Monthly Archives: December 2016

Hitler, Hell and the Gospel

Interestingly, when one talks about Hell and ‘eternal punishment’ with the average Evangelical Christian, more often than not, the subject of Hitler comes up. Old Adolf is seen, for some people quite rightly, as the epitome of evil (people conveniently forget (or, more probably, don’t even know!) about Stalin, who did even worse stuff than Hitler, because he was our ‘friend’ in the Second World War!), and therefore Hitler is everyone’s favourite candidate for someone who is certainly roasting in that alleged, terrible, fiery place. I will keep my own views on this to myself, but most of my regular readers will already be able to guess what I think 😉

However in this excellent post, the brilliant Jeff Turner – who is, in my opinion, a modern-day C.S. Lewis, and some of whose ideas on Hell I have published before – turns the Hitler idea around somewhat:

“Would it be “good news” if one of Hitler’s SS officers came and proclaimed that the Fuhrer had declared that all who do not pledge allegiance to “Team Hitler” would be vaporized in a concentration camp oven, but that if one would simply acknowledge their need for the Fuhrer’s mercy, and pledge their allegiance to his name and cause, that they could escape this fate, and instead live in a penthouse built atop one of his many death camps?

“No, for two main reasons: 1.) the only reason we would need Hitler’s mercy was because of his mercilessness. He had created the situation that necessitated salvation, and then, in an egocentric move, declared it available if only we would devote ourselves to him. That is not mercy, but egomania. And 2.) since he was such a merciless and cruel creature, our devotion to him would degrade us, and though we lived in a “saved” state, so to speak, it was one we would be forced to live out while knowing that those whose morals were stronger than ours were being vaporized beneath our feet. That would not be a true salvation, but damnation; not a heaven, but a sort of hell.

“Now, change the name of Hitler and the Fuhrer to the one many call “God,” the SS officer to the evangelist, yourself to the whole of humanity, Hitler’s death camps for hell, and your penthouse to heaven, and you’ll understand why I cannot, in good conscience, proclaim today’s “gospel” as “good news.”

“It’s terrible, terrible news.

“It’s terrible news about “God,” as well as the horrid creatures we would need to become in order to be truly devoted to him.

“This is no “God,” but a devil.

“The true God is seen in the face of Jesus: a Father, not a Fuhrer.”

Wow. Chew that over for a while…


Here’s the original Facebook post where Jeff puts this idea forward:

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Be Exalted O God!

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
 (Ps 57:11)

Any song where God is exalted – that is, He is lifted up in praise by His people – is always going to be a song expressing my heart. One of my favourite worship songs from my early years as a believer is the song ‘Be Exalted O God’, by Brent Chambers. When sung from the heart – that is, when you mean the words you are singing – then God is indeed lifted up; how much more so, then, when eight thousand people in a giant cattle shed in Harrogate are using the song to lift up the Name of the Lord in worship! I’m talking, of course, about the Dales Bible Week…so here, then, is the 1979 Dales congregation singing this gorgeous song. I know the song sounds dated, but if you simply let your heart be lifted up by the worship, and in your turn lift up Jesus in your heart, the Spirit will make the song as fresh as the day it was written.

I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord among the people
I will sing praises to Thee among the nations
For Thy steadfast love is great, is great to the heavens
And Thy faithfulness, Thy faithfulness to the clouds

Be exalted O God above the heavens
Let Thy glory be over all the earth
Be exalted O God above the heavens
Let Thy glory be over all the earth


Track features Ian Frost on piano and David Matthew on the Hammond organ with twin Leslie speakers. David tells me that playing that organ was the musical equivalent of driving a tank; great fun! And a great sound too.

The track, along with all the other tracks from the original tape from the 1979 Dales Week, Songs of Triumph, can be found on my digitisation of the tape, by clicking the image of the cassette inlay card below.

Other songs from this era of worship can also be found at my website, Vintage Worship Tapes.

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A Crumb Of My Comfort

This entry is part 4 of 16 in the series Fiona

I’m writing this piece because it’s two months today since I lost my wonderful wife, Fiona.

And it’s all been very strange since. In addition to having the huge adjustment to life without my soulmate and team-mate, I’d expected to have been completely overwhelmed with grief and to have been good for nothing useful at all. I’d expected it to be crippling, indeed incapacitating.

But it hasn’t been like that at all. I’ve generally coped just fine; I have accepted her loss and I am just getting on with life. And I don’t fully understand why that isn’t difficult.

