How to pray for Israel

Israel has dominated the news of late because the permanent conflict between the only western-style democracy in the Middle East and its Muslim enemies has once again flared into open warfare. The funny thing is, professed Christians are passionately involved on both sides. There are Christians who passionately support the Palestinians on the grounds that their ancestors were unfairly forced from their properties when Jews began to re-gather in the land. Other Christians passionately support Israel’s right to exist on the basis that the Jews once again inhabit the land promised to them by God. Such Christians see Israel’s existence as the fulfilment of prophecy; from their perspective anything less than full-throated support for its continued existence seems like blasphemy. Both sides quote the Bible to support their position, but I wonder if either side has really grasped the spirit of Christ, or the basic theme of the New Testament.

Let me show you what I mean. In chapters 9-11 of the book of Romans Paul speaks directly to the question of the Jews and their future. But in doing so he uses language that I think many supporters of Israel have missed. The fact is, with a single exception Paul only speaks of Jews as individuals, and when that one exception is properly understood it becomes obvious that Paul never thinks of Israel as a future nation. But don’t take my word for it. Look with me at what he actually says.

Romans 9
1 I speak the truth in Christ– I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit–
2  I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
3  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race,
4  the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
5  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

What ought to stand out immediately is that Paul never thinks of his kinsmen as a single unit, but always in terms of discreet individuals. In his agony over their lostness, Paul speaks of his “brothers” (v.3), not some faceless thing called a nation. In his mind it is individuals who have rejected Christ. It is individuals who are going to hell, and because these individual people will suffer forever he is almost out of his mind with grief. But notice how consistently Paul maintains his emphasis on the individual, even in his use of collective pronouns. In verse 4 he speaks of “the people of Israel.” And from that point on he uses the plural pronoun “theirs,” indicating many individuals. In Paul’s mind there are many Israelites, but they are never (as I will prove in a moment), a single block. Israel is not a cheese, indivisible throughout. Rather Israel is an olive tree with many branches, as Paul says in chapter 11. And when Paul does mention those branches, he makes it clear that each is treated individually.

But of course Romans 9 doesn’t stop with verse 5. As Paul continues his theme of salvation for the Jews he becomes increasingly individualistic. In verse 6 he makes it clear that not all of Jacob’s sons can be called Israel. Similarly, in verse 7 he states that Abraham’s descendants can be divided into two groups, only one of which contains true children of Abraham. Only those who descend from Isaac count. But that isn’t the whole story, either. In succeeding verses Paul makes it clear that it is the spiritual children of Isaac, the “children of the promise” who are true Israelites. For the rest of the chapter Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate that at every point along the way God works only with individuals, saving some and hardening others (v.18).

By the time he is done with his argument in Romans 9 Paul has stated plainly that the individuals who receive the blessing of God’s electing grace include, not just a remnant of Abraham’s physical descendants, but also a vast number of Gentiles (v.24). Thus the difference between Israel and non-Israel is plainly set out in verses 23-24: “What if he (God) did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory — even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Paul is clearly speaking only of individuals being called to salvation (never families, never nations), and it is my contention that he is consistent in this approach throughout Romans 9, 10, 11 and everywhere else the subject of Israel’s salvation is addressed.

What does this mean in light of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the surrounding Muslim nations? As far as I can tell the primary response we should make as Christians is the response Paul gives in Romans 10:1. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” Please note that even here Paul speaks of many Israelites, not Israel collectively. The actual Greek text uses the pronoun “them,” but as the NIV makes clear, “them” is a reference to individual Israelites. So regarding today’s conflict it is my contention that as Christians we have no business praying that one side or the other should “win.” Instead we should pray that Muslims and Jews alike will believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no victory if everyone on the winning side dies and goes to hell, and without Christ that is what will happen to Jews and Muslims alike. We should pray that God will use the ongoing conflict to call individuals on both sides to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Our perspective should be that of Paul’s: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer” (II Cor. 5:16). Having seen the world from heaven’s point of view Paul is now focussed on something unrelated to national destinies, i.e., the overwhelming importance of the new birth: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors. . . .” (II Cor. 5:17-20).

Do you get that? We are Christ’s ambassadors. We are first and last citizens of heaven, not some earthly nation. If I understand Paul correctly I should be able to say that in the final analysis I am not an American, nor a Canadian, nor an Israeli. I am first and last a citizen of heaven and an ambassador for Christ. Skipping to Gal. 5:15 Paul simply says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” Of course we should pray for peace in the Middle East, but in light of I Tim. 2:1-6, the purpose of the peace for which we should pray is the advancement of the gospel. We dare not write off the possibility of the salvation of 1.6 billion Muslims just because we want to see a military victory given to 8.2 million Jews. Both Jews and Muslims need to see that their petty little quarrels are nothing when compared to an eternity of separation from the One True God! And to my mind it is a shame that Christians have muddled that message by appearing to take either side in their conflict.

