Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Leader

The Leader was standing by the sea looking down at the waves beating against the rocks.

She could see a red-haired rag doll floating on the sea,
being buffeted by the wind and the waves (of public opinion),
occasionally crashing into the flotsam (of her teams failed policies)
and the hard rocks (of reality).
She asked,
I am supposed to be the most powerful person in the nation,
but I feel powerless to get things done.
It feels like an invisible deadweight is holding us back.
She is right. She does not realise it, but she is constrained by the invisible, but evil spiritual powers, that she, her predecessors and the people, have given authority in the nation.

xxxx

The Leader was seen many months later with a great crowd following her down the road. It was already dark when she came to fork in the road, but the batteries in her torch had flattened, so its light did not shine very far ahead. She had not been this way before, so she did not know which road to take.

She cried out in frustration,

I am supposed to be the most powerful women in the nation.
The people have gladly followed me.
This is my choice to something big,
but no one can tell me which way to go
and the light that I carry does not shine that far.
The people following behind her called out,
We have put our trust in you.
We have followed you this far, so you must decide.
Don’t let us down.
You must decide.
Her expert advisers standing around here were full of confusion.

One said the road to the left goes around the side of a cliff.

We could all fall over in the dark and be destroyed.
Another advisor said that the road to the right went through an area that is full of wild animals.
If we go that way, thousands of us could die.
The advisors knew that they were experts expected to give advice, so each one shouted something different, trying to be heard above the crowd. They were totally confused. There was confusion to the left, and confusion to the right. Confusion surrounded the leader.

Eventually a couple of expert advisors shouted louder than the other advisors. They both urged her to take the road to the left.

The people behind her were getting impatient for The Leader to lead.

You need to act now, before it gets too late.
So, she set off down the road to the left, walking boldly so that people would not see her uncertainty and fear.
Better to act, than to be certain.
The people followed The Leader clapping and cheering. A few of the expert advisors grumbled, but their voices were drowned out by the cheering crowds. The cheering made The Leader fearful of having made the wrong decision, but she carried on resolutely, with a confident look on her face. That’s what leaders do.

The spiritual powers of evil laughed at her pain, and rejoiced in the confusion and talk of disaster.

The Leader appeared to be calm and in control, but it was all an act to convince people that she knew what she was doing. She needed God with her; not the mean, demanding her parents served, but the God who loved the world so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross to rescue us, and then raised him from the dead so that he could rule as king at the right hand of the father.

xxx

Sometime later, The Leader was on the road where it wound around the side of the cliff. A big slip had come down destroying a stretch of the road. The road stopped in front of where she was standing and began again 100 metres away on the other side of the chasm created by the collapse of the cliff.

One of the expert advisors suggested that the people be set to work to create a new road around the side of the cliff. Another declared that it would take too long, and the people would get hungry before the new road was built. Another expert advisor urged the leader to turn back and take the other road. Another advisor said that would be too dangerous as the wild animals would have moved closer by now.
The leader cried in frustration.

This was my big opportunity to lead,
to do something glorious.
I am supposed to be the most powerful woman in the nation,
but now I don’t know if I have come the right way,
and I don’t know what to do.
She saw.
Disaster in front.
Terror behind.
Confusion on every side.
All is confusion.
And the confusion spread amongst the people following,
and they began to scatter.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Pharaoh’s Economy Today

A reader sent me a link to a talk by Walter Brueggeman called Pharaoh’s Economy Today. I read Brueggeman’s book called Prophetic Imagination quite a few years ago, but I realised after listening to this talk that I did not fully understand it. I made the following notes.

The Roman Empire was a predatory system. In the New Testament, Jesus’ movement was the response of a neighbourly economy to the predation of Rome with which some of the Jews had colluded.

We have read the New Testament badly when we have thought that it has to do with private sin and going to heaven. The New Testament is essentially about a neighbourhood alternative in economics.

Jesus was executed by Rome, because the empire was scared to death of neighbourly economics.

I was intrigued by these words because my book called God’s Economy is a detailed description of how a neighbourly economy functions. More here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Confidence

The biggest challenge for a recovering economy is confidence. Continued confidence in the future is essential for expansion of economic activity.

Confidence is spread by word of mouth. A person who has been successful in an endeavour tells some of his friends about what he has achieved. Some of the friends feel more confident, so they decide to have a going at doing something different. Confidence is contagious and encourages economic activity.

When businesses are confident, they buy more stuff, so other businesses get to sell more, which means they can buy more from other businesses. When people are confident, they are willing to buy more, which helps businesses trying to produce more things.

New Zealanders are not as naturally confident as Americans, but over the last few decades, they have become increasingly confident, and that has been good for the economy. Many people have started innovative new ventures, and they have been successful.

Unfortunately, New Zealanders have become comfortable with debt too. They are comfortable buying a house with a ninety-percent mortgage. People are confident with living from payday to payday without any savings in reserve. Instead, they rely on credit cards and fast loans to tide them across lean times.

Politicians worry about confidence. The banks try to measure it with “Confidence Surveys”. Some politicians try to talk it up. The problem is that once confidence disappears, it almost impossible to restore.

My Dad, who grew up during the Great Depression used to say,

During bad times, people think they will last forever.
During good times, people also think they will last forever.
That is true. Confidence is self-reinforcing. During good times, people think they will last forever, so being confident is easy.

Lack of confidence is also self-reinforcing. When times are bad, people assume they will last forever, so it is very difficult to be confident.

One of the words that is the opposite of confidence is “depression”. The economic collapse that occurred during the 1930s was called the Great Depression because everyone had lost confidence and became gloomy about the future.

The difference between a recession and depression is not a greater decline in GDP, but a difference in attitude. A recession is caused by an external shock, but people remain confident that the economy will quickly recover. During a depression, everyone loses confidence and expects the bad times to continue.

Economic behaviour changes during times of depression (lack of confidence).

  • People stop spending because they think it might be better to wait until the future is clearer, and the thing they want to buy might be cheaper.

  • People save more because they want a buffer in case something worse happens.

  • People stop buying big things like appliances, furniture and cars because they don’t want to go into debt.

  • People start paying off debt to take the pressure off their income.

  • People who have lost their jobs and their income have to shut down hard on all their spending.

  • People who have lost their income might need to sell their home because they cannot manage big mortgage payments.

  • Businesses cut back spending hard. They only purchase inputs that are essential. Not-essential purchases are deferred.

  • Purchases of capital equipment will be postponed, to save cash reserves and/or to avoid additional debt.

  • Existing plant and machinery will be kept going a bit longer with a bit of extra maintenance.

  • New ventures that might risky will be deferred until the economic situation improves.

  • Rather than taking on new staff, businesses will prefer to give expanded hours to existing staff.

These actions all make sense for the individual people and business, but they are bad for the economy as a whole.

The other word that is opposite to confidence is uncertainty. Uncertainty changes peoples’ behaviour, so entrepreneurs and business people hate uncertainty.

The shutdown of the economy to prevent the spread of coronavirus has resulted in a temporary recession with big losses of income for many businesses. Once the restrictions are renewed, many businesses will recover quickly, but the decline of the tourism sector will continue much longer. The lack of demand from these businesses will be a drag on the rest of the economy. (The collapse in the price of oil will slash the spending from oil-producing nations.) The recovering economy might face the headwinds of a collapse of confidence and increased uncertainty.

I do not know what business people are saying to each other during the shutdown. I do not know what stories people are telling each other, so it is too soon to know if confidence will be overwhelmed by uncertainty and depression.

It is certainly time for men and women of God of faith to step up and lead.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Vibrant Economy

Some commentators in New Zealand are saying that when we move out this crisis, we can have a different, better and more vibrant economy. I am not so confident.

Economies change very slowly. New businesses open, others close, but the vast majority of businesses carry on doing what they were doing, because that is what they know how to do.

For the economy to change significantly following this crisis, thousands of new and different businesses would have to emerge to replace the thousands of business that have been destroyed by the collapse of international tourism.

I am not sure whether the thousands of entrepreneurs with new business ideas ready to go actually exist. And if they do exist, they probably won’t have the confidence to commit their scarce savings to an uncertain enterprise when it is not certain whether a second wave of the virus will strike, or when the world economy will recover.