As you might imagine, I must credit much of this to my Heavenly Father. David wrote, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and He saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18) and I have found this to be true in my own experience. I have had such a consciousness of the Presence of God, and He seems to have released small chunks of memories for me to grieve over in kind of ‘bite-sized chunks’. I haven’t had to deal with 34 years of soul-mate relationship’s worth of grief in one big lump. It’s been much easier than I thought it would be, although still terrible of course.

I’ve called this piece, ‘A Crumb of my Comfort’. And so I want to share with you as many crumbs of comfort as I can, from the many I have received from Father. Remember, it’s my aim in life to always do what I see my Father doing (John 5:19). And the biggest comfort to me has been my absolute certainty that Fiona is in the presence of God, worshipping the One she loves.

Over the months before Fiona died, I had several personal worship experiences where I felt like I was participating in what you might call the ‘Worship of Heaven’. For this purpose, Holy Spirit used especially some of the worship songs of Terry MacAlmon, which I have featured on my blog in the past*. For those months, the Spirit was using these, and others of Terry’s songs, to impress upon me, “Look, this is what Fiona is going to, only better!” And over the months, that knowledge and experience has soaked into my very being and it has become a part of me – in greater measure than I have previously had, even as a worship leader. In some ways, I feel like I am still worshipping with Fiona. Within an hour of Fiona’s passing, I had a vivid and almost indescribable vision of her worshipping in the Presence of God, and felt the Spirit saying to me, “There. This is what I meant”. Since worship is such an integral part of my life, and since my experience of God is an almost constant, exciting and energising Presence right in the centre of my heart, what better way for the Spirit to encourage me regarding where Fiona is now?

And because of this, my grief is mixed with an indescribable, bubbling joy, that, through the tears, is a constant reminder of God’s Presence both with me and with Fiona. It’s all very odd; in some ways I feel as if she’s not really gone, but then I also realise that if I am worshipping in the Throne Room in my spirit, then in some indescribable** way I am also worshipping with Fiona, who is doing the same thing. My heart is full of thankfulness and joy and praise and worship and there isn’t a thing I can do to stop it – not that I would try! The whole thing is quite surreal! I know it’s a bit of a cliche but I really do know that she has indeed ‘gone to a better place’ and that she is full of joy there. And so it is difficult to be too upset; I know that the girl that I love is out of pain, in the Presence of her Jesus, and completely, utterly safe, whole and full of joy, in ways that are far beyond anything we can imagine.

Don’t get me wrong on the worship thing by the way; I don’t believe that the entire experience of Heaven is confined to just one big worship meeting. I’m sure it’s not; I’m sure that attendance at that great gathering is optional, and on a come-and-go as you like basis, and there’s definitely more to worship than just singing songs. But I do believe that Fiona walks closely with her Saviour and He has His arm around her (I’ve seen that too). The Glory she experiences is beyond anything that can be experienced in our mortal bodies, but I know for a fact that, despite our bodies’ limitations, we too can experience the Power and Presence of God. I know this because I have so experienced Him, and do so on a regular basis. I rest in the presence of God, knowing that everything is in His hands. The Spirit gave me a verse the other day, which describes my position well; it’s Psalm 116:7 – “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee” (Ps 116:7 KJV) or in modern English, “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you”. And, again, this has been true in my personal experience.

Despite this being published on Christmas Day, I wasn’t going to mention Christmas. Bah humbug. But there’s a contextual reason for it: at Christmas, we celebrate the unbelievable phenomenon called ‘Immanuel’, which means ‘God With Us’, just like I am claiming happens to me.

God Himself, the Creator of everything, right here and walking and living amongst us.

Two thousand years ago, it was of course Jesus Who walked among us – literally walked among us – as a human being (Jn 1:14). Nowadays He is still with us, because He promised us that He would send His Holy Spirit, to be with us for ever (Jn 14:16 KJV). And this is how we know that we belong to Him; why I can claim that He is real in me: Ephesians 1: 13-14 says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory“, and 2Cor1:21-22, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come“. I literally feel the Holy Spirit within my heart; that’s how I know. And He also said, I will be with you always, until the end of time (Mt 28:20). Note that it’s not that the Bible says it, so I believe it; its the other way round: I feel Him in my heart, and subsequently to that, I find from the Bible and from talking with fellow believers that others too have felt that Presence***.

And this is what is meant by Immanuel – ‘God With Us’. Again, this has been true in my experience. And that’s how I know; that’s why my faith gives me such assurance, reassurance, comfort and hope.