From the perspective of eternity nations simply do not exist, not even a nation called Israel. Nations are never more than artificial constructs that arise and pass away in relatively brief moments of time, like so many sparks flying off a grindstone. It is only individuals who are eternal, either eternally in Christ and thus in heaven or eternally without Christ and thus in hell. By the time Paul gets to Romans 11:26 “and so all Israel will be saved,” it is abundantly clear that he is not talking about a nation. Instead, he is talking about a remnant that includes himself — those who, like the 7,000 discreet individuals God reserved for Himself in Elijah’s day, are chosen and called by grace and who have come into Christ (Rom. 11:1-6). It is for the sake of the elect that we should strive and pray until all the redeemed have come to Christ, whatever their nationality, whatever their background, whatever their previous religion.

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Too much light

This morning I came across a news article about a recent science discovery that could conceivably force the scientific world to take another look at the Genesis account of creation, depending, of course, on whether it can be confirmed by further study (and by “it” I mean the recent discovery, not the Genesis account). But more about that in a minute.

First, I want to reaffirm what I preached this past Sunday morning at my church. On the authority of the word of God I can say that acceptance of the Bible’s creation record is arguably the foundation of all true faith in God. Read again Hebrews 11:3 (the text for Sunday’s message).

Heb. 11:3 “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Every commentator agrees that here the inspired writer is teaching creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). But in the context of Hebrews 11 it seems clear to me, at least, that we are being asked to also agree that this creation out of nothing took place exactly as Genesis describes in its first chapter. If you look at this verse in context you will see that the writer moves from affirming God’s creative power to a discussion of Abel’s faith. Abel is a character found in Genesis 4, and it just so happens that he was the second son born to the original human couple, Adam and Eve. In other words, there is no doubt in the Biblical writer’s mind that the early chapters of Genesis tell the literal truth about the origin of the universe, the formation and population of the earth and the special creation of humankind. Nor should there be any doubt in any Christian’s mind that as disciples of Jesus Christ we are obligated to believe what the biblical writers believed.

Which brings me to one of the strangest conundrums in the Christian world. By what possible justification do Christians, and especially Christians who confess the Bible is the Word of God, jettison the first several chapters of Genesis just because a handful of primitive, atheistic, 19-century evolutionists declared them to be in error? (You don’t think those guys were primitive? The scientific instruments they worked with were less sophisticated than the ones you buy for your children at Toys R’ Us, the consequence being that Darwin et al. had no idea what went on inside a living cell. Nor did they suspect the existence of DNA and RNA, let alone understand the cell’s overall complexity. Yet their faithless speculations continue to control what Christians believe? The mind boggles.)

One thing can be said about this phenomenon; if Christians choose Darwin and his billions of years over Genesis and its six days of creation it is a choice based on something other than science. Not only has no proof for macro-evolution ever been presented (there are no missing links), the relatively recent explosion of knowledge regarding the incredible complexity of a single living cell has demonstrated that evolution is scientifically impossible. Thus we are forced to conclude that the millions of species that make up life on planet earth were designed and created, and that is a task that only God could do.

Now for the science
Astrophysical Journal, has just published research that demonstrates scientists can’t account for all the light shining in the universe. In other words, all the stars shining together get nowhere near to being able to provide the amount of light that can be measured. Actually, the stars fail to account for up to 80% of the light that is out there. As lead researcher Juna Kollmeier said to reporter Hannah Osborne: “It’s as if you’re in a big, brightly-lit room, but you look around and see only a few 40-watt light bulbs. Where is all that light coming from? It’s missing from our census.”

When I read this I immediately began thinking of the Bible’s teaching that creation began when God said, in Genesis 1:3, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” In this text God seems to be declaring that light filled the universe before there was any known source of light. That is problematic for a lot of people; because anyone with a brain capable of thinking logically has probably already asked the question, “How could light shine in the universe for three days before the creation of the Sun, Moon and stars in Gen. 1:14-19?” The answer to this logical question is still unknown, but the existence of light without a known source now seems proven. As co-author Neal Katz told Osborne: “The most exciting possibility is that the missing photons are coming from some exotic new source, not galaxies or quasars at all.”

Or maybe its an old source, the oldest of all — God Himself!

For more information go to http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/missing-light-crisis-something-amiss-universe-1456091

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Pope Francis is wrong — Again

You don’t have to be a Catholic to believe that the world has benefited from the previous two popes, John Paul II and Benedict VI. Both men made mistakes (they are, after all, just men), but both also spoke and acted to promote personal liberty and true freedom throughout the world. JPII stood so firmly against Communism, for instance, that he will be forever linked with Reagan and Thatcher as part of the triumvirate of leaders who won the Cold War. Josef Stalin once asked sarcastically “how many divisions does the Pope have.” His successors found out the hard way that the joke was on them. And Benedict, though less popular than his predecessor, did more to keep World Christianity anchored to the eternal truth of God’s Word than perhaps any other man in the last 200 years (Here I’m including his work as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the position he held before being made Pope).

