-called golden rule.

Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:33).
That sounds easy, but it quite difficult.
Love is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of harm.
Love does not delight in injustice (1 Cor 13:4-7).
Those who love seek the good of others ahead of their own good. They do not keep the record of harm that is done to them. Instead, they let it go. Those who love do not rejoice when people they do not like experience injustice. Instead, they care intensely about harm to people who used to be their enemies.

Love is costly. Those who love must care for everyone they encounter who is hurt or suffering. The Good Samaritan did this. The injured mand was his enemy. He could have rejoiced that his enemy had got what he deserved, but he did not. He cared for the injured man in a dangerous situation (Luke 10:30-36). He paid for his care, and committed himself to paying any future costs.

The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’ (Luke 10:35).
The Good Samaritan went beyond an initial act of kindness. He committed to paying for his enemy’s care. Real love has a cost.

I hope that the people who are calling for more love are serious about it. Society will benefit. But they probably do not realise how hard it will be in practice. Without the Holy Spirit working in our lives, we will often fail.

Them/Us
The problem with saying that love triumphs over hate is that it creates another them/us divide. The liberal people who make the declaration believe that they already love everyone. However, they would not buy a house in South Auckland or East Christchurch. They would not go into the rough bars in these areas. Saying that people whom you don’t know are “haters” is hypocritical.

The liberal people who say that love will overcome hate mostly drink in nice cafes and wine bars, where the people they meet are just like them, so it is easy to say they love them (whatever they mean by that).

I don’t believe that there are many people out there who really hate, even in the hard parts of the city. There are plenty of people who are full of fear, but not many hate. So, when we say that there is a lot of hate that needs to be overcome by love, we do the people in those places a disservice.

Saying that love overcomes fear is easy to say, but saying the words does not make it happen. If they really love everyone in the city, these people would go and live amongst those who are struggling and afraid. That would enable love to triumph over fear, and hate.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Hate or Fear

Many media commentators discussing the mosque attacks in Christchurch have claimed that racism is motivated by hate. The public have taken this up and held vigils and marched for love, claiming that love will triumph over hate.

Not only is love harder than most people realise, but they are mostly targeting the wrong problem. Most racism is caused by fear, not hate (racial hatred only occurs when fear gets out of control, but this rare).

The media commentators have no understanding of the spiritual aspects of life. They don’t realise that evil spiritual powers are real, and can change the behaviour of people who get caught up by them. As a result, they are unable to explain evil events when they occur. If you don’t believe that evil is real, you can’t use it as an explanation. (The word evil just become an expression for things you intensely dislike).

Media commentators cannot blame evil on fear, because that would not be sufficient to explain the depth of evil. And everyone has felt fear, so we cannot accept the idea that fear would cause people to do evil. They prefer to blame every atrocity on hate, because most of the time, most of us don’t hate, so it separates it from us. Also, hate seems ugly enough to explain the evil. Hate seems to be the perfect explanation, but that does not make the claim true.

Most racism is not motivated by hatred, it is motivated by fear of the unknown. All humans like to be with people who are like us. When we see people who are different, we become uneasy, because we feel uncertain about how they behave. That is quite normal.

The solution is to get to know people from other races and religions. Once we know them and understand them, the fear usually goes. If we remain separate, the uncertainty increases, and the fear of what we do not know grows. This is the basis of racism.

Fear only turns into hatred when fear gets control and overwhelms our emotions. We can then begin to hate the people who make us afraid. That happens, but it is not as common as the media claim.

Anger is an emotion, that flares up when we feel aggrieved. In contrast, hatred is an attitude. Hatred is intense dislike. A dictionary defines hatred as “intense hostility, usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury”. Hatred is such a strong attitude that it looks for ways to harm the person hated.

There are two ways that hatred functions.

Personal Hatred
Hatred is personal when it is directed towards a particular person. If the other person has done something harmful that has really hurt a person, they will often hate them intensely. The sense of injury causes the hate. The only solution to this hatred is for the perpetrator to apologise and for the victim to forgive them. Forgiveness does not come easy, so hatred often persists and deepens.
Anyone who works in a large organisation will know people who hate each other intensely. These two people will take every opportunity to pull the other person down and harm them. These dysfunctional relationships will flare up frequently, if apology and forgiveness do not occur.

Personal hatred is always directed at a person whom the hater has known and had some bad dealings with. Their bad treatment and hurt is used to justify the hatred.