Let me finish with, would you believe, a verse from a Christmas carol (despite my not planning on doing anything Christmas here, but such is the Spirit’s leading…) O Little Town of Bethlehem. So many people simply sing these carols year upon year without really knowing what they are about, but this verse captures the idea of Immanuel beautifully:

How silently, how silently
The wondrous Gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven
No ear can hear His coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in

And all of those are the crumbs I offer you, taken from the vast comfort I have been given. I sincerely hope they bless and encourage you 🙂


*The blog posts are these:

I Came to Worship You

Blessing and Honor

Holy Are You Lord

You Deserve the Glory

When Words Are Not Enough

[Edit: My Glory and the Lifter of My Head]


 **I think that’s the third or fourth time I have used the word ‘indescribable’. But it’s the correct word to use; I am trying to describe things here that are right out on the edge of what it is possible to decribe with language. Maybe only my Spirit-language is capable of describing this sort of stuff…


***And so it kind-of validates the experience – not that I need it validating; it’s real enough to me – but it a) explains what it is, and b) tells me I’m not alone in feeling like this.

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Christmas and The Terminator

Like I’ve said elsewhere (actually it’s in tomorrow’s post!) I don’t normally ‘do’ Christmas stuff. But this little parable/analogy by Wendy Francisco really caught my eye and I just had to share it:

“Two versions of Christmas. The new version (less than a thousand years), of Christmas is that Jesus comes as a child, born in a stable, to fool us into thinking he is a servant, but someday, the Jesus who is the “same yesterday today and forever” somehow changes into the Terminator and wipes out most of the totally depraved human race, rewarding forever a small modern sect called evangelicalism.

“Or, the ancient version, the God of an endless and beautiful universe comes down as a child to demonstrate His unchanging character as a servant, not to be our terminator but our victim as a statement of the eternal safety that rests in authentic love, love defined in His terms not ours, …and also as a deliberate and marked contrast to the retribution and performance orientation of monetarily profitable human crafted religions which literally cover the face of the world.

“Many of us believers still haven’t seen that it is we who need to be saved from hell…and that that salvation is embodied completely in that small child, and repeated again and again throughout His life, and again in His death, and yet again in His rising.

“Our flesh craves the destruction of enemies for the achievement of cultural stability which we have mistaken for peace, and that is the biggest lie on earth, locking us in an endless death spiral. We excuse our complicity with everything scripture defines as murder with “sovereignty doctrines” and then further use the trick of free choice to justify it, not recognizing that we are the ones not making the choice. We are not choosing the way of Jesus, to love to the point of being willing to die for enemies. This is the doom of earth that Jesus broke.

“I pray you will see the Child this Christmas … that you will crumble to ashes, and rise with Him”.


The scary steel skull character in the header image is the Terminator T-100 robot from the Schwarzenegger movie ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day”


Original Facebook posting is here:

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Do Not Fear the Gate-Keepers

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)

As my regular readers will know, I very often contribute on forums where some of the worst excesses of Christian judgementalism can be seen. On those forums, there are some pretty nasty examples of hard-line, dogmatic religious types who are so harsh and unbending that they portray a horrible image of my Father God. And so, I go on the forums in order to show the hurting, the true seekers, the rejected of society, that not all those who profess to follow Jesus Christ are harsh and ungracious. I go on there to demonstrate the gentleness* of Jesus to those who are sinking in the mire of everyday drudgery and hopelessness. I go on there to show people that God loves them, exactly as they are, and that He loves them in spite of everything that they think stands in between them and Him; everything that would cause their sensitive consciences to believe that they are not welcome in His Presence – when in actuality, they are fully welcome there. In short, I go on there to counter the nastiness exhibited by those who claim to be working ‘from the Scriptures’, and yet don’t even come close to exhibiting the character of the Christ revealed in those Scriptures. And I have to say that sometimes it’s hard to be gracious and gentle with these people, whom God also loves, but I do the best I can.

So of course I come under heavy fire from the harsh and judgemental. Because I do not agree with what they preach, and indeed I actively stand against it, I too become ‘unacceptable’ in the eyes of people I don’t even know; unacceptable both to them, and, they hasten to tell me, to god as well. No doubt the words ‘heresy’ and ‘blasphemy’ have featured in replies to my comments more than happens to most people! It seems that some would rather espouse a gospel of harshness and nastiness than one of love, joy, peace and all the other fruits of the Spirit. And, to be honest, sometimes this type of action is damaging; occasionally I need to take a break from the battle and recharge.

