Monday, April 30, 2012

A Farewell to Alms

I have just read A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark. The book is subtitled a Brief Economic History of the World, but it is most an attempt to understand the causes of the industrial Revolution in in England and Europe.

Clark amasses an amazing array of statistical information and uses a standard growth model to determine the cause of growth. I am a bit uneasy about this. I know how hard it is to produce reliable statistics for the current period, so calculating reliable measures of production and capital and labour inputs for earlier centuries must be fraught with difficulties. International comparisons compound the problems.

Nevertheless, Clark produces some very interesting results. For example, he shows that the traditional view that the Industrial Revolution created misery for the working classes is wrong.

By 1815, real wages in England for both farm labourers and urban unskilled had begun the exorable rise that has created affluence for all.

Nor it is the case that the gains to land and capital exceed those of labour. From 1790 to 1860, real wages in England rose faster than real output per person.

The innovating, the owners of capital, the owners of land, and the owners of human capital all experienced moistest rewards, or no rewards from the advance in knowledge. The modern growth, right from the start, by benefitting the most disadvantaged groups, particularly unskilled workers, has reduced inequality within society (271).

Land in the long run recovered none of the gains from the Industrial Revolution. Physical capital owners also received none of the gains from growth. Total payments to capital have expanded enormously since the Industrial revolution, but only because the stock of capital grew rapidly (275).

The Industrial Revolution in England in 1760-1860 saw dramatic changes in the English economy. The upturn in productivity growth rates was a long drawn out process. The advancing innovation began much earlier (257).

The textiles innovators of the industrial revolution, even those who were successful and became famous, typically earned small returns. James Kay who invented the flying shuttle in 1733 died in poverty. James Hargreaves who invented the Sinning Jenny in 1769 died in a workhouse.
Clark argues against the institutional view of development, which has become popular in recent years. He argues that cultural change led people to develop economic habits—hard work, innovation and education.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Comatose Tiger

One of the most stirring articles that I have ever read is the Sleeping Tiger by Dennis Peacocke. I first came across the article in 1983. (The full article can be read in New Wine magazine.) The article began with a quote from Bob Mumford.

There is an entire generation out there—the sixties generation—that has rejected empty religion and is hungry for something real and alive. They have become burned-out on politics, drugs and sex, and now they’ve blended into the establishment. They’re like a sleeping tiger. But with a prophetic word that is real and powerful, they can be awakened.
Denis Peacocke began his description of the Sleeping Tiger by telling about the false trails pursued by the sixty generation. These included radical politics and drugs. They all lead to disappointment.
Looking back, I can see that spiritually, we were looking for a prophetic voice. Many of us had identified with the youth and enthusiasm of President Kennedy but when he was; assassinated, those hopes were shattered.

A Generation's Calling
The Scriptures speak of God as the one who "calls forth the generations to serve Him in their time" (Is. 41:4). I think God put something in our generation which caused it to search for a prophetic sound. As I searched, I found in Marxism a more comprehensive world view than I could find anywhere else. I certainly hadn't found it in the parochial, self-serving brand of Christianity that I'd been exposed to.

We knew that there was a revolutionary historical process in motion and our generation seemed to be on the cutting edge of it. We had an intuitive sense that we were a catalyst in massive changes that were coming to our society. Looking back, I believe that the desire to make an impact on society was something that the Holy Spirit had programmed into our generation. We were looking for answers. We were looking for a prophetic voice wherever we could find it.
Everything changed when Dennis became a Christian.
I got into the Scriptures with a vengeance and the world view that Marxism had given me actually became a help, because I approached the Bible looking for a world view. I knew that there had to be a cosmic point of view in Scripture that was different from what I had known of Christianity before, which had reduced all concerns to personal pietism and made heaven the goal instead of the kingdom of God. I knew that type of Christianity was not going to change the world.
In 1983, looking back on his generation he was disappointed at what had become of them.
Looking Back
That was a major turning point in my life, and my life has been radically different since I encountered the kingdom of God. In looking back at my personal journey through the sixties, I see how it paralleled what happened in the generation as a whole. It's painful to look at what has happened to the idealistic young men and women who were once searching for something more than a split-level house and two cars in the garage.

Thoreau said, "The mass of men live their lives in quiet desperation." I think that sums up where most of my generation is now. They have no cause calling to them. Although many would deny it, they have gone back to the pursuit of pleasure and comfort because it's the only game in town. We have seen ten years now of the Woodstock generation "doing their thing" -making as much money as they can, to have as pleasant an environment as they can. I think that, as a result, there is a collective guilt among them about "selling out" and settling for the most mellow life they can find.

Even so, I don't think that's the condition they want to be in. They're playing the game; they're getting by-but I don't think this generation has found what they really hunger for. I think they are still searching inside for a cause to motivate them. I believe that many people are still hoping that something will come along to grab them. The anti-nuclear movement is trying to do that and certainly has captured a lot of the youth in Western Europe. But I don't see that issue really taking hold here in the same way that either civil rights or Vietnam did. We've been through that.

Explosive Potential
Bob Mumford has likened the sixties generation to a sleeping tiger. It's gone to sleep in a bed of hedonistic pursuits, but it's still a tiger-it still has the explosive potential God imprinted in its spiritual genes.