Love is a strong motivator for forgiveness. So love would resolve this kind of hatred, but it will difficult to get the person to love the one they hate. Talking about the power of love might not change much.

Group Hatred
Hatred of a group is quite different. It is not possible to know all the people who belong to the group, so a group is defined in some obvious way, and everyone belonging to it is assumed to be the same. The thing defining the group is usually colour, ethnicity or religion. Whereas personal hatred arises from bad experiences with the person hated, group hatred arises from ignorance and lack of relationship with the identified group. A feeling that the group has benefited at their expense might increase the hatred.

Hating an entire group of people is basically irrational. Firstly, categorising people on the basis of a single characteristic is foolish, because there will be huge diversity within the chosen characteristic. Assuming that all white people are the same is illogical. Secondly, the character of a huge group of people cannot be determined on the basis of a tiny sample. Assuming that the multitude of people within a category are the same as the few that have been encountered or read about does not make sense.

I remember when I grew up, many men who had fought in the Second World War hated all Japanese. The refused to buy Japanese cars and would not travel to Japan. They had experienced evil fighting against the Japanese, and assumed that all Japanese were evil. They took no account of the corrupting effects of war. They just assume that all Japanese people were equally evil. That is not fair.

Likewise, there is huge diversity within the worldwide church. Assuming that all Christians believe the same thing does not make sense. Declaring that all Christians are violent, based on a meeting with few who are, is unfair to other Christians that you have not met.

Group hatred usually begins as fear of the unknown. People are uneasy about people and situations that they have not encountered before. This fear only grows into hatred, when fear gets control and overwhelms our emotions. We can then begin to hate the people who make us afraid. Hearing about events that make us afraid, can stir up anger, which then settles into hate.

The solution to this hatred of a naively defined group of people is for people to become acquainted with the people from the group they fear. They will find that the people they meet are just like them. They will not like them all, but that does not matter, because most of us do not like everyone in our own group. We probably choose people we like to be our friends, but we do not need to like everyone. We are not required to like every person that we encounter.

When we get to know the group we fear, we will realise there is huge diversity within the group. There may be some who hold the view that we fear, but it is almost certain that most will not. Rather than assuming they are all the same, or like the bad few that we encountered during a war, we will realise that most are different. Understanding this should be enough for us to live in peace with people of different religion and ethnicity.

Love is not really the right word for this solution. Going to places where we will meet with people from different ethnic groups and religions and getting to know them is what is required. Getting acquainted with neighbours is a better way to describe it.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Religious Conflict

Islam and Christianity can never stand in full unity, because they both want to expand into the entire world. Moslems want all things to be in submission to Allah (Islam means submission). Likewise, Christians want all people to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. They want all people to accept that Jesus is King of Kings and God of Gods. They believe that will happen as the good news about what that mean is proclaimed and accepted everywhere.

In the past, both sides have used military force to try and expand their influence, but that is wrong. The Crusades were the worst Christian example. ISIS is probably the worst Moslem example. There have been some really embarrassing example on both sides.
Jesus was absolutely clear that Christianity must not be expanded using violence and force. He wants people to freely choose to serve him, because they love him. (I do not know enough about Islam to confirm that the same applies to it).

People who claim that both religions should live alongside each other in peace are na├»ve. They don’t understand that spirits of deception and confusion are at work to lead people into false religious beliefs.

The idea that religious people should just get on with each is unrealistic. It is the view of people who don’t take religion seriously, who see it as nothing more than a cultural preference, like Morris Dancing or Victorian Literature. People who make that claim are pulling religion down, by inferring that God is not real. That is an insult to people who believe in God, which is not living in peace.

Truth
Christianity and Islam are in competition with each other. This is an issue of truth. Both cannot be true. There can be diversity of beliefs, but there cannot be diversity of truths. If Christianity is true, Islam is false, and vice versa. If Jesus is divine, then Islam is wrong. (If secular humanism is true, then both are false. If Christians succeed in sharing the gospel and the people of the world acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, Islam will decline and disappear.

Of course, fighting wars for the truth is a mistake. The truth always gets lost in the pain and destruction of battle. This has happened too often in the past.

So, people of different religions should live together in peace, and debate their ideas, without being violent or using force to make people change their beliefs. People who have the truth should be confident that truth will win in the end, without the need to use force or violence to defend it.

The gospel of Jesus is the best news that I have ever heard. It delivers more than any other religion. It is far better than the promises of any political leaders. The Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of the gospel and confirms it with signs and wonders.