Well, this article is about why, despite their vitriol, I am not afraid of these people, and also about why you in your turn need not be afraid of them either.

Gentle soul, honest seeker after Truth, be encouraged!

Let me tell you that nothing that these people can say can change the reality of God’s love for you, nor can they change the passion with which He seeks you – although by the way they talk (well, ok, write!), anyone would think that they are the people who decide who ‘gets into heaven’ or whatever. (Actually writing that down in black on white re-emphasises for me how ludicrous that statement actually is!).

I do believe that they like to think of themselves as ‘God’s Gate-Keepers’! – but we do not need to be afraid of them! They hold no power to do the things that their writing suggests they imagine they can do!

Remember that these people have neither the right nor the mandate to be God’s ‘Receptionists’ – people who would like nothing better than to screen others in order to determine their acceptability as people who are/are not allowed into God’s Presence. What I am saying is that, well-meaning and sincere though some of these people may be, they are not the Gate-Keepers.

Probably the principal harm that they can do is that they ‘shut the doors of heaven in men’s faces’; they make it appear as if it is impossible to please God – except, of course, by following their particular set of Rules and Requirements – and thus put people off following their hearts’ desires and seeking God. Their efforts at ‘evangelism’ by pointing out ordinary folks’ ‘sin’ actually puts their victims off following a path of faith, when actually they were quite amenable to the idea before they met these people! The other main harm they do is to give others a really bad idea of what god is like; to outsiders, their god looks vicious, mean and nasty! And who would want to follow a god like that?

This is all, to my mind, completely reprehensible, because the Christian Life is so full of blessing, and the Gate-Keepers are denying that blessing to those whom they damage with their harsh attitudes.

These are indeed the people of whom Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to”. (Mt23:13)

So, let me tell you again that these people are not the Gate-Keepers. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved [kept safe]. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (Jn 10:9).

Nobody can take away God’s call on your life: “However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them” (Jn 6:37 NLT). As a believer, your life is “…hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3) – it is kept safe where thieves cannot “…break in and steal” (Mt 6:19). At worst, all they can do is hurt you in earthly terms, as Jesus said in Lk 12:4, “I tell you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more”. Jesus was not talking here only about unbelievers who persecute Christians; He was also talking about anyone who tries to steal your assurance of salvation, including, and especially, other believers. No one else is ‘religious’ enough to even want to steal your assurance! And that, then, is the other major harm that these people do.

But the truth of the matter is this: if you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, then no one can take that away from you, no matter how much they might try to devalue your faith and beliefs. They can quote scripture at you all they like but you know, you know that you’re safe. And there ain’t a thing they can do about it.

Let me say it again: you do not need to pay any heed to what these people say. You do not need to be afraid of them. They have neither power nor authority over you. Your salvation depends on Jesus, not on pleasing men; giving them cause to have a good opinion of you. The fear of man has to do with voluntarily placing the ownership of our life in the hands of men. We change our behaviour in order to be accepted. Well, there’s no need to do that, not ever. It’s not about pleasing men at all, not even other believers who want you to conform. Your life belongs to God, not to the Gate-Keepers. Proverbs 29:25 (KJV) says that “The fear of man bringeth a snare but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” Put in more modern English, the Good News Bible says, “It is dangerous to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the Lord, you are safe” (Prov 29:25 (GNB))

And finally, to me, the crowning verse is this. In 1Cor2:15, in the middle of a treatise on handling others’ insistence on ‘doctrinal correctness’, St. Paul says that:

Did you see that? If you are a spiritual person, that is, guided by the Holy Spirit, you can do all the thinking and reasoning about your beliefs, thinking things through, coming up with answers, and learning new things about God, and nobody – nobody! – can judge you. You are simply not subject to others’ judgement – period.

Maybe none of this makes any sense to you; maybe you have never encountered one of these people, at least not on the forums. But I’d wager you will have encountered them in ‘real life’. Maybe you’ve heard certain street preachers (And I’m not tarring them all with the same brush here!) saying harsh things about you being a ‘sinner’, or maybe someone has knocked on your door, and under the pleasant veneer you have detected a hard, unbending religion. Maybe you’re in a church where the leadership is strict and authoritarian, and permits neither questions nor deviation from the ‘norm’. Or maybe there’s someone at your place of work who tells you that as far as God is concerned, your best is simply not good enough and is worthless in eternal terms. You see, we are all subjected to these kinds of people, and I’m here to tell you today that you do not need to take any notice of them, whether you are a believer or not.