The present Pope, on the other hand, is proving abysmal. He has played to the crowd far more than JPII, apparently without any awareness that the world’s media is no friend of the Faith he supposedly professes. His careless comments on atheism and homosexuality, for instance, have given anti-Christian headline writers more than one excuse to claim he is on their side (see my article “On a sermon about heaven, all hell breaks loose” at http://thechristians.com/?q=node/272). And, as the previously mentioned article indicates, he seems willing to misquote Scripture to serve his own purposes. Perhaps even worse, although a professed enemy of Liberation Theology (a Christianized version of Marxism, complete with all the violence and evil associated with that dark doctrine), Francis has more than once spoken out against the free market, thereby lending his name and influence to some of the most destructive movements on earth.

But yesterday he sent out a tweet that seems to encapsulate all his worst weaknesses in seven simple words: “Inequality is the root of social evil.” Here in one short sentence he displays his carelessness toward Scripture and Christian theology for all to see. For example, no scripture supports this statement. Instead, in the Bible it is wickedness in the human heart that is identified as the root of all evil, social or otherwise.

And what is social evil? Either Francis is talking about the standard sins writ large (greed, envy, theft, murder, idolatry, etc.) or else his statement is meaningless. If, for instance, he is talking about a greedy landlord, then the sin is personal, not social. But if he is talking about high rents that are the result of a housing shortage, then he may not be talking about sin at all, but merely describing the inevitable product of market forces. In either case, his language is dangerous because it implies that the person who pays more rent than he likes (and who doesn’t?) is somehow justified in being angry over imagined ill treatment and then possibly seeking some form of retribution for the evil he imagines has been done to him. This is not the spirit of Christ, nor can it possibly be made to correspond with any portion of the Sermon on the Mount.

A man of Pope Francis’ education and experience should understand this. But alas, he apparently does not.

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Blood Moons Are Astronomical, not Biblical

Pastor John Hagee’s attempt to link astronomy with Biblical prophecy fails

The following article is admittedly critical of a man loved by millions. So believe me when I say that I have thought hard about whether I should oppose him regarding a particular point of biblical interpretation. As you read, please keep in mind that I have no desire to criticize anyone, except as I understand their teaching to be unbiblical and therefore harmful. Undoubtedly some will feel that it is unfair to speak against a man so obviously zealous for God. I can only reply that the Bible itself gives a warrant to speak out against those who fail to combine zeal with truth (Rom. 10:2). So please walk with me through this examination of popular prophecy, and if in the end you decide that I’m wrong and Mr. Hagee is right, be sure that you do so because you are compelled by Scripture. That is the only basis by which I will criticize him.

John Hagee is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, a non-denominational megachurch with more than 20,000 active members. But his popularity goes far beyond his church; TV broadcasts, best-selling books and recordings of his sermons take his message to the ends of the earth and to untold millions of people.

Hagee’s hobbyhorse is prophecy. He is certain we are living in the Last Days and he rarely hesitates to seize anything close to hand as a reason to encourage people to believe the end is near. Two years ago he was ringing all possible changes out of the now thoroughly debunked theory that the Mayan Calendar actually had something to say about the end of the world. But lately he has grabbed hold of an astronomical phenomenon known as a blood moon to once again gin up excitement about the end. I will get into Scriptural issues in a moment, but let me say now that while the four blood moons that will occur over the next two years are astronomically interesting, they have nothing at all to do with the end of the world or the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy.

What is a blood moon?
A blood moon is a lunar eclipse in which the moon passes into the earth’s shadow so that it receives no direct light from the sun. What light it does receive is filtered by passage through the earth’s atmosphere causing it to glow a dull red, hence the term “blood moon.” A blood moon is a dramatic and rare sight, but while four blood moons in two years (called a “tetrad” by astronomers) is unusual, it is not unheard of, having occurred several times in the four-hundred or so years since astronomy became a science.

What has Hagee said?
Hagee claims that the upcoming four blood moons herald a “world-shaking event” that will happen between April 2014 and October 2015. “The first of the four blood moons will come on April 15 this year, during Passover,”  he told the Daily Express in London. “The second will be on October 8, at the time of the Feast of the Tabernacles. On April 4, 2015, during Passover, we will have another blood moon. Then finally, on September 28, during next year’s Feast of the Tabernacles, the fourth blood and final moon will dawn.” This close connection with Jewish festivals, he said, is “beyond coincidental.”

To found his claim of a “world-shaking event” on something more substantial than “coincidence,” Hagee preached a message last year from Acts 2:19-20, which reads: “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”

“When you see these signs, the Bible says, lift up your head and rejoice, your redemption draweth nigh,” Hagee said in his sermon. “I believe that the Heavens are God’s billboard, that He has been sending signals to Planet Earth but we just have not been picking them up.” As to exactly what God is signalling, Hagee is deliberately vague. “I believe,” he has said, “that in these next two years, we’re going to see something dramatic happen in the Middle East involving Israel that will change the course of history in the Middle East and impact the whole world.”

Hagee’s future is already past
Here is the problem with Hagee’s point of view. He is basing future-oriented prophecy on a passage of Scripture (Acts 2:19-20) that the Bible says has already been fulfilled.

