Saturday, December 19, 2020

Prophetic Mistakes

Prophets who warn about bad things coming are often wrong, because God is merciful and holds back the evil that the spiritual powers of evil want to inflict. Sometimes the people repent, which prevents the spiritual powers of evil from acting. This happened to Jonah in Nineveh.

Prophets who prophesy a good future are more likely to be wrong, because all future blessings are conditional. Humans are fickle, so God’s people often fail to grasp the opportunities that God has offered to them. Blessings often do not come, because we make choices that close them down.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Humility and Revival

I heard an American prophetic leader say that God needs a “strong America” to bring the billion-person harvest that they have been prophesying. This is not true. God could still accomplish his purposes even if America collapsed and disappeared.

We should remember that the greatest revival that has ever occurred in the world through history (many millions choosing to follow Jesus) took place in China:

  • under a communist government
  • without freedom to worship
  • without funding from American Christians
  • without the books of big-name evangelical leaders
  • without pastors trained in the popular bible colleges and seminaries.
  • without American missionaries
  • without the protection of the US military.
God does not need “his man” as political leader to bring revival. Having his people in political power might actually be an obstacle to revival.

God does not need a strong America. It would probably be an obstacle to his purposes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Paul in Jerusalem

I have huge respect for the apostle Paul, but I suspect that he lost the plot when confronted by James during his visit to Jerusalem bearing a gift from the Gentile churches (Acts 21). The churches he had planted were coming under intense pressure from Judaizers, who were trying to force Gentile Christians to get circumcised and eat separately from non-Christians.

According to the letter to Galatians, James seems to have been encouraging them (Gal 2:12-13). These Jewish Christians seemed to be defying the agreement made at Antioch (Acts 15), which was not a good agreement anyway. They were going out to all the churches that Paul had planted and trying to bring them back under their way of thinking.

Paul went to Jerusalem in one last desperate attempt to sort out the problem, before he set out on another mission in the direction of Spain. He was bringing a generous gift that was his fulfilment of the agreement he had made with Peter and James during the meeting at Antioch, an agreement that James was not really honouring.

Paul was under intense pressure. He feared for the future of the Gentile mission to which he had devoted his life. The intensity of his feeling is evident in his letters to Galatians and the Philippians. Paul realised that the greatest growth of the gospel would come through the Gentile church, so he didn't want anything to prevent it. His fears were exacerbated by the prophecies he had received on his way warning that he would get a negative reaction in Jerusalem.

I sense that James set a bit of a trap for Paul when he suggested that he pay for the four men taking Nazarite vows. There are hints that the Church in Jerusalem had refused to accept the generous financial gift that Paul brought because they considered it was contaminated by coming from Gentile Christians. As a compromise, James suggested that Paul use some of it to support the four men taking a Nazarite, presumably as a way of legitimising the gift.

Paul had reported the wonderful works that God had done amongst the gentiles, but James seemed to have fallen foul of the fear of men because he claimed that the Jewish Christians were upset by Paul and seemed to be worried that they would stir up trouble. A riot would make life difficult for the apostles who had chosen to stay in Jerusalem, despite Jesus' command to go.

Many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs (Acts 19:20-21).
What James claimed they were saying was only half true. Paul had not turned away from Moses, but he did teach that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised and that they did not need to comply with Jewish customs, such as eating separately from Gentiles.

James already knew what Paul was teaching, and he knew that God was blessing it. James had approved the gospel that Paul preached on a couple of occasions (Gal 1:18-19; 15:13-19), so instead of hitting up Paul, he should have been speaking to the Judaizing group and correcting their misunderstanding of the gospel. James should have been explaining that Gentiles did not need to get circumcised and did not need to comply with Jewish food customs. Instead, he had allowed this problem to fester amongst the Jewish Christians. Then when Paul arrived, he expected him to solve the problem that this created.

Asking Paul to fund the four men taking a Nazarite vow only added to the confusion about the Torah. Jesus had explained that swearing vows was unnecessary for those who had chosen to follow him and receive the gift of the Spirit (Matt 5:34-37), so taking a Nazarite vow was pointless. Once Jesus had died on the cross, the temple sacrifices had become redundant, so the sacrifices Paul was paying for had no value and were a waste of the gift given to support the church in Jerusalem. James was requiring Paul to support Jewish practices from the Torah that had been fulfilled by Jesus and were no longer mandatory for his followers.