Don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe that these ‘harsh’ people are people who believe in, and love the Lord Jesus Christ. I also firmly believe though, that they are acting from a tragically misguided** view of God (again, as detailed in this article) and that their actions are based mainly on a desire to see people believe in what they see as a ‘right doctrine’. In other words, they want others to live their religion in the same way as our harsh friends do. But until God reveals more of His loveliness, His gentleness and His mercy to these people, they simply will not be able to see it, so blinded are they to God’s goodness; blinded indeed by their religion. Doctrine has become more important then walking with Jesus. This is why I try to be gentle with them; they are simply wayward children who do not understand. There is more on this in this article, which in general is themed similarly to this one.

No, the reason I wrote this present article was to encourage those who have been attacked by these people and (as is usual in these situations) had their faith and/or ‘salvation status’ called into question. You’ve been told you are an heretic; you have been told these are ‘demonic lies’ and that you are ‘in danger of hell fire’, that you are in gross error and you need to change your ways, and that it’s especially bad because you are publishing these ‘lies’ in the public domain for everyone to see. I know the arguments and the threats of these people; I have seen them so many times and they are boringly familiar.

But be encouraged! God thinks so much more highly of you than you can possibly imagine, and He has His best for you in your life no matter what the Gate-Keepers would like to say. Remember they can’t touch your salvation; they may rock your boat, but only if you let them by taking notice of their threats.

Remember this: These people are NOT the Gate-Keepers. Your salvation is safe and secure in Christ, and their words mean absolutely nothing!  Isn’t that great?

Do Not Fear the Gate-Keepers!

 


*I have a particular friend on one forum who refers to me as his ‘gentle Anglican friend’. This is a guy who is an excellent theologian and gives the online Pharisees ‘what for’ (as we say in Yorkshire) in similar terms to how they do it. We kind-of do a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine 😉

**I use the term ‘misguided’ in its literal sense: these people have indeed been mis-guided by others who have taught them the harsh doctrines they too have been raised on. These beliefs get passed on from one generation of believers to another, to the detriment of the quality of life of those who live by those beliefs. Jesus came to break the cycle of harsh, unbending, dogmatic religion, which was why He went so hard on the Pharisees of His day – these were the harsh doctrinal types in those days. Notice also how Jesus was a ‘Pharisee magnet’ – because He was teaching ideas of freedom from religious Rules, the Pharisees simply had to take Him to task on it. They just couldn’t leave it – isn’t that exactly the same as these people on the forums, then? 🙂

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The Problem with Prohibition

Jeff Turner is one of my favourite writers, and with good reason. He is at the same time both extremely perceptive and also very good at expressing his ideas. I’d go so far as to say that he’s one of the clearest Christian thinkers of our generation.

Here’s a new thought of his, from one of his recent Facebook posts:

“The command “do not” will always produce the opposite of what it intends. We cannot help but be driven to do that which is forbidden, and which we are told not to do. We become utterly obsessed with the forbidden, but when we indulge in it, pull away so quickly in shame and remorse, that we never have the opportunity to observe whether or not it actually is harmful, or just benign. As a result, the prohibition continues to lure us back in, and the shame that follows pushes us away, and we never make an informed decision about whether or not the thing we are pulled toward, and then repelled by, is what we think it is.

“The Pauline declaration that “all things are permissible, but not everything is beneficial” defuses this bomb, and puts a stop to this cycle. It removes the prohibition, for starters, but then assures us that even if we continue to engage in, whatever the activity or behavior is, until the end of time, we will remain accepted and beloved. This unconditional love allows us the opportunity to sit in the same room with our actions long enough to actually come to terms with whether or not it is, in fact, beneficial, whereas the cycle of indulgence, followed by guilt and gut-wrenching repentance does not allow for this. The prohibition causes us to pull away after the indulgence so quickly that we never make an informed and heartfelt choice about whether or not we want to live engaging in this behavior until the end of time.

“This is why so many in religion remain trapped inside certain patterns and behaviors. They have never felt loved and accepted enough to sit in the same room with their choices long enough to determine for themselves whether they are choices worth making or actions worth taking.

“Grace brings this cycle to a halt”.

– Jeff Turner


Here’s a link to the original Facebook post:

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Growing Pains!