It is the Church's responsibility to preach a gospel that will arouse that potential. The sad thing is that we haven't preached a gospel that really calls men forth. It's been a very self-centered gospel-save yourself so you go to heaven. Frankly, that isn't enough to someone who wants something beyond themselves.

Many from the sixties and seventies viewed traditional Christianity as about the lowest level of spiritual life that anyone would give themselves to. They saw the Church as irrelevant-or, at best, as an institution that represented a certain life-style within western civilization. They did not see it as a spiritual phenomenon.

The prophetic sound that they will respond to is one that has deep content which emphasizes a Christian world view, the gospel of the kingdom of God which speaks uniquely of bringing every sphere of life under the lordship of Christ. The New Testament speaks of the calling together of God's people-the formation of a holy nation and a peculiar people who are destined to impact the world and to prepare themselves to rule and reign with Christ.

That's a message that they've never heard. They've heard Jesus saves, but if all He does is get you into heaven-so what! The idea of living forever is not very appealing if you're not excited about being alive. That's not a very appealing gospel-certainly not to this generation. They're going to have to hear why God wants to save His people and what He wants to do with them after they're saved. The destiny of God's people to rule and reign in life is by far the most compelling message that Christianity has to preach.

Waking the Tiger
This generation already knows that there's no life in the existing order. So, the challenge is to awaken that tiger, not by being critical of what exists; but by putting forth a vision of what could be. In the sixties, there were many powerful voices pointing out what was wrong with society, but very few people with either plans or values to replace those that were being so quickly discarded. The danger is that we could wake up the tiger with the tearing down without having the ability to build up.

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, He tried to communicate that there was a spiritual reality which superceded all other realities. Those we address must see that reality in us. That’s where it gets scary, because we must have the character of God. Otherwise, we will have awakened the generation only to defraud it and disillusion it again. We need to speak prophetically concerning the kingdom of God, hut it is the life-style and the character of life in Cod's people that authenticates the prophetic word.

Every generation has a destiny. The sleeping tiger has sensed within itself a calling to a purpose, which will cut across the momentum of history. If God will give us the wisdom to awaken that desire with the message of the gospel of the kingdom of God, we can make a significant difference in the preparation of the world for the return of Jesus. I believe there are many who, right now, consider being a Christian unthinkable, who have a call on their life that's much deeper than their intellect. Once they have heard that call, they will find themselves going places and doing things they never would have imagined-and with the most unlikely people! Without knowing it, that sleeping tiger is ready to be awakened to that call already burning in their hungry hearts—the prophetic call of the kingdom of God.

This article really resonated with me when I first read it back in 1983. I am part of the sixties generation, although I never got into the dark side in the way that many did. I left the farm and went to university to study economics and politics in the hope of finding solutions that would make the world a better place. I had become quite disillusioned when I found that I was trying to draw water from a dry well.

I can still remember the excitement when I became a Christian and discovered a worldview that worked. I had been seeking a way to change the world, so I was overjoyed when I discovered the Kingdom of God in the gospels, I knew that I had discovered a game changer that was unmatched.

When I read Dennis Peacocke’s article, I understood what he was saying and knew that he was right. I had watched my generation leave radicalism and join the establishment for the benefits of prosperity. His suggestion that this sleeping tiger could be wakened to their destiny by a prophetic message about the kingdom was a powerful idea. That hope was one of the reasons that I started writing about the Kingdom of God.

Looking back now, twenty-five years after Dennis Peacocke shared his vision of the sixties generation awakening to fulfil its calling, I am now less certain. The sixties generation is moving into retirement and still seem keener on the good life than a good calling. Can a prophetic vision of the Kingdom of God awaken this comatose tiger? I do not know the answer to that question. Maybe God will have to find another radical generation to complete the task.

As for me, I am going to keep on pursing the Kingdom of God, regardless of whether I am joined by the rest of my generation. The vision of the Kingdom of God is as powerful as ever.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I dislike the way that the representative of the armed forces claim that they fought to preserve e my freedom, and their assumption that without their efforts I would not be free. At a superficial level, that is true. The reality is that they fought to keep us from living under a bad government to preserve the power of a government that was better. However, that better government still places severe limits on my freedom. They fought for political freedom, but that is not our ultimate goal.

True freedom is far greater and totally different. It was purchased by Jesus when he died on the cross, and we receive it by believing in him. The Holy Spirit sets us free from bondage to sin (Rom 8:21). He transfers us out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of Jesus (Col 1:13). This is real freedom that no evil government can take away.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:28).
An evil government cannot prevent me from obeying the voice of the Spirit. It can harass and persecute me for worshipping Jesus, but that just ushers me into the fellowship of Jesus sufferings (Phil 3:10), which is a blessing. If it kills me, it is sending me directly to the glorious freedom of eternal life.

True freedom cannot be brought by winning wars. It is a gift from God through Jesus and the Spirit.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fall of Empires (7) Seventh Trumpet

The seventh trumpet is the climax of history on earth.

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:
The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”
And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God (Rev 11:15-16).
The Kingdom of God has come on earth as it is in heaven. This is not the parousia. It is the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy.
Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him (Dan 7:27).
The Kingdom of God comes to fullness when authority on earth is handed to the people of God through the advance of the Gospel.