The gospel of Jesus can stand on its own. It does not need the power of the state to protect it or enforce it. If the gospel is listing in the market place of ideas, it is likely because it is not being fully lived.

Superior Religion
A common claim is that all religions are equal. This claim ignores the spiritual dimension of life. It assumes that each religion is just another cultural practice that people are free to choose between. This is not true.

Every religion includes a view of the world and way of life. Some match the world better than others. Some support a better life than others.

I believe that Christianity, as proclaimed by Jesus, is a superior religion, because it better reflects the nature of the world (spiritual and material) and is true to the character of God. That makes it superior to other religions. The bonus with the gospel of Jesus is that God has sent his Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those who choose to follow Jesus. No other religion can match that gift.

I realise that adherents of other religions believe that theirs is superior to mine. I have no problem with that. When making choices about life, we all try to choose what is best. When deciding which school to send our children to, we try to identify the best one in the region. When deciding which club to join, we try to identify the best. I would expect people choosing a religion to follow to do the same. Once they have chosen their religion, I am not surprised that they will believe it is the best.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Prayer and Submission

Some Christians in New Zealand have been uneasy about the broadcasting of a Moslem call to prayer and about participation in Moslem prayers. At this time, prayer for people of other religions is good, but followers of Jesus should be careful when praying with them. Spiritual risk never goes away.

Submission and Authority are the key to understanding spiritual danger.

  • Submission to any authority is dangerous, because when I submit to another person. I give them authority in my life. That gives any spiritual powers at work in their life permission to interfere in mine. Therefore, we should be very careful about whom we submit to and ensure their lives are holy and evil-spirit free.

  • All religion is spiritual, so submission to the leader of other religions is dangerous, because by submitting to them, we are also submitting to the spiritual powers that operate through their religion. The spiritual powers of evil love to work through false religions to spread deception.

  • People with authority have greater influence, because they commit the people who they have authority over. If we submit to a political or religious leader, we give the spiritual powers behind that leader permission to intervene in our lives. When leaders with authority over many people are deceived, the powers of evil that control them gain permission to intervene in the lives of the people under their authority.

  • The decisions and actions of people with authority have broader spiritual impact. They can release a bad spiritual power over the people who have submitted to their authority. This is why we should be cautious about submitting to political leaders (and religious leaders).

  • Followers of Jesus do not need to be afraid of places, because they are protected by the blood of Jesus. The real danger comes from being submitted to the wrong authority.

  • Christians should be wise when choosing whom to submit to. Many Christians have submitted to leaders who are influenced by a MIC Spirit. This has had a negative effect on their spiritual growth.

Avoiding submission to people who might have negative spiritual powers at work in their life is a key to spiritual protection. The following are examples of how these principles should be applied in the current situation.
  • I would have no problem in going into a mosque, if a friend invited to attend the prayers. Likewise joining a vigil outside a mosque is fine. What we should guard against is submitting to their authority. I am protected by the blood of Jesus, and provided that I do not submit to the authority of the Iman, the spirits behind them cannot touch me. Being submitting to the wrong authority is what is dangerous. If we are only submitted to Jesus, no place is dangerous.

  • The Prime Minister seems to have been careful in what she has said and done. She has offered sympathy and advice. Because she grew up a religious family (Mormon), she seems to respect other religions. She has consulted with religious leaders and attended prayer services, but she does not seem to have submitted to their authority. She seems to have been careful to protect the authority of her prime ministership. Some time ago she said,

    I have a real respect for people who have religion as a foundation in their lives, and I respect people who don’t. I’m agnostic. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. I just think people should be free to have their personal beliefs and not be persecuted for it, whether they be atheist or staunch church members.
    This is what she seems to have been doing in Christchurch.

  • I have no problems with the Prime Minister meeting with Moslems to offer sympathy and support. As citizens of New Zealand, they are entitled to that.

  • I have no problem with the Prime Minister attending an outdoor prayer service, provided that she does not submit to the authority of the Iman. I am more concerned about the spirits that she carries because she grew up in Mormonism.

  • I am not concerned about an Islamic prayer service being held in Hagley Park prayer. They have earned the privilege of worshipping there. That has no effect on Christians, even if they attended, provided they do not submit the authority of the speakers.

  • I am not worried about the Moslem Call to Prayer being broadcast on television and national radio. Provided people do not submit to the authority of the Iman, they are not affected by hearing the call to prayer. Christians cannot be harmed by the voice of a different religion unless they agree with it.