I read a lot of the writings of Wendy Francisco, a Godly lady who is (alongside others, including myself) in the process of rethinking exactly what we believe and why we believe it. It’s a process called ‘deconstruction’ (not the same as demolition!). In particular, we are rethinking our ideas on the concept of the ‘nasty god’ of the Old Testament and instead replacing that picture (a very badly graven image) with the ‘exact representation of [God’s] Being’ (Heb 1:3) that is Jesus Christ. In a sense, we are reading the stories and ideas about God in the Bible through the ‘Jesus lens’ of Love. Here’s  a recent post from Wendy describing how this process feels, and what benefits it has. Enjoy!

“Many people are undergoing what is being called a “deconstruction” …this is something that just happens when you let go of a god who is retributive, and “just” in a human sense, (retaliatory), and replace those beliefs with the God who loves all humanity and is, as scripture says, not counting sins against people.

“Deconstruction is not easy. People are sharing periods of shame, loss, disorientation, numbness, anger, and rejection from others, as dead religion loses hold. Well goodness, we built our personalities on this stuff, we relate to people through these lenses. When they crumble, it shakes everything. What makes it worth the difficulty is realizing that humanity is one eternal family. We have been holding to dead religion at the cost of being okay with, or at least resigned to, billions of souls in hell forever. When it proves false, both in reality and in scripture, you are scrambling to hold your personhood together, especially when this happens later in life. But you are also freed, your empathy begins to recover. You experience the peace that religion promised, but couldn’t deliver. (Call me crazy, but thinking I was in a special group who would not burn like billions of others would, is hardly “peace”.)

“The tangible joy of these things sees you through the difficulty of deconstruction/”metanoia”. “Metanoia” is a Greek word awkwardly translated as “repent”, but it actually means to have an epiphany, a mind change. And it isn’t like flipping a light switch… it takes some time for all those neurons to disconnect and reconnect. Some people find God without going through years of dead religion but those of us who have gone through it have even greater cause to celebrate, that the dark cloud we labored under has dissipated, and our indoctrinated fears are put to rest. Among a large list of things I am thankful for today, this is a big one — that “love keeps no account of a wrong done”, and my difficult shame-based world is being upended.”

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Who is your Father?

Yes, this is a deliberate posting of a (very loosely) Star Wars – flavoured post on the day that the new Star Wars movie, ‘Rogue One’, is released!

I sometimes wonder if the ‘family resemblance’ of certain people who identify as Christians is more towards the Dark Side than the Light.

Throughout this post, please bear in mind that, as always, I am not referring to the average Jesus-loving churchgoer, but to those who consider it their duty to poke into others’ lives with their judgementalism and such like.

You see, Jesus said in Matthew 5:44-45, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven“. I’ve written about that here. Someone who does these things is showing the ‘family resemblance’ of Father God’s Kingdom, and that was what Jesus was talking about.

This week, though, I have been looking at the FB pages of several people whom I have seen on there and on forums whom I would term ‘nasty Christians’. Not that they are bad people as such; I used to be like that once upon a time and I know what it’s like to be dogmatic, unbending and rigid in my beliefs; held to an artificial set of behavioural Rules made up by humans (Mk 7:6-7). I’m not saying they are literally nasty people, but that they do come across as harsh and judgemental, making the Gospel unattractive with their judgementalism and sin-policing. They make faith in God just as unattractive as did the Pharisees of Jesus’s day, and they ‘shut the doors of Heaven in men’s faces’ (Mt 23:13)

Now, in a kind of antithesis to how Jesus said ‘you will be called the sons of my Father in heaven’ to His disciples because they reflected His Father’s character, He also chided the Pharisees of His day when He said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies“. (Jn 8:44 (NASB))

The devil is the ‘father of lies’; he’s also known as the ‘Accuser’ (Rev 12:10); the Adversary’ (1Pet5:8 (ESV)) and the ‘thief’ (Jn 10:10).

The thing is that if you look at the actions of these so-called (and I use that phrase in its true sense) ‘nasty Christians’ who do ‘sin police’ with their victims, being their Accuser, being their Adversary, threatening them with Hell, feeding them with a false gospel (i.e. lies) – then let me ask you: whose fatherhood do they most reflect? I would say they reflect the characteristics of the enemy, the devil, more than they do those of Jesus’s Father God. These people condemn other people, and accuse them of sins. Who does that sound like to you? Clue: the last time I looked, accusation is the job of the enemy!

Now, compare that to the way in which real Christ-followers simply love others. “By this will all men know that you are My disciples – that you love each other” (Jn 13:35). Not just your little inner circle of family or people that agree with you (although of course it is them too), but everyone. The fruit of the Spirit called ‘Love’ applies to everyone. Otherwise, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Mt 5:46) No, Jesus meant to love everyone – just like He did – which means to lay down one’s life in service to others. This is what happens when Jesus is allowed to live His life through the believer by the power of His Spirit. It just comes naturally; if you have to force it, you’re not doing it right! And that’s how people will know that you are His disciples, not by being a ‘nasty’ Pharisee!