The other problem is that people cannot shift easily to different occupations. The women who make the beds and clean the hotels and motels that have been closed by the collapse of tourism are unlikely to take up jobs driving bulldozers on infrastructure projects. The chefs who have lost their jobs in restaurants that are no longer viable will not be able to take up jobs as carpenters building new houses.

Changing the shape of an economy is more difficult than many commentators realise.

Reflections on War and Death

At the end of both the first and second world wars, the government promised the weeping mothers, distressed wives, and grieving brothers and sisters,

They will not be forgotten.
We will remember them.
But they were lying as usual.
The young men who were killed fighting for their countries
are being forgotten.
The government put up memorials of stone
but a name on a stone is not a memory.

My Uncle Alan died in Italy during the second world war.
A few years ago, I realised that he was being forgotten,
because I hardly knew anything about him.
So I talked with my father and his brother
and a friend from his school
and put the story of my uncle’s life in a book.

But even those who knew him
had forgotten lots about him,
their memories being battered by passing of time.
They had gone on to have wives and husbands,
children and grandchildren
owned farms and operated businesses,
so their memories were filled with these things
while the life of their brother and friend was cut off
before it even began.
And their memories have since died with them.

I have recorded the events of my uncle’s life,
his personality and his character,
but a life is too big for a book.
I have no idea about his joys, his hopes and dreams,
the fears, sorrows and disappointments,
that shaped his life.

I read the letters he wrote to his mother.
He could not write that he was afraid,
because that would have pushed her to worry and fear.
He could not say how the war was affecting him,
or how he felt about the war,
because all letters were censored.
So, although some of his life is recorded,
much more is forgotten.

When my grandchildren and great-grandchildren read my account,
they will think that it was an interesting story,
but that is not the same as being remembered.

My uncle's name is carved in stone
on the gates of the school he attended
and on a rock on a hill nearby.
But a person is more than a name.

I think of the young man whose name
is carved on the stone next to my uncle’s.

A. Lamb
It seems more like a pun than a person.
Aren’t lambs supposed to die anyway.

Does anyone remember him?
The Lamb family moved away from the district,
broken down by the great depression
after struggling to eke out a living on a small, lean farm.
The children of the family milked cows before going to school
walking barefooted, even on frosty winter mornings.
I presume that A Lamb has nieces and nephews who know his name,
but I doubt they will remember the person he was.

The children who pass through the school gates
hardly notice the names,
and when they do stop and look,
they are forgotten names of unknown people.

Now uring a lockdown,
people stood at their gates at 6 am on ANZAC day,
remembering the events,
feeling sorrow for the deaths,
but not able to remember the people.
Some of us remember those who lived,
and the pain they carried,
but we are too young to remember those who died.

Those who lived remember those who died amongst them
but now there are only 600 people still living
who fought in the second world war.
They are now in their late nineties or older,
so their memories will soon be gone,
having died with them.

We don’t honour the young men who were killed
by pretending that war is noble and good.
The politicians say that these young men died to make us free,
but men who were free before the war began
were conscripted and forced to fight and die.
They did not die to save freedom,
but to keep their current rulers in control.

Now we mostly remember the politician and generals
who started and directed the war,
but most of the people who died
are being forgotten.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Quarantine

A number of years ago, God challenged me about my attitude to his law (benign neglect) from Psalm 119. When I learned to love the law, I discovered insights that I had not seen before. The hardest to love was Leviticus, but when I re-examined it in the light of Jesus ministry, I discovered that it describes spiritual warfare in the season before Jesus came to earth (quarantine was part of that battle).

According to God’s law, quarantining sick people is a sensible response to an epidemic. God provided quarantine rules for sick people to prevent disease from spreading within the communities where his people lived (Leviticus 13-15; Numbers 5:1-4). A number of things should be noted.

  • Quarantine functioned within local communities. Moses encouraged the Israelites to quarantine people who became sick with infectious diseases.

    Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” The Israelites did so; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the LORD had instructed Moses (Num 5:3-4).
    The quarantine actions were taken by the people.

  • Sick people were expected to remain outside the camp. This was essential while they were travelling through the wilderness in tents and living in very close proximity to each other.

    They remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp (Lev 13:46).
    I presume that once they were settled in the land, they would be quarantined to a dwelling on the edge of their towns and villages.

  • People were required to care for their neighbours, so they would be expected to provide food and shelter for people who were unable to get food, because they were quarantined. According to Leviticus 19:18,

    Love your neighbor as yourself.
    The people living in the community where the person who was quarantined would need to provide them with food. If their house was quarantined, they would be provided with safe shelter.

  • Sick people and their families were quarantined. Healthy people were not isolated or quarantined (unlike modern shutdowns).

  • In the OT Law, there is no central government to declare and enforce quarantines.

  • The quarantine was primarily voluntary, but was enforced by social pressure. People could separate themselves from those who were sick without fear of criticism.

  • The assessment of sick people was done by the priests, but it was the people and their families who decided someone needed to be brought to the priest.

    They must be brought to the priest (Lev 13:9).
    The owner of the house must go and tell the priest (Lev 14:35).

  • A family home was a sanctuary. No one has the authority to enter a home without permission (Deut 24:10-11). Responsibility for seeking advice about the need for quarantine rested with the person and the family. They had to take initiative and seek the advice of the priest.

    They must present themselves to the priest (Lev 13:19).
    The priest was not told to go and seek people out. This was mostly self-quarantining.

  • When people had recovered from the sickness, they went to a priest in the community to prove that they were fully well.

  • I have wondered why people were asked to show themselves to the priests, given that they were not experts on health conditions. They were experts on holiness, so they were expected to discern the work of the spiritual powers of evil. However, I presume the main reason was that someone in society had to assess cases to ensure that sick people were treated fairly. Repeatedly checking sick people was a risky task, and priestly robes were not PPE. Priests were supposedly closer to God, so they could be seen as being safer than anyone else to do this task.

Many of the restrictions required by Leviticus were very sensible in terms of the modern understanding of infection control.
  • A person with an infection must not be touched (Lev 15:7).

  • Spitting was considered to be dangerous, if someone had an infectious disease (Lev 15:10).

  • Leviticus advocates regular hand washing (Lev 15:11).

  • Cleaning surfaces and utensils that could be infected was also important for infection control (Lev 15:13).

  • The beds and clothes of a person with an infection must be cleaned carefully (Lev 15:4-6).

  • Clothing that could be infected was burned (Lev 13:47-58).

  • When parts of a house were contaminated, they were to be removed and buried. If that did not prevent the contamination from spreading, the house should be destroyed. The owner of the house was expected to do this (Lev 14:45). He would have to rely on his family and neighbours for shelter.

  • An additional reason for quarantining sick people was that in some situations (not always) the sickness could be a sign that the person was under spiritual attack (Numbers 12). The risk of spiritual attack was the reason why the person who had been quarantined made an offering (Lev 14:1-32). The tabernacle offerings were essential for spiritual protection.

  • Jesus understood spiritual protection, so he cut through the harsh quarantine imposed on a leper and touched him. He also healed the man, which is a better solution than quarantine (Mark 1:40-41).

The range of sicknesses that should be quarantined is quite broad.
  • Leviticus refers to a range of skin diseases, including any nodule/swelling (s’eth) or scab (cappachath) or a bright spot (cappachath) which was a scourge/contagion (nega) (Lev 13:2. These words go far beyond the disease called leprosy today. The passage refers to any contagious skin disease.

  • Contamination of clothing and dwellings was considered to be a problem. The evidence looked for was a stain that kept growing. This could cover a range of mildews and organic contaminations.

  • Leviticus also quarantines a person with an unusual bodily discharge (zoob) (Lev 15:2). This is not limited to discharges from the skin. The Hebrew refers to a "fast flow", so this reference could include vomit and diarrhoea. The reference to the seat a person was sitting on becoming unclean suggests that it definitely includes the latter (Lev 15:6) and the reference to a contaminated bowl suggests it includes vomit (Lev 15: 12).


Friday, April 24, 2020

God is in Control?

When disaster strikes, like the current Covid19 pandemic, Christians tend to respond by saying, “God is in Control”. This gives them confidence, because if God controls everything, he will not allow anything bad to happen to them. If something bad does happen, it is God’s will, and we just misunderstood it as being evil.