Let me explain. Those two verses are part of a longer quote by the apostle Peter taken from the Old Testament prophet Joel. If you check the context in Acts 2 you will see that Peter is quoting Joel to the Jews of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost to explain what they are hearing and seeing on that very day, an event that occurred nearly 2,000 years ago. You will remember, I’m sure, that the day began with the sound of a violent wind from heaven, followed by tongues of fire resting on the heads of the 120 believers, who then went out in the street to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in languages they had never learned to people from all over the world.

The sound of so many languages being simultaneously spoken in an excited manner attracted a huge crowd who demanded to know what was going on. Peter, speaking for the Christians, explained that what they were hearing and seeing was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Specifically, he said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’” Now, no one doubts that this part of Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled on that day, but many fail to realize that Peter is saying that all of Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled, including the part about the moon turning to blood, both on that day (Pentecost) and upon that generation (Compare Acts 2 with Mat. 24:29-34), a period of time that ended, roughly speaking, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

There is a huge difference between John Hagee’s position when he says Acts 2:19-20 may perhaps be fulfilled in the next two years, and that of the apostle Peter, who declares the Joel prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. To be blunt, if Hagee is right, then Peter was wrong, but if Peter was right, then Hagee is wrong, and I don’t even have to pray about which of the two options I will choose.

But someone may say, “What if they are both right? What if Bible prophecy carries within it a dual fulfilment so that the Joel passage can be applied to both the first century and the twenty-first century?” To that I can only reply that nowhere in the Bible is there found even a hint of the possibility that prophecy allows for a dual fulfilment. It is true that in the modern era many popular Bible teachers have seized upon this idea in order to give a current application to prophecies that have already been fulfilled. But I fear this says more about the weakness of their interpretational method than to the legitimacy of the dual-fulfilment approach.

Despite the sanction of some very influential pastors and authors I can only repeat that no one has been able to show a clear, biblical foundation for dual fulfilment. Nor does dual fulfilment make any logical sense. The moment prophecy is allowed to have two fulfilments it could just as easily have three or four, or more, and so immediately cease to be prophecy in any meaningful sense. To summarize, if Peter says the prophet Joel was fulfilled in the first century, we can automatically discount the possibility that the same passage will also be fulfilled in the twenty-first century.

Here is another weakness in Hagee’s approach. He has much to say about blood moons (which happen sporadically throughout time), but as far as I can tell he says nothing about the Sun being turned to darkness, because, of course, the moment that happened life on earth would cease to exist. Or does he think Joel is merely referring to an eclipse of the sun? If that is the case then the whole principle of prophecy fails because we get solar eclipses too often to be correlated with any particular catastrophe, whether connected to Israel or not.

Hagee’s huge mistake
Hagee, like too many would-be prophetic experts before him (Well, hello there, Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye.) has misunderstood Joel’s prophecy because he insists upon reading it as some sort of scientific report on astronomical phenomena, an approach neither God nor Joel had in mind. In fact, the Old Testament of the Bible uses this sort of collapsing universe language, not to impart scientific information, but to emphasize the cosmic significance of the covenantal relationship between God and man. Throughout the Old Testament we find examples of God using such language whenever He pronounces judgment upon a nation such as Babylon or Edom, but the thing to keep in mind is that at no time does this language signify the actual end of the world!

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean. In Isaiah God uses the same sort of collapsing universe language to describe the destruction of Babylon: “The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (Isaiah 13:10). Now we know as historical fact that Babylon was destroyed in 539 B.C., but we also know with equal certainty that neither the sun nor the stars literally ceased to shine in those days. In other words, God’s decree of destruction meant only that he was using poetic, metaphorical language to describe the end of the Babylonian world, not the end of the entire world.

God uses similar language when He speaks of the destruction of Edom in 586 B.C. (Isaiah 34:4) and the destruction of Egypt in 587 B.C. (Eze. 32:7). It is true that the world of the Edomites collapsed and the world of the Egyptians collapsed, but it is equally true that in neither case did planet Earth come to an end. When the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the world of the Jews collapsed in exactly the same way as those previous nations just mentioned. But as before, planet Earth continued on its merry way. The bottom line is that Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled in the period between Pentecost and 70 A.D., and I think Hagee is wrong to imply otherwise.

Why this matters
Frankly, I’m tired of the way John Hagee and Harold Camping (and way too many others) repeatedly grab newspaper headlines with prophecies that are not only inevitably proven false, but have no Biblical basis to begin with. These “unforced errors” undermine our fundamental message of salvation through Jesus Christ, which is bad enough. But they also sap the life out of Christians, causing believers who listen to them to be less committed to a lifetime of sacrifice and service than they might otherwise be. Instead of “toiling on” they decide to down tools in expectation that the primary work of fulfilling the Great Commission is largely over. It seems to me that our watchword should not be, “Lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28), because that was fulfilled in 70 A.D. Instead, our watchword should be that which is found in I Cor. 15:58, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”

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Alison Redford’s life goal: to rebuild the tower of Babel

This is not a joke, but you have to understand Genesis to see why

What follows this introduction is a conventional op-ed-style commentary on the financial woes currently pushing Alberta Premier Alison Redford into polling hell — until you reach the conclusion, in which I take off in a direction that I realize may seem to many readers to go right off the logical rails. I don’t think my conclusion is a non-sequitur, but to help you see why permit me to give a little background from Genesis, chapter 11, where the story of the Tower of Babel is found.