Anzac Day

The choice of Anzac day as a memorial day was odd.

  1. On this day in 1915, troops from New Zealand landed on the beach at Gallipoli in Turkey. The Gallipoli campaign was a terrible disaster, with horrific casualties for very little territorial gain. The New Zealand troops were stuck on the hill above the beach for months. All attempts to break out failed. Several months later, the Australian and New Zealand troops withdrew having achieved nothing, but paying a terrible price. What does it say about a nation when it chooses a massive defeat, as its memorial day?

  2. Another serious question is never asked. What were young men from New Zealand doing trying to invade Turkey? The Turks were justified in defending their country from the invaders and they did. This invasion was just another misguided colonial adventure. Using the start of an immoral war for a memorial day is a little embarrassing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Unknown and Forgotten

Today is ANZAC day in New Zealand. The promise solemnly recited at memorial services throughout the country is poetic.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
we will remember them.
This was a noble promise, but it is not true. As time passes the focus shifts from remembering the people to remembering the wars.

My uncle went missing in Italy in 1942. When I was young, my father remembered the brother he lost when his life was just beginning. My grandmother remembered and grieved for her son, whose life was cut off before it had fully flowered. They were remembering a young man that they had known intimately.

Now, most of the people who knew my uncle are gone, so soon there will be no one left to remember him. I am now one of the senior members of my family, but I did not know him, so I cannot remember him. All I know of him is a few words written about him by my Father. He was a kind young man who loved animals and he had been very successful in growing vegetables.

So as the sun goes down today, almost no one is remembering him. In a few years, he will be unknown and forgotten.

The promise made to mothers that their sons would be remembered forever was a false hope. Soon all that is remembered will be the wars and the exploits of the military.

Fall of Empires (6) Sixth Trumpet

The sixth trumpet sets in train the events that culminate in the Big Battle when war between the empires breaks out in the Middle East. (This is described in detail in my book Times and Seasons.)

The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand. I heard their number (Rev 9:13-16).
God does not initiate the big battle. He just stops holding aback the forces that want to make it happen. He has no choice, because the political powers have authority on earth to do it.

The Big Battle is well in the future, so the details are not clear yet.
The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury (Rev 9:17-19).
Mobile missile launchers that have not yet been invented will come into play.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fall of Empires (5b) Locusts and Drones

The Terrible Beast begins to exert force on the nations of the world using military power. For most of history, war was a personal struggle between one king and another, with each being supported by a small retinue of followers. Most kings could not afford a large number of troops, so the armies involved were quite small. Battles could last for several years, but were usually quite localised. Ordinary people did not get involved in war, unless they lived close to the battlefield. The greatest threat to their lives came from looting soldiers who had not been paid or supplied with provisions.

The nature of warfare changed dramatically during the nineteenth century with the development of total war. The emergence of nationalism changed war from a contest between two kings into a struggle between nations. Kings fought over territory. Nations tend to fight over causes, and everyone in the nation is drawn into the war effort by reducing their consumption and manufacturing equipment for the army. Civilians became the target for artillery and bombs. In total war, civilian casualties often exceed the number of military casualties.

As the Time of Distress gets underway, wars between nations will morph into personal struggles between political and military leaders (Dan 11). Assassinating evil political and military leaders will be morally acceptable. Personal attacks against undesirable political leaders will be an effective tool for projecting the Beast’s power in the world. The fear of a personal strike will cause many hostile leaders to submit to the Terrible Beast.

The weapons of war will change. Concentrating large numbers of infantry in one place will be unnecessary, because sophisticated military weapons will make personal attack against hostile political leaders viable. Unmanned predator drones will be efficient tools for strategic assassinations. They wi;l be used to intimidate all people who oppose the Terrible Beast.

And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them (Rev 9:3-6).
Unmanned predator drones will intimidate the people by reminding them that they are under surveillance and under threat of attack. They will only kill a few people, but will torment many.

Remotely controlled weapons will be used to project military power of across great distance. Many military engagements take place been combatants on different continents. Targeted missiles will strike against military targets and strategic assets.
The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer) (Rev 9:7-10).
The political powers will claim that they are using military power for good purposes, but they are actually being controlled by the Devil.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fall of Empires (5) Fifth Trumpet

The fifth trumpet is different, as the tense of the word “fall” is perfect. It has already happened. John saw a star that had already fallen from the sky.

The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth (Rev 9:1).
This is the consequence of the previous trumpet, so John is referring to the powerful empire that stumbled. It will react to its troubles by accumulating greater authority and power for itself. When the democratic empire takes on huge powers, it is made vulnerable to the principalities and powers.
The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss (Rev 9:2-3).
The star represents the spiritual power that controls the democratic empire. It is given the key to the Abyss, which is the dwelling place of many demonic powers. A huge number of evil spiritual powers are released on the earth. They are loyal to the principalities and powers that control the Democratic Beast. This is what John meant when he said that the “sun was darkened.” Evil gets hold of the Democratic Beast and it becomes the Terrible Beast.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fall of Empires (4) Fourth Trumpet

When the fourth trumpet sounds, an angel strikes the sun.