The technical name for the idea that God controls everything is “meticulous providence” or “hard determinism”. This doctrine claims that everything that happens on earth is determined by God. Things can only happen if he wills them. If bad things seem to happen, they are actually good, because God has a greater plan that we do not understand.

The problem with this doctrine is that it is wrong. God does not control everything. God is in control of everything, in the sense that he created everything and set up the world the way that it is. Part of his setting up of the world was giving us freedom to control our own lives and be free to make choices, rather than be controlled like puppets.

I know that God does not control the world, because he does not control me. On several occasions, I have chosen to ignore God’s will and do what I wanted to do. He speaks to me and the Spirit leads, me but am I free to disobey. God does not control me, because he has made free. I am not a tough dude, so if God cannot control me, there will be a lot of others that he cannot control.

When I look around at other Christians, I get the sense that he does not control them either. At times, they seem to do things that he does not want them to do. And when I look at the people of the world who don’t know him, it is fairly clear that God does not control them. Not only does he not prevent them from doing evil to others, he does not prevent them from harming themselves.

God gave humans freedom. He also gave humans control over the earth. The spiritual powers of evil tricked them into disobeying God, and they by default they handed authority on the earth to spiritual evil. So much of what happens on earth is controlled by the spiritual powers of evil.

When I look at life, I see a spiritual battle going on between good and evil. I don’t see a God controls everything.

God deals with evil in three ways.

  • God leads followers of Jesus to do his will. His Holy Spirit speaks to us and prompts us to do his will. If I do the wrong thing, he nudges me back to his path, or uses other people to nudge me back, or changes events to push me back to his will. Sometimes he blasts me with such a dose of his presence, that I have no choice but love and obey him.

  • He speaks to the people of the world and the powers of evil and persuades them to do what he wants them to do. They are not very clever, so they sometimes follow his suggestions, because they cannot think of anything to do.

    God is smarter than the powers of evil. He is able to confuse their plans on earth, despite having limited authority to act. The Holy Spirit can speak to people who do not know God and persuade them to do things that they might not have wanted to do.

  • God works thought groups of people standing together and resisting evil. When Jesus died on the cross, he destroyed the power that the spiritual powers of evil have over us. That gives those who are in Jesus, authority to resist them. We can bind them and resist the harm that we are trying to do.

    God has given us freedom, which is authority in our lives. We have authority to stand against the powers of evil and resist them, if they attack us. Standing against evil in unity with other followers of Jesus that have authority in our lives, because we have submitted to them is the best protection against evil.

I know that God will win in the end. When followers of Jesus proclaim the good news of his Kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God advances, bringing people and territory under God's authority. Eventually, all things will be brought voluntarily under the control of God, but we still have a way to go.

More at God’s Sovereignty

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Submission to Political Power

I get frustrated when Christians blandly use Romans 13:1 as a slogan for political power, assuming it settles the issue, without considering what Paul actually said in his letter.

A well-known theologian recently gave a slightly more sophisticated version of their argument,

Biblical political theology is predicated on the fact that the one God who made the world wants the world to be wisely ordered, and to be wisely ordered through human government. So even people who would be seen as a bad ruler would have a God-given job which must be honoured. Even a cruel, wicked, stupid government has a role that is God-given.
This type of political theology, which is very common, is used to interpret Romans 13 and claim that Paul was authenticating the authority of the Roman emperor. The evil man Nero was probably emperor at the time when Paul was writing, so if he was God's servant, we must submit to every political power. The implication is that God gave the Roman emperor authority so that he could bring order to the earth. Therefore, all Christians should submit to him, even if he often does evil things. The same principle is applied to all rulers. We are required to submit to rulers, even when they do evil, because they are carrying out a God-given rule.

This logic is flawed. Firstly, God never said that he was appointing rulers to ensure that his creation was wisely ordered. He gave responsibility for caring for the world to all humans. And he gave the law for the specific purpose of maintaining order on the earth (1 Tim 1:8-11). The idea that God appointed kings, president and other rulers to ensure that the world is wisely ordered is simply not true. In fact, they have been the main cause of disorder (1 Sam 8). Therefore, the claim that they have a God-given role that should be honoured is incorrect.

More important, even a cursory reading of the words that Paul wrote in Romans 13 shows that they are not a description of the Roman Empire. Rome did not do what Paul claimed that good judges would do.

The idea that Rome was interested in order and peace is a myth. The Caesars wanted control. They expanded the area under their area, so they could extract food and other resources and bring them back to Rome.

Roman soldiers were not scattered around the world to protect the people of the nations from troubles. They were there to keep people under control, and they were ruthless in putting down all opposition. Roman soldiers were cruel and heartless in dealing with ordinary people.

They would defend countries against invading armies, not for their protection, but to ensure that another empire did not get control of their resources.

Paul was able to travel fairly freely around the Roman empire, but that was not the result of Roman efforts to spread peace. It was an accidental consequence of their attempts to expand the areas they controlled.

If Paul was claiming in Romans 13 that political power could bring peace and order in the world, he was certainly not talking about the Roman emperor.

Paul was not describing the Roman justice system when he wrote in Romans 13:3-5.

Good judges hold no terror for those who do right, but only for those who do wrong. If you want to be free of fear of judges authority, do what is right. You will praise them, because the judge is God's servant for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for a judge does have the power to punish for nothing; for he is God's servant, to avenge those who practice evil by decreeing sentence against them. Consequently, you must submit, not only because of abhorrence of crime, but also for conscience sake.
The Romans were not interested in providing justice for the ordinary people. Roman law provided some protections for the noble families who controlled Rome, but even that was quite capricious. A nobleman could be up one day, and down the next. Most ordinary people got no justice at all. Roman justice was used to enslave people and extract wealth for the benefit of the Empire. Beatings for trivial things were frequent and crucifixions were common for people who had done very little wrong. Even a Roman soldier would be lucky to get justice, if their commanding officer took a snitch against them.

Paul was not thinking about Rome when he said that people who do right had nothing to fear. Good people had very good reasons to fear the Roman authorities. Paul was able to appeal to Caesar, because he was a Roman citizen. That put him into an elite group. Ordinary people could not make that appeal. And the appeal did not seem to work for Paul, because he died in Rome, despite a representative of Rome recognising that he was innocent. King Agrippa said,

They began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:31-32).
This was not justice. True justice would have set Paul free, once it was understood that he had not committed a crime. But Agrippa and Festus wanted to protect their own reputation, so they were scared to do the just thing and set him free.

Pauls statement about good people having nothing to fear does not fit with Jesus’ treatment by Pilate. He agreed that Jesus was innocent, but he had him flogged and crucified anyway, because he was scared the Jewish power brokers would report him to Rome. Jesus was killed by Roman justice, like many others of his countrymen, so it could not be said that good people had nothing to fear from Roman justice. Paul knew what happened to Jesus and many other disciples, so he was clearly not writing about Roman justice in his letter to the Romans.

When Paul spoke about giving money to those we owe, he was not writing about Rome.

This is why we pay a contribution to good judges. They are God's servants devoting all their time to administering justice. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe a contribution, pay a contribution; if a toll is owed, then pay a toll. Respect those judges worthy of respect. Only, honour those worthy of honour (Rom 13:7).
Paul was not saying that people should pay taxes to Rome in return for the services that Rome provided them. He did not see Rome as a service provider. Roman made was not committed to providing services for ordinary people. Any benefits that fell to ordinary people were a mistake.

The Roman tax system was not set up to raise money to support ordinary people in the way that modern people think about taxes. It was an extraction system designed to seize as much wealth as possible from subservient peoples. Roman-appointed tax farmers would take as much as they could get, leaving their victims with almost nothing to live on. Romans soldiers would wreck the house of anyone thought to be hiding grain or gold. Romans 13:6-7 is not a description of the Roman tax system.

When Paul wrote Romans 13, he was clearly not thinking about the Roman Empire. He must have been thinking about something quite different, so this passage cannot be used to demand submission to all political power.

Paul was actually reminding Christians that the system of Law and Local Judges that God have through Moses will provide true justice. In Romans 13:1 he said,

Do not be overcome by evil, but conquer evil with good. Every person should submit to the more excellent judges, because there is no legitimate judicial authority except under God. The judges that have emerged in a free society are arranged by God.
This was a reference to Deut 17:9.
You shall come to the judge that shall be in those days: and you shall inquire; and they will show you the sentence of judgment.
I explain this further in Understanding Romans 13.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Clear Objectives

The fact that a government policy has achieved its objective does not mean that it was the best policy for the situation. Other less costly options may have achieved the same result.