For those gentle believers battered by the actions of Pharisees, then, I would say this. Jesus said that “The thief comes not but to steal, kill and destroy” (Jn 10:10). The Pharisees are like ‘their father’ in that they steal your assurance (or at least they try to, by challenging your ‘salvation status’), they kill your joy (because Pharisees are killjoys by nature!), and they destroy your peace (with their accusations). Encountered someone like that recently, either online or in real life? Then you can be sure that because their fruits are  bad – and they are indeed bad fruits! – you do not need to agree with anything that they say/write to you. You don’t need to be afraid of these people, because Jesus said in Matthew 6:20, “Store your treasures in heaven, where … thieves do not break in and steal” – and that (the thieves) includes them! The Kingdom of God takes all sorts, yes, but those people, who are narrow-minded enough to believe naively that they have ‘got it all right’ to the exclusion of others, don’t get to have any say in your eternal destiny! They are not the gatekeepers. It doesn’t matter what they say; the fact remains that they have no say in your, or anyone else’s, salvation! Always remember that the treasure you have is untouchable by those who would seek to deny you it. It really is in that place where ‘thieves cannot break in and steal’. Your place at the table is reserved, and no amount of men’s proclamations can ever take you off the guest list.

But I also have to point out that even for Pharisees, this ‘father issue’ can have a happy ending!

You see, Jesus didn’t mean that the Pharisees were literally children of the enemy. He was meaning that they reflect more the character of the enemy than they do the character of Father God, as I explained above. But, you know what? Jesus, for all His diatribes against them, actually loved the Pharisees. In His way, He was dealing with them in a similar manner to how they dealt with others; imposing their Laws on them and reminding them of how important it was to fulfil the entire Law (Mt 5:19). I believe He did this in order to use the Law for its original intention – to show the futility of human effort in trying to please God by obeying Rules, as is put another way in the quote below:

the-genius-of-jesus

In fact, for some of them, there actually is an historical record of that happy ending! There’s a fairly obscure little passage in Acts 15:5 that says that some of the believers were in fact Pharisees, which means that they did come to believe in Jesus at some point. And even in the passage I mentioned above, they were still pushing their legalism agendas! It just goes to show that it really takes all sorts in the Church, and that the learning of the ways of Grace can take time; as far as I know, that passage in Acts is set in about 50AD (nearly 20 years after Jesus’s ascension), so those Pharisees had probably either never/not yet learned, or slipped back into their legalistic ways (it’s easy to do; this is the natural human inclination!). But whatever the case, they were ‘believers’.

And so, this tells me that there is still hope for Pharisees, even those of today. (In fact there must be; I was myself one, once upon a time, before Jesus set me free!) Although they may well find it hard to slip their legalistic mindset, they are still partaking of the Kingdom, albeit probably in a limited way as they don’t appreciate the full freedom they have!

In fact, I wrote a piece nearly a year ago which gives you a simple ‘acid test’ to determine whether your fruits are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Whether they are ‘Pharisee’ or ‘Grace-based’. Click here to go to that piece – you might find it helpful!

So, if you have felt your spirit touched by this blog post; if the Spirit has been prodding you about whether you are behaving, speaking and forum posting nastily – more like the enemy than like Father God – be encouraged too. You can be free of all that need to correct others! You can be free to be the person you were meant to be; a child of your Father and not ‘of the enemy’! Maybe check out this blog post for more ideas – and walk out into your freedom. Freedom you were born for. Freedom that reflects your true Father!


SPOILER ALERT
If there’s anyone reading this blog who does not know the significance of the featured (header) image for this blog post, do not continue reading.

(spoiler below!)

 

If you do know the significance, then of course you’ll know that the picture shows the scene from Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader tells ‘Luke Skywalker that Vader is in fact Luke’s father. The classic line ‘No! I am your father!’ – the ‘Big Reveal’ – is of course one of the most iconic moments in the entire Star Wars saga.

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A Testimony of Freedom

Here’s a great article I read in one of the Facebook groups I read. I’ll not comment, I’ll just let the writer say it himself:

I used to believe if God forgave me and let me completely off the hook, he’d be forfeiting his strongest bargaining chip in his struggle to get me to love him and love others the way he knew I should.