The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night (Rev 8:12).
This is not the physical sun. The sun and moon represent powerful nations and empires in apocalyptic language. This means that the sun is the most powerful empire that will ever exist on earth.

The Beast of Revelation is the most powerful empire that will ever appears on earth. When this trumpet is sounded, this empire will experience judgement. Terrible events will shake the centre of this democratic empire and cause it to stumble. John dies not explain the nature of the judgment, but it will be a time of darkness and fear for those living within this empire.

When the sun is darkened, the moon and stars are turned dark too. The democratic empire becomes gains such immense power that it can impose peace through most of the world. Other empires and nations will have grown up in the shadow of that peace. When the great empire that has been guaranteeing peace stumbles, every nation and empire that has benefitted from that peace will experience disaster too.

The sun only loses a third of its light, so this is only a partial judgment. These events do not destroy the Beast. This trumpet has a different purpose. It exposes the true character of the Beast. The Beast will demand more power and be more ruthless in its use of military violence and force. The people that welcomed the Beast it as the best government will ever be amazed. Christians who have accepted the Beast as a force for good, will begin to understand that it is being manipulated and controlled by the forces of evil.

The sun is not snuffed out. This time of darkness will actually make the Beast of Revelation stronger. The people of the world will call on it to the Beast to turn back the tide of trouble. It will be given enormous authority and power, but will not produce the desired result. This powerful empire will turn it into a Terrible Beast that releases dreadful woes on earth.
As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!” (Rev 8:13).
The next two trumpets give an indication of how this works out.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fall of Empires (3) Third Trumpet

The sounding of the third trumpet caused a great star to fall from the sky, blazing like a torch.

The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water—the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter (Rev 8:10-11).
In the Old Testament, the fall of a great star represent the collapse of a powerful and evil empire (Is 35;5; Amos 5:26; Luke 10:18). Isaiah described the collapse of the Babylonian empire as star falling from the sky (Is 14:3,12). He described the judgment of Egypt as the darkening of the stars (Ez 32:7).

The name of this star is Wormwood, which means bitterness. The collapse of this powerful empire will produce great bitterness for the people who live under its power.

The European Union is an empire formed in a land of rivers and springs. Economic and political development got underway when the great rivers of river were harnessed for industrial power. River transport opened the way for increased trade and prosperity. In the last fifty years, the European empire has become a powerful force in the world, but with the global financial crisis it is now cracking at the seams. Many commenters are suggesting that its collapse is imminent. Many believe that countries like Greece, Italy and Spain will default on their debt and be forced out of the monetary union.

This concern is premature. The economic financial system is rotten, and will eventually collapse, but it has not happened yet, and it may not happen for a long time.

Political power always trumps economic reality.

The politicians of the world do not want the euro to collapse. They will come up with all sorts of solutions to prevent economic conditions from become the political reality. None of these solutions will solve the problem, but they will keep things going until a better political solution can be put together.

If the situation gets really bad, the politicians will force the ECB into printing money. This may lead to massive inflation, but politicians have always preferred inflation to spending cuts as a tool for eliminating debt. The modern banking and monetary system is flawed. They will eventually collapse, but not soon. Political power will have to collapse first.

Holding back the tide of judgment is dangerous, because when it does come, it will usually be worse. This creates a huge problem for the European empire. The people of Europe have taken on a monetary system that is inherently unstable, but their political leaders are determined to make it succeed. This struggle between politics and economics will be a fight to the death.

The political-bureaucratic clique that decides the fate of Europe will do what has to be done to ensure their great political project in survives the face of desperate economic realities. They are largely immune from the financial and economic pain they are creating, but the cost will be paid in bitterness by tens of millions of European citizens.

In the short term, political pride always trumps economic reality, so the whole charade will stagger on for several more decades. The politicians will demand more power for themselves, but economic situation for most of the people will go from bad to worse. The political powers will be relentless in their struggle to reverse this economic reality, but in economics will win in the end. The collapse of political power will not end the bitterness. As the mountain burns, the intensity of suffering will increase.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fall of Empires (2) Second Trumpet

The second trumpet released judgment that affects the sea.

The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (Rev 8:8).
John saw a large mountain blazing with fire and being thrown into the sea. This is not a physical mountain. The Old Testament prophets described the powerful empires that controlled the world as mountains (Isaiah 45:1-2; Micah 1:4). In Daniel’s vision the Kingdom of God is represent by a huge mountain (Dan 2:5). A blazing mountain also represents God’s activity on earth (Deut 4:11).

This vision relates back to the Psalms, where God’s judgment against a powerful empire is likened to a “flame that sets the mountains ablaze” (Psalm 83:14). John saw the collapse of an empire that is influential throughout the earth. In Revelation, the sea represents the people of the earth.
The waters you saw…. are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages (Rev 17:15).
The decline of this mountain will just affect its own people, but shock waves will spread out to harm the people and nations of the world.

One nation that has brought prosperity to the world in recent times is China. The Chinese empire controls more than a billion people, which one fifth of the population of the world. The rapid development of Chinese manufacturing has flooded the world with extremely cheap consumption goods. Container ships from China have supplied the greatest consumption binge that the world has ever known.