A lot of people assume the tower was built as a safety measure, just in case God sent another flood. The sin, these commentators say, is that those early generations failed to trust God to keep the promise he made in Gen. 8:21-22; 9:8-17 to never again destroy the earth by a flood. Thus the tower, in case they needed to quickly flee to a high place. But that makes no sense for two reasons. 1) These people were not ignorant of God’s power to flood the tops of the mountains. No tower they could build would be higher than that. 2) The real reason for the tower’s construction is stated in Genesis 11:4, where the people say to one another, “Let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

The peoples’ sins were fourfold. 1) They wanted to build for themselves. They were not interested in building God’s kingdom. 2) The tower was an attempt to keep everyone in sight for the purpose of control. Before spy satellites were invented Big Brother had to build high towers to keep track of everyone’s whereabouts for the purpose of keeping them together, all marching to the same rhythm. This was a direct attempt at preventing people from obeying  God’s command in Genesis 9:1 to “fill the earth.” 3) The tower likely became an opportunity for idolatry, not just for worshipping the stars, but for worshipping the all-powerful state in opposition to the worship of God. 4) This brings us to the root reason for the tower, found in their determination to “make for ourselves a name.” Names are derived from one’s father and are passed down through the generations. Names are indicative of heritage, and heritage influences how you see yourself. Your name strongly influences what kind of person you will be. Until Babel the people understood they had a connection with God, that they were named by Him and that they owed him worship and obedience. The leadership at Babel were insistent that they would no longer be attached to their creator by name or by obligation.

If you think I am putting too much importance on their making for themselves a name apart from God, then remember what St. Paul said in Eph. 3:14-15. “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” — and “purpose,” is added by some translations. In spirit, the people of Babel were the opposite of the apostle, declaring emphatically that God was not their father and that they wanted nothing to do with Him or His purpose. No wonder God confounded their speech and forced the division of humanity.  The human race would be spiritually wrecked forever if world unity–apart from God–could actually be accomplished.

But that has not stopped a lot of people from trying. The spirit of Babel prevails today in the movement best represented by the United Nations. It really is an attempt to create heaven on earth without reference to God (that is, if your idea of heaven is enforced equality). Like our post-flood ancestors, the progressive governments of our world, under the umbrella of the UN, are still working to achieve the same four goals as outlined above.

Believe it or not, all this is relevant to the following editorial about Alison Redford.

Enjoy.

A premier who spends money like water
If you read the newspapers or watch the local news, you know already that Alberta Premier Alison Redford is in trouble for costing the province $45,000 to fly to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Nova Scotia’s premier made the same journey for less than $1,000.

It isn’t just the money that gives the story wings. It’s the way she pampered herself as she commandeered a provincial government jet to fly her to Ottawa, and then flew herself and an assistant home in first class accommodations, rather than coming home for free on the Prime Minister’s plane. Under pressure in the legislature, she has now promised to pay back $3,500 for some other personal expenditures she had previously charged to the province (expenditures no one even knew about until she declared she was paying them back). But as of this writing she flatly refuses to pay back any part of the $45,000 she spent on her South African jaunt.

A lot of people are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how Redford can display such arrogance with impunity. I think the answer lies in her employment background, as outlined helpfully in Wikipedia. Here’s a quick review.

“Throughout the 1990s, Redford worked as a technical adviser on constitutional and legal reform issues in various parts of Africa for the European Union, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Canadian Government and the Government of Australia. Her work in Africa focussed on human rights litigation, developing education programs and policy reform with respect to gender issues.

One of Redford’s most notable appointments was by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as one of the four International Election Commissioners to administer Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections, held in September 2005. She also served as an adviser to the Privy Council Office on Canada’s future involvement in Afghanistan subsequent to the elections. Her work has included assignments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Namibia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Philippines. Before her most current post, Redford managed a judicial training and legal reform project for the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme People’s Court in Vietnam.”

To recap, since graduating in 1988 with a degree in law from the University of Saskatchewan, Redford has worked for governments and supra-government agencies all over the world. Her paychecks have come from all over (The European Union, British Commonwealth, the governments of Canada and Australia and the UN), which means one word can describe her basic orientation — Internationalism. She is not a Canadian or an Albertan, or anything else in particular. She is an Internationalist.

And notice the focus of her work: human rights, gender issues, education and policy reform, judicial training and legal reform. This is basically a summary of the entire progressive agenda (read left-wing agenda), and all of it done in countries whose histories and cultures she could not possibly understand. But no matter. She was never there to understand anyone. Wherever she went her purpose was to change the situation by making it the same as everywhere else in the world. Everywhere she went, her purpose was to direct things at the local level toward ends for which most citizens in those countries could have no sympathy at all. This woman has always seen herself as part of an elite intelligentsia out to fix the world according to progressive ideals and principles as outlined by the secularists and socialists whose overall aim is to complete the building of the Tower of Babel and defy the living God.