If I am annoyed by a fly sitting on my muffin on our coffee table, I could get a shotgun and blast two shots at it. The fly would be killed, achieving my objective. However, I will have wrecked the coffee table, smashed my coffee cup, allowing the coffee to drip down and stain the shot blasted-carpet.

The best policy is the one that achieves the objective, at the lowest cost.

Looking back, four actions would have significantly reduced the spread of the coronavirus in New Zealand.

  • The only way people can enter out island nation is by air travel. Screening, testing and isolating all people coming across the border from places where they might have been in contact with the virus is really important. This policy includes checking that people all stay in isolation as they promised. This policy could have been implemented much earlier in New Zealand.

  • Shutting down all large meetings of people is essential as they allow the virus to spread quicker. The virus was spread at a wedding, a stag party, a conference, and a St Patricks Day party.

  • Putting all people over 70 in isolation is really important, as they are most vulnerable to the virus. Doing the same for people who are immuno-impaired is equally important. Statistics from New York show that 72% of people dying were aged over 65. Of the people aged between 45 and 64 who died, 85 percent had underlying conditions. So keeping the elderly and immuno-impaired safe was really important. Because most of these people do not need to go out to work, the cheapest way for them to keep safe is to isolate themselves at home, rather than shutting down the whole of society at huge cost.

  • Half of the deaths in New York were aged over 75. In New Zealand, many people in this age group will live in rest homes, so ensuring that all aged-care facilities had good policies for ensuring that people with potential cases of the virus did not come in was essential. The government stopped all visitors quite early, but efforts to ensure that staff had not been in contact with the virus seem to have been inadequate in a number of rest homes.

If these actions had been taken earlier, the spread of the virus would have been minimised, and the shotgun blast of a total lockdown might not have been needed. These actions would have been sufficient to flatten the curve and protect the health system, if that was the objective. They are obvious things to do in hindsight, but they are not complicated, so they should have been obvious to public health experts right from the beginning.

I presume that the hard shutdown became necessary when the inadequacy of border screening and quarantine processes and the inadequacy of tracing procedures for the contacts of infected people became clear. These failures made a full lockdown unavoidable, but not the best policy choice.

For a policy decision to be assessed accurately, the objective of the policy needs to be stated clearly and precisely. If my objective was to get rid of the coffee table that I received as a gift, but did not like, using the shotgun blast to kill a fly might be an appropriate action. Objectives must be formulated clearly.

Of course, politicians and government departments quite like vague objectives, because if they fail to achieve their objective, they can fall back to claiming success for an easier one they did meet. Politicians prefer success stories they can tell over clear objectives that might expose their failure.

Apart from the economic cost, a big problem with the lockdown policy was that the objective was unclear from the beginning. When the lockdown was first imposed the emphasis was on flattening the curve. That makes sense, if the objective is to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed, as has happened in Italy. However, once the lockdown was underway, the rhetoric shifted to eradicating the virus, a much more challenging, and perhaps impossible goal. Yesterday the objective seemed to shift from zero infections to "zero tolerance", but I suspect that was a rhetorical flourish.

This confusion of objectives makes an assessment of the effectiveness of the policy difficult. If the objective was to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed it has been successful, but possibly overkill, because most public hospitals have not had more than one Covid19 patient at a time. On the other hand, if the objective was complete eradication, an outcome that might not even be possible, then it is too soon to assess the success of the lockdown.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Moving Down

The government has announced that New Zealand will move to Level 3 and relax the lockdown slightly on Tuesday 28 April (Monday is a statutory holiday). Given that the infections have not yet been eliminated, although the border is shut quite tight, the success of this decision will depend on two things.

  1. Quickly testing all possible new infections to determine if they have the virus and quarantining them.

  2. Tracing all the contacts of each new infection and successfully isolating all their contacts.

The Ministry of Health struggled with both task when the virus emerged, so I hope their capability has significantly improved.
  • During the early days of the virus, testing seemed to be quite limited. They now seem to have got testing capability all over the country, so they should be okay with testing. The problem is that experience in other nations suggest that with Covid19, there might be considerable numbers of asymptomatic infections that are spreading the virus within the community. If this is the situation in New Zealand, these will not be picked up by testing and the virus could continue to spread (previously, they were in a bubble).

  • The tracing capability is more worrying. Very little information has been released, but it seems that in the early stages, they struggled with tracing, due to insufficient people being trained, and out-dated IT infrastructure. They seem to have caught up now that the numbers of infections has declined, but this does not inspire confidence.

    The claimed target for the Public Health Units is to contact 80% within three days of an infection being diagnosed. The problem is that three days after being diagnosed, if they were infectious before their symptoms emerged, the people they have infected could already be infecting others before they are contacted.

These concerns mean that the shift to Level 3 is not without risk.

Deciding to go to Level 3 next week was a tough decision. Only God has enough information, to know what was the right thing to do, but I doubt that the Prime Minister asked him. I wish that she had a Nathan, or Elisha to counsel her.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Data Decides?

According to the headline of an article published this morning by a data journalist about when New Zealand will move out the lockdown, the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “The data will decide”. I presume that she did not actually say that, because it is quite a stupid statement. I spent thirty years of my working career working with data, and I never saw a piece of data make a decision about anything.

People make decisions, not data. A person can use data to help them make a decision, but it must be done carefully. Often, there will be numerous data series that are relevant to a decision, and they sometimes give a conflicting message, because they measure slightly different things.

The decision-maker must analyse the data to know how each piece of data was measured and how reliable it is. They need to understand what the data is indicating. Has the trend actually changed, or are the last few observations just random noise?

Usually there will be various data sources that are relevant to a decision, and often the data that is really needed is not available, or not up-to-date. The decision-maker has to decide how much weight to each piece of data, which is a human judgment. Using data wisely takes a great deal of wisdom.

The decision-maker needs to understand the context behind the data. Information about numbers of new Covid19 infections only means something in the context of an understanding of epidemiology (how viruses transmit), knowledge of geography (where infected people live), and psychology (how they will behave).

So, I hope the leaders making the decision about the lockdown will use the data wisely. I also hope that they will understand that they are making the judgement and must be accountable for their decision.

Data rarely supports a decision one way clearly, so the people deciding usually need a great deal of wisdom and insight. Of course, the benefit of claiming that the data will make the decision is that if the decision turns out to be wrong, they can blame the data.

A problem with politicians is that tend to use data badly to justify their decisions and sometimes to scare people into complying with their them. An example is the Prime Minister’s claim that if a severe lockdown was not introduced, 8000 to 13000 people would die. It has now emerged that those numbers came from a Covid19 model that was poorly specified. The same model produced an estimate of 500, when more plausible parameters were used. The big numbers were a worst-case scenario that was unlikely to happen. Although unreliable, they were used to scare people into complying with the lockdown.

A piece of data that we need to be careful about is the results of the community surveillance testing. 300 people have been fairly randomly tested in a Christchurch supermarket (and in a couple of other towns) to determine if there is significant community spread. The problem with this is that sample surveys are useful for measuring something that is quite common in society (ie support for large political parties), but they are not very useful establishing that something is missing from a population, (ie community spread of a virus).

There are 300,000 people living in Christchurch. If there are ten people wandering around the city with undetected Covid19, that is only one in 30,000. The probability that one of these ten would be at the Moorhouse Avenue supermarket (let alone be selected for testing) is negligible. So the surveillance testing will almost certainly not find any undetected infections, but that does not mean that none exist. A surveillance survey would need a vastly larger sample to determine that.

However, I presume that the information from the surveillance surveys will be used by politicians to make people feel safer about any decision to relax the lockdown, just as an exaggerated death toll was used to persuade people into staying at home.

What is Going On

Covid19 has shaken up the world. Christians are wondering what is going on. Here are my thoughts.

We must be clear about one thing. The source of the virus is not God.

Spiritual Powers of Evil
The spiritual powers of evil are trying something that they have done before: generate something evil and leave it to see where it goes and how much damage it does. They are able to do this in places where humans have given them authority to work on earth.