Every empire that controlled has eventually collapsed under the strain of holding such a diverse and populous area together. The Communist Part of China has now controlled this immense empire for more than sixty years, but the strains are sowing. Transferring control to each new generation of leaders is precarious process. There is a huge divide between the urban people who have benefited from economic development and the rural poor who still struggling to survive. Monetary inflation is producing economic pressures and rigidities that will be difficult to control.

The people of the world are now dependent on cheap goods imported from China, at a time when the government of the Chinese empire is becoming increasingly unstable. If it were to collapse into civil war or economic depression, terrible economic suffering would come to the world.

The collapse of the Chinese economy would destroy a huge chunk of the world shipping activities. If the Chinese factories stopped exporting, hundreds of container ships would be laid up with no economic purpose.

Only a third of the sea is harmed, so this is only a partial judgment. The people of the world will experience the worst effects of the judgment, which suggests that John saw an economic catastrophe, rather than a political or military collapse. The Chinese economy will experience a serious setback, but the Chinese empire will not be destroyed. It will continue on as a major political and military power until it has fulfilled its purpose in history.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fall of Empires (1) First Trumpet

The first trumpet releases hail mixed with fire and blood.

The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up (Rev 8:7).
Hail mixed with fire and blood is a symbol of judgment on the nations. Prior to the Exodus, God judged rained hail on the fields of Egypt (Ex 9:22-23). God sent hail to destroy the forces of the Amorite kings when they attacked Israel at Gibeon. Isaiah used hail and fire to symbolise God’s judgment on Assyria. He will shatter its strength by the power of his arm (Isaiah 30:29-31).

The judgment only affects one third of the earth. This shows that these are partial judgments. God is merciful an only allows rebellious humans to experience part of what they deserve. The final judgment come much later in the plagues described in Revelation 15.

This judgment is not directed at particular kingdom, but affects the entire earth. This contrasts with the next three trumpets, which are directed at specific empires.

The various sequences of seven run in parallel, so the first trumpet encapsulates the judgments of the first four seals. The advance of Islam, intertribal warfare, economic crisis, and epidemic disease also affect the entire earth. They lead to the persecution of the fifth seal, which leads to a great outcry of desperate prayer. The Father responds by prompting the church to speak judgment against the power nations.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fall of Empires (0) Trumpets

I recently gained some new insights into the first four trumpets in Revelation 8. Interpreting Revelation is difficult, so I might not have this right. However, those who are watching for Revelation to be fulfilled in our time should watch for the events I will describe in the next few posts. When these empires collapse, they can lift up their eyes in hope.

Humans have created a decimal word, but God orders things in terms of the number seven. There are seven days of creation; seven days in a week; debts are cancelled after seven years (Deut 15:1); the year of jubilee comes at the end of seven sabbaths of years (Lev 25:8); seventy sevens were decreed for Israel (Dan 9:24): a seven year cycle for agriculture (Lev 25:4).

This pattern of sevens also shapes the book of Revelation. There are seven angels, seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls. To understand the book of Revelation, we must understand the patterns of sevens. Many commentators treat these sets of sevens as sequential, but this leads to confusion. The sets of seven run in parallel, but each seven develops the events described in the previous one.

The sevens describe the Time of Distress at the end of the Times of the Gentiles. (These season are explained in my book Times and Seasons). Each of the sevens ends with the release of the Kingdom of God.

The first four seals describe the beginning of the Time of Distress (Rev 6:1-8). A seal is a mark of ownership. The seven seals (Rev 6) are a set of events that God will use to purify and refine his people. The seals are opened by Jesus in response to the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8). The seventh seal brings the fulfilment of the Kingdom (Rev 8:1).

The seven trumpets are concentrated in the middle of the Time of Distress when the season is building to a climax. Trumpets are a warning of judgment (Amos 3:6-7; Is 18:3). They are launched by the prayers of the saints (Rev 8:3-5) and they call the church to action (Num 10:8-9). During the sounding of the trumpets, the church will go into battle. God’s army will have been prepared and purified during the seven seals. The Holy Spirit will eventually be able to give the Kingdom of God to this victorious church. The seventh trumpet releases the fulfilment of the Kingdom.
The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever (Rev 11:15).
The trumpets are directed at political powers. During the seven seals terrible troubles have emerged on earth. The people of the world look to powerful political leaders to solve these problems. These human governments will amass huge powers for themselves, but they will fail to keep their promises of deliverance. The Kingdom of Jesus becomes a reality when the world empires are destroyed for ever.

The trumpets are released in response to the prayers of the saints.
The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them (Rev 8:4-6).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Faith and Symptoms

Abraham showed the correct way to deal with symptoms.

Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith (Rom 4:19,20).
Abraham faced his symptoms squarely. He did not pretend they were not there. He faced the facts, but did not waver through unbelief. His faith was not weakened, but was strengthened by the promise of God. Despite the symptoms declaring his age, he kept on preparing for the birth of a son.

The problem for modern Christians is that we can see the “things that are seen” very clearly. We have scans and X-rays that help us to see tumours and fractures much better than was possible in the past. We have tremendous evidence of the things that are seen and tend to focus on them. We have become accustomed to living in accordance with what we see. We must learn to live in the certainty of the promises of God that are not seen.