Getting Paul to be involved in redundant Torah practices did not help the situation because it obscured Paul's position on the law when it really needed to be clarified. The Jewish Christians were not fooled, so when Paul went into the temple, they stirred up and the entire city (Acts 21:27,30) leading to Paul's arrest. He spent several years in prison and was eventually transferred to Rome. This arrest constrained his ministry, and he never got to Spain. Acts 28:17-30 puts a good spin on it, but Paul never got back into real apostolic ministry.

I am not sure why Paul wanted to go to Jerusalem at all. He obviously wanted to make peace with the mother church, but the prophets he met on the way had warned that he would fail.

Following James advice brought Paul's ministry to a screaming halt. I am not sure if this was what the Holy Spirit wanted. I don't know why Paul agreed to participate in Jewish customs that he did not approve. It just increased the confusion about the relationship between the Torah and the gospel. I suspect that he was already feeling intense pressure from the Judaizers who were disrupting his work in Europe. Due to this pressure, he seems to have been intimidated by James into doing something foolish. I do not judge him for that, because we have all made that mistake, but in Paul's case, the cost was great. It seems to be a great waste of an amazing talent.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Covid Conspiracy

A correspondent sent me the following question.

Is this is a pandemic, or is it a conspiracy?
My thinking is that it is probably neither.

The basic facts are fairly well understood. There is no doubt that a new virus has emerged. Its origin is uncertain. Most likely it crossed over from animals, but there is a small probability that it was released deliberately by American or Chinese germ warfare experts to see how effective it would be. It is out now, so the origin does not matter much.

The nature of the disease is now fairly clear. It is very infectious for people in close proximity to infected people. The symptoms vary considerably. Most people have no symptoms at all. Many have very mild symptoms. A few (especially the elderly and those with other pre-existing conditions) get really nasty respiratory failure and related symptoms. Some of which last for a long time. For a few, it is fatal.

The number who will die is still uncertain, because it depends on how the virus spreads and how long it continues to be virulent. Numbers of deaths are still relatively low, but it is impossible to know what the rate would be if the virus had been allowed to spread like the 1919 influenza. The early estimates of epidemiologists were greatly overstated, I presume that they enjoyed being in the limelight. Governments assumed that they knew more than they knew.

The medical management of the disease has improved significantly. Good hospital care and appropriate drugs seem to be reducing the death rate.

The word “pandemic” is not very helpful. It has an administrative meaning that is determined by the WHO. When WHO declares a pandemic, various insurance outcomes follow, and clauses in agreements that have been made with the big drug companies kick in. Since big monies are involved, WHO has to have clear rules about what is a pandemic. The word pandemic has a fairly well-proscribed meaning in the world of insurance and drug company contracts, but it does not mean much for ordinary people.

The big issue is the government response to the virus. The difference between this situation and earlier events like the 1919 influenza and polio epidemic that affected children when I was growing up, people have a huge intolerance of death. The decline of faith has resulted in a growing fear of death. Whereas during World War 1, death had become normal, people now react very negatively to any unnecessary death. This puts big pressures on governments, who have promised to solve all life’s problems.

While they could get away with doing nothing about the 1919 flu, and actually made it worse by shifting troops around the world at the end of the war, modern governments are expected to prevent the spread and stop deaths from coronavirus. That is the reality, not a conspiracy. Although most governments are quite happy to seize opportunities to expand their power. That is not a surprise, because they have always done that.

Their big problem is uncertainty, as it is not clear what governments should do to stop the spread of the virus. Obviously, isolating people who are infectious from those who are vulnerable is the best way. How far governments can go in doing that depends on the extent to which their population will accept government controls. In a few countries, there is more resistance to government controls.

The problem is that the scientific evidence about what will prevent the spread of the virus is quite weak. For example, it is actually very hard to design (almost impossible) a study that would demonstrate clearly whether masks are effective for stopping the spread of the virus or not. You need two groups, one without masks, and the other with masks, but with both groups having an equal probability of contacting the virus. The latter condition is almost impossible to achieve in a real situation where people go about their lives in different ways, and the possibility of making contact with people is uncertain. The evidence for many other government actions is weak too, for similar reasons. We should be more realistic about what science can and can’t do.

Most governments take a cautious approach and try to do everything they think will help. This works well for politicians. No modern politician wants to be accused of doing nothing. But being accused of doing nothing, when there was something that could be done, plays badly in the next election. Being blamed for unnecessary deaths is not a vote winner. So politicians always play safe and do what can be done, knowing that if it does not work, they can always blame the bureaucrats and scientist who claimed it would work. Politicians are biased for action.