  • I am very concerned about The Speaker of the NZ Parliament inviting an Iman to lead prayers in Parliament. By giving him that permission, the MPs are submitting to his authority. That leaves them vulnerable to the spirit behind Islam, especially those with MPs no faith, and no spiritual protection. The spirits that work through Islam are the same as those that used to work mostly through Freemasonry. There are plenty of these hanging around in New Zealand looking for an opportunity to gain influence. Because they have authority in the land, these members of Parliament have probably opened New Zealand up to these spirits.

  • The most serious situation in New Zealand is the meat industry, because the Meat Processing Companies have submitted to the authority of Islamic Imans and give Moslem slaughtermen permission to pray in their slaughterhouses. This is serious because companies that are important for the agricultural industry have submitted to the authority of religious leaders. Their submission to authority has opened them up to the spiritual powers behind Islam.

  • Most New Zealanders do not understand the influence of the spiritual realms. They have submitted to all kinds of junk that has let wrong spirits gain authority in our land. That is a far greater concern.

These situations are always come down to submission and authority. Places are not dangerous for followers of Jesus. Submitting to authority is dangerous, because it always has spiritual implications.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Jesus in New Zealand

A reader asked if an article claiming that reference to Jesus was taken out of the parliamentary prayer after the massacre at the Christchurch mosque is true.

The article twists the truth to push an untruth.

The speaker of the New Zealand parliament changed the prayer that is prayed at the beginning of each session back in 2017. He removed the words “in the name of Jesus” and reference to the “honour of the queen”. The reason given was that a Christian prayer did not reflect the "the rich and varied religious and spiritual life in New Zealand".

The decision had nothing to do with the recent mosque shooting in Christchurch. It occurred nearly two years earlier.

I have no problem with the change in the prayer. In the 1960s, when I was growing up, many MPs attended church. One Prime Minister carried a copy of the Ten Commandments in his briefcase. That has all changed. Christians are now a minority in New Zealand. There are now very few Christian MPs in the Parliament. Those that are there tend to give their allegiance to their party, rather than to a Christian perspective. There several MPs from other religions. In my view, it would be hypocritical for them to continue praying in the name of Jesus, when they do not believe in him.

The current prayer is as follows.

Almighty God, we give thanks for the blessings which have been bestowed on New Zealand. Laying aside all personal interests, we pray for guidance in our deliberations, that we may conduct the affairs of this House with wisdom and humility, for the public welfare and peace of New Zealand.
In my view, it is hypocritical for Parliament to be praying at all when most MPs do not believe that prayer is effective. Asking for “wisdom and humility” is quite ironic.

Last year, Christians marched to Parliament and asked for the name of Jesus to put back in the prayer. Their efforts gained very little traction and did not change the mind of the speaker of the Parliament.

Using a picture of the Prime Minister wearing a headscarf in the article was mischievous. It has nothing to do with the change in the prayer in Parliament. She wore it to express sympathy to the victims of the shooting. She has not become a Moslem. The Prime Minister grew up in a Mormon household and was active in Mormon activities as a young adult, before becoming an agnostic.

Some time ago she said,

I have a real respect for people who have religion as a foundation in their lives, and I respect people who don’t.

I’m agnostic. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. I just think people should be free to have their personal beliefs and not be persecuted for it, whether they be atheist or staunch church members.

The article's claim that the name of Jesus cannot be used in New Zealand is nonsense. Ironically, people use the name all the time as an expletive. There are no restrictions on using Jesus name in everyday speech.

New Zealand has become more secular, and more religiously diverse. Christians may not like it, but they have to take responsibility for that situation. We have the best gospel ever and the Holy Spirit to empower it. If we cannot persuade people to accept it, we cannot blame them.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Same God

It is common to hear people say that Moslems and Christians worship the same God. Others say that they are praying to the same God. However, the issue is not as simple as it sounds. We need to get some principles clear before we can answer it.

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

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

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

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

    God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24).
    Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6).
    No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the original question. When Moslems worship Allah, what are they doing? When they pray to Allah what is happening?
  • If they are trying to worship God, because they have an innate awareness of him (Rom 1:20), they are trying to worship the one true God They are not worshipping a different god, because there is no other god to worship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having said all this, understanding who people are trying to worship does not really matter that much. A far more important question is who people are submitting to. Are they being influenced by the Holy Spirit or is it some other spirit?