The virus will eventually burn out; quicker if a vaccine can be developed. However, because their efforts have successfully disrupted human life, the spiritual powers of evil will have another go when they think the time is right.

The last 70 years have been a time of relative peace and quiet in the western world. This has given us a false sense of security. This comfort has been an effective tactic for the spiritual powers of evil, because it has resulted in a complete lack awareness of the spiritual realms, and particularly their evil activities. In many western nations, this lack of awareness has been made worse by the large number of people that have turned away from God.

The spiritual powers of evil are not content with distracting people from God. They love to steal, kill and destroy. They will have a go at achieving this whenever they get an opportunity.

The spiritual powers of evil have had a few fizzers with Sars and Ebola, but this one has been really successful, partly because of the human response, so they will try it again; but possibly not straight away. They will probably try again with something else that they have found successful first, but they will try an epidemic again, and it will probably be worse.

I suspect the third and four horsemen were taking their horses (Black Horse and Pale Horse) out for a brief trot to see if they are fit, but this was not the big one.

Many people hope that the situation will return to normal soon.

Things will not return to normal.
This is not a new normal.
It will not even be a new normal adjusted.
We are returning to an old normal
where life is uncertain,
as it is for most people in the third world
and was for most of human history.
We are returning to the old normal
where the world was wrecked by frequent epidemics
that get ahead of human efforts to control them.

God
God did not cause this disease. And he cannot stop it in places where he has been squeezed out and not been given authority to intervene.

God is using the virus to expose the flaw in the modern way of doing church, by demonstrating that it is not viable during a crisis. God wants his people to be prepared, so his people can continue to be effective in sharing the gospel and expanding his kingdom, regardless of what is happening in the world. God has promised to establish his kingdom on earth, but it will likely have its greatest advance during tough times. He needs his people to be prepared for crisis, and equipped for victory.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Covid19 and the Prophetic Movement

Having written a book about the Prophetic ministry, I monitor the Elijah List and other prophetic bulletin boards to get an understanding of what is happening. I sense that the Covid19 virus has exposed the weakness of the prophetic movement. There have been some really encouraging words, but on the whole, I have been disappointed by some of what I have read.

No warning
Around the new year, people with prophetic gifts give their prognostications for the coming years. As far as I can see, none of them predicted the trauma of the coronavirus. Many spoke about 2020 being a year for 20/20 vision, which ironically means the vision of an average person) and a time of increased blessing on God’s people. If they were unable to give a warning of the most dramatic event to strike the world since the GFC, then something is not right with the movement.

A couple of prophetic ministers seems to have given warning of a severe virus several years ago, but these references were quite oblique. They must have been uncertain about what they were describing, because the did not make a big deal of it.

The clearest warning seems to have been given by David Wilkerson back in 1986.

I see a plague coming on the world, and the bars and churches and government will shut down. The plague will hit New York City and shake it like it has never been shaken. The plague is going to force prayerless Believers into radical prayer and into their Bibles, and repentance will be the cry from the man of God in the pulpit. And out of it will come a third Great Awakening that will sweep America and the world.
Unfortunately, this warning has been forgotten, if it was ever heard.

Response
Once the virus began spreading, the dominant message from prophetic people was that the virus would disappear quickly and things would return to normal. A common message was that the virus would be “past by Passover”, which is odd, because it implies that God is governed by a religious timetable. Jesus victory over sin and evil was achieved on the cross 2000 years ago, so there was nothing extra that he could do at Easter this year. Two thousand people died of the virus in the US on one day during Easter, so it was clearly wrong to say that the impact of the disease would be over by Passover.

Sadly, I have noted a bit of racial bias creeping into some of the messages. In particular, some prophetic people have joined into the increasingly common hatred of China.

The prophetic can easily get mixed with the patriotic. I have also noted a touch of national hubris amongst some of the “American Prophets”. One declared that God would quickly restore America to a place of economic dominance in the world, so that other contenders for that role would be put back in their place. Some are picking a quick recovery of the US share market, which would be a pyrrhic victory, because if it happens, the markets will have been artificially pumped up by the loose money policies of the Federal Reserve.

Many prophetic voices have focussed on 2 Chron 7:14.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
However, there has been more emphasis on praying and seeking his face, than on turning from wicked ways. There have been very few suggestions of what wicked ways that nations need to turn from, which suggests that this verse does not fit our context.

Quantity over Quality
During the last few decades, we have seen a massive increase in the quantity of prophecy, especially personal prophecy, which has been marvellous.

We are now at a stage, where we need to see an equally massive lift in quality, especially for prophecy about nations. That is a much bigger challenge, because it needs prophetic character.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Perspective

Humans have a tendency to focus on what is close hand and miss the bigger picture. The news media in NZ are really upset about the deaths of the 10 elderly people who have died from Covid19. While it is sad for the families of these people, the rest of us should keep the problem in perspective. We seem to have been beset by a terrible fear of death.

Back in 1948 when the world was spooked by the threat of atomic war, CS Lewis wrote the following words.

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

The good times that we have lived through in the last few decades have lulled us into a false sense of security about the reality of living in a fallen world. My father, who grew up during the great depression, used to say.
During hard times people thought they would last forever. Now during good times, people think they will last forever too, but both views are wrong.
Now after many good years, we are disturbed by an event that we cannot easily control, but which should not surprise us.

We should also be careful that we are not spooked by numbers. Death is not something that should not happen. It is inevitable, for all of us. According to the Vitals Statistics published by the Department of Statistics, about 25,000 who are over 70 years of age die each year. That is about 500 a week. I presume that about half of these would have died in aged care facilities. That means that 200-300 people die in rest homes each week. We see their names in the death notices in the paper, but unless we recognise their names, we pass over quickly. Of course, it is usually very sad for their families, but death is part of life.

Children are always being born, and people are always dying. That is the cycle of life. Even if the total number of deaths in New Zealand due to Covid19 were to increase to 100, that would only be a fifth of the number of 70+ people who will die each week. Some of these extra deaths might be shocking and sad, but people die on traumatic and shocking ways all the time. That is the nature of life on earth.

If a nurse with three young children dies of Covid19 that is incredibly sad, but sad stuff happens all the time in this fallen world. Young women with children die all the time of cancer and care accidents. All deaths that cut lives short before they are complete are especially sad.

When people reach the age of eighty, their likelihood of dying increases significantly. Both my parent died in their late eighties. We were really sad to lose them, and we miss them, but there was a sense in which their lives were complete. They had done what they were put on earth to do. Their best years were behind them. Nothing can replace them, but the gap is filled by the next generation of grandchildren blossoming forth. That is how life works.

The reality is that people in rest homes die all the time, and often quite soon after they move in. In normal times a third of all deaths in New Zealand occur in rest homes.

My parents both died in a rest home. I remember the day when they moved into it. It was a relief because they could not cope in the place where they had been living. However, there was also a pang of sadness, because they and we knew that their lives were winding down, and they would not be able to keep on supporting the huge number of people that they related to in service of the Lord. It seemed like part of their lives was already dying. In some ways, death is a process, just like growing up. (For some, a virus will significantly speed up that process.)

While they lived in the rest home, my parents were at peace, because they did not fear death. They knew that because they had trusted in Jesus, death is not the end, but a gateway to fullness of life with Jesus. Death is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is not being prepared for death when it comes.

God’s people must be careful that they do not caught get up in the fear of death. For us, death is not the end, but a door to a new and better life. Death is not my greatest fear. My greatest fear is finishing my life without having completed everything that called me to do.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Treasury Estimates

The NZ Treasury released its estimates today for the effects on the economy of the Covid19 virus and associated shutdown.

The scenarios considered vary depending on how long the country is kept in each level of the shutdown. I thought scenario 1 looked most realistic; it assumes that Level 4 will last a month, then Level 3 for a month followed by Level 1 or 2 for ten months. The worst case is scenario 4, which assumes Level 4 for three months and Level 3 for 3 months. That does not seem plausible, but I presume it was put in there to make the others seem more acceptable.

Two figures stood out to me. First, if the best scenario applies, quarterly real GDP drops from 64 billion dollars in the March 2020 quarter to 54 billion dollars in the September quarter, when the economy has had quite a few months to recover. That is a drop of 14 percent, which is a huge hit on the economy. It takes out quite a few years’ worth of economic growth at a time when the population has grown rapidly, so the effect on real GDP per capita will be even worse.