Seen in this light Redford’s arrogance is quite understandable. She doesn’t work for Alberta. She works for the spirit of the age. She works to unify the world, but not in a good way. In her mind a short stint in local government is a kind of dues she is willing to pay in order to earn the right to greater influence afterwards. If her present gig doesn’t work out, to her it’s no big deal. She’ll soon be rehired by one of the alphabet groups she used to work for and then she’ll go back to jetting all over the world to impose her progressive world view wherever she can. Where she does this matters not one whit.

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Marginalia #23: Thoughts Scribbled in the Margins of My Bible

Matthew 18:5-6 And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

What I scribbled in the margin: “Is Jesus assuming a little child will believe in Him? Is He teaching that children have a faith to be nurtured? It almost appears that Jesus assumes faith in the child and warns against the risk of tearing it down.”

It’s interesting to me that after a long absence from my blog I should return to the ministry of marginalia with this passage on Jesus and children just days after presenting two little children to Jesus at our church. For that reason alone, today’s text is especially evocative. But that is not why it jumped out at me when I read it a year or so ago. If you know anything at all about Baptists, you know that we do not baptise children. Yet for all the world it appears that Jesus is assuming faith in the heart of a child he seems to have chosen at random (see v. 2, same passage).

From what he said Jesus seems to be assuming saving faith in children, else why would he exhort the disciples to become like a child, and why would he speak of “these little ones (plural) who believe in me?” And, of course, this passage has to be connected to Christ’s admonition to “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt. 19:14).

So what does Jesus mean by this passage? Here are some ideas.
* We must never forget that children have deep spiritual capacities, and that it is our duty before God to nurture those capacities to the fullest extent possible. Again, in one of those strange “coincidences” that occur to Christians so often, I had the privilege of talking this week with a man over 60 years of age who told me he had received Christ at four. His pastor’s sermon on the second coming and God’s judgment left him with the distinct sense that he was unready to meet God. But he found peace when his mother suggested he could pray and invite Christ into his life. “I’ve never forgotten it,” he said. “Christ has been in my life from that day to this.”
* We had better do all we can to bring children to Jesus. There is no age when a child cannot believe in Jesus, nor is there any age at which an adult should not believe in Jesus in the very same way as a child.
* We need to read Bible stories to our children as perhaps the most important way to bring them to Jesus. When they are very young we should read the kind with pictures, and more standard translations when they grow older.  We must also teach them to read the Bible for themselves.
* We must pray with our children, and teach them how to pray.
* We must help them learn how to dig into their own hearts for the purpose of discerning hidden motives. We must teach them how to understand the human heart and how it operates, and thus enable them come to an early understanding of why they behave as they do.
* We need to make Jesus live before them, showing them how we relate to the living Christ in our daily lives and encouraging them to develop a similar relationship through faith.
* In bringing children to Jesus we should realize that to some degree we will become the child-like people that Jesus wants us to be. We’ll learn to explain our faith so that a child can understand it, and that means we’ll more likely understand it ourselves.
*We must learn to live before God the same way we want our children to live before us. Our children believe us no matter what we say, and they love us, no matter what the difficulties of the moment may be. Our children need to see in us the same kind of relationship with God.
* Above all, Jesus is asking us to show our children that all human beings bear the image of God; that age and status have nothing to do with ultimate worth. We should live for the ultimate purpose of bringing the world to Christ.

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The day Santa Claus was noughty

In an outstanding article on the doctrinal richness of the great Christmas Carols, Sean Morris throws in an unexpected note about Santa Claus. I thought it was worth noting. Read the excerpt below, but then go on to read the entire article at:

http://humanepursuits.com/the-inauthenticity-of-christmas-carols/.

In speaking of the importance of Christian doctrine, Sean says, “So what does any of this matter? Why or how should it affect our thinking? Though maligned in modernity as irrelevant, these doctrinal confessions are the stuff that split empires and spilt the blood of martyrs. There’s even a delightful old legend that tells of Saint Nicholas (yes, the Saint Nicholas) at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, having grown positively infuriated after listening to Arius deny that Jesus was divine and equal to God the Father but was merely the highest creature, strode across the room and punched Arias in the face!

“Very God of Very God”—language that can cause imperial turmoil, the death of faithful disciples, and even provoke Santa Claus to slap the face of an old Egyptian heretic!”

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Marginalia #22: Thoughts scribbled in the margin of my Bible

Matthew 17:24-27 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma (temple) tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes — from their own sons or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

What I scribbled in the margin: “This casual claim that we are exempt from the temple tax is a subtle, but powerful expression of Jesus’ awareness of his own divinity.”