Sickness among Christians is not proof that God does not heal. God dealt with my sin on the cross. The fact that we still sin does not imply that God does not save us from sin. It just shows that we are a bit slow to take up the salvation that Jesus had earned for us. The problem is with us, not with the cross. In the same way, the fact that we get sick does not mean that God does not heal. The problem is with us (or our church). We should never let our experience determine our theology. Our theology and our beliefs about healing must be based on what God has said and done.

The church should be honest about its lack of faith. We should not pretend, or go into condemnation, but should look to God for a solution. We can pray for faith (Mark 9:21-24). The Holy Spirit will increase our faith if we ask for it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Living by Faith

Paul told us how Christians should live.

We live by faith, not by sight (1 Cor 5:7).
We should not live according to the things that we can see. We live by faith, which is certain about the things see we cannot see.

If I have money in my bank account, I cannot see a heap of notes and coins with my name attached to them. I will have a bank statement that is evidence of what I have in my account. My wallet may be empty, but I can go into a shop and buy something using my bankcard with full confidence that I can pay for it. I have faith to make purchases, based on the evidence of my statement. I do not act on the basis of the empty wallet that I can see, but on the basis of the money in my bank account that I cannot see. I will only run into problems if the bank does not keep its promises, or if I spend more than is in my account.

Christians know that God will keep his promises. For example, his word states that Jesus has earned healing for us. If Jesus has put healing “in the bank” for us, we can start living as if we have it. In this context, faith is acting as if I have received the healing that Jesus earned for me. My symptoms may say that I am sick, but the Word of God says that I am healed. This is the conflict between what is seen and what is unseen. Faith is certain of what is unseen.

If I continue to walk everywhere, after someone has bought me a car, most people would say that I am a fool. This suggests that there is something wrong with the church continuing to be full of sickness, when we have a bank statement declaring that Jesus has purchased healing for us. We need faith to appropriate the health that Jesus has put onto our statements.

On the other hand, faith is not presumption. Belief in the heart must come first. If we have faith, action will follow; but action will not produce faith. Confessing or acting without faith is presumption. Faith is a gift from God. We must receive faith from him before we can do anything.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Faith is Evidence

Faith is Evidence of the Unseen. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that,

Faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1 NKJV).
Faith is not the same as hope. Hope is uncertain, whereas faith is certain. Many Christians hope that God will heal them, but that is not faith. Faith gives substance to hope. The word “substance” refers to a title deed, so faith gives us ownership of what we hope for. The Greek word for sub-stance (hupostasis) is related to the word for submit.

Faith is evidence or proof of things that we cannot see. The Bible tells us that there are two types of “things” in this life: seen and unseen.
We do not look at the things that are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (1 Cor 4:18).
The things that we can see are temporary. The unseen things come from God and are eternal. Faith is being certain of things that are not seen. God may have promised them to us, but we need faith because we cannot see yet seem them. When we receive them, we no longer need faith, because we can see them. Faith is only required for things that are unseen.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Faith and Action

Faith has two aspects.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).
Faith begins with belief in the heart. What is in the heart is then manifested in some word or action.
       Faith = {Believe in heart
                 {Confess with lips.
The Greek word for confess is “homologesis”. It literally means “same word”. When confessing we agree with God’s word.

Faith is certainty in the heart, but it also requires some action to make it real. Faith without action is just a rattling gong (James 2:17,18).

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Jesus is Risen

Jesus is risen.
Game over.

The powers of evil might as well go home.
Unfortunately for them they have not home to go to.
The had bid everything on the game,
so they lost their home and their business.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Shields of Faith

We cannot use the spiritual armour in isolation. The Shield of Faith described in Ephesians is oblong like the shields used by riot police. Roman soldiers could form a line and lock their shields together in a continuous barrier. If one was attacked, the others did not watch and criticise (as often happens when a Christian gets sick), they joined together to protect him against the attack. When they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with shields in place, they could withstand a torrent of arrows and spears.

We must learn how to stand together with Christians to resist attacks of sickness. This level of solidarity does not come automatically by being part of a church, but by being in strong relationships with other Christians, who know us enough to understand the nature of the attack and love us enough to stand with us.

The shield of faith cannot cover our backs. The spiritual armour is only effective, if we are standing together in unity with other believers.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Cross and Spirit

Human sin messed up the world.
The Cross dealt with sin 
and opened the way for the Holy Spirit to clean up all the mess.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Shield of Faith

Last Sunday I taught briefly about using the shield of faith to deal with spiritual strongholds. Here is a fuller version.

Evil schemes
Paul warns us to be careful about the enemy’s schemes.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes (Eph 6:10-11).
Most Christians assume that they need the armour of God to protect us from the power of the enemy. We should get rid of this idea. Paul does not warn about the devil’s physical power. As far as Paul is concerned, his powers are feeble, because he was completely destroyed by the cross.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work (1 John 3:8).
We do not need spiritual armour to protect us from his power, because he is powerless. We need the spiritual armour to protect us from thoughts and suggestions that would give him control and allow him to harm us. We should stop worrying about his physical power, and learn to deal with his schemes.