The Treasury notes that this number is just an estimate, but I would have preferred that they gave more information about the assumptions on it was based, and an indication of the plausible range for their estimates. It makes a big difference, whether the estimated decline between March and September is between 12 and 16 percent, or whether it is between 9 and 20 percent.

But you cannot eat GDP, so these figures probably do not mean much to many people. However, the other figure that I noted really brings it home.

Under their best-case scenario, the Treasury estimates that unemployment will be 13 percent of the workforce in the September quarter 2020, well after the finish of the lockdown. The New Zealand workforce consists of about 1.5 million people, so 13 percent unemployment means 195,000 people without work. That is a huge amount of pain. Many of those who lose their jobs will be able to collect unemployment benefits, but many others will be the partner of someone who is working, so they will not qualify for a benefit.

My initial response to the estimates is that the Treasury is overconfident about how quickly the economy will recover. I will be interested to see what other economists say about this. It depends on how much account the Treasury has taken of the effects of business closures rippling through the economy.

Treasury seems to be assuming that the world economy will only decline by about 3 percent in the best case, and 6 percent in the worst case. That also seems to be a little optimistic.

  • The Chinese economy was already slowing sharply before the virus struck, and it is uncertain how quickly it will recover.

  • The US financial sector is very shaky. The collapse in the value of shares and bonds means that many debtors have had to stump more for collateral for their loans. It is not clear that all will be able to do it. Many large corporates have burnt up their cash reserves and are finding it difficult to find credit. There are huge risks around derivatives linked to the price of oil. The Federal Reserve is trying to shore the financial system up with more credit, but it is still not clear that they will be successful.

  • As they recover, the nations of the world are like to pull back from dependence on international trade and try to be more self-sufficient. That will increase the cost of producing everything that people need and make life more difficult for exporting nations.

I suspect that as we go out of the shutdown, the New Zealand economy will face stronger headwinds than the Treasury is assuming. The world is not just dealing with a health crisis; it is also facing a financial crisis.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Third Heaven Intercession

A confusing doctrine has emerged in many Christians circles that I call Third Heaven Intercession. This teaching is giving many people a false understanding of how intercession works.

In this teaching, the first heaven is the atmosphere; part of the heavens and earth that God created. The second heaven is the place where the spiritual powers of evil operate (from a reference to the prince of the power of the air in Eph 2:2). The third heaven is the place where God dwells, and Jesus sits (based on where Paul said that he visited in 2 Cor 12:2). Actually, the third heaven is the paradise, where the people who die in the Lord go to be with Jesus, so it is something slightly different, but that is not important for this article (2 Cor 12:4).

The teaching on intercession claims that prayers fail, because intercessors are still operating in the first heaven, seeing things from an earthly level. Their prayers get blocked by the spiritual powers of evil in the second heaven from getting to Jesus in the third heaven..

The solution for intercessors is to understand that they are seated with Jesus at the right hand of the Father (which is true). If they pray from their position there, their prayers will be victorious, because the spiritual powers of evil in the second heaven cannot block them from getting to the Father. Their prayers go to him directly, bypassing any blockages.

Aspects of this teaching are true, and it seems plausible, but it is also misleading because it fails to take account of the nature of authority. Understanding authority is the key to success in intercession.

Having a place in the third heaven is not a guarantee of success in prayer. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, from where he is interceding on our behalf (Heb 7:25). His position does not give him authority to control everything on earth, so his wishes are not always fulfilled.

Jesus did not want Hitler rising to power and controlling part of the earth and slaughtering many Jews, but he did not have authority to stop him. Jesus did not want Stalin ruling half of Europe and killing many people, including Christians, but he did not have authority to stop him, though he was seated at God’s right hand in heaven (please do not reply that Hitler and Stalin were God’s will for the world).

The truth is that in terms of what happens on earth, authority on earth is much more important than authority in heaven. God gave authority over the earth to humans, so he can only intervene on earth if humans who have authority there give him permission.

Jesus was a human, so he was able to take back the authority on earth from the spiritual powers of evil who had stolen it from humans. After he had died on the cross, the spiritual powers of evil were totally defeated, so Jesus could say that all authority on earth (and heaven) belonged to him. At that moment, he held all authority over the earth. However, he did not keep it for himself, but gave the authority that he had won back to humans. The humans who chose to belong to him submitted to him, so he still had authority in their lives.

Most other people took the freedom (authority in their lives) Jesus had given back to them and resubmitted to the spiritual powers of evil (often unwittingly) by continuing to live their old lives. Jesus could have maintained authority over their lives by sending millions of angels and forcing them to obey his will. He could have sent angels to force Caesar to do what he wanted. Jesus could have threatened to smack down anyone who refused to obey him with angelic power. However, he chose not to do that, because his kingdom is a kingdom of love that cannot be imposed by coercion and force.

Jesus wanted people to be free, even if they rejected him, just as his Father had created them to be free. He wanted people to be free, even if they took the authority that he had won back for them by his terrible death and gave it back to the spiritual powers of evil who had cheated them before.

This is the current authority situation on earth. Jesus has authority in the lives of the people who acknowledge him as Lord, and those who submit to them for various reasons, as employees, children, etc. He has no authority in the lives of the millions who have rejected his wonderful gospel and submitted to the spiritual powers of evil.

The spiritual powers of evil have authority in the lives of people who have rejected the gospel and chosen sin and evil. This gives the powers of evil authority in the places and institutions on earth where these people have authority (even if they are located in the second heaven). Christians cannot override the decisions of these people, even if they are seated with Jesus at the right hand of the Father.

The Holy Spirit is everywhere, so the spiritual powers of evil cannot prevent the Father from hearing out prayer. The idea that our prayers can be blocked in the second heaven by the spiritual powers of evil is nonsense. Nor can they cannot stop the Holy Spirit from speaking to us, unless we have unwittingly given them permission by sinning.

All this means that our intercession will be more effective in situations where we have authority.

Parents have authority over their children. Elders have authority over the people in the body of Jesus who have submitted to them. That is why people in trouble should call on their elders to pray for them. When people submit to us by asking us to pray for them, that gives authority to our prayers into their lives.

Business people and have authority over their employees while they are at work. Managers have authority over the people who report to them. This opens the way to pray effectively for them, although this is always limited authority. Teachers have authority over the students in their classes, so this makes their prayers effective, within the limits of the authority that the students have also given to other people like parents and spouses.

Everyone has the right to speak to their political leaders, so we have the authority to release the Holy Spirit to speak to them. However, we do not have authority to make them obey his voice. However, if a president or king asks a prophet for advice, that gives the prophet extra authority when praying for him/her. Of course, the president or king will be submitting to other people too. If he/she gives them more authority, the prayers of the prophet may be nullified.

Authority is the key to effective intercession, not our place in the spiritual realms. That said, when we are in a place of authority, and are confronting evil, the fact that we are sitting with Jesus at the right hand of the Father with all his authority behind us is critically important. In situations where we have authority, the spiritual powers of evil have to surrender and submit to our declarations and decrees, if we speak on Jesus’ behalf and according to his will. In these situations, the reality that we are seated in the spiritual realms at God’s right hand means that they have to submit us.

The key to intercession is to seek authority: not imposing it on others by force, but whenever people freely submit to us for whatever reason, we should accept the authority and use it to pray for them. Authority makes intercession effective.

Australia v New Zealand

The New Zealand Government has imposed much tighter shutdown restrictions than its Australian counterpart. New Zealanders accepted this, because they believed that New Zealand was doing better against the virus than Australia. However, a retired Reserve Bank economist Michael Reddell has done some analysis that shows that we might be kidding ourselves. His graph illustrates his story clearly.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Kingdom Authority

To celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus, the Kindle version of my book called Kingdom Authority will be available for $US1.00 at Amazon US and £1 at Amazon UK. This offer lasts for 48 hours.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Three Problems

The lockdown in New Zealand seems to have successfully slowed the spread of Covid19. However, three problems have become evident.

First, the virus was brought and spread here by returning international travellers. The government was too slow to restrict travellers from countries with spreading infection, to put in place adequate screening at airports, and introduce strict quarantine for people with risk of infection.