Politicians are all hoping that a vaccine will deal to the virus before the economic cost gets too great. The long-term effectiveness of vaccines is still uncertain. Whether, governments will make the vaccine compulsory will depend on attitudes in their country, but I suspect that the fear of death has become so great, that most people will have it voluntarily if the testing has been reasonably robust.

The problem with most conspiracy theories is that they are beyond the capabilities of the proposed perpetrator. In my experience, most governments struggle to do what they have promised, because their incompetence gets in the way. They will seize more power whenever the opportunity arises, but they are far less competent than the conspiracy theories assume.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Northern Motorway

Over the last few years, a motorway north out of Christchurch has been under construction. Today the new motorway was open for walkers and cyclists. The photos do not show it, but thousands of people took advantage of this opportunity.

I rode along most of its length, 9 kilometres out and 9 kilometres back. A steady head wind on the way out and a tail wind on the way back, which is always the best way. The motorway will be fully open on Thursday.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Blind Spots (9) Jesus is Coming Soon

Many prophets grew up with a teaching that Jesus is going to return soon. Some still hold this teaching. This clouds their understanding of what is happening around them.

Christians in almost every age have believed that the second coming was near, but they all proved to be wrong. Modern prophets should be careful that they do not make the same mistake. The second coming of Jesus may not necessarily be as close as many believe.

We should always be ready for the return of Jesus, but assuming that it will occur in our time will often cause us to misunderstand what God is doing in the world. Once the Kingdom of God is established by the Holy Spirit through his church, it may continue for thousands of years. Therefore, the second coming of Jesus might be a very long way away.

A problem with the belief that Jesus is coming soon to establish his kingdom is the corollary belief that Jesus will do with violent power, punishing all those who do not accept his rule. The implication is that the Holy Spirit has efforts by the Holy Spirit to bring the kingdom using the suffering, service and love of the church will not succeed, so Jesus will have to come with his angels to forcibly clean up the mess in the world.

Unfortunately, the belief that Jesus will return and establish his rule using brutal force against all who oppose him reinforces the idea that Christians are justified in using military force to advance his kingdom prior to his coming.

The Jesus-is-coming-soon-blind-spot can prevent prophets from hearing clearly. (More at Times and Seasons).

This the end of my series of blinds spots. On their own, most of these blind spots might not be that serious. The problem is that one leads to another and they tend to reinforce each other. For example, those blinded by a love of war, will find it difficult to be impartial about Israel, because they will be impressed by the ruthlessness and power of the Israel defence forces. Likewise, those who believe that Jesus needs return and establish his rule using angelic force will tend to justify the use of military force to advance his kingdom.

There are probably many more blind spots that those I have discussed. I am not aware of them all, because I am probably affected by some of them without being aware of them.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Prophetic Blind Spots (8) Israel

A serious blind spot for many modern prophets is their attitude to the modern nation of Israel. God’s promise to bless those who bless Abraham and his descendants has been twisted into a belief that the state of Israel can do no wrong, and that anyone who questions its activities is opposing God. The scriptural teaching on Israel is much more circumspect. It recognises that Israel is often presumptuous and attempts to manipulate the fulfilment of God’s promises. I discuss this issue more thoroughly in Nation of Israel.

Israel is not a Christian nation and most of its leaders are not followers of Jesus. That means that it still functions under the old covenant. Many of the decisions and actions of the Israeli government are contrary to the requirements of their nations covenant with God.

  • Shifting people of their land;
  • Destroying houses;
  • Destroying olive trees;
  • Different laws for different races;
  • Political alliances;
  • Political assassinations;
  • Bombing other nations;
  • Faith in military force.
Actions that break the covenant are denying the people of Israel access to the blessings that it promised. Unfortunately, many Christian prophets assume that Israel can continue in the blessings of their covenant without obedience. They just ignore the clearly-spelt out consequences of disobedience to the covenant.

God will fulfil his purposes for Israel as promised in the covenant, but he will not do it through political manipulation, military weapons and political alliances.

Successive Israeli governments have been emboldened in their actions by the unconditional support of all United States governments. Most US-based prophets have closed their minds to the injustices perpetrated by the Israeli government with their nation’s military, financial and political support. They seem to assume that everything that Israel does has God’s blessing, so they should bless it too. If Israel does bad things, they assume that it is justified.

Worse still, these prophets seem to assume that blind support for Israel will force God to bless the United States. They assume that sins of the United States do not matter to God, because their nation’s unconditional support for Israel has earned God blessing on their nation.

If God is speaking to these prophets about what Israel is doing, they have chosen not to hear. This complicity with injustice and evil creates a blind spot for many prophets.