“If God’s going to send his only son to die for me at such a high cost to himself,” I reasoned, “then He’s gotta be smart enough to hold something back, thereby managing his risk and hedging his huge investment against too great a loss. Gods no fool,” I thought.

He’s gotta keep some fear creating mechanism in place, some anxiety producing displeasure, to keep me and my behavior in check.

Forgiving me all at once rather than piecemeal, one sin at a time, at the expense of his priceless son, would not only be risky, it would be foolish.

Forgiving me without reservation and letting me know I’ve arrived with him once and for all would spoil Gods whole plan for me to get me to do what’s right and would only cause me to abuse his generosity,” I told myself.

Forgiving me all sins in advance, to use a term of psychology, God would be the ultimate “enabler!”

So I eagerly listened to preachers who told me as long as I tried my best to sin less and promised to follow God, I could be forgiven…one sin at a time.

Yet, as long as I felt forgiveness was withheld until I cleaned up my act, I was deprived of enjoying and exploiting Gods gift of right relationship with him and my enslavement to sin was only prolonged and empowered.

Then I heard Gods amazing grace and I discovered, though man delights in withholding Gods forgiveness from me, God held back nothing.

You heard me right…nothing!

And God delighted in giving “all” in advance, knowing it was the only way I could be brought into right relationship with him.

I learned God sent his son to die and to rise from death for the very reason of lavishing his infinite generosity on me…and on you.

In sending Jesus to die, God did not hold back from you and from me a single ounce of his forgiveness for you and for me.

God didn’t wait for you or me to sin less, or ask us to promise to do better when he sent his son to die.

And even after we receive Jesus sacrifice as ours, and begin loving the things he loves, the startling thing is he will never receive a return on his investment.

Never!

I also learned, God’s not interested in a bunch of people who know the difference between right and wrong.

So he’s not waiting for us to do either before he pronounces us “forgiven!”

Without placing a single demand on us to change in any way before God says we’re forgiven, he invites us to simply believe Jesus’ death and resurrection perfectly accomplished our secure reconciliation to God.

In rising from death, God is able to give his own eternal life to anyone who simply believes the death and resurrection of Christ did everything necessary to bring him securely to God.

This may sound strange to you but it is Gods good news of grace through his son.

It was only when I heard the good news of Gods grace that I discovered God wasn’t requiring I produce a quality of life in exchange for his forgiveness, did I grasp that Grace is not, as many believe and teach, a license to sin, but rather, that grace is the greatest motivation to love God and love others I would ever know.

Before I realized God held back nothing from me but instead, that he gave freely, I would not know the power of Christ within.

Thank God I received the savior and his death forgave me once and forever.

Then I learned being forgiven is the very doorway to life with God, not the hindrance to life I thought it was.

Jesus living in me is the single greatest motivation to love God and love others I will ever know.

I can not get over Gods amazing forgiveness of me and neither will I tire of realizing my need of Christ’s successful life in me.

And I am happy acknowledging God gets all the credit for completely saving me.

“…the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me,” Galatians 2:20c

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Repent or Perish?

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

– Lk 13:1-5

There are many believers who interpret that passage as meaning that, yes, bad things happen all the time, but that in any case the ‘bigger issue’ is that everyone who does not repent will ‘perish’ (usually the conversation then goes on to ‘hell’ as the means by which that perishing will happpen) – which any intelligent reading of the passage will reveal is a non sequitur – the logic does not follow.

Or that unless God protects people, everyone is open to horrible things happening to them. This is simply a form of superstition; a causal relationship between ‘if you do this, then this will happen’. This concept simply relegates God to being a mindless ‘karma engine’, as opposed to a living Person capable of deciding for Himself!

Actually, taken in its context, there is far more to this passage than this simplistic and doctrinally-loaded interpretation. In an excellent piece that I link to below, the author explains the historical context, what Jesus probably meant, and also a lot of really uplifting, upbuilding stuff about encouragement and the like. Just the sort of thing that my blog is supposed to contain. Click the title graphic below to go to the article.

god_is_not_the_owner


So where’s the humour? It’s here. The featured image for this post is a scene from the classic Monty Python film ‘Life of Brian‘, where the legendary John Cleese plays the part of a Pharisee accusing a villager of blasphemy (He uttered the word ‘Jehovah’, apparently). See the entire clip here:

The idea of ‘REPENT!! or Perish!!’ is implied in the header picture, which is why I used it. Especially because modern-day Pharisees love to point out (often literally, with a finger!) the sins of others and command them to REPENT!! Lol.

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