Second, many of the big clusters of infection spread at big social functions, like parties and weddings. The government introduced a ban on meetings of more than a 100 people on 19 March, a week before the lockdown began on 26 March. A ban on meetings of more than 500 people had been in place since 16 March. In hindsight this tolerance of large social functions was a mistake, as in the ten days before the lockdown, big social functions allowed the virus to spread and create large clusters of infection. A much tighter limit on the number of people at a social gathering during this period would have significantly reduced the spread of infection.

Third, the virus has spread quickly in some large rest homes and associated dementia units. The way that we care for our elderly and vulnerable people with disabilities has been exposed as vulnerable to an epidemic.

In New Zealand, as in many places in the western world, the elderly are mostly secluded away in massive rest home facilities, which can house several hundreds of people on one site, offering variable levels of care. These rest homes are operated by large corporates, which make their money by selling units to retired people and then buying them back at a lower price, when the owner dies, or moves because they need a higher level of care. Any capital gains go to the corporate owner.

In the rest home part of the facility, elderly people sit close together in a large, shared lounge. The rest home facilities need a large staff of carers, administrators, nurses, cleaners, cooks, etc. Most of these positions are very poorly paid, so they have to be staffed by recent migrants, who are willing to do unpleasant work for poor pay. The government pays for people who have used up all their assets, so it is happy for the costs to be pushed down.

The government banned all people from visiting rest homes, to reduce the risk of infection. But large numbers of workers go in and out every day. The risk of them bring in infection is higher, because migrants travel overseas more frequently to visit their families, sometimes to places where the virus was spreading. The other problem is that poorly paid employees are often reluctant to stay home from work if they are sickening, because they cannot afford to lose their income.

The way we care for the elderly is a recipe for problems during an epidemic. I hope that when this is over, the government and the nation will find a better way to care for our elderly than our current financialise, corporatised system. They deserve better.

Being Church Where We Live

To celebrate Jesus’ death on the cross, by which he disarmed and defeated the spiritual powers of evil, and triumphed over them by destroying their hold over the world, and to speed the coming of his Kingdom, the Kindle version of my book called Being Church Where We Live will be available for $1.00 at Amazon US and £1 at Amazon UK. This offer lasts for 48 hours. If you do not have a Kindle, you can download a kindle app and read in on your phone or tablet.

Balance Sheet Evolution

AdventuresinCapitalism explains why large corporates are vulnerable to a crisis like Covid19.

Excluding brief periods of exuberance at the end of the 1920s and 1960s most public companies historically were staid organizations—they grew a few percent a year and paid out some of their profits in dividends. Boards of directors were mainly recruited from large shareholders who were more focused on sustainability than quarterly numbers or pushing the share price. Sure, there were outliers, there were guys doing crazy things, but a large portion of corporate America was focused on building long-term wealth for the large shareholders (often the families who controlled these businesses).

Then came Mike Milken and his cohort of extortioners and restructuring artists. Don’t get me wrong, by the 1980s, many US corporations had grown fat and a bit lazy—a good shake-up was needed, but the following generation of financial engineers took things too far. I’m all about improving returns on assets (ROA)—my gripe is that the focus then shifted to returns on equity (ROE). Here’s a simple exercise, take a mediocre business, add ten turns of leverage and then marvel at how amazing the returns to equity are. For the past generation, every corporate executive has undertaken a similar exercise and congratulated themselves on the results. For the holdouts who refused to lever up, there was a wolf-pack of hedge funds ready to pounce and educate them on why returning too much capital to shareholders was necessary. Is it any wonder that corporate balance sheets are such a mess today? Like a wounded gazelle, if your leverage ratios were low, you were pounced upon and told to lever up.

Twelve years out from the GFC, businesses should have had strong cash reserves.
There was no rainy-day fund. There was no excess capital beyond a revolver that lasts only a few weeks at best. What should have been excess cash reserves were squandered long ago on buybacks at all-time high multiples.
When we are through crisis, these corporates will have to pay down some of their debt, and increase cash reserves and shareholder equity. That will significant reduce the return on equity, putting pressure on share prices.
As we come out of this COVID-19 crisis, I suspect that Directors will demand larger liquidity buffers. How much of a buffer? What if you need six months of op-ex in cash on the balance sheet? What if Directors demand Japan style balance sheets? What happens when you take leverage down at most corporations? You end up with middling ROEs and reduced valuations (like in Japan). I suspect that ROEs across corporate America are going to converge towards a new and much lower level.

Tourism Decline

One thing very clear, tourism is the sect of the economy that will be most affected by the coronavirus shutdown.

Tourism affects many industries (accommodation, retail, transport, etc) so Statistics NZ produces a satellite account to the National Accounts that measures the size of the tourism sector. Some of the data series integrated into it are a bit dodgy, and some of the underlying assumptions behind the ratios used are not very robust, but it does give a reasonable indication of the size of the tourism sector in New Zealand.

The account measures the size of the tourism sector in two ways.

  • The direct measure cover business that deal directly with tourists.
  • The indirect measure includes businesses that supply the intermediate inputs used in producing goods and services for tourists.
The account for 2019 shows the following results.
Direct tourism value added is 5.2 of GDP.
Indirect tourism value added is 4.3% of GDP.
Total tourism is 9.5% of GDP.
The satellite account also estimates employment in the sector.
Tourism directly employed 230,000 people, which is 8.4 percent of total employment.
A further 160,000 were indirectly employed in tourism generating an additional 6.0 percent share of total employment.
This suggests that the employment of nearly 400,000 people depends on tourism. They are about 14.4% of the workforce.
Business and government travel, which is a smaller segment of tourism (about 15%). The bulk is split fairly evenly between international and domestic tourism. Once we move down from Alert Level 4, business and government travel will begin again, but at a much lower level. International tourism will cease for several years, as strict border restrictions will need to be in place for quite some time, and even when they are removed people will be scared of international travel. Inter-regional travel will be constrained for a while too. With reduced incomes, people will have less spare cash to spend on travel within New Zealand. These factors mean that we can expect a big decline in the tourism sector persisting over the next few years.

If all of the direct and indirect employment on international tourism activities disappear for and half of those with domestic tourism disappear, that could be nearly 300,000 jobs gone. About 6 percent of GDP could disappear.

Only 5% of those directly employed in tourism are in air transport. 13% are in accommodation (hotels, motels, etc). Nearly 30 percent are in the Food and Beverage Services (restaurants, takeaways, bars, etc). 15 percent are in Retail Trade. We have seen airlines putting off staff, but the decline in the accommodation, food services, and retail industries is still to come.

Of course, when these people lose their jobs and income, they will stop buying, so the effect ripples out to other businesses not directly or indirectly connected to tourism. So, the overall effect of the shutdown could be much greater.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Psalm 91

In this season, Psalm 91 is an incredibly popular passage. It has some amazing promises, but they are often misunderstood.

The Psalm begins with a statement about the people to whom the promise of the Psalm applies.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1).
The Psalm is a promise to people who live in God’s shelter. To be in his shadow we need to be walking in faith in obedience to the leading of his Spirit. The promise is also for those who abide in his shadow. Jesus told us what it means to abide in him.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).
To be safe, we must abide in Jesus. He reminded his followers that his body is like a vine with many branches. To be linked to him, we must be linked to other followers of Jesus, who are linked to him and to others that are following him.

Abiding in Jesus means belonging to a body of people who are following him and who love each other as he loved us, serving each other, and submitting to each other. When we submit to each other in love, we give the members of the body close to us authority to pray into our lives and release the gifts of the Spirits toward us.

God promised made this promise to those who abide in the body of Jesus.

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence (Psalm 91:3).
This is not a promise for people wandering around doing their own thing in isolation from other believers. It is for people who belong to a body that is living in obedience to Jesus in the power of the Spirit. They will be loving one another and submitted to each other, so they will have authority to stand against evil attacks on behalf of those that are joined to them. This body of believers will be able to receive the gift of healing and the gift of faith to pray in the power of the Spirit for people who are sick. They will stand together to enforce the victory over evil that Jesus achieved by his death and resurrection.