If you get your head into the space occupied by first-century Jews you quickly recognize that paying the temple tax was like paying taxes to God. It was instituted by God’s direct commandment back in Exodus 30:11-16, where God, speaking through Moses, says, “This half-shekel (equal to two drachmas) is an offering to the Lord.” So the temple tax was an offering, actually a ransom for one’s life, paid directly to God.

Peter is adamant, and perhaps a little defensive, in declaring that Jesus did pay the tax, although it is interesting to me that the question was even raised. I suppose Jesus had already done enough toward tearing down the Jewish ceremonial system that no one could be certain where He might stand on this particular issue. Interestingly, in discussing the matter with Peter Jesus expresses a private opinion that differs from his public action. He knows Himself to be the Great High Priest who qualifies to minister in the greater, heavenly Tabernacle, and that the temple tax is for a building that Hebrews 8:5 describes as only a “copy and shadow of what is in heaven.”

Therefore, He and his (and that includes all believers) are technically exempt from a temple tax. Except Jesus went ahead and paid the tax for himself and Peter in order to avoid offending the Jews. What Jesus did is an example of Paul’s statement in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Which, btw, comes immediately before Paul’s exhortation to obey and pay taxes to secular governments in Romans 13.)

Jesus also demonstrates through the miracle of the money in the fish’s mouth that God stands ready to help believers avoid unnecessary offense. One commentator calls this pasage the “strangest in Matthew’s gospel” and claims it is “trivial” for God to put money in a fish’s mouth. By that standard we might write off the feeding of the five-thousand as “trivial.” After all, nobody got more than a single meal of the deal, and what’s so special about bread and fish anyway?

Here’s what’s so non-trivial about this event. Jesus is demonstrating that when we have difficulty avoiding offense for the sake of the gospel, God is prepared to step in directly to help us. If Jesus is prepared to go so far as to call for a miracle on behalf of paying a tax he did not owe, then we should be willing to go any distance possible in our efforts at avoiding hurting others, or in any way turning them away from the Lord. In other words, when Paul said we should seek to make peace “as far as it depends on you,” we should keep in mind that with God’s help we can do more than is humanly possible toward living in peace with others.

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Lies that need to be exposed

I was recently talking with a Christian leader from the Middle East. He told me that for decades Christians have prayed that God would expose the lies inherent in Islam. He believes, as do many others, that the brief Egyptian presidency of Mohamed Morsi was an answer to that prayer. After little more than a year of Morsi’s reign, Egyptians saw that Islam makes life worse, not better, and the important thing is, they saw that it was Islam itself, not Morsi, that had failed.

Since that conversation I’ve been asking myself, what are the lies that enslave North Americans? When we pray that God would open the eyes of Canadians and U.S. citizens, how should we pray? Here is a suggested list of lies that we should pray God will expose.

  • That government is an adequate replacement for God.
  • That forced redistribution of wealth is the equivalent of Christian charity.
  • That psychology and counselling can fix a sin-broken soul.
  • That mankind is primarily related downward, toward the animals, more than he is related upwards, toward God in Whose image we are created.
  • The we should focus our attention and effort on success in this life, rather than laying up treasure for the life to come.
  • That existence, i.e. the universe and all it contains, consists only of what we can see and measure.
  • That prayer is merely a religious form of meditation and self-help.

I am sure I have missed some of the popular lies that need exposing, but this is a starting point. I ask you to join me in praying these lies be exposed nationally and personally throughout our nation, and that once people see the emptiness of the materialistic lifestyle, they will seek the true God in Jesus Christ.

Two more things. 1) If you think of more lies that need exposing, send them to me. I’ll add them to the list. And 2) If you disagree with anything in my list, let me know, and let me know why. It will be fun to hash these things out.

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Marginalia #21: Thoughts scribbled in the margins of my Bible

Matthew 16:27-28 “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

What I scribbled in the margin: “What does Jesus have in mind? Is He thinking of the transfiguration [which follows immediately in chapter 17] or of some later date?”

The easy route is to connect these verses to the transfiguration. This seems to allow for the statement “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” But there are problems with this approach. For one thing, Jesus speaks of coming with his angels, and of a judgment. None of that relates to the Transfiguration. To arrive at a useful answer to these questions I think we need to look at the larger context, the verses that come just before and that are found in the same paragraph in the original Greek text (emphasis mine).

I emphasize this last thought because some Bible translators have been so desperate to connect these verses to the transfiguration they have actually changed the paragraphing in opposition to the Greek text. The New King James Version, for instance, places a heading above v. 28 that reads “Jesus Transfigured on the Mount,” thus connecting the last verse in chapter 16 to the topic covered in the next chapter. This is not reflected in the Greek text, which extends the paragraph beginning with v.24 to the end of the chapter. It is clear to me, at least that this is an attempt by the NKJV translators to lead the reader to a particular conclusion: that this passage has nothing to do with Jesus’ second coming. Even with such trickery the effort fails. The transfiguration does reveal Christ in his true glory, but in no way does it show him “coming in his kingdom.”

And since v.28 actually belongs to the paragraph that begins in verse 24 we are forced, I think, to conclude that Jesus is talking about his second coming. In verses 25 and 26 Jesus has just uttered his famous declaration, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” These words hint at the kind of judgment that can only be construed as final judgment, that moment when a soul stands before God with eternity hanging in the balance.