If we are living in obedience to Jesus, Satan can only get permission to attack us through scheming. He must convince us to give him permission to attack us. He gains control by influencing us to agree with his deceptions. This is why we must be aware of his attacks.
Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Eph 6:16).
The suggestions and deceptions of the enemy are the flaming arrows described by Paul. In biblical times, soldiers would attach some tar to an arrow and set it alight before it was released from the bow. These darts were fairly harmless, but became dangerous if they were not quickly extinguished. They could not damage a building, but if they were allowed to burn, the entire building could be destroyed. If they hit a person, their clothes might catch fire. Fiery darts must be extinguished quickly to prevent serious damage.

The enemy uses a variety of schemes. He will rarely try to persuade Christians to enjoy sinning, because that would be a waste of time. His schemes are more subtle. When tempting Jesus, he suggested some ways he could fulfil his ministry. If Jesus had accepted these suggestions, he would have been defeated.

An attack usually begins with the acceptance of a false thought. By accepting these false thoughts, we give him influence in our minds. Once our thinking is shaped by his ideas, he has a foothold in our lives.

Some of these thoughts come directly from the enemy. Others come from the people we meet. Many are the product of our distorted imaginations (this should become less frequent as we grow into the mind of Christ). Where these thoughts come from does not really matter. They must be dealt with quickly, before they take hold.

Negative thoughts can build up layer by layer over many years to become a stronghold. It starts with single thought, then another is added, then more and more. When the enemy has shaped my entire way of thinking about something, he has a stronghold in my life. It may have started with the thought that “God does not like me” when a parent made a negative comment. That may build into “God does not care about me”, after rejection by someone close. The next building block may be “God does not love me”.

The first deception opens the door a chink that leaves the Christian vulnerable to another deception. The second one pushes it further open. If we allow these thoughts to multiply over many years, they can grow into a controlling stronghold.

Anxiety and worry increase the power of deception. Advertisers know that thoughts attached to an emotion become more powerful. This was confirmed by Peter.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith (1 Pet 5:7-9).
Anxiety can lead to our being devoured by the devil. When he suggests that something evil might happen, we can start to ponder it. If we brood over it, we can become anxious. Once we become anxious, we have effectively agreed with the deception. If we do not deal with anxiety, we are giving the devil permission to have a go. Job made an interesting comment about his situation.
What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me (Job 3:25).
Maybe Satan was able to afflict Job, because he had feared this happening. Getting anxious about something gives it permission to strike.

Peter advises that self-control and faith are the remedy to anxiety (1 Pet 5:8-9). We have the power to accept or reject the thoughts that come into our minds. We can reject a bad thought from the enemy by countering it with a thought that expresses faith. Positive declarations destroy doubt.

Declarations of Faith
Because the devil was defeated by Jesus on the cross, the solution is relatively simple. God’s revelation is stronger than the enemy’s lies. We must resist his lies with declarations of the truth. Paul advised Christians to take control of their thoughts.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:4-5).
Negative thoughts are “pretensions” opposed to God. If we agree with these pretensions, we give them a stronghold in our lives. The solution is to resist them with a declaration of the truth. Sometimes it may be enough to say to yourself, "That is not true", or "I do not accept that", or "That thought did not come from God".

We must resist all negative thoughts that allow evil to get a hold in our live. These fiery darts can be quickly extinguished by the shield of faith.
Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Eph 6:16).
When the evil one puts dangerous thoughts into our minds, they should be countered with words of faith. Simply thinking about a relevant promise of God’s will extinguish the thought, rendering it harmless. Dangerous thoughts can be destroyed with a declaration of faith based on the revelation in God’s word. Declarations of faith destroy the arguments and pretensions that oppose God. Anointed songs of praise and worship are another great way to declare our faith.

Jesus resisted the devil’s words by quoting the scriptures; he did not argue or shout. He calmly spoke relevant scriptures claiming them for himself (Luke 4:1-12). He commanded Satan to “get behind him”. This is how we should use Shield of Faith to kill the fiery darts of the enemy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Global Vulnerability

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a talk on public radio by Nicole Foss of the Automatic Earth. She argues that peak oil and the collapse of the banking system will bring about a collapse of global trade, which will seriously damage the world economy. She had some interesting things to say about how to respond to a decline in global trade, but I think she is wrong about banking failure being the cause.

The modern banking system is rotten, but it will not collapse in the short term. Modern banking has two major vulnerabilities.

  1. Bad loans
  2. Bank runs
The Global Financial Crisis was caused by bad loans due to poor risk management. The events of 2008 have given the bankers a fright that they will not forget for at least a decade. We are more likely to see cautious lending.

Since the Great Depression, government have understood the dangers of bank runs and now act a lender of last resort to the banking system. They will always intervene to stop bank runs.

Neither of these two vulnerabilities can bring down world trade, so what are the real dangers.

1. War
The uneasy peace that has prevailed since the end of the World War 2 has allowed international trade to flourish. Globalisation has supported a huge increase in specialisation and division of labour that has produced a huge increase in prosperity. If peace that has been enforced by the American Empire falls apart, international trade would collapse and prosperity with it. (The previous long peace was enforced by the British Empire. It was ended by the First World War).

2. Middle East
If the war is centred in the Middle East, and oil supplies are disrupted, the economic crisis will spread even quicker. Peak Oil is unlikely to be a threat to world trade, but war in the wrong place could do more harm.