We are living in a time when the church has struggled to deal with sickness. Given what Jesus accomplished on the cross, we should be seeing far more healings of sick people than we are seeing. This means that we are not as well prepared to deal with the coronavirus virus as we could be. If I struggled to defeat the last attack of the common cold that struck me by standing against it in faith and the power of the Spirit, I am probably foolish to assume that I can defeat coronavirus by faith. We need to belong to a body that understands the gift of healing and the victory that Jesus achieved on the cross.

Psalm 91 is not a magic charm. It is a way of life in unity with other followers of Jesus. It is a promise to a body of believers who are serving together in the power of the Holy Spirit. The best protection against any pestilence is to be in a body of believers who are confident in releasing the gifts of the Spirit, especially the gifts of healing and faith.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Kingdom Come

In recent years, there has been massive talk in Christian circles about the kingdom of God. “Kingdom” become a popular adjective that gets tagged onto everything that the church does. Yet despite all the talk about the kingdom, most Christians still do not really believe the kingdom can actually come on earth. At best they hope for a slightly better church, or a better government at the next election, but neither is a vision of the kingdom that stirs hearts the way that Jesus did. The Passion translation refers to “God’s kingdom realm”, which makes it seem vague and invisible.

Part of the problem is that Jesus vision of the Kingdom simply does not fit with the modern model of church, and leaders are unwilling to give their vision for something radically different. Jesus said that the people need a radical change of thinking to be able to accept his Kingdom. That has not changed.

Uncertain Vaccine

Everyone seems to be assuming that a vaccine will be found for the Covid19, and that once it has been released to the world, everything that has been disrupted will return to normal. Americans assume that, even if the Chinese fail to do it, American drug companies will succeed in producing a vaccine, because Trump has made America great again. I suspect that this is humanist over-confidence. Modern nations assume every problem can be solved by human ingenuity. We have modern technology so everything will be fine.

However, there is no guarantee that an effective an economic vaccine will be discovered. If the virus was created by the spiritual powers of evil, they may be just clever enough to create one that is immune to a vaccine.

A vaccine that works in the laboratory is not always easy to get into the field. The flu vaccine is happy being carried in egg yoke, but other potential vaccines might not be so easy to deliver. Potential vaccines have to be tested carefully, as if they are not exactly right, they can make recipients more vulnerable to the disease. Therefore, we should not assume that a vaccine can be developed, as there are many viruses for which no vaccine has possible. For example, there is no effective vaccine for the common cold despite extensive research. A vaccine for Shingles took ten years to develop.

Political leaders should be thinking about how they will respond if an effective vaccine for Covid19 cannot be developed. The virus could be swirling around the world for several years. There is no certainty yet that the antibodies developed by people who have recovered from the virus will be effective for many years after the event. In the worst case, people who have been infected with Covid19 might be infected again and again, just like humans are affected with the common cold over and over again.

If the worst happens and Covid19 whirls around the world each winter, international air travel is like to be severely constrained. People who arrive on an aeroplane from another nation will probably have to be quarantined for two weeks when they arrive. That will put most people off travelling at all. International tourism will be totally impractical. Local quarantine areas might need to be established to constrain outbreaks of the virus. Our ability to move from city to city and town to town will be severely listed. Many things that we currently do will become impractical.

Here in New Zealand, by locking down the borders and imposing self-isolation on everyone, the government seems to have dramatically flattened the curve. Only fifteen infected people are in hospital and the number of new cases has levelled, and may be falling. The problem with this is that this leaves the country with almost no herd immunity, but carrying the cost of a massive shutdown.

Some experts are suggesting that the virus could come in waves, as happened with the 1918 flu. New Zealand skipped the first wave due to restrictions on travel during wartime, but was hit hard in the second wave in November 1918. If a second wave of the covid19 arrives, NZ might have to go through a second costly lockdown, which I am not sure the country could bear. The alternative would be to keep the border restricted putting all international visitors through a two-week quarantine for quite some time.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Church Reset

Many people who are widely recognised as prophets (Lana Vawser, DC Lake, Anita Alexander, Kris Vallotton) are saying that God is calling a “Reset” for the church. I witness with this call, but I am worried that none of them are saying what they mean, or what God wants to change.

When I think of the word “reset”, I think of a factory reset of my smartphone. It is a drastic action, because it solves problems, but you end up losing a lot of stuff that was precious. I have only done it once when I was really desperate. Therefore, I presume that a reset will mean radical change for the church, and that much of what seems important to us will have to be let go.

The prophetic people are talking about a change in governmental authority, but they are not very clear about what that means. Maybe they do not know what it means themselves, but it often seems like a different group of people controlling the church. Or Christians leaders controlling civil governments.

The prophetic people are saying that God is giving new blueprints, but I do not see the new blueprints anywhere. Maybe they do not have them yet, but it is confusing, because a call for change needs to tell people how they should change.

I sense that despite the call for a reset, most Christian leaders are only interested in tweaking the existing church model. I do not detect an appetite for serious change, even amongst followers who “like” prophetic posts. No one is willing to give up the pastor-executive model of leadership, driving to church on a Sunday, sermon-centric discipling, which make the modern church what it is and move to a relationship-based way of following Jesus. Despite all the talk about the Kingdom of God, I sense that no one really believes that the Kingdom of God can come in fulness in our time, or how that would happen.

I seem to be on a different planet. Forty years ago, when I started as an enthusiastic young pastor, the word I received from the Lord was Hebrews 8:5.

See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.
Two or three years on, and frustrated that things were not happening as I had hoped, I realised that I was just doing what other churches and pastors were doing. I had not bothered waiting to get the pattern/blueprint from God on the mountain.

So, I put everything aside, and began seeking God and studying the New Testament to see how the church was meant to function. What I discovered was radically different and utterly challenging, but I got a strong sense of what Jesus wanted the church to be. It cost me my job and my house, because I could not continue in a role which was not part of Jesus plan.

I published my insights in a little booklet called the Bride of Christ in the early 1980s. It had a great reception, mostly by word of mouth (because this was before the time of the internet). In a short time, the 2000 copies that I had printed were sold out. But nothing really changed. I then realised that readers had enjoyed my critique of the church, but had not understood the alternative blueprint that I was describing. So I rewrote the book to make the pattern much clearer and called it Being Church Where We Live. The Lord told me to leave out everything critical of the existing church and focus on sharing the vision, which I did.

The response has been interesting. The book is radical, so I expected criticism. Yet not one person has come to me and said, “What you have written is not consistent with the scriptures”. I do not expect to be right on everything I write, but not one person has said, “I agree with a lot of what you wrote, but I think you have got that bit wrong, or missed this thing which is important”. No one has even said, “I believe that God is saying something different” or even “What you describe will not work”. Instead, the response has been almost total disinterest.

So I have to conclude that most Christian leaders and their followers are not really interested in making serious changes to the way that they do church. They prefer to stick with the pastor/executive model and going to church on Sundays. I presume this is why the blueprints for the reset are missing.

I realise from working on numerous IT projects over the years, that most people just want the new system to do what the old system did. They can’t visualise how new technology could change the way that they do things to make their work more effective and more efficient. Most IT projects fail to deliver their potential, because they get stuck on replicating what was done in the past, because people cannot visualise how things could be done differently and better.

This seems to be the situation in the church. Very few people have the ability to visualise a church different from what they know. This is where we need prophets to share a radically different vision for the church. And then we need radical leaders, who will give up the security of what they know, and are comfortable with despite it not working, and have a go at something different.

I don’t expect people to follow my way. I know that my version of the pattern on the mountain is not perfect, or complete. I would be quite happy if followers of Jesus found a different way of changing and pursued that. What I struggle with is complacency about the status quo. It is clear that what the church is currently doing is not working as it should, and is not viable through a crisis, so we urgently need a different way of being church.

I wish that there were many prophets and other people sharing their understanding of “the pattern they have received on the mountain” and different blueprints to stir up people who cannot see beyond the what they have now. And I wish that more people were willing to have a try at something really different. The future of the church depends on it.

Having to shut down church services to prevent the spread of coronavirus has been a wake-up call for the church. Paul people are talking about a new normal, but I worry that when the current crisis is finished, mortgage and salary commitments will force leaders back into the existing, but inadequate, model of church.

When I was young, I thought I was part of a radical generation. I realise now that we were probably deceiving ourselves. I hope the rising generations are truly radical and bold enough to take up the challenge to be the church that God needs to win the world for Jesus and establish his glorious Kingdom.