Jesus’ next statement, that “the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory” to “reward each person according to what he has done,” flows logically from his previous utterance and must inescapably refer to something comparable to those Old Testament passages (the natural context for Jesus’ disciples) that speak of final judgment under the title “The Day of the Lord.” I’m thinking of such passages as Joel 2:28-32, but also Isaiah 2:12ff, 13:6ff, and multiple passages in Ezekiel, Amos, Zephaniah and Zechariah.

When connected with Jesus’ next words, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” the entire passage leads to the idea that some of his disciples would live until his second coming. If that is what Jesus is teaching then we have to conclude that his frequent prophecies regarding his “coming” must refer primarily, if not exclusively, to 70 a.d., the time when all old covenant symbols were definitively destroyed (including the temple) and the New Covenant alone prevailed. Anything later than that (for example, the still-future second coming that most Christians expect) would have been too late for any of his disciples to still be living.

Why this matters
First, it matters because Jesus’ credibility as a prophet is at stake here. You see, this passage is only one in a list of prophecies Jesus made about his coming. If he is wrong about the timing of his second coming then nothing he says can be trusted. For another example, see Matt. 10:23 where Jesus says, “You will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” That seems to indicate a relatively short interval between his ascension and his return. Unfortunately, this verse fits so poorly with today’s prevailing ideas about prophecy that some otherwise good and great men, including Earl Radmacher, former president of Western Seminary and one of the leading theologians of our time, has raised the possibility that Jesus might have made a mistake. If it was a mistake, it is certainly one Jesus made again and again, not just in Matthew 10 and 16, but also in Matt. 24, the chapter in which Jesus’ describes the destruction of Jerusalem and his second coming as a single event. There he includes these words: “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Such passages almost demand that the Bible reader see their fulfilment in the 70 a.d. destruction of Jerusalem. Nothing before or after that date fits Jesus’ words, and anything that happened after, say 95 a.d., would have proven Jesus a false prophet because by that point all the apostles, including the apostle John, would have “tasted death.”

Correctly interpreting Matthew 16:27-28 matters for a second reason; if we misinterpret and misapply Jesus’ words then it is we who risk becoming false prophets and bad theologians. If we say, for instance, that Matthew 16 and Matthew 24 are primarily about a future that is still to come then we risk being wrong about the second coming over and over again. And, of course, this is exactly what has happened. The “futurist” approach, adopted by Tim LaHaye and his Left Behind novels, not to mention Hal Lindsey, John MacArthur and a host of other authors and television evangelists, has led to a series of failed prophecies going all the way back to William Miller in the 1830s.

As you can see from the names mentioned above, not all the exponents of Christ’s future return are shysters. Some are serious and sincere theologians. Nevertheless, the futurist approach they adopt regarding Jesus’ words have lead them to make serious mistakes. Hal Lindsey was adamant that the rapture would take place by 1988, but he was just as wrong as Miller, who said it would happen in 1843. Even John Walvoord, formerly the president of Dallas Theological Seminary, and a great scholar by everyone’s estimation, was led to a false prophecy when Saddam Hussein first invaded Kuwait back in 1990.

At that point Walvoord rushed a revised version of his book Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis into print, claiming, “All these [previously listed] facts lead to a spiritual challenge. If the Rapture of the church is imminent before the Middle East ruler emerges, it is not only possible but probable that the Rapture will take place soon” (italics added). That was 23 years ago, and nothing has happened except the fall of the Soviet Union and the total defeat of Saddam Hussein. Only someone who thinks that when Jesus said “near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:33, or “soon” (Rev. 22:20) he actually meant 2,000 years or more would pass, could also continue to claim that his prophecy of the soon-coming rapture from 23 years ago is still somehow not false.

Finally, those who misinterpret and misapply Matt. 16:27-28 risk becoming bad theologians. By relegating this passage, and related passages such as Matthew 24, to the still distant future they are forced to imagine a rebuilt temple with all the sacrifices reinstituted. This is extremely problematic, and not just because the Muslims currently control the surface of the Temple Mount. No, the problem is this, to rebuild the temple goes against everything taught in Scripture. For one thing, the temple was destroyed to make it clear to all that it was no longer the way to God, that redemption was to be found in Jesus Christ alone, who “went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not manmade, that is to say, not a part of this creation” (Heb. 9:11). And in Hebrews 10 the writer states without equivocation that God “sets aside the first [physical temple] in order “to establish the second [spiritual temple].”

Paul makes clear in Ephesians 2:11-22 that the people who worshipped at the earthly temple are joined with New Testament Christians in the one body of Christ, the church. There is only one body and one building, and both are spiritual and mystical, with Christ the head of the first and the cornerstone of the latter. It breaks my heart to think that anyone who knows God through Jesus Christ would ever imagine for a moment that the Jews would be forced, even symbolically, to go back to those “weak and miserable principles” (Gal. 4:9) that “can never take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).

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