3 Sovereign Debt
Modern governments have been on a power binge. Democratically elected leaders have to solve every problem that arises in society. Most have already made commitments to expenditure programmes that go beyond what taxation can afford. The gap has been filled by extensive borrowing. The chickens have come to risk in Greece, which lead the way on spending money it did not have. However, the party is still underway in the rest of the world. Profligate governments will eventually collapse under the strain, when the loans dry up. (Peter Schiff says that this would manifest in a blow out of the bond market, which has become the latest economic bubble). A real sovereign debt crisis would cause tremendous dislocation in local economies.

4. Sickness and Plague
Modern medicine has made huge advances, but one vulnerability remains. International travel and transport mean that an epidemic disease can spread round the world in a few days. A serious plague would disrupt travel and transport, as countries put quarantine barriers in place to prevent the spread of sickness and disease.

5. China
The expansion of global trade into China has brought huge benefits to the western world. Party Leaders have now held China together for sixty years, but the stresses caused by rural poverty clashing with the growth of capitalist wealth in the cities. Leadership is currently in the process of being passed to the next generation of leaders, but there is no guarantee that they can keep things on an even keel. The world economy would change dramatically, if we lost access to cheap Chinese clothing, electronics, phones and computers.

I do not know the likelihood of any of these events occurring, but any one would do serious harm to global trade. If several were to occur at the same time, they would reinforce the harm.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Mr Baker's Economic Primer

Forty years ago, I was not yet a Christian, but studying economics at university. I was looking for answers, but had gradually realised that I was pumping a dry well. About that time I came across an reprint of an article written by Russell Baker for the New York Times. This is the best short description of the wisdom of secular economics that I have ever seen. (Remember that the values relate to the early 1970s). Mr Baker seemed to be wiser than my teachers.

Mr Bakers Economic Primer
The economic history of the modern age begins with the crash of 1929 when the stockbrokers jumped out of skyscrapers. The country learned its lesson, tore down the old skyscrapers and put up new ones with windows that couldn’t be opened, so that today stockbrokers have to be content with moving to smaller apartments.

Economic progress was made on many other fronts. To make jobs, the Government spent millions on road-building and Robert Moses, using New York as a model, showed America how to turn every city into a traffic jam by abolishing trolley cars and putting in expressways.

Thus we progressed from the five-cent trolley ride to the $4000 automobile, with the $550 insurance policy, the $5 parking lot and 60-cent gasoline. The automobile industry boomed, along with the concrete, asphalt, insurance, parking-lot and oil business. Thus economic discovered the secret of overcoming hard times— growth.

Unfortunately, however people still did not trust bankers and so, by 1937, the economy was still in bad shape. This was because bankers had a bad image. They wore high silk hats, cutaways and spats, and they kept their money in forbidding concrete banks with iron bars on tiny windows and laughed contemptuously at people offering them a plastic card in exchange for $500.

Then Adolf Hitler started the Second World War. It was growth’s finest hour and ended the depression once and for all.

During the war the old generation of bankers was wiped out by the exertion of making so many low-interest loans to beat the Axis, and by the late 1940s there was a new generation of bankers. These bankers wore ducktail haircuts and pegged trousers and set up shop in display windows and made people come in off the street to borrow money that did not exist, which could be repaid from salaries for work that hand not yet been done.

This was called easy credit. It was giant advance in economics, because it allowed people to buy thing immediately with money they would not earn until years later, if ever.

Soon industry everywhere was roaring away to make things people could buy immediately with all the money that they hoped to earn after the things they bought had worn out. First they made two cars for every family and then an electronic garage-door opener, and then the outdoor barbecue grill.

When industry had finished making everything people wanted, people still had so much ready money left over from future salaries that it started making things people did not want and hired advertising agencies to make people want them anyhow. And so economic progress gave us the hula hoop, the electric toothbrush and the moustache comb.

Even these were not enough to soak up all the money that was expected to be made one of these days, and so to keep growth from stopping, everybody was urged to have babies and we grew a bumper crop of brand new customers.

Then one day people who lived at the seashore notices there was so many people coming to the beach that there was no place to lie down for a sunburn. “This grow idea has gotten out of hand,” said economists, as they sat immobilised in their $4000 cars in traffic jams wondering how they could ever possibly earn the money to meet the instalment payments on their sons’ new moustache combs, which were already wearing out on account of the planned obsolescence, which kept the moustache comb industry growing.

The upshot of this, and several other simultaneous events, was the discovery that growth was destroying the economy.

Soon there were hard times again, but all the new building had windows that couldn’t be jumped out of, so there was nothing to do, but go on paying $2.40 a pound for lamb chops.

Once again economic wisdom was expanded. The President announced that all the people who had indulged in growth were to blame for the hard times. Their selfish indulgence and waste would have to stop, he explained.

That was the way to end hard times and bring back the good old days when everyone would once again be able dine on 15-cents chipped-beef gravied on bread crusts, and put their shoulders to the wheel that would someday bring us grander expressways than we had ever know before.

In brief, economics had revealed its ultimate secret. Good times are brought about by the genius of our bankers, industrialists and leaders, while hard times are caused by our own stupidity in listening to them.